Today You Are 24

Today you are 24, which is good.

You were 23 for a long time.

It was a good year. Productive, educational. Humbling. You worked a lot and you went out fairly often, made new friends, read a bunch. Had so many drinks and so many chats with so many strangers but remember very little when trying to note the highlights. Lessons learned. Epiphanies. What you mostly get are images. Looping film reels. The moments that hushed your thoughts for some sweet moment.

Johnny Walker Black in a Gables hotel room where your companion, whose black eye can only be seen when you pull the floor lamp right up to her face, sits crosslegged on the bed eating a crepe, plucking away the slices of banana and letting the Nutella drip, and while sitting like this she tells you the story of how she got that shiner. It’s a long story with lots of characters, none of whom you know. This calls for backstory. But you listen. An armchair pulled up across from her. Sip your drink and listen. When she’s done with the story, done with the crepe, she puts the whole mess of it on a bedside table, the box and its wrappings and the bones of the wings she ate before it, wipes her hands on a napkin and scoots back against the headboard. Looks at you with a smile. Pats the mattress twice and reaches again for the lamp.

You’re writing at a patio bar when an elderly man on the stool beside you, accompanied by his daughter, compliments your handwriting. “Cursive,” he says, smiling, trailing off.

When his daughter steps away, seeking more wine from the indoor service counter, he turns on his stool to confront you more directly. His hands are quaking and his bottom lip sags. The whites of his eyes are yellow, and webbed with blood, and he tells you in a whisper, “My wife of nearly seventy years died last week.”

You sit on this experience for a year. Can’t figure out how to write about it.

Paying with your debit card at a parking meter when your phone buzzes with a Facebook message. It’s from a person you haven’t seen in a while.

Your favorite professor from college is dead. Yesterday, 11:57 pm, pancreas.

Finish paying.

Walk three blocks to a bar. Jameson shot, held up halfway as though in a toast, and there in your mind’s eye sits a memory of the man in question and how he sat across from you, two years earlier,  with two espressos steaming between you. In this memory he’s dishing praise, encouragement, telling you that you’re a good deal better than you allow yourself to believe.

Two weeks later you write his obituary. Your alma mater prints it in their newspaper. Posts it online.

In a white blouse and black boots she twirls on her doorstep, and the breeze fans her skirt almost up to the waist. At the bar that night she pulls her hair into a ponytail, drinks three gin & tonics, and in a booth at the back recites Macbeth from memory.

“What beast was’t, then…”

Kisses you in an alley by the parking lot.

Best of David Bowie in her CD collection. She pours you some gin, first glass you’ve had of it, and later on, shortly before dawn, she follows your gaze to the bedroom wall and recounts the origin of each rifle mounted there.

For long silences you guys stare at each other and smile in a way that, were this a movie, anybody could probably tell you it wasn’t gonna end well.

Write the last sentence of a three-year project. Stand up, red-eyed, whiskey in hand, your glass uplifted for a moment. Remember the mentor with his manicured hands.

He once told you a story about a woman he loved who believed, in her 50s, that the only reason she’d survived a terminal heart condition that had plagued her most of her life is because an omniscient race of fourth-dimensional beings had ordained that it should be so.

“You get older,” the mentor told you, “and you realize you’re gonna have to live with other people’s baggage if you’re gonna expect them to live with yours.”

After a quarter bottle of whiskey and three slices of pizza she decides she wants to run. So she does. It’s 2 a.m. and she’s sprinting down the block while you walk after her, telling yourself jokes and laughing, streets all glazed with streetlamp yellow. Traffic lights way in the distance blink a latenight redness that can’t exist under sun.

An hour later, after she’s vomited, the companion curls away from the toilet and goes fetal on the bathroom floor. Falls asleep with her head on the bathmat, murmuring. You bring pillows from the bedroom, a blanket from the couch, lay down beside her on the tile and put her head on a pillow, drape the blanket over yourself.

When she wakes an hour later she’s confused. Looks around, assesses where she is, inspects the blanket and then studies you. She sighs. “You’re fucking ridiculous.” She rises and rinses and a few moments later it’s she who’s leading you.

A date is planned with a woman from college. Set for a Monday night. She gets in touch on Saturday, excited, says her night opened up. Asks if you’d like to get together tonight, two days early, and you say that you would. Plans are made. You dress and you shower and you show up at the place you’d planned. She does not. Nor does she answer your calls. She says nothing to you for a month.

When she eventually gets in touch it’s with a long text at 3 a.m., apologizing, asking if you’re free that night. Which you are, and tend to be.

So you get to the place and this time she’s there waiting. You’re both nervous. Conversation hobbles at first but after a couple beers it’s riverrun and you find that you both hate many of the same people and things and that you each took a shot of Jameson before meeting here tonight. An effort to curb your respective nerves.

The odds of that. Her anxiety is gorgeous.

At the second bar she has two whiskey sours and preaches her love for a polymathic grandmother in Russia, a writer of books; politics, mostly. She tells you then of a cousin she adores, five years her junior, and of sacrifices that she’s made for this cousin (sacrifices that she doesn’t seem to see as sacrifices). Tells you of her time working retail at a clothing store and of the executive who came by now and then for evaluations, a fat little man with a clipboard and lots of money, and how this man had a habit of placing his hands on the bare shoulders of young women in his employ, and of discouraging them from wearing bras.

Her goal, she tells me, is to go to law school. Ivy League.

She springs from her stool at one point, brown hair explosive, and kisses you. Twice. A girl has never gone to you for the first kiss. What a feeling. To not kiss but to be kissed. Makes a man feel pretty.

Walk around the neighborhood for an hour. Arm in arm. Confess a shared affection. An interest in going on another date.

But you don’t ever really speak again.

So it goes.

These are things you want to remember. The things you didn’t write about. The 23rd year was eventful.

And now: the 24th. Your big romance, the brunette reciting Macbeth and feeding you gin and turning you on to Game of Thrones, is gone. Another city. Hundreds of miles. Business, business.

The mentor you hadn’t seen in almost two years, but who once played so formative a role, is dead. As much the loss of a friend as it is the end of something larger, it seems.

The book, that three-year project that persisted through so much, is done.

So now’s a time for things to begin. Here’s hoping for the best.