Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Stockholm: Domesticated Perversion

I haven’t really eaten or slept since I left Mexico City three days ago.

I am almost certainly running. I feel it catching up behind me. It's a kind of shape, a certainty, a hallucination. Inky black and the color of rags. It's waiting around the corner. Dark eyes fixed on mine. Whispering, This time you die. I almost did a few days before I left. Choked to death. A partner cut me down. So I run. Its the only way I know. I run. Only, of course: wherever you go, there you are.

So I've been distracted. And really, since I am just trying to get away, I haven’t really taken care of any of the details of where I'm going. I don’t know the address. Or how to get there…

I get off the plane. It's so quiet. And calm. I find the right bus. I ask one question at the 7-11 and it's resolved. Nothing is stressful, if you don’t think about the price. I find the bus. There are dozens of open seats. It floats more than drives, a blue whale swimming in an inland sea. Quietly. The driver seems happy, or happy enough. He is helpful. On the freeway towards town, everything moves by in ordered rows: I am a foreground in a Disney-scape, a multi-plane animation.

At the central station, everything is clean and bright and rational. I intuitively, simply, follow my hunches to where I think the metro station should be. And there it is. The lines of the tiles are angled in just the right way. The colors (of the floor, of the shops, of the walls) change to reflect what you can do in any specific area: pause here, to dig through your bag; walk fast here; window shop here. I don't realize this in the moment. I crave a coffee. I stop.

And slowly, as I sip an 8 dollar coffee (drenched in cheap whiskey I brought with me) I start to feel uneasy, worried, even as the incredibly gorgeous barista smiles at me. Even as beautiful people walk by beautifully. Surrounded by products, approaching an aesthetic justification of life. Slowly, I begin to feel dreadful, confused, alone, drunk.

A few years ago a friend, more of a sister really, met her future partner at a dinner with me and some friends. She's from a Mexican working class background. Grew up in barrios around the city, went to school, got a Master's degree and a good job. And then she fell in love that night with a tall, gorgeous, smart Swedish anarchist. Six months later she moved here to Stockholm. I am here visiting them.

Over the last few years she has told me about how hard it has been to adapt to her new life in Sweden. And to be honest, I thought it was a kind of histrionic narcissism. How bad could it be, life in an affluent and stable country with little of the stress, noise, daily violence and insecurity of Mexico City where we are from?

I make my way effortlessly to the metro. I fumble my way through buying a ticket, even though it is exactly as easy as it should be. I follow the signs. On the escalator, everyone stands to the right, so you can pass on the left, if you're in a hurry. The platform is clean and open and well-lit. Everything is nearly silent. I wait for the right train, ask the conductor to make sure, and he responds in perfect English, with a smile. There are dozens of open seats.

A man with stroller walks in, grabs his daughter and playfully plops her down on a seat, that she immediately vacates and runs around playing and laughing. She is the only sign of life. Most people stare quietly at nothing or at me. Their faces wholly neutral. She will grow up to be like them.

One gorgeous woman sits across from me. She is meticulously put together. I feel like I am in a commercial. And she is looking right at me, aggressively, almost. I look back. Catch her eyes. Her expression doesn't change. I look away. Look back. She is still staring. And again and again, we do this little choreography. I try smiling. I try looking grumpy. I laugh. I make a sad face. Her gaze doesn't change. Not one hint of emotion. I am unsure what to do.

Then the doors close. It has taken way too long. I feel the silent swoosh of the doors in my inner ear. It's an unbearable pressure. I get dizzy. The train glides forward, effortlessly. I hear nothing. Everyone looks like a movie set robot, like paper-maché simulacra. My chest feels hungry. My pinkies tremble. My toes curl.

The train exits a tunnel and we're levitated across perfect neighborhoods of endless grids, of clean reflective glass and tower blocks edged in bright colors. The street are wide. The cars stop for a few pedestrians. There are trees everywhere and the roads curve gently, carefully, contrasting with the grids of little glass boxes looking in on one another, through the blinds.

I sit on a bench underneath a tree. Roll a cigarette. Waiting for my sister to walk me to her apartment. A woman walks by, stops, and says, “you look beautiful. So pretty.” I smile and say thank-you.

When my sister shows up, I am almost crying. I think of all the nights she told me about with her bags packed, ready to go home, ready to leave her partner. I imagine what it must have been like to try and live here, in an alien world that feels so disgustingly perfect and still, oppressive.

I am sitting in the garden of a massive communal house, in the countryside outside of the city. Run by anarchists, and paid for by donations of the community, when a wave of sadness just swallows me. Tears run down my face: I can't imagine what it's like to live like this, without the constant threat of violence or any other kind of imperfect human connection.