libraries

step into my office and

see how our stories live,

not interconnected webs

but unique entities,

rows of mismatched novels

lining mahogany shelves.

circumstance alters which shelf we sit upon,

whose covers rest against our skin,

how intimately we let them touch us.

you can build a book together,

you will hold chapters of other names,

you will contain multitudes,

but other stories do not become yours

you do not become theirs.

go somewhere new and suddenly

your shelf shifts,

tipping you into a pile of strangers

all touching, piled around,

but not becoming, not intertwining.

and then your cover slips, for just a moment,

and you allow them to read some pages

not those ones

just a few here and there,

let them see the parts you like best,

close it again before they see too much.

sometimes you rest against

a story, a shelf, a life

that changes the rest of yours.

but they do not have the power

they do not have you

you have not become one another.

touch them, witness their lives,

let them read yours

until you can’t make eye contact anymore

and know

know

that you are a story, a life

a complete entity.

and know beyond doubt that

even

broken,

you

are

whole.

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I Didn’t Want To

I said the words.
I didn’t want to.
I dragged the words up
from the pit in my stomach,
fighting them, pushing them away from me.
The first time I said it, the story collided
with the horror, the empathy,
the well-intentioned pity
on the face of a friend.
You have to tell it again, she said,
you
have
to
make
him
pay.
So I said the words.
I didn’t want to.
I stared at perfect creases
in dark blue uniforms
and vomited the words again and again.
Bright white flashes in a cold room,
photos of the ink-like stains on my skin.
Cold metal under my fingernails,
dry cotton inside my cheek,
sterile fingers pulling at my hair,
taking more pieces of me.
You have to tell it again, they said,
you
have
to
be
strong
now.

 

So I said the words.
I didn’t want to.
A suit and tie I’d never met
asked for details no one would remember
but I tried, I tried, I tried.
I watched his furious scribbling
and, knowing the stakes, recalled
every single hurt that I could.
My hands suffered from aftershocks
so I hid them, clenched in my lap,
burying my shame and weakness.
You have to tell it again, the suit said,
you
have
to
prove
it
happened.
So I said the words.
I didn’t want to.
Everyone rose for a man in black robes
and we began their war of credibility.
He’s there, right there, at the corners of my vision
and suddenly my skin is made of glass,
ready to shatter if anyone presses too hard —
they’re all pressing too hard — this is all too hard —
I just want to go home.
Their questions imply things of me,
Asked-for-it / deserved-it / wanted-it / liked-it.
I feel their words pouring over me,
try not to breathe them in,
hope that I can reach the shore before I drown.
I tread water for hours, days, a week,
Before a dozen strangers come back.
You have to say it again, said the man in robes.

Guilty
Guilty
Guilty
Guilty
Guilty
Guilty
“GUILTY.”

They said a word.
They heard all of my words
and gave me back just one,
and that word was supposed to give me more,
give back the pieces of myself that I lost.
But my stomach feels empty without that pit in it.
What now?
The chains tethering me to that moment
have finally been unlocked;
I don’t have to tell it again.
There’s no one left to make me say the words.
So I wonder:
was
saying
the
words
worth
it?

…..let me

Let me complicate you.

Let me breathe smoke into your lips,
and feel it as your tongue touches poison.
Let me snap the padlock of your standards,
cross the line, invade you, change the way you see.
Let me draw a blade along your spine,
watch the bloody dewdrops march along behind.
Let me ruin sex for you, forever,
because you can’t let go unless you might die from it.
Let my eyes whisper sins,
and awaken the dragon who sleeps inside you.
Let my hands paint a story,
overlapping circles of black and blue.
Let me take an axe to your ethics
and revel in the purity of destruction.
Let me light a match and touch it to your skin,
see you feel the sting and the surprise.
Let me feel it when your boundaries bend,
when you touch, even knowing you shouldn’t.
Let me take you to forbidden places,
where backs arch but you have to stay quiet.
Let me watch as you realize
there are bells you can’t unring.

Let me complicate you.

 

 

Brace For Impact

They are flying.

Forty feet between their shoes and the ground.

They feel so free.

How funny, then, that all that stops their freefall is a cage.

Metal grates that are painted black but never quiet.

Footsteps vibrate the length of the paths.

Unless, like they have, you’ve learned to step softly.

He stands behind her, has her bent over the railing.

Their silhouettes merge and separate and merge again.

A sound escapes her and his hand covers her mouth.

Their shapes move faster.

The metal grates shift beneath them. Neither cares.

Faster.

They can hear others, down below. It adds to the high.

Faster.

She cries out against his fingers.

He slides his hands to her throat, gripping, still moving against her.

Her hands curl around the rail.

He gives a quick shout, releases her.

The two shadows separate for a moment as they dress.

He steps forward, whispers something against her ear.

Then he shoves her as hard as he can.

He watches her tumble over the rail.

Forty feet, he thinks.

Brace for impact.

this game called “when we catch fire”

I’ve heard people say that it’s awful watching an ex be happy with someone else, especially when you’re miserable yourself. But I wonder if it’s worse when the opposite is true.

What’s worse: Watching someone you love be happy with someone else, while you’re miserable? Or watching them be miserable with someone else, while you’re happy?
I don’t have an answer for that. I guess it depends on how much you loved them. Or rather, what kind of love you felt for them. Whether you subscribe to “true love comes once in a lifetime,” or if you’re more into “if you love something, set it free.”

I set you free. You ended things, and I made it simple for you to walk away. I didn’t fight you, I didn’t stop you, I didn’t cry and guilt-trip and complain. It hurt like hell, but I made damn sure you’d closed the front door behind you before I let any tears fall. Because I knew you believed it was what you wanted — and I probably knew, even then, that we weren’t right for each other. Not in the ways that mattered, not enough for forever. Love, ultimately, wasn’t going to be enough to save us in the end — whenever the end came for us. Sometimes the hardest thing and the right thing are the same, after all.

Fast-forward four years. It took me a long time to get past it, past you. Arguably, in some ways, I’m still not entirely over it — I admit a strong case can be made, given the fact that I’m writing this to you now. But now — four years after you walked out, after I went through hell and high water, through the literal hardest decision of my life — I can say I am, at the very least, at peace when it comes to you.

And here’s the crazy thing: I’m happy. Happier than I ever was with you, happier than I’ve ever been with anyone else. He challenges me, and makes me laugh, and pushes me to do better. It’s the first time I haven’t wanted to run. The first time it hasn’t terrified me to talk about the future. The first time I believe I have one.

But I still watch you,
(I loved you so much then that if you had asked, I’d have married you. It would have been a mistake, and it probably wouldn’t have lasted very long (that’s if we even made it to the altar, which I doubt more and more as I get older), but I would have said yes. I said yes to you even when I had doubts piling up around me like storm clouds, because I loved you too much to let them scare me away. Because I had fought too hard for you to let you go so easily)
and I don’t think you’re happy.

You left me, and six months later, you were engaged. Just like that. Ready to spend forever with someone else, after years with me. Years of “us.”

It broke me. I won’t lie to you because after everything you and I shared, you deserve better than lies. (You may deserve a few big ones just for the sake of balance, but I’ll resist the temptation). You broke my heart. I’ve never felt actual pain in my chest, never understood why they call it heartbreak, until you. Hearing you were getting married so fast hurt even worse than when you left. Of all the ways we’ve hurt each other over the years, that was the worst of it. That casual sentence, that flippant comment about your fiance when I didn’t even know you’d started dating again, broke me — in a lot of ways, for a long time. You’ll never understand how much. I’d never admit the extent of it.

But several months passed, and when I decided to remove you from my life for good, the farewell letter I wrote told you that I hoped you’d be happy. I wished you the best. And as much as I’ve gone back and forth about that sentiment since then — as many days as I spent full of hurt and anger, where I wanted to be vindictive and take that back — I can honestly say that I meant it. If you weren’t happy with me, I loved you enough to actually hope that you’d be happy with someone else. With this other woman, whoever she was.

So I still watch you.
Because I loved you once. Because your life and your happiness still matter to me, even if I’m not a part of either one anymore.
I check in on your life, now and again. I don’t contact you, I don’t intrude, I don’t even ask other people about you. I just check around, see what I can find, make a mental note of any major updates.
(Partially so that if I ever run into you, and you tell me these things, it won’t be the first I’m hearing of it and you won’t have to watch the emotion brewing in my eyes.)

Your engagement photos were the first place I saw it: you were uncomfortable.
In all those photos where you should have been huggy and kissy and all a-twitter with love, you looked…stuck. Like someone had asked you to pose in a photo with someone you barely knew. Like you didn’t know how to stand, or where to look, or what to do with your hands. When to hold her, how to look at her, where to touch her.
Some of that was just you; you always hated photos. But it got me wondering. It’s the first time I questioned that maybe you chose the wrong woman….again.

I wasn’t right for you either, I know that now. But we talked about getting married often enough that I knew what you wanted. We agreed on an old beautiful barn, with exposed beams and hardwood floors. You wanted bare lightbulbs hung in strands across the beams. Acoustic guitar and shoes kicked off, warm soft colors and everyone singing along to our first dance. Just the two of us, in a theatre of our own making — where, for one day, we’d been cast as the leads.

I saw your wedding photos. That was the second place I saw it, or rather, didn’t see it: I didn’t see your touch on anything. I saw stark white walls, floor-to-ceiling windows, crisp white tablecloths, shiny silver chairs — this buttoned-up, banquet-hall, country-club wedding. It looked flashy and expensive and cold, and you were nowhere. I didn’t see your warm lights, your soft comfortable colors, your hardwood floors. Your personality was strapped into an immaculate three-piece suit that someone chose for you, and I looked straight past you in all the photos because you weren’t even present. Someone took a cookie cutter to you and kept cutting pieces away until you fit. Until you were just the groom, irrelevant; just stand on your mark and pose. Your personality, your laughter, your warmth and charm, were invisible in that clean white spotlight.

Those pictures made me sad, but not for me. This time, I hurt for you. I wondered whether you were happy with your choice, or if you just wanted to be married so badly that the bride and the wedding and the photos didn’t even matter. Where was my laughing carpenter, full of bravado, who always smelled like sawdust, and smiled at me across rooms and winked? Where was the mischief and quirkiness that I used to know so well?
It was supposed to be the happiest day of your life — where was all your joy and anticipation?
I didn’t see you in any of your wedding photos, and it made me impossibly sad. I had hoped to see your smile again, the genuine one that started from your eyes.

When you bought your house, you were so excited to show me around. We walked through the back gate and around the yard and through the bedrooms. You kissed me in the kitchen and we watched Pulp Fiction on a mattress on the basement floor. We watched Blues Brothers curled up on the couch in the living room, and laid in your bed reading books late at night. We watched fireworks from your front steps and ate ice cream sitting by your garden in the backyard. You were building your man-cave in the basement, planting herbs in the garden out back, and getting a dog now that you had a fenced-in yard. You were so in love with it, every part of it. You said you wanted to spend forever in that house.

A month ago, you sold it.
I checked in on your life, expecting things to be the same, and saw it for a third time: the loss of you. Your house, I learned, isn’t yours. That house that you loved so much was just…..left empty.
I am that house. Loved, cherished, altered; then abandoned for something new. Part of you, loved by you….and then, all at once, not yours anymore. I felt the loss of that piece of you.
And I knew, the way you know from “hello” that a friend is upset, that it wasn’t your idea. I knew with every fiber of my being that someone else made that call. Maybe they even convinced you it was your idea. But I am absolutely certain that, isolated from outside influence, you wouldn’t have let it go.
I don’t know how many pieces of yourself you’d be willing to give up, for the sake of “happiness.”

I often wonder about your life, wonder if you’re okay. I hope you’re happy, even though that would hurt me too. But I would rather know you’re smiling somewhere, that everything you and I went through counted for something, that we both arrived at happiness somehow. If you’re miserable, I can’t — shouldn’t want to — save you. I can’t contact you, because I swore I wouldn’t. If you’re unhappy, it is of your own making, and there is nothing I could or should do to change that.

But the fact that I loved you for so long makes it hard to watch you be unhappy.

“that book which is my memory”

She wonders, now, if she knew all along.
Maybe she watched him dress in his lies
the same way he slid into his torn-up jeans,
equally comfortable in denim and deception.

She wonders if seeing him build things
made him look stronger, or more vulnerable.
Bricks upon bricks of carefully crafted words,
built into a wall, stamped with a love story.

She read that story on repeat, the poor fool.
Drank up every drop of smudged ink,
savored the subtle notes of doubt on her tongue,
felt the thrill of wandering so far from her path.

He poured her drinks so well,
tailored them just to her taste,
strong and harsh but never bitter,
foreshadowing at the bottom of every glass.

He sang the songs just right,
chose words she’d never admit wanting to hear,
pressing but never pushing,
stopping just short of too much.

He wrote things so beautifully,
black drops from the metal tip,
delicate flourishes across the page,
too wild to be bothered with their meaning.

On life he quoted from Hamlet,
on love he borrowed from Dante.
She wonders if that was when she really saw him,
her poet’s heart hearing truth in his choices.

For within romantic serenades,
she heard whispers of the phrases unsaid.
Bear our hearts in grief,
how apt, she thinks — a divine comedy indeed.

he promised.

It’s midnight.
I check the locks.
I turn off the lights.
I climb into bed.

I start the feel it, the loss of control.
I go to war the the anxiety; I use logic.
Everything is fine, you’re safe.
But he’s coming; he promised.

It’s 1 am.
I wake in a panic, a small noise somewhere.
That sound isn’t him, he doesn’t know how to find me anymore.
I get up and check the locks again.

I start to cry, can’t stop.
I whisper out loud to myself.
It was years ago; wipe your tears.
But he’s coming; he promised.

It’s 2 am.
I stare at the curtains, watch for every shifting shadow.
I jump at all the noises and lights.
I get up and check the locks again.

I give up and get out of bed.
I sit on the couch in the dark.
I listen for a knock, but there’s no sound.
But he’s coming; he promised.

It’s 3 am.
He’s still there in my head.
He is coming; he will find me. He promised.
I get up and check the locks again.

“You think you can ever escape? When you’re finally happy, when you think you’re free, I will hunt you down. I’ll find you wherever you are. I will destroy you. I promise you that.”

He promised.

the house that J built

I arrive at a farm house.
I recognize it, the way you do in dreams;
the house is yours now.
Familiar. Safe. Sunny.

(Really it’s the Westport house.
The twisted memories,
the realities of that house,
the dark cloud surrounding it,
aren’t present in this version.
Dreams are like that.)

I get out of the car with an overnight bag.
Sling it over my shoulder and greet you,
like we’ve done this a thousand times
and nothing about this is unusual.

(Really I never would have brought a bag,
in case someone showed up there
and I had to pretend
that we were just friends.
My belongings would have stayed in my car.
Hidden. Like us.)

You kiss me – quick, like nothing.
Like we’ll do it a million more times in our lives
and it’s so comfortable and natural
that it makes my chest hurt.

(Somewhere in my mind
I know that this is a dream
from which I will inevitably wake.
That this is one of the only moments I get to see you.
I know that this moment is precious and rare.
More rare with each year that passes.)

Each time I dream of you I wonder whether
it will be the last time I see you.
I know that the final dream is coming
and it makes me hopeful, and impossibly sad.

recovery

You used to tell me you were addicted to me.
What a truth. What a lie.

You used “addicted” instead of “in love,” and maybe that should have been a warning sign, but you know what?
You weren’t addicted.
Not the way I was.

I never said it, maybe. I didn’t use those words because I didn’t want to seem like I cared too much.
Doesn’t that tell you everything?
I refused to be seduced by the idea of sinking into you and letting our lives intertwine, because you were never quite present.
She laid between us in bed at night and she was there in the pit of my stomach when you said “addicted.”

I was addicted. I left you over and over again. But I came back. I couldn’t stay away from you.
I felt my heartbeat trying to shatter my rib-cage every time you kissed me, and I figured that meant love.
It helped with the guilt sometimes.

But the guilt also meant that I tried to let you go. Over, and over, and over. I kept walking away, kept quitting you.
But I never did it right, because I always returned. I always thought “this is the last time,” and ended up with you in my life for another few months.
I kept giving myself back to you, and not understanding why you let me.

Until the last day, when I promised myself I wouldn’t go near you, wouldn’t speak to you, wouldn’t answer when you called again.
When I finally figured out that you didn’t love me. A flashing neon sign would have been less subtle.
Finally, I gave you up like the bad habit you were. And I’ve stuck to it. Almost four years have passed since I’ve touched you or heard your voice.
But I didn’t quit you the way I meant to.

You’re everywhere. Sawdust and green eyes and ripped jeans. Museums and tattoos and light bulbs. Trucks and curly hair and paint.
You were in so much of my life, for so long, that you’ve left your fingerprints on everything I touch.
I can hear you laugh at my jokes and see your eyes when I close mine at night.

I crave you. A conversation.
Just to hear you laugh or say my name again.
I crave the caress I felt on my skin when you smiled just for me.

I wish I could stop.
Stop seeing you in everything. Stop wondering how much I would tell you. Stop feeling this pull to know what you’re doing.
Stop wondering what you’d say if I broke the silence. Stop hoping I’ll run into you somewhere. Stop looking for you every time there’s a knock on my door.

I don’t love you.
I did. I think.
But I don’t.

I’m addicted to you.

April 19, 2011

I don’t know what to say when people ask me about him.
Please ask me – please never ask me – please only ask sometimes – please only ask in a specific way.

Part of me wants to talk about it, to have that conversation, to let some air into those locked-up places I’ve left untouched for so long. The rest of me freezes up when it’s mentioned. I worry that if I speak his name, it will breathe power back into him, give life to the memories that I hope are dead and buried.
So I don’t. I never use his name and I avoid discussing that time in my life, and I get anxious when people ask me to.

When other people mention him, it makes me want to crawl out of my skin.

Casual references to him being somewhere, or saying something, or even just still existing — when the last thing in the world I’d want is a reminder that he’s still in it. They mean well. I think they’re hoping they can desensitize me. They either don’t know, or simply don’t understand. It’s impossible to comprehend, even for me, so I don’t ever expect someone else to get it. I can’t imagine anyone understanding what it was like, what he was like.

He’s impossible to describe to anyone.
I’ve tried, and my tongue suddenly feels out of place in my mouth and I get restless and start finding all the exits in a room.

He was smart, with his quick responses and calculating eyes. He was angry and jealous and strong. He was funny, with all his dark sarcasms. He was dismissive and cold and distant. He was beautiful, with his scarred hands. He was bitter and rageful and cruel. I used to think of him as a phoenix – all that power and fire and fury and destruction, somehow harnessed into his icy eyes and bloody fingers. I’d know those hands anywhere. His branded knuckles, and the way they always smelled like charcoal, and how they tasted in my mouth.

There’s no way for me to say it.

They were never wounds, they were an artist’s brushstrokes – he just favored a blade over a brush. It takes a certain kind of artist and a certain kind of subject to be a part of his furious style. The canvas was my skin and the only colors he ever chose were red and blue and black. After a while, he ran out of canvas, that’s all. Strangely, he never ran short on paint, or brushes. There is always more paint. There is always another brush.

There’s one more thing he ran out of: time.

April is a hard month. I remember the angry, unhinged, rambling phone calls. Early in the morning, late at night, in the middle of the afternoon. I had to turn off the ringer for a moment of peace.
“I’ll kill you, I’ll kill you.” “I know where you live.”
He was there, and then he wasn’t.
“Did you think I’d just go away?” “When you think you’re free, I’ll be there.”
The police came. They asked me questions I’ll never be able to answer, and I stopped feeling anything. He called, again and again and again, until I was convinced he’d never stop.
It’s been years and I still can’t sleep in April without closing the curtains and triple-checking the locks on my doors and jumping at every sound.

When he comes for me, it will be April.