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Closer Issue 7

It's mid-afternoon. It's been raining all day, not pouring, but sprinkling just hard enough to make driving difficult. The skies are dark and ugly, but the rain is soft, falling into the water gently. The boats below ... well, they float. Just like they should. It's good to know some things in this universe are still sane. I have the door open and I can hear the rain hitting the balcony over the Van Morrison on the radio. The rhythm of the road pulses in my head, the sound of the wheels underneath me ... it's been a few hours, but I can still feel that concrete rolling by.

I was sitting by myself in the bar, drinking. I wasn't drinking alone, I just wasn't with anyone in particular. I sat in a dimly lit corner, nursing a Midori sour and eating mixed nuts and pretzels. "Smile," he said. Next thing I knew, he was talking about boating and how there were "certain types of people" he didn't want to be around, certain "classes," certain marinas which he said were like "mobile home parks." I nodded and listened, periodically making sympathetic noises. I was memorizing his words, his attitude, his gestures ... I was burning every act and motion into my brain, forcing myself to learn what he was like. It's important for me to remember him. It's important to remember how people hate and how they express it.

Driving home on 5 South, heading toward San Diego. I was just around Irvine when the sun sank low enough to cast shadows on the divider. I could see Nissans and Toyotas and Fords, all silhouetted on cold grey concrete, outlined by the warm rays of that drowsy orb in the sky. Traffic was slow, but so was the sunset. I didn't mind it too much.

Do you remember the first time someone lied to you? Do you remember the way their eyes shifted slightly, the way their voice changed? Or could you tell? Did you know they were about to hurt you? Did you know they were about to construct a false reality, splitting your known universe in two? Did you have any warning? Did they apologize for bisecting your world, bifurcating it into an exfoliated pile of stone and tissue? Did their apology just seem like another lie? Or did you know it was a lie? Could you see the venom dripping from their teeth, sliding over their tongue and out the corner of their mouth? Or could you just see an emptiness in their eyes, a vacancy which said more than their voice ever could? Words are just sounds strung together to construct some mutually pre-determined meaning. Even though someone may say it, they aren't necessarily sorry. Even though someone may mean it, they may not say they love you. Even if they don't mean it, they might try to convince you. Language is a virus. We're all infected.

Last summer was hard for me. I was alone, lonely and missing her. One night, I wound up drunk in someone else's backyard with my head in a friend's lap, staring at the 3 a.m. sky and explaining how I felt. I blacked out that night, but I just remember how comfortable it was to be there and feel her stroking my hair. I felt safe and warm, even though the temperature was dropping. The stars nursed me along, bathing in soft, pale light.

I kept thinking about Wendy on the way home. I kept meeting women who looked like her, sounded like her, said things she might have said. I kept remembering her long, straight black hair that fell down her back like a suicidal stock broker jumping out of a window in October 1929. It doesn't matter whether it was a myth or whether I was dreaming anymore. It's just the absence. It's that empty hole next to me, threatening to suck me in with its gravitational attraction. It's the reason to get out of town and go east until I run out of gas, then walk into the desert and stare at the sun while sand drifts over me, abrading my skin and leaving it scraped and raw. I still remember that hotel room, the airports sounds and lights coming in through the window. I still remember watching her leave, walking into the airport and then the automatic doors closed.

Lately I've been wondering how people keep going when someone leaves - not how they keep living, but rather how they function on a daily basis in the days and weeks which follow the end of a relationship. I wonder how people manage to do their job and get through the day without talking about it to everyone, without dwelling on it. I've been wondering how people go to school and take notes, go to work and write reports, drive in the car without having emotional breakdowns on the side of the road. I don't know how we do it, especially if the relationship meant anything at all. Keeping a stiff upper lip is easy when life is hard or work is tough or the bills keep coming, but when someone leaves, the lips start to quiver and the eyes get red. And in the middle of the night when it's quiet and the room is cold and the music on the stereo can't quite kill the silence - that's when the heart is breaking. That's when I roll over, turn off the light, curl up into a ball and try to go to sleep. That's when I imagine someone's arms around me, comforting me and reminding me it will, eventually, be okay. I remember that I once imagined it so clearly and precisely that, just for a moment, I could feel someone's arms around me, giving me a hug. Then I snapped out of it, startled at the contact, and shattered the reverie. I've never felt anything like it since, but maybe I just haven't spent enough time concentrating.

Texas is the Reason is on the car stereo and it's providing me with an urge to drive. It's a foggy night, about 2 a.m. The streets are empty, illuminated by streetlights knifing their luminescence through the mist. I'm driving along, looking. It's all fog, blackness and empty space. The valleys around are filled with clouds and all I can think about is how much I would love to go east, how much I need to hit the road and drive. I used to travel a lot, just for the sheer pleasure of going places and finding out what was there. I've mailed postcards from little towns in the mountains, simply for the sake of letting someone know I had passed through on my way to somewhere else. There was something in the back of my brain that kept scratching at me, pushing me to get on I-8 or I-15 to see where it goes, just for the fun of it. Instead, I came home and started writing. 20 years from now, I may be sad I didn't take off and see what I could do. I think part of it is my fear that I won't come back. Then again, maybe that wouldn't be so bad. I could disappear into the wide-open space of the American Southwest and try to carve out a nice little piece of the American Dream for myself in nearly complete anonymity. See, I still believe in the Dream, that grand idea espoused by Horatio Alger and who knows who else, that someone can rise simply because they had the will and the desire and work ethic necessary to succeed.

I drove by the local 7-11 at about 3 a.m. this morning. I could see its fluorescent lights burning into the darkness, promising a clean, well-lighted place for all who cared to drop in. Hot coffee, hotter chocolate in Pyrex pitchers, doughnuts slathered in powder and glaze, foods composed almost entirely of chemicals and artificial flavors. Video games in the corner to while away the hours until dawn, an ATM to make sure impulse shoppers can buy all those essential products they weren't aware they needed. It spoke volumes about the promise of late night, but, much like Edward Hopper's "Nighthawks," the only thing it really described was the profound loneliness permeating the cold night air.

There are palm trees outside this classroom. Birds are singing, there isn't a cloud in the sky. I'm listening to people blather about tanning beds. I'm in California, listening to people debate the virtues and drawbacks of various tanning bed models. Class has been going for about 40 minutes. People are still showing up. For my part, I was 15 minutes late. Sleep takes precedence over 101 courses. For me, sleep takes precedence over a lot of things. It's soothing really, slipping underneath my comforter and dozing for a few hours. I can escape the world for a while, dreaming new realities simply by the whims of my subconscious, which is ever so preferable to listening to a TA talk about skin cancer. I want to go back to bed.

3:21 a.m. Eating Santitas tortilla chips, doing layout. Typing this directly onto the page. There's a dog sighing behind me in its sleep, content to lay on my bed while the sound of clacking keys and chewing fills the room. It's twitching a bit, which I suspect means it's chasing rabbits or something, bounding over green fields and generally having a grand old time. I, however, am dog tired and want to curl up in said bed, relax, and go to sleep for a few hours. I keep thinking about the brutally warm Santa Anas and how stepping outside earlier today was like stepping into Hell's vestibule and feeling the fires inside warm even the foyer with a dehydrating breeze. It was mercifully quiet though, probably because it was simply too hot to do anything. Birds weren't singing, people weren't talking. The only real sound was the hot wind rushing past my ears. I was virtually alone, walking amongst people, isolated by the wind, the shimmering heat, the exhaustion setting in from moving too much. Then again, I usually feel that way, even when the weather doesn't encourage it.

There's a sewage treatment plant near my house called Santee Lakes. Only in California would such a place serve double duty as a recreational facility. People fish there, picnic there, kids play and there are ducks. Probably hundreds of them. I was joking around with someone I work with who holds down a second job there and she said, sarcastically of course, it was a wonderful time during Spring Break because all the male ducks were gang-raping the female ducks. In a way, it's funny. After millions of years of evolution, the only way guys have really changed is losing the ability to fly.

It was a Los Angeles Saturday afternoon and I was lounging by a hotel pool with some co-workers. We had all been swimming. I jumped in fully clothed because I didn't have a swimsuit. The water seemed cold, so I sat in the jacuzzi for a while to warm up. I relaxed, enjoying the jets and bubbles. After a bit, two kids jumped in, splashing water around. They were probably about 9 or 10, young enough to still hold illusions about the world. One of them started asking me questions: How old are you? Where are you from? Why are you here? Usual kid questions. Asked me if I had a girlfriend. If I was married. Why not? When I said I had considered it, they asked me if my potential spouse was one of the people in the pool. I ducked underwater, trying not to blush, listening to the sound of my heart beating faster.

It's 1:35 a.m. I'm on the verge of finishing this issue. I'm tired, sick and feeling burned out. I've done too much writing lately and haven't spent enough time taking care of myself. So here I sit, sniffling, aching, yawning and sneezing. I think it's bedtime, but I don't want to go to sleep. I want to stay awake. I want to finish this. I want to go to sleep relaxed, knowing it's complete, once again. I'm just too tired to do it though. My bed is warm and inviting, all pillows and a bunched up comforter piled in the center. It's time for me to go to sleep.

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Last modified on Wednesday, March 26, 2008