Part One

Princess of Wands

I had a scab on my knee.  Maybe Nick had thrown me into one of the curbside garbage cans downtown.  Maybe I had gotten drunk and tripped over something in the parking lot.  But I don’t really know. The pages from those days are filled with half-assed attempts at being philosophical.  Writing for an audience of one is dangerous like that.  But it was sometime in late May or early June, after my first year of college was over and I was back home for the summer and you were home on leave.  If I’d met you before I don’t remember it too clearly, but I know I saw you out somewhere early that summer and wondered who you were, and somebody told me.  The most coherent, least preposterous thing I wrote then was, “To realise that there’s more to life than extremes.” — 5 June 1991, 2.05 a.m.

This is just a way to tell it.  A way to start.  Because I can’t ever tell it.  I was never any good at writing about stuff I was happy about, and I didn’t write about much of us then, much of you and me.  I wrote “He can’t come this weekend” and “We stayed at Duncan’s house” and “I miss him” and “He got a haircut.”  I wrote that in between Oscar Wilde quotes and the drips of blood and the drops of candle wax and the sometimes spidery lines that got out into the margins and wandered their way down as the ink got all mixed up with Boone’s Farm and my brain got all mixed up on the fumes.

“The princesses represent those numerous elemental people whom we recognize by their lack of all sense of responsibility, whose moral qualities seem to lack ‘bite.'” — Aleister CrowleyI was a mess, a raging bundle of loose ends and spliced wires, and you were making some sense out of the tangle.  I don’t know if you knew that.  But I broke down a lot, and when you weren’t there — and, really, I guess, even sometimes when you were — I just fell, and landed, and stared stupidly at the ground, blinking, unable to see quite how to climb back to my feet.We were so young.  When I look at the pictures, I can’t believe how our skin looks.  We didn’t have as many scars.  But I’m pretty sure that when we met, I had a scab on my knee.

Two of Cups

I don’t know how we managed to find the money to get the apartment.  You must have saved most of it.  You paid for nearly everything then; minimum wage back then wasn’t much and I was unemployed in the summers except for the time I watered that old lady’s flower beds.  You must have paid the majority of the rent and all of the bills.

I don’t know how we fit into that twin bed, the two of us.  Your mom bought us dishes and groceries and I spent my meager earnings on gin and packets of Drum and pet food.  We didn’t run the AC much, or maybe we kept it high — there was some drama with some bills a few times between us and the “roommates.”

I want to write that we were happy then, that things were truly good for a space.  I didn’t know yet, and am maybe just learning, that living can be like writing, and that if you expect a perfect product when you sit down to write a first draft, and you haven’t figured out how to revise, you are doomed to failure.  I’ve never been any good at revising.  I do the passion, the outburst, the unrehearsed physicality of a moment where lips meet lips or a fist meets a face or a pen scratches into the yellow tablet.  I never know what to do in the aftermath of that moment.

We moved into a maelstrom and already I was tense about the roommate situation, about the fucking drama, about the directions I was getting myself pulled into, and there was stress and appliance-punching over money a few times, or over random frustrations, or maybe over having to keep the damned AC so high so often.  I had a long-standing, low-grade, non-specific worry that probably started there, that was probably just environmental. But you can live through anything for a while, when you can see a light at the end of the tunnel, and I knew moving would make it better and jobs would get better and money would get better and no dumb shit was going to break us up. We were one phrase in people’s mouths by then, and despite all the crap and uncertainty, despite the 90 degree weather and the two of us folded into a twin-sized bed, I slept well, curved around you, and sure of where I slept.  Your skin could make me cry and your kisses felt like water.  It was always going to get better, someday.

I had your sweat on my tongue.


There are moments out of time, out of sequence, free, perhaps, of what I came to see as environmental poison.  My dorm room, roommate gone for the weekend, getting up at five p.m. to eat and go out again; you playing guitar; waking up with your hand on my face; you carving something delicate and amazing out of wood, or stone, or even out of metal with fire.  You making cheese bread or a big pot of beans and rice.  You coming in from working on the van,  wearing overalls and with a little smear of grease on your forehead under your blonde bangs.  The way I’m telling this, and I’m not sure there’s any other way to do it, I am just watching, passive, trying to remember.

I had your blood in my mouth.

Seven of Cups

But I wasn’t just watching.  I perhaps was not watching enough.  I was rarely in one place long enough to process what was happening.  It seems like the story goes all sideways before I can even find that moment I am sure was there, one of those moments where I knew we would be right.  That’s not true.  I had that faith for a long time.  What I never knew was what to DO to help make it right.  But I hung onto that faith for a long time, that certainty that it was supposed to be right, and that even when things were all sideways, it was right under the surface.

It was better when we moved and got free of the roommate bullshit.  But I was never still.  I spun, from place to place, from party to party, from book to book, from bed to bed.  You loved me but I never stopped fucking around.  I didn’t know why I couldn’t and wasn’t sure if it mattered though I suspected it did, and I tried to stop wondering if it was bothering you.  I loved you but you were often mad about something and I never knew what.  It may have been bills, maybe the inequity of our financial contributions to living, maybe my fucking around, maybe the crappy jobs you had to put up with, maybe all the idiotic roommates we had, maybe a video game that was pissing you off.  I really didn’t know.  I acted like I had decided it wasn’t me, but I was pretty sure it was, and I picked up guilt like a wave-smoothed stone on the beach — shining, secret, bitter-salty, heavy under my tongue.  Had you or anyone asked, I would have denied it, but it was there.

I found way to make some of it weigh less when Paige came over with a green sequined g-string and a beaded bra and taught me how to dance in the kitchen of that basement apartment.  I came home from what may have been my first night of work and you were in bed. I tucked $300 into the waistband of your underwear.

Within two months I was doing coke.  Within four I had given up on school.  Reading Shakespeare in the dressing room between sets wasn’t cutting it anyway.

I wrote nothing from that time about Kip, except “I really fucked up this time.”  What I didn’t write, but what I remember, is that he drove me to pick up the key to our new apartment in Alabaster and the office employee thought that he and I were moving in, and that you and I had come up with some rules by then and that I broke them all, and that I couldn’t seem to stop.

I remember him taking me to his place and not wanting to go, and getting out of the car while he was in the store to call home and ask you to come get me, and getting a distracted Paige who said you were out.  I remember giving up that night — maybe that’s when I gave up a little bit, in a big way, or did something  I couldn’t look at straight anymore — and I took every prescription pill I could find in his bathroom, washed them down with a beer, and laid down on his sofa to die in the fucking backwoods of central Alabama.

I guess there’s a whole lot I don’t remember too.

I tell these parts not because, finally, I think these are the things that ruined us, or ruined me for you, or took the smooth edges off the stone under my tongue and made every day a day of swallowing my own blood and spitting it back out at anybody who pissed me off, but because I remember them. I think, really, they were symptoms, and that I was trying to bleed myself free of a disease. But it was a disease I couldn’t diagnose.

But I could self-medicate.

And now, it was almost easier, because I knew you had something to be angry about, to be hurt about, and that was really better than not knowing.  I could very easily point to What I Had Done.

I spent all our money on drugs.

I invited a crack dealer into our home in Alabaster one night.  I don’t know if you were there or if you knew about it.

I went off with a dancer who moonlighted as a rather careless prostitute to do drugs in a hotel room with five guys who barely spoke English.  When I called my dealer to come get me the hell out of there, I left in such a hurry that I left your leather jacket behind.  The stone grew sharper, I swallowed more blood, I talked even less to you.

I had a pipe in my pocket.

Eight of Cups

I’ve told this part to myself so many times that I don’t know what’s true and what’s story.  I don’t know if there is a way to tell it outside of a narrative perspective.  I don’t know how to tell a story that’s true without telling a story.  I don’t know how to tell this story.  This is just a way to start.

I remember, very clearly, being annoyed with the house we moved into when we left Birmingham.  I remember, very clearly, feeling desperate about the money situation, about the roommates, about the job options.  I remember lying in our bed one morning and crying because you were in Florida working and I missed you so much that it hurt, and I remember thinking the day before and certainly the month after that we were finally falling apart, that not even I could ignore it anymore, and the terrible, long-standing, low-grade anxiety had hardened into a wedge, outgrown its hiding place under my tongue, crept out and grown tendrils and had begun choking us both, and there was no oxygen left in the room.

I suppose when you try to see things from a place like that, when you try to tell them from a place like that, you can’t help but see traces from nearly the beginning, can’t help but see the point where the vine crept up the lattice work.  But before that spot, that place and time, it’s not that clear at all.  Sometimes life doesn’t give us the chapter breaks we seem to want when we tell these things.

I had to leave you in order to talk to you.  I had to act, to do, to move.

But that’s not why I left.  I left because I gave up, because I ran out of hope.

That’s not true.  I left because I had to do something.

I talked to you more after I left than I probably did for months prior.  I cried and I missed you and I couldn’t envision a life without you.  Even though I’d left Birmingham thinking I was leaving the candy store to get it out of easy reach, I still knew how to medicate, and I did.

I had a stone in my throat.

Part Two

The Empress

I joined the Army.  All that is a long story, but the only part that really bears mentioning is that I joined the Army.  I remember thinking that I suspected that you suspected I was making a mistake, but I couldn’t see another way.  I had to go.  I had to leave.  I was still spinning, from place to place and interest to interest and decision to decision.  But I had reapplied to Montevallo and there were financial aid problems; there were bill problems from debts, some in my name, some in both our names; there were Living In The Same City problems and drug problems and I saw one night, after an hour long divination, that I needed to stand up against something that was stronger than I was.  The military could do that, and it could at the same time help me with the money problems.

I’m skipping a lot.  I’m skipping at least a year.  I’m skipping the absolutely court-martial worthy first year I spent at my first duty assignment.  I managed to make even my friendships something CID could get involved in (and did).  I’m skipping some fucked up shit that I need to unpack one day, and I’m also skipping some journal notes that, in the light of a decade, show me some patterns I couldn’t perceive then, how I bounced from “nurturing” to “abusive” in relationships with no middle ground and not much respect or understanding for anybody who didn’t fit neatly into a predetermined slot.  Oh, they were there, those non-sick people, but I didn’t know what to do with them. Do you remember Eric and Michele?  They went with us to see Type O Negative.  She was a mess but I adored her.  He was not a mess and I adored him.  They were good people.  I alienated all of the good people when I got pregnant.

I will skip the whole sperm donor bit. What is important for the story I’m telling now is that I spent most of my pregnancy afraid, and sick, and stressed, and annoyed, and desolate.  The people who would have been there for me I couldn’t stand to be around.  I’ve never met a more wretched and unpleasant pregnant woman than myself.  I will never, ever do that again. Anyway, that is not the point. the point is that once, there was a break in that negativity.

You stayed with me either the night before or the night after Type O.  Amusingly, we were crammed into a twin-sized bed again, after all those years.  I remember lying there, and we were just holding one another, and I was thinking that this was the important part about making a good baby – a baby that had a chance in the world, a baby that knew it was loved.  I could feel love then – for the first and only time during my pregnancy – I could feel a circuit that connected me and my unborn child to something outside the desperation and angst and panic I felt every day.  I felt like it was love that washed over us, that played a more important part than birth certificates and sperm donors and the decisions made by damaged people.  I thought that it was that feeling, rather than genes or chromosomes, that shaped possibilities.  I worried that my unborn child had been washed with worry and doubt and stress the entire time she’d shared my bloodstream, and I wondered that this might be the only time she was washed with love and some absolutely unbelievable acceptance.  I was already a single mother, and I knew it and accepted it as favorable compared to the other options, but I worried that the missing ingredient was peace – and I knew she would never feel that from me.  She only got it for a few hours, months before she ever drew breath, but what she got, she got from us lying there in that twin-sized barracks bed, holding each other and sharing breath.

I had a star in my belly.