There is a woman that I only know by the sound of her screaming. She likes to scream on the sidewalk four stories beneath my window after the slimy bar down the street slams shut. A woman after my own heart, she relies heavily on the rhetorical power of a good fuck you, you fucking motherfucker. Tonight, she wakes me up at two in the morning because some girl’s brother has hit her, and she needs to tell about it in her outdoor voice. I wonder if she was raised beneath an elevated subway line, or over a jackhammer factory, or by a pack of drunks who won her in a card game, and now she’s accustomed to shouting to be heard. I’ve never seen her face; I try to look out my window but the angle is all wrong. Sometimes I think about calling the cops, but I have been that angry, I have needed to be heard that badly. I know exactly how she feels, like there is nothing to do but stand under some windows and scream about it.
She wakes me up from a dream I was having where I was getting breast implants, and I startle awake like I’ve forgotten something. I feel a little lost without all my familiar dysfunction, without Sketch as an organizing principle for my angst. I go to a yoga class and see the girl I was recently obsessed with, but after throwing an admiring glance or two her way through the mirror, I go back to staring at my own abs. I don’t know what happened. Just a month ago, I was walking barefoot through her recently vacated spot in the hot yoga studio, wanting to roll around in the moat of sweat she left around her mat on the floor. I’m over it now, left with an absentminded appreciation for her beauty that is all abstraction with no intentions. Without my addictive purpose, I feel a little lost; I used to have one problem, and now I have many significantly smaller problems.
Push texts me a series of dirty emoji, collaging them so it looks like one of them is eating the other one out. It would have been so much simpler to ask me how I’m doing, but he has to pretend he doesn’t care about that, and I have to pretend not to care that he doesn’t care. I walk past his building on my way home like an arsonist revisiting the scene of their most recent conflagration. I can’t decide if I feel like ever seeing him again.
I still can’t find any pictures of myself for my stupid online-dating profile that I’m not completely disgusted by. I look especially bad in selfies, the arm’s length distance a bad choice for my crooked face, which seems to be aging like time-lapse photography since I stopped drinking. Maybe the vodka was my preservative. In the recovery rooms, I meet a beautiful, chubby 25-year-old girl recently who tells me that the cut-off age for crop tops is 30. This is very easy to say when you are 25 and feel you are entitled to at least 5 more years of wearing crop tops. I parade my 40-year-old abs through the streets anyway, honed through a thousand yoga classes, my ribs like a rack of swords. I finish another Bikram class this morning, my pigtails dripping with sweat, before I climb on my bike and pedal away in tiny shorts with my headphones clamped over my ears. I am the oldest teenager you know.
Like a teenager, I am planning a backpacky trip to Europe next week. I’ll be bumming around for a month without much of plan except to see art, eat stuff, and of course, to meet men. They won’t speak my language, but that’s OK; even here in New York, I don’t speak theirs either. I’m headed for Rome first. According my therapist, the men there really pay attention to a woman. “They will follow you down the street,” she tells me. “Especially once they find out you are American. They think American girls are easy.” To this information, I begin to emit a high-pitched squealing sound, like a puppy or a toddler with a particularly exciting present.
More than anything else, I can’t wait to be somewhere where I don’t have to make conversation. I don’t have to try to think up clever retorts, to explain that I haven’t had an STD test in a year, to confess that I am still in love with my ex. It’s my birthday this week, and I wait for a phone call from Sketch. I want to text him, but my friend Jeanine tells me: If you want a man to come to you, let him come to you. I wait, but he doesn’t come, and I wonder if he’s forgotten me. Eventually, I go down to my overstuffed, forgotten mailbox and there is a card from him: his familiar perfect handwriting, an inside joke tucked into the return address.
I’m starting to think Sketch and I need a long-distance relationship. It would be so much easier to be his partner from another continent, an ocean the buffer between our bad moods. We put the space between us, and I yearn for him across it. We need a longer distance than the East River, and knowing I am leaving for Rome on Tuesday makes it even easier to reach for him, to picture myself standing on the sidewalk under his window yelling my faceless love up to where he is sleeping.