The Cost

The Tattooed Monk’s ex -boyfriend used to make him mixed tapes out of his apartment in NYC. He’d design the sleeves on his computer and title each one. Somehow I ended up with one, which is odd since I no longer have anything that plays tapes. It’s titled “Bear Heart” and features a photograph of some guys in leather hanging out on the street in front of a bar. Their heads are turned away, looking up the street to whatever is coming their way. I guess I’ve kept it because the inside cover of the sleeve has a photo of the boy himself, shirtless, with the fly of his pants undone and the thick root of his cock exposed. He’s cute, and I admired his bold self-promotion.

The boy died today of stomach cancer, at the age of 32, at his parent’s house outside NYC. The Tattooed Monk is in a bit of shock, struggling to ascertain the meaning of his death, as if it held such a thing. He’s questioning the value of life, the cost of loving others, wondering if he should continue to bother caring about anyone else. Anyone beyond his small circle of friends.

“I’ll just wait it out until I no longer have any friends, then I’ll be done with it,” he says.
“Well, I’m going to be stubborn and stick around a very long time,” I reply.

I’m lucky. Lucky to be a member of that small circle. Lucky to walk beside him on a cold night in the City. We wander slowly, thinking the proper meaning will emerge as long as we keep moving.

Ex

There’s no ignoring it anymore; he makes me feel like shit. Or, if you prefer, I let him make me feel like shit. Whatever. It’s been a year. Every time he tells me he loves me, every time he gives me the look. Every time we fight, he picks up the past and swings like Babe Ruth. I said I’m sorry, I’ve said it a hundred times. Do I get more sorry with the one hundred and first?

What did she sing? I’m not like I was before. It’s been a good year; crazy-making, devastating, amazing year. I don’t do those things anymore. It’s not a pretty view, but we go back and look, again and again. I loved him for five and a half years. But if I get different and he doesn’t, isn’t there a point of expiration? When can I stop holding out? What an ugly outfit; it doesn’t even fit. I’m no Farrah Fawcett. I had my Burning Bed, trapped on my back on the floor of the closet, those fists sprouting blooms on my face. I don’t need to be acted upon anymore. Louie, dear boy, your daddy doesn’t hate your other daddy, sometimes people just…get different. So go and have fun, let him walk you and feed you and stroke your ears with warm hands. Come back to me happy, and if you’re sad let me ease it from you however way I can. You’re a lucky boy; two daddies who love you so much.

Unforgiven

He calls late, his voice a ghost of itself. He’s found another thing, some evidence in some desk drawer, and he wants to know if he was good to me. Who took the photo he wants to know, it’s stamped with a date and a cold stone drops in me; I fucked it up again. I’m marked, there’s always a sniper up above. I’m still in love with you he says though we both know it’s broke. Seconds tick I love you too but he can can hear the difference. The best we both had couldn’t hold and what, you think I can go back? You can’t. Swallow the pit, face front. You can’t ignore the proof; it’ll unearth the crap, the slut I used to be. Do me a favor and throw that shit away I say and there’s an empty laugh …way ahead of you he says, Yeah, I’m way ahead of you.

25 Minutes

-I’m wondering where you are fitting the HIV into your life, what does it mean to you?
-(long pause)…It don’t dwell on it much.
-(silence)
-It’s funny you should ask that, I was just thinking about it. The other day I was talking to a friend of mine who was positive, who got it when his boyfriend fucked around and brought it home…he’s angry about it, betrayed. Me, I’m not angry, I just know I got it from my own actions.
-(silence)
-Honestly, I worry more about the dental work I’m getting done than I do about the HIV.
-(silence)
-I guess…I guess I don’t want it to be a part of my identity…you know, how some people make it a big part of their lives, they construct their identity around being positive. I don’t want to do that.
-(silence)
-It seems like a waste of time, or energy, to think about it. I mean, I have it, that’s all behind me, you can’t go back.
-(pause) I’m wondering about the difference you made between you and your friend, you spoke of it as though you deserve it more than he does.
-(silence)
-Yeah, I know. I don’t know.
-(silence)
-(long pause, then a smile)
-What’s the smile for?
-I feel like you’re not saying anything because you think that I’m in some sort of denial, and you’re waiting for me to acknowledge it.
-(shakes head) No, I’m just listening.
-I mean, my numbers are really good, I guess if they weren’t, I’d think about it. And I’m not really having a lot of sex, so it doesn’t come up. (Maybe I’m not having sex because of all this crap)
-(silence)
-(sighs) I can’t seem to keep my mind on one thing.
-Yes, I’ve been trying to follow your train of thought and it seems uncertain.
-I have a headache.
-Did you have it when you came in, or did you just get it now?
-I had it when I came in, but it suddenly got a lot worse just now.
-(silence) If you could do anything with this session that you wanted, what would it be?
-Honestly, I’d just go home.
-(long pause) Well, I’m okay with ending early if you want.
-Yeah, I can’t think. I just need a good night’s sleep I think.
-Okay.
-(long pause) Okay then. (gets up) Thanks, I’ll see you next week.

I nearly had a day without you coming for a visit, but then they elected me facilitator of the Saturday morning 12-step meeting, and I knew it had something to do with you. Or the absence of you. They wanted to give me something now that you’ve left. Something to return to, each week; some kind of home. A church basement. Wonderful.

I really don’t know what to do with you. You should be more than a framed photo on my desk, a ghost who smiles at the moment I look up from a book. Shouldn’t you be more than that? You’re sitting on my heart and it hurts.

Grief is not a jug of water with a slow leak, your burden lightening as the days pass. Or if it is, there are cloudburts and showers, filling the jug and, as Rula Planet would sing, spilling over.

A Body in Motion

You’re so afraid. You’ll sit on that chair in that room and tell us forever what scares you today. You’re afraid of men, you’re afraid of your job, you’re afraid of success, you’re afraid to lose your hair. You’re afraid to change, you’re afraid of the night, the weekend, the winter, whatever. You’ve never lost a thing in your life. You need to sit there and tell us how it’s scary to have it all; the house and the man and the dog and the job and the money. I’m afraid of being alone you’ll say (again) I’m afraid of being in love. And they’ll throw their arms around you and say yeah I’m so afraid too and somehow we’re just going to have to get through it and you’re afraid of guns and planes and arabs and women. You’re afraid of your dad and you’re afraid you’re getting old. You’re afraid of intimacy and we all need to hear it, night after night, week after week, you’ve got it all and you don’t even know it.

I don’t have time. I’m now, I’m gorgeous, I’m shooting through. I’m a bullet, I’m a tank, I’m a skyscraper jumper, plummeting to earth. I’m moving in slow motion, I’m exploding the car. I’m a city on fire. I’m a man, I’m fucking the earth. I’m due, I’m on, I’m pouring salt in the wounds. The lights can’t catch me, I’m sliding through the night. I’ve lost her, I’ve lost you, I have it all. I ain’t afraid of shit.

Snapshot

The five-block span between my home and work isn’t exactly known for its quaint neighborhood “feel”. The view from my window looks across a noisy street to a tire shop that’s hung virtually every type of hubcap known to man on its building and the surrounding 20-foot tall chain link fence. It’s also an area infamous for its prostitution, the heterosexual kind. On the weekends young tight-skirted girls totter in heels around the block in the cold winds. But during the week it’s the cracked-out ruins on the corners turning and staring at the drivers of repair trucks and SUV’s. These women’s faces are portraits in hard living; deeply lined, smiles of broken teeth, scabbed lips and twitching eyelids. Some of them like Louie; they catch sight of him and their demeanor shifts, they bend and reach a hand out, their voices pitch an octave higher, and he gladly greets them with his wet nose and his stunted, wagging tail. They’re there at 6 a.m. and they’re there when I walk home.

One particular woman intrigued me when I first caught sight of her after work one day. She was different; she looked like someone’s mother; young and shy. As if to subvert her presence on the corner, she’d wear glasses and an overcoat and when she’d see me she’d look away. I wouldn’t see her often. I wondered about her, wanted to follow her home, if she had one, and watch her when she wasn’t here. I reasoned, of course, that it was drugs, some addiction that pushed her out there when the money was gone. I wanted to save her in some nebulous, romantic fashion, but knew I neither would nor could.

This morning I caught sight of a neon yellow flyer tacked to a telephone pole along my morning route; “Please Help Us Find our Sister Vanessa (a.k.a. Holly)”. Underneath was a photo of the woman. It had been awhile seen I’d seen her.

I used to buy speed in little bags the size of my thumbnail; the size of my life. I was a frightened, rageful presence behind the dark pit of a bar where I worked several shifts a week. I drank to cut the speed jitters, to give myself the courage it took to be behind the bar. I drank for the courage to remove my shirt on “Pec Night”. My weight fell as I erased myself. I’d stay in my apartment as long as possible each day; my forays into the world set my heart pounding. I bought the small bags because I was always about to quit, like a chain smoker who never buys cartons. But I couldn’t resist for long. Without speed I couldn’t breathe. Soon I’d be back at the dealer’s, twenties and tens gripped in my fingers, enduring his psychotic ranting; buying back my life.

It’s a good snapshot, though the copier darkens the shadows, presenting her face in high contrast. She’s taken off her glasses. Eyeliner sharpens her gaze, a coat of lipstick darkens her lips. Her halter top is barely visible under the folds of her overcoat. The photographer was taller; Vanessa looks up from where she’s leaning against a wall. Something I hadn’t seen plays on her lips. She smiles, shyly, at her friend.

The bus slides through the morning drizzle, containing sleepy commuters. In whose heads I could guess are dreams and lists, hunger and hurt pride. In senior seating someone’s mother leans slightly against me, with each green light a gentle pressing against my shoulder. The umbrella dries in my lap. Last night the dream was desolation, and it was no absence or hollow pit. Bigger; an excavation in my heart, a yawning yearning. The bells of my lungs swept out sobs, so loud that had you been sleeping with me, I would have woken us both, and you’d shush me and run a hand through my hair, and I’d be with you and without her.

After my mother’s death, I discovered that one thing she and I have (had?) in common is a bit of sentimentality, although I wouldn’t call it that. She simply saved important things, the same kind of things I’ve saved; tons and tons of photos from her life, from her parent’s lives, from their parent’s lives, the college yearbook she edited, newspaper clippings of high school awards she won, marriage and birth announcements, my Social Security card and birth certificate (thank God), her father’s typewritten manuscript of a never-published book, postcards, a rosary, my first published poem (“The Sympathetic Rose”; fourth grade, school newsletter, full of big words that didn’t make a lot of sense strung together), my old report cards (Michael hands in wonderful assignments, but he can sometimes be disruptive in class) my seventh-grade “autobiography” (wherein I predict I will be single, a seventh-grade English teacher, and the adoptive parent of a daughter), copies of the lit mags that published my poems, a program from an event in which I won the Rose Rees Award for capturing the spirit of international peace as a senior in high school, etc, etc, etc. I had to leave a chest full of these things in Minnesota, promising her partner I’d come back to retrieve it. This…stuff, it matters to me. I thought of her today as I printed out some of the emails I’ve received through the Campfire, adding them to the binder I’ve started, behind the hard copies of my blogs that I print out monthly. You never know.

Calling Your Name from Another Room

Today was my first day at work, blog-free. Groan. Did it mean I didn’t check out my non-blogspot companions? Um, no. Everything in moderation.

I’ve been in contact with Outfront, a GLBT organization in Minnesota that keeps up on legislative issues. They’ve been helpful in identifying the possible laws that the coroner followed (or ignored, depending on the details) in refusing to release my mother’s body to her partner. My contact has offered to help us more if we’re up for it. I’ve been passing along the information to Lee, and waiting to see if she wants to proceed with any part of this process.

In a dream last night, my mother sat with Lee in the corner of a dimly-lit basement party. She appeared as she did before the ALS; vibrant, unencumbered. I looked across the room at her and she smiled, looking inexplicably shy, holding her partner’s hand. As I slept something physical moved through me (adrenalin only?). I woke briefly and felt it fading; I faltered on the edge of sleep again I gotta remember this and then another dream took me, and I was gone.

There’s a pit of sadness and detachment in my chest, clinging through the day’s movements. What am I forgetting? What was the gesture you offered, the moment my blood rushed quick? As the day progresses I am mocked by a message spinning in my head like a song; I can hear the rhythm, I can feel the form, I just can’t hear the words.