anything but fine

I wasn't sure if I should call it rain or mist but I couldn't see the tops of the buildings downtown as I was walking home. Or not exactly home, just walking--headed north because that's where home was, even if it's five miles and I knew I wouldn't get home for hours and I wasn't entirely sure where I was going. It was dark but the sky was kind of grey and pale from all the city lights reflecting on the mist or the rain or whatever it was. It wasn't cold and there was no wind and it was exactly what a late autumn day should be in Seattle.

And I knew there were buses going my way, but I didn't have a destination in mind while the skyline I'd fallen in love with wasn't entirely visible and my hands were shaking and I felt restless from too much coffee and not enough sleep and not enough food though I probably had too much and sometimes I'm still not sure if it was caffeine that made me restless.

If you asked me I'd have told you everything was perfect. I still might if you catch me in the right mood. But still I was walking home and wondering what went wrong or what was going to go wrong or what was wrong. And I told myself it was really only bothering me because I always get like this after too much caffeine, and that might have even been true.

But Seattle is a coffee city. You ask people out to coffee. You go out for coffee late at night. It's a drug for those late nights that aren't supposed to end. Writing that paper. Studying for that exam. Your last night in town. Driving home late at night. Staying out too late with people who are too fascinating to leave until it's 5 am and the sun is coming up or it would be if it weren't raining or misting or whatever it was doing, and I wondered how I could ever think of this city as anything but a city of late nights.

After 45 minutes and a car drove by. I imagined it was a friend looking for me but if it was they didn't stop, they didn't notice, and anyway I'd rather be alone with my thoughts and a skyline I could't quite see.

raison d'être

I do not want your patronizing smiles and words
as if I were an ordinary man. When you
stroke my cheek with your thumbnail,
wiping away the tears I would never admit to,
telling me that everything will be okay--when you
kiss me softly on the cheek while my eyes burn
like my passions and frustrations and hope and
everything I have ever hoped for and wanted and believed--
when you embrace me as if you can make my fears go away
with your warmth--
I do not want you to treat me as if
you can make it go away.

There is no comfort in basic human comfort
and no dignity in basic human dignity.
There is no comfort in your comforting hands,
along the knots in my back,
along the ridge of my spine,
trying to massage away my demons. It is as if
you do not appreciate my struggle--and I do
struggle--and instead view me as
some troubled man, haunted by ghosts
from my past, as if who I am can be separated
from the ghosts that haunt me and guide me
and define me.

I do not want your consolation or your well-wishing.
I do not want this to go away. I do not want to abandon
my fight, my quest, my struggle. My raison d'être is
to prove that I can overcome any challenge,
not merely to will it away.
I do not want your protective arms around my shoulders,
warding off life's slings and arrows, telling me
that everything will be okay.


the holiday spirit

It's Thanksgiving and I'm flying home to see my family. We haven't spoken in years. Occasionally we exchange letters, so I'm hoping to surprise them. I'm sorry I haven't been a better son/brother/nephew. I hear I'm even an uncle now. I'm not a very good uncle, either. I've seen a picture of my niece. She is a smiling infant in every photo and looks the same as every other smiling infant and I'm not there.

I don't know if they miss me. I haven't been very good to them. Not since my work, or my wedding, and maybe I cared too much about my wife or my job or too little about them but I think I was happy and really I knew that there would always be my family if things went wrong. Things haven't gone wrong. My wife and I both decided we should see our families this time around, though she's been good about keeping in touch with hers and that's all right with me.

The airport is already festive and it's cold and everyone has winter clothes now. It seems too early for this sort of thing. I didn't have coffee this morning and I've been up all night worried about traveling, and I never worry about traveling. But this time was different. Maybe it'll go wrong. It feels like there's something at stake.

Over and over in my head I imagine all the different ways it could go wrong. The plane crashes. The plane gets hijacked. I see all of these scenarios, me frozen with terror, unable to do anything as the flight makes its way to its destination. I board the plane with trepidation. I've never felt it so important to celebrate the holidays with my family.


weather forecasts

I'd hoped that coffee would help us sober up. I should have--there's a hundred things I should have done. Right now all I can think about is the weather. It's been raining constantly since we rolled into town and the car broke down. Sometimes hard, sometimes a drizzle. I keep getting flood advisories on my weather reports. The locals say it's been like this for a month and no sign of letting up.

My girlfriend's angry, or maybe it's me who's angry. I know she's upset. I know I'm upset. I know we shouldn't talk about it, we should just go back to the hotel, but we're both soaked already, and coffee sounds perfect and we can talk it out, right? We can make it work. I shake her off angrily as she tries to slip a hand around my waist.

We've found a seedy truck stop, and as the hostess leads us to our seats--the place is almost completely empty. We both order coffee; she asks if it's all right to smoke. According to the hostess, it's all right. Now we're looking at each other I notice how unsteady her hands are. Is it from drinking? The cold? Emotion? I don't ask. She fumbles with her light, manages to light up, and doesn't offer me one. She spills some cream when she arrives. I take my coffee black. I can't stand looking at her anymore so I just glare into the cup.

I hear the rain picking up and feel her glaring at me. She hates the weather, is sorry we're still here, wants to know why we haven't left and I don't know, I don't have any answers. We haven't talked about it but I know that's what it is. She's mad and she's drunk and I say to the waitress, "Some weather." She says yeah.

"Is it like this often?" She says no.

I watch my girlfriend finish her cigarette. I can't tell if she's angry or sad or both as she watches me. I can't meet her eyes. I'm not sure what I'd say if I did but I can't. The smoke gets everywhere. We both look away and we don't talk and the restaurant is dead, and I know the hostess and waitress are watching us, we might as well be screaming at each other. It's hours before morning, a long trip back to the hotel, getting soaked all the way, and still no sign the rain's going to let up. And right now all I can think about is the weather.


fevered inspiration: cream invades the coffee black

While I wait for my sister at the Denny's, I watch the cream swirling into the coffee. Little intricate spirals, random, or not actually random. She sits down and bumps the table, disrupting the pattern. I smile at her and say it's nice to see her. She's tall and dark-haired and today she looks like business and smells like smoke. She compliments my suit, and I say thanks and begin to stir the coffee.

She takes her coffee black, and I never wait to watch the swirls once she's here. She says she's looking forward to Paris. I tell her I know. The waitress arrives and takes our order. The food is better than I expected. She talks about her plans in Paris, and I talked about my job. We haven't talked for months, but not because of any real distance. Unless you count literal distance. We've been busy. Sometimes we find the time to write.

And even now we act like it's just business. I don't talk about how weird it feels to be in SeaTac with her, the city of departures, but I mention the weather is funny lately. I tell her about the windstorm. I tell her I might be getting a job in Boston. I don't tell her about the desperation there.

We step outside for a smoke after I pour another creamer into my coffee. I don't stir. It happens naturally while we're gone. Some things happen whether or not you interfere.

The night wears on, we talk about everything but our lives. We leave it unsaid because sometimes words don't work like you want them to. Then the sun comes up and she flies away and I take the bus back to Seattle. I won't sleep until later tonight.