Upon Reading The Myth of Sisyphus

Maybe it’s overwhelming attraction, the tendency to overestimate shared feelings, which has fooled me into thinking since we met that you like me. For nearly eight years I’ve been enthralled, from the moment you emerged through the door to second semester French in Rainey Hall, room 101—the same heavy, ancient door whose handle once came apart in my hands—several minutes late but still unhurried, afternoon August heat obvious along your collarbone, bare save for the thin straps of your tank top, hair pulled back in a loose ponytail. The class returned to introductions and you spotted the open seat near me (maybe the only one left), strode to the front of the class, snaked back through the row, past me for the first time, and sat. A minute later you jumped into our stupid partner introductions without hesitation, asking yours the questions you needed to know along the way, unimpressed voice confident and pronunciation perfect. Since those first moments, and over the days, weeks, months, years and now these minutes after, I’ve been captivated, or perhaps ensnared. It’s a helpless feeling.

The class met five times a week. We sat next to each other nearly every day that semester, but rarely met outside of class. You usually rested your thonged foot on the bar of my desk, or even on my seat, often settled against me throughout, but hardly responded to my texts. You’d let me know when you weren’t having a great day and once you took me up on a hug at the end of class; it was closer and longer than I expected. We studied once and you shared ongoing frustrations about your possessive boyfriend, occasionally scrawling pages worth of frenetic calculus in your loopy handwriting while I tried not to stare at the stray hairs framing your face, but you wouldn’t let my sister and I drive you home despite the cold, light rain. After our final we left together, walked south in the chilly air along Speedway and parted at PCL. I’d missed my bus but the extra minute at your side, our exhalations catching the wind and intermingling before disappearing, made the half hour waiting for the next bus worth it. Things were tough for you then. You moved home weeks later, left UT until the next fall, and hardly spoke to me thereafter.

The exception was a few days in May. At the end of the semester a classmate of ours asked whether anything ever became of us. He said it seemed like we were into each other. All I could tell him was that I had thought so too. Several weeks later I was at my parents and all that separated us was the roiling concrete expanse of Houston, fifty miles of sunbaked freeway, cracked and stained with oil, traversed by a river of humanity I still can’t comprehend. I would be making my first trip to Chicago after spending time with my mom while my dad was out of the country, a respite from their increasingly rocky marriage. I asked to see you though I was sure you wouldn’t respond, and promptly threw myself into an anxious frenzy when we set a date to have dinner with your best friend. I later wrote a story—utterly terrible—about my hellacious drive to Baytown, unsure if you even wanted to see me, though only your foot could have been tapping against my shin under the table. The story would be better if I’d included how I was unable to find the restaurant, got directed to the wrong restaurant after stopping at a dingy Exxon, and eventually ripped a cheap pair of aviators in half when my phone died as my sister gave me directions. I was only twenty minutes late and we hadn’t gotten a table yet anyway, but my nerves didn’t subside and partway through dinner I spent several minutes in the bathroom trying hard not to toss up the small amount of food I had managed to eat. By the time I came out you two had made plans to go to a party. I would have never asked for an invitation but still felt stupid when I didn’t receive one. I don’t recall the drive home, but suffice to say it was dismal. At least a certain level of defeat makes road rage impossible. I tried to add your friend, Lana, on Facebook, but she didn’t accept the request. Months later I cancelled it upon realizing it was still ignored. To this day the memory generates the same hot wave of rejection and embarrassment.

It was two years before we met again. I don’t know whether we had communicated at all, but somehow we were in touch. I had graduated and was again soon bound for Chicago. The world seemed imbued with an indifferent unity I’d finally grasped after an academic year of poetry, existentialism and French novels. Wiz Khalifa provided a balance and a roadmap: spend life grinding and enjoying the moments in between, others gravitate only when your focus is on life and art. Though I can’t recall it, most likely I’d forgotten enough of that evening in Baytown that I texted you, and again you wanted to hang out. You were back in Austin living north of campus off Speedway. We hung out at your place one afternoon, smoking weed, catching up, and I feel like you played guitar. You were wearing a dress this time and you looked poignantly beautiful—just like I paint you in my memories. You talked about your upcoming trip to France to see your family. We sat across the room from one another, and though I wanted to close that space I found myself paralyzed by the thought. I met your roommate briefly and your boyfriend as I left.

Message history is a fucked up thing. I sent several messages in the months after that day in May. I don’t know if you never responded or if your responses were deleted (by you? by me? by the inconceivable complexity of data retention?). It wasn’t until several months later, when I left a grammatically broken comment in French mentioning weed in your FB post that I have a response from you. You called me out in the comments and I privately apologized and explained that drugs had become a non-issue among my friends and our parents. Your reply is clearly displeased, though it appears calculatedly precise and direct, intentionally devoid of emotion: you could avoid talking about pot openly when my mom and sister are commenting on the same status. I apologized again and didn’t send another message for four years. In that time I experienced the culmination of the other great heartbreak of my life, finding and losing another person with whom I felt immediate and overruling attraction, someone not at all like you besides enrapturing and intelligent. I’ve sputtered along, living a life I never imagined in locales that never backdropped my youthful fantasies, working unrewarding jobs and feeling small, aspirations cast aside in favor of an emotional emptiness that does not force one to realize indifference or really anything at all. Quotidian frustrations mount, and dreams die out. You never replied to that message sent four years on.

It’s now been almost six years since that second meeting in May. You’ve long since graduated with a French undergrad degree, spent your days grinding through your own unintended career, and finally returned to Austin. Our phone numbers are no longer saved in the other’s contacts. We are linked in a few ways by social media, now more prevalent than ever. Over the last year or so we have regularly watched each other’s Snapchat stories, excessively brief glimpses into one’s life. Every fleeting image of a national park, a family gathering or clouds surrounding your plane left a pang of irreconcilable regret. Occasionally we have exchanged a message, and thankfully these disappear, sparing my self-confidence the confirmation that you have responded infrequently at best.

On a crisp, bright day in January I drove through Hill Country as my ex and a small squadron moved her stuff out of the house. It was a long overdue transition, and the guilt I’d shucked off five nights earlier by confessing my listless commitment seemed distant. You’d had a date that day or maybe the night before. But it didn’t turn out well. In a moment of soon-redacted vulnerability you mentioned men were interested in your ass but not dating you. The timing at first seemed serendipitous and I spilled my heart, asked you to let me go out with you once. I know you looked at the message. I checked obsessively to see when it had been viewed. When an hour after that you still hadn’t replied I followed up with an apology: taking your vulnerability about an emotional disappointment and selfishly twisting it into a profession of devotion aimed at dating you. Surely I was the definition of a fuckboy. I resolved not to talk to you again, and assured myself that no response from you was the best possible.

Of course, this was short-lived. I’ve been reading The Myth of Sisyphus, trying to exist in the present on that edge between perception and logic, acting to please this present self rather than some future self which will never exist, while planning for the me’s who might someday inhabit that as-yet-unrealized present ahead. At some point during a weekend festival surrounded by strangers with whom I felt entangled and estranged, the world pulsating with bass, heavy electronic tones bleeding into prismatic lights, the mélange evaporating into the rainbow gradient of an expansive April sunset, I responded to a snap in which you lamented on yet another period of sickness, commenting on your poor luck. You said it wasn’t luck but working with a classroom of children. I called you a saint and you pointed out the impending end of your contract. I contemplated a retort, but opted not to send it.

A day or two later you asked me if I had a connection for weed, as though there could be a question about it, joking that you only knew college seniors who thought you were middle aged. I neglected to say that you haven’t aged a day since you were nineteen, that any college student attracted to women should be enamored by you, and instead answered your question, offering to help you. You insisted that we’d need to hang out; you’d feel guilty if we only met up to get you pot. I want to believe this was genuine, but remind myself I’ve never been right before. I figured it’d be the last to hear from you for a good while. Maybe this would truly be the last time. I realize now this is the feeling lining my ribcage whenever you speak to me in any mode.

But during my drive home from work the very next day you send another message explaining you’ve had a tough day and you’d really like to smoke a bowl. I say to come over. You ask if I live north, because you’re so far south and everyone you know is north. I’m not that far north but turns out it’s still a long drive for you. You say you could only stay for a little while because you’re visiting other friends who are moving to Austria and you’ll feel bad about that. I say tbh I’d be excited to see you for two minutes. You call the sentiment sweet and say you won’t get there until eight since you’d need to get ready first. I say just come over.

I spend a few minutes considering what the fuck has happened when it crystallizes that it did happen and there are things in my house I need to clean thoroughly in a short period of time. Thirty minutes later—after sweeping up all the little cat litter pieces from my bathroom and surrounding areas, removing a mass of errant unopened mail from the coffee table, finding an inordinate amount of trash and recyclables, distributing dirty clothes into hidden piles, putting a handful of dirty plates, bowls and glasses in the dishwasher, and in the middle of spiritedly scrubbing my toilet—my phone makes a foreign ringtone. Given how unrecognizable this ongoing experience has been I know it’s you, and despite not wanting to touch my phone with such disgusting hands I try to answer. In this app it’s not clear if I’ve missed you or if we’re connected, but I can’t hear you and I don’t think you can hear me. I notice several messages but read this one first, “Stop cleaning desperately and call me.”

You’ve lost my address to the temporary conversation history, you’ve discovered my number is gone from your phone and sent me yours. You say with your luck I won’t realize you need the address and it will be the second major communication failure of your day. I call you back sheepishly, tell you I’ll send my address in a second, after I wash my hands…how did you know I was cleaning? You say a woman always knows, Ryan. A woman always knows. You still sound like you. I can’t figure out why your voice is even now so familiar. Obviously you speak in some videos, which I watch, but something is different. Why should I melt when you say my name? I laugh a doofy chuckle and tell you I’ll send the address so you can tap it for the directions. I’ve learned how to hang up a damn phone but I’d rather keep talking to you even if I had to keep holding the phone in my putrid hands. I still hang up because you’re already on I35 at Riverside, prefacing you’ll take 290 soon. I wash my hands and wonder if it’s so obvious I would be cleaning. Then I text the street without adding the state and zip. Of course it doesn’t hyperlink. So I have to make sure I won’t look like an idiot and send myself a test with the street address, city and zip linebroken to make sure it works. It works and I send it along for real. I remember how much I’ve always wanted to make your life better in even the most incremental way. I’ve cleaned everything I possibly could and sit on the couch, again in thorough disbelief.

Eventually you text that you’re here, you think, and you are because you see my roommate’s Jeep is in the driveway. Though it’s damp out I’m through the door in seconds, and walk along the short path until I can see your car. I don’t want to encroach and fiddle with the yard flamingos until you walk up the driveway. You say hey I’m glad it’s you and not a weird roommate, then we hug. You say I’m taller than you remember and ask if I grew, then suggest you might have shrunk. I don’t really answer and hope we’re both the same size and you just perceive me as taller. We walk into the house and you explore, say you like the neighborhood but tease that you have a bigger back yard, then compliment the fireplace which we’ve never used. I don’t know if you’ve ever been so talkative with me, and I wonder if you’re nervous, and if so whether it’s out of awkwardness or some latent attraction that only recently surfaced. More stupid hopes. You might always talk this much and had simply never actually talked to me before.

We go upstairs since I keep my stuff in the secondary bedroom that I use as a den/smoking lounge, and you sit in my chair and start fiddling through the mementos on my desk, which is almost entirely covered by random trinkets and knickknacks waiting for the day I buy a new shelf. Meanwhile I poke through the jars in a little brown cabinet, find my favorite strain for you and sit on the floor grinding it. I don’t mind this view, gazing at you like an idol. I still can’t believe you’re here. You have on yoga pants and an athletic shirt, kind of formfitting but with colorful looser parts, and the same flip-flops on your feet as always. I notice your toenails are nicely polished in a fleshy peach tone and remember all those days in French that semester so long ago. The low, round frame of your glasses swoops past the beauty mark on your cheek. Before I’ve got the bowl packed you decide to join me on the floor and plop down, so we’re facing each other cross-legged and just a couple feet apart. You ask about life and I talk about my job. You sense I don’t like it and recall how you felt similarly about your first job after graduating, how you were there for a comparable period of time. I end up not talking much—you’re sharing a lot and I don’t mind keeping shut up. You tell me about applying to Masters programs in France to study ethics and we laugh about our shared propensity to study things which have little marketable value. You’ll know in September if you have to leave by the start of Fall and that romantic part of me fantasizes about how bittersweet it would be if by the time you were accepted we’d become close. You mention how difficult it is to prepare for something to change your life when you might as well be preparing for disappointment. I wonder if you know how much I can relate.

We reminisce about the few times our lives have overlapped in the eight years since we first met, and you tell me about the overbearing boyfriend you had the last time I saw you, how he got your Facebook credentials and called your grandmother’s unlisted French number repeatedly, accusing you of a romantic relationship with your cousin. I start talking about my ex, but let you take over as you explain how you’ve been single for the last three years and it suits you. You say you aren’t yourself in relationships and you put stress on things that you otherwise wouldn’t. We agree that it seems to be better to grow a relationship than declare one and the conversation pauses. 

I stand up to empty ash from the bowl and you stand too, saying this has been the coolest little smoke sesh you’ve had in a long time. I ask if you’re heading out, though I know already you are. We start downstairs but I tell you to wait and rifle through my jars to find an empty one, then put a modest nug of weed in the jar. You ask if I’m giving you weed and say you can’t take it, but I insist. We head downstairs again and spend a minute more talking in the dark after I forget to turn on a light. You walk toward me and I stare at you; I don’t want you to leave and I hope you’re going to hug me or finally kiss me after all these years. But you say come outside and give me a hug. This time I put on a pair of shoes and we walk outside, where we talk about our French proficiency for a few minutes. You hug me, arms around my neck, and gently rub the space between my shoulders. I’m not sure what this means, though I know the question could never receive an answer. You say bye Ryan, let’s hang out again and speak French, and I say we’d need to hang out regularly before I could converse with you. You say five days a week for an hour like UT? That’s the only way to learn. I say I would be all right with that and you laugh while you get in your car. I head inside before you drive away, still melting, mind scrambling to make sense of reignited yearning and embers long since squelched. 

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Entire days spent chasing suits
that don’t exist
and serve no purpose,
Tearing money out of pocket
just to find
door-like cable box––
A bleary disillusionment
sweeps like ice
across kindled hope,
And each bit of anxiety
falls away
and turns to anger
At wasting days under pretense,
swindled out
of dear volition

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The Pythagoreans

“It’s never a good idea,”
they told him sternly,
“to urinate towards the Sun.”

The forms are inverted,
flipped on themselves
to reveal untouched states

Breaths in deep cold splitting
like fractal patterns
in frost spanning the windshield

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Thoughts on Biographies about Salinger, Beethoven

Striving for greatness,
or an inner peace;
Dreams of creation
versus an actuality
of their destruction?
Nature carved to fit
the shape of minds,
the form of transience––
raw intangibility
etched into granite,
like a perversion
of entropy:
endless impermanence.
The quest for recognition,
or its avoidance,
is a clash between
opposite poles
of the artist’s psyche,
North and South
oscillating wildly,
setting moral compasses
spinning like cyclones
of self-doubt and
self-aggrandizement.
In the confusion
of roaring winds
a deafness sets in,
exposing the shrill
sound of passion,
oblivious to worries
of fame or fulfillment,
its steady tone
calling for resolution
and restlessness,
exerting an indifference
to existential dread,
that pointless question
formed in a world
of absolutes.

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Thoughts, 1/2/14

No apparent change
beside the calendar page/
renewed urgency

Cloud like tidal wave
sweeps over rivers, pastures
bringing wind and cold

This year will be
more even than last, riddled
with odd imbalance

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A Timely New Years (P)review

I can’t believe it either––an update, by me, about the new year, right on New Year’s day? Impossible! Oh, but the world shifts ceaselessly, and anyone seems early once he’s late enough. So here’s a quick review of my year, and perhaps a prediction or two about what might happen in 2014:

As I recall it was a good, if not antisocial start to the year. A former coworker was having a party-slash-new job celebration, but my girlfriend and I fell asleep at something like seven-thirty only to wake up a half hour before midnight, so we stayed at her parents’ house and went to sleep shortly after breaking into the year. A couple days later we made the drive back to Florida, driving all afternoon and night, finally hitting Sarasota sometime in the afternoon. Later in January we went to Disney World, where I lost my mostly filled notebook, and then I started working at the art museum founded by John Ringling with his wife, Mable, coincidentally called the John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art. It was probably one of the quietest experiences of my life, and I’d certainly never stared so long at Renaissance art before. In March we went swimming with manatees in Homosassa. Despite a more than well worn wet suit with no neoprene in the chest or underarms, it was magnificent. We decided manatees are the lap cats of the aquatic world. A calf even nose bumped my face.

When April rolled around I made a seventeen hour drive starting in torrential Floridian downpours and ending in a chilly Texan Spring evening. Neither I nor my big orange and white cat ever want to undertake that drive without companionship again. I spent a few months reading inane essays written to inane prompts and living in makeshift quarters or other people’s houses, and began a semi-public haiku study.

The end of September saw our family’s last days in the Austin townhouse. A few weeks later, as Texas slipped into Fall, I traveled to Indonesia just in time for the start of wet season. It was actually the first time I’d been outside of the US, save for a long weekend in Baja a decade ago. I mostly spent the month eating all types of food, traveling to nearby places (including Singapore), missing my girlfriend and cats, and learning to scuba dive. Much of this is chronicled in my posts from November, check them out on the right side of my page.

I came back to the States at the beginning of December, just in time for an In-N-Out to open in Austin, and for a month of scoring STAAR tests. So my year boils down to a few paragraphs and thousands of omitted details.

I would talk about the events of 2013, but, save for some incremental progress on social issues, the most memorable were abysmal, depressing or tragic, so let’s spare ourselves.

My life is somewhat disjointed as the year begins. My years of travel and transience have ended; now it’s time for a satisfying job and a nice place to live. It’s also going to be a watershed year for my creative endeavors: I plan to start freelance editing as well as finally assembling some large scale works and increasing my poetic presence. Keep an eye out!

Well, my time’s up, and the year won’t pursue itself, so I’ll end things here. Happy New Year!

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A lapse in discipline

Trudging through weeks of
uncharacteristic cold,
pen succumbs to frost

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