I’m trying to lose my ego before Coachella.
So yesterday I took some acid and cried when a neighborhood dog looked at me and then told me without barking, “There’s nothing to fear.” And it was either joy or panic that came over me when he said this because I started crying as the dog nosed at something dead in the bushes next to the sidewalk.
Then he did his business on a tree.
That was like Wednesday.
Today I wake to the sound of the same dog against my apartment door, scratching the handle like he’s supposed to live here with me. I take my Vyvanse, my Advil. I open the door as Emma Valdesto sweeps the terrier into her arms.
“Super sorry,” she says.
Her little black haircut bounces as she stands up.
It’s awesome and beautiful.
I like her pink hoodie, too.
I tell her it’s no big deal and that I didn’t know the dog was hers.
I tell her that I’ve seen the little troublemaker around the block, and it’s no biggie.
I tell her to have a happy happy Thursday.
What I do not tell Emma is that I love her. That I have loved her since that day in the alley with potted cactus, the Neosporin, the t-shirt she wrapped tightly around my knuckles. And how it was sunny out and the sun made me notice how gold her eyes were. And how much her gold eyes shook like tin cans behind a honeymoon car. Like on that day she was vibrating. And I was vibrating. And we both felt it maybe?
I think so.
She looked up at me, sad and defeated, broken bits of cactus in both hands.
And I was hurt but I was playing strong because she needed me.
So, it’s like that: since the day I hurt my hand helping her lift that potted cactus into her friend’s truck, she’s the only woman I’ve been able to love. And now I sometimes pretend, while alone in my apartment, that she will knock on my door and explain that even though our attraction has grown from afar, that she, like me, understands that we must not wait a single moment longer. We’re an immutable thing. Undeniable and perfect. And that we might as well tattoo “destiny” over both of our hearts because that’s the pool we’re swimming in here. Then we would kiss, probably while a car alarm went off somewhere very close by.
I think that’s how that would go.
I really do.
A few weeks later I am distracted during a webinar that I’m supposed to be taking notes on. My camera’s off but I’ve shaved, and I’m marveling at how shaving cream can smell like birthday cake if you’ve taken the right drugs the night before. Out my apartment window: I watch the planes circling high above the airport, all waiting for their turn to land. And I think for a moment about how everyone is waiting for something. And how sad it is that we’re made to wait for things.
That we must wait.
And then one of the planes begins its descent from the cloud line.
And then another.
The webinar lady is saying nothing important so I’m killing time until I can clock out. I read an article on a fancy website about a guy whose wife had this rumor going around about her during college that she liked to get choked during sex, and he’d heard this rumor from someone at her college reunion and didn’t totally–having never seen that side of her–believe the rumor, but, in another light, didn’t not believe the rumor either. Because humans are complicated beings that want some things some of the time and other things almost all the time. So: he asks his wife if he can choke her during sex and the article ends before she answers him. I’m disappointed in the piece’s ending but understand what the dude’s getting at: a heart is filled with stupid love; everyone’s got something up; we live in a land of bad rules and closeted freaks, etcetera. It’s a fine article. It’s fine.
Still bored: I watch a video of a pastor in Arkansas screaming wildly, communing with the Great Spirit. His dress shirt is soaked through with sweat and in the garden outside the window, laurel trees and willows go crazy in the wind. The pastor yells to, “Cast all foreign Gods from your heart! Now! Now! Forever!” And before he says the next thing there’s a harsh screech that sounds in the apartment above my own. It’s like: Skeeeeeeeechhhhh.
I jump up from my chair.
I duck for a moment like I might be in danger.
I reset and stand on my desk, turning my ear towards the popcorn ceiling, moving my head slowly towards the white stippling like my skull is a lunar module about to make contact with the moon’s surface. But everything’s quiet. No more screeching or screaming or whatever the noise was. Only the webinar, which buzzes with its tired and ponderous voices.
In the mailroom Emma Valdesto tells me she’s moved into the apartment above mine and it has a view of the mountains at the city’s edge. She says rent is beyond cheap, but nothing compared to where she was living in Florida, where she could rent a whole house in a county not far from Miami; a county riven with economic anxiety and foreclosures, she basically says. Then she says she’s dancing at Night Moves because the DJ at the Spearmint Rhino can’t keep his dick in shorts around the dancers.
“That sucks,” I say, trying to endear myself.
“He texted me that he wanted my love forever…Like what?”
She has the voice like a cartoon, lively and curious.
“An idiot question for the ages,” I say. Then I make a face that feigns disgust.
“You want to see something?” She asks me.
I say that I do. I say that I do want to see something––anything! I want to see anything that Emma Valdesto wants to show me. She nods like we’re about to have a secret and I look out the glass doors to make sure nobody’s coming. She smiles as she unzips her pink hoodie, revealing her sports bra. And beneath her sports bra a small, sickly-looking fox unfurls from her body.
“My new baby,” she says. “His name’s Lego."
The fox looks at me with black eyes and doesn’t blink.
He’s the color of an abandoned pool.
I say he’s the cutest thing I’ve ever seen.
“You should come over and play with him,” she says. The fox eats the cellphone bill she holds in her hand. “My babies love playing.”
I don’t want to sweat too much when I go over Emma Valdesto’s apartment for a playdate with Lego. I want to be smooth. Exude easiness. Calmness. A real joie de vivre. I want to be handsome and paternal while rolling around on the floor with her little dirt colored fox. I hope he likes me; I hope he doesn’t have sharp teeth; it does worry me–for a moment–that the sound I heard last week during my webinar was her fox eating her dog. The dog screaming in pain or the fox screaming in ecstasy. The dog’s body stiff, then soft. Only its eyelids flickering, its tale shaking. Only its death rattles against the kitchen floor.
I decide no more drugs or liquor.
For two weeks, no less.
Then I will knock on Emma Valdesto’s door.
Not sweating. Not shaking.
I will come to her bright-eyed and bushy-tailed. I will come in solid form.
At night, out my window where the teens park their cars and sometimes do whippets and get angry, I see Emma Valdesto walking across the empty lot, a large kennel dangling from her left hand and a fish tank tucked under her right arm. She’s dressed for work: a shredded chemise over a vinyl top and fishnet stocking–everything a different neon color, like the outfit was drawn on by a child in art class. Emma skips over a curb, smiling.
A paw strikes out from between the metal grate of the kennel.
Something spotted or striped.
She laughs and says something I can’t hear.
Then she’s below me and I can’t see her.
Then she’s up above, in her apartment, introducing the new pets to the old ones and drinking red wine from a Gatorade bottle. Her voice is muffled as it comes down, but I can still make out its softness, its sweetness like the sound of sunlight breaching the nocturnal world.
The lilt in her voice carries me to bed.
Ten days, I think to myself, yawning.
And I look out my window at the night sky and the yellow stars like a Christmas card.
And I listen for a long time to the sounds of her animals meeting, touching, and the scuttle of nervous paws growing softer and more familiar overhead.
All manner of delivery man, courier, and specialty-looking outdoorsman types make drop-offs to Emma Valdesto’s apartment over the next few days. At one point, two guys I recognize from playing pickup at Norman Park drag a six-foot crate up the stairwell by rickshaw, their knuckles turning white as they cling to the ropes. I poke my head out the door as they circle into the last flight leading up to Emma’s apartment, and–and! If I wasn’t feeling so sick from no booze and no powder, I would definitely bring them something–a water bottle, a Sprite.
It would be only right.
These are guys I know.
These are guys I’ve passed the ball to on occasion.
A cowboy with a metal cart attached to his truck drops off the horse.
Emma Valdesto meets him in the lot wearing her pink hoodie and holding an armadillo.
She laughs with the cowboy and touches his cowboy hat.
He laughs and points to his bumper: a metallic sticker which is shining bright light into my apartment through the half-closed blinds.
The sticker reads: Equestrian on board.
And below that: Wanna Race?
The landlord calls the alderman who calls the district something and Emma meets them all out in front of the building. I watch from the footbridge that hangs over the courtyard on the 3rd floor. I can see out the front doors, their heads shaking with dismay.
The one with the yellow tie yells so loud I can hear him from the footbridge.
“Support? Illegal is what it is!”
Emma nods her head, she’s receptive to the man’s anger.
Her black hair bobs with concern.
Then they leave.
And she’s alone without a man yelling at her.
For a time, she’s alone.
Then she begins to jump with excitement as monkey’s dropped off by a woman in tan overalls. She hands Emma Valdesto a piece of paper and a bag of chopped carrots and celery.
It’s all very exciting as I sneak back towards my apartment door.
The birds are loudest at night: the cockatoos, parrots, and storks.
They are what keep me awake and playing on my phone.
Also, the horse is not quiet around the mountain lion, either.
I have had no narcotics or booze in two weeks.
I call my father in Connecticut, tell him my job’s going great.
I sell my tickets to Coachella and Bonnaroo to a kid from the university.
I basically sell them for them nothing
The kid says, “No way.”
He says, “Dude, seriously, thank you.”
I tell him the real party is here in the city, and to have a good time but be safe, very safe.
I put on my very cleanest clothes as goats bleat loudly above. Everything has gotten louder; it sounds like a stampede, or a conga line has taken hold upstairs. A smell has also begun to come down, something like sod and hay grass and gasoline and sweaty track athletes. It’s all good though. It’s great. I’ve picked up the most beautiful orange tulips from Whole Foods and treats I think most of the animals will agree on. I do twenty jumping jacks and then use my mouthwash once more. I slap my face in the bathroom mirror and imagine Emma waiting for me like the queen of New Earth, her loyal animals turning quiet as she commands it.
In the stairwell: I wish for the courage found in perfect drugs.
Passing apartment 506: I hope she doesn’t see me as some sad-sack, dried-out loser.
Outside her door: I feel impossible.
Then I use the doorknocker and it’s louder than I would’ve hoped.
So loud the entire Zoo begins to scream.
And I fear that I have started the jailbreak.
No wolves tearing down the door and running freely out into the street.
Just the whimpers of lost freedom.
And then Emma Valdesto.
Standing In her pink sweatshirt.
Bruised oats stuck in her hair.
“Hi,” she says.
“Hey,” I say back, holding up the bag of animal treats.
“Perfect,” she says. Then she rubs her forehead, tiredly. “You finally came over.”
“I didn’t know if you really wanted me to,” I say, affecting a shyness that feels real.
And it is real. It is.
“Well of course,” she says, stepping back. “We’ve been planning this for so long…”
“Really?” I ask.
And she laughs.
She laughs at me. Then she takes my hand in the doorway and squeezes my palms with love, with something like love–something that feels repeatable and meant to be just mine for forever.
“I just needed you not sick… and look at you know,” she says.
Then Emma smiles.
“I’m feeling better,” I say. “I just got out of line for a minute.”
Something roars in the room behind her, a low little roar.
She bites her lip and pulls me into her pink, strong arms.
She smells like cigarettes and animal drool, the entire zoo in her hair.
She says, “Baby, it’s okay, you’re better now…better than you ever could’ve ever been.”
“I am,” I say. “I think, I am.”
“Oh yes,” she says softly, her lips against my ear. “Now get in here and meet the family.”