I'm over 20k into NaNoWriMo right now, so hell if I have time to write any damn thing ELSE, and while I would love to show you an excerpt from the embarrassingly unedited first draft of my novel, I just can't.
That's a lie. I wouldn't love to.
Anyways, I think it's okay for me to leave this short story here now. I wrote this several months ago, while in the process of moving back to California from Chicago. I like it, but hesitated to put it here because there wasn't enough temporal distance between it all. I didn't want to offend, or--hah--terrify. But I don't think that's important now. It's a very honest piece for me; it sums up much of the year quite well. The only title I currently have for it is the immensely creative "Chicago."
Back to writing.
(Oh, and if it's an issue for you, there's discussion of sex and sexuality in here. And also triggers for a few things: rape, sexual assault, emotional abuse.)
(...I feel as though I should promise that there is some good to it. There is.)
Chicago used my time here to sing me a song about (or by) a redheaded man who likes to sing me songs about (not by) love and nights and belonging. But in the days before there were men or redheads or me or it there was a swamp, there, so I don’t know if I can trust its songs or what they’re about.
The city makes me sick. I’m sitting on a train, and I could choke on how little that means here—trains are moving, traveling, going somewhere if you’re anywhere else. Here, though, it’s a complicated illusion: I’m going downtown, which is to say: I’m going deeper into the city, not doing what a train should imply, that is: motion, that is: the change of place from one point (here, the city of Chicago) to another (there, anywhere outside of the locality previously specified). All of the people sitting on the train are just more people, sitting quietly on this train and moving between microcosmic points within the same larger point. I want to look at a map of something larger just to remind myself of larger spaces, and there’s only a map of the city, how the train moves in the city, all those little points that still mean you’re stuck in here. There are confines, and you can break them, but you don’t need to. That is to say, it’s not entirely necessary.
It’s my stop. It’s where I live, in the city. It’s not necessary, moving or breaking—and the names on the mailbox that belong to two people and me tell me that. They want to soothe me, I know, coo that this is home. But there’re trees tangled and tall and chaotic in my heart while the trees here are uniformly spaced, part of the grid and surrounded by yea-high little fences bought from a store seven blocks north and three blocks west on the same grid. North is too easy a game, here, and so the other directions fall down, following: east is where the lake lives, north is whatever is left after east is done with its winds and waters, its invasive fish and its much more invasive (to me) motor boats. The idea of a water taxi offends me and my door closes (I think I might have been responsible for that but remain unconvinced) behind me.
Every element of space, of orientation and awareness, the capriciousness of direction an amateur mountaineer tries to locate, here is rendered into another inconvenience to be dashed. It’s all part of making everything efficient, and I remember being told when I arrived, overlarge suitcases taking up .011 of a block (facing north, on State), that this was one of the great things about living in the city: directions are made to be direct, directive, to be easy and groomed and well-behaved so that you might not wander anywhere you don’t expect. If you ignore their way of making your explorations lazy and jaunt off straight westward, say, without objective in mind, you’ll find a slum that looks how it did fifty years ago. It will be covered in much fresher laments. The city will apologize and promise to appropriate funds to clean it. The slum will be washed and rinsed and the people will be left in a clean slum; the city will cheer and downtown will polish its trumpets and street signs with the remaining money.
After the doctors told us that my brother was schizophrenic, I did all the research I could stand without pulling my safety line (mental) in behind me. Cities make people more (crazy) prone to the disease (your brother is crazy), and the disease is seen as largely a result of environment (your chances of developing the disorder are 30% higher than), the people rushing around and doing nothing but moving within the same grid that is ultimately the same place (the general populace, which has a 1% chance without family history of the disorder). I told someone that I was disturbingly able to depict ideas mentioned in passing, or to involuntarily lapse into waking nightmares (daydreams) of death and feel passively fascinated, and he just said I was an artist.
Art is why I came here: art school. I came to be educated in art, and I got only out of an abusive relationship coupled with the eventual realization that being choked post-coital is being abused and my heart broken and drunk and a fantastic capability to draw the human figure and then sexually assaulted by a repairman who left a joint on the counter like some kind of payment. (It’s in my room, awkwardly, like a forsaken relic or a warning, entombed in a plastic bag, but I’m assured it’s of a high quality.) I learned a lesson in bitterness and surely enough I made it into art, and my heart has ached with the sentiments of being fiscally poor but endowed with a homeland rich in grace ever since. I visited home to slake my thirst, and despite the lure of the man who sings songs and makes breakfast in the mornings, I felt like leaving would pull my tongue out and disembody my eyes, make me swelter and groan under the strain of being where I was never meant to be. The feeling of leaving was a heavy one, like liquor without nectar or salts to ease the burning. I watched the bay collide into the coastal mountains, ease into the valley of my youth—I’m still young—and my eyes hurt with the burden of water. Instead, I just hated, and my suitcase now took up less than .011 of the block because the trip had not been long and I no longer lived in downtown (the blocks are--or seem--longer there). A taxi took me home, did not help me with heavy luggage at 2 AM and I saddened, the weight of being somewhere someone always insisted on calling home pressing down my throat.
He lessens his grip on my hair and moves a hand down my side, feeling the body he knows has only moved for him since we first coupled (and some time before): a dangerously fleeting hour of night where I undid my previous “not yets” and affectionately (generously haphazardly needfully) allowed myself to feel something sweet and low. If ever there was something to keep me at home, it would be you. It’s a line from a song whose tune I can’t remember and whose identity disappears as he holds my face and stands to hold himself to me. The reflexivity astounds me, like it always does, and it sweetens the poise of my steady lips to shaking. Trembling, even, the damned word. We gather our glasses (alcohol) and bid the disgusting, unnatural night sky goodnight. I ask if he wants me to put the candle out. He tells me, “No, we need that still.”
We have sex (make something) to candlelight and soft music, an arrangement I had little hand in insisting on (I like this song). He has for a week been telling me: I have been avoiding sex because I don’t want us to be entrenched in each other, and I don’t want this to be all there is to us (leaving I’m leaving). For a week I and my sex drive, monster, have been quietly nodding and saying: but it’s never just been about sex for me.
(First glass of wine.)
The first night I got here, I went outside to see what the city looked like when the sky darkened and the world kept pulsing below. When I looked past the closing walls of skyscrapers, up, the sky was mauve. Chocolate sauce. Purple, red, a bruise coated with opaque smogged latex covering that couldn’t be peeled back by a God if there were one. One star, to the west. Dim. My arms were at my sides and I thought about what it all meant.
I met a boy three years ago when I was a girl, and we had sex. He blamed it on me for two years, because it was my fault that I didn’t tell him about the rape until well before we had sex for the first time (crossing out both of our virginities, which is bafflingly a word; our collective virginities) and he still made the decision (presumably, his decision) to sleep with me. Two years later (less than that [after a lot of choking and hatred]), he told me it was like I’d raped him, telling him I was raped and then allowing him to sleep with me.
(A word on the mention of choking: this young man used to have sex with [“make love to” seems semantically offbeat now, an archaic memory from the ruins of the relationship, a word on a tablet from whatever place in the universe the “we” used to take up] me and then, when I was sleeping curled next to him but never really with him, he would roll to me, whisper “I hate you” and put his hands around my neck. I would (marking word of habituation, a verb insisting on a regular activity) first try to laugh, tell him to stop like he might be joking, and then flail and tell him to get off, push him away and claw and he would simply insist, “I hate you I hate you.” When his grip was really endangering me, he would roll over and tell me until my body felt raw from the effort of exposure to words, “I hate you,” shove me away from him hard and insist on the sentiment, scratch me and punch my arms, legs, side and remind me that sex was an act of searing hatred.)
How I am having sex to candlelight and music, feeling romantic, affectionate emotions for a man who moves quietly into place within me and smiles every so often (murmurs “nothing” for explanation), is something that worries me. Its meanings to me confound me; sex is something you do and then you resent, as he rests atop me for some time and then rolls to my side and holds my hands and kisses my lips and is warm, is affectionate, doesn’t whisper anything at all. Hands don’t reach out to my throat but stroke my palms. Lips part only for air and the heat from our bodies, somehow still a word—not body, not technically speaking one or part of a whole. The silence is something I worry will be broken by his sudden, inevitable realization that I am an awful cancer, something to be taken apart and recreated into something better by strings of candlelit criticism. I cover it with soft sporadic kisses—forehead, palms, shoulder.
He says, suddenly, eventually, in the irrevocable way spoken words have about them: What do you think about cars?
When I was sixteen (before the choking, long before the sweetness of the red-haired singer, before my brother’s schizophrenia and long before the city), I was casually dating a friend of a friend. We were in my room. Afternoon, late spring, bright and warm and soft and western. I told him: no; and he took his zipper in hand. I told him I didn’t want to yet and he told me he didn’t love me yet, but he could if I were better.
(Second glass of wine.)
I didn’t say anything: I listened. He told me how impossible it would be to make me a wife as I were, a wild girl with a heart for the mountains and a need for words and words. I needed to settle, he would love me if I could settle, if I could abandon the stupid needs to be free and wild and young and alive, and I cried and he took something unmentionable off. (I don’t love you why are you insisting I want your love)
(I never asked you to love me and I don’t need to do anything—I don’t—I can’t—)
(I told the red-haired man the first time he surprised me by wanting me and simultaneously reminding me that I wanted him: I can’t do this yet. He said that he understood and spent still another hour kissing me. Just that.)
My head pounds when I walk around the city. I grew up where you walk on pavement and asphalt for a block and then hit orchards that run forever. Here, there is no outlet—there’s nowhere I can walk to feel my feet hitting dirt and rocks that always lived there. I can’t be choked by the smell of fir, but by hands if I so choose. I can’t run. When I said no and no again, and then listened, I grew wilder, ran into nowhere and nothing, worried my mother and haunted my brother. The needs of leaving and not being and being anywhere else raked their heavy clay across my face and hands and told me to go and sleep where I could die but wouldn’t if I were smart enough, fast enough, alive enough. I kissed my face on the mirror and said “you were never good enough” and I left to be good enough for another grid, another place where directions change and become something dangerous and wild, my feet hitting the ground and pulsing over mounds of rotting fiber. I raised myself into another girl—no, a woman, not another anything but a free-born woman—and ran through trees and outran myself and ran into the man who choked me. My throat ached for air for two years.
I have suffocated myself with the city. It grasps at me to tame me, like the North, and it tells me, “the Lake is always east.” I can feel it as my spirit softens within the confines of buildings that change shape and height and construct but never end. I know it as my feet know they haven’t touched native soil in daysweeksmonths, and if I let it lapse into years I will be lost, wandering always in a direction I know to be north or south, into places and faces that confuse my native tongue into a series of garbled words and pictures—I don’t know this tree, I’ve never seen the sky another color at night, no, there’s one star over there in the west.
And he is strumming an instrument, and he is getting ready to find beauty (somehow) in here, and he is moving with me and he is soon going home, to my home, and the city is singing me a song that is trying to groom me (and him, I think him, too) to stay, to call it home and to make it home. Settle here, come here for art and stay for life, and I can’t (and he can’t, for that matter). I rest next to the man who sings and lights candles and I can’t sleep for the city’s thick gauze of humidity; I trace the way his skin perfectly fits over the angles of his face instead. He turns, he does not make a gesture of hatred, nor of love, and I find myself mercifully free to decide what that makes me: I am wild, I am running and falling and in the end the city will fail to keep either of us.
In my final act against the city, before sleep eventually bores a deep well into the heat, I want him to be happy and I want myself to be wild.
(Third [final] glass.)
We sleep hard to fight the city’s waves and its directions don’t matter in the subconscious. In my dreams I run further into the mountains, into a different madness, where trees swallow me and my feet are the soil under them, and when we wake in the city I will ache and feel hatred and so will he, but it isn’t a hatred for him(me)—for the place. Mutual. Our arms are crossed between us and I wait for Chicago to evaporate.