When one joins the Peace Corps, she is allowed to bring with her two bags, weighing no more than 50 pounds each. Into mine I tucked clothes I would not have worn in what I, at the time, still thought of as “my real life.” My daily uniform had, for the last year, been an old t-shirt and ripped jean shorts during the summer, counterbalanced by a hoodie and black jeans during the winter. Clothes I’d wear to drive my little Genuine Buddy scooter across the Brooklyn Queens Expressway or, when I started staying over at Jake’s in the East Village every night, over the Brooklyn Bridge, to my wood shop in Red Hook. For this two-year outing, however, I’d spent a rushed afternoon hesitantly spending money on four modest, printed dresses, two long skirts, two long-sleeve blouses, three plain t-shirts, a soft green scarf, sand colored flat dress shoes, three pairs of quick dry socks, ten pairs of sexless quick dry underwear and a rain coat. I’d also placed into my bags two framed photographs – one of me clutching my best friend during the wedding she’d had six weeks prior and another of Jake and I taken at my going away party. In the photograph, he is looking calmly, squarely at the camera, while I am twisted into a drunken and admiring revelry, eyes squinted, my glance focused upward toward the side of his face.
There had been only one afternoon for this obligatory shopping because the weeks leading up to my departure were, in retrospect, probably somewhat misguided. Jake, who at this point I’d only really known for five months and who I had recently moved in with, suggested we get on a plane, fly to Milan, rent a BMW motorcycle and circle Switzerland as a way to commemorate the frenzied love affair that we’d decided, sadly, had an expiration date. We had met briefly three years prior, at a bar, through a mutual friend, and when I say “met” I mean after three hours and seven beers I took him home to the hovel of a room I was renting in Bed Stuy and we had sex, immediately after which I pointed out where his shoes could be found and suggested he find them. We hadn’t seen each other since and when we ran into one another again, years later, we loved this story, thought it was romantic. We told everyone this story and we told each other we would both still be single when I got home, that we would be together again then, but I think we knew that when things are over they usually stay that way, which is perhaps why three days after I left, via email, we changed our minds. Jake has a self portrait tattoo covering the entirety of his back in which his legs have been replaced by the bottom half of a motorcycle and his hands are thrust into the air, one holding a stack of $100 bills. This is entirely irrelevant to the story, just a fun fact. You’re welcome.
Anyway, so three weeks before I’m supposed to leave for Botswana, we go on this trip but the thing is that exactly 24 hours before the trip I realized I had a urinary tract infection, which if you’ve never had one (most men haven’t), feels a bit like someone dragging a razor blade across your genitals. So I go to one of these walk-in clinics that they have, I guess everywhere, but somewhat ubiquitously in New York likely because a fair number of its residents don’t, as I didn’t, have health insurance (a point I repeatedly, as a 30 year old woman, lied to my parents about – parents are obsessed with health insurance). So I’m in this clinic and I have, according to the non-doctor who works there, an exceptionally bad UTI and he explains that I should not, for the next ten days, expose myself to excessive sunlight, drink alcohol, do anything to aggravate my crotch area or have sex. And I’m about to go on a ten day motorcycle trip in a Mediterranean climate through wine country with my boyfriend. And this is the situation.
Naturally, of course, I do all four of these things to excessive extents and within a few days of returning home I am sicker than I have ever been. I am sicker than I have ever been and I still have my boss’ new website to finish, a media cabinet to build for Jake out of reclaimed lumber for our new apartment (we began moving into this new apartment not five hours after our plane hit the runway at JFK – also known as two weeks before Botswana), all the stuff I didn’t sell or give away from my old apartment to pack up and move out to my friend Katie’s basement on Long Island, to pack for Botswana, to groom myself for a photo shoot with Jake’s motorcycle as a present for the 40th birthday I was just missing, to have a going away party and to host my very recently divorced brother who was flying in for said party.
And so here I am, in bed one night, thinking how I don’t have time to be in bed but that I also can’t get out of it and Jake is out running an inaugural film festival that he’d founded that year so I’m alone in the apartment and it’s about 11 p.m. And the way in which I’m sick is so vague and foreign and difficult to pin down that I think perhaps I can simply snap out of it, so I get up and attempt to “snap out of it” and about halfway to the kitchen I become aware that I cannot walk and I fall to the ground and I’m naked and I realize that I am having a very difficult time remaining conscious, not because I’m tired (I’ve been in bed all day) but because there is something very, very wrong. And, at this point in my life, I believe that one of the surest signs of maturity is the ability to die or to have a panic attack with composure so I am attempting to text Jake in a relaxed manner, explaining that things have not exactly improved and he is responding kindly, but also in a way that one might when he is at an after party with exciting guests and drinks and the intoxication of an event that’s gone extraordinarily well.
And so things progress rapidly. I go from chill girlfriend who does not want to interrupt a good party to calling 911 and also Jake, asking him to hurry home so that he can perhaps put pants on me before the, what will surely be male, paramedics arrive.
As a bit of background on the lovely apartment we (technically, Jake) were now renting, our landlord was an Italian drug dealer who owned a bakery on the ground floor that had been in his family for four generations and he only rented to friends of friends, keeping rents down in exchange for tenants who got it. Tenants who wouldn’t cause scenes, who looked the other way if and when streams of pot heads or junkies filed in and out, who wouldn’t draw attention to the place, who just generally got it. And we did and we had a sweet, sweet deal in a neighborhood where there haven’t been any sweet deals since 1992.
Frankie (yes, seriously, Frankie) had recently put a man in the hospital for “working him over with a baseball bat” because he “got out of line.” And so we feel very lucky to have this apartment and we love it and we have been painting it and one afternoon I spent four hours scrubbing scum off of the kitchen cabinets. Above all, we are trying not to piss off Frankie, to illustrate that we are “cool.” And two days after we moved in, I am sitting in a windowsill in the kitchen and Jake is smoking over my shoulder out the window and I lean back to give him some space and the vase that I had stupidly placed there falls, goes directly through the awning of the bakery and smashes into the sidewalk in front of Frankie’s building. There is a bar next door and people had been outside smoking and their attention is now focused squarely on the building and the awning is ruined and a piece of the glass has smashed into the windshield of Frankie’s truck, cracking it, and we, 30 and 39 years old, respectively, are now hiding in our apartment. But it’s clearly us and Frankie calls and it’s awful but we are eventually forgiven and less than 48 hours later I have literally called the authorities to the building. And so illustrating that we are “cool” is not going well.
When Jake gets home, he is drunk and adorably trying to take things seriously and to “get it together” but really he is just circling me like a well-meaning shark and it takes the both of us, him drunk and confused, me ever closer to unconsciousness, to locate pants and a tank top which he sort of succeeds in outfitting me in and we begin to hear sirens and Jake scoops me up, carries me down five flights of stairs and three quarters of the way down the block to meet the paramedics – both of us aware, without having to say it, that this is necessary for vague, Frankie-related reasons. And they put me in the back of the ambulance and I lie about my name and social security number, and I spend the next two days in the hospital hooked up to an antibiotic drip, which is meant to eradicate an aggressive kidney infection.
I’m eventually released and I walk the 30 blocks home feeling thoroughly flushed out and realizing how very much I am going to miss New York. And I shower for the first time in three days and begin to understand that I have quite a lot of things to do and so instead of doing them I go out to dinner with Jake. And about a week later he drives me to Philadelphia and we hug and cry and eat a $100 cheesesteak and I go to Botswana.