and then for a long time i didn’t write at all. this meant i knew what it was like a little bit finally to be like mom or dad, to not write, i knew what it was like to have given up on something you thought was your life and then you keep living anyway. i wasn’t dating anyone either, things with jasmine got so fucked up towards the end i just wanted to be by myself for a long time. even though i wanted that, it was still hard and in a lot of ways i was scared. being really on my own and giving up writing were sort of the same thing: they both meant i was stuck with my feelings, i couldn’t turn them into anything else, i couldn’t make something out of them to give to someone else—all those bad love poems. and now that i couldn’t do anything with them, i felt my feelings more intensely than i ever had before. so what do you do when you can’t fix your feelings by changing them? i wallowed, i read and reread, listened and relistened, watched and rewatched, anything, i just needed to crowd everything out. like dad, now i couldn’t fall asleep unless i was watching something, anything (family guy for him on the tv; frasier for me on my laptop). and just like how mom had to always play lite fm in the car, turn the volume up all the way even though she didn’t know the words to any of the songs and didn’t even like them beyond enjoying the fact they were familiar to her, she hummed the tune, just like that, i couldn’t walk out the door of my building anymore without headphones in, full volume, one song again and again. this to me felt like real life, unredeemed: no writing. i walked around at night listening to sara by bob dylan over and over. he has this one line i always loved, talking about how he made music for his ex-wife: “staying up for days at the chelsea hotel, writing ‘sad-eyed lady of the lowlands’ for you.” that meant a lot to me then, i’d tried to write through the problems with jasmine. but like i said i wasn’t writing anymore. besides, i wasn’t bob dylan and my stories weren’t songs. my friends listened to cooler contemporary music. jay listened to animal collective and dirty projectors. enzo listened to william basinski and i don’t know what hasan listened to—i assumed he listened to something, he made music. jay, enzo, and i went to the local coffee place where he sang every two weeks, every time they had an open mic. hasan did plaintive whispers into the mic and played long low notes on the synthesizer. i was happy for him. people seemed to like it; he was handsome and quiet so people generally liked him. one time a guy who worked at a nearby hospital even brought a guitar and played along while hasan sang. the guy’s name was echo. that’s actually true. hasan didn’t mind. he’d just gotten a kitten. the girl he loved had just left him, in the wrong way—again and again and again, instead of all at once. she was cool with short red hair which somehow made it worse. he’d already started dating someone else, like someone who didn’t want to accept the fact he was alone now. i don’t blame him. who could accept something like that? i still can’t. she was short with long blond hair and her tall big brother had been a professional adrenaline junkie, companies paid him to skydive while screaming their name or climb mountains while wearing their hat, it was all on a gopro, he tried to climb a mountain and died. right after hasan started dating her he asked if i could meet him for coffee. i said “okay” because it felt good to be a good friend and since jasmine was really gone now and i wasn’t writing being alone felt useless. i don’t know why i stopped writing. it wasn’t on purpose. which maybe makes sense: it’s not like i started writing on purpose either. the problem was expecting it to ever be more than it was when i first started writing, at eight or nine, a spontaneous consolation, a good dream. i wouldn’t have been so disappointed in how everything turned out if i’d just remembered that, how it made just as much sense to be ambitious or purposeful about writing as it did to be ambitious or purposeful about dreams, they were both just things that happened, they didn’t mean anything. the meaning was somewhere else. that’s what i told myself anyway and even though i didn’t believe it i still thought i should try so i got coffee with hasan who looked confused. he looked at me like i was some combination of his uncle and his doctor which was how a lot of my friends looked at me back then. they’d ask me to interpret their dreams. that really happened. but hasan didn’t tell me about his dream, he said “uh lauren had this dream.” lauren was the blond girl he’d just started dating. she had a dream where she was at hasan’s place then she hugged hasan then he turned into her big brother then he turned into hasan again. then she heard her big brother say “you should be with hasan.” hasan told me this and i said “so what did you say?” “nothing.” “what did lauren say?” “she asked what i thought the dream meant.” “so, what did you say?” “um. i didn’t really say anything. then she said what she thought the dream meant. she thought it meant that her brother wanted her to be with me. like it was a message from heaven..” neither of us said anything for a little bit. i told him how, from the sound of it, she was probably conflating things in an obvious and messy way. he made a face like “let me chew on that.” then he laughed. then he said “yeah, probably.” i said “and you think you can handle the sort of intensity that kind of thing can involve?” he laughed and said “yeah.” then i realized he’d never wanted my interpretation; he didn’t need it; some people just saw life for what it was. i laughed too and we took our coffees and walked by the water. i had different kinds of conversations with jay. he was a philosophy guy so in a big way, yes, he wanted to interpret everything. he’d just started dating someone who he thought he’d been in love with for a long time. they’d been friends and she’d dated other people and he’d dated other people and they both acted supportive most of the time but then when they were drunk they did stuff—nothing crazy, just stuff that showed they felt conflicted about the whole thing. her name was mona and when jay dated other girls and they were all drunk at a party together mona would go up to the other girl and say “so do you really love him?” the next day mona would text jay and say “jay!!! i’m so sorry about last night…my mama bear instincts kicked in and i think i might have been grilling your new gf (who seems really sweet!!)” i don’t think jay minded even though his girlfriends definitely minded. the thing jay did when he was drunk and at a party with mona and her boyfriend was also very revealing: he ran away. we’d find him literally in a tree or on the roof of a random building. mona would occasionally come with us but usually it was just me, enzo, and hasan. when we found jay he cried. one time he spit on me and then cried. it was clearly about mona but when we asked that night or the next morning he’d balk and say it had something to do with “my family.” on some very fundamental level i’m sure that was true but really, it was mona. all of that confusion was in the past though. now mona and jay were dating. and it was great. until mona said i love you and jay said it back. then the next day he texted me “coffee.” we got there and he said “i actually don’t love her.” deliberation, interpretation, reinterpretation. i said “so what’re you gonna do?” we discussed different options and how each different choice would make him a different person. he frowned and said “i think i’m just going to have to be honest with her and tell her the truth.” i said “you mean take it back?” he said “jesus. yeah.” he did, she cried but understood and didn’t take back what she’d said, and they stayed together. the ambivalence didn’t go away though and he and i still had a lot to talk through and i loved talking those things through with jay. i was actually moved by how he felt responsible to the people in his life, moved by how often he ended up doing what he knew he should do. he would’ve just called that guilt but i knew it was something better. he told the truth even though it wouldn’t make anybody happy. and even though it made his life harder, it made his life less complicated. don’t get me wrong, the whole mona thing was complicated. maybe it’s just that jay dealt with the complications up front, so they didn’t turn into real evil, not just emotional but moral complication. i don’t know. enzo’s life was probably the least complicated out of everybody’s. he’d never been in a relationship with anybody—never wanted to be, he never would be. no guilt-stricken or risk relishing coffees; just art. weird art. books that didn’t do what books do, movies that didn’t do what movies do, music, painting, even clothes. he took the face of a quiet anonymous co-worker—dave wu—and put it on shirts, hats, he framed a big photo of it and a friend put it in a gallery and now that i was in a new place in my life where i’d stopped everything that had always meant everything to me (writing, love) i saw enzo’s life and what it was and who he was and i thought “that’s it.” i thought “i can be that too, i can have that freedom from everything, i can make my vocation a kind irony, i can keep this head on my shoulders by unfailingly thumbing my nose.” like me, he was italian-american. like me, his name was lorenzo, but he was still just different enough from me—family from northern italy, he had that nickname enzo—he was still just different enough from me for me to believe that he was living in another world and if i took him seriously from the other side and if i really kept my eye out, maybe he’d throw me the key to the world he was in and i could catch it and use it and leave my life behind, the listening to sara while walking up and down the williamsburg bridge at 3am, the bad poems, and the real problems of a life complicated by other people. it’s important you know how much i loved enzo—and all of that sort of is what love can be, i think—because otherwise i never would’ve gone along with what all four of us did which was his idea. we were only a year out of school and lived near campus. enzo worked at the school library front desk on the weekends. he did this so he could keep his student card and take out as many books as he wanted. he had a big stack in his bedroom, all those weirdly embossed laminated paperbacks made artificially, monochromatically hardcover. we both loved those. we both loved having books we wouldn’t read. those nights when i was too depressed to read and fell asleep watching frasier instead, i put the book i felt like i should’ve read under my pillow and then i could fall asleep. not writing didn’t stop me from still being weird about books. the only difference book-wise between me and enzo was that i loved underlining and annotating my library books (i’d end up having to buy them); enzo didn’t do that. if he liked a paragraph he’d take a picture of it on his phone and save it to the same folder on his computer where he saved everything. everything-everything. this was also one of the things about him that made me love him—admire, respect, and trust this cooler freer version of myself. the peace with which he limited his life to the things he could safely contain; what you can keep are things, he’d made his peace with that and it even made him happy. and the book under my pillow was so much more desperate than the photos enzo kept in his folder; the book under my pillow was just consolation for not having someone else in bed. i was lonely, sure, but i didn’t regret anything. during the day, on the subway, at work, at lunch, i made myself smile by remembering i’d never have to meet another mother again. no more new families, splitting up christmas eve and christmas day, no more compromising new year’s. i’d read philip roth, especially my life as a man, and think “yes, yes, definitely. yes.” i wanted being alone to feel as vigorous as he’d made it seem. roth and his decades of being alone, remembering vividly and letting that be his life. it was so different from dad; he met mom in high school and locked himself into his life. married after graduating from the same college then me two years later then another kid four years after that and another kid thirteen years after that. as irreversible as takeoff and all dad’s individual ambitions would just be suspended, aloft, until my brother was on his own too and my sister after him (and she was only four). the wheels would touch back down on the runway of dad’s own world when he turned sixty. until then the turbulence (of fights or the hard-won solitude of insomnia) was as close as he’d get to the texture of solid ground, being alone. he’d wanted to write; he wanted to be a sports writer, basketball especially. but when you have a wife and a kid and the star ledger isn’t hiring for the fifth year in a row—i don’t know. even at his office i could tell he really was happy, somehow, even amid the regrets. going with him to bring your kid to work day, it took me until lunch to figure out everybody was being nice to me because they respected him so much and wanted dad to like them and dad? he didn’t give a shit about banking, even though he was great at his job. he was great at his job because he loved me. i was his joy and the other possible lives withering in the corner of his mind like plants on a radiator? he forgot about them like that when we were together. but could i forget them like that if were him? even though he lit up in the warmth of being an adored dad, he couldn’t sleep and spent nights crumpled and shifting on the black leather couch under the blare of family guy, there was a reason for that. and did i really think i was any better? frasier was just family guy for people who hadn’t accepted their fate. and i don’t know if roth’s life was any better than mine or dad’s—roth literally lost his mind for a few months and otherwise seemed so angry. and even though he struck the pose of bravely purposeful and solitary artist, beyond all the human complications, his life never really was the strong whole pillar he’d wanted it to be. even as an old man he kept fucking up in the fractures—he was meeting a new girlfriend’s family at seventy. she was thirty. complications, real life—even he couldn’t escape it. and he’d gotten closer than anyone else, at least to me. but there were some years he got free, which was maybe what i wanted now. or “for now.” i couldn’t think about it too long without getting dizzy. dad wasn’t roth; roth wasn’t dad. neither of them were me. both were happy and unhappy and i couldn’t decide whose life could pattern my own; i needed a guide. who i had was enzo, jay, and hasan. mostly enzo who because he worked at the library took out roth books for me—my student card was already expired—and also sometimes he had to lock up which meant he had certain keys. we were going to use those keys to get into rooms where our old school kept art: huge persian rugs, kitschy framed paintings of salvadorian martyrs, an original picasso, and, once, a life-sized wooden cross. we stole all of it and i’d never actually stolen before: i’d never shoplifted chapstick. the closest thing i’d done to a crime like that (and i do really think of this as a crime) was in my last year of school, jasmine and i were on the outs, and i’d written and had won a large cash prize for a revenge story—that’s what it was, plain and simple. it was embarrassing and possessive, meant to punish her and win her back, somehow, at the same time; it was nothing but a gesture of violent commemoration and somebody should’ve stopped me but nobody did and i don’t blame anybody for that because i did it in a way where nobody could’ve stopped me. i wanted to keep it a secret until it was too late and i’d already won something for letting life out in that noxious literary way, until i’d already won money for some lethal leak. i stole from life because i thought that’s what you were supposed to do and i was proud of it and i told my cool writing teacher. he looked like leonard michaels and when i told him about the prize he smiled and said “enjoy it” and laughed and said “$1,000 for two pages? may be a while before that happens again haha.” and he was proud but mere pride wasn’t what i was looking for, i needed him to know i had been rewarded for doing a bad thing so i told him it was a revenge piece, transparent, and i’d taken from life to avenge something “haha.” and he looked at me and he didn’t look like leonard michaels anymore, now he looked like a good dad who had to do a hard thing: his whole face was possessed by authentic disappointment and it mattered to me because writing was the only thing that mattered and i knew he knew it better than i did, he said “no. there’s no need to do that, it doesn’t make the writing any better. why make your life messy like that? why make your writing less like that? why dirty the whole thing and even turn your readers into unwitting accomplices in prolonging the stupid miseries of life that writing is there to transcend in the first place? you’ve got it wrong, lorenzo. writing isn’t revenge on life. all it can do—if you’re lucky and if you spend your whole life on it maybe you can get there once or twice—all writing can do is redeem life. and that’s better than revenge. why not let go of the need to make your mess in public? why not move on? why not let go, let fly, forget?” i had nothing to say so i said something stupid that even i didn’t believe, i said “no, i don’t think that’s right. also, stealing from life is the only way to be original.” we’d been walking together and we reached the place where he had to make his turn. he said “some things are more important than originality. actually, many. anyway, the whole idea of using writing to get real life revenge is wrong. it’s like trying to use a mirror to build a house.” i felt stupid because i was wrong. as useless penance i wasted all the money—literally burning it would’ve been more productive than how i’d spent it—and i realized that if i couldn’t do it with dignity then writing wasn’t for me. but i guess everyone does something like that at some point and i’m luckier than a lot of people because i did it when i was still a kid, in school, and not as an adult who could be sued or divorced or shunned—it was early enough in my life that, luckily, nobody cared about my writing, i didn’t have a reputation (i never would) or a career so i couldn’t use indiscretion to sabotage it, no matter how hard i tried. but that’s all to say that before i stopped doing it writing was a way of being bad, and when that’s all you use writing for then what you get is bad writing. so now that i wasn’t writing, i was trying to be good but i still needed some way to be bad, do something bad and that was the stealing. we talked about it like it was a joke then took it very seriously. enzo told us the night before, we got drunk on the grifone jay and i bought and lugged from foodmart. drinking justified the pre-existing giddiness and protected it a little from being sentimental—we were guys having fun together and we all had our different motivations. jay was glad to do something he wasn’t supposed to do. after the confession to mona he’d been struck by both writer’s and reader’s block. he couldn’t make it through a page of hegel, and not just for the regular reasons, plus his grad school applications had become impossible. he’d made two attempts at the personal statement which was supposed to be five pages: one draft was a sentence and the other was around 10,000 words. so to start the night knowing what he’d accomplish by the end? he didn’t need the grifone, he was intoxicated by assured success. and for hasan the stealing was just another cool risky thing in a life that was quickly filling up with cool risky things. for enzo it was an “experience.” embarrassingly we had codenames, i was chili dog, jay was le pain, hasan was rivers cuomo, enzo was mr. stink. there was no reason. we ate bananas with our second bottle of wine and left. the rug weighed too much and we alternated teams of two, two to stagger with the thing sagging in between them and two running ahead backwards, taking pictures. everyone smiling. everything archived. hasan got punched by lauren’s ex-boyfriend who said “you never even met her big brother, i did!” that same night on the way home hasan ran into his ex-girlfirend, the one with red hair, and she was with her new boyfriend who had a baby-face and a man’s body and hasan got home and wrote a song. then, the kitschy painting of salvadorian martyrs—this was the only tricky one, by which i mean enzo overheard someone saying something about it at work, along the lines of “hey has anyone seen that painting that we kept in the closet? we can’t find it.” enzo said nothing and he never heard anyone ask about it again. we never paid for any of this. mona kept telling jay she loved him and that it was okay if he didn’t feel the same way then one night she said “i love you” in her sleep and jay, just to try it out and see if he was ready, said “i love you too” in a whisper then mona opened her eyes like she’d heard someone break in and she said “what did you say?” jay thought “well, i did get one practice shot” then he just said “i love you” for real and this time it was a week before he knew it hadn’t been right that time either. at no point during this time had he broken through his writer’s and reader’s block. then, the original picasso. this was the only heist i wasn’t there for. in spite of everything, what i knew in my heart and everything, the shame over what i’d reduced it to, the clear truth it was no better than frasier or family guy or getting drunk and was in fact in a lot of ways a much more dangerous waste than any of those things, in spite of all that, i was in the library secretly, five hours a day, at night, writing. i flashed enzo’s library card to get in, we looked identical so it worked. with a stack of roth novels in front of me: the green library of america hardcovers, the real ones. i was doing the kind of writing that hopefully only happens once in life, hours on a sentence, treating it like math. you think you’re making the story a test of the reader’s intelligence when really it becomes a test of their patience and nobody wants to indulge a nobody which is what i was. those stories were never published and, more importantly, they weren’t good. surreal noirs, effortful and meaningless. they almost sweat on the page. but i was trying, i couldn’t let it go even though i knew i needed to, and i thought “well because i can’t stop, that means the feeling’s real—right? that means i’m a real writer?” but i was wrong. not being able to stop writing didn’t make me a writer. in the important ways i was forcing it and what i “couldn’t stop” was the wanting to be a writer, desperate to be something, anything, other than myself. this equivocal self-torture—ripping my molars out then practicing my party smile in a cracked mirror was what it felt like—that’s what i was doing while enzo, jay, and hasan stole a real original picasso. a very very minor work but still real. i don’t know which picasso or even which period: by the time i got back home from the library hasan and jay were passed out upstairs and enzo was drinking grifone on the couch petting hasan’s kitten which at that point was just a cat. i asked where the picasso was and enzo said “don’t worry about it” in a way that made it seem like he was joking—doing an imitation of a mafia tough guy—but he also actually wasn’t going to tell me where it was. he was drunk and he wouldn’t remember this conversation. no matter how much he drank he never seemed drunk in the usual way, slurring words, falling over, giving hugs. the only way you could tell is that he’d say something about being deflective instead of courageous, something about “veneer” or “performance” and he’d spend a long time staring at the mannequin head we kept on the bathroom sink (he’d keep the bathroom door open though so if you had to use it, you could, he’d take a break) and he’d want to spend the rest of the night watching videos—dark ones, especially one about people who thought the internet was real life and literally loved their computers and developed a lot of sexual hang ups which i remember because i watched it with him then thought “compared to these people, i have a very healthy relationship to relationships.” that was his only tell, the “performance” stuff and the mannequin staring contest and wanting to watch dark stuff. not like me, my tell was that i’d play that real mccoy song very loud and then sing along dancing on our couch—“in the night, in my dreams, i’m in love with you ‘cause you talk to me like lovers do, i feel joy, i feel pain but it’s still the same, when the night is gone i’ll be alone, another night, another dream, but always you—it’s like a vision of love that seems to be true—another night, another dream, but always you, in the night i dream of love so true. just another night! another vision of love, you feel joy, you feel pain ‘cause nothing will be the same; just another night is all that it takes to understand the difference between lovers and fakes.” or that smokey robinson song where he sings “people say i’m the life of the party ‘cause i tell a joke or two; though i might be laughing loud and hearty, deep inside i’m blue.” it was time to name the cat but we couldn’t. it was time for jay and hasan to disentangle themselves. god bless. lauren had started having dreams where hasan was chasing her then it was her big brother chasing her then hasan telling her to kill her big brother and then she’d wake up. she texted hasan and said “we need to talk about us.” he was eager to exit unscathed and have it not even be his fault. i don’t blame him. who wouldn’t want that? she broke up with him and they stayed friends and she’s a good person and hasan’s red head ex asked him to get coffee. she’d broken up with her replacement boyfriend at around the same time lauren left hasan. hasan and his ex got back together and he took her indoor rock climbing. they wore the wired harnesses together and one time he swung all the way from one end of the wall where he was climbing to the other end of the wall where she was climbing and that made her laugh and that made him happy. at the next coffeehouse open mic he sang the song he wrote about her and she recorded it and put it on youtube. a few months later they broke up again. and jay? he’d been spending more and more nights with mona—he hadn’t taken back the second “i love you”—but he still needed to talk things through so he’d been texting me, asking if he should tell her, what the right thing to do here was, and i couldn’t help him. even though i liked mona i told him to leave her and said “the fact you’re equivocating so much doesn’t really bode well.” he left his phone on mona’s bed with our conversation on the screen and went to the bathroom and mona came in and sat on her bed and saw everything. she threw his phone out the window and told him to leave and tonight he was on his way to her house to talk things through with her. i didn’t know whether they’d stay together or break up but i did know one thing—reading and writing-wise, he was back. i could tell because when he first got back from mona’s house i showed him a story i’d written in thirty hours called “wagner,” it was a murder-mystery love story structured around the tristan und isolde overture: the main character listened to a minute of it to begin each new section of the story: there were eleven sections. jay read it and all the trouble left his face. he saw something true unobstructed. he was back. he finished reading and said “the first two lines are good.” it was twenty pages long. i said “thanks.” then there was a very deep silence and he said “you should delete everything else.” he was right. he was back. and at least now i knew even if i never wrote again i had friends good enough to never let me believe something very bad was very good or good or finished or “the best i could do.” and now jay was off with mona and whatever decision he made would be the right one, he was back in the truth-mix now. and hasan was gone too so it was me and enzo together, alone, love’s losers, life’s winners, and he had “one last score.” a real cross. our school was jesuit and that year’s class was about to graduate and a big part of the ceremony was religion, they brought crosses out. graduation was two days away. we decided it’d be safest and least conspicuous to only take one cross. also, one of us had to be the lookout. that was enzo. i didn’t have the strategic calm you need to be a lookout but i did have the gleeful and only half-ironic masochism you need to carry a cross—even if strictly speaking i lacked the upper body strength. there was a guard literally pacing the halls: it felt like a video game. enzo gave me the right key, i silently opened the wire door, silently dragged the cross along the linoleum, silently shut the wire door behind me, enzo held the service elevator, i held my breath and we got it all in, i got it all out, we went down outdoor stairways, enzo first and quickly, giving me a signal from the bottom when it was safe for me to clear the next flight without running into campus security, cruising in their golf carts. why were we doing this? what could we do with a cross? to our credit we were not annoyingly atheist in the ricky gervais way so it wasn’t an anti-god thing. it was the right wrong thing to do: uncomplicated. easy stupid fun; we weren’t even stealing from a person, it was a school, an institution. enzo and i, united, were stealing objects from an abstraction and that seemed to me to be the heaven you could actually have amid all the fucking turbulence of real life, love and lying and telling the truth and degrading it all by trying to make it mean something, the bad-faith betrayals of writing, and other people, other people most of all: it was complication after complication and then at the end saddled with indignities you just disappeared in a way that wouldn’t even give you relief. wasn’t just doing dumb shit, using dumb codenames, being dumb, better than that? i was wrong when i said family guy and frasier were the same. one is definitely better than the other. and if i had to choose whose life will pattern my own—between roth and dad—it’s obvious. but also the obvious part is that i never had a choice to begin with. enzo wasn’t a guide, he was my friend, which is better. what we did together—stealing what we didn’t want and couldn’t use, art—it didn’t revenge or redeem a thing but it did something real. it gave us purchase on life. that’s as close as i can get to saying it. i could at least say to myself “i’ve got my hand around the handle and wherever this thing is taking me i’ll stand where i am: the bumps won’t knock me down.” my life a series of subway rides instead of a cross-continental flight. we got home and enzo poured us grifone and poured some in the cat’s bowl. it was 4am and jay wasn’t back and hasan wasn’t back either. enzo put on a movie. i always trusted his taste and would for the rest of my life, years later we watched warhol’s empire together in a theater, eight hours, nothing. we started laughing six hours in and the five other people in the theater had to shush us. we left laughing, wily smiles like we’d gotten away with something, we had, and even those years later i still hadn’t learned my lesson, the lesson that you could live with nothing and that a life built around nothing could really be a rich life, you could be free and that freedom could be a sort of way to make your life meaningful, i was on my way back to my own apartment and i didn’t live with those guys anymore, jay had gotten into grad school, hasan had moved to california to work in tech, enzo moved back with his parents and took all the stuff we stole with him, and i was leaving the theater after having seen empire, changed, and i took the subway back to my own apartment where i was living with my girlfriend, not jasmine, and there’d be a mess at the end of that relationship too, i was still getting entangled, again and again and again instead of all at once like dad did, which between the two maybe his is the better way to go—but enzo; enzo like always stayed free, even freer than philip roth, and on the subway that night after we saw empire i remembered what we did after we stole the cross, years before, the movie he’d put on. Blue. we watched it in the dark in our living room on his big tv which hung on the wall opposite the painting of salvadorian martyrs and above the persian rug. it’s still the most beautiful movie i’ve ever seen, blue for 80 minutes and a voiceover reading lines from the diary of the dying director derek jarman. he reads some lines, his friends read others. it is the freest thing i’ve ever seen. jarman was under no delusion that the movie would change his real life, he was right up against his life’s last limit and he knew a mirror was just a mirror. but the movie’s not narcissistic, even though people say it is. really he couldn’t have made Blue if he hadn’t actually believed what narcissists never do which is that there is a difference between you dying and the world ending. he wasn’t being spiteful or ironic or nihilistic. he was doing it with dignity. revenge on death. he did it so different than roth. he wasn’t taking anything with him but saying goodbye by giving it all to us—his lovers’ first names, the first time he saw a lesbian, the bicyclist who’d almost run him over—watching Blue is the opposite of being an unwitting accomplice. you don’t feel dirty. i felt clean; i was clean. i’ve never wanted an accomplice since. nothing’s felt like a crime since. the cross was the last thing i stole. i cried. the movie ended and it was just like when you wake up from a dream and for one full minute you have no idea who you are, you’re free and blank and whole. we got an email from the school addressed to alumni in the area letting us know to keep an eye out for a stolen cross. we had to get rid of it so he picked up one end, i picked up the other, we walked to the water and threw it in. he took a picture of it floating away.
Michael Mungiello is from New Jersey.