Where Baby Was Going

The building with the one small window and the green light is gone. Last I remember I saw it was with Baby. That’s not her name, but that’s how I think of her now, and when I do hear someone else say it, her given name, I am filled with the small fury she created in me. This is a shame for one so common.
We were walking in the opposite direction from which it shone. There came a friend of ours named John. He was drinking a Four Loko and had glitter on his face, and without him, I doubt either of us would’ve noticed the window.
He had an energy about him. We fell out of touch, and when I saw him again years later, in a different neighborhood, he kissed my face. I met my father for dinner. He asked why I smelled like that.
The building that replaced it has a grocery on the first floor. I need to remember to stop there on my way home. The same six blocks have ruled those six years separating the encounters. I can see them plainly and know the fastest bits of ways.

It sounds stupid, but there are faster bits of sidewalk than others.
Outside Cafe Sabarsky, for instance, there is a particularly quick area that gives you some momentum so you don’t linger in the David H. Koch Plaza.

At Christmastime, I agreed to watch John’s cats. I had no reason to leave town. It occurs to me now that Baby might have extended an invitation had I pressed her, but I didn’t.
For the time being I didn’t officially live anywhere. I drove John’s car into a neighborhood in Queens. I swiped through pictures of women on my phone. And I guess some of them swiped through pictures of me.
Kiwi, who is a big fat golden cat, made a mess. The roof leaked, but the back porch was warm and open, and as the beginning of winters shifted later each year, this was no different. I sat out drinking Rolling Rocks in the sun on December 25, smelling the sick sugar left from the bakery below me. It was a big chain bakery, maybe the biggest. I wondered wasn’t it closed.

That night, after the basketball games were over, I invited a girl I knew over to the apartment and opened a bottle of champagne. I turned the radio on and wrapped my arms around her and went to sleep alone.
She said, ―I told you all about my boyfriend.
I said, ―When.
She said, ―At the bar.
I said, ―But I asked you to the bar… I asked you to come have champagne. Her breath had smelled bad all night, and now I couldn’t smell it. I said, with repeated exclamation, ―It’s okay! We’re friends! Let’s finish the bottle of champagne!

John said he’d be home one day. He called from Panama to say he’d be home three days after that day. I’d thought he was in Palm Springs.
I threw an orange peel off the porch into a garden below.

The night of the day John said he’d be home, Theo, a curator at the Met, buzzed the apartment. They’d had dinner plans, and he became very irritable when I tried to explain. He invited me to come by the museum the following afternoon.
He walked me around, sweetly, firmly commenting on the Assyrian and Iberian artifacts, but he was distracted by a woman who’d joined us. Really it was I who had joined them.

We need to backtrack.

A woman who once let me lay a finger on her told me I had to see the baseball cards at the Met. It goes without saying that I didn’t find the room. And if you think I’m the type to consult the map then you may as well stop reading here.
She knew John. This is inexplicable. It’s inexplicable for any number of reasons. One of them being I didn’t ask how. Because by then I hardly knew him. When I did, later, asked John about her, he replied, ―Jodi likes to fuck. It was the day after Christmas, a day that also has a name with a tradition so foreign to me, each year I have to just remind myself to let it go.
On John’s back porch she said, ―You’re so much dumber than I am, and in his bed, she said, ―I made a deal with myself in the mirror we wouldn’t do that tonight, and when I put my mouth on her, she said, ―I already told you what I said.

The next morning the cats were all over us. Jodi said Kiwi had been biting her nipple periodically throughout the night.
I waited for her to leave, but she looked at John’s bookcase and took a big architecture monograph down and opened it up. I made some coffee, which is not something I would normally do. I don’t like coffee, but I needed to move around.

This bears importance in the following scene, which comes from a note I wrote myself four days later, waiting for John in the car to pick him up at the airport. I have transcribed it below in full, redundancies and all.

On a day in late December, I went to breakfast at a diner called Victory Flower, located on Graham Avenue in Brooklyn. I was hungover, and it was the early afternoon. I had not been sleeping much that week, or in the weeks preceding. Now we’ll lapse to present tense: as I get to my booth, a glass of water is already there, like, waiting for me. This is nice to me, and I sit drinking it bleary eyed, when a waitress comes up and asks if I’d like a drink. Well, I’m happy with my water, I tell her, I say thank you, but the water is fine. A few minutes later (see, I have not ordered, I am awaiting my friend who is meeting me), a second waitress asks if I’d like a cup of coffee. At this I light up. See, I’m not a typical coffee drinker. I don’t do well with caffeine as a rule, so how was I to conjure the thought of coffee? But in the moment, yes, coffee sounds nice. I endorse her suggestion 100%. Minutes pass. I remain alone, and I can see the first waitress noticing me having a cup of coffee—a drink! Though she might have gotten me just that had I thought of it (had she suggested it, because how was I supposed to think of it, not being a regular coffee drinker), I try to explain this but she seems dubious. It crosses my mind that she might think I only wanted to engage with the second waitress because she (the first waitress) happens to be obese. This is not the case! Why should I care about how the waitress looks—listen, I do not. I do not care how she looks, it was only that the second waitress had been more assertive, more suggestive of something that had not come through the awful coils and webs of my sleep deprived and increasingly feeble brain. So that’s that. My friend arrives, and after the meal, later, waitress number one comes to ask if i’d like some more coffee. But I don’t. I consider, just for her sake, appeasing the situation, drinking the more coffee. I can, however, already feel the caffeine working too much. I know if I dare drink more, the whole day might be lost in that elevated, nervous dehydrated state it can get to. So I say no, which only makes my condition more dour. She leaves looking upset. The next afternoon, at Cafe Sabarsky, I notice that my friend has been drinking a Bitburger Drive: a 0.0% ABV beer, I guess, beverage. This refreshment is not even on the menu, we learn, when inquiring. It’s something you’re meant to specifically request. We all have coffees too, after the beer debacle. Did I mention there was a second friend there? Well there was. (Catch the changes in tense again.) It’s the afternoon, and with one day left that year.

He held the beer up to his face. The waiter couldn’t explain it. The waiter kept asking us if we ordered it that way.
            Theo’s friend kept asking exactly how fat the waitress was, because I’d told them the story, when our coffee came. She insisted I turn it into a stand-up.
But there’s no punchline.

When we stepped out of the cafe, there was any number of directions we could go. The wind buoyed Theo, you could see it. The way he had been unable to listen to me by her, the way she held onto his arm for just an instant. I left them. They walked into the park.

The next night was my last at John’s.
I admired his Christmas tree with a bit of resentment at never knowing a spiritual relish.
Pine needles were everywhere at that point. I polished off the better part of a fifth that had been left as a gift. A DVD of Gremlins was on the floor from something I must have done during the past ten days.
The two other cats hid in closets and under any objects larger than them while Kiwi was regularly relieving himself outside the box. I might’ve never seen her again, after she let out that little shriek in the middle of the night when she’d stepped in it, but Jodi called to say my phone had sent a message of two dozen or more lowercase Ys with umlauts.
Neither of us knew the language in which this accented letter would have been used, so I met her in Manhattan at a bar John had described as his ―Old haunt. This is the type of person John is.
Jodi ordered a ―Regular Budweiser. This is the type of person Jodi is. The bartender made fun of her for the rest of the night, and we walked around making out and drinking in all the construction zones of Port Authority.
We ate french fries in a three story McDonald’s. She handed me her phone. It said, ÿÿÿÿÿÿÿÿÿÿÿÿÿÿÿÿÿÿÿÿÿÿÿÿÿÿÿÿÿÿÿÿÿÿÿÿÿÿÿÿÿÿÿÿÿÿÿÿÿ, and I didn’t invite Jodi back to John’s place because she had to visit her grandma in the morning, and Jodi didn’t invite me to her place because she was nineteen and it was her parents’ apartment and she was on Christmas break from college.

Doesn’t everything happen that way?
If in the long stretches of solitude, your life in solitude, you’ve become weary and unhinged and hear the redolent coughs of your coworkers as a settling doom, then we have that in common, and I feel close to you. Do you forget words? Know their shapes and ideas and fillers but are unable to grasp that urgency of language when it seems to matter? Do your hands go numb sometimes for no apparent reason? Do you find yourself on the street lost in a pattern of dissolving familiarities? Have the same six blocks ruled the last six years of your life? And what happened to that shuttered building with the green light falling out behind a curtain far above the avenue.

A couple weeks later John drove me down to Coney Island to thank me for watching the cats. We walked along the beach, covered in thick icy snow. We put our boots in the water.
He drove me home and I called Jodi over to where I was living. It was dirty and dry and impossible to get the lighting right after dark. In the morning I said, ―I’m not going to be your booty call in the future. Like I want to be your friend, you don’t get to just see me when I’m drunk.
Jodi said I’d called her, and I said it didn’t matter. Then she went off back to school in the south somewhere where everyone has stories about people open carrying guns around town.

Baby and I had lived together for three years. I couldn’t help it. She made me so difficult, but Baby wasn’t going anywhere. Even when she moved to Boston. It’s not really something you can escape. Or I don’t know about you. I haven’t been able to yet.

In the summer. Or in the first weeks of late spring. When you start leaving the house without a light jacket even in your bag, the vulnerability you incur often goes unrewarded the longer you expose yourself to what’s out there.
By the heart of the night, if you’re drinking at the bar’s patio or you’re stepping through a window from a gallery filled with people into a small, wet backyard to stand by other people smoking or whatever they’re doing huddled making voices by that little table in the far right, or you’re just waiting in a line somewhere, you’ll quickly be able to pick out that shivering specter of possibility. It could be you, a little underdressed. That person who forgot what sixty degrees actually feels like.
That’s where I saw Jodi for the second time since she’d gone back to the south, studied abroad in Athens, had her face on the sidebars of a number of gossip and new websites after writing an article about a high profile artist for whom she’d interned and dropped out of college. I saw her standing outside Bossa Nova, struggling to light a cigarette.
The article was about how he’d sexually harassed her. And it suggested he did to other people. And then it waterfalled so that the other people had their own articles with their own little faces cropped next to his.
The first time I’d seen her was at her book launch, but I hadn’t said hi then. I met her eyes and made mine bigger. Then I left.

―You seem like the type who likes to have lots of time to yourself.
She said, ―Yep.
I was grinning, she was grinning.
―Is that going to be a problem for you?
―Going to be?
―So how do you know Jodi?
I thought on that one. I said, ―How everyone knows everyone.
Maybe she thought on that. ―Which is?
            ―Do you want me to leave? I thought you liked to have lots of time to yourself?

Jodi said she approved.
I told her it wasn’t important to me what she thought about me and her friend.
She said her friend was very talented and had been in touch with an agent about some short stories.
I said, ―Where are they published? I didn’t see any short stories?
Jodi laughed. She was on the telephone. She had called me to tell me she approved. She had called me from a number that wasn’t the one I’d been texting because I was racking up international rates on her cell and she was in Cologne. She had called me from her hotel phone because the people who had set up the event were paying for everything that had to do with accommodation. So she was using the telephone.
The event was that they were going to photograph her with nine other goodlooking poets and writers and artists at an expensive dinner, and they were going to put her in a dress with makeup and so on.
From the moment I was aware of Jodi, I knew she’d end up doing something like that. I also knew she wanted me to say so, which is why I didn’t.

Normally I speak my mind.
Me and Jodi’s friend fell deeply in love. We didn’t see Baby. Baby’s name was hardly ever mentioned. She knew everything about Baby, and I knew everything about whoever her persons had been. And that that was fine was good enough for me.

My first arguments with Baby were not so different from my first arguments with anyone else.
We’d buy, like, an artisanal blanket or something. We’d take her car into Queens to eat at a Chinese restaurant and drive back in the soft October rain listening to the radio too loud. The late night rehashing of a singer whose name sounds familiar but you’d need to call your father to figure out why.
My father asked me why I smelled that way. There were duck eggs on the table between us.
Baby was nowhere to be seen.

I finally came upon Jodi’s friend’s stories without trying. It was in a small annual I’d long respected, and it chronicled the type of aggressive indecision that had plagued me away from her. You can probably just figure who she is, if you’re reading this, and I can avoid going into details.
The one thing I did different with Baby was I didn’t keep my apartment.
Believe me, they always have more money than you. They always have more history than you. And they’ll always do well with or without you. You are not going to change things so much for them. This is the type of person I became. I kept my apartment, and I kept walking, late into the night, wondering if I could come upon someone I knew, some light shining away from me.
You did as well. You always came along someone you knew.

I guess all things bear repeating.

Did I fail to tell you that Baby was a botanist? Baby was a botanist in Boston. Baby who’d killed our Dracaena Marginata, and who’d studied Russian literature in college, while I studied English.
It happened right under my nose. She invited me to her convocation. She’d done the whole thing in four years. Which meant that it must have been seven, not had been six years since we’d moved in together, and every time I tried to recount, it felt wrong.
Maybe it was because of the final year. I insulated myself from our life. I looked through the chalky film of the library windows. I napped on the chairs and in the park, and biked the long way home. We watched different TV shows on different laptops and went to bed at different times. To spend Saturday mornings was our only overlapping schedule by the end.
The Saturdays humid and luminous.
In the corner of the room. The Dracaena Marginata’s leaves turned down. On Saturdays. They never seem to end.

Did I fail to tell you that Jodi’s book was shortlisted everywhere but won nothing?
What, do you think this makes me happy? Nothing made me less happy than when I saw her struggling to light that cigarette outside Bossa Nova. It was that odd notion to put something on fire in your mouth to warm you.
I took her to a bar two blocks away and bought her a drink with a drink mixed inside it. We left when they turned on the lights.
She left my room before the sun was all the way up. Still you could tell it was coming. She took a cab to the Upper West Side. To the Upper West Side where she lived. And where her parents lived.

It gets boiled down. How many words do I have to think to remember a thing? Caffeine in the morning.
Coffee makes me feel ruined. It makes me feel unruly. She said certain things. She was talking about some guy. In the morning, you can tell she’s not thinking of me. I wasn’t thinking of her. She said she missed things and was broken. I can’t remember everything. I’m not a perfect person. I’m a ruined one.
I can remember almost anything plainly but it’s always the wrong way. John said, ―Jodi likes to fuck.
Well I never noticed the difference.

Now she lives in Mexico City. Or maybe she still lives in Berlin. To some extent they all live in Berlin. Berlin with the free medical care facility.
I’ve known it too. What I do for a job or how I make my way to money is beside the point. If that is what you’re concerned about, then why didn’t you stop reading when I told you to?
Baby and I both lived in Berlin. At separate times. At separate times we went back, at separate times we made plans, and had separate stories and experiences. We recommended things to one another and ignored each other’s opinions.
I took my time, planned afternoons around the free medical care facility. They officially say it’s nothing. It’s in your head, your hands. The numb flitting of the psyche. I saw sculptures of the bear. I read essays by the great suicidal authors of the 20th century. Because that’s what you did. Fried chicken in the park, phone calls through your computer.
Usually you just stop hearing from people.

If you’re trying to fully understand if Jodi and I felt stuff for each other, the answer is yes. But again, that isn’t what this about, and the way you’re thinking about it is wrong. By the time I saw her outside Bossa Nova, or before that. By the time she went back to college even.

If you don’t believe me then we’ll backtrack again. In the afternoon after the night that she left before the sun, Jodi texted to ask if we were still on for the Met.
I got there before her. I took the train and felt the spring. I felt the fastest bits of ways and hadn’t slept. I avoided the spray of the fountain in David H. Koch Plaza and doubled back to Cafe Sabarsky. This is where I called Jodi. This is where Jodi met me.
Jodi who wore a Chanel suit in a magazine and Jodi who wore a falling apart sweater over a pair of tights in a restaurant. Jodi who walked me through the period rooms and pointed out the ones she’d want to live in, and Jodi who paused beside me at the Reliquary Arm of St. Valentine.
A waiter approached us and asked, ―You would like a coffee?
A waitress approached us and asked, ―You like ein kaffee?
I said, ―We already ordered.
Jodi said, ―He doesn’t like coffee but he’ll order a coffee because you’re supposed to here.
I said, ―I said we’d hold off on coffee until dessert. We’ll hold onto this menu for dessert.
A waiter approached us and asked, ―I will bring you a menu for dessert?
A waitress approached us and asked, ―You will be having dessert?
We had the same thing for dessert. We had Apfelstrudel and Einspänner. We had bratwurst beforehand. We had Palatschinken mit Räucherforelle und Oberskren. We had to ask many times for a refill of water.

Here’s the twist.
When they gave the fifteen minute warning at the museum, Jodi had still not found the the room with the baseball cards.
She said, ―They’re in a blue room.
She asked employees and guards, who didn’t seem to know. We looked at the Frank Lloyd Wright room. We walked among the glass cases of the mezzanine, which we agreed were the best. I showed her a chair.

In fact the baseball cards were not in a blue room, but at the end of the hall of glass cases. Jodi found it, sort of. Where there were panels of blue paintings. And there were four picture frames filled with a handful of cards each.
I took a blurry photo of one containing a Mickey Mantle and tried to text it to my father. Service wasn’t great.
Then we walked into the park and agreed if we ever spent the night together again, we wouldn’t spend the night together again, but one of us would leave. This was our way of saying we wouldn’t spend the night together again.

At a place I felt overwhelmed. Where I used to dogsit, in the years before Baby, I’d tied the terrier to a tree and immersed myself in any number of novels or dreams or angers.
Later, I walked away from and hid from Baby there. I saw the reservoir and took Jodi in my arms and kissed her, which was the wrong thing to do.

I only suggested she might live in Mexico City because she posted so few pictures from there. And because it’s a worthwhile guess.
John went to visit, and I haven’t heard from him since. He, though, posted a picture of the corner near where he’d lived. From the six blocks. From the opposite position of the green light. It was captioned, beers go by. And it was hashtagged,tbt.
Maybe he’s still out in Mexico then, you know. Hard to tell without asking. Harder to ask than ignore.
It’s possible the picture was taken last week, when he posted it. But I like to think about it being from before all that. Before I said to Baby that she caused the Dracaena Marginata to die. Where it’s possible the green from behind was lighting the whole thing.

The story ends because of the picture being posted. I walked the six blocks and looked at them. If you hadn’t been there in six years, they’d look the same. It was seeing them everyday that made them different.
I still have my apartment but I don’t have much stuff in it, and I try to stay with other people if I can.
So I thought I’d go see this nice girl who’d blown me off the night before, while at least it was still day. I picked up a bottle of wine and a few things for dinner and was halfway down the subway steps when I heard, ―David!
There was a sharp obfuscatory glare pouring in from around the figure, but it was clearly Baby. I couldn’t bring myself to say her name, but asked what she was doing here and she said she was back and working. It was a long time feeling a thought. It was a long time seeing the light behind her change in intensity so I could focus on her face. I felt in a rush.
I don’t want to make this go on and on and be about me and my problems. Something about those years together blurs and pulses in a way I’m not able to properly access. It’s like translating from a language you know very little of.
I said, ―Where are you going?
She said, ―Grocery shopping.
So I grinned and waved and then I was gone. Because you don’t have to go up the stairs to see someone who’s going grocery shopping. That’s one thing you really don’t have to do to. There are so many, but that’s really one.