all adventurous women do

She’s a little twerky today, had an off week.

She knew she would, because Tuesday she was due for the procedure with the electric prong up her vagina.

That’s right. Electricity. In her vagina.

So, you know, it’s really no wonder she was feeling scrambley.

But even so, when the man she’s been successfully dating for six months without having to fess up to her true identity asked on Monday if she could bring him a xanax, she was already so absent that she accidentally dropped off a citalopram instead.

You know, citalopram? Her fucking anti-depressant?

And he handled it well, politely. Because despite needing xanax at 11am on a Monday morning, he’s a gorgeous man from another time and she loves him.

But still, the anti-depressant reveal came several years ahead of schedule, and it threw her.

Which, you know, she might have already been a little thrown anyway, because of the impending high-voltage to her twat, as mentioned, but also because of how a man she slept with five years ago chose the week prior to stalk her house.

Like, when she was in it. Maybe that’s implied in the word stalking?

As well as circling the house and trying all the doors and pushing chairs up against the windows and eventually just shouting, “Open your door or I’m going to call the police!”

Which she really now just desperately wish she had let him do.

But she’s so fucking suggestible that it wasn’t until much, much later that she realized the likelihood of her arrest was, in this case, relatively small.

“I would never do this to you,” she said, simply, when she opened the door.

“Oh, good for you!” he screamed, spit and the birds in the yard flying. “You’re such a good fucking person!”

It was sweet of him to say. It really was.

But despite the brave front she’s presenting−despite the delicate popping of anti-depressants and graceful hiding in the laundry room from exes—she’s actually not feeling so hot.

She’s actually feeling kind of screwed up.

So that’s kind of the climate when she goes to the clinic for her appointment to have some cells on her cervix scraped (not cool, by the way). And then it gets way worse because of all of the stupid questions she has to answer.

She’s lied to these questions so many times before she can’t believe she’s still being asked them.

Questions like,

“Have you ever had sex forced on you?”

“Who hasn’t?” she thinks, but answers in the negative, so that the doctor checks off the box that will keep her from having to join a support group.

“Have you ever felt afraid in your home?”

“Not since Thursday.”

She laughs.

“No.”

The doctor looks at her in that I-have-no-idea-what-I’m-actually-looking-at way, and for a small moment she kind of hates him, without really understanding why.

But then he touches her stockinged knee and says, “Are you feeling a little nervous?” and gets the better of her. She nods excitedly.

“That’s perfectly normal,” he reassures her, then asks what type of protection she’s using during sex.

“Condoms?” she guesses.

He hesitates at his clipboard, kind of reframes the question for her.

“What percentage of the time would you say you use condoms?” he asks.

She can’t remember the last time she even saw a condom. She tries to dredge up that memory, hoping it will make her face look like she’s doing some extravagant math.

The prophylactic remembrance is not forthcoming.

“88%,” she eventually answers, then regrets it.

The doctor looks at her.

“I would say my partner wears a condom 88 percent of the time,” she says, as though using the number in a complete sentence will improve things.

And meanwhile positively hating herself.

The questions continue, and before she knows what’s happening, she’s become so forlorn that she starts feeling that sickening need to make others comfortable in her skewed presence.

Which is really hard to do considering that soon she’s naked from the waist down with her legs spread wide and her knees clamped in stirrups.

And even harder when the doctor misses her carefully-numbed cervix by a fucking mile and zaps her sweet sugar walls instead.

A sound of terror escapes as she bucks on the table and her heart shoots right out of her chest and splatters on the ceiling.

“Oh dear,” is the doctor’s response.

“Is that going to happen again?” she asks, when she regains her ability to breathe.

“I hope not.”

She bites her lower lip for a moment.

“Um. What I mean is, was that part of the procedure?”

“That? No, that was a user error.”

“Oh. Ha ha! Great!”

Great.

She closes her eyes, wonders why she hasn’t cried for over a year.

If she’s really honest, there are moments when she’s very tired.

And sometimes she’s not even sure how much human she has left.

It’s all quite a bit different than she thought it would be.

Like, most of the time she feels as though she turned out better than she expected. But limping to her car donning gauze panties like the kind Scarlett Johannson wears in the movie Lucy, she feels just the tiniest bit beat up by all of it.

“When’s dinner?” her kids ask, when she gets home.

~

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on being a slut

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I’m pretty good at casting things that have to do with me, my life, my character, in a flattering light. At positioning myself in a story in such a way that in the end I come out looking shiny, or at the very least salvageable. And while I know there is a certain vanity in this, I also know that it stems from being just naturally fond of myself, despite everything.

So I can’t help it, and I do it, even when several other conclusions could just as easily be drawn.

But there are times when it’s difficult to tilt the angle just so, perhaps particularly when it comes to exposing events from my sexual canon. As a woman, it’s not always the easiest choice to be honest about my carnal nature. So much of what I have to say falls under the jurisdiction of slut, but that’s honest to goodness not my modus operandi, and I find the very idea of it sounding so incredibly limiting.

There’s so much more going on with me than my simply getting my slut on.

I’m easily as nice as I am naughty. As loyal as I am serpentine. I’m as prone to avert my eyes and blush when truly complimented as I am to respond favorably to being pushed against a wall in an alley. And I desperately don’t want one of these aspects of who I am to cancel out the other.

I don’t want to be just one thing.

Ever.

So what I like about sex—not necessarily the writing about it, but the sex itself—is that it can be, for me, a stage.

And by allowing that stage to be a place where my character can be absolutely anyone, I discover things about myself that I previously resisted knowing.

Like that I adore taboo something somethings.

Or that I am funny.

And strong.

And flexible.

But more than any of that, my sexual meta-truth has to do with intimacy.

Which is like, duh, right?

Except I’m not even talking about intimacy with another person, I’m actually talking about intimacy with myself.

I’m talking about how free I feel during, and how that translates into my being a person that loses her defensiveness.

Which, I guess, actually does evolve into intimacy with others.

Because when I’m not handicapped by that kind of worry, I’ve got helluv room to be generous and adoring.

Just try me.

~

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the beauty of being where you are

Last night was the Halloween on which my son announced it would be his final year trick-or-treating.

I looked at his beautiful face. He’s developing the chiseled features he’s going to have as a man. And I’ve taken to sometimes wearing even higher heels in order to still be able to out-height him.

“Your last year trick-or-treating,” I echoed.

I waited for the pang I expected to feel on my child becoming less of a child.

But it never came.

In the house in which I grew up, there were three children whose pictures decorated the hall that led to our bedrooms.

It wasn’t lost on me that pictures of any of us past the age of ten were not deemed wall-worthy. Nor was it lost on me when the matriculated presence of any of us was unwelcome.

Ours were three lives which spiraled out and away from the home in which we were raised, never to return.

But it didn’t have to turn out that way.

The pang that I don’t feel at my son’s announcement that he’s growing up is rooted in this precious knowledge.

There is nothing more important than my son being loved for who he is.

There is nothing more important than my showing support for that person.

In whatever misshapen ways I happen to devise.

Like having him raise his bare arms so that we can marvel at the little fuzz in his armpits, even though I objectively know it’s a strange thing to do.

“You’re so weird,” he laughs.

“Yes,” I confirm, and nuzzle in to delight in the nascent odor.

“Aack! Get away from me!”

It takes a lot of discipline to get away from a body that once belonged to me.

But get away I often must.

How else is that body going to figure itself out, if not through autonomy?

And even, sometimes, through holding my parenting under a microscope to criticize what he sees?

“Scarred for life!” he likes to scream, upon such examination.

It’s our catch-phrase, the working title of the reality show we don’t have.

I don’t mind this. I know there are human flaws in my approach, and I’ve already taken the liberty of forgiving myself for them. This way, he can get stirred up about them if he needs to, without my defensiveness taking up all the space.

Without taking up any space, actually.

It’s mandated that there’s a certain level of transparency between us.

Sure, I’m the parent, and he’s the child, but I don’t have a separate mother identity I fall into during our time together.

I’m simply Delilah to his Django.

If there were a way around this, I missed it a long time ago.

And probably I missed it on purpose.

If Django sometimes laments our not being more conventional, that’s understandable. But I’m pretty sure his frequent use of the phrase “I love you” acts as its own counterbalance to that.

“I love you more,” I let him know. And I don’t mean it in a competitive way. It’s just right for me to love him more. That’s where my being the adult first gets to show off.

I’m good with watching him grow and change.

I’m good with his needing to push away from me, sometimes forcefully.

(“Aack! Get away from me!)

It means he’s making room for loving other people, too.

Loving other people with his pure and enlightened little heart.

That loves itself the most.

~

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The Westons, part I

Around the age of 14 I was sent off to live with the Westons, the result of Mum deciding I was too much to handle.

Which isn’t a slight to Mum. I actually was.

Like, even for myself.

I’d taken to hanging around with a strange group of friends. Strange in that they were kids, and really unhappy. The two things don’t seem like they’re supposed to go together. But that was the year Nick hanged himself off the banister with a dog leash, so, you know.

I’ll never know how the Westons got involved. Whether they called Mum or Mum called them. But she started threatening me with the transfer in late spring.

“Maybe the Westons will know what to make of you!” she’d yell, when I did yet another upsetting thing.

“Maybe they will,” I countered, all casual-like.

But I never took it seriously. Mostly because why would a family I’d scarcely met be willing to take me in? They already had five kids, each one more gorgeous and brilliant than the next. Mathematicians, ballerinas, class presidents.

And me?

Of course I scoffed.

I think the final straw for Mum was either realizing I’d stolen her sleeping pills with the intent to kill myself, which I’d forgotten to do, or finding Danny butt-naked in my bedroom.

Probably it was the Danny thing. Because that really busted a bolt in her psyche.

“You’re 14 years old!” she screamed, her face a ravaged mess.

Like, duh. We knew how old we were.

Secretly, I found Mum scary as shit when she got like that. But Danny just lit a cigarette and scowled. Which looked so fucking cool that I immediately wanted a retake.

“Is he a chain smoker?” Mum asked later, once she’d calmed down and knew I’d be out of her hair soon.

“A what?” I laughed, because I didn’t know the term, and I thought she meant does he do things with chains, like hurt people. Which struck me as hilariously dumb, even though I, too, suddenly wondered if he did.

Never understood how my reality could be so different from Mum’s, when we lived in the same house and neighborhood and all, but there it was.

So she put me on a plane to go live with the Westons.

And I responded to that blitz so much differently than I’d anticipated.

I mean, I’d already known that I’d be out of my element, because they were apparently all wealthy cultured ivy-league whatever. But what I was not prepared for was this: when the Weston parents had made the decision to have kids, they were not fucking around.

Sue and Kent built their whole lives around their children, in the shape of a mind-blowing four-story house that is actually too boggling to describe, aside from the brief mention that they’d constructed a maze of carpeted tunnels behind the walls when the kids were young.

Like, for the kids to play in.

Like, for fun.

I’d never seen anything like it.

And, you know, technically I was too old for those tunnels. But I spent an embarrassing amount of time in them that first week.

And decided pretty quickly that I’d kind of like to fit in with these people.

The Weston kids either genuinely welcomed my presence or had been well-trained to make me believe they did. They were so polite, I couldn’t tell which.

“Do you like me?” I asked Matthew directly, the second week, interrupting his reading The Magician’s Nephew aloud to me.

Matthew looked at me quizzically and adjusted the spectacles on his adorable little ten-year-old face.

“Of course,” he answered. “Why wouldn’t I?”

I shrugged. “Dunno. Just wondering.”

I pulled at the fraying hem of my skirt.

“May I continue?” he asked.

“Suit yourself,” I answered, pulling that nonchalance crap again.

I declined the “Come shopping with us!” offered by the rosy-cheeked sisters, Meg and Kim. I liked looking at them, and sneaking into their rooms when they weren’t there, but otherwise, for reasons I couldn’t decipher, wanted nothing to do with them.

But they were older, anyway. Also girls.

Whereas Brad and Mark fell within a year of me on either side.

So in the late evenings, when they weren’t busy building a telescope or landscaping the moat in the back yard, I’d accept invitations from them to go up to the screened-in balcony on the roof and play games.

Not drinking games. Or sex games. Just actual games.

Like Monopoly, until they caught me cheating.

Then poker, which I had to be taught.

It struck me as so dopey, at first, the whole playing of games. And I felt I needed to feign reluctance about it. Like, sometimes I’d even go to bed early, when what I really wanted was to spend time with them.

But at some point in mid-summer, I gave up on cool, and started really getting off on the dopiness of it.

Like, I was the one who started the thing where we would all shoot each other down in this very harsh but camaraderie kind of way. And I was the one with the idea that we use real money.

I constantly pretended to have a strategy, because it made the boys laugh. And I pretended to give a shit about winning, because it made them feel good. But really I couldn’t have cared less that I always lost.

I just liked the way our voices sounded when we said “ante up” in unison.

I just liked staying up with them and their straight white teeth until the moon rose over the trees and the fireflies bounced around outside of our reach.

In time I came to recognize that it wasn’t just me. That we were all somehow in love with it. Each other.

But no one felt the need to say it.

Which was a really good place to be.

~

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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

images-2

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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