Tag Archives: mourning

A Shift. A Change.

(Continued from July 22nd, 2012.)

Gaining time, ages of it:  That’s how she had begun to feel recently.  It was no longer an anxiety driven chase of minutes, or breaking down her days into portions of obligations and thinking too far ahead; so far ahead that she would forget to observe the very happening of time — and herself in it:  unfolding, expanding, altering, learning to love.  The tension that came from her knowledge that she was lacking, losing time would settle at the medial edges of her eyebrows, making her forehead feel like a heavy awning.  For years, she had worn the weight of time on her face; and while the losses surmounted, as they do in any life, she found herself at a deficit of time for mourning.

Larisa stepped out of the church.  The city, still moving slowly after the snowstorm, was gradually waking.  Older women carried netted bags with groceries from the bazar; the men smoked.  The young raced, chased, took for granted stretches and stretches of time.  The sun had been beaming down; and although it didn’t have the strength to thaw out the iced pavements yet, the smells of eventual spring could already be detected in the air.  Everything was beginning to exhale.  Larisa smiled:

But, of course, change would come!  It always did!  In her memory, there was no specific day when this awareness had happened in her, no event that — again, with time — revealed its lesson:  that she wasn’t really living all this time, but merely waiting for her days to end, wasting them on worry, on an anticipation of her own expiration and on counting up her lacks.  Growing tired, perpetually tired, she found herself lacking patience.  How could her life force fade so early on?  And she was terrified of it:  to lose the joy of living would make a life’s uselessness more daunting.  She didn’t want to live with that.  And she was not going to lose the hope!  No, not the hope; not the sometimes demonstrative belief of hers that people were prone to goodness; and that even though she could never expect it, kindness would make its presence known, and it would lighten up at least some events with grace.  Oh, but she needed to — she had to! — believe that!

Watching the rush of morning trolleys clunk past her, Larisa decided to walk.  The cold stiffness of the air entered her lungs, brought on an alertness.  The kindness hadn’t slept a wink that night.  And so, she continued to roam through her city, with books in hand:  the city which she hadn’t made her home yet, just a place where she would watch her youth unfold; but at any moment, she could give it up, take off again, the gravity of responsibilities not affecting her yet; and she could chose any place (she could go any place, really!); and the mere awareness of such freedom made the heart swell with tearful gratitude.

In that state, while absorbing the city from the top stair of the library building, she had met him.  It was the music, at first, streaming out of the rolled down window of his car.   She stopped to listen to it:  Chopin?  Debussy?  In the gentle strokes of the piano movement, the city glistened.  She stepped down and resumed her walk.

“I was just thinking myself, ‘Am I ready to part with this Blok collection?’”  He had gotten out of the car and was now leaning against the passenger’s window at the back seat.  Larisa smiled:  Blok — Russia’s golden boy of poetry — had made her girlfriends swoon all through college.  She studied the man’s face for a glimmer of ridicule:  Had he seen her leaving the building with half a dozen of hard-bound (cloth) tomes, half of which she had renewed, unready to part with the moods, the atmosphere they proposed?  But if anything, the man was smiling at his own expense, bashfully and maybe even seeking her opinion on the matter.  She considered it, then spoke carefully:

“You should try some early Akhmatova.”

“Too tragic,” he responded, “especially for the end of this winter.”

That’s it!  Right there, she knew exactly what she meant!  But for the first time, she did’t catch herself forced into a space of controlled flirtation from which she could observe — but not always appreciate — the effects of her presence.  How can I hold all this space now, she thought; how can I stand here, not putting up the heightened facade of my sex?

She couldn’t remember if it had ever been this easy before.  Aloneness would still happen, of course, even if this were indeed the evidence of her change.  It wouldn’t stop, neither would she want it to.  But now it united, linked her to the rest of humanity; and even in the isolation of the specificity of her most private experiences, she would understand so much; and in that surrender (if only she could manage to not lose herself in fear again), she was certain she would find kindness.

Habitat for Humanity

The sound of the 1 Local rattled the windows; she untangled herself from his limbs, sat up and prepared for the sensation of mellow distain, in the vicinity of her diaphragm:  It had been his idea for her to move in here, after just seven months of dating.

 

It was the only time she had encountered a man so willing.  She was lucky, according to other women, most of whom, she suspected, had gone through the chronic toss between a want of love and a denial of it, due to their self-esteem.  A man’s attention could go a long way though.  She had been known to make it last for years, settling for either those who feared commitment or were half-committed — to someone else.  Bitterly, she would eventually begin to withdraw from all offers of courtship because she was sick of herself:  reaching, trying too hard; accounting, then settling for leftovers.

But this one loved her, it was obvious.  He praised her enthusiastically, similarly to the way one adored a deity or a Renaissance statue of a nude, made more precious by its missing parts and by the scabs of earth and time.  Never had she been with a man who wanted to parade her through the circles of his friends, all of them older, calmer and mostly academics, who got through their own marriages by sleeping with their students.  Sometimes, while she feigned being asleep on the couch after hearing his keys scratching their way into the lock; she listened to his footsteps get quieter, as he approached her, merely breathless; and he would sit at the edge of their coffee table, amidst magazines and her thesis papers, and study her.  She began to feel responsible.

Her girlfriends, of course, were full of advice:  Men like him happened rarely.  She was lucky, they hoped she knew.  But was she ready for their age difference; and for the ex-wife with a list of entitlements to his money?  Heartbroken men made for hard material.  But wasn’t it a woman’s sport, to fall in love, despite?

The night when they would sleep together for the first time, she found a photograph of the ex, tucked away into an old aluminum cigarette holder.  She wanted to light up.

The black and white face of a blonde looked over the shoulder, with one hand propped up like an awning across her forehead, her lips closed sternly, as if disliking the photographer.  She found her to be a forgettable woman, not at all like she preferred to see herself.  Now, with both of his habits gone — the smoking and the wife — he was not at all enthused by the idea of reminiscing about the past.  But she insisted on a talk, so that she could investigate herself the story through his sighs and avoided glances.  It was a hideous tendency for some emotional sadomasochism that she disguised as intimacy.  Or, maybe, she was already reaching.

She, of course, tried to be casual about it.  He would begin to speak, not from the start, but going immediately to when the ex blurred out her desire for a divorce.  It happened in the midst of a tiff over the shut-off electricity due to an unpaid bill — a woman flailing at him, in the dark — and he first thought she was quoting a film they may had seen together.  They’d gone to film school together, a decade ago, in the City, never pursuing the field afterward.  He’d stick to theory; she — to freelance writing.

“But didn’t you see it coming?” she asked him, watching his fluttery eyelashes add to the dark circles under his eyes.  “Any signs at all?”

The gray-haired lover shook his head but held it high.  Still, for the first time, in his habits of disobedience to his emotions, she saw a once crumbled man; a man, perhaps, still in need of repair.

This predisposition of her imagination — to be able to see her men as children (or worse yet, as children in need of rescue); to truly feel their suffering; to be moved to tears by their losses that happened a decade before her, but always so unjustly — that evening, made her weary.  Hadn’t she had enough yet?  She couldn’t possibly save every one of them!  She wasn’t here to fix it, to make-up for another woman’s whimsy.  Still, she would begin to feel responsible.

In the light of an exposed, yellowed by months — or years, perhaps — of fried food in his kitchen, that first night she watched him cook dinner for the two of them.

“That’s a big step!” the girlfriends rolled out their eyes and smacked their lips.

“A man that cooks and does his own laundry.  You are one lucky bitch!”

The more she listened to the women get involved (for none of them actually listened), the more she regretted exposing her tales of love and loss.  Perhaps, her ex was right:  Over the course of the last century, women had become a collectively confused group of people.  She herself no longer knew what she wanted at the moment.  And she could not remember what she used to want.

 

He was exhausted from the emotional testimony and was now fussing in the kitchen:

“I haven’t used this barbecue since my last apartment.  So:  should be interesting!”  She’d gone too far.  She shouldn’t have probed.

Albeit the open doors of the top floor patio, the hot air clustered the entire apartment.  It took up every corner.  She, having just come out of the shower, felt dewy in her crevices.  There used to be a lot more vanity, in love.  Perhaps, she wasn’t trying hard enough with this one.

She watched him cutting up fresh herbs plucked from the flower pot along the kitchen window sill.  He operated with a tiny knife at the edge of a wooden cutting board, blackened by mildew on one side.  There was nothing visibly sloppy about his appearance, yet she could see the absence of a woman in his life.  Perhaps, the shortest distance between his earlobes and shoulder blades had something to do with her aroused compassion.  Or the bulk of crumpled Kleenex in the pocket of his sweats.  Or the rapidly blinking eyelids, when he decidedly walked away from his story.  He wasn’t cared for.  He was recovering.  It made her heart compress.  Responsible!  She had to be responsible.

While nibbling on twigs of dill, flirtatiously at first — although mostly out of habit — then suddenly more grounded in her kindness, she studied him while standing by his microwave.  She didn’t find herself impressed, but tired.  Tired and kind.  If not in love, she would be grateful for this one, she decided.  Just look at him:  He needed her so much.

Threshold

(Continued from April 8th, 2012.)

When she first arrived, the older woman took off her shoes before stepping over the threshold.  Unusually considerate, light in her step, she made her daughter nervous.

There had been superstitions, back in her mother’s country, about thresholds, doorways, windows.  Table tops and chairs.  And they were treated like traditions by the women in her family, as non-negotiable as laws of gravity and just as final.  To never kiss over a threshold.  To never sit upon a tabletop.  To never let an unmarried woman be positioned at a corner seat, while dining.  And with the slew of superstitions came antidotes, just as important to take notice of; so that when things did NOT work out — the victim could be still the one to blame:  You shoulda knocked three times on wood, spit over the left shoulder, and hidden a fig hand in your pocket.  These things would grow on one unconsciousness like barnacles of paranoid behavior.  And in a nation of world-renowned courage, it puzzled her to see so many doubtful people.

And was her mother brave at all, to just pack-up like that and leave?  To move herself with a child to the furthest removed continent, after the death of her husband?  His — was a death by drinking.  She didn’t want to die — by mourning.

And now, both women — tired but not tired enough to not be cautious of each other — seemed to be waiting for something.  Waiting for the other shoe to drop, albeit both of them standing barefoot in the empty kitchen.  In this new country, where everyone was in love with fun and smiley faces, they each would arrive to their shared home and try to force a lightness to descend.  It would be mostly out of habit, and not desire.  Her mother functioned better in these new rules:  “Have fun!”  “God bless!”  “I love you!”  She had no difficulty throwing these around, without taking any time to match their implications to the worth of the recipient.

The younger woman now waited by the sink full of dishes.  After enough silence, while stealing glances at her mother, who floated from one room to another like a trapped moth, the hostess began to rummage through the dirty dishes.

Had mother always colored her hair with that unnatural shade of black, when last she’d seen her, in New York?  The snow white roots came in aggressively, all over mother’s head, opposing the other color with no mercy.  When did she age this much?  When did this fear and sorrow find time to settle on her face?

A paw of pity stroked across the young woman’s tightly wound nerves:

“Mom.  Why don’t you sit down?”  She caught herself:  All furniture was made of boxes, uncouth for a woman with a living husband, according to her mother’s generation.  Before the older woman managed to react, the daughter hid her gaze in forming mounds of soapsuds and hurriedly amended her first offer:  “Mom.  Wouldn’t you like a drink?”

“Yes, please,” the older woman turned on her heels, seemingly delighted.  “White zinfandel?”

“Well.  Um.  I don’t have alcohol.  But would you like some juice?”

“Oh.  Right.”  An eyebrow went up and froze.  “No, thanks.”

She turned and walked away again — floating, balancing, looming — stopped by the sliding doors of the balcony, at the edge of the living-room.  The palm trees slowly swayed outside like metronomes to one’s slower heartbeat.  West, West, West.

She’d gone out West, with nothing but the ghosts checked-in as her luggage.  The letters from her best friend on the East Coast would hit the bottom of the mailbox on a weekly basis, for the first two months.  She praised her for the courage.  She mentioned pride, and dignity, and all the other things they’d mutually gotten high on, back in college.

It never happened in any of the books she’d read, but in her life, what others titled “courage” — was merely an act of following through.  Besides, she swore, he thought of the idea first.  What else was she suppose to do?

The best friend wrote her with gel pens, whose color was always given careful consideration.

She wrote in pink:  “It’s better to let it all go to the wind.”

In purple:  “Let justice work itself out.”

At least, unlike the others, the best friend never judged.  She wasn’t in a habit of taking sides.  She never called the husband names.  But then again, they’d never really found men to be the leading topic of their friendship.  Men merely existed.  Some men were good.  And back in college, the two of them hadn’t loved enough men to speak of the other gender with that scornful nostalgia of the other women.  Men merely existed.  And then:  There was the whole of the magnificent world outside.

 

Out here — out West — she could just start from scratch.  She only needed to remember how to breathe the even breath:  if not that of her calmer youth — then of her wiser self.  With time, she knew she’d see the point of it, the purpose, the lessons of her little losses.  She had too vivid of an imagination to not weave her life into a story.

“One’s life had meaning.  It couldn’t be for forsaken.”  (Oh, how she missed those wonderful convictions of her youth!)

So, while she waited to mature into that wiser self, she set aside some time and space in which the hurting self could flail, abandon graces, wag its finger, then call people back with tearful apologies.  But she would not have to confront her past out here, at least; except for when she opened the envelopes of her phone bills.

“So,” mother started speaking to the window, again.  “Natasha?  Are you looking for a job?”

“I have been looking, yes, mom.”

“Okay,” mom turned around.  Change of subject:  “I hear Mike got a promotion for doing the work on that new bridge, in Brooklyn.”

When rinsing a knife after all pungent foods, one absolutely must use soap.  Because if not, the taste will resonate on every meal for further weeks to come.  

“Oh yeah?  That’s good.”

“Yeah!  He’s a smart boy!  I’ve always liked Mike.  For you.”

It’s better if the handle of the knife is anything but wooden.  Wood stays a living thing forever.  It takes on other substances, breeds them, doesn’t let them go.

Here comes the second round.  Ding, ding, ding:

“I wrote Mike a letter.”  Mom searched for the effects of her intentions on her daughter’s face.  “I know!  I know!  It sounds silly!  We live a borough away.  But I have always relished his opinion.”

She felt exhausted.  “Mom.”

Out West, she’d found herself relearning how to use each thing with an appropriate instrument.  The sense of wonderment!   The love of unexpected beauty!  The curiosity she was resuscitating in herself, like a paralysis patient learning how to walk again.  Her days weren’t daunting, at all times; and they were full of curiosity.

And now:  Mom, barefoot yet armed!   In one woman’s kitchen.  So fearful, she could not release either of them from their pasts.  They stood, displeased with being a reflection of each other.  Another eyebrow arch.  A scoff.  One turned away, demonstratively disappointed.  The other looked down onto her pruned fingers submerged into a sink of cruddy water.

Mom faced the window with no curtains, yet again.  Those horrid, flapping, plastic blinds had been the first thing that Natasha’d taken down.  For the first weeks, she let the wind roam through the apartment, while she, sleepless and exhausted, observed the palm trees wave against the never pitch-black night of her new city:  You are alright.  Remember breathing?

West, West, West.

You still have time.  In your defense.

“See the Stone Set in Your Eyes, See the Thorn Twist in Your Side — I Wait…”

The shades were closed.  The house was dark.  It had always struck me strange the way she’d keep all windows locked down, in order to keep the cold air inside.  The manufactured cool would dry out her skin and the house would smell mechanical.  She’d complain, blow the arid air through her deviated septum; then slather her age spots with some sort of bleaching cream.

She lived too close to the dessert; and only late at night, she’d give the house fans a rest.  Their constant humming would finally die down, and suddenly the sounds of gentle quietness in nature would be overheard through an occasionally open window.  The skin of my scalp would relax at the temples:  I would forget to notice my constant frown during the 20-hour long humming.  My face acquired new habits since living in this house, and I was beginning to forget the girl who had been asked to pay the price of her childhood — in an exchange for the better future.

But on that day, it was too early to allow the nature to come in, yet.  And as I entered the empty house, I immediately noticed the hum.  I had been gone for half a week:  too short of a time to forget the climate of this house entirely — and most definitely not enough to forgive it!  I took off my shoes, remembering the stare she’d give her visitors whenever they were too oblivious to obey.  Slowly, I began to pass from room to room.

The light gray carpet that covered most of the house’s footage was immaculately clean.  And if there was an occasional rug — under a chair or a coffee table — it usually marked an accidental spill of food or drink by a very rare house guest.  I’d be the only one who knew that though:  I’d witness all their hidden faults.  And she would run the vacuum every night, pulling and yanking it in very specific directions.  Those vacuum markings had to remain there undisturbed; and only those who didn’t know better were kindly permitted to destroy them with their footsteps.

I opened the bedroom’s double doors first but found no courage to come in.  Instead, I stood on the cold titles, on the other side, and studied the footsteps by her bed.  There was a cluster of them, right by the nightstand.  Is that where she had been picked up by the paramedics?  I looked for outlines of boots imprinted into the fur of the carpet.  I thought I saw none.

The living room carpet seemed undisturbed.  The markings of the vacuum, which she must’ve done the night before, were still perfectly parallel.  The cold tiles of the kitchen floor had no residue of food.  She’d wash those on her hands and knees with paper towels.  And she would go over it until the wet towel would stop turning gray.  No dishes in the sink.  No evidence of an unfinished meal.  No evidence of life at all.  I began to wonder where she’d collapsed.

The door to my former bedroom was shut.  Most likely, it had remained so since I’d departed.  I made it to the office — the only space where some disarray was less prohibited.  The bills where broken down by due dates and neatly piled perpendicularly, on top of one another.  Her husband had a habit of resting his feet on the edge of the corner desk, as he played on the computer for hours, until she’d fall asleep.  Then, he’d come into my bedroom.

My bedroom.  Its door was closed.  I turned the handle and expected for the usual catch of its bottom against the rug that she insisted on keeping on the other side.  Strangely, it covered up no visible spots.  I pushed it open.

It was a sight of madness.  One woman’s rage had turned the place into a pile of shredded mementos, torn photos and broken tokens of forsaken love.  The bedcovers were turned over.  The sheets had been peeled off the mattress two-thirds down, as if by someone looking for the evidence of liquids near my sex.  The stuffed toys which normally complete my line-up of pillows were now strewn all over the floor, by the wall opposite of my headrest.

On top of an overturned coffee table I saw my letters:  My cards to her and hers — to me.  She’d even found the letters in my parents’ hand, and she shredded them to piece.  Nothing was off limits.  No love was sacred after hers had been betrayed.

I stepped inside to see the other side of one torn photograph that flew the closest to the door.  At first, I tried to catch my breath.  A feeling on sickly heaviness got activated in the intestines.  In murder mysteries that she adored to watch with me, I’d seen detectives scurry off into the corner furthest from the evidence, and they would throw up — or choke at least — at the atrocity of crimes against humanity.  Apparently, my insides wanted to explode from the other end.

I paced myself.  Carefully, that I, too, would not collapse, I bent down and picked up the shredded photo.  It was my face, torn up diagonally across the forehead.  On the day of my high school graduation, her husband had come over to the side of the fence where we were beginning to line up.  I can see the faces of my classmates in the background.  They smiling at his lens.  They are supposed to, as he — was “supposed” to be my father.

He was not.  And I’m not smiling.  I’ve raised one eyebrow, and my lips are parted as if I’d just told him to fuck off.  Not even there, he would allow for me to be without him.  Not even there, I could be alone for long enough to remember the girl who’d been asked for her childhood in an exchange… for what?

“Here Comes the Sun, Little Darlin’. Here — Comes the Sun.”

The hospital walls were the color of…

I don’t know.  How does anybody ever manage to remember the color of these walls?

One of the walls appears missing entirely:  Instead it is taken up by a giant window, with a hideous air-conditioning unit directly underneath it.  They don’t build windows like that on the East Coast.  Everything must be larger in the West: More land, wider roads; bigger closets and endless windows — windows from which we gaze upon the same vast land and highways that carry us along the coast, to and away from love, in a never-ending act of our indecisiveness about solitude.

In Vermont, there are houses with porches and hammocks; and in those houses, the window are unhinged, then flung open, into the idillic streets, best colored during Indian Summer.  In Maine, the window panes collect moisture, balancing out the difference between the temperatures with precipitation and moss.  In New York, one can always find a jammed window, or a broken one; and often, there is some lever one must work, in order to let in some fresh air.

I’m staring out of the giant hole in the wall, with sliding glass, into the desolate desert landscape with gray domes of industrial buildings and rare traffic.  I can see the packed parking lot of the hospital on the ground floor, and judging by the way people leap out of their cars, once they find a spot, I can tell the status of their beloved’s health.  The worst cases pull up directly to the curb.  Others choose to ride in an ambulance.

I see the disheveled head of a woman clutching a baby blanket being helped out of the red swinging doors.  She is being lifted by two men in uniforms; and once on the ground, one of them must remind her how to walk.

I look away:  Dear God!  I think I’m starting to run out of prayers.

On the horizon — gray mountains.  They are always gray, on this side, and only in the deepest winter do their peaks adopt a different shade:  of stark-white snow.  I think of the East, again.  The mountains aren’t mountains out there:  They’re hills.

Everything must be larger, in the West. And I’m one of those travelers, speeding along its wider roads, in a never-ending act of my indecisiveness about solitude:  chasing, then running away from love — then, coming back for more.

The beep-beep-beep of the life-support machine brings me back into the room.  I am alone here.  Well, no:  She is here too.  But I’m not sure if her Here is in the same vicinity as mine.  The doctors have managed to bring her back from wherever that is a broken heart takes its victims:  They have struggled to bring her back Here, through a series of shots and shocks and tricks of the trade.

So, now she is back Here; but I know her Here — is nowhere near.  It’s a different space entirely — a different Here where I, despite my conflicts with love, do not yet wish to be.

The doctors have spoken of Hope.

“Here is still some,” they say; and because they don’t avert their eyes, I wonder how many times they’ve had to say this — just today.

And how are they going to say it again to the disheveled mother who’s forgotten how to walk?

I come up to her bed.  Her skin is ashen.  I’ve never seen this color on the living before:  It’s yellowish-blue, sickly and wax-like.  It juxtaposes against all other shades with defeated sadness.  So, the fuchsia pink of her pedicured toenails peaking out from under the sheet loses all vividness.  The acrylic nails on her fingers, of the same shade, now have an appearance of props.

I remember she used to snap them against each other, when laughing herself to tears while telling a joke.  She was good at jokes.  And in my memory, that hollow sound of snapping nails has come to mean her good moods.

The beep-beep-beep of the life-support machine brings me back into the room:  Again!  It reminds me of the rhythm her broken heart is forced to take on, in order to stay Here.  Is this — the sound of Hope?  This slow, mathematically precise beat of an intelligent machine that, despite its act of mercy, does not possess the sensitivity to understand?

Her body has left this Here:  The Here of the Living!  She doesn’t want to be Here, anymore!  And it is a terrible thought; and I cannot bring myself to say it out loud, in front the drooping face of her mourning husband.

I stand by her bed and study her face.  It’s not peaceful, as my useless novels have promised.  She looks perplexed, and I find myself fixated on the faded outline of her lipstick.  I want to wipe it off for her:  She would have wanted dignity, while — and if — she is still Here.  She is a woman with no heartbeat but perfectly manicured nails.  I think of paging the nurse.

The tubes, running to and from her wrists, fascinate me with their width.  I follow them with their eyes, up to the beep-beep-beep of the life-support machine.  I study the monitor.

What was I looking for?

I return to her face, looking for answers.  A tiny tear, that has formed at an outer corner of her right eye, begins crawling across her temple.

“Are you here?” I whisper and grab her hand.

But I have never felt that temperature on the living before.

Not Here.

“Set Me Free, Why Don’t Cha, Babe? Get Outta My Life, Why Don’t Cha, Babe?!”

“First of all:

I am tired.  I am true of heart!

And also:

You are tired.  You are true of heart!” — 

Dave Eggers,  A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius

Sometimes, forgiveness — means being silent.

You are still thinking of that person who has mishandled you, who has mistreated, misunderstood it all — someone who has committed a sad misstep.  But, of course, you think of him!  How could he?!

But time happens.  It keeps on happening.  That just can’t be helped.

And as the time happens, his misstep seems sadder and sadder.  But it’s rarely tragic, really — if you look at it hard enough.  It may be chaotic, self-serving, unfair.  Foolish and hideous.  Confusing.  Unkind.

But in the end, it’s just sadder.  Especially if you commit yourself — to forgiveness.

For a while, his face floats above your head like a helium filled balloon, tied to the shoulder strap of your luggage.  And you lug it around:  Because these — are your “things”, you see.  And you feel like you’ve gotta keep holding onto them.  You’ve gotta keep holding on!  Because what would you be — if it weren’t for your “things”?

So, the balloon keeps following you, floating above — a strangely pretty thing:  The head of a decapitated ghost.  If you look at it closely enough — it’s quite beautiful, actually, in that post-fuck-up sort of a way.  You can still see the beloved’s face.  You remember the cause of your love.  But there is also a tiredness there that can be confused for peace.  And there are consequences that may result in grace, eventually — when the time allows.

You just gotta commit yourself to time.

You just gotta commit yourself — to forgiveness.

But you aren’t ready yet.  Or so you say.  So you keep lugging the luggage around, earning calluses on your shoulders:

“These are my ‘things’, you see!”

“Oh, yes!  How could he?!” others respond.

At first, you are selective with the audience to your story.  Perhaps, you’ll tell it to your shrink, or to your folks.  When you do, there will be grief written on their faces.

Okay, maybe the shrink will remain stoic:  She’s got too many of you’s — and many more are worse off than you.  But your folks:  They might humor you.  They’ll feel badly.  They’ll behold.  They’ll even claim to pray, on your behalf.  (You’re too busy to pray for yourself, with all that condemnation being flaunted at the balloon-face.  But don’t worry:  Your gods will forgive you for forsaking them (and for forsaking your better self), until you’re ready to commit yourself — to forgiveness.)

“How could he?!” your folks will say.

And it’ll feel good, for a while:  all this attention to your story.  To your “things”.  So, you’ll start telling the story to your friends.

They are good people — your friends, aren’t they?  They will leap to conclusions and advice.  They’ll take your side, if their definition of friendship matches yours.  But some will judge.  Others will hold back.  And some will even want to share their story, because to them, that’s how empathy works:  It gives space — to their sadder, sadder stories that aren’t really tragic.  Except, when you (or they) are in the midst of the story, tragedy is a lot more precise.  It matches the weight of the “things”.

You may get annoyed at your friends.  You may disagree.  You may even demand more kindness.  Or more time.

Because time — keeps on happening.  That just can’t be helped.

And you wish, it would move at a slower pace, sometimes.

And, okay, you just may get a little bit more of it, if you keep retelling your story to enough new people.

“How could he?!” they’ll say.

And you’ll get off, for a bit.  (Feel better yet?)

One day, though, you’ll catch yourself in the midst of sadness.  You’ll be showing your “things”, the way you always do, waiting for the “How could he?!” to follow.  Your habitual anticipation of likely reactions will suddenly feel tired.  You — will be tired.

A thought will flash:

“I don’t know if I wanna keep lugging this ‘thing’ around, anymore…”

His face — still floating, hanging above your head like something that used to belong to your favorite ghost — will seem slightly deflated.  Sadder — NOT tragic.

Still, you will keep lugging.  For a bit more, you will.  You still need more time.

You’ve started this thing, and the ripple waves of gossip and misinterpreted empathies will keep coming in, for a bit longer.  But they won’t bring you any more catharsis.  And as you keep retelling the story (which will now sound a lot more fragmented), you’ll notice your people lingering:

“Isn’t it time yet?” they’ll ask you with the corners of their saddened eyes.

They are tired.  You — are tired.

So, you’ll feel stagnant; stuck with that silly, slowly deflating balloon shadowing you and your “things”:  RIDICULOUS.

And time — will keep on happening.  That just can’t be helped.

And the relief will linger on the other side.

But then, again:  What would you be — if it weren’t for your “things”?

Whether because you’re finally tired of retelling your story or because every one of your people has heard it — you stop.  You stop retelling, and you stop asking for more time.

You let go.

You unleash the face of your favorite ghost:  You let go.

YOU LET GO.

And you get a hold — of silence.

“It Gains — the More It Gives. And Then, It Rises with the Fall.”

I was packing up the joint, sorting through it:

Consider it spring cleaning.  A much delayed spring cleaning, that is.

He left in the spring.  It took four months to move on — but only two to remember how to breathe normally.  And because he left in the spring, I skipped the cleaning this year and hoarded for a while.  Not my own things:  I don’t own much and prefer to live in open spaces, spartanly.  But I do tend to hold onto other people’s things; their words, mostly.

I’ve stored the sound of his voice on my answering machine, his worded messages and a shredded napkin with his absentminded scribbles.

The sound of his voice — was the first to go.  I’ve done that before, so I knew better:  Holding onto the voice belonged to the memory, and it could be the hardest to forget.

Harder than his touch.  His touch belonged to the skin.  About a million skin cells would go every day, and I hoped they would take the tactile memories of him — with them.

But the voice:  The voice belonged to the brain.  It was more than skin deep.  It sunk in and echoed around for a bit:

“Remember me, me, me… me.”

So, I removed it, quickly, surgically, no matter how much I wanted to hoard it.  That very week he announced his departure — the voice had to go.

And I remembered thinking:

“Where does everybody go — when they go?”

So many times, I’ve heard lovers speak of needing their freedom.  Does freedom really need to be negotiated?  And how does love impede it, anyway?

And then, they speak of “not being ready”, not being “in that place”.  What place is that?  I mean I understand structure in storytelling:  I do it every day.  I’m a fucking mythologist!  But to mold one’s life to a coherent line-up of well-timed events — that seems ridiculous, and somehow offensive, to tell you the truth.  To tell you my truth.

And in the mean time, the skin continued shedding layers.  It wasn’t following any particular chronology.  It wasn’t determined by storytelling, and its structure:  chapters, afterwords, closures, etc.  Every day, about a million skin cells would go, and I would hope they took the tactile memories of him — with them.

The written messages would go next.  At first, I would sort through them, like quirkily shaped pieces of a puzzle.  I’d spread them out on the floor of the joint, long overdue for its spring cleaning.  I’d tack ‘em onto the empty wall.  I swear to god, I knew there was a whole picture somewhere in there, even though I’ve never seen it (not even on the box cover).  If only I could figure out the line-up, I thought, I could understand “that place”.  You know:  “That place”, to which they go — when they go.

So, I would shuffle the worded messages, measure their jagged edges against against each other.  I mean, I understand structure in storytelling:  I do it every day.  I’m a fucking mythologist!  But with these bits that I was hoarding — all over my joint — something still wasn’t making sense.

Viscerally!  Viscerally, I knew that something wasn’t complete.  Perhaps, the picture wasn’t even there and all I’d been twirling in my fingers were orphaned pieces of multiple puzzles, as if solving a silly prank by a bored rascal.  Soon, it all began to seem ridiculous, and somehow offensive, to tell you the truth.  To tell you my truth.

So, the words would go, mere weeks after he announced his departure.

And I remembered thinking:

“Is he going — to ‘that place’?”

And in the mean time, the skin continued shedding layers.  A million skin cells would go, methodically taking the tactile memories of him — with them.

But what to do with the shredded napkin with his absentminded scribbles?  Where to store the fortune from a cookie that spoke of love and ended one of our shared meals?  The ticket stubs.  The birthday cards.  The tags from my suitcase with which I travelled to meet him in my two favorite cities.

They were the palpable proofs of our story.  Of our unfinished puzzle.  And I would hoard them for a while (at least a season past the spring, to be exact, never having done any spring cleaning).  My hopes for his change of mind had long been deleted along the sound of his voice.  After a while, I didn’t even want a reunion, let alone a return.  As much I as I could accept, he had departed for “that place.”  You know:  “That place”, to which they go — when they go.

I don’t go to “that place”, because the places where I dwell, I’ve chosen quite carefully; and I don’t take them for granted.  I want to travel, sure, often alone to my two favorite cities.  But I don’t crave being anywhere else but here.  And if I do — I just go.  That’s — my fucking truth!

Neither do I reconstruct my life to fit a story.  There is no need for that:  I am a fucking mythologist, I study stories every day!  Besides, to mold my life to a coherent line-up of well-timed events — that seems ridiculous, and somehow offensive.  It robs a life of its magical unpredictability.  So, instead of waiting to be “in that place” — waiting “to be ready” — I’ve always found myself up for it.

All of it:

Life, and the humanity that comes with it.

Love, and the humility that precedes.

Loss, and the utter humiliation that often follows.

But in the mean time, through all of it — life, love, loss — the skin continued shedding layers.  A million skin cells would go, every day, methodically taking the tactile memories of him — with them.

Perhaps, I was hoarding the palpable proofs of our story to teach the new skin cells about what was being mourned.  That way, when the old skin crawled, they wouldn’t be clueless.

Eventually though, the new cells — took over.  One morning, I woke up to find them in a majority; and they no longer wanted to hear the old story.  They wanted new ones:  new loves, stories, puzzles.  So, the palpable proofs had to go.

The old skin cells, shed all over this joint, were the last to clean up.  They had long expired, taking the tactile memories of someone I was now willing to forget — with them.

And so:  It was time — for spring cleaning.

A much delayed spring cleaning, that is; but oh, so very timely!

“Ashes, Ashes!” — All Fall Down!

How ever do you hurdle over a good woman?

I had to get out of bed today, at the start of daylight, and write this one down.  And in the morning, I was pretty sure I dreamt the whole thing up.

Habitually, I jump-started the morning, today:  Coffee — on, alarm — off.  Teeth, curtains, phone calls.  Fuss with the landscape of my schedule.  Inevitably:  Work!  Read some; work, read some more.  And not until I reached for my journal to jot down a well-molded sentence by a fellow writer well-versed in the humanity of men (no, not mankind — but men, specifically) — that I found the scribbles in my tired handwriting, back at the start of daylight:

How ever do you hurdle over a good woman?

After writing that, I tangled myself back into the womb of my sheets and I remembered that normally at this hour, my men would become my sons.  My children:  I find them, in my sleepy stupor of suspended dreams, and I memorize their faces.  Those — are the faces I choose to keep in the front; because it is then, I believe, a man’s humanity — is at his best.

So, ask me how to hurdle over a man and I might whip up a game or two.  I usually carry on with this one play:

I stay in touch with the resigned game partner, especially if it was his idea to stop playing.  Why, why, why would I be tempted to pick at this dried-up scab, earned from our silly horseplay?  After years of this pattern, I must admit:  For the stories.

Yep, the stories, my children.  Immediately after a break-up, they are never redemptive but mostly recyclable.  Between the two of us, it’s a game of “Remember When?”; and for a while, that’s sort of titillating enough, in a sickly way.  Before “Remember When?”, I used to run the marathons of “But You Did This!”, but that would always turn out to be bad for my finger joints; because there would be just so much wagging a scorned lover could do.  But during “Remember When?”, eventually, the tempers mellow out, the egos settle down:  And soon enough, we are able to have a conversation.

It is time, then, for a game of crooked mirrors.  Not so long ago in want, in need, in blind love with each other, we suddenly find ourselves roaming around a funhouse, looking for our better reflections.  Truth be told, by that point, we aren’t even interested in the most flattering reflections of our selves (and we even have an occasional chuckle at our expense).  We are just looking for a couple of matching ones.

“Does your truth — match my truth?”

We keep on wandering.  So very tired we are by then, by all the previous wagers and competitions and games — by the finger wagging and “you’re it!” tagging — we both know this somewhere near the very end.  Silence would follow this game if mutual truths are found.  If not — we go for a few more tours around the funhouse.

“How about this truth then?  Does it seem true, to you?”

At this point in the game, redemption is yet to come.  At this point in the game, redemption — is not even the point of it.  There may be some forgiveness, along the way, mostly for the sake of closure; and that self-forgiveness is sometimes so selfish — it’s profane.  There may even be some letting off the hook of the other scorned party, but mostly out of exhaustion.

But redemption:  It demands time.  It’s a sentence we must serve, willingly or not; and maybe not until the next loves — the next games with karmic losses at the end — that salvation comes.  Until then, we are just wandering around a funhouse, comparing truths.

(But then again, that’s just me.  Out of all the choices of child’s play, I’m always in the mood for some storytelling.  So, that may not be the name of the game, for you, my children.)

So:  How ever do you hurdle over a good woman?  

I’ve never played this one, so I have no clue.  But ask me how to hurdle over a good man (because we always fall in love with his goodness, first; with the best of his humanity), I may whip up a game or two:

Take baths:  They are womb-like — the ultimate homecoming.  “Rub-a-dub-dub, three men in a tub…”

Hide away his letters, and all of his words; his residues, his scents.  Then, put away your own:  The perfumes you used to wear to leave on his pillows and in his hair; the lotions with which you rubbed his tired joints (before the finger wagging started).  And when there is an urge to dig it all up again:  Surrender to it.  Oh, yes, my kiddos:  It’s gonna be a lengthy round of Hide-and-Seek.

Whatever you do, don’t sign-up for a round of Simon Says:  You’ll end up wagging your fingers, again. 

And finally, alas:  Silence Game.  You can’t skip that one, sorry; not if you eventually want to start winning some.  In the beginning,  you just might be curious to see who can hold his or her breath the longest.  But do follow through.  Play the Silence Game:  You can’t skip that one, not if you want to stop losing!

So:  Say uncle.

“Hush, Hush, Darlin’! Hush, Hush, Darlin’!”

This morning, he wrote:

“I was just giving you room to…”

Yes, I’m often in the mood to dot-dot-dot.  So…

I often wonder about silence:  the way it sits on other people.

I personally wear it like the lavender-colored pashmina of cashmere and silk that I keep in the backseat of my car, at all times.  Sometimes, I loop it around my arm while walking.  Too warm for it right now, I think; but then, you never know:  I might need it later.  Other times, I show up all wrapped in it, and I walk by my lover’s side peaceful, perfectly sufficient, but separate.  It’s my second skin:  within his reach — for whatever exploratory touch he may have the habit for — but then again, it’s a barrier.  A nature’s boundary.  It makes up — me.  It contains me:  My silence.  And no matter the power of empathy, no matter the reach of compassion, there is no way I would give it up, for good.

There are times when I let my companions wrap themselves in the other side of my silence, but only if they have the capacity to share my step and to adopt my pace, for a while.  Most of the time, it is best shared with those that have seen me grow up.  Sure, many loves have seen me change, learn, transform (because once I make up my mind to be with them — I go all in).  But only the selected few — the sacred handful — have kept tabs on me for years.  Many such silent walks we have shared by now, all so specifically perfect because they haven’t demanded a description.  And the accumulation of these shared silences — is what makes up our intimacy.

I watch some get unnerved by my comfortable tendency for silence; and when I tell them I was born as decidedly the only child my parents planned to have, they say:

“Oh, but of course!  Your silence makes total sense!”

I prefer to refrain from saying:

“But what do you mean?!”

Instead, I let them cradle their opinions, projecting their discomfort and their sadly absurd need to be right.  Because a “What do you mean?!” always leaves an aftertaste of despair in my mouth.  (And I am never really too desperate to name everything by its title; even it that title seems to be most truthful in the moment but only turns out to be best deserved, in the end.  So, I would rather stick to metaphors.  Or, I would rather leave it — to silence; leave it — in the mood to dot-dot-dot.)

But it does mesmerize me to watch others, in their silence.  Most of the time, they aren’t my beloveds, but utter strangers incapable of handling solitude at all.  I study their fiddling away with their radios for the best-suited background track.  They click away at the buttons of their phones — their mobilized egos that promise to grant them a life — for some distracting stories in which they can tangle themselves up; as I tangle myself up — in silence.  So discombobulated they are with their aloneness, so unsettled by the sudden lack of diversions from the truth, they reach, they grapple, they grasp.

There are others, much lovelier in my eyes; and in their silence, they are still curious.  Surely, they must be loved, by someone, I always assume.  They must be waited for, by others, at home.  But in the moment of their solitude, they seem to possess the talent for temporary surrender.  They sit in silence with an open mind, a ready fascination; as if the most unexpected gives them the biggest thrill.  And it does make me wonder if their esteem — this comfortable wearing of their skin — comes from being so loved; comes from being waited for.

Because having a home to come back to — gives them a firmer ground to stand on.  Because homecoming is always a deserving point of reference.

And then, there are the very few that dwell in silence permanently.  It may not be because they are best equipped to deal with life’s ambiguity.  But in the acceptance of their solitude, I find a grace so powerful, so contagious, it makes me want to interrupt it and say:

“But how do you do that?”

And I used to think that such ability for being had to have come from a healthy life and a kind past; from parents that wait for their children at Christmas with their favorite meals, loving anecdotes, and with boardgames in front of going fireplaces; with their childhood bedrooms still intact and photographs lining up into chronologies of their lives on hallway walls.

But not until I myself have learned to wear my silence without any secret desire to surrender it have I realized that it also sometimes comes from having lost too much to want to hold onto it.  Because it gets too heavy, with time:  all that loss and all that seeming injustice. So, I have learned let go of it, so I would never bring it into my new loves (because how can a love not fail with all that baggage in tow?).

Instead, these days, I wrap myself in silence as if it were the lavender-colored pashmina of cashmere and silk that I keep in the backseat of my car — within my reach — at all times.  And I walk — alone.

And if ever walking with another love wrapped in the other side of it, through the shared silence, I tell him:

“I was just giving you room to…”

So…

“Bottoms Up, Bottoms Up! Up!”

I had a dream about you, baby tall.

Last night, in the midst of a city very much like New York — my city, not your city — we stood in between two slow snowfalls; and you were suddenly taken.  It’s the way I had seen too many fall for my city — not your city — when all that grime and mess and neuroses had been covered by the endless, fresh sheets of snow; suddenly making life seem not so hard.  Not so bad.  (It would happen a lot, in my city, unless those in the midst of it had arrived with some stubborn arrogance in tow.  But if they hadn’t made up their mind, most of the time they would fall, for my city.)

In a nook of a miniature park, in the cove between two high-rises, the air was warm, windless:  It was waiting for the next fall.  Generally, it had been true, about my city:  It never failed to give it a rest, but not until one was hopelessly fed up; on the verge of losing one’s mind.  And then the city would let up a little, for long enough to grant a breather.  Just as we were now:

In a nook of a miniature park, you and I — were in the midst of a breather, in between two slow snowfalls.

You always stood so tall:  more of my son than any others that came before you.  Sometimes, I would catch your blue-eyed gaze deciphering something I could not have known.  (A life?  A love?  A dream, a game, a sport.)  You’d see me looking up and you’d wink:  Busted, baby tall.  So very much busted.  I did look up this time, again, but at the heavy clouds patching up the night sky — little foam baths for shiny stars:

“How long is the breather?” I wondered.  “How long can we have, here?”

But you always stood so tall, so there you were:  Right above me, winking.  And suddenly, all that manhood that someone had taught you to put on — the control, the knowledge, the groove I had always secretly worshiped in you — all that fell away.  Two step was all it took for you to make it over to a hilly flowerbed (because you always stood and walked so tall); and before I could say, “Love?” — you were on the ground, awkwardly for your height, but still, very much my son.  Your long limbs began to swing around, as if swimming in a giant pool; and you began to laugh in a way I had never heard, in the midst of our breathers:  abundantly and out of control, as if no damage had ever happened to your child.

“What are you up to, over there?” I asked, chuckling; and I felt my tear ducts kick-in.

“So good!” you answered, “Really:  So good!”  It’s what you’d always say when you wanted my participation.  And back into the giant pool of your laughter you dove in.  Out of control.

It would take my slow descent onto the patch of snow underneath my feet; for I was always older than you, flaunting those years as aging big cats do when teaching their cubs how to hunt.  I was wearing that same black coat from college, but it now sat a couple of sizes too big on my tauter, more disciplined body.  So, it asked for some maneuvering to land onto my back.  I spread the bottom of of the coat like a giant tail and reluctantly began replicating your strange, unlikely behavior.

“Oh,” I said — I finally got it — and looked over at your blue-eyed gaze deciphering something.  “Is baby tall making snow angels?”

“Yep.”

But then, you stopped laughing, back in control — in the knowledge, in the groove of all that manhood someone had taught you to put on.

In the midst of a city very much like New York — my city, not your city — I thought:

“Here is — to NOT happening.”

It has been my toast to every morning since I’ve learned to wake up without you.  It has become my prayer, my chronic chant as I continue to flaunt my years in front of other cubs that have happened since you.  They can’t hang, can’t groove, can’t hunt; and they definitely don’t know how to follow an older woman’s lead.  And so they leave, soon enough, for younger, simpler loves.  And I don’t even itch with resistance:  I let them go.

“Here is — to NOT happening,” I think.

Sometimes, a love story is not a go-to novel, pregnant with favorite quotations, that rests on a bookshelf dusty everywhere else but in its vicinity.  Sometimes, it’s just a vignette:  a pretty design on the spine of someone’s history.  A short story.  A lovely fable.  A melancholic lullaby.  And so fearful we are, sometimes, of our own mortality — of our irrelevance — so stubbornly arrogant, we leap into a sad habit of making a mess out of our break-ups and departures.  And we just can’t let it go.

But not this time, baby tall.  Not with this aging big cat.  Because you were more of my son than any others that came before you; and because my age had asked me for much slower maneuvering in that tauter, more disciplined body of mine.

So many had come before you, and they had taken so much; I am still surprised at how easily I am ready to love.  But even if they have vanished entirely, after our messy break-ups and departures, I am too wise to dismiss them.  They are still — my lovely fables.  My melancholic lullabies.  And no matter how long the healing, with the next magnificent love, I inevitably have come to know:

“Here is — to NOT happening.”

Oh, but it’s a good thing, my baby tall:  to not have happened!  “Really:  So good!”

So, here is — to this breather, in between our falls, in between our dreams.  And yes, here is — to the next magnificent love, or the next vignette.