If You Are Here, and I Am There

Hold her hand while they drill inky poetry into you. You’re thinking about some other girl who broke your heart a hundred times until the adrenaline kicks in and then you’re squeezing her hand. You barely know her. You were introduced around here by the heartbreaker less than a year ago. “You’re both writers,” she said. You talked awkwardly for a second. You thought she was cute, but you were nervous because it was your first night alone with the heartbreaker, and you had to go to a party and they were all taking swigs from a wine bottle. Maybe it was vodka. You didn’t pay that much attention, because you declined. You had just broken up with your boyfriend and someone asked if you wanted to smoke a bowl, and the heartbreaker looked at you, raised her eyebrow. You shook your head so that only she could see because there were all these punk kids around waiting for the music to start and they chain smoked cigarettes and you had a puff from the heartbreaker’s Camel and held her hand so you didn’t have to touch the dishes that had been sitting around for months. The writer was on the porch again, wearing a hat and engaging. She used big words and thought you were judging her, she would later tell you. You feel out of place. You squeeze onto a couch on the front porch with her and the heartbreaker and some other punk kids and hipsters. There is a little boy and girl running around. The girl is named Indigo or Chartreuse or Sage, and you feel sad for them and take a tiny swig from the wine or rum or whatever it is. You lose track of the writer eventually. She’ll be back. You go home with the heartbreaker and stay in bed for two days straight. She comes with you to church on Sunday and things are fast and things are perfect and it makes your head spin. You pick up smoking and then she breaks your heart and the second time she is breaking your heart, you are lying in her bed. You are bleeding and she left for work; she is hungover on sleeping pills and cheap beer. You clench your stomach, wander into the house where she lives with five other girls and ten other squatters.

You pull your legs in a bundle to your chin. It makes the bleeding hurt less and the chunks of your heart have less space to fall.
The weed dealer with the ironic goatee is doing dishes and the girl no one likes who you used to dance with is trying to get the VCR to work. You sit and watch The Cube with them, your head fuzzy. Her roommate gets you out of the house. She says she is hanging out with her friend, the writer, do you remember her? You met at the party that first night you spent with the heartbreaker. You have nothing to wear, you’ve been squatting too. You throw on a pair of the heartbreaker’s jeans and they are too big for you because you don’t eat much. You have a black tank top and no bra because this is the summer you don’t wear a bra. This is the summer everyone says you look like Edie Sedgwick because your hair is short and blonde, and the wind feels good in it while you ride your bike everywhere and use the downtown falafel joint’s phone. This is the summer you buy packs of cigarettes with your graduation money and your jeans slide off your hips because you’re popping a cocktail of anti-depressants that make you dizzy and not so hungry. The writer picks you and the housemate up in her little silver car. She has a friend with her, with big curly hair and she wears a dress and is an artist. You remember the writer, and you’ve heard things about her. The heartbreaker told you about her mother’s memoir about obsessive-compulsive disorder and she is cute, you think, even though your head is fuzzy from bleeding and getting heartbroken again. The four of you go to the diner where the crusty punk kids and hipsters hang out. You’ve only been there a few times and you are different now. You pull out your pack of Camels and the roommate pulls out her pack of Camel 99’s and the writer pulls out her pack of Parliament Lights and the artist with curly hair doesn’t smoke and you know how to inhale by now. You all bring filters to your lips and the writer asks the waitress if there is a deck of cards. You maybe talk about the heartbreaker some, but they are here to distract you. You sit at the two tables pushed together in the middle and the air is on but you are still sweating. You drink diet coke and eat a french fry or two. “Do you have any fours?” “Go fish.” “Fuck you.” “Queens?” “Blow me.” Inhale, exhale. She’s cute, you keep thinking, but your heart is breaking, and pieces of it are sinking into your stomach. “Twos?” “Suck my dick, please.” Inhale, exhale. Over a year from now she’ll teach you how to ghost hit on the tops of buildings in New York City, where you’ll share cigarettes from a blue pack that cost $12 and drink beer, because you are adults now and have dreams about each other. You finish your games and diet cokes and the writer drives you back to the heartbreaker’s house. She tells stories about her brother and an Australian girl in an elevator and the roommate and curly-haired artist laugh because they know and you want to understand because your heart is being broken down by stomach acid and you want to know things so you don’t feel so miserable and alone. You sing the Ting-Tings in the car because they were popular that summer and that song will remind you of the time the heartbreaker danced along to it at a restaurant you would bike to and people would mistake her for a boy. That always made you a little embarrassed even though you were open and liberal and whatnot; embarrassed like the ways people at church look at you now, with your short hair and jutting out hips and tattoos and atheism, especially the times you brought the heartbreaker in, perched on your arm, wearing train conductor hats and shy smiles and t-shirts. You sat in the back while your dad preached his sermons and wrote poetry about her, your legs crossed and bouncing. You wore high heels and flowery sundresses on the days you wanted to look nice. You snuck out behind the kitchen and smoked cigarettes, stubbing them out with the heel of your tall shoes. You carried lotion with you that smelled like perfume and you can’t use it now because it makes you think of the heartbreaker, and the way it smelled on your fingers would drive you crazy for a while: flowers and smoke. It smelled like her bed and burying your face in pillows, hiding in closets at your grandparents to call her from their old telephone long-distance after everyone went to bed and you were away in the deep South, missing her and feeling miserable and alone. She promised to make it work, she gave you a family ring and said she was in love with you and you have the ring on still and you and the writer and the artist climb up to the roof, flat and sort of slanted. It looks and smells like tar and there are people here you went to high school with and you all shared your poetry with each other and it makes you want to hit all of them because they just sit around and smoke joints now and try to say poetic things. You sit towards the edge of the roof where the roommate won’t go because it makes her anxious, and you think maybe you’ll fall off and that won’t be so bad, even though you know you won’t, but at least it’s away from the people from high school who laugh stupidly. You pull your legs in a bundle to your chin. It makes the bleeding hurt less and the chunks of your heart have less space to fall. The writer comes and sits next to you on your right, and the curly-haired artist on your left. You lie down so the writer can’t see you crying. She compares herself to the heartbreaker and talks about being emotionally stunted and you try to understand and keep the pieces from falling because you feel pathetic and you know the heartbreaker is right: you’re needy and you push her. The curly-haired artist is quiet, just listening, and the writer says things to make you feel better and you don’t know why because she doesn’t know you, and she was friends with the heartbreaker first. You know the story about her skateboarding with the heartbreaker’s stepbrother and the heartbreaker told you how cute they were and how much she wanted them to be together and then maybe the four of you would have been an odd pairing of people, like the two of them carrying longboards and her stitching 90s cartoon characters on her sweatshirts and him chewing tobacco and acting super tough, and the two of you carrying vintage cameras and the heartbreaker reading excerpts from Che Guevara’s biography and you choreographing dances to poems. Instead the writer comforts you and the three of you lie on your backs on the tar roof. You wipe away tears and the sun is setting. This is absolute; you have no way to picture the buildings you will lie on with solidity, ones like the Empire State Building and new apartment complexes overlooking it. You have no way to know that the poetry you write about the heartbreaker will be lost under piles of poems about the writer, but the sun sets and the stoners smoke their cigarettes and pick haphazardly at frayed strings on their hemp sweaters, and you wait for the stars to come out.

Return to the table of contents for 1.3 Women and Gender in Writing