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Dear Friends and Enemies,
After 5 years of periodically prolific posts, I’m stepping away from my blog. Just thought I should let you know.
Thank you all for your sweet and incisive comments, your public and private praise, your friendly reposts, and just for plain old reading the thing. I’ll miss you guys! But for personal and professional reasons it’s time to move on.
I may or may not start posting elsewhere– alone or in conjunction with a friend. If you’d like to be added to my mailing list, should that ever happen, please send me an email or leave a comment with your preferred contact information. (The comment will not be publicly posted to my blog.)
Take care of each other,
It’s been a long, long time since I came home with a handful of stones, some quartz, others I had painted with crushed juniper berries, milkweed, all the while thinking, “what will I do after this? What are these for?” Collected from the path at the top of the meadow, collected from the ridge, from the treeline, from a road horses used to ride down, from the path from the abandoned mine. Eventually I would take them with me, ready for the next step, when I thought of it, which would make them useful– which would make the act of collecting and painting meaningful. You pick them. You make the paint.
Waiting for the dinner bell on the deck, already uncomfortably cold in my shorts, I’d stack, sort, line them– looking for the answer to the riddle. Across the hill the field the valley, atop the next mountain ridge: the silhouette of two bodies lying foot to foot, blackened against the also blackening sky and my hands were sticky. If you add dirt to the sap, it all peels off together. When you go inside you can say your hands are clean. They’re not dusty. Why is the mountain ridge shaped like those bodies?
The answer to the riddle does not appear. When the dinner bell. They are stacked along my goosebumped leg to keep me warm. They are shuddering in the crook of my knee. It is neither the first or last time that I will discover something small that inadequately warms me and issue a plea to it. All of these stones painted and unpainted so that when I stand they drop off. And I kick those that remain off the edge of the deck and into the grassy dirt, frustrated that nothing came of this.
In a city I haven’t visited in years, I take a tour of relevant platforms, meaningful stretches. You’re showing me where you come from. The highways have changed. The place where you used to walk alone has more students than you remember. I used to say this city felt like the inside of movie set of a factory. Now we walk your path instead. They’re all wearing hoodies and eating foil-wrapped burritos. You would step over the edge.
From this place, you can look into the water. A log floats by so quickly that I want to watch it go and go and go. It’s moving almost as fast as we are walking and maybe it’s alive. From here we can look past it and the boulders, motionless through the water. Through the little waves. But you are not alone and you’re walking forward, with your brother. From your bedroom I can see the deck. Alone for once in five days, I sit somewhere that I can’t tell if you ever sat. And I don’t imagine what it was like to be you then, whether or not you sat here– but what it would have felt like to be me. When we were both teenagers and you were skulking around, smoking alone, and feeling things deeply. Your mother has conscientiously removed all the photos of you because this is the first time I’ve come here.
It was Easter. It will continue to be Easter for another month. Period of stones. Era of the risen dead. Why are those bodies shaped like the mountain ridge? The photos that were there before have been politely removed and presumably replaced with nearly innocuous images of your brother. I didn’t know what a cairn was. I scattered the rocks. Maybe I’d find them though, painted. In some places they stick, warmed by my body heat and then warming me right back. A hug from a rock. A hug from a pointless rock. Most importantly, they roll off. And what they leave behind is nothing. No thing.
It’s Easter. When we are two rocks together. Warmed and so capable of warming. Shed and listing. The season where things that were alive before get to be alive again. Where it turns out that the way that stones. Where it turns out that the way that being alone. Where it turns out that the stories mean something new and it turns out that they always, always meant that same thing and you just now know it. When the dinner bell, it’s Easter. Nothing is left– but a meaningful nothing. And those stones kept you company and that was enough.
(for five friends)
C. You told me that you do everything in sagas. And so, in bouts, we have cried and exulted. From Texas you text me a photo of a photo of your first communion with the message: “Also, I imagine you will care about this.” So great a cloud of witnesses. The left side of the frame is cut out because you’ve taken the picture at an angle. Probably it is hanging in your grandmother’s house, above some stairs. You ascend the stairs to take the photo to send it to me. The fourth edge of the frame is cut off so I can tell that you’re thinking of me.
L. I could remind you about all the times that you took care of me. But I don’t. So rich our heritage of grace; a brighter dawn is breaking, so great a cloud of witnesses. You come over so we can celebrate your admission to rabbinical school. My roommate assembles you a cheese plate, makes tea. We talk about arriving at vocation at similar times and how that feels like a blessing. Across faith-traditions, we are partners in each other, but without breaking any rules. I tell you that I easily admit belief, I am proud of practice– but there are certain things that I am hesitant to attribute to religion. If you ask me about loving my neighbor, for example, I’ll defensively explain that it’s just a christian coincidence, “I was totally doing that independently of god or whatever.”
R. It comes as a surprise when you ask me if I want to go to church with you. The answer is yes both because I want to go to church and because I want to go anywhere with you. On a bench, outside before the service starts, my migraine assuaged but my words still fluttering, I interview you about going to church for the first time in six years. Inside we hear the story of a destroyed accordion and accidental sin. World filled with kindness, we walk all around looking for an ATM, it’s gotten cold and windy, and talk about our friends who are about to embark upon a trip to the desert. So rich our heritage of grace; So great salvation burns within. We are deciding to make something together.
B. Who knows what they’re projecting onto the wall. You’re telling me you used to want to get a tattoo of your dad’s name. It’s a party in Brooklyn and I don’t know if you realize that we have mutual acquaintances. Later, we go to all the same shows, all the same readings, all the same list-servs. Sisters in Jesus Christ, you say.
A. I tell you my most important story. The one I almost never tell because it feels too risky. If it is misunderstood, we won’t just all move on. I will break. We will break. I will have broken. A month later you tell me, “everything seems to be falling into place,” about your own life. I think this is the only story I have that only has one answer. We’re in felty darkness but I look down anyway. Your glasses are off but you excuse my additional lack of eye contact, you’re holding my hand, and watching me speak. The rest of my stories can be distilled into countless interpretations. I like to hear the things people come up with. But not with this one. I guard it and then deliver it only on the rarest of occasions, knowing that if you do alight upon the key, so glows Your glory in this place. It is an archive within a story. It is my biggest tale of grace. And the secret is that if you understand it then we don’t just get to both know the story. We get something else, too.
We get to make something together. So great a cloud of witnesses, so rich our heritage of grace, so great salvation burns within. So glows Your glory in this place.
C. Five months after we meet, we’re sitting at a blue-tiled diner table waiting for a plate of waffles or waffle fries– certainly something waffled– and you’re showing me that your Blackberry can fit horizontally, vertically, diagonally, neatly, along the grout lines. That works. That works. Something about geometry. Something golden about geometry. That, too. I already love you. And when I look up expectantly thinking the waiter’s got our order (not yet), you look down and because we’ve rarely broached the topic of god, to watch your fingers when you say, “you know, I told T that I think god brought me to ____ so I could meet you.”
L. My dear, dear friend: I think you must know what it means to be witness to the courage of others. B and I agreed over brunch, how moving it is, how important for us it has been to witness all of our Jewish friends, brave in their faith-practice, be life and joy and hope an peace. Between the two of us, it’s hard to know who was strong enough first. I think we’d both admit it was the other. For a long time, we never addressed the topic directly, we just walked together, interested in each other’s accidental religion but aware of its tenuousness. It’s nice to celebrate now. In bouts, we have cried and exulted. I hope you can tell that I’m thinking of you.
R. You had to buy the donuts to use the bathroom, you had to use the bathroom to make the video. You cut both donuts in half with a knife from our kitchen and we share them. One is frosted with something pink and one is filled with something pink. There are a dozen videos to choose from, and we do. I love you. I tell you that in I found out two years ago that religion was different than I thought it was. I kept looking directly at it, to struggle. Instead I had to get there by walking with friends. Instead we all had to be holiness and living power.
B. This time we have coffee, grilled cheese, french fries. “Look at us,” you say, it’s been weeks or months, “in our fitted leather coats.” I tell you I want to build an archive of experiences indexed to trigger particular affects. You tell me about being a teenager and manage a metaphor that includes front row season ticket’s to a comet, once caught in orbit, now tragically flung out. When we are together we seem to want to stay and stay and stay together. And later, in an email to someone else, you report the french fries. “Sisters in Christ,” you say. She points out that the whole point of affect is that it can’t really be explained or transferred. I don’t point out, because I don’t think of it, that the great thing about witnessing is that it’s an act which proves both the event and the witnesses. So great, so great, a cloud.
A. You’re in your office where it’s at least 90 degrees and every time you leave the room, the wind blows a stack of papers across your office and you return and have to peel them from between the desk and the filing cabinet, remove clumps of dust. The fourth edge is missing so you know I must be thinking about you. It’s light, your glasses are on, we’re looking at each other, separated only because this is video chat and a student is bound to come knocking on your door. You are overwhelmed with excitement and joy and again a glow of glorious grace. A brighter dawn is breaking. I know how good I feel because I can see it in the way you move. Once you find out what the good news is, you close your door, and exclaim. This is the second time that I’ve come to you and you’ve closed your office door for it: transformed it into a room of waking praise.
If you ask me about loving my neighbor, I’ll tell you that I love you. If you ask me how I got here, I’ll suggest that perhaps we brought ourselves so that we could (a cloud: a cloud!) meet god.
You’ve asked me twice and both times I’ve told you that I don’t know the answer. Both times the question’s reminded me of an adjacent story which I also haven’t told you. The snow has blown or melted, ragged on top, into shapes seen more frequently in movies about coral or caves. I stomp a fjord off the edge and an icy chunk skitters across the sidewalk to lodge in the other bank. These aren’t the kind of shapes for the day-lit world. Maybe that’s why you’re asking. Going for a walk, ISO apocalypse facts. Later, neither one of us remembers to look up the answer.
Driving through Harahan for the–it’s hard to say how many times I’ve come. A lot. The first time, on our way to watch 24, Season One (just released on dvd!) on our friend’s leather sofa in his over air-conditioned house, you explained to me that this is one of the Really Racist neighborhoods. Anyway, this time he’s with us and so is C, who is new to your school and you’re letting him go everywhere to see if he’ll be your friend. By the way, it doesn’t work out, but you don’t realize it til after he and I are driving together and I get pulled over for going the wrong way down an unmarked one-way, and cry, and the cop lets us go as long as C drives. We don’t tell the cop that he doesn’t have a license, and certainly we don’t tell you anything at all. Before that, C says, “You know, if you add an ‘ok’ to your name, you get Ragnorok.” We’re all teenagers.
Ragnar turns. In April his mom will be out of town and we’ll lock ourselves out and break into the basement with a flashlight wrapped in a t-shirt from my backseat, after a couple of failed international calls to Brazil, where she’s staying. The shards will explode unpredictably both back and forth, skipped stoning into the street, into the fold of his sweathshirt, into my hair. But that’s not where we are right now. “Yeah?” he says, “well, if you add an ‘ok’ to her name, then it becomes ‘Rebeccaok.”
I don’t tell you this story. It’s March. When you ask me this question I just kick the drift, skid a bit, look around and suffix as many things as I can with a little “ok.”
Everyone laughs, C is trying to make friends. Ragnarok is the final battle between good and evil at the end of the world. This seems like a safe thing to add. Before this it was pool, engines, WWE, why some places charge for a cup for water. The conversation flagged when we found out that C lived in a tiny apartment with his mom and sister, that he just arrived from Kuwait. I think it must be hard to have changed schools every few months. Apparently he knows about the end of the world.
I don’t tell you this story because I’m afraid it might be too much of a tangent. I don’t know whose myth Ragnarok is. Your question was about Norse mythology. The only places I am certain about are the comparatively racist cities of Jefferson parish, Brooklyn, Minneapolis, Cambridge. Ragnarok doesn’t belong to any of those, as far as I can remember. Maybe Ragnarok is a Brazilian myth? No.
Before that battle though, three successive winters, snow from all sides, siblings turn against each other. That’s what you’re looking for. When your face is windblown and the snow is taking shapes only otherwise seen in the most unwonted earthy circumstances: places which threaten between eerie and unearthly: the subterranean, the submerged, the man-made/man-broken.
I don’t tell you because I don’t want to concatenate apocalypses. We don’t have facts but we can at least protect trajectory. I don’t tell you because the carful is gone and will never be relevant again. It is a mere coincidence that the word you’re looking for and the word that I happen to know actually do come from the same story. I have a lot of stories, but most of them require a lot of characters. And because those characters are people and those people are gone, I don’t tell you. You want an answer and no one wants a saga, especially an irrelavent one. I was too worried about glass to keep the tshirt. I don’t even think the flashlight was mine. I don’t care about wrestling. And anyway. I disgree. My face is windblown but. Whatever you ask, and maybe it’s because we’re together, I think we can all see signs of, thank god, spring.
In a world that I cannot imagine, there are many ways that the future can go. But now, despite the fact that there are a variety of presents, I can only foresee one result. I wanted to move you.
I take some notes because I am trying to get a grip on things. And now I couldn’t lose you if I wanted to.
You know I love it when things are predictably the same. For example, when faced with structural linguistics for the first time, one student in a classroom will always insist, “but what about BEFORE there was language, what about BEFORE the symbolic order. Things were actually real, then, right?” Of course not. But and I wonder where the future is, in relation to that.
You, it seems, wanted to
Thus says the Lord: I have kept you and given you as a covenant to the people, saying to those who are in darkness, “Show yourselves.”
This week, the homily was about violence and, from the pulpit, the priest asks us to think about why we live in places even when they are violent. He wants us to think about it now and also to remember it every day. It is normal, he tells us, if this concern obsesses you. Why do we wake up and stay and live here again? He tells us, “this is it. If you’d rather be doing something else, now’s the time.”
Long before I moved to New York, I used to visit. And I would sit in the library with someone who is now my friend and she would say over and over that I should move here. It was an unfamiliar feeling and one that I understand, in retrospect, to have been friendship and fondness. Now I do live here and the way that she asked me– well. If she wanted to move me… well– it is one of my most perfectly blissful memories and I think about it almost every day.
It hasn’t been that long and yet no one is surprised. In a world that I cannot imagine, the future is unimaginable. But as it is, I can see all of it.
Away from home for the first time in a long time, I ride in the back seat of a car with two people I have only just met and one who I have known for a very long time. The snow had melted enough to see the ground. The brown grasses had been part of my initial tour but now someone else is leading and mentioning some of the best same sections. She explains that they haven’t seen the ground in months, under the snow, that soon it will be covered again. “Wait, what’s that!?” she stops, eyes dragging her body back with them as they fix on a passing patch of brown. It is mud. She’s excited again. In the future, the snow will re-cover the mud, too. And when I ask her how Top Chef ended, she whips around. We have only just met — this time over her left shoulder– fast enough for the seat belt to seize. “You REALLY want to know?” she asks. “I love spoilers,” I explain.
On all of my trips I, who am so obsessed with home, take notes because I am convinced that while I’m there, I might be delusional. When I get back I review everything and judge it again. It’s hard for me to remember home when I am not in it. I just abide where I am. With you or alone. And now the fact of this and of you, well…
I can see the future and it is the way that it has smoothed my past into something appreciable. In it, we are there, and we know the language and we both know the story. For once, we both know the story. I wanted to move you
They shall feed along the ways, on all the bare heights shall be their pasture; and I shall turn all my mountains into a road, and on my highways shall be raised up. That’s from Isaiah: about a time when the world will look so different that it will be unrecognizable but still where the people live. There is no time after language, either– at least not one that we can envision because we don’t have the words to describe it.
It was a pretty queer sermon, I think. I have always lived in violent places because my family abides deeper than that violence. Nowhere is safe for us and still we turn up for each other, and when we know that our loved ones are in darkness, because it’s all we can do, we show ourselves. And when we are far from each other, we feel it in our bodies, write messages, locate home sometime after language but before the departure.
I don’t know how else to explain it except that something happened and my pain has rarely flared up enough to disable me for more than a few hours. I didn’t really know until I went back to look through my record. I don’t keep a diary but I keep a visual log of my pain. And in the last 60 days it’s declined so steeply that I am temporarily certain that I am either a different person or that language has changed. Periodic dysphasia, sure, but everything else is clearer. I haven’t taken a sick day in a full two months: a record. I can concentrate in most of the moments. I am continuous and coherent. I am one person, writing notes to home to remind myself, in case this goes away, that this is possible to get back.
In the car, she asks me if I really want to know how it ends and I say yes. There is space for new friends.
A hefty amount of stress melted off. A few months ago, my life spanned backwards, a major mountain range. From any vantage point you could see a dozen others, shadowed, inaccessible, snowy. And then the snow melted to reveal the warm brown, beneath. It was softer than expected and, it turns out, that I wasn’t lost in the mountains, but just very, very small upon a crest of a crumpled paper bag. Now I am my size and can smooth it. I can tear it in half or use it to write a note. I cannot explain how time has collapsed to give me memory of it, complicatedly–sure–, all. But I’m glad we’re here together and I can hand it to you and, I guess, you can hold it too, if you want.
She asks me if I really want to know how it ends: “You love spoilers? Really? I love spoiling things!.. What haven’t you seen?”
Sing for joy, O heavens, and exult, O earth; break forth, O mountains, into singing!
Everyone I know is getting closer together. My own life, is small enough to pick up and– I am so relieved– move me.
Back in Brooklyn, at a show, I get to sit between the friend that invited me here, 7 years ago and a dear, new friend. And the new friend turns to me and says, “I’m a sucker for any line about coming home.” And I smile back at her to maintain the surface tension of my watering eyes. I agree so hard that just hearing her say it– we are both small atop– we are both ourselves– we are both flung together, unmoving, here: home.
In the future, when the mountains are roads, I’ll meet you here.
See, I have inscribed you on the palms of my hands.
At three pm brunch, I am touching your boot while we talk and even though we’re not really friends yet, you say it’s okay and even nice. And I am a lady and you are a lady and maybe, because we’re similar kinds of ladies, it’s a healing gesture. So by four pm, we’re sitting there and talking and everything and I touch your boot and you say it’s nice even and what it means is, “yeah. We are both something that we’re trying to be.”
Because we sit in a triangle, we each take turns being the elbow of the joke. When you hear her say to me, “I’m sorry, I wasn’t listening, my friend is making marital decisions based on a webinar and premature aspirations to a political life,” you make a note of the use of webinar. You show me later and tell me about your bandaid which says, “Keep Calm and Carry On” and your best friend who is gchatting with you. We each gchat with someone, today. All three of us share a story about our mom. We have a band of stories. A band? A brood? A bottomless cup.
In my imagination, my two best friends are standing at a Japanese train station contemplating the Departures board. Because I have never been to Japan and because only one of them knows Hiragana and neither know Kanji, I’ve borrowed the board from Boston South Station. In reality, my two best friends are in Korea doing god knows what with I know who. I am waiting for you to get back so we can trio– one at a time checking vibrating phones or reading aloud from emails.
For Valentine’s Day your grandmother sponsored seven novenas from a pack of nuns. A pack? A pool? A pod? She offers to raise any baby you might birth if you just want to drop it off with her. Your mother sends you a card and, instead of the usual five dollar bill, she encloses an article from Redbook on finding love at any age. It encourages you to go out for coffee, meet new people, to be open to love! In the margins she adds, “I completely agree!”
It is nearly an important birthday and despite the fact that we are no longer in touch, there are ways in which we are always touching. If you were here I would buy you Sour Patch kids and take you clearance shopping at Target. We could make cards together. We talked, for a long time, about getting tattoos together. They wouldn’t be the same, of course. They would just be different. Sometimes the only proximity is missing you.
I tell you about the most important thing that has ever happened to me– the elbow of my physical and psychic life, and surprisingly you thank me. Sincerely. I saw Lake Superior for the first time and it looked like an ocean but there were no whales inside. It was cold on the north shore because of the Lake Effect, but not as cold as I was expecting. Ice cream abandoned outside overnight melts into a cold soup the texture of melted ice cream. It surprises me that the settlers settled here. It made sense when I saw the lake in the valley, flat gray with bridges sticking out the top.
Something between us makes it easy to believe in God.When it’s windy, the air will cap the water white and even though the ice cream is liquid, it is too cold. We eat it anyway to show that we have retrieved it just in time.
VI. At a show where not a single word is wasted, she sits next to me and tells me she is afraid of two things: poetry and leaving the apartment. I sit between her and a man with whom I have eaten dinner only once, and when I have to go to the bathroom, the man’s daughter tells me that I have to go down some stairs and then up some others. Everyone I meet along the way tells me the same thing whether or not I ask, until I arrive at the bathroom. And, standing in line, a person with a camera, tells me, “grandmas really had a good thing going.”
VII. She sits next to me and tells me she is afraid of two things: poetry and leaving the apartment. And I am only afraid of the latter but that is enough for both of us, even if it’s not an adequate archive of the evening. In the note before the exergue before the preamble before the forward before the theses, Derrida reminds us that Freud’s house is a museum because it is an intersection of singularity and law. Everyone knows the way to the bathroom, even me, and I overhear a story about why someone is here: she, well, her friend—no, her friend’s roommate, well, her roommate’s friend’s friend’s old roommate, but now, she guesses, they are friends too.
VIII. At a show where not a single word is wasted, I am afraid of two things. I arrive a few minutes late and presumably miss a big fanfare about the remarkable history of the venue. It’s a very old building which probably never gets used without an appreciative fanfare. Fortunately, heavy rafters subdivide the roof and it’s not unlike being in a church or your memory of your visualization of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s old school. All week I have been reading about Christina the Astonishing who, after dying, leapt up from her coffin and into the church’s rafters because she, “could not abide the smell of men.”
IX. I am afraid of two things: I have to go down some stairs and up some others. She is talking about a piece of jewelry and not looking at my cane when she tells me that grandmas really had a good thing going. After the show we stand around talking. She and I have both come to see our roommates, who are now also our friends, and to see each other because the Internet said we’d both be there. She tells me how, on a podcast or something, she heard a term for how we all carry around our cell phones with our entire social networks in our pockets. The term is “ambient intimacy.” We all stand on the bottom floor of a very old building.
X. Up some others, my hip gives on the icy walk home but we make it. And before we leave I make her call over her roommate so that we can all four stand together. She and hers, me and mine. We are both afraid of leaving the apartment but have, in part, brought the apartments along. We are important to each other not only because we are the privileged intersection of singularity and law. We also love—. We say goodbye to everyone but then meet them again on the sidewalk. First her roommate, who tells us that they lost the car and had to go a block in the wrong direction. Then my roommate, who tells us that they lost the car and had to go a block in the other direction.
XI. At a show where not a single word is wasted, we make it. I send a text message to my roommate and she responds: “for some reason I knew that you would have texted me.” And when she gets home she asks whether she told me the funny story about how they lost the car. It turned out that Christina wasn’t dead. Today people like to write about how she probably had a seizure and that’s fine I guess, but they’re really obsessed with it. All over the Internet people are telling me that Christina’s temporary death has a medically identifiable cause. Okay, okay. Still, there’s a lot of other undiagnosed magic in that story. She did jump into the rafters for goodness sake!
XII. It’s too late to stop the cherry pulsing. Maybe to you it’s all numbers and dots– our whole past rewritten as appointment times. My parts have sprung out my back– the soft 9-volt back-up battery pad swinging unused on red and black wires. Everywhere, used and unused, I am red and black. I stuff it back inside like the ribbons for hanging up ladies’ clothing. I keep my open back to the wall, sliding from room to room so that I do not come undone. I have nightmares that always begin with a jolt and end with wondering why I’ve never bought a battery. If You Hate Resetting the Alarm Clock So Much. If I hate resetting the alarm clock so much.
1. “Finally, distrust most those stories that seem most innocuous, regardless of what section they appear in. For example: an article about a circus unicorn. Great, you think. Harmless. You’re reading. OK. But the unicorn turns out to be a goat whose horns were diabolically fused together to make one mythic horn, center head.”
2. “I have a present for you,” I tell her.
“Does it start with a J?” she asks.
“No,” I answer, and wonder what starts with a J.
3. It has been nearly five years and in the meantime we have both lost some people and become others. We are both new, old, and have particular and different failures of memory.
In a text message she asks for a place to go and, although I hate making recommendations, feel hesitant to give someone I like so much and know so inadequately, advice, I venture an idea. A few dozen characters of tenderness and I send her to a series of rooms with rotating exhibits, a small free museum in New England that she already knows about, and one of the places I remember being happiest. Despite the fact that we were never there together, that our memories–when functional, are different, I send her to a place where I can reliably achieve the elation of memory. For some reason, visceral seems precious, even if it’s just visceral to someone else.
In the past I’ve steered others away from the same rooms to keep them safe.
On my first trip to the museum I had a notebook in my pocket, a nearly empty bag, a cell phone that was temporarily activated, a pen, and, before going in, I hung up with someone in dire need of help after convincing them to give me their therapist’s number. It had taken time and my thighs were numb on the concrete bench outside the glass doors where I dialed the new number and left a concerned voicemail. They had finally crossed the threshold into an objectively dangerous madness and I could pass them off to a more qualified professional. I hadn’t realized how the pressure of holding them together had been weighing on me until I hung up the phone, realized I was no longer the only witness and, for the first time in a long time turned back to attending school.)
There I was to write a paper about a room cut by neon lights that the professor would mark me down for because I failed to mention the subway ride on the way to the exhibit. She found it an obvious connection, crucial to our experience of the installation on which we’d been tasked to write.
4. The following semester, I would experience a similar frustration in astronomy class with a professor whose grammar was too confusing to elicit the right answers on test questions. From one of her tests:
(short answer) New York only stars down to the third magnitude. _______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
5. If I made a list of things I loved the most in the world, this would be on it.
In the holiday spirit someone sprays fake snow on the glass window of the courtyard door in my apartment building. But spray paint, here, is a temporary note from the city– it means the area is condemned or marked for destruction, it means we promise we’re coming back eventually to remove the danger, to mend the down power lines, reinforce this failing bridge with steel cables, in the meantime we recognize the problem with an unreassuring x.
So the job doesn’t evoke Santa or Christ or Snow and “X MAS” is added. Ah, “x-mas,” of course, an apologetic citation instead of decor. Still, I like it, because at night the window goes black and the lobby looks like Halloween and I don’t mind mixing holidays.
In a moment which I cannot even attribute to dysphasia, I accidentally use the word passionate. When looking for what I mean, it occurs to me and I discard it and then knowingly return, deploying the word with apologies, because for a moment I can neither be adequately fast nor adequately right. Passionate is one of the words on my top four most-hated-words list. Denoting a saturation of feeling, it is left nearly empty. I only like to use it in religious contexts.
In the negative space of the holiday fanfare, an accretion of remarks: mitigating, advisory, unintelligible.
It seems I’m not the only one who finds the decorations could use some editing. Over the week, passers-by rub in new words.
The text reads x mas: but what they meant was: have fun.
To the left of that a name is tagged.
The text reads: x mas have fun but what they meant was: love them while you can.
The text reads love them while you can:
After a week off, my friends have temporarily (I expect) stopped complaining about my failure of personal pronouns. You already know that I’m more comfortable in the second person singular or the first person plural. By you, I mean I. By us, I mean I.
A story not about you or us… or me… even.. at all:
Despite the fact that they have never met, they are familiarly uncomfortable around each other. As if there has been a schism or at least an argument, they fail to speak. About another situation, one set on perpendicular sofas, in which two people neither look at each other nor touch, E remarks that it sounds like the way 4th grade felt. But to return: and with no negotiation, they confound the hosts and agree to take the room with twin beds. All day they have waited to be alone together so that they may converse as if casually without any observers noticing the palpable, transparent as-if-ness. But instead he turns out the light and slips into the other bed and they both feel a heavy cord which has strung them together all day, fall at last level and parallel to the floor. This cord can sustain 2100 lbs of pressure. It can be used for rigging or to support a ship. It is for a truss or a locomotive and all day they have been dancing around each other, awkwardly not talking and not touching and sustaining a heavy apparatus which, if not properly handled, will knock down an innocent bystander.
In a dark room, without even a cord between them, they are released and ramble freight-heavy into a different conversation. Whether or not the trial and execution of Charles I had anything to do with the coincidence of solstice and lunar eclipse, she is working on a poem about it. And when she says something, he knows what she means. This is not unique but irregular since, most of the time, her dialogue follows a well-established route, branching off for quick detours and then returning when the brush is too thick. She is accustomed to sharing the first sentence of a complicated thought before being derailed. But now they are moving together.
What I meant was: I am an L turned into a V. With a gentle, deft slide I am swung closed and rotated on pointed end. This is dance translated into letters— not even words, just lonely, simple letters. And I am the filthy, branched V– balanced and open-mouthed. And every turning-gesture, every line, every closing and closed space, fights back and is full. What I mean by passionate is that we were saturated. We were saturated and you were, too.
What has not waned is my willingness to take nearly any imperative as advice: horoscopes, graffiti, addictive couplets, poignantly agrammatical moments in an instruction manual.
While watching a movie about a serial killer, I catch you repeatedly holding your body rigid in uncomfortable ways. Your knee digs into mine, you flex a foot til it cramps, one eye closes, and your hand is raised defensively at your chest.
So on the afternoon of my 26th birthday, I decided (and said) that I would buy the flowers myself. By that point, every conscious moment was an unexpected gift.
I realize that this is the way the victim should hold her wounds to mitigate the pain, staunch the bleeding, placate impending death. “Arrange whatever pieces,” Virginia Woolf said, “come your way.”
Since I was eight I have known how to thread a cord through a piece of fabric, make a knot, pull it tight. This is how to cinch. If you can baste then you can cinch. It’s a skill I don’t have much use for anymore.
Almost a week later, in a kitchen with five burners and tea cups with tea bags but no hot water, M (of MS and MF) said that he would like to start a relationship in person and eventually move it onto the Internet. Let’s meet at a bar, he suggests, and if it gets intimate, we can move things to OkCupid. A little later, below an inflatable shark, my full teacup shook when I laughed and I spilled over a stylish carpet that M referred to as a tidy zebra. Like your sweater, he said, which was neither tidy nor a zebra. M returned with stain spray, “I have this. Do you think it’s okay?” And at the same time M and I arrive in the same place, “of course it’s okay that you have it.”
In what turns out to relate only tangentially to the climax, the stain is successfully lifted; it is not a zebra at all. It is rectangular slices of white horse, patch-worked into rectangular slices of black horse– that is, if it’s acrylic equus at all.
I am hesitant to risk romanticizing the pain, if for no other reason than that the pain is inescapable.
On the morning of my 26th birthday, I sat on the kitchen floor, I made a phone call, I waited for help. “I have this,” I told my roommate. I was wracked with pain which woke me at four am when I mistakenly believed I was suffering a solid, throbbing, ache– the kind treatable with Tylonol and consequently jostled too quickly for the pills. It turns out that the pain was also liquid and my movement dislodged some crucial dam and it sloshed upward, pouring out of my right nostril and then my right eye. I spend the next eleven hours wiping and half-blind, able- at most- to comprehend the briefest phrases: haunting aphorisms, the punch lines of jokes, horoscopes, graffiti.
At four am I feel a creeping thread pierce my forehead and slide down over my cheek bone. Hitting lip level, I feel the knot and it is pulled tight. If you can baste, you can close my eye for twelve hours. I am hesitant to not romanticize the pain because romance is one of the only things that makes it bearable.
Something new that happens when you cannot imagine a more intense pain. When I was a little kid, I used to lie in bed and pretend my mother was stroking my hair and back and that when she did that I wouldn’t be afraid anymore. Now I am older, I can lie in bed and this monster will stroke my hair and back and I am not afraid. It is a peculiar feeling to weep only at pain and not in fright– to watch what extremity winnows out. I didn’t even know I had been that scared.
While watching a horror movie, I discover that I’m tensing my face to awkwardly mitigate, staunch, placate. Twelve hours after it wove in, the cord is snipped and the right side of my face falls unexpectedly flat, bagging and disfigured with effort, misshapen by stitches, still oozing. I can relax.
It is nearly 8 before I can control my eyelid. It is twenty-four hours before my face does not feel black and blue. It is a week before I am exuberant enough to tell a parable with my whole body on Franklin Avenue.
A week later, I cannot tell whether the tea has gotten into my sock, as well. Awake, painless, elated by jokes, my best friend, two sofas, two strangers, two M’s, I am no longer isolated by agony. This time it is distraction which prevents me from understanding the difference between thread and drip. My words are back and it no longer seems crucial to use them to identify whether something has been absorbed.
Whether or not anyone can escape, I can relax. It’s true, I say, it’s okay that I have this.