After I take care of business, I absently open the medicine cabinet. Toothpaste, cotton swabs, nail clippers. Boring. I’m not looking for anything in particular, but I like the idea of snooping through a complete stranger’s belongings. I want to make up stories about the individuals that inhabit this apartment.
“Person A appreciates finely groomed nails, while Person B cleans her ears obsessively until they bleed just a little.” I hear Cheryl laughing. I guess I just said that out loud.
I open another cabinet, where I find stacks of threadbare towels and faded washcloths.
“Person C finds surprising comfort in the act of folding towels into perfect thirds.”
The next opened door reveals small appliances: hairdryers, hot rollers, straightening irons.
“Person A spends roughly $93 per month maintaining her artfully disheveled hairstyle.”
And then something catches my eye. I turn around. “Look, Cheryl…it’s MOUSSE! I haven’t seen this since the New Kids on the Block played at the York Interstate Fair in seventh grade!”
I smell the top of the bottle. “Mmmm…coconut.” And then I don’t know, I guess I just sort of spazz out or something, because suddenly mousse is spraying all over the floor.
Cheryl is shrieking something like, “Oh god, it’s Paul Mitchell brand! This is available only in fine salons! It’s expensive! What are we going to do?”
I freeze, willing the problem-solving portion of my brain into action. I grab towels from the cabinet and start swabbing at the floor. Cheryl helps me. And then we start rubbing it into one another’s hair. “It smells like paradise in here!” I’m laughing so hard, tears are coming from my eyes.
We survey the room. “It looks good, “ I say. I check my hair in the mirror, but I am greeted by a stranger’s face. Oh god, do not think about this. Look away before you get sucked in.
“Cheryl, does my hair look okay?”
She fluffs it up a bit. “Oh, yeah…I think you should consider regular mouse use.”
I’m still giggling about that rhyme as we exit the bathroom.
I sit down next to Ryan. He turns to me, his eyes as big as saucers. “Hey, girl…wow, you smell really good. Like tropical or something.”
I can only giggle in response. I lean over and whisper “mousse” into his ear. He exclaims “Chocolate MOUSE!” And then we’re both promising to watch Rosemary’s Baby as soon as possible.
Soon we are all walking to Andy’s house. Someone hands me a beer, which I drink without thinking. Everyone is laughing and talking about things I can’t understand right now. I’m just singing to myself and turning an endless series of cartwheels.
We stop at the store to buy essential provisions: beer, cigarettes, candy. I stroll up and down the aisles, trying to find a purpose, but I soon realize that I can’t even really read the labels on the packages. I decide to walk outside.
I’m standing there humming to myself, occasionally waving at my friends through the glass, when some guy walks up to me.
“Hey, don’t I know you from somewhere?”
I shake my head. No, no.
He believes otherwise. “Yeah, I’m pretty sure I know you.”
“No, definitely not. I just moved here from Canada. I am a mathematician. Well, not any more, you know, because the world of math is so cutthroat. I just had to get out, you know?” I make my best “burned out mathematician” face.
“Hmm…I could have sworn your name was Amanda or something. Well, okay. Nice to meet you , I guess.” And then he walks to the corner.
Ryan comes flying out of the store. “Who was that guy? Was he bothering you?”
No, no. His chest is puffed up like an agitated rooster. I can see him strutting around the barnyard, ruffling his feathers at the slightest threat. I laugh and laugh and laugh.
“Well, I got you this Clif bar and some juice. Because I think you should have it . I mean, I bet you forgot to eat dinner again, didn’t you?”
I just stare blankly at him. How am I supposed to remember dinner? That was a lifetime ago.
We walk more. Blocks and blocks. And then we are at Andy’s apartment. Finally.
Immediately every room is filled with flurries of activity. Beer bottles are opened. Cigarettes are rolled. A tambourine is absently shaken. Records are spread across the floor.
–Play that one!
–Grab me a beer, too…please.
–Can I bum one from you?
–Who has a lighter?
–Does anyone want some cookies?
–Oh man, I wish I had some Pop Rocks.
–Do you have limes?
–This would really be better with limes.
–We should find a 7-11 and get some Slurpees.
–Oh, yeah…there’s one on Halsted.
I’m listening to all of this while I sit in silence in the corner.
I’ve wrapped myself up in a blanket.
I’m just happy to be here, with all of these surprisingly happy people.
I would much rather observe than participate.
I’m looking from face to face, trying to figure everyone out. Some of the people in this room take advantage of strangers and near-strangers, with little to no guilt. And others are always victims, either because of simple naiveté or extreme insecurity. Most of them haven’t figured out what they love yet. Almost everyone wants to find something to believe. A majority are secretly lonely. And all of us–including me–are simply worried, nervous, scared.
The weight of everyone’s feelings and fears is suffocating me. I can feel all of these bad thoughts pushing me from every angle, trying to climb inside of me.
I stand up and walk out to the porch. I can still hear conversations…and all of the accompanying secret unspoken meanings.
I look up the roof. If I climb onto the railing and hold on with all of my strength, I can hoist myself up there.
I am afraid of heights. And I’m ridiculously clumsy. Nonetheless, I am certain I can do this. I take off my shoes. I tie the blanket around my neck, like a cape.
I close my eyes and hope for the best.
And there I am. When I open my eyes, I am greeted by the moon. The silvery tops of all of the apartment buildings from here to Humboldt Park are spread out before me.
I sit down and wrap the blanket tightly around me. It’s starting to get cold. Fall is coming. Summer is gone and I can barely remember it. I have to believe that everything will get better somehow.
Believe, believe, believe. I silently repeat this over and over and over again.
I have to believe in my power.
I close my eyes, allowing myself to dream about the promise of fall.