Watching Sleep

Last night I counted your breaths while you slept.
Towards morning, I lost count, but
you awoke a few minutes later,
so I rounded the number off
and privately recorded your many thousands of sleeping
breaths, in the journal of love I am making for you.
This entry:  the night I counted your breaths while you slept.
I wanted to do this.
I wanted to have a secret way of loving you,
so that all the known ways I love you
can have a private underside,
a place where love is always new and mysterious.
I know that you count my breaths while I am awake.
Somewhere, inside the often-painful activity of your mind,
you find a peaceful grotto, and there
you count my breaths, without even knowing you are doing it.
Your love is so constant, 
it is a place I can go where fear does not exist,
has never existed.
I must practice harder than you, to love.
I must keep awake and make vigil, sometimes,
so that,  while you dream,
I am doing something important,
being the clock of your breath,
helping you sleep.
I can do nothing more loving for you
than to help you sleep.
You always wanted someone to watch over you.
You felt abandoned and alone.
With this secret, I heal you.
I count the long slow breaths, I catch at the sudden twitches,
I invent words to accompany your dream-mumbled incoherences.
I might show you this poem, if it will make you happy.
I wanted it to be a secret.  But tomorrow night, or the next,
I will do it again, or I will do something else,
find another way to love you,
something only I could think of doing,
and only you could understand
why I have done it. 

My Girl Suffers

My girl suffers, and sometimes goes far away
where I can’t see her pain.
I can only see the sign of her pain
like the tracks of a large animal that has passed by.
I am not a great tracker, but she is my girl.
I do everything to relieve her suffering
but it isn’t enough.  It’s my best.
She always gives her best when I suffer,
and I never know when my pain will leave signs
like a large animal that has passed by.
She is the better tracker, her senses are finer.
That’s what we do for each other,
because we love one another,
even when the love hurts, because the loved one hurts.
My girl suffers too much, but she is so strong;
she bears her pain with dignity and sorrow.
The world suffers and the world’s suffering
makes more pain for my girl to bear,
because that’s who she is: every animal, every tiny bird or mouse,
all the life and death that comes and goes,
my girl knows, feels, deals, for her it is all real.
The world’s suffering is folded into her suffering,
her suffering is  folded into the world’s suffering,
they have ways of being the same pain.
Some people are more expert at pain than others.
My girl is an expert.  She is much stronger than I am.
When I was young I learned to duck, to watch out.
My girl trusts too much, and she doesn’t duck.
I help because I can, because I  duck so fast.
My girl suffers, and sometimes goes far away, far away,
because she must.  I leave the gates, the doors, the bridges open,
so she can find her way back.
I am not strong enough to go where she goes,
but I keep the lights on and the fire burning,
for when she returns, smiling,
playful and childlike, once again.

How I Met My Soulmate: From “The Road Has Eyes”

The names of the characters in this book have been changed to protect their privacy.

Chapter 1

Meeting My Soulmate

At the time of my first encounter with Fox, I had spent my life failing at relationships. It’s a common disorder, chronic relationship failure.

I’m surprised there isn’t a support group, a twelve step program, a Failed Relationships Anonymous. If I became a member I would find a few musicians from the group and form a band. We would develop a special repertoire: We would play carefully chosen love songs, such as“Killing Me Softly” and “I Put A Spell On You”. Then we could begin rehearsing “Love Is A Battlefield” “Since I Fell For You,” and, of course, “Crazy.”

We could call ourselves The Damned If You Do.

My relationship history is pretty boring. I spent a year with a woman, two years with another. My longest relationship lasted three years. I thought we were doing fine but I was out of touch with my partner’s feelings. She ran off with a Tibetan lama and became the mistress of his ashram. It happened very suddenly, or so it seemed to me. My friends told me they had seen it coming for months.

Thanks for the help, guys.

I was a relationship saboteur. When a woman started showing signs of attachment, I grew more distant. The more love she offered, the more distant I became. This dynamic is also a common affliction, especially in men. Where devoted love is concerned, men talk a good game, but are actually big scaredy cats.

I wanted to be in a lasting relationship, but the more love came my way, the more I curled up in my shell and hid. What was so scary about loving and being loved?

This knot of confusion about love earns a lot of income for therapists. Their relationships are at least as messed up as the rest of ours, if not more so. Their Phd’s and MFTs are licenses to practice alchemy. They turn OUR angst and numbness into THEIR gold.

Aside from the three “long” relationships in my life, I’ve had about twenty flings of less than a month. Each of my girlfriends said virtually the same thing as we broke up.

“You’re remote, I don’t know what’s going on inside of you. I need more from you than what I’m getting. You’re a nice guy; I really like you but if this is all you can give, I have to move on.”

I wasn’t such a nice guy. After I met Fox I began to accept this fact.
I had a wicked tongue. I “leaked”, as the shrinks like to say. That meant I said nasty things without knowing I was being nasty. I was a nice guy, right? I didn’t hit anyone; I didn’t shout or lurch unshaven from room to room holding a can of beer.
I needed the right woman. She would have to attach herself to me like a barnacle and never let go. I needed someone who had already decided she would hold onto me.
I was commitment-phobic and averse to responsibility. On the brief clock of life, I was already past fifty. It was time to put this childishness behind me! I decided to make a serious effort at meeting my partner.

I had to be thorough, make myself available. I would post and answer personals ads, do things to meet single women.

I started visiting websites. I had been told that the internet dating world is a freak show of fantasy and bad judgment. Fine! I’m a writer. I thrive on fantasy and bad judgment. Bring them on!

I subscribed to matchmaking sites and perused the ads, looking at the pictures and reading absurdly perfect descriptions of prospective partners. Where were the neurotics, the nut cases? They’re right here, I thought, hiding in plain sight.
This was the early nineties. The internet wasn’t so slick back then. The ads were brief and the photos took agonizing minutes to download.
Here’s a typical ad: Fit female professional, petite, 38. Loves reading, wine, fine dining, romantic walks on the beach. Looking for financially secure man with sense of humor.

My problem with these ads was the way people presented themselves as generic versions of human beings. The honest text of this ad would read “Female professional running out of eggs. Obsessed about weight. Keeping thin via fiendish treadmill workouts. Loves trashy novels. Gets sloshed during dinner. Looking for generous man or will soon commit suicide.”

My email box filled quickly. Having twenty or thirty letters a day was exciting. It was a rush! I was hoping to find my destined soul mate. I kept looking and reading, ad after ad, email upon email, and it was difficult to stop. I fantasized about finding that honest ad accompanied by a photo that would make my testosterone sit up and notice. Just one more, I kept thinking, just one more. Maybe that will be The One!

It became an addiction. Every day, I spent all my spare time at the computer. I looked at photos, exchanged emails, spoke on the phone. Once or twice a month I went on a coffee date, hoping there would be that magical ingredient, Chemistry. I met teachers, single moms, lawyers, nurses, psychologists, tarot readers and massage therapists.

Without exception, they were crazy. “Fit female professional” was a nail biter. She compulsively gnawed the ends of her fingers and spat the leavings onto the table.
She was an attorney. She kept talking through the nail biting, P-tuh. P-tuh. She spoke quickly and emphatically. While she gnawed her left hand, she waved her right hand in my face. This right hand was her way of telling me not to interrupt because her story was much more important than any of my stories. I was to shut up and listen attentively. It was okay. I didn’t have anything to say. Attorney stories are incredibly boring to non-attorneys.

I’m sure the ladies found me just as strange. The LEAST strange thing about me is that my favorite T-shirts are ninety five percent holes. They are just bits of thread barely connecting a few patches of fabric. I have only three left. I can’t sleep in anything but one of these three T-shirts. Sometimes I forget what I’m wearing and go outside to fetch the mail or talk to a neighbor. I get a strange look and I realize that I’m wearing a garment that resembles the lining of a hamster’s cage. That is the LEAST strange thing about me.

I think we would be better off if we stopped pretending to be well adjusted and wore our neuroses like outer garments, as plainly as blouses and jackets. Perhaps someone should invent a kind of portable holographic billboard, a way to display personality profiles. They could be called REALITYGRAMS ä. They would convey honest self-assessments. For example, when a man comes into proximity to an attractive female, he can switch on his REALITYGRAM™, which will say something like “ I am a needy narcissist with food addictions and a tendency towards cruel verbal ‘leakage’. I’m working on these issues in therapy. I dwell excessively on my childhood abuse. I blame my mother for everything that’s wrong with my life.”

The dark side of one’s-personality is up front, out on the table. The man I’ve just described, whoever he might be, could look for a woman with a hologram saying, “I am a compulsive nurturer. I can’t say ‘No’ to anyone. I’m submissive but full of repressed rage. I cycle between anorexia and bulimia. I’m attracted to men like my father. He could verbally cut a woman to shreds and seem as if he was doing her a favor.”

Instead of looking for Mister or Ms Perfect, we can look for a person with a tolerable set of neuroses and compulsions. A person we can live with. Think of all the time and trouble to be saved!

The internet dating world is a freak show of fantasy and bad judgment. That isn’t just a rumor. I had dates that were excruciating and bizarre. One night I went out with a psychiatrist who offered herself in marriage after about twenty minutes of light conversation. We had been driving around Golden Gate Park. I had parked my car in front of the Hall of Flowers and we were sitting there, chatting and inhaling the fragrant air.

“Do you want to marry me?” she asked, in all seriousness. “I need to know right now. Otherwise I’ll make different plans. You’ll never regret hooking up with me. I’ll support you in your work, connect you with publishers. Your life will be glorious. I’m a fantastic woman, sexually, intellectually. I cook gourmet food. I know volumes of poetry by heart. I can fence, I play chess….”

“Why,” I asked, “are you so eager to marry me?”

“You’re a brilliant man,” she said. “I’ve read your writing, heard your music. Your work will be loved centuries from now. I want to be part of that. An artist like you doesn’t come around every day.”

There was a little red light going off in that part of my brain that discriminates between decisions that are in my best interests and decisions that are not. Beep beep beep beep. The familiar Star Trek Computer Voice was saying, “Warning warning, attractive objects may be less attractive than they appear!” There was part of me that was flattered and tempted. She was a fine looking woman, with blue eyes, milky skin and a glossy black helmet of shoulder-length hair. She was a socialite psychiatrist who lived in a five thousand square foot house on Twin Peaks. I had gone to her house for coffee. It was incredible. The furnishings, the view! Then we drove in our separate cars to the bottom of the hill. She was going somewhere else after our little date. I picked her up on Haight Street and we took my car into Golden Gate Park.

I thought about being supported in luxury while I played music and wrote novels. I thought about that amazing house and its view of the glittering lights of the entire bay. I was exhausted by my artist’s poverty. I had struggled for decades just to stay alive and continue my work. I was worn down by the incessant tension of squeaking by on a pittance.

I was actually thinking about it! I was insane to even consider it! Let me remind you that, a few paragraphs back, I make the blanket assertion that we’re all crazy. Yes, I thought about marrying this woman. I just couldn’t fight my way through the temptation. For fifteen minutes I waffled around, equivocating. I could not bring myself to say a clear “No.”

My hesitation made her furious.

She grew strident. Her transformation from charming to vicious was instantaneous.

“Asshole!” she rasped. Her hair swung like a whip as she turned on me. “Do you have any idea what you’re passing up?” She grabbed her sweater at the waist and pulled it to her neck. Her eyes burned into mine. The nearby street lights revealed a perfect pair of medium sized breasts with taut little nipples. The muscles of her abdomen and torso were beautifully toned from regular workouts. I got the message. I didn’t know what to do with it.

I babbled. “What the fu…? I…um..shit….how would I…umm?” My mouth was full of the stones of reality. I didn’t know what to say. This woman was nuts! What wonderful irony!

“Take me back to my car, you fucking pussy,” she finally ordered. “I need a man who knows what he wants. You had your chance, you fat kyke.”

This is internet dating, I reminded myself. Don’t be surprised by anything, no matter how bizarre. Our world is like a locked psych-ward after the doors have been thrown open.

I drove out of the park and delivered my rejected wrathful shrink to her Mercedes on Haight Street.

This was a chaotic period in my life, a time when I frequently lost my bearings. On one occasion I accepted a dinner invitation to a woman’s home. She had posted an exquisite photograph online, that of a gorgeous blonde with a sweet and tender expression.

I would be meeting her son and a few close friends. It seemed innocent enough. It seemed safe.

I rang the doorbell of a ranch house in the North Bay. The door opened with an ominous squeak of the hinges. If I had been living in a cartoon, there would have been a sudden scream of tuneless brass from the orchestra. My hair would have stood on end. As the door opened my eyes would pop out on stalks and a second ghostly figure of myself would be seen separating from my body and running away in terror. The orchestra would follow my ghost-body with a tinny xylophone playing silly running sounds.
She wore a hair net. She cradled a bottle of bourbon in her armpit. A cigarette dangled from the corner of her lips and sent swirls of smoke drifting into watery eyes. The makeup that was daubed on her face looked as if applied by a chimpanzee. She leered at me, smiling the ways horses laugh, with the lips flapping like big wet paddles, showing her oversized square yellow teeth. The photo in her web ad showed a fresh-faced blue-eyed beauty with the looks of a magazine model. If I squinted and imagined her in a much younger life, I could recognize the svelte beauty. There are no rules on the internet outlawing the use of images from twenty or thirty years ago. I had been hoist on the petard of my own shallowness!

Rather than bailing out at the first opportunity, I politely persevered. I didn’t have the heart to reject the woman outright. I had been on dates that lasted five seconds. Both followed the same script. I strode into the coffee shop, recognized my date by her description. I sat down. My date stood up as if she was on the other end of a seesaw.

“Nope, not my type,” she said. She pivoted and walked away. That’s all. Twice! Had the date lasted five seconds? Ten? It depends when the clock started. When I walked ithrough the door? Or when I sat down?

These ladies were black belts in internet dating. They threw me to the mat, bam! I’m not like that. I could never be so ruthless.

There were a dozen or so people about the house. Something illicit was going on in a rear bedroom, where the door opened periodically to swallow people. When they emerged there was a glitter about their eyes, a skewed smile, a naughty wink. When I was invited, I declined. I hadn’t come to this place to get loaded on the buzz of the day.
I protected myself by spending time with the son of my hostess. He was eleven and had a set of drums. I had once been a professional drummer. I felt I had something to impart. I showed the boy how to play a few rudiments and easy swing rides on the cymbal. He wanted to play blasting heavy metal music and wasn’t very impressed. He demonstrated his playing by thrashing at the drums with uncoordinated rage. I took my turn again and started doing Gene Krupa licks. This was more to his liking. He could relate to the primitive tom-toms, to the boomboombity boom.

The boy had a sad resigned look on his face. His dad was absent; his mom was a decaying alcoholic, his home a location for drug parties. He was not having an easy childhood. He had a Marine Corps haircut, the kind that looks like an oval piece of carpet glued to the top of his head. He had pimples, a few missing teeth. I could see the thug he would be in four or five years.

I digress. The story of how I met Fox goes like this: Fox kept her laptop at her best friend’s house. In the course of my online meet ‘n’ greets, I had corresponded briefly with this best friend, and my name had gone into her Buddies List. There was a small problem, because it wasn’t her computer and it wasn’t her Buddies List.

Fox was a deeply reserved woman in the midst of an unspeakably abusive marriage.

The computer was with her best friend because Fox’s husband relentlessly spied on her. He scanned her computer, listened to her phone calls, brazenly read her mail. Her best friend’s place was the only refuge she knew. She had to embezzle her own money to buy a laptop. It stayed at the best friend’s house; it was her only private expression.

The next time she signed on to AOL, she saw my name on her Buddies List. “Who is this?” she asked her friend. “Have you been using my computer?”

“I’m sorry,” was the reply. “I couldn’t resist. I hate sharing a computer with Tom.” That was her son. “He’s always playing video games, I never get online.” She looked at my name on the Buddies List. “That’s just some guy I chatted with a few times.”

Fox was angry. She sent me an email and requested that her screen name be removed from my Buddies List, and she would remove mine from hers. I don’t really remember, truth be told, how the first email morphed into several more emails. Soon we were regular correspondents. Then we started talking on the phone. The conversations were strangely confessional. Sometimes Fox fled from her home in despair and called me from her car. She barely mentioned her marriage. She listened. She was a great listener and I could talk raindrops back into the clouds.

Then we arranged to meet.

It was impossible to anticipate how profoundly we would alter one another’s lives.