The Day Dolores Died

How do city dwellers acclimate to sirens? I have been buried in the country for so long that the voices of firetrucks burst my consciousness like a bullet. I would just as easily forget the noise, but my brain wanders toward highway wrecks I have passed, and I can only wonder who they are calling to. It is not a comfortable thought.

Nor are cities comfortable to newcomers. Montreal is especially foreboding to Americans in hiding. American, rather; as a group we are rather conspicuous but I would prefer to be overlooked. On our first day of freedom we careen into the parking lot of a suburban liquor store: the main event in this shopping mall town on the outskirts of teenage paradise. My friends spend long minutes ranking percentages and proofs. I do not buy anything but find myself drawn to the young man at the entrance serving shots of something or other, and I brave a taste, wishing for once that I had the physical ability to wink. When my friends have decided which bottle is most dangerous, they drag me from store to minivan once more.

Our temporary home is an Airbnb bundled under falling snow and Christmas lights. It looks beautiful in the afternoon light we have discovered it. It is not intended for a group of young people seeking to push the limits of intoxication; it is not intended for young Americans.

I decide I need to escape my drunken cohorts. I go to the most public place, hoping to find air in liberation. The metro is claustrophobic and loud and more stifling than empowering. There is grime on every surface and air particle. I can feel dirt smudge into my skin cells. I can feel it oil my hair follicles. I can feel strangers carelessly brushing my body and I want to tell them to stay away from me, but I can only speak a desperate form of English. I feel haunted. Somewhere, the Cranberries “Zombie” plays. I look up out of the confusion and din to see why it is suddenly so eerie. Today, Dolores O’Riordan died. She drowned in alcohol.

Later, I will puke my sorry guts out.

Do we meet only to be lost?

My grandfather told me that beech trees keep their leaves in the winter. I know this to be true through observation, but I cannot say why. From a philosophical standpoint, they cling to sameness. They are old, curmudgeonly men with beards and decrepit shuttered houses with untamable lawns who lack patience for change. I understand this tendency, being a Benjamin Button type myself; I knit, I consume prunes, and I defy progress like any generic young-old person. Once, when I was very small (and at my most Button-like state), I mourned loudly over the loss of our beloved couch cushions, the only couch cushions I had known in my brief existence. Without warning, my cherished friends were tossed into the pickup bed and towed to the transfer station. (This is reminiscent of the part in Animal Farm when the horse is taken to the “glue factory”; as it would happen, little Button-me was familiar with this scene due to an unfortunate VHS mix up at the local library.) Clearly in need of some semblance of constancy, the beech, sanctified by my Papa’s confidence, became an enduring symbol of stability in my cognizance.

~

Autumn is characterized by campfire colors and robust plaids accented with flutters and wisps of wannabe birds flitting to earth. I used to believe my partiality to fall was inherited from birthday remembrances; however, fourth-grade trauma induced by neighborhood villains ravaging balloons and a more recent (and poorly timed) romantic termination disprove this hypothesis. Fall is still beautiful.

Fall is beautiful, but it is fleeting. Once the leaves “turn”, their friends follow suit and leave gluttonous out-of-state peepers with the carcasses of their ornamentation. These are the deciduous trees, of course; the coniferous variety are much more reliable. Yet, we are never satisfied with what is readily given.

~

I have a photo of an elderly cobalt convertible cushioned by an orange maple awning, the only vehicle in an otherwise empty cemetery parking lot. Beyond that convertible is a columbarium, a tiny building and a word that I discovered on the internet a moment ago. Here, my boyfriend chastises me for rapping on the door of an urn. My cheeks darken to compliment the foliage, but he takes my hand somewhere outside the frame, perhaps in REM. Beyond this photo, we do not exist; neither do the leaves.

~

It is dependably (approximately) Labor Day when the leaves begin to dress the ground in crunchy decoration, as if adhering to conventional paid time off. This Labor Day, the air of no-return sifted through needles and lapped napes of a haphazard hiking troupe. The multilingual crew of mostly men and one small girl-woman (me) noted something Blair-witchy about the woods as they entered it, causing the oldest member to regret stowing his pocketknife in his glove compartment. Our wariness was justified: a disturbingly friendly garden gnome adorned a small shrine at the trail entrance, followed by randomly placed statues along the path. Considering this threat, our comfort food of conversational topics included deadly Guatemalan zoology, a trans-national journey ending in divorce, and the likelihood of being utterly lost.

Eventually, the trail came to a small pond, ideal for selfie taking and saltine-soothed meditation. My friend pointed to the tree behind me.

“What do you call that?”

To my delight, he pointed directly at a slender trunk with toothy ridged leaves, which I happily identified.

“No,” one of his colleagues disagreed, “I think he is talking about the statue.”

I took in the tenth red-capped man to make our acquaintance today and winced at strangers’ affinity for horror.

“That would be a gnome,” I offered, slightly less enthusiastically.

“That tree is certainly a spruce,” our mutual friend chirped circularly from a few feet away, a minute late to the conversation. After laughter, the first friend asked, “What is the difference between elves and gnomes?”

It was the last weekend of a seemingly endless summer and I, at the pinnacle of my education and professionalism, could not answer this question. (For anyone interested, the internet describes elves as tiny humans and gnomes as tiny old men.) Had I answered, my response would have been irrelevant. It did not matter what was said then, nor did it matter that I had just met two of this party who I likely would never meet again. We had asked the great questions in the presence of a beech, and it, surely, would remember us.

Mountain Women

I woke to darkness and the urge to pee.

I considered the knife in its fabric sheath buried beneath my pack and the fact that I did not know how to operate it. I also could not locate it, immobilized by the cold I had not prepared for and the fear I felt for all the two and four-legged wilderness beasts presumably lingering outside my tent. I shuddered, crossed my legs, and pulled my pom hat over my ears for another three hours.

Morning finally came and, once relieved, I appreciated the solitude of the site. It was the perfect campsite, planted on flat ground abutting the river, for which my friend and I had vacated our previous venue and alarmed a solitary traveler with inebriated hoots along our relocation route. That evening we had exchanged our mucky boots for socks and sandals padding orange pine needles through the golden hour; a perfect end to a day spent tracking mileage; a perfect start to our Moonrise Kingdom adventure.

The most harrowing part of the day had been the open-backed wooden stairs of the fire tower, from which our screams provoked passersby. Worrisome, if not for the buzz of a funeral whiskey shot and a dented cider can, was a crawl over fallen trees and a rock hop into the setting sun. Also problematic was the issue of placing the bear bag, necessary and cumbersome to hang if left too late, as we had, whistle-less and knife-less in the gray pixilation of evening.

(We survived, as knowing fools are apt to do.)

That morning, we lingered. We had time to spare–time enough to make tea and sip it quietly. We had time to think on the things we had said. Some of these things had made us sad, and we tried not to meditate on that. With still minds we moved again.

The following days in the woods were not easy. I slept better but woke quickly, rose swiftly, and propelled my feet to keep up with my guide. She read maps and foretold our approximate arrivals ahead of the circadian rhythms of our bodies. In full sun above the tree line I squinted, beginning to doubt, contemplating the gravitational acceleration of a human entity, should that be my escape. Signs of human life were no relief in masked society, and daylight antagonized me brutally. Imminent death veiled the beauty of the surroundings expertly.

We paused only to fill water and fuel. I analyzed our appearance and wondered why we were sweaty and dirt-drenched, while others looked peaceful in isolation. She said we were surrounded by conquerors of nature, and I inferred that to be disappointing. Humans should not set out to tame. Bellies full, we walked until our legs gave out. I could have kissed the earth where I pitched my tent.

The men we saw next were day hikers.

“Where are you girls headed?”

Girls. We giggled about that for some time, distance passing in cinematic montage.

We greeted some folks; we avoided others. It was refreshing to be alone with trees.

I remember asking her for her favorite tree, but I do not remember her answer. We talked about the tattoos we are getting and admonished men for (supposedly) trying to stop us. We discussed the career choices of Shia LaBeouf and mused the sensibility of ranked-choice voting, though we knew little of either. We counted at least fourteen mountain toads, and we startled a porcupine in our noisy hurry. The bugs were sometimes mild; they were sometimes abated with DEET. There are certain things that must be done to ensure survival in the wilderness, and a broach of veganism is one.

The final push was flat and populated with families in flip flops. They came in swarms, thicker than the mosquitoes. We were haggard and grumpy, bruised and scraped, and quite possibly drooling. Delirium had come and gone, but its return pended that last mile march. We masked and avoided eye contact like the hermits we had become, and when we finally reached the car, I was shocked to recognize it. Shoeless, we stretched in air conditioning, hydrated, and prayed for the deliverance of blue raspberry Gatorade.

At the start of the engine, we laughed in relief. We cackled at our silliness.

We smiled and wept for the assurance of a left-arm sunburn.

Kanye West’s St. Pablo Tour

I can’t rest my nesting doll neuroticism— 
thoughts spring from thoughts spring from thoughts. 
Incorrigible well!—Oh well. I lament that I am mental; at least I can say 
I saw Kanye 
before he went crazy. 

Shh…Insanity sleeps in the streets and knows nothing 
of an illusory rap god shroud in fog, obscured in cloth and dark dark 
noise, the din of the den that estranges from enlightened existence 
the worshippers of enigmatic incoherence. 
What I would not do to shut up, shut off the hallucinatory echoes issued on high—crawl out of 
neural cavities and step into the streets where insanity sleeps, where the disturbed are left 
undisturbed. 
We beg of beggars, before being beggars, 
where do the homeless live? 
Their reflections rendered unreachable strangers— 
do they, with their street-curbed sight, read the hieroglyphics of the earth; 
the unpatented, sole-scuffed braille dribbled in sidewalk deterioration; 
the spilt high heel transcription and the scripture scrawled in ant hills?

I look benignly at the empty fish bowl on the shelf and 
think, 
even Jiminy was a bit schizophrenic before he went belly up—no, 
face down, apparent victim of aquatic suicide. I think the betta got the bends. 
Post-insanity, he met his end, fatigued from fighting his own reflection. 
If he had lived, 
the people would have made him God.

Downsizing

Goodwill is open again. Despite a near-constant urge to shop too-big skirts, tablecloth dresses, pilled turtleneck sweaters, and men’s outerwear (a niche yet flexible genre), I intend only to purge. Ill timed or not, the opening of thrift shops coincides with an abundance of donations offered by housebound humans acting out of claustrophobic compulsion or in disgust of their wealth. I, for one, have too many things, and I wish to be rid of them.

There is nothing delicate about my existence. My existence can be observed through material extensions strewn throughout my home, my car, and if I had an office, that, too. My 2004 model is on its last leg and is packed from toppled seat to ceiling with the tangible contents and emotional remnants of my last apartment. Due to a major life change, I am tasked with the dispersal of this precarious three-dimensional puzzle. Largely, it is bins of junk that, despite my best intentions, will likely one day reside in a landfill. The one fragile component to my vehicular décor is my extensive CD collection, which I unearth beneath a guitar balanced on a television next to fake jewelry on the floor and the seats and the center console.

I trace the jagged plastic edge of Counting Crows, misshapen at the joint from, probably, being stepped on. I am not sure where the lid is. The orange leaves climbing the pamphlet remind me of two cranberry sauces, generous portions of stuffing, and Thanksgiving when we usually visit our uncle, the one who gifted this CD to my mother. I knew she would not miss it when I stole it from the cabinet, but I did not mean to break it. What else of hers did I take? Train, for “Drops of Jupiter”; Dawes, for baking apple pie in love and never listening again; Iron and Wine, for making my head sleepy and dizzy. The CDs I legally own are not solely mine, either, because I often buy them secondhand. Whitney Houston, for a single woman at a formal event; Elton John, for future wedding songs, and Jeff Buckley, for romanticizing tragedy; Jason Mraz, for being truly content. Of the CDs I have purchased new, like a glutton (or a proper supporter of the arts), none are mine; music is rented from the artists who produce it.

Music is borrowed en masse and shared collectively, though interpreted individually. It is exchanged between friends and used in lieu of normal verbal communication. Even my thoughts and feelings can be described by someone else’s song. Halsey, for incredible sadness; Caamp, for complete satisfaction; Lady Lamb, for saying everything I want to say, and in such a beautiful way. None of their lyrics are mine; and yet, save copyright, they are. The flimsy containers and scratchable discs that serve as vehicles of words do no justice to the hefty emotions, memories, and experiences that I wholeheartedly own.

I take in the destruction I have created but choose to alphabetize instead of downsize. Despite how stolen, borrowed, purchased, and broken I have made them, the words belong to me. Goodwill can’t have these.

Storm Warning

“Wait a minute,” I scold plaintive subjects as I snake green tubing through the garage, the floor of which is humid and oily on bare feet. The hose spurts in protest to being tossed crassly onto lukewarm tar. Once adjusted to its new home, it is abruptly retrieved and put to work as trident atop an Adirondack throne. I rotate the nozzle, whisk and flick, scrolling the horizontal range of the garden, every so often confiding in my watch, companion of utmost confidence. The Susans and their pink sisters delight in momentary relief, but I take the coming rain for granted and clock out of my shift ten minutes in.

Later, I glimpse the underbellies of oak leaves and wonder at the gall of their exposure. Subjected to unseen force, limbs hiss and recoil in percussive warning of the storm ascending the coast. I am in awe of trees who do not have sea legs, flailing like elderly vertigo patients with arms searching for railings to grip. In the midst of gray wreckage, a curious group of petite and happy travelers waves, open-palmed and fingers spread. The poor neon fools! I wince away from the window and prepare to be smote.

Something Borrowed

There’s a closed down store in Belfast that sells only spiral staircases.
What do you call such a store
that sells only spiral staircases?
Nothing now, I suppose
seeing as it’s closed.
 
Fabled by dreams
or founded in legitimacy—
a bizarre fantasy
ascending from decay and earthly entropy,
the hollow fancies framed by caricatures of death—
our fallen founding fathers lie
folded in a blue jeans pocket and
beaten through the wash,
not to be invested in someone else’s
stairway to heaven.
 
Certainly, there are more lucrative businesses.

For Rose and Peanut M&M’s

Her only compensation came by
unhappy accident—a slippage, a purported health hazard
—and occasions for innovation. For instance,
fried dough re-seasoned as garlic knots?
Ingenious.

Rose grew to resent
youth and its fitness, laziness,
gross ungratefulness for first-class fast food
with a view
cushioned by complimentary candy and country radio. 

Apathetic to their proms and planned protection,
she wrapped produce and disposed of old steaks,
siphoned grease deposits and counted hours,
sorted silver coins and Swiftered footprints,
and minded midnight.

A paranoid drive pervaded
by fryolator grime and a mean mustard stain then
a shower to steam a growing sty
before she beheld a loaded baked potato and a
donut for dessert. 

Moving On

“I think I am not mature enough to understand,” I deleted, undeleted, then assuredly sent. The screen blackened with a swift twitch of an index finger. It quickly and neurotically awakened (to silent notifications) then blackened again. If there was a response to contradict mine, I did not want to know.

Similarly, I was not mature enough to understand the gravity of distance and acquaintance when touched by a version of Glen Hansard’s “Falling Slowly,” my trust buoyed by the rise and fall of instrumental emotion, my eyes rose-colored to the seldom vacuumed scarlet seatbacks and the eagle’s perch from which my bearded neighbor and I observed spot-lit manufactured beauty. Nearby, a future friend observed the same beauty, not alone. How serendipitous, I said, that we should have been witness to the same honesty years prior.

With violins reverberating in our ears and thoughts, we had walked to our respective homes in darkness and peace of mind, perplexed only that there can be stillness in sorrow—a stillness found on stage and seldom in reality. The stark impossibility of the things that are never said—and even the things that are said—haunts the subconscious. Or, maybe, one subconscious. It may have been an act (or two or three), but I had perceived both art and my interpretation of it to be inherently true. It had not occurred to me that on the world’s stage, there are a multitude of truths.

“I find ‘Once’ incredibly tragic,” I asserted textually, eager to parallel portrayed strife between the Guy and Girl to my own romantic turbulence. “Love cannot make anyone stay, and that is sad.” I loathed to concede my friend’s comparison to Macklemore’s “Love Song”, thereby acknowledging that individuals, although intrinsically valuable, are many and changeable. I could not agree to what I believed to be a depreciation of humanity (or of my own delicate beliefs).

I refused to admit that we should ever be temporary.

Such was my fleeting opinion.

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