The narrowing of distance

I mean, can you imagine? That a place can feel like a person? That a place can talk and sing, and make you feel that same bubbling under the skin that a lover can when you’re just one corner away from meeting? I love that feeling. That sort of pleasurable terror at what’s to come. He made me feel like that. Like this. But! This is a city of sensation, and I can push away those sad feelings, those reminder feelings, just by going for a walk somewhere new. I walk like some people drink, I suppose. Too early, too late, until my head is spinning with everything I’m forgetting.

I never expected to be happy.

Carl bought me a pair of sneakers. I came home and they were there in a box on my bed, the sticker with the price scratched off, so only the .99 part was left. Purple, thick-soled, smelling of rubber and dye, and so much newness. My size, too. It was like sliding my feet into the future. Into all the possibility ahead. That’s what I felt, and I may have cried a little, but I didn’t tell Carl that, or say thank you, because I’m learning he doesn’t like that kind of thing. I just wrote out another I.O.U on our post-it pad, and stuck it on the fridge door. They’re layered on top of each other now, all the little notes, and I don’t know if he ever looks, but there are a couple I’ve snuck into the pile that just say – Friendship. Or Loyalty. Things like that.

The things I can pay back sometime.

I’ll be 25 one day. And 30 and 40. By then I will have accumulated so much, and I’ll buy Carl a farm, or an animal shelter, or a farm that is an animal shelter, somewhere in upstate New York, where I’ve never been, but people go, and I think it must be beautiful there. I haven’t put that on a post-it note, though. I’ll keep it as a surprise for Carl one day.

I have Carl, and I have my sneakers, and my camera. And I have this place. This city that runs in straight lines and sprawls, so you can’t ever get too comfortable with one or the other. Sometimes, when I’m crossing the street up here, I stop in the middle and look both ways, just to see the avenues run on in either direction. I love the perfect lines they make, the narrowing of distance to something you can see, understand. But I ventured further south yesterday, and one street turned into another, right under my feet, no warning, just a little veer to the right, and I wasn’t where I was before. That happens a lot, too.

It’s amazing how little I mind getting lost.

I’ve been taking a lot of pictures on my walks. People sometimes, but the city mostly. Like I said, a place can feel like a person. Sometimes more like a person than the strangers blurring past in their sneakers and suits. I do not like this by the way. The quick legs and stiff arms of people in a hurry. I do not like the way they look unfinished. When I am 25 and 30 and 40, I will not wear a pencil skirt and sneakers. I will learn to stride along in lovely heels, or maybe never wear pencil skirts at all. This is something I haven’t yet decided.

~ Alice, What We Have Left

Just 500 words, someone reminded me. So I wrote these 580 or so before breakfast. I may even keep a sentence or two, ha.

nychome

Something small and true

He thinks about it like this. I am a song he can’t quite remember. A melody he used to know, but now he only hears the same fragment, a last clear note hanging in the air, until it turns back on itself, repeats what came before.

He knows that he knows. But he can’t get to that place yet, not far enough inside his own head to where other people, other men, reside. I see him try every day, see the times he places his thick fingers at both temples and pushes down hard, elbows against desk, eyes squeezed shut.

Someone took a photograph of him like that once. Printed it out, labelled it The Thinker. It’s still pinned on a wall, some busy wall, amongst dozens of other snapshots that document people and places and moments passed. No matter that the real Thinker man has his hand at his mouth. The photographer recognised the intent, the turning in on oneself, the folding of thoughts over and over. Until they’ve been reduced to something small and true.

The truth always wants to be told.

Come on Detective Matlin. You’re almost there. Press down a little harder. Here, I’ll help you. I won’t leave a mark. See, that’s a clue right there. I can’t help it. I never did like a mystery. Long before the question was me.

~ Alice, What We Have Left

Riverside Park

Maybe it’s the weather. Something in the air …

Where the feeling starts

Look deeper, Sherry would say. Examine where the feeling starts.

Am I focusing on your mistakes so that I can avoid the mistakes I have made? Is that what we do – embroil ourselves in other lives, in other failings so that we don’t have to examine our own lives so closely?

Sherry wants me to concentrate on me, on where I lost control. She wants us to get deeper into my relationship with Adam, to reach into my memories and start pulling out the ones she says I need to remember. If we’re going to get anywhere with this.

One good thing, two bad she suggested the other day, when I handed in another journal with nothing but graffiti on the page.

One good thing, two bad.

This is her equation for not falling into the abyss, for not getting lost back there in the dark.

It’s a funny thing. When I try to remember, nothing comes. The abuse, when I have been asked to describe it, is the hardest to draw out. I don’t really remember what it feels like to be hit in the face. The pain of it, I mean. I remember what it is like to fear its return – yes. But the impact, the sensation? I can’t remember any of it, unless I am dreaming. Would that have happened to you, Ben? If you had survived the incident? Would your body eventually push down those minutes and seconds after the blade went in? And only remind you in dreams?

Our real trauma, perhaps, is the fear of finding in daylight whatever we have hidden out there in the dark.

It’s all progress, says Sherry when I struggle. I’m making progress. She just wants us to be careful with what I am blocking, because, she assures me, nothing stays down forever.

What did you push down, Ben? I am fixated on this, I know. Is it because I need for you to be a villain, too? A liar and a cheat, rather than the noble hero who saved me? Or is it that I need Maggie to have chosen the wrong man, the same way I did? Do I need this from perfect, faithful Anna too?

Do I need the three of us to be not so different from each other in the end?

I need you to be that liar, that cheat, Ben.

I cannot keep remembering the hero who saved me. Or I will never be able to understand why I am the one who survived instead of you.

~ Lucy, The Memory of Stars

Put this story away for a long time. All the no after that small yes had to fade – and it has! Now I remember what I was trying to do here. Time to dust off the words and try again … #HerStory

All the things she did

Wrong place, wrong time. Don’t go there. Don’t do that. Skirt’s too short, street’s too dark. How many lovers have you had? Fresh meat. Store’s open. Men will be- Why couldn’t you- Keep your legs- What did you- In my day ladies were didn’t wouldn’t couldn’t.

Stack up the bodies. Stack up the limbs and hearts and dreams and thoughts and things she’ll never do. Because of all the things she didn’t do.

Or all the things she did. And everything she her we are.

~ Alice, What We Have Left

AliceNYC

What I have taken

I don’t know when the idea first occurred to me. To come here. I suppose it could be the stories my mom used to tell me. They must have been lingering around, in that way certain memories might seem forgotten, but really, they’re right there waiting, and some day something or someone happens to push that memory front and center, as if you have been remembering it all along.

Maybe that’s what this was at first. A kind of pull toward my mother, to the city she always dreamt of. Or it could be that I haven’t been able to shake off Mr. Jackson yet, that the pull is toward him, toward the version of him who lived here first, and I want to go back to that time before me, and find him. Or maybe – the exact opposite. Maybe I want to be equal to him, to best him, after what he did to me. I want to do what he did, and prove that I can survive on my own. Now that he has cast me out.

I don’t know. Maybe I’m just looking for a horizon. Maybe I’m just looking for something to look at. After all of that looking at me.

I reach inside my bag, swing it to the front of my hip for safety. It’s still there, his Leica M6. I run my fingers over the raised metal and the smooth round of the lens. I don’t know why I need this proof. I’ve been feeling the weight of it this whole journey, the heavy bump and knock against my thigh. It is not as if the camera could have suddenly disappeared from inside my bag, but I need to feel that it’s there just the same. This is what I have. This is what I have brought with me, and it is a small triumph to know that he will soon realise what I have taken from him. If he does not miss me he will at least miss the way he used to look at me.

Everyone’s lost something, Alice.

Isn’t that what he told me just the other day.

~ Alice,  What We Have Left

AliceNYC

What you don’t know

I can see what happens when he looks at you. There is a funny blue light that starts just below his ear. It curves under his jaw and then travels down his neck, out into his chest, where it shoots off in all directions. Like rivers meeting I suppose, but there’s something more electric, the way he shakes under the skin when you are here. He doesn’t like it, he thinks the heat, the buzz of that blue light is a danger sign. That the things flickering under his skin are a warning.

People don’t understand anything about themselves.

He likes you. I can see the vivid blue of his desire, the map of longing settled in his chest. It’s supposed to feel like this, I want to say. It’s supposed to shake you out of that stupor, that thing you call calm. I want to take my index finger and run it from his ear, down his neck and onto his chest. There, I’d need both hands, I’d need all my fingers, spread like arteries, or an explosion. And every place I touched – here, here, here – I’d say, there she is. There’s the way she tilts her head when she’s listening, there’s the constant glisten of her eyes when your stories move her. There is the curve of flesh under her shirt, and the way she self-consciously pulls at any falling fabric – and there is the way that little gesture only ever draws your eyes closer to what lies underneath.

He’s started to avoid you. I know you feel it, I can see the puzzlement in the way your shoulders go back when he’s colder than you remember him to be. Your shoulders are bright red, flaming, Elliott. Whether you are squaring them, or sinking them, or rolling them back and forth in attempt to dispel the energy you sense is stored there. At least you sense these things. You understand yourself a little better than he does.

Still. If you could see the light under his skin, you’d be in awe of what you don’t know.

~ Alice,  Into  the After

All of her sorrow

I never expected to have the kind of life they put on Christmas cards. I knew there were times ahead as dark as the ones already gone. I knew I would not suddenly glide through life, as if on ice skates in some soda commercial. I’m the kind to bump, and fall. I knew I’d have many, many bruises to come. But I wanted them. I want them now. I want the stain under my skin that says things are alive and warm in here, and parts can die, but the rest of you lives on. I’m even jealous of paper cuts now, of all the sharp, surprising stings. The way every nerve jumps to your surface, the protest of it. The way that when you hurt, it means you are alive.

I’m not going to make it.

Time is its own slowing beat right now. My life before is being lived again, and the life ahead, the one I haven’t had a chance to reach yet, that’s playing for me too. I see myself two years from now, five, ten, twenty-seven. I’m not even old by then, by the time I’ve accumulated all that extra living. But there are entire lives I’ve lived to get there. A kaleidoscope of people and feelings and mistakes and love. I see it all ahead of me, and I know I am not going to get to live it.

I’m dying.

I am already dead, perhaps, in the way that parts of you die first, before the rest of you catches up. I can’t find any rope to hold onto, anything to pull myself along, to get myself back into my body. The body, it keeps the score. It knows and wins or loses without you ever really getting to say. That man has killed my body. I am untouched in other places, but my body is now splayed out on the rocks, and he has gone, and soon there will be a lonely girl who looks down and out across at me. I see her coming or see her already here and she’s sadder than I’ve ever been, because all of her sorrow is simmering still. It hasn’t boiled over and scalded her life, so she can’t say for sure just what it is that happened to her.

I am about to happen to her.

~ Alice, Into the After