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 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.
I hear echoes in the walls, the rattlings of a voiceless savior. Bills pinned to the pantry, I can only sit here and drink and clear my head enough to think that maybe there’s a way to clean the water from our floors. It’s been pooling here a while, coming up to our shins, late nights home from work up in four hours for the next commute. You come home in the mornings sometimes from a bar and find me sleeping on the couch, curled in sweatshirts under blankets. The crib in the bedroom is quiet, swaying gently, and you feel the child’s forehead just to know he isn’t ice. We’ll have a tax return soon to buy heat and more booze. Anything to stay warm and hear the echoes in the walls.
Dreams tend to ferment in vats of wasting time.
You didn’t see me cry as I drove home from work. You didn’t answer your phone, when all I needed was for you to ask if I was okay; I spent some money for gas and spent the rest on a six-pack, got drunk by myself with the child in his crib and for a moment I forgot there was no larger point to this. Than to let the cold water creep onto the bed, fill the fridge, and the pantry, and the cabinets. But for the kid that cries in the crib, when mommy and daddy are too tired and drunk to get up out of bed.
I swear we’ll never win.
You didn’t get a degree when you had the chance. I never had the chance. Sweat labor’s honest work but it doesn’t feed the house. Nor the bureaucratic mouths, with financial attention – I didn’t tell you I almost punched the clerk at the DMV. There’s another hundred-dollar fee to have our registration reinstated, which we may be able to pay once the water goes down. But it won’t go down. The good graces of the landlord wearing thin, the favors of your parents overdrawn, and a car in the driveway that won’t turn-over, the water won’t go down.
I sit here at night too tired to cry, and drink until I’m crazy enough to think there’s a way we’ll get by; that there’s a reason for us to try.
A voiceless savior rattles in the walls, and the heat vents are filled with just echoes.
Long nights awake in bed, my tired circuitry is sparking with the energy of a jazz band. There is so much to be done in this life, but at 1am there is nowhere to go. Just to sleep. By 6am sunlight is faint, and my eyes are heavy enough to witness unconscious dreams of greatness on the dorm room’s concrete wall. The future on the concrete wall, a vortex of fog and the ghosts of future selves. The projector has been on all along – 8am awake to find myself sleep-screaming in the back of class. In the dream, someone telling me I’d been wrong. And in a few moments when I graduate I’ll be awoken by the screeching of a library desk. 8 hours of class, 6 hours of clearing tables. The kitchen is a cluster-bomb of aluminum line cooks, and the incredulous owner saying I yesterday called to quit my job. From my back on my mattress I had dreamt-up unemployment and I swear the projector had been turned on. The vortex on the wall it swirls; dreams no longer clearly separating from reality. Dizzying clouds of cigarette smoke in the heyday hours of a gentle trip. Today I am the professor of pharmaceuticals. Fog rolls down the basement steps to underground bars where bass-drops come in flavors of neon candy. I’ve been reading more Pynchon lately; Calvin and Hobbes for what might lie awake in the future’s fog. Tomorrow I can be a dentist; I can be a desk clerk. Tomorrow morning I can be quickly falling through the sewer grate, or founding an internet platform. I am going to write novels when I graduate, or I can uncover the next Watergate, or I will be the first to manufacture sheets of graphene. In a few years when I’m well on the road to my dreams, starting my own business and happily getting married, I’ll realize I’m awake in class, and they’re all frozen and watching me. Hope mocks me for being so dead wrong; the concrete wall is a facade, and all of life has passed me by on my back, long days awake in bed on my back. I awake to find myself still asleep in class, and everyone is watching, the vortex on my desk in a puddle of blood, where the pencil has dug a crater into the back of my hand.
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.
Here are ten years spent searching for the antithesis of a life uselessly lent to Keurig machines brewing, daily traffic migrations idling, flat-screen TV’s streaming: Here are the screams of the mad-eyed peeling their scalps to let out the vacancies eating away at their brains. Here are the years spent shifting desks in dormitories where your youth went for a degree in death management: You found yourself crawling naked hysterical on the sidewalk well past sun-rise. You took the plunge and scrapped gum from the sidewalk, making yourself a lunch to carry downtown for a day staring listlessly at trees in the park, where you found, on a pedestal, a mirror looking down at you. Here are your dreams above the obscurity of the crowds – a PhD in philosophy, Mr. Little Camus you could change the world.
Here are the scars on your forehead the time you realized the ceramic-tile wall-corner could set free the termites tunneling hollow through your head. The termites hurt worse: unconsciousness was blissful. Then: three years later dragging your guts pornographically through the bars you realized the misfortune well-spent on bathsalts in a single boarded-up bedroom – the obscurity you feared was waiting right here beneath your piss-stained mattress. In a dumpster you found a desk and picked up reading the Existentialists where last you had left off – Mr. Little Camus you could change the world.
Here are the months you spent hitchhiking both coasts because the idea of getting lost beat finding your way through the mainstream maze that still makes no sense. Remember the time you cried, head to your mother’s chest, about the nihilism of this and that? It thundered true then and it thunders true now, with your shoestrings dangling through the holes in your soles. Is there lunch left in your pockets? Did you manage the time to find the ticket for your shuttle-ride to the stars. You are 35 and still longing for your home with your child and wife, and they are there, and they are waiting – for you to find they are the meaning.
Mr. Little Camus you would’ve changed the world.