Memory Motel: Florence And Me
“Three of us kids left foster care at the same time, and we joined together, and rented a two room apartment and I guess from then till I was around 21 was the happiest days of my life. We all felt like we might make it through alive. But by the time I was 21, one of them was dead -he isn’t here, I’ve looked and the other was in prison… and I couldn’t afford it so I lived in a room in a house in Queens. That’s an odd half live, living in a room in a home: it’s like there are all these people who belong to each other and there is you who belongs to no one at all.
“I was working in an accounting firm but not getting anywhere at all: just doing time, and, you know, there was a girl at work and I fell in love with her. I don’t know how it happened, it was like I had gone for a walk and tripped over my own feet. Her name was Florence. She was pretty, a little short even for a woman, maybe four nine, and she chewed bubblegum all the time. From Long Island. She took advantage of me I guess. I’d walk her to Penn Station every night, and she’d tell me about her Mom, who she was always fighting with, and her dad who divorced her Mom when she discovered she was sleeping with his best friend, and he lived in Fresno, and she went to visit him every year but it never worked out well. He had his other family now.
“Florence knew nothing about me, never asked me anything and I never offered. I’m not talkative…”
“If you are not talkative why don’t you shut the fuck up and go away. Go haunt Florence or spy on her in the shower or something…”
Jeff ignored Keisha completely and just kept talking. Billy wasn’t even sure if he was speaking to them or thinking out loud, or none of the above. Billy wasn’t even sure it was true but it sure wasn’t something worth telling… he wanted to hurry it along because really, they were the only ghosts in the world in a hurry, but he kept quiet. Jeff continued. “It wasn’t romance and it wasn’t friendship but I think in all my experience it was the only thing even slightly like family. I didn’t know because except for my friends from the foister home I had never known family, but I guess sometimes, it was like real family. At lunch she would go shopping and I’d tag along and it was endlessly interesting, the way she would click her fingernails on her teeth and study a skirt. Not even try it on. Just study it. And then she’d look at it and ask me what I thought. I was beyond clueless, but I would nod sagely and say ‘I think it’s nice…’ She’d say ‘It’s cute, right?’ and hand it to me my and I’d carry it along with everything from scrunchies to bags of soft cotton… I had no idea what any of them were for.
“Sometimes she’d let me pay, sometimes she wouldn’t. I didn’t care either way. One day she turned to me and said ‘I am closer to you than any of those guys I’ve slept with. I love you.’ I believed her. I knew it was true.
“My big worry would be, what would happen to us if she fell in love with someone else? “
“I can not even,” Keisha snapped. “Why are we wasting our time?”
“Look, stop it. Have you ever wonder why we found each other? Have you ever wondered why Jeff here suddenly showed up? Maybe there is a reason. In the past four years, how often have we been interrupted?”
“I don’t know, how…”
“Come on girlie ghost. Never, no one has interrupted us ever. Maybe there is a reason, maybe there isn’t…”
Jeff hadn’t actually stopped speaking while they were arguing, when they tuned him back in not much had happened, “…I was so jealous I was nearly nauseous. But what could I say. I just walked out the room and left them to it but the image was eating at me. I left the party and wandered South on Bowery, stopped at Phoebes and began to pound Southern Comfort and Coke. I wanted to call her up, I wanted to scream at her. But why? What excuse. I knew the rules and it wasn’t my fault Ahmad was brave and got the award and I was a lousy coward who was too scared to show my true feelings?
“I got very very drunk and wandered out of Phoebes, I don’t know, past one. I don’t know how I got to my lousy room but it took me hours to get there. I kept on falling asleep. You’d think as drunk as I was, at least I’d have been saved from nightmares but every time I opened my eyes there they were, Ahmad and Florence, huffing and puffing, sweating all over the coats on the bed.
“The cold night air hit me hard as I walked the three blocks from the subway. I three up and again, and I felt a little better. Quiet,quiet, hush I opened the door and went upstairs to my room.
“The next day I was so hungover my head needed its own zip code. I called out sick and lay in bed, too hungover to even watch TV. Just jerking off thinking about Florence and skipping in and out of consciousness. I was both jealous and horny, imagining her fucking other guys, sometimes me, sometimes both of us.
“She didn’t text to see how I was. Not a word till the evening around 6pm when she wrote “That fuck hasn’t said a word to me.” I didn’t reply. ‘Do you think he really likes me?’ I still didn’t answer. A couple of more texts I didn’t answer and then I said, ‘I am sure he likes you.’
‘Not everybody is you.’ She replied.
“The next day everything back to normal, I asked Ahmad about Florence, and he said she is the sort of girl you fuck when you’re drunk. I guess that’s exactly what she was. Just a dumb slut. But not to me. I wasn’t a virgin. I’d been to hookers a number of time, but I’d never had a girlfriend, never been loved or anything like that and while Florence wasn’t the real thing, she was what the real thing probably felt like.
“Can you love somebody who doesn’t care about you? Is it really love? What is it if not really love? It was what I had and I really loved her and also, I was very relieved. Whenever you felt with someone I ws so scared and when she came back, just overwhelmingly happy. It must have been love, right? Well, I’ve been alive and I’ve been dead and nothing, not my own death, has been as terrible as that night.
“So call it whatever you want, right? Whatever, the same girl gave me my happiest and saddest moments in my 26 years of lousy existence. The truth is if this is reality now, what was that? Was her love a figment of my imagination, did it happen somewhere else again, somewhere where the dreams of life were other. I had no father, and never was a father, I had no lover and never was loved, in my reality the things that made sense for you, birthday, thanksgiving, family, I never came close to any of that. I had a friend who told having no family had left her with insane abandonment issues and also social skills that’s eemed to be missing a step. When to call her and say she’ll be late. When to be upset about being neglected. Her emotions, her love, were like darts that missed their mark. The last time I heard from her and she was hysterically crying over the phone. She’d just broken up with her fiancée. ‘He loves me, he says he loves me, but I can’t control myself, everything is a big deal. I am so scared of being betrayed, of being neglected, of being left at the steps of a Church somewhere. So I bring it on. I know it’s me. I think it’s me. I don’t know. I am abandoned’
“These were the things that seriously infected me. I was terrified of being alone but aloneness was all I’d ever known, so what was I scared of? That woman, Florence, had it within her grasp to make me so completely happy, happier than any one man deserved to be, could possibly be. All she had to do was hold me, kiss me, keep me close. I guess all she had to do was love me and everything that had happened before, my entire life up to that very minute, would have disappeared like magic and I would have had every wound healed. Like magic, in the form of a kiss. Crazy, right?
“It didn’t happen. She didn’t love me, she didn’t forgive me, and she didn’t want me…. Not like that. ‘I prefer shopping with you to sex’ she said one lunch time. I wanted both the shopping and the sex and not the sex because of anything except proof of our love. I wanted….
“No, none of it happened. Finally, there was a boyfriend. Or at least an important lover. A married physical therapist. She showed me pictures of him on her cell phone. Suddenly it was all that mattered as she spent her life waiting for him to call, to show, to fit her in while she obsessed and obsessed and obsessed. Calling me up in the middle of the night, crying, crying, crying…
“And then it got worse for her. I guess that women sleeping with married men are in a state of suspended animation, nether reaching for the future nor looking at the best, they remain so deluded they are in a constant now, just the other woman, just another woman. But t them, to Florence and to me, they are so much more than that. And then they are no more than that. Florence discovered through mutual friends that the man’s wife was five months pregnant.
“After then predictable days and weeks of recrimination, still Florence could bring herself to rat him out. She dropped him cold. Which lead to an unfortunate evening with him in his car, outside her Mom’s house, sitting behind the wheel and calling her on the cell and wailing. So she called me and I got on the LIRR but he had left before I got there so I just doubled back.
“That wasn’t the end end, I mean between Flo and me, but I knew she had to get out of the company, the city, away from her Mom. I knew she would leave soon. For some reason she didn’t confide in me about that portion. I saw her grow quieter, the trips to the shops less often, she lost interest in me a little.
“Though even that wasn’t quite fir either, it was the place, the surroundings, her stalled love life, those are the things she was bored with. I didn’t matter enough to really bore her. I wasn’t quite on her radar at all: she looked through me and only so she could see herself.
“I knew something had gone wrong, it was the summer time, a stifling Greenhouse summer: I felt suffocated with only a big fan by my bed to cool me down. I spent the summer of 2016 working all day and wandering aimlessly round the city the rest of the time. Much like being a ghost. No important differences…. My heart ached all the time, I just couldn’t believe she’d lost whatever interest she had. I always thought she’d always be my friend. It was all I wanted. Just to spend my life near her. I wanted to be the beach on her crashing waves…
“She handed her resignation in early September and one mid-September evening I helped her carry her belongings to Penn Station. I couldn’t believe my eyes, I couldn’t bear to think of it, not to see her every single day. How could I live? Why would I want to? Sitting with her at a coffee shop, she was excited at the beginning of a new adventure. She was moving to Chicago, near her big brother , an apartment waiting, a job waiting. To begin again. To be born again.”