Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Object lessons

My husband gave me a book about writing song lyrics for Christmas. (If you're reading this, hon, I need a book about writing music next time.) I decided to read a little bit of it today because we're barricaded in by a wall of wind and snow. Again.

There are some writing exercises in the beginning of the book where they ask you to write about an object or a sensation or something, to mine the depths of your sense memories. I did two, and I always feel like I go off track with these things, because I end up following a story. Here they are, for your snowtime enjoyment. The first was an object of my choosing, the second was a sensation prompt in the book. See if you can guess what they were.

The tastes of honey, of smoked meats and dried autumn leaves mix in the air while you breathe, more deeply than usual, and I drink from your glass of port, red and sweet. It's dark, but the light is coming from somewhere, and the wine is flowing, and my dress is flowing, and my arms are warm in your tuxedo jacket. You in your shirtsleeves, hair rumpled, bow tie sticking out of the pocket at my breast, I feel the glamour of the day in my heels and toes, cramped for so long in shining gold straps. This is the party of the year, and I'm not sure whether I'll remember it in the morning, except for that smell--which will last for two days, at least.

This is not the way I intended for it to happen, me, submerged and soaked, air trapped in my lungs by closed mouth, puffed cheeks, stubborn nostrils. You threw me in the pool and I stayed down as long as I could out of spite, letting out a bubble when the old air started burning my throat and I started to get dizzy. I was spiteful, but only because I didn't know how to tell you I loved the attention. A part of me--the oxygen-starved, lightheaded part, no doubt--wished that I would pass out so you'd have to jump in after me, warm arms around my unconscious, clammy flesh. You'd have to breathe for me, then, salty mouth on my chlorinated one, lips, pressure, hot breath, you, me, a long moment before I breathe again. I can't hold my breath anymore, so I surface, air foreign to me, sunshine, your gaze, which I can feel prickling at my skin like the boundary between pool water and hot July air.

Monday, February 01, 2010

capturing the moment of heartbreak

"Are you happy?" she asked. It was the first time in a long time that someone had even thought to ask about my happiness. 'Yes' wasn't the right answer, and saying no wouldn't be entirely truthful, either. The reality was that I hadn't given my own happiness a moment of thought in years. A seemingly simple question had revealed that I'd been living a life where happiness was nothing more than an abstraction. She was still standing there after all my deep thought, waiting for me to say something. All I could do was smile--wryly, I hoped--and shrug.


"What did the doctor say?" he asked. The doctor had asked me about my diet--vegetarian? Vegan? No, and no. There were the beginnings of osteoporosis, she'd said, and a vitamin deficiency. So strange for one so young, with the balanced diet I claimed to eat. She'd asked about my drinking habits, and I'd told some socially acceptable lie--a glass of wine with dinner and a couple of cocktails on the weekends, something like that--and she'd just nodded, slowly, her head tilted slightly in an expression of pity. She'd prescribed a vitamin supplement and given me a sheet of phone numbers to call "in case I felt like I needed to."

I told him, "She gave me a clean bill of health," which I regretted immediately. But I could never take it back, and it felt easier not to want to. That's when I knew: I'd let myself down the way everybody else had let me down, and it was no use to try to make amends now.


As we loosened up on the starting blocks, the guy in the lane next to me said, "good luck," in this tone of voice that might have been sarcastic. I didn't reply, but at the gun, I shot out into the water and started channeling my response into an exhausting kick and fast, strong strokes. Muscles burning, heart pounding in my mouth, cheers of fans muffled to a wavering whimper: this was it. I owned the flip turn and practically shot myself into the middle of the pool with my legs. I focused on my rival to distract myself from the thought that this could very well be my last chance. I didn't see him, so he was either way out in front of me or way behind. I reached the end of the pool and surfaced, gasping to ease my oxygen debt. I'd beaten the guy next to me, but the scoreboard told no lies: my lapse in concentration made me miss my Olympic dream by three tenths of a second. "Better luck next time," he said, his tone sincere. I knew there couldn't be a next time for me, but I tried to say, "you too," like I meant it.