Something tragic must have happened but the sirens snapped me fast awake in a way my procession of phone alarms never do. A couple months ago, I started a daily movie discussion group that gives me passable doses of socialization and structure. Mumblecore is a film movement defined by low budgets, close-cropped shots of blackheads and the oily skin of actors who look like regular people, and loose scripts which give way to mostly improvised dialogue, all adding up to the closest narrative cinema has ever gotten to the pulse of real life, turning the tiniest emotional nuances into the end of the world. Joe Swanberg’s 74-minute-runtime Art History took me 4 hours to watch because I kept having to pause and sob on the floor. All day, I was pure Pavlov’s dog; the VEEDER-ROOT would beep until I silenced it so it was my job to jump from my desk and press the red button, soon impulsively jumping at different disruptions. It takes me two weeks to get adjusted to being at work and two weeks to get adjusted to being at home, which means I’m not. I have been eating, at most, one full meal a day. I spoke with my therapist about sleep hygiene and made the decision to stop using my bed for anything other than sleep. I didn’t follow through but did wake up reasonably early for a Saturday. A loud romantic argument went down at 4am on a work night and I looked outside to see both lovers were maskless. Minor daily frustrations, like a text message when I’m trying to focus, or someone nearby saying “Hello!” to a friend louder than needed, have the power to rattle and derail me so hard it takes upwards of 40 minutes of zoning out to regain composure and get back to what I was doing. When in the kitchen speaking on the phone with Jackie, one of my best friends, I looked out the window just in time to witness the act of a man pissing on the side of my building; he looked up and witnessed my witnessing while seeing his stream to completion. Regarding the piss man, I said, “This is it, this is my sentence for the day,” and Jackie told me to jot it down. Another friend, Andrew, has been deep in the sharp rut of a mental health crisis, and I’ve exerted a lot of time and energy and concern into being there for him, trying to ease him back on track, but my efforts fell on deaf ears, he continued not to help himself and I got angry with him, but then, through reminding myself he is younger, and remembering how I, at the age he is now, exhibited the same tendencies and behaviors, I was able to forgive him, and tell him the things I wish someone had told me when I was unwell and needed to vent but refused to listen. I’m addicted to always being around for anyone I care about, so it deeply hurts whenever I have to say, “Hey, I can’t talk for an hour or two.” A notification dinged thinking I would want to see the photo from January of Pola happy in her kitchen, about to eat the balsamic glazed steaks I made for us and the mashed potatoes she made for us, with the dying flowers in the foreground. You would think my phone would be artificially intelligent enough to know we haven’t been speaking. I was paranoid about the car parked suspiciously outside and kept peeking; I couldn’t determine for sure if anyone was inside but I felt eyes and wondered if they felt mine and were peeking too, locking both parties in a ceaseless paranoia loop. I had a dream so disturbing I worry even describing it without description won’t allow me to fully forget it. My hands tremble too much to do things. My therapist warned against starting a book club today, because the more I try to force myself to read, the harder it will become to unlearn the things that make it impossible, but I had already assembled the group, and enough had received the book for me to say “Today’s the day,” and so it was. We are reading and discussing a piece each day from the Tyrant anthology where each writer writes about their pets. The only way I can read is if a patient friend will sit with me and listen as I read aloud and forgive me for my sidetracks and the long lulls I need to take to figure everything out. When we all video chat, the pet owners among us flash their pets through their webcams. This, paired with the prose in the book, has made me more seriously consider adopting a pet. I thought of a dog, I thought of a cat, I thought of a bearded dragon; I thought I should hold off until I can fully take care of myself again. My therapist likened my inability to silently read to an identity crisis. I have an unexplained paper cut on my thumb which I can’t help but mindlessly rub. From the second shot of Take Me Somewhere Nice, I developed a movie crush on its lead actress and didn’t shut up about it during discussion; Sarah said, “She kinda really looks like Pola,” and LJ said, “She does! But I didn’t say anything because I didn’t want to upset you.” She texted to check in and let me know she had moved into her new apartment and it’s strange to think how neither of us will step into her old bedroom again, and how I might never visit the new one. In Minneapolis, a cop murdered a black man named George Floyd while three other cops allowed it to happen; I’m furious and saddened and though my fury and sadness are autobiographical, this is not my story to tell; it is, however, reality for people I love; I called a friend who is white and not a writer to ask his advice, noticed my mistake, hung up; then texted Steven Dunn, a friend who is black and is a writer and asked if it was okay to call him to explain the dilemma—shortly after, we hopped on the phone, I voiced all this and he said, “That’s the sentence you need to write.”

 

 

Steven Arcieri lives in Boston. He is writing a sentence about himself every day for a decade. Read em and weep, boys.

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