I ask for weeks when I can make you soup. It is a pretext to pull you out of your home where you used to lounge and retire and share yourself with yourself and sometimes, others. It now had become a network of tiny interconnected compartments where you looking for and giving up hope of escape.
Your little sister had arrived in the country for a visit and never left your private well-loved underworld. More than that, she arrived with six canvases that she hung all over your walls: a dark blue background, breasts ripping through the canvas, blood red animal teeth. Enormous paw-hands. These paintings could not help but make you feel guilt for leaving her to deal with monsters. Or maybe the monsters sent her to come and get you. I said let me make you soup. I’ll make you soup. Please Come over.
She resented you, she said, for your America. She called it your America. But in America you felt bad. Pills and remedies for the disease you’d contracted when you first got here and fell in love or just maybe lust kept you awake. Made your mouth dry. You were too tired to sleep or be awake. Your eyes flickered to try to shut out the light or manage the pain--your nerves and muscles at war with one another, torturing you except when you could throw yourself into something, anything, like sewing or gluing or being someone else onstage.
And the shining bridge was right out your window bending along the river banks, a reminder that there was some place that led you outwards.
Even though your sister sat with you at the table, her ghost moved through the walls and into your body and from your eyes pleading for release. The lines in her face were shouting at you. They were your mother’s lines and your father’s furrows. She was screaming at you with her silent christ-like suffering.
For the remaining weeks that followed, we managed a few words over the phone. You had the sound of someone speaking for an audience. Too articulate, “the futility of other people’s lives and dumpsters.” They were our friends you were talking about. “They climb into dumpsters to fish out something that they will never use. They value other people’s garbage. They ignore their own humiliation.” You mourned their energy wasted in grabbing onto something discarded. We’ll never live beyond this point, you said.
The secret life you had designed in contrast: you scavenged broken Tiffany lamps and rewired and glued colored pieces of glass together. Ones that you were able to restore spilled warm refracted light onto you and onto your apartment. Other hours you spent in your room turning over fragments of fabric and cutting and shaping them until they became clothes. You reshaped your friends’ bodies with cloth and put on a fashion show in a Harlem diner. You had tailored your own muscles and bones in serious study of folk dance back home. The discipline made your hips magically swerve and the tips of your fingers could reach to the ends of any stage. When you yawned, your muscles twitched, your eyes flickered. Still you foraged in the brambles. You danced in painful sweats, teeth chattering.
There was a man who loved you. His love was not quite unrequited but also not fully returned. It seemed unfair that you wanted to return his affection. You asked him if he could still love you back. The man who loved you thought this may be a game and said no not now why now why do you want me now? Was he punishing you for years of holding yourself at a distance. All these years you wouldn’t belong to him and went into the brambles and cried in your fabric and spent hours seeking lamps? He was an anchoring kind of hope. Not the last one but a last one.
This secret life in contrast was not possiblewhere your darkness was filled by your sister. Instead of stitching to reshape bodies, you started using the fabric to build walls around the bed in your shuttered room. Each of your projects had anchored you outwards to us, not for long. You always had your underworld in which to escape. The darkness was no longer empty. It led you deeper into wherever your sister was not. She had the walls; you claimed the area of your bed. Your room grew darker by the towers of cloth that surrounded it. Cloth soaked up the few slivers of light that pushed through the shutters.
You did finally come over.
Your sister was little when at 18, your parents hid in the foyer of their apartment. She waited in her room, watching for when you would come through the door, so late. They stood in the dark, and leapt from the dark onto your back. Mother and father, a gang, beat you, broke chairs on you, accused you of what they had been informed. Was it that some neighbor or perhaps even your lover told them or that they just did not like that you were so unlike them? They never said “gay” like they never said “jew.” The extended family had hid for generations, you told me long before.
Your little sister waited till it was over. Till you walked to a window overlooking the city. She followed and stood right behind you as you stared without expression over the city. You wanted her not to feel your thoughts. She wanted to do something.
I cringe while we watch the movie I had poorly chosen. Such a bad choice on my part and... but... keep pointing out the joy in it, even though as I point it out I see South Park only enjoins us to revisit the pain of disappointment, those who pretend to “get you.” So I switch to pointing to the pleasure of shared company. How I wish we could have not watched that movie. South Park confirms that monsters (and their surrogates) are waiting in the wings to swoop down. Face to glass watching the world, having given up hope of being.
I finally made you soup. You eat it dutifully without enjoying it. Then you spell it out step by step what is coming. This is what they say they say is a blueprint. I do not register words. We stand by the wall in my tiny apartment crowded by each other’s bodies, by my clutter, by the too-much-pain of your thoughts in mine and the pleasure of your sparkling flickering. You say: “I am going to go to George Washington Bridge. It’s a nice bridge. Have you seen it? Especially below the hills, the water, now the ice. It is cold. It is January, almost February. Let’s go together. There are only dumpsters. That’s all there is. Come with me.” Ice water embraces you. Without formulating words on my own, they come out of me: “no, how can I?”
There is no chance this is not fiction. Make the present stop happening. There is no reality. You stand by the wall in front of me and time is melting. On the stairs, a light, like a lamplight like frozen seconds.
One time on the phone after that, you are laughing in a breathy kind of way, as if nothing is true. I read you a story. You keep laughing. All is fine, all is well, hahaha. Yes we are here. We are good and we are here.
Two days later
Your keys are on the table.
No he took his keys
He left two rent checks. Took his ID. Left a key but took the rest of his keys. What he took and what he left are signs, the detective tells us. The lamps and the fabric and the ashtrays would all fall into his sister’s hands.
That we would not have him to animate with his whispers and slight movements and shining darkness.
The detective asks me out on a date to your funeral, rather your memorial. Someone--it is not known who--will take you in a small box on a flight back home.
He says it is not good to be alone, the detective. And I am not sure if he is hitting on me or if it is true as the doctors at the alternative hospital refuse to give me any drugs for anxiety and say it is not good to be alone.
Our friends wander under the bridge
I refuse to go
Under the bridge
Where at the foot they found your body
Long ago you jumped
Or four days
I wasn’t there I don’t know
I was there by the cluttered wall
And seeing you and it was just
And we were indulging in the pain they gave us
Touching on more.
I make it to the room in your apartment where people speak stutteringly about you about the things you said and the things you made. There is an ashtray. A rose stone one. I take that. So many lamps, so many clothes. Walls. And her paintings. And your sister stands stutteringly.