On Charles Bukowski
the flesh covers the bone
and they put a mind
in there and
sometimes a soul,
and the women break
vases against the walls
and the men drink too
and nobody finds the
crawling in and out
the bone and the
for more than
there’s no chance
we are all trapped
by a singular
nobody ever finds
the city dumps fill
the junkyards fill
the madhouses fill
the hospitals fill
the graveyards fill
–alone with everybody by Charles Bukowski, from Love Is A Dog From Hell (1977)
Charles Bukowski. An alcoholic dirty old man with a gambling addiction. A writer of prose and poetry. I should find everything about him odious, but his book of poetry called Love Is A Dog From Hell has been perhaps the most influential piece of writing in my life.
I was introduced to Bukowski by my first ever summer theatre fling. He was an actor with a bad-boy edge who rode a motorcycle and tasted like alcohol and clove cigarettes. I was fresh out of a really messed up relationship after my sophomore year of college, and he was intoxicating. He loaned me his copy of the book, complete with his scribbles and underlined passages, and I fell in love with the brutal honesty and bitter transparency of Bukowksi’s poetry.
That fling quickly fizzled, but I kept that book.
but give me one truly alive woman
walking across the floor toward me
and you can have all the poems
the good ones
the bad ones
or any that I might write
after this one.
–tonight by Charles Bukowski from Love Is A Dog From Hell (1977)
And then I loaned that book to a boy I dated in grad school. I was ultimately apathetic about the guy, who unfriended me on Facebook because I was too busy to go to Goth Prom with him. He was 32. Things got weird, and I never got the book back. I was heartbroken I lost my copy.
human relationships simply aren’t
–the drill by Charles Bukowski from Love Is A Dog From Hell (1977)
I bought another and furiously underlined and annotated it. This book was like handing a piece of my soul to someone, and so I shared it with every person I wanted to let in to my heart.
I loaned it to The Guy I Thought I Was Going To Marry. He was a poet himself, and he already knew about Bukowski. It was kismet. His own work was very similar, raw and honest and vulgar at times. And, come to find out, he was also a raging alcoholic.
It was a long distance relationship, and one day he decided that he was in love with his best friend and had to leave me. And so I lost my second copy, along with my heart.
i won’t blame you,
i will remember the kisses
our lips raw with love
and how you gave me
everything you had
and how I
offered you what was left of
–raw with love by Charles Bukowski, from What Matters Most Is How Well You Walk Through Fire (1999)
I bought a third copy. I pored over the familiar passages, my soul panging with the truths Bukowski spewed. I underlined new things, with new understandings, with newfound bitterness.
and you invented me
and I invented you
and that’s why we don’t
on this bed
you were the world’s
now it’s your turn
to wait for the touch
of the handle.
somebody will do it
and if they don’t
–beds, toilets, you and me– by Charles Bukowksi from Love is A Dog From Hell (1977)
I don’t know with whom that copy disappeared. I’m pretty sure I’m on at least my third now. It is inscribed with “Copy #3—Given and taken from lovers in the fallout.”
This book has been in constant motion for me for over ten years now. It has drifted in and out of my life, both literally and figuratively. It is inextricably linked to exciting new loves and sudden departures. It is as much a part of my romantic past as my partners have been.
It is what I reach for when I want to look deep into myself and dig around in my guts and pull out the little pieces of myself I had forgotten about. It is what I reach for when I am at my loneliest. He has so perfectly captured the melancholy defeat in love and loss, the dull ache of being alone.
there is a loneliness in the world so great
that you can see it in the slow movement of
the hands of a clock.
people so tired
either by love or no love.
people are just not good to each other
one on one…
people are not good to each other.
perhaps if they were
our deaths would not be so sad.
–the crunch by Charles Bukowski from Love Is A Dog From Hell (1977)
And it was Bukowski again this year who has begun to dig me out and dust me off after the last fallout.
I hang my head against the white
refrigerator and want to scream like
the last weeping of life forever but
I am bigger than the mountains.
–trapped by Charles Bukowski from Love is A Dog from Hell (1977)
On Being Alone
I’m an introvert. Hardcore. Being around people in social situations is utterly exhausting for me, and I hate small talk. So at parties, I generally just stand around creepily and stutter when someone tries to talk with me.
I’m so happy most of the time just staying home, entertaining myself with Netflix or writing or cuddling with my cat Winchester “Chet” The Dumpstercat.
But I wasn’t prepared for the loneliness of moving across the country to a new city and a new state where I knew no one, months after being left by the woman I thought I was going to be with for forever. There was something so soothing in knowing I was always going to have someone to share my life with, to witness and validate my experiences.
you were strong enough once to live alone
–another bed by Charles Bukowski from Love is A Dog From Hell (1977)
So here I was, in the middle of November 2015, in a strange town surrounded by strangers, joining a university job during the middle of the school year. I wasn’t just The New Girl, I was The New Joining Us Midyear Girl.
I was the queer person in a very straight department, in a very straight town.
What kind of campus town doesn’t even have a gay bar?
Not that I felt I could go by myself.
There was Tinder. That wasn’t around the last time I was single, but at this point, I didn’t want to DATE. I was too raw for that, my wounds yet too pink. I just wanted to meet people like me.
Initially, I completely closed myself off. I was living in a house with strangers, and I attempted to cook every meal I could in my bedroom with my electric kettle. I would slip through the hall into the bathroom when I needed it, praying I wouldn’t run into anyone. Living with strangers, I felt much more alone than I ever did when I lived by myself. I wanted to interact with the people I chose to interact with on my own terms.
I watched a lot of Netflix. I mainlined the entirety of Gilmore Girls for the first time, a show that I initially thought was a bit too sentimental for my hardened black heart. I tried watching some The L Word, but I was quickly reminded about how many damn sex scenes there were, and constantly pressing the mute button was getting tiresome.
I started writing again. I considered writing my first stand-up comedy set (still considering it, still thinking it’s a questionable idea…) I started a blog about healthy, eco-conscious couponing. I began walking more.
And I began to unearth myself. The parts of me that had been buried for years, under the silt of depression, exhaustion, and a codependent relationship.
And How I Owe My Sanity After My Divorce to My Dumpstercat
This kid, tho.
After the new year, I was finally in a stable enough living situation in which I could bring my cat to live with me. He had spent the past several months living with my parents while I sorted things out. Chet is my sweet little man, a big all black cat with eyes that are always so huge with dilated pupils. He looks like a cartoon. My ex and I had just gotten him less than a year before from the shelter. He was an adult and they said he was found on the mean streets of the campus town of Evansville, Indiana. He was so friendly, even though he was an intact tom cat until the week before we adopted him.
Carmen never really liked him. We had adopted another black cat, a little girl named DoomKitty the previous year, and she was annoyed by Chet. Carmen claimed he “ruined her happiness” and so she resented him. All Chet wanted to do was love Doom and be loved by her, but “Mama Carmen” was ultimately Doom’s person. So she got Doom and I got Chet in the divorce.
Grandma and Grandpa’s china cabinet was a pretty awesome perch, TBH
It was heartbreaking to leave Doom, not being able to make her understand why I was perhaps never going to see her again. That I didn’t want to abandon her. And it was heartbreaking to leave Chet for nearly four months. During my most lonely time. When I really needed him the most.
After Chet came to live with me, things began to improve for me emotionally. I was forced to get out of bed to feed him and clean his litter box. He needed me, and it felt so good to be responsible for something. As soon as I lay down on the bed to watch some Netflix or to scroll through Facebook, he would be laying on my chest, his big green eyes staring into my face in a way that I would like to think is “adoringly.” I was his human.
I’d say this is pretty adoring, when I arrived home after a long day of tech rehearsals
Due to a series of unfortunate reasons, I had to find a new place to live in March. I felt so awful uprooting Chet once again. Chicago from March to September, Michigan from September to January, my first apartment from January to March, my new place in March to May…and then my summer job from May to July. This poor creature has been through who-knows-what in his life, and then he kept having to move from place to place every few months like clockwork.
I know, cats are adaptable. And I know he’ll be fine. I’m his human, and he trusts me. He’s always there in the windowsill waiting for me when I come home from work. He chirps back at me with his sweet little voice that sounds way too tiny for his body when I talk to him (far too much, probably…pretty sure my landlord doubts my sanity sometimes.)
He loves it when I open the window to the backyard and he can bask in the breeze and the sun, overlooking the koi pond. He squeaks at me when I open a can of tuna for my new obsession: avocado tuna salad wraps. I always offer him the dirty can, but he only sniffs it. He never licks it. And yet he’s still as excited as ever the next time I open up a can.
There are times in which I leave the apartment at 9 AM and am not home till 11 for nights on end for work. (Theatre, folks. It’s not all fun and games.) I give him an extra scoop of food in the morning, and when I return late at night, there’s still a little bit left he saves just in case. He’s responsible that way.
There was one time when I was baking that I dropped a measuring cup still sticky with honey on his head, and he just went on with his life as if nothing had happened. He’s so patient with me that way. He takes everything in stride. He is so even-keeled and never cranky, nothing can wreck his chill. I find myself exclaiming “Hey, little man! Hey, kid!” at him countless times a day, just to see him look up at me to feel validated. And he obliges.
I can see how Crazy Cat Ladies come to be. If I had a human partner as wonderful as Winchester the Dumpstercat, I would be a much better person.
Well, I guess he’s already making me one.
Bukwoski rips me apart, and Chet puts me back together.