DURING THE FIRST YEAR OF THE PANDEMIC—
I had to leave Berlin and then the Bay Area and go back to my hometown in Virginia in order to not pay rent someplace. It was impossible to find a job back then, and I had no place else to go. So I went into self-exile and lived alone (with Dante) in my grandmother’s old condo across the street from the hospital where I was born. I felt hopeless a lot of the time because I figured I’d never be able to return to my friends in California, but there was also a quiet comfort in knowing I was hiding from the world. It felt like living on the moon. I wrote about it exactly one year ago:
. . . and though I was not happy, when I think about it now, there was a sort of airtight certainty to living there, that every day would be the same, that things would mostly be neutral, as though I were floating in lukewarm bathwater, and that in all likelihood nothing could meaningfully hurt me. My biggest expenses were gas and coffee, because driving around at sundown with a cup of gas station coffee was the one thing that really made me feel good. Sometimes I would drive around the rural parts where I had grown up, and I would pick out places where they could shove me into the ground once I finally died, thinking there was no escape. I came to accept that maybe that was my fate. It was a childish thought, but I kept on thinking it because there was no one else around to roll their eyes at me.
Two or three months after I first got back to Virginia, I started walking to this coffeeshop near the condo pretty much every day. I’d cut through the forest paths behind the hospital and into the old town area there. The coffeeshop itself had once been a store where I’d worked with my girlfriend at the time when we were in college, but ever since that place had closed, it was this coffeeshop. I guess I went in there because it was familiar to me, and it was something to do when there was nothing else to do. Other than grocery store cashiers asking me if I wanted my receipt, I had limited human contact, and only spoke to my cat, and occasionally to a masked stocker at Trader Joe’s whose face I never saw but who had pretty eyes. But more often than not I showed up and at the coffeeshop and talked to the baristas there.
There was a goth barista named Caroline and I would hang out with her whenever she was working the register, which was several times a week. Caroline is real cool. We both have dark hair and fair complexions, so we initially started talking about which SPF we use (lol) and NATURALLY we both use SPF 50. Sometimes I would stay after the coffeeshop closed, and she’d lock the door and I’d help her clean up, and then I’d walk her home on account of it being dark and cold outside.
It was surreal to meet someone who had been born and had grown up in the same place as me. I hadn’t met anyone like that in over a decade. It was a spooky feeling. Outside of that, Caroline and I just got along real well in general even though I was older than her. Maybe we were both lonely in the same sort of way on account of the whole world being a big black hole of sadness just then, and it felt good to organically meet someone with whom you could immediately have a frictionless platonic relationship. AND SO OF COURSE we went on walks all the time, from winter into the spring and then the summer and, AT THE RISK OF SOUNDING CLICHE, we never ran out of things to talk about.
I tend to meet and befriend people who are immediately and naturally trusting and generous and friendly to me even though they don’t know me very well. They ask for nothing in return. I guess I’m just lucky that way. Caroline was that some sort of person. I am reminded once again of that line from NO LONGER HUMAN:
. . . natural friendliness which never became oppressive. Friendliness with no ulterior motive, friendliness stripped of high-pressure salesmanship, for someone who might never come again.
That August I finally got a job and went back to California. I wasn’t particularly sad to leave Virginia but I was very sad to leave my friend Caroline. We continued to talk all the time, and I invited her to come stay with me if she got the chance to, but I wouldn’t see her again until almost exactly a year later when I had to leave California because I’d been priced out of my apartment. When I returned to Virginia, I started visiting her at the coffeeshop again, and helped her clean again, and walked her home again, and was even there the day she got fired (!!! (she wasn’t sad about it)). We went on walks and she told me about all the creepy guys who had been stalking her at work and/or asking her to marry them. I guess there are a bunch of them out there. She also invited me to a party at her house, and I think I was the only person who didn’t throw up (lol)~
And then I left again! Now I’m across the ATLANTIC OCEAN, for god’s sake, and I miss that goth barista who became my friend and whose name is Caroline. Her birthday was at the end of February. I remembered because she had told me once before when we started hanging out. That being said, this year I was late wishing her a happy birthday by one day on account of my habit of not knowing the date or even what day of the week it is. I didn’t hear back from her for something like ten days. And when I finally did—
I FELT A SADNESS IN MY HEART
UPON RECEIVING THESE TEXT MESSAGES FROM CAROLINE:
Bailey is her boyfriend. He’s a nice guy. I’m not sure who he saw, but it sure as shit weren’t me.
I told Caroline, I said: “As much as I like it over here, hain’t nothing more I’d rather be doing than walking around smoking a joint with you.” I also instructed her to kill my doppelgänger.
All my earthly possessions are still stored in that condo in Virginia about 4,000 miles away from me. Eventually, and probably sooner than later, I’ll have to go back and get them. And the first thing I’ll do once my boots hit the pavement at Dulles International Airport is gun it to whatever coffeeshop she’s working at and wait for her to clock out so we can go for a walk and smoke a joint the size of a little league baseball bat. Till then, I reckon I’ll have to make due with her German counterparts over here.
Love ya ☆彡