You begin where it always begins: with the toilet paper. You are changing the roll in the scramble off the toilet seat and into your pajamas in the twenty-five seconds before he has to use the bathroom so he can be freshly-showered and manly-scented and neatly-dressed in his dark suit and the unicorn tie—an Issey Miyake that you bought with your first above-the-table salary and that he said was too much, too flashy (the tie, that is), but you told him it complemented his silvering beard and so he wears it—when he comes in, without knocking as he always does, which bothers you, as it has since the first time he did: in the ivory bathroom at the party in the hotel’s penthouse suite that you and Lila decorated, and where you, startled, knocked over a porcelain soap dispenser before he kissed you, backed up against the sink and the idea of privacy flew out of your head from the force of his tongue against your teeth and you thought this is passion; that was four years ago and now he is berating you about putting the toilet paper roll in the wrong way and you ask him, what’s the wrong way, and he says, impatient, clipped, the paper, flap, on the inside, and you say, says who, and he says, everybody, and you say you’ve never heard that before and how is one supposed to know which side is the right side of toilet paper goddammit, and he says, you would know if you were born here, and so it is, words that you always suspected he was thinking are now lying on the bath rug that is very slightly frayed at one end, the end that you tuck out of view.
A year later you are divorced. It is summertime. You lie on the sofa you coveted and kept, and a three AM breeze that lifts the curtain off from the window and the sofa-back and keeps you cool exposes a rent in the blue-black velvet upholstery, that you reach for and dig at, exposing the unsullied foam beneath, which, now that you notice it, looks like a pair of white lips calling out to be kissed, and you think the end began at the beginning, five years before, when you forgot to tell him your immigration status, which was undocumented. What you said was that you’d lost your social security card and needed a replacement, and could the mail come to his apartment since you were going to Mexico (really New Mexico) to study textile design that summer and Lila could hardly be trusted to check the mail, let alone forward yours, and he said yes without a second’s pause, maybe because he had already fallen for you or because he was an unthinkingly generous person, or because he wanted to have a hold on you, and that was how you’d stayed in touch those two months which were two months after you’d met and fucked a half-dozen times, mostly because you were too tired to take the train back to the last stop in Bensonhurst from 90th Street and Park Avenue. You told Lila that Time Out NY should survey the city to see how many people slept with others to avoid stumbling down the subway stairs at 3 AM and waiting with other vagabonds, and she looked up at you briefly, her mouth full of thumb tacks—this was during her appliqué-making phase—and muttered through red and white and yellow pins that you could have asked to sleep on the couch, it was normal, everyone did it; Manhattanites were used to their floors, their fold-away ironing boards, futons, window sills, hallways, closets, coffee tables, and countertops being used as beds by outer borough dwellers, but people from Jersey, well, they, they had made their bed and had to lie on it, pun delivered with a snicker that you joined in. There was still so much you didn’t know despite fifteen years of living in the city that was a shell of whorls.
Some days, when you are buoyant, like an unsecured child in a stroller on the R train as it bounces over the bridge, you forget the cheap fleeting thought you had when your green card arrived, alongside his lawyer’s bill, that you were now free to leave at any time: him, the country, the person you have become, the grocery store where you are mistaken for an employee.
When you are soaked in self-pity, you think that all beginnings are the beginnings of endings, and you call your mother in Puerto Williams, which some call the end of the earth, but is the southernmost tip of Chile from where you began, but as the phone dangles against your ear, you fall asleep and the next time you try you find you no longer have direct international dialing so you are back to using $5 phone cards, the beeps warning you of the end to come.
On Lila’s insistence you do things. You picnic in Central Park. Play with friends’ children, smelling them on you days later. You have your hair blow-dried. You take up pottery. The expense of the clay shocks you. You make a profile on OKCupid, and have stranger-sex. You linger at ABC Home & Carpet, giving free advice to shoppers. You find a job decorating the home of an art director who, because of your Spanish, consults you on the South American ad market. You sign up for a gym membership and when the card arrives, you see that they didn’t get the memo, that you’ve forever dropped the Alvarez of your last name and replaced it with his, the hard p, the trisyllable, the end note that transports you to the slopes of the Andes: Ko-wal-ski, Ko-wal-ski, Ko-wal-ski.
Bix Gabriel is a writer, teacher of creative writing, editor at The Offing magazine, co-founder of TakeTwo Services, occasional Tweeter, and seeker of the perfect jalebi. She has a M.F.A in fiction from Indiana University-Bloomington, and her writing appears in the anthology A Map is Only One Story, on Longleaf Review, Catapult, Guernica, and Electric Literature, among others. She was born in Hyderabad, India, and lives in Queens, NY.
Photography by: delfi de la Rua