Angela Again

Just then a moth flew into the living room, fussing about something. It fluttered in and out of our conversation, in a jagged line that peaked and plummeted like a lie detector.

This date was planned in advance. Angela texts a couples of days before she wants to meet. I text and suggest a day weeks after that. She texts to ask what day we decided before she writes it on her calendar. She texts the day before we meet. She texts the day of.

Angela’s favorite TV show is Monk. It’s about a detective with OCD, which is not what she has. She has a learning disability, which I always remind everyone, to remind myself. At her apartment, she leaves post-it notes all over so she won’t forget anything. At family gatherings, she keeps asking whose cup is whose.

When we’re together, I have to talk light – check my verbal baggage of metaphors, references, AP vocabulary – gaze as they slide and slip through rubber flaps, console myself that later they’ll come out on the carousel, going ’round and ’round, and I’ll pick them up again.

The moth landed as Angela watched. “When I’m running, I’m not in the run,” she said. “When I’m swimming, I’m not in the swim.” And she was not in the story.

“Where are you?” I asked.

“Thinking,” she said. “The same thoughts. Over and over. The same thoughts.”

Through Angela’s eyes I saw the thoughts, long, thick, dark covers, thrown over the world, everything draped with them, shaped by them, covered and collecting dust.

“About whom?” I asked.

She gave the names of her boyfriends. Just two of them. There have only been two. They were fine and nice and good and other adjectives that don’t modify anything. The first one was named Jones. He was 25 years older than her. We did not call him Mr. Jones.

I mean, they were better than the boyfriends in Lifetime movies, who begin as sweet and charming, but become jealous and controlling. Actually, I don’t think that transition would bother Angela, or us. We would all give him control, as long as he wasn’t too crazy and didn’t make her cry. Someone to watch over her.

“I wonder where they are, what they’re doing, when they’ll call,” she said. “But they’re not my boyfriends anymore. I know, I know that, but I wonder, I wonder,” she looked at the floor without looking at it.

“Why don’t I stop,” She said.

I started thinking about the men seeking men, flashing their portraits, lining the blank corridors of craigslist. How I would step towards and back from each one, asking can I like this? and selecting several, sending the e-mails, selecting one, meeting somewhere, not really liking them but really wanting them to like me. And later, wondering what it was for.

“Whose cup is this?” Angela asked, her hands hovering over them, like a magician.

“I don’t know,” I said.

Leaving the cups untouched, she laid hands on the armrests.

“Do you pray?” I asked.

“Of course I pray,” she retorted, in a rush of Catholic adrenaline.

“I’m not talking about waving your hands around and saying the same words over and over,” I said, looking at her.

She looked at me. Like she’d stolen something and now the owner was asking for it back, but asking nicely. Her eyes filled up.

“I stopped praying when the grandparents died, and Jones – ” she paused. “Now I pray to the grandparents.”

“Why do you pray to them?” I asked.

“Because they’re real,” she said. “I mean, I know God is real, but He isn’t real. To me.”

“You’re real to him,” I said. “He made you. He loves you. He likes you,” I paused. “Try talking to Him like you talk to them. Ask Him to be more real.”

The moth was flitting around a lamp now, and I wondered what compelled it: the light, or the cloth shade.

“But tell me,” Angela said. “Should I stop praying to the grandparents?”

The Lion, the Witch, and the Car I Drove

It was an 8-hour trip home from Kansas City, Missouri – a city split by two states, which I find quite relatable. Also, as I learned on the visit, it’s one of the busiest corridors for sex trafficking in the country. Likely this is due to its Celtic cross of freeways, bringing customers from every direction.

While I drove I listened to Michael York, that yummy English muffin, read the second installment in The Chronicles of Narnia. Audiobooks are another invented industry of the outsourced society, wherein we can’t even read a book, we must have some specialist do it for us. But a moving car has the same effect as eating a gigantic meal – it drags me into the undertow of deep sleep – and no one keeps me upright like Michael.

In the story, the spoiled brat Edmund (the one most like all of us) is manipulated by the White Witch, because she promises more Turkish Delight. Since I’m an Anglophile, not an Anglo-Saxon, I Googled the dessert. It’s a “sensuous pleasure imbued in its melting, gelatinous texture, and, when made in the proper way, delicately perfumed with rose petals, flavored with oils and dusted with sugar…[it has a] power as sweet and seductive as Arabian nights.”* So it’s candy. Cheap and sweet, but you pay for it later.

Just off the freeway, I saw a building without windows, like those anonymous municipal things outside of town that contain some power supply. So did this one, I realized, as I read the sign: Lion’s Den Adult Bookstore. The lion imagery was conflicting, considering the book I was listening to and The Book I believed in.

On my 18th birthday, I drove around with a friend whom I wanted to be more, though I knew little of what that meant. I said, “I’m 18 – I have to do something.” He smiled, “Like what?” I smiled in a different way, “I don’t know.” He thought. “Do you want to buy some cigarettes?” I pretended to think. “No.” I pretended to pause. “Let’s go to that store next to the freeway.”

They’re always next to freeways. And they’re all the same. We walked in and showed our ID’s. We walked around, he looking at the merchandise, me looking at him. We left. I never went in another place like that. I never had to. It was all only a laptop, click and a hump away.

“This was enchanted Turkish delight…” Read Michael York. “…anyone who had once tasted it would want more and more of it, and would even, if they were allowed, go on eating it till they killed themselves.”

As I passed the store, I stared at the cars in the parking lot, waiting for their drivers.

*So says Jenny Colgan, some britchick who writes chicklit.

The Week Before Halloween

I turn off all the lights until “it’s as dark as Noah’s ark when it’s dark.” That’s the second line of a poem written by a neighbor girl. Today she gave me a private reading of it in exchange for giving her a ride.

I light a candle – for whom, I’m still deciding – when the phone rings. It’s Lee. The candle lights for Lee.

We met in film school, back when I was a culture vulture. Well, not really a vulture, more like Snoopy pretending to be a vulture, using the art of others as braces for my artistic posture.

From the shelf I pick up a forgotten necklace, untangle it, lay it around my neck. I describe it to Lee: “it’s plastic beads and metal hoops and it was probably suffocating in some girl’s cleavage only days ago.”

We bitch about The Perks of Being a Wallflower being called this generation’s Breakfast Club. “Don’t they know it’s set in the ‘90’s?” Lee asks, and I answer probably not, but incidentally, I just finished reading Molly Ringwald’s first novel, When It Happens To You, and when did it happen to us? Somehow we started as that and became this. God is like a thief in the night – no – a nocturnal interior decorator who sneaks in and gradually switches a couch, a lamp, a painting, until you are home away from home.

Not so long ago – not even on a good day, which made me think I was a good person – would I think my life taking place in a church-bought duplex, to love our neighbors in a diverse area. Actually, it’s diverse now that we moved in?

I hear Lee mention his roommate, the roommate he’s mentioned for 2 years, but this time I’m not content with an honorable mention. I ask if he’s more than a roommate.

There is a pause. With my lips, I surround one of the metal necklace hoops, forming an expression like the Coppertone girl.

“Yes.” Lee says. “He’s my partner.”

He apologizes, “I know your beliefs – ” and I smile, “No, you don’t – ”  and soon we’re Victorian houses being opened, furniture undraped, dust floating like thoughts, secrets gasping for breath.

We talk for another 20 minutes, say goodbye for another 15, talk for another 5, and then actually say goodbye.

It’s quiet. The orange streetlight fills the room and it glows like the center of a jack-o-lantern. I smile and wonder what I’ll be this year.

Upper & Lower

I call it my office. I don’t call it my bedroom. It’s not big enough for either.

My bed is lofted about 5’4″. If the Brewers decided to play baseball on the floor, the bed would be the nosebleed section. Upstairs I can hear the landlord and his lady pounding the keys of their sexual organs. My roommates bring their boyfriends home, shut their doors, and – gIGGle – shhhh – gIGGle – shhh.

God’s going to use my gonads for his glory, not for my gratification.

The conventional diagnosis for this is sexual frustration, but I prefer sexual circumvention – rerouting the passion for a more productive use.

I am a string figure in God’s hands. He knows that being in a relationship would distract me from being an artist, so he allowed Satan to make me selfish. He knows that without a struggle I would be without inspiration, so he allowed Satan to make me homosexual.

Today a co-worker held up a cable and said, “see? This is a male to male connection.” Inside, I was a studio audience, and Satan was Lucille Ball.

I laughed my ass off.

Give us this day our daily gluten-free bread

I wish there was a way to vacuum undesirable ingredients right out of food. I would pick gluten, dairy, sugar. I suppose other people would pick fat, calories, carbohydrates. I suppose other people would pick people. We have a lot more undesirable ingredients than food. Laziness, stupidity, craziness. We would all benefit from a vacuuming, especially me, which is what I’m actually, astonishingly, always, talking about.

When you do your self-deprecating before dinner, this is what it sounds like.

I shouldn’t call it dinner; I should call it breaklundinn. Because it is all 3 meals in 1. Not really the same amount of calories, or food, but it’s the only meal I eat. I should say I only eat dinner. But that sounds so simple. Or anorexic. Or prejudiced against breakfast and lunch. I am none of these things, dear brothers and sisters! NoneI am poor and pretentious: I can’t afford to eat healthy food 3 times a day, but I refuse to eat unhealthy food 3 times a day. So, here I am. Rock you like a hurricane.

This is another in a series of spiritual grilled cheese sandwiches.

–Burn the outside to melt the inside? Well I won’t get laid for that metaphor.

Leaving half of my material possessions on the curb was the first. Glorious lamps, pillows, posters, chairs – locking arms with one another, glaring at me: you can’t do this to us. And then, when a woman stopped her car and picked them up: you’ll regret this, but we won’t. We’re going to the University of Chicago. We’re going to get a bachelor’s degree. Unlike you. All right, they didn’t say all that, they didn’t say anything; the woman picking the stuff up said she was going to give it to her daughter, who was starting at the University of Chicago.

And now tonight, a newcomer in a small community of Christian queers. “Is there anything you want to tell us about yourself?” “The floral arrangements make me uncomfortable. What is that? Burgundy seaweed?” The restless ache that leaves our heart and tries to stay in another’s heart, only to find it full, and trudging back, a bitter homecoming.

There is a truck stop between who we are and who God wants us to be. We can take a shower, and have a meal, and then several years later realize we haven’t gone anywhere.