Monday, September 12, 2011

In dreams.

*Disclaimer: This was difficult for me to write. The honestly involved here was more than I'm used to. It does get very mildly sexually graphic towards the end, but not explicit I believe. Her name has been changed to protect her anonymity, as I haven't so much as spoken to her in years.

     My thoughts and ideas always, somehow, end up coming out half-cooked. Even with pen and paper at the ready, when I deign to put their form to words they implode like an ill-baked souffle. Half-done, like dreams half-remembered, and if I do start, I have to fill in the finer points with trite and flimsy constructs that are unfortunately given the task of being load-bearing.

"Look I'm standing naked before you
don't you want more than my sex?
I can scream as loud as your last one
but I can't claim innocence."

     Yes, I admit, she has been on my mind lately. At least, a ghost of her clinging to the back of my head. I couldn't really understand it. Maybe it was all the talk of Atlanta this weekend, or the wedding in Conyers the week before, or the conversation about the moon. Hell, you could even chalk it up to that constant mental black-book searching a guy is prone to do on the road to recovery. I knew it wouldn't be long before I was going to be there myself. If you ask me how I knew, or why I would be there, or what I was thinking, well, I would be very hard pressed to give you an answer. It definitely wasn't for her, that I know. She was married for sure, and maybe with children. Probably with children. I had a fondness for her, sure, but that moment in my life is too far gone to even raise a shred of regret. It's the past, a happy memory, a remnant of a by-gone era. I still have her pictures, even a letter or two, tucked away in a box, packed in the corner of my closet. Scrawled in Sharpie in my hasty scrawl on its top, "The past is passed." And I mean it.

"Oh, god, could it be the weather?
Oh, god, why am I here?"

     On the opposite end of the spectrum, occasionally, I'll let thoughts cook until I feel like they're ready to serve. What arrives, however, is nothing less than burnt coals. Shapes serve to show that they once enjoyed a life before being carbonized, every ounce of moisture desiccated from them. Everything that once made them lively has been burned, completely, unable to be recovered.

"If love isn't forever,
and it's not the weather,
hand me my leather."

     So I found myself there at last, on some one-way street on the outskirts of downtown Atlanta, in some generic nondescript bar, on a Sunday night, sipping away at a dusty domestic. It was a quiet night, but at the table next to me sat a group of people dressed like gypsies-scarves, bangles, bandannas, tunics, rusted rouge make-up. I thought, in their midst, I caught a glimpse of those close-cut bangs, the mole just at the brow-line... but I ignored it. Fervently.
     It was the laugh that echoed through the room-through my head, my memories, all those years. That's when I saw it. I used to call it her 'coffee-stain,' a birthmark nestled on her forearm right below the crook of her elbow. I started to stare at her, and even seeing a full profile view, I still had my doubts.
     "Celeste?" She seemed to pause, then finished laughing at whatever silly joke had just been made. She turned to look at me, with no sense of recognition on her face. I started doubting myself, doubting my eyesight. It had been... what, six years? Seven? Suddenly, a dam broke somewhere in her mind, and I watched the color flow back into her irides. The look on her face was solid: it told nothing, showed nothing. There was mild surprise, but no anger, no happiness, no shock, no uncertainty.
     "Ryan?" she finally answered. Swiftly she stood, and hugged me, briefly, deliberately, and sat back down at her table without a word. Right next to her husband, I quickly realized. I recognized him from the pictures. A few moments later, she whispered something in his ear, stood up, grabbed him firmly and calmly by the elbow, and left. There was no more laughter or happiness on her face.

"I could just pretend that you love me
the night would lose all sense of fear.
But why do I need you to love me,
when you can't hold, what I hold dear?"

     One thought had caught. I hadn't realized it had wedged itself in my cortex stumbled across it. By way of explanation: You wake from a dream. It was an important, or profound, or funny, or really happy dream. You linger in bed a few moments longer, letting the emotion wash over you, before you realize just how swiftly the unreality of your dream is escaping, along with every detail it entailed. Everything unraveling itself into that tapestry of lost memory where dreams go to be forgotten. You know, somehow, you understand, that if you can just grab one piece- a phrase, an action, one concrete fact- if you can find one thread, you can pull. Pull, and bring everything back. Every so often, if you try, you can grab it. More often than not, however, the last line trickles away down the drain. For me, this time, hours after waking, the phrase popped in my head. I said it out loud, and as soon as my own words hit my ears, like a tsunami, the whole picture crashed into my head.

"Oh, god, could it be the weather?
Oh, god, why am I here?"

     I felt awful. After popping back into her life for 5 seconds, I had ruined her night. I sipped my beer, in silence, ignoring the noise and laughter. When I finally finished, I stood up to leave. When I got to the door, Celeste walked in, alone. Before I could say a word, she silenced me with a terrible piercing look, into my eyes, through my soul.
     "You. You are coming back to my table, you will sit with my friends and I, have a couple of drinks, and you won't talk. At all."
     "I don't... I don't really have much money." I weakly replied.
     "You'll pay me back." She reached up, grabbed me by the back of my neck, pulled me in, and kissed me, hard. As soon as it began, it was over. She took my elbow, the same way she had done with her husband. "No talking. This is not up for discussion." With that, she led us back to her friends, and sat me in the very same seat her husband had been in, moments before.
     We stayed there for a couple of hours, drinking, while she and the others laughed, joked, talked. None of them so much as looked at me. Even if she hadn't told me not to talk, I don't think I would've had anything to say. I couldn't focus on their conversation, I didn't understand what was happening, I couldn't begin to wrap my mind around it. At one point, she took off her green kerchief she had tied over her hair, tucked it into my pocket, and left her hand to rest on my knee.
     After a while, one by one, everyone at the table made their yawns and farewells, and headed out into the balmy late summer night, until finally it was just the two of us. She lit a clove cigarette, exhaling slowly, staring into nothing.
     "When did you start smoking?" I asked.
     "No talking." I watched her as she smoked, but she never returned the look. I had never seen her set in such stony resilience in all the years we had been together. Several long minutes later, she tamped her cigarette out. "You can go now."

"If love isn't forever,
and it's not the weather,
hand me my leather."

     It's strange to have a false memory unfold instantaneously in your head. There were gaps- huge gaps. With dreams, you never need a reason why, you just know. When we wake up, we never question why we were in Belgium to buy furniture, only why we chose the couch with the faucet attached to it. In the last year, though, my dreams have tended to err on the side of incredibly plausible, making them that much harder to distinguish from fact. I've spent entire days believing that I had completed certain tasks, or had very specific and important conversations, only to discover they had only happened in the world where I'm asleep.

"I almost ran over an angel
he had a nice big fat cigar.
'In a sense' he said 'You're alone here
so if you jump, you best jump far."

     As soon as I stepped away from the table, she grabbed my hand. I turned back, to see her staring at me. I could see so much in her face: loss, anger, pain, as fresh as it was when we said our parting words that last time. "I'm sorry Celeste. I really am. What I did, the way it ended, it wasn't your fault. I see it now, the way I must have made you feel, and there is no excuse, no valid reason for any of it. I'm sorry."
     I saw a teardrop form in the corner of her eye, but she blinked it back. "I said no talking Ryan. Just go."
     "I'll pay you back." I said, and left.
     I walked into the night, my mind reeling. My hotel was just across the street, and I was thankful it was late enough that I didn't have to worry about any traffic.
     I shut the curtains as soon as the door closed, sealing out all the incandescent light from the street lamps. I've been so photosensitive lately when I sleep. Sitting on the corner of the bed, I stripped off my socks and shoes, and lay back on the bed. I knew Atlanta was a mistake. It was an hour later when I heard the soft, solitary knock at the door, followed by a very hesitant pair of raps.
     It would be a lie if said I was anywhere near sleep. When I opened the door, there she stood, her purplish-blue tunic flapping gently in the wind. Again, her face was calm, all the composure in the world looking back at me. "Hi, er, what..." was all I could manage.
     "You said you would pay me back. You promised me. You promise-promised." Like a floodgate had opened, tears began streaming down her face. Her voice though, and her countenance, when she spoke again, remained placid. "I gave up so much for you Ryan, and you told me you would pay me back."
     "I'm sorry Celeste," my own tears started to form, "I didn't know then. I didn't understand-"
     "God dammit Ryan, I said NO TALKING! You don't understand. You still don't understand. Every time you open your mouth, every word you say makes it that much harder. I hated you for so long. I forgave you so many times. I made up your apology in my head, the way you would say it. I let you go so I could put this whole thing behind me, put it on the shelf and go on with my life. You don't understand that when you talk, your voice, your words, I can feel like it never happened. I can forget everything, be that girl I was, fall back into your arms. I can forget all that pain, all that anger. But I can't let it happen. I can't let you make me forget. I need that part of my heart to stay the way it is. Nobody could ever hurt me the way you did."
     "I'm sor-"
     "I know you're sorry. I know what you've been through. But I mean it. I'm not angry at you anymore, I'm not being hard-hearted, all I'm doing is stating the facts. Nobody could ever hurt me the way you hurt me. You're going to pay me back." She shoved past me into the room, slamming the door shut and locking it.
     She pushed me onto the bed, climbed on top of me. She leaned in, kissed me, slowly and steadily, drawing out my lower lip gently with her teeth, letting her tongue flit exploringly into my mouth. My immediate reaction was pure biology, continuation of the species, hardening to her advance. My wits though, were still about me.
     "We can't. You can't. Your married, happy, you've moved on. I can't let you do this."
     "Shut up. Listen." She sat up, leaning her hips back ever so slightly so I could feel her warmth, uncovered, pressed into mine. "You said you would pay me back, and you never even said goodbye. So now, you're doing both." As she spoke, her hips ground slowly against mine, back, forth, back, and forth, forcing me to understand her drive, to feel her sex, yearning. "Take me tonight. One last time. Take me tonight, and pay me with tales of love affairs. Pay me with star-crossed truths, and long lost souls. Pay me, take me." She pulled off her tunic, fell back down to me, her breasts pushing my breath as she wrapped her arms underneath, under my shirt, up to my shoulders for leverage. My first reaction had been biological... but  this time- this time, it was animal.

"Oh, god, could it be the weather?
Oh, god, it's all very clear:"

     Opportunity cost is defined as such: "The cost of an alternative that must be forgone in order to pursue a certain action." Put another way, "The benefits you could have received by taking an alternative action." A tertiary, "The loss of potential gain from alternatives when one alternative is chosen." By staying up all night, you cost yourself sleep. By working, you cost yourself time you could spend with art, or family. Opportunity cost expands the measure of price into a metaphor of money and product. Naturally, this mentality extends into meaning. What does each thing in our life mean to us. What is its value, its cost? It's why people can extend this meaning into dreams. What does this symbolize, why did this happen, what is my subconscious trying to communicate, all these questions. I don't believe in any universal symbology for dreams. I believe dreams are metaphors that can only be deciphered by the dreamer. Allegories, written by and for one person, completely against their own will, with no concept of self and strict objectivity. A prescription pill with only one dose in existence, and only one patient to be cured.

"If love isn't forever,
and it's not the weather,
hand me my leather."

And then I woke up.


Credits to: Tori Amos' "Leather"


  1. Ryan, you never cease to amaze me. Not just because of your skills as a writer, but because of the intensity in which you see life; something that most people float through without a fraction of the depth and contemplation that you give it.

  2. You captured the mindset quite well, the constant back and forth between what is reality and what is fantasy.
    I think everyone will have that one person. It was easy to connect to an experience I once had. Though, I was lucky in fate bringing my one person and I back together.
    Stay strong...and keep writing, I've always admired your skill.