This might not seem writing-related, but these are some songs I love (and some that inspire me when I’m writing poetry or fiction). Music is so important to me. When no one understood me and when I was the most alone, I always had my music.
I thought it’d be fun to share with y’all some of the music I have been listening to lately.
Part III of New Beginnings, you can find New Beginnings Part I here and Part II here.
I tapped my soft box of cigarettes against my hand, more for something to do than to pack the tobacco. As I shuffled to a wall behind us, I wondered what I was doing with my life. Leaning against it, my stomach twinged. I flicked my lighter and inhaled deeply. The comfort of tobacco and cloves flooded my nostrils.
The clove was more pungent than I remembered, but maybe my senses were more heightened than usual because the gold cellophane wrapped around the box seemed to shimmer in the dull light.
I tried not to think of what I was leaving behind but to the future. The great unknown I was throwing myself into. The smell of my cigarette reminded me of the first day I had smoked.
I had cut history class and walked to a cemetery near campus. The air was crisp, cutting through my jacket then, just as it did now. I had found a sprawling tree to sit under and watched a burial a few feet away.
Vee had seen me that day. I hadn’t known her yet. We barely spoke, but we shared thatcigarette like it was the last one on Earth. She had snatched my phone from my back pocket and typed her contact information. That night, when I had called her, her smoky voice sounded as though she had expected my call.
I squeezed my eyes shut, trying to block out the past five years of memories with Vee. We began dating when I was seventeen. Still a teenager and moldable. I was a lump of clay and she was the sculpting chisels and hammers.
Almost unbidden, I remembered the hell that was high school. Slouching in a chair in the guidance counselor’s office. Mrs. Reed’s heels clacking against the linoleum as she paced back and forth. The way her watery gray eyes traveled from my mother to me. Thinking of all the time I spent with Vee instead of working on my homework. All the times we snuck out and smoked in the cemetery. Mrs. Reed telling my mom that I had been cutting class. That I was reckless.
“Maybe it’s just a phase,” Mrs. Reed had said, hope glittering in her eyes. Mrs. Reed who smelled like Christmas cookies had begged my mom not to let me ruin my life.
That was before the state psychiatrist and psychologist. Before the diagnoses. Before the hospital stays in psych wards.
My relationship with Vee had endured five tumultuous years, but numbers were just numbers. 1,825 days didn’t matter unless you gave them meaning. As I smoked, I didn’t notice the guy from the bench approach me. After a minute or two lost in memories, I saw him.
I wondered how he saw me. Dyed auburn hair with black roots. Heavy eyeliner. I felt like a childactor, pretending to be an adult. He made me doubt me, and he had barely spoken two wordsto me.
My hands began to shake when my phone vibrated. I stubbed my cigarette against the wall and began to curse.
“Expecting a phone call?” he asked with a smirk as I stared at my cell phone, horrified. What would I tell her? What could I tell her? She probably had just finished her shift at Blackburn’s. Maybe she was already back at our apartment. I began to shake violently.
I took a drag of my cigarette and buried my phone deep in my bag. His eyes flashed. “You forget to tell someone where you’re going?” he asked, his voice a touch concerned.
“Doesn’t matter,” I muttered, “what about you? You tell your whole family and all your friends where you’re headed?”
“Hah.” He rolled his eyes. “Like Veronica cares.”
“Girlfriend?” I arched an eyebrow, watching his face.
“My mom,” he mumbled, “my friends won’t even notice. Too high to even notice if I’m in the room or not.” He waved the idea away. “Doesn’t matter. They won’t ever think to look where I’m going.”
“Where are you going?” I asked quietly.
“Montreal.” He grinned, his dimples deepening.
I didn’t speak but thought I had just found a partner-in-crime for the trip.
Part II of New Beginnings, a short story beginninghere.
Iwas going to have a fresh start in Montreal. Going to the train depot was just the beginning, yet fear spidered through me icicle-slow, trickling through my extremities. I didn’t know what I was going to tell my employer. How do you explain the sudden impulse to move away from everything you know and everyone you love? How do you explain a late-night tarot reading at a dimly lit bar being enough to convince you to buy a train ticket? My manager was bound to call and demand why I wasn’t on time for my shift.
If my lover–I guess my ex-lover–called, I would just ignore the phone. Ignore it like an old,broken television set. No use burdening myself with it. I had tried to fix it. I had tried fixing it for years, but all I got was static.
I can’t even recall what I said to her in the letter. I might have made vague mentionings aboutdiscovering myself. I might have made insincere promises to return, but I begged her not to hold a lantern to every stranger’s face to compare them to my own.
My hands no longer resembled mine, and my bus ticket was growing limp from the sweat thatslicked its surface.
Did a runaway ever look beautiful?
I pictured Vee, my lovely Vee, if she was planning to run, she’d wear her black sneakers, the ones with the hidden lyrics-black on black, but there if you looked closely enough. She’d wear a short, white mink coat, the one she saved for special occasions, a ratty band shirt, and a pair of cigarette jeans.
She’d look cool.
I looked like a kid going to Grandma’s house. Over the river and through the woods.
I was so lost in a labyrinth of thoughts that I did not notice him sit down next to me. He was a boy my age. Maybe a couple of years older. My skin tingled in a way I could not identify when he brushed up against me. It was like electricity or dope. He drummed a rhythm against his thigh. When his quicksilver eyes flicked in my direction, I could not breathe.
He had struck me and rendered me stupid.
Who was he, and did he feel this gravitational pull?
It wasn’t love, and Christ, it wasn’t lust, but those golden spokes, Saturn’s rings, webbed his ocean aquamarine eyes and hypnotized me. Neither of us said a word to one another. Suddenly, a sturdy military jacket with worn elbows seemed cliché.
A mere suggestion of cool.
I tucked my twisting hands into a pair of fingerless gloves and brushed my tongue ring against the roof of my mouth, clicking it with my teeth.
He stared at me, his eyes cool metal. “Could you not?” he asked, a brusque edge to the words and his voice huskier than I imagined. Who did he think he was? This, the same boy who was tapping out a drum solo on his thigh. I nodded, not trusting myself with language.
This was the beginning of something new. I had a future waiting for me: something I never envisioned before.
It was time. I bit the bullet until all I could taste was metal, but maybe that was the rust in my mouth from my teeth serrating my tongue. I have a duffle bag packed. Who knew my whole life could fit in a bag? The clothes were nothing, but packing away my crystals and tarot cards, that was when my eyes began to grow wet and puffy. I snatched my favorite photograph off the clothesline it hung from. The room began to tilt as though I had just gotten off a carousel.
I was doing it.
I couldn’t look back.
I had slipped a note inside of her favorite book so she’d see it before she settled in for the night. It was like pressing dried flowers between the pages. I put another note on the leftover Pad Thai she’d reheat when she got home from her shift at the hospital. I kept fidgeting withthe ring she had bought me last year for my birthday. My legs were restless as I sat at the bus stop.
All these people coming and going, and I still felt alone.
My lips were dry but tasted of fear. I did not know how to cry, but my heart drummed like it was sore. I didn’t know anyone in Montreal, but that was the point.
The terminal grew quiet, and I could have sworn I heard her whisper my name. It was like a pair of butterfly wings fluttering together. Her lips buzzed with the familiar sound, and I turned my head at the sound. A ladybug sat on my shoulder, its antennae twitching like it was sending telegraphs, using wires and needles. I never felt at home in my own skin, but today, my body was a map, the veins riddled with roads.
Stay tuned! On Saturday, July 10th, I will post Part II
Jonathan O’Neill took a deep drag off his joint, the thin paper crinkling and crackling as he inhaled the piney smoke. He had smoked every day for the last twenty-two years and decided if this was what it took for him to forget, so be it. He sighed. His children had all moved out ofthe house years ago. Now, they were starting families of their own. He knew that soon, their children would be crawling around the worn Berber carpet. Angie was in the other room, watching television. The faint voice of the late-night comedian reached him through the thin walls.
Closing his eyes, he brushed aside a thought, a wisp of a memory: the smell of magnolias andpatchouli. After he opened his eyes, he picked up the slim volume of poetry, inhaling again. The mint pine filled his lungs and he coughed. Angie would snicker at him, had she known he was reading poetry. The black words on the ivory page scattered.
He was forgetting.
Good, he thought,took you long enough, you old codger.
With great deliberation, he set his mind to his wife: her pillowy breasts, her comfortable stomach, her love of chocolate chip cookies and black-and-white classic movies. They’d been together since they were teenagers. High school sweethearts. Angie claimed him after a homecoming game sophomore year. Told him she’d marry him some day.
They were only eighteen when they married. Young and full of hopes. A flash of honey blonde hair shimmered in his memory, and he exhaled her name. A name he hadn’t spoken aloud in over twenty years. “Danielle.”
He remembered her curves, the way his hands could wrap around her waist and pull her in. He shook his head as though to shake the thought from his mind. Her silver-gray eyes. The way Angie had sobbed when she found out: her shoulders shaking, her plump lips trembling, tears glittering in her gray eyes.
He wished he could have told her the fierceness with which he loved her could devour a man’s sanity. The possessiveness with which he clung to her could dissolve any solid man’s reason. That, though he had signed that marriage certificate all those years ago in a courthouse, Angie by his side, his heart was signed to her, a contract only his soul could fulfill. Their love might have been forbidden, but Danielle, sweet Danielle, she had been his once upon a time.
Stop, Jonathan scolded himself, let it go. She has forgiven you. But still the memory of Danielle struck him. He had never cheated on Angie before, but with Danielle, it didn’t feel like cheating. In fact, the nights he laid his head on the pillow beside Angie and inhaled her lavender sachet and fresh linen, those were the nights he felt he was cheating.
He remembered how they talked about taking her yellow Volkswagen Beetle cross-country, driving all the way to the East Coast, then driving west to Colorado. He thought about the way they talked about going to music festivals where she could sell her art and inhale music like it was a drug. He savored the memories. The memories that never were. He thought what if he had met her first.
He steeled his eyes into an empty stare. His glazed, honey-brown eyes softened as he took in his surroundings. The leather wingback chair in his office. The antique typewriter. First-edition books. His diplomas on the wall. Life was good. Comfortable. He heard Angie chuckle at one of the comedian’s jokes on television. Jonathan inhaled another drag, willing himself to forget.
How many years since she died? he wondered. Shuddering, the icy chill pierced through hisheart like a frozen dagger and dragged down his spine. No, he told himself sternly. It was best to forget. Danielle was just a girl.
Her mother had compared Danielle to a hummingbird at the funeral: small, magical, alwaysfluttering around. And Jonathan had understood. He remembered the last time he had seen her alive. They walked the perimeter of a pond. She was moving her hands as she spoke quietly about putting her dog to sleep. He remembered the other times too. The softness of her lips. The tentative way she explored the scar on his spine. The glimmering wonder in her gray eyes as he broke open a walnut and fed it to her.
How she had taught him to sip the viscous, amber liquid from a honeysuckle. The poems she had written him. How she swore she was going to write him a play so he could return to the stage some day. The post cards she had written him from California, Montana, Colorado.
You would love it here, she had scrawled on the cards, I miss you. I think of you every day.Jonathan had saved them each and stowed them away in the back of the slim volume of poetry that was hidden in plain sight most days on his book shelf.
Shut up, shut up, shut up, he reminded himself, scolding.
That was the thing about both the marijuana and the early onset of his disease. They might help him forget his current miseries, but the past taunted him. Slightly out of reach, yet still familiar. A dream sparse on details but little snatches coming back to him as the evening progressed.
He remembered the language she had invented and her laugh. The silver sparkle in her gray eyes. Her skin the color of milk. The way she’d talk about the wild animals she saw in her backyard-the coyotes, the foxes, a fawn once.
His bones felt brittle. He felt so old. His teeth sometimes felt too large in his mouth. Thedisease stripped him of words. Sometimes, he’d be talking to Angie and mid-sentence, he’d falter.
But these memories of Danielle.
They persisted, whether he appreciated it or not.
It was as though he wasexperiencing the nostalgia of anemoia, shuffling through old photographs in his mind (the ones he never took, lest Angie discover them when cleaning oneday) and experiencing the wave of sentimental remorse for a time he pretended did not belong to him.
He took a deeper inhale of his joint. Smoke unfurled deeply into his lungs. His thoughts slipped away, and he leaned back in his leather wingback, a dazed smile on his face.
He was forgetting.
And it was bliss.
But then, an image shattered his serenity. The haunting image, though never something he saw with his own two eyes, froze him whenever his memory called it back. Danielle going home one night to her lover after traveling. He had discovered the poetry book she had penned Jonathan and ripped every page out, feeding it to the fireplace. That night, as the fire crackled, the man wrapped his hands around Danielle’s throat and suffocated the light out of her gazes.
Jonathan took a deep breath.
When he had arrived at the wake, he… no, he repeated to himself, I will not go down that path. Stop. He remembered nonetheless. Despite the mortuary cosmetologist’s best attempts, Jonathan could see fingerprints on her slim, pale throat.
Or at least at the time, he believed he had.
It had been so many years.
He was better to forget their past. The smell of magnolias and patchouli. The way her lips parted slightly when she hungered for a kiss. Her soft skin. Her honey-blonde hair.
He’d spend a lifetime, trying in desperation to forget.
In the twelfth grade, my heart was sore like a bruise you put pressure on to remind yourself why it hurts. I hung out with a girl who wore oversized hoodies to hide her abortion and outlined her eyes in black for the drama. One afternoon, we were cutting class, but instead of hiding under a bridge and writing poetry like usual, she took me to a stranger’s house.
We sat around, the air thickly perfumed with pot. I watched a boy several years older. His eyeswere the color of sea glass and distant as well. He didn’t say much, but then, neither did I. A big Siberian Husky lay on the floor. A person everyone seemed to know came in and let in a draft of blustery winter air. We all yelled for someone to shut the damn door. The dog’s name was Neko like the singer.
No one bothered to close the door, so we, strangers and friends alike, huddled close for warmth. Neko jumped up and ran out the door. The boy with light eyes and I leapt to our feet, without saying a word, and in our heavy winter boots, chased down the dog. The yards were covered in snow, and we ran without losing our breath, the winter air crisp in our lungs. We ran down those empty streets, chasing a dog neither of us knew.
What if you were that boy— eyes the color of sea glass?
I have been writing about my dreams here recently, and this morning, I jotted one down to share when something my best friend told me struck me: “No one wants to hear about other people’s dreams. They’re boring and nonlinear and make no sense.”
On rereading the dream I had written this morning, I saw his point: my dreams are boring. Aside from the ones I have that feel more like visions, my dreams are generally only interesting to me.
That being said, I will be discontinuing my dream series.
Pierce a vein and watch calligraphy spill on the page. India ink replaces deoxygenated blood. My heart starves for the passion the stars contain. My heart is empty except for the galaxies that glimmer inside of aortas and dwell in ventricles.
I have spent lifetimes hiding behind the gauzy veil of metaphors and similes. I still manage to somehow sever through memories, fantasy, and autobiography. When you are handed a time bomb, you don’t have time to pause and rehearse the perfect line.
My thoughts are not always beautiful, but like my penmanship, they showcase the chaos and tumult within. I have been compared to a tornado before, but I always try to clean up the messes I leave behind. I would much rather be a natural disaster than an unyielding and unforgiving ghost.
I have told stories for as long as I can remember. As a toddler, I babbled to my mother about memories of previous lives. I told her about East Hollywood like it was a place I had been when all I had known was the gateway to the west.
I will keep imagining until the disease that stripped my grandmother of her memories and left her vulnerable steals my words and empties them of all meaning like the thief who robs a safe or picks a pocket. I sometimes worry I will grow stale, a piece of bread left out for too many days, or that I will wilt, a flower not watered and left to perish, but until that day comes, I will keep leaving out these dictionary pages rearranged in hopes that they will create a sparkle in someone’s eyes.