Ask her to dance, gently.
She’s been waiting all night for someone to ask her
Standing there in her pink tulle gown
That sweeps the floor and tangles in her brittle tail.
The tail - straw-like - flicks from side to side in time with the waltz
An oom-pah-pah of swishing tulle
May I have this dance?
It’s a good moment to ask
The orchestra has crescendo-ed, and reaches a tentative hush
And you speak it out into the quiet
“May I have this dance?” and hold out your hand.
Gently she takes it, and lets you lead her out into the center of the dance floor.
The lights are dim, and the sequins on the bodice of her dress sparkle softly
As she gets into position
And you put your hand on her waist.
It’s lovely to dance with an elephant
Because she is sturdy and solid
And has a perfect understanding of rhythm
Yes, she’s got two left feet
But she’s also got two right feet
Four perfect feet perfectly trampling in time to the
So you let her take the lead
And it’s good to let go sometimes, isn’t it?
While she whirls you around the dance floor
And lifts you with her trunk.
It wasn’t always like this.
Once upon a time, she arrived at the waltz club
Eager and expectant in somber black silk
Her puff of straw tail done up in a bow
And she waited all night for someone to ask her
Standing there in her somber black gown
Gently, so gently.
And she swayed in the lamplight
And flickered her tail
And nobody asked her, or saw her, or cared.
And as the orchestra crescendo-ed, and drew to a sudden hush
She heard it like a slap, like a scoff, like cut
“What do you do with an Elephant”
Well I say: it’s simple.
You ask her to dance.
You reach for her hand.
After all, opportunity knocks seldom, then rarely, then not.
And it’s lovely, so lovely, unbearably lovely
To dance with an elephant.
in order for any of this to make sense, it’s important that you understand the standard of perfection that’s always been required of me.
that’s probably enough for you to get a clear picture of what my life has been like.
gifted perfectionists are basically all the same, at the center of ourselves.
there’s something very peculiar about the word special. it can mean so many things.
sometimes i feel like i’m split into two people straight down the middle, and all they do is stare each other straight in the eye.
and one of them is very rigid and cold, like a sheet of ice.
and the other one is a pot of boiling water wearing human skin.
and they stare each other straight in the eye all day for all eternity
and they hold their breaths
and they think at each other:
“you fuck up.”
“no, you fuck up.”
When you spend as much time around actors as I do
You almost start to believe in the power of words to move the universe.
Or I do.
Let me speak from my own experience and keep my words out of your mouth.
I almost started to believe in the power of words to move the universe.
Not in the way that I think they meant it, but
In some small and significant way, I’ve always understood the power of language
There are things that have been said to me that I will never in my life forget,
Words that have nestled so far into my heart, my blood, my bones
That they are a part of my DNA.
They say that every seven years or so, every single cell in your body regenerates
And is new again.
And some people find this important and healing,
I have found this important and healing.
I do. I have.
I wonder if in seven years those deeply embedded words will begin also to leave my skin
In a sort of filmy ooze, coming out of my pores like sweat
Like the summer of 2019 when I had just returned from London
And hopped in a car and drove all over, visiting the people and places I had missed.
I sat outside my AirBnb in Salem MA, drenched in my own sweat
And I watched it run sideways off my arm, like rainwater
And I kept a photo for evidence.
All of that water was inside of me, coming to the surface.
So back to words:
I wonder if one day the poisonous words you spat at me, calmly
As if you were spitting sunflower seed shells into the dirt
Will unstick themselves from my soul
And leave my body, like rainwater.
Or if every time I see your face, in ten years, in twenty years, in forty years, tomorrow:
I will think, “You have cursed me. And it lingers still.”
I don’t know the remedy for these types of curses, not the way I can sort of guess at remedies for other things:
I think in order to defeat a curse or a demon, you must first call it out by name.
Excuse me: I’ll remind myself again.
I think in order to defeat my curses or demons, I must first call them out by name.
This is difficult, for some days I can barely remember my own.
And some nights, I stare into the darkness of my room and let the resentment seep into the shadows
And think up at the night sky, “Oh teach me how to curse”
And spit venomed words into the still quiet of my lonely room
Or my frost-cold car.
They say that words have power.
I do believe it.
you tickle me
for so long
i worry that my soul has left my body through my ribs
and i kind of hover near the ceiling looking down
at you, tickling.
me: laughing. not happy.
i hurdle over the barrier of meaning
and to see what’s on the other side.
i reckon it’s nicer over there, anyway.
the years have piled up between us, dear friend
and the last time i saw you
it was a cold day and snow was falling.
i am not good at goodbyes and i was weeping, blotchy and ugly.
and you smiled at me, dear friend.
i wonder how we wind and wander so far from each other
and i wonder how we come together again,
like branches of a river
like branches of a tree
meandering limbs of a single whole.
where do i begin and you end, dear friend?
and i don’t deserve your kindness
or your questions
or your letters
or your interest
or the fondness in your eyes
i have walked in many shadows and i have lived many lives
and the person that you knew then
(that i was)
i’m not sure they survived.
the memories grow dusty in the attic of my mind
and i think upon them often, and then sometimes, and then not
but today the snow was falling
and i opened up your letter
and you asked, “have you forgotten me?”
oh, dear friend -
i have not.
There is a terrible, terrible thought in my mind.
And it doesn’t act like a terrible thing.
It doesn’t jump or scream or run it’s spindly nails down the inside of my skull.
It sits, silent and solid in a corner. And it watches. And it waits.
It catches my eyes every now and then and I try to glance away quickly.
After all I have no ill wishes. I’ve never been malicious.
The terrible thought grew in a garden of terrible words, terrible weeds.
And it rattles when it breathes. And it pops its knuckles in the quiet.
And it watches. And it waits.
And it promises, “You will regret me. One day, you will regret me.
And it will be so delicious.”
This is how I let things fall by the wayside: I click into messages, then back out.
I swipe left, I mark as Unread, and I never return to respond.
I’m Sorry is not a big enough phrase for how I feel about these pushpin relationships.
I’m Busy I’m Lonely I’m Overwhelmed I Forgot, the litany of excuses I scroll through like a postmodern rolodex of Instagram feeds and Tumblr threads and iPhone messages.
None of it is true, and none of it is big enough.
Someone told me once that human beings are meant to sustain a maximum of 50 well cared for relationships at any given time. I don’t know when my Facebook Friend List went over 1k - have I even met 1k people in my life?
When I hover through the minefield of bolded, unanswered messages from friends and acquaintances, I sometimes wonder about that number: 50. Am I meant to include myself in it? If my dance card is full up and I’m jumping from arm to arm, is it as if they’re dancing with mist
With a shadow
With my ghost
With my Facebook Profile Picture, on a smiling happy day where I felt…
It’s okay if you never answer my email. Or my message. or my text.
If my letters disappear down the crack between your bed and your wall.
Gone by the way of the wayside: I understand.
I am there too.
the cat climbs into my bed at midnight, with all black and white-socked feet. the cat does this every night, with a loud rrrow and bread-making paws on my belly and chest and face. the cat slowly reaches one paw out and pets down my face. i am pretending to be asleep. i am so good at pretending: over the years i have fooled my parents, my siblings, my roommates, my one night stands, my long-term partners. the cat is not fooled. the cat gives up eventually, to lie on my feet. a warm blanket of purring.
in my dream, i am lying on my back in my bed and wearing a long, lace black nightgown. my hair is billowing out on my pillows, and beneath me - like a blanket. the cat is lying warm on my chest and purring purring purring. i love you, i say to the cat. i crane my neck to kiss its little warm head. in my arms, the cat shifts and stretches into a woman, with all white and black patches of lace and fluffy and softness. she is warm and purring in my arms. her hair gets in my mouth, like starlight, and i spit it back out. hairball. you are beautiful, i say to the woman. i pull my arms tighter around her, to feel how warm she is against my chest my belly my legs. her feet are cold, but that's okay. so are mine. are you mine? i ask her, craning my neck to see her face. her eyes are all pupil and no whites. she blinks slowly at me, and grins wide and lazy and sharp. i can see her teeth and the back of her throat.
the cat rolls onto my face and sticks a paw in my mouth. this wakes me up and wakes it up and it bats at my nose angrily. like it's my fault the paw is in my mouth. like i opened wide to eat it down. i did not do what you are accusing me of, i tell the cat. the cat is already curled into a ball at the end of the bed and asleep. i check the red blinking clock numbers in the midnight. not midnight. three am. always three am. why is it always three am? i must be sleeping by one am or it comes like this, in stages: anxiety, fear, late night phone screen googling, despair, existential existential existential, tears, nothing. dawn.
in my dream, i am standing near the shallow end of the pool. my best friend is swimming towards me. be careful! she is screaming. there's a shark! a shark! i'm standing on dirt, land-locked. what are you saying? i think at her, but she is already raising her long bow. arrow, notched. get down! she screams. get down! the arrow flies, heavy, through the air. i can feel the movement of the molecules disturbed as it goes by me - too close for comfort. there is a horrible sound, like a wailing. like a cry. like a child crying the first time. i look around. the cat is lying in the dirt, small and limp. its fur is wet. wet. wet. i am a ringing in my ears and a fuzzy numbness over my arms as i crouch in the dirt. the cat does not open its eyes, or mrrrrow, or touch my face, or try to make bread on my belly. it lies limp. like a wet towel. like a thing without a spine. it is wet. i touch the cat's fur and pull my hand away. nothing. no blood. just wet feeling wet wet and there is more, with my face and my eyes. all in tears. how could you? i lift the cat's limp and broken body to my chest and cradle it close. it feels like a puppet with the strings all cut. like a build-a-bear before you stuff it. all skin, no bones. how could you? i scream and scream. limp, wet. limp.
the cat flicks its tail under my nose and i jolt back into wakefulness and check the red numbers flashing in the pale morning light. seven am. seven am. a safe time. the cat flicks its tail again, curls into a tighter ball on my ankles, and purrs contentedly in its sleep. i can feel my heart beating against my skin. it is so close to the surface. i want to reach out. i want to shake the cat awake and look into its eyes. i want to lift it and feel the wonderful warm, firm, weight of its body. the flutter of its tiny heart. i let it sleep. i roll out of bed.
i look at myself in the mirror in the bathroom and i look terrible. i always look terrible in the morning, so i'm not surprised. nothing unusual. hair straight up towards god. pointed due north. and due east. dumpling smudgy face and cheeks, puffed. no eyes. completely closed into crescent lines of "too early." i am glad. my reflection, the same, is a lie. my eyes do not. my eyes show everything.
i open the door. the cat is waiting for me, all black with white socks and tail swishing impatiently through the morning air. i smile. the cat will be waiting for me at the gates of hell.
It’s Tuesday night and I’m currently owning some Democratic Socialists at trivia.
I, a Democratic Socialist myself, am halfway through Round 2 when I speak aloud into the silence of
“I really want to win!”
This is what I say (aloud) and my cat startles and wakes up from a nap.
I feel a flash of adrenaline-anticipation-thrill
and a flood of fear-tremor-shame.
Perhaps, after all, I am not cut out for socialism
When my inner beast still howls and rejoices over the spoils.
I hate having to compromise
and people tell me hate is a strong, strong word.
So I’ll start again:
I like to do things in my own way and time.
I like the freedom of a locked door and an empty evening.
I like my things, I like my little stashes, I like my secret pleasures.
I hate sharing blankets and beds.
When I was younger, I used to share beds with my sisters on road trips and vacations.
One of them talks in her sleep,
the other one kicks,
and I’m probably pretty bad too
but at least I’m asleep for it.
Then again, it wasn’t ever as bad as I thought it would be.
Because I love my sisters endlessly.
I like being alone in the kitchen. Just me and the stove.
I like to sing at the top of my lungs and not worry about anyone saying anything.
I like having space in the bathroom vanity for my toothbrush
And my conditioner
And my bath bombs
And my floss
And my Band-aids
And And And.
Sometimes I wonder how I became this way, crouched over my life like a giant jungle cat.
I wonder how I came to clutch myself so tightly in my big, fumbling, velvety claws.
Sometimes I want to tell myself, “It’s probably okay to let go. No one will take it from you.”
But in the middle of the night
With an elbow to the ribs
And snores in the dark
And a cold ocean of space between us, I thought
This is worse than I thought it would be."