Happy Mask

Whenever she wants to hurt me, she chides me about how I’m emotionless, how I can’t be hurt. She does this unironically, and it does, in fact, hurt me.

“That’s not true,” I say honestly, in a way she won’t believe.

The truth is she wouldn’t understand the truth. Between pretty pictures and inspirational quotes and brunches at hotel pools, she’s convinced that everyone feels everything the same, or at least they should.

Happy. But not real happy. Just that kind they describe in self-help books. The kind you can achieve by telling yourself over and over that you’re happy. The simple sort of greeting card happiness. When did the goal and the wish for the goal become the same?

She tries to corner me. They all do. They want to understand, and when they can’t understand, they want to change what they’re looking at until they do. Box me, mould me, filter me, until they ‘get it’. But they don’t get it.

The cold stare and unaffected demeanor isn’t a mask or an act. It wasn’t described in The Secret or in The Power of Now. I’m not the exception that proves the rule. I’m just an exception. And there is no rule.

But that’s not clean and pretty and who wants to deal with that?

“You think you want me for more than this, but you don’t. Sooner or later, you’ll realize that,” I explained. I’ve said it before. It’s rehearsed. I’m good at saying it. I say it with every bit of sincerity I can muster, but it’s hard to seem genuine anytime you’ve said the same thing enough times.

“What if I do?”

“You won’t. I promise you won’t. Everyone thinks they do. Because it’s different and it seems…different. But that’s the problem. You don’t want different. You want the same things everyone else wants,” I said.

“And what’s that? How do you think you know what I want?”

“Because I know. You tell me every time you get mad that I can’t hang out or when you think I’m not texting you enough.”

She rolled away, onto her back. She stared at the ceiling. She sighed. It was faint. It sounded familiar. It was the sound she made at the end of her sixth orgasm last night. It all made sense.

“Honestly, you don’t even know me. Not really. You just know what you see. And I don’t even know what that is. You just like that I make you come and that you can’t figure me out. That’s not a relationship.”

She turned back toward me. “Is this fun for you?”

“Fun? Is what fun?” I climbed out of bed, pulling on boxer briefs and walking out of the room. She sat up as I walked out and I could hear her bounce into the mattress as she slammed herself back down in frustration.

“Come on!” she yelled from the bedroom.

I was pissing and I pretended I couldn’t hear her.

“What?” I flushed.

“Nevermind. I think I’m going to go.”

“Okay,” I said.

She got out of bed while I separated cheap coffee filters that always come out two at a time even though no one ever needs two coffee filters and they should’ve done a better job with their production process. I rinse yesterday’s coffee out of the pot, or maybe the day before’s. I pour Trader Joe’s ground coffee into the machine, but it goes everywhere through the ripped opening. Their coffee is average at best and the packaging is shit, but if I wanted something else I’d have to go to a second grocery store and I can’t even comprehend the anxiety level I’d have to endure in those circumstances.

“Are you making coffee?” she asked, as she walked into the kitchen, wearing nothing but expensive looking lingerie. I wasn’t sure if it was expensive or not. She seemed like the sort of girl who would wear Agent Provocateur, but not ever buy it. So it was either Agent Provocateur or Forever 21, I guessed, though it didn’t matter and I didn’t care and the only question worth asking was why she wasn’t wearing more clothes and leaving like she said she was going to. I didn’t have anything important to do today, but she didn’t know that.

I stared at her. What other reaction could you have when someone asks if you’re making coffee while you’re very obviously making coffee? I knew she’d go back to telling me how unnecessarily asshole-ish I was being so I reveresed course and smiled. “Yes. Want a cup?”

“I really should get out of here.” She paused, leaning against the counter, adjusting her stance in increasingly seductive ways.

“I’ll wa –“

“But what the hell? I’ll have a cup. I need to wake up. Lots to do today.” She stretched over the counter and began to dig through the cupboards for a cup. “You don’t mind do you?”

Hiphugger panties turned into a thong along her perfectly tanned ass and it became irresistible. I pressed ‘brew’ and walked toward her, slinking up along her side, behind her. Her hair smelled like a field I ran through as a child and I felt like I was home or somewhere safe even as a cold shock passed through my nervous system, reminding me I was nowhere close.

“They’re right here.” I pulled a cup down. It was from Urban Outfitters and an ex bought it for me years ago. I kept it because, fuck it. A small piece of ceramic can’t hurt me. Memories don’t fade in trash cans or dumpsters or landfills. There’s a scrap heap in my soul where a thousand coffee cups lie broken. Just leave them, I knew. They’re of you. They are you.

You can’t run from your own shadow, I thought, as she pressed her ass into my crotch. My hands traced the hard curvature along the top of her pelvic bones, up to her breasts. My right hand pulled her left bra strap down, passing her elbow. I discarded it and cupped her underneath her bra. She grabbed my hand and pirouetted, moving it between her legs. She was gasping before my finger even slid inside her. She spun another one-eighty, bending slightly over the kitchen counter, hands gripping the bottom shelf of the open cabinet. Reaching back with both hands, she slid my boxers down before tugging her lingerie past her hips until they decorated the dirty tile.

She pressed her hips back, reaching between her legs, behind her, to pull me inside. She rocked into me. It was slow but hard, like she was trying to have me dig a different path out of her.

“Fuck me,” she screeched.

This is a mistake, I knew, as she tightened, coming hard.

“Come with me.”

“I can’t,” I said. “I don’t feel anything.” But I kept going.

Her hand moved from the shelf into the cabinet, gripping a coffee mug.

“You never feel anything,” hissed out between disjointed gasps for air. Mug in hand, she backed me off, turning quickly and shattering the hard ceramic across my left cheek.

I staggered. “What the fuck?” My fingers passed over my cheek, a gash opened, brailing the word ‘wound’. “Burning rage”. The words shot through my mind in a pulsing red light, signaling a time-bomb, about to explode. I disarmed it. She’s a woman, what can I do? Besides, I couldn’t allow her to win. Not like that.

The coffee maker beeped repeatedly, telling me that it was finished brewing.

“Say something,” she screamed.

“I’d like it if you left.” I pulled a broom from the pantry and began to sweep mug shards from the tiled floor. I was meticulous and focused, still naked and half-hard.

“I’m sorry.” She pulled her bra and underwear back on. “I don’t know why I did that.”

“Yeah.”

“Come on. I’m sorry. Really, I’m sorry. Are you okay?” She put her hand on my shoulder, I shrugged it off and kept sweeping. She walked out of the room. I put my boxers back on, grabbed a dustpan, and swept the broken coffee mug up. The pieces clinked together, falling into the trash can below the sink.

I poured myself a cup of coffee and walked to the balcony. I lit an American Spirit from a pack that she had left out the night before. I stood with my back to everything inside, smoking and sipping coffee. Behind me, she was dressing, making sure she had everything. She must know, I thought, that she’ll never be here again. There was some small satisfaction in that.

She came to the sliding door. “Hey.”

I smoked. She sighed. I didn’t turn around.

“Are those mine?”

I palmed the pack of Spirits and turned, handing them over. I turned back.

“I’m sorry,” she said, and walked away. She stopped. “Why don’t you care about me? Why am I just nothing to you?”

I exhaled a plume of smoke. “I’m sorry you feel that way.”

She left.

The ability to hurt someone is a strange desire for someone so concerned with happiness.

She did it though. My swelling cheek throbbed and burned. My pride was in a pile of unswept shards on the floor. My dick even hurt. Congratulations.

The truth she couldn’t know was that I’d already hurt too much. The truth she couldn’t know was that I wasn’t insensitive. I was hypersensitive and I could never trust her enough to tell her that. I’d hurt more in recent memory than she’d hurt in her lifetime, or at least as far as she was aware. That’s the danger of the happy mask. Everything sad or dark or painful gets pushed away while pretending to be grateful for whatever you get. More gruel, please, sir.

Everything I felt was too sharp and too overwhelming to share with anyone, least of all someone with such a glaring inability to handle it. My therapist had told me again and again not to spend time with her.

Now I knew why.

 

Fountain

She was the kind of pretty where you can’t help but feel “less than”. The kind where you make sure to point out all your flaws before she could ever notice them, just to soften the blow when it falls apart. It always does.

“I’m old,” I said.

She was twenty-two, a fit version of waiflike, with sand colored hair – I wasn’t sure if it was natural, but it looked like it on her.

“My hair is going grey. I’m going to look like a grandfather by the time I’m thirty-six and I won’t even be a dad.”

“But your face is young,” she said.  “And besides, you’re only as old as the woman in your bed.” She smiled in a beautiful, dreadful way that left me uncertain.  I didn’t know why.

I smiled.

“I like that philosophy.”

We ate at one of those hip sorts of restaurants with paper ‘tablecloths’ and crayons so that you could draw for fun or for a souvenier or in case you have nothing to talk about while you wait for your food to arrive, knowing that food signals the safety zone because it’s rude to talk with food in your mouth. She drew a clown. A colorful clown. It was good in a bad way. I took a black crayon and drew a Hangman and dashed out space for eight letters.

“S,” she guessed.

I drew an empty circle for a head.

“You have to draw a face for him.”

“Well, then you’d better win this round.  Would be a shame to hang a guy we know based on letters.” I grinned. She ate it up.  I drew two eyes and a nose.

“Where’s his mouth?”

“We have to find out whether you win or not.  I can’t very well draw a smiley face on him if he hangs.”

“C.”

I drew a stick body and a surprisingly realistic noose around George’s neck. He’s called George now. She doesn’t know it yet, but that’s his name. I assume she’s going to lose at this point, but I was making up the thing about not hanging a guy we know. He’s just some crayon wax on a sheet of paper that’ll soon be stained with a splash of wine as the waiter’s wrist twists the bottle too slowly to catch the drop that falls after he fills my glass – the one emptying faster than hers.

“The ribeye, medium rare,” as the food runner sets her plate in front of her. It tips and red meat juice cascades onto the clown’s eye, forming a strange sort of tear or sweat on his otherwise happy face.

“Your clown!” I laughed.

“He’s crying,” she says, exaggerating a frown.

“Or maybe he’s sweating. Or maybe he’s crying from laughter. He’s a clown. Or maybe he’s the original sad clown. Maybe this is exactly how the sad clown was invented.”

She stared at me. I didn’t really know what I meant either, I was just talking.

“The monkfish, sir. Can I bring you anything else?”

I twisted my hand in her direction, asking if she needed anything.

“I’m good. This looks amazing.”

I always love a girl who orders steak or whiskey. She might be insane, but at least she’s not high maintenance.

“Actually,” I stop the waiter in his tracks, “another bottle of wine would be great.” I turn to her. “You’ll have another glass, right?” She nodded. “Yeah, one more bottle.”

When I woke up, my mouth was dry and my head was all dubstep, pulsing and pulling and exploding in rhythm. Another day, wasted, I thought. No gym, no writing, no reading. Just reloading the timelines on social media, watching things on TV with the goal being “clearing off the DVR” rather than being entertained. Hey, you find your progress where you can on a day like today. Stay positive, everyone says.

She stirs but doesn’t wake. My white sheets have a slight orange tint from bronzer I didn’t realize she was wearing until now. I’ll have to wash those today.  I made a mental note that I was sure would be erased. My dog whined from the floor. How did he get down there? Harsh summer light cracked through every space the blackout curtains didn’t cover, defeating the purpose. The packaging said they eliminated 110% of the light, which is impossible. I should’ve held it against them when I was making my decision to purchase but I figured instead that they must be really confident in how well their product performed. You can’t win them all.

I got out of bed and pissed with my head pressed on the cabinet above the toilet, helping me steady myself. It felt like rest. Cold water from the Brita to a cup to my mouth. It restored me momentarily.

Now what? How can I get her to leave? I think I really like her. The disparity of emotions on a morning like this can be daunting. I promised myself I wouldn’t fuck her, not tonight, but promises to yourself are the easiest to break. This has to stop.

I called my agent and canceled a general. Generals always feel pointless. Besides, I probably had to take her to breakfast before calling her an Uber.

I wondered if I’d get a nap in.

I wondered if I had a dehydration problem.

Atherosclerosis, I wondered.

Cigarette burn in the ottoman, I noticed.

Half empty bottle of whiskey, I registered.

I’m going to fall asleep during the movie with a different date tonight, I imagined.

This has to stop, I knew.

“You’re only as old as the woman in your bed,” she said.

And I understood why my first reaction was dread.

Angel

Severed places
Pristine angel
Let me tell you
The clouds miss you

You were meant to
Fly higher
And live where most of us
Pretend not to know

You are better than most
But slightly more
Difficult
Than I would have requested

To vanquish
Everything I could have attempted
A solidarity that
Could have withstood
Torrents
And a skin
That was
Immune to withering
And blistering
Due to heat and
Constant betrayal
Dismission
And neglect
You withstand what I could not

And a few months ago
I forgot the color of your eyes
The way you smelled
And the way your kiss tastes
But you took everything I own
And my blood
No longer hydrates
It sheds its color
It flakes off of tired limbs
And covers your picture

And the dream I dreamt
Leaves me
Wishing that you had woken me
Before leaving
But eventually
We all sleep for
Long enough
That we all try hard to forget
Strong enough
And we all move on

Well, most of us.

Adoption

This is not an exit
She spoke
Through lips I ironed on
She spoke
With razors and disarray
Fall in line
You command
And I choke
On everything you say
It’s smoke
Out of season
Just particles
Strung together
With no reason
This doesn’t add up
The stale air
Relayed through
Empty breath
Of dying tragic lungs
We are all enslaved
To your lust command
And twisting tongue
You taste like
Death on a good day
But look at me the wrong way
Through eyes you painted on
And when you left
Me broken up
You took everything I own
And am
And I can’t even breathe
I’m sucking in shards
Of glass
From shattered spectacles
Your foot is on my throat
And I can’t say
That of late
I can even really see
The way out
The exit’s on fire
So suffocate the flame
Extinguish it
The way you do to me
And for the sake
Of everything
Holding any meaning
Please
For the love
Let me out.