SOMETHING HAS GONE WRONG
/a Your keys, for instance: Jimmy Hoffa’d under your exquisite cocaine-Mod-Podge replica of Machu Picchu.
/b Air Supply
/d Miami Vice hasn’t aired since 1989. The theme song still gives you chills, conjures up images of flamingoes when it breaks in on your Sweater Sweat or Die, GRRRLZ Vol. 1 playlist (public, followers: 1). You wonder how flamingoes would taste, if this will arise organically in a conversation with your therapist, whether or not you’ll want it to, if medium-well would be pink.
/e The replica: though baring bearing baring? zero resemblance to the Leisure City Super Target you were shooting for, local authorities would be moved to confiscate it from the vice squad evidence room in a daring, off-hours maneuver. Back at precinct HQ, they’d enshrine it behind plexiglass above the Police Athletic League plaques and assorted softball trophies with missing limbs (cold cases).
/f1 Tubbs (Miami Vice) does not smile. Will give no indication that he is pleased nor that pleased is a potential state of existence.
/f2 The replica becomes an unlikely attraction, a way station for the addicted and criminally unreformed, an altar for the mothers, fathers, spouses of the disappeared. Vice could never get past the cocaine to appreciate its more sublime qualities (states of grace not anywhere in the vicinity of their wheelhouse, though there were the whispers of a lieutenant and late night meditations. You can almost hear his black loafers walking away). [insert: edward-james-olmos-with-back-to-camera emoji]
/f Rule of Thumb: Not to generalize, but _______.
/g1 Not Lloyd takes you to a telephone company Central Office for a “date.” The CO, he calls it, mainly so he’ll get to explain it to you. Veritable fallout shelter, he says, like you too should have a hard-on. Squat, brick, no windows. The local loops (telephone lines) of the pre-cell-phone era congregating in an orgy of copper and polyethylene. The past holding tight to a promise it could never hope to fulfill.
/g2 Four words were all it took for you to fuck him: my God, the clarity. It was the awe in his voice. The proper respect. And that he was right. Your evidence: she could’ve been in the next room when she told you she’d be fine, that she’d hang on until there were grandchildren. You could barely muster a smirk at this, her favorite joke about the data glomming to your family tree (maternal lifespan dropping precipitously with each generation, dipping now below 60).
/i There is no safety. You remind yourself a few times a day at least. A mantra. Or a spell. A hedge against expectations you can’t help having.
/k In retrospect, ________.
/j She’d be dead less than twelve hours after that call. That much was clear. Your sister (was there, natch) would be the one to tell you, would hold her breath after delivering the news. So quiet you could hear a uterus a baby a body a pin drop. You would butcher a mango in the silence of your bedroom (where you’d drifted, instinctively, for _____). You wanted her to say-something-please-don’t-say-anything. For months after, you’d wonder how your dresser got so sticky as you peeled off shirts, bras, panties. You’d never thought to clean it. What you knew instinctively: the residue might be all you have.
/m Years later, your doctor friend would bring you to your knees with a passing and apropos-of-nothing There’s no way someone should bleed out in a hospital like that. You’d learn to distrust anyone who uttered apropos.
/o Not Lloyd, not seeing (or sensing) any of this, continues his guided tour of your body the CO. Dude can’t help himself, points to the spherical tanks near the CO ceiling, primary red and filled with halon gas. In the event of fire, he snaps his fingers and grins to foreshadow how impressed you’re about to be, all oxygen sucked from the room. You refrain from saying: Like you of all people would need a fire for that.
/p The kids were finally asleep. You drifted to the hotel bar. You needed answers, points of data, if not entire collections. Local authorities were proving to be more local than authority. Gin would be your authority. You stumble back to your room, jingle your pocket, pull out a key, but the door has an LED-enhanced slot in place of a keyway, so…?
Forehead against the door, you decide it was Tubbs’ mystery that had always appealed to you. Like you could be with him and not have to get close and that was what you’d wanted to know of love (Lloyd would ruin that for you. It wouldn’t be the first time you’d mistake distance for mystique).
/r1 At the end of the day
/r2 Kids? Where are we? Are you there, kids? For real, this isn’t funny. Is there a Hon? Lloyd?
/s You like the word halon. Seems neutral, harmless, like it should be a noble gas with a noble job: protect the life lines. Like a mother. Except: it is both protector and destroyer. Like a mother.
/t Life giveth, but mostly it taketh away.
/u The concrete of the CO floor is cold against your ass in a way you find not entirely unpleasant. Tomorrow is Peloton or Barre? HIIT? You find yourself breathless. They say heart attacks are different for women (this is news to men). Less drama, more like indigestion, tends to be the smaller arteries that get clogged. You sit up, certain you’re having a heart attack…or no, oh, OH. Just Not Lloyd, still at it. Persistence is a quality. You convince him to let you stay after he leaves. You’re half naked (the half that matters, you assure him). And waiting. For what, you couldn’t say. Not redemption. A voice, maybe. A reason. An answer. So many answers.
/v You sometimes worry you’re a bad person. But then you remind yourself: you don’t feel human most days. QED.
/w1 Your fancy pants Alma Mater, ________________, sends you a monthly email, subject line: Class of _____ Monthly Deceased Report. For two decades strong, you look forward to that little fucker, knowing in your gut the hour it will appear in your inbox. Your own menses (regular AF) still catch you off guard, but never this email. Twenty-one years in, they append (No Deaths Reported) to the subject line. You mourn the loss of anticipation far more than _______.
/x You don’t have all the orgasms organs you started with
/x As late as the 1950s, this analogy could have appeared on your SATs.
/q You notice the mouth feel of only certain words.
/y1 Recurring fantasy dream. You’re on your hands and knees at the police station with everything covered in white powder. Left eye to the floor, you’ve snorted a scale model of Macchu Picchu straight up your nose. No one stopped you. No one noticed. No one has anything to say. A pair of black leather loafers appears before you. You snort the shoes, the socks. The legs are halfway up your nose when you awake abruptly, wet, half aroused, half weeping.
/y2 The cocaine is research. There has never been: cocaine up your nose, cocaine on your ass, cocaine anywhere but on your hands.Or at least, not your ass. Probably? And your kids’ bodies that one time. Maybe twice.
/y3 It started as a joke. You were bored. You had nothing left to prove. You did it because the point is in the doing.
/y3a Even if it’s a lie?
/y You fully leaned in well before leaning in was $L,EAN,ING.IN. Advanced degrees (STEM), research awards, funding (never an issue).
/y5 You called your research cocaine-adjacent. It caught on. Experimental sunscreen (you were bored). Fake snow at elementary school Winter Festival pageant (that no one else knew doesn’t change the fact). You pitched Marie Kondo on The Life-Changing Magic of Coking It Up. You thought you had her, right up to the moment that she characterized your 300-page business plan as too MBA-forward. This from the woman who built an empire of tidying. Whatever. You can fold your panties like delicate hand pies for only so long. At some point, you just have to collect your kids from the pool and explain that Daddy’s conference ended 3 months ago.
/z Analyzing your word cloud for the day, you notice Unacceptable and Inappropriate hover like a nor’easter. This, more than anything, makes you question what you’ve become.
.aa. It’s Tubbs, TUBBS, who ends up the shill for the Psychic Reader’s Network. [insert edward-james- olmos-looks-so-hard-into-the-distance-he-becomes-the-distance emoji]
.dd. All you said was that your periods were heavier than you’d like. And really, only on the first day. That your mom, your grandmother, also ______. You’re used to it, the hemorrhaging. It’s…whatever. Woman to woman, you had thought, not noticing the OB/GYN imprint on the handle of her honing steel.
.ee. When all you have is a scalpel, ______ looks like a removed uterus.
.ff. And now
.gg. You’re disappointed in yourself. One simple task at the top of your todo list and still.
1. Finish with that mound of cocaine before the kids get back from the pool.
.dd. The local authorities gather outside your car. They’re patient to a fault (so many faults). Your car won’t start. Of the possible reasons:
1. KidsKeys caked in cocaine
2. The self-loathing endemic to Western culture (a feature, not a bug)
.ff. A prize is no consolation
.gg1. Miss Nacho, the chihuahua, chews her tail under the kitchenette table. The kids enter like a calamity, hotel door slamming against the wall, bathing suits dripping wet, bumping into each other so much it’s hard to believe they’re two separate animals. They want to know about the mountain of baby powder that’s displaced their Bunny Buddies. “It’s cocaine. You know, the drug?” They pause, then burst out laughing. “Come on, mom. For real.” You’re secretly pleased that at 6 and 8 you don’t have to explain cocaine to them. Maybe binge-watching Miami Vice together had only seemed inappropriate.
.gg2. They love the brain-on-drugs-as-fried-egg commercial. Will watch it endlessly, laughing hysterically, until you throw them outside.
.gg3. “Ok, ok. It’s baby powder for an experiment, a new kind of sunscreen. Come come. Let’s try it!” The cheer you summon makes you throw up in your mouth. One of them asks, “It has Mod-Podge too?” “Yup, now, arms, legs, whole deal. Maybe not the face. Or just a little. Don’t sneeze. It’s very expensive.” You step back to take in your zombie children with their goofy smiles. “You know what? Back to the pool.” “Why?” “Because science is complicated, kids.” (kiss) (kiss) “Like life, Mom?” “Don’t forget to hold your breath till you wash it off.” You check the ceiling for ruptured halon tanks (habit::disappointment).
.ii1. It’s not like extra cocaine is a thing. No one ever says, “I have all this surplus coke?” Nonetheless: Macchu Picchu stares back at you. You don’t understand how it happened. You had a clear vision: Leisure City Super Target, the first in a series entitled “All the Beige.” The catch: you failed to build a Super Target.
.ii2. You stare at it long enough that your guard lets itself down (you would never be so careless). You wear your father’s grin, then misread it to say, “Stunning. Amazing. Bears little resemblance to the Leisure City Super Target, but no, really, great. Interesting is what I’d call it.”
.ii3. When your guard slips further, you know what he’d actually say: “This is something else, honey. I can’t even…it’s practically like I’m there.” He’d have tears in his eyes over a cocaine replica of a thing you didn’t mean to build. Then: a tight hug you’d like to live in most days. The smell of vetiver and balsam (aftershave) still ______. You’ll be broken for the rest of the day, the kids giddy because they get a surprise appearance from Yes Mom and a chance to indulge in everything (you put the coke away first, that’s still a hard no.). “You need your dreams,” your dad would say. But he’s dead, so.
.jj. A myth, btw, the halon and the oxygen sucking. Halon can kill you, but more like: you were poorly positioned when a bolt rusted through and a giant steel Christmas ornament plummeted through your skull. Falling objects are the clear and present danger. You direct your anger toward the sky and its arrogance (presuming it can hold it all). You’re certain the sky hates you back. You’re at peace with that. (How can anyone trust an entity that at its best (night) only ever shows you what you’ve already missed?)
.kk. Miss Nacho has good news for you.
1. Finish that mound of cocaine before the kids come back from the pool
That Mourning You Believed in GLloyd
You: “This is my working theory. God’s real superpower is imposing devastation without having to think nineteen steps ahead to keep everything in order. Just watch it all unfold, or not, make yourself a sandwich. What I wouldn’t give to fuck up my life at my own discretion.”
Lloyd: So God’s superpower is that he’s a psychopath?
You: “That’s not what I mean.”
Lloyd: You want to be at the wheel.
You: “I at least want a wheel to pretend with.”
Not Lloyd lifts his head from between your legs.
Him: “I’m not sure that’s the lesson to take from all this.”
That doesn’t sound like Lloyd, you think. You look down at him. Stunned, disoriented.
Him: “And my name’s not Lloyd.”
You start sweating. You stare at him long enough he’s not sure whether to continue.
You: “Grief is a goddamn fungus.”
/c Here’s how Lloyd ruined everything disappeared: his Honda Accord at a Leisure City Super Target halfway between the conference and your hotel room (it’ll be fun, we’ll bring the kids). He’d stopped for sunscreen (according to the bag on the ground). Driver-side door hanging open like a broken jaw, blood on the windshield, the steering wheel, the seat. No trace of a body. Hard to say? is what the local authorities would say. What do they know about about what’s hard to say. “So, kids…”
<speaking_of_falling_objects> You remember Jarts fondly, despite the facts. You selectively recall your dad and uncles at ease, beers in hand, tossing big old lawn darts toward little plastic hoops lying on the ground. “Like horseshoes?” Lloyd said when you explained, three years into knowing him. “Sort of. If horseshoes were Roman weapons of war that got a brand makeover as a delightful and wholesome backyard activity.” Let us review.
In your current WTFLOL universe: your kind-of-mistakenly-abandoned, coked-up chihuahua, Miss Nacho, anxiety-shits all over the walls of what would be your former (had you bothered to check out) Siesta Key hotel room. (Per local authorities: It is the degree of non-linearity that is at once vexing and utterly compelling. One begins to suspect that the randomness of the fecal streaks is not so random after all, and one cannot help but meditate on Jackson Pollock’s influence on Miss Nacho’s aesthetic.)
In your Miami Vice universe: a girl (let’s say your neighbor when you were young, like maybe you were grounded for coloring your sister’s hair with markers (again) and now you’re looking out your bedroom window as your best friend plays by herself). She’s seven, like you. You’d been watching her for a while when something instantly goes wrong. Wrong in a way that you can no longer make out her face, like there’s a glitch in her code. Or yours? She’s still there, there’s her body, but…
Her father, inside, hears something, though he’s not sure what. He’s concerned but not yet alarmed. He hesitantly steps through the front door and instinctively looks away from what’s right in front of him, looks instead to his nine-year-old son and friends standing ten paces to the left, locked in place, holding hands without realizing it, pants soiled, and having just moments ago yelled, “Yeah, let’s see how high the Jart can go!”
How high: over the house (two-story colonial). They follow its path like a wild animal caught in a whirlwind, arms, legs, and chins straining with anticipation. There is a moment when everything is fine, so perfectly fine that the air shimmers with the fineness of it all. But the boys have to round that corner past the garage. The dad has to step out of the house, has to learn the effect, on his daughter’s skull, of a fiesta-red Jart bearing 23,000 pounds of pressure per square inch.
Local authorities, in a report no one would read, would describe the scene thusly: One clinically dead. Four others: no amount of therapy. Call community college to inquire about picking up with those Art History classes again.
For several years after, your Christmas list led with Boys that don’t turn corners. Your parents never understood what you meant (you never told them what you saw).
<point_is> ______________ </point_is>
<and_yet> You still, on occasion, think, “God I loved Jarts. Such a satisfying thunk.” You would often imagine playing Jarts with the cast of Miami Vice, after which, they would teach you how to bet on ajai lai. </and_yet>
<point_is> A mathematical abstraction. A separator of dollars and cents. A period (or is that hemorrhaging?). The business end of a knife (Count backward from 100. Eyelids flutter. Don’t fight it. 99 98 97…9…4…). A unit of scoring (don’t get excited, douchebags). A location on a map (before the X, there is the spot. The spot is flush with cancer. The body, a scored map of______?) A position without spatial extent. (The heart: a map of a holes left from the inside out.) [insert edward-james-olmos-cold-look-of-empathy emoji] </point_is>
<end_scene> “And this, children,” you’d have wiped the coke from your nose had your hands not been cuffed through the open window of an unmarked vice car, “this…”
The kids’ eyes on you, so earnest. Crockett pretending not to pay attention. Everyone waiting for something clever, something insightful to please the crowd, make them feel like they’ll all be ok. Except for Tubbs. He knows better, circling your car, dragging his finger around its perimeter.
You shout to him, “This is your whole schtick? Gloomy and preoccupied with your shirt half unbuttoned?”
Before Crockett can even start, Tubbs shoots him a look. You’ll give this to Tubbs: he shoots a mean fucking look.
The eyes on your oldest: Handcuffs. You. Handcuffs. You. Handcuffs. “Are you going to jail? Where’s Daddy?”
You blow your hair out of your face, a puff of coke hangs in the air. “No one goes to jail for falling face first into a pile of cocaine.” (You really did trip over Miss Nacho.
“Correction,” Tubbs says.
“He’s right, kids. White people don’t go to jail for tripping face first into cocaine.”
The confusion on your son’s face. He should know better.
“Not even to white jail?” The youngest, the smart one, asks.
Tubbs, even staring at you straight on, seems distracted.
“Tell me what you know,” you say to Tubbs. He juts his chin, eyes still on you. Measuring, weighing.
The local authorities roll up. Crockett composes himself, says, “Day late and a dollar short, fellas.”
“Sunny,” the local authority is breathless. “The Macchu Picchu replica will knock your socks off.”
“I don’t own socks,” Crockett says with feigned annoyance.
Tubbs stops right in front of you, opens his mouth to speak.
Local authority: “Super Target. Try the men’s no-shows.”
Tubbs winces, draws his gun, shoots out a tire on the squad car without even looking. You roll your eyes.
It’s dead silent.
“So?” you say, barely a whisper.
He removes your handcuffs, says so only you can hear, “No one steps out of Super Target and ends up in Macchu Picchu.”
He tosses the handcuffs to Crockett. You turn to your kids.
“What’s happening, mama?”
You crouch down pull them in close.
“Hard to say.”
You absently wonder, as Tubbs strolls away, if he’s going to hike the Inca Trail. That was something he’d always wanted to do. Not Tubbs. Lloyd.
<intersection_of_otherwise_parallel_universes>It catches you by surprise. You had healed from the surgery, the infection and complications. Finally, no more risk of tearing open what in a better version of your life would have been C-section scars. You held it all together. For so long. And what? An Accord passes by as you look out your Mt. Airy window. Your first thought isn’t Lloyd. Your first thought is the day 11-year-old you learned Tubbs’ real name was Philip Michael Thomas, that he had a whole life without you, existed completely out of your view. You run to the bathroom, hand instinctively over your stomach. Head over the toilet, you think of whole lives without you. You consider a whole life without. You weep so hard, you pull a muscle in your chest. You can’t breathe, gasping like a fish on the bloodied deck of a listing trawler, flopping around and sucking for air while a bunch of useless dudes with nets pretend this is the most normal thing in the world.
You soothe yourself by recalling how your mom was always ranting that you shouldn’t be watching that show, how it was all cocaine and bimbos. You laugh. You haven’t laughed this hard in a decade. You feel drunk with her love. You pull yourself up by the toilet seat, still smiling, and say to Lloyd who’s not there, “Bimbo,” shaking your head. You look at the space that would have been him. “You were real, right? You were here before you were gone?” You close your eyes. You imagine you would have killed at jai alai. You pick yourself up off the floor and head to the kitchen to make a sandwich. Someone needs to feed the kids. </intersection_of_otherwise_parallel_universes>
<post_script>It catches you by surprise. You had healed from the surgery, the infection and (physical) complications. You held it all together for so long. And then what? An Accord passes by as you look out your Mt. Airy window. Your first thought isn’t Lloyd. Your first thought is the day 11-year-old you learned Tubbs’ real name was Philip Michael Thomas, that he had a whole life that existed completely out of your view. You run to the bathroom, hand instinctively over your stomach. Head over the toilet, you consider whole lives without you, a whole life without. You weep so hard, you pull a muscle in your chest. You can’t breathe, gasping like a fish on the bloodied deck of a listing trawler, flopping around and sucking for air while a bunch of useless dudes with nets pretend this is the most normal thing in the world.
You soothe yourself by recalling how your mom used to rant that you shouldn’t be watching that show, how it was all cocaine and bimbos. You laugh harder than you’ve laughed in a decade. You feel drunk with her love. You pull yourself up by the toilet seat, still smiling, and say to Lloyd who’s not there, “Bimbo,” shaking your head. You look at the space that would have been him. “You were real, right? You were here before you were gone?” You close your eyes. You imagine you would have killed at jai alai. You pick yourself up off the floor and head to the kitchen to make a sandwich. Someone needs to feed the kids. </post_script>