Molly Dektar is from North Carolina. Here’s her blog.
I wake up because my cat has just sprinted across my chest, so fast she only touched me once. It’s my girlfriend Eve’s first day working at the flea market. She has to leave now to bike thousands of dollars of irreplaceable handicrafts from the Navy Yard to Fort Greene and she’s not a good biker. Too floppy. On the other hand, she’s amazing at yoga. “You can’t be amazing at yoga,” she’s told me. “It’s all about the breath.”
I pick up where I left off yesterday reading #noshameday posts about fibromyalgia on Tumblr. I was just reading on Jezebel about fibromyalgia and Morgellons. The gist: Morgellons isn’t an actual disease. Fibromyalgia is. It’s the prettiest day of 2015, violet-blue sky, etc., but I feel heart-poundingly nervous, I think because I might be seeing an old friend tonight. I give him an 80% chance of flaking. (He sent me an email on April 13th: “Ciao, I was just sitting here eating some vegemite toast and thinking it’s a shame we live in NYC and haven’t seen each other, and that I’d like to see you soon.”) Our relationship is fraught. We met freshman year and he was my first close friend. He is intense, vulgar, gay, and wicked. He is a language genius—I think by now he knows six: English, Spanish, French, Latin, German, Italian. We took linguistics together, and then I taught him Italian, which I knew from being an exchange student. We spent a summer together in Italy studying Dante, hating each other ferociously or else inseparable, letting no one in. Then we had a terrible falling-out. He was the king and I was the servant. When I fell in love with someone else, I figured it out.
Last time he was in NYC, in July, we both flaked on each other. Months later, I saw a friend on the subway. She said, “Austin told me all about your crazy adventures in July!” I said, “No, I didn’t see him in July.” She said, “You did see him. He told me that whole story about your tampon…” Now I was embarrassed. I tried to explain that I seriously didn’t see him. She didn’t get that HE’S the crazy one. “Do you have memory problems?” she said. She was with a Tinder date. He looked like a dialed-up version of Eddie Redmayne, like Eddie Redmayne’s features taken beyond the limits and on into the uncanny valley.
Since fibromyalgia’s causes are unknown, I am sort of worried that Googling it so intensively will put the idea of it in my head/body.
Back to sleep.
I wake up again having wasted half the day. Bleary. The neighbors’ nondescript tree has burst into fluffy white blossoms. The sweet minor-third ooo-weee bird of the morning has been replaced by a screechy bird. My ears feel numb. I can’t smell anything. I need coffee.
I dreamed about Austin and the flea market. About Austin, I dreamed that he kept pinning things on me that weren’t my fault, but I couldn’t explain myself. In real life he told me I always wanted to be a victim. He said this while he was being terrible to me. It was very effective in getting me to buckle down and try again. As for the flea market—well, this dream was an exact 1:1 of my anxieties. I dreamed I blundered around and ruined everything. I dreamed I wrote about it for Enormous Eye.
Spring! None of the dresses in my closet are light enough. I pull out the bin of last year’s clothes. I feel euphoric for a moment. This dress used to be pale denim, now it’s ivory-colored and smells like moss. Two reasons for choosing it: I can wear it without a bra. Eve likes it.
Coffee in Moka pot, sunscreen on face. Most fibromyalgia sufferers are middle-aged women and along with pain and exhaustion they have to cope with people telling them their disease isn’t real—it’s like hysteria, some say. It’s all in your head. The thematic similarity to Austin strikes me for the first time, but it’s not a coincidence. I’m drawn to what I’m drawn to.
I tell my roommate about Enormous Eye. I feel super self-centered. Why should anyone care about my shit? They certainly won’t have heard my name before they start scrolling. My roommate says it sounds like a great opportunity for mindfulness. Though mindfulness (of the “in-the-moment” type) has never been my concern as much as memory. Who did I used to be? Why do certain things mean so much to me? Alice Munro has a character say (in “Miles City, Montana”) that traveling is a way of “wooing distant parts of myself.” That is my main interest too, for some reason.
My friend Julian texts. I plan to see him later. I give the Austin odds at 95% flake. I’m trying so hard to see more people these days. Though, all in all, I love being alone, and I go actively looking for loneliness. For example, after college, right before I was going to move to New York, I got a fellowship to go to Norway to talk to farmers about their experiences with climate change. I lived for a while on a profoundly isolated island where everyone was in love with each other due to the isolation. The weather was terrible, but there were double rainbows every day. And pristine loneliness. I couldn’t talk to anyone, not even the reptilian Austrian chef I was in love with. He was living there because his old girlfriend had moved there, fallen in love (inevitable), and had a baby with a farmer. The Austrian chef wanted both to help her and to get her back. So I don’t think my love would have meant much to him. Once I cooked for the chef and he pulled out a long piece of my hair. Shameful, intimate, but in a nice way—he showed it to me with an expression I liked. Besides that, it was pretty much just me and the sheep.
Still trying to work out how solitude will fit in the best relationship of my life, with Eve, whom I am going off to visit now. She got the job working at the flea market because a little while ago she bought a satchel from the European women who make them. They hired her because they liked her vibe.
The flea market is nuts. It’s the first day in its summer location on a scorching blacktop. Everyone is decked out in summer clothes, sundresses, candy colors. I see a toddler clutching a pink magnolia flower the size of her head. I want to buy everything: a milk-paint nightstand, a California case, a cornflower dress, pillowcases made out of carpet, etc. I take a circuit around and find Eve’s stall. Yikes, both the owners are there and they are shatteringly hot. I stand there like a creep. Eve is busy and flushed. Finally I call her name. Nervousness swamps me as I shake the owners’ hands. I feel like I wore the wrong thing. When they get occupied with customers, I weirdly scuttle away. But inadequacy like this sometimes makes me pumped about all the things in the world I know nothing about.
I walk to Atlantic-Barclays and get on the Q. I try Austin’s phone but his number must have changed since 2012 when we last saw each other.
The Q smells like sour B.O. A summer smell! I almost seize a seat that rightfully belongs to a child. Though I am just about the ultimate in femme invisibility, I do have one queerish habit, which is that I wear men’s deodorant. The heat just makes it smell better, I think.
Sandwich at Breads, and I find Julian in the Union Square throngs. He is tall, imperturbable, melancholy, and wearing linen. We wander around Chelsea and go to Grumpy for iced coffees that will melt before we finish them. This morning, Julian met up with a famous poet and scholar who encouraged him to work on his own manuscript. Springtime outcome. We talk about my relationship with this male fiction writer I will call David who is one of my two favorite living writers. Julian and I met up with him in the fall, and David swatted a bee off Julian’s shirt. Now, in the spring, David consented to meet up with me a few times to talk about literature. This writer can’t possibly imagine how much I obsess over our meetings, and how much they mean to me. On the other hand, I feel like his writing sees right through me, and maybe he does as well. David always seems to find my blind spots. I’ve been writing about a novel about a utopian homestead. “Have you read Fourier? Hawthorne? The Transcendentalists?” “What drew you to writing about a cult?” Now I can answer these questions, but at the time I was dumbfounded. I am too excited/anxious at our meetings to behave like a person.
He gave me three vital pieces of advice. One, after I complained about a young writer who has hit the big time, he said, empathetically, “Compete with the dead, be envious of the successes of the dead.” Two, he said, “Why do so many contemporary novelists write as though modernism never existed?” Three, after I admitted I don’t attend many cultural events around New York, he said, “Treat going to museums like it’s your job.”
In Chelsea, Julian and I walk under snowy white flowering trees. As I take photos with my clunky Canon AE-1, various people stop to appreciate the same view I’m photographing. Julian gives me the courage to ask to photograph a teen walking a fresh little muffin of a puppy. Julian is reading Donald Firbank. I’m reading Austerlitz by Sebald. I’ve been reading Sebald all spring. Everyone is carrying a street hockey stick today. We talk about a friend whose boyfriend a while ago dumped her because she was making him “too happy to write.” We talk about writing from places of agony/heartbreak/increasing maturity.
Austin calls. He invites me to his apartment at 8th Street and Avenue D. I take various subways and walk through vivid, crowded Tompkins Square Park, through yellow, orange, pink, green, white.
The elevator is brushed steel, new and tidy. Austin lives on the twelfth floor. We head immediately for the roof, where a dozen or so affluent yuppies sip clinking cocktails and lounge on fancy deck furniture. Our little group is Austin, his boyfriend, and another friend. There’s a giant, close-up Manhattan view. The financial district and the Empire State Building are a whole head-swivel away. We’re the highest building around but still a wasp found its way up here in airspace that I think belongs to birds. The low afternoon sun is jutting right into our eyes.
We have a wide-ranging, stilted conversation. The sun is more into our conversation than we are. The three friends use a lot of language about nymphs, sprites, queens, etc. We talk about the New Age trend. Austin’s boyfriend, who is sensible and thoughtful (just the fact that Austin has maintained this relationship makes me think that he’s grown up), points out that if you take care of your chakras you’ll probably be healthy in other ways as well. Austin’s a vegetarian now. He asks if I still make disgusting jokes. Thinking of David the writer, I mention that recently I’ve been interested in Sebald and how fiction might grapple with history without creating a false totality. As I more or less intended, this conversation strain doesn’t go anywhere. Austin talks about how, since college, he’s learned how to work. I remind him of what Julian reminded me: once Austin stayed up for several days to complete what was essentially an entire semester’s neglected coursework. At the end, he peed straight-up blood. “Then I went to bed,” he says.
What we’re not saying seems much more powerful than what we are saying. It’s the wind beneath our wings!
I head back down to earth. I text Austin “<3.” Dusk has come to the East Village. St. Marks, a river of people, smells like cigarettes, perfume and grilling meat. I eat shoyu ramen at Setagaya. The radio plays “Son of a Preacher Man.”
Trying to navigate home. The L is dead and the 4 and 5 are broken so I take the R. A middle-aged man says, “Excuse me, I have to ask you. You just look great. Are you dressed for your wedding?”
“No,” I say, taken aback. I get about one stranger compliment every two years. “Just spring.”
Everyone today seems to be talking to strangers a lot more than usual. On the G platform at 4th and 9th, which is the perfect temperature, with a mysterious nighttime breeze, I watch three floral-clad girls ask a guy for his photo. “We love your show. You’re our favorite!” Who the fuck could he possibly be? I strain my ears but I can’t figure it out. He’s a handsome black man in glasses. (Careful Googling will reveal the answer at home. He’s on “Guy Code.”)
Reached Bed-Stuy and our summer-warm apartment. Home to my human dumpling. She’s asleep on our bed like someone dropped her there from on high. She says the biking part was hard. With the tent and all the supplies, the trailer probably weighed around 150 pounds. And she weighs 100 pounds. She has a tough and scrappy look but she’s a softy. “Skin makes me cry” type skin, soft as a flower petal. I give her a back rub. She sold tons today. “It’s all downhill from here!” one of the owners said. The highlight of her day was when an exchange-student type approached her to ask where to find the queers in Brooklyn. Our window is open and we can hear the wind chime.
She asks about Austin. “Weird and sad,” I say. We know each other so well. He seems different, but also maybe like a crocodile lying low. Or time has defanged both of us. Still, I hope to see him again soon.
Eve and I walk six flights to the roof to say goodbye to the day. The Empire State Building is lit white. According to a new Verizon warning sign, there might be a dangerous radio forcefield all around us.