Abby Hagler
It Never Ends Well

An unconscious beginning. Taking up smoking simply by breathing the air in the car. Someone is saying, Inhale, now. Exhale. Learning to breathe for the first time seems really ridiculous. An unconscious beginning turning into a haze, a way of socializing, a way of escaping parties. Or maybe it’s this: a ridiculous habit of understanding how to start or stop anything.

An attempt to quit choosing. Taking up with the boy who calls too much, who waits outside work, whose hair matches the color of his Camaro, whose dining room table is always flecked with his parents’ ashings.

Secretly smoking only punch-flavored cigarettes. Taking up with a boy who teaches what it means to be told, I love you so much I just want to see you happy. Meaning he will move to Florida to let go. An unconscious beginning of petty crimes, false moves.

The decision to be the girl who dances on tables, who can laugh and sing loudly because the bar here is illegal, set up inside an old slaughterhouse. Exposed bulbs burning so bright they blur white like flowers on snakeroot. Standing within reach of the bulbs to gain a vantage point.

Taking up with a man who could not converse while he cooked but could go on in the dark without sleeping describing timbre in terms of where a song vibrated in his body.

Taking up with man whose age was forgettable, who had no furniture, who made it okay to eat tabbouleh on the floor.

The decision to feel better by going to a dance club that is actually a room full of beds. No trail of tables, no little candles lighting a path. A fog machine gives the air a dry chemical taste. Not afraid of the dark where dancing happens so much as the dark reflected in the mirrors lining the walls. No one seems to have a body. No one sits down to rest. An intimidation of beds floats around the perimeter of the dance floor more like a coral. A fear of being trapped easily translates into the thought: When in Rome. So, dancing. As far away as possible from the white covers tossed over the mattresses, the stiff pillows. Close to the other bodies, not one wanting to be touched. When no one touches the body it is easy to feel lost. It is easy to forget to think, to remember who drove here, to know when it’s time to leave.

Sending out a survey to friends about the best way to end a piece of writing. Here are the responses: Re-state you first thought. Just do not leave your reader feeling like they are lost in Wal-Mart. I like endings where an object is dropped. Stop when it’s not fun anymore. Turn your back. Stage a disappearance. Just say: The end.

Smoking to be outside, to feel alive enough in my body to form a habit.

Taking up with a man when smoking was finally outlawed in the movie theater. Watching Garden State the day before the ban, lighting up two at once.

Taking up with a wrong man. Not wrong because he hates to swim. Not wrong because keeps a pack of cigarettes in his shirt pocket. Wrong because he never thinks he knows what he’s doing, but trusts everyone else does. Wrong because he is absent at dinner.

The decision to solidify life by cohabitating with a man who owned one book: Eden, Eden, Eden. Him taking change from the jar, graduating to purses. His book is plotless, a violent journey through Algeria. No part of the body is left uncut, un-caked with mud mixed with body fluid. Sometimes these scarred parts are added to the many unwanted images that live inside people. They are suppressed unless certain people’s names come up. Piling his possessions on the porch. Putting his book, unfinished, on top thinking, It hurts to be a reader. To be so helpless to the events of a life.

Easing anxiety by staying up all night reading on an empty stomach. It looked like this: Drinking a beer to calm, then a coffee to wake up, then a beer to balance the coffee, then a coffee to balance that beer. Except the balance was never struck.

Beginning a long-distance relationship with someone who used to be an enemy in order to experience forgiveness. Actually living a couple miles down the street. Spawned by the understanding that forgiveness is not hinged upon being forgiven. The decision comes down to the daily effort to not spend time together. Day souring, it is never clear whether forgiveness involves rehashing what one person did or leaving the past out of our conversation. This is a dilemma to take to bed. Nightly, the decision to talk about how long the street seems.

Taking up with a man who watches dart players in dim wood-paneled bars to deal with that.

Taking up with a man whose real girlfriend runs a gallery to deal with that.

Taking up with a man in love with hydrangea, whose house filled with tulips instead, to deal with that.

The decision to just get really, really quiet. This is an ending that only produces a chain of stories, a series of possibilities. This ending can talk all night, attracting mostly drunks.

Taking up with a man who will be mostly absent, who closed down the bar once talking about blue.

Flirting. Smoking in parks, in summer, in thick dandelions: feeling perfect on the two-hundredth day of being alone.

The decision to give up the man who once gave everyone at the party their new favorite memory. The memory of walking around the city and, out loud, remarking the types of trees. Making most of them up. Writing them down in a lost book, a book of false horticulture.

Closing eyes and doing as the old woman therapist says. Trace the root of that feeling. Ask: What led to that thought? What was the one before that? And what thought made you think that? Eventually, an image will pop up. It will be a suppressed image from a book.

Quitting smoking through a series of tricks on myself. Monday: Hiding cigarettes inside books no longer wanted. Tuesday: Purchasing a pack of cigarettes that taste terrible. Wednesday: Seeing how many cigarettes can be given away before someone refuses. Thursday: Cleaning the house in hopes of finding the hidden cigarettes. Friday: Holding in breath. Counting seconds.

Abby Hagler is a cat owner and dedicated volunteer living and writing in Chicago. Previous essays, critical, and collaborative work has been published in Alice Blue Review, Deluge, and Horse Less Press, among others. With Julia Cohen, she is the author of a chapbook of poems titled The Trouble Department from dancing girl press.