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When I was sacrificing mice I had to pay attention— I had to make sure the cells were still alive as I packed the organs away in aluminum and dropped them one by one into liquid nitrogen. Their bodies were small, and their organs were even smaller, convulsing lightly on the weighing tables.
I would whisper a soft sorry as I would take blood from their tiny bodies to have specimen to centrifuge. I would take the separated plasma and run PCR reactions on each treatment. I had to say this to myself over and over again to remain sane, to be able to repeat the procedure every single day. Dropping the last organs into the liquid nitrogen, I would take out their femurs, clean them, and have them embedded into plastic.
The fun part for me was the analysis of bone.
I would section the femur into tiny slices, and prepare slides of their bones to be analyzed in another lab— I traveled to another college and sat in a tiny microscope room, analyzing small details, the circumference, the amount of marrow, the amount of calcium…
It helped me breathe in, it helped me exhale, it helped me understand that the small sacrifices made will help millions. I had to tell myself that— as a scientist, you might lose your mind, you might be taken under a wave and sometimes, it’s very hard to resurface.
I am a scientist, I know that, because every time I held a pipette or a bone or a heart, I would go somewhere else in my head. I would tell myself not to WAIT for myself. I needed to understand that I was happy, that when I was in a lab coat I was grinning.
I am telling you this because this is my art.
I have never been in love-- just extremely infatuated.
I find it amazing, simply amazing. How I can caress the damp cheeks, of my female infatuations, with concern and care. As tears— that I know I caused— stream across her face like wet shooting comets. I’m astonished, how I can wrap them in my bulging biceps like a brown cocoon, and expect them to emerge into an obedient butterfly—with my ego propelling them to take flight.
You see, I rejoice when they fly away, because my words are nets. They’re consistent enough to trap you, but their are so many little holes, they’d be a idiots to stay—but they do. They stay, and I recede; back to my cave inserted mid way between my own arrogance and humility. My infatuations, are lured into chasing me, but I have long gone. I left a note on the door, that they hasten too rapidly out the house to read. I find pleasure, in their infatuation, because they’ll never get me, and that’s what keeps them fascinated.
I’m a lock, that is storing the key to my own unavailing. And I find it simply detesting, how good I am, at making my infatuations attempt to figure me out. When I myself have been at it for eighteen years, and have only dented the exterior of the safe.
The official number of targets that the AEGIS system can track is classified. Most of the “horsepower” is based upon the right combination of specialized chips that communicate with maximum efficiency. Compared to our global allies who also deploy this system, our chips are of superior grade. There is a meeting that takes place twice a year in the middle of a dirt road deep in the desert of Nevada. You might think you are mistaken, that you are in the wrong place, rest assured that the seismic sensors and motion detectors are keeping watch. A Pelican case with the latest tech is exchanged between a sole salesperson and a recipient. “Thank you very much.” Made in America, which means anywhere really. A few months later and it’s like a new set of eyes has opened upon the world. My iPhone can track every single plane in flight across that globe in real time and in virtual reality, would it surprise you that the AEGIS system can track every moving car on the freeway for hundreds of miles, and even farther if there are support aircraft like AWACS or drones up?
Studies have shown that the human brain is only capable of simultaneously tracking two complex tasks, such as having two conversations or carrying out two technical jobs. When a third task is overlaid, the ability to track all three tasks degrades substantially. There is a fast food restaurant located at the end of a long pier jutting out into the shallows of the ocean on the West Coast. A meeting takes place about three times a year where burgers and fries are exchanged over “conversation” between four people. The discussion is such a fiasco at each meeting that all of us come away with degraded understandings of decent conversation, as we give way to new types of ineffective communication such as the leftward eye roll, the tapping fingers on the table and the overbearing declaration. Excellent defense systems, but not when you should be working together. Thankfully, I have a navigation device in my car to help me find my way along the crowded freeway afterwards so I don’t drive into the sea (on purpose).
My heart has a difficult time understanding the simultaneous yearnings for more than one person. You can create a space for a person you care for, be it a room, or a country, or the sea, or the sky. But sooner or later, you will find that one of you suddenly spills over the boundaries, launching like a spray over the sea wall, or breaching through the drywall of your flimsy room. There are meetings that take place, if one is so inclined and so lucky, to connect face-to-face or lips-to-lips, where boundaries are negotiated and Empires come to treaties with Territories. You might be mistaken that your heart is in the wrong place, rest assure that the appropriate emotions and concerns are keeping watch. Two people may exchange a package of sorts, words, an embrace, and it’s like a new set of eyes opened upon the world. So why is it that herein lies one of my strongest defense systems?
I have to constantly remind myself, I’m nothing like an AEGIS system, after all, my heart is made in America, and that could mean anywhere. My Pelican case is locked tight and even I seem to have forgotten the digital combination to get the tech out from inside to make a meaningful exchange. My Tumblr account can track the 650 people that I follow, but all I can do is write a single post when my heart is finally into it. What does it take to lower the defense mechanisms? I’m the kind of man who builds a fortress, who wants the walls of my hotel room X-rayed as part of a standard “cleaning package,” just to make sure all the wires are “doing what they are supposed to be doing” and to make sure there aren’t any packet sniffers hidden anywhere.
I want to crash over those sea walls, I want to punch through the dry wall, I want to feel the sky under the soles of my feet when I leap, it’s just those damned defense systems. And maybe I am more like the AEGIS system after all, which is better described as all offense and no defense. When it comes to matters of the heart, some men need a little extra help navigating the simple things in life. I think that’s where you come in.
I remember when I fell in love with you, it was so foolish, but I was fifteen and foolish. You were sixteen with a new ’74 Camaro. You always thought I liked you for your car, but that was only part of it. You had taken me out parking a few times, but this night it was different. You picked me up at eight and it was pouring rain. You told my parents you’d have me home by midnight and off we went. I’m sure my mom was worried sick, it was the hardest rain of the year.
We hit Martin’s highway and you were gunning it. You loved to hear that car against asphalt. I kept telling me to slow down and you kept shouting out numbers.
“55! 70! 75!”
It was somewhere between 75 and whatever number came next that your Camaro lost control and began to spin. My stomach dropped. Your arm pushed me against my chair. The spin seemed like slow motion, but I knew it was my adrenaline. You finally corrected the spin and we ended up going straight again. When I finally pulled the air back into my lungs you were laughing. I reached over and hit you as hard as I could. You just laughed some more and told me you were in control the whole time.
It’s funny that I believed you. It’s clear now that you weren’t. No one can control a spin like that, and you drove thirty miles per hour back to my house, but I still believed you. I thought you had some strange power over the law of physics, as if your love alone willed that car back on track. I believed that arm slinging toward my body would protect me. I believed I would be alright. I believed I loved you.
“It’s right there,” she said, “in your writing. You write in body parts and juxtapose them with with these images all the time, very meaningfully, and really very well.” She paused, pushed her glasses up the bridge of her nose, then added what he was waiting to hear. “But…”
“But?” He tilted his head to the right, and his crooked, left-sided grin rose like an apostrophe, claiming possession over the amusement in his voice.
Sitting at his desk, bathed in lamplight, swiveling left and right on his computer chair, with one leg folded beneath her, like a dog-eared page of his favourite novel, she certainly looked the part of the woman he loved. He couldn’t be sure. Seated on the edge of his bed, in the center of the shadows that made an ocean between them, she was blinding to behold, as the full moon to a castaway.
“It’s all very gimmicky.” Something in her tone, it reminded him of the time when his mother had to ground him for getting suspended from school. He punched a boy in the face for making fun of his sister, and refused to apologize because he said it would be lying.
“It is.” Her words were his caviar.
“You know what that means?” She smiled as though the first time.
“That I’ll have a trademark, and you’ll have your talent.” He held out his arms like he’d built her an ark. She stood up and walked towards him, trailed by a messy ponytail, preceded by a few stray hairs. Her hands fell into his palms, then his thumbs curved inwards to kiss the back of her wrists.
“Just promise me.” She sat down across his lap, cradled his head against her breast, pressed his ear into the high school hoodie that she was fond of wearing, and rocked him slowly, so he could feel it in his soul.
“I won’t forget you when I’m famous,” he mumbled, into her elbow, against the brachial artery.
It was her. He was close enough to see.
blood and silence [tw: rape]
April seventh was a Friday and I had class. I was quiet. One of the most awful things is the way it takes your words away. I couldn’t speak when it was happening, I could only make little squeaks of pain as I tried to hold back the tears and I felt each man tear apart my insides. One at a time. And on April seventh when I woke up I still had no words. It was five years before I could begin to talk about it.
I hate the word rape. It’s too easy to say. It’s easy to throw around. “That exam raped me.” “My team just got raped.” The word loses its meaning, it gets trivialized. Rape becomes something that happens on a bad day. April sixth was a bad day. Three boys assaulted me and raped me. How can you compare that to a bad test score?
On April seventh I was still bleeding. As I sat in the bottom of the shower I shivered with the pain and tried not to whimper. It was an awful secret. A filthy secret. I rinsed the faint pink of blood from the shower floor and threw my underwear away. And I absorbed the whole feeling into the base of my stomach, the point four fingers below my navel where all energy flows into and out of my body. I drew it in and hid it.
I struggle to put this in some sort of poetic metaphor to make you understand what that is like but the truth is that I really can’t. I could tell you that even as I write this I have the shower running in the background because the sound of the shower running makes me feel less filthy. I will probably get in that shower when I am finished with this. I could tell you that seven years later I still haven’t found a way to tell my parents. I could make you collect the tears I have shed and calculate their volume. But you still wouldn’t understand.
To survive. To keep on living after that. After it steals your words and you have to reassign meaning to the world because every scrap of peace or wonder or curiousity you had was shattered in an afternoon. How do you do that? And after all six suicide attempts and thousands of self-harm scars and a dozen medications and a handful of hospitalizations you can’t even see your life from before.
I never matured past age eighteen. My life was taken from me on that day, and I haven’t learned how to build a new one. I don’t know if I can.
She picks the Lego figure up off our coffee table and passes it to me to see.
“Mrs. Greene,” my daughter says.
I spin Mrs. Green around in the palm of my hand, trying to find any evidence of the colour of her namesake. I’m beginning to wonder if she’s colour-blind, her mother was, I think. But that’s a stale can of worms to open.
I brush a blonde curl out of her face and she scowls at me—she’s too old for that, being all of seven years old and so independent.
“And who’s that one?” I ask, placing Mrs. Greene down next to the rest of her family.
My daughter pouts. “That’s their dog, Rex. But I didn’t have a dog Lego guy so I had to pretend.”
I scoot a little bit closer to her on the couch and she’s telling me a story about the Greene family picnic. An annual event, this one. How they pack their baskets full of cupcakes and macrons and muffins and croissants—this one she says like cross-ants—regardless of how many times I’ve tried to correct her.
Her latest dream is to be a baker—because in her words, you can eat all the sweets you want—though I think that may have developed from my habit of watching Cake Boss after work.
I half-listen to her tell the story. Mr. and Mrs. Greene take their two daughters to the park on a beautiful sunny day—I’m kind of impressed that she hasn’t left out a single prop: car, house, park, everything—and all I can think about is the stark distinction between the Greene family and our own.
“—and then they ate all the delicious cupcakes that Natalie baked. But they had too many and they got tummy aches.” At this point, she excuses herself from the story and dashes to the bathroom. I put my chin on the table and try and see things from the perspective of the tiny family. Do you think she would be happier growing up with them? What are taxes like in Legoland? I mean, it would be nice not to have to mow the lawn, but I can’t imagine their grass is particularly comfortable. How do they argue? What if Natalie is allergic to red dye? Or worse, dogs? What if they get in a car accident? What if Mrs. Greene never recovers? What if Mr. Greene never truly knows his daughters? Do you think they worry about those things? Do you think they realize Rex is actually just a man in brown pants and a brown shirt on all fours?
Elaine texts. She’s my latest attempt, though I imagine already doomed to failure—if the past holds the secrets of the future after all. It says: Hey. Still on for tonight?
I start thumbing the touchpad, but give up after three words.
Later on this evening, I’ll come across Mr. Greene tangled in the carpet. I won’t stop the vacuum. I’ll just pass it over him and listen to the rattle as he slides up the hose with the rest of the day’s dust. I’ll think this some kind of small lesson for my daughter, about families, but the next day she’ll just dig another Mr. Greene out of the bin of Legos and carry on with her stories.
Peeling Back the Layers
A word to the wise: New Haven is not for the faint of heart. This bastard of a place can lure you in with all its promise of high-bred formality, but that’s only the hook. It’s the surface in a way recently-healed flesh of a burn wound can fold and tear away like tissue paper. What’s underneath, that raw and throbbing sub-surface, that’s the true essence about the place. Only, you never catch a glimpse of that kind of truth until you’re already in the thick of things, and by then it’s already too late to escape.
On a rooftop of a dormitory building I couldn’t name if you asked, Yale University’s Tercentennial celebration was in full swing. It was that way across every rooftop on campus, really, and even if you weren’t a student you at least knew about the wild, overflowing debauchery that could only be sustained by ivy-league students finally able to cut loose after an academic year of brain-torture. And I was no student of any college, let alone Yale.
I’d only heard of the campus-wide party from Daeg Cathmore, that mind-fuck of a pirate, who did everything but suck my dick to get me to go. One thing about the guy, he never passed up an opportunity to kill a few brain cells a day, especially if he could do it on someone else’s dime. So there I was (how I hate that cliché , but am incapable of finding any other transition for this part) on a rooftop not far from my apartment building and looking out across the way to the rooftop of another building where those students tried to communicate with us. Holy hell, I felt so wrong standing in this type of crowd.
Like a talisman, I held the red plastic cup full of bitter tasting beer. I’d only had two sips before I decided I would not return for a second helping. Not like it mattered. I had a small plastic baggie full of Moroccan hash, two high-dose tabs of oxycontin, another little baggie full of awful weed and a piece of notebook paper upon which was written some very drunk girl’s number. Even as she eagerly gave it to me, we both knew I wouldn’t call her. I told her she was suited for the Norman Rockwell-type of guy, but she simply shrugged and slunk off with a couple of her friends.
That left me standing at the edge of this God-forsaken rooftop, peering over the edge at the ground below and seriously considering tipping myself over. The only thing keeping me from going through with it was the quandary of whether or not I’d give all my stash to Daeg, who was the least-deserving person on the face of this planet. But why should so many decent-to-poor quality drugs go to waste? Besides, there was a bent appeal of handing over chemicals that would—in all inevitability—fail to deliver on Daeg’s part.
Another girl approached me and said something about the beacon the students across the way were using to send us signals, but I only half heard because I was so startled by her presence that I nearly fell off the rooftop anyway. She wasn’t a student at Yale either, which was fine by me, leaving me to wonder how she was in any way affiliated with this party. The glazed look in her eyes told me she was experiencing some chemical epiphany and I was instantly turned off. It was right at that moment Daeg appeared and whisked the poor girl away to do whatever it was that rat-bastard of a pirate set out to do that night. A million uninvited images crowded my mind as he led her away and winked back at me.
Having enough, I emptied the contents of my cup and began the lonely descent against the tide of students who just decided to join the party or were flocking from another part of campus to continue their revelry. Though I was probably younger than a good portion of the population, I couldn’t help but see in their faces a freshness to them I hadn’t felt in a terribly long time. And for the record, if you think eight months isn’t a long time, just try persevering when you work grimy, twelve-hour shifts at a factory, getting grit and oil and whatever other foulness you can imagine trapped under your fingernails as you clean machines that bore into metal poles to make gun barrels.
At ground level, I walked across the courtyard to find a small group of newly graduated students all sitting round a bonfire, sipping from a bottle and talking loudly over each other. A young man with a thin layer of Brillo-hair spotted me and raised the bottle, inviting me over. The last thing I wanted was to continue this charade of a good time, but some fundamental part of me couldn’t turn my back on genuinely good people. Yes, I knew when I laid eyes on them they were good people, even when I’d been so exhaustively wrong about other aspects of my life.
Brillo-head passed the bottle, labeled The Glenlivet Archive 21, which I guess was top-shelf all the way. It was much better than the J&B my dad fixed himself every night, and whether it was because the spirit was so smooth going down or because all of the previous false starts to this supposedly good time worked me enough so I didn’t feel its burn on the way down, I was immediately accepted into the group.
What we all talked about by firelight for the ensuing three hours, I couldn’t tel you. Not literally—I know what we discussed, but by making a cheap story out of the secret language we spoke to each other would only be an insult to that moment in time. Suffice it to say we tapped into something deeper about ourselves, stripping ourselves of the layers upon layers that made us up across the varying years of our lives. After enough drink and my fill of laughter, I left the group with a feeling that life could go on.
On my walk home, I bumped into Daeg Cathmore, who was draped over the girl who stumbled upon me at the rooftop party. They were going back to her dorm room for the night, so typical of that damned pirate-bastard. I left them to it and continued onward to the apartment. The next street up, I was met by a curious pair who looked like they had no business in this part of town. At first I didn’t know whether to confront them or to keep on going, but their gazes warmed a little and they stopped a few feet ahead of me. The man introduced himself first.
And damn, the sonofabitch could ramble. I don’t remember half of what he said, but that may have been because I was too preoccupied with the woman he was with. Whatever the guy was saying, it sounded a little like he was working himself up to the question of whether or not I had any drugs on me to share. Hell, maybe she put him—who could have been a complete social pariah, for all I know—to task to shake me down.
Without thinking, I handed over the bag of hash. No sense in me keeping it around if the party was winding down. I wondered if the real reason I wasn’t having a good time was because I was looking for the wasters to validate why I had that shit in the first place. The man’s eyes illuminated like I’d seen a million times before in all the other wasters I stumbled across on a daily basis. The woman, on the other hand, smiled at me and wordlessly slipped me a piece of scrap paper.
They took off, the man calling a thousand thank-you’s behind him, leaving me to read the scrap paper given to me by the woman. What I was thinking of at that moment was how pretty she looked under the street light with her raven-black hair and sparkling green eyes, which seems almost too fantastic in memory because—how could anyone notice something like eye color under the mellow glow, especially under the influence?
When I finished the note, I smiled. Again, you’ll excuse me for not telling what it contained. Like the gathering at the fire pit on campus, this, too, was incredibly personal. Any attempt to describe those few, simple words would sound vulgar and garish coming from me, but they left a remarkably indelible hope that maybe I wasn’t fast sinking into the ominous charm that was New Haven, that me and her and her friend, and the whole city, really, weren’t wasters at all but fractions of the same element.
All I needed to do was peel back the layers and show the world how alike we truly are, that all the statuses and wealths and pedigrees are the divisive things, that what’s underneath it all are empty vessels to be filled in however way fate or chance sees fit. The feeling was hopeless at first, but after a few days of thinking about it, I packed my bags and left the city.
My palms: embossed with loose change for cheap plastic laced in acrylic and glitter, 25 cent statuaries of affection abounding on my prosthetic fingers, soft and malleable against my teeth, murky car windows, restless-leg kneecaps.
I crank these rings from turnstile distractions halted beside grocery store exits out of compulsion for a compulsion; they are the only things keeping my fingers still, keeping me from cracking them out of their sockets or breaking them into mangled, calcified dust, keeping me from sliding them around my hips and fumbling them through my hair and twisting them over one another like contorted, two-bit magic tricks. They scratch my scalp before the thoughts burgeoning up to the skin formulate action, satiating a quiet degree of regret in the outspoken.
Often, I watch how my fingers move, how they twitch and falter slightly, hesitantly, when I reach for high shelves, when I reach out in the middle of the night for something, nothing. They keep me awake by tapping on my temples. They need to stretch. They need to scream.
Once, on a trip to Walmart, I realized I wasn’t wearing a ring, and I tore apart my car searching for some spilled change. I only found a dime and a nickel, so I scanned the parking lot, neck bent, aching, until the yellow lines disappeared into double-vision, until I couldn’t lift my head to see the cars turning down the aisles, until my fingers began to quake like the quivering water in a glass before tremors rip apart foundation.
I bit my fingernails to keep them from clawing into my throat and walked, hands in mouth, into the store to nudge concentrated shoulders into listening to my cheap, desperate plea for a dime. A woman with a lazy eye whirling in sympathy dropped one into my twitching hand, and I quickly asked a cashier to turn my fragmented quarter into a whole one. The sound of the crank as I twisted it in seemed to soothe my fingers like conditioned dogs. The ring that spiraled down the funnel was ocean-blue, shimmering with the reflected explosion of stars, and my finger was just as easily submerged when I slipped it on.
I had forgotten my groceries, but honestly, I didn’t want to shop anymore. This ring would keep me still until I got home, where I would slip more rings onto the other fingers and lean back in a chair and exhale, exhale, exhale.
my fingers would pick cattails and poinsettias
and put them in windowsills
just like everyone else does.
they would touch something without destroying it,
without pulling it
just like everyone else does.
We never let go of what ails us. This compulsion tugs tight into a knot that will not relinquish. I can make an oath to myself as I slip on each ring in the morning, and it will break easier than this ever-hungry obsession consuming my self-control. I bookmarked the definition of my illness on my computer, because it’s the closest I can get to explaining myself to myself, but I never finish reading the symptoms.
It’s terrifying to know they are all true.
it’s okay to be fragile as long as you’re not breaking. you are delicate, transparent, but not everyone will know how to hold glass. you have to learn to hold yourself so you don’t shatter when they drop you. you are already a million shards of worry, a million pieces of regret. hold yourself. don’t break, don’t shatter.
Window Muse on the Last Day of May
Chocolate rainbows. Double decker buses piled high with tourists and flashy cameras. All of them ready. All of them primed. Fingers waiting anxiously on the triggers of their cameras. The nervous ones flash off. CLICK CLICK. Gun shy. Quick photos of street lights, parked cars, pedestrians, window front cafes, dogs tied to trees, all of them mistakes. Dangerous men walk these streets. Bend over and give the busking celebrities 25 whole cents and a cup of coffee, milked simply with cream sugar and basic butter. These are the times we read about in the history books.
Everybody is anxious. A little boy stands at the back of the bus and wags his finger at the stream of pedestrians who are lost in each other’s pockets. He nods knowingly, gifting, grifting past the shallow pock marks of yesterday’s bread, thrown out in heaps of wasted. Buckling benches sport crafty men who connive and chortle, choking on the breath of a silent scream.
These days no one is safe. Empty streets or not, dead men still bury the living in the park next to Max’s. That’s where all the flowers have gone. Yesterday there were tulips and now we only have black eyed Susans.
A beautiful woman. All fingers and toes. She has the kind of smile that makes a man think about things. Maybe he’ll run away with her. Carry her up in his big strong arms and whisk her away to his boat that’s docked in the nearby harbor. Probably has all the amenities of land living. A girl could get used to that kind of living, I think. Give her enough of anything and then take it away. But tell her how she can earn it back. That’s how to trick em. Give em something and take it away. It worked with the Indians.
Judicial hearings have finished for the day and the senators and congressmen spill out into the street. They’re holding hands and looking for cheap coffee. Each one wears a suit of tailored perfection and the sympathy that carries them binds their hands to their pockets. But in the lengths of their coattails are lots of sands and big old brass rings that they trade with one another over stories of casual conquest. Perhaps the bus riders have grown too complacent and the cameras they hold have been empty all along.
Because I watch the world from my window and I haven’t been outside in years. But it was only yesterday when I saw it, and I looked twice in case I missed it. But there was a man with a child in his hat. Bending over big necked, bowl eyed ladies with drooping eye wax. He was telling them this story I had heard one time, big yarn, selling it to them by the string. They were eating it up. Chewing with their mouths open. Passing the word to their friends like the whole thing was one big game of broken telephone. Message was skewed and when it finally got back to the man he looked confused. So the child jumped out of his hat and started asking for pennies. Course I threw him some coppers -being the charitable fellow that I am - he thanked me kindly with a practiced nod. He headed for the bus stop, pausing only to clean the hat off his hands, done with the whole affair. I think about that sometimes when the world passes me by on the street or in the sky. I think about that sometimes because I think that I’ve thought all the things I could think and now I look for something different.
My mother used to send me logic, but I haven’t heard from her in some time. Maybe I’ll see her someday in the rain. Using her umbrella upside down. Making a pool for the ghost of my father. I’ll count to see how long he can hold his breath. But I’m betting that it’s longer than forever.
Here’s the thing, here’s the stuff I last cried over: I’ve always been too much for men. I remember coming home from the bar one night and a car had run over a white cat on my street. I was drunk and I saw it from my doorstep. I ran out into the street and one blue eyeball had rolled out of her head and I sat next to it and cried. When my boyfriend caught up, he tried to pull me away. Said, C’mon. Let’s go. Picked me up by the bone of my right elbow.
They always said c’mon. Like it was so wrong. Every time I broke down was so wrong. I was twenty-two and I had two cats I loved who lived a hundred feet away from where this had happened and the cat, this dead, squashed cat, came on our stoop sometimes.
I sat in the four walls of my therapists office today and I cried, which I hate more than most things. I said, I just…I just want someone who is okay with the range of me. I don’t want c’mon and let’s go and calm down. God, fuck, I am calm nearly all of the time now. I am quiet and calm and I handle bullshit like it’s a favorite pet or a drink I don’t want to spill. My mess, my C’mon, Amanda, comes out in my writing now. I’ve channeled it there and that’s great. But, I am entitled to laying in the tub yelling at the ceiling, scribbling with green ink through each peeled layer of post-its, crying when a day deserved four hours not twenty-four.
I want to go back to the night of the cat sometimes and do what I wanted to do. Pick her up without gloves or a rag and carry her to a spot in my front garden until I can find a shovel in the morning to bury her. I went up to bed instead with a stupid, silly man who told me It’s fine, you’re okay, which of course I was. That wasn’t the point.
- i feel like a bag of groceries forgotten outside on the second to last stair on a winter night. the phone rang when you entered the house and you forgot to rush down to grab the rest, to pick me up. i’m full of unimportant things, things that won’t change your immediate well being.
in fact, i’m full of things that you didn’t need, but thought you wanted. you’ll remember tomorrow morning or in a couple hours, but by then someone’s passed the step and they peeked inside. maybe they can use what i’ve got, but probably not. they’ll feel guilty to see me sitting there without a place to go and will pick me up gently and throw me in the trash.
I want to remember all the sunsets I painted over black in my memory;
All the laughter I speared with contempt and the taste of vomit;
Forget the dimmed lights and smoky rooms and fake chuckles and half-smiles and eyes-like-daggers;
And the noise of it was the worst, the noise in my head:
On repeat, on a loop, all the questions I had to ask and all the checks and balances to keep in order and all the numbers to count and the marks to tally and the scales to break and the money to spend and the money to earn and the money to burn.
Burn it all.
It is eight-thirty in the morning, eastern-standard time, on a random Wednesday. A young man, who feels just a touch beyond his years is quietly puffing away on his cigarette. He thinks to himself - “this one will be my last“- but he wonders about his reasoning. The idea, the very idea of a last cigarette instigates a thought process in his brain, it’s all so consuming, and it ends in a belief that this one cigarette will taste better than all others before it. Why? Why? Why?
He extinguishes it, and lets it hit the pavement below his worn-out Addidas Samba sneakers. He bought them two years ago, and even though they’re covered in holes, and are no good in even the smallest of rain storms, he simply cannot allow himself to let them go. He always loved things that were broken, because to him - they weren’t. He believed in the idea of character, and that scars give people, and things an unmistakable quality. These imperfections are what make us different, and through these tiny chasms, light radiates, it exposes the greater depth beneath the surface. Tiny little mountains of untold wealth lie inside of us all, and he…he would climb them.
Today, he is madly in love with romanticized ideas, kissing in the rain up-top the Empire State Building, holding hands in the crowded streets of New York City, or going on long quiet drives to nowhere, in his Chevy, while listening to Elvis. Everything around is only a blur, but you can see the heat in the heart of another, so exposed in the iris of their minds eye. It’s blue, but it isn’t sad either, its just pumping so pure. He feels a touch possessed, but he has no desire to be exorcised, for he believes these ghosts mean him no harm. They’ve taken up residence inside his heart, and built a home beneath his breast bone.
The little embers sputter out within the confines of last nights rain, little puddles are scattering the streets, and he wonders if perhaps someone from above has been using the semi-frozen tundra as a canvas. He was never addicted to cigarettes, he just liked how they made him feel, little tiny stress reducers - when the occasion called for it, but he knows now there is something greater in the world than how he looks, or how strong he appears. Character is built from within, it does not manifest from one’s outward image. He finally feels as if he has more to live for than that, he will no longer allow the smoke to penetrate his winded lungs. He must stay alive now. He knows he has been dismembered, but it is a happy procedure, because he finally feels as if he can be vulnerable, and if for only a moment - lay his had on the shoulder of another to rest awhile.
Token of the Memory
I’m watching an American flag swaying in the breeze when I feel a cramp, a twinge, something pulling my eyes closed, shrinking my veins, drying my lungs.
It wraps itself around my windpipe and I’m thrust backward, frozen in time with such clarity that I can remember exactly where I was sitting, what I was wearing, how I was thinking about some TV show.
I am aware that not something, but someone forlorn, alone, bulky, and twisted calls out to me like a child swept away by the tide.
Your voice, almost a yowl, wobbles and cracks and breaks, and if broken bones and defective organs somehow could speak, it would be that voice: the sound of helplessness and isolation and vulnerability.
It’s as clear as if you’re speaking to me right now, coming from the notches on the wall, from underneath a frozen puddle, from the seeds of plants that were never healthy enough to grow.
Your soul is a forest of things stunted by pain and deformed in their growth, like the way a tree seems to swallow a rope, forming bulges and caverns around it.
Your eyes are oceans of festering, unhealed emotions that grow arms and legs of their own and become you. You’re made up of so many unpleasant stressors and triggers and wounds that you become your own planet, a world where things warp and twine and lash.
I come to not knowing where or who I am.
Am I you? Am I myself? Who am I?
The American flag sways once more, wrapping around itself, and I can almost see you standing underneath it, one hand gripping a memento, the other reaching for me, begging me to come back.
I was young once. I saw the world through this telescope lens you do, always looking at something far away transfixed on a point that I can’t possibly get to, blind to what’s in front of me. They always told me that one day I would learn, and on that day part of me would die, I never believed them. Part of me still doesn’t, but that part of me is but a memory. A photograph pinned to the subconscious of a broken generation, and a cross for the new one to bear. All I have left are these thoughts, these wrinkles, and my memory. But even with how much I’ve forgotten over the years, I remember more then you’ve ever seen.
I remember running from the police and hiding out in local speakeasies back in the days when music was booming and liquor a godsend. I was a draft dodger, or so they said. I always liked that term, it made me out to be more of a villain then my lanky stature suggested, like something out of faded comic book lore. “ CAPTAIN AMERICA FIGHTS THE EVER ELUSIVE DRAFT DODGER ON HIS WAY TO KILL THE NAZIS AND SAVE AMERICA FROM COMMUNISM” complete with some trading cards, a crackerjack bag and a carton of smokes. It’s not that I was a coward, it’s that I hated violence and war, and couldn’t see anyone deserving of being killed, especially by someone like me. I wasn’t a fucking killer, I was some kid hiding from the cops with enough courage to say fuck the world but not enough to do it to it’s face. All that changed when I snuck into a theater one night though, I saw the shit that was going on there and it was unlike anything I’d ever seen before. People were being hurried like cattle, stuffed into makeshift slaughterhouses and killed, without even the common decency to use their body. At least cows are put to fucking use. After seeing that I knew I had to go, and so I hopped onto the first plane out and started my love affair with the scarlet serenade.
The first thing I remember was just looking at all the kids on the plane, wide eyed and doe faced. Bambi’s going out to fight the fucking wolves, yeah this should be great, he can take em’ no problem, he’ll just cute em’ to fucking death. The ground below us was being bomed to shit, and what little grassland was their before was now a testament to how much we willed ourselves into hating each other. No one really cared though, we all jumped from our parachutes like moving targets and scrambled into the trenches to live like rats in the nooks of kitchen cabinets. We couldn’t hear shit, or at least I couldn’t , between men being blown to bits, machine gun bullets firing off like angry typewriters, and bombs soaring through the air like ravenous metallic exploding seagulls I had lost touch with everyone and everything in front of me and simply gave myself up to the moment. I think that’s what kept me alive as when I ran off everyone else was killed. I found these two Czech brothers Gregor and Boris, and they created a fake identity for me. I was Mikhael Greznich head gunner for the Russian Army’s battalion 34227, which meant that for the time being I had an in with the S.S and the communist party. Buddy buddy with two of the worst men in history, and both of them showed me nothing but respect.
When I got into the camps it was like stepping onto a movie set. Everything looked and felt so surreal, as if this physically couldn’t exist and their had to be some smoke and mirror trick behind it, but no, the only trick was the nightly dissappearing act where mountains of corpses miraculously vanished, right before we fed the jews. I snuck in real food, and broke as many of them out as I could before they caught on, but eventually all things come to an end. I was cornered, I rain into an alley and the bullets were lagging shortly behind gaining ground fast when suddenly I was pulled aside by a pilot, and flew to one of the most remote places in the world at the time, Colombia.
In Colombia, cash is king. But I’m sure you know that. I fell in love with a white witch and made her my own, and before you could say “ La cocaina no es buena para su salud” I was king. I owned mountains of product, and used it to better my people, and myself. I built hospitals for current and former customers as a way to keep revenue flowing, and built up the streets as a way to save face in the local papers. I bought out the police force and the army, and soon the whole country bowed to me. It’s funny what a little money and some incentive can do for ya. I was soon taken down by the americans though, betrayed by the people I nearly died for. Was this their revenge for me not going down with them? I’ve never quite understood the dichotomy of how I’m a bad guy, not only am I giving these people a service, but I’m also fixing up their country. The well ran dry and for a moment, everything was normal again. I was on the run, and they were doing the right thing by trying to kill me. It was 1953.
I was in New Mexico, with just enough white noise to start a conversation. My name was Andres Versace and I was here to look for a few new looks. Word of my arrival spread quickly and the cops went on high alert. With all the bad comes the good though, I was praised as being a hero of this town, pleaded to do the same for them as I did for Colombia. A group of men joined me on my quest to earn a living the only way I knew how, and we called ourselves The Molotovs. We saw what dire shape the city was in and went in to fix it, by any means necessary. Me and Scarlet killed hundreds of men, but not one died in vein. Each one went to tell a story, each one important in their own way. Each message sent shock waves through the city, and the people went from crying in the streets to celebrating under a fountain of blood. We were heroes, but maybe we got a little too big for our talent.
There’s always a point for every hero where the legend outlives the man, the name surpasses what it stands for. I ain’t no hero but this is a damn good place to start. We were boarded up in an apartment building near the outskirts of the city. I was wrapping up another wholesale when we heard gunshots come from across the street, gunshots that weren’t from us. Carlos Gonzalez and his gang heard that we were out here taking away his business, and he wasn’t happy about it. He nearly killed me back in Colombia but I escaped with my life after trading mine with his. I became him that night, like it or not. He was generous, but fuck with him and he’d kill without hesitation. I was the same, I gave away my snickers bars to the kids whenever I could because I knew they had no clue what it tasted like. They came up at the same time the police did, and I jumped. I landed hard on the pavement and closed my ears hearing gunfire sure this would be the end. When I opened them Carlos was bleeding out on the ground and the police were moving closer to me. I knew I had one option at this point, and it was not something I felt comfortable doing. We all make our own adjustments.
Some say I’m a ghost, running the city from beyond the grave, some say I’m still running the show from letters I send to the other Molotovs, some say I’m just a dead and buried has been. They’re all right in there own respective ways. Personally, I think I’m just a guy waiting to see where I get to go tomorrow, and what I get to do when I leave. I’m just as much a memory as the shit I’m known for, and just as much alive as what I’m going to do next. What I do know however is I’m back, somewhere, somehow, and I’m here.
Just try and fucking stop me.