“What is in your heart? You glow.”
I was so broke
and depressed. sometimes I forget
that. it was the depression that was pinning me
to my apartment, keeping me locked there
keeping me imprisoned.
not my insecurity but a numbness that had me
making more terminable plans
bu some small joy always carried me:
a used and discarded turquoise shelf
I found when I was out.
I hung it loosely on the wall,
without commitment and the wood
became immediately blackened by my incense cones.
the corners splintered and were
rarely dusted and topped with pictures
of my deceased:
Nana, Papa, Anselm Hollo,
other clients, friends I knew
in childhood and
first dog Pepper,
my first dead brother
or third dead uncle.
always drink or suicide,
something tragic when it comes
to my family but
I’m still here and
brave, I think.
in a few different ways
but I want cleansing
so I tear it from wall,
I’m stripping the floral siding
with my fingernails,
peeling the paint back to white
to present to you
a dusted start.
I wear black skirts with lace
lining for the cats,
rain boots when I go out,
drawn shades with a smirk,
and nothing when you come
I am a nihilist,
nobody had to teach me
that and no men
held that void quite like
I can hold that void.
they mocked me and I let
have a constructed reality
that surrounds me but I feel
a thirty year repression
birthing from a well
and it carries eels like
lightning, the nose of sharks;
past betrayals come next.
you like rain:
a little deluge for your
flight, I feel no obligation
or my penciled tips
on how to revitalize
I’m tired and
my want for self grows and
ends in impatient provocation,
your spiral notebook,
the bottom of the ocean.
well, they always start
the same way:
in winter, it always starts in
winter, that’s when I am my weakest.
I am usually unsettled,
raving at the window,
the cracks in my joints announcing
themselves in arthritic temper.
you’re so young
I’m so young at this.
during the darkest months,
at times I know I should
be sleeping so I am reaching
for anything that reaches
to help me get through the
in truth, I am a nihilist.
men didn’t teach me that
nothing ever matters and
nothing is ever coming back.
I watch my days get dragged away by tides
that become encroaching swells
and think to myself,
well, it always starts
with a storm.
The Act of Blaming things
“yeah the guilty is often
the victim of the injured.”
as if I am even hurting anything;
some embittered tremulous
thing shaking her fist at the
moon and praying for a tidal
you notice the notch in my veins
before you even notice
At 7:30, I am dry and dressed. The gown is long and flowing: burgundy, velvet, full sleeves with an obtuse triangle cut down the back. The entire back is exposed except for one thin strip that is hung at the top between my shoulder blades. My back is my best feature. It is taut and strong and firm. It is the mask I wear as I walk away from everyone. I am playing with the corded belt that separates the bottom from the top and twirling for the antique mirror I lug everywhere I go. Nodding, an ok is all I can manage. That is better than usual.
. Teasing my hair in a way that flatters the right side of my face, for about six minutes, I stare at my profile from different angles. This is incredibly frustrating to me. My hair is naturally messy and I want to “figure it out.” I want you to see me a certain way when you see me. Ok, I say again. Everything I do is rehearsed. I move my bangs back to the front and let the hair fall as it may; in waves to the top of my shoulder. It is thinner than it looks, auburn when there is sun.
“I am the great illusionist,” I hold my arms out in front the oval mirror and form an old-timey overdrawn smile, the way carnival workers grin to lure someone into their games. It is wide and sickly. This is for my own enjoyment. “The magician and her gown.”
I twirl one more time admiring the dress and then I return to my makeup bag to apply my mascara slowly. The weed makes everything take longer than it naturally should. I don’t look at the clock because for once I forget and I have nowhere to be tonight. I am dressing up to get in an accident. I want you to take this in slowly. I apply my eyeliner slowly. I have nowhere to be tonight. I pucker my lips. I am dressing up to get in an accident. I close my eyes and open them suddenly. When I open my eyes, I want you to see everything including my long wet lashes fluttering like drops of lighting at your doorstep. If there is anything I want you to remember, it is everything about me.
I’m stoned and I decide to drive. It’s irresponsible and I don’t do it often, but it’s a blizzard and I am wearing combat boots underneath my gown. This makes me feel rebellious and thoughtful. Sometimes I pretend I am carrying a pocket knife at my side. I picture it emblazoned with the name Hecate down one side and the great herself on the other; her three heads and two snarling dogs at her feet ready to enter the night. I grab my side sometimes when I walk past groups of men as if I am getting ready to pull it out and slice their little fingertips. Just for fun, I giggle in the thought which makes me laugh in real life as I am passing one of the only other people out walking on the street. He catches me. Nothing makes me feel safe.
“I am a sociopath,” I say out loud to the snowfall and the man keeps walking.
At 8pm, I am sitting inside of my car as it is warming listening to Jeff Buckley because it is good and depressing and I am in constant turmoil. Music delivers what men have always promised but couldn’t: an expansive climactic escape. As it heats, I stare at my reflection in the rearview. The blush is too heavy but my eye makeup is light so I feel balanced. I slowly apply the lip balm before I apply the lipstick I bought to match my dress. My lips are desert dry and I am thirsty.
“Fucking marijuana,” I chirp in a sing song voice and reach for the console blindly.
I take a giant gulp from my canteen and savor the cold water on my tongue. It’s like I’ve been eating sand. I stare at the green ring around my pupil.
“You’re a narcissist, Cat.”
“Does that also make me a sociopath?”
“You just want to be crazy! You just like to malinger for attention. You want everyone’s attention all of the time.”
“Malinger, Jay, that’s a good one. Were you reading my diary again?”
“You’re cruel. Everything you say is barbed or loaded. You’re such a fucking bitch sometimes.”
“Maybe I’m a sociopath, babe. Maybe you’re lucky it’s only words that hurt your itty bitty baby feelings. Maybe you should be grateful I don’t rip you to shreds in your sleep with my teeth.”
I continue to apply the eyeliner and listen to the front door slam.
“You know what, Catarina,” Jay throws the door back open.
“Fucking clockwork,” I exit the bathroom to greet him with a full face and tooth.
At 8:20, I am sitting in my car filled with fear. You’re stoned. There is no reason to be afraid but I am. This is how premonition works. It takes over and starts to drive. It repeats the feeling you will have when the time hits. This is instinct. Many people ignore gut feelings and those people waste my time. I know what a chiming church bell symbolizes. I know what a year turning means. I know I am an hourglass. I am a wilting forest. I am going to be late for something and on time for something else. It is 8:21 pm when I begin driving.
I am one of the only cars on the road. Everyone else is an Uber driver. In protest, I refuse to take an Uber in bad weather. It’s mean and even though they will get paid a lot, I am always afraid that what I carry with me in my hand will be dealt with them. What a senseless death. Unless, of course, it awakens that person to trust their gut in their next life. I snicker.
“I am not a REAL sociopath,” I say out loud to the rearview trying not to spend any more time lost in the reflection.
No, this is between me and God. I don’t feel high but I am driving 2 miles an hour and openly talking to myself with vigor. This is not that unusual except the same conversation is replaying over and over which concerns me. Oh, that little tug about instinct and remorse. Sometimes one begets the other.
Why don’t you tell me again?
I told you already.
No, in linear order.
WHAT THE FUCK IS LINEAR ORDER?
It doesn’t work. I’m shaking. I’m tense. I have to drive over the bridge and it’s a snowstorm and I’m slightly stoned. Fuck. Why did I choose to wear such a ridiculous outfit? The light is turning yellow and there is no turn on red on Spring Garden. I am relieved but there are cars pulling up behind me. I turn on some music. It is slow and long and sullen. What is this? A playlist I made called Space. It’s not soothing but I don’t change it. My reaction time is slow and unusual. I am in a trance. I am in a trance in a car moving over the bridge that will tumble right in front of me. I am in a trance in my car driving over the bridge. I am in a trance at the next light waiting to get on the interstate. Then I snap out of it.
“Thank you God,” I say out loud.
I have driven over the bridge with incredible speed, or without any memory of it. I start telling myself a story so I’ll continue the game. Once, when I was younger, a small girl, I went to my mother for comfort. I said, mom, I can’t seem to make friends. She said, Catarina, you’re a bully. I said, that’s not it. She said, I’ve seen the way you talk to Leana. You treat her like she’s your servant. I said, that’s not it! Except I screamed it. She said, you never let anyone finish saying anything. I said, I’m trying to finish something now and you won’t fucking listen. She said, you are a precocious bitch and you will not talk to me like that. I said, that’s not all I am, and I slammed the door so hard that a picture fell and broke in her room. She stormed out and chased me with a notebook and slapped me across the face. It was the only time she hit me. I may have deserved it. There are many parts of the story that I left out. More importantly, that was the last time I tried to open that conversation. I sulked for days, resentful, embarrassed that I was worth hitting. I had never been hit. I had been touched, but I had never been hit. My resolve changed after that. I knew what it felt like to have someone use force against you; power, braun, words. I had none of that. I was only about nine or ten years old. My defenses were down. I think I played Kirby’s Adventure alone in my room for a week straight. I didn’t call Leana even though she called me. I didn’t watch TV with my brother or ask to play double on Mario Kart. I didn’t even go outside. It was summer and I was sulking and opening the darkest part of myself inside of my own mind.
Without noticing, I am in a different neighborhood and I am I losing control. Not of the wheel, but with my whole body. I start to panic. I start to shake. I understand the thing I am dreading is happening. I decide to turn down a random street and then another random street so I am far away from other headlights. I don’t want anyone else involved. I am shaking and whatever Brian Eno Hammock soothing devil mix I made in an attempt to quell my bloodlust at an earlier moment is backfiring and I feel like I am on Mars as the car careens across the street and immediately crashes into a brick wall. It’s weird what we protect in panic. I let go of the wheel to lean into the crash and immediately grab the locket hanging around my neck.
i’ve been out to lunch since we got here.
it’s another change in seasons;
spring and everyone is out to
begotten lies, or if they’re more
triumphant; forgotten spite.
sometimes things just go away
like missing pieces:
backs of earrings in the hotel room
at your youngest cousin’s wedding,
origami florets you sprinkled at your mother’s ankles
when you were just learning how to fix
the pancakes to give appreciation;
diplomas, expired passports, birth certificates,
reiki and doula certifications,
everything a lover gave you,
hand me downs, or cute owl
pajama sets that were xmas gifts
callously discarded in the great
“I saw a bed bug” throw
everything the fuck away fest.
I have nothing left.
anything that reminds you of your
lineage: scrapbooks and family
heirlooms, voicemails from your dead
brother pleading for you to
come back, the ashes swinging from
they don’t really mean much.
you’re here and you can prove it if they ask
with this giant gaping hole in the center of
that you at last had the guts to crack;
the diamond she stole,
all winter blooms,
the time you had left,
grand ideas slipping out of your ears like ripples of
plopping on your floor for the ants to devour
before they ever land.
you should have tried harder.
because love is boundless I can’t possess it;
it consumes me with its humility,
strangles like history,
swallows like tidal waves of
unyielding southern humidity,
and I can’t escape it.
feelings for the flesh that steal me are so
palpable, like ghosts, I’m moaning
exorcism! and synonyms for
the climax is the body’s clever parapraxis,
I want this thing gone
so I can be empty with my tea
and good ideas
shopping with the other women.
I’ll slice open those ants and rip my
thoughts back out,
write down our fused imaginings,
send you the book stuffed with their dead little toes
and threatening locks of my dead ashy hair.
I’m vanishing inside of myself again.
I knit a sweater full of verses I’ve never heard,
wrap it tightly for the winter.
wear the world like vapor,
my fortune cookie says
and something adds:
my dear girl, you are so lonely
you have created all of this
(the world just falls from my shoulders)
you are mourning events,
people, places & things that never existed
(cut it open, pull it out)
wipe those ruby red eyes
and take a look around
(before it disintegrates)
but my house is a burning building
so I better bounce.
I had one fawn over me
but he fell in the giant yawn
I stomped in the yard
and like my bright wishes,
he’s also passing me by
carrying something I don’t get
because it’s real and it’s found
he is holding it and I am
eyes shut tight catarina
thinking about it
again when something grabs
“how to forget everything day 67”
At 5:30 pm, I am in the bath. Winters I spend immersed in bath. Tonight, it is chamomile and yarrow oil and a sprinkle of angelica root. I have been having some superstitious tendencies again so I add my Nana’s rosary to the windowsill next to me, a hunk of tourmaline on the shelf that holds my razor and shampoo, and a rose quartz at the bottom of the tub. This will make it worse. I snap my head towards the blow of air beside me but I settle. There’s nothing there. Baths soothe my gnawing winter madness. Some call it depression or “seasonal affective disorder.” You’re sad, Cat. I don’t know what to really call it but nothing could be worse than this.
“Did you take your prozac? he asks from the kitchen.
I dug my nails into the sofa. My hair was combed. My lips were not chapped.
“Yes,” I responded immediately. “Everything should be all right now.”
Resentful, I sat on the edge of the couch prepared to jump up at any moment and leave if I ever could grow the guts. It was the mostly mocking tone I had grown so accustomed to hearing that triggered my bottled rage. The medicine created a tense space between us and left me feeling like a new baby well of sorrow was building somewhere deep inside of me, but I couldn’t empty it. Mechanisms related to crying had disappeared or been stifled somewhere in the bottom of a trunk I had no access to; had lost the key or motor skills to turn the lock so I just let it fill without my knowledge. It sat fat in its vicious growth, plump with previous insult, previous assault or terror, ready to spill over if I had the wherewithal to sharpen my nails and eviscerate my body; suffocate him with the bile that spilled out, or the precious bottle of antidote, or the pillow I keep between us and grip daily for comfort. I’m a tepid lunatic that never grows to boil. Devoid of feeling, but going through the motions, I was sitting eerily still waiting for dinner. I was wearing a pink and purple striped sundress that tied in the back. I was wearing lip gloss to match. My purse was already on my arm and I had pinned a stray hair back with a blue and green caterpillar clip a girlfriend had given me to remind who I was, and mostly, I was trying not to check the time as I waited for the years to pass by.
My bottom lip is under water before I realize I am sinking in the midst of another flashback. I shoot up with fake alarm. I will never drown like this, but I am stoned, I remind myself. Better to be careful than feed your ghost regret. What is this? I look around my delusive tomb in horror. Lit with more than a dozen votives: all white and tall and leaving flecks of wax all over everything, the room smells faintly of fresh linen but it is a manufactured smell; plastic, not the way most fresh linen smells. My sheets smell blank. There was more than that too: lavender incense wafting from the dresser in the bedroom, the ylang-ylang that permanently coats the sides of the tub, and the faint remnant of vinegar from where I tried to scrub the spots off the mirror with my homemade glass solution. I am over stimulated. Wildly stoned and always coming back to myself in the middle of the same thought: maybe that’s where these hallucinations start, I feel uncomfortable. The voice from my bowels is starting again. Goosebumps dot my shoulder and I regret not making a fresh Earl Gray before I got in. Loscil is playing in the background from my bed and I want it louder. I want someone there to help with these things and I can’t tell you how long I sit upright in a fetal position contemplating that thought. I keep no clock in the bathroom. I desperately need the respite.
Sinking back to let my head rest on the peeling ceramic, I sigh loudly in a way that tells the world, Nevermind, I am alone and I’m ok today. I’m going to make it. There is a way out, and I inhale deeply the green grass dotted by gray ash from the glass bowl I placed next to my nana’s rosary and I say to no one:
“I need help.”
This is fine. There is something about water that is so soothing to me. My whole life has been spent in water. As a child, my summers were spent outside with the Dyson sisters at the community pool; getting tan and bracing the high dive, guessing which lifeguards liked each other, giggling, showing the boys the banana Now-n–Laters stuck to our teeth. If it wasn’t the pool, it was at the beach chasing ghost crabs, learning how to body surf with Alex, being pulled under everytime and miraculously standing to survive, the top of my bathing suit always twisted to expose one nipple before I realized. I was always keeping an eye on Alex from some distance. Even at the pool, in my accidental glow and popularity, he in his awkward pallid skin, we sometimes were distant but never separate. I always kept an eye on him. Some days my legs were beat by jellyfish, my toes were sore from broken shells, cut and pinched my crabs, but I always went back in. During storms, I scoured the block in the pouring rain looking for bugs or just letting the water baptize me. Even as a child, I showered whenever I was upset and the thundering tantrum couldn’t cut it, I needed a warm cleanse. In adolescence, baths replaced those as I needed more time to mourn the interminable unrequited love that I continually faced as my hormones grew into teeny monsters to match the teeny breasts that baited them closer. I hit that budding menses stage and sobbed into the pink drain at my bad luck; a woman?!?! Everyone hates women.
My mom called me a little water bug and those didn’t bother me either. I played tidal wave with the beetles that flew into our kiddie pool. I ducked dragonflies, watched them skim the tops of the water in the ditch when we played house in my backyard. I spent hours in the rain plucking worms from their hiding places; under bricks in neighbors’ gardens, my legs caked in mud as I walked back with a handful to feed to Michaelangelo, our alligator snapping turtle. I never avoided puddles, I jumped right into them. Water was my sanctuary.
“You’re filthy, Catarina!” my mother would scream as I traipsed the wilderness all over our kitchen floor on the way to the tank, letting twigs drop from my knees.
“Look, Alex!” I would ignore her to drop a handful of worms near Mike’s head so he saw them instantly.
The two of us would stand over him in awe as he quickly, with uncanny precision, devoured each one right after the other, little particles of flesh floating to the top. I pressed my palms together to stay grounded in the excitement.
“Get in the shower when you’re done!” my mom shrieked pointing at me.
“Mom, look,” Alex pointed as I rolled my eyes.
“Cool,” Alex would say and I nodded.
I splash the top of the water for my own enjoyment, letting the daydreams take back over, another Cheshire Cat smile spreading wide across my face. The weed was devouring every synapse. One summer, I had a sprained ankle. Who knows where I got it; probably doing gymnastics in the backyard, showing off, proving I was the best at something I was clearly a novice at, but I tumbled. My mom wrapped it carefully in an ace bandage for me. Some hot day, we went to a party near a lake with their friends and their friends’ kids. No one packed a bathing suit for me because I wasn’t supposed to swim with my impairment but once everyone jumped into the water, I was immediately forlorn.. My parents really couldn’t take my tantrums for more than a few seconds and I knew this was no place for screaming, that would lead to too much embarrassment. I had to beg.
Consumed by jealousy, I began,“Please please please please please please please please pleeeeease, please pleeeeeaase.” I repeated like that to my mom and began to hop on one foot. “I am fiiiiiiiiiiiiiine. Loooook, fiiine. Fine fine fine.”
My mother frowned.
“I’ll watch her Linn,” my dad, fun drunk hero, interrupted before she could remind me of the agreement and I began to quickly hobble and quickened the hobble to a half run, still in red sundress, still with barrettes in hair to the edge of the lake. I started wading to catch up to my new friends on the back of their dad’s raft before my mom could even consider an outfit for me to put on instead of the dress.
“Look, mom,” I shouted already caught up to the others. “I’m fine! I am using my right leg! I won’t drown!” I splashed for effect to show her I was the best swimmer out there.
My mom waved. I waved back. It was that perfect time of day in summer. Everyone had the day off. Everyone had eaten and drank their fill of wine coolers. The kids had plenty of soda and time to run around the house. We were settling but still excited; had worked some of that nervous energy out. The sun was beginning it’s journey to set casting a yellow glow over the entire surface of the water and everyone was happy. I was in the water and everyone was happy. I was not alone.
I shoot up again with that thought. You’re stoned. I am stoned and sinking into the water again. I run my hands over my wet head and curl back into my upright fetal position to watch the nearest flame wink.
“It’s so hard to stay present,” I say to the empty apartment.
Tapping my fingers on top of the water to watch the ripples, I pretend the noises it makes are from someone else. Someone else’s hand on top of the water. Someone else’s eyes doused in flame reflecting back to me,“Have you ever tried telling anyone about your fear of drowning?”
Fuck. The imaginary man handing me the hot Earl Gray is right. I am lonely.