The real trouble is the dreams.
On my wall is a poster from a friend’s show from September 21, the first day of the Fall, when I asked her to marry me and she said yes. It was raining. I had us on the guest list but the friend’s band was blowing up and Havemeyer Park was at or above capacity. I eventually convinced someone at the gate that I was a reporter and we got in and I moshed and the skies opened up and the show was over and we went and had dinner and I proposed in a shuttered doorway with no ring, very drunk, and upon asking for a random passerby’s blessing. She said yes, though. And then I asked her what kind of stones she liked and she said sapphire, and then I don’t know, maybe we went to her place or maybe we went to mine. We probably fucked. I woke up the next morning hungover and happy.
But shit happens.
Shit happens and eventually one day after you realize that it has, and she has said, “I love you” as she walks out the door, and you’ve said, “Don’t say that,” that might be it. Or you might watch her from your window with tears streaming down your face as she walks away from your apartment building forever. That might happen; that might be it. And you might get a serious case of the Fuck Its after that. But you might have to keep going anyway.
On my wall is a painting by the first woman I thought I was going to marry. On my wall is an elk antler, a gift from another one. I am a serial hopeless romantic with vague ambitions to settle down. Eventually I’ve become friends with all of my exes. My therapist doesn’t know why I bother. I say, “If I’ve spent that much time with a person, I think it’s worth preserving the relationship.”
He kind of smiles at this.
One day a couple of weeks after she’s walked out on you, when you’re feeling better even though you’re feeling worse, you might go out with some colleagues after work and see her at a bar that maybe she introduced you to, and maybe Jesus Christ a bit as she leaves, just mouth agape, like, “How? How did this happen?” Maybe that will ruin your evening. And then maybe you’ll go travel for the better part of a month because your job is a fucking free-for-all and you just can. And maybe during that month you’ll fuck random women and tell someone else you love her and basically act out and do everything in your capacity to escape. And maybe you won’t know what you’re escaping. In all likelihood, you’ll acknowledge from the get-go that you’re not escaping anything, and that the task you’ve assigned yourself is simply a doomed attempt to forget. What you won’t necessarily realize before you go is that airports are terrible places to forget — that they’re memory machines for the depressed and discombobulated, reminders that no matter how far you’ve come, you still have to go home and face the music eventually.
And what you won’t necessarily realize is that your dreams will get in the way, anyway.
When my father died, I dreamt about his life for months and months and months. In these dreams I always, subconsciously, understood that he was still burned and scattered, but he would tell me things, things that gave me hope, things that reminded me of who I was, who he was, what it meant to have lineage, life, meaning as we all slowly burn.
He told me to quit smoking. I haven’t quit smoking. And as time passed, he stopped appearing altogether. I used to call his cell phone to hear his voice mail message. The last time I tried, it was disconnected. That’s why it was the last time.
Francesca and I sat on a patio on her birthday in September and cried about our dead parents. It was something that brought us together, in a way. Her mother died a few days before 9/11. Until you’ve seen a parent die, you cannot possibly understand the weight and weightlessness of the event. Rudderless and heavy, swimming with barbells. We knew that together. It was both what made us work and what drove us apart. Because broken people cannot hold one another up, no matter how much they can relate. And there is no doubt that we were both broken. We met each other at a bar when I was sober. We met each other again six months later at a bar when I was sober. And then I stopped being sober. And then we fell in love. And there’s no way you can fall in love with a son of a bitch like me unless you are broken.
But there are the dreams, and even if they’re fewer and further between now, they still come at me like jellyfish, stinging just when I feel like I have enough air to float. Because all of a sudden there she is, or there we are, eating burritos and touching one another’s thighs, flirting in the candlelight. And then I wake up to New York or Denver or Portland or Vancouver or Omaha, and maybe there’s someone who I don’t particularly care about next to me, or maybe (more likely) I’m alone and trying to remember where I am and what the point is if all you get in the end is oblivion anyway.
The dreams will go away. If there’s anything my father taught me, it’s that. But it’s also that you don’t have a choice about whether you want them to or not. You don’t get to decide with grief. All you get to do is choose what to think about. And one day, you’ll decide that even if it’s never over, it is for now.