Softness is not exactly my fortee, writing-wise.
On a personal level, I guess I’m kind (if not always gentle) and I’m so accommodating, in general, that I’m almost a liquid.
But on the page, I like it rough.
I write pulp stories about Devil-worshipping rocket scientists who use ritual orgies and evil yoga to end the world as we know it; psychoprogrammed CIA serial killers and insatiable celebutantes who mutate into sentient corporations when the moon inside is full.
I can’t tell a soft story to save my life.
But I can tell you a soft truth, maybe.
I will tell you about a genuine moment of softness that did, in fact, save my life.
It was about a year ago...
For the first time ever, I had been dumped.
After an electric first three weeks and then four years of slow estrangement, I was dumped by my girlfriend and forced by circumstance to remain in the same apartment complex with her for a few months thereafter.
It was only a matter of time, really.
But she made the call, and my liquid sense of self was suddenly frozen solid and shattered into a thousand black fragments.
I was drunk for 30 days, almost without interruption.
I had tormented, incoherent conversations with my teddy bear.
I became addicted to the music...of Kanye West.
I needed to invoke the essence of someone who loved themselves with that much passion and devotion. My heroes were megalomaniacs and supervillains. Kanye and Lex Luthor and Walter White were spirit guides in a dream academy of ambient paranoia and toxic spite.
One night, fearlessly, off my head by five, a cartoon by seven, I hit the karaoke bar, head full of "Ye". A party in progress. Colleagues and lovely strangers. But I didn’t give a damn. About anything. I coerced one of the village beauties into duetting with me on “Gold Digger”. I was almost not the opposite of happy. And before I knew it, an adorable, shimmering little woman was buying me drinks. She said she admired my dance stylings.
I hadn’t gone mad. I hadn’t thought about the ex all day and this girl actually liked me.
What would Kanye do? I asked her to go out with me.
She seemed to be charmed and said she would say yes, but she wasn’t “available”. At all. She explained that she found my dancing beautiful because I was obviously in so much pain and I was dancing all that pain into spasmodic sweat and steam.
Someone had seen me very clearly at my most broken, and found that me attractive. She wasn’t available, but I gave her my card.
“Trust me”, I said, “These things can go south when you least expect it. If it does, call me.” I was suddenly a charming older man, dammit. I was beyond Kanye. I was Steve Mc Fucking Queen. She wasn’t available, but she insisted that I kiss her. And I did.
Bittersweet fireworks. Explosions don’t have much future in them. It burned through a few layers of my bullshit. The party was over. I went back to my life.
Back to my empty room and the novel and the spirit-shredding loneliness.
The speakers throbbed with defensive testosterone. I was reading brutal crime fiction and neurotic erotica. My writing was coming on in bursts that had more cruelty than beauty in them, and therefore fell flat. However turgid the subject matter, the rhapsody is an act of love, and I’d never felt more loveless. The work had been my great solace and salvation through every struggle I’d ever known.
But my own inner symphonies were shrinking from my touch.
Then she started calling me. The girl from the karaoke bar. She lived with a boyfriend. They’d grown to hate each other, and they had a child.
She wasn’t available, but she wanted me. At a few different bars with her closest friends, where our flirtations were shameless. At a movie theatre, where things got weird in the dark while super-monkeys set the world on fire. And then, just as the weirdness of our connection reached a fever pitch, I made a half-assed attempt to pull the plug. I knew she was lonely like me, and not thinking rationally.
Our sudden hunger for each other was palpable and already getting out of control, and there was a child, and it was confusing.
I suggested that we walk away from whatever this thing was.
It hurt to do that, but it was the hardcore thing to do. I was on the verge of becoming helpless again. I couldn’t let that happen.
But she invited me to meet her at the Looking Glass Hotel.
The rough parts of me resisted the urge.
I caught the quickest bus.
At that hotel, the rooms are named after songs composed by the bands who have stayed there. Our room was called “will you ever return?”
She was waiting, with a bottle of absinthe and a lot of nervous energy and a coin her grandmother had given her. She was thrilled that I was there and surprised that she was there and she wasn’t making sense and she needed me to have the coin so I’d know that there was someone out there who would think and wonder about me all the time, all the days and nights of her life.
Her boyfriend was at home, baby-sitting their son.
The whole scene was fraught with so many layers of story, so many genres in play at the same time.
The against all odds romance was singing operatically in our bubbling bloodstreams.
There was the mystery play aspect, wherein the damaged neophyte is coaxed by the possessed initiatrix into the mysteries of a new love. Complete with magic coins and poetry scrawled on the walls and green fairies in a bottle that conduct a lover beyond all caution.
There was the noir aspect, an irresistible affair unfolding between two half-mad burn victims while a man I don’t know is jilted as I was jilted.
But I felt no guilt.
Instead I felt a strange compassion and forgiveness towards my ex and the man she left me for.
The girl melted into me, and my tongue took in the sketchy totality of who she was and what she wanted. I tasted a possible future where she was separated from the boyfriend and I lived with her and I was helping her raise her son.
I could also taste the true future of what would begin here, the secret meetings and her break-up and my needs and her reservations and the narcotic chemistry between us that would change everything and nonetheless lead nowhere.
We felt our future and our lack thereof.
And we took all these dreams to bed anyway, accepting all the pain to come as just so many bleeding loopholes in a contract it would save our lives to sign.
Her strangely beautiful stretch-marks mapped paths on which she had not known me and future paths on which she would know me just a little.
I’ve never felt such instant synchronization with someone’s spirit and skin, that first time. Inside her, I felt an interface with soft spectral circuitries, like an origami jungle unfolding slowly in a fishbowl. My battered, loosely screwed armor was falling away from me in clattering heaps as sex became something else entirely.
Despite her baggage and the ties that bind her, despite how broken I was and how wrong we were around the edges, her need was my need and in its fulfillment I felt the genuine straight-up physical sensation of my heart chakra opening, like a dust-encrusted lotus. I could feel its petals shake the dust loose.
The world was not a jagged black glacier in that moment. I loved her and myself and all our obvious beauty and all our obvious pain and all the hidden things that we would dimly see and never speak of until after we were over.
We wept as we spliced and laughed as we exploded. Like lunatics.
You’d think such affinities would be the foundation of something that cannot die. And maybe moments and fusions like that live on in how they shape us. But I woke up to her crying, not from pleasure but from guilt and from missing her little boy. We checked out a day ahead of schedule, and the pace was set for a baffling three or four months. Three or four months without my armor.
I was weeping over the deaths of insects and acts of obviously artificial violence in terrible movies. There were moments of sweetness, here and there. She left the boyfriend, moved into a series of new homes with her son. I met him a few times. We played with teddy bears and trucks. I think we connected.
But she wasn’t ever sure of things. Knowing her better, I realize it wasn’t in her nature to be sure of things, and it was foolish for me to change my nature (or plan to) in service to a future that only me and the teddy bears really believed in.
There was a window in time through which I would have climbed, like Santa, or maybe like a burglar dressed like Santa. I would have endured any duty, taken on any burden, just to have that perfect chemistry and that space of fearless vulnerability in my life. The tragedy is that our built-in expiration date may have given the bliss some of its urgency, some of its splendor. After one crossed wire too many, we let it go.
It was much more mutual than my last catastrophe, but I still felt bereft.
I reached for the Kanye vibe (808s and Heartbreaks), but that soft explosion had ruined all things hardcore. Not on the page or in terms of my aesthetic obsessions and appetites. But in my heart, which I have since kept open, at the risk of it breaking again and again and again.
People I barely know tell me all their secrets.
I see the glory and the pain in people with a kind of emotional X-ray vision.
I find myself unable to hate ANYONE.
I do still approach anything that even looks like romance with a certain trepidation. But it’s not because love is hard.
I hesitate because love is SOFT.
It’s not a pyramid.
It’s not an achievement.
It’s a liquid.
It’s an ocean.
And now that I’ve adjusted somewhat to the tenderness of its temperature, if/when my tentacles extend again to touch another lifeform, I want to brave those waves and whirlpools with someone who knows how to swim.
I can keep it way cray on the page like never before these days, because in the star where my heart was, I’m keeping it soft.