*janis joplin was a liar. i’ve lost it all, but don’t feel free.
acidic rage creeps through my veins. images of those i’ve deemed responsible light up my thoughts like muzzle flashes. i feel more a prisoner than i did on the inside. unanswered questions about events passed bloat and blacken my heart like a tropical disease. there’s no escape from my thoughts.
creating a hit list and turning myself into the count of monte cristo isn’t appealing.
he has answers. i don’t have anything left to gamble or trade with, but something in my gut suspects he might work something out with me. fear isn’t in his vocabulary but i have a feeling respect is.
i text his number with the gimmicky triple-six area code.
“i need them, but don’t have enough to shoot dice.”
to my surprise his response comes right away. the text reads, “will you fight me for them instead?”
i don’t formulate anything witty. i type back, “i can’t fight anymore.”
minutes pass. more characters jolt onto the screen of my obsolete blackberry.
“so you’re signing it over?”
“it isn’t with me,” i admit.
no answer comes until a few hours later. just as pink and orange starts coloring the sky for dusk.
“had a chat with the boss. they’re bought and paid for. see you soon.”
i despise taking charity but don’t have a choice. an odd mixture of anxiety and relief fills me.
the gates to east river state park are closed and locked after sundown. time to hop the fence for another late night meeting. *
*the skyline doesn’t make anymore dangerous promises to brooklyn’s shore where i stand. it’s lights don’t tell any more sexy lies. wouldn’t matter if it did. it can’t play on my emotions. i don’t feel much these days.
the cool night air caresses my skin and the illuminated concrete and glass juggernauts of the city stand solemn and silent. it’s a weeknight and williamsburg is mute behind me. it seems like i’m experiencing a new york city night objectively.
i scan the park for him. he’s not here yet. i light a marlboro and relax. his gangly form arrives when it does. i run my eyes over my clothing to see what colors i should search the night’s silhouettes for. black may be chic but it was a poor choice.
some time passes and someone walks towards the river bank. before the details of the tall slim figure are discernible i notice it’s gait- graceful and steady, moving with purpose. it isn’t him, a cop, or park ranger.
her form comes all the way out of the darkness and i see her face. tears well up in my eyes and i begin to tremor with violent intensity.
she still has the beauty of a siren.*
*she comes to an easy stop a few steps in front of me. i’m too consumed with emotion to speak.
i seize her in an embrace. she doesn’t recoil, but drapes her arms around the bare shoulders jutting from my dark wifebeater, and rests her chin on one. i squeeze her so hard i have to check myself. she’s delicate. a few minutes pass like this.
eventually i stop sobbing and shaking. pride is among my greatest weaknesses. i don’t want her to see my face marred with tears, so keep her squeezed tight against me. despite the yearning to look at the contours of her cream-colored skin and chocolate eyes.
tears keep flowing but i unearth the strength to speak into her ear.
“i didn’t think you really loved me. didn’t think you really cared. i thought i outlived my purpose. that i’d lost you forever.”
she doesn’t respond. i continue, “is this real? are you really here? are you going to stay? will you let me hold you and take care of you again?”
i offer more words, “i’ve missed you so much.”
i wait. no answer. panic overwhelms me. i keep speaking, “without you i’ve given away everything. please love me. even though i have nothing.”
another quiet pause. despair starts diluting anxiety. my speech turns desperate, “i promise i’ll get it all back. my money, our cat, my friends, even my loft at 151 kent. i’ll go back to the clubs. i’ll build you a beautiful life again, just like i did before. i can save both of us. i promise. i promise baby.”
her reply doesn’t come. his does. in his voice. or mine. i’ve never been able to differentiate the two. the sound of it crashes my heart lower than the end of a five day amphetamine binge. the sound of him pours from her mouth into my ear. slow. i resign to listening.
“she’s gone and she’s not. what you’ve resisted understanding is that it’s never been about keeping who you have. it’s about experiencing who you have while you have them.
you still have her. just in a different way.
“i’m sure you’ve heard the jesus freaks say ‘he giveth and he taketh away.’ well, he’s giveth’d you this so you’ll let him fucking giveth again.
“it’s not over. it’s not the end. it’s another beginning. take care of yourself. you and her weren’t meant to swim together. drowning people can’t save each other. find your shore and search again.
“you may not discover who and what you want, but who and what you need will discover you.”
i relax my grip on her and start to draw away, but her arms hold me fast with a strength matching my own. more words come.
“her, you, him, me, and all of them on the streets around us are cards in the same deck. we’ll always shuffle so you can be given another hand. he’s waiting for you to realize it’s not about what you’re holding. it’s about how you play it and how thoughtfully you bet. the pot is forever growing. you can’t fold whenever you don’t see the cards you had yesterday. wipe your fucking eyes and pick up the cards in front of you today.”
the tears stop and i start to process his words. before my thoughts reach a conclusion a final string of speech comes.
“they all end, but he plays innumerable songs in his set. everyone can dance again. choose to move on the streets of brooklyn, not to wait for the avenues of the afterlife. put the needle back on the record and move those damn hips.”*
*can’t remember how we let go of each other. didn’t notice the apparition leaving. there was no watching it walk away.*
still in the park, i find myself sitting on a piece of driftwood waiting. not for him. not for her.
for the sun.*
*it actually comes. for the first time i can remember i witness the night turn all the way to morning. the sun falls on my face and i can feel it. something inside me feels excited.
as the horn of the ferry blasts an epiphany hits me- it’s going to be different.
i realize i’ve always known this day would come. i learned long ago the only constant in our concrete jungle is change. in these moments this brings me comfort. a new sensation.
a smile spreads across my face when it dawns on me. the devil, after everything, turned out to be a stand-up guy.*
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