I Thought I Might Have Touched Her

Photo by Filip Mroz on Unsplash,
“Night Toronto Rain”

It was a warm summer night that the rain was tempering on our skin. Even Cody showed a slick of sweat on her face under her umbrella. And I’ve never seen her really sweat. I walked beside her, my left shoulder flying unprotected by the umbrella and sharing the city’s feeling of cold rain on a warm background.

But the shock of that heat-to-cold on my shoulder was nothing compared to the one I felt next. The usual warmth I felt with Cody turned to a chill that ran through my body when she said, “Adam, I think it’s time we went our separate ways.”

Now, I had to give her credit for having the guts to tell me that to my face instead of texting goodbye like Marina and Barbara did. But that was Cody, always bravely expressing herself, yet worried about others’ feelings.

Nevertheless…

“What? Wait, you called me to meet you down here in this rainstorm to tell me you’re breaking up with me? Why? Please, tell me, Cody. Have I hurt you? Lied to you? Sucked as a lover?”

“We’ve had sex three times.”

“Well, and…?”

She stared at me with her reporter’s “Really?” look.

“No, it’s none of those things,” Cody said and pulled my arm fully beneath the shelter her umbrella.

“Maybe we can get out of the rain to talk about this…this thing that I thought bound us together in the way mutual hugs might. Or even transplants, like me giving a kidney to you,” I babbled.

“That’s ridiculous. I have no idea what you’re talking about.”

“Well, it’s that, you know, that thing. I don’t know if I can describe it in any way someone else would understand it. I always thought you did organically. But here goes. Some people like that feeling of proximity that comes with being tied together, immobilized yet mobile, freely captive with another. Or feeling their heat, shivering with their cold, sharing the showers like this and the sunshine as if they wear the same skin. They can construe it as ‘being together,’ I guess.”

Cody just blinked, like raindrops hit her eyelashes.

“Tied together…” she said.

“Right, until someday, somehow they cut those cords. I have seen many people walking around still attached to their walking shadow even after he out she has left them, one way or another.”

She pulled out her phone and dialed someone, I didn’t know who. Onward I plunged.

“Other people can subsume, with permission of course, the object of their visceral need after searching so long to find that perfect match. Like you for me and me for you. A match fraught with the minimum amount of rejection, yet, with diligent aftercare, most likely to keep them alive. They can live on together even after their partner in this organic life no longer can.”

“Then it would be useless for one of us to drop dead?” Cody said with the most un-Cody tone I’d ever heard from her.

“Yeah…NO! See the one thing these experiences share is how each member of the couple are irreversibly changed by the experience. Maybe it’s the scars they can display or conceal, maybe even from themselves. Maybe it’s the memories of their partner’s touch, your touch, my touch, both on their skin and within it. Like a heartbeat, they feel even as they lie alone at night.”

I thought I might have touched her with that last bit of extemporaneous poetry.

“That’s right, corner of Fifth and Madison. Um-hmm, I have a red umbrella,” Cody said into her phone. She then turned to me and said, “I’m sorry, Adam, you were saying?”

“Right. Well, I’ll admit, I’m no expert on relationships. I’ve walked through my life carrying a platter full of bite-size pieces of my marrow-rich thirteenth rib, like some faceless butler named, ironically, Adam. And I’m serving at a grand party of the interested and disinterested. Some of the ladies have idly taken one piece of me just to wrap it in a napkin and toss it in the potted palm. Others have taken it with thanks and thought, ‘that’s different,’ and moved on to bacon-wrapped shrimp. Only once, with you Cody, did I have the courage to place myself on your plate, wrapped in wordy ribbons I hoped you might secure to yourself like a pin for some needy charity. You actually took them to heart,”

“Yes, Adam, but I really have to move on. The Los Angeles Times called and offered me a job. I just didn’t know how to tell you. And there was no time to do it. They want me there Thursday,” Cody said, placing her hand on my cheek.

But my cheek felt strangely numb, like I’d been standing in a blizzard instead of a summer rain. I couldn’t feel Cody’s warm skin against mine and it sounded like I might never again.

“Adam, I wanted to prepare you for this, just in case I got the good news. But there wasn’t any time. We’ve had a sweet couple of months, but the Los Angeles freaking Times! Career opportunities like this don’t come along every day. I’m sorry,” she said.

I just glumly looked at her and said, “I understand, Cody. I really do.”

“If you want, we can keep in touch. I really do like you, Adam. Maybe not as deeply as you would hope. But you’re a sweet guy and this party of yours is in a big room and I’m sure what you’re serving will appeal to someone else. I just can’t partake of it now.”

A taxi pulled up to the curb, splashing some cold pieces of a puddle on my leg and I jumped forward to a spot in the proximity of a hug with Cody. She wrapped her arms around my neck and kissed my cheek. This time it felt warm and soft as any kiss could. And then it was over.

Cody walked to her ride, opened the door, shook water off her umbrella, sat in the back seat and clunked the door shut. From the rear window, she gave me one last look, a faint wave and then she was gone.

The tunnel through which I observed this scene suddenly opened and I recognized the neighborhood, the street, the buildings we walked among for those months. The glare and color of the restaurant and store windows, the street and traffic lights, all echoed in smeared images on the puddled street like they were some abstract expression of the chill that now overcame this warm and rainy night.

It was then I realized I hadn’t waved goodbye to Cody. I just stood there with the rain falling on me. It was cold where it ran down my neck. I could feel the drip-drip-drip of it falling from my ears.

“Get ahold of yourself, Adam,” I said to my reflection in the puddle at my feet.

My cheeks felt cold, except for some warm lines that gathered next to my nose and then pooled in the sad pockets at the corners of my mouth. I took a deep breath, exhaled a cloud of woe and stepped through it as I began walking…somewhere.

I reflected on the crazy shit I spouted while I was in that all-at-once stages of grief when Cody dropped her bomb on me.

“Giving her your kidney, dude? C’mon, don’t sell yourself short. She’s not walking away with your kidney,” I said, and then touched my chest. “It was your heart.”

Another Touch-prompted story. Lesson: Never write fiction in front of the television. Your attention to what you’re doing, and worse, what your characters are doing and saying, wavers and makes from some pretty weird stuff showing up.

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Loud Enough

I think I remember what it was like to hear as you do. But now the world communicates with me as if I’m pressing mittened hands over my ears. It’s not like my ears have gone blind to all sound. If I sit in a quiet room I hear a kind of hissing sensation. And if I’ve run for a while, I can hear the thud-up thud-up of my heart pumping the blood uphill to my neck. At least it’s pumping, right?

But if you were outside with an armful of groceries, kicking the front door and to calling, “Cal, will you open the door,” while I’m watching television with my Bluetooth amplifier blowing in my ears, I might not hear you until you drop the groceries on the entryway floor eight feet away. Maybe.

Here’s the thing about slowly losing all your hearing: You don’t really notice it until you start pissing people off. And I’ve pissed off Jenna at an increasing rate for five years.

“Jesus, Cal, didn’t you hear me kicking the door?” Jenna will say. And all I can do is take that sapphire blue laser look of hers right in the eyes and shake my head. 

“No, sorry. The television amplifier was on and my hearing aids were…”

“Stop yelling. Half the neighborhood will think we’re fighting.”

“Sorry,” I’ll say and shut off the receiver around my neck, which brings the whole world back to muffled normal. Well, at least my current normal.

“But I did finish hooking up the baby monitor in our bedroom. The sound-trigger on the warning lights and closed-circuit TV work great. I tossed a basketball in there to be sure.”

“Ohh, that’s great, honey. Now would you put the beets in the crisper and the meat in the freezer?” she’ll ask.

And I’ll do exactly what she said. Until…

“Calvin, what are you doing?”

“Putting the beets in the freezer, like you said.”

“The meat in the freezer, honey. The beets in the vegetable crisper.”

Ohhh, I thought it was odd you’d want to put beets up there. But what the hell do I know? I’m just the deaf guy fucking up around here.”

And then Jenna will step over a couple of bags of groceries and hug me, saying something like, “I’m sorry, Cal. Beets, meats. I should’ve considered what I said before…”

“No, you shouldn’t have to, Jenn. I just have to pay better attention.” Which is true. when you have happened to you what happened to me, you tend to burrow inside and think too much about yourself and how the world doesn’t understand and really can’t take the time to try. Though Jenna’s been an angel, really. Even through my therapy and her morning sickness.

There’s nothing in this world I would love hearing clearly again more than Jenna’s voice. Hearing it without the assistance of these hearing aids, which have become the equivalent of a white cane to a blind guy. Or they will someday when I go totally deaf. The docs tell me they don’t know for sure. 

Sometimes, when the wind’s just right and I strain really hard, I think I hear mourning doves when I walk out to the end of the driveway for the paper at dawn. But instead of their low whistling coo — hoo-hoo-ah-hoo — like I used to make in fifth grade by putting my hands together, keeping space between the palms, and blowing across an opening between my thumbs, it feels more like a tinny syncopated sensation in my ears. 

That’s the best I can describe it. So maybe it’s robins. Or it just as easily could be the hunnh-hunnh-huh-hunnnhof the semis’ horns combined with the whine of their wheels as they pass one another on the interstate. Or the whoooo-whoooo-wuh-whoo over the tick-a-ta-tick-a-ta-tick-a-ta of a freight train crossing Pierce Road a couple of miles from here. But I choose to think it’s the mourning doves.

But I have memories of all the birds, can even recall which thweet-thweet-thweet or pew-pew-pew went with who. I can remember how the tone of Jenna’s dad’s voice went from baritone to tenor and back down again the day she brought me over to introduce me, her new boyfriend. 

I can remember how a bullet going right past your head can sound like a zipping whissss, while one that’s going by ten feet away can crack or pop in a miniature version of a sonic boom. I can tell how the sound of a dual rotor old Chinook helo differs from a single rotor Blackhawk. I can tell you the difference between the sound of an RPG exploding in the vehicle behind you and an IUD going off under the one in front of you. But I only vaguely recall the sound of one that detonated next to my M1151, knocking me cold, killing most of my hearing and two guys on that side of the vehicle.

I also remember the sound of Jenna’s voice when I sat down with her after I was discharged, clean as a whistle on the outside, but pretty fucked up on the inside. She told me she was just happy to have me home. In one piece. At least that’s what I think she said. I’m pretty sure.

Things haven’t gone as well as she planned when she said she’d stick with me through it all, though. I mean it was going to be tough enough with me Black and her White, Italian no less. But, son of a bitch, she’s stronger than I could ever be, which is why we had another sit-down six months ago when she told me we were pregnant.

“Cal, I want to have your child more than anything I’ve ever wanted besides getting you home, but I can’t lie. I worry about things. You have this way of staring at me when I’m speaking to you — there’s that look right now. It’s like you’re saying, ‘I hear you, Jenn,’ but I can’t be sure you really do.”

“I know, but I’m hearing you now, Jenn. And I understand you…”

“And there are other times I think you hear one thing, but it’s the exact opposite of what was said. That’s the thing that scares me. Especially with the baby coming,” she said.

Don’t think I hadn’t considered all those things when I got home. Some days I thought she’d be better off without me, others I’d be better off without her. But I kept coming back to the same answer.

“Jenn, I understand what you’re afraid of. I am, too. There are times you say you love me and I miss it. And that must hurt you awfully. But that’s just hearing. We can find workarounds for that. I’m sure of it. But know this, I don’t want to live without feeling your words bumping up against my ears, freezing and teasing, scolding and holding, their temperature and speed sometimes more important than their meaning. They bump up against me and fall away so I have to imagine their meaning and insinuation. But they’re yours and I can’t live without feeling you there one way or another.”

So we are doing our best, despite meats and beets. And last week, when Jenna delivered little Bella the sound of her first cry was the sweetest thing I ever heard. Well, at least the vibration of it reaching more than the two tiny sets of bones and other machinery in my head. Heard it like I hear her Mom.  Warm and loud enough.

My first draft response to Sarah Salecky’s Six Weeks of Senses fiction project. I just finished this in about an hour and a half. It was slow and it was difficult to get going on because I couldn’t find a story in me to use the sense of sound I wanted. Maybe it’s because I can’t hear worth crap. Hearing aids in both ears. So I “wrote what I know.” 

Feathers in the Grass

Whenever feathers lying in the grass I spy
they remind me of my dwindling days.
For all too soon I too could fall and die
and how would you know I passed though this maze?
Each quill is the scar of a leaving behind,
the remnant of some bird’s flying away.
And when I find one I hope Life may be so kind
that you might find mine when I fly one day.
So I leave these feathers of a heart taken wing
and a soul that never found a nest.
They’re dipped in black and songs they sing,
so you might know my soul’s finally at rest.

I said goodbye to my oldest and best friend today. And on top of everything else going on in my little life, it’s left me shattered. But it reminded me that anyone’s time could come in the next week, day, hour, or minute. And in those seconds, however many we’re gifted, I hope we can leave something behind (doesn’t have to be a silly poem) for our friends to remember us. Maybe just to let them know in some way you loved them. BTW, love you. 

Photo © Joseph Hesch, 2017

Our Last Goodbye

The last time we said goodbye,
it felt like it could be forever.
The finality hit me as soon as
you disappeared from my view,
well after you left my line of sight.
And so what if it was our last goodbye?
What memories will we hold
when or if we are moved to think
of one another again?
Will you recall how I made you laugh?
Will I remember your smile?
Will you recall my arms around you
as you drift off to sleep?
Will I be able to feel your cheek
against my recollection’s scratchy face?
I can’t answer these questions.
My mind may not hold the blessed
sensations of you that enriched my life,
and yours will doubtless fade
the longer we’re apart.
But that’s life.
When death of the body finally comes,
death of who we were to each other
will have already dug its grave.

Could this time’s have been the final one?

Whether We Know It Or Not

It is a universal truth that someone
who looks like me, talks like me,
fights sleep like me, falls in and fails
at loves like me and sits so often
alone like me can never be truly happy.
Happy is relative, something that
everyone feels they know, whether
they know definitive happiness or not.

It’s a construct where a human brain
imbibes endorphins, creating an emotional
and physical state of great comfort and pleasure.
I can’t recall of late tripping
with Terpsichore to that tipsiness.
But I do know I am least unhappy when
I’m here talking to You,
whether you know that or not.

Yes, YOU. To you. As closely as I
can get without reaching out and
touching, since warm on warm
must remain warm words, words that
I hope you might find…touching.
Perhaps they’ve made you less unhappy
as they did me while I wrote them,
whether I knew it or not.

I’m still sinking, capsized and taking on this painful emotional goo. But I seem to be able to say something, even if it’s covered in some other kind of goo, when I put you on the other side of this screen, as I am behind yours. And, in that, you (yes, YOU) make me as un-unhappy as I get these days. I hope perhaps I can help you, too.

I Fell Again Today

I fell again today.
Not a little trip or slip,
but a real live death spiral.
I didn’t even bother to look
behind me to see the long trail
of smoke, tight where I was,
expanding to blot out the sun
the further I fell.
And I thought of you.
I thought of reaching out to you
to say, “Here, I’m falling, too.”

But I was already a few feet
from bottom, so I stayed silent again.
Besides, you don’t need any
of my woe, though you understand
the passion, the anger, the sorrow,
the heat, the chill, the vacant,
and the jagged in your gut as well—
or is it as badly? — as anyone I’ve known.
We make that same trip every day,
just with different landmarks
and memories and questions and regrets
and shame and here and there some pride.

And yeah, it’s like seeing your life
on a slow motion loop as death,
or worse, comes closer all the time
as you fall,
and you fall,
and you fall,
but you never get all
the way to the bottom
because that’d be too easy
and life has a thing about
never being easy. You understand.
I understand. And we’re not ready
to give up and just shut our eyes
and let the bottom have us.

We’ll probably drop again tomorrow
and maybe the day after and after that.
But a few things keep me getting
back up to take that long fall,
dangling like a spider under that
smoky pall, again and again.
I remember when you and I,
apart and together, would listen
to the music as the wind rushed past
and, for who knows how long,
we’d fly.

We’ll revisit some of this again soon. I promise. Because I care. Always. Me.

What We Talk About When We Talk About…

Maybe someday we can shelter out of the heat to talk about this thing that binds people together in the way ropes might, or even transplants, like giving one kidney to another. Yeah, that thing. I can’t describe it in any way by which someone else would understand it as I do (or don’t). Some people like that proximity that comes with being tied together, immobilized yet mobile or freely captive with another, feeling their heat, shivering with their cold, sharing the showers and sunshine as if they wear the same skin. They can construe it as “being together,” I guess. Until someday, somehow they cut those cords. I have seen many people walking around still attached to their walking shadow even after he out she has left them, one way or another. Other people can subsume, with proffered permission, the object of their visceral need after searching so long to find that perfect match, one fraught with the minimum amount of rejection, yet, only with diligent aftercare, most likely to keep them alive. They can live on together even after their partner in this organic life no longer can. Yet still, there is always that spectre of rejection, loss, need. The one thing both of these experiences share is how all involved are irreversibly changed by the experience. Maybe it’s the scars they can display or conceal, maybe even from themselves. Maybe it’s the memories of their partner’s touch, both on and within their skin, a heartbeat they feel even as they lie alone at night. But I’m no expert. I’ve walked this earth carrying a platter full of bite-size pieces of my marrow-rich thirteenth rib, like some faceless butler named Adam at a grand party of the interested and disinterested. Some have idly taken one piece just to wrap it in a napkin and toss it in the potted palm. Others have taken it with thanks and thought, “that’s different,” and moved on to bacon-wrapped shrimp. And for others I’ve placed one on their plates, wrapped in wordy ribbons with which they might secure it to themselves like pins for some needy charity. A couple have actually taken them to heart, but I moved on because this is a big room and a server’s duty calls. What do I know? Maybe this is why someday we might sit somewhere, with a batch of iced libation between us. Maybe it’ll be something different that we talk about when we talk about love.

Now that’s a ponderous bit of prose poem or maybe fictional one-sided conversation, free-written around my morning shower. The inspiration was brought to me when I needed it most and I have no idea from where the results come, but I thank my muse that they did. Unless you know Raymond Carver, you won’t recognize the title, though maybe you recognized it without my coming out and saying the word until right before the final period. Perhaps one day I’ll revise this unspoken “thing” for a more concise, or expansive, dive into the phenomenon that touches and changes us all. I chose purple for this note because it is the perfect mix of blood and the blues, both of which are sluggishly coursing through me right now, so I’ve been unsuccessful in giving you something to think (or talk) about.  Let’s hope my over-the-transom inspirations cut a few more drops from me soon.