I have too much power. I have, on more than one occasion, written about a character years before I came into contact with his or her real life counterpart. Not that the real version was exactly the same as the fictional one, and not that I think I somehow birthed these people into existence. But it’s happened. You can see how that might mess with a girl’s head. You can see how I might start to wonder and worry about my powers of projection.
I have too much power, and yet, I also have none at all. I’ve always been an independent person, but when I think about it, I realize that most of my decisions are made for me: you will no longer live here, be this, do that. Circumstances pirouette around me, and I’m made to run after them, grasping at tutus and toe shoes that will never be in my hands. How is a person supposed to respond to a life like this? Well, if she’s a writer, she writes it out. There’s nothing else for it.
When I first started to write, I was a teenager, and I’d get so absorbed in my imaginary tales that I’d often mistake them for reality. Or maybe, I let them become my reality. Or maybe, the reality I created on the page was more appealing than the one I was living in–and by “appealing,” I don’t always (and typically do not) mean happier. Perhaps “interesting” is a better word than “appealing.” Happy things, after all, are rarely interesting. I’ve long known it was my lot in life to write about the bruised underbelly of existence, rather than its shimmering fur coat.
But where, some have asked, do these dark stories come from, ye middle class suburban princess? To that, I must answer in the form of confession: writers are hoarders and thieves. We take people’s stories and use them to our advantage. We are also magicians and contortionists. We seize reality and bend it, expand it, project it. Who’s to say whose story this is? Did this really happen, or did I just think it might? Or did I simply wonder if it could? Thomas Berger says, “Why do writers write? Because it isn’t there.” I write it, and then it’s there. As I said, I have too much power, and yet, all I do is put words on a page. In that respect, as I also said, I have no power at all.
When it’s over, he’ll still sit around his greenhouse-like apartment, eating bowls of sprouts and sipping herbal tea, and she’ll still run lap after lap through the city of concrete and cement, even when the streets turn to rivers, the sidewalks into lakes. But he’ll stop training for the half-marathon, and she’ll go back to baking double batches of triple chocolate brownies. The first pan, she’ll consume whole in a single sitting, purely out of spite.
She will tell herself a conjoined life cannot be founded on a mutual love of Rilke and crunchy peanut butter.
He wants to take them backwards–from spouses to lovers to misfits to friends to strangers who know nothing of one another, not even their names. But they can never hit rewind, not after fast-forwarding into headier realms. You can’t call back the ocean from the shore. The only thing to do is hold your breath and wait for the night to reclaim the water.
He once told her he was the opposite of Midas–all the gold he touched turned to ash.
Maybe because she spent her whole life in his absence, the breaking of their binding didn’t come as such a shock. The wrench of muscle from sinew, nail from twine, less a violation of nature and more of a release that needed to happen before something deeper could be knit and formed.
She only idly wonders why nothing is ever her decision, the way she wonders who invented daylight savings, the way she wonders how the sun continues rising, even when the day sinks its talons into the flesh of yellow orb and tries with all its might to drag the light back down.
He will take his dog for long walks in the storms, and she will avoid all the routes they traced together, not knowing that he’s doing the same. Those streets will go untread for days and days, the leaves unmarred by footprints, the puddles stagnant but for the rain that’s unrelenting, that grows them hour after hour.
Complete. Origin: late Middle English. From Old French complet or Latin completus, “fill up, finish, fulfill.” Verb [trans. ] 1. finish making or doing 2. make (something) whole or perfect. Their fatal flaw: believing they could reside within these definitions, where no human beings are meant to abide.
She will try to convince herself he was a vestigial organ. Surely, his presence was a tonsil, an appendix. Not a liver or a spleen, and no, no, not a heart. Never a heart.
We are not stitched to our lovers by roses and ribbon–we are fastened to their sides with thorns and gnarled twine. Of course, there will be cutting. Of course, the deep tissue is going to bruise.
She’ll burn her tongue and hands drinking coffee from an aluminum bottle meant only to carry water. She’ll waste full days staring out the window and watching the wind. She’ll no longer even idly wonder why nothing is ever her decision.
So she can eat, so he can sleep, so her towels are washed, so his floors are swept, so what? How much does the minutiae of a solitary existence matter, in the end?
Oh, there it is–the breath that won’t come. No air in the lungs, not a thought in her head except what’s undone. How is it only ten a.m.? The mornings pull through the hours like slow tide.
Every telephone pole she passes will be covered in staples and nails, remnants from a thousand garage sales and posters for missing pets. She’ll press her palms to the rusted mess of them, just to make sure she can bleed.
He will hate the red roses he let turn to black, their petals falling like dead feathers onto his spotless, dirtless floors. She’ll hate this broken world they’re made to writhe around in, the way she can’t shake the feeling of his skin. But no matter if she screams or whispers, speaks in sweet or savory tones, high or low, fast or slow, he won’t hear. Every last word will drop on deaf ears.
And he will love his wounds, will lick them raw, will waste whole days staring into the seeping mess of them. He’ll pick the scabs with dirty nails, just to prove he still bleeds.
He never asked her for anything, and that was precisely the problem.
Maybe she doesn’t want to be wrapped in his band aids.
She won’t tell him how she trained herself to break into his apartment. She’ll climb the fire escape and lift the window at the screen, slip onto the sill, avoiding all the plants. She’ll stand above him, sleeping soundly, the dog curled to his side, and in her head, she’ll tell him, I will scream you out of me. But each time she opens her mouth, nothing happens. Each night, she slinks back from where she came. Each night, a long walk home in so much rain.
When it’s over, she’ll go to Vienna, Tibet, Rome, and Grenoble, and he’ll stay right where he is. Or maybe not. But no matter where either of them goes, there they’ll be, and no change of altitude, distance, or climate will make more apparent what has flushed the sky like lightning. Ah, but it’s night. Alone, now they sleep, and closed eyes cannot see.