We meet in a hotel
with many quarters for the radio
surprised that we've survived as lovers
not each other's
but lovers still
with outrageous hope and habits in the craft
which embarrass us slightly
as we let them be known
the special caress the perfect inflammatory word
the starvation we do not tell about
We do what only lovers can
make a gift out of necessity
Looking at our clothes
folded over the chair
I see we no longer follow fashion
and we own our own skins
God I'm happy we've forgotten nothing
and can love each other
for years in the world
Getting up off the mat upon which I learned to fall, back when it was closer, when the ground kissed me and it felt like hello, now so much more difficult, every fall a reminder of bones, joints, a reminder of pain. I know it looks more natural when I really fall, when I do it myself, no camera cutting away to my brave face while some other stronger younger person takes the fall for me, I know it's part of the visceral truth that needs to be told when I myself personally tumble down the cliff's side, body tossed like a rag doll, like salad, flesh torn by the pack of rabid-looking dogs at the foot of the ravine, okay some of that is just special effects but the tears are mine, no glycerin needed. Visceral truth, verisimilitude, whatever. I know that it has to be me, or nobody's impressed. When I was young I said I couldn't understand something unless I tried it myself, and I opened my mouth wide to the wind as we drove through, to the flavors, the drugs, the kisses, to every thing, I opened my whole body for it, tried it, tasted it, experienced it, and I knew that it was the only way I could know anything. But now I think: do I NEED to know? Why? Why do I have to do all my own stunts? Is there not some poor unemployed actor out there, someone who could look like me with just a wig and some padding, someone more eager and enthusiastic who could do this for me, and I would sit in my trailer looking wise and sipping tea and I would be so nice to the reporters, the magazine journalists, I'd talk about The Method and The Process. Look, it doesn't have to be REAL-real, some of it could be ketchup, I don't want anybody else to suffer, I'm just tired of how real this feels, tired of bleeding the truth and shaking it off. I'm tired of bravely walking away from the flames as they lick the clothes from my back, of taking the punches, of one more time with feeling. I'm tired even of the exotic locations, but I'll stay in the picture if you want me to do the work, I just don't want to get hurt anymore. I want it in my contract.
You're standing in a garden, abandoned since that rainstorm, fixed in place. The world grows around you. Nobody remembers that you were there, nobody knows what you were working on, nobody cares, or has cared for years, other than you. You still care, though, so you spend the days watching the flowers grow and wishing for the thing that would free you up to return to what you were doing, to what you were made to do. Not so much a calling as a design.
One day some people come to your garden, gaze at you in wonder and surprise. The hollow sounds you make as they bang against you. You marvel at their soft bones, soft tissue, you can't even imagine what it would be like to be so vulnerable. They give you the first thing you ask for, the only thing you actually need, and you're free again. At least for a little while you are ready to go back to what you were doing before your unfortunate circumstances. But now they are telling you that something is still wrong with you. You're empty inside, they say, you don't have anything inside to give. This is not true, and anybody who was really paying attention would know this but they take you at surface value and they can't see what they think you should have, these people with their soft skin and their pumping hearts. You know it is an important thing to have, and they say you don't have it, and you believe them.
There are advantages to you. You don't burn the way they do; anger frightens you but it can't hurt you, similarly shame and jealousy. You cry easily and this hurts you in myriad ways, but tears are how the body says what the mouth cannot. Other than the ability to fiercely defend your friends you don't experience much passion and the only damage you sustain are a few dents that could be knocked out if you cared. You can remember when you were young and shiny but it doesn't seem to bother you that you aren't any more. There's just the one thing you need and the other thing you want because you've been told you don't have it.
Hold out your hand and they will fill it with velvet and sawdust only. You will be no different; you already had what they told you that you lack. It's more important to remember to ask for what you need, ask again, ask until someone understands. Otherwise you will find yourself back in that garden, rusting in place, useless to everyone.
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.