Another evening pretending to read Hemmingway at the coffee shop, and I know, or part of me does, that it's not going to happen, she's going to call me an hour or so after we were supposed to meet and tell me she has other plans and I'm going to say "it's okay" or "don't worry about it" or some other stupid fucking thing because I'm nice and I say that and I don't want to call her a liar when she could be telling the truth--maybe she's busy?

Nice. It can be such a burden, being nice--letting people walk all over you and smiling and telling them it isn't a problem and worst of all thinking you should, like you owe it to them--you don't owe them anything. You stupid fuck. Grow a spine.

I thumb over the same passage over and over again. I feel like someone's staring at me; I don't look around. I'm pretty sure they know I'm frustrated, I just hope they think it's the book. People get frustrated at books, right? Are nice guys even allowed to get frustrated? I'm not even sure I am anymore--except maybe at myself for being frustrated in the first place.

Maybe I really shouldn't be so angry. I mean, being nice, letting it happen--that's me, right? That's what I'm all about. It's just--sometimes it doesn't work out like it should. Sometimes I want my due consideration. Sometimes I wish that being nice paid off.

I wouldn't change anything. Maybe. Well, okay. I'd like to be able to focus on this goddamn book. I order another chai tea to go and give up on reading for the moment. I give the barista a big tip. I'm nice like that.


ghost stories

When I was a kid, my sister said she'd seen our mother's ghost, and I believed her. I'm not so sure anymore, but I believe she meant it, anyway. I don't know if there's ghosts anymore. There's lots of things I'm not sure of.

I thought, do I want to believe her? Or maybe I didn't. Think that, I mean. I'm thinking that now. About believing her. About, well, wanting to believe.

I've got this photograph sitting on my computer, or above my desk, or something. It's her when she was young--my mother, I mean--like about twenty something, maybe. She was beautiful. I think of that picture now when I think of the funeral. I wonder if that's what she'd look like, as a ghost, I mean. If there are ghosts. She would be a good ghost, I think. If there even are good ghosts.

Ghost stories never frightened me. I always thought they were sad. People who died before their time, wandering around, doing whatever it is ghosts do. What do they do, anyway? It seems they would just appear in the likeness of a sigh, some sad story that doesn't have an ending. You know how when you're really upset you can never sleep? Or at least I can't. Like that. Delirious, never quite aware of what's going on, and when you pass out from exhaustion your dreams are haunted by it, and you don't understand but you have to keep going, keep walking, keep repeating it, some Sisyphean task only you're dreaming and don't know who that is.

He was Greek. The gods punished him. Sisyphus, I mean. Nobody's sure why. He tried to cheat death. I wonder if he was a ghost. I wonder if he's the template for ghosts. He had to push a stone uphill forever. It kept rolling back down.

But I was talking about ghosts. Creatures of twilight and darkness, right? The hours I can't sleep anymore. I listen to them, sighing past, creaking. I want to tell them it will be all right.



Or was it that she had been wrong all along? Amy found herself smiling for the first time in what must have been weeks. It was all so simple. She'd been so busy trying to prove--even if just to herself--that she was right, she never even considered what would happen if she wasn't. Yes, that must be it--she had been wrong. Everything seemed to click into place retroactively as she thought about it. Of course it would be another evening to make sure, but she was confident this time. She smiled and poured herself a glass of wine. This had to be it.

Then she frowned. And if it was? Did that change anything? Did that nullify what he'd done, or how she'd felt? So she had been wrong--nothing changed because of that, did it? No matter what frame she viewed it from, it had still happened, hadn't it? It still hurt, didn't it?

. . .
"Nothing she was saying made any sense anymore. It seemed like halfway through a thought she went from 'I love you' to 'I hate everything you've done to me' and this happened several times in every increasingly incomprehensible phone call. And was she crying because she was angry or because she was sad? I'm not sure even she knew. So what else could I do? I stopped answering the phone. I locked the doors. I only went out at night. I cut off contact.

"And I couldn't stop thinking about her. I never--you know how I never used to have any dreams? Now I kept having them. She would be there, smiling, happy, like she used to be. And during the day, the phone kept ringing, ringing, and what am I supposed to do about that? At least in my dreams she was--I'm rambling, aren't I?"

"No, it's okay."

"Sorry. I haven't talked to anyone in two weeks."

"Anyone at all?"


. . .

"He's not answering anymore." Amy sighed. "It's not right, him hiding from the world because of me."

"I don't think it's your fault."

"Yeah?" She smiled. "I'm not sure anymore. You know? I'm not sure." There was so much she wished she could say--"I've changed, I figured it out, it all makes sense," but that wasn't right, either. She didn't figure anything out, really. But she was happier knowing that she didn't have the answers and hadn't made sense of everything but--how could she communicate that?

"You--well, he took it pretty rough."

"Yeah. Listen, tell him nothing makes any sense and I'm okay with that. If you see him. Okay?"

"If you want."

"Thanks. It means a lot to me." She wasn't sure what, exactly, but it meant something. "It's a place to start, I guess."


a man without a plan

I've been worrying about success lately, because I know I'm on the wrong track to a corporate job with a suit, a tie, and a salary, where I'm respectable and reliable and have a week of paid vacation days to save up for something special. Something special. I imagine myself taking a week to relax in some stereotypical vacation spot like Hawaii or Florida or taking a cruise to the Caribbean so I can rest from work and I can even see myself enjoying it but then I realize I've forgotten that it was supposed to be something special. And then I wonder if I really want to succeed at all. At least I still have special occasions.

This was probably spurred by losing my very-much-an-in-between-jobs job, or maybe it was the conversation I had with my ex a few weeks ago. We both said we were happy and I think I meant it, but she's on a good track. It was seeing her so confident in both of us that did it, I think. "I'm glad everything's working out for you," she said. And was it? What was working out for me? Was anything going well besides myself? I'm single and unemployed--the difference between me and many other people is I'm happy about it.

So I wrote her an email because I was worried and she said "Maybe it's not about status. You just want to be happy--and you've succeeded at that."

Maybe, I said. I didn't say that there's a lot of things I didn't succeed at. Maybe she knows. Maybe success is all about pretending.


waiting room

She said she didn't think she'd ever waited in the DOL for so long. I nodded. She said she got a new ID 27 times in one year, once. I nodded. She told the lady next to her she had a nice tan. She nodded, and pretended she needed to make a phone call.

"Drive 'em off," she said. I noted that I would not be able to use that out.

She told me some other things. I nodded some more times. I didn't really figure out what she was getting at, but I stayed anyway. She smelled like bad cigarettes--and sounded like she'd been at them since she was twelve. I couldn't figure how old she was, but you're never too young to wash up. I've been afraid of that for a long time.


nouvelle année

At six I asked to stay up watching the new year. I imagined a swirl of lights and colors rushing past, some dazzling display when the clock struck midnight. My family explained that it was mostly just sitting around and watching the clocks, so, naturally, I envisioned a landscape of them rushing past.

I've since learned that there is no magic to the new year. If there is a dazzling light display to be had, it is pyrotechnical in nature. It is not a holiday to honor gods or encourage virtue; there is nothing sacred about it. And yet, people celebrate and make resolutions, welcoming the new year with champagne and old traditions--and ushering out the old year, whether it be a fond farewell or a hateful parting. It's a celebration of potential, of changes, of traditions, of starting over, of starting anew, of the past, of the future--a celebration, in short, of humanity.

I fully expect that 2008 will be a good year; I wish you all the very best, as well. So, happy new year, everyone.