Saturday, June 23, 2007

Absence (Los Angeles, 2007)

This was thefirstbirthdayhedidn'tcallme. He has called every birthday for ten years since we split up. Sometimes I didn't answer, but usually I did. He called me from the airport to say goodbye the first time he left. I was home alone just curled into a ball on the floor. For nights I dreamed of glass walls separating us, saw red crab claws tearing at flesh, woke to screams.

When he called me on our first anniversary date after we had separated, we both cried. We said goodbye too many times. For three years longer he would come back sometimes, and every time we’d eat rice and then we’d end up in each other’s arms and it’d be so comfortable and terrible to hold on like that. I still think howhowhow could he do that, but also with time understand why. And I had a chance to experience another life which I feared but which turned out to make me fearless and fulfilled.

He called a month before my birthday to say he would like to see me again just to see what my face looks like now. That we’d be shocked to see how each other looked after seven years. We talk like siblings, except certain turns of his voice still make me shudder, and he still tries to hear me say how much I miss him. I can feel how special I still am to him, as well as how little our relationship really mattered even though once we thought it did. We talk about growing older, his white hairs too numerous to pluck any more, how bald he's gotten, how important it is to be able to have good conversation with a partner. I don’t know this man at all, and I know him so well, even as we both grow and change with different people and in different latitudes. In parallel, with sundered lives, we grow old together.

I know the answer to the question of howlongwillittaketogetoverthis.

It was a good decision, I tell him.

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Thursday, June 21, 2007

Protection (Oakland, 2007)

It's my fortieth birthday and I wake up on the floor of a loft above a hundred giant stone Buddhas with hands folded in their laps. There are little scratching noises from behind the wall. Mice don't bother me.

The toilet only flushes with a bucket of water poured down it, and the bucket sits in the shower. There is no hot water, so I am quick to wash my face, armpits, and crotch. I am glad I am sharing my birthday with Buddhas that have crossed an ocean in a huge container. I can feel what they looked like all lined up at the shops on the way to the Ngurah Rai airport. The store floor is a labyrinth and navigating it requires turning and twisting and feeling with your feet and letting your eyes rest on the stone heads and the dark carved panels on the wall. You have to feel like you know where to put your feet, and just go.

We climb the steep steps. It is dark and I am a little scared to fall. Up there we forget the statues' presence. The bathroom floor is wet but the mattress is dry. I bought speakers for $9.99 at Walgreens so we plug in a CD player and a tiny red light burns through the darkness.

Songs of every genre, surprising and perfect, just keep playing.

We pretend to like each other's music until we just do. We prevent nothing, not the mice, not the songs we've never heard before, nothing. Nothing. The mice and the songs come and go and come. We can hear every scratch. We say yes and yes.

There are so many ways to be safe, I think. I can't imagine being safer than this, forty and my face in his hair, not knowing what will happen next. His hair smells good. There are shouts outside on the street. I don't hear them. I just listen and listen to his music until I like it, and I let it flow into me.