Category: Prose

A Cheaters Guide To Dating (aka Whatever You Pretend To Not Know Will Definitely Kill You)

My aunt has a rubber strip that separates her kitchen tile from her hardwoods in her dining room, and her dog, Dusty, knows he’s not supposed to cross this line. Especially when people are eating in the dining room. He always did, though. One minute Dusty would be behind the line, but then, when no one was looking and what seemed within the blink of an eye, he’d be several feet into the trash bin dogging on the leftovers and whatever food whittled onto the floor.

I decided to observe Dusty one day, just to see what was really going on and what he would do.I waited behind the line until he thought no one was looking, and then put one paw over the line…no one yelled. Okay. Now the other paw over the line…no one yelled…? Okay! He dragged his whole body to those two paws and no one noticed?…Dusty was dusting off what was left of tonight’s meatloaf in the trash bin.

Dusty is representative of many of us – we know there is a line we are not supposed to cross, but we want to cross the line so bad, so we break it up into tiny little steps that are so subtle and small you don’t notice or do anything until they are way over the line.

In the difficult do I divide my same, and I am Dusty. For someone hard headed, “DON’T” sounds like less of a warning and more like a challenge.

“Hey” My text said.

“wassup” Hers replied.

I could feel it bubbling again- that secret, the need to spill the moans groaning from my sleeves and slithering in these veins. A systematic sickness hell bent on nothing but a laugh, who rears his restless head from madness to make the best good times feel mediocre. A long quiet had put my soul to sleep. There’s little solace in silence, and I found myself in that deafening howl: the quiet of yourself. When you’re staring out the window and finding white noise where there used to be thoughts.

Who’d have guessed apathy and the infinity of nothing could be so loud, like turning to a channel with static and the volumes at a hundred. And in the silent spaces between myself there was an anger growing. I was surprised to see him there, cross and glaring at the dead eyes of a subway advertisement. He doesn’t talk or budge, but he’s there, slowly filling the space of whatever used to occupy these veins.

I can’t be left to my own devices.

Especially without Wi-Fi.

My father used to bark that rage is impotent, that nothing ever comes from it, but farmers raze their fields whenever the crops are poisoned and they need to start again. A prescribed burn was in the works, and maybe, before I could make something better of May and these bones, I had to destroy them first. Devastation is a form of creation, after all, and my hands were wet with kerosene and reaching for a lighter. Self-destructive tendencies are a staple of my bloodline. The Spaniards turned against their kin, burning men and women alive in the name of their Christ and God. My grandfather put a pistol in his mouth when ___________ took the capital.

‘Por pays y patria’ was all the note said.

My own father left my mother and the state’s to go back to the motherland and chase 15 year old girls. You could make the argument that Hepatitis took him instead, but I’d say that’s just semantics. I followed closely behind his footsteps, a drink away from texting someone May wouldn’t approve of. But I’m no liar, so I took the cowards accomplice and dickless alibi of – “if she doesn’t ask where I was, I wouldn’t tell.”

I took a drink to rev the engine, finger hovering over SEND like a foot over the gas pedal. What is it about becoming uneven that I found so exhilarating? So cathartic? The world spun just the same, felt farther from the bottom of a glass. But behind the bell jar, for a night or hour, I was still, and tingled to the touch and joys of other people. A wise man once said the shortest distance between two points is a straight line, but he forgot to include ‘not giving a fuck how you get there.’ I said a silent prayer called Fuck It and hit SEND.

“Let’s meet up.” Sat staring at those black letters, glaring back on a grey background like a tombstone. RIP dignity.

There’s fucking, then there’s love; there’s bruises, then there are cuts. My cruel intentions were PG rated at best; and knowing Kendra to know my situation with May, with Lesbos knot tied securely around her waist, my mile high lust was balanced in reasonably low expectations. I didn’t need to have sex with Kendra, although I undeniably wanted to. I wanted to skirt around the edges of it to see how low the hem goes. Even if she had a history of preferring strawberry chap stick.

An hour long two minutes, three dots, bated breath, and then-

“road house” was all her text said.
Two trains later I hovered down Crosby Street, stray as lint, hungry like the wolf but too sheepish to make a move anywhere passed the bouncer. Suddenly the oak exit doors shot open and out came tumbling the body and bra straps of a thirty something pierced tongue Goddess Spinster; gracefully fumbling for a light she must have conjured from her dress, because it didn’t have any pockets in it. The corners of her corneas painted black in winged shadows, she took two long steps (that would take an average height five,) with a confidence that bordered on Does-She-Even-Realize-Anybody-Else-Is-Here? Goddess took a hard, long drag and her hazel eyes locked directly past me, the way glances hit glass windows looking for a reflection; directly but not really. Almost like the glass isn’t even there.

I do not trust appearances, much less a woman’s. Have you seen them dress? The brushing of their hair, artful apply of colors, contour, shadow, blush, and makeup. Deliberate stress to décolletage, lips, eyes, and other more lucrative assets. Whether they do it for men, other women, or themselves, is immaterial. A woman is a carefully constructed false pretense, and as a man who only seeks the truth, however ugly, in all things, they are my opposite and natural enemy.

I stood on tiptoes to look past the mirage for the further illusion awaiting me.

Past Goddess I caught a glimpse of a crowd of cool, casually dressed twenty somethings warming to the closing personal space getting smaller by the second at Girls Get In Free admittance. They all looked so happy, sapped in smiles, laughs, and strobe lights. Then the giant wood door slammed shut and that beauty turned to the brooding figure of a man with baggy eyes and a chip on his shoulder staring back at me. It was like peeking into heaven, only the bouncer probably wasn’t named Peter. Plus the line was surprisingly short, and all things considered, I actually had a chance of getting in.

A half hour and sour patience later, God must have forgave me. Uncomfortably shifting between the inflated egos and skin littering the club, Kendra was where I thought she’d be: standing neatly by the bar with her hands in the air and waist agreeing with the beat. The sight of her made me want to wake up on the right side of a bad decision, fiddling thumbs and pleasure points. Turning down the thermostat and letting the body do the heating.

She was self-maintenance in the most baseless facets of company, batting her eyelashes and biting fingernails all in the same sweet, calculated, and cornocopious motion. As if she were surprised to see me, after telling me to be there. An oxymoron I couldn’t resist like being drunk and feeding my insecurities. She was an Arctic Monkeys junkie, a little bruised, maybe, but not broken. Hobbies including hot yoga and lady bug tattoos, weekend silent retreats which were surprising considering her inability to stfu. She might dap or do the running man, take a shot or the next cab ride home. Help you up or kick dirt in your face and laugh, depending on the mood she’s in. Love you and leave, or stay and not. Picturesque, her the face the frame. Sitting there holding my world at the sway and mercy of her tongue, and whatever the hell it was she was saying.

Unpredictable and fractured like a stanza, she spoke in the unmistakable allure of poetry and pandemonium.

“You like this song?
I’m feeling Distortion,
doesn’t it remind
you of an ex? True.
But minus the e, like
TRU. What
are you drinking?
Shut up, I like to ask questions. And
I’ll like you
if you ask me things too.”

She was like a song stuck in my head; lyrical ligaments that kept me present but somehow disassociated from the moment. All it takes is two song plays for us to segue into gentle How-You-Been’s, ignoring the lace thrusting on the stage to settle into familiarity. I’m uncomfortable in a strip club setting but some instinct kicks in and my reactions are scripted. The insecurities and self-doubt jiggling from 5 stranger’s tits take a backseat, and I’m only smiling and laughing at Kendras jokes because I’m supposed to.

Kendra doesn’t have any friends here, just a bartender she calls by first name. She was alone, standing next to someone else, sharing in the lawls and woo’s of a song that made everybody sing lyrics. So where did I fit in? A friend, I thought, only invited to be as live as the women moving their flesh for currency. A subordinate to split the tips, drink, tits, and inevitable tab at the end of the night. A wingman on a test flight, in less than words: company for the sake of it. And I was okay with it, palming Kendra a wad of dollar bills and watching her watch the dancers while she rocked and balanced her hips and attention between us.

There’s power in surrendering to someone else’s expectations, of letting go. Only…I’m never really submitting, and it’s more of a performance. Knowing where we stood with each other gave me an active freedom – I could carelessly shift my likes and passive aggressive disinterest. Peppering looks bordering on eye-fucks, to a gaze foreplay mumbling Sure-Whatever whenever Kendra started to whisper something that bordered on boring. I must have had a latent talent for saying all the wrong things right, because just when I gave up on her marked when she started getting into me.

“Four year no calls!,” She screamed, singing along.

“Now she’s looking tipsy in strip club bar,” I yelled.

Her head cocked back to a laugh she couldn’t hold, and her body fell into me with the warm abandon clothes must hit bedsheets after laundry. Our hands found each other, and as they laced like sneakers I could tell she was genuine and enjoying the moment we shared together. And when the kiwi scent from her curls blended perfectly with my Bacardi, I enjoyed it too. Her face resurfaced from my neck as she stood between my legs, and I could feel the dampness of her sweat and center sighing on my skin. Our hands never separated, and I made a conscious decision to rub her thumb with mine.

Letting her go then, in that moment, with the sweat beading down the open neck of her décolletage and all my feelings, it was as hard as kicking an addiction is. Like a bad LSD trip, I felt the strychnine and moaning in my veins, felt so high, felt so perfect, felt there was nothing in this world I’d rather do. Then the song changed, an air released, and immediately I felt dirty. The euphoria from the flesh against me, the tones tonging from the sidebar like waves that come crashing down, hard, left me feeling dirtier than I’ve ever actually been.

Kendra was a contraceptive, which is ironic considering she’s a lesbian and wasn’t on one. Something that could easily be taken for granted (or precaution) to avoid a bad night and 18 years. Hilariously serious in her senility, curious and invective, ready to bust it open or break it down; depending on how the mood hit. I was scared of her the way people are afraid of an apocalypse.

God forbid.

…but fuck, isn’t it fun to imagine?

The motel lights are flashing: red then green, red then green, red, red, red, then green. A brown carpet gone black and the curtains are dingy, while I smoke out the window because the nicotine affects her asthma. Another late night charade of two souls deluding and deluded enough to think it might just work. Always on the verge, of a relapse into the same old trap and mistake of marriage, kid(s) and picket fence. A tale as old as time, and these violent delights have delightful ends,

Hope dies last, they say, and being the dog I am, I would rather perish like a dog than deny them.

“Mnf…close the window,” May shudders from the bedside.

I flick the cigarette outside, and she isn’t Kendra but fuck…isn’t it fun to imagine?

Her Name Was Z Because She Was Supposed To Be The Last

Nothing is ever finished. The past is a misnomer and all my golden years are sterling.

I found an old cell phone with a list of awesome baby names saved in the drafts. Bullet points full of Connor, Clara, Autumn, Optimus Prime, and Abigail’s. A pleasant ring with each of them remained, had ripened against the test of time and our codependent fantasies. Dearly-Beloved’s from an Elvis preacher, personalized wedding vows we drafted in text messages- we were joking of course, but not really, because can-you-actually-imagine-us-as-parents?

We could, I think, even if we pretended not to. Love is surrentine but not everything gets better when it settles. Some stuff rots if left unfinished or open ended. It’s all in the ullage, the empty spaces that tempers and separates grapes from wine, the quality of the batch. Z’s name smiled from the capsule of my Motorola RAZR, her Contact saved in all caps because even then I knew: 2009 was a good year.

“Let’s go to Coney Island,” She says. “I want to get my face painted.”

“That sounds like a stupid reason to go all the way to Coney Island,” I shot, with a snort at her wiles I always playfully proposed as childish, even when I was already mentally Google-mapping our way there.

She was folded across my futon, thumbing the pages of her latest anesthetic on her Kindle. Something Jennifer Campbell or Sophie Divry, I think. Whatever it was, she wanted to read it together but changed her mind when I asked if the author was dead. I could never trust or like a writer that was still breathing. They might change their mind.

I watched her finger turn the page and remembered she always had such pretty hands, the kind that were made for holding. Thin, brittle fingers and fawn knuckles that shifted beneath her skin like a Rorschach. As she drummed her fingers against her chin, the slender of her tendons slithered and I saw something waiting to be surfaced, like a kitten hiding under bed covers, or something Oedipal. A work of heart with a breast so full of feeling that she cried every time she had an orgasm.

“Your face sounds fucking stupid,” She harks, not bother to look up.

She’s always had too much imagination. The world inside of her head was so much bigger than the one outside of it. Every day at two she texts to ask what I’m wearing, but she doesn’t settle for a picture. She tells me to describe it, and when I asked her why, she said she loves the way I internalize. That I have a way of seeing things, a perspective she can’t get enough of. Then she sighs and shakes her head, a signature move when she thinks she isn’t making any sense.

It’d been six years since we had been so casual. It all (re)started with a benign butt dial that turned to small talk turned to catcalls, that evolved to morning texts reluctantly leading to dinner and a woo me. The hours snuck through the wine and what we thought would be so hard came easy. Her every word filled me with a hundred more and she couldn’t stop laughing when like I kept calling our waitress by her first name. Relearning what we already heard about each other or didn’t know, almost like a first date, except strangers didn’t know each other this well. Caught up in catching up, oh my god look at the time. It’s already late, why pay a cab ride? You should stay over anyway.

“What if I don’t want to go to Coney Island?” I ask.

I leased a pocket in my heart and dresser reserved for her, and she occupied the space with her time and tie dye tops in a sweet but silent resignation. She refused to keep any work clothes in her dresser, not a single earring or piece of jewelry. Only t shirts and pajama bottoms, only things she could leave behind in case of a fire or some act of God. Naturally, she packed for me the way people pack for disasters, and given my penchant for my love shifting like the sea, I didn’t blame her.

The love that bore me was violent. I grew up, having yet to grow into myself, and the way I wanted Z was a constant and addiction. A young, brash, and preoccupying kind of love. The type of enamored that won’t go to bed, that stays up clutching at a pillow and a memory the way cats dig their nails to keep from falling off of a ledge. Desperate and needy affection, a passive addiction. Spending my nights yowling, scratching, pawing at the phrase trying to understand and get to the center of it.

“Then I guess I won’t go.” She says.

We never spoke about what was happening. The shift in our relationship going back to something similar felt about as reliable as a groundhog. Commitment chicken was the name of the game and she was doubtlessly afraid I would pull another Marcus, to leave just as she was getting comfortable and used to needing me. Marcus, her father, took sails when Z was 8 years old after digging the family in debt over horse races, lottery gambling, and drinking. She lived in a shelter for six months until her mother moved in with an uncle and put the family back together.

Prone as I am to habits, I think Marcus may be the reason I’ve picked up drugs the way people pick up hobbies, yet look down on gamblers the way people look down on heroin addicts. There is a difference. At least with (enough) alcohol I got a high – zero risk, high reward, and I’ve always preferred a safe bet.

“Why wouldn’t you want to go alone?” I ask.

In 2010 he came back to her life, full of regret, love, and kidney problems. All those years of the bottle catching up. He was dying but swore he wouldn’t, because he’d changed. But then he did, because he hadn’t. It was a Thursday when it happened and Z spent that whole night staring out the window drinking coffee, and all I could do was sit with her and do the same. She didn’t move an inch, only bit her lip the way she did whenever she was reading, either thinking or waiting to wake up and for it all to be some kind of dream.

We were six months past the honeymoon and the grief that grieved her was quiet, anxious, and sudden. She spent a lot of night crying after that, but it wasn’t over orgasms any more. Her sadness seemed to spring from everywhere. While we talked about the cute kid with a lisp from her job, returning books at the library, when we were watching The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. The world was full of places and smells that shoved Marcus into her heart again, and the poor thing couldn’t take having lost her father twice. I never knew what to when it happened, except hold her in my arms until I couldn’t feel her tears or convulsing. Swear I’d never leave her, because I loved her. But then I did, because I didn’t.

“Because I enjoy you,” she says, to summarize.

She enjoys me, she says, but I don’t entirely understand what she might mean. No one’s ever told me anything so simple and disarming, and while I can’t make heads or tails of it, I still like the way hearing her say it makes me stutter, reminds me to feel. Reminds me of the excellence of skin, the great fire that tethers at the thighs. And the smoke oozing from their mouths like entrails. My lust is passive aggressive. I’m hopeless. Try to weigh my option but the scale is broken. It’s all love with me until the day it isn’t. Women are like French fries: spectacular, but I find very little appetizing about just one.

The distance happened the way it always does- not at all, and all at once. Soon weekend visits turned to afternoons until it didn’t really matter what the color of my tie was that day. Baby please aimed to tease, the affection was forced but her heart was in the right place. I was blooming into May and she was falling into Hunter, and despite my pretending to have absolutely any kind of will power, I had a deep and burning need to look him up. To see the face of my replacement.

Maybe it was envy.

I found his Facebook page. He had a long face and dead eyes- the nose of a philosopher. Notable and tragic. A modern agonist. Poets, always so sad and nostalgic, the boys in blue. Men more afraid of life than dying, whose hearts turn grey long before their beard does. I clicked the red ex and closed the laptop, listened to the lull of traffic from my window, had a glass of wine and went to bed.

The next morning Z was looking out the window with a cup of coffee in her hand, thinking…no, waiting. My memory sneaks between her and the hour like a second cup of coffee and that 2 o clock feeling. Something you indulge in behind a laptop and password protected WiFi when the doors locked and you think nobody else will ever know. The secrecy of it is only to give a false sense of control. Like the “close door” button on elevators.

I knew I was losing her. Our love had turned to a blank envelope, and before I let it go I had to address it.

Even water, if left to standing still, stales, and goes bad. We must learn to flow.

“Tell me a story,” She said. Women are always telling me to tell them stories.

“Once upon a time…” I said.

“A long time ago, I forget from where. But there’s this story about a couple. They went to see this wise man. They weren’t sure if they should get married, but the wise man wouldn’t help them. He just kept talking about this treasure. He was blind, I forgot that part. It’s important He was blind and he knew about this treasure, and it’s all he would go on about. The couple left and they decided fuck it. Let’s go look for that treasure. So they did. From all the shit the old man said they found exactly where to dig. They dug and they dug and they were crazy excited. Eventually they find something, it was this rock. Tiny little thing, they damn near kept digging when they found it actually. It was the size of like your thumb or something, and on the ground it looked like any other piece of rock. But when they held it up into the light, the thing shined like something they’ve never seen before. It almost looked like a diamond. So the guy says, well, it’s not much but this must be it. This is what the old man was going on about. But the woman, she wouldn’t have it. She kept saying this can’t be it, this can’t be it, it’s so small. There’s got to be more. This It can’t be it, we’ve got to keep looking. He takes the stone with him every day to help her dig. She leaves. Man goes back to the wise man. Can’t bear to keep the thing. Wise man looks at him and says:

“What stone?”

She sat across from me, the lovely lashes of her eyes flapping slowly at her finger dainting the edges of her glass of orange juice. Her mind and heart transfixed on some soft but hurtful thought I couldn’t fathom or nerve myself to pry. All of a sudden she smiled, hummed routine thank you, dashed her cheek, and spell was broken.

If we had stayed a moment longer…my heart quivers at the consequence.

“The point is…” I began.

“You still don’t want to go to Coney Island,” She said, glooming out the window, and something in her voice made it sound like more of a tragedy than a triumph.

He’ll never love you like I do, Z.