in every story, there is a plot.
this is called “what happens.”
what happens is usually someone dies and someone rebuilds, someone buys a wedding ring and maybe she says yes.
what happens is we lose touch.
what happens is we stop at the laundromat, and i don’t know if i am inventing the men smoking cigars on the porch, or if it is really thursday. what happens is i am nine and you are a few years older and we are in the laundromat with three baskets full of clothes.
what happens is my parents are waiting in the car and we have quarters weighing down our pockets and we are grown up as we press coins into the slots on the washing machines. we giggle because we are the youngest occupants of the one large room lined with washers and dryers, and we giggle and we wait for the buzzers. we grow unsteady, confused, younger as we realise that we have been wrong. suddenly we are infants and we glance around the room and we feed more quarters into the belly of the machine, one at a time.
we mess up. the directions are simple and it is obvious we are children and shamed, we hang our heads. the door clangs and your mother is asking what is the hold up and we are hanging our heads
and she smiles. you have to put more than one quarter in at a time she explains carefully and we stop the dryer’s intestines from oozing out by plugging up its mouth with coins. i bid a half hour and what happens is we wait and we are grown up again.
what happens is we think of porches and knowing things like how to use the dryers at the laundromat.
what happens is you paint your room pink and black and move your mattress to the floor. your walls have stickpin scars where you hang your posters and beads. i spend the night in your room and cannot fall asleep because your dog breathes on my face and there are constellations glowing through your ceiling.
you begin to leave me behind.
what happens is you train your dog and get a boyfriend and dump him and now you are dating someone else and he buys you a pet snake and she leaves her skin around your room. you wear sweatshirts to cover up the skeleton in your clothes and we don’t take trips to the laundromat anymore.
what happens is you sleep during the day and forget about the snake and the dog and your sisters. you print out novels for strangers at your job and tell me about a cool tribal flash drive. you get your tongue pierced, your hip tattooed, your eyebrows waxed.
you smoke pot with your snake-loving boyfriend until you dump him or he dumps you and you cry and come home for a few days to push around pasta on your plate and pretend you are eating. you steal your sister’s birth certificate to get a new driver’s license that tells bartenders they can sell you alcohol and you party and probably smoke more pot. you come home smelling like pot and you sleep until evening.
sometimes what happens is you don’t come home.
what happens is you get caught by the police and your sister gets in trouble and you lose weight. you do not have a problem
you go to rehab and you leave and you get another boyfriend.
you haven’t been to the laundromat since i was nine and there might have been men smoking cigars on the porch and you stop going to college and probably smoke pot or drink instead.
can i have more faith in you?
what happens is your mother sings for you in church: i have heard her. she prays for you with every swear out of her mouth, every breath she spends selling dogs to get you through school. your mother teaches me to use coin-operated dryers and she teaches me to play scrabble.
what happened was we lost touch.
what happened was he wanted everything you gave him but mostly more.
you think how it is a good thing
you are wearing your most comfortable sweater because crying
in uncomfortable nonmourning clothes just makes you feel more like the bottom of the ocean, or an oil spill. or both when the tides are all mixed up together, when the water seems saltier because there aren’t any people’s feet in it.
you begin to regret more than anything that while he was treating you like shit because that is what he did, you were neglecting so many beautiful friendships, thinking of the people who know you best, who know you are always about to unravel before their eyes, who know you won’t because you never do but you could, who know the game is only dangerous if they say it out loud, because you keep your words in your head so they keep making sense.
he wanted everything but gave it all back, the way you teetered each way & then fell on the wrong side & didn’t get up, the way he wanted to fight & hated that you didn’t, that you thought his desires were crazy, the way you always believed in his dreams but doubted the desire as if they could be pulled apart like biscuit dough, thick & uneven but brothers nonetheless.
he wanted what you didn’t want to give up,
things like not fighting, things like not having kids,
things like not fighting in front of the kids the way your parents did & you protecting your little brother from the noise, from their adult misunderstanding strange sensical awful nonsense dressed in language & the wide meaninged lanes they gave the words in your house.
things like equal commitment, like coming over late at night sometimes but also holding hands during the day,
things like the number four &
showering in your own apartment & sleeping in your own bed, things like talking about classes you loved because it was boring & he stopped caring,
things that should have been crystallised in your memory but you kicked your suspicions out & went serenely, floated stupidly, effortless & idiotic, the effervescent fool, the plain, the open glance filled with rain, the reasons you made the case becoming the dim saturdays working out from under the iron sky, exquisite & forgettable.
he wanted everything he couldn’t have but you kept making the case, kept giving & forgiving, kept on creating until the creation dried up into a bean & the mind died, until you felt the deft hand raising the question of art, until you looked back at your child & hated it, until you experienced the vast untrue, the desert of your self doubt, the desire to tear down everything you’ve laid your hands on.
once or many many times you created for him but it was also never for him & you still love him but you hate that you love him so you think maybe you will be able to stand up if your legs will move.
maybe you will just keep lying down.
you think maybe you will survive this moment & then you think you will of course survive but maybe some of your brain cells won’t.
you think this is okay because the world doesn’t need all of your brain cells.
you think maybe he has memorised your number.
you think this because you wondered about not knowing his & decided in case you deleted his phone number you had a shot at never having to say anything to him again. you think this because you want to matter more than you mattered. you think this because mattering to people who aren’t your mother is a big deal when you hate yourself. you think this because love makes the world go round so how could this possibly still be happening, until you think that it doesn’t, none of it, until you think that you just got done with the denial stage & so you should be grieving now, & you wonder if that’s correct so you compose yourself to look it up & your stages are all out of whack but it doesn’t matter because you keep feeling them all at once anyway.
you wonder if he is wondering about how you are but then you think bitterly that he doesn’t care & therefore doesn’t wonder or worry & then you chide yourself & think how that could never be true but you don’t know because liars lie which is why they are liars.
this seems obvious but everything is a little fuzzy, the beetles crawling in on the twinkling bulbs at the edge of your vision, the black beetles crawling toward each other in a race for the centre where you aren’t sure what is waiting but you will find out fast.
you wake up again & a book rolls off your chest onto the floor, bending the soft worn cover, its thin yellow only slightly more bruised than the day you got it. you pick it up & set it back on the floor neatly, pressing down the cover to encourage it to seek flatness, but neither of you are very zen.
the book moans back open, its paper lip fawning over the brick of its body.
you itch your ribs, wondering when you fell asleep & when your lips last touched water.
you think of treading water, you think how you cannot be alone, you think how you promised to wake up in time to save them all, how you were going to wake up in time to save yourself, you think how you’ll wake up in time to go, how you promised you would & you did.
you think how it was already like that before the fire started.
you get up for a glass of water but cannot balance on your feet.
you think how balancing is central to waking up in time to leave, how you did it so perfectly when he needed, how you sang yourself out of bed in the cold, how you sang to the pit of your lungs, how you sang straight from the bottle, into its thick glass lips, into the sick loud gravel of the voice you started dying with, how you saw the live impersonal stage with him on it & felt ill with the old emptiness, the shut in stale feeling of working beyond your bones so they stop carrying you around.
so when your bones stop their holding together you start thinking how you don’t think you could watch a human being die but you keep trying to watch yourself in the mirror.
so when you think at last you could be okay there’s another rug under your feet & someone yanking on it, so talking about it is the wall at the end of the desert, just grey & nothing like the eyes he gave you to remember & not be able to forget.
just nothing like everything he gave you when it mattered.
when it came to you mattering & he couldn’t convince you anymore & the confession eats a giant hole into every wall that protected you from storms.
you wake up again & it would be like a new day except every day feels like its older brother, except every day you look at the sweater you won’t give back & you don’t give anything back. & you don’t get anything back.
you try to think about getting up & doing something because someone told you that visualisation really works, so you try to think about happiness & maybe hanging some lights
because lights don’t need to convince you of happiness,
the way a pearl lets you know its price, the way the dead rise in your dreams because reality is too heavy grown on us all, the way the children of the children are always stifling themselves, always breathing smaller & thinking lower, deep down to the strangest core of the human dream, the way you won’t be like that, the way love laughs at explanation & asks to speak with your mother. we are all the way we grew up, you think, stifling yourself, picking apart the mirror & pulling in the parts of you that take too much.
we are all the people we meant to be at ten, except harder & bitter because we can’t so we dream differently until the dream is chicken nuggets & the dream is becoming more aware of its figure & the dream starts forcing itself down our throats instead of being taken stale with espresso, like all the horse pills you blink at hopelessly in the morning.
the dream is becoming something real before it gets to the best part, & you know because it doesn’t feel like the best part yet.
you have to almost wake up first but you haven’t & now it’s real & you just want to sleep.
from your bed you stare at your tiny bookshelf & mentally rearrange it, furiously picking the skin around your thumbs, digging without drawing blood,
the way you learned never to leave marks, the way you only marked what you loved, what you thought was love so you’d know it later, but it didn’t hang around the way you promised not to, the way you never meant it.
you never meant to harden so you try to think,
remember when you were so in love, remember how it was the most beautiful feeling you couldn’t describe, remember how it came down like a paper castle & crumpled over all your moats & bridges, remember how once you thought it was so safe & simple.
so you try to think about how you’re going to read all the books you’ve been meaning to read except you won’t & you’ve decided to try to stop promising yourself things that don’t come true the way you imagine, like love,
like the smell of a book after you own it, like pencil shavings in a metal wastebasket, like sitting in the theatre with someone you liked before then.
your hands always get sweaty & your voice cracks & ruins everything. your face bloats & reddens like a screaming infant without the urgency & you drop the desire for something more tangible, except you didn’t this time.
except he seemed so real & your hands were too cold anyway & your face was a smearing of traffic lights & the orange that the city wears under its clothes.
you were something brilliant because someone else thought so, but it was just a moment that lingered too long & saw your real face, whatever that looks like.
you roll over in the weird sun & try to pull the blanket over your eyes without smothering yourself. you give up.
you keep giving up.
you keep thinking like you’ll never stop,
never sleeping or wanting to move but getting up & doing your laundry & shopping for groceries & scribbling on the backs of your hands.
you keep thinking how you tried to fight him for it instead of fighting for it, how being close & not together is so much more awful than being together & not close, so much worse than anything you could have dreamed up in your head that dead-doe keels over at a slasher film, that turns everything into how you might die horribly, that makes shadows where the light sits.
you keep thinking about how your head is so dark you like to stay out of it, about how your dad can wish anything away so you try wishing away something simple like your heart to see if it works but it didn’t in ninth grade & it doesn’t now so you keep thinking without wishing away your thoughts but sometimes you just end up thinking how you wish you could sleep.
you keep thinking on the bus in the grimy fluorescence of people reflecting your watering eyes, you keep thinking & thinking & notice them staring just before you get up.
the worst part is you keep thinking about how good & easy & perfect it used to be & then you feel sick.
you keep thinking as you try to fall asleep, osteoporosis osteoporosis,
as if it could numb your mind & help you go, as if you know you already have it, are already afflicted all over & dying but too afraid to visit the doctor.
osteoporosis, this boneless thing with a heartbeat to it.
this reckless, feckless affair of the freckled eye, the yellow lie of spring highs that crash by the first snow & in between.
you wish you could take any of it back.
you wish for another second chance, or something. if something could just happen you might survive but nothing starts, just sways like it might, in anticipation, leaves you wishing for it, on the edge of dying for it.
you wish for him every time you blow the clock a kiss, as if it does anything which is a thought you will never speak out loud because it could & that’s why you keep wishing & wishing for him & knowing he won’t show up on your porch covered in snow & restless & unable to sleep. but it’s worth it because the act keeps you sane, keeps the seams sewn up, tight fish wired like your lips & that hole in your knee.
sometimes the things that keep you sane don’t make any sense but they’re worth it because otherwise you can catch yourself alone without any matching numbers to salute & no one in the kitchen but your half loaf of bread & the empty table & you start to cry because the sense begins to unravel again.
you keep thinking about the post-love story,
how it aches to live beyond love, how it ends up being forever every day, how without him it unravels stupidly.
the city-witch sees your superstition & approves, sees how you step carefully between the cracks, silent as a myth on the ear as it creeps into the brain.