houseghost

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“Are you still in my house?” he texts, as I stand, doting on my bruised tush in the mirror, the array of marks left by his hand reminiscent of an archipelago.

He’s gone, for a while this time. But he keeps giving me keys to the various residences he keeps.

“I don’t see how that’s any of your business,” I respond, once I’ve slipped into one of his enormous shirts.

“I like the idea of your working on my patio when I’m not not there. It’s insanely sexy.”

Working might be an overstatement. In the past twenty minutes I’ve gotten hooked into his Sonos and danced on his furniture in my nightgown. But he’s right about the patio. I drank my coffee there this morning.

“Is it?” I ask. “Do you want to know what I’m wearing?”

“What you’re wearing is irrelevant,” he corrects me.

Have I ever mentioned that I love being corrected?

“What’s sexy is your lounging around my house like you own it.”

I almost purr at that one, kneeling on his couch with elbows resting on the armrest and tush raised in the air.

“But only in my absence. You wouldn’t dare take such liberties when I’m around.”

That line hits me like a well-placed smack and I smile. It’s so wildly true.

“How would you know?” I ask.

“I know you,” he responds.

He knows me? I’m not sure what to make of that.

I used to play cold and untouchable heiress with him. Most of the time now I play petulant girl. It’s delicious, been a long time in the making. Satisfies a need so fundamental it’s shocking I went so long without.

But, he knows me? What would that even mean?

Of course, he’s right about me in his home. When he’s not here I prance around his rooms, giddy and uncensored. It makes me feel as if I’m getting away with something.

But does he know, for example, that the spoiled child performance is intentionally heightened and theatrical, to distract from its actual truth?

“I pick things up when you’re not paying attention,” he continues, a few minutes later. I picture him in the backseat of a taxi, the stern way he commands which route he wants taken. “You are marginally transparent to me these days.”

I suppose I should feel threatened. Early on, he told me that once he’s figured out a woman, he’s finished with her.

But instead, I feel elated.

Different needs, I suppose. He might need me to be an enigma, but I need, so very much, to be figured out.

But doesn’t matter, because he’s full of it.

When I’m not paying attention? When would that be, exactly?

“Owning you is not about pressing your face into the mattress. I could never own you if it was just that,” he texts next.

He’s really on a roll now.

I make sure not to respond.

“I think that’s perhaps when you’ll finally recognize that you love me: When you realize that I see into you, sometimes better than you do yourself.”

It’s been six or seven months that we’ve been going at this. That’s a really long time. Long enough that he’s been naming his love for me for a while. Whereas I just, for the very first time, a few nights ago, my face pressed not into a mattress, but all up against his, had the surprising thought: I might be falling in love with this man.

“I can frame you in a way that is both true and surprising,” he concludes.

I love what he’s saying. It’s far sexier than my lounging around his house like I own it.

But, unlike him, I keep my words to myself.

Likewise my keys.

And my name.

~

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how we live

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I’m so tired sometimes, like I’ve seen it all, lived it all, before. Twice. Maybe three times. And I’ve always been one to just drift with the current, I think, as it has never made much sense to put so terribly much effort into trying to build something, trying to control the result, while intimately knowing time and ruin will have their way with me regardless.

Despite this, I do believe I accidentally bred well. From what little I can tell, I nullified the curse of my own bloodline in giving Django some of his father’s DNA. So, go me. Go biologic impulse. I’m elated to discover that some blind-sample testing is so naturally favorable.

While also waiting for the lightning that I’ve expected to strike since Django was conceived. I notice the perversion of it more lately. Remembering, for example, that I bothered to tell no one of the pregnancy on the assumption that I would not be lucky enough to give birth to an actual living thing.

And yet, here we are, some infinitude later, unbelievably alive. Not just one, but both of us. What were the chances? Already I feel as if we beat the odds. Already the safe half-light of every waking day is one more that I didn’t expect to be gifted.

Which is putting too much stock in impermanence, perhaps.

Or perhaps just the right amount?

Either way, I’m incapable of navigating the future because I can’t properly costume myself. I haven’t the perception that I’ll be occupying it.

So when dear sweet Django, borderline 16, suggests a week-long trip into deepest darkest mountains, the goal being an unreachable summit, I just shrug. Climb into the passenger seat. Pass him the keys.

The piece that I forget here is that Django has not lived all of my years. He is not world-weary in any of the ways I might be. He is young and green and endlessly pure in his youth, his exuberance. The splendor of his life lies, with any extension of good fortune, ahead of him.

Which is really just a long way of saying that he doesn’t anticipate my going along with his perilous mountain climbing proposal. He expects that I, like the good mother I really ought to be, will say something about safety, about limits, about planning.

But because I don’t, and he’s always going to be one level of cool ahead of me, he shows no sign of his surprise as he takes his place behind the wheel.

Behaving unknowingly like the grandfather he never met, he drives the entire way, using the interstate at top speed to get as far from home as he can, then choosing the most isolated routes imaginable. Over harrowing dirt road passes that drop down into heavily shadowed forests which whisper, “Pssst. Guess what? Grimm had it right, all along.”

My son plays at being a man. In many ways he just came in like that. With this exclusive knowledge, with this inherent sense of direction. But he’s only just now really reaching an age where where he gets to express himself across such wide parameters.

I wonder if he recognizes that I delight in him. That I’m observing him, in my own slow and lazy way, believing that I’m not really going to catch a glimpse of his true character unless it’s peripheral.

Although not observing all that well, apparently, because there are little signs of doubt that I don’t catch and should. Because I am insensitive? Because I am more hardened than the mother of such innocence should be? How and why did that happen?

“Are you okay?” Django asks, the first night in the wild, waking me.

The mountain air is thin, is cold, and I’ve been dreaming of the demons inside me.

I laugh, embarrassed. “I was having a nightmare,” I tell him. “Was I screaming? It was nothing. I’m so sorry. Go back to sleep.”

I’m still the parent, even though the dream scared me.

“What were you dreaming?” Django wants to know.

It’s pitch black in the tent, which is tiny and which I carried in on my back.

“It was silly,” I try to reassure. “I’ll tell you in the morning.”

Django is quiet. The moon surfaces from behind some clouds and slinks eerily across the thin fabric of our tent.

“Did you dream you were falling off the mountain?” Django queries, tentatively.

Historically, I have a fear of heights. I hate that Django is aware of this, that he once caught my fingernails clawing through the dirty seat of a ferris wheel with a phony smile plastered on my face.

“That mountain should be scared of me,” I attempt. “My summit is going to be epic.”

I’m not sure that’s true, but it’s honestly the least of my worries, tangible obstacles being so much less daunting than psychological.

“What if you die?” he wants to know.

We never speak like that to each other. It’s a poor excuse, but I think this is why I don’t understand that he’s expressing an actual concern.

“We’ve all gotta go some time,” I respond. “It wouldn’t be a bad way to go.”

This leads to private and colossal thoughts of my sister, who is dying a long and slow and inconceivably barbaric death. To further thoughts of my father, whose main artery was severed in a car accident. To my brother’s girlfriend, who drove head-on into a brick wall.

These stories are loud. Sometimes, they keep me up nights. And I’m trying so hard to keep them quiet, I don’t notice that there are other stories are being told that night in our tent.

“I didn’t sleep at all last night,” Django tells me next morning. We’re reorganizing our frame packs for the long ascent which will bring us to within two thousand vertical feet of our final destination.

“On y va?” I ask, because French is one of the little games we play.

He nods.

By day’s end we’ll reach an alpine lake whose iridescent green-blue will transcend every other color my eyes have dared to love. There will be wildflowers en masse. I will be breathless and reborn in the surprising knowledge that life has a secret warehouse of beauty entirely for those that think they will never experience things anew.

Meanwhile, Django will suffer a long day of worry and further inhabit his own panorama of sorrow.

Stupid me. How could I think that my son would be immune to my constant musings on mortality?

In the middle of the night, he’ll speak.

“Hey, are you awake?” he’ll ask.

“I am,” I’ll respond, all blooming vitality.

Django will reach out this sweet hand and hold mine in his, like those hundreds of bygone days of his childhood, when he was faced with uncertainty and I was his mountain.

“Delilah, I don’t want you to die,” he’ll say.

And just like that, certain of life’s secrets will reveal themselves.

 

 

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he happened before

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the time is coming

when i will go back

into the photojournalist

i feel it like that child of five

scary thing behind me

falling up dark cellar stairs

the time is coming

when i will crawl back into him

or he will come back into me

 

hey, did i ever tell you

how he was already a part of me

how his smell existed in my memory

did i ever tell you how beneath him

i understood it all, and perfectly

as if  he, as if everything to do with

as if he, as if everything to do with

as if he happened to me all before

 

 

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little ankles

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Every day now, I take my sister to receive brain radiation. She gets locked into a mask and affixed to a table, a box is lowered over her head, and she squeezes her eyes closed while a searing light steals what’s left of her cognition. And in turn, perhaps, extends her life by a few months.

My sister is a fighter. I am now recognizing this as kind of a predominant identifying characteristic of hers, though for all of our adult life, I’ve considered her weak and crazy.

This being when I’ve considered her at all, which I’ve tried hard not to do.

I’m not sure what I’m doing here now. By her side. It surprises me. And sometimes I wish I would have run faster, traveled farther, and hidden a lot better than I did.

But ultimately, it’s too late for that now.

It’s too late for a lot of things.

“If there’s a fire, make sure to come and get me,” she says, for the third day in a row, as she’s escorted off to the confines of the radiation room.

She’s convinced that the technicians will leave her head bolted to the table if the hospital is torched.

I nod, reach out, my fingers skim her departing leg, her skin is so soft.

She’s desperate to live. Maybe she always has been, and it was just that her zest for life didn’t look exactly the way I expected it to look.

Or any way I expected it to look.

The lawlessness, the violence, the nights in jail: I interpreted these as signs of a rabid self-hatred when perhaps they were all just frantic attempts at defying extermination.

It’s hard to say for sure.

What seems clear is that her rock bottom sunk to depths most people could never survive, much less endure. Whereas she just keeps grabbing big clumps of earth and pulling herself back up.

Anymore, I have to admit that I’m in awe of it.

So every day, I take her to radiation. And every day, without fail, she comes out even wider-eyed and somehow younger than she was five minutes prior.

I take her sweet hand and guide her to the car, buckle her into her seatbelt. And some days she asks for an ice cream cone, which of course she gets.

Afterwards, I drive her back to her little house and the miniature legacy she’s created with her precious Harley Davidson husband, simultaneously the least refined and most pure man to ever grace our family.

God, how he loves her. It’s more touching than I can bear. The twisted and doomed fairy tale of their lives.

Never in a million years would I have said that she would be the one to truly succeed in a relationship.

But so it goes. I wouldn’t have guessed most of it, really.

I certainly wouldn’t have guessed how fixated I’ve become, as I walk her up the steps to her house, on her ankles. But I can’t seem to take my eyes off of them.

Her tiny little ankles, the size of my wrists, and something in the shoes’ fabric gives on the sides. Apparently,  she can’t tie them tight enough to disguise the fact that she’s withering away to nothing.

Can’t disguise the fact that soon, she will be no more.

~

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the street

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So Hyde rescued me. Life got confusing, too big, too difficult to navigate. My mind’s graffiti art became dizzying, no longer lovely in its overlap.

I spent overheated days trying to differentiate the once-valuable tags from each other, then took a sledgehammer to the entire structure, demolition-style, before it had a chance to collapse on its own.

And oddly, in so doing, I enacted something so profoundly me.

It’s true. Just when I thought I couldn’t outdo myself, I outdid myself.

But meanwhile, Hyde rescued me, rescued my son, Django. Took us both in. And we are never going to speak of it, because that wouldn’t be our style, but now we live at Hyde’s.

It’s a nice place to live, a lot less responsibility, a lot more basketball. The Piranha came for a visit and said my room reminds him of a teenager’s. I can see that. I did it all up in gold and dusty pink, clothes all over the floor.

But I make a better teenager now than I originally did.

Hyde could tell you. The summer we first met, I was 15, just like Django now.

~

Django’s friend, Dean, went to the old house, climbed on the planters, peeked in the windows, realized we were gone.

“Where are you?” he wanted to know.

Not everyone gets the answer to that riddle. The majority don’t.

But Dean is one of my faves, so Django redirected him.

“We’re living with one of Delilah’s ex-boyfriends.”

“You don’t have to say it like that,” I tell Django afterwards. “We dated a million forevers ago. You can just say that we’re living with a family friend.”

My letting Django know this is based on some intuition that he is perhaps at odds with the way things have fallen out.

But: “Why would I say that?” he responds. “That’s not nearly as funny.”

~

Next day Dean shows up, and all my boys and I go out to shoot some hoops in the street. We laugh, I am relaxed, I recognize that life is getting looser, like an elastic that got too far stretched and now it’s just going to be this way.

It has been a strange couple of weeks, I’m suddenly safe and exhausted, I cross the street to rest in some shade and somehow fall hard asleep, right there, laid out on the sidewalk.

Apparently this is the way I behave, now.

I am wakened by an elderly man standing over me.

“Are you in need of help?” he desperately wants to know.

I’ve had many a Blanche Dubois moment in my life, each one as peculiar as the next.

But I mean, really, what is it about me and the kindness of strangers?

I shade my eyes and try to get my bearings. Look across the street to see Hyde, Django and Dean poking each other in the ribs and stifling laughter.

“Oh, Delilah, what are we going to do with you?” they later tease.

I say that I think I am doing fine. Say that, if nothing else, that nice old man could have dragged me into his house by my arms and nursed me back to some kind of health.

And even though I am joking, it doesn’t actually seem all that far-fetched.

I’ve had some better times; I’ve had some worse. I’ve been lost more times that I’d care to admit, but never so lost that someone didn’t find me. That just is. A given. A condition of my existence.

Just lucky, I guess, or shameless, maybe, but either way there’s a beauty in there that surpasses the notion of any brick and mortar thing some group of people might call home.

~

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i want

i want

Next time I see him, I want to beat my fists on his endless expanse of chest.

I keep having visions of it, of how good it will feel. Of how I’ll really get into it, a tiny, full-blown rampage. Story goes he’ll laugh it off and eventually grab my wrists in one giant hand and pull me in and I’ll be contained and safe in his stupid, paternal presence.

He’s been gone for four or eight or 11 days, and I pouted when he left, confusing myself, because I was going to use it as an excuse to stop seeing him anyway. I thought I was just humoring him by going over that last night. Playing along with his notion that we’re in a relationship.

It’s funny, you know, how language works. Because he can say to me, sternly, through clenched teeth, “You. Are. Mine.” and I’m down with it. Big time. But when he uses the word girlfriend on me my respect for either him or myself falls through the floor.

So I showed up at his house hours late with braids and roses in my hair and I parked my car way up the mountain from his home and hiked up my skirt and traversed the wilderness to reach him.

Then I lied and said that I caught an uber there, which surely he must have known was a lie because he was on his patio that overlooks the only road up to him when I snuck in the back door. But there is something very odd in his demeanor of late, something dubious, something withholding, something interesting, and he questioned me on it not at all.

He expected me to be all giddy happiness and light. That’s fair. I often am.

But I hate expectation and I hated the eleven lit candles overlooking his bed, to which he directed me. Because the candles were a surprise last time, and I cooed over them. But to try to do the same thing twice with me reads boring. Reads stagnant. Reads lackluster.

Two of the candles had self-extinguished, which pretty much speaks for itself.

I am many kinds of women, but I am not a woman for whom lackluster will be endured.

No.

And yet, look at me, who went along with his rote undressing of me while feeling nothing, nothing at all.

It physically hurt when he penetrated me, which has never happened. And he was above me and I held him up and away with strong arms, my palms flat on his chest and his lovely, broad shoulders my lone point of focus.

I wore a black-studded bra, very tough, refused to take it off.

“Why so cold, why so detached?” he whispered.

And it was as if the question were aimed just perfectly to elicit an answer from some off-limits part of me.

“I don’t like caring about you,” I told him.

Personally, I found the words shocking.

Had I known they were coming, I might have checked them over before setting them free. But seeing as they were already out, I just let them have their run of the room, unable to distinguish if they were part of an act or something I actually felt.

I shook my head back and forth several times, feeling my brain knocking around in its cage, while he got up to stoically blow out the candles and lock the doors and … I don’t know what else … I was pretty wrapped up with my own internal chaos by then.

When he got back into bed he patted his chest and said, “Come here.”

Which I couldn’t believe so I made a few bratty comments, just out of curiosity.

He just patted his chest again.

“Come here.”

So I went ahead and cuddled up against his big lifeboat of a body.

After he fell asleep I slung my clothes under one arm and stole his pants and headed straight for the door.

But when I got there, intending to flee, something stopped me.

I stared at the handle for a while. Tried to decide how I felt about turning it. Didn’t know. So eventually piled the clothes on the kitchen counter, poured myself a bourbon, and stared at it some more.

I told myself that I wasn’t leaving because, who knows, maybe being eaten dead by wolves.

Eventually he came out. Found me drunk and naked on his kitchen floor, leaning against the cupboards.

“That can’t be comfortable,” he said.

“You’d be surprised.”

He just stood there, in the room’s darkness, hovering over me, but at an awkward distance, like he wasn’t entirely sure I was safe to approach.

I couldn’t decipher what was happening. It was a strange scene. Close to unbearable.

I wanted someone to tell me my lines.

My funny, cool-girl lines that would make this all be back within my control.

“Need some space?” he asked.

I nodded.

“Are you going to leave?”

I shrugged.

“I miss you,” he said, and I knew that he kind of meant next to him in his bed, but more meant the woman who knew how to direct a beautiful scene.

I knew, because I missed her, too.

~

 

 

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kneel

Circulation-Deskso last night you, who know not a thing about me, not my name, my address, my favorite color, ask me to be your girlfriend. except you are so much cuter than that, in the way you say it.

“are you seeing anyone else?” you randomly ask.

that’s your lead-in.

we’re lying, once again, on the floor of your new and still-vacant living room when you launch into this line of questioning. considering that you have your fingers hooked exquisitely inside of me, one could say you have the current advantage.

“no,” i breathe, because already i’m misunderstanding, and thinking we’re doing a thing in which i show off how make-believe obedient i can be under your dynamic tutelage.

“i’m seeing one other person,” you mention. at which point i stop my gyrations, and begin to catch on that you’re engaged in an actual conversation, begin to suspect that the skilled movements of your hand are just a loosely connected after-thought.

this suspicion is confirmed when i slip out of reach from your touch and you, unnoticing, run the self-same hand through your dark hair, in a gesture of what i think might be worry.

“it’s a kind of on-again, off-again thing,” you say here.

i nod, sympathetically, then wonder if sympathetic is the correct expression for me to exhibit, given the circumstances.

i’m having a lot of trouble keeping up with what’s happening, and you’re about to make it worse.

“but, i would be your boyfriend, if you want that,” you tell me.

“you’d be my boyfriend?” i ask, not because i didn’t hear the first time but because i had no idea that we were playing the part of twelve-years-old innocents right now.

please understand that i broke into this man’s house, several times; i am a woman who competes obsessively with his physical superiority; i pierce his pressure points with no remorse, only amusement; i pour hot oil on his body;  i wake him up in the night, wanting more, with sudden ice applied to his testes.

i have never, never presented as something even remotely deserving of relationship status.

as such, i’m flattered, while also thinking that this man has far more wrong with him than i initially surveyed.

even so, we’re in his recently-purchased house, with which i’ve been strongly identifying for the past week. he’s gutting its interior, with his own two gorgeous, brutish hands, and when we talk he’s been using words that constantly break my concentration. words like raze and demolish and dismantle. and there are broken tiles and men’s tools everywhere and even stepping across the threshold with my eyes closed, i’m wet enough to feel my essence dripping down the inside of my leg. so i’m more willing to entertain this conversation than i should be. is that enough to build a relationship on?

“why?” i want to know, as in, why would he want to be my boyfriend.

“i am really, really into you,” he says, honestly.

“would i have to tell you my name?” i ask, because i could almost just do this if he said no. i would even toy with marrying him if he’d go for that.

“yes, i would need to know your name.”

i go to protest, but he shakes his head at me.

“so you’ll have to weigh that carefully,” he says.

but actually, no, i won’t. i don’t have to even weigh that at all. because there is no fucking way, this far in, with things going this successfully, that i’m going to throw the sledgehammer of my name into the beautiful chapel glass of what we’re doing. is he stupid?

“why?” i want to know.  “why would you have to know my name?”

“i want to know everything about you,” he says, even though he has no earthly knowledge of what the result of that sentiment could be. “i want to know what you do when you go home. i want to know if you have a cat…”

“you want to know if i have a cat?” i interrupt. “that’s been like a burning question for you all this time?”

he rolls his eyes, growing exasperated with me.

“look, just consider it. i’ve made the offer. that’s the most i can do.”

later that night, we go back to his condo. while he sleeps, so delightfully heavy, i listen to music in the luxury of his seven-foot speakers, and think about what he’s proposing. he assumes i live some charmed life, because i come over to his house, blithe and dominatrix and free.

but the things he’d have to accept in me are too many.

like oh, i have a son, we have one of those brazilian single mother relationships that make men want to kill him, or me, or themselves; his cultish father is either my best friend or the bane of my existence, usually both, at the same time; i have a sister, she was brutally beaten and had amnesia for 20 years, but oh, yeah, now she’s back, she remembers, except she’s dying of brain cancer, any day now she’ll go; and, oh, you should probably know, i come from a long, unbroken lineage of mentally unwell, and, as such, a fictionalized account of things, per my pedigree, is not only acceptable but encouraged; and, oh, i almost forgot, the man i loved most fell off the face of the earth, and i’m pretty sure i’ll never be able to feel again…

and besides, and more importantly: what is wrong with the way things are?

i mean, when we’re in your ripped-up house and you command me to kneel, i do so happily. moreover, i unfasten your studded leather belt with my teeth, and i purr at the feel of your hands in my hair, forcing me on you. i’m in love with the movement of your hips.

beyond those moments of perfection, i am at best an upscale wreck. a demolished library, containing a chaos of knowledge and archaic power. but please, don’t let’s stop and try to recategorize the volumes. let’s just go with it. the way things are. there’s so much beauty in my destruction.

that night, or early morning, or whatever time it is in the blackout bedroom of yours in which we sleep, i wake from a terrifying nightmare: in it, your penis is suddenly too small for me.

i grasp at you; you growl at me in that lovely way you do.

all is well. it was just a bad dream.

still, the symbolism is not lost on me. nor should it be on you.

it’s not you; it’s what you want from me. i can’t reduce myself to that, to one immobile identity. i’ll die even sooner than i already expect is planned for me.

and i want to be indomitable.

i want to be larger than life.

~

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balance

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The hacker likes me, I suspect, for all of the things he can’t have from me, for all of the things I don’t give him. He doesn’t like me because I make him feel complete; he likes me because I make him feel desperate. He likes me because he can’t take my pulse, track my rhythm, crack my code.

“My therapist suggested that I’m attracted to you because you remind me of myself,” he mentions, sprawled out in front of the fire. On a large blanket. In the quiet and empty house he apparently just bought.

We’re here because six days ago I proposed a barren-landscape picnic. We’re here because three weeks ago I showed up in his hotel room in New York City. We’re here because two months ago—or, as he tells it, three—I broke into his apartment, and disrupted his psyche enough that he’s still interested.

The suggestion that we’re similar doesn’t initially resonate, and my first thought is that he’s just flattering himself. (Okay, we’re both self-confessed narcissists; that much is true.) But then I realize that he, like me—like everyone, perhaps—contains multitudes, of which I really only know one.

The one I know is named Jack. That is, Jack is the name I gave him, after he said something about either fucking or DJing—I can’t remember which, perhaps both—like a jackhammer, at 140 beats per minute.

Jack has mad skills, a sharp mind, a strong body. Most importantly, Jack is adroit at walking the intricate line between praise-adoring me and giving me not even an inch.

As regards his therapist, and the dialogue Jack—who has long since told me his name is not Jack—is trying to have with me, I know what he’s seeking there. He’s brought up a thousand conversations like this before. He wants to know what he is to me. A past-time? A distraction? Is he penetrating me at all?

And because I am one step ahead of him in this way, and enjoy staying one step ahead, I turn the discussion down a side alley. Park the car.

Attraction is a tricky thing for me. While none of my multitudes are in any way complimented by being a part of a unit, several of them advance more quickly under the close scrutiny of a challenging man, and the majority of them delight in occasionally outrunning someone I ought not to be able. I mean, of course.

As such, I haven’t revealed anything—not even my first name—to Jack. Rather, I long to be for him a concentrated study in all things unknown, the black forest landscape of his unconscious.

“Your therapist hasn’t figured out yet that I’m just an escape?” I offer.

Jack laughs, loudly, rolls over on his side, delicately brushes the hair out of my face before grabbing the back of my neck and yanking.

“Stop that,” he whispers, threateningly.

“Never,” I taunt.

He growls. I flex my fingers.

I fully expect to leave scars on this man’s body.

~

 

 

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when your sister comes back from the dead in order to die ~ how it begins

monteverde's angel

If you really want to know about my sister, we have to go so far back.

It’s why I have this resistance around mentioning her. Ever.

Quiet observation tells me that there was never a more complicated story: the Pandora’s box, the inescapable Labyrinth of my sister’s very life.

Trying to make sense of it—to give it perspective— feels like running a child’s delicate fingers along the unseen bottom of a swamp, searching for some tiny lost thing that actually might just belong there.

So maybe it is better to let it rest, leave it alone.

Let the sediment covering it grow heavier, the murky waters deepen.

But you can’t, can you?

There is some part of you that feels you have to hold it up to the light, isn’t there? If only ever one final time?

Well, fuck you, and damn your perpetual curiosity.

You’ll never learn.

(But for what it’s worth: whatever it is for which you’re searching in this story? I do  so hope you finally find it.)

~

Matters are going to be complicated by the fact that I’m going back in.

My penchant for drama is such that I view it as some journey from which I might not even return.

As such, I triple-check my equipment for potential vulnerability: my emotional maturity, my recently-earned stoic strength, my much-needed objective perception.

Were I lying, I could say my goal is to return with my sister’s story, in its pure and undiluted form.

But I’m well aware that it will be filtered through me, whom simplicity evades.

So really, to be honest: it will more likely be the story of sisters.

In one last desperate attempt to understand.

The story of sisters.

From beginning to end.

(Because now, finally, we really are at the end.)

~

Being five years younger, you weren’t there for Celia’s beginning.

Luckily, your father covered that part:

“I call it ‘Life’,” said Morgan Dubois. He held a painting, red and blue and black and several other colors. It wasn’t finished—the lower right corner was just canvas; but the rest, one saw, was largely full. It was a beautiful picture. Morgan held it in the back of his Altavista, Virginia apartment, right above a sloping woods where he sometime went but where his wife didn’t, at least not too much, because she would, in two months she’d been told, have a baby. Morgan’s picture was actually too dark, black and blue almost everywhere, but the side and middle, its focus Morgan knew, was brightly curving for something—one wasn’t sure what, but there it was and bold. Sometimes it looked like a bloated banana peel; sometimes, about the same but tighter, it looked like a fire bellows, something Morgan himself had never seen; most often it looked like a short loaf of bread that hadn’t quite made it to market, had been dropped off a Mick or Mack truck somewhere in Campbell County. But Morgan knew better. He knew, in some vague yet definite way that what really lay on his canvas, put there by hands that had never before drawn, was the inside of his wife Ann Catherine, where a baby grew. That didn’t embarrass Morgan, though he didn’t and wouldn’t tell anyone save Ann, who guessed herself one day.

She was wearing a blue house dress, or a blue nightgown, or a cotton sun dress. She wore it often this spring, for it was loose and she was big. Ann’s hair was long, the longest in years, and beautiful brown and black. Ann claimed it was ratty. But Morgan knew better, and sometimes when Ann Catherine was sleeping he would rub the folds of her long hair. She was 19 years old, not too old one knew, but to Morgan, because he loved her and bought her pickles at Mick or Mack, she was any age. They’d been married one day in Lexington, Virginia, before a large crowd at Lee Chapel. It was June, and night: Ann helped Morgan put the ring on. She was wonderful and slender and gentle; to Morgan’s disbelief, she was now Mrs. Morgan Dubois. The next day, in a highway restaurant maybe fifty miles south of Wytheville, he believed it less. He saw her ring, his ring and thought: “I’m married.” But there she was, Ann Catherine Dubois, right at his table and smiling, his wife.

The couple honeymooned, after Wytheville, on the California cost. Morgan was rather well fixed, so they stayed six weeks, saw all of the coast and nineteen states besides. They met various people, including Mrs. Helen Dobis and two or three personnel men, but soon it was time to return to Morgan’s home, in northern Virginia. They drove much by night, through butte lands and, it seemed, the whole Midwest. But the Duboises had been refreshed by a stay with friends in San Francisco, and drove endlessly homeward, tiring only in Twin Falls, Idaho, where they rested at what was, in truth, a very nice motel.

It was July when Morgan and Ann came to Virginia. Morgan had no job and a B.A. in Independent Studies, which meant something to someone but not to many employers. The problem might have been Morgan too—he was narrow on preference tests and vague and overeager at interviews; no one hired him. The Duboises did have some money though, and could rent, at least for a while, in their two-room apartment at Carrollton Court in Charlottesville. Morgan applied to the University of Virginia; he was rejected. At last, having borrowed two hundred dollars, with no other income in sight, Morgan hired on with a Charlottesville hamburger concern. Nights, when Morgan came home, he’d bring Ann milkshakes. She’d be beautiful, dressed beyond reason, as though Morgan wasn’t a hamburger man really but a young vice-president maybe, ready to take her wherever Ann might wish.

But Ann only wanted, as far as Morgan could understand, two things: contentment, and a child. Their bed was a fold-out; sheets caught on the edge and tore. Morgan and his wife were sometimes crowded at night. They used a Hudson Bay blanket and spent much of their time there, not only because they loved each other but also because the bed was the sofa and, as such, the most comfortable furniture in the room. In September, when Morgan was making fifty dollars a week, their baby was conceived there. He knew it at the exact time, was certain: Ann, his wife, and he, Morgan Dubois, would have what they both now wanted—a girl, or a boy, and something Morgan knew, but could not explain, would in some way be eternal. He loved Ann.

It was January when they moved to Altavista. Morgan had been given a teaching job, with the 7th grade at Huddleston Elementary School. He’d visited there; the girls in the room had giggled. Morgan was ecstatic, and so was Ann—it was, after all, the first real job her husband had had. They moved quickly, and with fortune. There were no apartments in Huddleston, worse than none in Bedford, and few in Altavista. But one Saturday, when they should have found nothing, the Duboises rented, on the top of a hill, a new paneled apartment with two bedrooms and a landlord named Mr. R.A. Stevens, who couldn’t read and soon lowered the rent. He and his wife were the best landlords they would ever have.

So there Morgan was, with a baby four months inside Ann and frequent snows and driving too fast, at three o’clock, from Huddleston Elementary School. Ann was often sick, had been so too in Charlottesville. Morgan didn’t help, though he tried. He was scared perhaps by Ann’s pain, but he told her poorly. He was, in a sense, oblivious to its fullness, not because he wanted to but because Morgan was happy and proud; the man had never been a father, and he was married to Ann Catherine Dubois. He started to paint.

“Interesting.” That’s what Ann’s brother Paul had said about Morgan’s picture. Not to Morgan but his sister. Ann was painting too, a vase which she redid three times and at last put aside. “It’s terrible,” she said. It wasn’t, but she knew how to paint and wanted more, or maybe another picture completely. She let Morgan continue.

It was April, I think, when Ann guessed what Morgan was doing. He told her first, in their living room, on maybe their brown love-seat. They had too a twelve-foot bookcase and, on it, a television; at the side of the room was a child’s paper chair. Ann smiled when he said it, not shyly or broadly either; she was glad, that she’d understood and, when Morgan painted, in the sun of Altavista, it was—however freely or even badly—their child. She was as soft as life; her hands were warm. This woman, with the blue house dress and long dark hair and child’s eyes, was here, and knew him.

May came, and June. Ann gained eighteen pounds and more. She ate what she should. Morgan kept a food chart, and marked it every day. Ann was the best expectant mother in Virginia, and maybe anywhere; she ate many small potatoes, fruits and raw or cooked vegetables. Weekly they’d drive to Lynchburg, those last two months, to see Ann’s doctor. His name was Dr. Lippard, and he had a partner, Dr. Driskill; both were good, but Ann preferred Dr. Lippard, who calmed her better, even when it was June 25th and, both Ann and Morgan feared, much too late. Three weeks before Morgan had flown to Dallas, wishing a second job, with Greenhill School. Ann didn’t really want him to go, or to move away—even though, right now, Morgan had no job for September. She liked Altavista, but she knew Morgan was excited. She would follow him to Dallas, whatever she felt. Ann didn’t tell Morgan this, but she hinted it; Morgan was worried, remembered Charlottesville, and flew to Texas, unsure too, for the baby was due daily. He returned home at three-thirty a.m. and kissed his wife; it is coming home, finding Ann there, this night and all spring, that I think Morgan remembers best.

They tried many things. Ann worked hard in their rooms. She hung up clothes. They saw “King Rat.” But the baby didn’t come, and it was already June 30th. Morgan’s parents had come and gone, had stayed in Danville, awaiting the birth. Ann’s mother, in Connecticut, was waiting to ring the town bell, but it was, by now, decaying. Nobody understood and July, the tenth month, was coming. It was time for action. Ann scrubbed the floors. Morgan beat his chest and invited Ann to the movies again. “The Collector.” Ann was frightened throughout, by the madman Terrance Stamp and his prison cellar. That night, still trembling, in their small hallway, she told Morgan: the baby was coming, was free. Maybe they should wait till morning? Morgan woke the Trammells, three apartments down; he called the doctor, who wasted no time. The Duboises should go to Lynchburg.

I’m not certain how Ann felt that night. She appeared, in some ways, very calm. That’s what the Trammells said, and the Goodwins too, who lived next door and were watching through their window. And she was quiet all the way to Lynchburg, driving in darkness with Morgan, talking yes but in muted tones that were raised only as they neared, more and more, Virginia Baptist Hospital. They parked far beside and entered there the emergency door. The next thing Morgan knew, because of wonder not fear, his wife was gone, and he was in—alone—the waiting room. He couldn’t help. The last vision had been of Ann, going; it had been, it seemed, too sudden. He didn’t know. For the first time, perhaps, Morgan was afraid. “You’ve got a wait,” said the nurse. “It might be till noon.” Morgan nodded, smiled.

It is this I don’t understand. For three hours Morgan slept and read—forcibly—Holiday Magazine. For three hours Ann was in labor, bearing Celia Dubois. They didn’t see each other. Ann can tell him, but Morgan will never really know, what happened. And he saw Celia before Ann, wrapped in a nurse’s arm, unlike any child he’d ever seen. He held her. “We’re going to wash her,” said the nurse. “You may see her again very soon.” A girl, which was, though Ann had never believed it, what Morgan wanted. She was infinitely small; Celia Dubois. Her hair was dark, he would see her soon, he would see her always. “Yes,” he said. He held her still.

And Ann; on stretcher, incoherent but saying, “We had a girl, Morgan.” The smell, the smell of Ann, of birth, of love known and final. This woman below, Celia’s mother, who was someone not him and yet him, who had given him this, the feeling, the love, the eternal time, because that’s what it is. “I love you,” Morgan said. And Ann smiled, heard without maybe knowing, the words just a tone she understood. Ann, mother, wife, this blurred world of love. Morgan watched her, Ann Catherine, and all before him, his past, his life, was here.

Morgan saw Ann once more that morning. He came from Altavista afternoons and saw her twice, then and at night. He saw Celia through the glass, touched her too in Ann’s room, knew her. That feeling never lapsed; it became firm, sure. He saw Ann, he saw Celia, he understood. The fourth day he would take them home. And maybe, in time, Morgan would grow hard and selfish and always brusque. Maybe Ann would be lonely and unsure and, one day, lost. Maybe Celia, dancing in the mountains, would start an avalanche, and destroy them all. It was hard to say. But the moments were there, the days; and whatever people might say next week, or in a hundred years, they were Ann’s and Morgan’s and, though she couldn’t know, Celia’s;  and Lynchburg, Virginia, in the green Morgan saw, was a good place.

 

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what i’m doing anymore

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I got like all cut up again, like inside, a few weeks ago.

All this many recovering days later, the blood still trickles out of me, when it wants. Reminding me that it happened.

But I don’t recognize it anymore as belonging to me.

I’m detached from all the private betrayals. Using up what I still can and ignoring the rest.

Like the stampeding heart rate, telling me I must be hysterical. Close my eyes and sleep right through it.

The currents of my particular life are at once both so much more and so much less of me than they have ever been. Not at all what I anticipated when I ever, albeit rarely, honed in on the concept of future.

The negative space is exploding. Extreme shadow to the nth.

I watch the super-8 movies of my body and subsequent mind at age three, at age four. And I imagine I can see it, feel it almost. The way I was already lost, isolated, set adrift.

There is good in it, life. Has shock value. Like a mischievous saboteur hiding in the bushes, jumping out and screaming in our faces when we’re least expecting it.

And we drop everything we were trying to handle: the stability, the sanity.

It’s all over in a single instant.

 

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