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Lariat / Sunflower Field / So the Wind Won't Blow it All Away

from My Life's Work by Ben Seretan

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My friend makes me cry by texting me an unexpected picture of his brother as a child standing in front of a boxy silver sports car, the angles of it marking it as a late 80s luxury, almost painfully so. His brother is smiling in the driveway, a happy child, wearing clothes that pass for hip in 2018 - track pants with a checker print down the sides, big glasses, big athletic shoes, a crewneck sweater with some kind of graphic inset, can't make it out. The car was apparently used during the filming of Pretty Woman. Can't pin down precisely why it stirs something in me - his brother is angelic in the photo, the color of it is unmistakably contemporary with my own childhood in southern California, but I think it's because I love my friend and I know that he is looking through old photographs. It's this moment where it is evident that my friend has had his own rich and deep life and, in what feels like a moment of total generosity, he has given me a small glimpse of it, something from before we ever met. I understand it and he knows that I would. I miss him. I get a searingly painful email on my way home from Whole Foods, not what I expected to hear, and almost pass out on the train. I try to gather my things, my many groceries, my gym bag, and hobble for the door, but I'm so disoriented that I can't get out in time. I'm stuck, I'm sweating. I try to breathe slow and as I steady myself single tears pop out on their own accord, some body horror animus making them leap from eyes. I feel people watching me, not with anything other than mild interest. I imagine that they themselves have cried on the subway before. I cry because despite my absolute best intentions I've fucked something up really bad and caused someone pain and I did not realize to what extent. It is worse than I thought. During a mushroom trip in my old apartment in Greenpoint I cry gently because my partner at the time is moved to photograph my bare torso. She asks me to stand near the window, covered in a drape made of cheesecloth and a wooden dowel we purchased at the hardware store down the street. The light that's coming in is soft and early evening gentle, the cheesecloth casts a delicate, interwoven shadow across the curves of my stomach. She touches my stretch marks as if they are moving, little rivers, and adjusts the f-stop on her camera. The light meter is broken. It is the last time I will ever feel beautiful before her. Later on I spend a good portion of the evening staring at the stucco pattern of the north wall and at the weave of the shower curtain. I am fascinated by my own depth perception and, for a time, enjoy the serenity of examining only that phenomenon, no other thoughts. Later on a deep dread settles over me, like a down comforter, that I am stuck in an unending loop of bitterness, passed down from the very first, accompanied by some proud silent crying. I cried frequently in that apartment, often in the bathroom. It was a studio, one-room layout, nowhere else to go. Once I cried in the laundromat below because I was very ill with food poisoning and had actually shit the bed. I was was watching the sheets and I was scared to tell my partner what had happened, fearing her anger, perhaps unfairly. But I cry because, I think, I was just so exhausted, and I feel dizzy with malnourishment in the fluorescent light of the 4am laundromat. I cry listening to "Lady Cab Driver" alone at a cafe in Bologna the week that Prince dies in 2016. I feel very far from home, but I sing a mediocre cover of "Purple Rain" at the gig that night and feel a sense of communion with the world that also makes me cry. In a coffee shop down the street I cry fat ugly tears, shuddering, because I'm writing a letter to my unborn child. It is unclear to me at this time whether or not the letter will ever be read by who it is intended for. I don't recall what I wrote. On the treadmill in North Carolina I am suddenly moved to listen to "Maps" by the Yeah Yeah Yeahs. I am 40 minutes into an hour of cardio and I have not looked at any poisoned websites or listened to any mindless podcasts in over two weeks. My days are long and simple - hot weather, waking up before the sunrise, playing an electric organ for hours on end, walking to and from the YMCA every day. I feel like I am hearing it sung for the first time. It feels like I have cleaned all the windows in my body, like I have taken out the earplugs, like I am nude in the sun. I am overwhelmed, maybe I'm remembering what it was like being 14, and my tears hit the rubber tread spinning under my feet. I have also cried to the Beach Boys, the Buggles, Prince, Cher, and the Ronettes while running. I cry a few swift tears in the underground food court at Columbus Circle because, having just left my first therapy session in over ten years, I feel raw, unglued and unclothed. It is loud. I feel that I have been heard - "that sounds so hard for you, I'm sorry" - and that I have done something hard and, because I am a good boy, I want to give myself a treat. But nothing appeals to me here, I think of the calories, I think of the money, and I realize that there is nothing I could consume or buy that will soothe whatever unease I've lifted the rock off of (like going to the tide pools and watching the little creatures scurry around). I have to sit with it, feel the weight off my shoulders and the pit in my guts, that's the work. I cry because I am too fat for the clothes I have decided to try on. In college I cry because I feel it necessary to tell my friend about the confusing and terrible night that happened at his long distance girlfriend's house. We all smoked weed and watched Scrubs and then we all slept on sleeping bags spread out on her bedroom floor. I had been sleeping elsewhere all week but for whatever reason that's what we did, it seems obvious now, but I was trying to fall asleep and I could hear the two of them fucking or doing something sexual, I didn't investigate what exactly, and later I felt someone's hands on me, I woke up to their warmth and the smell of tobacco on skin. I remember getting up and leaving at one point, freaked out, and being begged to come back. I still feel the hot shame of all of this, I cried so much, I felt so far away and so out of my depth and like such a bad person. Her voice small on the speakerphone. And my buddy was so nice about it, he forgave me absolutely, he said that clearly I could see I was sorry, he hugged me. I don't think I could ever really face him again. He started dealing coke shortly thereafter anyway, not my scene, he also tried to make me smoke a whole eighth of weed one night for some reason, some kind of initiation. We were drifting apart clearly anyway but his girlfriend put her lips on mine that night and I put my hand up her shirt while he was a few feet away - did he know? was he into it? questions I couldn't possibly work out at 18. And I could never face his forgiveness, despite it. Many years later on I cry because I see his name at the bottom of a movie poster I am putting up at my shitty movie theater job. His name is at eye-level as I'm putting up the poster, he's credited on the film, and the fact that showing the movie will make him money makes me sick to my stomach. In that same lobby I cry very unexpectedly, around the same time I think, because the man who shot a classmate of mine to death in broad daylight eludes the more serious murder charges on a mental health plea. He'll spend the rest of his life in an institution. Not that I want him to be executed - I don't believe in the death penalty, I don't in fact believe in prisons - but seeing the story in the news knocks the wind out of me. I can't explain why I'm upset to my boss (who is so kind) and so I take a few laps around the upper west side, crying and hyperventilating, maybe finally ridding my body of those days, of being locked in my own house receiving packed lunches from security guards. I cry first thing in the morning at my mom's house in Las Vegas when I receive word over the phone that my coworker has tragically and unexpectedly died. I don't believe it at first, but when my friend - so strong, solid as a wind worn cliff - chokes up I absolutely lose it and cry until I fall back asleep. At one very low point last summer I cry because I am profoundly ill with strep throat and, despite not having insurance, the urgent care clinic waives the majority of my fees. Later on I play a chord on my piano and burst into tears. That night I see fireflies blinking on and off in my backyard and cry some more. Just now I cry, maybe more of a half cry, while reading this back.

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from My Life's Work, released August 30, 2018

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Ben Seretan Troy, New York

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