Cassie, Episode II (aka Never Go Out Of Your Way To Be Unkind)

That morning I had called in sick to work on my way there, because something about subway posters at 7AM can just be so fucking depressing? Those wide, grinning, dead-eyed actors trying to sell you college courses, some stupid movie, or Old Navy cargo shorts. Baby crying in a stroller, some asshole blasting music through the speaker on his iPhone, some sixty people crowded side by side with nobody saying a fucking thing. Just the hum of the subway train burrowing to Manhattan.

Kachung, Kachung, Kachung, 

“Stand clear of the closing doors, please.” 

Ding-doon. Ding-doon.

It was enough to make a man exhausted, too tired to clock in and pretend to give a shit about Bridget’s new baby or an Excel spreadsheet. And if you can’t relate to that, well, then this story isn’t for you, bud. 

So I sent a text pretending I was sick and got off on 96th street, booked a room at Carmine’s like I used to when I was more degenerate. I wanted to get away, needed a low cost escape and bottom shelf liquor type of abandoning ship, and not knowing where to go, I went back to Amsterdam Avenue, where I had traumatic and yet awesome times in my youth. An instinctive return to chaos and creation; natural, the way sea turtles go back to die or lay eggs in the same beaches where they’re born.

There’s also such a safety in what’s familiar, how easy it is to slide into old habits like a pair of your favorite jeans. 

After an hour of checking and settling in to my room I hopped back on the train downtown. I had to get to 79th, which was where the bars stopped and everything south became  skyscrapers and big businesses. Suits, ties and bored housewives walking yorkies on their way to $200 manicures. Not my tempo or atmosphere, to say the least.

The subway was less crowded by then, only a handful of bodies too distinct and all over the place  to categorize as 9-5’ers.  Those wide, grinning, dead-eyed actors on the posters didn’t bother me as much. I felt better, knowing I was on my way to a good time I should not be having. I sat down and let the hum of the subway train burrowing through Manhattan rock me gently to all the irresponsible things I planned on doing. Satisfied, anticipating, feeling like I escaped.  

“BECAUSE DISEASE IS NOT OF GOD.” A womans voice, booming, echoing. I didn’t look, because I didn’t care. Religious fanatics were pretty common at any hour of the day on any corner of New York.

“SATAN IS THE AUTHOR. HAPPINESS RESIDES IN YOUR HEART, BUT YOU SHRINK FROM THE LIGHT. YOU HIDE FROM GRACE. YOU WALK IN DARKNESS.” 

79th Street came and I stepped out of the subway car, the woman’s voice echoing behind me as the doors closed. 

“But what about your soul?”

Stand clear of the closing doors, please. 

“But what about your soul?”

Ding-doon. Ding-doon.

“But what about your soul?”

Kachung, Kachung, Kachung. 

“But what about your soul!?”

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Ice Doesn’t Fit In A Shot Glass (But Resentment Does)

I wish I was a better man than the one I pretend not to be.

But I am this terrible, or great, depending on what day of the week you meet me in. Sometimes I curse lies at those who mean the most to me, and other weeks don’t leave much besides second hand friendships that are nice enough to leave you with the lighter.

“You’re a pain my ass,” My father said. “But fuck. You’ll be a fighter.”

Sometime near Spring in college I liked to go out and fuck my life up when there was no getting over those math classes in a Criminal Justice Major. And when I told that asshole of a professor “THERE’S EXCEL FORMULAS THAT DO THIS FOR US,”

He pretended he didn’t hear me.

And no judgment here.

Because I do the same.

Venus over Dallas

transmuted misery of too many days in bed,
and cold heart and stiffed hamstrings.

bah humbug,
sweet Grinch!

when does Christmas end
and the new year starts feeling
like an old one. Montauk’s

got secrets that won’t leave
Long Island. Behind the lighthouse
inside a dark home we made a
cozy indent of what’s familiar.

stretched and spread in shapes
that wind and coil, tense with sweat,
passion as a form of exercise.
exhausted happiness, out of breadth,
grinning and blessed in natural serenity
and gentle sin. done up in rhyme

such madness to enjoy.

Hey Baby Are Your Parents Pilgrims? (Because It Looks Like You’re Settling)

Sandy asks me why I’m so quiet, and I don’t know what to tell her. Lately I’ve felt a lack for words and feelings although I’m pretty overstocked on both. I suppose I could be hoarding sentiments, saving them for a rainy day or bright eyed Jane on the subway. And I hear the tip-tip-tip-tap-tap-tip drizzle against my window sill but when I stare at the shelves then back at Sandy I just can’t bare to part with a single phrase or hug or Good Morning Beautiful. I’m overflowing again with so many thoughts in my head, but they don’t race any more. Instead they’re sluggish and relentless – dragging their feet through the recesses of my day while I’m in the shower or silently consoling strangers on the train. This afternoon I made a best friend and we carved our names on a tree trunk just outside of town although he doesn’t know it yet.

Sandy knows it though, I think. She knows too much sometimes.

And normally stuff like this is fine because I’ve always kind of lived my life with head in the clouds (and between warm legs,) just musing for amusement and just going through the motions with my body on autopilot. I’ve forgotten what the sun feels like so now I’m restless and sticky and asking what this thing dripping down my brow and heart is. Sandy says its pulp, and then I wonder if she’s calling me a fruit or something she can squeeze dry. I guess human adaptability can also be a pretty terrible thing when you think about it – becoming so used to something that the opposite feels like a threat. What a strange notion, to consider that I’m not used to happiness. It’s such an off term also if you read too deep into it like I always do: used to happiness. Used to it.

Happiness is using me, so happiness must be conniving.

So I’m far from melancholic, far from lonely, far from Moloch, far from observations of human desolation, but I’m never far from Sandy. And I’d rather not write about love if it ends well, to be honest, although that’s exactly what this disease is. I know it, but I won’t ever say it. Not ever. There’s a certain level of defeat that goes with that statement, and I don’t really mean in a sense of being ‘vulnerable’. It’s defeat because I feel I can still do better. My hormones remind me often – super models, and that girl who turned me down in secondary school, and that cutie on the third floor with the red hair and bitter eyes: they’re all as appetizing, have infinite possibilities and maybe friends that are probably even more attractive and more quirky and have even more strange and fascinating habits I can poke fun at over lattes and orgasms.

But they aren’t Sandy. They’ll never be Sandy.

The Ildiot (aka Homer’s Beer Run)

Heaven is hell-bent,
misshapen sanctuary of senile.
Men make sinners out of love,
sibyls from devils and saints out of
air. The clever pray for deliverance
in a cup, Gods nectar and wheat’s bounty;
bitter-sweet ambrosia by the barrel;
His holy bottled excellence.
A nightly Immortality.

Our hero marches, his voyage soft
to the song of chirping sirens.

Dear deacon of the deli, bringer of
my bread and sacrilege. Clandestine
clerk who offers passage to His hazy
river Styx, in brown paper bags and
long side glances that confess
disbelief a 2AM pilgrimage can wait
for the sacrament of home. Two coins
short and Charon grims, no ferry waits
for those when his toll has gone unpaid.

Our hero cautions his voice to balm,
cold and hooded ears who would deny them.

Forgive me Ahmed, for I am dimmed.
Sweet Gods of Hell and mercy,
grant me light and credit
that I may learn peace and pass
this dark and grim abyss,
to far and pleasant lands
where one dreams and is awake.

Our hero fallen, his journey lost
to the oarmen’s long and awful silence.

His cleric nods, Go-Then, take it, bid farewell,
but Heaven has no room for cleverness.
This world is a loan to be repaid,
and I will you see you once again
with a stone at your back
and Hell at your heels.

Our hero sombers on, his voyage back home safe,
with bags of ambrosia, pockets full of coins,

and the hidden smile
of Sisyphus son.

Leave Her Johnny, Leave Her (aka A Broken Heart’s A Heavy Bar Tab)

Even when I’m not a vagrant there are days I get the taste of gin and cinders on my tongue again. Waking up skeletal, bare as bone, with nothing but a name. Veins poking from a sleeve, revealing what I’m made of, like wires from old headphones you get ashamed to pull out in public. Some days leave me feeling ends-less, frigid and grey as the clouds I’m blowing smoke circles at from the balcony of my house. The air feels wet, the grass shimmers just a little greener, and as I take a breath I’m thrown to somewhere that isn’t here. Smell, they say, is most directly linked to memory, so there must been a scent of the early 2000’s perspiring in the grass of Trump’s America.

I was nostalgic, I guess. Remiss of the past, the way a particular type of weather reminds you of that time in third grade when it was raining, the day you saw Samantha scrape her knee in the PS 143 playground. A gash so long you couldn’t tell where it began or ended. You can’t even remember what it looked like, just the sensation of black tar and plasma. And while some kids ran for the nurse she just sat there, no crying, not shedding a damn tear, 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 and blood.

I think that’s when it started for us, really. Fifth grade, Ms. Turmiski’s class. She made an impact on me that day, and no matter where she sat I had my eyes on her ever since. Even if she was in another room. Feelings I denied vehemently until sexuality amplified too high to be tucked away in an Ew-Girls. Samantha had came back from Summer damn near 5’5, towered above the rest of us with her home-cut bobbed hair and thick black rimmed glasses (before that fad came in, you hacks.) The only girl in class who had a binder when all the rest of us were early-primming into drawstring Nike bags and spiral notebooks. Come junior high she started keeping a deck of cards on the sleeves, and I’d make it a point to always sit across from her on the other team when we played spade or casino. Took the usual route of juvenile affections, found it easier to make her an enemy than admit her face made me want to do things with her I didn’t understand yet. Bluffed through boyfriends like Troy, Elijah, and Anthony like a champ. 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 Sophmore year, hit a slump I couldn’t manage to flash a smile and hump over. Told her what I always felt, even mentioned that thing about her knee in fifth grade, and she said “I always knew, dummy.” Kissed me on the corner of Taylor Avenue, deli lights flashing above our stupid little heads. A world on the verge of conquering us at sixteen, and a universe of intimacy opening the floodgates. Going at it like jackrabbits and a lot of arguments over silly things. I wanted to make the world laugh, and she wanted me to study and make something out of me. She had kisses made of phosphene, I still remember the way her lips against mine would make my head melt. The only girl I ever suffered the dilemma – kiss her, and feel that bliss of touch and sexuality, but miss out on all the lovely things she could have said.

“i want to see your face. send me a photo.”
Her text read at four in the morning, and so I did.
“no. a real one. something I can hold and write your name.
scribble the date and the way you make me feel on.”

Her love was comforting, the way a light from another room is when you’re trying to fall asleep but afraid of the dark. Or yourself. When I couldn’t bare to go down a street because it looked so lonely, she’d remind me what I was scared of wasn’t outside. But in. And I loved her terribly, but only in retrospect. Spent more time dreary eyed with the boys on Amsterdam when I should have been watching Samantha color code her study binders. A realization I wasn’t able to see or understand until long after it happened, and honestly, only because it was gone. Like suddenly missing a limb or finger, or admitting you were an asshole to somebody that didn’t deserve it. There’s a learning curve to gratitude and I was on the verge of overcoming the anchor line. Which is no excuse, I guess. Hindsight is 20-20 and not having regrets just means having things you haven’t thought of enough yet.

“So just like that, you’d leave New York,” I said. Unable to admit by ‘New York’ I meant me.

“It’s a scholarship. Why wouldn’t I?” She said.

And I think we could have made it work, past the slammed doors and distance. Rebuilding trust from where there was none over jokes I shouldn’t be making. Six month breaks that break easy over the holidays, and all the blood we’ve tried to draw from one another wiped clean with something as simple as an I-Miss-You text. Enough distance that makes us wonder what we were so angry about anyway, two weekends into Lets-Just-Be-Friends that ends the moment we notice its 5 am 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. Is it still falling if its the fifth time in love? Why are we so surprised to be veering off the side of the road because Why-The-Fuck-Does-Everything-Have-To-Be-A-Joke-With-You? A phone call slammed, and I don’t call back, because I’m tired and her birthday is right around the corner. I’ll take six months off before I start rolling the boulder of our love up over and over again, like Sisyphus. Glossing over our past in grey, summer weather. Sitting there not shedding a damn tear, staring at the sunrise like somebody I used to love. Hopeful, like waiting long enough might make something jump out of all that rosy velvet. Make it more than just the colors and blood we shed to each other.

That kind of chemistry can become exhausting, so her walking out for good was a victory, really.

Even if it doesn’t feel like it.

 

Sorry I’m Not Sorry, But Genuinely. (aka Room 4201)

Gail is laying in the hospital while I’m standing on the brink. Burning bridges all weekend as I cross them, and if I ever make it home on Sunday, I’m lighting candles by the beach with starry eyes fixed on the shore. No green lights across the bay, because weekend are a myth and every day is Monday. Just a vague memory or six burning bright against the flames.

Some wounds only heal over time, but those scars are here to stay.

I watch her lay there, lifeless, and understand why there are so many sleeping beauties in fairy tales. But now she is no Belle or Snow White with seven dwarves. She’s only flesh with tubes and wires, some flowers and Get-Well-Soon balloons hovering a bedside. A bracelet her favorite nephew made when he turned six, no makeup and dark purple pavements just above her cheek. Serene, beautiful and peaceful, despite the hazmat ambiance of a hospital room. Hashtag #Iwokeuplikethis, and she looked just as perfect as the first time we made eyes and I just knew she was going to be something.

“John? Where’s John,” A weak voice, two notes shorter than a whisper.

She is surprised to see me standing there at first, but then she flashes that familiar smile so unquestionably unforgettable. Fun and full of memorable, something that never quite loses it’s glow, like watching someone trip or stumble in public. Yet there was a certain kind of sadness in the curves of her lips, in every moment of her happiness, like when you reach for a box of cigarettes and find only one soldier left. A frown formed, only, it was shaped upside down. Like when somebody says they miss you, but you don’t really feel the same way. A half hearted exchange, overdone, overkilled. Packed like this paragraph filled with too many similes.

And that’s what she does to me – filling me full of phrases and cliche’s I hate to see other people be a part of. As if our experiences are the same. As if anyone has ever experienced this pain that is so unbelievably mine.

“I must look horrible.” She says.

You say it like it’s something new.

“And you’re still a jerk. Do you still write?” She asks, and I say yes.

“Show me,” She pleads. And I do.

“You write a lot about girls.” I pause and nod.

Most of them are shades of you.

“What about that night?” She says. “Remind me how it went.”

It was snowing, and I met you at the movie theater wearing a suit.

“Why were you wearing a suit?”

Because my other plans cancelled. I was going to…a club, I think, and the birthday person caught a cold or something, and the whole thing was cancelled. But I spent a lot of money on that suit and I still wanted to wear it so.

“Ohhh, so in other words, because you’re an ass.”

Yes. Because I’m an ass.

“How old were we?”

I was 20, I think? You’d just turned 18.

“Pedophile.”

So you just turned 18, I was wearing a suit because I’m an ass-

“And a pedophile,”

Yes, right, I was an ass and a pedophile, and we saw that movie with Jessica Alba about her eye. She could see the future because of it, and at the end when she gets stabbed in the face some guy in the back of the theatre yelled ‘Bet you didn’t see that coming bitch.’

“I remember that.” And she laughs.

We stayed in the food court talking about your little brother and how out of place I looked in a suit. You put on my tie, so we could match, and when we were getting kicked out at around 3a.m. you straightened your tie and told the security guard- ‘Expect to hear from my attorney.’

She smiles and grabs my hand, I stand still and uncomfortable.

“What made you come?” She asks.

“…you’re dying.” I say finally, because it was something I needed to hear myself say.

“Don’t you always say ‘we all are’?”

“It’s different now.”

“You still love me.”

“I’m not here to win you back.”

“I know.”

She died on a Monday.