I hadn’t been home in over a week, and during that time a new cook at the restaurant downstairs had left the gas on overnight and turned our entire apartment building—brand new baby on the top floor and all—into a giant stack of matches just begging for a spark. Another near tragedy happened, too: My golden banana had broken.
The night of my return, I slowed my pace from the subway, acknowledging the extra springtime hour of light against the chocolate brownstones and hoping that my roommate was home so I could share a cigarette in her magnificent company. As I opened the door that peered down the hallway and into her bedroom, I caught a glimpse of her turning over in bed. By now, the spring twilight required a low lamp, and she was nestled in the glow under a fluffy comforter, napping at her leisure. What a lovely sight.
I arrived at her doorway and she yawned, “Welcome home!” We had only known each other a few months, but already had become very close. She only knew the new me, which was actually just the old me, but slightly bruised. When I felt fogged by the memories of my recent past, I found a hopeful reflection of myself in her no-nonsense, grab-them-by-the-balls approach to life. We spent hours chatting over wine and cigarettes, but I skirted the topic of the relationship I had just escaped. She rarely pressed me on it.
I said hello, and propositioned her to join me for a cigarette outside.
My second roommate called out from the living room, seducing us to bring the conversation to her perch on the couch. I knew this girl from another lifetime, where we grew up together in California. She had invited me to move into this crumbling Prospect Heights railroad apartment on two separate occasions. The first time was after someone pointed a gun at my head outside my Bed-Stuy sublet. The second time, it provided the escape from my recent relationship. She liked to call the apartment a halfway house for women. Indeed, many had passed through these three rooms.
The three of us chatted about the neglectful cook and the sexy firemen who had burst into the building, ready to rescue everyone from their carbon monoxide dreams, until my first roommate remembered something she had been meaning to tell me.
She began the confession while she disappeared around the corner and into her room. She returned a moment later with my golden banana in her hand. I was confused to see it in her care. Did she too have a golden banana? But then, a flourish of apologies escaped her lips as she turned the petite statue on its side, revealing one lip of the peel, cracked apart and glued together again.
“I’m so sorry, I will replace it—I tried to fix it as best I could—I was walking through your room and I lost my balance and it fell, and broke.”
Before I could stop her, she went on like this. I wasn’t registering her apologies though, I was busy stringing together the saga of the golden banana like a clumsy macaroni necklace. The story is surprisingly long considering it’s about a silly golden banana statue hardly six inches tall.
“It is significant, but not sentimental—Don’t worry—It’s fine!” I assured her. “Let’s go downstairs and we will smoke and I will tell you the story of the golden banana.”
And so, only a mere 15 minutes behind my initial intent, there we were on our stoop, my companion lighting our cigarettes and me beginning my story: “The golden banana came to be in my bad relationship before I moved back to the halfway house,” I said, diving straight in.
I was new enough to the city that I hadn’t been New York hardened yet, and so after just a month of dating, I moved in with a man who seemed to want to offer me the world. That’s when I realized his kindness had conditions. He was abusive and unpredictable. His charms were just manipulations. He taught me to need him only so he could neglect me. He embarrassed me and shamed me both in public and in private. He refused to let me end the relationship though I often told him how unhappy I was. Nearly every weekend, he would verbally kick me out of the house, then physically prevent me from leaving. I became someone unrecognizable, resigned, and highly medicated, thanks to his endless supply of pharmaceuticals. In stark contrast to how publicly we exist in our daily lives in the city, I was living a private nightmare at home.
Ironically, decorating the place proved an effective distraction from my loneliness and uncertainty there. I had the walls painted in black and white stripes in one room, and then the whole hallway bright yellow with red trim. The front door was red too, a glossy, bloody red, and the back door was royal blue. It looked wild, like a hallucinogenic euphoria.
Despite our domestic doom, he and I simulated normal couple behavior when it came to selecting plates and choosing what to hang on the walls. We visited IKEA bimonthly, scoured flea markets and art fairs for one-of-a-kinds, and took weekend trips, which we memorialized with random souvenirs. I was populating our emptiness with items: Two little bugs stuck forever in lucite from Savannah, Georgia; a wooden heart with nails studded all around it from Mexico City; and on a trip to Boston, a golden banana statuette. I spotted it in a store and felt it fit our madness perfectly—it was so confrontational and ostentatious. The store was meant to be fancy, but it was really just overpriced.
Here my roommate offered an illumination: “Like those stores that appear to be very interesting and well-curated, but everything inside of them is just Made in China?”
“Exactly.” I answered.
Of course, our shared appreciation for home décor couldn’t save us. A year and a half later I was moving out.
The relationship had been bad from nearly the beginning, but during our second summer together, it took a turn for the worse. During the rapid demise of my heart and home, I met a boy at a party and we were in near constant contact. He was a welcome distraction.
I had finally gathered the strength and devised a plan to leave my bad relationship. A room here at the halfway house was opening up, and I quickly claimed it, though there was a length of time between knowing I had a place to go and the moment I could officially arrive. During the couple of weeks between these two points, I moved through my days like a woman edging across a tightrope. Beneath the tightrope, with just the slip of my foot, or a momentary lapse in focus, I would end up in a crocodile pit-like emotional hell.
I needed to disappear without him watching me go. I didn’t want him to witness the sadness and fear inevitable in my departure, I didn’t want him to see me say goodbye to our dog. I didn’t want him to stand between me and the door, or watch me walk away, counting on me to trip and fall. But knowing I had an out gave me an unfamiliar strength. Drunk on power I hadn’t tasted in so long, I foiled my plan. In a routine fight that was quickly escalating, I decided to announce my intention to leave, but then I was forced to exit with only what I could carry of my valuable belongings, as if from a burning building. This was not the graceful fuck you I had imagined at all. I was broken from his final triumph.
The following weekend, I requested to return to the fantastically-decorated apartment of doom to retrieve the remainder of my possessions. But as the date and time approached, I was paralyzed. I was afraid he would be there. I was afraid he would cause a scene. I was afraid he would try to make me stay. I was afraid I would want to stay. To steel myself against it all, I called up the boy I had met at the party. I told him I wanted to see him. He obliged.
Between beers in the backyard of Lady Jay’s, he complimented my red manicure and pedicure, and I looked down at my long, painted nails and mused that they’d be ruined the next day. Then I confessed to him why. In convincing him it was no big deal, I nearly convinced myself. We talked about the items considered “mutual” that I planned to claim regardless of the fact that my ex refused to discuss who got what. There wasn’t much that I wanted really, but I knew I wanted the golden banana. I described it to him, along with the other worthless knickknacks I planned to take with me.
We got drunk and I told him I didn’t want to go home. Truthfully, I had nowhere to go. He took me to his apartment. I can still recall the initial thrill of him on top of me, a different weight, a different feel than the man I was running away from. It seemed like we had sex a hundred times. And then I couldn’t anymore, so I told him to stop. I had that distinct feeling of having been used up, having been enjoyed until everything is a bit sore and you don’t want anymore because you gave it all to someone else, someone new.
I fled his bed the next morning, physically exhausted but emotionally empowered. I was hungover and numb when my friends picked me up in the moving van that they had so generously rented for the occasion. I regaled them with the story of my night, my conquest, and we laughed, acting as if I was already back to my old tricks and what we were about to do was no more serious than a group brunch.
At the apartment we gathered what I needed and got the hell out. When my ex-boyfriend returned to the apartment, he began to frantically call my phone, leaving threatening messages accusing me of being a thief because I had taken one bug stuck forever in lucite, I had taken the nail-studded heart from the Frida Kahlo Museum. He said he would call the police if these items were not returned by noon the following day—high noon, like an old western. My ex had failed to notice the absence of the golden banana, that most shiny creature.
A while later, after the incessant buzzing and beeping of my phone had quieted, I received a single text from someone else. It was the boy from the night before. The message read: Send me a picture of you with the golden banana to prove you’re not a coward. I’m no coward. But after living with an abusive man for the past year and a half, I had lost myself. The text from the boy was a challenge I could meet. I sat down on the floor of my new bedroom in my old apartment, this halfway house for women, surrounded by boxes. It felt a little like I had been forced to move back with my parents, like I couldn’t hack it alone in the big city, and in a way, that was true. But really it just felt safe and familiar, like home.
I fished the golden banana out of one of the boxes and began to take a series of pictures of myself, holding the banana near my seductively parted mouth, like a slut. I didn’t care! I was free. Not only was I free, the golden banana was in my possession—a tiny, tacky consolation prize. And that is the story of the golden banana. A riveting journey for such a small, meaningless object.
My roommate stood silent for a moment. Our cigarettes had long gone out. She was taking it all in. She was appreciating her role in the community theater production of the golden banana. She was thinking of how she walked through my room, lost her balance, and had to grab onto the little table where the golden banana sat, knocking it over in the process. How it had fallen and crumbled. How she had taken the broken golden banana and pieced it back together with glue, to make it whole.
Four years later, it is still intact in its reassembled, compromised form. For a cheap piece of shit made in China, it has proven to be surprisingly resilient.
Illustration by Laura Resheske