Anywhere. Anywhere but home. That was always Paul’s motto. That’s how he constantly found himself booking hotel rooms at the drop of a hat–whenever the threat of waking up in his apartment loomed. And it wasn’t just that he felt that general New York uncomfortableness of having roommates constantly overhanging, but that he felt a certain anxiety from establishing any sort of permanence, knowing always that it could be ripped away from him, and also that it signified death. The likely source of Paul’s initial sense of never having an identity when it came to place was most certainly attributable to to his mother, Deirdre, an extreme sufferer of obsessive compulsive behavior begat from her own mother’s semi-opposite disorder of hoarding. Resultantly, Deirdre had to, at all times, keep her home immaculate–a need somewhat antithetical to raising a child. From as far back as Paul could remember, Deirdre was constantly behind him, ready to pick up and wipe clean whatever debris was left behind. It quickly gave him a complex about his possessions, that they could be plucked from him at any second so what was the point of getting attached? This is what propelled him to bypass college and take his first backpacking trip to Asia as soon as he turned eighteen.
There, he found a sudden and unexpected comfort in the freedom of being truly tied to nothing. He never really was before, but through this experience, it was palpable. Deirdre and Paul rarely spoke now that he was legally an adult and his father, Hank, a criminal lawyer living in Houston, had long ago stopped trying to defend his act of leaving Paul and Deirdre when Paul was just three years old. He soon after remarried a woman half his age in expected cliche form. She did not have OCD, in addition to having a far suppler body. The choice was clear. But Deirdre would never recover from the slight. Women don’t recover, in spite of their reputation for resiliency. It isn’t that they’re more resilient, so much as the fact that they’ve found a way to replicate the buoy in human form, constantly coming back up for more pain every time they’re pushed down. Paul realized this when he met Leah, a fellow traveler backpacking through the ruins of Sukhothai. He told her a lot of what turned out to be lies that he genuinely believed at the time of regurgitating them like old movie lines from films he had never seen but had somehow been ingrained in him as a result of being a product of Western society. And Leah, also from the U.S. (specifically Minnesota), fell for them just as she was supposed to. And forgave Paul when he abandoned her in Bangkok in favor of going to Melbourne to meet up with a friend of his who happened to be there. Even though he said he couldn’t imagine being away from her ever again for even more than a day. It was true, he loved her. But maybe it was only because she was so clearly unlike his mother, paired with the novelty of meeting her whilst abroad–the excitement and frenzy that comes with falling for someone outside of your (and her) natural environment. Leah, incensed, let him go, continuing on her own travel route to London, where she would cover the best of Europe before returning home to St. Paul. She viewed the city she was from to be ironic now, finding her own Paul to be anything but a saint.
He promised to meet her there when he was done with his travels, which he still couldn’t concretely say for sure if that would be sometime next month or next year. He had to go where the wind blew him, he informed Leah on their last morning together, she being foolish enough to let him have sex with her as though he hadn’t just slighted her in the same way his father had done to his mother. But he hated his mother more than his father, so he didn’t mind emulating his behavior if it meant being less like the former. After he kissed her for the final time, he didn’t speak to her again for six months, when she happened to be pathetic enough to reach out to him when she was passing through New York to look at colleges. A prime example of the female buoy-like nature. Paul landed in New York a few weeks before Leah would be there, opting to rent a $675 a month room off the New Lots Avenue stop to try his hand at an “affordable” NYC existence. He might not be attending school there per se, but he was getting far more of an education than Leah would if she decided to go to NYU to study “Open Arts,” a major that sounded like the very pinnacle of non-committal. He told her as much when they met for coffee at Third Rail. “Well, I haven’t decided, exactly, which art I like best and this will just give me well-roundedness in all of them.”
“‘Well-roundedness.’ Isn’t that what life’s all about these days? No one wants to take the risk of specializing in any one thing.”
“You’re accusing me of not taking risks? Look at where we met.”
“Yeah, you went to Thailand. What white girl doesn’t? And it was on money you received as a graduation present. How bold do you think that is, really?
Leah sipped her coffee quickly and threatened, “I’m just going to leave if this is how you plan to treat me.”
Shortly thereafter, they were in his East New York room, fucking.
“How can you live like this?” she asked as the ill-fitting lone sheet came off the mattress that Paul had haphazardly slapped down onto his floor after buying it from Ikea, which, that he had even bothered to go there, was in and of itself a miracle.
“Aren’t you familiar with that Heraclitus adage, ‘Nothing endures but change?'”
Leah rolled her eyes. “So you’re living life philosophically, huh? Never staying too affixed to any state, person or thing?”
“Precisely. And so, Leah, this is how I can live ‘like this,’ as you say,” he conveyed with the bombastic motion of his hand.
She sighed. “Well, no girl is going to wanna fuck you besides me if you keep going at this rate.”
Paul laughed. “Girls fucking me is the least of my worries.”
“What’s the most of them?”
He pulled her closer to him and said, “Shhhh.”
Five more years of a nomadic existence in New York and zero communication with either of his parents made Paul feel a sense of independence that few other twenty-four year olds can know. He had arrived in the city at nineteen, lived in every borough by twenty-one and was soon conquering the unheard of record of inhabiting every neighborhood–even the ones on Staten Island, which is, incidentally, where he was hanging his hat at the moment. Hence, his ferry ride to Lower Manhattan where he had booked a cheap hotel option at The Bowery House to avoid contact with his current roommates, all cliquish, all bro-like, all packing Staten Island accents. He had to move out of there, and soon, but his reserve of cash was low and he needed to work just a few more shifts as a bouncer at Xcess Gentlemen’s Club to be able to afford to find the next room, the next fix to feed his need for ephemerality.
In addition to inhabiting just about every neighborhood known to New York, he had also stayed in just about every $100-$200 a night hotel on the island of Manhattan. And each time, it infused him with the renewed sense of vigor he thought he could only get from traveling abroad and going from one city to the next. But, as it turned out, going from one hotel to the next in New York was far more economical, as it were, and imbued him with a similar thrill. Like he could be anyone. The anonymity was, in part, what fortified him, but it was also the notion that he was a man with no home. People and their homes–their pitiful need to feel rooted. It was what Paul liked least about humanity at large. How they tried so vehemently to go against that which was natural. To always be on the move–on the run from something, someone. Everyone was an outlaw at heart. They just didn’t have the good sense to know when their stay was up, Paul mused as he looked out the window and smiled. Maybe he would contact Leah later and invite her to his one-night abode. It had been awhile since they had seen one another.
Leah, as it turned out, had gotten married to one of her Open Arts professors about two months ago. So she confessed to him after he consumed all the mini bottles of alcohol from the hotel refrigerator and found the will to call her. “Married? Why?”
“You know Paul, it’s called love.”
“I love you. We’re not married.”
“You don’t love me Paul. You love that I’m available when you need me. But that’s about to change, so I imagine your belief that you love me will, too.”
Paul couldn’t stand to admit to himself that he was actually hurt by Leah’s now off limitsness. It went against everything he thought he held as gospel. That he could function perfectly well without any particular person. Whoever came and whoever went was fine by him.
“Paul? Are you there?”
He hung up the phone. He had to forget about her now. It was time to get out of New York. Reinvent. Repackage. Repurpose. His stay here had been too long extended, he suddenly apprehended.