Fresh to death

When you wake up, it’s best not to look at the light. It may be brighter than usual, but it’s best not to worry. Even if the light is out, it’s best not to worry. Relax, close your eyes, and go back to sleep.

It’s just a light.

I have mythologized my moments with you, but do not fret, as I am a storyteller in practice. Do not worry that I have misread you, misjudged you, mistook our interactions for the stuff of legends. Relax, close your eyes, and go back to where you belong.

It is best in the dark to think of where you are, rather than where you wish you were. There may be a time when you find yourself exactly where you thought you wanted to be, and suddenly wish you were back in that other room.

I’m trying to talk slowly and use less words and hope to see improvement.

A decade

I stood on the deck with my head tipped back. Under the fireworks

 in the breeze next to the river across from the red moon I thought, this is home. And I thought that even though there are dozens of people I love spread all over the world how I didn’t wish for anyone else to be next to me. How in that moment I thought of no one and missed no one and yearned for no body. 

I stood under the fireworks feeling star struck, half expecting the sparkling burst to filter down to me. To burn my skin and singe my hair. I don’t know where the sparks floated off to, but they didn’t make their way to me. My skin safe for another day. 

Nowhere else I should be, nowhere else I want to be. How I don’t feel like a stranger here anymore. How I can stand alone at the rails above the cheering crowd and be purposefully separate, rather than isolated. 

With my head tipped back and my mouth slightly open my eyes reflected the light in the sky. The boom so loud my shoulders jumped at the start. 

“It is night, turning as I write into morning. The dark world balances and tips and already I can feel the dawn coming up under me.” 


I knew the moment I saw your face something was wrong. You asked me how I was and I asked you in return, not sure if you would acknowledge the red in your eyes and the flatness of your face. Sometimes I don’t.

You did, and I felt myself pull into myself while simultaneously wanting to reach out to you. I asked if I could hug you, you nodded vigorously. I hugged you tightly and verbalized your pain, but I felt like it wasn’t enough.

I feel like it’s not enough, but I struggle with making up for the inadequacy. Outward displays of emotion make me uncomfortable. Any kind, not just sadness. Joy, chills, screaming. I fold into myself. It seems disingenuous, even though I know for different types it’s not necessarily. It’s completely real for some people. For me it is not.

But then I felt guilty, trying to make you laugh, trying to distract you. Feeling like I was belittling your pain, or ignoring it. I don’t know how to bridge that gap between what you’re feeling and what I’m uncomfortable with.

I’m here for you, you surely know that, but I also know that there’s nothing I can say you don’t know. There’s nothing I can do that will make anything easier. Maybe for a moment. But you will cycle back through. I want to make you feel better, completely, but that isn’t possible.

“Empathy requires knowing you know nothing. Empathy means acknowledging a horizon of context that extends perpetually beyond what you can see.”

There isn’t a finite economy of empathy.
“Oh my love,
I know I am a cold cold man.
Quite slow to pay you compliments.
Or public displayed affections.”

I just can’t physically do it. The guilt though, flows around me and through me and I will carry it like a sail for the next few days. Like a sheet in the wind at my back. I’m doing you a disservice, but I have to be true to myself. I fell short. I’m not who I claim to be.

“Empathy isn’t just something that happens to us – a meteor shower of synapses firing across the brain – it’s also a choice we make: to pay attention, to extend ourselves. It’s made of exertion, that dowdier cousin of impulse. Sometimes we care for another because we know we should, or because it’s asked for, but this doesn’t make our caring hollow. This confession of effort chafes against the notion that empathy should always rise unbidden, that genuine means the same thing as unwilled, that intentionality is the enemy of love.”

Do I believe in intention? No, but I’m trying to convert.

I’d rather sit in the quiet with you and feed you ice cream and let you process than touch you, or share my experience, or nod my head. I’d rather give you the space you need. Is that one-sided of me? Narrow-minded? Because that’s what I would want. I don’t want you to invade my space, ever, not when I’m happy or sad or heartbroken. And I show you the same respect. I offer you the same opportunity.

I know you have that ache in your heart and I know will lead you around for a while, and that’s okay. Let it out when the rising gets too intense. Let it out when it’s too severe. I don’t mind. But I am not a puller, not a plunger, not a deep-sea diver. I won’t go looking for the color of your pain. I won’t ask you to draw me the map. It’s not mine to discover with you, is it, this wound of yours. It’s mine to witness only, to watch unfold, but I won’t even bring popcorn because it’s not that kind of story. I don’t really like popcorn anyway. The kernels in the teeth.

Most people understand this about me, but it still happens. And it happens because you can’t help but spill over sometimes. I, too, scream on the rollercoaster and cry in the movie. I don’t care if you spill over, but I get so worried that you will want me to help you clean up, and I can’t do that. I can only move out of the way so you have easier access to the mess. Is that okay? Do you hate me for it? Is my detachment so unworthy if it comes from a place of love?

And what about that other knee-jerk feeling I had, which I was reluctant to express? How this happening to you only adds to my distrust. In a sense my distrust of good, of possibility, of clinging to the rope and swinging out over the water, but also to my distrust of bad, of losing faith. Because this too is temporary and this too shall pass and whatever it points to, will be ultimately better. And who knows, this may even turn around and end up to be nothing. How can you tell? How can you know? I’m falling out of place, so aware of how temporary everything can be. I don’t want to lose the meaning. I want it to matter, and I want to give it its worthy due. But all the same, I know…

“The days to come, the days gone by. Before we go back to what we’ll always be.”

flower of life, Frida Kahlo

flower of life, Frida Kahlo

Is this something or is this nothing? But you don’t wait until the context arrives to express what it means to you. You can’t wait until the end of your life to reflect on all the moments and then decide how you feel. The feeling while it’s happening is part of the inventory, part of the guide that you will use to see your way out of it. What will determine if it’s memorable or not at the end. I scream on the rollercoaster because I want to remember the high, the sense of flying that I feel only then. I cry when I’m heartbroken because I want to remember what it was like when I deceived myself. I laugh with my head back not to express my like for the joke, but for when everything aligned and I realized this moment had never happened before. My emotion is my net, my classification system– not my approval system.

highs and lows 

Remember when we ate pizza for days and I drew on your ribs?

I bought a navy sweater and when I put it on I looked so mature I didn’t recognize myself. I wonder if we will recognize each other and I know I’m wasting time not forgetting. 

I ate a ten inch pizza alone but the only thing better was the grease in the bread. 

Have I ever told you how your voice is raspy and reminds me of someone older. 

I don’t like that man who seemed embarrassed of you and critical. I don’t like men who are critical of women. 

Your mom is a good hugger. I can easily imagine her signing you out of school. 

I came home from work in my tshirt and fell out on the couch. I was asleep before I decided to go to sleep. Sweaty and loose and delirious. I crawled into bed in my street clothes. Too distracted to care. 

I looked at pictures of the school online and pulled it up on a map. It is closer but when I see the print of the neighborhoods I hear his yell and feel that tension in my back. Maybe it’s too close. 

I want to tell someone I dreamed of her and that purple dress but instead I sell the dress and try to forget again. 

I drove with the radio off and waited for the UPS man to buzz my door. I waited for the UPS man to leave so I could run down the stairs. The box wasn’t there. 

I watched the creepy movie on my own, cold in the living room, my fridge creaked and the crickets chirped and I sat so long my neck hurt after. I have very bad posture. 

I nicked my thumbnail with a razor blade and have picked at it all week. The nail doesn’t curl. It doesn’t break. Its white eye stares back at me. I cut my hair too short and pull it out of my face in protest. 

When the massage was finished my feet were cold and I wondered if they would ever be warm again. 

You said you were jealous

You stress me.

I talk to you and then I dream about you and then I wake up feeling tired.

I have this vivid memory of being 13 and going dress shopping with my mother. I was graduating from 8th grade. We borrowed my grandma’s van and drove an hour to the next town with decent dress shops. My grandma gave me a copy of Jonathan Livingston Seagull; I crawled to the very backseat, stretched out, and read:

“You have the freedom to be yourself, your true self, here and now, and nothing can stand in your way.”

The day is not memorable because of the silence in the empty van, when usually I was in the front with the noise of my siblings at my back [so much noise]; it is not because the weather was gray and cloudy and chill in that early spring; it’s not because my mother and I had the day to ourselves; it’s not because I ended up buying a white silky dress I never wore again; it’s not because I read about Jonathan and felt…overwhelmed with concepts I was only beginning to understand. It’s because later, my mother told me she was annoyed with me for sitting in the back of the van and reading, rather than sitting up front with her and talking.

We got drunk and stole bagels and fruit from the kitchenette. You and I got drunk and peed behind a dumpster on campus. We go for walks and talk about our lives. You and I walked in the snow and talked about our futures. You made me dinner and let me sleep in your bed. They make me dinner and send me home with leftovers. It’s not one or the other. It’s not better or worse. It’s here and now. It’s time and effort and presence. It’s difference.

Time is meaningful to me; actions are not. I value words, but more in the meaning they give me, in the meaning I can create with them, rather than sharing those words with others. I don’t necessarily connect with others through my words. I connect with presence, with ideas, with values. I don’t do well with people who need me to give anything more than my presence. I don’t do well with people who demand my time or my presence. I don’t do well with people. I’m not a teacher. I succeed with people because I let them be, and they appreciate that. I don’t seek to share anything I’ve learned with anyone in my life for their benefit. I feel like what I’ve learned or what I know is relative, and I can’t possibly say it in a way that will make sense unless I’m asked directly. I know when you were talking last night…I know when you complain that in essence you’re looking for help, for advice, or a pat on the back. I can do all those things when we’re together. But when we’re apart I don’t know how to give that. I don’t know how.

I want you to be happy and I want to spend time with you and be happy. But whatever it is you’re looking from me, subconsciously or not…I just want you to know it’s not there. I don’t have some secret agenda or some secret life with other people. What you see is what you get. What I give to everyone. What you want to have with me you don’t have because you don’t have it with yourself. No one can give you what you want but yourself.

Do you like cake 

A year ago I was the new kid on the block. Today was a rare repeat in my world. It’s been several years since I worked somewhere longer than a year. I’m not used to continuity or the cycle of it all. I forgot what that felt like. 

So today, I had a repeat of a day last summer when I was new and didn’t know names and had to rely on the kindness of strangers and the non-awkwardness of myself. 

But today I knew names and was called by name and hugged and sought out. Today people complimented my shirt and asked me about my day and did me favors. Today I felt the passing of time and realized how much I’ve learned. How aware I’ve grown. A year ago I was a stranger. Today I am home. In a few months I’ll be gone. Remember what it was like to make a home. Remember when you no longer felt like the obvious stranger. 

think of me when you’re out to sea

I’m a summer person. I’ve always been a summer person. My birthday’s in the summer; the best things happen in the summer: sweat and burgers on the grill and ice cream and swims and bare feet and sunglasses and sunscreen scents and heat and open windows.

But this year, I find myself waiting for the fall. For the brisk breeze in the morning and the smell of rotting leaves and hot cider and pumpkin pie and gray skies and shorter days and warm lit homes.

I’m ready for the season to change. I’ve done all I can with this one, maybe.