where have I been?

You’ve been extremely good, a little lonely, content with your friends, feeling alienated from close friends, feeling alienated from fading friends, feeling like a second-class friend, suddenly ready to cut people out, exceedingly comfortable with the people you love, willing to reach out to people you’ve looked over, unsure if this was out of desperation, motivated to reach out to people you’re intimidated by, confident in your independence, confident in your ability to walk into parties alone, confident in your ability to carry conversations and connect with people unlike you, neurotically depressed when friends prioritize others over you, endlessly needy about attention and shows of care, peaceful about activities alone.

Fast bikes to the beach in Tevas and sexless t-shirts, strolls by shirtless, tanned college students playing volleyball, and upturned sprawls on Mickey Mouse towels with Infinite Jest: unpretentious because no one cares. Chilly breeze but warm sun. Beach flies on a singular spot on the ankle; perhaps you wiped away a drop of honey there.

Leaving SS’s house with MB and N; she tells you she’s read Infinite Jest. Not unrelated, you begin to notice how self-aware, snarky, smart, self-satirizing she is. Also not unrelated, you hate that you’ve become this uncontrollably pretentious. Regardless, you want to be friends. Later, she tells you there is not enough room for you to come on the trip they are planning. The moment passes, tense, and goes.

You meet up with your group for the first time in a year. You notice, in passing conversation, that they have a group chat without you. The moment passes, sad, but only for you; its traces linger.

Long silences in a car driving to a gratifying nowhere; shotgun. Bad music and bad harmonizing; glazed eyes out to East. Bursts of laughter and camaraderie, internal smiles. You don’t need many friends. You have this one, and you know that it’s the ones like these that eclipse any quantity.

Trudging alone along a ridge, taking occasional photos of the ant-like figure that pops over peaks up ahead. Silence, silence, silence somehow more vast than the view. Ever-changing rocks: pink, brown, and that far-off blue.

The aurora of the sunset, minus the sun. Red-cheeked smiles and disheveled, damp cotton. A pebble tinkles down the ledge behind. Later, you trudge down with shitty headlamps, cold and sore. You forget to look up. You are happy.

Idiotic and yet delightful stories, even if all they do is provide and foothold for visual memories: shapes, imagined shapes: patterns and stories and people and imagined meaning: you decide: the stars must be seen everywhere.

Past midnight: all three of you are falling asleep on the carpeted floor to Black Mirror. None of you ask why the other two do not have plans for New Year’s Eve, are not partying with countless friends. It is still good. You may not have chose this, but it is good.

She is driving and you are shotgun and you are driving away from an incredible feat of modern parenting and laughing, laughing at an inside joke — when was the last time you had an inside joke? How do some create inside jokes with such ease? — it is something to latch onto, something that the trip has yielded. Your tongues sting with mango salsa and tostadas.

You toil over the dough, kneading and sweating, and timing, and pacing, and heating, and checking, and waiting, and it comes out: a miracle! a beauty! a child! and you feel it: the pleasure of doing something for you, for you.

Golden hour is thrown into relief against an already-yellowing series of perplexing metal poles. You meander there: you take a photo of you. He is smiling, really smiling, shockingly so: it is so difficult to get a capture of that smile. Later, you look at that photo over and over. You look at his open smile. You look at his crinkling eyes. It glows: gold.

You are muting his messages for the night. You do not want to see his apology for the thing he didn’t really do wrong. He cannot sleepover for this whatever reason, you know, but you also ask: why can’t you sleep over there? But you don’t actually ask. Instead, you act simply sad, but understanding, little vulnerable but in a loving way. But you are not actually vulnerable. To be fully vulnerable is to show the emotionally needy and the pathetic and the insecure, and you think maybe if you show that too much — as you worked up the courage to do last year — he might just begin to not stick around. Denial may just work yet.

You make a photo album of the trip and share it with his parents and him. On second thought, you share it with your mother. His parents respond immediately: lovely! beautiful!; your mother takes a bit. You are sad and happy that she takes a bit. You want her to have a full life, an overflowing life, with too many people to love. He does not look; does not like that you would know if he looks. You think about this: that he cares and does not want.

Tea and music in the backyard in the patch of sun just outside the shaded cover. Mellow, yellow.

A phenomenon: rain drops, at certain velocities and sizes, turn to fleeting, quivering bubbles on jacuzzi water. You think: there are few joys to eclipse dunking hair in hot water, head tipped back, face an island. You sit on the entrance steps, steaming. He kisses your feet: a prayer.

To be blatant: sex. Art, it is art, you are slow and you let out all the missing, all the thinking.

He wants Chick-a-fil-a and he knows you have moral issues with them and he spits you out, or so it feels, to the Panera. Is this ok? he asks. You are disheveled, angry, stressed, insecure. You find the heart and maturity to fill his tea and recup his tea bag. You eat your chili alone at the table nearest the window and want to punch him when he gets back and looks at you with apologetic and still impatient eyes. You don’t punch him. You hunch in and say: I’m don’t deal well with being rushed.

You cry your way through a movie that makes you remember that he will leave you, must leave you, or else you must drive him away eventually. You sit at the night spot with your friends. A vaguely recognizable girl comes to talk to your friend, does not acknowledge you, though you stare at her, willing her to turn, to nod at your presence, to validate your social capital. She does not. But at least you stared.

You go to a party of his friend’s girlfriend, alone. You are the first one there. Oh, you came! the hostess exclaims. You sit with his friend and his friend’s girlfriend, aware of the brimming awkwardness, refusing to acknowledge it. It’s surprisingly ok. You stay twice as long as you’d planned. People laugh at your jokes.

Maybe, she tells you, when you invite her to a thing, when you haven’t seen her it months. I’m telling everyone: maybe.

You pet this blind, deaf dog. It snores lightly. It bumps into a tree. Somehow, you and your friend feel these things together: love, care, the hilarity of it all, the tragicomedy of this trotting, courageous dog.

The waiter assumes you are not adventurous. Maybe you do not look adventurous. You do the jalapeño vinegar shot in one go to prove him wrong.

You message someone two things, both thoughtful, relevant, and requiring a response. You get nothing. You wonder: how many times are you supposed to try before taking a hint?

You jump: down the rabbit hole, excel sheets and wikipedia. It comes together. It’s coming together.

Advertisements

07/23/17, 10:50pm

Excuse me, but I do believe we have met
before. There is simply something
about the way you walk, talk, move

with your shoulders thrust back
when you step and your neck crooked
forward when you focus. Your curls are ever so

slightly flattened on the side you slept on
this morning, though sometimes it is the back
after you leaned against both of the shitty thin pillows

and the blanket propped under
with a warm bag over your eyes to ease the ache
that is always there. I could never

understand how your eyes never fluttered
shut against your will, as did mine
to initiate our nightly routine

of apologies. Sometimes we both shivered
in cooled air with our insulation squashed
under and our will to change the controls encased

in a pool of wax from the end of your candle
we shared, which is to say, we would miss,
just as when I carried a stack

of poems across a park and they saw
a woman alone, just as when I brought
home a grapefruit torn

in fleshy abundance and tacked it
to the wall, let the juices weep
along the drywall, diluted blood

of my thoughts drowning<
in a cup; sometimes my best wine
sours to acetone, in certain company.

But perhaps then
we have not met, because the individual
I am thinking of has a smile that pulls

plump against flat teeth, eyes that crinkle
like aluminum foil around sandwiches
with far too much mayonnaise

for my liking. I eat pale food
only when in certain company. When alone,
I much prefer a riot of green

with enough salt that a person
like you would gasp
enough that I would season

our portions separately in the future,
back then. We have different tastes,
you and I. I do not thirst

for that same flesh. Kind sir, I do
forever, give you my best. I’ll take
that cake now, please, thank you.

07/23/17, 11:31am

Sprung from your forgotten dreams, it came
in the morning, followed you from crooked bed to quick
turn of the doorknob, the eyes turned to the cool
grain away from the soft groan of his consciousness.
It trickled and pooled against the pads of your toes,
weighted your skin to acquiescing gel
into well-worn grooves. It vaulted
up into your mouth and churned the foam
rancid; you spat it out with tenderness
of habit, just like when you bid him Good
Morning to unsure silence fading back
onto itself. You still share the soap. Will you still

splash your face in the hectic s he showers, separated by white
muddied curtain and tamed by familiarity?
A tickle breaks long through the mane
of your calf and you wonder how
a drop possibly made it past
your fingers, holding guard at your budding
crows feet. Perhaps it distracted you
with its curiosity, kept you howling into the night
with laughter such that you did not know
that you’d somehow joined the wild dogs.
How sly it must have been. How much crying is too much

for the end of era that began not in the year of the Ox
but in that of Sheep, which Travel China Guide
and not your mother must tell you: the curve
of the ram and the hard corners of the ox
were never meant to groove. Maybe you should have
checked the legend, first, instead of believing
you knew the way more than did the statisticians
that came before you, the old women
of science who flourish of circles
and not infinite lines stretching past stars
you’re worried no one else sees.
This isn’t how you want to be:    mad

as predicted. Somehow they knew to give
you the codebook. Whose fault is this if they knew
you would tear it to shreds, trample it
with your wheels, light it with gas fire
from a shitty stove in a New York City apartment
only to find this: it has followed you into the gentle

illumination of a streetlight in an alley quiet enough
to be deafening though the cars are never too far.
What a blessing these slow moments are, you know
even as your body stings with the salt
on your bites. Nature gives needle and first aid.

You now know how to snip this particular type
of thread, the one that runs though one temple and out
the other, the last one. He will leave first,

as he does, and you will bike these streets
through and straight out. If all goes well,
you will return.

I don’t know how to explain how I’m feeling

other than that I just hung out with three people, one of which is a friend, and the other two of which are previous ‘co-workers’ who are really quite amazing and sweet, witty and confident and wonderful, and yet I can tell that there’s a distance between us, that I cannot be friends with them. And the question then is whether that is because of myself or because of the self I was at work, which was simply not the first impression that did me any favors, quiet and reserved as I was. It oscillates, to be honest: on a good day, I know with all my heart that I am a decent conversationalist though not an expert by any means, but a genuinely kind person, occasionally funny; on a bad one, I wonder how people that I so genuinely like and admire can so subtlety feel and subconsciously communicate that somehow, I am not the type of person they would like to spend time with two weekends from now. It’s not been a great few days. Hopefully being with friends, talking to friends — hopefully this weekend will turn things around.

As much as I wish otherwise, I seem to need socializing more than I tend to think.

the coming and going of civilization

As your friendship with AM slowly crumbles even after you’ve both identified the problem and actively work to hold each other up

As your long-distance conversation with JH dwindles to a reluctant phone call and you haven’t sent each other music in forever

As you sit on a park bench and sigh and RK lets it slide by

— you realize:

These are your first true, adult friendships. And these are your first true, adult losses of those friendships.

Humans are always so frustratingly predictable, you ramble to RK. We follow the pattern too closely, even in our deviations from our paths.

05/21/17 10:08am, on the plane from DC to Beijing

You’re ending with a shot of your friends outside at twelve-thirty in the morning outside on the quiet green. You were lying down, and they are all laughing so very genuinely that you feel a rush of affection just looking at it, and it is slightly blurred and lopsided so perhaps you were very genuinely laughing also. The flash bounces a sheen off of their skin: a highlight on the round chipmunk smile of AC’s cheek, on the underside of the tip of YM’s nose. You remember feeling comfortable. You remember feeling at home. You remember feeling open. You remember laughing on your back with your legs kicking the air in glee. You remember doing the same with HJ after watching a food video that carved vaginas into Thanksgiving foods. You remember reading an article about true friendships and the selectivity of that term and you remember thinking about YM. You are still looking at the photo. No one looks good, but It’s Such A Good Photo, you think. You’ll Treasure This Photo Forever, you think.

05/21/17 10:38am, on the plane from DC to Beijing

You think about the goodbyes.

You woke up with HJ and checked the time and hollered that He Was Late and chuckled afterward at the memory of him shooting out of bed instantly, pure panic on his radiating face in his bright green shirt. You scrambled to help stuff the sleeping bag, throw out the trash. You trailed behind him as he ran to the Uber. You stopped at the edge of the street so that he could turn and kiss you. You stood in a dazed mess as he dropped his bags to wrap you in a hug because he knows you like hugs. You watch him load the car and you check your texts accidentally too long and when you look up the car is already driving away. You send a text with all five colors of heart emojis, thinking that you’ll work your way up to sending just one red one.

YM came to the building you were grading essays and you couldn’t help it so you both slumped down in ridiculous position on couches and talked until we hit the time limit, and then YM pushed back her departure time and you talked for more. You planned your TV watching schedule so that you could discuss their sociopolitical implications with YM and affirmed her sweatpants in the ninety-degree weather and made her promise to get a Snapstreak going for you. You explained to her what a Snapstreak was as she stood in the middle section between the inner and outer glass doors of the building.

You ran across campus to say goodbye to GR. You were running to the eatery she said she was at when she yelled your name from the spot she was sitting at in the grass. You hugged each other and walk opposite way, but she calls your name when you’re somewhat twenty feet away from each other. What? you say. It Was Nice Knowing You this Semester, she says in her slightly off English. You Say That Like We Won’t Know Each Other Next Semester, I say, laughing, and she smiles and we turn and continue walking.

You ran across campus again with your luggage that AM was storing for you for two weeks and hugged his mom before him. You helped him saran wrap his carpet and he listened to you complain about your allergies. You gave them a quick wave. You’ll see them in two weeks.

You were waiting for the librarian to find a specific book that you really wanted to read and it took so long that BI and AC just decided to come to you. They walked in the door and you shot the crap for a few minutes and complimented his bag and you all promised to get together a visit and promised It Will Be Amazing. BI said Love You and you said Love You Too Broskito.

AC and MC said goodbye to you. You ran outside with your suitcases when they yelled and you stopped to give them a hug and MC said your name and raised her eyebrows and smiled in that way that she does and you hugged and turned and walked away.

You’ll be friends with ES for a long time, you think as her mom drives you to the airport. You hug her in her camouflage print sweatpants and poofy hair and you know. You are not sad.

You love and hate the goodbyes. You add goodbyes to the list of Things To Live For. You don’t have goodbyes for people that don’t matter.