The big D; a poem

My boyfriend says I drink too much

that I complain, that I’m mean,

that I tease too hard;

that we’re stagnant lately.

We, not I, because I

have been stagnant far longer.

A fetid pool of a dead-

end job

screaming children, melted brain, eyes

glazed-over with a Klonopin shine.

 

He says I’m not supposed to call my crazy pills

my crazy pills

but they feel like they are

and I like the honesty of that.

Anything that makes you feel (even a little, sometimes) less crazy

you should be allowed to call whatever the hell you want.

 

He thinks I’m reckless

that boozy night-time desert bike rides and climbs

and falls

are unattractive.

Well I’m not trying to be sexy

I’m trying to excite

myself by pretending my life feels different than it is.

Blinders on.

Blinders off, and I have bloodied knees   broken bones   a hangover

as souvenirs.

I suppose it’s also a form of self-punishment,

cutting

away my failures

but they multiply

 

And I hide for fear of judgment

and there is judgment

because I’ve done it.

 

So people spout big ideas–

so much privilege

so full of opportunity

it’s all a matter of perspective.

 

Tell me, exactly,

how does one change one’s perspective?

Asking for an enemy.

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Providence, Rhode Island, 2008. (no names have been changed in the retelling of this birthday)

It started with stirrup pants. I was at a local bar/restaurant hangout, Spats, and Evan walked in, completing the gaggle of Brown students who were a part of my newly finished summer apprenticeship.

 

“Evan, look, I bought stirrup pants,” I say, wiggling a leg, even prouder of them with a birthday gin and tonic in me.

 

He rolls his eyes.

 

“Just when I thought you couldn’t get any more emo,” he teases.  His constant joke.  He’s the emo one, if we’re going to be throwing outdated high school terms at each other. Theater, neuroscience, drugs. His trifecta.

 

We share what could be called gossip, if we were both girls.  We’re in our own world.  He excuses himself to buy a pack of cigarettes.  I ask if he wants company, he shrugs a “sure,” so I follow.

 

We’re two friends with attraction between us. To what level, I don’t know, but it’s there. I used to fantasize about him during class at the beginning of the summer, wish he would sit next to me when he was the last person to arrive in the mornings. He did, once. He whispered so close to my ear it sent shivers down my spine.

 

But Evan had had an on-again, off-again girlfriend and had never shown any real interest, so, we were friends. Are friends.

 

“Let’s sit here.” He points to a table, the only table, on the edge of a sea of Brown students back for the first weekend at school.  It’s a table on the corner of the two busiest streets around the university. It’s a table on a raised platform belonging to a restaurant we’re not eating at. We sit down.

 

“So like I was saying, it’s lonely here. I mean, things are going alright, and I have a few friends I do things with on the weekends, but I don’t feel like I have any close friends, and that gets–“

 

His lips are on mine. I saw the intention in his look a split second before I heard the legs of his chair scrape the concrete, before I watched him stand, before I felt his hands on my face and his lips on my lips.  He kissed me like we were alone. Like we had been waiting all night to be alone and had finally found a few secret moments. I’d never been kissed like that in public. I’d never been kissed like that. He pulled away, his too-big brown eyes meeting mine casually, as if I’d been expecting that. As if he did that every day. He might have. I wondered if people were staring, but didn’t want to break his gaze to check.

 

“What was that for?” I choked out as I lit a cigarette, feigning coolness as he grabbed my hand, pulled it to his lips.

 

“It’s your birthday,” he murmured with a shrug. “You’re lonely.” He caught my gaze and held it. I raised my eyebrows.

 

“You’re pretty.” He said insistently, as if he could hear me starting to assume I was just pity kissed. I may have been.

 

Our conversation continued as it had before, but I couldn’t tell you what we talked about.  My mind was tangled.  After about ten minutes, ever Evan, he made his escape.

 

“I hate to do this, but I have to run. We’ll keep in touch.”  He sealed off his statement with another hard kiss, then scooted past people as he jumped the platform railing and jogged across the street.

 

*    *    *

 

An hour later I’m walking down Hope Street, and everything is chaos.  My friend Colleen is drunk and insistent upon texting Joe, a friend from our summer fellowship program. I had ignored the unrequited nature of our relationship, because good friends are hard to come by, and he was a good friend. Both of our phones had died, and she’d never gotten to respond to a text he’d sent her earlier, a text about me.  I’d read it quickly over her shoulder before her phone screen blackened. Nothing special; just curiosity about what I’m doing for my birthday, since I’m not answering my phone. He’s back in Philadelphia, after finishing our fellowship.

 

But now she won’t let it go, and Will, my coworker, and his drunken, obnoxious townie friends won’t shut up.

 

“We have to call Joe,” Colleen insists as she grabs my shoulders, resting her weight on me as I stumble a little on the uneven sidewalk. My black kitten heel temporarily gets jammed in a crack. I free it with a tug.

 

“I have to talk to Joe!” she yells in the middle of the empty street.  She’s annoying me.

 

“Will,” I call ahead, “Will you let Colleen use your phone to call Joe?  She won’t stop talking about it.”  I hope that will shut her up.

 

Will calls Joe and starts chatting amicably with him while Colleen titters in the wings, and I continue walking.  Will’s friends are still yelling, and when I listen to them, it sounds vaguely derogatory, though I’m trying to tune out all the noise and just walk. I think we’re walking to a house party for TAs and grad students, neither of which am I.

 

A car pulls up alongside the sidewalk I’m on, a rusty white car with the remnants of a high school sport team’s paw prints on the back.  A car I’ve ridden in many times.

 

“It’s Joe!” yells Colleen, and she’s hysterical as she runs to the car and tackles Joe in a bear hug, the kind that forces his 120-pound frame to pick her up.

 

He smiles his biggest smile, and walks over to hug me.

 

“Happy birthday,” he whispers in my ear.

 

Purpose

I work at a job that allows me time to myself as I do my work. I usually spend this time watching crime documentaries, listening to scary stories, murder podcasts–basically miring myself in all things dark, but I recently took a hiatus from that to watch a different sort of entertainment.

It started with watching Youtube documentaries about quadriplegics. Sometimes I watch things like this when I feel down so I can stop feeling so goddamn sorry for myself because “people out there have it way worse”, and when I think worse, I think quadriplegia. I also watched some on Locked-In syndrome, terminal cancer, ALS, amputations, and traumatic brain injuries, which are all basically the most horrific things I can imagine. I’ve been feeling pretty woe-is-me lately, obviously.

The woe-is-me is stemming from finishing my certification in Crime Scene Investigation and doing a lot of soul-searching regarding my career, or lack thereof. It’s not merely the idea of obtaining a fulfilling job that bothers me; it’s that I truly do believe everybody’s life has purpose, and that everybody is good at something, and that everyone can do their own brand of meaningful things, and I have no idea where I can plug myself into that.

From my depressing documentaries, I was referred to a few that made this idea I’ve been stewing over even more apparent and urgent. I watched two episodes of My Last Days, a documentary series about people with terminal conditions. One featured Claire Wineland, an 18-year-old with cystic fibrosis whose life is coming to a close. She is charming, relateable, and old beyond her years. Her dream is to be a public speaker, and she’s got what it takes. With a little help and connections, that’s exactly what she started doing: traveling around the country, speaking about life and death and what fits in between. She says we have no control over when or how we will die, but we do have control over how to live our own perfect life this moment.

Another My Last Days episode was about Kat Lazo, a girl with terminal gastric cancer who relates with people so genuinely and is so present in however much life she has left. She feels deeply and shares with others, and wisdom and peace are imbued in her speech.

I then watched a documentary on Aaron Swartz, a prodigious computer programmer and founder of Reddit, who fought tirelessly to make knowledge that is stored on the internet accessible to everyone. He downloaded tons of JSTOR scientific articles and made them accessible for free, rather than the traditional system in place, where a third-party provider makes money off of academics’ and scientists’ research by charging for access. Aaron ended up committing suicide after the FBI came after him for trying to make this knowledge freely and publicly accessible. His former girlfriend is interviewed, and she says Aaron’s way of thinking was to always ask what’s the best thing I can be doing, and why am I not doing it?

After Aaron’s death, a 14-year-old boy from Boston invented a prototype for an early testing technique for pancreatic cancer using the JSTOR articles Aaron made available.

These three documentaries served to further fuel my desire to find my offering to the world, to discover my skills and how those can be used to do good, and what kind of good that may be. I’ve been tempted lately, after looking at investigation/government/people-related jobs and realizing how competitive they are and how little they pay, to throw in the towel and find some horrible, soul-sucking corporate job, where the bottom line is always to sell sell sell, and just make as much money as possible in a year and then go rogue in a cabin somewhere to recover. It’s messed up how even if you find your place, or one of many places, in this world, the realistic manifestation of that may or may not pay your bills and afford you a healthy mental space to be able to do your wonderful you-things if you’re consumed by financial burdens.

This post isn’t going to have a nice ending because I have no nice ending for these ideas I’ve been mulling over. I feel change coming on because it must. I’m becoming more and more brain-atrophied and motivation-less the longer I settle for a job that is less than fulfilling, a life that has no plans past the superficial.