Tuesday, November 24, 2009


We have confused
The exception
For the rule
And the rule
For the exception.
What we think
We rarely are
Is what we are usually.
What we think
We usually are
Is what we are but rarely.
To look into ourselves
Too deeply
Is to risk
The lethal cold touch of despair.
To never look
Is to be already
Drowning in it.
What we are is here,
In this moment.
Not the exception
But the rule.
Not a moment away
But a moment
Deep within it.

She looked up at me, from her sanctuary by my heart, and she once again said the words I had already heard so often:
“This is not me. This is not who I am. You have met me at a very particular moment, a very unique moment… so please don’t think that this is what I am because it’s not…”
I felt her soft body against me, her naked legs pressed against my own and her stomach pressed against my side, and her sweat mingled with mine and it formed tiny rivers that slid towards the white ocean of the rumpled sheets. I leaned over and kissed her smooth white forehead and she shook her head. I kissed her again as she started to speak.
“I really want you to know… I wouldn’t want you to think… I wouldn’t want you to imagine that… you know?… this is simply not me… you understand? This is not me. Maybe it was once before… but I have left that behind me…even if it has happened now… it’s just a fluke… it’s simple not me…”
I nodded and wondered if she was referring to the compulsive smoking by the garden door, which left behind a trail of cigarettes over the decomposing moist surface of the walls, or maybe she was referring to her constant calling, to her angry jealousy, to her bouts of drinking, to the night when I sat by her in a little bar on Judah while she drank one beer after another and I just watched her eyes slowly drooping and I heard her words getting more and more difficult to comprehend while the old drunks sitting at the bar eyed us with shameless curiosity. Or maybe she simply referred to being here in my arms, to her naked and willing presence where it shouldn’t be. This was certainly not me, and not by choice. And maybe it wasn’t her either, maybe she was right. And in that case, we were two non existent beings borrowing the bodies of others to meet in a non existent place, an imaginary realm of twilight where improbable things could happen.
“I used to act like this… you understand?… but it’s just not me… I have grown beyond all that… you see?… you have to know that this is not me… otherwise you will get the wrong impression… you will believe the wrong things… and you will be wrong about me… how can you truly know me if you are wrong about me? You have to know the real me… this is not it!”
Maybe it was the fact that she had stayed with me for so many nights, so many that now I couldn’t even remember when she hadn’t been here, so many that it now seemed natural to have her small naked white body next to mine each time I half awoke in the middle of the night, touching her big brown nipples with my fingers and feeling them getting hard in the darkness, so many that I no longer flinched when she was upset about a movie or a dinner or a phone conversation, so many that I no longer felt disbelief each time I felt her body from within, each time she groaned into my ear and told me she couldn’t hold it any longer. Or maybe it was all the journeys into strange nether worlds that we had taken together, all the reckless jumping into the vacuum without fear of repercussions or consequences, all the spiraling colors and the deep drones that came from nowhere and took us to a place where her worries disappeared and my rationalizations vanished and we were simply together, floating in the middle of nothingness.
“I don’t want you to get the impression that this is me… are you even listening to me?… this is important!… I don’t want you to remember me some day and think that you knew me… because this is what you know… this is all that you know… and this isn’t me…”
Maybe she was right. Maybe this was all an exception. And it seemed to me that I had been living through a maze of exceptions and this was only the latest one and soon another exception would come calling, taking me further away from the norm, so far away that I would not be able to place it on a map and all the maps I had just then were written over naked white skin covered in tiny invisible hairs and little brown birthmarks.
“I am listening… I understand… this is not you…this is not me… it’s very clear now…”
And it was clear then, in a way, as it is now clear, but in a different way, and maybe later, years from now, I would think about it, and remember her words and the sound of her voice against my ear, and it would be all new again, and once again, I would understand. It had all been an exception. And beyond a certain place, beyond a certain barrier, it was all made of exceptions. Exceptions, exceptions and more exceptions, nothiing but exceptions all the way down.

Monday, November 16, 2009

The Snow

Shelly, my friend, sat on a massively tall red-brick wall. It was the very top of a building, only a couple of feet from the flat roof of the rectangular apartment complex. She sat on the ledge, her thick white legs were bright in the midnight light. A small breeze played with the edges of her thin silky white slip. She was relaxed there on the edge. Her hands were behind her and she relaxed into their support as she would with a comfortable chair. One of her feet was on the ledge, the knee of the same leg very close to her face. The other foot hung over the ledge. She looked like a rock star, confident and defiant, teasing the night. I could tell she was not okay. It looked like she had lived through many years of extensive drug abuse, and now, she sat relaxed, ready to die on the edge of that building.

I awoke. I was still.

The dream lingered. It was one of the many unusually strong ones that had come upon me in the week that I had been here in the mountains. Six other girls in bunk beds slept around me in the small wooden cabin. There was a girl above me now, dreaming her dreams. The cabin was dark and my fingers groped for the small headlamp that I had placed beside the bed’s legs before I closed my eyes. I had been with these women for a week. A full week of meditation and silence, there was still one more to go.

With the headlamp in my hand, I crawled out of the sleeping bag like a caterpillar breaking free of its cocoon. Only there were no orange and black wings, just a sleepy girl in baggy long johns and an oversized sweater. I walked to the door and stepped out as quietly as I could, but in the nearly silent mountain night, even a falling snowflake makes itself known.

And it was a sound I heard which moved like muted echoes. All around me, soft drifts of white snowflakes fell delicately. The ground and stairs were covered already with a thin coating, and I walked with a smile down the rough outlines of a path to the large cement dormitory a few hundred feet in front of me. The world was dark. The thick woods to my right were dark, the paths that led to the meditation hall were black. There were no lights, nothing to provide my city paranoia with security, but I let the initial habits of panic wash over and through me. The night felt safe. The stillness was safe. Different, much different than I was used to, but I could step into it. The falling snowflakes added a new element. A touch of the extraordinary, a light whisper of magic dancing on my eyelashes. It was all worth noticing, every leaf, every quietly waiting bough, but the snow brought an energy I was not used to. A duality of parallel lines, calm and still, yet filled with constant movement. They glittered somehow, without the moon, without street lamps, somehow they gave enough light that I could walk through them without the aid of my headlamp. I walked casually, letting them melt on my warm neck and in the folds of my clothes.

I entered the dormitory and used the bathrooms there, then I walked back into the snow drifts, back to the wooden stairs of my cabin, clunkily taking off my boots and moving the other shoes beneath the cover of the eaves. Then I crawled back into the silky red cocoon, ready to see what other tales the subconscious would spin for me.

When I woke the following morning and stepped onto the steps to retrieve my cold boots, the land was covered in snow at least a foot deep. So much had fallen in just a few hours. There had not been wall-shaking wind or rattling, it had just come down hard, intent on its descent. The buried path to the meditation hall was now white and invisible, I made my own way, delighted in the footprints I left behind. The snow brought with it a silence so complete. I could hear small out-weighed chunks of snow topple off tree branches and land with a thud on the already blanketed ground. It wasn’t just quiet, it was like the mountains themselves chose to whisper. It was like the woods nodded with a small wink and began to move just a little slower. There were people around me, others walking quietly to the large square building that awaited with pillows and warm walls. But despite the presence of humans, the mountains opened with its ways. Movements usually hidden among chatter and cars and noise and quick movement. A careful deer emerged from the white-wooden thicket and walked timidly to the bushes. With the whiteness, time slowed. There were no human sounds of laughter, nothing to disrupt the absolute serene stillness of trees, branches, grass, rocks, everything buried in snow. I walked the paths softly, silently filled with the sounds of snow and the simple process of a thaw.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009


Three girls walk down a wide sidewalk. The day is fresh and the sun shines calmly through the thin gauzy haze that lingers in the atmosphere and mutes the strength of the rays of light. There are a few single-story houses on their left and across the street on their right, a few small shops sit in the shade of mature maple trees that are just beginning to yellow. There is the invisible bubbling of activity-to-come. The air and pale light seems loaded and ready for a day of commerce and movement, but now, the street lays still and fresh. The air is moist as the wet and recently cleaned sidewalks begin the process of evaporation. The girls walk down the sidewalk in a horizontal line, taking up the walkway completely, but there is no competition for space. The world is theirs. They share the sun with the trees and birds and the evaporating dew. The girls have on a similar dress style and pattern, just the color of the floral cotton is varied. The dresses are slightly outdated, designed with a mixed inspiration from Little House on the Prairie and the simple cotton dresses of the late sixties. The skirts reach to the girl’s calves. Their arms are covered with thin cotton sleeves. The neckline reaches high above their collarbones and is ruffled, which adds just a little more fabric to cover their pale flesh. Each dress has a simple floral pattern on it made of very small bouquets of purple and yellow flowers.

The blond girl walks closest to the green lawns of the houses beside them. Her hair is pulled back in a loose bun and it matches the pale yellow cotton of her dress. She is the most confident of the three in their task and she walks with her eyes decidedly placed ahead of her. In front of them is a large cathedral. It is made of gray stones and has three peaks that each have a circular stained glass piece embedded in the stone peak. The blond girl walks just a fraction of a second faster than her two friends. In the center of the group is the girl with brown hair. Her cotton dress is white, but still matches her friend’s dress in style and pattern. The brunette has a long pale face and a long nose which reveals her Semitic ancestry. On her right is another friend, the girl with cropped black hair. The girls walk calmly and silently, but with slight smiles on their faces. Their silence is not rooted in fear, but in comfort. The massive stone cathedral stands before them, the sidewalk ends at the church’s wooden door and the three girls enter. The church seems to open into a large dark space before them and the Semitic girl wonders what is ahead. It is pitch black and blocked slightly by a few gauzy pieces of furniture. The three turn and walk to the right, to a yellow lit square area. It is not quite a separate room, because there is no wall to separate it from the main entryway of the cathedral, but the light and the space feels very distinct, like a gift shop. The Semitic girl has never been to mass before and she follows her blond friend’s lead. The black haired girl follows them.

The room is set up the same way that amusement parks use to contain the people waiting in line for rides, but instead of metal poles and ropes, the space is sectioned off using long rectangular tables. Although they have just begun the maze-like walk to the front, the brunette can see that at the end is the priest and six other high officials within the church. They sit behind a four-foot wall that has been created by removing the top park of the wall. The priest is in the center, with three officials on either side of him. The brunette puts her attention on the walk and on the blond friend in front of her that she is supposed to imitate. The tables used to cut the space are all covered in glittering jewelry. Not an inch of the tabletops can be seen below pearls and faux silver and gold. The gemstones are fake and give off exaggerated color and sparkle, as though trying to compensate for their falseness with their appearance. The brunette looks at them mildly as they walk through the mazelike formation of tables. A neon green gemstone necklace catches her eye as she turns to the left and around the table’s corner. On the periphery of the tables are a dozen women standing next to their strollers and attending to the children inside. The sound of unhappy babies coats the space in a slightly frantic energy. The three girls walk through the maze, turning left, then right, then left again. Finally they reach the front. Behind the hip-high wall, a priest in a white robe sits on a chair. He is old, everything about him is white. His skin, hair, robe and hat. The other officials beside him are all men. A few of them are wearing red robes, a few others are in black, two of them are in white.

The Semitic girl is immediately nervous, she is sure the priest will be able to tell that she is from a different heritage, that she has no business in this church. But as her friend steps out of the walkway of tables and into the open space before the officials, she does too. The brunette walks calmly, sandwiched between her two friends. The blond girl moves slowly, she knows her Semitic friend is watching and following her lead, just a split second behind. Sitting on a table is a long rectangular tray that has dozens of incense sticks on it. The smoke coming from the powdered sticks twists and curls as it makes its journey up into the higher levels of the room. The blond girl puts her hands into the movement of smoke, she turns them around and around, as though she was washing her hands with the water of a faucet. The Semitic girl does the same, letting the smoke bathe her skin in scent. Then the blond girl stands directly in front of the men, bending her knees and dropping to the floor in a show of devotion. The brunette does the same, just slightly out of unison. She bends her knees and kneels on the floor, then she folds her torso over her thighs and brings her face to the red carpet. Her black haired friend does the same beside her. In this position of obedience to authority, the girls are hidden from the priest by the short wooden wall that separates them. The blond begins to rise, as do the other two. The blond girl turns towards the door and before she leaves, she grabs a small cookie that sits in a multi-leveled altar space. The brunette sees the cookies and the adorned bookcase which holds them, but she does not grab one. She knows she should, that it is part of the ritual, but something does not connect her mind to her body and she exits the cathedral without accepting the body of Christ into her.

The blond and brunette stand close to each other on the sidewalk just outside of the church in the shadow of the massive peaked roof. The day is still bright and new. The black haired girl approaches them, “Here, you forgot this, I brought you one.” Her hand extends with a small chocolate chip cookie. The Semitic girl smiles and puts it into her mouth.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Strength In Michigan

The first thing she remembers is the heat. With the thunderstorms came the tangible thickness of moist air. It was unlike the dry desert heat she was used to, and the slippery grips of humidity held her limbs and pulled on her strength, dragging her to the floor. For the first days of her stay in Michigan, she sought refuge in the one room of the small Victorian that had an air conditioner. She let her boyfriend drink with his old friends while she remained in the dark coolness of the room, letting the pleasant hum of the machine keep her company.

She was at Marty’s house, an old friend she had heard about so often from Jay, her boyfriend. The house was on a well maintained residential block, lined with tall, sprawling bowed trees that were just starting to turn yellow. It was a street of single-family detached homes, all nearly identical in form and lot size. Each one had a small front yard, a squat rectangular house, and a wooden fence that wrapped around the side and outlined a long rectangular yard. It was a racially mixed neighborhood of working class families and an ice cream truck drove through each day a little after noon. From the sidewalk, there were six steps up to the screened-in porch. Above the roof of the porch was a pointed rooftop with a window facing the street. It was the window for the one second-story room where Marty slept. The screened in porch was the only space in the house where smoking was permitted, thus, it was the place to lounge and drink through the long humid days. The space was accommodating for many people, providing plenty of places to sit. Along the walls were two long mismatched couches, one on each side of the front door. There were a cluster of chairs, some wooden, some padded, some metal. At the far end of the porch was a circular wooden table with some chairs pushed into it, as though waiting for the players of a soon-to-be poker game. The porch floor revealed the age of the house and its abuse in the extreme natural elements of Michigan. It was worn and brown. The grains of the wood had faded and splintered long ago. The furniture was badly beaten, the fabric stained and thin. It was the party room and was treated as such. There were cigarette butts scattered on the floor, smelly ashtrays were filled with the delicate gray remnants of tobacco and paper. There were empty beer cans and bottles that sat on tables and the floor, waiting for the maid that would never come.

Nightly, a group of three to fifteen would congregate on the porch, each laden with some form of alcohol. She knew this was their habit, their form of celebration, so she tried to relax into it. She knew Jay had missed his friends, that he had felt isolated with her in California, but she thought she could sense his cognitive dissonance, his feeling of distance from the people he once thought of as family. The memories were brighter than the people that stood before him now. She sat on the couch, sipping her beer and trying not to wince as clouds of smoke ambled past her in their search for the night outside the screens. Jay was talkative and looking stylish with his grandfather’s fedora tilted on his head. She would watch Dara, Marty’s Latvian girlfriend who always looked bored as she sat at the round table. She was the only completely sober person on that narrow porch, she was going through a court-ordered DUI program and couldn’t drink.

Marty was about 42. He was tall and had a stout stomach and meaty arms and legs. His complexion was pinkish and extended to his strawberry blond hair and eyebrows. He had an extra ten years on the majority of the group. As far as she could tell, he was the one most able to function in society. He had bought the house in the early nineties and filled it with some roommates, and because the mortgage was so cheap, he only worked a few months in the winter delivering pizzas. Marty drank socially, but he never got into the hard drugs or severe alcohol abuse that almost everyone else had. He was the stability of the group, not as cool as the others, not as interesting, but the one solid rock with a house that the rest of them revolved around. If someone left town and came back years later, they always came to Marty’s house.

Jay had always described his friends as artists and musicians. But from what she saw, it seemed to be a thing of the past. Something they talked about and remembered, but not something they did. The majority of them seemed to be in their late twenties, but they seemed so old to her, like their long decline had begun long ago.

After the first couple of days on their visit, Fran, Jay’s old girlfriend, came over with her new boyfriend, Mike, (a guy who had been Jay’s friend). She knew all about Fran and Jay’s complicated relationship. Among her many problems related to substance abuse, Fran had been prosecuted by the district attorney for domestic abuse (she had broken Jay’s arm) and had had several abortions she only told Jay about afterwards. When she came over, the air was noticeably more tense. There were the old problems, the lingering questions and hurt and the new lover’s presence, packed into a small space. Fran walked with a small stagger and her eyelids remained slightly closed, like she was always one step away from intoxicated sleep. Jay carried a picture of Fran in his wallet and mentioned many times how pretty she had been with her big doe-like eyes. The girl on the couch had given herself over to alcohol. She wore long men’s style shorts and a stained wife-beater that accentuated her bulging stomach. Her legs were hairy and her hair was a mess of faded pink and blond dreadlocks. But it was the way Fran sat and talked that revealed her the most, she just seemed to be so tired of everything…Michigan, the old friends, the faded memories, the alcohol, her body…

One day, she and Jay planned to prepare a small barbecue. They left Fran and Mike and Dara and Marty and the rest of them back at the house and they walked to the store together, hand in hand. They bought some red meat and potatoes and vegetables for the shish-kabobs. When they walked into Marty’s house an hour later, their hands hurting from the weight of the heavy plastic bags, they knew something had shifted. Fran had gotten very drunk and was making a mess and talking about the ways Jay had hurt her. Dara and Marty had gotten into a fight. There was another couple downstairs in the midst of an argument. The entire house was tense. Jay went to try to talk to Fran in the living room.

Seeing no other plan, she continued on to the small kitchen with the groceries. It was shaped like a very small “L” and was just barely big enough for three people to stand in. There was one long window that faced the green backyard and two long windows perpendicular to it that faced the fence and the house on the opposite side. The fridge in the corner was covered with magnets and cartoons and a newspaper article about a potential police officer who had been denied entry into the academy because his IQ was too high. She took a deep breath and inhaled the soft light of the late afternoon. The cabinets were dingy white and the floor was covered in a checkered Formica pattern. The kitchen seemed so cool and calm to her, a welcome oasis from the drama that was all around her. She got out the cutting board and opened the bags of vegetables. She stood there, slicing and chopping, trying to move forward with the plan for a barbecue. The afternoon light streamed in through the windows. She felt anxious energy all around, but focused on her labor and remaining as calm as she could. Jay came up behind her and put his arms around her shoulders. “You are so strong,” he said. She smiled, happy that he saw her as a pillar that wouldn’t crumble. Then her attention moved back to preparing the meat.