The Girl

Bedtime Stories/Fiction

There once lived a girl
With a head full of curls,
Once nice, naive, and neat,
Turned out to be a compulsive cheat.
In love she bravely fell,
But never cured was her curse from hell.
Five marriages ended in divorce,
Still she felt no remorse.
Proudly she marched on,
With her whiskey and her bong.
On the eve of her 40th year,
Singlehood she could no longer bear.
A ring and dress she bought,
Along with flowers and silicone breasts,
To commence a marriage with herself.
Men and women she still screwed,
But all the same her marriage thrived.

Hence the moral of this glorious tale is that the one and only soul mate a woman will ever find is herself because, let’s be honest, no previously discovered living organism on planet earth can tame any member of the magnificent female species.

~~~~~~~~~~

This is why you don’t write poems at 5.59 am in the morning.

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The Boy

Bedtime Stories/Fiction

There once lived a fat boy named Ty,

Whose one true love was pie.

If he opened the fridge and found no pie,

He’d cry till he died.

Then cometh the day his parents left for Rome,

To find some relief from home.

They baked him a pie larger than his belly,

And swung it around his neck,

So he can nibble and chew his way

Through the fortnight while they were away.

But the boy was thicker than he was thick,

And only thought with his dick,

Because never did it occur to his fat little head,

That a circle had two halves.

So once he ate the half of the pie that’s hanging in front of his mouth (the only half that existed in his mind) he starved and died and that’s the end of this awful fucking poem.

~~~~~~~~~~

That was my first attempt at writing poetry. I hope it was as flawless as it sounded to my ears.

Swan Song

Bedtime Stories/Fiction

It looks like a thousand dirty ravens all got shot at the exact same time, their limp bodies swaying and falling in the windy blue sky until they crash onto the grass.

Our last vision of high school. That’s what it looks like. How bloody anticlimactic.

The next few moments are a blur. Shoes stomping on fallen caps. Navy blue gowns colliding as everyone searched for familiar faces. A dozen arms encircling my shoulders. Hair tickling my neck, lips brushing my cheeks, screams piercing my ear drums. And tears. God, so many fucking tears I could almost taste the salt.

Graduation is a bit like a pompous eulogy celebrating the death of a monumental experience that you know was nothing monumental what so fucking ever. If you hadn’t just heard those phony, tear-jerking speeches that sound at once mopey and sanguine, you wouldn’t have felt half as devastated thinking that you can no longer call yourself a senior or that you will never see your best friends every week day or that maybe, just maybe, the best days of your life have ended as soon as you threw your cap into the sky.

I throw my cap into the trash can and look around for my friends. The only four, five people in a school of three thousand who tolerated my pessimism and nastiness for four years. They’re lost in a storm of blue, taking selfies or crying or laughing. I can’t see them, and I can’t see us walking out of this experience together.

I want to imagine us getting lost in the Louvre, touching the Berlin Wall, looking at up the pyramids – doing all the cliched shit tourists are supposed to do. I want to imagine us being together at Christmas sometime in the 2050s, surrounded by annoying toddlers and angsty teens.

Sometimes I just want to imagine us grabbing coffee together every five years and gossiping about all the obnoxious new people who have just stepped into our lives. But even that’s a bit too ambitious. We can say we’d keep in touch and be around but most likely we’d just move on, because that’s what we do when things get inconvenient. It’s easier to buy a new dog than train one that can’t hold its shit.

Maybe it’s more important to treasure what’s passed than worry about what’s ahead. Whatever happens over the next four or forty years, at least we’ve had the last four.

Black Out

Bedtime Stories/Fiction

I rolled down the window and threw my joint out onto the highway, relishing in the chilly midnight breeze that slapped me across the face.

Driving alone at night was remarkably therapeutic. No sound, no images. Just miles and miles of blackness stretched out infinitely ahead, ornamented by a million yellow and red dots swimming in opposite directions, parallel to one another.

It could be a metaphor for life: hopelessly optimistic souls wandering through a seemingly endless journey so bleak and pointless that eventually they started praying for the end they had always dreaded. But then again, in our narcissistic little heads anything could be a metaphor for life.

Twenty minutes later my headlight was the only one illuminating the darkness around me. Maybe the weed was fucking with my head, but I never realized until now just how many shades of black existed at night. The stretch of concrete illuminated by my bright yellow headlight looked silver in comparison to the road behind the car. The outline of trees bordering the highway was so dark and dense that the wavy hills in the background faded to an ink blue. And the sky, the only thing that was truly black, became a gentle gray backdrop to its darker counterparts.

It’s all about perspective. Now that’s a metaphor I was hopeful for.

Polaroids

Bedtime Stories/Fiction

God, I hate New Years. What the hell is so exciting about being another year closer to death? Every new beginning is just a sad reminder that the last one turned out so miserably.

I take a swig of my Sapporo and peruse the bar. Friends, couples, families: huddled together, laughing without abandon and eagerly awaiting the countdown. This is no place for caustic, self-pitying cynics like me. I should have stayed in my shabby one room apartment and binged on left-over pizza, but I just couldn’t bear to spend another New Years by myself. My life has been so quiet that my thoughts have become louder than screams. At least tonight I’m lonely but not alone.

I glance at my phone: 11.51. Good. Nine more minutes and I can shove yet another dreadful year down the drain.

“Alex? Is that you?” I turn toward the source of that familiar velvety voice.

Messy black hair. Almond green eyes. My high school boyfriend. Damn it, I had no desire to trot down memory lane tonight.

“Matt. I thought you went to London.”

He orders two shots of whiskey and smirks. “That was five years ago. Been keepin’ tabs on me?”

I ignore that and really look at him for the first time in fifteen years. He’s still very attractive, in that dark, scruffy way I used to dig. But the charisma is gone, replaced by hollowness and resignation. Exhaustion radiates off his gaunt frame. Dark shadows surround his eyes. His coat looks like it was picked up from a trash dump some time in the late 80s.

“What the hell happened to you?”

“Life.” He lights a cig with shaky fingers. “You didn’t really expect to hear me on the radio, did you?”

I laugh mirthlessly. “And you never found me on the shelves of Barnes and Noble.”

The bartender pushes two shot glasses toward us. I grab one and chug the whiskey down my throat, wincing as it sets my insides ablaze. “Next round’s on me.”

On we drink. We don’t talk but still the years fall away like the snowflakes outside. Through entirely separate paths we’ve somehow arrived at the same destination. It’s not even like we fucked up; we were just never good enough for the things we loved most. It took us too long to realize that, and now we’re too old and too scared to try something new.

“Hey listen, Al,” Matt begins, after we’ve downed our sixth shots. “Do you wanna come to my place after?”

Do I ever. God knows how long it’s been since I’ve spent the night with another person. His eyes find mine, desperately searching for something to help him make sense of what his life has become. We’re exactly the same, craving comfort and touch, especially from someone who knows who we were before we got lost. In me he remembers a happier time, a happier him.

“Ten. Nine. Eight.” 

The inebriated chant reverberated across the bar, saturated with an optimism long-lost to us both. Our eyes hold each other, drunk in nostalgia while the rest of the world brings in a new dawn. What if the best is truly behind us? What if embracing ghosts of the past is the only way we can heal?

“Seven. Six. Five.”

I think of polaroid cameras, the way they capture the most transient moments and pop out photos instantly. Once you press the shutter button it’s done. Love it or hate it, you have a picture. Whatever happens only happens once. You can only move on to the next moment, take the next picture.

“Four. Three. Two.”

I push my lips against his, hot and furious, trying to melt away all the years of disillusionment and loneliness that have marred our lives since high school. His hands snake down my back, drawing my body close to his. And it’s like we’re sixteen again, confident and hopeful and naive. The familiarity is addictive, toxic.

Whatever happens only happens once. The past is a dangerous place. If you visit it too often you’re trapped.

“HAPPY NEW YEAR!!”

Champagne corks hit the ceiling. Fireworks cackle in the sky, like a million fireflies burning on chalkboard. Happy Bloody Birthday, Earth.

I pull away from him, flushed and breathless. The pressure of his lips lingers on mine like a shadow.

“Have a nice life, Matt.”

I grab my jacket and walk out into the snowing night.

Paint

Bedtime Stories/Fiction

He literally looked like a burnt hotdog – black all around with golden brown paws, a pair of dark doleful marbles poking out of the rusty bars.

I knelt down outside of his cage, a temporary refuge he shared with four other badgers.

“Oh, I wouldn’t go anywhere near that one. He’s trouble.” The kennel worker tells me, with a hostile look at the miniature dachs. “Tried to bite that little one’s head off when she licked his water. The other four are scared shitless of him. He’s a perfect little angel during the day, then as soon as it’s lights out he starts barking. And he’s already escaped twice.”

He looks at me with such a tortured, misunderstood look that I cracked up. I put my palm out to him. He licked it and gave me a giddy bark. Devious and stubborn. My spirit animal.

I scratched his soft tan jaw. “If I take you, you’re probably gonna make me regret it with a week, huh?” He cocks his head with a confused expression.

Oh, fuck it.

“I’m taking him.”

*********

“Are you ready?” The vet asks me, her voice as gentle as a caress.

I nod with as much conviction as I can muster. My fingers trail down Boris’ bony long torso, trying to memorize the texture of every hair. My eyes find his. Black-brown irises, exhausted but peaceful, finally ready to shut after eleven years of running after me and brightening up my life.

I remember the first time we came here, over eight years ago, after Boris licked the newly painted bathroom wall. I had bawled my eyes out in the car, utterly convinced he was going to die. Turned out all he needed was a mouth wash and we were back home within half an hour. From that moment on I decided he was a miracle.

“‘S okay B, you won’t feel a thing.” I kiss him on the forehead as the vet injected the solution into the syringe. Boris whimpers softly as the needle sinks into his neck.

A flood of images rush into my head, sending notes of vertigo down my spine.

Day One together. Two months old Boris taking a huge dump on my $500 sheepskin rug after I spoiled him with too much ham.

April Thunderstorm. Barking frantically at the foot of my bed at 2 a.m. because his stubby legs won’t allow him to jump up and snuggle next to me.

Throwing up on my little cousin’s lap after eating too much cake at my 27th Birthday party.

Christmas five years ago. Dug himself under five feet of snow and almost froze to death.

The last two years. Falling asleep on my lap, wrapped in a blanket. Me massaging his brittle spine by the fireplace.

Boris stops moving. I tighten my grip on his soft still paw and squeeze my eyes shut, trying to visualize every moment down to the smallest detail, knowing that every image will fade with the passage of time no matter how hard we tried to grasp on.

I wish I could convert memories to paint, red yellow black, so I can splash them over the back of my mind and pour them through my veins, pumping my heart with his spirit.

The Corner of 40th

Bedtime Stories/Fiction

A blinding gust of wind slaps me in the face as I step out of the subway station on 42nd street. I hold on tight to my roller bag and walk toward my dusty little corner on 40th St and 7th Ave, one of the only unoccupied busking spots in Times Square. After collapsing onto my ancient picnic chair, I set up my metal tripod and start sharpening my charcoal pencils, gearing up for an eight-hour shift that’ll yield between ten and forty bucks.

Being a street cartoonist isn’t exactly what I had envisioned for myself when I enrolled in Pratt some fifteen years ago. Nobody who has invested five years and thousands of dollars in a renowned institution expects to be drawing caricatures on the sidewalk for a living. But when you’re hopelessly in love with something, you don’t think of a backup plan. You keep telling yourself that the struggle is temporary, that if you keep faking that smile and sketching those stupid faces one of these days you’ll catch your big break.

Then the next thing you know you’re thirty-three. You’re thirty-three and you’re still carrying that same roller bag and that same fake smile to that same little corner everyday. Concrete jungle where dreams are made of, indeed.

Tattooed.

Bedtime Stories/Fiction

I often wonder what it feels like to be born in a dryer. Wouldn’t it be nice to tumble around in clothes warmer and softer than cotton candy then pop out smelling like citrus spice?

It sure as hell sounds a lot more comfortable and intimate than crouching in someone’s stomach fluids for eight months. But I shouldn’t complain. How many souls are lucky enough to ingest limitless portions of free nicotine and alcohol before they can even chew their fingers? I’ve been living the high life since the day I woke up in my mother’s toxic swamp. Everyone tells me it’s a miracle that I escaped her womb alive, yet twenty-two years later I’m still not sure that’s the right word. What’s so miraculous about giving a child with doomed genes the opportunity to fuck up her own life?

I’ve never met her. Or him, for that matter. But they taught me the most important lesson I’ve ever learned: humans are the most soulless machines of all.

~~~~~~~~

“Are you sure about this? It’s going to hurt like hell.”

My client nods and flash me a toothy grin. I shrug and bring my machine down to her left foot. Her breath catch as the needle sinks into her porcelain skin.

“Is this your first tattoo?” I ask out of curtesy as I begin tracing the outline of a sugar skull on her ankle.

“Oh, of course not.” She pulls her shirt up and proudly shows me the watercolor hummingbird on her side rib. “I got this just a few weeks ago.”

“Why the hummingbird?”

“Because it’s everything I wish to be. You know, resilient and graceful and optimistic.” She winces when I start shading the teeth on her joint. “Can’t let pain and disappointment stop you from being you, right?”

I resist the urge to roll my eyes. Chicks like her walk into the parlor every single day, courageously battling through an eternity of pain to get some cliched symbol inked onto the most delicate parts of their bodies for the sole purpose of proving that they’re tougher than other chicks. I can just imagine the smug look on their stupid faces as they unveil my handiwork, the physical manifestation of their phony resilience. As if being continuously poked by a pin for a few hours is an inexpressibly scarring experience comparable to losing a child or being abandoned at birth by someone who’s supposed to love you unconditionally. As if pain is yet another popularity contest that this self-obsessed generation has created for itself.

They’ve never been hurt. Because people who have experienced real pain never come back for more.

You don’t choose pain; pain finds you.

~~~~~~

There’s something so tragically beautiful about fall.

Every moment is like a Jackson Pollock masterpiece, so frenetic and transient – leaves falling to the grass like splashes of orange and red paint bleeding into the deep green backdrop. Fall is at once the climax and twilight of the year, a cacophony of colors and emotions that vanishes just when you’re about to be swept away by its beauty. Anything that dazzling is bound to burn itself out – it’s a metaphor for life, really.

I take a painfully long drag from my cig and exhale, watching the slender grey shadows melt into the baby-blue expanse above.

“Mommy, look what I made.” Skylar shouts from the playground, zealously pointing at a pile of leaves next to the swings.

I walk over to her and scrutinize the abstract forms laid out in front of me. “It’s beautiful, honey. What’s it supposed to be?”

Her little eyebrows furrowed in the adorable way that always makes my heart ache. “Can’t you tell? It’s us.” She points to the big stack of green leaves on the right. “That’s you.” Then the small orange stack in the middle. “That’s me.”

She doesn’t need to explain the yellow stack on the left.

I push a lock of red hair behind her ear and stare straight into those trusting green eyes – his eyes. “Skye, see that hummingbird up there?” I guide her index finger to the tiny creature perched on a branch next to the swing. She nods.

“That’s Daddy’s watching over us.” I touch her freckled cheek. “He’s seen your sketches.”

I don’t know if five-year-olds still believe that bullshit, but Skye grins and runs back to play with her friends. Sooner or later she’d find out, just as I did about my mother’s substance abuse while I was still in her womb. The truth always finds a way rear its ugly head.

I light another cig and fall back on the bench, watching Skye’s copper head bounce up and down the seesaw. Sooner or later she’d resent me. I’ve always known it, but what can I do? How can you tell your kid that she’s the product of a drunken mistake with a married man of three kids? How can you tell her that the only reason she even exists is that your stepparents think abortion is sinful? How can you tell her you’ve never wanted her in the first place?

I suppose it was all inevitable. Teenage delinquent parents. Orphanage. Foster homes. Drugs, alcohol, casual sex. Teenage pregnancy. High school dropout. Single mother. You couldn’t write that shit.

Fate is a tattoo on the heart.

Nobody But Us

Bedtime Stories/Fiction

“You know,” I began as I fed her another spoonful of Haagen Dazs, “I never thought I’d date a girl who’s into tentacle porn.”

“Fuck off. It was a phase, okay?” She elbowed me in the ribs and brushed a lock of Mahogany hair away from her eyes.

I shrugged. “It’s okay, I’m into some weird shit too.”

Her eyes lit up. “Shit like what?”

“Shit that I’m not dumb enough to share on a first date.” I scooped up the remaining bit of melted ice cream and pushed it into her mouth.

“A last date, too.” She glared at me. “You’re much better as a friend.”

I slung an arm around her shoulder and kissed her cheek, relishing in the minty fragrance of her shampoo.

“I have a thing for girls who are into tentacle porn,” I whispered in her ear. “If you say this to anyone I will actually kill you.”

She rolled her eyes but smiled despite herself. It’s dangerous and stupid to think that any high school romance would withstand the test of time, but just looking at her face made me want to try anyway.

We zigzagged through the chaotic city streets, watching the Californian sky transform from blood orange to ink black. We jaywalked at the busiest intersections and guffawed as we devoured our Double-Doubles. We talked about nothing and everything. I dropped her off in front of her house just after midnight.

“Just one last thing.” I held her face and stared real deep into those dazzling amber irises. Heat flowed into her cheeks as my lips edged closer to hers.

“Is there any chance of you getting back into that tentacle phase? Cuz it’s honestly kind of hot.”

This time I jumped out of the way just before her elbow connected with my ribs.

~~~~~~~~~~~

I was seven years old when I got lost for the first time. It was in Times Square on Christmas Eve, when my mother took me and my little sister to NYC for some dumb ass shopping spree. I was the third wheel the entire trip, being dragged around like a dog from one store to another. After the third hour, I just couldn’t fucking take it anymore. While they giddily disappeared into the changing rooms of Forever 21, I snuck out and bolted down 7th Ave, stupidly convinced that if I ran long and hard enough I’d soon reach our hotel in SoHo, where I could hop on my laptop and play me some Starcraft.

It only took me about ten minutes to come to a screeching halt. Not because I was out of breath and definitely not because I realized my efforts were futile. What stopped me on the corner of 43rd and 7th was a man, half a feet taller than I but no more than ten pounds heavier. Wrapped in a paper-thin blanket, he spread out a stack of newspapers on the tiny portion of dry ground, making his bed for the freezing night. I stood rooted on the sidewalk, transfixed by the vision in front of me. What mesmerized me wasn’t his physical or financial condition but the expression on his face – the utter resignation and emptiness. It was like he was on auto-pilot, clinging onto life only because he was supposed to. That hollowness was scarier than any physical adversity I could ever imagine.

I didn’t have any money, so I took off my beanie and tucked it into his bony hands, then sprinted away before I could see his reaction. Only hours later – after the cops found me shivering outside of a Starbucks twenty blocks down, after my sobbing mother slapped me then made me a hot cocoa and tucked me into bed – did I realize that the man was already wearing a beanie. Even my minuscule gesture of kindness was fruitless, but what I had really wanted to give him was the desire to dream again. On that day I vowed to never let myself lose the will to survive no matter how many daggers life threw at me.

Fast forward twelve years. Meet nineteen-year-old me in Tufts: sprawled on the bathroom floor, throwing up my fucking guts into the toilet at 9.20 in the morning, 20 minutes after my midterm began. What the fuck are midterms worth when you can’t even see past the next minute? I think of the man in Times Square as a dizzying blackness creeps into my vision. I think of the emptiness in his eyes that had terrified me so many years ago, and I remember the promise I had made to myself. A promise that I had kept so well before my fucking girlfriend threw a grenade into my life. Four weeks and a thousand tequila shots later, I’m still picking up the pieces. I’m not sure if I’ll ever pick everything up. I’m not sure I want to.

The man’s empty grey eyes are the last thing I see before darkness overtakes me. I envy him. Because apathy, at the very least, numbs pain.

~~~~~~~~~~~

Pink Floyd was her favorite.

If someone were to make a collage of our greatest hits, Pink Floyd would be all over it. Her teaching me the chords to Wish You Were Here. Me holding her hand as we lay on the damp grass with a can of stale beer between us, watching Comfortably Numb animate the starless sky. Us hollering to Another Brick in the Wall as we zoomed down the highway: windows down and arms extended, eager to attack whatever or whoever dumb enough to fuck with our dreams.

It’s funny to think that I once held those images like glass beads in my sweaty palms, terrified that if I let even one slip away I’d be lost forever. Now they were like blow flies that haunted me wherever I went.

If amnesia were a drug, I’d give up everything I’d ever owned for just a single pill.

~~~~~~~~~~~

Of all the places I thought I’d visit when I returned from Boston, high school was the last.

When I left L.A. a year ago, I was hell-bent on never laying an eye on this ugly brown shit-hole ever again. And I had zero desire to come back until I landed at LAX this morning. The moment I set foot in the airport I just knew I had to see this stupid fucking place, so being the selfish asshole I was, I ditched my poor mother and hopped on a cab to Shitsville. Sometimes even I think I deserve all the shit I’ve gone through.

As soon as I step onto the disgusting pale-blue walkway I know it’s a bad idea. The whole place reeks of her presence. I walk past the wooden benches where I first saw her three years ago, munching on Doritos chips and copying her friend’s Spanish homework. I spot the tiny patch of grass behind the English classrooms where we’d listen to music and make out after we ditched P.E. I imagine her there right now, smiling and waving as she sees me jogging toward her.

It’s all too much. I take a deep breath and squeeze my eyes shut. I came here for closure, but I knew it was all bullshit. Closure is a fantasy term invented by victims for victims. Visiting the past doesn’t help you get over the past. Remembering good times rips open old wounds. For all I know, I only hate her guts even more right now. Here’s a piece of advice: when you’re torn between the booze and the girl, always choose the booze. It’s better to be fucked up than fucked over.

In the end we are just everything we thought we were too smart to be: two naive teenagers diving head-first into an ocean too deep and rough to navigate; a relationship full of lofty dreams and empty promises undone by long-distance and disillusionment. When did we turn into such a sad fucking cliché?

Reader’s Block

Daily Prompts, Movies and Books

I have a sort of abusive relationship with books. At times I would tear through half a dozen of them in a couple of weeks then not touch another one for two months. After school ended in May, I didn’t read anything for about six weeks or so; from late July to September, I read ten. Since I have such an erratic reading schedule, I don’t remember the longest reading drought I’ve ever gone through. I’ve gone as long as three months but never longer than half a year. The most recent drought started in mid-May because I was just fucking exhausted after reading a plethora of literary classics and textbooks for my humanities classes. For all I knew, I never wanted to see another book for the rest of my life. I’m kidding, but most of my classes required me to read a 400-page monster every week, and a year of that is more than enough for even the most dedicated book lover.

Anyhow, the book that broke the six-week dry spell is John Green’s An Abundance of Katherines. Back in early 2013 I binge-read all of John Green’s solo works in a few weeks, in reverse order: The Fault in Our Stars, Paper Towns, Looking for Alaska. Newest to oldest. After that I didn’t really think about him again until the movie version of The Fault in Our Stars came out. Amid all that movie fandom craze, I realized that I somehow neglected to read Katherines (and I still don’t understand John Green’s penchant for long ass titles). My good friend told me that it’s the geekiest and most cheerful of all his books, so I decided to give it a try. Reading again after so long was kind of weird at first, a bit like going on a first date with your best friend’s ex. Like, you know it so well but it’s still awkward as fuck. The first fifty pages went by really slowly, and the whole time I kept getting distracted by Netflix and food and Facebook chat, but then the story picked up and I got swept away by the magic of fiction once again. I finished the last 200 pages in the same amount of time as I did the first 50. It’s not my favorite John Green book, but it’s quirky and insightful. More importantly, it got me into another binge-reading frenzy that lasted more than eight weeks.