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

Advertisements

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.

It’s All Over With Humanity- But There’s Still You and I, Stranger. Two Of Us Left

“It’s getting late in my city and from my window I can see the people shuffling from the warm Summer air to their homes, bars, beds or orgies, and I wonder where their life is taking them. Also sometimes the color of their underwear.

I like to count people in public and anti-socialize. Today I’m at 103 and a lady who asked me what I was writing called me a faggot under her breath when I walked away, so I must be doing something right. It takes a while to get self efficient, to really enjoy anything if you’re alone doing it. Kisses are nice but I prefer letters, because intent has a wider palette than the tongue, and I’ve got the cowardly heart of a man which makes me prone to sex and bad decisions. So now I spend my afternoons wandering the lust away instead of dulling it in a bar or bedroom.

While I’m walking I can’t help notice there’s something so unnatural about cities: paved roads along concrete sidewalks with giant, monstrous buildings that tower over you. They make you feel so small, how they loom over you like that. And the trees, so thin, and miserable. Branches so small they might fall off with the next strong wind down Park Avenue. Trees out of breath and just about shaking from how sick they are. Besides, from what I read they aren’t even really trees. They’re decorative; some advanced faux-wood, constantly trimmed and cut and probably kept on a drug to keep them from ever growing too much. Everything about New York is artificial; dressed up, disguised. Flashing signs on stores and awnings, marquee billboards. Bright lights, dull city, overexposed to the man-made elements. Like Plato’s burning cave, but with neon lights and too much tits on magazine covers.

It makes them complacent so complacent, all 103 of them. So complacent they don’t notice anything. Like sometimes, I see snow. I’ll be out on Madison Avenue in the middle of Summer and I’ll see snowflakes, tiny and quick, flurrying all over the street. And I’m obviously shocked, but when I look around to see other people’s reactions, nobody else seems to notice while they power walk down the street in a rush to absolutely nowhere. Snow, in the middle of god damn Summer, and nobody seems to notice.

But if someone were to ask me about it, I’d probably call them a faggot under my breath when they walked away.”

The Agony Columns: Katherine

Constantly being concerned with being a better person is cause enough to realize I don’t actually believe myself to be one, and I honestly try my best not to hurt someone else’s feelings while I pursue my own space and happiness.

At least, that’s the reasoning I use for when Evan says he loves me, and I lie and say that I love him too. And I did, I know I did, at some point, because I can’t deny those Summers when I’d watch him working on his car from the rooftop of our house and he was all I could think about. 

Our parents were kind of friends but we only knew each other in passing, because in a small town like ours if you didn’t it was obvious you were doing it on purpose. He was tall- even when we were teenagers he towered above most of us, and even some of the teachers. With quiet, hazel eyes and a sweet but little oafish face. Halfway handsome and gentle in a way that makes you trust somebody instinctively.  He didn’t talk very much back then, a fact I constantly remind him of now that he doesn’t shut up, and even then I had a feeling it was because he was either shy or self conscious about something. Some secret defect he was scared to reveal if he said too many things at once.

We hardly spoke throughout high school so I can’t calendar exactly when I decided that I wanted him. At that age your hormones are so all over the place, it’s impossible to tell, to place it to a single moment. But I do remember it as a slow and steady realization, like a favorite color, or discovering you might like girls too. Watching him play lacrosse during lunch, his long and lanky body rushing and slamming across the field. That year his parents bought him a car, and he spent every single Sunday under the hood of that marooned and beat up Subaru; his face and tank top soaked with a thin layer of oil and sweat. And on Thursdays after art class, him pretending to read the bulletin board outside of choir: his dark, coffee colored hair draped over the his bronze eyes. I remember this exciting envy when I would watch, when his girlfriend would come out of class and brush it aside. 

Lots of these moments made me stare, made me sink stupidly into the thought of him, so the exact one that took hold of me I couldn’t say. But I do know the Summer I turned seventeen was when I decided to seduce him.

It was a blind and thoughtless resolution, and honestly, a part of me didn’t believe I would actually go through with it. Confidence was part of the issue. I wasn’t exactly self-conscious, but I wasn’t arrogant enough to consider myself beautiful or seductive by any means, either. My chin and ears were very pointy, giving me slightly elfish features, which is why I’ve always had bangs and let my hair drown past my shoulders. My mothers side and two years of track left me small, what some might call petite but is really more like a little boys body. Unlike some of the other girls I was nothing to turn heads or stop traffic, but even then, I liked my frame and freckles. I had a quiet confidence in myself, and whether Evan would or not, I would like them and me just the same.

My entire tactic was non-existent. It was a thought that brewed in the back of my mind, that I thought about on the bus ride to school or during my runs. It was Saturday when it happened, I remember, one of the hottest days of the Summer, and I left early for my usual morning jog. I love running; the freedom of it, the feeling of my feet thumping against the pavement and my heart thrusting against my rib cage. Reality fades further and further the more I push myself against the strain of my lungs, my muscles tensing, my chest tightening, until everything becomes obsolete and all I can see or have the capacity to think about is the road ahead of me. And all I can feel, all I care about, is the warm and desperate air I’m gasping for. The blood pulsing in my veins so loud I can hear it. And then I stop and the world comes crashing back in a winded rush, as I struggle to catch my breath and remember my personality.

When I finished that morning, a thought struck me and I decided to go see Evan. I swung around my house, grabbed a pie mom had left on the kitchen counter and made my way to his garage. He was hunched over the hood like so many times before, his clueless gaze thoughtfully considering something. I cleared my throat to get his attention.

“Hey,” I said. Still winded, and my heart struggling against something else. He looked up with a calm surprise that grew as I approached him. “Mom asked me to drop this off,” I lied, gently raising the pie.

“Oh, yea. Thanks,” He said, wiping his hands with a blue and oily rag.

To his credit, he maintained eye contact for much longer than I expected him to, except it was obvious his neck was locked in a brace to keep his gaze on mine. Still a part of me had doubt, thought maybe I was making a mistake.

“Real hot one today, huh?” He added, coming closer. 

“Yeah,” I said. “Keeping cool in here?”

My hair was in a ponytail and I could feel beads of sweat brimming down my temple, sides, stomach. I could feel my chest heaving against the stuffy Summer air as I was pacing the garage. I couldn’t keep still, so I decided to focus on the feeling of my feet wading against the pavement and my heart thrusting against my rib cage. The heat crept into my lungs and I could feel a strain, my muscles tensing, my chest tightening, my body anxious and waiting for something. Deep breaths of the warm and desperate air I’m gasping for, the blood pulsing in my veins so loud I could hear it.

“Not like you,” He said, and I laughed, or at least, pretended to.

But for a moment I saw his hazel eyes flick down, then up. 

And I knew. 

They Should Write A Book About Our Love (Then File It Under Fiction)

“You’re the American who didn’t want to come meet me?”

“I’m shy,” I lied, covering my face and embellishing. She laughed, falsely, throwing her shoulders back in a sort of exaggeration of herself.

“So you’re afraid of women?”

“Only the very beautiful ones.”

Her large eyes examined me in a way that made me uncomfortable. Quick, darting, loaded and looking for something. It wasn’t the way people looked at each other and I felt she was assessing me, weighing the quality of my face and character the way butchers check livestock in the meat market. So I did the same: She was gorgeous, skin like honey and a small, sensual frame. A shape that curved in ways pleasing to the eyes and more primal urges. And my eyes must have betrayed me, because in her glass reflection I saw a spark. Some silent affirmation that decided – “Yes, this ones fine.”

Her chaperones played the masters of ceremonies, hyping her qualities and whispering in the sidelines all the dark things I should do. We sang and danced in Patchanka, crawled wildly up and down Obispo unhinged and ordering beers for the kindest faces. Took breaks from undertones and sexual tensions with relaxed conversations about the beauty of a well sung salsa, joked pleasantly about her not wearing a bra and 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.

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

“The opposite. You’re 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 woman 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 you look at me, it makes me doubtful. I could never trust your affection, unless you told me what it is, what it was, 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, 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’re a fag,” Chimed the chaperone.

And the three of them wandered away, without me.

CANDY LOTTO BEER CHIPS CIGARETTES

I-Just-Wish-I-Was-Home doesn’t mean much until it’s 5 AM and I’m skinless once again.

My baby doesn’t mind the perfume huff and steaming of cigar smoke. She kisses me like it were something funny, laughs at the haste on my tongue like it was a joke. Keeps me hanging in her arms loaded and waiting like a punch line, when her parents are asleep but what’s fifteen minutes in my car downstairs. My hands on her and mind on Thalia, thick and bubble with a quench to make your ends go POP.

But she’s gone home with flies and I’m still hungry as the wolf for Elis’ soft purrs.

Soare cu dinti as the Romans say, but you never know how wet it is until you get inside.

“You taste like a strip club,” Elis says with a sour face, a quarter into it and half complaining.

“Can’t be. I’m Catholic.” I said dimming.She laughs like it were something funny and the tongue on her taste is ruinous.

I’ve got blues black enough to make the moon go silent, stars stark as the amber gloss on her faded pajama top and stretched nylons. Dark hearts, sea-saw’d faults, one swing and a slide on a lark to hands fumbling for meaning. Absolution for dummies, prayer made easy: all it takes is a good idea gone bad in a passenger seat to make a sin, all we’ll wake to is alarm clocks, sweat, and porcelain kisses. 

Soare cu dinti as the Romans say, but you never know how wet it is until you get inside.

“There,” she hums. “Right there.”

“Where,” I drum. “Tell me where,”

She isn’t wearing panties, just cut-off jeans and a weak hurt. Neither was Thalia. Brown like the dawn and burning honest as a truth left burning on a text message. A tout touch touched terrifically. Weak and wishing. Honorably hungry.

I didn’t care enough to tell one from the other. I couldn’t tell the difference and let myself balloon on the air of two sweet jaded frictions. Numb without a word. Come devout and sure. Whispers that she’s mine while the sun is rising to make us human.

And then it started raining.