In Which We Attempt To Get To Higher Ground

Re: The Lists


These are things that happened: He went away and had an experience. Let’s call it a big experience. So when he came home, he packed and left again.

This is how he packed: He separated his belongings into what to keep and what to sell.

These are things that he’s keeping: Some of his clothes, bags to pack things in, some notebooks, meds, sentimentals and essentials.

These are the things he’s selling: a pair of brown dress shoes, a chocolate bunny, a fruit rollup, several pairs of pants, nedi pots that he got for free thanks to some incongruity on the internet, one earphone, a hat he found, a digital camera, a video camera, a camera camera, a trash can that will presumably be emptied, a chest of drawers, Q-tips, ethernet cords, Christmas lights, a lamp, a TV, a semi-functional but fully bumber-stickered laptop, a DVD player, a roll of fancy film tape, a hookah and seven rolls of coals we rooted out of a garbage bin outside of a storage center in Queens, shoe polish, some cords, glow sticks, a box of wet-naps, a bobble-head President Obama, a disco ball, and books.

He put each individual picture up on Craigslist along with a sales gag (“Christmas Lights: Make it Christmas ALL THE TIME. All your friends will be all like, ‘Is Santa here? This place is the jolliest’” and “Q-Tips: Tampons of the ear. Get them while they’re not thrown out or given to my roommate”) and joked that he expected to get messages from concerned friends and strangers that’ll conclude with suicide hotline referrals.

These are the ways that he left: When I kissed him, partly freed by the decision we had made and partly just trying to quench my shit before everything went dry, I tasted him for the first time again, but when I opened my eyes, his were 2,000 miles away. In Colorado, maybe, or Wyoming. I told him he had dead eyes.

My purple toothbrush, which he bought months ago so I would have one when I stayed over, stood alone in the toothbrush stand. He had been back at his apartment for three days.

He said he was sorry.

I was sorry too. I did the requisite shower cry after we’d spent the night launching clichés at each other, trying to make the other feel more. The cry was kind where you don’t want to be in the shower anymore but can’t imagine getting out of it and having to hear the degree of your misery measured in pitch. I held the tiled wall, washed my face, and got out. I went to his room and took the towel from my body and wrapped it around my head, then continued to cry. Surrounded not by him, but by his “save” pile and the “discard” pile, the posters on his wall, pictures, et al., I let the sobs shake as I went to the window and fingered the initials E.T.W—probably his grandfather’s — imprinted on a leather box. I stared out the glass, through a screen to the wall across the ally. I even said out loud, why is everything created to make us believe in lasting love? Artists and copywriters are assholes, except it came out, why…why…do they doooo that? Asses. Then I got dressed and blew snot rockets into the trash.

After a relationship is over, and especially if that relationship was a mutually good one, the dam that you define yourself against breaks down and the rest of the world comes flooding in. The only survival tactic I knew was to get to high ground and let it come. So I went to the park in Sunset Park for the sunset, allowing myself the torrent of the sentimental and the sincere, unfiltered. This is the flood:

Everyone was happy on top of the hill. Even the children were, and the most genuinely unhappy people I’ve ever met are children.

The book I read, The Unbearable Lightness of Being, wouldn’t let up. This wasn’t a hard one, since every word feels like tripping on a rock and falling into understanding. But I was absolutely sure I was getting it wrong, superimposing my own mental state over the philosophical whose-its and whats-its allowed by Czechoslovakian repression by a totalitarian regime a long time ago. I wasn’t trying not to.

There were butterflies. One landed on my foot. That wasn’t even fair.

The wind got me good. One day when I was ten, I went into my backyard on some errand for my mother, and as I was going back inside, I looked at the wind blowing through the trees that were the woods that were my everything as a kid. I said to God, “Blow through the trees again if you exist.” It was probably a Sunday and I had probably just gotten home from church. I searched through the trees that were the woods that were my everything as a kid, but they refused to move. I repeated it again just to be polite, in case He didn’t hear me, and got nothing. I understood later that that’s a common command of the selfish but that didn’t stop the tumble through atheism, agnosticism, and ambivalence that filled me up to yea high until now. But as the wind rocked the tree to my left and line of them directly in front of where I sat in Sunset Park, I realized what a jerk I was then. The wind doesn’t blow for me. It seems that only after the dam floods does fishing for comfort lead to humility.

Everyone paused as the sun set. Even the kid in the oversized sweatshirt and hood and massive earphones moved to a better vantage above the tree line. I stared into the sun as it started down, but it started to eclipse everything else, and the purplish splotchy bits, like bruises on my point of view, took over if I blinked away for a moment. My head had exercised its metaphor muscle for about two hours already, so it couldn’t help itself. The sun was a source of beauty, but gaze too long and fully, and the rest gets lost. Blue Manhattan far away, light on the buildings, light on the grass, light on the harbor, the way the city got more saturated, definitive in receding light, all gone.

There was a father and son blowing bubbles with a $2 bubble machine. The soap spheres bowed up the hill towards me, and the child screeched, chased them and then barrel-rolled back down to start again. I tried to take a video of it: the bubbles’ collective trajectory up the hill, the clear sky, Manhattan in the far right almost entirely out of frame, the child, the father, the $2 bubble machine. I couldn’t tell if I had pushed record because of the light’s glare, but as a fresh swarm floated past me, one popped on the corner of my phone as if to say, “Don’t try it. This — not the mini-movie — is it.

You got me there, Bubble. My phone lost power in the next moment, and I gained my breath.

In the weeks after I sought out anyone who could help me prove that I didn’t move to this city for him, that my decision was my own and that it was a good one. Also, a heat wave descended on New York and trolling for air conditioning units in the better-ventilated apartments than mine became a mode of survival. When the proxy dam I propped up in the mean time can’t withstand the torrent, I reconsider the materials. When that doesn’t work I get to higher ground and I let it come, resolved that there are worse things than personal revelations folding over one another. And I’ll keep returning to the lists until I can fill the spaces in between.

Kenzie Bryant is a contributor to This Recording. This is her first appearance in these pages. She is a writer living in Queens.

kenzie bryant author photo

“Fine and Mellow” – Jose James (mp3)

“I Thought About You” – Jose James (mp3)


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