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

 

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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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Esther.

November 22, 2018

Esther.

 

The sheets stuck to her thighs, they were twisted around her ankles as if her bed had turned into a jungle while she slept. Although she was in bed for nearly ten hours, she didn’t sleep well. Tick. Tick. Tick. Her mind clicked every moment like one of those angry old cash registers that sputtered and spit out white receipts except this was her mind and as she lay in bed the evening before she stared straight above her, drawing invisible lines in the ceiling cracks, connecting them to make a variety of shapes. A wheel barrel. An old man leaning forward. A dog. And finally, the devil. He grinned at her in his blotty stare, he was constructed out of five cuts in the ceiling caused by a water leak nearly five years ago. Once she saw the devil she could not un-see him. “Fuck” she whispered. Eventually she dozed off, but not until after she read half a book, drank water, smoked three cigarettes, masturbated, said a prayer she didn’t believe in, read some more, and counted the cracks. The devil stared the entire time. Grinning as only the devil can even if he is hidden in the plaster. She kicked at the bottom of the bed, wrestling with the sheets, they held her ankles as she did “they are trying to keep me in bed” she thought, she could smell the sweat that had soaked her bed while she slumbered. “What is wrong with me?”

The windows were open, all of them in the entire apartment, the two in her bedroom, the one in the kitchen and the three in the living room. All with the hope that this welcoming by the open glass portals would invite a breeze to come in, make itself at home. The slow-poke wind just sauntered by, giving a middle finger to the apartment as she melted inside. Unraveling herself from her bed, she walked to the bureau, her bare feet made a soft sucking noise as they peeled off the hardwood floor. Lifting a lighter to her first cigarette of the day, she stood a few feet back from the window and tried in vain to catch a breeze. Outside, the heat was coming off the black roof across the street in shimmering waves, two birds flew and landed on the electrical wire that stretched in front the building. The longest couch in the word, all made for these fluttering animals. She gazed in the mirror that was attached to the dresser, it was old with a blackness that had set in on the corners as if it were being eaten slowly by mold. She caught herself, turning her head sideways she looked at her breasts in the reflection, turning slightly she studied her hips. Her thighs were dotted with small greenish and purple bruises, “where did I get those” she thought as smoke climbed towards the heavens. A brunette smokestack with bangs. Moving to the center of the room, the cigarette hung like a thin white twig from her lips as she gazed at her body, the mirror only went so far and even by scooting back she was cut off at the knees. Her hair was mussed and she raised her arms above her head, her breasts pulling wide against her chest and ran her long fingers through her hair, tussling it about until if fell in the same manner that it did just before she tried to fix it. “Stupid hair” she thought and walked over to the small table next to her bed. Snuffing out the cigarette, she grabbed a purple rayon robe and slid it over her shoulders and pulled tightly on the string.

The smell of jasmine danced out of the kitchen and as she carefully carried her tea into the living split living/dining room she sang, “see the way he walks down the street, watch the way he shuffles his feet…” her mood was lifting, a small plate of English tea biscuits balanced on the small porcelain cup. Setting the jasmine tea down on the table, she pulled the chair up, it felt as if it was going to collapse under the weight of its own memory and as she scooted the chair in towards the table it made a small groan. “Jesus fucking Christ, already” it wheezed in its own chair way. She flipped through the pages of her book, the crisp white pages felt reassuring at the tips of her fingers,  the transformative powers of the words passed through the stiff texture of the pages. Books comforted her, more that almost anything else, and they didn’t disappoint or betray a person, they didn’t sling insults or raise their voices, they were always home on time, and could create a smile with just a few basic lines of print.

As the smoke circled above her cup, bending her neck back, she thought of a darkness that settled in her gut, deep into the bottom of her being. “Sometimes, I knock against the river but the river just rushes past” she thought as a small bit of sadness escaped from that bottom, it slipped out like a blink in a darkened movie theater. Her heart caught in her chest, the air in the room stopped, for one moment of a moment of a moment, the world stopped. She touched her throat, sliding her hand down her chest and held her thigh. It was gone, the smell of the tea and the faint smell of cigarettes filled her nostrils. She smiled, even this surprised her. Gently touching the table top, it’s wooden surface a highway of small chips and bumps from being moved from one house to another depending on whatever relationship had ended, switch or just for the sake of change. Her grandmother had given her the table when she obtained her first apartment, a tiny efficiency that smelled of cat piss, must and old man. She had scrubbed it out with Clorox, Pine-Sol, and optimistic determination that sprung from setting off alone on an adventure. She hauled the table up the stairs by herself in that first apartment, making sure to not ask for help as her mark would be made on her own, she didn’t want to owe anybody. Anything. To her, owing meant being owned.

“Let me get my truck and help you” her ex-boyfriend offered, “uh, no thank you. I got it” thinking to herself, “he’s just gonna try to fuck me for old-time’s sake.” “Dear, you are going to need help with that table and mattress, or whatever the heck that thing is you are going to sleep on. I don’t know why you just don’t get a real apartment with a bedroom and a bed. You can have the one from your bedroom, your father can take it apart” her mother said one evening while sipping a margarita, Frank Sinatra enunciating in the background. “It’s called a futon, and I don’t want a real apartment, I’m happy with the efficiency, it’s close to campus, I don’t want too much stuff in my life and this will help prevent that” a silent thought sat in her mind, “this is the reason I don’t want your help, always critical.”  Her mother sniffed, “if you only had a larger apartment you would be safer.” “Mother, that makes no sense” shaking her head. “Yes it does, what if some man enters your apartment and tries to rape you? If you had another room to go to you could lock the door. I love this song, do you know it?” Eyes rolling, “yes, of course I know New York New York”.

As she traced the scars along the tabletop, moving her fingertips in and around the indentations, left by the haphazard movements of previous owners, a cigarette burn here, a knife scrap here and a banging fist there, equaled an untold biography of the table. Her mother blended into the migration of her index finger as it glided through the wood, she recalled her mother’s tears behind closed doors, when the muffled moans fell deep into pillows stacked high on her mother’s bed. Remembered how her mother would not exit the room until all the red had left her face, all that emotion had been stuffed away to be replaced by fresh make-up, hair-doo set right and a smile stuck on her face. There were summers when her mother wore white pleated tennis shorts, that failed to cover up the highway of deep bruises that made a map of violence on the back of her thighs. When her mother had too many drinks as her head bobbed back and forth, to suddenly freeze while a moment of truth tumbled out of her mouth, “don’t.ever.get.married. men are scum.” These droppings would erupt suddenly, without provocation then abruptly leave is if they were constructed of water tumbling over itself, a sudden wave that split into the ocean, foaming then disappearing as the water was sucked back into the sea. Regrouping, her mother would swallow deeply, then move on into an easier subject, “well, I can’t believe that Fitzgerald’s would pull Katherine out of St. Mary’s and put her into the public school, I suppose if they want her to turn into a junkie then that’s that way to go. Which reminds me, you need to delete her from your phone book, at least until she gets her act together.” Esther would sit dumbfounded underneath the weight of disbelief, there would be no retort, no discussion of what was really unspoken or the irritation that came with such a swath of judgement from her mother. She raised the tea cup to her mouth, tasting the sweetness of the tea as she tempered the anger in her chest.

She scooted the chair back, put the cup in the sink, walked to the bed room and put on a pair of yellow shorts and a white t-shirt emblazoned with the words, “Coney Island, NY” with a faded ferris wheel in the background. Slipping on brown sandals, the thin white leather straps grabbing fast against her toes, she went back to the kitchen and washed the cup. Drying her hands against her shorts, wiping them along her legs she left the house and went into the sunshine. Hands reaching deep into her pockets, searching for an answer to the restlessness that the morning brought into her fingers, the fabric stretched as she expanded her palm. An unlit cigarette hung between her polished red lips, suddenly she felt alive as the shine from the sun dropped science as quietly as a lamb’s yawn. In the bag that hung on her shoulder was a faux leather notebook that contained scraps and bits of her mind, she recorded like she were an archeologist of her own mind. Tick by tick, tock by tock she logged them down like clockwork every day but never revisited because once they were recorded that was it, you can’t recreate a moment she thought even though she would read words like a locust devouring fields in biblical manner. Pausing by a parking meter, she dug through the pale lemon colored bag, an afterthought of 1960’s fashion, with bold gold hoop rings at each of the straps and fat gold zippers on both sides and in the middle, she pulled out the small royal-blue plastic lighter and lit the cigarette. A couple strolled by with a small baby carriage, the husband turning back towards her with a frown, she shook her head and raised her eyebrows at him, “it’s a free fucking country” her eyes silently spoke. She absorbed the smoke, filling her lungs with nicotine she allowed all of it into her body and closed her eyes. Small islands of contentment, were what kept her sane.

The street was busy, a Saturday brought people out, with the sun sucking people out of their apartments  had liked it had never glowed in the sky before. There was no plan to where she was going but her feet followed route that may well have been grooved from all the times she had walked it. Three blocks north, two blocks west and another four blocks north and she had arrived at a large thrift store. She had a way of shutting out the world, a vision that walled off any distractions that not only kept her insulated but also safe. The sweet smell of pine was in the air as she walked into the store, it was always clean, a shiny homage to the discarded past of the items that filled the racks and white metal shelves. The old woman who worked the check-out line nodded at her, she seemed to wear curlers in her hair nearly every day with her sliver horned-rimmed bifocals balancing on the edge of her nose, held firmly but the silver chain that was lassoed around her ears. Esther waved to her, a small grin splashed across the old woman’s face, she had worked here for years and a gesture of kindness still made the old lady feel a warmth she couldn’t hide. A billion smiles over a billion gestures. Fetching her phone from the yellowed bag around her shoulder she slipped some headphones on, cued up one of her favorite records, “Dusty in Memphis” and proceeded to investigate the racks and racks of clothing. An unending supply of fabric that drew a line from every fashion event over the past forty years, deep blue polyester tops with ruffled collars, wide bottomed pants that hugged the hips as if they were a baby on a breast, and faded stone-washed jeans clogged against one another, resembling a Tokyo sidewalk during rush hour. Everything was blotted out as Ms. Springfield cooed about all the love she had to give, hitting like a soft needle in Esther’s heart as the sound bounced around her ears,  “I’ll never forgive you for what you done, I’ll never turn my back on you for anyone” brought a tablespoon of water to her eyes, she rocked slowly as she eyed skirt after skirt.

Behind her the sound of a young mother with what seemed like a herd of young children, she could hear the woman speaking in Spanish, a flow of words the sounded like a sharp song. Turning, she saw a diminutive woman, holding a baby in one arm, cradling the child in the crux of her elbow, at her feet were two twin children-no more than four, climbing over one another and behind her holdfast to the bottom of her skirt was a child who looked to be five or six. Esther smiled that the young boy, holding his mother’s skirt, causing the boy to smile back. A wide toothy grin that spread across his face as if it were a curtain being pulled open. The mother looked at Esther then down at her child, she smiled at him and then at Esther, a slight nod thanking her for calming the child. Esther looked over the pile of clothes she had pulled aside, a bundle of different colors, and she realized that she didn’t need any of these but her mind was calm, if not for the first time in nearly a week. Her hands felt the different types of fabric, polyester blends, cotton and denim a veritable time capsule of the past forty years nestled on top of her shopping cart. She had painted her fingernails and toenails last night, deep into the night when the restlessness brought her to the foot of her bed, and empty wine bottle next to her bedside lamp, the flicker of the outside lights making small fireworks against her window. She had painted her toes first, creamy white like the inside of a Cadbury Egg and for her fingers she choose periwinkle blue and choose a broach and earrings to match. If she could not make order in her head she could at least make order with her body, her outfit. A way to tell the world, “I got my shit together motherfuckers.”

She looked for a room to try the clothes on, there were lines in front of all of them, middle aged women with ankles bloated from carrying children, laundry and groceries up varying flights of stairs over the past twenty years, teenage girls blowing bright pink bubblegum in between words that tumbled out of their jaws like rain from a gutter, and a few other women, shifting on anxious legs, scanning phones or talking to a few people around them.  A family of immigrant children huddled around their mother, she shooed them along like ducklings and they soon stood in a line behind her. All these spoke about the weather, about what they ate that morning about dead-end jobs. Taking her place in the queue she stared ahead, counting her breaths she wanted to read and pulled a small slim paperback from her purse. Soon enough a room opened, and she entered the tiny changing room, her bright white toenails making a contrast to the grimy linoleum floor in the changing room, she tried hard not to set her bare feet on the filthy floor. She decided on two blouses, a skirt and a white three-quarter jacket whose inside was a faint black and white checkered pattern.  In the end, with her items tucked into the small burlap bag made from a reconstructed bag of coffee beans, she felt a fraction bit better, the needle had moved from empty to full in terms of her emotion. So much had happened she thought as she stepped of the curb to cross the street, the green light singling her to cross, it went like this all the time, her body following direction while her mind spoke of something else, a chatter that dipped, waned but never quite disappeared. He had called roughly a month ago, telling her that he would call her the next time he was in town, promising to meet her for tea or a drink, “anything, you want to do. I’ll be there for five days.” He had arrived and left, never called although she knew he was in town by his posts on social media, there he was in a crowded bar surrounded by people that looked familiar if just by their outfits, and the drinks they held in their hands. Props for the twenty-something crowd, another one of him on a ferry, the city in the background as if he were posing in a post card. She had reached out, sent messages, left a few voicemails and in the end waited while anticipation ate her whole from the inside.  She knew she felt those voicemails more than he did, even if they sat silent in some electronic vacuum.The weeks since then had stretched out a like an elastic band stretched too far, until brittle it lost its flexibility and broke, and each day had limped to a tired close while she battled the night with books, wine and music. She searched for him in the white spaces between the words she read, the dancing sentences calming her but he still went missing, a void in the middle of her life.

The sidewalk had emptied in just the hour she had been shopping, it almost felt like a scene from a movie for her, perhaps at the ending credits, for the next two blocks she passed nobody just shops and restaurants all of which had people sitting by the windows, sipping specially made-drinks, just for them and inside she saw their laughter, the chatter they made, the clinking of the silverware all went unheard as she walked in her quick pace. Her headphones were on, as a deep voice man warbled a cover of Pavement’s “Here” which made her feel even more isolated. She stepped sideways and missed a splatter of red and brown vomit that had exploded on to the concrete the night before, a monument to somebody taking fun over the line, filling their gullet with enough vodka and pale ales to cause his body to push it out the most efficient way it knew how. After spilling the previous seven hours onto the street his friends pulled him up by his armpits, pushed him into a cab and let the night see him home. Turning the corner, the music had switched now, it was a single trumpet and a dead man singing about regret and all the thoughts that swarm around such thinking. This afternoon, realizing she was unmoored—the ache in her chest was physical, and stretched up into her shoulders, down her arms and settled into her elbows. It affected everything yet there was nothing wrong with her, she knew this, she was careful about what she put in her body, choosing her food carefully, no meet, no dairy and her vices were cigarettes, a few glasses of wine and a joint in the evening.  A chasm had opened inside her, with every step she took, she suddenly stopped. Across the street a woman was screaming, long arching shrieks, her face so filled with anguish it appeared to be melting from the inside out, her voice cutting over the music. There, in front of a small shop under the yellow awning, dark mold creeping up its side, with the words BEER, CIGARETTES, FOOD written across the sides, was a man who lay with his hand over his face, a pool of blood circling his head, it was growing slowly like dark red liquid pillow around his head. There was no noise, no movement from him, only the seeping of himself onto the sidewalk, above him the panicked woman, arms extended, bent with hands held upwards as if she could summon the power of the sky into her palms. Her face a picture of torment, everything was still for a moment, she clicked the music off and the only thing she heard were the wails, and birds singing in the background. Seconds slipped by, as it time were an escalator, she stepped off the curb towards the woman wanting to touch her, to provide some comfort and suddenly two people ran out of the store and a young woman ran down the stoop next to the store, they were all yelling and coming to their aid. She stepped backwards, turned and kept walking. The music started again.

Songs provided emotional galoshes, as she waded into her inner swamp, a brown and gray muck that never seemed to go away, at times she felt safe—with the protection of song, of marijuana and the countless books of poetry she held like crucifixes while at other times, she looked for invisible vines to pull her out of an internal bog but oftentimes these were not vines at all, they were serpents. The inside of her legs felt weak, her feet moved forward while her throat went dry, a dizziness flickered on and off like a fly against a window—her pace quickened while she searched for a place to sit, anywhere would do as long as she could let her mind grow quiet. She could not hear the clicking of her shoes against the sidewalk but the sounds from the sole of her shoes presented a certain confidence that she had no idea she had, the clack of the heels were an announcement that Ester could not hear as the sounds from the phone flooded her ears. Her short dash to a bench a heroic act for those who were lucky enough to see it. Settling into the hard seat, it’s wrought iron construction was fastened to the concrete, nothing would make it move. She sat down carefully, glancing at her phone for a moment she tucked it into her lap. Staring up at the pigeons that fluttered around her, their wings making the sounds of a shuffling deck of cards, and she reached into her purse and pulled out some plastic packets of saltine crackers and tossed them in front of her. Smiling as the birds swooped in and gobbled them up with pointed beaks, crowding out the others who wrestled for the food, in a moment she turned inward. Her hands were shaking, the wrapper from the crackers slipped from her fingers, floated into the air as a rare gust of wind swooped in. The world was narrowing as she tried to remain calm. Sweat made small rivers down her back.

Eyes were focused on the asphalt in front of her, the sounds of birds, traffic and conversation sunk into the background as if they were swallowed by the concrete, reaching into her purse she fumbled for her cigarettes, holding the blue crumpled cardboard box, knocking the top of it against her wrist she stopped. Held her hand as she noticed it shaking, she held it as if she were muffling the sounds of a baby, so alarmed at the shakiness in her fingers. Closing her eyes, she was able to pull a cigarette from the packet, and slide it into her mouth, lighting it with eyes still closed she leaned back. Her chest heaved while she held the cigarette as if it were a buoy and she was being attacked by white capped waves, her other arm draped across her chest, holding herself so she wouldn’t explode. “What the holy fuck?” she thought, as she continued working on the cigarette, she felt the sweat rolling down her back, writing wet lines into her skin, her legs felt limp. Remembering a moment that would roll around every once in a while, an unwanted guest that dropped in at the slightest opportunity, she could see the light between the bottom of the door, half an inch from her cold fear to the terror on the other side. The television was chattering a noisy clatter, the sound of canned laughter from somewhere else, finding a blunted path to her ears, she pulled the covers up. She made herself small, she was smaller than a memory, a tiny speck in a field of white cotton sheets and camouflaged vinyl sleeping bag, it felt sticky against her but she was small she was certain nobody could find her as the sheets protected her. The television blathered on in the other room, her back hurt, as did her elbows and her shins, she was bruised she knew this—she always bruised easily even when she played volleyball in gym class, her legs would resemble the burnished colors of a Gerhard Richter painting, she could only guess what she looked like now. She feared the light from the other room, it meant he was home, if she listened carefully she could hear the floorboards creak under his feet, sounds muted by the green carpet that smelled of cat piss, she didn’t know what was worst the smells of the carpet or the musty vinegar odor the whisked off of his body when he climbed on top of her. Swallowing, she felt the dryness in her throat, she felt tiny but the sound of her swallow felt like an earth mover, “Shhh,” she reminded herself. “mam’e are you o.k. Hey, are you ok?” Somebody was in front of her, opening her eyes she saw an old man with a dark blue beret and what appeared to be the largest eye-glasses she had ever seen, he looked like an owl. “Are you ok?” he kept asking. “Honey, she’s probably just resting” and old woman in a canary yellow peacoat was saying to the man, the old woman’s wrinkly hand on her husband’s shoulder, “oh my God, look at her nails!” she felt herself thinking. Indeed, the woman’s nails were at least an inch long and painted a raspberry red. “Yes, I’m fine thank you. I just felt a bit faint…maybe I ate something that didn’t agree with me” her voiced trailed off, she shook her head to wipe any former thoughts clean, smiled at old-nail-lady, “thank you-you are very kind. We need that in the world.”

This is from a collection of short stories, this is fiction but I have filled in the lines for someone(s) I have known. IMG_0828

 

 

Jenny Mae: One Year

August 25, 2018

MI0002126908.jpgOne Year:

Unease has been settling in, a sort of emotional arthritis that has stuck with me, aches that come and go, some sharper than others. It may be at a stoplight or when folding clothes, sometimes they come when a song floats into my ears, or just when-the-fuck-ever. Lately, I want to tell you things, call you up and hear your panting voice as you pace around your apartments, fixing plants, hanging pictures, trying on a pile of thrift store finds. Your voice speaks to me then, “Oh, Bela—why do you get yourself into such things? You never learn, how can someone so smart be so stupid?” then you would tell a story, something that so normal as ordering dinner at a restaurant that had turned into the absurd, pushed by the force of your personality until everybody around was dumbstruck. I miss that the most, your non-advice advice and the laugh. Always the laugh.

Nothing was settled, it always remained a haze around your life, everything that danced into your orbit was sucked in, you were a tornado that finally kept spinning, behind you a wake of beautiful destruction, and you spun and spun until even the wind around you tired out and split. “I’m outta here” it wheezed as it fell away. For me, I staggered away the past few years, walking away isn’t the correct wording—I was worn out—from the worry, the hurt and the anticipation of your ultimate demise. Sadly, all the people I wanted you to touch failed to happen, for some time I felt as if there was something we did wrong. Me, you, everybody that tried to push you into something that wasn’t really anything you wanted, I remember you once reading your name in a magazine, flopping it down, saying “that’s cool. Where are we going to drink?” You never mentioned it again. The apartments were filled with black and white photos, torn from the pages of Life magazine and books from the 1960’s, women in dark Ray-ban sunglasses, scarves piled high around their head, naked shoulders glowing from the sun—this was who you were. A fantasy that lived in a world of your own making, where wisps of the past are now settling down around memories that have gathered and collected at my feet, they are melting into one another until, soon, they will disappear.

It has been a year today, when I  left my class to rush to the hospital as your cracked and ruined lips slowly gave up trying to suck in air, you were tired, no doubt about that. You lived harder and brighter than anyone I have ever known. There was a fear stepping into your orbit, you were big league from the word go until you didn’t anymore, you came to a bumpy-rolling stop, and the holes you have left are immense, but your songs can fill them up and your smile can still stretch across and through death and make me smile. I have so much to tell you.

JERRYJENNYCOVER

 

 

 

 

Update on Updates, new writing and book

July 14, 2018

A few updates as I have received some emails and questions about the slow going of new writing. There is actually a lot of writing and re-writing going on this past year as I have been working on a book which contains some of the writing in the blog, I have some great help from Lisa Carver and the book should be out in 2019. It is slow going, I have posted to small rewrites/additions on this update. I have also been working on a short story compilation that I may or may not post, basically finished an adventure story for Saskia (that she has now outgrown) and am in the midst of writing an adventure story for Bruno (not sure if I will post either of these).  Here are the additions from the book:

Relationship:

After Jenny got out of the hospital, she and I hovered around one another not face to face more like we were at the same party but never in the same room. This went on for a year or so, and as Jenny’s life became more precarious, a slow-motion tidal wave that just grew and grew over the years, collecting and casting off everything in its path until finally it obliterates itself, I would step back from her, my ability to converse became more strained over the years. The relationship had completely changed by the time she became homeless, I became the caretaker or even the older sibling, the protector but the job came with a toll. Jenny became defensive, like I would peel her open and discover her innards were built with lies, like a down pillow made of soft untruths. When she was drunk, during these years, it felt as if my skin was sweating on the inside. People would ask if there was temptation to drink as I had quit drinking, but it did the opposite, nobody eats a full meal after someone vomits. I felt cured of alcoholism around her, scared straight every time the smell of alcohol heaved and shuddered from her mouth. At times when the hospitalizations became routine, they had ceased being an event in the last seven years of her life, they were just normal—it was as she became a convict that keeps getting arrested, but she was in the hospital instead of jail, I would see her, talking to her and offering encouragement. “Don’t judge me, Bela” she would sneer, IV’s dangling next to her, tubes hanging from her yellowed face, “you may have turned your life around but it doesn’t mean I have to live the way you do.” These comments would spew out of her mouth, years after I had tried to get her sober and the anger had dissipated to a sense of love the was smothered in dread of what was to come. Jenny felt threatened by the secrets we held together, the truths we experienced and the hope that had burnt up like a poorly rolled cigarette. All that was left was the smoke.

 

The hesitancy Jenny held around me was palatable after I left, she was guarded and anxious, there was a part of her that was still dumbstruck that I left her and that I was able to survive with our her and in fact, that despite her predictions and even some inner belief of my own, I would find new lovers and eventually fall in love. My presence felt like Kryptonite to her, also for me as well, what an awful realization that something that helps create you, that is very much a part of the very essence of you, causes such pain. The apprehension was volatile, it came out in glares and quick exits when I was in the same space as she, “Bela, I can’t see you—just let me know when you are going to be there. I hate seeing you, maybe some day I can but you just hurt me too much” she spoke into the phone one night, I could almost feel the wetness of her tears through the twisted telephone line, it had felt like a sucker punch, “don’t say that Jenny, I want to see you—I still need you in my life.” “No, not while you are fucking some other girl.” Exasperated, “what the fuck are you talking about, you are with guys all the time.” Her voice was cold and sharp, “you know its different with me, I can’t be alone. Ever. I fuck them for a reason. You are ok to be alone, you deserve it.” She hung up the phone. Things would get said that were intentionally incomplete, like a punch-line to a joke that never came, and the joke just hung in the air until is floated into the back of a person’s mind. Confused. Annoyed. “God-damnit, Jenny.” And then I hung up the phone.

 

Jenny’s Voice:

Western Ohio is an area of transplants, perhaps the forgotten transplants of the Midwest, whereas the German and Eastern European immigrants that flooded Cleveland, the industrial complexes of Youngstown and Toledo and to the southeast the poison air of the coal mines of Appalachia. But Western Ohio, the forgotten and silent step-child is created from the steely-hard persoonia of Protestant immigrants, what-goes-on-here-stays-here, God-and-Country and a generally feeling of distrust of the outside, of difference. The accent of this area is more southern than the Norwegian cadence of say, Minnesota, or the distinct Cleveland accent where vowels are drawn out—where a person’s voice is closer to person from Buffalo or Pittsburgh than say, Dayton.

Moving from Athens and having spent a childhood rocketing from one part of the country to another, I was most startled by the southern lilt of my friends in Newport News, Virginia when I was in third grade. Where they all sounded like Hee-Haw singers, with slow drawls and language that we were taught never to speak, most specifically nigger and terms such as coon, faggot and so forth. Here the racism sat front and center, it was not subliminal as I would later discover in Columbus. So, I was alarmed to hear these terms again when I started high school in Springfield. Jenny spoke with an almost southern accent; her voice was hard—not just from her personal childhood experience, but the area of South Vienna and Springfield is hard. A struggle for survival, where scuffed knuckles and the anxiety of the next paycheck are ever present. She did not speak delicately although her knowledge of language came out in the written word, a lovely writer-her short stories were things of beauty as was her indelible handwriting, one would be surprised to learn that her course voice would blanket such beauty. As such, in Columbus, this may have affected her standing among many of the northern Ohioans and college bound academics that dotted her life. Perhaps, only the subtle West Virginian accent of Scrawl’s Marcy Mays was overlooked because of over arching power of Marcy, and Jenny always spoke of Marcy in reverenced terms.

Jenny’s singing voice could slide from a simple innocence, almost child-like in delivery to a husky pillow drenched in Maker’s Mark from one song to another. She could have easily had some of her records on K records, with it’s simplistic and bare-bones aesthetic-where Beat Happening carved a niche for anybody to parlay songs and art into words without the angst and vitriol of punk rock while some could land safely on the corner of 4AD with layered guitar and keyboards shrouding the pain she was able to slip out in an ethereal gasp. In the end, though her’s was a voice that fit nowhere, as she lacked the sophistication or polish that would provide so many female artists an avenue that may have allowed the man’s world of indie-rock provide acceptance. She was a victim of her own circumstances, to bold and outrageous in personality for those who wanted their female singers to provide solace—to not only sound pretty but to be pretty and much to pop and sing-song-y to attract the punks-she slipped on her own being, in a sexist and classist world. She sang without misgivings, at times, depending on her alcohol intake she could go tragically off-key, not unlike Bob Pollard whose vocal stylings can fall flat-footed in concert and he drowns his throat with another Budweiser, while at other times, her breathy voice could crush as evidence on her song “Ho Bitch” which could be perhaps one of the greatest songs on living with mental illness that I have ever heard.

Jenny Mae & Jerry Wick comic + 7″ coming out via NIX Comics

March 28, 2018

Roughly ten years ago I started this blog to process some feelings and sort memories out pertaining to Jenny Mae Leffel and Jerry Wick. There was nothing more or less to it except that I wanted to have an outlet and share their stories and how they impacted me. It has been a very rewarding experience and I have been humbled by the response over the years (over 80,000 reads covering over 120 countries around the globe). As Jenny passed this past year and I am continuing to work on a much larger project pertaining to the writing. Over the past few years I have been able to partner with Nix Comics to produce two graphic comics based off several of the stories in the blog (both have been reprinted and both are available via Nix: “Do You Remember Rock and Roll Record Stores” and “Negotiate Nothing: Jim Shepard”). Nix is planning on releasing a final graphic in the comic based on Jerry and Jenny meeting as well as exploring Jenny’s struggles with homelessness. There is also a planned 7″ (limited to 300 copies) of an unreleased Jenny Mae song recorded in 2006, and the only vinyl version of the Jerry Wick song “Love, Death and Photosynthesis” from the CD compilation “I Stayed Up All Night Listening to Records”. There is nice easy method to pre-order the comic and/or the 7″ through the Nix Kickstarter for this (follow link). There is also other comics and projects planned as part of the Kickstarter. I have reposted the first entry of the blog below.

https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/nixcomics/nix-comics-2018-comic-book-and-records-subscriptio

 

Jerry Wick and Jenny Mae

August 12, 2009

I sat in the corner booth, with a brown haired girl with muddy blonde streaks and when she laughed the whole world stopped for a moment.  Beer shot out of my nose and down the front of my t-shirt.  The t-shirt had a picture of a monkey riding a bike and said “R.E.M.” on the back.  She, the girl that is was telling a story about work.  Apparently she worked in a private dining club with a Chinese woman who once played for the Chinese National Basketball team; she was tall especially for a Chinese woman.  The woman spoke very little English, and my friend named Jenny had used her lack of English for a practical joke that went a bit wrong.  An older gentleman had asked the former basketball player what desserts were they serving today, the basketball player stuck her head in the kitchen and asked “Ah, Yinny, what is desert today?”  Jenny, whose wit was quicker than her mind replied, “We have pecan pie, chocolate pie and hair pie.”  The ball player turned around and answered “We have ah pecan pie, ah chocolate pie and ah haar pie.”  Jenny quickly ran to the cooler and hid for the next ten minutes while the manager looked all over the kitchen and dining room for the culprit who played the poor immigrant.  Jenny said as soon as the manager went on break she clocked out and was thankful she had the next few days off.  It was a Wednesday and we were celebrating the late afternoon in the best way we knew how, with an evening of cheap bottleneck beer and keeping one another company.

In the table just off our booth a man with a weathered thin US Army backpack laughed along with me, he turned and smiling with crooked teeth said “God-damn, that’s the funniest thing I’ve heard in forever.”  He had hair just past his shoulder and smelled of pizza sauce and patchouli, not the most pleasant smell in the world.  He was drinking coffee.  I always managed to check what a person was drinking back then (I still do this today) as a way of measuring them up. I noticed him; I’d seen him in the record store I worked at part-time.  I worked in several stores at that point, I worked as a manager of a mostly classical and jazz store that catered to the University professors and grad students and on a few days a week I had the opportunity to settle behind the splinter giving worn counter of the used record store just down the block and under the sidewalk from the classical store.  I could drink beer and listen to the glories of underground and brit-rock in the safe confines of the used store. Here as I guzzled beer and coffee I would secretly plan my escape from the classical store where I wore a tie and uncomfortable poly-cotton Dockers that did not dispel any pretense that I worked as a manager in a chain record store.

I also remembered this man from some of the independent rock and punk shows I had started attending with my friend Jenny over the past six months.  I had seen him with his coffee cup at the basement bar down the street where we would watch local music for free and piss tip-toed as a way not to let the overflowing toilets flood our tennis shoes. He had a notebook in front of him with a page filled with scribbles and a small doodle of a skinny man screaming into a ball of larger scribble.  He had on a black tee-shirt.  The tee-shirt said “Mudhoney” above four half naked men, it was a take-off of a Slits album cover.  I was impressed.  He pulled his chair over just as I was rising to go get a few more drinks.  I asked him if he wanted one. He asked if I could get him some more coffee.  He was still laughing from Jenny’s story.  As he handed me his cup his slightly bent shoulders shook with laughter and I noticed his thin hands and arms; he was as skinny as a flagpole and his long hair draped over his bony shoulders like spaghetti over a mop handle.  His entire being was like caffeine come to life.  “Really, if you want a beer I’ll get you one” I offered.  “No thanks, I don’t drink.”  I was shocked and somewhat suspicious.  I didn’t know anyone who didn’t drink.  Jenny said “really, are you sick?”  “No, I just don’t drink.”

I had an immediate kinship with Jerry.  From the moment we spoke to one another my entire world opened up ten-fold.  Prior to that point much of my world revolved around Jenny and I getting drunk, playing practical jokes on strangers and pretending we were people who we obviously weren’t.  My circle would go from two people (me being one) to several hundred in a matter of months in part of my new friend.  Jerry told us he worked at the chain pizza place down the street and had moved to Columbus recently from Kent Ohio.  He claimed that Kent “grew stale, it’s a small college hippie-town filled by pretentious rich kids who wore tie-died clothes to hide from their mommies and daddies.”  I made no mention of his patchouli scent to him.  When he spoke of the things he didn’t like, his voice rose and his intensity was surgical.  I could absolutely relate to this aspect of him.  We bonded over our distaste over college kids, our hate of shitty music and our ability to laugh over the telling of events that were at most two years old but in the haze of Jenny’s and my own drunkenness and Jerry’s caffeinated hyperness appeared to be at least a decade in passing.

Jerry lived just two blocks from us on Indiana, in a three bedroom house where he happened to be an outsider.  For his distaste for hippies and all manner of pretentious rock and roll music he chose an odd place to live.  His roommates were a band that played every Tuesday evening in the basement bathroom overflowing bar, their sets were filled with ten minutes plus songs-“jams” complete with fog machine and noodly keyboard solos and they wore enough hair to get part-time jobs at a petting zoo.  A roommate of mine and Jenny’s went to go see them every week and she had managed to drag us to see them on a few occasions.  I had a complete revulsion for anything considered “art” and rock and roll which meant I wrote off a large swath of music that emanated from the late 1960’s and the 1970’s from the laborious epic song cycles of Yes and Emerson, Lake and Palmer to the shrill hard rock of later day Rush.  Anything with a concept and keyboard was cause for utter derision.  This was yet another belief that we bonded over, Jerry told us he couldn’t stand his roommates and fled the house whenever they practiced.  He was shocked and pleased when we mentioned that Jenny wrote short little songs on a small Casio keyboard she had borrowed from one of our other roommates.  He told us he would love to hear them and when we said that we didn’t have any recordings he offered to record her on his tiny tascam portable recorder which was just a fancy cassette recorder.  We ended up back at his house; his room was just a mattress with a bookshelf crammed next to it.  The bookshelf was crammed with whatever remaining clothes were not scattered on the floor, cassettes and a paperback books by Philip K. Dick, Kurt Vonnegut and music related tales such as “Please Kill Me.”  He pulled out a shoebox a played us what sounded like the solo from “Down by the River” speeded up and muffled under a pillow.  I was amazed.  There were no vocals.  He said it was him playing a one-string guitar and that he was still working on it.  He told us he was in a band called Black JuJu.  Like the candy.

It was late and I had to work in the morning.  Jenny supposedly had school but unbeknownst to me she had already dropped out at this point and had been keeping up the charade of a full-time college student for a while now, she would continue to do this for at least six more months.  We wobbled home on liquid legs and twisted grins.  When we got in the house I boiled a couple of hot dogs and drank three glasses of water to help stave off the headache that may or not arrive. We went to sleep in the closet that Jenny had managed to convert to a bed.  She had a fear of people out to get her, a paranoia that seemed innocent in those early twenties days but would later manifest itself in far more dire behaviors.

Jan 2018, sitting at the stop light.

January 28, 2018

Jan 2018.

 

The boy sits on the couch, the one with the split seams that is bandaged with a gray throw blanket to hide the years of use, rubbing his head with his colored fingers, black, red and green from scribbling in notebooks, these are the scars of a Saturday afternoon. He’s watching a show, the sounds of pre-recorded laughter over an unfunny television show bleeds through the music I’m listening to. But, its ok, I don’t mind some of these interferences any more, the music will always be there and besides I’ve listened to this record about a million times—I know every note although I don’t really know any notes. 1,000,001. Outside, beyond the houses across the street a brown-gray tree reaches into the clouds, gray marrying gray while the chill in the air makes itself comfortable for the next few months, it will overstay its welcome again this year. No doubt about that. Looking up at me, for reassurance a sliver of a smile slips out when I smile back, giving him a thumb up. He returns to his toy, a flat white piece of technology that literally puts the universe at his fingertips, sliding his nimble fingers across the screen he can pull up live satellite images of Jupiter or watch the ten worst skateboard accidents of the previous year. Fetching coffee from the kitchen, the fence outside needs replacing, the wood buckling and bowing after years of soaking in the sun and absorbing winters filled with snow and sub-zero temperature. To be a wooden fence in Ohio is a lonely life.

There are moments when a person feels nothing, no thought, no worry, no anticipation, no anxiety, no pleasure—nothing just the softness of the occasion. These come in small crashes, as if they were encased in feathers, in the middle of chaos comes a blunted bomb of nothingness. When they are noticed, it feels like the unraveling of a secret and then it dissipates as soon as the mind notices it, I think then about how this never happened for you. The quietness. You were a rattling rattle, it felt like you were ten feet high and twenty feet long, lungs pushing out words as if you would have choked on them otherwise, waving above the world—the energy shooting like sparks from your electric body and the mind that never switched off.

He gets up, goes to the kitchen, I hear the refrigerator door open, and the sound of the milk carton on the table, the clinking of glasses and his sing-song voice, mumbling over the words of a pop song that you would have taught yourself to play. He sits at the table, sketchbook in hand and draws, the noise from his toy is not song and it forms a peculiar dance of sound as it seeps into my headphones. Eyeing him, I think backwards, flipping through memories as if they were being unpeeled in microseconds, and then I get stuck in the middle of them. It is then that I wish you were here, that you would tell me what memory it was that I was trying to recall about you, if you were a ghost you could try to point the way in the silence haze of whatever world that ghosts hover in. In the end this would annoy you, not being able to talk, to only float about in the background. There was this one time, when you were sleeping in our garage, after I had laid down a rule that was as foolish as telling the sea not to be salty, that said you could not drink if you were to stay in our garage. As if this gesture alone would give you the motivation to finally, once-and-for-all, quit drinking. It was hot, the house was roasting, cooking in its own peeling paint and 19th Century wood, and I noticed the front and back doors were open—you had used the kitchen or bathroom or both, in hindsight it didn’t matter but in the moment, it did and the anger that grew as suddenly as a flash-fire engulfed me. You were on the floor upstairs in the garage, an old green portable CD player, flecked with white paint and dust listening to The Whiles. The same song over and over, turning your head, you looked at me,

“Bela, you have got to hear this song—it’s amazing. I can’t stop listening to it. Its genius.”

She started the song, “Emily”, again.

“God-damnit, Jenny!”

With eyes half open, “just listen.”

“I know the song, I put it out, Jesus fucking Christ. Jenny.”

“shhhhhh.” Putting a hand in the air, one finger extended. The international sign of “hold your horses.”

And I waited. I listened. And when it got to the chorus, when three voices blended into one, “there’s no way to say…..goodbye, bye, bye, bye, lalalalala”

For a few spaces of time, there was no anger just being lost for that chorus.

“This song is perfect, fucking fuck.” She took a drink from a large plastic bottle, vodka and juice. The pint was on a box of old photos and notebooks.

 

“You left the front and back door open. What the fuck, and your drinking.”

Not only were her words slurring it appeared as if her entire essence was slurring, her shoulders, her eyes and her mouth, “of course I’m driinnkkkingg…what the fuck doo you actually think I do? I drink. When will you get used to it?”

Of course, I drink. Some words go together as if they were birthed at the same time, Siamese words. Ofcourseidrink. “You can’t stay here if you’re drinking, I can’t have it. I can’t have it around me.” When panicked and disappointed, words come out in force, with the energy of frustration and feelings that have laid themselves off to the side. It wasn’t the drinking just now, it was the prospect of sending her back out to the streets, even if they were the same streets we had walked and slobbered down for years. They were still streets, concrete canvases for both wonderment and danger, that could open its cement jaws and grab a person and chew them up by slow degrees. That was where the anger came from, “You have to leave.”

“Fine, I’ll come see you when I feel like it.” She grabbed a handful of her clothes, and stuffed them into a brown bag, in the corner was her trumpet, and an old electronic keyboard that she had been playing earlier in the day. She gestured to it, “I was writing a song earlier,” she pushed some shirts in the bag, “I’m going to try to get the boys back together and start making a record.” Bewilderment sat in the corner, it’s oafish face looking skyward, I looked at it and it looked back, and we shrugged our shoulders. Taking a sip from her red cup, she waltzed past me. “Where will you?” As you bounded out the door, “what do you care, Bela? I have places I can go” and you disappeared.

I sit at traffic lights, there are those moments that come up, when work isn’t crowding me, or the kids aren’t worrying me, when there is nothing and they you fold back the curtain of my mind. “Peekaboo” you appear as the light waits to turn green, hear your laugh from 30 years ago, as scampered across memories as if you were dancing atop water, fluttering for a moment and I smile, I look at the kid in the back and the young woman sitting next to me, both of them singing to a different song and I wish you could see them grow, to discover but I also have the worry about what yet may be for them. Nodding it away, flecking them off, the memories and drive home. Finding myself listening to one of the songs you loved, “till I die”. And this as if on cue, maybe it is your ghost stuck in the machine, the next three songs that appeared at random on my Spotify,  as I wrote this: ‘Silly Love Songs”, “This Will Be Our Year” and “Working Class Hero.”

 

 

 

 

 

One Month Later, more or less (not edited, sorrynotsorry)

October 28, 2017

A Month Later-2017

 

A little over a month later, the leaves are turning, millions every night go from green to red or orange,  some even straight to brown. Instant ghosts, dropping and floating their slow-motion dance to the ground. Autumn weather is an unpredictable guessing game, where one day the sun floats humidity down like moist blanket and the next day the October wind bites bare legs that were fooled into wearing shorts just the day before. On Friday nights, marching bands stand in lines, blowing on cold fingers, cracking jokes to split the awkwardness of teenage sexuality in half, they bleat out pop hits, odes to the gridiron and dream of life after high school. Meanwhile young men slip on shoulder pads, long socks, form fitting pants with laces to make help tie in this perfect American male package and slap each other in locker rooms, waiting to smack another kid across the grass as bright lights illuminate the field. In kitchens, onions are diced carefully, to be added to simmering pots of chili. Young women take to stores of all types, Macy’s, boutiques, thrift stores, buying sweaters, scarves, leggings all for the coming months. We all prepare our nesting in certain ways.

Jenny used to decorate the apartment with whatever season or holiday it was, at Halloween she would tack up pictures of jack-o-lanterns, sinister witches and tape up the crinkly fallen leaves. It was not uncommon to come home in the early evening and be welcomed with a spinning Halloween record on the stereo blaring the spooky sounds of Halloween.

Insomnia has settled in my bed, a thin invisible itch that pesters while trying to drift off to sleep, and when slumber finally arrives, the itch comes back I am shaken awake only to face the dread of not being able to sleep. In some ways, due to the long-term nature of Jenny’s death, the grief process has happened by degrees over the years. As her alcoholism and mental illness carved out small parts of me with every crisis or every worry stacked upon another as if they were made of a million tongue depressors stacked on top of one another over a twenty-year period. Her life spread out over the years like a sinkhole, swallowing everybody who ever loved her, and if the hole could talk it would have been screaming with every inch it widened. She had become invisible in her own life, an apparition at the end where those of us who could still muster the energy to care for her, would huddle together outside of hospital rooms or over the phone and repeat the same script we had honed for years. “If only she got away from _____(insert any man she was currently living with), she could quit drinking”, “if only she’d quit drinking, then she could be herself again”, “if she could just stay in the nursing home, she could walk again” or “I can’t understand why she drinks like she does if she knows she’s going to die.” Although she had always drank, the only sober times she experienced was when she was in the hospital, jail or nursing homes—the reality of her mind was too much to handle without numbing it. Towards the end, these conversations came with the resignation someone feels after their football team went down by four touchdowns with seven minutes left, it was all over but the time ticking off the clock.

Numbness isn’t a feeling but a state, as is the resignation of being helpless as an event happens, no matter how long the event may last, whether it is the eventual separation of California from the west coast as the San Andres Fault finally, cracks, shivers and splits in two, or as quick as a glass of milk being spilt. Age tends to temper the feeling of invincibility, logic reminds a person of the interconnects of everything comes the realization that despite this truth it is also truer that one has very little control over anything, including thoughts, emotions, and triggers that are made bolder, scarier and taller by addiction. It is as if anxiety were a giant looming over a city, swooping in and smacking cars and punching holes in the asphalt of the mind.

Some are born more sensitive than others, the ability to feel, to feel alive or sad or dead is amplified into something grotesque or even sterling beauty. Leaving all the other mere humans, left to be enthralled or disgusted with mouth agape. We would talk long into the night, as the morning light peaked through windows covered with sheets, towels and tee-shirts, “I’m going to go to Italy in the spring whether you go with me or not, then I’m going to Spain and drink on the beach. You can go if you want or you can stay here.” Staring at the ceiling, playing all the scenarios in my mind, “of course she’s going to go, and of course she’s going to fuck some guy(s) over there, and of course she needs someone to babysit her…. And I’m really fucking sick of this shit.” Eventually, she did leave, multiple times she saved her money purchased a ticket and left for Europe. She always called me to help bail her out, one night sometime around 1992 I answered the phone. “Bela, listen I just left Jeff in Germany, he doesn’t drink, and I can’t stand it. Fucking people need to lighten up anyway, I needed to get away. I was mean to him, you know how I get. I feel bad but not really because I HAD. TO. GET. AWAY.” Even though I was 3,000 miles away she knew I was shaking my head, “Don’t shake your head at me, if you are going to be an asshole then I will just hang up and I won’t talk to you.” Even though she had called me, the emotional pull of her predicament overrode all semblance of logic, ‘who will fucking help her then” went the thought in my head, it might have well been on a lite up billboard, “Who Will Fucking Help Her?” “What the fuck do you want me to do?” and just a few inches from me, a voice from the other side of the bed whispered, “Bela who is on the phone, is everything ok?” “yeah, it’s Jenny calling from Germany….” The resigned woman breathed out, “of course it is.” They never knew that they got her in the bargain when they dated me.

“Here’s the thing, I met this guy in the Netherlands, at the Vero, this awesome bar–you’dloveit.  We saw the Turks there, anyway he and I made out so I’m going to go stay with him. I met back up with the Mummies guys, they are really cool, and I’ll go with them to Belgium, then Peet will come and get me, his name is Peet, like Peter I always want to call him Uncle Peter and have to stop myself. Can you imagine if I said that shit while we were fucking?! Me screaming out “Fuck me Uncle Peter! Fuck Me! Hahahaha.” Her speech was rapid, one word sliding into another, almost lapping the word spoken before it, like they were racing one another  Some people can stand rock solid while the winds of the hurricane swirls around them, the waves of life crashing against them, trying in vain to pull them into the murky depths of their own depths (or should that read deaths?), they appear to be oblivious to the violence that pounds every aspect of their lives. This was Jenny in Germany, and later in Spain where she had went on a whim and quickly ran out of money until she charmed a wealthy Spanish woman who took care of her for nearly two months until the woman, undoubtedly, exhausted by this funny and outlandish American from Ohio purchased her a plane ticket back. My head was heavy in my hands, the sheets bunched up around my thighs, I stared outside the bedroom window as the streetlight glowed yellow against the row of dormant cars—patiently waiting to be driven in a few hours, and replied,

“what do you want me to do? I have no money, what the fuck Jenny, why do you do this shit?!”

“I didn’t call you to be judged by you, you are always fucking judging me! Your life isn’t fucking perfect Bela, quit acting like it is. I thought you would want to know where I was, plus I told the guys from the Mummies about you, I knew you like them. They are really fucking funny. I told them they should come to Columbus and you could make it happen. But they stink, that shit they put on to play, it smells like ass.” She was off on a tangent.

One moment vindictive, and defensive the next excited about something that gushed out of one neuropathways in her ever-moving brain, “oh, cool” thinking to myself, “why would she mention me to the Mummies, just cause I like them?” although I was excited about maybe bringing them to Columbus to play.

“So, you are going to the Pits to meet some guy named Peet?” The woman got up from the other side of the bed, and crossed the room, I followed her hips as she walked out of the room, she was beautiful, my next thought, “god-damnit Jenny, don’t ruin this for me.”

“No, the Pits is in Belgium, I’m going to the Vera—that’s in Holland, you’d like those guys—the Turks loved it and they know Jerry Wick, I asked them if he was an asshole to them as well.” She cackled.

Yawning, “ok, great—be careful, let me know if you need anything when you get there. When are you coming back?”

“I dunno, soon, maybe call my mom and tell her I’m ok. Poor Jeff, I’m an asshole.” She hung up.

Sitting at the end of the bed, I stood up and looked out the window, the glowing red numbers on the digital clock read 2:20 a.m., and the ache in my stomach grew around the rest of me and settled in my head. “What did she want?” said my friend with the perfect hips and she climbed back into bed, “Ah, she left Jeff and is hanging out with Supercharger and the Mummies, she met some guy in Holland, I guess she’s going to go stay with him….” “Why are you friends with her, it seems like all you do is bail her out of trouble?” I didn’t turn around but felt my neck grow red, this was hard to explain, impossible even—why do people care for others when there appears little in return?

Choosing the words carefully, “I dunno, she’s really a terrific person. Oh well, there is nothing to be done now” I slide under the sheets as she allowed me to intertwine my legs with her, I pulled her close and let me self be held.

When the gray sky spits the first cold rain of the fall, and the wind touches through skin into a body’s bones, I am always transformed backwards, to 1991 or so. Maybe 1992, at this point these are just numbers, signposts on a backward highway that really leads to the abyss, fading into the vanishing point on our own inner canvasses. The memory is New Year’s Day, the night before I spent with another woman named Jennifer, and our friend Haynes. A farmhouse on the edge of Athens County, Ohio, the house straddled a hill, with a small winding road that curved up and around the old farm the house sat on. An old fence, faded from years of neglect was broken in spots, the wood an almost gray-black as the white paint had long been rained and burnt out by time, a small pond with a dilapidated dock half submerged in the brown water gave one the thought of a once more prosperous and happy time. It wasn’t used to grow anything anymore, just memories and junk in the yard, the land gone fallow with weeds sprouting around abandoned tires, an old truck sat bare in tall grass that was holding tight to the carcass as if the metal hulk was a savoir in a sea of desperation. It had once been a proud farm, and now it was a backdrop built for my faded memory. The night before we had listened to music on a small boombox, shuffling cassettes as the mood suggested, “Nevermind” had come out in the fall, and I was infatuated with “Loveless’ by My Bloody Valentine and Superchunk’s “No Pocky  for Kitty” and as the new year turned over, I put on “Flyin’ Shoes” by Townes van Zandt whom they women had never heard. As we listened and relistend, I succumbed to the pressure of the wine bottle, having gone mostly four months without a drink the atmosphere of the evening called for it. At one point, I knew this would be my last night with Jennifer, I knew this was not going to work—we were too different, she was much more organic than me, more Athens county than I desired, she was a stark contrast to the cosmopolitan-New York Sharon, Jennifer wore poncho’s, sandals and oils—and while conversations went into the deepest part of the night, I felt no spark-I felt incapable of love in any sense. We made love that night, with me knowing this would be the last time and as we spoke in hushed tones afterwards, she confessed her love for me and my reply was silence, my skin getting hot as I knew I was incapable of the same. The next morning, I arose early, made coffee on the stove for all of us and ventured outside. It was New Year’s Day, and everything was fragile as I ventured across the road to a field that slopped down into a small thatch of woods. It was cold, with dried corn stalks crunching and snapping under leather boots, barren trees looking painted on against the forever gray sky. There was nothing there but thoughts and the wind, that was kept at bay by a thin brown jacket, a revelation happened as I walked along into the woods, listening to the crunch of my boots, that in the end I was destined to be alone regardless of what I had in my life, whether it was the bottle, friends or a lover. The thought wasn’t frightening, it was as if a riddle that had been clawing in the back of my mind had suddenly been solved—and it was ok.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jenny Mae Leffel 1968-2017

September 4, 2017

Jenny Mae (Leffel) 1968-2017.

“Why are you so angry?” She asked me that, repeatedly over and over through the years. Perhaps it was some of the unease that grew up around me when I was near her, as the jungle of her life, crowded everything out, grew wild around her and eventually choking the life out of her, but I would challenge her on this statement, in the end though—there was no agreement. Perhaps the anger came from frustration, of witnessing a slow motion house fire, a home being torched one item at a time. The flurry of flames to one book, one shoe, one chair at time, small embers that glowed red, then ashen white-perhaps that was what upset me so, the bit-by-bit destruction of a life by slow degree. The elephant in the room was not so much an elephant but it was the room itself, a sense of sadness as well as a flickering modicum of hope that offset the creepy feeling that something was not going to end well. Death is that ending, and for most this great unknown is the not-ending-well that pervades everything a person does, watching a child from a distance, death is unspoken the silent care a parent puts in others-the trust that is given to others who are caring for their child.

She didn’t want to talk about it, the drinking, the poverty, the violence she endured—by the ones who were in her life to protect her, men, neighbors and others who in the end betrayed the trust by fists, insults and of forcing themselves upon her. These were the upspoken experiences that drove her, the memories that tended to visit her when she was alone, at times with some of the voices in her head—there was no wonder that she gravitated towards anyone, no matter how unsafe to make her feel not-so-alone. Sometimes the demons in front of us are safer than the ones in our minds.

She cackled when she laughed, a laugh that could lift a room up and transport it elsewhere, to a place of bliss with just one line, one comment that dove out of her mouth as if it were propelled by jet fuel. Soft eruptions that would murmur from her lips, asides that would leave tears of laughter cascading down anyone within earshot. For myself and a few others, we played off one another, a small circle of suffering outsiders who kept our sanity by laughter, the pushing of the envelope and also, of course music which poured out of her like million different cloudbursts dotting a never ending sky.

 

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A sensitivity that was attuned to the pain around her, she comforted me, she held my head when I wept as a child of 19, when the world broke apart within me, she would wipe my tears and sing to me, just her voice and her hands upon my cheek. “Edelwiess”, “Greensleeves” and “Grow Old Along with Me”, she could trill her voice like a 1930’s Hollywood singer or turn it into a broken Billie Holiday, depending on what she felt was needed. Later, when she started writing her own music, she would pull lines from my notebooks of poetry to fit her melodies, she would sing songs to others from lines that were written for her. Turning our world inside out, and later, some of these maybe have been written for my current lover—she would say, “I just think you are brilliant” to me as I quickly changed the subject because in the end-I knew the answer, that I was as broken as she was.

Over the years the relationship changed, where once she comforted me, I became the caretaker, trying to save a sinking boat in the middle of the Pacific, all the kings men, horses, gold or prayers would not be enough to bale the water out of the crumbling floorboards of her boat. Creaky calls in the middle of the night, loaning her money that she would try in vain to pay back but at times, of course she never could. It’s hard pressed to survive on $700 a month regardless of how well a person budgets. At one point, she plead to me to help change a system that is so selfish and cruel it smashes the poor underneath it with the glee and quiet approval of an upper crust that is exactly that, crust. She is the main reason I work with the poor, the addicted, the mentally ill and how a sense of purpose to challenge the levers of power to quit stomping on the dis-enfranchised.

Sometimes it’s the mudane that sticks in the mind, a memory of the ordinary, maybe sharing a cup of coffee or a song that came on the radio while the windows were down; laughing and passing a bottle between seats as the Cars sang about a cheating with their best friend’s girl. They are cobbled together, on after another, to be mixed and mashed up as one moment flows into the next, soon a massive bleeding blur of colors in the mind’s eye—none exact, just an impression. One day we were walking across a barren field just across the street from her house, we had to cross the Old National Road, a staggeringly long strip of the pre-interstate highway system which was intended to connect Atlantic City, New Jersey to San Francisco but ended up petering out in the middle of Utah soon to be replaced by the faster US interstate system and Interstate 70 which could also be seen from Jenny’s front porch. Along the way, the rise and fall of American exceptionalism is pockmarked along this strip of history, old motels that are now hollowed out, small burgs that once catered to traveling salesmen, truckers and families moving west are now past dead, rotting in the shadows of Wal-Marts, box-stores and a drug epidemic that may just kill off the last vestiges of the great American Dream. It was not quite spring, those few weeks when winter still lay hard in the soil but with some afternoon days moistening the ground to stick at the bottom of one’s shoes. Senior year was hurtling towards and end, I had already had enough credits to graduate and only wanted to spend time with Jenny, read and listen to records. Dj’ing at the local college radio station was akin to opening up a box of 64 Crayola crayons after only having a number 2 lead pencil to color with, the world appeared as long and fantastical as route 40. Standing in her front yard it was hard to believe that if one went east, the vast Atlantic Ocean would be able to swallow this provincial and suffocating life while going west would lead to more adventures. The trees were still bare, skinny black and brown arms reaching skyward waiting for the sun to provide their green clothing, they swayed at the top, the wind making the tops dance in a slow motion action. I grabbed her hand, we had not an idea of where we would walk to, soon the field would end and after a small thatch of woods the starkness of I-70 would be an unpassable barricade. It didn’t matter, she laughed and held my tight, pulling herself against my shoulder, and looked up at me. I was turning into a man, by slow motion, one step, and one day at time. She was going to Ohio State, she swore to her grandfather that she would be in the Ohio State Marching Band, she would major in Spanish so she could travel and challenge the world, and of course she would leave her hometown which she knew in her mind could never contain her. Pockets of doubt rose up in me, wanting to attend Ohio University because Athens was the only place that felt like home, with the idea that I would become a journalist or writer, I realized that in the end I wanted to be where she was no matter the town. The dry cornstalks cracked against our feet, making a yellow rickety carpet all the way to the trees. When we arrived at the end of the field, the trees seemed to huddle together, if they could join branches, they would clasp themselves together and dance, bending themselves up and howling in whatever manner a tree can. Winding between the small forest was a creek that we had never known existed, hidden to the rest of world, she climbed down the muddy banks, “come on Bela” she coaxed me, in a matter of moments the sound of skipping stones splashed against the water until our fingers grew cold. “Let’s go back, I’m cold” she said and we trudged our way back across the field towards that small ranch house on the side of route 40.

https://pitchfork.com/news/singer-songwriter-jenny-mae-dead-at-49/

At one time, I thought I could not believe I could breathe without her, later I helped her breath and now there is no breath at all. I will miss you in everything I do Jenny. Jesus Christ were you brilliant.