After Ling Ma’s “Los Angeles”
Sometimes the electrical outlets on my train cry harder than I do. I’ve learned to leave them alone when they need their space. No one wants an audience while they cry. The water leaks out in steady, controlled drips. One by one. The tears of a thousand train rides free themselves from their electric prison. And I wonder how many more stops until all of this goes up in flames. I remember one night when I was coming home late, a passenger started screaming that we needed a cemetery, not a train, and I thought about how many ghosts I was taking the train with at that exact moment. How many people could she see that I couldn’t? Was the seat across from me actually empty, or was someone else there, calmly reading the paper as they waited for their stop to be announced? When someone asks me if they can sit next to me, should I let them know that the seat is already taken by the thirty-ones years of baggage I always have by my side? Maybe I don’t have one hundred ex-boyfriends, but I still know what it’s like to keep them all with me at all times. There’s a version of me who still lives with each one of them. We aren’t all in the same house because I’m not even a homeowner. But there’s a section of my brain reserved for each one of them; velvet ropes help to keep them all organized. I do my best to keep them all separate, but sometimes they slip under the ropes when I am not looking, and they bleed into a reality that is most certainly not their own. I say, Kyle what are you doing here? It’s 2023. You aren’t supposed to leave 2009! And then I shuffle him back into the proper section, closing the ropes with a clink-clink and doing my best not to let his infiltration affect me. But sometimes they leave their mark before I even realize they’ve gotten out, and I start to mix the past with the present, and I start to see versions of men and of myself in places where they shouldn’t be, and I get so confused. I can’t tell if I keep dating the same type of person or if I just can’t let any of them go. I do my best to visit them all regularly, but some of them occupy more space than others, and some days, I just simply cannot find the time. I get stuck in one section for months sometimes, and I am always so unprepared. There’s no suitcase full of mementos for me to unpack to make myself feel more at home because I never anticipate staying as long as I do. But I always stay. I always do. I like to think I’m getting better at moving on, but maybe I’m just getting better at lying to myself. I look in the mirror, and I don’t see me. I see you, the one from section 2012 to 2015, and I curse myself for letting you out again. I’m convinced that everyone who looks at me sees you, too. There was a me before you and me after you, and I’m wondering if I will ever get back to just being me. We never took the train together, but I know that it’s you sitting next to me. I know you’re one of the ghosts in this cemetery. You’re the reason I can’t let anyone else in. You are the reason that this seat is always taken.
Becky Curl is a student in the MFA Creative Writing program at Roosevelt University in Chicago. Her work has been published online by To Write Love On Her Arms, Thought Catalog, Revoloon, and more. Three of her poems will be published in Blue World Literary Journal's first issue in 2024. You can follow Becky on Instagram and Threads @becky_curl and on Twitter @curl_becky.