Marina Abramovic and Ulay, Death Self



Cicely and I have been best friends since college. We were pretty much inseparable when we met at the campus dining hall. We were both waiting in line at the vegetable bar. When we graduated we both got jobs in Boston. I didn’t care much for my job—I was teaching remedial English to high-school students; I hated Boston and how it got dark every day at four in the afternoon. I hated living in Southie and the way all the people there talked like they were Whitey Bulger. But I loved coming home each night to Cicely. She’d always be curled on the couch reading a book that I’d always said I’d read, one day. She was always the smarter one. She smelled like lavender dryer sheets.

I wouldn’t say that I was jealous when she got her first boyfriend. I mostly just missed her a lot. Most nights, she’d sleep at his apartment in Jamaica Plain. She worked in Jamaica Plain so it was closer for her to stay there and shower there and then eat dinner there. After a few weeks, it was like she lived there and she’d come back home for a nostalgic tryst. He wasn’t good enough for her. He made her buy the condoms and he wore white ankle socks with dark pants and he didn’t know a single thing about books or music. And he called films ‘movies’ which means he doesn’t know the difference. Me and Cicely know the difference between films and movies.

I was there for her when they broke up. And I was still there when she broke up with the next three men. She’d come home, dragging the duffel bag of the things she had left at the apartment: socks, panties, knit sweaters, Tori Amos albums, an unopened box of edible thongs. I’d make us popcorn and monkey bread, doughy inside like she liked it, and we’d sit on the couch, Cicely between my knees, and we’d watch whatever was on HBO. I’d braid her hair and unbraid it all night, or until she said that her roots hurt. I’d tell her that nobody, nobody was good enough for her, and she’d kiss my shoulder.

After one of the breakups, we recreated Death Self. That was the performance piece where Marina Abramović and Ulay connected their mouths and breathed in each other for seventeen minutes until they were out of oxygen until they both passed out. But it was not a kiss.