2 Blunts at the End of the World
I’m at the sublet on Madison Avenue. That’s where I am when the world is ending. Madison and 96th. Though, to be honest, I can’t quite remember clearly. It could’ve been on 99th Street. But we’re just going to say Madison and 96th. Because if I’ve learned anything, it’s that the past is malleable.
Anyway, I’m at the sublet on Madison and 96th. It’s 10 am and I’m already 2 blunts in. I don’t know why my neighbors don’t call the super on me. Maybe they feel bad for the little college student who is graduating when the world is ending.
My midwestern grandmother calls me. “How is it in the hotbed of COVID?”
She must’ve heard this on the news because the phrase hotbed of COVID is too succinct, too pointed for it to be anything other than a carefully crafted news story.
And there’s plenty of those going on. Aerial shots of empty New York streets bombard TVs and phones all day long. At this point, I’ve learned to shut it off. Because I’m living it. Instead, I smoke 2 blunts before 10 am.
After this ritual, I dress in whatever the fuck and go for a walk. The grocery store on my street is shut down, so I have to walk 10 extra blocks to the open grocery store. The news stories are right though; once-bustling streets now look like a De Chirico painting.
I take the long way to the grocery store. I like to walk down Fifth Avenue because then I can pass by the Guggenheim.
She’s a magnificently enigmatic structure. Swirling stucco smack in the middle of sharp, grey buildings. I feel like her. Beautifully out of place. What am I doing here anymore?
What am I doing here?
It’s 3 in the afternoon and I’m holding her hand. She’s 5’2” on a good day, so I have to bend down to kiss her.
And I do kiss her. In front of an ominous canvas in the middle of a swirling stucco building at 3 in the afternoon.
I can’t remember what we talk about, so I’ll make it up.
I point to the oversized canvas, “What do you think it means?”
She shrugs, and we move on, climbing up, up, up the swirling incline.
We make it to the top and start to walk back down. She takes pictures of me in front of esoteric artwork. I think, I am a muse and someone is making art about me. But something doesn’t feel right.
Because this morning, it took 2 blunts to wake her up at 10 am and get her out of bed. We missed our brunch reservation, so, per her request, we stayed in bed and smoked for breakfast. Tobacco and marijuana and coffee. Breakfast of champions.
I’m surprised we even made it to the museum. But we did. And now that I’m here, I’m happy. I am among great minds and the fruits of their creativity. It makes me feel less alone in the overcrowded, bustling city. I can look into a painting until I disappear into it, trance-like. Although, maybe that’s the weed talking.
But I find myself in front of a pale pink canvas. I stare at it: a glowing pyramid flanked by obelisks. The painter was one of those mystics who dropped acid and let the spirits speak to her when she created. And I’m there too, high, exhausted. And maybe if I take a step closer I can pass into the canvas. If I just reach out, my fingers can pass the barrier of here and there…
She puts her hand on my shoulder.
I’m in the Guggenheim.
We walk outside. The cool, fall breeze kisses my cheek. Her hand is in mine. I know this. But my arm feels so long, she could be leagues away. Is she even there at all?
What am I doing here anymore?
The grocery store is tiny. The clerk eyes me up and down. He does this every time I come in. Which is nearly every day. Besides smoking 2 blunts before 10 am, this is all I have on my daily docket. I can’t tell if I want him to ask me for my number or not.
Instead, I pass him for the produce. Overripe grapes and badly bruised bananas and maybe a clove of garlic.
I scan the refrigerated section.
She’s there, in the reflection of the refrigerator doors.
I whip around. She’s behind me. Looking at the overripe grapes and badly bruised bananas and perhaps even a clove of garlic.
She looks up. Her face changes. Maybe she sees the panic that immediately washes over my face.
She walks over and says those dreaded words, “So… how are you?”
I run through any line of dialogue I can think of. I’m doing great, how are you? You look well. I’m keeping busy. I don’t cry or smoke too much or think of you at all.
“The world is ending,” is what I settle on.
She nods, “That’s one way to put it.”
I shuffle my feet. “Uh… how are you?”
“Oh, shit. That’s right, I forgot.” And then after a while, “How do you feel?”
I’ve always been 6 years younger than her. I used to try desperately to buffer that gap, but no matter what I’m always 6 years younger than her.
She chuckles sadly, “I keep thinking, I don’t know what I’m doing anymore.”
We walk home, hand in hand. When I open the door, there’s a cake on the coffee table. Happy 22nd Birthday is crudely written in frosting. Try as she might, she was never much of an artist.
“Oh shit. That’s right, I forgot.”
“You forgot your own birthday?”
To be honest, I haven’t remembered a birthday in a while. Ever since I moved to New York from the Midwest I started feeling more and more anonymous. As though the city absorbed me and I became just another moving part.
She kisses me and lights the candles.
“Make a wish.”
I close my eyes and think.
I think of the city. And of myself in the city. I’ve been here for five years now. I think of when I first moved here. An unpleasant, August day where hot garbage juice dripped down the city sidewalks.
I think of the last time I had a birthday cake. It must’ve been my 17th birthday. I think of my mother, who inevitably made the cake. And made all the cakes for the previous 17 years of my life.
I think of home. The flat, Indiana plains. The endless fields of green corn, the golden hairs poking out the top, reaching for the brilliant sun. I think of the nights I spent hiding in cornfields, smoking with high school friends. People I’m not in contact with anymore.
“Are you gonna make a wish?”
My eyes snap open
“Yeah, sorry. I was just thinking of something good.”
I close my eyes again.
I take a breath in.
I blow out the candles.
“Yay! Happy Birthday!”
I open my eyes.
Happy 24th Birthday is written in frosting on a cake that sits in front of me.
My mother kisses me on the cheek.
“Are you happy to be home?”
I look up at her.
“I don’t know what I’m doing.”
Haley Glickman (she/her/hers) is an Indianapolis-based writer, actress, and poet. Her work is a love letter to Midwestern queers, a celebration of nontraditional bodies and lifestyles that exist in traditional settings. Her essay “What’s There to be Proud of in Indiana?” was featured on Sixty Inches From Center. Her poetry will be published in Sinister Wisdom Literary Magazine in 2023. www.haleyglickman.com