The Happenings; It’s Dark Out.
The first time I met Benny he lay down next to me on a carpet that was in his brother’s backyard. He laid his head right above my hip, so that when it fell to the carpet, a piece of his hair brushed the bare skin on my side where my shirt had risen up a bit. I lost a few breaths there, and I figured there had to be a reason why. He looked kinda nerdy, so, looking at the stars, I asked him if he believed in aliens.
“Yes. Absolutely. Something else has got to be out there.” He smiled at me. It was a strange angle to look at someone from—especially someone you just met. Conversation was slow and patient. We weren’t in any hurry. At one point, he offered me the cigarette he was smoking. He didn’t say anything, just held it out for me. I didn’t say anything and took it from his hand. I knew it wasn’t the first time we would share in silence.
He had big features, and I liked that. His eyes, his nose, his mouth. All big. Sharp angles and soft contours. I knew we would be together. I knew I would kiss those big features. Although nothing about him really took me by the shoulders and shook me, I waited for his call, and agreed to get in his red car to go somewhere I hadn’t been before: a park 45 minutes outside of town.
At the park we counted ducks and he told me he was “that kid” in middle school who everyone made fun of. I didn’t say much. He talked a lot. I prayed to fall in love, because I could see that he was. Falling, that is. There were no flashlights being turned on or grounds shifting for me. I felt like shit, but I pressed on, trying to love what was there.
Benny wore holes in his shoes much sooner than any other boy I’d ever met. He told me the reason once. It was something that didn’t have to do with walking—and this was the problem. He didn’t know how to take a walk by himself and enjoy it. Step and step and step and somewhere new is all it meant to him.
I remember one sunny day with him. I was taking pictures and wearing a pink dress that was too big on me, but I liked it anyway. It was a hopeful day, I thought. It was in our second chance days: whenever the fact that he fucked someone else made me stronger, and more able to show him affection. The wind was pushing dead leaves soft and slow on that day. I was blowing dandelion ghosts in his face as he talked on the phone to his mother. He was yelling. The day was too good for yelling, but I didn’t tell him so; I waited for him to see it on his own. I waited till he was tired of walking and we went home.
He kissed me a few times on the walk home: my hands, my cheek, my lips. The kisses were spread over different sides of the town. There was the feeling of sinking into something soft and suffocating—like those balloons they stuff sand into to relieve stress. But this feeling didn’t relieve anything; it made me scared and ready to run anywhere else.
I didn’t run. I lay in bed with him that night and waited for him to fall asleep. I kissed his forehead over and over again. I think I was trying to force love into his body, trying to give him the patience to listen to his own thoughts and to give the world a chance to wake him and show that it was still waiting, ready for the beatings he’d been keeping inside, but never chose to amplify.
Trying to find his eyes through all the tears was difficult. He was curled up on our old mattress by the window in the attic. Our old room. There were still dirty socks and t-shirts strewn about the hardwood floor. The ghosts of our old life—before I gave up, and before he went into hiding. I threw some blank note cards and a black marker at him.
“Here. Just write it down. Write down why you did it. I can’t listen to this anymore.”
“Okay.” He reached for his materials slowly, like a little boy who had just been punished.
“I’m gonna take a walk.” I took one last look at the hickey on his neck, felt the nothing rising, and walked out the door.
Outside, the sky was a sickly yellow. It had just rained. Nothing looked real. I thought about sailors and hurricanes and why the fuck people ever go out to sea. Why do people leave? Nothing good comes of it. People just aren’t good enough at remembering each other. We are too easy to distract. I’m not. I swear I’m not and I will never be. I can’t separate myself from my lapdog tendencies. (Don’t give up on him, don’t give up on him.) Everyone can be helped. Everyone can change. It’s okay. It’s okay.
I walked all the way to my favorite abandoned house. It was a soft, pale green, with white shutters and a white alley cat who always hung around. Sometimes I talked to the cat, just to talk out loud. Just to remember how to talk to someone honestly—to actually say what I mean, to be open, like the dumbest book, and not feel sorry for being it. I sat underneath a Sassafras tree and told the white cat about what my lover had done.
“What the fuck am I supposed to do?” The cat was telling me with her eyes to let go. “I don’t think I can, kitty.” The cat plopped down on the grass next to me. I rubbed little circles between her eyes. This is supposed to relax them. She did look content, that cat. All she needed was to sit under a tree to feel full. All I needed was too much I guess.
We danced all the time. In the kitchen, while dinner was cooking, in the bedroom, just hanging out, in public, in the streets. It was probably when we were dancing that I felt the most connected to him. It was hard for him to reach me with words. He would look into my eyes, our faces so close, and let out tiny smiles now and then. I remember one specific time we danced. We were on a break because I was losing faith, but I agreed to meet him at our favorite bar to talk. In the corner, a man was playing guitar. Benny and I looked at each other, realizing simultaneously what song the man was playing.
“Will you please dance with me?” When I asked him, I felt like a little girl. I felt as pure as anything. I had never broken a heart, I was sure of this, and when I smiled, looking up at him, I felt innocent. I felt stronger than any woman whose man is true. I felt myself sinking into myself. This was real. It had to be. We were bigger than the lies he told me.
We stood close to the bar and held each other, dancing in circles. He was singing the words in my ear. I still don’t think I’ve ever had a moment like that since: everything was so vivid. I didn’t need to say anything for once. He knew. We both knew what we knew. There was nothing to say. What we called love filled that space without words, under red and white lights.
In Spain, In America
In the smallest room, in Valladolid, pink coral walls surrounded me. The lamplight was overwhelming the walls with a tender, grandmother yellowness. I flossed my teeth and tried to remember what it was like to make love to Benny. His squinty eyes, all the time. The space too far between our faces. Believing in time spent over days, believing that we were connected. Trying to believe. Looking out the window at sun through red sheets and some Spanish woman’s array of ridiculous underwear, I remembered this all, and convinced myself that he was thinking of me too.
It would have been about 3:25 AM in the states, where, on a plaid pull out couch, Benny was fucking an engaged waitress. They met at work. Benny liked her from the start because she played video games, and with me on a different continent, Benny didn’t really have much to do so he went out every weekend with the engaged waitress, Melissa, and the rest of their coworkers. They all drank too much, and they all lost too much. Melissa was looking for a way out. Benny was looking for anything. I was looking for the tiny stuffed tiger he gave me. It was his favorite stuffed animal when he was little. I recited the same prayer I had been reciting for the past two months, while I was away:
“I love you, Benny. I miss you. Sleep well.”
-Fun to be with, makes me laugh, feel loved. -Thinks he doesn’t understand me.
-Sweet. (Suprises me.) -Doesn’t care about self as much as -Listens to me, wants to know things. he cares about me.
-Is weird, doesn’t think I’m (bad) weird. -Too dependent?
-Can handle my craziness. -Little self analysis?
-Likes my friends/friends like him. -Doesn’t share things with me. (may
not be true.)
-Doesn’t talk as much as I wish he did.
-Has weird relationships with his
Family History Bones
Benny’s mother was gardening when the car crushed her body. She didn’t even see it coming. She had been excited that morning because the daffodils she had planted last year were in full bloom. I got a call mid-afternoon on that Sunday. The caller ID read his mother’s name: Cathy.
“Hey…” It was Benny. I could hear a soft and quiet something in his voice.
“Hey, what’s going on?” He was quiet for a while. I got off the couch to go to the front porch. As I was walking through the door he said it:
“My mom died.” There was silence then, and the selfish thoughts fluttered from me quickly, but they shouldn’t have been there to begin with. I felt incapable. It was the first time he couldn’t feel my warmth. We both sat lifeless on the line, not speaking. I looked around, up and down the street; it was a beautiful day. Sunday’s always felt like the day you were supposed to spend with your mother. I wondered what he was looking at, and if his mind was totally blank, or moving too fast for him to catch up with.
Then it hit me: Benny would never be able to ask his mother what it was like when his father cheated on her. He would never know the secrets she kept inside; he would never be able to imagine all of the white light she produced when she walked away. He would never hear her sing, or eat her dinners, or watch her brush her hair in the mirror as she told him that everything in life changes, and to love the change always.
I took a bus back home from the airport on the 4th of July. The first thing I noticed when I pulled into my driveway was the new sidewalk in front of our house. Benny had written our names in the cement along with the years we lived in the house together. I tried to cry to show him I was thankful, because I didn’t just want to say, “thank you.” The fact that I had to force myself brought on an unidentifiable anxiety. No tears would come.
“Thank you, Benny. I love it.”
We ran up to our bedroom and exchanged gifts, abruptly threw them aside and fell into one another.
“I missed you so much.” He began to kiss my neck. I wasn’t ready to make love. Didn’t say a word, though, and felt a little sick in my stomach as I kissed him back. Once he was inside of me, I couldn’t hold it back anymore: the incessant wonderings.
“Benny, did you sleep with anyone while I was away?”
“No, baby. I promise.” He was smiling and shaking his head. I wasn’t sure either way, but I wanted to believe him. I tried to focus on the moment. I touched his hair and pulled his face right in front of mine. I wanted to kiss him until I believed him. I kept my lips on his and waited. The wonderings wouldn’t go away. The waiting never stopped.
There were too many trees to see the fireworks that night. I kept asking if we could move. He was getting annoyed. There was nothing in him that would ever explode into light. We must have moved about 5 or 6 times. I still couldn’t see the fireworks. Benny was pounding back beers.
“This is stupid,” he said, scratching his ankles, itchy from all the mosquito bites. He kept his eyes on the leaves and light. That’s when I lost it. I told him he needed to tell me the truth, and I could feel that something was wrong.
“Nothing is wrong,” he said. “I love you and everything is fine.”
I watched the slideshow of Cathy’s life, side by side with her son. “Let it Be” was playing on a loop. I kept my eyes wide open and watched all the faces on all the people who knew her. They would put their hands on Benny’s shoulder and offer their apologies and condolences. What was the difference? Was this helping him? He didn’t cry once.
I was talking to his step-mother when I saw her out of the corner of my eye: Melissa. She was wearing a black blouse that was cut too low for a funeral. Her hair moved with her body as she walked. It came all the way down to her ass. I imagined Benny running his fingers through it. What was that like for him? Had he ever touched her hair on purpose?
I wanted to hit her. I wanted to smash the vases of daffodils over her head. I walked out the back door of the funeral home and held myself as I sobbed. The wind was brushing the grass, moving it back and forth in slow waves. There was no one I wanted to talk to and there was no room for me to push this reality away. She was here, at his mother’s funeral. She cared. She was more than a fuck. I’d have to accept it.
I talked to Cathy then. I don’t even really remember what I said. Something about living with the bullshit, and how she got through it all. I promised her I would take care of Benny. I told her I was sorry that she never got to know her son, who she tried very hard to know. I told her that he would be okay, and that I would be okay, and that she would be okay. I asked her where she was, and what death was like. I let the questions hang there, in the space right in front of my face and stared into them.
“There’s your big, beautiful fucking truth.” Yes, finally, there it is. I couldn’t even believe that he gave it to me. Benny looked like a simple man in his work clothes. There were grease stains all over his apron, and the red hat he had to wear was pushed to the side a little. I thought he looked cute, and I had to remind myself that I can’t think those things anymore. I looked up to the sky; it was overcast and gray. There was no wind. Everything around me was still, and I didn’t dare interrupt it. He stormed back into the diner and I fell back onto the brick of that awful establishment which bred only sex friends. I watched cars pass. I didn’t know what else to do. They were all women, the drivers. How many of these women were lied to? How many are still being lied to? How many don’t know? Really, I believe you always know, if you want to know. One woman pulled her car over and leaned out her window, cigarette in hand. Mid 60s with a scratchy voice.
“Honey, are you alright?”
“I’ll tell ya what. Whatever’s bothering you, there’s more life to live. It’s only a matter of time before things are good again.” She was right, but I didn’t care at the time.
I thanked her, picked my bike up, and rode it to the highest hill in town. I jumped off when I reached the top and screamed to the trees. Every leaf on every tree was yellow, and they listened to me. I screamed repeatedly, different words: “no,” fuck,” “why?”.
It was over now. I knew this. It was over now. I wasn’t ready for it to be, but at least I could finally scream and not feel sorry. That counted for something.
I always end up saying or doing things that make me feel terribly young. After I broke it off with Benny for good, I wanted to try and understand how he could sleep around like he did. What did sex mean to him? How could he share his body with someone who wouldn’t even remember the constellation of freckles on his chest the next day? Why was this okay? What did he get out of it?
So, I tried to find out. Didn’t get very far. His name was Jaren, and he claimed that no woman could turn him down once he let his hands find their curves. Bullshit. Bullshit! This means nothing. Sex is a pseudo-power. He acted like he wasn’t sweating it. He started with my hips, which was weird, and I’m ashamed to say, intriguing. I wanted to have sex with him in the anticipatory: “Oh I’m going to have sex,” but not actually have sex, kind of way. He wanted to have sex with me in the, “Oh I’m going to have sex,” and fuck like mad kind of way.
I told him I liked his rough hands, and he made them like me too. I tried to start a conversation then. I told him about how the outside of my window sill was deteriorating and how it always upset me when rain and wood didn’t have a good relationship. He grunted, and continued his path, his hands moving slow up the front of my shirt. I closed my eyes and felt the feeling of no ground. I saw myself 10 years old, alone on the back porch, watching the heat lightening in the dark on the porch swing with my first cat, Heidi, in my lap. Reclused and happy.
I was a proud little kid. People called me a weirdo, and they had reason to. I did weird stuff. I would bury dead things and dig them back up again. Sometimes months later, sometimes seconds later. I didn’t want to forget what they looked like: all the animals I loved and cared for, all the animals I didn’t know but still loved. Once I found a dead squirrel in the driveway and I named him Sammy. I outlined his little body in chalk, wrapped him in some tissues, and carried him to his burial site—a field of clovers behind my house. I must have dug him up again at least 3 times. I kept wanting to see him once more. When you put something in the ground, it’s like it’s not there anymore, and I wasn’t okay with forgetting.
Whenever Heidi died, Benny drove me to his father’s house 20 minutes outside of town to bury her. I sat in the back seat with her the whole way there, her body hard, but still warm. Her fur was so soft; it always was. Benny and I didn’t say a word to each other.
When we reached his father’s house, there was a light rain and a cold wind blowing. He offered me his coat, but I didn’t want it. (I needed to feel everything.) Benny walked to the shed and I sat down in the wet grass with Heidi in my lap and cried for her. I told her how much I loved her and that life went on and on and she shouldn’t be scared of wherever she was.
Benny returned, shovel in hand. “This is where all of my cats are buried,” he said, pointing to the bank where the road met the yard. It was covered in ivy. “Do you want to bury her there, too?” I did. He began to dig. It was the first time, in the two years I’d known Benny, that I saw him as a man. I think it was the frozen ground, and his dead cats within it. It was him digging, and holding my little baby Heidi’s body, and placing it in the earth, that made me see it. This is the memory that has made itself full, because I felt both gratitude and loss, at the same time, and nothing else could have been better. I thanked the world and said goodbye.
The House that Was Green
It was quiet in the room I found. My footsteps echoed as I walked the length of the hardwood floor to the window that overlooked the woods. I sat with my back against the wall, legs out and crossed at the ankles. With one arm, and without looking, I reached up and pushed the window open. I looked at my legs. The wind from the woods felt warm on them, and I didn’t hate the way they looked. This one instance of the absence of hate was the only moment that my heart slowed down ever since the letter had arrived: that morning.
I reached into my front pocket and pulled out a plain, white envelope, folded in half, unopened. There were two 25 cent bird stamps on it. A Barn Swallow and a Blue Jay. I’d never heard of a Barn Swallow before, but I did recognize the writing on the envelope, which is why I wanted to wait to find a safe place to read it. I held it in both hands until the next gust of wind came, then opened it. As soon as I read the first two words, I knew I wasn’t ready.
How have you been? I’m so depressed. I’m so sorry. I hate being
alone. With Melissa, it was just raw commiseration. You know that. I miss you.
I didn’t mean to change your beliefs about the world. I’m just fucked up, I guess.
I’ve never burned a letter before. I would burn this one before it got dark out. I took the path through the woods back home. I watched the tall trees stand still as I walked past each one. I said, “thank you,” to no one, over and over again, through tears.