absentee demons

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I’m having another episode.

I’m never sure what to do when this happens, and at first I tend to respond by thrashing wildly.

Grasping at nearby surfaces as I plummet, only to watch them loosen and break too.

Far better once I recognize the hopelessness of struggle, as at least I can leave off bringing other objects down with me.

Far better once I surrender to the knowledge that my own strength has failed.

The descent is predictably horrible and long. It happens as if in slow-motion, while I whisper and plead, “Not this far. Please not this far.”

But yes, darling, yes. We’re going this far. I’m so very sorry.

It’s not difficult for me to decipher the elements that conspired to bring me down this time.

If there even were any.

Perhaps it’s not even like that. Perhaps just every so often, I simply miss a step, and it’s as easy as that.

You stop paying attention, miss a step, and you go down.

I’m trying very hard to be grateful for it. I know that every time I’ve gone under before, I’ve come up better, more whole.

But meanwhile I’m just so ruinously sad.

I’ve been crawling into bed at seven at night in order to keep appointments with my demons.

Not sleeping, just getting into bed. Lying still and letting them have their way with me.

I’m not sure what else to do.

Ironically, or serendipitously—I don’t even know—my son’s father has chosen this as the time to confront me.

“I need to talk to you about Django,” he says, when he calls.

“I’m really not well,” I tell The Piranha, grasping my forehead with a shaking hand.

The Piranha told me recently that I was the only woman he ever really loved.

Nonetheless, he now has a schedule that needs to be kept, despite where I am in space and time.

Which, it just so happens, is the bottom of a black pit. In a dirty nightgown.

Where, it feels, I’ve spent the past two eons.

The Piranha, in a biological sense, is Django’s father. Those are indeed the facts, and the center of his argument.

But I myself had a father, and I know the true meaning of the word.

And this is the curse that has been laid upon The Piranha, from time without beginning.

“It’s like starting at ground zero with you two, every time. Do you get that?” he asks.

“Yes, I get that.”

And I do.

I get that not all of the fault of this situation lies with the The Piranha.

I get that, in The Piranha’s absence, I created the relationship that I wanted with my son. A relationship built on such love and tenderness and laughter and trust that it leaves very little room for anyone else to measure up.

It’s unfortunate, I suppose?

I have no idea what to say.

“He’s acting like a coward,” The Piranha says, of our boy’s reluctance to relate with him.

“He’s 13,” I tell him.

“I don’t care. It’s over. I’m done.”

There is absolutely nothing new in this. Not one thing.

It’s not even a tragedy, in that our son, just this week at the pool, told me that he has no father.

Django already decided. I’m not even sure when. A long time ago, I suppose.

So it’s not as if any of this is should upend me. And yet, through it, one of my demon’s faces comes into focus.

My son is brilliant. I suppose this is what any mother would say of her son. So that’s not really the point.

The point is, my son is…

It’s just…

He deserved better.

And really super selfishly, I did, too.

There is one singular devastation in raising Django by myself. And it is this:

I feel so utterly alone in my unconditional love for him.

There are moments when I notice within myself the most ferocious desire to grab someone, anyone, and sceam, “Look at my boy! Look at him! Can you believe it?”

And it makes me frantic, almost, to truly acknowledge to myself that no one will ever see what I see.

I look at this demon and I hate him.

But then I’m struck by the fact that this is the first time we’re truly coming face-to-face, and yet my son has been alive for thirteen years.

“Where in the world have you been lurking?” I ask, and I’m genuinely curious.

The demon stops his snarling a moment, looks taken aback.

“How have I never even noticed you?”

I know that in the big picture Django will be fine and that I’ll be fine and I actually even know that part of the preciousness of our relationship revolves around our being alone in this.

“You’re hurting me fuck-all at the moment,” I tell the demon.

A small strand of slobber releases and suspends from his lower lip.

This demon and I are going to be spending a lot of time together, I suspect.

This demon and I are going to have to make our peace.

~

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it’s not endless

I don’t even work for the client anymore, and I almost feel like punching myself in the face that I have another post about him, but I do.

I promised myself I wouldn’t go up there anymore.

He asked me to marry him. Did I tell you that?

I know I didn’t, because at the time I could scarcely deal with it myself. Wondered what I’d become.

But back when I told him that I was quitting, that was his response.

“Would you reconsider?” he first asked.

“No.”

He was quiet for a while, and I assumed the conversation was over. He went downstairs, came back up with his famous dish of Thai chicken.

“I’ve figured out a way to make this work,” he told me.

I swiveled in my chair. Watched him take a bite of food, didn’t ask.

“We’ll just have to get married.”

That’s yet another marriage proposal I’ve received that was not in the form of a question. This has happened to me five times, at least. How is that even possible?

I was shocked, of course, but quick to cover it.

“I’ve got a son,” was my brilliant response.

Because Steve hates kids.

He waved his fork in the air, talked with his mouth full.

“We could just send him off to boarding school.”

I stared at him. The client and I have never been sexual. Not once. I tell people this and they don’t believe me. Even as I write this, I almost don’t believe it myself, but I swear to you it’s true.

“I’d never send my son to boarding school,” I answered, turning away from him.

I suppose the nice thing about a man not asking, is that the woman doesn’t have to answer.

My son. As if that were even the issue.

But on some level, I suppose it was, in that it showed how very little he knew me.

A few hours later I left, promising myself I’d never go back.

That was three months ago.

In the meantime, I started a new job with people who I suspect are emotionally healthy, hired the most darling assistant a woman could want, and have been challenged and overworked and sometimes strung out, but I’ve never looked back.

In the meantime, Steve rafted down the grand canyon, did a four-day tour of Japan, took his mom on a cruise to Alaska, and emailed me every few weeks to ask me if I’d reconsidered yet.

“No, I’m happy,” I responded.

I’m not sure when things crossed a line in our relationship. I know we were never particularly professional with each other, and I suppose things got increasingly dicey without my willingness to alter it.

It took my brother visiting to bring it into focus. “You’re so tortured after you work for that guy,” he said.

And tortured was such a perfect word for it, because the level of maintenance it took for me to hold it all together in Steve’s presence was enough to make me absolutely berserk once I was back around people I could trust.

I let those memories fade to black after I left, I suppose. It’s the only way to explain why I agreed to go up when I got his last message.

“You at least have to come up and show me how to pay my credit card bill!” he wrote.

And I knew I was dreading it but I couldn’t remember why until today when I was there.

I’m just not myself around this person.

Taking care of his bills, going through his mail, making phone calls on his behalf, while he intermittently said,

“You look great. Have you been having lots of sex?”

and

“Haven’t you missed me at all?”

and

“Would you wear this lingerie if I bought it for you? 36C, am I right?”

And it’s just so fucking confusing because despite the way I might be painting it, Steve is actually not an asshole.

And perhaps more importantly, I am not a feeble woman.

He’s a good man, and I kind of think I’m as tough as they come.

But somehow when he does that, I just can’t respond. I act like it’s not happening.

Or, if I’m on the phone, I hold up a finger as if to say to him, “Just a minute…”

“Just a minute Steve, and we’ll talk all about my breasts, my sex life, and the emotional pangs I’ve been suffering without you.”

I just don’t know how things spiraled like that.

As I was heading towards the door on what I now believe was my final way out, Steve stopped me.

“You’ve disappointed me,” he said.

He had his arms crossed at the chest, was standing about seven feet away.

“Oh? How’s that?” I dared to ask.

“I thought we at least knew each other well enough for a goodbye hug.”

I suppose I could have not done it, but I think in some way this type of closure was strangely necessary.

We did, in fact, share some kind of intimacy.

I felt weak and sick, but I crossed the distance and gave the man a hug.

He didn’t open his arms to me, and my 36C breasts pushed against his forearms.

Then I turned and walked away.

“Thanks for that,” he said.

And the door closed between us.

 

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helium

 

balloon

Django and Lovey are thirteen now and smarter and just overall better than I was at their age.

This week we go to a haunted hotel and spend a night together there. We luck out and there’s even a terrifying thunderstorm. It grows dark and ominous, and the rain pounds hard against the window panes, and I tell them that the electricity will probably go out, and they’re young enough to make those fucking ridiculous, adorable shrieking sounds that kids make in states of gleeful terror.

God, I love these people.

It’s unbelievable that they’re in my life. Sometimes I wish I could go back and tell my constantly-devastated former self that one day two beautiful kids would voluntarily cuddle up next to my body and I’d know the meaning of life, have everything a woman could ever need.

The hotel suite has a tall, king-sized bed. Lush with a pillow-top and a fluffy white comforter that I would wear to my wedding, were I the marrying type.

We’re all sprawled across it and going to watch The Shining, which plays round the clock on channel 42. But then Django and I get too scared.

Not Lovey. She’s not afraid of anything.

Except sometimes being alive. Like the week prior when we took her hyperventilating little body to the emergency room at two in the morning for an anxiety attack. Which would have been a bad story, except that my life doesn’t seem to accept bad stories anymore and we all ended up having an inexplicably good time. Lovey is even still wearing her hospital ID bracelet as a fond reminder. And so precious the way my Django showed up as the kind of man he’s going to be, the kind of man he’s becoming. Taking charge, talking sweet Lovey down. Nurturing and strong. If I weren’t already his mother, I would have fallen in love with him that night.

But back at the hotel we’re all fighting about who gets to sleep in that enormous bed and who gets the pull-out couch. What I like about us is that each one feels he or she deserves it. I remember being the kind of kid who would have insisted that others take it and then felt like shit when they did.

But my kids are lordly, know their worth, and even my mediocre parenting doesn’t seem to bring them down.

In the end, I give them the bed. I’m the most tired, and they’re more tenacious anyway.

“Goodnight Gramma,” they often say, teasingly, at my earlier bedtimes. They who stay up until three in the morning giggling their heads off about god-knows-what.

I unfold the pull-out couch and fall asleep quickly while they’re happily playing cards and setting their iPhone alarms for early to ensure we make it down to breakfast.

But at some point later, I softly wake to one on either side of me, lovingly touching my arms, my face.

“Keep your eyes closed, and guess which one of is which,” Lovey whispers.

And I feel my Django’s and Lovey’s warm and smooth fingertips run down my cheeks.

I guess right, and they laugh, snuggle in closer.

It’s not relevant, but I don’t remember ever touching my mother. And I’m not saying that as a sad thing, so let me restate it. I don’t remember even wanting to touch her. And certainly not at age 13.

So how did I manage to land in a life with this beautiful boy and girl who would rather cozy up with me on a pull-out couch than sleep in a big, luxurious bed?

No, really. How did I?

Nothing, not one thing, could ever break my heart more than this does.

And I could swear I’m going to be better person for them, but we all know I’m often preoccupied and narcissistic. Plus, the impression I get is that part of what they love about me is my shortcomings. Not sure how that works, but it’s true.

On the drive home, we read from a journal I pulled down from the shelf for this trip. It’s from when I was their age, and as I drive the kids take turns reading and mimicking the voice they think I would have had. My 13-year-old journal is full of cliches like, “Love is pain” and “Life is a bitch” and catalogues all of my various obsessions and disappointments.

“You haven’t changed at all!” my kids scream, laughing and laughing and laughing.

And in so many ways they’re right. And it actually is funny.

But honestly? I really don’t remember being that moody and erratic, so far out of control.

The parts of me that are similar are much lighter now. I’ve developed a certain touch-and-go I didn’t have back then. Or maybe somewhere along the line, I managed to carve out the life I actually wanted.

Whatever the case, my angst-ridden ramblings from age 13 are in a way insightful, in that they serve as some left-of-center reminder to keep a closer eye on my kids. Watch for signs of uncertainty in them. Right now, they’re the helium in their own balloons. Miraculously strong and gorgeous and resilient. But life is unpredictable and full of sharp things. Who really knows, right?

And I’ll be damned if I’m ever going to just let them sink.

~

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the glass box

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I’ve made a mistake with the photojournalist that I can’t begin to understand. And after I leave his house this morning I call my brother, who doesn’t answer, then my ex, and almost start to cry.

In calling, I think I just want to hear the voice of someone who knows me, who will help me locate my presence, remind me who I am.

Because I’m thinking that my upset revolves around losing myself in the intimacy the photojournalist and I are forging. Which is in part accurate.

But only in part.

“Did I wake you?” I ask the man I loved for thirteen horrible years.

“No, I’m driving to work.”

“Stay on the phone with me until you get there?” I ask.

There’s no relationship pressure between us anymore. He knows when he gets to his destination he’s allowed off the phone. So he generously agrees, and I start talking in the circles it takes me to figure out anything about myself. Navigating closer to a revelation I’m stupidly reluctant to have.

I start off by proposing that my love for the photojournalist is so consuming that I have to shut it down. But I can tell by how inauthentic it sounds when I say it out loud that I’m wrong.

First of all, why does it take my narrating my life like a story to recognize anything at all?

And secondly, why am I so afraid of the truth?

The photojournalist disappointed me last night. And when I say that, I don’t mean because of his actions or words or behavior, exactly. I mean, unfortunately, his entire essence.

The photojournalist wants to be adored and worshipped by me. And because we’ve done such a fabulous job of not being too fixed, I’ve been able to do just that.

But then last night he went and wanted to be known, not in the way we’ve been knowing each other, which has been so airy and cold and free. He wanted to open up to me in this forcibly claustrophobic way, and told me all sorts of ordinary things about his life that he thought would bring us closer.

And it was devastating, because I was not the least interested.

He told me about old lovers as though they were stories rife with complexity, and all I kept thinking was, “He’s got nothing on me.”

I expected so much more from him.

And then it was made a thousand times worse by the fact that he so grossly misinterpreted my boredom as to call it jealousy.

I don’t like being told by others what my experience is.

No, I actually really do. But only when they’re right.

And he’s wasn’t. Which meant he wasn’t seeing me at all.

And somehow, I found that disgusting.

I stayed awake the entire night trying to figure out how to clean up the mess he’d created. He slept, and I was able to find him beautiful in that repose, which helped. But then he woke up and started confidently talking as though he knew me again and it was worse than ever.

“He took it for granted that I’d be fascinated by him,” I tell my ex. “And I wasn’t.”

When we hit upon this truth my voice actually breaks. It’s the worst thing I can possibly imagine.

To my surprise, my ex actually begins laughing. It starts out small and stifled, but soon he can’t hold back.

“You’re so funny,” he chortles.

Which is an unusual blessing, in that it enables me to step outside of my tiny experience.

And before I know it I join him in laughing at the absurdity of who I am.

I feel my face loosen, my eyes, my heart, my whole being. Notice for the first time I am sitting in a parking lot downtown in an evening dress from the night before with just-been-fucked hair, bemoaning a problem that’s actually pretty insignificant.

“You don’t have intimacy issues, you just don’t like people,” my ex tells me, when our laughter settles.

“They disappoint me,” I correct him.

“Because you build them up too high. Admit it. You do this. You want everyone to be more than they actually are, and no one can meet your expectations.”

Maybe yes. Maybe no.

Maybe if I were to map my expectations out more clearly, someone could meet them.

My ex surely has this morning, the effortless result of my asking him to stay on the phone.

I’m a very fortunate woman, and losing myself isn’t nearly what I thought it was.

It doesn’t happen when I fall in love.

It happens when I go along with an inaccurate story that’s being written about me. When what I might ought do, in this case at least, is simply take the pencil and erase the parts the photojournalist has got wrong.

“Give it another go,” I could say.

And if he’s willing to stretch his imagination enough to make that attempt, there might be something there.

I’ve never nakedly admitted to myself after I’ve fallen in love with a man that maybe his perception of me is just too narrow. And I’m surprised by how heartbreaking that felt for a moment.

Yet, just like that, it passed. I’m very nearly back to feeling airy and cold and free, so I walk to a nearby cafe and buy myself an iced coffee with my sunglasses on, joyful in feigning ignorance about my appearance.

“Next time,” I offer to the photojournalist by text, just to try it on, “let’s make better mistakes.”

“Deal,” he texts back.

~

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dressing down

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He says some of the most ridiculous things I’ve never heard.

Like when I show up in the low, black corset, a willful adaptation of the woman my mother wanted me to be.

And I get, “Oh my god. Who is the retarded nanny that dresses you?”

Maybe I’m supposed to be offended. But it’s far too funny a comment for that.

So instead I laugh lustily.

And it feels so good, comes so effortlessly.

Meanwhile, he continues to be troubled, which only heightens my amusement.

“Seriously,” he says, after a spell. “Take that off. I’m too empathetic to be able to handle it. I feel completely suffocated just looking at you.”

Is it wrong that I like making him feel that way?

He’s got an act that I’m not even sure is an act.

And then I’ve got one, too, that answers it.

An act that leaves enough room for me to be tough and smart, for once.

If I’m suffocated, it’s by no means because of the corset. It’s because of the woman I’ve presented to most men before him.

I work slowly with the material holding me in; he’s reclined on the couch, like always, with his heavy glass of bourbon, his cigarette.

He passes the time by taking newly-formed stabs at my upbringing.

“Did you grow up in a whorehouse run by the insane?” he guesses.

And when I don’t answer, “You did, didn’t you?”

We’re both so arrogant and defiant that it leaves us no choice but to find each other good company.

“I liked your corset,” he tells me, almost as an apology, once I lie down next to him on the couch. Unbutton his shirt. Skin on skin.

“I don’t care if you liked it,” I respond.

“I know. That’s what I liked about it.”

We soften together in the darkness and he wills me to breathe.

He’s always so slow with me. It’s an unusual trait. I’m not used to a man that is in no hurry.

“I like your body,” he allows. “The woman that runs it.”

The double-increasing compliment. Followed by a confession.

“I think I want to hurt you.”

Despite their meaning, these words are so honest, so child-like somehow, that I’m unable to  interpret them as anything but sweet.

“Do you?” I ask drowsily. “Why?”

“In order to then be able to rescue you,” he says.

And then, after a pause, “From myself.”

Here I put a hand over his mouth, feel the need to stop the words, hold the moment.

I’m really not sure what it says about me, but this sentiment?

I was designed for it.

~

 

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yellow ribbons

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There are moments when I have the sense he’s messing with all of the neat little packages lining my shelves. Things I’ve wrapped up carefully, put away, to be looked at much, much later. One at a time with large spaces of time in between. If at all.

“Where were you living and what were you doing when you were ten years old?” he wants to know, out of nowhere.

Questions of this nature are, for me, uncomfortable tremors, disrupting all of my beautifully ordered boxes.

“Where is your father? Your mother?”

He hates that I don’t answer, but that puts us on equal ground. Because I hate that he’s asking.

I’ve tied each of the packages off with yellow-ribboned bows, but in a certain mood, the right question will knock one off its shelf.

I don’t know how to describe my experience when that happens. The only word I know for it is poignant. It feels far too poignant, the spilling of the contents.

And when I feel that way, the visual is one of a stunned woman, a brain again wondering how long it’s going to escape catatonia, which it heard about at age 18 and has been waiting for ever since.

Sometimes, in these moments, he lights a cigarette and puts it between my fingers and even just my raising it to my lips feels like some huge beautiful i’m still fucking alive accomplishment.

“Do you want me to read to you?” he asks, if he happens to be paying enough attention. And I nod.

“What would you like me to read?”

“Anything, I don’t care. Just start now,” I say.

But what I’m really saying is that we need to speed away from me as quickly as possible.

Luckily, he’s got life content that is big enough and loud enough to lead me away from the mess on the floor.

“Why are you so private?” he wants to know later, once I’m recovered.

“I’m not.”

He smirks. He really believes this, apparently, despite my being my own everything with him.

I’m not intentionally hiding what I keep in those packages. Not really.

It’s just a nuisance when they come undone, and I see no reason for it.

They’re a part of me, I suppose, yes. But in the same way that an archeological dig is a part of human history, perhaps. Extraneous.

And anymore, there’s so much more to me than what’s lining those shelves in the cellar.

Why does he want the aged chronicles of a life that one night led to him?

Why do we have to unwrap those boxes?

The answer is, of course, we don’t.

We really just don’t.

This is the point of power I am going to have to hold in this situation between us, to a fault.

He reviews his life one way, and I another.

Because of his confidence in his methods, I understand his assertion that I do it like he does. Shining bright lights on everything, tossing traumatic events around the room haphazardly when I’m not necessarily expecting it.

But just because that’s his way, works for him, that doesn’t mean for a second it’s right for me.

I’ve done too much of that in my life, followed someone else’s lead. Nodded congenially and said, “Yes, by all means, here’s my life. Not sure what to make of it myself. Perhaps you can tell me who I am.”

But I’m not that person anymore.

And I don’t miss her.

So instead, I want him to stop pushing me about what’s in all of those thousands of white boxes. It’s irrelevant. All that he needs to know is that I’ve taken such care in packaging them, that I was in no way rushed when I did it. Look at how well-ordered and even they are. It’s beautiful, what I’ve done. And even if he can’t appreciate it, I know for myself that it is an incredible tribute to my patience, understanding, love.

Of course, this means that I in turn need to be equally accepting of him. Unfazed by what a wide-open mess he has on his hands, sensitive to his preferring it that way.

So he’s disheveled, living every day amongst dusty piles of partially shattered memories, many of them sticking to the back of his skin when he gets up to walk around the house.

So what?

It’s not my business how he chooses to be.

My business is simply deciding if I want to love him. (I do.)

And how much. (A lot.)

And one day, when we’re done, attending to another little yellow-ribboned box.

~

 

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the deacon’s bench

bench

It is mother’s day and I am maybe 12 or 13 or it doesn’t matter because one day it will all flow together and become indistinguishable anyway, and she has decided that I will be accompanying her to church.

In the years leading up to this point, my father was still alive and the notions of my faith were unquestioned.

He being of the belief that my spiritual leanings would be discovered, or not, in time. By the one person to whom it would intimately matter.

So I am confused by the proposal, mid-adolescence, that I visit a place of worship for a reason other than my own curiosity.

Confused might be putting it mildly.

It might be, rather, that I am experiencing my first feelings of resentment.

Her argument—that it is mother’s day—is an unoriginal one.

I’m not the least moved by it.

But somehow I don’t bother to say so until she and I are standing outside, ready to go.

“Mum?” I start, as she turns to lock up the house. “I think I’ll just stay here.”

Already I am wearing the high-necked Victorian blouse she mandated, the rather absurd corduroy jumper dress.

Already I am sleeping in the canopy bed that she wanted as a child. Am disappearing through the tiny petal-patterned holes decorating its bedspread, the draperies.

It seems, somehow, enough.

“You’re going,” the woman volleys, and I really should recognize that pinching of her mouth when she says it. I’ll grow to, in the years to come, but perhaps at this time we’re still being introduced.

“Mum?” I start again. “I’m not. I’m really sorry, but I don’t believe in God.”

I feel the strike of her hand long before I register its movement.

The conversion of her beautiful face wrenching itself into one of contempt is so sudden as to be imperceptible .

“You better believe in God,” she thrusts out breathily, hotly, her mouth now unexpectedly close to my ear.

And then, in an ominous whisper, in slow, staccato words ludicrously suggestive of vengeance, “Or else.”

“Or else what?” I wonder, will in fact always truly wonder, and I almost laugh at how little sense the entire scene makes.

And here, too, is perhaps where it begins. My skewed sense of humor.

So many elements, born of one moment.

Or perhaps, for the sake of simplicity, my mind just makes it so.

~

 

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the photojournalist

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Regardless of whether or not he’s aware of it, I know already that the photojournalist and I are involved in a dynamic that is larger than either of us, the purpose of which I have yet to fully comprehend.

Outwardly, we seem caught in a competition to see which of us can be more.

The context of the more is practically irrelevant, simply a matter of steadfastness.

Which of us can show up the most, with the least response to the other.

He’s chosen revealing everything about his shocking life as his weapon.

I, nameless silence.

Personally I feel this gives me an unfair advantage. But it’s really not my fault that he didn’t think of it first.

Meanwhile, I think it might be the most fascinating game I’ve ever played.

He the most worthy opponent I could hope to encounter.

“Tell me you love me,” he whispers, which would be presumptuous were it not already true.

“Tell me you love me,” he says again, my wrists held in a one-hand grip, shoulders pinned to his double-wide couch.

The location of our first encounter.

I stare up at him. Mostly at his mouth, at which it’s easy to stare.

The point of departure for all the thousands of words he relates to me.

Of his travels. His travails.

“Say it!” he says, shaking me slightly.

I give myself time to consider his request. Imagine the words coming out, and by that alone experience the gritty susceptibility roiling in my thoracic cavity.

It’s not too much, but it’s enough. It’s as far as I want to go. Tonight.

“Mon provacateur,” I think, and stare silently at the invisible breath passing between us.

“Look at me,” he demands, and I feel my eyes being willed shut.

“Just because you close your eyes doesn’t mean I can’t see you.”

I smile. No, it doesn’t mean that.

Nor does it mean I can’t see him.

I wouldn’t necessarily recognize the upper half of his face; I’ve looked at it so seldom.

But I know all about that sunken line in his skin, drawing down from the corner of his left eye. Sense the years that formed it.

Isn’t it funny? We’re so together in our opposition that when I’m in his presence, I don’t recognize a world outside of it.

All I recognize is a place where both of us ended up like this.

~

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wake me up if you wake up

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There is something that I have to tell you now.

Something I’ve been trying to avoid.

But that isn’t going away.

My sister is dying of cancer.

I was told this by a mother with whom I am not otherwise in contact.

Which used to be her choice. And now is mine.

There are those who survive cancer. I even know some of them, personally.

But my sister, I suspect, is not one of these.

When I say she is dying, I am relatively certain that is the imminent reality.

But even knowing that it could be soon, I put off contacting her.

A few years ago, I was rushed to the emergency room. And when I was asked by the surgeon if my affairs were in order, my sister not even a passing thought.

I’d said my goodbyes to her half-a-lifetime ago.

So when I heard about her fate, I chose to believe that her life had taken a similar path.

And that I was not even a thought.

It sounds so heartless. I’m not even sure how to defend myself against that. It’s a long, winding story, that ends with my casting off the majority of my family because I, very personally, wanted to live.

We all have demons.

And mine come in the form of blood relatives.

There’s a memory I have of my sister from growing up.

She’s seven or eight to my three or four, and we’re standing at the top of the stairs in the old A-frame. We’re both wrapped in towels, fresh from a bath, and Dad is in the bathroom draining the tub.

We’re waiting for him to come out and get our pajamas for us because, without him, we’re afraid of our own bedroom.

I notice my sister freeing an arm from her towel, and I turn right in time to catch her wretched expression as she pushes me down the flight of stairs.

I remember coming to with a black eye, my sister’s worried face hovering over me. I remember wondering if she was worried because I was hurt, or because she thought I was going to tell.

I went with option A, and kept my mouth shut.

I hear the excuse in this. I do. A feeble attempt to explain why I would not contact a dying woman.

But the other side of that same memory is that after we were tucked into bed and left alone in our terror-filled room, my sister took my hand and whispered to me, “Wake me up if you wake up.”

And even after all this time, our childhood a thousand times dead, those words still define love for me.

In the end, it was my sister who contacted me.

“Just thought you should know, while you’re living your life, that your sister is dying.”

There was already an accusation in it, though our relationship is complex enough that I wasn’t initially sure what that accusation was.

I sent as much of a reply as I could muster, asking what I could do to help.

A response was not forthcoming.

And my nights of unsleep, which began when I first found out about her, intensified.

Nights in which I woke, not in my mind, but in hers. Somehow knowing the ruinous fear of her unreconciled mind. A belief in hell, perhaps. But more the unfairness of being alive at all.

Eventually, I heard from her again.

A second message, letting me know that she was very, very sick.

Letting me know that she had lost her hair, was unable to get out of bed.

And finally, letting me know that she wished I were the one dying instead of her.

It’s a complicated thing, to have a life, to be uncertain, unable to distinguish between safety and danger, comfort and misery.

I haven’t responded to my sister.

It occurs to me that together we can’t tell the difference between those things.

And perhaps as a result, she’s never been quite sure whether it’s love she feels for me, or hate.

Still, some nights in which I find myself eternally awake, I whisper it to her anyway, not even sure what it could mean anymore, but always in love with it regardless.

Our sister prayer.

“Wake me up if you wake up,” I whisper, and imagine taking her hand in mine.

~

 

 

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anyone

child01_shadow

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

why are you already a home to me

 

and why was walking in on you, asleep on the couch to the left

like walking through a dream i’d had as a child

of the woman I would one day become

 

the taste and smell of your breath

deja vu recognizable

 

after all these weeks spent sleepless, strike-ready

in a state of sustained exhaustion

so confoundedly alert

 

why do i now find myself so free and at ease

in your own damaged presence

 

and why was listening to your brutal stories

a strange source of comfort

 

a final point of surrender

 

“better letting go than holding back”

you tell me, but anyone

could say that

 

anyone at all

~

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