|my cheek against the cold of
the window pane, a fat man coughing next to me.
|I am still determined to
become an adult. To leave a
boyfriend, an apartment, my books, my habits, my systems, my expectation
for what the street will look like in the morning. To place faith
in a cold cheek.
rule for traveling, no. 4
Traveling is a validation of self, a bold statement that self persists
|The airplanes are giant sharks
on land, circling for prey.
A flashback to pre-history.
Should I be on this plane?
rule for coming home, no. 2
Coming home is returning to the physical loneliness of adolescence.
|I can't ask my mother for an
ashtray, so I borrow the soap dish from the bathroom. After I tap
off ashes and put the cigarette back between my lips, it tastes
|Loneliness is like a cold
swimming pool. The initial shock seems unbearable. But slowly, cold
water settles down to "water," a graceful opposition.
rule for coming home, no. 5
When you hang up the phone, you jump back in. The water's cold again.
Tell your boyfriend not to call you.
boyfriend: Hey love, it's me. Just thought I'd call.
girl: Where are you?
boy: I'm in between dinner dates.
girl: I'm here.
boy: That's my doorbell. I'll call you back, baby. OK?
rule for coming home, no. 1
Your mother will seldom be calm enough for conversation.
|She's on the phone, talking
to a friend she doesn't like. She smiles large with two rows of
fifty year old teeth. "Your friend can't see you smile,"
mom. She frowns.
rule for coming home, no. 3
Cold pool metaphor, continued. Too much time alone and you will shrivel.
|I'm on my bed, trying to remember
what I have in my life. I take out a pen:
going to the bathroom
an eye doctor
a hatred of flying bugs
insecurities (my shortness)
a belief that my boyfriend shouldn't cheat on me
rule for traveling, no. 2
It is a bad idea to leave your boyfriend behind.
|girl: I love you.
boy: I miss you.
girl: Oh God, I miss you.
boy: I love you, I love you, I love you, I'll be there soon.
rule for traveling, no.3
Every cell can be replaced in seven years. Every love can be replaced
in seven days.
|I spot him by the baggage carousal
and wave. We have forty seconds between us. Enough time to convince
myself I should hug him. He starts running. He looks stupid. I don't
want to hug him.
rule for relationships, no. 1
Appearances are important.
|A face is a signifier; it refers
to personalities, existences; and somehow, most importantly, unabashedly,
the face refers to our relationship to the face.
The car ride home, and I notice the pimple on his cheek.
I want his face to remind me that I love him.
But he puts his hand on my thigh.
I'm an action hero, frowning (with determination) before the bridge
from signifier over to signified: thin ropes and wooden strips,
deathly fast waters underneath. I place my hand over his.
||(In my bedroom, I pretend I'm
his wife, and slowly obligation gives way to maternal strength:
the realization that my imitation of warmth is soothing to him,
and that successes should be continued. I know when and how to touch
his back, to kiss his cheek, to run my fingers through his hair.
rule for relationships, no. 2
Familiarity can make up for appearances.
|While he's sleeping, I look
at his facethe nostrils gated by hairthe eyelids, sealed
with a stick-on strip of lash and bulging like white eggsand
I find it elegant, familiar. I find his hand under the bed sheets
and hold it.
rule for relationships, no. 3
Through our lover, we fuck the world.
Father, the Model, my boyfriend, myself
She makes us watch her late night show
on public access. It's obvious that she draped a nylon stocking
over the lens. Her face blurs and glows. When she crosses and
uncrosses her legs, their nylon sparkles. My father watches and
wraps his left arm around the Model's waist.
My boyfriend glances at my father.
(At 21, you realize that the world isn't
made of molecules, but of stereotypes. And you learn whom to hate.)
After dinner, we return to my mother's.
In my bedroom, I put on my flannel pajamas, but he pulls them
off. "Let me see your legs."
rule for traveling, no. 5
Never visit strangers. Recall the horror of other people.
On the plane, I tell him, "I'm sad,
because nothing surprises me anymore."
He looks at me,"I can't help you."
We land and his friend's father is waiting
for us. My boyfriend's feet rotate outward.
a lack of self-
||the way I walk behind him
In the morning, I sit at the edge of the
bed my boyfriend still thinks is for sleeping and I watch snow
melt off the neighbor's roof. Drops fall like silver nickels;
I can almost hear the clinking. It seems appropriate that, at
a ski resort, snow would melt into money.
At 6 a.m., the hallway is dark.
6 a.m. is when the horror of other people's houses fades. The
family is frozen behind bedroom doors, and the house (or ski lodge)
demands a companion. As its objectslamps, cabinets, sofasone
by one turn visible again, they need to be acknowledged and loved
by someone. Awake and lonely, I am a perfect someone.
The kitchen light is on.
My boyfriend's friend has flattened out yesterday's newspaper
on the kitchen table. He looks up at me, and I can see: he must
have been born at this time of day. Before the light was strong
enough to reveal color. Across from him is an identical, white-haired
boy. The twin looks up at me.
||Foreigners (Mexican, Spanish,
|Attractive to foreigners and
to each other.
rule for relationships, no. 4
Identity is forged through difference. (rewrite)
At dinner, it becomes clear that the twins
hate each other. One makes a comment, the other lifts his white
eyebrows and rolls up his yellow eyes. "Dad, please tell
him he's wrong."
The dad pushes back his sleeves, showing blonde arm hair, and
starts a joke. The twins end the joke with identical laughs: (rewrites)
First, a hiss.
Thentheir torsos lean forward & their heads bend down.
Finally, they shake.
How do they survive the sight of each other laughing? (The limits
of self, stamped out in the inevitable hiss and shake?) I'm not
sure they can.
rule for relationships, no. 5
Authenticity is the absence of formula.
As a guest, my boyfriend shines dull with
politeness. The paisley couch: "What a nice sofa." Plates
of spaghetti, steamed cauliflower, and bread: "What a lovely
meal." The ceramic monkey: "I'll tell you why I enjoy
rule for self-preservation, no. 4
Sometimes, we must reward ourselves for being types. At the very
least, we're being.
My boyfriend doesn't ski, so I keep him
company at the lodge. But at night, he wants to go out.
The tubs, neon blue hexagons, float against
the black of the pavement. I keep on my coat until I'm at the
hot tub's edge, where I neatly fold it and push it back.
I think about frozen chicken breasts: thawing
in burning water, the skin turning into satin while the center
is stiff ice. The sensation of the hot tub is the sensation of
thawing. Of turning into something ediblesteamed, salted
by chlorineand not meant to think, move, talk.
The adults give in. They want to be edible.
The woman in the red bikini across from me: her freckled, loose
breasts must start to feel like they're for someone else. She
closes her eyes.
We're deep in the pot. The steam is so
thick we cast shadows on it.
The young teenagers mistake the danger
for sexuality. A group of 14-year-old girls look at the twins
and whisper. Then, one by one, in the 3-feet deep water, they
stroll by. Their chests jutted out. Breast-nubs erect. Docking
next to us, are shrill with success.
||(They will have a slumber party
tonight. And, after hours of loud conversation, the shortest one
will go to the bathroom to look at herself in the mirror. She will
pretend to talk to the hand towels, to see what she looks like talking
to her friends. She'll flip her skinny wrist out into the air, and
roll her eyes. The spastic drama of youth. The nervous energy. Movements
that are alternately too fluid and too jerky. The shortest girl
will now look hard at herself in the mirror and giggle. What a success
she's been with her friends tonight! It's not that she likes them;
she likes watching herself with them.)
Any impulse towards movement has evaporated.
The steam frizzes my hair. The neon water laps, hot and hot, against
my breasts. But then, I forgot that boiling forces out germs:
I feel clear snot tapping against my upper lip. Its trail from
nose to lip vibrates with heat. I take a wet, shriveled hand out
from the water and rub it away. But the water from my hand tightens
my face, dries it out, and more snot slips out, as if it fancies
rule for self-preservation, no. 2
Learn to find comfort in yourself.
The blonde family doesn't own any kleenex.
I spin out a foot of toilet paper, and keep it with me under the
My hair, curled from the hot tub, stays
curled with sickness.
When my boyfriend climbs into bed, he kisses the back of my head.
"A childhood friend of mine had hair just like this."
rule for self-preservation, no. 1
Do not expect others to comfort you.
The twins take my boyfriend on his first
ski lesson, and I stay in bed with the shades drawn. At 4 p.m.,
I need to replace the toilet paper I've dampened and shredded.
I open the bedroom door.
The lodge is sighing. Drawing attention to its exhale, the emptying
of lungs. The quiet confusion after noonwhen routines, needs,
are self-evident. Now: shadows that buzz with the graininess of
video footage and a stillness that sounds like static. (I'm at
the end of the hallway.) (A sigh is both the nostalgia for order,
the necessity of the inhale, and the melodrama of despair, an
emptiness of meaning.)
On my way back from the bathroom, I notice
that the door to the master bedroom is open enough for me to enter
without touching either the door or its frame. The bedroom is
carpeted in grey and smells like other people: the scents people
use to smell like other people: laundry detergent and deodorant.
Sitting on the dresser's counter are two framed photos. In one,
a twin is securing a soccer ball in the hard curve of his left
arm, and smiling with a missing tooth. In the other, a twin is
holding a baseball bat, squinting into the camera with all the
menace of a blond team captain.
rule for self-preservation, no. 9
Consider having children.
I will one day set up photos of my own
children. They'll be swinging through a jungle of purple vines.
Their skin will shine white and their hair will be long, black
and hopefully knotted. Maybe they'll be smiling for the photos.
They'll have fangs.
rule for self-preservation, no. 8
Forgive the thoughtlessness of others.
BARING FEET (offender: the twins, this
morning in the kitchen)
act: showing uncut toe nails and hardened
toe skin, turned white
significance: to live without consideration
of others, without expectation of judgment, without the sense
that the only stable self is in others' perceptions of you
act: hiding feet in socks or socks and
shoes (but not hiding feet without socks in shoes, which represents
the freedom of baring feet at any moment)
significance: to live as a host of signifiers,
to live as presentation, inflicting upon others your self, treating
the self as a commodity
(But then, baring feet has become a signifier.
People who bare their feet are proclaiming a belief in the "natural
life," so baring feet is now a sign, and, as a signhypocrisy.)
rule for traveling, no. 1
You become the stranger.
At 6 a.m.after the boys are asleepI
take my curly hair, my remaining toilet paper, and my heavy, sick
bones to the cold morning kitchen.
I have the fridge open, infecting its food and letting the cold
make me sicker, when a tall, wrinkled woman opens the kitchen
door and drops her purse on the counter-top.
"Why, hello," she says. She doesn't sound happy. She
has black bags under her eyes and black roots in her blonde hair.
She makes quick eye contact with me and then looks at the fridge.
"You must be the sick girl. Don't worry, I'm here, okay?
You're not surrounded by boys anymore." And then she smiles.
||(The tin foil of her mind isn't
curled then crunched. She doesn't give off shrill vibrations. She
knows how to cook, how to be a mother, how to look girls in the
eye. An Intellectual without self reflexivity.
A Mind that has learned to feed off something besides itself.
[She knows how to smile.])
rule for traveling, no. 6
Loneliness in a new place feels more like anger.
|We do, after all, say "I
love you" every night. We sit on the living room sofa, next
to the twins, and he puts his head on my shoulder, and touches my
neck with cold fingertips. "Oh, my baby." He turns to
the twins and drops his
hand. "So, tell me about the blonde girl that's guest-starring."
I'm being suffocated by cashmere. I'm inhaling relief.
rule for relationships, no. 6
People know that you are a type.
The blonde girl is an ex-girlfriend to
both the twins. I understand her appeal.
She's a girl who hides her charms so that all men feel compelled
to exaggerate them.
She shows up wearing glasses, no makeup, and a GAP vest that streamlines
"You must be the girlfriend. Still sick? Poor thing. Boys,
are you taking care of her?"
I feel ashamed of the lipstick I put on.
she claps (as bimbo) she nods (as woman) she squeezes the mother's
hand (as someday-mother) she laughs (as college student) she has
no arm hair (as blonde) she probably has no under arm hair either
(as blonde) she touches my boyfriend's hand twice (as blonde)
and nods laughs (as blonde) suggests we all go skiing tomorrow
My boyfriend looks at the ceiling as I
fall asleep. "Wasn't she sweet?"
At 4 a.m., my brain and stomach switch
places, and I'm nauseous with words. I run to the bathroom, lock
the door behind me, and bring up full sentences.
V A C A T I O N
My father was sixty when he had me. He was not
one of those white-bearded men in sunglasses that you see on the ski
slopes or in Los Angelesthe men that believe they can transcend
age with optimism and vitamins. My father could afford a child in his
old age because he didn't need to marry my mother or raise me. If anything,
his age required that I exist only as a symbol to him: his last chance
at immortality through biology, and his last chance to write in his
memoirs, "I was a father."
He had one other childa sonthree
years later. I found out his name, "Julian," when I read the
will. My father wasn't dead yet, but he was morbid, and liked to rearrange
his funeral preparations in his spare time. The will declared that half
his fortune would go to whichever child was most fluent in French.
He had had Julian to a French woman.
My mother had only taken French in college. So she bought me a ticket
to the South of France, to stay with mon pere, learn French and learn
to love him. Things were always laid out very simply by my mother: "You
will learn to love him."
I was sixteen-and-a-half that summer. These are the things I remember:
My father had a girlfriend who
was 32. She was Brazilian and an actress. The first afternoon I spent
in France was around a pool with the actress and my father. The actress
took off her bathing suit, top and bottom, and slid into the pool.
"Mani!" she cried at me. "You look so American! Girls
in France never wear the tops of her bathing suits." My father,
small and bald, looked at me from his towel. My breasts were my body's
signaturethey were unlike anyone else's, I thought. But that's
not the motive of my American prudishness. My prudishness was a 16
year old's over-sexualization. I didn't know my father could see the
pink around my nipples, soft and large, and not have a response. I
was scared of tempting him. I was scared of wanting to tempt him.
The warm climate made me sick.
My body had no patience for humidity. There is nothing worse than
being sick in somebody else's house. No one has sympathy for you.
I always believed my aging father and his actress-woman watched me
grow weaker with the moral superiority that often accompanies health:
the unspoken belief that sickness is (pure) mental weakness.
Back at home, I had a boyfriend
who wanted to be a writer. he made me promise to never read his work,
but whenever he left me alone in his room I scrambled to open one
of his notebooks. His writings were always about the girls he had
been with (but never me), and most of the encounters he wrote about
occurred at night. It gave me the impression that his life consisted
of many mysterious black tunnelsmeaning was always around the
next curve. When I tried to write about the men in my life (the two
boys I'd kissed) I had nothing to say. My life was a panel of white
laid out on the floorno memory seemed important enough to write
about. My life was a sigh.
My father, when I was feeling better, invited
me into his room for lunch. Before pouring me orange juice, he asked,
"What are your passions?"
I was mentally nakedhe had
seen my absences. He knew what would embarrass me mostthe constant
white of my life that I tried to hide by dating or getting A's. He found
it. I burst out crying.
I regret that summer. My father is still alive
but I haven't seen him. He's rewritten his will but refuses to show
us. My mother, whose simplicity is always suspect, is happy that I never
learned to love him.
THE STRUCTURE OF BREAK