In our house, we have a saying. We say it after the story-telling and before the dancing at the tea party that never ends. We never run out of stories because we are always telling the same ones but the guests are new and we never say all the right words in all the same order and we are always talking at the same time and over each other, so we never know where to look.
The dancing is always the same, but our bodies are always different, they switch places. We wear clothes we’ve been wearing for years, shaping them in the heat of our days of ongoing use.
In our house, at our parties, we have a saying. We say it after the story-telling and before the dancing, each part a repeating chorus at the tea party that never ends.
We say “The end can’t leave you broken hearted, if ending ends up where you started,” and we reset to repeat to prove our words to live by. We can no longer remember the origin of the couplet. In ever-changing repetition after the exhaustion of ending a party that never ends, we find ourselves collapsed into the comforting refuse of back where we started, ready set to go again.
Do you know your name?
Emma Rose Casey
Do you know your birthday?
November 24, 1990
Oh she’s really pale
Do you know where you are?
Yes, but I don’t know if I said it out loud.
Oh you would not believe the view!
How long was I out?
A couple minutes.
I’d been on mars.
I knew I was on Mars, because of course I was, for dream-logic told me so. I was far away and thinking 30 memories all at once, cutting the cat’s nails, kissing on Second Avenue, interrupted by picking up a phone call. She was calling me back home. I went.
And then, a sharp smell of my own body, drenched in sweat in the pleather chair. I’d been wearing the same t-shirt for about 48 hours, trying to build a new skin out of recent memory.
Two days before: I’d landed, back in my always-home of Chicago coming from my sometimes-home of New York City, where I’d been, gone four days from my life.
I was in the clinic, empty stomached in the early morning, after an eleven mile bike ride on a temperate late-October day, I’d been doing it all fall, commuting long distances across our city, buoyed by the weather and my own perpetual movement, because if I didn’t stop moving I never had to stop moving. But now, seated in a chair with my eyes turned away from the needle, staring at the arched back of the halloween black cat decoration, I declared I was going to faint and promptly did. I got called back by the smell of ammonia and a magenta sugar beverage held to my lips. I felt like a hummingbird and the rest of the day I floated. I biked the eleven miles home. I changed my clothes.
Where did a couple minutes go?
I’d gotten that sweat soaked t-shirt about three days before, a gift in the kitchen of a couple new acquaintances in Queens. Extra merch for their hardcore band, Material Support. I liked their name and their music and if I kept wearing it, I could keep living in the carefree vacation.
In new york we visited with very dear friends who we never see, we ate and drank and slept as we wanted and we were a “we.” A new couple, and really excited, on the plane, in sleeping, walking, seeing sights and having the kind of quiet intimacies on the sidewalk that become gems against the tumble of activity that that city provides as background at all times of day. Feeling unmoored in Chicago, I was becoming a gem collector: baptisms, vinegar kisses, bells in the air on Sunday, hoping to gather enough to build a place to land.
I lived in New York for college, careening into the city on weekends to walk miles across bridges and see plays alone and with friends, taking in beauty with the wide open eyes of kids away from home, and slicing it apart with the enthusiasm of undergrads building a critical tool box.
I left because it felt like the city cannibalized itself too quickly, I could never write about it, it was always gone.
Before I considered college I considered becoming a runaway, taking a Greyhound to the Big Apple, just like Lydia Lunch. Or like Enid, the character in the comic Ghost World by Daniel Clowes who mentions her “secret plan was to one day not tell anybody and just get on some bus to some random city and just move there and become this totally different person…and not come back until i had become this totally new person…”
My plan never got much further than a kind of romantic threat to my parents and my whole tedious late-teenage life in Chicago.
Instead I made the move, aboveground and with financial aid to a small liberal arts college, delivered the 800 miles across the country in my parents’ silver minivan.
In this new life I scratched my antsy runaway skin. I went to DIY shows in Brooklyn warehouses draped in Christmas lights, where I’d crouch in a corner or smoke cigarettes on rooftops and listen to noise, my favorite place to disappear. Often my partner in these adventures was a friend from home, on her own path through her own glorious hell, in a different liberal arts college not far away. We moped about our parallel experiences, the East Coast elitism, the strain moving put on connections to the boys we loved in high school. Where I found joy in breaking with the past, she sank into mourning, often asking what would become of old relationships if she was no longer around to tend them in the present. The lack of solution haunted her. She carried this question into the summer break after our first year and then silence settled in its place.
Early in my second year of college I took a class on Ibsen. When it came time for a final paper I fixated on a recurring character in his plays - women who left their homes, their husbands, their children, their whole discontented lives in exchange for a chance at themselves and the nebulous thing that is “freedom.” They are everywhere in his plays (Hilda in The Lady From The Sea, declaring “I’m never going home again”, Maja in When We Dead Awaken singing “I am free” through the mountains) and I loved writing the essay. I felt I was unlocking a lineage I was a part of with my best friend.
Because, six months before in the silence of that first summer back home my best friend had run away. She told no one. Making good on Enid’s desire, becoming a resident of her own ghost world. I worried constantly in the six months that she was gone. I received a couple e-mails in that time assuring me that she was still alive and living a mostly silent life, in a country where few people spoke English.
In our house, we have a saying. We say it after the story-telling and before the dancing at the tea party that never ends.
We say “the end can’t leave you broken hearted, if ending ends up where you started,” and sometimes we believe it.
We graduated separately and moved back to Chicago separately. We’ve fallen out of touch. Where did a couple years go? Where did a couple minutes go?
In July 2018 I’d moved across Chicago, sick and sad of my daily routine. I started biking dozens of miles daily and in exchange for a stable home i leaned into my life in motion, moon-y night rides, and dew-y mornings. I stretched the feeling that Chicago would be my forever-home, and when I booked a ticket to New York in October, I felt like it may be for the last time. I wasn’t running away from Chicago when i went in October. I was a happy vagrant in my hometown, in a way that would have made sense to the 18-year-old girl trying to read herself into Ibsen and find communion with Lydia Lunch. I felt at home in streets rolling one after the other, north and south; but kept trying to outrun my mind coming to stillness in the glass confetti of the lakefront, parties there before me, chewing up the days before and the still way oil remains, opal pools moony next to moving water.
I fainted towards an end, with the urge to pack up the physical toll on my life and put the balm of idiom upon it. The t-shirt was a cozy symbol, and in need of a wash. I was in need of a wash. I repacked my boxes.
We say it after the story-telling and before the dancing at the tea party that never ends.
We say, “The end can’t leave you broken hearted if ending ends up where you started.”
We say it often and sometimes we believe it. In the seasons of ordinary time in between the end and the next start.
A note from Emma:
This piece was heavily influenced by my time performing with ShowParty in the Mad Tea Party Chapter of Upended Production's Alice, in the fall of 2018. The refrain "The end can't leave you broken-hearted if ending ends up where you started" is borrowed from that show, and the phrase itself is generally attributed to ShowParty ensemble-mate Matt Hope.
About the artist...
Emma Casey is a writer and performer from Chicago. She is a member of the ShowParty ensemble and has performed at the Fly Honey Show, Salonathon, the Potluck Variety Hour and more. You can find her enjoying a small sliver of internet space on Instagram as @tinroses.
Want to see more of Emma’s work?
Check out her work from past issues:
Dry Drowning from Issue XVII: Poolside