[Voicemails in Slow Dissociation]

by Judy Xie


 
[Voicemails in Slow Dissociation]

The line buzzes. She does not place the phone back in the receiver and wheels away. 
I worked at a nursing home for the past four years. Last year I was moved up to the front-desk and handled calls and received minimum wage. Jancie liked calling her daughter from the phone at the desk so that she could say every time her daughter failed to visit that she was already waiting at the door. Jancie would also say everything that her daughter was doing wrong with her/ with her life/ her daughter/ her non-husband/ it was like a compulsion– she couldn’t make it stop. There's just so much wrong. You know, you can’t even begin to unpack it all-

          I don’t know where to start. 
          (beep)
          God. Judy. Just pick up. 
          (beep)

Janice Lee Wroth founded her town’s first Girl Scout Troop. One of her special skills was hiding food. When they moved her into the home they found food everywhere. Behind bookcases/ in drawers/ uneaten goods/ half-opened snacks. Her daughter cleared everything out and never looked back.

I can’t say the same.

As I drive, the town 
Splits past me
Quickly losing definition 
It's the past you can’t keep 
This is a lie
You parodied Shakespeare, Macbeth
Said you were equally him as you were Caulfield or Heathcliff had 
Never heard a Jersey Accent
That didn’t belong 
You looked at me
And scoffed at everything 
Couldn’t possibly know
That I’ve held you at the edge
Of thought all day held
You the way I day-ache 
For the sunlight falling on

The imagined would-be dorms 
Of Broadway
Block and blocks
Light pooled in cubicles
The glitching PESI-COLA sign above
The Hudson, the Hudson smoothed / dark 
Like a sheet of black ice

You used to complain 
That sunsets in the city like
The stars were not much to 
look at
often/ always
The sky went from gray/ blue 
to straight purple and then black
None of that tropical ombré. Muted. 
Was how you described the city
Late, last night, 
You remind me


         Our highschool they demolished it. Just like that, 
         They’ve torn it down.
         (beep)
         You know. I went to see it. I went and I got there and it was just 
         wreckage. I went over to the place and it collapsed. So I hoisted myself 
         up there to where the secret auditorium mid-ceiling would’ve been. Don’t 
         act like you don’t remember it or us or everyone back home. I’m walking 
         along the top of all this shit, our shit, and then I stepped through a 
         weak board or something and this upright nail went clear through my foot. 
         It hurt. It really hurt. It’s fine. But listen: I’m up here, you hear me ? 
         Stuck right here waiting for someone to get me And now I’m here waiting.          
         God fuck you for -
         (beep)

         Hey.
         Hey.
         It’s the second time that’s happened.
         What?
         The nail in the foot.
         Huh?
         When we were in middle-school, we didn’t know each other.
         Yeah. You moved here later.
         Do you remember the reason why we became friends?
         You were a nice- not bad looking girl that spoke to me?
         Noooo. We were both kid runners. And we talked about that. About how we 
         would dread every Sunday Morning because that’s when the cross-country          
         races were. And how I’d make myself throw up fruit and hash browns to get 
         out of running but it never worked. Or how when my teammates and I did 
         warm-up and walked past by my puke-piles I would shout in gross- 
         exclamation with them. Deny all ownership of my puke. And then you told 
         me, puke was some sissy shit. We were both so afraid of those 
         participation ribbons but we always broke the top ten every time and we 
         were so scared. But there was that last race, the regional one before          
         nationals and it was the worst the absolute worst and–
         Woah slow down. We’re not running anymore.
         We’re not. Your grandparents came all the way from Colorado to cheer you 
         on.
         I remember. I told you about that?
         Yeah.
         Barely 10.
         We were.
         Drove my foot right through a nail.

The day we met.
We found out that-

You and I both liked hiking, it turns out, as well as Smashing Pumpkins, weird looking socks (not cute/ weird) midnight pretentious film screenings, and drugstore chapsticks. The first time we hung out, we climbed this giant rock / well you scaled it and I foot marched my way up and then you took out the spray-paint threw me a can and said-well, you like art - paint something that’s better than the crap that’s here. And you turned away and just stared at the view for hours.

For the first few years, we were certain that the rain was ours. Because every time I saw you it’d be drizzling, pouring, hailing and we'd chase each other through the woods up this very path with the sky opening wide. God, I felt like I was in wonderland. Sometimes in the spring when everything was humid and warm the path so washed by the rain, would occasionally acquire a thick sludge of unidentified sediments and rocks; on days like that, I’d dip my finger in like it was pudding and smear wet gunk all over the back of your ankles, laughing.

You were good at building furniture, making toast with oregano and eggs and hitting the bullseye with one eye squinted. But best of all were your stories. Back then, I loved nothing more than lying on your knees and just listening to you. I would stare at the sky just as I am now. You told me once that your family sailed along Africa, something about your dad trying to re-imagine himself as Vasco Da Gama or something like that. There was a terrible storm and you were little, little-you emphasized- and your older sister was told to man the sails but you, well you were so scared, and you couldn’t stop crying. So your parents duct- taped you to the post, told you to keep watch on the waves and to shout when a particularly large one came, but you screamed and failed so hard that it didn’t really matter. And at the end of it your arms were rubbed red. God, I was such a pussy back then.

         I want to be in preschool again and all I want is to just play with legos 
         or foam mats. 
         (beep)
         Where are you? How are you? I guess it's been a while.
         (beep)

And at first
I didn’t like your
Gentleness the same way I didn’t like
 Feeling my eyes adjust
to the dark 
Learning 
Every morning
Of what life could've been in Garamond instead of 
Times new-roman

         They’ve given me two nicknames. One of them is Fruity Flutey- you’re not 
         the only one who’s picked that one out and dug your finger into the open 
         wound. Ha. Ha.
         Ha. I don’t know. There’s not much to say. I can’t really talk about the 
         other stuff. Like the other nickname. That’s for another day.
         (beep)
         We have other days right?
         (beep)

That was life in courier-new. 
Which is to say
If we were scripted it would sound unreasonable 
The way sleeping people
Meet each other
How they are on time 
But without a place 
And how it would be 
Very possible for us to
Wander aimlessly around the city or
In a dream missing each other in REM or Avenues 
And for this to be completely okay because

         Judy, it’s the sentiment that counts
         (beep)
         You’re as awful as me. I don’t see what you’re trying to prove
         (beep)

When we have the “talk” to discuss 
The status of whatever the fuck we are

I cannot bring myself 
To or look
And I can feel myself
Mummified my lips wrapping, unwrapping 

         So what do you want to call this?
         Idk.
         Do you want to hold hands? Make gross smiley faces? Text good morning and 
         goodnight? And gush all those repetitive/ sapped/stupid/ qualifying 
         things? 
         No. I don’t know.
         Well. What do you want because I’m fine with how it is now.
         Yeah. Yeah. Me too. I’m sorry.
         Okay then. Can we stop this?

I deflate. Because no it’s not option A or B or C but all of the above. And by above I mean when we lie in the middle of a field the stars are pinned to the blacklit winking as they die. Because I’m not capable of sound or pitch anymore
And it all comes out like a carnival electric/ crazed/ 
Say xiang and the pulse of shantytown plays out 
Talk of wei lai
And think of nights in airbnb, bodies exhausted and calm under car roofs 
Songs that give us
Shared looks , for a moment, for a few moments 
In between pauses, watch
Our vowels crawl out here
 Mid-sentence-

I do not want to become familiar 
With another voicemail
I think this- is the most painful thing to think about
    1. Leaving you
    2. Someone else
    3. They become you
I don’t want to do it all over again.
Yes, I recognize that we are in a place, a not so good place
                           I’m not stupid
                           Or delusional
Or whatever else they might have you believe.

         Please pick up. 
         (beep)

         Do you remember…
         (beep)

in the Summertime
         The mosquitoes that were large enough to fly us away.
But to you it had always been about the trees: large and swooping. The way the light just so dappled and grinning
         falling in stretches
catches on the branches and curls anxiously against the shade.
I felt the blush in my toes. The shyness of it all
         like the brushing of shoulders.
And I think I’m starting to understand. 
My spine cool along the bark.
You promised me that when the sun explodes it’ll sound like 
laughing
         spraying nebula 
into our waiting arms. 
And of course,
the trees will be there 
lines of beautiful
beautiful
         spotlights.
Peeking through the groves
         It’ll be marvelous. 
         We’ll be married.
Your hands curled around a branch.
         You break it.
Again and again 
because the mosquitoes 
         are here now 
and they are ready to fly.

But now it is 2 A.M. And I am on the Hudson Greenway. I have on a pair of roller blades and I can hear you say - pick up your feet- you have to pick them up. And under the streetlamps I chase blurry figures ahead of me cruising on longboards. We are like dancing strobe lights and there are giants to our right and the river to our left. We could be a carnival game to them- the giants hover over us all the time This must be what dreams feel like or chaos. We arrive at a little red lighthouse, and it is all  senseless.

         Thank you Judy.
         I am currently standing outside it is 12:19 the sky is very clear. I’m 
         outside my dad's house I just drove over from my mom’s house because I 
         focus better at my mom's house I guess for some reason but I’m standing 
         outside inches away, not inches.
         That's an exaggeration I’m multiple feet from the front door.I’m gonna 
         thank you for the congratulations. I didn't pick up not out of choice but 
         well my phone is on do not disturb so I guess it is out of choice so 
         essentially the first call for me would be an immediate hang up so I guess 
         maybe if you called twice? I was probably in the car anyways but foggy and 
         at night and your voice distracting me …. Yeah I don’t know how well I’d 
         do. Thank you for congratulating me. I’m not sure if I ever formally and 
         verbally congratulated you for getting into school if I didn’t 
         congratulate- Judy, congratulations. If you’re awake you can listen to 
         this. If not.. I’ll see you tomorrow. Have a good one.
         (beep)

And I let the one’s flood in.

About the Author

Judy Xie is the editor-in-chief at The Columbia Review and attends Columbia University. Her work has been published in PolyphonyHs, Lunch Ticket,  Into the Void, and Permafrost, among others. However, she is most known for consisting of at least 50% ice cream.