Remember: this is wetter than proverbs.
I pinch the bit of fat starting to form around my belly button, pulling it away from my body and letting it go. I wonder what she does when I’m gone. We don’t get intimate as often as I’d like and I think about this nearly constantly–although I shouldn’t. Although, I’m not sure why I shouldn’t.
When I think of sex, I think of her already backing out of a kiss that hasn’t started yet every day for weeks until–once a month–she slinks across the hall from bedroom to bathroom, dropping her towel along the way, calling for me to come fuck her–quickly–standing up in the shower, which is never enough to fulfill either of our needs.
These nights I end up on the couch with my pants around my ankles, looking at strange and violent pornography because I’m more angry and dejected than I am horny. Or maybe I think of her in terms of her ability to make me appreciate the emptiness around her, the way I sometimes wish I could wake up in bed with her and use my fingers to color-by-numbers the blank spaces in her tattoos, specifically the collection of black-lined geometric shapes that gather to form a diamond on the back of her neck–this desire only highlighting the least common denominator of Girl: the lack of her physical presence in my life, even if we spend most of our time sitting together on the couch. These nights, I drink enough and measured reality becomes immeasurable. I end up scraping fruit flies out of a fifty cent glass of wine, sitting on the crusted carpet of our walk-up because most of the furniture is gone—sold to pay the rent—cleanliness, at this point, an overrated myth, my list of things to worry about becoming minimal, allowing me a night to stare at the television on mute and listen to fifty’s soul crooning out of a stereo with only the left speaker working, sipping wine, realizing that this is maybe how one gets to the point where thinking, true reflection becomes possible, where I can control the noises that I’m hearing and I don’t have to listen to any sounds I don’t want to and this is a revelation—I understand everything because there is no longer anything to understand except the floor vibrating and the slight pressure on my temples from the alcohol and because this is all I am aware of, my mind is free to go anywhere, so I wander Saharan sands all the way to the North Shore or I go to Japan on a book tour, riding in rehabbed 1978 Lincoln Stretch Continentals, until I’m about to pass out on the living room floor, choosing this exact moment to think–to really think–and for a minute I understand the world before the world is lost to sleep.
I am so me that I often hear my name called out when I’m alone, driving kind of drunk on a Wednesday afternoon, scarring up Appalachia in a grey corolla, chasing airplane trails over mountains blanketed and resting like the lumped backs of sleeping children—dodging deer, a thin, vertical grease burn on my wrist belly-up and sunbathing on a cool steering wheel. I feel like the air around me is bruised and often I’m the one doing the swinging—like fuck me right? Let’s make breathing as hard as possible. I’ve given up skin for grace on more than one occasion, slipped through the water’s membrane, chafed and bled and throbbed. There are days I fight the space around me in an effort to give it color. Say something back. But you can’t strangle an empty passenger seat and the feeling often leaves the way a bubble pops—smack then splash—more whiskey from the cup holder.
At a vineyard under a lofted barn ceiling I am drinking more–white wine [I don’t know what kind]–but the weather is warm enough for me to need ice cubes in my glass. There is a creek down a green swath from us that exhales a balmy breeze towards the wedding party, occasionally brushing orange and purple napkins screen-printed ‘Emily & Joe’ off green rod-iron tables. The hopefully-auspicious couple is dancing happy with a group of like-minded people. Those of us disinclined or too far into drink to join sit like lizards on the cement deck slab. I have nothing but a tertiary relationship tying me to any of these people: the bride was her roommate freshman year of college. They have since kept up a cordial relationship without much contact. I’m here as an in-the-neighborhood stand-in. I am neither the happiest nor most miserable person in attendance.
There’s a woman who’s over-dressed [even for a wedding reception!] and she’s proud of it. The food is being provided by a Mexican guy a few years older than me who’s parked his smoker and truck just out of sight around a mock log cabin. While the food cooks he stands and taps his foot, not impatiently or to any particular cadence. He is covered in sweat and watches the reception with apathy. Like he’s been to too many of these things to be jealous or hungry. There’s a woman a table away from me wearing a paisley, floral-print dress that looks clipped from antique store curtains, who looks like she might be named Fern, or Evelyn, or Pearl, or Edith, or Fay, because she’s far too unshapely to be named anything like Carmen, or Veronica, or Annie, or Emma–meaning–if I shot her with a futuristic weapon that changed the victim into a physical representation of their life-essence [defined as: her soul, her spirit, her drive to outperform life, the way she feels about her diploma, about her reflection in the mirror, the way her back doesn’t arch the way she it wants to, the way she feels when reviewing any 5 minute window of her life since-lived etc.], hers would appear as a busted trash-bag on the curb. She isn’t sure what she is more self-aware of: her hair [dirty straw lying wet in a horse’s stall] or her spare tire. I, myself, can not turn away from her feet and upper-ankles, which appear covered in millions of shallow cuts, pink lines rising just above the outer layer of skin like a colony of ants passed through a puddle of paint and got lost on her legs.
She occasionally lifts one sandal to scratch the other’s stump in an absent minded way, before catching herself and placing the offending foot firmly back to the floor. I assume this means she is not proud of her injuries [my first thought had been thorns from gardening!] which makes me feel a slight curiosity towards this woman in front of me–and just as I begin to become aware of these emotions, the woman begins scratching an ankle with her hand [a rarity!], her fingernail catching one of the cuts beginning to form scab, sending forth a half-second dribble of blood. I’m not sure if it’s the bloodstained chunk of middle-fingernail or the way she draws the blood or the wedding constricting this whole event into something that it isn’t–but the woman begins to cry and as she cries she gets up to go and no one follows to make sure she’s ok–and in this series of events I feel–for a brief second–profoundly sad.
I look up at the dance floor and I’ve missed the garter toss to this woman and I realize that this is maybe why I am [in my twenty-third year] much less popular with friends than I used to be. The need to understand my every second has stolen my privilege for hours. The weather is the poetic notion of ideal. I have wine ever-flowing.
There are beautiful, happy people here. Yet I’ve spent my time wondering if sneaking the Mexican barbecue guy a bottle of water or a glass of expensive wine [that I’m getting for free] is racist, or classist, or considered an attempt at politics or imperialism and whether he’d even want one or would be offended if I offered one. I worry so much about empathizing with as many people as possible that I miss second-to-second opportunities to actually do so—I don’t know. I think about good and I worry so much about how my actions are being perceived that I sometimes forget the action of doing. This is the shallow end of memory. “Memory” being used loosely here. Traditional chronology at times like these is often replaced by a single, deep exhalation of the whole experience at once, the way the initial photo informs the album that follows, turning each subsequent picture back into the first.
Spring, elastic stretched too tight to bounce back, torn cotton t-shirts, the way salt water softened the scabs into pink skin cancer scars stuck like chewed bubble gum on the backs of hands, cigarette smoke and diesel fumes, a desperate midnight chase, volatile and all-consuming, the smack of feet on wet concrete, the knock of familiar knuckles, a letter, flowers wobbling in the garden, bullet wounds and the way a hollow point blooms, the possum near death and lying broken in the pillowcase.
I remember L’s taking the e-cigarette out of his mouth and exhaling. The mist catching a draft and blowing over to where I stood. Drinking the water vapor in with my lungs. L’s’s sister was there with us. Melanie. She was only fifteen and her tits hadn’t come all the way in yet, but kids at school couldn’t wait to fuck her and L’s knew it. Nooses went up early in the morning, didn’t take long to catch him. Brought him down to a developers lot by the orchard and let Melanie smack the quivering sack off a plywood wall til the clicking and the screeching stopped and the thing went timid. L’s caught me staring at Melanie and said, “Boy, if I had a real cigarette I’d burn you.” We laughed.
Melanie set the pillowcase down on a rotting floorboard. It hit in a soft cloud of dust and crunched like a pile of tinder brought to flame. The white linen started to shimmer pink in spots. Summer billowed in on temporal black rain clouds and set anchor over the gray timber next to our neighborhood. Chilled air ran down along gnarled ridges and hung moisture in the back of our throats. The sky crowed. I told them we should get going before Cheston came along in his white Buick and called us heathens. L’s toked his e-cigarette and said, “Hang on. I wanna see what it looks like. Dump it out.” Melanie said, “No. That’s fucking disgusting. You do it.” L’s took a step toward her and screamed, “Dump it out. Now.” Melanie looked around to see if any neighbors heard the noise then saddled over to the crumbled ball and grabbed a corner.
She lifted with two fingers and thumb and shook twice. The thing clunked onto the plywood and steamed in a lank pile of guts and hair. Its right eye oozed out of socket and hung onto brain like a skinned grape on a stem. L’s laughed. I looked at Melanie’s face and—Christ—it was perfect because I knew we’d taught her everything she needed to know about sullen providence. For the life of me I can’t remember what peaches taste like. But I think of her when I think of them—seasonal—as the earth offers them.