the seeds, the trees

"But once in a while there's a great dynamite-burst of flying glass and brick and splinters through the front wall and somebody stalks over the rubble, seizes me by the throat and gently says, 'I will not let you go until you set me, in words, on paper.'" – Richard Bach

Category: short story

The new year

I don’t really know when everything fell to shit. It happens gradually, little silent destructions along the way, you’re facing the sun so you can’t see them, you’re distracted by the trees and smiles. But they’re happening. Little explosions, puffs of smoke and falling walls along the way. Fires and earthquakes, flashes and shudders. One morning you’re in Hawaii planting toy choy and picking lilikois and by 5 o’clock your mom’s downed 60 sleeping pills and a bottle of brandy – thousands of miles away, gone into a coma for 20 hours, ending in ICU, then psych hospital for evaluation. The next day you’re at the store buying facial cleansing cloths and a bag of peanut M&Ms, thousands of miles away, why the fuck why. Two weeks later she will come home and cut her wrists in the shower. Her wrists, then hands, then inner creases of her elbows, searching for the veins and destroying them, like enemies.

One day you think you’ve made the best decision of your life, the next you can’t remember the last time you were happy. All of a sudden everything seems to have had its last time. The last time you truly laughed. The last time you truly loved somebody. The last time you felt in control. The last time you slept all the way through. The last time you drank too much. The last time you didn’t drink too much. And it feels like it’s now a long time coming for the next time. You start thinking of everything in the past tense. You take away your future because, firstly, you have no fucking idea what’s going on and, secondly, you just assume whatever will happen is going to be fucking awful.

That’s what I’m doing right now, in Hawaii. That shit I mentioned earlier is real. Shit sucks. These days I feel two feelings, sadness and hopelessness, and I feel a thousand shades of each one. Each day a different degree. Some days are better, lighter degrees. Some days I reach new depths to the feelings. Go places I’ve never been before. I almost go where she did. But now I never can. In a way that makes me kind of mad, she took that away from me. She did what I have only dreamed of. And now everything feels like a movie. Now nothing will be the same, which may not be bad but it’s fucking scary. Now I know what it will be like afterwards and that’s all I ever really dreamed of. What it would be like after I tried to kill myself, or after I did kill myself. That’s the problem with the dream. You’ve got to be around afterwards to see it. You’ve got to stay alive.

The beginning

You didn’t look at me or say anything or move, except your chest rising and falling.

I also lay still and quiet, repeating in my head, promising,

promising to be strong,

that if you didn’t reach out and touch me in

10…9…8…7…

I would move, leave without a word. Never see you again.

6…5…4…

everything dark and still.

I wait, hating myself and hating you.

You reach over and wipe off my back with your boxers.

I inch closer but my pride won’t let me touch you. So many lonely places I’ve been.

You mumble something about sweat. I put my clothes on and leave.

Five in the morning.

3…2…1…

never see you again.

Now you say you love me. That I snuck up on you, real good.

You never want to let me go. You beg me to stay longer, to let you make me come.

I let you do these things. I tell you I love you.

But when it’s quiet between us, and nothing holds our bodies together

except a prideless hope that everything will be OK if we are loved,

I almost cry, conjuring the tears,

never letting them go,

and I get scared when you’re holding me, you clever stranger,

that you’re this close to the blood in my heart, because I have no idea who you are.

Good Morning, D.C.

The woman sitting next to me on the metro is hideous. She has a fat rock on her finger. I can mock and recoil from her blotchy skin, fat cheeks and terrible ski jacket, but at the end of the day, who is happier? Her and the crusty bits at the corners of her mouth and her husband who bought her a fat rock like that.

…I can’t believe how important you think you are. Milling around in your various mismatched suits (Is that in now, GQ?), headphones dangling from your ears like umbilical cords. You’re name is Brett and you order coffees with more than four ingredients while telling the man next to you, “Well, the thing with marketing is.”  The person you are speaking to is 10 years older than you with two kids and knows so much more, you weedy little shit, what do you know about love? About giving?

I think the loud, chubby barista is more important than your funeral-clad friends in this Starbucks. He gives you what you want to feel important, a small piece of your busy, busy day, and drinking coffee always makes you feel important and busy, you love it. And this barista, you probably think little of him, you probably take pity on him, yet you need him, Brett. You have no idea what you’d do without him. You have no idea what he’s done for you.

SO MANY – too many – PLATES

I’ve started worrying about the plates again.

I open the kitchen cabinet and there they are. A whole massive stack of them, like very white pancakes. Perfect. And there are, like, 26 of them. No, 20. No, 14. Either way, there are too many plates per family member (three of us in this house now) for them all to get used in between dishwasher loads. It can’t happen. Every day, I take three or four plates, now clean, out of the dishwasher and stack them back in the cabinet, on top of the tall pile of untouched plates, and I feel sad for them, the plates that only get used two, three times a year.

I worry, will the ones on top wear out before the ones on the bottom? The ones that keep getting used over and over and over again, day after day, while their unsullied counterparts remain lifeless, purposeless. I imagine them as Beauty and the Beast corpses. I see gleeful tea cups turning away in horror, all of their chipped but thriving relatives cringing in fear and disgust at the faceless plates.

Then I get angry. What’s the point? What’s the fucking point of these plates that we never use? Should I come in here and mix them up each week? But why would I do that? Am I crazy? Should I smash them, put them out of their misery? Should I, personally, use more plates? Shit. Why am I thinking about these things? Fuck. Do I truly, to the bone, have nothing better to do? And that’s the worst way to end because always, always the answer is, “Yes,” but then the mean, sulky, self-hating sycophant you kill hundreds of times a day whispers from the sticky depths which it has fled, “No. Now come back.”

Once upon a time

Once upon a time there was a boy who loved a girl more than anyone could love anything, but she didn’t know what love was. She didn’t understand when he said, “Anything,” and cut off his hair because she was cold. Then one day, the boy grew sad. He knew she could not love him the way he loved her. She told him that she loved him, but her words were so light they floated away as soon as she spoke them, like dandelion dust, as if they had never been said.

He is happy, and she is sad. He is easy, and she is hard. He will always have enough. She will always think about dying, even when life is finally and sweetly good.

He only loved her more, until one day the girl said goodbye. Maybe it wasn’t her. Maybe it was the Someone Else inside of her who wasn’t afraid to be alone on the loneliest planet in the universe.

Now the girl cries when she can because she knows she will never have another boy to love her like he did. She is scared to sleep at night. She sleeps with the lights on, but the shadows come in anyway and make horrible shapes on the walls, and she is afraid to see the owl, which is really not an owl at all.

Sometimes she reaches out her arms to touch him. But he isn’t there. He could be warm in another’s or content with his own. She doesn’t know, because they do not know things like that about each other anymore.

The saddest thing of all.

She is afraid that one day he will wake up and forget her name. One day she will see him, and he will not care. She is afraid of the hours, days, months and years that she will miss him, like a hand misses a hand. She is afraid that she needs him, like people need their gods, like her father needs the sea.

Without him, she will forget to breathe.

Cigarettes! I quit

I opened my eyes one morning after getting into bed at 6 a.m. and trying to sleep, but I couldn’t so I just lay there thinking about a whole bunch of shit that doesn’t do me any good to think about, and I opened my eyes at about 7:30 because I swear I couldn’t take it anymore, and I thought that if I kept on thinking I would just go out of my fucking mind.

So I opened my eyes because I wanted everything to stop. I wanted to shut my brain down and I thought it might be less wild in the light. So I opened my eyes and decided I was going to quit smoking. I am going to quit smoking, I told myself. And it’s going to be really fucking hard. Look, you’re going to listen to a really good song in the car and you’re not going to be able to smoke a cigarette. You’re going to listen to Slug and you’re not going to smoke a cigarette. And these are the sacrifices you’re going to have to make. You are going to have to sacrifice. And it’s going to be hard. And when all your friends are smoking cigarettes around you, which they’re going to be, you’ll have to tell them that you quit smoking.

This is exactly what you’re going to say: “I quit smoking. And I’m not fucking around.” That’s what you’re going to have to say. And they’re going to offer you cigarettes, and you’re going to have to say, “No thank you. I’m not fucking around. I told you that earlier. I’m not fucking around. I quit.”

I was so excited to start my day. I thought I had a whole new life waiting for me, and I started wondering about all the ways my life would change. I was expecting big change. Change I couldn’t even imagine because it would be so big.

And now I’m high and want to give up because that’s what smoking weed makes you do, and I’m smoking cigarettes inside and the whole room smells like smoke and I’m pretty sure I’m inhaling all the smoke I blow out and I’m afraid I’m going to get mouth cancer because I chew my lips until they bleed and then smoke cigarettes, inside, and I breathe second smoke, I really didn’t want to write ‘hand’ for some reason, and I don’t know how you diagnose mouth cancer but either my lips will turn purple or I will grow a tumor on the side of my lip the size of a tennis ball. That is what I have decided. I am very sure that this will happen. And there’s nothing I can do about it.

Mr. Marinakis

Mum told me last night that I didn’t have to be famous. “Oh, you’re so immature,” she said, she cooed, feeling so sorry, after I cried and told her what’s the point of being creative, what’s the point of not being normal if you’re not recognized for it?

What is the point of my lifelong-mental twistedness, my turmoil, my singular tragedy if it bears no fruit? I asked. Except I didn’t say “singular tragedy” or “fruit” because no one speaks that way. It sounded more like, “Why do I have to deal with this shit in my head that supposedly makes me a writer if no one reads or wants to read what I write?”

And that’s when she said, sorrowfully, and a little smugly now that I think about it, “You’re so immature.” Then she said, which wasn’t very helpful but admittedly made me feel less alone, that several months ago she would have said, “Come on, let’s go jump off a bridge together!” She was ready to “check out” in April, she said, but then she saw this man who…I’m not exactly sure what he does, but I think he’s some kind of homeopathic mood doctor. She said this guy – this Mr. Marinakis – completely sorted her out, completely. She always uses lots of adverbs when she talks. That’s all she said. Completely. I let my mind fill in the details.

I see a stocky Japanese man, short but not small, the physique of a Japanese man who has lived in America for a long time and forsaken his traditional diet. He’s wearing a white lab coat (How original, my mind) and a blue, cashmere sweater; gray-black, knit slacks (So specific, my mind!) His office – or where he meets with his patients – has light, wooden flooring, reminiscent of bamboo (Well done, my mind. Use stereotypes. It’s easier.) There’s a few glass vases filled with colored Mancala beads.

When he looks at me, I can’t tell what he’s thinking. He can see through my skull at my beating brain and my brain is blue. He doesn’t seem to have anything in his pockets, not even a pen. I don’t know what his voice sounds like because so far we haven’t spoken. He touches my head without touching it. He talks to my brain. I remember the acupuncturist I saw more than five years ago. I was depressed. She made  a map of my organs with needles in my back. She said, indifferently, I had a wounded heart that would never heal. It made me sadder. Mr. Marinakis doesn’t say anything about my heart. I can’t see anymore. All I know is that Mr. Marinakis is probably not Japanese. “Marinakis” is Greek. His first name is Peter.

Detox

I think I’ve been so upset since that year because, honestly – and I’m being honest here – I’m a disappointment. If only you knew maybe it wouldn’t feel so dark and heavy. My personality is a fetish I must hide from you.

Be mindful of your habits…be mindful your habits do not become your character… Do you remember when I went away to volunteer for that year? It was October. It wasn’t too cold. I went away to help people and do things that made me sound like a very good person when I told you about them. Do you remember? The Mexicans in Texas whose houses washed away, and I rebuilt them? The people with broken bodies and pieces of brains whose hands I touched and made feel important? Anyway, I didn’t tell you because I knew you’d be mad, but I woke up in a detox clinic soon after you dropped me off because I drank too much. I lost my jacket and my wallet and my phone. They wouldn’t let me out for 24 hours. 1 a.m. to 1 p.m. They wrapped me in a paper gown and led me into the cafeteria to eat penne pasta and peas. People traded cookies for desert. I threw up in a trashcan. The prostitute told me it would be OK.

The volunteer organization sent people to look for me the next morning when I didn’t come back. I got a taxi from the clinic to the campus. I walked over the hill leading to the entrance and a girl I knew, I guess we were friends, ran up to me. “Sophie!” I felt like Shadow in Homeward Bound. I felt sick and tired, too physically shitty to let the mental shit in. I wanted to get dollar-scoop Chinese food across the street.

They made me see the therapist. I impressed her with my “self-awareness.” I knew it all. I drink too much. I smoke too much. Like a Chronic-era rap song. I don’t stop. They didn’t like me too much after that. I made a video for my team after our first project – the one with the washed-away Mexican homes and starving dogs. The dogs seemed sadder than the children, fat on Cheetos and ice cream, they had something, right? But the dogs. We stopped noticing the dead ones on the street.

Anyway, I made this video – It was great. I videotaped everything and put it all to music. I made the sad moments happy, and the happy moments last. They wouldn’t play it at the meeting where all of the volunteers came together at the end. They played another girl’s though. She didn’t take video. Just happy photos gliding past to happy music like a lie.

From then on, I haven’t felt right. Inside, I’m all soft, pink patches, blackened. I don’t deserve goodness. What Being showers someone with opportunities, someone who doesn’t take any of them, who throws them away? I take and I take and I expect more even when I don’t know if there is any, if there could be any, that anybody in their right mind would say, More! More more more more more more more! I will die writhing without more. Never enough enough enough enough enough. All I want is enough. Enough is enough. I love you. It’s not enough. I can’t love enough. I can’t be loved enough. Did you know that? Of course you didn’t. Because I didn’t tell you. I don’t tell anyone I am a disappointment. Because I want to believe it least of all. I don’t want it to be true more than you. Do you understand? I am the only person who can help me, but I can’t, so don’t, more, more, enough, enough, enough, if you tell me it isn’t true, I’ll believe you, but we haven’t spoken in a while.

A(lone)ly

No one would sit next me to in class. Not even those I thought I had befriended. Acquaintances, at least? I felt very small with tears in my throat. When it was over, and I gathered my things to go, I noticed I had put my coat over the back of the chair next to me.

Pretty puppy

The heavy woman with short, blonde hair and a red face and ugly jeans says, “What a pretty puppy! Are you a pretty puppy? Yes, that’s a pretty puppy!” when I walk by with my dog that has white fur and light feet.

When I walk by, I am close enough that if I stretch out my arm I can touch her. I am pleased when she compliments my dog, even though it is eight years old and not a puppy.

Still, I am pleased. I think my dog is pretty, too. So when I have almost passed her and the small synapsis between us has nearly disappeared, I loosen my grip on the leash in my hand and let my dog walk towards her and press its nose into her jean thighs that I imagine are soft and warm and stale.

She immediately raises both her hands in surrender, and although she does not stop smiling, I see the muscles in her face that created the smile slacken, and everything grows still like she has switched off her head and is ready to remove it.

I shorten the leash again and pull my dog away from her. I keep walking, angry now with the woman who said my puppy was pretty but who I now suspect was lying, who could have thought my puppy wasn’t pretty at all, and wonder when I will forget her.