3

days like this

There was a gust, once
on a dark and lovely day
and I felt like finally, finally it’s over
finally I can rest
finally think
finally breathe.

I felt myself gearing up to take a breath
(a real one this time,
breathing in the feeling of
finally being safe)
and I put all my hope into it
and it put all it had into me.

We had only just started
and maybe I took too much, too fast
or maybe it gave me more than it had
but either way, that gust has gone, and it
must have tried but it
must have failed
because now
the sun is everywhere and I can’t hide.

Days like this make it hard to believe in autumn.

2

image_1

This is how the ocean exists in my dreams.

It isn’t sunny and it isn’t kind. It doesn’t promise to lap softly, tamely at my feet. I’m drawn to it not because of its beauty, not because of its danger, but because of my own unrest, mirrored in tumult of the waves. It’s dangerous, this indigo shine on the water, a shade lighter than night.

It’s a living being, wild in the half light. It sends waves out to scour the shore, to grip the land and pull it in, to build the wall between wet and dry. The waves crash together at harsh angles as it draws them back into itself.

This is how I like it, this is what it’s like. This is when it’s real.

I follow it as it draws away, just like I do in my dreams. I know the water will come back, come higher, come over me. All I want is to get closer. The wind batters my ears and it’s all I can hear above the waves.

Last night in my sleep I walked to the edge of the sand cliff, curiosity tempting me forward. I went too far and it captured me, just like it always does, pulling at me as I clung to the cliff, crashing over my head. It held me in its infinite arms, indifferent and strong. I didn’t escape. I never do.

I walk toward it now, the ocean of my dreams, curious as always. The waves pull at my feet, dragging me deeper.

But awake, I am not afraid.

0

Dinner Date

Tonight I took my computer to dinner. I don’t mean to say that I brought a small laptop on which to get some pressing work done, or even to entertain myself while I dined alone. I mean that I brought an iMac desktop computer in all of its 21.5″ (diagonal) splendor, housed in its 2-foot-long, almost 2-foot-tall carrying case.

I can assure you that I did not do this for the fun of it. Upon arriving at the mall, I had been struck with a sudden pang of intense hunger, my body’s subtle way of reminding me I hadn’t eaten in a few hours. My low blood sugar and fast metabolism have been known take me from zero to ravenous without a moment’s warning. This time, my hunger hit at a very inopportune moment; I had a slim, black and silver rectangle of joy waiting for me at the Apple Store and an irrational fear that it was about to be handed off to someone else if I didn’t get there immediately. This was silly considering I’d custom ordered it, but after impatiently pacing through my last few hours of work and then flying my car through three cities to get to the mall, there was no way I was going to let a minor thing like starvation stand in my way.

I speed-walked past Islands, sucking up my drool, and turned into the Apple Store, where I was told to stand to the side and wait for the next available representative. Five minutes in, I began to see burgers where people’s heads should be. Fifteen minutes later, new computer in hand, I burst through the doors of Islands. I was slightly put off by the masses of people swarming around the restaurant. No problem, I’d get something to-go. I relayed this to the hostess, who smiled sweetly and directed me to the far end of the bar to the sign that said take-out. I nodded, picked up my twenty pound weight and turned to look for the sign. I spotted it easily, right at the end of the bar as she had said it would be. The only problem was getting through the crowd of people in between. Every bar seat was taken, as was every chair at every surrounding table, and a person everywhere an empty space should be. After a half a second of hesitation, I dove in, narrowly avoiding shins and chair legs and elbows.

I got to an impassable point where the walkway had disappeared beneath the feet of half a dozen thirty-something blonde women well on their way to drunk and disorderly, who had spilled out from a bar table and were shrieking in glee for no reason I could discern. Hoisting the computer up in front of me to rest on my thighs in an attempt go single file, I began a long series of excuse me’s that nobody seemed to hear over the music and their own shrill voices. The few people that saw me coming tried unsuccessfully to squeeze themselves against tables and each other to get out of my way, looking down at the giant white computer box and then glaring at me like I was insane. Hey, I wanted to say, I’m not judging you for partying at a mall Islands on a Thursday, so stop judging me. And you’re lucky I didn’t buy the 27″.

I got jostled and pushed and squeezed through to an open space, which I tripped into, the computer swinging out in front of me and slamming into a man’s calf. He was standing up against the bar talking to another man, and upon impact, he turned and looked at me in surprise, clearly not having seen the assault coming.
“What the-”
“Sorry, sorry!” I said, trying to get my baggage and my limbs back under control. The man’s friend asked him what was wrong and he said something that sounded like “just swinging that massive computer around and hitting people.” I couldn’t tell if he was joking or not, but I kept my eyes on the computer as I hastily moved on, throwing another sorry over my shoulder for good measure. I finally reached the takeout counter and placed my order in a hurry; my stomach seemed to have been quelled on the journey over but now seemed on the verge of eating itself.
“Should I just wait here?” I asked the waitress as I handed her the money.
“It’ll be about fifteen minutes, you can wait over at the bar,” she said, clearly not having witnessed my tumultuous entrance.
“Well, I kind of have a giant computer with me, so I don’t really think you want me at the bar.”
“Oh,” she said, confused. I guess she hadn’t been expecting that response. She leaned over the counter and looked down to where the huge white case was resting between the counter and my legs. “OH,” she said again, as if she hadn’t actually believed me before. “Well, I-uh, I’ll get you a table,” she said, turning around and disappearing, presumably to find me and my unusual dinner guest somewhere to sit.

I was putting my change back into my wallet when a man in a suit came up to me and said, “thank you very much,” reaching down to put his hand on the top of the case. I thought for a moment that he must work at Apple and was thanking me for my business, until he wrapped his hand around the handle and picked the whole thing up, extending his hand out to shake mine. “It was nice to meet you!” he said. Beginning to process what was happening, I reached out and shook his hand, playing along with his joke, thinking that obviously no one would try to steal something like this with so many witnesses around. But when he actually started to turn away with it I lunged forward to grab it back, suddenly unsure if this was in fact a joke. He turned back with a smug I-got-you! grin and placed the computer back down where it was, laughing at my startled expression. Before I could say a word, he turned and disappeared into the crowd. The waitress appeared again and directed me to a table. I followed in a daze, hugging my computer as close to my body as possible. I didn’t ask for all this strangeness; all I wanted was to get my burger and go eat somewhere in peace.

I grunted as I lifted the computer up onto one side of the booth and then settled myself onto the other, taking up half as much room as it did. People seated at the tables around me kept shooting me curious glances, no doubt wondering what a giant computer was doing sitting on a booth seat. I paid them no mind, sipping the complimentary strawberry lemonade the waitress had given me and taking pictures of my dinner date. I figured since people were staring anyway, I might as well go all out and stand up to get the picture from different angles. I looked back at the staring eyes, saying yes, I am photographing a computer that is sitting on the booth seat with some lemonade in front of it. So what?

The food finally came and I took it in one hand and the computer in the other and hobbled lopsidedly down the wide aisle lined with booths (filled with staring people) that lead to the entrance. It occurred to me that I could have gone this way to get to the takeout counter in the first place, but that was of little importance now.

I made it out of the mall and through the parking lot, hauling the computer into my trunk and getting in the front seat. I wanted to eat right then and there but a circling parking-spot vulture had followed me to my car and was waiting for me to back out. So I did, and crossed over into the empty Wells Fargo lot, making a mental note never to come back to the mall on a Thursday evening. I parked in the farthest spot and cut the engine, getting out my burger and inhaling it in under three minutes, reveling in the silence and solitude. I instagrammed one of the pictures I had taken of the computer in the booth drinking lemonade, and then pulled out of the parking lot and made my way home, looking forward to giving my computer a permanent home on my desk top and never having to dine with it again.

0

Noah

I was twenty years old the first time I willingly held a baby.

It was the day before my cousin’s wedding and my uncle was having a barbeque at his house in Denver. It was nearing the end of July and the Colorado weather was an odd mix of hot sun and cool wind, as if it couldn’t decide whether it wanted to be summer or fall.

I sat at a table on the deck with a plate of spicy sausages and fruit salad in front of me, quietly observing the interactions around me. Friends and family of the affianced couple were milling about inside and out, meeting and greeting and eating in groups. I could hear the sounds of the Olympics coming from the TV in the living room, could see people watching from the kitchen as they filled up their plates.

Sawing into a sausage with my plastic fork, I watched my female cousins at the other end of the table pass around somebody’s baby, arguing over who got to hold him next and making an awful cooing fuss. They were keeping up a continuous stream of nauseating baby talk, their voices raised to an ear-splitting pitch, giant smiles on their faces as if this were the cutest baby they’d ever seen. Which is exactly how they act with every single other baby they see. Content with my complete lack of maternal instinct, I sat back in my chair and nibbled on a strawberry.

It wasn’t that I disliked babies, I simply felt no pull toward them. Nothing like when I’d see a puppy and literally jump out of a (slowly) moving car to go pet it. With puppies I had no choice; the urge was undeniable. Sometimes they were so cute they made my heart hurt. But babies on the other hand, babies don’t wag their tails when they see you. They don’t jump into your arms and lick you and instantly love you the second they meet you. When babies smile at strangers, it doesn’t mean they’re genuinely happy to see them. That’s just the human instinct to mimic. I will say that the concept – creating a new being, the gift of life and all that – is miraculous and awe inspiring. But I found the product to be less than enchanting. Sure, babies are cute when they’re asleep, but that’s only because they aren’t crying or screaming or pooping, and even that’s not guaranteed. Add to that the fact that they look like aliens and really, I don’t see how you can blame me.

Luckily, in my family there were usually more than enough willing candidates to accept the position of baby-holder/drool-rag. But just to be safe, I always made sure to look extra preoccupied when there was a baby in the vicinity to avoid being asked to hold it and having to decline without appearing heartless. Aside from the fact that I didn’t have any personal desire to hold a baby, I also refused because I was afraid I’d drop it by accident and even more afraid that I’d want to drop it on purpose. (I’ve only wanted to drop a baby once in my life and it was terrible. The feeling and the baby.) When the occasional baby got thrust into my arms without warning, my main escape tactic was to stand frozen in place, staring at it in shock until someone took it from me. I admit that every once in a while I’d find myself considering the notion that a particular baby I’d come across was cute, but I’d always been happy to admire from afar.

So here I was, watching this baby (from a respectable distance) being circulated around the table as if he were a particularly desirable side dish. To his credit, he was quiet AND awake, a miracle in and of itself. And the back of his head (which was all I could see from my vantage point) had a few angelic golden wisps of hair. But that was hardly reason enough to lunge across the table and demand a holding. So instead I sat there and moved a grape around my plate. A quick glance around the table told me that the round blonde woman a couple of chairs down must be his mother; she kept glancing at him every now and then to make sure he was still there before continuing her conversation with my aunt. I didn’t blame her for her lack of attention; it was obvious that my cousins would sooner throw each other into a sewer filled with rabid rodents than let harm come to him. The baby itself had all of his attention focused on a toy dinosaur he was gnawing on. He didn’t seem to notice or care that he was being transferred from one stranger to another, and nobody seemed to notice or care about his disinterest in being coddled. All in all it seemed like a successful, if not pointless, exchange.

“Give him to Sam,” said my aunt from across the table. “He’s got to practice!” She beamed at her thirty-year-old son like it was his first day of kindergarten. He and his wife, Shauna, had gotten married the year before and everyone expected a baby in the near future. Shauna, who had been bouncing the baby up and down on her lap, turned and focused her attention on her husband. He laughed nervously, looking less than thrilled about the suggestion. Shauna gently handed him the baby and Sam took him and held him awkwardly away from his body. I could see a hint of panic in his eyes. I’d never before seen someone look less pleased to be holding a baby, aside from myself. That made me feel a little better. Until I realized that if the baby circulation continued I would be next in line, sitting as I was right around the corner from Sam. I tipped my chair back and popped a grape in my mouth, casually avoiding eye contact in case he had the idea to pass the baby my way. From the corner of my eye I could see him shift the baby around so he was facing out, and that’s when it happened.

The baby looked directly at me and, like a magnet, my gaze was pulled from my aunt’s hat straight to the baby’s eyes, which held my complete attention. He had my eyes. They looked wider and brighter, but they had the same exact mixture of gray and blue and they were looking into mine with such fixation it felt like they were pulling a piece of my heart out and holding it in the air between us. I knew for a fact that it was impossible for me to have had a child without knowing it, but for a tiny fraction of a second I wasn’t sure. If I had indeed had a baby, this would be it. This could be my baby. It looked like me. It felt like mine. I couldn’t look away. I felt a love for this child welling up inside of me, and it made me want to laugh hysterically and sob at the same time. It made me want to hold him.

In a very, very quiet voice I asked if I could. A few shocked faces turned my way, but Sam’s face held nothing but relief as he thrust the baby towards me. I took him in my arms and stood him up facing me, his tiny feet in their tiny shoes standing on my legs so his face was even with mine. His eyes were even brighter up close. He wriggled, wanting to face outward, so I turned him around and sat him on my lap. A few of my relatives were shocked into silence by the miracle that was unfolding in front of them. Some just watched with smiles on their face. The rest sat impatiently waiting for their next turn. My mom was the only one who spoke.

“Wow,” she said quietly, “he has your eyes.” A couple murmurs of agreement came from around the table. I nodded, numb. “What’s his name?” I asked no one in particular. The blonde woman I’d assumed to be his mother smiled and said, “Noah.” I repeated it, looking down at his little round head with the golden wisps of hair. At some point he’d grabbed my phone off the table and stuck it in his mouth, chewing on the bright pink silicone case; the dinosaur lay discarded on the side of my chair. I watched him gnaw on the corner of my phone, saliva dripping down the screen. It was the cutest drool I had ever seen. The mother suggested swapping it for the dinosaur because the drool might hurt the phone, but I said I didn’t mind. She shrugged.

I probably could have sat there with that child on my lap until the end of time, but I could feel greedy eyes on me, hands itching to pick him up and take him away from me. I felt like screaming No, you don’t understand! I need to hold this baby. This is my baby. Go get your own. But then it struck me that this might be how they all felt, with every baby. No, surely this was different. This was my baby. But despite that fact, he was soon taken out of my arms. I reluctantly let him go, and the only fuss he made was when I had to extract my phone from his jaws. Eventually, the mom – I don’t remember her name, or her husband’s – took back her child and they left. My cousins went off to play bocci ball on the grassy field bordering my uncle’s house. The rest of the party moved inside to watch the Olympics. I got up and moved with them, in a daze.

Noah was there at the wedding the next night, in a tiny suit with a tiny tie, golden hair slicked back into a side part. With far more guests present than there were at the barbeque, he was surrounded the entire night. His mom never him let go, and I wasn’t about to ask her to. I wouldn’t let go, if I was her. I never got to hold him again. There was no dramatic last-look kind of thing where we shared a long, meaningful stare. I did manage to get a picture of him outside, posing on a ladder he was attempting to climb. If I ever find that picture, I’ll attach it here, and maybe you’ll be as spellbound as I was, as I am. I doubt it, considering he was my baby and not yours. I can still picture his face in my mind, staring back at me with my own eyes, pulling free something inside of me that I never knew was there. I’ll never forget him. After all, there aren’t many moments that are as magical as the one in which you meet that one child that makes you someday want one of your own.