Alexandra Dos Santos

Prologue from It’s Like Stockholm Syndrome 

        Sleep was impossible, even with ZQuil, melatonin capsules, and codeine, in that order. When one took too long to kick in, I took another. I waited to drift into some warm swamp, for my body to get sluggish, for gravity to pin me down. But after the cough syrup came a falling sensation, and when I hit the ground my brain zapped alive with activity. There were still-frames of memories, flipping like a photo album, flowing without resistance. At first it was nice; I was the proud owner of these memories, and looking back, reliving them without the burden of choice, it was safe.  

        But then I got bored. I’d thought about this everyday, for over a month now. It wasn’t the pain that jolted me up out of bed; it was the boredom. Because once I’d gone through it all, all the way up to our last moment together, there was nothing left but ZQuil, melatonin capsules, and codeine.

        I went to my bathroom, locked the door, and tried masturbating until I felt tired. I sat on the cold tile; it hurt a hell of a lot more than it felt good. The way my skin smacked against the hard ice, the way the draft rushed through the cracks in the door. I knew it was risky, turning on porn after what happened, but I thought I could disconnect—make those people on screen represent something new and strange that I’ve never been a part of. The porn stars on my phone looked disgustingly happy, mocking me with jerk-off motions, long jagged tongue flips, and hard lip bites. Tears bubbled over and I slid my phone away. Back then, my shame held hands with his shame. But tonight the shame was all mine. I didn’t want any of this sex shit, I didn’t want any of this love shit, and I didn’t want to be awake at this hour, raping myself on the bathroom floor.

        I sighed and rolled over to look up at the ceiling.

        “I can’t live like this,” I hung my head in my hands, “I can’t fucking live like this.”

        I got up.

        I sat on the J train holding my breath at every stop, praying to Buddha that no one would come on. The breast augmentation ad I’d seen a thousand times before sat across from me: the one with a brunette holding tangerines up to her boobs with a childish, Lolita-esque pouty face. And in the next frame of the ad she held cantaloupes, so large they went went outside her bird-cage frame. Her smile was huge. Womanly.

         At Halsey Street an old man smelling of piss came on and sat across from me. I could feel him staring, though I didn’t look up. I tried shrinking, shoulders rising, neck tucking into my collar bone, trying to hide in the open air. He giggled and clapped his hands, and once he got my attention, stuck his middle and ring finger around his chin and flicked his tongue. I staggered a little in my seat, the drugs washing over me in a wave of warmth. I let myself go, slumped down in my seat, and watched city lights flow by like a drunken rainbow. And my favorite part: they were all cool colors. I’ve always loved blue. It was a color you marinated in. It was the color of floating.

        The old man pulled me out my dream with kissy noises. I turned to look at him, and watched as he shamelessly made out with the air. It was as intrusive as touching me, as unforgivable. I gave the fucker the cunnilingus sign back. He joined in the sign, and we sat there for a while in silence, watching each other perform on our hands. But when I started to growl, he stopped. For the rest of the way I stared at him, and he at his knees.

        I got out at Norwood Ave and flipped my hoodie to cover my face. The night made me feel like I was a part of something. It all whirled together—the trees in tiny lots, the McDonald’s sign, the over-flowing trashcans, the bodegas, the cigarette butts. I laughed as the oily streets slithered. The world was alive, and I was moving it all. I rode the street so fast I got dizzy, and held on as I went block by block. I felt as if I were perched on some high point, and if I let my mind teeter too much, I would plunge off the side.

        Finally I got there: his building. It stood high and wobbly—a deep purple. I looked up at his window for a while, savoring it. The smell outside, the smog in my lungs. I wanted this moment, the moment before it happened, to last and last. So I stood and felt my heartbeat, the blood tingling my fingers and toes, the beads of sweat sprouting above my lip. Depression was creeping up on me like a stealthy Zimbabwe hunter. I felt the pull to the fire escape, and climbed.

        I thought of the times the two of us had done this before—the time we climbed up this ladder to his roof to smoke, the time he forgot his key inside and had to go in through the window. And here I went, climbing up to see him now.

        The window was open a crack, just enough for me to slip my fingers inside and pull it up. Just the sound of the air, a slide, and it was up enough for me to crawl in. His kitchen was dark, with silhouettes of the furniture, the island, the cabinets. Just shapes, edges, sharp and quiet. I picked a banana off the bunch and sat there in the dark and ate it. It wasn’t ripe enough, and left my mouth dry and tacky. I cracked open his fridge and groped around, careful not to look at the white light. The first thing I grabbed was a half-empty bottle of malt liquor. The drink of gangsters he told me the first time he offered it to me. I swished it around in my mouth and spit it out on the floor. It still tasted stale.

        I floated down the hallway to his bedroom. When I reached his door, I held in a giggle. Hold it in, hold it in or he’ll hear you.

        I opened the door a crack, and waited to see if he would stir before opening another bit. It reminded me of The Tell Tale Heart.” Ha. Nevermore, nevermore. Wait, no that’s “The Raven”—I choked with laughter. Gaining control of myself, I held utterly still for a few seconds, though the walls and floor slid around me like a Rubik’s Cube. Finally, the door was wide open and I stood in the frame. I saw him on the bed: a lump under the thin sheet, bowl and grinder lying by him like a lover in my old spot. I got closer and stood by his bedside for a while, studying the frizzy back of his head. He turned over on his back, still deep in sleep. The sheet fell and I saw his bare chest, his tribal tattoo. I remember how I used to trace the swirls, swim in the waves.

        I got on the bed and straddled him. His face was exactly how I remembered—pointed, hard. His was the face of a shark. He stirred, and his eyes fluttered open. It was time I did what I came here to do.

        I sunk my fingers into his chest, so easily they glided in like cake, and peeled him open. It reminded me of the sound my feet made clunking ankle-deep in the ocean. The ribs separated with a few tugs, bones cracking along the way. I pried him wide open like a girl’s legs. His eyes were so alive it looked like his skin began to tear. I could make out tears forming around the edges. We locked eyes, and there was no recognition. And I thought—for the tiniest fraction of a second—that I’d made it all up. That he didn’t know me, and that in turn I didn’t know myself. But that’s insane, I thought, nothing is realer than you and me.

        I sunk my hand—forearm, elbow—into him. His pupils rolled back, and nothing was left in his sockets but white. I looked in his chest. I saw so much: pieces and pieces of lumpy red, like throbbing sponges.  

        “These aren’t mine,” I said, rummaging through his chest like a desk drawer. I pulled out the wet muscles and tossed them on the floor.

        My arm went all the way in, and I felt for what was mine; I’d know what mine felt like. I’d just have to. I picked and threw, pulled and tossed—I can’t believe he’s not dead yet. He was still twitching, especially when I scraped muscles with my nails.

        Finally, I saw mine. It was brighter than the rest—probably the freshest—and it was still alive. Engorging itself with blood, expanding and contracting. I pulled it out with some difficulty, snapping it free of his insides. I sat there with it in my hands. I cradled that goddamn mother fucking thing, pressed it to my chest, tried to get it to sink into me. Tried to force tenderness, tried to reintroduce it, to welcome it home. It leaked there, blood dribbling down my arms, soaking my shirt. I let it. I let it feel cold and foreign in the hopes that something would change. I waited for some comfort, for something to return to me, or some warmth to overwhelm me. But here, outside of my body, this thing in my hands looked pathetic.

        He was still now, more solid than I’d ever seen him before. It was the first time I was assured that he wasn’t going anywhere.

        I went to his bathroom and lifted the toilet lid.

        “Fuck,” I said aloud, and dropped the thing in. It hit the bottom and splashed my bare feet. Had I forgotten to put on shoes before I left? I flushed the toilet and watched it spin. I flushed again but it wouldn’t go down, the pipes were too thin to fit it. It banged against the tunnel and flowed back into the bowl. I looked at it floating there, reddening the water. Doing nothing but existing: a parasite separate from its host.

        So I closed the lid. I decided to leave my virginity there, in the shitter.