early dark

There’s a scaffolding platform on the building across the street from my apartment. The scaffolding went up last week, over the course of a long and unexpected day of excruciatingly loud noise. By the time I went to bed, black and orange netting encased a metal skeleton rising taller than the building itself. 

Now the scaffolding is the first thing I see when I look out the window at my desk, but it’s silent in the morning. Just above the first floor windows, free of the netting, a wood platform encloses a brilliantly autumn-colored tree, the tree that signals seasons on our block, spilling its red-gold leaves over the green-painted sides of the platform. It almost looks like a landscaped deck, out of an architecture magazine, as though it had been put there for purely aesthetic purpose. 

Sometimes New York is time travel and sometimes it’s a ghost tour and a haunted house. But maybe that’s living anywhere long enough, the accumulation of time on top of place, the tiny particles of human skin that eventually make up a visible film of dust. My senior year of college, I lived on the first floor of a building in a different part of this same neighborhood. Really, it was the one-and-a-half floor; the building was on a sharply downhill-sloping street, which meant my apartment got farther from the street as you walked from east to west in it. That fall, construction work on the building put up a similar wooden platform attached to scaffolding directly under my windows. I was twenty-one, and very stupid, and I decided this meant I had a temporary deck. I would go out there with coffee and do my reading for class. I’d have friends over in the afternoon and sit with our knees to our chest and sweaters against the cold and talk about the hard things or what we thought at the time were the hard things, as though we truly believed we had already reached the limit of life’s bigness.

And I threw parties. That was the main thing I did with this deck that was absolutely not my deck, not meant to be a deck, not anybody’s deck. I don’t remember how it started. Maybe it was where I sent people outside who wanted to smoke when I had a party, and the place where everybody gathers to smoke becomes the central nervous system of a party in the same way a kitchen often does. Maybe I had a few friends over and we all climbed out there and brought our drinks with us and that’s how you get a party; the moment where a few people at your house crosses the line from a few people at your house to a party isn’t something that can be planned or measured or predicted, but you can feel it when it happens all the same.

And then it started happening a lot, and the thing I remember the most is sometime either just before or just after Christmas, throwing a formal dress-up party on a very cold night. We all went out on the scaffolding, mostly drunk, and it had just snowed, and the snow was collected on this deck that was not a deck at all, and we all threw snowballs at each other. Friends stayed until dawn; I remember vividly a six-foot-three male friend changing into my bathrobe and putting on one of my face masks and going out to the scaffolding platform like that to smoke a cigarette, while his girlfriend and I lay on my bed and howled with drunken laughter. You had to climb over the bed to get out there; everyone stepped on the bed to go out the window, and lowered themselves down onto the bed coming back in, a long drop to a soft ground, intimacy and utility as one.

Of course part of what made it a party was that it was a very bad idea; it definitely wasn’t allowed, and almost certainly was very, very dangerous. I am astounded nobody was injured, that nothing at all happened to me or to any of us except that one day a couple months later, the scaffolding was gone, and that was it, that part of my life was over. Not long after that, I graduated from college, had no idea what to do with myself, and profoundly lost my way for a few years. It’s easy to forget, in the long memory of a worse time, that there was something bright before it; it’s hard not to write a story where every single thing one does before things go wrong is the cause of what went wrong, joy into culpability and fun into guilt. As though bad ideas are never parties; as though parties are always harbingers. As though everything has to be something more than itself. 

The scaffolding platform on the building across from me is much higher off the ground and therefore more dangerous than the one on which I once upon a time threw parties, and nobody lives in the building, so nobody is going to walk out onto it except to do the job for which it was intended. But it looks sturdy enough to stand on, and wide enough for several people to sit down on, in frothy-bright clothes, with cold drinks in their hands, with borrowed-from-each-other cigarettes in a city where everyone still smoked. If it snowed, it would be large enough for those people to have a snowball fight. This is one way hauntings work here, one use of all the city’s endlessly crowding ghosts, its refusal to heal any wounds. It’s easy to remember how things fell apart because more often than not things falling apart has a narrative; it’s harder to remember the nights, days, afternoons, hours, whose joy was in their uselessness to the larger plot. Sometimes the city’s echoes and repetitions do the work for us, the ghosts picking out one night from the long-distant past and blasting it in spotlights: Remember you threw a party, and nothing happened, and it was wonderful?

These are the ghosts in New York that get me, the ones that carry traces of the small wasteful days that did little and meant nothing. I still catch myself thinking that happiness is a kind of ladder, one good choice tethered to another, a stable achievement that can be built out of blocks one at a time, a place at which one can arrive and then stay. But that’s not how it works. Happiness is the song playing loud out the radio of someone else’s car as it drives by at top speed with the windows open: Unexpected and ungraspable, gone before you notice it’s there.

It’s November now, and it’s dark early. Yesterday a friend of mine posted Tony Hoagland’s poem, “Reasons to Survive November,” to her instagram story, and a bunch of people I know, including myself, reposted it and yelled at each other about it in DMs. “November like a train wreck,” the poem opens. This is a brutal time of year, even if all times of year are brutal in their own way. No matter how much I try to convince myself that it’s good, actually, the sudden dark after daylight savings feels like an accounting of all the ways I have wasted time and gotten older. I once had a relationship, for lack of a more precise word, so brief that it started a week before Halloween and ended the day after daylight savings. I walked home to the subway in the cold-water way one walks to the subway after things end, and it felt nearly unbearable how small the available light suddenly was, how all the soft and gracious possibilities of fall had disappeared. The open door had slammed shut while I wasted time, idling on the curb, thinking the light would last forever.

Hoagland’s poem cites tiny, unspectacular pleasures in the list of reasons from the title: “a soup special at the Waffle House downtown,” “the Jack Parsons show is up at the museum/full of luminous red barns.” It seems that this time of year wants everyone to give up, to go under the covers and hide, to accept failure. We are left to conjure defenses out of small joys. Hoagland equates the people who wish him ill with the turning season that pushes us into sadness: “I know there are some people out there/who think I am supposed to end up/in a room by myself//with a gun and a bottle full of hate,/a locked door and my slack mouth open/like a disconnected phone.”

“But I hate those people back,” Hoagland writes, and his poem makes a white-knuckled turn, from survival to celebration as it ends: “And my happiness would kill them, so I shove joy like a knife/into my heart over and over again//and I force myself toward pleasure,/ and I love this November life/where I run like a train/deeper and deeper/into the land of my enemies.” 

This time when the sky shuts down into 5pm darkness is also the start of party season. Joy is sometimes just a kind of defiant spite, a refusal to let the memories of failure or loss be the only ghosts that tell the story. There is very little year left; there is very little time left at all, and it is getting darker fast, wolves chasing up the middle of the afternoon. But we can go out on the deck that isn’t supposed to be a deck and smoke cigarettes in party dresses; we can do something bright and stupid that has little bearing on the larger story, that will yield nothing beyond a moment’s buoyancy. The colder months may be the land of our enemies, the time when it is easiest to remember everything that wants us to fail. But way in the back of the house there’s a party, and everyone is dancing, teeth on edge like knives, refusing to loosen our grip on spiteful November joy. 

just a reminder that griefbacon is ending at the end of the year and that all of it, including the archives, is free and public until then. also, speaking of great poems, did you know that Pome, the best daily poetry tinyletter, has started up again? you should go subscribe (it’s free). I have no affiliation with Pome, other than loving it very much, but I can almost promise it will improve your November.

late night

hi readers and friends. just a note to remind everyone that the paid-subscriber version of this project has ended, and the free one will end, at least for now, at the end of 2019. I’m so sorry this letter has been absent for a couple weeks, but I still fully intend to send out free letters every week until the end of the year, and will try to make up the missing ones from this month here and there before I finish. also, I’ve made all of the archives public, so that everyone can go back and read any past essays they’d like. some favorites are here, here, here, here, and here (as well as the original halloween griefbacon here) speaking of which, here’s something I wrote last week in a more halloween-ish mood. there are a couple spooky season essays in my drafts that I didn’t finish in time, actually, so it might be spooky season here at griefbacon a while longer. but hopefully nobody minds.

I’m awake right now because I drank coffee too late at night. For once, our two cats are asleep. Usually, whenever I try to stay awake late and work, at least one if not both of them protests, insists on staying up with me, runs and yowls and tries to climb the walls, seemingly affronted that there could be something I want to do that isn’t sleep. Late night is a good time to think about selfishness, and I feel selfish, wishing the cats to sleep so I can stay up too late and soak in the loneliest part of the day. I consider, and then hate myself for considering, how if I loved fewer things, if I had let fewer things matter, then I could have late nights whenever I wanted, alone in the darkness reflected out the windows, the still middle of 3am like an undisturbed body of water, the cars on the street below like the silence of oars crossing an ocean slowly and alone.

Late night is a time for aloneness, a time to be alone. It is a time for pretending, for vaulting backward or forward into fantasy. With most of the nearby world asleep, with the day tucked away behind windows, under blankets and behind closed doors and slackened faces, the imaginary seems just as possible as the real. My whole life, with its errands and obligations, its places and things, its emails and bank accounts and showers and public transit, seems like something that exists only because I have chosen to believe very hard in it. I could put something else in its place with nothing more than thought. Everything remains unformed; everything seems possible. 

Late night is an alone time and it is when I can admit that I miss the sense, however false, of being anchored to nothing, including myself. When I lived alone, staying up late offered a seam in the day into which it felt as thought I might fully disappear. I often stayed up all night just so I could feel gloriously, glacially, alone, as though I had rowed out to the center of a large lake, far enough from every shore that I could see nothing around me at all. 

Most of what I actually did when I lived alone was be scared, at least at night. Living alone made me jumpy and superstitious, which is the same way I get when I travel alone or when Thomas is out of town for even one night. Being alone in a house is spooky for the same reason that being alone makes every imaginary version of oneself seem possible. Ghosts and night terrors, the face at the side of the road on the long dark drive through the country, are all potentials, all about our willingness to believe before evidence. The hopeful, privileged teenager about to start college who truly believes they can be anything they want to be is not very different from a person who believes in ghosts. Both are a lot like the part of my brain that thinks every small noise is a demon lurking in the bathroom mirror when I’m in the house alone.

All of these things are ghost stories, a belief in the unlikely, a willingness to overthrow the known and the documented for the outlandish and the hysterical, for the spiky, wanting things that get their claws in us late at night when no one is awake to fend them off, when nothing dull and pedestrian offers a counterargument. A wide open future is also a haunted house, full of things never seen before. What is frightening is what is possible, and late enough at night all the limits seem to slide back, and all guards seem to fall asleep on the job or go home. Anything is possible, here, this far out across the lake; anything could be right beneath us, coiled within the still dark water, as real as yesterday or tomorrow. We associate all-nighters with youth simply because our bodies can better stand the ravages of a jagged and irresponsible sleep schedule when we’re younger, but I think it also has to do with how both are about potential, the sense of a long stretch of time, curling so far ahead that its horizon is invisible. Both promise that any fantasy or nightmare could be made material, that ghosts could rise again, that anything imagined could be true and anything lost might still be found. 

The cats wake up and start making noise, which means I should go to bed. Daytime is a cold-water reminder of what is real; so are other people, and so is love, at least when it’s requited. Everything outside ourselves to which we tether ourselves is a reminder that possibility is in fact limited. The sun starts to rise. Thomas wakes up and shuffles into the living room and asks if I’m ok, and if I want to come to bed. Love, daytime, obligation, even the ground-floor needs of our own itchy bodies, all of it it is the light switch that banishes the monsters, that turns the haunted house back into just a home. I’ll probably never quite sleep normally, in the healthy way I know I should have learned years ago; I’ll probably always wonder if I would have been better if I had stayed alone, had made less space for more love, and remained crouched at my desk all night with nothing to stop me, the face in the window of the haunted house, all ghostly possibility. 

radiator season

one more quick note on subscriptions: It turns out that it’s complicated to turn off new paid subscriptions but keep sending subscriber-only emails. So, all griefbacon emails from now until the end of the year will be free for everyone. They’ll still be once a week, as planned, so those of you who paid for subscriptions will get the same amount of content promised in my last email, but paid subscriptions will end as of today (if you had a paid subscription, you might see an email that it’s been cancelled). Emails will continue once a week until the last week of December. If this is too many emails, feel free to ignore them, unsubscribe, etc. I hope this is ok for everyone, but of course please email me with any questions and I hope we can get any issues worked out. If this is confusing, please ask me to help, and otherwise, I’ll see you once a week for the next couple months. xo

anyway. it’s radiator season.

The heat came on in my building and I got mad about it. It had been ninety degrees two days ago, and, on the day the heat came on, I still couldn’t imagine anything but being warm. Many of us still expect fall weather to arrive all at once, immaculately familiar, on October 1st, but it never does, and hasn’t for a long time, if it ever did. It arrives when it arrives, with a sudden jolt, like a doorbell ringing when you aren’t expecting anyone. The heat is like that too -- one day you come home and your apartment is warm and smells like reheated dust, like steam, like metal, like indoors. It smells like staying home. It smells this way even if you hate your apartment, transforming for a moment a cramped or dirty or fraught space into a pair of open arms, into the welcome of a glowing doorway on a dark night. It doesn’t last; most things go from novel to itchy very quickly and the heat in New York apartments, which grows almost immediately miserable, is certainly a record case. But for a few days, the ghosts welcome us all home. 

The ghosts, because every radiator is full of ghosts. Almost every year I have a moment where I forget that the noise I’m hearing is the radiator and it terrifies me. There’s a low growl and a scratch, a soft keening, like some horrible otherworldly mourning. This happened a lot when I lived alone. I would be sure for a few long minutes that I had stranded myself in a small space with something malevolent, logic and daylight dissipating into a crawling, back-of-the-neck threat. And then I remembered it was the radiator, and felt cozy. It was getting cold, and the old rusty pipes in the old rusty building (I have only ever lived in old, rusty buildings here although I understand this is less and less a common experience of New York) are yawning and stretching and waking up, trying again. Everything left behind, left unfulfilled and unfinished, coming back to haunt the corners of the apartment, the places near the windows and the bed where the steam rises, where the heat is thick and soporific in the morning. 

Ninety degree weather in October is a living disaster, an actual fast-motion crisis pinned to the wall of a single day. The weather has become the exact opposite of small talk. It is politics and panic and confessions, everything small talk is meant to guard against. The weather and the seasons are about repetition: These are the secular rituals that guide our lives, the things by which we chart our progress and by which we understand what we have lost and to what we can return. They are the ways in which we recognize ourselves, the ways in which we can chart a path through our own changing. In the most immediate and most selfish way, the global climate crisis means we do not know what to expect, or how to measure ourselves against expectation, repetition, and return. 

October is supposed to remind me of all the other Octobers in my life, all the other center-of-fall months I have spent in this city reaching back to the first one, when the streets got soft with falling yellow leaves and the days sped faster into darkness, into haunting, when the lights of everyone else’s windows appeared earlier and everyone threw parties to ward off the cold and the dark, heaving artificial suns up toward the ceiling, the days when we were beginning to hoard the interiors, to make plans for what we could harvest and store. The radiators would come on, and nighttime would feel like a meaningful challenge, with a tangible reward at the end, the colder weather delineating the doorways of buildings, making a home a home. We expect the past to arrive in the present; the past is the only thing we’ve done, the only information we have to go on. Some part of me, when it turns October, expects everyone I’ve ever loved in this weather, at this turning time of year, to show up again, standing on my doorstep in a sweater, ready to explain and ready to forgive, as though the familiarity of the weather were itself a second chance. When the radiator comes on, it signals a return: here we are again, in the same place, an understood step in the dance. 

But when the radiator came on this year, it had been ninety degrees two days previous, and I was furious, itchy in my skin, lashing out at everyone around me, lying on the couch in shorts and a sports bra in a sulky sprawl, sweat-sheened and miserable. I had barely gotten a chance to even notice the cold outside. I had wanted to sleep with the windows open, to wear a sweater in the house, to wake up shivering. But more than anything, what I really wanted was for the world to be the familiar world I expected, for everything to continue on its path the same as it had before. I wanted to be cold before the radiator came on, and when it did come on, I wanted to startle at the ghosts I have lived with and known for years, singing their old songs, up to their old tricks. I wanted to greet them as old friends, the same as last year and the year before and the distant one seventeen years ago, the crisp-sky weather closing up the gaps between.

One thing that struck me during the climate strike, and at the many climate strikes around the world, was how much the dividing line between an older generation and a younger one was about avoidance versus confrontation (another thing that struck me was the strangeness of being firmly in the older generation, no longer under the broad and optimistic category of youth, at best a repentant villain in the story). To keep expecting to get back to the old rituals, for the heat to come on when it is already cold outside, for everything to work the way it once did, is avoidance. There is no reason, were I to have confronted ongoing realities that have been loudly clear for some time now, for me to expect it to be cold in September or early October, for me to expect the long-ingrained schedule of the radiator in my old building, which is owned and run by even older people, to keep up with the real temperatures, the current weather, the ways in which the world is changing, and has already changed. 

Because fall is a time for a ghosts, it is also a time for mourning, a season about the dying earth. The promise of it, the thing that glitters up the air, is the undergirding knowledge that this death, at least, is temporary. We are comforted by the cyclical because it includes a return, because it says nothing is permanent, and all is redeemable. The horror of change, even the sort of standard-issue small-scale personal change that isn’t a global crisis, the thing that cuts furrows through a life, is that change offers an opposite and irrefutable thesis. Not everything is redeemable; mostly life does not move in a circle, but in a single relentless line. The same is now true of the weather. We are all driving toward the cliff together; we are not coming back home. Fall feels like it is about return, but it isn’t; it gets colder later every year, and none of the people whom the changing weather summons up in memory are going to climb back out of their lives and arrive in mine; there would be neither room nor welcome for them if they did. 

Most hauntings are versions of ourselves, who we were and what we believed was the future. What arrives every fall is the memory of who I was and what I thought I would achieve in previous Octobers, on previous days when the weather turned so sharply that I thought I could taste resurrection in the cold of it. We are just barely past back-to-school season and all its ambition is still ringing in aftershocks, like a symphony that has only just stopped playing. All my past resolutions crowd in, brought up from the dirt alive again. Somewhere, I am cold, and then warm, in a too-small room where the radiator has just come on. I am still stupid about the world, about the people in it as well as about its larger injustices from which I have been in so many ways protected. I think that everything is already full of ghosts, but I have no idea what I am accumulating, and what I will not be able to carry with me into the next year and the next, as the weather turns later and later each time and the radiator’s ghosts become less and less friendly, as the water in which I am submerged boils, as I wake up too late to it, too small and too late and too old, another fall, another thing that isn’t quite right, another warning sign, another loss, another haunting. 

A Final Griefbacon Announcement

Hi everybody. After a lot of consideration, I've decided to wind Griefbacon down and end this project at the end of 2019. It's been four years, almost exactly, since I started Griefbacon in Tinyletter form, and I've loved writing it so much, but it's time to move on and put that focus on other things. I have some other writing projects that are languishing that I need to devote more attention to, and this supposed side project has more and more been taking up the majority of my energy. I’d like to finish some things I should have finished a while ago. I miss working with editors; I want to start pitching new work again. I want to remind myself that I can do other types of writing, and other forms of this type of writing, too. I've always felt ambivalent and conflicted about this paid-subscription model of newsletter/content/whatever and I think the stress over that is more and more getting in the way of this being a useful writing exercise and a fun project. There are lots of reasons, but a main one is that no project goes on endlessly, or should. It can’t be leg day forever.

How this will work: New paid subscriptions are now closed (you can still sign up to be on the free email list). I'll continue to send griefbacon like normal (paid subscriber emails at least once a week, free emails at least once a month) until the end of December. On January first, all subscriptions will be cancelled, and that will be the end of paid Griefbacon content. If you had a yearly subscription and at that point you would like a partial refund, please email me, and I'll send you that refund through Stripe as quickly as possible. 

The archives will stay up for now, and if I decide to move them elsewhere, I'll send an email letting all of you know. I might very occasionally send a free email in the future using this address and this list.

As always, please email me with any questions. I've loved writing this letter/essay series/whatever it is so much for the last few years. I'm incredibly grateful to all of you, especially those of you who have been there all the way back since the beginning. Thanks to everyone who has posted about this newsletter, told people about it, shared it with loved ones. Thank you for hilarious and moving and wonderful emails, all of which I'm always honored and moved to read. Thank you for hanging out. It's been such an absolute joy to stay up late at night at the sleepover and tell secrets with you.

xo

Helena

Gatorade

cw: stuff about drinking, stuff about bodies

Gatorade is a trash beverage and I love it with my whole heart. It’s been about a year since I’ve had an alcoholic drink and lately I’ve been having the most bizarre feeling in the world, which is that I miss hangovers. I know all this means is that I have gotten far away enough from the experience of a hangover to not remember it correctly, but I still can’t shake the feeling. When I miss hangovers, I think about Gatorade, because Gatorade is about hangovers, and about consequences, about the desire to care and to be cared for, and about the fallibility and consolations of our human bodies. Here is an objectively correct ranking of Gatorades. I did not look up any of the names of the flavors.

Yellow (Lemon- Lime): Yellow is the worst Gatorade and also the one most readily available in bodegas or delis or grocery stores or gas stations. It looks like pee but not like healthy pee, it looks like you-should-go-to-the-doctor pee. Men sometimes buy this one on purpose? I don’t know. What’s weird is that the yellow vitamin water that looks like (healthier) pee is far and away the best one, substantive and sugary but not cloying and like a faceful of cold water when you’re hungover or even when you’re just very tired. 

Light Green (Cucumber Melon): There have been times in my life when I thought finding and buying and drinking the weirdest, grossest gatorade would be the fastest path to getting rid of a hangover. This doesn’t actually work. 

Dark Green (Green Apple): Sometimes it’s just so deeply fucking satisfying when things are terrible and this tastes like licking a plastic container in which the remnants of year-old candy have dried down to a glue after being left in the sun for five years. It will never get cold no matter how long you leave the bottle in the fridge. 

Orange (I think the flavor is just named Orange?): Orange is the flavor I associate with sports teams, specifically middle-and-high-school ones, soccer games on early Saturday mornings stretching into afternoons, and basketball practices on Sunday nights and games after school on Fridays, as winter edged into spring. The Gatorade sat in its huge upside-down tub set up on the side of the court, there for everyone, win or lose, hefted into and out of someone’s mom’s car. I played these sports but I wasn’t good at them; the Orange Gatorade belongs to kids whose limbs gracefully did their bidding, who seemed to live, in the fluid relationship between their body and the ground beneath it, the thing everyone was talking about when they talked about youth, the thing I never felt like I could get inside of when I was still young. This is the Gatorade on a soccer field on a Saturday morning, and everyone is young and a little bit cold and the sun is very bright and life is so long, it is all going to go on forever, we are going to get in the car and go get pizza and then we are going to go home. How young were you when you could still genuinely feel that you were done for the day, that you actually did not have anything you needed to do until tomorrow? It’s the Gatorade on a big folding table at the edge of a basketball court in someone else’s high school across town, at night because it’s the play-offs and everyone you know is dispersing out feverish and congratulatory into the parking lot, the perfect sense of accomplishment that sports offer, something that applies to nothing outside itself, that needs nothing but itself. Anyway, the orange Gatorade is somehow especially useless against hangovers (ymmv).

Red (Fruit Punch): I think this is the default flavor of Gatorade, if one had to choose a default Gatorade flavor. This is the Gatorade every straight dude I have ever loved has always invariably chosen. If Gatorade launched a “Gatorade Classic,” it would be this one. It doesn’t actually taste like anything except Gatorade, which is itself an absence, and not a presence. Last year, when we were out of town for a friend’s wedding, a careless driver smashed into Thomas’ rental car at an intersection. He drove back to the hotel with the front bumper hanging off, visibly shaken. I went and bought him a Gatorade; it was the red Gatorade. Every time I have brought someone enmeshed within the logistical and bureaucratic labyrinths that often surround personal crises - hospital waiting rooms, makeshift sick-bed nests on the couch, a scary day at work, a legal office processing high-stakes paperwork  -- the red Gatorade is for some reason the one that’s there, the easiest one to find. The desire to have done something tangible to help often manifests as food for me, and no responsible person would ever call Gatorade food, but it serves much the same purpose here. It feels solidly and actually helpful, meaningful, like you know what you’re doing and how to help, whether or not you do. Here, I brought you a Gatorade. It’s red.

Light Teal (“Aqua Frost”): This color is too strange, and I will always buy it because the color is too strange but also the color is too strange, what if the beach house in Florida that a 1980s divorcee buys for herself to start the second act of her life, but as a beverage, and you could drink it? This is like the David Lynch movie of sports beverages. 

Blue (Blue Cherry): This tastes exactly like you hope it will from the name: Like a blue movie theatre Icee melted down and put through a sieve and bottled. All of them are always cold, even when they’re warm. I started working out really seriously in the last year, something I’ve flirted with all my life but rarely ever truly committed to, and my relationship to Gatorade has changed from being about hangovers to being about hydration and electrolytes, endorphins and exhaustion and that loose-limbed feeling of having really done something, of having earned my residence in my own body and my body’s residence in the physical world around it, all edges and angles, spikes and soft places. I’m old enough now that my body is no longer in the category of approved bodies, bodies that are supposed to be active and strong and looked at and praised. Now that this is the case, I feel free to do all the things I wanted to do and didn’t when I was younger and more able to take simple physical abilities for granted. There is a new kind of joy in having to try, in giving up on the idea that anything should come easy. I go and jump around in a room for several hours and out on the street again all the colors are brighter and joy is nearer, like a branch has bent down lower from a tree, the fruit within reach. These good feelings are temporary, like all good feelings, but here I am anyway, right now, for now, loose-limbed and worn out and exhausted, thrumming with hunger but too tired to stand up and get food, so I buy a blue Gatorade on the way home, and fall asleep on the couch with no part of me that feels broken, and still nothing is as velvet-luxurious as a hangover, but there are so many ways to feel strangely good. 

Light Blue (various blue-ish “Frost” flavors): Gatorade is about our relationship to altered physical states, to what otherness we can induce in ourselves, what doors we can unlock from within. It relates to crying and then being done crying, to hot showers and doing things you’ve been dreading and almost having something very bad happen and then at the last minute not having it happen. The high is whatever awful difficult thing raises your adrenaline. On the walk home from the gym, the physical world sometimes seems cracked-open and welcoming, gently studded with bright available wonder. I walk home and I feel good and I distrust it. The post-workout high is an emotional state accessible by pushing a button and capitalism has taught me I have to have sold my labor, have to have been given recognition by an established institution in order to have earned feeling good. I am trying to experience this as a form of getting away with something, rather than dismissing the good feelings because I have done nothing to deserve them, because no one will praise me for them and they do not count as an accomplishment. Frost Gatorade is cold and clean and tastes like almost nothing except the wintry-spark of sugar water. No one earns anything, and no one deserves anything. I stop on the way home in a deli; I put a cold bottle of a beverage colored like a child’s crayon against my neck in the hot weather. I go back outside onto the street, legs strong enough to hold me up and carry me home, detouring through all the museums of the blocks where everybody else lives. 

Purple (Fierce Grape. Fierce Grape! Fierce! Grape!): This flavor is called Fierce Grape and I laugh every time I see the name, every time I buy one. Sometimes I say it quietly out loud at the grocery store, kneeling down at the guilty bottom-floor of the big aisle before check-out where the Gatorades are kept like a dirty secret. Fierce Grape! Grape is the second-best Gatorade. It tastes very purple. I have never honestly understood whether or not I drank too much which is probably as good a reason as any to stop drinking. Of course people stop drinking every day; pregnant women go nine months without drinking, people don’t drink alcohol for all manner of reasons, people stop all kinds of things, through all kinds of methods. It means very little for me not to do this; I did something until I didn’t like it anymore and sometime after that, I stopped. It wasn’t really for any particular reason; there wasn’t one moment that snapped the decision into place. I had often taken a month or two off drinking in the last few years, and a friend who had recently stopped drinking asked me about this. I began to notice that when I described strategies and feelings about it to her, I felt a kind of wishful longing, and it seemed worth it to try to lean into that with the goal of banishing it, that if I was staring so hard against the glass through the window, I might as well just open the door and go inside the room. But it wasn’t some huge thing. I was unhappy with a lot of things around this time last year, and so I made a lot of big changes to my own behavior, hoping some of them would stick to the wall enough to change my life. I’m old enough and worked in education long enough to distrust the phrase “change my life,” despite my inability to stop subscribing to it, but things did get better, and one was the clarity, and the lessening of anxiety, that came with the absence of alcohol, for me. 

It’s easy to confuse habit for virtue, just like it’s easy to pretend your habits aren’t your personality, just like it’s easy to pretend when you’re young in New York that drinking seven or ten drinks a week over the course of two or three or four casually wild evenings is not a brutal thing to which to subject your body. I should acknowledge here how stratospherically lucky I am. I wasn’t breaking an addiction, merely a habit. I would say “I’ll only drink on special occasions” and then discover that four nights out of the week were something that counted as a special occasion. That has something to do with living in the kind of big city, and being the kind of person, where and for whom everything is an anniversary, everything is special in some new way, every day is a triumph or a failure, everything is a celebration and an excuse. I mostly wanted to see if I could, to see if I could keep saying no just because I wanted to say no.

Want is a difficult thing to parse, though. Its meanings slip and slide and run like cats, in one direction and then in the opposite. Alcohol, much like sex, has served as a place to discuss the difficulty of delineating our own wants. I figured out that drinking made me feel bad, which one could say meant I didn’t want to do it anymore. But of course I also wanted to feel bad; I still do, all the time. Not wanting to do something is not as simple as not wanting it, as anyone who has ever missed something or someone that they also would never in a million years want back understands. I miss a lot of things: Cabs over bridges at night after a few drinks when all of past love rushes to the surface and glows warm as the lights of windows; that moment where it feels like a good idea to text everyone in my phone but before I actually send any of the texts; the moment after a drink and a half for each of us where my relationship with my parents feels calm and easy when we’re all in a room together; that sense of importance and correctness ordering and then receiving a very good cocktail; the light-switch moment at a party where I would think I was the most charming person in the room; hangovers. 

Or at least a very specific kind of hangover, the stumbling, blameless slow-zombie hangover that stretches its warm animal body over a long grey Sunday with nothing to do. That’s the hangover that’s about Gatorade. I miss Vicki and I sitting on the couches in her living room, clutching Gatorades and bagels and counting out Advils and telling each other stories about the night before. I miss going out in the grey morning when outdoors felt like poking at a bruise and gingerly walking half a block to buy Gatorade and then sitting on the stoop of my old building in Brooklyn, watching the neighborhood wake up. I miss stretching out on the couch in the apartment where I live now and sinking into it for a whole day, indulgently miserable enough that no worries larger than the circumference of my own body existed. All of these memories are about Gatorade, and because I miss them without wanting them back, Fierce Grape is the closest I can come to accessing them in the present. It sort of tastes Welch’s grape juice and it sort of tastes like lip gloss. It tastes like if supermarket grape juice did a Euphoria makeup tutorial. Do you like things that taste purple? Great, you’ll like this. 

White (Glacier Cherry): This is the best Gatorade, but here’s the thing: All Gatorades taste the same, and none of them taste like anything, which is to say they taste like Gatorade. This is my favorite Gatorade, and it tastes like a movie theatre White Cherry Icee in absolutely blasting arctic mall air conditioning on a very hot day in July, but mostly it just tastes like Gatorade. It tastes bad, because all Gatorade tastes bad. If there are specific situations in which you like Gatorade, you’ll like this one. Often on the way home, if I get home before him, Thomas stops and buys me a weird beverage because he knows that “the weirdest beverage at the bodega” is my love language. When it’s a Gatorade, it’s usually this one, if they have it. I leave it in the fridge overnight and drink it first thing in the morning, when I’m barely awake. So much of the struggle of long love is the difficulty of remaining novel to one another, of still having something unknown and therefore exciting to offer, of not just becoming habit and therefore obligation. But much of the payoff is being known and being memorized, held in the back of someone’s mind in the way they might know how to walk or drive home without thinking about the route. Gatorade is suburban and unredeemable and sometimes I feel this way about being married, too. But sometimes I wake up and someone has remembered which of the trash beverages is my favorite trash beverage, and I feel cradled in my own simplicity, in the obvious movie-theatre-in-the-mall air-conditioning of these private spaces between us.

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