You, Page 2Caroline Kepnes
The Internet is a beautiful thing and you sent a tweet an hour after we met that day:
I smell cheeseburgers. #CornerBistroIsMakingMeFat
And let me tell you, for a moment there, I was concerned. Maybe I wasn’t special. You didn’t even mention me, our conversation. Also: I talk to strangers is a line in your Twitter bio. I talk to strangers. What the fuck is that, Beck? Children are not supposed to talk to strangers but you are an adult. Or is our conversation nothing to you? Am I just another stranger? Is your Twitter bio your subtle way of announcing that you’re an attention whore who has no standards and will give audience to any poor schmuck who says hello? Was I nothing to you? You don’t even mention the guy in the bookstore? Fuck, I thought, maybe I was wrong. Maybe we had nothing. But then I started to explore you and you don’t write about what really matters. You wouldn’t share me with your followers. Your online life is a variety show, so if anything, the fact that you didn’t put me in your stand-up act means that you covet me. Maybe even more than I realize, since right now your hand is heading down to your cunt yet again.
The next thing the Internet gave me was your address. Fifty-One Bank Street. Are you fucking kidding me? This isn’t a frenzied Midtown block where harried worker bees storm to and from the office. This is tony, sleepy, ridiculously safe and expensive West Village real estate. I can’t just hang out on your block; I have to fit in with the la-di-da folk. I hit up the thrift store. I buy a suit (businessman and/or driver and/or kept man), carpenter pants and some kind of tool belt (handyman on a break), and a bullshit tracksuit (asshole taking care of his precious body). I wear the suit for my first visit and I love it here, Beck. It’s quintessential Old New York and I expect Edith Wharton and Truman Capote to cross the street hand in hand, each carrying a Greek paper cup of coffee, looking as they did in their heyday, as if they’d been preserved in formaldehyde. Princesses live on this block and Sid Vicious died on this block a long time ago, when the princesses were gestating, when Manhattan was still cool. I stand across the street and your windows are open (no curtains) and I watch you pour instant oatmeal into a Tupperware bowl. You are not a princess. Your Twitter confirms that you won some kind of real estate lottery:
Um, not to sound like @AnnaKendrick47, but I love you awesome nerds of the @BrownBiasedNYC and I can’t wait to move to Bank St.
I sit down on the stoop and Google. The Brownstone Biased Lottery is an essay contest for Brown University graduates who need housing for graduate school in New York. The apartment has stayed in the Brown family (whatever that means exactly) for years. You’re an MFA candidate in fiction writing, so it’s no surprise that you won a lottery that’s actually an essay contest. And Anna Kendrick is an actress in this movie Pitch Perfect, which is about college girls who sing in a cappella competitions. You see yourself in this girl, which makes no sense. I watched that Pitch movie. That girl would never live the way you do.
People pass by your parlor level apartment, ever so slightly above ground level, and they don’t stop to stare even though you’re on display. Your two windows are wide open and you are lucky this is not a well-trafficked street. This must explain the deluded sense of privacy you have. I return the next evening (same suit, can’t help it) and you walk around naked in front of the open windows. Naked! I hang out again across the street on the stoop and you don’t notice me and nobody notices you or me and is everyone here fucking blind?
Days pass and I grow anxious. You parade too much and it’s unsafe and it only takes one weirdo to spot you inside and decide to go and get you. A few days later I wear my carpenter costume and I fantasize about putting bars on your windows, protecting this display case you call a home. I think of this neighborhood as safe, and it is, but there’s deathliness to the quiet here. I could probably strangle some old man in the middle of the street and nobody would come outside to stop me.
I return in my suit (so much better than carpenter garb) and I wear a Yankees cap I found at another thrift shop (I’m that asshole!) to mix it up, just in case you were to notice, which you don’t. A man who lives in your building climbs the very small staircase (just three steps) that leads to an exterior door (it’s not locked!) and that door is so close to your apartment. If he wanted to (and who wouldn’t want to?), he could lean over the railing and rap his knuckles on your screen and call your name.
I come in the day, in the night, and whenever I am here, your windows are always open. It’s like you’ve never seen the nightly news or a horror movie and I sit on the steps of the brownstone across the tiny, clean street that faces your building and I pretend to read Paula Fox’s Poor George or pretend to text my business associates (ha!) or pretend to call a friend who’s late and loudly agree to wait another twenty minutes. (That’s for the neighbor who always might be hidden away, suspicious of the man on the stoop; I’ve seen a lot of movies.) With your open-door policy, I am allowed into your world. I smell your Lean Cuisines if the wind is right and I hear your Vampire Weekend and if I pretend to yawn and look up, I can see you loaf, yawn, breathe. Were you always like this? I wonder if you were this way in Providence, parading around as if you want your rarified neighbors to know you naked, half-naked, addicted to microwave foods, and masturbating at the top of your lungs. Hopefully not, hopefully there is logic to this that you’ll explain to me when it’s time. And you with your computer, as if you need to remind your imaginary audience that you’re a writer when we (I) know what you truly are: a performer, an exhibitionist.
And all the while, I have to be vigilant. I slick my hair back one day and wear it shaggy the next. I must go unnoticed by the people who don’t notice people. After all, if the average person was told about an often nude girl prancing around in front of an open window and a love-struck guy across the street watching, discreetly, most people would say I’m the nut. But you’re the nut. You’re just not called a nut because your pussy is a thing that all these people want to know about, whereas my whole being is abhorrent to your neighbors. I live in a sixth-floor walk-up in Bed-Stuy. I didn’t allow my nut sack to be raided by the College Loan Society of Bullshit. I get paid under the table and own a TV with an antenna. These people don’t want to touch my dick with a ten-foot pole. Your pussy, on the other hand, is gold.
I sip my coffee on the stoop across the street and grip my rolled-up Wall Street Journal and I breathe and I look at you. I never wear the tracksuit because you make me want to dress up, Beck. Two weeks pass and a portly dowager emerges from her quarters. I stand, fucked, but a gentleman.
“Hello, madam,” I say and I offer my assistance.
She accepts. “It’s about time you young men learned how to behave,” she rasps.
“Couldn’t agree more,” I say and the driver of her town car opens the door. He nods to me, brothers. I could do this forever and I settle back onto my stoop.
Is this why people like reality TV? Your world is a wonder to me, seeing where you lounge (in cotton panties bought in bulk online from Victoria’s Secret; I saw you tear into the package the other day) and where you don’t sleep (you sit on that couch and read crap online). You make me think; maybe you’re searching for that hot guy in the bookstore, maybe. This is where you write, sitting so erect with your hair in a bun and typing at bunny-rabbit speed until you can’t take it anymore and you grab that lime-green pillow, the same pillow you prop your head against when you nap, and you mount that thing like an animal. Release. This is where you sleep, at last.
Also, your apartment is small as hell. You were right when you tweeted:
I live in a shoebox. Which is ok bc I don’t blow Benjamins on Manolos. @BrownBiasedNYC #Rebel
My #BrownUniversity mug is bigger than my apartment. @BrownBiasedNYC #realestate #NYC
There’s no kitchen, just an area where appliances are shoved together like clearance floor samples at Bed Bath & Beyond. But there’s truth buried in your tweet. You hate it here. You grew up in a big house with a backyard and a front yard. You like space. That�
��s why you leave the windows open. You don’t know how to be alone with yourself. And if you block out the world, there you’d be.
Your neighbors go on, like children—town cars pick them up from their enormous nearby homes and redeposit them at day’s end—while you fester in a space meant for a maid or a golden retriever with a sprained ankle. But I don’t blame you for staying here. You and I share a love of the West Village and if I could move into this place, I would too, even if it meant slowly going insane from claustrophobia. You made the right choice, Beck. Your mother was wrong:
Mom says no “lady” should live in a shoebox. @BrownBiasedNYC #momlogic #notalady
You tweet more often than you write and this could be why you’re getting your MFA from the New School and not from Columbia. Columbia rejected you:
Rejection is a dish best served in a paper envelope because then at least you can tear it up or burn it. #notintoColumbia #lifegoeson
And you were right. Life did go on. Though the New School isn’t as prestigious, the teachers and students like you well enough. A lot of their workshops are accessible online. A lot of college is accessible online, which is yet another strike against the increasingly irrelevant elitist system that they call “college.” Your writing is coming along, and if you spent a little less time tweeting and spanking the kitty . . . But honestly, Beck, if I were in your skin, I’d never even put clothes on.
You like to name things and I wonder what you’ll name me. You are attempting to have a Twitter contest for the name of your apartment:
How about #Boxsmallerthanmybox
A cabbie lays on his horn because some freshly showered asshole who crawled out of a Bret Easton Ellis rough draft that never saw the light of day is crossing the street without looking. He says sorry but he doesn’t mean it and he’s running his hand through his blond hair.
He has too much hair.
And he’s walking up those steps like he owns them, like they were built for him and the door opens before he’s there and that’s you opening the door and now you’re there, guiding him inside and kissing him before the door slows to a close and now your hands
Such small hands
are in his hair and I can’t see either of you until you’re in the living room and he sits on the couch and you tear off your tank top and climb on top of him and you grind like a stripper, and this is all wrong, Beck. He tears off your cotton panties and he’s spanking you and you’re yelping and I cross the street and lean against your building door because I need to hear it.
Sorry, Daddy! Sorry!
Say it again, little girl.
I’m sorry, Daddy.
You’re a bad girl.
I’m a bad girl.
You want a spanking, don’t you?
Yes, Daddy, I want a spanking.
He’s in your mouth. He barks at you. He slaps at you. Once in a while Truman Capote walks by and looks, reacts, then looks away. Nobody will report this to the police because nobody wants to admit to watching. This is Bank Street for fuck’s sake. And now you’re fucking him and I return to my side of the street where I see that he’s not making love to you. You’re grabbing his hair—too much hair—like it might save you and your stories. You deserve better and it can’t feel good, the way he grips you, big weak hands that never worked, the way he smacks your ass when he’s done. You hop off and you lean against him and he pushes you away and you let him smoke in your apartment and he ashes in your Brown mug—bigger than your apartment—and you watch your Pitch Perfect while he smokes and texts and pushes you away when you lean into him. You look sad and
Nobody in the world has such small hands
except for you and me. Why am I so sure? Three months ago, before you knew me you wrote this tweet:
Can we all be honest and admit we know #eecummings because of #Hannahandhersisters? Okay phew. #nomoreBS #endofpretension
See how you were talking to me before you even knew me? When he leaves, he isn’t holding Desperate Characters by Paula Fox. He is a blond misogynist popping his collar and blowing hair out of his eyes. He just used you and he is not your friend and I have to leave. You need a shower.
BEFORE you, there was Candace. She was stubborn too, so I’m gonna be patient with you, same way I was patient with her. I am not gonna hold it against you that in that old, bulky laptop computer of yours you write about every fucking thing in the world except me. I am no idiot, Beck. I know how to search a hard drive and I know I’m not in there and I know you don’t even own anything resembling a notebook or a diary.
One possible theory: You write about me in the notepad on your phone. Hope remains.
But, I’m not gonna pull away from you. Sure, you are uniquely sexual. Case in point: You devour the “Casual Encounters” section on Craigslist, copying and pasting your favorite posts into a giant file on your computer. Why, Beck, why? Fortunately, you don’t participate in “Casual Encounters.” And I suppose that girls like to collect things, be it kale soup recipes or poorly worded, grammatically offensive daddy fantasies composed by desperate loners. Hey, I’m still here; I accept you. And, okay. So you do let this blond creep do things to you that you read about in these Craigslist ads. But at least you have boundaries. That perv is not your boyfriend; you sent him into the street, where he belongs, as if you are disgusted with him, which you should be. And I have read all your recent e-mails and it’s official: You did not tell anyone that he was in your apartment, inside of you. He is not your boyfriend. That’s all that matters and I am ready to find you and I am able to find you and I owe that to Candace. Dear Candace.
I first saw Candace at the Glasslands in Brooklyn. She played flute in a band with her brother and sister. You would like their music. They were called Martyr and I wanted to know her right away. I was patient. I followed them all over Brooklyn and lower Manhattan. They were good. They weren’t ever going to be top forty, but sometimes they’d have a song featured in a wretched show for teenagers on the CW and their website would explode. They didn’t have a label because they couldn’t agree on anything. Anyway, Candace was the prettiest, the lead of the band. Her brother was your standard drummer fuckup douche bag and her sister was homely and talented.
You can’t just bum-rush a girl after a concert, especially when the band’s music is ambient techno electro shit and when her psycho controlling brother (who, by the way, would never be in a band were it not for his sisters) is always hanging around. I had to get Candace alone. And I couldn’t be some guy hitting on her, because of her “protective” brother. And I was going to die if I didn’t get to hold her, or at least make a step toward holding her. So I improvised.
One night, outside of the Glasslands where it all began, I introduced myself to Martyr as the new assistant at Stop It Records. I told them I was scouting. Well, bands like being scouted and there I was, minutes later, in a booth drinking whiskey with Candace and her irritating siblings. Her sister left; good girl. But her brother was a problem. I couldn’t kiss Candace or ask for her number. “E-mail me,” she said. “I can take a picture of it and put it on Instagram. We love it when labels reach out.”
So I did what any Elliot in Hannah would do. I staked out Stop It Records, a sad little joint, and noticed this kid they call Peters come and go every day. Before and after work, he’d duck into an alley and smoke a little pot. You couldn’t blame him, what with the shit he put up with at work. Peters was the assistant to all the record label pricks in tight jeans who call their glasses eyewear and call out for Splenda and extra Parmigiano-Reggiano. So I camped out with a joint in the alley one day and asked Peters for a light. It was easy to make friends; people at the bottom of the totem pole are hungry for other people. I told him all about the dilemma with Candace, how I told her I work for Stop It and it wa
s his idea to e-mail her from his account ([email protected]) and pretend to be me. Candace wrote back, giddy, hot. And of course, she gave me (asst1) her number.
I didn’t feel bad about using Peters; if anything, he finally felt like he had something resembling power. And sometimes you have to play around with the facts to get the girl. I have seen enough romantic comedies to know that romantic guys like me are always getting into jams like this. Kate Hudson’s entire career exists because people who fall in love sometimes tell lies about where they work. And Candace believed that I was a scout. I waited until we’d been together for a month before I told her the truth. She was mad at first (girls get mad sometimes, even when the guy is Matthew McConaughey) but I reminded her of the comedic, romantic truth at heart: The world is an unfair place. I know music. I’m smart. I think Martyr deserves to be scouted and worshipped. Had I gone to some liberal arts college and worn vintage socks and subscribed to the notion that a bachelor of arts qualifies someone as employable and intelligent, I could have gotten a nonpaying internship at a shitty record label and parlayed it into a shitty job too. But as it happens, I don’t subscribe to that antiquated notion. I’m my own person. She understood, at first, but her brother was another story, one of the reasons it didn’t work out between Candace and me.
The good news is that I have no regrets. My troubles with Candace were training for this moment. I had to get into your place, Beck. And I knew what to do.
I called the gas company and reported a leak at your apartment when I knew you would be at your dance class and you always have coffee after class with a friend in the class and this is the only guaranteed time that you’re away from your computer. I waited on my stoop across the way for the gas man to arrive. When he did I told him I was your boyfriend and that you sent me to help out.