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

The weight of it

I never expected to be happy. Not in the sense that I would have a big, rich life, a red-like-Christmas life, where every day was tinsel and jolly. I only ever wanted to survive my own heart. To find small moments of light in the dark, to live knowing I’d find that light sometimes, even just a pinprick of it, to guide me.

I never expected to find peace. Not in the sense that I would come to terms, eventually, with what happened to my mother. With what happened to me. I wanted, or hoped instead, to learn to carry what happened, so that I could build some kind of emotional muscle, stronger tissue, and suddenly it wouldn’t all seem so heavy. I’d be able to walk with the weight of it, and just keep going. Like those young women, in their bright cotton dresses and bare feet, who carry water on their heads for miles. The ones who live in those dustbowl places, where everything is far away. If you tried to do that without practice, without years, you’d stagger, you’d spill your water, or crumple at the shoulders from all that weight sitting on your head. But they can do it, because that’s what they do every day. That’s what their muscle has learnt to remember.

I thought perhaps I might get the chance to teach my body what to remember, too.

~ Alice, Into the After

Balloon Girl, Red Heart by Banksy

The Girl with the Red Balloon ~ Banksy

Without my permission

Wednesday April 17th, 2013

Today is my last day. Of what? Of being alive? Of being in this world? Not exactly, because I’m here still, in a way. I can see everything and feel everything, although I’ve been trying to get that right, because it’s not exactly feeling, is it? It’s not the same as wrapping your fingers around a warm coffee mug, or flipping the pillow to the cold side, of finding the cool relief on your cheek, before you go back to sleep. It’s not that. It’s not immediate and ephemeral and lost to the next sensation just as you start to feel the first.

It’s something more complete. Something less connected to space and time. A kind of knowing, more than feeling. Sort of how you can swim under water and through it and across its surface all at the same time. Immersed. Perhaps that’s a better word for the way I experience the world now.

I’m here still, in a way. I am immersed.

At any rate, we’ve reached that date. We’ve come to today. I want to tell you about it, because they keep getting it wrong. The way people always get it wrong when they speak for you. When they tell your story.

My story, the one I lived.

Today is my last day. Today is the last day I lived my story. The last day I lived. There was an I, and it was me, and I was at the centre of my story, until someone else decided to take over. Until that man wrote my last pages. Without my permission.

You think you are the centre, that if you hold on tight enough, even when things try to pull you away, you’ll make it. But then someone enters the space you have created for yourself, they take up all the room, and suddenly you’re pushed right out of your skin.

It’s their story now.

There was an I, and now there is a he, a him, a his.

Today is my last day, Elliot. The last day of my story.

~ Alice, Into the After

On the Rocks

A place like this

Chewed up. Spit out. That’s what they say about girls like me. In a place like this.

As if the city has jaws. Great, chomping concrete jaws that bite down on new flesh, and then, disgusted at the freshness, spew it back out. As if the streets are littered with lacerated hearts, with open wounds and cardboard stories.

They say I’m bound for such corners. For coffee cups and copper coins, and no way of getting home. But I know it’s the small towns that kill you. I know who takes bite after bite.

Home is where they feast on girls like me. A place like this just might save me.

NYC Walk

~ Alice, Into the After

The needs of the dead

It’s Mimi’s job to prepare the dead for their wake. As she explains it to me over mouthfuls of cherry cheesecake, when a loved one identifies a victim, they are often exposed to a body that is broken, traumatised. So she tries to make that last viewing better for closing eyes, for what is seen in the dark. She tries to bring her dead back to who they were before.

She wants that to be the memory, the smallest consolation.

I had a talent for doing hair and makeup. And I found a way to use it. I mean, at first it was just curiousity. That lady at the salon told me some crazy shit about her job – and at the time, I was in the mood for crazy. But then, well, it sort of got important. The needs of the dead, and all that.

The needs of the dead. To Mimi, death is its own kind of living. Her bodies are present, aware. Her girls – she uses the term my girls – hover, observe what is happening to them. They tell her things, too, she says. Now that she has learnt how to listen to what they have to say. She pieces her damaged girls back together, and she listens to their stories. They are in turn grateful for her care, for her efforts at returning them to who they used to be.

Before.

Well, that’s how it seems to me, she says, licking cream from her fork.

There isn’t any sense that I’ll find this strange. Mimi assumes I know what she is talking about. And I do, I suppose, in my own way. Jane changed everything. Jane changes everything. She is not past tense, or rather, her past feels like the only thing that informs my present. I feel the constant pull back to that first moment, when I saw the billow of white, the hazy flutter of fabric that led me to her body. I’ve come to think of it as a kind of beckoning. A flag raised for me to stumble toward.

It’s what I wanted to explain tonight, when it was my turn in the circle. This idea that I was meant to find Jane, how it goes against all my reason, but it feels true, just the same. How Jane haunts me, and I can’t let it go, can’t let her go, because I still don’t understand why. Why she chose me. Why it happened. Why anything like this happens, and how I’m not even sure that’s the right question to ask.

I just know everything leads back to her.

I didn’t say any of this, of course. I don’t have Mimi’s ease when it comes to the needs of the dead. I spoke instead of the shock, the sense of safety dislocated.

And how, after finding Jane that afternoon, I can never unknown this: anything can be waiting around the next corner. You’re only ever one turn away from your whole world changing. And from there, you can never get back what you’ve lost.

Riverside Park NYC

Turning Into the After …

The familiar ugly

Maybe that’s this strange shame I’m feeling. An embarrassed disappointment that the shine has come off my new city, that it took so long. And how the real glare, the thing standing out, is me.

I had intended to go for a cocktail, I was ready to venture out to some busy, pretty rooftop on this summer night, but now I just want to get back to my neighbourhood, and I’m relieved when I get to the familiar ugly of my station. Here, no one stands on the sidewalk taking pictures, keeping the cardboard-signed stories of the homeless just out of their frame. Here, there’s no reason to look up, to miss what is right in front of you. Here, there’s not much to see at all.

I walk into the sports bar on the corner of my street. Ask for a scotch on the rocks, and settle at a table where I’m not blocking anyone’s view of the boxing match playing on the row of mounted TVs. The scotch sits on my tongue, it’s smoky and warm and familiar. Reflexively, I reach for my phone, bring up his name. I want to talk to him, I want to share this crappy night, and this foreign place, but it’s Saturday there now, an against the rules day. We don’t message on weekends; I agreed to this moratorium a long time ago. He didn’t even need to ask, or explain.

Fuck.

How did I agree to any of this? How did I end up here? Out of the corner of my eye, I see a punch land. A guy in purple shorts staggers against the ropes, then rights himself, comes back for more. I leave the two men on the TV to their weaving and ducking, and turn back to my scotch. They use such generous pours here; the golden liquid fills a good two thirds of my glass.

I take a solemn sip, and add this fact to my ever-shifting list of reasons to stay in this city.

Scotch on the Rocks

Fact and fiction in New York City …