Tag Archives: strong

“I Was in the House — When the House Burned Down.”

Trembling.  Waiting for clearer thoughts to come in.

Here comes one:

“How is it that I’m shivering in a 110-degree heat?”

That’ll do, for now.

Gently!  You must handle yourself — gently.

Standing on a street that to a bystander’s eye would appear idillic and “homey”, she wonders about the horrors that could be happening behind the closed doors of these same “homey” homes, with pretty white doors:  the quiet, muffled horrors of domestic violence.

“Beware — of pretty,” another thought comes in.

There is a reason why she has always loathed the sight of the white picket fence:  They reek of false advertisement and broken promises — of broken hearts.  And the heart that break due to the broken promise — takes longer to heal. She is now cradling her heart, in her heaving chest; but it would take her years to learn just how long the healing would take.

Her thinking is fragmented.  If only she could get a grip on this shivering:  If only she could catch her breath.  But the body takes its time.

There is a violence that lives in every body:  A violence that strikes at another — or at itself.  It always comes from the darkest corners of one’s soul and it prefers no audience.  But those whom we love the most often fall victim to it.

So, she is catching herself wonder about the suffering that others endure when love betrays its goodness.  It is much better to be thinking of others, in moments of extreme pain.  Because the end to her own pain — she cannot possibly see from here:  In the “homey” neighborhood that has broken its promise to her and found her homeless, in 110-degree heat.

Besides, the suffering of others should remind her that someone is always having it worse.

“How can it possibly be worse?!” another thought flings itself inside her throbbing head.

The chest is heaving.  The heart is beating fast:  It is not broken yet.

“Do people die — of broken hearts?” she thinks and sits down on the curb to catch her breath.  Is that what happens — in heart attacks?

A Heart:  Attacked.  That would be the name of her cause, if she were to stop breathing right now.

She stares at her feet.  The pedicure on her toes is of her own manufacturing.  She’s had a hand in that.  The chosen color is pink:  They have just passed Easter, on the calendar.  The pair of shoes, that she’s had very little time to peel on before leaping out of the house, are multicolored:  Each strap bears a neon shade.  When she first laid her eyes on them, on a shelf at Payless, she thought.

“When in the world would I wear those?!”

Now.  She is wearing them now.  And in a juxtaposition with her black tank top and blue bicycle shorts, they fail to make any sense at all.  She chuckles to herself:  Yes, she actually chuckles — while shivering — because she is thinking that she must look like a burnt house victim, right now.

And isn’t that what happened, anyway:  Her “homey” home has burnt down on its promise?  It has collapsed on itself, and no matter its false appearance from the outside, behind those pretty white doors and the white picket fence — one can only find ruins.

She shivers and looks over her shoulder at the sight of the house:

The perfectly groomed, neon green lawn — FAKE!

The deceivingly white and pink exterior — FALSE!

The beautiful rotunda window of its office space — LIARS!

A distorted face of a man has been watching her through that window.  She has just realized that.  He is puffy and unshaven, bewildered behind his thick-rimmed glasses.  His mouth begins opening once he notices her looking back.  He is that bug-eyed bottom-feeding fish that outlives the smaller bastards in a shared tank.  The existence of his type is necessary, in nature.  She knows that.  Symbi-fuckin’-osis!  But again, it would years before she sees his purpose in her life.

“GET THE FUCK OUT!” she can lipread on his gaping, bottom-feeding mouth.

“I hope I took my glasses with me,” another thought happens.

That’s when she realizes she’s actually not seeing the man:  She is remembering him, at this very moment.  The brain is taking in the memories:  The bits that it will then try so very hard to forget.

The shivering hasn’t subsided, but it has transformed into an all-over warmth that happens to the survivors of car wrecks.  This is:

The Body:  Coping.

That is the name of her current disease.

No, she wouldn’t die of A Heart:  Attacked.  Not on this day.  Her body has chosen to persevere, to survive the violence.

The shivering is violent.  The body is confronting brutality with its reserve of sudden energy.

This is what it takes — to survive:  To outlive the broken heart.

She wants to go to sleep but then realizes that it’ll be a while; for she has just leapt out of a burning home:  a “homey” home. The thought of anything too far ahead refuses to happen; and strangely calm, she is grateful for that. She thinks no more than five minutes ahead.

Not feeling her own body, she picks herself up off the curb and reaches for the giant black bag packed in the middle of the night.

And:  She.  Starts.  Walking.

It should be hard, in theory, to not know where she’s going.  She’s got no home.  She knows no shelter.

But she is only thinking of one step at a time — and only five minutes ahead.

Gently!  You must handle yourself — gently! — when you survive.

She’s chosen to survive.  It would begin when she starts walking.

Away.

“So, Let It Rain, Rain Down on Himmm… Mmmm…”

Oh, but it’s raining.  So, I think I’m just gonna stay in bed.

Yes.  It’s raining.

No, not just drizzling, in a typical fashion of LA-LA’s summers, when a few dirty raindrops smear the layer of dust on the windshields and rooftops of our cars; and for the rest of that week, we all drive in polka-dotted vehicles, too superstitious to wash them.  Because the law of LA-LA-Land is such:  Washing a car — brings on new rain.  The drizzling type of rain.  The rain that smears the layers of dust on the windshields and rooftops of our cars.

But today:  It’s raining.

Now, I wouldn’t call it “pouring”, for I have seen some of the worst rainstorms, in other spots along the planet.  I’ve seen the traffic stall in Moscow, its yellow cabs glistening with rain while their drivers, numbed into indifference by common despair, would pull off to the sides of the road and wait out the chaos.  And I have witnessed the swamps that rain makes out of Russian villages, like the birth place of my father; and the people would make portable bridges with loose planks of wood to walk across endless puddles of rainwater and mud.  Because Motha Russia is notorious for its unkept roads:  She is too enormous — to upkeep.

And I have seen the New York Subways shut down entirely, flooded overnight with aftershocks of a storm going much further south.  I have walked along the black-clad New Yorkers, obeying the barely comprehensible instructions over the groveling radio; so that we could take the bus shuttles, already overcrowded, above the ground.  And I watched them endure — the owners of those magnificently strong hearts — and they rarely complained.  Because that City — is not meant for weaklings.  In the last decade, that City has learned to persevere past unthinkable tragedies.  So, what’s a little rainstorm — to warriors?

The most nonchalant characteristic of San Franciscans — is their readiness for the whims of weather.  I have been amazed before to watch their instantaneous transformation into rain-ready attire, as soon as the first heavy raindrops give them a warning.   Sometimes, it’s just a few minutes of rain.  Other times, the precipitation comes down violently and all at once, as if dumped onto their heads by buckets of an impatient laundress.

And then, it passes.  It always passes:  The San Francisco blue.  And when the sun peaks out of the gray layer, suddenly the streets are filled with girls in summer frocks and boys in flip flops.  How ever do they do that:  The exceptional residents of their exceptional city?

But today, it’s raining — in LA-LA.

Oh yes!  It’s raining!

Photography by Russell James

I heard it, early in the morning, when I woke up amazed at my uninterrupted night of sleep.  There were no nightmares today.  In my bed, I wasn’t missing my beloveds.  Neither was I stuck with my chronic prophetic visions, on their behalf.  Neither did I catch myself dreaming.  No.  Today, I rested, lullabied into the sleep of the just — the sleep of the fulfilled — by the drumbeat of heavy raindrops, outside.

And when I first opened my eyes this morning, I thought:

“Oh, but it’s raining!  So, I think I’m just gonna stay in bed.”

But then, I looked outside.

The windows appeared streaked, and the pattern of the settled down moisture reminded me of other windows I had looked through, in other spots, along the planet.

I have watched the water cascading down the tiny windows of my grandmother, in a house she had moved to, as a widow.  She would arise early, to tend to her livestock (and whatever other magical business she couldn’t help but conduct).  But before leaving her tiny wooden house, she would sit in front of a poorly isolated window and unbraid her long, graying hair.  Unleashed, the hair would fall below her waistline; and she would hum, and she would sigh, while running an ivory-colored tooth comb brush, up from her temples and down to the knees.  She could’ve been a siren — a mermaid — playing a harp for her long awaited lover.  For surely, there had to be some magical business she wouldn’t help but conduct!

The windowpanes of our apartment in Eastern Germany would leak, quite often, when rainstorms came to town.  Motha would fuss.  She would dig out all the old towels from underneath our tub, divide and distribute them along our windowsills.  Flabbergasted, she would eventually storm out of the house — “to fix her ruined manicure” — and leave me with the task of wringing out the drenched cloths, until dad would arrive home, to help.

And when he did, the blue of the day would suddenly depart, and we would have an adventure:  stuffing all the cracks with putty and cotton, covering them with tape.  Motha would return to find our windows sweating from the inside, and the two of us — flushed, soaked in rainwater and giggling.

“Well!” she’d command over us.  “I guess I’ll be in the kitchen — slaving over soups.”

And we would pretend to help, but only until motha’s blues would depart, and she would start howling with her very specific laughter.

I would do the same trick at my Riverdale basement apartment, for three years.  I would use it as an excuse to make pots and cauldrons of soups, and play house, for a while.  I would scrawl down my speed dial to check which one of my beloveds was nearby — and hungry.  And I would wait for their very specific laughter to steam up my windowpanes, from the inside.

Ah.  But it’s raining today.

Yes, it’s raining — in LA-LA.

And I think it’s just the perfect day — to stay in bed.

“She’s So… (Insert Guitar) HEA-VAAAAAAAAY!”

Don’t dwell on the past.

In so many words, my comrades have been telling me that, for ages.

They wait for me at the agreed-upon intersections in San Francisco, at New York delis, or at coffee shops — when in LA-LA.  Some hear me speeding by, in search of parking, while simultaneously texting them:  “b there in a min.”  They watch me march into a joint, with my hair pulled back.  (Unless traveling long distances up the coast, with all the windows rolled down, I keep that mane tamed at all costs.)  I walk into my rendezvous, smiling at the clerks and saying hello to strangers; then, I scan the room for my beloveds.

I see them and immediately move in for a hug:

“It’s been so long.  So happy to see you.  Ah.”

I wrap myself with their bodies: I am not big on personal spaces between beloveds.

And when that’s all done, I start dumping my loads onto the nearby chairs, peeling off my purses and sweaters.  I’m the type of a broad who carries a first-aid kit at the bottom of her endless bag.  A nail file.  A pair of scissors.  A tampon (always!).  A dozen hairpins.  And a sewing kit:  Never know when you may need one.  And you bet your sweet ass, I have a notebook somewhere in there, as well.  I just have to look for it.

“Well, maybe I left it in the car.”

I don’t even own one of those dainty purses I see other girls carry on their forearms into clubs.  Those things always make me wonder about the gap between the purpose they’re meant to represent and their actual functionality.  It’s a metaphor gone awry.  A promise meant to be disappointing.

But then again, the lesser the load — the lighter the female, right?

Perhaps.  But I doubt it.

In my defense, with time — with age — I’ve gotten significantly lighter, it seems.  It wasn’t a determined decision to drop the endless self-flagellation ceremonies of my 20s.  Instead, they just sort of slipped out of my daily routines; giving room to more decisiveness or to very tired surrender.  Having realized I’m merely an impossible debater to defeat, I stay out of arguments — with myself.

And so, I’ve gotten significantly lighter.  And so have my baggages.

I flop into the chair, across from the face I have now loved for ages, and I let down my mane:

“Ah.  Can I get you something to drink?”

It’s a habit that just won’t go away:

I examine the needs of my beloveds before I check up on my own.

But they’re fine.  My people — are always fine.  They are resilient.  Strong and competent, never helpless.  And even if they’re not fine — that’s fine too; because if ever they ask me for help, I never go telling on them.  And neither do I ever mention it again.

“Seriously.  Don’t mention it.  My honor!” I say, as if threatening.

Love comes with no ties attached.

We begin to talk:  A quick game of catching up with the lapsed time.  A survival of our separations.  If it were up to me, I would have all of my beloveds live with me in a commune:  Some Victorian house balancing on a cliff above the ocean, with a menu of attics and basements, and hiding places for their selection.  And at night, we would gather at a giant wooden table in the middle of an orchard, and we would search our oversized bags — and baggages — for nighttime stories and lovely fairytales about surrender.

But my people — are vagabonds and gypsies; and they go off to conquer their dreams, and to defeat their fears, on the way.

After enough is said to make me want to have a drink or to toast, I finally get up from the chair and start making my way to the counter, smiling at the clerk, again.  In a couple of steps though, I look back, flip my mane and say:

“Sure you don’t want anything?”

Equipped with replenishing elixirs and an item in place of bread that we can break together, I come back to the table, rummage through my purse for a napkin and jumpstart the next round of storytelling.  And I guarantee, most of the time, these are stories of broken loves and departed lovers.

But my people are fine, of course.  They are resilient.  Carefully, they process their losses; and they start dreaming of the next adventure.  The next love.  The next story.

“I’ll drink to that,” I say and tip my mane back while chugging down my drink.

When it’s my turn, however, my stories don’t come out with an obvious ending.  Instead, they offer endless lessons and questions.  For years, for decades, I have been known to mourn my lovers.  I flip each story on its head; and as if yet another endless bag of mine, I rummage through it for details and conclusions.

And that’s when my comrades try to put an end to it:

“Don’t dwell on the past,” they say, and they go to the counter for a refill.

I don’t really know what that means:

None of my stories are ever put to rest.  And neither are my loves.

Instead, they bounce around, at the bottom of my endless baggage, waiting to be pulled out the next time I am in the midst of rummaging for words.  Which must be why I retell each tale so many times, committing it to my own memory and to the memory of my beloveds.

So, dwelling on the past:  I don’t really mind that, as long as I don’t dwell in it. And in my defense, I have gotten lighter, with time, and with age.  And so have my baggages.

“Love Dries Up, I Thought — Even Faster Than Sperm”

Settle down, lovelies!  Settle down!  I didn’t write that line above (although I wish I did).

Behold:  The genius of C. Bukowksi exactly the man to keep me company last night, in bed. 

Which, by the sound of him, is where he best belonged in life:  Under the sweat-soaked sheets, with some well-lived-in broad (behold:  me) who had the potential to be brilliant; and who every once in a her saddest while, lived up to that potential.  But all other times, she bounced between being brutal and angelic, and maybe a lil’ bit childlike.

Yeah.  C. and I could’ve had some fun!  That poignant alcoholic who on paper insisted sounding like a bastard!  Was he, indeed?  Or was he, like me, bouncing between being brutal and… well, something else.

“R u home?” I got interrupted by a text from an ex, at around midnight.  A text from an ex — seeking sex?  But I already had a man in bed:  C.  Period.

But why be rude, I thought, and I responded:  “Yep.”

“Want me 2 come over?”  (I pondered:  Could I be in the mood for some sex with an ex?)

“I’m in bed, with my lites off.”  I half-lied.  Apparently:  I wasn’t in the mood.

“Well get dressed and turn your lites ON!”

Oh.  So it wasn’t about sex!  The ex was concerned.  Earlier in the day, I remembered he asked me about my head:  He knew how that fucking thing got, all messy ‘n’ shit, post break-up.  After all, he’d seen me handle his own departure, three years ago.

This ex-player always had a talent to be rougher than most.  Not mean, just stronger.  The most assertive I’ve ever had.  On the phone and in bed, he always he treated me like a handful, but never a pain in the ass, acting as if he would rather do nothing else but figure me out.  He left though — surprise, surprise! — after a couple of months of such riddle solving.

“Timing,” he said at the time.  (Funny:  That’s the same explanation I got from this latest guy.)

So, I thought of all the voices in my head that get set off by a man’s departure.  Between brutal and angelic I usually bounce, grappling with the worst, darkest thoughts — just so I could come out on top, illuminated by grace:  On top, just the way I like it.  The departed are rarely made privy to the brutality of my head, because I never want to be “that girl”:  Name-calling her formerly beloved — or her beloved still! — and destroying whatever bits of beauty remained in the post-break-up’s ground zero; only to find herself not living up to HER better self.  I exorcise my own head, in private.  That way, years down the road, after other women, my players will always think:

“But Vera was kinder than most.”  (Settle down, lovelies:  I didn’t write this line either.  C. Bukowski did.  Period.)

These voices:  Every woman gets them.  And because of the privilege I’ve earned via kindness and empathy, I’ve listened to other broads’ voices before:  Name-calling their exes, damning them to never be loved again, suddenly taking for granted the reasons for which they loved those poor bastards in the first place.  Sometimes, they wonder about where they themselves have gone wrong.  But that’s too brutal, you see, so they lash out at the guy again.

Here are just a couple of these gems, for your viewing, my lovelies:  A couple of those brutal voices — and, in return, my now habitual responses to them.  Because I’ve spent the night with C. Bukowski, you see.  That poignant alcoholic knows no lullabies.  So, I ain’t really in the mood for angelic right now:

—  “What an asshole!”  

That’s the most reoccurring voice from my girls, when they lash out at the man they’ve just finished adoring five minutes ago.  Sometimes, the name varies, depending on my girls’ demographics.  And oh how they expect me to echo that name of choice — but I don’t!  I SHALL NOT.

Instead, my rebuttal is — always:  He may be that, my ladies.  He may be that (insert a name according to the girl’s demographic). But chances are that, like you, he is just one hurtin’ mother fucker, trying to get through the chaos of life the best way he can.

—  “He doesn’t deserve me!”  

I’ve made it quite obvious that I am a fan of my own gender.  But regardless the accusations by a slew of haters this year, I don’t always side with it.  I do try my very, very best to see both points of view.  I’m brutal and angelic that way, ‘member?

But “deserve” is a funny word.  Not “funny” funny, but reeking of hubris — of taking the place of divinity.  And it is my personal belief that one’s divinity should only be applied when striving for one’s own best potential.  It CANNOT be practiced on others. It is too brutal that way.

So, what I tell my girls (and myself, in this state of lapsed graces) is this:  May be.  He may be an undeserving man.  But instead of waiting for someone else to step-up, why not give YOURSELF what you think you deserve?

(Most of the time, my girls’ response to that is, “I don’t know how to do that…”  Sad, ain’t it?  But that’s a discussion for another day.)

No one will ever love him the way I did!”  (SHIT:  Speaking of brutal.)

May I just say, ladies:  I hate this one!  As someone who’s been on the receiving end of that line, I cannot think of the most absolute way of erasing the love that preceded the break-up.  Because a thought like that betrays your own twisted intensions.  During the love affair, you may not have loved unconditionally — but for the sake of your own validation; and just how fucked up is that?  Not fucked up, but perfectly human.  But I do know — but you can do better than that.  YOU CAN BE — BETTER THAN THAT.

“And who the fuck do you think you are — to predict another person’s life?”  (Oops.  I think I just spoke directly to the ex who damned me with that same line.  “What an asshole!”)

All said and done, my lovelies:  Lovers come and go.  That’s their very purpose, you see.  During an affair, whatever your trip may be — that’s the trip they take with you.  That’s the trip they teach you.  But there are no better lessons — no better tests of your own character — when these lovers depart.  For in that seemingly most brutal stretch of days, they teach you your own worth.  Your grace.  Your personal divinity.

That way, years down the road, after other women, your players will think:

“she has hurt fewer people than

anybody I know, 

and if you look at it like that,

well, 

she has created a better world.

she won.”

(Settle down, my lovelies.  I didn’t write that line either.  That’s my C.  Period.)