With You Without



Neighborhood: All Over

With You Without
Photo by Marco Monetti

I am writing this on the laptop you stole from me. Remember? No of course you don’t. What an asshole you were! I had gone back to New York to visit my father at Mount Sinai Hospital’s Head Trauma Unit (he had fallen and bashed his brains in on the way to see Sondheim and I swore up and down my mother pushed him). When I saw him there he was strapped to the bed; he thought the Gestapo had gotten him. He kept tearing out his catheter. How is he now? Demented: with Parkinson’s. You had asked me for a souvenir. You specified D&G sunglasses. Such a snob for a junkie. I figured I’d get you knockoffs from Canal Street, but there was no time. I was with my father in the Head Trauma Unit. I bought you a t-shirt at JFK.

You called me the second my flight landed in Minneapolis. Said you wanted to say “hi” “welcome back” “how’s your dad” “grab coffee” “catch up.” You were stopping by.

Sure, I could give you the t-shirt. What a good friend you were! Though I had kicked you out of my apartment months earlier for being so sloppy with your needles. I stepped on tips. You missed the vein and bled all over the bathroom tiles. Broken spoons behind the tub. My cat pawed at baggies and rubber bands. You nodded out in the middle of a sentence, in the middle of the room. The refrigerator door was always ajar. Piles of your clothing piled in the kitty litter. Syringes in my car. You yelling at me, (yelling at me!) because a picture frame was tilted or my music was too loud. You coming home soaking wet and whining ‘cause
another dealer ripped you off and you didn’t get enough crack. What is enough crack?

We considered our degenerate ways clever antics. How else could we make sense of senseless behavior? Stints in jail seemed to be your version of long weekends to The Hamptons. Morning drives to the methadone clinic; silver dollar pancakes with side effects. And when you yanked the wheel from me that time and said, “You wanna get fucked, now you’re fucked!” and steered us into the median, that got my attention. And when I let the speedometer slip under 85mph and you would swing your lanky left leg over the gearshift and shove my right foot down hard on the accelerator ‘cause you were gonna get dope sick – I was sick too! I was sick too! So I guess I was off my game that day in 2007, back from the prosaic day-to-day events of NYC subways and family and father in Head Trauma. I actually thought you wanted to chat. I could give you your t-shirt. Stupid me; guard down.

I’m just saying you knew, you knew my whole routine. Where I hid my laptop (you knew I hid it because I had my last laptop ripped off while I was living in Brooklyn). You knew that when I let you in – because it was you – I didn’t lock my door. You knew that the back door to the building was often propped open in decent weather because tenants smoked while doing their laundry or someone was moving in or out.

You knew me. You knew too much.

I didn’t know that you had gotten sicker. Your habit had grown stronger while I was visiting my father. That when you were shooting up you had become unknowable. Unknowable. That was not you. It was not you. Not even close. Not the guy who had written me in ‘96 while reading Infinite Jest and quoted parts of the book and picked out the words you loved, “sangfroid” “pour me a cup of sangfroid.” If I squinted I wouldn’t see you. If I rubbed my eyes still barely a glimpse. If I showed you the letters would have you remembered yourself?

I was unpacking, I wanted to give you the t-shirt from JFK. The phone rang, I heard your voice say, “I’m downstairs.” I went to let you in, no one was there and I got that sinking feeling. That sinking feeling. I raced back upstairs. Saw my black dress lying on the floor in the hallway and I dashed down the back stairway. I watched you, I watched my laptop, THIS LAPTOP over your shoulder stride out the back door walking away. Away from me.

And I chased and bolted and panted and screamed, but you had a partner in crime with a get-away-car. I looked at the new tenants (moving day) they must have been horrified. “Did you see that guy?” They acted like they hadn’t seen a gawd damned thing. “A car? Did you see a car?” “A guy with black greasy hair?” “And a laptop?” “Did you see him get into a car?” Nope. Not one of them saw a thing.

What did I do? What did I do? Well I having once been your idiot partner in crime, I had your routine down too. I called the cops who did tah-dah – nada! And you my dear darling fuck up had left me quite the paper trail of fair-thee-well-how-do-I-love-the-thee-let-me-count-the-ways-please-send-money/cigarettes/cover-me-while-I-cop, signed sealed oopsie daisy a RETURN ADDRESS you punk ass junkie! I’ve been burned before. My hand looks like a worn baseball mitt and let’s just end this for good! You didn’t know you trained me to be scum like you. I had become your accidental apprentice in theft.

You never even knew did you? That car that we bought for $250 from that recovering crack head that stunk like b.o. when the sun lit it up and died at every red light; the ’96 Ford Taurus, I drove that casket into Section 8 Housing where you were residing. And I was fired up! Fired up! Like the time you found out I threw your dope out the window and you started that session with the predictable, “I never hit a girl…” (Can I tell you, as if you didn’t get the post-it; you sucked when you were high! And when you were not high, you sucked while you were trying to get high, what with all the beatings and threats and begging for handouts, etc. – though when you were clean you were pretty much one of my favorite people on the planet.)

So I parked that shit car and paced the sidewalks screaming to any motherfucker who would listen, “Have you seen this guy with greasy black hair and blisters on his nose and arms? He’s a monster and he’s a junkie and he stole from me and he’s with this chick and she has a car!” And on and on, oh how I hollered. Your neighbors were super accommodating. They talked up a storm. They knew who you were. How you loved an audience and sympathy and ooooooo lala lying. Yes, you told anyone who would listen about your sorrows and bad breaks and blisters from “cancer?” no not exactly. I told them it wasn’t cancer. “Have you ever seen cancer that looked like that?” I told them you had AIDS. And then those kindly neighbors showed me your hideout. They pointed right to your window WITH YOUR LIGHTS STILL ON! And I met your girlfriend and yea you never hit her either. I told her all about your “cancer” too. Kaposi sarcoma was eating your arms and legs, lesions on the left half of your face. You were so high you didn’t even bother bringing this here laptop inside. It was in plain sight. So I stole it back. I stole it back!

We saw each other one last time after that, three weeks before you died. Isn’t that strange. With all that weirdo needy rather incestuous I-love-you-don’t-leave-me inseparable time that came before. Before. It’s odd how absolute an end can be. You came over and I didn’t bother hiding anything. Nothing mattered anymore. I saw how sick you were. You looked cleaned up and sad. I told you I liked your girlfriend. I wanted to say anything that would make you happy. But happy was out of reach, not even in the copy of the dictionary you created.

I am glad you stole this laptop. I’ll never let it go. Like the piles of letters since ‘96. It’s what I have left of you. Bad stories are necessary for those who survive them. And you are my favorite cautionary tale. We were awful to one another. Just trying to get by. Making the unacceptable acceptable. Once you were at the foot of our bed, my legs were dangling over your shoulders. You started cracking my toes. I always hated that. I boxed your ears with my feet. I’m sorry. And I never got to give you the t-shirt, the one from JFK. It’s by this laptop. You’d find it if you were around; after all you know my routine.

Abigail A. Frankfurt’s writing has appeared in The New York Times, Minneapolis Observer, Lost and Found: Stories from New York, and on this website since 2000. She has read on NPR’s Savvy Traveler, and is currently living in the West Village.

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