It’s nearly 12 AM and I am perched on the arm of his couch eating a bowl of Quaker Oatmeal Squares with the really good organic, 1 percent milk that he gets from Costco as he slouches in a large green armchair across from me.
We’re exchanging favourites—
Steve Martin => George Carlin
The Prisoner => Blackadder
The Shins => Radiohead
I’m Buddhist and he’s a nihilist and everything works in the strangest way.
Every once in a while his eyes flick down to my lips and quickly back up to my eyes and my face is rushed with warmth—He wants to kiss me.
In between bites, I tell him about my favourite song—
Side note, in my opinion, all the best songs are sex. There’s lots of foreplay. They tease you. They make you wait—caressing your ears and nibbling at your narcissism—They build and build…nudging you closer and closer to that one lyric, that one that you feel in your bones—the climax—and it when it finally comes shivers run down your spine and reverberate in your reverie.
My favourite song is Angeles by Elliott Smith. It’s a gentle lover—the kind that looks directly in your eyes with just the right amount of intensity.
He stands up and grabs his too large Hewlett-Packard laptop and sits down on the couch. I slide off of my perch, put down my bowl, and scoot in next to him. I lean over, type Elliott Smith: Angeles—double click—
His eyes move around the corners of the room as he listens intently to the lyrics, floating into his ears on a wave devised of the gentle pluckings of a fingerpicked acoustic guitar. He turns to me—the corners of his mouth move upward and form a smile. I smile back, raising my right shoulder and biting the left corner of my bottom lip. I feel my eyes filling with liquid and a tear rolls down my left cheek. He smudges it away with his thumb and breathes deeply and loudly—encouraging me to do the same.
I look into his glistening grey eyes and I just can’t help it. It’s all so exhausting—Holding it together—and I can’t do it anymore. I kiss him lightly at first, then pull away to look in his eyes—check in. His eyes shift back and forth between my left and right eye, then down to my lips, and back up to my eyes. And I kiss him again. And he kisses me. And I’m sitting on his lap—my hands running through his hair, as his wrap around my waist—and I can feel his rapid heartbeat—matching mine—thumping beneath his chest.
We pull away—take a breath. Our foreheads rest against each other and our eyelashes graze as I go to look in his eyes. And we start to laugh because it’s just so absurd. We buried our friend today.
We’re disheveled versions of the structured black silhouettes we were hours ago, standing in the mist of morning rain. His suit jacket is strewn upon a chair. My cardigan lies in a bunch by the fireplace. Our shiny black shoes—scattered on the floor.
And my mind, I fill with what ifs that will never be. And all I can do is laugh. Because what else is there, really?
And this, this is like exhaling and I’m home—I’m safe.
And I don’t know if any of it matters at all, but here I am being hurled through space on a rock I deem important because of my occupation of it. Thinking my ideas are important because I write them down on a flattened out piece of a tree. The arrogance of it all. Of course it’s important! How could it not be? I’ve written it on the remains of another organism. And how could my journey not matter? As I traipse about on the carcass of another creature reassured by the words of a man who stabbed himself in the chest with a knife one afternoon.
We’re all just dressing up death. Constantly. Trying to make it more beautiful. Trying to give it meaning. It’s a show of dominance—Dominance breeds comfort and control is everything. Sex on the graveyard of existence. And the truth of it all is that life goes on. I go on without the people I love. Don’t get me wrong it hurts—Of course it hurts—It’s a provisional poison that pollutes my sanity in it’s passing. Detrimentally debilitating, yes, but it always does pass. Life goes on.
But even so, I can’t shake the image of tensed backs and tired faces—lighting candles as I sit in the back of the hospital chapel—comforted each time I hear the familiar strike of a match and faintly smell the burning flesh of a tree.
And it feels wrong. And it feels right. And it hurts so nicely.
About the author...
Jennifer Kiehl is a Chicago-based, Japanese-American writer and performer from California. She is the founder, editor, and co-host of Scout & Birdie. Additionally, she is the Director of Development, Grants & Corporate Relations for A.C.H.E. (Abused Children Heard Everywhere), a non-profit agency dedicated to providing support and legal guidance to survivors of sexual violence. Jennifer is a graduate of Columbia College Chicago where she received a BA in Acting. When not writing or performing, she spends her time giving cookies to dogs, eating baguettes, and hanging out with her plant, Plant. Keep up with her on Instagram @jenniferkiehl.