Have a ball this fall at the pumpkin patch!, Door County, Wisconsin, October 2004.
i had a hard time falling asleep last night. i was lying awake in my bed at around three in the morning. a train went by in the distance, and someone in the apartment building next door was playing a spanish zarzuela record at top volume. i couldn’t sleep because i was running over my whole life in my head, and also because we have ghosts in our apartment and they’ve really been fucking with us, lately.
i was staring at the ceiling, listening to the train whistle and the operatic voices, and i realized: it’s been you all along, h. why did it take me so long to see that?
-a letter, October 29, 2004
[originally appeared, in slightly different form, in Sad and Beautiful World #14, May/June 2009; it’s about 2004.]
Past the taqueiras and Santeria shops of Pilsen, past the blue line L tracks, Maggie and I wandered the trainyard. We waved at latenight commuters on the Metra train, climbed around on empty boxcars. The wind whistled through gaping hole-eyes of abandoned warehouses. We sat down amid spindly weeds taller than our heads, and broken glass like stars brought down with slingshots to the earth. Maggie had smuggled a bottle of rum in the folds of her black trenchcoat, she unscrewed the cap and passed the bottle to me. I splashed a sip of gold and saffron fire down my throat, let it trickle down to my stomach which ached with loss, throbbed from the empty place beneath it where the son that never was had once been gestating, before – before I told Carmine that I was pregnant and he said Oh, what’re you gonna do about it? Before I took care of it, had the fetus vacuumed out at the cheap city clinic; before I told Carmine that I’d taken care of it and he pulled the What right did you have, my child too card. Before I got an e-mail from an anonymous mutual friend informing me that Carmine had been fooling around with God knows how many girls for the entirety of our relationship, telling me that he was a lying sleaze, a bastard who happened to be utterly charming. I picked up a handful of gravel, flung dusty pebbles one by one, to hear the sharp ping!s as they clattered ‘gainst the metal of lifeless boxcars. I threw one for every lie Carmine ever told me, one for every charming, extravagant word I believed was true.
Maggie took a swig from the bottle, handed it to me again, she sat silently trying to block out thoughts of her very own lovely-boy-liar, prince of her heart, demon of her dreamterrors. I wasn’t the only broken girl in that trainyard. I turned my eyes toward the sky, which was thick with ghosts & airplanes. I could see the cloud factory in the distance. It sent out billows of graywhite that floated up, up, then out across the lake, toward other cities, other states. I wished on the airplanes, on the ghosts, that one of those clouds would find its way to Carmine, that it would travel crosscountry, gathering water along the way, and when it found him, it would burst open, it would pour & weep, it would follow him and remind him in my stead. I was done crying. So I laughed, a short, ragged exhalation of air, and said – Serves me right for putting all my eggs in one bastard.
ratticus and i decided that a night such as this, with a lunar eclipse and a full moon, we couldn’t just stay cooped up in our apartment. so we dressed up like a couple of spooks to lurk in the shadows and explore the nearby trainyard. prowling across sidewalks strewn with leaves like confetti and broken glass like stars. everywhere i heard feral shrieks and whispering in the trees, but i wasn’t scared because i had rum in my belly and a switchblade in my boot.
we walked along the train tracks, listening to the clank and rattle of the L running parallel, occasionally pitching rocks at empty train cars, and then climbing around on them. everything smelled like steel and coal and industry, i said: ratticus, it smells like pittsburgh. mice and rats scurried around our feet, and i watched a blood-red shadow work its way across the moon. we sat on the edge of old rotted planks from abandoned tracks, next to an abandoned factory with smashed-out windows. i pitched a few more rocks at the empty train, and we talked about broken hearts. there were weird clicking and rustling sounds in the weeds and tall grasses. we waved at a metra train going past, all the passengers encased in the sleepy green glow of nighttime commuters.
then we walked back over the sets of tracks, poked around a bit more. there were crates and crates full of bricks, and just as i was about to pocket a few for possible future havoc, a car came up the ramp, headlights blazing, and pulled up near us. a cop car.
please step toward us. keep your hands out of your pockets.
of course we looked suspicious, a couple of girls all black hair and undertaker make-up. they said we were trespassing and that they needed to take us down to the station for questioning. they didn’t confiscate my knife, but they cuffed us and put us in the back seat of the cop car.
we were taken to the district ten police station, where we sat waiting around for a long time before anyone would tell us what was going on. i think everyone else there assumed we were in for drug possession. finally, we were taken into the office of the railroad cop. he was a muscular middle-aged man with a crew cut.
what were you girls doin’ in my train yard? he said, with his heavy chick-AH-go accent.
uh…we were just taking a walk. we live in the neighborhood.
apparently ratticus’ nervousness made him think she had a bad attitude, so he yelled at her for a bit. then he calmed down and said: look. normally i wouldn’t even care that you were up there. i’d turn a blind eye. but there was a burglary that went on in the area, and you just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.
he asked us a few questions about “if we’d seen anything when we were up there,” then he took down our information, and after being at the police station for about an hour and a half, we got in a cab and came home.
i guess i’m thankful that i didn’t have to spend a night in a cell, with a grumpy cellmate who would refuse my conversation when i’d try and ask her if she liked walt whitman.
but i’ll think about tonight every time i hear the trains go by. and don’t you think it’ll stop us from going back. we’ll just be more careful, next time.
-journal entry, October 28, 2004
there are some of you out there who are not reading this, but who should be. please stop fucking up my life. and if you’re going to profess feelings to me such as love, or that you can’t stop thinking about me, please make sure that it’s actually me you love, and not just some imaginary idealized version of me you have in your head.
and stop being so damn cute.
i’m a sucker and i can’t say no. because the best thing about new york city is you and me.
-from a journal entry, 10/25/04
The soundtrack from Sad and Beautiful World #5, autumn 2004.
others will try to bring you down. you will face legal trouble.
when the tarot cards and horoscopes are telling me in their hazy, cryptic manner that if i spend a significant amount of time with the boy i am in like with, we will become the next bonnie and clyde, should i run far away? i’ve always been up for a little killing and stealing. it seems to be part of a master plan.
other than that? the ghosts are getting noisier and the wind whistles around the cracks in my windows. i dreamt, a couple of nights ago, that i was traveling the dust bowl with the circus, and i really had become the loneliest woman on earth. no one must touch me, or they will waste away to nothing and then die of a broken heart. i feel that way, sometimes. i really do.
next weekend, it’s up north for us. we will explore tiny cemeteries tucked away in the woods and drink bitters with sam.
-from a journal entry, 10/21/04
The Loneliest Woman On Earth. October or November 2004.
showmen’s rest in woodlawn cemetery. bordered on all sides by big stone elephants. it started with that tragic day in 1918 when a carnival train caught fire, and about sixty raconteurs and roustabouts perished in the flames. i couldn’t help but tip my hat to all those graves marked “unknown male” and “unknown female.” and others that said things like “baldy,” or “smiley,” or “4 horse driver.” and the showmen and women continue to be buried there, it’s like walking through a tribute to all those that have lived the showbiz life.
i want to run away with the circus.
-journal entry, 10/8/04
Showmen’s Rest, the circus section of Woodlawn Cemetery in Forest Park. October 2004. Later, I used “Jess C. Duggan” as my stage name for a while.