I hope
might finally be
The End

Full moon, Friday. Gemini’s duplicitousness (don’t say I didn’t warn you).

You see, I want to tell you how it ends.

It’s December, Los Angeles. He comes to my side of town out of the blue. We’re in that in-between space again. Secretly close, overtly far. Nothing before 8pm. Alive together only in a kind of secrecy. Late night calls where I sit in my bed staring up at the moon. By this time he’s a kind of maze that I can’t seem to find my way through. Too often I stop, disoriented, my face pressed up against yet another dead end and I think, what am I doing here, what am I doing here, what

It’s December, Los Angeles. He comes to my side of town, calls me first. My body warms at the sound of his voice, it always has. Warmth, yes, but these past few years also a kind of existential fear, as if in his presence I’m standing on the edge of my own undoing. Remember? That restaurant in Beverly Hills, the overpriced Italian place with the paparazzi waiting outside. I felt a little sick, that thing my body has always done in his presence, either melting to honey or shutting down entirely. I thought that was the end. You see, I’d been practicing telling him that it was over, and why, and how he wasn’t good enough for me and how he needed to grow up and on and on. We were both thirty-one with $70 plates of pasta between us. Early summer heat. Heat. At one point I glanced up at him, a rage-pain filling my heart, and instead of him, him with the barely detectable flecks of grey hair at his temples, him with the clear blue eyes and the young man’s body, instead what I saw was him at seventy, seventy-five, eighty. He was suddenly an old man before me, my old man, my husband, I knew it as sure as anything and my breath died in my throat. Love flooded my heart, drowning the rage.

(What do I call these moments? A kind of full-bodied premonition? Imagination? Hallucination? A spell of sorts, you see, this is not the first).

It’s December, Los Angeles. We’re thirty-two, both of us. He meets me at a bar near my house. I walk across the park, timing myself to be a few minutes late, to walk in and have him watch me. To watch him watch me. A few years back, I spent an entire summer in this bar. That summer I smoked halfheartedly and painted barefoot on the front steps of some terrible, haunted-feeling house in Pasadena where I lived with my boyfriend. I’d stay in this bar as long as I could, clinging to something vital inside of me that I seemed to lose every time I walked back into that house. That summer I drank beers for breakfast and listened to the neighbors arguing at night, waiting for the police to come again, and again. Outside I found feathers from the parrots, lime green orange yellow and so soft, sitting there on the dirt as if waiting just for me.

It’s December, Los Angeles. We find a corner table near the entrance and built back into the wall. I try to read his body, as I always do, as I always have, a language I’ve grown fluent in, a language of heat and contradictions. Something is off, I can tell that immediately and it sets me on edge. He’s an animal trembling ever so faintly, caged, a diffused but discernable anger. Heat. Fear. I know that fear. I hate that fear. I’ve seen it too many times before.

It’s December, Los Angeles. He drinks his drink. I can’t stomach mine. I don’t remember what we say or how it starts. We’re in a pizza parlor off of Crenshaw. We’re on his sofa, our bodies pressed together and frantic. We’re on the phone as I’m walking towards the bookstore and he says, yes I fucked her. We’re in my bed in the morning as he tells me the coffee is delicious. We’re naked, brushing our teeth. We’re watching the rough cut of his film. We’re talking to his sister, passing the phone back and forth between us. We’re meditating in separate but adjacent rooms. We’re making him tea. We’re in his new car, the one oozing status, a turn-off for me entirely. We’re in this corner table trying to disappear into the wall and I can’t remember what he says, only that something in me starts to crumble like a house consumed by flames. A voice in my gut, deep in the center of my brilliant, never-wrong gut starts to say, go. Get up. Leave. It’s polite at first. Direct, but restrained. But the flames lick higher and the smoke gets thicker and something is on the very edge of crumbling to pieces, me, me on the edge, on that same edge, and that voice is more urgent now, as if it might still save me, as if there’s still time, it’s screaming at me GO, GET UP NOW LEAVE LEAVE LEAVE AND DON’T LOOK BACK.

I don’t leave. I let him say what he says and I take it, like punches to my face. That’s how it lands. Punch. Punch. Punch. I watch myself take it and wonder what I’m trying to prove. Wait, let me guess: I’m trying to prove I can take it. And that if I take it, for long enough, maybe something else entirely will emerge on the other side. Something that feels less like pain and more like that hypnotic, old-souled, full-bodied love I swear was once between us.

It’s December. Los Angeles. We’re leaving the bar. Something has taken control of me. I know it’s over but I don’t listen to the voice. I don’t get up and leave him behind. I repeat, something has overtaken me. We leave together. The air between us is broken, splintered, he must feel it too, right? But I pretend not to notice. We pretend everything is fine, just fine. We get into his car, the fancy one that no longer even feels fancy, I couldn’t care less. I have a singular focus now. The seat warms quickly, before we can even make it the short distance back to my apartment. He parks his car on my street amongst all the normal looking cars and I watch that nervous expression on his face as we walk away from it, his fear of leaving something beautiful like that vulnerable, alone.

He follows me up the stairs and into my apartment. My walls are covered with test prints of a photo series I’ve been working on recently. Light leaks. Chemical treatments. The bright early morning air. Who did you make these for, he says, disturbed. Oh yes, they’re of me, I forgot to mention. My body twisted and curved and bent over, naked to the light. Who did you make these for. I don’t understand the question. Confused, I say, no one. But in my memory, see, I revise it and say, with just a trace of disdain, for myself. Both are true, in different ways.

It’s December, Los Angeles. We’re in my bed and something has overtaken me, some desire to fuck him but it feels like a kind of murderous rage. I’m on top of him, I know how he likes it. Thirteen years of this body in mine, this body I know perhaps better than my own. My desire is the color of violence and humiliation. Feral. All sharp edges. I feel nothing.

Afterwards, we lay in bed beside each other, still, softly humming. The air between us like the eye of a hurricane about to destroy something, anything, everything in its path. I’d thought at least there would still be our bodies but no, no, I realize now even that has been broken. Who was I kidding. I just wanted it one last time, to have him exactly how I wanted him and to know it was the last time. In theory, it sounded like a powerful, dominating pleasure. But no.

The voice returns. Not leave, go. But this time: say it, say it, SAY IT. I lay there for what feels like hours, saying the words in my head as if that might be enough. I hear the words and feel him awake beside me and think, how long can we both stand it? I’m feeling like I might claw something to pieces, him, the bedsheets. I hear the words over and over again until I feel him start to relax into sleep. Twitching, little breaths and gasps. Restless. I nudge him awake. I say his name. He’s listening but I can’t tell if he’s really awake. I say, I don’t want to do this anymore. And then I say it again for good measure. In his sleep-wake state, he nods. He’s utterly agreeable, as if I’d just said, I want to get another blanket or, I want to open the window or, scoot over you’re taking up too much room. I say this thing that means everything to me and it’s a nothing thing to him. He immediately goes back to sleep. I wonder if he even remembers.

Yes, I wonder if he even remembers. I wake up thinking just that. It’s December, Los Angeles. An impersonal infinity has emerged between our two bodies. I sit up, pull my t-shirt off the floor (“Alabama: Artist of the Decade”), walk barefoot to the kitchen and start to make coffee. He dresses silently and when he finally comes into the kitchen the coffee is ready and warm. He is already gone for me. Already a ghost. He stands on the far side of the kitchen and he won’t look me in the eyes. He’s hunched over like a little boy, like he’s trying to shrink himself. I don’t offer him coffee and he doesn’t ask but instead he mumbles something, let’s talk soon, I need to go now, I’ll call you later. The voice beats its fist in my belly, we’re allies now, you see. I stand there naked beneath my t-shirt. He’s dressed, coat, shoes. And this I say definitively, and remember definitively: I never want to do this with you again. Do you hear me. This is the end. He nods, ever so slightly, and looks like he might disappear into himself. And he leaves.

I stand in the silence of my own apartment. It’s the end, yes, but it’s also the beginning of something, something I hadn’t expected and I feel lost in-between.

I strip the sheets from the bed. The sweat and slick and stains, it disgusts me. Any trace of him feels like a violation. I take a photograph of myself sitting on that bare mattress. I look like a little girl, but with a tired, old woman face. My feet aren’t even close to touching the floor. Then I shower. I drink my coffee. I write, I think. I drive the thirty plus miles north to the campus where I work. There are fires as I drive. At one point the smoke pulls across the freeway like a sudden curtain and it’s too late to turn around. I hold my breath and do something that feels like praying and just keep driving. At this point, these constant fires are still strange and unfamiliar. I can feel the heat outside my car as I drive. I don’t know where or what or who I am.

Several months later, late spring, I have to physically restrain myself from showing up at his house without warning. I imagine how he’d open the door: surprise, uneasiness, confusion. I wouldn’t say anything. Body to body. I’d strip him in the doorway. Naked beneath my dress. Heat. It’s a heat that burns through my blood, almost unbearable. But I do bear it. I clench my teeth and let it pass.

A few months after that, early autumn. My life has turned upside down with new possibilities and I’m all at sea, searching for someone, anyone, who might understand. I call him out of the blue, that’s my way. He’s in London. He makes some analogy that compares me to a very fast, very expensive sports car. The connection is crackly but the boundaries are clear. He talks about what I ask him to talk about, and nothing more. In thirty minutes, we’re off the phone.

No more than a few weeks later, I call him again. It’s Saturday, midday. So warm. I’m walking back to my apartment. It rings, rings. Goes to his voicemail, that robot string of numbers I’ve forced myself to never remember. When it beeps, my gut says hang up but I leave a message anyway. Just calling to check in, I say, hear how you’re doing. I hope the sounds of traffic on Alvarado drown out my voice. Click. He never calls me back, of course.

It’s November now, Los Angeles.

I wanted to tell you how it ends, you see? There was no other way to begin.