I’m starting to realize that maybe it wasn’t all as it seemed: the books I read, how heavy they felt, the poets and their illuminating ways. Everything I thought from back then seemed to connect in a way that made sense for the time being. I remember being Marie DeSalle, never the Laura. I remember airing this all out and how I was made to believe that maybe it wasn’t like that – maybe I was just projecting because it was the wrong book to talk about that. But it was, after all, wasn’t it? In the end. And maybe this person didn’t like that a book was right about it all along, as if we had no will power. I don’t mind it so much though. That’s why we like the books we read. Seeing ourselves in it, wanting so much to in fact have written it ourselves. They don’t always end the way we want them to, maybe, probably, because we want a different ending for ourselves too.
I’ve read a lot of books since then. A lot by the same authors I had embedded into my life years before. I agree that for most authors there is just the one, and everything else beyond that pales. But I didn’t know it was pale like that for you. Pale because of something else. I convinced myself for a long time that all the things I thought about my secondhand-ness were made-up, a reflection of my insecurities, of my losses, in my belief that history would always inevitably repeat itself. I thought that all the shared things were indicative of the world we built, but maybe it wasn’t. I tried to find myself in all the words. I was scouring for some part of me that made it into you, but maybe it never did. Not like I had thought. And I’m tired now, to think of it. I’m tired of thinking that I have a novel somewhere dedicated to me. Not just a chapter where I act as a supporting character, but whole series-length books. Just for once on that bookshelf of my past life I was hoping. So I guess that’s it. That’s enough now.
Imagine a Tuesday night beneath two blankets, limbs burrowed beneath each other’s bodies to starve the cold. I am coddling the last 50 pages of my book, knowing that my next book won’t arrive in the mail until Thursday. He is watching the news on his phone because I refuse us a television. Every once in a while he’ll hover a pineapple spear over to my side of the couch, where I use what core strength I have left to lift myself just enough to bite into it, covered in tajin. I want it always to be like this. The news anchor who we’ve dubbed Uncle Lester telling us that a group of police officers thought it made sense to pepper spray a 9 year old girl because she did not comply. I look up from my book with a raised brow. As if tossing the little thing into the back of the car was somehow worse than pepper spraying her. As if none of them remember what it was like to be 9 and afraid, kicking and screaming. This, I could do without. Madness looks out at us in this way, through acts of forgetting. When we forget where we’ve left the cell phone (on top of the laundry) or the keys (in the refrigerator), people call us scatterbrained or absentminded. Without a mind. Isn’t that just another way to say we’re mad? I am savoring what clear-eyed days I have left. His right hand reaching out to me as a reflex, waiting for me to touch. I flip the page and I do. We laugh so much at subtlety these days. An awkward pause becomes hilarious. He takes the last bit of pineapple and looks into the bottom of the black bowl, flecks of sour spice floating on syrup. As he hands it to me I am reminded of how much I need these small acts. Not the grand gestures, but this remembering. My small pleasures. How I love the excessive flavors concentrated at the bottom of the takis bag, the salty leftover soup from shin ramen, all this tajin and pineapple juice. I smile at him. He says to me I know, honey, without looking up from his phone, and I slurp the last bit of tartness before the night ends. Loved and content. Without madness.
I think a lot of who we are has to do with how we think of ourselves – not so much a becoming than a proving. When I was younger I always imaged myself with tattoos. That was just how I saw it. I never said I wanted tattoos. I knew I would have them. I imagined red lipstick and bookcases and a cloud of smoke. It’s the same with poetry. Having never read much poetry I liked as a child, it seems impossible now to think that it was the medium I went with. Not fiction, not creative non-fiction, not even a journalist or an editor. Poetry. Because it made sense.
Sometimes I wonder what else I decided as a child that informs the adult I am today. Many of these didn’t come true, too. Divorced with two children who didn’t like me, a rich life in an exaggerated black condo hating a job that takes all my time. I thought these things would be true because I wanted the exact opposite, so I figured of course, life would not go my way. In reality all I’ve wanted was to be so loved I would never have to worry about anything, so long as I had that person. No children. A comfortable income that let me do what I do best: make the most out of a little, not ever wanting too much. A light-filled place to come home to after working at a job I didn’t stress about because it gave me time to do other things. I liked the idea of a hill, just like my dad wanted. So that you woke when the sun came up and when you turned off all the lights to go to sleep you saw all the other residents beneath you, glowing. Or a tree-lined property with a creek rushing by, dappled by moonlight. I imagined myself barefooted at the edge, reading a book someone has gifted me, the hems of my dress muddied by the bank.
Much of what I am was willed by a child. Most of what I want is because when I was 10, I decided that’s what I would need. How strange it is to realize that my life is pre-determined just like I always learned in Sunday school, just not by any god that I knew of.