Hipsters: Chapter 5

September 2008: "Citing Grave Financial Threats, Officials Ready Massive Rescue" (this is the end of Part I of "Hipsters" and I'll immediately publish Chapter 1 of Part II)

Citing Grave Financial Threats, Officials Ready Massive Rescue
--The Washington Post, September 23, 2008

He never referred to his wife by name.


They’d been married for four years and somehow that wasn’t long or short enough a time to make complete sense of leaving someone who did nothing wrong. I always said I didn’t want that and I was never sure if that was the truth. We were just having sex, I told myself, so I didn’t need to ask him about his family. The effect of his referring to his wife only as “She” had the opposite result of triggering me every time I heard the pronoun. It sounded too much like a nickname for Sheila.

I felt no guilt when they separated. He made it clear she was as disinterested as he was bored. Despite his charisma and disarming good looks, after a few years of sleeping and working with him, I understood where she might have given up keeping up with him. He was gregarious right up until he wasn’t. When he gave up, he would sink to the bottom, and there, no one could keep him company.

I was grateful it was Sheila who found his body, limp at the desk in his restaurant office. He’d shot himself in the head. I pictured how I would have reacted if I’d been the one to discover him and drew a complete blank. It was suicide, wasn’t it? Would it have mattered for any other reason than that now I was positive I could never commit suicide myself. I was actually disappointed. To envy the ability to kill oneself may seem untoward, but my family had buried two uncles to suicide, so you could say I was practiced in this morbid envy. With each new suicide I felt my opportunity to do likewise would be diluted in impact. That’s how I explained to myself why Peter’s death left me so deprived of conventional grief. No sobbing, no explicit remorse. Perhaps in some small worlds, there isn’t enough room for two precious iterations of the same idea. Certainly not suicide amidst three people who shared one lover.

The feelings I did have, were almost entirely for Sheila. The worst part of her discovering his body was that she had come to the office to deliver signed divorce papers. It was an insult on top of injury that the police would not add in their report, noting instead that they had been separated since 2006. And in lieu of a suicide note, Peter, who was not and was never diagnosed as clinically depressed or remotely suicidal, left a pile of paperwork all indicating that he was massively in debt. Astronomically broke and now beholden to three different collectors since the dissolution of a junk portfolio along with Lehman Brothers. I was momentarily impressed with the irony of how Japanese it was of him to kill himself over a debt. If I were being honest, Peter was a Japanophile, but I chose not to defame the recently departed. If I couldn’t grieve I could at least pay my respects.

Peter’s mood had shifted in perceptible ways over the past year and though I did think money must have been the root cause of his increased anxiety and fatigue, I’d selfishly let myself believe we were “good-stressed” from the tireless work we did on XX. And just like that, I became the anxious one, fatigued beyond comprehension.

I couldn’t get over the irony of my losing a job in time to give myself a sabbatical of bereavement, over the person whose death caused the loss of my job. It was hard to tell the difference between anxiety and excitement. I was mourning the death of someone for whom I would only be invisibly footnoted as a side piece when asked about officially, because his divorce from a wife he hadn’t seen in years wasn’t ever finalized. And almost a year to the date after throwing our office warming party, the business was liquidated in his neo-posthumous bankruptcy.

A low grade depression had surfaced but it felt disingenuous. At some point I was clearing a stack of copies of VICE in which I was first published, and thought of how I’d dodged a bullet (terrible metaphor) when they refused to run pieces online. Last thing I needed was someone to discover I’d been talking about shooting myself in the pussy. Gun jokes were probably off the table forever.

Was I sad because it was the way one was supposed to feel publicly about people who have passed away or was I allowing people to believe I was sad, and really I was just being myself, which was “a shit person.” I didn’t miss him. That was the part of all this mourning that felt strangest of all. I was stuck in a feedback loop of feelings that didn’t make complete sense. I was refusing the permission he’d granted me to be depressed by dying.

Depression, I use the word deliberately, manifested itself in an apathy toward life; an excuse to keep thinking about myself in abstract terms that made no meaningful sense. I had no fear of life or death anymore because it was all devoid of emotion. Unlike what I’d thought of as a near-death experience when I had the flu for the first time; unlike the spiritual ecstasy of falling in love, this was a superficial tenebrity. It affected only the sensory receptors of my mind, and did not feel profound. At least not deep enough to affect my sex drive. This bothered me the most.

I slept with four different men in the month after the funeral I did not attend. I don’t remember much about any of them except that I came, which is all that mattered. I wasn’t sure if Peter was “cold in his grave” yet, or if that mattered, if he was still the person I pictured in the grunts and moans of all four distinct intercisions.

But none of those things were signs of anxiety, which I kept waiting for in the wake of all this loss—of my boyfriend, of my livelihood. Instead, I was excited as a byproduct of a clear perception for nothingness.

The telltale screech of a policeman’s walkie talkie behind me. A bike chain idling as a cyclist glided through an intersection. The upper register of a woman yelling at a man. The lower registers of teenage boys teasing each other to impress the girls indolently watching from nearby. The particular smell of old people buying food for one at the bodega. Why were there so many people outdoors right now. How many of these people would I ever know and what if a single one of them were to recognize me? 

I must have known I needed help. I wandered into the Kim’s Music on St. Marks and aimlessly perused the staff recommendations. One staffer brushed past me and I noticed he did a double-take. I refused eye contact for fear it was someone I’d slept with and forgot worked here. He hurried to the back office away from me, probably having the same thought.

I saw in my peripheral vision that another clerk emerged from the back but he walked right up to me and waved. When I turned to face him I realized it was my brother.

“What are you doing here?” I asked.

“Uh, I work here?” Aaron said and laughed. I knew he worked at a CD store and probably knew it was Kim’s but had somehow thought it was on Second Avenue. Had he always been this close?

 “Greg works here too and said he thought he saw you out here looking kind of stoned so I came out to check and what do you know,” he said, affecting a hokey Southern singsong accent at the end of his sentence. “Are you stoned?”

“No,” I said.

And then he lifted his arms like the too fast toll gates on the Triboro Bridge, and I slowly made my way to giving Aaron a hug, though we weren’t classically “huggers” as evidenced by his awkward invitation, and then…what do you know, I started sobbing.

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