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he showed me the scar on his side, fresh-looking even twenty-three years later.
this is where he was
, he said,
the brother i never knew.
we've all been torn away from the things we love, but few of us have such a physical reminder of what used to be and now is gone. i kissed his scar, lightly, felt the tingle of loss in my blood. i could never replace that ghost brother. all i could do was share a bottle of gin, hold his hand while the scar-colored sunset fell over the green cornfields of late spring in illinois.
i graduated college. i am now expected to settle down. but i think i'm just getting wilder – i no longer have anything tying me to one location, no longer owe anything to anyone. what have i done since i turned in the final rewrite of my thesis? i've run away with the carnival. fallen in love. had drunken sex. taught myself how to hop trains. slept in treetops. swum naked in shimmery water. travelled. rode my bicycle too fast. danced. played guitar. canceled my internet/phone/television, because having one less corporation i have to give money to is okay with me.
everything comes full circle. one of my circles, begun ten years ago, looped around in minneapolis. first avenue, 7th street entry: the first dark, smoky club i ever went to, where i saw my first non-local punkrock show. ten years and who knows how many dark and smoky clubs, how many shows later, there i was again, happy to be on my own in a strange city, drinking beer and nodding my head to the music. then a boy walked in, another ghost, and with his glance in my direction, another circle, set in motion three years gone, became complete.
three years ago, he was a boy. a sweet boy, but oh so innocent – when i touched him, i felt like i was sinning, like his white wings were turning soot-black with every stroke of my fingers. i said
i can't be the one to teach you about life
, and off he went. now, he has returned to me, and somewhere in that time, without the presence of my lecherous gaze, he became a man. now, he teaches me. he is no longer so pure, but that's fine – i prefer the kind of angels with battered halos and dusty wings.
bouncing on the balls of my feet, battle-scarred shoes tap tap on the sticky floor. the music goes bang bang. i smoke and smoke and burn my throat with drams of real irish whiskey. self-destruct. winking at the boys, dancing with the girls. so hot it's cold. this music, this music. it still lives in my veins. still makes my pulse race. it's still a razor to my scalp and fire fire fire. burn this place down. rip up the city. run away from home. kiss me deadly. heart attack. never, never look back. what a wonderful wonderful wonderful world.
three years ago, i asked you –
what are we?
. our travels took us opposite directions, and that was okay, too, because we take the moments as they come. now there are drunken basement nights with the early summer sun fading through tiny windows, first light of morning; we discuss ideas for the adventures we will have together, and i plot train rides and road trips out west. to see you. i've finally done something i can't take back, and we are both terrified, but still you tell me that i am everything that's beautiful in the world.
moon june world glowing with dangermagic. skin brushed by wind kisses and outlandish dreams, body held by tree limbs and warm arms. wanderlust at a fever pitch, but for once the urgency is delicious because i can hop on that train, stick out my thumb, get in my car and
whenever. there are so many places and people to see, and finally i am running
. i love this city; love many of the people in it. i am ready to seek out new horizons, but i'm not shutting any of the old ones from my sight.
the mourning doves' sad hobo winejug song. a dusty yellow butterfly coming to rest on a veined leaf, opening and closing its wings gently. the sparrow chirrup and grackle cack-cack-cack. the smell of the lake, cool and marshy. sand scratchy under my toes, tree limbs rough and strong that hold me while i dream. wind and sun on the back of my neck. at night, the moths flirting through the flowering bushes, and the train moan off in the west. sometimes the world is so sharp it hurts, but i still say to it a big and holy Yes, yes.
barefoot and beautiful finally ventured out of her comfort zone, and i got to show her the haunts of my city. the city i am on my way to leaving, and am now learning to love. we drank beer at sidewalk cafes and gazed at passerby and it was just like the old days. i love her so much; she has been there for me through such difficult and defining times. she frustrates the hell out of me. when will i make her see how goddamn spectacular she is? when will she realize her beauty, her talent, her unmatchable soul?
at the top of the building, where the windows are broken, and the spindly trees mysteriously grow, that's where lola was born. she came into the world with the gift of her mother's sorrows. she came into the world as recycled molecules and a gypsy soul. she thinks perhaps she is the loneliest woman on earth – if anyone touches her, they will waste away and die of a broken heart. she doesn't think she belongs anywhere, except maybe to the constant motion of the road, and she is trying to teach herself to belong to the longing she always carries.
oh, that dangermagic summer, three years ago. when i remember it, it is so fresh in my mind it seems like yesterday. three years ago today, i wandered the humid streets of a southern ohio city. my heart shattered. three years ago today, i shook my fist at the heavens for giving me glimpses of perfection and dangling it just out of my grasp. and i know i'm not supposed to talk to ghosts, or open the windows for them, but. . .the newspapers say the cicadas are on their way. and that will be like three years ago, too.
, he said,
fancy meeting you here. what the hell are you doing in minneapolis?
turns out he lives there. strange; i knew him three years ago, in chicago. we swigged from sweaty beer bottles and told our stories, told of things and people we've done, places we've been. he told me that he'd stopped writing for a while, and thinking of me was what got him to start again.
and there's a song i always associate with you
, he said,
"crush with eyeliner" by r.e.m.
he sang a line:
she's a sad tomato; she's three miles of bad road.
when it rains, i walk by the river. i look at the sunken boat rising ghostly from the mist, and listen to the trains bellow and swish through the downpour, clawing their way over the rusty bridges i wander under. there is a flask of wine in my pocket. rain lashes against my face. i try to figure out which direction the trains are headed. i'll be going west in a few weeks. and because i think of everything as a metaphor, i think: the soft, sweet east and lonely midwest were my youth. the wild west is my future.
want, longing. (craze, fancy, love, lust, passion, predeliction, rapture.)
he is my craze, she is my fancy. i love the world and lust after everyone. so many passionate predelictions. it's rapture.
independence, license to do as one wants. (abandon, full swing, indulgence, liberty.)
i am at liberty to indulge. i live with reckless abandon. the show's in full swing.
hazard, troublesome situation. (emergency, instability, peril, risk, uncertainty.)
of course, all of this leads to instability. my life is uncertain, my heart is at risk. a constant state of emergency. i wouldn't change a thing.
we all sat around under the strings of green holiday lights, smelled the neighborhood grills. we shared cigarettes and tallboys of pabst; maybe someone had a bottle of gin. we watched the yuppies pass by our paintings, even the ones we were charging way too little for; we need the money they have, but they don't care about art unless it matches their furniture. occasionally one stopped to criticize a sentiment they didn't even understand, and we rolled our eyes when they left. the night ended with our pockets still empty, but we had new friends and a nice buzz.
we drove the summer night streets in her rattletrap car, windows down. the breeze was thick with the scent of sweetgrass and honeysuckle. she blasted music i don't even normally like, but i listened through her ears and suddenly it was vibrant, alive. later, we slept next to each other in my bed, chastely – there were no kisses, nor any cuddling. i woke to her leaving in the hot gray gloom of early a.m. as i fell back asleep, i buried my face in the pillow that smelled of her golden hair. i want her in my life, but how?
karaoke night, and the pub was packed with the types of people who don't usually hang out there.
i'm worth a million in prizes. yeah, i'm through with sleeping on the sidewalk.
i belted out the words to iggy pop's famous tune about kicking junk – you know, the one that's now used to advertise caribbean cruises. a yuppie couple laughed at me when i sang:
well, i am just a modern guy.
guess it was strange for them to hear a girl sing a song written by a guy. i'm a fucking gender revolutionary.
i've got a lust for life.
i could have spent the whole day thinking about the man who destroyed me more wholly than i will ever let on, but i didn't. i didn't even realize that it was the anniversary of "my little accident," because i was too busy. too busy laughing with friends, pogoing like a fiend, and drinking. too busy making eyes at a new boy, who sent me reeling. because of him, i, the girl who generally lives in the past, was only thinking about the present and future. and let me tell you – the future looks fucking great from where i’m standing.
sitting in my favorite park, after dark, i watch the city glow in the not-so-distance. i light a cigarette and the orange at the tip matches the orange of the lights, lights on the banks and bars and municipal buildings. s. smokes a cigarette, too, and i know there are things i need to tell him, i need to tell him it's not working any longer, but i'm dreading it so instead i take a sip of whiskey and i say:
i love looking at the skyline. it holds all the promise of the city, without all of the bullshit.
, i said, when he walked in to the cafe,
i was just writing you an e-mail
. i was trying to be nonchalant, but my stomach was full of bats. he sat down next to me and we both lit smokes, sipped at our coffee and didn't look one another in the eye.
so. . .friday?
, was my response.
, he said,
i'm glad you suggested we hang out. i was thinking the same thing.
then he left, and i sat there and sang many goofy giddy punk rock love songs under my breath.
i like sittin' with the kids on the filthy sidewalk, flicking bottle caps and smoking butts. i like squinting up at the setting sun and searing the negative image of tree limbs onto my retinas. i like talking with the sweet boys and fierce girls, talking about nothing and everything. it's the simple things, really. and we loiter until dusk has set in; loiter until the bars open up. then we go get beer and cause trouble and stay up way too late, wake up the next day tired and hungover, ready to do it all over again. punk rock.
the bartender kept pouring us shots because she said we were cute, said she enjoyed our whole "first date" vibe. the drunker we got, the more we opened up to each other. we talked of what we want from life and it seems we want the same things. we talked of shows we've both attended over the years, and we've crossed paths so many times it seems amazing we'd never met before. and when he kissed me it was like a safety pin stuck in my heart. i am ready for this. he's my fucking punk rock dream come true.
after a night of sleep deprivation, booze, and falling in love with a new boy, the words came out. i never wanted it to end, s., but if you think about it you'll realize that it hasn't been working for a long time. i love you as a friend, but i'm not in love with you, and i need that. i need that intensity, the kind of love that makes me unsure whether to laugh, scream, or cry. you need it, too. you need to be with a girl who doesn't get annoyed every time you try to kiss her.
walkin' around downtown chi-town, near the water tower, and all the power lines and people, suckin' down cigarettes, wishin' i had a bottle of wine, stoppin' to nod my head to jazz piano swirling out of a bar, stand there tappin' my feet to the beat, oh i dug the bop night, the hot night, the city light smog night – fog rollin' in off the lake in the bop night, fog smelling of distant ports and makin' me dream of travel, but then there's that piano again,
tweeeedle, tink tink tink
, and i'm glad to be right where i am.
i'll always have a spot in my heart for chicago. i know it so well, but every time i revisit it, i find surprises – tiny parks with tiny ponds and trellises covered in purple flowers; trattorias that smell of garlic and clam sauce. and i run into the familiars, too; friendly faces, and old haunts like the jazz record mart and the train station on canal street and the haunted water tower. i remember why i left – these are only the good things, there were so many awful ones – but i think that someday, i just might live there again.
there is a painting that hangs above the bar. it's done in thick oils and garish colors, and portrays a young sailor reaching up under the skirt of a buxom, voluptuous woman. when i asked the bartender to tell me the story behind the painting, she told me a bit about the sailor, then sighed loudly and told me:
that's the only woman he ever loved.
i thanked her for the romantic tale, but the owner laughed and said:
don't believe that lovey-dovey crap. that's not the only woman he ever loved. it's just the hottest chick he ever banged.
pissed off, i started punching walls, and i kicked the porch railing so hard i nearly broke it. i wanted to be with jay, but even though s. and i had our break-up talk, i still felt like i should answer to him. he also implied my sluttiness and accused me of pretending. how many times have i heard that before? in my angry state, i dissociated. i lost about an hour. the next day, i found a giant bruise on my left arm.
where'd that come from?
i asked k.
you were punching yourself in the arm
, she said.
i tried to bury jessica disobedience – the alter ego i created eight years ago – deep down inside me. for the last two years, she's been locked in a coffin, scritch-scratching at the lid 'til her nails are bloody. she even managed to escape a couple times, but i wrestled her back in and reinforced the steel. now she's back. this time, for good. she has plans to start a band that sounds like babes in toyland, but with an accordion. she's currently working on zines and spinning punkrock, drinking lots of beer, and f.-s.-u.ing with the boy of her screams.
i looked at jay and said:
goddamn it. you're my fucking punk rock dream come true.
he leant down to kiss me, and he said:
jess, you're mine, too.
then he went behind the dj table and played a song.
, he said. it was "love song," by the damned, and i danced drunkenly with happy tears in my eyes. later, in his bed, his arms around my waist, he said:
i know you're probably not ready, but – i'd love it if you were my girlfriend.
and i'm scared but ready and yes i said yes i will yes.
tomorrow, i get on a plane and go west. first to boulder, then denver, then los angeles and joshua tree, then san francisco. there will be boys and girls and visions, adventures. poetry and music. tattoos. mountains rising like great beasts, salt-spray ocean air, stars pinpricking desert skies. i will write and explore and have epiphanies. i always learn so much about myself when i travel. for the first time in many years, i am actually not only looking forward to the journey, but also to what awaits me when i return home. did you hear that? i said
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