the destroyer > text > Diana Valenzuela


          This is how you lie flat and say, No thank you, when they ask.

          This is how they follow you, this is how they spy. This is how their toes float above the tile as they pretend to be invulnerable. This is how they crinkle paper, cough into their elbows, and murmur, Yes.

          Until you came Here, the Truth was different. The Truth was a wilted Subway sandwich lying atop the torn cover of a children’s bible. The Truth was easy, tangible: A conglomeration of familiar, trusted objects prearranged by a couple of sweet and profoundly bruised people, like a Midwestern, Catholic preschool teacher with a cleft palate and a beautiful priest with a rabid stutter. They toiled endlessly: Stole the book from the Sunday school supply closet, traded golden tokens for the twelve inches of turkey on wheat, met in a shed behind the tire swing, whispered and moved in tandem. They took a snapshot of the Truth with a borrowed Polaroid camera, and this bleary snapshot captured the teacher’s yellowing hands and the priest’s floundering lips. When you rub your thumb along the slick surface of the photo, you can feel their skin stretch from all the turkey sandwiches. Too much Truth, too many calories.

          Back then, the Truth did not encourage paralysis. Back then, the Truth would—as they say— ‘set you free.’ But then, everything happened. Maybe the shed split open, maybe a tornado decimated the rectory, or maybe the mission was completed. It does not matter (except that it does). Now, you are Here.

          Now, you are the green-skinned sort of being who knows Truth as the act of framing. Now, the Truth is an abstract snippet of California sky that is butchered by windowpanes. You can no longer locate a single crumb of fattening joy. You can only see what they have given you, and it isn’t much. You wonder, Has anyone tried to break these? You answer your own question. They have attempted everything Here. The Truth is perspective. The Truth is one rectangle, maybe two.

          This is the Truth:

          Here is your blue blanket. It is neither dark blue nor light blue, just blue. Feel its patchy thinness and its begrudging warmth. It smells like nothing. Across the room, your shipmate’s body bobs atop the mattress. He shifts quietly, suspended. Through the curtains, the light ripens like a fermenting peach. Your shipmate is swaddled, the blanket preparing him for a framing he will soon confront. He is not used to the weight of skin, so he spends hours—days—learning.

          Here is the United States of America, here is Northern California, here is a suburb in the year of two thousand and thirteen, and here is a tall, brick spaceship. Here are the sparse patches of land, and here are the meager shapes of human beings milling cluelessly below. These human beings are very young. You are accustomed to that. They adore asphalt, though the asphalt scrapes their heels. If you were Out There, the asphalt would not hurt you. You know that.

          These are your shipmate’s sleepy eyes.

          He says, I won’t ever find a person like you again.

          He says, I have met Steven Segal.

          Yeah, yeah, you say.

          He says, Two ‘yeah’s? I love that. Beautiful.

          I have a very low tolerance, you say. All this. Just one Ambien.

          He says, Fuck these people. His lips are wet with pink ice cream. He slobbers like a wolf, licks his fingers like a wolf, gives his vitals like a wolf, and lies like a wolf.

          He says, Why do they care if you’re a guy or a girl? Leans in close and whispers, I know what you are. A face like that? Much better, I think.

          This is what it’s like before (and after) everything. This is an actualization of the foggy static that occupies the space between waking life and sleep. This is the key to survival: Root yourself in a very clear and regimented lack of rootedness. You will gain consistency this way. Unexpected, perhaps, but true. Imagine the breathless impossibility of the coyote who does not fall until he notices that his wily paws are no longer touching the cliff. Do not question contradictions.

          These are your shipmate’s shimmering, pus-colored teeth. Never ignore him. It is best, as they say, to ‘go with the flow.’ Blink. Do not question. Exhale.

          These are the clothed humans who live in hot brown rooms. This is how you repeat the words, “Overdose,” “E.R.,” “Tuesday,” and “Celexa, Advil, Aspirin” until it feels as if your tongue is moving over a pile of loose rosary beads. Like back at school during the supposed month of Mary. The thought stings. Your hazy summer memories do not dilute the harsh sterility of this doctor’s eyebrows and his pudgy arms. He mutters, You cannot go home yet, I am not sure.

          This is how your body feels when you lie down all day.

          This is the destiny of a fresh orange. It tastes of a mystical desert land where human beings pour tins of alcohol onto their faces. Out There. No lockers. No contraband. No consequence. Suck on the rind. It is red and cloying. Do not spit it out. You can take it.

          This is the movie you watch in the Day Room. It features Jennifer Garner. Your shipmate says, Jennifer Garner is pretty and very nice. So pretty, so nice.

          They have placed a plexiglass screen over the television, for protection. Your shipmate says, It is hard to hear.

          This is your resentment for Jennifer Garner. It is a small resentment, but small things matter. Savor it cleanly, with passion. Glide your hands over its flanks and smush your nose into the base of its long, rigid spine. You own it. You own very little, in this assumed life. You did not ask for this assignment. The Day Room is cold. Your resentment is emaciated. Feed it.

          Why should we care about her? you ask. What should we learn from her? She should be watching us.

          You are right. You are wrong. Do not brag about anything.

          This is how you say, Out There: Picture a ten year-old playing a game of freeze tag with a pack of skinny, disinterested preteens. Though the ten year-old would like to think otherwise, he is stocky and slow. As he runs, camp counselors shake their weary heads because he is the type who cries and once he gets going, he doesn’t stop. He is tagged first. He freezes with his cupped hands outstretched, as if he expects someone to pass him a glass of orange soda.

          The game lasts a staggering fifteen minutes . To a ten year-old, minutes are years. His fingers ache, his shoulders cramp, and he craves a soda so badly his teeth itch. He is suddenly conscious of his skull. His tongue dries up like a kitchen sponge. Even if he yelled, I will hang myself, I will die! the camp counselors would not bring him an orange soda. His simplest needs are too difficult to express. He will not cry, he decides. The gum-snapping preteens chant well-worn rhymes and slap each other’s hands in sweeping patterns. They know nothing of pain.

          The boy’s shoulders cramp.

          Now say it:

          Out There.

          This is what it’s like to call your mother from the suburb.

          Your mother says, I didn’t know. I don’t know.

          Your father says, Oh, God.

          I like it when people tell me what to do, you confess. The hallway glows yellow. Your shipmate rips off his blue shirt. You realize he has gained weight. He slaps the shirt onto the tile floor and hollers, Dance!

          Place your calls at night, after he is asleep. It is easier for everyone.

          Here is a fact: This suburb is not your first. You came from a less severe place, and you came strapped down in an ambulance. The straps were tan and they were not serious. You have seen serious straps. Those are worse. But still, when the ambulance driver said, Sometimes you just don’t feel like being here, you sighed, Yes. Yes. Yes.

          This is the hot water dispenser. It does not work, for obvious reasons.

          This is what it’s like to watch the cool, suburban streets unfurl in all directions. The sky is clear, the asphalt is clean, and the distant houses look to be made of warm flesh. Longhaired women are out walking. These women have tidy, symmetrical faces. These are the type of women whose heat can melt pink ice cream into sticky puddles. These are not the type of women who are commonly defined as ‘desperate.’ But who knows. You never know.

          This is what the place looks like:

          A shopping mall.

          This is the name of the suburb:


          Here is the taste of apple juice. Here is the sound of a plastic straw crinkling between your teeth. Across the table your shipmate’s forehead twists, reshapes itself, wrinkles, and smooths itself flat. He is telling a story about himself and you can tell that he is glad to be telling this story. White light from the television batters his fuzzy scalp. He recedes into the blur of the light, pulls himself forwards, recedes again, and gasps. You have taken a pill. It is both easier and harder to reach him this way. You learn nothing.

          This is breakfast:


          This is your shipmate’s mother. She has goggle-shaped indentations around her eyes and she wears a wooden cross. My boyfriend and boss, she jabbers, oh, the toll he has taken. My man, my friend, my pharmacist. When I was twenty-four I wore a little black skirt that laced up the sides and a black t-shirt and nylons and my hair was down to here! Pokes at the small of her back. And when I walked into a restaurant, everyone stopped and stared.

          She pats your shipmate’s neck. She coos.

          He growls and says, Fuck these people.

          Your shipmate is more consistent than any human being in the galaxy. Every morning he says, I do not want to talk to her today. Every evening he says, This is beautiful, I don’t lie. Before bed he always shouts, Dance! He possesses the inane superpower of pure, thoughtless consistency. It is more than you ever could have asked for. He tastes like orange soda.

          Fuck these people, he says.

          Stare at him. Nod. Do not waste.

          This is what your doctor means when he says “Prozac,” “Depacote,” and “out-patient.” Shake your head. Keep quiet. Your body knows what it is meant for. It knows that you have a mission. Do not tell him. Your body knows the future. Soon, the ship will split in half. It will tear open as neatly as a tiny black skirt. It will tear open on a Tuesday, it will split with a big, fat crack like, CURRRR-AACKKKKK and lots of debris, besides. You and your shipmate will spill into the stratosphere yelling, Help! Help! What have we done? But it does not matter if you scream because—guess what—out you will spill, out you will spill like a Whole Foods egg yolk released from its organic, cracked shell, like an egg yolk dripping towards the tortuous inevitability of a hot sidewalk. You will kiss planet Earth, inhale frigid air for the very first time, lie on your back, and say, No thank you. Now I am home. No thank you.

          Of course, this has not happened yet. Don’t tell.

          Everything has a purpose. Comfort yourself with this: It is possible to repel change. Buy a tuna sandwich at 7-11 every Wednesday. Spend your weekends dreaming of them, dreaming of their clipboards. Drink orange soda on summer nights and read scripture in the shed. Think of all that you love, think of all that you own.

          Here is the weight of the Truth. It is belongs on your skeleton. Distribute it evenly, like a palmful of peach lotion. Do not mind its fragile, perfumey scent. You will grow used to it in time.

          Here is how you say, This is too soon, this cannot happen, I do not know, I will see you in San Jose, or maybe not, maybe never. (Two eyes and a set of wolfish teeth pop out from under the blanket to ask, Who would want this? He smiles, then frowns. He can’t make up his mind, but even his indecisiveness is consistent. Don’t ignore him. Don’t answer.) You think, Maybe it is becoming evident that he is the sort of person who will love without knowing and if I am a person—and I mean if—then I am the sort of person who knows but is afraid of everything except specificity. He does not believe in fear. Maybe there is nothing.

          The present moment crumbles away from you like an elderly slice of wheat bread. It does not matter (except that it does).

          Here is tomorrow.

          Here is a phone call and a carbon copy of something ugly. Here is a paper bag stuffed with contraband. Here is the elevator, here is the lobby. Here is your mother. Here is a hot sidewalk and the flickering memory of a long body. Here is a word that sounds like his name. Here is the can of Sunkist that you drink behind the sandwich shop. Here are two forces that feel identical though they pull you in opposite directions. Here is a pair of nylons that you buy in a vague fit of hopefulness.

          Here is your shipmate as he kisses your shadow and recites the relevant information. Here is your mission, he says. Don’t leave anyone behind. The spaceship has split. Rock backwards, forwards, back again. Fuck these people.

          Your mother groans as she administers your medication each morning. Your face breaks five department store mirrors. You do not understand how human beings hold their mouths in arched shapes. Your skin is thin and translucent; it hates the asphalt. A green tinge hangs about your temples.

          Here you are, this is you. This is you, sailing into a sea of churning windowpanes. Here is everyone, everyone becomes this. They stop, they stare.