the destroyer > text > Natasha Stagg


          If only Krystal were awaiting a prisoner of war, a letter from a sailor, news of the survivors of a natural disaster. If only she could see him, clearly, hovering like nebulous clouds on the planetarium's domed ceiling, everything except for his face, which would be a blank flesh color compared to his clothing, his stance, and his uncalculated movements. If only she were waiting for him, watching him walking in slow motion, and suspended in hanging shadows, a person except for that unrecognizable face, because, she'd heard, if you can't remember what a person's face looks like, it means you feel something for them.

          Poor little rich girl could not aptly describe her. Her parents probably had a lot of money, but she didn't know where they put it. Stuck in suburbia wouldn't aptly describe her situation. She didn't live downtown, but she wasn't far away. She was not living on a farm, tumbling down hills of Lawrencian temptations, throwing herself at the land for desperation of escaping it. She was not holed up in her parents' apartment, awaiting cease-fire or a tin can phone call. She was not even in an apartment at all, and neither one of her parents were dead; they weren't even divorced. She went to a school, not private, not in a ghetto, not even specializing in music or technology or airplane flying. She had friends, and some of them were mean, but others were not, and they all slept over at her house because her parents had good snacks and a bedroom far away from the TV in the family room. The family room was lower in elevation than the rest of the house; it had a carpeted step leading down to it. When the sleeping bags were laid out on the ground, her mother said they looked like a bunch of noodles in a bowl; she called them 'girl soup.'

          She didn't live in a modern condo or a 'loft space' or an oceanfront house that could be blown away or vandalized by surfers that were jealous of their property. She didn't even live by an ocean. No great expanse of water crashed into itself anywhere near her; she could not go throwing herself at that, either. She couldn't even ride her bike out to look at a big lake and wonder about its bottom, or fish for hours and days until someone came by to teach her what she was doing wrong. She didn't even have a bike. And that was because they lived on an incline, and her father was worried she would break something even learning how to ride with training wheels. So she didn't know how to ride a bike, or fish, or even swim, and yet she was not one of those hopeless, soft girls who could fall easily into pockets of school that offered solace for hopelessness and softness: witchcraft, recreational prescription drugs and other types of mutual masturbation. She played a few sports. She was not the best and not the worst.

          No, she was not a virgin, which would maybe be something remarkable. No she was not an only child, although she felt like one, if someone could feel such a thing. No, she had not moved many times, and she had not lived in this house her entire life either. She'd only lived there for as long as she could remember.

          The irony was that her country was at war now, and nothing had changed. The TV was on almost twenty-four hours a day for about five days, and then it was back to normal. She didn't know any firemen, world-traders, government officials or soldiers. America was like a canvas, stretched to its limit, all of the tension at its edges. If she were in California, she would be on the edge of excess. If she were in New York she would feel the collective resentment of the world and think it ordinary. Near Canada was ice and near Mexico was gunfire. Florida was capsizable, on the edge of Columbia and ugly wealth, and the rest of the south was so stark and hot some people turned into animals. The middle was tight like a drum, she imagined: If she was right in the middle of America, she would suffer, she would be stuck like a fly in a spider's web, she would feel pain from movement, either her own, or from the reverberations of what happened in Washington and on those deadly coasts, as seen on TV.

          But she wasn't even stuck. Her parents were offering to pay for college tuition next year, and they were telling her to apply everywhere. They would pay for the applications, and they'd go with her for visits if the schools were within driving distance. But what if she did go to New York, or LA? What if someone in San Francisco found her wandering away from campus, brought her to his shabby bedroom and, while lighting a joint and pouring real-life dandelion wine, asked, "So, what's your deal?" What would she say? She thought about lying and starting over, but had no reason to do that. What was her deal? She didn't know.

          "We're going to Big O's," Frankie said to Krystal on the phone. "They're holding auditions for The Real World."

          "You want to be on The Real World?"

          "Yeah, why not?"

          "Really? I mean, really, Frankie."

          "Just come. I'll pick you up."

          "What are you gonna do?"

          "I'm gonna be the ex-Mormon. They've never had one of those."

          A year later, she was pretty sure that the reason she'd been picked was not her normalcy. Another girl, Ginger, was way more normal: raised Protestant but only went to church on holidays, had only one boyfriend and basically planned on marrying him (before she was on the show).

          Krystal moved to New York after The Real World was filmed. It was far easier than she'd thought it would be. Someone from the show met her at the airport and she had her things sent. She had three new roommates. A girl she'd met at a premiere party in LA who was a student at NYU invited her to live with her and a PR person and a PA to some gallery owner. Krystal got a job at a different gallery in Chelsea and hung out eating baklavah from the bodega across the street and smoking cigarettes under the brick-red awning. Sometimes her mom would ask her things like, "But what are you trying to be? What are you doing out there?" and Krystal would answer the only way she now knew how, based on all those conversations, all those nights, in the city, at one of ten bars on the LES. "It doesn't matter, these days, mom. There aren't as many titles; it's just, making it. No one's an aspiring actress, or an aspiring model, or an aspiring writer. They're just aspiring, or not aspiring, or having had aspired, and now are."

          She got a boyfriend, and he was rich and famous. She didn't know who he was before she met him, which he thought was charming. He had known who she was, and she knew it was better that way. "That wasn't the real me, though, on the show."

          "Of course it wasn't. Or they wouldn't call it The Real World."

          He was one of the people that told her not to damn herself with a category of aspiration. They were sometimes photographed together. Maybe it was because the photographers recognized him, or maybe they knew her, but why would that matter, they said. It did matter. Like one cockroach in the silverware drawer, it was a sign of a bigger problem. When they went back to his apartment in SoHo he would say things like, "My bed" or, "my bathroom," when he could have said, "the bed" and, "the bathroom." When they fell asleep, he slowly moved his arm back out from under hers and turned onto his back from his side. His hands would gently cup his genitals. He snored. So did she, but he fell asleep faster. It wasn't like she was hanging onto a non-existent career by sleeping there more often than she slept at home. He could come over sometimes, too, but of course that would be stupid because she lived with roommates in an inconvenient part of Brooklyn, and he was safe and close in Manhattan.

          Visiting her home, Krystal said to Frankie, "I almost wish I'd never left home."

          "Don't give me that shit. Everyone says that but it's such bull."

          She looked at the swings behind her parents' house and longed to sit on one, but didn't. She saw the ceiling fan whip around so quickly she could only see the blades on every other turn they made. She could never explain this longing she felt to Frankie, and the longing to tell her about it replaced all other emotion. She wanted simultaneously to tell Frankie she was better off for not getting a part on the show, and to tell her how stupid she was for staying here, getting a job at a fucking gas station, of all places. The ceiling fan came loose, flew towards them, sliced off their heads and neatly cut them into ribbons, despite the dullness of the veneered wood. Krystal's boyfriend sent her vague text messages that she both wanted to respond to, wittily, and to ignore. They said things like, "It is but it can't be." No argument there. She really liked him. She wanted things to work out. She wanted things to be better in New York. She wanted to feel cleaner, and to not wake up tired, and to love walking everywhere.

          "What are you even doing out there?" Frankie asked.

          "Nothing, really."

          "Must be nice."

          A cloud moved over the house and the shadow thickened the glass of the window. In one year she'd done almost every drug out there, felt the urgencies and lazinesses and soiled plans and showers of honest, pure light brought on by each. She'd become a tiny rodent in a crowd of millions, burrowing through tunnels quicker than the trains could take her. She felt an inexplicable loss when she realized that the thing that most bothered her boyfriend about her personality was something she could never get rid of.

          "I still don't know why they picked me," Krystal said.

          "You were sort of the Hot Nerd."

          "You're probably right. What do people think of me now?"

          "You're the girl that was on The Real World, duh."

          "Yeah, duh," said Krystal.

          "What do you think your former self would think if she knew this would be you?" Frankie asked in a television voice.

          Krystal thought about it and felt a dark warmth. "Oh my god I have no idea." She floated back in time and said If only I'd known. She floated back in time and cut her wrists in a bathtub, looking perfect. But I did know, she said. Her phone vibrated softly and she put a hand in her pocket. She felt a pill she'd forgotten about and held it, and she was still, and quiet, and happy. The ceiling fan spun quietly as Frankie tried to think of more to say. The chains of the swings would feel oily beneath their hands. Krystal tried to see her boyfriend's face and could only picture the photographs she'd seen in magazines.

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