You’ve been spending time with your mother making decorations for the holidays. Crafting kitsch for the doors and the halls, small moments made-up for the years you lived out-of-state. Progress in your own home is slow. Rent checks are never late but your husband is rarely in for dinner. Your own job seems to be a farce stunted by a bad choice of college degree – how many women can get a decent car in photography? But your life’s love got an early foot in with a 401k; and all his complaints are erased by his claim “this is all only temporary”. Someday comes the break. A baby will be on the way, you’ll have one made by spring and that’s your own secret plan. And at night when the small house is quiet and your thoughts creep down from the walls you can hear those good friends crying all the way back at Ohio State. You can hear the clamor of the bars and the mic beats of the poets and the stars that shined over North High and Third. You remember screaming at him when he left for Santa Fe. He left your heart aching. He quit the job after just a week and came home miserable to you, who forgave him so quickly because the sidewalks outside were still painted in the green of your dreams. Cooking isn’t what your patience were made for. Graphic design isn’t what your head was made for but at least it gives you something to do. And in the mornings in the traffic you can listen to NPR because the music you’re in love with whispers for you to abandon your car. Hand your laptop to a homeless man and empty out the bank. You’re already crying thinking of Mark finding a letter in the pot you won’t have filled with his dinner. He hates it what he does for you. Neck ties and obedience to the man with the bigger desk. Long hours of nicotine-yellow sun on suburban streets. Empty boxes flipping away the blank pages of your calendar’s days. Penned at a desk in a fluorescent alley of cubicles and swarthy smiles. Obsequious pleasantries and the eternal denial that what they’re paying you adds up. A 40-hour work-week indoors and Netflix to reward your stationary labor. Spirits were meant for the open air. You once spent a week straight without a foot inside your own door. The concert hall on State Street and the rooftop restaurant with the sky-line view where Mark first said he loved you. You had to go because a local blog was paying your photos in erratic hours. And at 4am you found Mark awake still waiting for you. Grasping for an emotional hold before the world sent you tumbling: your exhilaration has landed flat. A cold star stays dark with nothing new to burn in your chest. Stalked by old friends who aged quick at dead-end jobs. The same streets you walked as a kid are a ten-minute drive from the house you’re starting your life in. Someday you’ll find your future years painted on your office floor – or that Mark regrets the wedding. You’ll think back about the happy girl, what it meant to view the world without walls. To see the importance in the clouds and the excitement in the daisies painted on the windows of the Vine Street boutiques. To remember the reasons you needed to drive 20 miles over the speed-limit if you wanted to eat a second dinner that week, or what it felt like to cry because you’d spent four sleeplessness nights helping organize a Halloween ball. Someday comes the break – when the muck is too slow a death to stay here waiting 60 years. When you remember that life is movement through the city; that every breath is sweeter when you’re chasing down a dream; that your vibrant heart was meant to beat. Make your mother a memoriam: you love her most when you’re saying goodbye. Gather the movement of your frantic panic and the happiness of an insecure life. Ask Mark if he still loves you, and pack your bags for Ohio State. There’s happiness outside of Jersey.
We came here looking for your mother’s seeing-eye dog. The park is bright and green and not too crowded, and the open spaces seem to swallow sound. There are stores across the street, apartments and the lazy midday city traffic. We thought the dog had perhaps come here. I let you walk ahead to lead the way. I do not feel like being seen. The sun feels distant; its rays are enervated in the resin sky. The shadows beneath the trees seem to glisten. The damn dog had run out of the house. I’d gotten there just before you were back from work and the damn dog bounded out of the house. I went back to my car and drove around and haven’t told you. It’s probably just a matter of time till your father checks his video feed and sees me opening the door. But I am scared of your finding out. There is a slow lava flow bubbling and black, eating away our time. You are asking people if they’ve seen a Dalmatian, and I am still behind you, hiding, trying to call animal control with a phone my thumbs can’t work. You must be bored because you sigh, and you begin to call your friends. You’re at the park, you tell them, Goodale Park, they should come and we’ll go to the bar nearby. I want a rum. You want to get out of the city that bred you. Your mother married a bureaucratic fanatic and wants her seeing-eye dog back. I am wondering why my boots sink into the sod. I must be 12 feet tall if I can’t see the detailed grass from here. Texture seems to have seeped into a gloss that is sticky when I place my hand on the bench. You would like me to sit down beside you. Your cheeks are red and your hair’s pulled back and sweaty round the edges. Your face hangs low from the rest of your head. I wish I could lift you and bring you somewhere only the gulls can see from their beds in the sky. There is a cog turning and churning its way through the park. And the clock on the church tower tolls noon. We should be drunk by now. We are sitting and waiting for your friends. The tolling has not stopped. This bench is very long. It cantilevers over a pond 60 feet down. Impossibly built. The path before us has turned to four-feet thick of dust, and the dust drifts away when the joggers come by, knee-deep in the fluff of our momentary lives. There is a silence humming in my heart. Your hand is sweaty in mine and I cannot understand why I didn’t stay in college and why I still get excited for birthday presents from my parents there are abscesses growing on my eyes. You are staring at me and asking How The Fuck Do We Find It and I don’t want to admit that I can’t get-off in your anus. The tolling has not stopped. You are crying and the doves are crying and the statue of Zeus has broken his leg. I mention your mother’s rottweiler and you look at me while drying your eyes and say no she has a pug.
We used to make campfires out of sticks, bonfires out of pallets and the couches we’d find left behind in the clearing in the woods. A long dirt trail seven miles back, far removed from the indolent suburban roads. This is where we roamed under starlight. Midnight, the blackness viscous between the trees. We backed-in pick-up trucks in four-wheel drive and let the stereos play till their batteries died. We sucked down beer, we sucked down laughter, we built up our dreams in the mud of the clearing. We collected hickies on our necks, bruises on our arms and poison ivy on our groins. We jumped from the cliffs, swam clear across the reservoir chasing moon-silver ripples ‘cross the water. I pitched us a tent and only brought a single sleeping-bag, just to leave you with no other choice. We fell asleep by the dying fire-side chatter. Gentle breathing on my chest; your hair roasted in the smoke of cedar wood burning. I would have married you then. Laid a bed of moss in a cool den of willows, and made you my wife. We were seventeen. School taught the thrill of insubordination; rebellion was risk-free. Bliss was found in Yoohoo bottles and Taylor ham sandwiches for mornings hungover. And whenever the adult world seemed to press down, we’d retreat to our clearing in the woods. We’d haul back beer, shouting and singing. When they weren’t looking pulling you down in the backseat, quick to kiss tits and lips. And when the sun went down, we’d let the bonfire burn a week’s worth of our sins. I remember best the lasting form of the fire, the twists and jumps of the flames that appeared more physical and honest than the houses and streets we’d fled from. We didn’t watch the news, and didn’t watch the movies, but off in those dark woods we’d hear the bombs quietly bursting. Thud. Thud. Thud. And the fire would crackle, retrieving our attention and the CD would recover from its skip. Merriment. Booze spilled down your tits and a hard-on you grabbed through my pants.
I wandered through the woods on my own that final night. And what I found in the viscous black was a wind that sucked out my breath.
We found ourselves along the lakeside at dawn, no sounds but the birds and the gentle words you whispered to me. You wouldn’t come with me to Boulder. Suitcases stuck in the corner of your closet that I’ve been living out of; the thought of crawling in there for another 6 months made my stomach itch with spiders. I wanted to strangle you, for the catharsis, a stress test around your neck to hear you scream because, after all, hurting you hurts me — there is one thing I can feel and I feel it beautifully. The one person I thought I wouldn’t live without has changed her dreams, and fallen asleep without me. We sit in the sod and you open your palm. No hard feelings? I want to throw my shoes in the lake, throw my cellphone and my notebooks and my wallet into the lake. I would rather destroy every last thing, shoulder a single little bag and walk heart-heavy across the plains to Boulder. I don’t want to flee; I want to brood my time in peace. I want solitude — from you and your parents, from my future, and from any responsibility. I never loved you: you put your palm back in your lap and look out at the lake. Did you hear me? No, I didn’t, fuck you. She should never have expected me to stay. I expected me to stay. We made love in the fishing boats off the docks; we drank most nights and slept long days in the hammock behind her aunt’s. We wasted weekends downtown at the cafes. We took off our skin and let each other in, and were always foolish to think I could stay. The beauty of these months we’ve spent, it was always meant to be looked back at, a memory of what was had and what we regret.
There is a black latex suit filled with stuffing beside my bed. Just standing there, really, for long afternoon hours.
Bills are tacked to the walls to keep them from getting lost. They’re difficult to find once the power’s turned off. I admit I have never voted: confusion filing my application to the Selective Service. I tried to drive to Walgreen’s to buy Benadryl for my existential allergies, and spent the day in the driveway listening to NPR. I can’t sleep at night because I get nothing done all day. I can’t do anything during the day because I’m exhausted, nightly staring at a blank ceiling leaves me exhausted. My wife leaves me notes in the freezer each morning, before she leaves for work. She must be suspicious I’ve been hogging her vodka. The notes are to-do lists.
- Keep kid alive
- Pay bills
- Buy health insurance
- Finish school
- Find work
- Don’t quit on me
I let her watch TV all day while I fall in and out of dream-drenched sleep. She stays put – I know she won’t get lost… There is a black latex suit filled with stuffing on the floor, playing dolls with my daughter.
The man is a black latex suit, a featureless creature keeping closets full of dead rats. The rats were allowed to feast on dreams and desires (To prevent these from reappearing through the ends of the rats’ intestinal tracts, the vermin were drowned in bleach). Flies swarm the closet, and this corner of the soul is closed tight.
The black latex suit wore a cap and gown down the graduation aisle.
The black latex suit couldn’t smile at the cake to celebrate anything at all.
The black latex suit finds it hard to speak with the bottom of his throat at the back of his teeth.
The black latex suit has made no mistakes. It understands what is required to fill the plates at the family table.
Strung up on the wall is the black latex doll, for the machinery to use for its pleasure.
The boxes beneath the tree tremor with soft scraping sounds etching into the cardboard from the inside-out. The tree is dry and I haven’t watered it since you dragged it into the house, put it up yourself and strangled it with lights. The strands flicker electrical shortages. I am in the armchair across the room, alone and in the dark – the dark broken across the room by the white and green lights sparking in and out, and behind the tree in the lousy bay window (bay window stuck to the front of our drowsy rental by a landlord finding a reason to charge more) are the outside lights hanging from the gutter and these lights too sputter in and out, a madhouse effect of lights’ electrical shorting and the rats in the fucking boxes wrapped in cheery Ho Ho Ho! are finally scratching through the cardboard.
I am in the armchair and I am wracked. My hair is at odd angles from hands that tried to hold the itching, the itching inside my skull, from cracking out, greasy and clammy from three days’ sitting here to remember what this was all about. I don’t how I arrived here to live in this house, with you. I can’t remember why I went to college, or why I dropped out, or why I stopped going to work last week. I don’t know how it is that you can cry, or what it is I’ve done.
I can’t rationalize why I should feel pleased that you – or anybody else – thought to buy me a sweater or a DVD or a god damned mouse for my laptop. ARE YOU EXCITED ABOUT THE WAFFLE IRON? I want to crack my teeth on the concrete steps that maybe the pain will be sincere enough to let me enjoy a moment of quiet television-watching so I can tell your parents how glad I am for the 12 months of Hulu they gave us.
There is something wrong here that I cannot understand. But maybe it’s me. I never remembered to buy you a gift, and to be honest it was far down my list of important life goals to accomplish. I sit here now, in this armchair, with a shuttering heart of regret as I watch, with a head that feels the pressure of a thousand leagues down, the sparking lights set fire to your tree.
I do not flinch, I do not think twice about the presents or your dreams or the life we’ve dumped into our little house, I can only sit here and stare as the flames reach the ceiling and I am drowning in a feeling I may someday call remorse. Remorse that I could never tell you how much I cared for us, because I could never put together what I wanted for myself.
There is something eating away just beneath my scalp, the frantic nail-breaking appeal of a damaged mind just trying to get out of hell. And I am sorry I dragged you in without properly marking the door.
I don’t know what it is I wanted with you, if I just can’t remember or if from the beginning I never knew, what it was. But the problem remains, every day; I am still completely in love with you.
I just want to one day be able to wish you a merry Christmas.
She sleeps a turmoil in a tangle of sheets, respite from a 60-hour kitchen week; beside her I lie and I cannot blink, let alone sleep. I twisted the bed sheets and swallowed the knots and there they sit deep in the pit of my rotting gut. I have rolled through the muck and masturbated with the grease, leaving stains all over the bedsheets, black tar adulterations ‘cross the pillowcases. I breathe the smell of vomit. I wallow in the self-induced sickness burrowed in mid-day blankets on the couch. The method is to contribute, to share the load, to make yourself by what makes the love you share love that works. And there is the duty I’ve spared myself of – this, the black pit in my stomach, gut rot, disease, the responsibility I promised yet laid down with the cake smeared the cum on my face in mid-afternoons dry with dust: why not? several hours till she’s home from work, lay myself down with the cake instead of her, her whom I love yet forever let down.