45.

July 16, 2017

Waking from the middle of a dream set in outer space, she found herself in her usual position, curled on her side and she imagined the alarm going off. Soon, she would stand and begin to get ready, making herself up for the day. And of course she worried about her appearance, turning 45. There were the obvious things to throw her into a spiraling fear-fall: the skin just that much more worn, stomach that much more slack, and silver threads sparkling through the dark cloud of hair that was hers.

But those weren’t really the topics about age she cared about, lying there in those last moments in that surreal space between sleep and wakefulness. She thought, “What about the unseen things?” Doesn’t 45 mean some kind of wisdom and having got somewhere, finally? She was faintly embarrassed by the truth: She was no more wiser than when she was a young woman. Yes, she had more compassion, but more cynicism, too.

She sat up from the bed, pushing the sheets and blankets aside, wanting to see the tableau of her life. The sun had not come all the way up and it was partially dark, but from her viewpoint, she summed up her achievements, proud of so many, and also unable to not notice the spaces she had not visited and the aspects of terrain she had never mapped. She sat in the middle of life and saw that roads appeared in every direction before her, roads downward and roads upward, paths she wanted to walk and learn: inner peace (45 and still restless), satisfied disposition (45 and still wanting), a deep understanding of self (45 and still surprised to be meeting herself), a sense of completeness (45 and still wondering what and who she will be when she grows up).

She got off the bed and walked toward the start of one road, visible in the starlight. She unlatched a gate and stepped onto it’s dirt path. In the pale dark, she could make out that it was worn and cleared by others’ having walked it–a million artists and daydreamers and seekers before her.

Taking a step, she asked God, “Shouldn’t I be settled in by now, 45 and comfortable?” Shouldn’t the desire for bigger sentimentality and more intensity and deeper connection and magic-magic-magic have either been fulfilled, or realism and equanimity put in its place? Shouldn’t she have successfully achieved that thing always talked about: loving yourself?

She looked up for answers and spied a satellite. She was surprised, she thought her satellite would have docked by now, by 45, having learned enough out there in the galaxy. Instead, there it was, continuing its orbit, still gathering data, still researching. She reached her hands up and out, waiting for the satellite’s message. It poured light downward, illuminating the path under her feet. She took a step.

###

Helping.

May 19, 2017

Dear Jack,

Please forgive the impersonality of my writing this email on behalf of Dolores. She has a message for you that is difficult to deliver, and as her friend I agreed to be the messenger. (Please don’t shoot me.)

Dolores thought my writing to you would be the most efficient and least painful way to handle the situation before us. She is understandably very concerned about hurting you and is caught up in worry, I’m afraid, about what your reactions might be to the news I am about to share. Please understand that she is very simple, a person with gentle soul and such a pacifist at heart that she does not want there to be a to-do made about this. I have asked her to focus on the message she wishes me to give you, but I can see it is hard for her. When you are the topic, she becomes distracted or focused on other things, and I can only assume she must be remembering special moments. Perhaps she feels mesmerized under your gaze or by the way your hands make motions in the air when you talk, and her senses simply abandon her. I regret in some ways that I am only writing and not able to hear your feedback, as I wonder if you have any idea of your effect. On Dolores, I mean.

You must know that our dear Dolores is sweetly temperamental but overly sensitive, and so this whole situation is not easy for her (as evidenced by the fact she has pressed me into this service instead of handling it herself). So enough prologue, here is the truth: Your relationship with her is not working. This isn’t a shock, right? I only mean that I wouldn’t imagine it would be…you being so sensitive and intuitive and smart. As an aside, I have to admit I noticed for some time that things were not quite right between the two of you – I have sensed some kind of tension or something very like incompatibility. I thought perhaps I was imagining things, but no, I could see in my dear friend’s eyes a dull gaze of something unwarm on those occasions where I spent time with the two of you, and it concerned me. In your eyes, your sea-green eyes, I would see something else. Your eyes are so depthless, the frame of lashes sooty and charming. I have mentioned this to Dolores, about your eyes, but she only furrowed a confused brow. Anyway!

So – Dolores shared with me that you have asked her repeatedly what she wanted from you in a relationship, and that she could not answer. Be assured, even to me and without you in the room, she could not answer that question. Because I care about her well-being and happiness, I have posed the same question to her throughout the arc of your relationship. Dolores’s answers never seem to be able to settle on any one thing and so I would offer some responses for her to “try on,” to see if they were possibly the things she would like from you. I asked if she wanted to reach across the space between you and touch you, especially your laugh lines around your mouth or your dark hair where it curls on your collar. I asked if she wanted to know what moves you, what you are made of. I asked if she wonders what would make you happy. Most recently, I asked if she simply wishes she could sit in a café across from you and confess all her feelings and not worry what time it is or who might spy you. Dolores had no answer to this, and even laughed when I asked it, because of course this is absurd and she doesn’t have to wonder. Perhaps that’s the problem? Yes, it suddenly occurs to me that perhaps your familiarity (almost as though you are brother and sister, not lovers) with one another has lowered the quality of your interactions. Whatever the case, you are unfortunately not well matched.

We all know some relationships just don’t work out, and no one is to blame for this. The dissatisfaction and the frustration Dolores feels is real, and for you, too, it must be very hard. As Dolores’ friend, I have asked her to consider how she can desert her own well-being by sleepwalking through a hopeless situation. Surely you have a good friend who would ask the same of you? For both of you, there is a such a price to be paid for living so mediocrely. Dolores simply cannot put her heart, nor yours, through this any longer.

I am passionate person, Jack, and from what I gather, so are you, so I know you will understand where I am coming from. If you only have one life to live, don’t live it complacently. You cannot do this anymore, can you?—doing things by halves or quarters, asking yourself where you and Dolores are headed, if you could be serious about her or vice versa, etc. She isn’t really emotionally available, and that must be so difficult—I know it would be for me. Actually, it occurs to me that when Dolores introduced you to me, I strangely felt and sensed things about you and was surprised that the two of you had decided to pair up. But love is a funny thing and it often doesn’t make sense, so I didn’t think overmuch about it. Who can reason with love? But it’s not love, after all.

As I write this letter, I realize how impersonal it is to let you know this way that Dolores is exiting your relationship. I realize it would be much more fair and even-handed of me to meet with you so I can help you to understand and to answer any questions you may have.

Would you like that, Jack? I’m sure Dolores would understand, as she once cared about you and cannot mean that you should suffer! As a courtesy to her, and because she is my great friend, I feel I must prevent her being seen as cruel.

Write me back and we can set up a place and time. Or perhaps you’d prefer something private, in which case, you are welcome to come over this evening and we can chat about this, and other things.

Your friend,

C.

In her better moments, it seemed she would finally lose the thread.

When happy, she would forget the reasons for feeling the female Atlas. It was as though the sun had a mind, and it would decide from time to time to shine and the haze would drop away. When she was happy.

When she wasn’t well, she hung on to the spool with its ribbons of melancholy and dolorous feeling and she spun it out so that the whole landscape in front of her became a riot of gray and blue streamers — a grim ticker tape production she alone attended.

The trick, it seemed, would be to release the reel stopper, let all the drab color unfurl exhaustively, so that there was nothing left except a naked piece of cardboard. It would be a relief to stand there, holding it, and to know there was no more: no more yards of regret or weird weather or high sentimentality, and no more bobbins or spindles or mountains, and maybe no more poetry.

###

Sore throat.

April 6, 2017

Her sore throat wouldn’t subside. A month after the death, she imagined it was not a sore throat, but in fact, the beginning stage of a disease.

This is how it was, what she wrote in her journal:

“Something is really wrong. Every time I swallow, drink something, talk, I feel the weight in my throat, a terrible and constant pressure against my larynx.” And then, because she could not help herself, she analyzed her throat problem obsessively. She wrote ego-lyrical prose like: “I cannot sleep in the frightful a.m. hours. At 3:00 a.m., all my fears find soil, take root, and blossom heartily. I continue to toss and turn, hour after hour, searching my mind, trying to fathom why God is descending this, some disease, down upon me when I am already lost. How far will He go to punish me for whatever I’ve done, to teach me whatever lesson I need to learn?” Unstoppably, she endlessly swallowed, to feel if the weight was still there. It always was. She was helpless from testing it, over and over, swallowing – these swallows on a continual loop, like some terrible, terrible conveyer in the starless dark.

The nights went by like this, and at some point, every night, while in the midst of this bleak cycle, one or both of her children would sleepwalk into her room and climb into bed with her. She would adjust the blankets, whispering, “I am here, I will be here, you are safe.” She would find peace in their breathing and she would forget, for a bit, about the throat problem.

Of course – it was, after all, not a disease. The doctors confirmed.

It was sorrow. It was the physical hitch in her throat, the inability to breathe deeply without feeling first the lips begin to tremble, then the eyes close in a sickening squint, and to hear both the muted silence of death and the roar of it, too. The sadness and fear of the loss closed up her throat, formed a grief-knot in it. And, it turns out, grief is the opposite of hope. Hope flies in the face of despair – it lifts up and soars above it; grief embraces it, coddles it to the chest, wraps itself around the pain and holds on tightly. Grief leans hard into the hurt, to see if it will give way. It won’t: the pain is made of concrete, and it will not crack.

She ached for what was lost. For the sake of those who lost the most, she put aside the worry about the sore throat, and it became easier some of the time. She eventually gave up wondering if karma was collecting its due. Thanks be to God, she stopped the midnight bargaining with the fates. She bought a little nail and hammer, jimmied a chisle. She set to work, finding the way to break the mean, mean concrete.

###

She found there was no such thing as “moving on.” There was only “moving along with.” There was the outward and propelled traversing of her life, because there were no other options: Life – it’s business and chores and joys, too –  would not stop and so she could not stop.

Death was a thing she regarded close up. She took it as a concept from inside a large cardboard box and set it on the table before her and gazed at it, at the mystery of it, from all sides. It was changeable and storied, it had elevations and hollows all along its surface.

(She put it back in the box but it was clumsy, to try and pack it back up. Somehow, it did not fit and the flaps at the top could not be taped down.)

This time of year, the wind begins to hum a song from the memorial’s hymnal. She catches it from the corner of her ear.

Everything is full of sunshine, suddenly, because it is finally April, yet she knows May will be landing soon. May and all its collapse will be opening the box and will set up for its concert. She can hear the sound become louder, nearly mezzo forte now.

###

Accept/decline.

March 13, 2017

She erected a one-room house, a place with a very small footprint — it did not impose itself on anyone and went unnoticed in the main. The house felt very safe, as she could see every angle of the space by turning around in a circle. In fact, she could touch the beams that supported its four walls by simply holding out her arms.

Without any warning, seemingly from the wind, a gift arrived. Unbidden, a grant to enlarge the space was put into her hands, and she wondered if she should, if in fact, she could, accept it. Could she, she wondered, learn to live in a larger place? Would she like that? If she could not spy all the corners and all the roof and floor within her immediate sight, could she manage? If there was a hallway, and at the end of it, another room, that would mean she would have to walk some steps to visit the further reaches of where she lived. In such a scenario, it occurred to her, something might happen and she might not know, immediately, that it had. She could not see multiple rooms at the same time.

A knot formed in her throat. She felt afraid.

Something bad might happen, she reminded herself. If she used a chisel and hammer, if she set about knocking out a wall in this space, the elements could rush in. She might become cold, and intruders could intrude. Better to be safe, she thought. She put the gift outside the front door, attached a note: Return to Sender.

She turned around, and she turned around, surveying her little space and all it’s familiar shadows. All is well, she thought, in my little home. This is a sheltered place to be.

A knock at the door. She turns around and bumps into the knob, takes it and opens the door. There, on the porch, sits the gift. Her note is gone, and in it’s place is a large, shiny bow, ready to be unfurled anew.

###

 

 

 

Found love letter.*

March 1, 2017

The buildings have all exhaled their breath today, because you are not here.

All’s stale at school now, no terse vibrations shimmering up from the tiles, and my footsteps are leaden and without direction. The walls are only walls, and doors that just a few days ago could open to reveal you—they are now only doors and behind them, there lies not anything.

You are away, on a family vacation. Why does that hurt so personally? You have not deserted me here, but only left me to scrap about myself, trying to put back inside of me the aliveness you’ve untied. It is only that, when you left, you took all the air with you. There are no chances of glimpsing you in the hall, no possibility of a summons found under my door to meet you at day’s end. No way to reach you, I find the muscles I gloriously flexed have retracted in upon themselves. At your mercy, whatever strength I found in seducing your attentions rear on me and I am left small, unsure, as tremulous as I ever was.

So as it ever is, I wait, the basin of my stomach ripped in shreds. Subatomic particles of dread sift through these ripped shreds.

I become sick.

The electricity we had crackles and turns to ash, melting the floorboards below to burnt umber. I’m unfastened, adrift. No solidifying anchor at home, no shore to run aground where I live. How is it my power has grown hands, opened a window; how do I stay inside myself, not float away?

###

*  this was written in 1993, when I was 20 years old, and I gave it to a 19 year old boy who was my summer crush.

Inclement weather.

February 13, 2017

The window rattles, startled by the desperate bursts of wind.

(Outside, sirens.)

The glass dances, its vibrations carried down through the floor and deep into the boards. The outside land’s maddened temper is aroar, alight. Might the glass buckle entirely, might shards and slanted rain and tumbling debris come blowing in?

No, the window holds its own. Clear but sturdy, made to withstand the violent bluster and the revolt of particles and matter, though these kinds of events are rare around here.

A tree outside has greened and grayed and filled out and molted all along the seasons, but lies nearly horizontal now. Will it snap? Will its elegant trunk give way to the gales, and offer up its life to the One who made it? How much can it withstand? Gusts of 40, 50, 60, more? How many times can its pointed top touch near the ground, fully bent, and still right itself again? The tree bends and stands, bends and stands again, a ballet all along its leg and arms.

The sun has abandoned this day, perhaps to rest, and passionless light filters through and joins the glow of a desk lamp. (The lamp buzzes but cannot be heard–not through the squall and the frightening whine of sirens.)

The tree remains, ducking, still bracing itself. The glass window, an eerie instrument, hums a tune alive on the wind and drums a loose refrain.

And the rain soaks the ground.

###

What disappointed is.

January 17, 2017

She hooked herself to people who disappointed her.

Case in point, there had been a person once that she would have written about thus:

“I know an extraordinary person, a mountain of a man.”

It became, over time, harder to write such things. Maybe it wasn’t fair of her to require otherworldliness of the people who touched her. She expected them to perpetually move her. If someone impressed themselves upon her heart, she required that they march in place there, to deepen the imprint. When they simply walked off or away, she would wait–she would wait a long time. Sometimes they came back, but more often, they would find new people to inspire or care for, and she would feel the loss very deeply. It was not only the loss of the person, it was the loss of the image, it was the loss of the feelings the person had inspired.

It was hard to conclude that people with whom she traveled particular eras of life could forget her, or could sever themselves from the quality of the connection: so many laughs, so many insights, so much investment. For what? She supposed the purpose of such experiences had their own lifetimes, and it occurred to her that for others, this was adequate. She realized quite suddenly that she was perhaps unusual in wishing to be forever stirred by her relationships. And she wanted to appreciate the people who had been writ so heavy-handedly into her history, but had somehow, sometimes quickly and sometimes slowly, skated outward and away from her. She watched their departure, perplexed.

It was as if the mountain that had once loomed so large before her became, for better or for worse, an unreachable, far-away dot, a place she only remembered visiting.

###

Coffee, Emporio Rulli.

January 16, 2017

She does a slow striptease, but in reverse.

Picture this: January. Cold in the morning, gooseflesh strutting. Her skin, lit up and cold…the chill announcing itself in italics. She shivers and belts her lavender flannel robe, tight. She had always pictured meeting for the first time in summer, never winter, but the calendar has tumbled open to this page in her life, thus. On this date, the number is circled in red pen and there, optimistically, is a note: Meet W!!! Coffee, Emp. Rulli.

A hot shower, where the pummeling sword of water tenderizes everything. Her body, her skin, injecting warmth over her. Thankful. She thinks, “That’s better.” Warmer is better.

Then, a towel. Dark hair scraped back and wrapped away from the face. The careful, but brisk and practiced, application of lipstick, the curling of the lashes, eyebrows brushed into groomed order. The ritual of perfume, two spiced black-tea sprays onto each wrist, move the hair aside so the exposed neck receives its aerosol allotment (two hits).W did talk once about vanilla, and she remembers the Nordstrom “fragrance stylist” noted this perfume’s sweet, vanilla-bean note.

Standing in front of her closet, the towel wrapped tightly. A skirt? That would give the better indication as to the real shape of her calves, that much is true. Her best assets should feature, she thinks. Yet, jeans send the better message, “this is casual. I am as casual as you.” Exactly as casual. And, heels, of course. That’s a done deal, because peering into her closet, there is little to choose from in flats: an old pair of slippers, neon green and maroon sneakers from when she thought she might get into exercise (she never exercised), some cheap flip flops. With outsized delight, she settles on a denim skirt, thick black tights underneath. Boots with their tall wooden heels.

Jewelry. On the left hand, always…fine jewelry, yellow gold and gemstones. On the right hand, always…costume jewelry, or silver. Check the ears and try to decide on hoops or studs or pearls. No, not pearls: too much. Not hoops: not worthy. This is coffee, three years in the planning. So. Diamond studs, the ones she has traded up for twice, cashing in smaller glinting pieces, adding a thousand dollars each time, to here have finally achieved a carat on each ear. Significant, but not overso. Apropos to the cause: this meeting. Meeting W.

A last smile in front of the mirror. The teeth? As brushed as can be, flossed to the max. Cleaned doubletime. Gums pink, some have bled.

Get in car. Drive. Find parking spot (good parking karma) and emerge, sleek.

Finally meeting W.

Deep breath, stand up straight. Emporio Rulli. Coffee.

W.

###