24 July 2017

Et Tu, Amor? (Sensory Deprivation)

Long ago I read somewhere something like to be writer one has to deal in hard truths, discomfort, and things that make one cringe and squirm. Honesty of feeling is paramount in what goes on the page. Credibility is at stake. I know this. I have written about some things that made me squirm and cringe. I understand this need for honesty. Honesty has been on my mind overly much these days, a byproduct of emotional turmoil and loss. Here is a little hard truth I need to purge. I want love to bleed.

My cup may brim full of cynicism and bile, but love is an asshole. An asshole with inexhaustible resources to keep reminding my heart of that fact. Omnia vincit amor (“Love conquers all,”) wrote Virgil in his Eclogue X. I believed him, once upon a time, but in a very different fashion. That has changed. Love may conquer all as a creator, but this time it conquered me as a destroyer.

In my time of writing I have spilled much ink, digital and physical, in defense of love. How it can sustain you. How it ties one to others and allows growth, security, desire. Now I am seeing I have no faith anymore in my own hype. There is a limit to the numbers of heartbreaks I can take. It is most maddening that we have no way to hold love accountable for its transgressions.

Love lied to me. Not once, not twice, but three goddamn times in my adult life it flattered to deceive, pulled me down a path I believed led to a cure for loneliness and pain, a fountain of belonging. Love betrayed me. It smiled the entire time, every time, with every twist of the knife. So begins the stripping away of the senses that give juice to life.

Betrayal by love disturbs touch. Heat, cold, rough, smooth: all that is tactile carries with it at least a little irritation. Even the absence of sensation creates its own peculiar pain. The hands mourn the loss of a lover's hip, the mouth the lover's lips. There is perhaps nothing so generative of heartache than the void within one's grasp. To reach out in the night and feel nothing but space and sheets is agony realized to a degree bordering on obscenity.

Love as a pillager can ruin a good music library. All those great songs, and so many become unlistenable now. Listening is either a reminder of how good love was or how searing its absence. It is a small percentage of songs left that I can or want to hear without hitting skip. Raw emotion, anger, frustration working itself out in the screaming of lyrics that speak to all of those things festering in a heart exploding along the scars and fault lines. Most importantly, a verbal catharsis to help numb the lonely helplessness if only the sound did not hurt so much.

Do not think the palate escapes the collateral damage of losing love. Oh, no, taste suffers its own degradations. Brightness and sweet fade from the tongue. Savory turns to sour, ashes in the back of the throat. If taste remains it is bitter metallic. To sometimes eat alone by benign circumstance is a fact of existence, easily endured. To eat alone because of banishment from the table of the heart is an exercise in catered despair. Forget about cooking for joy. Stirring the pot with a broken heart is mere pragmatic numbness. The soul may be in limbo, but the belly has its own agenda. When they quarrel, hunger often wins at the cost of inner peace.

With love's loss, the eyes offend us but common sense lobbies hard to not pluck them out. Much business of life still depends on seeing in spite of the searing reminders of what we once had. Who knew that a photograph could pass as a branding iron? What terrible hooks in the heart are pulled at passing glances of social media feeds and photographs! They lie in ambush, these frozen memories of a life once well lived. Turn the page, scroll down left or right, none of it matters. Our eyes collide with the now fractured landmarks of a shared history that was more good than bad.

The heart swears that it recalls the scent of love yet it is the nose that does the work. The gentle aromas of existence, sunlight on a lover's skin combined with rumpled cotton and sweat. Pheromones aloft in the kitchen sensed over the aroma of dinner, teased out with a nuzzle to the neck. Exhalations and inhalations of a nightcap's departure in that time-stopping moment before the consummation of a goodnight kiss. Even the humble nose deals with loss when hearts disassociate.

Someone once told me that love is never the wrong answer. For years, I subscribed to that theology. I was a True Believer. It felt good, it felt right. But I woke up one morning after a few weeks alone again and decided my name was Thomas. The stigmata haven't changed my mind. Maybe because the stigmata are in my palms and I know the source of the pain.

You may think I wish to banish love from my life. No, I want to interrogate it. I want to cuff it to the table in the Box, break it down masterfully like Detective Frank Pembleton did to those perps on Homicide: Life on the Street. I want love to sob into its fist and tell me what horrid excuse it has for killing my heart. Of course, love is not guilty of murder, because I'm still alive. Fraud is another matter, and love is guilty as fuck.

28 June 2017

The Fire Behind

Seeker knelt at the edge of the prairie, retching his guts out with volcanic intensity. Slow poison and spiritual exhaustion had taken their toll. His arms trembling with the violence of the possessed, sheer force of will kept his head from dipping forward into the foulness polluting the ground. Behind him, roiling smoke besmirched the horizon of the sea of grass that once held his heart. Seeker could feel the heat even at the miles he had put between he and it. He spat. Pain radiated from the stone behind his breastbone.

The heaves subsided. Seeker rocked back on his haunches with hands on his hips. Hot, it was under that furnace sun. He sucked in grateful lungfuls as a cooling breeze sprang up. He thought maybe the wind spirits still held affection for him if they deigned to grant such a mercy. There had been precious little of that in the many moons of running from a hole that had opened in the sea.

Ticking in the grass. Cricket choruses bidding him farewell, or perhaps composing a dirge. Seeker did not know. The high keening of a red-tailed hawk broke the symphony of crickets. Crusty eyes opened and he could see the hawk circling a short distance away. Towards the east a sprinkling of trees congealed into a dusty forest crowding the terrain that stretched out before him. Green. The color made his heart twitch, memories of who he once was crowding to the fore of a kaleidoscopic hallucination that tumbled like the ocean he remembered lay far beyond those trees.

Seeker made to go, gathering up a sweat-stained hat, a battered backpack, and a heavy walking stick burnished by months of use, sweat, and tears. The backpack bowed his back under its weight. The hat he settled down over his filthy brow. His trembling hands gripped the stick tightly as he willed motion into legs that ached like the throb of an earthquake.

Sunlight like molten copper beat down on Seeker's neck. He resigned himself to the burn, it was nothing new when he compared it to the tannings of his youth. A few hundred steps onward a raspy mewling caught his ear. "The cat!" he muttered to himself. He stopped to unload the pack. Sitting on top of some rags and an iron pot was a small bobcat. Seeker had found him in the grass by a stream crossed miles ago. The mother was nowhere in sight. Little ribs poking through a matted robe of fur had given him pause. Even through the despair and fatigue, Seeker felt the gravity of the feline.

Small paws grasped at his finger. A raspy little tongue licked at the tips. Seeker scratched the animal behind its ears, then rested it on his left forearm as he stood to go. He spat again to rid his mouth of the bile and spite. He looked back one last time. The horizon writhed and curled, the smoke a giant serpent in his garden of Eden. It was closer than he realized. He turned away from the setting sun and the heat. The sea of grass would hold him no longer. There was walking, nothing more under a gargantuan sky to keep him moving towards the unseen ocean he hoped would buoy his sinking heart.

18 June 2017

Can I Get A Witness?

Father's Day. Sunday, June 18th, 2017. A gray day, alas, but weather has its own agenda. This is a repost from January 9th, 2009. It is also the reason I cajoled myself out of bed this morning.

BLOOD OF MY BLOOD

Two minutes. That is all it took. Two minutes and I went from driving over to get bagels for breakfast, to standing in the hospital crying through a hot mess of tears and letting the wall hold me up. Instead of ham and cheese on sesame, I was staring down at the blood on my hands and thinking, This may be the best day of my life.

Of course, it didn’t start out that way. It happened when I least expected it. That’s always the case, is it not? Ha. I should know that as well as anyone at this point. Sometimes I believe that I am a poster child for chaos theory in action, a swirling edge condition in my own loopy web of strange attractors.

I don’t mind it so much anymore. I have been seasoned by this randomness, like a cast iron skillet with fifty years of hot cornbread under its belt.

This particular burst of quantum activity originated, as so many of them do, with my daughter. Today was our weekly ‘Father and Daughter’ bagel day, so we were driving on our way to the bagel store in a nearby neighborhood shopping center. The land fronting along the road that borders the shopping center had remained undeveloped for a very long time, but late last year a building began to take shape at the corner lot. In a particularly timely bit of irony, the new building going up is a bank. A BANK, in this time of economic meltdown; it is to laugh.

Being an architect, I have been following the building progress with more than casual interest. Being the curious child that she is, Wee Lass has also been following the building progress. Every time we pass it, she comments on it (“Look, Daddy, is that bricks?”) or on the people (“Daddy, are they working on a Saturday?”) or the machines (DADDY! Did you see the big scooper? WOW!”); she also remembers what she saw on previous visits. She has commented many times on how many ‘sticks’ (her word for the metal studs) had been put up, or how many ‘rocks’ or bricks were on site. She even noticed before I did, that the aluminum windows had been installed after the roof was closed in. There has been very little she has missed.

This morning she was her usual chatty self as we drove past the new bank building. There has been a lot of progress recently, so much so that Wee Lass interrupted herself to excitedly exclaim “Daddy, the building is finished, are they going to be inside?” The building isn’t almost finished, as the professional in me noted, but she was excited and it wasn’t worth trying to explain. So I agreed and said that yes, they would be inside soon. She was going on about the bricks and the trucks outside, my attention started to wander. Then she started asking about other buildings.

“Daddy, did they build buildings when you were a little boy?” I laughed. (No dear, just straw huts. Jeez, am I pre-historic? Oh, well)
“Yes, they did.”
“What kind of buildings?”
“Banks, stores, other things.”
“Did they build a hospital for you when you were a little baby, Daddy?” What, where did that come from? I chuckled.
“Yes, there was a hospital when I was a little baby, sweet pea.”
“I was in a hospital when I was a little baby, daddy.” Yes, I heard.

By this time we had pulled into a parking space. Just as I was getting out of the car, she said “I cried when I was born a little baby, daddy.” I remembered that, too; I replied “So did I, sweetie.” She seemed incredulous. Then it happened. As I was getting her out of her car seat, she looked up at me and said “I cried when they took me out of mommy’s tummy, daddy.”

Thermocline. A boundary condition in the body of water in which I am drowning. Warm and thin above, cold and dense below. The temperature drops rapidly, sharply as I break the edge, swirling in turbulence. I am engulfed in cold density. I am in the hospital, wondering what in the hell just happened.

I remember noise, and light. There was a lot of beeping in the background, people in hospital scrubs and masks, voices low and professional talking about “blood pressure” and “She looks good” and “Are you alright?” It took a few seconds for me to comprehend that last question was directed at me. I turned my head slightly to see a nurse next to me, her face smeary through the flood of tears filling my eyes. Glancing over her shoulder, I could see someone lying on the table, body draped in bloodied surgical blankets. I remember then that it was The Spouse. She was kind of still, but no one seemed to be worried. A sigh of relief, she was awake. I told the nurse in a croak that I was okay, I’ll just lean on the wall for a bit. She smiled sweetly, and turned to attend to some other business.

I slumped there, still crying. I turned my head back to the right; the body of Wee Lass lay out before me on a stack of white towels in the warmer. She was trembling and pink, wailing at the top of her freshly opened lungs. There was a little cap on her head, blue and white knit clinging to her tiny skull.

She was beautiful.

On the table next to the warmer was a pile of gauze and some heavy stainless steel surgical scissors. The gauze was slightly stained, little crimson patches shocking against the snowy fabric. The scissors appeared to have been used. It was at that moment that I saw that Wee Lass no longer had the umbilicus attached to her navel. It had been cut. I reached out my hand to her, letting her tiny fingers grope and squeeze the tips of my fingers. I imagined it to be the caresses from the soft, wavy tendrils of a sea anemone. A fresh flood of hotness spilled down my cheeks. Through the watery haze, I could see a dark smear running along the side of my hand. I bent down for a closer look. It was blood, almost dried.

It hit me that it wasn’t my blood, it was hers. It must have happened when I cut the cord earlier. I am stunned, a fleeting spike of revulsion through my gut, to be replaced by a wave of warmth. My daughter’s blood, the very stuff of life, highlighting the wrinkles and lines of my skin. Curious, I raise my hand to my lips, placing them gently on the crimson stain. The blood is not wet, and I kid myself that its warmth is what remains of the heat as it left my daughter. A light blooms in my skull, and I know what I must do. This blood is not the oil of Exodus, but it will suffice. I brush my hand over my brow, blood against the skin anointing me. On the warmer, my daughter wails at the top of her lungs, a tiny hurricane welcoming me into the Church of Life.

Thermocline. Flailing desperately to free myself from the viscous deep, I swim hard into the warm water above. The surface breaks over me in a million silver drops. I find myself blinking hard and Wee Lass is looking up at me again, half out of the car. She says it again:

“Daddy, I cried when they took me out of mommy’s tummy.”
“I remember, sweet pea.”

I cried, too.

12 June 2017

Water-silver, Flow For Me

Blood and muscle seem aggressively prosaic in consideration of matters of the heart. It seems impossible such a lump of flesh could carry, could withstand the currents that flow between one heart to another. Protein seems an inadequate medium for the task of withstanding binding and intertwining the precious elements of souls in concert. Certainly it gives no impression of suitability when those souls get sucked in to the dark that is distance, drift, and dissolution.

Metal, now there is a different story. Ah, what would one gain with a heart of metal? Endurance at the cost of romance? Resilience in the face of soul pain, a refined ability to withstand hammer blows to the psyche? Metal becomes attractive when the grasping at straws in vain hope of keeping the thing together. Even as one watches the rust creep over the surface. Seeing the stress cracks form as the "hellishness of life" grips a flimsy heart in its merciless hands and bends it back and forth. Inevitable, the breaks that form with their sawtooth edges and searing heat.

Metal versus flesh. Perhaps the best course is a combination of the two. The only element that come to mind is mercury. Heavy, liquid, toxic under the wrong conditions even as its fluidity allows it to adapt and flow over the rocks in a river of life. Do you not see the miracle of love as a pool of shimmering silver collected under the sun and moon, flowing from the invisible truth and into the invisible truth? We all have dipped our hands in that pool, once or twice or many times while ignoring the impossibility of controlling what we gather. Our hands our poorly suited to the task.

What of magnetic fields, or cosmic forces of strange action at a distance? This emotion we call love is one way, if somewhat incomplete, of exerting control. Our mercury hearts can only be shaped by its funneling through the channels of love. Plasma fields, magnets, gravity, our hearts subjected to them all. Hope provides fuel, elation the energy, and belief that the forge of love will achieve the successful enjoining of another mercury with ours.

It happens, sometimes. The universe may be insensate to the messiness of the heart's business, but its laws do not forbid the possibility. That crystal clear day where the mind and the body and the soul wake up with that second sine wave pulsing through them. The light from within shows the form of the heart. Picture this form of water-silver in resplendent argentine glory against the absence of light, the fuliginous wilderness of life without shared love. Shimmering beauty held in place by forces we sense but do not truly understand. For what would true understanding bring us in that case?

The universe is full of forces inimical to the propagation of love, this we know. The gravity of emotions, the drifts, the rifts that develops over time as our attention gets diverted by the mundanities and tragedies of existence. Sometimes these forces bend the heart or even torment it to the point where the mind's eye watches it flow into every nook and cranny where pain and loneliness have not taken up residence. For the fortunate the heart of water-silver gradually reorganizes itself. The shape is reattained, equilibrium reached. A benefit of like finding like and remaining close enough that integration is always possible.

Emotional physics often works to the negative, often to our sorrow. Pain, loss, even simple carelessness can in concert create forces too great for anything to withstand.  A heart orbiting the sun of love, a planet of rock and dirt, neither is better able to resist a supernova even if they see it coming from a long way off in space and time.

It happens. The explosion, slow or fast. The superheated plasma of emotion, the gravity of pain and disintegration reach out across the vacuum of non-love to explode the heart. And we watch it happen as the force pushes us out of ourselves. We float and spin helplessly into a black speckled with millions of pieces of what used to give us life. In those moments we no longer trust gravity, or love, to bring them all back together. In the interstellar black of loss we lunge and grasp, frantic to cup our hands around the water-silver talisman of belonging we once knew. We gather it, one small drop at a time.