The Light of Your Eyes

Sunset

It was in the way you told me that summer night that we’d find a way back to each other, one way or another.

And how the postcards came in a full stream when you went on your great adventure, then steadied out, then went to a trickle, then stopped altogether.

It was in the way I couldn’t find your address when you were living abroad, and so we went months incommunicado.

It was us meeting in a crowd at a concert when you came back, and the way the glow of the sunset caught your blonde hair in a halo.

It was making love that first night back, in the backseat of your car, parked on one of the Smoky Mountains.

And then, maybe it was you heading off again, chasing a band halfway across the country, and how I said I’d be here when you got back.

Or maybe it was the fight when I saw you kiss the bassist, you telling me I didn’t own you, me saying it’s not like that, it’s just that we were supposed to be together, you saying I was maudlin.

There’s the way we made up after you left the band’s gang of roadies, catching a movie at the drive-in, my hand creeping up your leg.

I think of how I left to go off to grad school, and how I saw no one that first semester though I had the opportunity.

How we skyped to keep the flame alive, trading off horror movies to watch, and the way your smile was hurt at the end of each call.

I think it’s the way I came back for summer break and we entwined on your porch hammock, saying that this night wouldn’t end if we didn’t want it to.

It was you soaking my hand with your tears, holding me to you, not letting go even though I had to leave, had to make my plane, so we made love and I caught the next one.

It was drinking at a dorm room party and being forced by a friend into dancing with a girl who was eyeing me, and kissing her under the glow of Christmas lights.

It was skipping one Skype session, then two, telling you I was busy with schoolwork while I just couldn’t face you, couldn’t look you in the eye.

It was telling you when I couldn’t hold it in any longer and the way your face voided of all emotion, how you looked me in the eye before hanging up.

It was reaching your voicemail again and again, then you telling me to stop calling, so I started texting instead.

Maybe it was when you finally answered me, said this wouldn’t happen again, and I promised it wouldn’t, swore to you.

It might’ve been in the way I sent you flowers at the end of every week, not letting up though you told me to stop, laughing as you did.

I think it was the way the girl from the party hit me up, asked what I was up to, and I hesitated before telling her I wasn’t free.

I’m thinking it was asking you what we were, you asking why we had to be something, why we couldn’t just be.

Or maybe it was asking why we were exclusive then if we were just supposed to be, and you demanding rather than asking that I didn’t want to be exclusive.

It was ending that Skype call and punching the wall till I made a hole, nursing my fist after, icing it with frozen peas.

I’m pretty sure it was coming to see you unannounced, getting there just in time to see the guy you’d been fucking drive away.

How you flushed when I asked what that was, what the fuck that was, and you trying to tell me you get lonely sometimes.

Or maybe it was me screaming you don’t think I get lonely too, you think I don’t know how hard this is, whatever this is.

Or saying I wish I never met you, you crying right after I said it, and wanting to take it back but not being able to.

There was how we ended that night, together in your hammock, both of us crying, your head against my chest.

After that, there was me leaving again, with no guarantee that what happened wouldn’t happen again.

There was getting home and hitting up the girl from the party, coming back to my dorm room and fucking.

There was ditching out on the Skype calls for a week, then two, then a month, barely answering texts from you.

Then of course there was you calling and saying you couldn’t live without me, that you had no idea why I was doing this.

It was me saying I couldn’t do this anymore, this constant back and forth, and that if we were together we were together.

And you saying okay, and me saying no, I mean it, and you insisting that you did too, and the way I admitted to fucking that girl.

And how you said it was okay, it was in the past, granting me clemency just like that, and how I wanted to kiss you so bad in that moment.

There was dropping out of grad school and moving halfway across the country to be with you, and living together.

But more than all of it, than anything at all, it was catching the light of your eyes in the Arizona sunset when I told you that I loved you.

button

Party Hats

Razzle

It felt like life had been tuned to the wrong channel.

Hal unpacked quickly, not doing a thorough job, just getting it all out. He hadn’t thought to get furniture, so that first night would be spent sleeping on the floor. He’d get a cot the next day, and the week after that a proper bed. Everything in its time.

Hal unpacked the trinkets last, left the ones he got from her in the box till he could figure out what he would do with them. His first instinct was toss, the best thing would be to toss, but knowing himself he’d probably keep them in a private shrine.

He inhaled the fact that he knew no one here. That he was a seal on the shore, skin ragged, miles away from its herd. Exhaled loneliness and the smell of cat food. His cat was depressed and so ate more to try to quell the pain. There was no use for Hal to simply feed him less. The cat mewled and clawed the door till Hal popped open another can.

He considered getting cat Prozac, maybe regular Prozac too. Something to put on the list, anyway.

Finding a reason to get out of bed became hard, so he turned it into a game. If he got out of bed before noon, he could put a party hat on the cat. The cat was too depressed to do anything, so the party hats would pile up day after day until the cat was a display cat advertising party hats.

He met her on a Sunday afternoon. Maybe met isn’t the right word. Maybe stare in disbelief and wonderment across the library is the right way to put it. She was reading something by Murakami, had a selection of Díaz stacked next to her. A fat copy of Infinite Jest covered her hands as she read. Hal went over and waited as if in line. When she acknowledged him, he spewed his adoration for the authors she’d chosen. He tacked on an invitation to coffee at the end and she said maybe.

The maybe was a no. He went back to the library the next weekend, prowling where he’d met her. Went back to the coffee place at the time they’d agreed upon the next week in case she’d misunderstood. Nothing.

And so it was back to putting party hats on the cat. Peeling open cans and plopping out food. Hal unpacked the trinkets she left him. He tossed them in a bag and put the bag in his front lawn and set the bag on fire. As the plastic burned and wafted a dying smell, Hal watched intently.

It got so he couldn’t put hats on the cat, because he stopped getting up before noon. Couldn’t find a reason to keep going.

And so back to the library. He goes back to the appointed spot and she’s actually there. She notices him right away but acts like she doesn’t see him. Hal goes up to her. Is she reading anything? And no, she isn’t. Is she busy at the moment? And no, not particularly busy. Would she want to get a bite to eat somewhere nearby? And umm, okay. Really? And yeah, really.

Her name was Julia. Hal and Julia spoke of The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, and of 1Q84, and of the way the stories were structured in Drown. They traded new authors, old favorites, and ones you might not have heard of. They labored over Wallace’s sentence structure and Zadie Smith’s use of POV and Eggers’ sense of place. They spoke at length.

When it was all over, she gave him her number without him first asking for it. When Hal got home, he gave his cat three party hats, one for each segment of his body.

They went out the next weekend and the weekend after that. Their hangouts were equal parts literary love and adventure. Ducking out to hang at the aquarium and Hal imagining putting party hats on all the sharks. When she inquires, he tells her of the party hat cat. The reason for the hats. He tells her she’s the reason he gets up now and she smiles in a nervous way, like if she makes a single wrong move it’ll all go away.

When they make love, it’s like dawn’s light filling in all the cracks on the sunscape. It’s an ethereal thing that leaves its impression in the sand before getting up and diving into the water. Hal makes those up and tells her, asks her what she thinks. She says it’s worthy of DFW and he says stop but almost laughs from excitement.

Can a love ever really be pure anymore? In our times, can it be? I don’t know about yours, but for Hal and Julia it was. They did things like yawn out of bed in the morning and then come back into the golden light of dawn to kiss through morning breath and make love one last time before getting up and going about their day.

I can’t find a reason to make their story a sad one, so I won’t. I’ll make theirs a story of them gifting new books at every holiday, of staying madly and ferociously in love every day, over and over again, of trading off who gets to put on the party hats.

button

A Partial List of Things You’ll Miss When You Leave Alayna Greene

The Britney Spears socks she gave you, holes in the big toes, the ones that made her legs look long long long, and how you’d kiss her forehead when she wore them; the hairs she’d shed that always seemed to make their way into your mouth no matter what, even when she was gone; the DS game with the Japanese synchronized singing monkeys, you and Alayna singing along with them, laughing over their song; the caricatured photos you got done in a mall somewhere, Alayna thinking her lips were too pouty, you easing her self consciousness for the rest of the night; the stop sign you dismantled from its pole, octagonal abs under your shirt when you stuffed it and made your escape; the heart shaped stone you saved from being skipped across the pond and the way she called you a dork when you gave it to her, and then it was forever known as the dork stone; the watercolor trees she painted for you, delicate linework, sprouting from the clouds and reaching for the ground; the medal you earned from the Spartan race, Alayna puking in a plastic bag when it was over and you contracting a three week rash, taking vinegar baths for the duration, smelling like Easter; the piece of toast preserved in sandwich baggy, her insisting it bore the image of Jesus, you saying it looked more like a bearded Christopher Walken, putting off the inevitable call you’d make to the local news station, until it was too late; the shard of mirror you kept after she shattered it with a steaming tea kettle, scalding water burning into hardwood; the telescope you and Alayna used to scope out UFOs, only ever catching the scarred face of the moon, a couple satellites, the windows of a nighttime 747, passengers unaware, some asleep, others staring back out into the night; the handwritten tabs to an old Death Cab song, Alayna’s middle school boy lyrics interposed onto them so that she will follow you into the fart; the button from the boxers you tore when she threatened to leave for the first time, cloth burn from tearing at it, ripping your finger open, smearing blood on the tatters of your underwear as she told you to stop, just stop; a loose plank you stole from the House on the Rock, standing at the edge of the infinity room and wondering if this really is forever; the happy Buddha statue she got from a yard sale and gave to you, then threw into Lake Michigan because she “saw where your eyes were going,” fireworks overhead signalling a reminder of our independence, and sparklers, and a look daddy it’s so bright; a fortune from a cookie from the place with the name that made no sense, Three Happiness, this one reading, “The well you’re drawing from has already run dry.”; the Mario Kart game you always let her win at till you couldn’t let her win anymore and every race became vicious, just like that, making the last turn, heading into the final lap; the Buddha she carved from wood, reclining under the Bodhi Tree, and the poem you gave her in return, not measuring up, drawing tears but for the wrong reason, ending up torn and in the trash, the statue placed over the fireplace; the paint stirrer stained a cerulean blue from the first coat she put on in the new place, and deep dish pizza eaten on hardwood floor, no furniture yet, laughing with mouths full, cross-legged, boxes everywhere; the notes you crumpled and then un-crumpled, hid away in a drawer somewhere, things like, “Working late tonight. Leftovers in fridge. Don’t stay up for me.”; the pillowcase you stained with your sweat, her pillowcase, stained because you’d spoon it on the nights when she’d come home at like 2:30, crash on the couch and be gone in the morning before you even woke up so it was like she wasn’t ever there at all; the ticket stubs you found in the recycling, the collection she’d once made of all the movies you’d seen together, some so old you couldn’t even read the ink anymore, Alayna insisting she was just cleaning house; the zafu you’d bring out when she still wasn’t home and you needed to breathe, your cat nuzzling against your arm as you meditated, bugging you until you practically had to pet him, him meowing till you’d say something back, then resting his head on the cushion and going to sleep; the bike you took out on your day off, on a whim, riding forty miles north, just needing to go up up up, going twenty miles without water in the heat, vision becoming a black tunnel leading only away, popping a tire on the way back and riding that way for miles, till the rubber was shredded beneath the rim and the metal scraped sparks against gravel; the weight vest you loaded all the way up without prior practice, running eighteen miles, something happening in your chest like a glass being broken on pavement, and stopping at the banks of Lake Michigan in the shimmering quiet, peering into all that dark, one foot out and ready to step in, and taking off the vest instead, tossing it in and watching as it disappeared into nothing; the shirt you wore when you came back home from work that night, fog rolling over the park on your walk back, and how you needed to stay there, to sleep on the grass, and when you woke up in the morning the shirt was plastered to your body and you had a cough for a week but were otherwise fine; the key you gave back when it was time to go, and the cry you shared, a tired one, with love still coloring the edges of it, leaning on each other so you wouldn’t fall down down down, and the very last kiss you planted on her forehead.

button

What She Will Do

She will make you watch for allusions in shows, books, movies. She will cause you to chew a little slower, to un-hamfist your fork and get your elbows off the table. She will alert you to the mounds of garbage mountain-ranging through your apartment, the clothes un-hampered and wrinkled. She will teach you what cumin is. She will show you how to follow a recipe. She will convince you to get slippers, to not walk barefoot through a home of garbage. She will say hey you should clean up this garbage home. She will get you to clean up this garbage home. She will drink your tea and read your stories at night, blue-and-white flashing police box outside the only light to read by. She will take you to an Asheville drum circle where you will dance and frolic. She will smell of the ocean and of furs, many furs. She will kiss your nose after she comes, a tiny present for what has happened here between you. She will will shebears to come for you if you ever piss her off. She will smell of cinnamon and the must of her pillow, which will not go away, even after the wash. She will check your phone and find nothing. She will ask what you have deleted. She will say you’re a fuck and she can smell it on you. She will not believe that the smell is her smell, that it always has been. She will be able to get around your garbage home without once looking at you: a magic trick. She will run the sink loud enough for you to not hear when she’s “freshening up.” She will not know that you can hear her retching, the quiet drops into porcelain. She will water down your bottles of hard cider, put her socks in the fridge. She will come home to drop her things and to drop her keys and to drop on the couch. She will be dropping all the time. She will say do you love me, say not ask, in her sleep, on the couch, on the floor, wherever it’s horizontal. She will make biscuits for a small army, eat one, give the rest to the squirrels. She will make them happy squirrels. She will break her key off in the lock, close the door, lock you out. She will not answer the door no matter what you say, what you do. She will hang your belongings from rope outside the windows: an art installation. She will have men over to sit on the other side of the room, tell them to wait for their appointed time, make them leave. She will try to do the right thing. She will say I can’t hear you this is a soundproof door, I don’t need you, come back tomorrow. She will Eternal Sunshine you, then remember, then Eternal Sunshine you again. She will let you in. She will ignore the garbage mountain ranges, the piedmont of dirty clothes. She will put her elbows on the table. She will hamfist her fork. She will have something on as background noise, feed-swiping, coming up for air when necessary. She will fall asleep there, somewhere it’s horizontal, and you will put a blanket over her. She will rest.

button

Yard Sale

He-Man w/ drawn-on mustache, missing an arm–$.50

The arm, you tell me, was lost in the battle of Rosie, circa ’99. You were prying a plastic bicep from the spaniel’s mouth while she dug claws into carpet you once “mowed” with scissors. Wires of spit dripped and Rosie severed his wrist, wishboning you back and under your bed. You were stuck and had to call for help, spine shaped like a C, and Rosie sprinted down the stairs, masticating He-Man’s fist. You can’t remember if you decided He-Man was a natural blonde with dyed-black mustache or the other way around. You hide the figure when a kid comes by. I put it back out when you aren’t looking. When you say Rosie, I see her as a wiggling old lady, pre-glaucoma, teaming up with the cats to tear open a bag of bagels.

Crocodile Dentist, down a couple teeth–$3.25

The game came from your speech therapy class, Ms. Susserman, and the way your Ss collided with your Js made her name especially sadistic. It wasn’t a class so much as a “seems legit” place in the mall, next to the Sears (or Jearj). Each tooth pulled was supposed to celebrate another S-sentence victory. The look on the crocodile’s face made the whole thing seem cruel, though. You dreamt of splintering teeth tumbling into sinks, onto tile. Collecting in piles so big you had to crunch through them to escape, molars and canines spilling out your bedroom window. A dust mote landed on Susserman’s tongue one time, tongue out to show proper pronunciation but looking more Communion-like, the wafer disintegrating on contact. And the way Jesus became Jejuj. I mark this down to a buck-fifty just to see it sell.

Chunky first-gen iPod (with Starry Night case)–$10

The iPod, sans-case, used to be filled with pre-us songs you collected from your gentleman callers. Your term, not mine. Lying on your bed as teenagers, watching the door for parentals. Afternoon light sleeping on the pillow next to us. I’d hum along to the pre-us songs, but it was hollow. The songs became endangered, and then extinct altogether. Buying the case for you at the mall and looking at it by starlight. Paused on one of my songs, in the middle of a field, brown leaves awkwardly-shaped mountains for the ants to crawl over. You touching each impressionistic swirl with your pinky, telling me these were astronomical phenomena that not even scientists in Van Gogh’s time knew about. Me saying there’s more truth in color on canvas than numbers on a page. You calling me a dork but kissing me anyway. I let it go for the full $10.

Pride hoodie (with rainbow pin)–$6

We went to Pride that year because we’d always wanted to. Because it seemed like the right time. An angel in a speedo came over, offered me his wand. He was a magic angel. And me not knowing what to do with my hands. You urgent-whispering for me to take it, like I’d been offered a rare delicacy and would anger the tribe should I refuse. I rubbed the glitter into my eyes and you wouldn’t give me your mirror till I let you take a picture. It’s still there, on your phone, in social media limbo. You bought the hoodie from a woman whose top was suspenders. She gave you your change, leaned in and kissed the corner where cheek meets lip. Your blush spread from cheeks to eartips and settled on the back of your neck, like a virus running its course. Your hand clammed and dried in mine, over and over, all the way to the el. The hoodie sells quick, for full price.

Gold pen (plated)–$15

Your mom gifted me the pen a year back, after you let slip that I write stories. She asked if I wrote romance or thrillers. And me saying I try to get at the absurdity of the human condition through the mundane and the everyday. Her smiling the way you would before putting a kid’s drawing up on the fridge. The pen leaked on all my pants. Nib went dry right when I needed it. And me scratching a hole in the page, tasting ink when I ran out of fingers and had to use my tongue instead. I bought a cheap replacement at Blick. Brought goldilocks over for family occasions and ham-fisted it when it came time to “show it off.” A turtleneck haggles us down to $10 because of the ink. We sign the new lease with it, our names together. Mine squiggly, yours neat. Hand the pen over to the turtleneck when we’re done.

button

No Thing

I find you on the lawn, building a grassbridge across the sidewalk, one blade at a time, for the worms evicted from their homes by the late-season rain. You are wearing your camiseta bonita. English is our only language, but we have made an exception for this shirt. I smooth my hem, where a string waits to unravel me into my composite parts.

You are doing this thing on a sidewalk and a lawn that are not yours. The lawn once belonged to you, but the sidewalk never did. The city gets to keep all the sidewalks.

Your eyes are flecked with shadow and liner; your blonde roots are palimpsests on a strawberry page, the hair showing through again at the ends to stand in for seeds. You tell me you are cold, and this means I am to swaddle you in my shirt. I cross my arms against my bare chest and hope you don’t notice the unincorporated hairs you used to pluck; the stragglers. When your eyes come to mine I find the grassbridge very interesting. My shirt becomes a scarf and then a shawl and finally a shirt again. I don’t tell you you look like a child in my shirt because I don’t want to see the way your nose will scrunch up if I do.

I try to explain why I’ve come back but you tell me be shushed and you pat the sidewalk next to you and when you do loose gravel sticks to your palm like a fortune waiting to be told. It’s too bad you no longer have your gypsy shawl. We sip the silence together and you hand me one blade and then another. When I lay them down I try to graze your fingers like some cheesy movie but you are agile. You are nimble. I want to pour out what’s inside and sift through this floodwater, this standing stagnation, but you tell me be shushed and so I lay another blade down.

When you aren’t looking I put a dandelion in your hair and blow the seeds so they cling to you. This flower cannot reproduce here, but it will try.

I expect many things, but not a smile. Your teeth show for a second but you hide them behind your lips like you always do. You finger-paint grass stains onto my chest, shoulders, face. I am to be a warrior. When I ask you who I’m fighting you tell me be shushed.

A worm wiggles across the bridge we’ve made, displacing some blades and gluing others to the sidewalk with its residue. This worm has a family, but they hesitate to cross. They come from a long line of noble hesitators. You coax them with dandelion seeds and I ask where she is. Or he. They must be… (I fake mental mathematics) four years old by now. You take off my shirt and hand it to me. Your camiseta bonita comes next. Underneath there is skin that is untouched snow. You do not hide the snow. You guide my hands to the cold. You were given these mother tools but have not used them. I see this when you trace my finger down, over the scar like scorched earth challenging winter, incomplete Caesarean, and when we’re done the camiseta can stay right where it is.

The worm family starts to cross.

There are no things I can say, and I see that nothing is No Thing. You try to speak and I tell you be shushed. We speak with our fingers and make the alien like we used to, the one with ten fingers on each hand. Our song comes out and we hum the tune in the spots where the words won’t come, the places memory’s forgotten. But we remember some things. We remember the tune, and the hum, and the many-fingered alien, and the steps segueing from sidewalk to grass where our toes touch, and maybe that’s okay. Maybe that’s all right.

The worm family makes it to the other side.

button