This afternoon I went out for Mexican food
Well after the lunch rush
That quiet, empty space between meal times
Sat in a big, bright room alone
A man crooning Spanish over an accordion
played on the sound system
Accompanied by the clinking of ice in my glass and
the sound of my fork on my plate
Behind a curved glass wall
a woman stood making fresh tortillas
When I lived alone in Portland I made tortillas, too
Measured the masa by handful
Added water until I could feel the right consistency
Threw in a pinch of salt
Made balls of dough and
pressed them in that big, wooden contraption
someone must have also made by hand
Cooked them on hot cast iron
Flipped them with my fingers
Just like the Guatemalan grandmothers
on the YouTube videos do
I made piles of them and fed them to everyone
Ate them with nothing but a spritz of lime
Soft tortillas pressed against the flesh of our lips
Cut by the lightest pressure of slippery teeth
We didn’t think about how everything we do is wrong
and it hurts all the time
The sun slices through our apartment. Spotlights stacks of books, boxes of pastels, notebooks full of data. It climbs over the back of the couch and dances across the TV while we watch The Sopranos. Fourth season. I get up and draw the blinds.
Summer of 2010 I was sitting at the bar of a strip club in Portland. The only way I knew it was mid-afternoon was because I kept checking my phone, hoping someone would call, text. Ask to get me out of here. I was talking to a dancer before she went up on stage. A military wife looking to make some extra money to get by while her husband served in Iraq. “Plus, it’s nice to have people look at me. It makes it so much less lonely.”
The guys I was with bought us each a shot of bourbon, she rubbed my buzzed head, and kissed me on the cheek. Winked over my shoulder at my companions, talked a moment to the DJ, and disappeared behind the curtain.
Someone mumbled an introduction over the speakers. A name like Crystal or Kandi. There were two guys sitting at the rack. They both pulled out another stack of ones and slapped their hands together in a half-hearted fashion. The bartender and the three people in my crew clapped a few times before we all reached back for our drinks in unison. I don’t think there was anyone else in the whole place.
Neil Young’s “Heart of Gold” started playing and Crystal-Kandi walked out. Eight inch platform heels traced the stage in a slow and deliberate saunter. Shoulders back, hip sway exaggerated. She grabbed on to the pole and started swinging. We all only half paid attention. Focused on our drinking and discussion of our favorite Neil Young albums. Argued over the track lists of “Harvest” and “Harvest Moon“.
When we moved our eyes back toward the stage CK’s top was on the ground and she was hanging from the crook of one knee. Arms stretched out over her head, reaching. A delivery man opened the side door and drenched the entire stage in sunlight. You could see CK’s breath catch in her chest, eyes widening like a terrified wild animal.
The safety of the dark red strip club light had evaporated. A girl who had been only naked was now completely exposed. Her skin no longer like velvet, lacking any imperfection. Freckles, wrinkles, humanity all visible. She froze. The men at the rack squinted and leaned back in their chairs. The DJ yelled, one part anger and two parts nervous laughter, “Shut that goddamn door, dude!”
It’s February and the sun has been coming out the last few days. I keep expecting to feel basked in warmth and light. The promises of spring tickling my skin with hope as I loosen the scarf around my neck. But there is something bitter in its sweetness. An old friend returning to find me sitting in the same place. Hiding behind the same piles of to-dos, the same bad habits, still struggling with the same routines.
“I’m glad to see you, dear. I just thought I would be different the next time you came around.”
I pull the blinds and sink back into the soft red fabric of the couch. Hoping I can put off the exposure just a little longer. Maybe there’s still time to figure this one out.
After meeting with Alyssa, I decided to take a walk through an unfamiliar neighborhood. Inspected the yards of strangers, admired well-tended gardens and the last remaining Christmas decorations. I soaked up the quiet. The kind of thing you never realize you’re missing until you stumble on it again. How easy it was to hear my own footsteps, my own breath.
The scent of a new fence swept across a lawn. Cedar. That smell is forever tied to the summer my family made baidarkas in a friend’s workshop. I was too young to handle power tools, to build something, so I spent my time running around outside. I’d slide down the muddy embankment to the nearby creek. Then I’d roll my pant legs, wade up out into the water, and get all my clothing soaking wet. Bend over and hang my hands in the water, stay motionless as my fingers and toes grew numb, hoping to catch a fish, a tadpole, anything. Continue reading →