10.10.22

i got up at a quarter after six on saturday morning to take a train out to queens and mill around on the sidewalk in a rainbow vest for an hour, at which point the escort leaders ruled that no abortion protesters were going to show up to harass clinic clients and we could all go home for the week. this is the future liberals want! i hopped back off the train just north of union square to exclaim over dahlias, shell out for a bunch of foraged maitakes, and hem and haw through a pile of decorative gourds, then walked home and wrote a shitload of letters to prospective texas voters.

i keep wanting to re-pitch a travel piece on iceland that i dangled in front of a new editor a few months ago, but we're leaving town at the end of the month and i haven't gotten blasé enough about writing for this particular outlet that i could have a piece for them pending while i'm abroad. i should plan what we're doing when we're to be abroad! i should plan.

04.02.22

for the last few months i've been a big, docile albatross tending a kinder egg instead of an eventual chick: all of the apartment improvements we summoned last year are beginning to arrive at last and i've made more to prepare for their settling, and the nest, she is feathered. i've painted the once-grey bedroom walls blush pink, logged hundreds of manhattan miles collecting and framing new-to-us art, ferried books and clothes to crosby street for donation, found and arranged for drapes' tailoring,* woven a cradle for the tradescantia i propagated and hung in the bathroom we reglazed and are outfitting with a new vanity and sink–and we haven't even had anyone over since the before times! but the cats love draping themselves over the new, fancy sectional's tufted humps, and i fantasize about pitching a home tour to the lifestyle blog i've been not-so-quietly charming with little comment-anecdotes for a year. i want so badly to have strangers tell me my adjectives are winning! and here my poor kidchamp was all along, the cobbler's barefoot child.**

this rejuvenation is absolutely runoff from the umpteen design pieces i've been churning out, and i'm alright with that. a lot of the day-to-day work has been pitched-to-me tours of designers' projects, and interviews aside, the features are rather like the essays i used to write for visual art classes? my mother taught me the rudiments of that analysis when i was in elementary school, and the albatross parts of my brain are very pleased with themselves when they egest bits on perspective and lines of beauty. also, let's be honest, i have excellent taste now. but it is time to swoop at new-to-me outlets, so i spent several hours the other night crafting a pitch based on something i remembered about beethoven from when my best friend and i had to dress up as historical characters in seventh grade. (i was cyrano de bergerac, but that won't come up in the essay, probably.) i'm also working on a really short piece about chopping up mice, so what i'm saying is i guess i could use some gobbet-luck, if you're interested in manifesting on someone else's behalf. this march was my busiest freelance month to date! put that in your crop and regurgitate it.


*i walked uptown with a painted piece of cardboard to see if some velvet curtains i'd seen online would match the bedroom walls' updated color, and when i wandered through the clearance corner en route to fabrics i found four long panels of what i'd planned to eyeball at like 80% off (a return?)! i still haven't repaired the beautiful little sewing machine i don't know how to use, so i took the panels to the great guys at our local dry cleaner and everyone is happy.

**my mom was walking into a store last week and, in hauling the door open with the excessive force that characterizes women of our line, managed to very nearly rip off her big toenail. an urgent-care doctor made an incision to finish the job and stitched her up, and she now has the whole nail, which is a festive pedi-red she'd just painted herself. i can't wait to see what she makes with it! i also wish she would contact the store, as "this little piggy went to ulta" should really have earned her free makeup for life. this was her deep-fried mcdonald's lizard!

01.30.22

the guy tending the left half of the theater's bar hadn't seen drive my car yet, but he was very excited about seeing it: "i hadn't heard anything about it until like a day or two ago and suddenly everyone's talking about it. and it's three hours long!" dances with murakami, i said. the guy who sat down at my left had just gotten out of the early screening: "have you seen christopher nolan's tenet,* where half of the action goes forward and half of it goes backward? we're like that, meeting in the middle, with me just coming from the experience you're about to have. i won't say anything to spoil it for you, but i liked it."

i asked him if he'd read the short story the film is based on, or any murakami; he hadn't. "i hear murakami is like japan's philip roth** and john steinbeck and [some other dude i don't remember]," he said. i agreed that he was a beast. i had read a lot of murakami, i said, and i thought of him more like japan's jane austen: his stories combine and recombine constants in a way i found soothing to revisit. mysterious women, cats, whiskey, vinyl, jazz, pasta, disappearances, writers... he'd heard that this was the first murakami work that'd been made into a film, or maybe just that murakami was famously tricky to adapt. i thought that was exciting, i said, like how pynchon's, what was it, inherent vice was an unexpectedly killer movie (that can song!). "oh my god, PTA," and we just sat in the acronym for a minute until the carpet split at a previously-invisible seam and we plunged into the center of the earth, even though joe was sitting on the other side of me and probably only heard a third of the conversation.

*our friend lesley loves helen dewitt's the last samurai harder than most people love most things in this world and found tenet impenetrable. tenet daunts me.

**he was really into philip roth, "but not when the novel is really just him thinking about himself," which – i didn't follow up on that, but if i had been lewis carroll's caterpillar at that moment i would have exhaled a smoke ring in the shape of john updike and it would have galloped around the bar once and disappeared. i still miss smoking.

01.23.22

the spotify station(?) that had been serving up the monster hits of my junior high's harrowing dances, a coincidence i would have died before revealing to my beloved charity bookstore's dewy manager even though he probably guessed as much,* played boyz ii men's "end of the road," because of course it did, and i let a few tears leak out, quick, under my mask like it never happened. "you look like you know a lot about books," said a customer who wanted something she hadn't read in fantasy or horror, and i sent her home with lovely hardcover copies of toby barlow's sharp teeth and babayaga. they had crowned my beleaguered section at the front of the store, where misshelved YA novels and mass-market thrillers kept trailing in like fuckin kudzu, for two months. i took a last, long whiff of the basement, bought a signed first US edition of the satanic verses (john - best wishes for your retirement. write a book... salman r., may 89) that had kicked around the store for years, and took my leave a final time.

a couple of days later i reunited with old friends from my wednesday-afternoon shift who hadn't been back to volunteer since the pandemic began. we gathered for holiday snacks at V's place, a stunning two-thousand-square-foot loft next to the stella mccartney store. she's lived there since the '70s and filled it with massive now-iconic canvases and furniture she picked up from friends and, like, department stores when you could get a frank gehry wiggle chair for a hundred bucks. "my cats loved them," she said, "and when they scratched them it just made them look even better." V lives in the new york apartment you'd expect a donna tartt or hanya yanagihara character to have. she's even got a singed child mannequin holding a heavy velvet drapery open!

when we were all arranged around V's refreshments, i told the story behind the email to the volunteer coordinator on which i'd cc'ed them. management had told E, the art-book expert who'd been the designated guy to get arrested at DC protests for years, that he wouldn't be rehired. they'd declined to hire a volunteer who said that as a staffer she'd be most excited about developing the community around the store. they'd told the current manager not to worry about selling books, and to do his best to pitch the store as an event space for hire; they'd talked about converting shelves into false panels that could slide back to reveal bars and coat checks. (the donation area disappared a year ago; it was distasteful to have it so close to the front door.) since they weren't interested in the hiring conditions the new union set forth, they brought in temps to replace all the volunteers who'd stopped coming back. the last employee we all knew, the one who'd assured me i was making his job easier, left. and i left. being a scab that also kept a zombie bookstore shambling along was too much, at last, for me.

P, the artist with koons cooties, thought i should write a splashy new york cover article revealing all of the sordid politics behind the store's slow, semi-secret death. a petition, there should also be a petition! A, the retired UN guy who lives on roosevelt island and has fabulous stories of drinking obscure national beverages and falling asleep under trees, nodded when i suggested that getting michiko kakutani interested in an RIP-barry-like piece could move hearts and minds. V made more tea and suggested we reconvene in the new year to figure out how we would save our store. saving a beloved neighborhood bookstore and saving a beloved neighborhood "bookstore" are not the same thing. is knowing the difference useful?

V sent around a times photo of a gorgeous library the other day. i'd love to get together again as well, i said.



*the welsh researchers who studied how masking affects facial attractiveness report that the effect isn't about occlusion, but i am unconvinced.

01.01.22

2022: THE YEAR IN REVIEW

i realized i'd been wearing my underwear inside out.
i microwaved the last of the old coffee and started a new pot.
i misted some trailing plants on top of our new bookshelf.
i emailed a researcher for an article i'm filing next week.
i noticed a bleach(?) stain on the left arm of my sweatshirt.
i took photographs of: mylar 2 and 0 balloons in a tree, spent fireworks, and two plush snowmen taped to a different tree.
i showed up 15 minutes late to a zoom call with friends.
i ate two pieces of aged swiss cheese.
i bought a big brass spoon rest.

12.26.21

i decided to get tested for COVID at a mobile clinic on monday, though my peek-a-boo symptoms seemed to have more to do with generic winter-cold bullshit and being 43 than with a breakthrough infection. around ten in the morning i queued at the van on delancey street that's become a portable building and froze my ass for two and a half hours, along with a bunch of canadian teenagers who were sure their friends were sick, someone named alfonso whose results were handed to me along with my own, and someone smoking so, so much pot. i requested the rapid test and the PCR, and alfonso and i eventually got the all-clear. how about that! (i still haven't gotten the results of my PCR test.)

on christmas eve i woke up with phlegm and a sinus whatsit that burned off like marine haze over the course of the day, but as we were to head out to see licorice pizza at nitehawk before settling down for a long winter's nap, i took one of the at-home tests i almost accidentally snagged on wednesday en route to my bookstore shift.* it was so positive it was almost a little insulting: that pink line was downright lurid, like one of the savage primitive markings the cat is forever giving joe. (it's a lousy way to treat someone you like, steve!) i took a second test that was even more vivid than the first, our very last one indicated that joe was negative for the time being, and that was that. i got a gift-card refund from the movie theater, the bar we visited on wednesday told me they'd toss my FYI on their pile, an email to the bookstore's volunteer coordinator went unanswered. my debate with joe biden went ahead as planned, of course.

i had a quick and dirty stress-cry yesterday morning (or was it sometime on christmas eve?) about the idea of being trapped here while joe just ordered in wine and boozed through the boredom of quarantine, which is not something he would ever do but something he joked about when we'd talked about my getting tested last weekend. i do not find that funny at all, and he does not enjoy it when i joke about being a grown version of the kid with chickenpox who abruptly scores playdates with everyone in the neighborhood (did families in your town do this? did the ones in ours really do it?). i suppose we could have requested one of the hotel rooms the city is providing for people who need to isolate from their families, but the idea that joe could dodge exposure after having been holed up in this apartment with me is just laughable. god knows how long another PCR test for me would take, and i'm not interested in infecting a bunch of my neighbors while attempting to get one. we have a few weeks' worth of cat food, a respectable pile of clean underwear, one full carton of soymilk.

i used to open my eyes when i was lying on the ocean floor waiting for a wave to pass over me. the physical sensation itself is moderately uncomfortable, but the way i felt powerful and ever so subtly aquatic when i did it was addictive. science, diligence, and patience are a helluva cocktail.



*a woman at the duane reade register beside me asked for them while i was buying the diet dr pepper i'd been craving ever since i saw a fake trump elector carrying one at the wisconsin state house on a cable news segment. i bought two (boxes of tests; just one soda, though knowing what i know now–).

12.19.21

the seraph painted in red on the scrim that came down between acts at last night's tosca really did look like the she-wolf created for agrippina, the last Big Art we saw before entering lockdown last year, but we would have been reminded of it anyway, of course. i can't help feeling that our deciding to return to the met for opera caused the weird, dark turn new york city has taken this week–that would be very operatic–but epidemics probably don't strike poses like that.

last week i saw and scoffed at a few tweets about how the city was starting to feel as it felt last march, which is ridiculous: sirens howled all night every night, refrigerated trucks accumulated in front of the hospitals, i remember using bleach on our floor at one point, being unable to smell it, and collapsing into tears, sure that i was going to die. people were exiting like tosca, just stepping into air.

the man sitting beside me in the family circle was one of those operagoers who peers like a sniper through his opera glasses and volleys big, hearty BRAVO!s over the balcony as he claps for arias, and i loved him. i was the blue-haired lady with a passing tickle in her throat who coughed once, twice through her mask into her velvet cloak, and i didn't think until i woke up this morning with joint pain, a headache, and a proper soreness in that throat that anything truly tragic had happened. by the time i'd learned that all of the testing sites in the neighborhood had maxed out for the day and that PCR test results are taking at least three and more like five days to come back, the combined effects of my morning coffee, ibuprofen, a brisk walk around the lower east side and watery sunshine had somehow addressed all of those things: why, even the plantar fasciitis i've had since halloween disappeared for a few hours! i extended the walk as long as i could, grateful for a little more time.

it does feel like borrowed time. i got a booster shot a month ago and am eight lives away from crying on my bleachy floor, but the thought of having sidelined everyone's nana via the opera was a dreadful one. my sister and her family canceled travel plans to see us after christmas; i brushed my cloak and folded it into deep storage again. as i was telling friends today, i'm reminded of swimming in the pacific when i was a little girl–of watching a massive wave crest far too close, knowing it's too late to dive through it, and holding my breath and flattening myself on the ocean floor. send a body head over heels just once and it falls in step with the tide forever.

12.16.21

the exotic personal weather and promise i made to myself when i tearily high-fived a tree after a thunderstorm this summer related to the fact that i had very recently and suddenly decided to stop drinking; the promise was that i was really going to do it, that i was going to level up. and i have! or i have really done it, anyway. i don't drink now. i think i am probably an alcoholic.

the question of whether or not i am an alcoholic—or, more precisely, whether or not i tell anyone that i am an alcoholic—has felt weirdly important to me. it's shorthand for the fact that i have a problematic relationship with drinking, and dropping a few strategic a-bombs with people i love and respect felt like a way to force a decisive end to a war with myself. if i disclosed that and then any of those people ever saw me drink again, oh, i would be so ashamed. shame has always been a big motivator for me, which is ironic, given that several of what i consider the most shameful things i've ever done are things i did when i had been drinking.

i don't know whether or not it matters that i didn't have any big, dramatic bottoming-out moment. given that i work from home on my own schedule and don't have children, it's conceivable that my life could have tootled on in a nominally functional, undramatic way for quite some time, or forever. but i felt like the color was draining out of it, and i hated waking up with the panicky feeling that i might have said or done something foolish or hurtful; i worry about that all of the time anyway, and drinking, or being hung over, eroded whatever assurances or confidence i managed to cobble together. my friend sarah once joked that my memoir would be called i just don't want anyone to feel bad, and i believed everyone felt bad.

for a while, the only people who knew i'd come to this realization/decision were joe and a few friends who are sober; i didn't want a sponsor or anything (i don't think aa or meetings are for me?), but they had inspired me, and i wanted them to know that. (some of them check in with me even though i don't ask, which is both predictable and shockingly touching.) i didn't know what i would say to my parents, and i worried about it, even though i knew i wanted them to know. i have a mica-flaky memory of sitting at the dining table with my mother and sisters on my twelfth birthday and my father telling me over the phone that he was in recovery and couldn't be with me and that was a gift to me, or something. it turns out that it's pretty easy to talk to my mother about drinking and our family; we did it a lot in september when we hiked across hampstead heath and swam in the kenwood ladies' pond together. it seems that my dad doesn't want to talk about it, and i learned twenty years ago when he left my mother that learning too much about the dissolution of a relationship is one of the costliest experiences you can have, even if offering boundary-free adult friendship and support to the people who created you feels like the only way you could ever hope to repay them, so that's fine.

realizing that all of this is the course for me was/is something like watching a time lord regenerate on doctor who in that i'm mourning and excited all at once, and if i end up becoming david tennant i'll know for sure that i did the right thing. occasionally i wish the realization hadn't been so sudden, but i have always felt that it's best not to know when you're doing something for the last time.

11.06.21

i spent the morning stacking and scattering little piles of fractured CD cases and orphaned discs on the living room floor. after promising ourselves we'd do something about the wall of obsolete music between our swaybacked grey sectional and my nineteen eighty-four collection for like a decade, i finally built some banker boxes and got to sorting them for banishment in the top of the hall closet. there were so very many mixes: the ones my stanford roommates made for me, the several one of joe's congressional coworkers made for him, the gems from pauline, the mix-portraits from stewart, the dauntingly obscure 2009 former-college-DJ monthlies from our friends' friends. there were a shitload of foraged shoegaze singles with prices in pounds, a zillion used albums with stickers from amoeba music. at least two copies of beth orton's daybreaker, three copies of ryan adams's gold, and a bunch of bowie rarities i'd hoarded without opening. david foster wallace reading a selection of his own pieces? it seems my taste isn't nearly as bad as i'd figured i'd be forced to acknowledge it is, which leads me to suspect i've been quietly weeding our CD stacks all this time. i also didn't start acquiring CDs until my parents gave me a player for my 16th birthday, which meant my first disc was pisces iscariot and not a "we didn't start the fire" single or something.

i unkinked my back after hours crouching over old pulp albums in time to head up to midtown for a thundercat concert, the one we were supposed to see at cozy, iconic webster hall in march of 2020 that became a show at nasty, thunderdome-y terminal 5 tonight. did you know everyone wears sneakers and smokes indoors (not even just pot!) at shows now? it's true! we weren't the oldest people there, but we were close, and we were definitely older than thundercat. i felt significantly less hip than i felt when we saw slowdive at that same dreadful venue in 2014, and they and we were already old then.

08.10.21

i'm working on a piece about the mental health benefits of various outdoor activities—have been all summer, actually, as the book that led my editor to assign it to me was pushed back, and i'm only marginally better at juggling stories than i was around this time last year—and was invited to a guided meditation and walk across the brooklyn bridge, my first in-person Work Thing since last february. (there have been other invitations, but i remain awkward and picky.) i walked down to a fountain near city hall, signed a waiver, took a pair of glowing blue headphones, and wondered if i was being invited to join a cult. (i had just watched the "moira rosé" episode of schitt's creek.)* i had intended to secret-shop the session, but i ended up introducing myself to the program's creator and leader and interviewing him with my phone while my commuter sweat dried. a hundred other people showed up, we all fired up our tech and formed a circle around the fountain to set our intentions, and atmospheric piano music tinkled into my ears.

thunderheads boiled across the river almost immediately and our leader encouraged us to "choose the rain" ("it's only water"). in a low, smooth masseur's voice, he talked us across the bridge and through the downpour; i both love summer storms and have been contending with exotic personal weather, so i was all for the walk's spontaneous metal subtheme. water cascaded down a concrete staircase with us and fizzled against a halal cart that emerged from the steam at its foot. we huddled under the brooklyn side of the bridge like an aspiring new-age rat king, and a handful of participants accepted the invitation to return their headsets and walk some other time; the rest of us funneled into the park. i believed our leader when he said he was impressed with the rest of us.

i probably don't need to say that the walk felt like a third installment in this summer's Lauren Learns and Grows Through Kooky Participatory Events. i made a silent promise to myself and tearily high-fived a tree in a walled garden; i joined a final circle at the edge of the river and, when invited to share my name and a word, leaned into a bean-sized microphone and said i'm lauren and i'm regenerating.

*two high school friends and i went to a house party in oxford that turned out to be a cult recruitment session, complete with weird crackers, a long-haired, moon-faced guru who ostensibly didn't speak english, and a mysterious assistant who refused to give us back our shoes when we realized what was going on and said we wanted to leave.

08.07.21

so this comparatively-unknown literary magazine just published this creepy sexual poem named for and about a very well known writer whose bestselling essay collection i read a year or two ago and whose parents, i read last night when i was struggling to fall asleep, were once investigated for human trafficking, as someone discovered last year? (lit twitter and weird twitter and weird lit twitter are all over this, the poem, because it's both unsporting clickbait and because the writing is so bad that it's typically referred to as "the poem," the loose consensus is that one should avoid it if possible, for both reasons).*

when i finally went down around five this morning i dreamed that i went to a new, fancy salon-retail-organic-garden** hybrid place, for i needed a haircut, and my stylist was the writer. i explained to her that i envisioned bangs, but she would have to come up with some way to texturize them because i have a cowlick at my right temple and my hair has always parted like curtains right there. i also wanted a pretty short pixie cut, but skewing femme, please, so go soft at the edges and follow a rounded shape at the back of my head, but otherwise i trusted her to do whatever she thought was right. things started off badly, as she accused me of leaving bleach on for far too long when i prepped for dyeing my hair blue at home (true, i ended up with some little scabs last time after frying myself), and then she kept wandering off. the appointment began in the early afternoon, but by early evening we were under a scraggly live oak in the organic garden and the writer still hadn't gotten to work. i knelt before her as though we were gawain and the green knight*** as she finally, finally, started to razor the back of my neck. "if you had a boob**** that was floating in a vat of fluid, what would you do to make it float higher or lower? that's what you can think about while i do this," she said. one of the dickensian orphans gathered around us piped up: one should add stones to the vat, which would increase the volume of its contents and elevate the boob. that's stupid, i said. i would add a fluid with lower specific gravity than that of the boob-fluid if i wanted the boob to sink, and a fluid with higher specific gravity if i wanted it to rise.



*i immediately found and read it, and i'm now sorry to have given it a click and to have those lines in my head, but here we are.

**i'm on a nordic-authors kick and halfway through auður ava ólafsdóttir's the greenhouse, which i'm enjoying; her miss iceland is a fascinating look at her country's bro-centric midcentury literary culture.

***we saw that movie yesterday; i thought it was quite grand, particularly alicia vikander's green speech, though the CGI fox wasn't animated very realistically.

****ólafsdóttir's hotel silence, also good, concludes with the recovery of three disembodied breasts. like japanese in translation, icelandic in translation has, i find, a very distinctive/characteristic(?) cadence, and it's soothing.

06.24.21

i might as well admit that i got my hair cut yesterday so that it would behave when i walked up to the public tonight for the second installment of the experimental theatre thing i did over the phone last month. this time i was to arrive at the public's physical space on lafayette at 8:20, and lurk until someone told me what to do next. i knew that i would be sitting at a table bisected with a piece of glass and interacting with another participant through a deck of cards with written instructions, and that's about it. i was told to turn my phone off and drop my bag at my feet when i sat down at the table. a few other people trickled into the lobby after i did, and i tried to avoid checking them out until i was escorted to an empty theater, which didn't prevent me from getting a glimpse of the guy who would end up across from me a few minutes later. the staffer who'd checked me in and told me the phone stuff led me a black curtain and told me to make a left, and that was it.

the table's spotlight was so focused that i couldn't really tell how large the space we shared was, though i looked around a few times and caught the glint of gilded plaster pillars a dozen feet away. 20 feet away? i took a seat across from a man who looked younger than i am (a card would eventually ask me to think about the decade in which he was born; the '80s, i figured), with a short-sleeved, black-and-white-patterned button-down shirt. a black-on-white mask that paired nicely with it. short hair with soft curls. large, expressive eyes. a silver band on his right ring finger, big, nice-looking headphones around his neck. a white card in front of each of us told us to turn over cards from the stack between us, in a little slot in the partition, according to the direction in which the black arrow on their faces pointed. we were to say the things in regular type and silently do the boldface things.

i'm terrible at hearing things people say through masks (and am probably also losing my hearing a bit), so i panicked at first at the thought of missing something he said and having to deviate from our strict instructions in order to catch up; eventually i started cupping my ear when i needed him to repeat something. this encounter was described as your chance to reconsider what you think you know about a person – including yourself. we didn't choose a person A or B tonight, as i did in my phone call with a different stranger for the first part of the triptych; the questions i would ask and answer landed on me as soon as i sat down across from him. i might have been imagining things, but i feel like they got more intense more quickly this time. was anyone proud of him? no. (we were to answer yes or no unless explicitly instructed to do otherwise, and we stuck to that, for the most part.) did he know how an engine worked? no. could he remember the last time he was drunk? his eyes crinkled in a laugh: yes. he can read music, and he's been to the opera. he doesn't like the way he looks. he can't remember the last time he felt joy. he can't talk about that. he has fallen asleep next to a weapon. he showed me one side of his face: "this is my face." he turned: "this is the other side of my face."

a card instructed me to trace the route to my home on the glass, and to instruct him to follow my finger on his side; i pulled us both down and along the side of the partition until our hands fell off (the partition was manhattan, i reckoned, and i live on the east river.) the cards led us into pantomimes: make an S. make a bowl. make a mountain. make a family. make a forest. we planted our elbows on the table, scraggled our fingers at each other like branches, and laughed. we made fists and unclenched them, bit by bit, for what we imagined was thirty seconds. i was told to imagine his mouth. he was told to imagine my mouth.

one of us should shout as loudly as we could, a card said, so i waggled my eyebrows, took a deep breath, and bellowed until my voice gave out. do you think anyone heard that? the pillars glinted at the edge of our vision. we sat silently and listened to the space. another card asked us to come up with a not-happy-birthday song we both knew ("the national anthem?" "i don't know all of it," he whispered, but neither of us said anything else, so i pulled the next card and tonight was the night i sang all of "the star-spangled banner" to a stranger and buried my head in my hands; he laughed with delight). i have not broken a bone. i have broken a heart. he told me he was on a boat, and we swayed back and forth in time with one another. i don't like dancing. i imagined something that keeps him awake at night. i imagined him arriving home and someone greeting him at the door, i imagined that someone embracing him. i imagined the person he knows best in the world.

the partygoers have gone outside to watch the end of the meteor shower, i told him. no, we are gazing at the full moon. we are in our party shoes, i am slipping and he is putting out his arm to catch me. thank you, i say. do i think we have a mutual friend? i do. do i think there is music both of us would like? i do. what would happen if we saw each other again somewhere else? what happens to the him that has developed in my mind tonight? those are things i wondered, but they are more explicitly things i wondered aloud to him, cards in my hand. i was to quietly imagine a question i would ask him if i could. would you want to be my friend? my side of the partition had a pencil and a tape dispenser, and i was to write my name, or a made-up name, on the back of a card, and i taped it to the glass.

a quarter of the cards remained between us when i turned over the one that told me, in bold print, that the encounter was over. i was to gather my things, turn around, and walk out of the room without looking back, and a fat tear slipped into my mask. i thought of a mentor's lines, abrasion, absence:
Winter; the woods
Empty; the axe
Sunk in a stump;
Its thud a sob
Startling the sleep
Of the dreamer
Waking, calling
Where am I? Who
Is there?