Among Admirers, Among Strangers
My eyeball touches the cold surface of the five-by-five glass window. Eyelashes flicker in a mirage of smudged faces. They flutter open, close, then open again. Sweaty hands rest above my brown leather belt as my middle finger stiffens and knots my back. Then, swoosh. Nineteen heads stare past me, past the blue fringe of my knit sweater that unwinds itself to the slow jazz that echoes through the hallway. I jump back, startled and paranoid. Then, Who do you think you are and what do you think you are doing?
I am chin-to-face with my Art History professor, Skye McAllister. She's a Nazi feminist waiting to pounce on my defiant behavior. So I run, into the bathroom on the left into a girl I do not know, a clone with a fashion emphasis.
Flush, the toilet roars, The plastic baggie barely fits in my pocket. I sniff my frosted index finger and lick. The bitter taste of addiction strikes my tastebuds. My tongue is numb, I am spun. I decide to face my classmates, McAllister's slaves. The door knob is greasy and as I walk inside I wipe my filthy hands repeatedly down my black corduroy pants. The carpet is stale-brown, it looks like cafeteria mini wheats puked up or maybe my mother's burnt blueberry waffles. A trail of shredded wheat stops me in my tracks. I take a seat next to a guy, or maybe just a girl, since I choose not to look.
McAllister is talking but I am not listening. The wooden desk suddenly becomes a pillow. A feather pillow. Sometimes when I daydream, I am in a barren forest of tree stubs and I am racing toward the heavens trying to catch clouds. It always ends the same. I spiral into a pillow of fluff, spin down into a highway of paintbrushes. It is familiar sanctuary, familiar lust.
I wake up. To my left, my sister's best friend Ashley is outlining her right hand to look like a chicken. She stops momentarily to pick the callus off the tip of her index finger and watches it spiral onto the drawing paper. Chicken skin. I despise it. McAllister asks me why madness turned on Van Gogh. I blink and pick the sleepy out of my left eye. Ashley waves her chicken at me. I tell McAllister Vincent is water coloring rainbows in heaven and I am the cloud catcher. She sends me to a therapist. I end up in a café instead.
I am standing in Café Salatto facing unknown strangers: a blasphemer, a sister and an admirer. And we are playing chess. Apparently, Ashley is caught. She catches herself spying on me, prying beneath her clumpy dried mascara and her hazel eyes are on fire. It gives me a panic attack, unhinged anxiety. I swivel in my chair and knock over my sister Kate's chai latte damn it. Kate curses at her friends.
Those admirers, those unknown blasphemers.
Flush, the toilet roars. The plastic baggie barely fits in my pocket. My tongue is numb, I am spun. Composure sets in, I resume life once again. Ashley fumbles to place the queen on a black square while she taps her Chuck Taylor two-tone shoes against the chair leg and I wonder why her every other word is inflected. Obsession is boiling in my blood. I watch her spread her sweaty hands on her faded blue jeans, watch as she inhales her vanilla cigar.
I am among admirers, among strangers.
I forget her beauty as well, this manic woman. As if beauty is this characteristic that deserves to be recognized and acknowledged. It shouldn't, yet it defines someone's inner core as much as their favorite book does. I want to compliment her, but my teeth clench. Her wit would tear me apart and I'm not in the mood. Eyelashes are blue in my face and why do people laugh and converse? She makes them. Static-white electric noise a guitar? buzzes in the background.
I am mute. I am staring at the king.
Ashley keeps saying my name. Jordyn, Let me see your smile. Jordyn, Jooorrrdynnnn. I am not letting you sit here, and watch this chess game without seeing it. I am convicted by her sincere effort to include me in the conversation, so I let one crack. It's wide, I cannot help it, and she blushes. Ashley rambles that she's won the game, the mate is checked. This woman says she is a part of my karass, Thanks to Vonnegut, anyhow. The Bokonian religion has inspired me to save the world through art. And you are going to help me! What a karass is, I have no idea. I don't care to ask.
Art History on Monday, Mac Lab on Tuesday, Pottery on Wednesday. Flush, the toilet roars. The plastic baggie barely fits in my pocket. My tongue is numb, I am spun. The mirror is dancing, my facial expressions resemble a clown. Why must this be my tourniquet of sorts? I lick my fingers and wipe the scuffs off my boot Doc Martens. She will never understand why I do this. She only sees an eccentric art student, a mere stranger. I don't care enough to understand. I stumble into a concrete wall as I walk out of the god-so-help-this-smell restroom. A bump swells, Ashley sees it. Damn it.
Those admirers, those unknown blasphemers.
The doorknob flies out of my hand. I walk into Advanced Design and sit behind Ashley. Are you coming over tonight, around 6:30?, she says. How I am overwrought with pure bliss that I don't have an over-priced, luxury, black car like her. I have no car, I have to walk. She wants to meet to solidify our art-inspired karass. I should tell her such optimism is defeating.
Nobody needs to save the world.
She should know we all posess the same fate. I sweat just thinking about bleeding skin. There are no band aids in the cupboard and my heels bleed raw like sashimi. Go, I tell myself, be brazen and adventurous! My shoulders sink, I am beside myself and my unnerving self-agony. Her presence alone sends electrons down my arm, so I am forced to go. Don't wait up for me, I tell her. She winks and we finish our black-and-white self-collages.
I get a phone call around 6:30. Let's go to Jen Malone's photo gallery instead. It's opening night and I hear her work is morbidly intertwined with Picasso and Floria Sigismondi. Half an hour passes. I buy a Pepsi and Indian squat on the sidewalk. I pick my scabs, my infectious oozing wounds. I watch ants follow each other, stare as they march to the pulsing tick-tock of my watch. A dead lifeless ant is carried off by its clone to wherever those stupid ant colonies go.
Care for an American Spirit? They're additive-free. Jumping up, my head rushes face to face with Ash. She wears this zealous smile, it infects her heart-shaped face like bourbon whiskey. I deny her offer, it's sacrilegious. Just thought I'd ask, she says, as I grab one out her grip. Black ash shrouds the ant colony. I notice cigarette smoke lingers longer than cigars. Listen, she says. She waves her arms emphatically those loose chicken wings Advanced Photography this semester is missing out on us. We should be in that class! Remember chemical splashes on our forearms and us just sniffing away in front of 'ol McAllister? It was a riot!
She chews her bottom lip and intertwines her fingers, one by one, to expose the people beneath. I suppose, It smells better than gasoline. I do miss your work though, it's completely daunting. She blushes and wiggles her pinky.
We view Jen's gallery an hour later. Her photos are of cities, digitally manipulated to create blurred images of urban desolation. Ahh! Jordyn, look! This one is my favorite. The chiaroscuro, the contrast of the cobblestone against the open sky is amazing. Coarse curls tangle my knuckles. My palms swirl pools, I wipe the sweat off my brow. Part of me thinks evaporation is an explanation for my skin-bone physique. I should feel a twinge of jealousy for not listening to Ashley, but I don't. Her hopes are set too goddamn high; she adores everything in every city, everything under the sun. I say something to fill the void. See this photo of Mexico City? It evokes reality, more so than Boston, anyhow. The melancholy of rancheros on their coffee breaks, the simplicity of their lives. Even the street's dusty whirlwinds of browns echo off the page.
It is a Dylan song in disguise.
Then, silence. Arms-over-shoulders, we leave the gallery. Together we had traveled to Paris, New York, Boston, Mexico City, Seattle and San Francisco. We traversed space and time. For just a moment we were American-Indian bohemians, among strangers.