Last night my German teacher said that I had a profession which did not require thinking, but that my husband did. Well, at least that is what I think he said. He doesn’t speak a word of English.
I have sent this letter with excess postage.
With an excess of longing, of sorrow. It’s been a year now.
You see, approximately 0.5% of the men whom I pass on the street look like you.
This phenomenon has been going on for years now. It stems from a pathological desire to unexpectedly run into you, and say,
“Of all the sidewalks in all the towns in all the world, you walked onto mine.”
Or some similar feat of seemingly casual perfection.
Perhaps, a bit more more effortless, along the lines of,
“I have written down words with mild success, I have only you to blame”
“Here, have a copy of my book.”
I haven’t written a book yet. You weren’t supposed to have died.
It’s rude, really. I was counting on you.
I saw one of you just yesterday.
In front of me on the sidewalk outside city hall. He turned and looked right at me,
then he crossed the street.
Or, he turned and looked at the traffic and I was there, waiting,
and he looked at me like he could have been you and this could all be an elaborate lie,
then he crossed the street.
O, I have been rehearsing.
I have been dressing for the occasion of our encounter.
I am not sure I have occasion left to dress up for.
I can’t believe that you are gone.
See, I. Well, I.
I think about you too much, really. Always did, as I am sure you know.
I begged you once not to kill yourself after you joked about it. It worked, I guess. It seems pointless now. Well, perhaps not. Well, you died anyway and it appears that you died without finding love. I hope that I am wrong. It’s not a question answered in an obituary.
He died without finding love.
It’s just not the sort of thing the papers are willing to say.
It said you were surrounded by family. That you had a brain tumor. Like a goddamn film character. As if you coughed somewhere in the first act of your life, or complained of a mild headache. As if we were all supposed to know. A brain tumor.
I mean, come on.
You had a profile on a group for singles. It’s still there. You were in a group for writers, too. You are still out there looking for her. The book is still unfinished. Was it the one about South America? You know the story, how your car broke down in the desert and you abandoned it there. Was that the one? Was that how it began?
I wrote you a letter once to which you never replied. I saw you in person and you informed me that I had used excess postage. That every year the postal service runs at a loss.
You have reminded me of the importance of maintaining distance from my delusions.
You’d perhaps find all of this grief obnoxious, self-serving. Exaggerated. Dishonest. Cliché.
So how about some honesty, at least you didn’t die from cirrhosis.
I remember that time when you sat next to me in the lecture hall.
How your skin smelled like alcohol.
How your elbow brushed against mine.
“This song is about heroine.”
“A song about herring?”
It is acceptable to be the lone dancing girl in the room,
but only if your arms never reach above the level of your eyes.
Today was my first Dutch lesson. Kevin and I recently moved to Eindhoven for his work, and after leaving my job in Amsterdam I am finally taking the time to learn some of the language before I apply for work.
In class today, there was some discussion of the accent in this part of the Netherlands, Eindhoven and North Brabant.
(Note: North Brabant is an odd name because there is no South Brabant in the Netherlands, and the province of North Brabant is located in the South-East part of the country. What happened to South Brabant? What secret is being covered up?)
Anyways, the accent. As I have gathered(likely incorrectly) the accent here is a bit softer, specifically in reference to the throaty “G” sounds (pronounced huh, but like you have a chest cold) and when it comes to the letter “r.” According to my teacher, the people around here use a much softer, breathy, almost non-existent “r” whereas people in the Hague used a harder “r.” Also according to my teacher, the people in the North think people from Brabant sound, well, less intelligent.
(Note: North of the country, not to be confused with North Brabant which is in the South.)
Supposedly, people here in the South think that those crazy Hague dwellers sound haughty and self-important. Pronouncing their Rs. Pfft. So snobby.
Thus, my interpretation of this lesson is:
Eindhoven has the Boston accent of the Netherlands.
Let me just start by saying last night I witnessed a domestic dispute so violent that the sound of, something, banging against the walls of the house next door woke me up at 2 a.m.
No, let me just start by saying that I also witnessed the police act in a way I can only call a hate crime against a trans woman who was trying to help.
No, let me just start by saying that the sex workers of this city are our community watch, they have more presence on this street than the police which are 45 seconds away. They are the heroes of the story.
No, let me start with the terrifying image of the open door of our neighbor’s house, the walls of the hallway covered in blood.
We live on a mostly quiet street in Amsterdam, between a bike rental store on the right and a building on the left that is so comically leaning its bricks wave up and down in a dramatic zig-zag. People often stop to take photos of the neighbor’s cat perched in the window of the very wobbly building. In the wobbly house house live and man and a woman, an Italian woman with long black hair who wears thick buddy holly glasses. She’s tall and thin and strikingly beautiful in a way that always makes me jealous. She lives with a man who we found out last night was her boyfriend.
To the right of our house, two doors down, we have a few red windows that sex workers rent. Sometimes the windows have blue lights, which advertise that the woman inside in also trans. I am on friendly waving terms with many of the women. We don’t live in the red light district, so the women who work these windows are different. Some have beautiful, what I like to consider “real” bodies, by which I mean soft, wrinkled, lumpy, lived in bodies. I like them. For example, one, named Marina, is a regular during the weekdays. Kevin and I think she is a mother working during school hours.
The other week while walking home Kevin noted,
“Oh, Marina moved windows”
“She cut her hair, too. I like it. Maybe I should write a sign to tell her.” I said. I never bothered to.
This isn’t a story about Marina. I just wanted to put something nice in here.
Last night at about 2a.m. I woke up to the sound of banging on our walls from the apartment to the left, the wobbly house, and what I imagined to be kids shouting. Then it began to sound like women shouting. I got up and went to the window when it was clear it was a woman shouting. Outside there was one of the trans sex workers standing on the street, looking into the open door of the wobbly house, shouting and dialing on her phone. In the middle of the winter, she was standing outside in fishnets and underwear, without her shoes on. I heard the Italian woman next door crying and yelling to call the police, shouting “My boyfriend is going crazy, he hit me he hit her he won’t stop. Call the police” Then she shouted her address.
I shouted to Kevin to call the police. He was already half up., and he grabbed his phone.
Then the Italian woman started screaming.
Not shouting, horror movie screaming.
I started sobbing, thinking we were about to listen to a murder. While Kevin called the police, I saw the sex worker shout “Bastardo!” to the open door and then back away, scared.
I opened our front door and beckoned for her to come inside if she needed. She said no, she asked if we called the police and I said we had. She said she had called the police but they weren’t listening to her. This is the part of the story I am calling a hate crime. Because the scared cries of a sex worker aren’t worth the same speedy attention of a man calling.
When the police arrived they went inside, Kevin and I went outside to see what the banging was from. The front door of the wobbly house was open, the wall in the front hallway was covered in blood. Covered.
The sex worker told me that the woman had a head wound.
It looked like she had been pushing against the door, smearing her blood on the walls.
I asked the sex worker,
“The Italian woman? The skinny one with the long black hair?”
“Yeah, I mean I would say more dark brown but yes, her.”
“Is the boyfriend the man who lives here?”
“Yes, I see him walk by all the time, tonight, maybe 20 minutes ago, I saw him walk by drunk, he’s been drinking, he’s out of his head.”
Kevin and I stood by the window for a half hour, until the police escorted the Italian woman to a car, followed by her boyfriend to another police car.
Then we tried to go back to sleep.
So, let me just finish this by saying that all women are women and we look out for each other, that sometimes men only want to listen to other men. That the sex workers of this city are our community watch, they have more presence on this street than the police which are 45 seconds away. They are the heroes of the story.
nce upon a time there was a noblewoman named Rachel.
She ruled over a powerful Co-Op Board in a rapidly up-and coming neighborhood. The real-estate lords had recently renamed it SOKIPA (South of King’s Palace). Rachel loved many of the joyous excesses of her kingdom: locally grown flowers, designer blue jeans, and home design catalogs. But she loved two things most of all:
The first thing was Sir Gregory, her boyfriend of 4 years. Gregory had light brown hair that turned red in the summer. He was exactly five inches taller than Rachel, which made him ideal for kissing. He wielded his smile with skill; he had, as they say, looks that could kill. He also had a trust fund that could make any man seem immortal.
Sir Gregory was in a band. He played guitar and wrote great love ballads for lady Rachel. He praised her eyes, and her mouth, her laugh and all her other features that were like totally specific, girl. Gregory had been courting fair Rachel, who wasn’t going to be 29 forever, through many summers and winters, so he better step on it.
The second thing that Rachel loved was food, in particular the variety known in her kingdom as dessert. Dessert was revered for its magic ability to bestow upon those who consumed it great joy and energy, followed by great guilt and sadness, followed by great hips and buttocks. Dessert was reserved for special occasions, only afforded by the fat-wallets of Christmas bonuses, or the lean thighs of the athletic. Rachel had no need of a Christmas bonus, she had no lean muscular extremities upon which to seductively lay her layers of lipids. She had only a persistent craving for sugar. It appeared the moment she awoke, followed her until she slept, and often into her dreams.
The inherent problem in the situation was one that many hetero-normative once-uponers suffer from, and that was that Gregory, boyfriend of four years who better step on it, was too skinny. Skinnier than Lady Rachel, which just would not do.
At first, fair Rachel was able to pretend. Through the early months of their courtship Gregory brought her to many feasts, at which lady Rachel consumed only the greenest of salads. Lettuce hung from her lips, painting her like the most noble of bunny rabbits. Rachel suffered through each meal, even the obnoxious bits of lettuce that remain at the end, stuck to the plate and impossible to pick up with a fork without creating a squeaking noise that distracts the entire court from their feast.
Try as she might, lady Rachel could only hold out for so long. In time, as her strength waned, her weight gained, and her resentment of Gregory grew with it. So strong was her jealousy that it began to consume her, and she to consume every morsel of sugar in sight. Gregory dismissed her worries with casual laughter, often biting into a slice of pizza as he did so. One night, Rachel snuck down to the kitchen for a midnight snack. As she sat crying over a tray of brownies, she concocted a plan.
The next day she sent out a decree, over email and twitter, calling all of the doctors and dieticians of the kingdom to come forth. He who could make Gregory larger would be rewarded with an insurance payout fit for a king. They ran blood tests and measured his body mass index. But it was to no avail, for Sir Gregory remained as lean as ever. So, the doctors were banished, with only their malpractice rates increased.
So Rachel summoned forth all the great chefs of the kingdom, who for three weeks held great feasts, the tables overloaded with dishes dripping in fat and sticky with sugar. The entire realm filled with the perfume of fresh baked cookies. For weeks Gregory ate, and smiled, but he did not gain an ounce. Rachel watched angrily from outside the feast, chewing on celery.
So, in a last attempt, Rachel summoned forth the great un-credentialed masses. The food bloggers arrived first, and mostly photographed the food. An army of body builders lumbered in, hoisting barrels of whey protein and vials of injectable potions. The hairdressers who swore tah Gawd they gots a cousin who ate only almonds and bananas for two friggin months and he gained like 25 lbs. Yet Rachel did not have two months, her patience had run out.
Rachel raised her cellphone angrily into the air, threatening to banish all of the crackpots from the twittersphere. A hush fell over the crackpot convention as they all looked up in fear. Just then, a small voice called out from the crowd,
“Follow These 3 Easy Tricks to Gain 15 lbs. in 2 Days!” it cried.
The crowd opened around the place the voice had come from, and as they parted out stepped a tiny, adorable, dimple-cheeked dumpling of a girl.
“Who might you be?” asked Rachel.
“It is I, KaleAndOreos13! I have a blog and a pretty popular instagram, it’s for binge-eaters who also dabble in the dark arts. Send these people away safely, and I will help you”
Rachel invited KaleAndOreos13 into her bedchamber, where she instructed Rachel to disrobe, and drew upon her body in great circles of black marker, outlining all of Rachel’s flaws. KaleAndOreos13 spoke in hushed tones and explained to Rachel what must be done,
“Tonight is the full moon. First, you must give Gregory a draught of this potion with his dinner, so he will sleep like the dead.”
She reached into her bag, and handed Rachel a blue bottle, marked with a skull, and labeled Nyquil. Then she gave Rachel an elegantly decorated dagger, a spool of red thread, and a long golden sewing needle.
“At midnight exactly, gaze into your mirror, take the dagger and cut the unwanted pieces of flesh from your body. Sew them into place onto Gregory, then speak the following incantation three times:”
Othingnay Astestay As Oodgay As Inthay Eelsfay
Midnight arrived, and Rachel stood in front of her mirror, dagger gripped in one hand, a wobble of thigh fat pinched in the other. In the reflection, she could see the great stripes of black marker on her frame, and behind it, Sir Gregory sleeping soundly. She could not proceed. At dawn, KaleAndOreos13 saw that Rachel had failed. So, she pulled Rachel aside and said,
“Well, there is one more thing we could try. “
And that is how sir Gregory was made to join Weight Watchers, along with Lady Rachel. After two weeks of being forced to count up food points all day, Rachel found him secretly eating the last of her stash of brownies. Soon, he had to loosen his belt two notches, and she had to tighten hers. The kingdom rejoiced with song and dance and 3 point Giant Chocolate Fudge Ice Cream Bars for all.
They’re always bitching at me not to leave my till. Todd, Margaret, all of them. Always bitching. Though, they never explain just how it is that I’m supposed to know what the lady standing in front of me means when she says,
“A grande-caramel-latte, and one of those on the end”
and starts pointing her accusing finger toward the end of the pastry case.
I mean, that latte bit I‘ve got down. I could take that order in my sleep. Hell, I could take that order and ask if you’d “like to try it with our new coconut milk” without turning my head to the cool side of the pillow.
But I have no idea what she is pointing at. Not a clue, this being the second day of October and a whole new rotation of specials we’ve got on offer. It’s probably a pumpkin-something, a cinnamon-whatever, some damn spiced crumble etc. The lady, she is wedged into place by the crowd behind her that is raging for a cinnamon fix. I am standing, chained behind my register like a good boy, just like I promised last night, when they made me sign that employee responsibility paper. I was all, “It won’t happen again, sir” and so on.
So I stall, and ask the lady for a name to scrawl on the grande-caramel-latte. She says,
“Huh? My name? It’s A—–.“
Well, actually, what she says is,
“Huh? My name? It’s Al-uh-suhn.”
But if we’re going to get all technical, which people like to do with their names, what she says is,
“Huh? My name? It’s [ˈæləsən].”
I mean, give me a break. Do you know how many damn ways there are to spell [ˈæləsən]? There are at least 7 if you only count the common versions. You’ve got the old stand-by, Allison but heaven forbid you use it if she spells it Alyson, or Alison, or god knows what else. I knew a girl in 4th grade who spelled it Alysen, like her parents had something to prove. So [ˈæləsən] is standing there, pointing and pointing, while I consider writing “Ellison” on her cup just to mess with her. Or, really, just to make use of my degree for the first time since I graduated. But I doubt Todd, who is working the espresso machine, would even get the joke. He doesn’t seem to have read much of anything outside of the employee handbook.
So, I hedge my bets and write out “Allison” but I kind of squish the two L’s together, like, maybe there is only one. I squiggle the “o” indecisively. Like, maybe it’s an “e” or maybe my pen is running out of ink. Like, maybe I’ve been using it to write the next great American novel on recycled napkins. Like, maybe I am the guy who gets her, who knows exactly who she is. Like, maybe I could tell she had a relatively normal upbringing but that her parents just wanted her to be a little bit unique. Like, maybe she knows that I am clearly overqualified for this position. Like, maybe she could tell I’ve got a master’s degree and a lifetime-membership card to the ivory tower. Like, maybe we should get coffee sometime, somewhere else. Like, maybe she will love all my jokes about Derrida. Like, maybe she’ll forgive me for messing up the rest of her order and I won’t get written up for it. Like, maybe this [ˈæləsən] is the Allison or the Alison that changes everything.
All the while, [ˈæləsən] is holding up her resilient elbow, pointing toward whatever it is that I am about to get wrong. The moment is more or less a metaphor for my entire romantic history.
And of course, where is Margaret now? Margaret, our fearless shift supervisor, who is supposed to be working the pastry case. Margaret who wore out her lungs from bitching at me about leaving my till. Margaret who is evidently taking a ten minute break, now of all times. While [ˈæləsən] is waving her finger toward some mystery cake. [ˈæləsən], who left her glasses at home and can’t read the damn sign. [ˈæləsən] who looks like every other damn [ˈæləsən] I’ve ever come across, like she doesn’t have the time to look at me.
The line of customers is stretching out past the door, all of them frowning, all of them decaffeinated-cranky. Here I am, alone, strapped to the register. To my left, Todd has barricaded himself behind a wall of paper cups and syrups. I can hear the espresso machine hissing and spitting, then suddenly it stops. Todd has run out of steam, I‘ve thrown a wrench into the machine. Ominous, that silence.
So I look up at [ˈæləsən], who is dangling my future off her left index finger, and ask,
“I’m sorry, could you at least describe it for me?”
My Poem “The Best Place Not To See Paris” was published as part of the HIV Here and Now project. Go Check it out: