Pi

The thing I didn’t mention about my birthday is my toes.

Okay, I did mention my toes.

My shoes.

What I didn’t mention is that since I’ve lost the heels people would compliment with envy; the beauty, the stride, and the height… if I’m wearing a pretty dress I don’t know what to do with myself.  Work flats don’t go with strappy dresses and boots make me look like a streetwalker.  Thankfully, this is Los Angeles, so in a pinch, a pair of glittery flip flops will do the trick.

In my travels I’ve discovered a thing or two.

In Massachusetts, I’m a high maintenance clusterfuck.

In Los Angeles, I get called “busted” because I don’t paint my toes.

It feels stupid to say out loud, but an athlete may define himself by a weight class or a line drive.  An intellectual is allowed to hold their identity in their ability to reason and recall.  My strength, my beauty, my ferocity, and my ambition were expressed in a wickedly vast, slick salvaged, bargain basement, sky high heel collection.

It’s pre-party and only Jenna and Nikki are at the house, unpacking extra wine glasses and opening makeup cases.  I’m hovering, vibrating in flux; a weird sad hummingbird tittering around my shoe based insecurity.  If I have to wear flats, I should at least put on nail polish.  Like looking good after a breakup, it’s less about inducing longing and more about the fact that you just can’t have any kinks in your armor.  No notches that don’t bend or holes in the armpit.  You can’t let the fragile parts show.

It’s only when I get on the ground that I realize I don’t think I can do this.  The bending and reaching.  The time it will take on one side.  I realize the physical impossibility of it.  No.  It’s your birthday.  Don’t cry.

As always, with a dumb sense of fight that can’t be cured despite an ever mounting pile of losses, I struggle to put all of my weight on my left side and prop myself up with my left elbow as I reach for the polish.

“You want me to do that for you?”  It’s Jenna.  It’s a simple question.

“I got it.”  I smile.  And I do have it.  I do.  I’m deftly painting my left toes almost like you might expect a girl to do.  From a distance, I could fake it.  You’d never know.  I finish, satisfied, and then stupidly look to my right.  I twist.  I bend.  I grope.  I fail.  I can’t do it.  I just can’t.  There’s just no way to paint my right toenails without gross bodily harm.  I am kicking and screaming inside, fighting to do it, dying to do it, and I feel the tears welling up as I turn to Jenna and start to open my mouth.

It seems so simple to allow someone to help you.  I know if I were seeing it from a distance I would wonder why it was so hard.  Hell, even up close and experiencing it I wonder why it’s so hard.  Shouldn’t it just be like letting a tall person grab a box of cereal for you when you can’t reach?  But it isn’t.  You were never tall enough to reach that cereal.  But just yesterday, or at least, the last time you checked, you could paint your own damn toenails.  Your life is suddenly full of surprises, painful puzzles you never see coming, over and over again, unexpectedly having to solve an equation that never seems to be done.  You get ready to do something you’ve done a thousand times, like sit in a chair, or drive a car, or paint your own stupid nails… and you can’t.  You can’t, and you don’t know how to live your life without everything you knew to do before sickness.  You don’t know the first way around it.  And when you finally start to figure it out, you realize that the answer is just a damn circle.  A snake eating it’s tail.  An answer you can keep solving for day in and day out, from the moment you wake up till your head hits the pillow, and you’ll still never be finished.  Pi.

I realize why asking for help is so hard.  It is because with every concession, you feel you are reneging on a piece of your humanity.  In every trip I have to tell my friends I can’t take, in every part of my body I can no longer get my fingers to, I’m losing a sense of adulthood, autonomy, and self.

But Jenna is still looking at me.  And she’s a nurse, she’s not dumb.  She can see I can’t reach.

“Yeah,” I whisper, “Maybe I do need you to do the other side.”

And I scoot across the floor towards her.  Grieving my losses while thanking whatever goodness there is left in the universe that someone is still there offering help.  Because for now, whether I like it or not, I’m still solving for pi.

And today’s flavor is humble.

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Portraits

A little over two years ago, I started taking photographs.

I started taking photographs of the gowns I wore – the pills I took.

I started taking photographs of pain.

At first, I thought it was a weird, pop culture, selfie compulsion… but I wasn’t sharing these photos.  They never touched a twitter or a tumblr.  They never left my phone.

For months this went on; needle after needle, table after table, crumpled white medical paper and a camera phone.

When my boyfriend left, I cried and told my mother I finally figured out why I was taking these pictures.  I don’t look sick.  I look like a normal girl.  And in trying to be happy, in trying desperately to be normal, I look from the outside like nothing is wrong.  Or, if something is wrong, it can’t possibly be too bad.

Somewhere deep inside, afraid that no one believes me, I have been documenting my descent.  Can anybody hear me?

Last week a friend told me he had been suffering from a disease for over a year.  It took them that long to diagnose him, and silently, secretly, he suffered.  I wanted to tell him that I understood, that I truly understood, but how can you?  And then I realized that in the midst of my completely inward terror, I had somehow created a tiny bit of good to give.

Better than a billion of my stupid, useless words.  Portraits.

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My Girl

The day I was born, my father didn’t speak.  He sang.

They wrapped me in a bundle and put me in his arms; the youngest, the first and only girl.  There’s a faded picture of him cradling me, smiling, singing.

“I’ve got sunshine, on a cloudy day.  When it’s cold outside, I’ve got the month of May.  I guess you’d say, what can make me feel this way?  My girl, talkin’ ’bout, my girl…”

When I was four, before the 50’s diner shut down, my father would give me a dime to put in the jukebox, and tell me to play our song.  I would sit on his lap and he would give me half his milkshake.  We would sway under the neon lights and the fake car crashing through the wall until the Temptations sang their final note.

When I was fifteen, at a sock hop thrown by our church, I snuck up to the DJ.

“Play ‘My Girl’ for me?”  I asked, “It’s for my father.”

He smiled at me from across the room when it played, knowing who was responsible.

At twenty two, he went through my phone records.  I’d been living away from home for four years and paid for that phone.  He knew he had no right.  He found the international number of my British boyfriend, who he hated, and called him at 3am with a threat.

“Get out of my life!”  I screamed.  “I’m a full grown woman!”

My cat got sick that year, and was put in the animal hospital.  I remember driving up to see him from college, and passing my father in the waiting room.  We didn’t say a word to each other.  I looked at him through hard eyes and walked into the back room.

We grew farther and farther apart.  I left his faith.  I didn’t know how to talk to him anymore.  He told me that if he saw me running into a burning building, it was his job to rescue me.  I told him that I didn’t share his beliefs, that I was an adult, and I should have the same freedoms as everyone else.

We had a series of horrible fights, culminating in me shouting at him, “I don’t believe in your god!”  and storming out.

I went back to my place in Long Beach.  We didn’t talk for a while.

I am twenty four when my mother is hospitalized.  Only Dad and I come to visit her every day.  I curl up with her in her hospital bed, wishing with every ounce in my body that my love could heal.  I bring her chocolate milkshakes like the kind we used to get from the diner.  When visiting hours are over my dad and I drive back to their house together.  We don’t have the words to say anything, but in the car I hold his hand.

At twenty six, my world is shattered.  I was going to be married, and now I have nothing at all.  I gave up my home, my job, my car, and my life to move to Europe with my fiance, who has disappeared for a week.  When I finally get a hold of him to confront all of his lies, it’s too late.  I throw the ring across the room and cry.

“He wasn’t worthy of you.” My father tells me.  “Come home, come heal.”

When I didn’t leave my room for a month and did nothing but eat cheese and beer, he said nothing.  When I wandered the house in tears, he held me.  When I asked him if anyone would ever love me again, he said, “You are the bravest soul to walk away when you had to.  I know some who didn’t, and regretted it.  Someone will know your spirit, and someone will love you more than he was capable of.”

When I got a job and an apartment to get back on my feet, he lent me his car and told me he would miss having me in the house.

When I was twenty nine, my father got sick.  Truthfully, my father has been sick my entire life, and while his yearly hospitalizations have always made me nervous, over time I’ve learned to cope; it’s been happening for three decades.  This time was different.  He, along with my aunt and uncle, were throwing my Grandmother’s 95th birthday party.  I was on a flight, waiting for him to pick me up at the airport when I got the message that he wasn’t coming.  By the time they knew something was wrong, he was vomiting from the infection that had spread to his kidneys, and then to his blood.

“Can I see him?  Please, let me see him.”  I begged. I came from the airport as fast as I could.  But they wouldn’t let me in.

They take him into surgery before I have a chance to see him or tell him I love him.  I spend hours watching the little green tab on the screen above me, indicating that he is currently being operated on.  As the tab next to his name turns blue I exhale all the breath I feel I’ve been holding for eternity.  When they finally let me see him, I run to his bedside and cry.  He is pale, and he is tired, but he is alive.

They won’t release him from the hospital for a week.  He misses the party that he helped provide, the visits with all of the people who’ve flown in, the time with his mother, and I can’t stop the crying.  I realize that this was his entire childhood, and most of his life.  He’s taking it better than I am I think, because I’m realizing for the first time how many things have been taken away from him because he’s been sick.   How many things he’s had to lose.

I insist that I won’t leave Florida until they release him from the hospital, but on my last day there, they let him go.

Two months later, I have a grip on a clumsy piece of sidewalk chalk, and am drawing a large square in the middle of my parents’ driveway.  In the middle I write the words, “Dance Floor”.   I put my ipod speaker on the ground and breathe.  I don’t know why I’m nervous, but I’m nervous.  I ask my mom to call out my dad, who is in jeans and a ripped up shirt, having been working in the tool shed.

Suddenly I feel incredibly foolish, but he’s here, and I’m standing all done up in a white sundress, and I have to say it.

“Dad, it’s our 30th Father’s Day.  I realized it’s our 30th Father’s Day and I thought…”  I stammer  “I just know Dad, that the way things have gone, I might not ever get married.  There might not ever be a wedding or a reason to do this.  But this is our song, and this is our dance, and I’ll be damned if I let you… and this… pass me by because some guy I’ve never met hasn’t come along yet.  We always knew this was our song.  We always knew this was our dance… And I’m here, and you’re here, and you never know how long you get with anyone anyway…”   My eyes fill with tears as I ramble at him, but I manage to force it out.

“I love you, and for our 30th Father’s Day I want to have this dance with you.  Whether or not it ever happens anywhere else, it’s going to happen here.”

My mother hits a button and “My Girl” starts to play.

My father takes me in his arms, and dances with me.

Art. Cynicism.

Travis comes to visit me, but I’m blue, and I’m lousy company.  I shrug, and apologize for being in the doldrums.

“My body is broken and so is my heart.  That’s all I’ve got going on right now, and I don’t want to bore anyone with it.”

He tells me that people aren’t bored by me, and that everything has just happened, and is still happening, and really though, it’s ok.  I breathe out a sigh and let all my feelings of inherent failure out with it.

“I never knew what to expect for the future, you know?  I wasn’t a kid with a plan, ‘I’ll be a teacher, or a social worker, or an engineer.’  I never wanted kids, but I thought eventually, I’d love someone, they’d love me back, and we’d stick together.  Or I’d have a successful job that I truly loved.  I just figured by the time I was this old, I’d know at least one thing.”

“People are assholes.  That’s a thing.”

God bless Travis.  He can always make me smile.

Travis hates museums.  Just absolutely hates them.  But because I can’t sit down, hang gliding is too expensive, the zoo is forty minutes away, and the universe seems to hate him, I manage to convince Travis that we should go to MOCA, and check out contemporary art.

I love contemporary art because it can be horrible.  I love it because I neither feel the need to enjoy it or respect it.  I can love it, hate it, be completely transfixed, or call it a piece of dogshit (which it might literally be) and go on with my day.  I enjoy wielding this power.  There is an hour long video of someone chainsawing a post.  There’s a room full of sinister clowns weeping in terror over a dead naked body.  My favorite, however, is a disco ball sitting on top of a cheap orange wig in the middle of the floor.  That’s it.  That’s the entire fucking installation.  I’m feeling bad for the saps who volunteer to spend their days guarding these abominations for fear we might touch them.

In one room we enter, it’s dark, full of couches and sledgehammers.  There are headphones for us to listen in and a video projecting on the wall.  We listen.  Teenage girls’ faces turn blue, then pink, screaming, cracking mirrors, looking vapid, talking about denim and makeup and boys in high pitched autotuned, sped up voices.  I yank the headphones off and turn to Travis.

“Ugh,” I say, “It’s like…. dating.”

The guard at the door loses it.  Just loses it.  Doubles over and grabs his knees, laughing out loud.

“You need to stop dating in Los Angeles,” says Travis.

He’s right, and we both know it.  So we do what any reasonable, single people pushing thirty in the city would do.

We leave immediately, and go get beer.

Birthday to You.

I hate planning birthdays.

I just hate it.  I don’t like the stress of having to plan a whole party and make sure it goes well when all I want to do is relax and have fun.  I worry if everyone has enough ice.  I don’t like the fact that half the people who RSVP flake and I spend my lunch breaks reversing and revising the sushi reservation eighteen times.  I don’t like getting older anymore.  I guess I’ve hit that limit.

But I have Ash.  And Ash simply says things like, “I’m free on Saturday, it’s your birthday, see you then.”

As generous and sweet as she is ravenous and ridiculous, Ash shows up with cupcakes you didn’t order and a tiara you don’t want to wear because it is your birthday goddammit and you will enjoy it despite yourself.  Thank god for Ash, where would be without friends like her.

I get the feeling that my tough time planning celebrations harkens back to an ugly history of feeling let down.  Sometimes it just takes a kind hand to guide you and remind you that you’re not a kid anymore, you’re more resilient than you used to be, and regardless of what anyone else does, someone will show up with a damn tiara.  It’s your birthday.

It’s only been two weeks since the last time I spoke to Eddy.  Fourteen days is not a long time to grieve before having to go out and celebrate.  But Ash insists, so I’m insisting to myself, that I’ll have a good time.  Right now I’m just thinking that I have nothing to wear for this damn party.  I have felt out of place in all of my clothes since I lost the ability to wear heels.  My strength was in my extra five inches.  I’ve never been quite sure who I am closer to the ground.  But suddenly, as I’m pushing apart hangers, I am struck by the red dress I had picked out back in December.  The one I knew Eddy wouldn’t like, but I bought it anyway, because it was the first thing I’d found since I’d gotten sick that made me feel like I might still be beautiful.  I was going to wear it just for him, but now that it’s my body, my life, I’m pulling it out.    Life is far too short, and the red dress needs wearing.

The girls come up in a laughing, giggling swarm.  We tumble and swirl around the apartment, the old familiar energy I love.  The frenetic clash of curling irons and blush brushes, the leaning and bending into mirrors, the last eyelash curl before the taxis show up.  The lightness and the love.

Someone tells me I look beautiful, and even in my flat shoes with my hip donut, I somehow, crazily, feel a little beautiful.

We go out to sushi.  I remember this place.  Two weeks into dating Eddy, in the alley here he’d pushed me up against my car, kissing me until we pulled apart laughing, discovering black all over the backs of my calves from the wheel well.  I remember, but my new memories, stronger and searing and expanding by the second, are starting to eat the old.  We reach across each other for more edamame.  We curse chopsticks and shoot more sake.  We swap and taste and tell stories over miso soup.  I am happy.

The lights dim, and suddenly everyone is singing to me.  Ash has a point.  No matter how many years you may do it, there’s something special about people going out of their way to show you love.  I put the damn tiara on while they bring out a giant boat made of fruit.

When dinner’s over we trip back to mine for sweatpants, cupcakes, and card games.  I decide to make a move.  I plunge into my closet and grab Eddy’s birthday present, a sushi and sake set.  He had mentioned in passing several times over the summer how he had wanted one, and after raiding everywhere from Sawtelle to Little Tokyo, I determined nothing in Los Angeles was quite special enough for this man, and (way over my budget) had a set of four cups and plates handmade by a potter.  I have this weird thing with redeeming objects.  If I’m stuck with something that reminds me of you, I can’t get over it until I purge it.  If I can’t bring myself to purge it, I have to somehow make it right.

“Pour them out.” I say, setting the cups on the table.  Chloe, always prepared, has brought a bottle of sake.  Leave it to that girl to expect me to be brave.

“I knew you had it in you.”

“Just hush and let me sip one, I didn’t take my meds today.”

We laugh.  We share.  It was a work of art.  Far too beautiful to smash into the ground (Chloe’s original idea) it has a presence all it’s own.  I thought it was so precise, so exact, that it could only ever be meant for him, and what good was it otherwise?  It seemed wrong to regift something so carefully measured out and planned for someone else.  As it turns out, a room full of girls laughing and holding every piece seemed to soak the pain right out.  Redemption, right?  It all feels good.

It’s at this point that I remember the one thing I still have to get rid of.  He’s off my phone, out of my photographs, and away from my bed, but I still have these damn wine glasses.  The ones he bought each time he took me to a wine tasting.  His thing.  His thing that blew it all up.

“Who wants to smash some glasses tonight?!?”

And I know it sounds ridiculous, but we’re doing the only thing in the world that makes sense.  Trust me, it’s my birthday.  We march out of the apartment, down the stairs and to the car park, armed with glasses inscribed with the names of each and every place I want to forget.  I feel enlightened and I feel powerful and I feel – CRASH!  And the first glass shatters into the dumpster.  I jump, then I laugh, and as we keep going, I get lost in the giggle, the flurry, the buzz of love around me.

There is nothing else in this bedroom neighborhood but Saturday silence.

But here, in my home, there is the sound of girls with curled hair and false eyelashes, stumbling in high heels and short dresses, gasping, screaming – smashing memories into oblivion as we laugh into the night.

The Corner

I pursued my faith like a hungry animal.  I pursued it like my life depended on it.  I thought it did.

I don’t like to be mediocre at anything.  In college, my rabid quest to deconstruct my faith led to the belief that if I really wanted to understand the texts, I needed historical context.  I should learn ancient Greek… Aramaic?  I should study the book of Revelation.  This was important, I shouldn’t be lazy about it.   I was taught that sharing my faith would save others from eternal pain and suffering, but I didn’t want to start proselytizing without knowing what the hell I was talking about.

As a teenager, in the earliest stages of intellectual awakening, I realized I owed it to myself to have a spiritual and cerebral understanding of this stuff I had been baptized into at the age of four.  Through my earnest quest to discover the foundations of my Christianity, my faith started to unravel.  For a year I was angry, confused, and stagnant.  What was happening to me?  I got a new job, made a new friend, and on a random Saturday in her car, finally blurted out the words, “I’m not a Christian.”.  Suddenly the foundation of my life, the meaning and purpose of my humanity, the moral compass that guided my every action, and the focus of my lifelong goals evaporated in one honest instant.  It had meant so much to me and I had pursued it so genuinely that I could not deny the truth I had come to.  I cried.  I grieved the loss of my former self.  But I was done.

Contrary to the assumptions of my still faithful friends, I didn’t do this because I wanted to get away with drinking, drugs, sex, or anything else on the “forbidden” list.  I know plenty of people who claim Christianity, go to church every Sunday, and persistently engage in all of those things, without even acknowledging the incongruity of it all.  To me, backing away from faith didn’t even feel like a choice anymore; not if I was going to retain any integrity.  Once I finally said the words out loud, it just felt like admitting the truth.  And the truth hurt.  Emotionally, I wanted to keep Christianity close, but I knew it was impossible without taking a step back and trying to see the forest for the trees.  I told God I hoped that he felt the mind he made me was worth using, and that if I was honestly seeking, and he was who he said he was, I would eventually find him.  I went to the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem and pushed a prayer inside.  All it said was, “show yourself to me”.  It was the most honest thing I could think of.

I haven’t seen him yet.  A finite person, I’ll admit that doesn’t mean he/she/it/they/me isn’t out there, but in the six years since I left the faith I realized that I haven’t made as many changes as I thought.  I wasn’t ready to leap into enormous lifestyle changes without some thoughtful consideration, so in lieu of building a new value system, I’ve been stuck relating, (and maybe just reacting) to things the same way I always did.  Even though I no longer believed in the veracity of the Bible, I still had no other reference point for morality, self image, or my choices.  It is a miracle I survived my engagement and came out on the other side unmarried while still in this place.  It is damn near crippling in terms of humility to admit that I am a 27 year old woman who hardly knows herself, and barely likes herself, but at least it’s a place to start.

After this mega revelation, I find myself pausing all the time, trying to build a perspective, re-align my thoughts.  How am I responding?  It is based on years of  “religious” crap not even in the Bible?  Is it derived from knee-jerk reactions infused into my brain long before I was capable of critical thinking?  With every step, I’m forced to re-evaluate myself as an adult.

That is, if I want to be honest.

Being myself is fucking exhausting.

What has taken the longest to unlearn is that unconditional love is not love without boundaries.  It is a dog that yanks a leash, dragging along behind it my doubt that I am a good person to begin with.  That I come forth from a place of inherent failure.  That I need to give more, love more… no, not just love more, but be ok with loving “better” that the person who might or might not love me.  That is what Christ would want.  Cheek turning, and the like.  I am still learning that what I thought was the only was to love was an ugly little enabling game, with my heart stepping in for the role of piñata.  I could see this in other people, but not in myself, because my self esteem was so tragically low I did not feel worthy of anything better than the friends who stole from me, abused my kindness, and broke my heart.

One could argue that that’s not what Jesus meant, but one can always argue things about a guy who’s been dead for a few thousand years.  For me, it’s not really relevant at the moment.  For me, what’s relevant is that turning the other cheek when slapped might encourage that person to go around slapping people to get what they want.  That if I finally stand up, grip their wrist and tell them no, that stupid dog might learn to stop peeing on the rug.

My therapist has a field day with this shit.

What’s funny, I tell her, is that I always “knew” this stuff.  But I couldn’t see how it played out in my own life.  So entrenched was I in the belief that I was bad, shameful even, that I truly felt I was doing the right things.  Only when I started to learn how to have some value in myself, inherently, free of all other constraints, was I able to stop compensating for something I never was in the first place.  Unworthy.

There is a boy who wants me to love him.  I do, but not in the way he loves me.  It hurts, and he understands the right buttons to push.

“I will love you.”  He says, “Forever.” He says. “I’ll work my fingers to the bone to have you, tell me what to do and I’ll do it.”

I say to therapist, “I know I can do better than co-dependent.  I don’t feel it, but I know it.”

I say to therapist, “I have wasted my youth trying to love men I couldn’t make myself love.  I have finally established that my wants and needs are ok to have, and not everyone can meet them.  I am ready for a healthy exchange.”

I say to therapist, “He isn’t respecting my boundaries.  He doesn’t care how much he’s hurting me.  He thinks he knows better than I do about what’s good for me and what my future holds.”

“Then why do you keep answering him?”

She always asks questions that suck.  This is why I like her so much.  She is fucking fearless.

I start to tear up, and then I admit it, “It’s my biggest fear” and I’m crying, “That no one can ever love me.  That I will never, ever be enough.”

I grab a tissue, cough, pull at my hair, and then look at her.

“But I’ve figured something out.”

“And that is?”

“That if I can learn to like myself, I don’t need someone else to like me that ridiculous, unhealthy, codependent amount to feel secure.  If I’m healthy then I can accept healthy.”

She praises me, something I’m still not used to.  She tells me that I have emotional intelligence, and I’m unwilling to accept the backwash of the world as “just the way things are”.  I want to evolve.

“You’re a pioneer.” She says.

“But I’m afraid of change,” I tell her.  “I look terrible in coonskin caps.”

“It’s okay,” She tells me.

And incredibly, I am starting to believe her.

Doorways.

He isn’t the type to show up in your doorway, and that’s a good thing.

When I watch the wrong movie and the man tells the woman he respects her for her tenacity and strength, and that he wants her to be successful because she’s earned it, I cry; he doesn’t come.

When the janitor at work buys me flowers on my birthday that should have come from him, because she still loves me, but he doesn’t anymore, he doesn’t come.

When the rain hits the California ground for the first and only time all winter, not even enough to banish the edges of the drought, but enough to finally wash away the heart he drew with his fingertip on my driver’s side window, he doesn’t come.

He isn’t the type to show up in your doorway.

His pride is more important.  He will tell himself, and he’ll tell me, that it’s maturity.  He will save me, really, from the back and forth; the wavering, heart sucking, gut-wrenching act of pulling myself out of his arms, knowing somewhere deep down that in the end, all he’ll do is throw back a few too many and shatter me into a thousand pieces just like every time before.  His pride is saving me from suffering of a greater kind.  I know that.

And he doesn’t come.  And he doesn’t come.

And at two am I am up in the living room.

And he doesn’t come.

NYE

Three… two… one…  And the room goes wild.

He kisses me.  He tastes like you think a man should.  His arms are wrapped around me, clutching my back to shield me from the crowd.  We are pressed tight, an ocean of champagne and shouting.

He downs the last of an enormous beer, crashes the glass to the ground, and rides us through the crowd, throwing elbows to get to the door.  He has flown across an ocean to be here, and I am lost in something adolescent and amorous.  It’s perfect.

Stumbling out of an Irish Pub in Boston, I grip his arm in the darkness.  We laugh and slip in terror, gliding over the ice.

He climbs into bed.  With his shirt off and my hand on his chest, I breathe a sigh of relief.  Our faces close in the darkness, I am still.  The awareness of his skin, his heartbeat on my fingertips, the smell of him in the air – tells me that he’s really here.  After nearly six years, he’s here.  And when I wake in the morning I won’t be counting down the days to the next plane ticket, wondering if he’ll ever be here again.

I sleep.

I sleep clean through the freezing night.

Horizontal

The field on which


I hated the way you said I had no “values” because I see people with compassion.  Because I believe love has solved more problems than condemning ever has.  Because I believe your version of justice would leave the world with blank eye sockets and toothless gums, choking down their own teeth.

I hated the way you thought that being an upstanding citizen meant looking down on everyone who had it less together than you did.  That if you learned a lesson two years ago you were better than the person learning it today.  That I must be basking in secret sin to be capable of forgiving anyone I saw committing it.  That I was tempting fate by not treating those who have failed with scorn.

I hated how you actually used the term “that guy” constantly.  As in, “I’m not that guy” whenever discussing behavior you felt was beneath you, because as we all know, there are nice guys, and there are douchebags, and you sir, because you don’t smoke or chew or go with girls that do, are a nice guy, and are deserving of a virginal white princess.  If a girl deigns to stir emotions within you (or show an inch more of skin than you have secretly deemed appropriate) she is a slut and a bitch.  It’s better to say, “I’m not that guy” any time I offer solid solutions to proactively work around my illness or urge you to take time off with just the boys, rather than take me up on it and relax for a second.  Better to resist and insist to the point of being insulted, then throw it back in my face six months later.  That’ll teach me.

Since I’m a liar, and faking all of these hospital visits and needles in my spine, I’m probably just a few more hits short of spontaneous healing, so why keep pulling punches, sweetie?  Just let ’em fly.

I sometimes want to beat myself up for not seeing through you, but I am not a mind reader, a soothsayer, or a ghostbuster; and you are quite the genius masquerader, self convincer, and pious martyr.  Glorious be thy name.

A tip of the hat, sir.  You are quite the specimen.

I woke up with a sore shoulder yesterday, because I sleep horizontally on the bed now.  That’s how fucking gone you are.

Too

It isn’t until the morning after – the sunlight streaming through the half ripped out vertical blinds – that I really feel like shit.

I only had one drink last night, followed by plastic cup after plastic cup of water, and a cold walk in the dark from downtown.  I had spent two hours crying on Travis’s bathroom floor, my phone, screaming drunken accusations, all in text.  Having broken up three days prior to New Year’s Eve, we thought maybe we could talk it out.

“I just don’t want to be around you while there’s all this alcohol.” I said. “I don’t think it’ll help things.”

I asked if I could just go downtown and spend some time with my friends instead of spending the evening alone, because everything was so volatile.  We needed to talk, just not then.

“Okay, sure.” He tells me.

But at two am the texts start rolling in.

“You bitch, you liar. You did this.  I didn’t do this, you did.  This is over, it’s your fault.”

Dumbfounded, I call a thousand times, but he never answers.

“You’re a liar.  You lied to me, I don’t give a shit you fucked up.”

I take off from the bar downtown, a taxi at this time of night is an impossibility, and run as fast as my broken hip can take me down the street, trying to get away from the chaos.  Trying to get him to call me back.  But he won’t.

“You’re in heels you bitch.”

What?!?  I send him pictures of my feet, my shoes… I have a destroyed pelvis.  For the last nine months they have poked me, prodded me, injected me, mangled me, found tumors, diseased bursa, and inflamed bone marrow, but they still don’t know what’s going on.  God, I’m not wearing heels.  He thinks I’m somehow betraying him with footware.

But he won’t respond, he won’t respond.

I’m tripping down the street, sobbing, when down the dark side street, a cab pulls over.

“Honey, what wrong, why you crying?”

But I can’t get any words out.

“Honey, it’s ok.  It’s ok.  I’ll take you home.”

Hysterical, I get into the taxi.  I manage to squeak out the only address I know where I can go to be safe.

The cab pulls up to Travis’s house, and the driver won’t take any money.  He tells me to go inside and that everything will be ok.  “Everything ok!”  He keeps saying, as he pushes the cash back into my hands. I call Travis.

“Travis… are you home?”

“What’s wrong.” He can hear it in my voice.

“I’m downstairs, can you get me?”

The part of this I most wish wasn’t true is that once Travis let me in to his bathroom and lent me a pair of oversized pajamas, I continued to try to beg sense into a drunk man for the next two hours, pulling off my false eyelashes on the bathroom floor.  He’s still screaming, swearing in writing, but he won’t take any of my calls.  Or my thousand requests for Facetime to prove I was where I said I would be.  I was doing what I said I would be doing.  I am frantically texting pictures of my face, my feet, the room, Travis, and begging please.  Please.  I don’t understand.  Why are you doing this to me? Please.  Please.  And so many other stupid words and phrases that turned out to just be words strung together that should have meant something but didn’t.

I stayed on that cold floor until four am.  Begging and grasping and completely lost.  I love him so much.  Why would he do this to me?  Why is he doing this?

And then I realize he is doing this because he has been drinking.  And I realize this is never going to end.  And after all that I feel an amazing sudden clarity; and I realize everything that I need to do next.  I send him a message, and I turn off my phone.  I wash my face, and climb into the far side of Travis’s bed, wearing his old sweats.  I tell myself I’m not going to cry there, but I keep crying there, then asking if it’s ok with his girlfriend that I’m there, then crying again, then saying I’m done crying, then crying some more.  He reminds me that the living room is freezing, that his girlfriend is a secure and kindhearted person, and that we’ve known each other since we were eleven.  It’s ok.  I cry some more and tell him I’ll try to shut up, but since I’ve cried so much I think I’ll probably snore.

Travis falls asleep immediately.

Travis snores.

In the morning, when the sun shines in too bright and it’s maybe only three hours later, we get up, because it’s too light to sleep.

“I want to make you breakfast.” He says, because he is a good friend, and because my stomach is empty, and because I have black rings under my eyes and am in desperate need of care.  I tell him that’s sweet, but not to worry.

“I have eggs!”  He yells, before realizing they’re past the expiration date.

“Eh, whatever.” I say

“You really want to take that kind of a chance?”

“I’m feeling lucky.”

I pause.

“Oh fuck it, I’m feeling the opposite of lucky.  I’m feeling a million times worse than lucky, but I’m feeling so terrible that a couple of bad eggs couldn’t make things any worse.”

Travis laughs.

“Everything you say sounds like it’s a quote from a book or a movie or something.”

“I think men fall in love with me because of that and then leave me when they realize I’m an actual person.”

He hugs me.  We go to Ralphs for eggs.

We make and enjoy breakfast.  I hand him my phone as it turns back on and ask him if there was anything not hideous or hateful said as it rings 8 or 9 times, indicating all the texts to wade through.  Travis checks the phone.

“No.” He says decidedly.  So I don’t read them.

About an hour later, another one comes through.

“Everything after last night just left me more confused that ever…”

And confused myself, I read every last hateful word from the night before until I am unshakeable.  And all I do is copy, word for word, the final text I sent before I turned off the phone.

“If you are confused, allow me to clarify.  By the time I come home, I want all of your things out of my house.  I want you to put your keys on the table by the door, and I want you to leave, and never, ever come back.”

He tells me he can’t get there.  He tells me this, he tells me that.  He gives a thousand reasons and excuses but he has a functioning car and his crap in my home so he’d better remove it.  I ignore him.  Travis illegally downloads Catching Fire so I can watch it since my bent up body doesn’t allow me to sit in theater chairs, and surprisingly it turns out that movies where lots of people die can be hard to watch after you’ve just suffered a major loss.  I cry, then say it’s a great movie, then cry, then say I love Lenny Kravitz, then cry some more.

Enough people have died in the film at this point that I’m starting to lose it.  I ask Travis to pause the movie and he does.  He has me covered in blankets with a heater straight on me, but I’m still shivering.  He comes over to pat my back as I cover my face with my hands and start to sob.  The hateful words said to me.  The loss of love I thought would last.  The disintegration of everything I planned around me all over again.  And it’s only because I’m so broke and vulnerable, only because I’ve been ripped up one side and down the other, only because my nerves are raw and my heart is bleeding and my dreams are crushed, do I suddenly whisper in his hear what I’ve been stuffing into corners, hiding under cheerfulness and positive platitudes, afraid to say out loud to anyone for the last nine months.

“Jon died.  Jon died.  I could die too.”

“I’m scared.”

And he holds me.  He holds me like a good friend would.