Places I’ve Lived part 6 (the last Philly spot)

Juniper Street (b/w Spruce and Pine)
Philadelphia, PA

By the time we moved to Juniper Street, there were some very noticeable absences in our lives. Val had died, Chris Kelley too had died, most recently was Eric Buckwalter, all three tragically, and Dave’s mother Suzanne had been gone five years. Dave was letting the quivering mass of anxiety that makes up all human kind take him over for real, from the inside out, and our marriage was crumbling.

This is where I found moths in my closet and had to throw out sweaters. This is where an entire set of hanging shelves fell off the wall, cascading books onto the floor in an avalanche of color and paper that took my sister visiting to clean up. By which I mean she arrived in our home and said “how the hell can you live like this?” and cleaned it up herself.

We had a tv in the bedroom, which was the first and last time we ever tried that experiment. I worked full time for a high-end, residential architect, and tried to dress the part, which made the moth eaten sweaters all the more devastating. This wasn’t my first full time job, but it was the first full time job I had where I realized that I’d basically be working a full time job forever. This lent a desperate quality to the whole venture. I did not feel like an adult, although I wasn’t sure why.

Together Dave and I were toxic. We were moving in completely opposite directions, and we knew it. Instead of talking to one another we resorted to tv and other all-consuming recreational intoxicants. When we did talk, we could only talk about art. Anything else led to total disaster. I would carefully plan out what I wanted to say to him about his wide variety of failings and how he could fix them, about how we had to be adults, and there were things that adults did that he was not doing. I would start in on some constructive tirade and the whole thing would collapse into a torrent of name calling and “what if” scenarios and “why the hell are we even together at this point if we both want such different things.” It always pissed me off that he had just as detailed a list of my own failings.

It was still that nebulous period after college where we were trying to figure out what the fuck to do with ourselves, realizing that the things we thought we wanted- love, success, happiness- were actually work, and that watching movies while trying not to talk about any of it was the easiest of all.

In complete contrast to my actual home, my office was pristine and new. It was white. It was stainless. It was feng shui. It had blonde, hardwood floors while our apartment had shag carpeting. My uncluttered desk was a door turned over two file cabinets while at home the small particle board surface was entirely taken up with an aging pc used primarily for mp3’s and porn. I had a pink orchid on my desk at work, while at home I couldn’t keep a cactus alive. My coworkers laughed and kidded and ordered take out while at home Dave and I were surly, grouchy, and broke.

At the end of the day I was always ready to leave work but I never wanted to go home.

For the first time in our short marriage we began seriously to talk about divorce. I felt a real, strong pull in a any other direction than this marriage. I felt like there was someone else who I could be, someone who wasn’t beholden to the past few years of grief, of regrets, of wondering what my life would have been like if I hadn’t gotten married when I was 23. I saw friends out there embracing their independence. They were traveling, pursuing things on their own, making decisions without having to talk to anyone else about the implementation or implications of those decisions. I wondered why Dave and I couldn’t have been one of those couples that really hit it off and have a great time for a while and then split up and remain friends, going on to have new and different relationships with people who were not each other. It was maddening to be 26 and chained down in a crumbling apartment with a methadone addict upstairs, his aging, dying, scabby faced father downstairs, and a pristine workplace that only seemed to taunt me with its reasonable adult presentations, both in friendships and in aesthetic.

It was like I was a grown-up at work and a runaway teenager at home.

I don’t quite know how Dave felt, because we didn’t really talk about it. I know he was still grieving for his mother, who’d been taken by cancer way too young, and for our close friend Chris who’d died tragically in 1999. When our other friends Eric and Val both died in 2000, it seemed like an unreasonable blow, and sent us into a bit of a tailspin. Poetic geniuses and twenty-one year old ex-prom queens are only supposed to die in movies, after all.

“If this is how it’s gonna be let’s split up,” I said. I don’t know what Dave said, because I was just so focussed on finding a way out of what we were going through. I know he was angry. He has a way of getting angry where the best thing to do is to slowly back out of the nearest door. But I never did that.

We argued for a long time. We were doing a show together, a play of mine that we were producing. He was both directing and performing. I was running tech, along with a GFS intern on junior project. The argument was interrupted by call time; we had to get to the show. We didn’t tell anyone what had transpired between us, although I’m sure we were a disaster and that there was no shortage of dramatics on our part.

The play was about Chris and Val and us. In the play K played me, friends from Sarah Lawrence and GFS played Val and Chris, respectively, and Dave played himself. It never occurred to me until now, but he was out there playing the Dave I had written for him to play, a Dave going through one of the worst time’s he’d ever faced, while still suffering a debilitating grief in his every day life.

Every night he would go through the joy of having his friend with him and the pain of losing him, and it was because I wrote about it. There was only one path to numbing that pain, and he opted for it again and again. He wasn’t alone.

We didn’t get a divorce. We knew that we were growing apart but that no matter what neither of us was going to stay the same. I think Dave wanted to grieve in peace. I think he was comfortable in his grief, it was like a warm blanket he could wrap around himself, insulating all his other feelings from me, from anyone.

I wanted to take firm action toward life. These two things were entirely incompatible.

My friend K lived nearby. Philly was a place where you could drop in on people and stay for dinner. You didn’t have to call, or make plans three months in advance the way you do in New York. You could just show up with some beer and a hankering for cheese fries and let the night take you where it would. K had some close friends, most notably M and T, her brother L too, and they adopted Dave and I into their group. K’s bf J was good humoured as well, and we made a nice crew. In this group I was the staid, uptight, one. I was the easiest to shock. But in the group of friends that revolved around work, I was the edgy one. I always had a story to make those kids guffaw, slap knees, incredulously exclaim “really?”

Work and home, the relationships surrounding each, were in stark contrast. I didn’t know who I wanted to be, on which side of the line I wanted to fall. It felt weird when the two sides would collide, like nights out at Bar Noir where I would order too many doubles and take too many trips to the bathroom. It felt like having dinner with my parents, together, mom and dad, after the custody hearings in 1991. Having them both in the same room made me unsure of who I was. That’s what was happening to me on Juniper Street, where I lived, and Van Pelt Street, where I worked. It was like being split in two all over again.

K was my closest friend, had been since I met her in the summer of 2000, right after Val died. We were introduced by a mutual friend, met for a cider, and agreed right then to be best friends. Relationships don’t so much form sometimes as are decided upon, and in this case it was right.

Dave and I decided not to deal with our problems. We decided to try to grow together in the same direction instead of growing apart, which would surely have been the easier of the two options. We were like two divergent vines trying to wrap around the same skinny tree and there wasn’t enough room for us. We were definitely killing the tree.

We needed a shared adventure. So we got out of town.

We moved to New York.

These were our three cats. From left to right: Molly McGuire, M’mere aka Mama Cass, Mae Avdotya Romanovna
Dave, my typewriter, and stacks of words I wrote.
Me in front of a painting that still hangs over my bed. We bought it in a W. Philly Ethiopian coffee shop for $150.
Dave wearing Chris Kelley’s jacket that came to me after Chris died, but Dave stole from me, and one night in a fit of rage gave away to a homeless man. When I got angry about it, he said “you’re gonna deny a homeless man this jacket? You have plenty of jackets, it’s freezing outside.” (That’s Catholic guilt.)
K and Me in the apartment. If I remember correctly this was a crazy night.
Walt and Trish from upstairs, me on the right. We were recording sound for a play. Walt was a terrific violist, but you had to get him first thing in the morning, before he got high.
The book avalanche. It was like this for long enough that a) the cat made it her spot and b) we were able to photograph it.
backstage in the basement warehouse in which we were doing a show.
Dave and a beer onstage. The set was designed and built by an architect friend from work, and his friends.
Me and K’s brother. We were the running crew.
Actresses from behind.
This photo & the next say everything about our lives at this time, in this space, making artwork, trying to be together, failing.
We still talk about these two photos sometimes. We’ll say “it’s like those photos, y’know the ones.” And that’ll be that.
The view from my desk.

next in the series

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