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"It changed, didn't it," he said, his voice tinged with a gently hurt wonder. "It changed right before my eyes."
His fingers were gentle on the hollow of her throat, but she jerked away anyway, as if burned.
"Why?" he breathed. "Why did you change it?"
Her lip trembled slightly as she turned from him, as if her expression could not decide between a sneer or a sob.
"How can you ask me that? You of all people." Her expression solidified to one of bitter self-reprimand. "I wanted to love. You told me I should. I did. And now I am here anyway, just the same as always."
She took a deep breath that ended in a sob, then stood a moment, steadying her breathing before continuing. "The black heart should tell you all you need to know. My wish was to love, but there is no place for that wish here. Not now, not with you. Perhaps not even then, though neither of us had eyes to see it."
"But I think..."
"But you think nothing. Your hopes and dreams are plotted out for you like the orbits of the planets; you need only find your way to them to fall into your perfect trajectory."
He reached out a hand toward her shoulder, but she deftly evaded. "I never wanted to hurt you. I never thought..."
"No, you didn't think. I wonder if you've thought much about it at all, beyond the tinsel and the afterglow. What you *want* would mean the effective end of all of my hopes and dreams. I want to love you-" her voice broke "-but I cannot do so at the expense of my self."
"Oh love..." he sighed, but stopped when she cringed as if struck.
She turned brimming eyes upon him then, squeezing them shut as if to block out some horrible sight. And perhaps she was: his face was stricken, both with hurt and regret.
"Please leave me my defenses, at least," she said between clenched teeth, "I think it will be better for both of us this way."

She puts the notebook down then, fingering the pendant at her neck now. The tears come quietly, because she knows that as eloquent as she can be on paper, she will never have this conversation with him. He will never know.
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Mid-afternoon sun beat on me mercilessly through a layer of grime, and the heartbeat thump of distant bass drew my jingling footsteps into a waltzing rhythm. Above me, the vault of the sky was a vivid blue, and behind me it curved down to touch black mountains and the flat, infinite horizon of blinding white. I had been walking, walking and dancing, dancing and walking, for hours.

The change in the light was what alerted me. I had a mere eight seconds to put my respirator on, to pull goggles into place and the chin strap down from over my hat brim. And then it was upon me, shrieking out of the south like a sandy-colored wall, slamming into me like the impact of a whole store full of feather mattresses. The very earth rose up in its fury and I, walking in contemplation in the vast and trackless expanse, could do nothing. And so I walked: slowly, carefully, keeping an ear out for signs of life and erratic veering vehicles that I knew from experience could loom out of the false-twilight of the storm like drunken banshees.

The storm moderated. Instead of a shriek past my ears, it was now only the sullen whipping noise of fabric in the wind; instead of walking into air grown thick and solid, the whiteout retreated and I was walking in my own personal bubble, white gusts and twisters playing about the edges as I walked on. For several minutes there was nothing to see, nothing to hear but the sound of my own bells, nothing to steer by in the trackless obscured landscape save the sun above me and the angle of my own shadow below.

And into the semi-silence, I heard Her speak.

You are alone, but you are not. You are lost, but you are not.
Trust in yourself, for there is only you to depend on.
You will find your way, and if you must, you will find it alone.
Others may follow you. But do not wait for them.

In that moment I knew the shape my steps would have to take, and the stubborn denial rose in me by force habit. The howling winds returned, buffeting me as if to knock me flat. The padding of my goggles grew soggy, and not from sweat alone. The filter of my mask began to clog, and I began to take great sobbing breaths through its protection, shaking my head and fighting against the wind which had suddenly grown thick and biting again with air-married sand.

I have spent so much effort on it, I cannot give up now. I have poured so much love, so much time...

I have wasted so much time...

In the midst of the maelstrom, I did what I could. I dropped to my knees and muddy runnels formed where tears tracked the outside edges of my mask.

You have to let go, in order to move on.


The wind dropped suddenly to a whisper, leaving my ears ringing. Sand began pelting gently down from the air above me as I struggled to my feet and looked around. I must have been a quarter mile from where the storm had overtaken me, and in the gusting wind I had turned away from my previous destination and toward - I squinted into the distance - toward friends.

A clean slate, if sandy.
arsenicwaltz: (Default)
"What's that face mean?"

I am sitting at the table of the ice cream parlor, as I have been for the past half hour or so, poking at my empty ice cream cup with my spoon. As ever when we're together, the conversation has been lively and unstilted - that is until now. Because now, he has announced, he's going to tell me his plan to propose to his girlfriend, and I am absolutely unable to muster as much excitement for him as he deserves. I temporize.

"I'm trying to squelch my inner stage manager. I'm sure you've got the details handled...?"

He smiles at me, and he reaches forward and touches my arm. It's like being stung, almost, like a jolt of electricity, almost, but tempered with the sinking knowledge that either he never felt it as I do, or he has taken me too well at my word. I may never know. I paste what I hope is an impish smile onto my face and look up at him, secretly searching his face for some sign of emotion aside from that happy anticipation he gets when hatching a plan. If there was any there, I cannot see it. "Go on," I tell him.

He rambles at length about his grand plan, and I ask event-plannerly detail questions, prompt him about logistics, and eventually declare it a sound plan. All the while I am dying a little inside, and I hope he will never know.

My tragedy, I think, is that I was brought up not to believe in fairy tales, but to secretly yearn for one of my own.

"That's silly," we always said.
"The princess should rescue the prince," we said.
"I am not a princess," I said, and I always held back a tear because I wished it wasn't true.

I was brought up not to believe that happiness was possible for people like me. And what I find instead is that you must make your own fairy tales in this world. Twice, I have stared the prince in the face and told him my mantra "I am not a princess", unknowingly rejected him as I rejected myself.

In that long, stimulating discussion we'd had, perhaps a year and change ago, I never realized what he might have been really asking.

"I don't believe in marriage," I told him, and my bitter, broken heart poured out a lot of nonsense because some part of me truly believed right then, that if the previous one couldn't love me enough to marry me, no other man could. My sickly heart believed it, and I let it convince my brain of the same. The brain controlled the fingers that typed out these bitter thoughts and sent them to him. And woe betide me, I believe he took my words to heart.

It is self-centered, I tell myself, to believe that he took it as a rejection. It is silly to believe that anything would have changed had you not objected so strenuously to the ideal of marriage. But sitting across from him and watching his fairy tale unfold before me, I am both happy for him, and sick at heart and I wonder: Had I asked him, that night on the dance floor, would it be me now instead?

"We're sending invitations to everyone who brought us together. You're getting one, you know."
I must have looked startled. I only ever got what I took to be glares from the lady in question, so I wonder aloud "Did I have some part in the two of you meeting?"
He smiles then, dazzlingly. "Why yes. If I hadn't been there to see you, I would never have met her."
My heart twists a little in my chest, the invisible knife turning and turning. I can practically feel the paste on my smile slipping as he tells the story of my involvement in the meeting, so I affect a melancholy air.
"I was newly single then," I murmur, thinking of the boy who tore at my heart.
"Yes, I remember. There was some confusion about it, if I recall." He looks at me awkwardly.
We sit in silence for a moment or more.
"It's getting late," I say, giving the empty ice cream cup one final poke with my spoon. "You have classes in the morning, I'm sure."

He gives me a gentlemanly elbow as we leave the place. And as we're hugging goodbyes when he drops me at my car, the hug goes on, and on, and on, until I grow awkward and unsure in his arms. As I pull back a little he twists slightly, and kisses me on the cheek. I could cry, but I give him a brave smile. "Good luck. You'll have to tell me how it goes."

In the absence of my ability to love, I am determined to be happy for him in his.
I can only pray that, should another prince come along, I will have the self-awareness to know him for who, and what, he truly is.
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It was a gray, sullen day, threatening rain and sometimes delivering. After some debate, I left in the drizzly afternoon for Natural Bridges, I with a packet wrapped in silk and again in an old linen handkerchief tucked in one back pocket.

As I walked out to the ocean, I remembered what I'd written earlier:

What is a ring, when all is said and done?
A ring is a promise, but you are a promise broke as oft as made.
A ring is a token of esteem, but no esteem has ever been given with you.
A ring is an item of beauty, but your presence has but stained my hand and blighted my life.
Last, a ring is an item of value, given to symbolize sacrifice for love, but your silver was stolen, no sacrifice and thus no value is your symbol, and so I conclude:
That you are not a ring,
And I have no reason to keep you.

And there I was standing on the tideline with a roil of gray clouds above my head, and a line of white seafoam and black, wet kelp before me on the beach.

The waves foamed and the wind blew, and the water retreated in front of my feet. I took out the square of linen, extracted from it the square of silk, and from that pulled a ring. It was a claddaugh, given to me by the First in the spring of 2001. Every relationship that touched that ring failed, and usually in the same way. In September, I put it on my altar surrounded by silver and iron: in quarentine. The Green-Eyed never touched it, though I know he looked at it in puzzlement a few times. Ever since the first time the Wolf and I broke up for keeps, I'd had thoughts of throwing the cursed thing into the sea but I'd always held back. The Wolf still has the other ring, as far as I know, and to finally rid myself of the taint of the first of the pair would be, in his eyes, to rid myself of all lingering connection with him.

But this is more important. This ring is symbolic of so much more than the death of our relationship, and to let myself be slave to its pull would be worse than to break that connection. Even as I walked towards the water I could feel that evil niggling finger of doubt: it was just a bit of silver with a few bad memories, what could it hurt to save it just a little longer?

No. I took the ring gingerly between thumb and forefinger, looked out to the horizon, and threw. A sudden wave reached up to catch it, and there wasn't even the sound of silver tinkling against rock.

The rain came as I dashed back up the beach - a cleansing, a baptism.

I am free, and untainted once again.
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He is lying on my freshly made bed as I return, his strawberry blonde hair spread out down his back in a cascade that makes me want to run my fingers through it. Instead, I hang up my shower-damp bathrobe, and glance over his shoulder at my laptop. He's checking his email. Okay. I nuzzle up against the back of his neck, breathing in the smell of him, and that silly, spicy hippy conditioner he buys in bulk. But my bed is made, and this is weird for me on some deep but impossibly unimportant level.

"So, what, were the sheets too dirty to lie on?"

He grins up at me, and it takes all the self-control I can muster not to strip him out of those fatigues and make the morning's count six. We have shit to do today I remind myself.
"Oh no, I just decided to make the bed."
"But I never make the bed."
"Well I'm just well-trained like that."

Suddenly I am completely lost, somewhere leagues and leagues from him, my neatly made bed, my dangling towel. There is an invisible cavern yawning beneath him in my mind, waiting to swallow him up in some delightful dungeon. I'm seeing him suddenly with new vision, and what I see is very, very stirring. He blinks those hazel eyes at me, and I guiltily snap back to the real world. Guilty, yes, that's the word for it, because I know he knows absolutely nothing of where my mind just went, and with what fervor I could wish him there too. I know in my heart that the "training" he spoke of has nothing at all to do with the sort that I imagine.

"It's a paradigm shift," he said to me as we rode in my bumpersticker-bedecked car. "Now that I'm with you, all of your stickers apply to me too. It's interesting to think about."
And untrue, I silently add, thinking of the black and blue and black and blue and white sticker with the heart. Just because others think things about you, doesn't make them true. At the same time though, his broaching of the subject gives me hope, and here is that tiny evil hope that someday, perhaps, I could see him through the training that goes on behind locked doors in the deepest, darkest dungeons of my mind.
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Here I am, sleepless again. Here I am, wondering what he's doing. He shines so bright, burning that candle at both ends in his own singular way, and here I am trying to hide from him. I have to resist this, for his sake as well as mine, but I'm convinced that there's a stiffness and calculation in my movements around him that anyone with the eyes to look with can see. I've grown adept at hiding from all but myself; I am the only one who knows my particular set of tells. Nobody else, not even Them. And why am I even bothering to hide from him? I'm certain that he's about as cognizant of my regard as a tree in the forest is of the canker that eats at its neighbor. If I can fight this and win, life will be placid again. If I can fight this and win, there will be that hint of bittersweetness in my life again, but I can survive that. If I can fight this and win... it will be the first time. I am terrified. I can't see any truly good outcome.

Self control. It is all about self control.

So you make your face a mask,
A mask that hides your pain,
A pain that eats your heart,
A heart nobody knows.
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I am in the car, and the highway slides by around me with the steady, mind-numbing drone of the not-quite-rush-hour traffic to take my mind to other places. And suddenly, even though there's loud industrial music blaring on my car stereo, in the back of my head I'm hearing my gorgeously androgynous friend singing to me on a CD I think he gave me once upon a long ago. I don't remember much about the rest of the songs, but that one stood out and I played it over and over and over, unimpressed with the original version and loving the melodic accoustic cover. I think it was from a TV show, but now it's echoing in my head...

Let me rest in peace
Let me get some sleep
Let me take my love and bury it
In a hole six feet deep
I can lay my body down
But I can't find my sweet release
So let me rest in peace...

And now I know his second song. The first one is for happiness, the second for the breakup, and this is his because he won't let it go, won't let it die. Someday, when I make this soundtrack to my life, this will be the end of the chapter with his name on it, and when I fling this CD into the ocean it will resonate with every ounce of feeling I can put into that one, last, line. Suddenly I am at peace with the idea, and the world returns around me once more. Maybe someday, I'll share the track listing.
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"I'm not going to. I guess tonight's not the night. It's okay though."
"Are you sure?"
"Yeah, I'm sure."
"I'm sorry. I'm so, so sorry."

What he cannot see is that inside her mind there is something soft and delicate that is curling in on itself, withdrawing, crumpling and dying like a mortified tropical flower. She has long since learned to control the outward signs, save for a certain tension in the hands and arms, a certain wide-eyed stare that belies her outward shell of calm. Her internal storm rages and ravages her, doubt and insecurities swelling and feeding on each other until there is nothing inside her head but the agony and pressure of screaming self reprimand, shame, confusion and self loathing. Outwardly there is pure porcelain calm: perfect, beautiful and delicate. Her eyes are haunted behind that mechanical smile and that mechanical assurance. It would take but the slightest nudge to shatter that calm facade, a jostle to jam the cogs in the mechanism that hides her, the merest tap to let loose that terrible tempest and calm those inner waters.

But they never know.

And they never will.
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We are sitting in my car again, outside his house, like we have so many times, kissing our goodbyes. But this time, we've lingered, letting the engine cool, talking of things both important and inconsequential. I have idly been watching Orion's belt dipping closer to the horizon, telling me that Winter is now over and Spring has begun. Suddenly we are kissing, and then he is looking into my eyes.

"I love you."

It is the third time in as many nights that he has said this to me, and the significance of that number makes my heart do a little flip. The image of the Three of Swords flashes into my head again, a heart holding three blades, a heart divided. I want so much to answer him in kind, and yet I will not lie to him, will not feign feeling or delude myself. It is a different kind of love, I think, that makes me give him this courtesy.

"Don't worry about screwing up. There's nothing you can do to make me love you less."

His words give me pause, they turn my heart over again and again and my mind is now spinning empty, useless circles like a skywriter with a bent wing. I had expected his love to be the little kind, the kind that comes from glands and is really the stepcousin of lust, and yet here he lays this weight at my feet, and all I can think is that there's hope for us yet. And suddenly, the little things melt away, and all I want to do is melt into him, and curl arms and legs together and sleep in a warm bundle with him. But there is still that small, sudden place in my mind that wonders how much of this is filling the habitual place that's now left open in my life. And I argue with that place, because trying to fill one man's shape with another's presence would be like trying to stuff a square peg in a round hole. They both fill empty holes in my life.
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We are kissing our goodbyes in the middle of the street at midnight, reaching over his bike to touch each other, hands together communicating the sorrow of our parting. Our conversation is light, inconsequential, but suddenly those startling eyes are on me again in the streetlight.

"I think I'm falling in love with you."

My heart is racing suddenly, and surprisingly the urge to bolt is very small, very quiet in the back of my head. My lungs are empty, and when I remember to breathe, the breath comes in shakily. I close my eyes, touching my forehead to his. "Does it scare you?" I ask, mouth mere inches from his.

"It scares me too."
"So we're in this together?"
"Yes." I smile up at him, and there is a certain candid relief on his face. The kiss is sweeter for it, somehow.
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We are curled in bed, arms wrapped around and under, legs curling protectively like snailshells around each other. The bed is warm, so warm, and with my cheek pressed against his chest and the soothing rhythm of his heartbeat, I could fall asleep and dream there forever.

But his eyes, the beautiful green eyes, are troubled and he is asking me the unpleasant question I thought I had already answered for him. He pauses expectantly, and I gather breath and courage to give him the painful truth. His eyes are like those of a man who sees his every desire burning to ash before him, and I want to close mine, to kiss him and hold him close, to take back the truth and wipe the pain from those gorgeous eyes so filled with sadness.

I do not. I will not lie to him, much as it hurts.

"Hey." His eyes are on me again, bright and hoping. "I can't make you any promises. I don't want to hurt you, I don't want to make you a rebound. If you don't want..." His fingers on my lips, his voice shakily telling me that he can do this, but we had better take it slow. I am staring at him, wishing him to understand. Every time I try to explain it's like kicking a puppy, and part of me wants to press my cheek to his heart and promise to be his forever and ever. Somewhere in the back of my mind though, is a part that revels in his pain and disquiet, and with a shock I realize that the idea of him bound and crying in my bed for me is suddenly very, very satisfying in a way I know he wouldn't understand. My self control is iron, and rather than say anything, I sigh against him and stroke his hair.

I can do this. I can. The question is, will he?
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In the car, outside his house, eyes slightly green in the near-dark, and he leans forward slightly, eyes heartbreakingly steady and twinkling a little with anxiety. "May I kiss you?" It took me by surprise, and I didn't know what to say. I thought about it for a few moments as he visibly shrunk back into his seat, before nodding, and leaning into those soft, full lips and those green astonished eyes.

He held me in his arms, and his eyes were drowning pools of green and brown. He looked up at me, and whispered "Is it okay if I fall for you?" his hands beseeching on my forearms above him. I must've given him the deer in the headlights look, before laughing nervously: "What?"
"Is it okay? I mean some people mind..."
"Sure. It's fine." I snuggled closer to his neck, avoiding looking at what was in his eyes, afraid of what I'd see.

When I think about his words, my heart beats faster and my stomach gives a beautifully sickening lurch. He is an actor, and I know this, and am very carefully hoarding those small doubtful thoughts in the back of my mind, expecting some inevitable betrayal. He is so... sincere looking, and there's a part of me that wants to believe him. The rest of me just wants to use him for his body, to take what I want from him and whatever he'll give me, and give no part of myself back. It's revenge, retaliation for all of the horrible, cruel, insensitive things that men have done to me, and I hate myself sometimes for feeling the need to take it out on him before he's even done anything to me.
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The smell of him is still on my bedclothes. It makes me want to roll in them, and wrap myself in the memory of the warmth of his skin. It is a strong, manly smell, not unpleasant, and it makes me feel strangely safe. Well, no, not strangely really, because it's actually quite explicable on an evolutionary level. It's strange that I, an independant sort of woman, would be so comforted by something like this. But I am, and there's nothing for it.

Out with the old, in with the new, I suppose?

He is like a strange, fey wind that whispers through my life from time to time, bringing memories of embraces by candle and lantern light, of pleasures shared incompletely. He is the bright sunkissed foil to my pale darkness, he has been so slighted by me so many times (all in accident, I'll add), and yet he still continues to breathe his beautiful, transient aura upon me. I have known him for four years, and not for lack of trying, have never yet Known him. I do not know if, at this point, I could. What we have is fragile and somehow satisfying in its complex incompletion. I wish I had a window to his mind, to know what and how he thinks of me.


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May 2009

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