Growing Up, Moving On

“I can’t afford another cup of coffee”, I tell myself. Conversations out loud only make sense in the silence of your own home, or car- maybe even the alcove at a church as you pep talk yourself into a marriage that may not make sense at that brief moment. I remember that scene quite vividly, and the eventual fallout, divorce and stretch of time that seemed to move in painful slow-mo. So, crackling the morning air with a few open retorts doesn’t seem crazy at all—Hell, talking to yourself in a busy grocery store doesn’t sound so baleful in comparison to the ending of a union that you perceived as ‘forever’. Another cup of my free coffee here sounds great- no barista, just Tim and his 3 year old French press, desperately fighting to cling to rust and scuffs that its $29.99 frame yields. I splash in more creamer and non-nutritive sugar substitute- you know the one that causes the least amount of brain neuropathy so I can spell werdz…wordz… W-O-R-D-S. The first taste is bitter, reminding me nothing of the lush hills of Costa Rica, but ahhhh, that second and third gulp, as the temperature settles to ‘just above warm’ creates a smooth palette where pressed beans slope down as a skier would arch for the final run. I can rationalize anything. All I really want is the caffeine.

I’m an addict, an alcoholic to be specific, but you can arbitrarily plunk anything in the place of alcohol. $$ toys (things), girls/sex/porn (people) or driving to that park where my high school sweetheart and I frequented (places) are all formidable addictions; and not ready to retire—it’s all there in front of me… or behind me, if I just could let go. The rear view of my mirror works just fine. I should bring my old Wayne Gretzky Titan stick out of retirement and ‘accidentally’ lop off that mirror with a backhander. Anger- that’s another impulse worth letting go.

There was a time as a youth carousing on my basement floor- my childhood home coveting a horrid looking (and feeling) blood red carpet where my Lego’s could play freely without being lost under the dark mass of fiber. When being a kid was my job, one that I would still take for granted today, if someone would employ me for having an even worse haircut and wardrobe than today. My Lego’s were complicit and not salaried either—and they weren’t the cool Star Wars or Lord of the Rings ones that are available in 2014. They were simply colored squares and rectangles and the occasional plastic window to build a house for my imaginary Lego family. No Jango Fett teaching young Boba the rewards of a good bounty- no Gandalf imposing his will on a group of feckless Hobbits. There wasn’t any void to fill from a fatherless home, because these little figures went under the moniker of pilot or soldier or construction worker, and no kid minds when their dad is a hero- even a recognized, everyday ‘hero’. My father was around, he just was working, and working and working- I guess I should have paid attention more to his work ethic; his austere desire to fulfill what was necessary, dull, and completely unimaginative. He was in the Navy after all, and that’s pretty cool. I’ve never been on an Aircraft Carrier.

Playing independently at that age was an ideal. I didn’t have the attention span or life experience to suffer my thoughts all day long. Building, playing, articulating the basics was enough—and I never became addicted to Lego’s. I can see the lure of risqué things and it is hard to imagine a child’s toy serrating my pleasure zone. I need stimulus- an escape, something just to get myself out of my head. Caffeine, boobies, music with a fast tempo—or somebody to focus on who isn’t me.

It takes a lot to get moving in the morning, especially Mondays… to feel inspired, as if writing this all of a sudden adds insight that the morning hours can’t. Coffee, just the habit of consuming the black liquid sits directly in my pleasure zone- it awakens every impulsive nerve to excess and asks for nothing in return, save for a few extra bathroom breaks. The same stimulus is peaked by my fiancé, who isn’t available on this particular morning. Regardless of her physical absence, her apparition, her after-image lingers long after she leaves- long enough to dwell inside these walls. Not to haunt but to taunt- to sustain me until her next visit, and until our bodies can collide reminding me I’m alive. If only she was here now, present and ready to take me away from me, that guy who seems to be there no matter where I go, no matter where I am and no matter what hole needs filled.

My mood would drift inescapably into bliss. How easy it would be to put all of my focus on her, all my misgivings. I could rummage through my sons toys instead, find their Lego’s. Me and Boba Fett and the Ninjago dudes could all share the sediment left over in my French Press, and we could all think out loud—I could even talk for them, in their own voices and we could battle until lunch time. Then maybe I could forget about here, let go of the vice grip on Gretzky’s stick—release my high school sweetheart and the park where my addictions were born.

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Watching the World from a Cafe in Sheetz One Day

I’m plugged in. The ear buds moisten, clicking in my ears, Elton John reaching that exhaustive hiss of “the Bluesssss” just somewhere under falsetto… the Yellow Brick Road looking attainable. Tinnitus in my left ear holds onto the final note long after it’s gone. There is a murkiness outside as humidity claws at the still air.

I wander into the gas station/super mart/trucker stop and witness a world within the one that is jettisoned beyond the doors; and behind my soles. People scurry through cramped aisles with power bars, hydrogenated oils and condoms; Sports Illustrated racked between Guns & Ammo, gleaning breasts and hips and not the current soccer obsession– energy drinks pressing on coolers offering a more honest days work, at least more frenetic.

There is an art to ‘people watching’. Some involvement required, but obstinately it is just clusters– a people mash-up with no involvement and poor judgement: the short Asian woman with disproportionate sized breasts and her flightless toddler- tugging, tugging- tugging away at her spandex tights; a dwarf, commandeering a minuscule scooter, whipping through the complex maze to grab a soda. Workers in unison, in uniform, conforming to the task at hand. Each one smiling, except for the short haired teen, laden with an inordinate amount of homemade needle & ink tats that could easily pass him off as a cellmate. Old men litter the built in cafe and scratch arbitrarily at lottery tickets, shaking their heads– “the next one will be it, the next one…”

I need an energy drink.

There’s so much chatter here. The noise kaleidoscopes in my head, seeking refuge, or a blank tapestry to register something– anything. Noises from the CNN reporter girl with bubbly, over-hued blonde hair spewing in and out the nascent details of GOP and refugees, tornadoes and autopsies; the background to the forefront, backwash and the repetition of tires drone by. Noise trade, stifling the cell phone loyalists– they’re indifferent, and I just watch from a lonely seat in the cafe. Texting in cars, talking in aisles, pumping gas, wondering: ‘why did we have to fight about the mortgage this morning??’, sleepwalking… plagued with levity. No one even notices.

I ‘get’ why people ‘check out’. It’s hard to see until it’s right in front of you– when consciousness checks out and the banality just wrecks your thoughts– the sane ones, anyway. The distance between a useful existence and walking into a desert one day, tattered shoes and a final $222.43 alimony payment on the doorstep– dry land and sun in every direction and only dust and decay, the remnants of your life that was better left to the earth. Suicide is a dense word. It has a singular one-sided opinion, but it carries so much goddamn weight. I don’t understand what lifts someone into those last straggling moments where nothing exists, only breathe. It must be unbelievably terrifying. Staggering those final moments until there is ‘no turning back’. Most people wouldn’t understand. I can’t be indifferent (in my own thoughts) but empathy is a notion, not an actionable endeavor.

Save yourself, turn CNN to Curious George, turn the volume off and order another iced caramel salted pretzel latte with extra whipped cream, because cream is sweet and tastes nothing like death, or sadness. My own coffee; dwindling… room temperature and bitter– resembling the same indifference that haunts the masses, ignored by the few… and me.

The Sports Illustrated beauty eyeballs me from my seat and goads me back into evanescence. She looks too happy to be real.

Twisted Moonlight

*I hope you enjoy this short piece on insomnia and thoughts of ‘her’….

Derelict sounds, the path of nature out my window and the sleeping of giants- my neighborhood; the macrocosm now reduced to window dressing.

Obligations are short right now, so I have the privilege to take it all in, a feast for my oft-deadened senses, this will be a short trip. I’ve been here before, but the lucidity sparks something in my head, all the street lights that hang in the perimeter lurk in the shadows, because I’m too naïve to believe they are hunting me.

Citizens mining the corners and alleyways now subjugated by the cast iron poles, no more restless but lacking the digits to be functional.
My mind buzzes—it actually makes noise, a low grade hum that could pass for amplifier feedback, maybe a Marshall cabinet humming passively while Tony Iommi lights up a fag. My head doesn’t hurt, if it did I would recognize it as a physical attribute- pain receptors need recognized. I don’t hate my brain for failing me, or grating away unmercifully- it’s the viscosity keeping my senses on heightened alert- and I haven’t even got out of bed.

I heard her voice in my head last night, and I thought for a moment I was dreaming. Why does there always have to be a ‘her’ in the story? This was no conflict as kids; little hairless boys who only knew Mom… the only girls we identified with were on some PBS program- not real women. Ernie and Bert didn’t mind being roommates either. They knew something I still haven’t figured out.

She left me here long enough to catch my breath, admittedly, I am a shallow breather. So I lay in bed and allow my thoughts to race… up and down the walls, ping-ponging back and forth left and right of my ever ready cognizance. The moonlight was cloaking the room in its own self-contained light bulb- dull and unsatisfying. In the interest of staying awake I just laid there and counted the patterns of moon spackle that drifted through the thinned out, and dust tainted curtains. They were filthy but I didn’t care. I couldn’t sleep. The night played out like so many before.

Why my mind regurgitated the past, I don’t know. The racing thoughts seemed to have no destination and no finish line and I was hoping they’d admit defeat. The victor to the spoils—who cares? She won out, because somewhere she was asleep and I wasn’t.

My life was never overly consumed with relationships that added up to any significant stretch of time. I was good with that. Freedom isn’t a sacrifice, and it’s not a cross to bare. My life was full in that I believed my true self just functioned better alone. Not loneliness, but independence- the kind where you could take yourself out on a ‘date’ and not worry about how you looked, or how you thought she thought you looked. Those opinions never became concrete until you passed the second or third date, or maybe tussled under the sheets—playing tug of war with each other’s fleshy parts. Ok, maybe I was lonely.

My mind played out every possibility as the sheets clung restlessly to the inside of my groin- legs outstretched in some unappealing pose. The way she touches me… the ink blots telling me (at least) that her and I could be stationary and it would still manage statuesque perfection (the psychiatrist gums her pen and nods in approval). The ripples of skin attached to goose-bumps, because she’s always cold. My heat wasn’t just emanation- it was a protective covering. I could conceal my disinterest at times, and the ramblings that I heard could have been my own—but in that frozen pose where skin nuzzles skin, we found our place.

I reached below into the warmth of the crevasse of my thighs that now revealed a firm erection–nighttime and lying flat always drew the penis into an arc that couldn’t be achieved in daylight—not even with the most attentive partner. The sheets withdrawn, I began to caress and stroke myself until I ejaculated the warm liquid into a pool on my stomach. It felt like I was alive for those brief post-coitus(less) moments. I could release my mind as well. The mind can’t hang onto or focus when the redirection is simply a shallow pursuit- like masturbation.

“She should be here”, I thought.

The senses prick up when the room goes quiet and the sound of skin being temporarily flogged is removed. I let out a breath; relief crept in where the moonlight couldn’t be seen. There is always space for light- the cathartic release prevails when the mind gives way to a carnal shift. The only requirement was the stroke of my fist, not out of hate, but self-love… and sacrifice.

I drifted back to sleep. She was waiting… sometime after REM’s and the grappled pose of my body contorted into a heavy sleep—I would eventually see her there. The small of her back walking at a distance, urging me to follow—and me pretending to care, my sub-conscious having its way with my fractured mentality. I relented as eyelids turned to dead weight, slits that sealed so I didn’t have to be alone with myself anymore… the moon still desperately trying to illuminate the four walls.

Memories of my First Love

The autumn leaves hugged the cold earth- strewn across concrete paths and shifting the landscape, blending the secondary colors. Earthworms searched out refuge in the grass, writhing in one last stretch or squirm to make up ground, only to be met by the rising temperature and the early morning sun. So close, but not today… and I know how they felt.

I kicked the leaves and felt the crunch under toe as each one petrified under the soles of my generic Airwalk sneakers. Man, to be a kid again- not this forty year old man, and nobody bothered to tell me I was no longer cool. That didn’t hurt so much as the effort going unnoticed.

There was something in the air that morning that felt different. I had walked the kids to the bus everyday but there was a mounting cliché that kept surfacing. “It feels good to be alive”. The benevolence of the thought was crowded with the hundred other thoughts that normally distanced me from serenity. What a strange mantra to cling to- this was like any other day, but I refused to blow it off.

I couldn’t help conjure up memories of my first real girlfriend. You know, the one where I would think of her in each waking hour at least one, two or a thousand times. No need to pay attention to my 5th period English teacher, that shrill voice jawing about 16th century literature. I tapped the snooze button on that one and just let alarm clock fall to the floor.

Michelle Emmit… and I know that my writing should include anonymity or I could leave it to just calling her “my first real girlfriend”, but what the hell. She was something of a boisterous thing- short hair unlike all the other freshmen girls and I’ll be honest, the only thing I noticed was her bubbly enthusiasm, and maybe her breasts that seemed unusually large for a girl her age. Of course there was a rivalry for her attention. I always had a best friend, or the closest friend of that school year pining for the affections of a girl I had already staked claim on. But I quickly won that battle and he moved on like pubescent boys often do.

There were little things to get you noticed at the time and mine was letter writing, often referred to as ‘notes’. It’s where we would hone our small talk skills that would later be used awkwardly over blaring speakers in clubs or dive-bars. We’d pass the notes back and forth and it was as if she lived across the sea in some foreign land, each new scribbled acknowledgement and the neatly folded square it came in revealing the awkwardness of our age. I can’t imagine what they said, maybe “God, I hate this class, I’d rather be with you” or “Can’t wait to see you in the hallway”. That was just like me I’m sure- a romantic who couldn’t yet define any real emotions. We were just kids though; there was little time for big words and even bigger expressions of feelings we didn’t understand.

Do you remember the time you held your first love’s hand? Those moments slip through the cracks, but they are there if you want them to be. We don’t need to let go of everything. Maybe I could let that one girl from college go. The one who came to my dorm room during my first semester smelling of baby powder and displaying a very fit body, despite her 5 month old being at home in some New Jersey suburb with a “Mee-Maw” or “Grammy”. I can’t remember the girls name so what’s the point in seeking out fine details?

But I still can’t tolerate the smell of baby powder.

Michelle was a different experience, the one adolescent memory that doesn’t care what shoes I’m wearing, despite the world inviting me to exchange them for Dockers pants and a faceless pair of casual work boots. She’d come over to ‘watch’ a movie and we’d quickly make our way underneath my parent’s old pool table, crooked and leaning to the southwest- a perfect hideaway for make-out sessions and shirtless escapades. The thought of sex was not yet a reality, it was too challenging, and far beyond our scope.

A seemingly endless exchange of saliva, the finite girl hairs- soft and supple above the crest of her top lip and the movement of tongues chasing each other within the small spaces and salty delivery of mouths—there never seemed to be enough, my lips pressing hers and hers against mine. I engulfed her feminine lines- smothering them at times, two young kids latched on and locked together. My hands seemed to hold more than they could handle with all the heavy petting in between. It was a moment I realized that Levi jeans had no place for a fifteen year old hard-on. It would have made sense to wear sweatpants, or better yet—those ridiculously patterned Crazee Wear pants bodybuilders used to wear. Baggy as hell, but they would have accommodated my ever hardening gesture.

I hope people don’t wear those hideous looking things any more.

Safe underneath the pool table, time stood still, and despite the clock still ticking- I suppose the only world that mattered was between two kids and their flourishing libidos. A magical place where the cold hard basement floor felt soft like bags of marshmallows and the TV stuttering in the background, merely a numbing soundtrack for this beautiful and unrelenting rite of passage. I can still picture her in that red sweater, pulled to excess by curves of a flowering young woman and wearing the fragrance of some popular perfume of the day, maybe CK for Girls or some overpowering scent that would set my allergies in motion today. The beauty of a moment in time is not lost on nostalgia, or clichés that are summoned in adulthood.

Some memories are worth hanging on to…

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