Sunday, September 28
Week in Review
Another week, another tally (one-twenty-eight, only). Another Sunday of lesson plans and lesson plans and lesson plans, and then all the other things that I should do, but won't. On the fat edge of another week beginning, another pot of coffee warms, another bowl of pasta cools. Another season arrives, leaves falling and temperatures dropping. Another, and another, and the more things change to stay the same, and anyhow, the school year's off, and I'll have to suppose mine is well, though it's all held together by miles and miles like invisible tape. Running too much, sleeping too little – my most familiar story, revamped context. Neti, neti – next week I'll know what it is by what it is not. Namely, I suppose, this week, even in all the ways it still is.
You call the gathering a carnival, but laugh at it, too; the only beer behind a fence, reserved for the elite, and underneath the cool clouds, the mood is only mildly festive. Later, the girl with the mostly pleasant face and too much liquor in her words – later she'll tell me she knows carnival, she knows crazy, she'll tell me all about it. So she says, just before she passes out, sliding to the gravel in the parking lot where she talked and I listened while I ate my pizza. A friend rescues her and I walk away in the cool night, watching phone numbers swap in the early morning, feeling old and tired and satisfactorily distant. Neither carnival, I think, is my own, but yours, perhaps, is closer.
I note the juncture of tender foot and hard acorn, yet another frailty (despite the callouses) bitten by the varied fruit of the tree of life. I am aware of the seed – less than pleasantly – with each stride, and yet I run. The golf course is hard and dry, absent the usual fall sop, and yet we play at five miles, barefoot, doing our best to avoid twigs and delicately crossing gravel when we must. After a few minutes, I give in, pause – from one foot I remove a small splinter (casualty of a twig), the other my acorn companion. And again, we run. My foot is bruised still, two days later, imprint of the seed left in each footfall. But I rarely run barefoot, and this is such mild penitence compared to so many previous.
Four years, five, and you only once called me out, only once really ripped into me – and even that only at my very worst, after I'd taken everything and left neither change nor apology, after all the river we'd floated between us was gone and all we had left to survey was the broken floodplain. So when I see you in the parking lot after yet another teacher meeting – dressed slightly more stylishly, in perhaps slightly better shape, but undeniably you, flaunting those same delightfully wild curls – and you look right through me, not recognizing, as if we'd never met, somehow it fits. I've been absolved.
I curl into my sheets wired and exhausted, face sore from smiling, and for the first time since you left I think I might be happy. A future traded in, another circle returned to start, but still, these moments trace themselves against the back of faded eyelids: racing along the water's edge, as if a piece of the sea and the extension of chalky limestone cliffs; gliding by gently rippling waterfalls inside miles of deer trails and the coolest autumnal afternoon. all of it, of course, worth the small admission fares I collect in bumps, scrapes, bruises. Come love, I imagine life may be more deserving that you ever would have let yourself be. Hardly absolution, but the small realization is something, another plank to cling to.
your English is no longer native, though even the years of Spanish that have come between us are not enough to veil the black poetry in your short letters. We were out so fast, you and I, a flash in the dark, even if an eternity in our youth. We didn't know what it meant, those words we carried towards and past each other. Maybe we still don't, though you hint at being in love, even as you admit both the guardrails to which you cling and fears of defeat. Neither of us finds it ironic that we maybe understand each other better now than we ever did then. I don't ask, but somehow I know you'd agree: all language is foreign. In that context, it makes sense that we'd communicate better now.
Another week, the same footprints running through, tired but full. Miles of curriculum and piles of papers, and maybe this is another dream – and all of it fifteen miles before. Days melt together in sweat and sleepy eyes and the faint odor of garbage that should have been taken out yesterday. A phone number I won't call, but still sitting in my bag. The phone numbers I should call, also sitting in my bag. And my bag sitting every time I stop moving, which is of course as little as I will allow. It is not last week, and absent any proof to the contrary, you'll call that progress.
Artwork: Cody Redmon
Monday, September 22
I wasted all my stoicism years ago, on dreams I knew I'd never have the speed for: miles of trials, trials of miles, and in the end, all it took was one unraveling hip to see it undone. It was foolish of me to think I had any more of that kind of impossible strength when it came to love, that I could somehow pretend not to feel as I did, could pretend to know the thing at the bottom of my breath. This is not fiction. And I should have admitted as such immediately, when you first told me our lives had no common purpose, that the journey wouldn't be shared. I should have asked you to never again contact me then and there, should have been honest enough to accept that we'd never be friends, that I'd always be left yearning. But the human heart is a machine built for tireless suffering, ever thick with blood. Dreamers' notions leaping so, I pushed on, somehow convinced you'd come back around. We all play the fool at least once, I think.
I doubt you can ever really know how hard it was to cut into you so, to see the knife plunge deep, to hear your cries. I didn't want to hurt you, really, I didn't, didn't want to see you bleed across the static of a shaking voice mail, short clipped sentences in my inbox. It was harder yet not answering, not apologizing. but how else was I supposed to push you entirely away, to imagine you'd never meant so much to me, to forget how the mere mention of your name still makes my stomach do flips, when even a sideways glance at eyes like yours can still bring me to my knees? How else was I supposed to learn to hate you, the loss of a future you once represented? How else was I supposed to move on? Passionate or apathetic, all or nothing, everything to excess: I've never been good at compromise, reasonably meeting in the middle.
So now, weekends falling away in Friday night miles and rum, Saturday nights of beer and Irish whiskey, Sunday morning grocery trips with the bike trailer and a dry mouth. Then there's work, sprawling inefficiencies of lesson planning having taken over my Sundays as it once did yours. Of course, I still don't see how you managed to work yourself into such a fit so often: in the end, we're just teachers, just filling young (and younger) minds with knowledge they may or may not accept, may or may not use. 'You can lead a horse to water,' etc. I shrug it all off easily enough: they'll learn what they learn, and though I know teacher quality is important, I also know that only they can hold their futures in their young palms. But for some people, everything in life is personal, isn't it?
I won't argue with you about how this statement represents me, as well; reduced to dirty white bones, I've no person left for the personal. They tell me I'm doing well, I'm doing better, I'm looking good, I seem to be holding up okay, and I know all of these words to be more or less true – but still, I imagine absent arteries and veins, absent the ligature and muscle of a dream to get carried away with, I'm all but drifting away. Pure as a stained feather on a dirty sidewalk, waiting the autumn winds to toss me aside with handfuls of fallen leaves. A comforting image, really: close my eyes, await the breeze. In time, it'll come. You'll be an apparition left somewhere behind me, and then, inside the clouds, it'll all be over.
Artwork: Andrew Gibson
Wednesday, September 17
Too much caffeine and dreams reflect it; REM cycles gone twitchy, neurotic. Racing shoes inside the cage of my ribs, two muddy spikes sandwiching a strong even pulse, the steady beating command center slowly absorbing the technicolor dreamcoat hues of so many miles: fertile soil and rich clay, sucking mud and loose sand and marshy goop; blacks and yellows and reds and oranges and browns and greens. Pressure builds quietly, colors bleeding together, paints swirling into each other; slowly, now, more and more red. Peering through transparent skin, crimson brilliant behind the stark white bones, radiating sunlight hot from inside my chest. I explode a blossoming supernova, wake in a start, shocked upright and eyes wide, pulse jackhammering away, so much coffee sharply throbbing in a jagged and uneven mind. Only a dream? I cannot help but wonder.
Even these words: ink spots messy and uneven, like sheets haphazard around me. I'm learning the night keeps her secrets better obscured with every passing evening, even as the moon rises magnified and full, completely bared to the cool dark. Autumn is in the air; summer is dying, gasping, nearly gone.
Days, now: they come crisp, a cool bite in the air, but are quickly tired and worn. A housewife whose retirement may never come, and the thankless years of mounting fatigue hanging on her worse and worse. We can't all age well, pittance of a cost comparatively.
In plainer terms: sleep falls hard and heavy, but dances uneven and jerky like a wrecking ball, arcing through space and time with an endearingly (at least tonight) broken regularity. I know some walls will never be forgotten, even in their supposed absence; these dreams cannot help but paint them. Of course, absent passing time and the accompanying perspective, I'm still not sure to quite which walls I refer, remain uncertain which barriers stand and which have fallen.
Imagining myself sleepless still, I focus on slowing my heart (spite the atomic frenzy of coffee twitters, neural firework bonanza!), counting first and then channeling breath, this too-long forgotten meditative peace. Released to the ether, I sink, farther and farther, skeletal weight to the deepest, blackest sea; I float higher and higher, breath light like eagle feathers. From one comes two, maybe more, the number of pieces less important than their existence.
Far from exploding, I split peacefully in the calm of such an early, early morning reverie. You are lost to the deeps, the ignored song in my marrow; I am lost to the infinite space, so far beyond the stratosphere. My old heart stops; I have no more need of it.
Silent, eyes gently closed, I drift off: there is no gravity here to stop me. At least not until morning; the night stretches on and I fold easily back into its embrace.
Artwork: Terri L Baugh Norman, Dreamcatcher
Monday, September 15
A hundred and sixty-two miles later, all matter of too many, all matter of too few days, all too little in the way of recovery? Unintentional, I say, and he guffaws: what's unintentional about a forty-five mile day two days before a thirty-four mile run the night before a four-mile cross-country, all of it on next to no sleep? Lesson plan, run, lesson plan, run, eat, lesson plan, nap, grade, run: if time allows, have a drink or two to unwind.
Yet, time stands still. Names run across hours, behaviors same as ever, math (and responses to it: I hate this! Math sucks!) unchanged. Places and faces fluid, everything else constant. Coefficients: whiskey, sleepless nights, factors of neglect (physically, emotionally; sad, broken lives), smells never escaped.
Running so hard eyes grow hazy, last mile foggy as ever, and a night only slightly less foggy, but hardly clear. The moon bright and full, large as ever, so much more than a dime escaping your pocket, so much more free than you ever knew to be. Still, bright objects confuse me.
Fingers twitching, again, and veins as much caffeine as adrenaline as fatigue as blood. Anxiety, nerves, even sorrow: these are forgotten. There is only so much room, you know, in those narrow tunnels, and I've found ways to crowd you out.
I didn't want to be so harsh, so cruel, you know, but didn't know how not to be: everything to excess, you know, and some patterns are just too ingrained to forget. Useless I know, but to not attempt to hide you away -- too much history runs counter. So those words -- you know I had to hurt you, cut deep. Anything else would have left open possibilities for which I'm not strong enough, despite all those times I tried to confuse my legs for my heart. Inverse relationship, maybe.
In high school, there was the pride of my first two hundred mile month; then in college, three hundred. After graduation, after that summer, escaping ugly truths the only way I knew how, I went after the four hundred mile month. Now, losing you, these night of ashen skies and cloudy dreams, I find myself already past five, and nearing six. A marathon a day, eventually; every line crossed in time. Maybe I'll recognize the edge before I go over.
Records are meant to be broken, erased, forgotten, and miles are meant to be left behind, footprints fading, vanished inside the hourglass. We were born to run,1 you know. I just never expected to run this far.
1. No, really.
Saturday, September 13
I can't blame you for this. You were young and stupid, innocent as only the inexperienced can be. I was young and stupid, as only the intentionally blind can be. There were bound to be repercussions.
I've torched the image you left imprinted inside my footprints, scrubbed at the sole inside my sole, but it's just become a messy streak, an ugly blemish in a muddy footprint. My stride is lopsided, oddly loping. And memories of you still loop through the recycled miles; these cities are not large enough to escape inside them, nor are there enough hours in the day to escape out.
Most mornings my stomach quivers well before the sun wakes, trembling like the guitar strings I endlessly pluck, less hungry than disturbed by another sleepless night. Enough caffeine and my fingers shake. But these are easily enough hidden, and I try to forget that you ever touched me.
I'd escape to nameless hidden places, if I knew how to find them. Road maps are useless when you've never learned to read, and the stars are such an awkward guide on dark and cloudy nights. I think of happier nights, make a list of ten, only to find that you starred in four of them – more than everyone else I've ferreted nights away with combined. More even than the three I've kept entirely for myself. I've never shared well.
A silver loop can mean so much, or it can mean so little, depending on your perspective. I, of course, had the foresight to choose the wrong side of the equation, x being less than y. I can only wonder what kind of bell curve I'd graph, when we reached the zenith and began falling away, were such an equation real, substantial enough to represent lofty and impossible hopes. Implausible, impossible, a difference of three letters and a lifetime of dreams.
Had I ever possessed the skills to play the quarterback, I'd have waved off my line years ago, shred the pads equally, equating risk with opportunity. Foolishness, I know, but I can never help but imagine the extra weight of caution is what's always keeping me grounded, from soaring away in the sky. Owl there understands: who-who,whowho. Four syllables and infinite experience.
I'm, of course, always forgetting the obvious: that most of what I know about flying is the trajectory of thrown rocks and felled dead trees, that somehow the longest stories are shortest in the mouth of a wise bird. Reduced, four syllables: not important.
The same four syllables: I loved, you ran; you went through me; you slid right by; this is the end; we're in the past; forget those hopes; no one can fly.
The loneliest four: te quiero mas.
The last four (sanitized): no thanks, goodbye.
Dust to dust, ashes to ashes. End of that line.
Wednesday, September 10
Once comfortable in a fresh skin, now I find it cracking and peeling, a thick wall crashing, bricks like needles speeding to pin my dreams down, as if to chide: do not make the mistake of being irrational, of hoping. Wracking thoughts race haphazard, bullets across the burnt diaspora of my brain. The bottle (another!), empty. And though I know I should feel relieved – your ghost finally (maybe?) banished – there is only this terrible crushing weight against my chest. Gasp, gasp, forever short, empty.
Teach a fish to breathe air, and when you throw it back, it can't help but drown. Such sad lives in the wake of just a touch of stolen, unearned happiness: time is fluid, calm water behind me, and this present and future a strange muddle of whitewater and brackish.
I'd be saddened most by the students who happily say 'you're the best math teacher I've ever had,' knowing how little I'm really giving, if only I weren't so numb, so cold. Between classes I vomit in the bathroom; I haven't eaten and neither am I hungover. Chunks of hair in the shower behind me, again; skeletal emergence, again. Rewinding, recycling madness, a spirograph gone frantic.
There are no more answers in these tired feet, nor are miles of blacktop beneath the stars much use. These escapes are closing, no more; I've left the road behind me. Where I'm going the path is no more than a passing apparition, a vision clouded in the fog. Weary at the start, I set off nonetheless, sweeping up the pieces of my once-proud shell as I go. There's no other direction left to take.