and i knew that my last lines were gone

 

it is not the discussion- not the overly gentle tone or the bracing hesitancy, the carefully cultivated bedside manner balancing on a tightrope between no-nonsense diagnosis and the trepiditious weight of bad news breaking- but the scenery that shifts my gut and sends a dull weight plummeting to my feet.  because uncertain numbers and unclear images wouldn't necessitate a field trip into his office space, to these soft chairs and hard shelves and sunlight streaming in through floor-to-ceiling windows with a tollway traffic jam on display.  it is the space in between the words, the omnipresent ghost of the unspoken noun cancer following closely behind the clinical terminology that he picks and weaves his way through like checkpoints that must be crossed to finish out this conversation- non-hodgkins lymphoma, b cell count, primary extranodal, high ldh, aggressive.  he sandwiches that last word in between platitudes like some options and still very treatable but it sticks out like a red flag and carves me out into a hollow shell of disbelief.  and so i sit very still and wait for the part where the alarm clock jolts me out of this falling arc or the fourth wall is broken and it turns out to be fiction all along but the sunlight is slanting across his desk in a slow and steady progression that tells me this is my life and my narrative and the inkwell is abruptly running dry.  my mind shifts bizarrely, unbidden, to the perspective of patients and victims and casualties of war who must always think immediately prior to the killing blow- this can't be happening to me, i am the protagonist! and it occurs to me that the deus ex machina is not coming for me, no bag of chemo cocktails or radiation will exonerate me from this plot device because unbeknownst to me this was always intended to be a story about disease and the chest pains and cold sweats and persistent coughs were just built to spill into the denouement. 

and then someone says something about the stages of grief mirrored in the acceptance of disease and it seems that i have bypassed every emotional high and low in the space of seconds to flatline at zero.  there is no more left to write and my story is ready to be shelved in dusty, forgotten stacks to be referenced on rare occasion for research about prognosis.

file under: terminally ill or terminally numb. 

drunk and i am seeing stars

you know what i'm talking about. you know this feeling too.

it's that geometric space your neck and shoulder form, how my face fits there like an elementary school puzzle. there is no guesswork, there is no discomfort, there is only an anatomical magnetism that seven years' pursuit of bioscience still cannot explain. i am not attractive, but i feel beautiful in that space. i am not fragile, but i feel delicate against you. i have never been quite feminine, but i feel like the first woman in the world when i feel you breathe beside me. and i am not carved from your ribcage- i start where your clavicle ends, and my fingers find their homes between yours. we lay there in the dark, listening to bob dylan on your record player. hey mr. tambourine man, play a song for me. i'm not sleepy and there's no place i'm going to. i am here and i am safe and i am at home in your heart.

you know what i'm talking about. you lie there at night with the one that you love and you are happy in a way that you cannot define. you are unsinkable in their arms. it is not vocal, it is not sexual, and there are no doubts to be had. it is the space where you are welcome, the body heat that keeps you warm, the forms you take as if your bodies were born with muscle memory for each other.

this is how i know i am meant for no one else but you.

 

it's to dying in another's arms and why i had to try it

tempest

tem·pest

/ˈtempəst/

noun

later, much later, i will eulogize you faithlessly.

i will tell everyone you were a mercurial force of nature sweeping into my life with the sheer, violent force of waves crashing recklessly against weathered stone.  i will paint those years with wide, vivid brushstrokes of color, overlapping the boundaries of reality as carelessly as you slammed doors and scattered cigarette ash.  i will get drunk in dive bars and trace your name in watery rings, slur my words and my memories in my retelling of our romance.  i will rewrite the late nights and sunday mornings in iambic pentameter, glorifying the way your body moved against me, the color of your hair in sunlight that bled through broken blinds, the thrill of your uninhibited laugh reverberating in my ears.  that you were a woman with a passport inked as heavily as your arms, a wild and unbreakable spirit fired by jet fuel, destined to roam through uncharted territory.  that the ligature of my mortgage statements and the 90 degree angles of my ties created spaces that trapped you, intersecting lines of banalities like bars on a cage that kept you pacing like a restless tiger.  i will tell your parents that your strengths were my weaknesses, i will tell your friends that you were designed for adventure, i will tell myself (when i find a pillowcase that still smells like your perfume, when i crumple up mail catalogs still faithfully addressed to you) that you would not be contained, could not be contained- because the only way to handle it was to romanticize it.

because the truth of it wasn't poetic panacea or a bittersweet revelation, because nobody wanted to read a story about a selfish, irresponsible protagonist.  and the facts of it laid bare against paper would've read dry and bitter, encyclopedic recitations about a bored and vapid woman who chased adrenaline and refused accountability, teenage vices stoking a junkie's mind.  and the years we spent together were only a poorly calculated mistake, some unfactored algebra carrying you over the threshold and propelled by inertia, the mundane day-to-day like your habitual, jittery chainsmoking- forgetting your keys, forgetting your phone, forgetting to leave.  and it was always more fog than storm, your temper waxing and waning to leave an exhausted, blurry cast to the canvas.  you were blues, grays, yellows in a small and mean watercolor better left in storage than framed.  

but later, much later, i will stand beside your casket and invent a narrative better suited for your long hair and tall tales, i will stand at the crossroads of fact and fiction and choose the path of least resistance- that same path i chose ten years ago when i first met you at a house party and you purred take me home with you in my ear.  i took you home, and you took me down, but i have one last kindness left in me to rewrite both of our mistakes- the final act of the final play.

i eulogize you as a tempest.

and the train ain't even left the station

timing

tim·ing

/ˈtīmiNG/

noun

what a joke, that even the dictionary definition of this word indicates choice, judgment, control.  that the meaning of the thing has been corrupted to helplessness, a vague shrug with directionless blame- to exculpate ourselves from the weight of incompatible decisions.

it’s not you, it’s the timing you said to me once, running your fingers through your hair distractedly, halfway checked out of the conversation even as you propelled it forward.  as if you were a bus stop slightly behind schedule, or i showed up a little too early for a meeting, as if our lives were two calendars 10 minutes or 10 years out of sync with one another.  maybe sometime in the future.

but we both knew it was never just a trick of the hourglass, an uncontrolled lag between clocks.  timing was a metaphor for the things that could not be said, would never be said-

i do not love you.

you do not love me.

death is only a door

normalize

nor·mal·ize

ˈ/nôrməˌlīz/

verb

the normal heart is a machine in flux, readjusting and recalibrating in feedback loops to level its expectations.  the weather changes.  her phone number changes.  your pulse changes.  the heart remains in homeostasis through tiny mechanical clicks that shift you into place, one beat at a time, so inconspicuous and well-oiled that you forget to micromanage the oscillation. 

but i have never had a normal heart.

it will only ever multiply by one to bring me back to you.

12:03

you wake up (not to your usual alarm not that collapsible travel clock with the peeling backlight button and the tinny morning wailing shattering the icy stillness of winter mornings) but an unfamiliar beep-beep-beep that faintly reminds you of a tv show you used to watch together but you don't know why it's so hard to open your eyes or why every muscle fiber in your face must rally and strain to do this but they are opening now with agonizing slowness to a light so white it blinds you and then above you there is a face and you think that it might be him hovering in to kiss you through those sunday afternoons you slept in late but the light is rearranging itself into crystalline points and his face is falling into anxious lines that belong to a stranger this man above you wearing a surgical mask and his gloved hands are cold probes against your skin and you try to find some words to form but there is a tube in your mouth and it stifles every question and somewhere distant a woman’s nasal voice complains oh it’s raining i better check my car windows and then a memory collides into you with astonishing speed a nightmare of wet roads brake lights his sharp intake of breath a stranger’s screams in your throat but the beep-beep-beep of your alarm is getting faster now and the man above you shouts she’s going tachy as sleep fills the corners of your vision and drags you back into the dark

i keep dancing on my own

he tells me i have always loved you and i don't know how to respond but the truth of it is so simple, so effortlessly lined up against the edge of my teeth, an inescapable fact breaking through the hulls of reality-

i have only ever loved control.

pass me that lovely little gun

disprove

dis·prove

disˈpro͞ov/

verb

i'm calling it, you said on our first date.  we were each 4 cocktails deep and wading through a mediocre chocolate lava cake.  you're gonna end up breaking my heart.

it is a small, superficial measure of comfort to know that you finally got something wrong.

you won't ever get too far from me

ardor

ar·dor

ˈärdər/

noun

her fingers reach and grasp for me- but no, not for my hands, never for my hands again- she grips my hair and pulls hard, drawing sharp and shallow breaths, riding me with an urgency that weakens my knees.  she is drunk and i am not drunk enough; this night washed through with city lights, wistful jokes, soggy napkins weakening beneath cold glasses, a four-hour lifetime in this strange space between familiarity and trepidation as our shoulders inch closer by millimeters and our knees bump together shyly and i am close enough to smell the perfume you once knocked over into the laundry hamper, infiltrating my boxers and bath towels for weeks.  and it's that scent that takes me back now with your mouth searing my skin and your glorious hair spilling across my chest and this is not the dizzy, clumsy dance we initiated the first night we met- it is eight years later and we have never forgotten the choreography.  we perfect it now, as if every tryst before was only a moment in the dress rehearsal but this is the real deal, this is the primetime debut, and we are flawless actors performing for a solipsistic audience-  lust on stage, desire made solid, the innate muscle memory of sex between two lovers irrevocably etched into anatomy.  and so you bite down on my shoulder and i plant a trail of bruises across your throat, and our pulses drum furiously in perfect timing but then you whisper- i think i still love you

and then my heart fails completely, punctured by this fatal misstep, this unplanned improvisation.  you told me after your sister's dinner party, that december evening we spent arguing bleakly in a snowdrift, can you stop being so fucking analytical.  but i couldn't stop then and i can't stop now and i am parsing your words even as the feeling of your hot skin against mine threatens to drive out all out other thoughts.  and i don't know if it is the i think or the still that burns raw against an open wound but i know with the certainty of death and taxes that i have never stopped loving you-

or at the very least, loving the idea of you.

it's always you in my big dreams

three deaths.

1. the ink dries on our signatures hastily scribbled on this notice to vacate, this lease transfer agreement, the final page of our divorce settlement; black ink sprawling spidery-legged and indelible, sketching out the framework of loss.  irreconciliable proof that death is paperwork and curt decisions.  your hollow voice and my hollow heart empty out our home, strings of memorabilia that threaten waves of nausea and i pack it up, i pack it all, i keep every photo and every ticket and every scrap of paper your handwriting ever graced and i think that i would die without them but the first death is always like this, it is always a trick of the light, the words that can't be unsaid, the tears that can't be undone, the space of a few missing heartbeats that terminate us- and the u-haul pulls away in a gaudy funeral procession and we hug for the last time but it is a meager consolation for a loss that swallows me whole.

2. the body in love dies next, a slow and undetectable attrition.  my skin renews and the imprint of your fingers across my hips erodes to nothing; the cellular regeneration makes me new, another unmarked, uncharted territory washed free of your conquering trails.  the history of your mouth rewrites itself with new speech, new drinks, new women with foreign tongues vandalizing a place i once called home.  my hands forget how to feel for fevers, how to stroke your hair; my fingers forget how to interlock with yours like puzzle pieces finally reunited after years of being lost between the couch cushions.  we lose muscle memory from nights of sleeping implicitly in practiced art forms so your arms forget how to reach across to me and my face forgets how to find your chest and so my bed is a blank canvas stretching on for miles while my body remakes itself in new and lonely forms on the side that was never even mine- the blue period of my love.

3. one day i pause to say your name, and it feels like a stranger in my vocabulary, a half-forgotten linguistic crutch.  one day you see a photo of me but my face is washed in wide, monochromatic strokes of memories- and this death is the slowest, the hardest to bear, the final parting at a train station filled with estranged lovers who revisit one another in dreams, in wistful conversations, in the painful significance of missed anniversaries.  and we have long since lost the details and here we will finally lose the photograph- leaving nothing but an empty frame, a placeholder for years of our youth, a generic exhibit or tombstone template-

- loss of love, nothing more to see here.

the unbearable lightness

his fingers trace the curves of my ribs, and he tells me that i am beautiful.

and then i tell myself, i will not eat today.

there is a perverse pleasure in these moments when i catch my body forming anatomical topography where it used to be an unbroken landscape swollen with only soft hills and low rises.  a deep valley here, where my waist hollows out beneath a crest of costal cartilage; a sharp mountain range here, where my hips thrust skyward in bony peaks.  the secret caves surrounding my clavicle; the visible landmarks of my spine.  the cartography of my body carved out of oxygen, water, black coffee, sugarfree gum.

and although he maps me with his hands, lifting me with extraordinary ease, i am still waiting to feel lighter.  light enough for my bones to hollow out,

hollow enough to finally take flight.

 

iron council

bastard, cutter thought, tearing up, trying to speak. bastard to say that to me. you know what you are to me. bastard. he felt his chest hollow, felt as if he were falling inside, as if his very fucking innards were straining for judah.  “love you, judah,” he said. he looked away. “love you. do what i can.” i love you so much judah. i’d die for you. he wept without sob or sound, furious at it, trying to wipe it away.

 

never letting go

i’ve hurt you in a way that i can’t fully comprehend, but i am always just bringing a knife to a gun fight.

 

i wouldn't change this if i could

six years from now, it will still hurt.

you will grow older, you will grow stronger.  you will stop writing unsent letters in your outlook drafts, in your daily planner, on the backs of grocery receipts, across the pages of books he used to read.  you will have sex with strangers, friends, lovers.  you will remember some of them, and call the rest by the wrong names.  you will vacation in tokyo and go skydiving in kansas and grow your bangs out and smile more easily.  you will feel lighter and breathe deeper and your hands will grip the steering wheel without drawing your knuckles white against bone.  you will finally change your last name back, standing in long lines at the dps watching excited teenagers pretend to look jaded as they pose for their driver's license photos.  you will stop watching the calendar for dates that used to matter, seasons he used to own, memories that used to burn deep.  you will stop finding shirts in the back of the closet that still smell like him- and the ones that do you will fold up and donate.  you will put those old playlists back on and learn how to dance to them without faltering, and spend your evenings drinking cheap wine and slowly falling in love with your life.

but six years from now, it will still hurt.

 

i want to go home

sheila eats a packet of peanuts m&ms at work, counting them slowly into her palms like jewel-bright tablets of prescription medication.

she stops after six, ruefully wrapping the crinkly yellow bag closed with the origami dexterity of a practiced dieter. she tells me she wants to lose fifteen pounds and i nod and smile and point at my headset to indicate i am on a call, but the hold music has been playing for half an hour and its tinny vibrato is still preferable to sheila's liturgy about her thighs. and i think she might have once been pretty or could still be pretty, but she sits in that ergonomic office chair with the posture of the perpetually defeated, picking her nails nervously and telling dana about another blind date that never called back. dana is 54 years old and her husband died two years ago of a heart attack during a secret trip with their daughter's french teacher, but she encourages sheila with parables about true love with this weird unhinged smile plastered across her face and i think her mind must be touching the void.

sheila recounts body language and unspoken signals, fiddling with the elastic waistband of her straining pencil skirt, and the dark red threads are worn shiny by the stress of being forced into an unintended shape. dana, greying and sagging gracelessly around her lacquered salmon lipstick, tells sheila vaguely that it's almost lunchtime and thank god it's friday and the two of them swap sad stories about weekend plans that i know will easily become arbor mist and seinfeld reruns. sheila unwraps a pale turkey sandwich so cold and insubstantial that it doesn't smell like anything, and i watch her eyes dart toward the m&ms bag winking merrily at the corner of her desk.

and i think i will go home today and this might finally be the day i break up with ethan. i think i could pack up his stray socks and boxers and put them in that reusable grocery bag and take off this engagement ring that doesn't fit and was never sized. and i will tell him that i am sick of his lies and my bruises. and i will finally use my pto and take a vacation by myself, get away from these fluorescent lights and conversations about celebrity bikini bodies. and i will be happy alone, without a boyfriend for the first time in ten years.

and then sheila finally dives back into the m&m's, ripping the bag apart with a frenzied urgency as she laughs and tells no one in particular, guess my diet starts tomorrow. and dana reassures her that chocolate is good for the soul. and ethan texts me again to ask me when i am coming home. and i type back soon with stiff, hesitant fingers.

and i think that i will wait until tomorrow.

 

don't give yourself away

one day you will come home and tell me you have met someone else- a new hire in your office, an old college classmate at the bar, a friend of a friend at a house party.  one day, i will lean hard against our balcony and think about the weight of gravity.  one day, we will have the difficult conversation and your hands will abandon my own to smooth the creases in your jeans nervously, over and over again.  one day we will turn in this notice to vacate and pack our things and try not to notice that your socks cling static to my forgotten party dresses and that my heart clings desperate to your forgotten love letters.  one day we will argue about who this saucepan belonged to originally and our anger will burst and bloom into bitter poison between our teeth.  one day you will move out and she will wait for you beside the u-haul, wearing tight jeans and a triumphant smile.  one day i will find synonyms for "over" in three languages and twelve steps of acceptance.  one day you will text me awkwardly and tell me you will always care.

one day i will sit down at this keyboard and finally exorcise your name from my mouth.

one day i will sell the story of our nights spent sweating, my incisors at your neck.

one day i will replace you with paper and ink.

 

i need you like life needs life

i want to believe in it, you know. the greatness, the all-encompassing massiveness of the thing. the unsinkable, unbreakable, unchained, unkept and recklessly inconvenient enormity of it. i want to believe that i was shipwrecked and storm-tossed into your arms, your island, safe harbor in an unforgiving sea. that love- true love- really does transcend life and death and space in ways that has our bodies meeting in different forms, different cities, different centuries until the end of time. and your fingers will always trace my cheek the same way, in this smoky bar, in this leather chair, in this studio apartment, in this hospital bed, in this cold coffin. that each time i will find you over and over again, and nothing will ever possess the power to come between us. i want to believe that love triumphs destiny, that we will move mountains with bleeding, slippery hands to bring you back home to me. that this is real- unknowable, untamable, untouched by cynicism or restraint. that i will wage wars and set fires and rewrite history to keep you safe. that it will only ever be you that i feel this much for.

and it will only ever be you who's worth this much and more.

wrap you up tight til it's time to bite down

when i was young i discovered how to not fall asleep.  don't lie down.  you never learned this lesson; you are asleep now beside me and your jaw is relaxed, unclenched, that face in beautiful repose against this worn-out futon.  and i am always awake beside you, tracing the bones in your hands, wondering how i can dismantle you in pieces.  waiting for the backlash that never comes.

and i tell you a bedtime story while you sleep.

the one about the dimly lit house party, cheap rum mixed with off-brand cola in grimy plastic cups worn slick with sweaty hands, a collision of cigarette butts and confused bodies, coaxing little blue ovals into my palm, a man's voice in my ear and his hands on my waist in the upstairs guest bathroom, his tongue in my mouth- probing, hungry, then his cock in my mouth- frantic, urgent, then your name in my mouth, head swimming, vision blurring, as my hips matched his in a rushed and graceless tempo, drumming a miserable beat across cold, relentless tiles while your messages lit up my phone during every gasping breath.

these are the words that undo us and you are not awake to hear them.  they pour out of me in toxic relief, and i have honed each syllable to hurt.  you stay asleep, curled up beside me, one hand clasped between mine.  defenseless, dependent, alone.  and so i tell you the next story.  and another one.  then several more in unrestrained succession, these things i have done, these things i will do, these things that will wound you with every waking breath-

- these things that spill out, a tapped vein welling to the surface.

it keeps getting clearer

it occurred to me last night while i was waiting for the train- it's been since the 10th of last november that i've kept my arms clean.

and i think this could be growing up, growing old, growing better- but i have never forgotten the memories of years spent sinking into that sticky black couch with the duct-taped corners.  you eased the needle under my skin like you were lowering your body into me, so careful, so slowly, a heartbreaking magnet into my veins.  and my skin was paper; your arms were summer; the carpet spun gold for miles to oz, and someone greater than god cradled me and crooned promises of infinity. we spent those hot summer nights sweating against each other, sticking skin-to-skin with your mouth pouring smoke between my lips or tracing patterns on my bones or stretching the syllables of my name for hours, days, years.

 

taking it all back

- and they tell me that it'll get better, that time heals all wounds, but i am finding your face in the bottom of shot glasses every single night and i think the next drink could take me further from here.  and your parents call to check on me, and the counselor writes dates on business cards, but i am tasting your lips on strangers' cigarettes and i think the next inhale could bring me closer to you.

closer to that place with my back shoved against craig's guest bathroom mirror, your fingers digging into my thighs, prying them apart on that cracked porcelain sink and your teeth at my neck (always, those teeth at my neck) and we are laughing or gasping or moaning in that dizzying amber light and i am falling asleep beside you on a stranger's futon, in your childhood bed, on our living room floor, on blankets in the wild- my head cradled in your arms and you are stroking my hair and whispering stories about all the lives we could live together, you are saying mimi, i am going to love you until the day i die- and then i am clutching you from behind while you are sweating, shaking, coming down hard, and i am wiping the tears from your face when you grind your teeth and beg me eloquently for just one more fix to get you through the night, and then we are driving thousands of miles cross-country in your dirty grey jeep stealing packets of peanut m&ms from gas stations and eating burnt hash browns in late night diners or we are running through rain-slicked streets holding hands and laughing breathlessly while the wind whips through our jacket hoods and you are flushed with whiskey and pushing me hard on the kitchen floor and my head is snapping back from the force of your blows and i am finding your name in my mouth like a speech defect, catching on my teeth and tongue over and over and over again while i choke hard on the sobs and you are telling me, baby i'm sorry, and i am believing every single word and i think i could live like this with my red lipstick stains on your clavicle and your smoker's cough across static phone lines and our hands locked in this perfect destructive grip but we are crashing through that guardrail spectacularly and your face is washed in brake lights and cold fear and i am waking up in a hospital bed alive with plastic tubes and rubber hands and they are reading me the coroner's report they are running toxicity labs they are telling me stories about funeral homes and in lieu of flowers i am digging hard into my arms to bring you back to me-

- and i think i will find myself running back to your grave, over and over again every night, feet pounding on slick grass and carbonized corpses.  and i will find you beneath layers of dirt and sediment, i will find you and bring you back with every clawing handful deeper and deeper down until my fingers brush your bones again.  and then i am awake on my bathroom floor, naked and shivering against that full-length mirror, staring wide-eyed at these pale legs covered in bruises-

realizing that i never knew what my body looked like before you shaped it with your hands and mouth.