A conversation I had the other day reminded me of something. Something that you don’t really consider, until it’s sitting in front of you, doing the Cha-Cha. Or the Pachanga. Whatever. It is invading your dance space.
A dear friend of mine was talking about a situation. She was telling me about how she made a choice, what went into that decision, and, perhaps most importantly, what did not. Initially, there were concerns and reservations, but then something happened: she realized that screaming/nagging voices were not her own. Who, she asked, were those other people in the room (figuratively speaking) – and why were they getting a bigger say than she was?
That made me think about all the choices I’ve made over the past year, big and small. All the things I’ve said and done, dared or not dared. I stopped to think – to really think – about what has dictated my own hand. Have there been too many people in the room? Whose voice screamed the loudest?
My friend pointed out that, sometimes, we make decision predicated on the fear of outside opinion. Our initial reaction is something like, I can’t possibly do THAT. [So-and-so] would be appalled! I’m talking about pursuing that things that make us happy, not the general rules of society. I don’t think that we should go out and commit murder, or anything untoward. Honestly, if society’s opinion is the only thing keeping you from Hannibal-ing your neighbour, we’ve got bigger problems than this post can tackle.
But back to the point. How often do we NOT do something, because we’re worried about how it’ll look? How it’ll seem to the outside world? How often do we let this society-driven cowardice/fear become our reason, our excuse? How often do we listen to that internal mob of naysaying voices?
I’m going to go out on a limb and say: too often.
To an extent, I understand that fear. I get that it isn’t easy to stand up for yourself, for what you want, because someone – somewhere – is going to get a hammer and a nail and try to crucify you for it. But you know what? Maybe that’s the shortcoming of the person ready to impale and ask questions later. Or, worse yet, not at all.
A different friend of mine, the other day, was talking about pursuing a specific dream she has. A dream that kind of came out of left field, but it’s a homerun. It’s a great idea. It’s fabulous. But you know, it’s also new and daunting. It’s unknown. But this girl? She’s chasing after it with grace and gusto. Because, as I pointed out to her, it is NEVER too late to follow your dreams/your heart/your bliss. It’s only too late when you give up and stop trying. When you stack your walls up so high that other people can’t see in – let alone get in – but you can’t see out, either.
The truth is that there’s no real secret to being brave, to tuning out those obnoxious voices, or squaring your shoulders for the manifestation of other people’s loud voices and small minds. It’s not something that turns up as easy or even something you settle into. Every time I do something crazy and brave? My heart still feels like it’s trying to tunnel out of my ribcage with C4 and a jackhammer. Every time I take a risk, make a phone call, or am terribly vulnerable – I still feel like I might throw up. A thousand fears rage in my brain. I count them out, like angry dragons. I look at everything I’m afraid of, breathing fire, and I acknowledge that FEAR isn’t enough to hold me back. It’s not a good enough reason. It’s not a good enough explanation for a choice.
This isn’t a process that comes natural to me, or anyone really. I’m all about balance and harmony. I’m all about hugs and love, not drawn swords and squared shoulders. But if you show me something worth fighting for, there’s nothing and no one who can ever hold me back. You may look at me, and call me crazy. You may question my morals. You may wonder, exactly, what I was thinking. And maybe I wasn’t thinking in the traditional list of pros and cons way. Because some things are too important for lists. And no person should be boiled down like that.
Consider how many people are in the room when you make a choice. Ask yourself if they should be there. Do you stay in a relationship, because of what others might be think if you leave? How long do you keep something of life-support, when it’s already gone? It happens a lot. We get scared about these repercussions, things that may appear as judgement, thrown at us by OTHER people.
But, honestly, when it comes down to it: why the frakkin’ hell do we really care what other people think? How is that judgement even formed? Outside opinions, like that, shouldn’t factor in. Those people aren’t in the situation. Those people don’t know what it’s like. They don’t understand the day-in and day-out of it.
You want to quit your job and move to New York? Great.
You want to call up and old boyfriend to talk? Awesome.
You want to stop being someone’s emotional whipping boy? Excellent.
Stop living your life in chains, when you’ve got the key in your hand. Stop holding yourself back, because of how it might look. Screw how it looks. Screw how people might you give epic side-eye.
If there’s one thing I’ve learned over the past few years, it’s that life is too short. People trip and fall down the stairs. People get sick. People get hit by cars. We try not to think about these things: the freak accidents and illnesses. But, honey, tomorrow isn’t set in stone. The next minute isn’t, either.
Life is too short to hold back. So, why are you?
surely, you have heard the way
the wind tries to spit itself back out,
searching for silence
among its own broken parts:
a tongue, sharper than it has a right to be,
hands, calloused and clumsy,
a mouth that hurls itself
from whisper to scream without warning.
this is like you.
you know to fill each hour
stiff with obligations, iron the details
out of every habit, letting pain
linger like penance – but do you remember
how to open the cage,
how to unlock the door,
or, as a last resort, smash a window?
surely, you recall
that the wind is nameless, that rivers
turn into stars if you wish hard enough,
but first, you must stop
worrying your guilt into meaning,
judgment is a fierce god,
but only if you consent to worship.
this is unlike you,
but perhaps you cannot remember
almost-summer days, or
the way heaven is layered in a kiss,
perhaps you have been running for so long
you’d let anything chase you.
my love not the wind,
but it moves the world around
without warning; today, it began
by missing you; later, it will curl up
to sleep, but not be able to close its eyes.
It does not diminish
like so many other things. Call it
faith, though some would label it
disaster; I don’t care about the others –
they have earned no quarter
in our space.
Forget the darkness
and the way the moon wanes;
we are all sky, fingers like kerosene,
this absence will fade
like drunkenness, and tomorrow
the morning will ask:
where have you been?
It was familiar, almost intimate, like the echo of an old habit. The air was just shy of being warm, but still barely on this side of chilly. The pink in yellow roses reached back toward summer, but summer began to fade as the moon had.
Some smell grab your hand and pull your backward, conjuring up a moment or moments. Resurrecting people long-dead or absent. Some scents are ghosts, howling or whispering promises in your ears. All ghosts need remembering, all the secrets need tending. Ghosts like this, they are a reminding sort.
I was the only one around, this morning. I was the only one around, this morning. Yet carrying on the faint breeze, nothing more than a gossamer movement, was the smell of cigarette smoke. I’ve never smoked a day in my life. None of my immediately family does. The neighbours were all either still tucked in their beds or long-since at work.
On the way to work, I smelled it again. The window was rolled partially down. I was alone on an empty street. There were no houses, no pedestrians. Just me, and that scent.
I remembered my great uncle’s basement. The bar and the covered pool in the backyard. I remembered being picked up and swung around by my second cousin. I remembered not being able to see through the room. I remember not being able to see over the railing, looking with a child’s eyes.
I also remembered hiding cigarettes. I remember trying to protect someone from himself, even though I didn’t really know how. Even though it wasn’t quite my place. That didn’t matter to me. If I have to get in between you and yourself, for your own good, I will. This was another lifetime ago, when I was half a different person – too afraid of everything. And yet, brave enough.
I remembered chasing a friend down the stairs, full-speed, in an attempt to steal her cigarettes. I remembered people who quit and those who started again. I remembered a promise broken by my grandmother – one I’ve never quite been able to forgive her for.
To me, cigarettes mean loss. They mean death. They are a thing you need protection from. I’ve loved people who’ve smoked. Some of them, I’ve lost. Lost for good, the permanent kind of missing that leaves you without the possibility of getting back. You make your peace with that kind of ghost. It still slips through the doors and windows, sometimes. But you look it in the eye. You acknowledge it. And then you move on.
There are few things worse than not having that moment – than not being able to look a situation or a person in the eye. The waiting, the wondering, the cloying smoke that’s dancing in the air. Turn the corner, and there’s a reminder. Turn on the radio, and it’s there. Walk out your door, and the world stops.
This month is a hard one. It has been for a long time. So many things gone or going. So much absence and so many questions. They settle in like a lump in the throat. You can’t swallow it away. All you can do is just get through.
Get through it. In whatever way you can.
“Nothing revives the past so completely as a smell that was once associated with it.” ~Vladimir Nabokov
You can feel the wind break against things that are no longer whole. Survival comes in fits and starts, cups of coffee and half-listening to the radio. It isn’t war, this ghost of death. It is an invading country, a siege. A sterling opponent that has no match. This is everything is falling apart. Only, everything has already fallen. All the tenses are wrong. The conjugations have gotten themselves lost. You don’t say what you’re thinking.
Then, the phone rings. Then, the miracle comes – the one star you can identify without even looking. It is early, too early for coffee, but your voice finds itself. Sadness has curled into the small of your back. Absence is how you cut your teeth. The burden slows done. It does not vanish, but small sections turn into fog. Whenever the phone rings, you feel it. Confession are made. Then, promises. Each word builds a word you could barely hope for.
But nothing is easy. All thing are bloody. All love is a blade to the throat. No one holds the knife easily. It is an act of war. It is an act of peace. It is a balance. You give for what you love. You struggle to accept the way it changes you. You wait. You wait. You wait. Still, the phone rings. A name repeats. You draw a card from the deck and smile.
We do not forget those who see us through.
We do not forget those who see us.
We do not forget.
Here’s the thing about me: I don’t care who you are. I don’t care what you do for a living. I don’t give a damn if your car costs more than a house. If you can afford to fly to Paris on a whim, good for you. But those things? They aren’t who you are. They’re not the currency that matters to me.
I want to know what makes you smile, when you think you possibly couldn’t. I want to know if you’ll get my Breakfast Club, Princess Bride, and Firefly references. I want to know if you talk in your sleep, and if you can make French toast (because I FAIL at it. I can make crème brulee, but can’t do that. Go figure).
The thing is, I don’t care if you’re different. I don’t care if you’re weird. I don’t care if you’re 24 or 52. I don’t give a damn if you drive a car that parks itself or the one you’ve had since college.
Are you kind? Can you laugh at yourself? Do you drink tequila when you’re fed up with the world? Will you smile at a stranger? Will you reach out to someone just because? Do you hold open a door for the person behind you? Will you burst into song with me, spontaneously, or laugh when I do? Can you say you’re sorry and mean it? Do you listen with everything you have? Do you show up, step up, and give a damn?
These are the things that matter. These are the things that count. I don’t care if you get the mail in your pajamas, eat pop-tarts in bed, or have two left feet. I care about who you are, not what you do. If you’re famous, awesome. You still put on pants, when you actually wear pants, the same way I do: clumsily, one leg at a time. I’m not famous. Sometimes, I will correct your grammar or talk about fricatives and the great vowel shift. I’m a total dork. I hate my nose. I make a lot of dirty jokes. And I never do anything accidentally. I’m never careless with anyone’s heart. And if I’m not chasing you, I’m not interested. I will never laugh at you in a moment of weakness. I will never judge you by your imperfections.
And I’ll never let you sit by yourself. Because, fun fact: I was the kid in middle school who was unhappy. I was the kid in high school who didn’t quite fit in. It is always hard to be different, because when people don’t understand something, they revert to pitchforks and torches (mostly, figurative). And, no matter how chronologically grown up a human is, he/she has the potential to act like a very mean toddler.
I have a lot of friends who live other places. Some I’ve met, and some I haven’t. This doesn’t mean I consider them anything less than a friend. As such, I get pissed off a lot, because people aren’t always nice to my friends. Lately, this is happening too much. I have a Momma Bear complex. You don’t screw with anyone I give a damn about. Ever. It is UNWISE. I am not a terrifying human being, generally speaking, but I take up for my people. Always. In fact, I’m 99% more likely to defend someone else than I am to defend myself. Because, another fun fact: you cannot hurt me if I don’t care – and if I care, my defenses are already down.
A difficult element of geographically challenged friendships is distance. It’s not maintaining the friendship that is ever an issue (for me). It’s the unfathomable parade of despicable humanoids who take an emotional – I can’t think of a delicate word – shit on my friends. Because: NO. Unwise. Do not pass Go. Do not collect $200. RUN. I’m not going to pull a Sonny and beat you with a baseball bat – but if you hurt someone I care about, I will not sit idly by. I won’t be silent. I won’t let you get away with it. “I swear, by my pretty floral bonnet, I will END you.”
I will verbally rip a new seam in the fabric of your existence, and you will apologize for whatever it is you did. End.of.STORY.
Over the past month, things have happened to my people that read, for all intents in purposes, like a scene out of a movie. A Lifetime movie. And NOT in a good way. It’s like the Scarecrow has escaped from Arkham AsylumAGAIN, and tainted the water with asshole, instead of a hallucinogen. Good people getting hurt, getting ignored, being left out, and being made to feel less. This turns me into Hulk-y Ali, and really – you wouldn’t like me when I’m angry. Sometimes, I’ll even take a page from the angel handbook…
The truth is, too, that I will never understand malicious behavior like that. I don’t get allowing another human being to feel that kind of donkey kick to the gut that comes along with being ostracized and alone. I will never understand mocking someone because of something they say or do, or simply are – which is out of a person’s control.
Do you like snark? And pie/cake/booze? And being silly? Excellent, darlings. Come sit by me. Let’s be weird together. Because life is too short to suffer fools and small minds. It is too short for dickbags and asshats. It is too damn short to judge and act like someone is somehow not okay, because they are not like you. (Hannibal and killer clowns notwithstanding, because: NO.)
This isn’t a lesson that adults should have to be told, and yet…
So, here’s a promise, ok? If I can help it, you’ll never sit by yourself. You’ll never wonder if our friendship is based on what you could do for me. You’ll never, ever be the only oddball. You’re never be alone. Because, darlings? I’m right here.
this a revelation
about the boy who thought
he was the hangover, only
it turned out he was the vodka,
straight up, no ice
and no excuses –
just a burn
that begs to be called brilliant.
this is a revelation
about the man who feels
like all he ever does is run, only
to find that he is running
nowhere, and his shoes
aren’t even laced –
falling in love isn’t either.
this is a revelation
about a man who thinks
too much and then too little,
who considers and then
forgets the conclusion,
this is how he throws
the bruises away
with a smile –
holds his temper in
like a swallowed knife,
like fire kissing glass:
this is how his heart stops
eating, how silence
begins to taste like a cigarette.
this is how he quits
drinking, stops trying to distance
himself from himself; this is how
he looks in the mirror
and finds himself missing
someone else’s face. this is how
he remembers his heart racing
whenever he saw your name
on his phone, love
in the digital age, reminding
him that living is more
than just a clock whittling
the hours, more than just
obliged and obligated.
(This is how the pronouns change,
revealing the meaning underneath.)
sometimes, it’s I love you
in a parking lot
at the worst possible moment,
said by a girl
who was brave enough to say it
when she felt like everything
was breaking, and she couldn’t
stop shaking, because you
almost said it, couldn’t quite say it
back – this is how her absence
feels like a mistake.
This is how she becomes me.
This is how he becomes you.
This is how I wait –
it is the smallest thing.
it isn’t beautiful here.
I’m not happy with the way
I’m spending my days.
feels too much like punishment
for something someone else
thinks I did.
I did nothing.
I did everything.
I suppose it doesn’t matter.
still, you don’t write.
still, I’m living
in the abstract space
of white on white,
color in the absence
this is not serenity,
not peace, not the rush
of the ocean or its sweet
salt promise; no,
this is longing
gone dark around the edges,
emptiness as rough
as a hangman’s noose.
this is the ringing
sound after a bomb
has fallen, ashes and aftermath,
and things I don’t understand –
what language is this?
shouldn’t I recognize something?
this is something else’s handwriting,
perhaps I should apologize
for being unable to judge
the small monster in my heart,
the only thing that’s kept me
from having an epiphany
on the bathroom floor,
because I believe (too much)
that this exists –
because I believe (so much)
this is not a year
ripe with self-loathing
or despair; it is not equal parts
shame and regret –
put the scale down.
this is not how we measure
failure or success, collected
in empty coffee cups
and parking lots.
I am still, despite everything
and not happened. I can kiss
the negative space,
but that won’t make it disappear.
tell me, quick:
do you think I’m happy?
do you think I’ve given up
all our old pronouns,
the adjectives of love
that’s not love,
not unless you can say it out loud.
I can. I have –
and that is the only
difference. it is nearly
fifteen years later,
and I’m still wearing
my grenade heart
in your teeth.
it isn’t beautiful here,
but beauty was never
what I was after.