ONLY AN INSECT IN HOW SHE MAKES YOU FEEL
A warning, impersonating a thesis, impersonating apologia: This one-story-in-three begins generically, in the sense that it practically demands a twist. What I’ll give it will be something else entirely, and won’t be so easily captured by a metaphor from three-dimensional space.
I developed a suspicion upon first meeting her that there would be a sense of complicity between us, extrapolating this from some small details of her posture or her hygiene, not really bothering to parse out exactly what it was.
My first thought, regrettably, was that she might be a writer, or otherwise writerly. I’m glad that this ended up being dead wrong, although I would love to unleash her on the right lit mag. I really believe that if a few things had gone differently in her life she could have wound up as New Sincerity’s exterminating angel. But lately I’m trying to be more interested in what is than what might have been.
Anyway, I do feel that complicity now, but it’s entirely asymmetrical, even unrequited, just because of how obviously she doesn’t think in those terms. She thinks in community, and the way she thinks has in fact turned out to be exactly what I find to be so essential about her.
Her friendliness itself rings imperative. She will get to know you. She will tell you things about her life. She will tell you things about her worldview through the kinds of questions she asks.
Everyone does this, sure, but nobody I’ve met does it like she does — constant, feeling totalizing even, or especially, when it’s most obviously not. Her frameworks often feel so fleshed out that it’s hard for me to imagine where she could go next, but she clearly doesn’t share this predicament, spinning out inquisitions like fugue subjects. She never repeats herself exactly, I’ve noticed, and each apparently redundant question ends up opening into a new, entirely unexplored chamber — I can’t tell if I’m passing through a familiar room in a different direction or if there’s some underlying practical reason why a few would be laid out the same way. The effect is the same, anyway. I’ve stopped trying to get a word in edgewise, except when expected to speak, more just to see where she goes on her own than because trying to do so would be futile.
It may also be the case that it would be futile, but no more than letting my thoughts try to share common ground with hers.
Her questions itch like a pop hook, like cigarettes, like Facebook notifications. She in fact seems to be earnestly trying to live out the boldest implied promise (or threat) of Facebook — that rather than pop-psychology’s “combination of the 5 people you spend the most time with”, you could be the lowest common denominator of the n people you spend any amount of time with, ever — in the analog world.
Under her tongue, every tediously morbid standard of heterosexuality would become, matter-of-factly, just another appendage that she imagines we all possess. She’s always asking to hold one of yours, like a second-grader who only vaguely understands that they’ve been instructed to do so to keep from getting lost.
This is what I imagine some people think I should most appreciate about her: that while the majority of people in my life have assumed I’ll relate to these things because they assume just about everybody will, she’s the only one who persists in believing that despite the evidence to the contrary that always ends up showing itself. Maybe eventually I’ll becomes the type to value this, but in the short term it tends to irk me, actually. Despite my curiosity, it’s too close to my own defense mechanisms not to set them haywire every once in a while, so I much prefer it when she’s focusing her efforts on others. When this happens, this proximity is actually a big part of what fascinates me about her technique.
See, this is how I see myself observing her: like a fifties housewife hearing that the misogynistically marketed bleach she uses to clean around the house was just repurposed elsewhere for a killing spree, unable to keep from cynically smiling both because and in spite of the way this act underscores the distance between her and the criminal.
In the heat of a work day it can be hard to maintain this conceptual perspective, but when I’m not being ungenerous (or, in a move that always confuses me, jealous), I’m awed by how she overdoes the customer service experience, gives everyone far more nodes for connection than they remembered they could have here. Meanwhile, pathetically, my gaze is scrambling, looking for a tactical angle to enter the customers from in order to make them collapse inside my mind, leaving behind what is equivalent to video game loot in that it’s ultimately just data.
IMPENDING LIKE DOROTHY ON THE AIRPLANE
I clocked out, relieved to be getting off early given how shitty I felt both mentally and physically. I noticed that I wasn’t even regretting the loss of hours since I legitimately didn’t need them for the first time in weeks. My coworker, who I had been absentmindedly sketching a poem about over the last few days, happened to be working near the computer that was printing me a receipt for the day’s hours. She tried to strike up a conversation, asking if I was going to hang out with my girlfriend after I left.
I did miss when we used to talk more, so there was a kind of heaviness to how immediately I felt unsure where this conversation could possibly go, feeling like it was silly to reciprocate the question when I knew she lived with her boyfriend, and anyway not feeling like I wanted to.
I dully reported the objective fact that I’d be hanging out with my girlfriend “later” (quickly deciding not to add the detail of the film screening she’d be busy with in the meantime), aware that I had probably come off as curt, if not untrue, aware that I was well in my rights to be headed for the door as quickly as I was, aware that I myself would be ashamed if I caught myself expecting anything more from a coworker who had already clocked out…
I’d estimate that I regret 70-90% of the things I do on most days, my lifetime total of regrettable actions also falling in that same range, probably, even if there have been observable ebbs and flows. Maybe higher than average, but of course everyone deals with regrets. Where I like to think I’ve made some progress is in picking out which regrets are going to stick with me in a way that motivates me to change in the future. I can’t really say how often I’m correct, since I still have a lot of future to prove my intuitions right, but I know that this was one of those times.
In the blur of the drive home, I heard a few of my favorite hip-hop songs on the radio. I took one turn off the highway a little too quickly, but not so quickly that anything out of the ordinary happened. I felt relatively alive.
At home I was surprisingly efficient — checking socials but not mindlessly scrolling, making a meal that actually made my body feel better rather than worse, getting quickly to my latest gnOme releases, and having them affect me in precisely the way I always hope poetry will, however rarely that happens — the odds and ends that had piled up in my room becoming more vivid, the guitar amp that was now essentially a shelf reminding me of my power to unleash electric noise, the filing cabinet to its side a kind of external storage organ of mine, albeit a worryingly clogged one. Basically, I became a nominalist about the things that tended to register collectively as a “mess”.
Empirically, I could tell my impressions were meaningful because I had to stop a few times in each of the three hours I did this, trying to suck dry every bit of meaning I could, finding it to be an exhaustible resource as I noticed, in real time, my reading reverting to the mere intake of words. I debated whether cannabis could help me out, realizing I hadn’t smoked it for at least two months, and on some level (excitedly) admitting to myself long before I officially made the decision that I was going to do so. It helped nothing, the poems I consumed after it seemingly registering even less than the ones before. Eventually I resigned to a few shots of vodka and then a mental session cultivating the latest mental threads I had been masturbating to. I remember nothing between cumming and falling asleep.
Waking up in the middle of the night was nothing unusual. Even needing a moment to situate my sense of direction was precedented, if uncommon. But as vision set in I realized that the darkness in my room somehow held a blue tint approximating that of an iPhone backlight, and this would have been remarkable, if I had been in any position to wield language. Animalistic, I only felt revulsion towards such a logically wrong stimulus, and swiftly turned my head in the hopes of a change. I was granted one, my eyes locking on the lamp that I had in typical fashion left on, yet its light was hardly extending beyond its bulb, and its warm orange had been replaced with something adjacent to maroon. My head unthinkingly reoriented to its original position, once again escalating my anxiety by making my eyes land on her, crouched on the foot of my bed.
The way she appeared was more like a cue blip than a badly edited jump cut. That was an attempt to pay tribute to her early 20th century air — maybe it would be more accurate to say she appeared like the term “gif”, encircled, summoned to watch over a paused gif, more than she appeared like the inevitable reset of that gif. But this paints her as too common. Something in my brain registered “night terror”, yet she was wearing a smile that said “night terror” in the same way a netsavvy singer-songwriter might wear a shirt saying “big rock star” while playing to a room of eight to ten familiar supporters. You see how my prose stylings dissolve just trying to capture her? Her dress seemed leather, baroque, impressively severe, painfully yellow in its outline, illegibly black in itself, resolutely constituting a hole in the darkness even as this darkness lost its previous aspiration towards machinic blue. Her flesh was pale, inconsistent, hardly registered as skin. Her hair was ostensibly mauve, but I hardly trust my memory here. She began to explain her reason for appearing. I’m sure her mouth moved, but I was hardly watching it, the way I hardly watch a mouth in a subtitled film or anime.
She spoke calmly, the timbre of her voice resembling samples of breaking glass, and I was immediately sure that what she was saying was of the utmost importance: Apparently my recent (banal) remarks at a book club, or rather the shaky voice I had made them in, had marked me as a prime candidate for an in-person follow-up. This last phrase struck me as anachronistic, as would many other moments in our conversation (these even more fleeting, too fleeting to be recounted), as if she were constantly flashing me sides of herself that she wanted me to understand were to be read as if I wasn’t supposed to see them, even as it was obvious that I was. It was tempting to consolidate my description of these moments into calling them “flirtatious”, but to do so would be unjustifiably formalist. What it did share structurally with flirting was the sense that she was screening me, prepared to let me go if she caught some misrecognition, knowing that this would be for the best for both of us. Apparently I passed.
There was a brief moment when her treading into business vernacular left me surprised that she didn’t give a reason for wanting to make contact, but I managed to recontextualize the exchange in terms of a social media request, realizing it was relatively excessive to get even an explanation of why she had noticed me and not just a list of mutual acquaintances. The latter would eventually come up, and remain with me, even as the rest of our conversation was agonizingly ephemeral both in hindsight and, I’m almost certain of this, in the moment as well.
What am I left with?
First, the list of our mutuals — by her identification, her servants — one blonde, one remarkably tall, two committed to dressing in black, one who I had shared a giddy hookup with and whose book was still on my shelf, three who had helped or been helped by me financially, one who I had come closer to kissing than anyone I hadn’t kissed, one who wanted to wear denim more than he did, two who would never write the novels bouncing around in their heads, one who had passed me in the night, dashing kind words against my headphones, seven who had served me in retail, three in museums, one who read too much Deleuze and two who would benefit from reading more of him, one who resided on the West Coast now, one whose guitar playing would deeply affect me if only I would ever hear it…
Second, the absolute certainty of a forward motion in my life.
Third, the reassuring embrace she gave me before leaving, which I’m still crawling from, albeit grateful for.
And fourth (and this is the vaguest of them all), I am certain that at some point she touched some trinket on my shelves, which I had never considered the material of, but which I’ve now convinced myself was copper before she turned it to gold — this admittedly miraculous transformation not nearly as concerning as the way in which she managed to frame it, wink-like, as a hint to me, a hint that I finally had time to ponder once she had departed, finding myself far from an answer as I drifted back to sleep…
When I woke again, the room now flooded with sunlight, it was incredibly apparent not only that she had been referencing the Greek tale of King Midas (that this obvious answer evaded me is confounding), but also that her sly glance was implicating me for having some commonality with the mythic figure. In the lucidity of the new day, I could effortlessly see both what I shared with him and where we diverged. If what I had was akin to a Midas touch, it was certainly a distilled one, and one that hardly came effortlessly — but there was something alchemical in the way that every attempt I had made towards philosophy, or moralizing, or romance, or revolution had always revealed itself quickly to be attempts to wring these things dry, or dig them out, or cannibalize them until I shit out whatever poetry I could find in them — and there would always be poetry, although often not good poetry and, in my clearest break from the Phrygian King, poetry that never kept the full weight or form of its origin. For all of my gothic influences, the mangled corpses of my sources rarely became the corpse-as-poetry, too often were left as pure remainder, and much of it was thrown away, and much still resides in boxes in my room and pages in my diary — the sources of gravity I surround myself being always too much.
This could have gone on, I suppose, and I can imagine having felt satisfied forever with the empty pleasures I would have had as one of her lesser servants. But our relationship has changed. Now every time that I choose honesty by letting my poems begin and end in pretty, empty words, I become more vulnerable to the possibility of her smile crossing my face, and when it finally does so, I know I’ll find it affirming complicity with an apparent enemy – one who I’d imagine is at best peripheral at this point in my life – a complicity which I suspect I’ll never be able to retract.
If I felt central, it was mostly geometrically; and if it felt conceptual, this was a hindrance rather than an assertion or pretension. I really think I’m being honest here. As soon as I looked back at it I thought I recalled sitting on a stool in the middle of the fountain, but I can’t tell you a material fact about this, and even the act of sitting seems quickly revealed as an approximation. Was I made of stone? Hardly. But did I feel like some sort of decoration in the middle of the fountain? It’s my guess at this point (and beats the stool theorem, anyway).
The rest is noise: The first stream that hit me was water, or maybe more accurately, this stream felt like water on virtue of being first. The next was like piss, hard as that may be to believe, and the one after that like wine — as we get to something milky, another something else with the slowness of oil and another something with the tang of cranberry, they’ve already started to become merely impressionistic. They blended ever further, more intimately, the descriptions I’ve just given being the last distinct strands that I can recall. If the water had been clearly directed at me from an outside, the piss and wine had already seemed to sneak in through veins in my feet — the oil I’m sure I expelled from my own body before it returned to me. Like the liquids themselves, their methods of entering me and of leaving me to re-enter quickly became a blur, although I’m certain they maintained that basic distinction for some time after I lost track of it. Presumably they went on to lose it somewhere in the process.
At this point I’m facedown, at this point I’m having my first real doubts, trying to pull myself up to peek over the edge of the fountain — at this point someone else is approaching who is clearly a girl only in clearly feeling like me, in silhouette, as she takes my hand, as she leans in for more she destabilizes, becomes merely an instance of the overall motion, her lack of a solid self betraying my own. The shock of losing my body makes my mind immediately attempt to read me as one more than ever, but it can’t last, of course, with increasingly even distribution, the passionate rush of absolute solubility, and even brief phases of viscosity offering very little that could give any sense of a hand, a tongue, an eye. It quickly hits an ecstatic peak, every sense (their number variable now) responding in a kind of scream that reads as simultaneously no color and as every color combined in rapid medley, then something that, as my most distinct thought of the whole experience, reads as a laptop’s startup screen.
There’s no clear moment of re-congealment, I doubt the images from here on out are really assembled from any distinct parts in the way the liquids clearly were. What I first see is the girls, in handcuffs or summer dresses or jean jackets or a million other little signifiers, they’re in motion but I couldn’t tell you what they were doing and I doubt they could either, I can hardly focus on any individual anyway, and in every dimension they seem opaquely projected over visions I’m registering, more comprehensibly again, of the liquids, these not really defined apart from each other even if I can tell that I’m futilely trying to grasp them that way once again.
Then there’s, for once, a clean cut. Blank, and then butterflies landing on something that seems like a tree and a field and flower all at once, I feel I’m speaking as one or all of them when I describe it to myself as absolutely nurturing even though I’m watching them from a perspective disembodied, maybe feeling this way only for not wanting or needing to consider myself, like watching films as a child. Another cut, a feeling like someone’s whispering wordless intuitions into my brain, warning me that the butterflies are not to be mistaken with the girls or the liquids in any simple mapping, although their shared source material should be more obvious than it is.
I wake up and fear for a moment that I must be leaking or bleeding or urinating or stuck in some middle ground between them, or at the absolute least on the verge of being so, but the only things seeping from me are the finest details of how it all felt, and I rush to pin them, this sudden shift to the subtly violent language of entomology being a clear compensation, the only one given to me in exchange for the pain of solid edges, that loss…