til death do us part

and i am thinking of you- how i could have loved you.

he bought me drinks that night, and i remember the glasses lined up one after the other- vodka with vodka with vodka with vodka.  he took me home that night, and i remember the fuzzy pounding in my head, my contacts drying, my lipstick smudging.  he turned on his tv that night, and i remember hearing ross say rachel's name during the wedding from across the living room carpet.  he pulled my skirt up that night, and i remember pushing his hands back, tell him i was too tired, too drunk.  he pressed hard on my throat that night, and i remember his fingers tearing down my underwear, tangling them in my heels.

don't worry, this won't hurt, he told me, a stranger's lie against my ear.

and the protest caught as a scream in my throat, my breath coming ragged and hard, my face pushed down deeper into the couch and his sweat-slicked skin a distant force behind me as the laugh track on tv looped over and over and over again.

and i am thinking of him- how i should have fought him.

then they call my name, and lead me to this cold room with sun-faded posters of better landscapes.  i change into the gown and think of blue skies and white beaches.  the doctor stretches on her sterile gloves and instructs me to slide my feet into the stirrups.  the nurse beside me grips my wrist to source a vein and starts my IV.

she tells me, don't worry, this won't hurt, a stranger's lie beside my table, but i can hear the suction start and i am laughing so hard that i can't stop crying.

i could have named you rachel.

 

fifty states, fifty lines

i had that nightmare again.  the one with the brake lights, the wet road, the vice grip of that seatbelt against my shoulder.

sometimes i think these memories don't belong to me, and that you never really existed.  that you are just a mid-range tombstone in september soil, a relic of a relic amid world war II vets and hypoxic infants.  that i am just a girl with bruised knees, bleeding lips, and too many words in my mouth.  and this could just be a funnel for my anger, for my mistakes, for a heartbreak worn like a badge of honor and polished to a blinding shine.

and you could be a collection of bones compact beneath earth, a collector's item for archaeologists,  a boy who never really belonged to me at all.

 

too much but not enough

i'm sorry about your eulogy.

your mother wanted me to write it.  her voice broke when she asked me, catching in sobs across that long-distance call.

mimi, you're a writer, she told me tearfully.  you could write a beautiful eulogy.

fiction, i thought dully after we hung up.  i only write fiction.

so i sat for hours staring at a blank screen.  i wrote for no one but you for seven years, but somewhere along the way i ran out of words.

that sunday came suddenly, and i stood beside your gravesite reading a eulogy that did not belong to you.   in a stranger's voice that did not belong to me.  i invented anecdotes about the person you used to be, creating broad brushstrokes of a caricature i once used to know.  your friends and family watched me speak with wide, guileless eyes, searching desperately between my sentences for measures of comfort.  i gave them hallmark sentiments and it might have been enough.

your father thanked me after the funeral, told me it was a poignant speech.

you're a hell of a writer, he said quietly.  your mother nodded wanly in agreement, her face ashen and glittering with tear tracks.

fiction, i thought mirthlessly, after all the funeral guests left.  it was only fiction.

and i think about what i should have written, the last words i could've ever said to your face.  that even though my bed is cold and i have missed you like a visceral absence in this space between my heart and lungs, that i have never once forgotten the real memories you left, the ones that kept me up at night.  and it wouldn't have been pretty or delicate, not a carefully crafted speech about your love and bravery.  it would've been an ugly stream-of-consciousness with no rhyme or reason, spat viciously between choking sobs because the only thing i could think of when i looked into your casket was how you had fucked me over for the very last time.

 

a near miss or a close call

she comes to my register and she is all soft curves and freckled shoulders, a cascade of strawberry curls spilling to her back. and i think that she is beautiful- the most beautiful girl i've ever seen- even under these buzzing fluorescent lights that carve hard shadows and skeletal masks out of every face beneath them. and at first i can't tell that her stomach is swollen under her faded grey tank top, straining the thinning fabric as she lines up her purchases on the conveyer belt with shaking hands. and i'm so mesmerized by her long eyelashes that i think for a moment they cast blue-black shadows across her cheekbones. but those are bruises on her face. and bruises around her wrists. and bruises across her throat. then her items come tumbling through my scanner, three little bottles with a silent story. i ring up aspirin, covergirl liquid foundation, equate personal lubricant. she does not look at me, does not even speak, and pays with crumpled dollar bills. and i am trying desperately to find my voice- i have these words on the edge of my mouth- but the next customer is pushing a rotisserie chicken onto my scanner and she is walking away with an awkward, pained gait that collapses my heart completely.

 

a christmas story

when i was younger, my parents planned christmas with nearly indecent enthusiasm.

i loved every minute of the holiday- the decorations, the food, even the rather stale gingerbread house we would dissemble and devour on the 26th. i never fully understood why my mother committed to the tradition as fervently as she did. christmas represented many things she hated; spending money, excessive sweets, and distracting me from winter break homework.  but not only did she encourage my fanciful wish-list scribing, she also devised my favorite part of christmas morning.

instead of wrapping presents and placing them under the tree on christmas eve, my mother decided that they would stash all of my gifts (unwrapped) in a giant trash bag and hide it somewhere so well-concealed that it would take me nearly an hour to find. once discovered, however, i could reach into this magical plastic goodie bag and relish the spoils of the hunt with no fussy packaging.

reaching in and pulling out one gift after another represents the most blissful memory of my 28 years.  maybe she just wanted me to work for my gifts, but the ploy worked like a drug by heightening my christmas morning anticipation to nearly unreasonable levels. i would wake up at 5 a.m. and jam on my sleuthing cap (a santa hat), rolling up my pajama sleeves to prepare for the search.

“you never find,” my mother would chortle, snapping pictures with a disposable kodak while i felt under couches and crawled into closets.

one year, she hid the bag in the dryer. it was the longest hunt in history of christmas, and i remember bursting into tears when she suggested cruelly, “maybe this year i not buying gifts.”

“she’s just kidding, princess!” my dad said hurriedly, bending down to scoop me into a hug. “we just hid it too well. i can show you where it is.” he glared up at my mother while i clutched and sobbed into his flannel.

“no,” my mother scowled back. “she have to working for it, otherwise take all fun out.”

she took a few more pictures of me crying and rubbing my eyes. her goading finally drove me to run to the point of our house that was furthest away from her- the laundry room. my delight in finally uncovering the bag of presents was unmatched by any other christmas in my ten years of gift-hunting.

the year i turned 13, i woke up at nine and walked downstairs to see my father watching a christmas parade on tv and my mother knitting. she glanced over at me, put down her half-finished scarf, and reached for something beside her. i thought it would be the ubiquitous disposable camera, but i was wrong.

she tossed me a chocolate orange and said, “merry christmas. i got you SAT practice book but it not coming in mail yet.”

bring you back to me

i got lost on my way to the morgue.

you'd laugh at me, chalk it up to my inability to decipher maps or directions.  you used to chide me for being unprepared for our dinner dates, eagerly buckling my seat belt and jamming the key in the ignition without even knowing where the restaurant was located.  you'd look it up for me, half-exasperated, half-enamored by my relentless flightiness.  i'd back out of my parking space clumsily while you twiddled through maps on your phone, accidentally turning right when you tell me left.

and you'd always say, remind me to drive next time.

i should've looked up directions to the hospital on my phone, but i dropped it after that call.  the glass shattered against the concrete sidewalk, and i think the battery case cracked and split with an ugly sound.  i left it where it landed, and pushed mechanically through the crowd.  somebody behind me said miss, you dropped your phone, but it became white noise through the rushing in my ears.  and it seemed i couldn't get to my car fast enough, as if every air molecule became a grain of sand and my legs wobbled as i fought to move through.  a dream sequence running, torturously slow wading.

i made countless u-turns to find the place, scraping my tire against too many curbs because of my car's awful turn radius.  several people honked at me as i lunged across lanes or cut sharply through traffic in my confusion.  a man in a silver audi tt rolled down his window to berate me with a shout.  asshole!  he barked at me, his sunburnt face livid with road rage.

i thought about his face for several more hours.  i only caught the briefest glimpse of a receding hairline, hawk-like nose, straight white teeth, and sagging jowls.  but it was this face i saw when they unzipped your body bag, pulling away the crinkling plastic as brusquely and effortlessly as peeling a banana.

and it was you, but it wasn't you.  your face was more still and expressionless than i had ever seen it.  even through the nights i stayed up to grade papers, watching you sleep on the couch, your brow was always wrinkled with dreamscape concerns, twitching fitfully through the hours.  but in that bag, on that shelf, underneath those eerie fluorescent lights that were just as stark and sickening as they looked on television crime dramas, you looked like a waxwork of your former self.  an unreal artistic rendering of the person you used to be.

i didn't want to remember your face like that, so i closed my eyes.  and all i could see was that angry man who glowered at me from his rolled-down window.  and i thought that it could be him, and not you, here in this hospital morgue.  and that i could drive home and find you back in our apartment, standing in the kitchen in that ridiculous apron shaped like a chicken that your mother sent us last christmas.  you would be starting dinner at this time in the evening; you were always the better cook.  and i'd take my shoes off in the hallway and call out, baby i'm home.

and i could tell you about how i got lost on my way to the hospital, and you'd roll your eyes but hold me in close for a hug and say,

remind me to drive next time.

 

the mind turns an itch into a bruise

write "my mother never..." at the top of a page, then complete the sentence and keep going.

my mother never had a routine physical. most of my childhood memories took place in hospitals- the astringent, clinical scent of antiseptic, the tactile pressure of latex gloves, the calming voices of diagnosticians distracting me as cold hands moved forward with hidden syringes. but my mother never so much as filled a prescription for herself or scheduled a doctor’s appointment. once, a triage nurse jocularly suggested an EKG for her. i remember the flinty, darting narrowing of my mother’s eyes, the fierceness radiating from her sunken scowl that blanketed the rest of our intake procedure with silence.

she was a sharp, neurotic woman, both in and out of hospitals and doctor’s offices. she spoke to my father in a voice constantly pitched at an anxious bark. over the years, i saw her truculence wear on him, a slow and steady grinding that filled our recycling bins with sticky empty bottles.  one night towards the end of my 7th grade year, he checked over my geometry homework with bleary, bloodshot eyes. mom wants me to stay home from school tomorrow, i whispered conspiratorially. she thinks i’m running a fever. but i hear there’s going to be a pop quiz. i shouldn’t miss it; i don’t want to stay home. i confided in him, a plea for parental intervention. but he just swayed where he sat, his gaze slightly unfocused as we looked at each other for several painfully long moments.

she wasn’t like this before you were born, he finally said, a flat accusation. you did this to her.

i was quiet then, i was always quiet. as i was docile and obediant when she flitted around me like an anxious insect, haraunging doctors and nurses who rapidly tired of her hypochondria. i was only 7 years old when i came to recognize that constant exasperation, the way medical professionals rolled their eyes at each other in mutual understanding when she dragged me into waiting rooms. i was only 10 years old when i became embarrassed by the size of my medical chart, humiliated when physicians’ offices sent letter after letter addressed to my mother, formally severing our provider-patient relationships. i didn’t know what it truly meant, only that she would stalk angrily to the weathered yellow pages sitting dog-eared on the kitchen table and start flipping through for new doctors. pediatricians. hematologists. cardiologists. endocrinologists. i recognized more medical specialties than disney princesses, spent my summer vacations watching vial after vial of blood withdraw from my body. my classmates came back to school with tan lines and stories about theme parks; i came back with the telltale mark of pressure bandages and three more dispelled diagnoses.

there’s nothing wrong with her, the doctors all told her with barely-concealed impatience. she’s perfectly healthy. you can’t bring her into the ER every time she gets a bruise.

it could be a symptom of hemophilia! my mother would counter, eyes widening. she could be hemorrhaging internally, you need to find out!

but i was fine then, i was always fine. and my mother neglected her own health in favor of her weirdly transferred, chronic hypochondria. she finally succumbed to a brain anuerysm during my freshman year of high school. my father broke down crying during the funeral, weeping into his wrinkled suit sleeves with unrestrained sobs. and our family and friends patted him awkwardly on the back, tracing their own demure tears away with kleenex and subversive swipes.

i did not console him. i was quiet, as i always had been, as i always would be. a statue in a sea of mourners. and when i looked down into the open casket at my mother’s face, i saw it was finally smoothed of its perpetual anxiety by careful embalming. and then the only thought running through my head was finally, no more goddamn hospital trips.

and if i was ashamed or appalled by my own feelings, no one could tell.

 

too late for long goodbyes

take one intense emotion you've experienced and give it to a fictional character. 

you are standing in front of me, eyes cast heavily towards the floor, magnetized to your shuffling feet. we stand juxtaposed in the frozen food aisle in whole foods, a ridiculous still life of domestic repose as i clutch a box of amy's organic tofu scramble in my hands and your head turns away from me with studied aversion. an angular blonde woman in a tracksuit passes us on her trajectory towards soy ice cream products, stares with careful concealed curiosity. and when i finally find my voice, it is alien in my throat. a struggling, stillborn thing that escapes with deadened finality.

are you leaving me?

your response comes slowly and hesitantly, and you never once look up. you have obliviously cut and polished them to hurt, honing them with years of practiced lies and neglect.

you have never loved me, not even for a minute.

as the frozen dinner thaws and wilts in my unfeeling hands, you tell me that we are moving in different directions, that you no longer feel the same way about me, that you have met someone at your new job and he took you out for drinks last friday. and i think to myself dazedly, struggling to recall with genuine curiosity what i was doing that night while you texted me haphazard apologies for working late yet again.

i was booking a hotel room for our anniversary, i realize silently with dawning wonderment. to celebrate our ninth year together.

i'm sorry, you say pointlessly, your fingers wrapping endlessly around your ponytail. the part of me that has known and loved you since my earliest college days recognizes that you are nervous. that you have failed to prepare for this moment. and so bizarrely, with the deftness of the blind and desperate, you have chosen this moment in time to sever our relationship with naked truth. your engagement ring gleams mockingly, caught in the cross-section of overhead fluorescent lights, reminding me of every step paved towards the ten thousand dollar promise on your finger.

the numb, fetal pain in my throat claws southward into my chest, a pleural wave of panic and nausea. there is a physiological threat of overflow, a frantic pressure building behind my eyes that is hot and stinging. i am lightheaded in this moment, still clutching onto this defrosting boxed dinner as if it is a life preserver. as if i can regain my footing, step back in time.

back to nine minutes ago, when i opened the frosted freezer doors and asked what do you want for dinner, honey?

back to nine days ago, when i woke up with my arms around you, my face in familar repose against your soft, raspberry-scented hair. and you turned in my arms, eyes still closed, lips finding mine with the practiced ease of lovers with intrinsic muscle memory.

back to nine months ago, when i knelt down against hard rock and wet grass in the park where we first kissed, beneath the clearest night sky i had ever seen in nashville. i remember the words nearly catching in my throat, the feeling of my pants sodden against my knees, as i looked up and said i want to spend the rest of my life loving you.

back to nine years ago, when i first saw you in our introductory english class, arriving late in jeans so tight that multiple rows of otherwise sleepy freshmen swiveled in their seats to gape. and you slung your lean, long-limbed frame into the farthest corner of the lecture hall. and i was lining up my pencils in descending order from longest to shortest, then again by color. and we locked eyes for just a moment then, but it set my chest on fire, bathing me in nervousness and excitement.

that same chest is heaving now, holding in the dizzying feeling of titanic pressure that threatens to collapse it completely, as you say, you have no bearing on my life.

as i hold this frozen box pointlessly, and something inside of me finally breaks loose.

as the other grocery shoppers avert their eyes with embarrassment, or gaze openly with awkward curiosity, or hurry past completely oblivious.

as you back away with uncomfortable avoidance, your eyes desperate for any contact point that is not me, this broken man, this savage stranger.

as i am crying in the frozen food aisle of whole foods, hands shaking with cold and pain and heartbreak.

 

thus spoke zarathustra

when i first met you i remembered the women i had seen on the streets and in my building. i rehearsed their bright, uninspired laughs and you were pleased with my pantomime. i took you home and we read books together. one night your hands found a home against my skin and you bit my neck whispering, god is dead.

you already know how it ends

you already know how this will end.

we sit side-by-side on this bed, eyes forward, untouching and unfeeling. as you tell me you have met someone else, or else we are moving in different directions, or else you no longer love me, or else it is you and not me, or me and not you. and i flinch when you touch me one last time, a conciliatory grasp of my fingers or else a palm against my cheek, one final gaze between a pair of irises that have been magnetized to one another for years. and i push you away, hot angry tears spilling down my face, or else i drop to my knees and beg you- eloquently and desperately- to stay with me. for just one more hour, one more night, one more lifetime. or else i lash out, a wounded animal striking ferally, smashing anything and everything my hands can seek out in this room. in this room where you once laid me down against the floor and told me you would be gentle. in this room where you once kissed me on the cheek and told me you would love me forever. in this room where we sit now, strangers distant as parallel lines as you tell me we can never intersect. as you tell me we can stay friends, or else we should not stay friends, or else you want your things back, or else i can keep them all as memoirs of a time when my fingers interlocked with yours.

or

i find a perfume that is not mine, was never mine, rolling with a glassy amber wink below the bed. and i confront you, throwing it against the wall with a terrible, anguished velocity. dismayed when it doesn’t shatter because the bottle is plastic, a cheap replica of desire. or else i hide it in my sock drawer, returning to stare at it with indeterminable sadness and loathing through all the nights you don’t come home to me. or else i throw it out in the trash, feeling nothing but numbness thawing to relief when you call me from the office to tell me you’re working late again. and we fight endlessly as the calendars peel off the walls, conversing through broken dinner plates. and sometimes the neighbors call the cops and i answer the door with a brilliant smile, bruises blossoming silently below my shirt. or else we eat quietly, separately every night. me in the kitchen, you in the dining room, an ocean of white noise between us. stretched out through the house like tripwire, silence. and we sleep back-to-back, or else you sleep in the guest room, but we wake up early enough to hug and kiss in pantomime for our children when they tumble downstairs sleepily for breakfast. and then we sign these papers, with our lawyers sitting stony-faced across from one another like chess pieces carved out of horn-rimmed glasses and leather briefcases. or else we do not sign papers- do not even discuss them- but live two separate, pained lives in this house that is not a home. or else one day i come back to your belt as a noose, strung up in the guest room closet, a suicide letter in your hand – i have had enough. or else one day you come back to an emptied, ransacked bedroom with a hastily scribbled note on the bathroom mirror – i am leaving you.

or

they come to me in that hospital waiting room, my nerves frayed thin by hours and hours of fluorescent light bouncing off sticky linoleum and the same dirty, frayed tabloid magazines shuffling from one tired grasp to another. and i know how i must look, half-dead with lack of sleep, my hair in disarray, my hands arthritic and shaking with fear. and it is the doctor himself, not nursing staff, not some patient care advocate with a sickly, placating smile. and the doctor’s face is a study in stoicism, giving nothing away as he says you were given power of attorney in his advance directive. and he does not need to elaborate, does not need to tell me the tenants of your living will. we wrote ours together, your beautiful script at odds with my sloppy one. reflecting, in our old age, what it meant to prepare for the worst. and we are here now, at the end of the storm together, but you cannot hear me or feel me. you have been gone for half a year, and our home is empty with you- a museum enshrined to your memory as our daughter calls funeral homes and makes arrangements to displace me into a retirement home. i follow the doctor to your bed, a lonely corner of the intensive therapy unit, and they give me papers to sign. sheet after sheet of legal responsibility, to decide here and now that your life will end. that our life will end. that we will never know another anniversary, another photograph, another conversation. and in this moment, in this bed, your face is worn unrecognizable by time and triumphs and disappointments, a road map of a life fully lived. but i remember you as i first saw you that thursday afternoon forty years ago, in the golden autumn sunlight. you were beautiful to me then, as you are now, as you always will be. and i kiss you and say goodbye, and they disconnect your life support. your chest heaves shallow breaths, your bones nearly avian in their hollow lightness as i hold your body close to me. as the nurses avert their eyes in embarrassment, as the doctor grimly notes time of death, as part of me dies here as well, beside you for the very last time.

honey, we are going down in history

your skin fills my fingernails. i am the greatest sculptor of the 21st century; the way i carve symmetrical ridges and statuesque patterns into the pressure of your flesh. of your heartbeat pounding like drums through my ribcage, spliced between fragments of sharp oxygen intake. our tongues are smudges of watercolor. pure prismatic streaks dampened on this canvas of curves in our mouth. brush over me. desperate painting. hands tied with satin; this is a fashion trend, this is a culture stake. this is the feeling of charcoal irises burning me and white chalk eyes just blending me and black ink eyelashes sketching me; this perfect stare, this arsonist's dream. we are the ruinous artists with xray eyes.  we are the free-falling magnets in a glass full of sand.  we are the only people alive in this world- in this second, in this bed- where we lie and kiss like we will fall apart. all we have is this moment, these six minutes of biting your lower lip. all we have is this instant in which perfect strangers with analog watches guide each others' hands to aesthetic masterpiece.

is it worth it to love someone you can only wake up to by chance?

burning down the highway skyline

my lover brings me almonds. he feeds me- carefully, not lasciviously- beneath sunlight, starlight, no light. we share moments stretched thin like grains of sand slipping through glass curves. we own these dark spaces lit blue-black by the dashboard's glow. we spill sticky red wine on clean white sheets, smeared across the bed like blossoming wounds. and he knows i am hurting and i know he is fleeting, but we hold each other like time is running out. like we are both young. like we believe in endlessness. i am weightless where he anchors me; i am infinite beneath stars. the two of us study bones and practice language and worship words with every breath. i am perfect beneath his hands. he is flawless above my mouth. as the two of us lie still against ancient rocks. as we mimic what we have learned from restless books. as i say to him,

"i want to watch the world end with you."

earthbound, not injured

when i was young, i learned the names of human bones. i could take you apart in pieces and reassemble the etymology of your body. they taught me the names for hollows and curves, the ridged edges of each vertebrae, the interlocking framework of our fingers. but we lie in the dark together and i think of empty classrooms. nothing explains this- no textbook revision, no structured syllabus. my education fails me; you are made of magnets. graceful implied lines that draw tension, pulling me into orbit. angles i can't calculate, reversal of gravity beneath my hands. you teach me muscle memory in seven minutes, carve new paths across my sternum. and i am earthbound, free-falling, writing every fucking night.

 

a year and the pacific

i was working as a palliative care nurse that year, licensed and loaned for communion with the dying.  those hospital beds became homes, you know, sterile islands for survivors shipwrecked by their own bodies.  by degenerative neurological, by autoimmune, by AIDS, by cancer.

and he had a photo, yellowed with age, propped up against a cheap vase filled with crumbling flowers.  he was young in this picture, all mirrored shades and dirty hair, his arm slung around a pretty slip of a girl with pale curls and straight teeth.

"kelly," he said once, his eyes glazing over.  "is she coming back soon?"

and i told him yes, then dosed him with morphine.

i listened to grandparents calling out for their children's children, heard the aged and weary talk to invisible monsters in the clutches of dementia.  they told me about past lives, old friends, favorite haunts, estranged families.   i changed catheter bags and took confessions.  so i waited for him to tell me about kelly, but he never did.  and she never came.

non-hodgkins lymphoma took him like a bullet to the chest, pressing against his lungs with fluid malignancy, slowing down his breathing.  i watched his legs purple with bruises that blossomed overnight like vivid, terrible flowers.

and while he slipped in and out of comas, i waited for someone to come for him.  maybe even kelly, her hair silvering with age and lines of grief etched around a mouth that once beamed so brightly for the polaroid camera.

but his bedside always stayed empty, an unread invitation returned to sender.

and the last night i heard his labored breathing drag to a ragged, painful crawl, i asked him,"what do you need?"

he said, "give me a year and the pacific.  i will find her again."

 

write drunk, edit sober

forget my legs around your hips, forget your lips against my ear, forget my teeth against your neck. and replace you with the taste of strangers in my mouth, searching every night in the bottom of bottles but i can never fucking find it.  i have never even come close.  i can only know the hard edges of motel card keys, the smell of smoke in my clothes, your creased and folded obituary. i read it time and time again.  and i can't get this any clearer, can't fight this off- it's six months later and i am still always fucking graveside.  thinking about the time you said, mimi, i want to spend the rest of my life with you.  no drink lasts long enough.  no night is savage enough.  nothing ever comes close and i wake up to bruises on my arms and blood in my mouth.

monsters in the glass

sometimes it is the things that are not said between the things that are, a glimpse and a crevice of what could have been and who you could be.

my mind is a remote that skips away the possibilities.

you might as well be anyone.

and if our fingers ever click into place like metacarpal puzzle pieces, do not be alarmed.

we are only ever malleable metals shaped by need- press onto me.

i will bend before i break.

 

sound the alarm, i've got a fire in my chest

you are beautiful beneath my fingertips, around my body, against my skin during those off-kilter moments when your mind is probably a world away but next to you my heart is pounding.

i feel like a third grade kid at her birthday party when i look at you. and i want time to solidify like glass windows and trickle down slowly, minutely. it makes my vena cava knot itself into a noose. i know that i could never have you forever. so for the moment, as my face tries to find a home against your shoulderblades and my fingers clutch at yours' like a child, i imagine putting on my birthday girl tiara and seeing everyone throw balloons and streamers.  you're my day of celebration, the moment that makes me grateful for being alive.

here in this bed, my heart is swelling past my rib cage.

if i had the power to make people feel this way about me, i'd be immortal too.

you said "i love you" and i really believed you

all lights are out and all bets are off.

we stand in the driveway of my childhood home, your lean lines a sprawling angular darkness against my car, my awkward hands anchored in pockets. i stare up at a face i've known for five years, loved for four, and resented for god-knows-how-many. here we are finally strangers because my tongue has swollen to a clumsy, unfamiliar mass and i am tripping over words that are an alien language. the semantics of relationship.

autumn winds are rising and this coldness is no longer restrained to the dead space between our bodies as i fumble for your fingers and they latch together like bad puzzle pieces.

remnants of childhood corkboard that has been pressed, pushed, and creased in the corners.

 

how to eat your own flesh

i keep waiting to feel it, but it never comes.

i keep waiting for it to hurt, but it never does.

you pack up your things in makeshift boxes, jumbled hurriedly in haphazard piles. she's waiting by the door, keys in hand.

you ask me if this is mine, or if that is yours, and how would i like to split those. i respond like an automaton, hollow and hardwired for monosyllable.

and i think about the day you moved in, the day we drank cheap boxed wine and started painting the walls lime-green. and we gave up, laughing, so you played grand theft auto while i slept in your lap. it was 20 degrees outside, but we stayed so warm. we ordered thai food and i wore that blue dress, but the paint was still drying when you pushed me up against the wall and slid your hands up my legs. and that dress was ruined but we were still drunk and and everything was okay. that night, we slept on the living room floor and you whispered i'm gonna love you until the day i die.

you are dead now, and so am i.  she waits for you, red lipstick and tight jeans.  and i wonder with no real curiosity if you will love her too. if you will make her a home in your arms, if you will put a ring on her finger. she steals guilty glances at me while you pack the last box of clothes. she says i'm sorry and i know that she isn't but none of it matters and i barely hear the sound of your keys dropping against the kitchen table for the very last time.

years ago i would have wrecked these walls with blood spray and holes in the shape of my fists.  years ago i would have lined up ten shot farewells to chase down the memory of you.  that bitter fucking pill.

but now it is november, and texas has never been quite this cold.  i'm alone in the living room, staring at that half-painted wall.  and i am waiting for the wound that isn't there, the heartbreak that never comes.

untouchable, unbruised.

i wouldn't change this if i could.

staying alive

when you were young you lived in stagnant ways, with bottles piled around your pillowcase and my underwear littering your dingy room. sold your soul for motel card keys.  the stage was set to collapse.  it wound you up and drew you in. you with those stained sheets and bloodshot eyes. rubbing your wrist. fumbling with your hair. my anemic arms around your waist and the die had been cast to spill.

when you were young, you kissed me on the mouth and pushed back my unwashed hair so you could feel the pulse of my neck below your fingertips. because we were rarely alive. it tied you down and made you cry. you with those tired eyes and indifferent air. veins like crystal. mouth like starving.  and those nights i was not enough, our skin strained and i tore my hair out screaming as you pushed me off your bed and took whatever could fit into your syringe. shook it off with pills and booze. it filled you up and sucked you dry.

when you were young, you lived in a hospital bed. and you memorized the sterile ceiling tiles in order to replace my smudged lipstick smile. sold your body for anesthesia, the city was built to crumble. oh my god the world was carved in so much white, so much fucking white and fluorescent lights- it drew you shut with corset eyes and i screamed and i screamed and i fucking screamed. with a voice that was not loud enough. a voice that was not strong enough.

close the windows, love. i don’t want to see the world outside. i don’t want to hear the paramedics shouting or watch the glow of the ambulance follow us here. here where the nighttime is cool and soft and your eyes can finally open. here where i can hold your weightless bones and give you my ragged, primal breath like we are young again. it holds you still and stands you up. you with the hollow body and exploding veins.

we will survive. we will survive. the stage is set to start again.