My uncle died in early May. I didn’t talk to many people about it.
He died two years after he was only just barely able to recognize his wife’s face. He laid gaunt on a hospital bed and his liver failed in the early hours of the morning. I imagine the sky in Jakarta that day to be close to orange but it was likely more of the smog-infested purple I was born into.
The first thing I ever really wanted to get for my apartment was a nice, big, comfortable couch. Even before a bed or even an inauguratory case of Shiner Bock, I wanted wherever I would live to have a place to sit that could also be a place to sleep. For the first six months of living at my apartment, the closest thing I had to that was an inflatable mattress.
It was “borrowed” from my mother’s house because the Mattress Firm gave me damaged goods and needed another few days to replace it. I set it up in the middle of my living room, threw a brown sheet onto it and slept there until my actual mattress was replaced.
He grew up around the scent of smoke and yellowing paint. His dad used to take him out into town in a rickety Ford borrowed from the office for a day, smoking Marlboro Golds. Before each trip, they’d stop by the bodega near their apartment for a fresh pack. It wasn’t until later in life that Rob realized how much of a luxury those instances were, his siblings would buy him a pint and tell him of how they weren’t afforded nearly as much fatherly attention as they felt they deserved. This just made him think of how much of it he wasted.
Rob pictured the man being wheeled off in that ambulance with a carton of smokes in the hand they placed the emergency IV. He would go through at least two of those cartons a month. All Rob could really do at the time was watch them leave from the creaky balcony, painted a rusted green.
I fumbled around for the wintry CD case for Bloc Party’s Silent Alarm at a fresh red light. It’s my second copy, given to me as a Christmas gift my freshman year of college by someone who frustratingly moved to a undying city far away from where I lived. She knew my sister lost my first copy. She didn’t know I blamed it on my previous theft.
I was fourteen when I bought it at a Wherehouse Music down the street from my mom’s house in Houston, pleading for an extra twenty dollars of allowance to indulge in my obsession with their song, “Banquet”. I spent that entire afternoon and night locked onto the couch with a Discman I stole from my brother. By then, he was on the tail end of his collegiate career and working at the university’s hotel. This meant he did silly things like buy cases of Rolling Rock and splurge on an iPod mini and leaving a lot of his things at my mom’s.
Bloc Party became one of my favorite bands at a little over the album’s 20 minute mark, when the twinkly guitar and cymbal hits of “This Modern Love” graced my pubescent ears and proceeded to reduce me to a pile of salt. The afternoon was turning blue I laid down on my couch and listened to the entirety of the album in one sitting. Then I listened to it again, skipping ahead to track 7.
Yesterday I chickened out on a yellow light and flung most of my back seat into the cupholders. Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots smacked itself onto the steering wheel lock that I seldom use. and my heart preemptively broke if that meant the end of my belting “Her name is Yoshimi, she’s a blackbelt in karate.” to the windshield.
I “borrowed” that album from my sister the year my mother and I moved to the States. She was a dead broke college grad and I spent a lot of time sitting around her apartment watching anime on VHS and listening to her music collection while they were out finding us an actual home and a car. When we were moving, she gave me a few things to pass the time: her old laptop, her copy of Diablo II, her crappy Dave & Busters won boombox and a few of her CDs on the grounds that I’d give them back eventually.
I’m 0 for 4 on those, but I’d like to think the statute of limitations has passed on that bit of being an obnoxious kid brother.
I’m going to apologize in advance, because this is going to be me talking about my life again, and not even in a manner that’s really open to “artistic interpretation” or is much of an “emotional distillation”. It’s just me, collecting myself. I turned a year older today, and I’m writing this eating mac and cheese.
It’s been a few years since I regularly started cooking for myself, and I’ve since upgraded from Kraft dinners to those Velveeta boxes that are still mainly plastic but also involve meats and seasonings rather than just a pot and “cheese” powder. It feels like the first time I cooked myself pasta that required actual effort instead of instant ramen. I don’t feel older, but I think this is how growing up feels.
Years, years ago I had a crush on a girl named Jennifer. It was right around the time text messaging was gaining traction. “hey rylan,” she texted me one September night, “whats up??” A few weeks before that, my sister crammed her life into a few boxes and shipped them to Australia. She sold half of her furniture and gave the rest to my mom, who I was living with at the time. My room became the new home for her queen-sized Sealy mattress, and my old twin bed was exiled to the garage. “It feels weird lying on this bed,” I wrote back in double-checked grammar, “It feels lonely.”
"what do u mean?" she sent back.
"There’s too much room here that’s meant for someone else."
Now, it’s four in the morning and it’s too hot for me to sleep. I stare into the myopic noise of the ceiling, pale from my laptop cracked open and my blinds barely shut. I’ve had my contacts in for the past three days and it’s starting to show. It’s been two weeks since I moved into this apartment and its only real amenities are a single lamp and an inflatable mattress. The pots, pans, and cutlery in the kitchen aren’t real until I set them loose from their plastic. There’s a rattle that’s coming from my phone. I break it from its USB tether and the glass feels foreign to my thumb. “I know you’re one of those people who doesn’t sleep til 5,” a text message reads. It’s from Martha.
I met Martha in a corner underneath some stairs, at a rained-in house party. Shoes squeaked past as we talked about poetry. She wore thick Ray-Ban glasses that drooped and bisected her almond eyes, her hair had one large red thread running through the black. It was a shock against the eggshell plaster of the walls. Her voice tasted like cream cheese and it wasn’t long until we barreled past the pretension and yelled at each other about pop culture over the club bangers crashing their way from a cheap speaker system.
We moved to the party’s single couch as soon as the couple eating each other’s faces decided to move further. She told me she drove an Aztek, like Walter White from Breaking Bad. She didn’t know that Ziggy Stardust and David Bowie were the same person, but she knew the names of everyone in Animal Collective. We bonded over crying, drunk and alone, to the disillusioned melancholy of LCD Soundsystem’s “All My Friends”.