My sister and I communicated by means of a secret language we created. Although I lagged behind her in comprehension, we managed. Go-ke boating was when we filled the bathtub and sat in buckets, floating around the tub. My bucket was white with Pocahontas and a raccoon painted on it. Hers was fire red. Mine retired the day I puked in it because I was sick. Then we shared a boat. Then my sister became modest and wouldn’t let me see her naked anymore, so we didn’t go go-ke boating anymore.

We used to fight over who would press the elevator button. But her longer legs always got there first. I asked her what the bumps under the buttons were. She told me that it’s called Braille; so blind people know which button to press. I asked her what the metal box under the buttons was that said SERVICE MANAGEMENT ONLY. She told me that if I was naughty or annoying, someone would come and stuff me in the metal box in the elevator. I believed her because I was small enough to have fit in the box. After that, I preferred the stairs to the elevator.

But I was never a fool alone.

“Walk faster!” I whined as I tugged my dad along. “At this rate it’s going to take forever to get there!”

He walked faster.

I stuck my foot out.

He almost fell. This was my favorite game.

Advertisements

Virginia, the Departure

Some memories I will leave for later. In short, it was studying human dynamics that made Virginia tolerable. The Conor-Quinten dynamic. The apartment of hard-asses vs. high-schoolers. My daily trips to the bathroom with Kristen, window-shopping at the vending machine on the way back. It does smell mostly unpleasant in my spot here at the bus stop, cigarette smoke coming towards me– more than a romanticized gentle waft. Shoulders still slightly sore from wrestling. Muscles resting on glass behind me, glass that reflects my hoop hugging suitcase, bright Burton bag, bright shorts. It was the best way to go. Surrounded by light drinking. Card ninja shenanigans. Jamming with a newfound respect of Jacob’s rhythm. Percussion with glass bottles and Conor’s translucent blue plastic hamper. Patting, tapping, punching the inside. Shalika and Katie nestled under the counter, chatting. Quinten on the far side of the table, also joining in on this unreal mirth. Ron likely narrating the night, maybe less of a critic in our final moments. And Kevin and I are jamming away the departure. A night honed in on being. This company, this almost dreamlike stupor of reality, makes a fleeting moment of infinite happiness.

Bitten

uprooted from last year
*****************************************************************************

He came home in a cardboard rocket on a bed of shredded paper. For the first few months all he did was sleep, even when I collected him in my arms. He watched other dogs to learn how to pee while lifting his leg. Often he would lose balance, or his leg would windmill over and land in a puddle of golden dog rain. We tried to potty train him: we put him on the newspaper in our bathroom. I remember the uneven grout under my feet from my constant trips to check on him. I remember weeks later he peed on the homework I left on the floor, and he was proud because he peed on paper.

My sister named him Capri. I argued that it was too prissy for a male dog, even if he happened to be a cream-colored bundle of fur. A pretty name suited for a pretty dog, she argued. I relented.

I resented that he would bite only me. My sister says it’s because I dropped him too much when I was little. I say I couldn’t help it—I was just six. I don’t understand why or how I could’ve dropped him either. He was like a stuffed animal—he wouldn’t squirm, and he was just two pounds. I could still outrun and outwrestle the boys, but I couldn’t keep a two-pound fuzzball contained in my hands?

My other dog is also a Pomeranian. He’s a vibrant orange and like a lion, except for his tongue too long for his mouth and a tail curled too thick. We practically adopted him—his parents were restaurant owners who left him in a kennel for three years and named him Bank for good fortune. Because of their accented English we thought they had named him Ben. I thought it was an ugly name for a dog, so my sister and I renamed him Benito. On our first outing, we discovered that he masturbates in public. He bites everyone but me. And like me, he’s a little rough around the edges.

My mother used to hit them with wire hangers. I implored her not to, my blue cotton dress scrunched as I curled into a ball, enveloping my dogs in my puny body. She knew I only really cared if she went for the dogs, so that’s what she did. Her mane of black hair framing her face, overcast with passion and fury, I tried to match her roar with my childish screams. My dogs quivered by me, extracting every ounce of protection a bereft child could offer. When she would finally leave, I would shut the door with only the whisper of air sweeping under, light from the hallway slinking away as I lay on the bed wondering what was wrong with me. At times like these, Capri wouldn’t bite me and would let me hold him close. My mind tired from the hours of delirium, it succumbed to the sickening drops of a near-shut water spigot.

I would come home to a mother tired of it all—the whole child thing, her cheating husband, life. With her hair freshly permed and a few swipes of red on mechanical lips, she would walk around chanting, “I’m not your mother.”

I resented that he would bite only me. Maybe I used to hit him to let out the pent up frustration because I refused to let anyone know that I was having a hell of a time trying to sort things out. And I once cracked and told her, “You don’t understand mom, you told me not to tell anyone so I didn’t,” thinking I would get some kind of empathy. But I was right, she didn’t understand.

When she started going after me, not the dogs, I would find Capri by my side, shaking but trying to comfort me in the chaos that was my household. We would take strolls to the Plaza, following the concrete strip surrounded by fenced grass. Vaguely disconsolate, I watched the scenes of parents toting away their children with their calls of, “dinner!” “come home” “look it’s mommy!” in the waning hours of sunshine. Capri and I would stay for hours—hours past the first shadows that glanced the trees, hours past their total envelopment in darkness. He put up with it as my glazed eyes attempted to uncurtain the night and find reality. When we would finally leave, the echoes of children still rang in my ears.

A few years ago I finally had the guts to counter all her illogical arguments and her comparisons of me to other children—I can cook my own food, do my own dishes, do my own laundry. She shut up. She tried to slump against the couch but her body failed to—her spine was rigid against the stitched leather. Eyes reeling because Vivian never snaps.

And it felt so damn good. I could not allow myself to become prisoner to this petrified void of life, meaningless and hardened. Solidarity shaped me, but I no longer let it define me. Like Benito’s tail gradually uncurled, I relaxed. And even if I don’t know why Capri bites me—even if he doesn’t remember why—I’m grateful that he’s still here. Even if his biting me is irrational, because we are all imperfect.

Sometimes, no matter how hard you try, you can’t change the way things are. The strip of concrete leading to the Plaza is still framed by grass, but the rusty wire fences are gone. And Benito is home with his parents for that one week of the year. Today, Capri and I went for a walk, and he chased the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel who he thought was his friend Dakota, but who in reality is Cody—a replacement for the deceased. And I suppose it’s okay that my dog doesn’t understand, because there’s a comfort in knowing that this is our neighborhood, whether it’s a strip of rubber or simply paws padding the gray pavement. It’s comforting to know people, even if you only know their dog’s name. And I’m fine with not being able to go back to fix things or figure out why my dog bites only me—I am happy that he grew up and I can still watch him hop through the streets, and all the memories I have with him aren’t worth giving up—the holding him tight in my puny arms, his fur tickling my face.

Weaving through the dark fibers of the night, I’m no longer tipping to one side with no wall next to me. I have a simply comforting handful of dog.

About Nokia

They all had their songs. Capri’s was Mozart’s Sonata in F-major. Benito’s was the wailing fire trucks, his howl low and guttural. Nokia’s was Chopin’s Nocturne in E-Flat. Nokia was a vivid green, and she lived for the sun that overlooks the rich shade. The pet store told us that parakeets could live up to 15 years. At that time, I was reading Tuck Everlasting, and I was thinking about how great it would be to live forever.

But living is simply the absence of death. I remember the frantic call to the emergency vet hotline because her neck was rolling back and forth, the ruffled ridges in her neck showing pink underneath. The woman on the other end of the line was saying to just calm down, there’s no doctor in at this point. My sister was frantic. I was frantic too, and the woman on the phone probably didn’t give a fuck that our bird was dying because Nokia was only a parakeet, but I had to stay strong for my sister, because she was prone to breaking down. In my head, it was Nokia, don’t die, no you can’t die.

The day after Nokia died, my sister had to perform her song– her Chopin Nocturne. Ivory keys colored like bones, I wonder how strange they must have felt under her fingers that night as she froze all emotions for those ten minutes onstage. Maybe she didn’t feel the keys at all. She didn’t make one mistake. I remember when she got home she broke down in her room. I was the one that crawled in under the blanket next to her saying, “It’s okay, everything dies, it’s okay. Birds go up.” What did a kid like me know about death?

All I knew was how to lie on my back. But that night, I was on the bed where I spent a night on my stomach because my hives came up, and my whole back was on fire, and my family was piling ice packs on my back to numb the itch. This is where I came to realize that everything is the same string of vibrations, just intertwined and twisted in different ways. But my memory of Nokia is still her green speckled with yellow, white, and black. Her remarkable tail feathers. And I imagine her, an ordinary parakeet, elegant in flight as she faces the wind of a settling dusk.

Dandelions

There are some days where it just doesn’t come as easy to be happy, and today was one of those days. I couldn’t place it, and I hate it when I can’t. And hate isn’t a word I just throw around, just like how I don’t really throw around the word love either. I’ve worked so hard to come to the point where I can be happy without constantly trying, and it frustrates me when this all-too-familiar mood settles in. Sometimes I think it’d be nice for someone to genuinely ask how I am, but then I remember that I am a much better listener than I am a speaker. And that I don’t want other people to worry, so if someone asked, I’d likely end up just throwing out a non-committal answer. Unless it’s one of a very specific few people asking. Unless someone has perfected the art of reading people as I have and actually gives a shit. But those odds seem low, since it seems that I have also perfected the art of pretending that everything is okay as a child, although I would like to think that I have since discarded that facade except for these now very rare episodes.

So it is through my writing that I am going to attempt to explain myself– as I try to understand others, I hope that this helps others to understand me. I uprooted this old piece as a reminder– because of it’s ending. Everything preceding it is more of an explanation– I am not looking for sympathy. I was originally going to plant it in installments, but I think it might be easier to just let it out as is. As always, I’ve edited it since I last put it out.

I’m fine, really I am. I was just a shit-show this morning. That is all. I’m sure that frolicking around later will knock it out of me.

*****************************************************************************

It started with the actions of one man who lived for perfect order.

I sat on the bed with my feet dangling, watching his back as his hands tossed all his undershirts in a bag. His hands were bony, arthritic, and mechanically malfunctioning.

Then he was gone for two weeks.

After he came back I would guard the door every night, a neutered Cerberus, clutching his leg saying daddy don’t go don’t go. And every night I would watch his loafer-clad feet plod down the carpeted hallway, walking towards the one point where the elevator was– walking away from me.

*

I was the bargaining medium. A wire hanger hit the blanket and she said she was only pretending to hit but I screamed and shook and sobbed anyway. And then the fighting began because I no longer knew whether or not she really did hit. I stayed up all night– at that point time was dead, and the night was infinite, and all I could do was clutch the scratchy purple blanket with the cartoon trolls on it and cry and try to hide and try to stop things but I couldn’t stop things and everything was so psychologically mind-fucking. The next day I couldn’t go to school because my eyes were too red, and I spent the day staring at the ceiling. I felt that the world outside was shifting the substance of things, and that the process had only begun of a general disintegration of which I was center.

“Are you numb?”
“Yea.”

I didn’t feel numb. Numbness is not a persistent tingling. Numbness is stasis. It’s living in a beautiful and fooled equilibrium.

*

Burned by the dark fire of life, my mother kneels in her small room. A sofa-bed occupies much of the space– massive, intrusive. There is a dent at the edge of the bed where her elbows have rested for many years, head bent and knees flat, her worn hands embedded with the perfect spheres of rosary beads. Her gated window to the world is lighted by memories until the rain starts to fall, blue ribbons winding through her snow globe city.

My mother told me not to tell. Because people look down at women who cannot keep their marriages together. I couldn’t believe that such a strong woman could believe in such a stupid thing.

It killed me to not tell. I used to hide in the closet because that was my way to cope. And I knew because it smelled wrong. It didn’t smell like home, nor did it have the sterile odor of work. Rising above the smell of mothballs in the closet was perfume, something my mother never wore. My mother suspected. I remember her going over the coats that hung in the closet, and she found a long brown hair. Her own hair was short for convenience. And jet black. Back then, her hair had not yet started to gray.

Her name was Elizabeth. I don’t remember how we found out who it was. But we found out, and we plastered pictures of the bitch around his room. We stuck up pictures of her on the bookcase that belonged to my sister and me. It would’ve made sense to stick them to something that belonged to my mother and my dog and my bird too. And I felt something pulling at me because it was all so unjust. And when he saw he tore them all down and said what bullshit what are you guys crazy and I watched his feet as they walked out the door.

When my mother was a few weeks old, she was thrown in a corner to die. That’s about all I know about my mother’s childhood– that she suffered immensely. Her perseverance in existing was mirrored in the trips we took to Elizabeth’s building. We began trips to her building because we couldn’t find him in his office, and we knew where else he was not, so we began trips to her building. One night we went up to her floor, and I smelled under her door and I knew but I didn’t say. And we banged on the door and I was crying because I knew.

As we left the building the doorman looked almost apologetic, and the world seemed to collapse on me. We took the bus home, sinking in the blue plush seats of the bus, but I couldn’t say. There was nothing I could say. And I nearly drowned in the black night.

*

His head is bent. The court rows are like pews, but he is not praying. It is because the two girls who sit in the back row are burning lasers into the back of his head with their eyes.

*

for Nicky

Your body,
lapis wavelets ruffled.
Fragile,
the exposed blue-gray,
a tender throat.
My fingers slip from neck to breast.
I nuzzle you numb
and emerge cut
from a twisted hollow,
the canine gaps nestled in your endless
sea of feathers.
Sunlight strikes golden bullets
as heartbreaking blue
spills glass fire
on the hardwood floor.

The floors in our current apartment are a dirty turquoise blue. It is cluttered with dumpstered furniture, shades of dark mahogany clashing with oak and pastel pink and the blue floors. When Nicky died we lived in 2N with hardwood floors. He was the sweetest parakeet with wings unclipped and feathers a perfect sky blue. He would shed feathers all over the apartment and land on my dog’s nose. Then there was the day my mother brought three dogs over. The little fuckers thought that he was food and it was so fast and the next thing we were screaming and the blue was so gorgeous but so wrong on the hardwood floor. I took pride in being able to block out all emotion and pluck up the mangled blue body with the head twisted at a grotesquely unnatural angle. I couldn’t let other people read me, so I picked up the body with my back straight my face a stony void. I melded into a shell of facelessness.

This is not how a child is supposed to deal with the concept of death.

Over time the burden of it all became too much, and the shell began to crack. My teacher pulled me out in the orange ribbon of hallway that wound through my school. She had curly hair and ears weighted by jewelry that would make you wonder how the flesh of anyone’s ears could hold them up.

“What’s going on?”
“Nothing.”
“Why haven’t you done your homework?”
“I have, I think you just lost it in the homework bin.”
“Tell me what you do after you get home every day.”

And after I outlined every action, she made me approximate how much time it took. And nothing added up. And it was frightening thinking that I wasn’t actually able to fool everyone– or perhaps it was frightening that I was able to fool so effectively that I replaced myself with the gaps in my existence. And so the tears started leaking, and everything blurred because I was trying to keep it in but I couldn’t and I remember just trying to get to the classroom door. The class troublemaker, mischievous and blond, was splayed out in the green hallway, and he looked at me. I don’t know whether it was questioning or sympathetic, but he knew– knew about worrying about being read, but he didn’t say anything so I didn’t say anything and I just walked mechanically towards where the classroom door should’ve been because I couldn’t see anything.

What do you do?
Continue walking. Blinded.
How do we manage to crystallize the weight of loss?
We don’t. 

In the glistening, leaden dark, truth is lost forever in the coils of maybes and ifs: it is trapped in communication breakdown– a broken line that tries to find its other half.

*

That night I sat in the bathtub and thought about how easy it would be to just sink and let all my troubles swirl out of me and down the drain. I put down the yellow stopped and let the running water reach a deafening roar, because I needed the noise. I never knew that a bathtub could be so pretty. Glittering and so purely white in the squalor that was my life. Even with a rubber duck upturned in the churning water, with its ass mocking the world, the bathroom maintained a perfect stasis. The surface of the water rippled and shimmered. My troubled dropped out of me, and they clustered and swam towards me like fish, their bright colors glimmering against the darkening water. And I thought it’d be so easy. It’d be so goddamn easy.

I also spent nights next to the Hudson River, when the river started merging with the boardwalk, swallowing the barred silver rail between us, and I felt myself dissolving into the silvery green of the water. Garbage hugged the corner walls and I would lay back again on the grass and close my eyes, revolted by my thoughts, my conflicted mind battling for control– battling between being soothed and between a forced certainty that I wouldn’t actually do it.

If you were committing suicide, how much would you trust yourself to execute the necessary precision, to allow the world around you to facilitate your death?

There must be an art in drowning. In being able to let the world collapse around you and not be able to see the slightest beauty in it all. And there were many nights when I would lie in bed and think of the best ways to die, but I knew that suicide was stupid and a waste. But my best tool was convincing myself that I would affect other people, that other people would care. I discovered that people don’t listen to you when your voice is soft and patient, and with that realization came a desire to shed myself. But those same people saved me, for it is human defect to elevate ourselves to exaggerated levels. I thought it selfish to remove myself from others’ lives.That seemed to work the best– making myself believe that I was in the center of it all.

*

Then there are the times you wished you could capture on film because they are so goddamn gorgeous, but it’s only because of the way you perceive it anyway. Or the times you wished you could capture because it’s so wrong. Like the time a single, primal scream ripped through the night. That scream was mine and I was screaming because I had a high fever and the bed was tipping and I was slipping off and the entire room was expanding and I was a tiny dot on a bed too large.

To like something is to want to ingest it.

I stopped having an appetite– was I a self-caged hunger artist or one caged by the world around me?

The world was not how it was supposed to be, and trapped in my facade of control, I couldn’t comprehend it. And I recalled the time I blew on a dandelion and wished that everything would go back to normal, and watched as the dozens of little pinwheels spun towards the sky, which sagged with my expectation. The sunlight rendered the little wheels silver, which continued to spin and meld with the green grass, intertwining and spiraling into the tragic sunset. Their lucid fingers stretched out in all directions, prodding every child to make a wish.

If you exploded a field of dandelions, would they stretch towards the sky, or would they drift back down, enshrouded by gray and fire?

Well I’ll tell you what happened to my dandelion. It smoldered and burned. But maybe that’s for the better, because things aren’t meant to be all tied up. Even in the disturbance in the delicate web of things, imperfections are the movements that define us. And I am happy because my loose ends are not tied up, and maybe that’s the way things should be– imperfect. And when I walk down the street, absorbing the perverse beauty of the world, I realize that I don’t think– I just absorb it all. And I suppose that’s why I can be happy, because I become all and only the thing I want and nothing else, for I have paid too much for it, too much in wanting and too much in waiting and too much in getting. And although I cannot ever really walk away from the things I want most to walk away from, sometimes it simply becomes irrelevant, like the wishes you made to dandelions as a child. And when you see the sky so perfect despite the workings of the world beneath it, there’s nowhere to look but up.