Somewhere in Between, Part 1: Bad Boyfriend
“It was you,” Shay says slowly, but forcefully, her face lighting up as if she were a cartoon with a bulb above her head, but she’s not. She’s a real, human person sitting in front of me and name dropping a lot. One of the names she’s dropped is Jesse’s and she’s saying it’s hard to work with him and I say I know, in a way that implies I really, really know. Shay catches my drift, so to speak, more than I intend her to.
So, I’m the one that Jesse was talking about, one time months ago, according to Shay. He was saying that they’re a “bad boyfriend”, which is weird because I never would have called her that and neither would they. Shay’s face is the picture of a switch to recognition of a memory that had remained hidden until now. But I’m thinking it’s been hidden less from her and more from me.
One of the first things Shay said to me in Tel Aviv, when we were getting in the back of a Sedan in Yafo on the outskirts, was that she’d heard of my website from Jesse, who said she should write for it. I don’t know how my pen name came up, but it did. This dual identity thing is getting complicated and I can’t pretend to be someone I’m not, even if I’m not a hundred per cent sure who I am.
“You know Jesse”, Shay said, as a statement, but with the inflection of a question as Celine Dion and Janis Joplin were introduced by a Hebrew-speaking presenter on the radio, in the car, on the road to Neve Midbar. I said, “Yes, I do”, and changed the subject.
Now, Shay is in front of me and Ana is next to me on the couch in Kotti Bar near Kottbusser Tor in Berlin and Shay’s interactions with Jesse are revealing themselves. I think Ana already knows the story – as in, my side of it. I would have told her in her apartment where I’m staying, because I met her once at Berghain and we made plans to go to Tropical Islands, which we never did. But we follow each other on Twitter and share in-jokes in public, including a photo of Rihanna’s ‘Pour It Up’ video projected on a wall in a cool art gallery in an old office block and a blurry film photo of Ana eating Pizza Hut and Starbucks at the Hauptbahnhof. We went there after seeing a Harun Farocki exhibition about military training simulators that just look like regular video games, where you can choose the generalised Middle-Eastern Arab outfit of the enemy you want to kill and the Molotov cocktails are made from Coca-Cola cans.
I don’t press Shay any more on the specifics of what Jesse said because I’m embarrassed, but I will later, when we’re in the commercial gallery that she works at in Charlottenburg, sharing a dry muffin and espressos while she talks about nightcoregirl’s tattoos and I feel sad and empty.
“You probably don’t want my monotone voice speaking over it, hey.”
“That’s the problem when you’re with people. You’re always just talking over the recordings.”
I’ve been collecting field recordings of music – fuck loads – from around the world (the Middle East and US). But Berlin won’t be in my book, so I’m recording for no reason, things like the trains and the roads and the anti-capitalist rally of about five men dressed like anarchists with one of them yelling in German. His bark is blocked out briefly by two women talking in a Polish singsong beside me, because they’re closer and I can understand them. The macho megaphoned man’s voice trails off like the light of a night train disappearing into a tunnel, as if betraying its surrender to inevitability through its timbre. One of the guys holding the red banner that says “ROTFRONT” – in black-bordered white bubble font next to a burnt-yellow hammer and sickle – has a scarf over his face and turns to his side when I take a photo to record what I’m looking at. It’s cold and it’s raining a little bit and all there is to eat for cheap is fucking kebabs and Kaiser’s bratwurst, which are both fine but I’m sick of them. And I’m sick of feeling like a piece of shit and listening to Mica’s song currently called ‘Suffer’ that I’m obsessed with.
I’m supposed to be writing about the music of Berlin and how it reflects things, certain things about me and the world and everyone else because I promised Suze that I would when I pitched this. But it turns out there are only two songs I (as in, Shazam) recognise from what I actually recorded. One of them is a Bok Bok-produced Kelela track playing at a designer clothing store in Kreuzberg, where Chris has a coffee shop and serves flat whites to Australians. Another is an instrumental jazz-funk version of James Brown’s ‘Soul Power (Part 1 and Part 2)’ by T.J. Kirk that’s playing way too fucking loud from the speaker next to our couch, upstairs at the Kotti Bar, which is filled with people, and smoke, and Shay, and Ana, and mentions of Jesse.
Jesse @JayDee 23h
@StephKretowicz dreamt abt u & ur sister [?] last nite, I had jus given some1 a tattoo & u were giving me shade I wished we could talk but na
the estate of @StephKretowicz 24h
@JayDee i wdnt do that
So that’s that, radio silence over, speaking again after months, across countries, in another public tweet – the site of the fight in the first place. It could be a coincidence and it also might not. It could be the network creating a psychic connection from fibre optics to synapses to souls, the day after I made out with a man at Chesters because he asked me to, after I joined him and his friends in a group Jägerbomb session while Ana’s husband was DJing. The glasses came out in a specially designed and branded tray with compartments for the Red Bull cans and the ice and the Jägermeister bottle in the middle. We got back to Ana’s apartment late and I woke up on the couch in the afternoon to that tweet from Jesse apologising in their way, me replying ‘apology accepted’ in mine – all via public stream.
Hrefna is on the steps of the Schloßstraße subway, where I’ve randomly run into her because she’s an artist from Iceland and it’s Neukölln. Her short hair is slightly greasy and her head’s at a tilt as she listens to me telling her that I was trying to call her on the phone a few steps before this very moment. I still have an old model Nokia and I think I must have typed Hrefna’s number in wrong from her email, because a woman answered the phone who didn’t sound Icelandic and spoke German. Hrefna is doing that thing where she looks right into my eyes and acts like she cares, just nodding and saying nothing while I make the plans to meet.
Last time we’d seen each other was in Iceland, less than a year ago, before I found I had feelings and so would walk in the mountains, lonely but comfortable and hung over and losing my pendant from India. “Maybe the curse has lifted,” my dad wrote in an email when it happened and I was sad that something I hadn’t taken off for ten years was lost forever. Now I find it difficult to focus on anything but hurtful tweets and off-hand emails and talk about it uncontrollably to people who’ll listen. And Hrefna listens a lot.
I can’t remember if being late is a thing that Hrefna did in Iceland, but she does it in Berlin and so do I, so I’m calling her to tell her I’m at a U-Bahn station I don’t know, coming from somewhere I can’t remember and recording the sound of the elevators that respond to movement, while waiting for the Ströer infoscreens to transition back to something military or surveillance-related for a Flickr photo.
There’s a reason I never had my own Facebook account – mainly that any insight into other people’s lives make me anxious and depressed and envious – but I never really thought anything on the internet could hurt as much as it did with Jesse. Although it wasn’t the internet, per se. It was the person using it who did the hurting. Like people with guns. You need someone to pull the trigger (etc.). In fact, the outcome of the right to keep and bear arms is kind of like that of feelings online; it mirrors the cyclic, self-perpetuating problem of shifting pain and blame:
Person gets fucked up by/about person online. Person publishes a story about getting fucked up by/about person online, online. Person doing the fucking up gets fucked up by person who publishes a story about getting fucked up by/about person online, online, online. And so on.
My friend Chris has a Facebook account and a crappy hand-me-down iPhone, but he lives in Wedding in a kind of co-op with coal heating, minimalist furniture and a collection of punk records. I’m sharing his room for my last couple of nights in Berlin because he’s an old friend and a nice guy and I had to leave Ana’s in a hurry. We’re at a kebab place I don’t know, that I’m guessing is Lebanese-run because of the flag with the tree on it on the wall and eating halloumi wraps with spinach, which I think is a weird combination. There’s Venezuelan salsa playing from the speakers while we’re incidentally sharing our thoughts on dementia and talking about death like it’s a choice.
“Does your grandma still order from the Polish restaurant?”
“Nah, she’s out of her mind, so someone else looks after her now. It’s pretty horrible to watch someone deteriorate like that. But at the same time it’s kind of comforting, because it’s, like, you say goodbye to them slowly.”
“Yeah, I was saying that the other day. But there’s also something a bit fucked about that”.
“I guess so. I mean, loads of people say it’s depressing, but for me it’s kind of, like, comforting. It’s like if someone was terminally ill and really wanted to die, then it would be like a relief. She doesn’t want to die.”
“I couldn’t do it.”
“It’s kind of easy to let go because it’s like, ‘oh god, it’s such a pain in the arse,’”
“That’s what I’m saying; that’s why it’s fucked.”
“I know it’s fucked.”
“I’m only saying this because I’m talking to you, but I’m afraid to say that the person has become so fuckin’ annoying and you become so alienated from them that it’s not the person you know. And when they go you can imagine exactly the person you knew in your memory or something. Or whatever.”
“Yeah, yeah, yeah. But if that was the case, then you’d feel really bad about that and I’m sure I will.”
“But you won’t remember them for the weird, deteriorated person they were. You’re gonna remember them for the person they were before that. Like, ‘this is hard, let’s just get this over with.’”
“But you could also remember that if they…”
“Are you gonna eat that?”
“Yeah… but you could also remember how they died. Like, if they had died instantly or like…”
“You’re kind of like, happy for it to happen because you’ve seen the alternative. It’s kind of a slow decline. Oh, man, what the fuck’s gonna happen to me?”
“I think you’ll die early.”
Steph Kretowicz is the author of Somewhere I’ve Never Been to be published through Penny-Ante Editions in Spring 2016.
Photograph by Steph Kretowicz