How Long Can You Live in Remission?

You can tell which are the men who fear women as soon as you see them. Problematic, maybe, but true, at least in my experience. There is a look to them: exaggerated strides that take up space and seek attention and eyes that seem to see right through you.

Along an empty Whitechapel sidewalk, the three of us approach a narrow space in between an apartment building’s brick wall and a van parked on the curb next to our walkway. Another woman—especially another as young and small and alone as myself—might step into the street and around the other side of the van but I keep walking—I always keep walking. Finding home in your skin is the beginning of strength.

The way the taller one looks at me feels the way Byron Hadley’s voice sounds in The Shawshank Redemption when he says he likes hard to get. He looks at me and I look at him, always—I never look away. I wonder what he’ll say; where it will fall on the spectrum of things that have been said to women in tight spaces on empty streets. But this one is different. As his eyes move down my body he says, as he walks by me, Too small.

I say nothing. I always say something, but now I do not know what to say. Too small? I do not feel that way. Is that what I am?

 

We are sitting at a picnic table in Brixton. He is saying something to me. I don’t know. I feel angry and I break. I break at him. I don’t know what he’s said. Where are we? My mind melts, preoccupied by thoughts that move in circles. Over and over. Soon it will be gone.

We are in the museum. Black mouths with sharp teeth eat me alive and I welcome them. Small are the hours that go by.

 

London, United Kingdom

Ealing Broadway

I find myself in London on the mattress I’d thought would be on the floor. But the mattress—mine, now—is where I left it: in the smallest bedroom at the top of the rusty metal stairs in the house above the pizza shop. This house I once dreamt of so often that, upon finding it again, the waking hours between the waves of the Atlantic seem to dissipate until they have never been at all. Everything has changed for me, but nothing has here.

Do you remember the first time you were here? He asks me.

 

We had been watching the couple sitting just across from us at the pub. How well do they know each other? We wondered. How often do they think of one another, and how many times have they seen each other? You can tell he wants to kiss her, you said to me. Look. But I looked at you instead, and the next several hours did not exist beyond the alternation of my lips on yours and yours on mine and the glimpses of gut-wrenching blue that hit me in between. Waves rolled within me even after you left.

 

Yes. I turn away from him. I remember.

A magic hour later than those I’ve come to know washes over the two of us, erasing thirteen month’s delusions in the brightest shade of blue. My words are far more measured than I’ve intended. Train station terminals, botched goodbyes. Perennial flowers in the university’s gardens.

There is a ghost somewhere in this city that’s still with me. On this mattress I’m not sure I want to leave at the end of the week, I become sure that I have to.

I sit on the floor of the platform, awash in triangular shadow and a sea of glass slippers, waiting for the 8:03 to Oxford to board.

 

London, United Kingdom

No-Face

It is Father’s Day. London is burning and dragging with it from shop to shop boxes containing 14-inch chrome fans, and I am feeling that floating separation of mind and body again. Is it the re-spacing or the existence outside of the expected; is it the avoidance of the species or the presence of it; the walking or the starving or the nonchalant way I taste the heaviness that rides up endlessly, scraping the wrong way up my throat? The caffeine makes my stomach turn as if eager to reiterate the act and I think of the morning I promised myself would be the last (I understand you. You win).

Looking for a silhouette in the wooden backs of mirrors, I read the first fifty-six pages of Kafka, Kundera, Adams, Thoreau, leaving the remains under tables at bus station Burger Kings or at the feet of trees confined to city parks. I take solace in the feeling of my feet spreading into imagined footprints—those caves cemented into the floors of bourgeoisie cafés and dirty underground stations. Waking is caffeine highs, hellos, and goodbyes; words in languages I can’t understand and words in accents I wish I couldn’t. Waking is miles under the sun that wash away in sweaty streams on still white mornings when I rise alone or on stuffy mornings when I wish I had. Sometimes I turn towards the window nearest me and there are signs—double-decker red busses, suspended orange or grounded green trash bins, spider webs of trolley wires and kavárny—and I make a note to remember what they mean.

Sleeping is the reminder that somewhere, wherever, I am alive.

 

London, United Kingdom

Botanic Gardens

Ladies and gentlemen, we are approaching our final destination. Along the highway are glass boxes, grand arches marking the gateway to a city whose second-hand emissions of consumption bubble in my gut. SONY. Long vines hang from their rafters. DELL. There are bombs hidden in the dirt. Their roots begin to wrap around the wires. H&M. K.F.C. Red roofs nestled in the hills.

Let’s talk about the Twin Towers. That was an act that propelled Americans to encourage war—a monumental event that caused a shift in ideology. I don’t know if it matters that people are accepting.

The means of production are streams of confetti, raining down on postmodern warriors who believe this is enough. Would people need to be accepting?

I think of explosions and the way that people come together when things fall apart.

 

Prague, Czech Republic

The Water Goblin

The narrative asks you to inhabit a space outside the one now surrounding you; to interact with the reflections of people you’ll never meet. Through sensory stimuli, it asks you to reconsider the moment you inhabit. You feel not mere replicas, but the very emotions you’d feel were you in that space. The narrative—itself, of course, an adaptable and immortal ghost of the perceptions, emotions, and thoughts of the individual who penned it—does all this without speaking explicitly. It doesn’t need to ask us to imagine—we already do that.

It is easy, then, to inhabit a coffee shop located on the relatively quiet end of a narrow street—Betlemská, it is called—tucked to the side of an otherwise crowded part of Prague’s Staré Město. Consider, on the one hand, yourself, arms sun-darkened, fingers shaking as they move, the pain in your temple. The white walls and white light and white jars and flower pots and white hanging orbs contribute to your experience of this moment, and the soundscape is laid out for you here:

  1. Czech words overlapping one another
  2. soft vocals in an English accent over acoustic guitar
  3. room tone
  4. chair legs sliding across a cement floor

Consider, on the other hand, what those unintelligible words might mean. What meaning might be on the other end of your fingertips for those who can interpret your own? How does the play of this music against the light of the open room convince you that you needn’t need a reason to be?

If someone were to ask you what you were doing there in that moment, what would you say?

Imagine standing at the top of a hill at midnight. Each time the moon is nearly full, it is either C-shaped or D-shaped. Depending on which it is tonight, you will know whether the moon was full last night, and the moon you see now has begun to wear away, or whether it will be full tomorrow evening, and the moon you see now is on its way there. Can you tell which one it is? Perhaps you are alone and must riddle it out for yourself, or perhaps you are accompanied by another person or two, and the three of you talk amongst yourselves to work it out. Language can be a useful vessel that way.

This transpires, and as it does so, the Earth rotates—though without so many words.

The moon, as it happens, is full tonight, to the uninhibited eye a motionless “Oh.”

 

Prague, Czech Republic