Arm in arm go the couple in white, down the aisle, through the crowd. Vows told in lace, speaking secrets in the midday sun: a bouquet soars across its yellow face. Consummation is a popular word for their grandparents. There’s a quiet announcement in the newspaper: congratulations. Congratulations from friends and family, a high school teacher, a neighbor down the road. Flutes of spirits that sing like bee stings and second helpings of steak. A Bloody Mary drops on the floor. Loosening ties, shimmying off shoes, slipping from dresses getting ready to dance. Loud voices in the barroom, singing on the dance floor: the bride and groom sneak out the back with a bag full of checks and cards. Empty cans of tomato paste clatter down the asphalt, memories of the bride and groom told long after they’re gone. Absolved of old schemes, and disease, and dishonesty, the couple in white take the highway red with sunset. A new house, a new family, a new history to be told: bedsheets aren’t bloodied once. The nursery will not birth itself. The modern Magi come with pins, tack the bedsheets to the roof, and voices come like thunderclaps through the rooms. In a dream the new bride can cry alone, and unravel her dress, threadbare through the red of long years.
I’ve been flaky the past couple of weeks, not around as often as I’d led on. Which feels dishonest. So I want to address my whereabouts and clear the air, get a fresh start.
I’m at the end of my 20s. It’s a cusp, because my 20s have largely been dissolute and aimless and I’m assuming 30 is when I “grow up”. I married a few years ago, worked in lawn care to support us, then we moved so I could go finish my degree in journalism. Which I did, finally, after 3 schools and 10 years, finally finish my degree. That degree landed me in a corporate communications gig (shoot me now, and shoot me once every morning) because journalists command the same wages as fast-food assistant managers. My corporate stint is coming to a close, however, it’s a contract position with an inevitable contractual conclusion. The bouldering question is what do I do next?
I can’t stand working for people, most of the time. When I was in lawn care I was working for a small company with a genuine friend as the owner, and I didn’t mind busting my ass 50 hours a week. That was almost enjoyable. Looking back, that was far more preferable. Corporate life is achromatic and demands a daily prostration before the people who command everything that you do. They’ve extended my contract because still I haul ass, but it’s gnawing my skull away. Brain matter has been left to puddle on my cubicle desk several times. It’s the hierarchy, rigid and unassailable; people shouldn’t waste their lives in subordination, nor should they find it meaningful to collect subordinates beneath them.
The last 5 years I’ve spent writing regularly, almost daily; writing frequently for long hours a few years before that. It’s the only thing I feel comfortable doing, the only aspect of the world I feel comfortable commanding; the only method of exerting my will that I find meaningful and honest and satisfying. When I don’t write, I turn into a bastard. There is no affection, no hope, no self confidence if I am not writing. If I can’t get myself out, onto paper or screen, nothing comes in and the pact I have with the world becomes a rigid, impermeable wall.
So I’ve been on a cusp, or a cliff is probably the best metaphor, for the last few weeks on a cliff with a strong wind at my back. I need to write, and I can’t waste any more months in subordination to some leaky asshole I depend on for paychecks. I need to take control of my own life, if you’ll allow me this moment of self-help verbiage, to reach for my dreams and shoot for the stars and the rest of the clichés about building a fulfilling life.
So I’m jumping the cliff into freelancing. Working 45 hours a week in my cubicle, plus the commuting, perennially lacking sleep, up late building-out LinkedIn and UpWork profiles, applying for contract work and freelancing gigs writing copy and trying to devise just how I’ll make this all work. I’m depending on it, my family’s depending on it, it’s finally time to dump myself into what I should’ve done – easy to say now, in hindsight – years ago. I’m going to figure out how to make a living writing.
The hope here is that, if I can control my own working hours, I can create more time to write prose-poetry and, eventually, hopefully soon, to write fiction and the novel that’s been on the back shelf of my brain for about a year.
To help make this all work, we’re leaving NJ, land of crushing living expenses. We’re going to rent a cheap little 3-bedroom somewhere in rural PA, and I’m going to spend my time building a writing career.
Thanks for reading,
It was you who took my hand, but we led each other in. Two kids at the end of a roadtrip, tangled and happy, ready for more. More heartbeats, more walks, more explorations of foreign shores, lined with milestones. We had a city full of smiling streets, a friend behind every door. We had a blank page to paint our life on, and we let our dreams bleed out. Angels’ wings and fluttered eyelids under bedsheets, vermilion mornings of sweet September. Bury me in your skin. Do you remember the night we walked into the woods? Bacchus laughed, and kept the moon bright: bum wine in our bellies, children of the vast plateau making haste for the wasting woods. They could taste our sins. Desultory years, caprices, diaries of lust and joy strung-up in the trees; thieves, caught trespassing into the night. Swiftly now. Grind your fist against the wall. Bake us bread with broken glass, we’ll cook the dust into something more. Can you hear them? Children cry unborn in bellies; still-birth stalking streets for coins. Join the huddled masses — sunlight, left far behind. The forest; leave no condolences: foreheads, cracked like egg-shells. The pulp of a heart and the crust of a lava-flow, breaking, revealing, burning through the wasted woodlands and the cities that hid our nightmares. Take my cock in your hand: copulation a public foray beneath the jealous trees of wicked greed, the homogeneity of a nation masquerading as sane. Show me a smile of broken teeth. A laugh that echos in abandoned concrete. Find the nails that keep our ribs together and pull: butcher of dead desires. Past picket fences and red wagons and warm mothers, what child asks for more? What can be seen through the pouring rain? — gray noon in Times Square, empty streets and the ripple of sidewalk puddles: millionaires without a penny. The famous without a name. Fast feet up the fire-escapes. Together in the alleys, together in the Bowery, together in the Strait of Hormuz. Together in the Dardanelles. Two children hand-in-hand, free, in the pages of an angel’s novel never read.
The grass was short on the ball fields. Lazy Sunday afternoon, and the park was mostly empty: alongside the poolhouse on a picnic table, behind a row of tall firs, the girl was telling him about her campus. She made it seem wonderful, the library and the classes and the student activities. She was two years older, and very pretty, named Alyson, plainly. The afternoon was hot and slow, and so too was the summer; sun streaks dappled through the tops of the firs and the boy wasn’t sure why, but his mouth seemed stuck in his throat. He hadn’t spoken — the girl talked so much — but for little observances he knew she’d find agreeable. Squirrels chased around in the fir trees’ pine needles. Cool water babbling in the brook behind them. The silent expanse of the deep blue sky and the quiet stretches of the park. A perfect moment lonely with an older girl. Yet the boy couldn’t shake the feeling of rotors and gear-boxes muffled and humming, a hidden mechanical cover, behind the scenes of their paradise sky. Which might have been his head: he was embarrassed of his desire: Little pervert prick, she’d tell her friends. She was asking him if he’d like to come visit, to her college. So he told her he’d like that very much — transparent enough to blush — and the girl kissed his cheek goodbye. The boy then walked through the park alone, taking his time to the road. The pavement felt careful beneath his feet: the trees seemed to be breathing, something quiet and full of meaning. His body felt full and hard and light. Picturing the kiss on his cheek. The grass seemed phosphorescent, and the cotton-puffs drifted dreamily in the sky. The air glittered, like specks of tin floating in water. The boy was sure he was somehow high. Was this elation? Was this his joy? turned inside-out to the warmth of the earth. The street ahead disappeared round a bend of the hillside and he saw where it went, past groves and the homes of his neighbors — and the road continued on, hot and long forever abiding the lilt of the land, straight onwards towards the mountains and going on even after that, across the vast plains of the northern plateaus, tilting around gentle hills and the curvature of the earth — finally to bury itself in blue snow somewhere north of Canada. The boy knew his dreams just as clearly: the road wrapped the world before him, and in his chest a bright burning for the gentle moments unfolding, excitement to find something similar in a beautiful stranger, to gaze at the peaks of mysterious mosques and the spires of red rock along the straight roads to California. To hold cities in his hand! But he was only going home. And he knew if he called his friends they were damned to play those old familiar motions and conversations; the next morning to ride buses to school. The affections of their mothers. Satisfying isolation in their bedrooms. In a year he’d be off to college. And in five years who would he meet? What beautiful strangers who weren’t caught in the gears of the silent machinery? The muffled lights in their chests. Long lines of blank squares counting through the days of their ending years. Sweaty suits barking orders from behind desks, and the cowering creatures that scurry to fill their orders. The boy was rubbing his cheek. He was very disappointed. Alyson’s major was in corporate management.
Much has been learned in night’s corners, of drowsy bars, streets with echos, women’s love: The loneliness of street-lamp walks home, pre-dawn, dew a million glints of regrets and what-ifs. Hangovers that last till Tuesday. Body aches that cramp in class and the sweet red-head, warm bust, who turns round in her seat no more. Dry laughter, a coughing he hears in his sleep, and the feeling he gets when his cock’s been dismembered, and friends squint to see him more clearly. Failing grades, a long way from home, superficial hellos and the cold concrete that holds up his hands as he pukes. Bank tellers distrust his withdrawals. In short, a mess. A coming of dues: searchlights chasing the footsteps of mistakes, finding mirrors, reflect, and amplify. Lessons learned in a state of fugue, the quiet observer, carefully tracing one-way paths in eager slumber. What a fool he’s been! But the hallways show no exits; a Sim, picked-up and plopped into desk after desk, and the artificial sun that rises, someone else who keeps flipping the light-switch. Long walks through the university library, day-dreaming of a tryst that can keep him awake. There are essays due in the morning, but he hasn’t been able to get himself asleep in a week. His rhythm is agitated. There are dogwoods blooming across campus, pheromones of pollen in the air: the room contracts and expands. Horizons breathe.
White sun dazzles the sidewalks, the clarity of a lucid dream; spunk in his feet and a heat in his heart, he moves, towards the beckoning at the edge of town.
You’ve been spending time with your mother making decorations for the holidays. Crafting kitsch for the doors and the halls, small moments made-up for the years you lived out-of-state. Progress in your own home is slow. Rent checks are never late but your husband is rarely in for dinner. Your own job seems to be a farce stunted by a bad choice of college degree – how many women can get a decent car in photography? But your life’s love got an early foot in with a 401k; and all his complaints are erased by his claim “this is all only temporary”. Someday comes the break. A baby will be on the way, you’ll have one made by spring and that’s your own secret plan. And at night when the small house is quiet and your thoughts creep down from the walls you can hear those good friends crying all the way back at Ohio State. You can hear the clamor of the bars and the mic beats of the poets and the stars that shined over North High and Third. You remember screaming at him when he left for Santa Fe. He left your heart aching. He quit the job after just a week and came home miserable to you, who forgave him so quickly because the sidewalks outside were still painted in the green of your dreams. Cooking isn’t what your patience were made for. Graphic design isn’t what your head was made for but at least it gives you something to do. And in the mornings in the traffic you can listen to NPR because the music you’re in love with whispers for you to abandon your car. Hand your laptop to a homeless man and empty out the bank. You’re already crying thinking of Mark finding a letter in the pot you won’t have filled with his dinner. He hates it what he does for you. Neck ties and obedience to the man with the bigger desk. Long hours of nicotine-yellow sun on suburban streets. Empty boxes flipping away the blank pages of your calendar’s days. Penned at a desk in a fluorescent alley of cubicles and swarthy smiles. Obsequious pleasantries and the eternal denial that what they’re paying you adds up. A 40-hour work-week indoors and Netflix to reward your stationary labor. Spirits were meant for the open air. You once spent a week straight without a foot inside your own door. The concert hall on State Street and the rooftop restaurant with the sky-line view where Mark first said he loved you. You had to go because a local blog was paying your photos in erratic hours. And at 4am you found Mark awake still waiting for you. Grasping for an emotional hold before the world sent you tumbling: your exhilaration has landed flat. A cold star stays dark with nothing new to burn in your chest. Stalked by old friends who aged quick at dead-end jobs. The same streets you walked as a kid are a ten-minute drive from the house you’re starting your life in. Someday you’ll find your future years painted on your office floor – or that Mark regrets the wedding. You’ll think back about the happy girl, what it meant to view the world without walls. To see the importance in the clouds and the excitement in the daisies painted on the windows of the Vine Street boutiques. To remember the reasons you needed to drive 20 miles over the speed-limit if you wanted to eat a second dinner that week, or what it felt like to cry because you’d spent four sleeplessness nights helping organize a Halloween ball. Someday comes the break – when the muck is too slow a death to stay here waiting 60 years. When you remember that life is movement through the city; that every breath is sweeter when you’re chasing down a dream; that your vibrant heart was meant to beat. Make your mother a memoriam: you love her most when you’re saying goodbye. Gather the movement of your frantic panic and the happiness of an insecure life. Ask Mark if he still loves you, and pack your bags for Ohio State. There’s happiness outside of Jersey.
We came here looking for your mother’s seeing-eye dog. The park is bright and green and not too crowded, and the open spaces seem to swallow sound. There are stores across the street, apartments and the lazy midday city traffic. We thought the dog had perhaps come here. I let you walk ahead to lead the way. I do not feel like being seen. The sun feels distant; its rays are enervated in the resin sky. The shadows beneath the trees seem to glisten. The damn dog had run out of the house. I’d gotten there just before you were back from work and the damn dog bounded out of the house. I went back to my car and drove around and haven’t told you. It’s probably just a matter of time till your father checks his video feed and sees me opening the door. But I am scared of your finding out. There is a slow lava flow bubbling and black, eating away our time. You are asking people if they’ve seen a Dalmatian, and I am still behind you, hiding, trying to call animal control with a phone my thumbs can’t work. You must be bored because you sigh, and you begin to call your friends. You’re at the park, you tell them, Goodale Park, they should come and we’ll go to the bar nearby. I want a rum. You want to get out of the city that bred you. Your mother married a bureaucratic fanatic and wants her seeing-eye dog back. I am wondering why my boots sink into the sod. I must be 12 feet tall if I can’t see the detailed grass from here. Texture seems to have seeped into a gloss that is sticky when I place my hand on the bench. You would like me to sit down beside you. Your cheeks are red and your hair’s pulled back and sweaty round the edges. Your face hangs low from the rest of your head. I wish I could lift you and bring you somewhere only the gulls can see from their beds in the sky. There is a cog turning and churning its way through the park. And the clock on the church tower tolls noon. We should be drunk by now. We are sitting and waiting for your friends. The tolling has not stopped. This bench is very long. It cantilevers over a pond 60 feet down. Impossibly built. The path before us has turned to four-feet thick of dust, and the dust drifts away when the joggers come by, knee-deep in the fluff of our momentary lives. There is a silence humming in my heart. Your hand is sweaty in mine and I cannot understand why I didn’t stay in college and why I still get excited for birthday presents from my parents there are abscesses growing on my eyes. You are staring at me and asking How The Fuck Do We Find It and I don’t want to admit that I can’t get-off in your anus. The tolling has not stopped. You are crying and the doves are crying and the statue of Zeus has broken his leg. I mention your mother’s rottweiler and you look at me while drying your eyes and say no she has a pug.