My friend is generous, but like most others I meet he eventually runs outta patience with me.
"Get off of your high horse and deal with things the way they are, goddammit."
"Not on a high horse, I swear. Not even on a horse."
"Then why do you seem so far away?"
"I don't know. Maybe 'cause I won't quit. A horse did gallop out this way, then slowed and left. But honestly, I swear I never rode it."
"Yeah. Okay, brother. Fine. What the fuck are you so afraid of?"
To that I say nothing, make idle patterns of a blemish on the wall. Feeling trapped but knowing I coulda turned it around on him.
But you wanna actually hear what I think? What I'm afraid of? Here's what I think.
The fear is you enter that world of men, of wounded men, of stained men, irredeemable men, and it seems easier to be alone than it would be to risk becoming part of that drab, desaturated procession, in which every gesture is interpreted via a sponsor or judged through some oppressive twelve-step framework, where all we can smell is sharp and carbolic like infrequently laundered institutional clothing, or grim and sebaceous as two-stroke engine oil, rank and barnlike as stale tobacco but never booze, god forbid. Never booze and never excitement. Or grace. Nothing feminine whatsoever. Always something daubed or smeared. Small. Adobe. Shrunken. Stained and shabby.
Because we deserve this purgatory having reached prematurely for heaven.
Less the unforgiven than the unforgivable.
Innocent of what, indeed.
And yet we're blindsided and (it turns out) astonishingly wrong. Turns out these men are kind. Thoughtful. They bother to consider their actions. Figure out how they got here. Take time to make a few things right along the way and where they can. However shambling and uncharming.
We stumble across far better people here—in the psych wards, in general population in our prisons, in seedy church basements redolent of the last tobacco partaken outside, where clutches of dreary people admit their flaws and are better for it—than we meet in suburban backyards, in the halls of academe, or in cocktail societal gatherings.
Anywhere else, in fact. We try, we rectify.
These are the folks who've looked into a well and never seen the bottom. Have felt the chill crawl of ragged fingertips on their raised skin. Been called out in class to read the paper they lied about writing because they'd been fending off an uncle (or an aunt) all night. They've been that guy or that gal who sits at the diner's or the bar's end, wanting to be left alone to enjoy their breakfast eggs sunny side up, or nurse their splash of bourbon on the rocks, only to flinch at the brittle shadow erecting itself behind them. The Other. The Enemy. The schoolyard Bully, all grown up, feigning strength through an unerring radar for doubt in others.
Maybe something's happening. I put our friendship before my lust. Proud of that. Your light broke down into shimmers. Like our love had always been some dream, some distant piano melody while rain bejeweled and berated our windowpanes, crowding us, tracing facial lines while you haunted a roadside, a gravel shoulder, above a precipitous drop, below a climb toward someplace greener, better. Raindrops tattooing a dusty trail becoming mud.
Four words I never wanted to hear, in a voice like silk and shrapnel: "A girl was hurt."
Or maybe a boy.
I show up at your place in the dry hills of an evening, arrive to the chorus of pop bottle windchimes, Dr Pepper taking the bass while Coca Cola trills the melody, and I almost gag on the bright banded gradient of night to our west. Gravitational waves. The drawn-out death cry of faraway stars. Sirens. Lineage. Binaries. Gamma rays.
You take my bloodline and twist those veins, spill my unworthy blood, mop up my unfit gaze, trash my blood-soaked shirt. You are a cunt, but I'm far worse. Far more hungry (so much hungrier).
Watch the full moon claim its sky. Her sky. It don't matter. You are a black woman confronting a white man; you have to know how badly you will lose. But your pure courage warrants a better ending, doesn't it?
Are you right now on Robson Street, strolling between the flickering lightsprays limning the trees? Can you follow the trail of scent? Rooftop seafood restaurants. Tsunamis. Luxury ivories tinkling. Sushi. Complexity. Lush. Lush. The store. Enter, smile at the staff, ask if they still pipe that music they played all those years ago. What was it? Vitalic? Electronic. OK Cowboy? Leave. Greenery spilling like falls. Do they know the best, the greatest words? The most evocative? That beechwood also means, in German, Buchenwald?
Ghost me. Abandon me. Stop pretending I matter. This is no haven, no liberating sanctuary.
Race cannot be ignored. Gender cannot be ignored. Genocide likewise. You want me, you want to feel me, you want to roll my credentials between your tender fingertips? I once shot something minimal and lovely, oblivious to a camera mast that watched my every move. How can we possibly compete with that?
Grunge city. Dark sister. You needle me.
I'm back with you, a raw white man with a clean black woman, a dry black man with a lean white woman, a trans woman with two lost souls, an atheist with a Jew, a skinhead with a queer, a Muslim with a kafir. We can't shirk this. The sounds of an entire city are like a canopy, a vast speaker quivering open over our heads, heedless of a trembling monolith, of dream saviours, of Cascadia, mostly flinching from the prophesied slip.
Wanna cross the line? Subject yourself to indignity? To likely shame? Be allowed through at the booth so you can fill up with cheap gasoline, grab a bottle or two of two-buck Chuck, a Trump-hued block of American cheese, keep driving because now that you're here you might as well explore. Through wide expansive rural miles, full ditches, cornfield stubs. Sumas. Linden. Mount Baker to the east or link up with Guide Meridian to Bellingham south. See the school bus, the exact same colour and shape as the school buses you know, the red octagonal stop signs, the signs in general except the speed limits, which first look the same yet on reflection seem so low and weird. Who the fuck goes fifteen, twenty, twenty-five? Wouldn't it be better to walk?
You used to be our friends.
She is waiting for you on a motel forecourt off of a state road, her thighs already splayed above the loose grey gravel. A Thunderbird looming overhead. The sun dropping westward disappointingly fast. Her crotch is damp, but she knows not to reach too far. Knows you're not gonna make it. She returns to her room and fingers the remote, reels in a story 'bout a man who shot a toddler during a road rage incident, cries when a witness tries to make sense of it, yells at the news team who don't seem to have grasped its full import.
Then she succumbs, masturbates, her fingers soon warm and puckered with her own arousal. Celebratory. Her orgasm coinciding with a memory, a rearview glimpse of how she opens up a hole, untwists the leaden links in a chainlink fence as a child, and lets a boy through, from the streets her mother calls the Commonplace. A boy who'll end up paying much too great a price for that.
A boy who in his dreams turns everything to eleven.
And it still comes back to this: we deserve this purgatory having reached so early for heaven.