“You’re holding on but letting go, I’m missing Cleveland and the snow; and lonely thoughts where everybody knows the truth and lets it be”
It’s the same thing every time, she told me. It’s an act, the whole thing; it isn’t real. The eye contact, the pursed lips, hands in the hair, the inflection in tone- “baby, baby…” She’ll pick up on this and mimic it back to me- same eye contact, same pursed lips: “baby, baby…”
When you’ve lived what feels like a thousand lifetimes compared to the high school sweethearts; you’ve figured out every bit of the female algorithm- missile launch codes carved into your skull like the password to skip to Mike Tyson; right to the bedroom; right to true love, scientific discovery at the price of normalcy; at the price of family.
At the price of outliving your parents- at least numerically. Without anything else- anything to provide perspective- the single man will either self-destruct in addiction or grind himself into the ground; defiance, on the road to decay; defiance in the face of genetic limitations- trying to get muscle car performance out of an economy class. Your parents were shopping on a budget- who knew how bad things would get?
“The ghosts that roam this house, like winter air right through our souls.”
You don’t have to write about my stairs, she said, and we can only be friends if you stop hurting my feelings. I didn’t have to be in the room to know what her eyes would have looked like- desperate to hide the depth of her vulnerability- but like every other time, no matter how hard she tried, the way she looked at you betrayed her. This was what made you fall in love with her.
She stopped talking to you when you posted the piece about her house- her house as a metaphor for every bit of hurt, every battle scar, every coping strategy and defense mechanism; walls and coldness- circles that needed squaring. Parts of her life to be compartmentalized; some locked-away, some delicately framed with self-talk.
There are moments in life, however brief, that an unspoken sentiment is shared by so many that it becomes an energy unto itself- the kind of energy that’s propelled nations to fight wars and outsider candidates to win elections. At the end of the decade, professional wrestling- fans, wrestlers, and promoters- had something to prove. It wasn’t enough to kindly explain to the uninitiated that despite the predetermined nature of match finishes that this shit- the battering taken on the bodies of performers- was, actually, far more real than anyone knew. To chase the respect of those who will never care, violence needed to be amplified.
The rise of Extreme Championship Wrestling (ECW) may have been the direct result of this coalescence of energy. The convergence of two deeply felt sentiments: that a) professional wrestling was embarrassing because it was fake and the wrestling fan was an idiot for not understanding this, despite gladly acknowledging it any chance they had, and b) all those working in professional wrestling were performing on a show for children. The idea behind ECW was that they would explicitly define their show as one for adults, with a hard-R rating, and use profanity, sex, and violence as a means to achieve this end.
“Whoever thought you’d be better at turning a screw than me? I do it for my life. Fuck yeah!”
You’re just like Delicious Tacos, he told me. He was messaging me for advice. Girl problems- but, more than that too, he said. His life felt empty. He was lacking direction; depression, anxiety. There’s something about my writing that suggests I could offer intervention- a quick series of bullet points or if/then statements. Something about my writing that’s aspirational.
I’m willing to believe this. Despite the failures which I’ve grown comfortable sharing with strangers, I’m a happy and centered person. I have positive habits- and even if my addictive personality will merely cut and paste beneficial habits in place of those destructive and pursue them with the same psychotic vigor, they’re at least contributing to my overall health and well-being. I read and write regularly. I lift weights and take long walks. I meditate and enjoy stillness. I love nature. I believe in God.
“Row like a felon, drown like a captain’s son. But say, how long can this go on?”
The goal is a clear stretch of highway long enough to keep your cruise control set at seventy-eight. Detach from the minutia of traffic while feeling connected to the reality of journey– wheels groping pavement, cutting through morning air. Not only does your attention to speed management ultimately save on gas mileage, but more importantly it provides space to sharpen the mind/body connection that’s crucial for when you walk into work at 6am- each motion light clicking to life as you pass- to sit at your desk and write in a spiral-bound notebook for twenty-five minutes before starting work for the day.
“And the world spreads its legs, and the world spreads its legs for another fucking star…”
She wouldn’t let me fuck her before she went on dates. Losers she’d meet from pay-to-play dating apps- ones that supposedly offered a more serious assortment of romantic candidate. The kind she’d want to bring home to mom, assuming mom were still alive. Maybe, more accurately, the kind she’d introduce to her children- on a day trip to Adventureland, where he’d spend big money on faux-artisan iced cream and carnival games skewed against the player.
Big smiles while riding bumper boats. This could be something real- like they advertise on TV, where aging singles find their second chance; the one that counts as insinuated by the complex smiles on the faces of couples in their forties, sipping cocoa in cozy, female-owned coffee shops; discussing life after marriage.
“A week without you, thought I’d forget. Two weeks without you and I still haven’t gotten over you yet.”
She didn’t like it when I teased her about her house. Put politely, it was unfinished. What was meant to be the baby’s room, with its careful design of overlapping squares hand-painted on the walls, had become a storage-space; miscellaneous items suffering a slow transition to the garbage. Her hardwood floors had stains. Light bulbs dangling from fixtures. Things in the yard that hadn’t been moved since they were put down fifteen years prior. A storm destroyed the fence, with only the posts a reminder that her yard had once been enclosed. The front lawn with crab grass and mushrooms.
Not that one needed to be tremendously perceptive to realize that the house, more or less, had ceased any major evolutionary activity- the kind where the first time homeowner is gifted a Time-Life “Home Repair & Improvement” book set, with plans made that foresaw holiday duties on the path to grandchildren.
“Money, like, there’s an unlimited amount of capital in the world, you know?” Anna said to me at one point. “But there’s limited amounts of people who are talented.”
She said she wanted a fairy tale. Not something fairy tale-like, or fairy tale-adjacent; not the kind they sell at Target, or the Magic Kingdom version with the anxious college girl sweating to death in her ballroom gown while telling you about all the books she read before the gnarly beast swept her away. Something where you’d never dream of compromising things with the words good enough to control expectations while still acknowledging the positive. She wanted the real deal.
Where it wasn’t good enough to spend your nights together laughing at jokes that only you’d both understand, between bouts of incredible sex, and looking into her eyes and telling her that she was beautiful and really meaning it. This wasn’t a fairy tale- this was something else- and if this weren’t a fairy tale, what was?
“I dressed up in scarecrow, she dressed up in white.”
She told me that she likes “fuck boys”- a terrible, disingenuous cope of a nomenclature; a way for women to reclaim power in an otherwise powerless situation, thinking that, in our modern landscape of gender equality, a slur designed for a man who has too much sex will have the same sting as one made to shame women- fuck boys, she said, because she likes the way they talk to her. She was almost forty with three kids; when she ditched the hubby, she got herself a personal trainer and breast implants- which was probably the most sensible thing to do. Ride the midnight train out as far as it will go- better to have your pick of fuck boys than to get a look at the kind of loser who’d take you seriously.
She had fake tits so I felt compelled to continue the conversation. Breast implants are sexy for everything but their aesthetic value- they rarely look good, with the exception being implants that look so good you’d never know they were fake, surely a secret taken to the grave, but typically they’re closer to bad 90’s porn. There’s an unspoken symbolic value to fake tits- signaling an intense vanity combined with a deep comfort in promiscuity, where even if her tits are fake, her willingness to exist as a sex doll is more real than any woman with “no hook-ups, not looking for a one-night-stand” at the bottom of her profile. There’s a refreshing purity to this approach- only a woman with fake tits will tell you that she likes fuck boys.
A few years after graduating college, with the idea in mind to become a literature professor, I found myself going to graduate school for a degree to teach high school English. Not a terrible idea entirely, but I was entirely unaware of what made it terrible; I was expecting it to be something that it never was- genuine- and this slight misunderstanding would set me back years.