And If You

And if you sing tonight
While flying up to the ceiling,
Do you think that things will change?
And if you don’t speak
Instead of saying too much like you used to,
Do you think you should be proud?
And if you like both of them,
Tell them that they’re beautiful,
Do you think that they will love you more?
And if you lie in bed and think
All the thoughts that you push back during the day,
Do you think that they will go away?
And if, finally, you write about it,
Pour your heart out in a red notebook,
Do you think that years from now, you will remember what on earth you were talking about?

Honesty is Overrated

Okay. Maybe it’s not. Maybe I’m just bitter. That is a very great possibility. And yet- and yet, there’s a reason why advice to new couples is “Less history, more mystery.” There’s a reason why white lies exist, and why we use them constantly. It’s because the truth can be harsh, unpleasant, unwanted.
Why do we blurt out the truth at the worst possible times? Why do we ruin the beauty and simplicity of friendships with bitter pills and noxious notions of some falsely noble honesty? I don’t have the answer. I also know that I have rarely accidentally said something honest – it has always been deliberate, and that makes me think that this time it was just as thought-out and planned as ever, only subconsciously. That doesn’t make it better. While we’re not the masters of our subconscious, we are the masters of our mouths, and should keep them closed tightly when needed.

I am less than a month away from my twenty-first birthday, and yet everything I’ve written above strikes me as intensely and unpleasantly adolescent. I guess we all have days of regression, and this must be one of mine.

Acceptance

Acceptance is a good word. For starters, it has two kind of “c” sounds, a delicious “p” and a lovely ticking “t.” It’s a fun word to say. I accept the fact that not everyone agrees with me about the deliciousness of words – for which I must, again, thank Fry, S. J. – and so I’ll elaborate beyond the mere clicks of tongue and lips together. “Acceptance” is a good word because it has good connotations. It sounds positive in every respect:

We talk about accepting someone for who they are – accepting their faults or quirks, their weaknesses and passions. We talk about feeling acceptance from others – becoming comfortable with people, being who we feel we really are with them, shucking off the shells we build around ourselves to guard our hearts from strangers. Children are taught to accept others who are different than themselves, to ignore skin-color and race, cultural barriers or freckles.

“Acceptance” also brings to my mind the feeling of my stomach leaping upwards in a sweet rush when I find out that I’ve passed a test to get into a program, or gotten a big envelope from a college. It means being good enough, proving myself both to others and to the inner-critic.

But “acceptance” can also be a horribly sad word. When someone dies, we need to learn to accept their passing – not necessarily for anyone, but merely because there’s no choice. Life can’t go on unless we accept the death of a loved one. Even if we fight it, life has a knack of getting in the way and forcing us into realizing that we’ve accepted the horrible truth that someone we love will never hug us again, never smile at us, never blink or speak or cry. It’s natural, though, to accept this. If we wouldn’t, we’d go mad with grief at every death, every breakup, every parting.

And yet, there’s a part of me that rages at the acceptance, that feels as if it’s an insult to myself and my emotions. A part of me wants to scream out from the rooftops and subject the neighborhood to the keening sounds I hear only in my mind. A part of me wishes to give up entirely, to lie in bed and never rise from it. But that part is stuffed down, hushed up, quieted, because life goes on whether I want it to or not.

Busker in Berlin

Let me take you by the hand and lead you through the streets of London…

He sang on Wilmersdorfer Strasse, dressed in khakis and a button-down shirt. If it weren’t for the fact that he was busking, he could be taken for any other professional walking up and down the busy shopping street. In fact, he probably was a professional, maybe a lawyer or a teacher, with a roof over his head at night, and maybe a family.

His hair was white and silky, and it fell almost boyishly onto his forehead. His face was wrinkled, and as his lips moved each line was accentuated, so that once you could see the deep lines below his nose and then you saw the valleys in his brow.

So how can you tell me you’re lonely, and say for you that the sun don’t shine?

He smiled at the photographer taking his picture. He looked to the photographer’s left, and saw a girl smiling back at him, so his own grew wider. He came to the delicate melodic part in the song that he loved most of all, and he closed his eyes as his fingers plucked the strings.

In our winter city, the rain cries a little pity for one more forgotten hero and a world that doesn’t care.

He finished the song and saw a Euro drop from the photographer’s fingers and into his small case, littered with coins. He nodded, grinning, at the pair, and they smiled back and walked on. He looked after them, although they didn’t look back at him. He saw them draw nearer each other, remembering that they had each other and being thankful for it.

He didn’t need to be out there on the streets of Berlin, singing and playing for strangers. At his age, he could retire comfortably and didn’t need the income. But he didn’t play for the twenty or so Euros that would accumulate within a couple of hours. He played for the joy and the sadness, for the truth and the lies and for everything else that a voice, words, and a guitar could express.

Action-Figure?

It’s a very boring life, being an action-figure. I mean, it’s fun at first – there’s your birth, which, unlike humans, we remember of course. We’re born in a factory, when all our parts are suddenly together for the first time. Then we get packaged, in nice cozy plastic that really fits snug all around. I don’t know if most people realize this, but you know how action-figures all have joints that move just this way or that way? Yeah, well, our joints hurt, it hurts when we’re moved to much, so being set into a perfectly me-sized bed made of plastic was probably the most physically therapeutic thing I’ve experienced.

‘Course, that doesn’t last. After we get put in boxes – and usually they’re kind enough to let us have clear plastic around us, too, so we get to see outside – we get put in other kinds of boxes, big cardboard ones that get sent off places. When I was just a newborn, I didn’t know much about what was happening to me – I learned all this later in life. So we get sent somewhere, and then we get unpacked. Some of us, like me, get put up in shelves in dusty rooms that are where they keep the extras. But soon enough they came and got me from that room too, and put me smack on the “Action-Figure!” shelf, Batman on one side and Spiderman on the other. We had a nice chat before a kid with a runny nose tore Batman off the shelf. The next one wasn’t as nice as the first Batman, but he was alright. Spiderman stayed there a long time, just like me, so we got to know each other pretty well, and he told me some of this stuff I just told you.

But then, of course, it happened, just like Spiderman told me it would. A girl, Lisa, a really tiny thing, tried to reach up to my shelf and knocked me down face-first. She picked my box up, though, so I guess even if she wasn’t aiming to get at me, she liked me enough to start yelling at the top of her voice for her mommy to buy me. I got to take a trip around the entire store while her mommy tried to get her interested in Barbie dolls and Dora the Explorer puzzles, but that Lisa, she took to me and wouldn’t let me go. At least I got a tour of the store, though!

Well, I suppose you could say the rest is history. But that isn’t really the point – I mean, yeah, it’s obvious, Lisa took me home, took me out of my box and started playing with me, which is supposed to be a good thing, but man my joints hurt, she was really boisterous that kid… But then one of my arms broke – no wonder, with that kid pulling me every which way – and then I got put up on a shelf, and that’s it.

Now, I’m not trying to make you pity me, because it’s not like I’m one of those dudes from Toy Story. Yeah, I know about that, we all know about that. Lisa has the movie and she watches it over and over. Lucky me – not – my shelf’s facing the TV so I get to hear Woody and Andy and Buzz-what’s-his-face three times a week. But see, they make it look so fun. They can move on their own. Man, the truth isn’t like that at all. Sure, we can think, we can talk if there’s no one in the room, but move? As if.

So that about sums it up. It’s a boring life being a so-called ‘action’-figure. I don’t even know what the ending is for my kind – but hey, maybe Lisa will leave me on this shelf for many more years and I’ll get to watch some more interesting movies than that false-hope Toy Story. A figure can hope, right?

Going Soft and True

Leroy glanced down at his watch for what felt like the hundredth time. They were late. Very late. And he was out on a limb here, risking his ass for Mr. Tony Boss-man. As if the Boss-man ever did a day’s work in his life, sitting there on his throne of black leather on wheels, computer screen hiding half his face, playing at being all modern. Sure, he was modern. If modern was looking at dirty videos all day.

Patting his pockets, Leroy searched for his lighter. Realizing it was already in his hand, he drew his pack of Marlboro cigarettes from his jeans, shook one out, and lit it. He glanced at his watch again, breathing in the smoke as if it was much needed oxygen. They were so late, he thought again. He could feel the prickles on the nape of his neck; he was sweating so badly that his hair seemed to be leaking. There was no reason for them to be late. Not unless… But he wouldn’t go there. Not yet, not consciously.

Glancing at his watch yet again, he realized that this was the first time in a long damn while that he’d been up in the small hours of the night. He remembered the last time vividly now, as if it had been yesterday instead of eight years ago. He could almost smell the smoke from the barrel of the gun – but no, that’s the cig, he reminded himself – and could almost see the hole in that man’s chest. That was a long time ago now, and Leroy tried to forget it more often than not. Only right now, with them being late and all, it was getting hard to separate his quickened heartbeats from that other night when he’d felt them so strongly too.

He realized he was muttering under his breath and shut up quickly. It was a habit he’d picked up at the pen. Some banker who’d offed his business partner had told him that muttering made people stay away from you. Leroy’d started doing it one evening when one of the thugs seemed willing to come beat on him for some sport, and he’d found that the thug turned away pretty quick when Leroy didn’t respond to his taunting but just kept on muttering. The thug had made his dumb friends laugh by making fun of the crazy dude talking to himself, and that had been it. The habit of muttering had stuck. The Boss-man told him to cut it out, that it was freak-show quality stuff that would scare away his clients. Didn’t need the muttering, though, to scare them away. Since they were so late that Leroy just assumed that they weren’t coming.

Just as he took his last puff and was flicking the butt into the road, he caught sight of headlights coming towards him. That moment seemed to stretch into forever. Leroy saw the headlights, saw the flare of his cigarette hitting the ground, saw the man’s chest torn open eight years ago, saw the bars of his solitary confinement when he’d raged at first, saw the eight wasted years. He saw it all in that one instant, and instinctively turned and jumped over the railing of the highway into the adjacent field. He ran through it, the dew making the ground slippery and the plants moist. He slipped, fell, hands covered with mud where he caught himself in the wet earth. He stayed down, heart beating, and listened.

He heard the idling car. He heard voices, but he couldn’t make out what they were saying. The blood was pumping so loudly in his ears that he felt that they must have turned into beacons of sound, broadcasting to all the crooks he’d ever known, telling them all that Leroy’d turned soft. That jail had reformed him. That Leroy wanted to clean up his act and never think of how another deal gone bad could turn into a gaping hole in a man’s chest.

He stayed down for a long time, long after the car had gone with the dealers in it. He lay in the damp earth until the sun rose, until the plants and ground around him seemed to start steaming. When the sun warmed the back of his still sweating neck, the warmth gave him goosebumps and shivered. The involuntary movement jarred him, and he finally managed to make his stiff limbs listen to his brain. He sat up, and stared around him. The field he was in looked nice, tended, except for the long path he’d made from the highway where all the plants were trampled, bent and broken. Like him, like Leroy the ex-crook, the ex-brave, the ex-badass.

There was a house a few hundreds yards away, at the end of the field. Leroy got to his feet, shaking, and took a good long look at it. He’d go there, ask about making amends for the ruined crops. Ask if he could work to pay for some food. Maybe if he’d prove he was strong and just as able as any man to work a long day in the sun, they’d let him stay for a while. Rent a room for his labor. That is, if there was anyone in there. With his luck, it’d be some old bag who hired illegals to work her fields, or some senile man with fifteen sons who did everything that needed to be done. But then again, maybe it’d be a husband and wife and a little boy who needed some extra hands to help get the harvest in proper. Leroy started towards the house, thinking that soon enough he’d find out.

Mirror

Look in the mirror.

Who do you see?

Do you see yourself?

Do you see your parents?

Your brother or sister?

Do you see your friends, standing around you?

Or do you just see yourself?

I used to see myself.

I used to look in the mirror,

and see the truth.

Not good or bad,

just true.

I saw, plain as day,

the length of my hair falling over my shoulders

and the green of my eyes, lost sometimes in the gray.

I saw my mouth and my nose and my chin,

and my face as a whole.

Not good or bad,

just true.

I saw the length of my neck

and the breadth of my shoulders,

the collarbone always pronounced.

I saw the swell of my breasts

and my wide ribs that moved when I breathed

and my stomach rounding down

with the bellybutton right in the middle.

I saw the curve of hips and my thighs,

the length of my legs

with the knees looking funny

as they always do,

and feet with nice toes that weren’t too big.

Not good or bad,

just true.

Today,

I don’t see myself in the mirror anymore.

I see everything that isn’t there,

or the things that are there but too much.

I don’t notice my hair or my eyes,

except when I’m in a really good mood.

I don’t remember the good things behind the facade,

I obsess over details.

Not good,

Bad,

and true.

Only not really true.

But it’s hard to disbelieve an irrational truth.

I try not to look at mirrors much, anymore.