His boss had scrubbed away most of his assignments when he returned to work the following week, but Charlie was glad to be back to it, in the way that his mind became occupied by the letters and words and sentences of his editing. It was enough to sustain his appetite, but not enough to overwhelm it, like pasta salad in July to his post-funeral palate. There came a preternatural effortlessness to his editing now that he had one less reason to go home; it was like his brain was ready to welcome any tool necessary to forget. He excelled through his first two assignments, inquired his boss for additional work, until he was the most productive in the office, bar none.
But the workday could only last so long, and their home was just that — theirs. There was no separating where Levent’s belongings began and Charlie’s ended. And it didn’t help there were so many things to begin with. Their friends knew them as the packrats of the group, each inherently unable to let go of the bric-a-brac that accumulated seemingly overnight, the kind of people you would ask if you wanted to spend a day trying to make pasta, because, and it was almost a guarantee, Levent and Charlie would have a once-used pasta maker lying around somewhere.
A month after the funeral, Charlie was still confronted by ghosts of his boyfriend each morning. These confrontations started small — harmless, sugarcoated memories — like when he would notice one of Levent’s thick, dark hairs on the brush and think, “Oh, that’s right, he’s…” But then the day would wear Charlie away to almost nothing, down to memories that would pulsate through his mind while he stood motionless in the various spots of their home they had never inhabited together, tucked away behind the stove he had shoved away from the wall, or beyond the closed door of the hallway linen closet, trying to eradicate every wiry, steelwool hair from the carpeted floor. Then, in those dark, forgotten places, the rest of the thought would materialize. “Oh, that’s right. He’s dead. Levent is dead and you will never see him again.”
outside the world is screaming
for water. Life is bursting—flowers climactic, orgasm-
ic things, their petals dripping, gooey with plant blood.
the air is holding a cloth to my face
covered in atmosphere
it’s the end of all things,
the birth of all things.
my feet kick stones that are wetter than the grass,
slick with memory of forgotten riverbeds.
i have known the sorrow of these friends,
the gnawing behind the eyes that can’t be diagnosed.
i’m being torn in half like a split pine log
drowning sap, spineless lifeform.
high heat is labor incarnate.
the door opens and out I spill
afterbirth born from eyesockets torn,
rendered unconscious by warmth.
the end of all
the birth of all
picked apart by the vultures at dawn
the yardsale ladies size me up
with their price-guns and brooched breasts
the spine is a horrible thing to waste.
brave little toaster cries crumbs &
sidewalk lines like calendar kisses *&*
my brain is an intestine that can solve math problems.
Image credit: https://flic.kr/p/TcpJMW (licensed under Public Domain)
We dream of ( ) falling in our sleep, remnants of the fables passed from grandparent to child. We feel the pitter-patter of the drops kiss our cheeks with the dignity of lovers long lost—to wake and discover they are only our tears slipping out, ghosts of the past; into the collection jar they go.
A scorched world.
We live underground now, down in the darkness where we are protected from our overbearing father, the sun. We do nothing but collect ( ) any way we can—from geothermal leeching to bloodletting. The various ways, unimaginable, unspeakable, if only because speaking requires saliva we dare not use.
[This post is an homage to my college creative nonfiction classes, where we were asked to write a string of sentences that all begin with “I remember…” It’s such a great exercise to get you in the mood for writing, especially nonfiction. The exercise is based on Joe Brainard’s book of the same title (1970). Feel free to comment your own I remembers.]
I remember the dusty hayloft and rickety ladder, and the abandoned pile of horseshoes found beneath the hay.
I remember the adult-sized tricycle Natalie gave me before she died. I pedaled it up the hill and down the small gravel path that led to the cell phone tower, where I sat and watched the sun rise.
I remember when the chain rusted and snapped and the brakes stopped working and how I took the bike back to Natalie’s house in the middle of the night without telling her parents it was me who had it in the first place and how I never went back there again.
I remember bokchoy in oyster sauce, and sneaking kisses while his father watched the Peking Opera on the couch.
I remember inerasable red rings around our mouths from drinking fruit punch from plastic jugs in the sweltering heat.
It would be a lie to say that I didn’t know the dead man, but it would be the truth to say I can no longer remember his name. Too many nights filled with foreign smoke and strong drink. Too many days scratched away listlessly. But I know it’s still down inside me somewhere, being chewed up and digested again and again.
It’s been buried so many times, on the tip of my tongue in the pitch of nightfall, but never fully exposed. Maybe it will surface one day, as these things often do, when least expected.
I have wondered why I forgot the name. Before his death he was someone I saw a lot—you couldn’t say I knew him, but he was definitely a constant. We worked at the market for a couple months anyway. A friend of mine said it best over drinks, as we sat next to a shelf of nameless corporate nobodies at some long-forgotten bar in the legal district: it’s easier to forget a face that wants forgotten, he said. That was at least five years ago—my dog didn’t get hit by the bus yet, we had a president worth having, I had more hair. My god. What is five years but an endless and terrifying chasm that has the potential so suck away your very lifeblood?
Both he and the dead man now share a common denominator: both absent from my life.
My first foray into successful athleticism, and I think it all has to do with my starting the practice of yoga, which sounds cheesy, which sounds like something my yoga instructor would say after she says something like, “trust yourself and your breath in this moment.” She will pause, following with, “Oh that sounds cheesy, doesn’t it…?” Because these things do sound cheesy, like when someone tells you finding religion brought them out of darkness, or when you hear that anything is possible if you try. These things are the bread and butter of earlier generations—inspiration and mindfulness, coming to terms with fundamental flaws—things the millennial mind is trained to immediately distrust, to dissect to disembodied parts that, on their own, expose their raw, visceral undercurrent: a problem with systems, the status quo, not a problem with self. Never trust what works for another because you are your own person. Standardization is the enemy.
Most of my friends are much younger than I am. This is a new sensation for me; I grew up the oldest in my grade. I think these new friends are the ones who really helped me notice why and how I exercise. They are mostly Asian American, all with an unfair, carved from birth, leanness that, at once, makes my mouth water and my brow furrow. During their formative years, they used their celestial DNA to their advantage, participating and excelling in their middle- and high-school athletic programs, finding that their high metabolism was enough to unearth their preternatural athleticism.
The spine unhinges when detached from the ligaments that bind it. How naturally a resting body lies on the damp earth, uninhibited. An alarming sense of reanimation, the way wisps of hair catch enthusiastically on the wind or an ant parades up a thigh thick with nutrients for the taking. Laced to the ground through a weave of decay – no longer human, just naked skin pulled tightly to bone. Such intimate moments – a disconnected arm, torn by a fox who slipped under the fence of the enclosure, grasping onward against the pull of time; the stomach of a fresh specimen, bloated with gas; a decomposing face blackened with sunburn.
These are the details of death. Within decomposition hides the incontrovertible fate of all humanity: if left to sit, we rot away to nothing but a cloying stain on the forest floor. We are picked apart and reused.