Tag Archives: truth

The Quality of Mercy

Will you just look at him?!  A little cock around a chicken coop, roughing up his feathers, in a company of obese pigeons.

And what is THIS:  A smile?!  His life is “six business days” away from altering its course:  from the heart-breaking mediocracy of it to the new pattern of brutality — of evil begets evil.  It’s at the mercy of some randomly selected buggers like me, so tired and overworked that we are no longer able to experience a patriotic high from this pain-in-the-ass civic duty; or from the frilly concepts of justice and what’s right.  We are:  The Who’s Who, and what of it?!

We’ve all got our ideas, that’s for sure!  Our principles!  I stand by this, I swear by that; I vow, I believe.  We pump up our chest.  We force our eyes to glimmer with conviction.  But what of it?  And who is he who aims at human life?

Okay, get up!  The judge walked in.  Get up!  Don’t waiver but don’t be cocky either.  The white folks — they don’t like that.  Stand up!  

Oh, man.  

This.  Blows.

In my belief, there used to be much more to breathing.  But slowly, it has whittled down to simple truth — not even fairness, but truth — while all the rest has fallen by the wayside.  Still, it is more than I can say about some people!

Like this loudmouth fat girl I haven’t seen here, on the first day.  Today, in clunky, loud rain boots with worn out heel caps, she marches up and down the marble floors, with People Magazine under her armpit.  (She’s interested in People.)  And meaning to be seen and heard while on her cell phone, she flaunts those words that show no sympathy, no modesty and no distress to any of the details of today — but having “to get outta here”.  She “can’t afford this”!  She “has no tolerance for shit like that”!  And obviously, she cannot manage to allow for the rest of us to wait in silence.  Now — is her time; her stage.  And we, the people, listen:

“Yeah, like, that would be the biggest tragedy, right?  I mean, this jury duty — SUCKS!  It’s, like, the worst thing that has happened to me, EVER!”  A hair flip of vaguely red and stringy hair — and she suddenly reminds of somebody who once aroused the same aftertaste of nausea in my trachea.  But who?

A blond lawyer in a smart charcoal skirt suit walks in, past the grinning security guards and through the double doors.  Her shoes are sharp.  She’s sharp.  She’s brilliant.  The fat girl scoffs, “Like, ‘scuse me!” when the woman asks, quite quietly, to pass.

Mmm.  Where did they dig HER up?

And this little man is smiling now.  You’re scared shitless, aren’t you, kid?  What have you got besides hormonal bravado and a shitty cover-up of fear.  For this is not a smile of someone hopeless; but neither is he smiling to be liked by us.

They must’ve cleaned him up the night before and given him this bulky dress shirt of some unmemorable color.  As if not to offend.  Not to arouse all the self-righteous and the ones who have been programed by a life of fear.  Whenever he turns his head, the collar sways around his skinny, post-pubescent neck like untied sails around a mast.  He’s small.  He’s tiny.  He is a fucking kid!

Manslaughter.  Ain’t that a fucked-up thing?!  

Mi abuelo (I miss the old fuck!):  He wouldda given me a smackin’ for haunching over right now.  

“I didn’t come to this good country to see my first grandson groveling in front of white people!”  

Don’t grovel, man!

His skin is ashen and uneven.  I wonder where he spent last night…

The truth is:  I am clueless.  My knowledge of the judicial system is laced with fear, and it is mostly defined by bad cop shows produced by Hollywood (but shot in New York City — for that “edgier”, “more urban” look).  Was he allowed to sleep at home, while waiting for this trial?  When was the last time he squeezed the hips of this one girl who keeps coming around and holding his skinny, shaven head in that flat space along her chest while her gigantic breasts fall to the sides, right after he is done?  When was the last time he was kissed and kept his eyes open, focused on the girl’s birthmarks and her taste?

When did the young abandon their reckless curiosity and started chasing justice?

Not guilty!  Innocent, Your Honor!  

Aw, shit!  I guess it’s not my time yet.  FUCK.

My god, you poor kid!  What little you have had, in life!  And you’re about to lose that too!

No, wait!  I can’t be wondering these things!  This man-child KILLED somebody!  Sure, “allegedly”, but killed.  “Allegedly,” he’d killed somebodies, actually!  Not one but two, and one — was a young woman.

There is an old man glueing words together on the first panel of us.  He’s speaking slowly, voice quivering, possessing no knowledge on how to use a mic.  The poor soul can barely speak English:

“I…  eh…  I’m…  bery scared, um…  guns.”

My lawyer’s taking notes.  He better be dismissing this old chink!

How have we come to this?  What does this say, about us, when we no longer find the roots of it, the causes; but only our objections and dismissals.  I stand by this, I vow to that.  And rather than examining the history of violence — what makes us snap, then heal but harden? — we carry on imposing more violence.  We call it “retribution”.  The “crime” — to “punishment”.

These somebodies were somebodies’ beloveds, I remember.  “Allegedly.”

The fat girl is dissecting People, in the row ahead of mine.  Shit.  Of whom does she remind me?

“Beyond the reasonable doubt.”  That’s funny asking this complaining bunch out here to be reasonable!  

The mic is passed to the lanky academic in wrinkled clothes, who’s sitting in the front row of the panel.  It’s happening at the request of the stenographer:  A visibly unhappy woman who rolls her eyes in the direction of the judge, for every time she cannot hear a juror.  A potential juror, sorry.  The wrinkled man refuses to say one word and steps to the side.  He walks in front of the long desk where the kid is now slumping forward, in his seat.  The silence that takes up the auditorium is nosy, odd and angry.  The man returns.  Sits down.  He shoots the kid a glance.  He’s gloating.  How hateful!  How have we come to this?

The face that stands at the other end of a cocked gun gets down to basics.  The winning arguments of life.

A kink in the armor:  Is that his fault?

My turn.

Do I understand “the burden of having his guilt proved” to me — “beyond the reasonable doubt”?

What does that mean?!

I’d like to hear his story:  How have we come to this?

I want to believe:  All people are innately good.

Can you repeat the question?

Yes, Your Honor.

How have we come to this?

You want me to speak up?

HOW HAVE WE COME TO THIS?

“Pools of Sorrow, Waves of Joy Are Drifting Through My Opened Mind…”

Sorting it out.  Bit by bit.  A crumb after a crumb.  An echo of facts — here.  A token of shared memories — there.

Sorting it out, for a sliver of some truth…

But that’s where it gets tricky:  My truth — does not equal their truth.

With my family, I’ve taken the easier way out, according to them.  For whom exactly have I made it easy, though?  I’ve made it easier on them, NOT on myself.  My truth — were it revealed — would break their little hearts:

“We didn’t know.  We’re sorry.  What a waste!”

Ideally, my truth would actually deserve their compassion.  For, in my truth, survival has been difficult, yes (and it is such, most of the time); but in the choices that it took to do it — my survival has been tragic.

When one starts from the bottom and walks the tight rope of having no such option as to fail, the choices suddenly become quite brutal.  They are self-serving most of the time.  They are uncivil and mostly driven by fear.  Because to fall down, in such a case, means having no place to land; no home to crawl back to, where by the means of heritage or hopefully some unconditional love one could be healed, recovered, reinvigorated.  One could begin again, and try again, if only one could have a home.  But having walked away from family — means having no choice and no space in which I could afford mistakes.

The mistakes that I have made, since orphaning myself — by choice — have taken years to actually forgive.  In most cases, that forgiveness demanded more walking away:  from the living witnesses; from those who have promised to step in, in place of missing family, and then gave up.  And from my own wrongdoing self.  And it is my truth that I hold no grudge; but in those case (of mistakes), forgiveness has demanded silence.  Because, as I have learned by walking away from my own family:  Their truth — will never equal mine.  So, I prefer to walk away, in silence — yes.

The way one justifies survival is not up to me to judge.  In their truths — in anyone’s truth — survival is difficult, yes.  (And it is such, most of the time.)  When it turns out to be tragic — it asks for myths:  Justifications for one’s actions.  And so we choose to make up our own truths, not necessarily lies, but truths — the way we see them:  Truths by which we choose to stand, in order to avoid self-judgement.  Are they delusions?  Maybe.  But when survival’s tragic — they may be the only way to go, without losing one’s mind to sorrow.

A decade of delusions in my family is ending with a crunch time.  We have been separated for long enough to acquire myths about each other.  And after all these years, I am the one to make a choice — to go back, so that we could finally compare our truths.

Their truths — will never equal mine.  I know that.  But neither do I any longer want that.  I simply want to hear their side of it, and give them mine; so that we can put it all to rest.

What made me do it?  It had to be my mother’s face that I began to see in the reflection of my own.  A lifetime of walking away — from truths — has compressed that woman’s forehead into an accordion of guilt.  And silences — from all the abandoned witnesses and failed stand-ins for her loves — are floating above her head, like storm clouds waiting to release their electrical wraths.

One day, that storm may break out.  Who could possibly survive its horror?  The flood of all the choked tears and the thunder of the silenced truths would then create a havoc.  Her truths — would break the oblivious hearts of those from whom she’s walked away.  And that’s the heritage I do not wish to carry, any longer.

I’m going back then.  I am reversing the pattern of the family — and going back.  I know better than the delusions of my mother:  That their truths — will equal mine.  They won’t.

But their truths may give me answers to the eventual questions of my firstborn, who has been murmuring into my dreams since I have managed to find a love that stays.  This time, I haven’t walked away.  This time, I have allowed for the flexibility of truths.  This time — I HAVE FORGIVEN.

So, I’m going back then:  to sort it out, bit by bit.  A crumb after a crumb.   A sliver of some truth, so that we could all move on.

“Back in the U.S., Back in the U.S. — Back in the U.S.S.R.!”

Those Friday afternoons.  The kids got their weekends extended!  Until that year in junior high, we had to report our sleep-deprived little asses to school — six bloody days a week!  But then, things changed.

It took the Soviets a few years to catch up with the educational structure most of the world had been practicing; but one year, it did happen:   The change finally reached the school of our lil’ town — a place so small and forgettable, it was rarely found on the USSR’s map.

The town’s only fame happened in Napoleonic Wars during some battle that the Russians had won.  But even back then, neither its name nor the land belonged to Motha Russia.  The Russian troops sort of ended up there while chasing the short man and his troops off our land:  Fuck you, you little Alpha-Wannabe!  We would rather strike a match to all of our cities ourselves — than let you prosper off of our emaciated backs!  And then, we’ll chase your limping ass off our charred land like an army of underfed dogs terrorized by their owner.

‘Cause it’s Motha Fucking Russia you’re fucking with!  And despite the chronic rape by Her own ever-changing political regimes, She remains one gorgeous broad!  And:  She’s ours!

The territorial piss that would result in this region’s inheritance would happen over a century later, after another little man’s dreams of world dominance.  Again, we would chase him off our land, through our brutal winters and wild terrain; then, claim this patch as well:  Finders keepers, Motha Fucka!

But that’s a whole other story.

I can’t even remember how it all happened.  I was due to start the third grade, and somehow, over the course of the summer, it became known that we would all be skipping a grade.  Was it a town-wide memo that got sent out through the channels of our bureaucratic post-office that spied on every citizen due to the orders from above (or simply due to our habitual nosiness)?  The matters of privacy belonged to other cultures whose people were spoilt by individualistic values.  But that wasn’t us, man!  We were all in this together, till death — or a life-long sentence at a labor camp — do us part.  No need for privacy here!  Everything was up for an investigation or gossip, depending on how big of a fish you were.  And we all sorta just lived with it.

By the time I and my former classmates reported back to school a week before the 1st of September, we knew we were suddenly fourth-graders (and that was somehow automatically cooler).  After the sudden abolishment of itchy uniforms, in our best civilian clothes, we sat in our classroom, whose swamp-green walls were still wet with paint.  (FYI:  As Russians, we leave everything for the last minute.  So, despite the 3-month-long summer break, the school would be renovated a mere week before the return of its students.)  Every child looked tanner.  The boys suddenly came back sounding like men — and not a choir of eunuchs.  And besides me and another runt-of-the-litter looking redhead, over the course of the summer, every girl seemed to acquire a pair of breasts.  That day, my girlfriends began repeating the gesture of every Soviet woman:  The slip of the hand under the shirt and the adjustment of the bra straps, all committed with the speed of lightening.

What the fuck, I thought.  I was still as flat as the granite wall of Lenin’s Mausoleum.  It’s those bloody ballet classes that motha insisted I took!  How was I supposed to acquire the curvatures that strained the boys’ necks — while having zero body fat?  Spasibo, motha:  Great idea!  That’s one way to preserve my virginity!

Like a brood of hens, the girls were chirpy that day.  Together, they flocked and shot the boys their suddenly feminine stares that reminded me of my motha.  How and where did they learn how to do that?  Some Polish Charm School for the Children of the Soviets?  There were new hairstyles that day — bangs and wispy curls constructed with their mothers’ curling irons — and brand new school supplies that still smelled of the Chinese manufacturing plants of plastic.  That day, Alyoshka — my unknowing future husband — showed up looking like that actor from the Soviet remake of the Three Musketeers; but like before, he paid me no attention.  How could he?  I had no lady gifts to offer him.  Just my ballet hair bun and the assigned list of summer reading that I had diligently completed.

In a minute, the grouchy librarian, who hadn’t gotten laid since 1935, would come down and get us.  Following her lead, we would climb up the stairs to the school’s attic.  (“DO NOT TOUCH!” the wet railing read, but a few of us still managed to mar the brand new clothes we came to show off that day.)  At first, we would be given every recycled textbook but the one for Russian history.  That Motha Fucka had to be rewritten, you see.  So, after skipping a grade, we would be forced to study the Age of Antiquity — for another year — while the Soviet scholars pulled all-nighters in Moscow’s Central Library and dug out the convoluted truths for the next year’s course.  By the fifth grade, as a result, we’d get a bloody booklet:  That’s as good as they could do, after a century of omissions and fabricated facts.

But despite all the changes — no bloody uniforms and no history books — the biggest news was the change of the work week:  from six to five days.  I imagined it was Uncle Gorbachev that issued the change with a mere skate-like-slide of his pen over the report from the Ministry of Education.  I knew I liked that guy from the start!

Our parents, however, were not as thrilled:  This would be the first of many changes that would aim at their wallets from then on (new clothes, new books and private school tuition for their children being one of the million).  And that would really stick in their craw, man!  Not cool, Gorby!  Not cool at all!

“And She’s Never Seen with Pin Curls in Her Hair.”

It would take her years to process the truth.  Not the truth of the last moment:  Her, weeping at the airport into the shoulder seam of a man’s sweatshirt.  She was upping the ante, that day.  Making the ultimate bet, the win of which — would be her staying.  (At least, she thought that was the win she’d wanted, at that last moment.)

And it was not the truth that he had been feeding her for years.  No, not his truth:  The truth that he begged her to accept, just so that he could buy himself more time.  So that he could continue to have it both ways.  Both women.

But how much more time could a man need?  He had already taken six years out of her life.  Six years out of her youth — and out of her better self.

When they first met, she still had a cherubic face:  The same face he would’ve seen had he expressed an interest in seeing photos of her younger self.  Her better self:  The self before the sans six years had happened.  It would’ve foretold the face of their firstborn, if he were to have any courage to follow through with the affair.

But then, perhaps, it was not a question of courage.  It was quite possible that the matter narrowed down to the initial intention.  Down, down went the spiral, to the root of the matter.  On every loop, their faces changed.  Their characters changed slightly, altered by each other:  And that was the only way she could expect to matter, in the end.  In the truth of that last moment, and beyond.  After six years, she would have changed a man.  She had happened to him.  And after her happening, he had to have changed.

She failed to change him for the better.  She couldn’t as much as change his mind to make her life — his first choice.  For the duration of the affair, she would remain the back-up; the retreat in which he hid when things weren’t well at home.  She would remain a fantasy.  The Other Woman:  The one that fabricated her own calendar, rescheduled her holidays and channeled each day toward the brief line-up of hours when she would see him; then, dismiss the rest.  The one that pressured herself into better housekeeping, into whipping up gourmet meals and shaping her body into the best he could have had.  His life’s first choice.

In literature, women like her were despised.  They were often written mean, or needy; with serious daddy issues.  Complete head cases, in films these women went berserk; and they would do the unthinkable things that later justified their suffering.  They were insecure, although often very beautiful.  Their puffy faces waited by the door on Christmas, and by the phone on birthdays.  They were the back-ups, forever waiting for arrivals.  They fed themselves on leftovers of loves.  The paupers.  The self-imposed outcasts.  And their faces — sans the years that their lovers took out of their better selves — were the faces she never hoped to see in the reflection of closed store fronts, by which she, too, had waited all these years.

“A bright girl!” she had been called before.  A bit naive, perhaps, but not an idiot.  But it would take her years:  because she wanted to believe that she was good enough to change his mind.  Good enough to deserve love.

Up, up went the spiral, up to the clarity of truth.  Not the truth that she had wanted to believe so desperately.  Not the truth that may have been actual, when the lovers were intertwined:  In those moments, he may have loved her; but no more than he loved himself.  He too had to be thinking that he deserved love, that he deserved to have it both ways.  That he deserved — both women.

The truth was to be found in the initial intention:  The root of the matter.  He never wanted her for keeps.  An adventure, an escape from the dissatisfactions of his chosen life.  In his chosen wife.  That was the matter:  He felt he deserved the comforts of the chosen wife and the fantasy — of the Other Woman.  He deserved both.

The problem was:  She was a good woman.  A good girl.  “A bright one”.  And to protect himself from the guilt, he had to tarnish her.  So, he would leave it up to her — to make the choice to stay.  To be the back-up.  He left it in her hands to keep on waiting, while he continued — to come back.

And he would have kept going until she lost the memory of her better self and would become that woman:  that Other Woman, with puffy-faced reflections and reconstructed calendars.  The pauper.  The disregarded.

She would have lost her self-respect, and how could anyone respect a girl like that?  So, he wouldn’t.  He left it in her hands — to destroy her better self.  And that would always justify his choice of the chosen wife.

But in the truth of that last moment, she upped the ante:  He could either have her better self — or whatever was left of her, after the sans six years — or no self of hers at all.  She left him to his chosen life.

And in that last truth, the only person who deserved compassion (because she still would not receive his better love) — was the man’s Chosen Wife.

But hers — was a whole another story:

Of yet Another Woman.

“My Skin — Is Brown. My Manner — Is Tough.”

There is a spirit, in certain women, that lives so powerfully — it resurrects my own ways.  

I have loved many of such women, in my life:  They are essential to my every breath.

And they always have a special talent for obeying the time clock to my own destiny, whose ticking I often fail to understand.  Still, I seek them, by intuition — whenever in need of inspiration (or, of just a confirmation, really, that I am still getting it all right).

Sometimes, they reappear whenever I have a reason to celebrate.  But only in the most dire of my moments, do they seem to unite, unanimously, and come to the forefront of my days as a magnificent army of undefeatable souls.

There is a woman with her hair on fire:  She lives at a halfway point between the two coasts of my identify.  At any given time of every day, she is an expert at whipping up a meal soon after making love; and as her lovers, we make for one doomed lot because she will not happen to any of us, again.

Instead of breakfast, she begins each day with a party.  At a round table of her restaurant, she often shares a drink with her clients and her staff, late into the night.  She drives fast and laughs for so long, the windows begin to rattle like an orchestra of chimes.  Her fire-engine red lips are never smeared.  And god forbid, she tames her hair into anything more modest.

“When in doubt — be generous,” she says.  “Generous and kind.”  Nothing has disobeyed her love.  And no one — can overcome the kindness.

She is all that:  magnificent, magnanimous, braver than the rest and always in the heart of every love.

To each — her own way. 

An erudite poetess with African hair sends me postcards every once in a while, from the Mediterranean coast where she retreats to rest her skin from the abrasive gazes her beauty attracts.  From a writers’ colony, with wooden cots and tables by the window, she writes to me in stanzas.

“At work,” she’ll say.

And she will mean:  RESPECT.

In her profession, I have known no equals; and in the written word, she is much further than me:  always ahead, as it testing the ground that I am meant to follow.  She is political, on edge, and often absolute.  She is a socialist in success:  Others, she believes, must benefit.

Her people:  They have suffered way too much.  And so, she prowls, proudly:  paving the way, pounding the ground.  And it is worth the awe to see her never skips a step or stumbles.

“TO NEVER APOLOGIZE,” — she has tattooed upon her forehead (and she scribble that on mine).

In stanzas!  She often writes to me — in stanzas, even when writing about the most mundane, like laundry or her lover’s breathing.  And I watch her, moving through the world of men with a grace that is so undeniably female.

To each — her own way.  To each — her own manner.

The woman that shadows all of my most difficult choices with patience worthy of saint:  She has been bound to me by some unwritten, never negotiated rule of sisterhood.  With her, I’m never orphaned.  With her, I’m never-ever afraid; and life — is not unjust.  She is the kindest one I’ve known.  The worthiest — that I have ever loved.

It’s not that she hasn’t witnessed others error.  No doubt, she has seen me lose my own ways, as well.

“Don’t you ever question?” I used to challenge her, in my youthful disobedience.

“Question?”

“I dunno.  Question the purpose?  The faith?  The validity of it all?”

At every significant marker of each year, “God bless you,” she jots down, with a steady hand.  From her lips — and from her hand — these words never acquire comedy or scorn.  To speak the truth.  To call each thing by its own name.  She’s fine with that.  But the cost — alas, the cost — she never loses the sight of human cost.

Once, long ago, her hand had gotten lost in my growing out mane.  She had a mother’s touch.  With her, I’m never orphaned.

“Remember this!” I thought to myself, but all too soon, I drifted off to sleep.

To each — her own grace.

My Kindness, Truth and Patience.

One gives.  Another fights.  The third one — perseveres.

All — in the name of Love. 

“Don’t You Know: They’re Talkin’ ‘Bout a Revolution? It Sounds — Like a Whisper!”

“People are not good to each other.

People are not good to each other.

People are not good to each other.

I suppose they never will be.

I don’t ask them to be.

But sometimes I think about it.”

Charles Bukowski, The Crunch

There is a passion, in all of us.  It boils.  It protests:  In Rome*, Yemen, Africa**.  It pushes to break us out of our skins — out of our boundaries; shackles, limits, laws; cowardice — and to rebel.

Some have chosen to live quietly, getting by.  They seem to cause the least conflict.  And if on occasion they hurt one another — it will be most likely by accident.  A tiny demand will rise in their souls — a tiny rebellion against obedience that has seemingly earned them nothing.

“So, what’s the fucking point?!” I ask.

And they reach for something that the rest of the world won’t miss much.  They reach with passion.  There may be an accidental victim:  He’s gotten in the way of their reaching.

But what’s a little hurt — against a lifetime of groveling?

Nothing.

Others manages to tangle up their egos in the chalk lines of the score board that keeps track of the rat race.  They are a special clan:  They measure life in numbers.  In things.  In values.  Passionately.  To them, there always seems to be a deadline in life, called Work Until:

Work Until:  They get tired of playing.  Work Until:  They gain a debt, then pay it off.  Work Until:  They have a piece of land, for a house or a deathbed.  Until they pay off a palace, a chariot, a marriage, a child’s tuition:  A Happily Ever After.

Work Until:  They never need to work again.  Work Until:  They can rest.  Work Until…

Nothing.

Their days turn into discardable minutes:  Five minutes — Until.  Thirty years — Until.  Another person’s life — Until.  Until, Until, Until, Until.  They pump themselves up against the lackluster crawl of the minutes.  They lose themselves — in things, in numbers.  In scores.  With passion.

Some actually manage to get there:  God bless ‘em!  They get to their anticipated Until, for the sake of which, they’ve sacrificed so many minutes.  And some have even sacrificed their truths.  Their passions.

That’s when the real horror happens:  At the end, they soon discover that nothing, in life, lacks a price.

Nothing.

And they find that the price of Until usually turns out to be gastronomical:  Greed.  Sacrifice.  Health.  Denial.  Nothing.

And that shit isn’t refundable!

“So, what’s the fucking point?!” I ask.

And:

What happens to LOVE — I ask — in such a lifetime of Until?

Find me a man who knows the answer to that.  For I have asked too many men who’ve given me mere accusations in return.  Something about time, or timing.  Readiness and plans.  Something about their Until.  I couldn’t really stick around for their explanations for long:  Their fear was eating up their faces — and my time.  So, find me a man who knows the answer to:  What’s the fucking point?!  I find me one who answers with passion.

Oh, and don’t discount those poor suckers born with extremely sensitive souls.

“It’s okay.  They’ll grow out of it,” pediatricians tell their parents.

Most actually do:  Innocence is rarely immune to life.  

But what happens when they don’t?  Well, then:   Please, say a prayer for those poor suckers:  A Hail Mary for the Sensitives.  For they are stuck here, among us, with no delusion to save them from the ache.  And no Until.

“Oh, but everyone aches!” the others object.

Still, the sensitives get the worse of it, in this life.  They stumble around, among us, like unwanted orphans.  Like innocents.

“But do YOU ache?” they ask.

Poor suckers!  They insist on hitting the truth on the nail.  It’s so annoying!

“Everyone aches,” the others object.

The sensitives study our faces for signs that they aren’t the only ones feeling this much.  It’s innocence, at its worst.  It’s passion.

“Then, what do you do — to cope?” they ask.

“Nothing.”

So, they devote their lifetimes to taking notes.  They write down our words, then regurgitate them, in a prettier form:  Poetry.  Others jot down their sketches, finding beauty in our fear-eaten faces.  And innocence, or whatever is left of it.  Passion.  Some put on reenactments:

“Wouldn’t this make for a better picture, in life?” they ask.

The others scoff, look away.

They do not have the time for truth — Until…

They do not have time — for a revolution.  

No:  They would rather spend their lives suspended until the arrival of Until.  Or, they spend their lifetimes — groveling.

Surely, there will be small griefs that happen until the Until, and they’ll complain and demand attention.  They’ll demand a change, but only enough of it — and only if it’s convenient — and never for the sake of others.

Because everyone aches.  And there is nothing to be done about that.

Nothing.

But what would happen if we gathered our passions into a fist and planted a punch?

* Rallies Across the Globe Protest Economic Policies.  New York Times. October 15, 2011. 

** “Occupy”Protest Turns Violent in Rome.  Al Jazeera.  October 15, 2011. 

“There Is a Girl in New York City Who Calls Herself: ‘The Human Trampoline’.”

She was sitting on the edge of her barstool, with her bright red hair cascading over a tea-light candle, on the bar:  Dangerous.  

How many poets, I wondered, had lost their minds to a red-haired woman before?

Never a barfly — always a butterfly — she knew how to balance her glorious womanly behind on the edge of the shiny, brown leather-bound seat.  No way she’d fall off — from her dignity!  Her back had learned the perfect arching, the angles of which made it irresistible to the gaze.  Or to the camera.

It’s a fascinating skill that came with the habit of being looked at.  I knew that:  Beauty and sex were prone to that habit the most.  

Perhaps, most civilians couldn’t even pinpoint the hair-thin boundary between the real girl and the red-haired fantasy.  Most civilians just found themselves dumbfounded, with her.

But I knew:  I knew the game.  I used to play it all the time myself, before I got way too tired to keep up with the nuances.  Beauty was insatiable:  It demanded constant maintenance.  And for a while, I began relying mostly on sex.

But then, I got tired of that too, and I settled for truth.  Truth — all the time.  

Besides, sex was always much easier, for a woman.  And in my bedroom, I would keep all the lights blazing:

Fuck it:  Truth — all the time!

And if you don’t like it — LEAVE!

We had entered the bar together, that night.  Earlier, she had taken me all over the City:  Her New York.  She hailed all the cabs herself with the flip of that magnificent red-haired cascade.  And the green vintage coat off the rack of Marilyn Monroe or Betty Davis was flung unbuttoned, at all times.

“Boo.  Put yo’ hat on!  It’s fuckin’ freezing, out here!” I scolded her, always a few steps behind.

I was entering my own age of self-awareness:  and my most self-aware self, as I discovered, would be maternal.  And true. 

True — all the time.   

But she would just clap her fluffy cashmere mittens in response, and redistribute her lipgloss by smacking her lips.  The hair would be flipped again; and as soon as she baited some unknowing cabbie and we’d slide inside, onto the shiny, black-leather bound seats — the mane would be tamed into a low bun:  Show over, buddy!  

Her New York was very different from mine.  She lived on the island, I — right over the bridge.  She cabbed her way all over the place.  I braved the subways, studying rats playing house in the garbage on its tracks.  And when it would get unbearable, I’d come up for some air, in Harlem, and unbutton my jacket:  Ay, mami!

She made her living by mixology behind the bar, similar to the one we were now flocking:  with her low-cut blouses and perfect lighting hitting the hemispheres of her breasts.  Businessmen, cheating spouses conferencing in New York and horny boys from NYU would claim to be her regulars alike; and they would study their fantasy, while playing with the labels of their beer bottles and the hot wax of tea-lights on the bar.  From behind the rims of their rock glasses, they would gather their courage to start up a conversation.  And their drool would backwash onto the ice inside — if ever she paid any attention to them.

She didn’t have to, though.  That’s the thing about bartenders:  They aren’t at the mercy of our egos, for their income.  It was all up to her:  When to lean in, while arching her back.  When to cascade the hair, when to pull it back into a bun.  And when to tell them — TO LEAVE!

While I settled for bargains, she knew the importance of well-made things.  But for the first time in my most self-aware self, I was willing to learn.  I was open — to changing my mind. 

It was about dignity, I was beginning to suspect, despite my artistic premonition about some artsy suffering in deprivation.

“It’s crucial, for an artist, to be proud,” she said earlier.

Street lights were about to take over from the sun, as she strutted in her high-heeled boots through the shadows of concrete high-rises in Chelsea and red brick oldies in the Village.  I followed her, in jeans and flats, with the rest of my life packed inside a mighty Mary Poppins’ shoulder bag.

We were both competent, in our own way.  But she could survive on her credit card alone (although a girl like that never paid for her own drinks).  And I was spending my youth in a perpetual state of readiness for a take-off.

Our bartender that night would be a model by day.  Or an actor.  (I wasn’t really paying attention.)  To me, he was bitchy right off the bat.  With my girl — he was debonair.  We hadn’t been at the bar for half an hour, yet he had refilled my girl’s glass at least three times.  The petals of her lipgloss had circumvented the thin rim entirely by then, but the only sign of her tipsiness was in the pout of her lower lip.

Despite being seasoned by New York already, he could not have foreseen his purpose that night:  He was supposed to comp our drinks.

Which he did — in exchange for her number written on a bev nap and held in place by a tea-light candle.  He would even hail us a cab.

Inside, on a shiny, black leather-bound seat, she shook off the snowflakes from her red hair and smacked her lips.

“That number is fake, right?” I asked.

“No,” she answered.  “I would never do that, to a man.”

She gave the cabbie her intersection.  We were silent.

“But he’ll have one hell of a time — chatting up my shrink at Bellevue,” she smacked her lips again and pulled her hair into a low bun.

Show over, buddy!  

Back to truth.

“Can You Bounce Wit Me, Bounce Wit Me, Ge-Gi-Gi-Gi-Gi-Gi?”

Mmm:  First cup of coffee of the day.  Mmm-hmm.  Oh yeah.

Achy, I stumble across the apartment this morning while listening to the gargling of my coffee drip.  I cannot wait.

My freelance gig of last night is sitting in my joints and in the arches of my feet:  So tired!  The neck is stiff, causing me a mellow headache.  Still, the pain is no stronger than the gratitude for finally manufacturing an income that doesn’t violate, compete with, or drain my work.  No longer do I report to anyone else but myself.  And others that hire me for my expertise treat me with dignity and a slight amusement that covers up their utter adoration of my company.  I stretch the neck, both ways.  Something snaps on the left side.

GRATITUDE.

Or should I blame the 7-mile dash across the beach yesterday, for feeling so roughed up?  Barefoot and barely dressed, I squeezed in between the beautiful bodies of strutting brown girls in yesterday’s sun, and I kept on running.  There is an esteem in me these day that other women pick-up on:  Not only do they smile at me (for they have always done that) — they grin, openly, in recognition or admiration — while they size me up discretely, the way that only women can do.  I grin right back at them, and I find myself picking up speed.

Oh, if I could, I would kiss every one of them on their shiny, pink-bow lips that must taste like purple grapes or black cherries; drinking them up, like that first cup of coffee of the day!

Mmm.  Life.  Oh yeah.

The drip has committed its last exhales, always so a-rhythmical.  But only after it does half a dozen of spit takes do I slowly make it over to the machine.  Ouch, ouch:  The arches of my feet are killing me!  The cold of the kitchen tiles feels soothing though.

I pour the first cup, watch its surface covered with patches of broken oily film; and at first, I am tempted to lap them up with my tongue.  Instead, I stare at them, like an old Turkish wise woman, reading coffee grounds for signs of my own destiny.  But I cannot see the bottom of the cup, so my story gets to keep its mystery.  All the better that way.

Mmm.  Life.

The hot liquid is somehow of perfect temperature this morning, and it goes down so easily; so smoothly.  Its acidity hangs in the back of my teeth with an aftertaste that makes me want to drink up more.  So much more!  To drink it up, to lap it up — all of it, with gratitude! — for having been given another day, another go at a dream.  Another chance at some good living:  Mmm.  Life!  Calmly, the patches of yesterday’s thoughts about today’s commitments start coming up to the surface — and I cannot wait to begin!

I pour the second cup and make my way over to the desk.  The morning outside is foggy.  I catch myself thinking of San Francisco.  Oh yeah:  The possibilities.

My dreams loom in the back of my consciousness, as if ripening until I am ready to gather them into the bottom of my skirt and to take a bite.  There have been so many of them:  These dreams of mine.  And there have been so many loves.  And each one, I don’t delay for long — but for long enough to gather the courage, the necessary readiness and the strength; the agility, the open-mindedness — before I begin their pursuit.

But what was it — that lullabied me to sleep last night?  I do remember venting to myself, while fighting the beginnings of this mellow headache.  The patches of yesternight’s thoughts slowly come up to the surface; and the fragments of their through-lines remind me of feeling agitated and strangely inspired.  (Mmm:   Life.)

Monogamy!  Bingo.  That’s it.

I was thinking about monogamy last night.  Achy, I paced across the apartment, at midnight; defining something that I’ve never had a problem trying on, with each of my loves.  (And there have been so many of them:  My loves.  Mmm.)  But then again, I’ve never had the audacity to deny myself — or my partner — the variety, in life.  I am not the one to confine my lover to limitations of a single woman:  me. Because I myself know how much beauty, how much possibility there is to lap up; to drink up; to chug it down — like the first cup of coffee of the day.

But of course, each coupling of lovers must define it for themselves.  And it’s a lengthy process of figuring out how each partner measures up against the other, with his or her beliefs, passions and hungers.  And it’s not an easy talk of comparing each other’s needs and opinions — on monogamy; but such talks must happen continuously, as the relationship grows and changes, morphing into more and more specificity.  These talks:  They must happen — absolutely! — because only in mutual honesty, does a coupling of lovers find the dignity and the esteem that comes from navigating one’s life well.

Yeah!  Honesty!  That is — the saving grace, in love.  I am addicted to it, and my girlfriends sometimes find it tragic.  And they find it odd that I allow my lovers the freedom of pursuing their hungers — as long as I am made privy to those pursuits before they happen.  It’s a health thing, at first, of course!  A physical safety thing.  I owe that to my lovers — and they owe that to me.  And then, there is the health of one’s consciousness whose only route of navigation — is honesty.

Oh yeah!  Life.

Mmm.

Pretty. Little. Liar.

“Because there are enough lies in life, 

so you better be in control of your own fiction.” 

“But I didn’t know that I loved her!  Not after she left!”

The night before, this man had challenged me to a writerly duel:  to commemorate a story of a woman whose departure he regretted the most, in his life.  He slouched on a high chair outside of a club filled with pretty honeys galore.  With his black, dense Persian hair in a cloud from his own cigarette, he hung that head low, frowned, avoiding my eyes, and confessed his loss of that one woman — the one that every man must have in order to become a man; the one that has changed his heart, for good — for the better! 

The following day, after my words had been published, he rang me up immediately, to justify his truth.  He must’ve sobered up a bit:

“You wrote that I loved her!” he objected to my story, seemingly irritated.

“Didn’t you?”

“I mean, well, I did.  I did!  I did, but I didn’t know I did.  I didn’t know I did until, you know, she left me.”

Oh, c’mon!  Don’t give me this shit!

It was my turn to be irritated.  The truth, in actuality, was a lot more brutal than I made it sound:  “A first lesson in the fragility of love and the preternatural cowardice of men” (Junot Diaz, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao).  In my writing, I had been forgiving to his one crucial fault, never calling him any low name, never scolding for the lapse of his better nature.  Yes, I would side with the woman — that one, that good one, like me! — that has changed his heart for the better.  For good!  On behalf of her truth, I had written that day’s rant blog; even though she had left long ago, in pursuit of an even better truth.  On behalf on her truth and of my own, I’d spoken — because I too had just left a man that “did and did, and didn’t know, didn’t know he did”.  Fuck you, I thought:  It’s MY fiction!

“But you wrote he was all that — ‘holding his own’,” another reader — my brother who’d always changed me for good, for the better — was saying soon after my own break-up.

I had rung him voluntarily, for some truth; because I had been digging around for it, desperately.  Perhaps he would know, I thought, what had gone wrong in my love, before I left it.  Perhaps, he could’ve seen the signs while its truth was still happening.

“Well, truthfully,” my brother confessed, “he didn’t.  He did NOT ‘hold his own’.”

Brutal.

But fuck you, I thought:  My lover was MY fiction.  How else was I supposed to be in love — but all in, despite the other player’s truths, more obvious to others than to me?  Yes, we all do this:  We fall in love with the wrong people, ignore the signs, go out on the limb and lose ourselves; only to go scrambling for truth later.  And yes, I had done it again — for love, for good.  For the better. 

Sometimes, the choice is clear:  To alter the truth to fit the story.  Other times, the split between truth and actuality is not even visible.  Because the truth — is a matter of an experience.  It’s an opinion.  Because no artist creates for the sake of THE truth — we create for the sake of OUR truth.  The way we see it, perceive it (and it’s all very specific):  The way.  The truth.  Happens.  To US.

So, last night, when I got inside an elevator with three middle-aged men breathing down my neck — and down my backless dress — I gave jack shit about their truth.  They could’ve been in town and in this fancy hotel for a vacation with their families.  They could’ve been each in the midst of their very happy marriages, with healthy kids in college and their own college sweethearts sleeping dreamily in their beds that they wouldn’t have to make in the morning, for a change.  They could’ve been sweet and clumsy — good men slightly discombobulated by the presence of my brazen sexuality and of that goddamn backless dress.

They could’ve been, but last night — they weren’t!  All three rode down with me, from the Penthouse to the garage, and they flirted, unapologetically:

“Come on in,” one of them held the doors, waiting for me to join them.  “You’re in for some trouble!”

“Am I?”

The doors closed.  It was just the four of us:  Me, in my goddamn backless dress, and three middle-aged men in the midst of their dissatisfactory marriages, in town for their conferences, their infidelity, on the hunt to satisfy their mid-life crises.  (See how it’s done?)

“We’ve been watching you all night,” another one said.  I wasn’t sure which one of them was speaking; because for the entire ride down, I would be facing out, giving them the full view of my exposed back — and not a sliver of fucking hope!

“Have you?” I said over my shoulder, turning my head just far enough to be seen, but not far enough to see.

“We have!  We have!” the third one chimed in, spraying me with his drool.  “You were texting viciously on your phone and crossing and uncrossing those long legs of yours.”

“Was I?”  I had decided to give them as little as I possibly could.  But then there was that goddamn backless dress!

“You were…” one lingered, and I could feel the shivers of disgust bounce down my spine like pearls of a broken necklace.

“You were doing a little Sharon Stone act.”

They laughed.  Brutal.

Yes, these men could’ve been sweet and clumsy — good men, slightly discombobulated by my presence.  But TRUTH be told:  They weren’t!  And I had already forgiven them for their faults.  I hadn’t called them by some low names, scolding them for the lapses of their better nature.  But I was sure that they would reappear in my words — my fucking fiction! — and I wouldn’t even need to alter the truth to fit the story.

“But you wrote…”

Just a few weeks ago, my own former scorned lover would ring me up and give me a laundry list of all the untruths he had to object to.  But truth be told:  Fuck you, I thought!  My life — is MY fiction! 

“Rum, Bum-Bum-Bum: Man Down!”

She was beautiful as shit, and very well-endowed, in her humanity.  But the one thing that had made me fall for the creature — head first against the tiled floor of an empty pool (SMACK!) — was her ability to always say what she meant and to say it with the precision of a sniper:  (POW!)

There was a gap though — a space where she lingered while choosing her words carefully and squinting her dark African eyes at her speaking opponents.  Half a generation older than me and so many exotic heritages apart, she had patience — in spades.  So, while I would be stepping on toes of the speaker — some over-read academic whose fear of our female flesh would make him work overtime at spewing out big words with which he hoped to dominate and conquer — while I would be wedging in my objections and stuttering with my youthful wrath (and with having so much to prove!), my girl would just hold there.  She would hold her fucking ground, my brothers and sisters — like Joan of Arc before her tribunal — and she wouldn’t fucking move!

It was so bloody impressive — it gave me a hard-on!  It was like watching one of those big cats at their hunting game:  You know better than to intrude, because you suddenly become aware that that cat’s evolution has not been contaminated by a century of junk food, bad decisions and hedonistic behaviors utilized to shut out its guilty conscience.  The cat is on top of its game:  It’s perfectly equipped — on point! — and it never has to work hard at proving jack shit.  And you know, for certain, that when the time is right for that one outrageous pounce — meant to capture, never to just tease — the poor victim won’t have enough time to even utter a prayer.

Well, it was like that, with this girl.  She would watch the poor sucker who overcompensated his boner with words, words, words — BULLSHIT! — and she would seem so chill.  Her glorious brown body appeared perfectly relaxed.  There was no verbal jab in the world that could make her shiver with wrath; no words capable of making her lose her composure; or even shift your weight.  Okay, maybe — may-be! — occasionally she would raise one eyebrow; but even that was barely noticeable.  You had to be in dire love with her to notice that change.  Which I was.   So — I did.

And when she would pounce — OH, LORD JESUS! — it was so much fun to watch!  If the asexual academic had been presumptuous at all about his vocabulary and degrees, the moment my girl unleashed:  She destroyed the fucker.  Because you couldn’t tell by her youthful face, which she insisted on wearing without any make-up, but she’d had years of education and a lifetime of reading to back her up.  She studied language for a living, working as an editor at every publishing house with its focus on radical writers:  female and foreign and black!  (FUCK!)  And just for fun, on weekends, when others got busy shifting around their patio furniture for barbecues in Brooklyn — she wrote poetry.

Some shifted the mundane — she displaced the real.

And she would win.  Always!  Because she wasn’t too hung up on the meaning of words.  Language, to her, was meant to be played with.  Otherwise, it was all dead.  So, true to that same feline fashion of hers, she played a gentle tug o’ war with concepts — tapping them, scratching the surface, or sinking her fangs into their gist — like a bored cat amusing itself with a caught prey before feasting on it.

Don’t get me wrong:  She had her truths.  Better than that:  She WAS all truth!  Love, dignity, sex and ethics — those were non-negotiable.  Not a thing to play with!  But words themselves — those little rodents and birds — were way too much fun to not fuck with.

Back then, I had once confused a man for the love of my life and I worked so hard on earning him.  At first, I tried on my ultra-feminine version:  All high heels, and eye-liner, and ruffled skirts that carefully ended at my knees.  I thought:

“Maybe he would love me more that way!  Maybe if I’d waxed, tamed my eyebrows, painted my nails in pretty pink; if I spoke with Americanized inflections and curtsied when he picked me up at Grand Central.  MAYBE!”

But after a year of still not being enough — of all that uncertainty and self-doubt — I began forgetting that I always hated make-up, especially in pink; and that I treading daintily — just wasn’t my style.  So, I gave myself a boy cut, loaded my closet with flats, white tank tops and tight jeans; and began taking the train into Manhattan thrice a week.

One day, my girl and I had stepped out onto Madison Ave, to do some hunting.  It was one of those spring days that breathed down New Yorkers’ neck with warm air and smells of budding cherry trees — but the sun had yet to come out.  We strutted southbound.  My girl lead the way.  Despite the promise of spring, she had zipped-up her hoody; and not tempted for a second to absorb the one New York season that reminds its natives as to why they choose to suffer there for the rest of the year, she hurriedly strutted to our decided destination.

A Nuevo-Rican  had come from behind us at a pedestrian crossing and studied our asses, in creepy silence; and when he realized my girl was one hot number underneath that zipped-up hoody, he began to whine, nasally:

“Ooh, mami!”

“Fuck you!” my girl shot him down over her shoulder and stepped off the curb, long before the light had changed in our favor.  POW!

Then:

“So, what was your definition of ‘forgiveness’?”  Just like that, she was back to me.  She was back — with me.  MINE!  I’d been out of breath for thirteen blocks by now:  from trying to catch up to her, like that poor Nuevo-Rican doubling over behind us, at the street light.  Not waiting for my answer, she resumed:

“Forgiveness — is like courage:  It is only committed for your own sake.”

“Forgiveness is like courage,” I repeated in a half-whisper, as if asking for her hand in marriage.

“NO!” she threw over her shoulder again, like a fuck-you to those who were unable to catch up.  “Forgiveness IS courage.” 

And off she went:  strutting, leaping, pouncing and leading the way, half a generation ahead of me and through strange, exotic histories in between; running every red light and giving me the most generous go-ahead of my life.