“THE AFTER-PARTY” [sequel to “ORION'S BELT”]

 

InNYTheLightIsEverywhere_Volynets

painting by Steven Volynets

 

[Editor's note: This is the sequel to the author's poem "Orion's Belt," published here in December 2013.]

 

by Meira Bienstock

 

Manhattan holiday parties are depressing.

Lucky for me, I was working a closing shift,

so I skipped straight to the after-party,

where we saw each other simultaneously and I was the definition of ecstatic.

 

You yell my full name, your arms opening in embrace

like this summer and fall weren’t a disaster

like you hadn’t played with both of our heads and hearts, your mind confused

like you hadn’t ignored me for exactly a month since we ended.

And stupid, heart-hopeful me, I fall into your arms,

even though you’re tipsy and I’m sober,

and I cling on. Too tightly. But you don’t let go, which is puzzling

but reassuring.

 

My heart is already ripping itself at the sound of your voice. And I let it tear

as I stand close, wondering why the bags under your

usually bright eyes are heavy and blue.

 

You’ve been in Mexico surfing;

you’re about to start your master’s program in Manhattan.

Your grandpa just died. Your eyes look down as you take a sip of beer.

His last name is gone forever, you say. He was the last. 

But don’t you have his last name? I ask.

It’s my middle name, you say.

So it won’t die out. You’re here. You’re alive. It still lives, I say.

He’s gone. He’s gone. His name is gone forever, you know? You slur.

 

Those heavy bags under your beautiful eyes are now illuminated.

I see the beer bottle your hand is wrapped around and notice your slurred words

taking in the fact you’re speak like you’re already gone, too.

I want to kiss you and hold and hug you

and tell you, my Mom died, I’ve been in that bad place,

I know your brain is damaged from that breakup with the girl before me,

but I think you’re damn perfect and amazing,

and we’ve known each other through

too long of vampire shifts at the rooftop nightclub

through this summer and fall, and that our one night changed my whole life

because it gave me hope. You gave me hope.

 

You tell me you have to pee, sorry, you’ll be right back.

I wait patiently by the bathroom and don’t notice anyone else in the crowded bar.

 

When you come out, I smile widely.

I never say those words. I don’t kiss you or hold you the way I think you deserve.

You get us both beers without me asking you to order me anything,

which has never happened to me in New York City.

 

We get close. We talk. We drink. You’re smiling. I’m smiling.

We’re finally laughing again. Things aren’t awkward.

It’s like my life is at last normal, my wounds healed and my heart mended.

It’s like all the years of suffering—

all those years are erased and everything will be okay,

because you, the boy who spins chaos into stability,

are talking to me like it’ll work out

in New York City, the city I’ve turned into home.

 

We dance with our friends, and me with a male friend.

You turn furious, jealous and pissed,

and slam down the bottle of beer

as our friend tries to grab it and yells

Chill out man. Chill. Come on.

I dance with you instead, you running your fingers through my hair over and over

The way you did when you held me close to you that night in the cab ride.

 

You are leaving without a backward glance and my guy friend tells me

Go, go after him.

As you wait to gather your coat,

I slip my hand into yours,

fearful of loosing the only boy who makes sense in this chaos.

Always are we among chaos in nightclubs and bars,

the nightlife, glamour, dimmed lights and spilled alcohol of four a.m.

and always do you bring me sanity just by existing.

You turn and see me, not objecting my hand,

even though you used to be so guarded.

 

I ask if we can hang out after.

You say let’s stay here, and buy us both beers.

Finally, slumped over that bar, we talk, and I ask the basic questions

I should have asked the day I fell for you.

 

You tell me you have to pee, sorry, this is the last time, you’ll be right back.

I wait at the bar, patiently, and don’t notice anyone else.

 

You never return. I spend the early morning looking for you.

But I’m running a maze with no exit

and tears are bubbling over.

My heart is exploding and I’m going to burst into insanity

and slam out a razor if I don’t hear from you.

I drain a glass of gin and ginger ale in less than three minutes.

 

I am flashing back to you kissing me on the subway platform

when you told me you had a work crush on me,

flashing back to all the moments

when the phonies went crazy on me at the nightclub

and you showed up.

You were always my hope,

the reason I could believe humanity via NYC had decency.

You were the only person I adored in New York City.

I did not know the next day the newspapers would declare you dead by suicide.

 

I couldn’t move for far too long. I couldn’t breathe for far too long.

I couldn’t get the pieces of my heart back together

Because the wind had blown them off the rooftop nightclub

in which we had worked.

All I could think was you had hinted you weren’t going to be around

when I said you still have your grandpa’s name, you’re still here,

and you acted like you were already gone.

 

I dug myself under this city,

crawling through the dirt and grim and trash

and told myself I must disappear because that’s how I feel inside.

I didn’t survive my Mom’s death too well,

and I’m doing a lousy job

at living with you gone.

I just wander through the subway tunnels, calling out for you to no avail

Because they found you dead by the L train

Where you had first kissed me and told me you liked me.

Underground, in the darkness, my tears mask my face

And scars mark my arms, and my bones are all that can be seen from afar.

 

It’s been over a year but I can’t pick myself back up.

I can’t leave New York City because it screams YOU,

the way it is illuminated and lit up with excitement at every angle,

but really is filled with a heavy darkness.

I wish I had been a better friend, but I asked and listened all I could

And you had your walls up so high and only sometimes let me leap over.

 

I said that Manhattan holiday parties are depressing.

But the after-parties, those are even worse.

People always leave without saying goodbye.

 

Meira Bienstock moved to New York City right after she graduated from college. Her articles have been published in The Jerusalem Post, International Design Times, The Herald Bulletin, Madison Magazine, and more. She completed editorial internships with ELLE magazine in New York City and The Jerusalem Post in Israel. She is currently writing a dark, magical realism novel.

 

Steven Volynets was born in Soviet Ukraine and raised in South Brooklyn. His fiction and criticism have been published in Construction literary magazine, HTMLGIANT, and Works & Days Quarterly and are forthcoming in Per Contra journal. He spent several years as a writer at PC Magazine, covering everything from gadgets to energy policy. His news gathering and reporting earned nominations for the Weblog Award, min Best of the Web Award, and Jesse H. Neal Award (the “Oscar” of business journalism). Steven graduated from Brooklyn College and attended the MFA program in fiction at the City College of New York. He regularly blogs about books, politics, and art at http://stevenvolynets.blogspot.com.