Hot Tin Roof: Nonfiction, a love poem

Hot Tin Roof
Hot Tin Roof is a program to showcase current literary work produced in Iowa City. The series is organized and juried by representatives of three Iowa City-based cultural advocacy organizations: The Englert Theatre, Iowa City UNESCO City of Literature and Little Village magazine. Next submission deadline: June 30, 2014.
By Djea Killuh

It was a porch and he was tall. Why shouldn’t a passive person use a passive voice?

And I, little old minimal me, sneakers and a dusty blue ball gown had prayed and prayed to the hopeless gods that this relic, this icon, this creature of blond and muscle might one day be mine. It had a little something to do with his smile, the strength of his adam’s apple, and his distinct lack of perfection. This machismo mirror, I knew in my taped-up heart, had something in common with me. In all his sweaty glamor, he was exquisite. Our love would be a leaky teacup, something precious and broken and certainly tenuous.

We looked out over the city in its ruin. The chain link fences arched their backs in the glory of the sunset and danced around the discarded tires, bicycle chains, and the rooftops of buildings long neglected of repair. The creak of seatstays and rumble of scavenged garbage sang a sweet song. And we, breathing deep in our fear of the future, spoke of the simple things.

This is a love story of sorts, I should note.

Tomorrow, I told him, I am taking a plane. And that plane, I added, will take me far away from you. I prepared the valises with tiny dresses and breakable shoes, perfumes and leather, pearls and rot. After all, were I to become a woman, I should finally address my inevitable fragility. The taxi slept in wait, and I hunched madly over a bottle of gin and a hustle of limes. I smelled him in, swaddled in mothballs and sweat, uncertainty. His chipped tooth glared at me as I looked up his face, all nostrils, stubble, and pores. He stank of man, or what I could perceive of it. I’d never met a man before.

My concern for the betterment of humankind in that moment showed itself the door. Whoever else cared had become my enemy and I would take up bullets and bombs because, more than anything in the world, I was selfish and he was going to be mine. I would have destroyed everything, I would have engendered new worlds. Perhaps that is where I laid the first misstep. Propriety is no matter for the heart. Responsibility, neither.

So in Paris on Bastille Day, I cursed Sarkozy for the rain. Handfuls of wine and a drunken strut down Rue Notre Dame de Lorette possessed me. I cracked my hips on end tables and acted like no one had seen a damned thing. I wasted endless hours on frivolous acts. I lost the tips of my pinkies to knives because I just couldn’t think straight. The chefs that tried to break me were no match for one haunting human that chased me right from my dreams to the kitchen where my aching back and rubber soled shoes pushed me from tomato to tomato, leek to leek, nine to five. I learned two things that summer: discipline and heartache. The drinking habits were merely acquired.

I knew my fate: I would one day return home.

I chased shots of Nyquil with Poire Williem and I grasped the hand rests and prayed the plane would fall. Burying myself in tattered second hand Burberry, I accepted the inexorable. Everything was in shreds.

On the eve of my rape, a night before a little of me was lost, I was sure everything was fine. Little hints of rejection crept in two by two, hurrah, hurrah. Myself and the highball were best friends. We didn’t need him and he surely did not want us. Despite that sick smile. I hung off the bar stool, a giggling pendulum of confusion and internal anarchy. There was nothing left to lose; I just wanted a bed to lie my unconscious head. I just needed a floor to drop my boots. Clutching the phone, I had actually dialed the taxi. I will not lie. I did not want it. I did not like it. I did not say yes. But in the moment where it happened, I did not care; I did not care who. This was not my chipped-tooth companion or my hopeless heartache.  He was someone altogether different. This is where he won, because I, like many others, was guilty of a lack of self-respect. That was the only clincher. That stink of man and security wafts through the air when you have no soul. I thought to myself, “Yes, yes, I need this protection. Any protection.”

Any ounce of self-esteem reduced like a fine sauce to a coulis of sickness. I was spread thick about the night, a slaughter spooned over a bed sheet. I was not even his. I never would be.

The real heartbreak came with the truth. He, the one who I thought would love me, the one to whom I gave every little drunken daydream in the pits of Paris, he sucked in the air through his cracked teeth. He clenched his fists and spat, whore, whore. Beneath a street lamp in the crooks of a storefront, performing for tattooed ladies, he yelled and pushed. I was a punching bag amongst antique lamps. No one applauds you for your courage or beauty or grace on this stage. Because what I did that night was to hurt him, he was the victim, and I was the perpetrator. The purity he had never loved me for had surely disappeared. I shimmered with dust and dirt and he quaked with vicarious shame. There is more than one form of abuse in this world. I must ask myself who is more at fault, the one who allowed it, the one who performed it, or the one who broke me? And you reader, you surely cannot discern.

A movie called “Hate” from the murky banlieues and the forbidden places of Parisian streets told me, “What is important, it is not the descent, but the landing.”

It is trite, but it is true.

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