Next month I'm moving. Moving. This will be the third time I've left this City, my birthplace, my coming-of-age story. All my firsts happened here and most of my seconds. I came back each time for different reasons, for the same reasons, for practicality and love. For familiarity. For the ocean. The salt. The sting of old losses. For sore lips. For mute brick and rotted iron. For the second oldest high school in the nation. The statues- for Our Lady of Victory, standing since 1891. For Longfellow, sitting in his chair since 1888. Even for the Lobsterman, more recently added in 1977. For the alien egg christmas lights strung up in the trees. For that evil wind which begins in November and blows through March, hateful, desiccating, punishment for our brief seaside summers.

I'm being pulled south. By the most. Most. Delicious entanglement. I have no reservations- and I am a stranger to this, this unified, sense of. Yes. It is quite wonderful to be this sort of stranger.


L. called me again, some weeks ago. This ancient friend stolen by a Harpy, estranged by contagious madness- he told me some years ago that she doesn't let him read(because when reading his attention would not be on her), that he hides in the bathroom pretending to shit, gradually completing a novel or technical manual after weeks of strained grunting, after reams of toilet paper and deceitful flushes. He used to call and go on about her madness, jealousy, abuse and I would listen and tell him to leave her, that he was betraying himself by staying- because he was a good friend and I am all too honest to those- and he would vacillate and rationalize, L. is one of those tragically intelligent men whose capacity for mental acrobatics invariably works against him, works in service to his baser natures instead of against them. I could always hear the hunger in his voice. For connection. For even a few brief moments of a real conversation.

But, they had a baby, and, you know. Doesn't that just make it all worthwhile.
God, what a terrible fate. I understand it, see- previous children from previous toxic relationship, not living up to ones responsibilities, guilt, shame, societal pressure no matter how immune you think you are, no matter how far above it all- and doesn't that remind one, shame, the psychic weight pressing face back to mud, oh the emperor is not just naked, no, he's covered in shit- guilt and shame, but! Then, the new. The opportunity. To redeem. I understand. I'm not familiar with those specifics, but that shell game is a classic.

(not only are we not unique in our amazing strengths, dear readers- I think at our bests we recognize that... our arrogance is tempered by the understanding that the little mind tricks we play on the world are not somehow a gift only bestowed upon us, exclusively, but common, common! Common, mean, average gifts... This is easy, we can even revel a bit in our humility, can't we! No, that is easy, far easier- Not only are we not unique in our (perceived, imagined, boastful)strengths- but also in our intricate, painfully nuanced self deceptions... and this is a much harder pill! Don't we clutch our neuroticisms, our holy self flagellations, so much tighter than our delusions of grandeur! It is trivial to convince the King to give up his crown. What a burden anyway, greatness. But try taking the hair shirt from a penitent and you have a real fight on your hands.)

L. calls less, now- I think because of my relative proximity these recent years. Before, I was a thousand miles away. A voice, tenuous, ephemeral. Now? I am a half hour drive. There is no rational reason not to establish contact, friendship, time. Like the good old days. But the irrational reasons. Oh, the irrational reasons- madness is heavy, isn't it. Dense. Squeezing reason juice through narrow and convoluted pathways- our conversations are short, and usually the same. Pleasantries. Vague notions of plans, some weekend- I always ask, 'Is it OK for me to call you, now," and he always replies '...,' I imagine him furtively glancing around, probably outside pretending to walk the dog, pretending to go to the store to pick up... spoons, or plastic wrap, or lawn gnomes, 'N.. no that's probably not a good idea, heh...' forced laugh because really, what can you do but laugh.

I will move, next month, and not see this person who shaped and was shaped. This shared past. We walked all over this City, explored some of its darker corners, saw some of its blood. Some of its flashing knives in alleys. Some of its evolution. We talked nights away, rattling philosophical doors- and what magical realizations we were sure lurked back there if we could just get them open, just reason together hard enough, long enough, subtly enough- such energy, such vibrant striving, that enthusiasm only available to bright young things, bright young ignorant beautiful things-

Layers. Geological. I lost a medallion- must have been ten years old. Around there. It was one of those bits of cheap shiny from a carnival, a chit, inscribed with what seemed arcane script. I lost it in the yard one summer, I don't know, throwing it and retrieving it, throwing and retrieving, throwing and... gone. I spent the rest of the summer, into fall, up to first snow looking for it. Not, panicked or overly concerned but, curious. Always had a methodical sort of... fascination. Meditative acts, even as a child. The yard was big, maybe three basketball courts and I would slowly walk along one edge, sifting through grass, pressing fingers into dirt. Turning at the corner and going back as if mowing, that same pattern, but slower, careful, searching. Imagine the neighbors watching me through narrow gap in curtains, oh he's at it again...

Many adults thought I was a strange child- teen/early teen years, before I learned the value of silence and subtlety. I don't blame them. I think I was fourteen and brimming with bright ignorance when the then current girlfriend of my father's, in response to some smartass comment,
"You're too young to be so cynical," and me all smiling sweetly,
"You're too old to be so naive."
I think, in retrospect, this was justified and not just(just) another teenage one-upper. Given what I had witnessed, been subject to- Watching adults, for my entire life, behave badly while insisting on their authority- been subject to outright injustice, to witness the psychodrama of divorce, emotional abuse, manipulation, multiple times... to witness all that- but not just- to understand. Somehow. One of those gifts I mentioned earlier. I was always able to systemize- that is, observe and thought-experiment and real-experiment and observe and figure things out. Figure people out. I learned, very early, about the relationship between vulnerability and aggression- That, often, the reason adults became angry and mean was because they were afraid.

I remember one night, one of the Boyfriends- and not a bad one, really, none of them were, compared to... but still, wrapped up in the same dominance games and intricate social webs spinning us all from injustice to injustice- This was, well- People, parental types, and men especially in this particular way, are often under pressure to be the law-givers, the rule-makers, the codifiers- and often don't live up to it, in their own minds especially. Lax enforcement, then. Then, sudden and inexplicable harshness- strict rules about absurd things appearing from nowhere. Months of nothing, then, arbitrarily, TV must be off by nine. All shoes lined up in hallway. If you forget to turn a light off you have extra chores. And uncompromising(again, this exchange- guilt for not doing it right, redemption through overcompensation, watch, I swear, you'll see this shell game everywhere).

But this one night, this one Rule- I don't remember it, in particular. Say it was, 'no whistling.' And someone whistled a tune, along with some commercial for... wheaties, yes, wheaties. It's seven o'clock, dark living room blue TV light splashed on faces. The stained glass cabinet Mother made herself, working in the basement with cutter, little hammer, solder... Cinnamon smell. I'm laying on the couch, trailing my fingers back and forth, back and forth, back and forth skimming the carpet(because it feels strange if you do it enough, they go numb, start to tingle, repeated stimulus resulting in familiarity, further, further until brain tunes it out, accepts it as background noise, then! Then you stop and the absence of feeling becomes a feeling itself!) He sits on That Recliner and passes judgement. You must go to bed for breaking the rules. My brother, or sister, I don't remember, argues, but he is adamant and... I am struck, instantly, by the injustice of it- That because this man was afraid, in his convoluted way, that we would be punished so arbitrarily, with such unyielding absurdity, that we would suffer for his stupidity, for his inability to apprehend himself-

And it welled, oh it welled. I sat up straight. The transgressor marched sullenly off to their room. Now, of course, there was more going on here- weeks of arguments, seeing my mother cry, being subject to this again, oh god not again, witnessing, again. But it welled, then, at that moment, and I sat up straight. Turned toward him, his profile, half shadow half blue-TV glowing. I stopped breathing. Blood pounding, filling my face, eyes, forehead, veins bulging, I could feel them bulging, pulsating. My lips peeled back, teeth bared and I snarled in such ferocious silence, hands spasmed to claws, still unbreathing, throat pressure, snarl becomes scream but soundless- a terrible pushing towards, shrieking madness projected, through that blue-black room, through those few silent feet. Long seconds, vast plains of seconds, endless seconds- and he doesn't turn. He sees, he must see, he can't help but see, sense, this animal, this bloody whirlwind, this murderer, mere feet away... He doesn't turn. He pretends, pretends so hard- Like me-

Like me- at night. Alone. Certain that. That shadow in. The corner. Is real. And coming for me. And there is nothing, nothing, nothing I can do except pretend. That I don't see it.

And to be- that thing, that terrible thing, to someone else- Was a revelation. A momentary satisfaction at being feared, followed by a deeper horror at myself, at the future, at the yawning pit stretching before me, before everyone- Causality. Circles. Stimulus and response. How we shape each other. Feedback loops. That feeling, that mad feeling from when I was in fifth grade and had those strange seizures- exponential doom- from parent to child, forever, forever, invisible chains, chains to build a world on, hidden in plain sight, holding the world in place.


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August 2017

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