Some are Dead and Some are Still Under Cups
There is a strange thing in my head that happens when I look at my phone. And realize that by punching a button, it most certainly will change everything. I hold that fear and power all the time.
I read something I wrote a long time ago and I am reminded that you hurt me too, sometimes. I guess it doesn’t compare but it makes everything suddenly real and strange. You were actually real, you didn’t just upturn your small features and radiate this beautiful goldenness on me all the time. That’s how I remember it though.
I remember sometimes I got sick in the night and would go into the other room and sit on the small love seat couch that was green and had plaid pillows that you gave away to someone after I moved out. I would have a sore throat and couldn’t lay down because I couldn’t breathe and would hate you just a little because you were sleeping in the other room like I was there.
The first time I got sick was different. Once I had cramps and I just lay there while you went to the store and came back with some expensive pills for me to take. That was at my place, where the mattress was just a blow-up mattress and after a while it started losing air. You could feel the floor through it in places. Except when there were two of us to balance it out, but then we couldn’t sleep in each others’ arms.
There were crickets in that house. At first I would obediently squash them or put a cup over them and take them outside. But then there were too many of them and I would leave several crickets under cups around the bedroom and deal with them later. Once I tried spraying bathroom cleaner on one like Raid, but it just made things worse. The cricket started jumping really high and I felt cruel. I remember sometimes if you watched long enough you could see a cricket come in under the door from the kitchen, and it had all this personality like it was from a Kafka story. Until we fixed the weather stripping and then I didn’t have to shake my sheets out for crickets anymore.
You cooked for me there for the first time. Not like me making you spaghetti in my first apartment, just spaghetti all the time, listening to a U2 single on repeat. The time you spilled hot water on your jeans and by the time you got them off there was a big burn on your leg. You made me chicken and pasta and vegetables I had never tasted before. I had never had food like that. I tried to make it once then when you weren’t there and it was watery and inedible. But recently I made something with some of those ingredients and that smell of you cooking came to me, the smell of capers and olives and bay leaves simmering together. It had been years.
You were the kind of boyfriend that people would tell me you were cute, or even beautiful, a lot of the time. Somehow they knew they could say that. Maybe I should have been bothered, but you were all mine. A stranger told me in a bathroom of a restaurant once that you were beautiful, and I said “yes he is,” and I came out and told you. I took so many pictures of you. I’m sure you knew I thought you were exquisite. After we broke up, we were sitting over slices of pizza that I had paid for and I told you you looked like a model. Then I saw you blush. Then it was different. Then I was someone distanced from you, that you weren’t going to spend the rest of your life with.
I bought you the most expensive blended coffee drink in the store, and then gave you my started Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf punch card, like that would make up for ruining both of our lives.
We went to see a movie, like two small ghosts sitting next to each other. Feeling strange that we didn’t feel more strange next to each other I guess, there were still so many of those old threads knitting us close. But there was something wrong with the seats in the theater, and the movie was so long. Our necks were angled uncomfortably; we tried changing seats but it was the same thing. But we both cried at the movie.
When we were together I remember I had to run to work from the art theater where we had seen Virgin Suicides because we had decided to go to the movies even though we knew it wouldn’t finish in time. Because going to the movies with you was so fun for some reason. Like I always knew you were having the exact same experience as I was. I don’t know how many blocks I ran.
We went walking on Melrose after we broke up. I was wearing this perfect jacket that you had lent me because I just had a t-shirt on. Every time I go to buy a jacket that’s the one I have in my head that I want but I never find anything like it. We were both different from the people we had been, but only in the superficial ways. Like I actually looked through the electronica section in the used cd store, which I never would have done before. And you started talking about an artist I had never heard of whose postcards you had up in your new apartment.
We sat up on the roof of your apartment building and you told me stories that were hysterically funny but I could only laugh a little because I kept thinking that this is the person whose heart I broke, who is so funny and whose perfect jacket I’m wearing, and who doesn’t have any of the same brands in his bathroom now that he doesn’t share things with me. And doesn’t have any food in the fridge. And who has incense burning and is telling me about all these concerts he’s gone to of bands I had only vaguely heard of, some of which I didn’t like, but I didn’t tell you.
I remember we got into fights when we were together, but they were always theoretical, impersonal fights. Like I had a problem with the end of the movie Seven, both times we saw it. And some philosophical arguments that I can’t even remember now because they had nothing to do with us. Other than that, we never fought. I know after we got back from our cross-country drive I couldn’t believe we never fought. And we made love in all the hotels even though we’d been dating for years. And you let me sleep a lot of the time while you drove. We were small enough that I could lay down curled up with my head by your waist in the front seat of the U-haul. We were driving furniture to our first apartment together. Beautiful cherry wood furniture from your grandmother that got sold for a hundred dollars or something after we broke up.
We hit a bird with the U-haul. This lovely red bird. It flew right into the windshield.
When we lived upstairs in the attic-shaped room in R’s house, there was no door so there was a thick rope that we would tie around the banisters downstairs when we wanted to take off our clothes. I would have to get up early in the mornings to finish my college essays and i would sit indian style on the floor typing while you slept. We kept Red Bulls under the bed.
I said that I wanted a blue and white striped couch someday, so you bought blue and white striped sheets for the bed even though the pillows and bedspread that you already had were green and busy and didn’t match at all. Like some promise of a blue and white striped future that was never purchased.
For some reason you always asked me for help on your homework assignments even though you knew so much more about all of the philosophers and in general knew more about everything than I did. We would sit at Elysee over a piece of cake that I had bought and speculate about all of these great things that I only knew little fragments about. My head would start aching in this wonderful way. I would read you everything I had highlighted in my Campbell book and you always understood everything I said.
I went across the street to Penny Lane and bought you a bunch of cds, cds that I already had but so that you could keep them in your walkman and listen while you did your homework, since I didn’t like music playing when I was reading. But then I started buying you more cds that I already had and you started getting sad and scared that it was because we were going to break up.
When I would drive you to school we would sing all of the songs in the cd changer. We would sing the two different parts to Hard-headed Woman that overlapped. You would walk to my work on my dinner break even though we lived together and saw each other all the time. Sometimes we would eat slices of pizza on the floor behind the register if the store was really busy and I couldn’t leave. Yours always pepperoni with something, mine always tomato with something. The night I had to stay late while the store got vacuumed, you stayed and read magazines with me, our feet swinging from the countertop we sat on.
You said after we broke up that you spent a fortune at a cd store trying to buy everything I’d had. All of a sudden most of the cds you loved had just disappeared with me. And that you bought the eye cream that I used because you had gotten used to it being in the medicine cabinet. I remember when I got locked in the bathroom somehow, the bolt got stuck, until you managed to get me out and then we stuck some tissue in the door jam so it wouldn’t happen again. And when we got locked out of the apartment with all the bars on the windows and somehow you still found a way in. Like you found a way in when we were locked out of the San Diego house and you removed the window screen because we had a hot pizza and a movie rental and didn’t want to wait for Jenny or Brian to get home. Although you were this sensitive person in this fragile body, I still always felt safe around you. You were smart and sensible and didn't get angry.
I used to think that love was writing poems for someone, or finding a perfect phrase that would absolutely convince someone in that moment that they were truly beautiful. Enough that they would keep believing it. Or wordlessly holding someone for hours. Focusing on all of the subtle changes in the ways that you slowly touch each other. Now when I think of what love is it is a very particular memory. There was a coffee shop that I used to sing at that would give me this delicious meal for free when I played. I guess that after a while the policy changed but you didn’t tell me, and would pay the waiter while I was singing so I never knew. And I kept getting my free meals. When I was moving out you told me this, and it was like the middle of my heart was gently tugged out.
The only thing you asked for back when I left was your grandmother’s necklace that I had worn every moment for four years. Now when I see it in photographs around my neck I can’t imagine what it was like to wear it. I remember I kept playing with it when I was recording the first album in the studio. I wondered if I listened close enough if I could hear the sound of the gold heart pulling along the length of the chain. The back of the heart had a couple of grooves in it, imperfections. It would remind me of stories of men who were saved by some medallion that had shielded their chest when they were shot. These little battle wounds. After a few years the clasp kind of weakened so the heart didn’t close all the way. I had never put anything inside where photos could go. Maybe if I had it wouldn’t have been so easy for you to ask for it back.
We shared clothes and we shared furniture and we shared soap bars and everything. When I moved my things out of the apartment I think I unhinged something. Separating things that didn’t really belong to just one or the other of us. Splitting up collections. I left you the fridge and the bookshelves and even the piano that you had gotten for me. I left you a lot of the good movies that were mine. Separating the dirty laundry and taking my items was the worst part. For some reason I threw all of my bras into the dumpster. While I was packing up my things I was making you a tape of some songs that I couldn’t imagine you living without after I took my cds away. Like the one song that we recorded together for my audio assignment my senior year. The “love theme." If we were ever in a small argument I would play that tape and you’d know I was sorry. We would dance together. There is a fear in the deep of my bones that there will be no tape players sometime soon and I will never hear that song again.
And that is only the beginning of my punishment.
Anna-Lynne Williams, 2004.