What was it like for you? I think about it a lot; I think about it daily. What was it like to take off the costume of a colder more distant possible you, take off the cruel shoes polished with such care? Surely part of you knew that one joy of your life was taking that expectation off, but then part of the burden was not being able to hide behind it. What was it like to pull on the warmth of your mother's hands, slide into shoes that didn't pinch, wear your heart on the sleeve of your homemade cardigan? Singing so earnestly and effortlessly. Watching the fish as if there was nothing else to do, occupying every moment fully. Putting your hands and your voice into hidden spaces and telling your truths through the metaphors of an arrogant king, a curious owl, a cranky museum curator. But mostly, mainly, keeping your eyes wide, looking at things, filling your whole body with grace and keeping yourself constantly open to every feeling. Because you believed it was okay to feel everything. Feeling was practically your middle name; you let every feeling smash through your heart, and then you looked at it with those wide eyes and thought about it and decided when to stop. At least that's what you said. But what was it like for you? I wonder today, I wondered yesterday, the day before that and a year and more. Did you sometimes wonder if you were doing the right sort of good or any good at all? Did you rest your forehead against the cool piano keys and weep because it doesn't make any difference anyway, a twig in a flood of wrongness? And if you didn't, how did you not? I know that for me it is a constant struggle and I think it must have been a struggle for you sometimes. I remember how to deal with the mad that I feel and the fear because I can see you in my head pounding clay, or how your chin shook when you asked for money, what it meant to put your hand out to power and come back with their tears, how proud you must have been then but how scared before. But did you despair? What was it like for you, really? Because sometimes I feel close to where you wanted me to be, close to being strong enough to have all the feelings, and sometimes I just want to kill the fish, smash the train, lace the shiny shoes too tight and march out the door, go back to not caring at all. I did yesterday; I don't today. Did you also learn to wait until it passes, or did you never feel hopeless? What was it like for you to be you?
I came out of the theater last night, my hands still humming from clapping so much and so long; nobody claps like they do here. Walking out into the evening light, which is my one of my favorite parts of life here, how the summer light stays, how you can walk out of a dark room and feel the night in the air but the sky tells you you can keep going, there is still time, so much time. Last night Siegfried fell down and the queen tossed back her hair, threw her legs around his waist and held on, and Rothbart slammed his cloak into the ground and then slid across the room like a child on a sled, and so much happened, but I came out blinking into the light as if there were still things to do, as if there were anything left to say. Blinking, my hands ringing, I scanned the crowd of people. There is a version of this story where you're standing there. You asked where I was going and I told you, and in this version of the story you looked it up, found out when it ended, came and waited, and so now you are standing in front of the theater, your bag leaning against your leg, watching the door as we all emerge, and I'm wearing the black dress you haven't seen yet and there's a second where you look at me before you recognize me and it's the world. I don't want to be a person who values gestures over actual acts, and part of me stands back and says this is just a gesture, and part of me in turn wonders if this is an act, but you are there and you are waiting and your bag on the ground means you are willing to wait, as long as it takes, and part of me turns into honey, liquid warmth, covering doubt with sweetness. You look at me and recognize me, pick up the bag and walk towards me, and this is one version of the story. In another version I realize it's not you at all, just someone for a moment flickered with your face. In another version there is nobody. In one version, I don't even scan the crowd, just turn right out the door and ask someone with long fingers for a light, prop my elbow against my waist, exhale into the light sky, walk home alone.
This was the first time we drove down to Southern California, to see the places where he'd grown up, the childhood bedroom, the university housing where his best friend from high school was living with four other uberbrains. They had a white board that covered a whole wall, and a section of the board was devoted to a project they were working on, tracking correlations between the weather and the number of sweat droplets that the cartoon character Cathy had floating around her head that day. There was no correlation. I admit I thought it was a big deal to meet the parents and the friends but probably my car just got better mileage. I had not hung out before with people so entirely devoted to being intellectual, sitting in rooms without furniture and talking about string theory and Derrida. My life had been almost exclusively pop entertainment and human behavior, and I was thinking that this was simply different, like how I liked Eurythmics and other people liked Madonna, but it was soon clear that actually what I had was less, at least to him. But I thought: I will make them like me, and then it will be okay. And I did, I did. I had my insecurities but I also had my shell games for hiding them. I conducted subtle interviews and found the thin threads where their brains collided with mine, the symmetries; I hung stories on these threads, I regaled, I raconteured, one of them laughing until he rolled onto his back like a beetle, legs kicking in the air, and I thought I had won, but then so much of my life is coloring in the lines and then showing my pictures to the blind. "You're talking too much," he said, stopping me in the hallway. "And nobody thinks it's funny when you pronounce 'subtle' wrong; they don't think you're joking, they think you're stupid." Gravity pulled into the equation, the tales I had been weaving collapsed around me, and I stumbled back into the room and tried to play the quiet game until it was time to go to bed. I've moved on since then, I've stayed up late talking in so many places, slept and woke up and tried again, and usually I don't care but sometimes I stop, mid-anecdote, and wait for someone to tell me the truth, the ugly truth, and I feel the knot pull around my heart that was first tied years ago, before this memory even, and for a second I can't breathe.
I can't tell whether you're a bad actor or a good actor pretending to be a liar. I can't tell whether you're lying with your words or your actions. I can't tell whether you're acting or performing. I can't tell if you're a performer or an artist. I can't tell whether you're a good artist or just good looking. I can't tell if you're looking at my eyes or looking at my nose. I can't tell what anybody knows. I can't tell the difference between what I know and what I feel. I can't tell what I'm eating from how it feels even though if I were an octopus I could, and that would be nice.
Oh, I meant to tell you about May day. On May 1st there was a neo-Nazi ("Young Workers") march downtown. There were 100 or 200 of them, depending on various estimates, so we'll say 150. One hundred and fifty people who hate other people on the basis of things they didn't choose. I am always baffled by this. I hate plenty of people, but entirely on the basis of their choices. If there were a march against the people who stand in the doorways on trams I would be at the front (What do we want? To get off the tram! When do we want it? MOVE!) but disliking foreigners and homosexuals and brown people is just so ... boring.
They get to march, it's their right to march and they legally requested permission for their little rally in the town's main square with a march around the neighborhood, so that was that. Word went out and a lot of protesters showed up in another square nearby with the intention of blocking the marchers. There were 1000 or 2000 of us, so we'll say 2000 because that's the side that I was on and it sounds nicer. Plus the neo-Nazis were sticking together the whole time, whereas our side sort of wandered in and out, so I'd bet that it was 2000 people in attendance, just not all at once.
Our side had live music and the city mayor and generally a good atmosphere. Between us and them was a roving wall of six hundred police officers in full riot gear, which was pretty impressive, and I was glad for them that it was a cold day because those outfits look hot. The police were mostly nice, I would say some of them were a bit cranky about having to be there when they traditionally are supposed to be out kissing a girl under a flowering tree, I mean really those pants are ridiculous and any body would rather be kissing than wearing that.
I guess it was fun. It reminded me of my late teens, when we linked arms around Planned Parenthood and chanted to drown out Operation Rescue. We started out so bold and full of purpose and folk songs but eventually we were singing the theme song from Gilligan's Island, and honestly that makes sense. These people are silly; why take them seriously?
Some people on the blockade side got taken away in police vans (detained but not charged) and some people got tear-gassed; from my point of view it looked like theater; I think they wanted to have drama and the police were bored and that happened. I don't know how it looked to them though. There was some commentary about the amount of money spent on the police being sort of wasteful on the part of the protesters, and some friends suggested that if people hadn't protested it would have been more embarrassing for the marchers, like throwing a party that nobody attends, that they wanted to be challenged so they also got what they wanted. I don't know, I can't attribute a great deal of brains and planning to people who are simultaneously carrying signs that say: NATIONALISM NOT GLOBALISM and confederate flags. Oh yeah you read that right. In that light I wonder if it wouldn't be better to feel sorry for them than to laugh at them. I mean really: it would be the kind of stupid I feel when I have a cold except ALL THE TIME. But there's ignorance and willful ignorance and I don't know, I don't need to feel too sorry for too long. I think we could sing a few rounds of Gilligan for our own amusement and get out in time for some excellent kissing under the cherry trees.
into the strenuous briefness
hand organs and April
i charge laughing.
Into the hair-thin tints
of yellow dawn,
into the women-colored twilight
i smilingly glide. I
into the big vermilion departure
(Do you think?) the
i do, world
is probably made
of roses & hello:
(of solongs and, ashes)
I said it hurt but I don't think at first she believed me, not really, not the extent to which I was telling the truth. I cried and she said she was sorry but I wasn't crying because she hurt me, just because there were tears in my eyes and they spilled out. I said it hurt and she looked and looked at me, thought about it, examined the data, the broken parts that couldn't heal, the smoke rising from where I'd been scorched. I said it hurt and she said she didn't mean for it to hurt but that didn't make it better. We talked about what to do now, because I had wanted everything to be the way it was but it couldn't be because everything was broken and then I realized that I didn't even want it to be the way it was so much as I just wanted it to not hurt. She said it would take time and I believed her and I went and stood on a beach and watched a storm roll in and at night everything washed over with salt water and every morning I took the pills and waited for the time that it would take for enough time to pass. Because it does pass, time, it's moving in one direction, and if you promise me it's going to stop hurting I believe you though of course I'm always left with the memory of the pain and the fear of repeating it. Today it was supposed to stop hurting, I know it was today because I marked it on the calendar. And she held my face in her hands and looked and looked at me. She said, I didn't realize how far down it went, this pain of yours. She said, I have given you more than anybody could need and you still have this hole, this ache that I could not fill, I am sorry. She said, now I understand why you said it hurt. And I said it did not hurt any more, because it didn't; I have a stone over the hole now and nothing is going to get past that so the hole is just my tiny secret and it doesn't hurt, I swear, not any more.
That one secret. You know the one. The one you can't tell because everything will fall apart. It sits on your chest at night, a squatting horrible homunculus. Presses the air from your lungs. Crouches in the back of your throat and tastes like tears. You learn to lie around it, to speak lightly, to make sunshine against this darkness that is the only thing that matters because it's the only thing that scares you. Not the thing itself, not the secret; you already know what it is. You're not afraid of what you know, you're afraid that someone else will know it. It's not even that; it's worse than that. You're afraid that knowing it will change them, the way that knowing has changed you. The only good thing about this secret is that it is yours, and it has cut you from the inside like glass; why would you give this to someone else, the pain of knowing this.
And yet you want so badly to be known. You want so much for someone to want to know you. You want to be loved despite, maybe even because of this secret. And they can't know you if they don't know this, can they? You know that not telling is a form of lying. Or is not telling a means of being known and loved for who you are besides this, the lightness of you without the darkness. Or are you the darkness, and the lightness is the lie. You don't even know any more.
One day you open your mouth. You tell her, finally, the truth. You roll the stone from your throat, tell her the secret. And realize in the telling that there is so much more, the small shards that are part of the larger break. Her eyes on yours: But you've been lying to me, you've lied all this time. How can I trust anything you say now? The homunculus leans forward, touches a greasy hand to your lips, smiles at you. You knew better than to tell. Or should have known.