I don’t stay put. If I tire easily, if I get bored or angry or sad, I leave. What I’m left with as a result is an album of thousands of snapshots of the people I met during my brief stopovers into different universes. I only stayed one semester at college, something that prospective employers and even friends furrow their brows at. What might appear as the inability to finish something, the lack of follow-through to me is more of a brief, intensive education in character study. Some of the characters are now nameless. None of them are diminished in beauty, though.
One girl from my semester at college, whose name has escaped into the ether, was always bringing my roommate and I new toothbrushes. Her father was a dentist. Somewhere in October she found she could no longer sleep. Her mind would race, her tiny frame would shake, and down the bleary dorm hall she’d walk to my room. Socks on her feet, eyes raw and red, her usually pacific brain was frantic and frazzled. Frightened. If her brain was not counterbalanced with healthy sleep (to go with her healthy teeth) and soon, she would crumble. Her cornsilk hair would fall out. So she padded down the hall and knocked on our door, which was never locked. She wanted me to sing to her. I sang until my voice was red and raw. She fell asleep at my feet, and I held a lock of her cornsilk hair in my hands. She was from Kentucky, and wore big pants like a boy. I thought she was lovely and should wear more dresses. I told her so, and ended up sounding like her mother.
Another one, a cool and calm one with soft hands that held makeup brushes. The wide and fat ones that a girl can now buy at any upscale shopping mall but in the late nineteen-nineties could only be found in specialty shops in major cities. She was raised by her eccentric father, moving around from Harlem to Montana, and was at the same small University as me by means of a whim. She had seen a brochure; the place reminded her of the ivy covered brick fortresses in the northeast. Ohio was less expensive and less pretentious. So her father sent her to Ohio, and she packed up with her wide, fluffy makeup brushes and t-shirts from Japan. She told me she could spend days playing with my face, making me look like women she’d seen all over the world. She pulled my large, long writer’s hands with her small soft hands and led me to her bedroom. While she unearthed a silver tacklebox filled with expensive makeup I looked around at the art and photography on her white walls. They were framed in black, arranged like a Pottery Barn catalog. My walls were littered with posters, fixed to the wall with the strange blue putty that the university insisted that Freshmen use to hang things.
She would dig around the tacklebox and light candles, offering me her French cigarettes and warning me to always use a match or a lighter, never a lit candle to light my own smoke. She had a Russian boyfriend back in Harlem, and it was a superstition in his country to do just that. Her face was unchanging as she presented this international trivia, unsmiling and serious. I remember her hair was a deep chestnut, highlighted with blonde chunky streaks. Her lips were always painted a matte brick color, and when she spoke her voice was lilted. The voice of someone who had lived everywhere before she was even eighteen.
Once she had everything she needed (foundation, powder, blush, cake eyeliner, thick and wonderfully smooth mascara), she would take her silver handled brushes and swirl and pat my face with powder. The bristles poked at my skin sometimes, but it didn’t take away from the quiet feeling that would start to grow inside me, as she would ask me questions about my home, laughing at some of my stories that I would tell, and then grow silent again while working up to my eyes. I loved having someone put makeup on me. I loved the feeling of being simultaneously transformed and being taken care of. Like a doll. Like a child.
I don’t have any physical photos of that time left. Many I lost in my own frenetic cross-country moves. Maybe by holding them here, in a story, I can visit them any time I want to peek in again into other worlds. Places where I was so briefly a resident, and am now merely a ghost of.