Empty Bottle at a Northside Bar

She twirls her brassy shoulder length hair between her ring and middle fingers and talks excitedly about her most recent first date.

“One of the best first dates I’ve ever had!” She says candidly, like stage cameras are on her. She’s out tonight. Her husband is at home, their open marriage being a typical conversation piece amongst their friends.

I am off to the side balancing my freshly bruised sense of emotional self between my lips and the bottle of cheap beer I’m sipping. I slow it down long enough to even enjoy my backwash, trying to avert my wandering ear to more fruitful conversation. I know it’s not attractive to be jealous, but I’m not my Sunday best lately. I’ve been drinking too much and sleeping too late, feeling the gray side of autumn where I should be feeling golden. I feel a herculean pull to my lost lover and I’m unsure if it heals or hurts me. I want to hold his hands as if they were Pandora’s box. I want to taste his kiss as if it were Eden’s apple.

But I want other things too-like forgiveness for not knowing how to love or how to be loved, and if I’m honest I also really want this girl to shut up.

She doesn’t, and I look down at the empty bottle between my hands Emand back over to her pint glass that is fresh and full. I think about abundance and casting a wider net. I think about the lineup I had in my younger days, and while I want to rally and tell myself that I have a pure heart despite my insecurities and one day someone will be into that, I recede into my shame and resolve that such a thing does not exist.

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Hurricane Season

Coral Springs, Florida-1995

Dean had sub zero blue eyes, an ash gray mullet, and a penchant for buttoned down pastel shirts paired with tight acid washed jeans. I can’t remember how he got there, only that my mother brought him home one day and he didn’t like to leave. When he stayed the night, she’d ask my brother and I to sleep with our doors locked like they were hurricane windows, only telling us to open them when she knocked on them in the morning for school. We weren’t even allowed out to go to the bathroom in case he heard us. When we awoke to our mother knocking, Dean would be in the kitchen in his boxer shorts cooking us breakfast with a smile that always took away my appetite. To this day, I don’t get hungry in the morning.

Though I knew there was something not right about this person, I kept good face so the judicial system would agree my mom was trying. At 8 years old, I didn’t know what that meant other than it was what my mother wanted. By that age, I had been uprooted so many times for the sake of her sanity, yet I still wanted to believe she knew what was best and because of that, her happiness was preceded my own.

Even when I began to hear shouting and shrilled cries from the other side of my wall, per her instructions I kept the door locked and my voice quiet.

At first my brother, mother and I put on our best smiles, thanking the man in the kitchen for cooking for us. After a while it became harder to do so, like when Dean would grab my brother and I and force us in our rooms after dinner because he simply did not want to be around us, and the teachers at our school would notice the bruises that kept appearing on our arms.  When the guidance counselors started calling the house, our mother would tell them to let us kids be kids, if she answered the phone up at all.

Shortly after, my mother stopped knocking on our doors in the morning. Instead, we would hear a faint calling from inside the apartment telling us to come out for something to eat. Dean would be gone and our mother would be slouched over the corner, cutting apples with flushes of red and blue painted across her face. We didn’t ask questions because her eyes told us she didn’t want to talk about it.

After a while, Dean stopped staying the night frequently and when he did he’d show up just to yell. Us kids were still instructed to sleep with our doors locked in case he came home. He did one weekend afternoon while my brother was out playing baseball. Smelling like poison, he staggered into the apartment, and dragged me into my room. I hit my head on my doorframe and fell asleep.

I woke up face-down on the floor, with blood on the rug underneath my nose, a faint sound of the radio coming from the living room. My door was open. I walked out to see my mother propped against the stereo, sipping slowly from a glass of wine.

“Is that you Jessica?” She asked softly. I didn’t respond. Instead I curled up next to her and put my head on her chest and she ran her fingers through my hair, a motion that always seemed to comfort her, even as I aged. I let the words of the song playing synch inside my head, over and over like my mother had the record on repeat, a song by Mary J Blige about a broken heart.

My mother let out a yell into my hair that came from a part of her that hadn’t existed in myself until that moment. She then grabbed my face aggressively like she had forgotten I was still a child. When my eyes met hers, her face was swollen, half from the crying and the other half from the hit.

“Tell me!” She begged of me. “Promise me one thing, as long as you live. Promise me, you will never let a man make you cry. If you can’t do anything else in this world, promise me that one thing!”

“I promise Mama,” I replied, tears streaming down my own face, unable to understand while I was crying.

In 1996 the courts took my brother and I back to live in New England with our father. My mother was still seeing Dean.

Chicago, Illinois-2015

I am sitting drunk against my bedroom door, cradling a beer with my hands softly like it were breakable, crying into the hardwood floor like it were a plant that needed watering. Whenever I find myself on this floor, which is more often than I’m proud of, I can’t help but see my beautiful 35 year old mother with bruises up and down her body holding onto a song like it’s the only thing that understands her. I see her lonely, with nothing to comfort her but her child and a bottle of wine. I have spent much of my life since her passing subconsciously trying to be her penance and I am failing because I am yet to find my own forgiveness for making similar mistakes.

Back Around

I’m curled up under a blanket with “The Day You Died” by Phantogram on repeat while the breeze rattles the old windows of my apartment. There is a dye bath in the kitchen sink fixing some jeans I’ve never worn. I’m on my second pot of decaf coffee- my way of forgoing booze until the evening’s festivities will bring me around some of my favorite people in this city. It’s been months since the last post on this site, even longer since I’ve completed anything worth note.

I don’t feel bad about it.

A lot has needed my attention this summer. Work took priority over life. Life was a revolving door of friends, flings, alcohol, shows, trips, stories, etc. I feel like I tend to bleed the summer-enjoying what I can of the sun on my back before feeling more at home in the cooler months. Cooler weather and cloudy skies ahead? I’m all about it. It becomes such a chore to get up the gaul to leave the house that everything becomes more intentional; from the stories you tell and the people you see, to the beer you drink and the music you listen to. Chicago winter does not allow the superficiality the summer does. I’m grateful for that. Summer Jess is often too much for herself because there is too much to distract her FROM herself. Winter allows for this comfortable loneliness, sometimes while around other people who are just as content to be as lonely as you are.

And so here is where I begin to get back on track. The crisis of feeling bad about not having written and not knowing what to write about has been removed because at least now I’m writing. The leaves on the trees are changing and falling to the slate gray sidewalks, mirroring the Chicago sky that was put in place long before them. I’m thinking about endings and how beautiful they can be, with crisp warm colors, soft fibers, and the satisfying crunch of your feet treading the inevitable snow. I believe in finding a way to be better the next time the way brings you back around.

And for the first time since the last time I needed to wear a jacket, my words feel limitless.

It’s good to be back, y’all.