Bummer Summer, Redux

It’s bummer summer redux, baby and I’ve been adrift in a pavement sea. I’m out here alone, again. Drowning in the haze of a lazy late summer heat. Counting the crawling minutes in heatwaves shimmering skyward off cooking concrete. Turn my phone off and walk the city for hours at a time. I threw all the clocks away when I moved all my things into my new room, the second set of four walls and a door and a window I’ve called home this summer alone. This distance between minutes and hours and days blurs lately. I’m too busy marching nowhere fast to the rhythm of that familiar thunder pulse rumbling away inside my ribcage. I don’t have an appetite, but I’ll drive to the store to stock up on the food my body needs to stay alive. Sit in the car and hyperventilate in the parking lot like my heart is begging to break free from the bones that held it hostage for so long.

I hate this city, and I love it. And I hate it. And I love it. All at once. We all worry the water wars to come are gonna hit these parts hard. Mo said something in the bookstore about how when the chips are down, and we’re down and out, nothing beats watching those mountains materialize on the horizon when you’re driving home. And goddamn, if I didn’t know exactly what zie meant.

My heart beats right and I get out of the car. As if the little fucker had anywhere to go. We’re stuck together. Until the end of the line. I run like hellfire flicks at my heels. Press iron in my palms until they blister and my muscles break down to be reborn. Just to keep that merciless little muscle healthy. To forestall the inevitable for another day.

“I keep in shape like a Super 8, because I’m afraid to die.”  

Wezel told me the other day, the only thing that scares him about death is the concept of eternity. Being stuck in one place, be it damnation or paradise, forever. Though the concept of oblivious terrifies me, I think I know what he means about wanting to stay in motion. I can’t settle anywhere. In houses. In rooms. In my skin. This new house it is my fourteenth mailing address in the last ten years. Moving from room to room, as if sheltering behind the same four walls longer than six months at a time, might wither away my momentum.

As if I’ve ever had any idea where I’m going, anyway.

I don’t even remember how to write anymore. I just stare at blank page after blank page. Reflecting on a lifetime spent amongst the drowning and drowned. All of my friends. Trying to keep their heads above water. Hurting. Hurting each other. Hurting themselves. Fighting against the swell. Swimming against the current. Trying not to drown in depression.

I read a story last week. The scene: The Pacific Ocean, 1945. A United States Naval destroyer torpedoed just after midnight. 300 men went to the bottom with the ship. Another 900 went into the water. There’s a monologue in the movie Jaws about it. 900 men spent Four days adrift in the open sea. Too few lifeboats between them. Barely any clean water. The only food what they scavenged from the flotsam. Then there were the sharks circling for the feeding frenzy. A horror unimaginable. Four days in the water with not enough to go around. A horror unimaginable. Close your eyes and you can see it. Water as far as the eye can see. No land in sight. Listen and you can hear it. The rise and fall of the waves. The screams of the devoured. Some men clung to one another, banded together for survival. Some of them turned on one another. Desperate for the slimmest glimmer of survival to shine on them, they swore fealty to betrayal and instinct. Shoving one another into the maws of death to buy more time for themselves. One sailor sunk so far as to slit the throat of one of his companions and drink the blood that spilled from the wound to slake his thirst.

80 years and countless wars come home later. We are drowning in an ocean of our own. Everyone I have ever loved is hurting. Fighting for air. Searching for shore. Trying not to succumb to a sea roiling with despair. Adrift. Sinking. We are a generation of the drowning and drowned. Despair. Debt. Addiction. Everyone scrambling over one another for solid footing, desperate to breathe. Begging for those moments where the world spins right. Where the cycle breaks free from an axis of despair.

The cycle of hurting people, hurting people. Scrambling into overloaded life rafts in madness. Trying not to drown. Trying not to be devoured. Driven mad by hunger and thirst. Bereft of fulfillment or meaning. Arms swimming and swimming until the lungs give in.

Searching for a searchlight. Any sign of hope.

We are a generation of the drowning and the drowned.

I am so tired of watching the people I love most cannibalize one another, fight over scraps, feed one another to the sea, to circling sharks.

Do you hear it?

The sounds of everyone you love begging for reprieve?

Wishing for once that these long nights would pass with ease?

Heartbreak Summer: Compounded

I watched my best friend’s legs wobble
Struggling to stand against
The shimmering haze of summer heat
Carry her up the stairs
And into the bedroom
With the air conditioner on
With the curtains open over the alley.

90 degrees today
With a seven percent chance of rain
The swelling thunderheads gathering
In the distance, gray and pregnant with rain
Seem impossibly far away
I know, baby girl, I know
Breathing through this industrial haze
Is hard on anyone
Especially you, making your way
So fearlessly to the end of the road.

Sit at my desk
Stare at a blank screen
Shuffle papers around
Try to will the words
That will make sense of so much loss
From my brain onto the page.

Every few minutes
A nervous sideways glance
To the pile of pillows and blankets
On which your tired body rests
To nervously check for the labored
Rise and fall of your weary chest.

Six years ago, this week
You were sick
Tired and wheezing
At ten years old
I cried my eyes dry
Begged whoever might be listening above
For just a few more years
Of coming home
To the side of the best friend
I have ever known.

You and me, girl.
Wherever we were,
As long as we were together
We were home
Not everyone gets to be that lucky
In life and in love
I know that now.

Every single night
I tuck you in
Ache wrecks my whisper
As it makes its way to your ears
I tell you that when you are ready to go
To just let me know
I won’t keep you here, in pain
Not for my sake.

If these long years together have taught us anything
They taught us everything we ever needed to know
About a little thing called strength
I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again:
The day you leaped into my arms
Pressed your face against mine for the first time
That was the closest I have ever come
To believing in love at first sight
The rumble of your paws
Romping across a forest floor
As you grew into them and made this ruin of a world your own
Rattled the dust of despair from my bones.

You, more than anything else
Washed a decade long death wish stare
From my eyes.

You braved sixteen years of this mess
To offer an unshakable love
I whisper to you;
After sixteen years of a love as unshakable as this one
I am strong enough
To brave the emptiness of a world
Forever without you.

Even though
I am uncertain
Which one of us
I am trying to convince.

Heartbreak Summer//Heartbreak City

It’s summer in the city
That I love
But could never love enough
Or half as much
As you love it
I sketch the skyline
To memory behind my eyes
Remember the first time
I watched your eyes light up
The night you talked about
How grateful you were for the ways this place
Too root in your bones
And never let go.

There’s a metaphor here, baby
Just below the surface
For sure.

The concrete and the pavement
Soak up the burning sun like a sponge
All that stone laid by hard working men
Absorbs the heat
Reflecting it back
Like an opaque mirror
Drinking every last drop
Of moisture from my skin

I’m all tears and sweat and a heaving chest
Sitting on the Highland Park steps
Doing my best to remember
How to take a breath
Talk my lungs backwards
To the days when inhalations
Came with ease
Without the weight
Of heartache pressing
Down on my chest

I cried (tough) every day
For a week straight
Then I cried for another week after that
Ran every toll between Pittsburgh and Philly
With barely a bite of food in my stomach
Listened to sad songs on repeat
Wondered if leaving wasn’t a mistake
Or some bad dream

The kind I would wake from
Turn over in bed to tell you about
Before dragging myself downstairs
To make your morning coffee
And brew my green tea
Just like any other morning
Lived in this hellish year without end
Except it wasn’t
This last year of dread ran us both ragged
Turning on each other all the way
To the end of the road

I know it was never time wasted
As much as it was time hard spent
With the days so fucking long
And so slow, slow as the despair that encroached
Like dust gathered in the corners and crevices of the room
So much
We could scrub and scrub
Never wipe the grime away
Enough make a clean break
To make the years last
As long as we’d hoped

It’s summer in my new city
Transitory as my time
Doc Marten stomping my way
Through the aching haze of heartache
On these dirty streets may be
We all know my story ends in the mountains, anyway.

The way people drive in Philly…
Relentlessly reckless
I know you would hate it
Someone said:
“It’s like every person on the road
Just smoked meth
And now they have to take a shit”
Two near collisions this week
And I’m already looking
In some quieter direction.

It’s summer in this city
The first one I feel in love with
I’ve been missing you terribly
Save for those quiet moments
Now and forever my own
Where solitude comes as a relief
In my tiny room
With the air conditioner turned low

I wonder what you’re doing
Are eating enough
Drinking enough water
Getting plenty of rest
How do you sleep
Alone, with the windows open
These nights when summer swells
The nighttime air in our room
(I guess it’s your room now)
Around you like a sweating soup

How are you filling the empty
Spaces in the house
That I used to inhabit
Throughout the home we tried
Our noble best to build
Together

I’m lucky I guess
Not having to contend
With vacant rooms in the house
Where tomorrow once lived
I find myself alone, in another city
Thankful for the books stacked
On the pillow next to me
(I still think of them as your pillows)
Like I did
At my bachelor best
Before you came along.

Lonely bedroom bullshit, again.
I can live with it.

It hurts the most at night
Lie awake in bed
Replay our last hours together
After we accepted the end
All that staggering stagnancy
Heartache and bitterness
Finally falling away
Cutting words, quiet now
The unkindness that sundered us
Finally softened
To reveal the bittersweet tragedy
Of missed chances
A story of almost making it.

On the street the next day
A kiss goodbye
Cup your face in my hands
“I love you I love you I love you”
Like a wish
A hope
That those three words could suture the wounds
Left without meaning to
I never meant to hurt you, you know
Just like I know you never meant to hurt me
Hearts so tender taken for granted
On this fucking burning planet
Inattention to detail is one kind of failure
Barbed words rising to be heard are another.

At night I sleep
I pray for an absence of dreams
Or if the universe cannot meet that small mercy
May rest at least off us a path back ruins undone
To hearts beating strong and unbroken.

I hope you
Are remembering to stay hydrated
And that your dinners are always
As delicious as they are filling
That your worries wane with the warming days
Anxiety is a conniving, heartless motherfucker
That you never deserved
Anymore than one of us
Asked for time that forgot how to be gentle.

I hope your dog never gets sick
I hope your time together is as long as it is tender
That the two of you are as blessed
As Hope and I have been
I hope he learns how to play fetch
Please give him a scratch behind the ears for me
If you happen to read this

I hope all the dust and the clutter and depression
clear
I hope you keep loving yourself
And that every job you get pays you well
I’m sorry that I lost myself
Somewhere in the noise of could have beens
Most of all
I wish you well
I wish you the very best.