haunted

the night brings
life to the shadows —
sound to the spirits that
tiptoe through the halls
and there’s a ghost
here, I think with
unfinished business
to whisper about
on wind and creaking stair
echoing round the walls

fear bades
me flick the switch, light blinding but the
ghost remains for
it’s not the house that’s haunted.

hush.

Quiet is a din when
memories call
max volume filling my head with strumming guitar and soulful croon as the only solace
‘cause I love that I can’t hear nostalgia whisper your name
over the yelling at the bar,
the booming beats of Bell House
with the whiskey drowning out
all the remnant noise to
hush the sound of my heart
beat beat beat
no longer ringing in my ear
bleating a constant drum beat
of my life going on and on
and on, and
until I had you,
I never knew silence could be this loud.

big love (i)

One of the local high schools in my area hosted a journalism conference in the fall of 2009 — my senior year of high school. It promised a day full of insight on how to be a better journalist, but in truth, I was more ecstatic to be missing my other classes and eating free food. Journalism was just a silly elective meant to boost my grades before I applied to art school.

In the morning, we learned about news writing, AP Style, and how to find your beat. The rest of the day was made up of breakout sessions where you could choose what kind of journalism you were most interesting in pursuing. For me? It was none.

During the first of my chosen sessions — feature writing — a balding man in a brown sweater, khaki pants, and black shoes passed out a packet of papers. On top was an upside-down sheet that read THE NEW YORKER in those ever-so-iconic letters. Under it was a photo of a tomato atop a ketchup bottle in black and white — clearly printed on the cheap non-color copier. In smaller letters beside the picture read the title, “The Ketchup Conundrum,” by Malcolm Gladwell.

I folded back the cover to see pages and pages of text.

“Stop,” he said. “Don’t read any further.”

I did, startled and worried that I was the only one who made that mistake. To my relief, the four people I knew in the group were also caught trying to read without instruction.

The odd man then motioned us to look at a blue tote with grocery bags inside. He then proceeded to pull out napkins, plastic cutlery, a random assortment of party crackers, and three different containers of mustard. Among them, there was a tiny jar of Grey Poupon Dijon, the slightly cheaper Guldens, and the most recognizable French’s classic yellow. We were then instructed to take a napkin, three crackers, and to spread one mustard on each. Skeptical, we took the little plastic knives out of the cutlery box and began smearing our crackers with the mustards, all the while wondering what this crazy person was making us do, and why.

“Okay, now eat it,” he said.

Everyone’s eyes widened. Shrugging my shoulders, I took a bite first of the yellow, followed by the Guldens, then the Grey Poupon. It was terrible. Mustard is fine on a sandwich where the meat and bread and cheese and lettuce all meld together and hide the overpowering taste of it. On crackers? Disgusting. But the taste test was intriguing to say the least. Normal teachers never let us eat and learn at the same time.

“Now you can read the first four paragraphs,” he said, smiling.

The story began with short vignettes about the history of mustard. I get it, I thought for a second — why he had us eat mustard crackers. Except I realized very quickly that I didn’t, because this story was supposed to be about ketchup, and we didn’t eat a variety of ketchups on crackers.

Finishing the fourth graph, I stopped reading as was instructed. All I could do was think about how badly I wanted to eat something to get the harsh mustard flavor out of my mouth. Soon after, everyone else finished the passage, and looked up with the same perplexed expression that I was wearing.

“Now read the rest, but keep those first four paragraphs in mind throughout,” the man instructed. “It’s a long piece.”

In the paragraphs that followed, a story about social psychology and ketchup slowly started to build, and with it, my interest in the seemingly commonplace condiment. I’d always hated it — the tangy sweetness of it made me shudder. I was a french fry purist, and ketchup had no place in my world.

But the more I read, the more I cared about ketchup — how it tastes, where it’s made, who is in charge of selling it. In the end, we all realized that we tried three mustards because there are distinct kinds, and while some like plain yellow, others prefer the dijon. But in the world of ketchup, Heinz reigns supreme. There was no need for us to sample a variety, because it doesn’t exist.

That realization hit me hard, and in the process of reading, I fell in love ketchup. I wouldn’t be putting it on my fries or hot dogs, but to this day ketchup holds a special place in my heart because its “conundrum” changed my life. Every decision I’ve made, person I’ve met, and place I’ve been since that day — they’re all smeared with a little ketchup. Only, it’s not really about the ketchup at all. Without realizing it, that day I fell out of like with painting and into big love with writing.

8615

I owe Kristen Black ten dollars.

It’s stupid. She was a girl in my global history and cultural perspectives seminar freshman year. We went on this field trip to the Cloisters–this fortress-like church on the edge of the Hudson River. It was a beautiful place, exceptionally so in the fall, as all the crispy orange and red leaves fell from the side of the cliff overlooking the water. I remember thinking it was such a monumental graceful holdout, the kind that makes you marvel. But our class was there to debunk God. It was odd, I always thought, because it’s the sort of landscape you expect God had to have touched.

But there is no God, and I owe Kristen Black ten dollars.

I borrowed the money because we had to pay cash at some decrepit burger joint in Penn Station. It was such a typical New York thing, to require patrons to pay cash. I love to hate that. Everyone who loves New York loves to hate it.

I forgot about that for five years.  It’s been five years since I borrowed ten dollars from Kristen Black. For some reason, I remember that. The last time I saw her she was walking hand-in-hand with her girlfriend on campus senior year. We made passing eye contact. The first thing I thought was, “Wow, I’m an incredible dick. I still owe her money.” In all honesty I doubt she remembers that. I bet she has no more than a hazy notion that we took a class together once freshman year. But I am ten dollars indebted to her, whether or not she cares.

Today, Kristen Black added me on LinkedIn. That’s why it’s relevant. She works at NBC, and we both majored in communications. There is no way she cares that I owe her ten dollars. I don’t expect to wake up tomorrow with a message in my inbox that reads, “Can you please give my ten dollars back?” The simple fact is, I’m a lunatic, and she is most likely not.

That’s the problem with memory. It sticks, like the weirdest, worst glue–trapping all the shit and fuzz and nonsense that rubs over it. It is absurd to care that I still owe Kristen Black ten dollars. But this glue is holding strong.

72915

It’s 9:47 a.m., and I’ve got Third Eye Blind’s “Deep Inside of You” playing. I feel off today. The last month has been a whirlwind of impulsiveness. I’ve thrown all my usual cautions to the wind. Part of me wants to be this way all the time—seizing my days and making them mine, going after what I want. The other part still wants to retreat to safety, to the quiet facade I reserve for the surface.

I recognize that I shouldn’t have started my day by listening to the Decemberists because they always remind me of him and those grueling car trips to the Adirondacks. “June Hymn” always brings me back to when things required no real thought, and we simply were. Now we simply are not.

Some days I am content, and some days I am restless. On occasion I regret that I’m not still twenty and barefoot, running through the woods, getting caught in a canoe in the middle of a thunderstorm, making love to you on the porch as the monstrous ruck of a summer storm shakes the lakeside. I mourn some days that you and I will never be those people again.

You were my muse, and even though we are out of love, I still find it easiest to write about what we had. It was a bit of a fairytale wasn’t it? There are certain moments in life where magic is real, and getting to see it, however briefly, has given me a breadth of hope that it’s possible to brush with destiny every now and again. But I know I can’t go looking for fate, or waiting on it to make decisions for me.

“We were broken, didn’t know it…” the lyrics chime in. Every song feels like it belongs to me when I’m listening to it. But certain ones carry me off to different corners of my mind. I can’t listen to “Day Late Friend” [Anberlin] without visiting the cliffs of Montserrat on a rainy day in Barcelona, just like every time I hear “Nothing Like You and I” [The Perishers] I am 17 and driving away in my Jeep Liberty, crying after another fight with the same person who broke my heart at least ten different times in high school.

Maybe music is dangerous. Or rather it’s more correct to say that my my mind is a minefield and music is the catalyst. I’m desperately trying to weave in imagery and metaphors while I write. I don’t know if it’s holding together.

Then the shuffle kicks in, and now it’s City and Colour’s “The Girl.” This song has seen me through too many life events to count. I have flashes where I’m driving down the oceanfront’s Atlantic Avenue during the summer 2010. It was the year that I dyed my hair blonde and had a ridiculous fling. Slight regret still taints my view of that summer. But other times, this song places me on a hopeful drive up to New York for school. The worst is when memory brings me to that first DC basement apartment, where I’m laying on the floor thinking about the rotten things that distance can do to love.

But I’m jerked back to the present. It is Wednesday July 29, 2015. I am an account executive at Banner Public Affairs and a former defense journalist. A coworker approached my desk offering me a quick writing project on IT mobility. “Its exciting stuff, not like the cybersecurity topic I had you doing last week,” he says laughing. I nod and chuckle uncomfortably, “Yes, definitely, much less dry.” It’s not, but I know this assignment is supposed to be exciting. I release a sigh of relief as he appears not to have noticed, walking away sipping coffee.

Writing is the only time I feel like myself, even when it’s the saddest, hardest thing to do. Seven years ago I wanted to be an essayist—scratch that, I’m lying as usual. It’s still what I want to do. Since I was 18 and sitting in Dana St. John’s journalism elective, I’ve wanted to be Malcolm Gladwell writing about people, places, and ketchup conundrums. I want to go run back to my literary home, to Oxford commas and pyramid writing. The reverse doesn’t suit me well; AP Style is death.

I have a pile of work to finish, but my motivation has entirely disappeared. My bosses are out, and congress is out of session. I was hired here because I have a breadth of knowledge about the Department of Defense. By that, I mean I was an incredibly bad reporter at a defense trade publication, and my dad was in the Navy—”expertise” indeed. In essence, the last seven months have been an exercise in humility and embarrassment. But it’s fine… I am fine.

Shuffle again, and “Sparks” [Coldplay] is on. I hate how much longing this song makes me feel for no real reason. I’ve always wanted to slow dance on a rooftop to this song with stringed lights overhead. But that’s all in my head, as are most of my truly romantic encounters—imagined only. I’ve never learned my lesson about seeing things through rose-colored glasses, and how expectation rarely grazes reality.

Romance has always been grittier than that. You’d think I would have recognized that sooner. It’s not forty lines of poetry, naming your future schnauzer George, or imagining the library you will have in your house in Upstate. It’s walking through the streets of New York late at night after you’ve had too much to drink. The sidewalks are stained with leaking garbage bags and piss, but we kiss while waiting for a cab anyway. It’s messy. It’s being so tired, too sweaty from the swampy weather in DC to make it to my bed after walking two miles from the train to my apartment. It’s falling asleep on the couch, hands half-held, shoes still on.

But that’s okay, I think. All of life can’t all be yellow roses and bokeh lights. Sometimes it’s finding an adventure with an undetermined destination with a friend who has kind brown eyes instead of a soulmate with boundless oceanic blue ones. It’s different than what I expected, but it isn’t less good.

Its high time that I amend my view about what love is. Maybe it isn’t lyrical or poetic, but rather someone who accepts your faults as much as you accept theirs. Perhaps it’s making room for someone else because you’ve chosen them and they’ve chosen you, instead of letting some hand of fate or destiny decide for you. I can’t know that I’ll feel this certain forever, but for now I can accept that the unknown isn’t always bad.

Right now, there are no definitions, which is hard for me because I like everything in life to be quantified and qualified with words. But I know that I don’t need it so much as I want it. Sometimes things are better left unsaid. For the first time in my life, I am aware that it’s fine that I don’t know what will happen tomorrow, next week or next month.

Anyway, definitions aren’t an insurance policy. I used to believe that was reckless, that to have no plans was to be putting my heart in harm’s way. I should want my heart in harm’s way. I can bear the hurt every day if it means I am actually living. I can be happy today and sad tomorrow because there’s always another tomorrow until there isn’t I suppose.

I am preoccupied, now, with figuring out if this elegy is technically stream of consciousness or if it’s just an exercise in writing all my unconsciously desirous thoughts in one place. Maybe it’s both. I guess we’ll see.

Succulent Sin

I check my watch as I amble slowly towards Breslin Hall. It’s Friday—the last one of the academic semester. My junior year is winding down and I can’t fathom that college is nearly over.  My eyes squint as I head past the law school library, sun shining the brightest I can recall since it was summer. Today is a lunch day in our advanced essay class. Free food to college student is as drugs are to an addict, but not for me.

As we all convene on the grassy quad, blankets are laid down in preparation of the feast that will soon be before us. Today’s spread is from a Jamaican Jerk restaurant. When it arrives, the aroma is its first, most notable attribute. The heat of the day amplifies the exotic scent of that tickles my nose. I take in a whiff of the pepper—delicious pepper-curried everything—it was intoxicating.  While my nose basks in the aroma, my stomach rips me back to harsh reality. My senses beg for indulgence, but I know better. Food is the apple and I am Eve.

It was November 24, 2010. Two months into my freshman year of college, and I was home for the first time since I started at Hofstra. I was thrilled to see my friends and exchange harebrained first-year college stories. It was a nice night, right up until the end. As most college students do, I liked to eat. Life was such paradise; I consumed whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted. Thus, the platter of succulent Southwest eggrolls placed in my friend’s kitchen didn’t go unnoticed—more than anything I wish it had.

On my drive home that night, I was plagued with heartburn worse than anything I’d ever felt. I could barely breathe. When I made it home, I tossed back some TUMS.  Without even an attempt to climb the stair to my room I passed out on the couch in my living room, coat still on. But sleep’s relief was not in the cards. I awoke not long after and knew, the night was going to be horrible.

The heartburn had worsened, and it was all but inevitable—I was going to throw up. I paced my way around the kitchen, sipping water, praying to whatever or whoever that the pain would simply go away. Taking deep breaths, each wrought with stabbing chest pain worse than the gasp before, I woke my mother. “Are you okay?” she asked. No, I was not. But before I could answer, it came.

I ran to the bathroom and relief, the kind you wish would never come, poured out in a surreal nightmare that is hazy even now. I was crying, couldn’t breathe, and my chest was on fire. Again and again it happened. It was a traumatic Thanksgiving. I’ve not been able to look at Southwest eggrolls since. The very thought of any combination of chicken, beans, rice, tomatoes, or chipotle ranch sickens me. Recollections of these events created a view of hell that keeps me from pandering to the whims of my taste buds’ temptations.

“No, I’m fine,” I say as my classmates encourage me to try the mild Jamaican rice and beans. Who knows what that could do to me… This is my life now. I must refuse to give in to any craving for fear of repeating that Thanksgiving’s mistake. I fantasize about a day when I can eat whatever I want, but for now, gluttony is not an option.

After that Thanksgiving, I returned to school, but not to normal.  Nausea became an everyday occurrence, and heartburn accompanied every meal. I cut out every food that brought on discomfort until I was left with buttered bagels, nothing else. My social life disappeared with the indigestion. I was afraid to leave my room—what if I got sick in public?  That was just not an option.

When four months had gone by and nothing changed, I started to feel completely hopeless. At one point, after having gone days without eating anything but bagels, I broke down in the shower of my freshman suite. I had to do something, so I called a gastroenterologist. As I entered his office, I felt a sense of optimism that had been missing for months. Unfortunately, after the appointment I would regret getting my hopes up. Dr. Shusil Sharma listened to my heartbeat with a stethoscope, asked me some questions, then told me to stop taking all of my prescriptions. It was a fifteen-minute consultation that yielded no information.

I did what he said, and stopped all prescriptions. There was still no change. After this, I found a new doctor, Patricia Raymond. She performed an upper G.I. endoscopy. This revealed I had abnormal stomach folds; but again, there was no definitive answer as to why I couldn’t eat. I dropped twenty pounds, and I was always hungry but constantly terrified of what would happen if I did anything to quell my appetite.

So here I am nearly three years later, at a beautiful picnic with my class. I watch as the container of yellow, curried lamb makes its way around to everyone’s plates. The sharp smell, so distinctly delicious, is nothing but a tease.  I consider for a moment taking a piece, just little bite. I shouldn’t. I couldn’t. The penance for this sin of succulence is one I won’t endure.