the way we were (Part III)

Without you, I attended all my classes. I enjoyed them, I did the work, I was passing. Some were better than others, but I was always there.

With you, however, I went to class when I could escape, when you were distracted with other people, when I thought you might not notice that I’d gone until I was already back. I stole hours here and there, trying to attend often enough to pass them all.

But I never withdrew from them, because I was convinced I would go next time. That maybe tomorrow you’d be in a good mood, maybe tomorrow you’d say you didn’t care what I did.

I was much more naive back then. I don’t think you know what a good mood feels like.

You’d always let me almost leave. I would announce that I was going to class, start packing up my things, wait for you to object. When you didn’t, I’d pack up my books, put on my jacket, wait for you to stop me. You’d stay quiet, like you didn’t notice, so I’d walk to the door and almost, almost make it outside before you’d speak.

Only then would you remind me that if you were left alone, you’d drink an entire bottle of whiskey and hope to die — “Choking on my own vomit, that’s poetic, right?”

You’d say you’d climb into the bathtub and slit open your arms — “Don’t cut the wrists. You have to catch an artery. If you’re going to die, you have to die correctly. Don’t die an idiot.”

You’d tell me that once I’d gotten to class and couldn’t stop you, you’d go for a walk in traffic and leap in front of a car — “Best-looking roadkill you’ve ever seen.”

You’d say you had a bottle of pills that you’d been saving for this moment when you had time to yourself. “I’ll make it easy for everyone to forget me — quiet, in my sleep.”

You said you’d hang yourself from the catwalks of the theatre, my favorite place in the world — “You’d see me every time you came here, even after they took my body down.”

I couldn’t tell if you meant it, so I’d sit back down.

I failed every class that semester.

I failed because if I left that room, if I got off that couch where we sat every day, you might go somewhere I couldn’t follow.

You’re still there in my head. When I walk into my old theatre and look up at those catwalks I loved so much, I see you hanging there — your combat boots dangling and your This Is England double-cuffed jeans and your mohawk collapsing over that face I so hated and so loved.

Even though I left you, I still see you up there, every time.

Maybe that was all you wanted.

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the way we were (Part II)

My gas light was on. I’d planned to stop to fill my tank on my way home, but you’d decided I wasn’t going home yet and I didn’t argue.

You got in my car without asking. You never asked. I never expected you to.

I took you home like I did every night, but when we reached your front door you said, “Keep driving.” So I did.

When I mentioned the gas light, you said we had enough to get us where we were going. I never wanted to worry in front of you, didn’t want to seem nervous or afraid, so I shut up about it and hoped we wouldn’t break down on the side of the road.

After a few turns I no longer knew what town we were in, just followed your instructions as you gave them. When you said we’d arrived, we’d pulled down a long, winding driveway in a field of grass taller than either of us. A clearing formed and revealed a house I’d never seen before. You didn’t say anything, just got out of the car. I didn’t know if this was our destination or not, but I didn’t want to risk my car stalling out, so I turned it off. By the time I got out of the car, I was alone in the dark, standing in a field of grass like the closing shot of some horror movie. I was surrounded by the sound of wind in the grass, or maybe the ocean was nearby, I didn’t know.

You appeared again (where had you gone?) with a can of gas and told me to use it in my car. Then you led me to the front door. You had a key in your hand I’d never seen before and you unlocked the door like you’d done it a million times. Had you been here before? Where had you gotten a key from?

“Whose house is this?”

The moment I’d asked, I kicked myself. I hadn’t meant to say it out loud.

You didn’t even turn around. “The Queen of England’s,” you answered, expressionless. You led me past a room filled with easels. The artwork on them could have been yours, might not have been. You’d mock me if I asked.

Stupid, stupid. I knew better than to ask you anything. I shouldn’t have bothered.

As I silently berated myself, you appeared again with a bottle of Jameson, twisted it open and handed it to me. I took it and downed a mouthful because you expected it of me; then you walked away again.

Given nothing to do with my hands, I kept drinking as I watched you walk around the room, touching things as if you hadn’t seen them for awhile. Your fingers trailed up the length of a telescope set up by the windows; tapped the cover of a book left out on a table; moved a pillow from one side of the couch to the other.

You were restless, and you were never restless. It made me nervous to watch you.

I was desperately hoping that we hadn’t just broken into some stranger’s house, though I wouldn’t have been shocked to find out we had. Unbidden, the thought came to me that if you were to kill me, here and now, no one on earth knew where I was or how to find me. I hadn’t told anyone where we were going, because I hadn’t known we were going somewhere until you’d decided that we were.

It was the first time I can remember being afraid of you.

It wasn’t the last.

When we fucked on the floor of the living room, right in front of the big glass windows overlooking the dark fields of grass, I wondered if we were close enough to anyone that they could see us, lit up in the window of a dark house in the middle of nowhere. I wondered if I would care if they could. Mostly I just hoped no one would call the police.

I remember straddling you and drinking whiskey with you still inside me, and thinking that I’d hit rock bottom.

I remember thinking that if you killed me now, the person I’d become for you wouldn’t be such a great loss after all.

the way we were (Part I)

My day always began and ended with you.

I brought you home at midnight, and I’d be back to pick you up at six the next morning. That’s just how my life went back then. It meant you spent six hours without me.

They were the worst hours of my day.

That sounds romantic. It wasn’t.

I’d just fallen asleep when you sent me a picture of a shattered hand. Every bone must have been broken — I don’t know, I’m not a doctor, there was blood everywhere. Then you were calling, apathetic, “I broke it but it’s probably fine,” and I thought you must be in shock to be so calm. You were an unstable artist with a crushed hand and there was nothing poetic about that, just fear and panic.

I climbed out my bedroom window and got in the car. My skin was feverish, my heart racing, my breathing shallow. I was already in enough trouble at home, and I had no plan for talking my way out of this one. I couldn’t tell them the truth. Didn’t have time to worry about it. I pushed it away; I’d deal with that later. Later, when you weren’t broken and bleeding and calling me.

I got to your house, and you stopped answering your phone.

It wasn’t like I could knock on your door; I didn’t know who you lived with. It wasn’t like I could ask for you; I didn’t know who you were.

I found you five streets away. I pulled the car up next to you and you got in, your face unreadable and both hands in your lap.

Both hands, looking like they always did, smudged with ink and charcoal from your drawings, knuckles branded with a lighter and your knife, but otherwise unremarkable. They weren’t broken, not bloody or twisted.

I stared at you for several minutes, and you didn’t say anything. I didn’t either.

I never asked you questions. I knew you wouldn’t answer.

When I dropped you off I was dreading going home. I’d be in trouble, again, for sneaking out in the middle of the night, again. And to the inevitable question — why — I had no answer. They didn’t know you existed. So I couldn’t say he broke his hand, it was an emergency, he needed me. Because then they’d ask the obvious questions, and what would I say to that?

Why did you leave in the middle of the night?

He sent me a picture of a broken hand.

So you left the house?

I thought it was an emergency.

Did you take him to the hospital?

No.

Why not?

He wasn’t injured.

I thought you said he broke his hand?

It wasn’t his hand.

Then why did he send you the picture?

To make me think he was hurt.

Why would he do that?

I didn’t have an answer to the most basic questions, and anyway it was pointless to imagine the conversation because I wasn’t having it.

Instead I got yelled at, grounded some more, and answered questions with sullen silence because nothing I could tell them would make it any more logical to them. It wasn’t logical. It didn’t make sense. It wasn’t even sane. It was just how you were.

And when I picked you up a few hours later, at 6am, we didn’t talk about it.

We never talked about anything that mattered.

write drunk, edit sober?

There’s a quote commonly misattributed to Ernest Hemingway, where he supposedly said, “Write drunk, edit sober.” The idea is interesting — letting your creative process loose, free of inhibitions, and going back afterwards to ensure clarity and cohesion.

But the actual quote, so they say, is by Peter De Vries, and it goes more like this: “Sometimes I write drunk and revise sober, and sometimes I write sober and revise drunk. But you have to have both elements in creation — the Apollonian and the Dionysian, or spontaneity and restraint, emotion and discipline.”

I quite like both quotes, and included them here because I did, in fact, write this while drinking — not drunk, but certainly buzzed and getting a little spinny.

It was strange working on it with alcohol in my blood — a lot of memories came flooding back to me very unexpectedly while writing, and I felt quite emotional when I finished it. Partly sue to the whiskey, of course, but I think also because I’d addressed some memories that I must have repressed or something. And now that I have some distance from those times and can look at them with some objectivity, I’m glad to have them back. Whatever happened later, some of them were nice moments.

Anyway. My tipsy, lilting, memory-unearthing piece is below.

stolen identity

I wrote you poetry and crafted you gifts

I loved all your dark and twisted corners

I fell so hard that I didn’t question why the landing hurt

If all the world truly was a stage

you were the best actor I’ve seen

Midnight on a mattress

a gasp, a tear,

a whispered AmIHurtingYou

but I knew what you needed and so

I lied for you

(everything of mine was all for you

and in some ways you never gave it back)

A dance recital overhead

trying to be silent but full of things I didn’t say

like IFakedIt IFakedIt IFakedIt

If you listen to a body you’ll hear what it wants

but I knew what you needed and so

I sighed for you

Your house

strange windows and dark gardens

flames and Tarantino and whiskey

that basement where you’d curled against me

whispered love and sweet somedays

became a stage for your family

whoisthisgirl, shesnoone

I don’t even know you

and I don’t know why I’m here

but I knew what you needed and so

I stayed quiet for you

When I learned her name

I drove to your house long after dark

I wished it was raining,

but the sky wasn’t feeling poetic

Plastic bag in the passenger seat

holding everything I had left of you –

gifts I forgot to give you

clothes you left in my bed

Her car was in your driveway

sheparkedinmyspot

I climbed the steps in the dark

prayed the neighbors wouldn’t see

laid the bag on your doorstep,

abandoned it like a corpse

all my memories in a moment

flashing by as I let the bag go

I stood very still and let the air curl around me

let all your touches come flooding back

every kiss and memory

every late night with painted symbols

or stairwells and flashlights

or plans for a sawdust canoe

every tempestuous encounter

and every smile from the eyes

navigating a maze or walking by the lake

standing on tiptoe to signal that I loved you

and my eyes touching yours when no one could see

code words and subtle signs and signals in the shadows

I remembered it all

I savored every one like my last meal

I watched them all,

short films of love and pain

and distrust and laughter

but I knew what you needed and so

I drove away for you

(everything of mine was all for you

and I took it back)

on the (not so) love of my life

Only one man I’ve ever dated had the potential to be forever. I don’t believe in soul mates, at least not romantic ones, but something about this man in particular I was just…..drawn to. When describing his feelings for me, he used the word “addicted” more than once. “I can’t quite leave you alone for long….I need you.”

We ended up together in the strangest of ways, and drifted apart for brief periods here and there, and we both took turns dating other people. But we couldn’t quite manage to stay away from each other for long, and every time a relationship fell apart, we were back to each other again. It was like magnets; even when separated we were irresistibly pulled back together.

I loved him. It’s probably the fastest I’ve ever fallen for someone, and the most powerful. I felt it so deeply that, unlike every other guy I’ve dated, I said “I love you” first. I had never done that before, but I was so sure of it that I just told him, straight out, no bullshit. I said “I’m in love with you, so….there’s that.” Ever the poet.

He was quite a good deal older than me, and was at the age where nearly all of his friends were married, or engaged. I remember he had a bit of a breakdown when he turned thirty, and told me that he thought he’d be married by then. We had talked about marriage; I wasn’t ready. I was too young, too scared, it was too big of a commitment to a man I was too terrifyingly in love with. I called him “the someday man” because he had all these plans for how he wanted his life to go….”someday.”

In ended in a not-so-romantic way; he’d spent an evening at my house, a few months after we’d broken up, making out on my couch. (I miss his kiss. That man could kiss you until your head was spinning. I always felt a little drunk after kissing him, like I couldn’t quite catch a breath. He whispered, “I’m addicted to you,” and I fell in love with him all over again. I don’t know if I’d ever stopped loving him, but he brought it all back in a hurry.) The next day he was texting me, asking if I was dating anyone. Of course I wasn’t; if I had been, I wouldn’t have been kissing him the night before. I asked him the same, and for several hours he didn’t respond. I felt a pit in my stomach.

When he finally responded, it was to apologize for the long silence because he’d been at dinner. With his fiance.

……….okay.

So the short version of the end of my relationship with him is that he found someone who was ready to marry him. It shouldn’t have surprised me, really. He was terribly charming, very sweet, stupidly handsome, sensitive and funny. But I knew that if I continued talking to him, continued being his friend, then I wouldn’t be able to just be his friend. Wrong or not, immoral or not, I would kiss that mouth if he offered it and I’d let those hands run through my hair and I’d lay in bed with his arms around me if that’s what he wanted, because I couldn’t stay away. I never had before and I had no reason to believe I’d be able to now.

But I believe in being faithful, and I believe in girl code. And it didn’t matter to me who his fiance was, I’d never met her and likely never would, but she was a woman who was engaged to the love of my life, and she deserved better than a husband who was addicted to another woman.

I wrote him a letter saying goodbye, drove to his house in the middle of the night to leave it on his doorstep (very Taylor Swift), and never contacted him again.

It’s been over a year, and thankfully, I don’t think about him much anymore. I can safely say I’m not in love with him anymore. I also hope I never run into him again, because I don’t want to feel the things I might feel if I stood close to him again. I love you – I don’t love you – I’m free.

Anyway. This one’s for him, and us, and all the secrets we never told.

TEMPESTUOUS

Do you remember?
a swan in the lake – two roads diverging
winding roads full of tricky secrets
paths unfurling through trees carved with past loves
but there was guilt on all the leaves
a green-eyed monster couldn’t bear to touch
a snapshot — you on the shore, drowning
black and white, but you were always grey

Do you remember?
our lights touched across rooms, blue to green
a sparkle of mischief; your smile for two
your fingers dancing along my spine
stolen seconds in a tranquil backstage
dialogues and [asides] and soliloquies
the silence before the squall
quick lighting shifts on [approaching footsteps] cues

Do you remember?
twilight hours spent among sawdust and paint
a brush of elbows passing in the halls
like paintbrushes on a watercolor canvas
the masks we wore to cage our consciences
[the clang of footsteps on metal stairs]
a breathless kiss, your hand on my neck
we found a cave dark enough, until
[a beam of light, searching]
your hands in my hair, your breath against my ear

Do you remember?
dawn shed light on mistakes best left to darkness,
as the barn doors closed, the past illuminated
thisisthelasttime
but forbidden fruit tastes sweeter
and you’re too weak to let go,
so I became a better stranger

-COKIKAY-