Amorphous Object &
Sundays in Hudson
Fox and Geese
Love in Winter
David Albert Solberg
I Have Made My Own Soul Suffer
A Notice to My Mailman
poem for god
The Woman in Silent Tears
everything beautiful bleeds
5 August 2014
Et in Arcadio Ego
David Albert Solberg
Sorry, We're Closed
Older than Our Bodies
The term “Injustice Collector” refers to a specific personality type, one that is both intimate and destructive. It was coined by Dr. Mary Ellen O’Toole, an FBI agent working for the Behavioral Analysis Unit. According to O’Toole, Injustice Collectors keep a record of real or perceived injustices that they have suffered and bottle them up, allowing them to accumulate over what can be a very long period of time. The responses to these compiled wrongs can be in disproportion to their actual impetus, sometimes escalating to violence. Understand, this is not merely grudge-holding, but rather the result of holding every grudge.
And upon hearing that, I realized that I have been collecting my own injustices. They are the things that I cannot forget: scabs that I keep picking at, scars that keep me honest. Fundamentally, I believe that people are all the same, that people never change, which means that these injustices are destined, cyclical. The word cyclical reminds me more of sickle than cycle, though they seem to be the same thing: the inevitable that cannot be outrun. The cycle of death and rebirth is not the story of the phoenix; it is an endless, lightless tunnel.
Viktor Frankl said that suffering, no matter how small, will expand to fill one’s capacity for suffering. These injustices have expanded to my capacity, and I have been recklessly and self-indulgently miserable about trivialities and ten-second exchanges that only I remember. It isn’t that I am unable to recognize that other people have real problems, it’s that the bitterness I feel is all-encompassing; it is a pool that I have fallen into. The water envelops me, rushing in to fill the space around me until I have been wholly consumed. I have been collecting my injustices, but I won’t react violently. I will lay them at your feet like a cat’s dead mouse, my prize.
I don’t like people to get too close; it is out of some sort of reticence that I don’t like to be touched. Brent knew this and would ignore it. He would brush against my back pockets when walking past, put a hand on my knee, an arm around my shirking shoulders; engaging in the tiniest violations when given the chance. It was a game: get me to jump, shrink away, flash a look, accept a kiss. I wanted to be a porcupine, but instead I’m a pincushion.
I can’t give a reason for why I told him that I hate being touched on the back of the neck. It makes my muscles tense and my skin tighten into itself. One’s hand on another’s neck establishes dominance, control: where the head goes, the body will follow. He put his hand against my throat, carefully, and asked if it bothered me. I wasn’t worried that he’d collapse my trachea. I was thinking instead about how shallow my breath had become under the light pressure of his fingers. The way that, with the most subtle upward movement of his thumb, he could lift my chin. He put his hand on the back of my neck, and I asked him why. There are good and bad reasons. He said he’d keep doing it as long as my neck was attached to my pretty face.
Month Negative One
“ I’m not a good guy. I’ll hurt you.”
“ I trust you.”
I’ve been thinking about sleep, the undisturbed privacy of it. How even when it is interrupted or witnessed, it isn’t taken away. The sleeper is ignorant of being watched, and so his privacy is complete.
“When I’m asleep, it’s just me,” he said, in the morning. Brent had taken up all of the bed, leaving me only the space between his back and the wall. He had not let me sleep on the couch.
And though the physical privacy of our sleep may be infringed upon, the true privacy of sleep comes from a disturbing state of vulnerability: we are separated from knowledge of ourselves and anyone else. This is perhaps why we frame sex as “sleeping with” someone; we want to reach this level of intimacy, escape this ultimate privacy by performing this act. In labeling it “sleeping” we lie. Sleeping next to someone is not sleeping with them.
“I’m sorry,” he’d say, “but when I’m asleep, it’s just me.” He said this on nights we would go out to parties, and he would tie me to the hitching post outside until he was ready to go home. The time that I rolled out of the way just before his somnambulatory elbow would’ve broken my nose. The time that he pushed me onto the floor, out of the twin bed we tried to squish into, my little life that wouldn’t fit us both.
He took me to a Tigers game once, my first, and it was punctuated by substance in true Brent style. Five Vicodin by 4 a.m. when he called out of the blue, precipitate of months without contact. A beer in the car on the way to Detroit, where in conversation I was referred to as his wife. Two more beers and three more Vicodin in the parking lot, another beer by the second inning. He moved closer, reaching for my hand or my leg. Three more beers before he was opening nudes of his girlfriend in front of me, like it didn’t matter if I noticed. It didn’t. A trip to the men’s room for God-knows-what, then kisses that were cajoling, glazed eyes suppliant; mine fixed on the back of Torii Hunter’s head as he warmed up in right field. Dip during the seventh inning stretch. Weed at some sketchy house just across the expressway from the casino, then puking out the car window. Water at Coney Island where they wouldn’t serve us, and only then did he say he was sorry. It was the only apology from him that I ever knew to be sincere, because I knew that he only felt sorry for me.
Cell phones de-intimatized the phone call. Landlines were a real connection: an actual wire connected the telephone in your hand to the wall. From there, a wire ran to the outside, where it met up with telephone lines that stretched over miles and miles, over hundreds of tall wooden poles to a switchboard that connected your wire with someone else’s wire, and their wire ran for miles and miles and into their receiver, in their hands. You were touching, physically touching, by proxy of wires. But the introduction of cordless phones created the initial gap, and cell phones cemented it. Cell phone signals are intangible, abstract and alien; they bounce off of towers and reach cold, glinting satellites. Phone calls were once something personal, intentional, something you did only in the seclusion of a phone booth or your own living room. Strangers did not overhear your calls.
“Me and Adam are going to U of M this weekend,” he said. “You might get a call.” Going to U of M in the past had resulted in the creation of some of his favorite inebriation mythos: a found ID, a keg on a fire truck, girls who would extinguish their cigarettes on Adam’s bare chest. It meant that the drinking would start at 10 a.m. It meant that he would call me almost hourly, during smoke breaks: a check-in with his conscience—me; distance conveniently caging my Jiminy-like chirping. But the last call was from Adam, and Brent was listening the whole time. I didn’t know. When I found out later, it made me angry; not because it was deceptive or wrong, but because it wasn’t fair. He didn’t need a third party to extract information from me, someone who cannot lie when asked a direct question, who had never lied to him. I have no recourse, no source of knowledge, no way of divining the truth in what he said. As pathological liars go, I trust him more than salesmen and less than meteorologists.
There was something about the way that he held my chin in his hand, the way he ran his thumb across my lips and looked at me as if he were surprised that I was real, that is beyond explanation.
That is, at least, not one that I can give.
I had awful dreams about him for a while, dreams that I would remember in stunning detail. Before then, I would wake up knowing only that I had had a bad dream and that Brent was in it. But my memories of the new dreams could not be expunged. She would smile in them—I had never seen her smile. “Didn’t you hear that we’re engaged?” he would say to me. The words would overwhelm me, and I would walk away to sit in my car. I wanted to move but couldn’t: my head was bound to the steering wheel in emotional catatonia. He would open the door and say, “Drive the fucking car,” and I would.
It didn’t bother me that we absconded to what had previously been (in the dream) their house. I remember that her clothes still hung in the closet. I was still unhappy with him, with us. However, when she would show up, he would get her to leave with a few calm words. That’s how I knew it was a dream: he asked her to leave, and that couldn’t be real.
It was reported to me that in my sleep I spoke aloud, “You’re not going to tell me, are you?” Even the secrets that he kept from me in my dreams had rough edges.
“You piss me off so much sometimes,” he said. “You put all this pressure on yourself, like ‘everybody’s on my back.’ They’re not.”
“Pressure makes diamonds.”
“ Yeah, you go ahead: be a diamond for two seconds. But you’re going to be crushed for your whole life.”
Month Eight, Month Fifteen, Month Twenty-One
First impressions are important, weighty: there aren’t second chances. And maybe we don’t deserve them. I think that all first impressions should be like job interviews, because when you fuck up and don’t get the job, you’re allowed to call and ask for feedback, to inquire through gritted teeth, “What can I improve upon for my next opportunity?”
To S, who never felt the need to call me:
M: “Hi, this is Marcee from the party a few weeks ago. You haven’t called, which I’ve taken to mean that you aren’t interested. No hard feelings, of course, but I was wondering if I could get some feedback from you. Did I forget to give you my number, was my handwriting hard to decipher?”
M: “Okay, was there anything that I did in particular to influence your decision to never willingly engage in conversation with me again? Did I say something inappropriate for the situation?”
M: “No, no, I understand. Too desperate, mhm… well, is there anything that I could do better the next time I meet someone at a party?
M: “Definitely, I’ll be sure to work on that. Thank you for your time.”
I tried to do this with Brent, salvage what I could by asking his advice. But asking what I did wrong in our relationship resulted in a different answer every time: I was too needy, it was the distance, we wanted different things, I did nothing wrong. When I would tell him I wanted to make friends, he’d say “be fun.” When I’d say I was tired of being lonely, he said “put out.” “Stop putting so much pressure on everything”; “lighten up”; “if not put out, wear a thong.” He told me that I had to lure people in, that no one wants to approach something that looks like it will hurt them, something that’s sharp and pointy. He told me to be a different person, different from who I was—different than I could be. I asked him because I knew that he was right, and because I knew I wouldn’t take his advice: I didn’t want to change. I don’t want to have to, nobody does. And when we call after interviews, when we search online for last night’s drunk make out, we don’t want to hear that our failure was a result of our failings. We’d rather hear that the position was filled internally, that the boss’s daughter got the job, that his phone was run over by a Mac truck, that he was too drunk to remember any of it when he woke up.
I was leaning against the dresser with arms folded across my chest, keys still in hand. I had just picked Brent up from a party, all of his petitions that I come with were half-assed, perfunctory. He said if I was going to stay home that was my loss, but it was his birthday and he was allowed to go out if he wanted. His birthday lasted for two weeks.
He stood in the foot of space between the mattress, which was on the floor, and the bed frame, which he had appropriated as a shelf. He was talking and in the process of getting undressed, kicking off his shoes in coming-down drunkenness and holding on to the last of his intoxication for as long as he could. I can’t remember anything that he said, just that I felt my eyelids tighten and something stretch taut between my lips and the back of my throat. He pulled his sweater over his head while I watched in the silence of bared teeth.
I had bought him a new rosary as a gift and had given it to him the day before. The fifth decade, the one attached to the crucifix, was now gone.
He just looked at me. I pointed to his chest and repeated my question, suppressing a triumphant smirk. It was like seeing the face of someone landing from a second story jump, the instant they realize that their foot is breaking.
Cognitive dissonance is an uncomfortable mental state wherein one’s behaviors and attitudes conflict. The mind seeks to reduce inconsistency, to reach equilibrium. In order to do this, one’s attitudes change in accordance with one’s actions or vice versa, eliminating the disparity. I wondered how it was that I could live in this state when it came to Brent. I knew that he would not tell me the truth, knew that he would not changed, but I was always surprised when he proved me right. My open arms betrayed a faith that things would be different, though my lips would not confess it.
Perhaps the real dissonance cannot be found in the discrepancy of my actions and my thoughts, but rather in the discord between what I thought I believed and what I actually did. I would see her deodorant and water bottle on his dresser, amid loose change and plastic bottles filled with dip spit, and know they were hers. And I would savagely delight in the moment when he would dismiss these items to a lesser corner and set me in their place, later thinking that this was not what I thought I knew about myself. This is not what I want to know about myself.
Month Negative One Hundred Thirty-One
He consistently changed the mythology of our first encounter, which would be less important if I could remember it myself. The latest version was that he was eight, which would have made me six or seven, depending on the time of year. He claimed to have said, “Nice overalls,” but I don’t know how I might have answered . My mother later confirmed that I did have a pair of overalls, and he would have been eight the year that we were in elementary school. I don’t think I was jaded enough at six to understand that he was insulting me, but it would be fitting if the first thing he had said to me was cruel. The story holds water the way that cupped hands do: a certain amount of pressure is needed to seal the cracks between one’s fingers and palms, an impermanent container. And every time the story changed, the cracks between those fingers widened, and we grew younger and younger; he continued to edge deeper into my past. I classify this as unjust, because the deeper he drove his roots, the harder they were to extricate.
He picked me up, wrapped his arms around my legs and lifted me from the driveway. I never knew I loved being picked up until then—I still dislike being touched. But it was instinctual, the way he knew I would take to it. I liked it in the way that I like roller coasters: I feel terrified, exhilarated, overpowered. I get high on relief when it’s over, when I know that my feet are touching the ground and are no longer suspended above it. This as an example of an opponent-process, though there are some other things still at play here: feeling light and not burdensome—relinquishing oneself to the influence of a stronger force.
The opponent-process theory states that there are primary emotions, which one experiences while engaged in an action or subject to a situation, and secondary emotions, which one experiences after the event. When riding a roller coaster, for instance, one initially feels fear—primitive, irrational, unavoidable fear—of height, of speed, of death. When the ride ends, the primary experience of fear is replaced with the secondary emotion of relief. According to this theory, with every following experience of the event (i.e., the more roller coasters one rides), the experience of the primary emotion decreases and the experience of the secondary emotion increases.
I think this is why I like being picked up: there is this implicit fear that I will be dropped. For if I am to be suspended above the ground, I know that I will be far safer with metal bars that I can pull down tight onto my legs than in another’s arms; the latter are fallible, and the result is uncertain. Falling from a roller coaster is imminent, instantaneous, splattering-on-the-pavement death, but the shorter fall means bruises that will taunt and questions that I won’t answer. Every successive embrace that lifts my feet from the ground lulls me into feeling secure, relieved. And I haven’t been dropped, not yet.
“Pick me up like that again sometime,” I told him.
“Every time,” he said.
Month Negative Twenty-Four
When I was fifteen, he wanted me all to himself; he asked me if that was so wrong. It’s funny because he had girlfriend, funny because I would later ask him for that same thing. It’s funny because I need it to be.
Humans are social creatures, though perhaps it would be better if we weren’t. We need to be validated by others; it’s the closest thing we have to a cure to our loneliness. I don’t know if this is justification for drunk-calling exes that we know will answer, for a phone call, for many phone calls after too much wine, but I lay on the floor and dialed his number. I don’t remember what we said, it doesn’t really matter, but I remember lying on the floor, crying wine, aching vaguely after something that I couldn’t name.
And he answered, but he owed that to me. He had played all of his cards, and I had seen all of his faces. Or maybe he had seen all of mine. And so, though I know it is cliché, I keep my friends and enemies close and my secrets within arms’ reach. It’s a form of damage control; not to minimize the damage, but to minimize the damage to our pride. If we must make mistakes, let us bury them and not let them escape our vigilant self-defenses. I don’t regret our relationship; he has a lot of good qualities; we really are friends; this isn’t holding me back.
I’ve moved on.
Some people have red flags; Brent wears his like a cape around his neck. His wrongs aren’t the only ones I collect, they’re just the most prominent. They stand for a million other hurts, microscopic abrasions from a single grain of sand in my shoe that multiplies. The guy with the girlfriend. The guy from class that I had to see every day, sit next to every day. The one who kissed me, just kissed me, so sweetly and perfectly for hours, the one who told me I was perfect.
He collapsed backward onto the mattress. There was nowhere else to sit in the room. And so I shifted toward him by inches, compelled by some inescapable gravity. Starting upright, legs crossed, I soon stretched out on my side and then rolled to my stomach. He moved closer, moved me closer. And he was looking at me really hard, eyes wide open, as if he were concentrated on never blinking.
I was thinking about the way he had thanked me for coming to get him. How at the video store he had asked the clerk for the movie I’d wanted, even though it wasn’t there. How he had helped me take off my jacket, how he’d asked to carry it.
He was breathing into my hair like he was weighing his thoughts. It wasn’t déjà entendu—the details weren’t fuzzy or uncertain. It was instead as if I had written the script myself. Maybe I had.
“…but I can’t give you what you want.” The whole world was asking too much of Brent. I desperately wanted to ask if what I wanted was too much.
Month Twenty-Two, cont’d
These aren’t all injustices that I’ve collected, but their effect is the same. Pretty, perfect moments are the most potent of my instruments—my rack, my screw. They are beautiful and their edges are sharp; I swallow and cough them up again and again. I read and re-read and re-analyze these moments, not because I’m stuck in the past, but because they interrupt me: they’re a certain slant of sunlight that reminds me of broken bottles on the asphalt, how they glittered in his eyes. How I haven’t thought about it for years, but the first thing I remember him saying was, “Why do you have all those napkins in your pocket?”
All these collected incidents are saying “stop”; every other line says “I can’t”; the other words are whispering “why, I don’t know why.” I don’t know what any of this says about me, or about him, but I want to know why. We have this pathological need for closure, for the things that are dead to stay dead. We’re afraid of ghosts and vampires and zombies, and we’re afraid that if we don’t call our ex-boyfriends that they will call us. We’re afraid that it was never really over, that it’s never really over, that we can’t know. We don’t get to know why boys that kiss us at parties never call, why they said “perfect” and meant “passable,” why we aren’t enough for whomever or even ourselves. Not knowing is crushing. Maybe knowing would ruin us.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Marcee Wardell is a third-year writing student at Grand Valley State University and a Michigan resident. She is an avid reader of classic literature and is quite partial to the work of Faulkner, Dostoyevsky and Tolstoy. Reading and writing have long been her favorite pursuits; she plans to pursue a career in writing.