Tag Archives: #oldflame

Cliché in the city


She is in the big city, alone. She finds a popular bar on 7th Ave, one with a crush of young people just off work and ordering Bud Light in bottles. She lays claim to one bar stool, because there is always one solitary bar stool available in a crowd, even in the busiest of bars. This is a universal truth. Some folks think the world shuts out single people, but she actually believes it reserves spaces for them, single spaces that groups are reluctant to fill. 

She orders a Stella and a burger. The Australian tourists next to her are watching the Billy Joel concert on the TV above them. John Mayer is playing guitar, his eyes closed. The bartender takes care of her, with a charming Irish accent and one eye constantly scanning the crowd, anticipating the next order, collecting payment, trying not to drip beer on her sleeve. Thanks, he says with a practiced grin, over and over again, money exchanging hands over her shoulder. Excuse me, his customers apologize to her, as if they are interrupting.

She’s here because she can’t be alone in her hotel room. It’s the silence and the spaces that unnerve her. It’s knowing that Drew is out there somewhere, between the posts, behind the friends they have in common, beyond her barricade, but not unreachable.

Maybe it’s knowing she’s getting too old to be this cliché. Maybe it’s that she’s reached the age at which she feels invisible to anyone who doesn’t know her, who didn’t once truly know her.

This must get easier at some point. 

She gets up quietly, smiles at the bartender, and heads back to the hotel.

photo credit: ek2014

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Secret space


When you consider that she was the one who imagined it, and that she could have created any number of comfortable, plush, or natural settings, it’s the strangest room. There’s a narrow corridor with a window at the end, and she’s always hurrying down it, toward the last door on the right, as if someone is chasing her or someone might see her. When she enters, she quickly closes the door and locks it.

All of the furniture is along one wall. There’s an old brown couch, maybe leather, though she’s not sure if it’s genuine or some kind of vinyl imitation. It’s cool to the touch, not particularly inviting. Butting up next to the arm of the couch is a black metal, four-drawer filing cabinet that never opens. She thinks it might be empty. Sometimes there is a small, high window, opposite the couch. Other times, the room is windowless. It’s always quiet.

This secret space is where she used to go to be alone in her head. It was meant to be a safe zone, where she could slow her breath and still her mind and visualize the future. Later, this was where she went when she wanted to talk with Drew. This is where honest and soulful things were said, things that were deceptively simple, that still resonate.

The room feels hollow now, without his voice to welcome her, without the intensity of those conversations to give the room warmth and texture. She still goes, leaning with her back against the door to make sure no one followed, listening for him, to see if he has missed it too and come back.

How can he not feel her heart breaking?

She desperately needs a new door to open, but the corridor is quiet.

photo credit: http://homeguides.sfgate.com/

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The fan revolved slowly in the wrong direction. Others along the veranda turned at a clip, stirring the air, but this one didn’t. She didn’t mind. The breeze off the gulf was warm, and it lifted her hair from her forehead.

The view from their table was of the marina. She watched as a sailboat went out, a skipper at the helm, one passenger sitting quietly at the bow as the boat turned toward the bay, others laughing and sipping drinks in the cockpit. Another boat was motoring back in, the first mate moving carefully along the starboard side, throwing fenders out over the railing. Two pelicans flew in formation overhead, as if mimicking the fighter jets that live at the nearby base.

They ordered the mahi tacos and happy hour beers. Neither said much, content to sit side-by-side, relaxing in their anonymity and the stillness. Sweat from their glasses pooled on the table, soaking their coasters as they ate. She smiled at the child who walked by waving the crayons she’d secured from the waiter. He ordered another beer.

After a while, he leaned back against the bench. She sat back too and leaned into him, feeling the softness of his shirt sleeve and the warmth of his arm under it.  She felt him exhale.

She began to keep count. For every sailboat that went out, another came in.


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Today, she is picking herself up, dusting herself off. Mulling a setback. Contemplating progress.

“And how does that make you feel?”

Jake’s answer to the therapist’s question yesterday wasn’t fair. None of this was really about him, he said. He really couldn’t do anything about it. He had shrugged.

Frustration had overwhelmed her. Why was she here with someone who could so easily throw up his hands, who didn’t want to be in charge, who would rather reserve the right to sit back, watch it all unfold, and then blame her. Her reaction was over the top, but she couldn’t hold it back. She felt angry about the suggestion that he was the victim, that there was nothing he could do, that this was all her fault, her decision.

Grow a pair. Sayeed said the words for her, with a question mark, so that she didn’t have to own them. Barely concealing a toxic mix of guilt and glee, she had watched him wrestle with this.

And then Sayeed named something else for her, saying it before she could recognize the shift in dynamics: judgement. Yes, of course she felt judged, she said. Jake was judging her, he was judging her, she was judging herself.

Somehow, this broke through. This word, powering a fresh rush of emotion, ripped the plastic sheeting separating the present and past rooms in her head, pushing her through a divide. As she struggled to focus, she sensed something moving in a recessed corner. She felt it heating her skin, accelerating her heartbeat, changing her vision. Something deeply buried—a box, the box, had been nudged and the answers living inside were vibrating.

She couldn’t get to it in time. Just as it began to take shape, as she felt she might reach it, as Sayeed’s face lit up in recognition and he leaned forward a little in his chair, as Jake let out a breath—their time was up. Session over. Back to work, to clients, to kids, her life framed above it, like a porch built over a place where flowers had once grown.

But the box had opened and she had recognized its contents—ragged keepsakes of accusation, aggression, derision, contempt, neglect. Memories buried or cast off, scars preserved.

Judgement shapes everything about us, leaving a patina, a shine, a bruise. It scalds us, freezes us, numbs us, nips at our heels, and locks us out. Or in. Sometimes it locks us in.

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Drew haiku


It’s not how, but why

Curtains dance in breath released

Snow melt cleanses us

Intelligent thought

To him it is confession

I am hard to trust

He doesn’t let go

Life’s not meant to be wasted

Hourglass sand falls



Photo credit: wikihow

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Kite string


Her obsession with her phone is out of control. Facebook, email, LinkedIn, Words with Friends, text. She makes the rounds, sliding between screens to check for updates several times an hour. It would be more efficient to put those apps next to each other on the screen, but she has yet to do it. That would be an admission of guilt.

From the outside looking in, she can see that an obsessive disorder diagnosis wouldn’t be far off the mark, that her behavior comes damn close to stalking, even though she has tried to shut all connections to him down. It’s not good to have a constant feed of anything, but especially not this. She doesn’t want to know what he’s doing.

The waters are confusing now. Is she sinking or swimming? What once felt like breaking the surface now feels less clear. She feels unable to draw a fresh breath.

This is the behavior of a crazy person. A person so freaked out by what is or isn’t happening in her life that she embraces distraction. The best thing she could do at this point would be to throw the phone into the Sound. She can imagine standing on the sidewalk above the shore, watching it sink into the green gray water, the light going out, a feeling of freedom, a lightness of being. She might look like a figure in a painting, leaning against the railing, long hair blowing back, dark but luminescent clouds on the horizon. It might feel very, very good to disconnect in such a dramatic way.

When she’s able to think clearly, she can see what needs to happen. She tells him, no more. She makes the effort to explain, to close it down, to give him a clear offramp, one that doesn’t require admitting or confessing anything. She feels the finality of it. She cries. But it gives her something to feel. He’s in the abyss, unchanged by her changes, and she knows she needs to be much stronger to live there with him. She goes a week without checking her phone. Facebook, email, LinkedIn, Words with Friends, text—she steers away from all of it.

And then it buzzes. Him. A message with just enough context to make her question herself, to make her wish she could be different; lighter, freer, less hung up on the specifics. And her heart aches again, because there’s not enough to make her buoyant, and not enough to sink her either. He holds her, like a kite, pulling on the string just enough that she remembers there is one.

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The art of tension


The last text she received from Drew featured his silhouette. He was driving somewhere, north she thought, though it wasn’t possible to know. It was light outside his window, with a blur of green grass and some kind of white building in the distance. She kept pulling it up on her phone, looking at his serious face, wanting him to turn to the camera and smile, guessing at what he’d been thinking when he sent it.

She’d sent him a picture first. He’d asked several times, for the kind of photo always getting politicians in trouble in the news, the kind that suggests a weakness, a shortcoming. She had always refused, although she knew what she would send. Something sensual in simplicity and defensible as art, representative of a desire he might recognize as his own. A suggestion of where he might place his hand. This was something she understood well, foreplay from a distance, the art of tension, the crafting of a good story.

The picture had been snapped inadvertently. She’d taken her phone out to capture the morning skyline from the bridge. Traffic was barely moving, the cars in front of her crawling toward a merge at the highway onramp. The day was grey, the soft grey that comes from a lifting fog and the promise of a clear sky above. The water was smooth and reflective, and the port was quiet. With one hand on the steering wheel, she was attempting to center the phone when she’d fumbled and nearly dropped it, an audible click responding to a finger closing around the case. When she turned it over, there it was, a thumbnail in the corner of the camera, soft and utterly compelling.

Something about the image dissolved her resistance. It captivated her, the evidence, so obvious and real she could almost feel him in the car beside her, reaching over, insistent and possessive. It felt so very, very easy. So honest and legitimate to send it, so unreasonable to keep it from him. If it didn’t generate an equal and proportional response, if she didn’t feel a vibration in the air between them, she deserved every pound of backlash she’d risk to reach him.

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