the red cloak in the closet

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So the big bad wolf rings me up early yesterday morning and wants to know if I’m seeing anyone.

“Just like that?” I ask, because it’s been nine or ten months at least since he shut me out of his life completely and I fell on my face in tears and crawled home all dirty and mangled.

“Answer the question,” he tells me.

I know there is only one answer that is going to be acceptable to him, and it’s not the answer that I have. So I sit with that for a minute and examine my position.

The big bad wolf is not good for me. The big bad wolf gobbled up my grandma, who loved me more than anyone, and at the time I couldn’t have cared less.

“He’s so misunderstood,” I thought, instead, going down on him. “He suffers so much. I’m the only one who gets that.”

And I still actually believe that.

But it doesn’t mean I was ever able to alter his predatory nature.

“Yes,” I finally answer. “I’m seeing someone.”

It’s a half-truth, but a half-truth in the right direction.

Technically, I don’t see the man to whom I’m referring very often, but I am in love with him. And I’ve committed myself to not veering off the path this time.

Not for him, but for me.

Because I’m overly familiar with what lies or lays out there in the scrappy wilderness, but I’ve no idea what happens when I stay on course. And I’m finally curious.

“You?” I ask the big bad wolf. “Are you happy? Been well?”

Meanwhile I pull up his Facebook page on my computer.

I’m struck by the conventionality of his profile picture, which features the big bad wolf with an adorable and pure-looking little blonde, both clad in shades and smiling greatly.

“No, no, and yes.”

I try to assimilate the answers he provides, which are in direct opposition to the presentation I’m observing.

“I want you to be happy, Mr. Wolf,” I say.

Because believe it or not, that’s the truth.

It’s what I’ve always wanted for him, even if the primary pull has been that he’s not.

I listen to his raspy, hungry breathing on the line for a moment.

“Could I see you?” I ask. “We could get coffee. You could tell me how you’ve been.”

I imagine the big bad wolf in a coffee shop, his inability to stay still, his shifty, mistrusting eyes.

“Get rid of your man,” he tells me.

And while it’s true that if it weren’t for the hunter, I’d probably throw on my red cloak and run right back to Grandma’s house this instant, crawl into bed with the wolf and stay there for weeks, abandon everything else I have going, I also recognize that’s not the real issue here.

It’s rescuing me, for the moment, but what I’d really like is to be able to rescue all of us.

I think about all of the things the big bad wolf has going for him. His musical genius, for one. Perhaps because of those great big ears he has, he’s an incredibly talented DJ. Like the cadence of terrified footsteps, he always has a beat racing through his head.

“I look forward to your one day realizing that I could be of benefit to you,” I tell him. “Aside from sexually, I mean.”

“But I love your pussy,” he snarls.

They are probably not the words every woman longs to hear. But I’m different, and it makes me laugh.

I did enjoy our physicality, but back when the big bad wolf and I were together, I’d also wanted to promote his music, protect his children, love him unconditionally and care for his home.

“Perhaps it’s time you give my intelligence some attention, instead,” I offer.

“Your intelligence comes with the package, knucklehead.”

I love being insulted like this. I’m not sure why. There are not many that can pull it off, but the wolf is one of them, and it makes him stupidly special to me.

“Send me a song,” I request, still wanting the best of him.

And within seconds there’s the pleasant chime on my phone.

“Get rid of your man,” he tells me again. “And let me know when you have. I’m not done with you.”

Of course he’s not done with me. I’m still alive, most of me having recovered from the ravaging he did.

“In the meantime, send me a picture of your face,” are his final words, before hanging up on me.

I think of the seductive, tough pictures I used to send him. Scroll through those on my phone now and notice they all show a certain vulnerability, tenderness. I’m raw, undercooked. He’d love that. I imagine his drooling over them. And don’t send.

For the remainder of the day I’m shaky, careful, slow.

“Am I the one?” he asked me, back then.

“Sure,” I answered. And he was. I swear to you; he really and truly was.

“No!” he growled, getting angry for reasons I didn’t understand. “I mean THE ONE! Am I THE ONE?”

“Yes?” I guessed, hoping he’d pull his lips back over those sharp, sharp teeth.

“Prove it,” he told me.

But I never could.

It would have meant letting myself be wholly consumed, which is what it would still mean now.

And there’s some delicate pink meat that I’m just always unwilling to relinquish.

What can I say? He smells it. He hungers for it.

But if I let him, he’d devour it without even stopping to know its taste.

~

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other places

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I’m not sure what it means when something unknown and unexpected feels familiar instead.

For all my livelong life, I’ve been propelled by some strange conflagration of nervous energy. A certain run-and-hide dynamic that leads me, time and again, into the arms of safely dangerous men.

Which is perhaps where I’ve found myself again, except that this time, the allure is accompanied by an astonishing calm.

As if I’ve found a resting place.

I haven’t committed myself to this, exactly.

But just for me, I’m pretending that I have. To see if I could.

To see if I’d want to.

To see what I’m actually like, when I allow all of the recklessness to stop.

In the past, I’ve been the bearer of a hundred thousand wild-spun thoughts. They beat me down, shriek at me, slash through an intelligence that should know better.

But this time, they’ve gone all hushed, subdued.

“We’re shockingly unimportant,” they whisper.

Last week, I rode around in a car all afternoon with this man, just because.

Because it was what I wanted.

I can’t remember the last time I wanted something. It might have been 14 years ago when I found out I was pregnant and realized I wanted to keep the baby, then waited nine months for a miscarriage that never happened.

Sometimes, I’m not sure why, life gives me what I want.

Nonetheless, I notice within myself the forced ambivalence that comes with the wanting. As if I’m trying to trick life into delivering it to me, by pretending that I don’t care.

About the man in the car, I care.

But knowing him comes with a side note that reads, “You’re going to be fine without this.”

An alert that sounds every few days.

I’m going to be fine without this.

Which, I guess, makes it okay to spend an afternoon in a car with him.

There’s so much and so little between us.

I used to think I was skilled in the art of intimacy, but all the ways I’ve known to reach a person have been erased when it comes to him.

Which might be because I’m already there, or it might be because it’s useless to even try.

Stuck in traffic, he passes me a notebook that he grabs from the back seat.

“Read to me?” he offers.

Not counting the sex, this is arguably how we’re best together.

So I turn to a story that he read to me the first night we met, that I later had him send to me via email, that I read aloud to him now.

It’s from an event he covered. A story in which family members unearth the hastily-buried bodies of their tortured sons, brothers, fathers.

“You took pictures?” I ask, and wonder how I’ve never asked that before.

He passes me his phone, and teaches me  how to pull up the photographs that accompany this.

I can’t make it past the second one, in which a father kisses the skull of a son he was unable to protect.

“Thoughts?” the man behind the steering wheel asks.

“You’ve seen a lot,” is what I give.

But my real thoughts are about an article I once read, in which it’s brought to light that there’s a word for a person who loses a spouse, and a word for a person who loses a parent, but that there is no word for someone who loses a child.

Because it’s just too horrible.

And then, within the range of already horrible, it can get worse.

I imagine myself unearthing the body of my dead son, loosening the wires that were binding his hands upon execution.

And I realize, not for the first time, that I know absolutely nothing about life.

Staring at the photograph, assimilating the story, I notice I’m on the brink of inviting in a reality other than my own. And I teeter there for a long time. Daunted by the threat of feeling something.

But in the end, I’m too much a coward.

In the end, I’m driving around in a car with a man whom I have to tell myself I’ll be fine without, a man who is both much further gone and far more here than I think I’ll ever be.

~

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debbie

The first day of 8th grade, Debbie and I make bets on who will lose her virginity. By choice, I mean, as opposed to the way we’ve had it.

That weekend, I pass out at a party and when I come to I’m in the bathroom being fun-dipped by this older guy while my boyfriend pounds on the door.

I’m not really sure he penetrates. I have this weird recurring experience with probing, rubbery dicks. I don’t think they’re supposed to bend like that.

I squirm a little bit, test the possibility of not being in this situation.

The boy on top of me doubles his weight.

“Chicken Little,” he mutters. Referring, I guess, to my too-tight twat?

I don’t want to think about it, don’t want to be there. And for some reason the place I choose to be instead is the upside-down toybox my sister trapped me in when we were little.

It was pitch-black then, too, and I remember trying to feel up the toys, guess what they were. Finding the most satisfaction in Barbie’s green convertible, whose wheels made a cool spinning sound, and gave me something to do.

“Did Mom give that away?” I wonder, suddenly upset, because that’s just not right. I loved that car, and she’s always giving things away before I’m ready.

I spend the next night at Debbie’s, cuddling up to her enormous tits in bed and listening to My Sugar Walls on low. I tell her about the bathroom. She laughs and laughs, comes up with a surprising number of dirty remarks about my unmanageable sex appeal.

Which ends up making me feel like Appolonia. Or maybe that’s just the Purple Rain poster taped on the ceiling. The one that we stare at when we’re bored, wondering if Prince’s dick is really all that big.

Debbie is my best friend.

Later that night we sneak down to her kitchen to make pancakes, because she knows how. She’s not supposed to eat because her dad said he’d give her a thousand dollars if she lost ten pounds.

“Stupid fat fuck,” Debbie says, of him. It’s true that he’s a creepy, horrible man but I never say so. Because it’s one thing to say bad things about your own family, but another thing when someone else does.

Debbie pours Bisquick into a bowl and a bunch of tiny, black bugs are crawling in it. This is all new to me and I can’t stop staring, but Debbie just says, “Must be old…” Having seen it all before. So instead we just walk out her front door and go wander around in the dark, feeling both older and younger than the 13 we are.

Debbie and I go to private school and Debbie either gets dropped off in a limousine or by her dad in his DeLorean. Neither of us fit in right. She’s new money, and I’m no money at all—there on scholarship, you know.

Two weeks into the school year and I find out I’m written up on the boys bathroom wall short list.

Girls Who Are Not Virgins.

“You told!” I accuse Debbie.

“Fuck off. You know I wouldn’t do that.”

And really? She wouldn’t. She might give a guy a blow job behind a gas station to get us liquor, but she wouldn’t do that.

“Nate wrote it,” she finds out. “Mary told him you use super-sized tampons.”

Fucking Mary. She would. I don’t use super-sized tampons—not even close—and I’m oddly hurt by the allegation.

“They’re talking about my menses, now?” I ask, because menses is a word that makes Debbie laugh. “Why the fuck are they talking about my menses?”

“Mary’s third-rank bitch,” Debbie tells me. I never know what she’s talking about when she says things like this, but it always gives me the impression that one day Mary will get what’s coming to her.

Mary is my nemesis by proxy, because my older sister was her older sister’s nemesis and it seems to have gotten handed down. The strange thing is that Mary and I get paired up a lot, like during field hockey scrimmage or last year when Mr. Lyman and his comb-over decided they were going to take the two of us out for weekly ice cream. Which I got kind of excited about, because I love English Lit, but it turned out he just wanted to perv and ask us questions about our sex lives.

Counseling, he called it.

Mary took up all of the attention and talked in great phony detail about being molested by some older man, turning them both on.

“Why would Mr. Lyman buy this shit?” I wondered. Because if you’ve ever been raped you sure as fuck don’t talk about it lightly over ice cream. And after that I refused to speak to him, even in his class, refused to give my oral presentation, even. Told Mom I had cramps and stayed home those three days. Still got an A. Maybe he was scared I’d tell. Technically we weren’t supposed to be off-campus in middle school.

October rolls around and I end up at this public high school party, showing everyone what an astounding drinker I am. Unsurprisingly, I end in some bushes; I just wanted to be alone, but here’s yet another guy trying to figure out how to shove it in. I get sick on him and pass out.

Someone must call my mom, or maybe I do, because when I come to I’m at home, and she’s undressing me.

“Your underwear are on inside-out,” she tells me.

I roll over, and she sits down on the side of my bed.

“You know, when I was your age, I had a crush on this bad boy. He rode a motorcycle.”

I roll my eyes, even though they’re closed.

“I really wanted to impress him, but when he’d invite me to parties, I’d secretly dump the drinks he gave me in a plant.”

Mom giggles at this memory. Like, what a clever girl she was!

“What kind of an idiot gives away a drink?” I think.

“I’m not going to punish you,” Mom says, as though she could. “But I want you to remember this story the next time you’re at a party.”

I think about Mom, being my age. For some reason I imagine her in a preppy kilt, a monogrammed sweater. Probably because I’ve seen a picture of her in it.

How could she have straddled the back of a motorcycle wearing something like that?

Mom and I? We wouldn’t have been friends.

“Can I go over to Debbie’s?” I ask.

Because Debbie’s the only one who will ever even begin to understand.

~

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struck

are we in this together or

is the experience my own?

she thought to ask, but didn’t

aware that the answer would arrive

 

all by itself, as answers do

when the mind goes

quiet, and so

far away

 

life is beautiful,

he wanted her to know

before he broke into her skull

casting light on heretofore darkness

 

and her attention fell on

the brilliant shards

the pain was

nothing

 

and she

was free

~

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belonging

“I own you,” he told her, at a time when he didn’t.

And back then, she found the words bizarre, egotistical, naive.

But more recently he’s become the conduit for her gaining a reality so lucid that she can’t help but submit to the truth in the statement.

And she wonders how he knew before she did. Or if he knew.

Knows.

Does he know what he’s done by having led her down his seductive back alley of trust?

For one, he’s proven to her that he knows even more than she does.

And she’s delighted by this, as she’s delighted by the recognition that he doesn’t need her, only wants her.

Early this morning she sees him in the corner store, downtown.

She walks in, still in her pajamas, sunglasses drawn, and as she heads towards the coffee stand, he’s there.

In the white linen shirt handed down from his grandfather. Or a replicated version of it.

The identifying aspects of him dizzy her, and for some reason she can’t immediately determine she becomes frenzied, and races down an aisle to hide.

In the dimly-lit back end of the store, there is a foreign man cleaning the floor with some strange noiseless machine. It’s early yet, for a Saturday. She comes familiarly close to him as she steps over the device and lowers herself behind some boxes to watch her captor, unseen.

The cleaning man eyes her curiously, and she’s briefly aware of how funny she must look, her crouching position, the side-to-side craning of her neck.

She’s unusually good with strangers, often takes them as her closest confidantes, but this morning she simply can’t be bothered bringing this man in on her secret. So she blocks his perception of her from her mind, and focuses on her game.

“Is it really he?” she wonders. It would be so like her to imagine the whole thing, preternaturally vexed, heightened, aroused.

But the white linen shirt, the khaki pants, the posture, the sunglasses.

The sunglasses. She thinks back to their one horrible morning together. How he put on the sunglasses and tried to tell her something, and she couldn’t listen. She was in her rebellious mood. Mad that he went too fast. Put them on a course where her brain couldn’t keep up.

But yes, it’s definitely he. The man who owns her. She knows him better than she realized. It’s a good feeling. The one-way intimacy of seeing him out in the world, outsmarting him.

He’s sharing words with someone next to the coffee machine and her jaunty insides scream, “Flee! Flee!” So she hops over the silently-whirring thing cleaning the floor and sidesteps towards the front of the store, thinking, “I’ll go right out the door and he won’t turn. He won’t turn, and I’ll escape.”

But when she’s within a few feet of the door he does in fact turn, and she throws herself back into the safety of the aisle. Practically scrambling on the ground back to the cleaning man.

She loves herself like this.

And yes, he owns her now. Unless she surpasses him, he will own her until someone better can claim her, and the possibility of that happening seems small. She’s not even looking.

Still, her life has a funny way of dropping possibility in her lap.

Look at how she met him. Look at where she finds herself now. Just last night she missed his face. And now here it is, attached to his body and everything.

She picks herself up off the ground and tip-toes along the back of the store, waiting for him to leave.

Her eyes aren’t good and she thinks she sees him now with his regular glasses, but it could just be she’s piecing together different looks he’s shared with her from memory. From behind the marshmallows.

His pace is patient and she wonders about the exchange he’s having with the teller. Thinks he must be asking for cigarettes, the New York Times.  He’ll go home to sit on his patio, smoke, read, be beautiful.

She moves bravely up to the coffee stand as he leaves. From the big glass window she can watch him pass. She pours herself some coffee, not paying enough attention, spilling it everywhere.

Somehow she misses his going by. The moments of time are no longer connecting and she can’t tell how long it’s been. Perhaps he took a different route?

She mops up the spilled coffee with about fourteen paper napkins and pours way too much sugar into her cup. She’s shaking by the time she reaches check-out.

“Does the side alley go through?” she wants to know. “There’s someone I don’t want to see. I don’t know where he’s gone.”

The teller is languorous in his concern. He slowly rings her up.

“I wouldn’t take the side alley, no,” he advises.

“But does it go through?” she asks again. “Do you have a back door?”

The teller evaluates her and she smiles nervously.

“I could escort you out, protect you,” he offers.

“It’s not like that,” she thinks to say, but doesn’t.

“I’ll be fine,” she says instead, passing the coffee-soaked napkins from her trembling hand to the open palm the man extends.

She leaves the store and turns to her right, into the alley.

It does, in fact, go through.

She catches not another glimpse of the man who owns her.

He’s perhaps long gone.

Occasionally, she’s a quick study.

And she is always, in fact, fine.

~

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brennan more

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He says she’s guarded, that she’s got armor.

But that doesn’t sound like her. Her words are more like . . .

Poise. And subterfuge.

She’s perched in his windowsill, writing. The house is old. It’s early morning and there is spring snow falling, uncertain in its descent.

She left the house early for coffee.

“Lie with me, your hand on my chest, for just half an hour more. Is that too much to ask?” he asked, when he caught her getting out of bed.

Because he actually talks like that.

“But I’m not sleepy,” she answered, and he laughed.

“Five minutes. Please. Let me just have a dream while you’re next to me.”

So she let him.

Meanwhile noticing how good she’d gotten at being still.

She’s not sure when that even happened. She used to be so restless.

And she couldn’t feign anything, least of all stasis.

After he fell back asleep, she snuck out through the old-fashioned mudroom in the back, and it screamed at her in deja vu.

“Do you remember?”

She does, but she doesn’t.

Even before closing the door, the cold new morning assaulted her like a safeguarded lover. Kissing her, adoring her, putting a blush on her cheeks.

And at the cafe, she was careful not to make eye contact.

Then the return, and she’s sitting there in his window when he wakes up and comes in, looking so confused, perhaps frustrated, and says, “I think I’m late. That’s not like me.”

And she thinks, “Oh, is this real life? I thought…”

She’s smoking a cigarette, the old window is drawn high on its strange and lovely pulley rope, she’s sitting half-out and half-in, is madly in love with herself.

The lilacs in bloom half-covered in snow.

“Throw me the lighter, will you?” he asks, and there’s a brusqueness about it that borders on rude.

She draws herself down from the window and walks it over to him, wondering if she should leave now, in order to perhaps be able to still come back.

But she really doesn’t want to go.

“I’ll make it all now, about this one morning,” she thinks.

Because she’s just so terribly happy sitting in the window, wasting his heat.

Not to mention that last night he told her that she wasn’t to leave until she was given permission.

And as far as she can tell, she hasn’t been.

He goes away and she’s glad, even though the whole scene actually revolves around him.

Her writing would have no meaning if he weren’t its content.

The old house she would still love, but her intimacy with it would run only half as deep.

It’s her grandmother’s house.

And she’s in a cloud of ecstasy of feeling at once both comforted and abstractly out-of-place.

Later he strides back through, shirt off, his body its own infatuation, coming over to next to her to pull her hair, look over her shoulder.

“What is that?” He indicates her indecipherable scrawl with his cigarette. “Arabic?”

She closes the composition book and runs a cheek along his belly. His skin is ridiculously soft, really.

Unless it’s hers.

“I’m going to grab a shower,” he tells her, still existing just outside of the dream she’s in.

What happened to those beautiful french bath salts, scientific drawings of flowers on the labels, that used to be in the bathroom?

She loved the house more than she loved her grandmother.

But she couldn’t have loved one without the other.

It’s all so much the same, but so very different.

“May I come in and watch you?” she asks. “When I finish writing?”

“By all means.”

She waits a while. Part of her reluctant to leave her post. But eventually she passes through the memory that is the house again, and enters the steamy bathroom.

She’s fully dressed. Stockings, skirt, camisole, cowl-neck sweater. Although her hair is not done. It’s a wild child’s rat’s nest.

When she pulls back the curtain she knows what to expect, but she’s not prepared for the way his body looks wet. Phantasmagorically alive with moisture.

And it’s just too much.

She sinks to her knees on the side of the tub and rests her forehead against his torso as he turns to her, reaches out her tongue to taste the warm water, her innocence and his skin.

~

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closer to the truth

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Two years ago, at about this time of year, Paddy flew me down to meet his parents. I mostly ignored the implications, and when his father told me it was nice to meet his son’s girlfriend, I replied, “Oh, I wouldn’t say I’m his girlfriend, exactly.” And Paddy fervently backed me up on that one.

Still, on some level I suppose I knew we were on the verge of new territory.

So on the second night in his childhood room, I hung my head off the side of the bed and told him all the true things I could think of about my life.

He was quiet and listened, and when I was done talking, I sat up and looked at him for a response.

“You’re quite the storyteller,” he said.

I laughed, because laughing is what I do best.

I don’t know if I thought my honesty would make me feel closer to him, or him to me. I can only imagine that I hoped it would. But I also recognized that there was probably a reason, in our six months together, that the specific details of my history had never been revealed.

I crawled under the covers then, and I knew it was a bad sign that Paddy, who was always touching me, now wasn’t.

I felt a certain sickness creeping in.

I should have gone to sleep then, understood it was over. Woken up the next day to another new beginning.

I don’t remember what I did instead, but I must have prodded him in some way about what he was thinking, because he ended up saying to me, “It’s a wonder you’ve made it this long without sucking the barrel.”

Paddy had all sorts of stupid, macho phrases like that, the meaning of which were frequently lost on me.

“Sucking the barrel?” I asked.

“I would have killed myself, in your position,” he answered, frankly.

I remember blindly wishing that this was Paddy’s way of saying he thought I was strong.

But in my gut, I knew that my complicated past was way too much for him, and that the comment was more a judgement.

“Your life is fucked,” would have summed it up better.

It wasn’t exactly like Paddy and I were close before that. But there was something good about him, about us. He was the one man that most taught me how beautiful it can be to be a woman. And before that night, he brought out something delicate and soft in me that I hadn’t let myself feel before him.

We kind of knew our roles with each other, I suppose, and my disclosures blew a hole in that.

Whatever we had worked well according to Paddy’s definition of who I was.

I liked Paddy’s definition well enough, so I was fine with that for a long time.

But in the end, I guess it just wasn’t me.

Merikano was the first person I loved after Paddy, and I felt the differences starkly.

“Am I your boy?” he liked to ask.

And up until then, I would have thought I wanted a man.

But Merikano introduced me early to his world of pain, and without any of the hesitation I’d had with Paddy, I to mine. And it shook me. Not only to be accepted in this way, although there was that, but more to be understood.

It was easy to surrender to Merikano, because I found in him the sweetest familiarity.

So for as long as I could, I ignored the fact that, even with him, there was something amiss.

On what would be our final night together, he got angry and said something something along the lines of “You only love me because I’m resilient.”

As though this were a bad thing.

At the time I didn’t understand.

But now I think I do.

And he was right.

I loved Merikano because his life had been shit.

I also loved him because he had such adorable innocence and was made vulnerable easily. And because he wore the cutest blue sweatpants that he proudly dropped whenever the mood struck him. And because he played me his music.

But really? Had he not lived the heartbroken life he had, I doubt he’d have been of any interest to me at all.

I’m still not convinced that there’s a good or bad in that. It does seem possible that Merikano was still actively battling his shame while I was using it to escape my own, and that this made us insensitive to each other.

Either way, it’s just part of what happened.

This brings me up to three or four months ago, when I fell in love with the photojournalist.

And I’m not even sure what to say about him yet, aside from that I felt he knew me better than anyone before him.

And with far fewer words.

Uncannily, his own experiences had given him a razor sharp precision about mine, and I never had to explain, much less disguise, anything.

I just had to keep showing up.

Which made me feel more alive than I’d ever felt in my life.

With time, I came to understand that the photojournalist didn’t just accept my pain, he wanted to make an amusement park out of it.

And by then, I was ready.

And I wanted that, too.

God, how I wanted that.

But even so, that didn’t mean that I always knew how to be well-behaved.

Perhaps nothing will ever mean that.

And perhaps nothing ever should.

~

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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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