Supermassive Black Holes

When I was 16 my uncle told me that there are some people you are going to meet who are just going to suck you in like black holes and make you miserable. They attract other miserable people and they gang up or get married and travel around sucking in everyone’s efforts to make things better, and just exude constant negativity. You’re going to want to do something about this, he said, and it’s going to be hopeless. And you have to recognize that and accept that and you just have to avoid them. To make the effort to steer your life clear of the anger they bring to their lives, and to each other, and to everyone else for that matter.

But there are just so goddamn many black holes.

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I’ll Miss You, Ghost

The other day I thought I was buying a house. I knew who had lived in it since it was built in the 30s. There were the faceless flippers of the late nineties and early aughts, sure. But then there was the woman who had moved into the house in 1942, and proceeded to occupy it for the next fifty-six years.

I know everything about her. I’ve seen her WW2 ration stamps. I’ve read the articles she wrote for the local paper, on everything from victory gardens to the properties of methane gas which, under the right boggy circumstances, cause gullible young fry (as she chided them) to believe in ghosts and spirits of all kinds. I know she held rank in a women’s business association in the twenties, and that she caught all kinds of flak about it from her male compatriots at the paper. I know she never married, but “remained close friends” with one Widow Denise until she died, which at some point meant the Widow Denise move into the house in question with her, “out of Christian charity.”

I’m not gullible young fry, but if this woman’s ghost had taken to watching over her of residence of an evening, it would have been a guardian I’d have appreciated. Certainly admired. Why research all this about a potential new home? Why fill in the spaces before you came with whole other lives—why not keep it unknown, to yourself, to maintain the illusion (no matter how ridiculous it may be, given the house’s age) that you were the only person to inhabit it in your way?

Because that information is out there. Because unlike the ghosts of your own flesh and blood, who have imprinted emotional and physical reminders of themselves onto your parents and onto you, these people will go forgotten if untended, even in the very homes they made their lives in. And even with the debilitating memories that attach themselves to people who are gone, and their at-times-traumatic pasts, I persist in thinking there is something to be gained by their preservation. If they weren’t illustrious enough to make it to the official archives somewhere, at least let them be preserved in the memories of those who take their places.

Yellow

I couldn’t take Pandora if I had to deal with the ads, so I listen to it through Anesidora. This ad-free experience gives me more radio patience than I might otherwise have, and this leads to giving songs I know, know too well, or don’t particularly want to listen to, another chance. Such was the case with Coldplay’s Yellow. Specifically, the live version of it heard here. I recognized the voice of the lead singer right off, and I’m not much of a Coldplay fangirl (I think I can name, what, four of their songs?), but I wondered what they’d be playing and let myself be led on by the goofy crowd-talk. Then I kept listening because as many people as I am frustrated by, I’m deeply moved by earnest huge groups, and the image of everyone standing in anticipation of this song (whatever it was going to be) was entrancing. Then they started playing, and I realized the last time I’d really listened to that song was many, many years ago.

I did not go to parties in high school. I just didn’t. Once you became too old for sleepovers (the kind your parents would let you have), your options (in this particular town among kids of this particular economic class) were either binge-drinking stupors or some sort of orgy. I had no interest in either of these. So I have no idea why I went to this particular party. I didn’t even know the girl that well, though I recall her mother was Persian and her father was a diplomat. But she made the specific effort to ask me to come, and maybe I was touched by that. Maybe I had mentioned the party in passing to my parents and they, ever concerned about my sociability, convinced me to go. I don’t remember. I do remember the long lecture I received as my mother drove me up the [ridiculously long and curving and statue-lined] drive, containing the assurance that if I “felt I had to leave,” for whatever reason, all I had to do was call, and she’d show up and ask no questions. I understood that this was to keep me from dying in the kind of drunk driving accidents kids die from all the time. I found her conviction that I wouldn’t be able to resist whatever was on offer at this party (because I really, truly wanted no part in anything shady) slightly hurtful, but then, the idea of my mother barreling through the night in her minivan to save me from certain death was also kind of comforting. So out I went, into what amounted to the courtyard of a small castle. The diplomat, clearly, was rather well thought-of in his home country.

Night fell, the volume rose, and the carved fish fountains (I will likely never be in so opulent a backyard ever again) tinkled onto auto-timed floating lily lights. There must have been a hundred or so people there, stalking between tables laden with catered (catered!) food, or dancing in that awkward teenage way to Top 40 hits blasted out of speakers the size of small sportscars. I assume there was alcohol somewhere on the premises, being chugged on the sly, but I didn’t seek it out and didn’t want to. The girl’s mother appeared less and less often outside the house as it got dark, and after a while she disappeared altogether, but still—I didn’t know any of these people by anything more than their names (if that). Even if I had had some latent desire to imbibe, I wouldn’t have thrown my lot in with these strangers. 

As the night wore on it became clearer and clearer that that’s who all these people were: strangers. I’d attended school with some of them since sixth grade, sure, but I was close to none of them. At one point two girls whose close friendship I envied (my best friend was about to abandon me for her first boyfriend, whose casual suggestion that I relieve my ugly duckling loneliness with his horny male boxer dog would not endear him to me much) cornered me and demanded to know who I “liked.” I couldn’t believe I was being asked this. Of all the inane questions. As if we were living in a sitcom or something. But I was aware you have to have an answer to this question, even though I liked no one in the way they expected me to. So I said the first name that popped into my head—that of the asshole who would later abscond with my friend, causing untold fuss with these two girls who sauntered off with the ridiculous idea that I cared for this guy beforehand, and that I was hurt by his later lovelife—and they, satiated, left me alone. I leaned against the cobblestone wall of the place for a long time, bathed in the light of a lamp post made to look as cute and delicate as if it were shining down on the Champs-Élysées rather than a suburban backyard. But after a while guys started coming over to me and being idiots—in retrospect, this might have been the surely-present-somewhere alcohol showing its effect, but I wouldn’t have known to be aware of it at the time—so I moved out of the light into the fountain at the farthest end of the backyard, out where the land made a sudden heave toward forested hills and where a silvery lattice pylon held up powerlines for the whole neighborhood. Maybe it was the distance from the house, or some misfortune of the previous winter, but this farthest-out fish fountain was empty, and I crawled into it. 

The speakers’ sound bounced off the hill, right back at me, and Yellow came on. And I can remember being so hurt and angry with myself for ever having come to that stupid party, listening to that song. “Look at the stars,” he says, and there I was in a dumb fountain at some rich girl’s party full of people I didn’t connect with at all, shivering because I didn’t want to know what they were doing inside and hiding because I didn’t want to be part of something that might start outside. And there were plenty of stars up there, sure, but fat lot of good they did me. There was no one for me to show off my much-prized constellation knowledge (gleaned from my dad’s Wolf Scout handbook discovered in the garage) to and there wasn’t about to be anyone anytime soon. The song had hit it big a few months ago, back when it was colder, and like any teenage girl I had imagined—could remember, there in the fountain, imagining—having someone care about me enough to say dumb shit like that to me. To write me songs and tell me I was loved and that, present lumpyness notwithstanding, I might still “turn into something beautiful”—all that crap. Because huddling out there it felt like all that crap. I couldn’t believe I’d allowed myself those ridiculous fantasies, when that song came out, because it was pretty clear to me, to get “all that crap” you had to put up with all this—sappy music, guys smelling weird, sticking their meaty hands everywhere, girls squealing as if they liked it, as if they knew what the hell they were doing at this castle-in-the-suburbs. And I wanted none of this. The clownish makeup or the tinselly giggles or the pick-up lines or the oh-so-subtle drag to the bushes. I hated all of it, the people and the place, and I hated Coldplay and especially their song Yellow, which put the wrong ideas in your head right from the start, and really, I thought, should just be straight-up banned for misinformation. Then idiots like me, who thought themselves foolproof against that kind of sap, wouldn’t fall for it—and as for everybody else who already was falling for it, well, they clearly didn’t need any more encouragement, so no skin off their noses.

I made it as far into the house as the kitchen, and called my mom. Who promptly came barreling through the night to rescue me, no questions asked.

And I’m sure I must’ve heard the song between then and now, but I only recognized it as Yellow the way you recognize vroom as the sound of a car. It didn’t register.

Tonight, though, that song popped up on Pandora to a version of me that is loved, and loved so much I married the person doing the loving. I’m over 500 miles from that miserable garden, I have no clue what any of the people at that party have gone on to pursue, and I don’t care. Because someone values me enough to tell me “all that crap” and I don’t have to go through the fakery that surrounded it then—the pre-fabricated phrases, the stuffed bras, the desperately-feigned suavity. And I like Yellow. It makes me feel good. Because it wasn’t a total lie. People can tell you that stuff and mean it, without dragging you through the bushes or slamming you up against a stranger’s decorative lamp post. I never, ever would have believed it, sitting in that fountain. I’m glad I do now.

Self-Editing and Quotas

I have been using the Internet since Prodigy. I have sent longer emails than most people used to send their overseas pen pals. When AOL came out with an unsend button, I used it with reckless abandon. Now, only a handful of my status updates go 24 hours without being scrubbed away. I imagine the frantic swipes of dead branches over tracks in the snow.

It’s a delicate balance: the mawkish amounts of understanding we are brought up to believe are ours by right and by luck (“In a sea this big there’ve got to be other fishes who’ll ‘get’ you,” etc.), and the knee jerk resistance I (and innumerable others) feel re: giving enough information to be understood in the way we’re “supposed” to be. So it ends up being a constant loop: give, and take back. Share and retract. Make visible to those outside the very narrow corridor of your trust your steadfast love or your all-consuming rage, and then veil it again. Because the less people know about you, the less they can fuck with you. True story.

This is complicated, too, by quotas. Maybe you don’t keep precise count, but you DO have one—a quota on how many people you need close to you who really get you, or at least get enough of you to make you feel comfortable. Of course there are quotas: an exponential increase in numbers would be both impractical and agonizing to maintain. My quota is set appallingly low, partly out of habit but partly, I imagine, by nature too. I am not a trusting person. I routinely cut people out of my life like tumors, when they get too hurtful or distant or, perversely, when they get too close. The most lasting relationships in my life have been with those who understand the need for space. If I have to undergo an interrogation every time I am absent, in body or in spirit, we are done. All of this is to say that being unable to delete my impulsively honest Facebook status updates from my phone is extremely upsetting. Please fix this, Facebook. You do not benefit from my oversharing.