VI

I am six years old, and have just gotten out of the tub. It is Sunday evening, the time each week when it is decreed by the authorities from on high that I must bathe, lest I get head lice or body lice or “smell like a homeless”. After my bath, my mother wraps me in a towel, and then I quickly scurry out to the family room, where I am allowed to stay up past my usual bedtime to watch 60 Minutes with my father. He takes a scratchy wool blanket and wraps me up tightly, towel and all, so tight I can barely breathe. Although I loudly complain, I secretly like it. Because I am small, there is always a part of the blanket left over at the bottom — to which my father mock-gruffly commands “UP”, and in one smooth practiced motion he wraps and tucks the blanket under my damp feet. For the next hour I am quiet and content, at the center of the known universe.

I am 16 years old, and I am in high school. I am late to almost every class, because I am busy writing as many swear words as I can think of in every bathroom in the school. A counselor or school psychiatrist would call this form of rebellion “acting out”, but neither get the chance because I am never caught. My graffiti becomes nearly legendary, with the vulgarity and imagination I employ routinely shocking school officials and parents alike; at one point, there is even a sort of half hearted “sting operation” mounted with the help of the 9th grade English teacher, Mr. Campbell. I see it coming a mile away. Although a few of my friends know about my restroom alter ego, my real secret is that I draw nearly as many hearts as I do swear words. No one complains about those. No one notices.

I am 26 years old, and I live in New York City. The Big Apple, but no one who lives there is stupid enough to call it that. I live in an apartment I share with two other men, although we are all really boys. On Sunday afternoons, a girl I’m seeing comes to my house while both my roommates are out — one at a writing class, the other playing baseball — and we fuck. Later, we lay in bed and tell each other things that neither one of us has said aloud to anyone else, ever. My bedroom is in the back of the building, and looks out over a roof. The sunlight streams in through the window, crawling slowly across the floor, reminding me that God exists and that I need to buy curtains. The girl’s favorite sweatshirt of mine that she likes to wear is bright red with a white heart on the sleeve. I don’t tell her the story behind it, and she never asks. She is my roommate’s girlfriend. She tells me she loves him. She tells me this over and over. Eventually they move together into a different apartment.

I am 36 years old, and I live in Los Angeles, California. I wonder how long I’ll be alive, and what the room that I die in will look like. I wonder why it’s so hard to get out of bed in the morning. I wonder why it’s so cold in LA. I am in love with a girl, and I wonder how I am ever going to tell her. I remember laying next to a girl in New York as she cried in my bed, my hand in her hair, our naked hips touching. I remember the sea of blank faces frantically pushing past one another between high school classes and the sharp smell of a new marker. I remember the relentless ticking stopwatch at the end of 60 Minutes. Sometimes it’s impossible to tell someone else who you really are, no matter how hard you try.

The heat in my apartment is broken, and I curse the fact that, even wrapped tightly in a blanket, I am cold enough to need a sweatshirt inside while in Southern California. The sweatshirt has a white heart on its sleeve. I turn the TV off and go to bed.