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Marrying a Friend

“So, then I asked for some guacamole.”

“Why?”

“Because I was hot.  Hot.  You have no idea how hot it was in there. “

“But…guacamole?”

“It was a Mexican restaurant and I needed something to cool me down, so naturally I ordered some guacamole.”

“Naturally.”

“So, this waitress, she asks all sweet like if I want chunky or smooth.  Now, I’m hot and the thought of anything chunky made me wince, so I said smooth.”

“Wait a minute, why didn’t you just get up and leave?”

“I couldn’t, I didn’t pick the restaurant.  While I was begging for smooth, cold guacamole and sweating into my clothes, she is sitting across from me as cool as a cucumber and happy as can be that she only spent $10 on her dinner.  I shared my guacamole.”

“Why did you share your guacamole?”

“Because it was room temperature warm and tasted like they opened it from a glass jar.”

“Well, they probably did.  How many times do I have to tell you not to go to a cheap restaurant and especially on a week night?  If you want to go cheap go on the weekends, at least the microwaves are in good order. “

“I’m telling you I didn’t pick out the restaurant I had nothing to do with it.”

“Dude, are you in love with this chic?”

“No, no.  I’m not.  We’ve been friends since our freshman year in college.  We were paired up together in Spanish class. “

“Spanish class.”

“Yeah, we needed to learn as partners.”

“Man, you are monkey shit crazy. “

“Why?”

“You’ve been putting up with a friend who gets happy over spending only $10 for a meal?  This is a friend?  Someone you are supposed to be happy to see.”

“Well, I was sort of happy to see her.  She actually spent $10.18”

“Okay, I’m leaving. “

“No.  No.  Don’t leave me, man.  I told her I was with you tonight and couldn’t meet for coffee.”

“Coffee?  Checkin’ out the coffee at McDonald’s?”

“It’s not bad.”

“I’m gone. “

“Listen, don’t leave me.  I’ll buy the next brew, not a problem.”

“One’s my limit on a week night, you know that.”

“Then help me forget about that meal, I would do the same for you.”

“Dude, how do you want me to help you forget a meal?  I have no words to describe the idea of you sitting there in the blazing sun, expecting guacamole to help your predicament and you eating a quasi-cold Mexican meal that probably came out of a box.”

“I’m scared of her man.  She orders water with lemon and no ice.  No ice.  Then she had a plate full of food and I spent $17.58 plus a four-dollar tip because I had lemon aid and guacamole.  What if we get married.  I’ll have to retire early with a woman like that.”

“You just told me you didn’t love her.”

“Yeah, but I’ve got to marry someone one.”

“Okay, this is what I’m gonna do.  For you, I’m going to have another beer and I’m going to pay for it.  Then I’m going to take my time drinking it while I describe for you the excruciating torture I will put you through if you ever propose to that woman.  They’ll never pin your disappearance on me man because your Mom loves me more than she loves you.  Then we are going to get up from these chairs and go make idiots out of ourselves with that group of women over there as a sort of cure by fire; a cure for picking terrible dates and for even considering marrying a friend.  You got me?”

“I got it.  Thanks, man.”

Photo by Pawel Kadysz on Unsplash

Dead Today

So I read today that you are dead.

Are dead, and were dead, and was dead. Ah the beauties of the English language, each statement reflects for the audience who I am…well to hell with them.

How long are we dead Missy? A moment, a flash of time that encompasses exquisite pain and then – what? Do we remain in a paroxysm of memory or do we go blank a sudden release?  And really, old friend, what is worse?

Your obituary was short and brief; no viewing, no opportunity to submit to your favorite charity – the abortion clinic, the woman’s homeless shelter or possibly the city’s club for user men. They put you in your grave and since weather permits a “brief” family ceremony is allowed, graveside, where the dirt hides their mess now. At last, my friend, your very own address.

And what dear, is the ceremony about? The children that don’t know you because you were unfit or broke or worse, deceived into believing you were too much of all the above?  What of the son who was raised by your parents, the same parents who smiled at our girl scout uniforms and told us both we were communists? What, would, will, shall, it be about?

And your “companions,” will they be there? Yeah, I know dear and so do you, if they slept with you then they loved you right? Tell me, did you ever get over that notion? You know, being able to brush your teeth, look in the mirror and say, ‘I am more than an easy lay’? Or did it ever occur to you that possibly sex, no matter how intense, is not love? Did they ever give you the time?

Maybe, I don’t know.

Missy, I always thought you pretty; your smoke-blue eyes and blemishless ivory skin, even young as we were, I thought you pretty. It was always you who ran from the boys on the playground — they showing you their crotch and yelling, “sharpen my pencil, Missy, sharpen it for me.” On the playground, God help the early-developed girl.

Later we watched the boys, who stood up straight for the blond prom queen’s father. While they fawned over future wives, they made sure you knew their intent; making you blush and me shudder. They snickered in their Christian youth groups and pondered you. We fooled ourselves into thinking that their gold crosses meant something to them. But they were raised right and condoms were always ready in their pockets and roomy back seats. For justice’s sake, I wish them daughters with large breasts and low self-esteems.

As for me, I wait for the dead to tap on my windowpane, and for someone else to tell me their name. Today it was yours and in a swirl of green girl scout uniforms, hobo Halloween costumes and trampled prom dresses your blank, smoke-blue eyes, look back at me, no more questions just perhaps surprise.

 

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

Are We Breaking Up Again?

Last night I didn’t keep a revolving appointment.  It was simply our weekly coffee get away.  A tradition that we kept through thick and thin.  A tradition that probably kept our relationship alive.  At the last moment, I found myself somewhere else completely.

It was an odd sensation being in a part of town I had not often frequent.  It was a bohemian sort of family orientated, blue-collar sort of place.  Small front yards with bright, primary-colored plastic toys and large trees shading the uneven sidewalks.  There were a few dilapidated unloved houses here and there but for the most part refurbished rambling old homes with attic apartments, to help finance the restoration, sat about in reminiscent glory.   Small factory woodshops and little Italian restaurants were tucked in here and there and on one corner an Irish pub with window boxes full of bright salmon-colored impatients shone almost fluorescently against the kelly-green of the shutters and awnings.   Next door to the pub was a well-kept little boarding house that allowed dogs, cats and curious, peering little cockatiels.  The evidence of the liberal pet policy was evident in the open windows; a large tabby cat was wedged up against the screen of an open window and two stories up the cockatiels whistled and gyrated as if performing for the people walking by on the sidewalk.    I didn’t see a dog but somewhere within the old, square, brown brick building, I heard the yap of a ferocious little dog who probably thought himself at least a Great Dane.

I parked my car in a small lot beside the used book store.  The bookstore had been there for years and when I was younger I would come often and grab a read on the cheap.  I would take the time to walk the neighborhood and wonder if I could find a house and rebuild it to its former glory while taking my kids down to the small park or making them sit up straight in the little Italian restaurant when it was all you could eat spaghetti night.

During our last coffee appointment, I had mentioned my desire to visit again the neighborhood and you said I should go when I had time.   I was embarrassed, not sure if you thought I was trying to cajole you into some sort of proposal by showing you how families lived or if you thought my old habits droll.

I Mechanically dug into my narrow but deep purse that you brought back for me from Ecuador.  The vibrant hand dyed colors and the texture of the hand-woven material enamored you to my heart.  We were early in our relationship then and the purse retained its shape and vibrant colors and I never tired of it.  I found my “smart phone; a small, glowing box that contained all my vital work and social appointments and I knew I’d be lost without it.

I muted the phone, got out of my car and walked toward the bookstore.

The bookstore was in a tall, thin looking building with narrow windows displaying all sorts of used and new books interspersed with board games, and wooden toys.  I realized that the building was built and intended for a retail store.  I glanced up and saw that the upstairs apartment was probably one of those high ceiling places with windows that allowed only so much sunlight in and an abundance of shade in high angles all day long.

I walked in and the smell of old books confirmed to my wondering mind why I had driven in the opposite direction of my appointment and left my coffee to cool and my usual seat empty.

Books take my mind off of all my preoccupations, you often have stated that once I begin to read nothing disturbs me.  When words don’t go right or a ridiculous annoyance comes up between you and me, I pick up a book.  Time and distance help smooth over the rumbling disturbance and we can look good together for a little while longer.

My first stop was history and the section on the U.S. Civil War.  I picked out the books and felt the weight of those tomes that had well-creased bindings and dog-eared pages.  I felt a vibration on my hip.  I knew then I had muted the damned thing rather than turned it off just to know I was annoying you.

Pathetic.  Standing in the midst of the burning of Atlanta, the March to the Sea and turning of a page in US history, I realized that I was pathetic.  I looked around for a quick distraction and found a brilliant display of old coffee table books.  I immediately felt the burn of tears.

The sight of the coffee table books saddened me and angered me.  My grandmother always had coffee table books.  Coffee table books were a sign of past times when people still wanted to see the world and was content to see it in brilliant colored photographs on high-quality paper.  They didn’t rush, for example off to Ecuador and prove to the natives that US citizens could live without ice cubes.

I didn’t have a coffee table and felt void, even bereft.  I had taken your advice to spare the room, don’t allow clutter, bookshelves were signs of a cluttered mind.  Instead, I had a very large modern art watercolor with brilliant colors offset by dark grays, not quite black.  Black shouldn’t be used by a true artist you always say.  Thinking of that piece of art while standing amongst all those books made me think of upscale hotels and high-priced prostitutes.

So, I moved quickly to the do it yourself, help yourself, forget yourself and there goes the vibrating smartphone again.

No, self-help was going too far and I was too old.  I realized I could make a change but I couldn’t go back.  I didn’t want a large house to refurbish but an old brick apartment with some bearded hippy, sporting a man bun stopping by installing quality bookshelves in every corner.

I stepped quickly to the classics, skipping the mysteries and the romance books in cheap yellowing splendor.  I picked up Middlemarch and let the pages fan my face.  The letters on the broad white pages danced in confusion, just before my eyes.  How I struggled through that book and how I wondered at its popularity when there was Jane Eyre or even Wuthering Heights.  While smelling the old cloth covered classics I couldn’t deny that some time while driving away from our usual appointment I had some sort of epiphany.

The phone vibrated again and mechanically, yet without dread, I dug it out of my narrow brightly colored reminder of you.

“You running late?”

“Where are you?”

“Are we breaking up again?”

 

Rock of Ages Light

Sounding Thunder,

Wind in our sails

Good sailing,

Economy counts

And always will.

We sailed the crew low-

A woman to cook, a boy to pray.

The wind in November there is

Nothing at all like her.

The ice encased the hatchways

Freshwater knives cut and

crack our skin.

The young men cry for mothers.

And one hundred years later, in safe harbor,

The generations etch our tomb in radar.

The sensitive woman may wonder

One hundred years from now

And tomorrow, they’ll forget

The waves that slide and take

Sounding Thunder down

To the Rock of Ages.

Pillar of Salt

Roger’s City and Alpena

The sunrise side

Of cold, cold mourning

Head down, no warning.

Mists of Huron

A grip so soft

yet so unrelenting –

What lies of

Beautiful dreams

Do you have for me now?

What passion

Can you wrench from

Me so as to mock

The salt that I am

And you,

You, Huron, are not.

Never have you turned

Around, never has

Regret found you

Above sin, above passion

Like being in love

With a marble

Statue

And I love you.

Sincerely, I do.

Steel Water

So much is now known, my love

Your hand upon your chair

Your gaze focused on the distance

So much is now known my love and yet

So much remains unclear.

 

Often you left to roam so great an unknown

Your hand upon my hair

Your gaze focused on my face to memorize every trace.

Often you left me to make

Known the Unknown.

 

Weeping and lonely through

Childbirth and longing you left me.

Your hand upon the great wooden wheel

Your feet firmly planted on waves of fresh water steel,

So much of it is now known.

 

Every piece of land only an inlet or peninsula

The creak and moan of our home just a reminder of

Launch and storm.

Buffeted by wind and ice, your back straighter

Only I am frailer.

 

Now sit upon your chair

Less weathered than mine.

You sit and gaze upon fresh water, fine sand

And sip wine.

So much, my love, is now known, but who am I?

 

Slowly you approach your hand slides along the small of my back.

“You are the steel water, you are my sight

You are my freedom, my longing, my right

To sail the fresh water.

Come to me, my love, and make yourself known.”

Gossips

“Well, he’s at least 16 years older than her. Please pass the salt.”

“Mother always said, “There’s no fool like an old fool.””

“All I can say is poor Anne. Did you use real mayonnaise or is this salad dressing?”

“Mayonnaise. I don’t quite follow you about Anne. They divorced over two years ago.”

“Yes but the kids. They still get together with the kids. What happens now? Him running around with a younger woman. Are these the lavender cookies you were talking about?

“Hmmm. I guess but I think they get together at different times. And yes those are the cookies. I picked them up at the bakery this morning.”

“Whatever, they both still live in this town. He and that hussy could walk into a restaurant and Anne could be there. Is there pepper on the table?”

“Well, I suppose but Anne wouldn’t necessarily be alone. Really is she rarely alone?”

“Well, I don’t blame her. Did you see her latest?”

“So tall.”

“Just enough silver along the temples.”

“Oh, we are horrible gossips.”

“Yes, yes we are. This salad, I think, just needs a touch more pickle.”

“Yet, I don’t know what he is thinking. She is so young.”

“Do you see how she can’t take her eyes off him? She follows him with her eyes whenever he’s in the room.”

“They’ve kissed in public. Kissed, not pecked.”

“O mercy, did mothers hide their children’s faces – pass the ketchup please.”

“Sure. No, you know how people are nowadays. I guess they’ve set a date, at least they’ll be married.”

“Already? Mercy.”

“Yes, Anne told me herself. Kids are all attending. I think she’s hurt she didn’t get an invite.”

“Well, I don’t quite understand that. Why would you want to watch your husband marry someone else?”

“EX husband, dear.”

“Whatever. They still knew each other in Biblical proportions. Pass the cake, please. Is there cream for the coffee?”

“Oh dear, we are horrible gossips.”

“Yes, yes we are.”

 

School Girl Crush

When is the sun an untruth?

Untruth?  Not to be confused with recline, relax, but everything to do with solitude when a truth is proven.

Not to be confused with the decline we all know is coming (are you sure) or nothing, but everything to do with solitude when a truth is proven by being unprovable.

The sun is an untruth when we can’t see it. We are not intruders here.

“Prove it,” he said all alone, spotlighted and mad and hatless, no small child to impose upon or to frighten.

“Such a vast universe, we are insignificant in comparison,” said they to him

– “prove it,” he said, “prove ‘insignificant!'”

and they proved it to themselves by laughing up their sleeves.

I followed him about while he scowled back at me.  “Go away.”

So I did but came back again.

And little by little he spoke less and less to me.  “Here, read this.”

I did and returned the words to him wanting to hear more, all I heard was, “no, no, keep it, take good care of it.”

I see him now everywhere and nowhere.

The librarian with no roof, no walls, no plastic to protect what paper remains,

and me with this ridiculous schoolgirl crush.

“Here read this,” he told me and now I do really read it and think –

prove ‘insignificant’ to me, prove it.

Sky Dive

Catapulted

Right off the ground

I knew straight up

There was nothin’ for it

So I spread my arms

On the ascend and lifted my chin

And while the numbing wind

Blew through my hair

I thought I’ll take a moment

To just forget.

I’ll forget the memory of

The smashing that is coming

The splat on the grass

And the certain tumbling.

I’ll forget the fact that

Being screwed over is

My own fault here in

The twenty-first century.

There is no excuse for tender

Moments and forgetting

The power of lust.

My eyes wide open and

A surge of adrenalin

Blue sky and white cloud all

On the horizon

But here it comes that

Mild descent.  I guess I’ll

Just close my eyes, pause

And dive.

Train

Our coffee cups, still in the sink, a few crumbs on the counter, added to the house’s feel of empty and ignored as I enter in what was just a few hours ago, familiar.  You tried to clean up before we left but I wanted to get started.  I have no idea why I was so anxious.

Actually, I do know why, both of us tired, the train trip back into the city seemed excruciating to me.  The night before we had the train practically to ourselves.  Oh, a few people sat in jolting, distant, silence, here and there within the train car we were in – an older gentleman, who thought you were my wife, sat across from where we stood.  I didn’t try to dissuade him of his notion.  You had your back to him but I watched him watching us.  Though your hair was pinned, somehow, high upon your head soft curling strands fell down upon the curve and back of your neck — small glints of silver gray, unashamed, glistened upon your temples.  Your eye makeup, slightly smudged from blinking and rubbing fatigue, only seemed to make your appearance softer.  You insisted upon standing, claiming you preferred it but we both knew you were simply fighting sleep.  I looked away from you to hide a smile and caught the old man looking at us — his expression, a sort of longing look, perhaps envy.

So I turned back to you, looked down upon your face, pale, sleepy, beautiful.

I opened up my arms, grasping the cold metal bars above your hands.  You blinked and looked up at me.  A small frown between your eyes and I realized you were questioning me.  Was I really inviting you to step forward, place your head upon my shoulder, lean in?  Gently I inclined my head toward my shoulder.

No sarcasm just rest. Trust me a little.

You did.

You moved forward and I lost sight of you but for the first time, beyond the casual handshake or the quick friendship hug, I felt you.

Your body against mine, resting.

For the first time in years, I was slammed with continuous, slightly frenzied thought.  I was terrified I would have an erection and then terrified I wouldn’t, then terrified I was having those types of thoughts about a woman who was diametrically different from me in almost every way.  And then I caught sight of the old man again, he winked at me and smiled and quickly looked away.

Was he afraid I’d try to explain?  Hey, she isn’t my wife, she’s the most aggravating, mind-bending, hawkish woman I’ve ever met.  I became conscious of your weight against me and realized I was the only one on the train stressing.  Stressing like some overwrought prom date.  So I lowered my arms along the bars to encase you further against me and I felt a small shiver move between us.  You seemed to radiate heat within my protective circle; a heat I was aware of but not consumed by, a heat that was meant for me to know of, but not to know.  A heat that so few women are aware they possess, that permeates their body when approached like the opening of a leaf when finally in sunlight long enough.  A power really, that is self-contained, yet subconsciously utilized.

I thought about saying that aloud but I could hear your scoff, your “masculine conceit,” argument and so remained silent.

I continued to watch nothing out the window, the flash of lights as the train moved quickly from the old city to where I lived, alone in the new housing.  I thought of the many times I had made this trip by myself, exuberant from a time on the town, ready for solitude and rest.  Would I feel that way again?

The train began to slow, our stop tonight, mine alone later.  I felt your reluctance to move so I moved my chin against your forehead, felt your soft skin beneath me.  I could feel the old man watching and I most desperately did not want you to thank me.  I felt myself stiffen as if waiting for a tight-fisted blow but you didn’t even look up.  You placed your hand upon the center of my chest as if touching me was something you did often, and softly pushed yourself away.

The train stopped and the rattle of the doors opening and the cold air of late night, early morning, coursed into the car.  I glanced back.  The old man was watching, again his look of envy or remorse upon his face, but he wasn’t looking at me, he was looking at you.  We stepped toward the door and your hand was in mine.  You never held my hand before and I did not feel incredulous but suddenly concerned for you.

The doors shut behind us and we began moving away from the platform, toward my house, my small world I had let you invade, on my invite, for a few days.

“Do you think he rides just to pass the time?”

I looked away from your face, your sad voice but re-gripped your small hand in mine and said nothing.  I did not realize you had even noticed the old man.  Rebukes flooded my mind.  What did you care, you who feel overtaxed, and burdened by the world, what could you care about one lonely old man.  I remained silent and we continued to walk because your rebuke would make sense too.  Why was he alone, when could society take the place of an individual’s touch?

The street was dark, my house darker.  My hand trembled as I inserted my key into the lock and opened the door.

I stepped aside and let you in first.

You walked down the long hall toward that narrow entry room that separated the dining room from the drawing room.  I watched you.  You placed your hand deep within your hair and pulled out the magic that held it aloft upon your head all evening.  I watched your hair cascade down and brush your shoulders.  You placed the magic absent-mindedly upon the small narrow table that belonged to my Mother and seemed destined for this narrow tall house, deep within this bohemian, suburban, sprawl.

Your back still to me, your hands went up and rubbed your temples and I could imagine your face, eyes closed and worried about the old man on the train.

I wanted to man up, wrap my arms around you, fight your hair ‘til I found your neck and place wet kisses there, feel the tension drain away and hear you sigh.  I wanted to work every inch and curve of your body against mine.  Maybe you were right, there might be a God, and He had a hand in making things fit.

The moment passed, I allowed it.

I let it pass and I let you walk to your room, close the door without saying goodnight and I sat up the rest of the night with very expensive wine and as far away from God as the day I decided He didn’t exist.

You told me not to stay with you at the airport, that you’d be fine and I honestly felt that you meant it.  You seemed relieved to be there, to be boarding a plane back to your beloved Chicago.  Dark circles under your eyes and your hair disheveled and sexy, the waiting area for your flight suddenly seemed to lift your spirits.

I thought seriously for a moment about leaving.  We were adults, behaved like adults, and didn’t have a thing to worry about or remember tonight.  But to your annoyance, I stayed and I wanted you to take my hand and I wanted to put my arm around you while we waited but you read your book and I paced the floor.

A call to board.

Why had I waited for this moment?  What did I face now?  A quick, friendly hug, a joke, a laugh –next year in Chicago.  But you had caught on, hadn’t you?  You straightened your back, shrugged your bag higher up on your shoulder, and waited for me.  For one moment, one glorious moment, I thought, yes, I surrender.  I surrender and there is no way in hell that you can stay but I don’t care the enormity of pain watching you board that plane will be worth one honest square moment.

I asked you what the weather was like in Chicago.

The weather.

You didn’t say anything, smiled a small smile, gave me a quick kiss and was gone.

And now I’m standing in this house.  Sunlight streaming into the windows, dust motes floating in the air and the sound of a distant city on a Sunday afternoon.

I waited for the telephone to ring, had visions of you at my front door but the house remained quiet.  I told myself, as I settled in and cooked my evening meal peace and tranquility had settled back into my house.

I preferred to be alone, admired from a distance, known for my austerity and non-hypocritical friendship, I was a haven for my friends.

Darkness and I still waited for the telephone to ring.

I broke down, washed your coffee cup from the morning, and placed it away with the others.  I went upstairs and entered the guest room.  I could smell your perfume, knew that I would.  I told you to leave the bed that I’d wash the sheets for the next guest.  I pictured myself naked chest down upon your sheets, shook my head and roughly pulled the bedding up ignoring your sent and stumbled out the bedroom door.

I washed everything.  My small machine and I worked.  I sweated hanging your sheets in the basement to dry, smelling now like laundry detergent.

No one at the door, no telephone ringing, I grabbed my keys, locked the front door and started walking.  An all-night coffee house down the street.  I took you there a couple of days ago.

The coffee house was expensive but good.  I took no book, no electronic gadget, I just watched the quiet Sunday evening world move by.

And oddly enough I didn’t look for you.

You are gone.

I looked for the old man.

I saw my partial reflection in the depth of the coffee cup.  I saw my reflection, dimly, in the darkened windows of the shop.  I tried to look beyond myself, out to the suburb and city I know, but my reflection was in the way.  My hair, silver, my expression somber, my shoulders still broad, not stooped, not yet.  What would we look like sitting there together?

What did we look like sitting there?

My hand didn’t tremble at all when I pushed the key into the lock and shoved open my front door.  The door did not creak and the floorboards beneath me did not moan.  The house was dark; I switched on the light and stood in the long hall.  There where you left them, were the magic hairpins upon my Mother’s table.  I picked them up and held them in my hand.  Smooth, warm, small; how could something so compact help defy gravity?  I placed them back down on the table, arranging them how you had left them.  I walked up the stairs, into the barren guest room, laid down on the bare mattress, smelling faintly of your perfume.