Happiness has its own weight

It might have been different had I arrived in the summer.

The city is a different island in the summertime, open, clear-skied and brilliant blue to the edges. Even the mucky shore-water out at Rockaway lightens itself, can almost be seen through if you open your eyes before a wave breaks and pulls you into the swirl. Summer here is dresses and sleeves shorter, legs leaner, drinks clinking earlier in the day, the days themselves longer, stretching out like Amsterdam, an avenue of sunlight, headed toward whatever comes next. Had I arrived here in the summer, I might have walked that line for longer, gotten far enough away. But I arrived late in the fall. The season of contracted light, of colors leaching. I arrived tilted away from the sun, and by the time winter came I had forgotten what it felt like to be warm. Forgotten sun slicking down my shoulders, sweat pooling in the creases of my skin, that ribbon of salt and water to be washed off in cool showers, before it wraps around you all over again.

There is a girl in Sheep Meadow, she’s sitting on the edge of a checkered blanket, feet bare and tucked beneath her. She looks expectant, waiting. The group of young men she sits with talk fast, easy, conversations bouncing over invisible nets, a volley and return of words, punctuated by laughter and exclamation. She is part of this, but to the side, a decoration. Unknown, but invited. Knowing the boy in the middle the longest – three, four days now, since they started talking at the laundromat, she not knowing how to get the coins to load, and he, extracting her newness, offering a thin line of friendship and his number – Come! It’s just some friends and some food in the park. They’ll all love your accent, darling. His boyfriend duly playing the part, asking her to say particular words over and again. Clapping at her vowels, rolling off the picnic blanket in a kind of mocking kindness before pouring warm white wine into her plastic cup – Ching Ching, darling! –  and telling her his own stories of the day and his life. There can be such quick intimacy to strangers. She discovers he is a hairdresser for that famous actress, and no he can’t share any secrets, but yes, that rumor really is true – it’s always true, darling! and she sips at her warm wine, smiling at her life, here, right now, in this fading light. She brought cantaloupe, diced in a plastic cup, and purple grapes, and a oversize bag of potato chips. Someone made brownies, set them out in the middle of the blanket as an offer, the residue under her fingernails now, she picks at the chocolate with her teeth, unable to say, perhaps not even knowing, how much she craves the taste of something home-made. Someone turns up music through a tinny phone speaker, Stevie Wonder becomes their soundtrack as the group passes around a joint, the weed packed tight into a ceramic cigarette. Flimsy disguise, barely a nod, as the distinctive smell wafts to other blankets, other picnics in this dusky park.

She got lost on the way here, mixed up her lakes, but she knows she’ll find her way home. It’s always easier to find your way back, but there’s something thrilling about getting lost she thinks, as she stands up and begins to dance to the familiar music, joining her new friends in their loose-limbed celebration. She can taste the weed in the back of her throat, feel her tongue go thick with it, and she’s happier than she might have ever been, with her new friends whose names she can’t remember, and their stories, and her welcoming. She hitches her flowing dress into the seams of her underwear, exposes her thighs and dances the sun all the way down the sky, twirling with him, and him, and by herself, in all this open space that she could never have imagined existed until now.

When, one by one, her new friends peel themselves away, heading off to clubs and bars and other people’s parties, she kisses them on both cheeks with each farewell, laughs and promises to come see their show, or be there next Thursday or Wednesday for dinner. Soon, she will be the only one left, and the night is pushing down on her skin, so she says goodbye herself, hugs her oldest new friend and then hugs him again as Isn’t She Lovely serenades her out and away from the meadow. Once she’s out of site, she starts to run, arms open, pulling her dress free of where she has hitched it. As it comes loose, her finger slices through the fine fabric below her hip, causing a jagged hole that she will later paste with clear nail polish, trying to prevent the tear in her dress from spreading. She will come to love this flaw and this memory of running and the high sweetness of harmonicas chasing her home. It is a hot summer night, and she emerges from the park breathless and dizzy from the wine and the weed and the newness of her life. The sky is inky now, and it seems to make everything heavier, closer somehow. This is the first time she understands that happiness has its own weight, too. That you can be thick with it, no different from sadness. She stands on the liminal in this moment, as wide awake as she has ever been, and sure this feeling is endless, a wide open breach into possibility.

She makes it to her neighborhood, feels for the first time that she fits in this place. Belongs. And I think, perhaps, had I arrived in summer, this girl would have been me.

~ Alice, What We Have Left

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I was saturated with wine and Sweetbitter by Stephanie Danler when I wrote this.

The girl, of course, is me 😉

Central Park Summer Days

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The space before

Knees slanting, coming closer. Bodies knowing first. That there is no real distance between them now, only the memory of it, a last holding on to the space they used to occupy. The space before each other. Thinking, one last time, that it might be safer not to touch, not to fall. Foolishly mistaking suspension for security, like so many do. But they are about to know better than most. They know death now, and desire. And it is impossible not to conflate the two. Once you know.

I push them closer. Knees, a nudge.

She feels the pressure of him, all that is below the surface. Above, she runs thumb and forefinger along the stem of her wine glass, pulls at her earlobe. He studies her hand, taps the table top. Doesn’t move, can’t move. Was that some kind of otherness that pushed his knee against hers just now?

Of course the writer feels it. Feels me. Even as he understands so little of himself.

I want to sit down between them. Show her the nerves that flicker wherever they touch. Shift her fingers from glass to his lips, say here, this place, is home. I think that if I whispered this to him just now, he would be the one to hear me. I try, but the words come out as a gust of wind, a stir.

This is your night. I say it louder this time, and the trees rustle my words out loud. Let go! I shout, and the candle between them flickers. My voice is trees and flame and wind, now that I know how to hear it. I am everything that touches lightly, and this new power is extraordinary. Feeling less and less like limbs and hair and teeth and bone. More like air and sensation and the spark that shoots a river of blue all through his body.

The man who killed me sits at home and feels it, too. Candles flickering, night air whistling. He thinks of how he loved me in that moment, and I cause a crack in the sky, thunder that shakes him in his chair. He is worried about limbs and hair and teeth and bone tonight. Because all that I was, I hiss in his ear, is going to lead them right to him.

~ Alice,  What We Have Left

… don’t remember writing this over the holidays (wine??) but a few quick edits and it makes *enough* sense to share. And to pick up and follow … 

 

They are my stories

These are not suitcases. They are my stories. I carry them with me, yes, and at times – at 2ams and altitudes – my shoulders slump with their heft. The weight of past mistakes and all of the leaving. I spin the world backward, these times. Searching with my finger across the whirring, blurring globe for home. Are you nostalgic? she asked me once, and I said yes, as I understand it. I think writers, necessarily retrieve. I meant to say that memory matters. The past matters. But those words belong to another, so I left the thought behind.

I do – at times – have to turn myself around.

But these are not suitcases. I do not come with burdens, see. I arrive lush with autobiography. Stories spilling, swimming. I had a farm in Africa. I stood trembling at the door. There was a moment, just before. I sobbed and smiled. Here. And here. And here. I thought-. He was-. She was-. They were-. I was-. He sang in my ear. I shouldn’t have. I did. I came twice as he-. I saw the most-. I travelled to-. It made me feel. This is the … happiest I’ve ever been. Yes! I remember everything.

I remember every thing. I carry it all, swinging, dancing. Hands out, even to my sorrows. I never wanted a calm waters life. Though I waded through his once or twice. Just to see what it is to be light. And I found it heavier than I’d ever imagined, to carry no one thing at all.

Here, let me open for you now. These are not suitcases. They are my stories …

Rock2018

(Remember: Don’t believe a word I say. Just the way I say it)

♥ HAPPY NEW YEAR, dear readers! Here’s to all the stories in 2018 … ♥

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

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

Most everybody knows

People die every day. In minutes. Seconds. The closing and re-opening of an eye, and the world changes direction, spins you or him or her away. Out into the nothing or everything, and not here. Not here ever again.

In New York alone, 150 lights go out from one midnight to the next. Cancer, cars, trains, swimming pools. A bottle of pills, or a fall the wrong way. There is some kind of sorrow every second.

Back in the 90’s, there were up to six murders a day. A decade later, and that number dropped down to two. Now, sometimes a whole week goes by without someone dying at another person’s hand. Still, it happens. Strangers, and vigilantes, and lovers with twisted hearts. More often than not, the twisted hearts. Turns out most everybody knows the person who kills them. A fact we close our eyes to when we do our choosing.

Did you know the person who took your life? The one who took your name, and your story, the one who left your body for me to find?

Are we any safer, Jane, with our lit streets and windows barred? Or are we only ever one opened door away from the dark?

I don’t know who to be afraid of, here.

Grand Central, New York

Gracious

… This name that was mine from the beginning.

In every beginning an ending is written.

It is one of the very first things I told you. When I would lie naked in your arms, spinning my stories. The mind of a poet, and the body of a goddess, you once said against my chest – and I wrapped this description like a gift. It was rare for you to be so gracious with your definitions, Mack.

Mack.

I did not know that it would end like this.

Mack and Mabel lyrics by Jerry Herman

(It was so easy to name you. I knew him. And then I met you. The recognition was instant.

And you never, ever did send me roses. Just like I forgot to keep my head.)