I hate Maryland.
I graduated from grad school with next to nothing—at least financially. I have some decent clips, celeb profiles and album reviews mostly. And a degree from NYU, which when working in the arts, is about the equivalent of having the latest Louie V. at Fashion Week. It practically stamps, ‘artsy and articulate’ on your forehead. The problem? No one gives a remote damn about “artsy” down here. If you’re not a lawyer or some sort of government contractor/ worker/ affiliate, you’re pointless.
My mother toyed with the idea of charging me rent, either to be petty or piss me off, or encourage me to get a job sooner. My father quickly kaboshed that idea. He just wants me to find a job—here, New York, anywhere, before my health insurance runs out in September.
I stay depressed through mid-January. I refuse to unpack any of my boxes, but I do manage to stay motivated enough to check every site I can think of for job openings. Every morning, I send out my cover letter and resume— at least 5 a day, 5 days a week. Only to jobs in New York. And I go to the gym everyday. Twice a day, I run three miles to a bootleg of Lauryn Hill Unplugged. “Please God, come free my mind,” I play on repeat, begging and singing along. I cry on the treadmill. To say I am a mess would be an understatement.
I have a glimpse of “normal” every Friday and Saturday when I go out to get bent beyond recognition. At 22, that’s pretty much everyone’s goal, so I don’t look too out of sorts. I get so wasted most nights that I literally can’t think about New York. My weekend activities quickly start to seep into the weekday.
It’s during an attempt to get wasted one Thursday— and indication that I’m getting worse— when I’m out to to dinner with Sabby (yes, that one) that I meet a guy.
Let’s call that guy Pooah, since that was my nickname for him at the time. He was pouring drinks behind the bar and I noticed that he fit my quals—dark brown, wide nose, broad shoulders, diesel arms. Sabby said he’d gone to school with us, but I don’t recognize him.
I strike up a conversation.
“Hey, are you six feet?”
He assesses me. “5’11,” he says after a long pause.
“Oh…” Not tall enough. I have a six-foot minimum. I tell him as much.
He laughs. “When I take you out, I’ll wear Timbs so I meet your requirement. Will that work?” He grins. It’s like the sun peaking through the sky on a cloudy day.
I smile. It’s the first time in a long time.
Within 24 hours, I’ll be back at his bar. And I’ll quickly learn that I like him because he’s as dysfunctional as I am. He’d dropped out of college 3 credits shy of his degree. The university let him walk for graduation (they assumed he’d get the three credits in summer school), but didn’t issue the diploma for obvious reasons. His mother had attended his big day in May, of course. I think he’s the first in his family to “graduate.” His mom still has no clue that her son doesn’t actually have a degree.
Anyway, he’d gotten a job as a bartender with the intention of raising enough money to pay for that last class. But the hours at the bar were long and the money was too good. That and he’d rather ball at our old-college gym than go to class. So he kept earning, and stacking even, and balling, and never went back. That was about a year ago.
When he’s honest, which he usually is when I meet up with him at IHOP at 3AM when he gets off work, he feels like a complete screw-up. He lacks the real will to change his circumstance though. I feel like a failure for not being in New York. And getting back is such an overwhelming task with no money, no job, no prospects, no house… oh God, I can’t even think about it. I feel like I can’t do anything to change my circumstances either.
Anyway, Pooah and I make a great match… especially since he lets me, Ace, and Sabby drink for free at the bar every weekend. Won’t even let us leave a tip.
Pooah is what finally lifts my mood. Slightly. I start doing my hair again, take it out of the ever-present bun it has been snatched into for almost a month. I actually put make-up on, and unpack more than sweatpants. I still chain-smoke on the backsteps multiple times a day, but I don’t do it all day since Pooah hates the smell of smoke. I’m miles from my usual self, but some would call this progress.
Pooah and I talk constantly. I mean like obsessively. Since all I talk about is 1) how much I hate Maryland; and 2) how much I miss New York, he encourages me to just go…
A good friend, Michelle, has a healthcare internship and a two bedroom apartment on the East side. I hop an Amtrak and go stay with her, then head back to my internship at Oneworld to see if there are any stories that need writing or if anyone has a lead on jobs. I time my visits to New York around Oneworld parties (legendary) just so one of my old editors can take me by the hand and introduce me to any other editors who might offer me a job or a writing assignment.
My parents also take mercy on me a few times and put me up in a hotel in NYC. There was about a month where I stayed at a hotel for week, then my girl’s spot, back to the hotel, back to my girl’s. At some point, I notice that I barely consume anything beyond a casual drink and never smoke when I’m in New York. I feel invigorated, inspired. Like myself. As soon as I got on the Amtrak home, I start crying.
In March, Pooah, who has been around just long enough for me to start to adore, shows up at my house to take me to the movies.
We’re goofing around in the kitchen, when the light catches him funny.
I screw up my face. “What’s that?” I ask, pointing to his neck.
He covers it with his hand. “Oh, I got scratched playing basketball.”
I’m depressed, not stupid.
I pull his arm down and he lets me, then I look at him real good in the light.
It’s a hickey. I didn’t put it there.
Back when I was in high school, I got my first and last hickey. It was an accident. A friend did it joking around. But that story doesn’t sound believable to anybody.
My godmother saw it and was livid. “When a man gets a new car, he cherishes it,” she says. “He polishes it, he shines it, keeps it clean, smelling good.
“He doesn’t put dents it, let it get banged up. You treat a hooptie that way. You don’t care about it cause it’s a throwaway car. It’s what you drive while you dream about something better. You ain’t no hooptie, D. Don’t let no man put no hickeys on you.”
I’ve never had one or given on since.
“Get out,” I tell Pooha.
He tries to reason with me, but I kick him out anyway. I wasn’t mad. I just wasn’t stupid.
I see him a few times after that. My girls and I still go to his bar, but we sit at a table and pay for drinks now. He sends over free drinks, I send them back.
I smoke more than ever now— and in public, which I haven’t done before. I’m more mad at myself that I’ve gotten caught up in a man instead of keeping my eye of the prize — getting back to New York— than I am he’d been sexing some chick. I wonder when he had the time. I was on the phone with the man constantly. But I guess if there’s a will, there’s a way.
I’ve been back home three months and I have nothing to show for it. No man, no job, no money, and no New York.