CCCXXXVIII. deliver us from college
we sit on the couch, sock feet against bare feet beneath a pilling fleece blanket, and eat a burnt white pizza drenched in sriracha. the fifth season of friends is on the tv but we started at the end of the disc so we’ll loop all the way around until phoebe meets the health inspector she’ll dump fourteen minutes later. we had ice cream before we even started the oven. all of the mugs on the end table are mine. it is all very normal, so normal, we’re four episodes in when we have to say it, “isn’t it weird how normal this all is?” and she nods, “absolutely bizarre,” and grabs the black crust off of my plate. i do not stay the night, two people in a bed that fits three; i reapply my lipstick and walk home in the dark. completely normal.
My father’s favorite fact about himself is that he lived in three different basements over the course of seventh grade.
Even now, I remember how excited they were about the laundry chute. You can’t get those in a new house, they told people proudly. You have to buy it that way. Neither of them had ever lived in a house before and now here they were with one of their own, a house with four bedrooms and a beige exterior so boring that none of the new suburban neighbors would ever guess they’d had horribly damaged childhoods. Four bedrooms and a basketball hoop and that laundry chute.
If a holiday overlapped with a stretch of time when my mother was talking to her family, we’d road trip to the very tip of Illinois, and she’d drive me past the spot where the rickety cabin in which she spent her pre-teen years used to stand. A little burnt patch of grass at the end of a narrow sidewalk that no longer leads anywhere.
(Above the row of nylon straps on the campus bus, there’s a print ad that reads, “Facing Foreclosure? We Can Help!”)
We settled into the house as if we’d be there when it burned to the ground. Painted all of the bedrooms—navy blue for my brother, bright purple for me, colors that can’t be covered. We drilled holes in the walls and threw things against the ceiling. My name is written in marker on the back of every carpet, in leftover purple pain on the walls of the garage, in pen along the baseboards in the upstairs hallway.
The lawyer said the auction is set for the 14th, my mother tells me, as casually as she’d tell me that a middle school teacher had gotten married.
For my 13th birthday, my parents turned the basement into a dance studio, complete with wood floors and mirrors across the wall and a ballet barre that my mother built by hand in our garage.
I find myself craving the expanse of a dining room table. I insist on bringing wine over to friends who live in old houses with stained carpets and enough kitchen counter for me to sit comfortably, letting my feet dangle against cracked cabinet doors. I linger at sliding glass doors, staring at dirty backyard furniture piled with snow.
Above the light switch in the garage is an inscription in faded gold paint: “in this house live two beautiful children and their two loving parents”. The author is long buried, and we are four people now in four different apartments, and the house goes to auction on Valentine’s Day.
There’s a metaphor here, somewhere.
CCCXXXVII. sorry 4 boy-bloggin’
four: When I think about it later—about his hand wrapped around my hip in the yellow light of the sodium lamp in the alley—it feels like all the blood has disappeared from my body.
I assume that means things are going well.
three: I am very drunk on a Saturday night in the middle of nowhere, my middle of nowhere, in a bar I can see from my bedroom window. PBR is a dollar on Saturday nights and so satisfyingly terrible, and I am very, very drunk. He asks me to explain a Meryl Streep movie to him, and from one thousand miles away I can hear him laughing when I do, can see that dooming lopsided smile when I apologize for being so very, very, very drunk and he tells me, “no, it was perfect”.
two: The bus is more than two hours late and when we finally form a disorderly line I start laughing, wild and quietly. “You seem pretty happy,” says the guy next to me, awkwardly shuffling forward with what are clearly illicit skis wrapped in a blanket, and I can’t say, “I think maybe there is a boy at the other end of this trip who will call me sug, and I am young enough, I have not yet been failed by lopsided-smiling boys, I think this is everything,” so instead I just laugh, “I love a good bus ride”.
one: It happens, I know it will happen and then it does. We go back into the bar where our friends are drunk & happy & waiting like nothing happened. I do not look I do not look I absolutely do not look. On his jaw is a perfect smudge of red lipstick.
I have kissed no one since you. Isn’t that ridiculous? I forget it, and then suddenly it strikes me all over again, like a creased poem falling out of a book last read months ago. Lately everything I do is just for the sake of making myself laugh. I get drunk on cheap wine on Tuesdays. I watch the same movie each morning for a week. I don’t eat, and then I eat nothing but matzo.
You loved me silly. You loved me like you were inventing it.
There is a person waving from six months down the tunnel, and I think she might be me. I bet she stands above cities at night. I bet she knows how not to be afraid of the underpass beneath Lake Shore Drive. I bet she drinks gin.
There’s a boy who sits next to me in class, who scribbles notes to me about my lipstick, who grins when he touches my thigh and asks for a sip of my diet Coke. He loves Faulkner, and he doesn’t love me, and I like it that way.
There is a girl waving from down the tunnel, and I can’t quite tell what color her hair is.
CCCXXXV. the way to really fly
Is there a German word for the purity that comes with perching on a stool in the train station food court at midnight and somehow only feeling possibility? Between the dull light of the McDonald’s and the apathy of conductors waiting for their last ride out beats a thrum of changing seasons. Everyone knows the only summer days worth waiting for are the first and the last.
I press my hands against my face and feel the warmth of everyone who’s grinned a doofy grin when I entered a room and made fun of my age the right way. The ultimate intimacy lies in not flinching when someone tousles your hair.
(For a time, there were castles in my future.
For a time, there was nothing.)
The girl with the backpack across from me is wearing the same sunglasses we handed to the graduating class of 2009 with a little note that read “your future’s so bright, you need shades!”. I feel so stupidly lucky that I get to sit at this plastic counter with a stale doughnut on a Tuesday night, waiting for a train that’s still an hour away. Summer will thrum for a few days more. I wrap my fist around possibility and hold it tight.
See ya soon, kid.
A poem, someone’s angry with God, isn’t someone always angry with God? A panic attack, and I never make it to the second verse because all of my grandmothers are dead and from whom am I to get wrinkled, soft advice? From whom am I to get wisdom that sounds like it’s being read from an old diary, written long before I was born?
I could call a therapist, but what would I even say? “I’ve been crying a lot lately”. I’ve always been crying a lot lately. I’m still sleeping in this fucking sweatshirt four days after it should have been washed and six days after it’s stopped smelling like you.
There’s a ghost in my bed. The opposite of a ghost, really; I willed it into existence. “22. I miss you bad.” There were days when you tugged and I was an astronaut who suddenly realized they’d been tethered home the entire time. Now I hold the rope tight and watch for you to pull scissors from your pocket.
There are poems I won’t ever read past the first line again.
There are places I didn’t take you because I didn’t want to have to forget them once you were gone.
CCCXXX. may flowers
Sunlight returns from its winter in Palm Springs on a Saturday afternoon. By Monday, we have traded wool coats for strange tan lines and strapless dresses. I see my first violets on Tuesday morning and reflexively pick them from the earth, then spend an hour feeling guilty.
“I stole them from nature,” I tell a boy on the bus, and he offers “put them in your hair,” but that feels precious, precious in a way that’s never fit me, like a dress with the waistline three inches too high. I prefer loud and aggressively sentimental.
The mysteries of the universe lie not in tides but in wedding rings on strangers. The moon controls the tides, the water cycles purposefully, the rhythms never change. How the fuck do people find each other? How did you find me?
Carl Sagan set the contents of our planet free and then fell in love. I wonder which he considered his greatest achievement. I’m afraid of whales and I think the ocean is too large. I cry when anyone mentions Auschwitz. The universe of things I don’t understand is comically vast, but I’ve seen Chicago at least thirty times and I think you might not mind that.
Everything I write now is a love letter I’m too embarrassed to send. One day I’ll press them into your skin, set them free against the crook of your neck. They’re yours, after all, no matter how much I blush when I offer them over.
“I’m not one for writing love poetry,”
but I’d let you put violets in my hair.
CCCXXVIII. for my brother, who does not have cancer
the human body is resilient; in 1997 i slapped you in our living room, your chubby cheek reddening from the force, and i hated the tears in your eyes — blameless. i wanted you to fight back.
i didn’t know i’d one day come across you sleeping, too-long legs slung over the end of the couch, and that i’d stand there, in awe of the stubble along your jaw, and wonder if the skin there remembers the red mark that bloomed beneath my palm.
i am sorry that i disappeared without knowing yet what it meant to be your sister. you’ve understood love the way a body knows to breathe; spilling it over everyone you met, offering to great aunts that same cheek for red lipstick roses where i could only flinch out of their reach.
it took me longer; you have legs too long for the couch, and you could flinch out of my reach, and sometimes you do and that’s okay because i like to think i’d step in front of a moving bus, a bullet, but sometimes i screen our mother’s calls from two hundred miles away, despite knowing that you will have to hold what i refuse to take.
so this is my promise:
i will take her calls
i will plan the funerals
i will always come when you call
and i will always love you
without provisions, without qualifications,
just the way you taught me
I don’t understand sports and you’ve never seen The West Wing, and that was a joke until it wasn’t, until it was a question I was asking myself, alone on the couch on Sunday evening.
I am not okay -
I don’t know why.
(But I know this: I do not want to spend my life getting out of bed to find and rescue you.)
(Also this: I would, anyway.)
You are not okay -
and there is nothing I can do about it.
(Nothing is on fire. There is no flooding to be stopped. The unsexy emergencies of everyday life are the ones without handbooks.)
Instead, I think I’ll drink a lot of tea and
let the warmth be enough to make me feel like
there’s not a hole in these sweatpants and
I can love anyone
i used to know how to talk about my father.
now instead, i sit quietly and imagine that i can put my hands on my brother’s face, kiss his forehead, watch him be okay. but he’s too tall to reach and he flinches from my gaze.
and he is not okay, probably.
(there’s something inherently selfish about thinking that simplicity, that the ease of waking up on a threadsun morning and turning your face to the window, could be what leads to happiness. no, happiness is already there, waiting.
there’s something inherently selfish, too, about being 200 miles away from sadness. but we don’t think about that.)
the first words ever spoken on a telephone were “come here—I want to see you”, and that’s all we’ve said since. alexander graham bell knew: there is no substitute for touch.
i won’t call.