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We drive through Centralia, "the town on fire." I'm curiously aware of the silence, the lack of life noises. There are no children on bikes here, no women hanging laundry on the lines out back. Trees lie on their sides in piles, like burn victims. Smoke and steam rise up through the earth like the ghosts of coal miners. It's winter, the neighboring towns wear thick blankets of snow. Not this town. Snow cannot live here, on these hills, these buckled streets warmed by internal fires that have burned for decades. A sign stands in the street, warning, turn back.
Before living together, my days and nights with him were something to look forward to. Seeing him after days of absence, I would kiss him, eager, hungry, longing. He was the cool one, smooth and blue as ice, reserved. I was the one sizzling with emotion, red hot and full of flame. Now we live together. I am reserved, I am the blue one. Deciding to live together was not what killed us, was not what disconnected my wires and extinguished my fires. The lies did that. I got this common life I had wanted so intensely – at a price.
You sent me a postcard from Prague. We'd only met three months ago. You were on vacation and wrote, "Dear Renee. Wish you were here. Or is it you wish you were here? No matter, see you soon." I was surprised you'd thought of me. I thought if I was there as you'd claimed to wish, wouldn't I ruin your fun fucking those cute little Czech girls like the one you showed me a picture of? It's 3 years later now. You handed me a card for no reason signed, "I love you baby." Czech girls, eat your heart out.
I woke to rain falling on the roof. I looked out the window into the gray and wished to back in Amsterdam. I had sunny days last summer, but it's the rain that pains me. I think of walking, huddled in a t-shirt and leather jacket, through a fine drizzle in Vondel Park, cupping a joint in our hands to keep it from getting wet and distinguishing. Sitting in a café for hours, drinking wine and espresso, feeling content and delightfully far from home. I want to ride a bike through that rain, and find a home on the Leidsplein.
God Bless America and all her shame. Bless her – or save her, guide her, shake your head in agony and despair as she rampages across the oceans to create chaos like a child having a temper tantrum on a grand scale. She has the gall to ask for your blessing in the face of her appalling excess as she calls you for these blessings on her cell phone while driving her SUV through the late-night drive-through windows of MacDonald's to order her super size fries super size coke super size big mac. Make that two of each. God save America.
The irony. I'm finally at a place in my life where I feel brave enough to venture out on my own, and to have adventures, travel, live overseas. I am ready and want to escape my many lives before this one, the many things in the past that hold me down. And I can't. I would not be at this point if not for him. In my head, I can feel myself straining, pulling away and snapping back. I'm torn between this thing I want that I have now and this thing that I want (freedom space no more fear).
Commitment phobia. It is always about the man, never about the woman, never about what she has to give up, never about her own phobia, her own qualms. She finds something she isn't quite ready for but does not want to lose. So she makes a decision and sticks to it. Never wavering while he waffles and whines about not being ready. She's not ready either, but she's made a decision to be here and holds firm, stands brave against her own fears and doubts as they batter her in a storm of his indecision, his lies, his foolish moves.
I imagine myself a tourist in my own body. There was someone here once who was comfortable, who called this body home. She responded to him with affection and longing. She touched and was touched. She radiated heat trust confidence bravery. I don't know what I am doing here, where she has gone. I feel this body growing weak and cold without her. I am looking out through her eyes and I see the confusion on his face. He does not know she is gone though he certainly knows what might send her away. I want her to come back.
Mine was a storybook romance with a capricious beginning. We shared common fears, left our hearts unprotected as we took walks in the rain and sometimes spent hours upon hours in bed in a tangle of warm satisfaction. I remember a summer morning, laying in his bed, feasting on the afterglow, unabashedly naked with the sheet thrown carelessly aside, he went to the kitchen and came back carrying a sliced mango. We lay, side by side, uncovered, eating that mango, pressing our fingers into the flesh, trying to grab before it slid off the plate, juice dribbling down our chins.
Hold fewer grudges, let things roll of my back. Use my body more, stretch it, let it be limber, treat it as the proverbial temple. Listen more. Listen without thinking of responses immediately. Take more walks. Eat less chocolate. Savor my four-dollar lattes instead of sucking them down, barely tasted. Wake up early – learn to see the mornings as a beautiful time of day instead of something to dread and fear. Be more productive at work. Make the things you must do enjoyable for the time you must do them. Know when to let go of pride. Eat fewer noodles.
I wish I were a morning person. I would wake up at 5:30 or 6 am and go for leisurely morning walks with the dog while drinking espresso that I had time to make with my home espresso maker. Or to stop at a small coffee shop after walking and getting ready for work to sit in a corner with my laptop and write while sipping a latte and eating a warm cinnamon scone. I wish I got up early enough to sit on the front steps and watch the sunrise while I read a chapter from a new book.
I don't know if I can get over it, if I can forget. I don't know how strong my belief in fate is – is it a crutch, a shield? I long to lift these grudges from my shoulders, the lies that have rusted me shut, betrayals that have stolen my ability to feel carefree, relaxed, easy going. I feel embittered, distrustful, jealous, resentful of the way I feel. If I move, if I sneak off to a faraway place, can I outrun the scars? Or will I carry these things forever, as baggage with my clothing, my books, my cds.
If I could do anything I wanted right now, I would learn to play the violin again. I would take dance again – ballet and modern dance. I would become an equestrian again, buy a giant black stallion like in the movies and I'd ride every night at my home in the English countryside. I would become fluent in French, Spanish, and Russian. I would write my memoirs and a new poem every day. I would take bi-weekly trips around the world, taking photographs for National Geographic. I would buy a moped and a mini-cooper. I would become a morning person.
We had three or four days of beautiful weather. It was sunny, warm, almost summer. Today is the first day of Spring and the first day of war. Appropriately, it has gone gray outside. Last night, as the world anxiously, fearfully awaited zero hour, the temperature dropped, the clouds moved into place waiting expel the water from their fattened, heavy bodies over our heads. Today, the first full day of combat overseas, the weather is appropriately murky. It's raining, it's cold, it's windy. It feels like winter is coming upon us again. Will it be so until this war ends?
The world cannot end yet, there are too many places and things I want to see: Stratford-on-Avon, Wales, the geothermal lagoons in Iceland, Stonehenge, Moscow's Red Square, the Pyramids and Sphinx in Egypt, Australia, Scotland, Ireland, Alaska, Amsterdam again, Maine again, the rest of the world's oceans, where the wall stood in Germany, the Great Wall of China, Southern Italy, the Greek Isles, India, the desert of Saudi Arabia, a Great White Shark in the ocean but from a safe distance, my future, Vienna, Norway, the Eiffel Tower, Montréal, Brazil, Machu Picchu, a koala up close, Belize, the Galapagos Islands…
I had strange dreams last night (I often do.) I dreamt that an alien (who looked like a handsome dark-haired man) named Matt something committed a crime (murder?). I knew this alien and put after putting clues together, realized what he'd done and turned him in. But he didn't go to jail so I woke up in the middle of the night thinking "he knows where I live, he's going to come get me." I almost woke Alex up to tell him. Then I must have fallen back to sleep and I was evading the alien man in my dreams.
The neighbors gathered in clusters along the sidewalks at three am, making a horrible racket with stories of the night out. They played music I didn't like, loud as it could go - hammering rhythms with angry words about skin color, and cruelty towards my gender. Sometimes they settled arguments themselves, sometimes they involved the cops. Whatever it was, we heard every word. They talked to me in creepy tones while I walked to my car in the morning - I had to be sure to smile correctly, say hello in a non-judemental tone of voice to avoid further harrassment.
Maybe it was your friend, Jenn, who made you start to see your name differently. She insisted on calling you Nichelle, not Nikki, as everyone else did, because she liked it so much. You eventually grew into it, like a puppy growing into its over-sized paws, and even learned to love it. You started to wear each name like a favorite outfit for different occasions: Nichelle was for the more formal occasions, and when you were feeling serious. You even used it as a suit of armor. Nikki was the casual name, the old sweatshirt that most knew you by.
To my future self: So do we have cool stories to tell yet? You didn't give up the dream to live abroad, did you? If you did, I at least hope that you have something in its place that you feel passionate about, something that you've accomplished. I always thought there was nothing worse than to just pass through life in a robotic way – the same routines, not noticing anything, not doing anything spectacular. If you've lost that passion, then remember how you used to be – how I am now – and kick yourself hard in the ass and DO something.
When I was young, I preferred autumn and winter. Snow storms meant days off of school, play days, drying your mittens by the stove. Autumn meant Halloween, big sweater, and the smell of burning leaves. Now winter means being forced to take a vacation day if there's three feet of snow outside and I can't get my car shoveled out to get to work. Or if I feel it's not safe or worth it. It means freezing and I run around from home to work to night classes. Winter is lethargy, blue days, cabin fever, and desperation for warmer days.
I've wanted to move to Europe for most of my life. I used to envision walking the cobblestone streets of a dark, gothic eastern European city such as Prague, or Budapest. Now, as I get older and the harsh winter of the Northeastern US comes to an end, I envision sunnier days. No longer do I dream of days spent under a cloak of rain and gray in Prague. I prefer to envision days on a sunny coast, somewhere where I can live in a city but escape to mountainous countrysides. I think of places like Portugal and southern Italy.
Some say we don't dream in color. I have to fervently disagree. I've had dreams of swimming in the clear teal blue Caribbean sea, sometimes surrounded by slate gray sharks, near islands of shining white sand dotted with vivid green palm trees and bright pink buildings. I've seen deep crimson reds painted on the walls of houses with rust-colored carpets. I've dreamt of snowy nights with black skies holding a full moon that cast a dark navy blue glow on the ground over which I walked. I always remember the colors. Don't tell me I dream in black and white.
There's a stinky man at work. His odor is so bad that my coworker and I can smell him over our cubicle walls. She sprayed Lysol, and Mountain Air air freshener, and even sprayed lemon-scented Endust on her wood desk. This afternoon we made popcorn – the smell wafted through the halls, invaded every corner. Still, his smell defiantly lives on. I opened a bottle of nail polish remover, hoping the alcohol undertones would kill it. To no avail. How do you not know you smell bad? How you do walk out the door and not think, "Wow! I really stink!"
Alex learned how to play pool in dark and dirty bars with ruffians. I love to watch his stance now, in neighborhood bars, as he puts down his glass of scotch to fix his gaze across the table, the way he pushes his glasses up and leans over to make his shot. I like to watch his cool indifference as over-confident frat boys argue over the legality of shots they learned in their father's basement that no real pool player would use. Alex lets them have their shot, humiliating them with his apathy, his refusal to take such shots himself.
I drove over an hour each way to sit with him for half an hour, to put a face to the words he had written to me in email for three weeks. I found parking only two blocks from our rendezvous point – which I took as a good sign. I walked up the street, spotting him sitting outside the café, tall, lanky, dark-haired and handsome in a long black leather coat. We made quick conversation over a glass of wine. By the end of that half hour I knew this would not turn out to be the casual thing intended.
I used to have a recurring nightmare when I was very young. It sounds funny to speak of now. We were at the old house, and I was abducted by a bald alien. He had skin like those stickers I used to trade and collect – the ones with oil inside of them that swirled with color when you pressed them. The aliens skin was off-white with these oily colors, red and green, swirling about his skin. He stood in the back yard where my dad traded him a pack of cigarettes to get me back. What's so scary about that?
I used to date around. I stayed out late, bounced from job to job, spent money haphazardly. Somehow I've settled down – though everyone said it couldn't be done. I left my past behind to cohabitate, to be domesticated. I save money earned from the job I've been at for the past two years. I buy food and make dinner. I buy the inexpensive brands and brag about never paying full price for the eighty-dollar jcrew pants I got on sale for twenty-five. I sit on the couch watching movies Friday nights instead of going out. I like it like this.
A frat boy walked into our regular Saturday night haunt to play a game of pool. He made a lame play, barely legal. We argued, it wasn't house rules. He was desperate and didn't know how to play, so my boyfriend let him have the shot. Yeah, it's just a game. But if you walk into a neighborhood bar with established house rules and an attitude - then I wanna kick your ass. When I really dislike someone and want their asses kicked - Alex generally always wins. The moral of the story? Never mess with a pool player's girlfriend.
Things that make a good boyfriend: head rubbing. Passionate appreciation for home-cooking, begging for the apple pancakes that his girlfriend makes that have been deemed his favorite food, even when things don't always turn out right. Not buying roses, but picking up a stem of brightly colored orchids every now and then. Stellar sex. Spooning. Staying through the bad times. Foot rubs. Wandering the city for hours to find real cranberry juice for girlfriend's bladder infections. Being there. Not being afraid to sing an entire cd with only two notes. Saying ‘I love you' when it counts, not on cue.
I have three months until my vacation to Cozumel. I imagine I will start doing pilates as planned. I will use the power of visualization to make it happen that after three months, my body will become svelte, sculpted. I will have energy and muscle tone to swim for hours, holding my breath as I dive underwater to touch the bottom of the ocean staying there for at least two minutes. I will wear a new bikini from Victoria's Secret and men will hoot and holler as I happily cling to Alex on the back of a moped. As if.
I love the rolling sound, the way words sway off my tongue when speaking the few Italian words I know, or to listen to Italian friends speak. I love to speak French, to round my lips into a pouty "o" and blur words together. The soft, quick "ch-ch-ch'ing" of Russian catches my ear, I wish I could say more than "zima", "shto", "pivo." When Alex speaks Hebrew, he gets my rapt attention with the gurgled "ar" sounds. I would like to learn German and Dutch, to speak in the harsh, authoritative tones that rise from the back of your throat.
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