Unedited Me

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I keep asking myself — What am I really looking for in New York City?

I’ve never really sat down and thought about all the things I need in an analytical way. I usually just go with the flow, and, as things change — I make the necessary edits.

I was raised by two lawyers. So, I was editing myself before I even knew writing was a thing. And, when I did learn to write, because my folks had been coaching me, both consciously and unconsciously, to eliminate every unnecessary word, I never did beat around the bush. I always got right to the heart of the matter. Brevity. Was. King.

And, it’s true, frankness is all well and good — in expository writing. Brief writing. Law making. Compliance. Lawyer-y stuff. But, the trouble is — and always has been — I turned out to be more of a hippy-dippy spirit than my parents bargained for. I don’t mind if a sentence ends in a preposition. I won’t obsess about how my sentences begin — so long as I still have your attention when they end.

I see this pattern reflected everywhere. Especially in my sobriety. — I began the process of getting clean and sober, almost 3 years ago, in a completely analytical way. I made a checklist of all the things I could and could not do. I followed strict and specific rules. After all, brevity, I believed, would save me, so — I kept it short and sweet. And now, it’s all become second nature. As it happened, my own strict rules did not end up serving me in the way I had initially envisioned. So, I made edits. — My own, beautiful edits.

In the course of my life, I have edited everything. My love. My words. My body. My thoughts. I’ve tried so hard to squeeze all my things into a very precise framework. And, I truly believed, if I could just make everything fit, this plan of mine would produce some unblemished, polished, finished product. The perfect outcome.

On one of my epic walkabouts around Reed College campus, it hit me. — THE LESSON. — The thing that trumps all things I have learned here, and maybe, that I’ve learned in my entire life.

Scrap the edits.

It’s funny, because when I texted my father, the editor extraordinaire, in a panic about my big move, he texted me back with the great words of Julius Caesar before crossing the River Rubicon: Alea Iacta Est. — The Die Is Cast.

And, I see it now, when I look in the mirror. My face. My frame. My heart.

I see myself. Unedited. — And, my father was right. It is written. I am written.

I have put myself back together. All the things I have built — I have built from nothing. It took the better part of 6 years, but now, I am here. And, it’s too late for edits. — The trouble I could have saved myself. The heartache I could have been spared. The run-on sentences. The extra adverbs. The sentences that end in fucking prepositions. The EVERYTHING. — It’s all right here. She’s right herestaring back at me.

I tell my reflection: We won’t edit our love anymore. We get to own the heart we stitched back together. We won’t settle for less than we deserve. Our words, fair or foul — are ours. And, we speak for ourselves. We are our words — and sometimes — we’re dirty. Our body, it’s imperfect. We acknowledge our flaws. — Sometimes they’re all we have. We listen to our own quiet noise. You and I, we’re a team. The team.

*          *          *          *          *

Editing is for lawyers. And, I, I am a woo-woo-hippy-dippy-rule-breaker — with a semi-structured, somewhat-fool-proof plan. — An imperfect and beautiful representative of an unstable and curious humanity.

Alea Iacta Est. So, I scrap my practical edits and I ask myself again — What am I really looking for in New York City?

But, I think, the better question may be: What’s there, in New York City, looking for me? — The flawed, wounded, empowered and amazing — Unedited Me.

 

 

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Dots

Photo Jul 21, 9 38 30 PM

When you go to school to become a writer, they don’t teach you to write. — They teach you to read.

The voices. The colors. The timbres. Each writer’s words ring out their peerless note — dissonance or harmony — no two stories are the same.

Every writer has her unique fingerprint — even in her plagiarisms.

In high school they instruct you — The beginning! The middle! The end! The kind of storytelling that has somehow been distilled down to a series of predictable climaxes — each is noted on a three foot by three foot chalkboard. Written carefully in smudgy, cursive letters. All of which — have no meaning.

If you learned to read properly, you already know this three-pronged formula is a useless chore. — A map that leads you nowhere and discovers nothing.

If you learned to read properly, you already know that each story is just one dot on an infinite timeline. And, in the futile hunt to uncover everything, the writer’s unrepeatable dot marks, without knowing it, the unexampled treasures that she alone has illuminated.

No beginning. No middle. No end. — Just moments. — Dots.

This weekend, I packed up the last six years. Books in boxes, old notes and bills, yellowed rolling papers, dried up pens, and renegade Christmas ornaments. So many dots. Too many dots. Wonderful and tragic dots.

One, I set aside. A single page, tucked carefully away, hidden neatly in between the pages of my copy of James Joyce’s A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. — an entry, torn from my journal. I unfold it, only days away from turning six years old, it reads:

July 30th, 2009

       It’s hot in Brooklyn. I’ve been sitting in front of the box fan, watching TV and wondering if I’ll miss the heat and humidity of New York when we get to Portland. — If we get to Portland.

      Sometimes I wonder if it’s possible for me to get anywhere at all, because I’ve been sitting on a couch, somewhere in this city, just waiting for something to happen to me.

     Three months until we leave this place. Home. Family. Friends. All for the wild frontier — The West. Ninety days to see what needs to be seen — To say goodbye. To worry. To plan. To Dream.

       But, I try not to worry. Because, on most days, I’d like to be anywhere but here.

I read it twice. Then three times. And then, for that girl, I weep. Six years ago — and I still remember how she thought this place could save her. How saying goodbye would hurt her. How her story, six years later, would read exactly the same way, but, — she — she is impossibly different.

Today, I cannot be mistaken for that girl. I know now that — it’s true — this place did save me. And, even in the sanctity of being saved, I will still choose to leave it behind — my savior. I return to a different place, revisit another dot. An old dot that, now, I can finally allow to be new. A story I know well, but, I’ve yet to write.

In my living room, I see it written on a piece of paper. — How I’ve learned to read here. I embrace the moments where Oregon has made me into something that New York City never could have — Beautiful. Seen. Heard. The words may read the same way, but, there is a new heart here. I read it — the story that was written for his heart — before I knew my own. Before I discovered my seperate pieces. My own, little dots — strewn wildly across the Oregon dirt. The seeds I once placed in someone else’s hands for planting. — But now it’s my harvest. — I’ve grown my own fruit.

In Oregon, I learn to read again. — To read myself. — I connect my dots. I learn to hold these new things — My love. My loss. My beauty. My strength. My pain. My sobriety. — like my children, to my breast. I shoulder their weight and carry them back to where I started. And I begin again.

I see them. They mark my own timeline. — My unrepeatable dots. — A goodbye. A worry. A plan. A Dream.

Each one on its own.

Each one, a place I call home.

Photo: Allison Webber; http://www.allisonwebber.photography/

(A very special thanks to the beautiful and talented Allison Webber for inviting me to be part of her photo series: The Personal Beauty Project. A series that empowers women, allowing them to be seen in the way that they see themselves. These images capture not only my spirit, but, the spirit of my Oregon. As I return to the East Coast, I am able to take these images with me. Images that, for me, represent so much of what and who I have become as a result of being part of this magical place. I encourage you all to enjoy Allison’s work at her aforementioned website.)

If I Could Talk Drunk To You

Photo Jul 14, 9 32 20 PM

Oregon, if I could talk drunk to you — I’d say too much.

But, in between botched and blurred sentences, I’d speak those gems. I’d say things that my heart kept pad-locked-up until we went ahead and blasted the doors off with a fifth of Jim Beam and a couple of cold, tall pints.

It’s been a long time since we’ve opened those doors. And it’s been even longer since my heart allowed me to hear the things you’ve been trying to say. But baby, if I could talk drunk to you, I’d ask you — Do you remember being young? Not that you’re some old man, but — we’re old enough now that when we’re asked if we remember being young — we know the answer.

Do you remember loving her? Some girl. Any girl. This girl. Maybe she was quiet and lost. Maybe she walked up and down your coast. Maybe she stood in the arch of The Vista House, her hair flying wildly over The Gorge as she screamed out your name across the Columbia River and cursed you. But, do you remember loving her? Do you remember how you’d give anything for her to just call, or show up at your door? She’d look at you in a way that made you feel. Like you were really there — like you existed. Not only existed, but, existed just for her. Do you remember — feeling that way?

Love made you feel. Can you remember when love was humbling? When you’d bow down before it, sovereign, wanting nothing more than for it to look upon you? Just. One. Brief. Moment. — To crown you? We all felt it when we were young. Sometimes, because we didn’t know any better. But, more often than not — we did. Know better.

It’s not something you can escape. It captures you. And baby, I may feel old, but when I love you — when I let you go — I’m young. And my heart was once your happy captive. Those ideals that you thought I’d soon abandon, well, — maybe I will someday — but not today. Not today. Today this love rules me. It runs laps around my heart. It crushes me with its casual distance. And maybe, after our most recent repairs — your heart looks pretty shabby too, baby.  But, if I could talk drunk to you, I’d tell you — It’s worth piecing together.

If I could talk drunk to you, I’d ask you to love me with that same, reckless abandon. I’d ask you to forget your old man heart and dive into mine, where things aren’t nearly as broken and battered as they were when I found you. I’d ask you why people give up on love when they’re finally old enough to feel it. I’d tell you, I may be young and stupid — but there are parts of me that are old — and I know more now than your green heart could handle. I’d tell you — I’m worth it. All of it. I’m that girl you couldn’t have back when you were seventeen. I’m the comfort that you never got from the women who held out their hands to light your cigarettes. I’m all that passion you beat down into your guts because you never thought you’d find someone who could match it.

Here I am.

If I could talk drunk to you, I’d tell you that — back then — before I met you, my love was like a paper cut. But now, your love fuels some massive inferno that turns my insides red-hot, and if it ever goes out, all that will remain is a burnt up cross where my heart used to be.

Oregon, you taught me to love. And, some days, I fear the love I have for you. You’ve broken me before. But, when you touch me, you spin that golden thread that pumps through my veins, straight to my heart. A drug that I’ll choose to give up, but, somewhere, I’ll always seek.

I should tell you — I’ve watched the sun rise over your head. And, that first time I told you I loved you, your sky said, “Oh baby, I love you too,” like I already knew, but, — I didn’t know. I never knew.

If I could talk drunk to you, I’d say that my love is crazy, and if you could see it, if it were an actual thing you could touch or hold — I know you’d want it. You’d want to keep it. You wouldn’t leave it on a shelf or stash it in some drawer. You’d wear it. You’d protect it. You’d carry it until whatever made you, made you no more.

If I could talk drunk to you, I’d tell you that — I know — I think too much. I wish it were that simple.

But, it’s not. Simple.

It’s time for me to go. But, you knew that already.

And, what good is talking drunk to you if I’m just telling you the things that you already know?

 

Photo: Allison Webber; http://www.allisonwebber.photography/

His Heroin(e)

Photo Jul 06, 6 56 57 PM

I lie on his bed while he shoots dope in the bathroom.

He runs the sink so I won’t hear him heat the spoon, but I still hear the flick-flick-flick of the lighter through the old vent in the floor. I can see though the walls. I. Hear. Every. Sound. The brown paste boils thin, to a liquid. The cotton top of a Q-tip soaks it up — breathes in the poison — like it’s alive. Each white fiber expands, taking on its color, like a web of molasses.

I stare at his water-stained ceiling. Rot from the upstairs apartment bleeding through the paint. The edges plume out and peel in the shape of mushrooms. I close my eyes. I see the tip of his needle drink it in. — His Heroin.

The plunger pulls back, and the spoon empties, like a tide going out. Smooth. Like a thick, dark caramel — drawn up by the moon. I cry quietly as I watch the way his cat just sits at the bathroom door. Waiting. — “C’mere kitty kitty.” I whisper.

I feel him poke his veins. Stick them. I found the syringes in his top drawer. Again. I hold the tops of my arms. I am outside my body. The girl is on the bed and the junkie is in the bathroom. I’m confused by my own acceptance. I allow this. My story. His story. Either way, it’s a war story. A story where sharp objects are made blunt and hard hearts are made harder. A world that defeats me with permission, not conquest. Then, I become her — some version of her — His Heroine. No. No. That’s wrong. It’s — His Heroin.

Some junkies will tell you that until you shoot dope, you don’t understand. — The high. The letting go. The relief. — It’s not true though. You don’t even have to move to understand. Just sit. Wait. — I sat perfectly still. I sat in another room while it swirled around me, not in me. A demon in the vents. You don’t have to feel that ugly, brown stuff pulse in your own, blue veins to witness its power.

Yield to it. Vulgar and dark. A power that turns your Hero into someone else. Something else. And then, you watch this creature lose everything. Lose themselves. Lose you.

But really………they just let you go.

Everything’s gone. And, all the while, I’m right there, it’s all right there. I try to trick myself into believing something that isn’t true. But, the cat’s still sitting, waiting, his tail curled neatly around his soft, white feet. And it is true.

He will give up anything. Anything. And, I learn, this includes me. It hits like a revelation. Christ Our Lord, where are you? I’ll never be sure. But, look, listen! The stained ceiling. The vent. The sink. The flick-flick-flick. The breathing cotton. The needle pulls.

I’ve dreamed it. No — no. I’m still awake. I’m still frozen. Me. The cat. We’re sitting in the same places.

I’ve seen it in the movies. I’ve read my Burroughs. It’s not the same. It’s not the same as watching him. Reading him. Feeling him slip. I cast him off like a thin line from the side of my boat, and he’s just a heavy lure sinking into the depths of this — some bottomless lake. His eyes disappear in a pool of water.

I imagine how he feels when he ties one off. How it makes him safer than I ever could. How the needle is the lover I never was and never can be. Sometimes, I imagine that he is a drunk, like me — not this. I imagine that the scars on his arms and legs are from something else — like the butts of his father’s cigarettes, maybe. It’s easier when I have someone to blame.

Fuck the poppy.

In the Springtime a coworker tells me — “It’s such a happy little flower!” I smile at her, but behind my face, under my skin, I grit my teeth. Poppies. At their dark, sticky center — lives the seed. Devil’s sap. I won’t eat your poppy seed bagels. Not anymore. And, now, I check the ingredients on the back of the multi-grain bread.

Heroin. Just a seed. It will always be stuck in my teeth. I will poke at my gums forever — but no amount of prodding will free it. It’s right there. On the tip of my tongue. At the base of my molar.

He is in the bathroom and I’m sitting on the bed. Waiting.
Later — with eyes half closed, he asks: “You didn’t see me, did you?”

“No.” I say.

But, while he sleeps, I do see it. How his love has left his body. And with gloves and bleach, I wash it away.

All that blood on the bathroom walls.

 

Photo: Allison Webber; http://www.allisonwebber.photography/

The Invented City

Photo Jun 30, 8 20 01 PM

Before you leave a place, it’s important that you commit it to memory.

Later, you’ll return to it like a dusty book on your shelf. You’ll run your fingers over its edges, and, you’ll remember something you didn’t realize you’d forgotten. It’s hard to visualize — the passage of all that time. Our memories, warping, fit in tightly-packed-cranial-crevices. But, it’s all right there waiting for us, on the dog-eared pages. We open up to that brittle spot, where the spine is cracked. We revisit our oldest secrets. For me, it’s always a story that begins in the Summer — when things were hot and uncomfortable.

*          *           *

Standing on the corner of Lombardy Street, where Williamsburg and Greenpoint are divided by the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway, in front of the sports-dive, The Callbox Lounge — Adam and I invented Portland.

Inside the bar, five Hasidic Jews draped their heavy, black coats over the backs of tall chairs. Their tzitzit dangled from their hips and their faces, framed in curls, sweat profusely while they watched the Yankees game. Some of them drank beer, some of them, Coca-Cola. This place was their secret. — And, Portland was ours.

We sat at the bar, bathing ourselves in the intermittent breeze of the sputtering air conditioner. We were so different then. Young. In some kind of love. Complicated, even before cracking. We didn’t care. And, we sat there without any real concept of time. We hardly knew the things that stood before us. Our world spanned the length of the bar — and that was enough. Adam’s face was radiant in a blue glow as Keeno numbers popped up on the grid of an old TV screen and, even now — I want to kiss him. Back then, we had plans. We were getting out of that city. Soon. Maybe a year. Maybe less. And beneath the highway, under a starless sky, the night was humming a song with its passing cars and rattling metal. We drank Budwieser and smoked cigarettes and we planned our escape.

Back then, I wanted anything but Brooklyn. I wanted open sky and long, wide roads. And, green. Lots of green. I dreamed of places where no one knew me. Us. Lost together. Anywhere. Winding through some unknown place. And so, we imagined Portland. I imagined Portland. — I imagined we’d be the opposite of what we were.  — And together, we would draw our maps.

*          *          *

The day we left, I stood at the window of our third floor walk-up. I looked down over Nassau Avenue. It was starting to feel like Fall and my screen was thrown wide open. I remember seeing a woman down below with a baby carriage drop her scarf and an old man leaned down and picked it up for her in front of the deli with the blue awning. The scarf was red. — I was going to miss that place.

My mother was in our living room putting things into boxes. We had overestimated the amount of room in our car and my father walked up and down, up and down, up and down our steps taking bins, boxes, and bags back to my childhood home in Bay Ridge. “Don’t worry Dabba,” he said, “we’ll ship them out to you when you’re settled.” Dabba is my family’s nickname for me.

It occurred to me, as I stared down at my dirty, Brooklyn street — no one would call me Dabba where we were going.

Adam came up behind me and held my shoulders. I only remember this because it was unlike him. He was reserved. He didn’t hold my shoulders often. So, I leaned in, because, when you are scared and lonely and at the precipice of something imagined becoming real — you want Adam to hold you.

“Are we really going to leave today?” I asked, fat tears pooling in my eyes. The apartment still had too many things in it. My mother looked more perplexed with every passing hour. “Sarah,” Adam said, turning me around from the window to face him, “I don’t care if we leave everything we own on this street corner. We are leaving tonight.”

And, we did, that night, around 5 or 6 PM — I can’t remember. We left to find something we both had lost. Though, now, I know that our lost things were not the same. They had never been the same. But, he had been biding his time and I had ignored the facts. So, we invented a place that already existed. We assigned it meaning. And, we drove. We placed ourselves here, in the City of Roses. We walked along rivers we’d read about in books. We learned the names of mountains that, eventually, would rise up from our backyard into a sky that turned strange colors which we did not know how to name.

Oregon.

At the curb, I cried in my mother’s arms. There is no feeling comparable to leaving your mother when you are scared and she wants you to stay. My father’s arms held me a little too tight, and they spoke the words that he couldn’t. Adam turned the key. Ignition. That was the last time I saw Nassau Avenue — my mother becoming smaller and smaller in the side-view mirror.

As we crossed the Verrazano Bridge, our Polish landlord called my cell phone from Nassau Avenue. “You can’t leave mattress on street like this! I get fine! Garbage pick-up not ’til Thursday. Fifty dollars I going to have to pay!”

I looked at the side of Adam’s face. His silhouette sketched a thin line against a darkening sky that met the edges of Brooklyn’s shadows below. The bridge’s wires held us up. I was seat-belted in with our scotch-taped love and some kind of freedom and an emptiness that I will never be able to describe.

“Tell him to take it out of our security deposit,” he said. “We’re not going back.”

(Photo: Allison Webber; http://www.allisonwebber.photography/ )