It was a few years ago that I first realized the lies became easier to say than the truth. I'd been saying them for so long, practicing and getting it just right, getting it perfect, absolutely fucking perfect. I know every little detail like it really happened, for all of them. I know when to stumble, which parts to forget or get wrong and go back and correct, which parts to leave out. I know every question I'll ever get. I know it so well. And it's not just that. I know how to improvise. I'm good at it. I've learned all the tricks. I do it automatically sometimes. Sometimes, when I'm not paying attention, I don't even know if I'm lying. It's that good.

I've been doing it since I was a kid. Before I was eighteen I'd probably committed every type of fraud and forgery there is, and more than a few things that weren't criminal but were still dishonest. I got caught sometimes. More often nobody would find out, or they'd assume it was someone else's fault. In the end I always got off, somehow.

It's not that I can't be sincere. It's just hard, and I lie without thinking now. Sometimes I try to stop, but it's all I know. There's always one last grift I want to pull--just so I have enough stashed away to start an honest life. I tell myself I can't afford to stop, and I'm not sure if I'm lying when I say it.



It was enough. A bed to sleep on, a TV, a bathroom with a shower. Even a microwave--a nice touch. She didn't even have to leave her hotel room to eat, if she didn't want to. She felt like she was disrupting something just by being there. The place was soulless and pristine. Every room would be identical to hers, except hers was the only one with her bags and her stuff set out everywhere.

It was the perfect shelter from the world. She wasn't expected to be human here. She could cry and mope and do nothing, watching stupid television, eating bad microwaved food, drinking the cheap wine she'd picked up when buying her bad microwaved dinners. It was expected. She would leave no mark here. Any mess she made would be cleaned up at checkout, rented out to someone else. Some businessman would come in here and sleep in the same bed and flip through the channels in the evening, even though he never watches television, and he has a book he brought along just for this purpose. He'd stand at the window where she had all the curtains drawn and stare out over the vacant parking lot, and find the view less than picturesque. He would eat at the continental breakfast she avoided. He would probably not wonder who else had shared this room. It was carefully designed to prevent such thoughts.

At three am, after some movie she had already forgotten was over, she stepped onto the little balcony for a cigarette she was probably not supposed to have. It was cold out for summer, almost unpleasantly so, but the chill reminded her she was still alive. Even once the hotel had completely erased evidence that she had been there, she would still have that.

She finished her cigarette and went inside and fell asleep watching an infomercial selling some cleaning product she had no memory of upon waking.



The first thing my sister said when she came to visit from Manhattan was, "Do you have a light?" This was after we'd embraced outside the bus station. The first thing I said to her was "Yeah, sure," and handed her the lighter I'd carried ever since she started smoking.

She lit up and pocketed the lighter, and we walked towards a diner a few blocks away. "It's, what, four fucking hours on one of those buses?" she said. "And before that I had to get to the station and wait."

"It's rough. You hungry?"

She said, "I'm fucking starving." She smiled at me. "God, listen to me. It's good to see you! How've you been?"

We stopped on the corner just outside so she could finish her cigarette. I said, "Oh, you know. Not too terrible." I shrugged. She nodded. I said, "How was your trip?"

"Uneventful, I guess. In a boring sort of way. Which I guess is better than the alternative."


We stood in silence, her smoking, me watching cars go by. She flicked her cigarette off into the street. "But like I said, I'm fucking starving. Shall we?" I nodded. As we sat down inside, she slid my lighter across the table towards me. "Why do you carry a lighter, anyway? I didn't think you smoked."

I shrugged.


take care

When my father left, he had me meet him at work and drive him to the airport. I assumed he was going on a business trip, as he so often did, flying away to exotic places, returning with souvenirs for everyone and stories to go around. I was eighteen and just out of high school.

We had a special bond, my father and I. I was his firstborn, and he'd often confide in me things I never quite understood. How could I? I was a kid. I didn't know anything else. But I remembered them. I always remembered. And it was a secret. He never asked me to keep it secret, but I knew. We both knew. This was just for us. Maybe he was preparing me for something. I'll never know. I just know he was unhappy. He probably cheated on my mother when he was away.

He never seemed more vital than just before and just after his vacations. When I met him at work, he looked old and defeated. He kept trying to say something, then shifted away, or kept it vague. "You'll have to be a better man than I was," he said, over and over. "You'll have to be a better man." And by the time we were at the airport I knew he wasn't coming back. I said nothing the whole drive.

He told me to take care of everyone--my mother, my brother, my sisters. He said he hoped one day I'd understand, and then said, "No, I hope you never do. What was the name of that girl you've been seeing? You be good to her." Then he looked torn for a moment before holding out his hand to shake mine. "I love you, son," he said.

I just nodded. He wiped at an eye and left, through the security gates, and I drove home in silence.


lessons learned

We were walking towards the subway and talking, and then we were walking towards the subway and talking, and just outside the turnstiles we stopped and she had to buy another pass. I almost waited and talked for a little while longer, but the train was coming and everyone else was getting on, and I was sure we'd meet up after we arrived. Then there was a moment where I knew I was supposed to stay. She looked at me hopefully, and I just assumed she was talking to everyone. When everyone left I joined them, and the last thing I saw as the crowds hurried towards the train was her look of disappointment.

She never did show up at our destination. I found out later she'd decided to go home and sleep instead. Turns out, you still have to play if you want to win.


welcome to our home

It was a nice house. The walls were covered in family photos, people I didn't know, people I thought I recognized, people I thought of asking about. There were odd and vaguely decorations in the hall that probably had some emotional significance once, but mostly I think they'd become part of the house. Mostly they were in the corridors that didn't get used much, and I wondered if it was the creepy decor that made them that way.

It was a bit of a mess, but probably cleaner than my apartment had ever been. They wanted to make me feel welcome, though, and they felt inadequate for it. But that's probably me. I'm just a mirror, a chameleon, and they saw a nice boy with a polite smile, someone respectful, who valued hard work, who listened. Someone they wanted to stick around, perhaps, because maybe they though their daughter needed more nice boys in her life. If they wanted to believe that was the case and I was one of them, I wasn't going to stop them.

They tried a fairly simple dish, but he overcooked the steak tips and the rest of the meal was somewhat bland. They bickered quietly--not constantly, but enough. They chided their daughter when she argued or disagreed. When we'd finished eating I thanked them and their daughter took me downstairs, into her room, which was chaotic and unlike the rest of the house, as rooms so often are. We were there for the rest of the evening. It was far from perfect, but it was unquestionably hers.



There's a day every summer when you realize the days are getting shorter again, it's not going to be summer for much longer. There's something about the summer months, even if they're long and hot and uncomfortable and there's that lull, like you're waiting for the other shoe to drop.

For me, that day came on a late, cool sunny evening when we were having a bonfire out on the beach, drinking beers and watching the waves and the flames and the sunset and not caring about anything. Suddenly there was this air of finality about everything. I didn't comment, and no one else seemed to notice, and the fire burned deep into the night. First there was laughter, light conversation. Then a few people went home. The conversations got quiet, more intense. I watched my ladylove as she talked in that lyrical way that she has, her every sentence a poem, her laugh the perfect harmony to the evening. Even in the serious conversations, she was always smiling, always poetic, always on the verge of laughing. She was someone who felt everything was beautiful.

There would be more nights like this, I knew. More barbecues and bonfires and late nights in the setting sun. But they were coming to an end. It would be autumn soon, and autumn is a time for autumn girls and chilling winds and falling leaves, for hats and scarves and woollen coats and sly smiles, for changes and unrest and urgency. It was only a matter of time before there was no more time for basking in the summer sun, sunburnt and lethargic, content that the evenings would last forever. They all do, for a while.


apocalyptic optimism

Once, when I was eighteen, my brother called me a cynic because he was frustrated with me, and I punched him in the eye. It's a word that sits under my skin. It usually doesn't bother me but sometimes if you catch me in the right mood . . . . Sometimes I even use it myself, when I can't find a better word. I say it about people I like. "I think she's cynical enough for me," as I told a friend earlier. It's not the word I want. I'm just not sure what it is.

I think it's that I could never really appreciate someone who didn't appreciate life for what it is. People are ridiculous and the world is going to hell. That's exciting. That's funny. You might as well laugh. Right?

Once, when I was twenty, my girlfriend thought I was joking when I told her that I wasn't a cynic, and I got angry and drove home. Just two days before, I'd told her how much I loved her cynicism.

It has nothing to do with cynicism or pessimism. But we've been disappointed. We've been jerked around by fate more than once. It doesn't always work out like we'd hoped and we know that. We've come to expect it. There's disasters and disappointments waiting all the time. People will be petty and burn you constantly. We know. We understand.

It's the ability to smile and accept it and to laugh anyway. No optimist can do that. No cynic, no pessimist can do that. I've seen everything that can go wrong. This has never stopped me from saying "fuck yes."


like champagne

Nicole took me to the bar last night for a few celebratory drinks after her gallery show. Those were her words--"celebratory drinks." She tells me the evening was a success--I wouldn't know. I just know the wine was decent and her art is always beautiful, and she looked exquisite as always, and that she didn't, apparently, sell anything. She tells me I look good in a suit.

I've always been drawn to the word 'celebratory.' It's so refined, so clinical. It conjures images of black tie affairs with champagne flutes and an air of sophistication. The lights are elaborate, the event is catered. Celebratory is a word for the picturesque, when everything, everyone, is arrayed to perfection. Even when the refinement is over, when the ties are loosened--it is impossible to look more perfectly casual than with tie loosened and collar unbuttoned.

We were caught in an unexpected rain storm on the way. She fumbled around in her bag for an umbrella, but it was too little, too late--we were drowned rats by the time we hit the bar. She ordered us both a shot and a beer and, on arriving at our table, slumped in her seat--briefly, anyway. Then she smiled and I said, "To you?" and she said, "Good enough," and we drank.

Maybe it was the continued stream of drinks, but I sensed something was wrong, though she was smiling and laughing at first. I spent the evening watching her, wondering if what I was seeing were cracks. It seemed like there was more of a pause before her smiles, less enthusiasm to her laughs.

On the way out, as she was leaning heavily on the door and waiting for me to help her to the bus stop, I asked her if she had a good night. She must have heard the suspicious tone in my voice because she paused for a minute. "Yeah," she said. "Yeah I did."

It started raining again while we waited for the bus, but by this point neither of us really cared if it ruined our best clothes.



She is unexpected.
She is "yes" when you were certain
it was "no,"
when there are no affirmations left.
She laughs when you expect her
to cry, smiles when you
expect her to be afraid,
flees when you expect
her to love.

Or sometimes she doesn't--
sometimes she laughs
for no reason at all,
sometimes when you
expect it,
and sometimes when you
don't, but
always so enchanting,
always an

She is afraid of life,
but not afraid
to live;
as kind and caring as
any human,
as jaded and world-weary as
any cynic.
I know everything there is to know about her,
which is to say
I know


just about to leave

She says my name. I say, "Hey." She sits down opposite me. She dips her fingers in the water nervously and avoids my gaze. She says my name again, and this time I hear something in her tone. Her eyes meet mine and I look away, into my drink, frowning. I ask, "Is something wrong?" I ask, "What's going on?"

She says, "I wasn't going to come out tonight." She says, "I thought it was important, though." She smiles, and there is no joy in her smile. It's an apology. It's nervous. It's not intended for me. She shifts, and I meet her gaze just as she goes back to averting it.

I ask, "What's going on?"

Her smile drains. She takes a drink of water. She looks me in the eye. She says, "I'm leaving. I thought maybe you'd want to know." She says, "You seem like a decent guy." She says, "Sorry." She gets up to leave.

I don't say anything. There's lots I could be saying, but it won't change anything. It'll keep for a fevered late night.


secret smiles

It is seven o'clock in the morning on a Sunday. She is sitting at her desk drawing in her sketchbook while he sleeps quietly in her bed. She is avoiding sleep, because she is avoiding the nightmares. It is raining hard outside and the light is grey and washed out and she is smiling. Her smiles are secrets, and she has never let him see. He is always smiling, and this worries her when she is thinking of him, but for now she is thinking of the shapes on the paper, the lines and curves that he will never see.

Last night he said that he wanted this to last forever, and he smiled like he was really, truly happy. She sang that happiness is a warm gun, and he laughed, as he always did when he thought she was joking. He never understood her, the way her mind worked. She showed him some of her drawings once and he didn't understand. He couldn't see what she saw. In his mind everything really is perfect, and she is sleeping peacefully next to him, without any nightmares. In his mind she is happy just to be there, and when she clings to him it has nothing to do with the darkness, and something to do with him.

She finishes her drawing and closes the sketchbook, opening a desk drawer and slipping it inside. He stirs at the noise and says her name. "Hi," she says, and covers her smile.

"What are you doing awake?"

"Nothing," she says. "I'm just going out, is all." She is putting on a shirt. It is green and rumpled from sitting in a pile on the floor.

He looks at the window and frowns. "It's raining. What are you doing outside?" He is not awake yet and is still confused that she is not still in bed.

"It's raining," she says. "There are puddles." She is fastening her jeans. They are faded and torn in a few places.

"What time is it?"

"It's seven," she says. "Go back to sleep." She is putting on her shoes. They are blue and beat up from years of wear.

He closes his eyes, not sure what to say, and tries to return to sleep. She shuts the door behind her as she heads outside and smiles, honestly and secretly, before the city starts waking up.


whistle while you work

She is ignoring him because it is better than shouting at him. They are waiting for the train to come, and she is standing a few feet away, reading one of the subway ads. He has no idea that she is upset; he is only just noticing the quiet, and assumes it is because the night is winding down and there is little left to do but wait.

"Hey," he says, trying to get her attention. She ignores him. He says her name. She ignores him. He whistles softly and says, "Hey." She turns around and glares at him.

"I'm not a fucking dog."

"You weren't--"

"I was ignoring you. It was wonderful. What do you want?"

"You were ignoring me." It was a question and an answer. He walked over to one of the benches and sat down. "The fuck is your problem today?"

"Maybe I just want to be left alone," she says, and turns away again. He continues glaring at her, not quite understanding, until the train comes. She decides to stay on the platform and find her own way home.


confessions of a somebody

I've spent my life trying to be something I never really understood. I always felt so external to everything. Everyone would tell me I had a beautiful mind, or I was so unconventional, or so creative, and I never understood. I was just being me, and I wasn't sure who that was. I only knew what everyone else thought.

It was never exciting or eventful or interesting. I learned everything I could and never took risks because risks never seemed interesting. I sat, and I watched, and meanwhile, around me, life happened. Sometimes people took notice of me, but mostly it was that I was outside of everything. I had perspective. I was calm and reasonable. I gave sound advice because I thought about everything from the right angles.

I was completely fucking miserable, just waiting for something to happen.

Everyone close to me has a compelling narrative, even if they don't see it. I could tell hundreds of stories about them. I want to, even. It's so beautiful, every last one of them. I don't feel like I'm a part of them. I'm outside, watching, wishing I could be a part of it.

In all my years, I've been alive for less than six months of them. I felt alive and significant and part of something, and I wasn't outside watching anything anymore. I smiled sometimes. I didn't need to hide behind jokes. I was free.

It's just a memory now, hazy and distant, but happy, in the sense that I'm vaguely aware that it was the best thing to ever happen to me, even if I still don't understand it. I envy myself for it. It's better than the alternative.

scar tissue

A muggy afternoon and we were laying around in bed, too hot to do anything else. Occasionally she'd get up to change the CD. She'd put in a Paul McCartney live album, and it wasn't helping the temperature in the least, but at least it became a way to mark the passage of time. It seemed to stretch on forever.

"Since when do you like Paul McCartney, anyway?" I asked, mostly trying to make conversation.

"Huh? Oh, uh. I guess I don't really. I just had the CD lying around."

Perhaps I was imagining things, but she seemed a little more distant, a little more withdrawn, after that. I didn't press the issue, but it started to bother me. I didn't know the significance, if there was any at all.

The CD came to an end after an eternity and she put on The Long Winters, and eventually I forgot about the conversation.


dreaming again

It seems every summer there's a few weeks where I start dreaming again.

There's this girl I keep dreaming about; in the dream we were living together in some sort of weird house or hotel. It was new to both of us, both house and living together, and despite the tiny room and the tiny bed we were so happy living there, wherever it was, trying to figure it out together. I can't dream about her without wishing I saw her more often, because in my dreams we're always having fun and everything is just so perfect. I'm afraid to talk to her because nothing can ever be quite like those dreams, where I wake up feeling exhausted but content.

Then there's this dream I had where we were all in some military academy. We were walking back from Davis Square, past Powderhouse, and there was a bus sitting there, running but abandoned. My friends tried to steal it and I tried to stop them, standing in front of the bus, even pushing against it so they couldn't drive. When it became clear they weren't going to stop, I just hung on and begged for them to stop driving. Eventually they couldn't manage a turn, and the bus tipped over, and I broke my arm, and then we were all on trial for stealing the bus, and all of my friends and everyone hated me for stopping them. When I woke up I was cradling my arm like it was broken, and for hours after I had to will myself to stretch my arm so I could remind myself it wasn't broken. It was, as they say, just a dream.


secret rain

I woke up at four in the morning and couldn't go back to sleep. It had been thundering off and on all night but it wasn't very noticeable. As I put some water on to make tea and sat down on the couch, though, the sky flashed and a few seconds later there was a rumble of fast-approaching thunder.

I sat down on the couch with my tea and turned the lights off, and it started raining--it wasn't before--harder than I could remember it doing in a long time. The sky kept flashing with lightning. From my living room I could mostly only hear the storm--the beating rain, the thunder, the wind starting to pick up. Occasionally I'd see the flash.

Eventually it calmed down. The thunder passed by, growing increasingly distant, and the rain let up to a more constant drizzle, but for a while I had my own thunderstorm to keep me company in the morning hours.



When I tried to stand up to go into the kitchen yesterday, my leg didn't work. It just collapsed under me, and I fell rather ingloriously to the floor, harmlessly, but still frightened. I still don't know what happened. My knee was a little numb for a while but it was all right after a while.

But I'd been betrayed. I couldn't trust it anymore. As I walked down the stairs at the subway, every time I bent my leg I wondered if it wasn't going to freeze up again. And then what? Would I catch myself? Would I fall, just like I had before, slowly but unable to stop myself? What would people do? Would they do anything?

I knew I couldn't tell anyone about this. They'd say I need to go to the doctor or that my leg just fell asleep. It happens. You should stop sitting so weird. The thing is I'm not really afraid it'll happen again. They're right. I don't need advice. I need to forget what it's like to lose control like that. Where I don't know what it's like for your body to stop working, to betray you.

The worst part is nothing's changed. No one but me knows, and I'm not doing anything about it. There'll just be those thoughts. Waiting.