Wednesday, June 26, 2019

These Are the Things that Keep Me Awake at 3:00 a.m. When the Rest of You are Sleeping Peacefully and I Know that Dawn Is Relentlessly Approaching but My Heart Is Pounding and My Eyes are Open in the Darkness

Someday I will know what it's like to be dead.
Did I close the garage door?


When Kelly was 12 years old,
she and her best friend, Mindy,
went to the high school pool on a free swim night.
Delighted shrieks bouncing from wall to wall
The eye-stinging smell of chlorine
Mindy found Christen and Tracy,
and they ran laughing to the lower diving board,
climbing to the top,
daring each other to leap.
Mindy was the first, screaming
until she splashed into the pool.
Her head bobbed to the surface,
and she brushed slick wet brown hair out of her face,
shouting her encouragement to the others.
But Kelly stood awkwardly at the edge of the pool
in her new blue bathing suit.
She didn’t know how to swim.
She wanted to wade in the shallow end,
but only babies and their parents lingered there.


My brain on fire,
I walked through the front door
of my studio apartment,
turned on all the lights that worked
and threw myself onto the bed,
staring at the white popcorn ceiling,
looking for the usual comforting
patterns and faces
but instead finding accusing stares
and pained grimaces.
A little to the right of the light fixture
in the center of the ceiling,
something new:
a black spot,
about the size of a dime
from where I lay.
Was it a bug? A spot of mildew?
I couldn’t reach it even if I stood on my bed,
so I tried my best to ignore it,
turned on my side
to trace the paths of the cracks in the walls.
My heart pounding, sweating.
squeezed my eyes shut,
then out of curiosity,
peered over my shoulder
at the black spot on the ceiling,
which seemed distinctly larger now.
Which is impossible, right?
A trick of the eye
or maybe I hadn’t sized it up
correctly to begin with.
But I watched it grow larger
before my widening eyes,
spread like a dark pool of blood
above me.
It started dripping down on me,
thick, viscous, oily, foul-smelling.
I leapt out of my bed,
watched the substance rain darkly
onto my comforter and sheets.
Most of the ceiling was black now,
and after a while,
most of my bed was soaked.
I couldn’t breathe from the odor.
Coughing, gagging,
I ran to the kitchen sink,
turned on the tap
to wash my shaking hands.
Dark sludge poured out
in a steady stream.
I looked down at my hands
and my clothes,
and the black drops on them
were drawn to each other,
pooling together.
I furiously wiped my hands
on the legs of my dirty jeans,
stripped down to my underwear,
kicked the pile of tainted clothing away.
I walked out onto the balcony,
mostly naked,
closed the sliding glass door.
I looked down on the street,
slick with rain,
the coffee shops and restaurants
where all the lights were on,
honking cars
brisk pedestrians
everyone with plans
and places to go
and people to meet.
My couch, my stove, my television
now completely submerged,
the pressure building up
against the door,
I was unable to control the tide.

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

December 24th

“But we’re all together!” my mother cries.
My older brother puts his hands
on both her shoulders.
“I know, but I need to run into the office.”
“On Christmas Eve?! That’s absurd.”
“Ma, you know my job is 24/7.
We’ve got a huge client in China
with a system crash.”
“Then they should find someone in China
to fix it,” she responds, angry folded arms.
“I always have to call China to fix my
computer or my wifi.”
But he already has his coat on,
and his wife and the baby are
ready to go too.
He starts his SUV remotely.
It is cold in the living room
for a while after he leaves.
Mom is banging things around
in the kitchen:
cupboards, pans, and the oven door.

I look at my younger sister,
her blacked-lined eyes affixed to her phone.
She blows a strand of brown hair out of her eyes.
“Mom,” she calls,
“Since Mark’s leaving, can I…?”
“Don’t you even think about leaving this house!”
Mom shouts.
“No one is leaving this house
until we go to Grandma’s tomorrow!”
“Fine! God!” my sister huffs,
retreating to her bedroom,
slamming the door.

If I were a good daughter,
I’d offer to help mom
in the kitchen,
but she is already angry,
and I never do anything right.
I lie on the couch,
gaze at the twinkling white lights
on the tree,
our childhood-made ornaments
perfectly displayed
next to collector Hallmark ornaments
and mass-made glass balls
purchased on sale at Target.
The air is perfumed by an
apple-cinnamon plug-in air freshener.
I mindlessly chew on some cashews
in a glass dish.
It is the first Christmas without Dad,
so nothing feels right,
even though this is how we’ve always been,
and it’s all totally normal.

Love in Suspension

My coworker confided in me
after one too many skinny margaritas
that she’s in love with the Brooklyn Bridge.
“It’s certainly iconic and beautiful,”
I replied, but she shook her head.
“No, I’m in love—romantic love, true love
with the Brooklyn Bridge.
She is my true love.”
“Uh, okay,” I said,
glancing quickly around us,
making sure that no one we knew
was near.

“I’ve known since I was in the fifth grade.”
She looked down into her drink with a shy smile.
“I’m sure you have questions,” she said.

There was a pause.
“But you date people, though, right?”

“I’ve tried,” she shrugged,
but it’s nothing like the thrill
I feel when I see her, my Brooklyn.”

“Do you…go there a lot?” I asked,
gulping down the rest of my drink.

“I’ve never been there,” she admitted.
“Never taken a step upon her,
never touched her suspension towers,
or her strong steel cables.
I don’t know how I ever could.
I’m afraid of flying,
afraid of heights
and afraid of looking down
into the water.
But she is mine,
and I am hers.”

“Have you dated any more
local bridges or…overpasses?”
I asked.

“No, no,” she shuddered,
pushed the idea away with her hand.
“They’re all men.
Ugly, rusted, rotting.
No beauty, grace, or romance.”

Then she smiled at me,
the smile you wear at funerals.
“You think I’m a freak, don’t you?”

“I think you’re…unusual,”
I replied slowly and honestly.
“But your love life is no business of mine.
As long as you like after-work drinks
and hate Cameron in R&D as much as I do,
you’re fine with me.”

I’m not good at keeping secrets,
but I kept hers.
The trust she placed in me felt sacred,
and I was pretty sure
no one else would believe me anyway.

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

The Life of the Party

After six glasses of wine
and two whiskey sours
on an empty stomach
at the holiday party,
I was finally ready to tell my boss
exactly what I thought of her
and her paranoia, spying,
backstabbing, micromanagement,
harsh criticism, favoritism,
disorganization, and disloyalty.
I walked up to her as she cackled
at something unfunny the VP said,
her head thrown back,
all her professionally whitened teeth bared,
dirty martini in her right hand,
sparkly black cocktail dress showing off
her meticulously curated figure.
I stumbled slightly,
pointed my wavering index finger,
and began, “YOU…”
She stared at me with distaste,
as though a cockroach had just
scurried across the hors d’oeuvres.
I continued, “YOU…oop…”
then staggered away
to where I believed the bathroom was.
Craig tried to shepherd me there,
his arm around my shoulder,
and I told him,
“You’re enjoying this, aren’t you,
you weasel?”
Except I was now speaking
my own invented language
with no translator.
I broke away from him,
whirled around,
and crashed
like a felled fairy tale giant
into the chocolate fondue fountain.
Crashing glass
Aimee, who never stops talking
about how she used to be a nurse,
rushed to my side,
shouting her credentials,
as I lay in the middle of the crime scene,
my hair drenched with milk chocolate
on a bed of strawberries, pound cake
and flattened marshmallows.