everybody always thinks i’m lying about this dream but i’m not: the dream is me standing next to a long pole that looks like those things on the boardwalk with the bell on top and the weight on the bottom and you have to bring the hammer down on the bottom part and depending on where you get the weight to go, you’ll know how strong you are. that’s what it looked like but instead of the words very weak, weak, strong, or very strong appearing up the pole, there were the words comedy, romance, adventure, drama. i knew i could choose which genre of dream i’d have and i’d get whatever i wanted. i couldn’t choose and i woke up. anyway. i’m not always lying. it’s just that…you know that phrase “he lies like he breathes”? it’s what people say about someone who lies a lot. you could maybe say i lie like i sneeze; there are just certain situations i’m allergic to. mom is one of those situations. out of the goodness of her heart she overwhelmed me. as a boy i was her buddy for every unnervingly tedious thing—i remember sitting with her at the dmv with a grocery bag in my lap while she haggled with our health insurance on her cell phone—these “activities” were the shape the love between us took, as vases, dog bowls, and beakers are to water. to this day the most romantic thing i can imagine is helping a woman move, taking apart her bed frame, waiting together for some maintenance guy to show up and do something. these things are related—in some way it doesn’t make any sense to say out loud. what i mostly remember isn’t anger that i was stuck with her or boredom at the objectively boring things we did. i remember being jealous. glowering at the valet when we went to the hospital for my physical therapy, the ache to strangle him when mom handed off her keys and fingered his palm; hating the fact we were “regulars” at the town diner, the smiley way the waiters already knew what to bring her (onion rings and russian dressing); and of course the boys at school. being aware of how people saw her was an entirely slimy thing. so i talked. to distract mom (and to distinguish myself) from the persistent idiots who wanted to take my place. and if you only talk to get what you want, sooner or later you’ll end up lying. you can only say so much as a kid before you see an adult escape into the sweet daydream of shooting themselves. even if the adult denies it (they will), it’s true. so, lying. for me it started small—feigned interest in her job, which turned out to be maddening, jealousy-wise, because she taught special ed and a lot of times she’d tell me as if it were a funny story that so-and-so “accidentally called me mom today” and i’d imitate some sort of kind son’s smile that i’d probably seen on tv while crushing a complementary cracker over my cup of diner soup. that agonized smile is the other bigger kind of lie. i don’t have to describe it because you’re probably doing it right now to someone you love, or someone you love is doing it to you. unlike the small lies which basically say i’m interested in the real you, the bigger ones do something darker which is say what a coincidence it just so happens that the real me is exactly who you want me to be. in those ways and for those reasons i lied to mom a lot. but to actually understand what happened with me and jasmine, it’s only important to tell you about the worst lie. fucked up thing here is that this is the only story i tell where i hope people think i’m lying and of course this is the one time everybody believes me. i have to start by saying at the time i thought i was telling the truth. what were probably growing pains knit together at the top of my legs and poked at my hips and groin; it hurt to walk. fifth grade. my math teacher said “hey come back from recess everyone, it’s time to take the math test” and it hurt to walk so i stopped walking and dragged myself to the nurse’s office. she’d seen me before because i got weekly nosebleeds. the nurse said “lorenzo why don’t you try walking to the bed over there.” i tried and failed, cinematically, like in a movie about a sick kid. the nurse’s eyes changed. in her head she probably said “it’s go time.” real sickness! she called mom while i pretended to be asleep in the bed. i pretended to wake up. other kids came in and side-eyed me and i’d look at them like “i’m really sick…maybe one day you’ll get to my level.” again, the whole time i believed it. i was happy something so important was happening to me for no reason. i just couldn’t walk—that was that. it was mysterious and obvious, stupid and profound. mom came, with dad. i thought, dad? it felt like mom had ruined the mood. they came, stern, told me to get up. i tried and collapsed on the linoleum. mom and dad looked at each other like “shiiiit.” mom cried, dad said he knew i could do it. i pitied them like adults pity babies, thinking “you stupid, stupid idiots, one day you will accept reality. you can’t fit that square thing in that round hole!” dad pulled the car around and the nurse wheeled me out to the side of the building in the school’s spare wheelchair. i couldn’t wait to be spotted by a friend or enemy but everybody was in class. on the way to the doctor’s mom kept crying. i thought, i can make her feel better, lighten the mood. so i said “hey ma, what’s with the waterworks?!” no response. in the doctor’s office the doctor took one look at me and said “lorenzo, get up.” and i did. i walked in a straight line back and forth and because i saw it on TV i also touched my nose with alternating hands while reciting the alphabet backwards. this definitely proved something but not what i wanted it to prove. got home where mom went to lividly weep in the locked bathroom upstairs and dad lay on the couch with all the grandeur—the nobility—of a still handsome thirty-five-year-old man resigned to family life. i asked him why mom was so upset. he looked at me like i was his best friend, drunk, annoying, at 3am on a tuesday and he had to take care of me: lovingly resigned. he said “probably because it’s my birthday? she already had a lot going on? and this happened too? so, it’s a lot?” i’d totally forgotten. i said “ah. that makes sense. happy birthday, dad.” like when that same annoying drunk best friend stops throwing up and starts telling you how much they love you. he said “thanks buddy.” the only thing mom ever said about it? a week later on our way somewhere, in the car alone together. i offered another mauled apology like a fucking dog giving its owner a ripped up pigeon. she shook her head and said “you think you’re so smart.” the way she said it, smart didn’t mean smart. i said “i said sorry.” she said “sorry’s just a word. it doesn’t do anything.” she wasn’t wrong. one last thing and then you’ll understand what happened with me and jasmine: i stopped talking to mom in high school after dad died blowing out the candles on his 50th birthday, i wanted to protect her from what i came to think of as my “indoor fireworks,” the conviction i’d explode if she and i were stuck together doing anything alone.




the one time she really had me and i couldn’t get away from her was christmas. this was in college. she didn’t want me to go to woolwine, virginia with my friends. i told her a few days before that my friends wanted me to come. she mostly ignored me or changed the topic. she told me we’d talk about it later, even though she knew i was supposed to leave with them on the twenty-sixth. this was one of those winters where it didn’t snow but was very cold and the window in my old room didn’t shut all the way. since i’d started college my bed had become the place for her extra clothes. she threw her hoodies and pants and leggings and socks on my bed. the huge pile was my second blanket. i don’t know why i didn’t just move it. christmas at home. it was what it sounds like. mom put out the same porcelain nativity scene she put out every year. one nonna made inedible baccala and the other nonna made edible cookies. part of me thought “well, fuck it.” but something happened on christmas—we got sick. mom was stuck in bed all day and i was stuck in bed all day. i woke up maybe three times, each time for like five minutes. i fell back asleep, again and again. i dreamed about jasmine. i’d started dating her back in october and we’d been texting since winter break started. we were still coming up with our rules: text each other good morning every morning? good night every night? i texted her goodnight on christmas eve. two hours later she texted me saying she’d been building a pillow fort with her baby cousin which is why she didn’t text back for a while then she said goodnight with a blushing smiling emoji. at this point i believed—no, i knew, i knew more than i knew anything else—i knew i’d be a writer. jasmine knew that she’d be a writer too. so we both sucked. we never texted each other anything we wouldn’t want to see published in our collected works; we imagined biographers looking over our shoulders evaluating our “courtship texts”—we used words like “courtship.” we were terrible writers. i loved her and she loved me too. i thought she was more talented and worried she’d find out i was a fraud. (eventually she did.) she thought just because my name was lorenzo i could teach her italian. i was teaching myself italian so i could teach her italian. i was always only one lesson ahead of her. do you see? do you see how i was a fraud? i wanted her to love me, i wanted us to have a “literary” “love affair.” but that’s later. on christmas i was so sick i couldn’t stay awake long enough to text jasmine merry christmas. besides i couldn’t just text her “merry christmas.” that was too simple, it’d come off as insulting, what was i, a psychopath? i thought the perfect phrase would come to me in my sleep. i woke up at 9:30pm to a text from jasmine that read “merry christmas, dude.” i was dead. i texted back merry christmas with exclamation points and an explanation about being sick with even more exclamation points. jasmine texted back saying she hoped i’d feel better and she used a lot of exclamation points too. i texted “goodnight!” she texted “goodnight” and used a heart emoji. the next day i woke up completely cured. mom was still sick. my friends texted me that they’d pick me up at nine. when i woke up it was eight. so i just started packing. i’d never been to a cabin before and wasn’t sure what i should bring. i took sardines from the kitchen cabinets. i took two bags of spaghetti too, one bag of which i ended up eating dry, straight out of the bag, halfway through the ride to woolwine, i ate the spaghetti dry because i forgot to bring any actual snack food for the trip and i didn’t want to eat a tin of sardines in dash’s car, there would’ve been too much smell and too much mess. i wanted dash and bob to like me. i still didn’t really know them yet. they were new friends. they were fifteen minutes away. i went into mom’s room. she looked like she was dying: sprawled, dripping snot, dripping sweat, sick smells. her face was weirdly blissed out. i didn’t want to touch her, i was afraid she’d make me sick again. so instead of shaking her awake i said, louder than i meant to, “mom i’m going to the cabin. i’ll text you along the way. i’ll be fine.” she woke up like there was an intruder in the house. she said “what?!” i said “i have to go, i love you—merry christmas again.” mom stood up and went into the bathroom and slammed the door. my phone vibrated but i didn’t go downstairs yet. i knocked on the bathroom door. she said “yes lorenzo, love you too, thanks, bye.” i stayed one last minute outside the bathroom, listening for running water or a flush, the sink or the shower, the scratch of a toothbrush or the click of a nail clipper. i was listening for some sign that she went into the bathroom for some reason other than just getting away from me. i didn’t hear it. i got in dash’s car with my backpack full of nonperishables, four sweaters, three underwear, two pairs of socks, and a book jasmine lent me. i’d forgotten a toothbrush. i fell asleep in the backseat, using the backpacks and suitcases as a bed. i woke up to my phone vibrating because mom was calling. (we were in pennsylvania traffic.) she’d already called three times and she said that for all she knew i was dead in an accident. i said sorry a lot. my nightmare was that mom was so pissed off at me that she’d get in her car and drive to us and i’d have to ask dash to pull over in some parking lot where mom would meet us, i was afraid she’d drag me from dash’s car into hers and she’d drive me home. but instead she said “bye.” i looked out the window and it started snowing. bob said “what the fuck man? haha.” i said “what?” bob said “everything okay with your mom? that was weird. you’re not supposed to apologize to your mom like that.” i made a joke at my own expense. i agreed with them. i probably said something like “yeah haha we’re pretty dysfunctional.” a few years earlier when he was alive dad joked at a family wedding “we’re so dysfunctional we’re functional.” he laughed. and the other italians laughed too. i repeated that phrase to my friends. “we’re so dysfunctional we’re functional.” my friends looked at each other and laughed without me. dash said “dude…that’s not…how it works.” i laughed but it didn’t sound like a laugh because it was actually a nervous scoff, i was trying to act like i didn’t care. i said, louder than i meant to, “you wouldn’t understand, you’re not italian.” whatever the fuck that meant. that phrase was another thing dad said all the time. i had no idea what it meant and i desperately wanted it to be true. but it didn’t work the same when i said it. it’s like i was a kid and dad was a professional magician. picture the kid’s disappointment when he goes to his room after the magic show and he takes his hat and sticks his hand in and he says “tada” and closes his fist and yanks his hand out of the hat and instead of a rabbit there’s nothing. that’s what it was like for me in that car in pennsylvania traffic. or whenever i talked about being italian. my friends weren’t italian. dash was older than me and bob was younger than me. dash was taller than me and bob was shorter than me. they were both also writers. and actually i became their friend because bob read a story of mine online and messaged me that he liked it. i said “thanks, and yeah for sure we should hang sometime.” bob and i saw movies whenever i came home from school. he’d always wear a three-piece monochromatic suit. he was a junior in high school and he wasn’t going to college because he knew he was going to be a writer. he told his parents and they said “okay.” mom wanted me to make money lying: consulting, management, advertising. to her, writing was the one way of lying that didn’t make money. and i was telling jasmine i was gonna be a writer. i was gonna be an english major. i was gonna stand up to mom. but in my heart i knew i wasn’t gonna do that. and now i was living in that limbo after you make a promise and before it comes obvious to the other person you can’t keep it. i had everyone fooled except dash who hadn’t read my stuff. he was already in grad school—yale—and i didn’t know anything about him even though he and i had gone to the same high school, three years apart. here’s the one thing i knew about dash: at the end of the year assembly where teachers gave prizes to seniors, they called his name: dash devonovitz. he walked up to the stage and his head was completely shaved. he won the award for bravest student. his mom had died the day before. lung cancer. we were in dash’s car. he drove the whole way. except for the occasional song played because bob insisted, dash chose all the music. i’d never seen any of his stories. i was afraid he was a better writer than me. his hair had grown back. he was the first person i’d met who actually chain-smoked. i marveled at him the way a kid would marvel at a baby tiger: that thing’s the same size as me but could kill me if it wanted to. but i remember being happy to be there with them. finally i was a writer hanging out with other writers. how i saw myself in my head was the real world now, in pennsylvania then west virginia then virginia traffic. the day got dark, dash put on wish you were here, i looked out the window and put my greasy forehead on the cool window. the only thing i could make out was empty space going on forever. i made a few jokes at bob’s expense to make dash laugh. i made a few jokes at dash’s expense to make bob laugh. we stopped at a gas station in the middle of a field. to me a large field was something you flew over or drove through but we were stopped here now. bob pumping gas while dash went in to buy blue american spirits. i was free to walk around. i texted mom “here. made it safe and sound.” i got to the edge of the gas station concrete and looked at the grass. i imagined how green it was during the day. i had just learned the word “verdant.” jasmine used it in a text describing summer in england where she had family. she said “verdant” and i looked it up. i texted her and told her i made it to the cabin okay. “i’m here for a week with several writer friends. we’ll hope to get up to some literary escapades.” remembering i wrote that makes me want to fucking kill myself. bob said “dude.” lauren was on a trip to visit her aunt in maryland. bob and lauren knew each other. she went to an all-girl school. he went to an all-boy school. she was dating one of bob’s classmates. she had a tumblr where she posted her poems and experimental photography: moody lighting, her dad at their kitchen table, random stuff: she called it “dice of life.” bob was in love with her, they hung out. he talked about beating the shit out of her boyfriend. he talked about that because a couple weeks ago lauren’s humongous boyfriend came up to bob at lunch. lauren’s humongous boyfriend pushed bob and said “why are you talking to my girlfriend?” bob said “i’m not.” bob pushed lauren’s humongous boyfriend. bob said “touch me again and i’ll beat the shit out of you bro.” that night lauren’s humongous boyfriend messaged bob: “time and place.” bob didn’t answer. he stopped hanging out with lauren who only texted him more often after that. when bob talked about her he’d turn on visions of johanna. i wouldn’t know what to say. but now i said “damn dude. you should ask if she wants to get together.” bob turned to dash and said “cool with you?” dash said “sure. as long as she’s not super out of the way.” then we drove super out of our way for an hour to get to the gas station where lauren told her parents to wait so she could say hi to a friend from school. on the drive there bob talked about how he’d beat the shit out of her boyfriend “even though he’s actually not a bad dude. i mean, if anything, i am clearly in the wrong here.” bob would punch him in the stomach then break his glasses when he bent over in pain then he’d punch him in the ear “to mess up his equilibrium.” i said “why wouldn’t you knee him in the balls?” dash laughed and looked at bob. bob said “that’s such a cowardly thing to say.” i checked; jasmine hadn’t texted me back. when we got to the gas station where lauren was waiting, bob told dash and me to get out of the car and smoke cigarettes in the corner so we looked cool. “i want her to think my friends are cool.” what did the two of them look like huddled together in the middle of that gas station, me and dash smoking on one side, lauren’s parents leering on the other? they looked like spies. i saw them smile. she wore a black bow in her blond hair. on the ride back bob didn’t talk about anything. we got to the cabin. dash and bob slept on the bed and couch downstairs. i slept in the one bed upstairs. i tried to read jasmine’s book but i was too tired. i fell asleep with the light on. i woke up to the violent taps of raccoons and squirrels on the tin roof three feet from my face. they sounded like thieves unlocking a safe. i was convinced they would break through and flop onto me and bite me and infect me and kill me. i had four missed calls from mom. it was already eleven. dash and bob had eaten without me. i walked outside and the grass really was verdant and bob was out there. he said tonight we were each going to read a story. “our best story.” bob said “we are gonna remember this night forever.” he was still into kerouac and bukowski and believed everything they said. he thought real writing should be adventurous and brave, that real writers were the realest kind of people. i disagreed with him of course, i knew that writers were only the most scared people on the planet. but if i told bob what i thought he would’ve wanted to argue and i, being a real writer, didn’t want to get in a fight. i told him i had an idea. my story wouldn’t be a story. it’d be something totally different. i called it Das Erbe Von Freud which i got from google translate. it meant “the legacy of freud.” the “story” would be twenty pages and each page would have a drawing and a caption but the drawing would always be the same. it would be a circle inside a square inside a triangle. and the caption would be like “mom” or “dad” or “the global economy.” it’d be a significant statement about interchangeability, futility: what was real about living. bob looked at me and said “can i give you a piece of advice?” i said yeah. he said “never title something in another language. it’s pretentious and accomplishes nothing.” i thought i heard someone laughing but it was a bird. i felt like a pretentious idiot. but why is pretentious a bad word? pretentious just means you’re trying to prove something and i was trying to prove something. “pretentious” meant the same thing as “italian”: “fuck you, i am what i am.” i knew Das Erbe Von Freud was absolutely brilliant. it was a way to sidestep the anxieties of our reading—the competitiveness, the danger, having to fight as a writer—by just doing something else. we needed supplies and bob wanted to stay at the cabin writing, perfecting his story. dash and i went into town. for a second i thought “passenger seat or…” i got in the passenger seat. i complimented him on yale. he said “i know how this sounds but i just don’t see any reason not to be successful.” my fingertips went numb and my lips went pasty and i knew he was right and that i’d wasted so much time. who was i, where was i going? dash brushed and flossed every morning and night. yale. i think he had a girlfriend too. i wouldn’t rely on Das Erbe Von Freud. i would read a real story; the same one bob liked so much. the same one that had been published, which was proof that the story was good. maybe i’d reread, make one or two changes. real writers have an obligation to revisit their past work even if it’s hard. then it was time. we sat in the kitchen. me and bob on one side of the table, dash on the other. bob read his story. i said something polite about setting and something constructive about word choice. dash said something perceptive. i was unnerved. i read my story. coming out of my mouth into a quiet room with other people in it, i realized how long it was. how average it was. how young i was. bob said something polite about setting and i felt betrayed. dash said he liked it which i couldn’t help but interpret as sarcastic. dash read his story. it was the perfect length. it was perfect. in my story i described a hookup as “intertwined entities, we were locked in a lackluster embrace while the romance ebbed like the ocean.” dash used the line “they fucked and they fucked and they fucked and they fucked and they fucked.” dash finished. i said nothing. bob said “that was so much better than my story.” i said “yeah—so good.” dash smiled and—this was the hardest part for me to take—he wasn’t gloating. he didn’t think he deserved any of this; he was just grateful! nicely surprised! because he was a nice guy. a nice smart guy who had been through a lot and wrote honestly about real life. he went to the bathroom. bob turned to me with his eyebrows up. he said “dash is a much better writer than us.” i had my eyebrows down and said “yep.” bob said “he’s a real writer.” i said “yep.” bob said “we will never be writers.” this realization was like a load off for bob. but for me it was a wall blocking my only exit. i said “nah. i wouldn’t say that.” bob said “i don’t know—i’d say that.” i ran to my bed and got my moleskin and drew a circle inside a square inside a triangle and captioned it “mom” then i did the same thing and captioned it “dash” then i did the same thing and captioned it “bob.” i gave the thing its stupid title: Das Erbe Von Freud. i knew it wasn’t good enough then i added another circle inside a square inside a triangle and captioned it “Das Erbe Von Freud”; now i knew it was good enough. i went downstairs to show dash but he wasn’t downstairs. he was outside with bob. he was smoking weed and teaching bob how to smoke weed. it was bob’s first time. years later bob would keep doing drugs then stop then start again and somewhere in there he dropped acid with lauren who had become his girlfriend. they were in a forest and something beautiful happened, he fell on his back and she sang to him while facing away. she sang “you are my sunshine, my only sunshine.” but then she was his mom. then his sister then a woman he didn’t recognize then another woman he didn’t recognize. he knew then that for the rest of his life he’d be a baton passed from one woman to another. i said “wow.” he told me this story after he’d broken up with lauren. this was a year after our cabin trip. reeling from the breakup bob visited me at college to get drunk and walk around and cry. i was in the mood to be there for him, i felt i could depend on him as much as he depended on me; at around this time, jasmine had broken up with me. but that was later. back at the cabin bob and dash were too high to pay attention to Das Erbe Von Freud, my masterpiece. i tried explaining it then dash laughed. i said “it’s funny right?” dash said “no. it’s just, i just realized. hahahahahah. you look like ronald mcdonald without the makeup.” bob laughed too. bob went to bed high and dash went to bed high and i didn’t do drugs so i made bad coffee and went to bed and turned on the lamp and tried to read the book jasmine gave me. but i couldn’t get more than a few pages in before i had to stop. the book was absalom, absalom. i read a few pages and thought “fuuuuuuuck. this is crazy. i have to be this good? just to even be derivative?” and as i realized more and more how little chance i stood of ever writing anything halfway decent i reached into my backpack and pushed out the clothes and food and found a pen and a notebook and i started writing a letter to jasmine. i wrote on both sides. i wrote a borges sonnet from memory. i’d memorized it earlier that week so i could recite it to jasmine when we were back at school but i couldn’t wait so i wrote it instead. the next day i made dash drive me into town so i could mail it. i paid $50 to fedex it overnight. bob called us while we were on our way back to the cabin. he said “dude.” lauren had broken her pelvis. she’d been riding a horse and she fell. bob said he wanted to visit her in the hospital. “dash can we go?” dash said “how far?” it was two hours away. dash looked at me and i raised my eyebrows. dash said “okay.” i switched seats with bob so he could sit in the front. he kept checking his phone and the light outside got purple. this was bob’s big moment. he’d be there. lauren’s real boyfriend wouldn’t be there. he was probably with his family in new jersey like an idiot. i wanted to show them Das Erbe Von Freud but dash was driving and bob was texting lauren. there wouldn’t ever be a good time. i never showed them. we were half an hour away from the hospital when bob’s phone rang. he picked it up and said “hey. okay. okay. yeah. no big deal. okay. feel better.” he hung up. he said “let’s turn around.” dash said “what?” now outside was dark perfect blue. traffic. bob said “she said she’s too tired. she has to get some sleep.” i felt bad for bob. he didn’t visit lauren; he didn’t get credit for visiting lauren. and he’d asked dash to drive nowhere for hours. bob was probably afraid dash was mad. maybe bob was even afraid of me, afraid i was mad. but i wasn’t. i wasn’t even there. i was reciting that borges poem in my head. i forget which poem it was. i can’t check the letter because she has the letter. i can’t check the book because she has the book. probably with the title page torn out because that’s where i wrote about how much i loved her. i have no idea. i like to believe she tore out the inscription pages, the love notes, from the books i gave her because i tore those pages out from the books she gave me. near the end it got so bad i’d recite sad poetry in the shower. i’d be louder than someone singing. i memorized neruda, reciting “tonight i can write the saddest lines” until i cried and our neighbors knocked. she never confronted me about it or acknowledged it. but i bet she mentioned it to her therapist, who she saw toward the end. she’d talk to me at the end of the night and say “my therapist says you’re petulant.” i had never heard the word “petulant” before. i looked it up. he wasn’t wrong. jasmine and i dated for a little less than two years even though the last third of it was obviously bad. a sickbed that became a deathbed. we both knew. but because we knew it was ending, those last seven months felt like stolen time, a joyride, a robbery, we’d hijacked a plane. we filmed each other. we interrupted arguments to film each other and laugh. we interrupted laughing to film each other and fight. we were making a movie about a couple who know they’re going to break up but can’t accept it so instead they film each other constantly and tell themselves they’re making a movie about a couple who’re going to break up. i wanted to throw up. at the end jasmine and i were taking trains across the country. it was the hottest summer in history just like the one that came after. jasmine’s cousin was getting married in canada. we got into canada and a friend of her cousin picked us up. this friend spoke french. jasmine spoke french. they talked to each other. jasmine learned new languages like it was nothing. japanese, norwegian, german. at this point she realized i didn’t actually know italian. she tried to reverse the roles, wanting to believe that one of us could at least teach the other something. she tried to teach me french in a serious way but it didn’t work. then she tried to teach me in a jokey way but that didn’t work either. it went from flashcards and rohmer movies with french subtitles to making me imitate her french pet names for me. real writers always speak more than one language. she did. i didn’t. the friend was driving too fast. jasmine got nervous. she looked at me like “uh oh” and “soooo, what’re you going to do?” i wasn’t going to do anything. i didn’t know this woman—she was jasmine’s cousin’s friend. besides i had no problem with the driving, i didn’t give a fuck anymore because the night before we fought about money (i bought her flowers she didn’t want, she was right to be upset), jasmine told me she didn’t want to break up but she thought it was important we acknowledge the fact that we’d both be happier now if we’d never met. she said “obviously love is different but yeah, we’d both be way happier.” i wasn’t going to say anything. jasmine texted me “nice knowing you!!” i texted back “ha!” she didn’t text back. i turned to see if she would respond by making a face at me but she was looking out the window. i reached for her hand and she pushed mine away. in french she told the driver her stomach hurt or she had a headache, i have no idea, but the result was the driver slowed down. and that’s another thing: real writers’ words change things. jasmine was convinced that the only real writing was erudite passionate blog posts from russian dissidents, chinese dissidents, the only real writing was “about the only real thing: justice, and pain, and how people nonetheless live and be strong.” i knew she was right and i knew i didn’t agree. i never would. i don’t know. it might be wrong and probably makes me selfish in the only way that counts but i can’t change how i feel. writing is the opposite of justice. crime or forgiveness. the wedding was beautiful. the couple rented out a big house in the country for all the guests. inside some rooms were all wood like a cabin. our room was like that. that’s the last room where we had sex. (we didn’t fuck and fuck and fuck and fuck and fuck—we had sex.) for some reason it came back that weekend. it felt like we were only starting. our faces were like they were in the beginning: blissed out, slack. we liked looking at each other again. saturday night was the party night. men hauled stereos from vans and the bride made the playlist. women got wine and beer and set the tables outside, checkered cloth on the long thick wood. the lawn was lousy with thin short trees. mosquitoes. the music was awful. everyone was speaking french. jasmine sat with me and we watched people dance. the patio was stone. jasmine had her hair down and said “who are we going to invite to our wedding?” i said my friends’ names even though i knew they wouldn’t come. dash wasn’t talking to me. bob wasn’t talking to me. i wouldn’t see them again until after jasmine broke up with me. she said she liked how her cousin had invited her ex-boyfriends. she liked how her cousin had kept her ex-boyfriends in her life. she retrieved them as if from memory: that easily, that naturally. not everybody has that power. i wondered why anyone would invite an ex to their wedding. to gloat? it didn’t matter. jasmine was imagining our wedding. maybe she was changing her mind about us. i was wrong. obviously jasmine didn’t invite me to her wedding. she’s teaching poetry in one of the good small schools in the middle of the country. she broke up with me at the end of that summer. before that, after the wedding but before we broke up, i visited her in paris. she had family there too. we went to a grocery store. we bought blue cheese and red wine and a baguette. we went to a park even though it’d just rained. the sky was one big dark cloud. we sat in the muddy grass and looked at the lake in the middle of the park. she said “are you still planning to study psychiatry?” she asked me this as though she were an uncle i saw once a year. i didn’t look at her. i said “yeah. london school of psychoanalysis. i’m going there after i graduate.” but i wasn’t going there. mom still thought i was getting a business/advertising degree so that’s what i did. i’ve still never been to london. i’ve still never been to therapy and if dad were still alive he’d say “good, who needs therapy? you’re italian.” jasmine always said i should go to therapy so instead of going i told her i’d become an analyst because you have to be analyzed before you can become an analyst. when things got bad i wrote all my plans for becoming an analyst on a piece of paper and handed it in like homework. this is when i’d be analyzed. this is when i’d take the test. this is when i’d be observing. this is when i’d be working with children. starting residency. working as a real doctor. a timeline. i thought that piece of paper would protect me from jasmine’s being bored, it’d show her i was someone good, someone who helped people, not like non-political writers who were selfish. that’s why i lied and said i was still gonna study in london. she must’ve known i was lying. but she looked at me and said “that’s great.” i knew she meant it even though she didn’t believe me. when she said this i realized she was the better writer and in that soggy park i remembered that wedding weekend and wanted to apologize for the really important part of it: the writing part. like i said it was the last time we had sex. all our incompatibilities fell away. after sex jasmine went downstairs to get some dinner. there was that whole big party downstairs with everyone. i told her i’d be right down, i just had to do something first. i stayed in our room and wrote in my journal five full pages about the sex we’d just had. it felt so important to preserve that moment. i wrote “because we had such good sex i know she and i will be able to get through anything together. we’ll love each other forever. love is real!” and while i was writing it i felt like i was the real writer. but then 45 minutes had gone by and jasmine found me and she was pissed. she said she couldn’t believe i’d done this, that was so selfish of me, how could i leave her alone like that? what did i even want those five fucking pages to do. after the relationship ended i spent the whole next summer at home. i spent a lot of time with mom and i tried to write and couldn’t write and i thought about when i was a kid and dad would have to work late. he’d come home tired and heat up whatever mom made. some nights he came home holding papers and he’d say “lorenzo come over here i want to show you something.” i’d come over and he’d read to me. the papers in his hand were a story, a story he’d written at work and typed and printed for me. it was about a boy just like me (his name was leonardo) who was smart and nice, people liked him, and he loved to read and one day he opened a book and fell in. the drama was, would he ever get out? leonardo went from book to book and he fell in love and he was brave. i was so glad dad wrote that, and other stories like it. he wrote a bunch of “literary” stories when he was the same age i am now and he kept them in a red binder and when i was a kid he showed them to me. i said he should try to get them published and he said “that’s your job.” i never got them published. he stopped writing “literary” stuff after i was born. at his funeral i almost read a poem of his from that binder. i didn’t read the poem; he didn’t write it to be read at his funeral. lauren’s dad, the one she photographed, he’s dead now too. car crash. bob wrote to her and let her know he’s there. whatever people say in those situations, he said. there was a time when i thought stories would do something for me—bring people back. but they don’t. what you have instead is memory—the recorder and the confused part that pretends things could’ve been different—that’s what’s there. everything else is gone. it’s talent or it’s love and it will go away and after it’s gone what you have is what’s in your head and you use it to feel around in the dark and confirm what you suspect. nothing’s left. i don’t know more about psychology now than i did when i lied to jasmine about training to be an analyst. i don’t know more about writing now than i did when dash read his better story. i don’t want to be a writer anymore and i don’t want to be in love ever again. i want to feel around in the dark. that’s what i can get better at. padding around the small room i’m always in. feeling my fingers fall on nothing forever, in the dark center of a wide black cancelling slash. it’s like the game i played with mom. i stayed in her bed until i was ten. dad slept in my room. mom and i stayed up watching tv until it was time to turn the tv off. but i still didn’t want to go to bed, i liked being with her. so we played a game. she said “i love you more than cherries.” i said “i love you more than shapes.” she said “i love you more than pignoli.” i said “i love you more than…words.” she said “i love you more than the moon.” we made “i love you” bigger than everything else, it was a contest: what was your love bigger than? what could love get out of the way? we didn’t mean any of it. the next day she ate cherries or pignoli and i used words and i saw shapes. the game wasn’t real. anyway i got too old. when it wasn’t okay for me to sleep in mom’s bed anymore i didn’t want to sleep in my own bed which by then felt more like dad’s.



Michael Mungiello is from New Jersey.

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