Things I Cannot Understand By Olivia Ghersen
TABLE OF CONTENTS 1. To East 44th 2. Six Things I Cannot Understand 3. What We Destroyed 4. With the Slightest of Movement 5. Carpeted Stairs 6. Hurts 7. Paragraphs 8. Things My Brother Has Done 9. On a January Evening 10. The Only Thing I Can Really Say Now Is This 11. Learning to Drive 14. Through the Window 15. Thanksgiving 16. A Spirituality 17. Pacific Coast Highway
Listen, are you breathing just a little, and calling it a life? - Mary Oliver
To East 44th It goes Riverside, Broadway, Amsterdam ,Columbus. West 106th, please, apartment 4B. A brownstone walk-up, no laundry facilities But there is a 24-hour deli around that corner. Take the 1 going downtown – it’s at 103rd Street Past the blaring McDonalds (buy fries whenever, they don’t close) Swipe, swipe again past the turnstile and prepare yourself for that blazing heat. 96th, 86th, 79th, 72nd, 66th (Lincoln Center), 59th, 50th, get off at Times Square It’s best if you don’t talk to anyone. And make sure you walk the right direction, damn it. Up the stairs, the S is leaving in 2 minutes (how embarrassing when you run to it, and the doors close in your face) Through the hall, echoing and grey. And then, then, it’s up into Grand Central The clock in the middle, the turquoise domed ceiling arching up above over-heated suits, business casual skirts, not-so-sensible heels Ride the escalator to exit on East Vanderbilt and it’s back to the sweltering heat back to the construction and cigarettes back to the heavy air that you breathe, because you have to.
Six Things I Cannot Understand The rudeness, the comments, the laughter, the sheer idiocy. Why yesterday I wanted to stay, and today I want to get out. Placing all trust in something I don’t even know is there. How there are shootings and earthquakes and diseases and deaths When there is a kind and loving God. Why I can’t watch the sunset every night and why I can’t get out of bed for the early morning. And how some things can hurt so much. And how two years later They still hurt.
What We Destroyed It was lost up the stairs, around the corner and over the railing with my back against the wall calling the wrong boy baby. It was after that late March Saturday night red cups spilling cheap, purple wine and his hand between my legs on the roof and the stars laughing down at me as I call the wrong boy baby. And January 2nd or 3rd, I donâ€™t remember â€“ what we destroyed lies on the bed on its back staring at the ceiling. It slips out of my grasp as I leave, kissing his neck instead of his mouth.
With the Slightest of Movement The thing that I miss most about smoking those Marlboro Lights is the morning when the air is fresh and the light blinding and that first inhale goes straight to your head. I cross my legs and flick the ash off the end.
Carpeted Stairs You hate the moon and the mountains and the lamppost and the rooftops and carpeted stairs and how red wine can stain silk shirts. You hate dull razors that leave red lines on your thighs. You hate the moment the elevators doors closed and the lock clicked with the slight turn of the key. You hate the dimly lit hallway and second-hand couches and bags of popcorn. You hate sticky floors and cowboy boots and climbing over railings. And you still hate the moon and the mountains and the lamppost, but most of all, you hate the stairs. You hate the slick top step that sent you into a spiral as you stepped out the door into the cold. You hate that you fell, and that you deserved it.
Hurts I am stuck in a room with a twin bed and a desk that doesnâ€™t fit. With white sheets that need to be washed and stained coffee mugs. and I am sorry. I am still so sorry.
Paragraphs One of my favorite things in the world is lying in my twin bed at home and listening to the sound of the rain as it taps the leaves on the hedge that separates our house from the next door neighbors. The rain drips from the gutter, occasionally hitting the window and dribbling down to the muddy ground. The pillow is cool on my cheek. I listen for the hollow, hooting sound of the train that will come barreling down the tracks, louder and louder until it disappears, chugging into the darkness that is rain and sleep.
I walk out into the drizzle in shoes that pinch my toes. They are black and pointy with a zipper on the side and a heel that is much higher than what I’m used to. I make so much noise when I walk into the lobby of my apartment building. They clunk along the crosswalk and through the puddles gathering below the curb as I wince, feeling the blisters start to form. It’s not that I don’t want to wear them, it’s that they hurt, and they make me want to take them off and run barefoot across the pavement, feeling the cold, wet, grey ground with every step.
I remember sitting on a bench smoking a cigarette on Amsterdam Avenue in New York. A guy asked me for a light, and then he asked me for my number. He seemed surprised that I had a red lighter. I gave him my number, but I told him I had somewhere to be. I walked to a corner store and got a bag of Lay’s Sour Cream and Onion potato chips because I hadn’t eaten anything and I threw my brand-new pack of Marlborough Lights in the trash can on 77th. I don’t even remember his name.
Things My Brother Has Done I am writing because I have an 18-year-old brother with a deep voice and big hands who is taller than me. Who smokes too much weed in his car at school. The school our parents are paying for him to attend. Where they trust him. Because I worry about the future About what it holds for us and that he won’t care like the time I asked him to pick me up and he said no. Like the time I asked him how he was doing - how everything was, because I actually care - if he was happy, because I actually care and he didn’t respond. (and that wasn’t the first time that he ignored me) Because he didn’t say goodbye before I left for the airport. Because he cussed me out when we were having dinner outside on the deck the summer corn and potatoes stared up at me from my plate Because he hasn’t said sorry, three months later. Because that room that we shared seems so far away. The bunk-beds the bean-bag chair two desks. Because there are some times when I’m afraid. My little brother – I’m afraid I’ll lose him.
On a January Evening The cold attempts to sneak through the front door. The windows freeze over, caked in winterâ€™s bitter bite. The last dying fingers of late afternoon light brush the tops of the coffee-colored tables, their delicate touch stroking legs of chairs, empty glasses. Night spreads across the sky spilling its promise of frost, and no stars. There is a table in the corner; Empty now. It sits and stares and gapes and stays. A false hope, a promise that fell apart like footprints in snow melting on the black tarmac of a parking lot. where I spent hours lost now, my honesty left there, on the table in the corner.
The Only Thing I Can Really Say Now Is This: Getting over you has been the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do because you have moved on and I haven’t and everyone knows that your new girlfriend looks exactly like me, but let’s just make one thing clear – I would never buy two cats with you like how you did with her even if I do think about you every day, or even if I do want to talk to you when I’m drunk you can be sure that I would never, ever buy two cats with you.
Learning to Drive Never leave your lights on overnight, always check your blind spot, make sure your car is in park when you turn it off. My father was the one to inform me of all this when I learned to drive when I was 16, and since I was driving his precious 1987 BMW, he had a couple other rules. “Always let the car warm up for a couple minutes before you start driving it in the morning.” “Make sure to tap off the excess water on the side of the windshield when you clean it off.” And his favorite: “Make sure to avoid potholes in the road. Things like nails and tacks get lodged in there, and you could get a flat tire.” When I first learned to drive, I was terrified of the freeway. The 101 cuts through my hometown of Santa Barbara like a long, silvery sword, separating the ocean from the mountains, an expanse of road that is impossible to avoid. Every time I got into the car, my hands would grip the wheel tightly and I would nervously ask, “Dad, can we not go on the freeway today?” to which he would patiently say “Sure, Liv.” I would exhale a breath that I didn’t know I was holding, flip my blinker, check my mirrors and slowly turn left onto the slow, familiar surface roads. I was so ready to drive myself everywhere, and never have to wait for anyone to pick me up ever again. It was about 9 at night first time I drove completely alone. I remember the headlights gliding over the black tarmac of North Jameson Lane, as I turned up the song that was playing on 103.3 and smiled to myself. 11
The fastest way to get to my high school was to take the freeway. I had a 0 period class that started at 7am. It was a Thursday when I turned onto the on-ramp of the freeway I knew would have hardly anyone on it at that early hour, and stupidly, didn’t check my blind spot. The next thing I knew, a huge 16-wheeler semi was blaring its horn at me as my car sputtered and gasped its way up to 58 miles an hour. My heart leapt into my throat as I swerved over the shoulder of the right-hand lane, running straight into a two-foot-wide pothole. Shaken, I turned over my left shoulder and waited for the semi to pass before I ducked back into the lane. I got to school shaken, but all in one piece. The day went by as most days do, class after class until it was finally time to leave to go home. As I walked back to my car parked on the street by my English classroom, I noticed something different about it. It seemed to be slanting down towards one side. I walked to the right back wheel of the car, and sure enough, the tire was flat. I sighed and got in the car. Dad could fix this when I got home. I had no idea that when a car has a flat tire it makes the most horrible screeching, thumping noise in the world. I drove slowly and people pulled up next to me with their windows rolled down, “You have a flat tire!” they each obnoxiously pointed yelled. I waved my thanks and grimaced, put my sunglasses back on and drove home as quickly as my three-wheeled car could go. Needless to say, my dad was disappointed that a two-and-a-half-inch screw had gotten stuck in my tire and we had to pay to get it replaced. I don’t remember what he said when he was angry. I just remember “Sure, Liv” when I asked to borrow the car in 12
the first place. I remember “Sure, Liv” when I needed to use it to drive to a rehearsal the day after we got a new tire. I remember he trusted me enough to hand me the car keys, even after I did something that he had warned me against so many times. I remember my dad’s advice, but most of all, I remember how he says “Sure, Liv” and how he trusts me, even if I do run over potholes occasionally.
Through the Window “Though sometimes it is necessary to reteach a thing its loveliness” – Galway Kinnel It’s almost too dark The constant drip of the light And the branches waving unwillingly In the cold November air The glare hits the corner Where it folds into a straight line, Down, top to bottom And my back against the white The words scratch the surface Their meaning forgotten as they disappear With one quick swipe Lost to blind eyes.
Thanksgiving The floor was not covered in newspaper The morning did not stream through the curtains And the house was quiet. And for some reason (perhaps because this was the first time) it was all right to be alone. Yes, it was right to be alone, but not lonely. And that, I think, has made all the difference.
A Spirituality I. It is not something I have found It’s not Father, Son Holy Ghost who was planning this all along II. It’s not the warehouse next to the sewage treatment center Calvary Chapel with Hawaiian shirts, sugar doughnuts and guilt after the service III. Now, especially having done things so much worse cheated, lied, texted, seen, fucked, said. Why don’t I feel any need? IV. The closest thing is standing on the roof of the parking structure. Hollywood sign, downtown, Griffith. The sun going down: V. This is where I belong This is where I’m supposed to be. The huge skyscrapers and breathing.
Pacific Coast Highway With thanks to Mary Oliver You must be able to do three things. You must drive just a little over the speed limit. So that those cockroach police cars won’t bother chasing you. No blue lights screaming in your rearview mirror. So that you can pass the fuel-guzzling, smoke-spewing trucks. So that you get up that hill. So that you can see the other side. You must wear sunglasses, those ones you found at that party in June, those ones that are heavy and that often fall off your head. So you can pretend for at least 2 hours (88 miles) that you matter that people wonder about you. And finally you must roll the window down. You must roll it all the way down so that the salty air breathes throughout your car so that you can see the hazy fog hanging over the surface of the ocean. So that your arm can lazily hang down the side of the car. So that with every twist every turn of the highway, you can see what’s coming. So you can see what’s coming.
About the author: Olivia Ghersen is a senior majoring in Film Studies at Seattle University. Originally from Santa Barbara, California, she has embraced the Pacific Northwest lifestyle for the past four years, but plans on moving to either Los Angeles or New York upon graduation. Although her ultimate goal is to produce for film and television, she plans to keep poetry very close to her heart.