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Happy Birthday Emmy-Do-Do

When I was a baby I was given a bracelet made of 24 karat gold, it was so small it only fit my wrist until I was 7 or 8. I think I was given it at my christening, but I don’t know for sure. I just know I was given it long before I could remember.  But the story of the gift was told to me when I was old enough to recall it vaguely. The bracelet, and the story, sat in my mother’s jewelry box for years until I was old enough to be trusted with them. Then they sat in the top corner of my jewelry box, which my mother painted with little pink flowers. The box smelled like her hands. My mother told me it was real gold, it was precious. It had been a gift too extravagant to give a child.  It came from some rich “aunt” who died before the bracelet grew too small for my wrist. I have big wrists, and big arms, I inherited them from my father. I was too young to know I had big wrists. Young enough not to notice that my body was sometimes bigger than others, and I always felt beautiful then. When I wore the bracelet I felt gorgeous.

24k gold is soft. Pure things can be, I was still a relatively pure thing, relatively unseen. There were no security guards on my street and I could venture into the woods or the parking lot whenever I pleased, unsupervised.

My older sister had a car, it was her first precious thing. Her first taste of freedom. The car was always full of secrets, of treasure. Of backpack pockets stashing away stale candy. Of half-empty packs of cigarettes, and lighters I would throw away. Full of pristine stickers from bands I didn’t know: I just knew they were stickers and I stuck them on everything. The cup holders were always sticky with spilled puddles of beverages: over-sugared coffee and over-caffeinated soda. The seats were upholstered with fuzzy gray fabric and the car didn’t have an alarm. My sister often kept the passenger side door unlocked. On hot days I would sneak into her car, alone, and hug the fabric of the passenger’s seat which smelled like cigarettes and my sister when she was happy. I didn’t know then that my sister had a girlfriend, I just knew that the particular perfume of my-sister-when-she-was-happy lived on the passenger side of the car, which was often unlocked, and I knew that I might find candy in there.

So one day I tried to get into the car but both doors were locked. I took the gold bracelet and tried to pick the lock with it. I don’t remember where I learned the concept of picking locks, but I bent the bracelet into a disaster while jamming it into the car door, and then I tried to pry it back into place with my teeth. Then I cried and looked at the mangled precious thing I had ruined. The excessive gift I had been entrusted with.

24k gold is soft, it bends even under the bite of baby teeth. My father taught me this. We were watching an old movie about pirates or sailors: long-haired men with loose white shirts who gathered over pewter mugs of golden ale in wooden bars. The man in the film was biting down on a gold coin and I, with my budding one-day-pastry-chef little brain, asked if they were checking if the coin was made of chocolate. My father laughed and told me the man was checking if the coin was real gold, which is soft as a nibble. For my birthday, I asked for gold coins. I was given a box of chocolate coins and it was the only time in my life I was disappointed by something being made of chocolate.

But I stood in front of the locked car door and all I remembered was that locks could be picked and gold could be bent.
I forgot that bent things don’t always bend back.
I forgot that sometimes my sister got very upset when I invaded her space.
I didn’t understand that the perfume on the passenger seat was still a secret, just like the cigarettes.

I didn’t manage to break into the car, and I didn’t talk about the bent bracelet. I cried, and the day smelled like a bouquet of various hot plastics: the rubber at the bottom of the car window, the tar on the cracks in the cement, the sunburnt windshield wipers begging for rain.

The day tasted like licking from my thieving fingers the earthy patina of pollen and dust which settles on an unwashed car, and like the first time my young body ever sweated from nerves alone.  It tasted like biting into 24 karat gold.

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All the wrong men tell me I am beautiful.

I have been thinking a lot about my body, which isn’t always a good thing. I feel like maybe there is too much of it, like I should exercise more. Like I should whittle it away. I met another American girl today and she was sort of terrible and fantastic, she sat on the grass and spilled about her trauma. She was just so American, and so am I. I need to get back into German lessons. I need to exercise more. I need to sleep more. I feel a strange need to be less of me in all aspects. Less American, less loud, less provocative. Less fat.

Would that I could be some skinny, quiet woman, hiding my thin limbs in thick sweaters and still looking beautiful. If I had beautiful arms I would waste them being myself, talking with my hands even more. I would point at everything, I would raise my hand at any opportunity, I would touch everyone gently on the shoulder and it would be so condescending.

But if I were thin I could spend the time walking elegantly through crowded rooms and speaking German without hesitation. I could say,

“I am always just so cold.”

I could stand outside in the summer, even in. a subway car, and I wouldn’t be sweating I would be glistening, unbothered.

This heat wave is reminding me how much of me there is, when it’s too hot to cover my arms. When the air touches everything and even my ankles are sweating. Like something erotic and victorian.  The air is so humid it’s always reminding me of my outline, drawing it in chalk, which mixes with sweat and melts into a paste. I haven’t felt comfortable for days save for when I am in the water.

I used to be really good at starving myself, or finding ways around it. I used to live with a lot of guilt, and now I just live with a bit more of my body and that’s a vast improvement, truly. The last year I have felt the sexiest I ever did in my life. So I am not sure why this past week I am just feeling so down on myself. I have been picking at my skin, stepping on and off the scale, I have been drinking too much coffee and not enough water and staring into the refrigerator, then closing it and walking away

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Hiding in Plain Sight

If you’ve been thinking about kissing me or dreaming about bedding me,
I regret to inform you that you have missed your chance.
This is the last call before I go off the market for a while. 
You don’t have to go home, but you can’t stay here.

(The mornings are better when they start with your smile)

I’ve barely slept in my own bed since returning from Granada,
but I’ve been keeping my clothes on. 

(The birds know, and my grass knows, and all my journals know, and indeed, the pens know, but I won’t write it down)

I have been collecting bruises
Like stamps in a passport,
Stickers on a suitcase.
I have been around. 

(I have mostly been around you)

I realized somewhere along the journey that I would like to stay here for a while.
I’ve been buying heavy books, putting down roots.
I have been letting your embraces grow on me like moss.

(You kiss my shoulders every time you sit next to me.)

I realized it somewhere in Spain,
While staring at the waves the heat braids into the horizon.
I knew I was taken and I didn’t need a reason.

(I could feel the way you gazed at me in the garden.)

The safe thing would be to continue all my troublemaking,
Staying up late kissing women and pretending,
Having trouble sleeping in unfamiliar beds,
Waking up sweating.

(We linger, our foreheads pressed together, refusing to say “be mine”)

It’s an efficient way to build walls, and a simple way to box myself in.
I can keep you at arm’s length if only I tangle myself in someone else’s limbs.
Like maybe, just maybe, if I kiss her I will stop being afraid to get hurt.
It was a mistake, I’ve made worse.

(When I sleep I dream we are talking on the grass. I know we just met, but I have told you about my day a thousand times.)

If you came here looking for a woman with a demure smile,
With a quiet voice,
You have come to the wrong place.
I do everything with the volume turned up,
I know nothing but how to be loud.

(I love the same way)

But I only ever apologize in a whisper.

(I am sorry I kissed her)

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Ein Liebesbrief

Die Frage ist immer “Warum Wien?” und meine Antwort ist immer, “Ich bin hier für Liebe umgezogen, und ich bin auch hier für Liebe geblieben”

Aber, meine erste Antwort ist natürlich, “Warum nicht Wien?”

Ich habe mich auf den ersten Blick in diese Stadt verliebt. Vorher, habe ich noch nicht so ein Gefühl gehabt, wie ich für Wien jetzt habe. Ich glaube das Gefühl war gegenseitig. Es war vor fünf Jahren, als ich und mein damaliger-Freund-und-jetzt-ex-Mann zum ersten Mal Wien besucht haben. Damals habe ich gesagt, “Wäre es nicht toll, wenn wir hier wohnen könnten. Du könntest fur die Uni arbeiten, und ich könnte für die Zuckerbäckerei, an die wir vorbeigelaufen sind, arbeiten”

Dreihundertneunundfünfzig Tage später sind wir nach Wien umgezogen, nicht einmal ein Jahr.

Ich habe immer gesagt, dass Wien ist eine sehr gute Stadt, in der Wünsche erfüllt werden, weil ich glaube, dass jemand oder etwas besonderes meine Wünsche zuhört.

Mein geliebtes Wien, ich möchte für immer bei dir bleiben.

Ich möchte hier lange genug bleiben, um meine Liebe auf Wienerisch zu teilen. Ich habe versucht, meine Anbetung auf anderen Weisen zu zeigen. Ich weiß noch nicht, wie gut ich das geschaft habe. Ich habe schon “Zweite Kasse bitte!” geschrieen. Ich erzähle von der Freude, in einer Wienerischer Café zu sitzen, und eine Kaffee zu trinken, und auch von einem Kellner angeschrieen zu werden. Ich finde das so lieb, und ich verstehe nicht, warum man das auch nicht so lieb findet. Aber ihre Meinung ist mir (und den Kellnern) Wurst. Wien, ich habe Ihren faden Kaffee langsam getrunken, und jemanden, der sich es wagt, über ihn zu beschweren, böse angeschaut. 

Wir sind nicht für den perfekten Kaffee hier gekommen, wir sind für die unbequeme Sitzbänke und für die Zeitungen, und für den Vorrecht, hier, ohne Grund, von einem Kellner angeschrieen zu werden. Übrigens, du plebeian Müll, heißt es nicht “Cappucino” hier, es heist “Melange”. Ja, es ist genau so wie ein Cappuccino, aber wir schwören, dass es besser ist, weil wir es “Melange” nennen.

Wir. 

Bitte beachten Sie:

Ich habe Wir geschrieben.

Ich glaube, oder ich hoffe, das ich ein Teil von der Wien “Wir” geworden bin. Es ist mir Wurst, ob Sie mich akzeptieren oder nicht. Aber, wagen Sie sich es nicht, sich über meine Stadt zu beschweren. Vergessen Sie nicht: sich beschweren ist der Punkt. Sich beschweren ist eine Kunstform.

… Wien, ich habe ein paar von Ihren Männern, ein paar von Ihren Frauen und sogar ein Paar von zwei Männern gedated. Wien, ich habe Sie erlaubt, mein Herz zu brechen, aber es hat noch nicht meinen ernsthaften Wunsch hier zu bleiben geändert. Ein paar von diesen Männern haben mir erzählt, dass sie Angst haben, dass ich Wien verlassen werde. Was für dumme Menschen, denn sie verstehen mich nicht. Ich bleibe. Wien kann mich rauszuwerfen versuchen, aber ich werde nicht ohne zu kämpfen aufgeben.

Wien, ich habe entschieden, Sie eigensinnig zu lieben. Meine Augen sind immer geöffnet, weil ich alles von Ihnen sehen möchte. Wien, Ihre Straßen sind so breit wie meine Augen, aber ich habe ein paar von ihrer Ecken gefunden. Ich bin auf den Grass von Ihren Parks eingeschlafen. Ich wurde unhöflich von den Vögeln, die aus meinen Schlummer gerufen haben, aufgewacht.

Mein geliebter adoptierter-Großvater hat Wien besucht, und er hat mich gefragt “Warum sind die Straßen so sauber, kommen die Omas raus in der Nacht, alles zu putzen?” Alles was er macht ist fragen, wo die Tauben wohnen, weil er so wenig gesehen hat. Natürlich, haben wir hier Tauben, aber sie sind besser als deine. Die Wienertauben wurden ausgebildet, nicht auf den Statuen zu sitzen, und nicht die Höffe zu erobern.

Wien, ich bin früh zu Fuß zu meiner Arbeit gegangen, aber ich habe noch nicht die Straßenputzenomas gesehen. Ich bin unterwegs wenn die Straßen noch nicht geputzt sind, wenn die Welt ruhig ist, und wenn die Straßenlaternen leuchten. Ich habe die Tauben, die zu einander Liebeslieder singen,gehört. Ich habe ihre gesteckten gebrochene Flügel in den Drähten des Käfigs, die über die Hofe hängen, gesehen. Ich habe das Blut gesehen, bevor die Strassenputzenomas es weggeputzt haben. Und Wien, ich bin trotzdem geblieben. 

Wien, ich habe wegen meinem altmodischen Kleidungen, ein paar zustimmenden Nicken von Ihren älteren Damen, die in der Innenstadt wohnen, verdient. Wien, Ihre Damen wollten selten lächeln, aber ich habe das ein paar Mal geschafft. Ich habe keine Pelzmantel, aber ich habe eine Perlenkette, die ich tragen kann, und ich hoffe, dass das genug für Sie ist. Pelzmänteln mag ich nicht, aber wenn das notwendig für Sie ist, ich werde das Tier selbst häuten. Ich kann mir vorstellen, dass die Straßenputzenomas werden es wegputzen.

Wien, wenn ich bin weg, Sie erinnern mich an Sie. Ich sehe immer kleine Lieberbrief von Ihnen. Zum bespiel: Ich habe die Tapete vom Hotel Orient in einer Irischer Bar gefunden.

Wien, ich dachte ich müsste weg, um meinem Ex-Mann zurück in die Vereinigten Staaten zu folgen. Aber er ist gegangen und ich bin geblieben. Ich bin aus Liebe gekommen, ich bin aus Liebe geblieben.

Wien, jeder, der mich versteht, sieht mich an und sieht, dass ich zu Hause bin. Ich hoffe, dass Sie das auch sehen.

….

The question is always “Why Vienna?” and my answer is always “I came for love, I stayed for love.”

But my initial answer is always “why not Vienna?”

I fell in love with this city at first sight. I have never really done that, but I think the attraction was mutual. I was walking by the Stadtoper and I wished aloud to live here. I said to my then-boyfriend-now-ex-husband “Wouldn’t it be great if we could live here, and you could work at the university and I could work at that bakery we walked by.”

We moved to Vienna 359 days later, not even a year. He worked at the University. I worked at the bakery we saw.

I have always said this is a good city for wishing, and that something here is listening to me.

Mein geliebtes Wien, ich möchte für immer bei dir bleiben.

I guess this is the correct way to say the sentence: my beloved Vienna, I would like to stay with you always. But, it sounds off.

I would like to stay long enough to share my love for this city in its native dialect. I have tried my best to show my adoration in other ways, I espouse the delights of the grumpy waitstaff found in the local cafes, I have called for a second cash register. I have sipped your bland coffee and scowled at anyone who dares to complain about it. We didn’t come here for the coffee, you fool, we came for the uncomfortable seats and the free newspapers and the privilege of being castigated by the waiter for merely existing. Plus, you plebian trash, it’s not called a cappuccino here. It’s a cappuccino, yes, but we call it a mélange, and we will swear on our deathbed that it’s different.

We.

Pay attention: I said “We.”

I consider myself a part of the “We” here, whether they accept me or not. So don’t you dare complain about my beloved city but also don’t dare forget: complaining is the point. Complaining is an artform, an honored institution.

Wien, I have entertained the company of a few of your men. Vienna. I have let them stomp on my heart and never once has it shaken my determination to remain here. Some of them have ended things, afraid that I would leave. What fools, they never understood me. I am staying. Vienna can try to drag me out, kicking and screaming. I will not go down without a fight.

Wien, I have chosen to love you stubbornly, with big blue eyes always looking at you wide, pupils dilated. Wien, you make me want to give up blinking sometimes, you make me want to see everything. Wien, your streets are so wide, but I have found some of your corners, I have curled up in your arms. I have fallen asleep there, on the grass of your city parks. I have been awoken by the birds, rudely summoning me from slumber.

My beloved adopted grandfather visited from New York, and all he could do was complain about how clean the city was. He said, “What, do they have an army of grandmothers who descend upon the sidewalks at night the mop the streets?” All he could do was ask where the pigeons were. We have pigeons here, they’re just better than yours. We’ve trained them not to sit on statues or to invade courtyards. We put up cages to keep them out.

Wien, I have walked to work in the early hours of the morning when the grandmothers have not yet swept the streets, when the horse carriages have soiled the cobblestones and the world is silent in accordance with noise regulations. I have heard the pigeons singing love songs to each other, nesting in my chimney. I have seen their broken wings, ripped from their bodies, trapped in the metal nets the city hands over the statues. I have seen the blood on the streets before the grandmothers washed it away and, Wien, I have stayed.

Wien, I have over dressed and earned approving nods from the rich old women who live in the first district. Even the occasional smile. Wien, your women don’t typically smile, but I have made it happen more times than I can count.  I don’t yet own a brown fur coat, or a fur hat, but I wear a pearl necklace sometimes and I hope that’s enough for now. I was never really one for fur but if it’s what it takes, I will skin the animal myself. I imagine that the grandmothers will wash the blood away. 

Wien, when I leave,  you remind me to return. When I am away, I always see small signs of you, hidden messages, I consider these to be small secret love letters from you to me. For example: I found the wallpaper of the Hotel Orient in an Irish pub in Zurich.

Wien, for years I thought I had to leave, to follow my now-ex-husband back to the united states. But, he left, and I have stayed.  I came for love, I stayed for love.

Wien, I worked for years on my escape plan, and there is a red carpet laid out for my return to the United States. On Thursday night, I will turn it down. I will stomp on America’s heart.

Wien, everyone who loves me knows this is where I belong. Everyone who understands me looks at me and sees that I am home.

Wien. I hope you see that too.

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Quotes from last night:

“I feel for your wife. Austrian men are…difficult. Their heads are full of cement but their hearts are full of song. You just have to break through the bricks to get to the music.”

“That’s such a good line…I call shotgun. Okay fine, I can’t steal it, but you have 5 years to use it or it’s mine. I will set a reminder in my phone now.”

“You’re smart. Honestly, sometimes, I am trying to keep up.”

“That’s quite the compliment from a man who studied at Cambridge. I should write that down, no I should…”

(In unison)

“You should get that in writing.”

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I was standing in the backyard in the rain. He walked out onto the grass without his shoes on, getting his socks wet, but I told myself we were still just friends.

I would like to be loved in a way that feels like something worthy of the occult. Not as in a sanitized American fairy tale: like in the German version with all the blood and guts and bureaucracy. With a twisted but vaguely happy ending. I want to be loved in a way that’s worth telling children as a bedtime story, but which might give them vivid dreams.

But I am done learning lessons, I formally resign from participating in the plot of any more fables. Can’t I just go out into the woods on a quest for some enchanted tree limb and steal your affection?

Life should be so simple. You meet a girl, her dad is a king, and he sends you on a quest. But we have mucked it all up with texting and dating apps and it sure seems difficult to find a worthy suitor these days, so I guess I have to settle for a friend with benefits.

It could be so easy. I could just be tasked to find some sacred orchid which only blooms under the full June moon, and makes you tell me what you are thinking? Makes you tell me what I want you to be thinking.

I could just journey to a deserted island in search of a mythical fountain and dip the blade of my knife into the water there? So much easier than trudging through the small talk of another first date. Simply take the enchanted blade and cut out my own heart, give it to you, and call it a day.
Then curl up in your arms and keep my knife sheathed for the rest of time.

I could snuggle up next to you by a fireplace,
My ribcage hollowed.
It would be a relief,
It would give me a little more room to breathe.

I could live in some moss-covered cottage in the forest.
Something made of gingerbread and dirt and red wine.
I could spend my days building fires and growing onions,
and, I imagine, cooking giant pots of soup at all times.
That seems to be what you do in a fairy tale hut:
Heat something in a cauldron,
Rearrange jars of mysterious spices,
Consult ancient tomes by candlelight.
It’s a job, someone has to do it.
Why not me?

You could visit me,
You could make up excuses as to why you need me to consult the ancient tomes.
You could say it was for work.
For an itchy bee sting. For a sore neck.
You could stay a while,
And drink a cup of whatever I have been brewing in the cauldron all day.
I could send you home with a basket of onions.
You could return the empty basket as another excuse to see me.
We could pretend we’re just friends.

Or maybe, instead,
We could stand in the entryway of my apartment,
With the lights off, and the sun setting,
With our shoes still on,
And your arms around me.
We could stand there until we turn old and gray.

Maybe we could look at something mundane
And decide to call it magic

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The Library of Lost Opportunities

The Stranger is a musician and a writer, it was refreshing to go out with someone who is actually my match creatively, for once. I wasn’t sure how it would go, if it would feel more like a war room or a meeting of two minds in harmony. It was somewhere in between. We both laughed a lot. He’s English and polyamorous and his love language is words of affirmation. The man knows how to weave a compliment.

We escaped the heat, hiding in an air-conditioned café with arabesque cut-out windows. The windows begged to be a backdrop in a film noir.  The sunlight striped across his face. I let him read the first draft of my book. I watched him smile and nod. I told him the whole story: the ending, the whodunnit, who would be left standing. I told him which side wins. Which is to say, I told him which side I take in the fight.

We talked about murder and misadventure. He had recently returned from participating in an international art heist. This is the sort of date I am supposed to be going on, honestly. We’re both writing novels. I drank three mélanges, and fearing I would turn electric, I cut myself off. We left the cafe and decided to brave the heat. We headed to one of Vienna’s few English book stores: Shakespeare & Co. On the way a rainstorm followed behind us, nibbling at our ankles and kissing our foreheads.
“To the library!” he cried and we walked a bit faster.

It was dramatic, right as we reached the bookshop entrance the storm fell, chiming against the cobblestones like a pocketful of spilled change. But, no luck for us, the used book cart had to be rushed inside first. This is the kind of date I should be going on. So we didn’t quite escape the rain, but we made it inside relatively unscathed.  I bought three books, all new, but we spent a good half-hour perusing the used section in the back of the shop.  It’s dimly lit and scented with the petrichor of old paper and aged leather. I climbed the sliding ladder, braving the height to paw at a book with a dramatic red cover. I leaned back and looked at him. He should have kissed me then, but he didn’t.

 “The library of lost opportunities,” he called it later.

I arrived for the date in full mystery author mode. A few weeks ago I leaned into the cliché and ordered myself a “poison ring” with a secret compartment that opens up. I usually keep medication for my stomach inside, for a laugh.  I attempted to use the ring in a dating ploy the other week, and I wrote a secret note,  rolled it up into a scroll, and put it inside the ring. The ploy did not work at the time, the date never asked me what was inside, but the Stranger did. I had forgotten the note by then. But I showed him the ring in the store and he asked what it said, and I told him he could see it later.

We spent 5 hours together breaking apart each other’s sentences, and curing our mutual writer’s block, or at least applying a balm to the wound. I left with three new books and he walked me back to my apartment. On the way, he asked my opinion about asking for consent before a kiss and I said I like it. When we reached my door I told him he could read the note hidden inside the ring. He unrolled it slowly and smiled,

The note read:

“Are you ever going to kiss me?”

And he did.

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Some Small Musings From the Past Few Weeks

“Love is a lost & found box. It’s an exercise in finding a home for your heart, of letting it be stolen sometimes, and more often than not, of admitting that your wife was right.”

“He knows how to pick a bottle of wine. We drank a red with legs like a Raymond Chandler character.”

“I have started a rather intense love affair with the sea monster of the Alte Donau.
He holds me in his arms, gently.
I gave him an offering of my tears.
I promised him a slice of birthday cake.
He provided a safe place to hide my thoughts for a while.

I said he could keep them, they were doing me no good.”

“We kissed so passionately her earring fell behind the bar.”

“It’s not about wondering if you’re up,
It’s about being the thought keeping you awake.”

“From the Law Offices of Mediocre & Fuckboy”

“We both know I am not going to die by choking, I am going to die by an anvil being dropped on my head.”

“We’re a junk drawer of reflexes and excuses,
of long roads devoid of hidden corners.”

“This weather should be illegal.
I keep riding escalators down into the subway only for the brief breeze,
For a momentary escape from the heat.”

“I have enough four-leaf-clovers that I can cure Kevin’s cancer, finish my novel, get it published, make it a NYT bestseller, and get it made into a popular television series. I have luck to burn, come here baby.

“Oh, how lovely the evening on the bridge,
After the lackluster ice cream shop is closed,
All the bikes have been locked up,
and the city is empty.

The swan bends her neck toward the stream of moonlight,
Climbing up the tower’s reflection.
Aren’t we both such vicious pretty things, so prepared to bite?

Here is another railing where I leaned, waiting for you to put your arms around me.
Here is another place you didn’t kiss me.”

“We are all just fools
Being reminded of other fools
Every time it rains.
We are just a series of embraces and cliches.”

“Our feet sitting outside and our bodies sitting inside,
So we’re halfway toward something, halfway home.
We can figure it out from here.”

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Video: “Annalena & The Sign”

One of my readings from the Vienna True Story Night on June 23rd.

The end of the video was cut off but I pasted the text of the ending below the video.

The ending:

“It was not a date. But, I invited her to the show tonight, and she’s here.

I figure in two years she is going to look back at that conversation we had at Moby Dick, and when I imagine this scenario she’s in the shower, I don’t know why I see it that way, but I do. But she’ll be washing her hair and look back at the moment where she said I was a perfect woman, and have a sudden a-ha moment, and she will get out of the shower and text me asking if I want to meet for drinks,

and then it will definitely be a date.”

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