The Habit of Leaving

She read Charles Bukowski hungover, across two months, when her life was gritty and dirty. Routine and unimportant and transient. She was accountable to no one. She took her hangover north of the river each morning and sat in coffee shops, smoking cigarettes and drinking coffee.  Transience–detachment from people and things–put her in a steady habit of leaving.

She had a creepily acute sense of smell and a child-like excitement for identifying scents. It surprised her to discover that this was not an endearing habit. When she moved into her flat, she correctly identified the conditioner her leasing agent used; the woman looked at her like she was a pervert. On her third day in the city, she noticed her unwashed hair smelled like her mother. After that, she spent most of her time in the shower trying desperately to scrub her mother out of her hair.

She found herself endlessly fascinated by the drunks floundering through expatriate existence in the city. She met people trying to find themselves and people no longer interested in feeling or thinking or producing. She attracted damaged people with a consistency that astounded her and vexed her mother.

At parties she sought out men who smelled like him. Everything about these new people was informed by scent. Once, at a party, she buried her face in a stranger’s neck and breathed him in. She crossed and re-crossed the line between alcoholism and social drinking. She used drinking as a vehicle for people and people as a vehicle for drinking.

She found a hole with no bottom and sought to fill it with people, with him. She sought him out in dark bars, where she learned to drink whiskey alone and mask the chaotic thoughts flailing across her consciousness. I am perpetually one night of binge-drinking away from becoming Charles Bukowski. She thought and smoked and smelled and flailed.

She filled all clichés. All activity begets a desire to engage in more of that activity. This is especially true of her. She found herself addicted to everything. A former recluse, she found herself unable to do anything alone. She craved the company of people. She did nothing of substance and consoled herself by thinking the failure of pursuits is really caused by reminders that you would be happy doing many other things.

Sometimes she enjoyed her life as a teacher. Children were pure, innocent, interesting. She could see the results of her actions as words fell out of her mouth and across her chalkboard. Becoming a teacher is a pleasant enough excuse for my life. She felt the disparity between activity and action. She poured herself into her job; she was respected as hard-working and driven. This made her feel cheap and broken.

Always, she felt the desire to degrade herself, to slip through the kind of self-destruction that excuses people when responsibility piles up. Leaving always seemed the most alluring and appropriate option.

She kept looking for him. She thought and smelled and drank and read. She worked.

She moved herself slowly out of control. She smoked every day, then every hour. She found herself drinking with a homeless man at nine in the morning on a Sunday. When other people showed weakness, she lashed out at them. Her expectations were impossibly high. She found herself irate when her hair fell across her face. She yelled out in a quiet café at a fly buzzing past her.

And then she found him.


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