Aside 22 Jun

I’ve had a rare weekend alone – something I’ve always relished. But after the busy buzzing of my daytime slips into evening, a pit settles into my stomach. It is in these silent nights at home that your absence is amplified.

It is late day and I lie on my bed, watching the taupe sheers ripple in the light breeze that blows in through the window. On the floor is the locked brown accordion briefcase that once belonged to my grandfather and now bulges with my secrets. Inside your old flannel shirt, the seal picture, a note in which you say I am “the single fucking thing I get right every day.”

Snippets of memories – fifteen years’ worth – frozen images collected on a reel, clicking through my mind.

I turn over, stare at the ceiling, breathe. 

Aside 13 Apr

Spectacular night sky here. Even the distant glow of Manhattan can’t compete with the shimmery moonlight washing my stoop. What is it about the night sky that makes me feel like you’re somehow still here somewhere? It is the closest thing to comfort I find even years later.

Listening to A Case of You. I’m struck, when I go back and look at the worn pages of our earliest correspondence, how often you quoted that song to me and I know exactly what lines were resonating with you (because you told me) in the spring and summer of 1997…

I remember that time you told me you said
“Love is touching souls” 
Surely you touched mine 
‘Cause part of you pours out of me 
In these lines from time to time 
Oh, you’re in my blood like holy wine 
You taste so bitter and so sweet

I didn’t know Joni Mitchell songs then. And the way you clung to that song — constantly returning to it to explain the state you were in always made it seem like a personal possession of yours. Like a pair of socks. Something that belonged to you and with which you could do what you liked. But with you gone…somewhere, I have to believe, in that ink sky and milky moon hovering above me as I type this…I feel like i can rummage freely through your sock drawer.

With you gone, these are the lines I am taking.

I met a woman 
She had a mouth like yours 
She knew your life 
She knew your devils and your deeds 
And she said 
“Go to him, stay with him if you can 
But be prepared to bleed”

Aside 23 Nov

Even when you were alive, I found solace in the night sky; in the delicate glow of the moon; in the winking of stars. On days when the distance and our circumstances threatened to get the better of me, I would step into the nighttime air and breathe easier. There were thousands of miles between us, but we shared the same black sky and looked up at the same shining moon.

Tonight I finish a second year without you, here shivering on the chilled grass as crisp leaves skitter past my ankles. Above me a fat yellow November moon – brilliant and beautiful – peeks from behind a curtain of purple-silver clouds.

Everyone is asleep and the wind whips my hair around my head as that moon looks down on me.

In these moments I still feel you.

Aside 9 Mar

How can my greatest love also be my partner in a doomed affair? It seems ridiculous and impossible, yet I was there – I was a witness – and I can testify that I spent 15 years of my life in the possession of a love so unique, a connection so rare that there was no word for it. I was lucky, but not in the found-a-four-leaf-clover-in-the-grass-and-a-$20-bill-in-an-old-coat-pocket lucky. No it was more like chosen lucky. I was aware that there were plenty of people in this world smarter, richer, prettier than me, but after you I was quite certain I was more fortunate than all of them combined. What I possessed was infinitely more valuable than any object, any achievement or fine physical trait. What I had was something like a personal gift from an unseen force residing in the cosmos; I thought I might be the recipient of the universe’s version of the Mega Bucks doled out to the Most Fortunate every 100 millennia or so. How I felt? It had to be something of this magnitude and it carried me along with my feet always one or two inches from the ground.

It fueled me. It was mania. I remember when we first met you were literally the first and last thought I had each day and you occupied nearly every moment’s thought in between. I was Obsessed. I required little sleep and I barely ate. I’d open my eyes at the crack of dawn, in spirit and demeanor the equivalent of a Broadway musical star– sitting straight up in bed, immediately wide-eyed and stretching my arms over my head. I may as well have been belting out sappy love songs. Then I’d bound out of bed, dress quickly and rush to a campus computer lab eager to dig into the missives you left for me while I slept. The three-hour time difference in our lives allowed me to return the favor and I’d fire off gushing responses like a silly teenager describing how when I was your wife, I’d wake you each morning with the softest kisses on your face. And then a blow job.

It was a day like any other early in our romance when Josh, one of my male roommates (there were six total), blocked me from leaving our summer sublet. I’d spent the day doing the bare minimum as a summer session student while bouncing between computer labs and campus pay phones (no cell phone, yet), keeping our love afloat like a concert beach ball. It sounds like a lot of work, but it was effortless. You were my only thought, concern, interest…care. I’d returned to my apartment briefly to pick up my ATM card and a jacket, knowing what was ahead for the evening: chatting online with you (back then it was called IRC – Internet Relay Chat – as I’m sure you recall), then I’d hit the bars while you did the bare minimum to remain employed, then, tipsy, I’d settle into a mostly empty computer lab in a remote part of campus to chat with you some more before going home to call you from my balcony after I was sure the guys were either out for the night or sound asleep.

As I plucked my keys from the table by the door, Josh stopped me. You had an instant dislike for Josh, remember? You thought (and you were right) that he wanted to fuck me. He was my boyfriend T’s closest friend, so I thought you were just being insecure. Josh told me to sit down and I did. He said he hadn’t seen me eat in days and that I wasn’t leaving until I ate something and talked to him. He fed me lemon chicken and demanded answers.

A month or so earlier it was T who convinced me to sublet a place with him and six of his mountain biking friends. I’d recently bought a mountain bike myself — remember? i called her Tori because she was red/orange — and had even learned to hop the logs on the trails, so of course it seemed like a good idea. But, after security deposits and moving plans were made, T decided suddenly to spend the summer sailing with his family off the coast of Maine and left me to live for three months as the only girl with six hard-drinking guys who liked to get loaded and play with Josh’s Glocks.

It was early May, the beginning of summer break, when T packed up his Bronco and drove out of town leaving me standing hurt in the driveway of “our” sublet. I doubt he’d even made it the 20 miles or so to Route 80 before I’d bought a plane ticket to LA (I’ll show him) and confirmed that my room in the house in West Hollywood, owned by a man who made a living hand painting perfect geometric designs on motorcycles, was available.

I was flush with cash then, which really just meant I’d gotten a new credit card, and I rented myself a convertible. I spent a week hanging out in LA with my friends, meeting Johnny Depp at the Viper Room (you know I had to mention that), before I decided to wander down to San Diego for the writers’ conference I’d noticed in the Weekly. My personal demons were catching up with me at the time and I was drawn particularly to the memoir writing workshops.

And the rest, as they say, is history.

So when Josh started grilling me about why I was acting so weird and demanding to know who I was fucking on the phone every night I became defensive, blurting out shit about T ditching me and essentially driving me away…to California…where I met “this guy” at a workshop. Or, at a bar after the workshop.

K, I told him everything. I sat there over an untouched plate of lemon chicken trying to explain what had happened. It was amazing and beautiful and magical, I told him, and…

Josh cut me off, looking disgusted. He’s married and HOW old, he demanded? I didn’t answer.

“You fucking tell T or I will,” was all he said before adding, “And fucking eat something would you?” He stormed off and I slipped away to find an open computer to tell you everything.

Watch out for him, K, you urged.

He wants to fuck you.

Aside 7 Mar

When I asked you what you did, I’m sure you told me how you made a living, but what stuck with me from the beginning was the writing. You were always writing something and talking about writing something else and had conducted a few workshops affiliated with that writers’ association of western this or southern that. But it was the play – the one you’d written with your friend Mike – the one that had gone on to be produced in New York City– that really caught my attention. I think at first you threw it out into the conversation as part of your plan to get into my pants because after that had been achieved and you’d established that I was quite wildly devoted to you, you played it down. I’d ask you about the play: What was its title? (Oh, I don’t know, something about skeletal remains – but it was bad)…What was it about? (I don’t remember – but it was bad) …Did you see the production? (No, it was bad.)…What was it based on – anything real? (I don’t think so, it was so bad)…Are you sure you don’t have a copy of it? I would love to read it. (It was bad, K, it’s gone)…Does your old writing partner have a copy of it? (No way, it was terrible, let it go).

 As I write this a manila envelope rests on the desk next to me containing what might be the only copy left of that terrible play – Human Skeletal Remains – written in 1984 and produced in NYC on July 29, 1986. I received it a few days ago – more than a year after your death. Would it surprise you that I finally got my hands on it? Would it surprise you to know that Mike and I are friends now or did you have a hand in that? He put that idea into my head and I’m attached to it.

So finally, I can read the play. I only wish that at some point over the years you’d said something like, “You’ll read that awful play over my dead body, K.” That would make this more fun.

Mike was here last week, drawn to Manhattan after an intense reconnection with his teen-aged love. He was here and immersed in the depths of this surreal romance – the kind that makes you write poetry – love poetry – and in the weeks leading up to his visit, he spoke about this love of his in a language I knew so well that at times I would close his emails and cry for all that I’d lost. We were going to get together, your old writing partner and me, on the Sunday morning before he left town. I was torn. One minute I wanted desperately to be in their proximity – hoping that I might vicariously recapture that buzzy feeling in my head and the warmth in my stomach; to dwell again for the briefest moment in that cloud of ours. And the next minute I found myself completely petrified by these lovers who now possessed this thing I’d once had. I didn’t think I could handle being a bystander and I backed out.

Mike returned to Colorado and now he writes, as you know Mike does. The man is a machine and a genius, you did not overstate it, and he’s writing this love story of his.

And I’m struggling with how to tell ours. I’m using this space to hash it out, but find myself frustrated and perplexed by how almost everything I’ve written here feels littered with regret, loss, and pain. Where is the wonder? There was really so much more good than bad, more laughter than tears –  sitting on the phone line in splendid silences, nights spent sleeping softly against you wishing dawn to stay away, our book club for two (I’m so pissed you died before we got to Lolita and Sabbath’s Theater, you kind of hogged all the picks with Vonnegut), reunion kissing…even the goodbye kisses were sweet in their own way. Why doesn’t any of this show up in these lines?

I remember very clearly one night I was on the phone with you, in bed in my apartment in the middle of the night. It was one of our marathon calls during which we’d sit on the line for hours, our communication coming in tides that slipped from casual conversation about my journalism professor or your coworker before fading out to quiet — the only sounds on the line our breath. I’d close my eyes and bite my bottom lip, running my fingers along your favorite spot, that concave bit of flesh between the rise of my pelvic bone and ribs ( I still do that), waiting for the first command that would melt me. Under your direction my body would open up completely and my mind would bail. You’d take your time until I was begging you for release and then you’d take even more time until I was pleading and crying and you’d say, “Give it to me.” And then it was like being transported and I would cry your name as I worked through it and all along you’d whisper “I love you, I need you, I love you, I need you.” My God, even writing about it now, with my office door open and my assistant 20 feet away I’m aware that my breathing has changed, assuming that rhythm only you could produce, and I’m chewing on my bottom lip. Old habits die hard.

Mike and I joke about how you used the writer thing to get chicks. But on second thought…it was definitely not the writing. If you were alive you’d be amused by the fortune that this terrible writer is making with her BDSM novels that are softened versions of our sexual exploits. We could have been rich if we’d had an inkling the rest of America was as twisted as we were.

Anyway, that night on the phone I was recovering from my second or third orgasm and our conversation had turned to writing when I asked why you never wrote about us. You confessed that you did – all the time – but that it never came out right. That we did not translate to paper; you said you were incapable of producing anything more than “one unflattering portrayal after another.”

Do I look fat in your prose? I joked.

You told me to hold on and then you emailed me an example — an excerpt of something you’d been working on. I pulled out my giant Dell laptop and read.  

 She was probably one of the toughest chicks I’d ever been around. It was damned odd because she did not pose a physical threat. She was petite and that’s the really nice way of saying it. Fact was, Kris was tiny. Teensy tiny, wearing her black hair long and flowing with the biggest eyes that have ever looked into mine. She wielded a sundress like a weapon and she was careless with her heart. Yet she was or seemed to be so powerful. She had a way of stopping me in mid-step and pushing me back a pace or two. God knows I, and a lot of brighter, braver men than me, were terrified of her.

She was one of those people that just looked like beautiful trouble. One peek and you knew you didn’t want this in your pocket or lit and standing behind you. She was crazy like that and dangerous like that. She crackled and threw sparks when she was just standing in the middle of a room and there were a lot of people who’d been burned by them. Collateral damage, most. Nothing she’d set out to do, they just happened to be in the way when she got started and she didn’t have any way to control it.

But still, I wanted her so fucking badly that I found myself for the first time willing to change. I was anxious to do whatever it might require, bending and twisting and shaping myself to be the one she loved.

I was a silly son-of-a-bitch. Let’s face it. I was doing things that a kid with his head pumped full of pot and fantasies would be likely to do because he didn’t know any better. I still wanted what I wanted so badly that it was worth doing whatever I thought  was going to help, no matter how misdirected and wrong I was.

In the case of Kris, I was totally misdirected. She would love me the way a woman loves something fragile. She would love me knowing that most of the attraction was contained in the way she could hold me in her hands to admire, and twist me to break up the beams of light in the lamp, but if and when she was ready, it would all be over as simply as dropping me. Not even thrown. Not even a hard toss toward a solid brick wall or a rock ledge. Just a few feet with the pull of gravity and there’d be nothing left of me. She knew that.

I did not.

I read it a few times and sat quietly with it while you puttered around your house, feeding the fish. I pictured you in your dark living room all full of books, your face illuminated by the light of the fish tank. After a while, you said, “You see? Just doesn’t come out right.”

I was confused. I didn’t understand how you could get it so wrong, this idea that I possessed any power at that point in our relationship let alone all of it. But I think I told you I liked it because there is no talking to you when you’ve made up your mind. And also because I did kind of dig the way I seemed to be this mythical creature – a dangerous, if pint-sized, man-eater instead of the reality: a college girl with daddy issues.

Now as I go back and read over these posts, though, I get it.

It just doesn’t come out right.

But I’ll keep trying.

Aside 27 Feb

Coming to know you as intimately as I did – and what you are capable of emotionally — and how risk averse you are — the way we got our start is a mystery to me.  I’ve often thought about that day when we both sat in a conference room at a memoir writing workshop at a hotel on the bay, listening to a man tell how us how to tell our own stories. It was my first time in your city. As you know, I’m a southern California girl in my heart and had been waging a longtime love affair with Los Angeles by the time I found myself wandering down to San Diego for the writers’ conference. I spent so much of my college years in West Hollywood, in a rented room in that house off of La Cienega with the lemon tree in the tiny front yard and the orange tree in the back and Linda Blair next door — that it’s a miracle I managed to walk away with a degree considering I went to school on the east coast. There are few things I love in this world as much as waking up to the smell of lemon and orange trees.

From where, K, did the courage come to follow me out of the conference to the bar where I’d settled in for an afternoon of drinking with the boys at Pacific Beach? Is the answer there where you are? This much I know: you found me very physically attractive and spent the class writing about my hair, eyes, and ass. I was aloof and you loved that. As everyone earnestly hung on to the speaker’s every word, jotting down notes and furrowing brows as they processed the bullshit he was spewing, I looked at the clock and  squirmed in my seat, I made Princess Lea buns secured with pens, I bit my nails, I went to the bathroom three times and you loved watching me move. You would confess that one of your favorite fantasies would be to sit back and imagine me moving around the house we shared, going about my day.

Was it a full moon that puffed up your chest and pushed you along in my wake out to Ocean Boulevard and into the bar in the company of a tourist who’d attached herself to you earlier in the day? Was it a carbon dioxide leak that drew you out to my table in the sand in an insane attempt to defend my honor — which hadn’t been threatened in the first place? Was it fate that I disregarded your nerdy professor look and walked out the door with you as the pretty boys scoffed?

It makes me smile to think about how you looked after we’d gotten out of the bar and were out on the street. We stood on the sidewalk facing each other and you had the expression of a man who’d just gotten away with stealing a famous work of art — you’d succeeded in making off with your prize, but now what the fuck do you do with it? I saw your mind at work as you played out various scenarios. In mostly silence we walked to where I was staying — the Banana Cabana, which touted itself as a youth hostel catering to international tourists, but was really the last stop before homelessness for about two dozen locals – all male. 

The realization that I was staying at a place with a reputation for being a flophouse for lowlives seemed to provide you with direction you needed as to how to proceed with this thing that you’d started. It was at that moment the father-daughter dynamic in our relationship kicked in. Which is to say almost immediately. Of course, our age difference – nearly 20 years — probably made that unavoidable, but our own actions — you assuming the role of caretaker and worrier-in-chief — and my response, which was to bask in the attention and concern, didn’t help.

As we sat at another bar later that first night — after you’d moved me out of the BC and into the Westin downtown — I was throwing down vodkas while you nursed a microbrew and dissected my life, your questions as sharp and precise as a scalpel. There was a moment of silence between my last answer and your next question and I remember being stunned when you finally delivered it: “Were you molested, K?”

I had a physical reaction to your question that reminded me of this strange habit I’d had of labeling my peers as a child. I’d see other kids as light or dark. Or maybe it would be more accurate to say that I saw them as dark and non-dark, and felt that the kids with the darkness — maybe I’m referring to their aura, but I’m not entirely sure that’s accurate – shared my own darkness. This sounds strange, but I could sense the kids like me — the ones who’d been abused.

When you asked that question, that odd sense (that ability?) that I’d possessed as a child returned suddenly. I saw you as dark.

“Yes,” I said then, without hesitation and I told you everything, which was something I’d never done before. In fact, until that night in 1997, in that moment when the red light from the Sushi place next door reflected on your forehead and my flip flop dangled dangerously from my toe and Brick played too loudly to be considered background music and the same waiter kept trying to give us food menus…I had lived as if the stuff about the priest and the pictures he took and his suicide in jail and the neighbor at the shore who showed me his special room were just stories that I knew about some poor girl.

But that all changed when I admitted to you – and to myself, really – that the poor girl was me. 

I suppose when a relationship begins with confession it can’t help but grew into a mutual worship, practiced with a religious fervor capable only by those who know what it means to have been saved, reborn. Which is probably why this feels so much like penance.

Aside 25 Feb

SUBJECT: Well, now I’m really worried

November 9, 2008

YOU: I mean, with less than 24 hours before I start, what if I didn’t get the right keyboard? I mean, that could really make the difference between a mediocre and a great script, you know? I alternate that with telling myself “you haven’t done a script for a long time so it’s okay if this one is lousy. It’s just to get back in the swing of writing. Right?” Either way, I’m spending a lot more time worrying about writing than I’m likely to spend writing when it comes right down to it

Have a good day. Not because I’m telling you to but because you CHOOSE to. That is self-empowering, see? And that’s beautiful. Or, in the timeless wisdom of your people, “Leave the gun. Take the cannoli.”

Love you, little mama. 

ME: Well thank God for overnight shipping – if you DO have the wrong keyboard, you can always get a new one FAST. Stop worrying and just write, already. You’re a really, really, REALLY good writer. Even the stuff you’ve written and think is crap – which is everything you’ve written – is good. Or, as my people say: “Snap out of it!” Imagine me smacking your face here…you like that, don’t you? : )

When do you head out to Boulder ?(hippie)

Have a good day? You can’t make me. You’re not my boss.

YOU: Going to Boulder on Friday. Writing Wednesday and Thursday. Guess which I’m most looking forward to.

Or – in the words of that romantic troubadour, Garth Brooks:

“Last time I saw her it was getting colder

But that was years ago.

Last I heard she had moved to Boulder.

Where she is now I don’t know.”

Hmmmm– not exactly sure where that came from. I think I should probably be a little embarrassed, at least.

ME: Don’t bother… I’m embarrassed enough for both of us.

YOU: LOL. You know, in Boulder I’ll have LOTS of time for phone calls.

ME: Yummm.xo

You had a breakthrough on that trip to Boulder – the first bit of meaningful conversation with your mother you could recall since your brother died from AIDS complications and she had that breakdown as you cleaned out his EastVillage apartment together. Since your own death I’ve thought of going to his old neighborhood, hopeful that I might find comfort in the simple act of retracing your footsteps of 20 years ago, the path you took back and forth as you carried his belongings from his apartment to your old Cadillac. Any physical evidence of you having been there would be long gone, of course, bathed in spit and urine then washed by street cleaners and weather; worn by the steps that followed yours and covered by new layers of concrete and cobblestone. But still…could I feel you there? Kidding…I know that’s crazy, of course (and I’ve forgotten the cross street…Houston and…?)

G’s death was a major event in your life; the death of the only person you’d ever truly loved up to that point. That was 1992…I was a junior in high school, wrapped up in cheering and dating this soccer player and you were a hundred miles away from me, cleaning out your dead brother’s apartment and having a mad affair with meth. I was probably picking out which cut-off jeans to wear to a kegger bonfire as your mother’s jaw was dropping – much to your delight – at the discovery that your brother’s partner was black. On that day we were such different people in such totally different orbits – it’s hard to believe that just five years later we’d collide…and stick.

But…Boulder…your breakthrough. You and your mother had gone out to enjoy an evening of dinner theater with some of her friends (Boulder dinner theater with people who like Marge sounded awfully painful to me before you’d even told me what happened) and as you were proudly bragging about your granddaughters, good ol’ Marge felt it necessary to stop you mid-sentence and clarify for everyone that these were not your biological grandchildren – that they were technically your wife’s grandchildren, but isn’t your devotion just adorable?? You were hurt and embarrassed and, for once, instead of shutting down you got angry. There was a blowout which led to your mother admitting that she avoided you in your first year of life. She said her difficult pregnancy (what a pest you were from the beginning!) and the injuries she sustained during your birth, as well as your own very poor newborn health had prevented her from bonding with you. I think she was under the impression that she made up for it in later years, but I know you don’t share her sentiment. You don’t have memory of that early neglect, but you do recall the day when she walked in on you – just 12 years old and diagnosed with juvenile diabetes the year before – sitting on the floor of your room with drug paraphernalia spread out around you, intent on a temporary escape from the bleak reality of that mobile home and your newly dead father. She stopped in her tracks, frozen for just a moment, before slowly backing out of the room. “She probably hoped I’d just die already,” you told me, a grimace paralyzing your face and then a vacant appearance in your eyes. You’d gone somewhere else and it was unlike you to lay yourself so bare. I knew you wouldn’t want anyone – even me – to see you like this and I found myself looking away.

“Some sort of lingering attachment disorder, I think, K,” you’d say in those rare moments you felt obligated to explain yourself. “I want you, but I can’t bring myself to have you completely. I can’t risk it. Couldn’t take it….” Your voice would trail off. I was eager to let you off the hook and I’d stand there tracing circles in the sand with my toes, as your shoulders shook silently. And you wept. I’d resist the urge to hold onto you in those moments, knowing that what you truly needed was to remain untouched and so I’d look away. I made this allowance for you – I would never have tolerated such wishy-washy bullshit from any other man, but giving you your space and my silence in those moments was like the insulin you’d been injecting for 30 years. You depended upon it and I, like I always did for you, delivered.

Your mother’s revelation about your first year of life was true validation for you; finally real evidence that your fears of connecting –  your need to flee – the way you’d drop out of disagreements, relationships, lives…this wasn’t a product of your own poor character. This didn’t boil down to simple cowardice. You really had a problem. And after Boulder you took great comfort in the idea that you just couldn’t help it.

If you were here right now you’d see my eyes rolling and you’d hear my skeptical laugh. Then we’d share “that look” – a dare, really. That look exchanged periodically; the most marked feature of a cycle I’d never bothered to count. The look in which you dared me to question this further than you allowed – to call you on your shit – and my look in return, almost a glare with pupils darting in flashes left to right and back again as if I were literally reading you. My stomach would flutter, my pulse would race, and I swear in those moments my brow would moisten as I felt the words forming on my tongue which, if unleashed, would kick all of this right off the mother fucking cliff.

But I always held my tongue. I always looked away. And I did it always for you.