Matthew Wallentsein

Illustration by Matthew Wallentsein

By Matthew Wallenstein
info@pittsburghcurrent.com

 

“Boats used to come here, I think they parked between these. I don’t know, it’s pretty, who cares,” Chris said.

“I can’t wait for drones to start delivering food,” Jack said. “I’m so hungry. Wouldn’t it be nice just to stay here and have food brought to us?”

“I’m hungry too,” I said, “but, damn.”

We were sitting on a slab of cement about twenty feet above the very dark water. Grass and dandelions coming out of cracks between beer cans and ancient broken pieces of wood. The sun was heavy, it was hot.

Chris and I were taking rocks and chunks of concrete we pulled off the platform and seeing who could hit the garbage floating in the water. Jack, Chris and I met up in Philly for the day. I had driven there with Max but he was doing business across town. I was going to stay there another couple days with him then head back to Pittsburgh. I hadn’t had a day without work in three months and it was something just to sit and talk and be there with people I didn’t often see anymore. 

Eventually, as I knew it would, the subject of Feral came up. Chris started talking about the last time he saw her. 

“I didn’t really know her, that was after I moved out,” Jack said.

Jack, Chris and I used to live together in New York.

“Feral moved into 203 probably a few months or so, or like, maybe 6 months after you moved out, I don’t know. She lived in the room Ben built, that 7-by-3 foot one off the living room, the one Ben built after he and T— split up when they both still lived there. After they moved out Feral moved into that room,” Chris said.

“Oh the break-up room, okay. Didn’t Mei Ling live in there after you guys broke up, Matt?” Jack said.

“Yeah,” I said. “The break-up room, yeah. Thanks. After all that, when Feral moved into that room, there was this one time a girl came down from New England to see me. And she and I built a tent out of blankets and chairs in the living room. We set up a laptop to watch a movie. I think we made it to about the end of the opening credits when Feral came in thinking she was doing me a favor, like being my wingman. I kept dropping hints that she should go but she would keep telling the girl all these things about me to talk me up and give these sneaky winks and thumbs up and so forth to me like she was really helping me out. Anyway the girl fell asleep and Feral went to her room. I lay there, not making out. After about an hour the fort collapsed on us. The girl didn’t even wake up. And I just lay there in the living room with a knocked over chair on my belly and a sheet over my face.”

 I didn’t know where to start with explaining Feral. Before I knew her as Feral I knew her as Riley and, before that, Fritz and, before that, Justin. During that time she was transitioning and there were a lot of all-night sessions of her crying and going through it pretty hard. She would go back and forth between Chris one night, then me, then Chris and so forth. She was a pretty unhappy person before the hormones and they hit her like a second puberty. A lot of times Chris or I would give her shots in her dark little room. She would draw a square on the cheek of her butt with a Sharpie to show me where to inject it and I would do my best to get it in the right spot. The needle was long and I knew it hurt. She would drive us both crazy sometimes but there was a lot of good in her. Some nights we would watch horror movies and I would draw her and she would draw those weird little monsters she drew. I still have a couple of them. They were Dungeons and Dragons characters but they would have saggy old breasts and dangling penises. Mostly I miss walking around late at night with her, throwing rocks at windows, talking, listening, it made me feel like a person.

 Feral died in a fire in Oakland, California. It was at a party in a warehouse. I hadn’t seen her in a few years. New York and some of the people in her life there were making her very unhappy. Many were not very understanding of what she was going through. For all their punk phraseologies and activist lexicon there was very little kindness or real-world application. She moved down to North Carolina, wore country dresses, found some people. Chris lived in the same town while he was attending an artist residency. I went to her house once when I was down there visiting him. He was friends with the people living there, but she was out of town. 

Chris was a part of her life a lot longer than I was. I think the last time I saw her was when Chris and I drove her up to her parents house in Connecticut. I had driven her up there twice before, once when her friend died and once to pick a few things up from her old room. I remember sitting in the driveway watching the snow in the headlights while she was inside talking to them about her transition. The house was large and surrounded by dark trees. She came back to the car and was toughing it out. Her parents still called her Justin. But she got a lot closer than most of us do to being the person she always felt like she was.

On the platform the sun was bright, I was squinting. I scratched my face, I needed to shave. I needed to shower. I went to the edge of the platform and peed off of it. 

Chris finally hit one of the soda bottles floating on the water.

“Hey look at that. You actually got one,” Jack said.

I picked up a log. It was dry and grey and about the length of my arm. I threw it off the edge and it didn’t hit anything floating down there. The water splashed, oil shined blue and purple on its surface. 

“What about Vietnamese?” Jack said. 

We started walking back.

“Yeah that sounds good. Chris, my two favorite pictures you ever took were that one of Anna in the bathtub and the one you took of Feral flicking the syringe, sitting on your bed. Actually, you know what, I really love the one of her in the leopard print jacket, all dressed up and smiling in the city at night. I think you took that after the last time I saw her, though.”

 

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