It’s Your Doing

The day the rhododendrons burst in shades of plum and scarlet, and the tree
shook loose a thousand pink buds.
That moment our mellow dog barks at shadows, eyes wide, and puffs his jowls,
letting out a rare, low sob.
When my trail mix bags are plump with raisins, and I recall your weak cups of coffee
and thick banana bread, when mom would still tilt half the Sunmaid box into the batter.
Holes in my pockets, weary from nervous pulls, my wandering fingertips.
Olynyk’s dunk, Martinez’s grand slam–the night you left, the score was 17-3.

That was you, wasn’t it?

I don’t know what to believe, in the Biblical sense,
renegotiating my faith because my life no longer fits into those lessons and pages,
I toss and turn in the process of revealing, hiding, tucking away memories
as though we’re moving across state lines
nursing the wounds and charred remains of a house fire.
Mom has emptied your dresser of all the socks and Christmas cards I gave you.
I mourn and weep over piles of ties and black bags filled with t-shirts.

I don’t know who to tell these things or what to say or if and when I am allowed to be happy and normal. If moving forward means I’m no longer granted permission
to search your office drawers for photographs
to sink to the floor of your closet
to gasp at the aftershave lingering on your coat
to fall apart.

I seek you in raspberry cookies–jam spilling over sugar in the space of a thumbprint–and Earl Grey tea with a pop of melatonin. Mom buys lottery tickets hoping you’ll pull some strings with God, and leaves stacks of failures on the counter by the phone books. I discover you in loose change and dollar bills on the sidewalk, the feeling
that something good, however small, fills every space and second, and that something good will find its way to me.

I cling to the notion that you’re still here
making small choices, guiding small routines,
orbiting and distant,
not an absence.

Purple

A free write.

I still don’t know how to say “metastasize.” Metastatic. It doesn’t come naturally to my tongue, despite months of practice and explanation.

I can map my insides with my hands, fingers waggling at my gut to illustrate the cuts and tears and scars, the magical re-arranging that gave us this golden chunk of time. Maybe we’ll see the Sox win another series together. Dad’s counting down the days until the equipment managers pile up bats and balls and helmets and head from Fenway to Florida. But there’s no more Papi for him, for anyone.

I still can’t make sense of a whipple beyond “well, you need it or you die.” He got it.

My palm slides across my lower back, subconscious, thinking of quartered kidneys.

What does a pancreas actually do, really? I can tell you what its absence or dysfunction does.

We don’t opt for spicy foods anymore. We’re gifted a book of papery flavors – steamed green beans and unseasoned chickens. I indulge in curries and masala in other company. We wake up in the small hours to bouts of retching, even in between rounds of chemo. Our diets stiffen and  fatten, but dad still grows thinner. We take trips to Dairy Queen and even sugar tastes like steel.

We sip coffee in the living room, five times weaker than what I chug at the office, and I swipe sections of the newspaper he passes on – important graying bookmarks of daily wisdom and thought. I can’t imagine a weekend without this routine, his shoulders sunk into the back of his favorite chair, his hands flicking treats from a jar to the dog wiggling and hopping at his feet.

We bicker, constantly, over everything from who’s handing out Halloween candy to the effectiveness of ginger tea to how we’re actually going to make America “great again.” We negotiate who can park their cars in the driveway, who we allow to come for Thanksgiving and who we beg to show for Christmas. The siblings betray our little knowledge of the others’ sweethearts and significant persons to mom. We take sides. We challenge quirks and oddities. It presses a sense of normalcy, our anger at the little things a solvent to the unanswered question of “how much longer do we really have?” Because asking these questions would unravel the universe, no matter how curious or anxious we are.

We blame this, that, and everything else for the aches and pains. Dad coughs and I wonder about the dime-sized lump on his lung. It’s nothing, but nothing is nothing anymore.

I count pennies for grad school, I count minutes on the couch, I count statistics and blood labs and calories we put on his plate and the trips I want to take and the miles mom has looped to the hospital.

I don’t know yet how to get past this. But we’re learning to go on.

Pancreatic cancer is now the third leading cause of cancer death in America, and November is Pancreatic Cancer Awareness month. To learn more about action and prevention efforts, visit pancan.org. 

Seats

When the morning train is crowded, I push myself against the wall, hard, as though to make as much space as possible for someone else, though the bench is meant for 2 full people headed to work, the pleather split with a seam right down the middle. 

This is where the differences begin. You heave yourself into this space, crushing my thigh, and shimmy, settling yourself and stretching the threads of my sweater, spreading yourself out and staring straight ahead to the exit sign. I pull my sweater from under you and a button snaps off. You don’t notice.

At Norwood you nod off and the coffee in your fist jumps, spilling, if only a bit, onto my knee, onto the pages of my book, onto the laces of my boot. This is where the differences begin. I pull closer to the wall. You stare at the cup, now much emptier, adjust your headphones, and settle back into half-sleep. You get off at Back Bay without a word.

The splotches on my dress are insignificant. It’s been stained by half a dozen others, clumsy or sleepless or unaware or oblivious, like you. I’m bothered more by the absence of apology, of awareness, or my reproach, my question, who the fuck taught you to take up space this way, a space designed for two full humans headed to work. Who the fuck told me not to take the full half, designed for me, split down the middle for me.

Translation

A thought bubble.

When I hear you say “well, all lives matter”

know that every time, my lingo flips, my heart crumbles and cracks, my blood simmers, and if I tune out all the white noise (that mishmash amalgamation, lately, sounding more and more like rounds of AK-47’s and food burning and shattering buildings and tinned violins and broken bone china down the garbage disposal and hands reaching out only to be smacked against the pavement and caged infants and wails and wails and wails)

this translates:

“I recognize
that suffering exists
but I ignore it.”

“I know that systems invisible and ironclad perpetuate suffering
but I didn’t put them there
so I ignore them.”

“I choose to ignore real human suffering and do good not for those who need it, but for those whom I choose to share my good, because my good is better than others’ good and I decide how it’s to be put to good use.”

Because you are, in society’s eyes, so basically good. I bet society dresses you as good, you were born good, you were raised good.

Death tips its scales at the rim of a hurricane. And we watch others add weight to them. And do nothing.

Pain breeds pain breeds pains in every shade and shape.

Pain is no contest.

Pay attention.

Little Things

A free write.

I think of it often. Why we fell apart.

Today was not a day for kisses in the rain or strolls through the fields. No parcels of chocolate or affectionate notes on scrap paper and wrapping paper and receipts for french fries. My fingers would not push through dark tresses or whorls of lilacs, nor grip stone sloping down the mountain side. My legs wouldn’t pedal hard down the street or pump through the water in the lagoon.

The air in the house was dry, stale, bare of breakfast smells and happier tidings warm like coffee on Christmas morning.

I didn’t bother opening the plantation shutters, peeling back the curtains. No one stayed behind under the covers.

My favorite little things.

As much as I’d like, as much as I’d want, you’d say. You would give me everything.

Another time. Another era of Saturdays. And it’s the middle of the week, middle of the afternoon. And you’re long gone now. No shoes in the laundry room. No toothbrush in the little silver cup by the sink, nor the sharp, tangy citrus shampoo you kept on the side of the tub.

I think often of all that I shared with you, and I wrap my arms around my sides, anticipating my heart to swell. But in your memory, I shrink. In your company, I withered. It’s all the same.

These little memories gave you joy. And I know they gave me joy too. And I’ll always be thankful for that, that which we shared. The bike rides and trips to the shore, the milkshakes and burgers and beers in dive bars. Head bobs and dance music in cars, and picnics on porches. Kisses in the woods behind your mother’s house.

I think of it often. Why we fell apart. Why we shared so much and it still felt like something was missing.

Raspberry wine. Hushed discussions in museums – tracing streaks of paint like words in a story. (Don’t you see it? His personality? In the strokes? There, right there? That smudge says so much. So little says so much.) Gabbing about wizards and dreams of faerie circles. Bowls of risotto in the village and night stops at the bodega for popcorn and caramels. The thrum of the city kept you awake and restless and stirring and frantic. (It moved me. It helped me grow. Why won’t you consider coming with me.) There were so many places to go, and this thrilled me. It was everything, this possibility.

What happened that night with Ben. What happened last Tuesday with Breanna.

But it all added up. It happens.

I suppose my answers come in the form of questions, then in ephemera that I slowly have peeled from the refrigerator, the shelves, from boxes of memories. I tuck them away. I tuck, bit by bit and piece by piece, those parts of me that died. To lose you as a lover was not to lose a limb. Simply a growing pain. A layer of skin scrubbed off hard in the shower. That last bit of soap. Citrus. Sharp and tangy.

It wasn’t painful, leaving you behind. Not much has changed. Just the things you shared, nudged simply to another body. Re-allocated. Same red hair. Same bubbly smile. No different. It’s easier this way. She might fit as I did in the hollow beside your chest. “Perfectly.”

There are new little things, lining my day like colored flannel stitched to the underside of a favorite coat. Things I know I will never share with you, things you’ll never know to accompany the pieces you never knew.

I think of it too often. Why we fell apart.

Today was not a day for kisses on rooftop gardens. But I took a walk along the channel, below and into the blue stone tunnel, and observed through the windows rowers churn through turquoise water, slicing through the stillness and under the belly of the copper and ivory bridge. I took a cup of coffee in a mug bedecked in Shakespearean scribbles. My desk is covered in muffin crumbles. I’ve adorned the new walls with watercolors of the Charles Bridge, a screen print of the Misty Mountains. Photographs of luminous jellyfish, Christmas markets, baseball diamonds. S-Bahn stubs.

I worked. Hard. I have dreams, and dream a little too often to say I’m the most productive employee, but I’m capable, confident. They like me well enough. I want more and dream of Crimson sweatshirts in another fall. Mine. Fitted just for me. Sleeves nibbled and well-loved by pencils and pens and books and papers everywhere. Curling up in a library and stretching tall in front of the classroom. I want to know things. I want to be good. I want to be kind. I want to be strong.

The little layers of me uncurl and wake up. I unearth myself, and all these little things, a little Matryoshka of my own crafting.

I think of it too often. Why we fell apart, why you say it’s entirely my doing and undoing, why my “loneliness” “says everything.”

How very little you must feel to say my life is not full, when only one piece is temporarily misplaced, a spot I reserve for one who could compare to all the little things I add up

 

in just one day.
In just one year.

7/13

A free write. 

“You’re not allowed,” I’ve told myself, and they’ve all followed suit,

To sink into spite or sip on ill spirits

To linger over wandering kisses and poorly placed faith, photos of faces I used to know by heart and ones I want to smash bloody for no reason at all

I know my choices, I know that ache

One that grew long before I left for the city, one that he would never care to fix or work on, despite the hours in worship of other wasteful idols

I felt the empty bed-shaped curve he left long before I did, and another skin filled that space so quick

I’ve known for 10 months – that phantom guilt never breached, lost at sea on St. Botolph street, and I know it won’t

I’m not allowed to feel sorry for myself

When my mind was made up years ago

I know my heart, I know my hands, I know the depths of all I can hold and all that he could never do to hold me, keep me, fill me, float me, challenge me, grow me, know me

It’s a gift I give myself – it can be about me for once, and I’m allowed that, that’s okay

I’m not allowed to feel disappointment when it used to come back in waves and he argued this was nothing he could control

The tide was nothing he could break

I need a drink, sometimes, a convincing that I’m not adrift

But I’ve always held the compass, I’ve always drawn the map

I won’t allow the sadness to creep back in

I named the clarity that came after, I named what was missing, I gave my ache a reason. He knows and I know that “her” name matters not, so long as she’s there, armed with no questions

I’m not allowed to fill a space when I’m meant to expand it

I know it better than any photograph

The Growing Up Line Graph

A free write.

You no longer see “forever” as a never-ending stretch of grass, reaching up and past Pluto, but a plot you must stretch and battle and protect and re-define every damn day.

Your chart of “things you want to do when you grow up” is still that paper-bag “About Me” collage you made in preschool, but with sub-clauses and thirty-second amendments to add in compromises, deaths, last-minute left-hand turns, and promises you made to the people you love and hate the most. You’ve given up on being an astronaut.

Your to-do-list is not a set of instructions or a play-by-play, but a colossus of fill-in-the-blanks with no clear deadlines.

You’ve learned you get better answers by asking more questions.

You inherited the dream of buying a house, and the economy that didn’t budget for you buying a tent.

You gain no joy from hide and seek, but the moments you can scream, in all your ways, HERE I AM, COME GET ME.

Where you once defined a gift as Nintendo 64, you now relish cups of coffee, shreds of paper, a kiss on the cheek sixty-five times more, and you take what you can get from the people who are in no way obligated to give you anything.

Your “tummy-aches” are renamed “Sunday mornings.”

Your “childlike” sense of wonder sits uncomfortably close to your sense of incredulity, much like 90% of the men on the commuter rail.

You refuse to read articles arguing you “don’t want autonomy or independence.” These are gifts others took from you to build up their own waning propriety and power.

You went from playing with dolls to fighting not to become one.

When did the word “playground” grow dangerous and deranged? Or has it always been that way?

“Gorgeous” or “Why I Stopped Texting”

A free-write.

It wasn’t the empty pickup prose or hello’s, the vapid lines
sent from the time spent sipping morning coffee to 2 am,
adjectives thrown against You and are and am. My activities, goals, checklists, to-do-lists, favorites. It wasn’t
anxiety. First meeting, maybe a second, ordering chicken cacciatore
Monday,
Tuesday, Thursday,
hostesses exchanging knowing glances. I’ll wear a hat on Friday, remove my glasses. They’ll never know.
A table in the back corner is quiet, removed, save for all the others,
clustered around a party of sixteen.

And us.
There is no us.

I’ve never been here. It got great reviews on Yelp.

I’ve hoarded nervous habits. Brent’s guttural laughter, Brad tearing up napkins, Brendan sharing cat photos, Brian’s sixth beer, Brody’s eyes glazed, glancing up–
Brad Marchand’s third period shot was a marvel, wasn’t it.
I agree.
Hello.
I’ve taken stock.
I need to get home.

At some point, there was a kiss, I didn’t duck away or tilt my head twice, I lost count, and it was alright, and I checked off my criterion, conversation after conversation, and then there were five, then there were two, and he rang every bell, I guess, and I worried of the words he’d share when I shared that trip to the hospital, the curdled scar on my back, my father’s cancer, my mother’s hands. My number of fucks, number of fuck-ups, fear of tornadoes, aversion to sleep, need for sheets in summer. My particular reason for my particular tastes.

A lukewarm whiskey sour. That search for maraschino cherries. A dark cupboard. A broken glass. That search is me. I save this pocket of myself for that “you” I’m supposed to find. And you will understand.

“Gorgeous” is a stranger.

You slap a greeting with a pet name and it all slips away. You will never come to find my stacks of unread books, unwritten diaries, rumpled love letters, the cracked hockey stick hanging above my closet, my cache of lingerie, my weaknesses for chocolate cherries, raspberry wine…

I drank the bottle, stuffed his last words to me into it, and filled it with lake water. I watched it sink from the seat of a paddle boat and cried and cried while my sister swam laps around the bow and laughed at me. You won’t know this part of me. You won’t know me.

“I need someone to cuddle.”

Someone is a stranger and I could never fill that hole in you.

I never wanted to.

 

Winebox Hats

A free write.

I’m waiting for the day to come when I’m not nostalgic for Franzia & Sprite, imaginary gin buckets, broken board games and 20 Questions running on low batteries, waking up to Riley hugging my kneecaps. Those days when we never seemed to be bogged down by the inconveniences, and leaving a car somewhere a mile away and walking home was the best alternative because you were wearing your crush’s sweatshirt, and there were promises of bagel pizzas with pesto down on Aurora St. (whenever you, Sam, and Jillian woke up). There will come a day when my stories – devouring donuts in Aisle 6B and never paying for them; making out in empty classrooms; climbing buildings and scaling rooftops at 4 a.m.; watching the horizon flush pink with morning – will grow tired. And I’ll wake up, no longer wild, but comfortable. That other side of me will stay sleeping, tucked under covers and lost nights, and I’ll slip away, unnoticed and perhaps forgotten.

There is no alternative universe in the realm of paper-pushers, no room or time for wilderness and wunderkind. I should learn to let it go.

But what now?

Tiny, Faded Adventures

A free write. 

Clusters of rocks plucked from the pools bled orange and black, and I smeared tiger stripes onto my cheeks and arms. Mum stayed behind at the edge of the path where my brother, his brain wired to believe the stones had shattered into shards of glass and pierced his bare feet, had started to scream. Lindsey, submerged in a cloud of minnows, dug frantically for Aztec gold.

I reached as high as I could and pressed my muddy fingers to my father’s stomach. He brushed the clots of forest paint away. I craned my neck and stared past the brim of his cap, toward the holes in the canopy, at the wide wings of strange, strong-billed birds floating between the trees. Sunscreen and river water streamed into the corners of my eyes. Blinking away the eager sting didn’t seem to work, and I flung myself into the nearest, deepest stretch of water–clear and so cold. I kicked my feet against the current towards the waterfall, felt the patter against the surface. A steady, hectic rhythm, then a heavy beat against my head.

I rose for air.

I remember little else, but how sweet it was to venture out without the fear of getting lost, getting stuck, getting taken, going broke, going forth alone, or never going at all.