Category: letters to the air


This year, the lesson seems to be something along the lines of “the more effort and thought you put into it, the more spectacularly you will fail.” It’s as true now in my love life as it is in my career this year. I didn’t see it coming with work. I’d like to say I didn’t see it coming with you either… but that’s not really true. It was pretty vexed from the beginning and it’s been dying like a small quiet pet that people keep forgetting to feed for a long time now. Or like someone who says “it’s just a scratch” and doesn’t know their blood isn’t going to clot and bleeds to death so incredibly slowly that you might not even notice if you’re not really paying attention.

And you stopped paying attention a long time ago.

 

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I pulled the plug because it’s too late now — too much resentment built up and I realized I was keeping score, spending more time in fact keeping score than I was actually interacting with you, and then of course any interaction is clouded by the film of that resentment, and there wasn’t enough of it to ever actually clear that film away. But I’m sorry for it. I think I would have been kinder to us both had I not kept waiting for you to do or be something or someone that you consistently made clear, through your action (or non-action), that you could not or would not do or be right now. It’s all been rather heartbreaking , the errors and misjudgments and realizations, and most of all I think because I really had no inkling at all that ending up here was even a possibility when I initially decided to take the gamble.

In fact, earlier this year I hit a point where I thought I could see how it would ultimately go – how we would eventually part ways – and I wasn’t even all that sad thinking about it, because it seemed we would leave each other better off than where we found each other, and when other things came along that meant one of us had to pull up stakes, the other just wouldn’t follow, and that would be that, and there wouldn’t be any hard feelings. I was so sure that the one thing that wouldn’t go wrong was our ability to communicate. So one of the underlying or original failures was simple misapprehension; I could not have been more wrong about what would be our undoing. Ultimately I gave you way too much credit and I didn’t give myself nearly enough, because I would never have predicted that you’d have so utterly failed to hear and understand me or that I would try so many times, in so many ways, to communicate with you.  I put up with being taken for granted for so long in part because I couldn’t believe that for you, of all people, taking me for granted would end up being your default. I suppose it had to end like it did because it began like it did. So I suppose it was doomed at the outset.

And I suppose you still don’t really understand why I’m angry, or where the sadness and frustration that that anger is a symptom of even come from. It has been so astonishingly painful because it seemed like, at first, you really did get me, in a way that nobody had for a very long time. And I don’t suppose I”ll ever really understand what happened for you, what happened in your head or what got you where you went.

But now, at least, instead of a relationship made up of grieving that is punctuated by sporadic bursts of hope, it will be all grieving and no hope, and that might be the only option I have for ever seeing the end of the grief.

 

 

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That it was always-already-doomed I knew going in – but what I couldn’t know then is that thirteen years later, I’d not only still be tied up in some kind of complicated knots about it somewhere in that mess of my head, but in addition I’d also be cast into the role of friend, confidant, cheerleader, and comforter of the spouse I had a hand in deceiving. Thing is, I was under the impression that no deception was happening. Turns out I’m not the judge of character I thought I was. We were both being lied to, come to find out, but where she was being kept in the dark, I was actually being manipulated and emotionally tortured in a particularly sadistic way.  Just when it had all finally started to fade to the point where it was finally becoming memory instead of flashback, the bastard shows up at my doorstep, ten years to the month since I last saw him, and my stupid ass lets him — and all the bad dreams — right back in. Only now I suddenly have to be her friend, too, and make her feel better about her anxiety and insecurity, and send dozens of emails telling her how wonderful she is and how sorry I am for making her feel uncomfortable and that I knew he never felt about me the way I felt about him, just rehearsing all the acid in the wounds, again and again and again, and my God, haven’t I paid for it enough yet? My two pathetic, stolen weeks of pretending I wasn’t fundamentally mis-assembled, that I hadn’t dealt out so much damage before that I would never, ever really have another chance again?  Three more years, and that I’m the shoulder to cry on now that the marriage has finally gone to hell in a handbasket is really, in retrospect, just more of the same incredibly complex misery that is my poetic justice for getting involved at all.  That’s what I get for grabbing at ten minutes of temporary bittersweet self-delusion. I have paid, and paid, and paid, and paid again, a thousandfold, for every single time in my life I have ever made that mistake.  It’s all starting to bleed together, to turn into the same mistake, I think, except this one is actually different, because I don’t think anybody has ever been so deliberately and simply cruel – before, or since.

There are not even any more amends to make, I’d think, but I’m still fucking paying. I really do believe I will pay for the rest of my life, one way or another, and my God how could I possibly have known what I was bringing on myself? How could I possibly have known?  I resented you before, for over ten years I resented you. But now I hate you – for this, this sad little exchange, the tumbling down of a flimsy card-house that lasted so long because we both needed you to be as damaged as you are and as honest as we blindly (desperately, stupidly) hoped, this cruel and twisted drama that you’ve engineered and then, incredibly, escaped, right before it all came down in twisted metal, torn skyscrapers, sickening collage of flesh and steel and these are human beings bleeding in the middle of this, you bastard, and some of them are your children. I cannot believe otherwise than that this is some point of detestable pride, of secret sick pleasure for you, the strings you’ve pulled and the tunes we’ve danced to, the wreckage you’ve made of her life and the neat trick of putting the broom and dustbin in my hand. I have often said that I’ll take my ten minutes of happiness where I can get it, and that I went in with open eyes and willing to pay the price, and that ultimately it was worth it and I have no regrets. I never say that I’d have done it differently, given the chance. Congratulations on changing that about me, too, because I wish I had never laid eyes on you.

Maybe this is exactly what I needed in order to wake me up, finally, to the fact that I keep getting into these situations because I don’t expect anything better, I don’t demonstrate much self-respect or ask for much respect from anyone else, and not even a blind person on a reality TV show could miss how clearly the last 5, or even 10, or hell even 15, years have demonstrated this.  I loved you in part because you are damaged, I loved you in part because you are unattainable, I loved you in part probably because loving you was some sort of penance, a secret wound, a perversely sweet, prolonged type of emotional self-flagellation. But I draw the line at being used as a pawn, or a prod, in damaging someone else.  You are going to have to carry on with that business all by yourself. Congratulations – you demonstrated the tremendous amount of power you can still wield over me thirteen years later. I’m not sure how much of a coup it is, how proud of yourself you should be, because in actuality, you’re not alone at all. I’m a sadly easy target, and as far as destroying me goes, you’re too late anyway. The others already got to me and picked through whatever heaps of bone and rag and scrap caught their magpie eyes.  There’s nothing left but enough bitterness to drive even the most patient away.  But reaching back across more than a decade and turning even those last few good memories sour? That was a pretty neat trick. There’s an astonishing sort of cruelty in that one, considering that a few cold memories are all I really have left that isn’t bitter poison. I just don’t understand what motivates you and I don’t care. I forgive a lot, since I seem to collect broken soldiers, but I don’t even want to try to understand you anymore.  I suppose the thing that hurts the most is that I think you really did understand me, without even trying too hard, and what you chose to do with that understanding was pretty awful.

I don’t need friends like you, and lovers like you are a dime a dozen.

***

Hole – Violet

I guess in a mostly unconscious but very real way, I’ve spent the last fifteen years on a strange sort of invisible, immobile, even static pilgrimage of penance with you at the center even in your absence, maybe especially in your absence. The problem is that there’s no jerusalem, no mecca, no holy land, no end, no absolution, not even an appropriate formula for an act of contrition.

Who would I confess to? Who could absolve me? How could I even ask for this burden of regret to be lifted? It’s all I have left of you and I don’t know what I’d do without it. In fact, I think it may have seeped into my bones. We’re inseparable, symbiotic, a new self-consuming life form with a skeleton made of barbed wire and sorrow. Without it I’d have no shape, no structure, no coherence.

You are still so beautiful that my breath catches in my throat when I see you. Your touch feels like home. We were so alive, the both of us together, and to be fair, part of what I mourn may be as much that time of hope for myself, when I thought I could be a better person than I was ultimately capable of being, as it is you. You raised my hopes for myself; I thought I could learn to be equal to our best moments, to our youth and optimism, to your creativity and beauty and often wordless but always present love. I shattered them, though, those hopes, and left splinters stuck deep, deep beneath the skin – the kind that never work their way out on their own, I’m now sure.

When I was cruel or callous to you, I was punishing myself. I can see that so clearly now. I might have even realized it on some level then. I didn’t know what to do. I did it wrong. And I never got a chance to fix it. And I never had a right to hope I’d get that chance, and certainly never had a right to anything but a sense of poetic justice when it was denied.

There’s no movement so I guess by definition it can’t be a pilgrimage. I’d call it purgatory except I’m not sure there’s any way out. I don’t think anybody is keeping score, or even paying attention.

What am I supposed to do? You can’t forgive me; you won’t even blame me. I can’t forgive myself. Because on some level my sins include not only what I did to you but also what I did to myself – murdered my own deep, true love, destroyed my own happiness (and, it seems, all avenues to any other happiness) through my own ignorance, selfishness, and cruelty. How can I forgive myself for that? If you were happy and well now, I could take some comfort in that and vow to stay away, keep my distance, let you have your happiness. But you are nt happy and well and even though I know its not all my fault, it still feels like my responsibility. I still have to remind myself that I can’t just beg you to come home, to please give me another chance, or at least a chance to make it up to you in some small way when you need something, anything. I cant give you anything but more trouble and pain.

There’s nothing I can do. I can’t do even the smallest thing to make amends (which, selfishly, might make me feel better too). I can’t fix anything for you, though I want to. I want to swoop in and stomp all those people and things and events and institutions that frustrate you or make you unhappy, that thwart you or are unfair or unkind to you, that hurt you instead of helping you. I can’t do that though – whatever steps or efforts I could ideally make by virtue of sheer righteous anger on your behalf, I long ago forfeited the right to take. I can’t fix anything. I can’t even really help. I can’t make you a warm, clean bed to rest in, I can’t hold you when you’re tired or sad, I can’t hug you or reach out to brush your hair out of your face like I used to. I can’t even touch you.

I can’t even see you. I’m not really allowed to be your friend, not really. It may be just as well, because when I do see you, my whole being floods with love, but its a love weighted always with bitter regret and a bone-crushing grief and a stinging sense of guilt, and as impossible as it ought to be, the length and breadth of this misery, it never stops.

The feeling is that I’m guilty almost of murder; it sound hyperbolic, but it has that feeling of horror, and of irrevocable things. No one rises from this gravesite, though, least of all me. I’ve had one foot in it for fifteen years and I don’t see any way to change that. I don’t know how.

Surely I’ve found the cruelest of faiths, celebrating nothing in this world and offering no hope in any other. But its one of my own making, finally – I just lack the means to change it.

Dear you,

No, actually, the thought that I am smarter, better looking, and (believe it or not) saner and more stable than either/both the (main) person I was being “cheated on” with [1] and/or the person I was unceremoniously dumped for does NOT make me feel better or console me!  Why the hell would it?!  What  kind of logic is that?  It frustrates me and it evokes foot-stomping explosions of the “what the fuck, are you kidding me?!  You tossed me over for THAT?” type.  On bad days I then begin inspecting the back of my head for lesions because I will be DAMNED if I can figure out why the fuck it is that I give off some kind of pheromone that means I get multiple random confessions of ancient unrequited love from a bunch of motherfuckers twenty years later “who have never forgotten me” or write poems about me or stalk me online or get in trouble with their wives for emailing me or change their last names to mine etc YET I am, from all evidence, *completely fucking undateable.*  At best, I am the person people cheat on their partners with.  And you know what?  That fucking SUCKS for me.

Addendum: Why yes, I’m sure I should be over it by now, and I’m sure this is slightly tiring,  But you know what?  TWENTY YEARS.  And FOUR YEARS SOLID of letting him wear me down and drop my guard and believe anything that came out of his lying fucking mouth.  And FOUR YEARS of choosing him over someone else, over painting my toenails, over doing shots of bourbon by myself, over catching up with old friends who don’t think so little of me that they would just lie to my face, over watching late night TV with my mother or daughter. THAT is really what kills me – not even the ridiculous drama of how all this went down which probably shouldn’t be so surprising given that he’s a coward to whom life happens.  It’s that I trusted him.  It really makes me feel like an idiot.  It’s that he tried SO HARD to make up for “lost time” and “past mistakes” and *I believed him.*  Like some pathetic daytime drama idiot.

So no, it doesn’t make me feel better, old friend, though thanks for trying.  It makes me feel strange, and damaged, and tired.

[1] If I’d known about it, and there’d been a grownup conversation about it, it wouldn’t have been a problem.  Even so the word ‘cheating’ isn’t quite right, because the expectation of exclusivity was not there (just the expectation of adulthood), but I don’t know how else to put it succinctly.

“Letters to the Air: Transits,” which is a revised version of “Sun Trine Chiron,” is forthcoming in the 2011 edition of the Oracle Fine Arts Review.  “Letters to the Air: Decades” will appear in the same volume, which is scheduled for an April print date.

letters to the air

Dear you,

I feel old, and worn out, and irrevocably damaged, and alone, and taken for granted, and like any sparks of hope I’ve ever had have been a long slow sick game of me fooling myself, of me postponing the inevitable. So when you call, or write, and claim to have missed me, and claim to have almost loved me, and claim not to have any expectations, and claim to just hope you can make me smile – well, I don’t believe you, and I don’t trust you, and even if I managed to for a minute, I’d have to admit that you must be a fool yourself. Because there is nothing here for me. And there is nothing here for you. And I think it would be less painful if we would both stop pretending otherwise.

Dear you,

Simple human decency – that’s really all I insist on in relationships.

I am a low-maintenance kind of partner.  I do not expect text messages at every possible work break, gifts, constant reassurances of love and my own self-worth.  My sense of self-worth does not reside in anyone else’s opinion of me.  I don’t freak out if you’ve been talking to your ex, I don’t fly off the handle with jealous fits, I don’t resent time spent with other people who aren’t me, friendships, family obligations, hobbies or interests I don’t care about.  I don’t care if you are dating somebody else if you are being honest about it, not when we’re not living in the same state and aren’t going to be anytime soon especially.  I don’t ask if these jeans make my ass look fat, and even if I did, I wouldn’t then punish you if the answer wasn’t what I wanted to hear.  I don’t need anybody to pay my bills, bail me out, or prop me up.  I understand work and life obligations.  I don’t have unrealistic expectations that a partner is going to “complete me,” nor that a long-distance relationship is going to magically not have any challenges, up to and including the dreaded “I’ve met somebody else.”  I’m not needy, I’m not passive-aggressive, I don’t expect people to read my mind and punish them for not doing so, and I strive to be a clear communicator.  Furthermore, I’m not all that bad looking for my age, I’m of higher than average intelligence, I have a sense of humor, and I’m reasonably skilled, responsive, and attentive in bed.

In sum, I’m not some histrionic psycho who needs to be handled with kid gloves, I’m not some piece of trash you picked up on the side of the road, and I’m not some idiot who begs to be lied to.  I am – or thought I was – your friend, and I expected that friendship to mean something even if the more-than-friends part of it were to end.  All I ask is simple human decency, and to be accorded the same respect and honesty that you would accord to any friend of twenty years, whether or not that person had also been your lover.

How, then, in your eyes, do I deserve the treatment I’ve received at your hands?  How do I deserve to be lied to? How do I fail to rate a heads-up that our relationship is over (and given that your new partner has issues with me on account of our having been together in some romantic and sexual capacity for several years, therefore our 20 year friendship is over too)?  How do I fail to rate even a phone call before you publicly announce your new relationship status, and the fact that you are about to have a child with this person you’ve known for a few months, to your facebook?  How does that math come out, exactly?  I can’t figure out if you’re incredibly heartless and inconsiderate, or just incredibly stupid.  I can’t figure out if you think I’m some dangerous psycho who needs to given bad news at arms length, or if you simply think that two decades of friendship and several years of more than friendship are just worth that little.  I can’t figure out if this is a reflection of your real feelings towards me, which you did an excellent job of actively deceiving me about for some unknown and unwarranted reason, or if you are just that big of a selfish, cowardly asshole and it’s nothing personal.

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“I don’t want to distract you from work,  but I just want to tell you that you’re hard on yourself for no reason I can fathom.”

Why should you be able to fathom it?  I tell people about you, about how far back our history goes, and it probably comes across as if we know each other so well, know levels of each other that might even be impenetrable to anybody else, at least very difficult to get not having been along for the ride the whole time.  Hell, maybe there is a small way in which it’s even true.  I mean, we have memories of each other that predate our graduating from cloth diapers.

But we don’t really know each other.  It’s a nice – and simultaneously, a powerful and painful – illusion that we do.

I know the six-year-old you fairly well.  I know the sixteen-year-old you fairly well.  Maybe even vice versa.  I knew the 25-year-old you for one too-short, stolen night, and I knew the 37-year-old you for another.  But when every meeting is some rare and monumental event, always already being turned into a memory to store up against the long famine ahead, then what’s missing becomes cavernous.  All those years are made up of an infinity of gaps and silences and regrets and postcards and secondhand stories passed on by our parents and siblings.  Your face surprises me every time- not its gradually denser population of laugh lines, not the slow but inexorable imprint of years, but just the full onslaught of your presence, of the depth of your eyes, of how you are at the same time so very real and present and alive but also so many, many layers of images and memories, hopes and dreams and love and sadness and so many unsaid things in all those goodbyes.  At a certain angle, those invisible and infinitesimally thin layers catch a peculiar ray of light, and I see, with a wrench of vertigo, how deep and shifting they are, how saturated with time.

There are ways in which I know you very well, but there are more gaps than images, more silences than words, and my imagination has probably filled in far too much.  While I was getting good at imagining how those blank leaves might have been filled, I was ruthlessly editing others, sometimes daring to write in your margins with pencil but wearing the paper quite through with erasures in my own.  So now, were it even possible for you to see those pages that you’ve missed, they’re likely illegible anyway.  The logic of where I find myself seems poetic, irrefutable, a blunt and ugly fact that I sometimes find the strength to be defiant about.  But there’s really no reason why you should be able to fathom it.  You simply don’t have the backstory.

“Every second I’ve spent thinking of you lately has been more sweet than bitter. The bitterness only comes with pointless internal what-ifs. We’ve chosen our paths and wouldn’t be who we are if we hadn’t.”

No, love – you’ve chosen your path and you wouldn’t be who you are if you hadn’t.  I don’t feel I’ve chosen anything at all.  I don’t see that I ever had a choice, at least not when it came to you.  I suppose it’s a personal quirk of mine that these things which leave me surprised and speechless, because I don’t even see the entirety of them until much, much too late, are less about choices and more about things passing me by because I misapprehend the options.   It’s almost even funny, or would be if it were happening to someone else.  But I censor this, because despite your protests, I know you don’t really want to hear it, cannot in fact endure thinking about it for very long, though I can’t seem to stop.  I censor this because you are at heart so very good and loving and you have found some astonishing way to live inside this complete contradiction we seem to have carved out for ourselves, a clever bit of negative space where neither the laws of physics nor any conventional morality can take hold, and I will not become a burden to you.  There is no particular reason for you to feel what I feel, and no particular reason why you should fathom my censorships and half-truths. I will bite my tongue and give you only the prettier half of the truth, and I will choke on what’s left over – because it is so very, very bitter and because I have cried so very, very much.  I privilege a gorgeous lie when I pretend otherwise, collude silently with you to offer a cruel aporia in place of any real knowledge or understanding at all.  And I pretend pleasure, a sadness that is nevertheless satisfied, at the elegance of our equation.

But outside this negative space, this impossible architecture of history and desire, our two worlds look very different.  You click your laptop shut and turn back to the regular pulse of your daily life, kissing the blond head of your wife and the pink cheek of your daughter, bundling up with them under the comforter to watch the logs crackle in the fireplace, making footprints in the snow as you walk her to school in the morning, hoping you have at least 300 days left in which she’ll let you both hold her hands even though her friends can see.  These days are full of gentle kisses and sticky fingerprints and the hundred precious banalities that fill up the pages of a life.  In a few weeks, my image will have faded again from the forefront of your mind; in a few months, the gentle friction of everyday life will have smudged my pencil marks in the margins.  In a few years, I am mostly forgotten, a few stray marks buried under too many pages to count.  Your daughter will find my name on a scrap of paper falling accidentally to the floor when she is packing her books for university, and no-one will think twice when she sets it on top of the old newspapers and magazines to be carried out in the morning.  The door will close behind you on your way down to the car, and I might be legible, for a moment, in a last peculiar shaft of light from the window as the sun sets outside the empty room.  And then there will be nothing left of me at all.

***

Smithereens – Cigarette

This is a revised version of this which I’ve just sent out for publication. This’ll be the first year I’ve published anything in years, not at all surprising since I haven’t sent anything out in years.  Now that I’m about to go crazy again, from all signs, I’m sort of making some kind of gesture by sending work out again. I’m not sure what that gesture is, entirely.  It might be defiance, or it might be desperation.  But my first response was an acceptance so I keep trying to tell myself that means this shit is still worth doing, to at least one other person on the planet. (and presumably that one other person, being an editor, has the tastes of at least a few other people in mind).

Will being read keep me from going crazy?  Guess not. Nothing has so far prevented that, not yet anyway.  People liking to read this stuff doesn’t make it much better to live through, all things considered.  But there’s something about it that keeps me honest. Or a little more honest than I might otherwise be.

* * *

Letters to the Air: What I Want From You

Achates:

I want out of your narrative, out of the impossible, overbearing shadow of a Me I never was, a shadow you’ve tried to build a body for, all backwards in your bead-stringing, starting with a shattered mirror to fill in a shape you never saw whole.  When you pick up these pieces of me, they cut.  You think you know why, but you’re wrong.  I cannot live created in your image.  I want you to let me go.  That’s the only way I might ever be able to come back.  I am not your character, and I am not writing your story.

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Mo mhuirnín,

I don’t dream of you often, just once every six months or so, once a year probably. And why I would dream of you now, an entire ocean away, I don’t know.  The early, restless light slipping through yellow curtains keeps me from drifting back to sleep after I wake up, tangled in the sheets and confused, not sure whether you are here with me, whether I’m awake. I’d thought I felt your thumb brush lightly, drowsily, across my lips once, your breath light against the nape of my neck, your palm splayed across my hip.  When I curl my fingers into your black hair, stark against the white sheets even before dawn, I am in an eternal argument with myself, suspended between competing desires, to kiss your eyelids and smooth your hair from your face, or to gather your hair at the roots and pull almost as hard as I can, exposing your throat and making your green eyes flash awake. I do neither, this time, but I’m distantly aware that more and more often, I do not act on my desires.  I’m slowly being taught that I simply do not get what I want anymore, and the fear of losing you, the you I don’t even have, is so real and so sharp even now that I prefer to lie sleepless and still beside you, wanting and wanting but never moving or touching, suffocating for hours on my own shallow breath and my own pathetic desire. I can’t figure out how you got here; I can’t be sure which one of us was crying silently before the sun came up, in the throes of another bad dream; I can’t make sense of any of it, but I don’t care, because I had been so afraid I would never touch you again.  What I really want I can’t have anyway, not even in my dreams.  This strange ache, this ghost-visitation, these dream-tears, are all I can have, so I am willing to sit silently and make of my entire being a raw surface waiting to be wounded.

The bad dreams we hold each other through are, this morning, dreams within dreams, it turns out.  I finally let go and open my eyes, give up on the liminal state I’d been suspended in. I don’t know why, ever, and i certainly don’t know why now.  I do know that i blame you for the chasm that’s left when you tear us apart, even when my brain has brought you here in dreamspace only.  When you enter the room, something thick, invisible, but almost tangible grows between us, through the air, some sort of electric current that is still somehow organic, some surge that I both welcome and dread, even after all this time. I welcome it because it makes me wonder if I was even alive before you came into the room.   I dread it because I never forget what it feels like when you leave, like something is being pulled out of me by the roots.  A dream-memory of the plane of your cheek under my fingertips, my thumb not quite rough against your lower lip, your body not quite awake as I ghost my traitorous fingers along the curve of your thigh  – these are my souvenirs, this time.   Mine’s so light a touch as to seem impossible; my hand should burn your skin if skin could tell the truth.  You make me afraid of the violence of my own want for you, of feeling that I have to tear you, to make you hurt, so that you can feel what I feel when you touch me.  So I am simply afraid to touch, because it never seems enough, because I think i cannot be trusted.  I have never forgiven you for it.  I suppose I never will.

***

Live – Heropsychodreamer