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Pretty used to being with Gwyneth

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Frank in all directions

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Entries in teresa finney (4)


In Which We Are Made Of Distractions

Six-Word Story


On an average, otherwise mundane Tuesday night, I have found myself splayed out on a kitchen floor that does not belong to me. The wine glass that shattered in my hand as I fell has cut deeply into my palm and wrist. Blood is trickling down onto the cold linoleum floor. Standing up requires gargantuan effort, but I make it over to the sink. Grabbing onto the counter to steady myself, I stick my hand under the cold water, which stings. I notice the blood, as if a river, streaming down my chest and pooling at the collar on my shirt.

A fact I had forgotten about in the four seconds it took me to stand up and walk to the sink, is that I fell on top of the stem of the wine glass. My chest was cut up badly and bleeding all over the empty sink. I was in shock and losing blood and I needed a hospital.

Despite the blood loss and disorientation, I managed to Google map the nearest emergency room, which I discovered was located a mere block from the apartment I was staying at. I walked there. Why I did this, I don’t know. But, my hand wrapped in a towel, and my other injury-free hand holding a dishcloth to my bleeding chest, blood dripping all over the streets of Astoria, NY, I walked there.

Twelve hours and seven stitches later I wake up on the couch back at the apartment. Instinctively I check my phone and notice my battery is at 2%. I get up from the couch and walk into the bedroom. Outside it is sunny but winter still lingers in the breeze. I charge my phone, then fall back to sleep. I’ve been house- sitting for a friend for the last eight days, and the circumstances in which I’ve found myself in my 29th year of life are clearly less than ideal. The recklessness of my 20s has finally caught up to me.

I was out of work because of my hand injury and had time to think. I had time to confront in my mind how I had gotten to that exact place in life. I considered how I had corroded my youth in alcohol and self-contempt and now that I was almost 30, I terrified myself. I knew that I would be dead soon if I stayed in New York. I would not live to be 30 if I didn't get help. I knew this to be as true as the earth orbits the sun. I decided to go home.

A few afternoons later at brunch, a friend asks, “Are you still a mess?” I pick at my BLT as we talk, then just nod. Two weeks prior I had sent her a weird late-night whiskey-fueled Facebook message. “It wasn’t a nice message,” she said. I look out the window at commuters climbing the stairs to take either the N or the Q train to either Manhattan or Brooklyn. It is another sunny but chilly day. I apologize.

"I was really drunk, I’m sorry."

Ernest Hemingway's famous six-word story reads: “For sale: baby shoes, never worn.” The six word story of my 20s is “I was really drunk, I’m sorry.” Exactly four months shy of my 30th birthday, I write this with remorse.

In the days prior to leaving New York I joked that my fall and subsequent injury was some weird, physical manifestation of what had been going on in my mind during those days. Each time I laughed about it and each time after the laughter stopped, I realized I was not joking.


I am back amongst the soil that birthed me, my golden California. I am out west in a strong calculated effort to move aside all distractions that tempt me to forget myself again. Like all those times in the past when instead of writing that essay, I worried myself sick about why someone didn’t love me. Like every time I drank too much wine and stayed up until 4am instead of going to therapy. I did this and more for nearly a decade until distractions were all that I was made of.

Dusk in California is a spiritual experience. The golden, witching hour. The Santa Cruz mountains, and the Sierra foothills; the roaring Pacific Ocean, and the towering, ancient-as-time Redwood trees all seem to become even more vast and loom even larger under the gold setting sun. This is notable to me as Mom picks me up from the airport and we drive down Highway 152. I'll be staying with her while I get myself together. I don't know how else to say that I'm home because I had a nervous breakdown. I don't know what else to call it. When I realized I could have killed myself the night I fell in my friend's kitchen, it halted me entirely. The day before my flight is scheduled to leave JFK, I write "New York didn't almost kill me, I almost killed me." The distinction is important, I'll take the blame.

As soon as I land, I am dodging questions from friends and family.

"How long will you be here?"

"How are you feeling?"

Their curiosity is innocent enough but I feel threatened by their questions. They don't know that I wouldn't be able to answer them, not even if a knife was held to my 29 year-old throat. Text messages and emails go unanswered because I don't want to sound directionless so close to my 30th birthday. This feels like proof of ten years down the drain, like a sure-fire failure. Of what?

Before I can address any of their questions, I have to answer some of my own. I want to know how it is possible that residual heartaches leftover from childhood can keep an adult up at night, long after the city has gone to sleep and street lights hum an orange glow that beams into bedrooms. I want to know why thirty feels like a deadline. How can I reconcile within me the fact that a decade is just about over and what do I do about all of these regrets? What was the point of the last ten years?

Sometime around age 23 I learned what alcohol could do. Before then it was just an additive to parties, something I could take or leave. But soon it became a tool. I manipulated alcohol to make life more bearable, to make me more bearable to me. I liked the way I felt when I was drunk because I felt like someone else. I believed the lie that my father had told me once when I was a little girl, that I was “fundamentally flawed.” I believed the lie I sold myself, that I wouldn’t be successful or happy — ever — as long as I was the deeply imperfect person that I was. And because the only time I could ever escape myself was when I drank, I kept drinking. I rarely stopped. I was positive I was slowly killing myself and still, I did not care. Like the time I passed out drunk under an awning on 145th St in Harlem during a rainstorm. I had passed out first on the subway. I have vague memories of two strangers putting me into a cab, and the when I came to, I was using my scarf, covered in vomit, as a pillow. I knew this was not good, but drinking to that point was a punishment. Punishing myself in this way felt correct. It felt like the thing I had to do in order to cope with just being alive in this flawed body, with this flawed mind. The residual beliefs of my childhood taunted me, still lying all these years later.


What I know for sure is this: I know that when I disappoint myself, it places a sensation akin to a ticking time bomb in the pit of my stomach. I know exactly the place in my chest where it feels like a smoldering heap of blue ashes when I have lost someone I love. I know the texture life takes on when I am hating myself and indulging in excess.

That I drank too much for ten years and have been worried about turning thirty that whole time are two directly related facts of my life.

I've been the youngest in my group of friends for years so I have heard amazing things about being in your 30s. It's like Dorothy opening the door to her tornado-stricken home in Oz, the technicolor land of mystery and possibility, they say.

"You instantly get an attitude about life. You just stop giving a fuck."

"You learn to love your body, finally."

"You have better sex!"

It's as if I've been watching an infomercial selling me the idea of Turning Thirty for the last ten years. Now I'm skeptical. I want a refund even before I've tested the product. I don't believe the hype. Thirty isn't Oz. I am not Dorothy. I feel time slipping away from me even though I understand I am wrong.

My 20s feel like cold, hard fact. When I think back to a year, two years, five years ago, I think of the mistakes. The alcohol-induced decisions I made, the ones that cannot be mended. I think about the people I angered, the ones I lied to because the truth was unutterable. I wonder how many of those people recoil at the drop of my name and if I'll be forgiven. I think about the men who served as mirrors that only reflected back to me my beliefs about myself. I think about the terrible things they did and said and how it was possible I could have permitted any of it. I think about the countless days and nights I drank too much in an attempt to forget about all the men who left, and all the ways in which I abandoned myself too. And that life goes on still.

There are regrets, more of them than fingers to count them on. There are failures. In no poetic way, simply, I had failed. Bills went unpaid. Phone calls went unanswered. Needs went unmet. Cold, hard fact. But because I am still here, none of that is unfixable. Life is still happening. It does not matter that I have failed, the sun will still set in the west tonight. It does not matter that I left New York before I did what I moved there to do, air still fills my lungs. Despite a raucous decade, breath still rises and falls in my chest. The depths and heights of being human have left their mark on me, and life still turns gold under a Californian sun. 

Teresa Finney is the senior contributor to This Recording. She is a writer living in California. She last wrote in these pages about the exact address. She tumbls here and twitters here.

Paintings by Mehran Elminia.


In Which We Can't Remember The Name Of The Bar

The following essay contains descriptions of sexual violence.

Exact Address

"Where do you live?"

I opened one eye just barely and sat up slowly. The room hadn't stopped spinning just yet so I lied back down on the bench I had made my temporary bed. The bench was to the right of the bathroom in which I had just spent five minutes vomiting. I can't remember the name of the bar I was at with friends that night, I only remember that it was within walking distance of Lake Merritt in Oakland. The year is 2009 and I am twenty-four years old.

My friends and I walked to the bar. It was a short enough walk made even shorter by the whiskey flowing in our systems and the cool breeze of an early June evening. Just prior to the bar, I was standing in my friend Melissa's kitchen wearing a Depeche Mode concert t-shirt, black tights under cut off jeans and cowboy boots, a wild ensemble.

Melissa pointed to my tights and handed me a glass of wine, "Your outfit is pretty perfect." I just smiled and took a swig from the wine glass. Melissa was my introduction to Oakland. We "met" one day while I was browsing her blog and when we realized we had mutual friends in common, I was quickly swooped up into her world. I was brought on as a marketing/PR person for the non-profit she ran with eight other women. All Bay Area based. All friends. It was the beginning of something in my life, though at the time I couldn't exactly pinpoint what that was.

I had just broken up with a boy and I was lost, as usual. When Melissa and the other women welcomed me into their lives and homes, I was stitched back up in some way. I grew up in the Bay Area but had never been to Oakland before. It wasn't even that the city's violent reputation had left an impression on me, I never went to Oakland because I had no real reason to. In 2009, I did. And I went a lot. Just about every single weekend of that year I would drive my little maroon Honda Civic up the 580 freeway and my whole world just burst the hell open.

The very first night I visited, I had to circle Melissa's block maybe five times before I found a parking space. My car barely made it up the real bitch of a hill that she lived on. Her house was known as "Carroll Gardens", named after the Brooklyn neighborhood she once called home. I was there for a fundraiser that I helped organize for the non-profit. There would be burlesque dancers, and a bake sale and live music and an open bar. It was the most wild thing and I just fell for the image of myself that Oakland and my new friends reflected back to me.

Quickly I would become a familiar face at Carroll Gardens. There was always an abundance of alcohol and cocktails made from bitters I'd never even heard of before. We were maybe a bit excessive but all of our personalities were giant. We towered over people just with our laughter and jubilee. We were a living, breathing party and I felt like I found a second family. There were birthdays, and dinner parties, and parties thrown for absolutely no reason other than the girls had leftover exotic cheeses and they wanted to make macaroni and cheese and did I wanna come over and help eat it? I always said yes. That was one of the things Melissa and the other women taught me. "Follow the yes", they would say. I knew what this meant instinctively, as if I had been waiting for permission to say yes to life all along.


On the dance floor, I started to spin. There was mixture of alcohol in my body that wasn't agreeing with the beat of the music and the heat from the movement of the other bodies that surrounded me. I needed to get horizontal immediately.

"Are you okay?"

"Oh god, this bitch is throwing up in here."

I heard the comments directed at me from other girls in the bathroom but ignored them and went to tell my friends it was time to leave. That's when I realized I could barely walk and that's when I found the bench. Ah, a bed, I probably thought. I'm not sure how long I stayed there but when a man asked me if I was okay and then where I lived, going home sounded like a damn good idea.

By some miracle, I remembered Melissa's exact address despite the booze practically seeping out of my pores.

"I'll take you home," he said.

He helped me up and as we walked passed the dance floor, I didn't even think to look for my friends. The stranger and I walked passed the bouncers, who smiled at me. Then he led me to his black Chevy Silverado that was parked directly in front of the bar, just waiting.

The night fades in and out like a pen that works fine one second, then gradually loses ink as you write a sentence.

We are parked somewhere that is not Melissa's house. I am puking out of the passenger side of this guy's truck and he is holding my hair. I black out again and when I come to he is arched over me with his dick in his hand. His pants are around his ankles, and my black tights and shorts are draped over the back of the driver's seat. When I notice that there is a hole in my tights, I call him a 'fucking prick' and that is when he penetrates me so roughly, I begin to bleed.

I'm still sitting in the passenger seat and it is difficult for him to maintain an erection. He is sweating on me, and I am present, but not. I go to a place in my mind far away from the reality of what is happening. I'm too drunk to consent or fight back, I know that even while I slip in and out of the blackout. I do not want this to be happening, I know that to be as true as the sun sets in the west, even as I slip in and out of the blackout.

He's frustrated now because his penis is not agreeing with his decision, so he pulls out, sits in the driver's seat and begins masturbating. When he's finished, he smears his ejaculation on my naked thigh.

"Put your shorts back on," he says as he tosses me my clothes.

We are pulling into Melissa's driveway and I am just about to get out of the truck when he says, "I want to take you to the movies tomorrow." I say nothing, just slam his car door and walk into the house, quietly closing the front door along with the events of the night behind me making sure not to wake anyone.


The next morning is a bit of a blur. They were worried. They called my phone dozens of times but knew that eventually I would make it back to Carroll Gardens. That's kind of what usually happened with this group of friends. We all left together but sometimes along the way we would disperse into the city in smaller groups. We would meet up with other friends nearby and go to different bars or go out for burritos; it was always late nights and crazy stories. This was just normal, but the excess had gone too far, finally. "Sorry, I just stayed at the bar with this guy and he drove me home," I lied. They scold me. I tell them nothing.

I didn't blame anyone but myself for a long time. I didn't talk about it because I was embarrassed and because I knew how rape culture worked. If I hadn't been drunk. If I hadn't left the bar. If, if. There was a haze of "was this even rape?" that clouded my better judgment for a long time. It took a while for me to even recognize what happened as the inherent, deep violation that it was. When I did, I became angry. I was seething. At myself, at men. Mostly at the fact that this kind of thing and much, much worse happens to other people every single day.

Oakland wasn't the same to me after that. I stopped going as often, not because I was afraid of being assaulted again but because I knew the partying had to stop sometime. I wanted to do something important with my life and I felt an internal clock ticking. A few months later I applied at NYU and within six weeks I received my acceptance letter. I was moving across the country and it felt right, it felt good. I felt like every single thing that had happened to me up until that point had only been preparation for this move. I was ready to leave the Bay Area and see what I could make of things out east.

There was an incident a couple weeks ago at a Dunkin' Donuts in Harlem where a man said something extremely vile and sexual to me, out loud and in front of a large group of people, all of whom said and did nothing. I felt defenseless and humiliated. Walking home in the snow after, I started to cry and that's when I realized that I had just been triggered. I've become less interested in defining what rape is or isn't; I'm only interesting in keeping the dialogue open. Shame breeds in silence, and despite what the world at large whispers and sometimes screams in our ears, we are not defined by the things that have happened to us.

These days if I happen to come across a picture of Lake Merritt, I ache for that time of my life when the world, both beautiful and curious, dangerous and threatening, revealed itself to me. Not a while ago I made some tea and stared out my kitchen window to watch the snow fall. It's just after 8 a.m. and this winter has been the coldest I've ever lived through. What sounds like a glass bottle being kicked around in the courtyard two stories below startles me. I turn my back to the window and walk to the shower to begin a new day again.

Teresa Finney is the senior contributor to This Recording. She is a writer living in Harlem. You can find her twitter here. She last wrote in these pages about her father.

"3:16 am" - Jhene Aiko (mp3)

"The Worst" - Jhene Aiko (mp3)


In Which Things Do Not Go The Way We Had Hoped

Tell Me About Yourself


As I am standing on the Manhattan-bound above ground platform on 61st St in Queens waiting for the 7 train, the poem “Frida Kahlo to Marty McConnell” by Marty McConnell pops into my head. It begins, Leaving is not enough; you must stay gone. Train your heart like a dog. Change the locks even on the house he’s never visited…

I am unsure why this poem comes to mind, but I had just dropped a man whom I was certain I would never see again off at the airport, so it felt notable. I take out my phone to snap a picture of the skyline, the Empire State and the Chrysler Building all tower in the distance and I start to cry. I do this discreetly, subtly burying my face into my scarf, but even if I had had no shame in my public display of devastation, no one would have bothered me. New Yorkers are busy and preoccupied, they leave sad girls on the street alone in their sad.

Instead of writing about the loss of him, I read poetry. For weeks I am unable to document properly the magnitude of what his sudden and severe loss of interest in me feels like. I will feel silly for even letting it cut so deep. He is just a man. There are bigger, more important things happening in the world, I scold myself. This is such a boring, commonplace thing to lose sleep over, I tell friends while chugging wine or listening to the same dreadfully sad song over and over. Sometimes while doing both.

One night, out of a fit of rage for being unable to write anything for a full week, I will hurl my journal (the one he bought me) across my bedroom causing a glass of water I had on my desk to topple over onto my laptop. I am still paying for that tantrum.

Instead of blaming his departure from me on just an unfortunate incident, I will blame my ass. My thighs. I will wonder if maybe I was too quiet, too dull at breakfast on our last morning together at that diner in Queens. There was something about the way he described our time together as “brief” that made it seem like what he really meant to say was “insignificant”. I will feel all too foolish for believing it meant anything at all. Despite that, the last several months I spent knowing him felt like an axe to the frozen lake within me. I was glad for it still.

When it is all over I will blame myself. I will engage in the dangerous indulgence of comparing my body to other women I see on the street or in packed subway cars. Their waists are smaller than mine; their legs, leaner and the image of these women will leave an indentation on my mind. Would he have wanted me if I looked this way or that? What about if I was someone else entirely? Even though I know logically that it is absurd, I will take on the full brunt force of his absence. It will hit me like a speeding car. Any hope I had for us had been broken into tiny pieces like shards of glass. It cut just the same.


So, I read poetry. The aforementioned poem is a favorite, as is anything from “The Gift” by Hafiz (don’t surrender your loneliness so quick/let it cut deeper). There is “Letters from Saint Francis” by Joshua Heineman: In love like long rambling walks with no destination – Teach me that language. Run out my weakness on the roads of history stretched out to infinity & still arriving… I will devour anything that says what I seemingly cannot, at least not yet.

This is how it goes. For weeks I will try to make sense of what makes no sense. Why, at the age of 29, this particular loss feels so far-reaching when I have been through this exact thing over and over. Perhaps that is why it felt so unbearable. I was certain this time things would be different. I didn't understand then what it was about this one that held me by the neck and refused to let go.

Making the obvious parallels, I think about the time when I was maybe six years old and I realized my father would never be coming home again. He was the first man to leave, and the ripples of his abandonment will go on into my life as far as the eye can see. I think about how it was from him that I first learned I was "fundamentally flawed."

On a Thursday night, when even poetry and sad songs are not enough to hold me, it will all come to a head. This is the oldest ache of all time.

The bottles upon bottles of brown liquor are all sitting on my nightstand burning a hole into my mind, as are the pills. What I feel like I should do, and what I know I absolutely should not do are the same thing, and somewhere between that spectrum is where I find myself.

Soon it will be too late. I will have consumed more alcohol than I ever have before. The wound that he left was too much and I just wanted to go to sleep until it was all over, until the mere thought of him didn't feel like being doused in flames. As I am laying in the fetal position in my bathroom in upper Manhattan, there on the cold tile, I drift in and out of consciousness until paramedics arrive, my breath rising and falling like calm waves out at sea.


Twenty-four hours later I am sitting in an office on 168th St. There is a plant on a desk that looks like it needs to be watered. An ominous sign, I note. Shelves of books and framed accomplishments line one wall, a large window looking directly on to the George Washington Bridge lines the other. The sunlight shimmers across the Hudson and is so pretty, for a moment I forget where I am and what I have done.

My doctor is taking notes on a notepad that has the words "New York Presbyterian Hospital Psychiatric Center" on the cover in gold typeface. Jotting down anything he deems notable about me, undoubtedly.

He looks up from the notepad. "Teresa. Tell me about yourself."

I consider for a moment how far back into my history I should get into. It seems appropriate to bring up my father even though he is the last topic I want to discuss. "Tell me more about your dad; your relationship with him." I stop myself from rolling my eyes.

I had spent the vast majority of my 20s "working on myself", which meant reading a lot of books about abandonment. Journaling everything. Consuming myself with esoteric works on spirituality and personal development. I had come to know why I do the things I do. I can trace my behavior to some memory from my childhood or adolescence. I know exactly why the sting of rejection lingers far longer than it should.

He asks about the previous men and I realize I am discussing my love life with a psychiatrist. I always suspected I would one day be here. ("This is New York, everyone has a shrink", a friend will say a few days later.)

I explain to him that what happened that night was not the result of the dissolution of a pseudo-relationship, but rather because when I most needed to be strong, I chose instead to abandon myself. "Just like your father abandoned you."

I can only nod. His eyebrows burrow as he writes in the notebook quickly now. I look out the window across the river into New Jersey, realizing I feel so tired I am struggling to keep my eyes open.


Once I wrote that I was done writing about my father. It is laughable to me now but at the time I felt convinced. How can one mere person committing one singular act leave an impact that is so vast? It is akin to a meteor crashing into earth; I am forever altered. I can see the correlation between my father's absence and each new rejection, except it is not the same.

Each rejection felt like absolute solid proof that all the terrible things my father believes about me were true. All those things that I had adopted only because no one ever told me differently. Cerebrally I understand why when a man leaves, it feels like my father leaving all over again. What an injustice it would be for me to hate myself the way my father hates himself. What an error to forget, even momentarily, that even when life is painful, there is still value in it.

He does not love me, but I am not done writing about my father. It seems there is no greater inspiration for me than in the things I have lost. Whenever any of these men left, all that remained was me and for so long I couldn't stomach it. My only mistake though was in repeating the same self-contempt my father had. In letting it grow in me. It is all too deep and familiar, the ways in which we have both treated ourselves. I had become his mirror image and perhaps that is why he has never accepted me. Whatever he has, it is also living in me.

The writing came back, as is evident. I kept reading poetry, then writing some (Now every light in the apartment on 7th Ave is off. November, I am sober and aching/Sometimes I fall in love too recklessly/Then wonder why the edge of the world is hurled at my feet). I felt grateful that I could access this part of myself again. I hoped for reconciliation with my father, it will never happen. I hoped for this last relationship to work out, it will never happen. It was through writing that I came to understand myself. I came to understand that there is a certain freedom that comes when things do not go the way I hoped.

I had been looking for my father all my life. In places he should have been and in places I knew better than to believe he would ever be. But there in his absence is where I would find what I most needed. There is nothing left for me to give myself grief over.

Teresa Finney is the senior contributor to This Recording. She is a writer living in Harlem. You can find her twitter here. She last wrote in these pages about Thanksgiving morning.

"Bank Head" - Kingdom ft. Kelela (mp3)

"OG Master" - Kingdom (mp3)