this is a series of pure fiction and nothing else, because if i were writing about my real life, i’d be much funnier. godspeed, as anna might say, with her cocked chin and shiny eyes and delicate, raised-pinkies. she’s the one who says reality isn’t real. i’m just the believer.
here. some songs you can pretend like you’ll listen to. and then maybe you’ll think about them when you have nothing to do and you’ll actually listen to all of them, at once, and then over and over, or never again. are the songs you remember attached to memories or attached to people. neither you said. they’re attached to feelings. of course they’re attached to feelings. how unsurprising, that you plug those things into your ears and feel like some earnest, big character in a movie when you walk in a beat no one else can hear and think things no one thinks you’re thinking. oh, sweet baby boy. i miss you. a glass of salt water in your name, for all the times I saw you cry, and all the times I wanted to cry too.
in the months leading up to the end of my junior year, i only listened to pop. during my last shift at the coffeehouse (you know, the one off east that puts on concerts. you probably don’t know because no one ever goes. i work with the cute quiet guy and the ballerina and the writer and the poet and the banjo player), i fucked up my hearing or something wearing ear plugs for a show only edgy middle aged men attended. i was responsible for drawing ex’s on everyone’s hands as they walked in, so i knew everyone’s age and their taste in music. what i remember of how it ended is my deaf left ear fucked up from the ear plugs (i don’t know how either) and so much pop that i could’ve walked to the state park without stopping. the music would’ve sustained some strange conviction to feel like i was the one who hurt you and not the other way around. like this:
and it felt like i should’ve waited or something before moving on, to perform some grace, to pretend like i could be the kind of person who could choose to be graceful, because grace is a choice and not anything else. like some god-given disposition, or a stack of dollar bills. You know what I learned though, because I didn’t wait and forgot about the grace very soon after I tried to feel concerned about it. the short answer is i liked hugging someone. I learned to feel okay with his leg on mine. it was heavy and I felt squished. I thought, I’ve felt this before, because the weight of a leg is dead weight. the truth is everyone feels the same when they’re trying to show how they love you, and maybe that thought is supposed to make me sad, that no one is special. but I think, how nice. we’re all the same, and it’s hard to be lonely if you let yourself be just like everyone else.
and another thing about those last few months. Jake Parker said, I think I’d be happy just eating food and reading books for the rest of my life. And I thought, me too. It’s maybe all I ever wanted. to say, i’m so happy, and really mean it. and i think jake really meant it when he said it to me. in those last few months right before his graduation, jake changed a lot too. he started running at one in the morning between east and west and ate vegetables for breakfast and lunch and dinner and his face got bonier and bonier and his eyes got bigger and bigger. and by the time we found ourselves sitting on the plaza watching the sun set while talking about our bodies and the writers we loved, jake became one of my favorite people even though no one was my favorite person. the thing in his heart, whatever it was, had turned soft for this place he never thought he’d like (this college place, is the place i’m talking about). and in that last semester, i felt most loved by the boys i’d never touched. i guess what’s ironic is that all these boys who told me I changed their lives had in their own ways made mine worse. and so in the end they couldn’t save me. what i had to do was walk away with a deaf left ear. beat. beat. beat. like a heart. like a song.
i thought coming here (here being california and so not new at all, california being the place where i grew up) and starting over (starting over being nothing other than small talk) would make me better. better as in i was unwell or something, like the dread i’d started feeling was temporary and that i’d be hopeful again if i just waited long enough to recover from some part of me being taken away and stored in a person i no longer knew. but then in a car ride to meet a new boy this was the thought i had:
that book you gave me that made me fall in love with you, well, I’ve given it to ten thousand people since we stopped talking back in May. how many mays has it been. definitely one but also maybe three. so when you walk down your two-lane garage and past the corner store that takes the card with your face and your fake birthday, past the man on the street who sells copper for a dime bag, and you see that girl sitting on the park bench near our elementary school reading the book you gave me so long ago, Remember that book is yours. You gave it to me and I gave it back, to ten thousand other people who aren’t you, so you remember me when you see her reading it and think, maybe that’s the book i gave ***** how many mays ago. and then you think, how funny it is that no matter how hard you try, it’s too hard to be special. Everyone, actually, is just the same. not a new thought, but isn’t that the point. And I used to tell you when I looked into your glassy eyes, that if we prayed hard enough, one day we’d get so high up in that sky that all the people we remembered as beautiful because we remembered their specialness, would look like little bits of ash from all the way up here. If I stared too deep I’d have stared straight through you like a glass animal to the man behind us standing in line at the movie theater. And if we waited long enough, we’d see the pattern. That they lived and died, and we lived and died just like everyone else. We were them and they were us. So, that girl reading your book would remind you that you could never be lonely even if you weren’t special. skin feels soft no matter what bones hold onto them. A hug is a hug, and because you’re not here anymore, I hug my mom, and the boy I met at the party last week, and the weight of another person feels the same. It’s hard to be lonely when you think about it like that.
i was not getting better, because I assumed after having this thought that maybe i wasn’t unwell or well. i was just in some version of reality, and the choice was to feel stuck or feel okay. it was that simple.
this is the last thought i had, driving away from the boy i’d just met and into the arms of my mom who i’ll always love, and who, still, will always love me more than i know to love her. her love is boundless, and she’s made the choice to be this way even if it hurts more. on the days i still feel lonely even when I know i’m not special, a reason to have hope is to imagine my mom in our house on the corner, playing with my brother. california in the summertime is much colder than i picture in my head when i miss home. the drive feels nice:
I’m convinced my bones can’t hold the weight of my skin. When I want to live in my head dream instead of my body dream I imagine my body like a garden and I make little holes in the ground and dig until I find the roots of the weeds growing inside. I pick them out and they’re big bones frayed at the ends like horse hairs. Heavy and ancient. I dig and dig thinking that I’ll save myself from the weight, and I get lower and lower into the ground until I become a bag of bones lying next to a lump of flesh with holes in it. I step back with the will of my brain floating in mid air and my eyeballs weakly connected by a nerve and regard myself with the fine tooth comb of an art critic. Not only have I saved myself, for the first time I look at the parts of me and feel like I’ve become art. My bones are perfect ivory, rescued, lying on the ground and unburdened by the wetness of a body. Deep down was where I needed to go to feel fine. As I stood there floating, I felt hopeful that I could finally rest well.