Exes in the Inbox: Part 6.

I should probably take the time to explain what this is all about.

And yeah, maybe the end of this series is the most likely and appropriate place for that, but trust me. You need to know this now.

I slowly lost myself in my three years with Matthew Chase Collum, and whatever was left over he took from me with a firm hand around my throat and a strong thumb pressed inside the softest spot beneath my jaw.

Now that the idea has been placed in your head I know that you want to; you want to right now, so go ahead. Take your first couple of fingers and place them right underneath your chin, below your ear. Can you feel it? Your heartbeat lies there, and that beating heart is the only thing that stands between your consciousness and the absence of your consciousness. Press a little harder and feel it become more aggressive. Know that the harder, the longer you did this, you would feel your heartbeat slow. Your vision blur. Tears would come to your eyes whether they’re open or not. That is the reaction your body has when your consciousness feels threatened—it will gather everything that is left to try and undo what has been done as it is our natural state to persevere.

I’d like to set the stage, if I may.

Beacon Hill is a big hill way over in my little hometown that holds a large piece of my heart. I stayed there last May when I was visiting, and it's so different now! The Pub is gone and there's all this new commerce, but there's still the same bartender at Baja and the parking lot at McPhereson's is completely packed as per usual and then there's that winding drive into Georgetown that I'm fairly certain I could navigate blindfolded. In the Fall of 2008 I was still barely 27, had just moved back to Seattle from San Francisco and had been fucking my blonde neighbor on and off for a month or so. I was a special kind of mess back then, back when I had just started working at a coffee shop on Beacon, and that autumn and the snowy, snowy winter that followed are, for me, synonymous with Beacon Hill and a whole new cast of characters I found there. A cast that included Ben. And no, I don’t mean Ben Harrison.

Here's something you may not know.

Chase, or as I just described him, ‘my blonde neighbor’, was of zero consequence to me when I first met him. Zero. I actually stopped sleeping with him at one point because he did something I thought was mildly inappropriate. I don't even really remember what it was, but it was something about the way he made fun of an Angry Samoans song that he ironically always called our song, and I never actually told him that that song was the reason I had broken up with him in our inaugural days. I say that like there was something to break up, because in our beginning, there was not.

Much like the coffee shops I had worked at in San Francisco or Miami I had regulars at my shop on Beacon, and as per usual, many of those regulars became friends. Beacon is still a relatively inexpensive neighborhood in Seattle, so naturally a lot of kids live there, both the variety that can be described as actual children and the very adult kind that refuse to grow up. Beacon Hill is filled, nearly from tip to tail, with single family residences, so when you hear of kids who live on Beacon they likely inhabit some rental house with a small handful of roommates. You can imagine, I’m sure, how easy it might be if you were in a band to live there—you have an instant group of kids to turn into your roommates and scheduling practices and recording becomes infinitely easier when you all live together. A lot of bands make Beacon their home and frequented my coffee shop, most famously The Blue Scholars, but there are so many more.

One of these bands, The Globes, had made Beacon their home after graduating high school in Spokane and hightailing it to the city. They took up residence just off the crest on the east side of the hill and began to write and record an EP in, as they’re record label describes it, “the dim and dusty basement of their little blue house.” These boys would come into my shop everyday, sometimes twice, and sometimes they stopped by with a much older benefactor who was polite and charming and would order a whole round of black coffees and chat me up a little before handing me his bank card. This was Ben Barnett, and back then he stayed with The Globes in their little blue house on Beacon, and one auspicious day that began with Chase in my bed somehow happened to end with Ben asking me out.

So I’ve set the stage for you, so I think you owe it to me to do me a favor. You’re curious now, and by the time I ask it of you, you’re going to at least consider doing it.

So just do it.

Go ahead, take the hand you write with and put your palm on your throat. Stretch your thumb onto one and your other four fingers to the opposite side of your neck and aaaaahhhhhh…go ahead. Make that sound. Make that sound, say aaaaahhhhhh while you squeeze your hand as tight as you can stand, and hear how quiet your voice gets. Feel how hard your vocal chords have to work to remain audible. Imagine someone with biceps that are nearly the size of your thigh has you pinned on your kitchen floor with a hand wrapped around your throat just like this, and imagine how hard it would be to find a voice inside of you to save your consciousness from leaving your body.

Now, you don’t really need to know that Ben and I ever dated; this piece of information is of fairly little consequence in the grand scheme of things as Ben and I the couple was just a means to get to Ben and I as friends. I mention it only because our brief coupledom cleaved a three-week hole in the very beginning of Chase and I, something Chase never, ever let me forget. Chase hated all of my exes, but especially Ben and screamed at me about him often, throwing his hands in the air and pointing veiny fingers in my direction. His jaw would clench whenever I so much as uttered Ben's name, and hated the fact that Ben continued to frequent my shop and sip black coffee and chain smoke on the back porch. He yelled at me every single time my cellphone glowed with Ben's name signaling his call and once screamed at me furiously for borrowing Ben’s car while I was driving it. I had only even borrowed Ben’s car to move Chase’s things to my house, and that, if you ever wondered, is how Chase and I first moved in together: me behind the wheel of my ex’s car crying, driving up and over Beacon Hill from Georgetown to a chorus of Chase’s screaming.

So do this for me, it’ll be quick. I promise. Just think for a second how long you might last, how long you might hold out trying to defend your friendship with your ex to someone who screams violently at you every time you mention him. I know, I know. You’re thinking that you wouldn’t have stayed with some screaming maniac that long anyway, but let’s just say that for whatever reason you did. Just imagine how long you could have kept this up.

I lasted about a year.

And then I gave up.

And I have felt guilty ever since. And I have missed him more than I probably should.

So imagine for me, just for a minute, that you cheated on your girlfriend of over three years and she has left you. She has both broken up with you and physically left you on a Bushwick street corner on a cold Christmas Eve and told you that you could come get your things another day. Let’s say you tried to grab her to keep her from leaving, twice, and instead of yielding to your grip she has wrestled herself free and landed a right hook to your nose that she perfected years ago defending herself against other men that are just like you. Let’s say that against her wishes you follow her home, and when you crack the door open it stops and instead of letting this deter you, let’s just imagine that you sneak your hand inside the open crack of door and free the chain from it’s bearing, letting the door swing open freely. Let’s just skip ahead to when you decide that the only option you are left is to get her on the ground and wrap your dominant hand around the softest parts of her neck while her voice peters to a thin wail.

If this was you, do you think that you would forget that the two of you write with different hands? If it were you, do you think you would have left her right arm unpinned, the same arm which an hour ago left your nose swollen and bloodied, while you choked her with your much stronger left?

I don’t know about you, but if it were me, I would like to believe that I would not have made the same mistake.

I am thankful, however, that that night, soon after the clock ticked just past midnight and turned a cold Christmas Eve into a cold Christmas day, that the hand that I write with was free to take my voice back by force.

In San Francisco, near the bottom of a hill on a major thoroughfare is a short block in the big neighborhood of Lower Haight. The Wonder 500 we called it, as the 500 block of Haight street is where I lived, we all lived. My apartment was the first floor off the storefront, above the Indian place, and I worked at a coffee shop across the street. Upstairs from this coffee shop were apartments that, like the majority of the other apartments that lined the block, were filled with kids. Kids in their mid-twenties mostly, kids who shared flats with roommates and got off work and drank beer and coffee on the very same block. Coffee that I made for them while making these kids my friends.

In one of these apartments lived Sally Szwed. One day Sally was sitting in her room and saw something rustling out of the corner of her eye, and when she turned to see what it was saw a mouse dart across the rug. She screamed and ran downstairs and through the doorway of the coffee shop below wondering what to do, and when I glanced up from the counter and saw her stumbling under the transom in her PJ’s I had no way of knowing that this would be day that we would become friends. I certainly could not have known that a few years of radio silence between us would end when we lived but a few miles away from each other in Brooklyn.

I felt emboldened by this, I guess. I was made to believe that even though friends hadn’t spoken in a long time, that there could still be something there to be salvaged, and so when I found that Ben was stopping in Brooklyn on an upcoming tour, I bought two tickets: one for me, and one for Sally.

There was an opening band, and Sally and I had stationed ourselves near the bar during it, and we were chatting about nothing in particular and drinking Budweiser’s from plastic cups when I felt a hand in the small of my back and turned to see Ben standing right next to me.

And then there were hugs and hello and hi, and what are you doing here? I live here! And I’m in Boston! And it’s so good to see you and what have you been doing and Ben, it’s such a big story, and Miranda, I’m touring again, and yes, I know. And then he was off, and I didn’t see him again until he took the stage.

Let’s just say that you did this, that you took a girlfriend and went to see your ex play a show a handful of states away from where you first met. What would you want to hear him play?

If it were me, and it was me, I would want to hear the same songs he used to play from the recline of an easy chair in a little blue house on the side of Beacon Hill, I would want to hear those songs that remind me of a time when I hadn’t yet lost my voice, when I and I alone chose my friends to be whomever I liked. I was lucky enough to get my wish.

He launched into the very last song before the encore, and three notes in I knew it was one of my favorites that he performs and I knew I would need a beer for it. I turned to the bartender and ordered two more, one for me, and one for Sally. As I turned back around to face the stage I heard the song halt, and Ben was already a few words into a rant before my ears caught up enough to hear exactly what he was saying, and I didn’t realize that it was because of me until I heard my own name amplified throughout the venue.

“Seriously, though. Really? Really Miranda? Are you seriously gonna stand over there and talk during one of the most beautiful songs that I play?”

“I, uh…” I had met his gaze, but broke the stare to turn and see a hundred pairs of eyes craning in my general direction. My voice caught in my throat and I could feel my heart beating fast inside my ribcage.

“It’s cool, Miranda. But seriously. This song? Come on. I thought we were homies.”

“We…we were.”

Even I didn’t realize, at the time, what I had said. But we were, we were friends. And it was so long ago, before Chase finally got his wish and I elected to never speak to him again. But there I was at The Knitting Factory very much speaking to him, struggling to find the rest of my voice before a crowd of onlookers.

“I’m sorry, seriously. I love this song—I've waited for it all night. Please. Play it. I’m here, listening.”

“You know, you guys. You guys have no idea,” he turned, was facing forward again, no longer addressing me directly, “but I’ve known Miranda a long time. Back in Seattle, when I lived there, she worked at this coffee shop on Beacon Hill and was always there when my housemates and I went every morning.”

He continued, and told a little story of Beacon Hill, right there on the mic, and I watched everyone listening intently as I was remembering the stage of the events of which he spoke. I turned to Sally and smiled, feeling lucky that I’ve lived such a big life, and I was suddenly so, so very thankful to be there. Just to be there. To be able to, just for a moment, remember fondly a neighborhood that I love so very much and remember how it was back then with everyone in it. Even Ben.

I hope that you are lucky enough to have a memory of some place that is just as good as some of mine, but if not, I have enough to share.

Let’s say it is a very cold Seattle winter that finds you at work, and toward the end of your shift your ex crosses the threshold of the front door and you smile when you see he has clearly come bearing a present for you. Imagine that he comes so often that he comes not to the front counter, but around the side of the bar by the fridge as might an employee, and it’s then that he tells you that this gift, this gift he has brought for you is an EP that he had recorded that day or the day before at work. Imagine you put it on while the snow falls outside and the two of you watch it, silent and white, through the back window while you listen to him cover a John Lennon song over the PA. Now imagine that at the moment you created this memory how strange it might feel had you known that the next time winter found you feeling as free would not be for three more years in the flat expanse of Brooklyn; the very same Brooklyn winter you had successfully managed to gain back your voice with the very hand that you write with.

Imagine that for me. Just for a minute.

And now I imagine that you have a much better idea of what this is all about.


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