A week ago, my girlfriend stopped talking. I thought maybe it was just a silent treatment for a while, but she wasn't actually quiet for long. She still laughed.

It wasn't the nice laugh I knew. It was the laugh of a desperate woman, someone who has seen too much of the world and found that it was--not cruel, because cruelty implies malice. She found that it was indifferent, and absurd. And she laughed a lot more than she would have, at completely inappropriate situations.

When we communicated, which was seldom, we'd write notes. She laughed the whole time she wrote, laughed until there were tears, or maybe the tears were something else, and handed me a terse note in a shaky hand. And then she'd look at me and laugh.

I kept all the ones I remembered to. She was cryptic about what was happening, and I don't blame her. But I combed through them looking for clues, looking for a hint as to what was wrong. There was nothing. No pattern, no information.


My co-workers are afraid of society's imminent decline. The government is corrupt and everything is going to hell. Things aren't the same as they once were and that's frightening. They talk about it when I'm around because they think I'm not political, and I guess they're right. They think I'm quiet. Sometimes they think I should be more scared, other times they wish they could be as good about it as me.

I'm jealous of their ability to be afraid of something besides themselves, though. The conviction that must take. The certainty. They don't understand what fear is. They live in terror but they don't understand what it is to start asking: what if I'm wrong about everything? What if I'm doing the wrong thing? They don't understand what it is to be afraid that if you ever come to ruin it will be because of something inside you.

So at night I find new, dangerous activities. I explore the subway tracks and break into buildings. I start fights with strangers.

I tell myself it's for the thrill--a simple, visceral sort of pleasure, the kind that doesn't go away when you ask questions about it, the kind that you know is risky and you know is wrong. It doesn't require self-analysis. It's a comforting thought. I just wish it were true.



The fence around my neighbor's property is electric. I bike past it on my way into town every morning, and I can feel it hum, feel my hair stand up as I pass by. I'm afraid of it the way none of his cattle seem to be. They stand right up next to it and just eat the grass there. As if it's not somehow perilous to be close. Every morning I put my head down and pedal as hard as I can. I can't stand it.

I tried to keep my girlfriend from coming out here for as long as possible, but she finally made her way around my excuses and came over, and she didn't even ask about the fence, even though I know she must have been right there, no more than a few feet away. I didn't mention it. I even forgot about it for a while, because she makes me forget, and later the wine made me forget, and forgetting made me say bold and foolish things, like suggesting that maybe we should go for a walk.

Of course we walked down the road past the fence. And I could feel the electricity coursing through me in a way that suddenly felt unfamiliar with her there, her hand in mine. I almost felt she noticed, too, but maybe that was me. But her smile seemed electric and she seemed so much more animated than before. Was it the fence? The wine? Something else entirely?

And before we'd gotten away, before I could clear my head and realize how stupid it was to be here, she kissed me and I forgot everything else but the jolt she sent coursing through me, and I backed into the fence and everything was electric, and there was a loud pop and a blinding flash.

When we got back to my place the feeling like the electricity was right there was still there, and the wine had worn off. I wanted to run as fast as I could but I knew it would follow. It was only safe where she was. When she was close enough I almost couldn't feel it.



For a few months, we were inseparable. I don't think more than a few hours went by where we weren't together, and neither of us was anywhere close to being sick of each other. It just wasn't like that. We wandered around the city and travelled down the coast. It felt right, because she felt right. I don't even know if "love" is the right word, but maybe it's the only word.

I never told her about my plans, because I hoped they wouldn't have to come true.

It was a Saturday and we'd stayed up late watching old movies. We went to bed tired but happy, but for me the night wasn't over. Once she was asleep I dug up my emergency stash of money and packed my bag--it was enough to get me across the country. I didn't need much. I left her a note: "I've never been happier and probably never will be, but some things don't last forever. I wish it could." And I called a cab, which took me to South Station, where I bought a ticket west.

I spent the next week staring at my phone and checking my email neurotically, waiting for her to call or text or email me. Waiting for something to happen. She made no attempt to contact me. By the time I'd gotten to Portland I wondered if I was really the one doing the leaving.



Some time in the last week, I started existing. I don't know who I was before, or if I was before. But these memories aren't mine. This body isn't mine. I'm a very convincing fake, I guess. Nobody seems to have noticed.

The worst part is the memories. It's like walking around outside with a girl you like and seeing this house that you've seen a hundred times before but suddenly you remember it, all at once, every time you've ever seen this house. Why you remember it now and why you didn't really remember it before. That horrible place in your dreams that you always said you didn't want to go to but you had to go in, because in dreams, as in life, there are no choices.

Now imagine that for every time you meet someone, every time your friend hugs you or you kiss your girlfriend, you remember it. It's your mind thinking it but it's not your memory. It floods your brain, all at once, all twisted and distorted and horrible, and you still have to keep smiling.

And that's not the worst part. The worst part is you start liking it, not because you like or even know these people--they're just some weird intrusion on your brain--but because it's something you might never experience again, of discovering something so familiar that everyone else in the world just forgets about it.



When the doctor told us she had six months to live, the Devil wouldn't let me take her place. I asked him why and he just smiled. He's always smiling. He said he'd let me give everything up, though. My job, my career, my friends. Everything I ever worked for. And I did, of course. I signed it all away in a heartbeat. Anything so she'd live.

I went to bed happy that night. I told her everything would be okay, and she told me not to give her any platitudes. In the morning she'd forget it ever happened.

We both woke to a new world that day. It was a world where she would continue living a long life and maybe even find happiness, if anyone ever does that. It was a world where I was a destitute failure of a man. It was a world where she'd have nothing to do with me.

I tried to explain how much I'd sacrificed for her, and I think she even believed it, but what did it matter? In this world I repulsed her. In this world I'd given everything up for her and part of that 'everything' was anything she ever saw in me.

At least she was kind. She even helped me pack up my things and move out. She gave me some money out of pity.

It turns out when you give everything up, sometimes you don't get it back.



When the end came, my house was still mostly standing, and everything inside was a mess. Outside there was fire and chaos and death, and inside it was a mess. Nothing was where it was supposed to be.

So I started organizing. I started with the living room, sorting everything into different piles. Things to keep. Things to throw away. Things to recycle. The first and last piles were actually a bunch of different piles. There were books and CDs and plates that needed cleaning and glass bottles and aluminum cans.

I repeated this procedure in every room in my house, and in the living room I consolidated all of the piles into larger piles. Then I set to work putting everything away. I don't know how long it took--even if the sky wasn't black with smoke I wasn't paying attention to time--but I was exhausted by the end. I went to sleep on a clean bed with the sheets tucked in.

In the morning I read a book and went outside to drink my morning coffee. Then I put the mug in the sink and decided I could wash it later. Right now I was going for a walk.



For Amy A.

My girlfriend was digging around in my basement yesterday and discovered a crack in the foundation. She's good at discovering that sort of thing. We spent a half hour looking at it, trying to figure out if it was worth worrying about. She said I should probably just call someone, and we decided to call it a night and went up to bed.

That night we woke up to a rumbling. I thought it was an earthquake, but she ran downstairs. The crack was now several feet wide and stretched the whole length of the house. And it was starting to suck everything nearby in. A few boxes had already tumbled into the abyss, but the suction wasn't powerful enough to suck either of us in yet. We ran back upstairs and bolted the door, and stared at each other.

The floor gave way and everything was sucked into a vortex leading into the gaping abyss. We held on to each other, because nothing was so terrible as the idea of losing each other into the nothingness. And for what felt like weeks the only thing I could feel was her body against mine, until my arms were too tired and weak to hold on, and then she was gone and it was just nothingness.

We woke up in a bed just like the one we were sleeping in and went downstairs to a house just like mine. I can't tell if the sky has always been so pale or if color always seemed so pale. I'm still afraid to find out what's different about this new world. I'm still not sure if I should apologize for letting go.



I was only planning on stealing her TV. I needed the money. And I would have, too, but there was something that felt so safe about her apartment. So home-like. I'd never been somewhere that felt like home before. So I started looking around.

When I heard the door open I panicked and hid and spent the evening just watching her. She didn't do anything remarkable but it felt like I'd known her for years, like we were just lounging around the living room together. The way she turned the TV on and then didn't watch it for twenty minutes and then turned it off when a commercial bothered her felt so familiar.

And then it was late and she got ready for bed and even closed the bathroom door despite being home alone, just like I do. Finally she went to sleep and I went back to my apartment, without a TV to show for my efforts. But I had a home now. That had to be worth something.



Last night I finally stopped breathing. I held my breath and never let it out.

At first my lungs burned. I was desperate for air, would have done anything for another breath, but I forced myself to keep holding on. The burning turned to euphoria and dizziness and my eyes went dark and I held on, biting my lip, gripping the arms of my chair, and the world spun and everything went black for what seemed like forever.

When I woke up in the morning I didn't need to breathe. I was clear-headed and confident, more than I'd ever been before. The entirety of my life before that point seemed like an intricate dream--one that went on for a very long time and made very little sense and now that I'd woken up I was grasping for details that were slipping away. Soon it was just an emotional impression and a few vague ideas that I couldn't articulate.

The world seemed to happen in slow-motion. I noticed every detail, reacted faster than I would have thought possible before. I didn't get light-headed and hyperventilate in crowds like I used to. Even my voice became clearer and stronger when I talked. Everything seemed new and exciting and different. I was free.


When I woke up this morning, all the shadows seemed to have a much sharper edge to them than usual. I tried to step around them but by the time I'd showered and shaved and everything in the harsh lights of the bathroom, I'd cut my hands a few times. I managed to convince myself I'd done it while shaving or something.

It was a beautiful, warm, sunny day. The kind that happens when it's not quite spring yet but it's definitely getting there and you just want to be outside. I walked to the park without really thinking about it, and sat down on the bench to read. As the sun moved, the shadow from the big tree moved over me and opened up a big gash on my forehead.

I went to the emergency room. I got stitches. And for the rest of the day I tried to stay inside. The sterile lighting of the hospital felt safe, and the dim lights of the diner. Outside was too dangerous. Even the shadows of the buildings would be another visit to the ER. I stayed at the diner as long as I could and slunk home when the sun was down, carefully avoiding turning on the lights when I got home.

And what else could I do? I stayed up until morning and prayed for rain. The rest of the day I slept.


washed away

When I woke up this morning, the city was flooded and empty. The roads were running with several feet of water and there was nobody left in town. Even the street in front of my house, which is on a hill, had rivulets running down the gutters, little tributaries to the river that was the main road just below.

The power was out and none of my neighbors were home. I guessed everyone was evacuated, but it's still hard to tell for certain. Maybe nobody's left. Maybe I'm all there is. Maybe this was the end.

I stole my neighbor's canoe and went out exploring. Further from my house, closer to the river, things were a lot worse. Flotsam floating down the streets, bits of terrain and houses washed away, tunnels collapsed. All without a soul in sight. Not even birds. It was so quiet.

I rowed my way to the park where I had my first kiss. It was on top of a hill so there wasn't any standing water, but a lot of terrain had been washed away, and the big tree we were standing under was toppled. I dragged the canoe ashore and sat down on the soggy trunk. It was still raining a little, and the waters around me seemed to stretch on forever, broken by the tops of houses all along the way.

We climbed the tree that night and spent what must have been hours in its branches. We carved our initials in the trunk, way up high, so it would be a secret for just us and the birds and anyone else who climbed. I hadn't thought of it until today. It will be dragged away by the city when the rain stops and the flooding dies down. I'm the last person who'll ever notice. Just me, with the waters still rising and no one around for miles.


The rain didn't stop when it was supposed to. The streets are flooded now. Just outside my driveway is a yawning puddle deeper than the ocean. It runs all around the block. I'm not sure if I can jump over it. I saw one of my neighbors try and get swallowed up. He stepped off the curb and fell into the water. For a while he kept his neck above water but the torrents dragged him under before he could grab on to the side.

At other houses there are cars dangling off the precipice or sinking into the water, getting swept away by the rains. Mostly though nobody's trying to go out, because where is there to go in this weather? Everyone who wanted groceries probably got them by now, if they weren't swept away.

I'm only really afraid because I feel cut off from my love, who, like the rest of the world outside my block, is separated from me by an impossibly deep puddle. And I know normally the puddles dry up or drain in a few days but they're not usually seven miles deep. I don't know if that can ever go away. And what if I never see her again? What if there's more puddles like this?

She doesn't answer when I call and I find myself standing at the curb. It doesn't look so far.


mistaken identity

Everyone that I know is mistaking me for someone else now. They all think I'm the same person, but it's not me--it's a friend we used to have a few years ago. He moved out of town and I lost touch with him, and so did everyone else. But now they think that it's me, and they think I've been here the whole time.

The girl I had a crush on all through high school thinks we're dating and she's confused when I seem aloof. "Is something wrong?" she'd ask and I'd have to say something like no and pretend like this made sense and like kissing her was something that happened every day. It's not the easiest thing to pretend.

The worst part about it is how popular this person they think I am is. Everyone loves me and wants to spend time with me, and all of the things I've done are talked about with the highest praise. Which I thought would be nice, at first, but none of it is really mine. I'm pretending to be grateful that these people are talking up accomplishments that never happened, smiling while they praise the me that never existed.


hard work and sacrifice

I am keeping my lover alive with blood sacrifice. She doesn't know. I made up some excuse for the bandage on my hand, and so far she hasn't asked if it's getting better or when I'll be able to take it off. And every night when she's asleep I go into the dressing room and unwrap the bandage and reopen the wound and let my blood spill into the little altar I've built.

She's happy and healthy and has no idea she's cursed. And she asks about my waning health and I tell her it must just be allergies. I'm not sleeping well. I've been spending more time inside. She never wonders if I'm draining my life force one day at a time to keep her alive.

It started a few weeks ago. I heard a voice whispering "she is going to die" and I thought I was dreaming, but even when I was awake I still heard it, and I saw an image of her wasting away. I tried to ignore it but it persisted, until I couldn't sleep at night. I went into the kitchen to pour myself a drink, and, seized by some inspiration, I seized a knife and slit my palm open and let the blood pour into the sink.

It swirled and bubbled there and I felt an instant sense of relief. But I knew that wouldn't be enough, and the sink wasn't the place for it. I bound my hand with a rag and let the last of the blood wash down the drain, and I set to work on my altar.

I come back to bed after and she looks so peaceful, and even though I'm feeling light-headed and anemic it's worth it. The whispers have stopped. She's not wasting away.


end of the line

We've been on the train for longer than it should be possible now.

It happened slowly at first. The distance between stations just seemed impossibly long, even though they shouldn't be more than a mile or so apart. It just kept getting longer and the tunnel kept going on. But it wasn't our stop, so we kept on.

Then the stations started changing. She told me she thought maybe we'd got on the wrong train, but I shook my head. This was the only train we could have got on. Except it didn't go to any of these stations, and there's no way it could have. "We're probably just remembering wrong," I said, and she nodded. I didn't believe it, either, but it had been a long day. I'd been wrong before.

Then the station names started getting unfamiliar. She said we should get off. "No. No, we can't get off. I'm sure it's just a mechanical error." And she nodded. A mechanical error, right. It would have helped if anyone else in the train looked worried or confused, but if they were it was just the normal level of people on a train.

Now it's been thirty minutes since the last stop. There's a few other passengers in the car but they're just staring at the ads or listening to music. And I tell her, "Next stop. Next stop we'll find out where the hell we are."

She doesn't say what I know she's thinking. She doesn't ask when the next stop will be. We're almost there. We have to be. Right?

The train lurches around another corner and there's still no station in sight. She pulls away when I take her hand.


property damage

A friend of mine is staying on my couch after her place burned down. It was the least I could do. She's asleep right now. She's just got the bag she had with her while she was out. A change of clothes, a computer, some things she always keeps with her in case she doesn't make it home before the trains close.

I guess she won't be going home for a while now. I tried helping her figure out if she's insured or whatever but I don't know the first thing about insurance. She doesn't either. She said she didn't have any other luck finding someone who was willing to put her up, and thanked me a lot. Which I guess is understandable, but I wish she wouldn't.

It's just that I get kind of nauseous when something bad happens to other people. I had another friend break her arm and last time I thought about it I had to leave the room. It feels so wrong. That's not how it's supposed to go. It's so completely senseless.

So I do what I can to make things right. It's never enough but it helps calm my stomach a little bit, at least. She has a place to sleep tonight. And maybe she'll get insurance money or someone will be able to help.

But everything's gone and even if it's just things they're things she'll never get back, and that doesn't sit right with me.

I wrote her a note. I'm leaving early. I've got some forgetting to do.



The police interviewed me about the body I found. I told them I didn't know anything more than what I told them when I called. I told them I wished I could help. Then a journalist got in touch and I told him what I could in the hopes he'd go away. He said he'd email me with updates. I got a ticket out of town and spent the next several days in Portland, just living in a hotel and wandering around.

I avoided my computer because I knew what I'd find. An inbox full of questions and updates and news about the girl I'd found. I hoped they didn't mention me in any of the articles but I knew that was probably too much to ask.

About a week on I finally broke and read it all. She was a kid. I mean, I could tell when I found her, I guess, but the news just brings it home. "Missing teen's body found." She was sixteen. She wanted to help people.

The article just made it sound so clinical. "The remains of a sixteen year-old girl who has been missing for the past month have been found by a local man, authorities say." Remains. Remains are something that an abandoned building has after an earthquake. Not a person who lived and loved and laughed and had hopes and dreams and fears. Not a person with a real story going on.

I got really drunk that night and called up the journalist at home--he was nice enough to give me his cell number in case I thought of any other sordid details, like if I wanted to describe how sick I felt when I found her, or how much I wanted to throw up. Or how for the next several days I felt like everything in the world made no sense, like a girl who just wanted to help people and had bright dreams for the future shouldn't be the one whose body was found by some shiftless wanderer like me.

I don't think he knew who I was, but I called him everything from a talentless hack to a heartless monster. He couldn't tell a true story if he wanted to, I said, because he didn't know how to make it a story about a person and not about a headline. "She deserved so much better than you," I told him, and I hung up.


I must have taken a wrong turn.

As with everything, it came down ultimately to something which seems inconsequential. In the end it's always yes or no, left or right, keep going or stop. Everything is so unimaginably simple. I went left. I have no idea where I am.

I was so certain of my choice. It looked familiar. The numbers and the names felt right. And when it started to look uncertain, when I started to wonder if maybe I'd gone the wrong way, I pushed on past the unfamiliar streets and houses. I kept going. Another decision that I was certain of. Even if the road is the wrong one, a fact of which I was unconvinced, you will never get anywhere if you question your decisions everywhere. There was inertia.

And then the road started to twist and turn and I was certain that it was just around this next corner, or the one after, because I imagined that I remembered this intersection. And it was turns after turns until I reached a place where I finally knew that I was lost. Worse, I've been here before, long ago. I don't remember why or how I got here, except I know it's miles from where I meant to be.

This place is so familiar and so alien. I don't know where I came from and nobody here knows where I'm trying to go.

I won't be coming home tonight, my love.


l'enfer, c'est les autres

When I dream, I dream of architecture, and houses that go on forever. Mostly it's different, though sometimes I see the houses in my waking life, but there's one that I used to go back to all the time. It was very beautiful and very strange. I haven't dreamed of it for years but I remember it perfectly.

I've been seeing this girl for the past couple weeks, and last night she invited me back to her house to watch some movies and maybe start a fire in the fireplace in the last few weeks of winter. And it turns out she lives in that house.

I'd never seen it from the outside so I just got that weird deja vu you get when you see something you dream about at first. Then we got inside and I recognized it, but I didn't say anything, though she could tell something was wrong. She held my hand tight as we sat down to watch.

The thing about the dream house is there was no exit. It just went on forever. If there were windows they wouldn't open, or they'd just open onto a courtyard that was surrounded by the house. Some of them were paintings. And we watched some French animated film and had a fire and some wine, and fell asleep on the couch.

In the morning I kissed her on the cheek and said I should head home, and she nodded sleepily, and I made my way to where the front door was. It was gone. It just opened out onto an impossible hallway--something that should have stretched out onto the street.

I ran back to tell her. She didn't seem frightened like she should have been. She was worried and maybe it was just the morning, but she didn't seem to be afraid because of what this meant. She led me by the hand through the rooms of the house, hoping that maybe I'd taken a wrong turn or that she could find an exit.

We couldn't, but she kept leading me through the rooms until we found another living room, a fire burning there, too. We sat down next to each other and didn't say anything for a long time. Then, "Well, do you want to roast marshmallows?"

"Sure. I guess I'm not going anywhere."

I don't know if this will last forever. I don't know if it will be beautiful or terrible, or both. But we might as well do something with it while we can.

later on

There's always a moment where a decision is made. For me it happens at the subway and it happens at 2 am, when the train is coming in or my stop is coming up or my ride is going home or I'm too tired to stay awake any longer, and there's a decision to be made. But sometimes it's like there's no time for that. There's never enough time to say what needs to be said.

I want to kiss you. I want to go home with you. I want to stay here with you. Was that so hard? And the decision is made and the night carries everything away.

Later on, a lot of things happen. You make a drunken phone call at four in the morning but it sounds disingenuous. You meet for coffee and you can't help the feeling that she'd have had coffee anyway, with or without you. And, worst of all, when you finally share one of those moments--the ones where if you'd made a different decision weeks or months ago would have been so intimate and so close and so perfect--you instead feel more alone than ever, like it's a glimpse into what could have been but never will be.

Every time your hands touch it's like a farewell or a ghost, and every time you dream of her you wake in a cold sweat, and you have no idea why you find it so terrifying, why you keep drifting apart and find both the inevitable isolation and the idea of intimacy thoughts too terrible to consider.

Except I know why it is now. It's because I chose this. A decision was made. Freedom is a terrible thing.


There's a leak in the abandoned subway station by my apartment. It wasn't always there but it's pretty constant now. I've spent a lot of time there in the past weeks, when the world was too much to handle. It's so dark, and though there's always the trains coming by, it's quiet in a forgotten sort of way. The sounds there are just for me.

It's been raining a lot in the past couple weeks, so there's a little spring in the corner of the old platform, and standing next to it sounds just like the rain or the river, like it's alive and natural. It feels sacred, in a way the city above can't. It's almost enough to make me feel like if I speak a wish aloud it will be granted. Anything I want at all.

So I threw a penny in and said as loudly and clearly as I could: "I don't want to be alone." And the echo said: "Lone, lone, lone," until it was finally drowned in the sound of falling water from the roof.



When I was in high school my girlfriend cut her finger. It was my fault, so she wiped some of the blood on the back of my hand. It felt weirdly instinctive to just lick it off. It felt right. And then I saw the look on her face like I'd just done something bizarre and I tried to laugh it off, like I was just trying to out-weird her, like I didn't mean anything by it.

But I'd never forget that moment. We broke up eventually but the connection we had there, after I'd tasted her blood, was real. It was the most perfect feeling of unity I'd ever had, more than sex or anything. And I knew that it was too weird for her. She'd never understand.

So I lived in fear of it for the next several years. I thought of it sometime but I'd never bring it up, because I didn't want that weird feeling of disapproval when she gave me that look like she just found out I was a monster.

Then I got into a fistfight in an alley with my best friend and I sucked his blood off my knuckles while I was leaning against the building, breathing heavily. He laughed and I helped him to his feet and we kissed right there, and I could taste the blood on his lip and the blood from my nose and it was perfect.

So I started getting into fights. I started dating a girl who'd get bloody noses. And one time, cutting up some onions she'd just bought, she sliced off her fingertip. I'd never seen so much blood. It was so bright and beautiful and I felt closer to her than I'd ever felt to anyone just then.

At the hospital while they tried to put her finger back I told her I wanted to be with her forever, and she just smiled and said, "I know."


distance helps me only so much

It's been something like a year since I saw her or heard from her. We fought so long my voice was hoarse, until she finally stormed out with a bag full of my things. And I've been good. I haven't sent a single letter or email or text. I only tried calling once.

In many ways I still think she was the worst thing that ever happened to me. It wasn't just the fighting. I can deal with the fighting. It was everything else. The way she'd drag out conversations, talking about nothing at all, talking about herself--anything but what I wanted to. At the best of times she was self-absorbed, just giving me enough affection and that indifferent sort of caring that kept me happy and drove me mad. It felt like there was a distance there but that we could have closed it. There was just never time.

It wasn't always like that. We started out passionately. At first she really, truly cared. And so did I, I guess. Of course, by the end it was either fighting or backhanded insults. She lived to make me miserable then, and I did my best to make her as miserable as I could. It was passion of a different kind, I guess.

It got to the point that just thinking about her made me angry. It still does. She said some things I could never forget, and it kills me every time that someone I loved could ever do something like that to me.

I still remember what she was wearing when she left. She probably doesn't. But it's what she was wearing when I first met her, and it's the little things like that that stick with you.

I miss her so much.