small rooms

it has always already been March

The meme is about the fact that March is in three months. That’s it, that’s the joke. People just tweet “in three months it will be March,” a sentence like saying “it is Tuesday” and it reads like one of those jokes that feels too queasy to tell at a party, your friends might laugh or they might hate you. It is a sick joke that March happened and is, also, going to happen again. The joke is about this grinding year, but it’s a sick joke every year when the new month comes around and time is once again like a bike with no brakes careening down a hill. Didn’t I already do this? Wasn’t I already here? Why am I back here again and why have I not yet changed my life? Why do I have to do it all over again, birthdays and taxes and un-answered emails left too long to even be answered anymore? 

I mean, it’s not that March doesn’t feel like yesterday, and also two hundred years ago. I had gone to London to see my best friend in a play and stay in his house and so when the plague came I was at Aaron’s house, where everything was green and gold all day long, the magnolia tree in the backyard bursting into bloom like every trumpet blowing in heaven. It had been almost exactly ten years since we’d met, since I had come to stay at his house for the first time, which was also probably part of why I got on a plane, to celebrate our friendship’s unlikely continuance, the fact that time moves forward and yet within it certain things keep their form and can still be recognized. The same joke, but if the joke were beautiful. How has it been ten years, it can’t have been, we both kept saying. In March of 2010 I was the unhappiest I had ever been; in June of 2010 I was the happiest. That’s how fast things change, sometimes. There was so much more pain coming for me but those few weeks in that summer back then stretched like a year. It was all soft and green; it laid down on the grass in the yard in the long afternoon, on the floor in the house late at night.

For a few days that added up nearly to a month at the cold false start of 2020 I thought it was the same magic, way up in the early days of February. When the day came fat with an apple in its mouth, Frank says and there was a copy of the poem upstairs, on the pink couch, in the parenthetical memory of a room where I put myself all day to write a book, or at least that was what I thought I was doing, until I wasn’t anymore. Aaron and I stayed up until 4am like we thought we were still young, talking heroically about friendship, repeating ourselves, happy to hear the same stories. I stretched myself out easy on the huge couch under the nighttime glass ceiling like a mirror, body as long as water. It was the old days. The dead all coming back again. 

Things changed as fast as they had ten years before. In the first week of March we made fun of the empty toilet paper aisles at Tesco and made plans for the future. The city was emptier but not by much; it felt like the kind of party you throw when you want to ignore bad news. The house was a cocoon and the world was falling apart around it. The news was bad, and then it was worse. I thought about the trust-fund Florentines in the Decameron up on a hill above the city telling each other dirty stories. I was finally happy and then I wasn’t; by the second week of March I changed my flight and held my breath and went home. 

In New York it was silent, and spring was already goatishly on its way in, the tree below my apartment jutting out a tantrum of white blossoms, refusing to stay still, pouting for attention. I went inside and stayed there for two weeks and the world changed, and didn’t. Ambulances in New York are cicadas. The sounds of crisis hum a baseline underneath everything else until nobody can hear it at all; stay anywhere long enough and you’ll stop noticing something or other. Whatever you have stopped noticing is the meaning of where you are and probably of who you are, too.

Months followed other months like someone taking too long to tell a bad joke. I watched the tree like a clock, which it was, as it went from a few precocious white blossoms to a riot of them, to fat green leaves, to bright dying colors and then bare branches, seasons going on despite every warning and every refusal, there all the same like whatever our bodies do when we’re asleep. I called friends but more often I didn’t. I watched several German TV shows. In the summer I went outside in barely any clothes and it seemed like everyone else was doing the same; nobody was supposed to touch each other and it was the horniest summer I have ever lived through in this profoundly horny city, everybody slick and dripping, days that looked like paint sliding off a canvas.

Some days I was scared, and some days I was relieved, and some days I was numb and, horribly, some days I was happy. Continuing to live is always hideous. The disgusting comfort of my life was as stark as a game board. We often think our stories start so long after they actually do, as though most of the meaning of ourselves has not already been determined by whether or not we get to go inside, by whether or not we have a place to go, by whether or not we are allowed to hide. We think the story is about what happens in these interior rooms once we get there, about the objects in the room and how we feel about them, about the arguments we have in these rooms, about our desire to stay in or to leave the rooms and which desires we act on, about the things we eat and the times when we fuck, when we sleep and when we can’t sleep and what we say in the blue of the becalmed hours at night if we are still awake and start talking. We think the story is about what goes in the interior rooms when really most of it has already happened before we get there, because most of the story is about whether we get to go inside at all. I think my story is about the small rooms, and it is, but the meaning of that small room is much more the fact that I get to go inside it at all, and less what happens there.

All I want is a room up there and you in it says Frank in the poem that’s too famous for me to love it the way I do, how embarrassing. It used to seem like the most romantic thing in the world to me: A room up there and you in it. A small space, and one person, and that’s the size of the whole world. There is a version of love that is a room with no windows. Here’s the two of us, shut up away from the world, noise-cancelling headphones only letting in the sound of what we feel about each other. Imagine happiness as the tiniest possible unit. Imagine realizing it was this simple. A small room is the untranslatable language built up between two people, each performing for an audience of exactly one, shaping an invisible indoor world between our faces. That’s it, just a room up there and you in it. Needing nothing else because that’s so much already, not just a room, but also you, and you in the room. The tiny dramatics of it, marinating in each other and our feelings for each other, pushing our heels up off the floor to lean back against the counters in the tiny windowless kitchen, bodies taking up the whole room and the room itself like a body. 

Our apartment is so small. It is not quite one room but it almost is. Inside the apartment there is exactly one door other than the one to the bathroom. This isn’t an unusually small space for New York; most people I know have apartments this same size or smaller. All year I’ve watched the neighbors across the street—like Jimmy Stewart in Rear Window, trying to conjure some murder mystery soap opera drama from the quiet hints of people’s mundane lives coming and going across their un-curtained windows—and their lives are small rooms too, repetitive enough that after months now I can track and anticipate their movements across the visible space of their windows. A small space creates repetition quickly; here we are again, walking the same path, back at the same starting point. 

Each day is a small room and the whole year has been a small room, too. “A room up there and you in it” is the size of my life, and the size of the lives of so many other people I know who are lucky enough to have these things available, lucky enough to be stuck in this particular trap. March is in three months and in a small room everything returns too fast. Sometimes walking from the bedroom to the bathroom in my apartment I catch myself thinking, “really? Really that’s it?” As though maybe I just missed something. Surely this cannot be the limit of the space I have, surely I can’t have gotten to the edge of it again already. March is in three months. It’s the same sick joke as always. Love is a small room but that fact feels confrontational now, a challenge as much as a comfort. The end of the year closes in and here we are again, back at the limits of the room, back again at each other, at the small spaces between our bodies and between this year and the next, closing ever smaller.

thanks so much for reading. this is a piece of something— about small rooms, and interior spaces, and other people’s houses, and our own— that I’m going to keep exploring for the rest of this month. There’ll also be some other fun stuff, related and not related, like a thing about christmas music and phoebe bridgers’ devastating new EP, and a recommendation for the comfiest shirt in the world, and maybe a thing about indoor jeans, and maybe more feelings about pizza and holiday decorations, and maybe more essays about Mountain Goats songs, and stuff like that. I’m still figuring this out as I go, but I’m so happy you’re here. I’d love it if you subscribed; there will be new, weird, exciting subscriber-only content coming in January. links to subscribe, or to give a gift subscription (a griefbacon subscription makes a wonderful holiday gift), below. if you’d like to subscribe and can’t afford it right now, just email me and we’ll figure it out. happy december, friends. xx

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