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This morning I heard voices before I woke. They were singing, softly at first, and then began to swell. I came awake slowly, marveling at what seemed to be a divine visitation. I thought, “It can’t be angels. There are no angels.” And I wondered if my mind had broken in some marvelous way—and turned to ask if you heard it too. Finally I understood the voices were coming from my phone and were singing Bach’s Jesu Mein Freud Motet. Again, I turned to tell you about it but you aren’t here.
What in the fucking flying fuck is it now? How have I wounded you this time? Your life is so full of imagined slights and manufactured drama; your time so spent on sniffing out plots and insults; and your mind so consumed with what other people might think about you.
Get off the fainting couch. Your frail damsel in distress thing works, god knows, but why live out the rest of your life playing the foolish spinster in a drawing room farce? Pull up your big girl panties. Act your age. Grow a backbone. Have some dignity. Exit stage left.
I have not been able to shake a generalized feeling of discouragement and uncertainty, which is strange because things are objectively better now. I, and most of my family and friends, have received our vaccinations and are past the two week waiting period; I have started working on my health again; and there’s a sense of cautious optimism as things begin to open up in NYC. Still, it’s as if this glimpse of recovery has jinxed what’s most precious. There has been tension, unkind words, prolonged silences, and the reopening of old wounds. I’m not convinced we will make it.
Once I woke in the dark to hear birds singing in the back garden. I sleepily rolled into your warmth, fitting my chilled knees into the backs of yours, and asked, “What’s all that racket?”
Because you are a light sleeper you immediately answered, “It’s the dawn chorus, my darling."
It still amazes me that such a simple call and response can contain so much of what I love about you.
It’s early here and the birds are calling -- the twitterati in full voice. I wish I could bury my nose in your back and have a sleepy conversation.
It's May. Mild, gentle, and without guile. A kind month, sparing you intemperate squalls or scorchers. All is sweet, uncomplicated, and full of new offerings. In return you take care to tread lightly, lest you crush her tender tentative shoots. May is the very best of an idealized season.
She fools you into believing your garden will thrive; that this time the slugs won't eat the vegetables down to the ground; that you will have enough to sustain you through a long winter. And yet the blossoms wither, weeds overtake the beds, and the ivy clogs the drains.
A knife, a fork, a bottle and a cork. Stay out until 3am just because the bar is still open; memorize the subway system; watch the buskers make music, both terrible and wonderful; go to your bodega and get handed coffee the way you like it without asking; become a regular in your neighborhood bar; cry on the street and don’t give a damn; cope with new jobs and side hustles; give directions to lost tourists; pet bodega cats; meet people you love and accept that some stay and some go. That is the way that we spell New York.
There is a family of mockingbirds living under the A/C unit in my living room window. In the spring the mating calls from the lone males begin and these fuckers sound like car alarms and police sirens, as well many other birds. They get into dust-ups as they compete to mate and they call competitively all damned night. Then the hatchlings cry for food constantly and, while the male takes care of them, the female starts a new nest and the cycle begins again. I'm just grateful they have not yet started to mock the summer-time ice cream truck.
Perhaps if we view those we love as we do cats, life would be easier. Cats are pleasing and capricious, weird and unreliable, and we love them in spite of and because of those things. Perhaps if we think of our unhealed psychic wounds as arthritis or just old creaky knees we would be able to remain philosophical about the occasional flare-up. Perhaps if we imagine the burns from deliberate slights and cruelties as nothing more than escaping steam we'd be able to shrug and move on. Perhaps if we find a way to do these things we'd be happier.
Dance with me. I don't care that you think you can't, that you feel awkward and ungainly, and that you'd rather not. Just once, let us meet in each other's arms and glide. Let us allow the music to carry us away. Let us feel each other's heat and inhale our combined scents swirling up around our heads. Let our bodies speak to each other as we hold each close and move as one. Let the rest of the room blur away until there is only the music, our scent, and our bodies. Let us dance together. Let us dance.
Let us stop dreaming of flight and simply fly. Let us put ourselves between the earth and the sun and see where we land. Let us go with no flight plan and no particular destination. Let us assume we know enough to protect ourselves-- that our fragile wings will not come apart. Let us navigate straight and true. Let us prove that gravity doesn't always win. Let us fly. And if we are wrong, if we do fall, then let us have no regrets. We will have had the heat and the light and each other. We will have flown.
That first time you cooked for me I offered to help and of course you refused. And somehow it became a ritual. Every time you prepared that same meal I'd offer, you'd refuse, and we'd smile at each other. It was a short-hand for
I love you
. Every time you lit the candles, called me to the table, and poured the wine it felt like a profound act of love.
Over a year ago you served it to me for the last time, though neither of us realized it in the moment. I miss that dish and I miss you.
Listen. Shit happens. The water gets turned off for an emergency repair and you just deal with it. I know you were all soaped up and in the shower at the time, but stomping around and threatening to storm down to the basement in your towel isn't going to change anything, though it might amuse the Super. Do not tell me your hippie soap magically turned into toxic detergent which had dried into a burning crusted layer upon your skin while refusing to take a whore's bath with the baby wipes I offered you. You ridiculous fucking damned diva child.
If I were the Empress of the Universe I'd design customized hellscapes for those deserving of them. To do this effectively I'd need to know a great deal about the individuals I plan to consign to eternal torture. Were I Empress I'd have access to that information but as I am not, I have been amusing myself by imagining hell for those I do know-- most of whom are not deserving of it. It's a light-hearted exercise, honestly, and for the most part benign. But I have a rich imagination and a penchant for revenge, so don't piss me off.
You retreated into the snowy forest, wrapped your grief around yourself like a cloak, and waited for your heart to slow and freeze and finally to stop beating. But life insisted, though you no longer wanted it; and slowly, slowly, your heart warmed as you nursed your sadness, cradling it close. Your mind contained nothing but a pool of memories, all sweet as poison, until grief and bitter regret became your most precious possessions. And while your body went still and grey with cold, fingers and toes and other bits dropping away, your heart grew incandescent with loss and rage.
Apparently there are ides in every month, though not all occur exactly in the middle. This month, though, in May, the ides are today. In many ways each today has been an ide for years. Every single day has marked the difference between then and now. Then he was alive: now he is not. Then was clear and simple; now is messy and complex. Then we were two; now we are three. Then I was healthy; now I am not. When did life become about where we have been instead of about where we're going?
Beware the ides of May.
I think I'm addicted to the roller coaster ride and I don't know why. Yeah, the highs are fantastic, but the lows get harder and harder to recover from. That fast and furious plunge to rock bottom followed by the slow nervous anticipatory climb to the top. That very, very momentary time at the peak is always wondrous and then the joy is robbed by the knowledge that we'll plunge back down again. It's hard to tell if this is just life and love or if I have a problem. That's the trouble with this sort of thing becoming normal.
How many times did I sit on the step down to your kitchen while you cooked for me? Always asking if you needed help, always knowing you’d refuse. That little ritual.
Now your kitchen has been completely torn out and redone. I’m sad to think about your old stove gone out to the tip-- it saw so many wonderful meals, from bacon sammies grilled on the old hob to huge multi-course extravaganzas for company or just for us, Cocktails to wine and soup to nuts.
Nothing remains but the step-down. And I wonder if I will ever sit there again
Things to be sure about: I am reclining on my couch in Williamsburg, Brooklyn; the cup of coffee next to me is growing cold; the Darwin Arch crumbled into the sea today after standing for millennia; your family will know you for longer than anyone else; nature insists; losses outnumber gains in the last years of your life; the people you know the very best are still unknowable; you can get used to a very large amount of pain; a single decision can change everything; revenge is a zero-sum game; being happy is hard; love is always worth the risk.
I used to love watching you dress in the morning. You are the only man I ever loved who wore a suit to work every day. Who shaved every morning— and who had a proper five o’clock shadow when you came home. I loved watching you deftly knot your tie or shine your shoes; I loved the way you rolled your shirt sleeves up; I loved the casual assurance with which you did those traditionally manly things. It thrilled me. And I love that while you don't have a traditionally manly bone in your body, you are completely my man.
Sometimes there is nothing but the drone of reality. And even reality seems flat and uninteresting. So I do some digging and foolishly access files best left alone. And I end up brooding about what ought to be minor irritations. Small wounds that I imagined healed. It turns out that without distraction or reassurance reality is so very real, so big, so overwhelming... that it becomes unreal. Minor irritations become murder-worthy. Small wounds fester. I lose perspective. I no longer trust that I know what is true and what is not. I am Alice. I am down the rabbit hole.
Lies I have told: We're almost there; great job; the pool is closed now; I can't, I have a family obligation; your hair looks nice; it's delicious; we're out of candy; you're welcome; I don't mind; that's interesting; my phone died; of course I remember you; I can't make it-- I'm sick; I'm listening to you; if you tell me the truth I won't be mad; just kidding; I didn't do it; I can replace it; it's not a big deal; it's not you, it's me; I'm sorry; I'm okay; everything is fine; don't worry about it; we'll be okay.
I am having coffee up on the roof. From up here it’s just a sea of rooftops all the way to the Manhattan skyline, the East River invisible. For a brief time the rising sun sets the skyscrapers on fire and then, this time of year, the first waves of heat warm my skin.
"It's going to be a hot one today," I am thinking.
I am remembering how much I dislike summer in the city.
"I should find my damned hat," I muse.
Christ, I am already looking forward to the relief of September while it is still May.
One need not be a Chamber—to be Haunted— One need not be a House— The Brain has Corridors—surpassing Material Place—
A ghost is fucking with me. There are signs. Little droppings I can't see smelling up the place, like a cat marking territory; whispered communications I am not privy to; experiences I should know about but do not. Now and then she unexpectedly manifests and I can see a bag of skin, all teeth and bones, eyes lined black; long badly dyed hair with an incongruously girlish fringe. Then just as quickly she cloaks herself again.
It's your birthday. It occurs to me that I have known you, loved you, and been loved by you for nearly a third of your life. Twenty-three years ago you sat next to me in a bar and touched my arm. And just like that I was gone, I was yours, it was as involuntary and as inevitable as breathing. My eyes lost focus, while the music on the jukebox receded. All I could see was your hand on my arm; all I could hear was your voice. It's your birthday but the gift is, and has been, all mine.
Some motherfucker ate most of the flower heads right off a window box full of pansies. On a sixth floor window sill. A rat? A bird? A fucking squirrel? I don't know what did it, but I'm thinking dark thoughts. I'm imagining the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band's
Jazz, Delicious Hot, Disgusting Cold
playing loudly. I am imagining a Rube Goldberg contraption designed to release a wire and then drop an anvil on the bastard. Or pull the trigger on a giant shotgun. I am imagining the look of comic surprise in that moment as the fucker is blown to smithereens.
One day, in his back garden, she idly pulled up a clump of weeds and found a flagstone buried beneath them. They kept on excavating until the old forgotten blueprint of the garden was uncovered. Then she started planting. Raised beds for vegetables, perennials along the fence, and a herb garden in the back, Buddleia trees for butterflies.. A new table and chairs; and hanging baskets filled with flowers. She thought she was saying, "I love you," but the tidiness rattled him: It became a burden, another thing to feel guilty about, and finally to neglect when she was gone.
Been there. Done that. Tried it; read it; watched it; seen it; ate it; drank it; felt it; heard it; thought it; made it; liked it; loved it; hated it; lost it; found it; bought it; sold it; smelled it; hiked it; built it; left it; started it; finished it; opened it; closed it; thought it; said it; used it; believed it; allowed it; lost it; found it; fixed it; broke it; forgot it; played it; tossed it; shared it; took it; gave it; sang it; shouted it; whispered it; meant it; studied it; remembered it; forgot it; survived it.
It was about noon and I was walking to a nearby park. Again, as expected, I passed the friendly woman who hangs out on the corner. I've seen her for years now and every time she tells me she lost her dog. "Have you seen my dog?" She asks me to let her know if I find him. Of course I agree and she nods gratefully, flashing an unexpectedly beautiful smile. I walk on, wondering if she ever remembers or thinks about anything else. Imagine being stuck in a single moment. One event plucked from a whole life looping endlessly.
I feel as though I have cycled through several lives this month. I've been sinking lower and lower and I'm confused about every single thing in my life--not just my current life but everything in the whole course of my life up until now. Sometimes I suspect I am having a nervous breakdown, but I think it's really just the ambiguity of life in the end-stages of lockdown. I'm not ready. I'm still isolated. I'm tired. I feel erased. I try to avoid self-pity and resentment but to my chagrin I am not making a very good job of it.
It's like that bi-dimensional optical illusion Rubin's Vase. You can see either two profiles or a vase. You can switch between perceptions, seeing one or the other, but you can never see both at the same time. I read that in order to make sense of the image your brain discards the parts that contradict-- creating blind spots because seeing both is too confusing. You see what makes sense to you; what works within your own perspective.
If the profiles represent reopening and the vase represents familiar isolation I guess I have a perspective problem. I keep seeing the vase.
Early on, lying in bed in the Metropolitan Ave apartment, I asked him, “Do you think we’ll be this happy in 10 years?” I had barely finished the question before I regretted it and quickly asked him to pretend I hadn't spoken. Both of us were fresh out of failed marriages and a little gun-shy, so we let it go, but I knew he would always be my person. Twenty-three years later, I sit alone in our bed, and look back down the long bumpy road that got us here. It's been a great journey and we're still happy. Ish.
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