Saturday, September 9, 2017

Lost You In A Dream

I have sequestered myself from sleeping with my fiancĂ©e, under the pretense of backpain and a clinical prescription for more legroom. Now I writhe uncomfortably on a memory foam mattress I’d installed in our cramped home office. This night, on occasion I do manage to sleep. I know this because my shadowy mind envisions Cheryl, at home on her couch in silky pajamas, reading Bachelard, rosy from a shower, shins tucked beneath her thighs, thinking nothing of me.
Noise outside the window startles me awake. My psyche churns, reflecting on the past few weeks, past holidays. Bright young couples who Tabitha and I would visit in Cincinnati—smart, informed, witty, empowered. Newlyweds on their second or third marriage who buy a foreclosed house and invite you over for drinks and animated talk of Walter, the childhood bully from Mount Healthy, about how he killed himself, and eventually we broach the ironic failure of Nixon’s War On Drugs. We pass a joint around until meaningful conversation falls off, and Dave and Amber tell us their plans to refinish the kitchen cabinets.
This was the end-goal? To lay plans for surrendering your life until the reaper comes to wake you with his gun? To get a new countertop composed of the shards from recycled blue vodka bottles, and to put little glass panes in each cabinet above it, which will remain unaltered until the day you both are shipped off to the farm by your children, who have their own burdensome existences to deal with.
My insomnia feels punitive, and it is exacerbated by the voice of a female passerby. I sit up, wrangling the blinds. A shiny young blonde holds hands with a guy in a sweatshirt on the sidewalk. Her face isn’t visible; I see only his goatee. In this instance, I would give up everything to be that guy, give up the prior weekend of sangria and tapas, all the celebratory toasts among Tabitha’s girls and my oldest buddies—the newlyweds and newly-engaged. All for a moment with the faceless blonde girl sailing past my window, chatting merrily at five in the morning. I groan aloud and wish that—in spite of her glimmering hair and straight spine—the girl on the sidewalk is a troglodyte.
Staring at the latticed shadows on my ceiling, I conclude that in the compulsive flash during which I yielded to marriage, I had resigned. Hereby I would cancel my youth, obliterate my freedom, execute my spirit. I was now cursed. I was self-imprisoned, already half-dead. There would be nothing to look forward to. All urgency to write anything down was abolished; everything from now on would be predictable… unless I went on living this second life, in which I would rendezvous with Cheryl at the Nach Bar on a Tuesday night under a full moon, somehow rationalizing my twisted lycanthropy.
Ironically, what I want is pure transparency. I want this life-book to be wide open; I want to apologize for nothing.
But now even music has lost its luster. No more artfully customized playlists, no mixed tapes. No more ambitious inroads into the head and heart and silky pajamas of a living, breathing mystery—a specimen like Cheryl. The lightning rod sensation of shared chords and rhythms, the potency of lyrics, their aphrodisiac potential. This was all gone because I, Nicholas J. Cronen, am getting married in three weeks.
…Yes, cursed. Matrimony is a mundane and prophesied moment in most people’s lives. It was for me a psychic breakdown and violation of all I’d championed for twenty years. What was I thinking coming back from that trip to Middle Earth, strung out as a Brazilian whore after Carnival? I was exhausted, lonely, weepy with gratitude at all Tabitha had ever done for me. But I was deranged, dissolute. Your Honor, can I claim temporary unfitness? Exhibit A is my knee-jerk reaction to I Love You by the Climax Blues Band while flying over the Prime Meridian. You see, I am unfit, Your Honor, because now I have exiled myself from the meat market, castrated all future hopes for the flesh rampage, and yes, I would surely go to waste in the wrong arms…
Yet Tabitha’s aren’t the wrong arms in any way, truth be told. Tabitha’s may be the only arms that would always be open to me, perhaps unconditionally. Tabitha understands me better than any living being in every dimension, including this ceaselessly billowing desire of mine, a desire for the Unknown—for strange—which fuels my compulsion to parade these obscene words across the screen. Tabitha is pure and whole. She is everything practical and solid and giving. Her love is real. And yet, some primordial, delusional urge convinces me that the impossibly magnetic allure of Cheryl is worth my existential undoing.
There would be no more sleeping for me tonight.
After stewing in the itchy swelter of insomnia long enough, twisting your stupid head around with eyes obstinately shut, eventually you must emerge from the aching womb and face the world.
As I walk into Tabitha’s bedroom—our master bedroom—at 6:59 a.m., the bed is pristine, the duvet neatly done up. Her closet is empty. Even the hangers are gone. There is panic in my throat. In the common room, her laptop is not on its docking station, the docking station also absent. The bathroom shower caddy is void of shampoos, body wash, the scent of her hair now crushing. I rush to the front door, braced for the vacancy of her silver Corolla.
I return to sit on the edge of her bed, nauseated. This crossroad is one I am not prepared to traverse. The hardwood floor is dimpled, dusty. And while I am gazing at the floor of the house that we bought together, I realize that Tabitha left her coffeemaker, which begins to sing its familiar song…

Saturday, September 2, 2017

Poem To My Brothers, Whose Father Passed Away Last Thursday

What I know is the two of you, known you since before Santa Claus
became a myth, since the days both of you
in your tank-tops and tight shorts
stood up for me against the stone-throwing street bully
down by the creek.
We grew up in that ankle-deep creek,
hefting home our quarry in buckets: crayfish, snappers, minnows, toads.
Your Dad would salute without raising his hand;
it was the I’m happy if you’re happy look on his face.

We’d blow up plastic Corvettes in the driveway.
Your Dad would warn us: “Use kerosene instead of gas. Gas explodes.
You don’t want to explode, do you?”
That I’m happy if you’re safe look on his face.

The last time I saw him, last August at high-sweat, we were passers-by
in a parking lot. He explained to me how underground cable lines
ran on a map. With his square pink fingernail, he traced a blue path on paper.
“Now I’ve got to do it on foot,” he said.
He pointed to a hand-sized electronic gadget with switches and probes
and used words I didn’t understand. He smiled.
It was a Friday,
and I think he looked forward to Fridays.

One time he was concerned about my paring an apple
in the wrong direction. That pocket knife
is still in his pocket.
And I remember how one snowy day he let me wear his boots
so we could all play Army behind
icy homemade forts. The boots were big and military;
the knife was sharp as broken glass.

I see him now in your living room,
snoozing hands behind his head
reclining in his recliner after six,
head tilted slightly, his big square glasses crooked
over the serene square jaw,
a steamy spy novel in his lap.
We would dodge the squeaky floorboards out of respect.

Here’s where it feels like lead.
I wonder about the last words you each got to say to him.
What’s it like, that final picture in your minds?
Today, I thought of his last words to me,
and then I thought of my own Dad. You see him living
your entire life, and suddenly comes a cold metal slab.
My head barked inside: Picture your own Dad, picture him living,
pot-bellied and biting into a salty hardboiled egg,
or tying a slipknot on the cleat of his boat. Picture him living,
and then on a slab. You think about that. No…
It makes it too hard to breathe.

“I’m so sorry for your loss…” You’ve heard this too many times this week.
And yet I could not make it to the funeral to say even this.
I had a meeting at school;
a collaborative project for Applied Mathematics.
No calculus can explain how a strong man’s heart
can turn on itself with no tingling harbinger,
no second chance.

Everybody can’t help but think of their own Dad.
But mostly I think of you guys, your glistering red eyes
the moment the news arrived, our friends’ group hugs
in your driveway last Thursday.

I awoke tonight, shaking the guilt from my head,
recalling the last words Jim said to me. They were:
“See you later, Chris.”

(February 4, 1997)