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Who fashioned a man out of white reflective crosswalk paint (or it is tape? I will ask my friend at 3M tomorrow) at the intersection of the rocky path on Madison and something-or-other NW on the National Mall. I nearly stepped on him, I did. But instead, I stopped—midstride—reversed, checked for cars. He warranted another look, a photograph even. I’ve seen spray-painted runners and walkers, designating a race route. But I’ve not seen the likes of this boxy ghoulish tape-man. Who did this? Why? I don’t know so I just whispered “Merry Christmas, funny man” and walked on.
I believed I’d mastered the art of acceptance, the art of recognizing any situation for what it was, assessing its value, and acting accordingly. By which I mean—sometimes I remove my shoes and socks and roll up my pant legs to wade across the torrent river; sometimes I follow its path until I can leap its width; sometimes I turn back; sometimes I employ a combination of those (and more) tactics to proceed on my journey. But now my left eye twitches with increasing frequency, and I’m forced to consider: did I master the art of acceptance or denial?
I dreamed there was a fire and a locked door with sleeping children behind it. I stood by – not helpless – but heartless, removed, insistent that they were someone else’s problem. I watched other people break down doors. Then he entered, followed by a gaggle of women and cried out, “I just bought this building; I was gonna live here; now what …?” Enraged by his complete disregard for others, I considered the children, my immobility, and realized (as clear as day) that it is quite good he never agreed to impregnate me all those years ago. And I woke grumpy.
“Leg cramps!” my dad shouts. Must be 2:30 in the morning, and I can’t tell if he is sleep-talking or expects a reply. I lay quiet, as does my mother. Awake now, I think angrily: “I will never do this.” This: a January wedding in downtown Indianapolis—expensive, gray, frigid, chaotic activities, drama about who said / did / drank what. It’s just not in me. I worry: will I never love enough; am I unable to commit; do I not want to join everyone who loves me together? Sleepy again, I think: I should not worry, then I sleep.
Less than 3 minutes later, she sighed “you are my calming influence” and then turned back to the home inspector and her ringing telephone while I picked up toys. I spent the subsequent 4 hours retrieving her husband from work and her daughter from daycare, feeding them, then playing, reading books in my funny voices while Sophia said “again! again!,” tucking Sophia into bed, promising I’d be back, walking the dog. By the time I sat down at home to relax with a beer, I realized, I calmed her by absorbing her frenzy. And then I let it all go.
I gave it some thought, Robbie – that we can fill gaps in others. I tried to picture it: a piece of my left arm sliding into a hole in your right thigh. It will not work. Ah but, you didn’t mean it literally, did you? You meant, maybe, that the bravery I lack, you make up for, or the meticulousness you sacrifice with movement, I will supplement. I pictured that too, and I saw us losing our very essence. So, Robbie, I say we keep these gaps. I love you for yours, and (even better) I love me for mine.
“Try to slow down just a little,” I suggested by text message. I know, though, that he’s reading it while driving to another engagement in another small town to meet good people to deliver pep talks in hopes of donations (or paychecks or, hell, a cup of coffee). [Not that
is what he needs, to my original point.] This morning he complained, “even with ice on the road, I ought’a be able to drive 60.” I didn’t ask him to decelerate then. But now, much later, I attempt to persuade him with “you’re okay; we’re okay; breathe; please breathe.”
I jump now when my phone vibrates
or when a car slows next to me on the street those dark nights I walk home from nowhere
or when the number of unread messages in my mailbox exceeds 98
(is 98 a magic number?)
Those synapses in my brain are over-firing, mis-firing rather, or maybe both. A young man coming back from a hard life, gaining ground every day, drops dead on the sidewalk en route to visit his mother. My brain synapses fire pain straight to my heart for him, and the one little piece that still remains shatters.
Hansel and Gretel could easily find their way. They could traipse out their front door, through the dark forest, past the old witch’s candy house, depart Germany and their evil stepmother, head south through Switzerland, France, settle down near a lovely Spanish beach – perhaps Barcelona or the Castell de Cabres, buy a villa, escort the tourists up the steps to the castle in the summertime. And they could accomplish this great journey without small white pebbles or bread crumbs to guide them. All they need to follow is the long trail of the tiny hardened pieces of my shattered heart.
I do not want him. I do not want this man I love. Not anymore. He is the chasm I once fell into, hard and fast. The chasm I am just learning to climb from. He is the subtle liar who led me to believe that there could be hope and trust. He is the sad soul who called me his best friend as he betrayed me and himself again and again. He is the man who took everything, everything I ever had to give and walked away with it, as if it/I was nothing. I do not want him.
He will say it was me, incidentally. He will say I am too intense, and not in the good intense way either. He will say I take friendship too far. He will say he tried but was never going to be what I wanted, needed. He will say it was clear to him a long time ago, that I am slow to catch on, that I did this to myself. In a moment of clarity I see: I can love this man absolutely, and it will never ever make any difference to him; it will only ever cause me pain.
Scene 1: I considered loving you
Sadly, there is nothing I could do to cause you to feel the way about me that I feel about you now, watching you take your guitar in your hands, lovingly, with that faraway look that reminds me of the moment just before sleep when everything within me finally slows and I feel and hear my own heart in my head. You, with that faraway look, you begin to play, lightly at first, testing the strings, your fingers, nimble, ready, and then you play; you play your music from somewhere deep that reminds me of the moment just before sleep.
Scene 2: But I knew better
I had written you a love song to sing to me; it was hiding among the other fourteen attempted lyrics. You might notice now that it isn’t in the stack of graph paper we left there on your parents’ old coffee table. Because I knew. I knew somewhere inside the curled up ball of myself on the couch that I wasn’t supposed to feel anything or want anything, that there was more than a guitar between us. It seems so unfair to me now that you can make music out of my words and I cannot love you for it.
Scene 3: And I will always be okay
I am writing instead of talking. It’s what I do. I said I didn’t understand, and I don’t, and I know I won’t. But that’s okay with me. I like you, and I was enjoying getting to know you. I was never sure I was going to
you; I was never sure I was going to let you all of the way in (I know you think you were in, but I really only gave you the easy surface stuff – see also Scene 4 –); I was never sure where we were going so slowly, if anywhere...
but I was sure you were going to do your best to stop it. And on my end, in my head, when I tried to picture next week or month or whatever, I never even made it to January 31, as hard as I tried to get there. Standing in your skinny apartment kitchen at the end of the world, I nearly suffocated and wanted nothing more than to sprint wildly around the soccer field. So I ask myself: who doomed the relationship part of this? I don’t think I can blame you (which is too bad for me).
Scene 4: Despite a few misunderstandings.
You may think I am overly communicative – with the pen-pal-like emails, text messages, phone calls, with my desire to touch base with you every couple of days to check in, make some plans. You may think – based on these efforts – that I want to tie you up and bind you to me forever (read: marry you). But the fact is: my communication is mostly superficial [Did I tell you about my uncle? Did I ask for input on the job I just accepted?] and like fruit from a poisonous tree, everything flowing from such superficial communication must be thrown out.
Scene 5: Still, you shared my voice
What I’m trying to say is: I don’t think I need more friends whom I considered loving for a day, and I’m going to have some issues trusting you. But one thing I’m not prepared to let go ----
you put my strange words into beautiful music ----.
If you think it can be good for both of us, if it mattered to you a bit, if you think it can work, if it’s worth dealing with my emotions, can we have that? I can easily let the idea of everything else go since an idea is all it ever was.
So I don’t even feel remotely bad for trying.
I still worry: maybe I did love enough, that one time, for a long time. Maybe I used it all up, spent. Maybe I haven’t figured out how to cross that rickety bridge again to where I open myself up to possibilities. But then I hear myself laughing, feel my heart beating faster, know I am smiling at him in the dark. I slowly reach out to touch his back as he leans forward to pet a dog, and while it may not be him (there may not be anyone), I believe these tiny reaches might just bridge the gap.
Our grey cat can fly
Although he sometimes misjudges
And slams into the arm of
A couch or even a wall
And I think he's not so different
From me and my
Misjudgments that send me flying clumsily head first,
Hands tied behind my back
Well - whatever it is I crash into -
As I fly recklessly through the air
Chasing butterflies and clouds
Shaped like whales and double-
Scoop chocolate ice-cream cones
I crash into a bus or a
Giant cement turtle or a
Polka-dotted chair or an
Eight-foot-high-brick wall -
Or maybe I crash into nothing.
True / False. All I want is myself. All I want is to know that I am, to know that I can, to know that I do. Is this sensical or maniacal?
I sit now at Lincoln’s feet where he sits forever watching people approach, stare, photograph, whisper, then turn, descend. Is he bothered by a never-ending parade of departures down the 87 steps to the reflecting pool? I think not. I think he knows it’s what people do. What’s more, I think it’s why I sit here routinely, to demonstrate to myself that leaving is just what we do.
Things we wished we had on hand at the inauguration of our 44th President, Barack Obama, in no particular order. Another pair of socks. Lasagna. Bleachers. A pencil and paper. Trashcans. The Argonaut. A step ladder, stilts. Chocolate chip cookies. A campfire. A table, binoculars, periscope. A cherry picker. Beer. Blankets. A recliner. Coffee. A compass. A closer, non-echoing Jumbotron. Boots. Sunglasses. Structures. A video camera charger, an extra camera battery. Beyonce doing “Single Ladies.” More agility challenges, GPS. A hat like Aretha’s, a Jesus-free convocation, a catch phrase, cell-phone signals, and “the Beast” to get us home. The end.
Picture a white rectangle -- I told him -- a big clean beautiful white rectangle, hanging on a wall or sprawled across the floor like a rug. Rectangles are good. And picture now this: down in the bottom left corner, a small piece has been ripped out. And the ripping and tearing left a brutal scar. Can you see it?, I asked him over the phone. He said he was trying. That's us, I said. We are a beautiful clean rectangle; we have a brutal scar. But even a brutal scar is no good reason to trash the whole rectangle.
Can I trust you with me?, you asked. Why would I? Not many days after we met and played in a fountain and shared hot chocolate and a movie, I learned you were doing similar activities with my friend (add kissing). When we might have talked through it, instead you went into a hole, off the grid and told me in no uncertain terms to get over it. You came back, yes. But then you let me spend hours sharing me with you only to then say no, “I don’t want this.” Now you ask me to trust you. Really?
I remember now how the true/false statement of my desire to be a strong, solitary me relates to my sitting at Lincoln’s feet contemplating a long line of departures. One has everything to do with the other when I am attempting to convince myself that it’s okay for people to leave me (and vice versa). One has everything to do with the other when I am trying to be okay alone for the long term. One has everything to do with the other when I am guarding myself against becoming nobody next to somebody else again. How did I forget?
I long for a room packed with people who know how to hug. The full frontal hug—arms enveloping waists or necks (either suits me), the hug that feels like I am being taken in, to where our hearts can touch. No catch and release, no sideways awkward only-shoulders-meet nonsense; no quick superficial pats on the back; no “how are you?”s with my hugs. I long for a hug that speaks for itself, that says, yes,
, it is good to see you, to hold you, I’ve waited all day for this, and I wish never to let you go.
Sometimes I think, when it comes down to it, we live by one overarching principle: be flexible. No matter what, be flexible.
We think perhaps we should not set too many hard and fast rules lest we violate this flexibility principle. We think perhaps rules are for the rigid, boring people we've known, dated, and tried to love. And yet. And yet, we cannot allow chaos to ensue. We are not animals; we are not un-thinking. Some rules are made necessary by the simple act of being human (and women). For example: One must never run out of toilet paper.
I woke up in someone else's bed surrounded by two snoring dogs. Then I made coffee in someone else's kitchen, retrieved someone else's baby from her crib, fed her someone else's food, and carried her through the snow to the nanny's while wearing someone else's coat, hat, socks. Later, I went to a different someone else's house, taught a different daughter how to throw snowballs, read someone else's books, moved someone else's dining room table, told someone else's daughter I loved her. Then I went home and ate someone else's spaghetti and went back to bed in someone else's bed.
But in between all of that, I walked on my own two feet to my job, played with my phone, listened to my words (set to someone else's music -- which somehow makes it "ours"), stopped at my house for a few minutes to talk to my friend, read my email on my laptop, and drank my beer. Later, I used my mind to solve my problems, and I gave my time (and heart) to several someone elses who can do whatever it is they want with them because what they choose to do really isn't the point, is it?
He became very important to me very quickly, and I keep telling myself it's okay. But I don't know for sure. Do we ever know for sure? Does anyone ever know? We now have a contract, sworn by all-hands over a napkin drawing of Alejandro Armando Moreno, a frog (red). It stipulates that we'll tell each other if the other sucks and that we'll not quit. We were negotiating the music, but why not extend these principles to the rest too? So I hereby promise honesty and perseverance over our own propensities to quit, even when it's hard as hell.
He’s mine. But. He’s mine. But I. He is
. But I will. He is mine. But I will share. I will share the responsibility. I will share the energy. I will share the charged air that surrounds him. I will share. But remember. But remember that he is mine. He’s mine.
What? What did you just say? Louder, please. You will need to speak up because I think I just heard you say that he belongs to himself. And by that, I guess you mean he’s
mine. Take it back. Seriously. Take. It. Back. Now. He
“Instantly camouflages imperfections,” boasts my latest hair product. (Just like beer, I think.) Instantly camouflages imperfections. I want this product for a number of things. Camouflage the frizziness, yes, but also the hair above my upper lip, that tri-colored mole on my right breast that peeks out of my bathing suit, oh, and also (and you knew this was coming) camouflage my insecurities, my suspiciousness, my fear, my distrust. Camouflage the duct-taped, torn, frayed, rusted baggage of those wasted years that I still carry around with me. A product that can camouflage that—sign me up for a lifetime supply.
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