When I moved across the country, I said it was for a number of reasons. Whim, a change of scenery, looking for work--most of which were lies. Really I was running away from a girl who, as far as I'm concerned, is perfect in every way--telling myself it was a bad time for such things, or more accurately, telling myself it was because of whim, a change of scenery, looking for work. Painting myself as an impulsive boy with wanderlust.

I went back and we met for coffee. She drank tea. And it's true, the move changed me somehow. I'm not really sure what it is though I've written pages trying to figure it out. It changed how I saw people, and with her I wasn't afraid anymore. We promised to keep in touch as she dropped me off at the airport in the fog, and unlike all the other times it was said to all the other people I'd lost touch with over the years we both meant it.

It was the first departure I'd been really happy with--not that I was glad I was leaving, but that I felt I wasn't really leaving.



The first time I saw you
you were solid like
a kiss is solid.
When I ran my fingers through
your hair, they caught on your
tangles because it was really there,
I know because I held on
because I wanted proof
that I could hold on to something real.

Your eyes were grey like
Seattle's winter sky,
pale and dark and depthless:
a word which,
I later learned,
has two meanings.

Your hands were cold like
an empty house,
like no one had lived there
for some time.
Your hair had no
texture, your eyes had no
color, the same lack,
you said,
you'd always had.

You faded in time like old receipts
left in jacket pockets,
and like old receipts,
I don't know when it really happened.
At the end, there was
no indication
you had ever been any more,
except the faintest imprints
you said I'd imagined.

The last time I saw you,
you were elusive like
a dream is elusive.
You vanished as I tried
to grasp your hair,
hold your hand,
brush your cheek--
fading into my memories,
vanishing before my eyes.
No matter how I tried to hold on,
nothing more than a ghost,
not quite real,
haunting me.


ghosts and dreams

I'm never sure if it's a dream or a ghost that slips away from in the mornings. Sometimes they linger for a few hours, laughing, leaning on you drunkenly as you wander through the shapeless landscape of dreams back to your home. Then it's falling into bed, and she kisses you sloppily and then as you wrap your arms around her waist the doorbell rings and jars you awake and you stumble out of bed and let the repairman in, and then you make a cup of tea and sit down to read a book, when suddenly you realize she's gone and she was never there, or there's no trace of her anywhere, and you never went out and you weren't drinking and she's in California, anyway, and you're miles away and you haven't seen or spoken to her in months and those times have past.


ghosts on a rain-slick freeway

Business took me to Spokane in the fall, so I drove over, and stopped in at some familiar places along the way, including a stop at the Valley Mall to purchase a gift for my girlfriend--as if the trip merited a souvenir--and see a high school classmate who lived in the area. It was cloudy, and getting to be about twilight or so by the time I got out to my car. About halfway there, it started raining.

"It's really starting to come down," he said, and I shrugged like it didn't really bother me. "Well, hey, take care of yourself. Good seeing you again."

"Yeah." My girlfriend's gift was just a CD she'd been looking for. I got in the car and turned on the windshield wipers and waited for the fog on the windows to clear. I cracked the window. "See you around," I said, and pulled out of the parking lot.

By the time I found the freeway it was pouring rain, and the sky was dark and the streetlights made a blinding glare on the freeway. The mist from the cars and falling rain made little ghostly shapes. I drove through them, but it was cold and sometimes I wondered, as I tried to find the lanes, if they weren't my ghosts I was driving through.


the other side

This summer I had lunch with a ghost. I didn't know it at first. We met on the bus from New York and we talked and decided to stop by the diner by South Station, to continue the conversation. It'd been cloudy and rainy all day, but the sun was starting to come out.

She was from Seattle originally, and moved out here a year or so before I did. We'd probably passed each other at our favorite hangouts multiple times and not realized it--or, well, maybe. We had coffee and kept talking--I don't even remember what it was about anymore. But I remember the clouds broke and it was right at sunset and the sun was coming through the window in such a way and I looked back over and she was already fading, still laughing at whatever had just been said--then she was gone. And the waiter didn't seem to understand that I had an entirely different reason to be upset.


things have never been the same

I still think back to the year everything changed, when I found myself in the city, away from the small, familiar town I'd come to know when I was younger. I always call it the year where everything went wrong, when all my plans got derailed, when nothing went right, but really, since then, things have just been getting better and better. I'm going places, meeting new people, happy, successful, directed. I was purposeless before. I lived in a ghost town before. Everyone around me is perfectly real now.

But I still feel that painful nostalgia, for the fields of sage and tumbleweed, the ugly buildings, the flat, featureless expanse, the sickly green of the lake. The hot, dry, unrelenting summers, the long winters. For a girl with brown eyes and the kind of smile you write a thousand poems trying to describe and never coming close. I left all that behind, packed my things into a car, and got on the freeway and drove away, into my future. I can never go home. I've changed, and so has it. But still, I feel like something's missing, or like I've missed something--like I should go back and live there as an outsider.



I have a friend I watch movies with every Thursday night. She usually picks, since I'm indecisive and easy to please. Sometimes she picks something good, sometimes less so, sometimes she picks bad movies to make fun of. Lately I've seen a lot of the movies she picks, so I've just been watching her while she watches them. She's engrossed in the story, but at the same time the emotions one displays during a movie are subdued. She gives the occasional start, the occasional laugh or smile or smirk. Sometimes she almost cries, but not quite. Not enough to be noticed when the show's over.

Then we'll talk about the movie after, and there's animation to her expression that is just gone while the movie's happening. I know I must be the same way. I'm only assigning emotion to it when it's already over, when my mind's had time to filter through and create a story of its own.


drive me there

I used to go out driving when I was upset, and the general freedom of the roads in Moses Lake was comforting. I never did here in Seattle, where there's too many lights and too much traffic and the city stretches on forever--the roads aren't free like they were. Still, I'd go out walking--fog, rain, whatever. I'd explore little things you can't see from a car. It was nice.

Tonight my friend called me up and said she just wanted to drive, and picked me up, and we drove around, first downtown, then taking the roads and ending up in Wallingford and Fremont, stoplights and city lights and everything. And she'd just talk and drive and as I watched, I started feeling caged in. No destination in mind, no end in sight. The skyline is beautiful but it's wild, and moving past too quickly, and there's no place for the restless. I said this, actually. "There's no place for the restless here."

We were at a stoplight somewhere on Wallingford Ave. She looked over at me. "Well, no, but that's what restlessness is about, isn't it? There's no place for you anywhere."

I wanted to disagree. I'm still not sure I think she's right. But I can't explain why she's wrong, which is happening to me a lot lately.


ghost in the window

There's a diner on the way to the T, which closes in the early afternoon--usually well before I'm heading out for the evening. Today as I was walking past there was a little girl standing inside, staring out the window. At first I glanced at her and kept walking, but something compelled me to keep looking at her. She was definitely looking back at me. I didn't see anyone else in there. She was alone, and while there were no other pedestrians I'm not sure why I should have drawn her attention.

She looked real enough, but I'm not convinced she wasn't a ghost. Dining cars in New England have history--who's to say this one isn't bloody, or tragic? Maybe they close early for a reason. And the thing is my mind wandered down this track on its own. This little ghost in the window, an utterly unremarkable thing, is nevertheless compelling. So I'm writing about it now, because I'm not sure where else to go from here.


hazy recollection

I'm not sure where the past few days have gone, but it's been going by fast and not really in the good way. It seems like everything is falling apart around me and all I can do is sleep, but I can't even do that--wake up early with a headache and a wish that it were several hours later, that I'd gotten more rest, that I wouldn't regret it later--so it's just passing time, letting my mind wander. I dream about all the things I've been doing wrong, all the things I wish had gone better. In my dreams I get mocked for it. Sometimes it's more violent, more hateful--I have a hard time talking about it.

I've been trying to find meaning for it, but to no avail. It doesn't coincide with any timing, as much as I'd love to find a narrative. It's just happening. My girlfriend's noticed I'm going through more cigarettes lately. I told her it's just to kill time before I can go back to sleep, and we both laughed the sort of laugh you can only do when you're not joking.



The day was starting to get to me. I didn't sleep very well, I had a desk full of work, I was tired and frustrated and nothing was going right at all. I stood up and walked over to the office window to look down at the streets. There was a car with its hazard lights on, parked on one of the side roads off Mass Ave. Outside, a woman was moving jerkily around the car--I couldn't tell what she was doing, but I figure she must have been inspecting it. Then she walked quickly and ducked into a building next to Bank of America, where I think she made a phone call.

I watched as another car drove up, as she explained what happened, as they looked at it and couldn't figure it out, as the tow company arrived and she explained again, looking cold. Then the car went away and so did they, leaving no evidence it had ever happened, which made me think of the one accident where there was evidence--they knocked out a crosswalk sign--and even then it was back by the next day.

I cleaned out my desk and called up a friend I hadn't spoken to for years, and we went out for a cup of coffee and I never once mentioned my day.


maintaining the illusion

My girlfriend has long professed her love of winter, especially when it's snowing or the middle of summer. When the snow has been sitting in blackened heaps on the corners of busy intersections and making sidewalks impassable, treacherous, or disgusting, she spends most of her time complaining about having to walk in the sludge. Which I do, too.

So it snowed again today, not much, but enough that she's back to talking about how wonderful things are. We made hot chocolate and watched it fall well into the night, not talking, just enjoying the moment, like it would be beautiful like this all year round, like it wasn't just going to be inconvenient later. Maybe that's even the beautiful part--it's so ephemeral, so hard to find time to celebrate, so prone to inciting spontaneous celebration. Each flake dampens all sound and makes the world quiet and whispers quietly that you might as well live for today, you don't know when the world will be this wonderful again.

All the ruined travel plans, the car accidents, the cold, lonely, wet walks to public transit, it's all worth it for this quiet moment, maintaining the illusion we're happy and everything will be okay.