show me who you are

unnamed

This summer, I take Lovey and Django on a three-day car trip across four states. A sixteen-year-old boy, now an equal part of our eclectic family, also joins.

Somehow, it’s in this spinning of wheels and endless road that I have historically seen my kids the most.

They unwind for me.

Show me who you are, I silently invite. My heart so wants to know.

And anything is allowed.

Well, almost.

As the adult, I know it’s my responsibility to demonstrate the difference between right and wrong. So I refrain, for once, from stories about myself at their age.

Like Django, Lovey is 14 this year.

Based on my own past, it’s a wildly unpredictable time for a girl, fraught with horrifying consequences.

Is this why I internalize her experience far more than that of the boys?

The boys, for me, are easy. But Lovey, oh Lovey, with her adorable Amelie haircut and green-bikini-clad curves, unwittingly attracting the attention of adult men. There’s nothing easy for me about Lovey.

And stupidly, this is the first summer in which I become aware of, and frightened by, the situation I’ve created with her.

Lovey is such a strong reflection of me, and I know her deep, dark waters so well by now. She talks tough when I know she is delicate. I intimately know the places she hurts, and exactly what it would take to destroy her. What an absurd statement, coming from a parental figure. But it’s true.

And it’s an enormous responsibility. Because if Lovey ever gleans anything from me other than a more absolute sense of confidence in herself, I’ve betrayed not only her, but myself.

As such, I am forced to confront the fact that I am, in moments, a far cry from anything that I am supposed to be for her.

So we’re in the car, Lovey my fixed co-pilot for the duration of the trip. I’m not sure how this impenetrable appointment happened. When I suggest alternating her with the boys, the kids uniformly deny me.

Meanwhile, on day one, I set the psycho-emotional pace for what we’re doing. Narrate our scene. As the kids DJ, with their bluesy and defiant blend of sound, I fabricate accompanying scenarios, assigning us fictional roles as bad-asses.

“This song is the soundtrack for the next next diner at which we stop,” I tell them. “And when we exit the car, spoons are dropped in terror of our approach.”

The kids laugh and take their cues as the song crescendos.

“The owner, in his dirty apron, will try to head us off at the door, and Lovey will be forced to execute her krav maga in order for us to gain entrance.”

I don’t know why it’s my tendency to portray our unlikely crew as being against the world rather than a part of it. Certainly the mood of the music guides me, and because it’s funny, but within it there also lies the implication of our forging some kind of unstoppable bond.

Lovey, in particular, thrives on this type of plotline. So that, by the second day, she begins to take the narration over from me. She’s dyslexic, remedial in school, but in actual life she’s whip smart and her potential for creativity knows no bounds.

I notice this transition happening, notice likewise my desire to shut her down. I’m competitive with Lovey, of all things. But the key lies in recognizing it. And instead shutting myself down.

Giving her free reign, which she handles like a master.

By the final day, Lovey has long since won over the boys. Whereas I’m proving a much more difficult audience. Sensing this, and exacerbated by it, we have a tense moment in which her confidence grows to such heights that she attempts a verbal overthrow.

“Are you honestly wanting to go head-to-head with me, Lovey?” I threaten. “Because I guarantee, you will lose.”

The words come out of my mouth hard, before I know I am going to say them.

What I’m really saying there is that I’m allowing her to take center-stage, because she’s a deserving apprentice, but that I can take it back any time I want it. And I’m not even sure if that’s true.

Lovey and I stare at each other, bodies rigid.

In some over-the-top choice of directing, we’re placed atop a cataclysmic precipice.

The boys, in their anxious and slightly delighted alarm over Lovey’s rebellion, slowly fade from my awareness, until it’s just Lovey and me, in absolute defiance of each other.

Then something strange happens. Some subtle change in lighting. A cool breeze. I don’t even know. Just something that suddenly allows me to to see, quite ridiculously, what I’m doing.

I’m trying to bring down the girl who is probably my most ardent supporter.

Lovey, in her intuitive wisdom, catches the shift.

“What song would be playing right now, during this scene?” she asks.

The question is magnanimous. It implies that Lovey and I are, in fact, just acting.

This isn’t who we are; this isn’t who we want to be.

The boys laugh in relief, and begin screaming out song titles that would, in fact, be perfect.

“Lovey,” I say, reaching out to her.

“Big Momma,” she whispers. It’s an old nickname she has for me.

Lovey stretches out her long, slender arms, accepts my embrace.

And we’re both shaking, though it’s barely discernible.

Lovey, that damn girl. In her I see the very challenge I presented to my own mother, and the opportunity to have something far greater than was ever allowed us. But it’s not easy. I come so dangerously close to failing.

~

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the rewrite

jesse at 8

Before the photojournalist and I said our final goodbye, he offered me some insight in the form of a story.

The story was about a soldier who’d returned from war and found himself unable to feel in the ordinary sense, the result of adapting to such heightened conditions in his years away.

He pretended, in the presence of family in friends, to be grateful to be home. But behind this facade, he was in fact tortured by his now-mundane existence.

In his doomed apathy, he secretly invited disaster. Some interaction that would allow him to feel again.

“Being alive, in the most simple and basic sense, was now somehow a fate for him worse than death.”

I recognized, of course, that the photojournalist was referring to himself.

But as it turned out, there was slightly more to it than that.

As was always the case with the photojournalist.

After he told me the story, he drew the shades in my hotel room and placed a cold washcloth over his eyes, over his scarred face.

I was restless, felt the need to move. So I left the room and circled the city block a few times, the steady disquiet the photojournalist inspired in me amping itself up as I did.

“What did you think about while you were gone?” he wanted to know, when I returned.

I loved the photojournalist for more reasons that I can cite, but this type of professorial probing was high among them.

“I thought about your story,” I answered, honestly.

“And?”

“I’m going to steal it from you.”

He nodded.

“Of course you are.”

“That doesn’t bother you?” I asked.

The photojournalist condemned me with one of his arrogant looks.

“It’s your story, you dolt,” he said.

The smile I offered in response held a confused mixture of flattery and sadness.

“How many more years are you going to spend hiding?” he asked.

It’s a funny thing, when one’s unconscious motivations are exposed.

It strips them of their mysterious intrigue.

Shortly after the photojournalist left, I met up with a dark and handsome man that I knew was not good for me.

I was bored and lifeless, and going through the familiar actions that had previously provided temporary relief to my sense of monotony.

But this time was different.

This time I recognized exactly what I was doing.

“Let’s drive to the canyon,” the man suggested. “There’s something I want to show you.”

I got in his car and stared out the black window as we drove miles from the city, and down a long, isolated dirt road.

He stopped the car. I turned to him.

“What was it you wanted to show me?” I asked.

The man unbuttoned his pants and pulled out his dick.

It did absolutely nothing for me.

I was as dead as I’d always been.

The prior potency of this scenario was lost, replaced as it was by an absurd transparency.

“Put that away,” I told him.

Predictably, my lack of interest did nothing to deter the man, who instead began fervently groping himself.

I put my head back against the headrest and closed my eyes.

“I want to go home now,” I mentioned.

The man grabbed the back of my head and thrust it towards his lap, tried to force himself into my mouth.

I braced myself, hands on his legs.

It sounds strange, but it occurred to me that this man cared about me not at all.

Simultaneously, it occurred to me that I could give him what he wanted and be home that much faster.

Which is almost what I did. Which is even what I started to do.

This is why his firm grip on the back of my head loosened.

But meanwhile, a reel of my life was playing in the private theatre of my mind.

The montage of memories started with the  photojournalist chiding me for the choices I’d made, and then cycled back to the many times I’d been in this very situation, dating back to the first time, when I was 13.

It was uncanny, how close I still felt to that girl.

And for the first time, I wanted her to define herself rather than give in to some destiny that seemed to have been bequeathed to her at random.

The man in the seat next to me was so caught up in the sickness of our circumstances that it didn’t even prove all that difficult to break free and exit the car.

“I’m going home,” I told him, before I shut the door.

Yes, it was a ridiculous. I was in heels and a thin dress and whatever fate befell me in my attempt to traverse the endless road ahead had the potential to be far worse than the scenario from which I’d just escaped.

But oddly, I felt a surge of incredible joy.

I was free.

Oh God, finally, I was free.

~

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the weeping willow

girl in window cigarette

As an adult, all of the memories she has about him fall under one simple category: Sad Lessons on Life & Love.

Still, as a child, there was Daddy. Bringing her presents and leaving her notes in his left-handed scrawl, each one confirming how absolutely wonderful she was. Feeding her on his oration and tucking her in and pulling her body out of the tub. Conducting audio interviews with her and transcribing her stories and filming her. Filming her. Filming her.

A child was never so adored.

This is true.

Once, he went away on a long business trip and she sat at school and missed him and crossed off the days until his return on her calendar. There was no delight in anything in his absence. It was all just one long spell of patient misery.

“May I go with you to the airport to pick him up?” she asked the morning of his homecoming.

“School,” Mum answered, pointing to the back door, which led across a large vacant field to the bus stop.

“I could miss school,” she suggested, despite an awareness of its being fruitless.

In her house, there were three women that orbited her father. Two daughters and a wife.

Of these three, she realized much later, her mum was the biggest child of them all. Needed his attention the very most, though was perhaps the least likely to receive it.

That day, during morning recess, she sat on top of the jungle gym and announced to her girlfriends, “I’m not going to be at school for a long time.”

“Why?” they wanted to know.

“Because I’m going to be very, very sick.”

From there, she went straight to the nurse’s office and developed a fever of 104.

Without meaning to, she went a little too far. There were chunks of time that were forever lost, and her overheated body ate small holes in the enamel of her surfacing teeth.

When the fever finally broke she opened her eyes to find herself in her parent’s bed in the dark.

By then, her mother was, predictably, gone.

“Dad?” she called, feeling his presence.

And there he was.

In the days that followed, her body woke and slept in irregular patterns. One night her father was missing from her side, and she wandered outside, feeling the stringy weakness of her legs. The clinging stickiness of her nightgown.

She found him under the big willow tree on the farthest corner of their property, crying.

“Please don’t be sad,” she whispered.

He wiped his face with the back of his hand and she cuddled up next to him.

“I’m not very good at holding my family together,” he told her, as her heavy eyes fell, and his voice broke as he said it.

Life carried on. She returned to school. Even from miles and miles away, she could feel, quite largely, how much he was pretending. Sometimes in the middle of her lessons, she was struck by loving him so much that it hurt.

One morning at recess, she invited herself to play King of the Mountain with the boys.

“You can’t play. You’re a girl,” Robbie Eggers told her.

She had a very small crush on Robbie Eggers. Even so, she pushed him as hard as she could in the stomach, and watched in wonderment as his body careened down the hill’s steep side.

And from then on, she was in.

At first the boys were timid with her, perhaps, but her lack of restraint soon earned her a solid place in the game. She became more and more drawn to the physical sensation of brute force. And when not at recess, she spent long amounts of time in the girl’s bathroom stall with her pants down, evaluating her myriad of bruises.

One day a boy’s arm broke, mid-play. And as a twisted result, the group was sent to the principal’s office, where they were told they would receive a paddling.

The principal sportingly removed the terrifying paddle from its shelf, looking a bit the cricketer.

And one of the boys started crying but she said, “You’re not allowed to do that to me.”

When she’d started school, her dad had shown her a waiver parents were asked to sign that permitted the use of corporeal punishment.

“My dad didn’t sign the form,” she told the principal.

Which was accurate. So instead she was put in the corner to watch, while each of the scared and teary-eyed boys were paddled in turn.

This, it turned out, was far, far worse.

~

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the unmade bed

unmade bed 2so some alarm on his phone chimes and he slides out of bed and into the shower. and before i’ve really thought it through, i’m fleeing my own hotel room. because my love for him is a fucking delicious knife in my heart, and it’s killing me and vitalizing me in the way that I very much need to be killed and vitalized.

again.

one day, i want him to let me reach out and touch him, without his touching back.

but for now, he and i have overlapping issues, it seems.

both so charitable and damaged and apathetic, that being in his proximity is like viewing myself through an oddly-flattering lens.

one in which running away is a viable option.

no one will tell you this, but sometimes, it’s actually the right move to make.

especially when self-preservation is at stake.

he’s leaving today and it will be months or maybe years until i see him again, if it all. and as such, sitting my way through a goodbye is simply not tolerable.

whereas hiding in a parking garage as my hands shake and my chest heaves and falls apparently is.

but first, i have to unearth the articles of clothing at my disposable.

which shouldn’t be a trial, but is. because yesterday, right before he convinced me to let him up, i paid the valet a generous sum to help me throw all of my belongings into my various suitcases and take them down to the car.

which, yes, was a really odd thing to do. but sometimes i can be such a strange girl, and it’s simply what happened.

“you’re checking out early?” the valet asked.

“no, no, it’s not that. i just need my things removed, you know, for now.”

he seemed confused, and i allowed for that, because it was easier than to trying to explain to him my need for the photojournalist on a blank canvas.

his smooth skin and perfect form against nothing but a backdrop of white.

his visit was short. or timeless. i’m not sure. but there was never really the question of whether or not it was enough.

because that single moment, when i went down to meet him in the hotel lobby, and saw him sitting there before he saw me? that alone would have been enough.

he has this quality of beauty to me i can’t begin to understand.

i even had the thought, “of all men, why him?”

but for better or worse, this is the pristine position he now holds with me.

of course, that was yesterday.

today is a new day.

one in which i must absolutely make haste to escape the threat of farewell.

i’ve managed to slip on my tights and a camisole by the time the water from his shower shuts off.

and at that point there’s just nothing more for it.

i grab my shawl and boots from the entryway.

and the door clicks shut behind me.

the noise it makes worries me. under no circumstances do i want him catching up with me. so i sprint down the corridor in what few clothes i’m wearing, with the brilliant plan to somehow make an acceptable outfit out of my shawl once i’m safely behind the elevator’s closed doors.

the thing i don’t anticipate is the young black porter being in the elevator when its doors open. but there he is. i can’t decide which of us is more startled.

“lobby, please,” i request as i get in, trying to behave as if my state of undress bears even a remote semblance of civility.

the doors close. he’s on one side of the elevator, in his handsome uniform.

i’m on the other, in tights and an open-backed spaghetti strap camisole.

to say nothing of my hair’s wild disarray.

“i’m making a quick getaway,” i explain to him, as if that makes things in any way better.

he stares at me, openly. i feel the heat rushing into my face. it’s an insanely intimate moment.

“whatever you’re doing, you look beautiful,” he says.

i laugh. he’s not even flirting with me. i’m not sure what he’s doing. it’s all just happening rather fast.

being a gentleman. that’s what it is.

i take a deep breath and tie the shawl around my waist.

then, holding the boots in my hands behind my back, and balancing on one foot at a time, i bend at the knee to kick back into them. all while standing perfectly erect. because if i bend over even at all, my breasts will be on full display, and we’ll be a little worse off than we already are.

“impressive,” he says.

i laugh again.

“thank you.”

there’s just time to pull my hair back in a loose knot, and then the elevator doors open.

before i exit, i give the porter a shy and grateful look, and curtsy.

in turn, he bows.

it’s a strange and very human moment, between a dignified young man and a woman i can only assume he believes is a call girl.

meanwhile, the photojournalist is wandering infinitely beautiful around my hotel room in a towel.

each of us carving out an experience uniquely our own.

~

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mr. craig

fleeing

We were vacationing on the coast the night that Dad died. And when we came back, our things had all been packed up.

Arrangements were made for us to live for a while in the mountains, in a pair of rooms bestowed on us by Mr. Craig, Dad’s former boss. Just for a year or two, while Mum got back on her feet.

Dad never got along with Mr. Craig while he was alive, but I figured that death must have made them fonder.

My sister, being older, had a different take on it.

“For a good time, call Ann Catherine,” she scrawled on the sides of bus stops and underground tunnels, referencing Mum’s room number.

“Your father always believed you should have a good education,” Mum noted, upon sending Celia off to private school.

This was true. Dad always said that.

“Don’t make friends while you’re here,” Mum in turn instructed me, as regards my own education. “We won’t be staying long.”

While we never stayed anywhere long, even when Dad was alive, this type of counsel was new to me.

“She makes friends wherever she goes!” Celia once screamed angrily, of me and my accidental ease with people.

I wasn’t sure if I knew how not to, but I vowed to give it my full effort.

~

“This is Delilah,” the year five teacher announced my first day of class.

I slouched down deep in my seat and did my best to appear stand-offish.

“I expect all of you to introduce yourselves, find out two things about her, and submit them to me in writing by the end of the week.”

Oh dear.

I called Mum during morning recreation.

“I’m busy, Delilah,” she told me.

“They’re asking about me,” I tried to explain. “I’m not sure what to say.”

Mum sighed. “You’re a smart girl. Just make something up.”

I didn’t know quite what to make of Mum giving me permission to lie.

But in some ways, it was a relief. Life felt slightly off, and I couldn’t place what was happening anyway.

“Delilah’s father is a pilot. He travels a lot for work,” was what every child in the class would have written about me by week’s end. “She grew up in the country, where she had a horse named Shadow.”

When it came to creating a fictionalized life, I was, oddly, a natural.

And yet, even so, my thwarting of friends proved impossible.

“We’re not really friends,” I told Mum, upon being invited out with Brandy. “She’s just going to help me with maths.”

Mum was putting on lipstick in the vanity mirror, didn’t even look at me.

“It’s fine,” she permitted. “Mr. Craig is coming by after work, and it’s better you’re not here.”

I considered this.

Mr. Craig wore lots of silver jewelry inlaid with turquoise. Belt buckles, rings, bolo ties. I’d never really had an opinion about such a thing before, but lately silver and turquoise had become visually offensive to me.

“It’s unbecoming for men to wear jewelry,” I mentioned to Mum. “Wouldn’t you agree?”

Mum stopped dabbing her lipstick, shot me one of her sharp iceberg glares.

It was always fascinating how quickly Mum’s beauty could be transformed.

I could feel that she wanted to hit me, and a part of me wanted that as well.

All it would have taken was one more line, but I couldn’t think of one.

~

Brandy’s mother worked in a bar and wore flannel shirts that were mostly unbuttoned.

“Delilah’s dad is a pilot,” Brandy told her, as we sat on high stools at the bar’s counter, waiting on some peanut butter and marshmallow cream sandwiches.

“He’s not home very much,” I confirmed, easily.

“Oh, that must be so hard for your mom,” Brandy’s mother commented. “She must just worry herself sick about him.”

I pictured Mum. She really didn’t seem very worried. About anyone.

“I don’t have a mum,” I said.

I really didn’t mean to say it; I didn’t even know I was going to say it. It just came out.

“She’s dead,” I said then, trying to get some kind of a handle on the situation.

“Oh sugar, I’m so sorry!” Brandy’s mum cooed. She reached across the bar and placed her hand on top of mine. Her fingers were a little gummy, from the marshmallow cream.

I took my hand out from under hers and licked the sticky sweetness from it.

“It’s all right,” I told her. “It was a really long time ago.”

Idiotically, I almost said that she died before I was born.

“I never really knew her,” was what I chose instead.

~

Life went on like that for the better of two months.

Then one day I came home to find Mum packing our bags.

“Eldorado Place is open,” she informed me.

She was referring to a rental property that our family owned, in which we irregularly lived. During odd-numbered years or something. I didn’t know the algorithm for determining when we’d be there.

“The school year isn’t over,” I pointed out, knowing it made no difference.

Mum kept packing. I went outside and got sick in the snow.

I don’t know what happened to Mr. Craig. I never asked; Mum never told me.

I can say with relative certainty that neither of us ever missed him.

When we pulled up out front of Eldorado Place, Mum let out a big exhale, as if she’d been holding her breath this whole time.

“Let’s go in,” she said.

“I’m going to stay here a moment,” I told her.

Mum was piqued, and made no show of hiding it. But she went inside without me anyway.

I sat in the warm car with the dust motes.

Eventually some familiar neighborhood kids came by and knocked on the window. I rolled it down.

“We’re sorry to hear about your dad,” they said.

And suddenly, my dad was no longer a pilot, but a dead man.

And my mum? She actually belonged to me.

“Enough of this Delilah, get out of the car!” she came out then, yelling.

The neighborhood kids stepped away from us.

“She’s not my real mum,” I wanted to tell them.

But she was.

~

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mr. kane

finger

He likes me because of my thigh-high stockings.

I know this because he told me.

He’s charitable in his verbal appreciation of me.

Though I can’t be certain, I suspect his loquacity probably helps dispel thoughts of his dead, manic-suicide, ex-wife.

Filling up the space with sound.

I’m curious as to why there are no pictures of her in the house. I want to know if I look like her. Or decidedly don’t.

“This is the library,” he told me, on the tour. “I’m very proud of it.”

I perused the books at eye-level, having read every but one.

“Your degree?” I asked, in the abbreviated way I prefer.

Whatever degree he holds, I was guessing it to be similar to mine.

“Hmm?” he said, leaning in.

He placed his fingers delicately on the small of my back, as though that would help him balance himself while he listened so carefully to the two words I’d been asked to repeat.

I didn’t repeat them, thinking instead as I was about the tentative fingers on the small of my back.

There was something so sweet about it. Kind. Slow. Old-fashioned, almost.

“You don’t have to be afraid to touch me,” I allowed, turning, touching the top button on his shirt, as if to show him.

He’s tall. I like his height. And there’s something else I like, but I can’t quite place it.

“I don’t want to hurt you,” he said, completely genuine. “Please stop me if I do anything to hurt you.”

As if.

As if.

I tugged gently on his shirt, inviting his lips to mine with upward-facing eyes.

It’s perhaps unlike me to be so willing to look at a man as bravely, as nakedly, as I do him. But I sense in him a bizarre and wholesome sincerity.

“All right,” I agreed.

And that was a defining moment.

Mr. Kane liberally grabbed my bottom up in his hands, and went a little too wild in his kiss.

It’s fine. I understand. Exuberance.

I just wasn’t prepared for it.

Just as I wasn’t prepared for his ardency to grow and continue so immediately.

I was operating on the assumption that a bit of physicality would put him at ease, make way for the rest of it to be well-paced.

Likely because I’m an adult woman. And he an even-more-adult man.

But no. Once started, he was unable to back down.

“Okay,” I said, separating myself from him. “Let’s take a moment.”

He nodded eagerly, pretending to understand. But even so, I could tell the next hour was already written for him.

“I’m going to the wash room,” I let him know. “You just calm down.”

I knew he wouldn’t calm down while I was in the wash room. Even though I stayed in there a really long time.

And when I returned, I sat at a distance from him.

“So,” I began.

He walked over and sat on his knees at my feet, first adjusting the hem of my skirt, and then lifting it slightly.

“The stockings are really magnificent,” he wanted me to know.

“Okay,” I said.

He ran his fingers hypnotically across the cuffs of the stockings, smoothing and manipulating them so that they were in some kind of ideal symmetry I couldn’t comprehend.

“Are you a little OCD?” I questioned.

“OCD?” he echoed, the majority of his concentration still on the stockings. “No. Yes. Maybe. I’m really not sure. Yes, I suppose about some things I am.”

Unexpectedly, his body then lunged at mine. He coincidingly grabbed the back of my head in one hand in order to keep it from knocking into the lamp behind me.

An impressive maneuver, I suppose, stemming perhaps from his history of lacrosse. But no.

Despite his affections, some important part of me felt largely ignored.

I pushed him off and stood up.

“I’m sorry,” I told him “but this needs to be redefined.”

“That’s okay,” he assured me, simply.

And then, after a beat, “What are you talking about?”

He was avidly offering up his body, when what I needed, at least in part, was his mind. So I explained to Mr. Kane that he was heretofore no longer permitted to touch me.

“But you can otherwise direct me in whatever way you want.”

I explained to Mr. Kane that he was free to undress, but that my clothes were staying on.

“If you’d like me to touch you, I will. But you are absolutely not to touch me,” I reiterated, sternly. “If you do, I’m leaving.”

By this time, he’d already stripped off all of his clothes. I anticipated his being more shy than that. But men of his size seldom are, I suppose.

“On a scale of one to ten, how dirty am I allowed to talk to you?” he wanted to know.

“Ten,” I answered, curious as to what this tender-hearted man could devise.

To my great pleasure, he narrated the events with incredible articulation. I’ve never heard anything like it. Not one stutter, pause, error of speech. Just a fluid purging of words.

At some point, Mr. Kane positioned me reverse-kneeling on the couch. Positioned my hands on the couch’s back.

“Don’t touch me,” I warned, feeling him behind me.

“I won’t,” he reassured me.

He stretched his long arms around me. Put his hands down on either side of mine.

“I’ll keep my hands where you can see them,” he whispered, nuzzling his scratchy face all up in my hair.

Hair for which he then used the verb spill.

As in, “Now arch your neck, and let me feel your hair spill across my bare chest.”

And as promised, I did exactly as I was told, Mr. Kane looking down from just above me.

Mr. Kane, and his magnanimous, overflowing library of self.

~

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indelible ink

I finally reached my sister’s hospital room on the night of Christmas Eve, in the year that I was 24, she 28.

Her head was a swollen mess of bruises and stitches and blood and hair. I’d caught a ride with a stranger to find the girl I’d loved for all these awful years so close to gone that I could feel the death on her.

I was afraid to really look at her, or even touch her without a doctor’s permission, so I sat down in a chair against the wall, in the dimly-lit room, and put my head in my hands.

I tried to decipher how one small family could have so much go so wrong.

Incongruously, I felt sorry for my father, who’d been dead for 13 years, knowing how much he loved this girl, and imagining what this would have done to him.

Outside, a light snow was falling. Back in our apartment, my 14-year-old brother would soon be waking up to a Christmas so destroyed that it would surprisingly pale every horrible Christmas he’d had before it.

“Are you Delilah?” a woman’s light voice asked, after a time.

I looked up and nodded. There was a nurse peeking her head in.

“You have a phone call.”

I stared at her a minute. I wanted to ask if my sister would live until I got back from the call, or if we should perhaps take a message, but I didn’t know how.

“At reception,” she urged.

“Right.”

I couldn’t imagine who would know I was here, but the call was from Steve, my sister’s boyfriend.

“You know how much I love her,” he told me, a strange urgency in his voice.

Yes, I knew how much he loved her. Enough to hang around and pay for her drinks while she treated him like dirt and slept with his friends.

“They’re not sure if she’s going to make it,” I let him know.

I bent down and put my head below my heart when I told him, because the prior time I’d said that surreal sentence, I’d lost consciousness.

“Oh God, oh God, oh God, your sister is crazy, you know that, right Delilah?”

I was quiet. Of course I knew my sister was crazy, but it seemed a strange time to comment on it.

“Where are you?” I suddenly thought to ask. “Why aren’t you here?”

“I’m at my parent’s house, up north.”

“You left town?” I asked, feeling betrayed.

The pieces weren’t fitting together yet.

When I got back to my sister’s room, the nurses were changing her diaper. I stared at her trampy tattoo, at her perfect, concave belly. And finally, I touched her still-warm arm.

It was as if I’d thought it would hurt her, to do so.

When actually, it hurt me.

“Oh, she’s menstruating,” one of the nurses commented.

Menstruating. My sister’s dying body was menstruating, of all things.

It’s odd, what a body will do.

And odd, too, a person.

~

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absence

“I want you to be fast asleep when I get there.”

This is the text he sends, in response to my letting him know I’m in the city.

It’s a little game we play. Although, honestly, I’d forgotten.

It’s been a long time since we’ve seen each other, and there is no guarantee that the unknowing which once existed between us will still be enough.

Even so, here I am, unlocking the window and sliding it open.

The beautiful spring air its own caress, I guide my body to the wide bed.

Lay it down on its side. The long, slow arch of my hip an unspoken invitation.

How he noiselessly ascends the fire escape, I’ll never know.

Silence is a gift very few have.

The sheet loosely covering me lifts, as if by a breeze. And for a moment I wonder if he’s in the room with me now, or if simply, in my wanting him so, I’m imagining it.

But then his warm lips meet the skin on my inner leg.

Ever so delicately.

And again.

This scenario, without fail, is its own seduction.

The sun is low in the sky. The room, behind my closed eyes, will now be cast in long shadows.

And by the time I open them, will be filled by darkness.

His pace is slow, patient.

This, also, is rare.

To be clear, this man is not my confidante. We will never share long conversations in which he uncovers anything about me.

Instead, he bears witness to my body when I’m unable to conceal its tremors. And this is somehow, for me, a more profound and necessary intimacy.

His velvet-soft tongue grants him access to some hidden place, within me, that seemingly belongs to him.

I experience it, occasionally, as a betrayal.

“It’s okay,” he intones, his deep voice hushed, as if in secret.

He stops, waits long moments for my staccato breath to lengthen.

Allows my fingers to entwine reassuringly in his.

I don’t know how this man learns to do what he does.

Nor how two bodies are able move together so effortlessly.

In due time, I’ll marvel at it. But for now, my carefully-assembled mind has already begun to collapse.

“Are you all right?” I ask, wanting to make sure, before I’m gone.

“Just let me take care of you,” he answers.

I think I’d find his generosity unbearable, were it entirely altruistic.

But ultimately, there is undeniable evidence that it’s not.

Afterwards, we lie together in the darkness I prophesied. He smooths the damp hair from my temples, and again pulls me towards him.

His kisses oddly become even longer, deeper, more searching.

As if there’s so much he’s yet to say.

But when he stops for a moment, I curl up in a nest of myself, and fall instantly and very deeply asleep.

For real, this time.

I suppose he leaves the way he came.

Some time later I wake, my mouth looking for his.

~

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our legacy

airport

This week my son, Django, went off with his dad, The Piranha, to the islands.

This was a big step, I guess. Because there have been years, off and on, that the two wanted very little to do with each other. And that’s in addition to those years when I shunned The Piranha altogether, finding my son’s innocence too precious to spoil.

Those were the years that I wished The Piranha would just go far, far away. Which were contrasted by many more, when I wished I knew where he was.

It’s a lot of years, is maybe what I’m saying.

Though the general themes are pretty well established, I’m not sure that we’re any closer to finding the ending to our story, we three.

But tonight, as I wait at the airport for their plane to arrive, I find myself rolling back to the beginning.

It’s a beginning that precludes Django, naturally. Back when it was just me and The Piranha.

Or perhaps just me and my incredible love and adoration for a man whose grittiness was palpable.

Or perhaps just me and my fascination with myself, ultimately.

That does seem to be the determining factor in so many of my relationships. “Do I like the character I create for this particular man?” being the defining question.

One forever-night ago, the character I’d created for the Piranha was in an airport just like this, in a short brown suede skirt and motorcycle boots, waiting on his arrival.

She was smoking a cigarette outside the terminal and scowling openly at every single person that passed.

And I suppose it makes sense that I loved The Piranha, from that perspective, because I love that girl.

I love how good she is at pretending. Because I know for a fact that she’s as delicate as they come. But tonight her act is so fucking convincing.

And I wish I could talk to her. I’m curious about her mind, her maturation.

About the long, falling-down path that will lead her to me.

But instead I watch as a scruffy man with a great strut sneaks up behind her and grabs her tight in his leather arms.

And she sinks into him, rests the back of her head on his chest.

“Did you bring me something?” she asks.

The man laughs.

“You know, I forgot until the last minute,” he says. “But then I found this.”

He lets her go, reaches into his pocket while she turns and watches expectantly.

The man pulls a thick silver bolt from his pocket.

When he says he found it, he means it literally. In the street, beside a puddle of grease.

And it’s for this, of all crazy things, that our character has reserved her smile.

She fits the bolt over the knuckle of her thumb.

“I love it,” she says.

And she actually does.

Silly little waif.

I don’t have the silver bolt anymore.

But tonight the memory of it is oddly precious.

It almost makes me want to go outside and rummage around in the gutter, to see if I can’t find something to give The Piranha when he lands. I wonder for a second if he’d remember.

But he would. I know he would.

Because I once overheard him telling that exact story to Django, a mixture of nostalgia and hurt in his voice.

“Your mom used to be so easy to please,” was his master conclusion.

“Wait. You gave Delilah a dirty bolt you found in the street?” Django asked, confused. “Are you serious?”

I laugh now, remembering this, too. It’s all so gorgeous and stupid.

~

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tagging the surgeon

So the surgeon suggests, three consecutive times, that we go out. Like on a date, I guess.

I have a fondness for the surgeon because, despite having my number, he only ever corresponds with me occasionally. This is a good quality in a man, if you’re me.

So he’s got that going for him. But I only ever met him once, very briefly. At one of those celebratory events you attend when your friend beats cancer.

It’s not the best circumstances under which to meet a man. Because there’s the whole gratitude vibe happening, which makes it’s hard to gauge what people are really like. You know, when they’re not pretending that they have a concept of life’s preciousness.

Oh my God, I just realized that I’m saying this about someone who cuts people open for a living.

He just came off as being so nice, is all.

Nice being a trait to which I’m unaccustomed.

I’m not even sure how to respond to nice.

So I ignore the surgeon’s suggestions that we get together until the third time, when it kind of starts to seem like he’ll pick up on my ignoring it, and stop asking. And even though I’m not sure I want to see more of him, I’m not sure that I don’t want to either. I’m probably 50/50.

“Look, I should probably tell you something,” I announce, and already it sounds more dramatic than I intended. It sounds like the warm-up to letting someone know you’re married, or wearing an ankle monitor, is what I think.

But he just says, “Please do.” Which kind of puts me at ease.

“It’s just, you know. I don’t really do dates.”

“How so?” he inquires, which wasn’t what I expected.

He’s surprisingly solid, this one.

“As in, I don’t know how,” I say, for a start, and then decide to risk exposing more. “As in, the idea of sitting across the table from someone and trying to get acquainted that way sounds hideous to me.”

I fight the urge to follow up what I’ve just said with a statement that would imply there is something wrong with me. Something like, “There’s probably something wrong with me.”

Because it really doesn’t matter what’s wrong with me. Not yet, anyway.

The surgeon takes me off guard by not putting me down.

“You don’t do dates,” he says instead, restating what I’ve just said in that kind of way therapists do when they want you to know you’ve said something important.

It’s oddly validating.

“Are you a therapist, too?” I ask, suddenly suspicious. I’m pretty sure I’d have to draw the line at therapist.

He laughs. “No.”

“Oh.”

I think about how, when the surgeon asked for my number, I picked up the sharpie that was on the kitchen counter and wrote my number in large digits on the inside of his forearm.

“He’s a doctor, Delilah!” my cancer-free friend scolded, about the sharpie thing, after he’d left. “Not a character in a John Hughes movie!”

“Right,” I responded. “Roger that.”

It’s not as though I’m behaving badly on purpose.

Is it?

“You should come over to my house Thursday,” I say to him now, impulsively. “If you want to. But don’t try to talk to me while you’re here. I mean, if you have something to say, say it. Of course. But let’s don’t do the whole forced conversation thing.”

“We’ll converse only when necessary,” he reassures me, perhaps teasingly.

I like being teased. Almost as much as I like being taken off-guard.

And tomorrow is Thursday.

Which means, very soon, I maybe get to find out what else I like.

~

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