between strangers on a train: fairy tale (first draft)

Once upon a time…
There lived long ago…
Now. I live now. The breath that fills my lungs is mine, but once was a part of someone else.
Once was a part of you.
A small consolation…when you are gone, when your eyes slide over me forgetting,
(Because we are strangers)
When there exists no happily ever after for those who have never met,
I hold the breath tight in my lungs until they ache.
I release it in a sigh.
An unspoken prayer.
I hope it reaches you again.

Tomorrow. We will have the train again. We will have tomorrow.

Once upon a time you had not met me yet.

The End.
That’s all there is.

the marrow in my bones

I searched for Him for an age.
Past the point of my mind breaking.
On bleeding knees and blistered hands.
In darkened halls and locked memories.
Behind the bars of guided cages.
In the hallowed empty halls.
Through the minds of hallowed empty men.
I searched.

Deprived of Him, bereft, driven mad
In his silence, his constant stillness
I unhinged myself. Dismantled me,
All the pieces askew. The sinews, the coldness,
The marrow in my bones–
That is what He is after.

Stripped down to nothing
Vulnerable and bare
I waited for Him to want me
To help me
To fix me.
Naked and flawed I searched.

I found Him nowhere and everywhere.
In the crevices between my broken mind and
The void–is He there?
Purifying Himself in the bloodstains and the overflow–there?

He is not what they said.
He is me.
Uncertain.
Fluid.
Partial.
In another mind he is something new.
In another age he will be new again.
I search for something new.

The Photograph

Her face–the bottom half, the only part those after us will ever see–a thin sliver of a crescent moon. Behind the cloud that shields her it dims, but I will not let it out.
Smile,” I plead. She does not see the fear, the slowing of my heart–a train forced to stop in the undergrowth of a forgotten track–the beads of sweat forming above my brow.
My jack-o-lantern smile is meant to mimic but it only scares her.
“Not like that,” I plead. “Fewer teeth.” The hot luminescence of the angry sun creates diamonds of her crown and I try to capture it.
The chocolate brown ringlets spun with warm honey? It should be preserved.
But she moves, and her smile shifts and ruins.
Anger boils over and escapes me and I frown at her, my monstrous frown. I will apologize, but I must get it out first.
Fine. I don’t even care. Don’t smile. Not like that. That’s a terrible smile. It looks fake.
A hollow pain that I ignore urges me–just take that one. The not smiling. It is real.
It is truth.
“Please,” I plead. “Just once. I’ll give you candy!”
She tries. It quivers and she is cold but she tries.
Perfect.
Later we gaze at it. In the album without us it says that she is happy.
One day she will feel a soft wind and the blistering heat of a Spring sun and she will remember pretending to be happy and she will remember how I pretended.
Later still the photograph–faded and bruised, the smile obscured by age–will lie. But those that come after will wonder about us about our perfection about our eternal happiness captured in a perfect smile.
When I am gone it will say that we were here once.
It will tell the lies that we cannot.

Fault

Fault.
A scratch, not enough to turn my head. Unremarkable, insignificant, unnoticed by you. Certainly not enough to slow us down. A shallow mark right underneath the foundation, its origination the small corner in which we would never think to look.
There. It began there. Unknowingly we trod on it until the scratch deepened.
A crack, then.
“What is this?” I wondered, but not aloud. I pondered showing you. I decided against.
Perhaps you saw it yourself. You would notice and decide. I would leave those decisions to you.
It was a trench before you mentioned it.
“Perhaps we should call someone,” I suggested absently.
Did I form the words aloud? Perhaps I used a post-it note.
“I’ve seen these before,” was your response. Perhaps not for that, not for the trench, but something like it. Your reply was unwavering and unvaried. “It’ll work itself out. The house will settle around it.”
“Still,” I insisted, not because I was right but because you were wrong. “It wouldn’t hurt to call.”
We never met in the middle. The pieces of the foundation crumbled under our weight.
We walked over it until we could not.
Fault.
Deeper and wider than we can comprehend.
I am here.

You are there.

We cannot cross.

I don’t understand the purpose of a wake

I don’t understand the purpose of a wake, so I allow for us to be guided into it. Food is pressed into my hands and I think I eat it.
Before I leave for my mother’s house he grips my shoulders and presses a kiss to the place behind my ear. He asks if he should go. I tell him it’s his choice.
He chooses not to.
My mother would smile and her eyes would say I told you so.
I am not sure if words should be spoken, if we should thank everyone for their support during this difficult time. So I say nothing. My uncle hangs back as we stand around my mother’s house after the noise of the mourners has left us. He hangs around for awhile, but sensing our exhaustion, excuses himself. He says he will return tomorrow to help us go through her things. I have no intention of going through anything. I say nothing.
I nod, granting him a reassuring smile. He, like everyone else, will want to report on the authenticity of our grief, so I opt for a small, tight smile. That way he can do with it what he wants.
After he exits I stand in the hall facing the kitchen, my back to the door. This is not my house. It isn’t home. It is my mother’s house. It was her house.
My siblings and I separate, leaving for different parts of the edifice, each to be alone in our grief. My brother heads swiftly to the room that used to be his room, slamming the door. The ring is gone again.
As his room flanks it the air from the door causes the window in the kitchen to rattle. My sister retreats to the guest room down the stairs. When she opens the door to the basement a blast of cool air rushes to greet us; I am momentarily frightened at the idea of visitations from my mothers ghost. But she hasn’t been dead long enough.
I move down the hall, pausing to look at family photos. All of us, separately. The last family photo taken when my sister was still in pull-ups. My mother and I similar with our hair pulled tightly from our faces. My step-father’s grimace that he sincerely believed passed for a smile. My sister looks at something off camera—in the general direction, but the photographer not quite catching her in time. My oldest brother’s teeth are bared, his lips drawn up like the cheshire cat. It is a creepy not-smile. What a smile looks like on the inside. I gaze next at a photo of my mother, thirty years younger. She is squinting in the sunlight her smile large enough to reveal her imperfections; one of her eye teeth overlapping the other ever so slightly. The wrinkle of her nose, the severe arch of her then-dangerously thin brows.
I study the photo, and wonder what she may have been thinking. Before any of us existed, I wonder who she might have been. I wonder, as she wondered, what she might have become without us. Perhaps she would have been great for Broadway. I take the photo from its place on the wall, marvel at the film of dust coating the glass, swiping at the lingering dust on the pale empty space it has made on the ivory wall. It makes no difference; this photo has remained in this space for decades—its absence will not go unnoticed.
The photo travels with me into the kitchen, and I place it gingerly on the counter. Grief, heavy and fierce, strikes me and I place the photo face down. This is not my house.
This house, through husbands, children, graduations, death, has always been my mother’s. Purchased by her father at 17 (her age, not his), she created her life in this house. The things she collected, the important memories—they are all tied to this house. This kitchen is hers. She renovated it a few years ago, and I wonder now why. The wall between the kitchen and dining room was torn down, replaced by a marble topped island. The Dining-Room-That-No-One-Eats-In features a large distressed oak table surrounded by pillowy white chairs. They have never been touched. The kitchen itself is bright, with three hanging lights over the island, and recessed lighting reflecting off of the stone backsplash and tiles.
Unceremoniously I pull the pale tablecloth from the wood, frantically searching. My heart speeds up as my eyes scan the table, searching for it.
There.
In the far corner, hidden from the untrained eye, a chunk of burnt wood. Tiny scrapes from the hot teeth of the comb are all that remain.
Save for the memory. The memory remains.

Rain drips through the weak spot in the ceiling; it can’t be seen from the kitchen, but we can hear the pangs from the cool metal pan as it collects the water. My mother is angry and I wonder if she can hear the water.
Drip.
The grip on my hair tightens enough to hurt, but I know enough to not cry out.
Drip drip.
“Be still,” she commands angrily, and my body tenses. I can smell the heat, feel it before it touches my hair.
I hear my grandmother’s voice before I see her, and I shift to peer down the hall. The scrape of the comb touches my scalp and I cry out in pain.
My mother grips my scalp, the pain of her grip canceling the pain of the burn. She blows firmly on the scrape and tears escape, spilling over my cheeks. My cousin eyes me curiously, and my grandmother hovers with her lips pursed.
Her eyes are stern and she holds my cousin’s hand loosely.
Their hands blur beneath the familiar warmth of tears.

It is my cousins idea to eat the cake. I am aware of Grandmothers demand—after dinner, but my cousin says we should.
And so I do.
Grandmother in her way said nothing and everything.
“You cannot go to dinner with us. You aren’t mature enough.”
My head aches where the comb scratched it, but Grandmother’s words are worse.
When Grandmother drops me off—engine running, I struggle to open the door myself—Mom meets me at the porch. She pulls the barrettes from my hair gingerly.
Presses a kiss to my scalp.
It is an apology of sorts.
We have our own cake for dinner. In my memory it was chocolate. It was stuck under my nails the next morning.
“Happy Birthday,” Mom whispers.
I slept and held that in my memory, the feel of the comb, the weight of the disappointment—and the warmth of her words.

I never laugh when it rains (draft three)

I never laugh when it rains. A family trait; rain has never crept into the laugh lines of my face. I’ve never stood in a rain that I thought was warm and comforting.
I stand in the rain now, missing her.
She would yell now. Something about paying for me to go to the salon only to mess up my hair.
Then it would move into selfishness. We were always selfish. She could have gone to Broadway. But we were selfish.
Was she thinking about that when she died?
She was alone. She knew she would be.
But she made an appointment to meet with friends. I don’t know them. She never kept friends for very long.
She knew they would worry. She wanted them to.
Did she mean to leave this behind?
She didn’t leave a note. That makes it worse. I have composed the note for her.
It is short.
“Finally. I can be someone.”
It sounds like her. Something she would write. Something she would want written.
I search the house before it is cold. There is no note. No words of goodbye. No accusations.
Through the cloud of death, the grey-white pallor of her void I feel her disappointment.
That’s what no note feels like. Asking for it—thinking about it at all—I can feel her. The heaviness of her disappointment.
Even in death we let her down, wishing to pull words from her. She left us with none.
Mid-sentence she signed and ended the conversation without us.
My best friend stands beside me, close enough so that I can feel her heat, but far enough so that I don’t think she’s touching me.
There is no sensation that burns like that of a grief touch.
The pity will drown you far faster than the tears.
“She was brave,” she mumbles. Her words come out so softly that I wonder if I’ve imagined them.
They sound like my best friend’s words, but it feels like my mother would say it.
I want to ask, “what part? What was brave?” but I don’t want an answer.
What if she says leaving. Making the choice.
Taking death into her hands.
Embracing it.
I don’t want to hear her answers, what she feels was brave, so I don’t respond.
We choose the gravestone together. I remember one that we saw years ago, when Grandmother passed away.
Grandmother was old. Older than Mom. It wasn’t as much of a surprise.
When we saw, “how terrible it is to love something that death can touch,” Mom drew in a breath, held it for longer than I thought was possible. When she let it out it was cold as it swept across my cheek.
She was calmer after. Somehow those words made her calmer.
I choose them for her stone. It won’t be ready in time. But she will be there where I can find her for when it’s ready.
The rain begins as I stand in front of her space. The space that she will occupy. I lay on the ground next to it and the director stands looking away without judgement. As if he’s seen it before.
That death can touch.
It grips me.
Death grips me.
I wonder if she’s here. Or anywhere. And then my mind empties and I can only think about the rain. Wondering if it can do what Grandmother’s lake could not.
Later when I leave I search myself.
Am I like my mother?
No.
The rain did not finish the work of the lake.
I find myself relieved. I take a breath, let it pass over my lips when it has cooled in my lungs.
I am glad that the rain did not.

on meeting myself & visiting nyc for the first time

Does the air not flow within you
Does it not fill you up and create you,
And make you
More beautiful
More beautiful than you’ve ever been?

Do the faces that face but do not meet you,
Do they not mirror you?
And make you
More visible,
More visible than you’ve ever been?

Does the place you’re from not eat you
Does it not chew your marrow
Until it
Breaks you,
Breaks you more than you’ve ever been?

Does the place you’re from not hide you
Does it not whittle your body to
Ash and excess,
Unmake you
More unmade than you’ve ever been?

Does the world around not become you?
Does it not unfurl
And make you
More perfect,
More perfect than you’ve ever been?

Does your existence not astonish you?
Does it not fill you up,
Thrill you
And complete you
More complete than you’ve ever been?

Does the face not gaze upon you
Does it not reveal you
Unmask you
And make you
More you than you’ve ever been?

Visible.
Perfect.
Here.
For a moment, here, I am.
More.
More than I’ve ever been.

20140314-213546.jpg

the jagged edge of the scar (draft three)

The jagged edge of the scar raises slightly on the thumb of my left hand, a small break in the smooth whorls of my fingerprint.
Amidst the lie of memory, the sensation of drowning holds. The location changes—a pool, the ocean, the lake behind Grandmother’s house. The last seems most likely; we spent many summers there locked outside with the two-word command “go play” booming from a faceless depth before us.
Our play consisted of the dangerous practice of the dead man’s float.
My cousin taught us. In order to play dead and look believable you had to relax.
More experienced actors opened their eyes, boldly staring apparently into the murky brown-green depths.
A rumor grew that if you stared for long enough and thought “I think I see a dead man” you could see the date and manner of your own death.
I went first. My body was simultaneously cold and sticky hot; briefly I considered bowing out but we were there with the cousins for another week. Mom would be leaving tomorrow and coming to get us in six days. I wouldn’t dare face them without being able to properly float as a dead man.
The water was cool and calm, lapping over my body and enveloping me in a familiar comfort. I relaxed, wondering if I could drift off, telling myself that I could probably float for at least a minute and a half before I would need to breathe.
I opened my eyes. The immediate burn shattered the calm—from miles away I heard the screeching of loons, but they were swallowed almost immediately as the calm of the water shifted, beginning to strangle me in a murderous caress.
I opened my mouth to scream and took in water; flailing my body began to burn, the pain rushing from my limbs into my brain.
Dying. I’m dying. I thrashed about, suspended in life for what felt like eternity.
Cool arms dragged me to the surface; vaguely I was aware of Mom’s familiar warmth, her lips pressing against me, coupled with the sting of her repeated slaps across my cheeks.
When I came to I saw the wrinkle in between her brows first.
Our eyes met, the familiarity of hers softening me and steadying my breathing. My entire body ached as I struggled to sit up, my throat soured with acid.
Mom’s eyes held mine until I steadied my body; she reached back her hand and slapped me, her palm colliding with my face with a force that caused lights to burst in my vision. My ears rung from the pain and the embarrassment. The cousins, aunts, Grandmother, my siblings, neighbors—all were there.
“Don’t you ever do that again! Don’t you ever do that again! Do you understand me?”
My eyes burned again, this time with the unforgiving pain of unshed tears. Fleeing into the house Mom’s face froze in my mind, the angry curl of her lips coupled with the unabashed fear in her eyes.
She found me in the closet of the room my cousin and I shared. I was staring down at the cut on my finger, deep and fresh, scarlet flowing gently and dripping onto the pale carpet.
She sighed as she slumped down beside me, taking my hand in hers wordlessly.
She pressed our fingers together, side by side.
On her hand a fresh cut blossomed, the still-flowing blood seeping into her own whorls.
“I have one, too.”
In the now I reach for the memory, gripping it to me.
I lay in her closet among her things, picking at the old wound. Not even a scab. Just a scar.
Memories lie. Memories change. In my memory I tell her I hate her after. Right after she says she has a cut I tell her that.
I hope the memory is wrong. They lie. They aren’t perfect.
We weren’t perfect.
Hate was strong. I wouldn’t say that. I wouldn’t.
In the now my ears ring. I hear the words that I hope I didn’t say. They showed me her face. They should have showed the hand.
I could go back. I would go back. I would ask to see her hand first. Before she even noticed me bleeding.
I wouldn’t say it. She wouldn’t believe it.
I wouldn’t have the scar.

stay

Whispered promises in the dark fade with the mist of the morning. Wiry fibers of the unused sheets press patterns into my back; with a semi circle of a smile I will acknowledge them later.
Bitter blood red coated nails freshly painted smear into the sheetrock, flecks are left in the alabaster of your skin.
In the dark they are evidence of our wildness, our freedom, small flecks of us tearing away and into each other.
We meet but only in small parts–bodies, eyes, or selves–never at the same time.
My mouth opens to breathe a soft release–softer than I would like, a mere shadow on my skin. With the light the shadows will recede…I will not view it later, I will find no evidence of its existence.
I prefer bruises, soft and harsh and mine to keep.
Stay, my mouth forms, my heart stuttering to a slow stall.
I notice another fleck on your back.
This one will be permanent.
Shadows fall across your face. We live for the solace of shadows, the secrets the shadows keep.
I wonder what your face would look like in sunlight. One day.
Will we recognize each other? When one day is upon us, will we know each other?
What if you are only whole in the shadows?
Stay, I form again.
For a moment the fog lifts, the moonlight pretends it is sun it is day this is normal this is nothing.
You shift, roll over, tracing my brow. Our bodies part, our eyes meet.
I see her in yours.
She receives the sunlight and the truth of your words, the truth of the daylight.
The sheets are bunched and cold, the wires stiff. Cold where you left it. Twisted and plain in the void of you.
I stare into the sunlight, let the heat baptize me and burn you away.
In the shadow of moonlight you come again.
Stay. You do. You swear longer.
The release is longer and as ever bittersweet…cool lips pressed against my lids I am momentarily blinded.
I trace the place that I left on the surface of your skin, minute and temporary, it will fade before the taste of me leaves, cast out with the fluoride and the promises.
Stay. You shift, pretend not to hear. Tomorrow.
Whispered promises in the dark fade with the mist of morning.

there is a rumor (draft three)

There is a rumor that she took a gun and put it in her mouth. 

She was listening to the third act of La Traviata. As Violetta died, she closed her eyes and pulled the trigger.

She was wearing white. My sister heard the sound and ran to the room. The door was locked. The gardener and the neighbor—a friend and ex lover—helped break down the door. 

You could barely tell that that was what she’d done, at first. 

My mother never locked doors. When we were younger she removed our doorknobs—I was 13, he was 10, and she was 6. She removed every doorknob except for the entry doors.

There are no closed doors in my house, she slurred, her heated breath coming in waves against us. 

We stood silently, made of stone.

If we were silent she may pass us by.

My mother didn’t have a gardener. She did at one point, but he actually did become a lover.

It didn’t end well.

She hated gardens, after. 

My sister hasn’t lived with my mother since she moved away for college. She didn’t finish. 

She’s still finding herself.

My mother claims—claimed—the wrinkles, the deep lines that formed around her mouth—were due to my sister’s finding herself. The ones between her brows—those belong to me.

My mother hated white. She wore it once, for her first wedding. She wasn’t a virgin—hadn’t been for years—but my grandmother was old-fashioned. She let out the midsection before the wedding. The dress was still snug.

My grandmother managed to stay out of every photograph. 

My mother pretended to know Italian. She didn’t. 

She was listening to La Traviata. That is true. She didn’t understand a word, not until she dated Charlie, a “real” Italian. She liked the way he whispered in her ears.

I told her he was only whispering a menu and he probably found the interpretation in google. She frowned at me and rolled her eyes.

She didn’t own a gun.

She did keep every prescription she was ever written. Every one. She never threw away a pill.

I told her they were all expired. She said medicine didn’t expire.

I was wrong. She was right.

She took them all, probably during the first act.

She probably drew her last breath with Violetta.

That part was true, also.