Tara Labovich

Catalogue of Encounters that Have Convinced Me I Might be Breathing

Colorado Springs

I realized at a young age that escaping to the backyard was fruitless. It was too close to the house, still visible to all things that might watch from behind the rusted scrub oaks: parents, neighbors, a wandering mountain lion—and fruitless in the sense that there were no hazelnuts or Johannisbeeren or quince in the new and hard environment of my backyard foothills. Oma Eichholz is wandering a garden that isn’t mine any more. And this new backyard is no garden, just a hill of gravel and untamed, too short trees.  

As I’ve gotten older, I’ve come to know the back porch as a place of being seen. And with that knowledge of being seen comes a certain seeing, an understanding of the phenomena of see. An undeciding.



The cost of three pairs of shoes packed in a small black suitcase: musk, bursting zippers, my sanity. So this 10 euro buy from H&M is a donation to my headspace.

Dull blue stripes are stretched by the breathability of bleached white. It’s a baggy monster. I feel man-ish in the collar, and wearing it, I hear some deep sound within crying for suits and dress shoes and too much leather, a sound that wonders what it is to be a block of body with easy muscle. But I put on too much mascara instead. I feel a different body grow beneath the shirt, and I wonder if it will change the way I am looked at on the street. If they will look at me as the clumpy baggy content monster that I feel like.


Behind the Ugly Academic Building

She sits on the concrete block, legs tucked crisscross-applesauce. Last year I had known her for her zebra leggings, but this year she only wears black. Today her spaghetti strap hangs off her shoulders and one breast leans out, tasting the storm coming over the mountains.  

“Never date another writer,” she says. “You’ll have to lie about how much you love their writing and in the end they’ll just think you’re lying about how much you love them.”

Sometimes I pretend she’s my mom and we got lost somewhere early, before memories really mattered. I don’t mind too much what I call her now, but I like that she calls me T, like she sees right through me, like I can be essentialized and simplified down to something as easy to draw as a letter.


Grafton Street

When I stare at the figures pressing back at me, passing me, I see them as ocean waves contained. I feel a pulsing rhythm in the bodies near me, tides of people, moon phases of thought.

Today especially, this city that I love has warmed the concrete of my skin. I hate the staunch list of rules for the ways my feet should fall on the curb and the cracks, no two-step, just one step, one step. I squirm underneath it all.

But within that space of forced stillness, the pace of unease matches the certain slow rhythm of stoplights and the uneven beat of strangers on foot. I want to peer inside of each of them, but I never look too close for fear of what I might see. The pavement of memory, the unstable park benches of their doubts, the thinning grass beneath that first need, the blood stains in the alleyway we still haven’t admitted to.


Torc Waterfall

I think I had expected to find some kind of shimmering portal, ethereal music, and an open invitation to pass through the door into the realm of the Good Folk. So I stare for a long time at white water trying to discern what hinges look like in foam. But I see nothing and I hear nothing: no heavy magnetism towards the edge and definitely no fairy bells. Just the sounds of foamed water and stairs being stepped by tourists and lunging amateur photographers lunging and couples painting stiff smiles. There’s nothing quiet or magical about it. It’s paved and intruded. I can’t figure out if I’m intruder or intruded.

As disappointing as disappointment is, it forces me to realize the problematic structure of assuming that I am special enough to get a hand delivered invitation to another dimension. Probably something I should work on.

But then, as I’m making my way through one of those tunnels that seem to be there for no good reason at all, trying not to tangle in any spider-related artifact there comes this brutal screech. I stop. Wonder if the Good Folk are calling from within a spiderweb. Decide that’s absurd. I start to walk faster, judging by the echoed distance of the scream, the source was nowhere near my current location. I emerged from the trees, clunky speed-walking down the path along the lake, and headed back towards Muckross House. I come to a crossroads: one path leads back to the gardens along the water, the other leading into the trees and towards the screaming. I, curious, stupid, obviously take the latter.

As I dig through the tall grass and nettles and emerge on the other side, I finally understand why there is nothing human about the way the sound carries, or the deep tones of the distressed voice. Because in front of me stand 20 cows, viciously screaming their good morning moos.


The Cafe We Haven’t Visited Since High School

I understand now that no one actually likes coffee. Coffee is just rent. Rent to occupy the morning or a cafe.

She arrives before I do, and waits in the corner. The sun hits half of her face, making one blue iris shine like something singing. It’s been four years, but the talk comes easy. I say things like, “I feel like I write the same things as I did back then” and she says things like “I was in love with my best friend.”

Sitting so close to her reminds me why I loved her that first time: her quick rhythm—the new gentle way she treats my worn stories—and her hands, how they rest still in her lap, only stretching and wrapping right before she begins to speak.

And the big mamas of the mountains lean over us. They listen. For them I don’t think it’s been so long, just a long winter and a short summer.



I meet you by the too-low waters of the river Liffy in that shirt. It’s a hot month, and you, beautiful and too-slim, stretch like a shadow against the doorframe. You, an oh boy kind of boy.

From across the table I watch you listening to me, watch you play with the little black straw in your drink, watch you watch me. I talk like I know what I’m saying, and you tilt your head and crinkle your left eye in a way that says I don’t believe you.

I like watching your edges. Once we leave the bar we wander south, towards one of the canals. Your steps balance on the lip of the curb, heel bouncing up even before it touches the ground. Honestly, I feel like I’m scurrying behind you, small and heavy and striped and foreign (but not foreign enough to be excused for my faux pas). When we go into the Tesco for a six pack I like the way your index finger trails over the condensation on the rim of the fridge. When we duck into a church on the corner, I watch the way the sweat beads on your forehead like a blessing of holy water.

And after, down by the water by Portobello, you speak quickly and quietly, your brogue rolling like marbles in your mouth. We speak the same language but we don’t speak the same language. And after, you pull on my stripes like they are the only frustrations in the world. And after, you tell me I’ve gotten too quiet. And after, I realize I like, more than I should, the small silver hoop in your left earlobe, almost blended in with your brown curls. I catch it after you kiss me for the third time (my lips already sore because you’re too liberal with your teeth) and hold onto it tightly because it speaks very loudly about your burgeoning sexuality and hate of THE MAN. I hold onto it tightly, stare too hard, try to weave the things that you’re saying into the buttons on my shirt so I can pluck them out later and actually listen.

When it’s time to go, you push me up against the wall beneath the tracks and just hold my head between your hands. You stare long and hard and for a moment I think you see something you don’t like. But before I can ask you kiss me one last time.

If there was anything to be learned, it was that somehow, in turning my back as the train pulled away, I allowed myself to be woven into a breath that wasn’t mine.


Over the Atlantic

That immediate and last gesture comes too soon. It hangs in the air outside the closing door. Even though I don’t watch the door close, I know the emergency light is flickering against the old metal and that the icicles on the pipe above the hinges are still dripping, even as the temperature scurries down. I hear the grating click as it closes behind us and the intercom shudders alive with announcements about bad charities and seatbelts.

I want to turn and lean out the window, but I’m in the middle seat and the plane is already moving and it is too much so instead I imagine that the city remains suspended within the doorframe, a ghostly being, like that immediate and last gesture that hums in the space between me and the apartment complex.

This is about leaving, about being left. About never really knowing what the leaving is beyond the physical action (and trust me, I know that well, know it pressed against a slammed door, know it in the grand chill of the silent treatment, know it packed away in the trunk of a car I didn’t pay insurance on).

I’ve known the leaving before. I’ve done the leaving before. It isn’t supposed to come barreling through a Monday afternoon with urgency. It’s supposed to come slow in its approach, a drawn out wheeze, stealing your oxygen and leaving you tired and slow. Not confused and full and awake. All in one go. All the leaving done in one go.

I don’t say it to sound sappy or strange or broken for your pleasure. This heartbreak comes tasting sweet. After so many years of pain so deep and wide it sings to the Mariana Trench from my body, this hurt comes saccharine and quick. After so many years of claiming to be beyond pain, I don’t think I was really beyond anything at all. Just beyond knowing how to take it into my body and still able to fall asleep.

Lights Out Issue | April 2019