Brittany Ackerman

is a writer from Riverdale, New York. She teaches Critical Studies at AMDA College and Conservatory of the Performing Arts in Hollywood, CA. She currently lives in Los Angeles with her forthcoming collection of essays entitled The Perpetual Motion Machine to be released by Red Hen Press in November of 2018.


Going Swimming

I.

He wanted to go camping with me. He took me to Key West, but we stayed in a tent. I thought of all the people in hotels on Duval, making their way through town, drinking alcohol slush from Fat Tuesday, eating Philly Cheesesteaks. Instead I was knee deep in the ocean on Big Pine Key, about 30 minutes north of Key West. I saw a baby nurse shark in the water, screamed, ran to dry land, swore I wouldn’t go in again. He felt bad and took me for tuna burgers in town. I joked, asked if we could get a motel and live like normies. He drank beer and said it tasted better than the warm beer back at camp. We stayed in that tent. And in the morning, we had coffee that the lodge made for visitors and sat by the burned out fire pit and he asked me why I stayed so long in that thing I called a “relationship”. I wish I could see myself the way I was then. I was so open, like a sheep, like one who worships, so ready to give.

II.

“She’s going to Bali to get away from me,” you tell me. I imagine some blonde girl climbing rocks and her friend taking pictures of her back with captions like “finally free” or “alone but not lonely.” You’re not supposed to write about someone else’s someone, but I felt like I knew her, the way she always had to wear bright red lipstick even though she looked better plain. She was the type of girl who didn’t call much, but made a lot of noise when you tried to leave her. She was always figuring things out. I imagine her on the plane after her trip, her bag a little heavier from all the rocks and crystals she collected walking by the water, thinking of you. Did you and her also drink Fireball in your apartment, get stuck on the roof, yell down twenty stories for someone to help, help you? Did she too find tags on your luggage that said “Dallas” when they were supposed to say “Fort Lauderdale?” Did she let you in when you showed up at 6:00AM, drunk on whiskey, begging for another chance? Did she write you long letters detailing why you were wrong for each other? Did you tell her purple was your favorite color?

III.

When I worked at the sushi place in Westwood, I prayed to God I’d get out early every night. I was the only hostess for a while, so God never answered my prayers. I ate noodles with the sous chef in the back and he told me to eat more ginger, to get a massage with hot stones, to go to Japan as soon as possible and climb a mountain. People that barely knew me saw the milk of my insides spoiling. I used to pretend I had to use the bathroom so I could put cold compresses on “worry rashes” that climbed up my legs like flames. The minute clinic didn’t know what to tell me other than to get some sleep. But every night when I left work I went for pizza at Enzo’s and ate it on my balcony that overlooked a parking lot and called the guy who worked at my camp when I was still a camper and he was a counselor and I’d go over there and watch movies and eat Ben and Jerry’s and he said we could use the hot tub but I said no and I remember being so worried someone might see me, might find me, but telling myself I was so far deep in the Valley no one would think to look there. I knew I could never love him or like him, even just a little bit, when on our first date he poured his milkshake on my pancakes. He laughed and I didn’t. He said they were still good to eat, that the milkshake probably makes it better, but I lied, said I wasn’t hungry. I remember thinking it was all a big waste: the night, the sky, the goddamn universe.

IV.

Out of all the girls in our sixth grade class, Parker chose me to give a ring to at the Spring Fling Carnival. He won it by shooting a water gun at a target for forty-five seconds. He stood there, proud and eyeing the crowd of girls around him. I said a prayer to God, please, please let it be me and I will never ask for anything again and then Parker stepped forward and placed the ring on my finger, linked arms with me, and took me away. It initiated me into the popular group that before had been reserved for girls with full chests, girls who gave oral sex, girls who could “hang.” Parker called me over to his house the next day. I asked what we were going to do. “Go for a swim,” he said. I wore a padded bikini under shorts and a tank top. I was the only girl. His two friends, Chuck and Andy, sat around and played pool, listened to music, talked about how great Eminem was. No one went swimming. Parker talked about Anna Sue from History class and how they’d been making out by the lockers every day for two weeks now. It became clear he wanted me to hook up with Chuck, or Andy, didn’t really matter, anyone but him. When I got home after not kissing any boys, I dug a hole in the dirt and buried the ring. The ring had simply been a gesture, a recruitment.

V.

Troy was my neighbor when I lived in Westwood. Our balconies connected. He could see when I was home if my lights were on. He’d hop over his railing and climb to mine with the swift ease of his 6’4’’ body. He was of German descent and had a girlfriend named Natasha who I never saw or met. I never decorated my apartment, except for a small print of Jack Nicholson that I kept on the mantle. I didn’t want to commit to the space. I knew it was temporary. Troy brought over a bag of scarves once without explaining their origin. When he left, I took them to the trash. Troy worked at Whole Foods and sometimes left chocolate covered strawberries or a plate of cheese on my balcony. I only needed him once when I broke a glass in the kitchen. I climbed to his balcony and knocked on his door because I knew he had a vacuum. I came into his apartment and it was so different from mine, so cluttered and artsy and lived in. On his couch he had a decorative pillow with little pieces of sushi on it. A few minutes later he knocked on my front door and brought in the vacuum, cleaned all the glass, told me to wear shoes in my kitchen for a while. “I have to go to work, but I can come over later,” he said. “Can you get me those cookies with jelly in the middle?” I asked. “Anything for baby,” he replied. We only hooked up once after he gave me a massage and told me I had tension in my shoulder blades that meant I was having trouble connecting with my ancestors. I was high and didn’t argue. As a gift, Troy gave me the sushi pillow. It was on my couch when I got home from work. He came around asking for the scarves one day and I told him I didn’t remember where I put them and he started yelling and crying saying they were his girlfriend’s and he didn’t mean to give them to me and that I was like a family member and not really lover material and I told him to take back the sushi pillow because it was probably hers too and he said no it wasn’t and then he left and I never saw him again. Someone new moved in next door. When my mom came to visit, she told me the pillow was hideous and took it to the trash.

VI.

I never apologized for what I did. I lied about it, made sure those lies were covered up so neatly. You and I had been together since summer. He said he’d take me to the movies, as a friend. He paid for my ticket. I did my makeup. He’d had my number for a while and we talked sometimes. I was living on campus. When I wasn’t with you, I’d text him. I sent him a picture of my hair once after I got it blown out for your cousin’s quinceañera. You didn’t even talk to me that night, all night on that damn boat. But it doesn’t matter, I was wrong. Still, you took a picture of me on the boat, my hair in my face blowing wild. I asked you to take another picture and you refused. It wasn’t a good picture. I didn’t like it. I met him at a car wash. He gave me the “manager’s special” at a “classic” wash price. He laughed at something I said. He still likes all my pictures online. Please forgive me.

VII.

I still talk to myself when I drive. It’s the only place I can really be myself. I host a talk show where I’m also the star. It’s all about me. I tell my students this and they laugh. David used to talk to himself in front of me and it scared me. It was as if he was reliving an old life. If I asked what he said, he pretended he didn’t know what I was talking about. We once got into a terrible fight and he threw a tripod at me. It was big and heavy and broke in half when it hit the ground. We had split it, the price. We were talking about starting a business together. We wanted to get into film somehow, make our way to the West Coast. We talked about renting a van, like Marina Abramović and her former husband, going across the country. We never even made it across state lines. We didn’t travel, or go out, or do anything. We met during grad school. David liked to smoke and think about his life. I’ve never hated anyone so much. I didn’t want to fail again though. This comes up a lot on my talk show: fear of rejection. When he left me, I drove to the beach and took off my shoes, started to walk into the ocean. I stopped at my ankles, not ready to commit.

VIII.

Do not date someone who lives in a tree house and who is addicted to heroin. This is something my mother should have taught me. Or maybe it’s something you’re supposed to just know. I guess I never really tried to help him get off dope. I let him stay at my house when I flew home for the weekend. The place was clean when I came back. I let him borrow my car. In group, they’d call that “enabling.” My biggest problem is that I constantly check up on the alcoholic. But if I don’t, who will? Anyways, his name was Paul and one night he took me on a walk and we ended up in a neighborhood where all the houses were beautiful. There was one house with a black truck outside and he snuck us around the side, he knew the key was under the mat and he let us inside and showed me to a room in the back with a Mickey Mouse comforter and he got in the bed and I watched him and stayed quiet and he said this was his childhood room, his bed, his blanket. I think I could have done a little better that day.

IX.

I got to church early and used the bathroom before mass. I liked the little steps by the sinks for children. I got a seat in the middle of the room so I could see anyone who went to receive Christ when they called for it at the end of services. Matt had taken me there, and I kept going in hopes he’d see how devoted I was to God. The more I loved God, the more Matt might love me back. Matt came with Lisa every week after her fiancé died. Matt also brought Terry and Joey and Clark and Michelle and Tony. I was always alone. It was a big church with pop-worship music and cameras and live broadcast online. You could watch from your bedroom if you wanted to. I wanted the real deal though. The pastor in front of the crowd, his hands up, his colorful shirts. He told us faith was like believing your car would start when you turned the key. He told us about a woman whose son was so bad she prayed every day no matter how bad he got and now he was a pastor too. Things can really turn around. I prayed every day for Matt to love me and one day in the parking lot he walked up to me, opening and closing the cap of his blue Gatorade, and he asked me why I was still coming to church and I didn’t know what to say so I just lifted up my hands like I was praising God and Matt hugged me and said, “please, stop” and walked back to his car and got in with all of his friends to drive back to Delray Beach just down the street from where I was going. We could have driven together, I thought, maybe next time.