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Because I was just told that love is a verb, I paused in front of the orange tulips sitting in a bucket at the subway station. I forced myself to buy the flowers, though nothing inside me felt you deserved them. In front of me, two college kids asked for cigarrettes in Spanish. And I-ever the schoolteacher-corrected their pronuniciation. The sky was gloomy oil painting as I made my way through the cold with your buds wrapped in butcher paper. You opened that red door and smiled at my attempt to conjugate.
What is a life worth? This is the question. What will you make it worth? Some little old lady withine responds. Can you continue to sustain the story? Will it grow and unfold like the houseplant?
Your work is to discover your work.
The words loop around in my head. But I have so many kinds of work. Give myself over to one and I betray another. How do I keep all the plates spinning feverishly as the earth slowly turns?
I suppose I could stop staring out into space and pick up a newspaper. But the brain needs to rest in the daylight, what with all that frantic dreaming at night.
Led Zeppelin's on the stereo again, as if they were fresh out of the box. The lady at the counter paints a heart into the froth of my capuccino.
It's nice, I say. She smiles. Her pigtails and piercing make her appear slightly oversized and aged. Her sidekick Minnie is a tight tank and red bow.
I went to art school, the capuccino lady responds. She slides the cup and saucer across the formica.
So did I, I say.
All of this is good, she told herself right before the cherry panels collapsed beneath her.
Sabotaging her life. Well, at least she was an expert at something.
The fact keeps swirling back around to her as if she's realizing it for the first time.
In front of the class, she was as close to tears as she'd ever come. Those big adult emotions in her little body.
The treachery of intimacy. A place where everything is read as an attack because what else would it be?
They wandered through the parking lot into Ralph's, pleading with the disgruntled Mexicans and absent-minded cashiers. They were in search of non-alcoholic beverages.
She was trying to be good, even in her dreams.
Each of them scoured their separate aisle in vain. Someone headed over to the tool section. While they had some daylight, they abandonned the mart. So much for their day at the beach. So much their for bonfire.
In the backseat, his hands found her thighs.
I'll lose everything.
His eyes hovered on that edge of disaster.
Do you remember the table we bought at the flea market in Pasadena? We bought it from the old Chinese man who sold vintage posters of cigarette girls. Do you remember how I loved the cherry blossoms carved into the wood? We kept in the hallway of that Spanish cottage on...on...It's unimaginable, but I can't even remember the name of the street anymore. Anyway, it was the table with the little green lamp and a photo of my parents jeweled in dragonfly. Do you remember? Well today on another coast altogether, I discovered a crack in the face of it--as if someone had taken an ax to it, or some mysterious faultline was found.
She was allowing herself to think about things she shouldn't be thinking about. Things that shouldn't realize themselves, not even in the longest of winters. The color burgundy. Zippers. Rum punch. The backseat of Pontiac.
It has to do with a sense deprivation,
the social worker said matter-of-factly. But she didn't see any reason for limits.
Truth be told, she felt she was being given a second chance. The years unwinding themselves. Hope restored. It was an non-descript hope. She didn't want anything in particular. But yet, the images in her mind were so specific.
It's not easy to imagine the day. Turning forty. The curled lip of that pitbull. You face down on the backwater porch. The way your back wrenched as you reached for the pepper spray. Your heart. Envelopes everywhere. This wasn't how it was supposed to be. Cutting through the sternum, the sprawl of your ribs. The fluttering wing of your spirit nailed to the floor. My life is a hell, he said. Except for the girls.
She had said I have to practice saying,
Not this, not this.
Without realizing that these words had been my mantra for many years now. One should never underestimate the politeness of a woman who has cancelled two weddings. I had forgotten the ticket in her office and caught sight of her in a long mink.
my mind whispered.
We talked about sex and the possibility of returning.
Come live with me
, I hinted between the drumsticks and arugula salad. To start again. The enormous energy required. But one must have that capacity: to rejuvenate. At any instant, the cards could fall. Life always dishes out more than anyone haggles for.
There are dead flowers in my house that need to be tossed. The thought of losing one more thing is sickening. Yet I donít know that Iíve ever been as light on my feet, despite the fact that the years have not delivered a single wish of mine.
At the intermission, she offered him chapsitck after rubbing it across her lips. He refused as if it were filthy thing. But why should that surprise her?
He had kept a good clip on 42 Street, weaving through the crowds a good five feet ahead.
We are not together,
she thought as the little nails in her flamenco heels hit the sidewalk. She was scurrying after him. There was no other word for it.
The rain came down in sheets after the show. They found a restaurant in Chelsea. The food went back to the kitchen, untouched. She was trying so hard, but nothing ever turned out as she planned it.
Out in that rain, he bitterly hailed a cab. But she refused to be put into it.
If I were to give back everything that was given to me, I'd have nothing at all. Everything, including wisdom that seems self-acquired, was handed to me like a baton in a relay. With this in mind, there is no excuse for bitterness or self-cherishing.
I don't know if I ever mentioned I live in New York now. Everything feels very familiar here, yet I feel as far away from home as I've ever been. Cut off at the very root. Sometimes I ponder returning. But one can only handle so much change in a life.
He was one of the few who survived, counting each day for more than three years, weighing only 33 kilos when the gates were opened. He remember the exact date. It is his second birthday, he says.
They were the lucky ones--what with an extra crust of bread, a little more heat, a bit more space between them. He recalls another boy teaching him advanced geomety in the air. Repeating and retracing and repeating.
Give me a reason?
There is none, he says.
No one talked about the truth for more than twenty years. His house is now filled with books about the God he no longer believes in.
But the glass
some day be half-full. He has never let go of that possibility.
I imagine a party in the basement of Noelia's apartment building. Paper snowflakes strung across the ceiling. Her blue eyeshadow. The sugary red punch.
A year ago, I met a soldier on a train. His name was Kevin. He had just returned from Iraq and wanted me to go with him to the parade downtown. Kevin O'Keefe. That was his name. Engaged to another girl he'd gladly betray.
Some people are like this. I should never forget that. They screw up one relationship after another.
I remember her pink lacy dress and white shoes with buckles. Her quincenera. The sugary frosting. And me fighting with those two Chicanas in the yard. Conflict follows me like a big, black cat.
The image that sits with me is the way he wore that windbreaker zipped up to the adam's apple as he lugged that crappy mail cart from graffiti-splashed building to graffiti-splashed building.
The ice rain is pricking sharply at the window. The heater beside the breakfast table hisses. A truck hits a pothole on the BQE. I remember now hearing the boat horns in the harbor late last night.
The man in the windbreaker left his mailcart on the sidewalk and traipsed into the bookstore. He opened the novel and saw that is was dedicated to him.
This is for me,
he said to the cashier. At least, there was one thing.
Sleep was another galaxy altogether. I wanted to swim in the gray rising ocean. How long had it been since I'd allowed myself to swim? Since I'd brought myself under.
In the free-roaming blackness, I did my fare share of salsa dancing. But it wasn't quite the whirl I wanted it to be. There was this pressing expectation that I should know more, be more.
A mad-hatter dentist examined my teeth in the storeroom of a fancy food grocer. Skirting the line at the register, I waltzed out of the joint with a red watch on my wrist. On the street I yanked at my sleeve to gaze at the pretty pink and orange flowers on the face. I hadn't shelled out the thinnest of dimes for it, so I guess that made me a shoplifter.
I. The disadvantages of self-cherishing and the advantages or cherishing others (in a nutshell.)
A. The law of Karma
1. If one performs positive actions, one receives positive effects.
2. If one performs negative actions, one receives negative effects.
1. Compassion is a mind that wishes to take away the suffering of others.
2. Contemplate the fact that all human beings are exactly like us in that they only want to be free from suffering.
C. Who suffers?
1. You cannot say, "Okay, you, I will have compassion for. But you, no."
2. The sheep and the lamb all end up in the slaughterhouse.
D. Faulty Thinking
1. Either I get to be happy or they do.
E. The Final Solution
1. Love is the very source of our happiness.
I have learned a thing or two sleeping out in my car. People don't want to hear any hard luck stories. They want to hear about HOPE! Because what choice does one have? To allow ourselves to be seduced by lofty ideas is indeed what we need.
Outside my window a white sheet flaps on a clothesline. It's a nice day for a stroll. Perhaps I'll walk down to the promenade and gaze at the Statue of Liberty.
Because he sees the details, he is unable to see the trails of light. And because I can see the trails of light, I am unable to see the details.
It is unsettling to be so sensitve, flourescing transparently in the vast green waters of the earth.
I, that sweet, moony girl, am impatient for us to tranform into our more extraordinary selves. All that urgency "to beome." But even butterflies, after growing wings, survive for two weeks or less.
Your blessing is your curse and your curse is your blessing. I tried to remember this. Yet we were living as if we did not need or want blessings. We did not know what we needed or wanted.
Somehow I must assemble this small, basic, plain self and shield it with thick armor. Put on airs. Feign intellectualism. But is that really what you want?
What of the far-off nectar groves? The birds that navigate by the stars?
My heart is trailing long, colorful streamers. I carry the past with me and present it to you, as if a gift. I knew bad things were in store, but went ahead. I wanted you to remember.
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Like you, I realize that I haven't written exactly one hundred words here or anywhere and I hope I will be forgiven for this minor transgression.
I dreamt I showed a film of mine in the chapel in front of the entire school. I had cobbled together some found footage and assembled something of a visual joke which nobody seemed to understand. As soon as the images hit the screen, I regretted them. I realize they thought this was the best of me. When the film ended, a teacher began a halting round of applause. Don't clap, I said. They didn't comprehend what I was capable of.
"All is forgiven." The challenge is to achieve this state again and again. It's the lesson we keep learning. Because it doesn't stop. To let go of all the petty jabs, the slings and arrows, the verbal barbs, the implicit message, the me not you, the undertones of hostility and competition.
Life's charge is to make all of this small again so the world can be wide. The earth is still round and it still ringing. And it is asking you to say, "All is forgiven" so you can can take your neighbor's hand and circle round and round in the dance. Laughing.
The road is rough and dusty, but not everyone wants to pave it. That would change things. Too much, too soon. Besides a rackety ride is hardly much of a price to pay to arrive in Monteverde.
Here, the birds just don't stop calling. And the people know the names of them. My problems back home are made small again by the green, green mountain. Time slows. One feels it immediately. No great rush to accomplish, God knows what. Kindness feels possible. People help one another, have one another.
What is our American need to be alone all about anyway?
Third world flurry. A sense of disorder. The smell of burning garbage. People cutting one another off at the pass. The same buses and taxis and vespas grinding around the same two streets, kicking up dust. This is Santa Elena on the cusp of development. The argument about the road continues. Whether to pave it or not. Some say cement will make everything hotter, if not easier. But others are tired of the holes that go unrepaired for years. The government is slow to repair dirt. But asphalt would be another story altogether. Soon they too will have men out on the road with their fluorescent vests and yellow machines fixing things.
Watching the extraordinary morning wake, to the sound of Bach's suites on cello. The musician next door has no problem playing at eight a.m. He must realize he is good. Or perhaps he's just selfish, like so many artists tend to be.
We've yet to walk through the clouds on our forest hikes. Maybe this experience is reserved for another season altogether.
Despite a creeping sense of vertigo, we did cross narrow, swinging bridges and scaled the rusty ladders of the look-out tower. I read signs in Spanish and English about the texture of leaves in the forest--how they change as one dips deeper beneath the canopy. They go from thick, waxed and leathery to soft, fragile, and receptive.
I thought how we too are this way.
I can hear the knife chopping at the pineapple in the kitchen. The morning sounds have started. Cicadas or something. On the wooden posts, that nosey little blue bird. He looks sort of punk with those spikey feathers on his head. The monkeys have left the mango groves. I recall how everything they did seemed in the spirit of fun. The howling. The leaping from branch to branch. The hanging from tails. The tossing of mangos onto the tiled roof of the bungalow. The heat has made matters heavier than they need be. We are at the beach afterall.
Despite the beach walks and grilled fish and the fresh juice three times a day, Montezuma has spooky quality. It's as if the wildest nature in everything has overun the place. The overgrown trees, the crazed birds and monkeys, the iguanas crawling along the road, on the rooves. And the people too, both those that inhabit and visit this town, have a wildness to them. It's too hot and humid here to be civilized. People walk around without shoes.
Now a shirtless boy throws stones at the mango trees and lines the fallen fruit up in the dirt. Now the strung-out waitress in the pizza place explains the bill to me Italian, as if I wouldn't know the difference.
After a night's sleep, I'm left with this image: beneath the sand amongst the soft, sprouting leaves, there grew a human infant. Its fingers poked through the sand like a new plant. Go ahead and touch it, somebody offered. But I couldn't. The idea of the developing life frightened me as much as death. I am afraid to place my hand on dead things as well.
This morning we took the trail to the waterfall. We stepped over boulders and thick tree roots, beside the mildly rushing stream. To arrive at the falls was a kind of gift. After making my way up onto the slippery moss-covered rocks beneath the rushing water, a rainbow made itself known. I let the water rain over me like blessing and then blindly jumped through into the cool deep pool.
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