"I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by
madness, starving hysterical naked,
dragging themselves through the negro streets at dawn
looking for an angry fix…"
You know, I noticed you as soon as I walked in the door. I'd never seen you in there before and it used to be one of my old haunts. Even though it was dimly lit, as such places are, I noticed when you came in. I love that old place, all dark floors, shiny from decades of dancing, standing, drinking. Red velvet walls whose shabby spots were covered by framed photographs of celebrities, bands and their forgotten companions.
Do you ever look at those old photographs of famous people and wonder who the women are with them? Different alluring dress for different eras; tall white boots and tall beehives for the sixties, curvy dresses and exquisitely made up cat's eyes for the fifties, you get the picture. Those women were desirable for a few nights or a few minutes, got their pictures taken with the latest member of the British invasion, the latest popular actor, sometimes even a novelist, if he was hip enough. Do you ever wonder what happened to those women? You can always find the musicians in Rolling Stone, even decades later, the most obscure actor or novelist can be found on Wikipedia or IMDB. The women are gone like a puff of smoke from the cigarettes everyone loved in those days. Do you think that their residue, like nicotine, coats the walls and ceilings of this club?
I digress, I wasn't talking about women, was I? I was talking about how I noticed you, with your Macbook and your designer glasses. You wouldn't have stood out to most people in a place like this. There must be a couple thousand guys in New York City who look like you, forty-something, tall, worn blazer and expensive jeans. I don't intend for that to sound insulting, I like the look. It's always been one of my favorites.
I was taking a risk, coming here, but I can be nostalgic, despite what my father would say. I was in town and I wanted to see my old stomping ground, observe the changes. People continue to give this place symbolic cultural value. They visit it because of what it used to be, a haunt for the hip, the famous, the talented. Now it's just a haunt for those who would make contact with the hip, the famous, the talented. There's this guy I know, Afton. He can touch an object and tell you it provenance. It's kind of a gift. He can tell you who made it, where it's been, who touched it. What would you give to be able to touch the bar, the floor and say "Jimi Hendrix was high here in 1967" or "Norman Mailer pounded on this bar in 1965 because he couldn't get served fast enough"?
Please bear with me if I meander to the point. I don't lose track of my thoughts; it's not that. I guess I want to set the stage for you. I want you to understand that although most of my life I've been the bad guy I am not without sentimentality. I'm going to tell you a story I've never told anyone.
Why you? Because you were there to see some ghosts and I can show them to you because I know who they are. Because I have a story to tell and you are clearly a collector of stories. Because you remind me of my brother, Edward. You look a little like him, although you're older. Did they call you something different when you were a boy? Nicky? Nicholas? People called me Bella when I was a girl but I have been called Isabella for many years now.
Did I mention that my brother and I hated each other from the start?
I came to East Village in 1954. I know I don't look old enough to have been here then but if you can accept that I know a guy that can identify the history of an object by touching it you can accept that I was in the East Village in 1954. Of course, it wasn't called that yet. It was still considered part of the Lower East Side. In the late 1940's it had begun to attract smart young men from St Louis and Paterson and working class drop-outs and deserters from places like Lowell and Salt Lake City. They met junkies and thieves in New York City. Some of them were already junkie and thieves when they got here.
You know your history; in 1954, Kerouac had already written "On The Road" although it would be another 3 years before it was published. Lucien Carr had already killed David Kammerer (and been helped to cover up the murder by Kerouac and William Burroughs). Allen Ginsburg was one year away from moving to San Francisco and writing "Howl". But Allen had already seen the best minds of his generation destroyed by madness and we were all crawling the streets looking for an angry fix.
I had come to New York City as the world's oldest orphan. Can you still be considered an orphan after you are no longer a minor? You can if you have no resources except an 18 year-old body and a desire to get the fuck out of the small town in Pennsylvania where you lived. With your father dead at the hands of an angry husband who just wanted the right to terrify his wife without the local police interfering and no mother to speak of my prospects were looking grim. I could have married one of the eager, baby-faced oil workers I had graduated from high school with but there's a big difference between being willing to have sex with a guy in the basement of your high school or behind the bleachers and wanting to spend the rest of your life looking up at his face. I decided I'd rather die than live that life. And I did, more than once.
Just like now, New York City was no joke for little girls from small towns. But I had a little bit of money and I was able to keep myself off the streets. I wasn't opposed to sleeping with a man if I could get something out of it but I was opposed to not having a choice about the guy. After a couple of weeks I met a graduate student named Peter who wasn't too bad to look at, had a great book collection and knew lots of interesting people.
"Interesting" in those days meant that they did heroin and talked about Sartre and jazz. It meant doing speed and talking about Buddhism and having sex with whomever you wanted to. Being interesting also meant getting drunk and turning your car over in the snow, falling out of apartment windows, falling on subway tracks and cleaning your gun under the influence. A lot of people died.
Do my values seem convoluted to you? I didn't want to get married and have babies but I would shoot heroin and dance on window ledges? You do remind me of Edward, especially when you look at me like that. He's never approved of my choices. He would be furious about me talking to you. When does he come into this? Soon. First I have to talk about my parents.
I know I said that my parents were long gone. Charlie and Renee Swan, the people who had sex and biologically produced me were gone, Charlie was dead and so was Renee for all intents and purposes, dead to me, at least. Some people have more than one set of parents; you know that. Look at stepparents, sperm donors, foster moms and father figures. You have all these and more in the world today, is it any wonder that someone who's been around as long as I have would need more than one set of parents?
You are eager to hear about Edward, aren't you? Vanity. I say you remind me of him and you want to see yourself reflected in him.
Well, there's a part of me that's eager to hear from Edward, too, although I know I won't like what he has to say.
a/n: I don't own Twilight. Still.
EverlastingMuse and Liz3615 have been incredibly generous with their time, betaeing and pre-reading this for me, respectively, as well as talking me down off the ledge when I said I couldn't write anything dark. I'll update Sundays (including this Sunday). Reviewers get teasers and I post them on my blog (link on profile). Thanks for reading! JuJu