laugh at me

He is young and the sort of stupid that thinks he ought to be taken seriously, and he is quite taken with a girl who is smart enough to know that there is nothing so serious you can't laugh at it. She has a smile and a joke for everything, and sometimes, when she is feeling existential, wonders if she is missing the point, if the world isn't a joke. And he holds her tight and takes it all very seriously, even the jokes. Especially the jokes. There is nothing more serious than human laughter.

She often wonders if he doesn't get the jokes. He often wonders if she is laughing at him, because although he is very serious, he is not so stupid as to think that laughter only means someone is happy. And she laughs at his solemn promises of devotion, his earnest declarations of love, his sincere praises. He pours out his heart and she laughs and tells him he's all right, or a reasonable facsimile thereof. And he feels patronized.

When he talks to her, she can't keep from feeling that he doesn't think of her as an actual person. He is very serious and has a very serious story that he wants to tell. He doesn't understand her laughter or her jokes. He doesn't understand that humans are not meant to be serious. Sometimes she thinks she would not mind being a prop in someone's fantasies, so long as those fantasies had room for laughter. His do not. So she laughs at him, and finds it funny, because the alternative is too depressing to contemplate.

Eventually he decides that she is not behaving like someone to whom he has sung such solemn, earnest, sincere songs of praise. And what right does she have? Is this what she does with his love? He begins to tell her, subtly but certainly, that she is unworthy of the devotion he has given her. The implication is that she should be grateful.

Of course she only laughs at this. What did he expect? She laughs, and tells him he should't take himself so seriously. And then she is gone, and he is left with those words. One day he will understand, and if he is very lucky, he will laugh.


rage and despair

I heard a drunk girl screaming bloody murder the other night, and went outside to make sure she was okay. I couldn't quite piece together the scene--she was in an incoherent rage, not sure whether she wanted to attack the boys trying to calm her down or flee the scene. I watched long enough to decide that she wasn't in any danger--or at least, not the sort of danger I could help with. Eventually one of her companions saw me watching and told me to fuck off. I smiled at him and walked back inside.

Watching this scene put me in a bad way. I felt claustrophobic, felt like I should have done something instead of making an assumption based on incomplete evidence that everything was all right. What right do I have to define if something is all right? This woman, surrounded by friends whose interest in calming her down ranged from the genuine-seeming "shh, it's okay" to the annoyed and patronizing "shut the fuck up, Amy," was about as alone as I'd ever seen anyone.

And she represented everything I'm afraid of about the city. It is so much easier to be alone when you are surrounded by millions of people--and that isolation is so much more crushing than the isolation of the wilderness. I have sworn that if I am able I will help people in need--not because I am a good man but because I refuse to be less than human. But how can I help someone expressing rage and despair I could never hope to understand?

Her friends, if that's even the right word, frog-marched her off down a different street. I sat on the porch for a long time with a cigarette and listened, really listened, to the city. I imagined that everyone I saw walking down our street was involved with this scene somehow, talking or laughing about it. And I cursed the selfish desire to help, to prove to myself that we aren't alone in the city, or that if I ever break down there would be someone there to catch me.


whispering apocalypses

I'm remembering a frozen New Year's day in the northeast, drinking far too much absinthe with a girl I knew--an old friend I'd just met. She was so much more alive than most people, and certainly more than me. We kissed at midnight and made our way back to the subway in single-digit temperatures, the warm clarity of wormwood and fennel staving off the chill as we laughed our way through the wind and snow.

She told me that night, waiting for the train, that she wished she wasn't real. I didn't tell her I wished that I was. It baffled me then--did she really wish that she was a ghost like me? Then the train rolled in and there was no more time to ask for clarification. We stumbled aboard and sat in the back, leaning against each other, as the train rumbled on to our destination.

Then the train stopped, and went dark, and she whispered apocalypses in my ear. "This will be the year everything freezes and dies," she said. "Starting with this train." The conductor led us off the train, and we escaped into the transit tunnels. I imagined that I was a real, living person, going on the sort of adventures real, living people went on, while she dreamt she was a ghost, flitting through the shadows, lost and alone in the tunnels beneath our city. We sat in secret places and watched the trains rumble by and whispered apocalypses to each other, as the clarity of absinthe faded and the clarity of the new year settled in.