This apartment with thin, wooden floors is haunted by a spirit of pessimism. The place is painted in a shade of gloom. In winter, cold air in the basement offers a frozen pond ambiance in the livingroom. The exposed brink walls were painted red at one time. Be careful. Do not lean against them. A powdery pink substance comes off those walls. My breakdown happened here. My psychosis started right there, within the hearth of that fireplace. No, it’s not a functional fireplace, but that is where I imagined the voices.
Shawn preferred that we stay here on nights before going to the beach. I knew this place was haunted before moving in here. I would have rather slept in my own bed than stay here in the heart of Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn, but in order to prove to him that I was not a typical white person, I’d travel all the way from Harlem on the A train at night, walk fearlessly through the ghetto like a white shadow, and crawl in bed with my man. The Long Island Railroad is within walking distance. The Atlantic Avenue station stop is seven blocks down Nostrand Avenue. This was his place at the time. I was living in Harlem in a newly renovated brownstone. At least at my place we didn’t have to listen to thumping house music all night long. I had control of the stereo in my house. I had lots of hot water too. There was only a small hot water heater under the kitchen sink at the time. The tiny hot water heater was like the one in my family’s R.V. While taking a shower, the hot water expired in less than three minutes.
Thankfully, the landlord installed a real hot water heater three years ago, long after Shawn passed away. I told Shawn that I wouldn’t move in with him because he didn’t have enough hot water at his place. He must have laughed from the otherside as I suffered through manic depression without adequate hot water, trapped here in his old place which remains his haunting ground. On those nights before going to the beach, I complained about the inconvenience of not being able to take a soothing, hot morning shower.
“We’re going to the beach, you do not need a shower, Sexy.”
“Yes I do. I smell like raunchy sex.”
The floors never clean to a condition where one can walk barefoot in here. The floors and the short hot water supply go on my nerves. Shawn had an inflatable mattress in his room. It must have had holes in it. Nights were like sleeping upon the sea. The hydro. My head. The sex. My knees. Just get off me so I can go to sleep, I kept thinking. Shawn kept scolding me for not wearing a pair of his sandals while at his place. I love walking around barefooted. So what he had a foot fetish?
No matter how much scrubbing is done upon the uneven footing in here, this place remains filthy. Perhaps a mechanic lived here before. A worker from the garage down the block never took off his boots when he came home at night. Caked on grime and grease from the California Auto Supply Center is likely what makes these floors so filthy. They are polyurethaned plywood, yet made from what appears to be shavings of chipped wood. They are not typical plywood as is used for boarding up windows during hurricane threats. The wood shavings used to create this floor are approximately five inches and create an image of a patchwork quilt under the slight glisten of what remains of the varnished surface. The place appears unfinished, as if a real hardwood floor will be added one day. The floors in Harlem were parquet. Still when I walk, the floor bounces.
Shawn had a roommate, Ray who seemed nice to me, but they didn’t get along. Shawn complained because Ray stole his food. At least at my place in Harlem there was cable television and I didn’t have to feel as though I were in the way of a stranger in his own home. My roommate Anthony Owens adored Shawn. They were two gay pot heads in a pod. Shawn wanted to get up early and arrive at Robert Moses State Park so we had to spend the night here. He wanted to be there in time to watch the sun rise over the easterly Atlantic and the first train out of Brooklyn was at 5:30 a.m.
I felt more comfortable at my place but agreed to stay here for convenience sake. He was becoming a little obsessive. It seemed as though after each night we shared a bed together, no matter if upon a real mattress in Harlem or one blown-up here in Brooklyn, he was falling deeper and deeper into uncontrollable love. He nearly smothered me when he snuggled– wrapping his legs around me as a mantis does to prey.
I liked him a lot but the relationship was strange and raging out of control, at least as far as he was concerned. One night in Harlem when I thought he was at his own place, I awoke at 3 a.m. only to realize that I was out of cigarettes. I swear I heard his voice shouting to me in a dream. I couldn’t go back to sleep without a smoke. Dressed in a t-shirt and a pair of loose fitting sweat pants with no underwear, I headed into the quiet of the summer night for a pack of Newport cigarettes. He was standing across 121st Street under a pole light and was shocked when I came stepping outside at such a wee hour. He stared at me like an alley cat.
“What are you doing here?”
“Just watching over you. What are you doing outside so late?”
“I need a pack of cigarettes. I suppose you want to come inside?”
“Please! I got some weed.”
Eventually, we started spending every night together. It was useless for me to try keeping him at bay. He was like these floors with dirt that never seems to wash clean. I felt sorry for his obsession for me.
The beach was beautiful the morning after I spent my first night in this apartment. I didn’t mind walking with unwashed feet, blackened by the floors of Shawn’s place, upon the crystal sands of Robert Moses State Park. We took a cab to the light house. The waters of Long Island had warmed considerably by mid-August. A hurricane churned far off-shore. We took off our clothing and got in. We were the first to enter the waters that day. The waves carried us as if we were one in his bed in Brooklyn.
The waves were more than seven feet high that day. One caught us both, and tossed us down upon wet sand that had appeared after the water of the sea had been sucked by the tide to create the crest upon which we surfed.
I brush- burned my ass that day. Blood poured from above my hip bone. The salty sea water stung my bruise all afternoon as we swam together at the nude beach. We came back here after a day on Long Island. No hot water. The gloom of this place. The tiredness in his eyes– his last dip in the ocean. This dirty floor needs swept again. After all these years, I still find dustpans of sand from the beach that day. It’s hard to throw it all away.