October 21, 2008

But you can never truly love it till you can love it’s alleys too, she says smoking in the cold, watching her breath catch fire while her frail bones tremble without notice. It’s Christmas time. The streets are filled with wreaths, lights, and illusions of magic but the alley doesn’t promise Maggie anything. The snow is grey and the rats are out. She laughs at the crowd of people in line for church as she stares at her own sanctuary.

Maggie and Jack smoke cigarettes together, noting how much they have in common: their interest in punk music, their distaste for college students, their obligations as an oldest child with a single parent. They both know the money for cigarettes should have gone toward tonight’s dinner but they’d rather have an empty stomach than an itch that goes unscratched.

Maggie works everyday, watching her friends go off to school as she scoffs at their transition into a life of isolated academia. Jack and her know about how the government really works, how the police force deals with crime, how the church takes away her mother’s money. He stayed home too, working. They call each other at night, when their siblings have been put to bed and smoke in the alleyway in between their houses.

The city gets quiet at night. House windows are open and lights illuminate the life that exists inside. Outside, they only hear the sound of teeth chattering. Such a monotonous life calls them to cling to each other for excitement.

After their cigarette, Maggie sleeps over at Jack’s house. The basement hides them, as they take off their winter jackets and scarves and begin to sweat. She’s weak from lack of food and tired from lack of sleep, but somehow her weakness turns to anger. At her mom, her younger sister, her coworkers but not Jack. She wonders if the absence of any anger means love but she doesn’t think so.

They work dull jobs for money. Sex is free and way more enjoyable. Sex is not dirty; it’s just innately private. Everyone spares the details. No one wants to hear about how unavailable Jack’s eyes are after sex or how they never felt self-conscious even with the light on. Jack and Maggie’s life together was a secret. All lover’s lives are. It seems that the line between art and dirtiness exists in every culture.

She screams at night; he pulls out.

“Wait,” he whispers.


“The condom broke. It’s fine though.”

He kisses her while she pulls away. “The condom broke?”

“Don’t worry. It’s fine. I pulled out.”

She’s never been one to talk while having sex. Even now, her speech is broken, saying little in the situation. Nodding, she turns to her side. Nothing to worry about, and she believes it. So much to worry about but not this.


October 7, 2008

The morning light shines through the apartment complex. The illuminated dust, which remains the only source of movement in the restless environment, floats downward. She does not know why she remains tired after ten hours of sleep.

            Listening for a knock on the door to wake her, she waits for Will, the thirty-two year old single man who lives down the hall. They met by passing, engaging in small talk until one of them mentioned D.H. Lawrence. Separating during the day, they exchange books at night, drink tea and wonder how passionate of a kisser the other one is.

            But lying in bed, it’s hard for her keep the window open and eavesdrop on the movement below. The cab-calls, the fall wind, and the café conversation whistle a tune with no concrete rhythm. She promises herself that she believes in life, listening to the noise and wondering why it sings. She’s not afraid of Will, she says to herself. She is just aware of his obligations.

            She’ll pass Will in the hallway and appear to have appointments to go to. A chronic flaw, she must be chased. Fortunately, he always stops to talk, and she focuses on reducing her natural tendency to small talk. She asks, “How are you?” and “Where are you going?” He asks, “How is the collection of short stories you started?” and “When did you chip your tooth?” and “Can I come in for some tea?”

            Over tea one day, her mom calls her. Will sits across from her as she apologizes for taking the call. Her mother asks about the new studio apartment and the promotion while ranting about her younger brother who still lives at home. At first glance, she holds an intelligent conversation with her mom. In reality, she tunes it out instinctively, conversing with Will’s eyes for the remainder of the telephone call. He blinks with a feint smile. She wonders if things have begun.

            When together, they talk of childhood and science and socialism. It’s the kind of conversation that exists when people get to know one another: full of substance and ambiguity. They talk over the neighbor’s creaking bed, and it forces them not to whisper.

            “Best break up?” he asks.

            “There’s such a thing?”

            “Of course.”

            “Senior year of high school,” she snaps back, “We were friends the day after.”

            “First year out of college – I cried for three months.”

            She notices how the monotony of his motions contrasts with his spontaneous speech. He combs his fingers through his facial hair, holding the mug with both hands.

            “Ever been to that 7-eleven on the corner?”

            “The one that sixteen year old girl works at?”

            “Yeah, I heard there was a hold up there. I can’t imagine how that girl reacted.”

            “I wonder what she’s up to,” she mumbles.

            Everyday he leaves, she speculates when he will knock again. She lingers around the apartment like a dog waiting for interaction at the welcome mat. She notices how she reduces herself to desperation or anticipation or expectation, not knowing what she exactly feels. The relationship they have created is as healthy as sixth grade relationships, when one would daydream about a passionate, physical encounter but was well satisfied with a kiss on the cheek.

            Reminiscing on Daniel, the grad student she slowly stopped seeing, she realizes that she held onto the relationship for the promise of routine sex. She can’t recall their first encounter or their first date because she never knows how things begin, whether it is relationships or wars or short stories.

            Daniel called at the same time everyday. While the ringing phone annoyed her with its consistency, the silence peeved her just as well. They fumbled with conversation on the phone, both talking at once. It wasn’t right but it was no one’s fault. Her work dulled her, and he kissed aggressively.

            A single date with Daniel sticks out. They went out for ice cream after a night together when spring was just starting to bloom. Too cold for ice cream, they sat inside, and she learned about his old family road trips.

            “We went to Dairy Queens in every state. I remember the one in Florida and Delaware and middle of nowhere Indiana.”           

            “What did you get?”

            “Dipped cones. Everytime.”

            He liked dipped cones. She remembers this vividly. His dark features and little formation of a belly were lost on her, but she remembers he liked dipped cones and wadded in Lake Michigan for twenty minutes before diving in.



She treks home from the bars earlier then usual now, subconsciously wanting to be home and risk an encounter with Will. On Saturday, he is hand in hand with a petite blonde who wears all black. They smile politely. Although happy with the girl he is with, she still catches him glancing at herself with genuine appreciation in his eyes and nothing hurts, not even the repetitious sound of water dripping from her leaking sink.



August 8, 2008

Kathryn had a perpetual cough. Being an usual kid, she was never sick, never inhibited signs of a runny nose or fever, and never smoked but she coughed incessantly. At times, the coughs came from deep in her lungs. Although at other times, people could not determine how legitimate her ailment actually was.

Kathryn insisted that she met the love of her life as a child, and being too unaware of love, she accepted that her chance was forever missed. She dated guys for pleasure believing that the real thing came and went too early.

Kathryn would go to candy stores as a coping mechanism. Surrounded by naivety, she could forgive herself for letting the sensitive and boyishly handsome nine-year old love go. She could pretend she didn’t believe in regret.

One day at the candy store, she spotted a group of boys congregating by the cow tails. Eyeing the licorice across the store, they are ready to launch their attack, stuff the candy into their pockets, and then walk outside trembling as their stolen candy tasted surprisingly unsatisfying. Or worse yet, the boys will fail, and Kathryn will have to witness their tearful faces aching with apologies.

She knew one of these boys truthfully and instinctively was a rebel. All of the others will learn to be, following the radical one drinking in high school until they regress into their true and safe selves. But the rebellious one will be eyeing the candy forever. Kathryn wondered about her former love, what he exchanged for licorice: a book or a beer.        

In the midst of the orderly setting, the boys hid behind a counter as they took the candy. Their silence gave them away. The clerk began to eye the thieves when Kathryn eruptted in a coughing fit. The clerk turned to Kathryn as the boys sped out the door.

Execution was all wrong, Kathryn thought. They will never succeed at the liquor store, and it is bound to happen again.

May 18, 2008

Her longing eyes fear blinking. They do not want to miss any action Dan makes. We all go about our lives around the two but my heart breaks watching the stagnant mess.

Dan drops her off first then drives me home tonight. We are both blunt people, and our conversation ensues. “Break up with her, confess your love, take her virginity – do something,” I say. He sits. We are like the bees, struggling to sting because we will die in self-defense.

March 4, 2008

He makes a lot of noise, stomping and swearing, to solidify his anger. Emotion. Noise. Emotion. Noise. Not music, but a representation of words he cannot speak. His drink spills. He is unhappy. He gives up. Is it shameful that I only like him when he cries?

February 29, 2008

And when did you meet him?
I met him when I was 16.

How old was he?
How old is he now?
Does he buy you alcohol?
Do you love him?

She latched onto life, taking the train to shed mediocrity. The train takes her to Kyle, whom she met years ago when she was wonderfully innocent. Even now, having seen and experienced much, she clings on to naivety naturally.

She walks to him in the rain and knocks on the door, a body at perfect ease. He walks out into the early spring downfall to greet her. It is not romantic. It is wet. But they stay out as the thunder continues to sound.

“Come on in,” he says.

He leads her into his space shared by four junkies. Recycled paper fills tables, floors. People come in an out of the apartment all day long. Coffee is forever being made.

They sip on their own cup of freshly brewed coffee, listen to electronica in the background, and melt into one another.

“How is school?” he asks.

She says it is getting less stressful. She has been making time to read for pleasure and is overall much happier.

“Makes sense,” he replies. He then tells her of his distaste for spring.

“Have you thought about what you are doing for summer?” she asks. The scene seems black and white. The rain rhythmically descends, the light is dim, and ink overwhelms the room.

The summer is a continuation of the year for Kyle. His friends will be hopping trains while he stays in Chicago getting acquainted with the city he already knows quite well. Above all, he is a man of details.

Outwardly, his dirty blonde hair is forever tousled, unbrushed. He has glasses and walks hunched over. His appearance is one of humility while Bailey, humble in tone and shy in manner, has a boldness in her beauty. Her natural splendor sits untouched. Her grey eyes beam.

In the late afternoon, they dance, giggle, relax. There is a sense of comfort present found only when one rejects the need for constant excitement. They find it glorious.

While eating cereal for dinner, Kyle’s roommates drift in and out of the space. Jim, the oldest of the roommates, hops in soaked. The bearded man smiles at the sight of two, hugging Bailey.

“Heard anything about tonight?” asks Kyle.

Their old friend is coming home to Chicago. In the city, people are always coming home, and people are always waiting to celebrate their return. Kyle finds himself in a crowd of immobile. He is aware that his need for people, for Bailey especially, is all-inclusive. She, on the other hand, is wrapped up in her desire for experiences, for grandness but unconsciously; she would sacrifice everything for him.

Already jittery from the lack of food and excess of coffee, Kyle and Bailey linger over to the apartment later that night. She laughs, internally, at how magnified her double-life is now. Twenty minutes away, she says things she does not mean for the sake of speaking, plays a role for the sake of being. Here, she is a child, the extrovert she once was, becoming bigger than herself, finding completeness with Kyle, and not taking life seriously enough to remember it.

She eyes the room. Jim flirts with an older woman. Jim is circling the room, proclaiming, “I have ADD!”

A girl turns to Bailey and says, “Shit. All that means is life is that much harder for you” then she walks away.

Kyle goes off to the corner laughing with some old buddies. Bailey walks from group to group, conversing, bumming cigarettes from anyone who offers. People start to crowd around as she begins to dance with Jim and make a fool of herself to Daft Punk’s “Superheroes”.

The city lights shimmer in the distance, illuminating a chaos everyone feels at home in. But Bailey and Kyle leave early, walking hand in hand to catch the 1:40 train. She finds that her life is lived scene by scene. Above all, she wants fluidity. Yet, stumbling onto the train, she rode back home to monotony.


Summer comes with temperatures that are unbearably warm. Kyle decides to take the train, surprising Bailey with a visit. He loves coming to her, always with a desire to walk through the town and witness its pallid liveliness. It is a place of family, tradition, and Sunday mornings where one reads the paper rather than recovers from the night before. With her home, he feels he gets a second chance at childhood.

Entering Oak Park, which rests on the outskirts of Chicago, he recalls the fact that this is also Hemingway’s hometown. When Bailey and him just met, they ventured into their shared passion for the man. “He just felt so much,” they agreed.

Chicago is especially toxic for him now. He is sleeping less, writing more, isolating himself. It is a natural reaction. He has spent the last week denying that on an intoxicated Thursday night, he betrayed Bailey. Her name was Lisa. They had been friends for years.

When he comes to Bailey’s bungalow, he does not have strength enough to take on the stairs that led to her doorway. He sits down instead. His attempt to be honest is but a whimper.

Bailey’s mom finds him there and informs Bailey of the sight.

She comes to the doorway, telling him to come on in. He motions for her to sit next to him, and she walks down to his side. He does not dare to touch her. Instead, he looks into her reflective gray eyes, never having understood loneliness so well.

“What’s wrong?” she asks.

He apologizes. He almost weeps. He tells her. And the look in her eyes sting so greatly that he sat jealous of her role as the victim.

“I know you are sorry,” she cries, “that’s not the issue. I know you never wanted to hurt me. I just can’t believe you want to be with me, really.”

Her heart is broken. His own heart, annihilated.

In the months that follow, Bailey retreats, finding thrills right out her door rather than a train rides away. Kyle isolates himself fully. His irregular talks with Bailey are, for a while, his only conversation. He pretends that music, art, and coffee is all he needs but so much more is required for his sanity.

On the other hand, she tells herself she is not addicted to popularity, or booze, or cigarettes and hooking up with boys without remembering the pursuit the next day.

She begins to listen to her best friend when deciding how to act. Usually, it contrasts with what she would really say, how she would really act. Her friend tells Bailey to stay away from Kyle. And so she stays away. Even when she goes down to Chicago for a Halloween party and sees him dressed up as powhitetrash drinking beer and keeping his distance. She wants to say, “I wish we could still talk.” Instead, she fools around with Peewee Hermann in the stairway.

Fall comes and thoughts accumulate within Bailey since her time away from Kyle. She wonders why she had kept her purity. She wonders why she realized early on that she loved Kyle but held back from expressing the notion physically.

And thus, she goes to him. She marches into his apartment so blind sighted by her spontaneity that she doesn’t recognize the sadness Kyle now resides in. She saw nothing in his eyes but boyish hope.

She wakes up the next morning, wounded. She is not an addict, she says. Fuck perfection and therefore, fuck moderation, says the broken soul.

February 18, 2008

age: 25

location: apartment

There are many moments I lie in bed imagining us meeting again – the lights are dimmed, and we are alone, together. I repeat the line in the Broken Social Scene melody that faintly sings “Separation is divine” over and over but honestly, our separation is an uneasy freedom that trumps a burdening reality, at times. Sometimes I convince myself I am free, and other times, I feel that freedom truly. All of which is fine because concrete, absolute emotions are only found in mere moments of our lives. Love, realization, inner-peace all come in a nirvana-reaching sort of experience. Fleeting. It really doesn’t matter much our physical state anyway, we always were and always are and always will be alone. Together.

February 13, 2008

Dead Man Walking

I see the man in me answering questions about success, pacing past ‘DON’T WALK’ signs, staring into the eyes of the mediocre. The man in me has a tone about him. He knows how to dress as the city asks of him – so good it is golden, so good the world could die in vain.

Two boys stand under a streetlight, in love although they’ll never know it. They know fragile bones are a medical liability and it all comes down to debt. Too easy to break, too expensive to repair so they substitute with plastic.

They don’t realize they are amidst a city; instead, only aware of the street lamp that illuminates their happiness, their inner core, their sexual fantasies. Fabric, like all barriers, will one day be ripped off, and so it all comes down to how the boys will react to their nakedness — free or head down in shame. Their fingers interlock, yet they scoff at the innocence they must settle for.

Dance, Kiss, I say. From a distance, I become angered at them just staring into one another’s eyes. Eyes hold no meaning and exude no personality. They are a product of being glamorized over the years. Staring into one’s eyes is the result of fearing contact, which is the only sincere way to know how a person reacts to tragedies or responds to beauty or how they are really a whole being rather than a mix of ingredients. Sex is not selfish.

It is a beautiful scene. I see the boys in them yet standing on the sidewalk from afar; I cannot locate the man in me. I’ve never been one for plastic.

January 12, 2008

age: 30

location: Charlotte, North Carolina

Most of my early twenties were spent underneath the birch tree that sat next to all of the other birch trees in the forest, blocks down from my apartment. I never had much money those days and that was expected. I bought a studio apartment and squeezed my bed and drum set and dresser in and then spent my time outside everyday in search of air. One day, I saw a girl leaning against my tree and I waited a couple yards away until she moved. I grew impatient and I grew uncomfortable. The tree I sat under didn’t have the right lighting, and the grass was moist. A couple years later, when I found a decent job and earned some cash, I decided to move out of the apartment. On moving day, I took out my bed and drum set and dresser and then I headed over to my tree. I looked at you and said goodbye. You thanked me for the company. I’m coming back soon. I just need to tell you that the tree by my new apartment doesn’t have the right lighting and the grass is moist.

age: 14

location: bedroom

It’s too late to know what time it is. The blinds are closed but I know its dark outside – just dark enough for the sun to come up shortly and become early morning. Hours ago, I put on my glasses and changed into my pajamas and went into my room to go to bed but not to fall asleep. That’s what I do. I stay up late and wake up early and spend an hour eating a bowl of cereal. It’s getting a little cold sitting here. Actually, it’s just chilly, and I don’t want you to confuse the two. There are no more blankets and I am left alone (but not lonely – I don’t want you to confuse the two). I started a conversation with myself earlier tonight but I have just started to continue it out loud.

-Why are you writing?
-Because I have something to say.
-What are you saying?
– I don’t know.
– Well then, why are you writing?

And the shoes lying on the floor need to put away into my closet. This isn’t the time to do so. My mind is using up the energy in my bones, and I can feel that it’s still dark yet, and I don’t need to move my shoes until tomorrow. My eyes are beginning to ache, and I’m beginning to think that I have no idea where I am going with this and finding it all a bit dysfunctional, but maybe even beautiful. Or am I confusing the two?