Poste restante, part i

•February 19, 2011 • Leave a Comment

Dearest B —

I only call you dearest because I have no one else to call anything, and so I mail this poste restante to a town where I think you might be. In all honesty, I don’t know where you’ll land; whether you’ll crave the pliant, comforting softness of something you call home, or whether you’re clamoring for the hard jolt, the seizing impact of somewhere new.

I don’t assume you went south this summer, as evidenced by the postmark of this letter. Instead, I anticipate that you, like so many others who no longer believe themselves to have the bright, brand new shininess of youth, have headed west in hopes of finding something to renew that last, lost gleam in yourself.

You know me well enough to understand that I’d find that notion of the “new” west foolish. Perhaps that’s why you never tell me where you’re going or when you’re leaving. But you should know that by now, I’ve learned to read your body like a clock — your limbs loosening upon your arrival at my doorstep, with no warning; needing me to put you back together for a time. And before you leave — that rigidity that sets in, the way you fall silent midsentence, your joints tightening even in sleep. I love you in all those moments, especially the ones where you don’t speak, simply for the fact that I know you enough to know what’s coming.

You and I, we’ve always been a certain way with one other, no questions asked. It seems our mutual, intimate understanding of one another has made us grow old, but this is not a bad thing. I still look in your face to see those piercing eyes, a cross between aqua and moss, changing with the light. And I wonder how we’re still able to look in each other’s faces, despite the fact that we’re exhausted by all we see. I’ve been split in two: part wondering how we’ve kept the indescribable us going so long; the other part waiting, I think, for our life to start.

When my mother was alive, she always had the same response to my sadness. Whenever I told her I didn’t know what to do with myself, she’d say, “Write a story,” smiling at me softly. She though it was a beautiful thing, some form of entertainment that brought me joy. But she didn’t know what I knew from the start, which is that the story would end up killing me.

And always, I wonder if you and I died the day you left the east coast.

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The first nights, or, a history of the lost

•June 22, 2010 • 1 Comment

B. never stayed with me when it was hot, and thinking back over the faulty relationship we have, the ongoing years of with-and-without, I wonder why I didn’t notice it until now. Summers are miserable in northeast Ohio, in the small towns of dust and fields and crops with their winding, twisty roads leading, it seems, to nowhere. There is the sense of being trapped, like man is the only animal not content with the hemmed in life of sprawling countryside, the only animal realizing its own limitations.

He would visit from time to time in the heat, but never stayed – no, it was nothing like winter, when he’d stay asleep in my bed for near weeks, sometimes months, before acting alive again. Maybe it was the old house in the country I’d inherited after my father ran off and my mother died of a broken heart some short years later. He’d simply gone on one of his prolonged trips to the East or West like so many times before, only this wasn’t like those times at all. He stopped calling. Changed his number. Even the house he stayed at back East in Delaware greeted you with a busy signal, the sound of perpetual disconnect. He was gone, and left no clue or hint about his absence. The only thing left was his mess, the junk he’d accumulated on various whims from various auctions over decades.

But yes, the house. It was old, parts of it well over one hundred and fifty years, and it was rundown, decrepit. When my parents were still here, they’d maintain it together in a separate way, if you understand what I mean by that. My father would return home from a trip or a stay in Delaware and fix the plumbing, install new shower fixtures, buy a new water heater. He’d replace the broken doorjambs and made sure they locked, even though the old doors were so warped that it was nearly impossible. He was a fixer, at least, a temporary one. Never did the job completely, but he made it work for the time being.

My mother, on the other hand, would try to keep the place clean, but it was so old that there was a constant dust settling on everything, always thick and sooty. She said that’s why she never wanted to buy nice things, because they were always ruined by the ancient house dust. It scared me to think about it, especially when I was younger. Where was all of this dust coming from? If it was house dust, it had to mean that the house was disintegrating. And what if, one morning, I awoke to find no house, having disintegrated in the middle of the night, with only mounds of dust standing between me and the outside world?

She died in the middle of winter. I let the wood stove burn to a pile of ash, opened all the windows, forgot about electricity and resorted to candles as my primary source of light. I sat on the couch under a pile of sheets and blankets I’d pulled from her bed, sweet-smelling with her sweat, a faint trace of perfume, and the medicinal scent of the Olay face cream she used at night. I herded the dogs beneath them, where they curled around my legs on either side, leaving me no room to move. Ordinarily this irritated me, but I could barely move. I remained that way for days, the same sideways position, half-fetal, my arms wrapped around the softness of her pillow, the comforter over my head, waking and drifting and hallucinating, all in the same paralytic state. When I slept, I only dreamt of her.

It wasn’t like the house didn’t have its charming moments. It was flooded with sunlight in the summer, and because of all the maples surrounding it, it boasted regular sonatas and birdsong masterpieces that floated in through the windows, almost embedding themselves in the walls. This drove the dogs crazy, naturally, at least when they were younger. They’d whimper and yip, running from one room to the next, trying to identify where the sound came pouring in. Later in their lives, when they became old and slow-moving, they’d lie on the floor with their eyes closed, sometimes flicking them open when the song became excruciatingly loud, their eyeballs flitting back and forth for a few seconds before closing again and accepting that what had once been a sort of torture was now just a standard fact of life.

The one truly awful thing that I still have trouble dealing with despite my long time living in the house is the stifling heat. Ohio humidity is known as some of the most awful, and even a day that barely reaches 80 degrees can quickly become unbearable. Summer decorations come in the form of rickety old box fans in various colors, from the more sturdy 50s era metal pieces painted a bold taupe or khaki (if taupe or khaki can be considered bold, which in terms of fans, they were) with dark brown dials to the newer, cheaper plastic ones that started white and yellowed with age, their ribs cracked in some places and missing completely in others. This made for a low background hum to the birdsongs and to the cars and trucks whizzing down the country road, the flat open space of fields amplifying the sound of surface and engine cutting against the wind, sending off waves of whir in all directions. Even after all the summers here, I still can’t tell which way a car is coming from. Instead of having distinct beginning and end points that form a trajectory of movement, it sounds instead like a surround sound system, the noise starting far out and circling, closing in on you as the vehicle gets closer – and then it disappears altogether, like a fluke.

B. didn’t like the constant whir of sounds that I had gotten used to, but more than that, it was probably the heat. But also, summertime reminded him of the world, he said, and he didn’t like being reminded of the world. So he’d leave in the summer, or visit occasionally, staying only one night before the noise and the world became too much for him. Then he was off again to some unknown direction, some uncertain prospect that I never really knew about and quite frankly, didn’t care to ask. But he loved winter here, couldn’t get enough.

Winters were dead in all ways. The sky sagged with the weight of its grayness, the fields shrank back their seeds and packed them tightly in the hard, frozen dirt, the branches stood black and bare against empty space. The snow coated the ground and left white for miles, with occasional dead, jagged cornstalks jutting upward through its blanket like dull, dirty knives. My enclosed porch smelled of sweetly rotting wood – the firewood marbled with chunks of ice and snow – and the woodstove hummed dutifully throughout the night, its glass window showing angry tongues of orange flame. It was right beneath my bedroom, and the heat would rise beautifully, upward, warming the creaking, splintered floorboards and keeping my bed cozy.

B. would wake early in the winter, heading outside at 6 a.m. in pitch blackness, getting the truck warmed up so he could drive back to the woods and cut my firewood. I puzzled over his love for this task – after all, I hated it, had always hated it, ever since my father would wake me around the same time when I was a girl, hovering over me in a wool hat, layers of thermal and flannel, and his stained leather work gloves, telling me it was time to go cut wood. I didn’t know whether B. did it because he simply loved it the way my father seemed to, tiny trails of steam rising off of his neck and face, the satisfying thwack of the axe as it connected with wood, the strained resistance of the muscles as your arms made a full arc, each intake of breath feeling like knives, each exhale requiring such strength and pressure to get the air back out when it seemed to want to cling to your lungs and inflict more pain. Or maybe he did it because he thought I couldn’t, even though I had assured him I could, I had, and he didn’t need to worry about it. Still, once a week, I’d feel the familiar shift of mattress and rustle of sheets that roused me from that deep sleep you can only achieve in the dead of winter, and through half-closed eyes I’d see his silhouette moving quietly through the room, his shadow in the doorway as he pulled the door shut behind him.

Though he’d never say, sometimes I think he comes to me in winter because of my mother. He says summer reminds him of the world, and he doesn’t like that. This leads me to think that winter may be the opposite for him; at least, now, it is comfortable for him. Maybe in winter, at my disintegrating house out in the country, surrounded by nothing but white sheets of snow and naked, bony tree skeletons, he is reminded of death.

And so it goes like this: early in life, I became accustomed to the ebb and flow of leaving and returning, the regular threat that my house might disintegrate, but over time, these things, like all regular things, became normal. I accepted them as though they were things to be understood and nothing else – not questioned, not pondered about. But now, with B. being gone, possibly for good this time, I’m beginning to wonder about all of that.

The lost nights

•June 21, 2010 • Leave a Comment

It’s been long since I’ve talked to B., heard from B., knew where he was, even. He does this thing where he drops off the face of the earth, dissolves any presence he’s created, even in the world of constant and profuse technology.

I still can’t find him.

I know this is because he doesn’t want to be found, possibly because he knows how I’ll search for him (exactly what way, full birth name, birth certificate in another country), and he has thrown up roadblocks.

I wished I could say it was a game this time, a game just like the last several times he’s done this, but I don’t know anymore. The last few times, I wasn’t sure if it had been a game anymore or not, and then I’d find him. I’d find him accidentally, almost; a fluke, a random chance that may not have been so random at all, but like he sensed I was giving up. He could tell I was getting tired, and then I’d get a sign.

But this time it might be different. It is the longest it’s ever been — over a year.

One year, and no contact. He drops out of my life with nothing, then returns — and the maddening cycle continues.

I can always tell when he’s going to disappear, when he’s had too much. Not of me, but of the world. For some reason, I remind him of the world.

There is the same scene that plays out in the last days we are together. At night, we drink — we clash glasses and chase the spirits down with nothing, in hopes that our ghosts won’t find us in our sleep.

And at this point, it stops helping, like when we wake up sweaty and pale, looking like sickly nymphs in the silvery-blue moonlight that peers through my window. He goes to his corner and I go to mine, and we huddle there, shivering, eyes darting, because we know we can never help each other.

But somehow, that’s okay. We have something better than comfort.

It’s called understanding.

a collusion of necessity

•June 17, 2010 • Leave a Comment

Here are things I’ve learned.

Fact: People lie to themselves all the time to make things more bearable.

Fact: This is usually true.

intermission: phone call

•March 30, 2010 • Leave a Comment

She quickly exited the bathroom, hands searching in her purse again, this time for her phone.

She pressed a single key, then heard the ringing.  A familiar voice answered.

“Yes, ma’am?” it inquired.

“Hello.  Would you please have the sheets changed for me?”

It wasn’t a weighty please, an enunciated please.  It wasn’t an uppity please, a flirtatious please.  It was simple, barely breathed, an understanding of courtesy and balances of power in one.

“Of course, ma’am.  Navy sheets?”

“Yes,” she replied.  “Navy sheets.”

She was going to sleep in the ocean tonight.

martinis, extra dirty. (part i)

•March 15, 2010 • Leave a Comment

This is a lonely hotel.

I watch the people file in and out, families with children, briefcase-toting businessmen who can barely remember what city they’re in, lonely people who clearly feel out of place, as I sit on my perch at the in-house bar, a stool on the very end, closest to the door.

I sip the same drink, a glass of deep red wine, dry and biting.  It keeps the mind fresh, interrupts the monotony of the passing people, always going, always rushing.  It helps me imagine that they have lives, that this fleeting time they spend in a hotel is something they’ll barely recall in a week’s time.

Not like me.

I’ve made this my semi-home, a static place that offers comfort, where nothing changes, yet life still moves.  The concierge at the desk.  The constant sound of suitcases rolling, their wheels a soft whir on carpet, a steady click on marble.  The cheap, beige rotary-dial telephone and its blinking red light.  A familiar hand at the bar who always has my preferred wine in stock, the same glass from which to sip it, my leather stool always empty, waiting.

Sometimes, I allow for a diversion.

Like tonight.

I glanced up at the television above the bar mirrors, my eyes half-scanning the breaking news headlines at the bottom.  My eyes caught a couple of words: “fire,” “abduction,” “present.”  And then there was a man beside me.

He was tall with light brown hair, wavy.  He was thin but not unbearably so, and I could see his shoulder muscle ripple slightly as he extended his credit card to the bartender.

“Start me a tab,” he said.

Despite the fact that, except for mine, all barstools were empty, he chose to sit close, with one lone stool separating us.  I wasn’t surprised.  I wasn’t exactly an approachable type of girl.  I keep my interest, any interest, well-concealed.  I respected his restraint.

I was in the mood to play tonight, though.

I took a quick side glance at the drink in front of him.  A dirty martini, cloudy green-gray, with two bobbing olives and another three skewered on a glass cocktail sword.

A bit clichéd, but to his credit, he had at least tweaked it to his liking.

Dirty.

I could be that, too.

I slowly swiveled my stool so I was no longer facing the opposite direction, uncrossing my legs.

“I don’t often see pretty girls in hotel bars,” he said, turning to me.

I smiled.

“Well, you haven’t been to too many then, have you?” I asked, curling my lip.

I kept one hand on my wine, my flotation device, a grounding rock to cling to.  It would keep me from drifting away, floating onward and upward, like an ownerless balloon.

“I’ve been to my fair share,” he said with a laugh.

“In that case, then, I think it’s safe for me to assume that that’s your go-to line for all of those pretty girls in hotel bars,” I said.  I picked up the glass and took a slow sip, letting the liquid tease the tongue, resting on it for awhile, exploring the corners of my mouth before I swallowed.

“You’ve got me all figured out, then, don’t you?” he asked, the smile breaking into a grin.  His arms were hunched forward on the bar, his face and shoulders turned to me.  He had a perfectly white, square-toothed smile, and his eyes were a deep blue.

He did look like B.  In fact, he was almost the spitting image of him, with that smile and those eyes.  But wait – there was something off, something different.

While the stranger’s eyes glittered and fixed themselves on me, they didn’t have the same innocent, knowing-but-unknowing profundity as B.’s.  They were darker, less green, more blue.  A truer shade of blue, a know-where-I-stand blue.

I felt around in my purse, looking for my wallet.  Somewhere in there was a photo, edges curling and exposing the white, of a mostly-blurred image: a group of people, four of them, were sitting at a table.  The image was mostly an opaque blur of color and light, darkness and bright flashes, unknown shapes throughout, except for a definite, lucid circle toward the middle of the photograph.

There, in the middle, are two faces: mine, laughing at something a faceless body is saying, and B., who is sitting next to me, hunched forward, hands resting on his knees, staring ahead of him.  He seems uninterested, but he knows about the waiting game.  He knows all of my games.

I quickly excuse myself to use the ladies’ room, clutching my purse, walking slowly and surely away.  I don’t want my unknown stranger of a guest to think I’m deserting him.  I’m not.  I just simply need to see this photo.

In the bathroom stall, I pull out my wallet and begin digging through the mass of receipts and business cards that have accumulated.  A panic hits.  Is it gone?  Did I get rid of it?  Lose it?

At the back of my paper mess, I see the familiar fuzzy corner peeking over the leather.  A sigh.  Thank God.  Thank God it’s still there.

I pull it out, feeling the soft ripples of age beneath my fingers, wondering at the living relic that has come to hold so much meaning, like a talisman.  I hold my breath, close my eyes, feel it burn in my hands, the density of a promise, the gravity of a past.

The ballast of truth.

I open them, and he is there.

final words.

•March 3, 2010 • 1 Comment

The last words we had were not kind.

You’re replaceable, I said.  Unfortunately for you, I’m not.

The fact that I’d nearly cashed an entire bottle of Peruvian didn’t matter; the facts remained the same.  I’d find someone to keep my bed warm, my body company.  He’d go on to be miserable, wondering why she couldn’t suck a dick like I could.

But that was beside the point.  And if it was in fact beside, than what was the point, really?

I’m not often uncertain.  Or rather, I simply choose not to think about things that are uncertain, as their complexities happen to be things I can’t be bothered with.  Some would say that’s self-serving; I say, nothing more than self-preservation.  What others don’t agree with can’t be helped.

I knew it wouldn’t last the first time we fucked.

He was one of those “too easily pleased” types, the kind that amuse me the first couple go-rounds with how easy it is, but that bore me in the long-term.  A good visual was his primary source of stimulation, which, again, means “too easy.”  A slow disrobing, a quick couple minutes of striptease and he was all mine, his hands all over, greedy self unable to wait.

The good: I didn’t have to do much to please him; a few strokes, a couple touches and he was finished.

The bad: I was never fucking satisfied with his simplistic approach to sex.  Somewhere he got the idea that the loud noises emanating from his throat and several repetitive, furious pumps were sufficient enough to turn me on, let alone get me off.

It was kind of like romping with a teenager – not that I know, because that’s something I’d never do, Christ – but it had that innocent, easygoing, even playful feel to it.  Suffice it to say that it was not enough to even hint at a regular relationship, let alone function as a sexual relationship.

And the truth is, I felt bad for him.  When we split, or rather, when I told him I was splitting with him, I was quite honest about things.

My first mistake: I did it in private.

Why? He had asked.  But why?

I started on about how we’re completely different types (we were, quite obviously; he had an extremely unattractive proclivity for becoming too clingy in a matter of weeks, after all), how I wasn’t ready for a relationship (and I wasn’t, at least not with him), and that he could find someone better suited (like a good, take-home-to-mother, settle-down-and-have-four-kids-with type of girl).

Instead of responding in the adult way, a polite nod and calm demeanor, all of that shit, he decides to throw a fit.  And not a manly fit by any means, like throwing lamps and punching holes in the walls, but a two-year-old fit, complete with tears and so much blubbering I couldn’t understand a word he was saying.

The whining was too much for me, and I snapped.

Grow the fuck up, I said.  I am being honest with you.  I know it’s not pleasant, but at least I’m telling you the truth.

Instead of getting the hint, grabbing his shit, and leaving, he proceeded to launch what was for him a full-scale attack.

You’re such a fucking bitch, he spat.  You’re never going to end up with anyone because you’re so damn cold.  The only thing you’re good for is a fuck.

While I can understand why some may see it that way, it still set me off, hence the “you’re replaceable, I’m not” line, which made him give me one last look of disgust before throwing on his t-shirt, grabbing his dinner jacket, stuffing his wallet into his back pocket and stomping out the door.

I will be the first to admit that I’ve welcomed criticism for what you may perceive as coldness on my part.  That’s understandable.  But I think once you realize that we are not born cold, you’ll know that the coldness is not of my essential being.  Rather, it’s a finely honed defense mechanism, a set of reactions that cause other reactions, perhaps triggered so often that it seems normal.

My second mistake: I thought about it.

After the sound of his footfall in the hallway ceased, I sat on the bed, letting my body deflate.  With a long exhale, I slipped off my heels and glanced at the telephone for the telltale blinking light, indicating a message at the front desk awaiting me.  Nothing.

I looked around the room, searching for any sign of himself he may have left behind, a reason to come back, an excuse to weasel back into my life.  Nothing.

I lit a cigarette, letting the raspy air fill my lungs, a reward for showing him the door early.  I felt relief, as I so often had before, but there was something else.  A sadness, a tinge of loneliness; a sort of longing for the lavishing of affection (even though it bordered on the cliché at times).

You’re alone, I thought to myself.  Alone.  Alone.  Alone.  The cigarette smoke wasn’t offering me the same pleasure anymore – instead, it felt like a burning, a rasping, exacerbating all edges of hollowness in my chest.  I took a deep drag to calm myself, to quell the thoughts, and –

The light.

The light on my room phone was blinking.  I exhaled slowly, delicately.

I slowly ran my fingers along the receiver, feeling the electrical current pulling me from the opposite end.  I felt the excitement tugging at my stomach as I lifted the phone from its cradle, then secured it snugly between my bare shoulder and ear.

Ring, ring.  Ring, ring. I waited.  Chance, chance.  Chance, chance.

As the maître-de’s voice came on the line, I stubbed out my cigarette quickly, hands shaking, heart in flight.

Chance.  It seemed to have found me again.