Villanelle

I shut my eyes and all the world drops dead,
I lift my lids and all is born again.
(I think I made you up inside my head)

He winces and waits for a reply. The steam still covers the mirror in the bathroom not 10 feet away. Droplets of water roll down my upper arm, cooling quickly and creating goose bumps even though it is August and, technically, still summer in Edmonton, Alberta. I am 18 and fresh out of high school. Alex is 26 with nothing to speak of. He should be wiser. With the tender look of rejection rimming at the edges of his deep brown eyes, he asks me to marry him on one knee. I should be wiser, too. With my body still wrapped in a towel, I drop to the floor. I kiss him. I say yes.

I move to from Indiana to Alberta in November. My parents just let me go. My entire life, everything that was important to me, is packed in two suitcases and stored below the airplane cabin. My age blinds me from any reality. His naivety shields him from any forethought. By December we discover Canada does not have a fiancé visa. An engagement that was meant to last years lasts two months. We marry in January. We marry only to discover we cannot obtain a spouse visa because he does not have enough income to support a dependent; his wife.

I develop a habit of taking intensely hot showers during the winter. I take showers so hot, my heart races and I become faint. I can barely stand up. I stop eating and spend countless hours with my laptop seeking anyone who will listen. I find someone perfect. I find someone and he listens too well. I stop coming to bed and stay up waiting for this other to talk to me. I don’t have a job. I can’t work. I don’t have a car. I can’t go anywhere. I sit. I wait. I try everything to make Alex say he thinks this is mistake. Instead, he continues to bring me gifts and provide me with loving understanding. And I want nothing more than to run away.

The stars go waltzing out in blue and red,
And arbitrary darkness gallops in.
I shut my eyes and all the world drops dead.

This digital catalyst does have a name: Richard. I am out of his league, but consider him the beast to my beauty. I need a knight to save me. I let him. I move back to Indiana and eventually, months (and some lovers) later, divorce Alex. For the first few months I cling to Richard as much as you possibly can to someone who lives two states away. I work second shift as a machine press operator in a greasy factory with no air conditioning. It is summer. I need a car. I can’t wear shorts out of fear of being harassed by the male workers.

I come home to my laptop, needing him to be online. Sometimes he is and I am happy. Sometimes he isn’t and I cry myself to sleep. Not being in love with Alex doesn’t seem like a justified reason to leave him. Instead, I find other reasons. Other reasons like emotional distancing and cheating. And once those reasons actualize, I cling to the other person and believe they will make everything right again. I choke them. They choke me.

Richard is beyond manipulative. As a last desperate attempt to keep his attention and focus on me, I perform various acts. Most nights, I hide my face from the red dot of the webcam, indicating it is on, or the blue flash from the self-timer of a camera: the internet creates sex on demand. This buys me another month of his adoration. And another month of being told my body is just a toy for men. “This isn’t working out for me,” he says. He winces and waits for a reply.

I dreamed that you bewitched me into bed
And sung me moon-struck, kissed me quite insane.
(I think I made you up inside my head).

I dance under the charismatic spell of Leo. Not a year after my divorce finalized I am running through a sea of people, my hand held by a dark-haired, dark-eyed man named Liam. We rush around the evening festivals of Milwaukee, under a bright summer moon. I am 19 and just getting started.  He is 26 and settled. I fall in love with Milwaukee in the summer, forgetting about the winters. As autumn approaches our fights became too frequent for his liking. As winter appears, I stop driving north.

Spring begins to reappear and I grow restless again. I can’t take the cornfields of Indiana; I can’t take the abusive lover I move in with; I can’t take three part-time jobs and a community college an hour away. I find Liam’s number after a hole is left in the wall where my head had been before ducking. A week later he invites me to visit him again. I accept, lying to my current lover. We drink ourselves silly, we eat until gluttony became our sin, he treats me to Broadway shows, compliments, and lust. I accept, lying on my back.

I move to Milwaukee a full year after first meeting Liam the summer before. I stay with him while he pressures me to go to school and complete my bachelor’s degree. I am 20 when I start college. I am older than the girls in the dorm, yet too young for a night on the town with my boyfriend and his friends. I stay in this limbo while hearing, “When you’re 21, you’ll come out with us all the time!” And when that birthday comes, I am still finding my place socially; Liam still isn’t inviting me along. I grow bored. I grow frustrated. I long for a deeper connection, or a better one at the very least. A little voice begins to tell me I am not good enough. And I want nothing more than to run away.

God topples from the sky, hell’s fires fade:
Exit seraphim and enter Satan’s men:
I shut my eyes and all the world drops dead.

A Greek god with curly brown hair and the bluest eyes swoops down and takes my heart next. A Googler from San Francisco, he flies me out almost twice a month while our affair lasts. An undiscovered polyamorist, the women he leaves for me give him a taste of having his cake and eating it too. Still, he agrees to me and only me. And the distance. Antony is so very smart. And so very stupid.

When Antony comes to Milwaukee to visit me, we already know everything about each other. He is the most confident set of twins I have met, and I, the most beautiful bull. We untangle from our current lovers and let our fate strings twist around each other. We spend Thanksgiving and Christmas together: he flies me out for both holidays while I am suffering from agoraphobia and struggling with another bout of my anxiety-driven eating disorder. He is patient through all of this, including when I refuse to eat on Thanksgiving and my self-medicating with alcohol prior to Google’s holiday party.

As the alpha, he means so much to everyone all the time. He can’t stay inside at night to entertain me while I study through my second and third year of college. He can’t sacrifice his job to talk to me during the day. My greed surfaces: I need him. I need his attention. He is my ticket out of Milwaukee after graduation. He is greedy too. He wants me there sooner and grows weary of my attempts to make a move possible. He grows resentful and sick of false hope. He grows hungry for the taste of other women. He asks me if I’d move to San Francisco. He winces and waits for a reply.

I fancied you’d return the way you said.
But I grow old and I forget your name.
(I think I made you up inside my head).

I know I am holding Antony back and he isn’t happy. I don’t feel comfortable giving him space because the silence gives him time to think. I know it is driving him away. I know we can never work if I’m not physically close. I pull out everything in my arsenal: begging, crying, pleading, bargaining, ultimatums, anger, rage. I try everything but love and understanding because I can’t give them. He leaves.

Again, no eating. Again, self-medicating. But this time, a new friend joins the group: sleep. Countless hours of it. Not going to work, ignoring my internship, refusing to go to class all because I need more sleep. My new-found apathy to responsibility becomes an exciting feeling that I enjoy being in. I lay in bed, covered in my own guilt and drenched in pleasure from it.

A few months later we admit to missing each other. I corner him and he sticks to his guns. He can never fully love me if I am so far away. I ask him to wait. I ask him to surprise me by coming to my graduation as a gesture of our connection and his want for me that he promises he has. He never gives an answer, but he is still my ticket out. I date others, I hold out hope and I clench that ticket so tight. We don’t talk for almost a year. I’m not sure what I am expecting. He doesn’t come. And I want nothing more than to run away.

I should have loved a thunderbird instead;
At least when spring comes they roar back again.
I shut my eyes and all the world drops dead.
(I think I made you up inside my head.)

I start my relationship with Tyler under the pretense that my heart is still waiting for someone else, but I agree to enjoy the company of someone else in the interim. Our first date is December 1st. By New Year’s we spend the night in Chicago together. He finds a trail of texts I sent to Antony that night. Through the filter of Tyler’s screams and harassment, all of the remorse from the beginning comes rushing in: my divorce, my cheating, my lying, my misuse, my mistrust. It all comes to this point, with this person. I haven’t treated anyone from my past with unconditional love and I swear I am going to love this man and love him right to absolve my sins.

I stop talking to Antony. In fact, I stop talking to any man because Tyler doesn’t like it. I stop playing video games and writing because Tyler wants me to learn how to cook and I need to clean the apartment if I am not at work or class. I start going to car shows and adopt a retro wardrobe to stand beside him and his ’31 Studebaker Dictator. Through the roar of engines and smoke of exhausts, I start to believe him that I need to go talk to someone because I don’t want to have sex every day. I start to believe I need to lose more weight and my hobbies are pointless. And, I try to make up for all of this by loving his family more than my own, his values more than my values, and his dreams more than my dreams. I am along for the ride. It is Tyler’s show and I am an accessory.

It’s Christmas Eve. On the bathroom floor of a house that isn’t mine, I crouch into the fetal position on the only rug in the room. It is still damp from a shower taken earlier. The fabric makes my knees itch. The cold from the tile gives my legs goose bumps, folded against my body. My breasts lay tight on my thighs. I try to make myself as small as possible. I try breathing heavy while covering my ears to create a rhythm in my head and overtake his voice coming from the door. I know I’m selfish. I know I’m lazy and disgusting, I know something wrong with me. And I know I will wake up and start anew just as I promised yesterday.

I cry myself to sleep on that bathroom mat. I use towels for bedding: a pillow and a blanket and stay curled in on myself. I don’t wake up for a few hours and don’t want anyone else to find me there in the morning. I quietly put everything back into the closet, turn off the light, and step towards our appointed bedroom. I creep around the foot of the bed, trying not to wake him. I stub my toes on the cold metal of one of the bed’s feet; I lift the covers and make myself as long and thin as possible, sleeping on the very edge of the bed. “So, now what?” He winces and waits for a reply. And I want nothing more than to run away.

2 Comments

  1. I’ve known you for a few years now. You aren’t this person. You, in my opinion, are a confused watcher. It’s hard to be a watcher. Watchers yearn for contact and are so often swallowed in their need. Every watcher needs the seen to say it’s okay to look. The remedy however is often the cause. It’s alright to hold the most tender part back until you don’t know you let it loose. Your wealth is not in your physical being, it’s deeper and wiser. Trust in and hear what she has to say.

  2. Dear Jenn Treado,

    I really enjoyed reading you. Kudos to you and to Spry for sharing these exquisite intimacies such as they are. And while I have no interest in engaging in psychotherapy as a form of critique and or judgment, I will say labeling you as a “confused watcher” is kind of a loony and inappropriate thing to do in this particular venue. I do so hope you did not take that to heart or seriously in any way. But enough about that. As I said previously I really enjoyed reading your excellent work!

    I must confess, I am severely dyslexic and suffer from ADHD, so I seldom read in a linear fashion. My brain seems to constantly employ the William Burroughs “cut up method” to just about everything I read. Your work has a really lovely percussive element to it that resonates and plays well as cut up text. And of course the accompanying photo is lovely and exquisite as well.

    Bravo! And thank you Spry editors!

    Best and highest regards!
    Daniel

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