The Most Wonderful Staircase

Ups and downs.

I move to San Francisco with places to stay but nowhere to live. I stumble around the city, hunting. Conventional wisdom does not apply to the gentle and persistent illogic of this place: the traffic that slides downhill, the baby-faced 22-year-olds whose Christmas bonuses singlehandedly cover their college debt, the woman screaming bloody murder at nobody on the corner of Folsom and Ninth, dragging one leg, wearing nothing but a t-shirt emblazoned with the logo for Microsoft. I don’t belong here, but here I am.

After some time, I find an apartment between two parks: the one full of perverts, and the one full of runaway teens with dogs in bandanas. The apartment is tiny and bright and mine; the door locks in four places. Down the street is a new restaurant doing its best. The chalkboard out front exhorts passers-by to make the most of their lives: “Enjoy our rosemary lemonade,” “Enjoy salt-crusted tilapia.” “Empty your night on our patio,” I misread one evening, but not inaccurately.

On the same block is a Thai restaurant named Ploy II. Every time I walk past I think, Ploy to do what? And then I think, Perhaps, perhaps this is pathological, before shoving it back with the rest.

I grow deeper into myself; simultaneously, the hinges begin to swing.

“Deliverables,” my boss says. My boss is kind and sincere. He twists his wedding ring around and around. He nods his head, he agrees with himself. “That’s the next step for you, deliverables.”

It’s so nice to be told my future, to have a plan. Deliverables. I make a note to look the word up later, and later, of course, forget.

 To occupy myself, I prepare for disaster.

“Water, one gallon per person per day, for at least three days,” reads the earthquake-kit shopping list. I put six gallons in the cart, next to the protein bars, then put half back.

 I decide to undergo hypnosis. I find a hypnotherapist with strong and encouraging Yelp reviews and book an appointment. The office has a spiritual porcine theme; on a side table are a bottle of water, a tray of peppermints, and a clay sculpture of a woman with calm eyelids, a winged pig emerging from her forehead. Crystals and framed Quaker aphorisms line the shelves.

The hypnotherapist hands me a piece of paper with a computer-rendered iceberg on it, printed in color. It shows the iceberg above and below sea level, a terrifying mass.

“This is your subconscious,” she says, tapping her pen against the underwater portion. “That’s where we’ll be going today. Do you need more water?”

Email to self: Night cream?

Email to self: Deliverables?

Email to self: Would never have said at eighteen that twenty-six was young, but we make concessions.

Email to self: When did we get so wise?

 I look to women for help. Somewhere in the city is a woman who can cut my hair, I insist to myself. I scroll through lists, land on a shop in the Sunset named Surreal You. I imagine seducing an old lover, someone who has left me. I imagine revealing myself. In this vision I am on top; I am always on top.

“It’s surreal me,” I’ll shout. “It’s been surreal me all along.”

I never go. I grow my hair long, to the nipples. Like so many things here, Surreal You looks good, but there’s no method.

 On Sundays, Plan A is a bar by the ocean, where I sit with a book, hoping and not-hoping that someone will talk to me. Nobody ever does, with the exception of a mystic from Los Angeles wearing head-to-toe velvet. He tells me I have beautiful eyes and offers to smoke me up in an abandoned chapel across the city.

“Smoke me out?” I say, and he corrects it. “Oh,” I say. “But no, thanks.”

“We’re at the edge of the continent,” he says, “the edge of the world. You ever think about that?”

“No,” I say. “But thanks.”

Scene: supermarket, diligent as a child. Lifting the lid on the egg carton, checking for breaks. The eggshells are intact but one is missing. What does a person do with a single raw egg? I look around to share my daily marvel but everyone’s just swinging their baskets, wiping their noses, buying their raisins.

What do you do with one egg? What will I do with eleven?

I purchase a head of purple cauliflower only to neglect it; molded, it grinds down the disposal with a single shove.

 “Allow your conscious mind to take the backseat,” the hypnotherapist says. “Imagine the mind as a staircase, the most wonderful staircase. Walk down the stairs, spiraling deeper and deeper. Walk slowly. It’s the most beautiful place.” I can hear her dress settle as she shifts in her chair, the clip and unclip of her clipboard.

“Isn’t it amazing?” she asks, “isn’t the mind just amazing?” I close my eyes and take notes, then fall accidentally into a light and warm sleep.

The following week, she sends me a tape recording of our session, which I can’t listen to, then adds me as a friend on Facebook.

On the street outside my bedroom, two men shout at each other: one, epithets; the other, reactions. Things reach their peak. “Repeat that,” the second man says. “Repeat that,” he repeats. There is a hollow pause, then the first man starts to bark again.

“Naggar!” he cries. “Naggar, naggar! You just nag all day – all day you nag me!”

What can you do? It’s what’s on the record. You can almost hear the glint.

I fall in love. It fixes nothing but it’s there, a second pulse. I cannot disappear anymore. I hide the emergency kit, hide the tape. I bike through pastel neighborhoods to see the Pacific, passing signs reading “Tsunami Evacuation Route” that don’t seem to lead anywhere. When I hit the beach, it’s all fog past the sand.

Nearly a year in, somehow. I lie awake one night, thinking about earthquakes, holding his hand. Pick me; I know the evacuation route. I can do it backwards. I want to be with you in an earthquake, I don’t wake him to say.

Other unmentionables: Stay in the room. Hold me. Don’t move. Just practicing.

Isn’t it amazing?


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