Saturday, July 16, 2011

Carrying boxes across the yard; sweat crawling into my eyes. I always seem to end up moving in the summer. Just a few more rounds of sweeping and sorting and throwing away.

I put aside some things I think the little girls next door might like: an empty china salt-cellar shaped like a dancing pig, a small stuffed donkey, a rubber frog, a lizard carved out of wood. Things just pile up on you if you live in a place too long, things you never wanted. Things people give you, or leave with you, things you just find somewhere and hang onto for no reason.

I take the little box of things across the yard to the neighbors' house and knock on the door. Mary waves me in from the kitchen. The girls are falling all over the floor in their little flowered dresses and I sit down with my back against the cabinets to show them what I brought. I give Sophie, the oldest, the china pig. She holds it against her chest and then runs off. Penny and I play with the rubber frog.

"We can't believe you're leaving," Mary says. "I don't think the girls even know what that means. You've been here their whole lives."

"Sophie wasn't even born yet. I remember you out in the yard, pregnant as the day is long."

"I was up on my porch drinking red wine and thinking, do I really want to have a kid?"

Mary's hair is long and dark, with lovely lines of gray. She was 43 when Sophie was born and had lived a rich life. I like to think of this. When I was living on my own in the leaky west side of the house I used to watch their lit windows at night, catching glimpses of the children's round, smooth heads at the dinner table, what seemed to me like the perfect rhythm of life contained and safe.

Sophie comes back in the kitchen with a small stuffed cat. "This is for you," she says. "This is your goodbye present."

I hold the bubble of a laugh in my throat. A gift for me when I am getting rid of things -- please god, no more things to remind me of people I won't see again -- but of course I take it. I say thank you, and the bubble of laughing turns into crying. I knew it would.

Mary sees my face knot up. "Look girls," she says. "Our neighbor is leaving." She sits down on the floor next to me. Penny crawls into my lap.

When we moved off the farm when I was twelve I felt like this, like I'd never really loved anything or anyone enough. There are the people you say goodbye to and the people who you never say goodbye to, who were part of your life and never even knew it.

"You're going good places," Mary says. "I'm almost jealous in a way. I've been watching you pack, thinking about the last time I packed up and left a place. It's great to see people move on when they're moving on to something good."

I think so, too, and I'm not unhappy, just sad.

So goodbye, people I never knew, you intimate, reoccurring strangers. We went to the same bars and the same coffee houses and the same shows, we rode the bus together and watched each other get older, never speaking. You cut your hair and you look like a lawyer now, and you, you still walk around with your hands in your pockets, getting wilder and wilder.

Goodbye to things that never happened. Goodbye, nostalgia for a perfect future imagined in the past. Sometimes I still catch a whiff of you, unplaceable and unmistakable, like a perfume bringing back the skin of someone whose face you don't remember.

Goodbye, mistakes I never fixed, quarrels I never righted, opportunities I never exploited, places I never went. Some failure is to be expected.

I don't stay too long. You can't sit on the floor in someone else's kitchen and cry too long, and besides there's the last rounds of packing left to do. I stand up and lift the girls up in the air one at a time and hug and kiss them and say goodbye forever to the idea that they are somehow mine, my secret, imaginary daughters. I say goodbye to their first days of schools and their first loves and everything of theirs I'll never know about.

I know that when the last boxes are in the truck and the door is locked for the last time with the key left underneath the mat, I know the road will wind out as smooth as thread off a spool and the crest of every hill will open up the sky into endless horizons. It's time, anyway. It's been too long since I left everything behind. Which you can never do, of course, but you can try.

Thursday, June 09, 2011


My lover is the owner of a huge hotel, but it is more like a fortress, full of tracking devices and booby traps. I admire how perfectly he controls his environment, how imperviously he is defended, until it is time for me to go and then he traps me between two walls and slits the vein in my throat.

I see him come toward me with the blade in his hand, small and serated like a steak knife. I know it will hurt, and it does. My throat ticks blood.

We have a long conversation while I bleed. We laugh a lot, and sometimes I forget I am dying, but my eyes keep trying to close.

He tells me I should call a doctor.

I know. I know. I try to think how I will get up. I don't know where to find a phone.

I ask him to hold me. He does. His shoulders are broad and for a second I feel safe and warm but then he pushes me away. I don't trust you, he says. You tried to leave me. I can never love you now.

I tell him I'm sorry. I am so tired now. I ask him again to hold me.

I can't, he says. You're covered in blood.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Dreaming about tornadoes, I wake up and think: I ought to tell you that I love you now because the world is ending but the world is always ending. Tornadoes are everywhere. I grew up in tornado country and I know about bruise-colored clouds with funnels hanging down like dirty little fingers poking out of the sky. I dream about them more and more.

They are the perfect food for nightmares, so violent and fickle and specific. What other disaster picks its victims up with such malicious delicacy? They'll rip your neighbor's bedroom out of the ground and spread it over the next two counties and leave your kitchen immaculate, with the cat food in the bowl and the teaspoon in your favorite coffee cup. In the nightmares I'm always doing something else that seems important -- packing to leave town, arguing with a friend -- but once I see the tornado there's only the tornado. It's far away and then it's close and then it swoops down and slaps the glass out of the window like a hand to a face.

Wheatsville, yesterday, lunchtime, eating quinoa salad and hippie rootbeer outside on a bench. Two women are crossing the parking lot, bare legs shimmering under their skirts in heat of the first really hot day of summer and then there's that funny moment when you see that the stranger you're staring at is someone you know. I stand up and say Amy Jean's name and she and her friend walk over and that's also someone I know. Her name is Callie. The three of us lifted weights together for a while one summer.

I hug Amy Jean and Callie hugs me and everybody sits down. Amy Jean is at that point in being in love with someone wonderful and amazing where it's all she can really talk about, so we talk about it for a while. "It's crazy," says Amy Jean, who two years ago was getting divorced and buying a house and losing her stepfather to cancer. "I mean, I totally would have told you before that I knew what love was. I really thought I did, and this is just so much more incredible than I ever thought anything would have ever felt." They're moving to South America at the end of the summer.

This makes me hurt and smile because this is what you say when you're really in love, every time you're ever in love. It's always the first and the best and the last and the always. It is the best, always. It's supposed to be.

"I mean, I did tons of drugs in art school and none of them ever made me feel this good," Amy Jean says. "I feel totally not afraid and totally sane. Like really not afraid of anything. Like anything could happen, and I would still be good."

I say I remember that feeling, when C. and I were first together. "I remember thinking -- it was weird -- but that anything could happen. If he left me, even, I would be fine. I was that much better for ever having been in love like that. Before that being in love was always something really desperate and scary."

"Are you still together now?" Callie asks.

"Yeah." I've decided to keep the answers to these questions simple. I don't know if I'm being avoidant or polite or both.

"How long?"

"Almost eight years, I guess. Yeah."

"Are you still in love like that? I'm sorry, I guess it's a weird question. I just wonder lately if that's even possible. I don't know if you know, but my husband is leaving me."

Now I remember, yes, her hug was a little longer and tighter than I would have expect, a little skin-hungry. I say I'm sorry, which is still, after all these years, the only thing I know how to say.

"He left me for one of his students," Callie says. "One of his former students. She's twenty-two. I know, it's really bad. I'm that person. I never thought I'd be that person. My life is this dumb cliche."

I get that too. If love makes everything always new, heartbreaks make everything stupidly the same, even the fiercest of them, sucking the color and the shading out of everything. I am a stick figure, you are a stick figure and here we go its this bullshit again.

"I have times when I feel really good," Callie says. "Sometimes, like today, I think it's totally going to be OK and I'll find someone else and it will feel really good and this will be over."

"It will be like that," Amy Jean says, still lit up inside with new-love-true-love oozing over and she reaches across the table and touches Callie's hand. "It totally will be. You're going to find someone great and you're going to feel amazing."

Callie looks at Amy Jean and then at me.

"Well, I mean," I say. "It isn't like that all the time. It doesn't stay like that forever. But it's not like somebody pulls a plug in a bathtub and it all drains away either, you know? It has its cycles. It dies back for a little bit. You can have a bad season, a few bad seasons. But hopefully there's something under there, like a good roots system, and it comes back over and over and actually it is pretty amazing. Yeah."

Amy Jean is nodding and smiling and drifting away. You can't really hear this kind of thing when you're in love and everything is new. You're not supposed to. All that oxytocin is wiping your brain clean like a wet cloth on a chalkboard so you can bond and have tons of sex and raise babies. She excuses herself and goes into the store and Callie and I sit on the bench a while longer watching the parking lot shimmer like it's all a mirage or else something projected on a sheet that any second could be whisked away to show us what's behind.

"It's been hard, honestly" Callie says. "It's been really hard. Some days I feel alright, but other days are just, whatever. What kills me is thinking, you know, we are still actually married. I am his wife. I don't even know where he's staying. He's with her, wherever they are. Driving around inmy car, that I paid for."

"That is really awful."

"I am so sad."

"You have a right."

We sit for a bit and then I start telling her about this book I was reading on shamanism, this part about initiations. There was one initiation ritual -- I want to say it's Siberian or Inuit, somewhere really cold -- where they take you out and strip your clothes off and leave you in the snow to die. What they tell you is that demons are coming to eat all the flesh off your bones. And they make a prayer for you that all the demons come and every part of you gets eaten. You freeze almost to death and then they come back and get you and thaw you out and if you make it back you come back with all these powers but only over the demons that ate you. Because you can't heal any pain you haven't felt.

"That makes sense," Callie says.

Amy Jean comes back outside and we talk for a while about something else. Everybody stands up to go.

"Hey," Amy Jean says. "I heard you were moving. I completely forgot."

"I am moving."


"A few weeks. I'm feeling good about it. This town and I are in a dry season."

"It's beautiful there, right?"

"It is. The river is about five minutes from my new house."

We all hug goodbye for who knows how long and we all promise that they will come to see me and we will go rafting. I hope it works out.

Friday, April 29, 2011

I get home from work in the afternoon and open my door the sound of a power drill. The house was foreclosed on in the earlier part of the year, and it's been sold twice since then, disturbing my quasi-legal squatting arrangement in the west unit, considered uninhabitable due to the leak in the roof, the holes in the floor, and the mold. Somehow I lived there for two years; it went by very fast.

So now I am living in the east side of the house with C. again. We are wary but friendly, two refugees crowded into the same tent. All the other tenants are leaving, one by one. The vegetable garden we all shared at the front of the house is torn up. The new owner wants xeroscaping. She's making improvements. No one could blame her. The place needs improving.

She hired a guy named Luis to rip down the walls in the ceilings in the west unit and make it all new again. He's been at it ten hours a day for the last few weeks, the hardest working guy in show business. I always wave at him when I go past. I wave at him today.

"Almost done," he says. "You want to see?"

You always want to see the place where you used to live. We go inside and walk through the rooms, looking at the smooth planes of fresh plaster, the shining white paint and dove-gray trim. For a second I feel like I'm dreaming. Everything is familiar and everything is different. A place I used to live, a long time ago.

"Wow. It looks amazing. Good job."

Luis wipes his forehead with the back of his arm. "It was a lot of work," he says.

"I bet."

For a minute when the house went on the market I thought maybe I should try to find a way to buy it. Then I thought, right. Buy this place I've been trying to get free of for the last god knows how many years. Buy this leaking roof and these mold-infested walls, this compromise, and spend the rest of my life trying to make it into something that I want. But that's not how the wind is blowing.

We go out on the porch. The yard out here used to be a wild place, a tangle of knotty shrubs and flowering weeks just barely pushed back enough for a few rows of chard and tomatoes and basil and sunflowers. It's all plowed down to the roots now and there's nothing wild about it anymore.

"Is she going to have you do the outside next?" I ask.

Luis shakes his head. I like his face. All the lines in it go up. "After I finish in there, I'm going home for a while. My son is getting married at the end of the month, back in Mexico."


"And my other son is graduating from college."

"Hey, that's great. Congratulations again."

"I have good kids," he says. "My son that's getting married, he's a lawyer."

"Wow. You must be proud."

"All good kids. All my kids go to college. Except for my daughter." He squints out over the yard, into the sun. "My daughter was in college, but she throws it all away to get married. I told her not to do it."

"Well, there's always time, right? She'll be OK."

"I think so. I think so. But I always tell her, you've got to do your school. Because for a woman, I think it is a lot harder. Do you know what I mean?" He looks at me earnestly. He has the kind of eyes that look like they're really looking at you. I nod. "Because you and me can do the same job," he says. "And I'm always going to get paid more for it. So I think it is harder to be a woman. I think a woman has to try a lot harder."

"I know what you're saying."

"What about you? Are you in school?"

"I'm going back."

"Congratulations," he says. "So we are both doing good."

We shake hands.

I unlock the door into C.'s place, our place. I am doing homework when he gets home. After a while I look out the window. There's an unfamiliar quality to the light, and then I see the storm cloud, colored orange by the end-of-day light.

"Baby, look."

It hasn't rained this spring at all. It hasn't rained since anybody can remember when. We are staring down the barrel of a 50-year drought and it's so hot already. It's so hot, and it's not even May yet.

C. and I go outside walk down to the end of the street where we can see it better. It is enormous, roiling, and coming fast. Other neighbors are already on the corner, staring up. I recognize the girl from across the alley. "You heard the governor prayed for rain this weekend, right?" she says.

"Sweet Baby Jesus," C. says. "Who did he pray to?"

"I guess we'll find out." The neighbor girl shivers and wraps her arms around herself. "We ought to get inside before that hits us," she says.

We go back to the house and I go back to doing my homework. Once in a while I reach up and turn down the buzzing SC unit to see if I'll hear rain, but I don't. Later I lie in bed, fantasizing about water from the sky, running off the eaves and filling the creeks. I dream of mud puddles and dams over-flowing, but it's no good. In the morning when we wake up the ground is dry as a bone and it's a beautiful day, not a cloud in the sky.

Thursday, April 21, 2011


In a kind of hotel room with my parents. My father is telling a joke. Earlier we were going for a walk next to cliffs made of sand. The joke my father is telling is, It's like rape or bad weather, you can't do anything about it, so you might as well lay back and enjoy it.

Stop saying that, Dad. That's not funny. Stop it.

What are you, the word police around here? It's a joke.

It's not funny.

My father turns around and starts telling the joke to my mother. She starts laughing. I pick up everything I know will smash and throw it at the wall --

It's a joke, my mother says. It's just a joke. All you have to do is laugh. It's easy, see? Watch.

But it's not funny. It's not funny, right? It isn't.

--tea cups, cocktail glasses, framed photographs. The last thing I throw is myself out the door.

This is one of those weird dream hotels: hallways of hallways, rooms spilling into other rooms. I hear their voices everywhere. Punch and fucking Judy. Staircases that don't go up or down, just around and around. I run, ripping open door after door after door looking for one, just one, one goddamn door without you behind it.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Sunday, April 03, 2011


I am looking at myself in the mirror and my skin is cracking like the bottom of a dried-up river bed. A tag of it is loose on my cheekbone, peeling up, and I take hold of the edge of it and pull and a piece the size of a silver dollar comes away in my hand. I see other tags of skin sticking up and I keep grabbing them and peeling. I peel too much and I start to bleed but I think this is not a bad thing.
Sitting out on my stump in the graveyard, holding my ankle in my hand and crying a little bit. I sprained my ankle last summer around the same time that I broke my heart; they both took longer to heal than I expected, and I wondered if this was because I am older than I used to be. Sometimes it still aches, or I imagine that it does. It's hard to tell.

I press my thumb now into the spot where the fibula articulates with the talus. There ought to be a tendon there, but I seem to feel only a crescent-shaped empty space, as if the long bone of the leg had never really touched down into its nest again. I think there is a word for an indentation of this shape and I chew through my mind after it for a while. Sulcus? I think I used to know.

The pressing in hurts and the emptiness scares me and I start to tear over. It's easy to cry because I am a little bit drunk. Before I came out to the graveyard I went to lunch with Sammie out at the lake. Sammie drank lemon soda because he had to go back to work and I drank Riesling because I didn't.

Sammie had been calling me for a couple of weeks and I'd been letting his calls go because social graces are always the first thing I let lapse when I feel stretched thin. When I finally answered last week he told me he'd bought a new watch.

"Neat," I said.

"It is neat," Sammie said. "But was really neat was the girl who sold it to me. She had such pretty eyes and such pretty hair and she was so nice. And she gave me her card and told me if I had any questions about the watch I should call her. Do you think I should call her?"

"Do you have any questions about the watch?"

"Not really."

"Can you make one up?"

"That sounds complicated. Can't I just ask her out? I mean, the worst thing that can happen is she says no, right?"


"You don't think that would be creepy?"

"No. It would only be creepy if you were a creepy guy, and you're not. Just be casual about it and be prepared to take it gracefully if she says no."


Sammie was a customer of mine when I was a dancer. He used to get panic attacks when he thought about talking to pretty girls. Sammie's parents got divorced when he was three and his mother spent the next seven years dying painfully of cancer and he has been in therapy since basically ever. Paying naked women to talk to him and knowing they would never leave as long as he kept paying them fit into Sammie's schema of life quite well. He used to buy out my whole evenings and I could pay a months rent and bills with what I'd make. I'd feel bad sometimes, but Sammie comes from money and will always come from money and money is not one of the things he has to worry about in this lifetime.

We quit going to club around the same time. It didn't work for either of us anymore. We kept in touch, maybe because he really did just finally spend enough to buy a claim on my affections. We ended up knowing a lot about each other, things we can't talk about with too many other people.

Today he called me up and said he asked the girl at the jewelry store out and the girl said no. I still think this is progress, and I said so.

"Did I tell you I bought a new car?" Sammie said. "It's the kind of car that really needs a girl in it. Can I come and take you for a ride?"

I say OK and twenty minutes later Sammie is there in his new car. I know jack-all about cars, but I know this is a beauty. It's a Mercedes with a bunch of letters in its name, tiny and sleek and low to the ground, and I feel a wash of self-consciousness just walking out to the curb. "Way to set my neighborhood on its ear, Sammie," I say. "They all thought I was a really nice girl."

"I know. Isn't it great?"

Then Sammie makes the car go around curves and corners fast all the way to the restaurant and I cling to the inside of the passenger door and scream and Sammie says, "This, this, is how this car is meant to be driven."

Over lunch, over wine and lemon soda, he asks me how things went in San Francisco and I say, "Fine. Well. Kind of underwhelming, really. I don't think they were very impressed with me and I wasn't very impressed with them either, to be honest. I don't think we found each other, uh, relevant."

"That's fine," he says. "It's the wrong place for you anyway. You know it's really cold and gray there all the time, right?"

"I know. But they have such good Thai food. Anyway, I already got accepted to the other place."

"Well, that's great then. Are you happy?"


"Your heart's not still broken, is it?" This in reference to a conversation we had on the phone some months ago, when it still was.

"No. I don't think so. Just, you know, big changes. New city. New, uh, course of inquiry, or whatever. Whenever you're about to move on from something, you wonder if you did it right, right? If you made the right decisions. If you got everything out of it that you could have. If you really sucked it dry, you know? Or if you're leaving meat on the bones."

"Huh. Well, I don't think you need to reproach yourself too much. You've done about as much living as anyone I know."

In the final analysis, I think so too. But everybody's got unlived parts of themselves, and those are the dangerous parts. Those are the parts you go projecting onto other people and then grasping after, thinking you'll be whole.

"Yeah. Hey, listen, I'm going to have another glass of wine and then I'm going to burst into tears, OK?"

And I do. And Sammie is so good about it, so good and nice. He doesn't look around to see if anyone else is looking at us. He sits with me and after a little while he reaches across the table and squeezes my wrist, but only very gentle and not for too long because he would never want to do anything, you know, creepy.

After I sprained I had to walk carefully. I found out I'd been bearing my weight too far to the outside of the foot, stretching the ligament out imperceptibly, constantly, til it give way under no provocation at all, really, the slightest shift of weight.

Injuries are the best teachers. Some teacher of mine told me that years ago, when I was in the hospital. It was golden to me at the time. In the cemetery later, afternoon-drunk, wine-drunk, the drunk of easy tears, I sit on my stump holding my ankle, pressing into the healed spot, wondering if there's supposed to be something there or if it's OK that there's an empty space.

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

San Francisco tomorrow for grad school interview. Bought a dress to wear. Gray silk, very pretty. Was supposed to have lunch with the engineer today but he bailed on me by text right before. I was at work, giving the sink a final wipe-down with dilute bleach, last thing I do before I go home for the day, when my phone buzzed in my pocket.

Working. Can't do lunch. Can leave early and meet your somewhere though.

He wants to give me money. He brought it up when I told him last week I was going. For traveling he said. Spending money.

I pretend I don't know this. Pretty busy this afternoon. See you when I get back, OK?

Want to give you some cash.

That's so sweet. I don't need a thing, tho. See you when I get back?

My next text back to him is going to say, I'm not your fucking daughter. I don't know why this money thing is so loaded for me, if it's just compulsive self-sufficiency or what. I wish we could just hang out.

Last time we had lunch he felt me up over coffee, grabbed my knees and spun me to face him across the corner of the table. He said, "You don't wear a skirt for me for a year and now you have to go and ruin it with tights? That depresses me." His thumbnail found a rib in my tights and traced it up the inside of my thigh.

"How's Beth?"

Beth is his new girlfriend. The three of volunteered at a shelter for stay dogs over Christmas. She seems nice.

He straightened slightly, kept hold of my legs. "She's fine. We're not seeing much of each other, actually."

"Really? Why?"

He shrugs. "I don't know. She wants to - whatever you say. Take it to the next phase. I try to tell her I'm too messed up to be in a serious relationship. I can't make anybody else happy if I don't know how to be happy myself, right?"

I nod, because this sounds like a sensible thing to say, but I've heard from him it a million times now and I don't nod as much as I used to. This is a re-occurring theme of his, this not being happy, not knowing how. It comes up at every turn, like his bitterness against his mother, like his chronic pain and the shifting roster of pharmaceuticals with which he attempts to manage it.

"You don't feel happy when the two of you hang out?"

"No. I mean, I like her. But I don't feel anything lately, about anything. I don't even care about sex anymore. It's like I'm watching myself all the time."

"Huh. Well. She really seems to like you."

After I say this I wonder if I mean it or if I just think it's a nice thing to say. He is not an easy man to like -- exacting, tactless, with a spiteful sense of humor and a childish pleasure in being difficult. He is also, in the long-run, a very good and loyal friend but to notice this you have to watch the things he does and ignore the things he says, and this can be trying.

We went to dinner after we left the shelter, he and Beth and I. I watched him pick her apart until she finally slumped forward over the table, burying her face in her hands while I compulsively read the menu over and over and over like I was ten years old having dinner with my parents. When I couldn't stand it anymore I got up and went to the bathroom. Beth came in while I was washing my hands and something about the way her eyes met mine in the mirror made me say, "You know, Maurie's bite is really a lot worse than his bark."

"I know." She tossed her head, leaned forward toward the mirror and seemed to be examining her nose. "How long have you two known each other, anyway?"

"Gosh. Uh. A few years, I guess. It doesn't seem that long, but it is."

"Uh huh. So how did you meet?"

"In a yoga class." As far as I know, this is still the cover story.

"Oh, right. He told me that."

Good. Great. "Yeah, we just kind of hit it off."

Her eyes meet mine in the mirror again. I think I see a tinge of disbelief. "You guys seem close."

"Yeah, well. He's a great guy. A good friend. We have a lot in common, I guess."

"Really." I think she wants to ask me, like what? But I dry my hands off and pick my purse up off the counter.

"See you."

"See you."

She has a right to her suspicions. In truth, it is actually all far more sordid than she probably imagines. Her boyfriend met me like most men meet me, by paying me to take my clothes off. The road from there to here was long and winding, checkered with permutations of loneliness and companionship and affection and hostility, the undue influences of money and sex, the fear of death, and the milk of human kindness. And now we are friends. What the things are exactly that we have in common I couldn't tell you, but we are mutually concerned with one another's well-being, and if there's more to being someone's friend please tell me what it is.

So she is right to think it's fishy but at the same time if there's anyone whose legs her boyfriend could be groping under a table over lunch she'd might well want it to be me because the reason he likes me is that he can't make me cry and the reason he can't make me cry is because we are not and have not been and will not ever be in love.

I wish he'd let the money thing go, though. My phone buzzes in my pocket again and I don't look at it because I don't want to know what it says. I finish wiping out the sink and throw the dishcloth in the hamper. My coat is by the door. San Francisco in the morning and a gray dress to wear.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Tuesday, February 22, 2011


I am on the bus and I see I have missed my stop. We are way out in nowhere country, gray sky and grass the color of dirty water. I decide to stay on the bus until it turns around and comes back. I am angry because I will be late.

My mother is in my bedroom, going through my dresser drawers. What's this? she says. What's this? What's this? My dancer clothes spill out of her hands and make a history. Fishnets, sequins, fringes. Garterbelts. Stockings soft as whispers. Silk nightgowns.

I'm sorry, I say. I'm sorry. I just thought they were pretty, that's all.

She screams at me and her voice is a terrible wind and my father is there and his voice is also a terrible wind. They will destroy me, so I fight them like gods always have to be fought, with everything, for your life. I scream back at them, You should be proud of me. I was never afraid. You talk about compassion and loving your neighbor and looking for God in everyone, but I lived it and I never shut my eyes to anyway, not once, I never turned away and the winds rip my words out of my mouth.

Back on the bus. We stop in a kind of junk yard. I tell the driver I missed my stop. I'm waiting to go round again. He says this bus only goes one way. I have to get off now.

In the junkyard there is a shelter built out of wrecked things. Most of it is underground. I go inside. Two children are playing on a dirt floor. They stop and look up at me with eyes the color of mirrors. I ask them if they are happy. They say they are.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Lunch with Caroline, my old boss. We settle in and I ask about her kids and then after they bring us drinks I ask her how things are at the studio. She shrugs. "Drama," she says.

"More trouble with the police?"

"No. No more police. But it got broken into. Well, not really broken in. I gave this guy a key, this guy I was dating for a little while. When we broke up I didn't think to get the key back and he broke in and stole my laptop and tore up all my lingerie."

"Jesus. Are you serious?"

She nods. "You remember that kimono you liked?"

"The blue one? With the cranes?"

"No, the black. With the little red flowers. He tore it right up to the hip. What a freak, right?"


"So I changed all the locks. I think he was stealing money from me, too. Anyway, other than that things are good. What are you doing now?"

I tell her I'm working and going to school, and she says, "You're so industrious. Not me. I'm not what you'd call motivated."

"That crazy. You work all the time." She is always changing her website, tinkering with her advertising, maximizing profit margins, justifying charging the highest rates in town and flipping the bird to the hobbyists in the adult review boards.

"Well, it's different when you're making a lot of money. I don't think I'd roll over in bed for ten dollars an hour. I don't know what I'd do if I couldn't do this. I've had tons of other jobs and I always end up quitting."

"Well, I know what you mean. I mean, I do miss it."

"The money?"

"Sort of. I do OK right now, though. But being able to, you know, turn my body into money whenever I felt like it. It was like a super power. Do you know I mean?"

"Yeah. Like, you can wake up in the morning with nothing by the time you go to bed you'll have a grand in the bank."


Because you can lose it all, over and over again, and make it all back, and you're never stuck in one place. You never have to keep your mouth shut and do what you're told, never have to be anybody's idea of a good sport, a sweet girl, a little trooper, not ever again, not for more than a few hours, anyway.

"It's not just the money, though. I mean, I really miss it."

"The clients?"

"I mean, not specifically, really. But yeah. I don't know if I was really helping people or whatever, but I did feel like I was making connections with people. They come in and really show themselves to you and talk about stuff they can't really talk about with anyone in their lives, and I would hear them and not judge them. And that means something, you know? People don't have that many chances to talk about that stuff and be heard and not be judged."

"Well, I do think that helps people," Caroline says. She would say this, of course. This is exactly the kind of service she advertises, with some more stuff about goddess energies and ecstatic bliss states, but in the end it really all boils down to this."

"I think so, too."

I miss feeling so close to the raw nerve centers of things. I am not very social, and small talk makes me tired. If I'm going to engage with someone, it might as well be real. People are never casual or superficial when it comes to their sexuality, not really, or if they are that in and of itself is fascinating.

And then, there was a kind of grace in being a fallen woman in my own mind. A set of questions I didn't have to ask myself anymore. Like, Am I normal and Would people like me if they really knew everything about me? because No and Not all of them, probably.

I remember back in high school after some new bout of experimenting how I'd curl into myself thinking, "Oh God now I've really done it, really gone too far." Feeling terrible, and also relieved of the awful weight of being good.

I put my spoon down on the table harder than I mean to. Throw it, really. I say, "I work in a bakery and teach yoga to children. How fucking wholesome is that? I don't have any secrets anymore."

I'm shouting, but in a normal tone of voice, because you never know who's listening. Caroline chews a bite of food and swallows, staring at me the whole time with her habitual expression of mild surprise. "Well," she says. "You know you can always come back and work for me. I'd love to have you back. My little strawberry blonde."

I knew she'd ask me if I brought it up. I didn't know what I'd say. I still don't. I spread my hands and shrug.

She's warming to the idea now. "It'd be so easy, love. You wouldn't have to lift a hand. Someone would take all your calls and make all your bookings for you and all you'd have to do is show up and do what you do."

"I don't know. I don't even know if this make sense. It's just this weird feeling, missing it. I wonder if I'm -- I don't know --addicted or something."

"Well, how long has it been? Six months?"

"Six or seven. Maybe eight."

"You're not addicted, honey. Me, I'm addicted. I told you, I couldn't do anything else. I mean, I've even been thinking -- " she leans forward and lowers her voice even further, "--I've even been thinking about doing full service. And you know I've never done that, never offered that. But I feel like if I'm going to have the kinds of experiences I've been having with men -- I mean, if men are just going to drain me dry anyway, at least I could be getting paid for it. Know what I mean?"

I nod.

"Anyway, you should really come back. I mean, you can't pay for school working at a bakery, can you? I can have clients for you right away. Tonight if you wanted."

I'd never work for Caroline again. She's careless. She makes enemies who call the cops, and she gives keys to the studio to sketchy guys who rip up lingerie.

"I don't know. I'll think about it. I'm tempted. But."

She pouts. "I don't think you're tempted at all."

"I'll think about it. Really."

"Well. I'm a bad friend, aren't I? Here you're telling me you think you're addicted and all I want to do is seduce you back."

"It's OK. I like being seduced by you."

And I let her pay for lunch, because she can turn her body into money any time, and I can't anymore.

Wednesday, February 02, 2011

Coming home on the bus, twilight. It is cold and has been getting colder all day and then I see a bear, standing at a trashcan by the bus-stop near the highway, not too far from the bar that used to be the Crazy Lady when I danced there a million years ago but is now the town's only all-Spanish strip club, Chicas Bonitas.

Of course it cannot be a bear, but I have been reading Arnold Mindell and trying to practice what he calls the second attention. So I watch the cannot-be-a bear rummage through the trash can until the bus pulls up and then it turns around and turns into a woman who gets on the bus and sits down next to me. "Hey, honey," she says. "What're you reading?"

I close my book so she can see the cover: Essentials of Statistics for the Behavioral Sciences.

"Is it any good?" she asks.

I say it is pretty good.

"You must be in college."

"I am."

"Smart girl. I got a degree, too, you know. Course, I'm flying a sign now. Lookit me." She laughs.

"What did you study?"

"English. Literature. I was a school teacher. In South Florida. Course I wish I was there today."

We nod knowingly at each other and pantomime shivering, rubbing our arms with our hands. Her knuckles are red and chapped and so are mine. Lately I have been noticing my age is showing up faster in my hands than in my face.

"I liked to party, though," she says. Her eyes drift. "That was always my problem. I was good-looking, though. You know. You know, girl." She nudges me. "I got caught with a kilo of coke."

"Oh. Wow." I look at her, trying to see the good-looking, partying, South Florida school-teacher. Her skin is blown and sun-baked to a desert brown. Her hair, dyed blonde at some point, looks harsh as a bristle brush. Her eyes are the color of amber, and then they catch my own with a spark and I see it. I see her on beach in a white dress where waves like champagne bubbles lick her feet and the wind tosses her hair out behind her.

The air around her is stale and rich with booze and cigarettes and her own ripe flesh. I don't mind it. "Did you go to prison?" I want to know.

She laughs. "Hell, yeah. In Florida. South Florida. I do OK, though. I still got it. My last boyfriend was seventeen years younger than me, you believe that? He was a deejay. At a titty bar I was working at."

She straightens, looks at me. I wasn't a dancer," she says. "I was a cocktail waitress." He face relaxes back into a grin. "Still, though, you know. You know. I'm telling you, girl, I got it. Been there, done that. I been there and done that, girl."

I nod, reach up and pull the cord that tells the driver to stop.

"You getting off? This your stop?" She looks out the window and something, I don't know what, clicks together in her brain. She puts her hand on my arm, protectively. "Hey, honey. You're not staying there behind the Shell station are you? That's a...bad place."

I promise her I'm not. She strokes my arm. He eyes clear, then cloud again. "That's right. Smart girl. College girl. I must stink like beer, girl. Sorry."

The bus stops. I stand up and put my bag over my shoulder. I tell her my name. She tells me hers. We shake hands. "Hey, honey," she says. "Hey, babe, do you have a dollar?"

I put my hand in my pocket. There is one dollar in there, exactly. Love is going to cost me something yet again, but this time only a dollar. I find it by feel and give it to her and get off the bus in the dark.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

School today; homework due on Tuesday. I have to start keeping a calendar again, so I can write down things like, homework due on Tuesday.

Luckily it's one of those 18 month calendars, so you can just rip out everything up to January and pretend it never happened. I got this calendar when I was taking bookings for my friend Caroline. So the first few weeks of the calendar is just men's names and phone numbers and lengths of time. Then I stopped, and after that there's just blank pages, weeks and weeks of nothing, of the same stuff every day. Then it says GRE and some dates.

I never write down anything interesting here, or I try not to. These are secret, squirrelly times, the times when I'm trying not to write things down. Words are a tough habit to kick. They still spill out from time to time. It starts with lists, but lists turn into more: a line of words, an arc of them, a drum beat of meaning, an scab that keeps breaking open. If I can't quit, at least I try to keep it corralled in the book with the black covers that I leave snugged in the bottom of my purse with the rubber band around it like a straight jacket. Sometimes the words escape onto the backs of envelopes, the bottom of old grocery lists. It always starts with lists. List of things I can't forget. Things I ought to do. Things I never said. Lists of other lists.

Old memory: my brother thrusting a sheet of my own handwriting in my face. What is this? Why do you do this? Snatching at it. Oh my god, don't touch that. Give it back, don't you get it? This is how i keep the world in order. This is how I spin to make the force of gravity that keeps us all in place. You don't know it but the only reason you are not flying off the face of the planet right now is that i have you on a list that says you can stay.