120. An orchestra tuning. The discordant noise harmonizes into a singular, steady pitch.
you smelled the way the sidewalks smell after the rain. your laugh rang like the keys of a broken piano--the noise always unexpected, but distinctively beautiful nonetheless. do you remember when it was midnight and you tapped on my window and told me the ice cream parlor was still open? we snuck out of the little where dogs barked and children cried and nothing happened, and we smelled sugar and freedom. there was nothing special about the place but for the fact that it was open at such an ungodly hour. you had five scoops: strawberry, mocha, green tea, cookie dough, and pineapple. i had one: vanilla. i asked you if you were ready for the stomachaches later, and you said that sometimes going after what you want means dealing with a few stomachaches.
115. the heart asks pleasure first/the promise - michael nyman
you were like a violent summer storm: wild and unpredictable. sometimes i could hear the thunder, and sometimes i could see the lightning. sometimes i could feel the torrential rain. and sometimes, i could not find you at all. i would see clouds coming over the horizon, and none of them would be you. i told you that you were a storm, and you tossed your head and looked at me like i was an alien specimen. you said that you were a hurricane.
at this point everyone was thinking the same thing: there’s something wrong with her. you had slowly been drawn into yourself, shrouded in your own obscurity. there had always been a fine mist surrounding you, but now it was impossible to see you through the murky haze. you rarely laughed anymore. you smelled the way sugar does after you try to coax it into caramel but it burns instead. teachers asked you if anything was wrong and you said no. you said no, but the way you said it was brisk and apathetic. i asked you if anything was wrong and you slapped me and said that you had heard the same question millions of times over the course of that same day and what made me think that i would get a different answer?
105. it was a tuesday and it was snowing. outside it seemed like an icy paradise, but inside it was a fiery hell. after school, we both went to your house, presumably to study. instead, my visit was spent listening to you rant about your dad: he was always in his office and came home late, you always ate fast food for dinner, he did not seem to care for you. i refrained from speaking and listened to how . midway through your vehement condemnation of your father you paused. you said that now, whenever you got angry or sad, you would start studying. it didn’t matter what, you said, you just needed to redirect your negative feelings. then, you promptly picked up your calculus textbook and began working through the next day’s homework.
100. piño - otto totland
you used to watch the sun rise. i asked you if you enjoyed them and you said not particularly. i asked why you chose to wake up so early and you said that it was a little like why you put flowers on your mother’s grave every year. you just had to--a little bit out of habit, a little bit out of obligation, a little bit out of solemnity, a little bit out of respect. a little bit because you feared that there was something bigger--perhaps not god, but something bigger. those reasons are why i do other things, too, you said. what things, i asked. you didn’t respond.
90. i promise - alex kozobolis
it had been months since we had felt alive together. so i called you up at three in the morning and you came to my house. the day before, i had purchased paints in smoky blacks and sunrise golds, in crimson reds and in unassuming blues, in hues and shades and tones that stretched from valleys to peaks to stars to galaxies. you came to my house, but we did not stay there. at three in the morning, we painted a phoenix on the walls in the subway station. We painted in this concrete shepherd's fold, an open space peppered with lost stars shot from pinwheel cores and stuttering black holes. From these black holes we seemed to draw an energy which guided the brushes softly and surely, which made the silence seem cacophonous. when we were done it was four in the morning and the sun did not illuminate our artwork and people began to slowly trickle in, their eyes red and their stares vacant. you cried and said sorry, sorry for everything. the sun did not illuminate your tears. i asked what for. for this, you said, and gestured towards yourself, your skeletal frame. i know, i said, and took you in my paint-splattered arms. but you just kept crying and saying it over and over again. sorry, sorry, sorry.
80. everyone knew but no one spoke. you looked insane, you looked homeless. emaciated, skin stuck to bones like the cloth draped over the furniture in an abandoned home. your glassy eyes peered out from your sallow and anemic face. they seemed so hopelessly large. you were a ghost in the halls, though your grades had improved dramatically. you always knew the answer in class but never raised your hand. you would simply whisper in my ear 1776 or 39 or Hamlet or whatever the answer was. but your newfound intellectual prowess did not detract from your starved appearance. a few of the teachers had considered calling social services or an ambulance, but were always deterred when you told them of your exuberant family life at home during study halL. a life that did not exist, of course. i knew that. everyone else did, too. but i was the only one who had given up denying it.
75. you fainted in class. it was a miracle that you even managed to get to school every day, as it was a mile’s walk from your house. when you collapsed onto your desk during history class, a few people thought that you had simply fallen asleep. only when our teacher dumped ice-cold water over your head in an attempt to chill your bones back into animation did we call your father, who did not answer his phone. we called the ambulance.
75. the blaring sirens of the ambulance, loud and cacophonous, did not open your eyes. the paramedics lifted your limp form onto a gurney and wheeled you into the emergency vehicle, and i followed. no one stopped me.
75. inside, they stabbed silver snakes into your arms and began to ceaselessly measure all parts of you that could be measured without cutting you open. they called out numbers. they acted calm, like they had seen cases like these thousands of times over. and they had. but they were worried. they worry every time. being in a climate of rushed danger requires anxiety. these people had not been mousy, worrisome creatures before they became paramedics, but the job had changed them. being in a climate of rushed danger requires anxiety. once upon a time, you had not been a mousy, worrisome creature, either.
75. your laugh once rang like the keys of a weathered piano in a concert hall. you once smelled like two figure skaters on the ice rink dancing in silent synchrony to a soft pitter-patter of rain. now, i can barely remember what your laugh last sounded like. it has been so long. i remember a strained rasp and a forced smile. but it has been so long. if you could just laugh again.
75. they took you out of the ambulance. you did not resemble someone i knew. your hair was matted, it had fallen out in tufts. your skin was so pale, translucent. where your head had hit the desk, purple bruises adorned your hairline like decorative flowers. you were some freak of nature, some experiment of science with all those tubes sticking out of you. you were a sickly soldier fighting from a bed that was not yours. were you fighting, or had you fallen on the battlefield?
75. i followed you inside. no one stopped me.
75. with all the tubes and wires and mechanical periphery bleeding out of your frail frame, you were a machine. transparent, sterile snakes burrowed beneath your skin and regurgitated clear poison into your veins. amid the hysteria in your sterile little room, one man, clad in all white, asked me who i was. i just shrugged and walked over to you. i pushed some hair from your face and your eyelids fluttered with promise. no one stopped me.
75. i sat in your room in silence, watching from despondent eyes as you, a heap of metal, respired in the corner. nurses darted in and out occasionally, making sure that you were properly pumped full of drugs, that you were filled with more chemicals than blood. i had been lulled to a gentle sleep by the monotonous beeping of your heart monitor when a small susurration awoke me. i tiptoed to your side and stared into your deep green eyes, now dull and pained. they had once been full of vigor, masterpieces in which your entire imagination was painted in all its striking color. now there was nothing but a milky emptiness, paintings that had not been recreated quite right.
75. you took a shaky breath and slowly looked around, taking in the stark white walls, the machinery leaking out of your unnecessarily weak body. then your eyes fell on me. you asked what we were both doing here. i narrated your story, beginning with history class. you just nodded solemnly and shuddered. a nurse walked in and talked to you in a whispered, hushed tone specially engineered, like everything in the hospital, for maximum patient comfort. she pointed to the IVs and the machination and said that coursing through your blood were things to make you strong again: calories, glucose, the like. your pupils dilated and your pale hand reached to pull out the tubes, rip those snakes from your veins.
75. i slid my warm hand over your cold one. you looked at me, and withdrew. “i’m sorry,” you said as you slipped back under your covers. i did not reply, but you understood what was unsaid.
75. i stayed at the hospital overnight but when the sun rose, i slipped away, leaving two ghosts in the room. i left you a note on the nightstand near your cot and walked to school. no one asked me why i was such a mess. they understood what was unsaid.
75. when school was out, i went back to the hospital. you were gone. in your place: a freshly made bed, a turned-off heart monitor, my note still on the nightstand.
80. in the month following your disappearance i began searching for remnants of you. i visited your house. no light illuminated the windows. no car was parked in the driveway. i grabbed the spare key you kept under the doormat and stepped inside. i couldn’t find you. all the furniture was shrouded with white cloth. liquor bottles decorated every corner. a television flickered feebly in the dark, broadcasting white and black nonsense. i walked upstairs to your bedroom. white cloth everywhere. i pulled aside the cloth covering your desk and saw nothing. no books, no paper, nothing that hinted that you were once a human being like the rest of us.
90. it had been months since we had felt alive together. i slipped out from my bed and ran back to the hospital at midnight, showered by a light sprinkling of rain. when i asked they told me that you had been moved to rehab. the word dripped off their tongues like some despicably-flavored curative elixir. they wrote down the address and your room number on a slip of paper. when i left, the rain came in torrents so violent that the weather bordered on hurricane-like. when i arrived at the center, water dripped from my skin and clothes as if i myself were a raining cloud. i did not go inside. i climbed up the side of the building, the poorly-painted cement rubbing my palms red and raw. i glanced at the sodden piece of paper glued to my hand by rain, then at the window. i tapped on the glass, gently at first, then with vigor, with some odd promise that i had yet to know myself.
90. i waited for five minutes, knocking on the window occasionally. i prepared to make my way down when i saw the pale white curtains draw aside. i saw you, i saw your deep, mossy eyes. they had once been full of vibrance, masterpieces in which your entire imagination was painted in all its striking color. now there were masterpieces, but they were different, brushed over with something dark and tempered. michelangelo covered his frescoes on the ceiling of the sistine chapel with a dark glaze in order to make the paintings seem stormier, more severe, more intense. someone had thought themselves an artist. they, in their perfectionist delusion, fancying themselves to be michelangelo, had thought your eyes too bright and had them painted over with a layer of dark glaze. that poorly illusioned restorer was not michelangelo. he was not you. he was wrong. your eyes had been perfect. your eyes had been yours.
90. you slid open the window with a cautiousness that i had never before felt. you squinted and asked if it was really me. i nodded and asked you wanted to go to the ice cream parlor. your eyes moistened with tears, but you simply climbed onto your balcony and began making your way down the side of the complex. the way the rain soaked your hair was different from the way the rain soaked mine: your hair was soaked as if a raincloud had given you the warm embrace of a lover, whereas mine dripped like blood drips from the jaw of the loser in a particularly brutal schoolyard fight. your feet hit the earth; moist grass cushioned your fall. you looked at my bleeding hands and at my soiled clothes and just laughed. suddenly, i did not feel rain-sodden or dirty or bloodied. i felt as alive as i had felt when we had painted the phoenix. i did not only hear your laugh, i felt all the sweet notes of it leak into my skin and whisper to my blood like heroin. i closed my eyes and let the melody simmer within my veins.
90. we didn’t run. we put our hands in our pockets and walked in talkative silence. we let the minutest details of our movements speak to each other. the conversation was like a duet in which both musicians are sight reading--unrehearsed, unprepared, heart-achingly rough, and painfully raw. but there was something comforting and happy in it all, that after everything, not all was lost. that we could still read the notes.