• Tish Burns


This is a story that for years I thought was the most important story of my life. Too much to write, though I tried. Here is an email I wrote to an old friend on June 21, 2014:

"you asked to hear more and i am killing time avoiding writing a real thing but telling this little tale which maybe i am too close to the fire to tell well or true, but i will try. it is better to you than to him, you may remember how i behave with my email account when i am disappointed in love. not very well and not very sober but not wrong. my desire to connect outweighs all reason and all consideration of others, only what i want matters in moments of desperation, separation and despair. such strong language for something that ran its course in less than a month, but the experience for me was intense as i suspect it was for him as well. but i can't really speak for him. my impression is that he was terrified and i was too. here's what happened:

he gave me the thunderbolt. i work in an old ammunition factory in a neighborhood called sunset park, just west of the brooklyn queens expressway, i think of it as the hubert selby jr. last exit to brooklyn landscape, bleak and industrial and beautiful in its decay and i am not alone. the realtors are calling it the new soho, and the antihero of this story is a true pioneer, having lived in his loft where he also works for twenty years. he could tell you all about the prostitutes of 3rd ave though not where they have all gone. maybe long island city. i kind of wish they were still there. anyway, i work in a shared kitchen and there is a french patisserie with a little cafe that sells probably the worst coffee in brooklyn. i was in the hall getting a straw and i turned around and saw this little tattooed italian man standing in line with his rusty bike and that's when the thunderbolt struck. i couldn't stop staring at him, he looked really familiar to me and i had to walk by and he was staring back and said 'hi' under his breath and i went back to work. i thought of him much and wondered who he was and what he did and if i'd see him again. i think he tried surreptitiously to peek in the window into our kitchen that day and anyway i didn't know but i knew...something was brewing. 

next day i was struggling with 80 gallons of cookie dough and i was cranky and hungry but singing and praying and i decided i needed to eat so i slipped out into the hall, half a song coming out of my mouth and he was sitting right outside the door, looking miserable. i tried to smile and the song died on my lips and i was like oh shit because i was really hoping i'd see him but i never expected it. and i started to think he wasn't that much after all, his handsomness is fluid like my beauty and comes and goes with the turn of cheek, the play of light. and he's little. and he looked so unhappy. i wondered if he was waiting for me as i was hoping for him. i wondered if he had an accent and an exotic name. i ate my yogurt and went back to work and he was still sitting by the door looking miserable. that was a friday. monday morning and he was there getting coffee when i arrived and i tried to smile and say hello again but i was so scared. that evening i went home and wrote him a card telling him he gave me the fucking thunderbolt but i'm too shy and busy to talk. i wrote my number and asked him to call or text if he was interested and available. and then i didn't see him again for days. i gave up ever seeing him again. but then i did and i gave him the card. he introduced himself and he does have an accent (staten island) but a pedestrian name (____) and again i thought he wasn't much and didn't get what all the turmoil was all about, what was he stirring in me? little tattooed italian guy. he texted me right away and we talked on the phone that night for a while. he told me he was a painter and i told him i baked to pay the bills, that i'm really a rusty poet. he asked why rusty and i told him (in a text) that i had gotten sober 3 years ag)o and forgot how to write. then i freaked out a little thinking that was too much information too soon but when i looked he had written back that he got sober 13 years ago and it comes back. so it felt like real magic was happening. we went to coney island on our first date and sunbathed and talked a lot and he was pretty reserved and i was bold and still wondering if i really liked him as much as i was building it all up in my head. we had hotdogs and coffee and then i wanted to poop and maybe he did too because we got off the train and he hugged me quickly and sent me on my way. later doing laundry i got his instagram handle (i am now blocked by him!) and his paintings blew me away. and the titles. i nearly cried they're so good plus i was so relieved because if they sucked i wouldn't be able to deal with it. this shit is dragging on and basically what happened j was that he was all engaged and i think i freaked him out, got what he would probably call 'clingy' and i could tell he was pulling away but we had another date that was magical, me in a red pencil skirt and heels, dinner and bowling (in a pencil skirt) and crazy passionate making out in the front seat of his car outside my building. he wanted to come up and fuck me and i wanted that too but i wanted to wait at least a month, a couple more dates just to be sure all this wasn't going to blow up in my face which it did via yet another text at one am on wednesday saying i'm awesome but i feel too much, too deeply and he's 46 and never married or had children and he's come to accept things about himself, he's not available to me and wanted to be honest about that before we went any further. i didn't sleep and i was on my period so my reaction was violent and insane and i've mostly processed it and from here on the other side, about to go on another first date to the beach with a young man named ______ (!) from _______ i'm glad it all happened. it was wild and wonderful and even the detonation was spectacular. i wish i could have reacted better and i wish i weren't totally disconnected from him but it's all exactly as it should be. i was falling in love with him and it would only get worse if i was in touch with him. and i guess i don't need to look at his instagrams. i have this idea that there's a man created just for me, my opposite exact equal match. and he looks and feels like this guy. as far as i know so far. maybe he is this guy and neither one of us is capable of handling a relationship like that. he seems happily committed to a life of solitude and paint. i still want to share my life with someone. i don't know. i have much to contemplate. i can't help but admire his total devotion to art. i don't entirely understand why he can't or won't share his life but more shall be revealed in time. maybe i will learn to devote my life to my work. i am sitting on the poem of my life. and he was certainly only distracting me from doing any work at all."

In the weeks and months and years following this crack-up/break-up with yet another man who was never really my boyfriend I experienced a maddening series of psychic phenomenon. They were a bunch of little or sometimes loud thunderbolts that seemed to confirm this connection I felt was definitely there between me and this painterman. But it was intangible images, words, fucking Elvis. The Elvis bit started with the first man and I know this is getting muddy but the first man I met around my ninety days sober. He was also a little tattooed Italian, he also looked familiar like a way more beautiful Kevin Rowland with similar fashion sense. He loved Elvis and I mean Elvis was like coming at me from all directions. Now I know it's normal when you get a crush on person and they drive like say a blue Jeep you start to see blue Jeeps all the time because you're more aware of blue Jeeps and you have some kind of emotional connection to blue Jeeps. But this Elvis shit was well past that. And it was a lot more than just Elvis. A whole language of symbols and synchronicities became a regular part of my daily life. They came at me in a barrage and I was fucking confused. I know I wanted it to mean that I had found like the "twin flame soul" that I had been longing for, first with the first and next with the painter (I rationalized that the first was just a false flag, a way to recognize when the real thing come along)...It feels terrible admitting this shit because it was so important to me, it was like consecrated rewards for all the lack of love I'd suffered at the hands of my teenaged, mentally ill, ill-equipped parents who both in their own accidental and unintentional ways made me me like an unlovable pile of dogshit who had/s a giant fragile ego...And for every other man and boy, oh the many many countless ones who'd broken my also giant fragile heart. But it is also deeply embarrassing. I know you're all gonna laugh at me and ruin the thing!

I was seriously going bananas. I thought there was no way what I was experiencing was real but I could not deny that it was happening. I was experiencing it. But what did it really mean??? Why was it happening??? Because neither of these men were ever actually a part of my life for very long.

Here's what I know now: my experience of psychic phenomenon was real. But! It was a manifestation of this deeper sickness I've been suffering from for as long as I can remember. It was still very present while I was drinking and doing drugs. Like I said, I thought getting sober would cure me of these obsessions. But in reality the drinking and the drugs curbed the insanity a little bit. Sure I'd try to climb the twelve foot gate of some rando's apartment building while wildly drunk because I fucked him a couple times and wrote a poem about it. But there was never this real-life magical realism that I started to experience in early sobriety. I never really really felt it that deep. The roots of obsession never dug so far down into me that I was aware of

The objects, the tattooed Italians et al are important only in that they are symptoms. Not to dehumanize them human mens, but was I ever human to them? None of them cared about me beyond the general regard one would have for another stranger. Some of them treated me blatantly badly though I know I always have my part, I provoked or otherwise set myself up for the pain. And I'm beginning to see the point in all the pain.

Much in the same way that I could not stop drinking until I demoralized and humiliated myself and hit yet another stupid and/or deadly bottom and decided I could not survive any more probably lower bottoms I could not start to heal and recover from this much fuzzier affliction/addiction. It was a lightening quick slide into this latest emotional bottom though feeling that uncomfortable, obsessed and insane for even a few weeks can seem like an eternity. And that's not to say that I experienced the synchronicity/psychic shit. Yet. Yet another yet. But I probably won't this time. Because I finally got the fucking message, what Elvis has been trying to tell me for all these years. It's hard to translate, it's abstract and symbolic but it basically has to do with ever more surrender, acceptance and grace.

So the pain goes on but it is pretty special pain. I mean I still feel super hurt and have moments of horrible self-loathing, disgust and mortification. I still cry every time I walk through my front door and last night I halluciheard Melvin meowing at the door. But on the other side of that is like labor pains. I'm being reborn as the woman I was meant to be. A woman of grace if not dignity, a respected and respectable woman, a badass bitch. Nobody could hurt this much and come through with anything less than the badge of absolute spiritual badassery.

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