Break Them, Lose Them, Leave Them

Lauren and I are decorating the tree.  We’re decorating the tree because it is December, because I’m a flexible Jew, and because Lauren is princessy enough to counteract all of my not caring about anything at all.  So we have a tree, and we’re putting pink tulle around it.  That’s how Lauren rolls.

I’m lucky to have her, and I’m glad she’s like this.  She gets me outside of myself sometimes, and I need that.  I pull out her snowmen, her angels and stars, and I smile.

“I almost got new ornaments this year,” I say, mostly to myself.

“Almost?”

“Well, yeah. I mean, I wanted to get some, but then I thought, why bother?”

“What?”

“I mean, I move.  I just, I always move.”

“But.. that doesn’t mean you can’t have nice things.”

“Yeah, I know… I know… it’s just how I am with nice things.  I either break them, lose them, or have to leave them behind when I go… and then I’m just… I’m so sad… so I just don’t really bother with things at all anymore.”

The second it comes out of my mouth, I realize how bad it sounds.  But I’m just being realistic.  I’ve moved so many times that anything I can buy more cheaply than ship gets thrown out.  Anything I have to worry about breaking is a huge liability, and anything I can forget has already been left somewhere between Fort Lauderdale and Finland.

I’m embracing myself, I say. I’m just admitting that I suck at this.

But it’s more than that, if I’m being honest.  It’s more than that.  I’ve lived here for a year without a dresser or blinds.  Without a phone that isn’t shattered or pillowcases my old roommate’s cat didn’t chew.  One day I woke up and realized that I wasn’t ready to settle in because I still hadn’t been able to admit I’d ended up here.  I haven’t moved on.  Not in theory, not in life.  Not at all.

*****

People forget, and I try to forget, but I can’t.

TOSHIBA TRANSFERS II 1709

The word “bride” made me itchy. I couldn’t wear it, it didn’t fit.  I was terrible at ogling place settings and invitations.

Every sales clerk at every bridal store had pitched it the same.

“He’s English!” They’d squeal.  “You’re going to live in Barcelona!” They’d shriek.

“It’s a fairytale!”

And I would nod, awkwardly, with a white dress 6 sizes too big clipped to me with the big orange bridal store clamps I’ve discovered they use to strap the samples on you.  The dresses never felt right, but I loved him fiercely, and he and I were going to build the life I’d always thought was out of reach.

The engagement was, truthfully, a dream come true.  Embracing everything I’d ever wanted with the man who always made me laugh and kissed me like the world was ending.  No fear, side by side, traveling, living in a foreign country again.  He would grin, sweeping me around in his arms, making plans.  The first place he wanted to take me was Italy.  We’d take weekend trips to Istanbul and buy produce from the farmer’s market by my language school.  We’d live in a shoe box apartment in the Gothic district of Barcelona and give bike tours to tourists, and these would be the years we would talk about for the rest of our lives.

I remember his speech when I brought home the pamphlet for the language school, sighing with longing.

“Why don’t you just go?  You go to school and I’ll work.  You never let anyone do anything for you.  You don’t trust anyone to love you enough.  Let me do this for you… with you.”

And suddenly all the feelings I was never sure I’d have for anyone hit me breathless.  I wanted to marry him, and I knew it.

Three weeks later on one knee, he pushed his grandmother’s ring onto my finger.  Everything I never knew I wanted, I had.

It’s been fifteen months since everything came crashing to the ground.

How do I ever explain how piece by piece, everything fell apart?  The mindfuck of loving a man like him was that his lifelong entitlement and privilege was so complete, he couldn’t even understand why anyone would be upset that all of his promises were empty, and all of his stories were lies.  Every failure he’d ever had he was bailed out of by his wealthy parents.  Everything he’d ever achieved had been purchased for him.  The concept of consequences, that people hurt, that people cared, was lost on him.

When I gave notice at my job he was lying about filing our marriage license.  When I was breaking my lease he was lying about getting a job in Spain to support us.  We had planned to sell his house to purchase a home in Barcelona when it turned out – the house didn’t belong to him.  His parents were bankrolling the charade.  He’d attempt to get off on technicalities and I would angrily force the truth – none of those games mattered.  We were adults.  Trust mattered.  Respect mattered.  Responsibility mattered.  He shrank from me, deflated in realizing his grandiose claims of taking care of us were just an empty boast.  He fell off the grid for a week.  He claimed he didn’t have a phone charger but posted on social media.  I told him I didn’t care where he’d been or what he’d done.  It didn’t matter.  He was nothing to make a husband of.  He was nothing at all.

My job was gone, my home was gone, I had sold my car and spent out my savings on the wedding.  Everything I had worked so hard for my entire life was broken, wasted on this useless man, who thought nothing of what he had cost me. I thought that love meant finally trusting someone with something important, and when finally I opened up to it, I was stripped of everything I had.

In the wake of everything I lost, I collapsed in on myself.  I turned off my facebook, I didn’t return calls.  I cut out everyone who looked at me cross eyed or said an unkind word.  Nothing but a bundle of frayed threads, terrified that if you touch me, I’ll all but come unraveled.

I cried when I saw pictures of old friends together, and I burned the contract for my wedding venue.  I vowed never to lose so much to anyone, ever, ever again.

My dream of traveling the world with someone I loved was just that, a dream.  And looking behind at the wreckage of my life I feel that I can’t take on a single thing if I have to worry that it will be taken away from me, because I just don’t have the strength to watch another thing I love fall apart.  How could finally giving my trust, the best of myself, leave everything in pieces?

Everything I ever wanted broken, lost, and left behind.

***

A year later, after reassembling my life, my heart is still reeling from my losses.  I’ve been wandering through life in some sort of aimless haze, somehow all stuck together on the outside – I got a job, a car, and an apartment again – but hollow on the inside.  Cracked and empty.  I have trouble feeling anything.  These little activities with Lauren make me feel more human.  It’s Christmas, so we’re going to buy a tree topper.  It’s the thing to do.

Lauren and I are strolling aimlessly through the Culver City Target, picking out wrapping paper and buying trash bags.  We talk about the holiday and her latest job interview.  She turns to the wreaths and bows, and I, restless, veer off into the clearance ornaments that no one in the past month felt were worth $6.95.

My eyes feeling glassy, half in and half out of head, I pause to gather myself.  And that’s when I see it.  A little glittery globe.  A shiny promise of the planet.  I pick up the ornament and feel my heart warm with love and desire.  Enticed and enchanted, I hold it for a moment, and walk to the front of the store.

A discount ornament with flecks of dried hot glue, a ball of cheap glitter all over my clothes, and yet… it’s something.  I decide that I want something for the first time in a long time.  Suddenly strong enough to risk another loss.  In the flick of a heartbeat, something in me wakes up.  I am not whole yet, but I am healing.

I clutch the globe to my chest, intent on making it mine.  And though I promise myself to do my best not to break it, lose it, or leave it, I know that if my best leaves it shattered to pieces, or stranded in a suitcase in Belgium, my heart will learn to love something once again.

And in the mean time, I’ve got the world on a string.

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Snowflakes

I think it’s been about five years, and people still ask about you.

I think it’s been five years because I don’t count.  I’ve never counted.  I try not think about it at all.

When I do try to talk about you, I never know where to begin. The first time I saw you and we locked eyes across a common hall packed full of students too young to drink?  Or… your mouth pressed to mine on the balcony in that little town in Spain, high above the world or… that time you got down on one knee and pulled out your grandmother’s ring.

Everyone wants the story, and for once in my life, I don’t know what to say.

I knew you better, and I loved you harder, than anything before or since.  I’m still trying to write about you, where do I ever begin.

***

When we were living in New England, we raced to the top of the hill in the snow, only to have three busses pass us by and leave us shouting, cursing in the slush.  In the nine months I’ve lived here I have grown to hate blizzards, public transit, and the ever growing hole in my left boot that I still can’t afford to replace.

We stood there, growing later for work by the minute, shivering in the dull February morning.  I looked up into the grey sky, all doey eyed California girl, and remark to him on how the snow looks like little jagged chunks.  It only snowed once every other year or so when I was a child, I said. I’ve never really had the chance to see it closely.

He grins, feigning disbelief.  “My American baby,” he says, laughing.  I tell him to shut up as he hooks his arm around my back and draws me to him.

“Here.”

He scrapes my collar with his credit card, and holds it up for me.  I am twenty six years old.  I have never seen a snowflake.  I stare at it, all tiny and perfect as he holds me to him with his other arm – and I can feel him – warm in 10 degrees below zero, warm in the slush up our calves, warm through the two overcoats, three sweaters, and four shirts between us.

I am beaming.  I am full of love.

Windows

I want to go to his house and break all his windows.  I want to take everything that means anything to him, and curb stomp it into the ground.  I want to punch him in the stomach a thousand times, until he finally hurts as much as I do, and when he does he will cry out and say “Little bee, I had no idea, I’m so, so sorry.”

And he will remember he loves me.  He will will wrap his arms around me, we will cry together, and everything will be the same again.

But they won’t.

And they never, ever will.

Fall

I’ve been doing everything I possibly can not to write about you.

I shut down my computer.  I make more plans.  I thwart my own desire to write.

I don’t tell friends your name, I won’t introduce you.  I put your flowers on the coffee table and stuffed the hand written note into the top left drawer of my dresser. Then suddenly, in a moment of recklessness, yanked it out and put it in my purse.

Unbeknownst to you, for the last two weeks I’ve been carrying your words, your crooked k’s and i’s dotted far to the left, everywhere I go. I know I’m falling for you. I’m fighting it every step of the god damned way.

IMG_0003

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.

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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.

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.

Want

“My fault, my failure, is not in the passions I have, but in my lack of control of them.”

― Jack Kerouac

____________________________________________________________________________________________

I want the smell of skin, hands in my hair, my head on the pillow. I want the twisting, pulling of it.

I want.

I want.

Last weekend I went to a museum with a boy and we had that conversation. We talked about that particular person who can make you stay in one room for five days straight – who makes you fail all of your classes.

I came home from my semester in England with a string of F’s that I managed to swap for withdrawals. He was the Yoko to my Lennon. He loved me, I loved him, and together – we destroyed the Beatles. Five years later, after putting a ring on my finger, he also effectively destroyed my life as I knew it.

The boy at the museum said, “It sounds so … “young.” And it is young. Can desire exist in a contained space without sucking out all the air? I’d like to think I can choose to not let the world waste away but still hate to leave you to go to work in the morning. I’d like to think I could call in sick when I’m not sick, just once. I’d like to think that despite the foresight to know better, the lip biting, heart aching taste of it is just on the tip of my tongue. Just a whisper out of reach.

Sure, you can be older and wiser. But what about younger, braver, bursting at the seams. Kerouac, of course, reminds us that this supposed greatness is little more than burning the candle at both ends. Even the man we espouse as this icon of youthful wandering eventually gave up life on the road to become a celebrated author who lived in one stationary place. The “roman candles” he wrote about fucked off to be nobody in particular.

I am not quite twenty eight years old. And besides, it almost killed me once already. I should have grown out of this by now.

But do we really grow out of it? Or do we teach ourselves to be satisfied with the comfortable instead of the kinetic. The timid instead of the tantalizing.

I am a bundle of nerve endings. All lips and tongue and fingertips. I am alone in the vastness of all the not knowing, waiting in the darkness for something to spark.

One.

Every mother has one story about each child that, over and over, they still love to tell. In this one, I am standing in the grocery store, maybe four years old – up to her knees or so – and I tug on her jeans.

“Mommy! Mom! Moooooom!” I say, eyes full and round.

She crouches down to my tiny level, cream cheese in one hand and lunch meat in the other, and as she does I throw my arms around her neck and breathe in deep.

“Mommy,” I say, “I would know you in the dark. You smell so good.”

It’s something a child that small would say. It is earnest and endearing, because it is honest.  Because it is true.

I wonder what it is that makes us feel that kind of tethered connection to another person. One could argue that it’s biological. That we know those joined to us through twisting strands of DNA, cavorting in the minutia of space. One could argue that it’s emotional. That we form a bond by choice, by desire, by proximity and repetition. That we nurture our decisions to follow through. That once we’ve chosen something, we feel the need to back it up, regardless of how illogical or nonsensical it might truly be. We’re hooked, reel us in. It’s too late.

The neurons in our brains, they dance. But they like to dance the dances they know. They look crappy trying out new shit on the dance floor. Maybe we’re just replicating the past in endless loops of static electricity, failing to notice that it’s all just rhythm with no reason at all.

My friend Shanna likes to look at the world as energy, all connected, moving in force to and away from itself. She says that we don’t know why we feel it, but we feel it. It’s how your mother knows when your broccoli goes bad and your heart is broken. It’s the reason your married ex-boyfriend texts you out of the blue after two years of dead air, when you’ve only recently stopped thinking of him. They do, in a way, have radar. Energy moved away from them, and although they don’t know why, even though there could have been years of silence between you, they suddenly felt a loss. The clip of a string, a free flying corner in the breeze. The weightiness of you is gone. They can feel it.

I don’t know if I buy that crap.

My married ex boyfriend texted me because he was drunk on a Thursday. My mom knows my broccoli is bad because I’m always emptying and filling my fridge with sporadic fervor and no sense of due process. There are reasons, I say. It’s logical, mathematical even. Read a book, I say. Duh.

My heart never presents it’s arguments in complete sentences. Allowing me to amble onwards with a quiet ache, though pain and subtlety, it warns my body that something isn’t right. A tiny, persistent wonder, a needing to touch and be touched. I can hardly stand to admit it, that despite all of my arguing and rationalizing, I feel it. My tiny hope that there a line to grasp. That there is something to hang onto in the panic of the deep.

For a year and a half, desire seemed impossible. Everything was scorched and barren. Everything tasted like ash. But now, peeking from the depths of a heart that speaks to me in silence, I know a part of me is still waiting. That I feel a blind, mad hope. That despite everything I’ve been through, despite everything my mind tells me is true, my heart feels a tug from a cord, even though I have no idea what lays pulling at the end of it.

I am groping around in the mess of things, blind. Feeling my way desperately towards something that feels like home.

When everything is peaceful. When I am still within myself. When I lay with him in the quietness of it, satisfied in silence, I’ll know it. I’ll reach across the counterpane of the sheets; my fingers will find his.

And I’ll say to him “I knew you. I found you in the dark.”