i’m sitting in the dark because sometimes it’s the only place i feel comfortable.

it was raining today and i stood out in the rain doing my job even though i was seething inside and didn’t want to be there. i didn’t want to be anywhere. i saw a black man on a bike, red baseball cap, sitting at the intersection watching me. he had a beautiful, kind smile. i smiled at him, an instinctual response to light, but i refocused myself because the last thing i wanted or needed was for him to come over. i continued scanning the crowd, picking out the english speakers and the ones i needed to draw in. i saw him ride away slowly, continually turning to smile at me, trying to catch my eye. i wanted him to keep going, keep going and not look back.

i am sick with darkness right now

the day continued, and while water kept falling, i wasn’t getting soaked so i stayed, scanning and scanning the crowds, trying to outlet the seething silently, careful not to let it draw attention. smile, genuine warmth. i will people to say thank you, because in a way, i dare them not to, and they do and i smile warmly, genuinely. i want the positive to outweigh the dark that i feel, the slow burning with emerging pools of blood, so fucking angry, like a razor cut that just won’t end.

the important players i met yesterday all appeared in the new chapter today.

i remember being stationed for work in the red light district yesterday, which is like sending a recovering alcoholic to work in a bar. the red light district repels me, destroys me, as strongly as it allures me and promises me more of my sickness that gives me that metallic taste of blood that makes me crave more and more and makes me so goddam fucking thirsty. i hate it, i want it. it destroys me. i want to burn the whole fucking place down if it weren’t made of so much goddam brick. i want to destroy it, turn it into blackness the way it does me. i want to fuck it, hurt it, remind it that we were all children once, every one of us, and a long time ago, that innocence meant something.

i want to mean something again.

i stood there, staring at the sky, sometimes a sky within the sky as it has a way of opening up the longer you stare at it. i wanted it, i wanted to confront whatever it is i have to confront to get it over with. its grayness draws me in, wraps me in its multiplicity, disorients me.

when i looked down, a man of absolute blackness walked by. black pants, black leather trenchcoat, black dreads, black skin, black hat, black eyes. eyes like an alien. eyes like a snake. eyes of darkness only someone with knowledge would have. he walked by, never breaking his stride, never breaking eye contact. he’s fixed on me. he knew i knew what he was, and he knew that meant he could try to scare me. i was prepared to take a stance against those eyes, but inside, it sent a cold surge of terror inside me. i would fight someone like that to the death if need be, but i wasn’t going to let him see me scared. i looked away, saying hello to an italian couple who was completely unaware of me. i didn’t acknowledge his existence anymore, though i knew he would be back.

i needed help.

i saw a dark-skinned guy with large eyes who looked vaguely familiar. i had seen him in the crowd earlier and remembered scanning his t-shirt in hopes it was a school in the us. i asked him if he wanted a free guide and he came over.

he listened to my pitch then he asked about me, wanting to know about me and why i was here. i told him about quitting my job and traveling to europe and he said he had a friend who did the same, got sick of america and traveled the world. he was a good energy, a safe energy, a familiar energy. i knew he wanted to connect with me positively and i needed it, especially out of the corner of my eye, i saw the snake man take a slow pass back, staring at me.

i talked with this guy who had gone to illinois, and told him that a lot of my cousins went there. i told him i went to michigan and we talked a bit, then he told me where he was staying and wanted to know when i got off work. i knew where he was going, but while i was thankful that he had been there for me when i needed him (i could feel the snake man’s energy was gone), i didn’t want to get in a complicated situation in real life, so i told him i had to go home and cook dinner for my boyfriend. i did offer to walk him back to his hostel which was on my way home, so he asked me if i spoke mandarin and i said yes. he said, i love you, in mandarin. i said, aww, that’s so sweet, in english. he said, i want to kiss you, in mandarin. i laughed. did you understand what i said, he said. yes, i said. you want to kiss me. that’s pretty good, he said. most people don’t understand what i’m trying to say.

did you actually study mandarin or do you just know a few useful phrases, i ask.

i dated a girl from taiwan for two years, he said. that would explain his fixation with me, i thought.

that’s the girl who took off and traveled the world, he said. you remind me so much of her.

ah, i thought. that definitely explains his fixation on me.

he invited me to the happy hour at his hostel and i declined again. he said he was leaving the next day.

well, i said. good luck with everything.

in hindsight, can i say that it felt like it wasn’t goodbye yet? in some ways, i feel like i should know better. but there is this blissful ignorance in those moments that later helps you realize that maybe life is in the plot after all. but back to the story.

i leave, walking away. i decide to try one more shopping area since promoting has been shit lately. i’m standing at a dark corner, again fixated on the sky and how the gray of the opposite building blends into the sky. i look over and i see three guys walking towards me. their clothes tell me they’re american. i offer them a guide and ask them if i can help them with any directions. they ask me where the nearest smartshop is, and i write out recommendations, as well as the best coffeehouse and wherever else they might be interested in. as i doodle on the map, i find out that they’re from florida, alabama and philadelphia. the outgoing one mentions he wants to get another tattoo, he already has 7, but he’s a gemini. my ears perk up and i say, really. when. may 29th, he says. i’m june 14th, i say.

the quiet one on the right suddenly pipes up. i’m june 3rd, he says.

i look at the third guy, the one on the left from philadelphia. he has a shaved head, smooth skin and clear, penetrating hazel eyes that are intimidating in their stillness. when’s yours, i ask him. april 1st, he says. good birthday, i say, but i think, aries. i just had a dream the night before about meeting an aries and having a conversation, but right after he left, i remembered something but realized i had no way of getting in contact with him. i take a closer look into his eyes, but his steely gaze unnerves me so i look away.

the outgoing gemini wants to know about me and what it’s like to live in amsterdam, and i tell them that it’s cool. a lot of americans come out here for a few days, but somehow meet someone and end up living here for a decade. it’s just what amsterdam does to you. he asks me what i’m doing after work but i tell them i’m working all night (a lie) and he asks me what i’m doing tomorrow night and i say that i’m going to be out in front of the theater promoting the show. mostly, i just want them to consider seeing the show because that’s how i get paid. they’re gonna go check out other things so they say bye, but the one from philly lingers back, taking a last look at me as he walks away. he wasn’t that friendly to me when they were talking to me in that he hadn’t really said much, and his eyes unnerved me, but then it occurred to me that some people hide themselves well even when they’re interested, when they’re connected. i put it out of my mind because i’m just really over standing out in the co
ld talking about a comedy show, and i just want to get home.


woke up today and was feeling bright. was feeling close to david. we had a serious and open talk last night. i wanted to talk about the red light district. i wanted him to know that it consumes me. he told me he doesn’t want me hurting myself anymore, but he also understands that i’m writing a book and he wants me to write a book, but he also doesn’t want to see me hurting myself. i know he understands my pain, but i also feel like he doesn’t understand my pain. because wouldn’t he have explained it to me if he knew so i could stop searching for its name? he’s afraid that i’m only going to find bad things there. that i’m only going to draw a bad experience to myself. will you still be there for me even if i did, i ask him. he has to think about it. yes, he says quietly. i think neither of us is sure whether when the shadow leads, if it’s a good thing or a bad thing. i remind him that it was the shadow side that urged me to quit my job, travel to europe and that ultimately lead me to him. that it was the darkness in me that was drawn by the darkness in him. so does that make the darkness bad? there was some intense staring on his part so we dropped the subject and had a beautiful night.

and the morning started the same way. i missed him as soon as he was gone. went to the gym, did the dishes, then surprised him at work with soup and his favorite candy bar. but then somehow, the other girl in the shop brought up anal fisting, and i brought up testicle weights and we were in a full-on, one-up battle of crazy sex shit. david started railing that these things weren’t real and just videos people made to shock people and we insisted that there’s a market for these things because people do get off on them. he kept saying he didn’t believe people were into this and i swore up and down that people do a lot of crazy things behind closed doors and they do it because they get off on it, not because they want anyone to know about it and be freaked out by it. i don’t know why the conversation upset me. i don’t know why his stance upset me. i felt like we had just talked about this stuff the night before, that people did some messed up things to each other sexually, and knowing that disillusions me. but i was angry that he was denying their very existence. when david walks away to help a customer, his coworker said to me, david’s so naive. no he’s not, i said. and i meant it.

i was quiet as i started thinking again. i started getting dark again. what are you thinking about, he asked.

you know, i said. the red light district.

he looked tense, like he wanted to say something but knew he shouldn’t.

i looked away. i decided i wanted to go write rather than spend time with him after he was off work. i was overcome by a sudden, overwhelming urge to leave. he walked me out and said goodbye. i knew he didn’t know why i was suddenly turned away, disappearing before his eyes. i’m not sure i knew why either. i said goodbye and walked away. i wondered if he knew. i wondered if he was conscious that i was walking in the direction of the red light district.

its energy both enraptures and repels me. it destroys me as it compels me. it feeds me and it breaks me down down down. this energy is the worst drug i’ve ever been on, the greediest drug. i can feel it like a slug slowly eating its way up my veins, burning, but giving me a satisfaction with no name. it makes me want to give it more of myself, feed myself to it. and the worst thing about it is that it’s familiar and i don’t unwelcome it. it’s something i’ve always known since my earliest meetings with darkness, a shadow i have met before, perhaps have known even before i knew myself.

i sit at the edge of the water, at the edge of the district and think.

i don’t want to keep hurting myself.

but there’s something here that i need.

there is something here i need to find, that i need to know.

i put my head in my arms, closing my eyes, needing the black to help me think.

it’s so hard to unravel, so hard to untangle.

what can’t i let go?

why is julia so angry?

it starts to rain again and i have an hour before my shift so i start walking. at the outskirts of the district, i see walking towards me the guy from yesterday, the guy who speaks mandarin. i say hi and he looks shocked. i ask him if he’s on his way out (he has his suitcase with him), and he says he can’t believe he’s seeing me again. he introduces me to the guy he’s with, some old dude from california who’s got a huge mustache and skateboard, and he comments again that he can’t believe he ran into me, that he had missed his train. we talk. he wants to know if i want to share a joint with them and i don’t. they start talking about the area, about the district, and i ask him if he’s tried it out. he says no like he would never do it and he makes a joke about if i’ve tried, and i tell him that stuff messes me up in the head. i tell him about the sex club in la and going there so i could write an article about it, and how it fucked up my head for a couple of years, how disgusted and disillusioned i was about sex and people. especially since while i was there, i’d run into someone i’d gone out with, and he was there fucking two girls. his friend leaves, and we’re alone, and he’s buying what i’m selling, even though i’m not sure what it is exactly that i’m selling.

i hate the red light district, i tell him. but i only write what’s true, and i’m writing something and i need to see what goes on in there. so i’ve been trying to get someone to let me go in with them so i can write about it truthfully.

even this is kind of a lie. he’s the first person i’ve broached the subject with. i’m winging it.

you should totally do that, he says. i’ll do it with you.

you would?

he has a train to catch in 45 minutes. i don’t mind because his energy is safe.

let’s talk while we walk, he says, and he’s excited about the idea. now the truth comes out, when earlier he was feigning complete innocence about the district. he wants to go to a specific alley where earlier one of them offered a blowjob for 30 euros. all he has on him now is 25. and he admits he’s gotten a blowjob in belgium before.

personally, i don’t think that qualifies him as a badass just yet. i tell him he should fuck her today since you get both for the same price.

no, i would just get a blowjob. a blowjob’s like nothing. you’re wearing a condom so it’s not like they’re even really touching you, he says.

secretly, i want to know if he’ll fuck her. i want him to answer a question for me. i need to know if he’ll fuck her. so i press on.

i say to him, you know though, one day you’re going to meet your future wife, the person you’ve spent your life looking for, and she’s gonna wanna know all of your skeletons. and she’s gonna find out you’ve had sex with a prostitute and she’s gonna freak out. so would you tell her or would you lie?

why would i tell her something like that, he asks.

because she’ll want to know about your past and she’ll want to know the truth, and you’re going to want to tell her. and if you lie, you’ll have to live for the rest of your life knowing you looked someone who loves you in the eye and lied, but to tell the truth means you have to face the truth. what if she straight out asks you, have you ever had sex with a prostitute?

but i haven’t had sex with a prostitute, he says. i’ve only gotten a blowjob.

well yeah, technically, you could say no because you haven’t actually had sex with a prostitute. but what if you had? would you lie and be able to live with it or would you feel you had to be honest? the knowledge could break her heart.

he considers this.

do you think she would just be happy that i’d gotten that stuff out of my system so i could completely be with her?

ho knows, i say. i think mostly she’s just going to wish you hadn’t done it. there was a lot of stuff i could have done in my life. a lot of things i had the opportunity to do, a lot of things i could have done just to know what it’s like, for the experience. but a lot of times i didn’t do it because i would think that one day, when i meet my future husband and he wants to know everything about me, i don’t want to have to lie about anything, i don’t want there to be anything that i’ve done that could potentially break his heart if i could help it. there’s often a choice.

that’s a really noble way to go about things, he says.

not noble, just idealistic, i say. but i get fucked in the head because of it. sometimes i wonder if i should have just said fuck it and let the outside world taint me. sometimes thinking life is more beautiful than what it is, thinking that devotion and faith could be more precious than what it is, makes me feel like my whole life has been a giant idealistic delusion. who the fuck did i think i was that i might be better than this.

we see girls in the windows and he’s asking them how much they would charge for a blowjob. i know they won’t go under 50. i tell him i’ll subsidize him 25 if he fucks a girl. he thinks about it, and i repeat it a few times as we talk to the girls, and he considers it, though he mentions to actually fuck a prostitute is weird. he says he doesn’t think he would be able to come, that a blowjob through a condom is barely touching but to fuck her is so much more and he doesn’t know if he can do it. it means he knows he’s crossing a line, and somewhere inside me, i feel a twitch of something pure that might still be alive inside hungry blackness. bleeding and dying on its knees, but possibly still alive.

he knows there’s a line.

while he ultimately has free will, i know that i’m willing to push him but if he goes through, i won’t be willing to catch him. a part of me has no idea how this would end, but a part of me is hoping that it won’t come to that. for the salvation of both of us, that it won’t come to that. he had asked me to add him to facebook and i will, because whatever happens, we’ll be friends after, because without any other choice, we’ll be connected. but the money is on the table. he doesn’t have enough to get just a blowjob like he wants, and we both know that, so he has a choice and i need to know what he’s going to do.

as he’s thinking about it, i have the strong urge to remind him what’s at stake. once you do it, i say, you’ve done it. it’ll be a permanent part of your personal history.

i really mean this. i mean this because as much as i’m his devil right now, i’m also his friend.

we stand there, on the cobblestone walk that connects to one of the oldest churches in the city a few hundred feet away, connects us to what this area once stood for–hope, faith, a belief in something bigger, better, more pure and holy than the darkness that human hands and hearts create. in a way, i think i know what i’m hoping he’ll say, but i know he has to make the decision on his own.

what time is it, he asks me finally. i pull out my phone and i tell him.

let’s just go to the train station, he says.

i smile, in some ways, proud of him. sure, i say. follow me.

i lead him back to the train station and he asks me about my writing. he asks me why i wanted to experience that and i told him because if we had gone through with it, it would have hurt me tremendously. so you were using me to hurt you, he said. that’s fucked up.

only because you were willing and only if you got something out of it. because it’s something i need to face. once i’ve seen it, i can’t deny it, i have to come to terms with it because there’s nowhere else to hide, i said. i would have had no choice but to look into it, to confront it, to live with it for the rest of my life. but it would have really hurt me.

i can understand that, he said.

it’s starting to rain again as we cross out of the district, back into the real world.

we’re quiet for a bit and then he says, sometimes when i’m mad at a girl, i’ll go out and sleep with three other girls. but it never makes me feel better. it just makes me feel sad about the first girl.

i look at him and smile, sad, happy, who knows on days when it all feels the same.

would you ever cheat on your boyfriend, he asks me.

i don’t know why but the question makes me sad, though the answer is strong and clear and as close to the truth as anything about me.

never, i say.

we get to the corner where we part.

it was really nice meeting you, he says. he holds out his hand but i tell him, i’m gonna give you a hug.

we hug, and it’s strong, like long-time friends saying hello and goodbye in one tight, drawn-out note.

thanks, i say.

good luck, he says, and then we walk away in opposite directions.


the shift was bad. all the positive energy from earlier had dissipated and i was left with just me, my echoes and a feeling of not wanting to be there.

the kid behind the bar knew i was standing out in the rain and came out of nowhere, bringing me a hot coffee drink with a curl of whip cream. i was astounded and touched. it was so cold and miserable out there, it felt like the coffee was saving my life and i was so thankful to him.

the other guy on the shift, a japanese guy from canada with massive dreads, told me to come in and sit, that it was too cold out. so i sat and talked with one of the actresses who was from nebraska. i had half an hour left to go and i was anxious. i didn’t want to go home. i didn’t know what kind of energy i would be bringing home. i was talking with a couple i had talked to a couple of times earlier, and they wanted to talk to me about weed, so i gave them some recommendations. i noticed someone step out of the shadows to my left, and i thought it was him but i wasn’t sure…he had a hood on and was moving fast. i stared at him and then i said his name:


how the hell did i remember his name. he put his hood down and smiled. it was the guy from philly from the day before. i was talking with the couple and he was waiting there, so i asked him if he was here to see the show.

what time does it start, he asks.

in 15 minutes.

i have to check with the other guys, he says. but he stands there and waits, and in a way, i’m glad he does.

i finally convince the couple to get their asses into the theater and see the show, and ryan asks me if i’m getting off soon. yes, i say, and i know for sure now that i’m not going home anytime soon. i ask my partner if i can leave and he asks if i want to stay and share a joint with him. i would like to, but i need to see what ryan wants, so i say no thanks and i leave with ryan.

as we walk, he tells me that he overheard me tell the couple that i’m a writer, and asks me about it. he mentions that he also likes to write. as we talk, he apologizes for not answering my questions faster because he’s on shrooms. i tell him that it’s okay.

he wants to find his two friends so i go with him back to their hostel. the outgoing gemini is on myspace and listening to his ipod, and he’s almost orgasmic over how good his music is. ryan informs me that his friend is on mexicans, and their other friend is upstairs on hawaiians. oh crap, i think. hawaiians are the strongest ones and most visual ones. they’re the ones most likely for people to freak out on.

so we go upstairs and indeed his friend is standing outside of their room, looking a combination of terrified and confused.

you guys left me, he said.

you were sleeping, ryan says.

i didn’t know where you guys were.

says he wants to get into the room but he tells ryan that he has to open it and gives him the keys. ryan opens the room and asks him what he nee
ds from the room and he just says, he’s really confused.

c’mon, i say to him. you have to get outside.

we go down the stairs and i’m asking them when they took the shrooms and how much. i’m worried about the kid on hawaiians. we get downstairs and the first guy is gone. i had loaned my lighter to the owner at the door and he lights up when he sees me again. did you see a kid in sunglasses talking about how good his music is?

he went that way, the guy points out the door.

the three of us go looking for their friend. i hand the guy on hawaiians 3 sticks of sugar that i happen to be carrying. if it starts getting too intense at any time, go buy a bottle of water, pour these in, shake it up and drink it, i say. it will help you come down.

he takes the sugar and nods solemnly. i think it’s funny that i sound like i’m an expert when i’ve never done them.

we search mcdonald’s and then the comedy club. they see a latin dance club and ask if maybe he went in there and i ask them if he’s maybe too high to be able to read at this point. finally we see him walking across the tram tracks towards us, giggling and almost skipping.

these guys don’t really know what they want to do so we just walk around. one of them wants to go to the red light district and i flat out say no. why, they ask. because it makes me evil, i say. but it’s because of ryan. there is something beautiful in him, a belief, a hope. a belief in innocence. and i don’t want him to go near anything that could threaten that. as cynical as the mind can get, as devastating as the eyes can see, they must never tell these things to the heart so that it becomes what the heart believes.

as we walk, philly talks to me about writing. he’s a little bit awkward and shy, and it makes me tell that he’s young. he reveals that he’s written a novel, and that he wants to take a dead writers trip across the country, visiting the graves of writers and drinking what they drank. he tells me about one of charles bukowski’s poems that made him cry, and i take out my pen and take down the name of it, because i really want to read it so i can understand what moves him. i tell him that i would like to read his work.

he sees one of the more majestic buildings in the city lit up against the night, and he stops and admires it. it’s beautiful, he says. i grew up in a bad neighborhood. i’m not saying the hood or anything, but it was an ugly neighborhood. so i love seeing buildings that are beautiful. he laughs, embarrassed, and walks away. i don’t want to lead them too far, but i don’t want them to go drink beer or smoke weed like they want to. again, i’m worried about the guy on hawaiians. so we double back and i lead them back towards the area where their hostel is.

philly asks me questions about what made me move here and i tell him it’s because i met someone. i tell him that it’s really true out here, that a lot of people come out here to visit for a couple of days, but then they meet someone and they end up living here. he asks me how long it took for me to decide to live in europe and i tell him a few months. he says that he wouldn’t mind living in europe.

i take them around, but it’s getting late and they’re still an hour away from when i think they should hit a dance club. before i go, philly wants to know if i like the same music as him, so i look through his ipod and see enough that i recognize to let him know that i understand and appreciate his music taste. he wants to add me on facebook so i promise him i’ll look him up tonight.

i had a question though.

i ask him if he happened to walk up to the theater and run into me, or if he had gone specifically looking for me.

i was looking for you, he says without hesitation.

that’s really sweet, i say, and i’m astounded by the honesty between us. good luck with writing.

he reaches out his hand but i give him a hug, then give the others a hug and say goodbye.

be careful, i tell them, and in that moment, i’m really happy for them, happy to have met them. i get to the tram stop just as the tram i need is pulling in, and i get on, happy for no complicated goodbyes today.

now in the dark again, i feel safe, but i am also afraid that after i sleep, tomorrow will be an entirely new, invigorated beast.

how to separate the head from the tail of darkness.

how to believe in innocence again.