“Half-Life” by Joseph Levens

Don’t look at her. Look at me. Don’t ask her what she did last night. Ask if I’m doing anything tomorrow. Get your eyes off that perky little button nose of hers, that beckoning mouth. It’s me you want. Me. Me. Me.

If you focus hard enough, you can see right through this body of mine. I will not show up in a picture as anything more than a gray tint in the air, something dissolving slowly into nothing. I want to go somewhere, anywhere, before I, one day soon, simply disappear. Everything about me suggests a vanishing act.

Last week I dated a taxi driver. I was walking along Bleecker Street when the yellow car pulled up alongside.

“Where you going, girl?” he said.

“I don’t know,” I said.

“Hop in. I take you there,” he said.

So, what do you think of my nails? The color is called Love Heat Lips. The woman next to me—she’s not wearing any nails. She doesn’t need them.

I want to be that girl you see on the bottle of the shampoo, running through the dreamy sunny blurry sunflower field, the long curly blonde hair, the broomstick shadow of the white cotton skirt streaming behind. How can anything ever be wrong with her life?

Don’t you just want to squeeze this thing, maybe claw at it a little? Kiss it, even? I think it is the rayon that is making me a bit itchy in the chest.

When I was younger, I used to wonder if other people wondered what it was like to be me. Every year it’s one step forward and the world takes ten steps back. In the end, I’m alone. It remains to be seen whether or not I will be the hero of my own life. I thought by now I’d know.

And how does it come to be that one feels so isolated in a city of eight million people? It happens. Believe it. The ever-blurry summer sunflower field. I suppose we can never really stop remembering what we once were. For me, in particular, the highly-sought fashion model who never had to say a word. Now I appreciate the eccentric view of the power of the mind over the body. In fact, I collect a lot of things that are in no way true.

I went to another bar last night and let a man know I was lonely for an hour longer
than I should have. On weeknights, it’s not really something I can consciously control.
Weekends are a completely different story, one I am typically not at liberty to discuss. I
will admit, though, that when I arrive home I like to pretend I am her, whoever she is.

I like to throw on flowing silk and flirt office-like. It’s hip. It’s sophisticated. I steal women’s business cards from restaurant counter fishbowls. I’m Liana Holmes, a financial analyst. I’m Susan Brackens, legal counsel. I’m Sydney on Wednesdays, Salamander on Thursdays. I make friends with men who dress just as smart. Take me out and drink me up.

Tomorrow morning I will feel like ordering in. I want to sing popular songs with musical accompaniment: I am invincible, as long as I am alive. I take a break, a glass of water. Don’t stand there watching me; follow me; show me what you can do. I will color my hair. No, not a blitzing auburn that attacks every last strand, but streaks of fuchsia, neon green, lemon yellow, unbalanced patches of them. Are there warnings on the boxes of dye: “Should not be used by those who have breached thirty years of age”?

My dead mother once told me: “You are never alone in the world, Sierra. Whatever it is you do, you are not the only one to do it. Not the only one to rhyme, to memorize, to count out patterns, to mix the colors, to stare out of windows, to stand in church entrances, to stay up all night, to want it to work, to want to dance.” Right.

I imagine myself a bird, sometimes a cardinal, all bright and garish in a cloudy mist; sometimes a mourning dove, smoky gray-brown, waddling on the grass-less earthen floor, forever grieving.

My mother used to tell me that what you let your mind dwell on, you become. That it is the dreamy one who constantly struggles in this life. My mother is dead. But I know more than this. I know that women find power in two ways: making
men lust for them, and shopping for shoes. And opportunity is always there, in those around me at this moment, and in the fancy places I attend, the elaborate functions I somehow still find happy invitation. I don’t write Thank You notes; I’m always on to the next thing.

Tomorrow I walk into the party alone and all eyes will momentarily turn, all heads spin, every muttered word brought to a complete stop. At ten-thirty, I arrive in a spandex blend, bearing glitter. I radiate. I rock. When I lick my fingers I can taste the honey. I wonder what it would be like to fling myself at this man talking to her, not me. I picture droplets of paint spewing from a brush, flung in the thin air, settling like tiny magnets. I could step between the two of them, say, “This is the part of me that responds to touch the most notably.” Or perhaps, still pointing to myself: “My dad built
everything you see here, from scratch.”

I want to hear more, from someone special, or anyone, really. Tell me, tell me more. Tell me about my wit and dynamic personality. About my addicting expressions and the way I snap out new words like whipple, whirlwind, wickersham. Wrap me in the blanket of your arms and tell me what won’t be fucking true ever, ever again.

(Fall 2013)