shell

on a stretch of beach
put to your insecure ear
a small shell roars

but it is your ear
your air you have listened to
bouncing off the whorls

off this beach gathered
sold and set upon a shelf
still a pretty thing

dusty dusted held
against your selfish ear your
secrets back to you

unbelievable

Tonight, Chad and I had finished dinner and were sitting in front of the TV, not really watching it, and for whatever reason I mimicked the TV, “undeniable,” and Chad mocked too, “Un–” and then sipped his smoothie. Knowing I was waiting for him to finish, and he was going to do it when I least expected it, to make me laugh.

What he didn’t understand, what I can’t explain to him, is that every second that joke goes on, I was in pain. I wanted him to finish the word. I needed him to finish the word. It’s definitely a compulsive thing and I’m not proud of it, but I begged him to finish the word so we could just move on.

Thinking I was playing into the joke, he refused. I crawled into his lap and tugged on his shoulder, continuing to beg. “Say it, please, say ‘-deniable,'” I whined. “Please say it, you didn’t finish it, please finish it.” He refused, chuckling, shaking his head, sipping his smoothie.

It was funny. To anyone else but me.

In utter frustration, I rapped Chad hard on the top of his head with the flat of my fingers. Not hard enough to hurt, but definitely enough to get his attention, like we make thumb and middle-finger thwacks on Zen’s nose when she is being Very Bad. To get her attention, not to hurt.

But it did hurt him. Not physically, but I saw his hurt in the way he looked at me, and then refused to look at me, and then mumbled, “-deniable,” and turned back to the TV.

I hate that I did that even though I apologized and he said it was okay. His sense of humour, his sense of fun, amazes and thrills me, cheers me, calms me. But he just doesn’t know when to stop playing sometimes. No time seems to be serious-time for him and although I want to play, I also want — need — to be taken seriously.

I don’t believe anyone believes a word I say.

ï ï ï

Dr. Doctor said today, “Maybe it’s not about other people believing you; maybe it’s about you believing other people.”

I don’t believe anyone. I am always waiting for the punchline, always waiting for people to laugh and say, “Wasn’t that funny? And you bought it.”

The Dr. Doctor in my head asks me what happened, when did this start, what crucial, traumatizing event fucked me up forever. I shrug at him, Always been this way, Doc. That must get lonely, he murmurs. Lonely. It echoes in my marrow.

Truth is, I’m happiest alone. Because I’m not shitting me; no one is around to shit me. When I get around other people, that’s when it starts. And I realize that no one really wants the whole Halsted-package, neuroses, insecurities, sensitivities, and all.

Who would really want all that?

Some people insist they do.

And I do not believe them.

ï ï ï

I used to believe I believed in god, that he would want all of me and never turn away from the ugly parts. It’s not important that everyone likes me, just that they believe me. But god wants nothing to do with me unless I play by his rules, unless I prevent myself from thinking women are just as wonderful and loveable as men are, unless I marry whomever I choose to live with, unless I have babies now that I am married, unless I go to a specific building once a week to say hey god, I’m still here, and I still dig you.

I used to think I was going to hell. I’ve certainly been told so, more than a few times. You cannot convince me I am going to hell because I live there. I have everything I need to be happy, and I am unhappy. What is hell if not that?

There is no void waiting to be filled. I am filled. I am full. There’s just the belief that no matter what I ever do, I am not someone who anyone really wants to know.

Lonely, lonely, lonely, Dr. Doctor crows inside my eyeballs now, scratching to get out. Lonely, lonely, inside my gut, roiling my bowels, making me choke on nothing at all.

ï ï ï

I can buy a world map, put it on my wall, and with those tiny red pins I’m so fond of mark off the locations in which I have people who say they love me, and believe me. Birmingham, Alabama. Madison, Wisconsin. Seattle, Washington. Chicago, Illinois. Meadville, Pennsylvania. Marianna, Florida. Atlanta, Georgia. Tornio, Finland. With the white ones I can mark off all the locations in which people live who know who I am and might miss me if I were to disappear. New York, New York. Baltimore, Maryland. San Diego, California. Tucson, Arizona. Vancouver, Canada. Detroit and Kalamazoo, Michigan. Australia. Great Britain. Germany.

And I’ll look at that map, and I’ll repeat to myself over and over again, “Look, stupid, look at all the places in the world your presence has visited. Look at all the people who would hug you and tell you it’s all right if you’d only believe them.”

The pins pulse at me, my heart thump-di-dumps and I realize they’re both in syncopation with Dr. Doctor cackling, lonely, lonely, lonely. One by one the pins pop out of the map and fall and perhaps Zen will eat them, she eats anything inedible, until there are just miniscule holes in a meaningless piece of coloured paper on my wall and somewhere a cat burping plastic and metal.

ï ï ï

So I write this, in two places. One place, my bound journal, I carry around with me every day, although more often than not I don’t open it outside the house since I’m convinced that someone will find something inappropriate about me and fire me, fire Chad, burn crosses on our tiny townhouse lawn. The other place goes out to whomever wanders across it, or to whomever knows so-and-so who knows whosisface who knows me. I turn the cam on and send out pictures every two minutes, faint flaps of a semaphore flag that no one recognizes.

I overheard someone at work talking about webcams the other day: “God, I feel so sorry for them. How lonely for attention those people must be.” Lonely, lonely, zipping and unzipping my spinal column in a cascade of crackles.

ï ï ï

“But can’t you just believe me when I say it?” People are incredulous. No, I can’t, I really can’t. I see the good things about myself; I’m starting to see even more these days. But I still can’t let go of the fear that I’ve learned this language late and some things are just getting lost in the translation; you say “I believe you” and it’s really a conditional tense that I haven’t conjugated properly, “I only believe you on every other Tuesday between 9 and 10 a.m.”

Lonely, lonely, lonely. That word always means the same thing.

cheap feel

There are some moments we never do forget. All of them are remarkable in some way: some magnificent, some devastating, some mind-bending, life-altering, worldview-skewing. Everyone has profound moments that are remembered and recounted; some of them turn into family stories or journal entries, daydreams or nightmares. I take great consolation in the fact that everyone has these moments; I feel more connected to other people because of them, and I even feel, sometimes, that I fit in.

And then there are moments that remind me I really am a total freak.

ï ï ï

Tuesday was a luxurious spring day in Birmingham, a true Southern Belle of a day with just the faintest edge of her glistening crinoline showing as she descended one more stair into the heat of the parlour. Just enough, the warmth, the breeze, the green, to pique the interest of the buds waiting less than patiently to bloom.

It was a day for The Shirt.

Anyone who’s either (a) bought me clothes, (b) seen me more than once in person, or (c) watched me on the ‘stedcam knows that my wardrobe consists almost entirely of wide-legged pants and plainer-than-plain shirts in subdued, solid colours. Black, primarily, followed by white, beige, or various shades of gray. I can count on one hand the number of times I have worn light colours or patterns in any given year.

But The Shirt, see. The Shirt is the exception.

It is a polo-style, short-sleeved, sandwashed silk shirt in the most exquisite pale green I’ve seen outside of nature.

There is a window of opportunity for The Shirt by itself, unlayered under my traditional black blazer. I can wear it for maybe three weeks out of the year, before summer hits, and the green is so pale that the half-moons of perspiration appear distastefully under my arms.

Some people look forward to the first day of spring; I look forward to the first day of The Shirt.

ï ï ï

I run late for work no matter when I set my alarm, no matter when I get out of bed. I am easily distracted normally, and even moreso these days with the help of brain-frizzling Zoloft. And then I panic at some point, because I’m running late, see. I literally jump into my clothes and toss the barest amount of makeup in the general direction of my face while running a 99-cent comb through my poker-straight, short hair. If someone can be vain while still being low-maintenance, I’m that person.

It will be no surprise to some people reading this that I have two types of bras: frilly and not-so-frilly. The not-so-frilly ones are saved for shirts under which the frills are apparent because that is, according to my mother and foremost fashion advisor, a major fashion faux-pas. And in the South, well … you aren’t even supposed to know what frilly underthings are .

Anyway, Tuesday morning is no exception to my frenzied preparations. I am running late and some vaguely frilly underthings go on then The Shirt and a pair of wide-legged pants and my clunky sandals and I’m out the door, closing it on Zen’s meeyowling protestations that her litterbox is nearing radioactive levels.

I do not notice the bra, of course, until I am at work and, while reaching up to fiddle with one of my many earrings, I accidentally brush my wrist against myself.

Against my breast, to be particular.

Hey. That felt cool.

No, that message was not sent from my breast, safely protected from any intruding stimuli, but rather from my wrist, feeling the lace texture underneath the thin layer of silk. Zoloft has this remarkable effect — aside from making me as manic as a chihuahua on speed — of fascinating me with texture, any texture. I can be mesmerized by the broken spines of paperback books, the foamy-plastic buttons of my phone, the delicate fringe of light hair on my forearms. Corduroy keeps me happily entertained for hours.

So I brush my wrist against my breast again, feeling the bumpdiddy-bump of each ridge of lace contrasted against the rubbery silk. And then my fingertips. And then my whole hand. Cool. This is COOL.

Until I look up and see a reasonably young and definitely entranced college student watching me fondle myself in the middle of a medical library.

Frozen in full-copping mode, I hear myself saying automatically, “May I help you?”

Without missing a beat (nor a glimpse), he replies, “It looks like you’re helping yourself .”

Pause. Stare. Pause.

Both of us burst into laughter.

I do try to explain what was Really Going On but between his guffaws and my own keening cackle, it is lost to both of us. I give him his change and his copycard. Still giggling, flushed with embarrassment, I mumble, “Thank you.”

Fanning himself ever so delicately with his copycard, he replies, “No. Thank you ,” and wanders off, murmuring something about cold showers, leaving me to bury my magenta face in my hands, laughing.

ï ï ï

That night, I hung up The Shirt, sighing and grinning at its auspicious first wearing. And carefully added the plainest bra I own to the neck of the hanger.

true confessions

Kite says, “evenin”
Halsted says, “evenin”
Kite tips her hat
Kite says, “i am wiped out”
Halsted says, “dad just asked me what we’re going to do for fun.”
Kite says, “and you snickered disturbingly”
Halsted says, “and i said ‘we’re supposed to have fun??'”
Halsted er.
Halsted said five points, botanical gardens, boardgamers, thai restaurant, etc.
Kite says, “you said body piercing and maying!”
Halsted says, “like i’m telling dad about those.”
Halsted says, “my dad can barely accept the fact that i’m married. i think me having a girlfriend too would stop his heart.”
Kite grins
Kite says, “So how are things tonight?”
Halsted says, “tonight they’re okay. karawynn called me then mac called me.”
Kite nods
Halsted says, “i didn’t really want to talk on the phone at all but it was okay.”
Kite says, “maybe in another year or two i’ll be one of these pesky calling people”
Halsted says, “work up to it.”
Halsted says, “just dial a few numbers peskily to start”
Kite says, “Ok”
Kite says, “can I do it without the phone plugged in, at first?”
Halsted says, “yes.”
Kite practices
Halsted says, “do you ever wonder why we don’t talk on the phone?”
Kite says, “Yeah, except I’m pretty sure it’s because I’m a weenie”
Halsted lol.
Halsted says, “we’ll talk in person, right?”
Kite umm
Kite says, “You mentioned gardens and piercing and stuff, not TALKING”
Kite says, “Do you ever wonder why we don’t talk on the phone?”
Halsted says, “damn.”
Halsted says, “yes, i wonder about it all the time.”
Kite appears to be idling in hopes of receiving another line
Halsted lol.
Halsted says, “you’re driving me craaaaaazy”
Halsted says, “you get to say flippant stuff and i have to do the serious stuff.”
Kite says, “is that good or bad?!”

[ snip. imagine some steamy scene here if you like. fade to black. moments later … ]

Kite says, “I am also starving and tired and emotionally exhausted.”
Kite says, “and i dont know what the hell I will write for tandem toniight. whose idea was this daily stuff?! oh.”
Kite says, “I like what you have been doing with different kinds of entries.”
Halsted says, “sorry — said goodnight to chad.”
Halsted says, “you do like it?”
Kite says, “yes, I do”
Halsted says, “i’m so glad you like it.”
Kite says, “it’s like a journal, where you put all these different kinds of things in. It’s neat.”
Halsted sparkles.
Halsted says, “it’s really important to me that you like it.”
Halsted says, “i don’t know how to say that in a nice way.”
Kite says, “well, you should do what you do even if I do’nt like it..”
Kite says, “but I’m glad that my liking it makes you happy :)”
Halsted says, “it’s very important though.”
Halsted says, “your opinion matters to me.”
Halsted says, “not just about writing, either.”
Halsted says, “although writing too.”
Halsted says, “about all sorts of things. about just about everything.”
Halsted says, “okay, that’s mushy enough for me”
Halsted says, “remind me to call the piercing place tomorrow and make sure they do daiths.”
Halsted says, “how do you pronounce ‘daith’ anyway?”
Kite says, “call the piercing place tomorrow and make sure they do daiths”
Halsted says, “i thought it was like ‘faith’ but on the body mod site i saw it says ‘doth'”
Kite says, “well, I read somewhere.. yeah, that.”
Kite says, “but I only hear people say it like faith.”
Halsted says, “weird.”
Kite says, “because nobody reads body mod sites for pronunciation guides.”
Halsted says, “i’d hate to call them and say ‘hey do you do doths?’ and them say ‘sure, we do goths, preps, geeks, all kinds of people, y’all come on down'”
Kite says, “I would call them and say do you do, er, daiths or doths or something?”
Halsted says, “‘hey, do you do the piercing that’s like inside but not really but kinda so if you take your ear and go around the upper par–‘ ‘yes, we do daiths.'”
Halsted says, “what if they say, ‘what’s that?'”
Kite says, “If they do piercings they should do them. my left one was the first one the chick had ever done.”
Kite says, “then we run screaming”
Halsted says, “and then i say, ‘uh, you don’t know? you goddamn freak'”
Kite says, “I think mine is 20g”
Halsted says, “and then they say, ‘hey you fucking bitch, i’m gonna kick your ass'”
Halsted says, “and then i say, ‘o yeah, just try it you jerk fuck'”
Halsted says, “and then they say, ‘i’ve got caller id, i know where you live'”
Halsted says, “and then i say, ‘yeah well at least i know what a daith is'”
Kite laughs
Halsted says, “then i think it’d be a stalemate.”
Halsted says, “my life is a hypothetical situation.”
Halsted says, “hypothetical needles”
Halsted says, “ha ha.”
Halsted says, “what if we see them lick the needles to sterilize them?”
Kite says, “then we run screaming.”
Halsted says, “okay cool.”
Halsted says, “there are lots of things that could happen that would require us to run screaming”
Kite says, “yeah”
Halsted says, “but it’s good that we’re in accordance”
Halsted says, “so we both run screaming.”
Halsted says, “because it’d be terribly embarrassing for one of us to run screaming and the other just to sit there.”
Kite says, “we need a ‘let’s run screaming’ hand gesture, so we can make sure we’re in sync.”
Halsted says, “i think it should be a quick golf-clap followed by an armpit-fart sound.”
Kite says, “I can’t do armpit farts”
Halsted says, “neither can i. damn.”
Halsted says, “okay, well, a quick golf-clap followed by a loon call.”
Kite says, “I can’t do loon calls”
Kite says, “we could call like a giraffe”
Halsted says, “fuck! i can’t either.”
Kite says, “three times”
Halsted says, “giraffes call?”
Kite says, “it’s a silent call”
Halsted says, “o. i could learn those.”
Halsted says, “okay, giraffe call three times, then run screaming.”
Kite says, “we could do guinea pig noises. boik boik boik”
Halsted says, “i think we should use some of our online conversations as entries. they’re funny.”
Kite says, “Ok”
Halsted says, “wow, really? i thought for sure you’d say no.”
Kite says, “But whose?”
Halsted says, “whose what?”
Kite says, “well, they’d be tandem entries. hey, we haven’t done any tandem entries.”
Halsted says, “they’d be tandem entries.”
Kite says, “I was wondering whose entry it would be.”
Kite says, “but I forgot it was, like, tadem”
Kite +n
Kite silly me
Halsted says, “let’s do a tandem entry tonight, and have it be our conversation.”
Kite says, “Ok, so let’s have a really funny conversation”
Halsted says, “okay, go.”

(long pause)

Halsted says, “this is pretty cool. i think folks are going to dig reading this.”
Halsted stares at the floor.
Kite says, “Well, they don’t see the pauses when reading logs, unless we take pains to point them out.”
Halsted says, “o, okay.”
Halsted says, “no more spoofing pauses, then. sorry sorry.”
Kite says, “Just stop spoofing pauses, and we’ll look witty as hell”
Halsted says, “fuck yeah. witty. we. are. witty.”
Kite says, “I feel like of like throwing up”
Kite says, “kind of like. dammit, I can’t type with an audience.”
Halsted says, “throwing up isn’t funny.”
Kite says, “I’m all flustered.”
Halsted says, “we don’t have an audience yet.”
Kite says, “I’ve spent a lot of time flustered, lately.”
Halsted says, “we’re just us for now. audience later.”
Kite says, “it’s not entirely unpleasant.”
Halsted says, “flustered is a good adjective to be. i’m proud of you.”
Kite says, “but it’s girly. maybe that’s where that part of the dream came from.”
Halsted says, “girly is not bad, contrary to your belief.”
Kite says, “girly is bad in the context of me flouncing around and wearing dresses”
Halsted says, “for example, i am girly, and i am not bad.”
Kite says, “it’s like bad drag”
Halsted says, “well, i don’t flounce or wear dresses. well, i wore a dress to get married.”
Kite says, “ok. but flustered is ok.”
Halsted says, “you’re female, though. i mean, don’t you self-identify female? or do you identify either?”
Halsted says, “to be in drag, you’d have to … i don’t know what you have to do. i’m new to all this gender stuff.”
Kite says, “I self-identify female, as an afterthought part of the time.”
Halsted says, “most of the time i just think of myself as a person, and then remember later i’m female, like when i get my period, or someone looks at my boobs.”
Kite says, “well, yeah”
Halsted says, “i don’t recognize my physical being very well”
Halsted says, “‘hey, shit, that’s my physical being. don’t wave. pretend to look busy.'”
Kite says, “I’ll point out who’s you, in some pictures”
Halsted says, “okay good.”
Kite says, “that’s you on the stedcam”
Kite says, “See? wave.”
Halsted says, “she didn’t wave back.”
Kite says, “it wasn’t taking a picture then..”
Halsted says, “o. man, her site is lame.”
Kite says, “maybe this wasn’t such a good idea.”
Halsted says, “this is nice. i like hating myself in the third person.”
Halsted says, “she doesn’t have any graphics except that stupid icq indicator. what the hell.”
Halsted grins cheerily.
Halsted says, “the moon’s caught in the tree, someone let it out.”
Halsted says, “o maybe that’s a streetlight. ha ha. woo.”
Kite says, “Sorry, pizza just got here”
Halsted says, “i don’t know about you, but i’m thinking this is just witty as all get-out.”
Kite says, “moon won’t be full till the 30th”
Halsted says, “aha, when you get here.”
Halsted says, “did you plan that?”
Kite says, “So it’d be nice if you’d just give, if you’re a werewolf and you’ve been denying it.”
Halsted says, “no one’s asserted anything for me to deny.”
Kite says, “failing to volunteer it is just like denying it.”
Halsted says, “o, we’re doing the lies vs. lies of omission argument.”
Kite says, “Well, I would HOPE you’d TELL me before we got this close!”
Halsted says, “so, let’s just chat here: what if i were (correct use of subjunctive?) a werewolf?”
Kite says, “correct”
Halsted whews.
Kite says, “well, if you were a werewolf, then we could both run around causing carnage on the 30th.”
Halsted says, “so you’re saying *you* are a werewolf.”
Kite says, “I said no such thing.”
Halsted says, “i always pictured you as a werebat.”
Halsted says, “but i guess that would be hard.”
Halsted says, “but we agree bats are good guys, so.”
Kite says, “Aren’t those vampires?”
Halsted says, “ha ha, love the injokes.”
Halsted says, “vampires, shmampires.”
Halsted says, “vampires don’t exist. werebats do.”
Kite says, “oh right. vampires don’t exist.”
Kite says, “jinx”
Halsted says, “and bats eat bugs.”
Halsted says, “buy me a milk!”
Halsted says, “i’d be a wereswan. they’re not very scary.”
Halsted says, “or a wereplatypus.”
Kite says, “Shae never did send me my prize. What a jerk.”
Kite says, “I mean, er”
Halsted says, “i never figured out the code and i feel so lame for it.”
Halsted says, “everyone else is smart enough to figure it out but me.”
Kite says, “I didn’t figure out what the code was till other people did.”
Kite says, “I just guessed by substitution, because I guessed that the thing that looked like an email address was his email address.”
Halsted says, “that’s not true; i thought you were the first to guess it.”
Kite says, “I didn’t figure out it was dvorak keyboard though”
Halsted says, “shae loves dvorak keyboards.”
Halsted says, “which i still don’t really understand.”
Halsted says, “the keyboard, not the love.”
Halsted says, “i understand love.”
Halsted says, “no i don’t.”
Kite says, “Do you understnad love for keyboards?”
Halsted says, “i understand affection for keyboards.”
Halsted says, “i have great affection for my keyboard.”
Kite says, “I love my keyboard, now that it’s back from the brink of a soupy death”
Halsted says, “i spilled coffee in this one.”
Kite says, “Did it fuck it up that bad?”
Halsted says, “i have greater affection for my new keyboard that does not work gdmt.”
Halsted says, “for a while, the cursor keys wouldn’t work and it got stuck on the letter ‘l’ and that just made typing _hallllllllllllsted._ very difficult.”
Halsted says, “actually, no; it made typing _halllllllllllllsted._ very easy.”
Kite says, “I pried off all the keys and cleaned the board last night, but goop got inside”
Halsted says, “it made typing _halsted._ very difficult.”
Halsted says, “i never pried off all the keys.”
Halsted says, “i was scared.”
Halsted says, “to see its underbelly.”
Kite says, “it was like a major hairball in there.”
Halsted says, “gross.”
Kite says, “but ti’s clean now”
Halsted says, “i don’t want to ever disassemble a keyboard.”
Kite says, “except for these pizza crumbs”
Halsted says, “what kind of pizza?”
Kite says, “well, there’s a difference between prying off the keys and opening up its guts”
Kite says, “it’s not really pizza, it’s pokey stix”
Halsted says, “prying off its keys is like — wait. you’re eating something called POKEY STIX???”
Halsted says, “what the fuck is a pokey stix?”
Kite says, “From Gumby’s.”
Halsted says, “you are shitting me.”
Kite says, “I am not.”
Halsted says, “there is no restaurant called gumby’s.”
Kite says, ” http://www.gumbyspizza.com , babe”
Halsted says, “o that’s just WRONG.”
Kite says, “pokey stix are breadsticks, sort of.”
Halsted says, “with sauce on them?”
Kite says, “no sauce, that’s why they aren’t pizza.”
Halsted says, “man, that’s sick. they turned pokey into breadsticks.”
Halsted says, “and gumby into pizza.”
Halsted says, “and you’re sponsoring this.”
Kite says, “they have deals called things like the Pokey Pleaser”
Halsted says, “no WAY!”
Halsted says, “that’s just downright naughty.”
Halsted says, “‘the pokey pleaser’ sounds like a dildo.”
Kite says, “now legal in alabama”
Halsted says, “because it’s food-based.”
Halsted says, “and god made food, god is good, la la la.”
Kite says, “god made the elements of plastic, too”
Halsted says, “no he did not.”
Kite says, “well, as much as he made anything”
Halsted says, “what are the elements of plastic?”
Halsted says, “i mean, he had to have made some of them.”
Kite says, “I don’t know. Plastic and stuff.”
Halsted says, “why the fuck am i arguing the christian viewpoint?”
Halsted says, “why do you do this to me?”
Halsted stomps about.
Kite says, “If god created the earth, he created all the elements on it.”
Halsted says, “plastic isn’t an element though.”
Kite says, “So whatever we make out of anything, we’re making out of stuff God made, so what is the probleml”
Halsted says, “the problem is, we are creating new things out of what god made. they’re not god’s creations, they’re *ours*.”
Kite says, “So is a peeled carrot”
Halsted says, “unless you argue that god made us, therefore, god has a patent on everything we make.”
Halsted says, “fucking copyright laws.”
Halsted er.
Halsted says, “as far as i’m concerned, god put a bunch of dirt and water and amoebas and sunlight and stuff and mish-mashed them all together, then went on vacation for the next hundred millenia or so.”
Kite says, “so god ultimately created everything, because it all descended from stuff he put there.”
Halsted says, “‘let them sort it out.'”
Halsted says, “well, depends on what you’re calling god.”
Halsted says, “the christian god no.”
Kite says, “since I am agnostic, this is all quite academic to me.”
Halsted says, “the concept of god, the theory of a superbeing that exists outside and throughout our consciousness, yes.”
Halsted says, “maybe there’s no god.”
Kite says, “except I fail to believe in that.”
Halsted says, “who knows.”
Halsted says, “i don’t.”
Kite says, “superbeing that is.”
Halsted says, “not anymore.”
Halsted says, “superbeing sounds like a cool superhero.”
Halsted has a temporary agnostic hat on.
Halsted puts on a nametag: HELLO! MY NAME IS _halsted._
Halsted says, “okay where’s the conference.”
Halsted says, “i want to drink beer and talk about not knowing if god exists or not.”
Halsted says, “i guess that’s like philosophy huh.”
Kite says, “I don’t want to drink beer”
Halsted says, “i want to be a philosopher.”
Kite says, “You want to be morgan?”
Halsted says, “i don’t want to drink beer either. well, flat beer.”
Halsted says, “no, i don’t want to be morgan, i want to be a *philosopher*.”
Kite says, “flat beer, that’s much more appealing”
Halsted says, “i can’t drink carbonation.”
Kite says, “how can anyone drink alcohol? it all tastes like turpentine.”
Kite says, “why not?”
Halsted says, “plumwine doesn’t.”
Halsted says, “because the carbonation goes up my nose.”
Halsted says, “i do not drink anything with carbonation in it”
Kite says, “it does. anything containing alcohol tastes like turpentine.”
Halsted says, “no it doesn’t.”
Kite says, “I do not drink anything with alcohol in it.”
Halsted says, “kahlua doesn’t. plumwine doesn’t.”
Halsted says, “well, i don’t eat anything with stuff i don’t like in it, so that’s that.”
Kite says, “it all does. everything I have ever tried has any individual flavor or difference overwhelmed by the TURPENTINE effect.”
Halsted says, “maybe that’s psychosomatic.”
Kite says, “I think wine coolers taste like pure turpentine.”
Halsted says, “maybe you’re just having ta– what’s that word.”
Halsted says, “not tactile.”
Halsted says, “for taste.”
Kite says, “it isn’t psychosomatic. I’ve tried things with an earnest heart.”
Halsted says, “an earnest heart.”
Halsted says, “i didn’t know you had one of those.”
Halsted er.
Halsted ducks!
Kite says, “I keep it for such occasions.”
Halsted says, “i have ernie’s heart.”
Halsted says, “for such occasions”
Kite says, “I mean, I know they say it’s all an acquired taste, but I really can’t stand to swallow it, period.”
Halsted says, “well that’s cool with me. i’m not going to make you beer bong or anything.”
Halsted says, “i hardly ever drink alcohol anymore anyway.”
Kite quotes herself.
Halsted laughs.
Halsted says, “that reminds me of the eating at the keyboard log.”
Kite says, “one of the Clydes is stuck on top of the box because it’s tilted a bit and he can’t skitter off of it.”
Halsted says, “i want a clyde.”
Kite says, “oh yeah, I always wanted to do something with that log, put it on my web page or something.”
Halsted says, “you should have named them clyde, clyde, and formaldehyde. that would have been fun to say.”
Halsted sings, o/~ clyde, clyde, and formaldehyde ~o
Kite says, “I could bring you a Clyde. The one that bites.”
Halsted says, “o gee thanks. don’t do me any favours there.”
Halsted says, “‘here, have the defective one.'”
Kite says, “He could learn”
Halsted says, “he could be eaten by zen in a heartbeat.”
Kite says, “or that.”
Halsted says, “actually, she’d probably nibble his limbs off first.”
Halsted says, “that’s what she does with bugs.”
Kite says, “the neighbor’s cats found Nita in teh basement”
Halsted says, “o dear.”
Kite says, “the neighbor rescued her, took her somewhere to find out if she was a hamster, gave her food and water and kept her in a bucket all day after posting notes on all the doors of the house.”
Kite says, “I think the neighbor is nice.”
Halsted says, “whose neighbour is this?”
Kite says, “Mine. it’s the guy upstairs, who has the cats.”
Halsted says, “so wait, you got your hamster back.”
Kite says, “yes”
Halsted says, “i didn’t know she was named nita.”
Kite says, “after a week in the basement”
Halsted says, “i thought hamsters didn’t care about their names.”
Kite says, “They don’t, but she has one anyway.”
Halsted says, “i like the name nita.”
Kite says, “I’m Nita on a pern mush”
Halsted says, “so now you have nita and the clydes, and moly.”
Kite says, “And the guinea pig.”
Halsted says, “wait, what?”
Halsted says, “you have a guinea pig?”
Kite says, “I told you about the guinea pig!!”
Halsted says, “next you’ll be telling me you have a brother”
Halsted says, “‘nita and the clydes’ sounds like a rockabilly group.”
Kite says, “I didn’t mean to get Clydes with Nita still alive. I had to pick up another aquarium tonight.”
Halsted says, “o, tony is making you a tape of …”
Halsted says, “i forget.”
Halsted says, “kitchen something?”
Halsted says, “bbc broadcast.”
Kite says, “Hmm”
Halsted says, “kitchens?”
Kite says, “a group called?”
Halsted says, “did you say you liked some band named kitchens?”
Kite says, “Yes, kitchens of distinction”
Halsted feels so old and dowdy.
Halsted says, “yes. he’s taping you some bbc recordings of them.”
Kite says, “Woo!”
Kite says, “I have all their albums”
Halsted says, “he said he doesn’t know what else to record for you. you prolly have all that he has, aside from the bbc recordings.”
Kite says, “Could be”
Halsted says, “i like ‘everything but the girl’ — do you like them?”
Kite says, “I like a few things that I’ve heard, but don’t own anything.”
Halsted says, “he taped me some.”
Halsted says, “and … let’s see.”
Kite says, “They did a pretty cool version of a smiths song once.”
Halsted says, “two tapes full of ‘a midsummer night’s dream'”
Halsted says, “and ray davies.”
Kite says, “a midsummer night’s dream music?”
Halsted says, “and another tape it’s downstairs.”
Halsted says, “a midsummer night’s dream performance.”
Kite says, “I used to write twenty-page letters to a guy in England”
Halsted says, “you and tony should icq-hook-up.”
Halsted says, “he is utterly groovable.”
Kite says, “I really hate icq, I have to say.”
Halsted says, “let’s go to brussels.”
Kite says, “Except for talking to you”
Halsted says, “okay, i like icq.”
Kite says, “When I can’t any other way”
Halsted says, “well, i’m going to show tony how to muck eventually, so.”
Kite says, “it’s always squeaking in the bakcground and making me click things. it never *flows*”
Halsted says, “you could write email to each other. he writes exquisite emails.”
Kite says, “we could write email”
Halsted says, “i would like that.”
Halsted says, “you go be friends with my friend now.”
Halsted says, “ooga booga.”
Kite says, “goddammit, you can’t be so nice and shary when I was jealous of him!”
Halsted says, “jealous of him forwhy?”
Kite says, “because he is so awesome and writes the best emails”
Halsted says, “like i’m jealous of floyd?”
Kite says, “and you got to know him like THIS all of a sudden and boom, he is one of the biggest people in your life”
Halsted says, “because he is so awesome and has all-night talks with you.”
Kite says, “I didn’t fit nearly so easy.”
Halsted says, “well, it’s not like that happens all the time to me, or that i had any control over it.”
Halsted says, “no, you didn’t.”
Halsted says, “but you are my best friend.”
Kite says, “I didn’t say it happened all the time, I said I was jealous”
Halsted says, “so does it matter how you got here, if you’re here now, and i’m not willing to let you go?”
Kite says, “Of course, I trust it more that you didn’t even say you liked me till after a year or more of seeing all my crap.”
Kite says, “No, it doesn’t.”
Halsted says, “i didn’t say i liked you because you’re not an easy person to tell that sort of thing to.”
Halsted says, “i did like you for a long time before i said it.”
Kite says, “When did you like me?”
Halsted says, “since before christmas ’97. hanging out at delusions with gast2 and cuisinart.”
Kite says, “but you stopped talking to me”
Halsted says, “yes.”
Halsted says, “because i didn’t think you wanted me in your life, particularly.”
Halsted says, “it’s not like you’re the easiest person to love or anything. i mean, you have major go-away-i-can-do-this-by-myself vibes. i’m glad i’m here now, and that i love you, but it wasn’t really easy because i’m awful — i go away at the first feeling of those vibes, instead of trying harder.”
Kite says, “I never know when you’re thinknig that.”
Halsted says, “but then i couldn’t stay away because you are so important to me.”
Halsted says, “you never know when i’m thinking what?”
Kite says, “I was surprised you invited me to chicago. we seemed so totally estranged for so long.”
Kite says, “When you’re thinking that I want you to go away or something.”
Halsted says, “i was trying to open that door back up.”
Halsted says, “o, i usually think you want me to go away, except when you scritch me or make smileys at me.”
Kite says, “I wasn’t sure whether I should go, but you had called me to wake me up that one morning and talking to you had made some small but important alteration in my concept of you.”
Halsted says, “i won’t know what to do if you ask me to go away while you’re here.”
Kite says, “I never want you to go away. I can skritch you more often if you want.”
Halsted says, “i would like to be skritched more often by you. it makes me feel good, like you like me.”
Halsted says, “i feel like i’m talking like tarzan tonight.”
Halsted says, “ooga booga.”
Halsted says, “i fully admit that i need a lot of reassurance in the liking department.”
Halsted says, “which isn’t always feasible.”
Kite says, “I feel like I’m exaggerating or playing to an audience whenever I’m at all demonstrative, not that I don’t feel that way but that I usually don’t have to express things.”
Halsted says, “and if i ask for it, it negates it.”
Halsted says, “well, i can understand that, although i don’t feel the same.”
Halsted says, “being demonstrative is an integral part of who i am, see.”
Kite nods
Halsted says, “if i like someone a lot i want to touch them and hug them and be near them. and online the only translation for that is posing affection, which may seem canned or ingenuine, or like you said, played to an audience.”
Kite says, “But it doesn’t look like it; it just *feels* like it will, to me, inside, when I think of doing it.”
Halsted says, “maybe you can try just a little more and see how it works out. you can whisper it to me if you like.”
Kite says, “I even worried that it would look scripted if I said I liked your tandem stuff lately. I mean, I thought it, earlier, and then I thought, maybe I should say that, hmm, like, maybe it’s not totally obvious.”
Halsted says, “all i know is that i just light up inside when you say ‘Halsted!!’ to greet me or hug me or any of that.”
Halsted says, “it wouldn’t look scripted. i want and need your feedback, positive and negative, on all tandem stuff.”
Halsted removes the ‘tandem’ from that sentence.
Halsted says, “i’m not just here because of tandem, you know.”
Halsted says, “i’m here because of you.”
Kite says, “I know”
Halsted says, “and if we ever figure out how to talk on the damned phone together, i think i could show you that more.”
Halsted says, “but i will settle for showing you in person in nine days.”
Kite says, “can we talk before then?”
Halsted says, “no.”
Halsted says, “absolutely not.”
Kite says, “gdmt”
Halsted says, “starting NOW.”
Halsted says, “er.”
Halsted says, “we can talk before then.”
Kite says, “ok”
Halsted says, “do you want to talk before then?”
Kite says, “yes”
Halsted says, “are you talking talk talk or are you talking talk?”
Kite cries.
Halsted produces hanky.
Kite HONK
Halsted winces.
Halsted says, “keep that.”
Kite says, “You don’t love me!”
Halsted says, “I DO!”
Halsted says, “gdmt!”
Halsted says, “i do i do i do i do i just don’t want your snot.”
Kite says, “see? all I have to do is produce snot and you don’t love everything about me!”
Halsted says, “what i meant to ask was, do you mean talk online talk, or talk on the phone talk.”
Kite says, “I was talking about phone”
Kite says, “I kind of assume we will talk online within the next nine days”
Halsted says, “i don’t love your snot, no. it is a byproduct of your body and although you have a lovely body i’m not terribly interested in non-sentient waste.”
Halsted says, “now SENTIENT waste, on the other hand”
Halsted says, “i’m way into that.”
Kite says, “does that mean babies?”
Kite er
Halsted says, “babies are sentient wa–”
Halsted says, “i won’t even go there.”
Halsted says, “that’s just a no-go-there.”
Kite says, “oookay.”
Halsted says, “you’re not pregnant, are you?”
Kite says, “not unless we’re talking the Second Coming here.”
Halsted says, “wow, was it that good for you?”
Halsted er.
Halsted says, “you do order ‘pokey stix’ quite a bit. it could be a euphemism.”
Kite says, “mmhm”
Halsted says, “‘sorry can’t talk tonight, i’m Ordering Pokey Stix’ [wink nudge cough]'”
Halsted says, “i’m not pregnant either.”
Halsted says, “aren’t you glad?”
Kite says, “Ok, now that we have that settled.”
Halsted says, “why are we talking about this?”
Kite says, “sentient waste”
Halsted says, “is this all going into tandem?”
Kite says, “Snot”
Halsted says, “snot.”
Kite says, “and because I cried about talk talk, or talk, which produced the snot”
Halsted says, “okay, you don’t need to go all the way back.”
Halsted says, “talk talk or talk produces snot. check.”
Kite says, “I’m afraid to put this in tandem because it’ll look like we think we are being so very clever with every last thing we say.”
Kite says, “Can we edit it?”
Halsted says, “well, no, it’ll just look like we’re being goofy and how we usually are.”
Halsted says, “sure we can edit it.”
Kite says, “noooo no editing”
Halsted says, “gdmt.”
Kite says, “it has to be RAW”
Kite says, “REAL”
Kite says, “slice o LIFE”
Halsted says, “RAW?”
Halsted says, “REAL?”
Halsted says, “slice o LIFE?”
Kite says, “Damn straight”
Halsted says, “you’re so confusing.”
Kite says, “we’re on MTV”
Halsted says, “o god.”
Kite says, “exciting online interaction”
Halsted says, “thrilling. titillating.”
Kite says, “we aren’t titillating anyone.”
Halsted says, “IN YOUR FACE WEB JOURNAL”
Halsted says, “we’re not?”
Kite flashes the audience.
Kite says, “Now we are.”
Halsted says, “maybe we are. you just don’t know what some people get off on.”
Halsted says, “aha.”
Halsted says, “have we been clever enough?”
Kite says, “Whoa, my name is Kite. I was starting to think it was You.”
Kite says, “hell no”
Halsted laughs.
Halsted sings, o/~ you say ~o
Halsted gets lisa loeb firmly lodged in her ears.
Halsted says, “god, lisa, get off of my face.”
Halsted er.
Kite says, “that may be costly to remove.”
Halsted says, “are we going to the botanical gardens? i have a cell phone.”
Kite says, “is that a really bad joke?”
Halsted says, “in case we wander into the bad part of the garden.”
Kite says, “oh, ok.”
Halsted says, “no, it’s not a joke. i’m manic, these things are related.”
Halsted says, “in case we get mugged by some uppity tulips.”
Halsted says, “are you going to hold my hand?”
Halsted says, “or is that gross.”
Halsted says, “i don’t know where your personal girly boundaries are.”
Kite says, “my personal girly boundaries are, like, me flouncing around and saying “I’m a girl!””
Kite says, “Anything else is fine”
Halsted says, “i’m pretty sure you don’t get facials, pedicures, or go on thousand-dollar shopping sprees, but so far as the holding hands thing i’m lost.”
Kite says, “well, those too.”
Kite says, “holding hands is done by plenty of non-girly people.”
Halsted says, “well, but two non-girly people of the same, um, biological predisposition?”
Kite says, “well, you’re the girly! I thought we had this covered!”
Halsted says, “o, so you’re the butch? can i say that?”
Kite says, “Oh hell, I have to be the butch and like, be all pushy?”
Halsted says, “what’s a butch, anyway.”
Halsted says, “no, i’m the pushy girly.”
Kite says, “I don’t know. Do I open doors for you?”
Halsted says, “fuck no.”
Kite says, “What do I do? Act surly? I cna do that.”
Halsted says, “surly squid”
Kite says, “goddammit”
Halsted says, “you, um, protect your territory.”
Kite says, “wtf is that”
Halsted says, “pee in the corners. things like that.”
Kite says, “I can’t pee in corners”
Halsted says, “it’s just like peeing along straight lines, except intersected.”
Halsted says, “wtf am i talking about?”
Kite says, “I don’t, as a rule, pee on things.”
Halsted says, “yes you do. you pee on toilet bowls.”
Kite says, “that isn’t, er, aiming.”
Halsted says, “you don’t have to aim.”
Halsted says, “you just … go.”
Kite says, “you do if you’re trying to mark something”
Kite says, “or hit the corner”
Halsted says, “well, dogs just lift legs, that’s not aiming, really.”
Kite says, “that’s aiming”
Halsted says, “no way.”
Kite says, “yes way”
Halsted says, “that’s getting leg out of the way so you don’t piss on it.”
Kite says, “I guess that would come in handy.”
Kite writes it down.
Halsted too.
Halsted copies everything kite does.
Kite says, “You’re sure you remember who I am, right? I was the one in chicago who didn’t leave on the first day?”
Halsted peers at you.
Kite says, “Well, sometimes I want to ask just to be sure…”
Kite says, “that you mean me.”
Halsted says, “i mean you.”

repetition

Lights up. Nand Asit downstage right; we catch them mid-conversation.

N: Would I tell you a story with no point?

A: Yes.

N: I didn’t want you to answer that. It was a rhetorical question.

A: What does that mean?

N: It means I didn’t want you to answer that.

A: Ah. Okay.

N: Would I tell you a story with no point?

A: (Pause.) No.

N: You don’t have to answer!

A: But you asked me a question.

N: No, I didn’t.

A: Yes, you did!

N: I didn’t!

A: You DID.

N: I asked you a RHETORICAL question and I did not in any way want you to answer.

A: (Pause.) Ah.

N: Okay?

A: Why not?

N: Why not what?

A: Why did you ask me a question you didn’t want me to answer?

N: It’s rhetorical.

A: (getting it) It means you didn’t want me to answer that.

N: Yes.

A: Ah.

N: Okay?

A: Okay.

N: May I start the story again now?

A: Does it have a point?

N: Yes, but you really aren’t supposed to care.

A: But I do!

N: But you aren’t supposed to.

A: But I do.

N: Pretend.

A: Pretend what?

N: Pretend that you don’t care.

A: (quietly) But I do.

N: Pretend!

A: Ah.

N: Okay?

A: Okay.

N: I’m starting again now. The one with no point but you don’t know that and you really don’t care.

A: But Ió

N: Once upon a time!

A: Only once?

N: Yes.

A: Okay.

N: Once upon a time there roamed a brave knight.

A: How extraordinary. Nights usually stay in one place.

N: No, they don’t!

A: They don’t?

N: Of course not.

A: Well, I suppose they fall …

N: … off their horses, yes.

A: Nights ride horses?

N: Of course they do!

A: What kind?

N: What kind of horses do knights ride?

A: Yes?

N: Well … brave ones.

A: (Pause.) Nights ride brave horses. (obviously doesn’t get it, but adds cheerily) And when they fall … everything’s dark!

N: Passing out does that.

A: Passing out what?

N: They pass out.

A: What?

N: What?

A: What do they pass out?

N: Consciousness, of course.

A: (utterly blank) Of course.

N: Of course. I’ll continue.

A: Nights on brave horses falling and passing out consciousness.

N: (exasperated) Yes.

A: This is an absurd story.

N: I’ve barely STARTED.

A: So faró

N: Once upon a time, there roamed a brave knight.

A: (murmuring) Sometimes he fell.

N: It’s MY story, I WILL TELL IT.

A: Ah.

N: The knight roamed the land, saving damsels in distress, and just generally doing good deeds for all his kinsmen.

A: Saving damsels in distress?

N: Yes.

A: Weren’t they afraid?

N: What?

A: Weren’t they afraid of the night?

N: Why should they be? The knight saves them.

A: Well, the damsels I know wouldn’t be bumbling about around nightfall.

N: He’s not falling.

A: (Pause.) Ah.

N: I’m forging ahead …

A: Feel free. But please, be consistent.

N: (blankly) Consistent?

A: Yes. When night falls, make sure there are no damsels about. Consistency is key nowadays.

N: It’s very difficult to be consistent when you keep interrupting.

A: Ah. Forgive me. Please continue.

N: I will.

A: Now?

N: Yes, now!

A: Okay.

N: The knight roamed the land, saving damsels and whatnot, when he came across a large circle of gnarled trees.

A: “Whatnot”?

N: You know, the “doing good deeds” thing.

A: Ah. (Pause.) Why didn’t you just say that?

N: I didn’t want to repeat myself.

A: “Repetition is death.”

N: What’s that from?

A: A movie I saw once.

N: Aha! So you just contradicted yourself! You repeated it.

A: I did not.

N: Yes, you did. You heard “repetition is death” somewhere else first.

A: Iquoted. You repeated. Just now.

N: If you quoted, you would have said, “To quote from a movie I once saw …”

A: Everything we say is repetition, then.

N: What?

A: You said that earlier. Several times, if I recall.

N: So?

A: So every word we say is repetition, because someone had to say it before us, otherwise it wouldn’t be a word, and therefore have no meaning.

N: So what you’re saying is everything is repetition.

A: I just said that.

N: That’s ridiculous. Then, according to your quote, everything would be death.

A: (triumphantly) Of course.

Penters, dressed in a magician’s outfit, crosses to downstage left. He holds a rabbit.

P: (to the audience) For my next trick, I will pull a hat out of this rabbit.

N: (to A)That’s absurd.

A: (to N)What is?

N: That man. Is about to pull a hat out of his rabbit.

A: He’s a magician, perhaps?

N: Then he should be doing it the other way ’round.

A: Not necessarily.

N: Of course necessarily! A hat is much larger than a rabbit! It would be much easier to pull a rabbit out of a hat!

A: But much less entertaining.

P: (visibly struggling with the rabbit) This reminds me of a story I once heard. Once upon a time, there roamed a brave knight …

A: Well, that certainly sounds familiar.

N: That’s impossible! He can’t know the same story! I was making it up as I went along!

P: The knight roamed the land, saving damsels in distress, and just generally doing good deeds for all his kinsmen.

A: He can know the same story, and he does .

N: (outraged, to P)You there!

P: Except when the night fell. (tugging on the rabbit absently) Then the damsels weren’t about.

A: Ah, he tells it the right way!

N: (to both Pand A)Stop this at once; this is ridiculous!

P: (ignoring N)For my next trick, I will pull a story out of my ass.

A: (chuckling) A comedian-magician. He must be popular!

N: He stole my story! Before I told it, even!

A: And a thief! Well, well! Very popular, indeed!

N: (sneering) Repetition.

A: (shrugging) Everything.

P: (smiling) Death.

Blackout.

sulk

“So what you’re saying is that I expect too much from people.”

Chad stares at me for a millisecond and then grins. “Always have.”

I sit in our big green smushy chair, legs tucked up, palms on my knees, in traditional ‘Sted-style. I’m looking straight at him and there’s no joking in his face even though he’s smiling. It’s the smile I see often when I do Something That Only I Do that endears me to Chad.

“So what do I do about that?” I wonder, half to him, half to myself. I’ve always been this way; thinking outside the box is not something I can do on command.

And we chat for a while about our differences, until it comes down to an actual tally of whose opinions affected us most. Chad starts.

“You,” he marked off with his index finger. “Gavin. Robert. Rusty.”

“Scott,” I prompt.

“Yeah, Scott,” he agrees, nodding. Pausing.

“Your mom and dad,” I prompt again, and he nods, another tick of his fingers. I offer more names but Chad is not as sure about each of them; they have conditions, sometimes-clauses attached to them.

My turn.

“You,” I tick off with one slender index finger. “My mom and dad, and T.R. and Melissa with them.” Chad nods. “Kite. Tony. Karawynn. Lara.” And then I pause, frowning; Chad, in my peripheral vision, is anticipating something.

Wiggling my left pinky, I tick it off and announce, “And everyone else in the known universe.”

Our eyes meet and we start laughing. Because it’s absolutely true and it’s absolutely ridiculous.

._.-.

The conversation began after I explained to Chad my latest disappointment in people. I was upset the other night, while logged into DruidMUCK, and I went silent. No one noticed. Or, to me, no one noticed. They might have noticed and just figured I went off to do other things; people idle there all the time and nothing is thought of it.

Childish, I know. Sulking and waiting for someone to ask if I’m okay, and when they don’t, because they don’t even know I’m sulking, I get upset.

When I was sulky as a child, my mother would tell me to stop. And I would have to stop, or suffer her disappointed glances. They say we spend one-third of our lives asleep. I have spent the second third sulking. It is a specialty by now, a finely-honed skill, an unregistered weapon.

There are too many rules for most of my friends. When to follow, when to stay away. When to ask if everything’s okay, when to talk about something else entirely. The problem is not that I have rules but that they change so erratically that no one, not even me, can keep up with them.

The traditional sulking facial expression is a pout. Not the concentration pout, which usually keeps my brow unfurrowed. The sulking pout weighs down my eyebrows, chisels tiny webs between them. My mouth, with its thankfully full lips, closes tightly shut and little waves of self-pity can be seen along the line of my jaw.

Observant people have no trouble at all spotting the sulking expression in person. Online, though, it’s a different story.

._.-.

I do throw out some signals, faint though they may be. I leave the webcam on, I leave ICQ on, I stay connected to the MUCK. If someone picks up on one of those signals, I can be drawn out. I will talk. The jaw-waves subside, the web fades, and within just a few minutes the sulk withers into a raisin version, easily set aside for better emotions.

Yet I expect too many people to even think about the signals in the first place. In fact, I expect Everyone to think about the signals. And therein lies my problem. I expect too much from each and every person I come into contact with.

._.-.

Today in the shower I announced, “I will not expect too much from people,” and then forced a grin onto my face more hideous than The Joker’s. Driving to work, I repeated it quietly several times: I will not expect too much from people. On the whole, I’ve been utterly cheerful today at work, even getting ready for work was pretty delightful, and every time someone affords me a kind word in the copyroom, I grin honestly. Maybe there’s something to this mantra thing after all.

Or maybe it’s the zoloft and espresso cocktail I had for breakfast this morning.

delve

Five a.m., exactly five hours after bedtime, and after two tabs of Klonopin, I am wide awake. So Little Miss Donna Reed here decides *now* is a great time to put away the clean laundry and empty garbage cans and dust and shit. Chad is still growling at the alarm clock and I’m bustling about like a good little wifey. A good little geek wifey, anyway; I had time to check ICQ and say happy birthday to Tony, which was good. Always good to talk to him, I can’t say exactly why, but I can feel his presence more clearly than a lot of the people I talk to online, even ones I’ve known for years.

And I wanted to call him for his birthday, just to say hi and that, and so instead he called me on my PCS phone and I spent a terrific two minutes on the phone with him, during which neither of us said much but Chad grunted hello and I laughed a lot, just laughing because I was so happy to hear that Tony was really real. And that he likes me.

._.-.

I was completely ridiculously goofy in my session with Dr. Doctor today, and it ended up in some sort of metashrinking session, which entertained me to no end, and seemed to entertain him, but I didn’t really get anything Done, which made me feel lame afterwards. I started driving home and then everything was just immense and confusing and I broke into tears. The little kind, the little non-nose-clogging kind, just tears and tears, making the undersides of my sunglasses slick and my neck slippery.

Wonder if anyone in the passing cars noticed, and if they did, what they thought happened to me. Did something awful happen to her? Or if they just thought I was singing along to a song or talking to myself.

Mostly I was crying about Tony, and how far away he lives, and how I seem to have found one of those people who will be important to my existence for a very long time, and, like most of those people who have been in my life, are currently in my life, is not only past driving-distance away but thousands of miles away. And I felt very small and stupid just then, because I wondered why I was bothering at all; I will let him down eventually, just like I do everyone.

So I thought about Moses. Yes, Moses and his sea-parting gig. What happened to the fish, to the reefs and creatures that live on the seafloor? Did they part too, or were they just inadvertently dried out and then when the seas closed up again they just washed ashore eventually, little shells and dried starfish and pieces of coral.

I want to go back and ask Moses to teach me how. Teach me how to part the seas, except teach me how to do it without hurting anyone, and teach me how to form walls of water on either side of me, so I can watch all the creatures, miles and miles high. And I’ll fucking walk to Finland, I’ll do it.

Somehow I’m in the Office Depot parking lot and throttling my PCS phone because it won’t let me make an international call and instead I’ve got the most condescending female-voiced message on the line that tells me I must wait for a customer service representative to answer my query, and I don’t have a bloody query woman I just want to call Finland. Is that bad? I don’t care how much it costs, and you’d better hurry up because it’s going on midnight there and I don’t want to wake people up or anything.

No help. I called Kite, left a voicemail message. I don’t know how I sounded but it was a forty-second message so it must have been interesting. Called Chad too, left voicemail. If anything had happened to me, I would have left a voicemail trail so the forensic team could track down the exact time I went missing.

Office Depot was a labyrinth. I must have walked through the aisles a hundred times. Nothing pleased me. I wanted fine point black Papermate Gel-Writers and they didn’t have any. Not even one. I was lost. Those are the ones I want, the only ones I want. But a sales associate (that PC enough?) searched and searched and was so nice and eventually sold me these Uni-ball Gel Impact things that make me feel like I’ve just bought a pair of aerobic sneakers. Gel Impact. What the hell. I feel like some impacted gel right about now. Let’s do it.

The sales associate was a pale, very pale woman about my age, with long straight black hair and black eyes and no makeup. I liked her immediately. I wanted to ask her to hang out with me. But I froze instead, and she wished me a nice day and I did follow her for just a little bit but then realized that put me in Stalking status and quit.

And then I went a little wild with the rest of it. Impulse shopping is why I stay away from credit cards. After taxes, both Chad and I are broke but that didn’t stop me from just going nuts all over the store. Bubble mailers, construction paper, metallic-inked pens, cassette tapes, headset thing for the computer, a glue pen, these cool photo-magnet things that you can paste your photos on and then cut out, and stick on metal surfaces. I’m entranced.

._.-.

Home again and cleaning the kitchen while talking to Karawynn about her current difficulties with living and dealing with Shae. Unlike my normal, diplomatic operating mode, I was just laying it all out, as blunt as could be, and it felt pretty good to be so un-self-censored, but I was worried — even though I meant all I said — how Shae feels about me, since I haven’t heard from him directly in a long time.

How much I miss him in my life, in Birmingham. How easy it is for me to hide for weeks at a time if he’s not around to drop by or meet for dinner or show up at Boardgamers.

._.-.

My dad and I managed to get NetMeeting in semi-operating mode this evening (thanks to earlier help from Ryan), and it was good to hear Dad’s voice, even if the two-second delay was a bit annoying at times. Chad got home and his presence always rejuvenates me somewhat, especially the way he hugs me and kisses my forehead as I stand on tiptoe. We ate pizza, ham and pineapple on the best crust ever, and vaguely watched TV and that’s about when I got tired, and fed up, and realized I had nothing at all to say for today’s entry.

Dammit.

Kite encouraged me to just write, and I’m just here right now, eyeing the Tony-watch hanging next to my monitor that says it’s 6:18 on a Saturday morning in Finland, the day after his birthday no less, and I’ll doubtfully catch up with him this weekend at all. I feel much better today than I did yesterday but I still feel small. Small and still significant; if I were small and insignificant then there really wouldn’t be a lot to worry about, would there? That would be that. But being small and significant ó well, you’ve got to do something with that. Either get bigger or make your smallness known. And that’s what I’m staring at right now.

._.-.

I’m just attracted to people who pay attention to me, who talk to me, who praise me when I do something right, and who listen to me, and ask me questions. I love it when people ask me questions. Because I’ve got a lot to say, I really do, but I just can’t pick a direction in which to throw it out there. Instead, it just sits there, and I’m dying for people to *delve*. I can’t delve *for* them; that’d be cheating. So I wait, and sometimes along comes a person who reaches beneath the seaweed and driftwood and finds the stuff that’s still alive, wriggling, waiting for someone to hold it as it squirms and then settles.

._.-.

Part of me wants to be apologetic for, embarassed of this entry, and part of me is proud of writing this way for a change. Sometimes there are too many ends to tie up neatly, and I want to leave things open and malleable and prickled just once here and there. I’m thick with frustration like this, inarticulate, splintered, but it’s not a bad thing on days like today. There are so many transcribable events, but when it comes to emotions, I’m all … thumbs. Hah.

working title

Shelving books is actually the best part of my job. (No, you protest, being able to surf the web, write email, read and write journal entries is the best part of your job.) I can’t deny those are all Very Good Perks, but they’re not technically part of my job. So much of “what I do” at work is intangible, so it’s quite nice to have a task that can be completed. An empty book-truck is a friendly sight. All done, all put away, the books tucked neatly in their beds, waiting to be picked up again, someday, maybe not for years or maybe tomorrow.

I love the call numbers, too; a tiny language that librarians and library assistants around the world speak. WO is surgery. WY is nursing. WK is endocrinology. Letters, then numbers, repeated until the proper place is found, like WO 540 G53k 1998. Ever the linguist, I pride myself on my fluency, test myself when I can, and get frustrated when I forget where exactly the books on environmental health and sanitation are.

They are spellbooks, to me. The last time I tried to read one, I opened the cover and was immediately lost. Only mages who have acheived a certain level of wizardry can translate these tomes. Instead, I am content to be a small, unassuming creature of indeterminate origin, shelving the spellbooks for apprentices and masters alike.

Medicine is still magic, to me, lost somewhere in between a very basic grasp of human anatomy and a desire to understand that which science cannot explain. And so I spend these minutes alone, shelving and reshelving, mouthing the call numbers to myself, weaving in and out of rows, and smiling at familiar books.

ï ï ï

And then I have to go back downstairs. And deal with the patrons.

To their credit, most of them are not blatantly rude. But I am a drone, treated as a drone, sometimes as a scapegoat if I do not deliver immediately what exactly they need. Again, my thoughts wander back to magic; I am expected to suddenly produce whatever it is they want, turning aside a fold in my dark robes and with a flick of the wrist, setting a copy of Gastrointestinal Disorders on the counter between us.

But books get lost, no matter how many shelvers, no matter how many hours spent, or how much care taken. Books leave, disappear, are stolen, get worn and retire to the bindery or perhaps for good. I don’t want to think that any are ever thrown away, but maybe they are. Old library books have to go *somewhere*, don’t they?

Or maybe, after hours, they just wink out of existence in a flash and a thwock, off to another dimension, or to be reincarnated as a cloud of words in a younger world, waiting to be collected and written down again.

You try explaining that theory to a surly third-year med student who’s gotten about three hours of sleep in the past three days.

ï ï ï

The books themselves have less than fanciful titles: Manson’s Tropical Diseases ,Hemostasis and Thrombosis ,Atlas of Diseases of the Eye . I haven’t found What to do When Someone’s Bleeding All Over the Place and You’ve Only Got Three Paperclips and a Half-Pound of Thinly-Sliced Smoked Turkey , but when I do, MacGyver’s had a hold on that one for three years now.

ï ï ï

Mr. Personality is my favourite patron, by far. I am convinced he is an alien being. He displays no outward emotion outside from a small curling of his upper lip, Elvis-like, when he is tired and Needs Stuff Now. The best physical description I can come up with is Ben Cross in android form.

Mr. Personality got his name just around three years ago now, when I first encountered him as a student assistant. His tone of voice ó although pleasant, even soothing ó does not change levels; he has said the phrase “I need $5 on my copy card” maybe a hundred times to me, and I have never noticed any change in tone or enunciation. Our first meeting was dramatic: he handed me his copy card and asked for 50 copies. I put 50 copies on his card, and handed it back to him. He handed me a starched ten-dollar bill ó I swear, he must iron them ó and I gave him back his change. “Thanks,” he said, in the most thankless, empty tone of voice I’ve ever heard. And then he left.

“God, he’s just Mr. Personality, isn’t he,” I remarked to a coworker, who promptly laughed, said he was always like that, he’s always been like that. And so he was named.

Mr. Personality is my exact emotional opposite. Whereas I feel everything, and so acutely, Mr. Personality seems to feel nothing at all. He does not dawdle, or daydream; watching him make copies, one would think his muscles had computed the most precise movements that arms and upper body could make while efficiently and consistently expending energy. His money is always crisp, smells brightly of the bank, and payday, and sometimes I catch myself plucking out the less-withered bills from the register for his change.

Here exists a person I have almost daily, face-to-face contact with, whom I know nothing about, who knows nothing about me, and it fascinates me to no end that I have left not one impression on him in the past three years. Not a tendency to nod to me, give a curt wave, an extra “thanks,” nothing. I wonder if anyone has ever left an impression on him at all.

And here I am, all impressions, all indentations, like gull prints in wet sand.

ï ï ï

The soft schunk of the lobby door, or the tung of the metal entrance gate smacking against itself usually tug me back to the present. Glancing over at the circulation desk’s book-truck, I see there are books to be shelved. And I’m not one to pass up the chance of twenty minutes of tangible completion.

a third of eighths

As I write this, I am sitting on the very top of a mountain, five-thousand miles high. Not lonely, but alone; feeling the brassy sunlight inside my clothes, whipping around with the wind. There is nothing unstable about my perch, and this without a rope or equipment, with just myself, and barely within sight, one person at the foot of the mountain.

He is looking up at me, squinting, shading his eyes from the sun, a bit sleepy still but thoroughly smiling; even at this height I can see that for sure. I wave downwards, pantomime a hug. He pantomimes one back, and we are both laughing — silent, because sound will not carry this far — but we can see each other, heads tilted back and grinning.

._.-.

There are eight hours always in between him and me: my night courts his morning, my morning touches his dusk, my dusk sinks into his night. Every day, these days, holds two meanings for me, as I glance at my digital watch set eight hours ahead while he inspects his pocketwatch set eight hours behind. Two times, two places, a third of eighths to come full circle. Karawynn once thanked me for being the person who brought her Shae; I must thank her for being the person who brought me Tony.

._.-.

Tony lives in Finland, although he is not Finnish, but Irish, and speaks fluent German and Dutch in addition to an incredibly charming Dublin-infused English. I first heard his voice while at work, stuck in a dingy box of a room cornered inside the copier room. My intercom line rang, I picked up: “Cashier’s Office.”

“Halsted, there’s a call for you on the first line.”

I knew who it was. When the phone rings at the circulation desk, it also rings in the cashier’s office, and the phone has caller ID on it. I peeked, and saw OUTSIDE CALL which always means Chad on his cell-phone. Smiling, I hung up the intercom with one finger and picked up the first line.

My smiling turned into delighted laughter as I realized my mistake, and in that, my surprise. It was a short call — I can’t even imagine how much that will cost him — but I laughed and laughed because here was Tony, I could hear him finally, talking so quickly and lamenting that he really had nothing to say in the first place but it was one of the best phone calls I’ve ever received.

._.-.

Frequent, lengthy emails from Tony arrive in my inbox, are immediately filtered into a separate folder, and Homer Simpson exclaims, “Oooooh! The mail is here!” If I’m by the computer, I hop into my chair and settle in for a good read. ICQ provides a shorter, faster means of pantomime, and we’ve settled into that routine well by now. I get stories every day, stories of every shape and colour, sometimes funny, always thoughtful and precise, so clear I can see all the imagery and pretend I am in the midst of it.

It’s these times I wish I had paid more attention to my prose skills, because I feel so frumpy beside Tony, who complains of the same thing of course, thus completing another circle. Round and round we go.

._.-.

There are people I am close to who became so close through false starts, confusion, misinterpretation, hesitation, even antagonism. And then there are those who just became, while my back was turned, and filled a gap I hadn’t even noticed. It happens exactly when I am guarding myself the most, afraid to let anyone else in because when I do, it’s *completely* … and I have crumbled when some of them stayed a while and then disappeared.

I am reminded of someone in particular whom I befriended, and then was forced to un-friend altogether because his partner accused him of cheating on her with me. She went through his mail archive and decided that our familiarity, our fondness for one another was somehow adulterous and wrong. I know now it *wasn’t* wrong because Chad never objected, or felt cheated on, or did anything but be pleased for me that I had found a friend.

Paranoid that I am, I was completely relieved to “meet” Tony’s partner through email, and she assured me that no, this wasn’t wrong, this was in fact wonderful and good and she approved. Chad was a bit more skeptical; he was the one to pick up the shards of Halsted after the last time, and he also knows I trust with my heart first, then my head. But still, he is pleased for me, in his guarded way, ever on the ready to scoop up the broken bits and help me reassemble again.

._.-.

For a few brief hours on the mountain we can carry on like this, throwing each other gestures and expressions, soaking in the presence of each other. And then it is time for him to make his climb, and for me to make my descent. More smiles, although these are tinged bittersweet, and waving, enthusiastic waving, arms and faces promising to meet again. Arms and faces promising, someday, to meet in between.

far away

It occurred to me, again, that my closest friends, with the exception of Chad, are all far, far away from me. Most are over a thousand miles away; one is even five thousand miles. Five thousand miles. It’s possible I will never meet him face to face, although I don’t like to think that way.

What amazes me is that it doesn’t amaze me anymore: I need a computer to keep in daily contact with the people who matter most.

._.-.

That must be lonely, the Dr. Doctor inside my head says. Do you feel lonely? No, I reply. I don’t really have any idea about my physical presence anymore anyway.

Sometimes I look at the insides of my arms. Running one palm gently up and down the sallow skin, I inspect my veins, which are quite visible, almost greenish. There’s blood in there, I think to myself, lots of it, and it’s keeping me alive. My skin is keeping me alive. This machine is keeping me alive and I don’t know the first thing about it.

But I shower every day; I put on makeup; I blow-dry my hair; I choose my clothes hurriedly but cautiously, still matching the solid, subdued hues of everything I own; I take my meds and I take my vitamins. I do care for this machine somewhat.

Then again, I forget to eat until my stomach growls so loudly it echoes through the library. I forget to go to the bathroom until my abdomen aches when I shift in my chair. I forget to be sexy, to want touch, to need hugs and to love the pieces of people you really only see when they are right in front of you.

._.-.

I’m not lonely, I say. I’m not lonely because I’m existing in-between right now. I would be lonely if I didn’t have this computer, this tin can and this string that reaches over oceans.

._.-.

Chad held my hand the other day, walking from the car into the store, and I didn’t ever want to let go, once I remembered how good it felt. How good it feels to be physically connected to another person, even through tangled fingers, even through a squeeze of the arm or a brush of the cheek.

._.-.

The sky was the blue of comic-book mirrors today, not dingy but not full-tilt blue, and everything’s budding and springing and greening and raining down here in the hot, wet city. I saw the sun, made sure to take my breaks early so I could smoke and pace in it. But it’s the sun, it’s far away too, and no matter how much I think about it, its spiky rays in children’s paintings, its spots, its gases, its centering of our own small universe, I can’t seem to feel it on me.

._.-.

Kite will arrive soon and I’ll want to hug her, hug her and crush her and say, don’t go back to Wisconsin, stay here with me, you can sleep on the old mattress and when it gets warm, we’ll drag it out to the patio and you can teach me the stars. We’ll go to boardgamers every week and I won’t feel so alien, so unfamiliar in a familiar setting. Lazy afternoons we’ll go to the botanical gardens and write, each in our separate notebooks, not saying anything for hours, until we get hungry or until the sun sets over the delicate irises in the Japanese peace garden, whichever comes last.

But she’ll go. It will be god-awful early that Monday morning and I’ll drive her to the airport and she’ll go. I won’t resent her for it, either. Driving back in the mouse-grey dawn, I’ll go over everything I said and did, and worry about if she had a good time or not, and clutch the steering wheel and the gearshift the whole way because I hate that bloody expressway and I hate letting go. Holding on to anything at all.