Past the Guard Rails

It’s Saturday morning and I woke up thinking about the times you used to call me sometimes in the morning and want to start my day with a release and how I could never get off that way on the phone with you even though you were really good at talking to me like that.  I always loved hearing you tell me all the things you were going to do to me and all the ways I was going to open up to you.

But I didn’t need the release you promised.

You were always the release.

And so I wanted you to know this because I want you to understand that I don’t regret driving to see you last Saturday.  I know I’m supposed to and I tried to carry that regret with me all week because I thought it was a thing I was supposed to wear.

It wasn’t.

I carry a lot of things with me to all the places I go and some of them weigh me down in ways you could not ever imagine.

But not love.

Love has never weighed me down.

I know it’s supposed to.  I’m supposed to stop giving my heart to people and strangers so freely and openly and close up these avenues.  Or at least turn off the neon vacancy sign that flashes all morning and all night.

But I’m never going to.

It’s not who I am.

Who I am is past the guardrails now.

 

I can’t not be her.

I don’t even know how to try.

And so.  I’m foolish and ridiculous and impulsive and passionate.

But I’m not angry or bitter or broken or desperate.

And I’m not ever going to guard my heart or play by a set of rules that the world says are appropriate or acceptable.

Maybe that means I will end up alone and destroyed but I will also be beautiful and defined and whole and I would not choose to live this life any other way.

So.

I’m taking this cloak of shame from around my shoulders and I’m not ever putting it back on.

I’m standing naked and unabashed with my heart beating and bleeding on the outside of my chest.

And I’m giving myself freely and without debt to anyone who chooses to have me for however long they need me.

And this is where I’ll live.

Forever until I’m dust.

What else is there really?

Noah.  Thank you.  You were radiant.  You were divine.  

You are brilliant, bold, beautiful.

I love you.

The Real Bitch

Bad Bitch. 

The Real Bitch.

Those are compliments of the highest order and I was given them just this afternoon.

Well, maybe not Bad Bitch.  That’s future me.  That’s for sometime in the next thirty minutes or three days or 3 months when I realize my worth and start wielding the powers that have lain dormant inside me for 29 plus years.  Once that happens, I’m going to be a BAD BITCH.  

And I’m going to know it.  

And then I’m going to own it.

At least that’s what a chorus of beautiful women told me when I recounted to them the story of Noah and Stephanie.  

First, they laughed uncontrollably..  I have a way with words, you see.  Especially around people I’m comfortable with.  I know how to tell a good story and embellish it with facial expressions.  You may not know that about me.  I don’t expect you to.  I stand in the shadows and let other people’s lights shine most of the time. 

I had a roommate in college who used to tell me I was the ‘real deal’ all the time.  She came to visit me when I first moved to Atlanta.  She met my then boyfriend and before we parted ways in the hallway of the hotel she was staying in, she yelled to him “That’s the real deal bitch right there.  Don’t ever forget that.”  

I had not heard that phrase spoken to me again until this afternoon.

 It came after the laughter and the incredulity had subsided a bit.  

“You’re the real bitch.  Not just a real bitch but the real bitch.”

And then, “When you own yourself, you’re going to be a bad bitch, Ms. Stephanie.”

What do they know that I don’t?  What did my roommate know a lifetime ago that I never understood?

There’s a story in here about Noah but I don’t know if I have the words to write it.  I can only come at this from my own point of view and I’m not sure that’s good enough.  I think it deserves more.

He deserves more than the scratched and dented, blurry and faded, point of view that these glasses I’ve been wearing for way to long will offer.

But I will try.

Yesterday, I was trying to figure out how to save a word document to my google drive folder.  It was a story I wrote in college and I wanted to send it to Noah.  I’m not sure why as I’ve never shared any of my writing with him.  I suspect it’s probably a feeble attempt at holding his interest in me for just a little bit longer.  There is space here for me to admit that.  I’m not ashamed of it.  I fully and completely own the blood that bleeds and seeps from the cavities of my heart and does not slow down for anyone or anything.

While I was in my google drive folder, I looked around to see if I could find any lost treasures I may have forgotten about.  You know, pictures or poetry or odd musings I had scribbled down.  At the very top of the list was a document titled “Stephanie’s Great Adventure.”  What is this?  I open it and it’s a packing list that Noah had started for us for our bikepacking trip.  Of course I had seen the list.  I remember when he sent it to me.  I thought it was so cute and thoughtful.  

But I had never seen the title of it.  

It punched me right in the gut.

“Stephanie’s Great Adventure”

The adventure that never was.  

The bike that I accidentally on purpose forgot to bring when I met him last weekend in Montgomery.  The look that flashed across his eyes when he asked me where my bike was and I told him I forgot it.  The tiny little cloud that took up space in his pupils but quickly vanished in the millisecond it took him to digest and accept this news.

He does that.  

Noah does that.  

It’s a thing of beauty to watch his brain rework and regroup and not miss a single step in the whole process of regeneration.  He makes a new plan.  The old plan is yesterday and we don’t dwell in yesterdays here.  We live right here in the now.  Today.  8:36:15 p.m. on a Friday night in the doorway of this bedroom in this old fire station they’ve turned into a retreat on a street named Mobile in Montgomery, Alabama.  All we are is right now.  This instant. His hands on my shoulders, the heat from them seeping through the jean jacket and t-shirt I’m wearing underneath.  The understanding and acceptance in his eyes when I say “I’m sorry” and he says “It’s ok.”

It’s ok.

It’s ok.

It’s ok.

Except 

It’s not ok

Because ok is not a state I’ve ever existed in for more than 23 seconds.   Only he doesn’t know this about me and he believes his ok is enough to make me understand that we don’t dwell in yesterdays here.  We live right here in the now. 8:37:42 p.m. on a Friday night in the doorway of this bedroom in this old fire station.

Soon, in only seconds, we’ll live on top of the bed in that bedroom.  That will be our moment then.  It will give way to another moment and then another until that revelation in the doorway won’t have big enough wings to fly or hurt us.  Except.  I will stumble over it on my way to the bathroom at 9:17:04 p.m. on that same Friday night and I will pick it up on my way back and tuck it away down at the bottom of my suitcase and spend the next 5 days sewing wings for it from scraps of conversation, looks I can’t decipher, touches I want but don’t ask for, words I hear through a filter so their meaning gets muffled.  The wings will grow big enough to give the revelation the flight it’s so desperately seeking and it will fly around me then; a part of my right here and right now forever.

 But I don’t know that at 9:17:03 p.m. and so I roll over and run my hand through his beard and wonder how I ended up here with this man next to me in this bed.  

I’m happy.

Really happy.

But I can’t live in the happiness forever and I know this.  So I take the winged revelation out of its suitcase on Wednesday morning and bring it with me to the park where we play disc golf.  It only needs a few more stitches now and it will fly.  I know I should take it to the edge of the lake and place it there on the water and watch it drift off towards the middle until an alligator comes along and snatches it for dinner.  Noah would like that.  He’s been wanting to see an alligator.  

But I don’t do any of that.  

I finish her wings before we’ve even had a slice of the pizza Noah has ordered for us.  She’s flying so high and so free now and I know it’s over for me. She’s a part of me now.  

You accidentally on purpose forgot the bike.  

He went to a lot of trouble.

He drove a really long way.

You sabotaged everything.

You have no respect for anyone.

That was so rude.

He made plans .

You devalued his time and energy.


Her voice in my head is all I can hear.  Noah is trying to get through but she flaps her wings in double time when he speaks.  

It will all fall apart soon.

I’m helpless to stop it.

I know what I have to do.  

I have to crash and burn to get rid of her. 

That’s the only way.

Her ashes smoldering there 

in the wreckage of the crash 

release the clarity she’s held captive. 

Clarity.

Clarity.

 

I can see clearly now.

But it’s too late.

 

It’s always too late.

Incomplete Thoughts

The days are going fast now.  So fast I look in the mirror and I see the fading light of my design casting shadows across my face.  I’m still here inside, though.  This girl.  This little, young, adolescent, preteen, early 20’s girl.  She still lives here.  But her face… her face is changing.  It’s morphing and seguing into this unrecognizable shadow of the girl.  The reflection in the mirror is not the reflection in my soul and I wonder if the face knows?  Does the face know I can’t relate to it?  Does it know it’s a stranger to me?  The face… the face becomes it’s own entity while my mind tries to catch up.  It can’t.

The face, the body, the joints, the back…they change.  So hard and so fast.  But the soul.  The soul is relentless in its endeavor to remain in its most reverant state  Pure and open.

Growing older is a virtue.  Becoming wiser is a gift for which we are not entitled and few receive.  But no one told me when I was 22 and in love with the night and the aging jazz pianist at the intersection of 54 and Berry that one day I would lose the ability to care.  To really care about a thing.  That someday my passions would be displaced by the utter harshness of life and that I would feel absolute desolation at the lack of joy life sometimes brings.  Oh, please don’t get me wrong.  There is joy.   There is plenty of joy everyday.  But it is not the same joy of my youth when I conquered my days with nary a thought beyond the night and the stars or this beautiful person I am sitting beside at this dive bar who is offering up little gems of his soul for me to devour before we part ways.  There is no more excitement about spending the day in leisure and not knowing or caring even what the afternoon might bring, maybe a movie, maybe a nap in my bed with a good book, maybe a study session at the library for an exam, maybe work.

Your vision, it changes as you grow older.  All of the parts are still there that make up who you intrinsically are but the stuff on the inside, it changes.  It just does.  It is as inevitable as the sun rising and setting.  You can’t continue to see life through the same lenses you wore when you were 25.  You need new glasses.  Your vision changes.  If you are lucky, it changes for the better and creates in you a unique perspective on which to view your new world.

If you are unlucky, you go in mourning for the you that is no more.

Descent

Being a mom is hard as all hell.  There’s no way around that fact.  You never feel like you’re doing it right.  There’s no handbook.  We’re all coming at it from our own broken places.  We swear to ourselves when we hold those tiny hands in ours that we are not going to break our children the way our parents broke us.  And we don’t for a while.  Life is easy when they’re little.  Sure, you’re tired all the time but it’s so goddamn rewarding watching them discover the world.  It’s euphoric.  Your life is complete.  You don’t need anything else but this amazing little person who holds onto you so tightly while they navigate the world.  You are their center of gravity and nothing feels better than that.  You teach them all the things you want them to know like love and kindness and forgiveness.  And they believe you!  You know everything, mama.  You’re the absolute best.  You and your babe are all nice and secure in this cocoon of love you’ve worked so hard to knit together.  You’ve made sure to secure it as tightly as possible so the outside can’t get in.  You don’t want the outside to get in.  Not yet.  Not until you’ve built his foundation out of steel so that when the world tries to break him, because they’re going to try to break him, they won’t be able to.  He will be unbreakable and he will know all the love and goodness and he will walk out into the world and the world will not hurt him or bend him.

But then.

Before you’ve had a chance to add all the extra layers you want to add, that little boy starts scratching at the cocoon.  Just a little at a time.  He starts to notice things.  He sees you now when you cry and he wants to know why. He hears the change in the tone of your voice and he understands what it means now.  He sees you slam the pantry door when you’re angry and pretty soon he slams doors too.  You try to tell him, mama is wrong for doing that, that’s not how we deal with anger.  But then you do it again and so does he. 

And you never wanted him to see the things you saw 
when you were a kid 
so you swore he never would.  

But then,

It’s 3 in the morning
you saw him texting her on his phone 
and it’s 3:05 in the goddamn morning 
and you’re laying right beside him and his kid is in the other room
For fucks sake!
Why is he texting her at 3:10 in the goddamn morning?!
He tells you he’s leaving and you beg, 
plead, 
yell,
demand that he doesn’t;
not because you want him to stay
you were planning to jump ship yourself later when the kid was stronger;
but because you have worked so hard nobody knows how hard you’ve worked
to create this life for this kid and you’ve been holding it all together for so long
HOW DARE YOU get to decide when.
You
emotionally
physically
spiritually
BANKRUPT MOTHER FUCKER.

I wish to god I’d never laid eyes on you;
except i did lay eyes on you and I got the kid out of the deal 
so THANKS FOR THAT.
Sincerely,
and from the bottom of my heart.

But I sold my goddamn soul 
for too many long years
trying to fix you;
you let me do everything 
without even an offer of help.
I put you through school,
took care of all of the things,
bills, 
laundry, 
yard work,
dishes.
you still couldn’t pass the fucking test.
I don’t even care anymore. 

but you fucking broke me that night 
when the kid woke up and saw ME
his mama, his best mama
pleading and sobbing
in the middle of the hallway floor.
and the fear in his eyes when he looked at me….
oh god. 
The fear in his eyes. 
Of me. 
The fear of the only world he’s ever known
Crumbling
all down around him

I blame you
and I’ll hate you forever
That shit is going to stain his soul
So FUCK YOU
Sincerely,

and from the bottom of my heart

And now

There’s a hole in the cocoon
and he’s got both legs out.  
You (mama) are frantically trying to sew it back up 
but he’s seen things now
and he knows more than he should 
and it’s all your fault, mama.  
You thought the world was going to break him, mama
You stupid fucking bitch, mama.
You broke him, mama.  
 
you did that.  
you broke him.  

You swore you never would
So FUCK YOU
Sincerely,
and from the bottom of your own shitty heart

And now it’s a Monday morning before Christmas and you are yelling at him about an orange and green shirt and you’re not worth the fucking foundation you thought you were so carefully constructing.  You don’t deserve to be the guardian of his soul.  

But you’re all he’s got and you’re so tired

And you won’t know until he grows up
if you’ve fucked everything up or not.

Hot Dish/Unfinished

Last night I called you a ‘hot dish’ and waited for 10 uncomfortable minutes for you to text back.
It was torture.
What the hell is a hot dish?
Word Hippo said it was an acceptble version of hottie.
Sometimes I embarrass myself.
Hottie is what you call me
but you don’t know that I’ve got lines around my eyes
and they don’t disappear when my smile does.
You don’t know
there’s a tiny spider web of broken blood vessels
and they live on the left side of my nose
You don’t know 
that Max weighed almost 10 pounds at birth 
and left me with lines across my stomach
that will never go away.

Wretched Splendor

I want a night out.  I want to go out and listen to music and drink too much and kiss too many people and crawl home with my dress torn and my lipstick smeared and I don’t give a damn who sees me fall out of the cab and onto my front lawn at 2 in the morning or 7:30 in the morning while the school buses are passing by and the dads are throwing their briefcases onto their front seat for their long commute into the city; their wives staring at them stupidly from the kitchen window.  I don’t care if they see me there; face down in the damp grass, the sprinklers cleansing me of the night; my dress hiked up above my hips, one side of my panties stuck in the crack of my ass.  I want to crawl on all fours across my lawn and scrape my knees on the sidewalk as I try to lift myself up my front steps and open the door, throwing myself across the threshold of the entrance; collapsing there half in and half out of that life out there and this life in here. 

I hope my bloody knees stain the carpet in this front room and I hope the scars are as magnigicent and as huge as all the life out there that I’ve spent in here.

I want to lay there all day until the sun moves its way across the length of my house and I find myself in the shadows again.  Then, I want get up like I was never down and wash the old night off of me; get dressed again for right now.  I want to open my front door and walk smoothly down my sidewalk into an awaiting cab.  I’ll sneak off into this night and take as many lovers as will have me before there are no takers at all.  I want to be wretched and dirty and filthy and vile  and radiant and magnificent and on fire and I want to do it as much and for as long as this old body can stand.

Dear Gerard: An Ongoing Love Letter

One.

Do you remember when I sent you that poem by Kim Addonizio and you said you had met her and had an autographed copy of one of her books?

Of course you remember.  I don’t even know why I asked.

My Heart

Kim Addonizio

That Mississippi chicken shack.
That initial-scarred tabletop,
that tiny little dance floor to the left of the band.
That kiosk at the mall selling caramels and kitsch.
That tollbooth with its white-plastic-gloved worker
handing you your change.
That phone booth with the receiver ripped out.
That dressing room in the fetish boutique,
those curtains and mirrors.
That funhouse, that horror, that soundtrack of screams.
That putti-filled heaven raining gilt from the ceiling.
That haven for truckers, that bottomless cup.
That biome. That wilderness preserve.
That landing strip with no runway lights
where you are aiming your plane,
imagining a voice in the tower,
imagining a tower.

Well.

I’m still hovering here in the darkness
Aiming my heart at your tower.

Your voice is all I can hear.

Two.

This song keeps showing up.

I don’t know what it means.

But I wish you’d come down and see me again.

I could have loved you.

Maybe I already did.

Perhaps I still do.


 

Sam

Sam died this morning.

I’m glad I took a picture of the roses he gave me.

 

Samuel Earl Evans.
I don’t even know how old you were, Sam.  I don’t even know if you had any children.  I only know you had the most contagious laugh and these giant, gnarled knuckles that always got in your way and sometimes you could be ornery as all get out but you still found a reason to laugh.  I’ll miss opening your orange juice bottles for you and bringing you your plate while you sat at the bar because sometimes, not very often, that was as far as you could make it.
Mostly I’ll miss hearing you laugh, Sam. You have no idea how much I loved your laugh.  I don’t think it’s ever possible for anyone to ever know how much we mean to them and maybe that’s the way it was with you.  You have no idea how much you meant to me.  You have no idea how much your mere presence gave me joy.  I looked forward to the days you walked in the door.  I’m going to miss you and it’s not because of anything you did or didn’t do. 
It’s because you were you, Sam.  
Thank You.
 

Brilliance

I’ve been thinking about this a lot. 

What is it?  
I forgot. 
But it’s been on my mind.  
A lot.  
Like all the time, 24/7, constantly, non-stop, and without fail.
I can’t tell you what it is because I don’t really know.  
It’s always just in there.  
Inside my brain.  
Maybe inside my heart.  
Maybe inside my fingertips.  
Maybe in the very air I breathe.

It’s life.  

It’s dust.  
It’s nothing.  
It’s everything.  
It’s all of the things and it’s none of the things.  
It’s the sum and the difference of us.

I’ve been around long enough to know some things I shouldn’t and to not know some things I should.  A lot of the former but mostly the latter.

I’ve given up on the idea of us.

I hope you find your happiness.  Truly and from the bottom of my soul.  Thank you for talking to me.

For N:

You seem like you might exist on a higher plane than me and I don’t know what to do with that because I’ve never met another person as evolved as I like to think I am and if that sounds vain then that wasn’t my intention but people are mean and cruel and selfish.  But not you.  You are none of those things.  You are the opposite of all of that.  

Thank you.  You don’t even know what you did.  I’ve never fully told you the story of me but you somehow see things anyway and I can’t figure out how you do that.    


You are brilliant, bold, beautiful.

And I love watching you shine there in the light.

You are just a boy made of clay.  That’s what you like to tell me when your brilliance blinds me.

You are so much more than clay.