Meghan Austin wrote half of the Canadian prize-winning novel, love block.

Austin and Mulally, loveblock
© 3-Day Books

"Pittsburgh" is an excerpt from I Survived Mt. St. Helens, a forthcoming book in pieces.


posted Dec 18, 2007

We were nappers. We napped because we’d been drunk the night before and were still a little nauseous. We napped because we were still having sex when my alarm went off, or because she was depressed. Then she took antidepressants, and we were happier nappers. Not that much happier. We napped because I worked in the day and she worked in the night, or because I had picked her up at the bar very late and we’d gone to another. My cat Zoom napped with us. Peepers stayed awake and did stunt hops around the kitchen. I’d see her fly by five feet in the air and hear her land, plop.

We napped because I was in love with her and she was often asleep. This was the relationship where my coworker thought I had cancer. After we broke up, he said, "You look like you’re feeling much better these days." I felt like shit. Everything looked mean and sharp. I think that’s why she owned so many pairs of sunglasses.

The first day after the first night we spent together, we cuddled on her couch and watched every John Waters movie that had arrived in her mailbox. We were too sick to do anything else. I took a picture of her with my phone in case she died. The only thing with color in that picture is her hair. I ate microwave fettuccine, which is the only thing I can keep down when I’ve run out of all vitamins and minerals, and she ate and then vomited a poached egg.

It was too loud at her place and her roommate was often on drugs. Sometimes she showed up to my apartment just to nap before she went to work. Sometimes she wouldn’t even inform me of this fact. She’d just be there. I did her laundry, since it was all over my floor. I thought she was the most beautiful and comfortable woman I’d ever met, even though she always kicked me out off the good part of the couch and hogged the extra pillow, leaning on whatever arm I made available until it fell asleep.

Later, when I moved in with her, we’d go out to breakfast at this diner with all of her friends, but we often left before the food came because we were too sick to eat. We ordered the Greek Platter, which had real Kalmata olives.

When you live with someone, you have to model yourself on another couple who lives together. With my first live-in girlfriend, I’d been a famous guitar player and my girlfriend saw herself as the rock star’s less charismatic but more talented folk singer girlfriend. It was flattering for both parties. I was a cute fake butch dancing around a stage and making an ass of myself; she had a PhD and wrote songs about feminist politicians and exploited Chinese railroad workers.

This girlfriend was too hungover to imagine us as anyone interesting. She saw us as the most pathetic and annoying couple on Queer as Folk besides the lesbians. I was the professor and she was Michael the comic book store owner. I think I was actually Brian Kinney the hot ad executive and she was Brian’s boyfriend, Sunshine, the short, young artist who was learning about life while giving amazing blowjobs. But she’d only seen through the second season, and was the kind of person to whom the future was hazy and impossible to imagine, like Pittsburgh.

"Why are you hanging around all the time?" she asked me one day.

"Because I live here."

That seemed to annoy her even more. Everything about me seemed to annoy her now, like the fact that I ran out of drink money when she ordered shots that were more than ten dollars and didn’t always want to hang around her work all night, hiding them behind the garbage in the handicapped stall. I was annoyed that she slept so much. I’m annoyed with anything if it spills into the large amount of time I have reserved in my life for sex. I would’ve been equally annoyed if she spent too much time saving peoples’ lives or curing lupus. But she didn’t cure lupus. Neither of us cured lupus.

I woke her up one afternoon to tell her that. "Don’t you think we should be doing something?"

One of her friends was having a party. That wasn’t exactly what I had in mind.

She started crying. "I’ve changed. I’ve changed everything for you and it’s never good enough."

I believe there’s a gap between when you change something in your own life and when that change is applied in your imagination. In my dreams, I’m often at an old job or with an old girlfriend or worried about some presentation that I gave six years ago. Maybe she had the reverse. Maybe when she napped, she was already a wonderful new person, and I was already a wonderful new person, and we were never drunk or sick or annoyed. We were rock stars, very tired ones.

When she kicked me out, I didn’t have anywhere to go or anything to take. Once you move in together, it’s like your former things suddenly take on new characteristics and someone else writes their last name on them, and one day you wake up and you no longer own a fog machine and your riding crop is in the back of some stranger’s closet. Cohabitation is probably the greatest tragedy in life, besides aging.

"If we keep up like this, we’ll hate each other," she said. But it was clear she already hated me. I bought a blue camouflage sleeping bag at Target and slept in my car. I don’t think she even noticed my homelessness, which, since it happened in the afternoon, was particularly easy to ignore. When I returned, shivering, she was in a bad mood because she’d gotten too stoned, and once you get too stoned, it’s impossible to get un-stoned. "You’re not going to eat my chips," she said, hugging the bag. "You always eat my snack foods."
"Those are my chips. Yours are barbecue."

I changed into my pot smoking pants and we eat chips and smoked and watched a couple episodes of Intervention on OnDemand. I’d already seen them, the crackhead in the garage who throws noodles at her sister and the aging Southern Belle who drinks airplane vodka while driving a Cadillac. I don’t like the episodes where the people escape from rehab at the end. The show always makes me want to call a good friend who went into AA right at the point where we might’ve slept together. Every time I run into this friend, I’m trashed and have my hand up some woman’s shirt. I don’t know why, but I feel like my friend’s silently judging me. I feel like she takes these anecdotes back to her meetings and they all congratulate her on her good judgment for not going there, so to speak. That makes me want to make hot, sober love to her in a really healthy place, like a sauna or on a cloud. A harp will be playing. I’ve never made love to a sober person before. It’s something I’d like to try before I die.

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I tried to get Sunshine to come to bed with me, but she was too stoned, so I went by myself, and I had one of those seizures where I think I’m dreaming and the dream is that I’m driving my car but the car has no brakes and then I realize I can’t see out because the seat is reclined all the way but somehow, I’m still driving. I fall out of bed and hit my head and refuse to move. If she helps me off the floor, she still loves me. If she yells to ask what happened, well, that’s a sort of love.