I dated Carla for a year after the abortion as a way to punish myself. She had no idea how much I was grieving or why, but she could see my pain and poured it over herself hoping to help. My agency dried up as she assumed responsibility, my expression along with it. I became a puppet husk and floated without purpose on the ebbs of her compassion. I couldn’t bring myself to explanation, to a declaration of desensitisation. I could never say I’ll never love you. I broke three hearts for stopping one but couldn’t hurt myself enough.
I tried kissing her, gently at first then slightly harder. Her mouth was there in all the right ways but distinctly empty. I pulled away, the taste of ash and resentment on my tongue. She looked at me with lethargic stability but I couldn’t keep it up, I moved my eyes away hoping to keep my soul to myself. Don’t you want this, I asked. Her voice was a pressed reed, pleas written on papyrus in a since lost language. We’ve become meaningless to each other, dead script. I close my eyes and wonder if she’s thinking about him.
Being absolutely floored. Summer storms, warm SoCo and cola. The strip of stomach showing between denim and cotton. Little topographic ranges that presage a hip-line, the slight dip at the equatorial belt and the geometry of promise. Lickable surfaces. Swift kindnesses, irrepressible joys, little innocences in everything. Silent understanding, comedic relief, taut volumes and enlightening speech. Socks in a tumble dry, hair fall and lost ties, interpersonal litter. Evaporated salt, waning scars, tussled sheets. Coy smiles, casual affection. Cliff faces and blind leaps. Naivety without ignorance. More time than can be held and memories that fail to fade.
Mikey’s mentality resides somewhere slightly adjacent to the rest of us, entering into his awareness can be difficult. I told him, I don’t believe in monogamy anymore. ‘Oak is nice,’ he said, ‘or pine.’ I’ve learnt not to pick my battles, to just engage and let him extract what he needs. So, I gently outlined my love for him and lust for others, my need to stay but stray. ‘And me,’ he said eventually, ‘what should I do?’ Whatever you like, I said, as long as you love me. ‘Well,’ he said, ‘I think I’ll just keep being myself.’
I tell her, when you look at me I feel more attractive than I really am. ‘That’s stupid,’ she says. ‘You’re exactly as attractive as you are.’ Nissa feels subjectivity objectively, I sometimes watch her pulling the world in around us and straightening it out as though it were an untucked sheet or petty knot. I ask her how attractive I should feel. ‘More than most and less than some,’ she says. ‘But it’s fucking arbitrary, you’re just you and that’s as wonderful as it needs to be.’ Well, you’re amazing, I tell her, and she nods. ‘I know.’
Every time we fuck I feel like I should mark it on a calendar. Will this be the last time? Does she mark the passing like I do, with cravings and despair? So rare now that I get to look let alone touch. I once thrived on those moments, the little glimpses, fleet contact, flashes of flesh. Such small tendernesses sustained me for so long. I don’t know how to dine with any other, how to accomodate new etiquettes and tastes, how to satisfy strange urges, but I’m so famished now and life goes by too quick to fast.
Dana lifted up her skirt so that Laura could take a look at her new tattoo, then she made eye contact with me and hiked it up again so I could see her panties. ‘The fine details are gorgeous,’ Laura said. Dana, still forcing my eye, smirked and shifted in her seat. ‘It’s tight huh, and there was very little blood.’ The world felt weak, rubbery and stifling, a capriciously skinned balloon caught in an easterly wind. Dana broke her lock, remarried skirt to knee, and returned herself to Laura. ‘You know, I’m actually starting to enjoy the pain.’
I’d given her so many pet names over the years and she’d always abided. Honey lamb, sweetie, pudding-pop, baby, sugarplum, kitten. My lover, my partner, my friend, in the end they were only labels, poorly indicative descriptors for their innards, simply something to write out and slap over minor misconceptions we both agreed on. Needing to know now what we couldn’t, we spent years assigning designations and designing abstractions, showing our friends and easing our fears. Together we made a maze of nomenclature and died inside its nadir. The last name I ever gave her was her own.
Every evening I slit my wrist and pull out the little failures. I am a party magician and their spool is never ending, it is the realest illusion in my life. They stream from me in ribbons of degraded earthen shades, bled terracotta soldier, and I use them to bind my unhappiness. Abraded clots in braided knots, woven tightly to the psyche. I keep my eyes open and try to see it all unfurl. When I fall asleep, I hold the knife to my throat and tell myself this will be the last time, I won’t be tricked again.
Running elbow to wrist, clinically straight but raggedly hewn, faded though it was the scar always confused. ‘I did it to know I could,’ he told me once, ‘after that I knew I could do anything.’ I was jealous of his relentless confidence and experimental certainties. ‘Life is a trick,’ he went on, ‘it’s not about what anybody thinks, their reality is irrelevant. Despite our ability to share, create, and converse, we are all in our own way forever isolated. You’ll only ever be you, so striving for something other is pointless.’ But I still wish I was him.
Women always see something other than me in me, some autonomous projection they each assimilate differently. Sarah shut me down because she said I was too cool. Amelia knew I was knowledgeable but boringly nice. Danika didn’t commit and labeled me nonconformist perfectionist. Selena isolated points of my draining potential and soldered them to my esteem. The beautiful awful that harries my innards allows only such slivers of self that cursory inspections are easily marked for discard, yet, in some way the superimposition of their idiosyncratic slices saved them. None of them ever got to know the real me.
I pace the floors counting milliseconds in macro until a reaction. Her passivity winds the little key in the back of my head that makes every increment ache. When I stop her stillness escalates, frozen in poised defence. I feel the itching shiver of churning gears in a grist free mill. I try and force my pacing into patience, sit, try waiting, but my skin is so coiled I can sense the life vibrating out of my grasp. Finally, her voice is pendulous and flat. ‘If you’re restless,’ she says, ‘maybe you should do something.’ A metronome in vacuum.
I keep thinking I’ll just be able to go home. I’ll open the door and she’ll be smiling at me. We’ll hold hands and talk about nothing like we used to, it’ll be easy, we’ll lock eyes and laugh. Later we’ll watch some rubbish cinema, I’ll lay my head in her lap and she’ll pat me absentmindedly while I let myself drift. The years will be a comfort that we share in, its lightness and its strength wrapped around us both. I can still feel it, refusing to be absent, and I keep forgetting what I no longer have.
I remember when we broke into that under construction building. We made love with my jumper as a buffer between the concrete and bare skin. I was disturbed by the structural skeleton we were in, the lack of romantic amenity and the fresh awkwardness of pre-acquaintance, not to mention the fine-grained grit of unpolished workmanship appearing in every crevice. She was very careful to show she didn’t notice and voraciously attentive in her caring. I was in pain for so long afterwards. They never did finish that building, I hear it’s still empty, incomplete and totally fitting.
I had my suspicions there were a couple valium tucked under the couch. They were either party relics or comedown figments but I had to know. So, I was on hands and knees when she found me, wrist deep in mystery. I turned up my charming face and met a Botticelli gaze far from grace. For a moment I saw her on that pedestal, it was right for her to be above me. ‘I can’t keep watching you destroy yourself,’ she said. So, don’t look, I told her, and kept fishing under the couch, hoping to find some relief.