Posts in creative writing
fingers in cheese, feet in water
Woman reading, Alexander Deineka

 

On the second Sunday of the month I wake up early to have breakfast in the garden. In the sweltering heat, on a flimsy burning chair, as I listen to the neighbors' kids play on the other side of the fence and laugh easily as they throw water from their makeshift pool directly onto my feet.

 

I wear my best French-woman-going-to-the-market-to-buy-bread-and-olives-and-flowers outfit and make my way to my favorite spot in the city. I walk behind two dads pushing a pram and my heart does a little jump because London Pride was just yesterday and I will not apologize for being an Emotional Aquarius Baby. I get my usual order at the creperie stand and pick flowers to press and send to my grandmother in my next letter.

 

I dip my fingers in cheese and my feet in water, and tell myself it's okay if my breath still catches from time to time.

 

I have been good for a while now. Which is not to mean I haven't had bad days, but I have been doing good. Day after day, for more days than I could have hoped for less than a year ago.

 

With that in mind, I walk slowly, with no real purpose. I try so desperately to commit these moments to memory, as I've been doing ever since I realized things had shifted -I have rarely put as much energy into anything as I did trying to crystallize perfect solitary mornings spent on Santa Monica beach into souvenirs for my heart.

 

Timestamps of a tide turning burned to my eyelids, a resolution. 

 

Like my high school teacher once (really, actually) said, "Anna, if you put half the energy you dedicate to your own personal drama into studying, you'd be top of your class".

I mean, she was an asshole but she wasn't wrong.

 

Thing is, I believe there's power in paying attention to small victories and slow days and big moments because everything else just --goes so fast. I forget birthdays and cancel plans as weeks and months blur one into the other, I forget to water the plants and do laundry and come home at a reasonable hour and to remember to breathe. I answer too many emails and listen to too many podcasts on my way to and back from work, I take too many calls during lunch hour and never answer my texts or drink enough water and never ever go to the gym when I said I would, I spill sauce on white clothes and stay up late investigating conspiracy theories and I am terrible, terrible at taking care of myself.

 

But I want to. 

 

So when I stick to the only routine I know is good for me, when I cancel out the noise and the messy and the complicated and just focus on here, now, still and silent, I am taking care of myself.

 

When I press play on Storms by Fleetwood Mac for the sixth time in a row just to hear the last minute one more time, when I get my skirt wet by jumping into the pond a little too hastily, when I spend five minutes watching a ladybug walk from one of my rings to the other and back, I am doing exactly what my heart needs. 

 

I've been scared shitless of change and questions I want answers to but do not have the energy to start asking myself. I've been scared to write, ever since I turned my back on so much of what made up my identity. I've been slipping and slipping and wondering if this is how it starts or if I'll only notice when it's too late.

 

I’ve been restless and hard on myself and I’ve been wasting time waiting for something more, always something better. Always waiting for whatever comes next when the pieces align themselves and you’re not breathing underwater for the first time in years but still expecting something to drown you. 

 

So I walk slowly, commit, commit, commit.

 

I tell myself perfect moments are worth celebrating more than a perfect life ever might be, and I breathe out my fear with every shaky breath.

 

I crystallize every moment, just as it is. Timestamps of a tide turning burned to my eyelids, a resolution. 

 

 

 

fight for the rebuild
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"Fight for the rebuild", a friend told me a while ago. 

 

"You've got to fight for the life you want," she said. "It's worth every ounce of struggle."

 

Back then, I had no idea what that rebuild would look like. Six months ago today, I boarded a plane at LAX and landed in London tired to the bone but wide-eyed and weirdly excited about starting over, about building something back up from scratch. 

I didn’t know what the life I wanted looked like, which made the whole affair harder than it maybe needed to be, but.

 

I’d just discovered what I didn’t want it to look like, and that had to count for something, right?

 

It was raining because of course it was, and as the plane touched down the speaker system started playing Carolina and I laughed into my pillow because I really don't like Carolina one bit but it still means something, you know.

 

Six months on, I think I'm starting to realize what it meant.

 

*

 

On my last night in Milan, the night before I moved to London, I walked around the empty (and rainy! what an omen!) streets of the old city center listening to Sweet Disposition and wondering what the future would bring -wondering if I was making the right choice, how long it would take before I crashed and burned.

 

It meant a lot to me in 2013, that song. 

I loved the promise of it, the sheer possibility of it.

 

I’m only half kidding when I say I moved to London for the way Sweet Disposition made me feel, walking up Primrose Hill one morning and thinking well, isn't this nice

(Mom, do you like the Alanis reference?  I do.)

 

I might have crashed and burned, but I sure as hell haven’t forgotten that. 

 

*

 

Another friend said to me the other day, “Every day of your life since 2012 has been leading up to this moment.”

 

I’ve been thinking about that a lot, and she isn’t wrong. I have no way of knowing what else it’s leading up to, what else this rebuilt of mine might bring. But I know this: I have built something.

 

I’ve worked tirelessly at it, day and night at it, cried all my tears for it and waited patiently for it in a way that was so un-typically myself it shocked me with every moment passing.

 

Still I built it. 

 

It’s small and fragile and sometimes struggles to stay upright. It breathes funny and walks slowly and I get so scared it will not survive, I am terrified I will wake up one day and it will be gone, built from scratch and gone in a single night.

 

Runaway renegade, just like its architect.

 

I am scared it will do to me what I've always done to those of its kind, killed them off before they could grow legs good enough to stand a single chance. I'm scared to meet the person I'll have become next time I set foot in Los Angeles. I wonder if I'll recognize her, if I'll even like her.

 

I'm scared I'll go back on my words, I'm scared of long summer nights and faint promises and my friends getting tired of me pulling the same tricks, of the pictures losing their meaning and words I've marked in pencil on the books on my nightstand turning sour as I chew on them like I have any right to. 

 

Still, I built it. 

 

It’s small and fragile and sometimes struggles to stay upright.

It breathes funny and walks slowly and I get so scared it will not survive, but it's alive for now.

It's trying its best now.  

 

And the promise of it. Oh, the sheer possibility of it.

 

*

 

Happy six months back from LA to me. 

And happy birthday to Sign Of The Times, because some coincidences are too good to be overlooked. 

 

I think I'm starting to realize what that means, too. 

Make this feel like home
hampstead

Last night I had a conversation about identity and belonging, about the meaning of Home, and I found myself thinking about it a lot today. About how I've always felt split between cities and countries and languages and cultures and people, and how I've anchored myself to the places I call Home in hopes they start feeling like it, too. Places and songs and books and memories and foods: anything can feel like Home when you don't really have one. A few come and go, and some linger and shine just a little brighter, just a little longer, as if to say 'you picked us but we picked you, too, baby' -which is exactly what I imagine Home would say if she was an old lady with a kind smile wandering the streets of Hampstead. You picked us but we picked you too, baby. You picked us but we picked you too.

 

They say home is where the heart is, but that’s only half the story. 

 

Home is the cake my mother made for Christmas when I was twelve and my father’s favorite songs, walls painted red and dogs barking in the distance. The weekend trips we used to take out to the lake, red boots filled with snow, books stacked near the fireplace and camera rolling in the background. 

 

It's my heart split between three countries. A fake, a joke, a mix I say I never wanted but spent my whole life secretly running after. My soul a patchwork of cultures, languages and airports, suitcase packed at the end of the bed, rewind, repeat, start all over again.

 

It's sunlight through the windows and Van Morrison playing through the speakers, green hills and red trees and that one spot of the Heath that I know better than I know myself. 

 

Home is the friends I know will pick up the phone no matter the hour, a really good book, the bench on top of Primrose Hill at sunrise, dancing on Millennium Bridge at sunset, walking my best friend home, my ex-boyfriend’s favorite poem, waking up to snow covering the streets outside my window,that one dress that makes me feel like I could conquer the world, free brownies because the waiter’s in a good mood, the Alanis Morissette album that’s lived in my mother’s car since we were kids, rain in the summer, a friend showing me around their hometown, the buzz of a third cocktail, warm rays on my skin, that time Jackie and I slept on a roof in Paris, the smell of real Italian coffee in the morning, that one paragraph in A Little Life, my grandmother’s perfume, my grandfather’s favorite dish that his mother used to make, swans on the lake in May, running after my brother in the garden in Clusone, the second verse of Sweet Disposition, my flatmate knocking on my door at 2AM when I come home crying and drunk, knowing my best friend of 22 years' phone number by heart, hot soup on a cold evening, my favorite corner of my favorite bookshop, the building painted green that was my heaven and haven for the better part of my childhood, that one video set to Feel This by Enation I still can't watch without breaking down in tears, the first house I lived in when I moved to London, the 214 bus, the last bridge in Gravity by John Mayer, the ice cream place in the square near my parents' house, the nook by the steps of the Griffith Observatory, the chinese restaurant on the way to my high school, my best friend and I filling our bags of candy up to the top before going to the movies, my mother making us tea and Gocciole, being the last person out of their seat at the cinema, unexpected kindness, a tuscan sunset, takeaway pizza on the beach in Sestri Levante, seeing the sea for the first time in Pescara, the chorus to Ruby Tuesday, my family making fun of me for Leviosa, not LeviosàNic welcoming me back with homemade limoncello, walking along the beach in Santa Monica, a helping hand when you need it most, the buzz of the radio while my dad has breakfast before work, crying at least once when I go to any concert, my mother’s favorite cocktail, the lights on the patio at the pub near my flat, my favorite Bukowski poetry collection, the chocolate birthday cake I've had every year since I was 9, the hallways of my high school, the parties I snuck into and had a terrible time at, the Rothko room at the Tate Modern, the boy I was desperately in love with for the better part of a decade throwing me into a pool, the last line of the last Harry Potter book, my first imaginary boyfriend, my brother burning incense by the fireplace, that year I spoke in a bad british accent, moments of fleeting bravery and reckless abandon, the photo my best friend gave me when I moved away and the one on my parents’ wall where I look exactly like my mom but have my dad’s smile.

 

Home is a crowd of 6000 girls singing my favorite song back to me, dancing till their legs give out, screaming, kissing, living, so fucking ALIVE

 

It’s that one line of that one song that makes my heart crumple up every single time.

 

It’s the language I taught myself at ten years old because I'm as stubborn as they come but also because part of me somehow must have always known, the first time I watched an english movie without subtitles, the purple notebook I used to write all those poorly translated Avril Lavigne lyrics in, the surname I chose for myself.

 

Not out of spite, but out of love for this home I’m building. 

 

Words born to speak
 This piece was first published on Dear Damsels

This piece was first published on Dear Damsels

It comes in waves, bright and harsh and just out of reach. 

 

Every time a little closer but never quite enough. 

 

Here’s what you’re missing, it seems to say; here’s what you gave up, vanished westward into smoke but stayed closer than you realized,

I romanticize, 

push it aside 

but know it’s never the last time.

 

It feels good to linger until it doesn’t.

 

I trace the days and months and years backwards until I find it and press down like a thumb on a bruise, 

purple and swollen and mine mine mine

all mine to keep secret.

 

Words I was born to speak pressing at my teeth, pushing for release, saying you’re not fooling anyone and least of all yourself. Words I keep safe in their locket waiting for a better time, for a not-so-secret life. 

 

It comes in waves, on nights like these but sometimes when I least expect it.

 

It’s in the lies I tell strangers with practiced ease, in the shot to the heart when a friend says just the right thing. It’s an itch to scratch and sweet bliss come passing, heart ringing with remorse and hearing gone static. 

 

Moments I wish I could change,

but I was carried 

away.

Diamond Dust
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This piece was first published on Dear Damsels.

It was a split second, barely even noticeable. One moment I’m handing my card to the woman behind the counter and trying my hardest to tune out the song blasted through the speakers. Something about a bird, freedom, driving down a midnight road. Groundbreaking lyrical genius, undoubtedly. I’m bitter, and cold, and I can’t wait to get out of there. One moment I’m counting cheese, pesto, red peppers, batteries and liquid soap, and did I forget anything? why can I never just make a fucking list, why did mother never teach me that becoming the kind of person who makes lists will solve like, 70% of my problems, why can I not just pretend I’ve got this under control. The next, something cracks and hisses in the air, I feel my knees buckle and my hands lose their grip. It was a split second, barely even noticeable. Anyone could have missed it.

 

I wish I had. I really do.

 

*

 

The drive back to the house is short and silent. I don’t turn the radio on, you don’t ask me to. You leave the bags in the back and I lock the car, we walk to the door together, but not really. You leave the light off and the living room door open, but for the first time in a long time it feels more mocking than it does an invitation. I scrub the snow off my boots, watch slivers fall to the carpet like traces of diamond dust I wish I could bottle up, like fragile unspeakable secrets that grip my heart and shake my shoulders as I listen to you whispering into the phone on the other side of the wall. Little white dust for little white lies, I think, and I suddenly can’t stop shaking. I walk up to the bathroom and turn the tap on, wait until a thick fog has settled on every surface then step under the scorching hot water, alone. 

 

*

 

Winter brings a few surprises, old and new. A frosty wind runs through the house and my frozen bones, my insides grey like mold, weak and rotten like I’ve never felt before. The car keeps stopping and starting. When we get it checked at the place in town they say it’s only old and run its course, and I feel like crying although I’ve never even liked that stupid car. I start shopping at a new supermarket further down over the hills. Their vegetables are mostly brown and they never have my favorite brand of pickles but I can walk around the neon-lit aisles without looking over my shoulders, so I think that’s a plus. I start making lists. It doesn’t solve anything, but it’s a start. The neighbors’ dog runs away and we spend two days looking for him. We find him on the third day, curled into a ball by a log near the lake, quivering and terrified and small, so small. I hold him tight and stroke him softly, thinking I know how he feels. I start working late. The phone is always ringing. You take your phone calls in the bathroom with the water running, loud, and I shut my eyes and feel my body sinking into the bed, into the floor, into the foundations of the house, deep at the center of the Earth where I won’t hear whispers and I won’t make a sound. We eat melted cheese on stale breadsticks sitting on the armchair by the fireplace, flames cracking either side of us as I dream they’d rise higher and higher and engulf us, destroy us, forgive us.

 

To the ends of the earth
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I’d been eighteen for less than three days when I first said it out loud. I’d been thinking it for a long time, but eighteen is when it came to a head and I was forced to lay my cards out on the open. Saying this is it, this is why, can’t you see? This is why I’m leaving. Why I can’t stay.

 

I think it must have always been at the back of my mind, a voice I never managed to shut up completely -half for lack of trying and half because eighteen is when the voices get louder, not weaker. 

 

I couldn’t tell you when it started -maybe when a High School teacher suggested I pick up Chinese as it would have been ‘a terrific advantage to my introduction to the job market’, and I had to push my nails deep into my thighs to stop myself from screaming. Could have been earlier, when I sang louder and moved faster and laughed harder than all the other kids at my school recital because I’ve always wanted to make an impression. Maybe somewhere in between, when my name was on all the boys’ lips even though I wasn’t the prettiest or the smartest or even the one who’d let them win at class games but because I was loud, loud, loud, and they had no choice but to remember me. 

 

Somewhere along the line, recognition turned to validation and I wanted more, more, I wanted it all. I was powerful because I was the most, and I fed off it, I thrived off it, clutched to it like a lifeline and forgot how to live without it. Then I said it out loud. 

 

Three days into it, eighteen was bad until it got worse. Eighteen was slammed doors and skipped meals and loud headphones and heartache like I'd never known before. It was a single phrase, uttered between gritted teeth then repeated louder just to see my mother cry. “I’d rather die than be like you. Do you hear that? I’d rather die than be ordinary, live a wasted life”. In the words of Avril Lavigne, anything but ordinary please -and say what you want but if there’s one thing Avril Lavigne knows how to do, that’s teenage angst. 

 

Teenage angst, which is in great part what my outburst was about. But also: fear of being anonymous, being forgotten, being one of many. Interchangeable. If not her, a hundred others just like her. Fear of everything and nothing, of not leaving a mark, of empty days and drunken weekends and the monotony of tick tick tick, blink and you’ve missed it. My heart shrunk and twisted on itself, screaming not if I get a say in this. Not on my watch.

 

So I did. I left and I tried and I lived by that, anything but ordinary please. 

 

Then I had a change of heart. 

 

Last week, I read an essay by Zosia Mamet about success, in which she says: ‘We are so obsessed with "making it" these days we've lost sight of what it means to be successful on our own terms. Having a cup of coffee, reading the paper, and heading to work isn't enough—that's settling, that's giving in, that's letting them win. You have to wake up, have a cup of coffee, conquer France, bake a perfect cake, take a boxing class, and figure out how you are going to get that corner office or become district supervisor, while also looking damn sexy—but not too sexy, because cleavage is degrading—all before lunchtime.’

 

Safe to say it resonated. Deep, deep within, it struck a chord.

 

Then I went to Brighton, where rhythms are slower and smiles kinder, warm like the sun rays I soaked up sitting alone by the beach one afternoon. And I went to Italy, where rhythms are even slower and whatever had been worrying me in London suddenly seemed so insignificant, as small and artificial as all city life troubles do when examined from a solitary bench overlooking a lake in the north of Italy, swans and dogs making small noises in the water while German tourists take pictures of their gelatos. 

 

Suddenly I was hit with a thought: what happens if I get there and nothing’s the way I dreamed it up? What happens then, when I’ve used up all my cards and every trick up my sleeve, but the promised land just won’t turn to gold. When there’s no promised land at all. 

 

A change of heart, maybe in plans. Maybe.

 

Arms Wide Open
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This post was first published on Dear Damsels.
 

We wake up early on our last day, and fittingly, it’s a Monday. It’s also uncharacteristically grey and cloudy, which might be San Diego’s way of saying Don’t go. I like to think so.


 

While she’s in the kitchen, I sneak into her bedroom to leave a couple of boxes of tea on her nightstand, together with her favourite chocolate digestives – because having a friend who lives in London has got to have some perks – but then she goes back in to look for a necklace and my surprise is ruined. It’s the thought that counts, I tell myself.


 

We make a gallon of coffee and drink it in the car. We listen to a podcast I haven’t heard of, complain about traffic, stop to get petrol. My coffee’s cold by the time we pull into the station, so time must have passed even though it feels like we only woke up minutes ago. Maybe I’m still dreaming. 
 

 

She helps me get my luggage out of the trunk, and we walk to the platform in silence. It’s sunny now. Don’t go.
 

 

We hug but don’t speak. Touch but don’t move. Then:
 

 

‘Come back soon, yeah?’ she says.
 

Yes, I nod.
 

‘Thanks for the visit. Love you always,’ she adds.
 

 

Miss you already, I think. Or maybe I say it. I think sometimes with us, there’s not really a difference. And then I blink and she’s gone, so I stand on the platform with my eyes on the car park and my heart in my throat.
 

 

We’re lucky, I think while I gulp and try to hold back tears. We’re lucky to have this, something good, and we’re lucky we met because the way we did is so improbable that it could easily not have happened, and then we’d have been robbed of moments like these. Years like these. 

 

We’re lucky, I tell myself. I just fucking hate goodbyes.
 

 

‘There’s nothing quite like sisterhood, is there?’
 

 

I turn in the direction of the voice and find a woman’s eyes on me. She’s sitting on the bench by the vending machine, shielding from the sun, and looks like the kind of grandmother you’d love to have over for a drink, or two; a warm, kind smile on her face and a big red poncho covering her shoulders. 

 

‘You ladies have something special. It’s beautiful,’ she says.
 

 

I smile a big smile, full of teeth and teary eyes, and she smiles back like we’re sharing secrets. 

 

‘I’m going to see my daughter in LA, and from there flying to New York to visit my sister. We’re very close, me and her, very close.’ Her hands move with her mouth, her long silver strands are in her face, in front of her eyes, still she smiles big. Secrets. ‘Are you going to LA, too?’
 

 

‘Yeah,’ I nod. ‘Going back, actually, I was just visiting.’
 

 

‘So you live out there, uh?’ she asks.
 

 

‘No, I— I live in London.’ 
 

 

‘Did you have a good time?’
 

 

‘It was wonderful.’ 
 

 

‘What was your favourite part?’ She looks at me like she wants to know, like she’s actually interested, and I haven’t seen that in a while; not in London. 
 

 

I guess for all its faults and cars and false bravado, America’s still a place where people ask questions like they want to know the answers. Funny.
 

 

My favourite part?



When we hiked while listening to a 2010 playlist and laughed ’cause we still knew all the words to that one Owl City song. When her parents had us over for dinner and made pizza from scratch because, ‘It’s in your honour, Anna’. When we saw a movie under the stars, and I met her friends and ate a burrito so big it took me 45 minutes to finish it but by the time I did I was smiling so wide you wouldn’t even notice that I’d spilled sauce everywhere and got pieces of rice between my teeth. When we sat on her couch and watched The Office all afternoon, because real friends are the ones you can spend an afternoon doing nothing with, and still have the time of your lives.
 

 

‘We saw some seals. That was really cool,’ is what I settle on. Then, ‘But I think— I think just being here was my favourite part. She always comes to me, you know? This was different.’ 
 

 

‘It’s very different. I love it over here. I’ve lived out East, too, but I never . . . I guess it depends on what you like. What you need. It can be everything, you know. Do you know what I mean?’
 

 

I nod. I do. It is everything.


 

‘What’s your name, dear?’ she asks, eyes wide open. 
 

 

‘Anna.’
 

 

‘Oh, my grandmother’s name was Anna, too! She was so beautiful. Like you, you’re very beautiful.’
 

 

I smile another big smile. I knew it was coming. This is California, after all.


 

Welcome home.

This is how we slip away
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First, it’s a missed phone call. You’re distracted, on your way somewhere, it’s rush hour and raining and it’s only a missed phone call. But you stare at the screen until it stops ringing, and only then look away. You will call back. 

 

You forget. 

 

Nothing’s wrong, is the thing. You have a lot on your mind, it wasn’t intentional. Why would it be?

 

You’re busy. 

 

Next, you reschedule a coffee date because something came up, but the truth is you woke up in a foul mood and just want to stay in bed and cry a lot. It’s not her, it’s not, it’s just -life. 

 

Raincheck? you ask. Sure, she says. 

 

But you don’t set a date, and neither does she, and it doesn’t happen.

 

Nothing’s wrong. 

 

You leave town for a day, then for a week, and send a picture of a sunset because you think she’d like that. She replies with a smiley face, and it’s fine. It is.

 

You start saying things like, I think she went to some party last weekend, and, I guess she has a new boyfriend. You’ve deleted Instagram but check her profile on the web version every day, which is something you wish they’d have warned you you’d start doing because, wow. 

 

You wince when you see new pictures with new friends in new places laughing at new jokes but maybe that’s the whole point of Instagram, really, so you let it slide. It doesn’t mean anything anyway.

 

You get mean and jealous and stroppy, and it’s ugly. You hate the words coming out of your mouth but it’s too loud in your head to stay silent. You repeat it doesn’t hurt enough times that people start believing you.

 

You hear about her big promotion and wish you could text but it’s been so long you wouldn’t know what to say. You hear about her breakup and wish you could call but you still hang up after the first ring. 

 

Nothing’s wrong but everything’s on fire.

 

Someone asks you about her weeks later and you catch yourself in time, but it’s a close call. You smile a good smile and say she’s doing fine, and it’s believable, really, it is. If you didn’t know any better, you’d think you didn’t miss her at all. 

 

You find a note she wrote on a napkin months ago, tucked between the pages of a book you haven’t picked up in a while, and it falls out as soon as you open it but your breath doesn’t hitch, it doesn’t. You’re just surprised, that’s all.

 

You’re my best friend and I love you a lot, the note says.

 

Your breath doesn’t hitch. It doesn’t.

How It Should Have Ended
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On their last night before the party 

she locked herself in the changing room

ate four arancinis one after the other,

like an animal, 

heart racing and cheese dripping,

and her hands losing their grip,

her legs shaking with the force of it, 

and she cried.

 

She cried tears of desperation

for the months she’d spent pretending

for the weeks she’d tried to hide it;

hidden like oh my, 

look at this mess 

look they’ve made a spectacle

now.

 

Things would’ve been different, 

if she’d heard him come in.

 

Her dress was itching 

and she tried to make a joke,

when he put his hand on her leg

and the arancinis threatened to come up.

 

Things would have been different.

 

She ran out on the street but November’s a real bitch

and she almost froze to death trying to shove two fingers down her throat.

 

Not very glamorous, 

but that was their goodbye;

that was how it died

with a hiss and a clash,

in the clamour of the night

in the cold,

in silence.

 

 

 

November Love
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It started as a fantasy, like all the best stories do. It started with a promise, long nights conversations / summer breeze sweeping us up in temptation.

I had a dream we’d move away, before my chest started aching / before your song started fainting / and your hands lost their touch while you played and I laughed ‘cause I was young but I wasn’t stupid.

It ended when it came to be the realest thing I’ve ever felt, because I’ve moved two cities and lived five lives but I think loving you was still the bravest thing I’ve ever done. 

There was a red light blinking in the distance and there was me playing a different song, counting mistakes / but when the tide washed up you hadn’t changed much anyway. Much like I couldn’t tear my eyes away, while you were looking over, much like I dreamed of a different life. What’s a little pain, anyway, what’s ripping your soul out, anyway. 

I got in the tub filled with lukewarm water and thought back on bike rides and goodbyes, not forever, but for a night / how you held my hand under the table, and asked to be excused ‘cause we were being so obvious. 

You picked me up and I laughed like a kid, I laughed in their faces, ‘cause more than anything I wanted them to see. The way your fingers digged into my naked thighs, the way your brother cheered as we ran through the crowd, freezing and soaked and young and so in love we couldn’t breathe right.

You gave me your sweater because I was shaking, one you’d found in a forgotten drawer / and I say I’ve forgotten but still I hide in the bathroom, sit on the floor, and think about the fabric on my skin, your lips on my skin, that knock on the door when you were gonna ask me to stay / and I smile like the actress I told you I’d be, I grit my teeth and I think, the sun can’t touch me here.

//

I have a different name, now, one you haven’t heard of. I move to different rhythms, move to foreign cities, find myself pretending. Sometimes for a living, sometimes for the hell of it. 

There’s arms ‘round my shoulders and fingers in my hair. There’s eyes on me now, there’s an ache in my chest / persistent, like it wants me to listen. 

He takes my hand and drags me through the crowd, through the mass of bodies stuck together by sweat, and music, and the fact that we’re all out here looking for something, staying for nothing, crying for everything. 

It's hurried, and frenzied, and there’s nothing romantic / about it. But it’s real and it’s happening and it’s better than the three before him.  

I’ve changed my tune, too, you wouldn’t believe. 

I breathe in and out a couple of times, and I start shivering because my legs are cold and my face exposed. One, two, three buttons. Let’s make it all up, pretend we were out there all along, there in the lights where the magic happens. 

“Are you staying?” He beams, bright and hopeful.

“I’m going.” I say, before I can regret it.

“Let me walk you out. Strange city, wouldn’t want you to get lost.” 

I tell him, “You don’t sound like you’re from here yourself.”

“Seattle, moved a few years ago.” A pause. Then, “It’s the place to be, isn’t it?”

Four, five, six buttons. This is where the magic happens.

“I guess it is. Maybe next time I’ll see you on the big screen.”

Something flashes across his eyes, and I almost ask about it. Almost. 

“When was the last time you had an epiphany?”, you asked all those years ago.

I think I knew all along. Even though it hurt, even though I couldn’t see, even though she was staring right at me / while you kissed the side of my face and I prayed for closure when all I wanted was another day.

You felt like butterflies in my veins. And home, you felt like home.