Visible Storage

There’s a part of the Met that you have to either be told about or get to by accident. You wouldn’t find it on a map of the museum and, even if you did, you would never select it as part of a well-planned museum visit. I had probably visited the museum hundreds of times before I found it. Visible storage is hidden upstairs in the American Wing, nestled behind the American Colonial decorative rooms, another part of the Met that you probably wouldn’t visit on purpose either. But open the right door, and long rows of glass cabinets appear like a hall of mirrors or a very gentle nightmare. Here, a huge swath of the Met’s collection – mostly American art and decorative objects – not publicly on display is lined up for show, neatly crowded together and arranged by genre like a shelf of books. Objects are indistinguishable from one another, grouped for their similarities; silver filigreed gravy boats repeat and repeat again in dizzying iterations down a narrow corridor. The point is the archive, the fact of accumulation, rather than any narrative curatorial display. The idea is that you are encountering the art as it would be stored in a warehouse. When I encountered visible storage for the first time, it felt like having the floor drop out from under me. Look how much is here, how much there is that we don’t see, look how much collects and exists, meaningless except for the fact that it happened, given significance by its stacking up together, by its repetition and continuance.
 
John and Molly got married a few blocks from where I lived during the worst and most stupidly dramatic summer of my life, back in the era when John and I hung out nearly every day. When the cab drops Thomas and I off in front of the bar where the wedding is, I recognize the bend of the block, the roundabout opening its arms to the green blossom of Prospect Park, the beach-town feeling of the streets. I want to say something but I don’t; I keep trying to explain to Thomas the way that time and experience layers in this city, the ghosts and the graveyard feel of it, how I’ve stayed long enough that every street corner has begun to feel like time travel. But it’s almost impossible; it’s like explaining a joke: You had to be there. On its own, spoken as facts, it doesn’t mean anything at all. This street corner was also here when I was younger and so was I, I was also here when I was younger. No, that’s it, that’s the whole joke.
 
The wedding is in a backyard; the boys are in suits. Evan is giving John the kind of speech your best friend is supposed to give you right before you get married if you are a man with a best friend who is also a man and you are getting married. Thomas and I drift into the backyard and then back inside, giving them privacy. John and Evan and I used to spend a lot of time giving each other speeches for no reason, inventing circumstances just so we could have something dramatic to say about them. John would often tell us, “I want you to know, if you were ever stranded in Ohio, I would come get you.” Over the years that followed, we all needed rescuing in a lot of ways, in much subtler and finer, harder-to-notice ways than whatever imaginary crisis had sent me to Ohio in John’s bar-declaration imagining. In those crises, we were mostly there for ourselves, closing down beyond concepts of friendship or loyalty. That’s how people change, maybe, when losses make us unreachable to each other, when we are left alone with ourselves. We each survived things much worse than being stranded in Ohio, and we rarely make declarations of love in bars anymore. It’s a gorgeous day at the end of April, and here we are, ready for a wedding. We all move out into the backyard, a tapestry of suits and sundresses, gracious people at soft angles to one another.
 
When I first met John and his girlfriend, nearly ten years ago, their relationship was like a house you walk by on the street, amber light spilling out the windows, promising a better life than your own. I wanted inside of that; I wanted to be closer than you can get to two people, covetous of the interiors precisely because they were inaccessible. The idea of a relationship as a home is a beautiful figurative way to talk about love, but it’s also very very very literal - it is much easier to have a literal home with two incomes, with two brains and bodies squared up against the monster of logistics of living in New York or living in the world at all. Sometimes so much of what we think is romantic is actually economic. When I say I wanted to get inside the quality of light late at night in that apartment, I also mean that I wished things were easier, and wondered if things would seem less impossible if I were also paired, if I had someone to partner me through the intricacies and frustrations of trying to become slightly less young. I meant that maybe if I had another pair of hands to construct things, between all of those hands it might be possible to build a room that kept out the cold. When I would stay at their apartment late at night, and wish I didn’t have to go home at all, I also meant I just wished I could afford an apartment all my own and that the same part of me that loved them also cried out against the simple unfairness of these advantages, of an un-level playing field.
 
But I mean the other thing too, the figurative way in which the people we love become a home. When we are flung out into a world whose map does not include hidden doors or soft places to land, people begin to feel like the mercies of repetitive interior rooms. The kitchen in that apartment was a small narrow corridor that faced the window and when I came over I would sit up on the counter and look out the window while John cooked late at night, spreading out visions of the future over the long hypotenuse of Flatbush Avenue. Back then love was just wanting to stay another hour, wanting not to go back out into the cold, to deal with the subway, to bargain with another door, to turn on all the lights in my own apartment. I loved with all of the longings of a spectator and none of the responsibilities of a participant, in all the extreme tenderness of wasted time.
 
Of course, the two people in this story aren’t the two people getting married; the woman in these stories isn’t Molly. Molly wasn’t in the story yet; she was having her own youth to which I was not witness. Someone else here at this wedding, someone else in this backyard smiling in formalwear, probably keeps the archives of those years for her, acts as her visible storage. Molly and John, standing up in the backyard of this bar in their best outfits, are not a couple who offer any way in for outsiders. I love them dearly, and I have no privileged information about the interiors of their lives; I have my own home to go home to, now. I have gotten to the point where I understand that you cant get inside other people’s happiness, and that it isn’t fair to them or to yourself to try.
 
We stopped being audiences; we started being interiors. We stopped dreading the walk home. But we live up close to our mistakes, to our befores, the parts of ourselves that we have filed away under long explanations. Scratch at the calmest, most successful, most together people you know and without very much effort you uncover a previous self running around setting things on fire. It’s always tenuous and essentially incorrect to make grand generalizations about people in a particular city, but I do think people who come to New York or to a large city like it tend to be frequent and rigorous editors of themselves; no one here is a first draft or even a third one. We each have a long history of changes and rewrites, polishing and rephrasing and starting again as something else, all the very slightly different silver gravy boats iterating out into the glass corridor.
 
What I know is that nine years ago I was very lonely and wobbly and looking for people to talk to, and one night when the summer had turned green I went to a party for a famous pornographer’s new book in a bar on the Lower East Side that had impossibly cheap drinks and doesn’t exist anymore, and I met two people who had just gotten here from college and decided to be friends with them. None of us knew anything then: how to go to bars, how to be in a city, how to make money, how to wear clothes, how to walk around in this canyon of a place with all its windows and subway tunnels and trash smells. Watching one another put it together piece by piece was one of the processes by which I grew up, through which I built a life. We were each other’s training wheels; we were each other’s proud teachers in the wings. We were the memory of when you didn’t know how to do these things that make it mean something when you know how to do them now.
 
Everyone has been talking about weddings all year; it turns out planning to get married means having an endlessly refreshable well of small talk; I imagine this is the thing I will miss most once I’m no longer engaged. Sooner or later in these conversations someone inevitably brings up community, that a marriage is about a community, that a wedding is for a community, to ask the community to witness one’s life, to hold one accountable, to hold one’s love up in their hands, becoming part of something smaller them themselves, making that small pairing larger, consequent in their presence.
 
Part of me wants to call those ideas bullshit. But instead I’m wearing something with flowers printed on it, standing at the side of the bar in the middle of the afternoon while the bar turns into a dance party, while Molly’s dress floats through the room like a cloud, that edge of an evening when people in formalwear start to look like a hallucination, where did my brain conjure these strange monsters from.Evan is talking about community, and he asks me why I’m getting married, and then I talk about community, too. I am suddenly the guy talking about how is wedding is about community. I really mean it, then, one hand on the wood where the countertop turns back toward the kitchen, realizing that the open bar has been maybe more open than I’d noticed until right now. I know that I find these ideas as incoherent as I find them attractive, but it feels good just to say them and not worry about their cohesion, not worry about the places where I can see the flaws in the logic, the spaces where I cannot get the gaps to close. It feels good to say it anyway, to launch myself like an athlete’s body knifelike off a high-dive, into an idea purely because I want to believe in it, simply because I find it beautiful. Perhaps this is what love is, too - choosing to believe in a irrational position, seeing it as irrational and unsustainable and choosing it anyway, choosing beauty over cohesion, choosing to believe that things could be true just because you said them out loud, that belief could be sustained through a driven, rising chorus of voices raised in enough volume and harmony together. Love as buoying each other up, carrying each other home, love as the long nights of my twenties when I fell asleep on the horrendous carpet in an apartment where none of us live anymore, and all of us now, in this room, walking around sloshing full of the memories of every embarrassing thing we have seen everyone else in the room do, these visible archives of one another.
 
A community is created as much through its shared past as its shared present. We had gone to particular parties and sat on particular couches in the particular quality of the sinking light until it was time to go reluctantly home. We had loved unsustainable versions of one another and envisioned futures with those versions that did not come to fruition. We had lost one another; we had learned to be better. A collective verb for love, a collective noun for what is missing. Family is always a disingenuous word for friendship, gesturing at how we want the other person to feel; friendship is a meek and impoverished noun. None of the words are right. You are the material, you are who I became, you are the means by which I created myself, you are the feeling the afternoon before a big holiday party. We were a party and I carry the party in my heart, all the way home, all down the grey afternoon in the long cab ride, over the bridges, back to the city, back to my own home.

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