There are three parts to every magic trick.
First, show them something ordinary.
Press the object into their hands,
let them feel the honest weight of it.
Your hands are empty,
your sleeves are rolled up,
make them trust you.
After a few weeks together,
your partner will call you “phenomenal.”
You won’t correct him.
You know that you are commonplace;
the rest is just smoke and mirrors.
The second part of the illusion
is called “the turn.”
This is the coin vanishing.
It’s the card pulled from the mid-air.
It’s when they realize you’ve been setting them up
If you get really good, the second part
is where you disappear.
You will be cooking dinner in his kitchen
when he tells you he used to think you were
like a package in the mail for his birthday.
Like the best parts of you were the lead-up,
the waiting game,
the ripping of paper.
Now he knows better.
You are a locked briefcase
left abandoned at an airport.
Ninety nine times, there’s nothing special inside.
But everyone’s still staring, stomachs clenched,
waiting for the bomb to go off.
The third part is always the hardest.
It’s when things come back together.
It’s pulling the coin from behind their ear,
it’s the woman sawed in half walking out unharmed,
it’s the magician emerging from behind the rafters.
The audience will clap and clap
satisfied that you’ve set things right.
The third part is always the hardest.
You have to undo all the damage you’ve done.
You have to pray that they’ll trust you enough
to stay for the reveal;
You hope that they care enough
to wait for you to reappear.
When he offers to buy you a drink, say yes.
Don’t think twice.
Don’t slow down.
Order something fruity.
Order something vodka.
Charm him with your head tilt
and a well-placed wink,
don’t tell him that you rarely have sex sober,
even when you haven’t had anything to drink,
Don’t bring up politics
or magic tricks
when he offers to buy you a drink, just say yes.
When other girls talk about how tiny you are, smile and say thank you.
Let them put their hands around your wrists.
Pretend they don’t feel like shackles.
Don’t talk about the hospital,
how they used a child’s blood pressure cuff because the big one wouldn’t fit,
don’t tell them how proud you were when you stopped getting your period,
don’t show them how sharp your hipbones are,
how you’ve turned them into scalpels,
turned your body into a cadaver,
you have been cutting yourself open out of curiosity,
you’ve been sleeping in a coffin
waiting for someone else to realize you’re not dead yet.
Don’t tell them that you still count calories.
that you’ve never eaten a birthday cake,
that some days you wake up surprised that you still take up space;
When the other girls talk about how tiny you are, smile. Say thank you.
Save your pearls for special occasions.
Cook dinner in your nicest heels.
Don’t use tampons.
Tell him you’re a virgin.
Close your eyes and think of England.
Keep your husband close.
Keep your legs together.
Keep your corset tight.
Keep your chin up.
Keep your back straight.
Keep keep keep it together, you’re a lady, keep it together,
Tell them everything.
Tell them on stage with your eyes wide open and see who looks back at you,
Eat GoGurt for dinner.
Smoke a cigarette in the bathtub.
Wear your pearls to take the trash out.
Tell the people that you love that you love them.
You are built from extraordinary things.
So when the jackals come,
and they will--
they will come with a crooked smile and a perfect face
and a whiskey-whispered “joke” about teaching you your place
that your hands
are surgeons hands.
They spend most of their time trying to heal broken things;
trying to stitch back together what’s been split open;
but they know the best way to hold a knife.
Take the white gloves off.
Show them you’re ready for a fight.
I don’t know who told you your body was a storefront window,
that you were made to stand stock-still, silent and smiling
as passersby picked out the pieces of you they wanted,
you are not plastic.
I know-- it would be easier if you were.
If you could just tighten your corset strings into the woman you’d prefer,
if you were a little bit taller or a little bit smaller
or if you didn’t flinch everytime someone looked at you with the lights on.
If you could carve away your stretch marks
and your bad habits
and that day you called your mom bitch, would you do it?
The purpose of surgery is to treat trauma.
There are so many things inside of our chests aching to be cut out,
wouldn’t it be easier if we could paper mache together new bodies?
Tape together the picnics and the school plays and the ring pops
leave the sharp edges on the cutting room floor,
we would be so beautiful.
We would make perfect mannequins.
We would fit so well inside the window.
When you are twenty years old,
your best friend will tell you
that watching an addict collapse into themselves
is like being on an airplane that is crashing.
She’ll say that the first thing is remembering how to breathe normally.
That you can’t help anyone unless you get your own mask on first.
My brothers taught me how to swim
by holding me underwater until I beat my way to the surface.
When I gasped out my first breath, they said
“Breathe normally. You’re fine.
You needed to learn eventually.
You could only tread water for so long.”
When I was sixteen,
when everyone around me seemed
raised-fist ready to smack me to the ground,
my mother said, “Baby, sometimes we clench our fists
not to fight, but because we have something we are terrified to let go of,”
You see, what your friend won’t tell you
is that when the plane starts going down,
you will not want to keep breathing.
You will not want to take in air without them;
When the plane goes down
you realize that you are a life-vest
with nothing left to wrap yourself around,
you can only tread water for so long,
so when the tide comes, you will let yourself drift
into pain pills
into sex with men who don’t know your real name,
you will call yourself plane crash
you’ll call yourself sinking
you’ll call yourself shrapnel
you will realize that drowning runs in your family.
When you are twenty-one, you will learn
that watching someone you love die slowly is not like a plane crash.
It isn’t anything that dramatic.
It’s a piñata at a birthday party,
It’s knowing they have been beaten so many times,
it’s no wonder they split open,
it was only a matter of time
before everything inside of their chest started pouring out--
When you are twenty one, you will learn
that sometimes you fight with absolutely everything you have
and you lose.
People can only tread water for so long.
You’ll find out that sometimes you don’t get to write the pretty ending
that not everyone gets that cymbal crash closing curtain
sometimes it doesn’t end clean
sometimes there’s no firework finale
there’s no plane-crash shrapnel
it just ends in sinking
it just ends in silence
1: You are an asshat.
I am actively having trouble concentrating on other things
because I keep getting distracted
by examples of your asshattery.
You should really work on that.
2: Falling in love with you
was like jumping into a swimming pool in December.
And by that,
I mean it was a terrible idea.
3.) During Prohibition,
the government saturated industrial liquor with toxic chemicals
to prevent black-market production.
Alcoholics could taste that their drinks were poisoned,
but came back for more anyway.
They knew it was killing them, but they just couldn’t stop;
reaching desperately for numbness
numbness just to cover up the lonely
lonely loud enough we couldn’t hear the thunder,
was this real or was it poison?
you whiskey weatherstorm
most thunderstorms I can handle,
but one year two weeks and five days ago your light
struck into me,
the touch of your lips was electrifying, and I
am Benjamin Franklin in a downpour,
holding my keys out to God for the slightest chance
that he’ll bring you back to me,
because without you
I am just a lightning rod
waiting for bad weather.
4.) I tried to send those words across the country to meet you
and they were broken into 13 individual SMS’s,
“RETURN TO SENDER,”
5.) Was it really that easy for you to erase me?
6.) Your vagina tastes like a 9-Volt battery.
7.) The taste of your lips was electrifying,
8.) the day you left was electroshock therapy,
9.) these are the things that scare me—
10.) we were a thunderstorm;
11.) We were never moving at the same pace.
You ran a six minute mile
and had a tendency to get lost on the way;
so it always took us the same time to get there,
but you’d seen so much more
when we finally collided.
12.) If you take the letter “ex”
and add it to everything we once meant to each other,
it’s equal to the distance between us.
13.) im drunk and i miss you
14.) I’m sober and I miss you.
15.) I miss you.
16.) I realized today
that the thunderstorm of us
was actually within you,
that you only know how to love torrentially,
and thunderstorms are caused by instability,
anyone close enough to the storm to hear thunder
is in danger of being struck by lightning,
but I am still counting
the seconds between the rumble and the flash
wondering if you are moving further
or if you’re coming back,
17.) You are an absolute disaster. And an asshat.
18.) During Prohibition,
black market buyers poured gunpowder onto liquor
and lit it on fire to show it hadn’t been watered down.
If it ignited, they called it proof--
proof it was real
proof it wasn’t just poison;
darling, it has been one year two weeks and five days
and we are still burning
19.) We fell in love like a swimming pool in December,
it was paralyzing.
We never moved at the same pace
so I am learning to tread icy water
for you to loop around
and swim back to me.
March 22, 1999, FEMA issued a warning about Y2K.
Hundreds of thousands of people started panicking about the end of the world.
My dad—was one of those nutjobs.
We spent the next two weeks turning the garage into the coolest fallout shelter on the block;
We put in carpeting.
We painted the walls.
We installed a padlock that not even the STRONGEST zombie could break through--
But my dad just looked at the room and said, “Girl, we still got work to do.”
So we got a boombox.
And a mini-fridge.
And a full-sized fridge, too—
But dad just kept saying, “We still got work to do.”
We put in a microwave.
And a drum kit.
And the more I think about it,
the more I think that maybe my dad wasn’t actually afraid of Y2K,
maybe he just wanted me to help him remodel the garage,
but the POINT is—when it comes to the apocalypse.
I was raised to be ready.
And 2012 was my time to make my daddy proud,
I bought canned goods.
I triple locked the doors,
I cancelled my gym membership—
which honestly had nothing to do with the apocalypse, I just seriously hate treadmills,
And when December rolled around, I was READY and WAITING,
because think about it:
If the world ends in 2012, you don’t have to file your taxes.
If the world ends in 2012, you don’t have to admit that you do not know how to file your taxes.
When we are huddled in that fall-out shelter, your mother WILL NOT ask you why you don’t have a boyfriend.
or a job
or a decent hair cut,
When the world ends, it doesn’t matter that your five-year plan didn’t work out, because no one’s did. Unless your five year plan was, "In five years I plan to be DEAD BECAUSE OF THE APOCOLYPSE."
If the world ends in 2012, you can eat that second piece of pie.
Hell, you can eat that second pie.
You can finally admit that you actually thought the Catcher in the Rye was STUPID
and that sometimes you still dream about Jonathan Taylor Thomas
and sometimes he’s shirtless, it’s okay—
We’re all in this together.
So, let me tell you, 2012 –
I was ready for the chariots to come.
I was ready for ZOMBIES and WEREWOLVES and FIRE
I was ready for the four horseman to come drag me into a bloody arena smelling like sweat and DESTINY
I was ready.
I was gonna do the end of the world right--
What I wasn’t ready for
was watching the clock tick over to 2013.
To another Tuesday.
To paying rent.
To loading the dishwasher.
To counting the days I’ve been sober.
To keeping it together
when the flames keep on rising
but the earth refuses to burn—
The world apocalypse comes from the Latin for “uncovering.”
When you take off the tinfoil hats,
When you strip away the brimstone,
It’s just easier to fear the big explosion
than the smolder of addiction slowly moving in,
Easier to be afraid of zombies eating flesh
than the memories of your dead friends
eating you from the inside out.
I prayed for the apocalypse.
But I woke up.
And so did you.
We are still here.
We’ve still got work to do.
Three months and eight days after our first kiss,
you said “I’ll call you tonight”
I barely noticed.
But you were probably just stuck in an elevator somewhere with no cell service.
And, after a couple days,
my friends are telling me that you aren’t going to call,
but I saw this CSI once
where a guy got left on top of a Ferris Wheel for like four days,
and that could have happened,
And, after a week, after I called all the carnivals in the state
to make sure you weren’t trapped on a Ferris Wheel,
I saw a news story about a guy who got both his hands caught in a meat grinder,
which is super gross,
but would totally explain why you aren’t returning my texts,
and I start eBaying prosthetic hands
because that is the kind of thoughtful girlfriend that I am.
On our four month anniversary,
I am watching Law & Order alone in the bathtub.
You are in someone’s trunk in Wisconsin,
bound with electrical tape.
Day fifty-four, Megan sees you at the Olive Garden with another woman.
She watches my face like this will break me,
but I saw a Lifetime movie once
where this dude stole this other guy’s identity
and kept him underground in, like, this wine cellar
and dude had facial reconstructive surgery so he looked just like the other guy
and then he took all these girls to the Olive Garden
to kill them
and I was really drunk when I saw this movie
but I’m pretty sure the guy in the cellar really wanted to call his girlfriend,
but he was all tied up
and was only surviving on the leftovers that the first guy brought him
which were pretty gross
and it was SO SAD.
And that could totally be what is happening.
can do one magic trick
tell two riddles
and always solves the mystery before the detective can.
I can do one magic trick
tell two riddles
and always go for the obvious culprit.
I am not as smart as my father.
But I can tell the difference between a love story and a crime scene
even when they both end bloody.
It is easier
you were taken somewhere
than to admit
you were just smart enough
to cut and run
that you knew better
than to throw yourself
already sharp and broken,
I know the difference between a love story and a crime scene.
I just can’t ever tell which side of the yellow tape I belong on.
The reason killers don’t leave fingerprints on the bodies
has nothing to do with evidence.
It’s that holding someone’s heart in your bare hands
isn’t an easy feeling to forget.
After the first time
you learn to keep your distance
learn how to make a clean escape.
You watch them place traffic cones around you,
lights flashing in the background
people whispering about what went wrong.
“It wasn’t painful,” the police chief says,
like that somehow makes a difference;
You know he’s lying
but don’t want to give yourself away.
On the first day of winter, buy yourself a pair of flannel sheets.
Crawl into bed and pretend you can feel his fingertips against your skin.
Pretend that it’s still August,
that you never sleep alone,
that you haven’t been writing the same poem since the ice-cream trucks stopped running.
When the leaves change color and fall, botanists call it abscissioning.
When he falls into another woman’s bed, he calls it inevitable.
Cover yourself with blankets until you sweat like summertime,
like the day you both skipped work,
watched the kindergarteners on their first day of school,
held hands by the fence
and imagined the day you’d both become nervous parents.
Lately, the only things your body produces are sweat and bad choices.
Switch on the teakettle so the house isn’t quite so quiet.
Wonder if it’s actually a whistle, or if it’s more like muffled screaming,
Turn the thermostat up like a sauna.
Watch the Wizard of Oz on repeat and rant about how much you hate Dorothy,
how that bitch killed the Witch of the East
stole her best pair of shoes
and skipped off into the distance;
how Dorothy found a home in Oz and still went back to Kansas.
Wonder if you are Oz or if you’re Kansas
or if you are a witch crushed underneath a house,
if you are Aunt Em, at home in black and white while Dorothy’s off adventuring in color;
You are awake in your own house and can’t sleep because you’re homesick;
If you could go to Oz,
you’d offer your heart up to the Wizard.
Stand in the chamber with your chest bleeding
and beg him to turn you into tin.
Everyone tells the story of the hero who leaves home.
No one ever writes the fairytale of those people left behind.
They tell me the first paragraph is supposed to be happy memories.
It’s 1995. You teach me the word “shit,”
and it is my favorite word.
It’s 1995, and mom yells at me for saying the word “shit” and you laugh.
And it is my favorite thing, hearing you laugh.
It’s 1996. I am dressed up as Little Red Riding Hood and you are the Big Bad Wolf.
It’s 1997, I’m dressed as Tinkerbell and you are Captain Hook,
It’s 1997. I have a Tinkerbell wand in my closet
and a butter knife underneath my pillow.
I am six years old and already know
the monsters don’t live underneath my bed.
They live in the liquor cabinet
and they can come out at any time.
I have a room full of imaginary friends.
Each one has a switchblade in her back pocket.
Even then, I wanted to help you fight back.
It’s 1999. You come home with your first tattoo.
Mom chases you around the house with a cheese grater, swearing she’ll scrape it off.
You tell her to be cool.
When you see her face, you try to hide under the living room couch but you don’t make it.
You’ve never fit well in small spaces.
It’s 2000 and you’re gone.
You didn’t leave a note.
I get a postcard from Arizona that says,
“Sometimes everyone around you looks like a loaded gun
and you need time to stop hoping for the bullet.”
It’s 2004 and you’ve just OD’d for the first time.
When I go to the hospital, you don’t recognize my face.
It’s the first time I see Dad cry.
Mom says the word “shit” so many times that it should make you laugh but it doesn’t.
The #1 song in the country is by Good Charlotte.
Everything is wrong.
It’s 2006. I don’t get my driver’s license.
I’ve never been behind the wheel,
but I know I have a tendency towards crashing.
That bad decisions run in our family.
It’s 2010 and I’m trying to explain to my girlfriend why I don’t go home for the holidays.
It’s Mothers Day 2012. I don’t go home for the holiday.
You are supposed to go home but you don’t and so they worry.
When they find you, unconscious in your bed, you are surrounded by empty vials.
Mom said they looked almost like a halo.
That they jingled like sleigh bells.
It’s 2012 and intervention letters start with happy memories.
It’s 2012 and I don’t know when we stopped being happy.
It’s 2012 and you will never walk again.
It’s 2012 and your chest has become a hiding place for only dark things.
You’ve been folding in on yourself for so long.
You have never fit well in small spaces.
Come with me.
Stop hoping for the bullet, come with me.
I have a Tinkerbell wand in my closet and a butter knife underneath my pillow,
I’d fight all your demons if only you’d let me, come with me,
I don’t know how many steps it is from here to home.
But I know it’s not too many.
I know you can walk them.
When you finally move out of the house you grew up in,
you will dig up all kinds of things that are better off buried.
You will find a Linkin Park CD back behind your bookshelf,
and a spiral notebook logging two years of daily calories,
you will find a full set of 258 Babysitters Club books,
and a ten-year-old engagement ring that is still mockingly beautiful.
You will find a letter from his mother,
saying you will always be family,
there will be folded up notes in every drawer,
filled with jokes you only half remember
the punchlines to.
Your parents are still married.
They haven't slept in the same bed in 22 years.
You are 28, and don't know if marriage is anything more
than the last lie the grownups sold to us;
being in this house
reminds you that regret is a poorly planned vacation,
that the things you leave behind end up weighing more heavily upon you
than the things you brought along.
After you pack up all the boxes,
sorted into "KEEP" and ""THROW AWAY,"
your ring will be left on the dresser.
You will take a deep breath,
slide it onto your finger,
almost hoping it won't fit
because it would be easier that way,
but it slips on as gently as it did ten years ago
on the day that he promised that
the last time either of you were alone had already come and gone,
You will wonder briefly if you are like this ring.
If you might still fit him perfectly
after all this time.
You will load the KEEP boxes into the garage.
Leave the ring in the back of the closet.
Close the door.
You are not the ring.
You are this bedroom.
You are a glorious museum
full of things he no longer has a use for.
We were lying belly-up on my sweat soaked sheets,
I said, “Tell me something,”
waiting for the kind of grandiose promises
that only come easy when you’re young
and not yet afraid that they’ll come true.
You told me,
“In South Korea,
one of the most common fears
is fan death.”
I waited for this to turn romantic.
“It’s the belief that sleeping in a closed room
with a fan left running…
will kill you.”
“Because, you know,
it dries out your insides
and causes hypothermia
and sucks up all the air
and, you know, it kills you.”
We went to IKEA;
bought three rotating desk fans,
ready to look death in the face,
that night we made love for hours.
we were more than a little scared
that those cardboard boxes were suicide,
and if we were going to be murdered by our air supply,
we were going to go out gasping,
but we left them in their boxes.
We weren’t ready yet to let go.
One hundred and six days ago,
you left me for a girl named Sophia.
You told me she takes your breath away,
like a vacuum,
like a closed-off room with a fan inside,
she is beautiful
in all the ways I’ve only ever been mechanical.
I went home and opened the boxes.
I’ve started sleeping on the floor in front of them,
daring those machines to find something left
to take out of me,
but fans work by evaporating the sweat from your skin,
reminding you that you are no longer
pushingmovinggasping against someone
but against the edges of an enclosed room,
we used to be breathless in my bed,
but this airflow
is the closest thing to touch
I have felt since you left me
and somehow I am still gasping for air
I still gasp for air
I still gasp for
I still gasp
I fall asleep watching the fans move.
They are the only blades I’m not afraid to let myself stand near.
The South Koreans,
they know just how dangerous
a locked room can be
when you are alone.
was Seven Minutes In Heaven.
was going to win.
Friday night, 8 PM, my first boy-girl party
and I was wearing a white pair of overalls with purple Converse hightops,
asking myself, “Could I BE any cooler right now?”
and answering, “…probably.”
But that didn’t matter.
was at a boy-girl party.
And you can tell how experienced I was
by the fact that I was still calling it
“a boy-girl party.”
When I was a sophomore in high school.
You see, I had game like Portland has racial diversity.
Which is to say,
not at all.
But this game
was Seven Minutes In Heaven.
was going to win.
And there you were.
With a joint in one hand
and a bag of Fritos in the other,
(and I know better than to call you a prize
because that would be objectification,
and when the bottle came to rest at your feet
I held my breath like you were holding the smoke from that joint
which is to say, choky and a little unhealthy,
but you caught my eye and gave me the Look
that could only mean one thing:
You passed the joint to the left,
but took the Fritos with you,
which, okay, maybe macking gets you hungry,
no worries, I can dig it,
and I closed the closet door behind us,
doing the closed mouth version of
HOW NOW BROWN COW
to get my tongue nice and limber,
and when I turned to face you,
I am talking, top of the rollercoaster what did I get myself into panic,
everyone in your family can peel their faces off PANIC
they are CANCELLING THE SIMPSONS panic,
and I watched your perfect lips
as they formed the words,
“I’m pretty sure I’m gay,”
and I said the only thing I could think to say,
which was, “…Rad.”
And so we sat
under Shelby’s winter coats
for six minutes and twenty three seconds,
eating Fritos and debating breakfast cereal
and tracing your lips with my Bonne Bell Dr. Pepper Lipsmackers,
so no one would suspect a thing,
and you said, “Brenna, you’re the coolest person in that room,”
and kissed me on the cheek,
and it didn’t matter
that I was wearing overalls
to my first boy-girl party
or that my first kiss was on the cheek
from a gay boy wearing my lipstick,
you thought I was special and so I was,
and our seven minutes were up,
but I didn’t want to leave just yet,
It wasn’t until two years
after you were gone
that I realized how fucking hysterical it was
that we were both huddled in a closet
waiting for the other kids
to be ready for us to COME OUT,
I still wonder, did you get tired of waiting?
Or did the wait just weigh you down?
That summer we went to the ocean every day,
did you imagine holding your breath
just a few seconds longer than you knew how?
Do you think it would feel like breathing?
Did they call you faggot
enough times that you wore it like your name?
When your mother stroked your forehead
and said, “Zachary, don’t do this to our family,”
did her fingers feel like cold metal?
Did she know she was speaking shotgun?
When we made plans for our futures,
were you sketching out your tombstone,
Zach—that day that their hockey sticks
beat you half to sleep,
did you think of it
as a dress rehearsal?
Did you see me
the day they pulled your body from the tracks?
I carved your name into your favorite oak tree in the park
and underneath it, 2009 and a heart,
I picked up all the wood shavings
slipped them in my pocket,
I keep them on my nightstand,
I want so badly
to paint those numbers in superglue
to push the bark back into place,
if I could see your face
if I could have you back,
I would give all of heaven for that,
to have seven more minutes
to eat Fritos and laugh,
and tell you,
you are the coolest person in the room.
No matter where you are,
and when our time was up
and you reached for the door,
I would cover your hand with mine and say,
“Not just yet.
Not just yet.”
I’m standing in this phonebooth,
trying to find prettier words than “I’M SORRY,”
trying to explain why when you said, “I love you,”
I got on a bus,
went to a bar,
and threw myself into the car crash of someone new.
Explain why my tongue craves the taste of damage,
why I miss the sounds of crushed metal;
It isn’t that I don’t love you.
It’s that you say my name like a prayer
and I have always been an atheist;
it’s that I do not know how to fuck “I LOVE YOU,”
it’s that you are a blanket and I am a flamethrower,
it’s that I am scared of beauty because I’m scared I am nowhere close to it
(at least wreckage is fucking familiar.)
It isn’t that I don’t love you.
It’s that maybe
if I divide myself between enough hazy red wine bodies
I’ll be left with someone small enough to manage,
and a better woman would call and tell you.
am standing in the phonebooth
not wanting to know
how much change I have in my pocket.
“BUT YOU DON’T LOOK LIKE A LESBIAN.”
“I said, you don’t look like a lesbian.”
“No, I heard you. I said I’m sorry,
I’m sorry that my lipstick is so confusing,
that it means I should like sucking dick--
that must be really hard for you;
I’m sorry that my hairstyle
and my sundress
don’t paint a clear enough bullseye on my chest;
Would that make you happy?
Just make it easier for you to discount me?
And just what does a lesbian look like, exactly?
Do you need to see
what my hand can do to my girlfriend’s pussy?
See how our bodies
fit together perfectly?
I don’t look like a lesbian.
You don’t look like a fucking idiot,
but I guess we both know looks can be deceiving.
The key to my heart
is deep in a vault
surrounded by sharks.
It is stamped DO NOT DUPLICATE.
You see, I’m big on security.
Ever since that night your body told me
the word NO didn’t apply to you
That all my barriers
were just something for you to get through
Every locksmith will tell you
It is easy to break a door open
The hard part—
is getting in without causing damage
without leaving a bruised 15-year-old
shouting the same prayer on repeat
takeitback takeitback takeitback takeitback
but you-- never cared about leaving a pristine crime scene
and I—am left feeling like an accomplice
to every body you’ve ransacked since
because my locks have only convinced
you to move on to an easier target.
Someone more convenient for you to break.
there was one box I was waiting for.
Other girls had dreams about dollhouses and Polly Pocket,
but I was holding out for better, and believe me,
it was beautiful.
A brand new
UNDER THE SEA paint by number
with twenty eight colors
and two paintbrushes.
There was a starfish
and a seahorse
and a motherfucking dolphin,
and Granddad’s box
was exactly the right size,
I opened it like Red Cross rations,
waiting for that explosion of color on the top,
but there was just canvas.
and twenty-eight colors.
And two paintbrushes.
And granddad’s handwriting across the back,
saying “Nothing beautiful ever comes that easy,”
and, you see, granddad knew everything.
He was an architect,
a chess champion,
a ballroom dancer,
a piano serenader,
a bad-joke teller,
and a wizard.
After a bad crash in a 54 T-bird,
the doctors told him he may never stand again,
and he told them,
“I don’t think you understand,
I have a girl back home who needs to be danced with,”
and you shoulda seen them dance,
it was like the best ending
to all your favorite movies,
it took him three years to walk
and another two to waltz,
but she learned to dance with a limp
just to match him,
and nothing beautiful ever comes easy.
Last week, I went to the grocery store and bought fourteen onions
so I had an excuse to spend the night crying.
This is a habit I’ve learned from my mother.
I have two older brothers.
We each have a box in the attic
with ultrasounds and mobiles and baby blankets
and everything else that she couldn’t bear to part with.
Behind our boxes are three more.
They just have numbers.
One, two, and three,
and their lids stay shut,
and I never understand why people talk about losing a child,
when she knew EXACTLY where they were,
but she still prayed to Saint Anthony.
I asked her why she didn’t pray to God
she said that they weren’t on speaking terms,
and Saint Anthony, he’s not just the patron of lost things,
but also of lost causes,
some days we all feel like lost causes,
because life is not a paint by number,
sometimes it is a brick wall
saying JUST PAINT THROUGH ME,
it is an unused baby blanket stashed in an attic somewhere,
it is a trashcan full of cut up onions,
some days we all feel like lost causes,
but nothing beautiful ever comes easy, ya’ll,
like there is a reason
the angels’ hands are so bloody,
because it is a hard fucking climb to the top,
but they keep going,
reaching their mangled fingertips to the sky
and painting us a sunset.
when I was seventeen,
I convinced myself that bloody wrists could make me an angel.
I found myself on my bedroom floor
staring at a blank canvas that my granddad had given me.
It was December 2008.
It had been ten years and I hadn’t opened the paint,
I was so scared
to draw lines that I couldn’t stay within,
but sometimes lines are drawn just to show you the edge of something big,
when the angels reach the top,
there’s a big old party.
is dancing with a limp.
They have never seen anything
quite so beautiful.
I've been writing this letter
to my one-day daughter.
It starts out, "Dear babygirl,
Good fucking luck.
This world is a sandcastle,
beautiful and fragile and
one big wave away from collapsing all around us,
so you hold tight to your shovel, now,
you'll find a way out.
Don't blame the ocean, darlin',
she's just doing what makes sense to her,
so many humans
have hurled their wishes at her feet,
left bottled-messages on her shorelines,
thrown ashes into her aching belly,
you can't blame her for trying to wash it all away,
trying to pull back from the tide line
just a little bit cleaner,
but you pick up your bucket, now,
you keep on building;
Sex on the beach is much better as a cocktail than as a 3 AM life choice.
Wearing UGGS with skirts is always a bad life choice.
Get a library card.
Read everything that makes your eyes wide,
dream with your eyes wide;
When you have a recurring dream about making out with your Constitutional Law professor,
DO NOT TELL HIM.
On Halloween, don't let your friends
talk you into dressing up
as a slutty this
or a sexy that,
if you want to go as Falkor from Neverending Story,
fucking FLY, LUCKDRAGON, FLY,
don't let anyone tell you what to wear.
But don't EVER wear a skirt with UGGs.
Know that there is an exception to every rule,
but know that more often than not,
you are not the exception.
You won't be the one to make him change
or the one to bring her back,
but you pick up your bucket, now,
keep on building,
keep on reaching;
Become a balloon salesman,
so everyone you meet
looks to the sky and smiles;
have so much life
packed within your bones,
don't worry if you get bumped around a little,
you keep on building."
Twenty-eight days before my 21st birthday,
a doctor who looks remarkably like my father
tells me I will never have a daughter.
He starts talking about options,
but it all comes out exit strategy,
he makes a list of specialists,
asks if there's anyone I can call;
I walk behind the building,
slam my hands into the wall;
I want to carve a C-Section scar into my belly
just for the fuck of it,
just so my body won't always win
this goddamn war against my CHOICE,
I have always lived against enemy lines.
I start buying milk a half-quart at a time.
Everything has an expiration date,
I start looking for mine,
I want to backspace out every single time
someone asked me what I wanted to be
and I answered anything other than ALIVE---
but that's a lie.
I want to be a balloon salesman.
Want to know what it's like
to let things go
I fly home to California.
Pass right through security,
wonder why they didn't stop me,
I guess they can't see I have
death inside my body,
I buy 21 balloons at the airport giftshop,
let them go wishing the string was wrapped around my throat,
a half-second later
I think about this letter that I wrote
to a girl with so much life left within her bones;
to a girl who knows
not to blame the ocean
for a few
to a girl who knows how to build;
knows to keep reaching;
I jump for the balloons.
Buy a big-ass Costco pack of milk.
Because my body
may well be a warzone,
but I have never carried white flags in my back pocket,
In my hands
I have a shovel and a bucket;
I do not blame the ocean.
But I will not stop rebuilding.
The thing you have to understand is,
I’ve been trained not to talk to strangers,
so I’m sorry if my voice shakes.
The thing you have to understand is,
I’ve been taught to fear the darkness,
so forgive me if I keep my eyes open.
What I didn’t understand was,
sometimes danger comes from the same side
of your locked door.
I was born a paper doll
in a house of heavy plastic soldiers,
a girl in a family of men,
but my father never met a problem he couldn’t fix-
he carried his pride like a nightstick.
He carried his nightstick like a nightstick, too,
he was the county sheriff.
He was a man that people trusted.
He raised his boys strong.
He got a straight-razor shave every Sunday and came home with ice cream cones.
He got straight up whiskey every Wednesday and came home with a score to settle.
Being my father’s boy meant
turning the porch light on before I went out
and knowing it would be dark when I came home,
knowing no one would wait up. It meant
letting other boys use my body like a drum set,
beating against me in a desperate attempt to find rhythm,
using me for practice,
always ending in a crash and a kick to my bass drum,
reminding me I was fragile, that
my spine was my father’s wishbone, that
all of this was just breaking me stronger,
but I knew I’d never have his broad shoulders,
never have his fiery eyes, that
my body could be stamped into the shape of someone else’s plaything.
Phone calls to my mother,
a country and an escape route away,
always feel like blank postcards.
I want to tell her I am thinking of her,
I miss her,
I wish she was closer,
but I always stay quiet.
My voice is an echo of my father’s.
To her, my voice is whiskey.
To her, I am only his consolation prize fighter.
The thing you have to understand is,
being my father’s boy means
carving away pieces of yourself
to keep your edges sharp,
You will start measuring your days
by the number of times you say I’M SORRY,
All of your characteristics will become secondary,
You will start double-fisting coffee at 3 AM because
you’re afraid of what your dreams will look like,
You will cry
when you hear your grandfather’s war stories,
knowing that you’ll never tell yours with the same satisfaction,
that you’ll never tell your stories,
that you’ll never show your battle scars,
that you’ll never be proud of your bruised, purple heart,
When you get married, you will not invite him.
You will know it has been too long
since he gave you away,
You will walk out the door and travel the 985 miles to Portland,
and when you get there
you will spend the first week sleeping in movie theatres
because you are terrified to call somewhere home,
what you have to understand is,
I’ve been trained not to talk to strangers.
I’ve been taught that I’m not strong enough
to fight back, but
I know what your whiskey eyes will look like
before your lips ever hit the glass,
I’ve learned to keep my eyes open,
I’ve learned to always
lock the door,
I’ve been taught exactly what women
are good for,
I’ve been taught there’s no such thing as safety
unless I am switching it off a gun—
but I’d rather be my mother’s breakable daughter
than my father’s bulletproof son.
I’ve had a lot of bad luck with relationships in the last five years,
but there is one partner that has been consistently by my side,
giving me the things I didn’t even know I needed—
and that partner—
is the Goodwill Superstore.
I almost never go INTO the day saying,
“Yes, I really think I DO need
a 1000 piece circular jigsaw puzzle
of John Wayne’s face,” or
“I’m pretty sure what’s lacking from my life right now
is a pair of bright purple harem pants,”
but when I get there,
it’s like a kid with a hoarding problem in a slightly smelly candy store,
like plastic bowling pins, YES,
ceramic flamingo statue, YES,
bright turquoise urn that very possibly still has ashes in it? big ol creepy YES.
Full set of the Land Before Time movies on VHS- YES.
VHS player- YES.
Floor length black sequined prom dress with full-on taffeta shoulder pads—
do you even have to ask?
I like filling my closet
and my house
and my walls
and my life
with things and people that have been loved before me
and will be loved after me,
because knowing that my books are the only ones
that IKEA bookshelf is EVER going to have is A LOT of pressure,
like what if I’m going through a Jodi Picoult phase that year?
I don’t think I could live with myself,
but if I’m using a wise old man bookshelf,
one that’s already lived through years of Hemingway
and Calvin & Hobbes comics,
then I don’t have to feel so bad,
like this might just be a story he can laugh about later with his furniture friends,
like remember my wild chick lit phase, hahahaha, pass the Proust,
and this is something I believe,
like deep in my bones,
that things carry with them the love they’ve been given,
and today, after filling my basket with “Sticky Situations,”
(a board game aimed at teaching kids good Christian morals
through a series of fun hypotheticals,
because, have you heard of a better drinking game?)
I turned down the tableware aisle.
Between a teakettle shaped like a raccoon’s face
and a set of Batman shot glasses
was a handmade ceramic mug that looked all too familiar.
There was that dent on the bottom that I could never quite even out
and a chip in the handle from the Hot Cocoa Fiasco of 2009,
I made this mug the day we decided to get married.
He drinks his coffee first thing in the morning,
I wanted him to be holding some part of me first thing every morning,
and now my ring is in a wadded up Safeway bag in the back of my closet
and his mug is on a wire rack at the Goodwill priced at 1.99
porcelain is so fragile, and plans are, too
all potters know to check the modulus of rupture,
it’s how much weight something can withstand before it fractures,
I’m in the Goodwill on a Thursday with a mug in my hand
and three years of broken promises weighing down upon me,
like who did he think was going to want a used coffee cup
with the initials BKKWMT + WBRIV carved into the bottom,
but I realize that this mug
and those promises
were made with the best of intentions
but some things are just too heavy for you to hold on to them.
And so you leave them on a shelf somewhere.
Hoping that someone will come to love them
in the way that you wished you could,
that they will fit somewhere
other than inside that life you didn’t get to have,
And just like I would love this worn-in pair of bowling shoes,
maybe someone will find a place for this—
and for him--
these pieces of a future that don’t belong to me,
So to whoever buys the blue ceramic mug
with the chipped handle
and the initials BKKWMT + WBRIV carved into the dented bottom,
I hope you like it.
I hope it fits just right in your hands.
I made it just for you.
This will end badly.
You might think we could make it work.
You are wrong.
Here’s how it will go:
We will bond over coffee and sarcasm,
wanderlust and wonderlust and actual lust,
I will put my foot in my mouth so often
I will remember I REALLY need to go to yoga.
But you will smile.
You will text back.
You will understand that I cannot handle caramel
and you will work accordingly.
You will list at least two albums that I HAVE to hear.
You will be variations on perfect.
When you meet my friends,
a tribe of pajama-clad warriors,
you will make them laugh.
When we slip between English and German
without thinking to explain,
you won’t be angry.
You will know that love is a language
everything can be translated into.
Pretty soon, you will find out
that I’ve never read Lord of the Rings
or seen Star Wars.
You won’t talk to me for a week.
After we make up,
we will be watching Food Network
and eating microwaved Bagel Bites.
I will turn my body towards you
and chew on your shoulder.
I will start biting you more frequently,
like in line at the grocery store
and during orgasms
and while you’re brushing your teeth.
I will do magic tricks at the most inappropriate times.
Like, when meeting your parents.
And when you’re trying to make out with me but I’ve just learned a new sleight and it’s really really cool and will only take a minute, please just pick a card.
The first time you stay the night,
I’ll shamefully admit
that I can’t fall asleep with someone else in my bed.
I’ll curl up on the floor,
arm raised to the mattress,
holding onto your hand.
When I wake up,
my arm will be numb and bloodless.
You’ll tell me it’s called paraesthesia
and I will be sure it’s the most romantic circulatory problem in the world.
Don’t get comfortable.
We’ve been here before.
This is all a multiple choice test
with only wrong answers,
we should really
just leave it blank.
Because you will ask me to stop nibbling you in public.
You will roll your eyes when I try to tell you about all the viele Dinge, das haben heute passiert.
You will ask me to leave my deck of cards at home.
You will stop staying the night.
You will tell me there is no point.
I will look up paraesthesia
and find out it means “beyond feeling,”
and I will wish that it were true,
I will fall asleep on the floor.
Still leaving space for you.
Before too long,
I will pray for numbness.
My favorite thing about being a kid
is you can ask questions about EVERYTHING.
Like how come a bee dies when it stings you?
How come I can buy red licorice with some pieces of paper but not others?
How do toilets work?
Can dogs understand human?
Do they speak to each other with their barks?
Can I learn to speak dog?
If you teach a dog not to bark, are you teaching him to be lonely?
Can you teach someone how to be lonely?
How come grown-ups want to be lonely with each other so often?
Can I have a dog?
But don't you love me?
Can you learn how to love someone?
Can you learn how not to?
Pretty soon, I was fifteen
and still stupid,
downing White Russians out of an old sippy cup
with the lid off, teeth marks fossilized around the edges
as proof that I had been born
hungry and impatient.
I had developed the superpower
of ignoring my own questions,
like why do people think YouTube videos of cats are so funny?
How come people think tequila tastes good?
What is so great about vampires, anyway?
How many boys do I need to kiss before I stop thinking about my friend Natalie?
How many shots before I forget the freckles on her kneecaps?
What would make a man shoot five Amish schoolgirls on a Monday in October?
Did he speak my language?
Was he taught to stay quiet, was he taught to be lonely, is the gunpowder in his chest also in mine, was he angry at God?
angry at us?
I’m twenty now.
I’m still stupid.
I have so many more questions
but I’m getting better
at asking the ones that matter.
Is there anyone out there?
Are you listening?
Can you hear me?
Can you hear this?
I am so
of being taught
to stay quiet.