Our Flag Means Death: Healing Us One Nudge at a Time

Image courtesy HBO: subject to copyright

Content Warning: Domestic Violence, Depression

Mild spoilers

So. Like many of my peers (and from the looks of it, the entirety of Twitter and Tumblr) I just binge-watched Our Flag Means Death in two days, and reader, I am enchanted. Entranced. Equal parts giddy and weirdly emotional.

Last night, after finishing the finale, I tossed and turned for two hours because the show invigorated and energized me so much that I wasn’t able to sleep afterward.  This morning, I took to my phone like a coffee-fueled PR flunky and texted/messaged half my friend group to insist that they watch it immediately. “Hot, goth pirate who’s a secret cinnamon roll – ‘nuff said,” I told one friend. “It’s the most queer, diverse, heart-wide-open show I’ve ever seen,” I told another. To another still, I raved about the brilliant cinematography of THAT scene (you know the one. Nudge, nudge).

Despite my shallow gushing, what really touched me so poignantly about this show, beyond the obvious – how deeply, beautifully inclusive it is, how queer, how silly and hilarious and utterly breathtaking – is that Our Flag Means Death is healing. Not since Schitt’s Creek have I felt such utter restorative joy in a television show. OFMD is for those who have often felt invisible, maligned or abused in society – the LGBTQ community, people of color, the neurodivergent, the disabled, the misfits and the outcasts, and especially those whose lives intersect at multiple points on those spectrums. Those who have always lived outside the lines, known and felt as “other” unless they mask their identities to placate normalcy.

Image Courtesy HBO: subject to copyright

Our Flag Means Death isn’t really for me – I mean, it is to an extent, as a bisexual neurodivergent woman, but ultimately as someone who is cis, white and in a heterosexual relationship, I am not the target audience, and rightly so. Women like me have no shortage of platforms to make our opinions known, but I still want to talk about what this show means to me in my personal space. Because this, this is something different. Something desperately needed. Something new and beautiful. No queerbaiting, no wolf-in-sheep’s clothing, promising representation only to deliver caricature and stereotypes. It’s honest, real, raw, beautiful, and it delivers.

Our Flag Means Death is a balm, and what I’m seeing is so many wounded people thankful for the healing ointment it provides.

I’m one of those people.  

Me in Coromandel, New Zealand, 2002. My “fake” smile.

In late 2002, or maybe early 2003 (just shy of twenty years ago), I was walking down Newmarket Street in Auckland, New Zealand, on my way to work. Barely out of my teens, just-arrived, I was a country-bumpkin fish out of water, transplanted from rural North Georgia to one of New Zealand’s biggest cities. I was awkwardly and messily dressed in just-bought black slacks and a mauve button-down hastily purchased from The Warehouse (New Zealand’s answer to Walmart) the day before. I was just starting a new job at a solicitor’s in Parnell, the swaaaaanky part of Auckland. As I walked alone along the sidewalk, the heavy wind whipping my hair to-and-fro, the salty twang of the sea setting up permanent residence in my nostrils, I was terrified.

Terrified because before that point, I’d only left the States once. Because I’d never, ever lived abroad. Because I, fresh out of high school with no motivation or money for college, full of trauma with no prospects on the horizon, feeling like a burden and a loser, had thrown caution to the wind and accepted a plane ticket to New Zealand from a man I’d only been dating for six months. And thus had thrown myself into a world that, while utterly bewitching — a literal paradise on earth — was completely and totally foreign to me.

I was terrified because I was completely intimidated by this fancy new job in this fancy new place where I definitely didn’t belong, as a post-9/11 American in a progressive, outspoken country just as talk of WMDs was ramping up, but also too afraid to go back home, wherever that was now, and admit defeat.

Terrified because home had already become a war zone.

It hadn’t taken long. The abuse began before I ever left for New Zealand, when my ex-husband briefly lived in the States. He meticulously played his cards just so, careful not to trot out more than verbal and emotional blows until I was safely ensconced in Aotearoa. It was only then, when I was isolated from family and friends and drowning in jet lag and the awkward unease of someone who knows they’ve made a mistake but can’t admit it, that he finally put his hands on me. And for the next four years, those hands made my body a comfortable home for themselves. A human stress ball, if you will.

This nightmare had just begun that windy morning in Auckland, as I walked down the street in Newmarket, nervous butterflies fluttering in my belly, my Walkman pounding in my ears the lyrics to Audioslave’s “I am the Highway” (a song I love to this day because it reminds me of the first kernel of hope I had that I might get away. The hope took root early, but it took years to water it and let it bloom). But anyway, Auckland: as I walked, I passed a large theater. It’s been many years and I forget the name, but it was swank, with huge, glossy posters hanging on the outside of the building. I would analyze those slick movie posters on my walks, and dream about living lives within those films. I especially loved the independent local films, films that helped me to understand the beautiful culture I was now immersed in; films that made me feel like I was home. Anything to anchor me to a place where I felt increasingly adrift.

At some point a year or so later I became aware of an up-and-coming young director named Taika Waititi and his new short film Two Cars, One Night. To this day I remember the look of that black and white poster, stark and simple, and the feelings it invoked in me. For a moment there, Taika was all they could talk about on the news; young Maori-Jewish director who wrote sweet, short films that portrayed the beautiful simplicity of New Zealand indigenous life. I can’t remember how or when I eventually saw the movie for the first time, but I loved it. A short-and-sweet little story about how tenderness can come from unexpected places and people, about how common ground can be found anywhere, should you care to look, and the innocence of childhood.

Two Cars, One Night, Directed by Taika Waititi

From that point on, I followed Taika Waititi’s career. Everyone was going on about Lord of the Rings, but I was more interested in Taika. Along with everybody else, I knew he was going to be a big deal one day. He was just that talented. And as the years went on, living in a silent hell contained within a Russian doll of paradise; as the abuse worsened; as I developed health problems and inflammation due to stress; as I became agoraphobic; unrecognizable to myself in pictures I don’t like to look at to this day; as I started to consider ending my life, I clung to the precious New Zealand art and artists that gave me a welcome I’d never felt at home. Writers like Alan Duff and Witi Ihimaera and Janet Frame and Keri Hulme; musicians like Fat Freddy’s Drop and Salmonella Dub and Crowded House; directors like Taika Waititi. In the low, dark times, the art was all I had to cling to, a small lifeboat in a desperate churning sea that I knew would eventually drown me, one day or another, one way or another. It was only a matter of time.

Another fakery. Or “fuckery”.

After a couple of years, we moved from Auckland to Taupo, then to Rotorua, aka “Rotovegas”, a place I loved. I got a job working as a receptionist at a large, multi-national corporation.  Somehow, I kept falling upwards into these opportunities despite no belief in myself whatsoever; it was a blessing, too, because failure was not an option at home. My ticket was not free, and a fist reminded me when my own sub-conscious didn’t.

I was terrible at this job but I loved it, in part because of my supervisor, a middle-aged man named Hemi with whom I shared a small, dusty, grease-stained office. On my very first day, he pushed his books and papers aside and offered me his dingy desk, his smile wide with pleasure at his own generosity, and for months, he’d stand in the corner going over paperwork rather than take my seat. The two of us were weirdly sequestered in a different part of the building than the rest of the staff, but neither of us minded. We were both outcasts. Hemi was of average height, with a shock of dark hair that fell over his forehead, deep, warm brown eyes and a mouthful of endearing Maori colloquialisms: “Chur”, “Choice”, and “you right?”. He was a terrible boss and I was an awful employee: neither of us got anything done. We were too busy chatting, laughing, and tip-toeing around each other, both of us too polite to be assertive. It was the happiest time of my years in New Zealand, living in Rotorua and seeing Hemi every day. He was everything my husband wasn’t: kind, deliberate, funny, self-deprecating, unfussed, humble. One dreadful day, a colleague of ours was killed in a terrible, violent accident. Even though the man had been on Hemi’s crew for years and I barely knew him, Hemi spent that morning comforting me, after he told me what had happened in a voice wavering with swallowed tears. He thought nothing of crying in front of me.

In my head, an elaborate fantasy world formed in which Hemi and I ran away together. He was twenty years my senior, married, and a gulf wider than the Pacific lay between us in terms of culture, life experience and circumstances…but for that year, he was the only person I had. He might have flirted occasionally, or perhaps I only distorted our friendship; I was young, and such was my need for positive attention. For comfort. All I knew was that Hemi’s warm brown eyes twinkled when I entered the office every morning, and that he was thoughtful in a way that no-one had ever been toward me before. When I talked of growing up in the States, he listened, interested. He didn’t mock my southern accent like my husband or question me about why my home country sucked. At a company barbecue, some co-workers prepared a hangi, where food is roasted underground, cooked by thermal energy. I’ll never forget Hemi putting extra kumara (New Zealand sweet potatoes) in the ground for me, knowing I was a vegetarian. Nor will I forget my relief when my husband called and said he had to work late and wouldn’t be attending. Over cans of Tui, Hemi and I talked until after dark.


Hemi wasn’t only a friend to me; he was a lifeline. Nothing romantic ever happened between us, and though I wanted it at the time, now I’m deeply grateful to this man for the move he never made. He was a good guy. And I imagine he knew that I was a damaged, vulnerable young woman who would have only been hurt even worse, and I was already bruised beyond repair. I like to think Hemi saw me for who I was, all of it, and was happy to simply give me what I needed, which was a friend who saw me clear.

By the end I didn’t recognize myself. I didn’t like pictures and I still don’t like to look at these. But I was lucky to have one friend who saw me and liked me for who I was.

There’s something else Hemi gave me: an example.

My white, cis-male ex lived his life beneath an umbrella of privilege. Oh, he ticked the right boxes and said the right things in mixed company, but in his heart, he was angry, embittered, and desperate. For most of our four years together, he took those feelings out on me. Undiagnosed and untreated mental illness only added to the chaos. His barely disguised disdain and resentment for me drove almost everything he did. While he delighted in “teaching” me about his country and his culture, the way he spoke of those he saw as inferior rankled. One of his favorite things to do was ironically quote Jake “the Muss”, an abusive man played to perfection by actor Temuera Morrison in the film Once Were Warriors, to me. “Cook me some fucking eggs, eh Beth?” He’d screech and laugh, the amusement never reaching his eyes. The only things he ever had to offer about Maori culture were at best, casually racist and at worst, full of spite. Diabolical, yet equal-opportunity in his cruelty, he’d sometimes bring me home leaflets and flyers about how to leave an abuser, knowing I didn’t have the courage.

It wasn’t just him. Seeing the way his friends and colleagues behaved; the way they talked about women, immigrants and indigenous populations, and the entitlement they often showed, I began to assume that everyone must feel this way, that I was the odd one out. That this idea of New Zealand as a liberal paradise must be pure propaganda. That this was just life now.

But then I met Hemi. And I realized that there were men like him all over New Zealand, and the world, probably. Men who are kind, intelligent, interested — secure enough in their masculinity that they don’t need to prove themselves to themselves through violence. Men who can – and do – love openly, without fear.

And god, how I clung to that. How, once I finally was able to escape with my life and come back home, I continued to cling to that.

I left New Zealand abruptly, so quickly I didn’t even realize I was formulating my own escape until I was already out, and never got to tell Hemi goodbye. I mourned and grieved, not only for New Zealand, a place I didn’t want to leave, but had to if I didn’t want to die — but I also grieved for the one friendship I’d had that felt real, and good, and safe.

East Cape, New Zealand. IMO, the most beautiful place on earth.

So for years, I listened to my Fat Freddy’s Drop and watched my New Zealand films and talked everyone’s ear off about Aotearoa and how much I missed it, as they laughed about my pseudo-New Zealand accent and how goofy it sounded (that has now worn off, and I just sound like a hillbilly). I got a Kia Kaha (“stay strong”) tattoo with an unfurling koru, to remind me of my second home, and began the slow, arduous task of trying to move on. I wrote two fiction novels based on my time in New Zealand, featuring a leading man named Hemi, which I self-published. I thought telling my story, even cloaked in fiction, would be the final step in healing. It worked, for a time. But letting people see behind the mask wasn’t a comfortable place yet. Friends would tell me how much the book triggered them; how much it hurt them, how sad they found it. I felt exposed, and guilty. My story was hurting people. I didn’t want them to feel what I had felt for so long. I eventually took them down.

It’s amazing how twenty years can go by in a flash. At the start of 2022, I began to realize, with some horror, that I was coming up on the 20-year-anniversay of moving to New Zealand. It had been 20 years since I scratched out my signature on a hastily produced marriage certificate and signed a deal with the devil, no honeymoon or happy marriage to follow; only pain. Twenty years…shouldn’t I be over this? I thought I was. I thought I’d healed. And yet. As the much-argued-over F. Scott Fitzgerald says in my favorite novel, “So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past”, I realized I was sailing backwards yet again, like Stede Bonnet, into the open sea with no idea how to captain a ship. Back into the icy waters of unresolved trauma. I was walking underwater; in slow-motion, just waiting for the inevitable day that I’d finally run out of breath and drown. My recent asthma-flares, leftover remnants from a bout with COVID, only made the feeling all-too real. I was drowning. We all were.  

Image courtesy HBO: Subject to copyright

“It’s just fucking hard sometimes, you know? You ever feel trapped, like you’re just treading water, waiting to drown?” – Edward Teach

I wondered: should I speak about this? Break down the barrier I’d erected and talk openly, or throw a few more stones on the pile? I truly had no fucking idea, but inside, a fire roared. Outside, the water crept higher.

And all y’all kept tweeting about this damn show. Our Flag Means Death. Following Taika’s pursuits, I was aware of the show and planned to watch it, but being so busy, I kept putting it off. You know how you become so accustomed to a routine you start automatically pushing things away, knowing you’re causing your own burnout? But y’all kept tweeting, and sharing your fan art, and finally, unable to resist the sweet temptation of a pop culture moment, I succumbed.

And this goddamn show healed me.

Staring at this beautiful, ridiculous, silly love story between two goofy-ass pirates, one of them a secret cinnamon roll concealed by a goth leather getup and salt-and-pepper beard; the other a fancyman with delicate curling blond hair and musical laughter (his hand gently resting on a railing that looks like a koru), both complete and total buffoons, I began to feel something like joy. I laughed out loud. My heart soared at the diversity of the beautiful cast, the delicate-but-realistic relationships between the characters. The way Ed stares at Stede with something like awe in his soft brown eyes, the way the characters touch each other with tenderness and familiarity; without pause, without fear.

That scene. That nudge. Oh, my.

After the finale, I turned off the TV and just sat there for a moment, breathing. Then, the hugest grin broke out on my face. My heart was beating in my chest, exhilarated, as I realized what I’d just seen.

Image Courtesy HBO: Subject to copyright

All the things that people love about this show are there for me, too. The diversity, the celebrating of queerness, of neurodivergence, of love-in-all-it’s-forms – fuck tolerance, fuck acceptance, we’ll have nothing less than CELEBRATION – but also, the quiet tenderness of a man learning to feel his feelings and treat others with kindness, respect and love. The journey of Ed. Watching it, then digesting it, I began to realize why I’ve always loved Taika Waititi.

He reminds me of my old friend Hemi.

Waititi’s portrayal of Ed makes it clear. The soft brown eyes. The weighted, carefully thought-out words. His hardness and roughness, his undeniable masculinity that will flip on a dime and turn into tentative, deliberate loving when he’s with Stede. That use of touch – both the touches that happen and the ones that don’t – all careful, meaningful choices. The musical lilt of his Kiwi accent, always-ending-on-a-high-note; bright. The way he marvels at the feelings he’s experiencing, rather than shying away from fear. Even after things go pear-shaped and Ed resumes his Blackbeard persona, that man is still in there, behind the now tear-filled warm brown eyes. And we understand that he’s able to cry now. That he hasn’t lost everything.

This show is so important because it takes every stupid trope we’ve ever been sold on masculinity and turns it upside down. Shakes it loose, and casts it aside. And good riddance to it.

These characters – Stede Bonnet and Ed “Blackbeard” Teach and all their crew – beautifully embody the millions of different ways one can be a man, be a woman, be non-binary or something else entirely. This show is all about celebrating that feeling of being comfortable in one’s skin, and being loved unconditionally by the people that matter. Found family, love without conditions, without masking. A world where differences are interesting and even enchanting. Where friendships are affectionate and loving. A world in which pronouns are adopted easily, kisses are shared openly, and two ridiculous, silly men can express all the love in the entire world with one sexy wink and a foot nudge.

God, I needed that. We’ve all needed it for so long.

Being a survivor comes in waves. You have good days, bad days, then good years, bad years. As time goes on, the good becomes more frequent and the bad shows up less often. Some days, even twenty years on, I feel like I’m Ed’s Kraken – doomed to hurt myself and everyone else with the pain that’s pulling me under – but what’s different now is that I have the skills to talk about my experiences, work through my trauma, and come up for air. I’m not drowning anymore; I am my own rescuer, buoyed by art and music and writing and breathtakingly fresh and beautiful shows like Our Flag is Death for the days that are hard.

There’s no need to dread an anniversary. Twenty years since…nah, forget that. What it’s been is twenty years of healing. Twenty years of working, of writing, of creating a family, of celebrating new friendships, of milestones and successes and dreams and realities and wonderful television shows with cute goth boys loving soft boys.

Image courtesy HBO: Subject to copyright

“What if it’s not a death? What if life just begins again?”

What if, indeed. There’s not enough thanks or flowers in the world to give Taika Waititi, David Jenkins, Rhys Darby and the rest of the cast, crew, producers and writers of this beautiful, much-needed piece of art. Our Flag is Death is a masterpiece of television and with it, you are healing people, one belly laugh and nudge at a time. Kia Ora, mates, and thank you.


Objects in the Mirror are Closer Than They Appear (a short story)

My little nothing-special car careens around a curve; I’m going too fast, the music is blaring, I’m screeching at top volume, only a third of my mind engaged on the act of driving. I am escaping – not once but twice – escaping my location, and escaping my mind. On days like this, when the sun is bright, peering into every crack and pore, illuminating the dust and hidden things, I feel I might crack open like an egg, my contents fried on the hot leather seats. It’s not wholly bad – light is disinfecting, they say.

To drive is to fly, fly away from that possibility, to run from the past. I drive and I drive and I drive, and I don’t mind the endless errands, the to-and-fro, I don’t mind sitting with my legs cramped in this poor woman’s car for the entire day if necessary, because I am running, and it’s easier to run if you can drive. To drive is to fly; the wheels our limited human version of wings. On wheels is the only place I can soar.


The warm crackle of the bonfire is a constant in my ears as I sit, huddled into myself, egg-shaped, the hard metal chair cutting into my back, as I watch you over the flames. You sit with a guitar in your arms, eyes closed, crooning, and all are crooning with you. A gathering of bohemian souls, awash with the light of the fire in its cleansing glory. Somehow, inexplicably, I am privy to this moment and I feel like a voyeur. I, sitting apart, a watcher, a wallflower. I get away with it because I have a pen, because they assume (secretly hope) I will document them.

I was never much of a singer.

But this is a lie I tell myself.

My reed-thin voice is of its own design; it is a mechanism, a thin egg-shell to enclose the tender yolk within. I cannot disguise pain from my voice. No matter the monotone I cultivate, it comes out in a wavering ribbon of unbeaten egg white, flowing and trembling through the cracks, giving me away. This happens in my normal speaking voice, when I speak of things beyond the comfort zone, when I zoom past the barriers I’ve erected for this purpose, and I’ve learned to talk with my hands to keep it at bay. When I sing, my hands are rendered mute and the voice emerges. The shell cracks and out I seep, and all is laid bare, and you can see, and you can see, and you can see. I cannot bear to be seen.

Not unless it’s through a filter.

But they are all singing, these denim-clad souls with their craft beer, cold and dripping with organic dew, with their sparkling eyes and clear skin, signs of health, of wealth; I long to be part of it, I want to be a bohemian, too, an artist, some inspired thing, mysterious and admired, part of the club. The kind of woman with free-flowing hair who oozes sensuality, who bakes homemade bread and strums out tunes on a sticker-covered guitar, barefoot, in flowing skirts. Some modern-day hipster Venus. Instead of this cracked, poor, pitiful excuse of a whatever. A woman who barely looks the part, who is inspired by everyone yet inspires no-one. What good is the pen I hold, if it only leaks ink on my bitter hands? I cannot tell a story if I don’t join a story.

This is utter nonsense, but I’ve learned to torture myself in his stead.

And so, defiant, I raise my voice, just a little, just enough to blend in but not stand out on its own. I sing along with your words to salt the wound and chase the bitterness.

And they hurt. Your words are beautiful but they hurt. Tender, swelling with perfect pitch, warbling intensity, warm and smooth like honey, but. Just when you give yourself to it, let yourself go, it bites.

I picture you as a little boy, doe-eyed and innocent, slightly crooked smile, child’s brows arched in curiosity. I picture you in your room, alone, I picture your scrunched face as it trains itself not to cry, but to sing instead. To write. To channel yourself into art, the way countless others have done before. To dance and writhe and scream it all away – you shaman, you charmer, you beautiful disaster, you punk-rock god-boy – you taught yourself to become art, the canvas and the paint – how do you do that, and will you teach me?

You’re so beautiful it’s hard to look at you, but it’s hard not to, too.

Will you teach me?

Your eyes open and meet mine. Blue on black. For whatever color my eyes are, they are black.

You hear me.

We sing together for a beat, a line, the longest I can go before I shut my mouth and look away. Your eyes don’t blink, and they don’t search. They hold a gaze that is full of a million shared understandings, you have heard the meek that cloaks the bleak, the stuff I’m made of, and the pit between my stomach and my heart clenches and aches and then I’m standing up, unfurling from the chair like a fern frond in the sun, and I’m running, running, running, with the crackle of the bonfire now my past, only the smoke trailing behind me.

It’s like a movie cliché. They always stroke their jaw thoughtfully (is this considered manly? Does it give a ‘man’s man’ a touch of intelligence, of sophistication?), and its always a big, strong, square chin. He strokes his square chin thoughtfully. The black hairs on his knuckles shine in the light overhead. That same square chin has a bit of stubble, a five-o-clock shadow, which makes him distinguished. Like the ‘before’ in a bad commercial for razors. He strokes and strokes his chin, cradles it gingerly between his thumb and forefinger, his chin a treasure in his hand, delicate. It is a moment that seems to repeat on a loop, the record caught, the tape jammed, the car stalled.

The egg cracked.

A fluid movement, the black-haired knuckles unfurling into a fist, moving from chin through air and to face, a quick, serpentine action. It is graceful, and I hate him for that. I hate his choreographed violence, how perfect it is.

The same hand that caresses his chin so thoughtfully smashes into my face without much thought at all.

Gasping, I let myself in through the sliding-glass door, imagining it shattering around my head, the crunch of glass raining down into my hair like shimmering glitter, baptizing me with a million tiny pin-prick cuts, the blood, running from my face in an elegant stream, a beautiful stream, mainly from my eyes, like the devil’s eyeliner.

I imagine so many things breaking; I suppose its good I don’t have that form of ESP where I can make things happen. So many broken shards of glass; they would be everywhere.

I dart down the hall; I don’t know this place well. I stumble into a bathroom. Splash water on my face. Look in the mirror, curse my appearance. Curse the lines around my mouth, the splotchiness of my forehead, my listless stupid fucking hair.

I am so embarrassed. I let myself be seen, and now I will disappear.

A gentle knock on the door. My chest freezes. My mouth forms an “O.” The shower curtain is mildewed and stiff, but I consider wrapping up in it, like a burial shroud.

Sometime later I emerge from the bathroom, confident that whomever knocked went to piss outside and I’m safe and alone. I yearn for the safety of my car. I haven’t drank much, I can flee now, I can fly away. Blast the music so loud my windows rattle, and scream along until my throat is raw. Escape.

But you’re in the hall. You followed me. You waited.

You don’t ask if I’m okay. You don’t smile or nod. You don’t say sorry or even wait for me to speak, to mutter an ‘excuse me’ – instead you reach for me, pull me close, and we hit the wall in a tumble of sweat and smoke and mouths, and I can’t understand why you’re kissing me or why I am kissing back. Your mouth is soft as a pillow but it moves rough. We’re a jumble of fucked up bodies on somebody’s hall carpet, you pressing me against the wall with the length of your body, small and compact though it is, and even though I am taller than you, you’re pushing me upwards, up, up, until I feel my head will hit the ceiling, and your mouth is like fire and I’m melting forever.

I’m hardboiled, bobbing in the water, and I’m solid and I’m seen and I’m –

The pain in me sees the pain in you.

Is there pain yoga? Where people go to do corpse pose and sun salutation and look at each other and cry? Can we stand stock-still, ramrod straight, like trees, and let the pain pour from our veins and down our legs, sticky-sweet and warm? Can we be sap together?

We went on so many drives, he and I. We toured the country. We rode, sometimes with the radio off, sometimes on – and one time I read him poetry as he drove – T.S. Eliot, my favorite – something I always wanted to do, fancying myself a romantic, a literary sap, and now that’s ruined because I did it with him, and he was bad, and I can’t very well do it again – but no matter the background noise, we always rode in silence.

We always rode in silence.

To this day, in the pit between my stomach and my chest, behind the ache, there is silence.

You peel me off the floor.

I’m out of breath, and you are too, but you are beautiful and I am not, all red-faced and leaking air like an overfilled balloon.

You’ve not said a word. You stare at me, your eyes full of…full of me, knowing me, understanding me. I quake. How is it you’ve read all of me when I haven’t written a word? You haven’t seen one single page.

How is it you are everything and nothing all at once?

Will you teach me?

He hated coats. He wore shorts and t-shirts and ugly sandals all year-round, even in the snow. How could a man so ludicrous, so unkempt, manage to break me so utterly. I hate myself for a lot of things but that’s the one I hate the most. The least I could have done is fall for a man who was gorgeous enough to get away with it.

What kind of stinking-shit thought is that, you utter betrayal of womanhood. What kind of backwards, stupid thought is that.

And yet-

Across the bonfire I saw your well-made light brown corduroy jacket, cloaking your arms as you in turn cloaked your guitar, and the corduroy matched the wood and the wood matched your shining hair, and everything about you was so warm and wholesome and alive and real, and I knew if I touched that corduroy of your jacket it would be sturdy but slightly soft, giving way under my fingers and would remind me of my teenage years, of corduroy pants, of a time gone by, of grunge, of youth, and god, I just want to cry thinking about that beautiful jacket and your beautiful mouth. Thinking about the kind of man who picks out a well-made corduroy jacket or a nice pair of soft boots to wear with his ripped jeans, instead of a guy who wears sandals in the winter and strokes his square chin with his hairy-knuckled, beating hands.

I never drove when we were together. It was a skill I acquired – forced of myself – much later. I always let him navigate, man the wheel.

And to this end, there were many nights and days of white-knuckling the ‘oh-shit-handle’ as he sped around mountains, squalled tires in the street, stopped in dark and still places to turn to me with eyes so devious they might have been yellow.

He quite literally drove me…

…well, to the brink. Right to the end of the road and then he stopped and, to our shared surprise, I got out.

Now I’m behind the wheel.

I listen to my music loud.

The pit between my stomach and my chest aches and seems to groan, but I turn the music up louder. I won’t listen to it.

My road is long and weary, but I’ve got plenty of gas in the tank.

Here, in my little car, I am as heard as I want to be. Here I am seen, too, by the sun that streams through my windshield, lighting up my face, warming my thighs.

Here I am the driver and god is my co-pilot, ha ha.

Here I leave you in the dust.

You extend a hand, help me stumble up to my feet. Your mouth twists into a crooked smile, beautiful. Your teeth are pointy and white and I want you to bite me. I don’t say that, though. I don’t say anything. Your blue eyes sparkle and shimmer along with the rest of you.

Unable to control the longing, I reach out and brush a finger over your coat. The corduroy is pliable, soft, but slightly rough to the touch. Just as I imagined. It’s an everyman coat, nothing special, but oh how you wear it. I know it must smell like you. Perhaps there are a few stray hairs clinging to the back of the fabric. Perhaps the inside is emblazoned with your name, in sharpie. Perhaps the pockets are filled with lighters, cigarettes, an errant phone number or two. Your car keys.

You’re still smiling. You lift up your arms, shrug out of the coat. And you wrap it around my shoulders. It slides over me like a hug; envelopes me and my heart fills with sweetness. I open my mouth to protest, but you shush me with a finger on my lips.

You lean forward, and I smell your sweetness, like wine, with a faint hint of smoke clinging to your hair. You plant a gentle kiss on my lips where your finger still rests and then you, your finger and your lips are gone down the hall. I hear a fragment of a tune as you hum your way out into the night. I yearn to go after you, to be a part of it, but it’s not for me.

You are one full person, and it has taken you time to get to that wholeness.

I’m not there yet, but I will be, maybe.

I get in my car.

Hold an egg in your hand. Feel the firm but delicate shell on your palm, cool. The oblong, satisfying slope of the oval. Oeuf. Huevos. The egg is a weird thing, so delicate on the outside, so oddly-made, but inside lies the universe.

What is your desire?

How do I presume?

Do you yearn to crack it under your fingers, exert pressure, feel your strength as the shell gives away in your fingers, splinters, pieces of it sticking to your skin, as the blob tumbles out, plops on the floor without grace? Or do you nurture it, cradle it, place it gingerly back in its crate, because it exists in its own space and purpose and unless its breakfast time, there’s no need for violence?

Breakfast was never my thing.

Sometimes I dream that I’m driving away from him. We’re in some random parking lot, and he’s standing there, and he’s changed, gone are the shorts and sandals; now it’s a sleek black suit, and his hair is slicked back, and he looks so good, so very good, sleek and handsome and almost oiled, but it’s too late, too late, far too late. He’s changed but so have I, and I’m one less egg in your carton, my dear.

I crank the car, and I turn on my music, loud. The heavy wind of our shared city, soon to be my ex-city, whips through the open windows, blows my hair around my face like a tangled halo. I buckle up, because I now care about my safety. I lean the seat back, cocky, look at him from the rearviewmirror. My bitter hand opens, the trim fingers extend, and the middle one grazes across his cheek in my mind, upward, upward, upward, flying like the most triumphant bird you’ve ever seen.

And then I’m gone down the road, leaving him in a cloud of dust that will never remove from his clothes. He will see me every time he tries to wash.


I took a drive today

time to emancipate

I guess it was the beatings made me wise

but i’m not about to give thanks, or apologize

…saw things so much clearer…

once you were in my rearviewmirror.

-Pearl Jam

I put millions of miles under my heels

and still too close to you I feel…

I am not your rolling wheels

I am the highway

I am not your carpet ride

I am the sky.


Copyright 2018 Lillah Lawson