How long does a man spend dying?
What does it mean to say ‘for ever’?
Lost in these preoccupations
I set out myself to clear things up.
• • •
I sought out knowledgeable priests.
I waited for them after their rituals,
I watched them when they went their ways
to visit God and the Devil.
They wearied of my questions.
They on their part knew very little;
they were no more than administrators.
The worst thing about the cult was that it was vastly different from the image of what the modern concept of a “cult” should be – isolated from secular society. Far from it – Kinfolk would have had a field day. We spent our days strolling through Kansas City’s quaint brick buildings, going to the River Market for fresh vegetables on weekends, working our way through cups of filter lattes from hip roasteries. All in all – the typical life of twenty-somethings living in the Midwest. The most insidious part is that these are the same people who would, smiling and sipping their drip coffees, proclaim that being gay was “unnatural”. That if I wore shorts, I was causing a guy to sin. You know, casual coffee conversation.
I’ve unfriended most of them (or they’ve unfriended me), but sometimes I still glance through their Instagrams, with their heart-eye emojis and “You are such a treasure from the Lord” comments. Couples don’t date, they engage in “courtship” and every single fucking step is followed up by a “define the relationship” discussion, to make sure both parties are on the same page with Jesus or whatever.
They left me so startled
that I sought out the gravediggers.
I went to the rivers where they burn
enormous painted corpses,
tiny bony bodies,
emperors with an aura
of terrible curses,
women snuffed out at a stroke
by a wave of cholera.
There were whole beaches of dead
and ashy specialists.
Everyone seems so sickeningly happy, and I hate that I do this but sometimes before I close my eyes in bed at night – I wonder if I made a mistake leaving. They don’t have to worry about the awkward situation of sidling past a one-night stand in a club (“oh shit, do you think he saw me?”) or calculating whether a guy is playing you; sending three other girls the same shit he’s sending you: “Well, I think there’s like, a 70% chance he’s a player. I mean, he didn’t text you the next day, so…”
The million-dollar question: “Do you trust me?”
He smirks at me, eyes tired under the too-bright glow of the 7-11. 4:52am, Taipei. We’re standing in the snacks aisle, mirror images of tension.
“You haven’t really given me any reason to.”
“Well what the fuck do you expect? We met, out. We’ve seen each other out every single fucking weekend. But I haven’t given you reason not to, either, have I?”
In Sweden, I become friends with a girl who had become a professional athlete at a tender age, her Facebook cover photos rife with images of her scaling mountains with a smile, posing next to her apple-cheeked boyfriend of three years. She introduces me to bouldering at the local gym, exuding robust good health.In return, I introduce her to SoundCloud. We browse through the site and she clicks curiously on a playlist dubiously titled “post-sex cig”. She listens as I explain that the title refers to the fact that the playlist pairs well with a cigarette in bed. She blinks.
I explain to her that the “cigarette in bed” is a very obnoxious trope. The general idea is that people are depressed after they come down from the high of climax. They may have nothing to say to each other. They crave a cigarette, for comfort. It’s been perpetuated in French cinema, and –
“But that just doesn’t make any sense,” she persists. “Why after sex? Why would having sex ever make someone sad?”
When I got the chance
I asked them a slew of questions.
They offered to burn me;
it was the only thing they knew.
I once heard that the way to get the truth out of someone is to ask them at the moment of climax. A precarious technique, to be sure – but the idea is that the orgasm – le petit mort, “the little death” is somehow this vehicle of truthfulness. At the moment of death – a light at the end of the tunnel. Dating in a place where there are as many re-inventions of personalities, as many erasures of storylines as there are people – is so fucking tiring.
The second million dollar question: – “So, do you like me?”
“What do you mean by ‘like'”?
Here we go again.
Sometimes I go crazy because I want to know things I can’t possibly know. I burn with the agony of unknowing. I want to know – is it going to be all right in the end? Am I going to finally be able to trust someone enough to let them in? Right now I think of men as monsters; no one I’ve been meeting lately [and isn’t that my own fault, as well?] has really given me evidence to feel otherwise.
In my own country the undertakers
answered me, between drinks:
‘Get yourself a good woman
and give up this nonsense.’
I never saw people so happy.
“I actually met someone who lived in one of those fjord houses,” my friend casually remarks, stooping to tie her hiking boots. We are on a ferry, sailing the clear, deep fjords of Norway. The reflection of our boat on the water is barely distinguishable from the “On my last trip here, I canoed with my brother to a random inlet, got off and started walking around. We eventually came upon this random house, and there was someone outside.”
She continued: “It was a very regular lady,” – as I imagine someone old and decrepit, – “young, too. Only in her early thirties, I’d guess. She used to work in PR, for some big perfume company in London. She told me she’d found a listing online to take care of a herd of goats, in exchange for staying in the cabin for a year. I guess she just got sick of everything.”
Ah, so that’s the key, I think.I imagine myself waking up early in the morning dew, sun on my face as I walk across the fields in perfect silence – just me, and the goats, and the fjords.
I’ll leave the clubs behind; stop drinking; stop pushing through the smoky crowds. I’ll smash my phone and there won’t be any he said – she said confusion and I won’t ever have to sit there, wondering if someone is going to text back. There will be no one to trick me, confuse me, have power over me. I can live in zen-like solitude; I can be happy all by myself. The solution; it lay before me. But then –
“Did she tell you that she felt lonely sometimes, though?”
“Yeah, she did.”
• • •
I returned home, much older
after crossing the world.
Now I question nobody.
But I know less every day.