Pacemaker

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Make pace. See it and raise it. After all, it’s a bluff. And the stakes are high.

Self-mortification is debilitating. Exhausting at best. But we do it in the name of art. In the name of vulnerability and honesty. In the name of friendship. We sacrifice ourselves in the name of self-sacrifice. It’s a bluff.

All we do is never enough. The record skips when it hits the bass note. All we do. All we do.

The first porcelain rungs of upward mobility are at my feet and instead, I’m missing the feel of dirt slipping between my fingertips, the smell of manure, the itch of tall grass. She empathizes, driving a knife into her waffle with conviction. “Damn this place.”

I told myself I could sleep when I was dead. Washing caked mud out of my sneakers was not what I wanted to be doing at three in the morning. But it was the first free moment I had gotten all day. And I needed to wear these shoes in the morning. I wondered if they would be dry. He told me later that I had hallucinated. That I had gripped him by the shoulders and told him I had nothing for him. He said my eyes saw past him, that my head had snapped in circular syncopation.

The eyes staring back at me were milky and dark. They spoke. And there was permission to look into them. With soft eyes. A chaste and distant intimacy. The eyes I gave her were honest. Paled and pink, glazed and bloodshot around the edges. I told them everything was fine. I forced breath through the pain in my throat and made the breathing regular. The inhale raped the air. The exhale was a poorly packaged gift. A semblance of proper function.

Another dark night, though not of the soul. At least not yet. The east was already paling blue by the time I opened the last textbook. “In Soviet Russia,” my roommate quipped in a thickly assumed accent, “the verb forms parse you.” I offered him a corn chip that I had drizzled with honey from a broken chopstick and I poured lemon juice into an antique shot glass. This was college. And that corn chip and lemon juice was more of a eucharist than most.

He still called me Pauly, but was willing to spend eight dollars on a Coke just to get a moment of my time. The light from the window crudely sliced his face between his eyes. He told me to get a girlfriend. That would shape me up. I said the last thing I needed was to clamp someone else into my golden handcuffs. He asked if they might actually be golden tefillin. Weirdly astute.

I laid on the cement in the 5AM light of an early October morning and made my scarf into a pillow. Breath didn’t come easy. But these were fugitive moments that needed to be taken prisoner. Moments of rebellion against the order I had accepted—the order that forced me hand over hand up those porcelain rungs. Rest was risky. It flew in the face of the Fortune 500 future they had fit for me.
All we do. All we do.

We banged out an anthem about Mars colonization on an out-of-tune upright piano stuck in a freight elevator. I made an octopus out of clay on the kitchen table and glazed it with polyurethane. She tore notepaper into squares and wrote notes to people in verse. He quoted Shanley while staring mythically into his refrigerator.

These are the small rebellions that save a life.

Make peace. Fold. The stakes are high.