And slipping into her own sheets afterwards always felt like coming home. She wasn’t wrapped in anyone’s body but her own.
You should know, I startle easily.
I’m always going to tremble at your touch.
She was peeling off all the petals. All the things that could be peeled. And they fell to the ground where they built up around her feet, a colorful mulch. At the end of each day, she would sweep them all up and throw away handful after handful, the colorful debris piling up in the trashcan.
Afterwards she went home to the quiet and the calm and the dark. Her kitchen counters were always cool and smooth and she always stood there with both palms pressing into them, she could feel the heat from her burning skin being absorbed by the stone. Then came more peeling—this time her clothes, and she let them fall to the ground like the petals, and dug fresh clothes out of the lowest drawer to stretch over her sticky body.
She knew she should take a shower. She could visualize how her body would hum with the feeling of being clean, how the soap would take her sweat down the drain and she would fall asleep with her damp hair wrapped up. If she made those first three steps to the bath taps it would be the next logical step to turn them on. But instead she stayed rooted to the spot on her bedroom rug. The spot she always stood on, where the pattern was so worn you couldn't make out the shapes anymore.
She stood there suspended in time for three breaths and on the fourth inhale she turned on the spot and lifted the covers from her bed, tucked herself in and sunk gratefully into the pillow.
sad voice on the phone
I am worthless.
Tears almost came.
You don't deserve to feel this way.
You do not deserve to have your lower lip quiver.
I hate that I'll forget all the details of the past few days, the past few months, the last few years, my life. They'll slip through my fingers. I wish I could pluck every beautiful, heartbroken, angry, wonderful moment like a jewel and put it in a box. I wish I could bottle the feeling of sitting by this gem of a river, this city filled with sparkling lights, under this fading blue sky. Music pounding through my ears, my skirt flared out around me, boots scuffed, my pen scribbling.
I want to drink that potion later. I love, love that I can be sitting on my couch, watching One Tree Hill, and begin to feel restlessness, disappointment. That I can feel those things and then immediately get on my bike and fly down the street and leave that girl behind on the couch. That in a few seconds, I can become this woman who has frizzy hair flying behind her, a bright yellow skirt falling around her bike seat, cutting in front of cars and racing to make it through yellow lights. I have the ability to give myself wings and I hope I never forget that, at the very least.
It happened so quickly. We had stopped, on the runway, and I decided to get out my Pentax—I liked the way the lights lit up the sky a dusky orange, a warm glow forming a horizon line dotted with orbs of light. So I pressed my lens against the window, felt the shutter click heavy and real in my hands. And after, I bent down to wrestle it back into it's bag. But when I came back up, my window was filled with the most beautiful fluffy white smoke. I had no idea where it was coming from, at first, and I was taken and carried away with wonder. So the Pentax was wrestled back out. The shutter heavy in my hands again. And I, for a brief moment, filled with innocent wonder. Something so fast—clenched heart, dive to bag, I must, must, must capture this moment. I refuse to let it slip by my fingers.
Negative like I'll never climb out of this pit and get where I want to be.
Negative like, this ladder that's supposed to be carrying me out of this pit is so rickety.
I'm going to crash right through it, it's going to crumble beneath me and I'll be left flat on the ground staring at the stars that are so far above me.
Negative like, I want to punch the wall in front of me, I want to punch the wall, this book, myself, the sky.
Negative like I'm in a twisting maze and the only thing I see in front of me is a clear smooth wall and I can't touch it, I can't climb it, I can't punch it, I can't break it.
Negative like the only thing to do is curl up into oblivion and ignore my cool smooth wall, ignore the ladder beneath me, the stars above me.
Negative like the only thing to do is ignore myself until I dissolve.
Until I become the ladder, the sky, this book, myself, the air, my punches. I'll ignore myself until I shatter into a million pieces, like dust, until I crumble, I fold, I'm broken.
Every time she even so much as opened the front door it all came rushing back, which was why, more often than not, she didn't even bother opening the door anymore.
I folded again and again into windows and walls, turned my head and let light wash over me and cover my eyes and my mouth and my hair. Photographed all of it happening. The window open, the window closed, the light washing in, the light fading out. The stack of journals filled with years and years of petty thoughts. The broken glass from that photograph of us, on top of a mountain, sure of ourselves, sure of each other. The rock on the ladder and the branches blooming with fluffy pink cherry blossoms. And again and again and again, my face and the window, my face and the window, always always always my face in the window.
So what does it mean? What does it fucking mean? I’m trapped, it’s enlightenment, it’s illusion, it’s fiction, it’s something to aspire to. It’s searching and finding and floundering and walking forward and standing still and it’s nothing. It’s really fucking nothing. It’s all just to see how the light washes over my face. That’s all it is. Just the simple act of placing one photograph on top of another photograph until they don’t really mean anything at all and they aren’t really anything more than that: a photograph on top of a photograph. Nonsensical. Are two photographs more than one photograph? Why does this all have to mean something? Why do I always turn off the fucking flash?
But really. Isn’t the flash actually kind of beautiful, a bath of light. A beautiful bath of light and no shadows. Isn’t that what I’ve been searching for? Isn’t that what I’ve been wanting to submerge my body into this whole time? Isn’t that the point of being a photographer, of trying to collect these moments, of raising my camera every time the light’s peeking into the window? Isn’t it? Isn’t it?
I mean, I guess I made it myself and that’s not quite as wonderful as finding it. It’s not like walking into the kitchen in the morning and seeing that column of light on the wall, a piece of art right there. I should build a gallery and let the light come in and that will be it. That’s all it ever is anyway.
So it’s not an accident. There’s beauty in purposeful light too. There’s beauty in purpose. There’s a beauty in a purposeful object, the spoon in the kitchen, the water glass next to my bedside. Why should light get to be any different? Why should light be a god?
We stood under an alcove, next to a parking garage, and looked at and looked away from each other. You said that you still thought about that night when, in an act of betrayal I told you I didn't know if I was in love with you anymore. Your eyes told me that you were haunted by it. That it whispers into your ear when I make you smile. That every good-night kiss is tinged with the thought of me sobbing on the couch that night, admitting the ultimate defeat.
Maybe that girl you text tells you that you deserve to be with someone who knows. Who just knows, deep down, always, that they're in love with you. She wouldn't be wrong, if she did tell you that. You do deserve it.
But don't I deserve to have someone who looks at me, and doesn't look away? Don't I deserve to have someone who holds me in their gaze. Who forces me into the world just by looking at me. With you sometimes I feel like I'm curling inwards, hiding, uncertainty crashing over me.
Under the alcove I held onto your pale yellow shirt and forced you to look at me and told you that I shouldn't have said that. That I said it in a moment of uncertainty. That I do love you. I love you and am in love with you. And that that's how I know we'll make it work. Because we love each other.
Sometimes this relationship feels like a battle and the only thing we can do is clutch each other and build our words up like armor around us. Protecting ourselves from the things we'll be hit with again and again. Jealousy. Betrayal. Monotony. Boredom. How do we push ourselves through these things? Do we go straight through them or skirt around?
I build you an armor that says I'm in love with you. You build me an armor that says I'll be okay. And what would happen if we peeled our armors away? If we stood at the impending wave and let it wash over our raw skin? Would one of us be taken out to sea and the other stay firmly on the shore? Would we stretch out our arms and grasp and let our fingertips brush before we were pulled away from each other? Would we ever find ourselves in the same current?
way or another.
At the end of 2017, my Grandma Sue was in the hospital. My mom and I visited her before I left Colorado for Portland, from home to another home. I wore a vintage silk printed skirt and a mock neck cashmere sweater. I said I was a little overdressed for an afternoon shopping, but she said, “No you’re not.” We stayed for a while, and then that was it, I kissed her on the head and we left. In the car we talked about having flowers waiting for her when she got home. She loved flowers.
At the beginning of 2018, she died.
It’s funny the ways our lives connect, like a big Venn diagram. When I was little it always seemed impossible that my grandparents had a whole big important life that never intersected with mine. But they did. They were teenagers, they met and married and had tiny kids when they were still so young. They cried and laughed and grew and their children had children, and I was there. I’ve got that tiny triangle of overlap, my circle intersecting theirs.
I would find a chair at my grandma’s table, sitting with her while the kitchen swelled with people. When we left their house I would dash into the garage to say goodby to my grandpa, his grey mustache always scratchy on cheek. I’ll never really know them, the spanning years were a solid thing I could never get through. Maybe if I had asked more questions, maybe if I hadn’t assumed the comforting presence of them was all they were to me, maybe if we had lived closer and I could have gone over for dinner once a week (Friday night, macaroni and cheese night.) Maybe, maybe, maybe.
It’s not just my grandma dying that’s gut-wrenching. It’s the house being sold. It’s the traditions changing. It’s the hierarchy of the family shifting, the possibility that events will be less and less populated until my children don’t know their second cousins, until a birth happens without being known. People will meet and get married, and the family tree will branch out so far beyond what I could even comprehend, beyond what we could fit into anyone’s house, a hundred Venn diagrams intersecting and I’m just one circle.
The traditions I’ve grown up with will dissolve and reform. New ones will rise up and take their places. I’m just one branch dividing into my own family, a new matriarch living the life at which my own grandchildren will marvel at, a life they’ll be unaware of. The shape of my grandparents will get softer and fuzzier with age, until they’re two spots in my memory: one tall and stern, the other sitting at the head of the table, back rounded, eyes bright.
I am beautiful. I am beautiful. So you told me, you wrote it down. Handed it to me, shyly or unabashed, it doesn't matter. Our hands palm to palm, I noticed your tattoos. One brief second (how would those arms feel wrapped around me?) and then I move on with my day, albeit with a glow of happiness. (I am beautiful.) In an imaginary world, maybe, this would be the start of something. In my reality it is a small happiness, but nothing to change my daily life. Oh who knows. I am in love and promised myself nothing would change that until things weren't good anymore. Things are still good, only now I have felt your palm with my palm. I have been let in on a delicious secret, and it is this: I am beautiful. I am beautiful to a stranger.
there is Nothing for me to say that
could ever make this moment matter.
Why do my desires deviate from each other?
Am I supposed to only take one path,
or do you know?
If I say this is shit it is not
ironic, it is true.
I am not raw.
(and probably never could be)
I wish I could add one more Single
hour to this day.
You are coming home to a ghost town. It’s a place you used to live. You can drive on your streets and walk the aisles of your grocery store, and stand on a porch you've stood on a hundred times. And all the places are filled with your ghosts.
You begin to vanish yourself. Everything you’ve built starts to crumble—you’re living a half-life—a ghost life. You would float away if you weren’t so heavily saturated with your ghostly memories.
Sometimes the ghosts seem so solid.
Is there anything more simultaneously familiar and foreign as a ghost life? For a second you stand on the porch looking down into the overgrown grass and up into the sky and you feel like you could just walk right into a ghost and curl up and live there. It’s not that you want your old life back, no—it’s that you want to live with that heavy knowledge of the future.
When you think back to what it was like to wake up in your old bed, with the pale dawn light crawling into the window, it was as if your future self was already there inside you. As if you were weighted down by those ghost memories already. Maybe that's why you moved around the bedroom every morning in the half-light, getting ready for school with such a heavy weight on your chest. It's hard to have a ghost inside you. You want to escape and you want to remember. You want to forget and you want to stay.
But no matter how good it feels to imagine you always knew, you can't pretend for long that you weren't just as shocked as anyone to come home to an empty town full of the past.
Ghost towns crumble forever and ever but they never change. They are perfectly the same every time you visit them. It only hurts so much because you are so different. Your skin isn't the same temperature anymore and every time you step foot in your ghost town all of your exposed skin shrinks and covers in goose bumps and revolts against the pure fact that here you are: your hometown.
It's only when you leave, on a plane or a car speeding away, forward motion into the real world, that you realize the ghost town isn't a real place at all. It's a bubble you hold within yourself. Your chest contracts as if it's suddenly aware of the entire crumbling mess inside of you. You realize, the speedometer climbing to eighty, that instead of inhabiting the ghosts, they have inhabited you. They've climbed inside, somewhere in your chest cavity, and they intend to stay there.
This morning we awoke in the cool morning light of Lisbon, people still outside on the streets after a night of drinking. Our bodies were so silently and solidly on the bed in that apartment. My mind was gone up somewhere tinged with sleep and exhaustion. My eyes were dry and my chest felt tight and the only thing to do was focus on your eyelashes. But eventually I found myself on the balcony overlooking the street we've spent the last week on. I let my toes hang over the edge and I tried to see the su peeking around the buildings. Sometimes I don't know my own emotions. Sometimes I feel like I feel emotions that haven't been given a name. What is the title of this--this tightness of chest--this longing to commit every detail to perfect memory?
And we left, the only hesitation brought about my final photograph--the light through our door. Down the stairs we went and then onto an impossible airport filled with so many proofs of so many places--that is to say, so many people. And finally, as if we had been waiting a month to simple feel the feeling of going home, we were in our seats and we were going home. We had that going home feeling about us. There was that tension that you get before takeoff--that feeling like maybe you'll never actually move anywhere--and then the pure release when the plane lifts off and everything reduces itself to an idea, a living map spread out beneath you. And time is paused and sped up and rewound and nothing exists.
And this flight--over an ocean especially--you are, I am, I was, in a perfect blue sphere. A perfect blue sphere in which you could be flying over the sea or the sky, upside down. A blue sphere in which you are blissfully allowed to move forward and stand still. And what better feeling? What better feeling. You are going home and not going home all at the same time. You are here. You are in Lisbon. You are home. You are nothing.
I admit our friendship was a myth, a God I invented in light of our atheism. Nothing could break my faith. I was the car driving around the city with a 'Jesus Is Real' bumper sticker. I thought if I followed the rules we would last forever.
What do I believe in anymore?
Maybe our friendship wasn't the God, but you were.
Now I'm a woman losing faith when her prayers aren't answered, when her God seems to care for nothing.
Now I'm just on my knees.
Trying to let go.
Still reaching out for something I don't believe in anymore.
There's something about the ocean that just strips you of yourself. You become small, unimportant. In the face of that timeless tide you are nothing, and everything. Your life, your accomplishments are peeled away from you. And in this, peace. Your responsibilities are also lifted from your shoulders. The waves come up and they go out, ceaselessly. The wind whips your face and the spray of the waves and the clouds beat against you. You lose yourself. Sometimes you have to lose yourself.
Sometimes I have to lose myself. Sometimes I have to let the wind whip my face, and I have to let myself be pulled out to sea and carried away in the undertow.
And after all this passes, when the tide goes back out, my feet are still planted on the shore in their leather boots. And I'm still there. The waves couldn't pull me away from my own mind. And I know in my bones that I'm everything, and nothing.
Yes is the most beautiful word in the english language.
Also your name.
Even though you share it with so many other men.
When I type it into my phone, a whole list comes up,
I’m not kidding.
(Four others? Five others?)
I’m like a child attaching a new meaning to an old word.
All the sudden it doesn’t mean what it did.
It’s as if an apple isn’t called an apple anymore.
It’s like the sky is actually the color green,
Or the sun is actually named moon.
You still make me nervous.
Like maybe you’ll just disappear in front of me.
Become another name in my list of names.
Just someone I have the contact info for,
who I never call.
Who never calls me.
Who never touches me.
After you leave,
the sky will still be green.
The moon will rise every morning and set every night.
Apples will never be red again
and the sweet taste of the fruit has vanished completely from my mind.
I remember biting into one, a Lady Alice,
if I try hard enough I can convince myself it tasted good.
I can think, apples are good.
But the particular flavor is gone forever.
You’re the only thing I taste anymore.
This past weekend I went back to Colorado. I had a quiet hour to myself and took a walk to photograph the place I used to live. So here are some pieces of it covered in a Maytime snow. Here is a tiny sliver of it. There are things I can't commit to a photograph. The delicate crunching of ice atop a snowbank. The crisp air with it's shifting patterns and thick snowflakes. The way I chomp through the grass and the red gravel roads, past the no trespassing sign, down the makeshift steps to the river. The way I come upon my old hiding place to find it changed. It feels both smaller and bigger–a place I can't inhabit.
When this was my home, I was growing and filled with desire, worry, sadness, and hate. So much hate. I feel small coming back to this shell of my former self--who was so flawed, but ultimately felt things much bigger, sometimes. I can't imagine such a flurry of emotions every fitting inside me now. (But I guess that's puberty for you.) Now I am much quieter in my ways. I am content and though my emotions take up less space, they run deeper.
It's going home that throws me. Trying to fit back into that shell. Feeling small inside of it. My past is a huge empty cavern that used to be filled, and now I am a tiny frail wisp of a girl inside it. There are sweet things there–happy memories and places that I want to visit. Small things, like the familiar turn of the road, the sound of my darkened house, the view from the living room window. There are people too, the only points of gravity holding me there, my brother and my parents. But still every visit I'm just wandering this empty cavern, trying to fit inside it. Trying to take up the space, and failing. So what do you do?
Overlay these empty spaces with the full ones. Try and try and try and try to remember. What it was like to be here, to be twelve, thirteen, fifteen, eighteen. Try to learn something from your boxes of old journals. To accept growth. To string lines from this life to the next. And as always, photograph the empty ruin.