Uptight Downtown

The coffee shop/bar, called Uptight Downtown, would remain standing long after they did. It was a play on how that part of the Upper East Side that wasn’t quite Yorkville and wasn’t quite the posh part of the neighborhood was like a slightly more uptight version of downtown. Honora, 26 years old and more accustomed to living in the East Village for the two years she had thus far spent in New York, moved to the aforementioned pocket of the Upper East Side that fit into this in-between category. In short, it was Second Avenue and 97th Street. She had moved to this “neck of the woods,” as her mother would say, to be closer to Hunter College, where her decision to pursue her graduate degree in Psychology seemed, once again, to be rooted in wanting to understand not so much other people as herself. What made her so abandonable? She figured an intensive knowledge of the human psyche might help her unearth the answer to this question.

Likewise, Perry, who sported khaki pants and Sperry Top-Siders to match his name, had recently infiltrated the UES for the same reason: to be closer to Hunter. In somewhat diametric opposition to Honora’s intended field of study, Perry would be pursuing playwriting. But Honora knew none of this about him as she rolled her eyes at his aura of being the type of person who walked into the room only to take over it as though it was his own home. She got this sense as she watched him ask the barista for more foam in his cappuccino, return to the couch at the back of the space and kick off his shoes to await the drink to be brought to him. He was the worst kind of frat boy without even being one, she thought to herself. His kind came from all over the U.S., but somehow she surmised that he was the distinct ilk that must have been born in New York City. You don’t get that congenital sense of entitlement otherwise.

Avoiding his gaze as she sat at a table within his view, she proceeded to take out her psychology books and computer to get started with her studying session. In the back of her mind, she knew her thesis would center on Cotard delusion (sometimes called walking corpse syndrome), that rare mental disorder meaning that the person suffering from it believes himself to be dead. Honora herself often had to wonder whether or not she had it. She postulated this especially at night when it seemed to her that she was at her most cipher-like to the outside world. Even while among the masses, she felt she must be dead. But this is a thought she put aside quickly when she could see, out of the corner of her eye, Perry approaching her. Maybe he could believe in her existence enough for her to believe in it, too.

“I think you dropped this,” he remarked as he handed her a debit card markedly deteriorating in plastic.

She shook her head. “No, I paid with cash. But thanks.”

He smiled. “You could’ve just taken it. Maybe bought some toiletries on someone else’s dime.”

“Toiletries? Are you suggesting my appearance is unhygienic?”

Perry simpered. “No, it’s just the sort of purchase that wouldn’t draw suspicion on anyone’s bank statement.”

She nodded sagely. “You’re clearly very experienced in this sort of thing.”

“You have no idea what the city is capable of doing to a person.”

“I don’t?”

He shook his head. “From the looks of it you’ve been here maybe two, three years. You still have that wide-eyed, fresh as a daisy way about you. It’ll pass.”

She glared at him. “I imagine it will if I stick with you.”

Perry shrugged. “Don’t be so sure. I might just be the reason you increase your rose-colored shelf life.”

She should have known right then and there that he was an aspiring playwright with dialogue like that. Instead, she made the mistake of talking more about herself as he sat down to join her, explaining that she had come to New York from the farthest bottom corner of California, San Diego. He tried his best not to laugh at her for this, but it was hard not to seeing as how, as she predicted, he had that New York City-born superiority complex.

“That’s pretty sweet, you coming here from ‘out West.’ You probably had some very romantic notions before taking the plunge, correct?”

“What kind of romantic notions could I have?”

“That you were going to be something special here. In whatever it is you came for.”

“I don’t have any delusions of being special.”

“The just what are your delusions?”

“That I don’t have to keep living an existence saturated almost completely in loneliness.”

Perry momentarily dropped his emanation of haughtiness to glance at her with just the faintest hint of empathy, as though he knew, too, what it was like to feel that way. But, as she would come to learn, Perry was never one for allowing things to get “too real,” so he brushed over her frankness by saying, “Oh don’t be so melodramatic. Surely someone as presentable as yourself can find a few other souls to commune with now and again.”

“Not really. Would you like to be one of those souls?”

“Who said I had a soul?”

Honora rolled her eyes. “Well. Do you?”

She found out later that night that, at least for this period in their relationship, he did. He was secretly tender beneath it all, even if that tenderness quickly faded to scraps of ardor that Honora would have to fish out of him with guilt and imploring.

“Please, just stay in bed a little longer,” she would whine almost daily when they had, by this time, moved in together. He could barely be cajoled to submit to this request, insisting that he had to finish work on a scene that had come to him in a dream the previous night. She hated that his so-called art always took precedence over her, and that, even worse, he didn’t see her quest in psychology as the least bit as worthwhile as what he did. He would chide, “You should use your writing skills to create, not to regurgitate what case studies are telling you.”

She resented his mockery and lack of comprehension in the essential function and beauty of psychology—how it permeated every facet of existence. The larger their educational and career divide grew, the less they seemed to be able to recapture any of the spark that had first gone off at Uptight Downtown, where they still often went to study and write together in silence, like two strangers at a lunch counter. This noticeable rift was one that seemed to bother Honora more than Perry, whose play’s recent acceptance by a contest that would produce and promote it for free left Perry feeling even more arrogant than usual.

So large had his head become that it got to be as though she needed to actually schedule an appointment to spend time with him. In fact, revisiting Uptight Downtown now, almost two years later, she distinctly remembered a time when the only reason she bothered to drag herself out of the apartment on a freezing night in early February was specifically because she wanted to get some face-to-face with Perry. He was there with his actor friends, the ones who seemed to adore him because of how “dense” his writing was, how it really allowed them “the opportunity to use their instrument.” The only instrument being used, as far as Honora saw, was Perry’s cock as it got metaphorically stroked by all these easily impressed acolytes who were mostly zygotes plucked from the New School.

When she finished the graduate program at Hunter, she was given a chance to take advantage of an internship opportunity in London. Upon tearfully telling Perry this in their apartment the same day she learned of it, he smiled a Stepford smile and said, “That’s great. What are you upset about?”

“Um…us being apart. I know you can’t come with me. The play.”

He shrugged. “If we’re meant to come together again we will.”

His nonchalant attitude was all too expected by now, and in Honora’s extensive studies of the narcissist, she gathered that what he had done in the beginning exemplified the oldest trick in the sociopath book: love bombing. He had reeled her in with excessive and constant shows of affection, only to take them away when he knew she was hooked/had tired of her now lacking novelty altogether.

Though they spoke and corresponded intermittently during her stay in London, if Honora wasn’t the one to contact him, then they wouldn’t communicate. It was in this way that she decided—in order to be the mentally healthy person a psychologist ought to be—to let Perry go, simply by ceasing all communication. This was, at last, how they unsatisfactorily broke up. Without any real acknowledgement or honoring of what they had once had together.

Upon returning to New York two years later, Honora couldn’t help but deign to enter Uptight Downtown. Maybe she was a sucker for PTSD, or maybe she just wanted to ascertain if she still felt anything at all for Perry, who, last she heard was teaching playwriting at Hunter—the ultimate mark of failure in a field.

Here in the present, all Honora can see is the past. After collecting her cup of coffee, she walks over to the very table where Perry had first sought her out. The instant she sits down, that song, “Villages,” by Alpine comes on and the lyrics suddenly feel too appropriate to her—almost cutting. They speak to what happened between her and Perry with: “Why don’t you come/Look at me so/He breaks my hand/So many times/Never felt, never felt/Never felt, love/Never felt, never felt/That love could hurt so much/That love could hurt so much.” It is then she realizes Perry was right. Enough years here and she no longer has that wide-eyed, fresh as a daisy way about her. It passed.

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