“The worst part about anything that’s self-destructive is that it’s so intimate” -Lacey L.
The sun was fat and hot on the tracks as I woke up against the train window to the metallic screech of wheels on rails. My mouth was dry and my teeth ached, last night’s liquor sat sour in my stomach. I had to pee. I kneaded my thumb into the spot between my eyes, regretting all of it. I imagined how I must have stumbled through the station, I wondered if I even paid. Unlike most sad women in their twenties, I needed to be far away from the fuss of New York City and all of its noise. The last thing I remembered was her showing up at my door, sweating on July sidewalks, and walking into a bar alone. Looking outside the window, I thought of Maeve.
I met Maeve in college, in the thrust and thrill of youth and booze and the feeling that nothing really mattered. She had knocked on my door and I opened it to a pale girl in a towel, water dripping from blonde hair half way down her back. She had asked me if she could borrow clothes because she locked herself out of her room and campus police were coming. She had bony freckled shoulders, one with a scar which she would later tell me came from accidentally driving over the guardrail and into a tree. Post-surgery was when she had first tried percs.
Maeve had a pink couch that she liked putting cigarettes out on and lots of plants she never watered. She like listening to Nora Jones and Amy Winehouse and wearing thrifted clothes that were too big for her angular frame. In the evenings falling sun would coat the room in honey from her murky window and she would spin and dance while I sat on the couch and rolled my eyes. She had a pile of toy cars she stole from the pharmacy and lots of fast food cups. She always chewed her straws. I only ever saw her eat candy and Nissin cup noodles back then, even though she came from money and could probably afford better. At the time I was waitressing at a restaurant where they made me pay for meals so I had been eating the food off of customers plates after clearing tables. Maeve was selfish and devastated me over and over again but she had big round brown eyes and knew how to make everyone laugh.
Our senior year Maeve decided she was in love with the boy I had been seeing, and then she fucked him while she was high on mescaline and I was at work. When she told me about it the next night she had the voice of an apologetic child and I had forgiven her under an indigo sky. We had sat there drinking red wine from the gas station, tears melting into both of our cheeks as she told me about an abortion she had had years before. I think she was one of the only people I ever really loved. Rain fell on the cement railing we sat on, each drop inky navy in the dark like a piece of falling sky. Dull, fading smoke had surrounded Maeve’s gold hair.
On the train I stood after being still too long and stretched out the pain in my legs. I moved throughout the car to try use the bathroom, touching my palm into the top corner of each aisle seat I passed. By the door there was a man that looked like Mike and my body went cold. It wasn’t him of course, so I sat on the toilet and wondered if I needed a therapist.
As a student, Maeve was studying psychology. She said she wanted to be a counselor even though she had stopped taking her SSRIs because she thought they were preventing her from coming up on ecstasy. She never finished her degree because she left for Mardi Gras a few months before graduation. She didn’t come back. She later told me she had hitched a ride with some guys she met and clunked up towards Boulder. Weaving in and out of fraternity houses, never paying rent, seeing opportunity in the disregard of every bender. When she tells the story she does it tediously, fixating on an obscure detail every time. My favorite was how she started keeping all of her money and cards in a tampax box so no one would rob her if she was strung out.
She came to New York the summer after I graduated, with a boyfriend—Ed, Ned? Some variation. They decided they wanted to do bath salts in the bathtub, and I went to find her after she had called me for the first time in five months. I had moved to the city for grad school and was living in Queens on financial aid and tips from the gentrified bar I was working at. I had taken the F line into Manhattan and found her at the address she had sent. Wrapped in a towel with a banged head and a fat lip, she sat on the stained carpet of a dirty hotel hallway. The woman I had found online to live with had just been laid off and skipped out, so I let Maeve move in with me.
She never talked about her parents but every month they sent me a check while she lived with me. Maeve wouldn’t give me their phone numbers, and I could never find their online profiles because I didn't know their first names. I sent a note to the return address at one point saying that after the six-month lease ended we had a rent increase. It was a lie but I wrote it off morally because Maeve was a disaster. She stopped getting fired from restaurant jobs when she stopped trying to work in restaurants and started taking benzos. It was like dancing around a fire while also trying to put it out. I got her to go to therapy, they just gave her more pills. I was worried about the men she was seeing. When she pushed over the kitchen table, broke a lamp, and head-butted me while I tried to take her phone, I kicked her out and told her to check herself into rehab. She came back the next morning and I made her pancakes. Sometimes she would go to the deli on the corner and come back with flowers for me. Other times she would sleep through the day and watch children’s movies all night. She would crawl into my bed some nights and snot and tears and makeup would run down her face. I would gently graze my fingertips over the back of her t-shirt and feel how her ribs were sticking out and wonder how we all get to the places we choose to go. I didn’t really know what to do with her. Then she started dating Mike.
I had convinced her to join a NA group and Mike was the cousin of a friend she made there. Mike dropped meth into his coffee every morning. I told her not to date him, I cried to her not to date him. She dated him. His psychosis was bad and he meticulously kept a journal where he documented everything he did. He left it by our toaster one morning and while they were high in the bedroom I read through it. He was living in his car and sleeping under trees (Maeve said he was living with family). He wrote about government conspiracies and referenced the “committee” which I presumed were the voices inside his head. He always laughed at nothing and his jitters were frightening.
She would go missing with him but usually came back in a few days, always cooked. I tried to draw the line when he hit her over the head with a bottle. She had a black eye that swelled when she cried to me about it. I yelled at her that it was too far, I wrote her parents a letter saying she needed treatment. I threatened to fill out the form to get her involuntarily committed. She locked herself in the bathroom then left in the middle of the night.
Mike was definitely handsome once, he had dark curly hair and piercing light eyes, and his skin was tanned from being outside so often. When I met him, though, he looked gaunt and wasted. He smelled like body odor and had missing teeth. Maeve’s parents never wrote me back.
When I sat back in my seat on the train I looked out the window again and watched us fly by a station without halting. We hurtled forward with no remorse.
After Maeve left I realized Mike had convinced her to get rid of her phone number because he believed they were being traced. For 6 months I couldn’t find her because she was using burner phones. I filed a missing person’s report and kept the last batch of flowers she had given me in their vase and watched the petals flake off one by one. I paid for white pages to see an online criminal record saying that Mike was in contempt of court for not showing up to a hearing after a DWI. Every night I imagined where she could be sleeping, thinking of the time in college when I found her asleep in the bushes outside our apartment building after a party. She had thrown her hands over her head, smiled, and said she was going to switch to studying environmental science because the grass and stars were all she needed.
I never thought I would see Maeve again until she showed up at the apartment that summer. When I opened the door she walked past me and stood by the kitchen sink. Her blonde hair was long and wet from the rain. She looked at me up and down, told me I looked like I gained some weight and then asked if she could borrow clothes. Her eyes were misty and I knew she was on something. She wore jean shorts that were tiny and loose and I could see her tampon string hanging down like a rat tail. She had bangles on her wrist that chimed like tambourines when pushed around the magnets on the fridge. She had lost weight that she couldn’t afford to lose but she still had freckles and high cheekbones and I decided to see her the same way I always had. It was like when you have known someone your whole life and even when they are old and gray you still see the smooth skin of their 18-year-old face.
I asked her if she wanted water and she told me that she was sorry that she abandoned me for drugs like my mother had when I was 12 and she overdosed. She said it without emotion, like it was a fact. I guess it was a fact.
I didn’t even react. Maeve opened the fridge got out the orange juice and continued that she thought I only cared about her because I was trying to prove something to myself. She spoke with clarity and I wondered for a minute if she was sober. I noticed she had scraped her knee and her ankles were swollen when I ran my eyes up and down her legs looking for skin popping or something horrible. She got down a thick glass cup and I watched her pour the oj in and take a sip, her lips lingering on the rim. I asked her what clothes she needed, got them, and handed them to her. Our fingers brushed and until that moment I had a hard time believing she was tangible—really right there in the kitchen. I would have to wash the glass she was drinking out of.
I thought I might cry and then she said, “Do you ever think about what it would be like to die? Like what if I took things too far?”
“Maeve, you shouldn’t say things like that.”
I walked past her out my own door and into the July heat.
The train car was suffocating because of all of the bodies and the summer heat. We passed another station. I wondered if the train was ever going to stop.