Fragments On Suicide

I’m 15 and sitting on my bed in my room writing tortured poetry.  Joy Division, Siouxsie And The Banshees and The Smiths play on a loop. Suicide soundtrack. I try cutting my wrists, but a dull knife and a low threshold for pain ruins the romance.  I want attention.

Seventh period study hall, Freshman year. George somebody or other. A tall, wide, redheaded football player, ugly. Really ugly, this guy. But popular. His best friend, Steve, wiry, tan, sun-tipped waves. A tennis player. The Beast and his Beauty.

The teacher, assistant coach of some kind–an alcoholic, barely kept his head adrift and frequently left ten minutes into class never to return. Steve and George found sport in making fun of Lara, a not very attractive, overweight girl with unwashed hair. They drew pictures of her on the board, made the whole class laugh. One day I stood up for her. George made me his target from that day forward. He and Steve drew pictures of me on the board, my face a piece of pizza. They never relented.

Lesley sat in the back on the other side of the room. I’d never met her before the day she found me at my locker and gave me a forged library pass.  “Meet me in the Library for study hall,” she said. I did, and every day after that. She came from money and the right side of town. Her dad had the right kind of job and she had all the right friends–which didn’t seem to matter to her. She saved my life. In high school kids can kill you, but they can also save you.

That you never really grows up. At a certain point she dims, but she never leaves. She hangs around to see how it all turned out, wondering about the longing you told her you’d handle, wondering if you’d make anything of it.

And so you spend the next several decades reaching for it. Until you’re tired and you’re here again, on the page, facing your high school self blank-faced and empty-handed.

“Sorry.” I say. “At least the weather’s better here.” We’re in L.A. Not Chicago.

I’m starting to bargain with the past. It won’t work. I’ll change gears. Try to put it another way.

This thing with Anthony Bourdain and Kate Spade, well how do you make sense of it?

And the news makes you feel like a child again, because it was a longing to become something big that kept you going and now it’s betrayed you.

Celebrities carry the psychic weight of the public’s needs.  They embody our aspirations, and they feel that pressure. They know their role. Perhaps then, celebrity suicide is a fundamental rejection of us and our fantasies.

According to a report in the Daily Beast, Spade told a friend she didn’t want to seek professional help for depression. She feared it might compromise her brand of bright colorful bags and charming charms telling women we’re one in a million. I wonder if she thought that through to its natural conclusion, that her brand was more important than her life, her daughter, her husband…

I spent 15 years in the beauty industry working for a Spade adjacent company–Bobbi Brown. There’s a kind of symbiosis between them–clean, strong lines, bright pops of color, classic taste. If you wanted to project power in the early 2000’s you wore Donna Karan, carried Kate Spade, and made up your face with the neutral power of Bobbi Brown.

Now look at them. Bobbi no long sells makeup. Karan came out in public support of Weinstein, and Spade is dead. Well, Spade’s death reveals a timeless truth about her industry, negative emotions have no currency. Traffic in them and you’ll lose everything.

Be positive, relentlessly, powerfully, positive. Successful people do it well. Until they don’t.

I wonder if, right after the moment of decision and right before their last, Bourdain or Spade regretted it, remembered their children, thought about their loved ones. People who have survived the 245 foot fall from the Golden Gate Bridge have reported regretting it the second they let go…And hanging isn’t painless…You have time to reflect on not being able to turn back.

Have you ever been depressed–seriously, clinically, you can’t move from your bed depressed? Your thoughts eat themselves. Enormous black feelings cannibalize every breath and you wish you could stop existing.

That’s rage, my friend. Inverted rage at your powerlessness to effect meaningful change. Round and round you go and each time you feel better you know it’s not for long. Right around the corner lurks a trigger–snap, bang, drag, fall and there you go again down the drain and out to sea.  So you dream of the end when you can stop trying and simply let go. It feels so much easier than fighting your way back. Reaching out requires honesty, vulnerability, strength. Depression wears you down until you feel like a thread.

It wears everyone around you down too. At a certain point you’re as tired of you as they are.

A Mourning Dove sits on a power line directly in front of my balcony where I watch. Every morning she sits for hours saying very little. What happened to your love? Where is your home? Why do you like this power line?

I think about suicide because of Kate Spade. That’s its contagion. No matter what you know or how smart you think you are, suicide seduces the damned. Obsessed with Robin Williams’ death, Spade read everything on it. Two years later here we are and there she’s gone. I read three articles on her death then stopped. It gets deep in your head. You can’t leave it alone, like that loose piece of skin on the roof of your burned mouth, you keep bothering it.

But I won’t. Suicide makes those you love angry. You’ve ruined their dream. You’ve killed their hope. You’ve robbed them of a piece of themselves. They will never again feel how you made them feel, and they may never forgive you for it. The violence of your last act chars your memory forever. Each time you come to mind the acrid odor of suicide follows until it’s just too painful to remember you as clearly or as regularly. You fade, forever damned by your last most significant act. Suicide as legacy.

These are all just words scraping the surface of something I’m trying to work out, but can’t. Something is stuck and I’m caught writing childish journal entries–anything to loosen the words and locate the story. Perhaps more of this to come. Stay with me and we’ll find the thread together…

Julio

Jose. Juan. No, Julio. Perhaps. I remember images, but not names. Never names. I worked at The Bailiwick Repertory, a Chicago theater in Boys town that featured plays and baudy shows celebrating the LGBTQ experience long before it was an acronym. It was a holdover from the 80’s, when the transgendered weren’t acknowledged, much less talked about, and being gay was a death sentence.

The Bailiwick also programmed works of new playwrights and gave new directors, like me, opportunities. But Aids had decimated the artistic community and by the early 90’s The Bailiwick grew desperate for more main stream audiences. No one came to see gay theater on the main stage and the only people interested in new works were other theater people. An artistic director and acting coach of mine once said, “You can get comped to death in this town.” His theater went under.

But before that, Julio. Yes, Julio. He came through town touring with a Mexican theater group one icy February. It was an Irish play translated into Spanish. Something haunting. Maybe a Yeats poem or a Wilde play. All male. The performers were gay, except one. Perhaps the straight guy was Jose? Nope. Can’t remember.  Simply a vacuum behind the face and the hot sinewy arms late at night as we slept out a storm on a wooden floor, the snow too blinding to leave. Julio slept in the bed above. He was sick. He warned me. Or simply told me. “He sleeps with someone in every town.” I think he said. Or maybe I asked.

The following day in rehearsal No Name no longer looked at me. He’d wanted one night and I wanted forever. I alway wanted forever. Once rejected, I no longer existed. A hole opened up within me, a familiar sinkhole. It stole my breath. It followed me everywhere anyway. I experienced momentary relief in the eyes of beautiful men who considered me beautiful, until they didn’t.

I found Julio elsewhere in the dim theater and sat next to him. I half expected him to leave. Instead, he turned and gently touched my arm. “Hi, Amy.” My name never sounded like that. I felt seen. Have you ever needed that so much in your life you thought you could die and just at that moment someone offers it? Without needing anything in return?

I don’t know if I said anything. Words often felt like sharp rocks in my mouth. I’d just as soon spare myself the agony of saying them. But I must’ve. He must’ve. Because at some point, as we sat together, he said, “You slouch. You’re so pretty. Do you try to sit up?” I thrust my chest out and sat up straight. “No,” he smiled. “Not like that.” He touched the back of my neck with one hand and my abdomen with another. “Take a deep breath.” I did. He tipped my chin forward and pulled the back of my head up. “Release your breath and tighten your tummy like this.” He demonstrated. “Pretend you have a cord from the ceiling holding you up here.” He tugged a little on my neck. “There. That feels good? Now breathe.” I sat up straight, my body felt right. “Everything feels loose, but like it’s supposed to,” I said. “Yes, you’re open now,” he said.

He was dying. Aids. In my memory he’s wearing white linen. But that can’t be right. It was a brutal February. Nevertheless, every time I see him, he’s in white linen and his feet are bare. He could’ve been 40. It’s hard to know now because, while his eyes shone like jet, his face was gray. He died that year I think. But one brief conversation left its mark.  I can recall the warmth his touch generated in my body even now. Not erotic. Something else, like the warmth sunlight offers after a storm. That’s not right. Too sentimental. I don’t have the words.

But the moment got lodged deep. Each day, at least once, I stand up straight the way he taught me. It’s involuntary. That’s what’s odd. I do it and think of him in his white linen on that freezing February day, wind howling through the walls. And I don’t know. It’s like, just the memory of him, and I can breathe. I don’t know what any of it means.

In 2006 I wrote this about a man I can’t believe I ever loved Part II

The sun pushes the clouds up extending them way above my head
Pink light spreads like layers of
cotton candy across the sky.

I’m not angry with him
I don’t blame him
I don’t ever want to be near him again.

I want to be with him again.
I cannot see my life without him

My heart told me to wait
And then asked me if it had ever been wrong before.

No, it had been right before.
It told me to get away from him all along.

But now it’s changed its mind.

In 2006 I wrote this about a man I can’t believe I ever loved Part I

I woke to your voice clinging to my thoughts
a web of tangled conversations
shaken loose by the storm in my head.

You once told me I thought like a man
Not the thing you want to hear from a lover
But then, you’d have known that.

It’s my birthday today and I know you remember
I feel your thoughts upon my body so dense I can
barely lift myself from the bed.

But I do not call and I wonder if you will
Like I wonder this time each year.

I’m relieved when you don’t but
sometimes
your absence is so near it’s like that first day
I woke and remembered you were gone.

I always knew we were made for heartbreak
You and I
It never stopped me from loving
you.

Get up
Shower
Dress
Drive to work

But I have this sense I left my body back in bed.
I want to tell you that. You’d get it.

Management Meeting

I found notes today from a meeting a long time ago:

Ask questions.
I’m responsible for their work.
Ask them what they are used to. Communicate what I am used to.
Ask, “Who else are you answering to?”
How often are we touching base? Set meetings.
Processes are important. Set process.
How do we get there? Cast a vision for how to get there.
Relationship is essential–foundational
Talk more during meetings, even if you don’t have anything to say. Make them believe you have something to say.

End of meeting.

Oh, I’m not even kidding.

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How meetings make me feel. 

The San Diego Zoo and Other Thoughts

imageAmerica swirls the drain. The world is run by criminals. I don’t know where I’m going creatively. Chipped nail polish. Age. Weight gain. Time pulls me to the grave. OK, that’s a drag of a thing to write. But I don’t know where I’m going creatively. I saw a monkey at the San Diego Zoo studying the feces on his hands. It fascinated him. Or he was pretending it fascinated him. He sat himself in front of the viewing glass, looked at all the people looking at him, and I swear to you, started playing with the feces on his hands to gross everyone out. He shared a habitat with the orangoutangs. The oldest one, the alpha. 42 years old. He looked like a sad version of Maurice from the Planet of the Apes movies. All of the animals in the zoo looked sad. Zoos are inhumane. The Reptile House was the saddest of them all. The reptiles lay tangled in small cages, pressed against the furthest corners or hiding altogether. Nobody likes to be watched for a living.

Except the penguins. They were having a ball. But they’ve only been there since June. Everything is new. They swam happily and played joyfully bumping up against the reinforced glass as children banged their little fists and adults dangled bracelets the penguins tried to catch. I wondered if they would tire and grow as jaded as the other animals.

In the Panda Exhibit the youngest panda went out of his way to defecate at the crowd. He came out from where he ate and sat on the closest branch with his back to the crowd, urinated and defecated, then returned to his place near his enclosure.

In spite of these things, there were a few magical moments. A male gazelle approached me where I stood and stared at me while he ate from a tree. It was strange and wonderful. Not many people watch the gazelles. But they seemed as smart as they were graceful, muscles on top of muscles moved over sinewy limbs. A baby was born only two hours prior. I couldn’t see it, but just knowing it was there was cool.

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It made me appreciate and respect my animals more. My cats aren’t human babies and I think I do them a great disservice when I treat them that way. Nevertheless, we’ve been together nearly 15 years. When I returned home they greeted me at the door and followed me from room to room. Chloe, my calico, waited at my feet until I picked her up. She’s always done that. When her head was bigger than her body I remember looking down at her little face when she was eight weeks old as she waited to be held. My husband read somewhere that domestic cats remain in a perpetual state of kitten-hood. As I sit Charlie, my orange male cat sleeps, paw stretched out pressed against my leg. He often sleeps that way. So, it’s hard not to think they’re not human. Or human-like. Or that they have achieved some kind of sentience through our relationship to them.

I don’t know. This is where it ends today. I don’t know where I’m going creatively. I’ve written a web series I will produce this fall. Stay tuned for that. I’m working on a feature, or a play. I’m not sure what it is yet. It seems to be a hybrid. I guess those are things. I just haven’t written in them in a week. And I have no way of knowing if they’ll ever see the light of day. But, build it and they will come, yeah? Yeah. Otherwise, there’s nothing.

I’m a depressive by nature. I can’t help but feel as if we’re all doomed. Aren’t we? Doesn’t it all prove out? I have to shake this off. Today I drive to the City of Industry for a gig where I have to look ten years younger and act even younger than that. Beauty and youth are commerce in my line of work. You never go looking how you feel. I’ve seen the girls who do that. There are a lot of them actually. I don’t know if they know that when they don’t wash their hair, or finish their makeup, or where clean black, they look like they feel. They look like I feel.

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Kitty in jail

Do you know where the City of Industry is? I’d never even heard of it. It sounds terrible. City of Industry, like a place for car dealerships and massive pharmaceutical complexes. Aren’t those the only industries that make legit money anymore? I used to work for a company that shot talking head videos for pharmaceutical companies. They were inner-office video memos and training videos. That was 15 years ago. That industry is dead. The professional video servicing industry. It got replaced by college students with a camera and Final Cut Pro. Cheaper, faster, less is more.

I don’t know where I’m going creatively, see. I have this web series. I need to finish it, but it’s a comedy and I’m not feeling funny anymore. Or right now. And it’s probably not funny anyway. And what am I doing writing screenplays anyway? Well, everything else is harder. I just know how to do it well. I teach it. Did you know that? Yeah. I’m good at teaching it. I just figured I should finally do what I say. I know what I’m talking about. I don’t know. You wouldn’t know it to look at me, or even to read this, but I’m good at writing stuff. Maybe not today. But in order to write anything you often have to lower your standards just to get past the first sentence.

 

At 30,000 Feet

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At 30,000 feet, after the pilot announces cruising altitude and turns off the seat belt sign, people change. It’s a small shift, a quiet adjustment, intangible even to them.

In the 90’s and early 2000’s, before the proliferation of personal media devices, airlines showed outdated movies and cancelled television shows. You purchased your headphones for two dollars and plugged into the armrest to watch on a screen overhead, or one embedded in the seat in front of you. Movies like Hope Floats, Forces of Nature, He Said, She Said, television shows like Who’s the Boss, Charles In Charge, Full House, and when you were lucky, early episodes of Seinfeld, or Will and Grace. Anything cheap. There were a lot of commercials.

Those programs had a strange effect on many passengers.  People, otherwise hardened by life, cynical by nature, non-criers, sobbed during movies that once made them scoff. They laughed hard at out of date humor. And no one was more shocked than they. I heard a woman tell her story, a New Yorker who flew from L.A. and back again frequently. She sobbed during Pretty Woman and even harder at Notting Hill. She could not explain the mutation. A friend of hers, a man, confessed the same happened to him. Was it altitude? Was it something in the water? Was it that she was alone and allowed to just feel her feelings. Sort of, something like that last one. A psychologists explained it this way: Untethered from her life, her career and her relationships, her subconscious crept to the surface and found a crack through which to escape. I never experienced this. I’m a crier. And I definitely feel my feelings.

When I step on a plane and I’m headed somewhere I want to go, I experience relief. Unbound from my anxiety and frustrating jobs, I relax and sleep for hours, dreaming nothing. Typically my dreams are more fraught than my thoughts even on my best days. Winding through a maze of emotional IED’s, my psyche drags up the most desperate sludge. When I wake, yesterday’s anxieties are replaced by new ones, or old ones, they’re all on a loop. The last one I remember today fused my former church life with my current writing ambitions. The theist to the atheist as represented by two specific men in love with one another and not with me. Obvious, right? Unable to penetrate a career in any carnation (I once wanted a career in the church) I nibble on its crumbs, volunteering for nothing, while I languish in humiliating jobs.

On Saturday I worked a retail makeup event. I received a complaint. The big boss woman, alpha woman, confronted me about it in front of her client, the current client in my chair, and my co-workers. The complaint: The client approached me, wanted her makeup done because her artist cancelled on her at the last minute and she was going to her sister’s wedding. I was affable, we chatted genially. At the end of the application she seemed fine. She could have asked me to fix the problems.

However, the nature of the complaint isn’t important. Complaints happen and when they occur the bosses act like it’s the apocalypse. No one ever asks the employee what happened. I see it all the time. However, in 13 years, I haven’t seen a boss confront the employee in front of everyone. As I stood in shock, she said of the new client, “I need to see her when she’s done. You need to clean up all this fall out here and blend this out. There shouldn’t be any harsh lines.” Her voice boomed.  I nearly burst into tears. I wasn’t even half-way through the application. My client was embarrassed for me.  I went to the back, pulled myself together and made it through the rest of the day. I’ve been simmering since.

The way this alpha woman treated me felt like rubbing alcohol on an open wound.  Insult to injury because the day prior I had worked on an article about Wonder Woman for 17 hours then submitted it to a handful of publications. I felt it was strong and timely, something I never have time to write. I thought it had a good, no a great chance of getting published. Hours later the terrorist attacks in London occurred. Perhaps my article got lost? But I think it’s more likely that it wasn’t good enough, clear enough…something. These pubs are still posting essays on Wonder Woman. It earned 103.1 million at the box office this weekend.

When I worked in restaurants I cried all the time. I received bad tips and complaints. I was a pretty bad server. But I’m a good makeup artist. I haven’t received a complaint in years. I’m new with this company, they don’t know that and they don’t care. Anyway, it’s a bad omen. And here’s the thing. I don’t think I can recover from it. I hold onto things and they get bigger. I sort of revel in not forgiving, letting the anger grow into rage and the rage into hate. It makes me move. Otherwise I get too comfortable in uncomfortable places. And I want to move.

 

 

 

She could sell swampland to a frog

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She sold $1000 worth of makeup and brushes on the regular. This meant she got more hours than other freelancers. Her bosses loved her. Charming, pretty, forceful, but with a smile, she could sell swampland to a frog.

Except her sales carried hefty returns. Buyer’s remorse hit her clients hard. No matter. As a freelancer she’d be gone by the time the products came back and smack the associate, who rang her up, in the paycheck  The freelancer’s hourly did not depend on her returns, but on her perceived overall sales. In that arena no one circled her stratosphere.

You can’t be too honest in the retail cosmetics game. We’re all at war. War with one another, war with the client, war with our companies. The pressure to sell and sell hard creates a burden that stretches ethical boundaries. “Watch her and just do what she does,” my boss told me. I stood by the freelancer as she closed the sale. “Oh, no, no, no, you can’t just take one of these. You need them all if you want to look like this. Your husband will be amazed. You look 10 years younger.The brushes, the skin care, the makeup. It will last you a year. Two years. Here, I’ll give you gifts. It’ll be a great deal. If you come back and get them separately, you don’t get any gifts.” She spoke quickly without a breath and as the customer stood there in a daze, she threw as many free items into the bag as she could find and grabbed the client’s credit card.

Often, when the counter sold out of an item, she’d send the client out with a substitute just to make the sale. Tawny shadow gone? Sunny Blonde is close enough. Foundation number 32 sold out? 33 will do. Sub the Cola for Cocoa, New York Red for Moulin Rouge Red. She’ll never know the difference. The freelancer knew what we all know. If you’ve sold her hard on an item that’s perfect for her, it’s nearly impossible to swing her in another direction at the last minute.

It’s not the end of the world. It’s just makeup. So she doesn’t like it. So she decides it’s not right for her. So what it’s not exactly the right one. Maybe it will work out for her anyway.

Or maybe you’ve just lost her trust and her return business.

Don’t be naive, dear reader, corporations don’t care. All numbers and annual projections are based on perceived possibility. If this freelancer can sell $1000 in one sale, why can’t all of them do that? Who cares how. And so the pressure is on and the ones who figure out her secrets close in on her lead. Others who insist on honesty fall behind and eventually lose the race.

With online deals and internet beauty influencers cannibalizing sales, makeup corporations struggle to find their base. The ground shifts constantly. Anxiety flows downhill and picks up speed. By the time it reaches the makeup artists and sales associates it’s at a fever pitch. Sell, lie, lie, sell. Make the customer love you and it just doesn’t matter. I’ve been in this game a long time. There are times that you can do everything right and it just doesn’t play. Your bosses however will never believe it. A former boss stepped down and became a freelancer. She and I worked together one day. In confidence she said, “I’ve been sitting everybody down and people aren’t buying. I’m doing everything right!”

I shrugged. “Sometimes customers just don’t buy.” I wish all bosses would come down and work the floor.

More James Ellroy than La La Land

teacup-2325722_1280Everybody who lives in Los Angeles seems to love it. I have yet to meet an exception. Even my cynical friends confess their undying attachment to it. It’s their everlasting commitment to the Entertainment industry, that abusive boyfriend of careers. Good looking, arrogant, James Dean bad boy, aloof, yet occasionally interested, the Entertainment industry holds people in its spell. No matter how much it rejects them, they run back whenever it calls.

A town too small, yet too big. In love with itself yet too insecure to appreciate anything new borne from its womb. Unless an artist receives approval from New York or other competitors, she does not exist. Sounds like sour grapes, but it’s just an observation. Ask Mark Ruffalo. Nobody worked harder than he to get representation in this town, one man shows, dozens of mailings, tireless networking. Then he goes to New York, has one good show and L.A. clambers over itself to get to him. One agent asked him, “Where have you been? Why haven’t we heard of you?”

As any true narcissist, L.A. gazes upon itself in full loving adoration and calls anything the establishment does as good. The L.A. Times regularly bathes the L.A. Opera, the Mark Taper Forum, and The L.A. Philharmonic with glowing reviews. I often wonder if that dude even goes to see the shows. La La Land swept up awards not because it deserved to, but because it was a love letter to the industry.

Once, as I exited the freeway and stopped at the light I saw a young guy with long brown hair and a stoney expression. He held a sign that read, “Musician. Hate L.A. Trying to get out. Please help.” I don’t know how effective that was, but it was the only time I saw anyone openly admit to hating L.A..

I attended dozens of industry parties when I first arrived here nearly ten years ago. I found I had two things to offer, well one really, fucking. Gross, I know. But this is a gross city and I didn’t have a career or a body of work to offer anyone. Just a body. Once somebody assessed that I wasn’t important enough, sexy enough, or young enough to help them, they’d be on their way, eyes darting around the room, hunting.

I almost dated a gorgeous guy with a million dollar smile until I found out he lived in a bedroom in someone’s house so he could lease a brand new BMW and pay for acting and writing classes. He wasn’t even good.

That’s L.A..

Miranda Frum wrote a piece about how a hypnotist to the stars helped her quit smoking in The Daily Beast this week. She’s a model with a famous journalist father. Frum gets her opportunities the way most people in L.A. get them, nepotism and looks. Just read her pieces in The Beast and you’ll agree. It’s like Tom Hanks’ wife Rita Wilson. I read a piece of her’s in Vogue once and nearly fell asleep four sentences in. Writing isn’t easy folks. Take a course. Oh, but she did. I worked at a screenwriting training facility to the stars 12 years ago where she received private tutoring. Have you seen anything she’s written?

Frum loves L.A.. In the article she writes about cerulean skies and perfect cloudless days. The hypnotist charges $800 for an in person session. There’s the option to stream him online for $9.99. She chose the $9.99 option for obvious reasons, right? Because she doesn’t have $800 to spend on a single session, right? No, she chose it because she didn’t want to drive the 45 minutes from Hollywood to Santa Monica. In the end, however, she makes the drive and visits the dude and is now living a charmed smoke free life writing on her glorious balcony and drinking her Ayurvedic tea.

That’s L.A.

My L.A. is more James Ellroy than La La Land. “You hate it so much, why don’t you leave?” You ask. What’s the alternative, New York? I don’t know the answer. I still don’t know what I want to be when I grow up. No, that’s not true. I want to be a writer. I just don’t know how to be it.

Satan, God, and a club called Medusa’s

Former site of Medusa's after it burnt down.

Following the fire, Medusa’s was no longer. In its place, an office building.

Unfinished business gets in your DNA. Like that guy from high school I almost loved, but feared. He symbolizes much of what I didn’t do and now regret. He’s in my dreams from time to time. Because I don’t do what it is I want to do. His ghost lingers over all I’ve let drift.

If I could go back I’d change…but what would I change? When would I change it? How far back do you go? Because you could go all the way back to childhood but you’d just end up accumulating different regrets. I’m obsessed with high school. I wasn’t popular, but I wore that like a badge. I knew it meant I was better, more artistic, smarter than the cheerleading uniforms bouncing through the hallways on a Friday afternoon before the pep rally. Pep rallies. A time my outcast friends and I used to troll for older boys and pass private notes like they were Pentagon secrets.

Until Satan and God and a club called Medusa’s. Before midnight on Saturdays it was a juice bar. After midnight, bouncers kicked underagers like me out. They kind of did. It really depended on whether they thought you were cute. Anyway, I didn’t like to drink. I just wanted to dance, and do things my parents feared. But my overactive guilt complex required absolution. I told my mother about the upside down crucifixes, gargoyles, and twisted angels hanging from the walls while The Sound of Music played ironically on a 20 foot screen overlooking the main dance floor. My mother grounded me for life. No, I’m serious. She grounded me until the age of 18 or until college, whichever came first. No phone. No television. No activities of any kind. Her one stipulation. Go to church. And as long as I did stuff with church kids, she’d allow me day passes.  She picked me up. She dropped me off. Until it became too inconvenient, then she let me drive myself. And by that time, I’d stepped fully into Stockholm Syndrome. Church became my life. Church kids. Church writing. Church membership. It lay the groundwork for my life. Every decision I made until the age of 29 shot out from the center of a rigid, literal interpretation of the Bible.

I killed myself. Not to be overdramatic, but I think there’s a certain truth to it. I killed my potential. The person I almost became. The one Mr. Banacheck identified in our Cinema Studies class when I was a Sophomore. He wanted to mentor me. He saw that I had promise as a writer.  He was Jewish and secular. Two things my mother could not abide.

And now, more than 10 years after I shed the shackles of my faith I still feel too guilty to write freely. I went in the wrong direction, forged the wrong neural pathways. The ones I need do not exist. Writing in my voice feels much like learning a new language. In youth your brain moves freely to find its truth, like an amoeba shifting between poles. I sense my truth, but I can’t access it. What if it’s too weird? Too gross? Too overtly sexual? What if that makes me too broken? What if people see it and know my worst secrets? And judge me. What if it costs me work? When you’re young you don’t fear because you don’t know what to fear.

I dreamt about that boy last night. He lives in my basement and he loves me, desperately. I’m dating someone else. A safe boy. A church boy named Jim. He actually existed. Jim was Tracy’s boyfriend for four years. We thought they’d marry. They were the most popular couple in the group. Athletic. Good looking. Fun. In my dream I am Tracy. I mean I’m me, but I play Tracy. I long for this other boy living in my parent’s basement. My mother refuses to let me see him. Until I tell her she cannot stop me because I am a grown woman. She realizes I am 18 and her spell breaks. I descend the stairs and say to the boy, “I love you. I will always love you. I’m breaking up with Jim, just give me time.”

“You’re so confusing,” he says. “You East Coast girls are so confusing to us on the West Coast.” This is a dream statement. He and I both lived in the Midwest. We spend the rest of the dream in a push-me pull-you state. Much like the actual dynamic in our high school days. I did love him. As much as a kid can love another when she barely knows herself. But knowing myself now I know that I never loved any other until I met my husband. This particular boy haunts my dreams because he was the last significant contact I had with my authentic self before I got lost in the forest of faith.

Our identities are shaped by the people we love. Entire selves emerge from the fires of our deepest connections. The people I loved, the men I knew all had to do with a false self, a supposed self, a self created for safety’s sake.

Most of the time I don’t think about this boy. Actually, I don’t think of him at all in my waking hours. But in sleep he visits to find resolution and I wake aware that resolution never comes.