Sleeping.

February 23, 2020

(I have been writing a series of short stories, mostly character studies for a few years from something that I’ve called “The Chair.” A few of them I have posted, the last post was culled from these short studies. This is another one, I’ve been mostly writing fiction the past year, one is a longer story for my son Bruno. Not sure if I will share that one yet.)

 

Sleeping.

A small creak in the wall behind him, the building was settling, it had been since he moved in nearly two years ago—it mawed, croaked and sighed at all times. “It’s a dump” he told his mother over the phone shortly after moving in, “but its cheap and close to work…anyway, what else do I need?” Was he asking her or himself? The sun had bent its light over the small shelf against the far wall, with his half-folded laundry on top of it in a giant clump of colors, he felt the ache again. It was timeless. It was bottomless. It could be terrifying at times, and the suddenness that it brought felt like an airport. Last night when he got home, he pulled the groceries out of the white denim bag after hauling them up the stairs, his hands cold, his knees wanting to crawl into a tub of water but they were already disappointed because the bathtub leaked, and he made an egg with a piece of bread he fried in the pan along with it. After reading and listening to records spin their circles of melody he went to bed and felt the ache. It was worse when he walked in his room, it froze him from inside and he managed to make it to his bed. Stripping off his clothes, he tossed them in the hamper and wriggled in, the cold blankets finding his legs colder than they were. The lonely part of the earth, the one that faced the rest of the dark universe struck him hard when he lived in it, and he would pin for sleep as he wrestled with the slumber that took it’s time, ruffling blankets over his head. Like a child. Until a few hours later he would finally fall into a restless slumber.

Leaving work earlier that night he had turned up the car stereo, music always worked but this time as he waited at stoplight after stoplight nothing within him had changed and he thought of stopping for a coffee or even going shopping although this reminded him of his money issues. Instead he decided that going home, he could make his own coffee, put a record on and lay down if he needed to. But the pang of emptiness followed him and when he put the water on for the coffee, he felt himself say “why even bother” out loud.  When he was younger, he navigated the depression with alcohol, and later, pills which he would wash down with glasses of wine. The only time he drank wine was when he took painkillers, using it as an enhancer, most other times he drank beer and bourbon. Or vodka. Or gin. Anything really, he had realized that certain types of liquor were better depending on his mood or physical state. He did not like to drink whisky or any dark liquor if he had a hangover, it had too quick of an effect on him—it made his body confused. “Do you want me drunk or do you want me tired?” it would ask him as if his own body was a tired lover. Instead he would drink a gin & tonic or a vodka cranberry when the hangover had lasted past six pm, these were more subtle drinks and they didn’t last as long on the tongue. Whisky seemed to waken his taste buds and then nestle in for the night, always a presence. With vodka and gin, there was a softer taste that was also blunted by the tonic or juice, he liked to say when he was drinking these he was not really drinking. He was nursing. It had been many years since he had a drink so much so that his sobriety was an adult, 18 years but in other ways the way he felt inside was as damaged as his liver once was.

Sitting on the couch, he pulled a cat hair off his leg and dropped it on the floor and held his coffee cup in his hand. He was unsure of what to do next, there was a small television in his room but he lost interest in it rather quickly and he could turn on his computer but that too would propel him somewhere he didn’t want to go. Always searching. Next to the couch lay a small stack of books, some had been there for months, they might of well as started paying rent. So many unread words. The words as patient as a tree. Inside a gasp of anxiety, grew up and burst, flooding his bloodstream and mind. Explosions. Grabbing a notebook he started writing, his hand moving across the page as if it were a brush fire, he wrote about memories he was unsure ever existed, he wrote about love that had captured him and how he let it go, ignoring what was given freely in order to slip back into something unexplainable. Confused. He stopped after four pages, noticing the clock he had been writing almost an hour, he wrung his wrist and went into the kitchen for a water. The needle on the record player was pretending it was treading water at the end of the record he had been playing, bouncing up and back every four seconds, he poured himself the water, drinking slowly from the glass and returned to his notebook. He never re-read what he wrote, these were just maps in reverse to try to figure out how he got here, realizing it didn’t change where he was but it did change his perspective on it. He wrote some more, this time managing to corral a childhood memory of his father. They were hiking, somewhere deep in the woods, he remembered hating hiking, and was always on the lookout for poison ivy which somehow managed to latch onto him only to erupt in painful rashes that would stick with him for most of the summer. His father, marching forward, bellowing to him in his deep voice to “hurry up, Pokie—you will not get poison ivy!” This was a lie because he always got poison ivy and every July was a lost cause. “I am hurrying, I want to be careful” he answered back to his dad while scanning the floral surrounding him. Every  step a deliberate move forward or sideways, surrounded by a sea of vengeful green. “You will not get poison ivy, just hurry!” He realized at that early age that his father would never understand him, nor did his father really care. The next few days he had gotten the worst case of poison ivy he had ever had, it was in his ears, his eyes, on his penis and around his mouth, his mother had to take him to the hospital and scolded him for being careless. “Why do you walk in the woods if you know you are going to get it? Your summer is basically ruined for a while, you can’t really go any where in this state.” He looked at the oozing puss from the blanket of bumps across his hands and wrists. He said nothing. “What an asshole,” he spoke to know one as he closed the notebook, closing the memory. It was then that he went to bed.

The next morning his alarm went off, he pawed at the bedside table next to his head, a book fell, then another one and next was a bottle of water, he felt the water dribble over his hand, listened as it spooled out onto the floor. “Shit.” he scrambled out of bed, grabbed a dirty tee-shirt off the floor and started mopping up the water. He damp dried some of the books, cursing to himself and thought of how he didn’t want to go to work, wanting to go back to bed he nevertheless moved to the bathroom, where he peed and then splashed water across his face and neck, then to the kitchen where he started the coffee. He moved to the chair, and he pulled out one of the daily affirmation books that he read without fail every morning, sometimes the words did what they were intended to and nudged him towards gratitude or a calmer space while other times there was nothing and he felt empty reading the words, but it was always worth the effort; something was better than nothing. He nursed the coffee, pulled his legs up on the chair, set the plastic egg timer he got from his grandmother’s house after she died and meditated for fifteen minutes. This was how his days had started since moving in, with nary a deviation unless he was late for work or slept in. Some days it worked and some days it didn’t, and he thought about if there was any correlation with the sunshine on his good days.

There was some floating he felt, his legs folded under him, more memories he tried to embrace and then, breath away. He had found her by her car, lost on the sidewalk and he held her. She shook under his shoulders, quaked and shuddered, she convulsed in his arms. Her voice caught, it paused and then it tugged at his throat and he wept as well. Both of them bawling under the early morning street like  broken feral cats, putting her hands across his cheeks, pawing away his tears. “I’ve lost you, you are on a boat drifting away. Standing in the middle you aren’t coming back.” Kissing her forehead, he whispered, “I don’t know.” Her torso rattled, tears soaked the pavement, pulling her closer he thought “I’m preparing you.” She had gotten in her car shortly after, drove to work, ate her lunch alone that day in a strip-mall parking lot, listening to the same compact disc that had gotten stuck nearly five months earlier. Repeat the ending and the beginning. She called him and he didn’t pick up. She called again and he didn’t pick up again.

After his meditation he called off work, made some more coffee, and then went for a walk. With the sun making silent comments to him, whispering in his ear, trying to turn his thoughts he looked at the mud poking out from the sides of his shoes, felt a cloud making it’s presence known as it cut off the sunlight and finally he sat down. Nothing had changed, and he felt tired. The walk did little, the sun had tried her best but, in the end, sometimes a person’s darkness will swallow the sun. He showered, he put on a record, he straightened his bookshelves, he took out some paper and took his favorite pen, scribbled and put it away. Drank another coffee and a glass of water. Folding his clothes, he carefully put them away and then prepared his bed. In the other room and sat in the chair staring at the glass of water, he smiled ruefully, “time to go sailing.”

Looking. (from Punks Around vol 9)

February 6, 2020

This is a work of fiction, taken from a story I have been working on for a number of years but published in physical form by Punk Around Zine (Vol 9). Partial proceeds from the zine go to various harm reduction programs around the country. I’m used to writing non-fiction, so I’m a bit nervous as this is new for me. I wrote with a few people in mind and a few who didn’t make it. Special thanks to Alexander Herbert, who publishes Punk Around and wrote a fantastic book on the history of Russian punk rock called “What About Tomorrow: An Oral History of Russian Punk from the Soviet Era to Pussy Riot” (Microcosm Press).

 

“Hey, do you see that over there?” holding a cup of coffee in one hand and pointing with his other hand towards a small group of men huddled at the entrance of an ally across the street. She turned her head and followed his finger, “those men?” she asked. “Nah, look behind them, at those birds sitting on those garbage cans.” In the shadows of the alley there was at least twenty or thirty birds sitting on top of some heavy aluminum garbage bins, that had long ago had the metal sheen thocked out of them, they were bruised and dented—much like the birds that sat on top of them. The birds were standing, bobbing their heads back and forth, silent except for the occasional flutter of their wings which sounded like small decks of cards being shuffled. It looked like every can was covered in feathery movements.

“I haven’t seen anything like that” he whispered.

“There is nothing there, just a bunch of dumb birds sitting on trach cans” she replied, stabbing her fork into a pile of scrambled eggs.

“Look closer,” he gestured towards the alley, his index finger pointing across the table, “see? There, right in the middle, there is an orange cat standing in the middle of all of them.”

Squinting, her jaw hung open, a ball of chewed up egg on her tongue, “oh my God, you are right. That is crazy.” The cat stood tall with the birds, as they shuffled and moved around, the cat yawned and licked one of its paws. The men walked away and the view of the birds plus cat was easier to see. “That’s the damndest thing I have ever seen.”

Reaching under the table she squeezed his knee, causing him to grin on the outside and beam like 200 headlights on the inside.  She rode her hand up his thigh, just enough to make him squirm in his seat and floated her hand back down and gave his knee another hug before taking another drink of coffee. The table floated with love, it could have carried it up and through the diner if they had thought of such a thing. Her eyes fixed on his, a smile, a few blinks, this was all really all she needed to tell him.  His gaze went back to the birds, and the confident cat, the cat that didn’t think about what anybody thought, that she was going to sit with the mother-fucking birds if she wanted to, and his admiration for the cat grew with every moment. A truck honked at a small compact car and the frightened birds all took flight, the cat looked skyward and licked her paws, after a minute she laid down on top of the garbage can and went to sleep.

“Let’s go” she said, cradling his hands in hers, “it’s so nice out, and we should be in the sun.” “O.K.” he went to grab his wallet, but she said, “I paid while you were looking at the odd cat.”

“Thank you,” he pulled her close, kissed her cheek, smelled her hair and suddenly wanted to nibble on her ear. Outside they walked north, she told him about an antique store she wanted to go to “there is a chest there, an oak one, it looks just like one my grandmother had. She would put all her sheets and the quilts she made in it. I can still smell it, it smelled of lavender. I want it.”

Their hands intertwined, “where would we put it? That apartment is so small, plus all those stairs! Will you start sewing quilts to put in it?”

“Ha-ha, yes, just for you—I will make a quilt out of all your old dumb rock shirts, some might not be suitable for display though.”

He laughed, “you mean like Anal Cunt or the Ass Ponys?”

“Yeah maybe, but let’s look anyway. We can always dream even if it doesn’t happen.” Living in the fantasy future can be better than the present.

A delivery truck barreled by them, the driver fighting gears that ground against one another—they were tired, those metal gears, the driver dressed in brown from head to toe smiled down at the two lovers walking, he had an urge to honk—their splendid moment in time carrying up through the open window, instead he shifted and drove past them. She laid her head against him and he felt all her love from this small gesture, it felt good, but he always had a twinge of doubt. Always. The thrift store was five blocks and change away, with a small parking lot in the back used for deliveries and pickups mostly, it was always crowded.

“Come here, I know where it is” she clutched him tight, pulling him towards the furniture section. He wanted to look at the records and books, he wanted to leave, he wanted to go home and swallow her whole. Her hand tore from his, “c’mon, its over here” laughing as she implored him. Behind a giant glossy dresser, the bottom two drawers covered in Garbage Pail Kids stickers, she stood next to the chest, it wasn’t as big as he thought. It was banged around the edges, the metal lock was scuffed but it looked ok, putting his head against the Garbage Pail Kid dresser, it wobbled causing him to yank his hand away.

“I like it, how much is it?” he asked.

“Ummm, let me see,” she bent down, her legs folding under her, he looked at her butt, all those thoughts came back and he crouched next to her. “I don’t see the price tag” her lip a thinking thin line, “They usually have them on the edge, hmmm, oh here it is. They wrote it on the corner, the dummies—of course in brown ink. Um, it’s $35! We can afford that, and it’s not as big as I thought, I guess I was imagining it as a little girl when I would climb in my grandmother’s when we played hide and go seek.”

“Let’s get it, I think I can just carry it, or we can get a cab?” he offered.

“Nah,” she replied, “Fuck that, I’ll help you carry it.”

They dragged it home, fifteen blocks taking a small break on block number nine to share a bottled water and trade kisses as they sat atop their new piece of furniture, the one that would always echo grandmother’s house and lavender. They pulled and pushed the chest up the stairs, it banged and clumped all the way up, they laughed and rolled their eyes, funny what love can do. If he had been alone and doing it, muffled little ‘fucks’ and ‘god-damnits’ would have slipped out of his mouth, but together it was different. It always is. Inside she grabbed some wood oil and an old rag that used to be a black and orange sock that his big toe finally busted out of one day at work, and she started polishing it, working across the bottom and working her way up. He made some coffee in the kitchen, its’ smell filling the apartment, they had worked hard to make it their own. He dropped some ice cubes in a glass and poured her some water. Walking over to her he put his hand on her shoulder and handed her the cup.

“you are sweet” raising it to her lips, she was sweating.

Returning to the kitchen, noticing that it had started to rain, with a small puddle of water collecting on the windowsill, he closed the window, felt the drop in temperature against his forearms and wiped up the water with the pink sponge from the kitchen sink. He poured her a coffee, rubbing the chill out of his arms, he felt the goosebumps from the rain.

“Hey, come here” she said, peering into the chest.

Removing the tiny silver spoon, given to him by his mother shortly before she died, “I used to feed you Gerber’s from this, I would polish it every week until the light sparked from it. I think it was the only thing you would eat with” she had told him as the memory passed from her lips to his ears, forever to live until he would take his last breath. She died two days later; her head propped up against a mountain of pillows.

“What is it?” he carried her coffee, she looked up.

“Thank you honey. Look at this,” she held up a small black and white photograph. “This was at the bottom, it was folded in half and stuck in the corner, I think whoever had this must have owned a fleet of cats.” She dropped a giant ball of old cat fur on the floor.

He held the photo in his hand, “wow, that’s crazy. Do you see who that is?” holding the photo close to his eyes.

“Yeah, I mean I think that’s him, don’t you?” She stood up and wiped her pants.

“I do to, it’s old though a little blurry but shit, I’m sure that is him. Is there anything else in there?” She shook her head.

“Nope just that. And the hair, there was a shit-ton of hair…I hope it was only cat hair.” She grimaced.

Leaning next to him, she put her arm under his, tracing one of the fingers over the crinkled-up photo. It was bent in several places and the crooked fold where it was crammed under the wood of the chest, but otherwise the picture was fairly clean. It was a photo of a young man, grinning into the camera leaning back on a motorcycle, one hand on the handlebars the other on his left knee. His smile was almost a sneer, his jet-black hair combed back, with a small curl at the top, in the background was a white building, possibly a garage, and some trees. There was a baseball on the ground and what looked like a guitar case on the driveway off in the short distance.

“Yeah, that’s him, it’s Elvis Presley. Motherfuck, what the hell?!” he muttered to himself.

“Wow, do you think it’s his? I mean the chest.” It was obvious this was a personal photo, taken by a loved one, it was an intimate photo. They turned the chest over, looking for a clue.

There was a small white label stapled into the wood, “Wolford’s Cabinet, 220 South Virginia Street Hopkinsville, TN.” Wolford Cabinet was typed in dark gothic letters and the rest was normal typeset.

“Wow, it could be? I have no idea,” he whispered. “I don’t know, maybe it is. I mean my grandmother had this same chest; this is identical. She lived in Bowling Green when she married my grandfather, that was after he got back from Korea. But, wow, I wonder if we have Elvis’s chest—that would be wild.” They turned the chest over again, and underneath the door there was another small label, this one pink and fastened to the side of the inner door, “To Darlene, with love, Bruce.”

“welp, it’s not Elvis’s chest, it’s Darlene’s and I wonder if Bruce knew about Elvis?!” she laughed, and pulled the photo from his fingers, walked to the living room window and set her coffee down on the windowsill. The rain was coming down in waves, with the gusts of wind pushing it forward in intermediate spells, like a DJ pushing the beat, the rain splattered and bashed itself into everything. Fifteen million miniature suicides. She pulled up the old chair that had come with the apartment, sat down and pulled her knees up close as she held the black and white photo close to her eyes, wondering where it was taken, who Darlene was and surprised by her fortune of being able to peer into the past personal life of a King.

She bit her bottom lip as she traced her finger over the top and edges of the photo, sipped her coffee and looked behind her. He was on the couch, one leg on the floor and the other bent at the knee that he was balancing his coffee on, in his other hand he was reading a paperback, the spine bent in half. She followed his eyes as they soaked the words off the page, his crooked smile reacting to the words and felt her draw towards him.

They had met in a basement nearly eleven months ago, he saw her, slide the cold metal chair backwards, it screeched against the concrete floor of the church and sat down next to her. His hands engulfing the small Styrofoam cup, he didn’t make eye contact but just asked her if she minded if he sat next to her. “Sorry, but uh, there isn’t very many seats here, do you mind if I sit here?”

Looking sideways at him, “no, not at all—we all need to sit.” The coffee was bad, and she remarked to him as he scrunched up his face when he took a sip, “nobody comes here for the coffee, but putting sugar and creamer may help, no need to act tough here. The coffee will kill you if you aren’t careful, we use it to weed out the newbies.” He looked at her for a moment, his eyes like a puppy, she laughed and touched his hand, “I’m joking, we don’t weed out the newbies—we need them.” After a minute of silence, nothing had started yet. He went up and poured some creamer and sugar in his coffee and sat down next to her.

“How can you tell I’m new?” he sipped the coffee; it was a bit better but still bitter.

“I can tell, I’m kinda new myself but I’m a retread, so not really. I’ve been coming back for about seven months now, I sort of came and went out for a long time but then, well I realized if I went for too long there would never be another come-again” she stuck a piece of gum in her mouth.

“Oh,” he squirmed a little in his seat, like a cat clawing a pillow getting ready to nestle in, “yeah, I’m new. My first one since I got out, I went to a few when I was in treatment but never one on my own, not like this.” He looked down, speaking more to his chest than to her, “to be honest, I’m scared shitless.”

Scared shitless was a feeling she knew well, it was one she had felt for most of her life, at least the life she could remember, and no matter what, that feeling was always there sometimes as faint as an aspiration and other times it roared like a tornado screaming in her ear, trying to consume her from the inside out.

“Yeah, I can relate” she whispered, “sometimes just learning to sit here helps, I couldn’t even really sit when I started coming, I’d just stand in the corners moving from one to the other during the meeting—I didn’t trust my legs to sit down, maybe I thought if I stood I could leave whenever I felt I needed to. Luckily it hasn’t happened yet.”

He kept coming and he kept sitting next to her, after a few weeks he introduced himself, she had brought him a better coffee from a coffee shop up the street and he stuck his hand out,

“Hi, sorry I’m Jake” shaking his hand.

“Yeah, I know you tell everybody your name when it gets to you.”

“Oh yeah, you’re right” rolling his eyes at himself,

“Um, I forget your name, sorry—half the time my mind is racing and I can barely keep attention.” She noticed his hands were shaking, the coffee spilled out the top of the lid.

“It’s o.k., I’m Mary.”

“That’s right, I do remember, Mary Whositsnexttome.”

“Yup, something like that” she grinned at him.

From there, he would loiter outside the steps leading up to the sidewalk and chat her up as she walked to her car, a light blue Golf that had more dents in it than any car ever should. “This thing is such a reflection of my life” she laughed on one of these occasions as they talked next to it, “but it keeps plugging away, bruises and all.”

After a few weeks she said to him, “you know if you want to ask me out you can, there is no rule against it” she was staring at him hard. “Well, I just thought…they say no relationships for a year” he stumbled over his words.

“Going out for coffee or dinner does not equal a relationship for God’s sake, anyway I think I can make my own choices.”

From there they were together, bumbling through the new lives they were sharing together, sometimes with tears but mostly with laughter. One night as they were making love he was about to cum, she looked up at him, “don’t you dare cry when you cum, don’t you dare.”

He gasped, “sometimes I feel so deeply, I feel on fire.” But he didn’t cry, and they kept making love and they kept going to church basements together, and eventually they moved in together. She had gone back to school, while he worked framing houses and contemplated a return to school. “I need another career; I want to help people” he said one night as they sat on the couch while the stereo played.

“You mean not your current career, the one where you build houses? Or the one where you were a lawyer, that career?”

“Yes, that career, the lawyer one—it was too crazy for me, too much temptation, too much ego—including my own.”

She felt the cushion sag underneath her, “this fucking couch has got to go,” the wire spring had sprung their last spring—the bounce of the sofa had deserted the relic of furniture many years ago. Her bottom sank to the seat. The couch didn’t come with the apartment, but they had dragged it from an alley up the street, checking it for bugs, stains or any other unsavory details. It was a vinyl couch, it looked immaculate with smooth pine legs and underboards, but when a person sat on that one cushion it gave away its age. Which was nearly forty years old. But it looked good, and they planned to get the cushions refitted with new coils.

She pulled his head on her lap, stroking his hair, staring down at his small mouth, lips pursed while he slept, small breaths sneaking out in a three second pattern. She wanted to ride his out-breath across the room, to live on the essence of him, his being—she wanted to devour him and to be devoured. He was a mystery at times, he would forget sections of his life even though he was in his early forties, “it’s all a blur” he would say when she probed him about his past. She knew he was an attorney, but that he lost his job due to his drinking but not because of the drugs, “maybe I did some coke every now and then, but really, in the end it was the booze. I did a bit of everything for a while, but I was able to work—I went through about two years when I was using heroin, it got out of hand—I was hiding it, spending money I didn’t have. I felt like a hypocrite in court, representing people who were using the same drugs as I was, but I had more skills to hide it.” He explained to her he just woke up one day and quit hard drugs, getting sick for a few days but “it wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be, but I have always been able to battle through things. I went on a trip, used up my last Mastercard and went to the Bahamas for a week. I figured I couldn’t really score there. Anyway, I came back no longer a drug addict but an alcoholic.” She knew this story, they shared this much but the other aspects of his life she didn’t know, and she didn’t know if the exclusion was intentional or if he forgot.

Her own story included alcohol as well, but there was also a lot of heroin when she was in her twenties—she got turned on both ways by an old boyfriend (now deceased). “That was a mess” she thought as she kissed his forehead, “boy, I was fucked up.” She did remember a lot, too much she felt. The abuse, both physical and sexual, she was raped twice—once by her boyfriend’s drug dealer when her boyfriend went to pawn something and left her alone in the dealer’s house, and once again by someone she was using with. “I can’t forget that shit, even if I tried” she told him one night as they laid in bed, their bodies hot against one another. But like him, she felt that alcohol was something she couldn’t beat, although her drug use never completely ended, she would use occasionally—maybe once every four months or so “Just to get a taste,” but it never cost her work or school. Finally, after almost being raped again after drinking and going home with a mutual barfly she had enough. “that’s when I decided, fuck it, I’ll try this way again—the rooms, give them a chance again. So far so good, I don’t want that kind of drama in my life anymore.” She went on Suboxone over three years ago and that was what changed for her, “there is something I don’t like about some of the meetings, and that’s why I need my medication—I could not have done anything else without quitting heroin, it took me over two years to finally quit drinking and my main reason was because I couldn’t afford it—it was stupid, how much I would drink. When someone talks about shit, they don’t know about in the meetings I used to want to gauge their eyes out, but I just take what I need from the ones I respect.”

These conversations happened a lot between them, the parsing out of what worked for each of them. She had also started volunteering at one of the needle exchange sites in town, “I love helping those people, I mean I was one of them—maybe not as bad—I wasn’t homeless, but I was sick a lot.”

He never joined her there, at least not at this point, “I can’t do that yet, I need to make sure I can handle it first.”

The love was deep, all the way through to the beginning of her life, the oldest part of her felt his connection. She wanted to consume him, to be one—a burst of electric energy. But, when alone she questioned herself, which he felt was odd since she appeared so strong, committed to her recovery and her life, this he admired. She felt desperate at times, combing through his past via the internet. One night he came home and found her looking at one of his social media accounts, “what are you doing?” He asked, a bit annoyed, “there is nothing there, I don’t even use those things very much anymore.”

She cried, one of the few times she was tearful with him, “I don’t know what I’m doing, when I can’t feel you, not physically but you know, when I can’t feel you. I guess I want to see if you loved me before you even met me, if there are clues to your past that you needed me.” She paused, one hand clutching the opposite shoulder, “it doesn’t make sense, I’m sorry.” He went upstairs, eventually she followed him, and as he slept, she removed her clothes, and as she held his hand, she masturbated while he slept. They never spoke of it but occasionally she would feel that compulsion to seek his past to assuage their future.

“Do you think we knew each other before?” she was cutting onions up for soup, their scent filled the apartment as she noticed the olive oil in the pan rolling around in hot liquid balls, glistening as they ran from the heat.

“What do you mean? Like in a former life? Or did we meet at some point” he was eating an apple, sitting at the table with magazine in front of him.

“No, I’m not sure how to explain it, there is a part of me that thinks I have always known you. I know it sounds odd, or new-age-y but ever since you sat next to me at that meeting, I felt touched by you. Maybe I’m just weird” she slid the onions into the pan, they sizzled, and their sweetness exploded like a bomb across the kitchen. She could hear him eating his apple in the other room, one bite, two bites, pausing, another bite. “You’re not listening to me.”

“I am, I’m trying to think about what you asked me and how to frame it. Whatever you are making smells really good, by the way.”

She started slicing up the garlic into thin pieces and placed a red pepper onto the open flame of the stove top, she moved to the door and watched him obliterate the rest of the apple, put it down and wipe his hands on his black jeans. “and…? Maybe it’s just my insecurities, I don’t know.” He scooted the chair around, its legs scrapping the floor, and he looked at her.

She continued, “perhaps it’s a need we need, and we can only feel it deep—on a cellular level—that’s where the familiarity comes from and we can’t explain it. I feel it with you, but I also feel shitty when I don’t see you, there is a void even if I know where you are, a sort of low hum of anxiety” he looked at her softly. “Yes! That’s it, except it almost a soft panic when I don’t see you or I’m waiting, it makes zero sense. I wish I didn’t have it, I should be a big girl” she flipped the red pepper over, the skin black and bubbly. “ow, that’s hot.”

Thinking he looked down, “my dad wasn’t around much, I’ve told you this. He was always working, always busy and never at home much until, well he finally split. My mom worked as well, went back to school so we were expected to do well, failure wasn’t really an option nor was taking a day off—everybody worked, nobody sat back for a day, not to mention even an afternoon.”

She was pulling the skin off the pepper now, it was hot and goopy, she slid it onto a cutting board, she hated the slime on her fingers, “go on, I’m listening.”

“So, when I started partying in high school, it helped me relax and I had my first true girlfriend, Angie who I dated well into college. You met her one night a few months ago, at that art thing.”

“yes, I remember—she’s nice.”

“She is nice. I treated her like shit though, cheating and yelling. We fought hard; I don’t know if I told you, but I hit her once when I was drunk. She broke up with me shortly afterwards, I’m so ashamed of myself, of course I blamed her. What a shithead I am” he was now speaking more to himself. “But I never felt solid with someone, it always seemed they were going to leave, or I was going to leave first. This is different but I don’t like feeling pangs of longingness, that food smells delicious.” His stomach grumbled in approval.

“Thank you, maybe you are right, that we need each other in such a way that it’s something that we don’t even know where it began. I am feeling guilty as well.” She paused. “I don’t think I should comb through your past, on social media or whatever—I don’t know what I’m looking for when I do that. Maybe a fear of something from way back will come and swallow me like a fish, and I’ll lose you or lose myself.” She felt herself starting to tear up.

“Jesus” she sighed and washed her hands.

“I get it, I feel the same. Maybe we think our past will fill the holes in our future—for the first time, maybe ever something feels solid in my life. The past has always been like trying to navigate through liquid, or clouds filled with rain. This feels differently, I am trying to tell you everything there is, but stuff keeps coming up—it’s probably having to do with sobriety and trying to be honest.” He got up and kissed the back of her neck while she let the hot water wash over the back of her hands.

(originally appears In Punks Around #9, published 2020, punksaround.com) partial proceeds to various harm reduction programs: Providence Outreach, Rogers and Rosewater Soup Company, West Oakland Punks with Lunch and Safepoint.

https://www.facebook.com/RogersRosewatersoupco/?ref=py_c

https://www.punkswithlunch.org/

https://safepointohio.org/

https://punksaround.com/IMG_2550LZFZ6536

 

January 10th.

January 12, 2020

There is quiet devastation that comes with depression, it is insidious and even the word depression brings about a plethora of connotations, most of which can cause others to recoil, roll their inner eyes and sigh. Sometimes the other person will recognize this feeling but at this point of meeting on the subject both may quickly change the subject as two depressives are always going to try to feel better so humor is the most frequent response.  Melancholy is a much more beautiful word, and perhaps is giving more leeway for acceptance.  Two depressives will laugh together more than they will ever cry together. The tears they birth will come from joy not from pain. Those they will hold for when they are alone.

There is a park near where my ex-in-laws live in Tilburg, a medium sized city in the Netherlands. It is situated just a block or so from their house, behind a large apartment building and it has llamas, deer, and horses. There are ducks and swans, who all swim around a pond that extends the length of the park, a few small bridges and a fishing area. They paddle and shake their wings, walk awkwardly around the bank of the pond, dip their heads deep into the green water and slide back in. I could watch them for hours. Every trip we took I would do a daily run, which started with me running out into the country, through a small village, past a farm that raised miniature horses and then into the park where I would circle the pond and maybe stop and stare at the llamas. In the summer the Dutch heat can be overwhelming, and it has gotten hotter over the past twenty years with the temperature rising into the 90s and over 100 degrees the past few summers. These runs would leave me drained and covered in sweat but always revitalized, there is something about the Dutch air and light that is invigorating. There are theories on how this inspired many artists and great thinkers of the Enlightenment. For myself, the runs pulled off layers of sadness that I had not known were there, with periods of my life spent with the silent attachment of sorrow surrounding me although I was one was unaware of it. Drinking, music and the cast of characters I hung around with helped deflect any feelings of bleakness I may have had.

We collect things, comics, records, books are all a part of my culture, insular as it is. Others collect different things, stamp collecting is dying—killed by progress, Longaberger baskets—perhaps too killed by progress in the form of tote bags, Matchbox cars, vintage postcards, trinkets. Every trinket tells a story. Some collect memories, the cobble them together, splay them out in textures, a fabric of the past in the form of stories. I am guilty of this, and my memories have holes like a well-worn tee-shirt. Every missing piece has its untold story. In some ways, there must be a reason to collect the past, to make the present easier—to lessen the impact of now, the present. But in looking back, there are memories that are built in stones constructed of suffering. I see this in my job, when I am talking with someone, trying hard to listen—to be present to their story, a story for many of them they have never shared. They have kept the past at bay, from their earliest days of living, when childhood should have been filled with riding bicycles, forming friendships, they were instead, succumbing to horrendous abuse of (until they tell me) that lay dormant for decades. Some memories are deadly.

I plan memories for the future, simple ones of making someone dinner, of feeling white sand under my toes and my children as adults. These things, in some ways could otherwise be described as hope but I like to feel, although they have not happened yet, they are the seeds of future reality.

My friend Jerry died nineteen years ago this past week, left for dead on the side of the road just a block from my house he would die shortly after arrival at the hospital. Sometimes I think of him, silent on the cold asphalt, unable to move or yell, staring up at the cold January sky, waiting for the sirens to help him. Waiting for help. The moon and fuzziness of the city lights, frozen above him. Was he in pain? His neck was broken so was his pain knowing he was dying; he could not cry out. He was helpless. These are some of the things I think of on January 10th. The adult me, the father in me, the lover in me wants to go back in time, get up out of my deep sleep and run to him and hold him in my arms. I want to comfort my dying friend Jerry and let him know he is not alone dying on the side of Hudson and Summit streets, that even if he dies, he will be thought of every day by many people, that his cackle and his pointy teeth and the utter ridiculous of him, of Jerry Wick will last for so long after this miserable moment of his slipping life. It seems every January 10th, I am offset emotionally, and this one was no different. I had, for the most part a terrible day, I was anxious, cranky and it wasn’t until someone sent me a message reminding me of what the day was did, I realize. Trauma changes people on a cellular level, in fact people who suffer from depression and addiction tend to feel the environment around then much more acutely than others, which makes someone explaining depression or even unexplained sadness difficult. Once I realized what the day was, I was able to regroup, and eventually get what I needed.

There are two photos I have in my small apartment, one of Bruno aged three, walking on a broken pier, where the sea reclaimed the audacity of fisherman leaving only wooden poles sticking out of the sand and water. He is naked, a bag of chips in one hand and his other arm outstretched. Bruno Swallowing the Sea. On the same trip, I have a photo of him, naked staring straight into the camera, folding a piece of pizza in his mouth. What Every Man Wants. The other photo is of Saskia, head wrapped in a scarf, staring out into the Dutch countryside, she is beautiful. The Dutch Girl. My memories of the Netherlands, built over years, are perhaps my favorite memories of all. If I could only remember them.

Laughter is the sunshine, although it only peeks out at times, some of us seek the absurd because it is the only way to manage the inner and outer environment around us. And we give, until the feeling of giving is replaced by the nature of us, our brittleness. Constructed by doubt, shhhhhh, we say to ourselves. And we laugh. And we dance.

Christmas 2019.

December 21, 2019

The sound from the boiling water pot has the same tone as the violin playing, they combine and for a few moments I sit and listen to them meld together, a small hymn of sadness—one announcing it is ready to be added to the coffee and, the other a mournful ache of sound that was birthed from the mind of the Georgian composer Giya Kancheli. After a minute, the music moves on, more instruments come and chime in while I rouse myself up, walk slowly into the kitchen, a kitchen that smells of burnt toast and departed smoke and pour the water into the French press. If anything, I drink coffee like I used to drink beer, or whiskey or wine if that’s what was available, that is, I drink in in mass quantities in spite of an insomnia that has choked the sleep out of me over the past year. As I pour, I think of my friend Liz in New York describing to me the intricacies of making a cup of coffee while she was in fact, making me the best cup of coffee I ever had. Maybe it was the knowledge she was imparting on my while she made the coffee, slowly grinding the beans, explaining the importance of the correct temperature of the water (I believe it is 207 degrees) and that if the water is too hot it can burn the coffee beans or it could be that the cup of coffee is so memorable as I had not seen her in several years, and she is such a lovely person—to be in her house and meeting her friend old friend Derek that elevated a great cup of coffee to the best cup of coffee. Nevertheless, it is a fond memory, one I always think about when I make my French-press coffee, and I just pour the boiling water in—it’s ok as I know I will never make the perfect cup of coffee. It is similar to when I make a meal, someone may say that it tastes wonderful, but all my cooking tastes the same to me, a bit like my Hungarian grandmother’s with some of my own ADHD thrown in.

I took the last of my things from the house I had lived in about a month or so ago, well except for my bicycle which for some reason has becoming difficult to pull out of the garage. Perhaps it is the memory behind it as she had bought me the bike when she was poor, a grad student and was horrified that the one I was using was stolen off her porch one night as we slept. I had drunkenly leaned it against her porch, and she thought it would be safe, it wasn’t and soon she had sacrificed a part of her meager salary on buying me a new bike. Yet, another memory that comes up whenever I have the physical act of engaging the item that stems from the remembering. The move out took over a year, in small phases where I may take a load here or a load there, the big move came with me hiring movers nearly a year ago, the bed, books, records, two small couches, more records. Then the rest, some months were more difficult than others and the wall of depression that engulfed me during the spring was, in hindsight, much thicker and deeper than anything I had known. If there is a fear of anything it is a fear of knowing that one’s owns feelings are trying to kill them. It was brutal and left me reluctant to do much of anything regarding retrieving belongings I had very little concern with.

Last month I finished the garage that was filled mostly with my dead grandmother’s mementos, they had been untouched for nearly thirteen years, some were damp and dusty much like they were when they were in her basement for thirty years. From one unforgotten place to another. And there were records and compact discs, all made with the hope of being listened to, a gamble intended not for money but for people to hear something that is important. At least important in my ears, an investment made by many that sat in cardboard boxes, the compact discs now relics of sound not unlike 78” records or cassette tapes. And there were boxes of fanzines and photos, I have very few photos from the 90’s—some but not many. These boxes were carried to my apartment and put in my basement. There is a photo of Jerry that curls up from the side of one of the boxes, I eye it every time I bring up my laundry, and he is wearing a white shirt, the rest of the photo is covered up but I remember where it was taken. It was taken at Christmas time, at Jenny Mae’s house, there were a lot of people there and Mark Eitzel showed up with his sister. Jenny was floored he was in her apartment as she loved him especially his “60-Watt Silver Lining” record that had come out that year. She kept saying “Fucking Mark Eitzel is in my house” later she turned on her fog machine for some reason. Her green painted house, filled with smoke, choking out the conversation of the partygoers, and Mark would flee the house as the smell of vanilla smoke became too much for everybody but Jenny. She could tolerate a lot of herself.  But the photo will stay in the box, unmoved as I enjoy this memory and I would easily forget it if it wasn’t for that picture of Jerry peeking out of the box.

She had wanted to make sure I got everything out of the garage, and when I asked her to look and see she wept, “just get it all out, you know what’s yours!” Which, in fact I didn’t know. How does one split up something that grew together? Everything Flows as the song goes. She went out to the garage after some coaxing, and looked at the large yellow wooden shoes, “Why aren’t you taking them?! My parents bought them for you!” A part of me died, I had forgotten, I thought they were our daughter’s and then I remembered one-time drunking-ly modeling them for her parents out on our old patio. A wave of loss and guilt enveloped me, “I’m sorry, of course I want them.” They now sit out in the open, Bruno clogs around my dinky apartment with them, small clonky-thuds followed by his laughter.

Christmas is just around the bend, just days away and alongside it, the holiday lugs around not just personal memories but generational memories and customs. There are memories from my childhood that were not mine but those of my ancestors, who carried them from Germany, to Hungary to Venezuela, to Columbus, and then I added my own—like a box of ornaments that continuously, somehow, has more every year. A lot to unpack. I talk Christmas trees with the kids, Saskia says “dad, you don’t need one, mom is getting one,” Bruno on the other hand says, “Dad, just get a Charlie Brown tree.” In fact, all my apartment could handle is a very small-ish tree or more like an evergreen branch. It can barely handle the Charlie Brown angst that shudders around the creaky wooden floors. “Maybe, let me see how this weekend goes.” Christmas is just a few days away.

The kids are older, much of the magic has gone out of their lives as shifting priorities and the understanding that miracles are things that are as simple as the smell of a homemade meal, a sudden instantaneous smile, or the pull of a melody but don’t come from fairly-tales or the myths passed from generation to generation.  Soon the miracle of their lives will be first loves and true friendships. This has made the loss of having the family they have known for all their lives into something else, something more organic, something that has in some ways pushed them towards adulthood or into the reality of the world.  In the car I hear them snickering, playfully teasing one another about supposed crushes, perceived slights and who gets to ride shotgun; the one status of teenage years the displays coolness. Their worlds are impenetrable to adults, with aps, websites and even music that is constructed for be foreign for adults, and yet they wear my old punk and indie-rock shirts. I operate on the periphery, by choice-this is their world, the memories for them to make for themselves, my role as a parent is to help lay the fabric out for their future to be filled with a past that is full of love, joy and laughter and the harder lessons to be something that fuels growth and have eyes wide-open to the reality of the world.

“Dad, can you take me skating?” Bruno asks just as I tell him not to ride the skateboard in the apartment, “yeah, let me finish up” I answer as I send an email thinking how the internet has robbed so much time from my life.  Outside small bits of snow flutter down, they swirl in little circles, the wind pushing them to and fro, “hey, are you sure you wanna skate, it’s fucking cold outside” I ask as we make our way to the car. “Yeah dad, it’s not bad. Besides it will stop when we get there.” And it does, he skates with his best friend, they talk amongst one another and with a few older skaters who offer tips. I look at my phone, tuck it away feeling a bit of guilt as I don’t want him to look up and see me on it. It goes back in my pocket, I realize that my own father missed out on much of what my brother and I did throughout our childhood, especially as we moved into our adolescence years. He just never gave a shit. I don’t wanna be that guy. After 40 minutes it’s cold outside, there is no denying it, “Five minutes buddy,” he flashes me a thumb’s up, and soon climbs back into the car. After I start the car, the snow starts again. “I told you it was cold.” “We aren’t cold, dad, we just went skating.” He then asks me for a Dinosaur Jr. skateboard for Christmas.

The other day I played “Johnny Come Home” by the Fine Young Cannibals that I first heard as a senior in high school, was shimming across the floor and Saskia came down and danced with me. I realized that I probably got that first FYC record on cassette for Christmas in 1985. Saskia and I glided across the slanting dining room floor of my apartment. I should dance more.

Cardboard.

November 10, 2019

There are routines and holes to fill, one by one, or in some cases trying to flood all the holes with certain behaviors only to find that underneath the holes is a subterranean canyon that is waiting to swallow you whole. I have been in my apartment nearly a year, but for the first three months I was a ghost trying to unpack boxes that should have been tossed away fifteen years ago or even longer. Some had grown damp over the years of sitting, it was if all the memories that were stuffed inside the cardboard boxes had slowly started to weep over the years, encased in dust the must and yellowing of the pages of the magazines, the fading photographs were dying from neglect. Hidden in the garage and basement after being hauled a thousand miles from Florida, and prior to that a thousand miles from Ohio to Florida, all the while never being looked at. Given the attention they were once thought to have deserved. This time, years later as the boxes sat in an old-new living room I sorted them out, a keep, a giveaway and a throwaway pile. Knowing that all three piles would most likely be forgotten about and as such there was a need to be planful, I kept repeating “somebody must want some of these.” But who really wants to hold onto someone else’s memories?

Over the past eleven months parts of me have died while other parts have pushed themselves up from the parched soil of myself, small growths that without care could be crushed to death with neglect. Recently, I pulled the rest of the boxes from the garage, a garage that rarely ever held cars but was only used as storage for an old unvarnished life. Some never made it to the apartment, I dragged them out to the dumpster, pitching them in and not really knowing what old memories, what old successes or failures were being tossed into the garbage. Many of these boxes contain old fanzines, magazine, flyers and photographs. Some are of bands and musicians I knew and worked with over the years, I would get these things in the mail, and toss them in a box. They were rarely read, and the plan would be to give them to the bands and artists who were in them, but going through them I realize that many of them have died and others have moved on with their lives, the days of huddling together once a week with friends to pluck songs out of their lives and minds while smoking weed and drinking beer had long been replaced by taxiing children to soccer, to school and minding the responsibilities  of work. The inspiration of newfound love had grown into something, hopefully, deeper and more meaningful than scribble words on a folded bar napkin but in many cases these electrical relationships had turned brittle over the years. Neglected like the boxes of memories. Jenny died and all the magazines and photographs I have of her don’t really have a home to go to, nor do the ones of Jerry, or Jim Shepard or Jack Taylor, so what to do with them?

Some things are best not kept, and a loyalty to the past can be toxic although it seems that the past we carry existed before us, that this loyalty ends up being a lodestone just because parents or family or whomever says we must carry it on for the next generation. For myself this went unquestioned, the stories I was told as a child and even later held no ground for who I should be, they were stories and as such held a fascination for who I should or shouldn’t be. As I gaze backward, over the mountaintop of fifty the realization that some of these ideas of tradition of holding on did nothing except offer cement to a life that strove in many ways to move forward. Glued to a time already lived, sometimes by somebody else, a father, a grandmother, is not always the most productive way to live a life in the present, in the future. It’s ok to toss them out but still honor whatever is needed to be honored but there is a truth in looking backwards with clear eyes, that the craziness and sadness and the pain of trauma can be used as fertilizer to move forward but not to clutch at my ankles preventing me from dancing forward.

For many years I drank to find that oh-so-perfect buzz that I had encountered so much in my late teens and early twenties but eventually, that buzz had grown so elusive it was just a myth, growing so faded in my cells and brain that it was just a foggy mist of a fable. It was as if they never happened, but they did because I could almost feel that excitement of the buzz-y feeling of swaying in front of a speaker, hands clutching a bottle of Black Label, coyly eyeing someway also swaying to the waves of feedback just a few feet away. The cool shock of autumn air at 3 am while clutching hands and sideways smiles shook the very leaves at our feet. But to pretend that can be replaced is a fool’s exercise.

The other day I asked my daughter, aged 14 how her coffee date went, and she laughed as an old soul would, “Jesus dad, we are fourteen what do you expect? We just laughed and had fun.” She talks to me in teenager code, and giggles at my perplexed responses, at twenty-first linguistic teenager play on words, the equivalent of ‘hey hey, Daddy-O” from the nineteen fifties, I don’t even try to pretend I know—this is her space, her memories, her future cardboard boxes so to speak. She doesn’t need mine to poke holes in hers, I grab another box, sort the piles and think if it would just be best to carry them out into the cold.  More than anything though, it’s not that I want to burden her future with the memories of my past, I don’t want her to encounter the canyon underneath it all, to protect her from that is of upmost importance.

 

Thoughts on David Berman

August 8, 2019

When I was a child I had a fear the struck me cold at times, choked me silent and made my skin rise on my arms. The fear was so great that I was frightened to speak of it out loud because perhaps, if I allowed the fear to take flight from my throat and into the air then it would breath the untold into life. So, I kept silent until the nightmares would grab me in my slumber and throttle me, I would awake in tears, my body trembling and run into my mother’s bed. “Mom, I dreamed the devil was after me, he is trying to possess me.” This fear stayed with me for years, from the age of ten until I was thirteen I was scared to sleep alone, and there were many times I would take my blanket and mushed up pillow and crawl down the hallway and fall asleep next to my mother’s door.

My father fed into this fear with his chilling brand of Catholicism that consisted of more dollops of hate than love; it took me some time to shake his words from my mind. To realize that sometimes, the lives of the father-the words of the father are not be given credence, that, perhaps they are just plain fucking wrong. It was an embarrassing fear, for who would believe in the devil and why would speaking of something bring it into being? It was hidden, when I told people who I trusted they would laugh at it all the while it felt true for me.

Later in life when alcohol started to steer my life in subtle ways, tiny rivers of control the bent me toward the bottle and formed watery cracks in my relationships the admittance of feeling betrayed by something that had only offered me acceptance was something that seemed impossible to do. Alcohol was as solid in my life as anything I had ever known. Meanwhile my life collapsed by degrees inside of me, the walls were breaking off by bits inside, while the people who loved me the most grew disgusted, sorrowful and most importantly disappointed in the trajectory of my life. To admit that alcohol had become a problem was to admit that I was a failure at living, the perception was that I couldn’t do life.

Couldn’t do life.

It was early spring and in Columbus that means the vestiges of winter spits out of the sky in the form of cold rain, groaning winds and a gray the clutches it’s knuckles into the sky until, finally the May sunshine pulls the gray and hurtles it deep into the ground for the next five months. The sun blinks out in a coy dance only to be replaced by the gray; it is always the gray. The news came over the phone, in a patient yet hesitant voice and the feelings of isolation that had always resided within me, came bursting out like that Ohio gray sky, the moments of relief were as brief as the sun during this time. There was an eruption of sadness that bellowed out from a past that has always existed, it seemed that while I may be moving into the future the past feelings of heartache were tethered to that future so the present was tinted with the past. Always. The drive was long, although others were in the car with me, the rolling thoughts of loss, abandonment and the filling in blanks kept me from opening my mouth, I kept silent. The wheels rolling under the car could not roll fast enough, I was ruptured. Something I was all too familiar with.

The lake was picturesque, the clouds rolling over the trees, the wind making the water dance into the shore and infrequent bursts of rain pelted the windshield. She called me, but it hurt too much, the phone was a torch in my ear. Another woman called until finally I could only speak in written words. The love they offered fell aside, because inside the feelings were torching me. I listened to music, the same song over and over, “Noble Experiment” until the tears rolled down, untouched, they danced against the shore. Sliding out of the car, leaping over the large puddle that had formed in the grass next to the parking lot, the bank of the lake was muddy. I sat on a picnic table, looking at the discarded liquor bottles in the fire pit near my feet. “Somebody had fun last night.” Candy wrappers hung in the brown arms of bushes, there was nobody around. After some careful thought, the shore was slippery, but the small embankment was easy to get down. Staring into the water, small droplets of rain dotted the surface. I slid out of my clothes and into the water, it was cold but not jarringly so, the slick mud at the bottom squeezing itself between my toes. Shaking but not from the April weather, plunging under the water. A test. Just to see. It was a subtle shock but not so very frightening. A test. Just to see. I carried the clothes to the car, darkness was floating into the everything and I found a towel in the trunk. I dried, put my clothes on and listened to the rain ping-ping itself into the world outside. I drove home.

When somebody commits suicide, it is not because they feel unloved, it is because they feel too much. They feel the world as something electric and every pleasure is more colorful and every disappointment is darker, and there is always the dark within. It may be a middling creek, a roaring river or sadly an epic ocean flowing inside of them. It is scary carrying this around and to speak of it, to speak of the fight to keep it at bay, in essence, to construct a dam against these rolling feelings grows tiresome and painful. And the pain is always acute. Some treat this with humor, at times gallows humor, its fought with laughter because laughter always works. Music usually does. Words help. Running. Alcohol, sometimes until it doesn’t. Drugs, sometimes until they don’t. Sex, but the pain of attraction can also be the wind that washes these feelings upon the inner shore of ourselves. As I’ve grown older I’ve made a commitment to speak about my own battles with my own rivers inside of me, to realize that speaking it’s name does not mean it will come true. But to drag it out into the sunshine, however fleeting I may feel that sunshine is, it is more powerful than the dark.

July 2019.

July 7, 2019

IMG_5310 (2)

Rain was coming down as if the sky had a mission to coat the world with wetness, the droplets smacked into my tee-shirt, splattered on my skin and because of the Ohio summer, caused my glasses to fog over. “Hey, hey man!” the tall neighbor yelled from his back porch, which sits at the end of my apartment building. I was on my way to my car, doing a sort of half-jog/half-I-don’t-give-a fuck and turned towards him apparently giving him the cue to bound off the porch. Suddenly he was standing in front me, trying to blink away the rain making no progress, the rain just rained away. “Hi, you just moved in huh?” His eyes were blue, and I noticed his ruddy teeth which made me think of addicts and alcoholics, the rain continued to ping against us. “Well, kinda…I don’t know if it’s that soon, I moved in sometime in December.” “What do you think of it” looking towards the brick apartment building, is it a townhouse, a row house, a what is it exactly. He was beaming at the old building as if he had just built it.  I saw the busted screen door, with the plastic window that won’t get clean no matter how much Windex its coated with, because well, it’s plastic, the small dented bottom that I “fixed” with sticky silver electrical tape. “Hey dad, you better get some heavy tape, there’s a lot of broken stuff in your apartment” Bruno mentioned while we were at the giant boxed hardware store. The one where every aisle pumps out masculinity and I’m reminded that I fix things with tape, own a single hammer and some left over Ikea silver-y screw things. If it wasn’t for tape nothing would be fixed in my life. Bruno loves the hardware store; I hate the mother fuckers.

“Yeah, I guess I like it enough. It works for me” nodding as the rain continued on its single mindedness of soaking the world over. “Yeah, I love it. Been here eleven years” he leaned back on his heels and rocked forward, I looked down at his shoes which were filled with water. “Wow, that’s a long time, ummm…I haven’t rented a place in over fourteen years, I was a homeowner, so I was used to, well having stuff kinda normal in the house. My floor is slanted, everything is crooked, it’s weird” I try to shut out the thought that one day all my records are going to break through the floor. “Yours too? My kitchen floor just dropped four inches! They had to jack up the floor” he stares at me. I think “we basically have the same floor” but just smile back at him. He stares some more, almost like a puppy, I keep smiling. Seconds tick past. Rain does its rain thing, howling down on us. “Well, I need to get to the gym” I finally say. “O.K., good luck. See you around!” and he runs back to his porch. In the car, I turn on the air conditioner and wipe my glasses clean.

Sometimes I go to the gym at ten or eleven p.m., it just depends on what I’m feeling but with that freedom there is the sigh of loss the permeates everything I do, pulling on something so deep and old within me that it doesn’t have a name. It was birthed before language but it’s there, underneath it all—clutching upwards like roots growing in reverse. It shudders inside me with every errant thought, a growling dragon asleep but so close to awakening. Slumber away cocksucker. The house is tidy, mostly, organization was never something I was blessed with, I must work at it and in the work, I lose focus, half-finished books being put away, boxes in the corner filled with old fanzines, photos and just memories that should have been tossed aside many years ago. They are in stacks, expecting to be put on shelves. Bills in separate drawers, two backpacks filled with gym clothes, and some notebooks that I scribble in. This is what like living with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder looks like as an adult. When I was a kid I was just known as excited, my nickname in 4th grade was Spazz, and for the prickly teachers who had little patience for my twisting in my seat, blurting out wise-cracks and losing track of my homework, I was the pain in the ass who spent a lot of time in the hallway and at the principal’s office.  Kicked out again. But I was funny, clever to a fault and smart enough to get by and be charming for most of my educators. But those other ones, boy did they hate me, but I hated them back just as much. The shitheads. I need reminders for everything, I ask people I work with to send my calendar invites, it’s the only way I will remember to go, I look at it every morning and try to plan my day in my head knowing full well I will have to look at it hourly. Google calendar has been a godsend. Having ADHD isn’t easy although it has its pros, I can compartmentalize very easy, carry on many projects at the same time, and it has spurred my creativity and honed my humor. The choice is either to be charming or be filled with shame, mostly because of school related shortcomings and a current of anxiety that was the norm from when I was in kid. Much of the shame can continue well into adulthood, because simple tasks are not always easy but big ideas flow like a river inside my mind. In the end, I learned to work hard and be focused as much as I could and continue to work until the projects came to fruition. It aslo isn’t easy to love an adult with mental health issues, I can become aloof without knowing, pulling back from hugs in the middle of one, zoning out in conversations suddenly sidetracked by a thought of something I missed or must do. I’m late. Always. Since I could walk, I suppose, most likely I was even late for nursing on my mother’s breasts.  There is a long line of disappointed women in my past whom once I let inside, tried to temper the storm of my brain, my life and be my partner. My mind has broke things in half in its torrent.

Imagine the mind as an escalator instead of a stairwell, always moving, each thought a step moving towards a behavior, the stairwell is concrete-solid, not changing whereas the escalator is moving always moving into action, always in motion and finally it gets swallowed instead of left behind where the stairs do so perfectly on the stairwell. This is what ADHD is like, now imagine if your mind is the stairwell and the way you go about your day is organized, systematic and predictable. And then you fall in love with someone with an escalator mind, who then has escalator behaviors, combined with depression and addiction. Everything gets swallowed. Burp. When I quit drinking many years ago, a cloud lifted and some behaviors stopped while new ones began, I learned how to hone my mind—mostly through practice, 12-Step groups helped me to listen and to be more on time, the 12-Steps helped me to understand much of the motives I had and helped me to take ownership of my actions, and finally meditation helped me to not get swallowed by the escalator mind. Underneath much of it though, was the hard nugget of depression that works like a radioactive element, coloring much of my life but, at times, barely perceptible. After some years of meditation, much of the depression had lifted and the daily thought of suicide and death had subsided for years. Of course, like anything radioactive it never quite goes away and it continues to need gauged. It has glowed more often than in the days of prolonged meditation. Answers are abundant but not always as simple as they appear to be.

Past propels the future and in the end the past can devour you whole, with a million miniature bites from the inside out. The future is always there, down the road never arriving, flickers of thought, bursts of moments, like an escalator itself, never quite arriving and suddenly folding underneath itself and heading to the bottom to climb back again. How does one wrestle with the past? A mind can’t fight itself with arms, legs, or bombs, only by replacing thoughts with other ones or learning to ignore the armies of thoughts that can come in waves, disrupting life as if it were an unpaved road. Bumpity-bump. Somethings don’t live in moderation, the glass full of beer, the pangs of desire, eating one potato chip—and a mind that doesn’t stop engulfs everything in its path.

I see addicts every day of my life, ones who wear the scars of their consumption on arms that are littered with the markings of self-destruction, where needles have sucked the life out of veins, and blistering skin is pleading in its own way for a break. Their eyes are nervous, full of anxiety as the hustle of everyday living chews bits of their soul away, the hope for refuge dwindles with the oncoming dread of sickness and of whatever it is they need to do to stave off the pain of being dope sick. I am the calm one in the room, moving deliberately to help slow their world down, into increments that guides them to some semblance of solace, a lighting, a kernel of hope in an otherwise dust storm of shit. I’m trained to do it and I relish offering this hope or even some sense of order in their lives as they sit in front of me. At some point people offered it to me, at the end of the long road of liquid hopelessness there was no-where else to turn but to peer over the cliff inside my mind into the darkness that lay below.

Cracked glass is always cracked until it finally splinters and breaks apart, which is what life does to us every day, hold onto your life for dear life. Lines edge from the corner of my eyes like a spiderweb made of skin, gravity, frailty and experience pull their invisible ropes across my face and down into my arms, there is nary a thing to do about it. Watch what I eat, go to the gym, take care but in the end the ropes win it’s only a matter of when. When-win.

 

 

 

David.

April 20, 2019

Sometimes there are pockets in the day, small tiny bursts of nothingness where the only thing to feel is the thumping of your heart, all the confetti in your brain has tumbled to the bottom and all the static has fuzzed itself out. It is in those moments, waiting at the stop light, putting a pen in my desk at work, rinsing out my coffee cup where a hand reaches from the bottom of that void and chokes me from the inside. I shake it off, trying to quiet it, and soon begin being busy again. We make little scars in time, marking ourselves one breath, one memory at a time until all the indentations we can ever make are swallowed whole. Annihilation by slow degrees.

In the turmoil of moving from state to state, town to town and house to house, I searched for calmness, or something greater, perhaps a boundary to guide my way-to lead me forward. I was such a lonely kid at times, it wasn’t until I was in the 4th grade did I feel the lightness of friendship and discovered a well of humor that kept the lonelys at bay. At that age nobody knows what anything can be, only the moments of laughter and the crackles of fear that can clutch a child, so I found solace in comic books, records and playing outside, usually in a patch of woods or nearby houses that were being constructed, with small mounds of dirt that offered enough ingredients of imagination to keep a ten year old occupied for an afternoon One constant during some of this period was David Hartzband, who my mother  was married to, whom I spent roughly 1973-1980 with, give or take a year here or there. There. Right there.

David was from the Bronx, and he started seeing my mother when our family lived in Athens, Ohio. This was the early seventies, my mother was involved with some of the radical groups in the university town, there a photo of us children, hovering around my mom’s ankle that made the Athens Messenger. We were all protesting Nixon. Certainly, there were anti-war protests and boycotts, I distinctly remember asking my mother was “ripple” was and her explaining it was a type of wine. We had buttons “Nixon Drinks Ripple”, which was part of national boycott of Gallo wines the massive wine company that was engaging in unfair labor practices with migrant workers. David was in the background at this time, I remember he rode a Honda motorcycle, had a yellow helmet and wore a leather jacket the had a patch on the left breast. Maybe it was a motorcycle insignia. Soon we moved to Youngstown with David. He and my mother got married, I am unsure if the ceremony was in Youngstown or in New York although I recall it was in the synagogue as my brother and I had to learn the proper etiquette of being in the synagogue. Our first Hanukkah was that year and I giggled as David spoke Hebrew as we lit the candles and he told us the story of how the oil and the temple. All I knew was we got presents.

After moving to Athens to live with my father in 1977, I only saw David a few more times, their marriage struggled and eventually David disappeared from my life. Like a raindrop in the trees, he had vanished only to be replaced by another man whom was much different from him, who didn’t care about comic books, or playing records for me or explaining all the small things in nature that appear big in a young boy’s eyes. Worms. Spiders. The things that wash up on the beach. Those were gone. In hindsight, a small room that was being furnished with windows was closed off within me. Childhood was a stumbling affair, left to my own devices the escape into records, comic books, and playing backyard football was the easiest way to go.

David moved on after divorcing my mother, living in Germany he got his PhD and then went to work for a variety of tech companies in the 80’s and became faculty at MIT all the while doing consulting work. Somehow, we found each other in the mid-nineties, he came to Columbus and we had dinner and then later my wife and I travelled to Boston and stayed with him and his wife. We had reconnected, and it was as if the old tiny room had one of the windows open, although we didn’t communicate frequently it was nice knowing that he was in the world, as if you knew that your front door was locked when you go away on a trip. Security.

There is a pile of clothes at the end of my bed, on the floor, more under the bed and scattered about like leaves from a tree but the tree is me. I like to do the dishes but hate the laundry. Every day I look at the clothes and as they get mixed with the clean ones, which go unfolded the thought comes that if I don’t put them away then nobody will. The panes of glass in the bedroom are not really glass but plastic, which is fitting as the house is more of a house than a home, something temporary, something soft and not something to grasp. The only hardness of the house is that it is temporary.  The neighbors are different, more of them, which means living anonymously comes easier, I don’t have to say hello, the fellow next to me drives a kind of hybrid pick-up/El Camino and hauls in boxes of beer every weekend. The trashcans in the ally are testimonials to loneliness, if I still drank there is no doubt that they would be overflowing every week. Cascading over the sides in a fountain of discarded ache. We nod to each other when we cross each other’s paths, him with his armfuls of beer and me with my headful of ideas.

My mind doesn’t stop not even when I’m asleep, I remember many of my dreams and have a unique ability to control some of them but of course this only happens when I’m in slumber mode, in awake mode the mind doesn’t stop as much as pause for scattered moments throughout the day. Of course, there is little control over all those thoughts, which tend to blend together as if constructed with watercolor paints sitting in the rain, but there are tricks to calm them. Sitting. And. Sitting. Music. And. Music. And. And. And. So, so, many ands.

Standing on fifty the losses in the past get sucked into the whirlpool of time, an existential treadmill the slips and eats everything in its path, every happy moment, every disappointment, every loss until, at some point to be determined it will chew me up and I will slide into a vortex of nothingness. Annihilation. Life is filled with forgiveness which means that life is bursting with pain, one can’t learn to forgive if one hasn’t hurt. So, the circle is blended, and both sadness and joy are mixed with the other, nothing is pure. Even in our happiest moments as adults the thought of everything is fleeting, just movement towards something else, colors everything. Nothing stays the same not even memories.

I remember holding Jenny’s hand underneath the soft hushed voices of Christmas carols on Christmas Eve 1985, the hardwood pews forcing us to sit up straight, she passed me a note. “Only one week”, our one-week anniversary, even my fingers danced with joy. There was San Francisco, sitting in a Guatemalan diner, trying to read a book of poetry but feeling the sharp stings of betrayal that welled up from feeling so alone as a youngster, and increased in intensity through other relationships, that stinging of rejection never seems to have left from those first years of my life. There was peeking through a small jeweler’s shop window in the Centrum of Tilburg, Netherlands at two matching gold and platinum rings, feeling the unspoken said enough and we put the rings on her credit card. Even then, the joyful seriousness of the event compelled me to sprinkle humor over it, I bought a bag full of McDonalds hamburgers to present to her father as there was an old Dutch tradition of giving the bride-to-be’s father a cow. My unwillingness to face the present moment in our relationship, to be an adult would push us apart. Humor is not always funny. Flash forward twenty years, my daughter nervously reading her poetry to a sold-out hall of adults as she bravely faced them, composed and poised. Authors and business leaders walked up to our table to shake her hand and congratulate her. The memories rise up, like cigarette smoke tasting the air and then the wash themselves away, vanishing while the next one gently thrusts itself out, billowing up and becoming invisible.

David died last week, I got an email from his wife and it went to my work email, for a moment I thought it was another David I had once worked with. Sitting on one of my half-couches, together they should make a couch but since they are separated, they just make two half couches smushed together. Total fucking rip-off.  I had my morning coffee, setting it upon a small stack of books whose words were waiting to be devoured, plying for my attention but only to be used to protect a new coffee table from being scarred from a hot coffee cup. I re-read the email and felt alone. The skin on my arms raised up about half a centimeter while the blood pushed its way out of my heart. Moving to the other half couch, I looked at my phone, Anna Netrebko’s angelic voice drifted in from the other room, and I thought of how David and I talked of our love of opera last spring when I saw him in Boston. I eventually called my wife, she was in our house. Her home, my memory. I told her of David’s passing, his gentle soul touching my throat. Then when I got to saying David’s name, tears spilled from my eyes, a heave of the chest and then it was gone. It was the same when she told me that our friend Edo died, a few moments of great sadness, of the body trying to rid itself and then. just. weariness. Just weariness.

There are times when I wish I was just a note in a song, a bubble of sound whose only purpose is to pop in your ear and make your mind go a flutter with emotion. And then there would be nothing. Annihilation.static1.squarespace.jpg

 

2019.

March 17, 2019

There are cut flowers in vases, long stemmed orchids that sit on new furniture contrasting the white and purple flowers with the dark polished wood, old pictures hang on new walls while formerly boxed books line new and old shelves. The light is different as the house faces south and the morning sun breaks through grimy windows waking me up. Many of the windows still don’t have curtains, they sit in the closet, carefully folded up, still waiting to be hung. The sound of the floors is different, each floorboard creaks in its own distinct fashion, they all groan and ache with age-each step bringing forth a small bleat of age, the wooden blanks have been neglected and there is nary anything I can do. It’s a rental.

On one side of the dining room is a wall of records, nearly six feet long by six feet high, an almost literal sculpture of loneliness. The opposite wall carries the same but instead of vinyl records there are rows and rows of compact discs, just in case the records can’t placate the darkness there are a few thousand cd’s to help burnish the periods of emptiness that tend to pop up in sudden random moments. Music has always been the one reliable salve for any sort of extensional dilemma, it worked at the age of fourteen the same as it does at fifty, although the shimmy across the floor isn’t as dramatic as it was in 1982. There is a new stereo cabinet, it is walnut as well, a dark wood grain with glass doors the open wide, a line of lights run under the top that make the wood and thus the music sparkle more than it should. At times, late in the evening these lights make it feel as if there is an extra plate at the table that is still waiting to be eaten off.

I go to the grocery store, mostly at night, a few times being the last customer, wheeling the metal cart through empty aisles thinking of all the choices of food that I would never eat, in fact much of the food I buy will get tossed out in a few weeks anyway. What can one person do with ten bananas? Learning to buy just two is something that hasn’t happened yet, every time I pull two from a bunch, I feel I’m breaking up a family, ripping somebody off. They all go brown soon enough.

There is a park down the street, one we went to often to take the dog, the sprite white thing would gallop across the fields, stopping to smell and pee on patches of grass that only a dog would understand the deeper meaning of. It’s just grasses to me. There are other dogs that go there, they circle each other, crouching down on their hind legs, attuned to one’s another’s submissiveness. I have her over as well, maybe once or twice a week, the first few times she peed on the floor no doubt trying to cover the stench of cats that used to live in the apartment, layers of cat piss and unwashed floors made the place have a distinct odor but after what seemed like a billion times moping and cleaning the vents out it now gaining its own smell, mostly of coffee and flowers. The kids can walk to the park, having to be mindful of some of the homeless who make small camps in the woods but tend to be harmless. Their lives a daily battle of getting warm and walking to the nearby pantry to get fed, obtain clean socks and feel like they apart of society. Apart of something.

That is harder to find. Connectiveness. The strands of love seem brittle, they get pulled too much one way, and then get wrapped around one another in the most difficult of all manner, twisted and frustrated—they can break or just get to the breaking point. Expectations, some spoken most not, the line the path of life like thick roots just barely above the surface, small traps that trip and grab from underneath. At night, when the music is drifting from the other room, it could be Mahler or some other composer, the living room feels slowly lived in while the insides collapse, dying in short breaths. Living room indeed.

So many new things, stuff people need to fill out a space and I suppose to also fill out their lives. A new table, a new desk, a leather chair, a mattress that is thicker than a tire—it arrived rolled up like a burrito, and a chair. All new, grown up stuff. New pots and pans, dishes even new sponges and a bucket. Perhaps the most difficult aspect is to break all these new things when one feels broken. There is a big part that is whispering ‘why bother. why bother. why bother” as the morning sunlight cuts across the living room floor, splitting an unplanned Saturday in half. Why bother.

I got very sick in a matter of months, as well as a few trips to the emergency room for a heart that might have had too many pieces of pizza over the years but is all under control now. The sicknesses were brutal, one required a four am trip to the ER, the pain was so severe but after a few hours of fluids and heavy medication I was released. Stumbling towards a place to get warm, having to find a way home. Picked up by a friend, those calls are different. Asking for help. Waving in some existential field at trees in the distance, “hey, hey, I’m over here. Never mind. Never mind.” The next time was four days in bed, vomiting in a bucket off the side of the bed, fortunately I am well versed in puking in buckets from an earlier life. Sweating the sheets wet and fumbling at the grocery store, exposed in aloneness trying to buy juice and make it home in time without collapsing. Help came, but sometimes accepting it comes with inner reservations, a kind of blunt wariness that stems from somewhere within. “I’m really ok, thank you.” This is pretty normal at that this point. An aversion to being naked. Found out.

Down below, self-discovery feels like diving into the deep end of the sea, plunging off a tanker, hurtling into the depths of who knows what. But you came from the sea, so many millions of years ago, it is nothing new—it can’t hurt you. Nothing can hurt you, and I smile, dismissing it all. Perhaps is should be hurting into the depths instead of hurtling?

K. (more from the Chair.)

January 12, 2019

working on several things at once, one is the book to be published sometime in 2019, the other are finishing several stories I have been writing for my kids, and then this, a series of short studies with a furnished apartment as the centerpiece. Some are based on people I know and some aren’t. This is the newest one I’m writing

K.

 

There must have been at least 100 ants walking across the kitchen floor, they marched after each other in tiny rows, a few would scuttle off the path and then circle back around. They were attacking a small bit of a peach that had fallen on the floor and some bread crust that lay just inches away from the sticky sweet fruit. He moved the chair towards them, scooting it softly across the wooden floor, finally resting just a few feet from them, hands on his knees poking through well-worn jeans, leaning over his face only inches from the parade of insects. A glob of saliva dropped from his mouth, landed like a small bomb in the middle of the ants, splorking two of them who twisted in the gooey mess their bodies contorting as they tried to wrestle free and the rest of the ants just went around the two struggling insects. “How could they help?” he thought as he wiped his mouth with the back of his hand, “poor little fuckers, I’m sorry” he mumbled. In the sink dishes were piled on top of one another as if it had become a garbage bin for porcelain plates, coffee cups and Smuckers Jelly jars that he used for drinking glasses, he was growing used to the sweet stench from the sitting water that sat in the cups.

Standing up and stretching his arms out wide, his back loosening as he twisted in the middle of the floor. There was hardly any furniture, just an old love seat his mother had helped him pull out of the alley, a cracked plastic coffee table that had one leg propped up by an old paperback book, the chair and an old tube television that turned on in sighs, it would flash once and take its time gathering up the picture, it took about three minutes for the screen to fully awake and even then sometimes it would only cover half the screen unless he gave it a hard bang on the side.  The coldness of the wooden floor teased the bottom of his feet, causing them to arch up, rocking back on his heels he rolled them forward to suck up all the chill that had settled into the wood. He strode to the window, hands on his hips, he gazed out the window, twisting his waist back and forth, he was getting loose while his eyes followed a woman on the sidewalk pushing a stroller with one hand while holding the hand of a little girl, dressed in a pink chiffon dress that billowed up around her scrunching into her mother’s legs. The mother, daughter and baby moved in starts and stops, a slow shuffle as the girl pulled on her mother’s hand towards a store they had just passed while the mother appeared to want to hurry as far away from that store. Step. Step. Step. Stop. Turn. Shake head. Step. Step. Step. Stop. Turn. Shake head. Throw arms up in frustration. Finally, the girl tossed herself down to the ground, her dress swelled up around her like a miniature candy mushroom cloud. Pressing his nose against the wet pain of glass, he smudged the condensation. He felt his hot breath coming back on his face. As the mother calmed the girl down, appearing to give in and walked back to the store’s window as the girl pointed to something that had grabbed her attention, he couldn’t make out what it was but saw her mother nod and kiss the girl on the top of the head, they turned and left.

There was a smell stuck in his mind, one of flowers and honey mixed with the sweat of his boy, he remembered the feel of his small shoulders, which seemed so small and fragile, and how he squeezed his sons’ arms and offered him encouragement before he ran out onto the green field. With soiled yellow shorts, bruised knees with mud caked on them as if they were spackled on by a spatula, blades of grass sticking out the bottom of his orange cleats splayed out around the edges they looked as if they had gone to war with the sod covering the field. “Dad, dad?!” yelling as he sprinted off the field, “can you go get my water? I left it on the other side of the goal.” The memory now dissolved into the scent of wet grass, the early morning glistening of the soccer field and small legs galloping from one end to the other. Things moved slowly now, turning his back away from the window, pulling the red cushion a few inches, did three prostrations and bowed to the round red seat, bowed to the sun and sat, legs crossed, hands on his knees. Breathing every memory in then every memory out, with every exhale the exiting thoughts winked at the sun, falling away into nothingness. He shuddered as his mind gave up miniature ghosts into the room.

She had laid her head against his shoulders, her blue eyes sparked as the tears made her face glisten, arms at her side, just being held was almost enough. Almost. Her laugh careening off the sides of his mind, he remembered when he dazzled the most beautiful woman in the world. Effortlessly as if he had been built by the wind and grounded in the sea. His chest rose and fell, he was still except for his chest, sitting and sitting until the pain slowed down. It trickled out in running spurts, in the most inopportune times while he slept, at the stop light, eating a sandwich. Next, she was pulling weeds out of the front yard, a gardener’s grimace cemented to her face as she attacked the stubborn plants, they were tangled around all the yellow, blue and red flowers that struggled to live amongst the aggressive weeds. She waved and went back to grimacing, another thought, another breath to chisel them away.  This was almost a year ago, maybe longer, sometimes memories were piled in his mind like mounds of clothes scattered in the bedroom corner and until someone picked them up, fluffed them ou,t then one wasn’t sure if it was a blouse, leggings or a pair of pants. Not that it mattered, it was gone, all of it except for his dusty mind that kicked up a fuss whenever it felt like it. After twenty minutes he stood up, stretched again letting out a deep yawn and walked back to the window.

The reddish-orange bricks fractured the sunlight in barely discernable yellow hues, the gray mortar between the bricks did their dutiful job of holding the entire fucking building up, working for the past seventy-five years to do just this. Stay put. Clouds cast moving shadows on the wall, the telephone wires swayed slowly as the sky breathed out, everything seemed to breath. There was an emptiness within him, it had grown larger and larger, taking small bites and then larger chomps out of him from the inside out. Soon it would devour him, he knew this for sure and there was nary a thing he could do. Shrugging, he walked back to the far wall, carefully choosing a record album, one that would best describe his mood, he wanted to feel this moment while there were other times he would put a record on to change his mood, he wanted to feel the thickness of his depression as hard much as he could. It was lathered on him like paste, he lifted to dust cover and put the record on, it spun around and around and when the needle hit the grooves, it crackled and came to life as if it had been waiting to sing forever. Adjusting the stereo he paced the room, going to the kitchen, putting water on the stove the blue fire of the burner tickling the bottom of the kettle. Its blue flames licking the metal, he carefully put five spoonful’s of coffee in the French press and walked back to the living room. It went like this for the next ten minutes, a small dance routine for himself until he sat on the small couch and sipped his coffee. There was no place to call home, this much he knew.

The depression hit him when he wasn’t thinking of it, somedays it felt an inch thick and other days, the bad ones, it felt like he was incased in it six feet around him. They were the ones where he was smothered with emotional impotence, it was painted on him with heavy brushes from the inside out.  There were some days when the sadness had settled deep in his chest while he slept like a kitten curled around a person’s legs, on mornings like this making it to the first cup of coffee was a chore, he might have well picked the coffee beans and roasted them himself for the amount of time it took him to swing his legs over the side of the bed. And then suddenly a song would come over his headphones and the depression would fly away like a billion butterflies fluttering in the sky. There were somethings that helped more than others and then there were times when depression was so entrenched, there was nothing else to feel—it had sucked in all the air and chewed in small bits. Gobble. Gobble. This morning as the speakers sucked in and out, small little thumps that smacked out the sounds that slowly peeled away the morass he was feeling, there were fragments of thought that we was trying to pull together, note by note. It was working, eventually he finished the coffee, a slight buzzing in his head as he washed the cup out, the warm water and imitation smell of mint of the dish soap helped him concentrate. It was meditative and was helping.

Upon looking through a small book of photos that spent the past few months collecting dust, speck by speck, his fingers stopped on a photo of her, she was young, her face more roundish—as if the last remnants of childhood retreated to her cheeks holding out hope that she would forever be a child,  only a scent of a young girl on her face, she was smiling, and he knew in this photo he had made her laugh. Her white teeth glowing from a full laugh, the joy made the picture erupt in happiness. She put up with a lot, this went through his mind as he tried to remember where the picture was taken, there were empty beer bottles on the table next to her arm but the background was fuzzy. Maybe twenty years ago? Maybe even earlier? This was before the desperation swept him from his feet, clobbered him inside and foisting him into a sheet of blackness that rolled inside and around him for years. Another photo, probably eight years later and she was full of life, literally, standing in the back yard her body stretched to keep the life growing inside of her comfortable, she was smiling in this photo as well. The brilliance of motherhood danced from her eyes, as a new life for them was about to explode into their lives. He remembered his trepidation about fatherhood, wanting to avoid it altogether, the feeling of doom that he would repeat the failings of his own father was an almost daily trudge during her pregnancy and while it lifted for many years it had returned, making an unwanted I-told-you-so, into his life now—munching into his ear that no matter what he did he would never escape his past even if he was an innocent once. Another photo, their daughter, tongue hanging from the side of her little-girl mouth and she strained to take her first steps, her mother holding her sides, encouraging her with whispers. These were indeed her first steps on her own, she had pushed the little pushcart away and never looked back. He had caught it, stuffing that moment into a picture forever more. Another photo, his son booting a soccer ball in front of the goal, maybe 30 feet from it, his shaggy hair bouncing but stuck frozen in the picture. He must have been six or seven in this shot.

Then a photo of them together, all of them, somewhere on the beach, she on one side of the children he on the other, holding the phone to capture them all. She looked pained and he looked hesitant, as if there was nothing to be captured in this moment, their daughter looked away towards her mother while their son giggled as he pulled down on his arm. Then nothing, there were no more photos. The record abruptly stopped, the needle lifted and clunked its way into the phonograph’s cradle. A small electrical buzz came from the speakers. Bzzzzzzz…..

Outside a fly buzzed around his head, into his ear and the up away from his hand as he tried in vain to swat it away, it teased him, a bothersome moment in a life full of bothersomes. His car had scars up and down the length of it, a dent here, a bruised bumper and of course the cracked windshield, a metal testament to his poor eyesight and shitty ability to focus, it was amazing he hadn’t been killed in a car accident by now. He turned on the car stereo, his phone automatically melding into the car’s system and the music burst around him like aural fireworks, he felt like he needed a drink to match the music, or maybe to dance but it was only eleven am, still to early for both and anyway, he had not had a drink for nearly two decades, this was not the time to start now. He felt everything more acutely now, much more than he did when he stumbled into bars, fell onto barstools, collapsed into bed, and looked in vain for some relief for something that he could never name. His head was shaking back and forth to the music, small bobs up and down, floating on a wave of sound—he’d give anything to be a note of music floating through the air, a vibration that doesn’t hurt but only brings joy. “mother fucker” he thought to himself. There was a memory of the gay bar, where he used to escape not for sex but for music, to free himself from self-consciousness and let arms, hips and feet meld to the music. It was a safe-haven, he went with his dead friend who combatted all of the same things that he had, that is until he lost not just the battle but the war. No more dancing. “I should go dancing” he thought, he turned up the volume. He was now holding his baby girl in his arms, swirling her about the room while she cooed at him, her smile making up for her lack of language, there we melded at that moment, stuck in his mind until his mind would disengage sometime in the future. But not now. Not yet. “Not yet” he whispered softly.

At one point he realized she believed in him, offering him hope and she slid her arm around his back, touching his shoulders and his face, she kissed him softly her eyes lowered—she injected hope and encouraged into his very being, but now, all he felt from her was hopelessness. It had turned into something dangerous for the both of him. He sighed deeply and switched the gears in the car. Touched the screen to the next song and turned into traffic. Alone.

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