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I hope to spend my life doing something good, something big, but in the meanwhile I am happy to entertain a side project. Maybe good starts small.

It might be that my (minor) purpose in life was to hang around for a while and teach you how to love recklessly.

Teach you how to make your borders messy and your boundaries clean.

A while can be as long as you want it to be, baby.

Forever is just a while, if you look at it optimistically.

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Pleasant Distractions, Part One

Recently my skin has been breaking out. Which makes me anxious. When I am anxious I pick at it. Which makes it worse. It’s a vicious cycle, shameful. It’s a bad habit I am trying desperately to stop. One technique I use is, when I feel the urge to pick at my skin, I instead describe 5 pleasurable sensations, and see if it helps calm me down. So, here is the antidote to my shame:

  1. Putting on my glasses when they are freshly cleaned
  2. The clicky keys of a 90‘s keyboard, specifically the one at the school library search desk
  3. Pouring precisely the right amount of sugar for a recipe in one go
  4. Beating down freshly proofed bread dough
  5. When you walk by me and stop to kiss my shoulder

  1. Slicing into a perfectly ripe avocado half
  2. A finger traced over a scar about which no questions are asked, a kiss on my kneecap
  3. The meaningful silence after two people sigh, their gazes averted
  4. The chime of a good morning text
  5. Picking the melted wax off a candlestick

  1. The second bite of something warm on a cold winter’s evening
  2. Your thumb caressing the side of my face
  3. Stepping onto a freshly paved street, afraid I might leave a footprint
  4. The ink reaching the end of the page
  5. The first district at 4 in the morning, when only the street lamps and the horses are awake

  1. The indelicate, borderline-obscene consumption of an overly-ripe peach, its juice running down my neck
  2. Washing the dirt off my feet under lukewarm water after I have spent the day outside in a park. It reminds me of walking in Paris, how my shoes were always dusty and unfashionable but I was free
  3. When you kissed my forehead in front of everyone while I thought we were still a secret
  4. My mother brushing her fingers through my hair
  5. Picking the label off a sweating bottle of beer

  1. The rumble of a modern train on old tracks
  2. Sitting in the passenger seat, your hand on my knee
  3. Prying a loose brick from an old wall
  4. The heavy chill of my grandmother’s pearl necklace
  5. Taking off my bra the moment I walk into the front door

  1. Ordering a cappuccino after dinner not because I need the caffeine but because I want the evening to continue
  2. Pulling the dried petals off an open rose
  3. Pressing ganache into unfilled macarons
  4. A borrowed sweater in a chilly room
  5. The clear and empty water of the Alte Donau on a rainy Tuesday morning when the dirt has settled and the entire river is mine
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A Renaissance Man

We’re back at F’s apartment. Plans were made to go out for the evening, but we got rained on during the walk back from dinner. Allegedly, he is going to change clothes, and then we will go back out into the night to pretend it isn’t almost past my bedtime. It’s going on midnight, and Vienna has been gifted with a proper thunderstorm, the kind which doesn’t give up after a few minutes.

F is tuning his clavichord by candlelight. He tells me he started playing this piece for the man that broke his heart. He started learning it but had only just now completed the entire thing, and the heartbreaker was out of the picture by the time his fingers had mastered the notes. F Wanted to perform it for him, but he will have to settle for me, his friend.

I open the window in his bedroom. I sprawl on the bed watching the lightning. The room is lit by two candles, each pillared in a rounded wine bottle. Shards of wax litter F’s desk from all the candles he has burned. There isn’t much in his room, a bed, a wardrobe, a half-dead tree, his clavichord. He is particular about the instrument, he keeps a humidity monitor in the room. The clavichord is wildly out of tune, but he refuses to turn on the light to better see and instead grabs the candle, holding it over the keys. I imagine in doing so he risks dripping wax onto the keys… I hold my breath. Thunder roars. He begins tuning by ear, then with a digital tuner, and then gives a resigned sigh about a pesky note and says, “I think that’s the best I can get now”

At last, as he starts playing the rain begins to fall. The timing is eerie. The instrument reminds me of a guitar, I don’t think I have ever heard one played before. It’s quiet enough not to disturb his roommates even at this hour. The wind attempts to pull the left window closed as if to say, this is a secret only for us.

If I could bottle this moment, with the breeze and the clavichord and the rain and the open window, I would. The bottle I used would be round. I would drink the memory dry in a week, then I would put candle after candle into the bottle. I would let the shards of broken wax litter my desk.

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A small treat

On Friday night I had a vivid dream that I called my mother on the phone. The sort of dream that seems so real it takes you a few hours after waking to realize it wasn’t.

I have had a lot of dreams about her since she died, but never one so real and so mundane.

Anyways, I was standing in the garden and telling her about my day. About our day. I wasn’t telling her about you, she already knew.

So, I guess that means she approves.

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On Walking, On Stumbling.

Loving you was worth it. Even unrequited.
You taught me to adore the dirt, too. To commune with the stars.

There was that day by the Donau when it rained
When the sky was a wrung-out sponge and the whole path turned to mud
You knew I wanted you to kiss me you knew and you turned to me and rolled your eyes and said
Oh, the lady wants romance.
You
are
always
too
romantic.

I had an umbrella in my bag, but I was never going to mention it.
I’d have denied the existence of the umbrella until my dying breath.
I was adamantly prepared to soak my amorous heart.
Instead, you offered me your hideous raincoat.

You were always pushing me to walk up hills my knees weren’t built for,
To go hiking in the sun in the wrong kind of shoes to sweat my patience into submission.

You kissed me, sometimes.
Once, in a thunderstorm,
When you said
You taste like wine.

You were one of those assholes who treat walking like some elitist thing,
As if there’s no point in a nature walk unless you are convinced your lungs are collapsing
As if the trees aren’t lovely if you aren’t also confronting your mortality and asking
If i die of exhaustion in the woods
And no one is around to hear my body fall,
Will it even make a sound?

You snuck a photo of me standing in a wheat field.
It was beautiful, it was a shared secret,
You said
The wheat is yellow like your hair.

I’ve been learning on my own to enjoy walking the same way I learned to enjoy the dirt,
To commune with my knees like I did the stars
And God, It’s so peaceful to sweat when you aren’t standing next to me,
Reminding me to relax.

I don’t have to wait to be kissed anymore.
No one ever accuses me of being too romantic.
It’s petty, but,
I just wanted you to know that.

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A Goodbye Letter

Part One

Dear O,

Everything I write these days is laced with talk of god, everything is sacred, every word a prayer. I haven’t been to church in forever but I am building cathedrals on the grass most Sundays. I swim until I feel baptized and I gaze into his eyes until I feel like something holy. Or I used to. I don’t really think we look at each other the same way. My heart is playing the sort of song that puts tears into your eyes, can he hear it? I think I was born with an old song about Vienna playing on repeat in me.

I feel often like a broken radio.

I have been exploring what it is to be human for some time now and it seems that what I have discovered is a strangeness that has never left me – a strangeness that cannot exist in isolation. You are part of this strangeness, now, O. I have taken some piece of you with me, O.

Maybe it’s enough to lean against a piece of cement and sigh, maybe that’s enough to make a pile of bricks sacred. All the deities and spirits, all the dead English teachers still burning their neuroses from the grave and communicating to me through music. Or just the one dead English teacher. I’m talking about you, O.

I talk to your ghost all the time, O. I ask you for advice, for forgiveness, for help. I imagine if you still exist that you still believe in love: in all its tragedies and dismay but at the end of the day you still believe in the thing itself. That was always your problem, you were too soft to be so bitter.

I know you wanted to move here, to Lisbon. There was a house purchased and a woman loved and an engagement broken. And then you drank a lot more coffee and you looked tired all the time and when people asked how your were you answered honestly. You laid claim to your misery. I remember all of your sad stories, O. All of your terrible jokes. I remember the way that you sighed and how your shirts hung loose in front of your chest and how I was always thinking about the buttons on them. You were an ugly man I wanted to unbutton.

I know I made you a promise, we had a deal: you would give me this one thing and I would let you go. Did I get the thing I asked for, really? I don’t think I did. I am not satisfied with my end of the bargain. Is this your way of telling me you would like to stay? You can stay here, we can be miserable together, O. I don’t need to fly home.

We can build that house you always talked about, with a view over the rooftops and down to the water. We could have an unbroken engagement. Hell, if I walk up another hill I may just collapse at the top of it. We could haunt these alleyways together, our reflection appearing as the occasional glimmer against the tiles. The people looking for our ghosts will see it, but their skeptical friends will say, it’s not what you think, it was just the reflection of the light off your watch, it was just a trick of the sun.

I was sitting by the water and writing to you. Writing out the goodbye letter. Because I promised I would let your ghost go. You always used to read over my shoulder, do you still? I held the journal out for you. He was sitting on my left not looking at me, and there was an empty space on the bench to my right and my elbow felt warm, like someone was touching it. The way your arm brushed against mine that one time, when we were sitting in the lecture hall with Noam Chomsky. That was an important day. There were journalists and protests and everyone wanted to be one of the few students in the room with him. Mostly I remember how your arm touched mine.

It felt like your ghost could have been sitting next to me, by the water in Porto. Or maybe the clouds had just parted slightly, maybe the weather had changed. Maybe it was just a trick of the sun, he would say, if I told him I was talking with ghosts.

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I can’t keep calling you every time I have a stomach ache.

When did you learn to fix everything just by saying Hello?
The way you sing a soft Hiiiii into the telephone
It’s like napping in a thunderstorm with the window open.
It is terrifying to be so well understood by a person,
It makes all other interactions feel like an uphill climb.
I am trying to learn to trust in someone,
From the ground up,
So deeply they need only give me a single word.
I am considering the concept of loving again.
It’s been a while since I did it, but I don’t remember it feeling like this.

I am tired of hurting. I am tired all the time.
Calling you wouldn’t really fix it, but it would feel nice,
To hear “hello” and know I am adored,
Is a simple but effective remedy.

My stomach hurts today, but I am just going to let it ache.
It will be okay.
It will be okay.
It will be okay.

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