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.

The Diary of Noel Edwards – 12/4/2017

Something in liquor lets my mental ellipses blur. I like the way alcohol allows for things to come more easily, be it a confession, thought, or company I wasn’t exactly fond of.

There are different calibers of drunks, and out my window I see the worst of them. The dog and hound, jeans held down as he releases himself onto a car or corner (he hopes) nobody can see at three in the morning. But someone always does. An abase acceptance of a more basic state of living- primal. The hungry eat, the thirsty drink, and the desirous find a four letter words to fulfill their wants.

Second is the suppressed or megalomaniac. Two very distinct states of being, but both can only answer in one way to liquid opiates: rage, anger, and violence. Either of the physical or verbal reprobate. One explodes like a grenade from the things he never said before, the other shows his true colors in less tasteful expressions of power.

Probably hundreds more, I think, and mine isn’t any different. During the day I’m cold but when night sinks into a whiskey glass, I get so nonchalant. I can’t commit to what makes me angry but rather list all the ways I love you. You not being anyone particular, because, I guess, deep down I must be a harlot. This love is for everybody. For Amanda who had to be so blunt and withdraw from me for no reason other than nationality. For Sam who likes to lie despite 20 years of friendship. For the stranger that called me a faggot on a church pew when I was only asking for direction.

I drink and I love them, all of them, all of you, all of me. Not despite your faults, but because of them.

I am, deep down, nothing but a glutton for punishment.

The Diary of Noel Edwards 12/17/2017

December 17th, 2017

People tire me, but I am reminded that I am not the first or alone in my resentment, in my endless exhaustion of this assault on the senses. I have hope again- that misguided, miserable human condition. So terribly optimistic in a world that does not compliment it. I have hope again in humanity, and that perhaps people are actually capable of decency.

When I was in Cuba, two men stole a hundred dollars from me. The island was full of so many good-natured, humble, uninvested people, I over-trusted. It was around 5PM when I realized I’d actually run a bit short on money, and needed to exchange dollars for the local currency. The bank I usually exchanged in closed around 2-3PM. Rather than ask the large fancy hotels lining Parque Central, or taking the time to ask the sweet old grandmother who was renting me a room for two weeks, I took to drinking rum and smoking rolled cigarettes in Pachanka.

Worry is an emotion that comes very difficultly to me. I am quick to take all of life’s calamities with calm acceptance. Anxiety provides no assistance, so if I’m faced with not having money, losing a set of keys, or the great fear of unknowing what’s to come from my actions, I can sigh it away easily. Action is a kind of desperation – I’d rather drink and sleep, spend my days dreaming away my troubles and dreary existence. It’s a quality of myself I appreciate, and one my sisters say is irresponsible and my undoing, albeit with a bit of envy.

The bank was closed, and would likely be closed the following morning as well, because it would be Sunday. With my last ten Cuban pesos I decided to buy a box of Hollywood cigarettes, and spend whatever was left on beer and some shots of rum at Pachanka.

Pachanka was a bar in Old Havana, my favorite for so many reasons. The walls were lined with tourist graffiti, names and declarations of love. A giant mural of a ship hung above the bar, painted with pirates and hooligans drinking and looking merry, some hanging drunk off the bow and sails. A band would occasionally play lazy, melodious salsa music, and the staff took a strange liking to me. They had an ashtray I took a liking to, a worn little clay looking oval embroidered with cuban flags, and they were kind enough to give it to me on my last day. I still have it, and as I write this now, I see it on my dresser and it fills me with a warm longing to go back again.

Another reason I loved Pachanka was Dianysia, but she is such a marvel and colossal subject of her own, I’ll leave her to this diary another day.

As I spent the afternoon in a cool and medium buzz of beer and company, two locals decided to join me. One thin with a pretty, boyish face and his hair in a pony tail. The other a bit stout with a cab drivers face. It could be hindsight, but I remember that initially that I was wary of them. They were as kind as any other Cuban, but had a habit of over-complimenting and offered insights to things I repeatedly told them I wasn’t in need of. Specifically clubs and women who would love to meet me. But I’m either a fool or my mothers son, loving people I shouldn’t. So I offered them seats beside me and bought each of them a beer.

“There’s another bar down the road we think you’d love. So many girls to talk and dance with. Wouldn’t you like to drink and smoke with a pretty woman at your side?”

“I already am,” I said, and I shot a big smile and nod towards Dianysia behind the bar. She laughed and shook her head, her curly locks falling like curtains around her face, causing my heart to sigh.

Alcohol brings out the worst in me – a kindness to every stranger and the assumption that we are all brothers. The initial hesitance faded, and before long I was laughing with Cab Driver and Pony Tail as if we were old friends. It’s because deep down I have always felt myself alone with humanity, and while I could accept that solitude in somber sobriety, being drunk made me homesick for something I will probably never know: a sense of belonging to somewhere, to something.

The night had settled in and I was feeling giddy and drunk. I stepped outside to smoke and the cars looked smaller than they should be, and the drizzling rain was singing silently to the bands salsa music inside and the old street lights flickering were like morse code reminding me my rent was due and insurance is bullshit because I was going to die one day and should enjoy it but my thoughts kept running away from me like sentences. Old Havana, small as it is, felt so endless. Stretching west and east and in every direction. I looked up and saw the moon and I had that young, fragile urge again to woo at the stars. I thought:

“You have grown old, Noel, and closed your heart to so many possibilities. Anything could happen if you would just let it.”

The joy and wonder erupting in my chest so momentarily,,,I knew it was diminishing. But that made it all the more beautiful, and my wanting to seize it before it vanished again forever.

Cab Driver and Pony Tail joined me, carting behind them a beautiful woman with large, searching eyes and her chest thrown upright. One of their friends from down the road, who I’m sure they called over to sway me.

“You’re the American who didn’t want to come meet me?” She said.
“I’m shy,” I lied, covering my face to exaggerate. And she laughed, falsely, throwing her shoulders back in a sort of exaggeration herself.

“So you’re afraid of women?”

“Only of the very beautiful ones.”

Her large eyes examined me in a way that made me uncomfortable. It wasn’t the way people looked at each other. I felt she was assessing me, weighing the quality of my face and character the way butchers check chickens in the meat market. And I did the same. She was gorgeous, skin like caramel and small framed. A shape that curved in ways pleasing to the eyes and primal urges. My eyes must have betrayed me, because in her glass reflection I saw a spark. Some silent affirmation that decided – “Yes, this one will do.”

Cab Driver and Pony Tail played the master of ceremonies, hyping her qualities and whispering to me in the sidelines of all the dark things I should do. We sang and danced in Pachanka, took breaks from loaded undertones and sexual tensions with relaxed conversations, joked pleasantly about how bad my Spanish was. Every so often she would casually press her side against my body, run a hand along my chest or neck. Staring into my eyes with an odd look of surrender, of offering. As if saying yes to a question I wasn’t asking.

“I could never take you home,” I said to her very frankly at one point.

“So you think I’m ugly,” She replied playfully with a shove.

“The opposite. You are one of the prettiest women I’ve ever seen. If I shared a bed or afternoon with you, it would be like something out of a dream. I’d never stop showing pictures of you to people, saying- ‘Look, see here, isn’t she the loveliest person you’ve ever seen? And can you believe she’s interested in a guy like me?’ But I get the impression you want something. The way look at me, it makes me doubtful. I could never trust your affections, unless you told me what you were after, what you need. I’d gladly give it to you, honestly. If I can. If you would tell me. After that, I would be sure. It would show in your eyes and I would know if you really desired me, then maybe I could desire you as well.”

The confession, playful as I meant it, made an impression I did not expect. The spark in her eyes faded, and for a moment was replaced by something bordering on human. A sort of softness settled into the edges of her corneas, as if I tumbled onto a core and center too sentimental for such a jest. And admittedly, in reflection, perhaps my remarks were cruel in their truthful. She laughed at my statement, a sound that came from somewhere much deeper than what she falsetto’d before, and tilted her head at me with a sort of pity.

“Eres noble,” She said, in a tone that may have been a compliment, but rang more of disappointment.

“Noble?” I asked.

“It means you have a good heart.”

She left to go to the bathroom while Cab Driver ordered us more beers, and as I watched her sway into the back rooms of Pachanka, I never saw her again.

A few more hours passed and I decided to bring the play to an end.

“It’s time for me to go home,” I said eventually. Exhausted of strength, and more importantly, my money.

“Let’s get him a cab,” offered Pony Tail.

“No,” I said. And should have left it at that. But I was drunk and made the terrible mistake of the following. “I’m walking, I’ve spent all my money and need to change some in the morning.”

“We know a place,” Cab Driver chimed. “It’s late and not legal, but we can take you now. So you don’t have to walk to your hotel.”

I should have known better, but I didn’t, so you can guess how the remainder goes. We left the bosom girl at Pachanka and went down the road. There was no violence, only an exchange of a hundred dollars and my abandonment on a corner, with a promise of returning shortly as they disappeared into a building. I waited for an hour, foolishly. Smoking my last four cigarettes and sighing at my own stupidity. Slowly, a rage building inside of me.

I wasn’t angry at Pony Tail or Cab Driver. I understood them, little that I knew about them. They were just like everyone else- needing, and doing what they needed to survive. No, my anger had a much larger and disastrous scope. I could feel it congealing, spreading around a cold and calloused heart. People were monsters – the site of blood excites them. Vultures – scavenging for a buck and feeling. My trust and accepting of them, wanting to be their friend and brother, my lack of worry was indeed my undoing.

I thought – if they can not accept me, if people were so unable to love me righteously, I would make myself unlovable. I would let the sober distance between us grow and take refuge on a high mountain of myself. I would stare down at their rotting cities and states of being, laughing. I would drink my rum and smoke my cigarettes, sing my songs and dance with a dark enjoyment of all their misfortunes. And should one of them be dumb enough to climb my barrier against humanity- for help, escape, or friendship, I would throw them off the mountain, or climb another one much higher. A skewed logic, but one I held all the same. Below the Cuban moon I was transforming, becoming something dark and terrible in this silent sidewalk.

In the darkness a man crept by and joined me on the sidewalk. I can’t recall his face, his name, or to be frank, if he were real or a hallucination of my sudden mania. I remember him recommending that I go home, and I responded that I would, once I was ready. He asked what I was doing alone, and I casually told him the story of the evening as best as I could remember it. Politely, but reserved; all the while climbing up my newly decided isolation. He must have sensed this, because he didn’t say anything for some time. But just sat with me and sighed occasionally at the moon.

“You don’t seem to care very much about yourself,” He finally said. “Which is a good thing. I imagine it’s why you find yourself above most people and situations. There is a strength in that. But if you choose to live in such a way, without regard to everything and everyone, you will never know joy. You will never truly know yourself completely.”

“Knowing the depths of your own soul is rare and beautiful, but some reflection must come from the outside. Some battle, some conflict must come to test what you believe yourself to be. How can you be sure you’re brave if you have never braved the world? How can you know you’re good if you do not do good for others? Until you can abandon yourself, in a friend, or a woman, to see life and other people through their eyes, you will never be alive. You will be a child: alone and content, but only from not knowing better.”

“Life was made for the living. To only stand for something is insufficient. A man must decide whether he will be another cog in this chaos of life, the oil which helps it turn, or the hammer that shatters before building anew.”

“So tell me…have you decided?” He asked.

“Decided what?” I responded.

“Will you fight, or will you perish like a dog?”

People tire me, but I am reminded of the necessity in this assault on the senses. I have hope again- that misguided, miserable human condition. I have hope again in humanity, and that perhaps people are actually capable of decency.

I am ready to fight again.

The Diary of Noel Edwards 12/6/2017

Women delight me.

I like their face, their shape, their eyes and subtle gestures particular to their sex. Of a specific caliber or class, I couldn’t possibly identify or name to be a favorite. I enjoy them all, femininity a la carte.

But my pleasure in them has never been so primal. Sex is a wonder in and of itself, but I’ve never been able to find joys or even the capacity to treat women as an object to be drained or sought for my mere enjoyment. To view the wonders of their lips and whispers as merely a source of a pleasure- a thing to be enjoyed and cast aside, or misused, I am incapable of. But I do enjoy them.

Monogamy is an atrocity to my affection. I can’t imagine settling for just one type of person every day. Alice is lactose intolerant, but still dabbles in yogurt. Makes funny faces at posters that seem over-indulgent, and spends most of our late night conversations worried about what the homeless are doing at that very moment. When we talk I feel my spirit wriggle free of daily conventionalities. As she describes the why’s as to her favorite kind of lipstick or misogyny, I’m able to let go of being over-sentimental, and laugh at the mundanity we all take so serious. Melissa is a different kind of liquor. Like my favorite kind of whiskey: tall, dark, and full of bad decisions. She sees the useless nature in all our useless endeavors. Cast a deadpan smile while she wiles the weekend morning away in pancakes and not-for-profit volunteering. Caring so much about the world, but refusing to let us know it. Bitter as lemons on a fresh wound, sweet as the aftertaste of scabs healing over.

They’re both so beautiful.

Then there’s Elsa, who I have no other attraction to other than the slender of her shape and attitude. A comely caramel for skin and a smile you could lie for- her eyes two coals that sit sharp like a pair of dice landing on snake eyes; deep black dots floating in a pool of milk filled with honey. Slender waist that drops like drapes into unforgiving legs, jeans that hug so snugly to the soft arches and tender dips of a shape that seems to be made for holding. Her voice has the gentle amplitude of money, powerful…but in your hands and deliberation, a bit worthless. She has no thought or words above the ordinary, and maybe her beauty is so blinding but, whoever needed intellectuals anyway?

Elsa, Melissa, Alice. They are all so beautiful. I want them each for their own reasons, but never for long or all at once. I can appreciate the delicate balance and attractiveness to their divisive characters. I could spend days with each of them, admiring all the facets of what makes them so unique in a world of copy pasted personalities. I love them for a while, under the gilded smiles of the moon and 4AM pillowed confession no Instagram or diary could ever fully reflect or comprehend. Alice, who reminds me to laugh because nothing is so serious. Melissa, full of bitter but still giving herself to a world that doesn’t deserve it. And Elsa, the beauty of beauty incarnate and made real.

Women delight me.

But only for a while.