You will be out with friends
when the news of her existence
will be accidentally spilled all over
your bar stool. Respond calmly
as if it was only a change in weather,
a punch line you saw coming.
After your fourth shot of cheap liquor,
leave the image of him kissing another woman
in the toilet.
In the morning, her name will be
in every headline: car crash, robbery, flood.
When he calls you, ignore the hundreds of ropes
untangling themselves in your stomach.
You are the best friend again. He invites
you over for dinner and you say yes
too easily. Remind yourself this isn’t special,
it’s only dinner, everyone has to eat.
When he greets you at the door, do not think
for one second you are the reason
he wore cologne tonight.
In his kitchen, he will hand-feed you
a piece of red pepper. His laugh
will be low and warm and it will make you
feel like candlelight. Do not think this is special.
Do not count on your fingers the number
of freckles you could kiss too easily.
Try to think of pilot lights and olive oil,
not everything you have ever loved about him,
or it will suddenly feel boiling and possible
and so close. You will find her bobby pins
laying innocently on his bathroom sink.
Her bobby pins. They look like the wiry legs
of spiders, splinters of her undressing
in his bed. Do not say anything.
Think of stealing them, wearing them
home in your hair. When he hugs you goodbye,
let him kiss you on the forehead.
Settle for target practice.
At home, you will picture her across town
pressing her fingers into his back
like wet cement. You will wonder
if she looks like you, if you are two bedrooms
in the same house. Did he fall for her features
like rearranged furniture? When he kisses her,
does she taste like wet paint?
You will want to call him.
You will go as far as holding the phone
in your hand, imagine telling him
unimaginable things like you are always
ticking inside of me and I dream of you
more often than I don’t.
My body is a dead language
and you pronounce
each word perfectly.
Do not call him.
Fall asleep to the hum of the VCR.
She must make him happy.
She must be
She must be his favorite place in Minneapolis.
You are a souvenir shop, where he goes
to remember how much people miss him
when he is gone.
I can’t write to you. You’re in jail, and asked other people, whose home addresses you know, to get in touch with me to ask me to write, and I can’t even give you that. I don’t know what to say. I don’t know anything, it seems. I’m afraid. Terrified, really, of what this has done to me. When you were here, I could pretend, kid myself into thinking things would be okay, I would be okay. That no, I wasn’t falling for you.
I know better now, but I still want to be there for you. I’ve been sending you books. That counts for something, right?
I know it doesn’t. I know it’s not the same.
So, another sleepless night, hopped up on coffee, I settle in front of my TV to watch one of my guilty-pleasure-but-not-really-because-I-love-dance-in-any-and-all-forms show: So You Think You Can Dance. The raw emotion that dance portrays; it’s human; it’s earnest; it’s art. The show (often) does its job well, and each well done story that the dances portray affect me in some manner. Watching, I see Harper reach out to his partner and her fail to return his reach, evading his grasp. It wasn’t intentional, but in that split second, I felt searing empathy. That she had missed her cue, yes, but mainly that as his partner, she had failed to notice him. That he had put himself out there, that he had let it be known, in that moment, that he wanted her, and that she had either not noticed, or not cared to notice. In that moment, I saw my biggest fear realized, played upon for sport. He had been vulnerable; he opened himself to her, admitted weakness, asked for help, for her hand, to bring her close to him, and she kept about her life. In that millisecond he was rejected; scorned; inferior.
Then his hand rotated and silhouetted her face and I realized that he hadn’t put himself out there to be awkwardly scorned at all, that he had simply been following the choreography. That those emotions? That shame and embarrassment and pity? Those were mine, my projections, made in a split second before he could even complete his motion. Before I could process, before I could get over feeling sorry for this man I’ve never known for a miniscule mistake he never made, he was on to the next, leaping in the air, while I was so fixated on what I thought had happened that I couldn’t see past my own nose, let alone see him finish his dance (okay, not true, I saw him finish, but the illusion was shattered and I was stuck in my own head).
Her hair was wilder and another smell clung to her, one that would take me years to identify, muskier, unaired. We went into the kitchen, where all the lights were on, and she rattled between the stove and the table, talking fast. She was in love. It didn’t matter who he was; he lived a mile away, she had walked—it was rainy, did I know it was raining—she found some pebbles from the driveway to throw up at his window, yes, she knew which one it was—she would have died if he hadn’t come down. As she ricocheted between the stove and the table she picked up one thing and then another; by the end of her account she was holding a fork, which she drove into her hand, just hard enough to break the skin. I knew even then, as she held her hand under the kitchen tap, that Vivian had hurt herself because she was afraid to being hurt by this boy, whoever he was; I knew that he could not be anyone I could or would know, even though he lived one mile away.
-“Curtains” from An Enlarged Heart by Cynthia Zarin
I borrowed this book three weeks ago and in that time I’ve read each story at least five times. The flow is so natural and yet somehow unexpected. Each read through I notice more; I notice things differently, as if a new area of each story sparkles and catches my eyes each time I begin to read.
“A failure of nerve. About writing. (And about my life — but never mind.) I must write myself out of it.
If I am not able to write because I’m afraid of being a bad writer, then I must be a bad writer. At least I’ll be writing.
Then something else will happen. It always does.
I must write every day. Anything. Everything. Carry a notebook with me at all times, etc.
I read my bad reviews. I want to go to the bottom of it — this failure of nerve (7/19/79)”
From the diary of Susan Sontag
My need to express myself is currently being stifled by my need to absorb. Those periods where I lose myself to apathy, where I’m taken under by the need to not care so much; when I give in just to stop the hurt; when I come out of those periods, it’s like I’m breathing for the first time, I’m inhaling hard, trying to make up for all that I’ve allowed to pass me by as I bumble about, trying to figure out how to survive.
This weekend was awash with emotions. In the span of a few hours, I fell in love. He left this morning, and this afternoon he sent me an email with a few sound bytes of his slam poetry. Twenty seconds into the first one, I’m sobbing, just from hearing his voice. I’m overcome with how much I miss someone I barely know, and yet feel like I’ve known for years.
His effect on me has been so profound, and I don’t know if I’ll ever get the chance to thank him, or if he’ll ever really know how much he’s done for me.
I doubt it, but I’ll love him for it all the same.
Dan, just so you know, you were featured on a TV show last night. A guy was brought into the hospital after a seizure, his body covered with his writing; we later find out that he has also covered three rolls of toilet paper(scroll-style) and every inch of his wall, because his mother took away his computer and all of his paper. Hypergraphia. They made the requisite references to Hemingway & Faulkner, and the argument that his quality of life was nonexistent, but he refused to get the necessary surgery because there was the potential for him to lose his gift, his passion, his creativity.
I was overcome with emotion as soon as I saw his body, covered in writing. When he got his computer back, all I could think was “it’s his wife”. I vividly remember (which is a feat unto itself, if you recall how many drugs I was on at the time) having this argument with you, the “quality of life” vs. “fulfilled life” argument. I was firmly in the”quality of life” camp.
I don’t know exactly why anymore, but I suspect that there was a good amount of selfishness there. The time you told me you could die, tomorrow, happy, after you’d completed one of your poetry bibles, stuck with me, and given your suicidal predilections, death seemed like a very real possibility. I didn’t want to lose you. I think that’s pretty natural, and so it doesn’t cause me too much guilt.
I’m not sure I was aware during our fights (ya know, because I like to shove my emotions down into a hole in the ground and pretend they don’t exist and whatnot), but I think my other motivator was jealousy. Jealousy that your passion, your talent, your thing that gets you up in the morning, was still a part of you. So I argued that you should subdue yourself to the life I fear I’m condemned to live.
Yet the voice I choose is almost always my own. Me whining about this or that, whatever the biggest grievance in my life is at the moment.
Me being who I am, the mess I am, physically, emotionally, financially, and mentally… with S, I had the option of having a partner in all of that. I had the option of having someone to share every damn part of my self that I work meticulously to keep hidden from those around me. Not only would S have loved me no matter what, he also would have provided me a safe haven and financial stability.
All he asked for in exchange was my love.
I fought with myself, day-in and day-out. I wanted to say yes, to relax for a change, to let my guard down and let someone love me.
When we first started talking about moving in together, it seemed crazy. But waves of self-reflection have lead me to realize that the disaster of my life is almost completely the result of my fear of failure. I cut off opportunities before ever giving them a chance because *what if* I tried it and I failed?!?! (Yes, I’m mocking my own shitty reasoning,) So when the guy I’m falling for tells me he wants to be with me and that I should move in with him, the only semi-sane answer is yes!
So I start planning this future with him. I move in with him, I get a menial job, I get back in school, I help him redecorate, we plan vacations together, etc. etc.
And it sounds wonderful. It sounds like for the first time in my life, I’ll be surrounded by love.
But as the day gets closer, I’m not overcome with joy. I’m overcome with panic. Not the so-anxious-I-can’t-stay-still-for-five-whole-seconds kind of panic, or even the every-worst-case-scenario-running-through-my-head-as-I-pack-the-car kind of panic, but the kind of panic that overwhelms every element of my day to the point that I wake up feeling like I got hit by a truck, dredge through my day feeling off, get in bed and cuddle a pillow and cry, can’t fall asleep, and when I do finally get to sleep all I really do is toss and turn all night. The “depression” of panics, if you will.
I can’t stop thinking that this is the end. That I’ll never get to travel on my own. That I’ll never struggle to become my own person. That I’m taking the easy way out. That I’m taking the way that’s easiest for me, even though I know it’s not what I want. That I will never create my own life to share with someone- that I’ll merely be a part of someone else’s life,
And so I run.
Now I’m left sitting here, wondering: did I run because I was scared of losing myself or because I was scared of any kind of change at all?