MAY 2009

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How to Leave
By Carolyne Whelan, Feb 16, 2009

Drunkenly at a party in a cement garage in Barcelona, your friends tie you to a chair with duct tape, ribbons, fabric tied into strips. It is evening after youíve purchased a bus ticket out of Spain. You always carry a knife and tonight you cut yourself free, laugh, request Joan Baez on the stereo and slow dance with the woman from the anarchist book loan. You awaken in between a brother and a sister on their bed in their squat above the garage, a place called Bad Doll, in the neighborhood Badal. You hop a turnstyle onto the subway and head back to gather your few belongingsóborrowed sleeping bag, pair of socks, denim jacket you stole from a best friend back home before leaving; your journal and Walkman you carry with you always, your copy of Visions of Cody that later you will lend to Jack the Australian, the tiny Beat Reader worn into the back pocket of your skirt forever. There is a bit of cereal still, which you eat with juice made from rotting pears, on the roof of the dilapidated compound youíve helped build. A few awaken to your footsteps and climb the ladder to meet you and share the remainder of last nightís wine. It is only 8 a.m. but you drink, merrily, because leaving is a tiny death. You climb down the ladders and stairs, balance across beams that hover over huge holes in the floors, ask Jack to lock the door behind you when you make it to the ground level. The subway ride is an easy theft. You will miss this place.

Or how about, to wake early one morning and pack the panniers of your bicycle with vitamin packets, an extra pair of bike shorts, your new sleeping bag, a reservoir of water. Attempt to leave before any of your thirteen roommates awaken in the five-bedroom house where you live. But people always do before you leave, so you make them pancakes and try to not say much. Let them ask if you are sure. Let them ask if you have everything you need, if they can help. Let them tell you you are braveóbut youíre a coward. Stay faced toward any wall too long and you crumble. And by wall perhaps you mean person, and by person you may mean love. Mount on, pedal hard. In a few hours your mother will call to ask if youíre going to your sisterís birthday party. She reminds you how hot it is, the heatwave rolling in, the rains coming. You turn back, ride the fifty miles home, let the rain baptize you, you unloveable atheist, you lying coward. Ride to your friendís record store. They buy you a beer and a burrito as they wait for the power to turn back on. They want to call you and asshole but instead say, why donít you ever pay attention to the forecast?

Or in the wallow of curiosityís loneliness, or the excitement of anything at all new, you invite everyone you know to your house and pick through your belongings. They take what they like, give you donations. Goodbye Kinks, The Who, Joan Baez, Bob Dylan. Goodbye Dostoyevsky, Camus, Alexie. Goodbye rock and shell collections, goodbye T-shirts of bands youíve entertained over the years. Goodbye, personal history. You feed your friends and miss them too soon. The ones you love donít come and you are too much of a pendulum to understand it is harder to be left. After, you clean the house and cry. You go to a movie with friends and cry. You pack up your bikes, hop on a Greyhound with a new fling and discover Kansas City. The consolation is a drive-in movie and an old friend. It is a bottle of Mad Dog on a rooftop, a free view of a sold out Ben Folds concert. It is the warmth of summer and your ability to justify just about anything.

Okay, now picture yourself by Fort Revere, in the town where you grew up. You sit on the grass, watching the waves and the lighthouse prepare to warm its lantern as the sun navigates down. It is dewy for this late in the day. The graveyard at the edge of the hill is in a tombstone shade, the harbor to your left smells of sulfur and that odd vanilla they think masks the rotting smell. Imagine a cigarette if you need to. A love is there who does not love you. You sit near him but not too close. You can smell each other. That summer sweat, the sweetness you carry between, regardless. Donít say a thing. Donít say a thing. Get back in the car and drive to the harbor and skip rocks into the bay. Walk along the beach. Tell the story of Nantasket at sunrise with your friend Kevin in high school, the water mercurial, the street cleaner drunk, toys and baby clothes and folding chairs washing up, piled by the sea-wall, a family evaporated. Drive home. Hitchhike to New York, sit on a stoop across the street from a bar, bum a cigarette (these are smoke-worthy times), sleep on the floor of a strangerís apartment and leave before anyone awakes. Donít go home.

Carolyne Whelan is currently completing her MFA in cross-genre at Chatham Universityís Creative Writing Graduate Program. She is a guest lecturer on contemporary poets at Chatham Universityís undergraduate program and on form and research at the University of Pittsburgh. She is the Assistant Editor at Autumn House Press and Coal Hill Review.

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