rise up with me, willis

Mirrors are circles, Willis, dead freaking ends.  Like closed circuit TVs.  Take it from me, a forty-year-old lady with a kid somewhere out there who I will never know….”


by susan rosalsky


Willis, you fuck, you’ve gotten into me.  Some days I walk just like you, with that little limp on account of your left leg being shorter than your right.  Even though my legs are even!  Other days I use your words.  I go Sweeeeeet and Let’s blow out the crap.  I’m not mocking, I’m feeling inhabited is all. 

I had a dream about us, baby, just a dream.  You were doing me and in the course of the proceedings we began to disappear.  We turned see-through, and we rose upwards, Willis, upwards.  We grew big as galaxies and landed somewhere in the sky, our outlines drawn in stars, our perimeters like Christmas trees.  We glowed like the bear and the dipper and the Casio, dressed like in the days of yore.  You wore leaves on your head, and I was in some kind of smocky tunic thing with a belt.  We were plasma-like, transparent and huge and just floating around in slow motion across the hemisphere, sometimes touching sometimes not.  Then we looked down on the earth and watched over everybody, making sure all the babies slept peaceably and nice and were loved. 

Here’s a question I have pondered.  When you’re feeling something for someone, whatever it is, whatever you want to call it, do you want to do them, or do you want to be them?  I never wanted to be Howard, never wanted to rise up with him the way I want to rise up with you and commingle.  But in all fairness to the man, Howard was the only stranger I ever told about Sue-Ellen Jr.  I gave her to the agency when I was sixteen, and Howard cried when he heard, this was later on, and said that if he had been her dad he would have kept her himself, regardless.  He said he would have raised her in the sub-basement of their split-level like the baby that was raised by wolves; he would have suckled her or whatever, unbeknownst to his mom and step-dad.  Not long afterwards he asked me to marry him, thinking he could make up for my sorrow, I suppose, and I said yes because he was sincere and truly saddened.  I cared for him in that way girls do when they find a man who won’t hurt them.  I cared for him with gratitude, for his weakness and soft heart.

Now you’re number two, Willis.  You know my secret also.  And I am older now.

Willis, a harlot I am not.  I have been faithful to Howard, though I have been unaccountably lonely since day number one.  Don’t think trash of me for writing this as a married woman.  I ask myself every day of my life the very same words immortalized by that dead woman singer with the platinum hair and the beauty mark over her lip, Is that all there is?  Maybe I would have been different if I’d held onto my Sue-Ellen.  Maybe she would have been the more that’s missing.  My mind returns to her and the circumstances of her sad, premature birth too often.  To the bruise the forceps left on her little blue face, to the black stitches I got down there after they cut me, to the way her small hand helplessly curled around my pinky like a flower helplessly turns toward the light.  Not a day goes by, Willis, not a day goes by.

Or maybe I would have felt differently if I ever, just once, got to touch your face, or kiss you by the light of the candy machine on twenty-three, the one where I first saw you.  You were kicking it with your shorter leg when it didn’t drop your Mars Bar®.  Then you shoved it, throwing your shoulder into it, and shook your candy free.  I was with Jean Flinty from Signage that afternoon, and it was her who pointed you out.  It was Jean who first said, You know, you guys look a little bit alike. Like maybe related.

When she said it, I saw it. The same big faces, the same close-set eyes.  Maybe our coloration’s not exact, but there’s something familiar in your body.  I think maybe I got the female version, with the exception of your funny leg.  You certainly made an issue of it, calling me sis like we share blood.  But what about it?  What got me was your voice, more than anything.  Your voice, Willis!  It was like you stuck an ear plug directly in my head.  You went right in.  No interference.  You called the desk and said, Help me, Help Desk!  You had a problem with your network connections.  And I asked you for your P&L and you go, Who’s this?  And I go, It’s Sue-Ellen, the new girl.  And you go, Remember this for the next time.  Then you said how you liked the sound of my own voice.  You said you were coming down to seventeen to personally welcome me to the firm.  And you come down and lean over my cubicle so alls I saw were those pale blue eyes like cold Arctic water, and you said, You are so BUSTED!  I dropped the Swingline on my toe and pretended I didn’t see stars, you gave me such a fright.  It was a secret still that I didn’t know what the hell I was doing on this job and that my resume was one-half imagination and one-half desperation, what with Howard out on disability on account of his back.

The next day you’re back at my cubicle quadrant, studying my postcards of the impressionistic paintings and telling me you got three out of my five, and that we have the same Bagel Boy insulated coffee mug, and that you have a Chia Pet also, only yours is Elmer Fudd.  Then you trace a finger over a photograph of my mother like you personally know her, gentle and careful, and I’m thinking, Man, this dude has got it down.  Mirrors, Willis, mirrors.  Didn’t you ever hear about the Greek guy and how he drowned in a lake when he bent over to see his own reflection?  I know all the tricks, hon, I used to pull them out of my own hat before Howard.  Was I supposed to believe I was seeing myself when I saw you?  Was I supposed to fall in just like that? 

Mirrors are circles, Willis, dead freaking ends.  Like closed circuit TVs.  Take it from me, a forty-year-old lady with a kid somewhere out there who I will never know.  Life is a spiral, which is in fact your basic circle, only spiritualized.  I read that somewhere.  How do you like that.  A spiral doesn’t trap you with yourself, it scoops you up as it rises.  I like to think of you and me like that, each of us spinning upwards like Dorothy in the twister, each of us at a different place on the twirl, but within shouting distance.  That ain’t bad, all things considered.  It’s about as close as I ever get to anything. 

I like to think of Sue-Ellen, Jr. somewhere out there on the spiral, just like that.

Do you know what makes me saddest of all?  That I never so much as touched your hand.  You were always so careful that our fingers didn’t swipe against each other when you came down in person to fill out your Help Desk req form.  Everyone else just emailed it, you know.  And then at lunchtime, it was always you hounding me to come out and eat with you on the bench.  It was always you standing on line for the falafels, with extra white sauce for me, with you not-so-secretly taking stock of my legs when I crossed them.  I asked you about your girlfriend, and the first thing out of your mouth you tell me you could never leave her.  You say it fast and hot like someone was suggesting you should.  I never wanted you to leave anyone, Willis.  I never wanted anyone to get hurt. 

All I wanted was one night, you fuck.

Oh, it’s a crying shame, because you were one I could have risen with, I feel it in my spleen, I feel it in my nose, I feel it in my ass.  About this last one, I’m not saying, you know.  All I’m saying is, not just the obvious places.

Willis, you have to admit I stay in decent shape for a lady edging towards forty-one.  Sure, it’s been a while since I seen the low numbers on my blouse labels, but I never had kids after I gave up the baby, since either Howard’s shooting blanks or my own body’s unwilling.  Long story short, I look younger than my years since a child before your twenty doesn’t mark your body up anyways.  I could pass for thirty-five, easy. And don’t tell me you never noticed that everything is mostly still in place, that all systems are mostly still go.  Who was it that sent me flowers, once a week, four weeks in a row?  For sure it wasn’t Howard.  Howard never understood the power of the anonymous, the invisible, or the mystically unspoken.  Who was it that called and hung up regularly at my home?  Who was it that took a little nibble out of every chocolate left in the box that Murph the Smurf gave me on Technicians’ Day?  Little chocolate monitors filled with nougat.  Who, Willis, who?  And yet you would deny it all when I asked you.  Jean, in Signage, suspected you, so did the Smurf, you were around my desk so often, always picking out my green M&Ms, always asking the same stupid question about the double back slash versus the single forward slash like some kind of retard, and telling me what a smarty-pants I am.

Well, slash this, Willis.  Let’s blow out the crap.  I, Sue-Ellen Brunt, am a total con-artist too.  I am letting you know before you hear through the grapevine that I have scammed the IT Department.  They hired me as a help desk rep, but the truth is I never worked help desk before.  The truth is I was selling computer desks for a company out of Reykjavik, cheaper than Ikea, at a branch in Jersey City.

The truth is also that I intentionally and with malice aforethought altered the faxed-in time sheets of our off-shore technicians with the hope of preserving this job.  Roopali Shah?  He did not call in sick for two consecutive weeks.  Parwatha Agarwal? She did not tell the Smurf to go fuck himself.  Reggie Sharma?  He did not go to jail for biting a cow’s ass.  The dog dirt is about to hit the fan, my friend, and this shall be the last communication you get from me as my desk is now all cleared out and I will be gone from the seventeenth floor before morning.  Frank let me in for the price of two Bacardi minis that I took from Continental.  You should tell the guys in security they need to screen their night people a little better, for chrissakes.

Let me put this on the record, since I got no one else to tell: for the fifteen years that Howard and I have lived together as man and wife, I’ve imagined that I am someone else, that he is someone else, and that we are somewhere else, every time we get in bed.  I lie beneath him on our queen size while he Chunnels his way from England to France, never once opening his eyes.  He’s in his own place, I’m in mine.  He’s a good man, but what kind of life is this?  What kind of universe would torment us with these thoughts of communion and then hold back on the reality?  What kind of world would abandon us this way?

And what kind of man are you that you would worm yourself into my mind, and then deny that you’ve made the effort to slither around in there.  I got holes enough in me, honey, don’t need you eating your way through any more with your phone hang-ups, your long-distance stares, your secret flowers.  I wasn’t looking for you, Willis.  You are definitely one sexy dude, but I could have left it there.  But you wanted me to want you, and so you began your campaign.  What was I supposed to make of that last song you threw onto that “Golden Oldies” compilation you made, thank you very much, the one that goes “I’m not going to know you now, but I’m going to love you anyways?” 

What the fuck, Willis, what the fuck.  Why bother.  Maybe you’re just another one of the universe’s diseased carrier pigeons with a message meant to mock Sue-Ellen Brunt and the things she never had.  Well, ha, ha, ha.  Ha ha at the childless, middle-aged lady who never found… what?  Whatever.

Ah, Willis, I believe I need some kind of baptism.  A good dunking, like when you’re in want of something holy.  And after going under, I will rise, rise, rise.  With you or without you, baby.  I will pass from the Sing-Sing of my body and I will find love in myself, Willis.  I will love this whole frigging world.  And this love will beget more love like in biblical days.  This love will give birth to me all over again.  And when I awake I will be so good and beautiful, inside and out, as close to the mark as I’ll ever get, that the world will come to me for a fucking change and ask me for the love that I have inside.  Sue Ellen, the world will say, give us what you got.  We know there’s more to you than there appears, we know you’re trapped in there.  And I will give of myself, Willis, I will give freely, generously, unquestioningly, like a big wheel with money, only what I have will be better than all the freaking money in the whole freaking world, and I will give, give, give it away.  I will scoop up the world into my sad and lonely arms and love it as it should have been loved from the very beginning.

My time is here, Willis, and I am ready.


Originally published:
Issue Thirty-Four
December 2004



(illustration: kurt eisenlohr)



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