Amy Part 1

I rolled my balls through my fingers for a week, building up an ocean of worry every time I felt the lump.  I thought about going to the doctor, but at the same time I felt so disconnected and alone that I didn’t even care what happened. Mara’s card continued to gnaw at me. I reread it a few times a day, like Indiana Jones exploring for some mystical treasure. What did she mean by I was thinking of you? By I’m sorry things didn’t turn out better for you? By goddamn well closing with Love, Mara.

            One birthday card and every day with her came rushing back to me, a tsunami I knew I had no way to avoid. I could contact or her throw it away or exist in the middle, but anything I chose wasn’t going to snap the looping memories running through my brain. Heartache rose in me like I was a flooding basement, and for months I reread the damn card, hoping somehow Mara would spring out of it like a jack-in-the-box and explain everything. Six months. I looked at the card, every day, for six fucking months, too scared to use the return address or to try to find her.

“So, what would you think if an ex, someone you shared a lot with years ago, suddenly sent you a birthday card?”

Amy said, “She wants to make sure you’re okay, secretly hoping you still miss her. She wants you to think of her. She really hopes things are okay. She’s testing the waters to see if you’ll contact her. She’s nicer than you are.”

“Well, the last one is true for sure.”

Amy worked at my favorite coffeehouse. I thought she was cool from the first—she laughed at my jokes, didn’t speak too much when I read, and made an exceptional cup of coffee. Every couple of days, after I became a regular, she slipped me a free cookie. I sat in the coffeehouse almost every weekday morning, reading and thinking and drinking dark roast, enjoying the feeling of being out among people, but not being involved with them.

“What’s your story?” she asked. “You come in here almost every morning, past when people are going to work, order the same thing, and stare out the window.”

“Witness protection. I look for the gunmen coming for me.”

“Funny. I’m Amy, and I’ll be serving you coffee while you retreat from reality.”

“Thanks, Amy. I’ll drink that coffee, continue my retreat, and wonder whether or not I’m going to tell you my long, sad tale.”

After that day, I tipped Amy excessively. When I came in, we’d talk a little and joke, as I was normally the only one in the place.

“But we do a great early morning business,” she said.

We became Facebook friends, followed each other on Twitter—all of the normal twenty something BS that’s supposed to compensate for actual, meaningful human interaction. Sometimes she’d invite me to see her band, or her friend’s band, and we’d hang out over drinks. We never dated. I always bought, but never once thought about kissing her, inviting her out, or accepting her not too subtle hints.

“I think it would be fun to go to the new Indian restaurant. Have you been?”

“There’s a new exhibit at the museum. I was thinking of going.”

And finally, “So, are we ever going to go out?”

I sighed. “Sorry, no. I’m not ready.”

I hadn’t seen anyone since Mara and I split. Not one invite, not one date, not one kiss, not one drunken late night mistake. Just longing and regret. One night, sitting there thinking of moments we shared—a succulent, hardwood smoked piece of fish we split on the lower East side…a wine bar where every glass seemed to sing from the glass… the time at the MOMA when she posed next to a bronze statue I loved…

I realized the worst part of life isn’t putting your heart out to be jackhammered, or dashed on the rocks like so much ocean debris. The worst experience in life is to place your heart on the platter only to realize you don’t have much of a heart to share. That somehow, you can slice through the fathomless ways you believed you loved to see how many times you invented to fuck it all beyond recognition. The worst part is, you don’t know why.

I realized that I would never be able to spend my life with someone like my grandparents did, working beyond the bickering and bad happenings and poor luck to build a stable dwelling that no earthquake could destroy. I realized that I no longer thought of love as a river of never ending happiness. I needed to forget porch swings with my best girl, seventy years old, watching a sunset or a bird swoop from tree to tree.

No death ‘til I parted. No matching headstones a monument to a lifetime of bricklaying foundations and solid walls. No future lovers looking at me as they strolled through a graveyard, me buried years ago, knowing that I felt willing to die for someone at a moment’s notice.

I know I should’ve had more hope at twenty-eight, but sometimes hope is a wild animal you can’t manage to cage. Shit, how can hope exist when even my downstairs neighbor, all five foot three, two hundred pounds and limp of her is talking about auditioning for some reality show? Hope is a tough sell these days; even for the people whose hearts haven’t wrung themselves dry. For those who haven’t bothered the scab until it bleeds.

 

By the time I met Amy, Mara and I had been apart over four years, with her card the only contact between us. Four years seems like more than enough time to get over someone, but I still loved her. I had as much interest in growing a third ear on my forehead as I did seeing someone else. I no longer punished myself, recounting every harsh word, every mistake that forced her to leave, like I did for a couple of years. But I felt…ruined. Ruined for love. Ruined for women. Ruined for sex, even.

Anyone can move forward, if they want. Deaths, breakups, divorces, abuses and wrongs happen every day, and a great number of people continue to truck on down the road in spite of them. Still, there are the few that won’t look forward for fear of missing some remnant of something swirling in the dust cloud behind them. The few remain, they linger, they paint pictures of the past that are supposed to illuminate the present, as if hindsight and memories were spotlights shining some overlooked truth. To these people, hindsight isn’t 20/20, it’s the only sight there is. Those few are the people I call the stupid ones, and I am the designated idiot in their village.

I never blamed Mara, even though I told a few people, when I felt like confessing, that she’d ruined me. I never convinced myself that she’d cast some evil spell on me, bewitching my mind and heart and body in some magic fog that kept me thinking of her every day, of sometimes missing her so badly I’d have to sit and let her memories wash over me, a tide of regret and sadness that might last for a week. I had no blame to assign her, only myself. If I blamed her for being the love of my life, what else then? Blame her for showing me another, brighter world? Showing me what a man could be with the love of HIS woman, the one meant for him? Ruination comes in many forms, I learned. Sometimes you’re ruined with your dick in the dirt, but you can also be spectacularly ruined by passion and lust and love and romance, ruined for anything less, unwilling to settle.

One night in our apartment, we listened to salsa music stream from the street during a block party. Her head fit onto my shoulder like they’d been designed together. A warm wind blew the curtains into ghostly shapes, and I could see part of the moon, big as a platter, over the next building.

She burrowed into me and said, “This is how it’s supposed to be.”

“I know, baby. It’ll always be this way for us. I could never…”

“Never what?”

I stroked her hair. Kissed her forehead. “I’m not trying to be sad or weird. If anything ever happened to us, I could never do this again.”

She inched me. “Duh! I mean, I wouldn’t be there.”

“Seriously. Ever. With anyone else.”

Mara propped herself on an elbow and stared at me in the near darkness.“Honey, that’s sweet. But…forever?”

“Forever.”

She returned to my shoulder. “I know. I believe you.”

Sometimes I wondered if I refused to consider other women because of stubbornness…a desire to show her that I was right, that I would love her until I died no matter how hard my life became. On those days, I’d often vow to make a change. I’d get into the world, meet people, find a woman and talk to her, take her to dinner and hopefully beyond.

A good plan, until I tried to fucking do it.

Out at a bookstore. Check.

Talk to a woman. Done.

Interested? I think so.

Ask her…

The nervous, almost nauseous feeling began before I could ask. I’d look at the lovely face in front of me, seeming to be waiting for my next words, and I’d be frozen like a six month old Popsicle. Flashbacks would begin—Mara and I walking though Central Park, on a way to sit on a flat rock overlooking the reservoir. Late nights listening to music in a small club. Sex in a restaurant parking lot, behind a tower of boxes, because she said, “I can’t wait to have you.”

I’d look at the woman, also known as Not Mara, and my heard thumped, a bass line to the images pounding my brain. “It was nice meeting you,” I’d tell Not Mara, and go home to lose myself in sadness and bewilderment for weeks at a time.No matter if it’s a date or a ten year marriage, you can’t be involved when your heart has been reserved.

Mara was the only woman I ever gave to without expecting payback, without keeping score. Definitely without any sense of self-preservation, because the strength of what I felt for her, after she left, lifted me off my feet like an explosion.

I gave her everything except for what she needed—my understanding and patience. The ability to stay out of my own head and way long enough to enjoy loving her. My support. She became the present I gave myself, one I decorated with the best paper, the fanciest ribbon, the most elaborate bow, and then left out in the rain to be wrecked.

 

Amy asked me out a few times, and my answer remained, “I’m not ready.”

“You will be,” she said. “And I bet it’s sooner than you think.”

I wanted to tell her the obvious—that after four years of not even kissing a woman, if an interested, interesting, busty, sexy redhead didn’t move me, what would? Instead I smiled. One night, over too many drinks after her band played, I spilled some of what New York had been.

“Quite the story. That’s a lot to handle. But the only way past it is to try again.”

I nodded. “Yeah. But I’m not ready.”

“You will be. Soon.”

 

 

 

The story

There is a lot of truth in the story. Lance’s feelings for Mara are my feelings for you, past, present and future. They’ll be represented without much embellishment or change.

Some of the stories are our stories. They say truth is stranger than fiction – it’s also more intense and wonderful. I don’t need to imagine romance, love and lust/sex- I’ve lived them. Makes the writing go a ton faster, as well!

I’ve been made keenly aware, through reading how to books and workshops and reading good books, that I do a lot wrong in fiction writing. My craft is not as strong as it should be, too much introspection and not enough plot, etc. I’m trying to fix that.

What I’m writing now are plot lines. New York is one. A cancer story is one – he has it. There are several, so I’m writing each before I weave them together. Hopefully.

Of course, I had to change some details and settings. It’s mostly set in Vegas and New York City. I also had to add plot points that never existed, like a crazy ex for him, and a rotten former best friend.

New York Part 2

Mara and I dedicated ourselves to exploring the city. She took pictures of everything, while I scribbled into battered notebooks for hours every day. My dad liked the pages I emailed him; enough that he agreed to split the apartment’s rent with me for another year. Between working, the photographs Mara began to sell on the side, and the rent split, Mara and I were good on money.

“You have potential,” he said. “Try not to waste it.”

 Rat took to crashing with whatever waitress or bartender he was currently seeing, so Mara and I had the apartment mostly to ourselves the first year. Every couple of months or so, he’d be with us for a week straight, most of which he spent complaining about the way Mara had taken over the apartment. She bought curtains, reorganized everything, and hounded the super until he agreed to upgrade the bathroom and let us paint. Poor Manny never had a chance with her, especially after she started working him in earnest.

She’d say, “So, Manny, what would you think about this?”

This could be a new sink, replacement blinds, carpet—whatever brought her vision of how we should live a little closer. After she smiled and cocked her head a little, showing off her lithe neck and multitude of earrings, running to the top of her ear, he froze. Watching a two hundred fifty pound, well over six feet tall man squeak like a mouse in front of a tiny woman always made me grin.

“Well. Ms. Mara, you see…I’m not really supposed to…”

“But Manny…come on. For me.”

“I’ll see what I can do, Ms. Mara.”

A few days later, Manny would knock on the door and slink past us, probably afraid that Mara might ask him to carry her to Central Park on his back. He’d perform the task she wanted and slink out the door. After six months, I bet we had the best looking apartment in the building.

Once, I timed a process I liked to call “The Fall.” The Fall was my name for the process in which a man met Mara, recognized that special something within her, and wished for more than just a smile and a kind word. At that point, he’d steal the moon for her.

The night I finished my novel, we went out for dinner and our waiter fell in two minutes. She touched his arm—not flirting, just a brush as she made a point about how hard his job must be. He looked at her out of the corner of his eye and blushed. Then, he looked at me and blanched, his secret thoughts betrayed.

“My man just finished his book. He’s going to be a famous writer.” She planted a kiss on my cheek. The waiter held my gaze for a second, and I saw it…a look that said to me, you’re one lucky bastard. The book be damned—I had an adorable woman who adored me.

Sure, she sometimes got a little out of hand around men. She flirted, the way everyone does from time to time, but she was more skilled at it than anyone else. Once, she told a guy at a clothing store, “Lance only follows me around because I’m so good in bed.” The guy raised his eyebrows and bit his lip.

After a couple of glasses of wine, she might hug someone—not a random stranger, but a waiter who had served us many times or a friend she saw. Her flirting was unconscious. She didn’t need to try to be sexy, to smile that brightly, to radiate. Mara was. She shone forth the way some people had blue eyes that shone.

I watched the sort of nerdy girl I’d seen in high school become a city woman. Clipping down midtown in her heels, bracelets jangling, she became the city to me. I couldn’t separate the two, just as I couldn’t separate my heart, my body and my mind from her. We were entangled in every possible way.

In the first year, I loved more than I had the rest of my life. The second year, I loved far more than the first.

 

Halfway through our second year in the city, Rat came to live with us full time again. By that point, he told me he’d sent demos to nearly every agent, musician, and club in the city, with only a few backup session recordings to show for it. He was broke, frustrated, and pissy.

“I need to get some songs written,” he said. “If I could get some recordings done, I’d have more to shop.”

“Then sit down and do it,” Mara said. “Damn, Rat. You can play anything you want. Go somewhere at sit and do it. Lance will help with the words if you need him.”

            “I will?”

            She patted my cheek. “Yes, you will. He’s your friend, and you love words.”

            “But I’m not a songwriter. I write stories.”

            Rat clasped his hands. “Come on buddy. You don’t have to create a masterpiece, just slap a bunch of random shit down like you usually do.”

            “Fine, and I hate you both.”

            Mara kissed me. “I’ll see if I can ease your pain later.”

            Rat snorted. “I bet. Wait ‘til I go to work, please.”

           

Rat and Mara never quite clicked. They never yelled at one another, but almost every time they were both involved in an apartment decision, or even a long conversation, I felt tension. I’m sure it was hard for him to be the third wheel, but even when he was with a woman, he never wanted to go out with us. We were friend, hung out together, but he and Mara acted more like two cars trying to maneuver around each other on a narrow road.  After two weeks of living in the apartment full time again, he took a night job, and the most I saw of him was lumbering back and forth to the bedroom. He’d write music while Mara and I worked, and in the evenings I’d make notes and suggest changes.

            “Why doesn’t he like me?” she asked one morning, after Rat left the apartment with a curt nod to her.

            “I’m sure it isn’t that. He’s just…he’s upset a lot, because no one wants to hear his music. It’s tough for him here. We have each other.”

            “He might have more if he didn’t jump from tramp to tramp.”

            “Jump when you have legs for it, I guess. I don’t judge. I’m happy with what I have.”

 

            Over the course of a couple of months, Rat wrote a couple of dozen songs. I contributed a few lyrics, but the work belonged to him. He got better and better—no “Bohemian Rhapsody,” but solid songs with catchy tunes. Still, he didn’t make progress. He papered his bedroom walls with rejection letters. I kept my lengthy stack in a corner.

            When Mara and I weren’t exploring or making love for hours, I found time to finish my novel. At the time, I thought I’d written a masterpiece. Fuck  it all. So young, so stupid.

I wanted to be smart, so I filled the novel with unbearable symbolism that rendered it maddeningly confusing. The plot wasn’t the straightest, either. I’ve never been sure if the main character was Murray Kinkade, who, in his mental illness, thought he was a relative of the painter Thomas Kinkade, or some guy named Murray Sinful, who washed dishes at a dumpy New York City café. Yes, it was that confusing, but of course when I’d read it the first time I looked at my reflection like Christ had used his own blood to capture every precious word. I had finished a long work. I said something.

In the story, the main characters spent hours looking at a painting that had been placed on a coffee table by some unknown person. Murray Sinful thought it was a piece of crap some high school artist produced. Kinkade saw that it was one of his uncle’s EARLY works, before he got good, possibly when he was in high school. The story revolved around the Murrays becoming buddies and resolving to destroy the painting together. But not just anywhere—they decided to travel to the place the painting represented, some huge field outside a town called Destiny Falls—and set the painting on fire. Most of the story dealt with Murray and Thomas’s cross country journey, hitchhiking of course, and how they became friends despite their differences.

One part of the story gave me nightmares for years. Murray Sinful, in a taxi, on his way to see Kinkade so they could plan the painting’s death. Murray brought his girlfriend and for some reason, she decides to give him a blowjob on the cab ride over. Murray was agitated and the girlfriend, Freedom Smith, thought it would relax him to get his ashes hauled in the back of a germ-ridden taxi in New York during the lunch rush, businessmen pointing at him, people using their cells to say, “Guess what I saw?” Hell, with those camera phones, probably posting pictures of him on the Net with his shlong out, his girl going to work like she was starving. The cab ride was supposed to represent Murray’s letting go of sexual repression. And how.          

Even if I couldn’t see why Murray would agree to this twisted little act at noon on Park Avenue, it was still a scene about a blow job, which made it infinitely more interesting than the discussions Sinful and Kinkade later had about the nature of art, and beauty, and how destroying the painting was the only way they could preserve its essence. Kinkade did most of the blathering. After all, Murray was a dishwasher. Murray nodded a lot, added a decent line of conversation every now and again, but mostly Kinkade foamed on—long monologues about everything and anything art and life and love related. At least Mr. Sinful got blown and fucked, which felt like the only perverted joy in the novel.

Mara and I never discussed the novel. Her initial reaction, after she finished reading, was to turn to me, kiss me, and say, “I’m proud of you. You made the book you were supposed to make.”  Years later, I realized the translation was, “It’s not good, I don’t get it, but good for you.” She was right.

The last half of our second year together, it felt like someone flipped a huge cosmic switch. Rat began getting occasional work as a songwriter and more work as a performer in small clubs. Mara’s photos began to sell to magazines and as prints in a small, out of the way gallery. I began shopping my novel and working on a follow up. Mara began making enough money from photography to quit waiting tables. I missed her during the day, but felt so proud of her that it seemed a small sacrifice. She freelanced for a couple of publications, but set her own hours, which kept us able to be together most of the time.

 

Goddamn, I was crazy for that woman. She became drugs and songs and lightning all rolled into one electric package. On the rare times we were apart for more than a few hours, I missed her to the point of aching. If either of us was a few minutes late, she’d rush into my arms and squeeze me like we’d almost lost one another.     

My love. The pride that grabbed me every time I’d look at her overwhelmed me. She was, and is, the most beautiful woman in the world to me. Adding to my pride was the knowledge that she knocked other people out as well. Every time we went out together, I watched people watch her. The men, mostly, because the sight of her walking…I described it once as watching diamonds sway through your favorite perfume. The men didn’t leer, didn’t even nod to her for the most part. When a man did hit on her, she smiled, thanked them, and pointed to me. More than once a guy gave me a curt wave, almost as if to say, “Sorry, buddy. I had to try.”

Some nights, it felt like a trail of eyes followed her when she walked to our table, more even when she went to the restroom. Not just men, either. The women looked, surprised at the casual way she wore six inch heels without the slightest totter. I spied smiles and nods and a few heads shaking as she paraded. I thought of her as the Queen of New York, a young monarch still too busy having fun to bother with the tedious duties of the crown.

I invented stories about every set of eyes. The men saw the heels and how her hips twisted because of them. They also imagined them locked behind their waists. The women envied her flashes of jewelry, and the look in her eyes that made opinions meaningless. The men wondered if something shiny might be the way to her heart. 

New York, part 1.

My high school graduation arrived in a small box topped with a blue bow. I opened it to find a debit card, a sealed envelope, and a key.

            “I’m giving you the gift of time and patience,” my father said.

            The key opened the door of a one bedroom apartment in New York City, Washington Heights neighborhood, rent prepaid. The debit card linked to a bank account I could use to pay my bills and fund a little bit of fun.

            “The envelope, son, is to be opened when you get to New York, if you choose to go.”

            I had a year to write, to explore, to work or not work, all funded. I agreed right away. His only condition was that after the year, I’d come home and enroll in college. He made a fair deal, but after the promise of my own place in a city I worshipped from afar I knew I’d never return to Nevada.

            The next day, I posted on a high school message board, looking for two roommates to split a New York City apartment. Serious inquiries only, large car preferred for the drive. Over the course of a week, I whittled ten responses down to a couple of people I sort of knew. James Grimm, a grungy musician also known as Rat. Mara Ryan, a petite girl with big hair, also known as the Strange Girl Who Took Her Camera Everywhere.

             I’d met them both at the one and only meeting of the high school’s Young Artist Club, which crashed and burned within an hour, due to factions fighting about whose art reigned supreme. The painters wanted to boss the photographers, or the “shutter freaks,” as they called them. The musicians cursed the painters. The other writers and I sat in the corners and wrote down every slur and insult, every “fuck you” and eye roll.

            Besides their disciplines, I knew almost nothing about Rat or Mara. Rat’s band, Jailbait Collective, played local shows. Mara’s photos won ribbons in a few art shows. They seemed nice enough, and both had enough funding to split the rent and utilities. Rat could provide the car to get us there.

            I somehow forgot to tell my dad the change in plans. He seemed convinced that, post big city adventure, I’d settle back home, get my degree, and maybe even someday teach. No need to upset him with my details. I believed I’d been born to be a writer, like him. Words called me. I’d drown or float based on how well I used them as a lifeboat.

            The three of us met in the high school parking lot June 12, 2004. Mara and her mom picked up me and my two duffel bags. I told my parents that airport goodbyes were too hard, so I wanted a friend to drop me off for my flight. My mom hugged me. My dad shook my hand, clapped me on the shoulder, and told me to take advantage of my opportunities.

            Rat’s schooner-like station wagon looked like it had been rescued in a daring junkyard covert mission. Mara’s mom questioned the safety of the car, but surprisingly never batted an eye about her only daughter travelling cross country with two guys. Later, she told me that her mom thought rat and I were a “couple,” and who better to take her little girl to the big city than two creative, clean cut junior queens in training?

            Three long days on the road, fueled by soft drinks and fast food and loud music. Taking turns driving while we got acquainted. All the while, Mara steered the bulk of the conversation, smiling and laughing as she told us hilarious story after story. I think Rat had a crush on her before we hit Denver. The third time she touched my arm, right outside St. Louis, I was falling in love. Later, she told me that she felt the same, but not until Columbus, Ohio.

            Our fourth floor, 181st Street apartment hulked above a Latin grocery store, open until four in the morning. The first week, we all picked up enough Spanish to navigate the neighborhood, which seemed dusty and grimy even after a good rain. I was young, free from home, and filled with ideas for romantic adventures. Bass from car stereos at all hours, and the occasional police siren, weren’t going to sway me.

            Living arrangements were tough—Mara brought more than Rat and I put together, and she claimed the closet and most of the bathroom medicine cabinet before I shut the door behind us. I didn’t care. Her skirts and high heels looked better in a closet than my legion of old t-shirts and jeans. We rotated sleeping between a twin bed, a pull out futon couch, and an air mattress, leaving little room for much else.

            The first month, Rat and I became good friends. Mara and I talked and flirted, spending more and more time together as we realized that wanted to be together. She kissed me on the subway, pulling closer as I put up token resistance. I knew we were trying to complicate…everything.

            “You need to do that again, baby,” she said.

            “What do you want from me?” I asked.

            “For you to kiss me like you mean it.”

            I did, and I meant it. When we got home that night, she told Rat that out of fairness, she and I would be taking the futon in the future, so he could have the bed.

            “Besides, that frees up space for some more storage, guys.”

            I thought more storage sounded great. I didn’t know all she intended, but I knew I wanted to figure out her plans. Rat seemed less enthused, like he knew he was losing a buddy as Mara gained a man. He slumped around us for a week, until he started sleeping with a waitress in a small bar he called his “home base,” mostly because they didn’t card anyone past dinner time. Mara and I seemed to become lovers at the same frantic pace at which the city moved. I’d been to Vegas a dozen times, but NYC was a strange and more insistent animal.

            One day she and I fought over closet space (she won), the next we were talking when she touched my cheek. I recoiled like I’d been shot, because every place her hand brushed my beard felt feverish. My heart seemed to expand each time I touched her. Every time we kissed.

On my own, I would never have suggested even a long hug, because even then I couldn’t look at her without feeling awed. Two days in New York and people asked her for directions when we explored. Her confidence shone like she’d invented the city. When I walked with her, always hand in hand, I believed in luck and magic.

I didn’t choose to act on the way I felt for her, but she chose for me. She kissed me. She claimed our futon, and for two years we slept on it, never apart for a single night. We got jobs waiting tables together, lunch shift at an Italian restaurant on 86th. Mara made the manager promise we’d always have the same shift, which he seemed happy to do after she smiled like diamonds on glass and promised him that our feelings for each other would never interfere with working hard.

“I’ll make sure he busts his butt for you. Trust me.”

We worked together, we explored the city together, and we kissed and slept and loved together. In two years, I can honestly say that there wasn’t a single waking hour that we ran out of words. We shared silence as we spooned in bed or gaped at some indescribable city wonder, but we never shared an awkward quiet. Being together was natural. Right. Our occasional spat or misunderstanding lasted as long as it took for one of us to kiss the other. We loved with intensity. I craved her every second. Each day brought a newly discovered way to want her closer to me.

       

Flashback

One night, sitting there thinking of a moment we shared—a really good piece of fish we split on the lower East side…a wine bar where every glass seemed perfect…the time at the MOMA when she posed next to a statue we both loved, a nymph seeming to flow from the water like a sunbeam flows through summer air…I realized.

I realized the worst part of life isn’t putting your heart out to be jackhammered, or dashed on the rocks like so much ocean debris. The worst experience in life is to place your heart on the platter only to realize you don’t have much of a heart to share. That somehow, you can slice through the fathomless ways you believed you loved to see how many times you invented to fuck it all beyond recognition. The worst part is, you don’t know why.

I realized that I would never be able to spend my life with someone like my grandparents did, working beyond the bickering and bad happenings and poor luck to build a stable dwelling that no earthquake could destroy. I realized that I no longer thought of love as a river of never ending happiness. I needed to forget porch swings with my best girl, seventy years old, watching a sunset or a bird swoop from tree to tree.

No death ‘til I parted. No matching headstones a monument to a lifetime of bricklaying foundations and solid walls. No future lovers strolling a graveyard, looking at me buried years ago, knowing that I felt willing to die for someone at a moment’s notice.

I know I should have had more hope at 25, but sometimes hope is a wild animal you can’t manage to cage. Shit, how can hope exist when even my downstairs neighbor, all five foot three, two hundred pounds and limp of her is talking about auditioning for some reality show? Hope is a tough sell these days; even for the people whose hearts haven’t wrung themselves dry. For those who haven’t bothered the scab until it bleeds.

 

Ch 1

Chapter 1

I heard the first police siren seconds after Rat slammed his car door and, with no mercy for the gods of engines, revved it to a dangerous level. I closed my eyes and waited. He stepped on the gas and a cloud of dirt and gravel showered me, a gray film I wiped off my face.

He peeled out twenty feet before he stopped his battered Cadillac.

“Rat, come on back. We can figure it out!” I waved to him.

The driver side door opened and his combat boots hit the dusty driveway.

I walked toward him, until I could touch the car’s drooping bumper. “Just talk to me for a minute. Come on, buddy.”

I felt sure he’d walk to me, punch me on the shoulder, and offer me a beer. Instead, he swung his legs back into the car, slammed the door, rolled down his window, extended his arm and shot me a middle finger.

That son of a bitch. After all he’s done, his blame still falls right on my head, like an anvil in one of those old cartoons.

“Rat, how about you go fuck yourself with a knotted pole wrapped in barbed wire!”

His middle finger stiffened, a defiant flag pole. He jerked his arm back in the car and gunned it. The Caddy lurched and skidded, spewing more dirt and small rocks over me. I felt a sting as gravel smacked my forehead, my cheek. Rat gained control and I watched the car sail down the narrow road, until it and Rat and our new partnership and all possibilities of friendship were only a speck.

The police siren got louder. I looked toward the Ferrari. Mandy and Fred leaned against it, staring at the ground. Fred traced shapes in the dirt with his toe as Mandy bit her nails.

“You two might want to get out of here,” I said.

Fred nodded. “It’s been…fun. Call us when you get back, okay?”

“Sure. Maybe we can have lunch or something.” I said it, knowing that a lunch arrangement would never be made. After the last few days, I felt sure that any mention of my name in the future would be accompanied by the sign of the cross or a necklace of garlic.

Mandy’s smile looked two sizes too large. “That would be nice.”

“Nice like getting together to overthrow the government? Or skinning puppies?”

She flinched like I’d already whipped out my skinning knife. Fred put his arm around her. “Come on. No need for that. Honey, let’s go.”

“You’re taking the car straight back, right?”

Fred nodded. “Good luck, Lance.”

“To you too. Do you know where Mara went?”

Mandy leaned over and said, “She’s inside. She had to tinkle.”

My eyes rolled before I could stop them. “Thanks.”

Fred had to run the Ferrari through the grass to avoid the Nevada Sheriff’s car roaring toward me, lights and siren blazing. I felt my security deposit vanishing like a deer in heavy fog. I ran into the middle of the path, waving my arms. The cruiser skidded to a stop ten feet from me and I heard feedback as its megaphone fired.

“DON’T COME ANY CLOSER, SIR!”

I stopped, arms over my head.

“Officer! He left a couple of minutes ago. Old Cadillac, kind of rusty, Oregon plates.”I pointed behind him as he exited the cruiser. “You just missed him. About my age, bald head. Dressed in ratty clothes.”

He jerked his head side to side, looking at me, then the path.

“Damn it officer! He’s getting away!”

He looked at me once more and nodded. “Remain here sir! Backup is arriving soon! Remain on the scene!”

I adjusted my bow tie. “You’re a good man. And, if I could make a suggestion, don’t be afraid to use the taser. He had a strange look in his eye.”

He pointed at me. “Just stay here and wait.”

My dad had been right. Dress for success and people notice and listen. In police circles, I’m sure a guy in a tuxedo trumped a bald-headed fuck in a beater Caddy. A couple of seconds later, the cruiser was tearing ass. Soon, Rat would be taking the trip to Tasertown. He hated cops so much—he was bound to piss them off to an enormous degree. I saw him jerking and twitching as they zapped him and couldn’t help but chuckle at the thought of them checking his ID, only to find they’d juiced the wrong guy. Then, they would break land speed records getting back to me.

I knew I’d only put a band-aid on the wound, but I bought myself a few minutes to finish my task. I walked a short stone path toward a small stream. The water twisted and spit over small branches and rocks. First, the new. I pulled the notebook from my pocket and set it afire with my lighter. When the flames licked too close to my hand, I tossed it into the stream. I heard a sizzle, saw a puff of smoke when fire met water.

I heard a door slam and turned to see Mara running toward me like she was wearing track shoes instead of five inch heels. Her necklaces and bracelets bounced like her thick nest of black hair. In the door to the recording studio, Roy Simmons smiled, shook his head and rubbed his temple, like he was caught dead in the middle of a fight between wonder, confusion and a killer headache. I smiled. Only Mara could make a man feel like that. Roy looked toward her, shook his head harder, and went back inside the recording studio.

“Lance! Wait! Not without me! Unsaddle, cowboy!”

I held up my empty hands.

She skipped to a halt, grabbed me, and kissed me until I felt wobbly.

“Wow! Marababy, you know how to make a man feel good. Or very strange, I bet old Roy would say.”

“Roy’s a pig. I love you, baby, but I wasn’t willing to meet his…terms for handing over the goods. Sorry, but you’re going to have to live with that song forever.”

I shrugged. “So close. Oh well. I’ll be sad, but I can’t have you whoring yourself for me.”

She laughed. “Well, not to sweaty Roy, anyway.”

I said, “I destroyed the notebook already. Couldn’t wait to get it away from me.”

“No biggee, baby. I don’t care about the new stuff. I’m more interested in old news. You ready to do this?”

I bit my lip. “I think so.” I took my wallet from my back pocket and reached inside it, extracting the note.

I looked at the small, folded square of paper in my palm. Over the years, it had tattered, become a little yellow at the edges. I opened it carefully, as if my shaking hands might destroy the fragile ink it contained. I hadn’t seen the writing on the paper in four years. I felt every jolt of pain, almost like I was back in that old cabin, watching Mara’s back get smaller as she walked to her car, away from me, shoving me into a new world I never wanted to occupy.

Mara put her tiny hand on my shoulder. “If you aren’t ready, you can wait.”

“No. This is what I want.”

The note, that little scrap of paper, lay in my hand, open to the world again. When I’d written it, I had no idea how it would change my life, for good and bad. She left. I wrote it, filled with confusion and self-hatred and fear. The note. Her note. I shook as I mouthed each syllable, revealing each portion of chicken scratch like an archeologist, although I knew every word by heart. My shaky print felt too much to bear as I read to myself.

Mara patted my arm. “Take your time. I’ll be right over here.”

She walked to a large stone and sat.

“Do you want to read it first? Not even curious?”

“No, baby. Done is done. This is up to you. Either way, we’re good.”

I sighed and read the first part.

I will never believe in true love again. My heart will always be glazed and cold. My soul has split. I’m sore and sad, bereft and barren. Hearts don’t break, they tear. Slowly. Love is the lie we tell kids to keep them from their fears. Love is the crashing wave, your heart is the shoreline destroyed. Soon, your smell will fade from the pillow and I’ll strain for any part of it. I’ll be alone at night, you miles or years from me. When I looked at you I could barely speak, because my heart would cut off my voice. I looked at you and I KNEW. Now, you’re gone, soon you’ll be a ghost, and I’ll sit and remember what you once were while trying to come to peace with what you still ARE. The love. The one, if you believe in it like I do. You take my heart with you. I am sorry, Mara. I hope someday you’ll know how I love you.

 Years of loving and resenting and wanting her, of treating her like a queen and a bug to be squashed, compacted into a paragraph I wrote with tears in my eyes and a strange mix of love and relief in my heart. Ancient history. I tore the paper and scattered it to the air. I laughed as each piece rose and seemed to freeze, framed for a second against the trees and the bluing sky like a tiny snowstorm. Some scraps caught the wind and danced toward the stream. Some showered over me, tangling in my hair. A hundred pieces, a hundred different parts of a life I didn’t have to keep living. Her, somehow with me, somehow erasing years…

“How do you feel?” Mara slid her arms around me from behind. I inhaled and there, in the breeze…her familiar scent, roses with a hint of musk. She shivered against my back.

I said, “Are you cold, hon? Do you want my jacket?”

“Not now.” She burrowed into me. “So, how do you feel?”

“Okay. But I’m not done yet.” I held up an intact piece of paper.

Mara stepped in front of me. “What’s left?”

“The lyrics. My lyrics.”

She fiddled with one of her…what was it, five? Seven earrings? “Wow. You’re really going for broke.”

“It’s about time I went for something, don’t you think?”

She said, “Baby, I don’t care what you go for, as long as you take me too.”

I ran the back of my hand over her cheek. “You are cold. Take my jacket.”

In her beaded turquoise gown, among the trees and grass and dirt, she looked like a socialite who’d walked through a magic closet from the ball into the boonies. My black jacket lumped over her didn’t help the awkwardness.

“In the words of a song I know, ‘I don’t care where you’re goin’, as long as I can be there too, my baby.’”

She frowned. “Who wrote that?”

“Rat, of course.”

She groaned. “That fucker. I hope he rots.”

“Me too. But first, he might find…some difficulties. I’ll explain later. Right now, I need to get rid of this sheet of paper before the cops get back. You ready?”

She said, “I am. It’s been a strange road, my baby. Let’s savor and enjoy this.”

Mara put her arms around me. I ripped the remaining piece of paper into scraps and tossed them to the water. As they drifted downstream, I rested my chin on top of her head.

She let go of me and walked to the edge of the stream. “The water’s really moving. Lots of rocks, too.” She reached into her neckline and pulled out a small, rectangular object. “I got you a present, hot stuff. Happy less than one week anniversary.”

“What’s that?”

“Computer flash drive. I said Roy didn’t give me what I wanted, but that didn’t mean I didn’t find a way to take it. The master file is on there.”

“Marababy, you shouldn’t have!” I kissed her like it was our first time, listening to her soft moans as she molded against me. I took the drive from her hand, dropped it and stomped my heeI until I felt sure the drive, and its contents, were rubble. I picked up the pieces, turned and threw them as hard as I could into the stream. I felt tears glaze my eyes.

“How do you really feel?” she asked.

“Maybe it’s too early, but a little hopeful. Kind of strange. I’m glad that part is over, anyway. So…what now?”

She plopped down on the ground. “Now, we wait for the cops. Unless you want to play Bonnie to my Clyde and make a break for it.”

“Shouldn’t I be Clyde?”

“Oh, Lancelot. Men just have to be the ringleaders, don’t they? I always saw myself as the one with the gun, causing mayhem.”

“Fine. I’ll be your Bonnie, baby. But let’s keep the mayhem to a minimum.”

I heard the sirens, closer by the second. I could hear the judge already. Trespassing. Disturbing the peace. Petty theft. Nothing to give me the chair, but I’d have to check off the “have you been convicted of a crime” square on my next job application.

She laughed. “Don’t worry, baby doll. I’ll do the talking.”

Two squad cars roared toward us, screeching to a stop.

“HANDS UP! DO NOT MOVE!”

Mara stood. I heard guns click.

Her arms shot in the air. “Officers, don’t hurt my lover! He has cancer of the balls!”

I stood. “It’s true, sirs! If you handle me wrong, one of these suckers might explode!”

We were laughing when they put us in the cruiser, still laughing when we got to the police station, and damn it if the cops weren’t laughing as well as Mara told them stories of the four days before.

 

 

 

Facebook.

I don’t do it often, but I do look at your Facebook page very once in a while. Mainly, because of the gorgeous picture of you. I savor it.

I saw your post about a The Hotel of South Beach. I didn’t expect how strongly it would affect me, but it did.

I was in bed, going to sleep before I checked. After, all I could do is relive every second, from when you pulled up to when you left for home.

I remember missing you as you sat in front of the airport and I dropped off the car. It was what? Ten minutes? All the same, I missed you. I remember e rearrangements on the plane. Us driven to the wrong hotel. Struggling to find the entrance. Our first view of the room, past the red rum hallway.

I didn’t think of any of the bad things. Progress for me. What do they matter, compared to what we shared? Nothing.

I think I felt more alive those too few days than any other time in my life. You were mine, all mine. I would rather watch you get ready in the morning than write, than breathe.

Gelato under an awning, the rain unable to touch us. Kissing in the shower. Making love until we were exhausted and broken, then finding ways to make love again and again anyway. The food. The walk on the beach. The rooftop, only eyes for one another among a crowd.

Most of all, three mornings when I woke with you in a luxurious bed, knowing you were mine all day and night.

I’m not sure why you posted it, but thank you. Of course, it comes with it’s prices- longing and craving beyond belief.

Missing you so much.

Saturday night

It’s been a week of words. I’m taking an online writing course, wrote a page for the workshop tomorrow, have read and written and edited every day. I think I’ve finally reached the point I’m so bored that there’s no putting off creating and reading. Before, I let any distraction take me away from writing, fearing what I would say if I wrote. Now, I don’t care. There are so many hours to fill – it feels nice to actually have life push me toward something I enjoy, even if it doesn’t satisfy as it once did.

For all the words, it’s been the silence that’s spoken most this week. I haven’t heard from you in five days, which is puzzling. I didn’t see what made you mad, what stopped you from talking. Of course I have a dozen assumptions, most of them involving some level of you not wanting to make things harder on me. Of course, usually when you try that, it ends up making things twice as difficult. Same for me – we have that talent with one another.

I feel foolish most of the time, unsure. For the last I don’t know how long, every time we see one another I assume it’s the last time. Every time we aren’t in contact for a day, I figure I won’t, ever again.

It becomes clearer and clearer that you’ve pulled back, moved on in some important ways. Of course I understand, but it still makes me incredibly sad. When I think of all we were to each other, it stuns me, amazes me.

Love isn’t enough to make anyone happy, it’s what you do with it that matters. Oh, how we’ve frittered and burned so much, my love. So much of the time, my loneliness feels proper. Correct, given all I’ve done. Deserved.

I hope your week went well. I’m sitting here looking at Cooper sleep (he’s doing quite a bit better), and thinking of you. We’re sleeping upstairs again, which means more 3am rousings, stirrings, and memories, but they’re worth it. This bed has been the scene of a lot of my happiest moments on earth.

Take care of yourself.

Foolish me

I read something today that moved me. An actor died – character actor who has been in a hundred different things, James Rebhorn, wrote his own obituary.

About his wife and daughters:

They anchored his life and gave him the freedom to live it. Without them, always at the center of his being, his life would have been little more than a vapor. Rebecca loved him with all his flaws, and in her the concept of ceaseless love could find no better example.

Always at the center of his being, his life would have been little more than a vapor. Wow. I got chills up and down, because I’ve had that feeling before.

Maybe not because of strong family, but that feeling of love.

I go back and forth on whether it was wrong of me to ask you over. Most days it feels like yes. An unfair act.

I wanted you over here to talk. We’d mentioned confusion and expectations and years long struggles to minimize the first and define the latter. I wanted to give the conversation another shot, deserving or not.

Over the years, I’ve tried to define my expectations. I’ve always failed, because what I want is everything. In a lot of ways, you want everything as well. But as we, know, what we can have falls far short of everything.

It wounded me when you said no. Actually, you didn’t. You said I’d love to, but. I would’ve rather had a no. To me, I’d love to but is the equivalent of let’s do lunch sometime -something said that’s but is kind of a blow off.

To me, I’d love to means, I can’t now but I can ________.

But I’ve thought a lot about it, and remembered that it’s always been harder for you to just come over, with no definitions or idea what you’re doing. Sorry that It seems to add more confusion to you, even thought that was not my intent. I just missed you, and at a certain point that overwhelms me, and I lose track of looking out for you.

Spring

It’s supposed to be almost 60 today, sunny. I was so looking forward to spring with the pup – shaking off the dreadful winter and feeling warm and alive. Now, it just seems another uncertainty.

I went to bed by 10:30, slept on and off until 7:30. Woke a few times because of extremely weird dreams. Something about a riot at a school and armed response teams and Cooper having a leg that was a big chicken leg. I gave up trying to figure out that one.

These days are endless. Until I go to bed, I have nothing. I’m trying to write and edit more, Cooper will have three short walks, but otherwise just trying to fill the hours. I’ve taken to reading about this subject or that – Norse mythology, existentialism, whatever occurs to me. I spend as much time as I can looking for jobs.

My depression is still overwhelming. Most times, it’s hard to get off the couch. Yesterday I got up and vacuumed and made myself dinner and it was like I’d climbed Everest.

I’m so tired of complaining and being sad. Maybe the old, stoic me of my twenties was better, when I just held it in and let it sink down until even I couldn’t see it. Anymore, all I do is pine and cry and think of better times, believing that nothing in the future will ever compare to them.

Yesterday I kept thinking of us at the OTR concert. Well, both of them. They were both spectacular in their own ways.

Simply holding your hand gave me shivers, filled me with butterflies and electricity and also…rightness. Is that a word?

Every life needs those moments of peace, of calm, of feeling right. Maybe if you never know them, you don’t miss them so goddamn much when they are gone. My years have been a series of that – having, then not having. Yes, I know a lot of it is on my shoulders.

This blog will be the place I confess my love, tell you I miss you. It seems to be awkward in texts.

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