En Absencia (aka Love Only Realized After)

I shouldn’t have disappeared the way I did.  I have never felt such a connection, such a symmetry to someone else in this world. It was never so easy to share my life with a woman, not just the center, but the dark and torn edges we often hide in shame from others. The smallest conversations with you were an adventure, you came to me and remained so unexpected like a dream. And with the brilliance of your thoughts and kindness of your heart, a part of me wondered if I hadn’t made you up in one. 

The days and moments we spent together still haunt me, in a beautiful but far too painful of a way. Even now I can’t think of a single use for my hands than to hold yours. My mouth and tongue feel pointless no matter who else wants to listen. The world has become such a stranger to me, and though I miss you more than these little words could ever contain, I can’t bring myself to bring you back into my life as just a friend. You mean too much to me, and that box just can’t fit what my heart won’t filling it with. The maybe of us has gotten its answer, and while I want nothing more than for you to have everything and exactly what you desire from this broken world, it breaks me too much to be on the sidelines and a footnote in your happiness.

I’m sorry my love is too selfish to ever see you as anything else but my everything.

Cassie, Episode V (The Hangover Strikes Back)

We roamed the streets, howling at the moon with our eyes wet in hunger. Biting at each others heels in soft compliments disguised as insults, because neither of us ever truly outgrew the playground.

“Nice buzzcut, asshole.” Cassie snarled.

“I like your Ugg boots, where’d you get them? High school?” I hissed.

We were free of responsibility and chose to use that time unwisely. To be wild, untamable and young(ish)- daring strangers to approach us by baring our teeth in what they mistook as smiles and seeming friendly. Barking at cars and traffic that honked at us on lanes that said, B-U-S O-N-L-Y painted white in symbols we could no longer understand. A man tried to explain:

“Get on the sidewalk assholes! That’s the bus lane!”

“Says-Fucking-Who!” We howled back.

Scampering down West 4th Street with tails high as our moods, taking turns on a brown paper bag that was full of what makes the moon shine and absolutely nobodies business (especially if you were a cop.) A toxic duo of brash and lonely only looking for a home or good time; rabid and shameless, one with ourselves and the anti-thesis of decency.

Cassie ________ (something unlady like) and I __________. We didn’t think we were greater than people, but we were better than them for knowing that. Than thinking we were anything more than animals packed into a steel cage we call a city. As if there were any more reasonable way to live than with this wild abandon of decorum, to stop the facade of a cowards living we dress up as social etiquette. No leash, mortgage, bar or cute stranger could tie us down for long. We were free and beautiful, recruiting strays and mutts in downtown Manhattan for The Army of the Dog.

“Can we leave?” I asked Cassie when I caught her in a smoke break. “I can’t stand this yuppie bullshit they keep playing.”

“Hey, it’s your breakdown. Only right you get to choose the soundtrack ” She yelped, and we pawed our way up Macdougal.

It’s what I liked most about her that night and ever since. With Cassie I’d wouldn’t need a good reason for anything or have to think so hard. She never asked for a cause or explanation, and there was a certain comfort in that. A relief of not having to validate more than the surface. 

“I know a place,” She said. “You’ll like it. I know the owner, we can stay late.”

“Sounds suspect. If you’re going to harvest my organs can I at least call my mom first?”

“I already did. don’t worry. She said it was fine and gave me permission.”

A smile spread across my face, completely involuntarily. Because in under an hour Cassie had somehow cracked the code to my affections. I was beginning to like her more than an off-chance encounter, and already I could feel my brain making memories where I didn’t need it to. Mockery is the sincerest form of flattery, in my dark and immodest opinion, and is the default language of love for anyone suffering from the fatigue of compassion. Kindness in the world is necessary, of course, but usually forced. A due process that can feigned, deceptive or hollow. To be mean in a nice way requires a cold but tender honesty, a step too far or close and the intentions become too obvious.

Somehow Cassie threaded that line quite perfectly and turn me softer towards her. I would rather open my heart to whoever called my dick small over some sweetheart asking how my weekend was any day.

“That makes me want to take you out some time,” I said laughing, and a little bit too sincere.

“Somewhere nice?” She asked, smiling a wine soaked and bloody tooth grin.

“Like a Kennedy,” I shot back. She punched my arm, and we pattered down to the stairs to the 1 train.

Nothing Good Ever Ends Well (aka The Agony Columns: Luke)

Even when I’m not being vagrant, staying home after work and spending time with Ethan, there’s still days I get the taste of gin and ashes on my tongue. Waking up like a skeleton, bare as bone, with nothing but a name. My veins poking from short-sleeves, tints of yellow, white, blue, green- pieces revealing what I’m made of, like wires from TV’s or old headphones you get ashamed to pull out in public. Some days leave me feeling…frigid, grey like the clouds I’m blowing smoke circles at from the balcony. 

Ethan was lying on the sofa, the bedroom door was closed but had no handle because Home Depot didn’t have the parts we needed. There was a drip from the faucet and the microwave kept beeping, but I couldn’t remember what was in it. If I had leftovers, or stuffed in a supermarket frozen dinner because I hate cooking. And while Ethan slept I snuck a cigarette on the balcony before Kay could get home, my mind had this crazy impulse to just go somewhere I hadn’t been in a long time.    

Flashbacks were tumbling against my head, making me dizzy while car tires roared by in a sort of symphony. The highway lines of I-95 stretching north, to Connecticut, Boston, Main, Brunswick. I was feeling nostalgic I guess- remembering and romanticizing the past, the way a particular type of weather reminds you of that time in third grade when it was raining. The day I saw Kay scrape her knee in the playground of PS 153 in The South Bronx; a gash down her leg so long you couldn’t tell where it began or ended, and all I could see between the crowd of kids that gathered around was a skinny, bow-legged girl hiding shame and that sensation of thick, red tar painted on the floor. 

And while some kids ran for the nurse she just sat there, not crying, not shedding a damn tear, just staring into that cut the way adults look at sunsets or somebody they used love. Almost hopeful, like waiting long enough might make something jump out of all that velvet. Make it more than just colors, concrete and blood.

I remember Kay had come back that Summer damn near 5’5, towered above the rest of us with her home-cut bobbed hair and thick black rimmed glasses (way before that stupidfad came in.) The only girl in class who had a binder when all the rest of us were rocking drawstring Nike bags and spiral notebooks. She was always smarter than us, always thinking ahead, played our juvenile games but never cut school or went to parties. 

Then come Junior high her eyes started drifting from us playing spades or casino to the windows, at this expanse of distance I can only understand in retrospect. She was bigger than New York, and she knew it, but she stuck around us anyway. Never talked much about her mean ass mom or all the scholarships she was getting offered. Whenever that urge to look away at what she could become came around, I’d look in that direction too, but all I saw was a bunch of low complex buildings and a highway named after some white guy that cut across our city like a vein. Some trees if it was Spring, or long and dead brown lines coloring all that pavement.

“The fuck are you looking at?” She’d say to me, testy as all hell. And I’d slam a ten of spades on the table, take my cards and say “NOT FUCKIN’ MUCH.”

I took the usual route of juvenile affections, found it easier to make her an enemy than admit her face was something that lingered in my mind every night as I laid awake in bed. Bluffed like I didn’t mind or care through all of her boyfriends for two years like a champ. 

But you can’t imagine what it was like hearing someone you love talk about someone else. It’s like a Hurt you put off going to the doctor for, hoping it’s something that just heals or fades and falls off on its own so you don’t have to worry about it any more. She needed someone to talk to, and I knew her little brother was a waste of space waiting to happen, so I felt like I had to. I let it kill me every day until dying didn’t feel like the worst thing.  When seeing her smile or smack me softly across the face for coming out my mouth made it all worthwhile. 

Fake-It-Til-You-Can’t-Take-It was the name of the game, and I was good. Kept it cool until that one long walk home Junior year, hit a slump I couldn’t manage to flash a smile or joke over. She’d broken up with Matthew come four months, and she was tired of all the guys coming after her for the obvious. Said there was one of them, Anthony, who looked like he was kind of sincere, and he was kind of cute so she might as well give it a try. And I couldn’t hold it back any more, so I told her what I always felt. That my days were good but she made them better, and the only thing I looked forward to when I woke up was our long walks back home. 

I even mentioned that thing about her knee in fifth grade. 

She shrugged it off, saying that she always knew, called me a dummy and kissed me on the corner of Taylor Avenue while the deli lights flashing above our stupid little heads. A world on the verge of conquering us at seventeen, and a universe of sex and intimacy opening the floodgates. A honeymoon phase of going at it like jackrabbits and a lot of arguments over dumbs  things. I didn’t care about grades or jobs and just wanted to make people laugh. And Kay couldn’t stop telling me how stupid I looked in a goatee, that I should take my life more seriously, and that she always hated my middle name.

Her love was comforting, the way a light from another room is when you’re afraid of the dark. Or yourself. When I couldn’t bare to go down an empty street because it just looked so damn lonely, she’d remind me that what I was scared of wasn’t outside. But in. Then Ethan came and we made it work, past the slammed doors and distance. Rebuilt trust from where there was none after jokes I shouldn’t have been making about her mom. Six month breaks that break easy over the holidays, and the slate wiped clean with something as simple as an I-Miss-You text. Enough distance that makes us wonder what we were so angry about in the first place, two weekends into Lets-Just-Be-Friends that ends the moment we notice its 4AM and the bar is closing. Goodbyes and lonely train rides home that turn the world into a stranger, that make us pull the breaks and reverse into each other like bumper cars. 

So now I get to drinking when she gets to somewhere I can’t follow. I come home happy she’s still there and she looks around our apartment like she’s lost her keys. Puts KTU on the radio because we both hate that music, finding voicemails on her phone from women I don’t know asking for Crystal. And we only live on the second floor, but her eyes look out the window like we’re back on the seventeenth in Junior High. I try to look too, but all I see are a bunch of low complex buildings and a highway named after some white guy that cuts across our city like a vein. Some trees if its Spring, or long and dead brown lines coloring all that pavement. And I wonder, is it still falling if it’s the fifth or tenth of April we’ve been in love? Glossing over our past in grey summer weather, sitting out here not shedding a damn tear, staring at the moon rising like somebody I used to love. 

Hopeful, like waiting long enough might make something jump out of all that cloudy velvet. Make it more than just the colors, concrete, and the blood we shed to each other.

Early Morning Sweet Nothings (aka I Wake Up With Enough Morning Wood To Build A Cabin)

2AM again, a restless dream, undressing under twilight
but somebody has to keep the moon company.

Yes, yes, you said. Not yet, no, not yet. 
I call you Gaia and kiss the sands, 
jump and dance and make a mess, 
and I laugh, you laugh, we laugh;
the moonlight kisses us.  

If only I could love you properly- 
my fingers ready, edging, always aching 
for yours. So young, and bold, and hairy. 
Able. Graying. 

No, no, you said. No, not yet, not yet. 
You call me worrier, kiss my hands, 
jump and dance and make the bed, 
and I laugh, I laugh, I laugh; 
the sunlight kisses us.

But my hands start thinning.