I dropped my best friend off at the bus station this morning.
Only one of us cried.
And walking back I had the strangest sense that I was going to die.
And I was at peace with it.
I felt sure that any one of the people around me would be my demise- that man in the blue suit with the white roll of blueprints in his hand- maybe there was a gun in there, maybe he was on his way to snap.
He’d make the news for shooting up his corporate office, but first I’d get in the way. And I was okay with that.
That stranger in the hoodie with the slow, slow gait walking ahead of me might pull out a knife.
And I was okay with it.
Any one of these cars, with the windows rolled down…
The man shaking the coins in his cup.
The people who always push and argue in front of the smoke shop, right on the way back home.
I was okay with it, I was okay with it, why was I okay with it?
But as the light grew brighter my fear got more intense, like smoke on its gray sky, more opaque.
I climbed the stairs and then took the elevator, into a world just waking up, and looked right down the hall like I always do, though I live on the left.
My boyfriend’s room is there, to the right.
My friends’ rooms are scattered across this floor, and the lingering sense of death clung to my shuffling feet as I passed their doors and thought about a fire, like the one we all playacted at not too long ago, the one that had almost happened just one floor up, a blaze that would creep quietly- no- flare up instantly- to engulf me and the people I love.
I wasn’t okay with it, anymore.
Well, maybe just a little.
But the weird thing about it is that I’m not suicidal. Never have been.
I guess it’s easier to will the universe to kill you than accept that you want to do it yourself.
I guess it’s simpler to feel like you’re going to die
Than to feel just about anything else.
My city never sleeps.
It’s up all night.
Just like three college students drunk on being tired
who perused 7/11 like a Thanksgiving feast
spread out on a maplewood table.
It’s South Street diner where the Cuban sandwich
will melt in your mouth
at 3:00 AM.
With the packed-full booths and the shouting cooks,
scrape of the spatula on a sizzling stove,
and all the hungry human din
of the people
who just couldn’t fall asleep:
Who just couldn’t sacrifice this day for darkness,
Who needed one more kiss and one more bite
to fill their stomachs.
It’s the bright cavernous maze of the MFA,
Corridors of secret spaces to touch each other’s waists
That sweet fugitive feeling of being
where you don’t belong:
But the museum never seems to shut down.
My city is a sprawling lawn
With feet twisted together
Watching a movie framed by a warm carousel
and a cool mathematical skyline-
each pricked by bits of light and bleeding constellations.
It’s a sprawling archipelago of theaters;
a chain of culture hopped like squares on a sidewalk
Skipping stones that hit art no matter where you throw them.
My city is a highrise apartment
And the set of keys in my palm with seashell ridges
The lock that I expertly twist and kick or nudge with my hip,
The room where I sit and feel awake.
When it’s dark, when I’m tired
When the world is a rush like the street and the sirens
When my brain is soft and clouded
In this city,
I feel awake.
He watched my favorite movie.
He hated it.
How could I blame him, a film student, for hating a rom-com called Stuck In Love for God’s sake?
But what I feel right now is not blame.
I feel small.
I feel like the little girl who sat in her bedroom at night
on her pink and white comforter with the flowers
With a notebook in her lap and a pen in her hand
Who wrote fairytales.
I am that little girl
Who got called out of class
To talk to Child Protective Services in the main office
And answered questions like “what does your dad feed you?”
Who was looked at like she was stupid
By plastered-on concerned adult faces
Who just wanted to do their jobs
And bring in the bad guy.
But the bad guy was never just my dad.
He lived in my brain and slept in my skin since before I was born
He pressed his thick heel on my lungs and never let me forget
The heavy hand of conflict that never ever ceased.
Divorce, for me, wasn’t a word it was a life and my earliest memory
It was my backbone and my breastbone and every single fucking bone in me.
So when I sat on my comforter
And wrote about romance
Or that bright shining willow wisp I imagined it would be
I latched onto the boys like Lou from Stuck In Love.
I escaped into stories of people finding each other
And I don’t care if it’s not real life
Because it never had to be.
Stuck In Love is a movie about writers,
About a love that I thought was sacred in my room with my pen at 15.
They have the same favorite book.
They kiss in a car in the rain to the sound of an indie song about kissing in cars in the rain.
When Lou’s mother dies of cancer, they cry
And I always cry
Because this cheesy amalgam is real to me.
It is a version of life that I could only hope for myself
It is penned by a little girl on a pink and white comforter
And she is damned proud of it.
And she should be.
Maybe I don’t care about anything
I told him
Because that bright spark of passion, that artist’s rebellion, that unfurling flower in your stomach that tells you, “create-”
Was in everyone else’s garden
Across the white fence
Watched over by a painted gnome
And inaccessible to me.
I haven’t felt the need to do something
to create something beautiful and better
Since I don’t remember.
Since sophomore year when journalism seemed like a beacon in the dark sea of humanity
Since writing stories that made me feel like a poet
Weaving words in a way that meant something.
I won’t blame my professors
or my boyfriend for distracting me.
And I’m not depressed or disinterested.
I still feel the thrill
of a voice onstage,
A warbling note or a word in a line of a poem that makes time stop air move makes me relish in the stillness of a moment
I still watch quietly
The crash bash bong brill shoot of a musical instrument
And fingers and mouths that I won’t ever understand
And minds that compose sounds and stories
That I wonder.
But I don’t wonder what I can achieve.
I don’t feel the siren call of a pen, anymore
I don’t want to channel art through me
Just in me.
And keep it safe and building like a dragon’s lair of gold
A reservoir of liquid shining metal that’s only mine and all the world’s
All that beauty.
But he said something about how that’s not all bad.
That maybe this doesn’t have to mean I’m empty.
He said, “maybe you have to take things in before you can put things out.”
Maybe I have to relearn to breathe before my lungs can remember how to produce melody.
Maybe this city is a hotspring
That will fill me
And rinse me
And gently turn my insides out like laundry on a hanging line
And scrub the trauma clean.
Our kitchen sink was filled with bloody handcuffs.
I mean tomato juice.
From the vines that my mom grew in our backyard and the tomatoes my brother and I would pluck
And hurl at the roof of the gazebo.
They’d splat and jolt their way down the slope, mushy and perfectly funny.
My stairway was the one my brother fell down, after he was kicked.
I mean to say the sweeping spiral was padded in soft carpet
perfect for running toes on Christmas morning
And the feeling of flight as your mind lifted with possibility of a million glittering packages
Just before you rounded the bend.
My living room was for rocking on my haunches.
Because I had turned invisible.
Because he could not hear me see me feel me as inhabiting that word “daughter”
Who is a fragile thing, who shall be protected, who is a crying thing, to whom he should be gentle.
But daughter evanesced into object to hurl barbs at
An empty gunslinging
A desperate automated quickdraw drawing on anger so unquenchable it’s like it didn’t exist.
Nothing to draw on.
No spaghetti dinners in the living room
No Christmas tree herding and frosted paned windows looking out on the world of lights like they were promising
My house was not promising.
Inside and out hands on both sides of the pane
It was a bear trap.
And the stranger stalking the downstairs was the steel sharp teeth.
I didn’t trust him when I hugged him
I hadn’t for a while.
And I wonder exactly when love left and emptied me.
The two houses made it more disparate,
two faces to a coin
But my brain tried in vain to flip over
And exist without the other side.
As it happens
When you try to rip yourself in half and purge every other week of your memory
Suck every other word of its truth like a pomegranate seed between your teeth
You get a tongue that is tired of probing.
You are left with a girl who is tired of remembering
And tired of thinking
And bleeding from the strings of the ripped flesh of each piece.
Two lovers converged in a dark emerald wood
And the fork in the road led to the ocean
The dock opened up to the swirl of the the rain and the world
And the night was caught in lips that caught each other.
And the warmth of my wrists that carried a spark
Through the roots and the firs towards the house with the key
That we knew the secret hiding place of.
The counter was cool and the bannister felt like satin- like skin- like supple fingers trailing down my stomach
In the cool dark cavern that was A Place To Ourselves
In the deep high fever of my wanting for him
His wanting for me
Wanting each other.
Two lovers converged like hail falling on hail, each drop pop jump was a coupling- an embrace in the hallway on our way to the bed-
and the end of the night
under pillows of liquor.
And the swatch of vanilla fire fizzling thickly on my thumbs my tongue and my swaying feet
And the quiet fast happiness of a Beatles song
And a sloppy fast slowdance
Rush gave way to rush
Breath gave way to touch
And I stroked his back like I needed to
Like I cared that much.
And he felt it.
In the cabin in the storm in the night in the jagged sickness
He felt it.
And that made all the difference.
Have you ever heard of sexy that wasn’t also dark and sad?
That’s what I relied on, and a touch of reverse engineering
I’d add dark to my sad and, bippity boppity boo
I wish to be sexy.
I don’t know if it ever really worked, ever gave me that leg up I thought it did. I was forcing them to feel for me so that maybe they’d feel something- I was grasping at straws before the barn set fire.
I saw it as my secret weapon, my stories, in a holster normal people would just call ‘daddy issues.’ But the way I could sum it up was always ‘family stuff:’
Family stuff because everyone else had a word for it, words I hated just on principal, because so many voices sang them back to me, words I never really believed even though they could’ve saved me.
And even now I feel it itching, creeping its way back up- I feel that current like re-entry it’s impossible to stop. But I stop. In the midst of whatever conversation I’m having with him,
and I think
“You are not that girl who overshares so they’ll feel sorry for you. You are not that girl who cries so that they’ll love you. Because pity earns you kisses but pity does not equal love, you are not a pity pity pity-ful you are not full of that anymore.”
Family stuff was my identity, you see. It was my Common App essay, that bright shining trophy of a summary of a life and a being reduced to that holster that most normal people would just call ‘daddy issues.’
And yes, I do have daddy issues.
But recently I realized, am still realizing,
that maybe I also have me.