I'm aware I've been conspiculously silent lately. Here's something to say I'm still alive.


sixteen:underlying

The dirt is damp in my hands. It squishes through my fingers and the smell of it comes to my nose and it's cold and alive and dead all at once. And the rain pours into my head, the back of my neck, cold fingers crawling down my goose-bump skin.

And my knees sink into the wet dirt and grass and it hugs me in its cold embrace and the grass presses its green fingers into my skin till it stays imprinted, a bed marked in the pale planes of my skin.

Sometime when it hurts, when it's hard to breathe, when there are nights like this, I slide outside and sit and stare into nothing and think about nothing and just shiver and shudder and then finally go numb against the soothing fingers of the rain.

And under my knees are worms, crawling and writhing their way to the surface of their wet earth homes. Lying under me, they twist and squirm like beings in pain and I close my eyes and think that this is it, this could be it, this could be my life, this meaningless crawling life and maybe that's all it really is. Or this could be it, this moment, these worms who have bodies filled with dirt eaten away from graves like having bits of Danny resting in their pale wriggling bodies and I get up off the ground and it's still raining, and I feel cold, frozen, not quite numb enough.

And I'm hungry and empty and empty and empty just like I used to be and these worms are full, full, full and I get up and go inside and crawl into bed and I try not to think and just try to breathe and it's so hard sometimes not to remember.

seventeen:tizzy

Days later, in the morning, Loren isn't in bed beside me and his mother is pacing in the kitchen in a bathrobe and she's smoking. Before Loren's told me that she only smokes when she's upset. I want to know why she's upset but can't seem to find words that work.

She turns to me and stops pacing, dropping her hand to her side to let her cigarette dangle in ringed fingers. For a long moment she looks like a little girl and I feel so grown up, want to pull her to my chest, smooth her hair, and promise that everything will be okay.

Nothing will ever be okay.

He always used to do this, she said, before you. Before, he did this a lot and I just…

And she takes a long drag on her cigarette and looks to me with tears like ice frozen to her bottom eyelids. And her eyes are bloodshot and there are just the tiny hints of almost-wrinkles in the corners of her eyes. When she hugs me her body is frail and it shakes and I feel like I am when I'm with her son – like I need to be strong and protect and guard and this time do things right.

You'll never do anything right.

I just want him to be happy, she says. I just want so fucking bad for him to be happy.

And then she's hitting me, pushing me away, hands fists digging into my chest, words pummeling me in the face and she's screaming, You were supposed to make him happy. I trusted you because you were making him happy. Where is he where is he where is he why?

Whywhywhy and I'm echoing her uneven words, her ragged voice, whywhywhy.

Loren comes home an hour later while his mother and I chain smoke on the back deck and when he walks out and stands between us and says, What's up, we take turns and we hug him and we just want to make him happy.

eighteen:surfboard

At one point, back when things were shit, Danny and I would stay up all night talking. And we'd talk about things we wanted to do and promised to do and always knew we'd never do.

And I wanted to go to overseas like on those TV shows where the natives welcome this person in and show him their customs, their secrets, their lives. I wanted to do that. I wanted to be the person they allowed inside.

But Danny, Danny wanted to go to Hollywood like he'd wanted to come to the city, and in Hollywood things would be perfect and he'd be clean and he'd become a famous actor, singer, dancer, artist, and make millions and on sunny days he'd go to the beach and he'd surf and be tan and beautiful and everyone would love him out there like they would in movies, CDs, television shows, but he'd feel so at peace out there on the waves.

And right now Loren has his hand on mine and we've run away for the day. We've run away, just two hours north because that's how far my gas tank took us, and we sit on a beach, deserted and foggy in the rainy weather, and Loren has his hand in mine, his head on my shoulder and he says, I wish I could surf.

But there aren't waves big enough for that here. Not even in the pouring rain.

Not in the city either.

Danny wanted it. I should've found a way.I think that a lot – that I should've found a way. Just for a way to make him happy, that's all. That's all I would've wanted. Just a way to make him happy and keep him happy and make things perfect like he wanted. I think that a lot but it's too late now. Maybe it was already too late before it all even started.

nineteen:inside

Dull fingernails like razor blades dig into my back, curved fingertips making crescent moons and comet tails across the curved plane of my back and Loren sucks in a sharp breath next to my ear.

Oh fuck, he says, oh fuck, Russ.

He writhes under me

like in pain

and my lips touch the skin of his neck, the tendons in his neck, his jugular, feeling his heart beat thundering rapidly against my touch. The stiff line of his spine arches backward so far, I think it'll snap.

And you'd like that wouldn't you?

And when I'm with him like this, when he's clinging to me so tight, I trace my fingers down the side of his face, feel his hair between my fingers, watch him open his eyes and watch me with him, in him, pressing my lips hungrily to his. I do this so it doesn't hurt, so I don't think, so I don't remember. I do this so there's always just Loren, Loren, Loren.

I'm sorry, I'm so sorry, I say and he looks up at me with wide eyes and I think maybe he thinks I'm talking to someone else, always thinking of someone else and maybe he's always doing the same but I don't ask and I don't tell him that I'm talking to him. I'm with him and thinking about him and talking to him. I'm sorry, I'm so sorry.

twenty:rind

Sweet juice bubbles up around Loren's lush lips, tearing teeth, runs over the backs of his knuckles, turning them instantly sticky. He licks his lips, rubs them dry with the back of his hand and sighs. Smiles and green crescent moons are scattered under his dangling bare feet and this is the picture of peaceful summertime.

Do you like it here, I ask.

Yeah.

I mean would you ever want to leave, I press, and I'm thinking of Danny, always thinking of Danny unless I'm occupying my mind with Loren that day instead. I say, To the city, I mean. Would you ever want to go there?

Another slice of dead body discarded hits the dirt ground and Loren licks his fingers clean, thoughtfully running his tongue up and down the length of one finger and smirking at me all the while.

Would you? I ask again and he sighs, shrugs, drops his hand to his side, watermelon forgotten.

I can't meet his eyes. They slide to the ground and trace the paths of the ants skittering across the piece of watermelon nestled in dry dirt. I imagine them crawling up my toes, under my nails, into my skin, burrowing around till they find my stomach and give me this falsely named butterfly-in-my-stomach feeling that makes me tremble when he's around.

And he just stares at me and doesn't answer so I shrug and sigh and say, I mean, what I'm trying to say is…would you leave me?

His eyes stay wide and blank for the longest time till he leans in and kisses me quick with a quirk of a smile on his lips, laughter leaking from his lips and I lick my own lips and taste watermelon instead of an answer.