A gust of wind hummed softly down Grand, the final breaths of the hurricane resonated upon Brooklyn. She mercilessly had her way with Queens, shut down electricity to the largest borough in New York, but Williamsburg would have none of it. Helen and I walked Grand on my last night in New York. No one had carried me through this trip chalk full of cancellations and unexpected adventure more than that of Helen. We’d been friends for the better half of a decade meeting at the Purple Onion studying at the U of MN, and by some unlikely series of events, we’ve remained friends since. Helen let me crash on a foam bedding at her apartment while I settled in town. We kept each other company throughout the past week of cabin fevered rainy days, credited to our love for music, beer, and conversation unveiling vulnerability. Sharing your worst fears, shittiest past happenings, and untold stories with someone will eventually bring you closer to them in spirit and friendship… as it has for Helen and I.
Neighborhoods forced upon themselves with the MTA shut down, streets gridlocked in cars fending for their spot by way of four-block lineup to the gas station, ATMs thoroughly dried of every dollar- I felt I’d done and seen it all this past week; Harlem to Connecticut, friends past and present, artists and DJs from 6-digit incomes to no-digit incomes. My mind was going into a blur and could only think of one thing: sushi.
“What’s the place called again?” I asked Helen. “Hirachi- Hobachi…” she answered. We’d know it when we saw it, I figured. Still blocks away, we chatted up our favorite subject: relationships. As it came about, Helen told a story that brought her to a stutter. Usually we tell each other arcs and tales of our experiences in friendships, relationships, family, etc. Something was different about this time. Helen had ventured down a road, peeling back the layer of a memory she didn’t want to revisit.
“It’s cool, you don’t need to tell me” I handed her the least awkward out I could think of, even though it was still damn awkward. “No- No, no. I’ll tell it”, she persisted… and then stopped again. It was like jumping the high dive for the first time. Once she stepped off the board, there was absolutely no coming back. I felt nervous for her.
She spilled the story. It was horrible, not the story but what the happening in the story. Helen had told me one of the meanest things anyone’s ever said to her. Although it had been years since Helen experienced these hurtful words, her face welled with tears at the thought of it. “That’s fucked up” crossed my mind to comfort her, but everybody says that shit when someone starts to expose their heart right then and there.
“That’s fucked up…” I said. “It just hurts y’know- it fuckin’ hurts.” Helen went on. “Have you forgiven this person for saying this to you?” I asked. “Fuck no! Hell no” she declared.
“I’ve seldom experienced anything more powerful than forgiveness”, somehow came aloud from my streamline of consciousness. “Might be something to look into”.
I then thought about all the hurtful words that have been dealt my direction. I’m in the business of spoken word, written word- I’m in the business of language, so for me to be viscerally shaken by someone’s word- well, it’d take something pretty damn strong.
We sat for sushi. “When people say something, or even write something, with the intent to maim your emotions… you have to understand the source. If Person A were to shout to Person B across the street, “Hey you’re a fucking prick bastard son of a bitch” and we happened to pay witness, who would we be staring at?” I said. “Person A, the person that shouted the insult” answered Helen. “Correct. It’s classic. A maneuver we master in elementary school, and engrain into our psychi throughout adulthood. If someone says something- well, it must have some merit to it, right? Again, we should concern ourselves with the source… it’s shitty, we exacerbate what’s been said by collapsing stories about ourselves on top of it. Our self-esteem shakes to pieces, and we’re left with a horrible feeling at the pit of our stomach- the intended result of our culprit… Mind if I tell you the meanest thing that’s ever been said to me?” I asked Helen. “No, not at all” she replied.
“Ok…” I had to figure out how I was going to say this. I’d never told anybody this before- I mean, folks have said some crazy shit to me in the past, but this had taken the cake by a long, long shot. “Well, here it goes…
… I was in Mexico with my girlfriend, Consuela, at the time. We had been together for several months and had already taken on a pattern of breaking up and getting back together, arguing like we were fighting for child custody (hence, we had no children), and trusting each other as far we as we could throw one another. Yes, it was a relationshit, but here we were in Mexico. Aside from the bad, there was an immense amount of good to Consuela and I. She had the ability to go calm under pressure and make a decision out of her best reason. I admired her at the moments most would panic. However, there still lay the eye of the tiger layered deep beneath the surface, Consuela could unleash a heat unbeknownst to hell. At the precipice of her anger she would just… walk away. Didn’t matter if it was a family dinner or hanging out in a remote city on a road trip… she’d just walk away. Her ability to dissociate, and my ability to emotionally shut down made for a vendetta. In the end, I’d swear we were sleeping with one another under the code of “keep your enemies closest”. I digress, we were trying- she was a dreamer, I was/am a hopeless romantic. For what it was worth, we were in Mexico.
I flickered through my book of scribbles, verse, prose, and things not to forget. “Read me one of your pages” Consuela asked. Usually I laugh at the person, give a uber-serious comedic stare, and not read them anything from the book. Consuela was different. She was a talented writer, and had a genuine interest in what I was translating from my brain to pen to paper, so I took pride in sharing any current work with her. I read her a page. “Now, you read me a page from your book” I asked. Consuela was always writing in her journal. I’d never had an interest in it, but figured to return the favor while we passed the time in a 20th floor hotel room in Cancun.
Consuela paged through her journal to a random spot… her face fell for a split second- “What is it?” I jutted. “Noth-nothing” she claimed. Something was up, this wasn’t like Consuela to emote hesitation… ever. “Umm, so ya gonna read it?” I egged on. “Not this one. I really can’t” she dodged. “How ‘bout this one- ok here we go”, Consuela read me an excerpt from her journal. It was nice, pretty, civilized, everything she’d have the universe believe she always was and is. We adjourned to get ready to go out for the night. I finished up writing, Consuela took to the shower… leaving behind her journal wide open on the bed.
My eyes pulled away from the verse I’d been focused on for the past hour. What the hell had she written that she couldn’t share? Consuela had never been the type’a gal to go gunshy. She’d curse out a war veteran if she felt it was justified. She’d relayed nearly every ugly inch of her past to me, or at least I thought. Dammit man, get the idea of out your head! Opening that book can do no God damn good!
I did it. Creasing open the page she’d forbade herself to read, I noticed “father” of all the words on the page. “Toussaint tells a sob story about the absence of his father throughout his childhood. I think it’s just to pin himself as the victim and create some kind of sympathy for himself. Honestly, I believe he’s afraid of his father because he subconsciously knows he’s going to end up just as shitty a father as him, if not worse.”…
And there it was. The meanest thing I’d ever paid witness to that had been put out into the universe. Sure people have thought worse, said worse behind closed doors, written worse in books out of sight… but that was the worst my attention had ever paid witness to. “Holy Shit, that bitch is cold as ICE!!!” I thought to myself. I went numb, and then apathetic, and then to logic; well, God forbid I ever have children with this woman, she’d frown upon my every move- well, if I can’t have children with the gal I’m with based on the fact that she thinks I’d be a terrible father, then I could never marry her- shit, if I can’t see myself marrying her, what the fuck am I doing in Mexico with the chick?!?!?- oh, that’s right. Christ, I gotta get outta here… details aside, we broke the day we returned to Minneapolis. With that said, that… was the meanest thing anyone has ever said to me.
I know what you’re thinking “Oh, but it wasn’t said, it was written”- dammit, in my book it’s the same accountability. If you’re gonna write it, you should accept responsibility like you said… aloud… with a megaphone… directly in the ear of the listener.
The thing with hurtful shit people say is that you learn to forgive them. The anger turns to disappointment toward them… and you move on. The word, the action, the source of the malicious intent has nothing to do with you and everything to do with the person producing it.” Helen picked up her jaw from the table. “Waaaaoooooow (high pitch Fran Drescher voice), that’s rrrrreally fucked up!” Helen gasped. “I know” I smiled. “Forgiveness, though. You might wanna put some thought into that” I concluded before we dove into our sushi as if we’d been starving for the past two days, then to galavant Brooklyn ‘til the wee hours of the night.