[from Reckless Chants #18, late summer 2012 - you can read the entire issue here.]
When it wasn’t gin and tonics all night long, it was blackberry brandy mixed with Sprite. Booze was about the only thing that dulled the sharp edges of the constant panic. Panic about all the changes about to occur in my life, and the worse panic, the illogical panic - I convinced myself I had syphilis. This chick walked up to me at the pub, one night. I did not know who she was, but she sure knew me. Knew of me. Then, as always, my reputation preceded me. She was the ex-girlfriend of this guy I fucked a couple summers previous. She was his girlfriend when I slept with him; I hadn’t known he was dating anyone, in fact as soon as I found out I broke things off with him. But she, like so many women, could not blame the shitty boyfriend. No, she painted me in her head as the evil temptress, and she came to confront me - though it was two years later and as I said, I hadn’t known. I tried to explain that to her, even offered to buy her a drink, I think, some kind of alcoholic peace offering. She wasn’t having any of it. She called me all the usual names: slut, bitch, cunt, whore. I’d heard them all before, but they stung that time. Stung because I was trying so hard to be good, to not be that slutty bitch anymore, and I was failing spectacularly. “All the people you’ve slept with, I can’t believe you don’t have some fuckin’ disease,” she said, then walked away. Though I had been tested, several times, and was (mostly) careful, I thought - “She’s right. I probably do have some fuckin’ disease.” And I had just finished reading a novel in which the main character had syphilis, and suddenly my mosquito bites were marks of syphilis and my panic attacks and sadnesses were signs of impending insanity. I did not have syphilis, or any other STI, but even after I knew that for sure I couldn’t stop panicking.
There was a creeping sense of doom to that entire summer. It blew in with the hot hot wind; that summer was so hot, somehow dry and humid at the same time. It never rained, but always threatened to, the sky choked and ash-gray; a scorching desert wind blew in from the west and the dry ground swirled into dust clouds, dust which stuck to everything in that thick, humid air. My sense of doom clung to me like dust, I could not shake it. My love affairs were doomed, all of them. The comedian, the sad girl, the musician, the ex-goth, the carnie - my lovers were no angels, they were devils in many ways. I worked a dead-end job that I felt stuck in, that barely paid enough to support my gin habit. I felt stuck in my hometown; I was set to move to Milwaukee at the beginning of autumn yet somehow it seemed like I could never leave. Worst of all, I began to be afraid of telling the truths of my life. Everything hurt too much and I grew fearful of hurting others. Oh, and there was that midsummer pregnancy, but our old pal Vitamin C took care of that.
I did things to try and get my mind off it all. I mean, I did things other than drink. I rode my bicycle to the park and lay under big old oak trees and read Thomas Wolfe and smoked cigarettes. When I wasn’t reading Wolfe, I read the poetry of Dorothy Parker and Edna St. Vincent Millay. I’m not sure their words improved my mood but at least Dorothy made me laugh in a sort of gin-martini-up-with-a-twist way, and Edna made me sigh and say - “women have loved before as I love now.” At times, I wrote my own words. Sonnets inspired by Miss Millay, or fictional stories. I wrote some damn good fiction that summer. I may have been scared of writing the stories of my own life, but I was able to at least tell the truth when it came to characters I invented. I pretended I was a fictional character. I played dress-up; spent the chunks of my paychecks that didn’t go to booze or bills on vintage dresses. I dressed up 1920s, ’30s, ’40s, ’50s. I listened to music, of course, for some reason that summer I listened to a lot of rockabilly, alt-country, gothic Americana. Guess those spooked-out cowboys understood the whole doom and darkness thing. I played my accordion, my piano, my guitar; wrote my own dark and apocalyptic songs. Apocalyptic, yes. It wasn’t just my own future that frightened me, it was the future of the whole world. I started having my Armageddon dreams again, once a month or so they came in floods and flames. I turned to the tarot, took them everywhere with me, went so far as to lay them out on sticky bar tables and read them while the other patrons looked at me like I’d brought some kinda bad mojo in with me. I consulted the tarot so often that it ceased to help and only made me more muddled. The only decipherable message that came up over and over again was - “You feel trapped in your current situation. You need to escape, any way you can. A trip would do you much good.” Whenever I had enough time off work to get away, for a week or a day, I went wherever I could - Milwaukee, Chicago, Lake Geneva, Door County. Those away-moments were good. And there were some good moments with some of my lovers.
I could say more about some of the lovers. About the sad girl, and how I still love her. About the carnie; but the gods know I have written enough shit about him over the years. About the musician, and how deep down I always had an inkling that we were better off as friends, but I confused finally feeling comfortable in a relationship with True Love. But why would I talk about any of them when the one that summer was about, the one this story is about (he’s haunting between the lines), is Jack of Spades. Jack. The ex-goth more cheerful than I was in so many ways but also much more of a whiner. Jack of Spades. I gave him gin and brandy and music. He gave me words too pretty to be true; he gave me a crashing like storm-waves on Lake Michigan. He gave me adventure and strips of photobooth pictures. He was a dreamdemon boy with a pumpkin smile. He was younger than I; not so much younger in the grand scheme of things, but enough younger that it seemed significant, then. And my god we exploded, imploded, an utter disaster - and I knew from the moment I met him that it would be like that, volatile, white-hot. So why, why, why did I fall for him with such abandon?
The night we met, after bar close had long since come and gone, after we had made love for the first time, all twisted at strange angles in the back seat of his small blue car, we walked out to the edge of the water. We walked barefoot, cut our feet to hell on sharp stones and glass shards and didn’t give a fuck; sang songs at the top of our lungs. The sun was just beginning to rise, night melding into day - the horizon tinged with the first washes of peach light, but the shadow of the moon still hanging on the sky. When we reached the water, I started telling him he didn’t want to get mixed up with a gal like me. Yeah, we’d already fucked, but that didn’t mean we were gonna be a “thing,” and I spelled it out for him, told him all the ways that I was fucked, that my life was fucked. When I finished trying to scare him off, I said - “The world’s a mess, it’s in my kiss.” And I meant it, but I also meant, please kiss me. He did.