Yesterday sucked, so today I’m having a do-over of my birthday.
So far it’s going much better; there’s a dark chocolate and passion fruit cake in the oven and I got to lick all the spoons.
Yesterday sucked, so today I’m having a do-over of my birthday.
So far it’s going much better; there’s a dark chocolate and passion fruit cake in the oven and I got to lick all the spoons.
I think about the mornings it saved me
to look at the hearts penknifed on the windows
of the bus, or at the initials scratched
into the plastic partition, in front of which
a cabbie went on about bread his father
would make, so hard you broke teeth on it,
or told one more story about the plumbing
in New Delhi buildings, villages to each floor,
his whole childhood in a building, nothing to
love but how much now he missed it, even
the noises and stinks he missed, the avenue
suddenly clear in front of us, the sky ahead
opaquely clean as a bottle’s bottom, each heart
and name a kind of ditty of hopefulness
because there was one you or another I was
leaving or going to, so many stalls of flowers
and fruit going past, figures earnest with
destination, even the city itself a heart,
so that when sidewalks quaked from trains
underneath, it seemed something to love,
like a harbor boat’s call at dawn or the face
reflected on a coffee machine’s chrome side,
the pencil’s curled shavings a litter
of questions on the floor, the floor’s square
of afternoon light another page I couldn’t know
myself by, as now, when Socrates describes
the lover’s wings spreading through the soul
like flames on a horizon, it isn’t so much light
I think about, but the back’s skin cracking
to let each wing’s nub break through,
the surprise of the first pain and the eventual
lightening, the blood on the feathers drying
as you begin to sense the use for them.
Today’s Writing Music: San Solomon, by Balmorhea.
He asked the cab driver where he was from. Nigeria. He then guessed a word, a region? A city? The driver grinned, startled and surprised. How did you know? Most of the cabbies with your company are from there, he said, and he pulled a book from his bag, flipped through it, pages scrawled with notes from different pens, and found something blue. Words flowed from him, practiced, but perhaps written phonetically. Hello, I guessed, or good day. A warm gesture rich in welcome, the driver’s foreign language repeated in the darkness of a Seattle night.
There are make-shift weapons within reach of every place to sit and a well-loved typewriter, dusty and delicately studded with toy jewels, in need of a new ribbon. On the work table under the white board sits a small plastic tub, worn and unremarkable except for the motorcycle carburetor sitting inside of it, a row of ceramic pots holding various tools, and a beer bottle cap filled with cigarette ashes. (One pot is nearly filled with the same small, glow-in-the-dark stars that I stick to hotel ceilings, my international constellation trail of places I’ve dreamed.) One wall is lined with clippings about Spanish bullfights that have been carefully sliced from newspapers. My favourite shows a torero in full costume, leaning in a tight arc as a bull charges his vivid yellow cape, with the pull-quote ‘Only in Spain is the phrase “You are a good killer” — Eres un buen matador — a compliment.’ The room is immediately masculine, but I feel welcome and safe. This is a place I am willing to stay.
We find coffee, sit outside of a Starbucks tucked into a strip-mall, conveniently within sight of another Starbucks. We talk about work and exhaustion and corporate restructuring. He’s looking for a new place to live, somewhere with less of a grinding commute, and I think of David Byrne, lyrics from my favourite Talking Heads song, through I keep them to myself. “And as we watch him digging his own grave. It is important to know that was where he’s at. He can’t afford to stop, that is what he believe. He’ll keep on digging for a thousand years.” It gets stuck in my head for an hour.
He swears at traffic, a deluge of words I’ve never heard him say, “Judas.. Fuckin’.. Priest.” “Judas, really?” We’re on our way to the bus depot, but a sports game just let out and the new station is right by the stadium. The tirade of epithets pour from him like the lime green jerseys pouring across the blocked street we’re suddenly trapped on. And it is a full on tirade, started earlier as he was cursing at his phone, castigating the office in Taiwan, annoyed to not be able to give me his attention before I had to go. The invective isn’t as creative as I might have expected, but it’s admirable in its persistence. It is the profanity of a long, long day. (I’m thinking about empty motion.) He’s probably ready to gnaw his own arm off to get out of the gridlock, though his fantasy, more likely, involves mowing them all down. I tell him, as I finally get my bags from the car, that it was almost attractive. “Except for the bit where it’s a little like examining someone’s bookshelf and only finding male authors.” He grins, puzzled, appreciative, and I blow a kiss goodbye.
Ostensibly we’re there after the show because whiskey goes well with fast cars and guns and explosions, but really we’re there because I make him nervous. He’s honest about it after the first shot. It’s a relief. There is only one man who is afraid of me that I will make time for and as that slot is taken, the rest can go hang. If I’m not to be trusted, I need to know as soon as possible, the better to make other arrangements. But I am lucky this time. His reasoning is absurd and easy to correct, the missed shot of an archer who didn’t know the wind of the territory.
Underneath, the darker water, the faster moving riptide reasons. I wonder if he sees them like I do, if he can read them as part of his hyperactive threat response, if he knows why he should be nervous instead of why he is. They stem from the same source that makes me wary of myself when I stand on tall buildings. That urge to throw oneself from the precipice, that desire to trust the air, to learn to fly by forgetting to hit the ground. For once, a fear is justified. In this, and this alone, I might be dangerous. My heart is broken, it is not a safe stone to stand on, Archimedes be damned.
Instead of the film, we talk about pain and suicide and what it’s like to have the ones you love best die and leave you behind. We stand out front while he kills a cigarette, arguing about social species. He calls us the immortals, due to the way our kind expire, exhausted, unable to keep fighting, yet always come back to life. It is nice to be recognized, though our philosophies disagree. He leans his back against me, blowing his smoke away. “I am finally too tired to be reborn,” I tell him, my hands on his shoulders. It is cold and I shiver. He rails against me in reply. Fuck that, jhayne, you can’t give up, yet when I wrap my legs around his waist, he carries me, still swearing, back into the bar, ready to call it a night.
Today’s Writing Music: Hey Little Songbird, by Anaïs Mitchell, (from her album Hadestown).
Familiarity. Repeated motions. I’ve been across the border so many times. The lock is broken on the door of the first stall in the women’s washroom. The seat behind the driver has more space for a laptop, but no overhead light, so no reading once it gets dark. No fruit, they will charge you a separate fee for each grape, and bottles are more preferable to cans, which cannot be resealed for transport.
Back from a road trip, back from a wedding. San Francisco, Mendocino, Portland, Seattle. The steep curves of the Coastal Highway, the birdsong next to where we were stalled. Back from hours sitting on the side of a highway in a broken down car, back from driving through entire nights. A midnight food cart, a midnight tow truck. Visits with people I haven’t seen for years, visits with people I haven’t seen for weeks. Sleeping wherever I can find to rest. Priorities: power, internet. A slingshot back and down, around California, not quite enough for escape velocity. At least I wasn’t the one who was bitten by a tick.
Off the bus, I was only home long enough to drop off my suitcase. I’m still sleeping on couches, I’m already looking up ticket prices to get back, basic toiletries crammed in my laptop bag. I didn’t want to keep working as a writer, but it has let me keep moving.
I am awake. It is nine a.m. I have been awake since two a.m., when I woke crying, my insides twisting, the broken edges of all the pieces of my sharply broken heart grinding together in grief, and slipped from bed to throw up in the bathroom for half an hour from pain.
I’m practiced at this now. I knew to bring my phone and a sweater, to expect the need for distraction, to know my teeth will chatter from the stress of my body’s reaction, all energy diverted to this misguided attempt to vomit my misery away as if my trauma were something I ate.
(I read the news as I sit on the floor. I read science fiction. I cannot, under any circumstances, read about code or coding or how to program. I cannot read about theatre or Frank Zappa or King Crimson or any other art prog rock the same way I cannot listen to any ravey dance music or Ratatat. Though central to my life, these have become tied to the worst of it, they have become impossible topics, impossible needs. My indoctrination was too complete. My love tied me to them as much as my ruined love now keeps me away.)
Sometimes, when I am reading in the middle of the night, freezing as I lean against porcelain, I think about writing. How much it used to run through my blood, how much I’ve given up, how much has been taken away.
This is the price of falling in love; poison, betrayal, loss, and pain and more pain. I am the little mermaid before she was sanitized, every step on land the same as walking on a thousand blades.
I am in San Francisco for an ex-partner’s wedding. Our break-up was many years ago, but it is still a stressful thing. I can’t help but remember when he proposed to me, then later declared that it was a romantic lie and I never should have taken him seriously. It was our first fight and the day after was the first day he began to abandon me. I spent the next six months fighting for us, stubborn in love, wanting his desire and happiness with every fibre of my being, but it didn’t matter, he had decided and forever after just drifted away. It was this, completely: “I chose her less and less. Everyday, for five years, I chose her a little less. I stayed with her. I just stopped choosing her. We both suffered.”
Yet here I am, a quarter away across the world to witness him finally follow through, but with someone else, even as I still wear his ring and his hands are banded with mine. Why? Because he asked me and I still love him and so want him to be happy, no matter how he treated me. (Isn’t that the very definition?) I am a trembling thing, helpless against it.
Micheal, the best and brightest, there is no justice that you are gone and that I cannot call you in the midst of this and take comfort in your wry voice from Calgary or Berlin or Tel Aviv.
How odd and foolish love is. How stupid my heart. How much I wish I could cut them both out of me these sleepless nights when there is nothing in my world larger than pain.
My most recent ex was going to be my date to this, my partner, my shield and armor. It was going to be fine and sweet and an adventure, a trip together with friends along the way and dancing at the wedding and smiles as clear as diamonds. My first real date to a wedding. My first a lot of things shaped like joy.
I wonder if he remembered, if that’s why he reached out with a message the very same minute I was putting a key in the ignition to drive south this week. A late night text, the first since New Year’s Day, when he changed his relationship status to boyfriend-of-the-girl he fucked on our one year anniversary and declared I was mentally ill for begging for his compassion. It might have been coincidence, but I miss you, he said, I’m sorry I hurt you.
My reply said, I miss you too, I’m sorry you did too, I can’t talk now, I’m driving to the wedding, and then that’s what I did. I turned on the engine and drove for five hours. Then I traded places with my friend Rafael, napped briefly in the passenger seat, and then did it again. It was a relief. I had something to do and finally, finally, maybe the chance to resolve some of the agony he chose as his legacy, the heavy bread of my daily meal of grief and pain. I drove and drove and the scenery changed and I barely cried.
“Her tender feet felt as if cut with sharp knives, but she cared not for it; a sharper pang had pierced through her heart.”
He changed his story the next day, of course, sober probably in the light of day. I only had one day with hope of relief before he read my journal and back-pedaled, practically tripping over himself in his haste to get away from the damage he helped create.
I suppose I understand. I imagine it is easier to leave me like this in perpetuity than face his own hypocrisy. To own his guilt would be to own a monstrous thing; that by taking the fearful lessons he learned through abuse and inflicting them on me, he has become harmful himself. Such a realization does not come cheap – it spits in the face of his best unshakable conviction, that he may be flawed, but he is Innocent. A Good Person more than anything else, the very kindest of all.
Maybe underneath it all, he knows. Why else send the first message? Yet no matter how badly he might feel in moments of late night, guilty whiskey weakness, I know I’m not worth it to him, just as I was not worth his respect when we were together. To treat me as an equal or a real person was too expensive for his conscience even when he was my partner and declared he loved me, so, honestly, I was a dimwitted idiot optimist for hoping otherwise. To think he might help me now, reach out and offer care after he has already discarded me, is a pipe dream.
Ignoring my daily wreckage is obviously easier. He doesn’t have to live with it that way. I bear the cost, not him. He broke me and replaced me. See no evil, right? I’m a write off, just like his other crashed cars. The worst that could happen is that he might one day see his own soul, but who believes in such a thing in 2015? That’s what drugs and alcohol are for.
If only I had some way to forget myself, too. Erase and negate my own vulnerable underbelly with chemical castration or hedgehog prickles and hide the fingerprints that trust left unfairly tattood on my skin. You would be disappointed with me, Michael, for wanting this, but nowhere is safe now that you’re gone.
Even though I see his reasons, I cannot agree with them. Taking responsibility is a difficult task, but he does not earn my sympathies. To leave another in pain is beyond my horizon, beyond that which I am capable. It is incompatible with my wiring. Incomprehensible. Cruel. Instead I am stuck – no matter how much I hate myself for it or my daily distress – it is like with the other. Why am I here? I love him.
It causes such agony, but it is the truth. Even as every day I struggle to endure. Even as I barely feel I can stay alive. Even as I sit curled on a tired bathroom floor, watching another day dawn again as my body misfires, as it has for months, my flesh unable to understand that there is no cure for this disease.
The air bit with a chill that didn’t match the bright sunlight. I was on a bus traveling from my apartment to a doctor’s office I’d never visited at the university of British Columbia. The view from the bridge might have been pretty, but to me it was nothing but a view of the recent oil spill. I did not know what to expect at the doctor’s office. Someone over the phone had dropped the word “cancer” into conversation as innocuously as a sugarcube into coffee. I didn’t have enough data, so I did not know what to expect. As a result, I failed to have any expectations. The unknown no longer holds any fear after the worst has happened.
I was recently in Los Angeles for three weeks. I stayed up an entire night and watched the moon’s light be eaten by our planet’s shadow from a barren desert near the border of Mexico. I learned how to drive an ATV and I sped in a race car on a track for the first time. I drove my first go-kart and only partially dislocated my shoulder doing so. I was introduced to shooting skeet and never missed, not even once, until the assault rifle jammed. I had dinner at the Magic Castle and discovered a secret door. I visited the spaceship Endeavor and a Banksy piece and the Echo Lake chandelier tree.
Luck was mostly with me. My company was always kind and funny and smart. My days were spent working and exploring, unearthing new places and experiences, and my evenings were often spent in the company of my host, one of my sweetest ex-partners, a man who pet my hair when he caught me keening with pain in my sleep.
Every day I think about Michael, his smile, his kindness, how much I would do if it would let me see him and hold him and let him loose on the world again. I would do unspeakable things. His smile, his wit. I would burn down houses. I would burn down cities. A life for a life. Ten lives for his. A hundred. He would be horrified and justified. He would be validated. I cannot say his name without twisting inside.
Everything in California made for easy stories. The sun shone almost every day, there were flowers everywhere, a downy brown hummingbird in the front yard, a familiar taste like metal in the back of my throat from the pollution in the air. I touched a tiny wild lizard, I bought books at The Last Bookstore, and sobbed until I thought I might die on the perfect sand beach at Santa Monica. I danced until last call in my underwear in a borrowed bear suit open to my waist in a bar on Hollywood Boulevard.
I try not to think about my coward of a most recent ex, M., and how much pain he’s left unaddressed inside of me. I shy away from it the way I now avoid mirrors, as if he literally slashed me with knives and then declared me too ugly instead of only figuratively. I cannot bear my unwanted reflection as I cannot rely on my heart. It is too broken. I am too ruined. Both have fractured and cracked and crumbled. The abuse, such a surprise, was too much. The trauma, as unexpected, destroyed what was left. I am used up and there is not enough left to put anything back together. I cannot say his name, nor that of the planet he named himself after. I can barely utter my own.
The difficult stories are harder to see, but they are bigger and deeper and wider and greedy.
Being in the desert was triggering, (he grew up out here, he told me stories, fixing his jeep with the gusset of his underwear, getting lost in gullies while looking for ghost towns, his words a footnote to every stone), but who alive has eyes that could see such a thing?
I cannot reliably keep down anything I eat. I have lost fifteen pounds. People are constantly saying, “Oh wow, you look so good!”.
This is also a trigger.
A terrible winter, leading into a spring that only looks better with eyes that cannot see.
Being alive is triggering. Everything hurts. Everything. Always.
My life since October has been a near comprehensive list of tragedy, injury, pain, disappointment, disability, death, and every wrenching heartbreak. I constantly wake violently throughout every night, usually crying, my endoctrine system certain that I am always under threat. Why else this much pain? I live stunned with it, trapped in the suffering cage of my own failure of a body, forcing myself to try to move normally through each moment even though its roar is deafening.
I try to be the sort of person who does not bring the tone down, does not to contribute to the disappointment, and I am sick of the world, so mostly I have been quiet. But, in truth, I am sick of living. I want to quit. Yet these habits die hard. When asked about such things, I have been telling the easy stories. “Magic!” “Race cars!” Tone. Keep it light, (keep it pointless), keep it bright.
I might say we went to the Salton Sea, went to Slab City, and looked at the art. I might say that the art was unexpected, that it was good to see the piano still present. Those are the outside stories, not the experience, not how I only went to East Jesus to visit a dear friend’s grave to try and make a genuine connection with his unexpected death, only to encounter a tourist destination and be force-fed a rote and rehearsed tour and a bizarre and misplaced lecture about my lack of respect. Both happened, but the latter is more important to me than the first fact.
When pressed further by people who know about the other narratives, the shadow, less superficial stories, I have been still replying defensively until very recently, habitually, with the only good thing left unharmed – “but the pets are fine!”
Even this, however, is no longer true.
The day before I flew back to Canada, my flatmate David sent me a panicked note over Facebook. The unthinkable had occurred; Tanith the cat swatted Selenium the ferret and ruptured her eye.
He was worried she was going to be blinded and didn’t know what to do. I arranged for hospital care, I arranged a ride there, I arranged to borrow space on a credit card to pay for it all. I did everything from California, hoping her vision could be saved, stressed out and over stretched, breaking down whenever I thought about how much she must be hurting, no matter where I was or what I was doing. All of our options were scary and expensive. The vet referred us to an optical surgeon. Two hundred dollars. The optical surgeon suggested her eye be removed. Another two hundred. We scheduled the surgery. Eight hundred. She had a rough time on the table. Another hundred. The mask became harder to keep in place.
Posting to social media about Selenium’s needs and ordeal covered the costs. I am grateful, we’re not going to be wiped out, but my grateful allayment is muddled. I am conflicted. There is no justice. She is home now, looking more like a prize fighter than a pirate. This is the Red Queen Paradox with a knee to the kidney for good measure; we run and run and run to stay in place, everyone throw in! Yet no matter how much is given, how much support is offered, (where was this before?), the best that can be possibly attained is a new equilibrium worse than the previous norm. It’s like my life’s theme, if such things existed outside of the convenient packaging of construct or English lit.
Now that April’s Big Bad Trauma has arrived and (mostly, as best it can, a bankruptcy disguised as success) been neutralized, I am waiting for whatever happens in May. It will be rough, it will be tumble, and I refuse to try to imagine what awful unexpected there is left. Who’s next? What’s next?
It’s my birthday this month. Thirty-three on the twenty:ninth. Ten years plus one from when I promised Michael I would fight to stay alive and try, no matter what, to find joy. Ten years “and a day” of failure and pain. If I can’t succeed at such a small thing, in that length of time, I can’t succeed, full stop. My promise runs out on my birthday. It’s almost a relief. Ten years and a day of fighting and struggle, just to confirm: My best isn’t good enough and it never will be.