A collection of short pieces written by Rumpus readers pertaining to the subject of “New Beginnings.”
Edited by Susan Clements.
Paris with a typewriter on a five-dollar wooden canoe languidly pinging its way along the Seine as more experienced boatsmen yell at my typing head and a young Harvard student I know taking a break from Germany spots me and is embarrassed; a newsroom that says, “Well, why not?” and sets me loose in New York or Oakland to write like a slightly impudent variant on Gay Talese, filing—say—a report of things that were only muttered at press conferences, but nothing about the press conference itself; having one of the many colleges in my state, Massachusetts, say, “Sure. You can open our mail. Stick around,” and I’ll spend every afternoon stopping by the Out of Town News kiosk in Harvard Square and pick up The Guardian, El Pais, or Le Monde, and I’ll catch up with the world in the shade of buskers, collegians, and professional brains—all these represent “new beginnings,” variants on something you can hear murmuring just offstage, and—since there are no stage hands—I spend my time in a kind of Recession-borne vacuum—a vacuum that—from what little experience I’ve had—seems to disavow comments, attention, and acts of memory like something on the level with Iran-Contra or Guantanamo—and so I prowl about, sending up little flares that attract attention, looking for the rope I know can lift the curtain.
— Evan Fleischer
* * *
This morning in Wisconsin I braid my hair, pulling the wet strands into French pigtails while he sits on the cigarette-burned sheets and watches Animal Planet. We aren’t staying put. We’re driving across the country, Kerouac pilgrims in our early twenties. His red Subaru wagon, with less than one thousand miles on its odometer, is packed so full—and the sticky mid-June heat is so penetrating—I can’t fathom climbing back in, sitting still for so long, as the exhaust pipe pumps blue smoke from the full-force air conditioner. I haven’t even known him a full year yet.
Along I-90 past Madison, there are massive red rock outcroppings. They tower dangerously high and appear ready to collapse, like those games where you stack logs on top of each other, carelessly. It’s a delicate balancing act, an exercise in distance; take love, divide it by three thousand miles for six months, then add in three months together in the foothills of the Rockies. I’ve never seen red rock before, and the largest pieces of stone I’ve ever seen were the White Mountains, where you can barely see the granite for the trees. The precipice of summer looms ahead of us as we drive. Neither of us knows what to expect of this summer, the first time for both of us playing grown-up, sharing a house and a bed and bills. Neither of us knows whether we will survive the mountains, but both of us know this is our chance to try.
I know only from pictures the enormity that lays ahead—the wide, flat expanses of prairie, the massive grey of the Rocky Mountains, the fields of amber wheat and yellow corn. I am so curious about the Midwest, so conscious of this transitory landscape; I know the hints of Eastern hills still lingering are the last I will see for awhile, and the promise of a longer, larger horizon is just beginning to show. Wisconsin is both the first and the last: a new, rocky landscape sprouts from the ground while the old, humid weather of my Atlantic childhood sticks to my still-wet, bare arms, echoing home. I stare at my inner forearm, seeing how far I can trace the blue veins until the red blotches of sunburn and freckles obscure them. We’re in Central Time Zone, headed for Mountain.
— Melissa Landrigan
* * *
Sometimes I feel the songs I write are like children. My children. Mostly because their conception is accidental. And very few are perfectly formed from the start. And I’m embarrassed to show them in public. And they always disappoint me, even though I see so much potential in them. And you can tell they’re all related. And I don’t love them all equally.
When recording, I sit on a piano bench and plug in things and I listen with my big studio monitor headphones and I try to get sounds down as soon as possible to keep things simple. If I can’t play the whole track flawlessly, I’ll stop to drink tea or water, so if you really listen you can hear me swallowing with a soft, contented “Mmm, ahh.” The best part is when I’ve been working for what seems like twenty minutes, but if I check a clock I’ve actually lost four hours.
I write music that no one wants to listen to. Sometimes I think it’s because I tend to take off my clothes when things aren’t going well. Like, I’ll be playing my guitar, trying to capture this really intricate section and it’s not working for whatever reason, so I’ll throw off my shirt in frustration. Then I’ll be standing in front of the microphone, recording vocals, and after five botched takes I convince myself that my pants are too constricting and they’re cutting off the flow of blood to my head, so I’ll take them off. I don’t know why —maybe I just need to be exposed physically to make myself emotionally vulnerable in order to express my innermost feelings. Anyway, I’m convinced that people can subconsciously sense that I was nearly naked when recording, which is off-putting to any reasonable person, so no one will ever want to listen to my music.
Or maybe I’m just a terrible songwriter.
I used to wish for a normal life that didn’t require isolation and the creation of melodies over chord progressions in order to make daily existence bearable, but never thought it would be possible. When I had a free hour before sitting down to type this out, I picked up my guitar, strummed a few chords and put it away. I don’t think I need to play music anymore.
— Jesse Corona
* * *
I really fucked up this time. This is the last time I sell all my shit online and frighten old girlfriends into thinking I’m entertaining suicidal ideation. So went the thinking a year ago before I moved out. “Just trying to lighten the load.” When you kill yourself, you are travelling light, you are light. But I just wanted to get rid of the unnecessaries, the torn novels, the scratched albums, the taxidermied frog, and all the psychological tchotchkes I couldn’t bear to bring with me. A year later I’m in New Orleans and I’m thinking of selling all my shit online and etc.
My desk is a velvety green banquet chair, a handout from the neighbors who were smart enough to leave. The woman I’m courting is busy tonight, sorry, but there is an earring under the stove and whose can that be. I can’t decide if I should buy the $30 shit desk from the dollar store or the $120 antique shit desk from the junk shop. I can’t seem to shake myself from myself. A High Life for the low life, is how they order beer here.
Maybe I can stay. I think the purchase of an antique says something about healthy and meaningful long-term commitment. It also says, “I am a rescuer, a humanitarian.” But I know I’ve never rescued anything except runaway coins and expired food from the dollar store.
I’m not that broke. I fancy myself clever and destitute, probably a response to my solid middle-class childhood in New England. I drink a quart can of pineapple juice and throw my thrift store flatware in the can, for example. The headlines are sexy and lurid, man beds dog kind of stuff. I don’t know if I can stay, cool it, or blow. Today it’s not at all uncommon to pursue viable life philosophies developed by small-town bloggers.
If dusk is the hour of poetry, then dawn is the hour of craftlessness. My other neighbor, a feral rooster, legit, knows this. He hasn’t crowed in weeks. Can’t remember how, can’t sing for the spheres. I found him cooped up in a large tree, strutting a bough, like: How did I get here? Fuck it.
I raised my cup of coffee in tribute and withdrew into my shack.
I wonder if all of God’s creatures are like this.
— Derick Dupre
* * *
Call it women’s intuition, a pinging in your gut, a hunch or whatever you’d like: I just knew. But I needed irrefutable evidence.
So off to the drugstore I went. I placed my surprisingly expensive purchase between other nondescript items, paid for them and headed home.
I did the dead-woman-walking march to the bathroom. I sat down and cradled the First Response box. I took my time, carefully unwrapping the cellophane. I glanced at the instructions, already knowing how this worked. I removed one white plastic stick, unzipped my jeans and completed step three. I did not time the test for two minutes as recommended. Instead, I did what every woman has done as long as these kinds of tests have been around: I stared the thing down with baited breath.
One faint pink line began to fill itself in. I anxiously peeked at the stick again, hoping to see an abyss of white space next to that first line. I couldn’t deny the shadow of a phantom line. Another deep breath, and there it was: two lines. I was suddenly sickened by their misogynistic shade of Pepto pink. There was no reality at that moment, just hard evidence. My life, plus one. The future was staring me dead in the face.
Some women save these tests and keep them in a memory box as mementos. I threw mine out, covering it under tissues, and tore open the second package. Fast-forward, same result. Not that I had expected anything different, but I wanted to be certain. So there I had it: irrefutable proof.
After burying the second test in the trashcan beside its used partner, I fell to my knees and cried. I cried for what felt like a long time, though in reality it had only been fifteen minutes.
They say it takes thirty days to break an undesirable habit. Here’s another fact: it took me roughly fifteen minutes to come to terms with the fact that I was pregnant. I went through Kubler-Ross’s famous five steps in record time! I denied (despite confirming twice), I got angry (“my life is over”), I bargained (“if I misread the test, I will never buy anything I don’t need again”), I got depressed (since I’m already depressed, I bypassed this step) and I reached a place of what could vaguely be called acceptance. Fifteen minutes and my life was no longer my own. Nothing would ever be the same again.
— Lisa Rufle
* * *
Last Thursday I took a scalpel and dug the letter “m” from my favorite novel, because I know that you like the aesthetics of it all. I am not a writer.
You will never know me the way that I know you. I’ve read you trying to find what truth I could in the wilderness of your words. The only truth I found is that I want to lay you down and write curse words across your body with my tongue.
My father taught me that true love waits, but that only applies to straight people anyway. I don’t want a gay marriage. I want to fuck you. We will pretend we’re characters from the magazines they keep behind the shelf, but we’ll be shameless. No black bags. We’ll even leave the door unlocked.
For now, I will stand on overpasses thrusting bottles with love letters overboard and bellowing into Orion’s Belt hoping that one day you’ll come into me and paint pictures of our lust on my face. This is all new to me. And it’ll be all new again when the bottles let out cries as they crash against the waters below.
— Michael Patrick
* * *
Not changed, no—nothing so unsubtle. Nothing at all except a lingering mist of significance, coloring the familiar scent of after. He kissed her forehead before standing to wash up, and when he came back she hadn’t moved. Like those women in horror movies, eyes glassy and lips slightly parted, wrists splayed, or in misogynist 40s comics, thought a part of her brain that sounded quite alien to her. She felt split, body and mind talking at cross-purposes until she realized all that had happened was that she recognized her body as a presence, now. Nothing changed—but revealed. This other being was in her this whole time, she marveled, which had to mean she wasn’t precisely the person she’d considered herself, and is that why she was thinking of death imagery— these thoughts circled distantly in her head (like vultures?—the question mark there too, uncertainty in her own marginalia) but they were fading into irrelevance, she could tell, beneath the encroaching tyranny of her limbs chill as in protest of his absence, though she knew it was just sweat evaporating, her body doing what it was supposed to do (is this what it’s supposed to do).
Her breathing was still shallow. He climbed over her, his warmth like the shadow cast by an impending storm. Something felt broken and something felt joined which meant that nothing had changed but his movements were so much more significant than they had been, registering to her skin with the shaky definition of seismograph lines. Is this what it is to be in love, she thought; is this what it is to be with someone who knows what he’s doing, she thought. A shame, she thought, that she had never tried either individually and so could not isolate the crucial variable; then he was holding her and it didn’t matter. Nothing changed, but his arm around her waist occupied a space she was only now noticing, whose contours she was only now beginning to explore.
* * *
Things are not going so great for me here at this college. Probably because it’s cold and there’s too much snow. I would be happier in California. I should just put all my stuff in my car and drive to LA.
I can go down to Florida first and visit my best friend. After a few days, my best friend will decide she wants to leave her college and move to California too! She will pack incredibly quickly and we will leave that very afternoon and pick up her friend in Pensacola to help us drive our cars. Her friend will ride with her, which makes sense because they know each other better.
We will stop for the night at the Texas/Louisiana border. We will share a hotel room and I will write my college essay, because transfer applications for my new California college are due tomorrow. The topic is “Write about a time when you experienced a feeling of accomplishment.”
We will sleep late the next day and be stuck in traffic for hours in Houston. I will submit my college application at the last minute from the parking lot of a La Quinta, “Spanish for free Internet!” I will experience my first feeling of accomplishment in a very long time.
We will drive through the night. I will be alone but that is fine because I can listen to classical radio. I will hear Schubert’s “Unfinished Symphony” for the first time when we pull over at a gas station parking lot to rest at three AM. I will not be able to fall asleep though, as usual.
The sun will rise as we drive through El Paso, look over into Mexico but not stop, then leave I-10 in Phoenix to take a two lane desert road that goes directly to Las Vegas. The road will be completely empty. I will be very sleep deprived and see a lot of cactuses.
I will get separated from my friend’s car, and see a lot of signs for Andy Devine and no signs for anything else. Who is Andy Devine?
I will find them again in the next town, at a Subway. I will think they are making fun of me because they’re laughing so much. I will find out later that they got high in the car and didn’t tell me. They will say they’ve seen Andy Divine.
– Alison Carey
* * *
At the end of every year, as that huge gaudy ball reminiscent of Times Square’s more glorious past descends down to the Disneyland that block has since become, a million drunk idiots freezing their asses on the streets of New York and seventy million slightly less drunk idiots fattening their asses in front of their televisions will start conjuring up all kinds of ridiculous and impossible plans called “New Year Resolutions.” These “New Year Resolutions” are founded on the premise that new beginnings not only exist, but that they come, conveniently, at the start of every New Year. But new beginnings don’t exist. You only get one beginning, and that’s when you escape from your mother’s womb and enter this world. The life that follows—the bullies of grade-school, the pre-ejaculations of teen-hood, the stresses of college finals, the injustices of jobs, the onslaught of bills, the burden of children—is the middle. And then the end comes when you die some painful death probably a result of overindulging in those substances that made your dreadful life even a little bearable. But I have good news: Mayan historians, conspiracy theorists, Jesus freaks, and suicidal hopefuls promise that at the end of this year, 2012, the new beginning you’ve been waiting for will finally arrive, and all those New Year Resolutions you’ve been failing to accomplish in the past will be met with ease. You’ll finally make a career change when the Plague arrives and you become, out of necessity, a full-time ditch digger. You’ll also get that exercise you’ve been promising your body when a personal trainer with an abnormally large head—even for a personal trainer —uses its laser gun to force a never ending marathon upon you. Even your appearance will improve because the sun will advance upon the Earth and bless you with a tan on par with Hollywood’s greatest has-beens. That tan will then, for at least an hour, help you fulfill your sex fantasies when everyone starts throwing their nude bodies at you, desperate for one last orgasm. Best of all, that deadbeat dad will finally vanish from your children’s lives when the Earth opens and he falls into it. And, if you believe in an afterlife, you’ll finally start spending more time with your children when you’re both dead and stuck together for all eternity. But I also have some bad news: Even when the world ends and that new beginning you’ve been waiting for becomes a reality . . . you still won’t be able to quit smoking because the erupting volcanoes will engulf you in flames, making you smoke more than ever before.
— Christopher Forsley
* * *
I don’t particularly believe anything “happens” to us when we die. Not heaven, not reincarnation. But every year, on Day of the Dead, I set up an altar for my ancestors. I bring out the pictures of my grandfather, the World War II vet and spontaneous songwriter; my grandmother, who learned how to make enchiladas while growing up in New Mexico; my cousin Steven, who died of Leukemia at age 9; my college friend Carolyn, who was struck by a bus days before her boyfriend was about to propose to her. I surround the photos on my bookshelf with sugar skulls, dried chilies from my garden, and marigold blossoms.
I’m following a tradition I didn’t inherit, but adopted while living in the Arizona desert. Although I’m drawn to the poetry of haunting. I don’t expect my traveling Baptist ancestors with names like Happy Weed and Olive Branch to hang out at my altar and eat the bread I made with overripe Trader Joe’s bananas. I did in my “Devout Christian turned Zen-Buddhist-Christo-Pagan” days, but my mind’s gone fairly empiricist since college.
Still, there’s what we know, what’s factual, and then there’s the meaning we can construct from it.
Here is what I know:
1. Matter cannot be destroyed. My skin cells were once birch bark was once a cat’s fur was once stardust. What made your body made my body. What was once your body could now be anything.
2. We are also made of stories.
Meaning I am who I am because of the people that were here before me. From my grandmother, through my mother, I inherited English hips and a love of cooking, DNA and enchilada recipes. Like my grandfather, I write songs for family birthdays and weddings. Tonight, I’ll leave a piece of bread in each room of my new house in Los Angeles, “for the fairies,” because this is what Carolyn always did, and I continue the tradition in her memory.
In Tarot, the “Death” card really means change. Death changes our relationships to our memories, to those still living, to the earth, and to our very bodies. The dead leave us physical and emotional markers, shared preciously among us. There is nothing we know for sure about how we begin again once we die. But scientifically, nothing ends so much as changes form. That’s my secular creed. That’s my empirical spirituality.
* * *
“Just wanted to say goodbye and good luck to those who believe in me. For those who don’t, there’s still some time, but you’ve heard these before.” She hit enter. The words appeared on the page, and she thought them a little cold. “Thanks for everything.” She watched the words appear again, and debated waiting for response. But it’s the end of the world. She closed the browser on Facebook, and turned the computer off.
She stood and opened the door to the wardrobe. For something she had been preparing so long for, she definitely had an outfit in mind, as one would plan for a new year’s eve outfit. There was much practical consideration—no one knew what it would be like, definitively, but suppose what you were wearing would be what you will wear for the rest of your life? I mean, afterlife. Who’s to say they wouldn’t give me a robe and sandals? Who’s they? Who knows? She thought t-shirt and jeans, but also wanted them special in a way. So she had gone out and got those $450 True Religion skinny-fit Stella jeans, limited edition. She got a white t shirt—classic, timeless, get it?—from J. Crew, $129 after discount.
She could have spent more, but could not stand the look from her husband with each shopping bag she brought home. “There’s no point saving, Jeremiah! I know you don’t believe me, but neither of us are going to be here at the end of it.” He had stayed quiet, but Jessica read the reproach in his eyes, the guilt that church-goers get with Jesus on the cross on Sundays.
Jeremiah popped his head into the room. “You ready?” he asked, car keys in hand.
“Are you sure? I think you should keep the car.” She thought about him trying to get away from lava erupting from the earth. It looked like a scene from an action movie. She wondered if she loved him. “I can take the bus.”
“No, I’ll go. I’ll wait for you in the car. Until it’s time.”
His response had been the best she could hope for. She did not want to wish him hell, so she simply said goodbye, forever, when she got out of the car, when she waited in Mr. Camping’s office, when the hour came, when the hour left, without her.
— Christine Chen
* * *
Years ago I went to Hoboken with a friend. It was winter, dead cold; the town was full of debris and drab shingled homes. We stayed with the drummer of a popular band at the time—slept on his floor in one of the rooms. I don’t remember much of the drummer, only his curly hair and jolly disposition. His friends littered the sofa and floor, mostly girls and other band members and I don’t remember what was said between us all.
We drank and smoked and drifted into the city to another party, a pesty sort of party—full of mice and mites and heads bobbed with beats and all eyes veiled and vied for little and I felt unfamiliar with it all. I lost the friend in the crowd then found him leaning against a white column talking shop. I saw him as the unfamiliar, so woolly and rich, a someone I’d never explore.
We were together, the start of something good I think; yet nothing was mentioned. I was mismatched with myself that night, a foe of my own might, and it was decided we could have been and I said it before and I said it before as we drove past the shitty drugstores and shab-ass doorways that our start of love was a prairie then, a bruised and burnt field, winter borne throughout. We drove home and then I left, moved across the country and wept through it all, sort of tumbled in a slow tizzy.
That sounds so tragic really, but I’m glad you didn’t make it work out. Poets aren’t the best choice as mates.
How did you know he was a poet? And I was only afraid, really that’s all; he seemed too pure almost, like the driven snow but without the cold.
Oh, I could tell, they drive shitty cars and always bring you places where you don’t belong—they sweep you sideways, lure you in, but their everyday language’s just wrong.
I gave him up before there was a chance, wrote miserable love poems for years about him; there were a dozen letters at least but even if I read them now, I wonder about their tone, their stories. I look at the handwriting, the motions, the arc of love and it doesn’t seem for me.
The best is yet to come and babe, won’t it be fine?
Sinatra’s for sissies.
— Shelagh Power-Chopra
* * *
Once we were about to cross the state line the sky split open. My wife, who was driving ahead of me, called and said, “Aw, look, Florida is crying that we’re leaving.” This wasn’t just crying, it was bawling. It hadn’t rained in months. The state was trying to avoid calling it a drought in an attempt not to scare away any potential tourists. Maybe there was some truth to all the rumors floating around right before we left, everything from cloud seeding to contracting the Seminoles to perform rain dances, there were even whispers of Santeria sacrifices. Desperate times call for desperate measures, who am I to judge since we were just as desperate to leave and weren’t going to let any force of nature stop us. In my rearview mirror I could see the road disappear beneath a deluge of water.
Upon entering the great state of Georgia we were greeted with open arms. Unfortunately those arms belonged to the multitudes by the numerous “spas” that provide “hospitality” and “comfort” in the form of “showers” and “massages” to all the lonesome truckers who wearily haul contraband up and down interstate seventy five. We politely declined our first taste of southern hospitality in favor of the first bed-bug-infested motel room across the street from a Mexican restaurant serving the most incredible charro soup.
If it hadn’t been for the mountains we might not have noticed we’d entered the volunteer state but we sure as hell knew we’d made it to Knoxville by the strange orange glow emanating from everything. It was time to get down to business. On our way to sign the lease for our new apartment we picked up a newspaper. A quick scan of the obituaries and we found ourselves some new names. A quick detour downtown to the ruins of the pride of the 1982 World’s Fair, the Sunsphere, in order to get some wigs from the largest wig storage facility in the Smoky Mountains. As we drove towards our new home we began working on answers to the question we would soon be constantly asked: Why did you move here?
— Benny Wolowitz
* * *
Forty years of my life are gone. Somewhere around the thirty-fifth year dread, I began hearing the pronouncements of a new life. In fact, of life itself. Life begins after forty, they said. I took refuge in that hope, even as I gained on my fortieth. Nothing much had happened up until now, and it was time, I thought
Four years of my forties are gone. I’m waiting in line for my new beginning. The same thing, I discover with a silent rage, that was promised to everyone my age. The thing that now seemed like a saying, and would mean something only upon some doing. But, what to do, I ask.
It’s chopping wood then. It’s chopping wood now. They say. Only this time, you chop wood like it’s all there is to do. Like it requires every bit of life you’ve lived so far, every memory of tasks ever performed, every wisdom gained in the silence of contemplations past. It is the life promised. It is the doing. Finally, for the very sake of it. Nothing else.
Sometimes, oftentimes, I wish for a death. A sweeping, sudden, scrubbing clean of my slate. A clearing of my consciousness like never before. Like nothing ever happened before. I wish for a resetting of my life system, a return to default of my man machine. So I can see and touch and sense and hear and feel and sing. As if each of those were the first things I’d ever done. As if each were done for the first time. I wish for a clear crystal, not jade, in which I can see my life and my self.
You call it a new beginning. I think it’s the only one. The first was a continuing. In which I hit the ground running, came out bawling. Only to keep playing parts already rehearsed in the big old human play. The new one is going to be my play. I write the script for it, even if it’s a silent play, in which there is nothing to do.
That said, it would be nice to have someone watch. And tell me when I waft away from the truth. On condition that I will do the same for them. Even if there is nothing that they actually do. I will watch for who they are, just as they see me for who I am.
You can be my new beginning. You go first. Start. For I am finished.
— Aporup Acharya
* * *
“Meet me in Istanbul,” he wrote, and I was sure he was joking. “Alright,” I typed, “but only if I have nothing else to do tomorrow.” Within an hour he had a plane ticket and I still had a job, so I called in sick for two weeks and booked a flight. I packed the new Victoria’s Secret panties and bra, Barbie pink with golden flowers. No flats. Extra lotion. Extra journal.
He met me at the airport and it was nothing like the airport scene in Love Actually, but at least he brought me pizza. I am too poor to eat anything other than street food so he buys me lamb. It costs double to enter the harem in Topkapı Palace but that is where I want to go most. Sultan Mehmed II kept over three hundred women there, all foreigners, all young. We walk into domes shaped like awaiting breasts. The golden script overhead says something about god or beauty or sacrifice. Tiles cover every bit of wall, pattern seeping into pattern, blue into green into red. It’s raining outside but the flattened ceramic flowers are still pert, still dry, still hungry. My senses are trapped in those gardens called extravagance, my nose breathing in the empires-old perfumes, each woman smelling of a different flower. I am foreign. I am young. I want to join the girlflowers, the lazy slaves of beauty. The tiles are cold on my palms but cold didn’t exist back then.
He couldn’t handle the colors. There are too many of them, he said, they are too alive. Back at the hotel I run a bath and lock the door. Even the steam feels exotic. I wonder if his beginning is still alive on my breasts before I drown it, floating rose petals on its grave.
— Natalie Latta
Rumpus original art by Christina Weidman.