dancing with a crescent knife and a skull full of blood – Joel Kopplin
June 6, 2021
I watch my thoughts form and pass like clouds, like ugly shapes and colors across the sky just like you said I should.
These thoughts and these feelings are not me, even though they exist.
I write them down as you said I should, and I repeat with each that these thoughts and these feelings are not me at all,
And I can just watch them fade and forget them like I would with the clouds, the ones from late spring and summer, big as mountains, textured and layered and terrifying and then they dissolve.
My feelings are not me, but I can see me on the couch on Saturday, nearly seven o’clock.
You’re nearby too, talking to your new girlfriend on your tablet. Smiling and tapping on the screen and surrounded by dogs. The bay windows are open and there is a breeze. Blue light on glass shelves, aloe plants and hydrangeas and hibiscus and the basil I’ve been growing since March.
I think I give the basil too much water, that it will die.
Last week I thought I gave the basil too little water, that it would die.
I think you are talking about me on the tablet to this stranger. Telling her I was too scared to go to work last week. Telling her I’m just like your patients, who you call on the phone to discuss meds and daily gratitude journals and self-soothing exercises.
You told me I need DBT. I think I need DBT.
You’ve had sex twice with this person. I think it’s nice that you’ve had sex and I think I am happy that you seem so happy. She sounds nice from what you’ve said. I think I’d like her to die, except it would make you sad and that’s not fair.
I think I’m just like your patients. I think you’re just like your patients.
You are surrounded by dogs and the light from the bay window is a sad blue and I hope the clouds will create a storm to cut the air. There is a sound when Max sends his text to see about drinks.
I think Max is in town until Tuesday. Flew in from Savannah. Uncle’s funeral.
I think Max will remember how I was and then he will remember how I am from now on. I think this could be how he remembers me for all time, and I agree to Sunday at Kathy’s. Sometime after eight.
The storm never comes. I think I should find time to cry, and I also think I probably can’t cry. I think what if I’m now unable to cry, from now on for all time. I feel different than I used to feel, and I think I’ve become strange to my own skin.
On Sunday you’re gone. I see me on the couch, surrounded by dogs. The bay windows are the blue light are the plants are the glass shelves are the sky that still threatens to break but I think it’s bluffing. The sky is bullshit and filled with clouds. They all dissolve and none of them are strong enough to stick.
I think I might text Max to say I’m sick and can’t make it, but I only end up thinking that, and for the first time in two weeks I leave the house.
The walk feels like forever in the humidity. The whole way I wish I could swim instead. Sidestroke on the air, float when I feel fatigued, drown under a wave from a passing car.
I make it to Kathy’s by nine.
Max is at a booth in leather boots and jeans. He has a scotch for me, and a cigarette. He hugs me around the waist, he holds me like a man. I think I smell his soap. I think I squeeze his bare shoulder. I think I always loved him and that he remembers me from way back when and then I think I’m cursed for him to remember me this way from now on, for every year that’s left to live. I think I’m sweating and he squeezes my wrist and we talk about his uncle a while, and his mom, and he hands me the cigarette as soon as I’m done with the scotch and the lights out back behind Kathy’s are sodium orange and covered in moths.
He lights my cigarette and I light his. I think about saying that beautiful people shouldn’t light their smokes because I’ve said it once before, but I say nothing and I think I’ve always loved him and that I’ve always known it and I think it was a mistake I didn’t follow him to Savannah when he and everyone else made the move. We would have made movies. We would have done galleries. We would have had the band and the hate zines and the dance parties and the scotch and I would have lit every single cigarette because he’s beautiful.
There’s more scotch. I order a round. He orders a round. I think I’m going to order another round and he says we should get jungle juice next door at Downtown Intimates and I think god that’s the greatest idea I’ve ever fucking heard and I hold him around his waist. He has some weed he says, but he forgot a pipe and so I buy a pipe made to look like Pickle Rick for a hundred bucks and after that and the drinks I’ve spent all the money I had until Tuesday so I’ll have to ask you to paypal me fifty maybe to make it through to then but I’ll pay you back I swear and I’m so fucking sorry I’m this way, I’m sorry I’m exactly like your patients and I know why you could never need me like I need you in the end.
We get the jungle juice and the Pickle Rick wrapped up in a bag and his hotel is only a block away at the Grand and I play Love’s Secret Domain on my phone and imitate John Balance and his werewolf voice until I get Max to laugh and he has his own phone open to a folder, photos of men tied with rope, on beds, in chairs, on concrete floors, faces hidden except for chins or necklines, a beard, a bad haircut, but no eyes, no cheek bones, all body and bulk and skin. I think I say I should be a body too.
Max says this is what he’s working on most nights now, when he’s not doing drag, which he says he does much less now, and that’s right I remember, he doesn’t make movies anymore. He has a drag house. He said that when he was last home, two years ago maybe. I remember those photos. I remember those videos, I think.
I remember Max in Film History 2, showing up stoned and five minutes late in his hooded sweatshirt and his loafers and his kind eyes a little stoned and I think I knew I loved him then and I know I loved him while he showed me the men in rope and sheets and I think we each had a hit of the jungle juice in his room and I closed my eyes and he played The Knife and we floated there, me in the chair, he on the bed still in those boots and jeans and he set a cigarette in my hands and he lit it and I opened my eyes to find my lighter so I could light his but his was already lit and he was beautiful anyway and his legs were crossed and I knew he didn’t need me either. Never would. Not like I need him.
I see this thought pass like the clouds outside that refuse to rain and it just floats there and is eaten up by the others just like the sky swallows the light from the city below. The music swells and I open a window for some air and he’s already passed me the Pickle Rick and I leave in what’s maybe five minutes maybe four hours later so Max can sleep and he hugs me again, and I think I tell him I love him because he says the same and shuts the door but even then I know he didn’t mean it like I meant it and I hope all the way back to Kathy’s that he didn’t think I meant it like I did because if I’m anything I’m surely not needy, not like that.
I think I see his face stiff with embarrassment, but only later when I play our goodnight again and again until I’m asleep.
Each time I play it back it gets a little uglier, a little more pathetic. His face is unsmiling now, stoic.
Now, writing this down, I can only imagine his embarrassment, like I was a stranger who came to his door and cried out and carried on in words that didn’t make any sense until he shut the door.
The Grand’s halls are halfway remodeled, walls stripped of wallpaper, exposed wires and ducts, work lights, wet paint. The elevator was out of order and I don’t remember taking the stairs.
It wasn’t like I’d remembered it, that one time I was here way back, right after high school when I rented a room to get wasted with you, and we were up all night talking and you stole your mom’s box wine and Marb Reds and you said you were keen on me and I knew that I loved you and I think I thought you needed me.
You wouldn’t believe it. The place isn’t the same at all. Nobody can let anything alone.
I think I’m back at Kathy’s by one and I order another scotch and a pack of smokes, which I know I left behind because fuck smokes, because I had to light each of the five I had out of that pack all on my own.
The last I remember is seeing this woman by the taps, this brunette, hot tits, sneakers, yoga pants—I remember thinking this woman, who was talking to a guy to her left there at the taps and another woman to her right, someone she knew well because she was easy and open with her, like they’d known each other a long time, old friends or sisters or something—I think this woman can feel how much I need her from where I sit across the room, all alone and all dizzy from scotch.
I focus all of my attention on her, on how much I want to touch her and to be close to her and to know her secrets and to have her remember this night we met for forever like a story or a fable we’ll tell again and again as we grow old. I want her to feel, from the sheer power of my need, how much I can love, how much our lives can change.
I stare into the back of her head without blinking, my bleary gaze on her hair, feeling my heart fill up with poison, hoping this woman, this whoever the fuck she is will just die right there at the bar, just go right up in a blinding flare of white, right where she sits sucking down drinks to bad music.
I just need her to turn her head and see me too, to see me and smile and start our story, one we’ll write in the stars when the clouds finally break.
I lied. I remember a few other bits.
I remember walking home, in patches. Grabbing some flowers from our neighbor’s garden, Joe’s garden I think. They’re there by the dog food under the sink. I remember a huge glass of water.
I remember the couch, but not where I put my glasses. I remember feeling so grateful for our dogs.
I didn’t hear you come home yet, but that’s alright. You will or you won’t.
I’m happy you’re happy, and that’s all either of us can ask.
Everything takes shape against the sky to vanish, to be absorbed. These thoughts and feelings, though very real, as real as my sour clothes and my skin—they aren’t me. They come and go and nothing sticks.
I think I’m all alone now. Aren’t I.