Thursday, November 12, 2009

Stolen Lines, Abandoned Selves

I dated this poet once that used to steal my lines. Can you imagine that? Sometimes I'd write them or text them or say them and then, suddenly, as if they were his own, they'd make a guest appearance in one of his poems. Not the Hilary Duff-like guest appearance on Gossip Girl, where she's scheduled for a handful of episodes in a season, but Blair's-employee-Dorota-guest appearance on the same show. The kind where she pops in for a minute and just as seamlessly pops back out and we don't see her again for the rest of the season. He inserted them in as if he had written or even just thought them up when he hadn't. Don't get me wrong, he had a masterful command of language, but it felt a little like creative theft to me. 

One time, during a reading he gave, someone seated a few feet away actually whispered to the person beside her, "I love that. Did you hear it? I love that." After said poet read: "I am on sabbatical from the world." 

Yup. That was mine.

At that moment, I wasn't upset, I was still rationalizing the emotional conflict I felt about being written and read aloud about. I was still hoping that my existence, if it had to be used in someone's poem, might have the ability to spark some sort of genius that I doubted my own life would be suspended long enough to create. On the first count, I'm fairly sure it didn't. On the second, I've now come to the realization I was wrong.

I have since decided I don't mind that I was written about and I've come to this conclusion because that person that was written about all those years ago is like the narrative self in creative nonfiction: chosen to serve a purpose, to tell a specific truth, not to make sense of or define a whole. That person, who was broken and depressed has remained just where he knew her and committed her: to the past.

Last semester, a student of mine from a class I taught his poetry to years ago emailed and asked me for a copy of his work saying, "I think my class would really enjoy it and I need to bring something in. Do you have it? Can you send it to me?" I didn't, but I directed her to the last email address I had for him, one I found in my old email account that serves as a receptacle for junk mail, forwards and the rare significant note from a long-lost friend, the one he used to write to when we still cared for one another in a way and with weight only letters could carry, around the time when he started to steal my lines and I started to fill my belly with bottles of rum and pills. When I found the address among the graveyard of my old life, those emails were there, too, shoved into a folder called "Ebay and Stuff" along with purchase confirmations and tracking numbers for vintage clothing from the 40's that I no longer wear. Those dresses of pink, black, white and plaid hang somewhere in the closet I share with my husband. I had forgotten I even had them.

When I navigate away from the email account, I leave the contents untouched, unopened, not willing to visit the girl that I was, afraid to hear what destruction she spoke, what lines he stole, how unknowing and desperate we were: he in his love, me in my despair. I think it's better, not feeling bad for what happened between us, not trying to make sense of that self I can't understand or excuse. I abandoned her there out of fear. How frightening it was to be left alone with her! Anywhere with her was like death! Even then, with so much time passed, I decide it's best to leave her there, amid the unwanted emails and unworn clothes, an age that defined an era, a movement of tragedy. Unopened, unread, unstirred. Sometimes its best not to linger on what scares us most. 

When I send my student the address, I wish her luck, apologize I can't do more and hope he understands that by sending her instead of me I'm letting him know that I'm sorry and that he can keep the lines.


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