michael king

stack of stained pages, redacted love letters, spilling ink, pressing it into tomorrow

days of healing.

The moment I realize I’m hurt, I move into bargaining mode. I’ll take the rest of the week off of running, I say, hobbling my way onto the sidewalk, palms screaming red, and then I’ll be right back to it. It never works, but my first instinct every time is to persuade. To coax my healing into a hurry.

Twist my ankle, and I start walking on it just ‘to strengthen it a bit.’

Wake up trembling, feverish, and I start a regimen of orange juice and Friends episodes. “Only one day,” I assure myself.

Break my heart, and I bite my lower lip, choke back tears, swallow hard questions, and try to assemble my shattered pieces into a convincing self. “No one can break a whole person,” I write, my fragments spilling across the keys.

Healing is apathetic to my timelines, so I ache impatiently in an empty room, a whispered question echoing, Why am I so gentle with others and severe with myself?

More often than not, I’ve got a bag on my person. Strapped over my right shoulder, sloping diagonally my torso, resting against my hip, held securely by my left palm. Contents vary, depending on the occasion, but usually I carry these: books, the one I’m reading and the one I’m excited about; felt-tip pens, a handful at first but eventually an army, until I realize my office jar looks empty; a notebook, pages littered intermittently with ideas and lists and doodles; a piece of mail, something I probably meant to do something with; a candy wrapper, defeated and forgotten, color and sheen relinquished miles ago.

I carry it with me on the train, trips to the coffee shop, journeys across the city to meet friends. The bag rarely sees much use, actually. I only crack it open once I remember I’ve brought it with me. When I’m stepping out, though, and I see it waiting on my chair, I muse, what if I need it later?

I do the same thing with memories. Walking around my early thirties, I remember the time I was fifteen and a friend and I were Saturday Night Live cheerleaders, the auditorium roaring its approval. Hugging friends at the bar on a late Saturday night, I recall the night in undergrad when Colleen twisted her ankle, that groggy morning after, how I insisted (laughing so hard I was crying) she had whipped her earrings off onto the shelf. Pulling open the door to a first date, I think of the first time another man kissed me, the way I pulled away, not yet convinced I had the nerve to want out loud.

There’s not a single important person in the pages behind me I don’t somehow keep in the ledgers. I’ve wrestled my heart away from false futures, gotten it moving again, hoping, dreaming, but it still finds a way to pull me back. Run my palms across old chapters.

Remember him, it tugs, remember the game you played, face to face, you singing a note and him trying to stay with you you as you sang, the absurdity of it, the way the singing and laughter blurred together, the moment you let yourself want forever.

I remember.

Three days on my couch, and here’s what I can tell you: Healing is not a comfortable state. It is slow, and insistent, and lonely.

A few weeks ago, I asked a friend the following: If you got injured, and you had the option to be ‘put under’ for the whole healing process, would you? He’s a writer, a profound thinker and feeler, so he said ‘no.’ He said I wouldn’t, either. That healing ‘mattered too much.’

Sometimes I’m not sure. I get so frustrated by the setbacks, the interruptions to routine, the barriers to doing all that I want to do. He’s probably right, I know. So much of my compassion comes from my hurting, and so much of my sincerity comes from my recovery.

So I write it down. Take the time to healit matters, pin it to my bag, on top, carry it across my shoulders. A reminder for the days I forget to be gentle.


sketching myself.

I wake up, each morning, with a heart at the intersection of a thousand new ideas and a thousand old pains. I am forever caught between the bounding ahead and the holding onto everything that came before.

On my palms are handwritten mantras, hard-earned lessons from the act of honest living. There was beauty even in the way the pavement cradled me, and you cannot love a person’s selfishness away, and take up space, and you are worthy even on the days you don’t do a single thing right, and sincerity is a revolutionary act, and only the strong remain gentle.

There, in ink visible only to me and the eyes of the ones I trust most, are the names of people I can no longer know. As it turns out, the love persists –– like matter, it cannot be destroyed or erased.

My optimism is persistent, resilient, defiant. To me, everything matters. Keep your lowercase song titles, lazy cynicisms, cool cruelties. I am radical in my hope, self-assured in my loving. If I love something, regardless of rational thinking, every atom of my being shouts a chorus in its name.

I am a writer on the days words won’t come, a lover on lonely mornings, a believer in the face of starless nights. I am wildly inspired by the riddle of myself, and I am bored and tired with the riddle of myself.

The bravest things you ever do, I write, between daydreams, looping gently among the bloodlines of my forearm, will feel a lot like foolishness. 


rainy day.

The downside to being an optimist is that I generally have to step outside to discover it’s raining, and, this morning, I’m fresh out of seconds. Grimacing, I survey the scene and press on. Getting all pissed off won’t make the sun come out, I coax myself, and I’m right: I get pissed, and the rain presides.

New York rain is misty and eternal, falling gently enough that I always believe I might make it a few blocks without getting too wet. By Sixth Avenue, my hair has surrendered, streams of water dancing their way down my forehead. I walk faster, dodge umbrellas and judgmental glances, turn my music up.

I catch my reflection and realize I make the exact same rain face as my mom. I think of home and feel every inch of the eight hundred miles between us.

Finally, I arrive. My jacket is soaked through, my hands are frozen, and the receptionist looks up. “Oh my God,” she says, eyes wide.

“Yeah,” I shrug, “I think it’s about to start raining.”

By the time I make it back home, my clothes are soaked through a second time, and I am decidedly done with the day. I peel off my jacket, hanging it on a hook, toss my damp socks into the hamper, pull on a hoodie and shorts, and frown at my apartment.

I am one man, living on his own, but I will dirty every single dish in my home before I decide to do the dishes. As of now, they all gape at me from the living room, tucked beside the couch, clustered near the TV, a tiny obstacle course of glasses and forks and bowls. With a dramatic sigh, I start taking laps between the living room and kitchen sink.

Warm water and suds have the opposite effect of the rain on my skin, and soon I am energized. I dry the dishes and put them back in the cabinets, wander back in the living room and gather up a week’s worth of discarded socks, belts, T-shirts. I wipe out the bathroom sink, take the trash, sweep the floor, fold up my blankets.

I finish, my world rearranged in a matter of an hour or so, and take it all in for a moment: Why is it I ever let myself believe the mess is too sprawling to be unmade?

I’m on my own, but I’m feeling social, and my phone is the evidence. On Twitter, I’ve made a friend in D.C. who says he’ll show me around when I visit. I’m joking with my sister on Snapchat about my lunch (PB&J and broccoli, she says, is a gross meal.)

I’m playing a video game, Fire Emblem: Three Houses, and I’m strategizing my way through this story’s final battle. “Good job, Caspar,” I say out loud to a character who managed to dodge a lethal hit. He does it again fifteen seconds later and punches the attacker right off her pegasus. “Coming through like a boss!”

I finish, watch with wide eyes a cutscene of Edelgard and Byleth delivering a final blow to the dragon, and put the Switch to sleep. I stand up, glance back, and discover it’s stopped raining after all.

Embarking outside, gym bag slung over my shoulder, my mind is busy with news headlines: liars aren’t being held accountable, courts are gathered to decide whether queer people are actually people. I open my phone, post to Facebook, post to Twitter. The rain might have subsided, but I’m still trying to push some light back into the world.

Death by a Thousand Cuts plays through my headphones, and I’m convinced Taylor Swift has the blueprint to my heart. Hopefulness, sorrow stretching deep down to the bone, sadness lingering long after the mind has deemed it time to move on.

It plays through one and a half times by the time I arrive.

I get home, grab my coffee cup and computer, and make my way back to the Starbucks across the street. The barista recognizes me, takes my cup and shakes off my payment, and I smile. This big, bad city isn’t so cold after all.

For months, I haven’t been sure what to write. I’ve got twenty-five drafts, beginnings of things I’m trying to say, but something has blocked the pipes. What is it, I wonder, I’m trying to say? I type and type and type, and I’m not sure I’ve got a clue what I mean.

But I’m living it, this story, and I need to stay practiced in telling it truthfully. These are days of wild hope, indeed, but also of despair and rainfall and stubborn steps ahead. Lately, I’m at a loss for exactly what mountain it is I’m hoping to climb.

I don’t know, but I know one day I’ll want to remember the way the world looked here, now, amidst the mundane miracle.


a list of my bad habits.

In no particular order, an incomplete list of the bad habits I’ve discovered:

  • lugging warm laundry back to my apartment, setting the hamper to the floor boards, and never quite getting around to putting the clothes away
  • during temporary stays, identifying a ‘space’ for my things, usually in the living room, and casually expanding it throughout my stay
  • buying produce –– peppers, strawberries, potatoes –– and failing to eat it before it withers
  • balking at the idea of spending thirty dollars on something useful while casually dropping thirty-five on dinner and drinks
  • telling every story that pops into my mind, neurons firing as I’m listening, and feeling certain, each time, it’s right to do
  • granting myself permission to disappear on rainy days
  • revisiting the scars in my story, wresting that tissue apart, mining old wounds for meaning
  • remembering the people who left, in vibrant detail
  • bargaining with my body through healing processes –– dancing on sore ankles, running with a scratchy throat and feverish forehead
  • practicing the same impatience when it’s my spirit that needs healing
  • getting so swept up in passion for my perspective that I forget to listen
  • building a case against the people who’ve hurt me, evidence with razor-sharp edges
  • building a case for myself, keeping tally sheets of the times my love has borne fruit, as though this will undo the other tally sheet I can’t stop keeping, the scars I’ve inflicted in my recklessness
  • believing I will keep myself safe from pain by negotiating myself down from the things I really want
  • putting the dishes off until the sink is full and daunting
  • insisting on pushing the conversation into territory that interests me –– what’s heavy, what’s hurting, burning hope, hollow grief, searing pain
  • falling in love with the idea of somebody and pitting their reality against their potential
  • deciding almost any setback is cause to order Chinese food, wrap up in blankets, and watch a movie
  • convincing myself I am impossible to know
  • running my hardest for people who demand the chase
  • leaving cabinets and closet doors wide open, their contents peering out blankly
  • watering plants only once they’ve begun to droop
  • tabling hard decisions until the last possible moment
  • spending the first thirty minutes of my day in bed, scrolling through my phone, watching minutes dissolve


ghosts i’ve kept.


Before I begin, I want to share a few notes on ghosts. I’ve written them, each of them, down on scrap pieces of paper, stray blank pages in cluttered notebooks, penmanship a messy sprawl. Rarely does inspiration come in the moments I’m searching for it, and lessons have never arrived in the packaging I asked for.

Ghosts are, first and foremost, indifferent to your thoughts on their existence. They interact with us all, the open radicals and stalwart rationalists alike, haunt our hallways, watch us study our faces in the mirror.

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miles and months.

if you were going to leave,
you could have had the decency
not to wear that cologne, concentrated
there where your neck meets
your shoulder, where i’d bury
my face and rest

so that today, all these
hundred miles away and
thousand days later, i
wouldn’t brush by a stranger
wearing it too, and
remember it, you, the way
you arrived like a hurricane
and disappeared just as


bad habits.

lately, i’ve been
hovering my palms
over an open flame,
how familiar a feeling,
i’d forgotten, in the
binding and tearing of
what a thrill it
is to burn.