…alas, Atlas.

She is covered head to toe in some kind of cheap paint. Her already fair skin made up to look dead and porcelain wrapped up tight in a black dress. There are tears in her eyes. I am waiting to catch them but they never fall. They lay suspended in those dark iris pools and I am drowning along with them in her confession. She reads aloud to me; her poetry flowing from a stuttering tongue still learning to articulate the dying language of a wounded heart. Even in costume and those layers of paint, she is the most naked person in the room. I sit transfixed, beholden by her bravery. I am there with her, behind that locked door we all hide behind with our eyes pressed to the looking glass.

Inside these walls the roof is caving in. The pillars of her house collapsed, the ceilings and the heavens suspended now only by her shoulders. I move to lend what strength these bones can offer–but alas, Atlas stays my willing hands. Her voice breaks, then resounds with metallic will. ‘I wanted only to show, I needed only to know–that I am not alone.’

Of Bones and Blood

Once I spoke in metallic words, but the machinery had failed me; my steel was bent by the profound and the absurd. Educated harshly by a world of constant tectonic shifts, I became as water. Pouring myself into silent containers that neither condemned nor condoned, then I became the martyr. How quickly does a crutch become a limb when constant motion is itself a medication. Pre-conditioned responses make pretty little waltzes under the vigilant veil of celebration.

Animate the inanimate to satisfy what is insatiable. Love only that which asks nothing of you. Lie, lie, lie to yourself until it becomes the gospel truth. They draw ever near, though only to unravel the sutures of your misbegotten wounds.

It’s not enough. It’s never enough. A brilliant star collapsed inside my gut and it’s a hole that since has never shut. It takes, it breaks, and it unmakes in a fever of bones and blood–and even though I know, I know, I cannot endure this storm alone.

As if pain were a tree you diligently water, for the shade of it’s branches has been all you’ve known of shelter. Fostering you from the sunlight of a life that scorched your skin so. These things that I carry, sometimes they carry me. To places I don’t want to go, but how these haunts begin to feel just like a haven home. Most days I choose to fight. I don the many masks needed to survive, and I forget which face is really mine. But on this night, I begged them to steal. I made a choice; to offer them my hand lest they grab me by the throat. Then they took my voice, ‘Oh child, it is time to heal.

The Birds in the Pines

Did I ever tell you about that girl from the old neighborhood?

It’s just this girl that I still think about sometimes, you know? The thing is, it’s been so long I don’t even know if she really ever existed. I mean, I don’t even remember what her name was. Maybe it’s like one of those dreams you get mixed up with a memory. But I know…I am just full of shit. It did happen. It wasn’t a dream; I just really want it to be.

I remember she had dark, brown hair and really fair skin–for a California girl anyway. Somehow we always seemed to end up at the park at the same time. We raced up and down the slides, tried to see who could swing the highest, or jump the farthest. Our favorite thing was climbing the pines that grew all around the edge of the park. But we had one in particular, the furthest tree on the left if you were looking directly east, that was ours. The trunk was wide and forgiving of young legs, and it had this branch that went over the backyard fence of an adjacent house. We used to caw like crows and make faces at the people who lived there but, to our eventual dismay, they never seemed to notice.

the pines

We spent hours up in those boughs. Day after day reaching as far as we could till there was nothing else within our tiny reach to grasp. God, she was good too. She kept up. Climbed just as high as I could, if not higher. Never complained or showed any fear, not once. Even the bugs didn’t scare her. I remember that much about her, she was brave. And she was lucky, so lucky, because no one in her life was telling her she shouldn’t be.

One day we are sitting up there in our pine and she just starts picking at the bark till it was flat and smooth, then she breaks off a small twig and starts carving into the tree. I look over at what she is doing, but she won’t let me see. She starts fidgeting, all bashful like she’s got some awful secret in her that just won’t stay down. Doing that “I-Know-Something-You-Don’t-Know” jig girls do when they think they know something you don’t know.

In between shy, nervous glances she gets coy, “It’s the name of a boy I like.”

“Who do you like?” I asked, trying to act indifferently.

In spite of her theatrical meekness, she very matter-of-factly says, “It’s you.”

I told you, she was brave.

“Oh…” I paused as looked at what she had done. There in the side of the tree was our names carved inside a misshapen heart. “You spelled my name wrong.”

That poor girl had probably been rehearsing this scene for days; inspired, no doubt, by a steady diet of Disney films. I can picture her, laying on her stomach with her feet up swinging side to side, writing my name incorrectly over and over on so many sheets of construction paper with small, broken crayons.

She quickly receded back to her embarrassment and her ears turned pink like two tiny tulips. I didn’t know what to feel or what to do. I just sat there on that branch while the crows laughed. Part of me had wanted her to say it was me, but there was something else there, something then that was much bigger than that desire that was nameless and unseen.

We didn’t speak again until it was time to go and we had climbed down from the tree. Down on the grass, she pushes down whatever blood had rushed to her face and all but skips towards me smiling, “So see you tomorrow?”

“Fuck you.”

She stopped dead in her tracks. Her face went blank, expressionless save for a slight furrow in her brow contorting in childlike confusion as she raced to make sense of what just occurred. She was too young, too innocent to know what those words meant. She only knew they were ugly, ugly, words. But me, I knew them. I had heard those words spoken many times by grown people who were supposed to be in love.

Looking right at me, she finally resigned herself to the truth. Her small lips trembled, uncertain of which words to choose, “You can’t say that….th-those are ba–”

That unseen something bubbled to the surface. “Fuck. You.”

There was no venom in that tiny voice of mine. There was nothing in it at all. It was as if I was reading lines from a script that belonged to someone else. This was me, rehearsing the lead in a violent play I had seen dozens and dozens of times from the front row seat of a dirty car window, or peering out from a crack of an assumably closed door.

Her body seemed to be gripped by an intense and sudden cold. She tries to stop the tears from coming up, slightly choking as her failure overcomes her. She doesn’t know much, but she knows this hurts. This little creature who had just moments ago carved the name of her crush into a tree, now recoiling from him like he was the goddamn Boogeyman. And she curses that very same name. Her instincts take over, and she angrily wipes those disobedient tears from off her face. She exits stage right. The curtain falls. I get the part on the spot.

I was five years old.

The bark has healed over that crooked heart, but I still think about her sometimes. Especially on days like this, I think about her, and the rest of them too. All those brave girls who carved my name somewhere close.

I am sorry.

Loose Change

The music was blaring so loud that the rooms of the house were shaken by the hands of the bass lines. Glass bottles rattled nervously along on the edges of counters while red cups trembled in the hands of young bodies swaying with the melody.

The house was filled to the brim, bodies on top of bodies heaving to and fro, a living mass of flesh twisting and writhing together in one ecstatic motion. The walls themselves had come alive and their pulse quickened with every song. Women screamed and men waited patiently or otherwise for their moment to strike. Hands began exploring the curves of neighboring frames and at times you couldn’t tell where one body began and the other ended–and so the waltz went on.

There was one who was still in spite of the motion. He sat alone, a shadow overlooked and unattended to in a forgotten corner. The poorly postured spine and accompanying body language spoke, “I would rather be anywhere but here,” and yet, there he was and there he stayed. His hair was long and dark, draped about his face like a curtain closing on a stage. His face was obscured, brought to light only when he lifted a bottle of cheap red wine that dangled precariously from his right index and middle finger, bringing it to his lips in a graceless yet fluid fashion between the passing glances at the people around him.

These people some would call his friends, though he was beginning to really wonder what the definition of that word truly meant to him now. The more he began to brood over the thought, the tighter his grasp became on the bottle (unbeknownst to him). All these people he knew, he did not know; and they did not know him. What he didn’t realize, however, was that this was (subconsciously) a defensive effort at self preservation; superficial relationships required less maintenance and left far less of a mess whenever they left, voluntarily or otherwise. This fact, accompanied by the terrifying notion of his genuine nature being discovered by someone else, left the boy–for better or worse–socially and utterly inept at developing healthy and reciprocal human relationships. Rejection, in this society, was non negotiable.

A few shared interests brought these people together on fair enough terms, but it was the treasure cove of the various rainbow colored assortments of bottles in the house and what those bottles would do to them that truly bonded them together. Their socially acceptable, government taxed drug habits allowed them all to tune in to the same communal frequency for a few hours. Dopamine and Ethanol were the true companions here tonight, and oh what a lovely pair.

His face became briefly illuminated as the wine was lifted to his lips and it was then a smile was seen–forced, sad. Defeated.

He recalled, with a greedy slosh of his drink, a bygone season of his youth, a chapter of his life that now seemed so very far away from where his story was now. So far in fact, that it may as well have been another tale entirely. He remembered how these people around him had all once sworn that their bonds would never be severed. Be it tested by the wiles of men or women, the gaps created by distance, or even by the rapacious hands of Father Time himself; their fraternity would always endure. And it was for this very reason that he had smiled that sad, sad smile…for time had indeed bested all of their promises. The years had now made strangers of them all.

He had watched–from a comfortable distance, how the years had come and gone, each one somehow quicker than the last, taking with them one person after another from his life who saw fit to grab a piece of it and oh, so many of them did. From the friends who would come in good cheer to laugh with him in the fair weather seasons, to the transients and drifters whose walks in life had collided with his own to share the road for a time. To the women whom he had shared a bed with, to the thieves who coveted pieces of his very soul—where were they all now, all these people he had touched?

Things fell apart, with or without his help, while other unseen beginnings were born from their endings. People fell in love, he noted with a secret envy, and by-in-by fell away from him. Others simply drifted away, like so many Autumn leaves shaken off of a shivering branch. He thought to himself that this was simply the way of things. This was only the reality he refused to accept in the ignorance of youth. People came and went away in seasons. Hopefully you saw them off well and could greet their returns, if any, with open arms. And if you did see them again, it would be as if there never was any distance, stolen heart, or time that had ever separated you in the first place.

Deep down in his heart, this was a greater hope; that those he chose to call his friends and his new found families would forever remain true to him. But he had come to learn there was no such thing in life as permanence and that for him, being a man who was all too aware that his tomorrows were all but infinite, forever was a dream that he simply could not afford. To him the present was all he had and all that mattered was who was present.

Everything in his life he learned was temporary. Just like his now almost empty coveted bottle would soon be nothing but garbage, an object to be cast aside. Just like this moonlit night would soon give way to another dawn that would come to steal away his dreams. Just like his life would come to a close, at a time unlikely of his own choosing. All fades away into story in the end, and he had been so many stories, hadn’t he?

It was this fact however, that ever present sense of self awareness of ones own mortality that drove him to constantly seek some semblance of substance in any and all things he sought. And therein lay the great dilemma, the cognitive dissonance that cleaved him in two; the Romantic and the Cynic. One embellished and sought love, while the other mocked it in parodies. One yearned for honest, pure affection, and the other was paralyzed at the very whisper of the word.

Though in secret fantasies and half-hearted whispers he demanded substance, the life that he had created for himself was not one of substantial merit by hardly any means. In spite of the depths that he had explored and thought existed within himself, his actual existence was one of extraordinary shallowness. His dreams told stories of forbidden passions; his waking body found him parading in the same nocturnal debaucheries the likes of which he repeated week after week, year after year. Countless mornings spent waking underneath an unfamiliar ceiling. A warm and nameless body at his side. These collisions the only bit of intimacy he could afford to spare with the loose change left in his pockets.

He was ever the victim of his own hypocrisies. Countless contradictions were brought to light by a near constant state of self deprecating examination. It was clear to him, and anyone else who really looked beyond his presented self, that he was his own worst enemy. In the space that existed behind those wild eyes, he was both warden and jailer. Completely unaware that he alone held the key to his cell, for his chains had grown far too comfortable.

Slight Madness in Los Angeles

It wasn’t until we had actually arrived in the heart of Los Angeles that I had really started to regret my decision to go. As soon as I walked out of the car the city hit me dead in the face. It’s ventricles pumped out hot garbage that stung my nostrils as arterial scum seeped into the gutters. The wailing of sirens echoed off the alleys and their song rang on in my ears. The sheer weight of millions of people condensed into a few miles of metal, brick, cardboard, and concrete was felt in your very bones; but you breathed it all in because it reminded you that you and this city were alive.

Los Angeles had never sat right with me. Even when I was still a child the place always had a strange kind of energy to it. It felt as if you could feel the cumulative failures of thousands of stars that just never burned bright enough. The city itself seemed to feed off dying dreams.

You felt all of this way before your father was driven temporarily insane after being sentenced to eight hours of straight gridlock traffic and beat you in the passenger seat. You knew something was wrong with this town way before you walked down Sunset Blvd with a chill in your gut and your mom said those bad vibrations you were feeling was just the presence of demons attracted by sin and the Scientologists.

L.A, you never stood a chance.

CJ had found a girl online on some dating site that lived in the city, but it was Johnny who said they should set something up tonight. The idea of drinking there on a Friday night didn’t appeal to me but their company did, so I stowed away in the back seat and sang out loud and off key when a good song came on. I was trying to psyche myself up. Anything could happen in the next few hours.

We walked towards the bar and the streets were eerily empty, what with it being the busiest night of the week in a big city and all. But it didn’t bother me.

A couple blocks down I saw two men and a tiny dog standing over something. It was the body of a homeless woman sprawled on top of the gutter. She wasn’t waking up. That didn’t bother me either.

The men huddled over her were gay and full of worry and compassion. Even their little dog with it’s pink leash was gay, it had no say in the matter. They spoke in soft worried voices on their phones trying to get help and get her to open her eyes. The woman’s body was half in the street and half on the sidewalk. She was older, not old, but she didn’t seem to be very much alive.

The sirens would soon be singing their song for her too.

Walking passed them I somehow found a way to make a joke about it. We all laughed and looking back, I don’t know why.

The bar was called the Golden Steer or the Yellow Bovine, something relating to colored cows or false idols. A giant of a Mexican with a face that looked like it’d been chiseled straight from the pavement asked for our ID’s. With my friends already inside he stopped me extra long just because he could. He told me he needed to check my purse. I told him I didn’t have a purse. Then it hit me, it was my long hair — funny guy…

I walked through the door and suddenly the empty streets made more sense. As dozens of smells and sounds flew at me and my eyes adjusted to the darkness I had never seen more people in my life shoved into such a small space. It was one writhing mass of overly exposed flesh and tilted baseball caps. The instinct to flee screamed so loud in me I heard nothing else, but somehow I found my feet following my friends.

I decided I was going to have a good time. I was going to be happy there regardless of what I thought about it and goddammit, I was going to be out of my head.

It was so crowded you had to force your way to the bar and you were always being touched. Like an obstacle course of limbs. The crazy part to me was I was the only one in the entire place who seemed to be unhappy about it.

The bar was long and narrow and far beyond its max occupancy. It was clearly a Hispanic joint that went back and forth from blaring top 40 club hits to Banda music. Everywhere you looked were people within a centimeter of each other’s faces. Claustrophobia does not even begin to describe it, but it’s a start.

It took a good two minutes just to fight your way to the bar and when you got there, you stayed there, and you ordered two drinks at a time. The beer was flat and stale and again, I was the only one who seemed the least bit bothered by it all. Maybe I was crazy.

I had to push the thought of not being able to escape out of my head, my anxiety nearing a dangerous level as a large woman’s back was pressed against mine while some man’s arm rested at my shoulder–so I asked CJ to show me what this girl he was meeting looked like. She had a cute face and looked fit from the angles she decided to show. She wore glasses that housed big brown eyes and rested atop a small button nose above full red lips. She was on her way to meet us and had just gotten off the freeway.

Pushing back the screaming notion of stabbing the large woman behind me repeatedly, I congratulated him on what looked like an otherwise fine catch.

I told CJ I would be the designated driver, to drink his fill and have fun. So I was pacing myself with only a couple of the awful flat beers and what had to have been the cheapest tequila north of the border. Every other friend I knew had a DUI, driving in California is dangerous business, even without the drink in your blood. He was surprised by my offer. “Are you saying that because you actually want me to have a good time, or do you just not trust me to drive!?” “Both.”

If his battered Ford was any indication, CJ was an absolutely horrible driver, especially when he was sober.

A couple stale beers later and his girl showed up. All three of us are over six feet tall, finding us wasn’t difficult in that bar overflowing with Angelinos. In person she was cute, but thicker than she looked in her photographs. That’s the thing with meeting people on the internet, they almost always look better in the pictures. When you are going out with a catch you met online, six to one odds they are not what they sold themselves to be. When you are online dating you are really playing Russian roulette, but loneliness and a need for a body makes you keep pulling back the trigger.

She brought two friends with her to help break the ice, each one bigger than the last, the last being so big that I was forced to wonder how the hell she had managed to fit in the place at all. The woman behind me had now apparently decided I was a permanent pillar while another limb, whose origins were blissfully unknown, was becoming more and more familiar with my thigh. Introductions were made and I forgot their names right after they said them. I didn’t care because I knew I’d never see them again. But I smiled anyway and offered a shot to whoever wanted it first. In spite of all of this, I was still desperately trying to have a good time. The not-so-fat-but-still-fat one took the offer. She had a great smile and she even said thank you. As I handed her the shot, I spilled a bit of the tequila on the fat one’s shoes. I apologized repeatedly and sincerely but she seemed pretty damn upset about it.

I didn’t know what the big deal was. It’s not like she could see her feet anyway. I didn’t feel at all bad. Her personality was as lousy as her diet. There is no hope for ugly people with ugly personalities and though it didn’t seem to stop her, I knew somewhere inside all of that flesh, she knew that too.

In between the sounds of bass lines, auto tuned voices, and the people yelling over me for drinks, I tried to talk to Johnny and CJ, but it was almost impossible to hear anything over the speakers and my impaired hearing. CJ was focusing on impressing his girl and Johnny was making small talk with the not-so-fat-but-still-fat one while the fat one just stood there, angry at the world for making her fat.

More and more I was feeling a sense of urgency to flee. I couldn’t understand how no one else seemed to be panicking. It seemed insane to me how everyone could be even remotely content crammed into that bar like cattle with nothing but shit beer and cheap tequila to drink.

Everywhere around me I saw this look of sheer bliss on everyone; the mirror behind the bar showed me I looked nothing like them.

That was it, I told Johnny I’d be outside if they needed me. “I can’t do this anymore.” He knew me well enough to understand and nodded respectfully. In spite of the ocean of bodies I swam out the door in ten seconds.

The dull roar of the dive was finally silenced as the door slammed shut behind me and the quiet of the street greeted me like an old friend. I decided I wasn’t crazy after all for wanting to leave. It was the people in there who suffered that madness with smiles on their faces who were insane. Still, even after fleeing that asylum, I couldn’t help but feel like I had somehow failed.

I took a seat on the curb and laid my chin on my knees. I tried not to listen to the voices of the drunks ordering hot dogs and puking simultaneously behind me. I tried to get the image of the human zoo out of my head. I couldn’t tell if I wanted to be somewhere else or be some one else.

I didn’t know what I was feeling sitting there on that curb, but I bet that woman lying in the gutter could have told you.

Who knows how long I sat there wrapped up in blues in that dirty gutter, I just remember hearing Johnny call my name. I snapped out of it and got up and followed them down the crooked sidewalk as it rose and fell broken from all the earthquakes. The girls were bragging about how many drinks they had, in case the boys had forgotten. I looked up and saw no stars, just a lonely waning moon lighting up the hillside. “That’s a full moon if I ever saw one.” One of the girls said.

“That’s not a full moon. The full moon is tomorrow.”

“Pft, that’s a full moon.”

“No, trust me–it isn’t…”

I could tell they were all really starting to like me.

The girls wanted to dance and the guys would follow the girls until they got their opening. I heard them all talking as they stumbled on ahead. I wasn’t listening but I smiled when I was supposed to and laughed when I should have laughed. You learn when to laugh at the right times and you’ll live forever.

We got to the front of this building that was painted solid black with no windows that just said ‘Bar’ in neon lights. There was a line to get in the place. I didn’t believe anyone should ever have to wait in line just to get a drink, but I waited with them anyway. The night could still be saved. The next big story, the great love of my life could be inside of those doors for all I knew.

I walked through the doors and found a booth as far back in the place as I could possibly get and we had a whole corner to ourselves to breathe. The girl’s friends wanted to dance and Johnny followed them happily in drunken faith. CJ and his girl stayed at the booth with me and he offered me a drink. Somehow right then whiskey sounded more like poison than medicine. He went to the bar, leaving just me and his girl at the booth.

Her dress came down to her thighs leaving nothing but leg, yet there was nothing sexual about it. That dress made her feel uncomfortable, vulnerable even as she fidgeted trying to get it just right. I feel for women sometimes, I really do.

She looked over at me looking at her. “You are not having any fun at all, are you?”

“No.” It just came out and I was surprised I didn’t lie. Then I felt sort of sorry for her. I studied her for a couple seconds to find something I could bring up and tried to talk to her about a tattoo she had on her thigh to make conversation. I knew how I must have looked to her and I didn’t want to ruin anyone else’s time. The tattoo was a portrait of a singer I loved but when I got excited and tried to talk to her about him, she answered in short responses. She had made up her mind about me, she was done and hell, I couldn’t blame her.

Johnny and the girls came back. “These girls can’t dance!”

“Do you dance?” they asked me.

“No. I can’t go in there! I am an epileptic, those lights will give me a seizure.”

Johnny and CJ were the only ones who laughed. The girls didn’t care if I was being serious or not. I could tell they thought I was stuck up. Maybe I was. The truth is I was a terribly lonely person who just wanted to be left alone and I was trying to sort out how the hell that was possible.

So they all left me in the booth to celebrate each others drunkenness. I wondered what I looked like standing there alone to the people around me but no one noticed. It was one in the morning and everyone’s bellies but mine was full of the drink. The booth across from me held up two bodies, a man and a woman kissing each other and fumbling in and out of passion. For whatever reason I wondered if he loved her and I could tell from the way she studied his face when his tongue receded that she was asking herself the same thing.

Last call.

The music stopped and the lights came on guiding everyone out of the club en masse. Outside people stumbled slack mouthed over the broken sidewalks. Small boys with big mouths tried to start fights to prove to the world they were still men. Women in short dresses stole glances at me while still on the arms of their paramours. I watched as predators sober as judges stole easily suggestible bodies away into the night in yellow carriages while stone faced cops circled and prowled around the curbs in their black and white like lions in the tall grass looking for anyone to break away from the herd.

I looked around at the dispersing crowd and asked myself if this was it. If these late nights were the highlight of our lives. I saw these lost people had found themselves in lives they could only enjoy when they were in the process of escaping them. Escaping the responsibility of success handed down to them generation by generation by an unknown author. Running far away from the soul crushing jobs that fueled their petty stations and nocturnal enterprises. Their wed locked spouses and hungry children. Their problems with God. Fleeting dreams and neglected ambitions. Escaping their very consciousness. Drowning out the voice that would otherwise be screaming, “Why!?”

I longed to be counted among them, because I was a part of them, in their communal bliss. I didn’t want my mind. I didn’t know who put it there or where these thoughts came from. I didn’t want my eyes to see these things as they were. I wanted to find beauty in this! I wanted pure requited simplicity. I wanted this to be enough because I had no other answers.

I knew nothing else.

We were walking back towards our cars when I found myself suddenly far ahead of the group. As I looked up from the cracks, my mind was anywhere but there with them. It was on the battered surface of the moon 200,000 miles away, looking down at our lonely blue world wondering if it was really going to make it.

I saw the cracks in the broken pavement and suddenly I wanted the tectonic plates below the earth to shift and collide together so violently that the San Andreas fault-line would burst open and it’s hungry mouth would send dear Los Angeles screaming into the bottom of the Pacific Ocean. The skyline sparkled in the distance and I wanted nothing more than to see it all submerged in the sea.

We went wrong somewhere, I thought. We have got it terribly, terribly wrong.

The 10th Hour

What you are about to read comes from a part of my life and a piece of myself that I have kept hidden from virtually everyone. Things will begin to add up, and those missing variables that sum up a fraction of the equation that is me will be solved for some of you. Just like that, you’ll see a line, a series of letters revealing parts of me I have shown to only a handful of people, most of them gone now. It’s such a daunting thought, so invasive to think that people, strangers and friends alike, are going to be introduced to some of my demons. Hell, you might recognize them. You may have even given them names.

It all happened months ago, during a road trip I took with my younger brother to Northern California, in a sleepy forest town called Arcata. I was laying down in a cozy apartment at four in the morning during the tenth hour of a hallucinogenic trip under the influence of LSD. I shine emphasis on the state I was in for two reasons,

1: These lines follow no structure and evolved in an entirely organic matter. It’s simply a stream of consciousness spurned on by the effects of the LSD which, while they are mind altering, do not alter your present state of self awareness (on the contrary).

2: While under the effects of LSD, I was able to think in a manner which I had never been able to before. This new found thought process allowed me to remove myself while exploring myself (I can’t explain it any other way)–which was necessary–considering what it was I was going after: the root cause of a very real depression that still beset me.

I was able to see parts of me that I had hidden away and forgotten. Thoughts I had grown afraid to entertain, the memories I had sought for so long to drown; I brought them to the surface and found that I was not afraid, for how much more harm could they inflict on me now that I hadn’t already endured? There came at this time, a very strange kind of acceptance: I saw my life as it was, still effecting my life as it is, and going on into what my life would be.  It had to stop somewhere. To me, that meant acknowledging my pain, my hatred, and my sorrow and the child that was. For, instead of choosing to accept them as very crucial parts of myself I needed to recognize, I chose instead to forget them.

So, I remembered.

I beheld it all, all that I was running away from, and found some sense of peace at last that was born out of a sense of understanding I had discovered in an altered state of mind. I saw that I was only the cause of an even greater effect. A link in a great chain whose line had endured for generations. People who hurt others because they could not understand their own pain. The loveless who secretly weep and obsess over the one thing they cannot seem to ever posses. I was born with abandon to people who had also been given very poor hands in life, born with no clean slate to speak of. What I endured at their own hands, they too had suffered once, for suffering was all that they knew. In that respect, they had given me all that they had ever had.

Confronted with that profound truth it was then I felt, for the first time, actual empathy for the people that had wronged me. Not only my parents, but everyone who’d ever done me harm. And then everyone I myself had committed crimes against in some fit of anger or some preposterous notion of revenge. All those people who’d been refused a greater love, all reaching for the same thing at the center, the very thing we all orbit around, we are all connected to that. This great web that unites us all…It all just made sense in those precious moments in a way I may never be able to truly describe. Someday, I will try.

In that place I had found the key that would move me beyond my circumstances. Then it all poured out of me, like a river. This body of work remains largely untouched from it’s original conception save for some minor revisions or lines I needed to add for a “sober” or “unaltered” mind to make sense of all of this and also, it’s structure, which I have since changed to present the lines at the pace I would like them for them to be presented. This piece evolved with no design in mind, the words simply took me where they may.

I wrote this for no one, though it is for everyone.

the 10th Hour

I need you to know I am not well

and the truth is

I haven’t really ever been.

Not for a long time.

I can blame this on the way I was raised and I have for so long

How my Dad beat me because his Dad beat him when he was young

because we come from a long line of Soldiers who couldn’t make sense of war

or how my Mom didn’t love me enough

because she was the last of eleven children

born to already tired parents and wasn’t raised right

so she didn’t know how to raise me

and when I got grown and grew bad she abandoned me

because her God told her to,

but the thing is every addict and every selfish sob story

plays the same damn cards and never takes some goddamn responsibility!

People have had it worse then me.

Some people didn’t and neither of that matters

because none of them are me and I am not them,

but still we need to find some sense of understanding

and find camaraderie in our suffering

and let that hunger in us that’s never filled

be filled with something good for once

and maybe then our stomachs would cease to growl.

Sure, some of that I never had any control over

and I was just a little kid

who didn’t deserve any of that

and no one deserves any of that at all

and it fucking hurts like hell

when the people who are supposed to love you the most hurt you like that,

you are goddamn right it does!

And I took that hurt and that pain

and crafted it into a fucking shield to survive

and how I survived

but my strength that served me then

is a weakness that cripples me now.

That shield has since grown into a wall from all the bones

of the bodies thrown against me

and now no one can get in

and I am lonely

and I don’t want to be alone anymore

but love is the scariest thing to me

because I have seen what it can do to people

and it hurts every time I try and make it happen for myself,

but I am trying to confront my fears and it starts and ends there.

A whole mesh of seasons unfolding

that I hope will bear at least one good harvest.

It hurts

but that was a long time ago

and I am no longer a helpless child

and they are no longer who they were

and everything changes.

So blaming other people, that just arrests you.

You stay ever the helpless child.

Haven’t you cried enough?

For once shed your tears for someone else!

Because now you know what hurt is.

Because now you can recognize it.

And so many people are hurting.

And they are hiding it with painted masks and excess

and nothing gets better,

they just wait for it to go away

and it won’t go away

because it’s a part of them now,

well how do they fix it?

Love.

Love.

Love you gotta let it in.

Someway.

Somehow.

This is all on me now

and that’s just the damnable misery of it all:

knowing I can’t blame anyone anymore

and I alone am the sole author of this story

and I am just learning how to write

and I guess you can call that a strange sort of strength all on it’s own

but it’s just the beginning

and I didn’t really have one,

not like a “Once upon a time,” or anything,

so I have to start all over

and I don’t know that much but I am learning

and I am learning so much watching

but I know I need to participate even more.

Because you see people like me,

we have to know that this all has a meaning,

that there is something behind all of this,

there just has to be some meaning behind all our suffering

and we know that we have to find something

and we can’t settle for anything less than real

because in spite of it all

we still hope

and we still dream

of love,

of a real kind of love.

The kind that accepts

and understands

and knows

and heals.

Cause I need to heal something bad.

Can’t you see it?

I see some people that find happiness in the most mundane things

but really nothing is trivial

and they smile anyway

and everything is relative

but I still wish that I could be that simple

but my life permitted me no ignorance to procure that kind of bliss

so it has to be something so much more

and it’s a curse I think is really going to bless me.

I know I can find a way to make it better

because it has been better

so I can’t go yet

because I have barely seen a fraction of anything

and I have to make it all worth something.

I need to find something

and I have been going mad just to trying to find what that something is,

something I know is going to save me,

from myself

or the world

or both,

but I don’t know what it it is I am supposed to find!

I guess I will know when I find it.

It’s looking that gives me purpose.

It’s the search that makes it all worthwhile.

Because I don’t know if it’s just around the next bend of the highway

or the next turn of the page

where the author may have wrote something

that makes you feel like they wrote it just for you

to reassure you that you are not alone!

Someone has been there, where you are before

and they came out of it

and it’s there in the pages of history and poetry

to make you write something beautiful now

and give back that same gift!

It could be in the face of an unconventionally beautiful woman

sitting alone in the window of a cafe

looking over the menu for the seventh time

cause she is waiting for something big

to walk in through the door on a lonely night in Brooklyn.

It could hit me in a shoulder high crest in summer time

and cradle me in it’s salty truth like sunlight holds the pacific at high noon.

Or I could make it out in the shadows of the clouds

floating along the unfurling valleys below me

as I fly overhead and overwhelmed towards some strange new land

in which to lose and find myself.

It can be in the smiles of my friends,

behind a patient glass of wine in Summertime

where we talk real good talk of all the good things

we will do in good time

cause we want to be good men to not even really good people.

Perhaps it’s in the ivories of a piano

hidden away in an old house you just have to play

because no one has played it in years

and it was meant to be played

and You and I were meant to be loved!

It can be in the leaves falling in Autumn

reminding me beautifully and morbidly that life is still magic,

even when it’s ending,

but from that fleeting end Springs a new beginning

and the world will soon be green again.

Maybe it will be illuminated by a full moon on a white beach

that causes the blood to boil in our veins with passions beyond our understandings

and spurns us on into that ethereal world where the tides meet the skies

and you can’t tell if you are swimming or flying

because sometimes the stars align and anything can happen.

What if it’s in the arms of a woman who’ll fall for and into me,

touching me in a way that’s more than physical

and I don’t tremble at the thought of surrendering

because maybe this time it’s a victory and not a defeat.

I could find it one tiny raindrop in a storm that fell

not one second before the precisely perfect moment

upon a window in November

and reminded me in it’s following symphony

how truly wonderful this world can be

in the morning, and at noon and at night

and every day there after.

It can be anything.

It can be anywhere.

It can be anyone.

So I am going to stop looking for excuses and start searching for this.

Whatever it is.

Because I am not going to find it sitting here feeling sorry for myself anymore.

Because I want to be well

and I want to be whole

with all of what’s left of my soul.

It’s out there.

Somewhere.

Waiting to meet me on some unknown platform and

slowly I am moving towards it,

I can feel it.

– I

November, 2013

The Smiling Night

It was just another day in paradise. Ceiling fans swung lazily overhead, propelling a slight and stagnant breeze on the dry, thirsty mouths below them. Mouths parched from the burden of their day. Hard faces hidden behind various shapes of glass like masks. The stirred atmosphere stank of spilled beer and piss. The lights were dimmed low to provide an illusion of an ever encroaching night to help ease the minds of the day to day vagrant drunks into forgetfulness that light still dwelt outside.

The bar was littered with a few weary souls scattered about the floorboards and bar stools with light heads and heavy shoulders. The air randomly cackled from a thunderous break at the pool table. The ancient flickering jukebox stood lonely in the corner, playing whatever it pleased.

An old man held a solitary position on a stool at the center of the bar while everything else seemed to orbit around him; a sun unto his own private universe. He hunched over the counter as if it were a crutch to support his aging body. If not for the gray mane upon his scalp and the wrinkles around his mouth, his age would have been indefinable for his eyes were extraordinarily youthful, brilliantly dark orbs that teemed wild with even darker imaginings inside of his skull.

He sat for hours on that stool, contemplating everything and nothing as he marveled at the cascading colors of the bottles in front of him. The come hither allure of the emerald greens found on the bottles of the Irish whiskeys, the warm fires that seemed to glow red hot inside of the imported rum, the cool refreshing blue hues of vodka; an aurora of flashing lights culling him into warm inebriation and blissful nothingness.

The bar was his home, or rather his haunt, and he played the role of its imperishable ghost to a silent applause. Few souls knew the name of this spirit of consumption and fewer still knew how old he really was or how long he had been haunting this place. To him it was all one long, blur of a seemingly infinitesimal night. One night covering the span of many years that saw no curtain drawing down on a sunset. It didn’t matter to the Old Man what anyone thought of him. He had lived a long time, longer than he had probably ever cared to, and old age had purchased for him a title of great indifference. He was a fierce feline of the alleys that had all but used up nine of his lives. Nine lives fostering a thousand stories that housed millions of memories. Memories, perhaps, he no longer felt the need to carry. His head was much too full of his past. It left little room for thoughts of a future.

The bar door opened and hot light flooded the cool dark atmosphere, breaking the spell of the man made dusk. The old man lifted his hand to shield his wrinkled eyes from the sudden sunburst as a shadow walked in from off the streets outside where the sun seemed to be making its descent. As the creaking door slammed closed and darkness took the space again, he noticed the shadow was in fact a man, a man that with each passing step actually became more and more a boy. No older than twenty two if his hairless face was any indication. The boy sank into a seat a stool away from the old man. He ordered a beer in an almost inaudible voice and stared at the counter, his face devoid of all expression, until his glass was brought to him. When it was, the unsavory paleness of the beer he had ordered told the old man it was something cheap and tasteless. Like most young men he had observed, this boy had no taste. He decided not to bother with him.

Before the boy could even wrap his hand around his glass a song began to play from within his pockets so loud it overpowered the bar’s own jukebox. It was “Friday, I am in Love” by the Cure. It’d had been years since the old man had heard it, but he knew it well. The boy took out his phone and stared blankly at the screen. The song went on, Robert Smith sang of a profound love, and the boy did not answer. He just continued staring at it. Before the old man could voice his annoyance, the boy dropped his still ringing phone into his full glass of beer where it sank and bubbled till it hit the bottom of the glass. The picture of a woman’s face flashed on the screen and her name was seen in brilliant white letters for a moment. Then there was only black.

“Excuse me?” the boy asked. “Could I get another a beer? There seems to be something in my glass.”

A solitary chuckle escaped from the old man’s chapped lips but the bar tender did not share in the same amusement; the Boy was not brought another beer. The old man thought, no hoped, he would have left, but the boy remained at the stool, staring again at the counter with a face that seemed not simply expressionless, but rather a face that simply did not know what it was supposed to be expressing. The boy had an energy about him that made the old man uncomfortable (it was so familiar) and comfort was something he felt entitled to in his old age.

“What’s up yer ass, kid?” the Old Man asked loudly over the jukebox. Someone had put on a number he swore he used to know the name of, but the fact was washed away with the next sip of his drink before it could ever surface. The boy did not answer. He merely sat there, deaf to his neighbor’s inquisition. His eyes were now frozen towards what was now the corpse of his phone, as if it any moment he expected it would come back to life. The old man had no more patience left in him to harbor an insult as heavy as being ignored and the drink was strong in his blood by now. You could say it was the whiskey that caused his hand to slam in front of the boy, as much as it was the old man himself.

“I asked you a question, boy?!” His breath, as hot as his temper, stank like a bottle left to spill out into the gutters. If it was one thing in this world he hated, it was not being acknowledged. He had suffered enough judgment at the hands of people who thought themselves his betters his whole nine lives and had tasted bittersweet abandonment for so long that whiskey seemed to be the only way to wash the taste from out of his mouth. It stirred in him an ancient anger he had carried with him as he long as he could carry himself. But when the boy’s eyes finally met his, he withdrew his hand and his anger went with it.

Staring back at him now was a look he had seen once upon another life. A memory once thought drowned and forgotten, bubbled and resurfaced to the front of his mind. It was there he saw his own eyes staring back at him in a mirror, though they were much younger. They wore barely a wrinkle then, but instead were filled with searing tears that flew down his face warm and unbidden. He recalled the pain he’d felt in his chest. Pain that throbbed like a knife he was helpless to pull out. He remembered shattering that mirror into pieces with the very same hand he’d slammed down in front of the boy. The way a dozen different sad, distorted manifestations of himself had stared back at him with that same broken gaze. The bleeding mirror, its glass shards embedded in his knuckles like so many diamonds, engaged as he was now to his despair. And yet, he couldn’t feel any of it. She is gone, she is gone…

He stared deep into the boy’s eyes. His eyes were as a green sea suffering a red tide. He’d been crying. He’d been crying for a long time. The old man studied the boy’s eyes for a second, then two, and looked away, for he could not suffer the intensity in his gaze. Those eyes that seemed to shoot a challenge to the old man, or were they imploring him, Leave me be? His own eyes found the bartender then, “Martha, two whiskey doubles. Neat.”

The barmaid took her time walking over to the old man with a slight swagger in her stride. The curves of her body swayed together in one hypnotic motion that held the gaze of every patron in the room. Martha held, in what enigma remained of her form that she actually covered, that beautiful kind of ordinary whose personality made her extraordinary.

“You could at least say please, you old fuck.” She said more with a grin than a chastising smile.

“I love you, Marty.”

She brought the drinks, and laid them out in front of them; making sure to bend over a little more than she actually needed to. She was a good woman. Den mother to the sorry souls who inhabited the world in front of her oak counter. She had nursed the old man to near death and back to life enough times for him to know at least that much. The old man picked up a glass and raised it over his head towards the boy in a gesture of salutations and apology. The boy, luckily for him ( for the old man would not have suffered another offence), returned the gesture in kind. The old man threw the drink back and let it settle on his tongue. He savored the burn then swallowed the fire as it were water. The boy coughed. “Thank you,” he said softly as he collected himself. Acknowledging the apology and cloaking, as best he could, his embarrassment.

A few moments went by in respective silence as the old man studied the boy he had accosted from a periphery glance. He was handsome. Beautiful in a way the old man had never been. Completely unaware of the looks he was drawing to himself for, in his depression, he hid well what vanity he surely possessed. A thick head of brown hair fell about his face to hide the current shame in his eyes. He was tall and his body was strong, though it seemed like he was sinking into himself, as if there was some force at work pulling him from the inside out.

The old man felt he should say something to him, but what could he say? What did men do in times like these but mend the pain from both sides in contemplative silence? He bought him a drink to nurse his wounds. It was more than most people had ever done for him. Wasn’t that enough?

“How are ya feelin?” The old man asked in a half sort of laugh that was followed quickly by immense surprise. He didn’t know why he had opened his mouth and felt he was going to regret ever having done so to some baby boy from off the street. But the boy laughed too. One of those sad, defeated kind of laughs spoken more with a sagging of shoulders than with the mouth.

“Oh, you know, I am fucking swell.” He answered once again in quiet, soft spoken tone. One of those sensitive types, thought the old man. But there was still a bit of fight left to him, an edge that could still cut. “Forgive me for being obvious,” the boy added deliciously sarcastic.

The old man sneered, “Oh, I know that smell on you. You reek of that love sting. Still, you smell better than most of us in here, pretty boy.”

Then there came suddenly a real, honest good laugh. It erupted from the pit of his stomach, where the whiskey had no doubt made its impact. He had a surprisingly fantastic laugh, infectious and completely unrestrained. It shook the bar and sang high over the speakers as his hair fell into his face again. He brushed it back with one hand and took a drink with the other in one graceful, fluid motion. He had forgotten himself for a moment with that sudden outburst, until he opened his eyes and saw where he was. Then he found his chest again, or rather, his chest had found him and he remembered. His shoulders sunk and moved forward until he hung over what was now an empty glass. And his posture spoke louder than anything he could ever say. But still he spoke, “Does it ever stop?”

“Does what stop?”

“This…”, he said pointing a solitary finger towards his chest. “Does it ever go away?”

The old man said nothing at first. He instead gestured for another round, feeling that more of this medicine would be the best remedy for the boy’s obvious and immense sickness. He watched Martha come and go with their prizes with indifferent eyes. His head was somewhere else now; far from sex and his drink and the dull pulse of the bar’s slow tempo heart. He wondered what to say to the boy, if anything. He knew that he could lead him astray with a string of careless words. He could widen the hole if he wasn’t careful. For men in dire straits seemed always quick to grab hold any word that might validate their current positions. What the hell did he know about anything anyway?

“Were it so easy to just will it away…You can’t ever really escape that pain.” The Old Man said as he handed the Boy another drink. “So long as you love, then much can you lose. It’s a risk, but what isn’t worth having? I don’t know you. But pain I do know. Pain, it’s always gonna be there. Waiting to walk in through the same door that love walks out of. Cormac McCarthy wrote, “The shadow of the axe hangs over every joy.’ As if to say, eventually, joy will be stripped by sorrow. To that I say, learn how to block the blow. The hardest part of this life, it isn’t learning how to deal with the pain. It’s trying to find a way to make love stay.”

He looked to the boy then and saw those oceans in his eyes had begun to swell and the old man did not care to see them overflow. As a man whose form was sculpted by far tougher times than the boy would ever see, he felt ashamed for the him and his obvious weakness, even a hint of disgust at his audacity to shed his pain in such a public fashion. But as a human being who contained within himself far more empathy then he would ever admit, he could not help but watch in some twisted sense of fascination as a solitary tear fell from the boy’s face onto the bar, mixing in with a pool of water below a perspiring glass.

How to make love stay?” The boy made no move to wipe away the tears from his face. As if he were not ashamed at all of conveying what he as a man was conditioned to feel shamed for doing. His hands stayed true to his glass. “It can’t stay if someone doesn’t want it to. No matter how badly you want it to. If someone feels or tells themselves they don’t deserve it…Fuck it!” He spat and took a drink from his glass. “Better I found out she could cheat on me before I did something really stupid, right?”

The boy did not sob. Nor did his voice betray his convictions with the slightest quiver. His only course now seemed to be to reinforce his beliefs with words he did not really believe, for he could harbor nothing else but the bottle and his own self doubt. He had been running over the scenarios of his recent love’s denouement no doubt a thousand times all ready. Probably traveling absent of mind miles in any given direction, far from the scene of the crime till the street brought him here to this place. Looking for anything to fill the empty space within him that, until recently, had housed an extraordinary kind of love.

The old man had heard these kinds of stories in the corner of this bar alone dozens, perhaps even hundreds of times. He knew what the boy was going to say before he could even say it. But still, he was listening. For some reason, he was listening. He hung on the boy’s every word, though he couldn’t understand why he even gave a damn. They shared camaraderie in heartbreak and nothing more. They were men born from different times who lived entirely different lives. The only bond connecting them now was the bottle their whiskey was coming from. The boy was still very naive in his youth, where the old man was a grizzled veteran of a long fought campaign. The lad was pretty and soft, whereas he was calloused and the years had been anything but kind to him. But in spite of the tremendous amount of evidence that brought to light the boy’s foolishness, the old man decided he would keep listening, for had he not too been a fool, once upon a time? Perhaps he was still a fool for even wanting to give this love sick pup an audience. Fool or not, he decided then to give what wisdom his old year’s provided him to ease this troubled youth’s passing into one of life’s harshest realities.

The boy heaved a great and heavy sigh, “I give up. I fucking give up.”

“What are you giving up?” asked the old man.

“People!” barked the boy, as if the answer should have been obvious. “Women, they want it all in life but can’t for the life of them tell you all they want. You give ’em what they say they want and then they just want more. It’s never enough. People just want to take. I am running out of things to give…”

“You can’t give up on people. After that, it’s only a matter of time before you give up on yourself.”

“I just don’t understand. The more I try to understand the less I feel a part of anything or anyone. It doesn’t make sense. How could people be so cruel?”

“You should be thankful it doesn’t.” said the old man as he thumbed the rim of his glass. “Be thankful you aren’t like those people. But you should know by now, we are all fucked. No one makes it this far in one piece, kid. We all have our demons. Some of them we don’t even want to exorcise. They can become a part of you, or you them if you carry them too long. With people you let inside, you can only be aware of what they are capable of. And hope they DON’T do what you know they CAN do. It’s insanity really. You can call it faith, or hope, but really, its insanity: doing the same thing over and over expecting a different result.”

“Then why? Why do we keep looking for this?” The boy implored, looking for an answer more from within himself than anyone else. “It is insane! Why do we keep hurting each other when all we are looking for is love?”

The old man froze with his glass just before his lips as they quivered slightly in anticipation. He didn’t know how to answer him. Had he ever even asked himself the question? Had he ever even be close to the answer the boy had a mighty and desperate hunger for. But, suddenly his tongue ran away with him.

“We go off of blueprints handed down to us from somewhere. We base our love off the love we have seen. Some people didn’t get shown too much love and some got none at all. Others couldn’t have possibly gotten anymore. But that’s life, and it’s never fair. We get older and we formulate our theories from these things we have seen. Then we go out to prove them, to find, ‘It’. We look and keep looking because, goddammit, we have to! It’s what we are. Humans were made to come together. It’s that simple: it’s instinctual. Even if you are not looking, you are. Even if you are not playing their game–those stupid fucking games, you will still get played. We hurt each other because, that’s what people do. What if we are all just puzzle pieces of a greater picture? We all can’t possibly come together seamlessly. That pain a lot of people feel, I think that’s us trying to force ourselves upon another. Upon something that we just won’t ever align with–like putting square pegs in circular holes. Or it’s us leaving those pieces we just simply cannot fit into. People will get hurt because how can you possibly consider all the people you touch with every action you make? You just can’t–It’s maddening! We are too selfish to think like that. We hurt each other when we hold on too tight. We hurt each other when we lessen the grip. It’s too much and then, it’s not enough. You want it. You get it. Then, it turns out it’s not what you wanted so, you let it go. Then, you want it back because it’s gone. Because you are insane! We are all insane! Driven mad just looking for ‘It’! You think you have found ‘It’ in someone, and ‘It’s’ there. Somewhere. And sometimes, it really is. And sometimes, you’ll find it was never there. You just wanted it to be…”

The old man still held the drink before his face. Stirring it in his hand, fascinated by the way the liquid caught the light and distorted the world around him.”We all just want what we have seen in the movies, really. What we have been conditioned by art to feel. We want to be spouting that poetry to beautiful, perfectly imperfect souls like we see on that magical silver screen…Those goddamn films have killed us. The poets have killed us. The writers have damned us all. Filling our heads with dreams we try endlessly to recreate in our own stories.”

He took a long, hard drink from his patient glass and waited for his words to really hit the boy while the whiskey hit him. He felt then, in that moment of silent reflection, as though he had become a conduit. As if someone else was speaking through him, for his words did not seem his own. The spirit of the bottle, perhaps? He couldn’t remember the last time he had talked so much to anyone. It wasn’t so bad. His throat was beginning to become sore and the whiskey was making his voice sound harsher than he meant for it to sound. It masked his sympathy and hid his sincerity.

The old man’s words broke upon the boy’s ears like fists, but in a fit of marvelous masochism, the boy only seemed to want more. “How do we know that any of that is even real?! Let alone even survives time?” The boy almost yelled, surprising the old man as he shattered the comfortable silence that had grown between them. The boy turned around in his stool in a flurry of hair and excitement and faced the old man, his eyes now lit up with something new. The old man had sparked something in him and he wanted desperately to keep the fire burning. The boy had altogether forgotten the pain he had walked in with and now seemed only interested in finding out from this old barfly, this new found source of all truths, if the love he had always searched for, the love he had gone through hell for, was something that even existed. Let alone could be attained.

The boy took the stool that was separating them to be closer to his sage. “How do we know they aren’t selling us something unattainable? Advertising to us the impossible! We buy it! We eat it up! And we compare our love to their love and how can it possibly compare to those fucking fantasies? You can’t fit in two people’s quest for love into a two hour film! Or a goddamn novel! We aren’t that simple! Life and heart and limb are so much more complex! What happens between the reels or the moments separating the panels? Where are those words the author deleted? Those are the stories—the real stories they never tell! You know what I am saying, right?! Where is the reality of life in it all? Where are the harsher truths of love? Who is writing that story that won’t make us all feel crazy or even impossible to love?” He touched the old man’s shoulder with a sympathetic hand. “You have been in love before, haven’t you? You know what I–”

The old man shrugged off the Boy’s hand with a sudden jolt that wounded the boy profoundly. In the space of the new found distance between them, the boy learned quickly that he had perhaps gone too far. The whiskey was in his blood and his blood was the drink and it was all he could do now but forget why he had ever come to this place. He was in shambles. He felt as if he were in a fever. The drink was the only thing now holding him together, but the medicine was fast becoming a poison. To keep his composure in front of this old soul he knew held some secret truth inside of him, only now to find he was holding it back, was almost more than he could bear.

“I-I am sorry,” the boy said as he stumbled drunkenly over his apology.

The old man dwelt on the boy’s foolish sincerity. “No, it’s fine. It’s fine…” He did not know why he had shoved him off. The boy had meant no harm. He was only drunk and frenzied in an excitement that he himself had stirred up. But who touched him anymore? Who caused him to remember? Unfortunately for the pup, the old dog was all out of apologies. After a few moments of careful and inebriated deliberation, he decided, as he so often did in his life, to move past it all as if it never happened.

“Of course I have loved someone. Many someones, heh heh. They came and went; transient affections. How long is forever anyway, really? A few months, a couple years? Eternity is surprisingly short in my experience. Then again, it can happen…who knows? For me, most of them turned out to be no more than passing seasons. And now, in the winter of my years I see that all those eternities I was promised, all of those forever and infinities, however much time they really gave me, they were all worth it, somehow. I harbor no real regrets. Hell, even the bad ones–especially the bad ones!” He exclaimed with a raised finger for that whiskey spirit was beginning to take over his limbs. “Those bad ones show you how good those good ones really were that you let go of so you can hold on next time around–if you are that lucky. Take it from an old fool; our mistakes are not without their own worth. In truth, they have been my greatest instructors.” He paused to gather his thoughts, though the words flowed out of him in one long river as if he were a dam burst.

“So many girls but ah, so few women! So few real women. I guess you could say that about men too. How many girls lost their faith in men because of some boy’s false religion? It’s as if people have forgotten how to be–how to be human, how to be happy, how to be loved. There is no real soul to anything it seems anymore. It’s all made on the cheap. All this knowledge and no wisdom. It’s all just sex, sex, sex everywhere all the time. You’re all in heat, but that ain’t fire. Those embers won’t keep you warm the way a soul’s gotta stay warm. You’ll find bodies, sure, but you gotta dig for that kind of real fire kid, really dig. And you’ll know when you find it because then, you won’t even have to ask yourself. Then, you are going to burn something awful.”

Somewhere behind them a man cursed aloud and threw his pool cue on the table. The boy looked back and glanced around the place as the old man attended to what was left of his drink. He saw men and women smiling to each other in the darkness, betrayed by the whites of their smiles and the glaze in their narrowed eyes. He overheard their conversations out of sheer curiosity and found most of them, while talking incessantly, weren’t really saying much of anything at all. Talks of sports, sexual frustrations, and outlandishly embellished personal conflicts echoed in his skull. He laughed to himself, but he didn’t really know why.

It was then that Martha came back around with two fresh glasses, “These are on the house boys!”

“See,” said the old man, “Now this is a good woman! I can try and set you guys up if you like?!” And for the first time in the entirety of their evening together the boy heard the old man laugh. He was glad to have been audience to it.

“Tell your boyfriend to come back when he has some hair on his damn chest!” said Martha as she left the Boy with a wink.

The boy joined in on the laughter and together their sudden uproar drew the attention of everyone in the bar. They were both dismissed as drunken fools and they were correct on both accounts, as the whiskey was getting to the boy more than he had previously thought. He felt much lighter than before, stronger somehow. As if the great weight of his despair had been suddenly lifted by the laughter of his transient companion. That illusion of invincibility found in the drink was coursing through his veins now, pumping out the sickness that had sought to claim him. It was too early to even consider a retreat (for where could he retreat to?). Instead, he would surrender himself again to the old man and leave himself at the mercy of his words.

“Tell me about a someone you really loved.” The boy asked, placing his chin upon his palm like an inquisitive child.

The old man smiled. He couldn’t refuse this child anymore. One of his truths, a tale or two; might save him from all this day had done to him. “…there was a woman, once. Oh, I loved her. Loved her like you love a place you have never been. That special kind of place you only see in photographs or postcards. You dream of going to this place: to her bed, held in her arms and lost in her eyes. You tell yourself over and over, ‘Someday. Someday’ you’ll make the great voyage to that glorious destination! But you know, that day won’t ever come. ‘Someday’…It’s a lie you tell yourself to sleep at night. Almost like a prayer. It’s the sweetest lie you’ve ever told, and you tell it to yourself until it becomes a truth. Someday…”

The boy saw the old man was no longer in the bar with him but somewhere far away, reliving another life. “Who was she?” he asked.

The old man’s joy suddenly withered away with a heavy sigh, “A woman I saw nearly every day but really, she was a rose in a garden I could never trespass. And that was just fine with me, leaving her there where she belonged. She was the most beautiful flower among a bed of weeds; a real divine kind of woman. I knew I wanted her for my own for all the wrong reasons. I’d grab her and ask her to come out of her world when I knew she had no business being in mine. And there we would be, two pieces struggling to align. And I’d keep her all to myself. Allowing no one else to even try; depriving her of that something that would fit. I knew, she’d only wilt away. Her beauty lost to the time we stole together. So I kept my filthy hands to myself. I left her in her garden to be tended to by someone else. Because I loved her, I never touched her.”

The boy lingered on the passing words, his face contorted and confused. “How was that love? You didn’t love her! That’s just cowardice! How can you love someone like that and not tell them? You see it ending before it even begins. You are a hundred steps ahead! Steps she could have walked with you if you let her! How could you know she wouldn’t fit—“

In spite of the boys frustrations, the old man answered him calmly, “You don’t understand, kid. I didn’t want her, not who she really was. I didn’t even know her, not truly. And there was no way in hell that woman would have ever lived up to my impossible expectations of who I wanted her to be.”

Those words seemed to grab the boy’s heart and drag it back down into the pit of his stomach. Had he not been guilty of the same act, half a dozen times? Creating these impossible dreams from his ideals that no one could ever hope to completely fulfill? Desiring only what he wanted to find in a woman, and not coming to appreciate the women themselves. Had he himself driven the woman who had hurt him so into the arms of another man out of a frustration she felt having unfulfilled him? Was anyone ever innocent in requited loves demise, truly? He could only lower his head as it became burdened with his own revelation, “God…”

The old man did not need telepathy or any sort of magic to know the thoughts that raced in the boy’s mind. “You leave him out of this!” he hiccoughed and smiled at his obvious drunkenness. “We all do it. We have an idea of what we want in someone else and try and hold out for it. Some of us just dream a little bigger than other’s is all–too big, sometimes. We concoct these contradictions and personalities that couldn’t possibly inhabit one body on this planet! Sorry,” he turned to face the Boy, “we can’t all fit inside of your desired categories. People are individuals, not mere projections of your desires. What can you really ask for in anyone anymore but to be someone who will love you for you and be authentically themselves for you to love in return? Just someone genuine you can digest in this belly of time with?”

“Is it really that simple?” the boy asked.

“Why can’t it be? People, we are all afraid to show ourselves, even to ourselves sometimes. We can become those people our desires want us to be, just to claim them. Then, who are they really loving? An illusion? A manifested parody of their dreams? That isn’t love. That’s people being in love with the sheer damnable idea of it. Love isn’t as selfish as that. Love–that kind of real, genuine, heart sick love–its desiring nothing but the best sort of happiness for the one you adore. Even if that happiness isn’t you…no matter how much you wish it could be. The pictures, the stories, they rarely ever tell you that…that’s what happens between the reels.”

The boy smiled another one of those sad smiles from beneath his hair, “The writers really have damned us all, haven’t they?”

The old man shrugged, “Who knows? Maybe they haven’t damned us at all. Maybe they have just been trying to save us?”

“From what?” asked the boy with a tilt of his head.

“Life…The life we find now in front of us. They are trying to save us, help us escape. Maybe in their scenes and pages they are just giving us a map–”

“–to get out of where we feel the need to escape from.”

“To lead us home, precisely! To save us and help us forget!” The Old Man stood up straighter in his stool, levitating almost, on sheer excitement alone. He felt something then, something he refused to call faith. More like bravery, a kind of greater hope. “Forget about our debts and dead ends! Death and taxes and the state and our goddamn religions! The wives and ex wives and their lousy head and lousier, stinking husbands! Advertising, television, the pigs and the threat of cages…they want us to forget all of that. How could we damn them for wanting to paint a better picture for us that we didn’t have the balls to paint ourselves?”

The old man sat down and leaned in close and the Boy couldn’t help but think there was a fire in his eyes. “Let’s not damn the movies or the poets. Let us call them saviors! What if it isn’t an escape? What if they are showing us not only how it can be, but how it should be? What if the love–NO! The life they are selling is real?! More real than this glass, or you or me? What if all they are trying to give us is hope? Hope that there is more to this life than all this phony bullshit we have built for ourselves. Just because you haven’t found it yet, doesn’t mean it isn’t real. I will drink to that. I will believe in that, if nothing else.”

The boy smiled, “You’ll believe in fiction then?”

“And who is to say we can’t make fiction real? I think people could use a bit more imagination in their lives. Let them succumb to the fever. Let em’ burn! Who is to say if there is anything after this life, kid? All I know is I am here and I am only going around once. And I feel for those poor souls who never even start; afraid of the fire or complacent in their preserved state, afraid to even be touched. I did my dance. And I danced with some lovely creatures. But your song is just starting. This thing you are going through, hell you know it’s temporary. Time is the dog that licks all wounds. You’ll mend this like you’ve sutured a thousand other wounds you’ve already forgotten about and go on. Go on to dig for that love you lost or a new love or–you know what? Don’t even look! Live and it’ll find you somewhere, halfway between the gutter and the stars. Just don’t let life find you like some of these other guys in here, at a stool in some dive years from now with an empty glass in your hand having never really tried.”

The boy had never felt so foolish and yet so wise in all of his waxing years. His soul was made lighter by all the spirits he’d imbibed. His heart was still wounded, but that wound would soon bring to him a new kind of strength. This old soul had truly saved him, if only for a night.

Then the boy remembered the old man’s last words, “Did you try?”

“Yeah…Yeah, I did. But not as hard as you will, I think.”

“I think you just saved a few people tonight.” said the boy.

“You don’t try to really save anyone until you have been damned yourself.” said the old man and then he blinked in confusion, “Who else have I saved?”

“The people I dare to touch.”

The old man’s smile grew wider, “God help them all.”

“I never got your name”, the boy asked.

“I never gave it.”

“Fair enough”, the boy laughed, rising from his stool. The old man looked up at him with red, watery eyes and smiled. “Thank you then, old man.”

“Take care, boy.”

“Are you going to be alright, hun?” asked Martha from down the bar. “Do you want me to call you a cab?”

“No thank you, sweetheart!” the boy cheered. “I think I am gonna be just fine. Take care of my friend for me.”

The boy stood up for the first time in what felt like days to him. Almost forgetting he even had legs, he found the floor to be quite problematic at first. He took out some crumpled bills from his pocket and threw them on the table. It was far more than what the bill would have been, but in his mind he was paying for a lesson that one could never even hope to buy.

He placed his hand again on the old man’s shoulder, only this time in farewell. He let it linger there for a while, almost as a sort of test. The old man made no motion to remove himself this time. Instead he placed his own wrinkled and calloused hand gently upon his fingers and squeezed softly. No more words from him. He had given all he could spare. There would be no goodbyes. The boy had had enough of those tonight.

He found his feet, possessing once again the body that now felt so foreign to him, and walked back out to the street from which he came. Outside the night had come as quickly as the day had gone. The door closed behind him shutting out all the sounds of the atmosphere he flew out of, leaving him to suffer the silence of the night alone. And what a lonely night it was. The shops of the sleepy town had all closed. Their lights long flickered out, leaving only the comforting buzz of the street lights to guide his crooked feet. People were all off warm inside of their homes with their families. The streets were empty and dogs barked at things unseen in the darkness. He would not go home tonight, for home now fostered the very pain he had managed to escape tonight. He decided he would walk, surrendering himself to an unknown street to carry him where it may.

He was fantastically drunk but still fully aware of himself. It hurt a little less now, but his wounds were still fresh. It would take time. Time is the dog that licks all wounds. A cool southern breeze caught his face and filled his nose with a sweet nocturnal perfume. He looked up from the cracks in the sidewalk and found a crescent moon shining bright above him in an almost starless sky. He smiled, and the night smiled with him.