the crossword and me and you.
drifts, desire, and a run in with ghosts.
Lately all I think about is Seattle. Its green, constant dampness. The grey plumed mist I walked into without realizing it was my life. Almost everyone I knew and loved there has left by now, moved away or lost touch, and I hear through the few friends who stayed about all the places that have closed, the way things have changed, the ordinary shiftings of a city accreting through time. Sometimes I zoom in on google maps and draw a line with my finger down the streets I used to walk, like I could tap the glass of my phone and call back my ghosts. What would we say to each other? I want to tell them to keep walking, to not miss anything. I want to tell them that they will.
For awhile, my best friend Taylor worked at a café called Kiss and after classes or work, I’d hop on the 40 to Ballard so I could sit on a pickle bucket in the back of the kitchen while she fried eggs, sliced cheese, and spattered sandwiches with just the right amount of mayo. She’d pass me handfuls of raspberries or paper cups full of pickle butts and I’d eat while she worked. She always had her hair pulled back with a bandana and wore the shittiest white converse sneakers even though they weren’t kitchen shoes. I remember her face dewed with freckles under the greasy light.
She’d wrangle the aux cord away from the boys and play Bowie or The Clash and it didn’t matter that the speakers were never quite clear enough, or the dishwater always sloshed you, or I was always just a bit in the way when someone needed to get into the cooler. I had a place atop a bin of brine and no loneliness felt too big or too urgent inside that yellow kitchen. I knew her coworkers and they knew me, in the kind of way where we talked shit about each other to our faces and grinned like little kids when the jabs were good. It was like throwing pop rocks and watching them spark — we wanted the shared heat even when it stung because the light was so sudden, so good. I felt lucky to be part of the crew, to merit a seat on the other side of the bar where not even the regulars sat.
There was a regular who did the crossword in the corner bar stool every night. If I got there early enough, I’d plop myself into the seat across from him and he’d hand me the pencil, tell me the number he was at. He was in his sixties, tall and broad, drove a motorcycle, and answered only to Biscuit. If it’d been awhile since I’d made it last in, he’d grin and clap my back and boom out, where you been, stranger? One of the bartenders with a slow drawl and a quick laugh would pass me a beer and I’d hang my toes off the barstool, tapping out some tune while Biscuit and I talked and tried our best not to write anything we’d need to erase. Sometimes another co-worker would lope over and wrinkle their brow halfheartedly at the clues, but Biscuit didn’t tolerate bullshitting and wouldn't hand the pencil over to just anyone.
Once on an evening I was heartbroken we finished the Sunday crossword and I wanted to say thank you but how do you say thank you for something like that? For the familiarity, the sense of something having accumulated distractedly, like little cumulus clouds floating above our heads — and how nothing was said yet I knew we had each other’s backs, even though a situation where that was called into necessity seemed unthinkable, even though we were little more than strangers. He was always glad to see me, would have tried to ease my sadness if he knew.
After Taylor would close up the cafe, we’d maybe head over to another bar or even better, would splurge on a $6 lyft across the bridge home, and I would have her to myself, where we would drink gin and tonics and eat peanut butter pretzels until our stomachs hurt. We’d sit smoking and curled on the couch on our deck three stories up, looking at the ships blinking in the blue light of the canal. Across the way was a red sign we greeted nightly that flashed PEOPLE’S STORAGE to us and sometimes it was a game which letter would be out. That was when we shared a room and had two twin beds crammed tightly in each corner by the window. The closet was a wall of mirrors smudged with half-erased notes in red lipstick, like some baroque palimpsest delighting in its campy permanence. We never put away our clean clothes, not entirely. We lived like nothing would change and then protested when it did, invoked the past in our daily lives by sealing each present moment as memory, understanding that what was happening was important because it would not last.
In my notes from 2017:
I guess I was looking for an immediate beautiful emotion
The next entry reads
2017 was around the time I bought essential oils to use as perfume and would dab peppermint or lemongrass on my wrists and behind my ears when I needed to feel brave. Once someone I cared for said he knew I was near because he smelled cloves. I wanted to mean more than recognition. I was still trying to be a woman then and knew I was getting it wrong, but hoped my desperation meant I could fix what I feared was unfixable, what formed a scrim between myself and the world. I tried to dress like Audrey Horne and instead walked around like George Constanza in drag as Elaine. I bought more peppermint oil and bummed smokes from friends and left lipstick stains on paper cups because I liked the mark.
A professor once told me I appeared put together but he could tell that underneath I was desperate. I felt like lantern light flung across the dark by an erratic hand. Anything I could use to cohere, I glommed onto: crosswords, scents, red lipsticks, le pens, annotations. If I ritualized my life enough, would it become sacred, would I steady? I bought flowers for myself every Sunday and walked home hoping someone would see my secret and find it beautiful. When I walked through Upper Queen Anne, twisting through the protrusions of blossoms in the heady summer hours, I ran my hands through every lavender bush and held them close to my face like I could catch the smell.
Other girls around me felt so effortless and illusory — in the girls bathroom on the third floor of Demaray Hall, after the 9:30-10:50 classes let out, the stalls notarized lines of women who glanced at their faces in the mirror and could believe the person envisaged in the glass was them. Each face of my own was a new ghost that looked like anyone but me. Their eyes follow me still.
I tried to date men then because I was desperate for witness and confirmation of their affection proved my ever dubious inclusion within the camp of womanhood — I belonged because I hit checkpoints of validity, was found desirable by what I had been told was distinctly other than myself. Despite the sense of something being incorrect with this dynamic, if I could succeed at one aspect of Being A Girl then perhaps the fault was not with my identity but my performance. The proof of an external desire for the girl I played allowed me for just one moment to dispel with something resembling legitimacy the unease that my supposed gender caused me, and so I reasoned the fugue state I lived in was simply tiredness, that dissociation was requirement owed to be a body in the world.
So I played the bawdy song of my own gender gone rogue and flirted with diversions to avoid the haunting. I gave my number to strangers, I kissed men whose mouths tasted like peat moss and then stayed nauseous for days, I held clammy hand after clammy hand and pretended the marbling I felt in my limbs meant I was thawing not going cold. Any myth was fair game. Take Pygmalion and Galatea and I was both the statue and the hand marring the stone.
I’ve been trying to finish this essay for a week now and stall here. Where to go from a body and its dissolution? How to catch up with the haunting when it never quite leaves? As I write this a mouse trap goes off in our kitchen and I think without meaning to of my parents trying to catch a mouse in one of the many houses we lived in during my childhood. The image of my mom on a chair snags at whatever thread I had left. I’m tired. All I want to say feels both too large and too far from me. I am running out of notes to return to.
Here’s a new concept: hungry hungry ghosts. How many memories can you catch? Forget hippos, swallow the pearls whole. The ghosts are ravenous. Your own mouth never fills. This is what it feels like to walk through the world as a
gi[ ] rl who disbelieves their own shadow.
In my notes from 2019:
I don’t feel heroic or beautiful
Just tired of wanting things