“As far as we can discern, the sole purpose of human existence is to kindle a light in the darkness of mere being.” -Carl Jung
In an effort to improve our mental health (especially during these economic times), my friends and I sit around and tell stories about things we’ve overcome, pains we’ve learned to let go, and an array of massive mistakes we’ve made. It helps. And I have long believed that each of us is made up of a fury of small fables. The kind we tell ourselves when we’re blue. Or tell others when they’re blue. What follows here, is that sort of story. Nothing monumental or epic, simply, The Story of Bag.
If there was a prologue, I’d be very pretty and standing on a mountain of light. But that’s just for the visual. Oh, I’d be very happy too. This is so you can understand that everything works out in the end. So you don’t worry too much before we even get to the good part.
T and I had just moved to New York and were (like most of those around us) young, broke, and uniquely passionate about everything. We moved into a small apartment in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. We drove a U-Haul and T made me call her Lou while she drove. We painted the walls Kmart terra cotta and most of our furniture were items we had found on the sidewalk (including a globe I had carried 17 blocks in my arms while a street singer broke out in, She’s Got the Whole World In Her Hands). It was nice. We felt comfortable there. Though, we didn’t have very much money.
In fact, at this point (where Bag comes in), we hadn’t paid our rent in three months. Our landlords were very nice to us, and seemed to understand. Though, sometimes they couldn’t tell us they understood. Mainly because we were hiding in the bathroom with the lights off while they knocked. Still, I think deep down they understood us, I mean, about our unique passions and our youngness. Here, it’s important to note that we paid our rent in cash to a twelve-year old polish girl with a pretty smile who spoke no English. T would count out the money and say, “There’s a one hundred dollar bill here for every year of your life.”
Most days we were happy. Until the days we weren’t. Then we were sad. T usually pulled me out of the rut. Sometimes we’d have the “famous conversation” where we’d talk about how famous we’d be when we were dead. And how the historians would call our apartment 2L—The Literary Wing. Of course, it’s easier to get happy when you’re thinking of being dead. After the famous conversation, we’d get drunk, and submit our poorly edited bits of writing to the New Yorker (24-hour rejection! What a wonderful reason to try again!).
On one particularly low morning, when all the clothes hanging from the backyard clotheslines seemed inexcusably wet in their sad pastels, I whined into T’s room. I slumped in her blue chair we’d bought from a guy named Rocco who sold furniture out of his garage for only a few bucks. (We kept broken lighters underneath that chair, though I don’t know why, at the time that’s simply where they “went”.) I was feeling depressed and done with this stupid city. I think I said just that, “I’m depressed and done with this stupid city.” (I’m not very eloquent when I’m low.)
I told her how I had read somewhere that people who had pets were happier. How, when they got home and pet their cat or their dog, their blood pressure would go down and their mood would change. “I want a pet, how come we can’t have pets.” I argued with her as she smoked out the window.
“It’s the rule.” She blew smoke out of the corner of her mouth, “and considering we haven’t paid rent in three months, it’s probably a good idea that we don’t break any rules.” She looked like a young Betty Davis, but she said swear words a lot (I’ve cut them out here, but you’re welcome to stick them back in).
I walked into the kitchen. On the weekend we survived on what we called, “The liquids and bacon diet.” That’s self-explanatory. I had a slice of bacon and went back to my room. Maybe I cried. Maybe I just sat there. Whatever I did, I’m sure it was unsatisfying.
After a few minutes, T called from her room in an excited voice. She had a present for me. I wasn’t excited. But when I entered, she had brought back the curtains and was staring at the window.
“I got you a pet.”
I leaned out the window and looked left where something was dangling from a string in the wind.
“It’s a plastic bag. His name is, Bag.”
She had tied a black plastic shopping bag to a fishing line and hung it from our second story window. When the wind picked up, he’d rustle up against the glass. And she’d yell, “Look Ada, it’s Bag!” And soon I was doing it too. We sat there, and watched the bag come up and we’d wave at him. He made a popping noise when he got lifted up suddenly by a gust. And he seemed to like it when we didn’t give it too much attention.
We hung around for hours and wrote and laughed and waved at bag. And things were better. I was happy. Bag was happy.
In the morning, Bag had run away. We didn’t know where he went, but he’d disappeared. Still, we were feeling pretty good. We smiled and told stories about Bag and went for a walk under the laundry-lined streets.
I still think about Bag, almost 10 years later. And now, I’ve even written this. Sometimes, T and I think we see him. Sometimes, we can be walking and she’ll sigh and say, “I miss Bag.” She says if I’m good, she might get me another one someday. Though it won’t be the same.
If there was an epilogue here, I’d be writing this from my huge loft apartment with a garden and two beautiful black Labradors for real pets. But, that’s still not the case. Or maybe the camera would just cut to that young girl we paid our rent to, now twenty-two, in our old apartment, her lovely smile widening while watching a bag wind around in the cold air.
Ada Limón is originally from Sonoma, California. With a Masters of Fine Arts from the Creative Writing Program at New York University, she has received fellowships from the Provincetown Fine Arts Work Center, New York Foundation for the Arts, and won the Chicago Literary Award for Poetry. Her first book, lucky wreck, was the winner of the 2005 Autumn House Poetry Prize. Her second book, this big fake world, was the winner of the 2005 Pearl Poetry Prize. Her mother, Stacia Brady, is an artist in California and painted the covers of the books.She is the Creative Director of Travel + Leisure Magazine and teaches a Master Class for Columbia University. Her third book of poems Sharks in the Rivers, will be published by Milkweed Editions in 2010. She also sings in a band called Lucky Wreck.
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