Heroes Mean Nothing; They Never Keep Warm by Shae Krispinsky

Lone female street artist against stonewall as background with guitarI was raised on men. Gamblers, perverts, junkies and drunks madding the streets, taking wives for places to live and then throwing the women away like empty bottles or used syringes. Men of letters, they were called, or musicians. Jobless, driven only by kicks or to create themselves out of the holes they had sunken into, they spent wild, sleepless nights pecking at their Underwoods or Smith-Coronas, the muse, always laughing three steps ahead. Overflowing ashtrays, chipped cups half-full of black coffee or red wine, Charlie Parker or warped Folkways records spinning for hours.

This was my bloodline, the oven in which I was baked into something quixotic, strange and yearning, desperate for that fire, those kicks, those windblown New York City alleys, those stuffy, piss-walled dive bars, coils of whiskey licking up my spine.

I, too, like most, left at eighteen. I left my small valley-town-dirt-road Pennsylvania for the heat of the city, the humidity viscous on my skin. My fathers had to be here somewhere. Easy to follow when trapped on the page or inside the stereo, they became more chimerical in the real world. In the city, encased by concrete, everything covered by a film of oil—sweat, smog and souring dreams—I ran along with the faceless, nameless millions, our voices joining the choir of car horns, the humming subway trains and the buskers strumming “Astral Weeks,” or “Shake Sugaree.” We ran together, alone, and in the mass, I was lost. Worse, uninspired. Unfathered.

In the Village, I should have seen the Gaslight with long-haired, spider-eyed girls in circle skirts and bearded, homely guys with battered guitar cases by their sides milling around on the sidewalk, waiting for the doors to open, waiting for their turns on the small stage shoved, unapologetically, into the dark back corner. Instead, as I wandered around, I saw the Marc Jacobs storefront, crisp white with black. I saw women teetering along in almond-toed six-inch stilettos, BlackBerrys and venti macchiatos in hand, thousand-dollar purses with shimmering gold buckles slung over their reed-thin shoulders. The men wore Armani Exchange, pink collared oxfords, the sleeves rolled, their jackets off and wilting over their arms. They, too, had their BlackBerrys.

This was the city now, in hyper-focus: money, business, consumption, appearance, greed. The alleys had been scrubbed clean and lined with Michelin-rated restaurants. Where were my car-thieves, my sybaritic lover-killers, my beautiful men with shadow sides so deep and dark they became history’s black holes?

My mother had warned me of this before I left. She sat me down on my bed and my heart leapt to my throat, the fear being that we were going to finally have the dreaded Sex Talk. But, no, that wasn’t it.

She said, “I know you get these ideas and I’m afraid you are going to be disappointed. The city’s not what you seem to think it is, but you’re always welcome to come home.” She called it. Right on the rhinoplastied nose. But I wouldn’t go home. Couldn’t go home—because I hadn’t found it yet. Yes, I loved my mother, but I needed my fathers, my men, the ones who didn’t call out behind me, “No kissing!” as I left to meet up with my boyfriend. No, I needed my fathers who promised me that nothing was true, everything was permitted, life was holy and every moment precious, and that if I wasn’t busy being born, then I was just busy dying. My mother didn’t understand. She was happiest in church or tending to her houseplants. Life for her was small and people were kindhearted. She had gasped when she found the switchblade I kept half hidden beneath my bed. She took it and threw it away, blaming my pothead boyfriend for being a bad influence. On her knees in the bathroom, she prayed for me.

I didn’t need prayers. I needed the past. And I needed to have been born a madcrazygenius, born a man with Promethean eyes and a mind like fire, lighting and burning everything it touched.

I left the city and headed south. I spent my nights alone, walking circles beneath the star-smothered sky. My days were girl-flooded. Dorms full of girls, classes full of girls, the dining hall full of them talking about the boys they met on the weekends spent at the all-boys school (nicknamed, aptly, Hump and Screw Me) 45 minutes away from our campus, the boys they wanted to, or did, fuck in the backs of the SUVs their parents had bought for them. Again, I was alone in the faceless, nameless masses. Again, fatherless.

Moving on, further south—south of the South. Here, men with PBR cans in hand, and nights of music. The angry wails, the thrashing guitars. Closer—and yet, no. This wasn’t blood-boiling necessity. This was, “We’re bored, and hey, free beer.”

But could I judge? Boredom drove me to pick up that guitar as well. I joined in the singing, the splaying myself open before others, for free drinks, no pay, little respect. The more I sang, the less I thought about my fathers. The desire to find them dissipated. All I wanted to do then was sing louder, sing for myself, sing in my own voice, my own words. I had become the begetter, the progenitor, the mother and the father.

All this time I had been searching for the wrong thing, had been on the wrong journey. To stand in the café where my men had sang their songs; to take an apartment in the building where they had stayed awake for days typing their Tokay-splashed manifestos and prosody rules; to mad their streets—none of this would make me their daughter. It wouldn’t continue the bloodline. It’s not being in the same place, same time or not. It’s learning the genealogy, the family tongue, the traditions, and then growing away from them, taking the familial history and running with it, becoming my own branch. My fathers were not the destination; they were just the starting point of the journey. I had to make my own destination, alone, without them, without trying to find them, without turning to them for support or answers. To be their daughter, I had to renounce them, just as they had renounced their fathers before them. I had to become myself, solely myself, and only then, could I join them. Creation is thicker than blood.

Shae Krispinsky

Shae Krispinsky grew up in western Pa. and graduated from Hollins University. Now living in Tampa, Fla., she is the singer, songwriter and guitarist for her band, …y los dos pistoles, contributes to Creative Loafing Tampa, blogs for ARTiculate Suncoast, writes zines and is an aspiring crazy cat lady. Her writing has appeared in Corvus Magazine, The Adroit Journal and Clamp Magazine, amongst others.

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  • Brett

    Wow, wonderfully poetic language, very impressionistic narrative!

    • Shae

      Thanks so much, Brett!