This is Blahsmopolitan, a column about one sophomore’s misfortune as he navigates his New Adult Life in Chicago. New stories are posted every other Thursday alongside an audio reading and a curated Blahsmo playlist to take the journey yourself. This week, our columnist has skips class, has digestive troubles, and goes home (whatever that means) in hopes you can learn from his mistakes.
My mom used to go to the movies alone.
She was sixteen years old and very, very cool. I mean cool in the sense that she was tough, a girl that nobody wanted to f*ck with, but a girl engulfed in so much effortless mystery that you wanted to know her with every fiber of your being. Digging through old stuff before I left for college, I found a picture of her from 1992, a little before my time, crouching down in shiny black Doc Martens, high white socks, french tip nails, a messy bun pulled up high, and a huge leather jacket with nothing underneath it, staring directly into the camera, looking like she had something to say.
Despite her overall Jewishness, she embodied cool- she reminded me of Madonna in her early days, or the no-nonsense girlfriend of someone in a biker gang. At the height of her high school career, she was enrolled in eight periods of study hall and one period of gym, which was of course dedicated to smoking pot. She was a very particular breed of popular- boys loved her, jealous girls were few and far between.
But despite all her options for company, before I moved out, she told me about her secret excursions to the movie theater by herself- in the shadows of the back rows, hiding in the hood of her sweater, not even risking a stop at the popcorn counter. She could not be seen by anyone.
Time went on and her bravery began to build. This time she would allow herself to move up two rows. The next time she would buy a Coke before finding her seat. The time after that, she’d buy a ticket to the movie she knew everyone at school was talking about. Eventually, it was a regular ritual, and she found herself alone in the middle of the crowd, her hand proudly atop her popcorn, smiling and laughing at the screen.
She told me that she experienced the most surreal feeling- leaving the theater and realizing there was nobody there to talk to about what she’d just seen. Finally a moment in which she didn’t feel like she had to fill the silence, because no one was there to force her to be anyone. It was the first time she felt like a grown-up.
I’d like to take this opportunity to share that I have not been able to take a sh*t in over a week.
I have tried everything, every trick in the book. I have pressed the base of my palms into my stomach and rolled and kneaded until my skin turned red. I have gotten on the ground and compacted my body into a tight ball and f*cking screamed. I have contorted my body like a mentally ill member of the Russian Olympic gymnastics team. I have done jumping jacks, I have put on looser underwear, I have watched 9/11 footage. I have rhythmically blocked and unblocked one of my grandmas on Facebook. But yesterday marked the eighth day I have spent in my bathroom to no avail.
My digestive system has always been my life’s greatest enigma- I am among a small percentage of humans capable of double fisting family sized bags of Lays to completion and not seeing any evidence outside of a new, hefty pendulousness to my tits. People tell me nightmare stories of complete blowout after a night of chugging beer and chasing with liquor and I envy them to my core. I want to be a husk of a person. I want release.
Today, I skipped out on class and drove home to the suburbs for the day. I’m from a cute little town just west of the city where around 8,000 people have gathered to either retire, be a fifteen year old c*nt with old money, or kill themselves (I happen to fall into a special fourth category which is to get the f*ck out of there). Regardless, my grandma has come to visit, it is the only place I can truly call home, and most importantly, it is the only place I am capable of violently evacuating my bowels without any trouble.
But when I got home, my problem did not go away. I sat in pain and discomfort and suffered a total breakdown on the toilet. What if this was it? What if there was nothing after this? What if the last time I would ever successfully take a sh*t had passed me by and I didn’t even get a chance to commemorate it? This seemed worse than dying. I gave up on my rituals, washed my hands anyway because I’m a good person, and joined my family downstairs.
My grandma had gone on a Costco run and made a delicious Crock Pot something-or-other for dinner. Finding my place at the table, she asks how I’m liking my apartment so far.
“It’s pretty good. I mean, I’m the only one who does any of the dishes, we’re a ground level apartment on the west side so I live in constant fear of armed robbery, plus I can’t write and have sleep paralysis basically every night.” I say, wolfing down meat. “But I have a lot of privacy and granite countertops so I’ve gotten pretty good at cooking.” I pause. “Plus, you know, alcohol.”
“Why do you think you’ve been so anxious?” she asks.
“Well, other than genetics and the fact that I refuse to exercise, I’m living without my best friend this year. I like the other guys I’m rooming with but it’s just not the same relationship, you know? It’s just not as comfortable.” I pause. “Maybe it’s not even that I’m comparing them, but like… I just keep thinking that he’s going to replace me since I can’t remind him that I exist every day by living with him. I know that’s probably crazy since we have either lived together or might as well have for so many years now.”
She’s silent for a second.
“I had a friend like that when I was little: Janet Goldman. Do you remember hearing about her?”
My mom nods.
“Janet Goldman was drop-dead gorgeous- she had this long, blonde flowing hair and was just so pretty and cool, but was also laugh-out-loud funny, almost in a one-of-the-boys type of way. We were best friends. I used to spend the night at her house, or she used to spend the night at mine, constantly- we were both so close to each other’s parents at a certain point, it was like we were both a part of each other’s families. When we got older and we went to high school, we both found different groups- she was beautiful and outgoing, so of course she was very popular, and I did okay too, found my own people- but we were always friends enough. We waved to each other in the halls, caught up from time to time, all of that. Time went by, I got married, had my two girls, got divorced- and before I knew it I was thirty. And I thought to myself, I should really call Janet Goldman and see what she’s up to because she was so amazing and we were such good friends. I’d really like to know. But I let time slide by and then I was forty. And I thought again, gosh, I wonder what Janet Goldman is doing right now. But I didn’t call. Fifty came and went, so did sixty, and one day I got a call from another one of my old friends, Lester Abelman (Jewish people over fifty love to include the full names of all the characters in their stories whether it enhances the story or not, it’s a phenomenon no one can explain, but I felt like it was important here) and he said, “Do you remember Janet Goldman?” and I said, “Of course I do.” And he told me she had passed away. And I couldn’t believe it- funny, amazing, beautiful Janet Goldman was gone and it was just like I’d let her slip right through my fingers.”
My mom chimes in. “I’ve already had people like that. One of my best friends from high school just died and it was from horrible stuff with drugs and depression. I feel so guilty for not being there, but when you grow up and find your career and a husband and start a family, you get so caught up. You think you’re gonna be that close with people forever, and that you can always just pop back in when you need them, but then one thing leads to another and you grow apart. I know I really needed her at some points just like I know she needed me.”
My stomach churns and my grandma can tell.
“Things wind up okay, but hold on to your friends, because every last one of the people I did manage to hold onto, I appreciate,” she says.
“I love you guys but I have to go,” I say.
Night had set in by then. The air is chilly and my little hometown is quiet, but it’s the same sort of quiet that comes when someone really wants you to get the f*ck out.
My mom and my grandma huddle together as I turn my car on- my headlights flood the pavement with a pale shimmer, lighting up their bodies in a way that feels familiar, celestial and sad. I put my car in reverse and pull slowly out of the driveway. Both of them wave and mouth silent “loves you”s to me and I feel hot wells of tears bubbling in my eyes. I remember this exact moment that I used to see from the backseat, with my mom, that cool girl in the high white socks and the leather jacket, at the wheel blowing exhausted kisses goodbye to the people who loved me from across state lines.
I think of the kind of grown-up I’d like to be and I think it’s one that can fall in love with many people at once and keep them all in his orbit. Shifting my wheels out to the road, my heart warms up while I picture my own kids asleep in the rear view mirror, and feel the world turning.
I careen down the highway and I feel like I’m in a movie. I pull into my very own parking space, put my very own keys in my very own door, drop them with a jingly clatter on my very own table, sprint down the hallway, and take a fantastic, meaningful, complicated sh*t.