You think too much. That’s one line I hear all the time. I just naturally assume we all ask ourselves the same questions. Apparently not everyone does, and not everyone asks them out loud.
I have a friend who has trouble sleeping at night. I guess the reasons why, but he goes quiet. His silence can mean one of two things: Either what I say resonates with such realness he’s now speechless *or* he just likes to keep quiet when what he hears sounds a lot like bullshit. Even if it makes sense, it doesn’t mean he wants to hear it. The stories people love the most have happy endings…because of the hope in them, not because they’re true.
My friend Johnnie is in love with my other friend Jaime. Because of her thin face and big eyes. Because she’s built like a barbie. During lunch, Johnnie says he has a tough time being around her too long. He doesn’t understand why they end up fighting after fifteen minutes. “Why are women so difficult???” he asks me.
“Because once a person becomes something real, you fight to keep up with the fantasy instead of accept whom they are.
“Beauty is not truth,” I tell him. “And the truth often isn’t beautiful. Truth just helps you cope.” I tell myself
At 1am in a bar, while Jaime flirts with the bartender, I Shazam a song I haven’t heard in 10 years. “Holy Shit, I’ve been waiting forever for this!” I tell Jaime, whose mouth is now inside the bartender’s mouth.
I never have to dream about finding the things that have changed my life. Technology has taken care of that. I look up lyrics on a search engine and read them out loud like a poem.
It doesn’t work the same way with people though. People are the exception. And I’m not talking about email or Facebook. You can’t Google the yet-to-be love of your life. Tell me where the Send button is to transmit my true intentions into your soul? Or where I can click “Save” in the part of your brain that will preserve the meaningful moments between us always?
If it’s bad to think too much then the mind must be a dangerous place to spend too much time in. What a joke.
At 3am, I call my friend over, the one who never sleeps, ask him to spend the night. “It’s the morning already,” he tells me. So I ask if he’ll start the day with me instead.
“Give me 15 minutes,” he says, and I hear him in bed, wrestling to get the covers off.
I open the take-out containers of Chinese I just ordered on dontworryabouttakingbettercareofyourself.com, unwrap a fortune cookie.
“Being alone is not the same as being lonely.
Loneliness can be present in company.”
I turn the message over and disagree with all the lucky numbers.
You were the best rock thrower I ever met. The best reader of The Catcher in the Rye. The best maker of Nutella and raspberry jam pancakes. The best dreamer.
Those summer afternoons in Cedar Point shiver like a mirage outside the windshield on my drive home. Sometimes I step on the brakes, fearful of driving towards those youthful days, terrified of saying goodbye all over again as the moments travel along then behind me, streaming farther and farther away.
Pictures of us working behind the counter at Morrison’s Parlour, walking home near swamps with weeds taller than the both of us combined, come to me so vividly at times I swear I could turn the corner, tag your shoulder, and hear you shout “NOT IT” as your arm reaches for my waist, pulling us both into the cold, still water. Other times, you feel so far away, made up. Like an angel that may or may not have been human once. Who could have been a figment of my imagination, or something sent straight from God.
After knowing you, I didn’t mind that my parents were divorced, that my father’s long distance move to Georgia meant I’d only see him for 2 months out of the year. I spent the entire school year waiting for summer. I rehearsed the first thing I would say to you, what I would wear, what we would do. Our houses were twins that stood shoulder to shoulder and at night, I’d open the window to hear frogs and the low buzz of slow music from your radio. Some mornings I’d wake to find you in our kitchen, making breakfast with an elated half smile that melted those long seasons which gave me so many reasons to miss you.
You called me Matches because of my long skinny legs. Other times you called me Spider. You said you imagined me crawling through the brush in the forest, vertically descending the walls of your room. It wasn’t until much later when you admitted to thinking of me in other places…curled under your bedsheets, between the open buttons of your shirt, wrapped around your waist like a lasso.
The last week was always the worst. We said little but tried to pack in so much. We rode the ferris wheel every day at sunset. Enjoyed the wild breeze that felt like all those summer days coming back, departing. When we stopped dead center at the highest point your nervous fingers always inched towards mine but you were too afraid to do anything, saying instead, to kill the silence, “I bet you don’t have sights like this back home.” I looked dead center into the dreamy blacks of your eyes and told you, “This is home,” and inched closer, waiting for the thing that never happened.
Those summers were hotter than hell and we spent most days near naked doing next to nothing. There were no deadlines, unlike now, no hurries. Just the gift of time to kill. And we did, together, in every place we left behind. On our last night we stripped down to our underwear, jumped into the Crescent River, and swam towards shallow spots where the stars shone on the surface. You cupped your hands and slowly poured water over my neck and hair, brushed it away from my eyes, said “There, there” noticing saltwater tears dropping into the black around us. You took my hands and put them on your shoulders, pulled me in, told me if I ever thought of you to close my eyes real tight and, as all space between us disappeared, just float.
Junior Santiago squashes weeds underneath his sandals. His sweet potatoes and lilies are being invaded by ugly green. “Don’t do that!” Magda yells from the kitchen window, “It’s like shaving. They’ll just grow back thicker.” Junior squints, his big eyes becoming slits, his tanned body lost in the brown mountains and brown earth all around him. He tries to see Magda’s face under the glare, finds her features, stares back, and stomps another one. “Pendejos, I tell you. They’re like roaches. If you don’t get them now, they’ll come back later with friends.”
Magda laughs and though Junior can’t hear her, he knows in this moment she is happy.
Junior Santiago was born Jacques Junior Santiago. It should have been Jaques Guerin Jr but he was born with a flame of thick red hair and eyes the color of cocoa beans. “I’ll be damned if that’s my son!” said Jaques Guerin Sr, looking at little Junior in his mothers arms. “All the Guerin men have green eyes and the dark wavy hair of a saint. I don’t know this child.”
Junior’s mother Magda named him after his father, her first and only lover. Every Wednesday and Sunday evening for the first two years of her son’s life she walked the dirt Caribbean road to Jacques Sr’s tiny house, peered at him through windows, watched him sip chartreuse, strum a guitar, or drowse in a hammock in the backyard. Sometimes a woman was in there, hearing tired pick-up lines fed with an indifferent delivery, feigned through a sleepy smile. The naive ones always wanted to be with him forever but Magda would wait until 11, always 11, because Jacques would never start and finish the day with the same woman. Not again. “It’s bad luck,” he once told her, “any more than a few hours together and you might as well be married.”
Like clockwork she’d come over, knock, make a seat for herself on his front steps, wait, hum, knit baby clothes, write unrequited love letters. Before leaving, she’d pick a leaf from his flamboyan tree, mark it with the age of their son, and slip it under the door. “Let him not forget” she said out loud, writing down, 1 month, then 2 months, then 3, and so on, on those blood red leaves, “how long it’s been. That he left us both behind to bleed!” But after 2 years she gave up, put a string of rocks along every window. A memorial service for the love that, by then, had left them both. She explained that children begin to remember things around her son’s age and she’d be damned if Jacques Junior’s first memory was going to be of his mother’s long walks of foolishness or his father’s refusal.
In the beginning Jacques Guerin was different with her. Calm. Unaffected. Sincere. He was known for being a high-strung womanizer, moving fast, devouring quickly. Never looking back. With his looks he could and did have every woman he wanted. There was something to him though that made his gallivanting seem insincere, as if his pursuits were to prove something of his worth, instead of for the pleasure of being with them. Magda was the only one who sensed it and, recklessly, forgave it.
She once worked at a small food shack where the scent of cafe and pernil ribboned through the avenues and houses. Charmed by her half smile, the delicate way she moved, and her full hair the color of midnight, he started coming in every day near closing, sat at the counter facing outside, ordered tea, pretended to read a book which had a mirror pressed between the pages so he could sometimes watch her without her knowing.
Seeing no possibility of someone like him being interested in someone like her, she let her guard down, created small talk that turned into intimate conversations that went well into the evening. He’d talk to her between customers, hang around after closing, walk her home, bring her gifts and, as months passed, they’d spend nights together, laughing, sharing old stories, sharing parts of each other that were unfamiliar to anyone else. As she fell asleep curled inside his arms, Jacques would describe Paris and Marseille, and all those famous cities that were just spots on a map he couldn’t place any more.
In his most honest moments he’d speak to her in French, his native language, said something about her reminded him of a different time back home, how seeing her made him reconnect with a lost part of himself, put life back into his future.
“Why are you here,” she asked him in Spanish, and in his mind swam thoughts of his own father who had fallen in love with a Latin woman and followed her back to her old life, leaving behind everything of his own in France. He was 4 at the time and the first and last thing he could remember about the old man was his advice on how not to grow up, not to have kids, and how pointless it would be to miss him.
“Why not be here,” he said in French, “When I found the very thing I didn’t know I needed, right here in this little place with you.”
A year passed that way, then 9 months. The closer they became, the more he withdrew. As her belly grew, he became a different person, pretended not to know her, told her how pointless it was. Sometimes he wanted to break her open and take back all his secrets. Eventually, he said just to forget him. “You couldn’t think I was serious, Magda? I’m a Guerin for god’s sakes!”
The years passed without bringing them together by chance, though Magda thought about it all the time. As Junior learned how to walk, said his first words, scored his first goal, wrote his first letters, fell in love for the first time, she pictured Jacques with them, giving their son the other half of love she tried to fill all on her own. Junior’s red flaming hair tamed into a mop of thick dark waves. The dark brown eyes grew lighter and were green in the center. His skin during cooler months was so pale it had that color of snow she had only seen in pictures and, of course, on him.
Shortly after Junior’s 20th birthday Magda received a package. The next day she spent all day travellng to town hall, saw different lawyers the last of which gave her some paperwork and another package. The second one was smaller than the first. When Magda got home she saw Junior in the backyard, planting fresh flowers, picking a few sweet potatoes, pulling at weeds. She yelled, “Come walk with me,” from a kitchen window and they strolled side by side down a dirt road. Junior had grown so tall, had his lean frame,his soft poetic smile. There Jacques was all over again in the face he never looked into. It was late in the evening and they stopped at a little house where rocks still lined all the windows. She told him about the French man, the shack, the years waiting on those very steps. As she said this, a hammock rocked empty in the backyard. A tiny note from a lonely guitar was plucked by invisible hands. “Go ahead, this is now your house. His first and last gift to you. I am sorry you never got to see him while he still lived here.” And finally, “While he was still living.”
Junior opened the door and smelled sorrel and dandelions and despair. Magda watched Junior walk inside, became flush with years of fantasy she had pictured taking place within those walls. There was a familiar rocking chair in the front room where Jacques had once rubbed her pregnant belly, fumbled absently with names for their future child. Vases full of dried flamboyan leaves lined two shelves and an invisible crimson pain covered the surface of everything. Junior turned around and looked at his mother who waited by the front door, pictured her at his age, wondered how anyone could leave her. Or him. Wondered how hope could be a traitor to them both.
He took her shoulder, brought her inside where they quickly went through the few rooms. Jacques left behind some furniture and no answers. In the backyard they watched the hammock sway all by itself in the breeze, where the sound of rope against bark creaked a light phrase all night long that they both needed to hear …Je suis désolé, Je suis désolé, Je suis désolé, Je suis désolé, Je suis désolé, Je suis désolé Je suis désolé, Je suis désolé, Je suis désolé, Je suis désolé, Je suis désolé, Je suis désolé
Serge tells you he is going to learn how to build things. Picture it, a house in the suburbs, a wrap-around porch, a deck. A friend has promised him a job in construction. He will start off small, learning how to use hammers and nails, put up walls, then doors, then roofs. Then he will make things to fill every room: cabinets, furniture. Eventually there will be an entire house built by his own two hands. It will embody everything that has and will exist between the two of you, the good times, the strength, the tenderness, the misery even, the mistakes. But what will overcome the errs of both your humanness, he writes, what will hold that house up high, is love. “And I have so much of it to build with, moya lyubov, it will hold us both forever.”
It is 75 degrees and you are seated in the sunlight at a little table at the corner cafe. You sip black coffee slowly. Add some sugar. Drink cream straight from a separate cup, lick your lips, remember. You fold his letter, bring one of the corners up to your mouth, finger the edges of the paper foreboding of steel against your skin. You take another look at his photograph still in the envelope, take it out. He is looking better than before, smiling even, seated in the prison courtyard. You pretend not to notice how strong and solid his arms are or how tightly his shirt hugs his shoulders, drapes over his lean, narrow waist. You pretend the flush on your face isn’t from wanting to be the first fruit he tastes after all those years locked away.
You could have visited, could have given him that touch he said would have made all the difference. But you won’t. Instead, every time you miss him, you call his brother or his best friend. You invite them over to your place to talk about him, recite some of your favorite stories, speaking only in past tense, as if he no longer existed, as if there were no chance of him getting out.
Weekday evenings are the worst. You feel every minute of every day. It never gets easier. When it is most unbearable you count the seconds and sometimes the moments between each second. When you can no longer stand it, you call one of them over, beg them to come by though it takes little convincing. You spray Serge’s favorite perfume on your bed sheets, put up your hair, wear tops that show off your neck and shoulders, revealing the invisible spots where he last left his mark on you, silently beg the others to erase them with fresh mistakes.
The doorbell rings and you take one step forward and an infinite number back into the memory of Serge’s frame within that doorway, his long legs and lashes taking you in, saying hello, saying letting go was not something he was going to allow. But he did didn’t he, standing before the judge, following a future that didn’t have room for you, that you weren’t going to wait for.
7 years going on 8 but you wake up and it’s like day one. If one of them spent the night, you’ll make him breakfast then send him on his way. Then you get in a few good tears before work. Coming home, you pull out a picture from the box you keep in that narrow closet, full of the things you care little for but aren’t quite ready to throw out. While Serge lies in his 6x8, you stare into that 4”x6,” arrested with his memory. You sit with his old picture at the dining table, tape it to the mirror as you get ready for bed, place it on the pillow next to yours. You reminisce about all his promises when there was still life and hope in them. Now you have the toxic taste of his broken potential. The reminders of how he never listened to you. How he said a man has to stand by his own convictions, even as the jury was ready to put him away. He, taking a bullet and a prison sentence for someone else who away walked guilty, but free.
You sit at the cafe, waiting for the sun to go down, wait for one of the boys to show up. It never matters which. You like it better when it’s black outside. It’s easier to remember Serge’s face, feel his hard, hungry touch when the world can’t be seen and the only sound is a shared longing sitting next to you, bringing you back to him.
You are standing by the window in your bra and panties and he is late.
Mia yells at you through the cordless phone, beeping, the battery about to die. She tells you to put some clothes on.
“Don’t make it easy for him!”, but you don’t care.
You stayed up late last night watching a documentary about monkeys, the animals most similar to human beings. Researchers spent months observing them, watching through lenses, taking notes, getting within range to see their bellies fill as they inhaled but never got near enough to be noticed.
“Just like you, Dummy, off chasing some ape who scratches himself, then runs when you try to get close.”
You look at the flashing red light on the phone, wait for it to go black.
“I have to charge the phone, Mia”
“Alright. But you’re better off letting it die. Better the phone die than you, waiting for him.”
An hour passes, then another. You go to the window, watch the sunset. You wanted to do that with him. He told you he never saw an actual sun set before, never noticed the sky turn pink before. Never noticed the landscape turn into a silhouette before. Never made a wish on a new moon before. So you asked him to walk with you along the river, the one between the two famous bridges, the one that overlooked those old factories whose lights blinked like stars over the projects at night.
Another hour passes and you light the candles you had reserved for another occasion. You open the bottle of wine, the first you would start and finish all by yourself. The river ripples have gone from brown to black, blotched with reflections from the industrial florescence. At 10 you put the meal you made away, clear off the counter, wash all the dishes. You put on the pair of small shorts you study and sleep in, turned off the sin vergüenza AC, open a window, let the river breeze tease the curtains, fluttering like your long hair. You put on a Dallas Cowboys tshirt, that gift from an uncle who said you were too pretty for tears in a letter he wrote you from jail.
Then you try to sleep. Still awake at midnight, you hear the phone ring. It’s him, who coyly asks how’s it going. What have you been up to?
And you want to scream, but you are too tired. Want to tell him off, but you are too hurt.
“Nothing much,” you say instead, and press your ear closer to the phone, hoping to hear him breathe.