I wake up to you being a public asshole online and I guess it’s a good thing in a way because I get so angry that I’m able to get up this early on a Monday morning to go teach poetry at the high school that I’ll get lost trying to find and cut people off in the turning lane while screaming against my closed window.
I can only describe you as this song from a musical I watched the other night (because it’s got Aaron Tveit in it and I will watch anything with Aaron Tveit in it). The song, “I’m Alive,” has been in my Spotify playlist for years now because it was a fun boppy tune (sang by Aaron Tveit) about being alive, alive, so alive and it was a cute little encouragement, a nice song in the morning or while highway driving with the city lights illuminating the dark curves of the road and then I watched the musical, Next to Normal.
See, the musical is about this family—mother, father, daughter, son—and they’re real dysfunctional, but we find out that the son (played by Aaron Tveit) has been dead the whole time and is actually the mother’s trauma-induced hallucination. In the scene where this song unfolds, the mother is seeking treatment for her mental health issues and the son is afraid she’s going to forget about him—he’s not alive, everyone keeps saying, he’s been dead for sixteen years.
I’m alive, I’m alive, I am so alive, yells the son, swinging off balconies and around the doctor’s chairs, in his mother’s face, and I feed on the fear that’s behind your eyes. And I need you to need me, it’s no surprise, I’m alive. So alive.
And it’s probably a little unsettling for you to live in this city without being needed by me. I get it. It’s been unsettling for me to live in this city without being needed by you. I was once a stabilizer, you were once a constant, and we were once happy for three-hour periods of time separated by weeks because of each other.
I am your wish, your dream come true and I am your darkest nightmare too, sings the son as he slinks around the house and the office and the streets in his tight-fit t-shirt (that makes Aaron Tveit’s arms look fantastic). I’ve shown you; I own you.
And I’ve spent months now trying to move you out of the property you’ve bought in my mind and it’s kind of like that moment when you’re trying to carry a box of heavy things and it keeps slipping and scratching your arms and you can’t figure out how you’re going to get it from this room all the way to the back of the truck. And then suddenly you realize that the box has had handles the whole time and you wrap your fingers around them and you can just carry it out now. The whole treating-me-like-I-wasn’t-a-human thing—a handle. The ghost-loving and lies—handles. I don’t know how I expect to move you out if I keep forgetting the handles, if I keep trying and trying to carry you by all the ways you were beautiful, all the ways you made me feel good. Heavy things don’t carry away like that. This silly attention stunt—it’s a handle.
And that’s all this is when I break it down to its most basic parts—an attention stunt. You don’t like the way I exist without my eyes on you. The way I used to stand tall because of you beside me and the way I am standing taller now on my own. I get it. It was strange to me when I first noticed it too.
I’m right behind you. You say forget, but I’ll remind you. You can try to hide but you know that I will find you, says the son, hanging from the balcony. Cause if you won’t grieve me, you won’t leave me behind (and Aaron Tveit hits an incredible note here and we really see him).
And, Love, I see you. You can lower your voice and stop waving your hands like a madman. You don’t have to poke and prod, hang from the balcony, be a public asshole online to prove to me that you still exist. To prove to yourself that you do.
Believe me. I know you still exist. And I do miss you even when your name curls my hands into fists, but it’s a handle. We were something that my young dictionary brain called beautiful once and I will not try to pretend that isn’t true. Things that existed once still existed once even if they don’t exist anymore.
If a child starts to hyperventilate and you breathe slowly beside them, sometimes they unconsciously mirror your breaths. This is me breathing slowly beside you. This is still water when you expected volatile chemicals.
You’re alive. I know you’re alive. I’m glad you’re alive.
But I am too. I’m alive. I can see through you. I know what you are now.
Gabriela Gonzales is a Nashville-based writer who writes about the beautiful tragedy of human communication. She won first place for fiction in the Sandra Hutchins’ Humanities Symposium Writing Awards in 2016, 2017, and 2018 and received the Ruby Treadway award for fiction in 2019. Her work has been featured in Belmont Literary Journal, Synaesthesia Magazine, Cosmonauts Avenue, Kissing Dynamite, Wigleaf, and elsewhere. Her poetry in Lost Balloon was nominated for 2020’s Best of the Net. Read more of her work at gabrielagonzales.com and follow her on Twitter at @gabrielag2597. Gabriela really appreciates giraffes, the Oxford comma, and babies dressed like hipsters.
Photography by: Ricardo Gomez Angel