Make Music With The Chatter In Here

the writings of Liz Riggs, @riggser

I’m sorry about all this

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photo by jonathan denney

 

We were sitting on the bench outside the library with all of its grey stone and I was drunk and you were not and it was snowing.

Just a little.

Aimless flurries attaching themselves to branches and backpacks and the occasional tongue.

I was chewing gum and blowing bubbles, leaving them out in the snow to slowly lose their elasticity and shrivel up all rigid and stoney. If I stayed focused on the gum then I would not look at the cold sweat above your lip or the small twitch in your cheek or the blank in your eyes because you were irritated and cold and I was cold and sad.

“How are you?” you asked, rubbing your gloved palms together quick and sharp like you were trying to start a fire.

“Fine.” I smacked the gum, pulled it between my front teeth, pushed it to the side of my mouth like I could try to forget it.

“Good,” you said. You shifted and my right knee touched your left knee and for a second I think it is on purpose, it is a sign, it is your olive branch your peace offering, your white flag your paper crane your hands up — and then I see the alarm in your eyes and the stone turns to dust turns to fear and your face twists up and your body is all hunched and cold and you back up on the bench and you set your backpack in front of us as though you need a shield.

I am the one that has needed a fucking shield.

“Can I ask you something,” I say.

“Let’s not do this.” You have your hands around your bag now and I think that even the inanimate objects get more love from you.

“Just one question,” I say, all desperate and devoted, my eyes searching for some of your anger to turn into kindness or love or even somewhere in between would be nice.

“I have to get going.” You squeeze the backpack now, deciding whether to hoist it over your back again or leave it between us like all of this space.

I blow a bubble and it catches a snowflake, big and crystally and—

“I don’t understand,” I say.

You rub your naked ears with your gloved hands and I want to cup them with mine and capture the heat.

“I don’t want to —”

“But—”

I am chewing and chewing and now the bubbles are getting harder to form, the gum getting tight and stiff and tasting more and more like an eraser with each moment.


“We’ve had this conversation several times.

“No—”

“Yes.”

“Bullshit.”

“Maybe you don’t remember but I do,” you say. I realize I have been blurry eyed this whole time and I widen my eyes and rub them quickly with my frozen chapped hands that desperately need gloves.

“You said we want different things and I asked you what do you want and you said I don’t know and—”

“I don’t want you.”

I am looking for your white flag your raised hands your paper cranes but all I see is grey and cloudy smudges like the bricks the snow your eyes the strap on the backpack the swoosh on your shoes the zipper on your coat— it is all I can see and I take the gum out of my mouth, twist it around my index finger like I am a child.

“I think you have made your point.”

I want to get up and walk off, all strong and independent, all manic pixie dream girl, but I am all manic and no dream and I can see in your eyes that you pity me.

It is the first emotion I have seen from you in months and it is not love or longing or even lust and I thought maybe I would catch sadness or pain or nostalgia but it is endless pity all grey and squinty.

“It is not that I don’t care, I do.”

“No, not in the same way,” I say forming tight vowels like I am learning a new language and all of its sounds and shapes.

“I guess probably not in the same way,” you say.

“You were right that we should not do this.”

“It’s too cold.”

“It’s way too cold.” I am holding in tears, my eyelids a frozen dam ready to shatter, and I press my lips together for warmth and reinforcement. My peacoat is too thin for the midwest winters.

“I have to go.” you pick up your backpack and you have made the decision to put it on your back like a hiker headed for Kilamanjaro.  “I’m sorry about all this.”

You look like you are shrugging but that is just the shape of your shoulders or maybe it is just the shape of pity as it warms up your muscles and bones.

“No, you don’t have to apologize for not wanting me.”


“I don’t have to apologize for not wanting you.” You say it back like you are reminding us both and it stings so much that I bite the inside of my lip so that I don’t cry and I can taste the blood as you turn around.

 

 

 

 

jessika

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neon thrift-store-jackets

and cheap mascara

we are only twenty-one years old

once.

 

 

 

 

 

the war isn’t over

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do you remember the wind

that lifted the hair on our arms

and scraped the steel of the stop signs

while we ran

beneath the traffic lights

too close to speeding cars;

the sheets of melting snow

slopping our canvas shoes

 

and you screamed and shouted

til your freckles

tumbled to the asphalt

like flakes of youth

and you laughed until

your throat bled

and your fingernails grew?

 

-college liz, for maggie

allentown

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huddled

in an alleyway in allentown

we are overcoming ourselves.

The clouds about to split

like the nerves in our brains

the tiny pill I cut in half

as though that would be

enough.

there are (only?) so many stoops, corners and alleys

we can cry in-

so many seconds fending off fear.

In New York and Paris,

West Hollywood.

Amsterdam phone booths, dad: can you please get me out of here?

Tennessee floors and

the cornfields of Nebraska, open endless sky.

basements in Ohio crowded with our youth,

booths in Chicago bars

as though every place had a podium for our panic.

stop?

tanqueray flights

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There is a place in the middle of this tanqueray

bombay

sapphire jewels spinning through the melting ice

where I navigate the neutrality

the quotidian moments of adulthood

so tedious in their beauty.

a dish stacked on top of a bowl, beige with wildflowers.

a dog leash, fraying and yellow.

hung upon a hook slowly loosening itself from the wall.

The way the light comes through the cheap blinds

slanting towards your face

mouth agape. Changing, sometimes. The same, mostly.

your chest, rising and falling, always checking:

Are you still alive?

You’re still alive.

We’re still  alive.

I lie awake,

wondering what I would do if—

sweating for sleep, the xanax and wine and wandering prayers.

swirling in spotted memories.

there is a strangeness

to our recent selves.

where the light up dance floors

and tongues of strangers

bleed into nostalgia and disillusionment

and remind us that

we were young once

and we are young always.

that the shots of citrus liquor

can only keep us satisfied until sleep.

There will always be the people before.

The cross country flight,

ending in crying drives down Sunset, weaving toward Beverly Hills–

to the soundtrack of a high school band, on our way to Malibu.

Will I just be another story, I ask?

He’s just another story, I say.

The trains in Chicago and the blackout nights of trying to keep up.

I picked a cubs hat off of the street corner-

I wore it the first night I met you.

4 a.m. scrabble and the vodkastick floors of bars we now refuse to step into.

The L overhead like a tornado of lust and drunken slumber parties.

It’s 5 oclock in the morning and we should all shut up.

The backstage passes and times we threw our bras on stage:

In cities our parents didn’t know we were in.

Of all the stories that came before-

microcosms of a former life.

pieces of our current life.

wholly flawed and completely in tact.

tethered to those times with ropes of our senses and the sounds of every flight taking off the ground.

and yet

we are anchored to our future

to our present

to our person

to our people

sometimes dreaming of another decade

but aching for now.

part two

 

alex-bertha-169780.jpgwe made breakfast sandwiches

hastily

so you could meet your mom.

we drank rosé from coffee cups, walking along the river.

wondering how we ended up here.

 

we sent messages – 

There were so many.

where we were and where we were going and where we would be.

we met in Chicago.

and Texas.

the coast of washington.

detroit and culver city.

denver and dive bars.

the corners of tennessee and the main drag of the mission.

french quarter tourist traps,

museums in memphis and

doubletree hotels we wish we’d never known.

 

breweries and bridal showers

we said we should lose our virginity now-

we lost it later.

 

we saw each other at bonfires and said, I miss you.

can you believe it?

we got pregnant

we got IUDs.

we booked flights to cities we never expected to see.

we ate poutine

and chicken fingers

and protein bars

and pre natal vitamins.

we bought wine we couldn’t afford

and poured champagne we could.

we got our hearts broken

In dark and different ways than

how they crumbled when we were 22.

 

we didn’t always show up – we couldn’t.

we packed suitcases and bowls and we tried to see everyone we could.

we bought churches

and houses

and built bands and careers.

we made drinks and friends

and wrote songs and stories and broke phones and friendships

we tried to string together our new lives

a web across the states

spanning time zones and new worlds and different women and wives and husbands and heartache and daughters and doorways and we kept stretching the pants and the time and the string

to fit.

we

photo-1464145672011-e33b3c1c7f81.jpegWe drank gin and tonics in the bathtub —

on street corners.

In L.A. and New York, Chicago and

we carried gin in a ziplock bag. Someone told us to get a jar.

We woke up with heartburn and headaches;

yes it is Tuesday and tomorrow will be like today.

We paddled across Percy Priest;

and somebody told us: you can’t get lost if you only turn right.

 

Fuck that.

You can always get lost.

 

We bought houses and learned how to make scallops.

We quit our jobs, and sometimes we found new ones.

We forgot the words to songs and learned the ones to others.

We traveled alone;

We traveled together.

We drank expensive beers and cheap wine and

We claimed to understand intersectionality.

We could not be broken.

We already were.

 

We spent money from jobs we hated on things we loved and we threw them out when the seasons changed.

We planted gardens and used the mint for cocktails.

 

We adopted dogs.

We lost dogs.

We lost friends.

We lost weight.

 

We read all the books you recommended.

We kept the sacraments;

We skipped church.

 

We didn’t see each other for years —

We didn’t need to.

 

We prayed behind closed doors painted by someone whose name we never learned.

We grew cranberries and found new bands and new bars.

We moved across the country.

We had miscarriages and margaritas.

 

We spent more money on the tonic water than the gin.

We turned thirty and nobody noticed (somebody noticed)

We tore down walls and put up fences and pulled down shades.

We found therapists and everybody went.

We made mistakes;

we thought we fixed them.

 

We went to hospitals and housewarmings.

We didn’t RSVP to baby showers.

We took shots of whiskey and ignored the people at the party we did not know.

We cut each other’s hair in the bathroom and we fought over karaoke.

We traveled the world but

we couldn’t always make it down the street.

We learned how to sweat and breathe and drink and ———— and cook and clean and fight and sleep and wake up and wonder: what will we be like next?

 

 

 

for the formidable females

every time i sit down to write i think of all the boys i’ve kissed and it usually inspires a thousand words and a hundred unnecessary memories. and i forget all of the people in my life —the ones in bras and lipstick and faces of god—who made me laugh and cry and crumble a bit and whose stories i never tell.

—(part 1)—

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but when i look back on the days of shinguards and sweaty legs and middle parted frizzhair i cannot help but see the eyes of emily, who i never call emily—only mill—and wonder how. how her tiny boobs and fierce smile and endless pursuit of pure strength pushed me to my edges and ends and built me into twiggy riggy, the almost all-star. she hugged me with her hips out and her grin wide and drove me to drive ins and dances and dinners. she made me a t-shirt for my fifteenth birthday that she gave to me in a stale weight room and i knew that she was my person, my people.

she is my people, and still i meet her people and her persons. and she knew abby who sat on crumpled bed spreads and quizzed me on history flashcards until we knew we had to get out of that town. whose brainpower reminded me that smarts are beauty and hair is curly and swimming is strength and adolescence isn’t forever.

and it wasn’t and i met maggie who drank in the forest with me and fell out of bunks with me and tumbled to a pseudo adulthood, playing Damien Rice demos on our radio show (Dead Air!)  and telling me always that as bad as it was, it wasn’t our worst, it wasn’t our worst. and we listened to Matt Pond and took naps to Iron & Wine in extra long twin beds and we grew up and talked about our vaginas and our boyfriends and our books and our blankets and did you know you could make a heating pad with just a soccer sock and some rice?

And laura, who i barely know now who is a real adult with a baby and how she loved me, even when i left with our couch and moved to france and forgot what being a friend was like. and then maggie some more, with her catholic heart and westside love and the truth of stonewalling and the opposite of crying. maggie met tanner and ben and he who shall not be named and michael and kevin and michael again and pat and andy and michael again and pete and another michael and everybody in between and she loved me and then loved me some more and then taught me to how to make coffee when i was too old to be learning and watching the OC at the same time.

and jess, oh my, you typhoon —you love Typhoon, the band—you cranberry wielding magnificent mile, you straightened my hair and showed me the world and sang to Margot & The Nuclear So & Sos and let me smooch hotPhiltheClimber in your apartment and never let me forget that letting go of your wildness is not an option. we will be wild forever together. and we climbed and treaded across lakes and states and boys and we loved each other and fought and always remembered that Blind Pilot is ours, forever and always. and we heard Ben Kweller sing “Lizzie” and when you left our bubble, I cried and cried and wondered who would always wander with me.

And jess you never really met Chelsea, did you? but Chelsea! my god! When I in awesome wonder! We wore red and ate breakfast sandwiches we thought could not be topped and we dated boys we thought could not be topped. we broke rules and hearts and trust and we fought about whether or not one of us would cut the leftover breakfast pizza with scissors ( i did.) we forgot to call and we said we’d always call and we were best friends and soulmates in all of it, i think. we soared the midwest and we still do, picking dates and dresses and dissecting disasters. we are a series of indie shows and banjos and the time i told pete i loved him outside the library and couldn’t find my way home. i left you and maggie found me and we are all the people we pick up along the way.

we are infamous fridays and immortal mondays and we are only as much as the friends that we hold. i miss your michigan face and mittens and the time we tied our hair together and filmed it for no one but us. we drove to chicago and cincinnati and nashville and detroit and yspilanti and we wondered if through all of it we would be the type of breasty friends who continued to find one another through all the quickening years of adulthood. and we have and we would and we will. we will grow old together, watching The OC and drinking LaSalle gin and wondering whatever happened to Girl Talk; there were so many lights, so many lights.

 

highway driving

photo-1452369575303-d48fd77f5131I was driving down a highway recently in Ohio. It is a wholly mediocre highway, as most highways are, and it was the first time I had driven this stretch of road in nearly ten years.

It was a strange feeling, the bursting familiarity of it and shocking disorientation. And then, the feelings. Every exit, another sensation. Each number, a perfectly clear still frame of a memory. A song. A moment. A night. A face. A drink. 

—-

Exit 46: This exit is where the amusement park is. We would ride rollercoasters and scream our lungs out like the Yellowcard song said and we’d learn what it meant to feel infatuation and fear and lust all at the same time. 

Exit 43: This is where I would drive to see the boyfriend I’ll always wish I’d never met when I was 19. Where I would approach anxious and prayerful and confused and once got a call from my friend Jess who was hearing Death Cab play “A Lack Of Color” at a show in Tennessee. This exit is where I buried myself in shame and deceit. Before I knew i could do better, before i walked across campus to the police and called my dad and stayed in bed and was scared and scared and broken and then still scared. Exit 43 is my least favorite exit to pass, even ten years later.

Exit 38, 46, 32, 14: These are the soccer exits. There are so many. There were so many tournaments and practices and heartbreaks and lost games and… It is hard to think about soccer. I cannot play like I used to, and I was always only almost great. And still I cannot play like I could when I was eighteen and my gangly legs flew across the field and my heart never seemed to stop pumping with passion and pride and blood for that game. Sometimes it seems that every ounce of me was built by that sport and even so much as passing a field feels like a tiny exacto knife on the edge of my heart vessels asking me to remember that which I can no longer do.

Exit 69: This exit is home. It comes with a sigh of relief and tremendously mundane stoplights and, oh the quiet lurk of suburban midnight.

Exit 68: This exit is home now. It still feels foreign and misunderstood.

Exit 73: This is the exit for the two lane road to the sealed bubble of college. I have not been back in six years but it feels like it could be eighteen. twenty. forty. It is—in my head—a castle, frozen in time, bursting at the seems with all of my best friends and memories and ambition and joy. It’s as though I’ve forgotten each of the six hundred times I cried in that castle, tumbling along outside of the red brick buildings and brochure-perfect lawns. I cried almost all of the days of my senior year of college, and yet I look back on it as the most beautiful year of unbridled joy and love. My boyfriend had dumped me (!?!) and I was desperately, pathetically sad. Exit 73 floods with pictures of his face and the moment he told me in his driveway while I wore my green blue and yellow sweatshirt and I knew his roommates could see us sitting there. But it also floods with Chelsea’s face and the time we used a coat hanger to unlock an unrented room to let her in. And Maggie’s face. And Garret’s. And Sean’s. And Ben’s. And Jess’s. And Kevin’s. And all the boys I kissed and all the friends I’ve forgotten. This exit is Jack’s Mannequin’s Everything in Transit burned in 2005 on a black Memorex CD that still sits in my Honda Civic. It usually only plays songs one through six before basically blowing up. This exit is Green Beer and The O.C. This exit is the perfect amount of time: where you don’t want to leave, but you know if you don’t then you’ll never feel that way about that place.

 

 

 

 

*Note: the numbers of these highway exits are probably mostly wrong.

 

On going home

 

 

1000296_10101211054933078_989404989_nYou are sitting in your parents’ living room, watching the sunlight bounce on the heads of babies, and it seems as though there are a million of them—a million babies whose cheeks are glowing like candles in advent, like moonlight on windshields.

One of the babies (there are so many!) is in a toy car, the kind you can move with your feet, the kind that makes you feel older than you are, that makes you think maybe I am a grown up. But she doesn’t know that she is not and that it is so beautiful, so deeply precious that she is not a grown up and that she does not know the things that grown ups know. Her car is only plastic, remember?

she does not yet know the beauty of walking a plastic car around with shoes that someone else put on her feet; she has not had to look back on this moment yet and realize the delicacy of plastic cars and soccer balls.

she does not know that the plastic car will wear down and the soccer ball will someday need to be replaced; she does not know that this may not always be home or that home may not always be home.

she inches across the sidewalk, blissfully oblivious. you are in a house you did not grow up in watching a family you barely recognize—they are gorgeous, each and every one of them, but they are different. This is not the family in the pictures on the walls—the parents are older, the children are holding children—most of the grandparents are missing.

are you home?

home: frozen in time, cryonically sealed on the day you left for college (oh the red brick buildings!)

and still, every change feels like a tiny betrayal—every new curve in the road and painting on the wall a reminder that you are not there anymore. Buildings are moved and street names are changed and babies are born and hair is grayed, but you cannot always come back. Not for every moment or minute or hiccup or heartbreak.

but oh, how you love to be gone—

until the laundry or pain or sheer maturity of living piles up so high that you must return. Faced with the most persistent and tenacious of life’s dilemmas: it always keeps going, whether you’re there to indulge or invest or protest.

Like the feeling of suddenly coming to find that an old boyfriend has a new job, a new city, a new wife, a new baby(!) and to think: that was your life! there you were! having once had so much say—a VIP, all-access pass—and now all you have are pictures on a screen, six degrees of separation away.

And you realize that this is okay—that you don’t want his life or city or baby(!)—but you want to hold on to all of your worlds—your homes that you’ve built in different places and arms and cities. You want to cradle every bit of them—the plastic cars and soccer balls, the faded pictures and boxed up books, the ex boyfriends and lost friends, the family dog and the sick sibling, the overheard arguments and forgotten vacations, the lost games and empty chairs, the time you have to watch everyone grow up —even yourself—you want every inch.

But how can you keep up? When the earth is spinning and whirling and you can only grasp so many memories and people and family between your fingers—some must fall through the crevices and cracks and lapses of time you chose to spend in other places.

and so you go on. you grow up and move out and leave and come back and you laugh and you cry and watch life and death and joy and grief and every pulse of breath that god has given to you so that you can always remember what it is like to sit within a plastic car, inching across the sidewalk, forgetting which way is home.