Neurotic Dope is a monthly column.
By Joshua Byron
We dream of white lace and being tied together with a smile.
And then we lose faith in the order of the universe. We learn about eschatology, chaos theory, racism, transphobia, and classism. We meet spinsters. We ask for faith and receive pain. We are asked to get up and go to work for little money to maintain a life we aren’t sure of. We wander around the earth looking for a soul mate, who we begin to worry may not exist. He looks at you and for no reason at all breaks it off. You begin to question the chase. Who is a husband?
Oasis is what we all desire. An ending. What comes after arrival? What concludes and goes on after desire? The peak moves. We can’t reach arrival. We may think we plateau until we tumble, or a new mountain is unshrouded. The mountain won’t save you.
The last trick will be ascension, a height of self-importance as the cold wind hits the heat of the subway car. That’s the goal, some form of transcendence. The pain of being in love is all the precious metaphors wearing on the heart. You can claim me if you want to, but of course, that’s never the answer.
Blue-eyed devil of desire in a blue dress, blue sweater. The water of cerulean skies in your bedroom.
I see the dates around me in the coffee shop. I’ve been those dates. Strangeness, attempt, evasion. Coffee will be stirred. Too soon a week becomes a montage. The film rolls off the track. He’s a naturalist, a feeler, but only as a wall, an excuse not as dreamy as an affair. Goodbye, it ends, you only wonder if he even said your name after the first time. Don’t text, don’t call. Listen to Aretha. Too eager you delve back, Lady of the Lake, Witch of Hemlock.
When one walks into the Met, one is undoubtedly thinking about the grandeur and the cost of living. How much is this worth to us? How much is beauty worth? We walk up the steps, and are asked to open our lunch bag to a security guard. We don’t allow food, but since your lo mein is in a bag...
Inside, you encounter the ticket woman. You a student? You can pay twelve or less. You gladly pay this feeling like you encountered a winning bet. Once inside, you look to and fro, waiting on your date. Ancient Spain. Ancient Italy. Medieval art. You go upstairs, almost accidentally and wander into Rodin. He towers above you as you fix your bag. Suddenly, the security guards seem too close. You stare at Monet. You copied this painting as a kid in middle school. You text a picture to your mother but she thinks you sent her your version. You friends laugh at this over the next night, but you find it charming.
You wander through the Qur’anic art. Ancient rugs. Eventually you come across the view of the Grand Room from the balcony. You stare at the cash bar, the waiters, the old women. You wonder if you would want to be one of them one day. Are you an Upper East Side girl?
Your date is still late, so you find the Chinese landscapes. You see maps of rivers and villages, magical forests, spires and mountains that reach backward and forward, circular rocks. Blank plains, white clouds, remade lands. You tell your date this was your favorite part.
While he is still taking a cab through the park, you find the modern art on the second floor. You stare unblinded, only slightly interested in the Calder sculpture. You walk as if going through a forest only stopping here or there to pick a mushroom or berry.
When the date shows up, you decide the drinks are too expensive and make a beeline for the modern art on the first floor. Much of it does not surprise or scare you.
Though it provides a commentary on lust.
You stare at the window and gaze at the park. You think of the joggers. You think of Joan Didion. Of Roz Chast. Of Vivian Gornick.
You end the visit in the Egyptian wing. You had told him you wanted to make out, found spots far from prying eyes in stairwells and corridors. When he corners you in the back room of scrolls, you hope for a kiss. Instead he asks if we should move on.
In the final room, you see the black pool of water as an old man says this was Michael Jackson’s favorite spot in all of New York. You stare at the water and out at the Park.
An apartment with a view of the Empire State Building is the reason we come to the City. We want to watch the City blink in the darkness on a cold winter night from the 57th floor. He buys cabs, Prosecco, and lets you eat leftover rice from his neighbor’s rice cooker.
The wine never ends, the rice is fluffy, and everyone seems mildly happy and sleepy. They watch Planet Earth. You fold. He holds you on his lap, your fingers interlaced. He answers most of your texts. He makes fun of ancient art. I tell my friend Stella on the phone I want to marry myself in Central Park.
The idea of apocalypse is eternal recurrence. How many endings have we survived? I look on Wikipedia and count hundreds. Worse is ambiguity. Adulthood. A loss of answers, preoccupations with learning to hold the unanswered dear while still not putting things off.
Today, on my lunch break in Park Slope I went to Café Regular with The Collected Nonfiction of Joan Didion in hand. As I sipped my $4.50 latte, a sparkling woman asked what was on the TV in the corner above the croissant rack. The barista said, “Oh I don’t know. Maybe La Dolce Vita. Yeah,La Dolce Vita.” It wasn’t. I said, “I think it’s 8 ½,” and the woman next to me agreed vigorously, “I love Fellini.” The sparkling woman scribbled in her notebook. “How do you spell Fellini?” I think maybe I can find meaning in this encounter. That I can transcribe it into something beautiful.
I received another rejection letter. This one told me my work was “sometimes enjoyable, but needed cohesion,” they went on to say it needed a point, something to bring it together. Nonfiction is fiction. Stranger than fiction… All meaning is fiction. We make it up. We create a fictitious purpose to our lives. Politics, death, mourning, we create narratives around this. Even meaninglessness becomes mythologized as a sort of codex of intelligence. The Stranger and The Years of Magical Thinking are the same. There is no beyond to our actions. We assign that beyond arbitrarily.
After I write this I am walking to the L train. If I know there is no meaning, I think, then why do I want a husband so bad? What fictional narrative have I clung to? Have I merely heard too many pop songs? Have I become an optimist of husbandry and romance? The feelings of romance survive past the dread.
The middle seasons of Sex and the City hint at a different show than the one we are given. What if Carrie is meant to be single? What if friends are our great loves? What if we only get one or two great loves- if we’re lucky? The lack of meaning is filled by Carrie’s columns. She creates other lives, other men, other ways. She goes to the Guggenheim and it is closed. She is a master in the fiction of living. She uses it, loses it, and arbitrates when the switch from meaning to nonmeaning is most helpful. She is not Charlotte, who assigns ultimate meaning to love as a proper way of being nor is she Samantha who decides there is no meaning. Neither is she Miranda who falls into a sort of middle-ground.
Instead, Carrie is a storyteller both in and above the story. Carrie is the Goddess of Sex and the City. The Goddess of modern singles and the Goddess of New York City. Who was she before New York, we wonder. Or in her twenties? Of course, this is not the point. We never hear of her parents or her past connections before New York. She is above the past. Only Big draws her in and out. Big is the meaning she assigns to her life out of convenience, ease, and later, nostalgia.
I keep walking in the neighborhood where the two children were struck and killed in Park Slope. I think cars won’t hit me now. I think of my friend Ash who was hit and not killed. We grab vegan food off Montrose and talk about the Slenderman killings, softbois, and cruelty. Who is a victim and who is let off easy? It is like Samantha talking about orgasms. Who gets off and who doesn’t? The men across the room stare at us with their girlfriends sort of in awe at our loud denouncements of men and softbois. I long for something like that though. I wonder what our lives will be like in twenty years. Will that be us? Will the three of us have men? Or someone?
On the way home from the train I step gingerly, afraid of being murdered. But no one is that cruel here. Yet, I feel in my bones often late at night in public, I could be murdered here. I could be murdered anywhere. It repeats in my head. Sometimes I wake up and think, “Joshua Byron is Dead.” I think it like a newspaper heading. I think it like an intrusive thought. I think it like a vision. I think it like a future.
But now, the delivery men are parking their bikes. The bodega countermen are looking at the street. No one could get away with these things in the city. I escaped the tranquil murder of the rural. If I die, it will be a martyrdom.
He is a reminder that apathy is easily broken. That periods of time come and go and we have no control over them. The world snakes on, as we dissolve in its wake. But surely, we are changed. We are change and changing. I ponder the consequences and shoot the rifle as always. I feel something even if he does not. I know that this does not remove any chains nor create any intimacy but I am reminded it is plausible.
My friend Shelby tells me there is something there, but by now we both know there are no promises. Only substantial questions to be worked out by bodies or words. Like a comet, we started talking as the earth spun boringly on and I found myself orbiting quite simply as we discussed dating. A pause. “How do you meet people in real life” He says. I say “You just meet people at things and ask them to hang out one on one.” A long quiet. That’s where we are. We stumble into the Emma Sulkowicz show. I throw glitter onto his hand and he puts it on his head.
He asks me what superpower I want. I read into it and say is this what you ask dates? “No.” “I never know what to ask on dates… I always want to be asked what my favorite TV show is.” “What’s your favorite TV show?”... Later, “Are you seeing anyone” “No, are you?” “No.” I invite him to things on a lark. He comes. I cry to Oprah saving Storm Reid.
I started writing in Aquarius season, as it turned to Pisces season. As Aries season came and went and Taurus followed, I fell off to other whims and fears and desires. But now, in Gemini, I return, like a windy tiger in the summer woods. The air conditioning is turned high and I finally met someone. I look back at this longing and wonder how it will change this year. If this lover will turn to Thanksgiving jelly before Scorpio season or if, the motherly berating of Cancer, the passion of Leo, the practical motherhood of Virgo, and the winds of Libra will somehow fortify it. I don’t know sustaining longing. I only know its loneliness. In Gemini season, I met a Capricorn. We watched Antiques Roadshow together and felt something.
Joshua Byron is a nonbinary storyteller based in Bushwick. They have produced over nineteen film works including, most recently, Idle Cosmopolitan. Their films have screened at Sarah Lawrence, Bennington, Indiana University, the Indianapolis LGBT Film Festival, Life Hack, the Wrong Biennial, and Forge Mag Presents. Their writing has appeared in Glo Worm Press, Bushwick Daily, Water Soup Press, and The Body Is Not An Apology. They love Oprah, rose soap, and melodramas.