You say there is no meaning. And I want to lean over, kiss your moving mouth. To prove my point that even the smallest thing matters. To show you how something as simple as my lips on yours would tip the table, smash the row of glasses between us. You and I, met in the middle, would set this entire room spinning.
You think it is about what we construct. But I know it’s what we leave out that keeps a world intact (when you want to stay safe inside it). So I remain where I am. Bite my thumb. Pour another and another drink. Try to smile at you as I swallow. Knowing too, in the deepest down, just why I wanted this argument won.
(Character building. Or revealing character flaws, perhaps)
Do you trust your instinct, Elliott?
Sue’s question feels as large as the room, and all three women pause to consider it. Thinking about the nights they’ve crossed the road to avoid a parked car with its lights on, or pretended to make a phone call as someone walked too close behind them. Remembering the longer routes taken to avoid unlit streets, and how they automatically take note of who gets off at the same station or stop they do. The way they would never leave a drink unattended at the bar, and how they always check who’s there before unlocking the door. Self-preservation as a replacement for instinct, because being right would be the real danger here.
Elliott feels her body arch toward this sudden realization, a shudder that almost lifts her from the floor.
I’m afraid to be right, she says, holding out her arms to examine the tiny hairs standing up from her skin. I would argue away the most obvious signs, if it meant I could be wrong about him.
Because if I’m right – my god, can you imagine what that means?
~ What We Have Left
Very few people are all bad. Hardly anybody at all really. Maybe an irredeemable handful who were born with their wires muddled, missing. But the rest of us are works in progress. Reacting to our environments, growing or shrinking according to whatever light gets shined on us. It’s no excuse. Cruelty and ignorance cannot always be forgiven. But I guess, if we want to, we can understand it. We can look at it up close, we can examine all the ways there are to hurt someone. And we can decide what we will not do.
Perhaps the rest is all chance. You really can be in the wrong place at the wrong time. All those things they say when they want to blame someone for the bad things done to them. But not in the way of it being your fault, let’s be clear. A chance encounter, by its definition, cannot be your fault. And here’s the thing. What if you do change your behavior to avoid those chance encounters. What if you alter how you live in this world because there are those who would do to you what you would never do to someone else? It doesn’t make anyone safer, in the end. It really doesn’t.
Because let’s be clear about one more thing. If you change your behavior, and he does not, then you are safe.
But she is not.
~ Alice, What We Have Left
First draft done. Now to make everything better!
She is supposed to be his safe haven, the place he can go to when he is exhausted. Didn’t he tell her once that she was the shore, or had she imagined that after he played her a song with such words? Has she afforded him a depth of feeling and meaning that he has never really possessed?
What would it be like if she could see him going about his day just now. The care he gives to others, the attention he bestows on anyone not her. Perhaps, just a little, he hates her. Despises how she has led him down a path he cannot return from. Cannot make up from. He forgets all this in her arms, of course, or when he is alone in another clean, wide-bed hotel room and he has had one too many wines to fall asleep. In these moment she is all he can think of. His dark-eyed lover, the one whose body he has traversed and drowned in and drunk from, all these years. Sometimes the ache for her is no different from thirst or hunger. A primal need her skin and scent satisfies.
Other times, like now, when she sends her SOS from across the ocean, he wishes she would leave him be, thinks of life before her, and after her, too, if he could just say the words he needs to. Why doesn’t she understand? Why does she keep coming back for more? She cannot lose him, he was never hers to begin with, he never offered himself the way she offered herself to him. This is not his fault. What is he supposed to do? Leave his wife and children for a woman he barely knows, barely even likes, if he’s honest?
If he’s honest.
Thanks to her, he feels as if he has never been honest a single day of his life.
~ Elliott, What We Have Left
What we have left, indeed!
Here’s what happens when they know who you are. It changes. Everything changes. They begin to dig into your life. Because ‘Dead Girl’ needs a bigger story to keep it interesting. The fact of her loss could never be enough. So they pick through my past, sift through my bones, the reporters and editors who don’t get this kind of treat nearly enough, the shock and tragedy of pretty, dead, white girls.
I have made some things easy for these storytellers. No mother (suicide!), no father (where is he?), and there is a predictable small-town history to snack on. Enough people who went to school with me, or knew me when, to keep the theories coming. But most revelations come as a disappointment, no matter the digging. Good student. No record of trouble. Scant evidence of running around with boys. Not a single scandal of my own, until-
And here, Mr. Jackson sits in his studio, waiting for the knock. Charcoal fingers twisting, a package of photographs in a locked box under his bed. Knowing he can’t throw the package away, considering burial or burning, but never quite able to bring himself to unlock that box, open it up. Afraid to look at me the way he used to. To see me alive and vital, and to remember the way I used to look back at him. He knows these pictures are a ticking bomb, a catalogue of his errors, and he knows, inevitably, the knock will come.
Still, when they show up at his door in their blue suits, with their notebooks and guns tucked into belts, he is unprepared.
~ Alice, What We Have Left
Did I think we could just stay like this?
Did I think there was a place you could land, and everything around you would retreat. Where nothing and no-one else would matter, no outside world impacts or time-changes, because you were exactly where you were meant to be. Finally, and irrevocably.
Did I think there was such a place, and such a time, and it would all stand still for me, because I was happy in that place, in that time?
How else to explain my surprise when it all came to an end? How else to make sense of my utter confusion to find the earth shifting beneath me once again, spinning me away just as I began to get my balance. When that was what I’d always known to expect, in my life before.
In my life before him.
We try to make sense of things because we’ll go crazy without the story; our most important moments in life can’t be things that just happen. Later, I see what he was doing, where he was leading me. Later, I am not surprised that he made me wait, prepared me. He needed to know he was safe.
As if my safety did not come into it at all.
~ Alice, What We Have Left
… drafting all the things …
You can be half a planet, half a country, half a block – or half a room away, and still hurt me with the arms that you impose.
I no longer wish to be part of the distance that you make.
Happy Holidays. Happy New Year. Happy Birthday. Happy every anniversary of every happy any thing that means something or no thing at all to you.
Happy any day that I’m not in, let’s say.
I will read your obituary and cry myself to sleep one day. But while you’re still here, alive, you get nothing from me. Ever again.
(I think they made resolutions for this).
A toast to getting where you need to go. No matter how long it takes you.
(you can start your new year any time)