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.

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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.

hamartia

I feel —
<ERROR>
I think.
I think you want someone who isn’t me.

You think you want me.
You do not.
I do not function normally —
<ERROR>
I overthink and overanalyze.
I do not make myself clear.
I never know what I want —
<ERROR>
I never make it clear what I want.

I am greedy.
I want everything.
I want all the options in the world.
So I cultivate them all.
I make sure that I can have what I want.
I am selfish.
<ERROR>

I think you have a good heart–
<ERROR>
I think you are a good person.
But you have a hamartia.

<ACCESS:Tools/Dictionary/h-a-m-a-r-t-i-a>
<the_flaw_in_character_which_leads_to_the_tragic_downfall_of_a_hero_or_heroine>

Your fatal flaw.
I can see it, but you can’t.
It will be your undoing, but you refuse to look.
You who have eyes, but do not see —
<ERROR>
You who claim to see everything so much clearer.
You are blinded by your flaw.
You might love me —
<ERROR>
You might think you love me.

Love.
Love?
<ERROR>
<ERROR>
Cannot process.
<ERROR>

<ACCESS:Menu/Power/Shut_Down>

<Shut_Down>
< / >

why she left

This year, thoughts of him didn’t cross her mind.
She’s busy these days;
The men in her life are cut from less-complicated cloth.
She chooses them more wisely now;
Asks them who they are, what they want.
“They all want the same thing.”
Only some of them admit it, and some don’t.
She learned that from him – to ask.
He could never answer.
It’s why she left.

This month, Valentine’s Day passed without him.
If he’d crossed her mind, it would have been
With a sarcastic twist of the lips
The dry humor of knowing he wouldn’t have remembered.
You know, if he had still been around.
He would have been with someone else that day.
He would never admit that.
It’s why she left.

This week, he was on her mind.
It was a bad week, and she remembered him.
She wanted to run, but that didn’t take her far enough.
Don’t look, don’t check, don’t go there.
But she went anyway, and he wasn’t there.
He’d never been where she needed him to be.
He would have tried to explain that.
It’s why she left.

Today, he’d left her mind again.
She was relieved to know she was back to normal.
As normal as life ever got.
It was the middle of the day when she figured it out.
Suddenly she thought of the watch, with the beautiful inscription.
The only time he remembered in six years.
He never knew how important those words were to her.
It’s why she left.

Today is his birthday.

 

 

 

Inscription: “In that book which is my memory, on the first page of the chapter that is the day when I first met you, appear the words, ‘Here begins a new life’.” -Dante Alighieri

About Last Night

Yesterday, I fell off the wagon.

By that, I mean I took a flying leap off the wagon, only to grab on tight by my fingernails at the last second to keep from hitting the ground.

Last night, I drove to the college he teaches at. I don’t know what possessed me to do it. As I sat in traffic waiting to take the exit that would bring me there, a place I used to go so often, I told myself a thousand times not to. I told myself that I should drive past that exit and continue home. To avoid the heartache that going there would inevitably bring. By myself in my car, I said out loud, “Don’t. Go home.”
But I didn’t. I sat through the traffic, and drove onto the campus.

I was surprised to find I still knew all the roads by heart, still knew which turns to make to get to the places I wanted to see. It was like I’d been there just last week, instead of six years ago.
The funny part is, I wasn’t going there to see him. I’d had a bad day, I’d been crying; the last thing I wanted was for him to see me and think I was a mess these days. Running into him personally was not on my list.
I wanted to see his truck.

It’s been so long since I’ve spoken to him, so long since I’ve seen his face or smelled his scent or heard his voice, that sometimes it genuinely feels like I made him up. That he doesn’t even exist anymore, or maybe that he never did. It seems odd that someone who was such an impactful and important and emotional part of my life just….isn’t in it anymore. It’s strange that someone I used to share everything with is now someone that I avoid talking about and most days, avoid even thinking about.

The first place I went was the theatre building. I took a tiny little back road to reach the side door, where the loading dock was. Where he always parked, the back tires of his truck bumped up against the edge of the ramp. I figured at 630pm, he’d probably still be in showtime and would be spending late nights there, so I expected to see his truck where it always used to be.
It wasn’t there, so I turned around in a parking lot and drove up the hill to the scene shop — the workshop where he designed and built set pieces. I approached it slowly, hardly daring to breathe, looking for his truck. I wondered what I would do if I saw it. Drive past it? Get out of my car and touch it? Leave a message on it?
It didn’t matter — the truck wasn’t there, either.

So I sat there for a short moment, looking at the building where he fucked me bent over a table saw and where we had a threesome, the building where I showed up one night when he was working late and surprised him in a trench coat and heels, the building where we laid naked on a futon mattress on the floor and talked about getting married someday.
But the building was dark. He wasn’t there.

I left campus and was relieved that I hadn’t cried. I had expected to, assumed that the rush of emotions would break me down the way thinking of him usually did.
I pulled up to a red light, radio on, and suddenly saw a silver truck two lanes over from me.

My heart stopped. My whole body froze. I felt paralyzed. What if that was him? What if I had just driven around his campus, only to see him at a red light? What if he saw me? What if seeing me made him decide to call? What if he wondered why I was in this area at all?

I couldn’t see into the cab of the truck from the angle I was, and I didn’t move forward. When the light turned green, I drove off and didn’t look back. It probably wasn’t him, to be honest; there are a hundred thousand trucks just like his and the chances are small that he and I would end up next to each other at a light. But after seeing that truck, I was seized by an intense desire to get as far away from there as possible. I wanted to be somewhere, anywhere else. Far away from this town and this campus and the memories it held. I felt stupid for going in the first place. I felt crazy. I felt like a stalker. I felt dirty. I felt out of control. I felt like I’d failed myself by falling off the wagon and caving to impulse.

I didn’t realize I was driving 95 miles an hour until I was almost home.

I went three years without knowing or asking anything about him, and last night I went to his workplace. I left without making contact with anyone, without anyone seeing me, and without anyone knowing I’d been there.

I still feel like I failed myself.

My knuckles are bloody for the first time in years.