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.

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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.

Young Love

I should preface this by saying I’m too old for this now, and I need to stop staying up way past my bedtime, but I can’t help it.  Maybe it’s something about wandering around, barefoot on linoleum in men’s pajama pants that gets my creative juices flowing.  This is the time of night where I’ll eat six things that don’t go together and really enjoy myself; a bowl of cereal, fritos with salsa, some leftover sweet potatoes.

It sounded good at the time

I don’t know how my mind wanders to these places when I’m sleepy, but I got to thinking about a conversation I had earlier about the crushes I had when I was a kid.  At the tender age of ten, I fell madly in love with an angelic and symmetrically featured Denzel Washington during a screening of The Preacher’s Wife.  At eight, reruns of Back to the Future kept me glued to our television throughout the commercial breaks, ever anxious that I’d miss a glimpse of Michael J. Fox in a cool orange vest.  At six, I adoringly admired Harrison Ford while trying to stay up late on the couch beside my father, who was dutifully indoctrinating me with a love of Indiana Jones, although perhaps not quite the kind of love he’d hoped for.

One could say I was a bit of a precocious child when it came to love, but one would be wrong.

Case in point, when I was four, I was absolutely, positively certain that I was going to marry one of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.  Don’t ask me how.  While not assured about the legality or formality of such a union, at four I figured, “It’ll work itself out.”.  I’m not sure how I got this idea into my four year old head in the first place, but my guess is that it may have had something to do with the fact that you’ve got better odds with four to choose from.  After all, in the end, only one of them could pin down the ever elusive April O’Neil, leaving three for me to choose from.  Well, two if she doesn’t choose Donatello.  Because come on, who freaking likes Donatello?

I think I had a hard time choosing between Raphael and Michelangelo.  Looking back, this makes a lot of sense because even at that point, they represented pretty major facets of my personality.  Raphael of course is cool but crude.  Awesomely sarcastic and slightly agro but only masking a fierce loyalty to the brothers green.  Michaelangelo is a party dude, and who can resist the allure of that?  Leonardo was all right, but he was kind of like the Red Power Ranger.  He just…. leads… for some reason we have yet to understand.  Still, better than Donatello.  Donatello is the Peter Chris of the Ninja Turtles.

I can’t say exactly how this obsession faded.  I never liked barbies or baby dolls and just sifted my way through Hot Wheels, Play-Doh, and unrealistic love interests over time.  What I can say is that since then I’ve moved on to bigger and better things.  Next up, Zach Morris.

Turtle Power!   I mean….

Stupid Things I Say

“How are you? I am willing everything to be ok from here. I know I likely don’t have those kind of powers, but I’m using this situation to hone said powers to every plausible extreme. Hopefully at the end of it, we’ll both realize that you’re doing fantastically and I’m a little psychic.”

Some days I feel like everyone’s relationship to me is based on whether they think the stupid shit I say is funny. Then after that, it’s based on if they know my brother, because his stupid shit is funnier than my stupid shit. Then after that, it’s based on my boobs. Because, hey, boobs.

I hope some people just like me.

He Says His Name is Nigel

He says his name is Nigel. It’s like I have a homing device for British men. I’m squirming, but he’s too drunk to notice. He has a martini in one hand, a stain on the shirt under his suit jacket, and I’m looking at chandeliers, padded lounges, and girls resembling porn stars. Anything so I don’t have to look at him.

His fingers curl around my arm, and he draws me in.

“Tell me a secret,” He slurs, “anything”

I’m three long islands in and his whiskey breath is fogging up my hipster glasses.  Chewing on my lower lip, I give up, and leaning inward until my lips are just about to brush the collar of his jacket, I tilt my head back and whisper,

“You have terrible breath”

Ah, the single life.

Complex

I was in Costa Rica with Michelle for 10 days.

In ten days you talk.

A day of frothy rum drinks and too much sun leads to the tumbling of secrets as we dig our toes into the sand and lean across our beachfront table towards each other. We talk about how I stood on a short board, the potency of her anger at her absent father, how even I don’t approve of the guy I’ve been seeing.

We talk about my desire to be loved. About my relationship with my mother.

“You’re… complex.”  She said.

I’m glad she said complex instead of complicated. I’m only complicated if you’re trying to solve me. Undo me and put me into neat little piles. If you want to know me – to swivel, pull, lick, grab, beg, and wonder… then I am complex. A messy past and a hopeful future.  A mismatched barricade hobbled together out of thrift store furniture. A Cubist painting with a sideways smile you could never appreciate unless you’re up close and in person.

I don’t need to be simple. I am what I am. I just don’t want a lack of simplicity to be treated as an error that needs correcting.

I am what I am.

And I am, it seems, complex.

Happy

Today, I’m thankful for the girls that make me laugh harder than anyone in the world.

For motorcycles and chocolate chip cookies.  For Amsterdam and new beginnings.  For new books and gold nail polish.  For laughing and laughing and laughing and laughing.  For three in one fitting room, laughing out in roars and ugly clothes, “no, bend over, you have to make sure it fits!  Bend farther!  Bounce up and down!”  until our sides shudder and our cheeks hurt from the laughter.  Until we’ve started to cry laughing from “pretending” we like kale so much it hurts.  Until we all tragically lose or tragically win a game of beer pong.  Until we all drive home safe and happy and together again for one more good night’s sleep.

The times they may be changing, but the best things seem to stay the same.

Today we rode through Green Valley, even though it wasn’t green.  The bike is small, just a starter, but it’s everything to us.  A representation of times gone by but yet to come, a past and a future.  A reminder of the vast expanse of things hinted at for the last twenty years.  I climbed on the back and felt the vibrations so hard I could have sworn my limbs had fallen asleep into pins and needles.

Freedom.

I dip my head back and taste the sky.  Today is a good, good day.

The wind whips at my helmet.  The sun scorches down on our backs.  We rumble and tuck between the hills and I realize that I’m feeling lucky.  Yesterday the ikea catalogue came (unrequested) to my mailbox, and I felt my fists flying and had the urge to burn down my apartment.  The first rule of fight club is that you don’t talk about fight club.  I’m getting back to basics.  Feeling primitive and decorating with dirt.  I’m painting the Swiss Alps on my refrigerator.  I’m writing a novel.

I dance around the room, shadow boxing.  Punch and pull, float and fly, I’m ripping my enemies to shreds.  It’s four in the morning and I’ve conquered yesterday and am part way through tomorrow.  Lemme at ‘em.

Today is a good day.  I’m all power and fire and light.  There’s no stopping me.  I am Alan fucking Ginsburg, I am Susan B. Anthony, I’m every woman, it’s all in me.

Some moments you know you really can do anything.  Some loves really can conquer all.  Sometimes, if you peel off all of the layers you gained getting knocked around and jaded, you find the passions that ultimately save you.  Sometimes just a touch is enough.  I am fire in the sky, I am Natalie fucking Portman, I am the kiss you’ll always remember.

The first rule of fight club is that you don’t talk about fight club.  The second rule of fight club is that you don’t talk about fight club.  The secret of fight club is all the stuff you can’t talk about (I am Voltaire!) so I’m stripping myself free of the extraneous, and climbing on for the ride.  The wind whistles through my helmet.  Today the happiness soars through me.  I’m rummaging through old pictures in my head.   I am seeking out the obvious.  I am thanking my lucky stars.  I am Jonathan Frazen, I am Elvis and Oprah, I am oblivious to anything that gets in my way.

Maybe this happiness is crazy, but I’ll take it.

Run

Airports.

They’re all well and good and exciting until you’ve got a four hour delay ahead of you.  Stuck elbows deep in poorly made frappacinos and rumpled US Weekly’s… I am waiting for the plane to touch down.

I’m on the phone, arguing with the latest entry in a long line of mistakes.  My fingers turning cold from nervously running around the rim of a tall iced tea for the better part of an hour; the strangers pressing, forcing forward against the black tape that separates them from their loved ones, holding off for touchdown.  From back near the Starbucks they look like an impatient ocean.  Swelling in ebbs and flows.  Waiting.

Everyone is tired, hungry, bored, and probably writhing in anticipation.  We’ve been waiting all day on an international flight.  We have agendas with old loved ones and near strangers, and I am peeling the whites from my fingernails.

I hang up the phone.

There’s a previous flight that touches down, full of someones from somewhere.  The ocean bursts forward in an explosion.  It’s chaos.  People are screaming out in languages I don’t recognize.  The flight attendants are shoving people back behind the lines, a man with an accent is being dragged towards the door by the police, but in the midst of it it… there’s this girl.

The girl in the red shoes.

She can’t be more than twenty.  She’s probably not even eighteen.  And her arms are hung tight around a boy, face pressed into his chest.  His head is down, nose in her hair, and the bags at their feet, the noise, the crowd…. they’re forgotten.  I can see her body heave a sigh that carries out with it all the time she’d been waiting.

Slowly the ocean of travelers calms.  The girl in the red mary janes picks up one of the boy’s bags and smiles.  The airport is as it was and the people come and go.  I am still waiting for VS107.

I can feel the weight of her happiness lingering in the room – that particular joy, that youthful brand of crazy – and suddenly I wonder if anyone saw her but me, and if anybody cared.  I stare back at anxious crowd and wonder why it’s so rare to see anyone much older that she is running forward, falling into someone’s arms with tears or excitement or passion.  Maybe really, truthfully, I’m not wondering about the state anybody’s in but me.  I’d like to believe it’s still inside me.  The excitement, the abandonment.  To F* all the world when you see what you want.  To rush towards it with open arms and let yourself rest in it.  Emptied out and safe.  I’d like to think it’s still there.

I toss the last of my drink and join the ocean.  Forty-five minutes later my toes are giving out for standing high on them to see over the crowd, and I’m wondering if I should just give up and wait outside.  I’m too small to see over the swell.  The crowd is pressing forward and the airline employees start to rush against the tide.  I bite my lip, near resignation, edging towards the door…

Until I get the smallest glimpse of the person I’m waiting for, and my feet can’t carry me fast enough… the world starts sliding past me, as I break into a run.