Places I’ve Lived part 9 (off campus)

Midland Avenue, Bronxville, NY

The last time I dropped acid was on Midland Avenue.

It was a large one bedroom, pre-war, with an eat-in kitchen and plentiful closets. The phone was an old rotary, built into the kitchen wall, emblazoned with a sticker that read: Property of Bell Telephone. The apartment was without other jacks, and we were unable to plug in an answering machine. We hated to answer the phone, so we had a ring code. We didn’t like to answer the door either, so if we weren’t expecting anyone, we wouldn’t do it. I’d grown up primarily in houses, but it was here that I realized the marvelous appeal of having a few floors, an elevator, a few doors, and two buzzers between me and the outside world.

There was lots of sunlight in every unrenovated, hard wood floored room. Ornate molding, plenty of counter space, enough kitchen cupboards to hide the recycling that built up from Dave’s excessive drinking, big windows that looked out at the expressway. We’d watch the cars go by. We’d say to each other “all those people in all those cars, their lives are as important to them as ours are to us.” This was a continuous revelation. How could there be that much importance on just one little stretch of four-lane road?

I wonder if it’s my memory or everyone’s that makes it so hard to look back and remember the things that made you feel good, the things that gave you sustenance. I couldn’t remember quite how I was feeling on Midland Avenue, so pulled out my notes from the time. It feels weird reading stuff from 18 years ago, but weirder is that I have the same complaints. The things that sustained me then still do so now: writing, being with Dave. My complaints about Dave are the same. My complaints about myself are the same. I feel very hard toward the myself I was on Midland Avenue. Like if I met me I wouldn’t like myself very much, and I don’t think she’d like me either. I’m not into judgement, and I’ve been trying for a few days to shake it. But there’s nothing for it. I wasn’t a wide-eyed innocent, I was just paralyzed by terror.

We let the unopened mail pile up on the table. Our living room was furnished with rataan, leftover from my mom’s sun room redo. We had a tiny tv with a built in vhs player. We watched Star Trek TNG and The Simpsons and Seinfeld whenever it was on. We smoked lots of grass. It was here on Midland Avenue that we learned to call it grass. We had a friend, another SLC student, who lived nearby, also off-campus. We’d go over to his place and he’d say “you kids wanna smoke some grass?” He’d make us toaster strudel and I’d listen to music while he and Dave played chess. He’d come over to us and we’d make him dinner. He had a habit of always leaving a little green behind, and we always thought it was sweet of him to do it. We were usually short on cash, and I cashed in my childhood savings bonds to pay the electric bill.

This was not student housing. The building was home to families and adults and old people. We were definitely an aberation, and the environment in the elevators was not entirely un-hostile. Our apartment was a rental only because the woman who’d lived there had died, had no family, and the co-op board hadn’t yet figured out how to sell it. The number of the apartment was 5-O, like the police, and it was a running joke with our friends. People came over and we’d cook. We started to really get into cooking. We realized we could make way better food at home than we could afford to eat out, so home cooking became our m.o. I learned to make marinara, and I ate a pint of Ben & Jerry’s every day. The oven exploded on Dave once when he waited too long to light the pilot light. I took him to the ER in a taxi. We were very obviously judged by the Bronxville ER doctor, who seemed to think that the gas explosion was a result of an std somehow. Our neighbors beat their kids. I feel pretty terrible for not reporting them for it. I suppose kids are into their twenties by now.

I wonder at these happy love stories, when people are so in love that they’re dancing across the earth smelling roses on each other’s breath. With Dave and I love felt more like clutching to a tree branch in a typhoon. We were each other’s branch; everything else was the typhoon. We wanted to spend all of our time together. It was the only time we felt safe.

We’d moved in to the co-op on Midland Avenue just before New Year’s Eve, but New Year’s Day saw us back in Phily to clean out the dregs of the last apartment and get our deposit back. After that we went to the Mummers Parade. It was ice cold. We stopped into a friend’s family’s restaurant on Broad Street to warm up and since they wouldn’t let us pay for any drinks, we drank rather too much. Everyone was trashed. We ended up talking to this guy, who was licensed to marry people for some reason, who’d been marrying people at the impromptu Jerry Garcia memorial last summer, where we’d been actually. Dave said “you should marry us.” I thought that was a bit presumptuous, frankly, but the guy yelled “okay, do ya?” And Dave said “yes,” and the guy looked at me said “okay, do ya?” and I said “I guess.” The guy said “you’re married!”

And we toasted to it.

After the parade we walked up to the bus station on snowy 12th Street.

“Do ya?” Dave asked.
“Do I what?” I asked back.
“Do ya wanna get married?”

I was twenty. I was in love. I didn’t want to get married. But I didn’t want to break up, either. “Yes,” I said. We kissed in the snow. At the bus station we used some quarters and a pay phone to call our parents and tell them we were engaged. Of all the parents, the only one who was happy for us was Dave’s mom Suzanne. The irony, of course, is that of all four of our parents, she was the only one who didn’t live to see the wedding.

My mom said “you are not getting married until you finish college.” Classically, she doesn’t remember saying that, but just as classically, her determination to set the rules got me out of something I wasn’t ready to do. She decided that the engagement would be at least two and a half years long, and that was that.

The last time I dropped acid, we had a friend visiting. P had a few sheets of white blotter and we took some. As the night wore on, strange ideas began to emerge. One specifically odd thing was that P told a story about how images were coming back from Mars showing a crucifix on the highest Marsian mountain. He told the story as though it were fact, but in actual fact this was from a story Dave had written months earlier, that P had read. Everything got weird from there. I don’t know what P wanted, but it seemed to be something pretty serious. Dave wanted him to leave.

How I was the one elected to escort a fellow lunatic out into a blizzard at dawn is still a mystery to me. As I walked P toward the Tuckahoe Metro-North stop, explaning to him that he had to not stay with us, I told him that Dave and I were engaged. I’d felt awkward telling him that, because there’d been sort of an unrecognized thing between us, even though it never went anywhere. I had little sort of things with lots of people actually. It was like I would feel, when someone was attracted to me, that I didn’t want to let them down by not returning the affection. I think Dave knew of my difficulty in telling the difference between friendship and the other thing, and that the engagement was his way of saying “choose it girl: me or everyone else.”

We were in love. And I was deranged. It was all I could do to keep my head straight. I was self-involved. I was more interested in knowing how much I was loved than loving anyone back myself. I overlooked things that should not have been overlooked, because I felt loved. I opened my eyes to see what was right in front of me and when I saw it I pulled a veil down. Dave always said that when I make art I rip the veils away to expose the honesty beneath, whereas he liked the look of the light coming through all that fabric, and added more. He taught me how to ignore the painful shit that stared you in the face. He taught me how to get through the night. Only one of my good friends thought the engagement was a good idea, and she was a romantic posing as a realist. There were alot of us at Sarah Lawrence. My friend G said I was probably into girls and that marrying a man would be a real bad idea. I told her love is love, it hasn’t got anything to do with gender. She thought that was a cop-out.

We spent alot of time with Chris Kelley and the artists he introduced us to, Alex Arcadia, Rene Ricard, Alfredo Martinez, Donald Baechler. We liked the visual arts scene: feeling like an outsider, masses of drugs, feeling like part of it, feeling like part of everything.

In the summer of 1996 we headed out to Philly to visit Dave’s dying mother. Stepping into the hallway and locking the door behind us, we heard the phone ringing on the other side of the door. We did not go back to get it. Knowing but not knowing, the whole ride down, what the voice on the other end of the line would have said. Dave willed himself to ‘not know’ hard enough to make it to PA without breaking down.

This is where the nightmares finally stopped, but they turned into night terrors first. Night terrors are a paralyzing situation where your mind is awake but your body is alseep. Your eyes are open and you are dreaming and your dreams appear before your eyes as though they’re really happening. All the while you can’t move, or scream, or do anything other than watch it unfold. The worst of these were a cackling woman on the fire escape who scraped her finger nails against the glass, and a man in a yellow bathrobe who hovered outside my bedroom door. I learned to control my dreams while I was dreaming, and then was able to make it stop.

I realized vaguelly that I probably still believed in God. We spent an incredible amount of time trying to determine the nature of meaning.

When I got back to school after a year off, I felt like I was too far behind my classmates. I felt removed from everyone. I took the most challenging courses I could, to compensate. Dave read all my course work too, and we’d talk about it. He made it so that studying wasn’t something I was doing, it was something we were doing. Even though I was walking the woodsy, winding path to school every day, and he was working at Starbucks, we were doing this together.

I switched dons. I went from sts to philosophy. Once I saw my old don walking down the path and I avoided him. He yelled at me, and I remember thinking, I should have told him I was switching dons; and this is why I can’t work with you: you are bitter, and you yell. For some reason this moment of seeing him on the path one early morning before class still haunts me. He was so angry. My new don was Bob Zimmerman. He was my new philosophy professor. I had no direction, but he showed me that before you can have a direction you need to have a fixed point from which to direct yourself. It was with his forceful recommendation that I got a job working in the PR office at school. I worked ten hours per week during the school year and full time over summers. I got a gig producing with the student run theater company, Downstage. It was me and 6 other girls. Sasha, Karen, Tara, Jacquetta, Ivy, Shira, and Kevin Confoy was the prof. I wanted to be a writer, and I wanted to produce my own shit.

I felt like every door was wide open, but with so many options, I didn’t know which one to walk through. More often than not, I built a small box around myself, with no entrances or exits, only windows, and looked out at the world of doors. I banged my head against the walls of the box, I looked around for something to use to smash the windows, but I never realized that I’d built the box myself, and that I could dismantle it using just my hands for tools.

My don Bob Zimmerman and a former student. From the PR archives.
Also from the PR archives, but this one features my friend Layla holding court on the right.
A trustee, from the PR archives.
Sarah Lawrence College men’s basketball team, 1970-71
My aunt’s wedding that year.
Chris Kelley at his place on 1st Ave.
Dave and Chris in the gold room.
Jessie and I.
Me and my sister Abbey.

next in the series

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2 thoughts on “Places I’ve Lived part 9 (off campus)

  1. Karen Cordano

    There is so much I want to say about this, and I can't figure out how to say any of it. So instead I'll say thank you. Even though it somehow hurt to read it was also a pleasure and I already know the act of reading it will be one of the best parts of my day.

    Reply
  2. Libby Emmons

    I have to say that this was an incredibly difficult post to write, and I really didn't want to write it. This post specifically has a real Krapp's Last Tape feel to it for me. "I can't believe how much time I've wasted between who I was and who I am, this year will be different…" 18 years later…

    Reply

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