if that matters

I made all my choices like I was pushing buttons,

the what-happens-if-I-do-this phase we don’t really grow out of.

The only way we communicated was sex,

and I think it’s because our mouths stayed mostly shut.

I always chose locations I could easily leave,

like committing all my sins in one place would contain them.

Sometimes even in the same room he was somewhere else;

I wonder if I hated him. I wonder if that matters.

I chose him, and he chose not to leave me,

and that was near enough to the same thing.

Wanting more would point out weak parts in our armor,

so we both pretended we are invincible.

In the end I gave him as many goodbyes and kisses as I could handle,

which ended up being one of each.

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if he could see me now

Stupid girl,
You thought he meant it didn’t you?
Really thought this was it.
Thought it was real.
Again.

Stupid girl,
You remember the last one don’t you?
Should have paid attention.
It was obvious.
Listen up.

Stupid girl,
What is it gonna take?
You need to understand.
The fantasy’s not yours to take.
You know that.

Stupid girl,
You haven’t learned a goddamn thing have you?
Once should have been enough.
You’ve been here before.
Pay attention.

Stupid girl,
You did this again?
Get it together.
You don’t get happy ever after.
Sit down.

Stupid girl,
Haven’t I told you?
They all say what you want to hear.
You shouldn’t listen.
You know better.

Stupid girl,
Started to believe it didn’t you?
You feel for it again.
You aren’t one of them.
A whole future isn’t for you.

Stupid girl,
I warned you and you didn’t listen.
I told you this would happen.
It’s April, stupid girl.
It’s April, and you get nothing.

(you don’t) let me explain myself

The truth is,
I don’t understand what anyone means
when they say they don’t understand me.

(so many critical pieces of me
are represented in the world
that sometimes
when I see them
I feel exposed.)

I could explain myself
if you’d watch a ballet,
let your eyes follow a dancer’s fingers,
see them flutter after a pirouette,
….then you’d understand me.

I could explain myself
if you’d drive at night with no destination
with the windows down, let some blues guitar
stream into the summer air and your heart,
….then you’d understand me.

I could explain myself
if you’d stand on the edge of a cliff
really feel the breathlessness and height,
let the wind wrap its arms around you,
….then you’d understand me.

I could explain myself
if you’d listen to spoken word poetry,
feel the punch to your chest
when a powerful metaphor hits your heart,
….then you’d understand me.

I could explain myself
if you’d watch paint being mixed,
a brush swirling color together,
the feeling when it blends just right,
….then you’d understand me.

Sometimes I feel (invisible)
like a joke no one gets
and I have to keep explaining myself
but no one ever thinks it’s funny
because I have to keep explaining myself

without my voice I disappear
and I have to keep explaining myself
but they just stare uncomprehendingly
because I have to keep explaining myself (or I’ll vanish)

I explain myself
every day,
everywhere,
in moments
(that you aren’t listening to)

how strange to be strangers

Ten years have passed and unexpectedly
they share the same set of walls,
representing opposite poles of the same planet,
standing as far apart as space will allow.
Where their gazes used to attract they now repel,
bouncing off, pushing away from each other,
so no one else will notice that
they recognize themselves in the other.

He knows all the shades of her skin in summer,
the taste of her mouth at the beach.
She knows how it feels to curl up in his lap,
the sound of his laugh when she teases him.
He’s familiar with the exasperated roll of her eyes
and knows her favorite kind of pizza.
She remembers every peak and valley of his body,
and knows lines from all his favorite films.

They remember building a fence and digging a garden,
and leaving books on each other’s shelves.
They remember lazy nights spent entangled on the couch,
and choosing colors, fabrics, music.
They remember choosing a Christmas tree,
and hauling boxes into a new house.
They remember walking hand-in-hand to see fireworks,
eating ice cream on a porch in the summer heat.

But ten years have passed and suddenly
they are held by the same cage,
oil and water poured into a clear bowl,
pulling apart as quickly as reactions allow.
Where their spaces used to flow together they now stand rigid,
the tight discomfort of shoes that no longer fit,
hoping no one will notice that
they’re pretending their apathy.

(how strange it is
to be strangers,
for the first time
in their lives together)

trucks

We are driving in the rain. Holding hands, happy, entrenched in a spirited debate about futuristic technology. We discuss self-driving cars and the progress being made; I say they’ve made great strides, he says it’s too slow.

“We’ll have teleporters by then,” he teases.

And all at once I am in a different truck — similar, but not identical, and yet it’s a truck I know. It feels familiar. I know the scratch on the dashboard; I know its unique smell of sawdust and metal and him; and I know the chain hanging from the rearview mirror. All the same, I’m aware that haven’t been inside this truck in years. In fact, when I turn to the memory of the man beside me, it occurs to me that he might not even own it anymore.

But it’s the one I remember him in.

“Life would be so much easier if you didn’t live so far away,” I remember him saying.

“I know,” I answered. “I wish I could just snap my fingers and be where I wanted to be.”

“I’ll build you a teleporter,” he offered. His crooked smile made my heart flutter.

“Oh yeah?” I tossed back. “Knowing you, I’ll be waiting five years before you get around to it.”

He winked at me. “Then it can be your wedding present.”

I remember not replying, because I wasn’t positive that he meant what I thought he meant and I didn’t want to assume. So I waited.

“When we get married,” he clarified, and though his tone was still casual I felt my heart skip, “I’ll build you a teleporter.”

“Right,” I remember answering slowly, acting like the idea that we’d get married wasn’t news to me. “But by then I won’t need one anymore.”

“Okay, so the teleporter will be an engagement gift.”

“Then what do I get as my wedding gift?” I demanded.

He smiled at me again, and I felt in that moment how overwhelmingly I loved him. “For our wedding I’ll build you a rocketship,” he promised. “We can take off in it after the ceremony is over.”

“Fair enough,” I agreed, and we both laughed.

“I’d rather have a rocketship,” I say without thinking.

He looks over at me, puzzled. “What?”

I shake my head, the ghost of a smile on my face. “Never mind.”

telling her twice, and why it’s never funny

Go back and visit that moment where you learned a hard lesson.
Yeah, that one.
The one even your subconscious shies away from.
The lessons that stick with you are the ones you learned the hard way.

Count on the fact that I’m utterly insane and won’t go away or something.

I’ll say this for myself:
I learned ‘em hard.
He taught me lot.

You make me violent towards women.

For a long time, I wished I could delete him, Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind-style.
Just gone, rubbed away in a cloud of old-school chalkboard dust.
I thought about how much easier it would make my life.

What, did you think I was gone?

People don’t understand
why I obsessively lock my front door,
why I lay awake most nights in April,
why it makes me jump a mile to hear a switchblade open,
why I check the backseat before I get into my car.

Did you get the gift I left in your car? I think it’s a fair trade.

For awhile I wondered if I was just making him into the villain of my story, casting him in a role he didn’t deserve. Maybe I was being melodramatic, making things out to be worse then they were, maybe things were never That Bad.

Sorry about all the noise and blood.

Injuries heal. Bruises disappear, bones mend, scars fade.
Anything physical can be fixed as long as you don’t die of it.
But there were moments I wished I would,
(and I’ve got a pretty high tolerance for pain so I’m thinking it was actually That Bad).

I’ve got far too much time on my hands now, and I’m not entirely sane.

What doesn’t fade is my anxiety
when someone comes up behind me on the stairs,
when someone opens the door without warning,
when someone makes a joke about abuse.

I don’t know if you’re avoiding me because you want to or because the police ordered you to.

You know the jokes,
we all do, the ones we all let slide way more than we should.
Because we’re “overly sensitive” if it hurts us.
“What do you tell a woman with two black eyes?” “Nothing, you’ve already told her twice!”

I found that my right hand will most likely be in too many pieces forever now.

Those jokes are like getting slapped.
They’re not like getting punched, oh no,
I promise, that hurts more
And my friends say them, and strangers say them, and people I love say them.

I’m pissed and I can keep going forever, and very likely will.

And they “don’t mean anything by it” and it’s “just a joke”
but none of them have a fucking clue what it means
to look in the mirror and see rock bottom
and learn a lesson because you’ve seen your own blood too many times.

They dropped all the bullshit about me being dangerous or whatever so I’m not going to stay away from you for long.

Go back and visit that moment where you learned a hard lesson.
Feel what you felt then.
The impact. The weight. The emotion.
I dare you to make a joke about yours.

I’ll probably give it a week before I start hunting.

Carrie & Coki: Diaries Of Unrequited Whatever

Let me be clear: this is not a book review. I’ve never written a book review and I don’t intend to start now. This is simply a commentary on a book and the impact it had, very personally, on me. That said, there are “spoilers” I guess,  so don’t read this if you plan to read Carrie Fisher’s The Princess Diarist.

***

I read this book for a lot of reasons, not the least of which were my love of Carrie Fisher and my sentimentality over her death. I kept seeing reviews for this, her final book, in which she chronicles (among other things) her Star-Wars-era affair with Harrison Ford. Reviews for this book almost universally take on a fan-girl quality; fans and critics uniting in mutual enthusiasm: Han and Leia were together in real life! They describe the book as “intimate and hilarious,” “an amusing jaunt down memory lane,” “witty and authentic,” “funny and touching,” “packed with one-liners,” ……you get the idea. They see it as rollicking celebrity gossip, or “wish fulfilment for Star Wars fanatics,” which leaves me wondering if any of them actually read the book.

I found it irrevocably and unshakably heartbreaking.

The Princess Diarist is not what I expected. I still can’t decide if it’s even what I wanted. Don’t get me wrong here: Carrie Fisher did an excellent job with it. I loved the book. I’ve reread it three times now, color-coding it with post-its flags of my emotions, and I haven’t even owned it for very long. It’s full of emotion and heart and vulnerability, and it is, at various points, amusing and self-deprecating. But I’d never call it hilarious, or lighthearted.

As someone who also, at 19, had an affair with an older and unavailable man, someone who also kept a journal during the experience (and never again afterwards), I knew before I opened the book that I would relate to it. If I’m being honest, it was the primary reason I bought it. I assumed I’d recognize some emotional parallels between my situation and hers. Knowing Carrie Fisher’s personality, I was ready for a funny, lighthearted, straightforward, possibly self-deprecating approach to her own affair. I hoped it would give me perspective on my own.

Carrie Fisher’s 19-year-old self is full of insecurity, anxiety, and low self-esteem. “I forgave him for not loving me in the way one usually expects,” she writes, “and almost forgave myself for not expecting it.” You experience her heartbreak as it’s happening, and all the while she pretends it doesn’t exist. The worst part of her descriptions is that she consistently tries to trivialize her own feelings, tries to pretend her vulnerability isn’t there. She mocks herself for having emotions, tries to put a comical spin on it, but it comes off much more like desperation than actual humor.

All I could see at first were the painfully obvious similarities. In so many cases, her journal could have been mine, and mine hers. Our nineteen-year-old selves would have either been friends (bonded by the mutual misery of secret-keeping and unrequited love), or hated each other (for being the physical embodiment of our own vulnerabilities). Eerily similar phrases popped up in our respective journals, so much so that I actually went and found my own so I could compare them. I guess insecure 19-year-olds who are in love with unavailable and inappropriate men are all remarkably similar. You can see those similarities for yourself in the quotes I’ve entered below — just a few selections out of dozens of nearly-identical phrases and emotions.

On those points where our stories diverged, however, I found myself inordinately jealous of Carrie’s experience when compared to my own.

Carrie describes Harrison as sullen and silent, disinclined to discuss their relationship or their future. Even as she fantasizes about a potential happily-ever-after future, she seems to accept that it will never happen, writing, “No one was telling anyone that they felt misunderstood and as such there wouldn’t be anything leaving-wise in his instance. So that was that.”

I wish I’d had such clarity at the time. My own Harrison was charming, funny, interesting, and often endearing. It made it difficult to know what he felt for me, or ultimately for anyone.

I tried to seem indifferent to him, Whatever, I know you won’t leave her so I’d never embarrass myself by asking you to, because I refused to ask him for more than we already had. I refused to be clingy, or needy, or to push any boundaries or ask anything that might make him leave. So I faked indifference, all while watching his every move and listening intently to his every word. My focus was entirely on him whenever he was nearby — not that I let him know it — because I constantly hoped that hidden within his words or actions would be some clue or hint that would indicate our future (or lack of one). A clear answer on this point, like Harrison’s refusal to discuss it, might have been the reality check I needed.

Then again, having read Carrie’s experience, I wonder if it would have made any difference at all.

“I was relieved when it ended,” Carrie writes. “I didn’t approve of myself.”

I didn’t either. I ended my affair multiple times. I’d walk away. I’d stop talking to him, wouldn’t go near him, wouldn’t interact with him at all. And then, for a multitude of reasons I could never quite define, it would start all over again. It was like magnets, or satellites — or, more accurately, like a slow-burn chemical reaction destined for an explosion at an indeterminate time.

“While there’s still time for Carrison to grow old together, that gateway is steadily closing,” Carrie mused. “If we’re going to get back together we’re going to have to do it soon.”

And this is the one that really broke my heart. Of all the phrases, all the emotions, all of the devastating musings of Carrie’s book, this present-day passing comment was the one that made me cry. Because here she is, all these years later, having at some point been married and had a child, and yet somewhere in her mind she still hoped that she and Harrison would end up together. Time and distance did nothing to erase that (admittedly dwindling) possibility. The fact that Carrie passed away after writing this book makes that dreamy, wishful sentence even more heart-wrenching.

I enjoyed the book, in the sense that it was very genuine, and very powerful, and very engaging.

But I’d never call it lighthearted. I’d never describe it as “amusing.” I wouldn’t diminish its power that way.

It’s an excellent read, I’ll tell people. And it’s heartbreaking.

[EXCERPTS FROM THE DIARIES OF CARRIE AND COKI]

Carrie: “…perhaps what disturbed Harrison was the implication that he was subsequently burdened with something very like responsibility, in that he had somehow been given a gift he hadn’t wanted or expected.”

Coki: “He seems to feel responsible for me, like I need education in all the ways I should stay away from men like him, all while being charming enough to keep me around.”

Carrie: “Harrison was on his lickety-split way to being everything to me.”

Coki: “I’m half in love with this man, and he isn’t mine. How’s that for absurd?”

Carrie: “How could you ask such a shining specimen of a man to be satisfied with the likes of me?”

Coki: “I don’t even know why he’s interested. Here I am, the nerdiest 19-year-old virgin you’re ever likely to find, and for some reason he thinks I’m something worth looking at. What??”

Carrie: “There were two reasons I wrote the diaries….it seemed to calm me, getting anything that might be chaotic behind the eyes onto the page in front of me where it could do me less harm….[and] I felt that I couldn’t confide in anyone else, because [he] was married. And not to me.”

Coki: “I have a lot on my mind and no good way to put it into words or explain it. And, after all, who the hell would I even explain it to? It’s not like I can go out for girl’s weekend and lament the tragedy of my love affair with [him].”

Carrie: “Someone has to stand still for you to love them. My choices are always on the run.”

Coki: “How did I arrive here, in this moment, loving this man who will never love me back? What choices did I make to get me here?”

Carrie: “He would wonder where I had been all his life and then recall with a bemused, ironic sinking feeling that I had yet to be born for much of it.”

Coki: “I get so angry with him sometimes because when we argue, he likes to dismiss my opinions as being ‘young’ or ‘naive.’ I am admittedly naive about this relationship, but not about much else, so it infuriates me. You picked ME, so don’t you dare act like my age is such a huge problem for you.”

Carrie: “The inevitability of his escape is most likely his most attractive feature.”

Coki: “It’s the chase. I tend to pick a guy who’s totally unobtainable and try to get him, like it’s a game, like no one’s going to be broken at the end.”

Carrie: “I’m quite sure, though, that if I had any principles what I’m doing now would violate almost all of them.”

Coki: “Of my top relationship rules, I’ve broken all of them….I shouldn’t have let it start in the first place.”

Carrie: “We could come to a full stop now if you think that would help. Because like any other B-movie heroine, I can’t go on like this. Can you understand? I don’t want to hurt you any more than I want you to hurt me. It’s now a question of surviving each other’s company instead of enjoying it.”

Coki: “This is wrong. I abuse myself for my own lack of morality every single day and yet I do nothing about it. I should walk away and never look back. So why do I let it continue? Why are there always people you can’t make yourself stay away from?”

Carrie: “I’m frightened of the power that he has over me and of how he will almost certainly abuse it, merely by not being fully aware he has it.”

Coki: “I can’t let him see that I want him more than he wants me. He could wreck me with a look, with a sentence, or with silence, and that’s the worst part of this whole thing.”

Advice To My Younger Selves

Dear 19,

I know you feel like you’re coming apart at the seams,

shadowed eyes and bloody fingernails,

sleepless nights and bruises and whiskey,

and they all want to pretend they don’t see what he’s doing.

But help will come from unexpected places,

so when you hear sirens, I promise,  it’s the beginning of the end.

Don’t let go. Keep fighting, every single day;

put that blade away in a drawer,

and I promise, you will make it through.

Dear 20,

I know he seems kind, after all you’ve been through,

but he has secrets of his own

so I advise you to go looking for his skeletons

and don’t wait for them to arrive on your doorstep.

Listen to his words but pay more attention to his actions,

and you’ll discover who he becomes when no one is looking.

PS – If you’re wondering, he is. Trust me.

Dear 21,

He doesn’t love you, (no, he doesn’t)

and I know that won’t stop you from trying,

but when he promises forever,

protect your heart a little better.

Don’t let him leave you sitting alone and silent,

and yell at him, this time, before he slams the front door.

Straighten your spine and know that you will be smarter, next time,

With whose hands you lay your heart in.

Dear 22,

Of all the things you will feel in this life,

This one is the hardest, I swear.

Breathe. Cry. Breathe.

Feel all the things you need to feel.

Don’t fight it, let it out; yell whenever you need to.

Trust me, you’ll need to.

It gets easier every day. I promise.

Dear 23,

When you’re feeling apprehensive about that date,

it’s for a reason — don’t go.

You’ll make decisions you shouldn’t have,

have conversations you’ll wish you hadn’t,

and you will be in tears by the end.

Give yourself a little more time to heal,

Being in love is not a tax you pay to exist.

Dear 24,

It’s going to be a tough year for you,

But you’ll survive it just fine.

Take your control back.

Be self-assured even when you don’t feel that way.

Fight for the things you’ve earned; make people hear you,

and if you don’t get what’s yours,

make sure you go down swinging.

midnight train

your love

and my love

ride different trains

Your love pulls me in,

invites me to your problems,

includes me in your fears,

drags me into fights.

My love protects you from harm,

covers your ears at loud noises,

stands before you when bombs detonate,

throws up shields when words attack.

Your love buries its hooks into my skin,

tugs at my hair,

burrows into my chest,

bites at my lips.

My love is committed,

building you a fire,

wrapping you in blankets,

saving you from drowning.

Your love is involved,

clawing for favors,

pulling skeletons from closets,

dragging me to the bottom of the ocean.

My love is

protection

warmth

future

Your love is

fear

desperation

now

your love

and my love

ride different trains

can’t

get

off

this

ride

kerosene-soaked bridges

The truth is, I know when I’m setting fires.

I watch myself light matches,

I let the smoke rise, I let the flames catch.

Knowing I should put it out.

Knowing I won’t even try.

Because I want to see what happens next.

Don’t burn your bridges, they say,

but I build mine of kerosene-soaked timber

and laugh as they are destroyed.

We can all pretend we don’t see it coming but

I do — I see — and I stand in the ashes when it’s over.

You can’t blame flames for destroying,

for consuming everything they touch.

Can’t blame me for standing transfixed

As pieces of my world break apart,

watching it fall into a storm-wrecked sea below.

Destruction fascinates.

Even though you won’t admit it,

even whispered to yourself in a dark room,

even when consequences hang in the air all around you.

You know it — you feel it — you see it all the time.

The twisted metal of a car you weren’t in.

Clothes ripped in half, because taking it off was taking too long.

The shadow-pain you feel when pressing on a bruise.

Glass shattering into a fragile spiderweb.

You can’t look away.

You want to.

I don’t.

I know I’m causing destruction,

I just like to watch.