I wrote a poem about waves once and of course it was only ever about feelings. I know nothing of the sea. I wrote a poem about waves once — “the high moon it moves / me immobile no / just the water yes / and that salt taste” — when the moon was someone with very dark eyes. In high school if you wear glasses at drama club meetings then you must write about bruises, and it’s exactly the same. It is all exactly the same. The coming the swelling the color that fades. I wanted at some point somewhere to write comedy, and occasionally I did, but there is a vital pouring, there is a law of life and limb, and, first, it says, it says first, that a warbling parade of concessions must be made to the low slung ecstasy of everything that happens, all of it, again and again. It’s like losing baby teeth. That gummy horror, apples and doorknob string. Blue water wall, blood moon, skinned knees, ever fading. I liked The Smiths by accident before I knew that skinny boys in bad jeans would think it was cool to and by the time I had learned this I thought that they and Morrissey could all honestly just fuck off.
The waves were all the ways to be sad. Boring, lazy writing. Cycles, yeah. Okay. The slow creep that leaves the body bone tired. A heady loneliness like sandbagged lungs on bright busy days. That hate that hate, the acrid taste of it, the ache all over. At twelve I slept under a framed Breakfast at Tiffany’s movie poster like any girl with a cat and gloom and a wish to see herself as something graceful might, and I was never embarrassed but I already knew that when I got taller and took film classes I would never mention it, or that I would — ever more obstinate with age — but only to incite a rise from anybody who quoted Orson Welles and mistook himself for smarter than me. It was Truman Capote who told me about the mean reds, then, the fear. I reread In Cold Blood at Christmas. I don’t claim to make sense. I swim now largely through clear water and without the murk I used to lounge in — performing, luxuriating to pretend you are not drowning — and I have always been strong in the water, but when I wake up any day, it could be any day, it is, with the sensation that I should run and run and run more until I’ve escaped my skin that is doomed beyond reason, and which, anyway, itches, then I know it. I know it’s the mean reds.
Holly Golightly: You know those days when you get the mean reds?
Paul Varjak: The mean reds. You mean like the blues?
Holly Golightly: No. The blues are because you’re getting fat, and maybe it’s been raining too long. You’re just sad, that’s all. The mean reds are horrible. Suddenly you’re afraid, and you don’t know what you’re afraid of. Do you ever get that feeling?
You know, The Smiths are not my angst. When the Zooey Deschanel movie happened and everybody who was never alt to begin with got all twisted up, I didn’t mind. Britney Spears knows me better. Carole King absolves my sins. There is not a band or a noise or a wall of feeling vibrating anywhere on this Earth that I’ve cried along to more than Rilo Kiley, because Jenny Lewis’ sadness is as obsessed with vanity as mine. The Smiths lack a certain sloppiness in all the maudlin groaning which I require so as to feel forgiven if I cry on the bus. I wouldn’t want to tell Moz a single secret. I put “Fast Car” by Tracy Chapman on a CD that I made for a small sun-soaked soccer player from a small seaside state, and when she played it, sitting on her pink bedspread that may have been orange, she peeled an orange that may have been a tangerine and got the juice in her hair, pulled the strands flat, smooth and sticky, said, “so, where are you trying to go?” Lorde hadn’t happened yet; I think she was thirteen. If Lorde had happened I would have chosen “A World Alone” for somewhere in the middle meat of that tracklist. Lorde hadn’t happened yet but now that she’s here I’ve remade my thousands of lists about running away to no place in someone’s passenger seat and none of them are without – “I feel grown up with you in your car / I know it’s dumb.” I know it’s dumb. I don’t like anybody to know I love The Mountain Goats as much as I do, lest they get the idea that I’d be interested in their roommate’s diy folk project, or their feelings at all (because the hideous secret is I’m probably interested in both), but “Jenny” is the only song in the world some nights when every bit of me is screaming to move and go, to be moved somewhere at a high howling speed. When John Darnielle describes, in his half-singing, the act of leaning forward and inhaling the scent of the motorcycle driver as they speed away (“I sank my face / into your hair / and then I inhaled / as deeply as I possibly could / you were sweet and delicious / as the warm desert air”) something lurches. I purse my lips to an involuntary rosebud, flex my throat to force away a long wet breath, my wind knocked out of me all over again each time. I put “There Is A Light That Never Goes Out” on that CD for that girl and her peachy Clinique skin and I gave it to her just before the sky went dark outside and nothing in the entire world had ever been more beautiful to me than to learn that she had never heard it. The Smiths are not my angst and I don’t need them, except. Except, except take me anywhere I don’t care I don’t care I don’t caaaaare. I know.
When I remember Holly Golightly I remember some part of the performance of myself that I like to forget or pretend to. I think of Audrey Hepburn and in the face of all sense, I’m worried. It seems impossible that Audrey Hepburn was ever happy when she looked so like a deer. When all her elfin angles were doomed before she could ever have known, but, then, didn’t she, to be reproduced on the t-shirts worn of pure and precious acned misfits for the rest of all time. I watched all her movies in a week once trying to love any of more than Breakfast At Tiffany’s, for style, in my fitful girlchild moves toward an idea of becoming an aesthete, but there was, there is, always only Holly for me. Holly Golightly is too frightened to be more than selfish, bad, and mean in her black sheaths, that trench coat, in the long-lashed sleeping mask you can buy a likely shoddy replica of online. Holly Golightly is froth and bon mots bathed in luxury, and this curled all around a hard stone of anxiety at the core, a precious stone that slices and stings. She can’t name the cat or end the party. I can’t keep my hands still. The mean reds make me useless, that heart rate gone thready and wild. Dragging my knuckles along brick buildings street side, uh huh, uhhuh, uh huh. On and on til morning. Mourning. The big bad jitters, marblemouthed. I never feel the need to divorce myself from all my wanting, wanting to be, to do, to go, blinking too fast for anybody to ever think you’re neat or easy. I don’t mind the way the mouth of my heart is often frothing. I take it and give it for what it is, most days, but when I am afraid, too, then the whole dance gets desperate.
“Driving in your car / oh please don’t drop me home / because it’s not my home it’s their home / and i’m welcome no more”
To claim, to say, “to die by your side is such a heavenly way to die” is too much for me on most days, on good days, clean days. The romanticizing of death is shameful past tenth grade. I cannot abide this song in good faith. I can play it at bars for a laugh, but I would not, should not, allow it in my bedroom, in my earbuds and daydreams. But when I’ve gone edgy, it’s barely enough. The dread, it resurrects my poor taste. The fear means I could swallow all the salted soppiness of life itself, a universe swirling between my hips, and still lean and pucker and snarl for more. Take me anywhere I don’t care I don’t care I don’t care.
I am very well and when I am not I shop for thick-soled shoes I might stomp things with. Fear is gauche, really, and I don’t talk about it. I count my steps. I run on hills, lick at my own and other lips. I think so often — and when I do, I make myself put away my pens so I don’t write down anything that will embarrass me someday decades from now when the eager young academics pore over my personal effects and marginalia while at work on a hotly anticipated biography — about drivers ed. I took drivers ed when it was cold outside and, in drivers ed, a retired state trooper with a pointy white crew cut, and thick leathered skin a hundred winters couldn’t have taken the rust from, stood in a small green room across from a vegan restaurant in a warehouse near the mountains and told us to remember when a crash happens, the car stops moving, but the bodies inside continue forward at the speed it was traveling. I am allowed to drive and that’s funny because I heard nothing after this. If I stretch across the floor and listen hard to this stupid song, if I get so full of air I’m barely breathing, then there inside the silver in between I can feel like I am flying at ninety five over hot gravel while I stay perfectly still. An object in motion stays in motion. I think so often about the simple artfulness of that science, the uncomplicated beauty. Ever onward, always moving, I’m going, I’m going. There is a light and it never goes out. An object in motion stays in motion. Driving in your car, I never, never want to go home. But, of course, I always wear my seatbelt.