Kathleen Fitzpatrick

Our Real Homes          

          I just downed my third beer. You always knew what happened after the third beer. I unravel. Rod comes over and donates me a shot.

          “No, no,” I plead, “God, no.”
          “You gotta do it, Slick,” he says, handing me a lime.
          We pour salt messily on top of our hands, right in between the thumb and index finger where the joint meets.
          We shoot, we wince, we lick, we suck on our limes, we wince again and howl.
          You always hated Rod.
          So much more tequila, no more beer. Everyone in the bar seems like a spinning lamp post that I am trying to find balance in. I’m dangling off everyone, whisked away by some sort of manic laughter. I’m trying to place if I did lines in the bathroom or if I just dreamed it. You always told me I was so damn charming when I drank, but also so damn messy. I never seem to notice. You always said, the only time I am mortal was when I do coke. I remember this, too.

          Time to go home.

          It’s blistering outside even in the dark. I hear no crickets and that’s because we’re not on Long Island. We’re in Brooklyn. And I am tired.

          “I want to hear the frogs by the pond,” I whine to Rod. I’m walking with my eyes closed and it feels as if my feet are hardly grazing the sidewalk.

          The frogs behind your parents’ house is what I really mean.

          “Maybe tomorrow, baby girl,” Rod says as we head down the subway stairs. He swipes his Metrocard for me.

          Down in the subway it’s miserable. Hot, gritty, unforgiving. I feel ugly in the subway even when it’s empty like tonight.

          Rod leads me in as if I’m blind. There is a crazy man on this train. He is yelling, telling us he’s going to kill George W. Bush. Rod and I are the only one on this car. I can see this cracked man, wearing a heavy coat in fucking July. Maybe he’s going ballistic because he is so hot and is overheating. We make eye contact and he screams, “What the fuck you want you fucking slut?”

          I hide my face in Rod’s chest and I shake.

          “Oh, did I scare the slut ?” the man asks. I can feel him get closer. I can smell him and my eyes water. I try not to cry in front of him. When will the next stop come?

          “Hey, man,” Rod says all calm, “just leave her alone. We’re tired, okay?”
          “You know who the fuck I’m tired of?” he says, his voice like thunder.
          “The Bush Administration.” Rod says flat.
          Instead of more screaming we hear a laugh. It is round and happy and sounds what a warm home looks like when standing in the cold outside. When he is laughing I can’t help but feel so distraught. Does he think about who abandoned him, too? I keep hiding my face.

          I feel Rod’s chest shake. He’s laughing too.

          I don’t laugh at all. I keep hiding my face. All I see is dark along with the sound of two men laughing. The subway stops and that’s when I feel secure to look up. All I can fixate on is the man’s back. He’s still laughing as he steps off the train.

          I look up at Rod, tall and fine. He says to me, “That was fucking crazy, Slick,” and smiles.

          I cry so hard. I cry so hard and I get Rod’s shirt all wet.
          “No, no,” he says, “don’t cry. It’s over now. No need to cry, Ivy.”
          He uses my real name. I despise it. I rest my head on his chest again and he strokes my hair until I stop shaking. He tells me stories about how him and Boon would jump fences in college and had rips in their shit jeans four-years straight. Every single pair ruined, he swears. I feel like a little girl everyone is trying to distract from melting down. I try to laugh. I try to calm down.

          But ever since you’ve gone, calming down has not been the same.

          It’s weird when I turned twenty-four because I learned that’s the age I was to become friends with my parents. I wake up to my mother’s cool hands giving me a tall glass of water, a piece of toast, and aspirin for my head. She remembers what waking up young and miserable feels like. She asks what time I came in last night and I tell her four a.m.

          She tells me it’s almost noon. I rise.

          This is my bedroom but not the one I sleep in. I have my own apartment and sometimes I still can’t believe it. Turns out I got a job and that job gave me an apartment and that apartment grants me loneliness.

          This bedroom’s walls are still red and still house my once beloved Kurt Cobain poster. It still has my mugs filled with paintbrushes and acrylic paint tubes. It still has my broken typewriter I refuse to throw away because it’s my dead grandmother’s. This room still smells like me—honeysuckle wax and a touch of stale tobacco. I feel like I’m waking within a far off dream I can’t quite place. I thank a god yet again I didn’t lose my virginity in my bed because instead it was lost in yours.

          I find the black jotter where I used to write my lists. It really is a beautifully done book, probably one of my best efforts. The lists started once you left. I wanted to burn all the photos I had of you but couldn’t bring myself to do it. Instead I pasted them into this notebook I found at the art store by my college. I garnished the photos with pastel drawings and dried blood from my pricked finger tips. Yes, I did it on purpose.

          The lists contain the reasons why you would come back; Why you left; What I could do to make you come back. When you left, the anxiety got really bad again. I won’t even get into it since you never believed much of what I said when it came to my emotional and mental ailments. However, if someone kills themselves you’re all about martyrdom—you always wanted to be one yourself. I’m sorry to break it to you, but you weren’t raised Catholic and you haven’t done anything for anyone in a while. I can still hear the town exhale our names out onto the highway, and I find it hard to breathe next to the exhaust of all the trucks. You go on with life, your lungs feeling open and pink. You know nothing about anguish.

          I still pick at my scalp too much when I think of us, trying to place where we fell lame and died. I still can’t seem to dissect it apart fully myself. I do it until I finally see blood in my nails. Even when bleeding I can’t make sense how you severed me whole. I’m afraid I’ll lose too much hair and my parents will worry again.

          This bedroom is the only place I don’t do anything to cause myself harm. I did once but I went to the hospital. I’m sure you heard all about it. About the pills and the razor. I’m sure you faked a furrowed brow and said, “I hope she gets better.” But I’m certain what you were really thinking was, Could she be any more of a cliché ? I never heard a word from you when I was there. Do you remember by the water where you said you loved me so much you’d die for me? On the pier in October when I said it would be a perfect murdering spot—the killer would just dump us into the water and let the salt eat our skin. You joked and told me I was always flirting with some type of death. I told you I was seriously frightened that something bad could happen.

          You looked at me and said, “I’d let him kill me first so you could run away and get help.” I believed you so fiercely. Your tongue is a flippant one.
I want to take a million pictures of every surface in this room before my parents turn it into a gym. Or a home office along with a bed for guests to sleep in, as vacant housed parents do. I walk downstairs and smell the coffee and eggs in butter and bacon.

          My little brother is still asleep so I help myself to the best strips of bacon. My dad laughs at my hungover face and teases me about holding my liquor better. He thanks God I didn’t get sick this time. That I would have to pay for cleaning service since this isn’t really my house anymore. We laugh and I quietly resent being reminded I don’t live here any longer.

          I live in Brooklyn. You’d probably be surprised since I used to hate it there so much. And I still do hate it but I needed to be close to work.

          I work in an art gallery. You’d be surprised again because before we broke up I was supposed to become a psychologist. I got into grad school but decided not to do it. I got this job drunk when I met the curator by chance so now I am his assistant. I showed him my resume on my phone, we did a shot, and he said, “You’re hired!”

          I found an apartment with exposed brick wall and lots of room for lots of plants. You would like it. I decorated it with my favorite paintings and a wine-purple velvet couch no one really sits in but everyone raves about when I have a party. Whenever I have a party, someone always falls asleep in my bathtub, which has bronze feet making me seem more Parisian than I actually am. My bedroom is my favorite part because I hung a small chandelier in there. There are three sizeable windows in the living room that all have Christmas lights hung around each one. My apartment looks best in winter when the snow is falling relentlessly. I have many books and no TV. There’s no paint tubes or paint brushes because I gave it up. Don’t you remember seeing passion wilt within me? Why didn’t you say something?

          There are many lists there, none about you. Some of them are about work, or how to be thinner—what to eat when I want to starve and what to binge when I want to feast. How many people I have slept with (seventeen), their names, and the date of said happenstances. Being drunk makes indulging and repressing really easy for me. I’m starting to notice a problem, but if you can recall—patterns are kind of my thing. Cocaine, coffee, and cigarettes really helps with not eating and I wish there was another way. I call them the Three C’s. The art world chastises any gallery girl with too thick of calves and I need to scrounge for rent any way I can.

          I keep all this shit away from my family because they finally think I’m better. Like you once said, I’m an excellent actress and I have to say, this is my best performance yet. I pity you for missing out.

          The family dog comes to my feet at the table and tries to climb on me with his soft paws. He is so old and is due for a haircut because his fur is mounting over his eyes. He’s just as cute as he is annoying—very much so. Remember when he bit you that one time? After we broke up I always believed it was a sign of fate.

          “He missed you,” my mom says.
          “It’s the bacon,” I argue.
          “Is Rod back home, too?” My dad asks.
          Back home to me really means our real homes. Our true homes. Where we feel comfortable even with everyone squawking and scrutinizing. I don’t feel like I live in Brooklyn and I think that’s what New York City is supposed to feel like. I feel very temporary in a place people would kill to live in. The city consumes me and leaves me distraught and angry. Everyone knows I don’t belong there because everyone is always asking, “Where are you from?” when they first meet me. The city is only good for constant one night stands. Do writers write and artists create solely because of sex? Because I find no inspiration there. Maybe I am just a sad, silly girl playing house, still washing my dishes like a child.

          We are back home because someone has died.

          The someone who died was a girl in my poetry class in high school who overdosed. She was short and had thick black hair just like her eyeliner. One time in the bathroom she told me she liked my poems. She asked if I wanted to see her favorite lament on her arms? I thought it was a tattoo and nodded my head. She pulled her black sweater sleeve up.

          Track marks.
          I gasped and walked out the bathroom.
          I gasped at the then Dead Girl Walking when I was sixteen and haven’t felt awful about it until now at age twenty-four. I’m going to her wake and so is everyone else. I know it’s going to be broiling out. I find a black summer dress I specify as an important dress of my college history crammed in the back of my closet. I iron it and my mother looks pleased I no longer wear wrinkled clothes without caring. This is what growing up looks like. But I assure you, it’s all still a mirage.

          I know you probably will never iron anything in your life. I smirk at my own, small conformity. I wish you knew me all grown up.

          I wait outside my house with my sunglasses on like I’m nineteen again. I miss the college summers where you could care about nothing and be absolutely penniless, working a shit job just to score some vodka and weed for the weekend. Now all I do is worry. The human elements of myself start to melt away when I stand in the stark, suburban light. This familiar heat always made us treat ourselves like rabid, angry dogs. You rawed out the splendid violence you found within me that I no longer hold. I try to place it. I miss where it used to be—right in the dark pit of my stomach. Now I think it’s something sweltering in the soles of my feet but I’m too barren to move.

          Rod and Boon pull up in Rod’s shitty car. I don’t have my shitty car anymore because I gave it to my brother when I moved. Boon moves to the back seat and lets me have the front. Rod and Boon are two of my best friends and Sheila is my third.

          We start to drive and Rod lights a joint. We start to feel high as we drive through my neighborhood and then the town. Our town is like most on this island—perfectly manicured and pruned lawns with the sidewalks littered about, alongside dirty-handed children on bikes. There’s the occasional traffic light pole memorial that croon and beg for the remembrance of the people that have gotten struck and killed on the road.

          Boon tickles me from behind and I let out the bloodiest scream, it rips through all of us and we don’t mind one bit.

          It doesn’t feel like Saturday. It feels like a backlashed Thursday afternoon three years ago and we’re on our way to the beach and you are still my boyfriend. But instead today we’re getting coffee and going to a wake for a dead girl we hardly know

          We pick up Sheila at the coffee shop. She gets in, kisses me on the cheek, and hogs the joint so she can catch up.

          We arrive at football field where there is a pasture of other old, ratty, and probably borrowed sedans. It seems like the whole Class of 2010 is here. We are high and going to pray for the dead girl. I don’t believe in praying so I pretend to do it in the silence like I’m supposed to. I forget her name until someone whispers it behind me; Delilah. I’m tired of being blind and open my eyes. I try to judge who is who from the back of their necks.

          Then I see you.

          I see you see me and we are the only ones with our eyes open in this crowd of eyelids. You’re three rows ahead of me on the bleachers and you whip your head back around. But it’s too late; I saw you.

          I have so much to say to you and none of it angry.

          When the service is done I can’t find you and even if I did, what would I say? I would be terrified with you right there.

          We go back into Rod’s car and this time I have the back seat with Boon. I stare at the middle seat that I drunkenly wrote in sharpie on prom that reads, ROD IS SHORT FOR RODNEY . Rod was my date and you weren’t because we didn’t meet in our high school. We met at that costume party during the winter break of our freshman year of college. I was dressed as a cat and you were a zombie with fake blood all over you. When you kissed me that night you tasted of warm ketchup.

          Sheila applies blush on her face and catches my furrowed brow in her mirror.

          “What’s wrong, Ivy?” she asks. I’m the friend everyone worries about. I’m the friend that considers too much.

          “He’s here,” I say to the window glass, almost as a whisper. “Who’s he ?” Boon asks.
          “Are you a fuckin’ idiot, Boon?” Rod asks.
          “Todd,” Sheila answers quiet.

          When I hear your name I almost crack right down the middle like it’s a favor. We arrive at the wake, with all the same cars along beside us in the parking lot.

          We look at Delilah in her coffin. She’s so pretty and pale. I wish so hard that there is an afterlife for sad dead girls, where Sylvia Plath and Anne Sexton are found too, writing poetry instead of praying.

          I don’t see you where all the people are looking at the dead girl. I then remember you told me dead bodies freak you out. I used to think it was such a selfish and crass thing to say. I still think it now.

          But I do see you at the bar afterwards. Everyone’s there. You’re wearing a suit jacket that’s just a touch too small. You grew into your nose more. The last time I saw you was a year and a half ago at our favorite band’s show. You acted like I wasn’t there. I felt like a piece of glass you saw right through and avoided with true diligence. I admire your commitment of annulment.

          You are so good at disregarding me and I am only good at drinking so I order whiskey neat. After I down that I chug a murky PBR.

          Sheila turns to me and assesses my violent drinking. She knows I’m trying to forget.

          “You know he broke up with you your senior year of college, right before your birthday? In front of all your friends at a party?” She asks, with her hand on her hip.

          I don’t feel attacked. I just feel foolish.

          “Jesus, Ivy,” she exasperates, “You’ve been broken up for almost three years. When are you going to get over it?”

          I try not to cry. I know she loves me. This is her way of showing it. I turn around and down my beer, order another.
          “God, I fucking hate him.” I hear Sheila say and mean it.

          Third beer down my throat effortlessly and there I go unraveling quietly this time.

          Sometimes I wish I could just live in my own head forever and never speak again. Write all my conversation on post it notes and stick them on people’s skin when they are sleeping.

          You’re drunk, too. Your face bloomed into a vicious flush and there you are laughing with your best friend. I try not to look at all. I try to talk my friends and hope I will just evaporate right there and never be spoken of again.

          Your best friend orders some drinks right next to me. I feel forced to turn and smile at him because he isn’t the one who hates me.

          “Hey, Ivy,” he says. Still charming as he was last time I saw him doing bong hits in your basement.

          “How have you been? What’s new?”
          “Nothing much, I’m living in Brooklyn now.”
          “Get out,” he says, “that’s wild! I’m surprised.”
          “Why?” I ask. There is no reason to be so enthused over someone he hardly knows. “Todd literally said the other day, ‘I fuckin’ hate Brooklyn and you know who else did? Ivy Pratt.’”
          I am elevated to another plane of folly and I can feel my limbs dissolving.
          Does this mean you miss me?
          Am I just someone you mention, and are you someone I no longer know?
          Our ancient selves loved each other so much that I am the biggest believer in past time still going somewhere, repeating itself in a distant universe.

          Your best friend says, Catch ya later, and I am left to wonder if any other fragments of myself have been spoken from your mouth. I stare at your back hard knowing there is no way you’ll talk to me tonight.

          “Here you go, Slick,” Rod says as we all shoot our vodka down no problem. He asks if I’m okay.

          “I’m okay. Just a little...”
          “Lost?” he says it as if he’s been waiting to for years.
          “Lost,” I echo, smiling.
          “Do you want to hear the frogs?”
          I think of your parents’ house.
          “I don’t think that’s the best idea.” I circle my finger around the rim of the empty beer glass
          “No, no Ivy,” he says as he always says it, “I have a new spot. I found it just for you.”

The new spot is down the darkest road that turns into a dead end. We climb over the iron barrier and go down a winding path with the help of our cell phone flashlights. We laugh like teenagers breaking curfew. We worry about nothing as probable poison ivy and thorny bushes graze our legs, slicing our skin open. On this path, we are totally forgiving.

And there it is and it is beautiful. The new pond.

We sit on the rocks and hear all the frogs croak into a rhythm that pending sleep wants to put me in. Rod has his hand on my shoulder. I try not to remember when you told me Rod was in

love with me. I still refuse to believe it. His limb over me feels like a rock, absorbing all my malicious intent you instilled in me and my own selfish debauchery.

Fully aware I shouldn’t, I find myself leaning back on him anyway, trying to relieve the weight of myself on someone else. How fitting for our friendship. I have this nasty habit of being my own, biggest critic, living inside my head. I probably learned how to be hard on people from you.

That’s a cheap shot.
I take it back.
I can do better than say, fuck you , or I want you to drop dead . I can do better than

thinking of you at night with my chest fully open, my heart ticking on my pillow as I watch blood pool out of me, each capillary lost saying that I miss you, I miss you, I miss you. I did do better and sliced myself open but you didn’t seem to notice. A textbook plan with a beautiful backfire. I’m still caring for its singes.

“You know,” Rod begins, “Sheila just loves you so much and you know she just gets angry for you. After what that asshole did to you—”

“I know,” I cut him off, “I understand it all.”
I can’t imagine the agony I caused everyone but I do think about it relentlessly. I try to

relieve any lingering guilt I have by just not talking about it anymore.
I put my foot in the water and it’s so cold but I keep it there. My blood is still moving,

turning into brilliant ice.
“I love you, Ivy,” Rod said, his voice waning, “I never want anything bad to happen to

you ever.”

“I love you, too.” I say it but it’s nothing like how I loved you and I wish Rod knew that.

Rod kisses me and it’s perfect. I wish he didn’t waste it on me. Lately he has been wasting too much on me. I can still hear your stubborn voice in my head ringing, “He’s always been in love with you. Always.” Your words were slanted and mean then, full of salt. Like a knife was often carried in your throat. I always retaliated, calling you a fucking idiot for it. But it’s really me who is the fool because I kiss him back, totally aware I will ruin him. It’s almost like you passed the torch onto me and it’s my turn to make my revokement of love morph someone wonderful into someone insane.

          I curse myself and pull away but Rod doesn’t seem to notice.

          I try to forget it all. I wish I drank more. I concentrate on the grousing and I sit in this dark and don’t recognize I have a body. I can only feel my thoughts.

          I still think of you but it is thankfully distant.

          This sounds like a lost, delirious dream but I want you to see me. Like, really see me. Because when you see me now, in and out of this suburban setting, you don’t use any of your senses. Only your skin feels my presence due to faulty muscle memory that won’t go away. How do I know? On the bleachers when you saw me and you turned around again, I swear I could see all the hairs on your neck standing straight up. In that moment, I was a ghost to you. Does the idea of me haunt you, too?

          So when you do finally see me and your mind registers that I am there, in front of you, real and scary as hell, I want you to let yourself think, There she is. She is still so real and just the way I left her. She is still so beautiful. I miss her and it hurts so dull and bad. Like a cheap shot of whiskey going down your throat for the first time, not knowing better. Like burning. 

Kathleen Fitzpatrick is an MFA candidate at Stony Brook Southampton. "Our Real Homes" is included in her thesis--a genre hybrid of both fiction and memoir, which focuses on the beauty and toxicity of suburbia, along with the findings of being young and in love. She lives in Brooklyn, New York.

JD Thornton