Drunk, but not too drunk
Just marveling at
The taste of alcohol on my tongue
After five years of
World crushing panic
Every time I tipped a bottle back
Lying in bed
With candles lit
My last great love’s
Scent lingers on the pillow
Long after the echo
Of their laughter
Exited the room
Like cigarette smoke
Of toil dragging a body down
Taste the weight of age
Gravity gripping my face
Fear the grave
Lick my lips
Taste a long kiss goodnight
With all the beauty and bitterness
Of mortality languishing on my tongue
Work in progress from a larger piece written about a trip this summer.
It’s somewhere near one AM. Sam and I are driving through the middle of nowhere Pennsylvania. We are speeding along route 30 between the small town I grew up in, and Philadelphia. We should be arriving in Philadelphia just past one AM. We left North Carolina at nine this morning, stopping a total of three times between our departure and now.
We just left a diner in the heart of York County. The same diner where my friends and I used to spend hours rotting with nothing else to do; smoking cigarettes and drinking coffee after punk and goth shows in the 90’s. Sam was kind enough to indulge our stopping for two hours so I could have a reunion of sorts with some old friends, some of whom I haven’t seen in close to twenty years. We are talking the kids who formed the crux of the formative years and the person I’d grow into. I’ve practically written novels about these people, and here we were; all together again, and all grown up. Our reunion was brief, and joyous. Outside the diner I promised my childhood best friend and first love I wouldn’t wait seventeen years between to see her next time. I told her I’d come meet her partner and her baby.
I meant it too. I fucking miss the east coast. I miss the oldness of it. I miss my roots. If nothing else, I miss how compact everything is. I miss how trips like this aren’t so seemingly impossible out here. Sam and I had to coordinate for a solid six months to make our cross-country meeting happen.
Sam is leaning back in the passenger seat with their eyes closed, resting. I have the new Chelsea Wolfe record playing quietly on the stereo for company. I thought about listening to Sisters Of Mercy or Cock Sparrer for old time’s sake; I have those two bands on my iPod, and they helped define my youth haunting this old highway, but this record is just so fucking good. I’m listening to it again, and composing this letter to you in my head to stay awake.
The houses that line route thirty all have their lights long off. They feel like home to me in this strange way. Oddly frozen in time, as if I could just pull off the highway and settle here, like it was still 1998, and I never left Southern York County. I imagine moving into an old house; trading bitter winter walks to the post office and writing by the fireplace for Pacific Northwest winters drenched in rain. I tell myself I could keep in touch with the outside world by buying records and zines at 3DCD (or whatever record store that opened to take its place, since I’m sure it has long since closed.) again like I was a teenager. At this present moment the idea appeals to me. Funny, because I spent the entirety of my youth scarcely being able to wait until I was old enough to escape this place. Seriously, Melanie and I would talk about it for hours. We planned that shit out. We’d dream about running away. We would hold each other close, reassuring the other one just another year or two until we were eighteen and could escape. We counted down the days until our grand departure from Southern York County, never ever to return.
Now I’m laughing at myself in the late night hours for (however unseriously) briefly entertaining the idea of moving back here.
There was just a storm. For the first time in several days it almost feels cool outside. We have the windows rolled down. The air is thick with humidity and lingering lighting. A flash will crack the sky in jagged streaks every now and then, leaving the clouds red in the afterglow. I love it. I don’t know if I’ve seen a thunderstorm since I left the south. I have missed them terribly. The storm was torrential and massive, nothing like the pervasive Pacific Northwest rain we complained about all winter. I fell in love with you in that constant drizzle and gray. The rain smells differently out here, but I smile at the thought of how that love deepened to where I smell rain, and feel that love even three thousand miles away, in a place that feels light years away from the small world we know.
I don’t know if I miss Olympia right now. I miss you. I miss the sanctuary of my bedroom on my dead end street. It feels weird and indulgent to go on a trip when it feels as if everything around me is crumbling down and the world is a goddamn dumpster fire. Who am I to go running off to meet up with some of my oldest friends on the other side of the country when there is so much work to be done at home?
Over the winter, Sam and I often reflected on the nature of impermanence; just how fleeting and fragile everything feels. The world feels a shade darker than it did a year ago. In that regard, two old friends on a road trip makes all the sense in the world. Tomorrow we will wake up in Philadelphia and wind our way through crowded city streets to meet up with one of our other oldest friends. The three of us shared the stroke of luck to meet in this city almost exactly twelve years ago. We managed to forge the kind of friendships that survive the pitfalls and anxieties of old age.
We will sit on a rooftop overlooking the city that brought us all together so long ago. We’ll laugh at the follies of youth and be thankful for having left them behind. We will give thanks to for resilience and adaptability. We will give thanks for everything we ever outran. We will give thanks for a future that may be fraught with incalculable fear, but is still yet to be written.
So I haven’t been writing as much. Still grinding away at this novel, but aside from that I mostly try and sit calmly with the present. For whatever reason, writing about the present has always proven difficult for me. It’s like I have a hard time articulating the significance of an event until after it’s time as has passed and I’ve had time to reflect. Maybe that’s why my first book is about a life lived two decades ago. I can tell you with absolute clarity what it was all for, and what it all meant.
The present… The Present feels jittery and electric, like I want to do a million things at once. Maybe that’s the strong cup of green tea and chronic lack of sleep talking though. Or maybe too much time researching bullshit on the internet is making me foggy before my years. I don’t know. I can’t think clearly right now. Maybe I should just be outside with my dog (The real love of my life.)
What I’m trying to articulate here, is what a joy it is to fall in love. I haven’t been in love in some years. Opening my heart to another has never been something I’ve done lightly, and rarely something I’ve given myself to fully. If we’re being real, I’ll one part blame on being socialized in a culture of toxic masculinity, one part mental illness and trauma, and the last part just kind of feeling like a whole lot of the people I encounter aren’t worth my vulnerability and authenticity anyway. People can be disingenuous and dishonorable shitbags. I see it on most of them, and keep my distance. People are also flawed and wounded and wonderful and most of us are doing the best we can. It’s the ones that use their hardships as an excuse to never grow or change that I can’t abide to share my time with.
Or people can’t handle my authenticity or vulnerability. That’s possible too. I think I encounter that one a lot. I don’t know. It’s difficult to be objective about yourself sometimes. I am more than aware of myself as a “difficult person”. I am painfully aware that I’m unlucky enough to experience the terrifying and joyous journey of life through a certain lens, and the world I see through that lens doesn’t always match with the world the people I love are seeing.
That is to say, trauma and mental illness done fucked up my perception of reality. I won’t make any apologies for how I experience the world, not like I wanna experience it in this way either. I’m real sorry for the vital connections it’s caused me to break over the years, most of them anyway.
Anyway… Love poem in progress. I think we’ll title it Janky Love Poem #1 because I’m feeling real sweet and vulnerable and clumsy right now. I don’t know if I’ve ever written something about a relationship while I was still in it.
From an idea of love cheapened
With plastic sentiment
Filled with impossible promises
Of a saccharine soaked forever
And sepia toned happily ever after
Accepting each imperfect
And impermanent moment
Making monuments from ruins
An idea of love
Falling like walls
Like precious stones
Once hidden in rubble
Falling in love like
Tearing lonely cynicism to shreds
For gentle whispers of
How the world is still worth fighting for
Four simple words to sink in
“Nihilism is so stupid”
That’s all. I’m going outside. Maybe I’ll work on this more later. Maybe I’ll leave it as it is, a clumsily sweet monument to the first tenuous steps of falling in love. Only time will tell. For now, I will enjoy this moment.
Adrift and sinking, out where the horizon unfolds
Into rows of waves crashing down
Our lifeboats are full of holes
And someone threw away the oars
Our boats are taking on water now
As the lives and loves We forged sink below…
I just want a metaphor
For how we’re maybe out of our depth here
Where the water is deep and dark
Maybe we’re out of our depth here
And way out here there’s sharks.
Maps marked with blurred lines
and the last of a sky so blue
Just as summer gave way to fall
“You have to breathe. You have to breathe.”
Swallowing mouthfuls of air where the traffic snarls
Marveling at just how fucking ugly
Of a picture this world will paint you
Right as it runs you through
We’re out of our depth here
With blurred lines inked indelibly into skin
Too tender, too thin
Blurring the line again
Always between the intimate
And the violent
We’re out of our depth here
Because nothing prepared us for trespasses like this
Or taught us how to love without fear
The hour is now late
Ashore, annihilation comes home to call
With a knock knock knock at the door
Wolves hunger at the windows
Sharks circle the shallows
Murderers who murder each other
Set loose to stalk the halls
Today is the hardest I’ve worked in a long time, but I’m really proud of what came of it. I’m really proud of this writing too. Despite some revision and printing disasters today, I will have some zines with me tonight for my set at Invokation if you’re in Olympia. I don’t have many, so grab them quick. Thanks to Pocket for the indispensable proofreading, technical, and assembly help. They even took this pretty photo you’re looking at. Total lifesaver.
My new zine, titled Downpour and Drought is a collection of writing spanning from fall, 2015 Spring, 2017. These were some dizzyingly hard times. They made for some of the best writing that’s come out of me yet though, and I’m thankful for that.
The second zine I have available is a short poetry zine titled We Who Fell In Love With The Sea. This zine is a few years old now, but I did an incredibly limited run of it the first time around. I’m really proud of this material too.
Out of town friends, I’d love to mail you some zines, but it might be a minute while I figure out sustainable printing since it’s a new era where all the copy scams are dead. On that note, got printing and distribution advice for me? Please, get in touch. I feel like I’m groping in the goddamn dark sometimes.
It’s that time of year again, where I write about you, or write to you. Four years ago tonight you texted me, late at night. I didn’t answer until the next day. By then it was too late. I hope you at least read the reply before you went.
I still have two bottles of mead that Roth and I brewed with the last of your honey. We brewed them in that awful haunted apartment on Grail Street that you and Adrien helped me move into. I’ll never forget the look on your face when we walked through the front door the first day and saw the acid-nightmare graffiti that the hippies who lived there before me left scrawled all over the walls.
“We need to paint all over this shit before it comes to life at night and eats you.”
We all laughed. It was funny in that “Maybe it can’t get any worse than this” way. There were a few months in that apartment that were alright. I liked living alone there. Some days I hid too much. Some nights I was really good at keeping myself occupied.
It was sweet when Molly moved in too. You only came over once more because the place was so creepy. I always look at that summer now in that like they were the last few good months we had before you died. You know how it is, when you end up dividing time in that before and after a person died way. Everything before they died just looks pristine and feels light, even if that wasn’t actually the case.
I felt haunted by the spectre of your death and it’s aftershocks for a full year. It manifested it self physically and I had to leave North Carolina. When I left North Carolina, the mead continued to ferment with Roth in the home they took me into when I got too sick to stay at Grail Street. I came back a year later and we bottled and labeled it. Then we spent the night we creeping around town like nocturnal fairies in the late night heat, delivering the bottles to your friends and loved ones. I think you would have appreciated the design. There was a lot of glitter.
I still have mine. I haven’t drank them yet. Whatever broke in my heart and brain in the aftermath of your passing still won’t allow me to drink alcohol, despite the fact that I maybe stayed drunk for an almost heroic three days straight in the immediate aftermath of your passing. Now I just can’t do it. I’ll start to feel sick and dump the rest of my bottle out. Even last summer, I tried to drink a bottle of hard cider on the banks of the French Broad with Ed. One of my favorite places, with a person I cherish. I took two sips and felt nauseous. I dumped the rest of the bottle into the the rushing water, thinking of it as an offering, and feeling comfort in the thought of all rivers leading to the Ocean.
Or worse, when the alcohol hits my bloodstream and I start to feel that sinking terror that I felt in the aftermath of your passing. You know that gnawing, deep dark existential terror we all feel at some point. We stare into nothing and worry that maybe just maybe, we live our lives for nothing, suffer, and then go into oblivion at the end. There is nothing else. No rhyme or reason, just chaos, violence, and darkness. That feeling happened a lot after you died.
The winter after you died Adrien and I had an end of the world party for ourselves on December 21st, 2012. You know, the night all these annoying ass new age crackers were telling us that the Mayans said the world was gonna end, or change, or whatever. It seemed like nobody could really decide which. I wasn’t sure if I cared. I just knew I was in pain a lot of the time and I hated everything.
We sat in my room on Grail Street. I was cleaning. Cobwebs lined the corners of my room. I didn’t knock them down. I thought of spiders as company. I put things that had belonged to the boyfriend in boxes to throw out. You had lived with him when you passed away. We broke up shortly after your death. It wasn’t sad. I was just ready for something else, and clawing to get away from him.
After that, then I read the runes. I can’t remember what they said. I only remember that it was no comfort. It thought back to a few months before you died in the summer. The day was too hot. You were crying alone in your room. I had never heard anyone be in such pain. I asked the boyfriend if he thought we should go comfort you.
“She’s fine. She just does this sometimes. I’ll check on her later” He said indifferently.
I had to leave because it was too agonizing to hear you hurting so much. I will probably regret not saying anything, or at least offering to bring you snacks, water, just fucking anything for the rest of my life. I thought about that day, and told Adrien I’d be right back. I took the boyfriend’s stuff out to the curb and threw it unceremoniously into the garbage.
Adrien sat in my bed drinking beers. As if he could tell what I was thinking, he mentioned you. Of course. It had only been maybe four months at that point. We talked about you a lot. All of us did. I’d like to think that you could somehow see how utterly beloved you were. I mean, seriously.. People were literally painting the town with your name. I also think you might have been embarrassed. I don’t know. Adrien was so sweet and assured me that they didn’t believe in oblivion, and that you were finally safe.
I just didn’t know. I just didn’t know anything except I missed you and you were gone. The nagging feeling that you had gone into oblivion just wouldn’t subside.
That darkness and emptiness swirled around the apartment all winter. We saw ghosts, but they were all scary, and none of them were you. Maybe you were just so ready to leave earth. I never really blamed you. And who would wanna spend the afterlife visiting the fucking Grail Street apartments, anyway? Sometimes I worry that I spent so much time being miserable in that building that my spirit is just going to gravitate back there when my time is up. Don’t worry. I’m doing everything I can to avoid that outcome.
That last summer in Asheville, mold sick and more depressed than I had ever been, I’d think I heard voices in both my waking hours and my dreams. I never knew if I was hearing an actual malevolent force, or if I just had to personify something that took you.
I got too sick and lost too much of my mind to stay at Grail Street. I moved in with Roth. Sometimes the voices and the panic would come to me there at night. I would lie in bed and claw at a now irregularly beating heart and pray for it to just beat right again. Some nights it just wouldn’t stop raining. The terror would get to be too much and I would lace up my boots in the night and speed over to Ed’s house to hyperventilate in their bed until daylight crept through the blinds. We were both terrified that my heart would somehow stop and death would come for me as I slept.
When I did sleep, I started to sleep with a loaded gun under the bed. I kept a baseball bat in the passenger seat of my truck. I would walk through downtown like a ghost haunting myself; eyes to the ground, fists clenching and unclenching. It was time to move on. It’s not that you were Asheville, but the pall your death cast across everyone I knew became to consuming to stay.
It took two full years of you being gone and a move across the country to feel any sense of lightness about you. Rachel, C-80 and I climbed a mountain on the anniversary of the day you left. We got to the peak late in the afternoon. You cold see for miles around. I whispered hello to you, and I told you how much I had loved you.
And that it was nice to see you again.
Maybe it took going to a place that was just too beautiful for words to feel like there had been anything else but pain and death for all of us.
And I hope you could see it. I really do. Because places this beautiful deserve to be shared with the people you love. And goddamn, were you ever loved. Not just by me, but by everyone who encountered you. Nobody had a bad thing to say about you. That’s a rarity in something as viciously petty and rife with shit talking as the radical queer community.
Every year, I write about you or I write to you. I post the same haunting photo of you. This year won’t be any different. I’m not ready to drink your mead yet. Maybe I’ll give it another six years. In 2022, it will have been ten years since you left. You’d be turning 38. I’ll be 41. If you were alive today, you’d be turning 32 this year. I still don’t resent you for choosing to go. I say it every year. Your death and it’s aftermath devastated me in a way that was almost awe inspiring. It broke me down and left me in pieces in a moldy room.
It broke everyone.
The only choice as to forge ahead through the ruins and reconstruct ourselves into newer and better people. We’ve all got to do that work for the rest of our lives. I know my works in that realm are far from complete. If anything was to be gained at all in the aftermath of your death at all, it’s to be inspired by the level of kindness, deep love, and humor you brought to your friends.
I hope to one day be able to bring even a fraction of the kindness and light to those I love that you showed everyone around you.
It hurts to become. It hurts to outgrow. It hurts to grow back.