Hesitant narratives

November 3, 2005

But I keep quiet

Karkki ambles into my room in the morning and tells me she has stop drinking.

“My body is falling apart. I’m sick all the time, my back hurts all the time, the joints in my spine are all loose, and now my hips are starting to crack. Our family has a history of bad backs. One person became paralyzed. I don’t want to be paralyzed. Twenty-thirty years from now I don’t want to be paralyzed. If I’m a drunk and a bum, that’s okay, but I don’t want to be paralyzed.”

I don’t like this talk. I always feel like reticent when I hear this talk. I think of how it’s partly because I don’t want to face my own drinking. Whenever a smoker talks about quitting, I get this panicky feeling like I’m going to be left alone, the last one smoking. But part of it’s also how I don’t like how people are so absolute. In the morning it’s “I’m never going to drink again,” but come evening the thought’s gone and there’s a half-full pint of beer in hand.

People fooling themselves. Eating their words. I don’t want to do this. I have a drinking problem, okay. I want to do something about it, okay. But some part of me wants to leave it at this. By swearing off drinking and then succumbing… The most immense thought in the world is “I will never smoke another cigarette for the rest of my life.”

I want to tell Karkki it doesn’t have to be either or. That her body’s falling apart is not only because of drinking. That there are reasons to why she (we) drink so often. But I keep quiet. For the first time since I can remember.


Last night, some time ago

Markku and I go to two Asian food stores and stock up on many different kinds of rice, beans, noodles, and spices. We make a huge pot of bean stew and another of basmati rice, and take it over to Bulevardi to a dinner party. Everyone sits on the floor and eats homemade pea soup (with lentils and curry), Karjalan piirakkas, and huge cubes of vanilla icecream topped with jam made out of berries Minttu that picked last fall. Wine is plentiful, there are new people there, and some drama, too: roommates screaming “either I go or you go” at each other.

Elexa talks with an absolutely gorgeous Finnish boy who lives in London. He has black hair and he plays the guitar. His Argentinian friend, who Karkki talks with, also has black hair. I talk with a cute girl with short black hair. She blurts out things she immediately regrets because she is trying to flirt and has had a little bit too much wine.

We go to a bar. And then to another one next door. And then to another one, around the corner. Then I leave, and walk alone to another bar. I meet Jyri and Joonas. Joonas places a gob of used snuff on Jyri’s mobile phone, which is lying on the table. Jyri retaliates and flips the gob into Joonas’s beer. The last call comes as we watch the gob dissolve into the beer. Joonas looks at both of us and starts drinking the beer. I go to get some paper to filter the coffee-colored beer through, but the damage’s already done: we go to a kebab place next door and Joonas sicks up in the bathroom.

It’s two-thirty in the morning and the line to Lostari is a mile long. We go to wait in another line to another establishment, just down the street. A girl comes up to us from the front of the line, asking us why would we ever want to go into a place like this. “We like lines,” we answer in unison. She says she’s going home, but she stays with us. She asks us if we’ll pay her coat check. “No,” we say. Joonas tries to get her to go home with him. She declines.

Elexa and Karkki arrive and join us, cutting everyone behind us. Then Masa and Minttu arrive. Now there’s some grumbling from behind us. Then two young men fly out the door and fall to ground, their arms wrapped each other. They roll around on top of each other, each of them trying to land a blow. A doorman runs out after them and pries them apart. The smaller of the two needs to be held down, he’s flipping out, bad. More people stream out of the bar. One guy yells “That’s the last time you’ll be poking my sister,” to the boy being restrained. The guy’s let go, and the fight seems over—until the other brawler comes up and offers his hand and asks to make peace. The smaller guy punches him in the face. Two other guys scream at the doorman to let go of their friend. Another doorman comes out, tells the two friends to shut up. One of the guys punches the doorman.


Reasons Why It’s Hard to Be Your Friend

You start crying in the middle of a conversation and won’t (or can’t) tell me why. You won’t accept consolation or talk about it. And later, you dismiss me, and act as if I’ve caused your tears, and I feel awful, like I’ve done something terrible (and sometimes I have, though I never know it—you never tell me—at the time). And you still won’t talk about it.

You get angry or annoyed with me and give me the silent treatment. If there are other people around, you act normal: you talk and laugh and joke around. But everything I say, you ignore. I’m not in the room for you. Aggressive silence. I try to respect your feelings; if you don’t like talking with me, it’s okay, I know it doesn’t have to happen that moment. I know this, yet I still sometimes try to push you; it’s only because it’s hard for me, and I’m confused.

I react very badly when you say things like: “All my friends hate you for this.” When I think about this later, I realise it’s no different than me talking with my friends about something that bothers me. I know that you’re not talking shit about me, and that your friends who don’t know me, they take what you say as it is, venting and frustration. And what does it matter to me what your friends think about me? But the way you say it, in the heat of an argument, it cuts like a knife. This is my problem, I know. I can’t bear the thought of there being dozens of people out there who don’t like me before they’ve even met me.

We communicate differently. We both miss each other’s hints and non-verbal signals. You come to talk with me when I’m busy doing something else and I don’t want to talk. You get upset if I don’t listen to you; you get upset if I say I’m not in the mood to talk. This is not your fault; this is how it is between people.

You refuse to see me as I am. Instead you want to see me as black and white. For or against. Right or wrong. Love or hate. It’s not like that. Why I say that sometimes I wonder if I can be your friend, I’m not saying I don’t want to be your friend or that I’m not your friend. I’m saying that our friendship is hard sometimes; that I don’t get you; that you don’t get me. This is the truth, though it doesn’t mean I’m lying when I say you’re one of my closest and best friends. Can’t you see that the truth is both of these, and it much more. The truth never ends, it exists and fluctuates constantly, it’s what I say and what I don’t say, what you feel and how you react. The truth is slippery and treacherous; not because it hurts (though it does, most of the time), but because it’s unfathomable, a house with so many rooms that they can’t all be imagined at once. I can only act on what you say and how I feel. I can suspect and guess, but too many guesses is like walls and mirrors that makes it impossible to see how the world outside really is.


January 24, 2005

Through wafts of smoke

“Don’t you think it’s kind of dangerous to write about someone writing a novel? That it’s— well, boring?”

“It’s not boring to me. I can only write what interests me. I don’t know that I could write anything that I could be sure wasn’t boring. Besides, it’s been done before. A guy in Denmark told me Flann O’Brien has a novel about writing a novel.”


July 16, 2004

Before I left

We fucked twice before I left. It wasn't very good, the first time I came quickly, and the second time I couldn't stay in rhythm. Like when shaking hands turns into conversation and neither knows when exactly to let go.


May 25, 2004

The Wrath of God

“You can’t just keep fucking a different girl every day of the week. There’s got to be like some divine law against it. Sooner or later something will happen and you'll be punished for your frivolity. I’m not talking about getting caught and being called a jerk, I’m talking lightning bolts from a clear sky. Nuns jumping from bushes screaming Hail Marys at you. The Wrath of God!” I said.

“I know, I know,” he said.

“So—you fucked that girl last night?”

“Um, yeah.”

“The Wrath of God! The Wrath of God, get it? And you know she’s gonna start calling you now.”

“No she won’t. Why would she?”

“Because she’s on rebound. Because you fucked her. Because up to six months ago she was sending you twenty-five text messages a night telling you how you ruined her life.”

“Oh man, you’re right. Oh no.”


March 27, 2004

Lives like this

We’re in a McDonald’s, the one in the Sokos building in downtown Helsinki. We’re sitting at a corner table, me with my back to the wall because I don’t like people watching me eat. We moved in together two weeks ago. There is no door between our rooms and when I get up at eight in the morning for my half-day job, she wakes up to the clacking of my keyboard and the glow of my screen. Our lives have become like this, too: adjacent, separated by a thin interior wall, a wall with a window at ceiling level but no door. We pass through each other on our way in, on our way out. We sit together, bored, watching MTV, anything that moves fast enough to distract, both of us only a spark away from popping open that first beer which will lead to the next and the rest of the evening and a new day. She is unemployed; I feel like I am. Some nights she sleeps next to me. Most mornings we wake up in our own beds. We are happenstance lovers, though this isn’t love.


December 4, 2003

Pushing words into the air

Just as I was about to go in, I turned around, walked back to her, and kissed her on the lips. They felt fuller than I remembered. Read more


November 25, 2003

Tuesday night on the boat

I bought a beer and approached their table.

“Still not many people here,” I said, referring to an earlier encounter with them.

“Nope,” the guy said. Read more


October 10, 2003

That’s what neighbors do

The next time I saw her was in the hallway of my building. She was walking just ahead of me. I must have been staring pretty hard because as she opened her door on the second floor, she turned around and looked at me.

“You can say hi, you know,” she said. Read more


December 28, 2002

He was hitting on me

This middle-aged guy crosses the street and comes up to me. He is obviously drunk, but his demeanor is gentle and quiet rather than slobbering and clumsy, so I don't feel wary or repulsed as he approaches. Only he comes too close, crossing the invisible boundary of my personal space. This is my first sign that something out of ordinary was happening. Read more


December 15, 2001


She watched the train go round and round its circular track. Wherever it left, it always ended, because it lead nowhere. She could sit hours and hours playing with her electric toy train, or so I imagine: she has told me so. Read more