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.

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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.

Away We Go

We’re having a beer at the pub, and me being me, I’m being an asshole.  Other than a brief flirt at an alumni event, I hadn’t seen Kyle in about a month.  I’d skipped town, and he’d facebooked me, asking to hang out while I was surfing in Central America.

“You were ridiculous,” I chide him, and grin.  “You knew I was going to be gone.  Are you high?”

“Well, I couldn’t.” He says.

“Couldn’t what?”

“I couldn’t, you know, let you think you went to Costa Rica for two weeks and I didn’t care.”

I hadn’t expected that.  I smile.

“Well,” – And I’m feeling bolder – “If it makes you feel any better, I did go to the mixer with the intention of flirting with you.  My boss said, ‘Really?  An alumni mixer?’ and I said ‘I’m gonna flirt with a guy from summer school!  I have a plan!’.”

He grins.  “Sealed the deal for me.  Abbie Cooper’s going?  Done.”

There’s a blush of something, and we’re touching under the table.  And I don’t know what the hell feelings are, because it’s been so long, but I think these are feelings.

And then there’s a spark.  We walk from the pub and I turn on my heels, short pressed up against him.  “I think you should kiss me,” I say, “I know you want to.”  And he does.  He does and up on my toes I feel the universe wake up again.  The power lines buzz and the punks of Venice run down main street, but there is no one else in the world, nothing but electric. Nothing at all.

“Let’s find a place.”

We sit, my bare legs across his lap, and we can’t keep our hands off each other or our faces apart.  It’s bad.  We know it.  “We should get out of here,” I giggle, “They hate us.”.  But we can’t stop.  Whispering.  Leaning in.  He has a hand between my knees and I’m breathing onto his neck, telling secrets in his ear.  There is nothing but electric.  Nothing at all.

There is vodka and electric.  There is sin in the air.

“Let’s get out of here.”

It’s too much, I think.  It’s too much and it’s too fast.  But I’m lost in the blur.  I feel something.  It isn’t love, but it’s something.  And we should wait but we can’t wait and it’s in the darkness and –  and his hand pulls behind my back, into him, and we move, quiet.  Then laughing, kissing, pulling back; embarrassed, scared, unsure, but wanting.

In the morning, he asks me not to go, but I have to.  Okay, I don’t have to.  Okay, but I’m saying I have to because it’s too soon to act like I have nowhere else to be.  He kisses me goodbye, and it’s only then I realize it’s the first time I’ve kissed an unfamiliar mouth in about four years.

The morning moves on, I visit my friends, I have my day.  But I’m bursting from the inside out.  At night it’s quiet, it’s dark in my room, and then I hear my phone.

“You should be here,” He says, “I would like that.”

And I try to sleep, but I can’t.  There is neon buzzing in my veins.  Electric, electric, electric.

There we go.

Brains

Rising from the ashes of a broken engagement took some considerable time.  After eighteen months of scrubbing off the grey, I started to wade into the real world again.  For the first time in a long time, I started to accept invitations.  I started to go out alone, and I felt myself laugh again.  Now every new thing feels a bit like cliff diving, and slowly but surely, I am testing the waters.

At my Alma Mater’s homecoming game, I grin and bear it as I shut down painful questions about my non-existent wedding from well wishers who don’t know any better.  I’m tougher than I used to be; this whole thing has thickened my skin so much that a hot iron poker wouldn’t phase me.  I break away from the crowd searching for friends from my scholarship program, and I see a face, then a hand poke out of the crowd and start waving towards me wildly.  I check over my shoulder to be certain he’s waving at me before realize, it’s Kyle.  Kyle who threw toga parties downstairs in the left wing of the D building.  Kyle who organized mud football behind the dorms.  Kyle who somehow turned from awkward and acne covered to impossibly adorable without any of us realizing it some time between freshman year and graduation.

“Hey kid!” I hug him and he hands me a beer.  We start to catch up over watered down Budweisers.  He’s been working in Tustin.  He’d spent some time in Greece.  He starts to ask me what I’ve been up to but as I open my mouth to answer, his old frat brothers, clad in neon and jumping and screaming, come tripping over one another to fetch him for the mechanical bull.  They’ve been waiting all day and it’s finally his turn; they pulled his number.

I smile, “Looks like your time has come.”

“Chug it!” He shouts.  So we do.

“I’ll find you once it’s over.” He says as they’re dragging him away.

“Have fun!” I holler after him.  But I’ve had about as much strained socializing and drunken bull riding as I can take in one afternoon.  I duck into the crowd and make my way towards the parking lot.

A few days later, Kyle adds me on facebook.  He doesn’t say anything to me, but I add him, and I’m scrolling through his profile when I see a rather snarky status update.

“Listen folks, it’s mind boggling, not mind botting, how could you get that wrong?”

I see this, and I think I’m smart, so I say “For all intensive purposes, it’s mind bottling.”  Then, concerned he might not realize I’m joking, say, “If you don’t get it I’ll have to come over there and personally bottle your mind.”

Facebook makes a keyboard sound at me.  Oh, I have a message from Kyle.  Private message?  Hmmm.  Brain says something, but not sure what.

“All right,” the message says, “You’re gonna have to bottle me.”

I pause for a second, then – “I know where Tustin is.  I could get over there and bottle you in half an hour.”

Is this flirting?  If it is, then I’m bad at it.

He tells me he’s never bottled before, but bugled once in college, and seriously though, we should hang out.

We pick up a slow volley of texting until someone is free on a Sunday.

“There’s that Stanley Kubrick exhibit at LACMA I really want to see.”

“Yes!  I’ve been dying to see it.  Let’s go.”

We agree to a day at the museum, and I tell myself not to think about it too much.  Based on an off-handed gaze he gave me across a dorm room , I had casually determined that he thinks I’m cute, but I was three sheets to the wind and that was a long time ago.  Brain is still trying to tell me something, but not sure what.

***

Kubrick films are like sex instruction movies.  You think you’ll get all hot and bothered but it’s actually supremely technical, a bit uncomfortable, and totally weird.

Enter the exhibit, stage left.  We rifle through things and sheepishly admit how many of the films we haven’t seen as we progress.  We stop in front of the woman shaped tables from A Clockwork Orange.

Him: “That’s a cool table, but you couldn’t put your drink on it.”

Me: “Nah, you totally could.  You’d just have to balance it.  Right here. (I wave my hand above the tables pelvis) On her torso.”

Is this dating?  If it is, then I’m bad at it.

Still, I’m laughing, I’m smiling again.  I don’t know what’s supposed to exist outside of that at this point, but it feels like a step in the right direction.  The museum turns into grabbing dinner which turns into beers at my place.  And my place, having recently been vacated by the roommate who owned everything, is catastrophically empty.

“It looks like a crack den.” He offers.

“My crack den has crown moulding” I say as I point.

I have no couch to speak of, so he lays on the floor.  I lower myself beside him, and we’re inches away, looking at the ceiling, but not touching.

It’s awkward.

We talk about the exhibit, about how we wish we didn’t have to work tomorrow.  And after the beer he gets up, and I hug him goodbye.  No moves made, he’s probably not interested, and in a way, I’m relieved.  Regardless, I feel like I just had a good day with a friend, and that’s more than I imagined I could feel in almost a year and a half.

“I’ll take it.” I think.  And satisfied unto myself, prepare to release it into the universe.

He’s in the driveway, walking off, and I’m watching his back and his tall frame get smaller as he goes.  Then suddenly he turns, smiles, and says, “What are you doing next Saturday?”

He thinks I’m cute.

I knew it.

Battle Scars

There’s battle scars on all my guitars but I still come out here and play – Ozma

At this point, I’ve given up on the idea that any one of these surgeries will cure me.  When people smile and say lovely things like, “It’s so great, after this surgery you’ll be better!”  I smile and agree politely, sighing inside, anticipating the pity and disappointment that will follow when it doesn’t work.  After ten doctors and two years of promises, you grow weary, and wary, of hope.  You just can’t afford it anymore.

My new pain management team tells me to keep my chin up.

“I know it’s been two years now, and you’ve probably been sliced and diced twelve ways to the wind, but stick with it. Pelvic pain is notoriously difficult to diagnose.  Keep with it.”

They are encouraging, but I am exhausted.  I have been sliced, diced, filleted, split open, parts removed, cauterised, injected, hospitalized, had my hip capsule pierced by a needle and my insides pumped full of botox.  I am so, so tired.

My body, for the last two years, has been completely out my control.  And while I have somewhat adapted, learning to relinquish my will in each defeat and go with the flow, I hurt; feeling as if I’ve lost myself while pain dictates where I go, how I dress, who I see.  At some point, I stopped shopping for clothing.  I realized I couldn’t control the weight I kept gaining and losing on all the medications, I couldn’t wear heels, I never felt sexy anymore.  Dressing became a hateful burden.  I despise my body for doing this to me.  How can you lovingly adorn something you can’t stand to look at?

My identity continued to shrink as I moved out of my apartment.  I lived with caretakers here, friends or a boyfriend there.  Another surgery I didn’t plan on.  Another doctor in another town.  Another month without a home to call my own.  At some point I started living out of just a duffel bag.  Shuffling from place to place, grateful for a place to lay my head but reduced to something a little less than human.  Feeling like everyone in proximity is functioning on a higher level, and me, a prisoner to my pain, washing the three T-shirts I live in, sleeping in a borrowed bed.

My body, that monstrous betrayer, that son of a bitch, has been put through the wringer for it’s sins.  As such, it bears the marks of the excruciating journey.  A scar on the inside of my arm where they botched the IV.  Three large round holes in my right hip from the arthroscopy, three rips down my stomach from laproscopic surgery, a gash across my pelvis when they realized I was too damaged for the lap.  They cut me open, peeled my congealed organs off each other, cut out six tumors, and sewed me up.

I feel ugly.  I put on a bikini and the red and purple scars scream the story of my brokenness inside.  I dye my hair so I can pretend to be someone else.  I hide.  I don’t speak up for myself.  I hope, for the first time in  my life, to be invisible.  All these scars, these ugly scars.  I take off my clothes and stand in the mirror, wondering who in the world would ever want to look at this ugly, ruined body.  Between the curve of my waist and the tops of my legs, I have been neatly ripped apart and pulled together so many times that I look and feel like a raggedy doll, repaired and restitched over and over and over again.

I remember my last surgery: I wake up with a start and call out for someone to notice me.  The nurses come and adjust the tubes and hoses, the stuffed animal placed in my arm.  They give me morphine and tell me I’ve been talking gibberish.  I hadn’t washed my hair, so frizzy, haphazard curls swirl awkwardly around my face.  I am ghostly pale and blotchy with acne from the hormones, my lips chapped and dry, a tube up my nose and a catheter between my legs.  I am bound up in bloody bandages.

He is the first to come see me, and when he does, he gently pushes the frizz out of my face, and kisses my forehead. Careful of the tube in my nose, he touches my cheek as he looks at me.  The first, and only words he says:

“Hello, Beautiful.”

And I feel in my bones there is strength to keep going. That there is a chance left in me to love.