Oh. I didn’t realize it was so late.
Click. Toss. Pose.
I feel numb listening to the cheering outside my window. I’ve been in here for hours, repeating the same pattern. I am chilled and a little wet from sitting, mostly naked, by the leaky faucet. Slowly I unfold and stand up in the tub, carefully rearranging the thick, fake braid I’d wrapped around my head and over my eyes. With my eyes uncovered, I push the shower curtain back and step over the side of the tub, over the shutter remote on the floor. It’s dark. I gingerly step around the legs of the tripod positioned by the sink. I’m sure that I look like a baby deer in my too-small heels navigating the equipment in my too-small bathroom. I review the photo. I think this one will work.
I slip off the glittery heels. My hair is already coming undone. I untie the silver mask holding it loosely in place, letting the synthetic purple braid slither down into the sink. I remove the broken choker from around my neck and the layered chain from around my chest and shoulders. I take off the earrings one by one. I reach for a makeup remover wipe to scrub the lipstick from my mouth. I am not careful with this and the red stains my face.
My roommates are out of town, so I leave the lights set up because I don’t want to deal with them: the small speedlight on the counter of the sink, the bulky softbox just outside the bathroom door. I take the camera off of the tripod and remove the SD card. I import the photos and edit until 4am to the sounds of raucous celebration from the street below.
Everything aches. I don’t feel well. I think I’m sick.
My parents aren’t happy about the photo. I speak to them on the phone a day or two after I post it to social media with the caption: “How I spent NYE: naked and alone in a bathtub. But, isn’t it glamorous? Self-portrait and first photo of 2018. Happy New Year.” Although they are generally supportive of my work, they are also conservative. They don’t like that I say that the photo is a self-portrait because I’m not wearing clothes in the photo, even though everything of consequence is hidden and you can’t really see my face. I don’t want to tell them about the breakup because I’m too angry to talk about it, and they didn’t like him in the first place.
I test positive a couple days later for Flu Type A.
My best friend corrects me whenever I say my ex’s name, reminding me to refer to him as Pathetic Cheating Liar. The night that we broke up, the night before New Year’s Eve, I blocked him everywhere - phone, email, social media - and deleted all of the photos of him that I could find. We have had zero contact since I slammed the door of his apartment. We had been together for about four years before it ended, and our relationship overlapped with my previous one of almost eight years. That’s about twelve consecutive years of dating. I joke that I’m really good at being in long term relationships. It’s been just over a year since we broke up.
Now, the cardboard moving boxes are stacked high along one wall of my apartment. I’ve been frazzled and slow to pack up everything, so I’ve been taking it in phases, packing one or two boxes at a time. Last week, I went through a folder of cards and letters that had fallen behind my bookcase and been forgotten about. Some of them were from him, written when I first moved to NYC and he was still living in Virginia. I threw them all away. They sat in a trash bag outside of my bedroom for a few days, and I felt unsettled knowing they were in there. The bag is gone now.
The thing about moving is that it forces you to face all of the things that you had swept under the rug and tucked away in dark corners: the things you hid because you didn’t want to make a decision about them, the things you thought you’d need but never remembered to use, the things you thought would hurt too much to lose.
When I moved to New York, my relationship was one of those things I should have let go, because I always knew it would end. Every problem we had I packed in a box, shoving it behind a display of sweet pictures and notes as if I’d never have to open it again. But it was all still there, taking up space.
In my first year in New York, I found myself having panic attacks almost every day.
I didn’t know what else to do but write, which didn’t fix things, but at the very least it gave me something else to focus on. I would often write at the Ace Hotel, where signs greet you with "Everything is going to be alright" and "Every EXIT is an entrance somewhere else." Sitting there in a plush leather armchair, where unfamiliar music hummed underneath a current of lively, unhushed chatter, I felt like I could tune out the uncomfortable parts of the city: the screams of car horns and sirens, the glare of pavement and metal, the feeling that everyone wants something from you and no one can be trusted. I created a document on my computer and filled it with vignettes of moments I felt compelled to record in order to deal with the change and the strangeness of living in a new city.
I found this document on my computer the other day. The entries begin with a description of the last night I spent with my ex before the morning of my move in 2015, a year before he followed me here and two years before our relationship ended. Recalling the constant unease I felt trying to adjust to this new life, all the while suspecting that he was hiding things from me, I hesitated to read the entire thing. I was prepared to discover other passages detailing my anxieties about the relationship, because even on that beautiful night that we stood outside of his house in the woods watching fireflies flicker beneath an impossibly starry sky, I didn’t trust him.
I was pleased to find that there was no other mention of him.
I’ll be damned if I’m going to spend New Year’s Eve alone and not make art about it.
Embedded in this photo is the slurry of emotions I felt in that moment of one year ending and a new year beginning, particularly the uncertainty of what was to come. Although it was a response to a breakup, I don’t think of my ex when I look at it now. Creating this image felt like a defiant act and a reclamation of power. As I uncovered my eyes and shed the broken pieces of jewelry and the sparkly shoes that didn’t quite fit, I was shedding a part of myself that I no longer had use for.