You, Me & the Devils that Be

I will admit, sitting at the breakfast table watching you hold your queasy stomach felt like a conquest. Everyone busied themselves fetching you ibuprofen and gatorade, offering old wives tale remedies while I sat taking slow draws off my coffee. I secretly hoped your wife would come back to see you in your current state. As you forced your listless limbs to stir the scrambled eggs I bore holes into the side of your head. You had deep bags under your eyes and a five o’clock shadow that looked less kept in the early morning light.

In between bites of toast the others asked you about your job and wife. The first was going well, the second you brushed off by changing the subject. Unsurprising, I thought as I recalled last night. How quiet the living room felt, the early morning moonlight illuminating the plastic cups lining the windowsills. How grateful I was for the blanket the host had laid out for me on the couch. Your quiet footsteps on the stairs as you approached. Your hand in my hair as I lay pretending to be asleep, praying to God that you wouldn’t hurt me. As I squeezed my eyes shut I could picture what would become of you if I fought back, the waking of the drunken bodies around me, the panicked questions, the call made to your wife. As you wrapped your hand around my throat I thought of her, where was she? Why did she let you stay here? Did she know you were like this?

You had told me earlier in the night that you were in an open-relationship, I told you that you were full of shit. As you pressed your lips against my cheek I held my breath, my body quivering uncontrollably. I pulled the blanket tighter around my body. Only hours earlier you had whispered into my ear that you loved how I was shaking. I opened my mouth, unable to form a sharp retort, my cool indifference giving way to the fear rising in my chest. I wanted to brush it off, to say you’d had too much to drink. But I knew you meant it. Your steely gaze softened and fell away as my friend returned from the bathroom. What were you two doing she asked innocently, fumbling with the sliding glass door to the yard. I wanted to tell her I thought we were hiding behind the palm to scare her. That I was naïve and assumed the best of intentions but was wrong. That I knew this was only the beginning of a long night. To ask her to not leave me alone again. But she wasn’t really asking and he wasn’t really talking.


Sight on Scene

I felt the tears pool up and fall in rivulets down my temples. As I turned to my side I pulled the furry body pillow to my chest and buried my face in it. How could I be so naive? 

What would it have taken for me to leave? A raised voice? Physical violence? I had text him the night before saying I knew whatever had gone on between us was over and that I would bring him back his sweater. The beautiful navy blue one from Zara. It had a hole in the armpit that I had sewn for him and stashed in my car until I saw him next. Pulling into the compact parking space and killing the engine of my Mini Cooper I realized it had been days.

When I entered the coffee shop he stood by the counter and it took me a second to recognize him. I mumbled a quick sorry, explaining how I hadn’t recognized him, and stood in line with him pretending to study the selection of drip coffee. A cheery barista with red tassel earrings asked what he wanted, the dark roast.

As he emptied a sugar packet into murky liquid I suggested we sit outside after a quick glance at the surrounding tables occupied by young people. Each pecked away at Macbooks set atop loose-leaf paper scrawled with notes. Outside, I toyed with the sleeve of my coffee while we exchanged meaningless anecdotes and thinly disguised pleasantries. Finally the conversation veered in the direction I was waiting for. I met his eyes while he dryly explained that anything romantic between us was over and he wanted to see other people without betraying me. Nothing surprising. I earnestly promised that all I wanted was clarity and that I valued his honesty and forthrightness. I thanked him.

After an acceptable amount of unrelated exchanges had ensued I suggested that I get the final gift I had for him and be on my way. As we walked to my car I strode ahead, quickening my pace to retrieve it and bring the drawn out event to an end.

From the driver’s side I scooped up the small drawstring bag and handed it to him urging him that it wasn’t anything big,and definitely wasn’t a romantic gesture. Hoping I was successfully downplaying the thought that had gone into its purchase. 

After briefly turning the bag in his hands he reached out to embrace me and drew me in. I muttered into his shoulder that he was a good man and as I drew back I jokingly remarked that if he ever needed me to leave him a good review somewhere I would. The recoil was palpable in his face. He waved it off, suggesting I was making him feel bad. Good, I thought. 

He told me he was only a call away if I needed anything and, involuntarily, I replied that I was too. 

A funny look came over his face and he said that my perfume was really strong. He didn’t break eye contact, searching for how his covert criticism would affect me.

At a loss for words I simply shrugged.

And with that, I turned and opened the car door while he strode across the parking lot and out of my life.

Untitled Poem on Cocktail Napkin

You were in every moment now. In the elated pounding of my steering wheel on the way home from seeing you. In the pulsing in my head when the music in the bar drowned out all thoughts. In the rising tide in my eyes on nights spent in empty sheets. Waking life was now a series of rhythmic tasks to be completed in between encounters with you. Breezing through billable hours, commutes, assignments, errands. And before I knew it I would be opening the door to you, a cheeky smile affixed 6 feet above worn sneakers. The rush of warm air from your idled car signaled the onset of an adventure I surely had been looking forward to all week. Miles of road would splay out on the highway. And then time would fix and I could let myself catch sidelong glances at you from the passenger seat. Losing myself in the way the passing streetlights cast a shadow along your jaw and recollecting myself at your knowing smirk when you caught me. It made me snap back to the tail lights ahead but they could never keep my attention. You held that power over me. But you seemed to know better than to wield it and we both continued in our lonesome trajectories.

A Slow Day in the Office

So I sit in my cubicle and cut off my split ends with some scissors I found in the filing cabinet. I have a restless energy. My email is strangely empty and without an onslaught of work I must resort to sitting with my feelings. Never. I put in my earbuds and listen to indie bands with odd names and open new tabs on my desktop.

The others in the office are busy, they speak with endless streams of clients on the phone and peck away at their keyboards. In this industry as I imagine in many others, busyness is next to godliness. I could reach out and grab the arm of my coworker as she shuttles her and a cup of hot coffee to the boardroom. How could I convince her to sit and talk awhile?

My thought is broken as I hear a door close at the end of the hall and muffled voices greet her. I open a new tab and type in LinkedIn slowly, letter by letter. I review my profile and wince at my title. I shouldn’t be sitting here idle, it was luck that I landed this job at all.

I close the tab and head to the breakroom to fix myself a coffee. I pull the mug from the shelf and listen to the coffee machine gurgle and spit the brown liquid into the small pool of creamer at the bottom. A quick swirl and a careful sip reassures me that this cup is as off putting as cups past. No matter, it’s just for the energy anyway.

I plan out some future projects for several hours before pushing away the mouse. Should I take my lunch? I check the clock on the corner of my monitor before the screen of my phone catches my eye. A new message. I tilt the phone up and a childish smile erupts across my face. He text me.

Somewhere he was staring at his phone and, if but for a moment, thinking of me. What a thought! I wait until exactly a minute has passed, checking the iPhone clock repeatedly before opening the message.

I type out a text back, rereading it half a dozen times before hitting send. I jot down ‘Out to Lunch’ on a sticky note and paste it to my monitor, unable to shuck the giddy smile. If only he knew the power he had.

Cubicle Existentialism

When did anomie become your Beelzebub? When did the nihilistic shadows in your mind take the shape of an archaic demon? Your God became a substitution for your art, a depthless void to pour your love out to. He is not listening. Perhaps he never was. 

You constructed a framework to systemize the spiritual behaviors innate in all mankind. The faithful to be set apart from the faithless. But you have flown too close to the sun. The truth was there all along. When I looked to the stars and felt small you told me it was because I was looking upon the face of creation. Why then did I read your God’s word and not feel that same stirring? 

Just believe their eyes seem to scream. Let down your burdens and fall into grace. I yearn to, to drop all my inhibitions and take up the faith. But at what cost? Can one make their heart believe that which their mind does not?

I said I seek the truth and you asked if I imagined truth and seeking first the kingdom of heaven were incompatible. I said I imagined they were. 

‘Sometimes when all is stripped away I can only isolate the fact that God is all that makes sense,’ you said.

You smiled weakly and for a moment our eyes locked in a moment of recognition. We were so near each other, our souls reaching out, shrouded by a thin veil. We could bicker and fight or take our seat at the center of the continuum; at our most rudimentary we only knew that we were fearful of what we didn’t. You clung to your God and I clung to my art. Something bigger than us that would immortalize our life. I envied your faith and your God’s mission of peace and reconciliation. The mission of my life was less about imbuing it with purpose and more about counteracting what I believed was it’s intrinsic lack of purpose. 

I am prone to bouts of crying. My soul often weeps alone, aware of its own isolation, a blip of conscientiousness on rock afloat in the cosmos. It longs to cry ‘my God, my God why have you forsaken me’ for even to be forsaken would necessitate my being seen by God at all. Wouldn’t that be enough? To be seen?

Lying on the floor I give the burden of proof to its rightful owner and say a humble prayer of forgiveness for my skepticism lest anyone is listening. The freedom of agnosticism has a beauty to it; one is simply an open vessel for the truth to be filled by the Creator or to be enriched by the created.

Glass House

When I was young, I remember being enraptured by the idea of living in a glass house. I imagined erecting my glass home deep in the woods, able to view the going-ons of nature intimately while being safe from the elements. It need only be a single room, blending in with the environment rather than breaking it in. The concept is fundamentally childish in its construction. No one can live in a glass house.

As a young adult, I find I still long for this glass house. A glass house actualizes my yearning for safety and adventure; a haven amid unbridled wilderness still brings out the excitement now that it did then. I could sit cross-legged at twilight and read and write and watch the nocturnal animals in the dying light without fear of finding shelter. The safety of the glass instilling in me a god-like sense of mastery of my environment. The prey meeting the predator in a sacred moratorium. Nothing I could imagine could top this moment, it would be ethereal.

But what of it? Surely reality has thrown the first stone at this pipedream of mine. Creature comforts and rich spiritual experiences rarely coincide. As it goes, I have found a compromise. My dear friend and mentor lives in a peculiar little mid-century modern with a network of decking and platforms. The top platform houses a square room of glass sliding doors and parquet flooring. The room is lined with bookshelves and cluttered with the tools of his life’s hobbies. The drum set suggesting his distaste of age-appropriate pastimes, the sun-bleached spines of books detailing the history of French film, the telescope piled amongst tattered star charts.

He let me stay here when he would leave on his trips. I think knowing that I shared in his appreciation for the space bonded us. So I would sit, alternating between writing and staring through the glass. On clear days I could see the skyline, and if I wrote into the evening, I could see the flickering lights of the valley.

Eventually I would have to leave my laptop on the floor and scurry down to the main house to use the bathroom or cook something or feed the dogs. I could feel it beckoning me back and a relief always settled over me when I returned, re-reading the last few sentences I had typed out before slipping back into a peaceful rhythm. The quiet whir of the laptop fan, the headlights of a passing car, the sounds of my fingers pecking my stream of consciousness onto the plastic keys. It was my glass house. It was never a permanent place of residence, but always a restful space of deliverance. It was just as my mentor had designed, a place of creative liberation in nature.

I would never see a passing bear or trace the raindrops rolling down the sides of my house with my finger. Instead, I could escape, if only for hours at a time, to this glass room. To sit in the dark and listen to an owl coo in the night while my fingers played notes on the laptop keys, immortalizing childhood dreams that stirred in me.

What is the Meaning of Life?

I pray you’ll forgive me. For what is written below is a jumbled wash of fragments construed by a woman of a meer eighteen years that had the audacity to yell into the void and demand an answer. To look upon the face of the natural world and assure herself of its intrinsic value and resolve to ascribe it purpose within the confines of a Moleskine notebook. I understand that a weighty crime of this nature demands judgement, but only ask that you withhold sentencing the accused until the pen has lifted off the page for the last time.

Somewhere deep within my constitution lays fertile an insatiable desire for purpose. Is it not true that we declare our purpose akin to that of the cosmos? To the spiritually inclined we are but pawns in the Almighty’s game. To the secularist we are but waves lapping at the evolutionary confines of the shore. So the question must be raised; what is the meaning of life? Do our lives even have meaning? This, my dear friends, is my quest. The lifeblood in my body beats in tandem with my soul on this matter alone. That two truths exist, life has meaning and that I must be enlightened to its meaning or die a pilgrim in a foreign land clutching in vain at the self-evident abyss. 

The Persimmon

The steam wafting off my tea was beginning to lessen before I finally worked up the courage to ask about the sullen mass on the counter. Its skin was blistered and pocketed, its once vibrant orange reduced to a dingy bronze.

I inquired after it casually, careful to keep my voice level and slightly disinterested. Mom flicked her hand dismissively toward where it squatted on the granite and said nothing, returning her attention to the vegetables she was cutting. I watched as her chef’s knife glided with a quick snap through the thick of the carrots, gradually increasing in speed and intensity until the knife was brazenly cracking through and ricocheting off the marred cutting board.

“So you now have a problem with my fruit too, huh?” she scoffed.

The hostility in her voice didn’t take me by surprise.

“No mom. I was just wondering why it wasn’t thrown away, that’s all.”

She kept her eyes down, glaring at the vegetables.

“Your father didn’t raise you to act like this.”

“He didn’t raise me, you did.”

I watched her eyes harden and felt my breath catch in my chest as they met mine.

“THROUGH NO FAULT OF HIS OWN,” she screamed. She tightened her grip on the knife as I pushed my chair back from the table.

“Look mom,” I stammered, “I never said it was his fault. It, it wasn’t.”

I was standing now. My outstretched palms felt clammy and I prayed she wouldn’t sense my fear.

“Can we, can’t we put this behind us?” quickly adding before she could protest, “Just for tonight.”

Renewing the Lease

Joan Didion wrote in The White Album that she was holed up in a hotel in Honolulu “in lieu of filing for divorce.” The waves of the Pacific have a habit of seducing those on the brink of extirpation. This morning was no exception. I sat bundled in a worn blanket on the shore of Santa Cruz, watching the waves crash. Behind me loomed the dark tangles of brightly colored metal track traversing the boardwalk. A security guard slumped in his truck, flitting in and out of sleep. It was four in the morning. Only hours ago I had woken up on the floor of my shower, hunched around a pile of vomit. I had moved my face away from the putrid mess in a panic, my feet slipping about me. I felt the wall behind my head and turned the knob. Icy water poured over my head, and I sat frozen, watching the mess rise and spin about before being sucked down the drain. I cried then. Bitter tears erupted and a panic ensued. The water was beginning to heat up and I let it scald the back of my head. I rocked back and forth, clutching my legs to my chest. Shame inside me burned hotter than the water streaming over my raw skin. My hands in particular stung. I held them up. My knuckles were blue and swollen. The skin was marred with jagged cuts and smelled of burned flesh. They looked foreign to me, like the hands of victims on television shows, pale and lifeless, bloodied and swollen. I pulled myself up by the curtain and slowly washed my hair and face. I stepped out of the shower into the steamed bathroom. As I wrapped my body in a towel, I noted how red my skin looked. I picked up my phone from the tiled floor and opened my messages, wincing at one sent at 6:35pm. I had remembered sending it, but wished for the slim chance that it wasn’t delivered. But I knew better, after all, I remembered the reply. “Hey do you pray?” Almost immediately I watch the animated ellipsis bounce in the text box. “Yea from time to time. What’s up” “Can you pray for me?” “Of course. Anything specific? Or just general?” “Just in general, thanks” And after a minute, “Of course! I hope everything works out.” I stared at the string of texts. How strange he probably thought I was. I remembered setting the bottle down with the message typed out on the screen, thumb hovering precariously over the blue send button. I focused on the screen, aware of my drunken state. Would I regret this? I bobbed my finger over the text for several seconds before finally hitting send and laying the phone facedown on the floor. I kneeled down, clutching the towel around me. I didn’t regret it. Regretted involving him maybe, but not the message. Not my request. I should’ve been embarrassed to have asked for prayer, a ritual I privately scoffed at, but I wasn’t. On the floor, empty bottle clutched in my hand, it was the only thing in the world I longed for. Deep down I wished an omniscient being was watching over me, braced to save me from myself, but even if not, I wanted to be in someone else’s thoughts in case these wishes were my last. I closed the phone and pulled a clean shirt over my head. Hindsight is 20/20. It was a panic attack. I wasn’t going to die. As I put my makeup on and brushed my teeth, I typed “santa cruz” into Google Maps. When I had filled a basket with things I might need for the road trip, I turned off the kitchen light and locked the front door behind me.

Now, staring at the streaks of light from the dock stretching over the water, I realized I had a choice to make. I was Joan Didion, file for divorce or confront the shambles head on? I had to choose, pull myself together or go under. Sitting in the cold sand, watching the dawn break, I knew I had already made the choice. I must go on. Not I as in my spirit or my soul, I as a conscious being capable of sitting in jarring agony and sitting in quiet contemplation in a span of a night. I realized then what most tortured beings must come to terms with at some point in their life, hopefully sooner than later. It was that I would have to continually sign a new lease on life. Life was not black and white, a stark choice between life and death, it was a ceaseless leaning into the wind. The digging of one’s toes in the sand as the current pocketed the rest. Fighting to survive and fighting for the possibility of love after loss.