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.

Nothing Good Ends Well (aka An Ode To Your Oh-My-God’s)

I love being wired like a guy, that in a glance and eyeful fuck I can forget women bite their nails or have bad dreams. That for a night or afternoon they are fun and fresh as snow.

There are degrees of sex, and Elis had a thoughtless and intimate excellence. She removed her top, threw it to the side with a careless confidence that left me awed. With the fluid wave of her bangled and slender wrist, she cast aside any remaining notion of neglect or lingering resentment between us. With the stroke of her warming touch and kiss it no longer mattered why-weren’t-you-there or never-called-me-back. Lust, although a primitive emotion, makes a lovely anesthetic.

Hesitance gone, caution numbed, I closed the breach between us and found her excitement waiting like an old friend. Our hands and lips, once so familiar, explored the whispered wants of each others skin once more. Silked and shuddering, we dissolved to a desire that was a devastation of man and woman, of what was expected or instilled in us. A thousand years of evolution torn asunder, become nothing to the nature Nature had adorned us in. The windows shut, the doors barred in- for a time the world had no place or say in anything, and in that freedom our instincts made demands that we surrendered to.

Her honey-darling skin was a temple that took me with open arms. She was a poem, a fire, a mountain in the distance that shook and filled me with a burning wander-lust. Such supple breast and forgiving lips, she accepted me entiretly with a hushed thrill and gasp that simmered as our bodies found a silent groove and rhythm.

I laid her across the mattress, her hair long and tangled like Medusa- the ancient hymns and sacrifices of the Greeks and Incas riddled along the veins of her skin like snakes. I ran my tongue along these secrets and found a magic I’d only read and felt no part of. At times and touch she folded under my caress and presented herself like a gift, waiting to be loved and intensively undone. Her passion came in tides and suddenly she would revolt, rise and take control. Eager and commanding, she left me powerless and quaking under the demand of her wild search for her fulfillment.

Our highs peaked, settled, then took wind and climbed much higher. We gave and took of one another until there was nothing left to be given. Consumed by consumption, a gentle tide came like an earthquake and swept our frenzy to exhaustion. And as we lay catching our breaths, I traced my love into a poem on her back in fingerprints.

“I’m quitting soon,” I said, and she took it to mean the cigarette.

“Good. You know I hate that it lingers.”

“Like my affection,” I said. But she didn’t move, scoff, or breathe.

“You’re so heavy,” she said finally. “I worry that I can’t keep up. That you’ll get bored eventually with someone like me. Someday you’ll up and leave, and you won’t look back. I know you don’t. You’ll leave one day like I’m not enough, like nothing ever is.”

They say there are times life presents us moments of greatness that define us. Where what we do will shape not just your life, but the world and those around you. In my bleeting heart I felt it to be one of those moments, and in that moment I was speechless.

“You’re terrifying,” she said.

I nodded and stared absently at the short distance between us. While the reality of one-and-only has always remained for me a distant implausability, for a touch and moment she was mine, if only for the night and orgasm. The night done, we picked up the fragments of ourselves scattered about the room like clothes. And despite the withhold we both know we’ll find ourselves here again, in a month or week or decade thereafter. Two torn souls tearing a room and each other for satisfaction.

The smoke may clear, but the dust, much like our hearts, never does quite settle.

Please Guide Me Joe Exotic

Life is a series of constant nuisances for the type of person who only likes to do everything once.

The simplest habit, regiment or routine is a repeated agony and practice in self flagellation. A daily masochism where the tools of torture are by means of showers, dress, dinner and breakfast. Relentless punishments in exercise, texting to friends, grooming or washing hands. Having to talk to strangers on the subway is the new solitary confinement, and the very basic comforts of modern living, designed to ease the grim and harsher realities of life, become the guillotine by which the human spirit is executed every day.      

So it doesn’t bother me that I know my baby’s leaving me. She took me to her room where there were mason jars lined along her window sill and dresser, fig leaves and lean stems lovingly decorating each wide glass about the size of a basketball. A closer look and I saw petite cocoons and moths encased in every falsetto museum, sitting still as the hot Summer day. Or maybe they were just still like death. When I asked if it was true that they only lived for a few months she said yes, and suddenly hobbies were the most depressing thing in the world. I got to thinking about my own, how maybe everything was so short and fleeting, stuck in glass jars for the majority of the time and when you’re finally let free it’s all over before you know it. 

What is the difference between a hundred days or years anyway? Perspective, mostly. Mayfly’s are born, grow, mate and die in under forty-eight hours. A full life; bred, sewn, and unmade by Tuesday, before I can even get started on yesterday, or wrap my head around what to do with myself  for all the years yawning ahead of me.

Then I felt better about myself when the inevitable arrived. She said she wasn’t ready for something so serious, and that it wasn’t someone else when I didn’t ask, so I knew it was someone else. And I could tell she thought it through, what to say, because there was something rehearsed in how her tongue massaged the words out so flawlessly.  

I gave her a hug and the No-Hard-Feelings riff. Dropped off the birthday gift I was saving and wished her the best with a smile, and as I walked out the door I could tell she was bothered by how well I took it. It’s selfish, I suppose, to break a persons heart and expect the pieces to still be yours. But I can understand, loving it when people leave but hating to watch them walk away so casually.

And I would probably miss her more down the line, maybe, but at that moment I simply didn’t. The only feeling that I could register was autonomy, freedom. Not having to listen about her dads problems or pretending to be interested in political science ever-a-fucking-gain. No more death by routine, the suicide of increments. It was finally just me and my whims again. 

The prospect of being an individual again felt exciting but a corner of my heart would not succumb, a tiny portion of my soul winced and braced for impact. At the time this felt right, but a part of me knew that I always confuse what feels right with what feels familiar.

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

Z’s name smiled from the capsule of my Motorola RAZR, her contact saved in all caps because even then I must have known: 2009 was a good year.

I found my old cell phone with a list of 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-even-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.

“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,  even when I was already 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, a habit she did whenever she was stuck thinking, 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 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 constant and addictive. 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 do 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- trying to weigh my options but the scale is broken. It’s all love with me until the day it isn’t.

Women are like French fries in that way: 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 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 incognito mode, or 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 asking me to tell them stories.

“Once upon a time…” I said.

“Once upon a time, 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 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. We’ve got to keep looking. He takes the stone with him every day to help her dig. After years of going back, eventually she snaps. She leaves. So the man goes back to the wise man with the little stone, can’t bear to keep the thing. He tells him here, I brought you the stone you kept talking about. 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, hurtful thought I couldn’t fathom or nerve myself to pry. All of a sudden she smiled, hummed a routine thank you, dashed her cheek, and the spell was broken.

“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.

Fortunately.

wonder

We Won’t Last (More Than Six Seasons and A Movie)

I remember Rose was the kind of girl you could drunk text at three am, who would laugh at any hardboiled sentiment trying to pass for a booty call. The kind of girl to make you think, make you believe, make you want to make something of yourself. Two cups of coffee for eyes and a personality like your favorite song- I used to love the way her quiet felt like she were full of secrets. The pleasant kind, like birthday parties, or discovering you don’t like men. A smile hiding something volcanic in her honey thighs and wise passive.

“Look who actually showed,” She said, brimming in a backless dress and grin.

“Hard to be a snowflake in July,” I said.

I remember how the caramel she called skin was mine- for a while, at least. Leased bi-weekly, the sweat of summer scented on her french tip touch, the arch of her spine divining a message only hands could read like braille.

“You’ll have a good time, I promise,” She said.

“Either that or I’ll get super drunk and embarrass you,” I said.

Two is company, but in my case one is a crowd. I wanted an escape, a life and a quiet louder than the silence that moaned inside of me. Uncomfortable in my own skin, and not knowing a better recourse, I resorted to only concerning myself with getting under hers. So I hung around, biding my time and pretending to laugh at what you can bet wasn’t funny. Surrounded by fifty shades of fucking stupid, my character condensed to a form of social tailgating; full of whole-hearted soft agreeing and very empty head nods. I wouldn’t take the chance of saying something no one would listen or respond to. Nobody says a thing but deep down we all know you just had to go and say that, just had to ruin a really good thing. That kind of silence is suicidal, it’s the elephant in the room everyone’s rushing to ignore or get out of. Like being the last comment on a Facebook status, but in real time.

“Drunk yet?” She asked.

“On my way there,” I said.

But that kind of declaration is devastating. A sweeping sentiment is moving in a movie, but in reality nobody wants you showing up at their doorstep at 1 am. Sincerity is terrifying in a dating sense, it’s a quality that should come last, like a notion or decent boyfriend. Polite and empty flattery will get you everywhere. The truth is that nobody wants a nice guy, but someone who’s just enough of a dick to give the impression that he has options elsewhere. Leftovers are only good after Thanksgiving, and nobody wants to bang a hand me down.

“I’m really glad you came,” She said, the honey in her voice like a hand that squeezes yours just one, lightly. An assurance, or confirmation. “It’s so nice to see you.”

“Yeah,” I replied.

Something snapped and in the distance I felt a door slam. I excused myself and stepped outside to smoke, standing daffy in the rain rather than under an awning, wrestling and losing against my lesser judgment. Dark desires seething in me.

I can never kind of, any emotion I evoke borders on extreme. On or off like a light switch. I’d never learned how to dim a feeling. Or maybe it’s possible to be angry for the right reasons at the wrong people.

I took a $50 cab home without goodbyes and never spoke to Rose again.