“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.

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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.

the price of pretending to be someone else

You wanted a quiet engagement
relaxing on the beach with a bottle of wine
gentle breezes and loving words
–but she wanted to shout it from the rooftops.

You hated how grandiose it was,
hand-holding and kissing
with her foot in the air,
how fake and how obvious the photos were
–but she wanted the photo shoot done.

I saw you in the engagement photos
looking uncomfortable
you didn’t seem to know where to stand or look
like no one taught you where to put your hands
and I hated her for it.

You hated yuppy clothes
because they made you feel uptight,
but she dressed you in argyle
clean slacks and shiny shoes
clean-shaven, not a hair out of place.

You wanted to wear shop clothes
torn up jeans splattered with paint
shirts with holes and ripped sleeves
hacked-up collars and smelling of sawdust
–but she didn’t like you that way.

I saw the ceremony photos
of you in a three-piece suit
and I barely recognized you
and I hated her for it.

You hated churches,
you called them stuffy and solemn
hated the incense and sing-song prayers
–but she chose the one you got married in
and you smiled at the altar anyway.

You wanted to get married in a barn
like a music video with acoustic guitar
dancing in warm light from exposed bulbs
because it reminded you of theatre lights
— but she wanted a country club.

I saw the wedding photos
of white walls and big glass windows
bright lights and expensive flowers
and I hated her for it.

I wonder if you told her
you hated that church
when she chose it for you both
for better or worse

queue

They’re at the door again,
waiting
in
a
line.

All the ones who caused damage.
They carry their particular cruelties
and wait for their turn.
There is no sound.

He’s first.
With his sweetness.
The one you had to break.
He carries the heartbreak you taught him.
He’d never felt it before you.
He brings you guilt.

He follows.
With his rage.
The one who broke your body.
He carries your blood, skin, tears, scars.
He loved to push your limits.
He brings you destruction.

He comes after.
With his carefree life.
The one who brought you to your knees.
He carries handcuffs, a ring, and your tattoo.
He loved to keep it casual.
He brings you false promises.

He’s last.
With his mystery.
The one who broke your heart.
He carries your tempestuous love.
He loved to keep you guessing.
He brings you sadness.

They all move past,
silent.
What you carry is so heavy.
Their gifts are yours to keep.

the collapse

There’s an inevitable moment that arrives
with everyone you’ve ever loved.
After all the late nights,
the phone calls,
a scroll of endless messages.
It comes after sharing secrets in the early hours
trading laughter and tears,
discussing joy and hate,
building each other up when they’re down,
loving their good days and caring on bad ones.

You give of yourself.
Your stories,
your fears,
your secret desires,
your nightmares,
everything you’ve lived through in a day.

Then it happens.
The collapse.
The words that can’t be unsaid.
The moment that can’t be taken back.

You feel it in your chest,
something breaks inside.
A hairline fracture in the tenuous connection
to the trust you’d held for them.

You’d gone against your instincts
(keep it to yourself,
you’re too damaged,
you’re broken,
they won’t be able to handle it,
just pretend to be whole),
reeled out your fears and love and trust,
wrapped them around this person who cared,
just to watch them cut the string
and feel yourself blown away
like dust in an icy breeze.

You did not deserve to be dismissed.

pulp fiction

We lie on a mattress in a dim basement
Light from the fireplace and a single bare bulb
There’s whiskey in glasses sitting on a milk crate
And two beat-up lawn chairs nearby.

There’s a movie playing against the wall
The hum from the projector’s fan behind us
Images dancing over our skin as we moved
Dust swirling in the darkened space.

And as we lay together with beads of sweat forming,
You talked about what you’d do with this room
About the corner you’d build just for me
So I could curl up and read while you worked.

We laughed and planned out this house together
The garden in the back, paint colors for the hall
Talked about making breakfast on each other’s birthdays
And where we’d put the Christmas tree.

And on that first weekend, we danced in every room
Made love between boxes, on floors and counters
Making sure we claimed each place as ours
And knowing we’d laugh at the memories.

I don’t laugh at the memories.
I just think about that house. Your house.
Her house.
My heart still calls it ours.

I chose the paint for that living room,
Bought the mugs in those kitchen cabinets.
And the curtains hanging in your bedroom
Were to block the morning light at my request.

I helped build the fence around that backyard
And I planted the flowers by those front steps.
I talked you into moving your couch
And helped you pick out that coffee table.

I wonder whether you think of me.
When you decide where to put up your Christmas tree.
When you look at the kitchen counter you lifted me onto.
When you see those flowers bloom.
When you work in the basement by the light of that bulb.
I wonder whether you ever think of your house as ours.

To the Man For Whom I Wrote My First Poem

I have written so much about you
that I have run out
of poem titles
and writing surfaces
and ink in my pens.
But not words.

You never had enough.
Words. Love. Attention. Commitment.

I hate that I spent that last night in your arms
and everything seemed simple and happy and real,
and knowing that memory is tainted now
because now I realize you were already gone.

I hate that you arrived before I was ready.
All the days I asked you to be somewhere
the jokes you made about how you never got anywhere fast
and for this, to break me, you were early.

I hate that you wore the shirt I bought you.
That I relived the memory of you surprising me at work,
laughing and giving me fuck-me eyes in the dressing rooms
not knowing you would never do it again.

I hate that it took you so little time to say it.
Three years ended in five minutes
when you dropped every flaw I had
onto my floor for me to review when you were finished.

I hate that you stood in the doorway of my bedroom to apologize,
six feet from a wounded animal, but you didn’t dare step closer
because I might get sad, or rage, or go wild,
and you knew you drew first blood.

I hate that I didn’t mean enough to you to bother softening the blow.
You knew the words would sit on my skin like slow-burning acid
but you threw them on me without warning,
because once you’d discarded me, I wouldn’t matter anymore.

I hate how fast you ran,
once I said those steady words to release you,
that only a few seconds clicked by
before you weren’t there anymore.

I hate that you didn’t come back.
I sat perfectly still, listening to that melancholy ticking,
waiting for the sound of your return
and for hours, not allowing the tears to fall.

 

I hate that after everything,
I still seemed “cold” to you,
when all I ever tried to be
was the girl you fell in love with late at night,
who stood on the catwalks and let down her hair for the first time,
who acted like she could take on the world and win,
and who was breathless when you leaned in for that first kiss.

I just tried to be the girl who waited in the shadows covered in paint,
whose spine you traced with your fingertips when no one was looking.
The girl you broke into places with after hours
whose hand you held as you climbed the stairs in the silence.
The girl who laid on the floor and looked right up at you,
who you said you were addicted to.

I hate that I changed for you.
I gave up little pieces, chipped away parts of me,
carving and maneuvering,
making myself smaller,
trying to fit into your life.

I never belonged in your life.
I hate that you didn’t tell me.