Dark thoughts of bad behavior flicker in your mind along with fire flies trapped in jam jars in the hands of a mischievous child. We have been cut down to less than we are worth, it happens without our being aware of it. Hacks. Con artists. Scammers. One night stands. Old boyfriends, some you’ll never forget because every time your hear their name your heart pinches just a little bit with the pain of the recollection of lusty nights and tender love slashed apart at once. All you’ve lived through just to get through it and never ask for anything more ever again but to breathe without the ache in your chest. Google will finish your sentences for you if you aren’t sure what to say. I guess there’s nothing sacred left in this place if we are now reduced to prerecorded catch phrases, we hardly need brains anymore let alone writers, who would want to try to understand any of this sterile madness. The rich get richer and fast, baby. Faster than you can count your anxiety ridden self luckier than most but still fearful of losing it all in the blink of an eye. Pouring cold white wine into my favorite thin stemmed glass I think about how addiction runs in my family but only the ones who play it safe seem to die ahead of their time. It’s a cool afternoon in early autumn and the leaves are just barely changing from green to orange in the fading late day sunlight. If I told you I wanted to radically change this game called love, what would you say? If I told you this wasn’t enough even though it’s already more than I’m afraid I deserve, would you turn against me on a dime? Or would you find it in your heart to understand that I’m only human and humans are such complicated creatures to begin with, what do you expect? I have cravings just like everybody else. Some aren’t socially palatable but what of that? What of them— the ones who demand you live up to their polite expectations so they can feel like they have a handle on a world that is turning to dust right in front of their very eyes. I think of a writer I used to admire who could take words out of thin air and assemble them just so, and use them to do whatever he wanted with you. Without even laying a hand on you he could touch you, gut you, cut you, get you off. Have you any idea how hard it is to find writers like that anymore? We stumble, we search. Whiskey bottles in hotel rooms by the hour and chipped white wedding chapels on sweet green hills far away from here. As the tangerine sun sets behind a purple autumn sky, the liars and the cheaters hold in their hands every shiny broken thing they ever wanted. Are you jealous or disgusted or both? Sometimes the darkness wins. And the world has never felt so hungry. so empty. so angry wet and alive.
He lights my cigarette as we duck underneath an overhang on the front patio, as the rain overflows the gutters along the roof line and slams into the concrete in torrents. It’s a Friday night and the summer sun has been oppressive all day. The rush of the rain feels heavenly, the now cooling earth smells of the faint sweetness of musty dissipating heat. As I take the first drag and let the smoke fill my tender lungs, I’m speaking obsessively about the ways in which the world will end. How it’s already been stripped of so much of its dignity that whatever tragedies happen almost feel well deserved. Why are we are so good at destroying ourselves. Each other. We stand by. It’s not the things we say it’s the things we don’t say. Out loud. It’s what we swallow hoping it will stay deep down inside where it can never hurt anyone but ourselves, as if we were gods, saviors. Humans once or twice removed. We watch the cars driving by slowly on the street next to the house, the glow of their headlights reflecting jagged lines into the wet darkness. Searching. You agree with all the things I say but you don’t see the point in my saying them. I can’t help it, these thoughts have no where else to go. I need to get them out of me. I guess I’m just trying to reach my hands out into the blackness of a terrible nightmare and fumble for something to grab onto, something to stop my head from spinning in this deathly spiral of dread. Something to steady me and make me feel like I’m not alone and even if it’s not all just a bad dream, it’ll be okay. We will be okay. If you are lost, you don’t have to be able to see all the way home. You just have to be able to see a few feet in front of you, one step at a time, and you’ll get there.
This quiet is enough to split my mind into a thousand tiny shards of panic, come sit with me. Tell me, if you were someone else, and I were someone else, and somehow we freed ourselves of this disaster of a life where the truth is a game and everybody plays along but no one ever wins, would you go back to being who you were as a younger version of yourself? Try to do it differently? Or would you be yourself, now, only less fraught, less distracted, less afraid of what they think of you. If no one else were around, would you touch me and know I was really here with you, trying to help you see the beauty of your eyes as they look into mine with the heave of a swollen ocean, wide open, trapped inside a dilapidated warehouse. Shattered glass windows lining the floors of your aching soul. Aren’t you tired? No, I mean, tired of it all? The days circling decayed meat like buzzards as the pale sky stretches its empty arms out for endless miles over the dull barren landscape. As for me, I find my situation hard to put into words, which is strange as I usually think of myself as being somewhat good with words. But the funny thing is the closer you get to the heart of the thing the more deftly it eludes you. To be a writer- at least the kind I seem to be, there are infinite kinds- it’s sort of like a chase. There’s a cat and there’s a mouse and you’re both. I want to capture and kill as much as I want to run like hell and then hide behind the wall. Does that make any sense at all? To you? Are there things you chase even if only in your mind? Dreams you have about once again being your own, taking what you want and spitting out the rest. The world be damned, you answer only to yourself. Place your hands in my hands, feel the pulse in my wrist. Because this is it, beautiful. There’s no way out and no way back and you and I both know we are so very, very far from home. Heartbeat to heartbeat, body to body, a tear for a tear for every kiss you shouldn’t suck slowly out of me. But as the shadows slide down over the mad sweet sweat of another blistering day, you just can’t help yourself. The soft taste of you is damaged, familiar, poetic. You see, I know the trouble with those who’ve a way with words. We chase the things that we should run from.
Whatever you are reading is not the real story. No matter what she says, underneath the words is something darker, harder, truer, and therefore more debilitating. Behind those dazzling white teeth is a mind full of racing doubts and a starvation for love so severe it has begun to eat itself, hence the bright glossy smile. A smile like a rainbow over a natural catastrophe, raging rivers overflowing banks of emotions crashing through poorly constructed dams straining to hold them back. Though she sits biting her fingernails waiting anxiously for you to come through that door and with one firm grasp of her hips take all her defenses down, everything, of course, is already written and collapse is only a matter of time. Your hand on her neck is fear that she’s running. Fears are keys into the other side of reason, tiny invisible holes, miniature flaws built right into the human infrastructure that under just the right conditions, just the precise amount of pressure, burst. Pressure is pleasure in the pain and vice versa. There is an undercurrent that is a whisper that is a slow rolling thunder that is the tremor underneath the streets of her delicate city. You want to believe she needs you above all else but the story is not the story, the story is about the story, or so tight next to it you might mistake its silence for your own twisted satisfaction. Just close enough for people to believe her and not have to invest anything. If there is never a problem there never has to be a breakdown. If there is never a deadline you can waste away your insides every night of the week and throw the crumpled up days over the edge of a cliff and not have to worry that you’ve ruined the sacred beauty that was handed down to you inside that reckless body. But she’s so beautiful, golden skin glistening there in the setting sunlight atop the mountain in your newsfeed. If only if she were me, you think. If only that were my story. If only it didn’t feel so threadbare underneath your skin, like if by mistake or negligence you pull one single thread your whole life will fall elegantly, entirely apart.
Lying back in the grass, her body is covered with butterflies. A thousand tiny spiracles breathing out and in against her warmth. A quiet host of countless wings, still wishing she could fly. Away from the cold earth high up into the evening sky, higher and higher until with her own eyes she can read the dark secrets written in the crumbling caverns of the moon. The mysteries of time and love and eternity all revealed before her, resonating with a part of her which had already known, which had always known, but she had forgotten so long ago. All the many truths which had been taken from her, returned. As the night drapes over her, the tiny creatures take flight, leaving her one by one, flittering off into the ether until she is covered only in darkness. This girl with the flashing golden nocturnal eyes. Out here away from everything, nothing ever questions its own instincts. To hesitate is death, to doubt is a lethal compromise, a final and devastating mistake. The natural world respects not greed but vigilance. The songs of her soul in the blackness of midnight number more vast than all the stars strung out against the sky and she knows in the way the night wind is moving across the field that she belongs only to herself. That the choices she makes from the depths of her heart are all that was ever meant to be. Her body, her bones, her skin, her hands, her lips, are all the ancient texts ever written into being. In her nakedness, she runs freely, she swims in the moonlight, she presses herself to the roughness of trees, the coolness of rocks, she carves her name into the fallen logs by the stream. Her footsteps are offerings upon the earth, her scent left swaying in the willows. She takes herself in a bed of blood red roses, blooming in the dark, pulsing with the heat of a thousand suns, breathless. And by the first pale lights of the promise of dawn, she’s vanished.
Eyes clouded from some kind of hazy listlessness I can’t seem to escape in the evenings, I slip on an old tee shirt and tie my hair back before pouring my heart out in a beat up notebook like I used to do when I was a kid. It’s mostly just cathartic, a way to keep myself from going completely mental in a world which increasingly feels like it’s trying to off every single one of us, but something about keeping a journal has always made me feel like I have some semblance of hope. I’m not sure in what. Maybe in myself but I think also in something bigger than myself, in whatever it is which desires the words be put to paper. There is a grand mystery there, though most will deny it. As I listen to the end of this day, the clock is a pulse ticking off the edges of a life which now slides down the shadows on the wall. In the quiet I am most myself. I worry I have offered more of myself hiding behind the walls of this room than on the other side of them. I worry, I worry, I lose touch. But in the words I am most alive, most aware. In the stillness I begin to allow mad thoughts to come forward: the way even oceans drown inside those eyes of his, the cellular nature of annihilation and decay, the screams of the wild inside feral things. I imagine the sharp spires of the Notre Dame cathedral as it burned, the blazing fires of the coming season, and the shape of my legs when my love is lost inside the heavens between them. Dark secrets in the turning of the moon, revolution, the terrible sweetness in falling apart at the hands of yourself.
It’s been a long hot day, the kind that melts little pools of sweat along the collarbone and hangs in your throat like the imminent threat of suffocation. The truth is it’s been actual hell for decades and most of the time you can keep it together but not tonight. Tonight it’s all too heavy. All the ache in your chest from one day after another, each the crying same, all the useless steps to nowhere in particular, one foot in front of the other, the other, the other. The buzz of electric wires sizzling beneath white summer heat lightning, cicadas vibrating in the damp grass, the crackling static coming from the neighbor’s old television set as they watch some fuzzy black and white flick, has us both delirious with need. We’ve been drinking tequila since you got home from work and you crush your cigarette into an old faded shot glass with the Vegas strip etched along the side. When you press your fingers against my neck I fall still underneath your gaze, motionless, patient as a fragile animal who instinctively trusts the hand she prays will feed it. I watch your face as you move your mouth around words that sound like a song soft enough to be whispered to a child who is frightened of the night for reasons she cannot speak about, only run from in the manic flash of dreams. Wolves. Forests. Chain link fences. Spreading my arms out above my head, I’m floating in a sea of stars spinning in slow circles atop the blackness. You tell me to close my eyes as you sink your burning fingers into the river of my body, and as I open to offer you the entire universe I carry within me, you tell me even my most vivid desires are only imagination. That the world we inhabit between us is a world conjured from nothing but the purest of devotions which can never be held onto, nothing that will last beyond the glimmer of the dewy garden weeping at dawn. That I have nothing to fear as long as I remember this. Without these bodies, the hands and mouths we become in forbidden moments like these; without the pleasure we deny and offer each other, without the distraction we deliver to one another, we are nothing but a beautiful, unbearable tragedy. Your voice drifts in and out of my consciousness as I slip deeper in to the cyclical motion and become one with whatever the grand scheme of all transient things is meant to be. The rhythm of your gentle stroking aligns my body with the moonlight and all the oceans on all of the planets waiting out there yet to be discovered syncopate their tides to the sweet pain of our perfect little private destruction. I seep into the cosmic vastness, sated and not afraid of anything. For a precious sliver of a time I don’t even deserve, I am held and safe and I know for certain this is what death must feel like: the emptiness of endlessness without the fear.
Removing my top, I sit beside a cool stream and feel the summer air on my bare skin. With my mind full of the most recent atrocities committed at the encouragement of our nation’s top officials, I turn my face to the sky and watch as a perfect V of Canadian geese flies toward some distant destination, their cries sharp and haunting. Fall will be coming soon and becoming a Canadian has crossed my mind more than a handful of times in the past few months. Wanting to escape more immediately however, I take a long sip of the Sauvignon blanc I’ve brought with me in a pink thermos. My notebook and pen sit beside me against a tall oak tree, we are both open and ready for any kind of inspiration but for a long while the only thing that happens is the occasional butterfly and the stream rushing by, dazzling and beautiful in the sunlight. What stories can I possibly tell that would amount to anything. Where do I begin when inside I feel like a run down beach front hotel on some vacant island, abandoned save for a few seagulls soaring overhead, boarded up tight for the harsh winter.
I used to write in order to figure things out on the assumption that to figure something out – to break it down and understand it – would somehow ‘help.’ A quaint notion now. Now facts are fiction and the truth is no longer a beacon calling you home but a weapon used to nail you into the ground. Something in me feels like I did as a teenager who begins to see that the strict religion I was brought up in was really designed to keep me obedient inside a system built on lies and oppression. It happens gradually, you sort of get the sense that things are not as they seem. That ‘protection’ is just blind submission to a thing you are never meant to fully understand. You don’t ask too many questions. You are scolded for looking behind the curtain. But it’s too late. The curtain falls at your feet. You suddenly become fully aware of your own nakedness and theirs and while they search desperately for a way to cover up again – to go back to the way it was – you in your wild heart rejoice. You walk away gladly and forever, wanting to be naked always.
The truth had set you free so long ago. And you knew you believed in something so much bigger than they ever will, something that could destroy every horror and soothe every fear because life is a miracle and death is ever at your throat. If you can just let go of the lies and the madness. Inspired by a truth that seems to make my bones sing, I pick up my pen and scribble a few lines in my journal. Take another long drink of wine and lie back upon the warm soft grass. If only I could make them see. If only I could say the right words at all the right times and save just one other person from the unspeakable sadness they carry so deep inside.
Having taken the day off to write and instead spent the better part of the morning investigating everything Jia Tolentino ever wrote or thought about or said in an interview to the point where I love-hate how brilliant she is, which is maddening in and of itself, I’m on my third cup of coffee, my fingers hovering over the keys of my laptop, waiting. Waiting for answers from someplace – any place – outside or in – that is willing to reveal itself to me. Across my front lawn the soft rain has turned to a heavy humid mist as I’m staring off into space attempting to come up with something notable, and even though my brain seems flatlined and writing seems elusive and far off, still I want so badly to keep this promise I made to myself long ago: to write.
Just to write even if it’s terrible because it’s the only ease to this undercurrent of pain, of gripping longing, that seems to be a part of my dna. To write what, exactly? What are you supposed to speak about or believe in when nothing is as it seems and reality is a fog you can move your hands through but never grasp. People are masks, mere shells of themselves and everyone is too loud, too transparent, too well put together. Aren’t we endlessly looking to the same nonsense all of the time hoping it will magically transform into the key to satisfying our deepest desires? Aren’t we hoping for something we don’t know how to identify, something to cure the repetitive horror that is this world, or at least temporarily slow it down so we could catch our breath, something that will finally fill us up and assure us that we are here for a reason other than to pose and posture and buy things we don’t know why we want. No matter how good we have it, we all want to be somebody else. We all want relief from something invisible that holds us under water just long enough so we panic but do not drown. Wracked with an anxiousness nothing really ever seems to eradicate, we kill ourselves off a thousand times a day comparing our lives to the lives we wish we had, worrying what we should be doing while we are doing none of it. Maybe it’s these dreams of ours. These silly dreams of being writers, artists, creatives, rebels, outsiders. These beautiful dreams and how in their darkness they keep us chasing something we cannot find, how in the daylight they render us powerless, paralyzed. The same.
It’s 4:17am and it’s not time to be awake yet but you are. The room is dark as the sky is out the open bedroom window, save for the faint distant glow of the harvest moon drifting behind the fog. Your mind is wandering as it so often does these days, skittering over events long past, over and done with, if only you could let them be. The email you didn’t return for no real reason that cost you an entire friendship. The million things you do in a day except for the one big thing you didn’t and you lost the respect of the colleague you hate anyway. You seem to be incapable at times of cherishing the things the world expects you to and you’ve no idea why. What is wrong with you, anyway? Don’t you know how good you have it. Don’t you know how many people would kill to have your life, your body, your stuff. But what do you do when this need-with-no-name persists in you and keeps you awake and motionless in these early morning hours that crouch before the dawn. What is wrong with you when a beautiful home doesn’t cut it, and marriage doesn’t cut it, and money and security and retail therapy and wine and smoking is only temporary relief. You love your family. You love them with all the heart you have left after so many many heart-obliterating things have happened to you. But how often it feels like the love you have is tainted, inadequate, blurred out like your image in the bathroom mirror when you lift up that warm hand of yours to wipe the steam from the glass and catch that sadness in your eyes that you can’t remember when it lodged itself so quietly there. Looking closer, you realize there is something underneath the sadness and to your surprise it is mischief, it is a feral desire, it is a boldness and a freedom you would give anything to touch.
Opening your mouth you begin to say the words you hear in your heart that scare you to death, the words you know no one else will say to you but yourself because they are afraid even more than you are afraid and fear makes everything a never ending scream on mute. You say the words to your own reflection as an act of faith because you aren’t even sure you deserve them but if you can’t, if you won’t, then why are you even here anyway? It’s only a whisper but it’s yours: ‘I believe you.’ It comes from a part of you that is desperate to flower into its own kind of strength. It comes from the person you are, that you have always been, and that you wish you were now but you were certain had been drowned out long ago. One that no one else can see or understand but somehow that only makes it all the more real to you.
It’s still dark inside the room inside the bed you share with your husband. He is sleeping soundly and you are more alone than you were as a kid staring wide eyed up at the stars through the soft summer air. And time isn’t enough and words aren’t enough and prayers aren’t enough because as you hit ‘snooze’ to fend off the start of another makeshift Wednesday, beyond the hum of the crickets and the rustle of the big oak trees on your front lawn, you hear the faint rumble of the railroad tracks two blocks away, and all you know for sure is that God has caught the last train out of the worn-down town that is you.