Tracy was a writer, but words became too much for her and she took up painting last fall. She said this to me in private, away from the rest of the party, not long after she told me she was 17.
I am currently drinking with, and hitting on, someone born in 1990. I finish my beer. This starts to sink in.
Words hurt her, she continued. They had betrayed her, unable to express her thoughts any longer. I told her I sympathized, as I was a writer too, one who had made some baby steps toward a career, who also found words increasingly more inaccurate and unwieldy. God, which one of my friend's sister's friends would be mad at me tomorrow if I kissed her? She had soft lips, and when I looked between them, they were forming a simile. They were saying how her emotions were too much like handguns with the safety off, and without a delicate touch, they were bound to take out a loved one or family member. So she abandoned the craft and picked up a brush and an easel, which she found to be, in her words, "devastatingly sublime and transcendently honest".
Who talks like this? No 17-year-old I knew, but how many 17-year-olds did I actually know anymore? Maybe this was the new thing, or maybe, she was exceptional, or more likely, she was was trying to sound like the kind of person she wanted to be. Someone must have said her name, no doubt wondering what we were doing together, and she turned her head and her lip gloss flickered in the lamplight. I opened a new can and swallowed hard -- too hard -- and coughed.
I get where you're coming from, I said, lying. I wish I could make the switch to a more emotionally abstract medium. She was smiling at me, fawning her blue eyes directly at mine, and I could tell this was the first time a boy had talked to her this way, and that if I was going to hook up with her tonight, I was going to have to say the things that she thought signaled something real. I was going to have to play drunk psychologist with her and mention some books I skimmed through last year in college. I was going to have to be the kind of person I wanted to be, the kind of guy who likes Liz Phair as much as he says he does, who makes love, who is intimate.
Unfortunately, I continued, I gotta stick it out with writing. It's too late for me to switch. Despite all the nights I'm still awake at four a.m. because I've yet to do anything really productive all day, when I'm stalling for more time while tabbing between a blank Word document and YouTube -- I wouldn't know what else to do. I would call you a quitter, I said, but you sleep better, I'm sure. She laughed, and placed her hand on top of mine. She sat me down on the couch and started talking about tattoos, which was many people's way of talking about their bodies under a subterfuge of their minds. "This has personal meaning to me," "this is the Chinese symbol for happiness," "I have one on my shoulder and another one on my thigh." I had heard it all before, and the wood-paneled walls had heard it, too. But Tracy was different, somehow. Tracy had just one, around her ankle, and she rolled up her jeans, slowly rotating her leg so I could take it in.
I wasn't born so much as I fell out, I read aloud. This is the Clash, right? And she briefly held her breath, and the rest would almost be too easy. She told me she got it not because she thought it was true, but because it sounded beautiful, and this was sort of like her running motif. There was something about the image of falling, she said, that felt so graceful to her. She swept back her hair and titled her head as she described it to me, and I had to lean back to avoid catching a whiff of whatever fruity shampoo she used, because it was too strong.
I needed to ease this. We went to the kitchen and did a couple shots of something with people I half remembered from college. I was drunk enough to have my arm around her waist and I could feel everyone's eyes on me. They all knew what I was about to do, and they knew me too well to know I had no business with someone so pretty. This will fade, they glared at me, as they poured us both another round. I raised my glass and nodded, because I knew, but I threw it down and squeezed her tight because she was mine tonight, you jealous bastards. I am invincible tonight, untouchably cool, and you sons of bitches can't strip me of this glory.
I took her to the most romantic place in the house -- the wicker love seat on the back porch. She cuddled close to me and told me her dad was getting a colonoscopy soon. Apparently, it is a good idea for men and women of a certain age to have one done. It detoxifies you, she said. People are toxic? I asked. We have toxins in us, yes, she said. They make you sick and can destroy you. It's good then, that we flush them out, I said. What did we ever do before the colonoscopy? I wondered. I guess we just let shit pile up, she said.
And the magic was gone. She was so beautiful, and now she was a 17-year-old, and I was a 22-year-old. And there was so much I needed to tell her. Tracy, I slurred, Tracy, you're right, you're so right, the shit piles up, and it's unstoppable. And she leaned in, expecting me to kiss her, but there was more, so much more. Tracy, you're going to feel tired soon, and every day your eyes will weigh you down. And she was breathing against me and her hands were slipping under my shirt but I continued. Tracy, you will ache, you will feel so much older exponentially, you will have to steal sleep and your shit will pile up and the choice between truth and beauty will no longer entertain you and there will come a time when you just want them both to be over. And she pressed her soft lips on my neck but I couldn't even feel her, I was so far ahead. And I thought to myself, if I see you then, Tracy, I will smile and hug you, and ask you how you've been. I will look you over inquisitively as you tell me of your new friends and that boring sociology professor whose class you almost didn't pass. And when you have run out of breath for all your new things, you will ask how I've been doing, and I will tell you it's been more of the same. I will tell you about the job interviews where I spoke too loud or asked too many questions or got caught in a lie my resume told. I will tell you to stay in school forever, because it is wild out here, and dull. I will mention my anecdote about the man who hired me to write a script, and how he told me he hated working with women because they were stupid and money-grubbing and did half the work that men did. And naturally, you will be appalled by this, as an undergrad with a minor in gender studies. And you will ask me how my writing is, and I will bake my disappointment with a turn of phrase, gulp down my fear, and tell you that Hollywood is a strange business, but I am working, yes, I am working on it.
And the silence will grow increasingly less profound and I will fill the space with this -- I am thinking of getting a tattoo of something beautiful on the ugliest part of my body. Tracy, what do you think about "sometimes, when you fail in life, you've actually won, because you made a decision?" And where do you think it should go?
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