Part of an original something I have been working on/re-working on/tucking away and taking back out again for a number of years. I vacillate between this, and a very different story, when I dive into the cliched “working on my novel(s)” mode, but often get caught in the spin cycle of self-editing, and self-loathing that often ends with things getting boxed up, and tucked away (again). I am trying to heed the advice of other writers I have recently encountered in this sometimes surreal community of bloggers and just write, get the words out, and finish a final draft – once there, I can spend countless days, weeks and hours in self-editing and self-loathing, but at least I will have done it, and have plenty of words to sift through and bemoan.
Following is what may, or may not, be the start of the story. Any feedback/comments would be appreciated. Apologies to anyone who has read this before, as I have shared it with a few trusted friends in the past. I need the motivation to keep writing, and perhaps the accountability of sharing progress, and pieces, here. And, yes, the title has been lifted from lyrics to my favorite song, Famous Blue Raincoat, by Leonard Cohen.
Famous Blue Raincoat :: Leonard Cohen
She Sends Her Regards (Pt. 1)
She’s Lost Control (August 1991)
Fifteen minutes left. I count them on a Salvation Army man’s watch, scratched on the face, and far too big for my thin wrist. Sometimes I pretend that it was his, sent back from “the war”, or some late Sixties peace march. Contradictions aside, the impossibility prevails that he exists at all past faded photographs with ruffled shirts, a prom night tuxedo worn for their wedding day, and those big hair pictures with Mom looking so much younger than eighteen. She had scared as hell eyes standing there next to my Father. Was I really once his little girl waiting by the door each night as the sun went down, pleading for his return? My knuckles were constantly blood stained and raw from banging them on the screen when he inevitably stopped coming home to us. It took weeks for me to realize that, I guess, weeks before I stopped the waiting and wailing. Mom insists that everything healed up fine, that I was better for all of it; my Father leaving us, she and I going on without him, and her finding me a new Daddy in the process. I had helped to raise her on the way, Mother and Daughter roles in reverse, affixing band-aids and pep talks over her second failed marriage, secretly exhaling in relief when my second Father left us. This one left me with a baby brother, nightmares that still persist, and with a Mother who teetered between breakdowns and new break-ups. There were more than a few nights where she would call me up, me who was now the one just eighteen, her voice a mess of drunken slurs and desperation in the form of I don’t know where I am, Louise, please find me.
This watchband is worn and leaves stains on my skin, especially when the sun has its way with it, like when I drive home with my arm out the window, capturing wind waves with the radio turned up high. At the spin of a bottle, the turn of a dial, I could just keep driving; go on past familiar off-ramps, crossing intersections and state lines, one by one by one. There is nothing waiting at home for me anymore, nothing unexpected, or new. It is just his breath on the back of my neck, hot and stale, his body smelling of motorcycle gas fumes, Marlboro Reds and late night bottom of the pot Denny’s coffee. I lie in bed opposite his face, curled up far and away from him. Lying. Away. I watch the patterns of false dance on the wall, like those shadow puppets I used to make with my hands as a kid. On the nights he grabs hold of me before I can turn away, pulling me beneath him, opening my legs, well it becomes just another curtain call for me. I can count to ten once, and then backwards, flutter my eyelashes just so, let out three sighs, and it’s over. He passes out next to me then, snoring too close to my ear, as I teeter on the edge of the bed, gripping the sheets. This is as far as I can go from him without giving notice; two weeks, or otherwise. I lie there, deathly still for hours, still staring at the wall, my legs sticky. But, if I move to take a shower I might just try and swim away, collapse and shrink, small enough to slip down the drain.
I turn the page down of the cheap paperback I have been reading as I wait. He tells me that dog-eared books lose their value, that people will notice the carelessness when they borrow a book, or just pick it up to page through. He’ll never see this one, though. I can hear in my head how he’d scoff at it, shake his head and say that this is what too much television will do to you. Hand me another copy of The Odyssey, pat my head, good girl. Only two years younger and still I’m supposed to play the role of Jake’s little girlfriend (as if he can read the abandonment in my eyes, my need for a Father figure; twisted and recalled, recoiled, and so fucking predictable). The fact lost to him is that sometimes I read V.C. Andrews crap “novels” because I need that taste of poison to fill in the empty spots. These stories make my own family attic look cleaner, saner, less cracked and torn. The page rips as I fold it, my hands betraying me again. I check for scars, for the story they tell, but I see nothing.
I walk outside, fish sunglasses out of the bottom of my bag. Where is my lighter? I sift around in search of the pink one, with glitter, that I bought earlier this morning at 7-11. The guy that works behind the counter there wears too much cologne. He smells like the guys who work downstairs from where I do, the perfume counter hustlers that try to spray every passerby, or like the boys who dance at Rage.
He never wore that much, not when we danced there together.
Counter-guy asked me this morning, with a smirk. “You like the pink one? Not black?” I laughed and rolled my eyes, as if I had never heard any of the “mock the goth-girl” bullshit before. I smiled and looked right at him while I palmed the green lighter, also with glitter, on my way out. He didn’t notice though, his eyes were too busy scanning my breasts while he took my money; watching the rise and fall of my breathing, the noticeable cold morning air that my sweater failed to disguise. Those lighters remind me of mixed tapes, the ones we took on all those trips up the coast. They remind me of the way Robert’s tongue felt in my mouth, promising things he would never deliver, our voices intertwined with all those secrets kept, shared, and betrayed. Like my petty theft lapses, and his predilection for giving blow jobs to other boys, they are all part of our history, all part of my study in the art of denial. I’m still good at it, better than ever, it has become like second nature now; lying just seeping out of every pore.
I was supposed to forget about Robert by now. I was supposed to leave all that unopened hesitation behind me. Leave it all on the blank walls I left behind after I packed up the boxes. I had loaded up the borrowed office furniture truck hoping for something so much better, knowing that I was leaving pieces of me in the floorboards of my childhood bedroom, and in the back seat of my broken down first car. A hundred dollars from the junk yard is what they had given me for her. “But you’ll have to drive it there yourself”. So, I put a little bit of gas in her, dropped her off and walked away. I should have pushed her off a cliff with me tied to the back bumper. The rear view mirror pops off easily, I should have told them that at the yard; though it’s marked up with razor blade scratches, and grooves in the glass. I sure wish I had a line on me, I could so use that old familiar burn right now. I wish I could pack everything back up and say I changed my mind more. That I could take back the middle of April, Jake’s birthday present, him behind me this time, and me still faking along. I can still feel his hand pulling my head back, my hair tangling through his fingers, me focusing on the pain, on the map on the wall, and the faint smell of burnt toast. I could hear his Mother in the kitchen, banging dishes around, cursing at an unknown combatant. He had wanted the escape hatch, too, some kind of reason to leave his own broken childhood home. My lips felt chapped and raw that night, much like they always feel, but I bite down anyway, tasting the metallic sting of blood. Just count to ten and it’s over, Happy birthday, baby.
I cannot forget you.
He isn’t you.
I sit down against the wall and run my hand slowly across the stucco, feeling the slight tug on my skin, that rough exterior pull. How easily we can tear, bleed and heal back over again. Give it a few days and we can look as good as new (on the surface). I pull my knees to my chest, rest my chin. My torn black stockings are showing in the small gap between skirt and boots. I picked them up off the floor this morning, by the window, sliding them on in the dark room, the gentle grasp required for fabric so vulnerable. I pull at the material with my fingers now, feel how sheer, how fragile, and toy with the rip in it from the morning. My fingers could just push right through, ripping everything apart even if my nails are bitten down; each fingertip nothing but a pink tinge of abuse. This time it was the zipper caught in it, snagging it again, yet another run up my leg. But no one can see it, not really. I pull the edge down lower, folding my body up closer into myself. Inhale, flick. I am tempted to touch my flesh with the tip of my cigarette, feel something besides this lump of doubt in my throat. The weight of not saying anything, and the nagging sound of an invisible clock, ticking, as if that big clock in Peter Pan was buried in the deepest parts of my insides. Big Ben, in London, right? I close my eyes and picture myself flying to the clock’s face, breaking off an arm, stopping time. I have lost my pixie dust along the way, though. Robert took it with him when he left, and I have sure as hell forgotten how to fly.
Jake will tell me this is just another way to prove my immaturity; that it is so pedestrian to stumble this way. To have this conversation at all? How unnecessary, he’ll say. We just unpacked, hammered all the nails into the walls. Hold it still. Stop shaking. Not there. Here. Didn’t you study the floor plan I drew up? Pin your hair up next time. You know how it makes your neck look longer. Now this picture over here. The couch there. I am just part of the drawing, the sketch of a life in a black bound book, Journal #26. You are in these pages, don’t worry, he assures me in lowered, conspiring tones, through a series of puffs, and inhales.
He will say there is no room here. That’s why my desk had to go, my school schedule and my college education. School is just someone else’s view of the world. We will make our own. The two of us. I’ll show you how it will all work out. Trust me, I have just the right design in mind.
His own design. His. The two of us. Two.
I stand up then. This skirt is perfect for spinning. I tuck my hands behind my back, concentrate, and I can hear the music swell in my ears. Close my eyes and I can feel the sky dim, everything turning day into night. I tilt my head towards the sky, the sun causing white spots to dart across the inside of my eyelids. They remind me of stars. Stars that dot a path, carving out a perfect space, my own solar system to get lost in. My heart pulses, I can feel it and nothing else, it turns itself into the thump of remembered music, The Cure’s Close to Me coursing through me, becoming part of my blood. I feel like I am dancing.
But, my feet are just walking forward. I try to grab onto the nearest lamp post, phone booth, a stranger’s arm. I long for the kind of darkness that a small club with the membership desk at the front gave me, that sort of anonymity, and knowing. The kind of trouble I could drum up back then did not play like this on-screen. I would turn myself inside out and back again if I could go back; find a pathway, a bathroom stall, a reflection, a brand new song. I would grab hold of a one of those red cups from the door staff, the ones they gave us after hours in trade for a few black lipstick kisses. I was faking it even then, I suppose, while wearing a different scent of denial.
Andie would know how to write this. But my hand slips each time I pick up the phone, or try to take a paper to pen to write to my “best friend”. There has been this pause between us for the longest time. It feels as if a button has been pushed just a breath before the end of the song arrived. As if I walked out of the room during a commercial break and when I walked back in she was gone. We were gone. Maybe it was too much to keep up my half of the bargain with Andie. The reminders of Robert still painted boldly in black and blue, on pale skin, on the street lines and call boxes, and on every conversation I had with her. I did not know how to spell out help to her, no idea how to speak aloud any of this.
Push me back under, please. Let the water fill my eyes, my nose, my lungs, until I cannot take in any air, or anything. Then pull me back out, with my heart racing, expressions wide, please.
Andie could do that for me now. She would give me her answers, if I only asked.
But then I would have to embrace it, hold it away from me, make it real. That kind of recognition would be impossible to hide.
The ice swirls within the iced tea in my hands. I spin the cup around with me, shaking the straw. I pull back the lid than, pour ice chips in my mouth, cracking them loudly between my teeth. I think about how co-worker Carrie would laugh and say, “You know what chewing ice means?” but this is far past sexual frustration. The breaking of the enamel on my teeth, the noise in my head as the ice cracks, how it delays the whispers in my head silencing the words I am choosing again to ignore. One more day. One more hour. One more second. Maybe if I keep chewing, keep walking, keep spinning, keep reading grocery store “last minute decision aisle” novels, and keep memorizing the lyrics to ‘She’s Lost Control’, I can keep the cacophony of truth at bay.
I remember watching Jake’s fingers on the strings of his guitar while he was showing me the bass line. Explaining to me once again how easy it could be if I would just try harder. How he had taught himself to play songs like this. How New Order progressed the sound of Joy Division, as if by him saying that it made it a fact. How I needed to grow past my death rocker tastes and sensibilities, and stop wearing so much black.
What I actually need is to pull out the words and say them. But this procrastination persists, so I just let it continue taking its place, front and center, first in line. I just light another cigarette and smile my crooked smile, and continue to pretend. But, my waistline is beginning to betray me. I rest a hand on my belly, unconsciously, and I catch myself mouthing the words “I’m sorry. I can’t do this” to the air, to the storefront windows, the bathroom mirror, often.
I pour more ice into my mouth from the super large Carl’s Jr. cup and count my steps back to the dress department on the second floor.
Lunch is over, Louise.
Jake is late, again. I look at my watch, again. I put my weight all on my toe tips, rise up and down, lift and decline, decline and lift, closing my eyes, then opening them back up, looking across the empty parking lot for him, and waiting, again. He knows how much I hate it when he’s late. I could go back in and unlock the store gate, call him from inside, wait for him there. But I would have to use the alarm codes, close the gate again, and write down an explanation for my re-entry, again. I know Joe is going to start wondering. I see the way his eyebrow raises when I come in to his office, the look of distrust as he looks me over, his head always tilting a little to the left. I have seen it in his be speckled, squinting so dark they are almost black eyes before. It is like he knows about the stolen pens and the ten dollars that one time, when my gas tank was empty and I ran out of cigarettes (I put it back the next day, after I stole a ten out of Jake’s wallet, I swear). But the knowing, and the way he looks at me, it all paints this pink glow to my face, the reflection of guilt, and my eyes cannot help but dart back and forth. My lies, he never takes them in clearly with his second-language English, they never completely translate. I know he watches the way my hands shake and notices how I am always too quick to volunteer for anything.
I need this job, especially now. Fuck, Jake, where are you?
Guess I will just stay put. Stand here and wait, my heart skipping a beat every time I see a car. I crane my neck to see if this one is him while nightmare storybook pages float through my head. I practice acting shocked and surprised when they pull up to tell me. It was a car accident, Miss, a failed robbery, a stabbing victim bleeding internally. We are so very sorry. I imagine how my mask of sorrow will look, how it would hide a momentary buzz of relief, and a quick flush of freedom that I just know would be there, only for a minute, but still. Those were the kind of tales I played in my head as a child, too, while I waited in a deserted playground. My Mom was always losing track of time, and subsequently losing track of me. I would wait there, at the very edge of where the playground met the asphalt parking lot, watching every other child wave from a car window, all smiles and two parents, all those damn after school ice creams and Daddy’s little dream. The mad array of violent endings I saw back then, I would use them to coat the burn of abandonment that would sting in the pit of my stomach, use it to help explain, too somehow make the forever waiting worthwhile, to not just be a forgotten errand, or an afterthought.
She was never dead though, she always showed up eventually.
Hells bells, how I loathe these inner folds of me, this hushed side of who I am. I know that most people are fooled by my good parochial school past. The way I could write a perfect essay (probably still could), and play a good game. They enjoy seeing what has become of that girl as they laugh at the trappings of a girl gone bad, expecting me to emit a witch’s cackle, me with the smeared kohl under each eye, and my thrift shop garb in fifty five shades of black. They look right through me every time, though. They nod in that smug way as if to say “You can’t fool me”, like I am just a naïve little thing underneath it all. As if I am secretly bright and shiny, internally sewing paths to a happy ending, basking in some kind of optimism overdrive (I wish).
They all stand in line to walk across me, as if I am some damn yellow brick road. Take off my clothes and you can see the indentations, the boot scuffs, the notches and nicks where the heels dig in. They all think I love it, dig it, dancing a tango to the beat of giving everything to everyone. The never ending needy, they bring their shopping carts to me, park them in my driveway, under the eaves, in the stairwells. They come in at night and tuck themselves in next to me whilst I sleep. Some nights they steal the blanket, kick their feet, and push me off the mattress to lie on the floor.
I dig the lighter out of my purse then, the stolen green one, light a cigarette. I take two puffs, push up the sleeve of my jacket, the pale skin f my left arm exposed, and press the lit tip to my flesh, hold my breath tight, letting it sit there for ten seconds.
One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten. Exhale. Relief.
All those people, they would all run and hide for cover if they really saw beneath my skin; if they saw all of this, if they could see all the gore, all the doubts, the pathologic writer of so many tell-tale explanations (lies). I spin better than a spider, baby, but no one squints hard enough to notice the web.
Maybe tonight I will finally tell him. I can wait until we are at Denny’s, middle of the night, Jake on one side with his journal, me on the other wishing I could take out my book, throw the words out there over a plate of fries. I could try and catch him before he pulls out his latest scheme dream that will be forgotten in a month, tucked in one of those journal pages, held in place with a napkin (no folded over pages, Louise). His last month’s plans probably used as rolling paper to smoke one more joint last night. “I produce more when I’m stoned”, he said to me from the couch, where he had been sat for the near twelve hours, doing nothing put page through the free press and ignore me. Want-ads and Lost and Found. He had finally called for me, asked me for another five cookies out of the open package only three steps away from where he sat, “It is always better to polish off the whole row then the symmetry is complete, Louise” he explained, laughing smugly to himself more than to me; everything always intact with him.
The space between us, it just widens.
Someday I am quite sure that one of us will fall right in that widening gap, both of us disappearing. Maybe this will do it, these words of mine will spill out and a portal will open up in the sky, pull me out by my ears, and all he will see are my feet dangling for a fraction of a second, before I vanish
I am sure Jake will still have that look of shock plastered across his face, the circular spinning of argued perspective and reasons waiting just on the tip of his tongue, holding his breath until he can unleash the army and let it all march on over to me. His assault will be silent at first, then the verbal attack will begin taking over, shaking me with language and semantics until I am shaking and blue in the face.
And then the portal would open.
I will have beaten him to the proverbial punch. I would be gone then, truly gone. He can just sit back and waft in the titles and role models he will swear I could have been. Or maybe he will just take that waitress girl’s obvious passes at him seriously this time, call her bluff, bang her in the bathroom stall right next to I heart Gene Loves Jezebel and Adam Lies with three exclamation points. Her face would push up against the chill of the metal door, the latch barely holding the two of them in, moaning his name over and over. Her lipstick red smear smudge leftovers, and wrinkles smoothed out of her brown corduroy skirt would be a dead giveaway as she would placate her way back to work, fixing her hair in the dessert glass, but no one would really notice. I mean, no one really notices anything at a Denny’s in the middle of the night.
I would whisper “hey down there, don’t mind me,” as I just floated by, watching and waving. She would sigh a little quieter than I do, the staccato one two three then another sigh, he would think that she sounds a bit too used, that she will need work, but he will take her on, it will help him forget and let go of me, his failed project.
I hear the brakes squeal then, yanking me out of my reverie. I can hear his impatience even in the way he drives. Somehow the story of why he is late will reverse and back-up into me. Responsibility and blame always pinned to my sweater, poked straight through the flesh and back out again. I slam the door a little harder than necessary, sulk into the seat, somehow my body is twisting and turning itself into an adolescent again. I can almost hear my Mom telling me to sit up straight, to project my voice to the back of the room, to lose ten pounds, to go to more parties, to kiss more boys. All those expectations voiced that hid even deeper disappointments. Oh how she longed for me to fall, to fail, ditch classes, earn a reputation, open up my legs, break curfew, then come to her with tear stained cheeks and cracked voice pleadings, for her help. She would bravely hold my hand at the clinic, wait for me with a magazine, and devour the looks of admiration from the other scared girls who could not tell their own parents. How she would put on her bravest, most solemn face as they told her I was the luckiest; oh how she would have eaten that shit right up.
Maybe she would hold my hand now. Eight years too late. Can I cash in a rain check for teenage rebellion?
I press my nose into the passenger window glass, breathe out hard, blowing, and watching the hot air fog block my view of the outside. I am tempted to etch help with my fingertips. I remember doing that as a child, sketching smiley faces, cartoon dogs, and my name backwards. My Mom would yell back at me “Don’t write on the windows!” and I would deny it, forgetting that it would stay there, even when days had long gone by you would still see the image, taunting me. Liar, liar pants on fire. Another knot in my stomach would form and tie itself into a bow, every time I would get into the car, every time I would see the evidence, even though she would have forgotten already, not remember telling me no, at all.
I rest my head on the glass now, feeling the cool shock to my system. Michael Penn is singing something about blue jeans from the speakers, the left one crackling, threatening to blow out. We pass by a 7-11 and I can almost smell the inside, old hot dogs on that continuous roller thing, and the one in the very back, all shriveled up and forgotten. The bleep blips of video games and the warning labels on the all the magazines. Adult content or this is not a library. And, of course, the Slurpee machine.
I want to shrink three feet and walk through the door, quarters clinking in my pocket for Ms. Pac Man and enough money for the biggest sized Slurpee they have. Construct my own suicide in multi-colors, a Cola and Wild Cherry death, my weapon that big straw with the spoon on the end. Andie had tried to see how far up her nose it would go, back when she was nine, and I was twelve.
I catch a young boy staring at me from his own passenger car window, his own breath shield almost completely hiding him, except for his eyes. We make quick eye contact, that inner register of I see you, and you see me.
I do not even turn to look at him when the words come. He is just driving, humming to himself.
“Jake. I’m pregnant.”
She’s Lost Control :: Joy Division