“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 6 a.m.- 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 your work for the day.
Dana 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 candidates. 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 artisan ice-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 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.”
Nancy 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 crabgrass 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.
“I’m breaking through, I’m bending spoons, I’m keeping flowers in full bloom- I’m looking for answers from the great beyond.”
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 it wasn’t good enough to be a fairy tale, what was it?
“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 over 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.
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 in understanding would set me back years.
It was my last semester in college, and I wanted to re-take “Intro to Creative Writing” because I had gotten a C- in it the first time around and I couldn’t allow that on my permanent record. It’s hard to imagine caring about such things in retrospect, but in the early aughts I had it in mind to go all the way to my English PhD, and what kind of doctor of literature would have gotten a C- in fucking Intro to Creative Writing– where the girls write about boys they’re fucking who don’t want to date them and the boys write about girls they like from afar- who are sometimes sitting in the very same class.
It was in this very same class that I met Kasie, who had written very adorable stories about her boyfriend not calling her on Easter and an entire five-pages as a thinly veiled excuse to complain about one of her girlfriends- whom I knew, even if Kasie had changed her name to something innocuous, she included enough catty details that made it obvious. I leaned over to her desk and said, “I know who this is…” and watched her turn beet red- a bold move, unwittingly played to great effect- our meet cute.
“‘Cause we came here to set this party off right, let’s bounce tonight. And if they don’t let us in through the front, we’ll come through the side.”
Marisa had me drive her to her mother’s apartment so she could steal money; behavior I never endorsed outright,but I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t complacent; an accomplice, if we were to be arrested, which we wouldn’t be, her mother was a dingbat. She’d keep loose cash in the drawer next to her bed, and every few weeks Marisa would dip into it like a broken ATM. Hundreds of dollars missing; thousands over time. Her mother had alimony coming in from Marisa’s lawyer father- when shit hits the fan, everyone becomes a thief.
She’d take enough to get a half-ounce from our dealer and have some left over to pick up dinner. Sitting next to a Family Dollar listening to “Waiting for the Man.” He’d text that he was “just pulling in to the parking lot” and show up an hour later- he knew you weren’t going anywhere.
Brought a bagel sandwich and bag of chips back with me- the indie label, kettle-cooked kind that you pay a dollar more for and is more heavily saturated in a higher quality oil- safflower, which is less likely to cause heart disease; something I can only appreciate in retrospect.
“And I’m in so deep- you know I’m such a fool for you. You’ve got me wrapped around your finger.”
She kissed my cheek and excused herself to the bathroom.Alone in Dana’s bedroom, I walked over to the shelf with her wedding picture. My peripheral vision had picked up on this when I entered the room- my eyes developed the keenness of a hunter. Her husband had finally moved out that morning, she told me. Time to party.
“These weeds have grown where the sun once shown…”
It used to bother me thinkingI didn’t exist outside of how others perceived me. The moments I spent alone, while significant to me, felt shapeless- as if what’s experienced in solitude existed on a plane between dream and fiction. The inner world can only be represented in close approximation- and that representation is all that exists; you are who others perceive you to be. No one is interested in you beyond the value of your public face.