"Removal" by Paul Fey

The only clear experience this far removed was before they’d fucked or even kissed and had only spooned each other on drunk nights:

In this singular lucid memory, he sits on the floor of her closet-of-a-room while she lights the candles on her bedside-type wooden table up against the wall that she once called her shrine to her father, though he couldn’t tell in the moment if she meant father or Father, even though they had held long discussions on the absurdities of religion. But that was when he was sober, and now he is most definitely not, having smoked just a few hits of what was mostly keefer. He is way out of his league as far as capacity for enjoying such an intense high, and, super-stoned as he is, is trying to relax by tapping his foot consistently on her wood floorboards while peering up at the collections of maps she had pinned decoratively to her closet door.

He somehow understands its complex grid of perpendicular and parallel lines or streets, “streets,” that line the island of Manhattan in black, the ocean in blue, as a metaphor – but more objectively true – for his own personality. As in, these imposed lines represent some sort of switches, or series of switches, that have led him to here, which is where? Like God, he could be someone else if not for one switch along the way? Like does he part his hair the way he does? And why does he enjoy some music and not others? Why does he think of himself as funny, and do others? All traits, or tastes, or appearances appear as they are – that is, not based on any objective sense of aesthetics, or even morals, but instead absolutely and absurdly trivial because he could have, a couple streets back, made an opposite decision, not better or worse, just different;

And that his face, which he pictures now with that trivial haircut and trivial expression, is not a destination at the end of each turn, but instead composed of the entire positives and negatives of turns, and then she says, “I think you’re having a panic attack,” and as he concentrates intently on being chill, which is like “him”  furrowing his brow to relax against the breakneck speed of his mind, “he,” at that moment, looks at her and can’t tell if she is an old friend or a stranger who let him into her home that very day without any previous context. At its outset, and even its ending, this is the dynamic of their relationship:

A stranger, a childhood friend.          

Both destinations, dead ends. Such an axiomatic understanding is both easy and somehow expected this far removed.