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I've taken up the piano because it's the only way I know how to make things beautiful again. When I play with fervor the notes reverberate in my chest before they bully their way out to vibrate along the length of my spine. The keys are coarse and faded, worn down by the march of crooked fingers. I rip through the end of Clair de Lune (F, D♭,C, E♭) and slow down the pace of my bare feet against the cold pedals. I imagine you stretched out in the shadow beneath the bench, biting my pale and slender ankles.
We are standing at the edge of the park, trying our best not to heave all the oxygen out of our tired lungs. I hear it before I see it, that low-distant rumble that tells you to flee; something larger and more powerful than you is
headed your way
. It's blisteringly hot and it's all I can do to stare up into the glare of the sun as I extend my arm to point out the airplane that's blazing its way across the sky. "Are you trying to touch it?" you ask. "Yes", I reply. "I am".
Lying in bed at dusk, I turn my head towards the window just as the sun dips low behind the massive oak tree in the yard. The covers are twisted around me, my right breast exposed. I drum the tips of my fingers along my hip-bone, concentrating on the dim shadows cast on the wall. Perfect for shadow-puppets, I think. My mother tried to show me the trick to making the perfect shadow-rabbit once, twisting her slender hands this way and that, laughing as I made a tiny fox of my own. A fleeting memory, perfectly intact.
You don't know this, but I paced on the rooftop of that blue house on Pico, waiting for you to arrive. Perched high above, I sat on the ledge for an inordinate amount of time, letting the heat seep into my skin and the sweat glisten on my cheeks. I wanted to catch an unguarded glimpse of you, to see if you swaggered or faultered. My God, you were a beautiful vision, all wound up with nerves and purpose. My throat tightened when I saw you reach for the door, my heartbeat screamed in my ears. Look up, I whispered.
There is a path beside the lake where I walk at the end of each day. It is a gravel path, filled with stones that grind rhythmically beneath my feet. At the edge of the second turn is a patch of marsh where a tiny black cat with enormous yellow eyes lives. He makes his home there in the marsh, prowling amid the tall grass. I see him sitting back on his haunches, his eyes following my steady progress. When I get close, he lets out a bellowing
and I see the white flash of his teeth.
In order to protect what's mine, I'm pushing you out. Hard. Don't look at those marks on your arm and frown. Consider it a badge of honor that your limbs were gripped by me at all, however painful the process. What strange bedfellows we make; what a pretty pair. You brandish your weapon and shout "Don't go - you belong to me! I'll never be able to replace you." I telegraph my resentment silently, passionately. Go ahead, I respond. I am already gone. "I've never met anyone like you; I wouldn't know what to do" you sigh. No, I think quietly.
"There is a piece of glass that separates you from me." This is what he tells me as I pull the covers back, the hulking shape of the bed looming between us. "I can see you, hear you, put my shaking hand up to the glass... but I can never reach you, not fully." I smile, faintly, because I know it's true. With one quick gesture, I smooth down the wrinkled sheet and let out a breath, long and deep. When I look up he catches my eye and his brow furrows. "You can't serve two masters," he says. "Decide."
There is something distinctive that marks city dwellers from the world at large. When I lived in my humble little studio apartment I never had a case of doldrums, even remotely. If anything, there was electricity pinging around my system 24 hours a day. You have to be spontaneous and outlandish to be an effective city dweller, I learned. Of course there were lazy times too, when I would languish on the balcony in the dead of night and watch the moon floating heavy above the skyline, the strains of an old Hepburn movie floating up from the darkness below.
I know what it's like to fall through ice. I've done it, once. Arcadia Park, 2002- it was the middle of January and bitterly cold. Icy limbs were giving up the fight and dropping to the ground like wounded soldiers. The lake was a blank canvas, all still and expansive. My date, ever the adventurer, glided across its surface with giddy determination. "Join me" he says, laughing. I tentatively slide out and spin small circles as I draw closer to him. He reaches for my mitten-covered hand just as I hear the first crack of resistance beneath my feet.
Woke up with a start at 3 a.m., my camisole drenched. I put a hand to my temple, trying to shake what was left of a strange and vivid dream. There was an abandoned, wind-swept house where I had taken up residence. It was haunted by the ghost of a man with silver eyes and a low-brimmed hat. He trailed me persistently. I slinked into the bathroom and lowered myself into the clawfoot tub. He sat on a chair in the corner while I bathed. I understood this man to be the Devil and my legs trembled.
Thank you for the meaningful glances. Thank you for the warmth of your hand in mine. Thank you for introducing me to the sun-drenched sea. Thank you for your quivering thighs and silent adoration. Thank you for the pleasure of your tongue, soft and insistant. Thank you for leaning me against the wooden shelves, Don Quixote pressed between my shoulder blades. Thank you for reigning me in. Thank you for having mercy on my broken internal clock. Thank you for the words you gave me, and their addendum. Thank you for the spontaneity and recklessness. Thank you and goodbye.
Before there was you, there was J. Or at least the promise of him. The best friend of my ex, off-limits. Tall, striking, chiseled like an old-world sculpture. He took pleasure in finding ways to make his interest known to me- a slight touch of hand, a gentle kiss on the forehead. Then there was the wedding; a mutual aquaintance. We sipped wine meaningfully and with intent. The evening wore on, twilight descended. The last to leave, our cars sat alone in the field. Mine wouldn't start and suddenly he appeared, tapping on my window with his knuckles.
In your world, I am not unique. Girls like me are a dime a dozen. They flock to the city faster than you can swirl a finger through your Gin & Tonic. I see them lined up in the flickering glow of the bar, these super-cell versions of me, so supple and witty. It must be exhausting, faced with all that variety and the eagerness to please and be pleased. Do away with the pleasantries. Pick the one with the perkiest breasts and clamp down, hard. Watch it implode and try not to grin as you choke on the silicone.
The evening is cool and I make my way out to the front porch. I curl up in a chair near the railing and draw my legs up tight against my chest. I let my eyes slowly adjust and wait for the fireflies to emerge; their cryptic little flashes making warning signals I can't seem to decode. When I was a child I tried in vain to catch them between my tiny palms. Too eager, I smashed them over and over again. In frustration I would cover my face with my hands and cry, leaving streaks of glowing war-paint.
This is how I know things will get better. It's because I loved someone this intensely once, a long time ago. We were gorgeous together, he and I. One by one I ripped off his shirts and tacked them to the wall like trophies, an unspoken testiment. It brought me to my knees, this mad, mad desire. He left me for a Russian ballerina on a Tuesday afternoon. I gnashed my teeth, beat my breast, guzzled wine from the bottle. I wept beneath his window at midnight, guitar in hand. There is nothing there, now. This is how I know.
Loving me is like loving fire: impossible, unless you want a 3rd degree burn to show for your effort. My internal mechanisms are fueled by pure gasoline, baby. I recommend you leave your matches at home. My mind is a restless machine, a combustion engine humming softly behind the furnace of my eyes. My limbs ache the ache of the damned- tired, useless, burnt out. Sit close and let the heat from my heart keep you warm. Bask in its glow. Crawl inside and I will try and keep you safe within it's chambers. Take the left ventricle; it's yours.
This is what I see when I close my eyes: a black & white photograph, frayed at the edges. A wave ravaged shoreline spotted with debris. A moment of brilliance lost in translation. Flashes of light filtering through leaves. The eye of a needle and the space it inhabits. A cherry red bicycle, stolen and gone. The memory of a letter and it's faded blue ink. A half-finished drawing confined to a desk drawer. The weight of the telephone, an echo of dialtone. The stubble of your jaw scraping against my cheek. An alternate version of us: ramped up, complete.
I don't understand this girl...her total lack of subtlety and class. It seems like a genetic defect somehow, her smarmy perversity. She wears her fetishes like a see-through dress, all tawdry and cheap. What do you expect to gain from being in her company? The allure she is so poorly peddling is better represented quietly in the dark, between prey and predator. Take a cue from her own name; the women of those films knew how to work a man stealthily and effectively with little more than a well-placed glance and a slight curl of the lip.
Love is an art, a skill. Done incorrectly and with little finesse it is vulgar. Vulgarity is best appreciated when it's done with style and substance. Amateurs need not apply. Learn from the best and then become the best. Make plans and have the hardware to back it up. Indulge your senses, get in a rhythm, allow for a quantum-shift in your brain. Bask in it while you can, while you are still young and respectable. Mend what is broken now, before the fissure becomes a chasm. Self-introspection is the key; love doesn't have time for the selfish.
I don't know what to make of you anymore. I don't know what to make of me anymore either, so we're even. Mornings are always an adjustment; I tighten my belt and gather up my defences, anything to give me the advantage. It's the split second before I shake off the sleep that's the most difficult. A traffic light switches from red to green in the same amount of time, that quick. For a moment I am somewhere else, my circuits intact. I stare upward at the ceiling and rearrange myself into a variation that is pleasing to you, comfortable.
When I first step into the shower, the water is always too hot, scalding me a blazing shade of crimson. I can't seem to get a handle on it despite the repetition day after day. I am forgiving of it though, because of the steam. It burns my lips, it clouds my vision, it fills my nostrils. It seeps into my skin in much the same way as a lover's embrace, gentle and warm. I open my mouth and let the water build behind my teeth. Some days I stand perfectly still, a specimen of calm. It builds up endurance.
This is the year of the flood, the year I missed the mark completely. I shot for the moon and skidded into the sun, my trajectory painfully mis-calculated. I have no idea what I am doing. I am wreaking havoc and stitching wounds. I was always the problem solver, the sensible one. The responsible one. How the hell I got this far off the tracks is beyond me. I don't understand it myself. My ego got stroked and I rolled with it. I gave into it and became a slave to it. How does the master become the servant?
I hear a train off in the distance and my mind immediately goes back to that ancient house on Jefferson Rd. Old Jefferson to be exact. Even roads have their differences. That relic of a house with the train tracks running straight through the front lawn, a stone's throw from my window. I slept in a rickety old bed pushed up near the gas furnace in the corner. From that vantage point I could see the beam from the train reflect through the curtains, scattering bizarre patterns around the room. The clank, clank, clank of my bedframe marking the time.
He burned the letters today, all 10 years of them. The photographs, the book, the sunglasses. Anything and everything. We sat side by side as he tossed them in: slowly, deliberately. I saw the edges curl and singe and I had to look away. The flames licked and devoured with a raging vengeance; they knew what they were feasting on. He smashed the sunglasses in his fist before consigning them to the fire. The plastic bubbled and popped while I bit my lip. One last thing, he says: a phone call. Drive the nail. A message. Let me, he says.
There is no rest for the wicked. No rest for the weary. No rest for the pencil pushing writer, the impossible dreamer, the vigilant saint, the lonely sailor, the wishful thinker, the drunken ne'er-do-well, the anxious scholar. No rest for the ineffectual teacher, the broken man, the unkempt wife, the grieving comedian, the fearless leader. No rest for the forlorn lover, the wayward child, the spirited painter, the brother's keeper. No rest for anyone who pauses, rationalizes, sees the error of their ways. No rest for anyone who focuses their energies on themselves. No rest for the weak.
By God I will make things right or die trying. I am tired, so tired. At night I glance up to see if the sky is still black. My world is upside down, I grasp on to the immutable. I tried to destroy my life and start anew; I failed. I need to be contrite now, apologetic. That's what is expected of me. I planned and executed my escape route like a master criminal, blindly so. The aftermath revealed it for what it was: a cautionary tale, a lesson of the loins. One day it might be humorous. One day.
I don't drink so much anymore. Or I try not to if I can help it. I was always the one dousing myself with alcohol at the party; it didn't matter who hosted the party: your cousin, your roommate, your Mom. Didn't matter. I became your greatest friend, your worst enemy, your long-lost love. I threw things off the balcony just to watch them go. I lounged on the couch like a tiny lizard, buried beneath the cushions. I laughed at all your jokes, sipped wine from your glass when you weren't looking, adored all your friends intensely, equally.
I chastise myself when I think about how unprepared I am to move forward. I have no tools, no road map to guide me. I smashed my compass a long time ago, sometime around the age of 19 when I didn't know enough not to break the things that are supposed to protect me. I'm stuck now, I have to figure it out before I get demolished by the ones who've already gleamed the answer. I stare off into space at random moments before he tells me to stop, he's scared of what I'm thinking. I'm at a total loss.
Being an out-dated model of efficiency has its benefits, but very few. I can excuse my faults by explaining that I am slow, I am learning. This only gets me so far before they're angered and tell me to catch up. It's difficult being in my own skin most days. I set myself apart from the rules designed to keep us in line. I don't know any other way but I see now that this is my downfall. I keep people off guard; they don't know what to make of me. I should encourage them in the right direction.
In my mind I see life as a massive chart of potential scenarios/outcomes, similar to the chart that maps out the evolution of ape to man. Possibilies and opportunity die out just as lineages die out. It's random probability. The likelihood that I will be a renound pianist has passed, just as the likelihood that the Neanderthal will win the genetics race has passed. We have the ability to reach backwards and forwards to piece together a semblance of history but in reality the final decision you make ends up being the line that continues on, branch after branch.
Make it happen. Give up the fight. Duck and cover. It only hurts if you let it and I vow not to let it. I promise to drown myself in meditative tranquility until it becomes the fiber of my being. I will stop piercing the heart of those who care for me. I will make amends, immediately. I can't claim ignorance any more, those days are over. Everything looks better on paper, in postcards. I worked my way through to the center of the beast and my hair turned grey from the sight of it. I am letting go now.
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