Killing Christina – Part 4

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I wake with the dream still more real than reality.

There were three of us – me, Christina, and Death – sitting around a table. Death wasn’t in his stereotypical guise, with the hooded cloak and scythe. Instead, he wore a baseball cap, a T-shirt with something rolled up in its sleeve, and jeans. But I knew who he was. He seemed like a nice enough guy, except for his eyes. They weren’t tombstones or Xs or anything cartoonish like that. They weren’t rheumy or bloodshot, they were exceptionally clear. Too clear. Painfully clear. So clear that they looked not just through me but through time. His eyes were clearer than anything I’d ever seen – glass and mirror at the same time. I could look right through them and still come face-to-face with my reflection.

We sat together around a table and Death held both our hands. Christina and I also held each other’s hands so that we sat in a linked circle, as if we were attending a séance. Death’s hands weren’t cold and clammy like I expected. They were warm, and soft, and comforting.

“Don’t be afraid,” Death said to Christina whose teeth were chattering. Maybe his hand felt cold to her. Or maybe mine did. “When your time comes, I will be ready for you. That time is not now.”

“But you,” he said, turning to me with a welcoming smile, “you’re ready, aren’t you?”

I couldn’t answer.

“Don’t be mad at me, baby,” I said to Christina.

“I’m not mad,” she said the way women do when they’re so mad they can’t even admit it to themselves.

“You should probably get out of here,” Death said to Christina, “while you still can. The boys are going to play a little game.” He unrolled a deck of cards from the sleeve of his T-shirt and shuffled them.

“What’s the game?” I said.

“Solitaire.”

Christina got up from the table and looked at me. She needed me to say something, and I knew what she needed to hear, but for a reason that I don’t understand, I couldn’t say the words. She walked away. When I looked back at the cards on the table they were all the same: The face and back of the cards were blank, as clear as mirrors reflecting the snowfall. I saw into and through the reflections of a long, empty life without Christina.

Death held a card in front of my face. It reflected the sun and it also let the natural light of the sun through, into my eyes. “You love her?” he asked.

“Yes.”

“How much?”

I don’t know how to answer that. How do you measure love?

“You lose,” Death said. He picked up one of the cards and flipped it rhythmically across his long slender fingers.

“I can’t lose,” I said. “How can I lose? I’m playing against myself. If I lose I have to win too.”

Death smiled. It was Christina’s smile, but twisted. His teeth were mirrors and glass, reflecting her perfect smile, but backwards and conscientiously empty of all the joy in hers. I saw through his smile, at the sun, fighting a losing battle against the early afternoon clouds that hunched menacingly over the snow-dusted Catskill peaks. The end of the daylight comes too quickly to the valley.

* * *

I wake up but stay in bed for a long time – hours, at least – staring at the sky, and the falling snow, sweating and shivering and watching the steam of my breath, thinking about my dream, before I reach the sickening conclusion that my love for Christina isn’t the thing I came here to kill.

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Killing Christina – Part 2

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I tried telling myself lies about her:
She’s an idiot.
She’s unstable.
She’s not that beautiful.
The charms of her smiles, her thoughts, and her scents have no effect on me.
But every lie was so foul that it made me sick to pretend they were true.

I tried imagining parallel realities where we never met, or where we met under different conditions, ones that made us immediate incompatibility.

I tried to push thoughts of her out of my mind, but even that involved thinking about her, and once that starts, I’m lost.

So I came to the most remote place I know to strangle the life out of my love for Christina and give it a proper burial.

I felt from the start that we were on a timer. The weight of my feelings for her, compared to the weight of hers for me, made us too lopsided a couple to stand together very long without tipping over. When we came to the inevitable crash-and-burn part of our relationship I had to get away from everything – not just Christina but every habit and object in and about my life – to find canyons of silence and emptiness where the enormous resolution I need has enough room to move around and to find me. If it can find me anywhere, it will be in this most sacred space: halfway up a mountain, in my Uncle Bob’s cabin in the Catskills.

Uncle Bob is an old vinyl guy and the depth of his record collection fascinated me even when I was a boy. I pick out a disc at random and put it on the turntable, then I grab a beer and start a fire. I don’t look at the album cover so I don’t know which one I picked until I hear the gravelly voice of Louis Armstrong hitting the nail a little too sharply on the head, singing:

In my solitude
You haunt me
With reveries of days gone by
In my solitude
You taunt me
With memories that never die

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Killing Christina – Part 1

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Lies are dangerous things.

None are more deadly than the ones we tell ourselves.

Of all the lies I’ve known there is none worse than the one I told myself about Christina, that she could love me as much as I loved her.

* * *

Time has its own way of breaking things down. Even plastic and styrofoam biodegrade eventually. There is no rush. People don’t retire when they reach a certain age because they can’t do our jobs anymore. Most jobs, unless they require physical labor, are done more quickly and easily by people with experience. The reason we retire is that the rationale behind our occupations inevitably falls apart, like newspaper in a gutter. Love is the only thing I know of that resists time’s efforts to break it down. It withstands onslaughts of alcohol and infidelity. It is almost indestructible. So, if my love for Christina is going to die, something is going to have to kill it.

Before we go any further, I would like to alleviate any apprehension I’ve caused by calling my story Killing Christina. You could be forgiven for imagining that this is going to be another of those stories where a sick, possessive man commits an act of intolerable cruelty against a woman. It is not. I am not going to kill Christina. Neither is anybody else. I would not see any harm come to her. I am in love with Christina and it is that – my love for her – that I have come here to kill.

We met in the most enjoyable place two people can meet: a bar. My first image of Christina was on a bar stool, reading. A song was playing that I hadn’t heard in years and I got a little more excited about it that I should have. I bumped into her and spilled her cocktail all over the bar. She might remember it differently but the way I remember it, I let out an astonishingly unmanly shriek. I grabbed a handful of napkins from the bartender’s plastic caddy and tried to sop up her drink. “I’ll buy you another,” I said.

And she smiled.

Just that. Just a kind, simple smile to a bumbling stranger, and I was undone. I knew, as sure as I know how to breathe, that if I have a moment before I die, to look back at all the strange and wonderful moments of my life, that handful of soggy napkins is going to be part of one of them.

“It was a martini,” she said. I interrupted the bartender who was cleaning up my mess to order two martinis. “I’ll pay for that one too,” I said, pointing at the spill.

It wasn’t until the drinks came that it struck me that I’d never had a martini. “Cheers,” I said and we clinked our glasses.

I sipped and  watched her long slow swallow. The lighter fluid in my mouth didn’t taste like anything I wanted to swallow. As badly as I wanted to spit the martini back into its glass, and would have in front of anybody else, I couldn’t do that in front of her, so I forced it down. In an attempt to distract her from the repulsive look on my face I pointed to her book and said, “I’ve never read anything by Virginia Woolf.”

The skin of her nose wrinkled, disclosing freckles that reflected the neon lights above her. “You should,” she said, and within minutes we were locking in an intense conversation about Haruki Murakami. We’d each read a few of his books, but none of the same ones.

After an evening of deepening conversation we went back to my place and talked some more, about books, and the exploration of our solar system, and the development of photography, and its impact on our sociology. We talked about her beloved second-grade teacher and my despised Little League coach. We talked about insects and religion and dreams.

“So,” she said during a pause in our inexhaustible revelations, “What do you think?”

“About what?” I said.

“About me.”

“You’re devastating,” I said. She smiled. She knew that about herself. She just wanted to see if I knew.

We continued until the sun came up and our talk of dreams rolled into the one where we were lovers and the universe belonged to us.

 

Falling

There is a reason we call it falling in love
We are always looking forward
and neglect to see the thing
lying at our feet, across the path

It only takes a little tangle in our
toes or in our ankles
to bring our tower of illusions crashing down

Crumbling rationality and reason
independence and clarity
future and past
continuity
sanity

Love leaves us humbled, lying flat
squinting up at her blinding light
grateful for the warmth

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The Way I Came In

I’m going out the way I came in:
Naked, bald, and screaming

I will sink like everyone else
Into the quicksand of lost dreams
And fading, faulty memories

I’m going down the way I came up
With the weight of the world pushing in
Pushing me, always, forward
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Lucky Man

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Illustration by Michele Marconi

 

Are you what is called a lucky man? Well, you are sad every day. Each day has its great grief or its little care. Yesterday you were trembling for the health of one who is dear to you, today you fear for your own; tomorrow it will be an anxiety about money, the next day the slanders of a calumniator, the day after the misfortune of a friend; then the weather, then something broken or lost, then a pleasure for which you are reproached by your conscience or your vertebral column; another time, the course of public affairs. Not to mention heartaches. And so on. One cloud is dissipated, another gathers. Hardly one day in a hundred of unbroken joy and sunshine. And you are of that small number who are lucky! As for other men, stagnant night is upon them.  

Victor Hugo

He had white horses
And ladies by the score
All dressed in satin
And waiting by the door

What a lucky man he was

White lace and feathers
They made up his bed
A gold covered mattress
On which he was laid

What a lucky man he was

He went to fight wars
For his country and his king
Of his honor and his glory
The people would sing

What a lucky man he was

A bullet had found him
His blood ran as he cried
No money could save him
So he laid down and he died

What a lucky man he was

The Path

There is a path inside my heart
that leads to you
A path of sand for naked feet
to sink into

I walk the path while the sun comes
Out of the sea
And follow footprints that can only
Come from you

I walk the path on a cold night
without a star
I reach into the emptiness
and touch you there

A soft wind blows the sand around
and hides our tracks
So no one knows that we were here,
just you and me
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