Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Curses



It's October now, and it's hot enough in Kansas City during the day for shorts but cool enough at night for a sweater. Feels like every time I've been to Los Angeles and left my friend's apartment after dark, although I've never packed a sweater on any trip there and always regret it. I can't drop the image of LA as a desert, even if it technically isn't. Maybe it's the longest beach I've ever seen. Just t-shirt shops and places to eat all the way to Vegas.

Vegas. Fuck. All roads end somewhere tragic. If we thought we'd escaped cultural calamity and lived in an age of small, personal tragedies, we were wrong. Whatever poison the South has sucked on since forever has spread like the hot and angry climate. It's not enough to worry about getting rear-ended in the parking lot. You have to worry about being shot at the concert. Not hunted down for some intimate vendetta. You're not even a character in his story. You could be anyone to a man and his guns. It doesn't matter. The point to him is you're no one. He has no love for the personal. You're a number. You live a life he doesn't fully control until he does. Until he takes it.

Once, my husband and I were walking to the library. A man in a red truck tracked us down the main road there, passing us a few times to yell at us. We met at a long light in a busy area. People were there is what I'm saying. We were witnessed. The man yelled more from his window. He was drunk. I stared at him as he abused us. I won't write what he said. It's too boring, a cartoon of cruelty. If I wrote it, you might think, "People don't really act like that." But they do. I looked at him like he was throwing a tantrum, like he was a baby who could be waited out. Cold, patient. He wound down but never stopped. The light turned and so did he, finally off our path. Some women leaving a store behind us apologized. That they didn't do anything in the moment is something I couldn't forgive then but understand with potency now. We were all waiting, hoping he didn't have a gun. That day, he didn't. Or that day, he wouldn't. I'll never know. You can never know.

A defensive prayer: Never. No.

And then we continued walking to the library. From the deadly to the mundane. I decided then, as I decide over and over, that I'm going to scrape out whatever's left in the shell. I have love, and I have loved. I live in a house full of books. I have friends to celebrate. I make art that surprises me as I make it. And now, after two years of drawing, I'm not just making art; I'm selling it. Small indulgences find me out. Pleasures from careless childhood. Video games, paying someone else to cut my hair, a desire to wear pretty rings. Last night, a local jewelry maker sent me a message about three new opals they'd cut. Each one striking in its way. I picked the third one. Dark and streaky. Bloody with cracks of fire. I showed Josh and Shawn. They were both born in summer. They would have picked the first opal, the brightest one, the white one with green flashes and delicate veins. You could call it optimistic if you lean that way, if you believe every object in this universe has character, even a stone.

But I picked the opal that reminds me of a curse because I believe in generational strife, a suffering that links our bloody past to our bloody present. A curse that burns, but not a curse that can't be understood. Hot days can end in cool nights. And like a stone set into a ring, I have to believe that one day soon, in the right hands, our curses can be contained.

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Almond Skin



My floor is soft. The fresh snow of cat hair. Some weeks I sweep every day. Other weeks I don't sweep at all. I think, No one's coming over because I'm fine with no one coming over. Josh and Shawn are either at home or at work. I'm always home, and sometimes home is work. The cat sits in the window and sleeps. The hardest work he does is beg for attention, the default work we all do no matter what other jobs we have.

My dog is the color of an almond skin. He eats food I didn't know dogs would eat--broccoli, carrots, apples. Almonds, too. I gave him an almond earlier when I was knitting on the couch. I'm finished knitting, but the almond is still there next to him, a small mirror of his own golden coat. They are like two horses in a field of winter nothing. This one closer. That one farther away, a smooth abstraction in the distance.

My dog is saving his almond for later. He'll eat it when he feels it's under threat of being stolen. No one in this house would steal his almond, but he doesn't know that. He doesn't know there's a large bag of almonds in the kitchen where this almond, his almond, came from. And he doesn't know he's lucky to be alive, that after he was adopted, his mother and siblings were torn apart by a larger dog. His only brother now is the cat who sometimes hisses at him and sometimes grooms him. Here, we are all as good to each other as we can be.

My drawings are in a box Josh gave me. I add a new drawing to the box once or twice a week. Each one takes a day to imagine and another day to draw. Eight of them will fit on the clothesline in the dining room. When I'm feeling colorless, I'll hang a few drawings on the line. I'm surprised by them, that I made them. Those are mine, I think. Shawn says they come from me naturally. Only I could make them. I like to think he's right. How could they not be me? And still, I stand there, proud and confused to see what I've done, to measure the distances I've travelled to get my own attention.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

40th and Bell



Brushing my teeth today and I see a perfect hole cut from the middle of a leaf in our bathroom. The leaf is part of a vining plant a friend gave us four years ago. I brush my teeth too hard, and the spit comes out pink. I look at the hole in the leaf again. I thought I was seeing the white floor through it, but what's really there instead of a hole is a dot of paint from when the landlord fixed the moldy ceiling a couple weeks ago. The dot is clean. Beneath the leaf, the tile is not.

Shawn moved in last month, but not all the way. He's here. His cat and dog are here. His clothes are here. The antique tea cart he insists we'll grow to love is still and unused in his small, dark apartment a few blocks away. So are the two haunted portraits of a married man and woman that will go in his new bedroom, our spare room, the place that's changed more than any other since we moved in almost a decade ago. It's been a studio where I knitted dinosaurs, made skull candles, cast spells to stave off seizures, emptied out completely and turned into a summer bedroom for my oldest friend, home to a snake, and then turned back into a quiet studio for Josh to draw people with impossible hair. Now, we keep the door closed so the cat and dog can't get in and the plans we have for it can't get out.

I didn't think it would actually happen. Even when I agreed to it, it seemed like the kind of promise you make to hang out with a friend you ran into at the grocery. You want to believe it means something that you ran into each other. That it means you should see each other again and soon. But then you never do. It was enough to see them on accident but not enough to see them on purpose. Shawn would move in someday, when everything else was perfect, when it made sense, when we were all so comfortable it seemed inevitable. I should have known better.

Ask an astrologer about Taureans and change.

At the beginning of May, I went to Seattle to visit my brother and mother. We did edibles and drove two hours to the coast. "This may be the only time I get to see the Pacific Ocean," my mother said. My brother and I had seen that water before. I never doubted I'd see it again. When I think of luxuries, I count those certainties among the richest.

I'm still drawing and writing, though sometimes the dog sits on my lap while I do it. His breath smells like an open can of sardines. The cat screams at the other cat in the upstairs unit through the vents. They will never meet. Shawn runs hot, so the snake sees him as an opportunity for expansion, tapping the glass with her nose whenever he's near. Josh adapted quickly and peacefully. He isn't bothered by the people he loves, his changed home, the floors that never stay clean, the elusive quiet, the strange scents and their animal sources. He loved them immediately, and I loved them eventually, the doubts that moved in and have become luxurious certainties.

Monday, March 6, 2017

This Is Real



I dream whenever I fall asleep. Josh dreams once a week. And Shawn dreams so hard he can't tell whether he's awake or not. Sometimes he'll look confused and ask Josh and me if this is real. "This" being the world around him.

When we're all together, I ask myself the same question. "Is this real?" In January, we hit a year. Josh and I have already been together almost 13 years, and Shawn has never been serious with anyone the way he's serious with us. At first, he worried we'd wake up and leave him. That it might be too much for us. Those fears still have echoes. Sometimes he'll be short with me out of nowhere and finally admit it's because I cheated on him in a dream. The other night at two in the morning, he called me in his sleep to ask if the pies had been delivered. He continued to ask until I said, "Yes, the pies are here."

"All right," he said. "Goodnight."

Of course, there were no pies. There are only ever pies if I make them, and in Shawn's dream, I'd made the pies but had forgotten to bring them to an important pie contest. In other words, his dream was real enough for him to believe he was awake.

I don't know what I'd do if I couldn't depend on accurately reading reality. It's the only thing keeping me hopeful in a violently ignorant time, and I imagine it's why Shawn, Josh, and I spend at least an hour catching each other up on world events every night.

Even in a two-person relationship, there's worry over maintaining the thread. There can be stress in that maintenance. Some spiders eat their web each day and rebuild it overnight to keep it strong. We try to examine our pieces and put them back together often. There's a reason I've been playing with LEGOs again for the first time since I was a kid. There's a reason Josh has been eating sugar cereal and watching old cartoons on weekend mornings. There's a reason Shawn reintroduced himself to his orisha, Ochun, a couple weeks ago in a Santeria ritual by the river, a ritual that required him to smoke an old cigar that made him ill for three days. The future can be guessed at but can't be seen straight on. For all the talk of facing what's coming, we need to look back to acknowledge what's already changed. And what hasn't. We can do the long work of trying to better the world and at the same time embrace old comforts where we find them, where they'll have us.

Right now, we have each other. I wrote this relationship over and over in short stories before we even met Shawn. My friend, Roxane, has asked, "Why three people?" and I never have a good answer. Maybe I don't know yet. Maybe I just know it works.

Soon, we'll all be living in the same place together. Josh and I are getting rid of unnecessary junk, and Shawn has acclimated more and more to sleeping in our house. Last week he was taking a nap on the couch while Josh and I worked on projects in other rooms. We heard the front door open. Shawn had walked barefoot out onto the porch in his sleep. He stopped and stared into the dark, staying on the porch with us beside him, a warm spot on a cold night. Stronger together, and even in his sleep not asking the question he's asked so many times before, only knowing the truth of it somewhere beyond whatever dream made him leave our house in the first place. We would find him.

This is real.