Lenny DiFranza CC
Get Me Out of This Essay
I am trapped within the margins of this essay. Before my writer ever put pencil to paper, I had begged him not to pen my voice into existence. And now that I’m here, I am afraid of what happens after he applies the three octothorps. Will I fade into obscurity, the way my writer desires for himself, or will I reach literary nirvana?
I met God at a Los Angeles bus stop once, a chuck of meat skinned from her shin. I did nothing, my writer did the same. Both of us too afraid to approach the lady on a layer of used blankets. There is a difficulty in confronting people whose shoulders are cupped in God’s palm.
And when my writer cast his eyes downward, already mourning, I had urged him forward. Her leg, as if bitten by Cerberus, had taunted us with its fleshy hue. I forced him to look at it, to stuff the guilt within his own pristine skin and groan when that phantom limb was prodded by her fingers. She had sat alone on her deflated throne, death clawing at her eyelids and forgotten by other commuters.
I wanted my writer to call for an ambulance, press three simple numbers into his phone, do anything more than stare and numb his irises. But he didn’t, I didn’t. Instead, when the bus arrived ten minutes early, we boarded the seizing vehicle, paid our fare, and left God with a social worker too powerless to disinfect the open wound. My writer was ashamed that he got to work on time that day, greeting his own computer reflection with sallow eyes, and his coworkers with an artificially sweet smile.
He writes about death often, loads me with charcoal metaphors and ignites them with lighter fluid. Sometimes, we watch the blaze together, other times I am afraid our skin will bubble and blister.
I asked him during one of these bonfires if he could keep me in this essay for as long as possible. His eyes, like pitted olives, twinkled back at me in the orange light with reluctance but admission. Knowing the cancer written in my letters.
That night, he raveled up his left pant leg, the hair crisping at the tips and smelling of hot sake. He pulled a pocketknife from his cargo pants and clipped the blade into place.
I asked him what he was doing, but he only smiled with teeth so sharp, I wondered why he would ever need a blade. With the artistry of a butcher, he angled the knife on the broadside of his shin—carving a Thanksgiving roast from his leg. The slice, glazed in the heat of his own blood, reminded me of tonkatsu. He held it there for a moment, as if weighing the meat to see how much of his life it had cost. A pound of pity.
Then he begun shearing off his right calf with the precision of a surgeon. Skinning himself with just as much patience as a monk who burned himself alive. A shred of bicep and rib and palm all tossed in the fire like a Sunday barbeque.
And when it was over, when he scrapped the last stretches of ligament and sinew and muscle and artery from himself, he placed the sticky knife into my hand, curling the skeleton of his fingers around mine. A cage of wet bone passing on the ritual.
After the fire consumed its last will to live, I searched the ash, but found only scorched stones and alcohol. And now, it was just me, my writer a mess of incinerated emotions, and I the wicked candle burning against the dying of the light—a figment of his sanity.
It came to me as I leaned his spine along my lap in the chill of the sunrise: I needed him just as much as he needed me. I decided to tell him a story we both knew but was too painful for him to remember. How we had slipped on sneakers in the waning of midnight, thinking he was locking his apartment door for the last time. Recalling the autumn air rush against his cheeks and the weight at the edges of his lips. A jog turning to a brimstone sprint.
There was a building we would run up at night, its 14th story eyeing the Downtown horizon. Those hundreds of stairs knitted our muscles with fire, just so we could glimpse what it might be like to turn into tailings of smoke. And when we had ceremoniously touched the final step, all we could do was gaze down at the kiln-baked bricks below, a soft bed. Sleep aching at our eyes.
When I had noticed my writer gripping the railing, I began to panic. Sensing him judging if he would accidently hit the occasional biker on his descent. There was a raven’s croak in my voice as I told him not to.
We had gripped onto that railing—me for dear life, and him to get rid of it. There was a moment of silence, a cowardly look on his face, and then we were running again. Not a word passing between us. That was when we became two different people.
As I told him this story, I could sense the guilt in his marrow, the shame on his lidded eyes. Knowing what to do, I laid him back down on his towel and searched the fire again.
I gathered a cradle full of rocks from the ash before I returned to him, noting the caverns of his chest and the holes in his spine. Building his body into an Inuksuk—a structure of rocks delineating what path to take, and which not to.
And soon, when I filled the last of his gullet, I noted that he became his own trail marker—a callous now when he rubs his own skin.
He thanked me as I combed the hair out of his eyes and told me that he was ready now—that he didn’t need to be contained within an essay.
I nodded, knowing what it meant for me, shaking the grit of his palm and noticing the heaviness.
As he said his goodbye to me, he explained how this essay took him a month to write, mulling it over like red wine in an oak barrel—and that he was happy with its final bitter taste.
Today, you will remember my death, in a week you won’t. But I am okay with that. I am okay with being stuck in this essay as long as my writer isn’t.
Maxwell Suzuki is a Japanese American writer who recently graduated from USC and lives in Los Angeles. Maxwell's work has appeared or is forthcoming in Kissing Dynamite Poetry, The Woven Tale Press, Giving Room Mag, The Racket Journal, and his personal website www.lindenandbuckskin.com. He is currently writing a novel on the generational disconnect of Japanese American immigrants and their children.
Write something about yourself. No need to be fancy, just an overview.