Having spent the weekend alternating between reading new erotica and a book about the inevitable collapse of society, I’m now draining my second cup of coffee wondering how to begin a day filled with so much beauty and potential interspersed with moments of sheer apocalyptic dread. In some ways we are all machines, going through the same motions to bathe, feed, clothe, secure, and care for ourselves, while another part of us is on a constant hunt for a turn on, a high, an escape, a perversion. Some part of us needs deviance despite the fact that Google won’t let us out of our own three dots long enough to purchase or read anything that doesn’t already jive with how we purchase and think. Every keystroke, calculated, cataloged, coded, until a third persona develops itself into sinister being. Somewhere between who we are and who we wish we were emerges our cyber self, the strange cross breed of digital existence which knows and simultaneously blinds us to our secret habits. How you like to read about sex rather than watch it. How you want flawless skin and what you are willing to pay to get it, or fake it. The music you like, the DMs you wish you could get back but you can’t, the selfies, the drama, the outrage, the news feed tailored just specifically for you based on your clicks, likes, leanings, worldview, friends, spending habits, Facebook posts. We are all being watched all of the time and yet we are still desperate for an audience. Hungry to be seen, looked at, praised, followed. But what we don’t seem to grasp (or care about/ be willing to change our patterns for) is that we have fallen for the scam just as planned by those who study us, feed off of our every move, making billions by collecting infinite data points on our behavior. As you sit wondering what the fuck to do with your life, they already know you better than you know yourself and knowing what you’ve done they know exactly what you will do. They’ve already got you doing it. How much is left to chance? How many opinions are truly your own? How many of your decisions, large or small, are in or out of your control, really?
It’s a regular morning and the late summer sun is sloping up over the horizon as I sit by the glow of my laptop in a silent house. Google. Instagram. Medium. WordPress. Amazon. In the stillness, each of my movements is tracked. Everything is timed. Filtered. Filed. Analyzed, optimized, collected, monetized. Everything is seamless and we are smiling as it all falls apart. Life is the hands of a clock sweeping over and over the same terrain, hours that hang suspended on the wall, waiting for no one.
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.
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.
Before the storm there is thick fog and before the fog there is a dreadful humidity that suffocates every molecule of the air around and inside of us. As I settle in with my laptop to write literally anything I can think of to get my fingers moving and give permission to even my most perverse thoughts to come forward, however sheepishly at first, I am wondering what gives anyone of us the energy to keep going. What is it we are after that we believe will prove to us that any of this is worth it? What is it that drives that man in his properly pressed button-down blue shirt and buttercream tie to walk into that office just one more day and try to hold it all together. Why does it feel like I’m walled off from everyone else by some kind of static impenetrable distance. So much of what I am supposed to find fulfilling I find unnervingly not so. What they worship I cannot understand. Is it enough to work the week out in administrative minutiae and microwave leftovers and water the houseplants on weekends in between bouts of writing? Don’t you ever want to just cut loose from everything in your life that feels so maddeningly mundane and do something else – something that actually matters, something that finally scratches that wretched burning itch to wrap your arms around the sky?
The thunder is collapsing loudly now, shaking the very foundation of the house as I reach for my coffee and take a long hot sip. I make a mental note that we need more coffee beans and sugar next time I am at the market because a day without either is no day I can drag myself through.
Fraught over my lack of creative flow and cursing myself for my obsession with trying to remain loyal to my writing practice despite very little interest from the outside world, I pick myself up off the couch, slide off my sandals by the back patio door and step outside into the pouring rain. I can taste the sweetness of the heat coming off the pavement as it rushes full with fast forming rivers. Closing my eyes I turn my head toward the clouds and feel the cool water streaming onto my face, down my neck, over my bare shoulders and soaking my skin thoroughly all over. Hands in my hair, heart in my throat, wondering if the only worthy motivation for writing is to put myself in deep touch with this melancholy soul of mine who cries out for something so much more than this. And I can’t help but wonder what about our souls makes us terrified to live the lives we are so desperate for? How they ache to tell us so many secrets and how we turn them to face the corner again and again convinced that to listen – to quit being so damn afraid and choose our dreams for ourselves – would be the end of our sanity. When the truth is that those wild dreams are the only worthy motivation for anything.
Tangled within a new argument about the same old thing, we walk side by side along a worn path in the local park. It’s a winter evening and the alabaster sun has slid down into the brush behind us. All day the gray sky hung heavy and low and now the light snow is dusted on the shaggy pines, glistening in the pale fading glow of another day gone by. How many has it been since we last made love? How many since the taste of your kiss contained the truth? Time is a deceitful thing. You think you’ve come so far when suddenly a word is said or a smile is broken or a promise is fractured and you realize nothing has changed at all. That some parts of the human heart move forward while others stay lodged exactly where they’ve always been: stuck somewhere between the throat and the tip of the tongue. In an earlier time perhaps we would have let the little hurtful things slide but not now. Not when so much has been aching for so long. The air between our mouths is cold and the ice around the heart of whatever the matter is is thick.
As we make tracks toward a darkening horizon you fumble for the car keys in your coat pocket. With your other hand you reach sideways without looking up and take mine, and I let you. I try to let you, let you take what you need, let you in, let it be tender. Because as hard as it may be to believe, tenderness does not always come easily to me. Poets are rose petals and knives all mixed up together.
I’m tired of trying to explain and you are tired of trying to figure out where it went wrong so there are no more words, just silence swirling like smoke around our breathing, the scent of damp frozen earth and a campfire in the distance. Beneath the blood in our veins there is the heat of love mixed with a strange kind of trepidation. Pieces of us leaving and not leaving, forgiving and not forgiving. For all the ways we hope to crack open the darkness and bathe ourselves in light, instead we bury what we are afraid to see. The healing we are afraid will destroy us. In the quiet night I hold on to you and do not speak. Our footsteps fall in unison, but the claws of past mistakes are sharp inside us even now.