Getting Paid for It

I don’t know how exactly I first became a writer but I know how it felt the first time I was praised for it. Like cool watermelon juice down your chin in the summertime but everywhere, not just on your chin. It felt like wriggly puppies that didn’t know how to stop moving or trying to lick your face. It felt like I had taken a giant step, had jumped, had leaped from standing alone on a ledge to my dream tower bedroom surrounded by friends who got every single one of my jokes and never took offense to anything. It felt like the emptiness was driven away.

In elementary school, in my gifted and talented class, I told Mrs. Woodard I was going to be a writer. I would write the best stories anyone ever read and no one would even know who I was. That was exciting too, hiding behind my books and stories, never having to become too social or worry about what it meant to be well liked. That was the gift I had been given by writing. But, some well-meaning, good intentioned teacher along the way pointed out to many just how many of us, writers like her, never got published, never got read, never survived off their writing.  “You’re a good writer,” she told me, “but so are lots of people.”

I am a senior in college. I work nights and weekends at a new restaurant and lounge frequented by the local NFL players . I don’t serve, or bartend, even though I took classes and have experience and recently acquired the ability to pretend I like people, despite mostly feeling the opposite. I am not socially awkward as it turns out. Genetics gave me a few hundred more chances to be liked, beginning with a dramatic and heart-wrenching relationship with my first love, one of the most well-known guys on campus and most sought after. I have long hair and lightly brown skin and pronounced curves in the rear, so I don’t have to be afraid of people discovering that I am weird and distant and strange. I learned that none of those things matter if you’re beautiful. People will forgive you anything if you’re beautiful.

I get paid to be there. To eat the decadently expensive meals and drink whatever I want and smile and dance and be there. I get paid more to do this than for helping my professor with transcriptions of African radio, more than I made bartending, more than I made as a file clerk for a law firm. I get paid to be present, but more accurately, for me to absent, and a reflection of me to be there.  I am a dancing monkey. I can move my hips better than the other skinnier girls who do the same job and somehow, I seem to be better liked than them, or this part of me does, that doesn’t think or talk, just smiles and gets too drunk and has someone else drive her home and takes the bus back in the morning for my beat up Taurus that has already been dragged over 200,000 miles and is going to crap out any day.

I don’t hate it here. I don’t hate it, because I am not present to see the video they take of me dancing drunkenly, smiling a smile that isn’t mine at people I don’t know or even like.  But, I don’t hate it.

Tonight, some man, some vaguely famous actor person is coming. I already know before he arrives that he will talk to me too much. I know that he will think I want to ride back with him to his hotel because I smile too much and laugh like a hyena at everything he says even though, I know, he won’t be funny. He will be short and muscular and entitled and he will use outdated slang and call me pet names that I will pretend are adorable. He will take my phone and force himself into my world, even if just for a night and I know this, even before he is in front of me, smiling, and even before I understand exactly who he is and why his name and face seem familiar.

We, us girls who get paid to exist, do not sit at the same table as this man, but we are seated right in his view. We didn’t decide this ourselves but certainly one of the other girls would have had it been up to us. There are words not being said at our table. There are glances being exchanged. I resolve to get drunk. The other girls are drinking something fruity but I need the hard stuff, whiskey, something to dull my mind and my intuition; I must be in the moment, not ten steps ahead. The photographer comes over and asks us to blow a kiss to the camera, something I have never been asked to do, and am nervous about. I swallow more whiskey, and this man looks right at me, and my eyes don’t catch the camera at all. I have found my way into the moment.

I get up to go to the restroom, and even though it is only five steps away from me, I catch a waiter, entwining our legs and we spin around as if we are in a ballet and I am the sugar plum fairy and he is some unknown prince whisking me away from the table, towards the restroom for a moment of emptiness. I apologize and he tells me that my leg is bleeding. I am bleeding from this moment of magic and I realize I am drunker than I thought and already thinking of my bed and my pillows. The waiter runs back into the kitchen and with an antibacterial spray and napkin wipes off the blood. With precision, he applies a band aid to what we both now realize is more than a cut, it is a gash.

We have to take a picture with the man. He smiles a big smile, but it is empty. He tries to hug me, but the other girls are in the way and he tells me his name is Eric and asks for mine and I give it to him, pretending to believe he will remember me.  The honey skinned girl among us wants him. She has been going out of her way to be standing next to him all night. He leans over her to talk to me, to smile my way.

We get upstairs. The lounge is nice, everything is so high class here as always. The servers dance when they bring the bottles of champagne over with sparklers sending little white flares of light into the air from the sides of them as if to say, “drink and be merry.” So I do. Whiskey mixes well with champagne, right?

Honey tells Eric her iphone has changed her life.( Only tomorrow will I realize I am the only person left in the world with a blackberry, but this won’t matter then. ) He nods, he looks her in the eyes when he talks to her, which somehow impresses me. He is attractive and he seems smart. For a moment, he and Honey talk about twitter and I use my blackberry to find him, to browse through his timeline and see how he doesn’t misspell anything, or use incorrect grammar and I am turned on.

He has a blackberry too and when Honey takes a break, he grabs mine and does that barcode scanning thing on bbm that was so cool and hip when I got the phone.  Now we are sharing information, we can talk outside of the almost yelling we have been doing. He talks about me seeming like girlfriend material and this is all I want to hear in the world from any guy in the world because I fell in love with a man who didn’t love me back, and besides the loneliness, I have been feeling inadequate. He asks me, over and over to come to his hotel. Please, he says, I just want to spend some time with you, I’m only here until the morning. And it’s true but it’s not convincing and I am obsessive about keeping my legs closed and paranoid about the HIV status of everyone around me, even drunk.

At some point, both he and I are sitting down, on our phones, messaging each other, shooting words back and forth about what exactly will happen if I do decide to follow him back to his hotel room that my bosses paid for. I have all the power here and I know it. I have already decided to go because I would like to sleep next to someone now that the memory of my heartbreak has been made fresh in my mind by the whiskey and champagne and Honey’s face as she realizes she will not be invited where I’m going. He leaves. He hugs only me goodbye, and he disappears. I wait until the end of the night and I drive home. I change into leggings, put on boots and get prepared for the snow.

He continues to message me until I am on the elevator, headed to his room. I’m beginning to sober up and regret this decision, but I’m already here and I am afraid if I tell him I changed my mind he will chase after me and I will be too afraid to say no to someone so attractive that actually wants me. I knock and he is there, his boxers fit too snugly and I feel indecent looking at him. He leaves the light off, and timidly, I sit on a chaise instead of the bed, as if letting him know I am drawing a line.

“Will you come here?” he asks. I do, stripping off my boots and climbing up onto the bed. I wriggle under the covers, into his open arms.  They wrap around me innocently and I finally breathe. I forgot somehow, how good that felt, breathing with someone else, closing your eyes when you talk to them.

His whole body sighs but he doesn’t make a move, he just talks. My hair is in his face and I apologize, but he says he likes it. I laugh. It isn’t funny but I don’t know what to say. We talk, he asks me about this job I have and somehow I am telling him the truth.

“Last week,” I tell him, “my boss asked me to sleep with him.” Eric nods, listens, doesn’t seem to make any conclusions. I stop there, hoping he’ll get that I didn’t sleep with my married boss, even though he promised to pay my way in life if I did. To get me a place in LA, where I decided I wanted to live, and a personal trainer and a maid and expensive clothes like he did for that other girl, the one that lives in South Beach in a condo on the beach on  a teacher’s salary.

I didn’t sleep with my married boss because more than anything, the idea that I could even consider doing so made me want to cry.

Eric listens, but he doesn’t speak, as if he doesn’t want to share anything about himself, who he is. He is skeptical of me too, the drunk girl who laughed at everything he said, that actually came to his hotel room, that let him put his arms around her so easily.

I remember being young, when my father was my everything. He would lift me up onto his shoulders and let me be big. He would run in circles with me until we were exhausted and he would hold me when I was scared, in his big arms that felt safe, so I could fall asleep. I miss that feeling.

I remember that first love and how it felt in his bed. It was always too hot in his room, a place that no longer exists. The last time I was there, lying there, he had cuts all over his face, and I had thought he had died the night before. I lay down there, even though he was sitting up, and uncomfortable, and closed my eyes. I pictured the time when he held me so tightly I thought I was going to suffocate in his arms. The bed still smelled like then, even though nothing was the same, and I can still smell it sometimes when I climb into my bed, a place he has never been.

I remember how real he feels still, years later, the emptiness of absence, because he is not here.

Eric is silent, as if reflecting like me, looking back on his most recent emptiness in this room that is neither of ours, that smells like neither of us, and holds no wishes between us two.

He kisses me, and I think I kiss him back but the pace is wrong, he moves too fast and I tell him I bite in hopes he won’t do it again, but he does and I bite him, nibble on his bottom lip, hoping he will stop, stop stop. Stop. The pace of the kiss is too fast, too urgent.

But he doesn’t stop and he is on top of me kissing my neck, and squeezing my thighs. He feels unfocused, chasing a new place to kiss just as he finds a previous one with his tongue. It strikes with no force, as if out of duty because he begged me to come here, to be here, to lie here with him in the world’s emptiest, loneliest room. I finally understand that he is desperate and I am not the same as him.

I let him kiss me, over and over, lifelessly, and I don’t move or touch him. I am his doll, his play toy. He needs this, I tell myself. I stop him before he takes anything off of me. I tell him it all felt so good, and we can’t, remember? You promised I could be here and we could not have sex.

He goes over there, the other side, and waits. He thinks I will change my mind. He tries again, and again. I don’t change my mind and he accepts it, wrapping me back up in him. I am there, thinking about the emptiness in me, happy I am not desperate anymore.

Later, I will be fired, under suspicion of this act. I will continue to talk to Eric for a few weeks, he will offer to fly me to see him and I will agree but he will never do it. My encounter with him will change me, but I do not know if it makes me better or worse. At least, I can abandon the shadow of myself I have been showing.  I can remember desperation again, and loneliness, even though I am empty, the beach after a tsunami. I can write. I hadn’t been able to, my life had been feeling empty and meaningless. I haven’t found meaning. I haven’t overcome anything. I am only breathing, I am only here. I am not getting paid for it anymore.


Wars Waged On Skin

“He really is trying to find a job.” They were words she had spoken countless times before. Her fiancé, was on parole and had to get a job to avoid going back to prison. She wasn’t lying, not when she had pleaded with his parole officer, or his family, or even his friends to have a little more faith in him. He really was trying to find a job. Every evening, he came back into the house, exhausted and frustrated, and scared that he would be sent back to prison after hours of pleading and begging with businessmen to give him a job, any job.

“I don’t know what I’m gonna do.” He hung his head as the words flowed through the stiff stale air in the one bedroom apartment they shared to find the ears of his fiancé, as she reviewed notes for an upcoming test. She looked up at him to gauge the amount of support he needed, set her work aside and opened her arms. She was always setting things aside for him.

“Everybody wants me to go back to prison but me and you,” he growled, still angry, nestled in her skin.

“I won’t let them take you from me again, okay? I’ll do something.” It was an empty promise, but sometimes it settled his anger and switched it over into love for her.

One night, he came home later than usual and she was already sleeping.  Before he knew he had made a decision to, his hands had balled into fists which struck the soft skin on her thighs and back. As the skin bounced back, he smiled. She woke up confused. He explained that he was sorry, maybe her having been asleep and not calming him down had left him too frustrated. As always, she was understanding, holding him close to her chest and humming, ignoring the bruises forming on her thighs.

Somehow, it slowly morphed into a game, a secret game between the two of them. Catching the other asleep was license to hit them until they woke up. Mornings she would look down at the man she loved and worked so hard for and scrape the skin off his back with her misshapen nails. She used to keep them manicured. Now she couldn’t afford it and school and him so her appearance had taken a backseat.

Neither told anyone else about their game. They reasoned there was something innocent in their violence; they didn’t feel any anger towards each other. They were waging their wars on each other’s skin, the battles they couldn’t win, couldn’t even fight, they could win on each other’s’ bodies.

He was dealing again and she knew. He had given up. Some nights, she fed him dinner lined with sleeping pills and she beat him hard. She would stay up all night, punching, scratching and slapping him, watching the damage bleed, bruise, rise and scar.

Reactions to the Pitt Bomb Threats

There’s a pretty girl, prettier than me, who has the same birthday as me. Sometimes I find that threatening, and other times comforting. I follow her on twitter, and on the 11th I saw her tweet that her 22nd birthday was the 22nd of this month. I thought, oh yeah, mine too. Somehow, I had forgotten, or at least completely de-prioritized my birthday, a birthday that I have been looking forward to since I turned 16 and realized it was the same as 15 except with a driver’s license. Eleven days until I am finally 22, which is like 21, only better because it’s an even number.  I don’t have any plans, and it doesn’t seem to bother me at all, which bothers me.

I expect my birthday to be ruined, like it always really is, (other than my 21st in LA, which couldn’t possibly have gone wrong, since it was in LA) but this year, not because of rain, like my birthdays all the way up through high school. The Pitt Bomber will ruin my birthday. He or she hates me. I know because the only classes I end up missing due to evacuations are the ones I really like. Worst of all, police escorted me out of my morning class in Frick, and nothing makes my skin crawl more than following the orders of or being touched by a police officer. I got both of those tragedies in by 10 am that day. The Pitt Bomber hates me, me specifically.

Every year that I have attended this university, I have said out loud, before witnesses that I would burn the Cathedral to the ground, which written on paper loses its’ hilarity, especially in the wake of the bomb threats. So, should anything happen to the Cathedral, considering the large reward Pitt is offering, I expect some previous witness to turn my name in. The paranoid three fourths of me suspects that situation to become a bag over the head, V for Vendetta style kidnapping and torture session in which my inability to respect the uniform forces me to remain in the University’s version of Guantanamo Bay for years at least, while my respective debts pile up in the outside world. When I am released, I will owe Pitt 4 times the amount I do now, and they will come to collect immediately. Or the third party, who I actually owe, will. Either way, I will wind up back behind bars, or bankrupt, and shit out of luck for a joke that really was funny every time I said it.

At first I suspected everyone. The skinny little things who never worked a day in their lives, prancing about in short-shorts and ripped tights and fake beat up, imitation army boots as if the bomb threats had given them freedom were number one on my list. People who don’t pay for school, who have trust funds, who leave their atm receipts featuring balances in the tens of thousands hanging from the machines in towers as if to remind me that even my parents don’t have that much money in their savings, have to be responsible. They don’t value their education, because the first thing they do is get drunk out of their minds and join some greek organization where they can meet others like them and talk about the extravagant amounts they spend on various meaningless accessories, tickets to Girl Talk and cologne that smells like the inside of stores where jeans cost more than my paychecks, and they don’t go to class and they claim that it’s all part of finding themselves and learning who they want to be. Those people, that group of students was always my enemy number one, since I tried to fight the entire Pitt baseball team at once when one of them called me “black bitch” like it was a joke and nothing but funny.

So I was biased, but feeling like a personal victim, I figured the enemy must be mine, and there was no other enemy of mine among the university crowd. Twitter was set ablaze one night when a post on reddit came to light, complaining of the unjust policies of the University. Everyone retweeted it (like copy and paste then re-sending under their name) as if this was the answer, as if one dissatisfied person on the internet explained everything. But I, as a student of the internet, was not convinced. The internet is nothing but a huge forum of anonymous hatred and dissatisfaction with any and everything, although I’ve found more racism and sexism and outright hatred of women than anything else. It wasn’t even as if the anonymous redditer was completely wrong about the issues they discussed either.

Time has been passing; I don’t know what I will do when it is august. In August, I have to move out of my apartment and to somewhere else, and even though I know where I’d like to be, in LA, it has suddenly hit me that perhaps the path I am now on, I could have found without coming all the way to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and without taking out loans to get a degree that only really gets me a job offer after at least 4 more years of school, providing I am dedicated and well-published in that time. Perhaps I could have just stayed in Oklahoma, realized I just wanted to write everything, and maybe direct films and maybe act if it was fun and worth the trouble of endless rejection, and moved to LA without debt and responsibility and 4 years younger than I will be on the 22nd, with less desperation and fear and heartbreak.

Graduation matters so much. It is the final push to go out in the world and develop myself as a person separate from other names and obligations. It’s a freedom and a celebration of something I finished, even though I rarely finish things, especially things I write and edit and delete and never let anyone see unless it’s being picked up for a grade, (and then I tell myself it isn’t my best work anyways just in case they hate it, even though no one has ever said they hated anything I wrote) and I finished something here. I breezed through undergrad as if bitter that it wasn’t, for the most part, any more difficult than high school and blaming my boredom for my refusal to try hard. But I finished, and when I went to pick up my cap and gown last Tuesday and I realized I got to wear an honor cord, that I was graduating with honor, somehow I wanted to cry a little, because people never seem to believe I actually care, and it means so much to me to be recognized for so little.

I called my mother the last time the big five were evacuated. I was kicked out of Frick, again, and alarms from Posvar, the Cathedral, David Lawrence and Towers were ringing out like echoes in Schenley Plaza. I was mad, and scared. I didn’t think anyone would bomb these buildings, because that wouldn’t be cruel enough, not yet at least. This person, the Pitt Bomber, wants to hurt me, I thought, or us, or all of us students who are just trying to survive so we can pay off the debts we already have and don’t understand the weight of yet, the weight that bears on me more the closer we get to graduation. My mother reminds me of my birthday and I realize I have forgotten it again. I almost cry, shaking with anger at the realization that this person is going to ruin my graduation.

When I was too young to go to school, my dad, a full time musician and stay at home father, let me be his shadow, and he was impressed by my apparent need to learn. I wanted to know everything. Then I wanted to tell everyone else what I had learned. He called me “Miss Information” and “Professor” even when I was just learning to read from him in our kitchen and I tried to pass words on to my little brother even though he was mostly more into chasing our chocolate lab around our one bedroom apartment. It didn’t feel small then, and my parents gave me big dreams. When I entered kindergarten I had already laid out a plan to attend Harvard, and play soccer professionally while I put myself through law school until I eventually rose to be a Supreme Court Justice. I could see myself holding my diploma, smiling with my long blonde-tipped dreadlocks and my family all around me, and nothing was more important to 6 year old me than graduation. That was where I would meet the President so that he could appoint me to the lifelong position on the bench. That was where I would meet my NBA star husband, who would help me give birth to smart athletic children who would change the way our country worked and we would make everything better in America all at once.

I am graduating regardless, I understand this logically. I will receive my diploma in the mail sometime in this coming summer and I will be able to tell anyone who asks that I have a college degree after finals week ends. I will still have a cap and gown and an honors cord, and papers that remind me of my stint on the Dean’s List, and all the memories from being here and doing it, and finishing it even when I have gotten the feeling lately that it may have all been a long expensive mistake after all. I will still get what I paid for. But not what I want. The Pitt Bomber is watching and waiting to snatch away the little piece of my 6 year old fantasy that I still can capture, that I still want to capture. Maybe the President would have attended for some odd reason had it not turned into a security nightmare. Maybe the man of my dreams would have shown up too if his sister, my classmate, hadn’t decided to go home instead of living under this stress.

I don’t know for sure that the Bomber won’t be captured before the 29th, or even better before the 22nd, and I don’t know for sure that they hold a personal grudge against me. I certainly have no control in the situation and sometimes I sit in silence and accomplish that Buddhist meditation I learned from yoga where I just empty out, but when it ends I realize I am in bed and sweating and really I have just finished a dream and I don’t know what it was but I am still tired and my phone has been vibrating beside my head all night reminding me that there is no peace here. I am constantly tired, I feel like I am standing on the edge of something, and I want to jump but I have to wait and I have no idea when I will be allowed to jump, or to run away or move and I am not sure that I want either but my body is sore and my mind is blank.

I go to campus and I look around. I don’t know even 1/10th of the people in my own graduating class. I probably know the names of even less of them. I hardly look anyone in the eyes anymore, unless I mean to challenge them like a wolf does when it’s alpha dog and is checking everyone around for their respect. I was curious, even desperate to know, previously who was responsible, and why they hated me so much, why they wanted to take so much from me. Now I am solemn. I have run out of words to say, threats to make out loud in hopes that the person responsible will fear me, the alpha dog, and just stop, roll over and show their belly and look off into the distance. I am too empty, too tired. Nothing feels important. I remember my birthday again and wonder if anyone is even going to care, even my friends, even the people who have long since graduated and adore me. I realize it is me who does not care. I don’t care about the only birthday I have looked forward to since 16, and I hate that. I hate this person, this nameless force who steals my control and pushes me around like a lab rat in a maze, sniffing out cheese and running from zaps on the floor when I turn to rush back into Art of China to retrieve my umbrella that I will never see again.

Beaten By It

There’s something I realized. You
are weaker than I am
You would love me if you could,
I am better for you than anyone you could find on your own
And I love you so much I hate myself sometimes
And I cry at home alone,
When you talk about the girl you’re dating but don’t even like

I fight for you in my dreams
Ripping the limbs of those who wish to hurt you
Give your pain to me

We always fight
Tossing words at each other that have no meaning
With venom to burn through souls.
Then, we are one, burning in the acid of jealousy and rage,
The emptiness we wish the other would take away

I was watching you undress,
Thinking of all the marks you’ve left on me
Bruises on the best parts of my body,
I hope that no one else will see
But what have I given you?
I want to claw marks onto the remaining smoothness of your skin
Unmarked by meaningless tattoos,
But you forget me.

You speak of my perfection, gently
Borrowed words you scarcely understand
Find their way into the air around us,
And I want to weep.

You break me.
My will bends to you like willow branches in the wind,
Swaying to your whims

I hate that you smile even as I’m begging
Crying for you to stay

So, here I’m on my knees
Looking in the eyes that move the rivers in my body
Holding the hands which damage my skin
When they refuse to hold me

Why are we stuck in a cycle of hatred,
Chasing after each other?
Gelatin legs and empty lungs
I can never catch up to you

She is your future.
I can see her better than you can,
Off in the distance, smiling.
She never wants to hit you
She wants to hold you when you hurt,
To kiss your scars, like I do.

Why can’t I catch you,
Wandering off into the night, towards someone else’s
Happy ending?

Choices we Never Get to Make

I hate the dichotomy I think
As bullets graze skin of an imagined enemy
I just want to lay in the grass beside him
And lean

[Mother’s Burdens]
Ancient arms reach for us, lovelorn
Chasing shadows of what we might have been
Only brown hands feel warm
as mother’s milk,
spilling from our mouths

Captivated by messages in the sky,
Burdened by the weight of evil eyes,
guilt passed down by generations
I am scorned by the love that chases me

If there is one thing that is fair,
It’s the emptiness it has given me;
the absence of the fear that crumples
my big, little brother into waves
shattering and breaking

[Call Logs]
Who puts their hands on children?
His eyes wet with cold injustice
He doesn’t even want his darkness
My anger crashes into surrounding walls
tearing them down
Yet, why
Do they still stand?

[Generally Speaking]
How different we are in our sameness,
Chasing each other with weapons of words
Beating the backs of the choices
We never get to make