I watched them gather around her, Stonehenge in twilight before the tourists, signs, and gates 20 feet away. She’s a goddess, dropping love bombs. I wish, I wish, mommy why don’t you want me? If I appropriate Aphrodite, slather on your Cancer, drape my shapeless body in your cheap cologne, would you cover me?
I stay up all night to stitch a blanket from scrap yarn, pretending the stars are my friends, my only friends. They glare with universal oblivion, catch them when I can.
Alone on a slab while the instruments of ego and torture dissect my every move during the 7th inning stretch. I am utterly alone in this echo chamber, that you claim is your own.
But I have been sitting here for centuries. I am, your naked cast-off, waiting for the shield that will never come.
suddenly, you wait for me just outside Mrs. Hao’s door — a rewrite in your best English Honors (even though you never took the class) —
you, Michael… take my hand, and we walk toward the glimmering dimming light of the 1,000th high school reunion but this time, together, this time, I float on a shimmering glittery path
we pause as I look up into your incredulous face, a beam of yesterday’s sunshine between us, a what-if before our lips meet and the stars align
you linger on the corner of my mouth, and I smell spaghetti Wednesdays, pikake and maile lei proms (I never attended), the puff of soft linen snow on your New England winter coat — the one before business
“Why are we together now?”
“I always wished I had the courage to say yes to you.”
as I look away, two others gather behind the one, as bashful as hormonal freshmen on a Dungeons & Dragon late-night bender
“Did you ever go to a dance?”
“No,” I tell him, holding his hand a little longer.
I practice string theory while walking briskly through the middle of what is now a very nice, modern fusion Mexican restaurant. The knives and forks, chocolate lava cake that glowed, the strange imitation of tacos resonated with my middle-aged childhood, the four years I walked these hallways from English Honors to Algebra.
My short life in layers, the past and the present superimposed, save for this young girl’s voice telling me I am her hero. I should know her as she knows of me, yet dementia takes holds.
I should’ve interviewed my grandparents, beyond their aches and pains. They probably saw what was unspoken, in the gist of their laundry list of physical ailments, doctor’s appointments, talk of Medicare and the current President. Maybe they were too far gone to notice.
Maybe, I am not a ghost or a time traveler, but a cog in a machine. A very big machine.
In the dream, these strangers ask me to decorate a Christmas tree in their office. The boss says, “You must use two words to sum up our existence and encourage our production.”
I sing, “Oh Holy Night.” I don’t know why. But I can feel conversations stop, as these strangers surround me, feeling an unearthly voice go through them like glass.
I can’t wait to slip my hand under this dirty hotel mattress and fetch my blue vibrating dildo, as the minions surround the tree and the boss, oohing and aahing over my towel tinsel and my cinder block lettering in the midst of the blinking lights and the sagging garland: “Work Smart.”
Beautiful Kathleen leads a choir far away in a festive carol. The church is packed.
The friendly faces disappear into midnight mass. Twinkling stars aligning, one by one, where two or more are gathered — a familiar scenario playing over and over in my mind. The lonely are departed momentarily, this I know, but I play along, as if we are star-crossed lovers, or bosom buddies, partners in crime forever intertwined. I am, after all, the player and the playwright.
As the dust of their company settles, their stories etched in the smallest, furthest corners of my mind and of my soul, I remember their solemn vows, their declarations of love, the startled look in their eyes — the fade of a particularly moving sonnet in D-minor, perhaps — as once upon a time I broke up the monotony of their unwilling solitude with my clumsy attempts at conversation, my earnest, heartfelt confessions, a rant that slipped into debauchery.
I basked a little longer than I should in their laughter, a returned smile, the touch of rain on a summer day in the middle of this gladiator heat wave. I’m a part of them, for as long as this flat white lasts.
They always leave. Every last one. Always.
I used to cry for days, pounding my fists against these four walls, pounding pounding till they bled from the inside out.
Now, I know better. I am not here for love, a Friends marathon, Oprah, and forever after.
I’m here to tell their stories, until they move on.
One day, I won’t crochet, or run, or walk or sleep without you. The owl returns to its crevice in the picture window tree trunk view from our backyard. I’ll be alone and homeless and foraging through garbage cans for my next meal, crazy as a loon. In my dreams, I am already halfway there, foraging through the remains: pictures of my husband at a carnival when he was young, well, and alive, toy guns inside a plastic red toy briefcase when my son trundled his dead grandparents’ things through a grove of orange trees, still safe and sound, untouched by Death’s random markers.
When I first heard him play, the notes beneath the notes sparked a small firefly in the back of my memory, behind the rushed marriage proposals and the late-night radio sessions — after trading SuperMan for Casper and before my first broken heart in Linda York’s unsanitary, birdshit shed.
His voice sat with me in the dark, with only these memories of past sunsets taken in flickering doses on the way to the woods where I waited an eternity for the fateless basketball player to whisper a kiss on my right cheek and would pay dearly with a split lip.
We pick up on the conversations of other people’s children: comic book superheroes, detective novels, the soundtrack of our youth poking holes in the fatty stars above us every summer. It’s like he never left.
I’ve forgotten so much already, just as he holds on tightly to every passing year.
In my mind, we are young again, chasing the dimming light in a field of cattails and honeysuckle, racing death. We are two Peter Pans in a dozen, outliers on a hunt for a second chance at NeverNeverLand.
“That means so much to me Carol. I’m honored to know it’s made a difference.” -Donny McCaslin
“Thank you so much for these wonderful pics throughout the season. I have saved a few that we will enjoy for generations!” -Merrill Leonard
“You’re an inspiration—keep us posted on your journey.” -Lululemon
I was submitting my writing the other night, feeling like shit, feeling overwhelmed when a thought entered my head out of nowhere: I am a collector of moments that feel innately, incredibly, quietly, deeply human, a heart collector if you will.
I’m forever captured by these moments that stir my own heart.
Today, I walked around my wooded neighborhood for an hour, racing the thunder storm and lightning show. With five minutes to spare, I made it back home, the back of my right foot opening in a Nike blister, head awash in music meant to love me back.
Along the way, the beauty of nature struck me, like scenes from a movie or me scrolling through online contact sheets after a lengthy photo shoot: The scent of spring flowers, lilacs, clean, fresh Magnolia with dew forming around the edges, a man and his dog fetching mail in a shower of cherry blossoms, the way the pink blossoms hung low over the blackstrap tarp of the road, one branch flung away from the others, reaching out toward a sky heavy with slate that I could almost smell, and suddenly, out of nowhere, that faint familiar smell of Bobby the summer of ’77.
These moments stir inside me, waiting to get out. Maybe in a story of my own, buried in the sidestepping riddles of a forgotten poem, or a word-for-word transcript masquerading as an important interview.
When I am with people, I sit back, wait, and watch for those moments, taking pictures of the images and the feelings they evoke deep inside my well-covered heart. I painstakingly take each picture out in my mind for later, in the safety of my windowless room, aching with loneliness and self-loathing.
Your words add to my collection. The praise serves as a balm for my battered soul. It’s ridiculous how much I hunger for recognition, validation, just for one person in a crowd to see me standing there…
Every so often, when I feel brave, I am able to reach out to someone with my collection, sharing pieces of these moments, so the person will not be sad, or borrow the strength of my conviction for the five minutes it takes to go on after a terrible blow.
I am that singer in a B movie who is known for copying others but afraid to show herself. I am the patient recovering from major surgery, clinging to the idle gardening conversation of masked strangers waiting for their lunch break.
They forget my name as soon as I say it. But, I forget theirs. I don’t forget their smiles, the funny little laugh of recognition, a pat on the shoulder in between my patches of psoriasis, the things that matter.