The Flash

Three weeks and change in Santiago, Chile. My roller coaster disposition continues to take me to new highs and lows, just as it always has. One would think that by now I’d be used to the feeling of my stomach bottoming out or my head in the clouds, but every day brings a new curve in the tracks. Even one simple fact, like that I’ve already eaten up nearly a month of my time here, can be a drop or a climb, depending on when you ask me.

Last night I left my host family’s house at 12:30 am. Destination? A carrete that boasted the unlikely theme of Popeye, the ancient cartoon character with upsetting forearms and the apparent superhuman ability to obtain energy from canned spinach. I scrambled into the three-door car, nearly spilling a water bottle full of piscola. After a second of the mild discomfort that goes along with introducing oneself, I was like part of the family. ‘The family’ referring to two gay guys several years older than I, and my friend from the metro. No one spoke English. The guy who I was sitting next to started talking to me a mile a minute, jabbering about this and that, TV shows, movies. After ten minutes or so he said something along the lines of, “wait, you can understand me, right? tell me to talk slower if you don’t. we chilenos can be a handful.”

I guess I should back up. The story of how exactly I got to Club Burbujas is too good to not share with the internet.

About a week ago I was I was reading my book on the way home when a camera’s flash shattered the banality of the metro car. Without a doubt, it was targeted at me. It’s hard to say exactly what I felt upon realizing I was the star of this random act of documentation. Offended, definitely. I thought it might have something to do with me looking like a gringa. Curious, definitely. Despite the weirdness, I was at least a little bit flattered that someone thought I was worth capturing on film.

It took me several metro stops to get up the courage to ask what, exactly, the deal was. When I finally sat down next to her, my Spanish sounded awkward and foreign, even to my own ears. I asked her why she was taking photos, and she responded with something general about ‘la gente linda.’ I took a breath and asked, more directly, why she took a photo of me. Although I can’t remember what she said, I do remember that she handed me the small Polaroid that her camera had spit out moments before. In it I look remarkably tranquil. My backpack is slung over the front half of my body, my fat book is laying wide open, my hair and my beanie blend together in a mass of shadow above my face. The picture is now tucked safely in a folder with my other paper memories of Santiago so far. Bus tickets, receipts, the occasional sketch.

We both stayed on the metro until the end of the line. While I had to cut things short because my micro was about to round the corner, we at least had time to exchange Facebook information and a friendly farewell.

Less than a week later, here I am, recovering from my first all nighter since I-don’t-know-when. The party turned out to be a little bit less than riveting (Facebook is a great liar when it comes to attendance) so we left around 3 am and went to her house. For the next five hours I drank piscola and listened to the unique collection of modismos that make up the Chilean dialect. Every once in a while I would offer my two cents, absolutely butchering the thoughts I was trying to express, but I consider it a start. Rome wasn’t built in a day, weon. Despite my terrible grammar and funny accent, it would appear that I have made myself a few new friends.

As for where I’ll find myself next, I can’t quite say. What I do know is that anything, even the innocuous flash of a camera, can be the start to a beautiful, unlikely adventure.

What to say-po?

About a week ago I began my life’s first epic journey (or so it seems). I said goodbye to the people I’ve gotten to know over the past two years and began the long grueling plane ride to the southern hemisphere, where it is (surprise, surprise) winter.

I have wanted to study abroad since I knew that this concept was one that existed… WAIT, you can just go LIVE in another country while you’re in college? Um, sign me up now, please.

Since getting here I have seen the Andes in their stark unbelievable elegance, marveled at la Virgen at the top of el Cerro San Cristóbal, lost myself almost completely in the Museum of Contemporary Art (no, literally, where were the exhibits), and struggled endlessly to express myself.

I guess I’ve always identified myself as someone who speaks well- or writes well, at the very least. So much for that identity in this country, where I found myself incapable of saying my knee was bent. Doblado, for anyone who was wondering. Just having this experience makes my heart go out to anyone who has ever been in the United States and not had a perfect mastery of the language. The looks, the patience, the struggle, the constant checking of a dictionary and/or translator… Let’s just get one thing clear- speech, eloquence? Those don’t necessarily indicate intelligence.

Aside from that, I find that Santiago, a large-ish city that has largely hidden itself from international attention of any kind, has quite a bit to offer. From Las Condes to Renca, there is something for nearly everyone. Of course I’m already making plans to go to Peru, to Valparaíso, to Mendoza, to Patagonia. But for now this place has my attention… at least until I figure out exactly what everyone is saying to me… Cachai?

Hasta pronto,

ciao ciao.

Being that which you are not

words chase meaning.

freedom is a cultivated thing

the surprise underside of a rose

It is too late at night to be poetic-

instead of sleep I drink peach tea

choosing to ignore mortality.

I can sleep when I’m dead.

endings chase finality.

the last arrives when you least expect it

softly sweating someone else’s sheets

It is too late at night to be prophetic-

the only words on my tongue are

hollow vowels

fatalistic guttural utterances.

Nobody’s here to hear them.

speech chases communication.

apologies to empty doors

and to the ones who won’t believe them

Meditation on Social Media

Sometimes I catch myself in this loop of searching through other people’s lives; people that I used to know, people that used to know me. It’s so easy because we are all such good “Friends.” In the shining rose-glow of Facebook and selective uploading, they are all so beautiful, and I am so lonely. I am sitting in my living room with glasses and a runny nose and boxers and they are glittering constellations on the horizon. I wonder what they are doing at this moment. I think about how far they are from me, and how close they once were.

We used to be best friends, and now it looks like you have a new one. That’s ok, I do too.

You used to sleep in my bed, and now you’re going to graduate from college, and I bet that not one thought of me will be crossing your mind as you do it. Well, I can promise you that I sleep in the same bed as someone new now. And I won’t think about you when I graduate, either.

I told you that I loved you, and now there is some blue clickable status that is broadcasting to the world that you love someone else. I’m pretty committed to someone better.

Sometimes it makes me so sad that it feels like there’s a weight on my chest. It makes it hard to breathe, and hard to think about anything else. What if, what if, what if? What if I had tried harder to stay in touch? What if they had? What if I had more time to think about it and communicate?

It’s a funny thing about social media, that it only seems to remind me how heartbreakingly alone we all are.

The Beat out of Time: for MW

walking drunken alone listless confused,

sleeping on a closed door, his own.

(he must have locked himself out)

until the police are there right there

waking him up. time for a journey! and he’s

cradled dark

through savage apathetic streets

he’s just a baby just an angel beat in time

snow soaked sneakers (

canvas and rubber don’t keep the cold out)

keeping the beat even through

his blinding halo

his secret blessing, his cross to bear

and you can hear ribcage bones whispering wondering

on health and death

But he is a strong man;

got it under control.

He is an angel;

blessed divine.

He’s got the beat;

thumping veins & arteries…

In time. Always in time.

Some Boys

These boys I know have got to be the smartest in the world.

            They are in my room and I’m happy that they’re here, so happy that I can barely speak. Or maybe that’s the acid in my dinner plate eyes. I just sit back and listen, nodding, smiling, hoping I don’t look too stupid. I let the scatter-plot logic wash over me, absolution.

The canister gets passed around again, and I pass it on just like I did before. Even though they said they guarantee that I’ll like it, even though they’ve all done it. I want to sit back and observe the walls’ breath.

Porter stops the canister’s cyclical passage and hops up on to the bed. As far as I know he’s drunk, tripping, and on track to inhale some laughing gas. I admire his ability to bend reality around him like the sun’s rays over the horizon. Nothing looks quite the same after he’s been past it. I smile up at him, wondering if it will be the raw chaos of the universe this time, or something better.

I try to catch Keenan’s eye but he is off to himself, eyes cast downward, probably low enough to see the bloody walls of his soul, or hell. I make a mental note to ask him what his revelations are when we both come out on the other side. I forget what my mental note was within the next minute, and then I forget that I made a mental note at all.

These boys seem to move as one amoebic organism,

travelling in packs like

wolves, maybe, or

jellyfish. I am honored to be a cog in their mechanistic madness.

            Elliot is playing guitar, rasping his fingertips against the strings like they owe him. I barely recognize the song that he’s playing, but I know that I like it. The angry fast beat is right in time with the red demands of school and jobs and other friends.

I don’t feel like they demand anything, though. All Porter and Elliot require of me is the occasional voice to help them with their feelings and sometimes a room in which to trip over things when tripping over things in public would result in arrest or endless complications.

They take turns drinking vodka, lips a straight seal to the bottle, and when the handle is finished I hold out my recycling so that they don’t forget and leave bottles on my floor again. The blue plastic bin’s guts rattle with glass and aluminum and plastic, vessels that provided brief journeys to a furry consciousness. None of them are mine.

These boys have invisible crowns,

woven out of bushy green resinous plants

(poor material) and the stringy viscous

snot of cough syrup

(a good adhesive).

            I thought for a while that I really liked Will. He made me nervous, always staring from behind those thick frame glasses, but I liked it. I’ve always had a hard time distinguishing roller-coaster butterflies in my stomach from nausea butterflies in my stomach.

One night we split off from the group and he was talking to me about the meaning of life, and how beautiful the stars were while he tried to roll a cigarette. I giggled at first, at how much trouble he was having. His jittering fingers barely seemed capable of holding onto the communion-wafer-thin paper, much less packing it with tobacco and rolling it into some semblance of a cylinder.

He dropped the paper and the wind carried it away from us. He pulled out another one and dropped it. This one fell, weighted with tobacco, to the ground. He got a third and was explaining how mind-fuckingly huge outer space was when he ripped it by accident.

I don’t know what I’m doing, he said, looking up at me with thin blue irises thoughtlessly pushed aside by a yawning abyss of pupil.

These boys are my friends and sometimes I don’t know why.

            The other night I held Porter in my arms while he sobbed and vomited and drooled and talked to me.

I’m so fucked up I’ll never get anywhere. I’m gonna get kicked out because of that one test I didn’t take I was already on academic probation and had the vandalism charge I should’ve gone. I rubbed his back while he emptied his guts, first into the toilet and then into my ears.

I wanted to listen, I wanted to help. I told him that I believed in him, even as I noticed the crooked stare of his gummy drunken eyes. I told him I believed in him, even when he told me about getting fired from his job- that was news to me. I told him I believed in him, and kept repeating it even as his eyes fluttered shut in a sleep that would be anything but sound.

I stayed up almost that whole night holding him, looking up at my ceiling that was first pure blackness and then revealed more and more of its intricacies the longer I stared, the longer I prayed.

The next morning I took him to breakfast and made sure that he drank at least one glass of water and watched him get on the bus like a mother with her toddler the first day of kindergarten.

He didn’t remember anything.

These boys have made me question life, and also death.

            He told me he used to cut himself up for fun, and that for a while he wanted to die. He said he had to stay away from ledges, from high places, not because he was afraid of falling but because he was afraid that he wanted to fall.

One time we drove to the top of a mountain, like real American cheaters, and the wind was trying to shoo us off of the rocks at the top but I scrambled to the edge anyway, peeking my toes just barely over the abyss, looking down at a drop that would rip the scream from my throat and push my stomach out of my mouth.

I thought he was beside me, but when I looked back he was yards away, just shaking his head. Just standing there, still, and shaking his head.

I love these boys,

but it’s like soup

that splatters in the microwave and

often you have to clean the sides

with more than a paper towel.

             One night Elliot was too high on opiates, so he sat on the toilet in the bathroom and wailed riffs of Sufjan Stevens and Andrew Bird until Porter and I came to his rescue. We sat outside of his stall door and played guitar for him, mostly quiet fingerpicking or softly strummed chords.

Aw, you guys, I love you guys, he kept mumbling over and over again. We played louder, because we didn’t want him to fall asleep. When he stopped his reedy harmonies I slithered under the door and found him, mouth lazily open, leaning against the side of the stall. Some graffiti next to his head proudly proclaimed, “i’m god, bitchez” in hefty Sharpie strokes. I hoped that someone else wrote it.

I slung him over my shoulder, his beanstalk frame making everything difficult, and unlocked the door. Porter and I sat him down in the shower, nose away from the spray so that he wouldn’t choke, and turned it on as cold and as high as the knob would allow.

The next morning we biked to class together, his legs only a little bit clumsy from his trip to the other side of consciousness less than twelve hours before.

These boys I know preach sacrilege and practice hedonism.

They pray

to the vast glittering psyche of LSD,

ask forgiveness

from the bottom of beer cans,

confess their sins

to the always-soft shoulder of locked doors in the darkness.

They flirt with death-

they have her number and they think she doesn’t have theirs,

inviting her to bed and making sure

that they are the first to come and not the first to go.