31 January 2017

THROUGH A CHILD’S EYES

All aspects of life  before the age of six, were incredibly vague to my comprehension of the world around me. I had grown only to love, understand, and appreciate only the people and things that I had known—Family, friends, recess, holidays. Often radiant, with an occasional bashfulness, I clung to what was familiar in the most exclusive sense.  

My mommy was mine and only mine, although I was her youngest. I was Mrs Sherrod’s (my 3rd grade teacher) favorite every single day. Crayons and magic markers were always the best option over classic No. 2’s. As knowledge and growth crept into my flourishing   mind, I welcomed it with an unforeseen authorization—brewing  curiosity. Slowly,  all that was typical and ordinary had begun to expand.

St. Alphonsus-Basilica School of Baltimore’s downtown environment initiated a feeling of wonder and enlightenment. As I tip-toed swiftly down the busy streets of West Saratoga, clinging tightly to my mother as she carefully pulled me along, the large buildings differentiating faces, and flashing traffic lights intensified the tremors of my  heart’s steady beat. Where one timid child would have felt the need for extreme caution, I was fully aware of that elemental space and time. In my white collared shirt, green neck tab, plaid skirt, baby doll shoes and a book bag half of my size, I looked on carefully. I gravitated toward first impression sidewalk views of individuals unknown, but colorful in aura. As I glanced up to my mother, down to my feet and back to the   air these auras were always welcomed with a highcheeked smile and bug eyes that weren’t shut to my surroundings.  Moving between crowded crosswalks and intersections on Greene St, the horn honks of impatient drivers and intellectual phone calls of business advocates made no sense at all to my adolescent understanding but amused me primitively. These identities, sounds, and motions were stories—stories I wanted to know.  

I am inspired by the awareness that keeps our world attentive. The seed of allure  that was planted on that cemented sidewalk proved instrumental to my bloom
Walking through unopened doors consistently shaped the vision of me from who I was as a child, to who I’ve become as a young woman

That commemorated moment with my mother is never interrupted in my mind as it played to jog the memory of how I’d grown to appreciate the known, unknown, and all that life itself has yet to offer. Dusty galaxies, cultural merges, and untapped artificial intelligence are only the new beginnings. People, places, music, art.

The world that I’ve become accustomed to in real time, has continually produced neverending conclusions. The world and all it offers is endless. What German people consider as “Fernweh” is the only logical explanation to my peaked interest in all that remains unexplored. I will forever be in wonder, for all that is unrevealed may surface with glorious value.


26 January 2017

WHAT DOESN’T KILL YOU MAKES YOU STRONGER

I can name many  turning points in my life that I believe changed me. But when I sit back and think about it, there is one particular time in my life that changed me for good. It was a time between 2010 and 2011 when I was sent to the psych unit for attempting to commit suicide. I was at a point in my life where it felt as though nothing was going right for me. And being young at the time, I was looking for an easy way out. I’m pretty sure almost everyone has been at this point in their life, but we all have different ways of handling it.  The day the incident took place, I had gotten into a big argument with my mother over something petty and I was looking for a way to blow off my frustration. So I went to my basement and started working out, I’m blowing my steam the right way, but then it got out of control when I started drinking tequila.  My anger grew and my thoughts scattered everywhere. The next thing I knew I was popping handfuls of pills (Percocet), and my blood started rushing faster than ever. To be honest I was enjoyed the feeling. But then I took it over board I kept taking the pills. The doctor told me it was good thing I made it to the hospital because if I hadn’t , and stayed in the house, there was a good chance that I wouldn’t be here today. I believe God didn’t want me to leave yet, and I’m thankful that he sparred my life.

The time spent in the psych unit was the most draining and paranoid time I’d ever spent. Being surrounded by people who really don’t have a care for life was really stressful; I didn’t sleep for a whole week while there. Then I had doctors giving me medicine for the wrong treatments. They were messing up my nerves in the process of trying to stop my urge for alcohol.  That was a turning point in my life. It was also a great lesson to never let any struggle bring you down, be appreciative of what you have and work hard for what you want.

Today, I think of things in a whole different light. I’ve built my connection with God and I have a much better mindset about things in life. Looking back at the situation, I believe that my major issue was my aggressive drinking habit. I had a strong urge for alcohol, and when I’m under the influence my temper is real short. I had many occasions in the past when I was drunk and just went off — just because. I realize now that my drinking not only was hurting me, but my mother as well.

I knew this was not the route I wanted to take in life. I needed to find a solution fast because seeing my mother hurting was killing me inside. I knew I needed help and so did she. So,  slowly but surely, I started getting myself  together. I re-enrolled in school. I started playing football again. I also stayed away from drinking. I took this incident as a very good learning experience in my life. It was not a setback, but a growing point in my life.  In a way, I’m kind of glad it happened to me, because this actually made me closer and connected to God. I have started going to church more and joining programs within my church. I am helping others so that they won’t go through the things that I went through.



12 January 2017

A Girl

There was a girl gone missing a few years back. Her mama standing out front of the Dairy Queen, eyeing your cone like you was hiding her child within. You seen Dee? Dee Switcher? You seen her? Nope, was always the answer, but I’ll keep an eye out. And before you knew it that cone was gone.

That was the year that old bitch Miss Shane was teaching us algebra. Solve for x, children. Chalk dusting her dress like she had a ghost dress on over her other one. Them arms like dough on a spit. That missing girl used to do her eyeliner during class. Over and over, underlining her eye like Miss Shane underlined them nasty equations. Solve for x.

We all had plans for that girl. She had a chest. She smoked them long thin lady cigarettes in plain sight of the custodian. When that retarded boy ran into the girl and knocked her purse down a condom spilled out, flashing there in its gold wrapper, looking for all the world like a coin.
The girl picked up her lipsticks and wallet and hair things and left it there, left that condom on the ground and walked off. Us thinking hard about ways to spend that coin.

There was other girls of course. The entire cheerleading team could get you going, save for the chubby one, but she’d do in a pinch. The majorette, Glenda was her name, rumor had it she’d drink too much at parties and beg you to fondle her.

So it wasn’t like this girl was the cream of the crop or nothing, there was plenty of girls. We wanted them all, Dee Switcher included. Her mama was the town skank. Everybody knew. So you couldn’t take her all that seriously when her girl went missing. Stay home all night for once, our own mamas would whisper to each other, swat each other on the arm. You so bad. I know it.

Nobody ever picked up that condom. It got kicked around and pushed into corners, and once Dee went missing we all got scared of it, and kicked it harder. Girls would shriek should they see it rocketing toward them. Some boys too. Then one day we all realized it wasn’t there no more. Probably the custodian got it. Or it was somewhere no one cared to look.

Her daddy came to the school on a Monday morning. No one had seen her daddy in years but here he was asking where was Dee, why did the school let her skip so easy, where was the truant officer, demanding to know who took her, who had his girl. We watched the principal pet his shoulder like you would a sick animal, watched Dee’s daddy get led to the door; it was a bright day and for a second he got swallowed up by the glare. He didn’t come back.
There was a big homecoming dance a few months after the girl went gone. We all paired up and parted our hair and wore suit coats and danced slow when we were told to.

Dee’s mama showed up at the dance in a fancy nightgown dress thing, asking could she chaperone. We watched the principal lead her over to the punch bowl, but Dee’s mama wasn’t there for long; no one came for punch and after a few songs she walked out with her head so high you worried for her neck. Some of us met at the diner after, eating pancakes while our girls fiddled with our belt loops under the table, if you were lucky. Others of us went to the after party at the Days Inn, but that turned out to be a bust. The stereo ran out of batteries and Miss Shane’s freshman boy showed up and puked into the trashcan and everybody went home.

Dee had left school after fifth period, was the story. Snuck out while everyone was scrambling for their lockers. Rumor had it she was going with an older boy, he might could even be called a man.

One day a skinny lady cop came and asked a few of us what we knew, but really we didn’t know nothing.

We skipped school all the time, was the thing. Sometimes it felt like if you didn’t skip you’d close your eyes and die, right there in the middle of Civics, so you did skip, and you’d go to the Circle K to buy Slim Jims or over to a friend’s house to look at his dad’s titty magazines. And nothing bad ever happened. The lady cop seemed to find us not knowing nothing a relief.

That’s what I figured, she’d say in agreement with you. Which meant, to us, solving for x really was an impossibility, a waste of time, so why bother? At Christmastime Miss Shane told us she had skin cancer, she wouldn’t be back the next semester.
 We stared at that mole on her cheek, as we had done for months. That’s what I figured, some of us wanted to blurt. Miss Shane’s eyes went wet, we started feeling soft toward her, but after she assigned two chapters of homework for over the break we went back to hating her guts, which felt better, more normal, than feeling sorry for her, so in a way you got to feeling grateful toward her for being such a cooze.

Over the break we saw Dee’s little brother at the movies by hisself. We forgot all about him, but there he was with his money in a wad, staring up at the listings like he couldn’t read. We went on in and spent all our money on arcade games. Then later that night, in your bed that smelled like socks and sweat and secretions and powder Tide, if you weren’t careful you’d start thinking how when you came out the boy was gone, and how maybe you should feel regretful about not inviting him to man the firetorch gun, really the best gun to have if you were playing Immortal Fear and you made it past the first two rounds, which everyone did.
But he had gone.

That winter someone found the girl’s yellow purse on the side of the road. The strap was gone. One of us heard their dad saying how you could use a strap to strangle someone, or at least tie up her hands. Her perfume bottle was smashed. That girl ain’t coming back, we told each other, shifting our nuts like we’d seen our dads do whenever they said something serious.

But really, we already knew that. You just had to say some things out loud.
During the spring semester Miss Shane’s boy got in a fistfight with the custodian. No one knew why but we figured it was stressful, having a bitch mom who had cancer. Then on Palm Sunday a dog found a skull and carried it to his master’s doorstep. There was excitement for a time but it turned out to be the skull of an infant, probably buried by some of them country folk who can’t afford no funeral. A rumor got spread that a girl tasted like a nine-volt battery down there. It got hot, hotter than the last summer, and a old lady died in her house ’cause she was too weak to open some windows. We’d see Dee’s mama working as the greeter at the Walmart. If she recognized you she’d say, Seen Dee? Dee Switcher? and most of the time we just shook our heads, stared at our shoes till we got to the magazines aisle. Guns and girls, we needed more info on both.

Some of us got for-real girlfriends. Some of us snuck in to their rooms at night and made love, you had to call it making love or your girl got mad, to these girls while you listened to their dads sawing logs just to the other side of the wall, you biting your girl’s pillow hard so you wouldn’t make no noise, you ignoring how sometimes your girl just laid there, her fingertips on your back limp and uninterested, you despite the dud your girl turned out to be feeling like your bottom half was exploding up into your top.

Dee one time punched a girl in the mouth, she’d been crying hard just before, her face ruined, black smears down her cheeks and her upper lip all glistened with snot. By that time we knew girls sometimes got ugly. Dee got sent home, came back the next day with her makeup all set again. Lips all wet. Eyes so blue you got to feeling indecent. See, we had seen Dee, we’d seen her a lot, but back then we had our eyes on all the girls, and over time it got to be hard to see how losing one was such a tragedy.

5 January 2017

Everyone Loves a Person Who Doesn’t Give a Fuck

For every, really, every single thing she’d ever done: every movement, moment, choice that had ever really been hers—the nights, days, springs, summers, winters, falls, or sorry autumns, all the PG–13s and the Xs and the Rs, for every kiss, man, cherry in season, leg spread, sundown, green sunrise, girl, movie, all her friends, every mind-blow, comedown, heartbreak, fever, holiday, her entire childhood, meeting him, marrying him, the album coming out and seeing their two glossy faces looking sullen and impressive on the cover like anyone in the world would kill to be them—it was still so easy to believe that this thing she’d just done—just now, fifteen seconds ago, after he’d gone to bed, where she looked forward to him going all day every day, pawing across the kitchen, her feet definitely still bleeding, uncorking a bottle of Cave d’Irouleguy Gorri d’Ansa, which she was so in love with these days, every intention in the world of drinking it all to herself (which she did)—was the point, the absolute, what all the rest of it had been leading up to.

Plopping her bony ass down on the swivel chair in front of the desktop she wasn’t really supposed to use (because it was his and she broke things), opening up Word and saying a hello that fell through her whole chest to her best friend the picture of the page (well, there were two pictures of the page, just as there had been two moons (drunk)) and, in her beloved twelve-point Bodoni, so “flattering” she liked to say, she wrote: Everyone loves a person who doesn’t give a fuck about anything.

She was twenty-eight years old, turning twenty-nine on the thirtyfirst, and if there was one person in the world who, if you asked anyone who ever met her, would be the last person to ever stop giving a fuck about anything, if they remembered her, they would tell you: Allison Altamont, who was, and once thought she always would be, a person who cared.

Which was exactly what had gotten her into this mess. She’d thought she was really cool for it at the time. Sometimes she’d walk to the bookshelf and find that old notebook: red with a bendy binding, a heart on the cover drawn in ballpoint surrounding her initials, TripleA (her parents were so clever), and inside, closer to the beginning than the end, there they were. She’d written them drunk and alone in her father’s basement five years ago, the night she sold out her commitment to never listening to any record past 1972 that anyone said was any good and heard Charlie Caswell by Charlie Caswell: 
dandelions and gravel, or black cherry magic markers and black cherry mixed with Coca-Cola Slurpee, and the real serious permanent markers, the toxic kind of headache-inducer, Citroëns and crinoline, citron Citroëns, standing at the gas station pumping gas into his Pontiac Parisienne. Biting down on someone else’s teeth. Hearing your alarm clock go off on a TV commercial and the ensuing hit of lethargy LASSITUDE. The words “bagel nosh” but not anything real about a bagel. Maybe a soft pretzel? Mr. Stupid Peanut and his monocle and all other such mascots who are similarly smug assholes. Glass shards in your bedsheets, sniffing in subzero temperatures, drunk in the middle of the day in either spring or fall but definitely not summer or winter. Probably a Sunday. Beethoven went deaf and that’s sad. My ear-worm, my phantom limb. A hot man baking black-and-white cookies at his deli day job and watching The Simpsons on a brown tweed couch in his mother’s basement, jerking off and Kleenex roses and chubby basslines tumbling, inaudible through the pink cotton candy lined with pictures of the Pin Panther’s face plastered behind his mother’s basement’s plaster walls plastered with posters of the Who. Charlie Caswell alone in terrible underwear, hopelessly lighting a lighter on and off with his opposite hand, adjacent to the beer and Coke can graveyard. 

She’d never romanticized jerking off before, but on him, it felt right.

That was such a heavy month in her life, the month leading up to the night she knew she’d meet him. It sounds really negative and embarrassing written down, but she basically starved herself all September—pineapple chunks, almond Snickers, Onion Blossom Pringles stacked as high as a roll of quarters, cottage cheese mixed with tropical fruit muesli, apples, baby carrots. She went to the gym every day for thirty-seven days, even fucked up on Dayquil with a head cold and, with every bounce on the elliptical, a brick was lifted from behind her eyes to the top of her skull. She saved up all her money to buy this really sick Karen Walker minidress, this gray little A-line made out of T-shirt material and covered in all these little ruffles arranged in a shield over the bodice and fanning out like lamb’s ears at the shoulders, these fucking gorgeous Rachel Comey pumps in a blue kind of leopard-looking print, thinking up her opening line and rehearsing her opening line and imagining herself saying it, wowing him, like, you’d have to actually be the dumbest idiot in the world not to fall for it: 
“Hi, I’m Allison Altamont. We both have alliterative names.” When she finally got to say it, he replied, “Huh. Huh-huh, wow. I’d never thought about my name being an alliteration before,” and she kind of wanted to kill him for a second: How had he never considered that? 
“Let me buy you a drink,” Allison offered, “Because you’re such a giant fucking genius.” 

“Mmmkay,” he sniffed, looking as he was saying it like he was coming to terms with it: his strange new life of stranger-girls offering to buy him drinks for being such a giant fucking genius, which maybe could be something other than all bad. “What do you want?”

“A beer,” he said, “Whatever’s cheap.”
 “I don’t drink beer. I don’t know what’s cheap. Just … what kind of beer do you want?” 
“A Stella?” 
Allison laughed. “That’s probably the least cheap beer there is.”
 He didn’t look apologetic. He was numb in the face, impossible to see through. “Okay, um, a Heineken.” 

At the bar, Heineken and Stella Artois cost the same, but she went with Heineken, because it was manlier, and she preferred the idea of herself as a Heineken-drinker’s girlfriend. Stella made no sense on him, as he wasn’t a banker. She would rather die than be a banker’s girlfriend. 

She realized fast that Charlie was a completely different game than every other man she’d had, and once she realized how easy it came, she loved herself for being the person she’d suspected she would become once she was with him, grew more confident, twisted and turned herself and him around her, leading. “You must be so lonely, so sad,” she said. “I don’t know. Why?” “I don’t know, I just think . . . you don’t have a band up there. People in bands, like, always have someone to hang out with.” “Yeah,” he said, “I was thinking about getting a drummer.” “That’s cool,” said Allison, “I love the drums.” He nodded into the neck of his Heineken. “Yeah, I didn’t really used to, but I’m coming around to them.” “Yeah, it’s really easy to listen to a song and, like, not hear the drums at all. But then if you like listen to a song from the perspective of I’m gonna listen to the drums, like, hear them first over everything, it sounds like a completely different song.” This amused him. “What are you going to do tonight? After you leave here?” “I don’t know,” she shrugged. Her legs were crossed over his knees. “I guess just check the Internet and then like lie in bed and think about how this happened. What about you?” “Um. Play piano, I guess.” “Are you just gonna, like, make stuff up?” she asked, and he chuckled, looked at her with a faint awe in his eye and she saw, thought “Thank God”—he wanted to love her. 

To him it wasn’t make stuff up, it was composition, and though he knew “an endearing innocence” was not a major one of her selling points, she was stupid about the biggest thing he wasn’t, his music, which drove him crazy and hung out at the core of everything he was and he felt lighter with her legs around it. “Yeah,” he chuckled, “I’m just gonna make stuff up.”

And so began the phone calls, the late-night phone calls, Charlie having just played a show to a cramped room full of a thousand cool people. They thought he was coolest, but he didn’t think he was even cool at all. This all was so confusing for poor Charlie Caswell. This was how it went. It was so cool to like Charlie Caswell, comparable to when it was cool to like Ariel Pink, or the White Stripes circa White Blood Cells or the Strokes before their first album came out or Odd Future the day after they fucked shit up on Jimmy Fallon. Charlie Caswell and his crazy song lyrics, long song titles, usually sentences, a singing saw on “Coco,” backmasking the likes of which had not been seen since Revolver. His shiny chocolate pudding bowl of a haircut hanging down over almost all his moony face. From the audience, he was only his chin jutting out like the bottom hammock of a fingernail moon, reminding Allison Altamont of that picture that always came up in childhood: a little boy fishing off the side of the moon, fishing for stars. And after the phone calls became too much to bear, he flew her out to San Francisco, and together they traveled North up the West Coast in a big brown van, eating carbohydrates remorselessly, kissing so, so delicately in hotel rooms, the tiniest pause of lip pressed up against lip, damp as two dogs’ noses. Pulling away, that face you make when you love him and your shoulders heave, you’ve got question marks in place of pupils, he asking her and she asking him “How could you love me?” It’s always such a surprise.

He didn’t ask her to marry him in any cool or interesting way. Actually, he didn’t even ask her.

Disillusioned with fame, in what Allison marveled at being the least annoying instance of any rock and roll musician ever being disillusioned with fame ever, Charlie decided that he wanted to move to France: specifically Lyon, a bummy sort of half-city noteworthy mostly for being a major player in the international biotech scene. If Lyon belonged to any other country in the world, it would be a Pittsburgh. It was so, so like Charlie not to want to move to Paris. When he first said “I want to move to France” and Allison—naturally— had asked him “Paris?” he curled up his lip as if she’d asked him “Baghdad?”

 “Will you come with me?” he asked. 

“Well, of course I’d love to, but I don’t really see how that could be possible … I’m an alien! A foreign alien!” Always so adorable.
 “My Dad’s Irish,” said Charlie, “So I have EU citizenship.”
 “My Dad’s not Irish,” said Allison mournfully.
 “So I don’t have EU citizenship.” Charlie didn’t say anything. “I could, like, sham-marry you,” said Allison, “And, like, bogart off your EU citizenship.”
 Charlie didn’t say anything. 
“Sorry,” said Allison, “‘Bogart off your EU citizenship’ doesn’t really make any real English sense.” “Yeah,” said Charlie, after an impressively long pause, “We could do that.”
 “I’d be into doing that,” said Allison, dying inside but masking it, “I mean, if you’d be into doing that.” 
“Sure,” said Charlie, “Why not?” 

She wondered what he’d think if he knew how hard she’d been scheming all along, how scared she’d been in the spaces between the schemes she’d crafted being pitched and the pitch being received, the scathing heat of every night she convinced herself it wouldn’t work this time and it was over. And even though she was the shittiest/slowest/least reliable email/text message-responder she’d ever met in her entire life, she still felt her entire spine and life collapse when he didn’t write her back within four seconds, how hard she’d cried the night she brought up phone sex when he was in Osaka, so the time difference was way off and she couldn’t call him, she had no idea, what if he never wrote her back ever ever and she’d just ruined it? Over stupid phone sex? Terrorized by pulsatile tinnitus and insomnia, pressing her thumbs against her earlobes and taking deep breaths to make it stop to no avail, she flicked the lamp on, walked to the computer crying and searched “pulsatile tinnitus” on Wikipedia. She wanted to understand if excess of fear in one’s heart was a key trigger, maybe, but the entry was mostly just a bunch of science and acronyms. At its very bottom, she found a list of “Notable Individuals with Tinnitus” and it shocked her to see: sandwiched between Peter Brown and Eric Clapton, Charlie Caswell. 

“What a life,” she thought, what a life she led. “Wikipedia knows more about my boyfriend than I do.”

Fresh from her Farewell Dinner—nachos and sangria with her girlfriends, a few of their boyfriends, a couple gay guys—she listened to “C.R.E.A.M” by Wu-Tang on headphones and contemplated the eternal question: “Does cash rule everything around me?” Deep in the dark, dark thicket of Claver meeting Ashtree by the hostel, she crossed paths with a cut, hipstery black guy, the kind of guy she and Eliza once referred to as “The Dream.” It made her remember her old life, when whenever she passed a black guy on the street while listening to Wu-Tang or Wu-Tang solo or whatever on headphones, it killed her how he couldn’t automatically know it: “See that cute white girl at three o’clock? She’s listening to fucking WuTang, and she’s, like, real about it.” And she’d always felt so powerless in those moments: if only he could know it, he’d fall in love with her that second, he really would, she was sure of it, but what could she do? She couldn’t just kill the magic and grab him by the wrist and tell him, “Hi! Would you believe that I’m listening to Wu-Tang right now?” because it would be creepy, and also racist.

But it didn’t matter. Her life had answered itself, and there was no longer any need to indulge the dream of a hot hipstery black guy because she’d done way better, she didn’t have to do that anymore. She was marrying a famous rock star and whenever she wanted to listen to Wu-Tang or Wu-Tang solo or whatever, he was the only man who mattered, and whether he thought, “Thank God for my hot white wife, her love of rap music is so genuine,” or “What the hell is this racket?,” she felt prepared to be cool with it forever.

The first two months were bliss. All Brie and baguettes and Orangina and Malbec, so much Orangina and Malbec that Orangina may as well have flowed out of faucets and Malbec from the drinking fountains. Tuna and black olives and hard-boiled egg on baguette: in France, you could get that anywhere. It was like Subway. After posing for the picture, he told her she could do whatever she wanted, so she ran in the mornings, and wrote him a story. She called it Charlie: An Introduction, the concept being the Seymour: An Introduction Buddy Glass never wrote because he kept digressing: a descriptive and invasive account of the only subject in the world she really cared to write about: her husband’s face. The simile flowed out of her like Orangina from faucets; the obsessive misuse of “sanguine” spewed like the bottle of Chambord she knocked off their strong kitchen table in January, which inspired her to write the sentence “Chambord spewed sanguine,” assuming that “sanguine” meant “like blood.” She wrote  a peach smashed into a newspaper and The Sazerac of Dudes and his Strawberry Fields Forever-ly hazel eyes and his Ibexy shoulders and He looked like a strapping young lad who played running back at Yale in 1917 and I’m looking at a faded blackand-white photograph of the whole squad on some Tumblr at noon on a Sunday and there is one particular dude who stands out as being the beauty, and it’s him.
She’d wanted to marry on New Year’s Eve; it’d been her plan her whole life to marry on New Year’s Eve. New Year’s Eve necessarily blows, so if New Year’s Eve is your wedding anniversary you’re granted a free pass out of ever participating in anyone’s corny New Year’s Eve celebration again—but Charlie had found the idea of a New Year’s Eve wedding very corny. They married on December 14, making Valentine’s Day their two-month anniversary, and on that day Allison climbed into bed with four fried eggs on two croissants and Charlie, folded in half. When she came back from her shower he’d pulled his brow into a knot and shook his head, shook his head, the most frenetic gesture she had ever seen beam from her normally stolid, rocklike man. 

“Is this what you’re gonna do now?” he asked, his voice quivering and becoming louder over the course of the sentence’s delivery like a picture of a cone, getting bigger, “You’re just gonna sit around and write about me? You think that’s gonna get you a book deal? You think everyone’s gonna wanna read about me? Charlie Caswell, by his fucking wife? You think that’s what writers do? Sit around, writing about their husbands’ faces? Insipid. Insipid, Allison. Write a story. That’s what writers do. That’s the difference between a writer and a fucking . . . teenager.”

She nodded at the floor and chewed on the inside of her mouth, walked to the front door still nodding and slipped on a disgusting pair of Toms that belonged to both of them. She walked to the end of the driveway and stood at its very end, kind of pretending or imagining that it was the edge of a cliff. Through the gray-yellow sky, she squinted at the sun, confronting, if only for a moment, the unspeakable burn of knowing—for sure, now—that she was the one who was loved less

Two blasts from the past in quick succession: 1) the twenty-first anniversary of her mother’s death, 2) Eliza at De Gaulle in her Sunday best. “Please,” she begged, “Please be good.” “Be good?” Charlie asked, disgusted, “Sorry, I didn’t realize I was your son. I didn’t realize I was a character in the fucking Bible.” “Sorry, I don’t know what to say to that,” said Allison, and made a big show out of sweeping out the bedroom door the way she imagined Carole Lombard, an actress she had never seen act in any movie, would sweep, hitting a scarf over her shoulder like it was the last thing in the world she cared about but it still happened to land perfectly in a really beautiful scarf way that flattered her chin. In the cab, she wondered how a life story this romantic could extend to the depths of this godawful. She didn’t know how to feel about Eliza coming. Eliza was the only friend from home who had visited her in three years, since all her friends from home were way too  broke and poor to afford a plane ticket. She knew they all thought about how hard they hated their lives, and then they thought of her.

She couldn’t know whose lives really were worse, hers or theirs. Shittiness of life is relative, a shitty life is a shitty life no matter what, and every day she woke up in the morning and ate a bowl of oatmeal and drank three cups of black tea and watched movies and didn’t eat, ate a handful of baby carrots, pressed her ear to the door of Charlie’s studio, listened to a bunch of guitar drone that she worried was garbage, ran for forty-five minutes on the treadmill, did two hundred and fifty upper ab crunches and two hundred and fifty lower ab crunches, three sets of twelve reps of bicep curls and overhead extensions, took a shower, blow-dried her hair, straightened her hair, put her hair in a ponytail, figured out dinner with Charlie, ate dinner with Charlie. Sometimes he would try to tell her what he’d done that day, and she’d purposely antagonize him: “Dude, I don’t even know what a G even is!” “Whatever, Ross Gellar!” “Do I look like a person who reads books from a long time ago?”

After dinner, he’d return to composing, and Allison would bingewatch entire series of TV shows while crying in bed and eating baby carrots. Charlie went to bed early, and Allison would leave the room, get wasted alone, and Tweet a bunch of bullshit. 

She never kissed him, never touched him, barely looked at him. She cried into Eliza’s big chest at the airport, acting like it was because “Oh God! It’s been forever!” but by the time the cab pulled up to the cottage, the pieces of hair that hung closest to her face were soaked straight through. She’d told Eliza everything, and Eliza, the ferocious best friend, said “Let’s not even give him the chance to be good.”

They changed into pajamas and scrubbed their faces, drank wine and ate fraises confites and pralines a l’Ancienne with their fingers. Eliza told Allison all the gossip that had happened since Allison moved away. Lily and Jared got married, and they’d had the most embarrassing wedding: “So, they decided to do, like, this canapé wedding? Like, instead of having, like, a sit-down, actual meal, they just had a bunch of canapés. Really stupid canapés. Michelle and I were so drunk. They had these, like, ridiculous fucking, like, crostini—” “Oh God. Crostini. It doesn’t get much tackier than crostini. In this day and age.” “Uh—yeah. So, yeah, there were these crostini, and, like, some cheese, and tomato jam. Michelle was so fucking drunk, and she kept doing this whole ‘tomato jam’ shtick she made up, like, ‘Tomato jam? That doesn’t even make any sense! Jam is for strawberries!’ That was her big line: ‘Jam is for strawberries!’ It was fucking classic. She got so out of control with it. At one point, the guy came up with the tray and she was just, like, ‘Getitthefuckawayfromme.’ We were dying.” Allison felt sad. She wished she had been at the wedding, making fun of the wedding, saying “Jam is for strawberries” with Eliza and Michelle. She would have been so good at “Jam is for strawberries”! That was her exact sense of humor style. “But anyway, that’s not even the point,” Eliza continued.
 “The point is, Lily and Jared are retarded. Trying to be all classy with their canapé wedding, but it was so fucking retarded. Everyone was so hungry. There were fucking kids there. You can’t, like, not feed kids, you know? So, okay, this is the best part—everyone just fucking left. To go find food. And the only restaurant in the vicinity was a fucking Wendy’s. So everyone comes back to the fucking reception, with fucking Wendy’s. Steaming paper bags of fucking Wendy’s. The entire fucking place smelled like Wendy’s. Can you imagine? Can you imagine that being your wedding?”
 “It could be kind of cool, you know. If you actually, like, planned it like that. Like, you had the whole ceremony, and then everyone was so hungry and it was time to eat and you were like,
 “Hey! Guess what? You get to eat Wendy’s now!” And all the waiters would put paper bags of Wendy’s down on all these expensive china plates, and everyone would be so stoked. Sorry to be contrary.” “No, I get it,” Eliza nodded, “That would be cool. But it, like, so wasn’t like that.” “Yeah, I know,” said Allison, “They’re retarded.” Charlie walked in. “Hi, girls,” he said. For the first time in months, he wasn’t wearing his pale denim housecoat over plaid pajama pants and no shirt with flip-flops. He stole a chocolate out of the Alain Rolancy box, ate it, and sucked the chocolate off his fingers.

“France!” he announced happily to Eliza, “It’s something swell, isn’t it?” 

It’s something swell, isn’t it? Any dumb jerk can prance around with that showy English in front of any woman in the world, and she’ll fall for it, point finale, no questions asked. Allison watched the lights go on in Eliza’s eyes and it was over; it wasn’t going to play out anything like she’d expected. All it took was that one stupid sentence, and now Eliza wouldn’t want to hate on Charlie anymore. Now Eliza thought Charlie was charming, and would, in true “women are bitches to each other” fashion, think Allison to be “ungrateful.” “There are two sides to every story,” was the unwarranted advice she gave as they said good-bye, “He’s a really great guy. I know you can make this work.”

“I don’t,” said Allison, “I don’t know that at all.”


She never knew what day of the week it was. Charlie stopped leaving his studio. He slept on the floor of his studio.
“I should probably do something,” Allison decided, and climbed into his makeshift bed: stacks of towels arranged like Jenga pieces and covered with a blanket. She rubbed his back. “Your feet smell,” he said into his pillow, “Your feet smell fucking disgusting.”

Allison called her dad and told him everything. “I don’t know what to do!” she cried, sobbing, and her dad said nothing, because he didn’t know what to say. 
“FUCK YOU,” she screamed into the phone, threw the receiver at the wall, took a sip of Orangina, and tried to walk somewhere. She tripped over a loose cable and stubbed her toe really hard into the ground. “FUCK,” she screamed and, making her body go limp like an idiot trying not to get arrested, fell over, still holding one drippy ice cube and the rest could all go fuck themselves for all she cared.

She imagined every little girl in the world standing in a line in front of her, asking her what to do. “What should we do, Allison?” they chirped, “Please tell us what to do

“Don’t do what I did,” she told them, slipping the disgusting Toms on. She rode her bike to the Jardin botanique with Ghostface on headphones, bangin’, found a pond, impulsively threw the Toms into the pond, tore every petal from a water lily and played that old game, gratefully concluding, He loved her not.

Her feet were still bleeding, cut up from the pedals, when she wrote the sentence. She hadn’t bothered to bandage them, even wash them, just let the blood cake and hopefully get infected when all the nasty dirt percolated into her bloodstream. Her lips were stained blackish from the wine, she limped to the studio and realized he was sleeping in the bedroom tonight, whatever that meant.

She got into bed and whispered “Wake the fuck up, asshole!” Grinning, feeling happy, she shoved her bleeding feet into his sleeping face.
“What the fuck?” he asked, waking up, and she pushed her feet harder and harder into his eyes and cheeks, curling her dirty toes around his hawkish, beautiful “statement nose,” laughing so he’d see it was a joke, and he laughed. He grabbed her by both ankles in one hand and flipped her over, laughing so hard, climbed on top of her, and she kissed his neck. 

“What’s this?” he asked, pulling a lily petal out of her hair. “Oh, it’s a lily petal,” she said, pulling it out of his fingers, “I guess you love me.” “Yeah,” he nodded, “It’s something swell, isn’t it?” And whichever book or movie he’d stolen that line from, whichever man he imagined in place of himself as himself to himself, she didn’t really mind. It worked.


2 January 2017

If I said, I’m rain

When curious about the depth of a strange river, do you throw in a nearby rock? If so, how long does it normally take you to realize the futility of this supposed gauging? Do you ever? Do you run away instead? Are you someone of the temperament who prefers to “go it alone”? Is that the naked truth? Have you ever closed a wound with hot glue? Is it the same moon every night? Will it rain today? If it rained some object other than rain today, would you go out into the streets to celebrate? What if it were raining down lobster claws? Or Olympic gold medals? Or Japanese woodcuts of copulating butterflies? What would you be willing to go out into the streets to celebrate other than the wet wet rain?

Did you have any allergies that I didn’t already know about? They’re explained as overreactive immune systems—what’s akin to firebombing an amateur sniper, or just an amateur whatever with a gun out in the desert looking for asylum in the heavily walled city of your body—does this sound true? When did the phrase “unconditional surrender” migrate into our everyday lexicon? Are most crevasses judged too short? Too far? Or just right? Should I sleep with one eye open?

 Have you ever witnessed a butterfly’s first flight? Would you want to? Would you, with me? In “silence, exile, and cunning” is a nice way to go, no? Would you be honest with me, or would I have to ask you to be honest with me in order for you to be honest with me? Is there a problem here, officer? Are the graves ready?

When you “break up” with someone, doesn’t that phrase summon the image of an Antarctic explorer’s ship foundering in a sea of pack ice with the frostbite sinking in and the sled dogs baying at the moon and the one football lost in the falling snow?

Are you coming back?

How many meters are we from the nearest bomb shelter? Is that nearer or farther than the nearest white flag?

Was it my piano hands? My large feet? My lazy eye, the one I keep open while sleeping? (Is it not possible that my other eye is simply more alacritous?) Is the truth always naked? Could I dress up the truth so ornately that it’s no longer said to be truth, dressed in, say, a kimono or a lobster suit? If such were possible, then the truth is clearly mutable, and therefore no truth at all, and so to change or to come back to old loves is no crime whatsoever—so what about me needs to change? Do you trust shamans?

Why not award gold medals for screaming? Do they even make lobster suits? I imagine that if more celebratory items were made with an eye toward actual proportionate sizes of anatomy, we would have a much more educated populace, is that too much to ask? In a perfect world, would you hot glue claws in place of these feeble little feelers called hands? Alone, can you cook?

 Wasn’t Ernest Shackleton an amazing fucking person?

Is your idea of a nice afternoon one spent in the company of sixteen hundred butterflies in an artificial rain forest, or does that strike you as a nice afternoon filled with sheer terror, one bound to end in bloodshed? Butterflies taste with their feet, isn’t that frightening? Would you, could you, opt for this transference of sense from tongue to toes? Wouldn’t the day be filled with mostly the taste of sock and sole? Would you walk into rivers to taste them, rather than to gauge their depth? Or would it be best then to walk on your hands? Drop stones and bombs with your lips?

 Are you vexed by sorting recyclables? Do you keep an updated travelogue? A running tab? A bird count? A wallet card listing known allergies? Would you hit a nail with your Stradivarius in order to be awarded another Stradivarius? Who’d take the fight: Shackleton, or Jackie Joyner-Kersee? Is a gate not a gate unless it creaks?

 In Goodnight Moon, why does no one say goodnight to the telephone?

What is a body pillow, if not a bed? Was poetry once a forte of yours? Is Irish something you only claim to have in you? Did firing your first gun confirm or refute your suspicions concerning the danger of a loaded weapon in the home? When did safety equipment not come with safety labels? Why must we turn the gun’s safety off?

 Given a black-and-white photograph, could you tell the difference between the Antarctic tundra and the Saharan desert? If I had a nice large mirror, would you look into it?

 Are you comforted or dispirited by the fact that we no longer live in a time when lazy-eyed trolls under bridges are a daily concern? Will “cool” ever not be cool? Urns: a treasure? A burden? Or a talking point? If the moon could speak, what wouldn’t it say? Are you being honest with me? Honestly, a man like Shackleton would not have survived this lengthy desert crossing. Do you still not trust shamans?

 What strikes you as the most advantageous to survival: the fear of bridge trolls, the fear of foundering in pack ice, or the fear of butterflies? If, in an imperfect world, I unknowingly awakened in you an allergic reaction, would you be mad, even though I specifically related to you the analogy of the amateur gunman storming the body’s gates? Is there time for an unconditional surrender before the bombing raids begin?

What if I were that sniper, and you the target? If I came dressed not as an amateur or as a gunman, but as a lobster crawling over dunes on my anatomically correct claws, would you be put off or intrigued by a large crustacean crossing the Sahara? If I said, “I come in something, exile, and something else,” what next? If I said, “I’m rain,” would you drop a rock on me? Or would you come out into the streets to celebrate me falling from the sky?