On The Other Side

When I first wrote this a few months ago, I was a mess. I wrote this in a flash and closed the window, unable to look at it again because it was too raw.

Today, I looked in the mirror, looked at my life, and did not feel like a mess.

So, I went back to edit it, and I was finally ready to actually read it. It feels good to feel like myself and be writing (and re-writing) again.


I didn’t realize how truly turned around I was until you started acting exactly like I would have a year ago.

“I get in my head,” you told me.

I know the feeling.

So, when I told you I’d been out on a date right after you left (me! The one who writes love stories for boys the minute I meet them. How strange to unabashedly risk everything and not care about your reaction), you exhibited the exact kind of false, cool, calm that is trying to mask a brain fast at work. The emergency lights blare and the alarm is “woo woo woo-ing” all over the place. I hear it in your voice as it insists that this is fine.

You say that, but I know you because I think you are like me and I know myself. Behind your assurances, I can hear the crackling of fire as my honesty burns down the paper pedestal you put me on far sooner than you should have.

See, the problem with me is that I’m a mess right now.

I know this because, right now, you don’t seem like a mess. You seem like you might be seeking stability.

I know all the tell-tale signs. You slip in pet names when we talk, seeing how I react. You ask me what I want from you. You sit there when I ask you the tough questions and then, instead of running, you make me bulleted lists with answer. You spend your time checking in on me and opening up to me and telling me you want to be better this time.

And the thing is, I’ve lived that life. I’ve made of living of it, in some ways. I have spent a lifetime opening hearts up, breaking walls down, providing the vulnerable foundation on which men can come to a better understanding of themselves and what they want.

And, to be honest, I’m tired.

Something broke in me and all my ability to open up, be the one who moves forward, be the one who gives anyone stability, feels like it’s gone. I have spent a lifetime cleaning up other people’s messes only to become the mess myself. I tailspin into impulsive decisions fueled by the one-too-many-beers I had two beers ago. I tell myself that this is fine with the same false, cool, calm you exhibit, but mine is a brain fast at work too.

The difference, though, is that you’re masking your terror so as not to scare me away. I don’t know who I am hiding my terror from except myself, and when I see so much of my old self in you it holds up the mirror that makes me ask where I lost myself before I met you.

It started with a lie.

Not your lie though. Or mine. Someone else’s lie. Someone else’s lies and someone else’s baggage and someone else’s pain running the show because isn’t that always the fucking case with a woman.

Eventually the lies felt bigger than my ability to love and everything was broken and the only way my mind could triage was to shut down the whole fucking system. Total reset. I refused to notice the emergency lights blaring or the woo-woo-wooing of the alarm and threw up my arms. The only thing was to move forward, to try and find a way to feel good again, to slowly make my way through and cling onto anything that felt vaguely like hope.

And maybe that strategy worked. I don’t know. I’ve made it to the place now where at least I can look in the mirror and finally start seeing the truth of things.

I am a mess right now. You are not a mess.

But, as the system slowly reboots, I guess things are becoming clearer.

And as I try and wade my way out of the mess— pushing the debris to the side, holding onto what I can of myself as I make it out of the muck— I am slowly learning to listen to the signs. The emergency lights blare, and I stop, shake my head, and turn in another direction. I hear the “woo” of alarm sirens approaching in the distance, and I close my eyes, take a breath, and change course.

Maybe, just maybe, I can find my way out of the mess.

When I do, I will brush myself off, and look in the mirror. I have no idea who I will see on the other side.

But I think I have to get there on my own.

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The Breath Before

I don’t often write fiction. I don’t think I do it particularly well, but I’ve been reading a lot of Junot Diaz this weekend and I guess I wanted to see what would happen. Here’s an excerpt. 


 

You are sitting with your back against a white, wood-paneled wall. The sun is streaming in. It is Winter, yet somehow still bright out. It is early morning and the cold seeps through the cement of your crappy apartment near the subway and all the way through to the wood of your wall. The cold is soothing on your back. It is 6:25 in the morning, and you are unsure if what is happening to you right now is real.

Moments before, you had snuck to his phone and looked through. A cardinal sin, yes. But you have a gut feeling. That’s how you justify it. Or maybe your life-long desire to Nancy Drew your way out of situations has reared its ugly head again. Or maybe you were just curious. Maybe all three.

Anyway, you do it, and after snooping through some text messages, you find photos. Lots of photos. And videos. Some girl whose face you don’t know, but in that moment it doesn’t matter. Later, you will wonder if she was in on it, if she knew, but, in the end that won’t matter either. She didn’t promise you anything. All you know is that the photos are there and the photos mean it’s the end and the photos rip you down the middle.

Now, you are sitting against the wood wall, trying to understand what your life looks like in this moment.

Later, after you have kicked him out of your small studio, you will realize you need to be at the lab in twenty minutes. In a daze you will find clothes and your coat. You won’t know how you got there, but the doors will swoosh open. You will duck past the interns waiting to be briefed by you. “Hi, Doc!” one will call out as you give a small, tight-lipped smile back. Later, he will remark to his friends that you seemed off that morning.

You will find your way into the office. Dan, your lab partner, will turn to ask why you’re late. He will see your face and know. He’ll wrap his arms around you and you will allow yourself a single sob. A convulsed release of the air and pain that have been sitting in your chest since 6:22 that morning when you saw the photos. He’ll give you a squeeze, then you’ll release yourself from his embrace, smile, and say, “Here we go,” before you turn to do your goddamn job.

That’s for later, though. Right now, you are sitting in your room, your back against a cold, white, wood-paneled wall. You look at his body splayed across your bed, his feet hanging off. You pull at your lower lip, your nervous tick he always picks on.

When you found the photos, your stomach tightened, you caught your breath. Suddenly, for a second, you saw only white, before it faded away and the photos and the videos were there again, as clear as day. It was as though your brain has taken a screen cap of that image, so that later when you are deciding what to do, it would throw the memory of this moment back front and center. Your ears start ringing. It will not stop until you make it into Dan’s arms later that morning. You drop to your knees, before getting up, putting on the first dress you can find and sit on the bed.

You find yourself there now, your back pressed against the wall for stability.

Later, after you have woken him and told him what you know and told him to leave, he will sit there, his eyes red and wet. He will apologize, but he will know better than to ask for another chance. He will tell you he still loves you, and how sorry he is before you finally get him out the door. It will take nearly an hour.

That hasn’t happened yet, though. That will be the memory you sit with later that night over a glass of whiskey that you are crying into: the image of him on the edge of your bed for the last time.

Right now, you are sitting at the other edge of your bed, you back against the cold, white, wood wall. You pull at your lip and furrow your brow. You wonder for a second if you could simply erase the image. If you could make things easy. If you could continue unabashed and unabated.

You know you cannot.

You take a breath. In. Out. You take another breath in and reach over to shake his leg.

“I need you to wake up now.”