I’m the transition man. Girls used to fall into my outstretched hands, and during those times I thought it was me who contained them. Now I understand the situation more clearly. All along it was them who swallowed me up in their falling and waited for me to relieve that holy portion of myself for transplantation.
I rehabilitate. Don’t think of it as a job — it’s more concise to think of it as a series of coincidences, coincidences with unfamiliar women in strange, unfamiliar meeting places. Not bars or grocery stores. Think libraries, maybe, or ATMs.
Once, a woman on a date asked me to compare myself to an animal. Such a difficult question. I don’t remember if I gave her an answer. But what I’ve come to relate to are those suckerfish that hide at the bottoms of coral reefs, waiting for the deep-sea migrants to return, so as to clean their mouths and extremities of the parasites gathered on the long journeys. I’m a healer. Satisfaction comes after I’ve filled my gut with the diseased bits of someone else’s life. And so I sit and wait for them to call on me. I surround myself with the calcified remains of old life forms I can’t tell if I’ve lived in or not and criticize those who carry their past lives as shells on their backs.
They come to me as though they’ve known me all along, as though their first arrival is a return, and if that makes them more comfortable, I play my part. When they show up they’re heartbroken. They smell like old coins, metallic. Wounded.
The men they’ve dated before they find me: These are silent predators. Raptors. From my shady cove beneath the ocean, I peer up into a fractured sky and watch their silhouettes fly silently above us.
If they arrive at my doorstep in pain, I unburden them, return them to neutral. There’s a diagnostic you run when you’re around damaged beings. And here’s what I’ve learned: Everyone’s a machine and everyone’s a mechanic.
It takes years to realize how impossible it is to work on yourself, but only moments to pull out the broken things grinding into another person’s life. But when I’m finished, the same, tired dialogue returns. She’ll say, “I’m sorry for coming home so late last night.”
“Don’t worry about it,” I’ll say. “No big deal. I understand. Sometimes things get in the way.”
I wonder how much is enough, before they cut off all ties with me. They won’t wait around. As soon as everything returns to normal, they’re gone. I think of them as those volunteers who cut the plastic soda rings from around a pelican’s neck. The deed is done not just for me, but so both of us can breathe and eat in peace again. It’s a simple clip, even if some soreness remains around the throat.
I’ve come to realize I’m a substitute boyfriend. A fill-in when the last one turned abusive or apathetic. I leave when the true professional shows up. There’s something rattling around inside of me. I can only hear it when I’m still. Something’s come loose. I reach around for the broken part but can only graze it with my fingertips. It’s taking shape in my mind when I touch the outside edges. It’s something big and sharp, something slimy. Every time I pinch it up, it slips back down and lodges itself further into a part of me I’ll never reach. But I’m reaching anyway.