Thursday, June 15, 2017

Until it looks like the real thing...

My drive to work every morning is landmarked by a series of consistencies, a predictable set of circumstances. My routine unfolds alongside the routine of thousands of others who are doing slightly different things in the exact same way at the exact same time every single day. A Groundhog Day of sorts, where the people, places and events remain static and the only thing with the potential to change is perception…awareness. 

At the end of Kenilworth, just before I turn onto the highway, there’s a massage parlour. I’m not talking about RMT’s with their cucumber water and Himalayan salt lamps. I’m talking about a dimly lit set of stairs where you don’t touch the handrails that descend into the most maligned version of human interaction that polite society will allow. It’s situated, fairly appropriately, amidst rows of deteriorating train tracks, skulking under the shadow of the Steel Mill and perpetually coated in the grit and dust suffusing from the coke ovens.  The sign advertises ‘Additional Parking in Rear’, the humour of which (unintended, I think- although perhaps not) is not lost on me.

The parking lot is always full.

In my twenties I would have looked at that and been overcome with disgust. That 22 year old girl who started this blog in 2005 would have derided the entire scene without clemency, would have railed on about the injustice. The building, the business, the women working there and the men wandering through- all burned at the stake with no capacity for preference or exception.

Age has a funny way of softening lines. Of widening gaze. Of evolving what’s right and what’s wrong into a spectrum and thereby gleaning some meaning in the place of an answer. 

There’s one client who doesn’t park in the rear. Not in the literal sense, anyway. My entrance to the highway seems to coincide with his night-shift ending at the mill and I often see him, either when I’m at the light or stuck at the tracks, as he’s exiting his car and heading inside. Sometimes he hangs around outside his car, smoking a cigarette with an expression on his face that I mull over whilst changing lanes. 

What is that expression? It isn’t defiance, although he could be described as such since he refuses the indignity-cloak of hiding his car with everyone else’s. It isn’t ambivalence, because he certainly knows what he’s doing. And it isn’t smugness, because however much of a habit this has become, I doubt it’s his first choice.


I think it’s acceptance. While others I have seen hastily enter or exit the building, chins tucked into the collars of their waxed jackets, eyes downcast and identifying features carefully concealed- he stands casually smoking, blinking into the sun, in no hurry at all. Comfortably unencumbered by the stream of witnesses driving past, immune to their swift judgement. He looks free of concern to me, and I’m a little jealous of anyone who seems content to live instinctively, unfettered by outside opinions.  

See a need, fill a need.

I’m past questioning morality and unprovoked by its type of religion. That’s been the gift of my thirties. It looks a bit like not caring, but it’s more about just embracing relative thought and rationale while abandoning the incredulity that governed my younger days. And to some degree, it’s about acceptance. A willingness to consider the origin story, and not just the resulting series of acts. Every morning I watch different men walk through a door to pay for sex. I don’t wonder why. I know why. There are a set of physiological needs that need to be filled. It’s all been neatly tucked in an inverse triangle that I remember from high school. If you have a beating heart and breath in your lungs, a roof over your head and a job to go to, it is a matter of time before you seek out whatever means are required to experience physical love. Emotional love fits in there somewhere as well, but it’s a few tiers up and, in the immediate sense, less necessary. Human beings require touch. They require release. They require two eyes looking into their own two eyes without the threat of rejection. And it doesn’t have to be the real thing, but it helps if it looks like the real thing.

Everyone pays for it. 

In a past life, I worked in pubs. I started at 18 and spent more than a decade waffling in and out of the industry. It’s a lot of staying awake til 4 am, sleeping in til noon the next day, listening to men talk about missing their wives or about hating their wives and letting them get drunk enough to not remember the difference. Ah, it was all so glamorous. Most of them were lovely guys. Humorous ex-pats with their puns and their banter and their weird rhyming slang. But even the loveliest can slip into darkness after one too many. On one such occasion, a discussion about ‘what kind of man pays for it’ cropped up. And I, well-rooted in my bold youth, declared that it was the territory of predators, looking to garner some sadistic pleasure from taking advantage of drug-addicted or otherwise troubled women. THAT is who pays for it, said I. And the once-lovely, now-darkened gentleman sitting opposite me leaned in with his eyes half shut, speaking in that familiar, snarled, drunken lilt of the you’re-not-better-than’s said, Everyone pays for it- in fact, I’m paying for it right now, am I not? Oh, and the fires of hell that swirled up in my stomach at the impact of those words.

I’m a barmaid, not a whore, said I. 

Everyone is a whore, said he. I’m paying you to pour my pint and stand in front of me smiling while I look at you and call you beautiful. Don’t wonder if it’s true. Ask yourself why you don’t mind. Nevermind, I’ll tell you. It’s because you need someone calling you beautiful just like I need someone smiling at me just like Johnny Whoremonger needs his bird to tell him he’s her favourite client. 

Ah, reckoning. I couldn’t see it then, but I can see it now. 

Human beings need love. You can punish yourself for it, if you want to. You can pull around the block and park in the rear, collar high and cheeks flared red. Or you can stand in the open, unapologetic, inhaling a cocktail of cigarette smoke and factory fumes. But everyone needs love, some version of it, some context of it. And it’s a need that will find its own way of being met, if left to its own devices. In desperate times, even the most tenuous grasp on the worst incarnation of it brings some measure of appeal; causing you to squeeze your hands into fists around the rusted edges and tightly close your eyes, until it starts to look familiar. 

Until it starts to feel like the real thing.   

Saturday, January 03, 2015

And then tab me out

People like to tell me their stories. Usually,  I don't really give a shit. I stand on one side of the bar and they sit on the other. They pay and I pour. They talk and I appear to listen. They tip and I might pay attention. There's a lot of give and take. A lot of pretend.

Every once in a while, someone tells me something that I haven't heard before.

Something new.

Something shocking.

Something I have to lean in to hear, because it's all they can do to just get it out with half a voice.

The other night...

A regular customer was sitting at the end of the bar. Barely anyone else was in. He's always been a loud, boisterous individual. Kind of tough. Works in construction. Laughs loudly. Talks loudly. Drinks a lot and fast. We got to talking about kids. I know his wife had two when they got together- later in life- a second marriage for both and he speaks of her kids often. It occurred to me I've never heard him talk of his own kids- so I asked if he had any.  Ordinarily, I wouldn't ask a personal question like that. Ordinarily, I couldn't care less. But I did ask the question. And as soon as it was out the look on his face suggested it was a mistake.

Big drunken smile vanished.

Eyes cast down.

Uncomfortable shifting of weight.

"No, no kids.
I mean, I was going to have kids. Like, I was going to. I was married before. Eight years. Married young for no reason. Had the house, had the cars, had the whole set up. We were gonna have a kid. I mean to say, she was pregnant at one time."

I thought to myself, oh shit. He's going to tell me she miscarried. What do I say,  what do I say, what do I say...?

"Yeah, yeah,  we were supposed to have a kid I thought. But in the end she didn't keep it"

I nodded, ah, she lost the baby.

"Not really. Not exactly. I mean to say she didn't keep it. She had an abortion. She did it secretly because she just didn't feel ready. I mean that's what I told myself I guess,  because she never did give me a reason."

I said, you were married for eight years and she secretly aborted your baby?

"Yeah. Yeah she did that. I thought we were going to have a child. I wanted kids and she did as well and we were excited. But then she came home one afternoon and said what she had done and I was... I mean... I wished she was dead instead. I left. I walked out the door and she moved down to Cleveland. I just walked out the door and left it swinging. I was drunk for six months"

I said nothing. I stood there, stricken and stunned.

"Now that's some heavy shit, I know. She wanted to reconcile with me years later. She moved back up here. She was back in town. But I can't even look at her. I have no stomach for her. I wish she would have just lied to me because I am haunted now and I've been haunted ever since. I mean, this is over twenty years dead and buried- but I still think about that baby. I still think about that life I created and I had no say and there's no changing it.
Anyway, no. No. I never really had any kids other than that.
I'll... uh...
I'll take a double scotch neat when you get a sec, Hon. And then tab me out."

Thursday, November 20, 2014

This must be the place

you're in a place
and the object of emotion
is somewhere
there are no telephones
no airplanes
no long distance wavelengths
and there is no end
in sight

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Like sleep to the freezing... Sweet and right and merciful

Fall always comes on to me like this. 

Damp chill and decay fills my airways, stirring up the tide and kicking up every leaf that settles. 
I was born with this addicts heart. It thunders away in my chest making me want what I want what I want what I want until I have squeezed everything out of it and I am fully sickened once more with a longing for other.


And how I want that affliction. And how I want to be agonized. And how I want some yearning to tear me apart and leave me sick and breathless and up all night.

But ask me and I will say I sleep peacefully every night. 
Every addiction comes with its own set of rules. Its own book of lies. Its own sweet promise that guards the door to the truth.

Those sweet promises are so filling. So appetizing. I made a meal from them and fed willingly. Now all that surrounds me are these photographs. These snapshots of peaceful love, like some sepia-toned cameo that I keep clutched to my chest. Just some fantasy. Just to bolster me across this blood-stained beach. Just to get me to the other side. Just til the war is over. Everything you swore lies tucked inside and I squeeze it hard until it cuts into my hand. I squeeze everything out of it. It hangs from my neck full of every instance in which you pledged fidelity with eyes green from my disease.

Because you were born sick as me. We are the same species.

And if you ache for other...

Keep it quiet, love. 
Just til the war is over.

Thursday, December 06, 2012

A single spark explosion

I am a creature of habit, I know this. My heart is the heart of an addict and I don't deny it. It searches for nutrition, for satiation in a word, or a look, or a hand on my hand. It searches in eyes that close a tenth of a second too long to qualify as a blink, but not quite long enough to justify how much time I might spend later on wondering what was contained there. 

And then...The bright lights of morning. 

I'm a lover of mornings, though I admit that it's not well-known due to the fact that I frequently sleep through them. This morning, the bedroom was awash in a pinkish light that flooded and dimmed as the blind swayed against the window frame. It's that rhythmic song of inhalation and exhalation that leads me to believe that I could still find you even if the brilliance that's holed up inside of you didn't fill every room that you walked into, didn't blanket every inch of me in warmth, didn't leave my eyes smarting.

Addiction, fixation, energy. A word. A look. A hand on my hand. Someone put this here. Someone dreamt this. Someone painted those two hands, the finger tips of which are laden with electrical current. When they're pressed against my skin, my body hums the euphonic morse code of your heart beat. And every other thing, every other thought, every other word... melts into that pinkish light.

"I dreamt last night I saw you
a single spark explosion
negotiating with the dead
by the bright lights in some ICU
on my chest you put your head
and said
there you are
there you are
there's my heart"

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

a gradual curve

logic and reason.
they are two forces by which i have so rarely been ruled. they float around my consciousness like so many bits of dust and debris; their influence more often overshadowed by the force of my heart. they beg me to go slowly, to take care, to think through each word before it leaves my lips.

but my heart works so much harder.
and my heart has so many other plans...

since the first day, since the first moment there was a clarity from which i couldn't disconnect, to which i couldn't relate any reason. and so instead of being patient and quiet, i memorized the sound of your voice, the shape of your hands, the movement of your eyes, the pauses in the conversation that were already striking me like lightning.

logic and reason dictate to us that these things take time. they take years to stretch and grow and ebb into a gradual curve. like old, silvercoated photographs that blacken in the natural light, things that happen too quickly can vanish just as quickly.

my heart works so much harder.
and my heart has so many other plans...

Sunday, October 12, 2008

never cut what can be untied

it was somewhere between eastern quebec and edmunston where we lost an hour and i saw my first east coast sunset. the highway 2 runs through a section of new brunswick that is largely untouched and there was little to distract from the streaks of pink and orange that stretched across the horizon.

i find it hard to sit still at the best of times, if nineteen hours in a car teaches you anything, it's patience. the highway provides the ideal circumstance for a captive audience and so i sat sideways in the back seat and watched through the rear window.
perception... is such a funny thing, like every sunset that starts off as a full expanse that then focusses into a single point of light before flicking away like a light switch.

and like darkness blaming the absence of light for it's condition, those excuses that you carry around with you are little more than redundancies. the things you do and say, that move you along and fill up the hours of your day are written in your own ink and no one else's, whatever else you might claim.

i have a heart that's working all the time, feeding every inch of me and repairing reserves along the way for additional employers. i got a sense, from time to time, of your inability to do the same, of an alarming disconnection. bits of soul and light and thought and all of those internal organs like so many links of chain that wound themselves slowly into knots...a complicated mess to be sure- but believe me when i say...

you should never cut what can be untied.

the nature of recovery

For my eleventh birthday, my Uncle gave me a book called, "A Glow in the Dark Guide to Decoding the Night Sky". The pages were filled with maps showing the movement of major constellations throughout the year. Since I was born in the early fall, my constellation was Virgo. Looking at that arrangement of stars, it was bewildering to me that someone could have ever deemed them to contain the shape of a woman. I remember standing outside that night with a flashlight, running my fingers over the raised dots and their eerie, chemical glow...trying to compare them to the bits of colourless, old light in the vastness above me. For the life of me, I couldn't find that damn constellation and I guess you could say that it was my first lesson in that happy, old adage, "just because something looks good on paper..."

Every year since then, on my birthday, I go outside and look for it. Admittedly, I've never actually found it, but I've learned to be satisfied in simply knowing that on this day the sky looks, and will always look, exactly as it did the first night I arrived underneath it.

When I moved to Hamilton, the stars seemed to burn further away from me. The lights of the city suffocated their glow and so, two days after my eighteenth birthday, I had the shape of the constellation tattooed on my back. I know it isn't the same thing as finding it for myself, but being able to feel the ridges of colourful scar tissue with my own hands offers, if anything, a comforting familiarity.

It's funny, this mass fascination we have with looking above- be it to the stars or something greater- for comfort, for familiarity, for explanations. In a way, we're biologically predisposed to it. After all, eyes are designed to look in every direction but inward. It so wonderfully facilitates the laying of blame elsewhere, the avoidance of self-analysis and accountability.

Today, I'm twenty-five. For fourteen years, I've attached so much meaning to this constellation. I have a history with it, with looking for it, with wondering how much of me would be different if it were different. If I were born two months earlier, would I understand you better? Would I have learned, as you have, to detach my heart from the rest of my body in order to meet some physical need? Would I have traded in my present attachment to human emotions in order to regard people as disposable and interchangeable? Maybe I would have been less naive, less willing. Maybe I would have cared less, shared less, worn less of myself on your sleeve.

But maybe not.
Maybe there is nothing in me that was destined by my birthday. Maybe I would have been exactly as I am now, only two months older.

Now, despite earlier evidence, earlier symptoms of intelligence, every inch of your disregard is coming out of the woodwork, and as prescriptive as it may seem, your eyes could certainly stand some inward gazing.

And I know... we are who we are who we are, but at the risk of sounding completely ironic, you can't tell me it was written in the stars...