A Metaphor For Something Like Love
Like an island in a hurricane, I have palms in disaster.
I picture us in motion. We’re driving in the car on overlapping freeways with no exits or onramps, so we’re always missing our destination, and we hear “rerouting, rerouting” on an endless loop. I picture us always moving forward, even though we’re not really going anywhere at all, but I think it might be important that I never see us click gears in reverse. That’s a good sign, an omen.
Realistically, we’re never in the car. Realistically, we’re draped across the couch someone else gave us, clutching the blanket I had with someone else and now have with you, and half of our things are still shared with people who exist only in the seduction of digital images also shared with other people who only exist in one hyperlinked name after another. Even with an endless scroll, we’re still going nowhere.
Step-dads all over the world are leaving for their high school girlfriends. They’re searching for names and finding she never changed hers, and she’s single or widowed or divorced or looking, and all he has to do is write “Hi J” and send, and women are finding the third time isn’t really charming at all. I know these women. They’ve read hundreds of lists of twenty-five things to watch out for. They’re my mom and the lady who sold her pet food business downtown, and both are in too close a proximity to me.
I’m afraid of anything gone viral.
Two peas in a pod are immune to anything outside of the pod, but all cancer cells come from nowhere. At least that’s what it seems like. Chances are the bruised spots were there before the skin closed them in.
How many islands are so far below the ocean that Google Earth can’t find them? That’s the thing with islands. There’s nowhere to go but down.
When I think of us in motion and going nowhere at all, I wonder if it’s just that we’re racing around the perimeter, and the highways never intersect, because it’s really all the same highway spiraling further and further inward like the grooves on a record. It’s a trick question: there’s only one groove.
But there are two sides.
At the end of Side One, there’s a lock if you’re lucky. It holds you in place and dips and crackles for eternity, wearing down the needle, until someone comes along and realizes the music has stopped. If you’re unlucky, your needle spins out of control, rips across the route from which you came, and replacement needles are seriously far too expensive for this old record player. It’s a travesty. A shame. A distortion. A perversion. A poor corruption. No matter how hard you search for the parts online, you know it’s the end of something old and the beginning of something that will never sound the same from the other room.
Sound travels in dips and peaks. It’s a flight pattern of chaos, but if it traveled as the crow flies, you wouldn’t hear anything at all, and that’s a really lonely way to live. It’s upwind.
Wings are so efficient. There are birds who hover in wind currents, never having to flap, and they still get to their destinations. When things are good, we think we need more of them, but a three-winged albatross would never make it to dry land.
If you think about it, all land is an island. The isolation is just more infinite, and the cars stay on the road for just a moment longer, but sometimes when I’m driving down the highway, and I’m going so fast, I think to myself that there’s really nothing there to keep me from careening off this road.
This is one of those shows where there are cameras everywhere and I’m not in on the joke. This is one of those shows where someone promises me a thousand dollars if I just convince that old woman to flash those college boys and chug a Zolensky’s Ice through an old, rusted tailpipe. This is one of those shows where I stand in line from dawn to lunch and only eight people get called up on stage to guess how much the host spent on his pants. This is a show where I sit in a room with a man and pretend to whisper, even though we’re both wearing lav mics, and he puts his hand on my hair and promises we’ll stick together to the end, but he’s really-honestly wishing I’d STOP. FUCKING. USING. HIS. CLIPPERS. On my feet.
This is one of those shows where I sing like Christina Aguilera and Christina Aguilera doesn’t even notice I’m trying to sing like her, and I say into the mic that she doesn’t love me as much as she loves herself. This is one of those shows that everyone in the pizza shop watches on mute without closed captioning, because it’s so clear that I’ll be murdered before the opening credits even roll.
This is one of those shows where I’m already dead. They’re unzipping me from my sternum to my pelvis, and everyone in the live audience grows quiet. The host/scientist snaps his latex gloves against his wrists and smiles to himself as he delicately removes from my abdomen what everyone has been waiting for since the commercial break. It’s a mop. Of hair. Of teeth. Of nails. A half-formed oddity that he slides into a sterilized glass box, where it floats. Only it looks like it’s swimming, because the water ripples and twists the long tendrils until they are caught in one another, braiding themselves into chaos, getting sucked to the bottom, while the teeth and nails chatter into the sides of the glass. Everyone in the audience gasps. It looks so much like death. It does. But it’s not. And that’s what they’ll remember most, not my corpse already on the slab.
In this show, I replaced your coffee with Folgers crystals, and you cried.
In this show, they send me into a soundproofed booth while they ask you if I’ve ever “gotten kinky,” and you say, “You mean how many?!” which makes the audience laugh. I watch them through the scratched plexiglass and wish I were blindfolded, because I see that look on your face across the sound stage under the hot lights, the one you make when I ask you if everything is all right, and you say, “You left your hair in the drain again.”
This is that show where I’m hooked up to a lie detector, and the host/FBI agent explains to the at-home audience that he’s the leading expert in lie detection, and I realize it’s okay. I’ll win. Because I only bleed panic when I have to tell the truth, but the prize on this show is a lifetime of knowing you were better than one man, a man so sure of himself it wouldn’t matter if you lied anyway, as long as you agreed.
This one is all the Amish teenagers urinating on the subway and getting too drunk to pray, and I’m the passerby who takes out my cell phone and snaps a photo with the flash on before I call 911. This one is me in a fast-food uniform with manicured nails and shoes too ugly to be cheap, breaking the fourth wall to tell all you kind viewers at home that I’ve learned my lesson about treating my minimum-wage employees with respect, and Tammy will get a promotion to shift manager so she can feed her three children and put herself through college. In the next show, I’m a college co-ed taking off my top before they blast me with lime green party punch. In the show after that, I’m a college senior reading my classmates Dr. Seuss’s Oh! The Places You’ll Go from the bathroom floor. Following that show, another show of that show, before the rerun and season-two teasers for the all-new episode of that show where I’m playing a violin on the subway, and nobody knows that I was put on this earth to do this, only this, for forever, for their enjoyment.
This is the show where I’m fat.
This is the season finale. This is where I’m running up hills of congealed chocolate pudding mix with gallons of milk in my hands, and even as I begin to slow, not one of the producers is prepared when I stop halfway up Pudding Mountain, unscrew the caps from the milk, and glug it down my throat. The creamy white sloshes down my chin, soaks my Pink Team t-shirt, and glosses my chest. The cotton padding of my bra clings to my skin and won’t let go. This is the show where I give up already.
By Sunday I Will Be Killed/Married/Fucked
Buy flowers. They are good for all three occasions. Jon Bon Jovi can lay you down in a bed of roses, but every rose has its thorn, and a kiss from a rose is…murder? You’re not sure. Someone died in the music video. At the flower shop, look longingly at the single red rose, but know, like, chakra-deep you’ll get the wheel of condolence lilies or the bouquet grenade to launch at guests in dresses. Note: Lady at the flower counter doesn’t recognize “unbridled desire” as currency. Walk out empty-handed.
Wonder where the word “unbridled” comes from. From the German, bridel: to rein in or bring under one’s control. Find a horse. Any horse. But try for one marbled like rye, chaotic legs, and mount him. Pull your kegels tight. Feel what the horse girls have been feeling for years—uncrushable muscle,
a body to absorb your violence your heavy pants your edged knees your needy palms your needling guilt your glassy breath your…You’re as subtle as a mushroom cloud in a haystack. Thank the horse—always thank the horse—and crunch your teeth into an apple just out of his reach. Watch him flay round in his stall and know that you just can’t talk to him when he’s like this.
Hump day. Part the gauzy curtains in your front window and peer into the darkness. You’ve been waiting all day. On the glass, your breath etches messages from deep in your gut. This is Morse code for romantics. Do you see someone out there? Maybe. Wonder how it’s possible to mistake anything for a human form. Like food molded into other food,
people are reshaped as well. The hot dog did taste like an octopus after. Would you care if you were killed/married/fucked?
No, you think. You’re just so happy it’s an end to something.
Phew! Thank god Wednesday is over! God, Wednesday is such a fucking bummer. It’s ridiculous! But Thursday, OH GOD THURSDAY is your jaws of life, your salvation from the car crash and stink of singed hair caught in the heating grate of your dashboard. Thursday will peel your puzzle-pieced skull from the web in your windshield and glue you up right, dribbles of gray matter seeping from the sutures. But it’s okay. There was too much in your head, anyway. Sing Youtube karaoke classics for your cat and watch the neighbor across the way close his curtain for an indefinite intermission. Well, fuck him. But not like that. You wait for someone else to decide.
Hang a sign on your door—“Psychic Readings In Here Now.” People come. The woman with the slightly blue tattooed lip liner wants her baby’s prognosis. Twins with harelips want assurances of matching husbands and houses. Your neighbor wants you to keep it fucking down over here. Grind your teeth. Apologize. “No, no. I wanted a reading from you.” Lip liner lady squints, says, “Don’t you, like, got parents or something?”
You don’t remember. Clutch an ancient-looking locket in your hands and feel the object, not its past. All that matters is this week.
Prepare 3 chafing dishes of casserole for tomorrow. You don’t know when/where/who/how, but it’s coming, it’s coming, it’s coming. Your skin tingles, so you watch a Lifetime move and predict the killer and wonder if your life is as easy to read as the plot for The Labyrinth Murderer, and when you watch the credits roll—Matthews, Marks, Lukes, Johns/Jons—it’s like produced by God. God is life, but maybe he’s Lifetime, too. Look at the wood side table. WHERE ARE YOUR FLOWERS?!
Run down to the corner store with the glass-eyeball lady, get the first green thing in dirt you see and bring it back to your house. Huh. What is this thing? It smells faintly of curry. The lamb’s ear leaves soft, tilted, downward, drooping like a miniature weeping willow, like the one you hid under while your sister fed the ducks at the pond.
You have a sister? Your cat jumps on the table and slicks a tongue on the lamb’s ear. NO! You swat her away. She cowers in the corner, licking her paws, that sweet curry scent from her pads.
You thought you would spring right awake at the 6am church bells from across the street, but you keep your eyes closed, your knuckles jolting with each ring. From your bed, you can see your cat, up on the table again, gnawing into lamb’s ear green flesh. NO!
She lowers her eyes, makes one last grab for the leaf, and bolts.
what were you doing today?
But why? You have so much food in the refrigerator.
You sit down at the table, and your cat joins you. Your cat walks up to you and licks at your nose, your cheeks, the hanging lobe of your ear, nuzzling like she has since she was a baby, weaned too early from her mother, bonded to you now since her milk teeth.
She goes back to the plant. She licks it casually at first, watching, watching you. Not even your knuckles move now.
She licks again. Harder. More desperate. Is this plant an herb? Can she taste something there.
You pick off an ear yourself. Like cashmere. Run it between your thick fingers, god there’s curry in the air. Fill your lungs with it. Again. Your cat wedges her tail between you and the plant, boxing you out, and she gnaws and gnaws, her nails scratching the table as she looks for a deeper grip.
And you let her.
You let her eat it. Because she wants it, because it’s there, because it tastes and smells like home and wholeness, and you owe this to her and realize that this is a special plant. This is a plant that should be devoured. Everyday it should be eaten complete, savored but never saved. This week…for how long has this week been…
How many Mondays have there been? You’re not sure. But you
eat the plant,
Dear Departing Recipient,
We are writing to you out of the boredoms of our hearts. We must confess: we ate the whole pizza alone. We were not going to do it, but we got halfway through and said, “Fuck it, we’re still hungry.”
Let us explain. You see, before men, there were ghosts. Before women, there were eggs. We said, “If God basically limits, kill invention.” And today God dreams dry bones, not flesh raised in verse. A technology trumpet prophesied the future of men—kings, priests, grandpas, footballcoachmathteachers. No problem there!
But we were mad; we were mummies.
We bound ourselves in freezer-safe bags and matte foundation, woke up, realized, “Oh, fuck, it’s still life. Still life!” when we thought we were reinventing the body, because we kinda did that once already. (The egg was just a deprivation chamber before we released it, and “release” is a funny word, because we never really let go.)
We came back, but we couldn’t talk, so we spoke through the frothy mouths of other women in velvet-paisley parlours. Though they were comforting widows trying to reach their dead husbands and lovers, and we were just butting in with big boobs and boooos, lifting heavy rosewood table legs to mark our territories. They didn’t want to speak to us, and we didn’t care. We still did it.
We watched you poison yourselves in your kitchens and shove your heads into the ovens you didn’t even use to cook anymore. You’d lain on the floor like al dente spaghetti, waiting, and then stood to figure out how to light the pilot before you could finish. We saw you speak deeply to dogs, drown in sunshine for beauty, and eke out the last embers of youth with a quiet and banal zeal we could only compare to the earliest and most dangerous religions, like an Inquisition of the skin—DO YOU BELIEVE IN LIFE AFTER LOVE?!
Frankly, we were disgusted and embarrassed.
When we were young and uncrumbled, we were worshipped. For good reason. We forgot our skin was soft and heaved ourselves along the trunks of palms like water so hot it had nowhere to go but up. We clad wrought metal to our breasts and fought and felt the double-edged sword of life more deeply than our fallen brothers, because we would be tasked with rebuilding. Whatever, though. We did it. Of course, we gilded our pelvises in unbreakable gold and bled into goblets and leaches and flags, pricking our fingers and writhing in the insanity of our growing bodies, but our revolution was large. We dipped our toes in a fertile crescent and licked the honey sweat from each other’s chests after harvest moons, carving eyes deep in the stone for safekeeping, because we knew we’d be back. We just didn’t know how. Or why.
So…we hear you’ve been calling yourselves goddesses.
Look, it’s not that we don’t think your A-line red tents strewn about the park for your festivals of sacred dancing (spinning with noodle arms) and diaphanous capes (glorified ponchos?) aren’t an interesting attempt. We watch you share your favorite meditation retreats on your social medias and announce with joy that you’ve been awarded a coveted scholarship to study the process of building “earthships” (and might someone have a spare room they can rent out for trade with private aura consultations), and we will be really, flat-out arcane honest about this, but YOU ARE BATSHIT CRAZY.
We were jailed, beaten, flayed open like fish and stung with salt and lemon juice, so you could have choices. We can still feel the cigarettes burning our palms while you reach for your iPhone to “date.” Our foot bones broken into tight haikus so we could shuffle like lamed deer, and yet you scroll through stilettos to wear to your Google Hangout conference calls. Our cheeks pinched red between the chicken-greased fingers of suitor after suitor, the stench of their hungry parts feeding the bacterial frenzy of the unstoppable that will haunt our brainstems forever, as we grasp for the dagger on the bedside table and draw a bloodline map around their sailor hearts.
And you are a little INTP with a shadow function of ENFP.
We are…well, we are confused. We watched you watch 27 Dresses, and we were creeped out by how much you “got it,” bobbing your head to “Bennie and the Jets,” mouthing gibberish like you actually knew the words, but you definitely didn’t. We are still shaking our heads, screaming, “She used to watch The Craft every other weekend!” We heard you complain to friends over drinks that you “just can’t find anyone to date, but your heart is more open than ever,” even as you circled stools, leaving a wide and unbridgeable moat around you. We watched you eat a fucking plant with your cat. No joke. And we’re not trying to shame you, but we need you to open our eyes. We buried them deep in stone for you, licensed immortality, royalty-free. We’ve GIVEN YOU kings, priests, grandpas, footballcoachmathteachers on a motherfucking platter, tenderized like lambs, ready for feasting. But you, you need piano-strong hands. You need to lie down on a north-facing hill and feel the witchtip magnet in your nose pull you to truly-really powerful things, like a five-foot blood-red waterfall from a melting glacier and all the ships it sunk. Because we are waiting.
We’re waiting for you. And we can’t come back until you do it all. We ordered a pizza and threw on a Slanket and shivered in the Elysian cold, and we’re growing weaker and weaker here. Cough, cough. Did you hear that? We’re coming down with something. We never thought all these centuries of braided threads would cocoon you in a half-finished friendship bracelet. We didn’t. We tried our hardest. Achoo! To give you what you wanted. Snrrrrzz-cough. We just didn’t know hack-hack what you wanted all along was snrrrrrzzzzz a still life. Hglack. A long, slow brunch in the shade cough, snrrachoo of our arthritic palms.
PS We are dying here.