We sat in empty lecture halls and scared ourselves with our own futures, our words shaking like we had just caught a bad case of nervousness. I threw up xanax, I threw up fifth grade, I threw up three weeks worth of wanting to talk to you but being too scared to say anything, and once I came home to find you taking pictures of yourself in the mirror, and told me to show them to you if things ever started to look different. We drove home that night, and I passed away in the back seat, but you didn’t seem to mind. No, at two in the morning, things like these don’t even matter anymore, and I couldn’t stop talking and apologizing and telling you the truth for the first time since I met you, and you couldn’t stop listening, and when I reached over you refused me your hands because they were on the wheel and on the road and set on making sure I got home safely, and I realized then that you could do better, yes you could definitely do better, because, in other words, you sacrificed holding me then to make sure I’d still be there to hold tomorrow, and I just don’t think I could ever become that vulnerable.
Somewhere in the world, it’s October, and two people are kissing for the very first time. But those are two bodies we could never again become a part of. I knew you were drawn away from the concept of commitment the moment you started to re-button your jeans, and suddenly it all comes rushing back - the moon, the smashed plates, the phone bills we pretended didn’t exist because we didn’t know how to deal with them, let alone ourselves.
(this morning’s ashtray says
that you were up all night)
As you guide your fingers over my eyes, be sure to tell me first that I fucked it all up. That it was my fault that these days you have longer hair and a wider smile and a new face to come home to. But check your tongue again, and you’ll still find the remaining roots I pressed beneath with my own, the words I left in your throat so that someday you can remind yourself that this wasn’t the way it was supposed to end, and sometimes I wish to myself that you had hurt me physically instead, because at least then, you can watch those scars as they heal. And while you’re running through New York, breathing in the scent of smokestacks and urban opportunity, I’m still here trying to write about you and forget about you and not think about you, and my legs won’t stop feeling like white noise and old television, and my coffee resembles an ocean that I’d like to drown myself in, burnt hands, dusty fingertips, wordless speeches, sentences that come out more like fragments than anything else because ever since you left, I forgot what it means to be complete. I can think of twenty-four different ways to apologize, one for every hour that I miss you in a day, but that’s not going to bring you back from the new life you’ve created for yourself. The back of my mouth still tastes like you, still tastes like late breakfast, foreign words, half a cigarette we took from beneath someone’s car, and I swear we shook the whole parking garage when we sat on the sixth floor and stared at the world we’ve been contributing a lot to lately. And you looked at me with the kind of gaze that only silence knows how to spell, taught me that if you rub your eyes hard enough, you can still see the stars even when it’s bright outside. I can still swallow bits of your voice, see all the shapes we left behind in the sheets, shapes geometry told us wasn’t possible. I don’t know if I will, but if I ever see you again, be sure to tell me not to say a word, because every sentence will begin with “I’m sorry”, and I will try to tell you that I still love you and that I want you to take me out of the past tense and push me into your arms and tell me that it was me, that I fucked it all up. And one day, you’ll turn the corner, and you won’t look back, and it’ll hurt, but maybe that’s all it’s going to take for me to realize what it means to start over, and that sometimes the fact that we even tried at all is the only thing that really matters anymore.
Don’t tell me this is how things are supposed to end. Sometimes I
run out of things to say, but who are you to criticize how I think
the way you walk reminds me of the wind that follows the train?
These days, it’s becoming easier to reach into my chest and
pull out strands of myself to give. I talk about people like I’ve
just discovered a new way to say I didn’t really mean it, but
where are all the cigarettes and the warmth that we were
promised? I once built a paper house just so I could light
a match and listen to it turn two shades of black. My childhood
consisted of only the worst of memories, but for some reason,
I just can’t seem to forget the way things used to be. Sometimes,
there’s nothing better than someone with a kind voice and
hidden intentions, to hold them by the gaze and tell them that everything
is going to be okay, even if it really won’t be. I mean, if I guaranteed
everything to you, I’d be lying, but I can promise you that
they will always sell you lighters at the convenience
store, there will always be people happy to see you, and you
will always have words to say at the end of it all, even when you’re
drunk and unhappy and your hands are sprawled across the
floor. Where are the one night stands, the mornings after,
the emptiness that you feel even when you’re surrounded
by people? They’re here, they’re over there, and everywhere
all at once, and some things just depend on the situation,
because there will always be consequences, and the only difference
is whether you’re going to need the aspirin. We are comprised
entirely of theories, and I don’t think I miss you anymore,
but I don’t miss you any less, either. I need someone to hold onto,
someone that I can write for and with and about, and I guess
they never told us in English class that prepositions
meant company. You once made me feel like I was more than
just moving boxes and impending lung disease, and I haven’t felt
that way since. I wasn’t born to be silent, after all, so
when you placed me in between your legs,
I just knew I had to start
The only good thing about Sundays is that I can knock on your door
and wait for you for hours without being bothered by someone else who,
on the contrary, bears good news. I’ve learned that sometimes we
all prefer companionship to commitment because we’ve hammered
nails into the sides of our houses and hung pictures of ourselves
on them. It’s already unfair that we have mirrors to deal with. You
tell me to try it all again tomorrow, but tomorrow is less than a day
away, and that’s just never going to be enough time. Every night
for the past week, I’ve fallen asleep to the sound of ambulances,
and I don’t think I’ve ever felt more safe in my entire life. The people
who are the most homeless aren’t found on park benches; they’re
hiding in their own houses, trying to figure out how this can be,
and you never realize how difficult it can be to leave something
until you’re left with no other choice. The last time I spoke to you,
you said you ached for me, the way I used to leave train tracks
embedded into your skin, but never once did I think that someday
I would find a one-way ticket for one in your coat pocket. You once
told me that I was good with my hands, and when I confided in you
that I wanted to become an architect, you bought me a deck of cards
and told me to start practicing. Sometimes, I still confuse the box
for a carton of cigarettes. Maybe someday I’ll stumble upon a
kinder version of myself, someone who would be proud to be up
on the walls of someone else’s house. It’s exhausting,
but I’m willing to wait.
It is, I guess, in its simplest terms, what you feel when you look at someone asleep and knowing that they’re safe. It’s chain-smoking and sharing the silence. It’s looking at the ocean on a sunday morning, casting rocks at the moon, driving down a highway with the windows pulled down. It’s what you hear when a certain song plays and you start to tense up. It’s what you feel when you read something and you suddenly hear the faint sound of glass shattering. No, that isn’t a plate being dropped. It’s most likely just your heart, overwhelmed. It’s buying someone a cup of coffee because they look like they need it. It’s in your ability to being able to tell that they need it. It’s coming home to your mother’s cooking after being away for months. It’s knowing that they take two sugars and a dash of cream every morning. It’s fighting all the time but never walking away, it’s hiding notes under their pillow, it’s giving them your car keys because theirs ran out of gas. It’s looking at someone for the first time in bed. It’s those fucking butterflies you feel whenever you think about it. It’s seeing someone when they first wake up, and still thinking they’re just the greatest. It’s not, however, a bouquet of roses, a box of chocolates, a fancy dinner you probably won’t remember next week. It’s laughing until you can’t breathe. It’s rooting for a home team even if they never win. It’s reading a good poem, dancing with someone cute, chinese takeout, deep dish pizzas, holding hands, unexpected kisses, hot pockets when you’re drunk, and buying a six pack of beer and carton of ice cream because you just really need it today. It’s when you can’t stop thinking about someone (or something), to the point where it stays with you every waking moment, and you can just feel yourself getting so wrapped up in it, but never wanting it to stop. It is wild, it is terrible, it is spectacular, it is cliche. It has crushed me and killed me and taught me and nourished me and it is something that, despite having written so much about, still leaves me desperately searching for the right words whenever someone asks me to talk about it.
So there you go.
(and personally, I think that splitting a sandwich for lunch is the truest form of love there is)
I once sought comfort in the form of an aged dictionary, temporarily trapped in the body of a nineteen year old girl with almond milk for eyes. For months, we walked together on broken treadmills with the lights turned off, holding hands and trusting that we’ll get to where we need to be eventually. We tried to rid ourselves of these outlines of broken tree branches, building ourselves an army of apple orchids in its wake. I dreamt of rooftops once, the funerals we held in the back of the neighborhood food cart that sold mussels in waffle cones. Along the boardwalk, we used to pick out bouquets of airline tickets among the carcasses of adolescent whales who had choked on a fragment of sea foam, and pretend they were ours. Once, she fingered a boulder caught in the gap of her smile, before launching the remnants of ancient tombs into the center of my chest. Now I stand with a gaping hole, and if you pressed a conch shell against the side of my ribs, you can still hear the faint sound of my heartstrings being plucked by scarecrows.
I know that at times, I can be a heartless minefield, and you are forced to tread carefully in your bare feet. Sometimes, I might be inclined to swallow the pieces left over, to refuse to draw from our retirement funds even though we are both still young and broke. All I’ve ever learned is limestone, quiet ceramics, the way you stencil into the parts of my body I didn’t even know existed the repetitive shapes of my mother’s last name. The lights are on, and everyone’s home. I hope you remembered to shut the bedroom door.
They say that in the droughts of Arizona, earth dunes with varying grain size tend to last a little bit longer in the dust storms. But, in the end, even the sand-colored scars on your skin will fade eventually. One day, you will be covered in desert plants where there was once only rough soil, only barren patches of land burnt by the sun and all of the dry heat it can sometimes bring.
Do not be sad, for even a cactus will bloom flowers.
My throat aches, as if I’ve just ingested something that I wasn’t supposed to: a jar of spoiled mangoes, shards of glass, a love that didn’t work out. It leaves me feeling vulnerable, and dry heaving dust into the atmosphere. I don’t mind you underneath my skin, so long as you promise not to try and slit your way through again. It’s been done once before, and it left wilting flowers etched into the remains of my arm, and no matter how many times I try to burn it three shades darker or attempt to conceal it with art, still, the echoes linger. There are no magnificent mountains upon my skin; I am not a road map consisting of towering alpines and plastic forests. You will only find empty canyons that litter the notches of my fingers. However, I hope you will try to maneuver me still. There is a way out, I’m sure of it, and hopefully you came prepared with a full tank of gasoline. I can’t promise you breathing space, but at least I can offer you a change of scenery.
Today was nice. The past few days consisted of trapped condensation, so it was refreshing to feel the static heat of summer again. I enjoyed the rain, but after awhile, it began to grow dissatisfying when all I could see was fifteen different shades of gray outside my window. At least this morning, I was able to wake up to a whole color spectrum. I guess you could say I’m content, in a way, although perhaps not in the sense of the usual definition of the word. But I can’t really complain too much. I got a new vinyl in the mail today, and Brand New is now on full repeat in the background. I’m on my third cup of coffee. I found out last night that I was accepted for publication into two literary magazines. There was a calm breeze this afternoon, and the sky was cloudless, save for a few. And I have not spoken a single word to anybody all day.
Somewhere in the midst of all of that, there is fulfillment.
I feel the need to write, to have words flow from these trembling hands and onto the page in order to put myself at ease. The summer heat rages on, but it is not reminiscent of my childhood. Of apricot jars sitting in the cupboard for us to eat out of by the spoonful, for when there is a certain hollowness that cannot be replaced with anything else except for the sound of waves when we press our aching ears against the underbelly of conch shells stolen from the bay. We flee in happiness, driving along narrow roads of oak trees and breathing in the smell that cannot be defined by anything less than a leather-bound dictionary that is usually only found in great dusty halls. Don’t get me wrong. The hollowness is still here. But everything else is gone, as if they were left on the back of the sail boats we fashioned out of newspapers that told of war. At the time, we were young, and didn’t know about anything yet, and little did we realize that within those pages held black and white images of local shootings and lost children who would have done anything for a day in our lives. But I had not yet been properly punished by academics, and so we, in all of our innocence, ignored the fine print, and focused on appreciating the way the sun hangs like a lantern above us. I find that I can no longer do this. It’s damn hot outside, and as we grow up, we find that we have newfound words at our disposal that cut the roof of our mouths like tin foil. We have a vocabulary; so why don’t we ever use it? I wish I could go back to those days. We took such simple pleasure in the ripeness of sweet peaches, sucking them dry until our bones hit the centerpiece before skipping them across the lake like pebbles. And you would smile at me, the pulp stuck between your front teeth, or perhaps cold milk gently caressed across your upper lip, as the sweet juice would dribble down your burnt chin and onto our wrists, staining the grass beneath with memories of our skin. I’ve returned to the place where we used to sit, and all the grass has now dried up into a golden wasteland. No longer is the lush green field where we used to lie for hours, an unspoken barrier hanging above us, the memories pressed between the pages of our favorite books that we’d bring along with us. Remember when we used to trace the stars with our fingertips? When we’d color in between the lines formed by the mountains in the distance, and we’d dream about all the ways we could make crop circles in only our bare feet. We gave names to the constellations, losing them in sight once we reminded each other to blink, never to be found again. They were never meant to be found, and that’s why we gave them names. I don’t remember what we called them, but I’ll never forget that they were there, that they existed at some point in our lives. Our mothers would yell at us from behind the barrier of screen doors, to keep the mosquitoes from nipping at our noses when we slept, if we ever did. What happened to our ignorance? It’s the same summer as it’s always been, all these years later. My hands are still sticky with sweat, and scientifically speaking, the earth still quivers underneath the same heat it faces annually. And yet, nothing’s been the same. I’m still here, and I haven’t heard the voices of my childhood friends in a long time. I still see them. But I haven’t heard them speak, not the way they used to. But those memories were beautiful, and I will always preserve them like the fruit jams we keep in the corridors of our kitchen for the rats to live under. And even if things don’t turn out like the way they used to be anymore, I can always take comfort in knowing that I still keep a stack of newspapers under my crumbling bed to crease sail boats out of. Except this time, I’ll remember to read them first.
Some nights, like tonight, when I want to get away from it all, I’ll climb into my car and just go for a long drive. The sound of the motor as it sneaks out the back door and into the countryside blends in warmly with the last remains of the day’s heat, leaving a dry taste in the back of my throat that suffocates all the words I should have said and cannot be quenched by anything except for sharp inhales of the cold. I remember thinking just how warm it’s been lately, and maybe I should have paid more attention to the weather forecast, but I just couldn’t take my eyes off the reporter. She reminds me so much of my mother when I was younger, when she still put sandwiches sans crust in small brown bags instead of bottles of slurred words and half-remembered anger. How I miss those days when I didn’t have to worry about hands across the back of my head.
And I awake to see my left hand reaching over beside me out of memory, seeking to grasp another, only to find there’s no one there, and “Just Like Heaven” is faintly embedded into the back of my mind because that’s the only song my stereo ever seems to remember. And I’ll just drive and think and drive, trying not to succumb into my despair, but rather searching the streetlights for a distraction, away from this feeling of emptiness.There’s a nice little lookout some miles away, atop a hillside of golden wheat. During the day, there’s not much to it, but when I park there at night, my god, you can see the infinite stars stretching across the vast canvas of the night sky. The sight of downtown blurs against my fingers as I draw in breath after dying breath, letting the ashes bleed themselves out and drip onto the hood of my car before I snuff them out against my palm, leaving little galaxies of black holes against my skin. The view is absolutely breathtaking, and holding desperately onto a warm cup of coffee and watching the world as it turns makes me feel so wonderfully insignificant. From my little haven above, I wonder, sometimes for hours, what must be going on down there, what the story is of each individual who’s carrying out their lives at this very point in time, where all those city lights must come from. The comforting lamp of a small child about to fall asleep, whose parents love him very much even though he doesn’t quite understand it yet. The desk light of a college student, exhausted, unsatisfied, working deep into the hours and hoping this will all pay off someday. The flickering streetlight about to give way, the only source of warmth and love a gentleman on the park bench has left in this world.
There is no tunnel on the drive back, but it’s moments like these when we feel like Charlie, and it’s nice to have lots of these moments.
I only wish I had someone to take with me on these night adventures. Someone that also appreciates the broken air conditioner because that means feeling the breeze through the cracks in the window, someone who understands what 2am really means, someone to hold hands with as we watch the violent universe unfold before us in the form of empty highways. Someone to just talk with for hours about absolutely nothing.
By the time I park myself into the garage again, the night falls completely silent, and I find myself alone with an empty tank of gas, more unwanted thoughts than I had started out with, and no appetite for sleep anymore.
I think there’s nothing more I want than to be able to sit with someone on top of one of the buildings in downtown. There’s just something beautiful about being with a close friend on the rooftop at night, in silence, listening to police sirens in the distance and letting unsaid words linger in the air. We don’t have to talk, and maybe it’d be better that way. Just take time away from all of the pain that comes from going back out there. I want to smoke cigarettes with them, a bottle of stolen alcohol placed evenly between our hands, watching the ashes drip between our feet and onto the streets below, and each exhale melting into the constellations. I want it to be close to midnight, but not quite, so that the city is still set aflame with skyscraper lights, but it’s just late enough for our eyes to start feeling tired. I want to be able to sit with someone and have neither of us be tempted to want to jump, even if we’ve both known that feeling all too well our whole lives. But that night, we won’t need to jump just yet, because it would be comfortable and safe and warm, even if the night is bitter cold, and the world will continue to turn beneath us, but if we’re sitting up there on the rooftop, nothing else would even matter.