When she left me, I went looking for beaches.
They weren’t as hard to find as you might imagine. Many were even accessible by subway. There’s a little stretch of narrow track in Queens where the train takes you right out over the ocean. She had developed a mysterious illness. It was not in her body. But she got dizzy, and then she got scared.
She had to find some other place – other than where she woke every morning, sick with that spinning inside her. As for me, I had to seek out the sea to match the lump in my throat, swollen with salt water. I’d gather my rainbow-striped towel, cover my body with sunscreen (SPF 40 at least), put on my bathing suit, my clothing, and board the train. The air-conditioning is intensive – it cuts you out of whatever reality you’ve just come from and re-outlines your body in the air. With each beach visited, a new version of me.
I’m fascinated by the subway system. The way the trains look at you when they’re coming down the track, with their flat, eager faces – plump little dragons on a leash, just waiting to be allowed to slither on to the next underground station. There are people who live down there. I once read an article about them, the Mole People. They eat rats for dinner and can’t even see by the light of day anymore. Squinty, pink-eyed things, and white like opossums you trap in the garden and relocate. Or shoot, I suppose, depending on your upbringing.
The summer before the beaches, I had a job walking a rich lady’s dog. I got this job after a man I loved told me that it would be better if I didn’t express any feelings. If I did, he would leave me forever. “Ok,” I said. I thought I was up to the challenge.
Inside my chest, though, a voice kept speaking. It said all the usual things. “Don’t leave me.” “I love you.” “I’m frightened.”
Well, I’ll have you know, I shut that one up pretty fast. I cut off my left breast (incidentally, the bigger of the two), and put a sock in the hole it made. I took the dog out for a walk like that: me with my sock and him with his little chew toy. We walked to the Lower East Side housing project – the one they’re going to relocate to the Bronx so you won’t have to look at the poor people anymore – and sat on a bench together in the hot sun. Two lost dogs. By the time we got home, my sock was dripping with blood. I wrung it out and hung it on the laundry line.
The apartment building shook every fifteen minutes because a subway train was passing through a tunnel underneath. There were mice everywhere, chewing holes in my clothing and leaving little pellets lying around. The cat killed about one in three. He lazily played with them while I sat around bleeding. I had locked myself in my room. When anyone knocked I said “don’t come in here!”
The glass was broken in the French door, so sometimes a hand or foot would come sticking through, but no faces. I stayed out of sight.
I drank vodka with lime and touched myself for three days.
From 200th street, Manhattan, to Far Rockaway, Queens, the subway ride is about two hours. You have to make sure to change to the Shuttle at Broad Channel, or else you’ll end up in the wrong place. I dreamed once that a ferry boat with an ostrich for an operator was available to take you across the channel. At Rockaway Beach I eat a tuna sub from the deli. Sometimes the sand gets in it. Then I usually eat ice cream at the Sand Bar. At Orchard Beach in the Bronx – more easily accessible by bus, but also possible by local train – there are trees growing right up out of the ocean. But there are too many little kids in the water, and there is nothing good to eat.
Brighton Beach and Coney Island are secretly the same thing. If you just keep walking along the water, you can move between the two. You can eat a hot dog a blintz or borscht. There is diversity. At Coney Island, I had a chili cheese dog and two roller coaster rides before I threw up.
The woman who left me never threw up. She was deathly afraid of it. When she felt sick, she’d get this terrified white look on her face. She’d run to the kitchen and mix baking soda with water. After drinking this down, she’d sit around trembling for a while, until the feeling passed.
Only once did I see her throw up. She woke up in a cold sweat, sat up in bed, and vomited an entire beach right onto the blanket. Sand and sea and all. There were even umbrellas, the big striped kind my family used to take to the Jersey shore when I was growing up. When the wind blows too hard they can come flying out of the sand and whack you upside the head. I think that’s what happened to her. I mean, where the dizziness came from.
It was called Benign Positional Vertigo. That’s what they told us at the hospital after we had to call an ambulance on a phone we borrowed at a restaurant. They had put new restaurants into our neighborhood to spruce the place up. But she was too dizzy to eat. We went to the Emergency Room where I drank coffee for seventeen hours. But the doctors never knew about the beach umbrella. They thought the problem came from inside.
Soon after that, she was gone.
Posted November 13th, 2011