Like the facade of a building that had been repaired multiple times over the years, her clothes, lipstick, and hair were all variant shades of brick red. Her face bore the patterns of weathered mortar. She had globs of black eyeliner collecting in the corners of her eyes. She smoked weed then got of rid the ashes by lifting her foot and tapping the pipe on the thick heel of her boot. She had lipstick on her teeth. Naturally, I said, "yes."
The party was in a painting studio in a Brooklyn loft. Our host was a man who had attended one of the country's best art colleges but whose work purposefully looked like it had been created by a self-taught savant in the backwoods of Kentucky. This choice, and others, birthed varying degrees of success.
In addition to painting, he played in a band, liked to get naked, had been drunk for years, and was desperate to fall in love.
The woman sat across from me on a sagging couch and began the reading. She flipped the cards onto a coffee table then waited. A few seconds passed before she dipped her head to one side, lifted her eyebrows, and shrugged her shoulder as if finally agreeing with someone who wouldn't shut up. She sighed with an expression like, "Fine, I'll tell her."
"You've been doing things and it's been...okaaaaaay. You've been living your life. It's has gotten you this far, okaaaaaay? But now it's time for you to change. You have to change...change..."
"The paradigm?" I said, proving to anyone in earshot why, yes, as a matter of fact, I had taken SAT.
"That's it. The paradigm. You have to change how you do, what you do. Okaaaaaay?"
This all made perfect sense to me.
It would make perfect sense to anyone. It was just enough to calm your little mind. To give your little heart hope.
I'm sure there was more to the reading but I don't remember. I asked if I could give her a donation in this really neutral way so neither one of us thought she was taking me for a ride.
So I paid her $5 for the experience, not for the truth. I knew the truth. I was lost. I was living in a dump, working a job I didn't care much about, and up to my eyeballs in student loan debt. I had no reason to be in NYC and no reason to leave.
The woman's daughter sat nearby bored out of her gourd. I envied her. She was 12 and 12 year olds don't have a care in the world. Not only did she have her whole life in front of her, she was smart, charming, and looked like a noble teenager in a Leonardo Da Vinci painting. All she needed was a lace up bodice and a stoat. Naturally, her name was Siena.
It was a Sunday night. Siena wanted go home and said so.
"Later," her mother said. She poured herself more wine. She smoked more weed. She spent a noteworthy amount of time in the bathroom and when she returned, her eyes had gone from dry to glassy and half closed.
I no longer envied the girl.
Meanwhile, Siena and I bonded. She must have seen me as cool drink of stability because out of nowhere she crawled onto my lap and rolled the back of her head on my shoulder the way kids do. I felt maternal and pushed the feeling away. I don't like feelings.
She had school the in the morning which is why she wanted to go home. But there had been fire and there was no home. There had been a fire in their apartment. Their apartment had caught fucking fire and burned the fuck down. This beauty was living in a shelter. My five bucks wasn't going to go far. I looked over at her mother. She was staring into space.
After drinking a half a case of crap beer to himself and unsuccessfully hitting on several women in the room, the host of the party passed out sitting upright on a plaid couch. Snoring gently with his hand down his pants, a cartoonishly large belt buckle of Texas on his waist, and 1970's mustache on his face, he had finally become what, up until that point, he'd only been pretending to be.
Party over. The woman scooped the girl off of me and set her on her feet.
The host woke up, locked up, and went home alone.
I got in a cab and went back to doing nothing in particular.
Fall wind on our faces. I think it is safe to say that we all needed paradigm shift.
All photos by Brandy Eve Allen