Sunday, September 19, 2010

Katie McMahon: You Are Here

You’re sitting there with this really nice guy and he’s holding your hand as if it’s his own. He’s bought you things like sandwiches and mint ice cream and gone out of his way to make you feel like you’re not all that awful. He’s treating you how a 21st century boy should treat a 21st century girl.

He smells good because he showers daily and uses things like soap and deodorant. He has a job -- clearly a good one because of all this free food and music shows (where you are now) and little extravagances here and there (glasses of water, mixed CDs, rides to and from places). You have missed the band you didn’t want to see and now the bands you want to see are moving on stage as you slide into your seat. The weather is perfect. The sun is keeping you warm and the breeze is making sure sweat doesn’t permeate your sweater. Other people are laughing and sharing wine from unmarked bottles. Someone passes you cookies and strawberries from a place you didn’t even know existed. There is satisfaction all around. Lots of people are smiling, so you make sure to smile too. You are on the perfect date. You’re in it. Congratulations!

He’s told you that you’re beautiful like a million times and he tells you again. You do your very best not to laugh and you explain that no one’s ever told you that. You’re trying to get used to it. You’re trying. I mean, seriously, you really should.

You are literally sitting in the music, like you’re in a bathtub. Your feet are finally warming up and you let things go for a minute or two. The extra air that you were keeping inside pours out of your mouth and into the air, like a cigarette, except these people don’t smoke. You sing quietly and he sings off key, which would normally be endearing. Why isn’t it endearing? You’re singing together and holding hands and getting all these wet little kisses on your cheek and your forehead and your hands. And your bathtub water starts to get a little cold.

So you can just empty some of the water and refill it with scalding hot water, right? Sure. Take a bathroom break, look at yourself in the mirror to see what’s really going on, but there aren’t any mirrors. None. Who knows if your face is the same face you had when you left home? You just have to figure it out blindly and head back into the tub, into your seat. It feels okay again. Warm enough.

There are two women in front of you and they are holding each other. You can’t even tell whose arms are whose. Every now and then they change positions to get more comfortable, to warm up, to make sure the other has enough room or to get rid of extra room. They share a kiss. They share a bottle of water. They share and share and share. Something hits you like a hundred freezing cold bottles of expensive sparkling water.

They are in the bathtub together.

You are in the bathtub alone.

Or you’re not even in a bathtub. Or your bathtub is just not the right size for another person, no matter how much they try to squeeze in. You’re outside in the perfect weather sitting next to a pretty awesome guy, but something is just not right. It hits you hard and all the cold water wraps around you, so you drain it. And you stop immediately and take your hand back and realize it’s attached to your own body because it’s your hand after all; it’s not for someone else to hold right now.

And you become a little panicky, but not so panicky as to scare the boy off or ruin the whole evening. You continue the evening and you go get more food and milkshakes and sit with friends and they talk and talk and talk and someone invites you to some thing the following week. You realize you cannot go to any “thing” and that this is the last “thing.”

There are all these other things you begin to realize. Like maybe you’ve never dated anyone who irons his pants for a reason. Like that other guys have called you pretty or said nice things to you before and you laughed just the same saying, “Oh, forgive me, no one has ever said these things to me before.”

Panic. Panic. You start drinking lots of coffee. A whole pot of coffee. Two pots if you can. To warm up. To help you figure it all out. You realize your perception is off.

There is a feeling missing here. The pieces are all laid out upside down or maybe put together wrong. It’s as if you have been pretending you had this passion for puzzles and spent hours looking for missing pieces or trying to connect parts that didn’t match up with what was on the box before realizing that you don’t. even. like. puzzles. Someone told you that puzzles were better than reading books and watching movies and you’re always looking for ways to improve. But the damn puzzle you are making doesn’t look right at all. It’s not upside down. It’s like you were given the wrong pieces.

Panic becomes overwhelming and you take another bathroom break. This time you can’t even find the bathroom, but there are mirrors everywhere and at every angle. Your face is in reverse. Your left arm is where your right arm was this morning. You keep walking and try not to look. Suddenly, you’re back where you were at the table with all the talking people. More coffee.

People around you are drinking coffee too, but you can't smell it and there's no coffee feeling. The half and half carafe wears a necklace with it's name carved into white, square beads. They read "nonfat" or "half and half."

Cords dangle from the ceiling with cylinder lights dancing still at their ends. Colored light bulbs: pale yellow, blue, and green. One cord hangs in the corner, but the lamp part is missing. Chalkboard menus: again yellow, blue, green, and now the word "SPECIALS" in a bright red color, like fake blood or an apple or anything else that is red (a pen cap, a crayon).

You stand at the jukebox for fifteen minutes and eat whatever someone tells you to eat. Then, time saves you.

It’s time to go home and it becomes clear that you are no longer apart of this. On the freeway, there is a chandelier of headlights flying toward you and you realize that the chandelier is heading to where you have already decided to leave. Some lights are missing, but it’s still beautiful.

Then it makes sense for half a second. You can start again without doing puzzles or making something perfect with another human being. Because even if you are understanding now that you don’t want perfection and you don’t care about milkshakes or sparkling water, it doesn’t matter right now. Where you’re living, your bathtub only fits one person anyway.


  1. Holy hell. This is so good it makes me want to kick over a table. It makes me want to put my fist through a window, it's so vivid. I'd pull out favorite bits but this comment box would get too fat. DAMN.

    Once again: OOF.

  2. Wow, very well written, had me sitting in the bathtub wanting to warm it!

  3. This is amazing. I was there. I want more.

  4. I feel like in the interest of full disclosure, I should mention that this piece was originally written for last week's near-perfection theme. Katie sent it to me, I loved it. The thing is, I forgot to tell her how much I loved it. We saw each other the next day - neither of us mentioned the essay. Two days later, she sent me the piece about her haircut - which was also just killer - assuming that I hated this essay and was too embarrassed to tell her. I felt like an idiot - mostly because I'm an idiot.

    This date took place this past summer. It fits the theme, albeit tangentially. What it really boils down to is who gives a fuck? It's a brilliant piece, I wanted to run it, and guess what - it's my blog and I'll run whatever I'd like.

    People deserve to read things this well-written. Katie McMahon, you're wonderful.

    Also, I just cleaned my bathtub the other day. Not metaphorically, like the bathtub in your essay. I actually cleaned it with Ajax and a scouring pad. Very satisfying. Cleaning my metaphorical bathtub sounds like a euphemism for divorce. I am still very, very married.


    Love always,
    Josh Grimmer

  5. thank yooou, josh.

    you are not an idiot. I just like to make up crazy scenarios in my head.

    thanks everybooody!

  6. You don't see enough 2nd person narration. And you wonder why you don't, when you see it used as well as it is here.

    I love this, and I feel like it describes where I am with dating right now.