24 hrs/4 acts/Bourdain

I.
Tyler was maybe gonna come over last night but he’s injured and lacking in sleep. Baseball. I was maybe gonna order cheesecake and then started shredding carrots (and two knuckles) to make a cake. But it was hot. And I wanted to see J. Turns out he wanted to see me after he got out of work. We met at Win Son, my suggestion. I’d been there once before in August 2018 with the 🦄 before going to this immersive play called Then She Fell.

The date with the 🦄 had been hot. I only saw him a few times that month I was here. And after the first, I’d fought with him because of something that he waited months to bring up. We met up at the bar; me in this slinky wrap dress that could withstand paint (you are forewarned about comfortable clothes and shoes when you buy tickets to the play). I told him about my date with a Palestinian named Tamer at the Natural History Museum during which I gave the boy a tour in a French accent, never breaking character. The 🦄 thought it was hot and suggested I go on a date with someone else and do the same. We role-played what I would say and where I was from. This was part of the kink–him knowing I would sleep with others and always report back. But that night, even in the midst of this great date, drinking milkshakes at a video game bar, I was texting the Israeli. It’s a bad way to be.

J was super cute last night. He’d showered and changed into a little Uniqlo button down. I kept thinking to myself…are we on a date? This feels like a date. Holding hands walking down the street. Eye contact.

I told J about this crush I sorta kinda have on this girl I met–a writer and a thinker. He was intrigued in a way that he wouldn’t have been if I’d told him it was a guy. And not for the same prurient “Maybe she’s into chicks” macho repressed fantasy bullshit so many straight guys have. He’s been around the block a couple of times. This isn’t new to him the way it is to me. Nothing’s gonna happen. That’s a dead end. She’s very straight and very in love with her boyfriend. She’s just sort of a fan girl. I have them from time to time. I’m the basic girl’s Hunter S. Thompson and William S. Burroughs.

“That’s Joan Didion,” you say. “Or Joni Mitchell.” Well yeah. But apparently I give off those vibes to all the girls out there.

Speaking of Burroughs, J. brought him up later in the night. “Why do I always have a thing for guys who have a thing for Burroughs?” I asked to no one in particular. J. lolled. And I don’t mean that he laughed out loud. He rarely laughs. He actually said ‘lol.’ It’s a habit of his I happen to find endearing because it’s completely sincere and idiosyncratic. Whether he knows it or not, he’s teaching me how to lean into the autism. How to stop with the ingrained ableism. He tests me in ways that force me to grow. He can be irritating but only when you don’t know what’s going on seven layers deep. I’ve learned. Or, rather, I’m learning.

II.
I slept at J’s. And, as per usual standards and practices, we had morning sex. It’s such a foregone conclusion. There’s no discussion. It just happens. It’s the most vulnerable J ever gets. He’s calm; focused; less damaged; tender. And I get to dote on him with affection. Little kisses on his nose and forehead. His curls wrapped around my finger. All that is beautiful between him and me sublimates with daylight and I never know when he’s going to retract into that head of his and resume worrying about everything. So I appreciate it.

I tried thinking about the others this morning, with him curled up next to me. And I couldn’t. They didn’t pull focus. I was there in that moment and not longing for anyone else.

He said something this morning: “Well, Keith and Iggy made it to old age, so I guess I might be around for a few more years.” I don’t know if he thinks he’s being cryptic or if he thinks I wouldn’t catch on to what he’s saying. But I know. I know that he has been waiting to die. Pushing the envelope because he feels tragic. Maybe he was told he was no good one too many time and he’s been trying to prove them right. Maybe he’s cavalier about death because he’s so beautifully fucking sensitive under it all and life is just too much. For someone who’s waiting to die to entertain the possibility that he might just make it to old age was him acknowledging a moment of peace…dare I say…happiness. And the boy doesn’t know what to do with either of those things. He thrives on chaos. I should know. I was born into chaos. Generations of it.

III.
It just so happened that we were both headed to the same place. 86th on the UES. J gave me a lift and we crossed into the city via the Queensboro Bridge. It’s the first time since I met him on December 1, 2019 that we’d ever been outside of Brooklyn together. Not that it’s a milestone or anything. Just…well…I come from vast country. It’s bizarre to me that the entirety of my relationship with a person could be reduced to a single part of a single city. This boy and I have spent the majority of our time together either in my bedroom or his. Our safe places are insular. We need more respite from a world not built to our needs.

I was three hours early. I didn’t need to go into the city with J. But he offered. I didn’t want to say no.

I spent time at a toy store I like and bought a squeezy dinosaur egg with a triceratops fetus inside and a bouncey ball. I sat for two hours in Central Park, writing and waiting for a Filipino man to come back for the phone he left on a bench by accident. He, Erwin, eventually did come back and thanked me profusely, even offering me a reward. While I was waiting for him, a rat came within three feet of me, casual as all get out, just creeping along the bench. He looked at me. I looked at him. I shook my head and said, “Nope.” And he scurried away. It was a very New Yorky experience. Really though, what I knew…and this is going to sound trite…is that I’m back. I’m confident. I’m me again. I don’t fear the world.

At the dentist’s, I talked to the dental tech about the Yankees. Four of the players have Covid and they might have to cancel tomorrow night’s game. I filed this fact away to ask Tyler about it later.

I got out of my appointment early and headed back to Williamsburg and straight to The Levee for a drink and free cheese balls. I used to go there with Nathalia back in 2019, when we’d take breaks from all day Ratagast drink fests. It’s divey. It’s metal heady. And, of course, Emily loves the place as much as I do. Emily and I are similar in too many ways to count.

Drink drunk, I made my way to see about an old friend at The Nitehawk. Mr. Tony Bourdain.

IV.
I’m not sure anyone will believe me, but Tony and I are the same in too many ways to count. He was antisocial. He was a born romantic and poet. He was addicted to chaos and melancholy. He didn’t know how to be loved. And he flirted with death his whole life. He loved watching the never-ending human drama play out. By turns he rejected and craved normalcy in a self-inflicted torture.

The whole documentary felt like deja vu, down to the fucking Siberia Bar. I’ve been trying to remember the name of that place for so many years I thought I’d made it up. It was a red lit commie bar down in a train station on 50th and Broadway that NO ONE I’ve met in this city seems to remember. But there on the big screen was Mr. Bourdain, bathed in a ruby glow.

I watched the documentary, taking notes furiously on sheets of paper. I never can go to a theater without feeling this intense urge to write. But my phone was down to 4% and I still had to make it home.

There were all these themes that got echoed back to me from onscreen. Keith. Burroughs. Iggy. Aguirre, Wrath of God.

Really, though, it all came down to this fight between light and dark that I understand in my very marrow. I was already attempting suicide at 12. I can navigate in the dark like a fucking panther. And I feel that this film fed into the narrative that suicide is a weakness or the coward’s way out. It’s a cheap way to go. I get that everyone who loved him felt his loss so keenly. But no more than he felt his own loss his entire life and battled the eventuality for absolute decades.

The first half of this year almost sucked the life out of me. What I survived should have been my undoing. And yet, here I am. No suicide attempt. I white knuckled my way through this bout with whatever residual faith I had that the nights would eventually end and dawn would arrive. I survived by summoning the very elemental forces of nature and using every possible resource available to me to get through it. And I know, as sure as there is breath in my lungs, that it wasn’t the last fight I will face. These things come in five year cycles. I will be tested again. How many victories do I have left in me?

I hate that people look for meaning in Bourdain’s death and, finding none, call it a waste. There is no meaning in suicide. Don’t judge a man by the way he died but how he lived in spite of that trajectory. If you understand the biological underpinnings of depression that can upshift into suicide then you know how much suffering has led to an irrational act. He left no note. He had no plan for his beloved daughter. Those aren’t the actions of someone who was thinking rationally. He was in such pain that he couldn’t see straight. I know. I’ve been there.

The film fails on that account. Survivors told their tales of anger and bewilderment. It’s the one part of his life that Bourdain couldn’t narrate himself.

I ask myself, now that I am back, why I am back and what makes the difference? I spent the ages of 36-41 rebuilding myself from rock bottom and learning to love myself in defiance of everything I was ever taught, always knowing I could be reduced to rubble in an instant. When things got really bad this Spring, I had to remind myself of that defiance. I had to sit on my hands and wait for the most gut wrenching pain to pass because I knew there was more out there waiting for me to accomplish.

Now that I am better, that I am back to February 2020 Vene, unafraid to the point of staring down rats in the park, how do I hook in the next phase of my purpose?

I told Nicole recently that I don’t care what people think about me or if they think about me when I’m dead and gone. I just want to leave the world a kinder, gentler place. Or at least engender that legacy in others who will carry it on as I did when I inherited it.

The difference between Tony and me…the difference between J and me…is that when my constructive and destructive forces battle one another I don’t come out a nihilist. I believe. Reluctantly. Amateurishly. Recklessly. Hopelessly. Passionately.

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