finding tears.

my supervisor tells me you get to choose again
and i have to go off camera so she won’t see
a grown man wipe his eyes, I
am telling this story just fine
until my friend interrupts me to say
you don’t have to keep saying ‘twice,’
and, puzzled, i ask what she means, she says
say ‘it was a mistake’ but you don’t
have to keep saying ‘twice’

on the night we gave up, i thought
i might find tears when i crossed the finish line home,
but no, just numbness and then relief,
found fury and indignation and
regret, my least favorite of these, in all
the rebuilding tomorrows, but
no tears

the only times i want to cry, am tempted
to buckle into myself, are the moments
i am offered grace, far
easier to regard myself with
brutal hands, stupid boy and your
stupid hopes, steel myself over
and keep going, ready to weather anything
but a single gentle touch, any
permission to confess the
tender, animal griefs within me

turning the page.

There’s a thrill to the blank page, if I can stomach it. Where a cursor blinks, on and off, I’m staring at no small infinity of directions things can go. Each time, my fingertips start off clumsy at the keyboard, dancing in hesitant mistrust of my mind’s wandering whims. But, oh, the chord that ripples through my spine when I unearth something true.

I’ve started over before. Making my story home is a matter of leaning into my absolutes, my constants. The hard part, I find each time, is figuring out how to let go of the variables. How do I wrench my palms apart long enough to set free the beautiful edges of my yesterdays?

Part of that is being honest about the edges that weren’t beautiful. The isolation, the emptiness, the cold. The morning I woke up so panicked and broken I wanted to beat my ribcage with my fists, punishment for bringing myself here. The eerie familiarity of waiting in line to be remembered. Not recognizing myself in the mirror. Not wanting to.

It’s not the story I wanted to tell, and – to be honest – I still don’t care to tell it. It’s not that interesting. Nobody, myself included, surprised anyone. Everybody met expectations.

Turning the page, beginning again, takes courageous abandon. It requires us to let go of things and people we loved, honest-to-God loved, and allowing them to belong to past chapters.

At one such juncture in my life, I found my mind to be deeply impatient with the stubbornness of my heart. I envisioned them, separate entities, arguing at a train station. The tracks were rusted, overgrown with ivy, and still the heart sat on the bench. “Come on, Heart,” the mind pleaded, voice gentle, “he won’t be coming back.”

This time feels familiar and different. My heart and mind are on the same page, grieving and looking forward alike. I suppose I have these days to thank for a few realizations: My mind is just as ruminative and stubborn as my heart. I have trouble believing the beautiful stories belong to yesterday. I can take my time to find my voice again.

Perhaps I’m more acquainted with the hard parts of myself. The bitterness and fury I feel in the face of rejection. The way my spirit houses warmth and grace right alongside sharp insights and expectations. I see you and I love you and I hoped for so much more from you. All the linguistic magic I use to paint beautiful worlds around somebody, now at my disposal to indict them, final speech delivered to some jury.

I have to love these parts of me, too. To acquaint with them is to understand them, and to love them is to talk them out of their cruelest inclinations. I am willing to stay with me; I have my own back.

Whatever comes next, I am relieved the story will not be the same. If I encounter loneliness, at least it will be new loneliness. These are thoughts that ring through me on the hollowest evenings.

A person I love is staring down his own blank page. Right now, all he can see is the loss of everything, grief rinsing everything away. I hate to know he is aching; I love to know he is beginning again.

A few years ago, I texted an ex’s friend to let her know I understood she needed to be there for him. That, to some degree, the knowledge she’d be there for him gave me permission to detach. She answered with words that I’ve carried since: Anybody who knows you knows you’re about to show us what it is to blossom through pain.

Blossoming is, in my experience, painful. Healing is an acknowledgment of wounds, a letting go of the things that wound us. But there’s beauty in every step.

I am writing and I am building and I am bruised and I am furious and I am regretful and I am wanting and I am letting everything go.

interruption.

It’s just past midnight, and I get the text. Can you? I exhale, breath colliding against the whirr of the fan. My cat watches, puzzled, as I climb right back down. An overnight bag: toothbrush and toothpaste, contact solution and lens case. My eyes aren’t ready for lenses just yet, so I squeeze my eyelids shut as they adjust.

I open them, red and purple toothbrushes coming into focus in the wastebasket below.

Outside the warmth is unseasonable. I stand in it, for a moment, feel my body adjust to the breaking of routines. It feels like college, this. Going outside into the night when we all know we’d be better served by bedtime. Here, in the wee hours, the rules seem to dissolve a bit.

Stories swell in the interruptions. We are never more present in our bodies than when we are surviving something.

I’m never the same kickball player two games in a row. On this afternoon, for reasons I don’t understand, I know exactly what I’m doing. A ball rockets into the sky, and I am bolting to meet its descent. When it thunks into my chest, I am not surprised, not even particularly elated. Later, bases loaded, I kick the ball right into an opening in the field, watching with a grin as runs pour in.

An hour passes, and I am walking the city beneath the sun-soaked blue. My strides are long, mighty, like my legs will carry me anywhere. In a window, I catch my reflection, and I stop to study myself. I feel, for the moment, beautiful. The slope of my shoulders, the warmth behind my eyes. My arms are refuge, my smile boyish and ready. I feel free.

Events stack up in the aftermath: I see a man on the sidewalk and we agree to hang out for real this time. I’m in the bar with a microphone, announcing finales. I dance beneath changing lights, cradle a friend’s face. I stoop to sit on a tree stump, calling to make sure somebody’s okay. There is no answer. I am at a bar, and a familiar face asks about my life. I pause, update him, and he tilts his head, offers kind words.

Days later, the same man posts a picture online, and I recognize the living room behind him. Nintendo Switch games in a neat stack behind his shoulder. My stomach sinks, and I am reminded of the many times I was supposed to be thrilled for you. I wanted to feel enthusiastic, excited –– at the least, calm.

It isn’t what I feel.

Sometimes, the story we’re living just isn’t congruent with the story we want to tell. When this happens, it’s like somebody rearranged your apartment, replaced the furniture. None of it quite feels like home.

To make room for you, I cleared out a space right in the center, and everything else stacked up in the margins. My walkways became narrower; unconsciously, I adjusted my gait. These days, I am pacing the floor, letting intuition guide my hands as I make my life home again. To love you was an interruption; to love myself is a return.

I am, in moments, angry. I am sad, am nostalgic, am bruised. If I’m honest, though, I am most often relieved. I am more myself, more present in my own being, than you ever made possible.

I tuck a Polaroid in a drawer of miscellaneous things. Everything I take down from the wall, I am reminded, makes way for something new.

shelf life.

I’m sitting, let’s say, at a coffeeshop. Soy latte nestled between my palms, my friend across the table, staring vaguely off as he ponders life. Abruptly, a stressful thought strikes and then lifts away. I clear my throat, ask my friend ‘say that again,’ and feel my body running through its fight-or-flight bullshit. What am I worried about? I search and search but can’t pinpoint it. I am, I realize, acutely aware of my heartbeat, of shrill machines, of the music saturating the scene.

A stressful thought, arriving and going, staining everything in its wake. It always takes a few minutes for the color to come in clear again, for the sounds to sync up with the images. The worry has a short shelf life, its usefulness even shorter.

This happened today, and I wondered if the stressful thought was you. I decided it wasn’t. I’m not sure I was right.

A person can have the same effect. Arriving suddenly and disappearing, messing up the color of everything for a while. It’s okay, the world will course-correct. Just keep breathing as your body debates whether you should tear shit up or run like hell.

What, exactly, am I supposed to do with this story?

In our last conversation together, you admit that you hate my need to ‘put everything out there.’ I’m sorry, I guess. I’ve always been this way, sharing my story as I’m discovering it. A friend once told me I plant a garden where my pain is, visiting and nurturing it and, eventually, sharing the fruit that grows from it. The analogy made my eyes well up.

I’m also not one to suffer in silence. My mom tells a story that, when circumcised, I cried in indignation until I tuckered myself out.

So, tender gardener or outraged infant, I am here with a story I do not understand how to sort. This will not, I know, live on to be one of my life’s great love stories. Neither was it horror, my predilection for hyperbole notwithstanding. It was human, I know, and it was predictable and messy and stupid and brave.

I study the shelf, wonder just where to shelve you. I promise I will soon start to tell the story without mentioning your name. These pages will yellow, collect dust.

I won’t etch a title into the binding.

I wake up feeling relieved. I run in the hotel parking lot, golden leaves skittering underfoot. The trees are about to show us how lovely it is to let the dead things go. Two autumns in a row, but now we’re in agreement. Peace knocks at the door, and I invite him in to stretch out and take a nap on the sofa.

I am a hundred miles from the city, and to be faraway yields hope. I will be hopeful for you, and faraway, and we will both write better stories for it.

There is anger, too. Time lost, tears shed, memories to set down and let loose. I don’t invite anger inside, just meet him at the door and encourage him onward. I’ve no need for his company; it has always only made me feel lonely.

absolutes.

‘I don’t know how else to say it,’ my friend tells me, stooped forward on my couch, ‘you haven’t really felt like yourself.’

My heart tangles into a knot against my sternum. I absorb what he’s saying, eyes down as I listen for an echo. I look up, meet his gaze. ‘I know.’

We’ve waded into these waters before, he and I. What is a friend if not somebody who will follow you where you’ve gotten yourself lost, who will say to you with unflinching sincerity, ‘this isn’t you’?

The strands of light beneath my loft form a makeshift maze, all of it glimmering over my napping cat. I take pride in this place, in the way its eclectic warmth mirrors my spirit. I find peace in the way my cat has abandoned all his anxiety, secure and relaxed as he grows up alongside me.

On my murkiest days, I scan for truths like these –– bits of evidence that I’m good, worth loving, regardless of the myriad ways I come up short.

I showed up to 2022 with faint traces of bruising, and I hoped I’d find a way to tell a better story than I managed to tell with 2021. Braver, I chided myself, and less apologetic.

Here in November, the calendar year’s eleventh hour, I’m not so sure I can say I was successful. Like any year, it brought its treasures and traumas, but I can’t help but feel like I watched the same fucking movie twice. I’m a writer, yes, and I’ve plagiarized my own work.

I exhale in the emptiness of my apartment, the finish line to a clobbering commute. ‘What have I learned?’ I ask myself, desperate to pinpoint the lesson. If I find it, I delude myself, then it wasn’t all for naught.

There are lessons, and I know what they are; I’ve learned most of them before. Trust your intuition. Believe what you see. Say what you mean. Forgive.

I refuse to concede time to regret. All around me, right now, are ticking clocks. People who’ve steadied my steps are monitoring their blood pressure, treating our conversations together like they may be the last. The train won’t slow, and I won’t spend the ride too preoccupied to notice the view.

Perhaps there are new lessons here, too. It’s okay to try and fail. Only lazy writers think all stories have to have bad guys. Keep what you want and let go of the rest.

My absolutes, a shortlist:

I tell stories like they live inside me and they are restless.
I get bored with people’s surfaces and mesmerized by their inner worlds.
If I love you, I will remember times with you in pristine, absurd detail.
I see into people almost immediately.
I am impatient, and I am remorseful about it. This is cyclical.
I really fucking like what I like.
I really fucking don’t like what I don’t like.
I am forgiving but not forgetful.
I don’t know how to stay angry for long.
I am not lonely when I am on my own.
It is very fucking hard for me to watch someone hurt.
Writing untangles the mess for me. Sometimes it’s the only way.
I feel tender for people who are perceived to be difficult.
When my gentleness backfires, I feel furious.
I struggle to believe anybody has really seen me.
I cultivate friendships with devotion, enthusiasm, and the deepest love.
My friends have rescued me, again and again and again.
I make playlists like they are love letters.
I am untidy and running late and you won’t wonder whether I love you.

sitting down to write a poem that is neither angry nor bruised.

second try, second try, i will
try, for the moment, to consider
the ways in which we are rinsed
by rains we didn’t ask for,
plans in sidewalk chalk ripple
down with our bloodstains

or i’ll write about the way my
voicemail box is full
because i’m afraid to delete any
messages because someday
i might need to hear my
mom say hello, casually,
no occasion but to say hello,
so i go on hoarding small love letters

even these, i admit, are stained a
bit indigo, my grief bleeding
into my gratitudes, all the
love and pain watercolor,
so i hush myself, whisper reminders
my poetry’s found its way back to
the light before, holds
lanterns, my poetry, for every gray bend

settle.

another sunday finds me unsettled,
time is a treadmill and i am
hopelessly out of rhythm,
steady my breaths and beg
my heartbeat to find me,
meet me where i’ve wandered

there are tally marks etched
into both sides of the scoreboard,
even the wins come at a
cost, the losses staining
my palms, purple grief,
a hundred debts to settle, broken
stories, walls abandoned halfway
through the paint

on the worst days my love
feels like an old pail with a
sprung leak, this heart and its
monstrous need, and who
can really see beyond what
they wanted, and when’s the
moment to say deal, i
can settle for this

the dust from the boys we were
settles on the edges we
forget to keep up with,
staining our fingertips gray,
smudging our best efforts,
drawing a line where we’ve
already drawn lines, and
our stories fall casualty to
the reckless blur

happy endings.

here we are, another
makeshift night, another haphazard
occasion, drinking something,
watching something, talking over
everything, and you tell me
there is something

and, as a boy, i never quite grasped it,
the power to soak up all a day’s fun
without losing myself to grief
that another sun set after all,
sobbing in my grandma’s arms
over no more bread for the ducks,
and she whispered, oh honey,
i know it

in that first year of college, i
felt time passing beneath my feet,
looked at the world around me and
felt it shifting, told my roommate
how fast it would all go, the people
we loved wouldn’t
always be here, and we
went to sleep to the sound of one another
crying from across the room

thirty-three, and my heart still shatters
at the end of every good thing,
hug you goodbye and sob on the couch,
and grief, to know it’s a shadow
left behind by yesterday’s wild joy
does not make it easy to hold,
but still my palms clasp onto it tightly,
grateful for the indigo ache,

promises.

promise i am pretty in the
right light, just tilt your head
westward and squint, do you
see it, do you, will you
keep your eyes on me
another ten seconds

if i’m honest, you’re a promise
i broke to myself, and
something new entirely, fresh
vines stretching over the
aching bones of yesterday,
blossoming in spite of
everything, everything
we lost in those rainless days

all the times i got it wrong
born from the fear i would
get it wrong, frozen in the
hopes the sharks would
get bored and go, razor cuts
against the walls of somebody
else’s world, and i promise
i’ll get things wrong
and i’ll do it by trying

for a monday.

set the heavy down, let the
sadness breathe for a weekend,
we don’t need to be
on those streets, i’d rather
wander ’round for the moment

leave it for a monday, watch it
sit and wait, ever present,
just tip the glass back, go on,
shake your ass fast, happy
you won’t shatter ’til you’re pausing

promises in pencil, crumpled paper
balls for the hallway, tear ’em
to confetti, no one sees you
ache when you’re laughing louder
than the karaoke replay

another shard of glass, swept ’em
but you know you missed one
somehow, and you know now,
deep down, you never need to
say you were right, when you’ve
already whispered it in your mind

just drink a breath down, let the silence
ground you in quiet, some feelings
come and go, and the real ones
know to stay in their waiting