Amelia Kanan

Writer + Photographer + Producer

Category: Fiction

Dirty Laundry

476528_987241079287_989595418_oIt’s been quite a while since I’ve written on this ol’ blog of mine. I won’t bore you with the reasons for my absence, but I will bore you with a story.

Remember, the genre is called creative non-fiction. As for the truthful parts, it happened so long ago that I can’t even remember his name…

Technically, I broke up with him…in a voicemail the day after Thanksgiving.

Yet, that came as the result of when he had abruptly moved across the country and only called me to complain about moving across the country. Granted, his dad was dying of cancer. Allegedly.

I digress.

Three weeks prior to his move, he put his possessions up for sale on Craigslist and told me that he was thinking about temporarily moving back to a place that he so despised, to take care of a man who he equally despised. Naturally, that rekindled the flame I had initially felt when we had first met. How noble a man to sacrifice his successful career and loving relationship to nurture his cruel, undeserving father on his death bed? Swoon.

And, oh how I swooned. Easily comprising my precious alone time and personal space to fulfill his never-ending need for my physical presence. My quick to surrender behavior wasn’t due to new love, but rather another smooth tactic he used in wooing me, very early in our relationship. Some women are attracted to ambition and perseverance, but not me. I like the man who tells me, on our second date, that his mother never held him as a baby. That’s when the swooning began.

He was the youngest of five and his homeschooling mother was too burnt out on child-rearing to pay him any attention. His abusive father wasn’t any help, either. Luckily, he was a child prodigy who taught himself how to read, do arithmetic and start a business at the age of 8, raking lawns. By the time he was 10 years old, he had saved enough money to buy a lawnmower and at age 12 he was successful enough to have finally won the approval of his family members, aka his new dependents. While his parents and siblings relied on him for money, domestic duties, and decisions, he started public school. There he found comfort in teachers who were eager to mentor the young genius. It was their faith and support that encouraged him to attend college, where he discovered how bored he was of education. The physics major dropped out when he sold his first feature screenplay to Paramount and moved to Hollywood. His quick rise to success brought him the stable, predictable and quiet life he had always wanted, as a screenwriter in Los Angeles.

What can I say? I’m a sucker for a good story, especially when it involves an underdog (go, Cubs). The funny thing about underdogs though is that they have to fight, not complain or feel sorry themselves, in order to get to the top.

Although he hated being alone and we slept together every night, his future fantasy of us included separate bedrooms. Nonetheless, in spite of his distaste for sharing a bed, he had to be physically connected every other minute we weren’t actually sleeping. Do you know how difficult that makes things when you’re doing laundry? Don’t get me wrong, I’m an affectionate person too but, I was constantly scolded for pulling my hand away too quickly when I needed to use it to pay for something…because his AMEX card had been declined.

The list of problems was endless:

  • He only had an AMEX card
  • He was skeptical of every male in my life, including my brother (gross)
  • He didn’t like to travel
  • He didn’t like when I traveled without him
  • I was never giving him enough attention
  • I gave everyone else too much attention
  • He thought I was secretly in love with his best friend
  • I had to apologize for giving everyone else too much attention (especially if it was his best friend)
  • I had to apologize if I didn’t laugh when he said something funny
  • I had to apologize if I laughed when he said something serious
  • I had to apologize for falling asleep during movies
  • I was always apologizing
  • He never apologized

Why, you may ask, did I stay?

Shamefully, it was the shameless, dirty, uninhibited and, at the same time, incredibly kind and gentle sex.

In the back of my head, I knew it was just sex and even when I loved him at my hardest, I had never wanted to marry him. This newfound detachment between my heart and body was quite liberating. I felt powerful, knowing I would be the one to leave him and that my heart wasn’t all in like in the past.

I’m sure it was due to the fact that I never trusted him and I am not the kind of girl who has trust issues, I’m actually the opposite of the girl who has trust issues (obviously).

One day, his 1984 BMW stopped working and months went by without any real sign of a new car on the horizon. He felt torn, he said. Wishing he could just buy a shitty car (which I supported), but feeling “business” pressure to buy something more luxurious (which I also supported). These little conversations out loud ponderings often happened as he comfortably rode in the passenger seat of my car. Which, by the way, was another red flag. My driving style is quite commonly a point of real contention. No one, especially any man, has been that content as my passenger.

Anyway, there we were, sailing through a yellow/maybe red light when I casually asked, “So…what are you thinking? ” Well, my tone wasn’t aloof enough because an explosion of accusations blew up in my face. How dare I question how much money he has? How could I be so insensitive about his childhood poverty trauma? He also managed to throw in the whole in love with his best friend stuff, too. Who for, by the way, I had zero attraction and was only overly nice to him because I wanted him to like me enough to stick up for me when/if my boyfriend ever doubted my commitment. Which, evidently was the case.

I could more than understand when he explained that his modest upbringing made him feel very uncomfortable spending money on himself or us. This was fine. I’m not a materialistic person and don’t look to boyfriends to pay for me in any sense, but this was weird.

Just as he questioned my attraction to him, I couldn’t help but question everything from his past to his present. Sometimes I wouldn’t even realize my skepticism until he would defensively react to a quizzical gaze or a question that prodded too deep. Why didn’t he have to go into his office – ever? Why did he only have an AMEX card? I was forced to pay for things too often and, I’m sorry, but “paying” me back by covering my portion of concert tickets gets really old, really fast. Specifically when it is a concert that I didn’t even want to go to, in the first place.

And why, if his family had treated him so awfully, did he talk to them almost every day? I mean, compared to his upbringing, my parents were gold and I only talked to them, maybe, once a week.

Combining this ever-expanding collection of suspicions along with our incompatibility, I was right on the verge of calling it quits.

Alas, things got more complicated when he decided to tell me that he had Asperger’s.

What was I supposed to do? How was I supposed to respond? “No, you don’t” or ,”I think we need to break up?”

That next week was brutal. I was so consumed, tracing every memory with a fine tooth comb hoping to find hard evidence to concretely prove to him that he was a liar, that I could barely look at him, let alone sleep with him. But, I did.

Towards the end of that week, he told me that he needed to tell me something.

I just kept thinking, please break up with me, please break up with me.

His dad had 6 months to live.

Was he lying? Was this real? Was it bad that I felt like everything was all about him? When was the last time he took care of me?

Call me old fashioned, but I can’t abandon a person’s heart once they’ve told me, “No one, including my parents, has ever loved me,” or  “I have Asperger’s,” or “My dad is dying of cancer.”

When we said goodbye at the Burbank airport in August, he made me promise that I would come visit for Thanksgiving. Considering he had a flare for theatrics, he asked to communicate mainly through hand written letters and only Facetime twice a week.

A normal person might have wondered if he was going to jail. Or they may have felt relieved. Or, most likely, a normal person wouldn’t even be in that situation. Unfortunately, I’m not normal and I felt abandoned, even heartbroken, by someone who I never actually loved or trusted.

To make matters worse, he didn’t write me one letter and barely Facetimed. His phone calls were infrequent and I couldn’t help but want more. In the times that he did call, I would stop anything I was doing to find a quiet spot alone to talk to him. He hated when I was with other people, especially when those other people tried to say hi to him and wish him well.

The conversations revolved around him being a hero to his family. He spoke about how exhausted he was from taking care of his irresponsible sister and her out of control kids, his brother who had just been arrested and their needy mother (his adjectives, not mine). All of whom, he was also financially supporting.

Mindfully masking my doubt and contempt, I would ask, “How’s your dad?”

He would groan in response, “He’s fine, just creating more problems like usual.”

Then, he would say something dirty, instigating phone sex.

Being the devoted, distant girlfriend I was, I would comply.

I felt emptier after talking to him. The worst of it all was that he never once asked, “How was your day?”

One night, a few weeks before I broke up with him, I went home with someone who I had known for years. He was smart, funny, attractive, and most meaningful of all, he actually enjoyed talking with me. Something my absent “boyfriend” saw as an obligation, even when he was present. After we started kissing, I awkwardly stopped and fled from his apartment in the middle of the night, knowing this was a betrayal of some sort that I couldn’t commit, even to my nonexistent, lying boyfriend, who didn’t like talking with me.

It’s embarrassing to admit that I cried when I ended things in that voicemail. They weren’t sad tears for him, they were angry tears for me. I’m not an angry person, so I was also just angry that I was angry, in the first place.

I’ll never know why he actually moved. Did he want to break up with me, but didn’t know how to actually do it? Did his dad really have cancer? Could he not afford to buy a car? Was his family actually very loving and insisted that he move home due to his Aspergers and finances?

And, then I think, “Did he even move?”

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Dead People

Growing up, I had a string of unhealthy obsessions and one of them was with dead people. Naturally, like most things, I blame my Catholic parents.

As a family, we said our nightly prayers before bed and they were usually followed by a philosophical discussion led by my dad. For some reason, bedtime seemed like his favorite time to talk about all things scary: angels, ghosts, and dead relatives. “You know – lots of people who love you are always with you, Amelia”. What the fuck? They are? Even when I’m naked?

One night, after watching a special on people who had near death experiences, I took the liberty of asking God for a bunch of things.

“Please God, make sure every single homeless person is warm and snuggling with someone, don’t let anyone in the whole world cry, and don’t let anyone I love die. Also, I wouldn’t mind if I have to get glasses and braces, I think they look cool. And please please please God, I know you love me – so, you don’t have to come visit me to prove it.”

My dad freaked out. He started yelling at me, “Don’t you ever tell God to leave you alone!”

As always, my mom calmed him down and I was left alone, with a racing heart, in my dark bedroom, that at the time was believed to be haunted by my great grandma who had died the year before. This theory became a confirmed fact when our housekeeper told my mother that she had seen my great grandmother in the mirror in my room.

With all this death experience and talk of spirits as a concrete reality encompassing me, I evolved into a dark pre-teen. But, not the cool kid kind. The weird kid kind. It was weird because I managed to find the one way you could be superficial with death.

Like when I came to school dressed in a black dress and white pearls and told everyone to call me Jackie Kennedy Onassis. It was wasn’t Halloween. It was a free dress day in February. No one called me Jackie and with the exception of recess when I wanted to play soccer with the boys, I stayed in character the whole time. But, Jackie would’ve wanted it that way.

When I was 13, I told everyone I wanted to die so I could be with John Lennon and the next year, I convinced myself of being the reincarnation of Virginia Woolf, which was the motivation behind me picking up a cigarette butt on the ground and smoking it. Virginia made me do it.

In my defense, I was trying to make the best of my fears. I would talk to dead celebrities all the time. They were my friends. Jackie taught me that there is so much power in silence (something I’ve always known but have had a hard time actually integrating into my life). John taught me that real strength is in kindness. And Virginia, she taught me that it’s ok to talk about how you really feel and that smoking doesn’t kill you- suicide does.

Finally, in high school, I was able to clear my head a bit with some Grateful Dead, herbal medicine and eastern philosophy.

Being crazy during my formative years wasn’t easy – I got teased a lot. Teachers, adults, my best friends, family – basically anyone who knew me. This could have perpetuated things. It could have made me an angry little soul. But, it didn’t. In fact, it made me resilient and taught me things that some people never get the chance to learn. Plus, by the time I got to college; I knew what I wasn’t good at: fitting in with normal people and I knew what I was good at: telling stories and method acting.

And…the rest is history.

I’m proud to say that I am no longer scared of ghosts and I respect the privacy of all dead celebrities by not bothering them with my thoughts.

Alice Hated The Smell of Flowers

Dead FlowersAlice hated the smell of flowers. Rather, she preferred aromas that challenged her senses. Bouquets that boasted fearlessness and vigor like gasoline or even skunk. No one seemed to understand this. Family and friends would say things like “Alice finds amusement in rivalry.”

Though it deeply stung her, Alice refused to defend herself. She wasn’t very good at arguing, let alone proving a case without any proof. Instead, she would just smile, which only enraged her loved ones more.

How could she explain the layers of truth to her fondness for pungent fragrances? While she loved how soft flowers felt between her fingers or how silky chocolate felt against her tongue as it stroked the roof of her mouth, the actual odor of sweetness suggested nothing but weakness to the girl. Fragility was too dreadful of a characteristic for Alice to handle and the smell of it flooded her mind with shame, frustration, guilt and even worse, immutable loneliness.

As Alice grew into adulthood, her nose didn’t mature out of any phase. Every new year, Alice was met with new barriers that pushed her further away from personal connection. She never kept fresh flowers in the house, but she did become very good at keeping secrets. During university, she learned of the power that can exist behind a shield, even without a sword.

Well into her 20’s, Alice had befriended her loneliness and poured all of her personal love into her job as a teacher. As a superior, Alice was proud to be a different sort of mentor. After all, she had been different all of her life, how could it not be true in this area of her life? Her pet students weren’t the typical. She found herself partial to the defective ones. Ralph was unruly yet she never yelled at him. Grace was naive but Alice never showed her intolerance. In Alice’s classroom, the strong were punished for arrogance and the weak were heralded for their efforts.

Oddly enough, Alice didn’t realize this irony until a few years into teaching. She had also began to date a certain gentleman. She and this male suitor had met while shopping at the market on a Saturday. It wasn’t the charm or the compliments that had squeezed Alice’s heart so tightly but rather the sensitivity in how he spoke. After their fruit and vegetables had been purchased, he asked her to dinner and she accepted. It had been 2 months and the two were finding themselves quite fond of each other.

His name was Frank and to make ends meet he worked odd jobs. Mainly odd projects for his wealthy uncle. But, there was more to Frank than his casual labor. Frank was an oil painter and unlike artists of his time, he didn’t paint drab portraits or calming landscapes or lucrative religious icons. Frank’s eyes were infatuated with bold, sharp, and crisp shapes, with lines that didn’t blend softly. He mashed gobs of white into his paint blends to make glowing oranges and sunny greens. To most, even Alice, Frank’s paintings didn’t make much sense but – out of her likeness for Frank, she adored it.

Alice’s heart skipped when she was with Frank. A lot. He was funny, yet not silly. He challenged ideas without aggression and he was deeply committed to something that didn’t mean anything to anyone but him.

The irony of being charmed with all this weakness didn’t strike Alice until Frank surprised her, at school, with the biggest assortment of flowers she had ever seen.

Frank knew how uncomfortable public attention and spontaneity were for Alice, so he thought it wise to surprise her when she was alone – at lunch time.

No matter what time of year it was, Alice could be found outside. If it were winter, he would have found her bundled up, enjoying a stroll around the campus. If it were spring, she would be sitting on a bench with her eyes closed, inviting the sunlight to glaze her face. Nevertheless, it was Autumn.

The guard at the school gate, knew exactly who Alice was and exactly where Frank could find her. Since Frank was carrying such a beautiful arm full of flowers and had a gentle voice, the guard didn’t ask many questions.

She had just begun a new book and was under the red maple tree by the Math building. While Frank didn’t know how much Alice loved the smell of decomposing plants mixed with wet dirt, he did know that Fall was her favorite season and it became even more apparent when he saw her, sitting under the red maple tree.

Alice, finished a chapter and looked up to see a few leaves fall from the branch when she saw Frank. Her heart impulsively fluttered and her smile was so big Frank could already see it. As he approached though, Alice saw what he was holding. Pinks, purples, whites – the brightest of blossoms that surely emitted the sweetest of smells. As she kept smiling, she also began plotting – what to say, how to react and more importantly of all, how much should she pretend?

Alice wasn’t a liar. Yet she had developed a keen instinct to pretend and withhold details that could potentially cause others to assume negative things . Her calluses were only so thick. She was well aware that it was the pain from her earlier years that had created the calluses. Since she had been so young and so fleshy, the wounds, although somewhat healed, were internally scarred.

Alice stood and walked to meet Frank. She hugged him, smashing the buds and stems, triggering more fragrant to be released. After thanking him greatly, she took a deep inhale through her mouth and as she exhaled tears puddled in her lower lashes. She took the giant arrangement into her arms. Out of fear of dropping it she cradled it as she would a baby. A gesture that she had little experience. Alice felt different. She was still not fond of the sweet smell of the flowers but somehow it didn’t trigger disgust or anger.

Years later, Alice would look back at these times and shudder at how weak she had been for so long and perfectly grateful to her husband Frank for awaking her inner sweetness.

2 Boys and a Girl

I thought I fell in love with two men at the same time. Well, back then, they were boys. They both had the same name but couldn’t have been more different from each other. One was a jerk who always smiled and one was sweet but never smiled. One had stupid big, blue eyes, the other had small but cozy brown ones. One liked baseball the other basketball. One was tall the other was…well, taller than me. One had an inflated ego and the other needed to grow a pair.

They both made me laugh, even though neither one was very funny. More importantly, neither one ever pretended to be perfect nor even tried. That’s why I fell in love. And that’s how I felt worthy of being loved by both of them.

Not to mention, I was an insecure 18 year-old girl who craved constant attention from boys and they each fed different parts of my ego. I could be sweet and fun with the jerk and with the sweet one, I could be deep and dark. I was so easy then. They would disagree. Only because back then, I said ‘no’ a lot. They both called me a tease.

I enjoyed telling them both how in love I was with the other one – who happened to have the same name. I also enjoyed venting to one while already forgiving the other. It may come as a shock but they didn’t like each other.

if I really wanted to lie, I’d tell you that I still love them and if I wanted to be really honest, I’d tell you this saga still continues. But, thank god, I don’t feel like telling stories nor bearing my soul so I won’t say either.

Today, they both should hate me. Because I kind of do.

The sweet one kind of does. Well, he doesn’t hate me but, he doesn’t ask me to move in with him anymore. That’s ok though because he wants cats and he doesn’t want kids.

The jerk thinks we’re perfect for each other because he thinks we’re the same. We’ve hurt each other so much it’s as if we’re numb to it. He’s allergic to cats and definitely wants kids. Stupid me thinks “Maybe we are meant to be together…”

When I talk to both of them, I can hear my 18 year old voice. I can hear insecurities I haven’t heard in a decade. I hate that.

Yet, I keep holding on.

Why?

Why not?

For over 10 years they both have not only listened to me cry, ramble and even lie about stupid shit but they both have provided advice and condolences. They are two men who know every single ugly part of me. Every single annoying part. Every shameful flaw. And yet, they both are still here and still able to listen, sleep next to me and hold my hand. That – to me – is insane.

As sweet as this can seem it’s not healthy.

Spring is coming and I’m ready to clean.

Develop a Character: Chaddy

Chaddy was 7 when his mom decided she couldn’t handle being a mom. She gave him to her younger sister Kate, who was 23.

She told her, “Here. Wash him, feed him and love him because I know he deserves it but I just can’t do all those things for him.”

She was kind enough not to say this in front of her son. Still, Chaddy wasn’t dumb. But, since it was his mom – he couldn’t help but love her. Since he couldn’t be angry, he decided at 7-years-old that people loved in different ways. No more nor less than each other – just different. His mom loved from far away. His aunt-mom Kate loved up close. He would have to love his mom from far away and love Kate up close. This was hard because even though Kate was so much more fun than his mom and her breath smelled much better than hers too- he couldn’t help but want his mom right next to him – always.

He loved Kate. She never cried or if she did, she never did it in front of him. His mom had always cried in front of him. She would ask him to hug her or tell her a funny story. While these were the only times his mom seemed to like being around him, he hated it. It made him feel scared and guilty that he couldn’t do anything. She would say she was all alone. This confused him since she was never actually alone. Not only did she have him, she also had lots of friends who were always over. Chaddy would fall asleep to the sound of everyone laughing and wake up to people sleeping on the couch or on the floor in his room. Everyone always looked different when they were sleeping. They looked much smaller. He liked his mom’s friends – a lot. But, sometimes he would get mad at them. He wished he could make his mom as happy as they did.

Living with his Aunt Kate was cozy. He went to sleep at the same time every night and he always ate dinner in the same place. He liked that. He also liked Kate’s boyfriend Tim.

When he was 8 and a half, Kate married Tim. Chaddy got to be in the wedding. Since Kate’s dad was dead and Chaddy had been the most important man in her life, other than Tim, she had asked him to walk her down the aisle. Chaddy was so excited. He couldn’t wait to have his mom see him dressed up and doing something very important, very grown up. He wanted to make her feel like she was missing out on something really good. He wanted her to hurt enough to take him back.

The Monday before the wedding, Kate told him that his mom wasn’t coming to the wedding. She had called to tell her that she didn’t want to ruin such a special day. Eight months before, she had called to say that she couldn’t come to Chaddy’s birthday party because of the same reason. She always called Kate when Chaddy was at school. He was scared he forgot her voice. She was really good at loving from far away.

To ease the pain, Chaddy pretended that his mom was with him. At the wedding, he walked down the aisle tall and proud, imaging his mom was in her seat. He decided not to make pretend eye contact with her. #1: She didn’t deserve to be a part of this moment and #2: He didn’t want to see her cry. He felt handsome and strong on the outside which made it easier to ignore his weak insides.

Chaddy hated weekends – they seemed empty. School wasn’t easy nor was it always fun but there was something about it, that he really loved. When he wasn’t there, life just felt boring. His teacher was nice but he didn’t believe her. When she smiled at him, her eyes looked like they wanted to say something else. He didn’t like that. She didn’t look like that when she looked at everyone else. He had lots of friends despite feeling different from everyone else. They all had the same kind of families: mom and dad or divorced mom and dads with step-parents, or 2 moms or 2 dads. No one else had an aunt-mom and uncle-dad. It made him feel like he didn’t look like anyone else. Like his pants fit differently or his coat wasn’t the right color. He felt badly for the kids who didn’t have friends because in a way, they deserved it more or something.

Chaddy loved girls. It wasn’t like he wanted to be one or be like them or even play with them. He didn’t how to interact with them but he couldn’t help but be in awe of them. He didn’t understood why all his friends said girls were weird or play mean tricks on them. Girls were pretty and gentle. So considerate. You could see it in the way they turned the pages of their books or zipped their pencil cases. They were so careful, as if everything could feel their touch. He liked that.

Bullet Death

Bullet DeathI can still feel the sting from the bullet. There isn’t any blood. No wound. Not even a scar. But, I can feel it. It happens when I’m scared. Or when I walk alone in the dark.

That bullet killed me two life times ago. I wasn’t walking in the dark. I wasn’t alone. And it wasn’t the first shot.

The men who had killed me hovered over my naked little body. Laughing as I squirmed on the precipice of death.

I was seven.

The bang rattled me more than the pain itself. Dreaming of my mother’s arms, I was comforted by sadness instead of fear. My head on her chest, listening to her voice rattle through her rib cage. Her breath from her nose felt warm on my forehead. Her buttery skin smelled sweet and safe. As I trembled, I closed my eyes and tried my hardest to keep her with me. Petting my hair, brushing my cheek and kissing the top of my head. All the things I used to hate until that moment.

The pain grew like a weed. Wrapping its stinging vines around my stomach, up into my chest and then around pelvis. My lungs were hasty in their requests for the winter air as my body rattled on the cement slab. I had always liked the winter.

A warmth spread beneath me and blanketed my right thigh. The urine was a brief comfort and went it abandoned me I was a fiend for heat. I buried my hands into the depths of my stomach where the fire was still alive, groaning with pain. Arousing the men to mock me. Shame rippled through me, nearly numbing the bullet pain. The humiliation reckoned me to welcome death. That feeling of vulnerability proved to be more powerful than even the fatal shot that ended that life. More painful than the holes in my abdomen. That emotional pang escorted me into my next two lifetimes.

It’s somewhat true that you get to choose aspects of your life. There are lessons we all have to learn. Some take a few lifetimes to learn others move on to new ones quickly. After exiting that soul crushing life and before I began to work on the aftermath, I needed to be frivolous. I needed to drive in a convertible. Get drunk. Have a lot of sex. I needed a life where I could be free.

My next life was exactly that. I was pretty, blonde and entitled. I got to sleep with a certain U.S. president president before driving over a bridge in my 20’s. Although I lived that life, I feel very detached from it. I feel like she was someone I once played on stage. Maybe that’s why I can’t feel the pain from that death. Though I do still feel the fear every time I drive over a bridge, “It’s over, this is it,” plays like a broken record. I can feel the wind push my car towards the edge, as it had happened a lifetime before. I also still have an obsessive fondness for a certain president.

My life has never flashed in front of me, like they say it’s supposed to. Instead, a jolt of Déjà vu strikes all six of my senses. Freezing my body, surrendering it so my higher self can be present for those final few moments. The fear serves as a comforting reminder of familiarity; knowing the end is right there in sight. It’s oddly beautiful.

The other night I had a dream. I was swimming in the ocean, like a dolphin. Happily. I dove deep towards a white glow on the sea floor. I couldn’t breathe but like a dolphin, I could hold my breath for a long time. The glow was coming from a cozy little house and once I entered, I found every person I had ever loved. But even though I was bursting with joy, I still couldn’t breathe. I had to leave my most favorite place. Swimming to the surface, I knew I’d be back. When I took my first breath, I found a neighboring island. I crawled onto the sand, lied in the sun and began to think about reality, fear reality. Shelter, food and danger. I knew it was too soon to go back to the cozy little sea house but I also didn’t want to live somewhere unsafe and all alone. I went back into the sea and floated on my back, in the middle of nowhere. Then, I woke up.

I think my afterlife was that little cozy home on the sea floor. I keep asking to come back to Earth because I have to breathe but I get here and feel as though I just don’t belong.

Chapter 40

The paint was so thick, there were mountain ranges of persimmon and valleys of jonquil. Rivers of olive and blobs of timid white. Although her posture remained poised, her brow muscles were clenched. Any minute now, the tears would blur her vision. They were like clockwork. Wishing that eyelid linings contained drains, she refused to blink until the wave passed.

She didn’t mind living in moments that she hated. That’s probably what made her come see his work. It felt good to be challenged. Fuel the fire. The more you avoid feeling something, the more intense it becomes. If you just let yourself sit in it, it’ll let up after awhile. Like, this painting. She hated it but she wasn’t going to stop staring until the pain lessened. She remembered when he painted it.

He couldn’t come to bed. Tormented by a vision. He worked for days, alone in his studio. A place she was never allowed to enter, let alone knock. That never bothered her. Nor did it bother her that he slept with his TA.. She understood why he did it. She and Jack had been together for so long, sex had become so dispassionate. Mechanical. Something you do just to nourish yourself – like eating oatmeal. He needed to feel passion. You can try to make something old feel new, but it’s impossible. He knew her body, knew it belonged to him. He needed a jolt, if not for the sake of his work then for his own sanity. It wasn’t the physical betrayal that hurt. What hurt her was the fact that he invited that 23 year old to come into his studio to look at his unfinished pieces.

She had done the same to him, in a way. She never cheated but she never let him inside her studio. Never could she let him watch her work or see something that wasn’t fully executed. That felt too unguarded, too exposed. He had 3/4 of her. The other 1/4 was hers to hold onto. She thought he was like that too. That’s what she had loved about him.

It wasn’t until a year after she left him that she realized something. He had evolved quicker. He had become ready to share all those parts of himself but since he had been still so anxious to do so, he chose to try it with someone safe. His TA. A  young, bright eyed, admirer who could make him feel so safe. She didn’t have power to hurt him. She also wouldn’t hold him to any kind of conventional relationship standard. She would be grateful for any attention he had time to give. She wouldn’t ask anything of him. To repay those years of patience and resilience, he would marry her.

Her tears fell even without her blinking. She wondered if that was a defense mechanism- thinking he loved her so much that he had to marry someone else. And even though she too was married and happy, she couldn’t help but blame herself and wonder. She wished she could’ve been easy. She always had to make things difficult. At first, he had loved that about her. That she was uninhibited, living in a world that looked a lot like his. It’s always those characteristics that lure someone in that end up being the same things that cause that same person to cast you back out.

The jagged peaks of paint came back into focus. Her tears had stopped. She could blink. She stepped closer and inhaled the oil while closing her eyes. She raised her fingers to press against the rugged terrain of the canvas. She smiled, remembering the first time she had told him he was too frivolous with his brush. He made fun of her right back for how she painted, as if there was a pending drought of art supplies.

“Ma’am? Please don’t touch the art.”