miércoles, julio 19, 2017

Week: rain and leather

Talabarteros, I think, aren't what they once were. I peer inside the shop, briefly, hoping for the smell of tanned leather to fill my senses. Instead I gaze upon neat stacks of machine-crafted wallets and bags. Nothing here to see, move along.

The ground is damp. It rained in that way that feels like the earth is being pummeled, but here in this neighborhood, though there is a park where we tried to sit, earlier, to calm our collective anxiety, with muddy puddles, I don't feel connected to the earth. I also didn't jump in puddles. I remember when I. was a small child, and how she loved to puddle-jump, splashing a slurry of brown water on whatever pink dress her mother had put on her. I never cared. That's why we have a washing machine, I would always say. Of course, back then we didn't have our own washer or dryer, but rather, a small apartment with coin-operated machines nearby.

There is something about walking alone through this city, I am reminded. Its flat grid, unending, spreading out beneath the rubber soles of my, yes, I'll admit it, orthotic sandals. My last visit to this beloved place left me crippled for months: I hobbled around, stubbornly resistant to any sort of medical intervention because I knew that it was all a product of my mind and my emotional processes, until he arrived on my doorstep in the thick of the summer oppression, the ac unit broken, in Phoenix, a crime against humanity, or at least human decency... sometimes I wait too long to make a decision. I don't listen to my body screaming at me, telling me to flee, to be alone, to lick my wounds. At least he encouraged me to deal with my own shit. For that I will be forever grateful.

But today I walk, with a spitting drizzle misting from above, before my feelings get the better of me. I am learning, I think. I'm not the same person I was before. The thing is: I am torn between hopefulness and resignation, the pull of something new and the comfort of what once was but is no more, the sting of a harshly stated boundary, and the recognition of my own failure at establishing neat edges, to protect myself from disappointment.

Maybe we're all just swimming around in puddles of mud, inside our own heads. I'll just keep walking, I think.

I decide to break my recently-acquired habit, my footfalls, now in the sandals that the doctor told me I'd never be able to wear again (boy, did I show him!) veer to the left while I distractedly answer texts that I don't feel excited about, rebuffing attempts at intimacy that feel like invasions of my privacy, but that I don't just simply ignore. Why? Your guess is as good as mine, but I think it has to do with old habits, and my penchant for always keeping my eye on at least three escape routes, in the physical as well as the emotional realm. I should really work on that in therapy, I think, but the idea of finding a new therapist on returning to the desert makes me tired. I don't want a new one, but I have no choice. I don't even really want to go home.

But today I had a choice, and I took it. My heart hurt, so I chose to walk, to walk away from the excess emotional baggage that isn't mine, that is overloading my filtering apparatus. At times like these, I'm reminded, it is better to just be alone. I poke my head into the Mercado Lázaro Cárdenas. Most of the stalls have been shut down, but I wander the semi-abandoned market alone anyway. I imagine it as the scene of a crime, the blood being washed down the drain, the pungent chlorine penetrating my nostrils. I buy 6 guavas, 2 of the flatter yellow mangoes (they call them Manila here), and 2 semi-ripe plantains. A one-armed woman kindly overcharges me and I don't care. I feel the heft of the fruit in the bag, imagine it as a makeshift tool for defense if swung with proper force, feel the eyes of the swarm of men that are exiting the building behind me and step to the side to let them pass. I don't like feeling like there are people behind me and I don't like sitting with my back to the door in public places, always worried that I won't see the danger upon me until it is too late.

But I always see it. And I always ignored the signs anyway, convinced of my own ability to steer the outcome. Foolish, I know. I am fighting the urge to close up shop. I've said too much, I always do. I am too much, or at least that's the narrative I tell myself, but really, I think it isn't about me at all. Breathe. Remember that everyone else is on their own damn roller-coaster and you don't have to get on.

The phone rings and my girl cries, "mama, I'm sick..." and for a few moments I coo and comfort, make suggestions about what mix of magical ingredients will make her feel better. It sounds like things are under control, so I try to let go of the control myself. It isn't easy. I raised a child, I think, though it puzzles me. When did it happen? The puddle-jumper who would swing like a monkey, grasping two hands, bouncing over cobbled-stone is now, officially, on her way to college... why haven't I grown up? I wonder, as if the passage of time glided smoothly over my head, in aerodynamic patterns and flows, and all that happened was my hair got a little messy.

I keep walking, now, in my mind. I smile a half smile at the dude that sells artisanal coffee sourced from Chiapas and Oaxaca, I avoid eye contact with the shoe-shine guys who followed us around the other day, in the middle of our banking crisis. I nod at the tortillera next to the house. I hold my breath. Stop. Being. Hopeful. I try to talk myself down off the ledge. It doesn't work. I decide to make another lap around the block before climbing the 9 stories to my city oasis. I feel raw, naked, overexposed. I don't ever learn.

And then something changes, and the rain stops, and the sun comes out, and my chest eases up. The zapatero's shop makes me smile and wish that in my dash to leave the house in Arizona I would have remembered to bring my dancing shoes in need of mending. I remember that I can continue with my previously planned activities, as if I never stumbled, as if this never happened. No one has to know. Or, as Joni once sang: I think I understand... fear is like a wilderland.


miércoles, julio 12, 2017

Week: Starting over, maybe

July 6, 2017

Sitting with myself can be quite a challenge. Not the embracing of aloneness, but the actual quieting of the mind. I don't know exactly when it changed, but I do know that the immediacy of technology has profoundly impacted my ability to complete any mental task or even a physical one, without interrupting it to check on the virtual universe outside myself.

And I feel ambivalent.  That is, however much I might like to wring my hands and lament the way things are... well, they are, and that is not likely to shift back, towards a less-urgent mode of interpersonal communication.

We grow impatient. We have the ability to monitor if and when someone has received--if not acknowledged-- our communication. And I wonder if it helps or hinders our development as ethical, loving humans or if it is simply an indifferent, morally neutral human activity. Questions with no answers that we ask just the same.

Today I walked from the apartment that I have rented in the Colonia Del Valle Norte to the Cineteca Nacional. It took about 50 minutes of steady walking, and while the technology was imperfect (or perhaps due to user error), my ability to navigate the ever-changing city as if I were a native who has constant contact with its grey, throbbing ebb and flow was aided by the self-same great leaps forward... technologically speaking, that is. I arrived, feeling slightly foggy, my own body throbbing with the pulsing of my heartbeat at elevation. I think, "I feel tired..." and I distractedly thumb through mind-numbing communiqués of nothingness and everythingness and all the shit and blood and bile between point a and point b. Perhaps it is spiritual, I surmise, and I feel the pulsing subcutaneously in my outer thighs. I am reminded of my corporality. I choose to be kind to myself and not spiral down a tunnel of self-critique, but rather, I sit with the throbbing uncertainty, the hope.

And I put my phone away. But my mind is unsettled and I am not appeased by watching the odd human interactions, rituals of mating, of group-bonding. I feel outside of it, but not lonely. Not melancholy. This feeling is perhaps unutterable, like the true name of God, but it isn't an entirely unpleasant one.

I wonder if I should eat something that my body doesn't need, but instead I choose to narrate to myself. There is a soothing in narration, it placates dis-ease.

I love this space, since the first time I set foot here two decades ago, it has a sort of magical peace about it, in the heart of an otherwise bustling zone of the city, divorced from the injured and moribund at the hospital just across the street.

And it occurs to me how luxurious it truly is to be on this side of the membrane that separates the ill from the healthy-- and also how desperately thin, how permeable that barrier truly is.

On this side, an excess of choice, filling time and space with leisure and entertainment, and on the other, pain both physical and psychic. Of course I don't mean to suggest that we don't carry pain into our leisure--undoubtedly we do--but simply that the order of magnitude is different. First world problems to be sure. And maybe there is nothing to be said or done, or maybe the act of writing precedes the impulse to do, or maybe it is its own sort of doing. I talk to myself on the page and I feel the amplified anxiety of an electronic addiction loosen its grip. This, I think, is good. Good girl, Ilana, you can self-soothe. You can let the world happen around you and not feel responsible for any outcomes but your own. Or you can ignore even those for a few moments.

When you were a child--you think--the world was still mediated by external pressures, but their immediacy was other. Better? Worse? Why, damn it, do you feel the need to evaluate an immutable fact of modern existence? "You're avoiding," your inner voice chides. "I know," she replies, "I'm not ready."

You want to write a love letter to Edie, before she dies of cancer. You want to write against the guilt of being, mostly, genuinely content while someone you love, have loved, is on her steady march toward transition from existence on this mortal plane to whatever else there is or could be. Far from you or what she meant to you. You avoid because you feel guilty that despite ample technology that facilitates instantaneous connection and despite the ease with which you move across continents by air and by highway, in the last decade, you have seen her but once, face to face, because you assumed you had more time, because your childhood laid a foundation that didn't require constant tending, because even when you knew of her diagnosis, it seemed like she would beat it, because people do... and it was just a little sarcoma--totally operable... and so when her daughter and son, your childhood playmates, called your mother to say it was now or never, you even debated whether to go or not, but when you heard her voice, you knew you needed to go to her.

But was it because, as you said, that you wanted to cradle her in love for her, or was it for you? And does it really matter in the end? And when faced with the real, concrete, monumental enormity of her mortality, which is your mortality, why can't you hold that humility in your heart when confronted with the rest of life, with your child, with your mother, with  yourself?

When you saw her with the hollowed out haunting of cancer, you felt so much love you thought you would burst. But you can't hold onto that feeling, you forget, and keep living, and let your mind fixate on banal and pointless things, like which pair of shoes will cause less discomfort, or if you must shower today or just rinse off, or whether you want to eat rice or pasta and think  you probably shouldn't have either because you need to lose another 50 pounds. For what? You'll still die. To be loved? You are loved. You may be. You will be. Your corporality and trauma, your absurd insecurity should mean nothing, you should let it all go.

But you can't, you don't. It isn't fucking fair that the world continues to live while you die too soon. It isn't fucking fair that even in the dying we hold on to anger and resentment and age-old dynamics. It isn't fucking fair that the pain of your death is, perhaps, less keenly felt, too, than the pain of un-love. God, I'm so selfish. We all are. It defies reason and words and makes my bones ache and my head hurt. And yet. I still want his eyes on mine. I still need to be seen. And I will still enter into the darkened room and for 100 minutes, suspend disbelief and be transported by the imagination of others. It isn't fucking fair.

But it is so God damn human.




martes, julio 04, 2017

Urgencia de conocerse
A través de la mirada alterna
Ajena sin serlo,
Sin palabras previas,
Conocimiento primordial.

De allí surgen los deseos suprimidos,
Las necesidades alejadas,
La esperanza casi apagada
Revive.

El sonido de mares,
Sangre pulsando en los oídos
Pulmones reventándose
Por una voz
Que pide ser escuchada.
Melodía subterránea
Anterior a todo lenguaje.

Agudiza la soledad
El tiempo que se sabe perdido.
La desnudez retórica repara.
Imágenes inversas,
Una mirada mutua
Profunda,
Vital,
Escrita en la piel
Sin sistema de signos.
Interpretable sólo
En la solidaridad de pupilas entrelazadas
Que no se atreven a esquivarse.

Germen de vida
Efímera
Eterna.

jueves, mayo 11, 2017

Week: Who the fuck cares at this point?

If you never stop clutching, you can never let go. If you never let go, they can never abandon you. If you never stop clutching… your fingers will atrophy on one side, while anabolizing the other, your muscles hyper-developed/withered, turning your hand, the one you so wanted to be open and loving, has twisted into some misshapen claw, rigid in its clumsiness, sharp and unyielding.

It is sunny out. That perhaps goes without saying, and not because the saying is obviated by some universal truth, but rather because we often leave out the most salient details, because as we evoke a scene from within it, the warmth on your skin, the palid blue sky, wires crossing looking out across the alley, skimming the tops of mid century ranch houses, the air chopped in rhythmic patterns by the blades of an angry helicopter… and we absorb it, without any sort of awareness. You think that might be an indifference of amniotic proportions, that is to say, we don’t mean to miss the most important details, but we are simply slipping from this womb-like trance, with black letters marching across the white screen, into a warm bath, and we never even notice our own crossing-over.

The heat that promises to unleash on this city of the sun, is held at bay, for now, its pounding fists held back by wispy arms of wind, gently tugging at its sleeves. The sun is spilling a diffuse light, just past its zenith, and the helicopter swims back through the sky. You think, “they must be doing a man-hunt.” Then you think, “the poor bastard. I bet he didn’t deserve what he’s gonna get. Poor brown or black man… poor motherfucker” and you look back over at the alley. The dog lazily scratches the sand. He is enjoying this sun. So are you. You re-read. You think, “yes, I agree how unfair the gendered the language of criminality is: he is always the perpetrator of violence, and she is always the victim. And they are always people of color... How cliché,” you think, “and yet…” There are too many sounds, chirping at varying intervals, the grind of rubber tires on freshly laid asphalt (emitting that smell of hot, wet summers back east, where trees hung pregnant with photosynthesis, and embraced your childhood wonder).

Just last week you were in another hemisphere, a country you had never been to, but whose cuisine you had long enjoyed, and whose countrymen have been your artistic family, and you wonder if perhaps you dreamed it all. If this perfect parenthesis from your life, 4 days in an ancient, sacred valley –you notice the pain of hunching over your laptop that perches on your outstretched knees and the sound of the train whistle in the distance. The helicopter circles back out of earshot, and the swoosh of tires remains—could make you see the version of the truth that you MUST accept in order to move forward in your life, would you try to hold onto that evanescing, fleeting key to your happiness? Or would you just. Let. Go?

Emails pop onto your screen and you distractedly click at them, swatting away the peskiness of words about things about which you have no desire to elaborate. You sigh, maybe metaphorically, no, no, you actually also physically sigh. And feel a creeping sadness, that is almost comforting, like an old, worn blanket that weighs your chest down as your eyes close.
But you are conditioned, aren’t you, your claw-like grip more than a habit, a gnarl-jointed, emotionally crippled deformity. So you don’t let go. Can’t let go, your rigid, painful, grasping, aching clutch cannot save you.  You think that by holding on, you are helping them stay afloat, when it is really the opposite: at best you are only joining them in a downward spiraling black hole, at worst, pulling them down faster with your excess weight.

Your daughter comes out and sees your stricken face. “What’ wrong?” she asks, “it helps to name what hurts you and let it out.” You cry. That is, you were already letting the tears roll down your unkempt face, but now you start to cry in that way in which your chest heaves just a little, like a hiccup, when it is still cute and doll-like, rather than some gape-mawed, choking nausea made sound. It could go downhill from here. You can’t say what hurts. You make a psychic squeeze inward as if there were some emotional kegels you can do to strengthen your permeable barriers, to make them only semi-permeable, to shrink the pores through which your pain leeches, even when you think it doesn’t. She leaves, like she came, a beautiful hurricane. You think about how much you love her, and how much you fuck her up every day because of your worry, and your hope, and your unrelenting pressure on yourself and thus, her. You think that you don’t deserve the unconditional love that she gives you and you think, “is this my hurt? Maybe some of it. But there is more, and it has a material shape and name.” You are tired, you must acknowledge that much. The pain in your back is a low-grade warmth, the helicopter makes another one of its kaleidoscopic rounds, and the dog has come to pant on the bench, next to you. He loves you too, you think. Stupid animal.

An airplane tears west across your sky. You have gotten nowhere with yourself. You cannot name your pain because you, too, are a withholder. Maybe he is always a withholder of love, but you… you are a withholder of truth. Which is worse. Of course, you would justify to yourself that you protect your core so much because you have empirical evidence to substantiate your claim that you will be guaranteed pain in 100% of the experiments (you glare down the flashing neon: “sample-size bias” that bleats out across the darkened screen of your psyche). But your justifications are bullshit. You know it, they know it. It doesn’t fucking matter anyway. You still can’t solve the problem of your claw-like grasp, your goddamn terror of abandonment, that you, yourself attempt to stun, detonating little bombs of aggression, hoping to blow your own fucking hand to kingdom come if it will just let you stop clinging to a sinking ship. Every.Fucking.Time.


Name your pain? Break your hand? Break the ice. Just…Let…Go.

After all, you've always been a strong swimmer.

domingo, marzo 19, 2017

Week 11/52, March 19, 2017

machete love/ amor machete

Forgive me, my love, perdóname mi amor
que no hay manera, that there’s no way
to call you back for gentleness, llamarte para pedir suavidad
cuando estás hecho de acero, when you’re made of steel
and bone, and clay, and blood, y hueso, y barro, y sangre;
I didn’t understand then, no entendí entonces
that your fingers were talons, que tus dedos eran garras
que tu lengua era rebenque, your tongue a whip
cracked in the bristling air, chasquido en el aire erizado.
How could I know that the lesson from you, cómo yo saber que la lección tuya
no sería de cómo envolverse, wouldn’t be how to wrap yourself up
in a blanket of oblivion, en una manta de olvido,
sino tu regalo es la claridad, but your present is the clarity
with which I see myself, me veo a mí misma,
a través de tus ojos que se vuelven míos, through your eyes that become mine.
Tu amor es feroz, es salvaje, your love is ferocious, it ‘s savage
baring its fangs, slashing away at excess, sacando sus colmillos, tajando al exceso
de ego, de orgullo, de ignorancia, of ego, of pride, of ignorance
your love is machete love, tu amor es amor machete,
wordless and belligerent, mudo y beligerante
ser sin ser y sincero, being without being and honest
in your dishonesty, en tu deshonestidad,
Tu amor es amor hipócrita, your love is hypocritical,
like everyone’s is, como lo es para todos
porque queremos y no queremos, because we want and don’t want,
to limit our freedom, limitar nuestra libertad.
Amor machete, amor mío, machete love, my love
there’s no way to thank you, no hay cómo agradecer,
que me hayas enseñado a no pedir, for teaching me to not ask for
no buscar, no procurar, not search for, not reach for,
mi felicidad en nadie fuera de mí, my happiness in anyone outside myself.
And tonight, luminous and damp, esta noche, luminosa y húmeda,
entendí soltar las riendas, I understood how to let go of the reins
and let the wild horses ride, y dejar galopar a los caballos salvajes
como en la isla Assateauge, as on the Assateague island
of my childhood, de mi niñez.
Tus colmillos se hunden en mi piel, your fangs sink into my flesh,
warm, soft, comforting, cálida, tierna, consoladora,
mi corazón deja de latir, my heart stops beating
for just one instant, por un sólo instante
y abraza su propia muerte, and embraces its very own death
peering into the abyss, mirando hacia el abismo,
antes de reanudar, before beginning again
its rhythmic pulse, su pulso rítmico
los tajos de un machete, the slashes of a machete
cutting through the rain forest, cortando camino por el bosque pluvial,
swish, swish, swishing, sibisibilando,
y el sudor de tu espalda, and the sweat of your back,
runs in rivulets, corre en riachuelos
al suelo fecundo, to the fecund earth.
Your bifurcated tongue, tu lengua bifurcada,
lanza hechizos serpentinos antiguos, casts ancient serpent spells,
on my soul, your sister, a mi alma, tu hermana
tu madre, tu hija, tu amante, your mother, your daughter, your lover
your everything and your nothing, tu todo y tu nada,
tu verdadera amiga, aunque asuste, your own true friend though it frightens you
will constrict herself for you, se contraerá a sí misma para ti,
aunque no se lo pidas, though you don’t ask her
though you want everything the other way, aunque quieras todo al revés.
Suéltate y vuela, me dicen los machetazos, let go and fly, the machete-slashes say
no te ates a mí ni a nadie, don’t tie yourself to me or anyone else.
Cut the strings and act on your own, rompe los hilos y actúa por ti sola,
baila si es tu gusto, dance if it is your pleasure,
sing because you must breathe, canta porque es debido respirar
Alza tus ojos al cielo, y allí brillarás, lift your eyes to the sky and there you will shine,
and I will gaze upon you, y reposaré mis ojos sobre ti
cuando ya no me veas más., when you no longer see me.



miércoles, febrero 22, 2017

Week 7/ 52 February 19, 2017

            I parked the car and stepped out into the damp, cool evening. The day had been spent in relative bliss, and I felt like dancing and singing, and being inside of myself, with no care for the world around me. This is a rare feeling. I better take advantage. And under the darkened drizzle, I walked with my light down jacket zipped up tightly. “If I close my eyes, this could be San Francisco and not Phoenix.” If I close my eyes and let the stillness hold me. The performance was transfixing, Rubén, Jorge’s friend, brought characters to life, through gestural suggestion, carefully crafted words, poetic punctuation. Light. Theater has always been a place where I felt safe, but tonight, I must admit, I was overwhelmed by the whiteness of the audience. I sat comfortably, easily enough, in my slightly inappropriate purple mini skirt and black tights, ankle boots, hair misted by the rain. But I felt somewhat oppressed by the polite tittering around me about vacations and shopping forays, where the woman who sat next to me asked me if this was, indeed, row k, and wasn’t it awfully close for row k. I replied, drily, that I wasn’t intimately familiar with what row k ought to feel like, being that I was not a frequent purchaser of orchestra seats, and therefore was totally useless as an informant for her inane validation-seeking. Of course I said none of that, just that I didn’t know what it was supposed to feel like. The rest I kept to myself. There was a well-intentioned young person who created a wall of speech to pre-interpret the play, Esquinita, USA, for an audience she assumed was not fully equipped to interpret black and brown characters from the ghetto, any ghetto, as the world crumbled around them. I tried to close my eyes, to ignore the yammering, to transport myself to other theaters, other times, when I used to walk to the CNA before it was the CENART and watch world-class acts, and student plays alike, for a nominal fee for students, and how I never feel lonely when I am held in suspense, in the suspension of disbelief, in the energetic field that emanates, pulsing and writhing, from the actors centers.
            I have always loved the theater (just not musical theater, sometimes). And Ruben was, simply sublime. But I am reminded too, of the magical sway that an actor can hold, how their embodied characters can touch us, and how, sometimes, we fall in love with the changing gels, illuminating nuance and power. I think about Brigadoon. I must have been in middle school, perhaps 7th grade. We went to the high school, and settled into our seats, my mother next to me, my brother, perhaps too, though memory does not cast him as anything but an amorphous possibility. I fell in love. I remember it clearly, because it is a feeling that I have spent the greater part of my adult life chasing, that warm wash of emotion, the heightened touch, the gasping breathlessness, the hope. I’ll confess, it has been a while since I’ve felt that hope, but that is neither here nor there.

            For me the space and time of a play was as close to a religious transubstantiation as I was ever going to come, and I bit that metaphorical wafer hook, line and sinker. There is a calm that comes with this vicarious living, one that I later rediscovered in film, but there is something in the physical proximity, the sweating, breathing, smoking, bleeding humanity that makes live performances magical and often morally compelling. The Greeks, I suppose, had it right, and the longing for catharsis, the purging of excess emotional baggage, the orgasmic build up of tears that pull from your chest, behind your eyes, and then spill over in deep compassion for someone else’s plight, because, of course it is never your own. I am grateful for this certainty, that by making characters speak to one another, to watch the drama unfold in front of me, I will always have a way out of my own labyrinth, out of my own, chafing, binding disappointments. They melt away in the darkened theater, and then, as in a classroom, where the rest of the room falls away, and it is only me and the person who is telling me stories, they are speaking directly to ME, and I am held captive, breathless, and free.

lunes, febrero 13, 2017

Week 6/52 February 13, 2017


Atlas shrugged, and then let go…

Sometimes we learn something about our lovers, something so deep and dark and altogether unseemly that from it we cannot come back, cannot return to the innocent unknowing, or rather to the willful ignorance. And sometimes it is the fact that they hid from us who they truly are that is the most crushing, the most love-killing.

I think that this is how we spend our lives, desperately trying to protect our core from someone else, wanting keenly to be known, to be seen, to be safe, but at the same time terrified that if we are seen, what we are, what we need, what we want, will be ridiculed. It is a paradox really, because the people that we let close to us, they are the ones we may disappoint, their opinions matter, they know where our tender underbelly may be exposed, so we don’t divulge who we are, not fully, for fear that we might recognize our own shame in their eyes, reflected back upon us, and that would simply be too much.

Yet, there is still a way we rationalize, we mollify, we protect. Them or us? What happens when that boundary isn’t clear? Do we protect, instead, respectability? That word sticks in my craw, and yet… the sense of how we measure up at a societal level plays so much into our self-esteem, or ability to continue in the world, to agree to the contract of getting up in the morning and facing our days. And for what? It is hard to say. Maybe our natures are always being tamed, always being ushered into what we think others want from us. And I fear, we will always, always fail.

To say something like “It happened more or less at the time my marriage was failing” as an opening line, is fundamentally dishonest. Not dishonest because the marriage did, indeed, fail, or because it happened to be during a crisis point in the relationship, but because how can the demise of something built on a fundamental misrepresentation of who we are be considered a failure? Isn’t it rather a failure to endure, to persist, in the face of overwhelming evidence that the person we love, have loved, did love, does not, in fact, exist? There is another problem with that opening line and that is more about its narrative function. We are regularly assaulted with stories of triumph, stories of overcoming painful, psychic destitution or physical abjection… but those stories, the ones that get published, the ones that get made into movies, they share a common characteristic. The character, our character, us… wins in the end. The stories have a postscript, at the very least, telling us that so-and-so escaped domestic violence, or trafficking, or bankruptcy, or a life of gang violence, or simply being gas-lighted by the person they thought was on their side, to finally, in the end, find true love… or parenthood, or peace or purpose.

But what if we don’t?

So, the story, my story, any story, today, cannot begin under the premise that there is a happy ending, because, in the end, I don’t believe that there is any ending but a dreadfully painful one. Death. Painful to us, sometimes, painful to those we leave behind, always, without fail. It is funny, you know, how we never give ourselves credit for all the times we didn’t lose it, didn’t scream, didn’t cry, didn’t accidentally or purposefully violate the privacy of someone else’s psyche and trying in an act of love or terror to understand what makes them tick. So today is an unstory, monstrously repeated, as needed, to extricate one’s heart from love misplaced.

It happened, more or less, at the time my marriage was failing: (Note that there are no references, of course, to the thousands of times prior to that in which fears and feelings were squashed, rewritten and, simply bundled up and sent to the dead zone before the critical moment came.) I moved to California, we moved, and as the entirety of the country, along route 40 unfurled itself, I applied the silent treatment. There had been an accident, an emergency room visit, a series of unkind words exchanged. And yet, they were no more or less terrible than what had come before, or even than what would come after, but I didn’t know it at the time. I just sat, tight-lipped and seething and watched the landscape change, from a lush green, dripping and thick with sweat and mosquitoes through Appalachia, to the desert wasteland, scorched by the unrelenting sun, calcified bones and tumbleweeds in the petrified forest in Arizona. I didn’t want to talk anymore. I didn’t have words. The joy was gone. We hit the coast, and there was some need for words, there was some shared admiration of the majesty of the pacific ocean, the golden grass on mountain sides. There was a relenting. I thought.


We had been in our new home a week when I stumbled onto him. Sharp, angular, cut off by half, with the mountains as backdrop for his yet unknown life. I told myself it was justified, that if I was going to be constantly under attack, I could carve out a secret space for myself. I responded: “Have we met? Will we?” and that was enough. Something so simple detonated my life. I couldn’t have known that it would, of course, our carelessness abounds when we simply don’t care anymore... but nothing is clearer to me now than that decisive moment. I chose life. And life is messy and painful, and terrifying, but I chose that, and I wrote, and wrote and wrote to the one person who I dared to see me. Dangling my want and my need and my love in an ultimate act of submission, blinded and bound, but emboldened in the mutual knowing. Of course, in the end, it didn’t work. There were threats and careers held over the chopping block out of spite and vindictiveness, but in the end, it ended because that is the nature of these sorts of things. And I learned that I can be seen, and loved, and that maybe that’s not enough to “win,” but the winning is in the learning. And today, I’m reminded that the real triumph is dusting ourselves off, and trying again. Each time, with more transparency than the last. Each time with a better understanding of who we are, and why we want what we want, or at least a willingness to explore what it is that we really do want, and then ask for it without fear, not because we are guaranteeing that we will be granted this dearest of wishes, but because in the not asking and not demanding, we are guaranteeing that we won't. Because, in the end, what is “success” in a relationship? Is it bound up in reproductivity? In exhaustion of sexual appetites? In joint expenses and mutual support? In abating the loneliness that is part of the human condition? All of the things? None of the things? Perhaps somewhere in the middle, in which we can bear to look at ourselves in the mirror, and to look them in the eye. And they can look back at us, and be our mirror, and see us for who we are, frail, penetrable, and perverse. And we can laugh. Together.  Medusa laughed, and her gaze could still be deadly, Atlas shrugged, and decided to let the world fall to her feet.