There are mornings like this that when I wake up, I immediately look for that familiar presence of my mother. I look for that soft and pricking voice covering the stairways at 9 while she was cleaning our home and lecturing me while I’m asleep. You see, I can always feel my mother’s eyes behind my back though I don’t know if she is just watching over me or watching me and waiting for me to do the wrong thing. But this morning, she was not here. It’s Saturday and my mother’s not here when I trotted down the stairs, there was no one. The doors are locked, there’s cold food on the table and no one’s home. Just me. These are the kinds of mornings that I get too afraid of myself because I know that the door of sadness has just been opened and it is just waiting for me to sulk in it. Funny, I thought there are just a few things that can scare me. Like clowns and dolls and a sea of people but here I am thinking that I am alone again in this dark and lonely place inside of me. There is just no manual on how to overcome these kinds of loneliness, there’s no manual on how to break free from these chains that always remind me that I should only love myself and live only for myself. I don’t want this feeling. I am just afraid. Afraid that even my family will get tired of me and leave me too. Just like everyone else.
14. I’d lost it a year earlier and had already moved on to the next, and the next after that. One day my mother was shopping when, an aisle over, the second girl I’d been with muttered to her friend, “That’s Fredrick’s mom…Yeah, yeah, he was the one I was with last summer, the one with the big dick.”
My mother called me into her bedroom and paraphrased what she’d heard. I nodded. She asked if that girl had been my first. I figured the shock was enough already without saying I’d been at it for a while, so I just nodded again and left.
I went into the basement to paint. I heard talking upstairs, then footsteps. The door to the basement opened and my father came down. He was clearly embarrassed. He was not a man to talk about things too much, especially when they were literally called the Talk. Staying on the stairs, already half-turned to go back up them, he said, “You know everything already, right?”
The old man let out a sigh of relief, barely holding back a proud smile. One of only a handful I can remember—he thought I was queer for the longest time—and said, “Okay, good; lemme know if you need any condoms.”
I nodded. He grinned, “And, uhh, what that girl said at the store. That runs in the family,” he said, puffing his chest slightly.
He quickly went back up the stairs and was gone. He never even made mention of the fact that I was in the middle of painting a naked woman covered in ink splatters.
Sherlock Holmes and the Fourth Wall
“Watson,” said Holmes, “I’ve uncovered something rather strange. My evidence has been pointing now for quite some time to the fact that we are fictional.”
I smiled, certain that he was having a joke at my expense. “Well, I know you haven’t always approved of the writing style in my reports of your exploits, but I think that’s going a bit far …”
“No, you misunderstand me. You are not the author of those stories, but the first person protagonist. We are fictional, Watson. Think about it. You must have noticed, as I have, how the details that I detect seem to fill in as I explain them, how inadequately described you are. There has never been a good opportunity for the author to describe you, because you are written in first person, and thus do not observe yourself. It’s quite obvious really. I don’t know why I didn’t spot it sooner.”
“Holmes, this is ridiculous. Even if it is true, which I doubt, what do you intend to do about it?”
“Why, find the author, of course.”
The cab came to a stop at El Camino Real and Avenida Granada, “How much?”, I asked. “It’ll be $15.64.”, he said. I handed him a twenty and stepped out of the cab. I could smell the Pacific as I stepped out, but I could also smell smoke and booze. I hadn’t had a drink in six months, not by choice, it was my first night back in the country. I’d seen things in the last few months that Stephen King wouldn’t dare dream about. I was a stranger in my own bar again, I hesitated through the threshold. Should I fall back into this so soon? My plane had just touched down hours ago. Yes.
I looked into the parking lot and saw her civic parked there with the same sticker on the rear window, a smiley face that read, “Have a nice day!”. I could hear the waves crashing onto the earth in the distance. I thought of the homecoming my battalion just had, and all of the families and loved ones waiting for them in tears. I thought of how I walked away alone and asked to borrow someone’s phone to call a cab and a hotel near my bar; how I checked into my room and took the longest hot shower of my life before I set out to get drunk and forget the last six months. This wasn’t my first rodeo, I had done this before.
I told myself that I had a goal on my first night back, I need to drink 16 drinks tonight, for those who died while I lived. I didn’t need sex, I didn’t need good food, or someone to love me, or hold me, or cry over my return. I needed to honor the memory of those that didn’t come back with me, and this was the best place to do it. She didn’t remember me or my usual drink even though I had been a steady customer for months.
So I drank, and no one remembered me, but I remembered, and I drank.
I woke up the next day underneath a San Clemente Pier to the train running by, and the Pacific waves crashing in on me.
I called a cab to take me back to the hotel room I hadn’t slept in. “How much?”, I asked. “$16.23”, he said. I swiped my card, and I took the second longest hot shower of my life. I smoked in the hotel room, because I didn’t give a fuck about the cleaning fee.
And I drank.
I haven’t stopped since.
Tout ce que j’ai sont des mémoires.
“You know, you remind me of someone.”
Do I? Do I remind you of your first-grade teacher, where you first experienced infatuation as having, that mesmerizing smile she has on her face, every morning when you greet her with your chocolately grin? Or maybe that pigtailed pixie-face girl you once shared your ice-cream with, one gloomy Tuesday afternoon? Do my eyes give away that memory of you when you first caught a glimpse of your first love walking by the school gate after class, when everything in puberty seems like your first bicycle ride, wobbly and unassumingly exciting? Does my smile make you remember that kiss you had in the rain with your best friend’s girlfriend, when you both laughed it off but felt both your hearts got stung? When I laugh, what sound would immediately get inside your heart’s ears? Is it pleasant enough to make you talk to me over and over again, Or is it one of those masochistic memories you keep hearing in your brain, whenever her laughter swallows your control? Do you see courage when I walk with my head held high? Or do you wish to see the scars I try to stay hidden from the world? Do you know the songs that best describe a beautiful weather to me, or that perfect lyrics that gets me going when I feel nothing to live for? Do you picture me, a good mother one day? Or would I be happy enough, contented enough, or maybe even just, be loved someday? Did you ever noticed, when you first saw me, that I cry before sleeping and wake up numb? Do my girly clothes make you think I have a good enough childhood, or maybe I just love lavish extravagance? If I was word, naked and bare, in front of you, what word am I? Should I believe in fate, when you strewn words out of your lips like movie lines? Should I make myself, bite that curiosity you wish to share with me, on nights we humans hunger, the word ‘comfort’? Do I save myself my own embarrassment, or just let our necessities fall in place, in your bed, in mine? Do I leave you open for a memory, or just another line to use for another girl?
‘Well, whoever she is, I bet she fell for that line, too.”
In the end, the only treasures we could ever take to death are memories.
it feels like you’ve been clenching your teeth for twenty-one years. grinding bone until they are dust settled in your lungs which every winter you cough up into pillars of smoke. chimney shafts of tissue and wet parts. in the springtime you once kissed a boy who the night before had walked for hours along the train tracks. he spoke to his mother for the first time in months and felt such love. your lips pressed against each other in a parting, a final goodbye. a first and last kiss because you needed to taste each other.
the first time you met he was holding a sign with the name of your city in dark marker on it. you wanted to kiss him among the bushes of rhododendrons in the tree park. you both buried your noses and smelled them, he had never seen them before. he spoke about a botany class and told you about the blossoms and asked if you knew what he was talking about. you said yes, your mother loves to garden. he plucked a soft petal off and pushed it into his mouth. he ate it with a gentle sweetness. he said it was his way of knowing a plant, by its taste. you wished to kiss him to feel the crushed flower between your mouths and embrace the earth with tongue.
you took him to a stream and he gave you a handful of trail mix. you laughed at the differences in how you ate. he in large handfuls going into his mouth while you separated your favorite pieces for last. then he cut mangoes into halves and you both ate them till your hands were sticky but you were so happy. and you both washed your hands in the stream, cool waters taking away the messy pieces on your skin.
when you stood up he said you looked gorgeous with the flowers behind your head on the tree. and setting sun lighting up your orchid hair, ablaze in halos. and you knew you had to have your mouths joined like one fighting animal, gasping for air—if not for the sanctity of such a moment. you walked down past a fountain dried up of water with cherubs grasping its pillar like a mother’s leg. you imagined each other tangled up like the branches and roots shooting from the ground to wrap among other vegetation. and you smiled softly as his warm arm pressed against yours, mere whispers of skins greeting.
the day you kissed, his lips had been on your cheek. and you pressed forward to meet his mouth in simple wonder of farewells. a homeless woman sang you love songs when you kissed that boy for the first and last time. he was going home and you knew that your words would stop meeting each other in late night conversations on the phone. laughter after breakfast. you had needed this time together and now it has passed. you had shared your favorite words together. numinous, ethereal, imminent. you shared your favorite shades of color: phthalo, cerulean, amaranth. your last words to him were next time I will take you to breakfast. and he smiled and agreed, though you both knew it would never come to be.
that is the simplest of loves. a love needed for a moment. just one kiss.
We weren’t given this world, we had to take it. We touched everything, claiming a land that didn’t belong to us because there was nowhere else to go. We tumbled down grassy fields behind locked gates and stuffed greedy handfuls of sky into our pockets. We ate ripe berries from bushes that calloused hands had planted — our hands were smooth. We picked roses from unwatched gardens, thorns and all, because we lived only for each other and the whole world was our garden. Selfish, but unashamed, free. There was nothing we couldn’t have. And we always wanted the things in places too narrow for our fingers to reach, tiny wooden ships in glass bottles.
“They never really tell you how the moon got all those deep bruises. The story goes that the sun saw her one night as he was leaving the sky. He was so taken by her silver face, so calm and beautiful, that he felt himself changed at just the sight of her. In a thoughtless trance, he picked up a few stones and threw them towards her in order to get her attention. But the sun was too strong, and the stones skipped over the black river of the sky and crashed into her with such a force that she fell back. After the stones settled, they began to spread large bruises across her face. The longer the stones stayed, the deeper the bruises got. The sun watched in horror as her face began to turn dark and patched with craters the size of the stones. He couldn’t make his way to her, for there was a barrier that kept them from ever touching. The moon cried, and the oceans swelled under her pain. Her face was no longer the smooth silver jewel it had once been. She looked across the sky and saw the deep orange sun with a stone still in his hand. She never asked him why he did it, and he could not get close enough to tell her that it was because he loved her. The bruises never faded, and neither did the moon’s sadness. The sun never forgave himself, so at the end of each day, when he saw the moon take her place, he turned deep orange before fading away. Some days, when they are both seen in the sky together, you can hear the sun trying to tell her that he is sorry, and that her bruises are beautiful.”—the sun threw stones and the moon wept
There is no escaping your age in the first five minutes out of bed in the morning.
The ankle you sprained during that drunken night twenty years back, after you climbed the Lion of Trafalgar, it creaks and clicks with every step toward the kitchen.
That hip, worn by the weight of two toddlers, feels tender and flimsy giving your gait an octogenarian’s wobble.
But look, it’s all an illusion, rooted in the creases that frame the pink of your lips. There lies the decision, that minuscule angle that reveals your true age. Harden and lower, and everything slides onto your shoulders, and now you’re a crone, bitter and tired. But notice how easy it is to soften and lift.
Nothing more than a sleepy teenager.
I can solemnly say that I live a life inside my skull where my eyes are blind and my mind is numb and my heart is buried under the sheets covering your bed. At home, I’m most content in my little chair, in my little corner, of my little life, so I can watch to see if he sneaks a sip, but he always catches me like dandelions in his hand until my cheeks have wilted. Every night I sit facing the fingernail torn wallpaper walls and I cry and cry until I awake once again. It’s a wretched systematic chore. I’d rather have a butterfly land between my eyelids and knock me dead than listen to my mother pace around downstairs uttering the same 3 words.
You are a- You are a-
But sleep is not an escape. It’s a vast velvet skirt lost around your waist. I need a reservoir to save me so I can drown in Helvetica photographs instead of waking up with a bad back
What was it that he said that made you so enthralled? I must know so that I may have a better understanding of what it was that made you feel. Tell me a phrase, or even just a word; this is killing me.
I remember when you sang for me, and it was like nothing I have ever heard. I replay it in my head, and somehow, my ears can still hear you.
I remember the first verse, and it was like a nightingale’s tune. I remember the chorus, and I had nearly sprout wings. The second verse was next, and I, like a maestro, began to wave my hands through the air. I was completely yours by then.
The bridge followed, and I crossed over it into your world. I no longer knew my surroundings, but they captured who you were perfectly. There was a minor fall and my heart sank, but your voice lifted me up into the heavens with the crescendo that followed.
You ended your song on a high note, and I was as exasperated as you were. It’s been nearly a year, and I still have yet to catch my breath. It’s been nearly a year, and I am still waiting for your second number. I have listened to your song inside of me since then, as you have sung me to sleep from within my heart.
If only I knew what he said to you, I might be able to tug on your heartstrings and bring forth another melody.
Psychology of Fistfight
I don’t know how this escalated so quickly. One second I’m walking down the hall, hands in my pockets and not giving a fuck about rules and norms. The next second it’s the metallic slam of locker doors, threats, insults, and a challenge. From me. Pop said never to back down. I called the guy a candy-ass. He didn’t like that. He is bigger than me and dumber, too. He told me to put my money where my mouth is and now here we are. Shirts off, fists raised. Fifty or so boys and girls form a pseudo-ring around us.
All of them are screaming or attempting to chant but all I can hear is the thudding in my brain and Pop’s words. Bob and weave, never let your guard down, tuck in your chin, be patient, and keep your feet moving. I’d been beaten up enough by Pop to learn those words. But those aren’t the words that win a fight. These are: No fear.
Even if he’s better than me there are only two ways this will end. Till I drop dead or win.
Candy-ass taunts me and he’s not making any sense at all, this proves how dumb he really is. I start to move my feet, Candy-ass starts to move his. He continues to taunt like an eight-year-old kid. Moving closer, he throws the first punch. I duck and retaliate, landing a shot on his gut. That blow staggers him for a bit, as if he assumed I didn’t know how to throw a punch. Well he was dead wrong—
Candy-ass looks pissed. He’s angry now, all right, mouthing more nonsense. He throws more punches and I dodge with ease, landing more blows to his gut and face. What a rush, the adrenaline gushing in my veins pushes me to a high I’ve never experienced before. This feeling surpasses all of my expectations of what my first real fight would be. Pretending to be Bruce Lee when I was a kid feels like another lifetime. Cause here I am head-to-head with Candy-ass and by the looks of it, I have the upper hand. I notice he is starting to lose strength. I am getting cocky. This fight is mine to win.
Candy-ass doesn’t back down yet. His pride tells him to stand up and keep fighting. He spits at my face, something I never expected for him to do.It stings.I drop my guard for a split-second, wiping his spit and blood from my eyes. The next thing I see is a fist right in front of my face.
His blow sends me flying to the crowd; pushing me back into the ring, I receive another blow to the face.Stars and spots fill my vision. Bright streaks of red on black. I’m dizzy. I feel pain, all right. My head is spinning, I lose track of where I am. I can taste blood in my shredded lips. I let my guard down, now the tables are turned. Candy-ass starts to land punches and all I can think to do is cover my face.
I close my eyes. All of them are screaming or attempting to chant but all I can hear is the thudding in my brain and Pop’s words ringing again inside my head.Bob and weave, never let your guard down, tuck in your chin, be patient, and keep your feet moving.Three out of five. I guess nobody’s perfect, Pop, but there are only two ways this is going to end.
I can sense the next punch coming, I bob my head, weave back, move my feet and I throw a hook with all the strength I have left in me.
All I hear now is deafening silence and the final words: No fear.
A Collaboration between:
keep me alive
she came to me when she was broken; a weary, soft-spoken spirit who remedied her lack of height with depth, with hands rough and cracked from falling on the pavement one too many times. “help me,” she would cry, “help me.”
so i stretched out my arm, took her by the hand and led her far away from the door she had entered from. a hundred steps, two hundred steps, even after a thousand, no word escaped from her lips; only the urgency of the quick pitter-patter of our feet.
when we could no longer remember how many steps we had taken in the dark together, i led her into another room and handed her to a boy; an older boy who taught her how to fight for freedom, to protect the things she loved most. i watched her love boil over to create sunflowers in the sky and lilies in her hair; how her swordtip would burst mountains and wolves from the clouds. out from her joyous tears lakes would be birthed and i knew that she, like so many before her, was meant to create.
i kept watching, even when the raindrops were weighted with her sorrow and the clouds blackened with anger, unflinching through her pain, betrayal, and loss until all that she knew was lost.
then i watched as the boy took one of her hands to lay it flat onto the palms of another, all the while holding her other hand and i knew she would be alright; that she would live. that here, she could not die.
i watched as her scarlet thread looped around the wrists of the hands she was placed in, how they were linked by the strands of words filled with her own unknown desires.
she would stay here forever, i remember thinking to myself. she is loved.
i turned to glance from where we came, but i could see it no longer.
I guard my time to prevent myself from seeping out of myself onto happy hour tables in a way that no one would be comfortable with, least of all me. I am a fucking mountain or tsunami or volcano of my day come Friday.
My emotions are not sleep, eat, work, fuck when I can, sleep. I take it all in. When my favorite student who tried to kill himself two weeks ago needs to hold, squeeze my hand in an assembly to keep from screaming out at the top of his lungs like he does most weeks, I feel that. I see the burns on his arms and smell the cat piss or the dust or whatever it is this week and it marinates in me like it marinates on him. I don’t think about how dinner and a drink would be nice after work today.
I go home and I process and I let the emotions work me over into whatever form they take and I guard my time, that time, harder than I guard anything in my life.
I heard myself called flakey from the hall today. A half closed door with a friend behind it. I stood and I let that word wash over me and I had to agree.
Yes, I am flakey. I cancel plans often on Fridays and I sit and I write these things for an hour instead because if I didn’t I would lose the last part of me that I have held onto here so fiercely as the rest of me eroded. My time.
After that I am happy to have a cocktail or two with a friend who is willing to talk with me over an omelet, not about me behind wooden doors they can’t bother to close.
The truth is that no one will write a song about us. No one will write us down in any gold-bound leather books. We will not inspire poets, directors, shy art students with nothing else to paint about. We will not be read aloud to any quiet classroom; we will not be told and retold in many versions and endings and metaphors. We will not create in someone an onset of inspiration when we’ve died.
And yet I have journal upon journal stacked high in the closets and boxes, chronicling us; taking down detail after mind-numbing detail on a story that no one of meaning will ever hear: a story that simply exists; a ghost-story of pains that belonged to nobodies.
No one will read us. We will live only in those paper pages- the boy with scars on his forehead from broken bottles and the girl stripped to nothing.
We were just two penniless young people that were too old and knowledgeable in the way of hearts and how they break and naive and young in every other piece of the world. We were a punk-grunge satire.
And yet I tell myself every day that I must remember. I must remember for the both of us.
No one else will.
Drop me off, you can leave me there to roam
He remembered the day in hospital he’d sat on the bed holding her hand. There were promises made that day. No more drinking, he’d said, no more parties. They were going to live a good clean life. Things were going to change and it was going to be hard and there were going to be moments when they were tempted but it was going to be worth it in the end.
And it had been alright for a while. They stayed home reading books and watching movies. They talked about things. At night they made love and remembered it in the morning.
She took her medication and the seizures stopped. He cooked for her every night and they sat on the couch together watching whatever stupid thing was on TV. And it felt right and it felt okay and he thought, he thought maybe he had found something that worked.
I’m not going to fuck it up this time, he thought to himself. Maybe it was a promise of maybe it was a prayer. He didn’t know which.
You might not realize it at the time but there were moments in a persons life where making the right decision could change things forever. He knew this now. Better than anyone.
He’d been travelling around for three months with no real idea of where he was going, knowing that he couldn’t go home and that he probably didn’t want to anyway. He understood sometimes running away was the right thing to do, that some things cannot be fixed and it was useless to try.
It wasn’t easy, but you could teach yourself to forget peoples names and faces. You could bury your memories under piles and piles of dirt. You could forget that you had a mother and father, brothers and sisters, that there were people out there who once cared for you.
If you tried hard enough to erase everything it was possible to wake up in the middle of the night, covered in sweat, and find itimpossible to remember your own name. He could not even begin to tell you what it felt like to wake up in another country and to not know who you were.
It was terrifying and comforting at the same time.
‘Strangle me,’ she said.
‘I want you to choke me.’
He rolled off her and looking up in the dark he could see the gray ceiling up there somewhere. Floating.
‘Why would you say something like that?’
‘Because it feels good, because I like it.’
And he started to cry and embarrassed he buried his head in the pillow trying to hide it from her.
‘What’s wrong,’ she said, ‘what’s wrong?’
As a boy he’d been obsessed with the end times, with Armageddon, the return of Christ. His father had warned him that if he didn’t except Jesus into his heart he would be left behind. Jesus would not take him up with the rest of the true believers.
If there was doubt in his heart, Jesus would know.
There had been these dreams where he woke in an empty house, his family gone, and he ran from room to room screaming their names. But they were gone, Jesus had taken them. He was alone.
Something about waking up in this hotel room reminded him of those dreams. At two AM in Saigon the streets were empty and it was easy to imagine that the world was ending. He would lean out the window and smoke a cigarette, the hot air on his face and bare chest, waiting for the sky to split open and for fire to pour down from the starless sky.
What is it about the way you say certain words that carves holes inside me, chasms so deep I can’t see their end, and yet I yearn to let myself fall and tumble in that darkness, just to hear the intoxicating syrup of your voice envelope me, like your arms would, just to sense the minuscule movements of your lips, just as I would if you were kissing me.
What is it about the way you say doorstep that splashes fire onto my cheeks, that makes me suddenly aware of waves of goose bumps rising up from my hipbones, running playful across my ribs, trailing the curves of my breasts with fingers made of nothing but liquid consonants, while in my mind it’s your hands, exploring and teasing my skin with a touch that is both tender and bold, just like you are.
Something, in the way you say and I: such a short chain of sounds, but when they come from your throat they seem to crush space and time, collapse entire universes, shuffle realities so to persuade me that you are here, your lips brushing on my neck, your words not two little syllables but all the heavenly language you’d need to whisper what you’d like to do to me, all you’d like to touch and taste, all the places you’d like to get lost into.
It is difficult to say, exactly, what it is. All I know is that if you ever, were to use your voice to ask, there would be nothing I would deny you.