COVID Clouds.

September 27, 2020

“I think I lost my job today, I think” yelps Jerry Wick on the Gaunt song “Hope You’re Happy Now”, I remember the circumstances surrounding the line from this song. Jerry was working at Used Kids and even though he lived only five hundred feet from the record store, in his sparse one room apartment above Larry’s he had a difficult time making it to work on time. We were lax with time, me more so than Ron or Dan, both who arrived early and took great pride in this fact, a marker to show that no matter how much a person drank, arriving at work on time meant that there was not a problem with alcohol. I had only missed one day of work due to a hangover, and this was only after calling off as I was dry heaving in the back alleys as I groaned towards the shop. But Jerry was late, constantly and he did not have a phone. “Why would I get a phone, I can just use the store’s” he would reply without irony. He was in the midst of breaking up and breaking in with a woman whom he wrote the two best Gaunt records about, she worked a professional job of which she would tell Jerry, “I have a real job Jerry when are you going to grow up?” Working at a record store allowed Jerry to pursue his art and live the lifestyle that was better suited to his philosophy of living on the edge and being non-committed. He was able to tour with Gaunt, record his songs during the night and afternoons he had off and still make enough money to pay his meager rent. He mostly ate at the record store where lunch and dinner was provided by opening the cash register. He didn’t eat much, hence the name of his band. At one point Dan and Ron got sick of his tardiness, I would try to stick up for him but he would basically force every one around him to question their relationship with him, it was as if getting close to him was a dare. Get to close, have any expectations and he would burn you and scorch himself. He eventually got fired.

 

I left my job recently, one that I loved a great deal, that provided a sense of duty and mission. The work I do, while satisfying can be exhausting, at times I am complimented for the work I do, “it’s amazing you can do that job” but the day to day work of helping the homeless, addicts and mentally ill is never very tiring, everything else that comes with it is what I find taxing-working with systems that are not geared to help the less-fortunate but actually do the opposite is what would keep me up at night. This past year I developed insomnia that has prevented me from getting more than five hours of sleep a night, I experienced chest pains, shingles and finally vertigo that has ended up costing me thousands of dollars in medical bills but that I finally have a treatment that has kept me vertigo free for over two months. COVID has only increased worry and anxiety but it has also provided something far greater than existential fear of the future and the anger that has arisen from living in the breathing callousness of the world we are living in. Sometimes some of the worst circumstances have the power to transform us into something greater and more human than we have thought possible. I have learned what is important for me, while working from home half the time has put pressure on me in a variety of ways by always being on call, always feeling the need to check email, write a report or finish a training, all from my evening couch, I have also enjoyed and relished being with my children almost all day long. Making them lunch, going for afternoon walk breaks with them, finding other ways of connecting that I didn’t notice before. I realized that I liked my smaller world and wanted to refocus, to realign myself with my family and those I care about. I was losing my ability to keep these things my priority.

There are periods where the world keeps itself too close, pressing in until it feels as if you have swallowed in all in a giant bite and the feeling of choking becomes overwhelming—like the Chinese proverb of the boy who could swallow the ocean until it burst forth from his cheeks and killed his brothers. I have eaten my world bit by bit until I have retched on my own inner greed and pain, what I drank to relieve me was killing me. In my twenties, there were periods where I lived in panicked emotional state, drunk dialing, pulling my dogs in close, never going long without someone to share my blankets—it wasn’t so much as sex but as not wanting to be alone. I had a list of late-night friends I would call, Gretchen, Chris Biester, Katy, Haynes, Michelle, Jenny S., almost all of them women and none of the lovers. Maybe the lovers knew me in ways that prevented my from reaching out at 2am, I needed tethered to something to keep me grounded until I could finally sleep-most likely the edge of sex would have tainted that simple quest.

 

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If I ever own a house again I want one with as many windows that can let in the sun as possible, to invite the outside world in and to invite my inner world out—I don’t want to have anything to hide not to the neighbors, not to the wind, not to the moon or trees, all are welcome. I have been learning to watch the clouds, I have an excellent teacher—someone whose eye for detail is almost mathematical but without the numbers, who as someone in the 19th Century has the “touch”, that is, she is gifted on a higher level in the language of emotion. “There’s a good one” and I don’t even have to look at her, I only have to look up to see what she is pointing to, and there it is, an entire ocean built in the sky, every cloud a pigment of some heavenly cosmic paint. “Yeah, wow.” I find myself trying to say something but how does one say something that is unspeakable without sounding like an idiot? So, I usually, touch her back or lean in and kiss her. I am now cloud watching all the time and, in the evenings, when walking my dog, I gaze at the moon, as if it were a companion walking every step in the damp grass along with me. A few nights ago, after a day of inhaling the world in deep gulps—I was brittle and tired, and I got into an argument with the kids. Nothing of consequence, perhaps it was the dog not being walked, or one of them simply asking for specific groceries but it was the last leaf in the barrel that caused it to overflow. An eruption that was lit over generations in my family, a coarseness and sense of self-righteous fairness that left much of my own childhood with me being not only being bewildered by my father’s rage but more importantly being scared as fuck that an adult would act like this. I knew, even as a ten-year-old, that something was amiss. As much as I have tried to temper and smother that flame inside of me, it’s there—mostly a small smoldering speck but it can transform rather quickly if my mind isn’t in the right place, if I am holding the world in my cheeks. I blew up, unable to come back I raged in the car, at the kids, at the dog who is compelled to bark “FUCK YOU!” at every motorcycle we pass on the street except her “Fuck You” comes out as a high pitched bark that blasts through ears like a bark-y explosion. In the back yard, I sat in the parked car—the kids went inside, no doubt wondering and thinking the same thoughts that I had about my own father over forty years ago and I sat, I listened. I tried not to hear the sounds of depression, of wanting to be annihilated, to submerge myself under waves. To call it out while sitting in my car, breathing, each breath one more step away from that wanting to be engulfed. Bruno knocked on the car window, “Dad, Saskia is yelling at me. I cleaned the living room.” He held up a can of Pledge and a dirty sock. “Will you come in soon?” Closing my eyes, “I’m not quite ready yet, I will though. A few more minutes.” I watched him stroll back to the porch, his bare feet climbing the steps and he disappeared inside. I listened some more. I looked up and saw the moon, a haze in the city sky but a comforting haze, my blurry companion. I saw the clouds, rolling over the sky in slow moving waves, and I let myself be engulfed but by something far more powerful than the depression that has nibbled on my insides all my life. After a few more minutes I went inside, said my apologies to my kids, that I was wrong to yell. An apology was something that was not offered by my father, he only handed his children blame, a cruddy way to live life and in my own growth something I never want to do. We got in the car, we laughed, and I pointed out the moon and we drove through the drive-through where I managed to make them laugh. Not everything has to end the way we feel they might. I left whatever future scar I might leave my daughter on the front seat that night and traded it in for take-out Chinese that we ate and laughed together with.

I love my new job as well.

 

 

 

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Death, Walks, Lou Reed and Skateboards.

August 30, 2020

As I get older death arrives like a postman, dropping off letters in the box and with the uneasy anticipation of opening a bill, “what’s next?” that slowly turns into a quiet acceptance that people die. Things change. Contrasted with a summer that started in March but has felt like a cold winter as the summer tumbles into autumn, and then a new year—this summer may not end for some time. Bruno explores every day in his own twelve-year old self, still a child but taking chances—staying out later, riding his skateboard and his imagination down High Street onto campus, into the ravines that carve up our neighborhood and poking holes in his father’s ego, as he should. He has only got the whiff of death through my stories and my job where dying is as much a part of the work I do as scheduling a lunch meeting, the poor tend to die quicker and more painfully than the wealthy, it starts to clutch at their bodies almost from birth, living in rented apartments that are lacquered in lead paint, insects and noise. These are men and women where desperation is the norm and a reprieve may come from the joys of unpacking groceries and sharing a soft drink on the stoop, or better yet, a communal beer. Something I have learned in my chosen profession as a social worker and that is it is very difficult to die with dignity if one was never provided that dignity throughout their life.

This week was the third anniversary of Jenny Mae’s death, she who was strapped to a hospital bed by the invisible cords of addiction that had ravaged her body until, finally, it whispered “enough.” We had known she was dying as did she, but those of us in the know knew this, felt this for years—from the waiting deep into the night in my late teens for her to come home, wondering if she was in the arms of another man or worse, only to hear her come home, cackling through the front door. Her legs stumbling, catching herself on the doorframe, bellowing “I’m home, you should have been there.” But knowing full well she hadn’t wanted me there, where ever there was. That was the first warnings, an impending doom that lasted nearly thirty years. When I visited her the night before she died with Saskia who was all of eleven, barely into her double digits, Jenny glanced at us and we held her hand. She was tired. I had to tell her who we were, we were with her and she squeezed my fingers. There was no turning back but we left thinking she would hang on, the night nurse had said she was in good spirits earlier in the day, making weak jokes with her cracked voice, a husky shell of what it used to be. Her voice sounded like cracked pavement that had been smoking five packs of Camel cigarettes. “She should be off a ventilator tomorrow.” The nurse, sadly,  was right. If I had known she was to die, I would have slipped a coin under her tongue and told her I loved her in a braver,  less self-conscious manner than I had when Saskia and I slipped away.

The month started with the death of beloved client, a man who had traveled from South Africa to remake himself as a young man in his early twenties. He discovered art in his forties and made wood-burned etchings in his 12X12 room unknown to everybody until one day a few years ago one of my colleagues told me she was worried about him and asked me to check on him. He opened the door in a foul drunken mood and after some coaxing let me into his room where I discovered a world he created alone, full of his memories of Africa in the form of lions, masks and huts, all burned into small planks of wood—many he had constructed out of gluing together tongue dispensers. A few days before he died, another staff member and I stopped at his room and he complained of a pain in his stomach and allowed us to call an ambulance. The day before he died, I met with him in the ICU and he was very matter-of-fact as was his nature, “Bela, all of at the Y are all I got. Can you please make sure my mum gets my remains?” “Of course, but I think you are going to pull out of this” I replied. “That’s nice of you to think that,” he smiled in a way a mother smiles at her child who is planning on a visit from Santa Claus. He wrestled with depression and alcohol but in the last few years he had opened up, tried in spurts to quit his drinking and sought help for his depression, he would tell us at times, that this was the best his life had been in years, that he was happy. Last year he traveled back to Capetown and visited with his elderly mother and sister after being away for nearly 30 years.

 

A few weeks ago Ron Heathman, former guitar player for the Supersuckers died. The Supersuckers played Columbus a lot in the 90’s, and I booked most of their shows at Stache’s and one at the Alrosa Villa with the Hellacopters and New Bomb Turks. The shows were always a spectacle, they had a strong connection with Columbus, partly due to their friendship with the Turks and partly due to the fact that we all liked to drink a lot. Ron was always quiet, a bit in the background but in 2002, when I was roughly thirty days sober and living in Gainesville my wife and I went to Jacksonville to meet up with them. Ron, myself, and a few others of their touring party went to a 12-Step meeting, we talked about the struggle of alcoholism and addiction and he asked me what I got out of attending meetings—a sense of calm in the midst of the daily torment I felt. We didn’t really keep in touch, an email once or twice but that was it. I was relieved to find out later that he had found a home roasting coffee and becoming a barista, a perfect profession for someone who has discovered sobriety, I thought to myself.  His death hit me hard. I felt scared and sad for Ron, his daughter and for everybody who knew him. We all change but sometimes we don’t always believe it.

Last week when I discovered Justin Townes Earle had died, I thought of two things, the first of a dear friend of mine who had toured with him while she was trying to wrest herself from her own issues with alcohol, she had thought it was a good fit because he was supposed to be sober. She called me after the first night and confessed that she was struggling, “nobody is sober here, I feel alone.” Sobriety feels alone, especially at the beginning—we are faced with the fact we have no assistance from the bottle or the syringe and we lose our social group—our community, our people. It is a scary feeling, as every other thought is screaming to return to our village, to our use and our body is craving relief. My second thought was one of empathy, being sober and suffering from depression is a combo platter of fear and dread at times, sometimes it feels like a race to the end of life without taking a drink or walking into the ocean. It can be a daily feeling for some, usually fleeting like a bird passing overhead but at other times it can settle in as if were the stench of burnt wood, an old friend who is no longer a friend that won’t get the point and leave your house. A slow existential tug towards darkness.

This morning I listened to Van Morrison and Lou Reed, not their records from the 70’s the ones shot through with grime and yearning—the ones that so many of us have relied on, but the ones from the 80’s—the records that sometimes get maligned for being too straight, to compliant, smooth and void of danger. My first exposure to Lou Reed was “New Sensations” the third in his trilogy of sobriety and marital bliss after “The Blue Mask” and the rolling comfort of “Legendary Hearts”, although one could argue that “Waves of Fear” on “The Blue Mask”, with its squalling Robert Quine guitar-which sounds like an animal being choked to death, is one of the most brutal songs Lou ever performed, the rest is reflective and calm. After uncovering Lou’s other records that summer of my fifteenth year, most notably “Street Hassle” and “Live: Take No Prisoners”, “New Sensations” may seem quaint but to my rural Ohio ears, I had heard nothing that sounded so adult, so New York and so descriptive. It was dangerous to my young years. When I was discovering my own love affair with beer and whiskey in the late eighties and into the early nineties, some of these records were the solace I relied on. I would put on Van Morrison’s “Avalon Sunset” or “No Guru No Method No Teacher” in the mornings at the record store while I sipped a black coffee from Buckeye Donuts to nudge my hangover out the door, there was a solace in these records, especially in the morning when the fogginess of the previous evening had continued far into the early afternoon. A sense of serenity fills these records in their search for normalcy, it was a search that I was always on, not in a manner of fitting in with “normal” society but wanting to feel normal.

 

A settled calm was present in the record store when I would open it on Saturday mornings, the clanging of the door, the metal cage over the door window jangling against my weight, spilling my coffee because I didn’t want to set it on the pee-covered steps, the stairwell was a common pitstop for the drunken college kids staggering their way home, “hold up! I gotta piss real quick.” I’d punch the code to turn off the alarm, put on one of these records, or maybe Townes Van Zandt, Gene Clark or Dylan’s “John Wesley Harding” all sounding like they were made for headaches and the early morning pangs of lonely. The nights before were filled with eardrums pushing forward towards the stages that we felt drawn to, eyes wide open not just to the musicians, usually all friends but also to the women who in the spotty darkness of Stache’s and Bernie’s looked like images of Patti Smith spitting black ink, they would make my heart curl up in desire while I let the music travel through my body as if I were the mine and the music was the dynamite blasting welcoming holes in my soul.  Like anything that is done repeatedly, it would take me years to figure out and undo what I had so eagerly taught myself, I did a swan dive into drinking in my late teens and didn’t feel the need to swim to shore until my early thirties, and nearly drowned in the process. It takes years to learn a bad habit and even longer to unlearn it. Some of us have figured it out but the darkness that looms underneath is always there, like an underwater river that slithers underneath all the cracks that we carefully walk across.

Recently I have discovered the joy of holding hands, of leaning into love and into what is uncomfortable, even going for a walk—something I never felt the need to do—I would rather run or lay in bed, no middle ground. That was how I lived, but the middle is just find, or maybe just off the middle a bit. Just enough. I take the hand of my daughter, or my partner, or Bruno sometimes one of them on each side as we walk the dog, watch her marvel at yet another joyful run at the park and everything is ok for the moment.

Anniversary.

August 1, 2020

I was divorced a year ago today, nearly eighteen years after we were married. Does one celebrate a divorce anniversary? Perhaps some do as a reaction of survival or to commemorate the ending with gallows humor, but what if there is no regret or even remorse over the ending? Then what? She texted me this morning; a happy anniversary with a heart emoji, not out of irony but out of love because we are both in better spaces than we were before we decided to separate. I was choking on myself, strangulation by negative emotions over the past few years of the marriage, with the idea that love can, in fact, conquer all when all that is another myth we tell our selves or more succinctly  are sold. So much of what we aspire to live in, worlds created by slogans and fables that we end up living in the fiction of our minds.

The day we were married, at the turn of the century she had a scheduled phone call with the University of Florida to see if she had procured a job in their art department. A tenured-track position, one that she had hoped for and although, we hide our self-doubts under the cover of self-created identity, she had confidence but also a fragility that she still holds, but is more honest about—or I should add more aware of. Age can do this for a person, make us more vulnerable and honest even when combined with the confidence we bring from our experience and knowledge, it can make us  more human and relatable—if we allow it. She was unsure if she would get the job, she had interviewed at two other universities but wanted the Florida one, I wanted her to get the one at the local art college so I wouldn’t be forced to move to a town away from my drunken adopted community. So, I would not after the wake of losing many of my friends to their own dangerous behaviors have to finally face myself and the painful soft tenderness that lay beneath my own fragile confidence.

For myself, I was shaky that morning, the night before I had limited myself to two beers with her parents who traveled from the Netherlands. I went to bed early, staring at the ceiling the apprehension that I felt went from the beginning of my mouth, to the ceiling and back where I inhaled it deeply and breathed it out again until I finally succumbed to sleep. She bought me a white and blue shirt for the occasion, and she wore a flowered patterned dress and there was no-doubt that on that day, she was the most beautiful woman on earth. We drove to the courthouse, she had a flower in her hair, I spoke nervously when we said our vows, hands shaking—we both made it through. She later remarked how much she loved how nervous I was, perhaps in that moment of sobriety she sensed my true self—one that was fragile, honest and full of humor. Anyway, we then went for drinks and a very average lunch at a small dive-bar/diner nearby with a few friends and our parents. That night we went out to dinner where our friend Christian made a special five course meal for us and a special cake.

The next six months were an exercise on how not to be married; distance, affairs, shame, drinking, a deep regression into pain and isolation. She moved to Gainesville and I waited to move, 9/11 happened the day after she visited me in Columbus, my room at my friend Tom’s a declaration of failure and alcoholism. I would drink after work until closing time, zig-zag my way home and plop into my bed—an uncomfortable mattress so thin that the metal springs of the fold-up bed pushed through and left small ringlets on my back every morning. She called me that day, “please come down, I don’t want to be alone, I’m scared.” I never went, I waited three weeks to go. Perhaps the worst thing I have ever done, fear controlled me that day and over the next few weeks, not of 9/11 or of impending war but of facing the prospect of having to live a new life in Florida—of leaving the life I had created for myself. Of leaving the only home I really felt a part of and in doing so I almost doomed the home that I had yet to create. So, I owe her an apology but also a debt of thanks for sticking with me when I eventually moved down a few months later and finally, in fits, addressed my alcoholism and quit drinking. ‘

We traveled

together, not just physically but emotionally and spiritually realizing we were compatible in so many ways until we also discovered that perhaps, near the end of the marriage we were more compatible by not being compatible. We created two children, who make us both laugh and are have helped us develop more gentleness to others and ourselves but also, perhaps more importantly to understand what is most important in our lives. Both of us are in new relationships, which is exciting, fun and new—but also different. I want her to be happy, for I know if she is happy our children will feel happier and appreciated. I laugh a lot now, perhaps more than I have ever, there is not a day that goes by when I don’t find myself laughing to tears and with a partner who effortlessly draws these laughs out of me like no one has before. I want to be happy as well. We all deserve to be happy. Happy Anniversary.

Kids. Covid. Kids.

July 28, 2020

Bruno is twelve, Saskia is fourteen—as perfect ages as there could be—and they fill their time with everything that a child should be doing as everything starts to open to them in spite of the world that we have known collapsing in silent shattering shards around us. They have lived in the same house since they were born, their world first confined to their bedroom, filled with plush and softness-stuffed animals, smiling cartoon bunnies and a moon night-light. A living room overflowing with blocks, a miniature play-stove, balls, and baskets filled to the brim with things that would be given to charity in just a few years. Then daycare, school and eventually their neighborhood. The kids have gone to the Netherlands every summer since they were born except this year; The COVID Summer where in some ways the world they have always known has shrunk into our little slice of the universe but it has also folded open at their feet.

I live just five blocks from that house they have always lived in, my ex-wife stayed in the house while I boxed up my belongings, the records, the books, the family heirlooms that still sit in the dusty boxes that they have sat in since my grandmother died, and moved into the small two-bedroom apartment that sits just up the street from a small park and a long bike trail. The kids go back and forth between their houses on an almost daily basis, there is extraordinarily little animosity between their mother and I as we are always tethered through our children and experiences. The good far outweighed the bad, which, at times was terribly bad but the good was exponentially better than the worst we ever experienced. And underneath the bad was a lot of sadness, a subterranean pool that flowed under our lives that had been there long before we had ever met. The failure of the marriage wasn’t a failure at all, it was a logical end to something that needed to change, the path started, turned into a sidewalk, then into a street and then into highway until it transformed, by matter of degrees and unconscious decisions and behaviors into a trail again. The paths split but still run parallel, we are both middle-aged, balancing our lives while trying to keep ourselves stable and sane.

When I was twelve, in sixth grade, my family was living in Athens, Ohio. I had just moved back into my mother’s house; one might use the word fled instead of moved as my father’s behavior had grown progressively aggressive and at times violent. My brother Zoltan had moved out a few months prior to me after he and my dad had gotten into one too many physical altercations, Z being all of 13—he was already a bit wise to the world and got out before it got too dangerous. My mother was working a graduate student job at Ohio University and I would leave school and walk around up-town Athens, pinging between record, pizza, and sub shops scanning the floor for quarters to stick into the Pac-Man games. My brother and friends would roam the University, busting into The Convocation Center where the Bobcats played basketball and have epic games of tag and tackle football that we played in the completely padded wrestling room. I knew every alley and cut through in town, it was, quite simply my imaginary but very real kingdom.

Every morning after his bowl of cereal, cuddling with his dog and watching every YouTube video that will make him laugh the hardest, Bruno dons his pink beanie with his favorite spray paint store blazoned across the top and grabs his skateboard to make sure that everything in his kingdom which runs roughly a half-mile in each direction from my house, is running smoothly. It stretches from Hudson Avenue north to North Broadway and, at times, he makes forays up all the way up to the Graceland Mall and south to campus. These trips take commitment. He skates with his friend Genevieve, a neighbor girl who skates the streets as if she were born on a board. They load their backpacks up with water, skate wax, snacks, their phones, and a few folded dollar bills and off they go. Bruno phones me throughout the day to provide updates, like he is the Ernestine the Phone Operator doing play-by-play of the neighborhood. “Dad, guess what?” he breathes into the phone.

“What? Tell me.”

“We were skating by Lucky’s and that place where Sam the homeless guy lives, behind Tim Horton’s—you know where I mean? Where Jenny used to live, near the Blood Bowl” he breathes heavily into the phone.

“Yes, don’t go to the Blood Bowel, by-the-way.” The Blood Bowel is a large water drainage tunnel that skateboards, teenagers and the homeless tend to utilize, it runs at the end of a ravine by his house, right under High Street and can be littered with the sort of things that a child shouldn’t be near.

“Dad, I know—I wasn’t talking about the freakin’ Blood Bowel, let me tell you what happened.” He pauses, “So, we were skating, and some guy got out of his truck and he was not wearing a mask and I told Genevieve he was not going to get into Lucky’s without a mask. So, guess what?”

“um, they didn’t let him in?” I query.

“Yup and he went to his truck screaming and saying he was going to kick their ass. Ha-ha, I asked Genevieve was it everybody’s ass in Lucky’s or did the store have an ass. He saw us laughing and started yelling at us. I bet he likes Trump. We just skated away.” I remind him to be careful.  At night he fills me in on his adventures, the stores he stopped in, how he got a free slice of pizza from Lucky’s, how he bought one of the homeless guys a $5 pizza from Little Caesar’s, how he knows everybody’s name at the local convenience store, and the stories go on. He knows everybody on this long stretch of High Street. I get text messages and photos from friends who tell me they saw him skating, how happy he looks, they all say, “he looks like you.”

It’s raining out, the drops pelting the sidewalk in wind-blown waves as if they were invading the beaches of Normandy instead of the sidewalks of West Weber Road, “dad, I’m bored. Take me somewhere.” “Yeah dad, we are bored. Take us somewhere,” Saskia chimes in. I tense up, but it is a tired tenseness more of a resignation to the fact that I am tied to my computer, to my couch—a place that I used to read and write at but is now, in just a few months my new desk. “I know it doesn’t look like it but I am actually working right now” I scroll through the dark bolded line of unopened email, some of which will exact a certain amount of future energy from me that at this moment I don’t have. “Dad you have been sitting there all day.” It is only 2:30 p.m., and he is right, since 8:30 a.m. I have been sitting on this small couch that Merijn and I purchased, along with it is twin, at a very short-lived antique store in Columbus in 1998. The couch must have been made in the sixties, it’s splitting at the top and one of the dogs—mostly one of the dead dogs I owned, chewed holes in some of the cushions, most likely out of boredom. Hopefully, Bruno will not chew the rest of the cushions. “I know I have but before I can do anything, I have to send a few more emails out, then we can go for a walk.” I’m irritated and it is hinting through my words, while I am conscious of this fact, I still don’t want the kids to know how irritated I am, but it’s there like the smell coming off spoiling milk. “Dad don’t yell. And it is raining, we can’t walk.” Bruno is now riding his skateboard across the living room. Skatebored. “Don’t skate in the house.” “Dad, your floors suck, they can’t get any worse.” He zips in front of the coffee table. “Can you just go upstairs for a bit?” “Nope, it’s boring up there.” He glides by the coffee table again; he does not even look at me while he is talking. An email blips on the screen and I read the subject line, “Fuck. Just go upstairs, I cannot take you guys anywhere right now. Go make me some coffee”, I plead. Saskia looks up from the opposite couch, “Dad, you won’t be able to sleep.” Bruno, still skateboarding but now in the other room chimes in, “yeah, and then you will be up eating cereal at three a.m. and getting fat.” “He’s right dad” says the teenager across from me. He is right. “I don’t care. Listen, give me 40 minutes and then we will go somewhere.”

When we walk, Saskia will want to hold hands and she says it as a demand, “C’mon, hold my hand, tell me what’s going on.” The grass touches our ankles, small tinkles of itchiness and little beads of sweat grow on our necks. Bruno does not mind when I slip my hand, the hand of his father full of lines and tiny burgeoning dark spots, into his. He is as passive as water being poured into a cup. He squeezes my hand back, his own hands longer than his mother’s at this point and he walks crookedly when he talks—his steps getting lost in his words which tell and do not tell a story. Both kids have an imagination, and a sense of humor while Bruno’s tends to be more absurdist—almost like an adult already. Saskia wants me to tell her stories, but it takes brain strength to tell a story, even a true story—it is something I do not have much fuel for. “I can’t Saskia, I don’t have it in me.” We walk further, watching for bees, looking at the dog hop through the bushes, stopping to smell every smell that had been planted that morning. Birds sing to each other in the bunches of trees that circle the field. “Please dad, tell me something else about our family.”

When my ex-wife my pregnant with Saskia, her belly growing this future insightful and charming young woman, I felt panicked. Being five years sober did not feel like a long enough time to become a father, something I had never really thought about. When I met Merijn and she told me her dreams, of being an artist, a teacher, and a mother—the envisioned life of being a creator, I felt small. My own dreams, of being a writer, or owning my own record store were things I kept close and they seemed undoable. There was no map, no guide for me. Of course, the DIY aesthetic provided and explained a way to create my own way, encouraged it even but in the “real” world where one needed to support and perhaps, subconsciously, to expose myself—well, this was not something achievable. A part of me thought she would leave me before that last part of her goals, I should clarify, she had goals and I had dreams. I did not expect to become a father but here we were sitting on our couch, she with her moleskin notebook and choosing names she had been writing down. I blurted out, “can she have your last name?” Merijn paused, “why? What do you mean?” I hesitated, a bubble of sadness in my throat, “I don’t want her to inherit all the craziness and fucked-upness of my family.” “Oh.” She had to think about this. After a few minutes she looked at me, “I think you need to talk to your sponsor, and I want her to have your name.” She held me for a moment, kissed my tear soaked cheek and told me it would be fine. Just because I felt fucked-up and  broken did not actually mean I was, I later learned not to trust my emotions or my beliefs—that these two things can operate on their own, regardless of reality. I spoke with my sponsor, my therapist and myself and realized that not every part of fear is, in fact, true and while it may contain some truth it does not mean that it actually is all true.

“O.k., Saskia I’ll tell you a story about my dad.” I tell her about how my father visited The Ohio State University in the late 50’s as a seventeen-year-old high school student from Caracas. How my grandmother, no fan of Venezuela, wanted her children to have an education and the opportunity to live in the United States. Upon landing at the airport in Columbus, he asked the taxi driver to take him to a restaurant near campus and was dropped off at the Blue Danube which at that time was not only a diner but also had a full menu of Hungarian dishes as well as a mural of Budapest and the flowing Blue Danube painted on the outside of the building. With that, my father was sold on attending Ohio State and in his phone call with my grandmother that night this appeared like a miracle, I can hear her saying to him, “Dis is fantassss-tic, a Hungarian restaurant?! You must go der.” Three years later he was called into the registrar’s office, “Laszlo, there seems to be a small problem, we do not have a copy of your high school diploma. I don’t know how it was overlooked but it isn’t here.” My father sat quietly, then started to cry, The reality of the situation was hitting him hard. He had never graduated high school; he had assumed since he was accepted to Ohio State, he would just start college as soon as he could. So, he dropped out of high school before the school year ended and moved to Columbus to start college. And now, here he was finishing up his college degree and he was now faced with being expelled. He explained this to the registrar who felt compassion and said she would just note that his diploma was lost and that being a Venezuelan citizen made it hard to procure another one.

“Sooooo, your dad never graduated high school but he’s still an architect?” She wriggles her hand out of mine, both of us are sweating, our hands need to breath. “I guess not. But that’s the story I was told, sometimes the stories we are told are not always true” and I feel the need to add “that the stories we tell ourselves are not always true as well” but I refrain and we keep walking. We talk about my grandmother, the larger than life one who even in death casts a shadow over the family, her presence hangs over everything, on her grandchildren’s walls, in the food they cook, in the stories we tell our own children. She lived longer than most of us thought, at one point in her life she was tremendously overweight, had suffered a heart attack in her fifties, had survived breast cancer in her late 60’s and died, with her translucent blue-eyes still shiny as she welcomed death. “Bela, I am not scared. I will see my mommy and daddy soon.” She smiled at me just hours before her hand went limp in her son’s hand. Most of us get to meet death with our bodies already run-down and broken, spent so much that the skin over our eyes hang low, our wrinkles telling the world how much we laughed or how we shut out the world. We limp into oblivion with broken teeth, parched mouths and failing plumbing—it is a relief. For others, the young, they go into death full of brawn, of bodies and minds exploring every touch and new thought, their minds unprepared while their bodies shoot fire out of their lives. “Hey, when we get back, I will need to work some more but tonight we can drive somewhere?” I, the father, speak this as a question as I don’t want to disappoint her, that while I will need to work I want her to know that I will make it up—not tomorrow or next week but tonight. “Sure dad, I understand. I had fun talking with you.”

I had dinner the other night with my old friends Michael and Suki, they live in North Carolina and my girlfriend and I drove down in the shortest eight hours in the history of eight-hour drives. I had not seen Michael since at least the late nineties, and I probably only saw Suki earlier than that. They have two teenage daughters. Their house is nestled in a small forest, a large meadow in their backyard. Mike says this is the house he grew up in, it is filled with love and the sort of creativity many of us are accustomed to living in. Stacks of books, magazines, scribbled drawings on the refrigerator and art on the walls. Not the store bought, gallery type of art but the art made from friends and from ourselves, it is there not just to inspire but to remember inspiration. Remember love, of shared experience. They made us and another old friend dinner, homemade burritos, the smell life came from their kitchen, but also soaked us through their walls. It was beautiful and meaningful, it felt like we had been neighbors for all this time, having coffee several times a week for the past twenty-three years.

Walk.

July 5, 2020

My son calls me at eleven p.m., perhaps I should be concerned that my eleven-year-old is calling me while I am in bed and why isn’t he in bed? “Hi daddy, what are you doing?” he asks, oblivious to the time. “Well Donks, I’m in bed—it’s late why aren’t you bed?” “I am” he replies cheerfully, “I’m working on my game, I’m designing a skate park. I’ll show you tomorrow.” He plays a game that allows him to design games within the game, I can’t complain, he’s not shooting things or invading kingdoms, he’s actually making a game and using different skills but still, I realize I don’t understand it all. “I’m looking forward to it, I need to try to sleep buddy, maybe go to bed?” “O.K. daddy, I just wanted to say good night.” He hangs up, I do not know how much longer he will call me daddy. When my grandmother died, my uncles both held her dead hand, it felt like wax and wept, “I’m so sorry mommy” they bawled, long tears stretching across the years of their lives, dredging up painful and beautiful memories of their lives with her, fleeing war torn Europe, arriving with empty pocket and stomachs in Caracas—the stood at her feet while she toiled. The water from their eyes, tumble out in slow quivers, “I’m sorry mommy.” They were in their sixties when she died, themselves old men. “Good night daddy.”

We walk every night, the four of us, my daughter Saskia, Bruno, myself and our small dog Pearl who pulls her leash like it was a flame chasing her down and we talk. We talk more now than we did two years ago, when at the end of a marriage I had closed and almost folded myself in half, or more appropriately quarters. I didn’t know how much I had isolated, perhaps that is what people do, we learn to never talk and the walls build up inside, the inside soft-made of cotton but the outside is made of brick. We never feel the hardness we exude only the tenderness of ourselves, and wonder why can’t the other see? Anyway, looking back I realize what had happen, but these revelations only come when I want to be aware, like looking for a four-leaf clover except the field is in my head. “Hey dad, make a funny voice,” Bruno is now skating ahead on his longboard, over the past year his feet are glued to a skateboard, he takes the leash of the dog and they scamper off ahead of us, she’s pulling him down the hill, both are alive. Saskia takes my hand, I am hesitant and finally wrap my hand around her soft hand, “Tell me about work” she asks, “I want to know.” I tell her of adult stress, of the politics of being an adult in a work place and how sometimes, things are not always easy but I emphasize that doesn’t mean I don’t love the work I do, how I enjoy helping people and working with a team of people who are committed to improving people’s lives. I explain that COVID has changed a lot of things, people are scared and there are demands from all different sorts of people. When people are scared, they are not always aware of how they respond to others, but she moves on, I have lost her. “Uh-huh. So, how’s grandma?” We just saw her grandmother yesterday I remind her, “Oh, yeah.” She is quiet, she’s trying. We walk in silence. “Dad, can you tell me about why some people can’t understand how they are racist?” She is opinionated, we talk about race and systems and people having beliefs in big ideas just because they think they should. These ideas can be family, nations, religion. Bruno runs up, “Pearl’s rolling in shit! Look at that dumb dog!” he giggles, in the distance the dog is on her back, wriggling near standing water. She will smell like goose shit. “Fucking dog.” I shake my head.

A spinning platter of pressed wax sparks sounds from the other room, always whirring like a heart that cannot be tempered. That is me, with a music box heart that lunges forward, clutching at the future like the sounds from the turntable-frozen in the past, the notes make marks in my mind—etchings of feeling. Outside, the leaves seem to dance to the music in my living room, swirling in circles with all their green partners, reaching high but going only so far. A ballet for the rooftops but only a lucky few notice. I realize that I carry less with me than I used to, although I feel the weight now more than before, as if the emotional scale that is plugged within my being is calibrated to notice the smallest twitches, as if it were made by NASA. Living alone offers an affordability that takes some time to notice, especially riding in the wake of a divorce, sort of like an entire new movie after the credits have rolled. Some details reveal themselves in quiet moments, sitting on my morning couch which coincidentally faces evening couch-I realize that I operate with a veneer during the day, one that protects and keeps out. Invisible and easily hidden behind humor and reservation. It takes time to dial it down, and then I realize that there were years where this was just the way I was.  I operated within my own veneer, keeping closed. A way to keep out and keep in, the soft underbelly of myself kept close, kept inside. Sometimes the hope for the day is to allow just a fraction of a space within me, an invisible cushion of air to let someone else sit in, an invitation. But if I never knew that I had to make room for the doorknob, that meant that the door never really opened correctly—I was pummeled with silence and resentment for years. I breathed in dust and exhaled disappointment.

I read her words; she builds sparsely but every word has intention she creates academies of ideas on the page. I shift in my seat, I look at my coffee cup, the steam rising out of it like it was a chimney of comfort and I feel small. Sometimes my demons have made and make me feel shrunken, a version of my adult self that is a scolded child, someone looking to evolve into something else, something sparkling, wise, an adult. My gray hair laughs at me from the top of my thinning dome. Addiction works in odd ways, conflicting ways that at once appears to empower a person but also in very subtle ways disempowers and eventually isolates until there is extraordinarily little except weariness and hardness. It is silent, hidden in darkness and cloaked in shame that builds out and attacks everyone close, until the only way to communicate is be being aggressive or defensive; there is no longer a way to act natural or to be safely vulnerable. Living alone has allowed for the space to breath more, at least within myself—to process and to sit with my own defensiveness. I walk every day, usually two or three times a day, I watch the trees sway, leaves shimmying to the wind—a most perfect dance partner.  Being alone means confronting oneself on a daily basis, the biggest fear may only be arising from the fact that there is a thought of always being alone, or of course being discovered.

I work with people who wear their lives in the folds around their eyes, in the blackness of their fingernails, in the corn-cob row of teeth and the way in which they may look down when talking, beaten all through life, they are weary and at times, they are hopeless. Their despair and addictions alive on their arms, riddles with marks and scars, and I find that I must respond to their silent ask, to breath in their anger or frustration and breath out hope for them, to blow acceptance into their lives. I do not always succeed but they do not have to know that. One thing I have learned from my own battles with addiction is that it has always been difficult to let myself be that person on the receiving end, to allow myself to be open to say, “this is me, but it isn’t me. I need help.” In the winter of 2001, I was on a self-imposed island on 4th Street, living temporarily with my friend Tom in the duplex he shared with his bother Dave. They would ask me why I had not already moved to Florida to be with my then-wife, I would not know how to answer so I would joke or leave the house and head to the bar. An instant cure for not answering. Years later after I had successfully quit drinking, I would hide behind other things, mostly a screen and not be present in the lives of those around me. In a very odd way, living alone has given me the opportunity to be more present, more alive in those whom I love the most and of course to discover new love. To hold hands and not feel afraid.

Saskia is fourteen, she will be fifteen before the summer ends and she is witty, a bit goofy and awkward—like I was. But she is confident and believes passionately in human rights, she speaks her mind and doesn’t suffer fools. Jenny Mae once wrote a song called “Gem” and part of the lyrics say, “Gem says that when you are in high school you either have a ton of friends, or you just have one.” And of course, that one friend will most likely last longer that the ton of friends. She asks me what high school was like for me and I tell her a story of when I was fifteen, not as a gesture of wisdom but more of an odd compliment for how she is living her life-making wiser decisions than I ever did at her age or even learned to do until I was more than double her age. “What was your summer like when you were fourteen?” she takes the dog leash from my hand, behind us the moon hangs over the large field where we walk the dog, a canopy of trees rustle their nightly farewells to us. When I was fourteen, I was stuck baking the summer away in the parsonage we lived in, boredom moved at the same rate that the surrounding fields of cornstalks. We didn’t have cable, and we were miles away from town, the only things to do was to walk to the store, pick up the mail and venture back. I read and re-read science fiction and rock & roll books, played my records over and over and yearned to be older. At least two years older, even then I was planning my escape.

I jump ahead a year, to when I was fifteen and spending my summer in Athens, working at Casa Que Pasa, the soon-to-be worker owned restaurant, cleaning chickens and washing dishes. That summer was my coming of age summer, driving in cars, drinking a lot and trying to get laid (which didn’t happen). Of course, I don’t tell Saskia all of this, but I do want her to dream, to let her know that adventures are everywhere even in COVID. Even when you are fourteen. I tell her one story, of skinny dipping and getting caught by the cops.

The summer was coming to a close, I would have to pack up my blue hard-shell suitcase that laid in the middle of my sister’s bedroom since I arrived in early June. Soon I would be back in Catawba, getting ready to start my junior year of high school but transformed from the Michael Moorcock and Beatles listening young man I was that May. Now, I was furnished with armfuls of records: Lou Reed, R.E.M., the Replacements and Garland Jeffreys. These were the sounds that would forever bend my life trajectory towards the underbelly, to the elimination of myths, a life of DIY. That the greatest beauty is found amongst the wrinkles, the broken and laughter-genuine laughter that lifts the despair of reality into something grander. “Hey, meet us uptown in half an hour” Rick Winland was on the phone, it was still early evening, but he had a plan for us. Soon, I was at Dexter’s Sub-Shop playing Space Invaders and drinking a Coke. This was the first time I had ever had any money in my pocket, earing minimum wage while peeling chunks of gelatinized chicken meat from a giant cauldron of cold boiled chicken, but I didn’t care about the small or the chilled chicken thighs as I was allowed to drink Heineken while I pull the slimy chicken meat from the thin bones, and there was a continuous loop of Lou Reed’s “New Sensation” and The Tom Tom Club blaring over the speakers.

Rick bounced in, next to my best friend Eric Zudak, we were all dressed up as teenagers are prone to do. I was wearing a vintage blue and white bowling shirt, with pleated creases in the back framing a large bowling ball superimposed over a palm tree. How this bowling shirt found it’s way to an Athens’s County thrift store is left to the past but it was my go-to shirt, Rick wore a vintage felt hat that he must have cribbed from his grandfather’s and Eric wore as usual and nice short sleeve button-up shirt that showed off his newborn muscles, a result of his older brother John showing him the benefits of 100 push-up’s a day. Rick moved in a bigger way that his slim stature, he had a certain confidence about him, either from him being the son of a dentist, having a keen if not disturbing interest in firearms or just the weird confidence some teen-age boys tend to have, maybe it was all of that. But nevertheless, he would flex his shoulders out when he walked, buttressing his confidence while he told, not explained, the plans for the evening. “O.K., when Bela is done with his video game, we are going to go to the Greenery and see what is going on there, then, if need be I will call John to have him pick us up. My mom is gone to you guys can sleep over at my house. At any rate, I can get John to drive us out there.” John was a kind of sad-sack of a kid who lived in the Plains, a small town just outside of Athens, he drove a small Chevy Citation that the sun had bleached out—and even though he would always complain when Rick ordered him around, “my mom needs the car for work tomorrow” to which Rick would reply, “do you want to wait on your mom or do you want to get laid?” Nobody every got laid.

The Greenery was a bar that like many in the college town allowed high school kids to drink, especially in the summer when the college students were off campus. The town was a ghost town every summer and the bars needed the business and it was a different time as the drinking age had recently been raised from 18 to 19, so all someone needed to be was to look just a little bit older, which we all did and have a fake ID handy. I still have my fake ID from the 80’s, just in case. As we drank our beers, we talked to a few local high school girls, one of them a blonde-haired girl named Janelle was one I had a crush on in middle school. “You guys should come over later, to the pond and go swimming with us” she offered. She lived on a small cul-de-sac, roughly seven miles outside of town. At around ten the girls left, and Janelle came up to Eric and I and asked if we were for sure coming, “We will be at the pond around one, make sure you are there.” She and her friends waved as they left. “I supposed I need to call John and have him pick us up outside of Dexter’s at midnight.” He went to the payphone to arrange the pickup and Eric and I grinned at each other. “Bela, I think she might like you.” I shook my head, “no Eric, I think she likes you.” “Nah, I think her friend Laura does, we made out last year. I am guessing that Laura planted the idea. If only we did not have Rick and John with us, but oh well.” We spent the next two hours drinking and walking up and down Court Street, it was hot out. Southeastern Ohio is especially humid in the summer, we watched the same cars and large pick up trucks making the loop from Court Street, to Stimson, to Congress, to Union and back to Court Street, there was very little to do except get drunk and drive in circles. Something that I would metaphorically do for much of the next fifteen years.

John picked us up and drove us out of town and into the rolling hills of Athens County, the moon grew larger and the landscape darker as the hills looked like blotchy shadows around us, the trees making the hills more ominous as they cast themselves even blacker against the sky. John pulled into the cul-de-sac, “Hey John, why don’t you pull down the road some more and not in the cul-de-sac, there is another drive up the way and we can walk up. We don’t want to be caught in the cul-de-sac in case somebody calls the cops.” Shaking his head, “nah, I don’t want to keep my car unguarded. Someone might fuck with it.” Rick shot back, “John, nobody is going to fuck with your Chevy Citation, it’s a piece of shit.” John mumbled to himself as he drove deeper into the cul-de-sac, “it’s not a piece of shit.” “Hey, let us out here, go park the car and join us.” We quietly exited the car, cut through someone’s yard and walked up to the pond. It was small with a little diving dock in the middle, it was encircled by back yards. As we approached three girls stepped out from the trees and shout-whispered, “Eric, Bela—hey, you made it.” Standing awkwardly, they asked what we wanted to do, I was buzzed from the hours of drinking and having my fifteen-year-old hormones firing away in my brain. “Swim. That’s what I want to do.” “Did you guys bring suits?” one of them asked, already knowing the answer. “errr no,” I looked at Eric who already started undoing his pants. Soon enough most of us were naked and swimming towards the dock, the water a black pool of ink, I swam under water but there was nothing to see, when I stuck my head up to breath I had actually swum away from everybody who were all clamoring on the dock where they hurriedly jumped off so as not to show too much of themselves. On the bank, John sat, legs folded up to his chest as he smoked a cigarette. We swam for a long time and then suddenly a light went on in a house nearest to us and we all dove into the water and scrambled into shore, somebody on the back porch yelled, “I’ve called the cops!” The girls were instantly gone, “go get the car John!” Rick snapped, and he and Eric said they were going to head towards the main road and that we should split up. “Bela you head that way towards town, and we will go the other way, if you see John tell him where we will be.” They ran the opposite way, I had grabbed my clothes, the sun was starting to come up and I ran behind a tall pine tree and slowly put the clothes on over my wet body. The police car inched by and soon I breathed a sigh of relief as it passed me. As the car rolled up the road an old crank of man, dressed in a bathrobe yelled from his front porch, “I don’t know who you are looking for but there’s one of them right there!” He pointed at me, while I murmured “asshole.” Sitting in the back seat of the police cruiser I phoned my sister who told the police she oversaw me that summer and she would be there to pick me up in twenty minutes,

“You’ve got a nice sister otherwise you’d be arrested for trespassing.”

“We were invited to swim, sir.”

“Well, you are still trespassing.”

“That doesn’t make sense.”

“You better hope your sister gets here soon. Was there anybody else swimming with you?”

“No sir, just me. I was going to walk home afterwards.”

In the meantime, the cops found John as he tried to drive past, he handed them over his license and while he was waiting he looked over at me with a sad-sack face, “What happened to Rick and Eric?”

Cop number one, peered at me from over his sunglasses, “Thought you were alone? Who is Rick and Eric?”

“They were going to me us, I mean me.” I shot John and look, and he nodded slowly, I internally rolled my eyes. My sister pulled up in her tan Chevy Chevette and the cop number one walked up to her car while she got out. Nodding solemnly, she thanked him and followed him to where I was standing. John was not sitting in the back of the cop car. “Bela, I’m so disappointed in you. How could you do this?! I don’t know what mom is going to say when I tell her.” Walking back to the car she grinned at me, and when she shut the door she giggled. “Oh my god, this is so cool where you actually skinny dipping?!” I sheepishly answered, “yeah, it was pretty wild. Are you going to tell mom?” The last thing I wanted to do was to go back to Catawba, Ohio for the rest of the summer. A summer that would have been spent daydreaming about Athens, girls, getting drunk and hanging out, as well as literally watching the corn grow. “No, I’m not going to tell mom. I wish I had something so cool when I was fifteen.”

That entire summer was electrifying in so many ways, it was partially due to my age of fifteen, becoming an adult in slow motion, all the neurotransmitters firing off because of hormones, all the new experiences marking deep paths in my brain: sex, music and alcohol, all of which would control much of my life over the next seventeen years and beyond. Some of which would always been subconsciously compared to that summer in Athens. It would take another few year for me to lose my virginity, it was certainly a few years long exercise in summerhood, as all my summers would be spent in Athens until I graduated high school.

My drinking started that summer, a harmless exercise in fear, bravery, excitement and escape—it would not turn into a problem for many years, the benefits far outweighing the consequences which were hardly mentionable—a few hangovers was all I would encounter until my early twenties. It was so much easier to drink, the drinking age changed from 18 to 19 during my high school years and it changed to 21 the summer after I graduated, I skated by. That summer in Athens was filled with mostly Pabst Blue Ribbon, Old Milwaukee and bottle of Jack Daniels which we would mix with grape soda or Coke, the grape pop was disgusting but we needed something sweet to wash it down. Sometimes my sister would buy a bottle of Jack for us but mostly she disapproved of the heavy stuff, we shied away from marijuana—I had tried it during my sophomore year and didn’t like it at all, in fact I never would enjoy it. Rick was full of destructive ideas, some of which involved truly asshole things such as driving around egging pedestrians, shooting guns and breaking into cars. The guilt I had over the few times we did this provided enough of a lesson that I would never engage in this type of behavior again, in fact these are things I usually did once and opted out afterwards. The drinking and trying to talk to girls were enough to keep me occupied for the rest of my teenage summers.

We would drink out in the country, drive deep into the woods, park the car, throw rocks into the river and balance our drunken selves on railroad tracks before heading into town to go to the Greenery or the Nickelodeon, and then head back to Rick’s or Eric’s where we would sleep until noon and get up and do it all over again. When I got back to Catawba at the end of that summer I would be well versed into what I could handle alcohol-wise, I very rarely drank to the point of getting sick and had learned to pace myself up until I discovered shots at the age of nineteen on the bars of the Ohio State campus, that was another years long lesson. From what I can see is that my children have very little interest in drinking, with several social work degrees and counseling licenses, I believe I am somewhat an expert on detecting these things but I also know how well I hid it when I was in high school. But my ex-wife and I don’t hide from our past and my children understand the work I do, it is not uncommon for them to ask me about the people I work with, how some die of drug overdoses, their lonely corpses to be found by myself or my colleagues. These are things I speak openly about, there is no benefit in hiding the realities of addiction and what it does to people, at times they ask me about my drinking and depression for which I answer honestly and openly. “Do you ever miss drinking” Saskia asks me, “No, not really. I might miss the taste but that’s about it” I answer and realize that sometimes when kissing my partner, I might kiss a little bit deeper and longer after she has had a few drinks, my tongue tasting danger but not living it.  A little inner wink to myself.

When I was fifteen, in 1983 (I turned 16 during the summer of 1984) my mother turned forty and my father was forty-two although he was very much out of my life by that time. She had turned 15 in 1958 a decade that started out in black and white and ended in black and white, the bright colors of the 1960’s would not hit until she was already an adult, as such her past seemed to be eons before my own coming of age, the world was under the cold oppression of Ronald Reagan but we still had MTV, punk rock and teenage films such as Porky’s, Sixteen Candles and the late night soft-core movies of Cinemax—if you were lucky enough to have cable television. My brother and I listened to a lot of the music of the sixties, the Beatles, the Stones, Doors and Kinks were all heavily played on our turntables and the Stones were still making viable music to our ears (“Emotional Rescue, “Tattoo You” and “Undercover” were all heavily played in our living room.) But Elvis Presley and the doo-wop sounds my mother listened to in high school were literally from another era-another century, hell another world entirely. Today my daughter plays music from the 60’s to the present, most of it as interchangeable as tee-shirts. Looking backwards while trying to balance my feet in the present, not always and easy feat (feet?) it’s hard to believe that punk rock was barely seven years old or so—but the movement that the music made in my life at that age was as powerful as my first orgasm.

I was divorced nearly a year ago, although every time I write or say that we are now divorced I feel the need to put a tag on it, an asterisk which is, “but we remain friends.” As if those four words can describe spending nearly half your life with someone only to realize that what ever the relationship was at the end was not what it was at the beginning. The buzzy-high of early love and lust was burnished away over the years, through arguments, silence and quiet resentments, although the relationship was bruised and battered the fact remains that we created two incredible people who will carry on whatever we supplied them—our DNA, the lessons we teach them and of course, the memories we create and pass on to them. We are lucky, because we still love one another and we know we tried to keep the marriage together, partly out of love, partly out of fear of being alone, partly out of the sake of our children, all of which seem to be better off and more functional than living in the same house and sleeping in the same bed. Every so often I have to return to the house we shared, the house that our children will always associate as the home they grew up in, my small temporary two-bedroom apartment notwithstanding, and at first I felt trepidation in returning. Seeing the hallway where our daughter took her first steps, tongue firmly stuck outside her lips in effort as her mother held her shoulders, encouraging her to move forward. The lines drawn on our son’s bedroom, marking the children’s growth in lead, a quarter inch this year and a full two inches that year, but oddly I never feel like a ghost floating over the house’s floor but more of a welcomed visitor. My home is up the road, off High Street with my records, my books and new memories I make with the kids and the people I spend my time with. New and hesitant love that finds me perplexed and happy at fifty-two, love that has me feeling secretive as if I don’t want the world to know yet, a different perspective than what I had at seventeen-when I wanted to scream to the world, a bit more quiet but also as intense.  Slow burns.

 

Moviola in the time of Corona…

May 11, 2020

There were four dogs that lived in the house, every inch of carpet and furniture bled hair as the dogs had free reign, they were almost as spoiled as dogs could be, with multiple walks by the multiple owners who lived in the three story house just north of The Ohio State University. My dogs, Richard and Istvan arrived late to the party, and they were pretty much asshole dogs, at least Istvan was. Richard was a sweetheart, a wiry stray that Jenny Mae had adopted following a hot tub party on campus, she named her Grandpa Richard although on close inspection Richard was a female and still a puppy, more like Granddaughter Richard but Jenny didn’t let anything like facts to impact her world view. Soon, I adopted her to try to settle down the complete assholish-ness of Istvan who was such a bad sort of a dog that when he died long-time friends of mine sent their condolences on my social media pages followed by, “but he really was a BAD dog.” We arrived at the house on Blake following my recent divorce, a marriage crammed between rounds of drinks and the deaths of friends—the haze of drinking and the clutch of loneliness held both of us fast, and while there was love between us the pain of being alone was greater than any ties that bind. In any scenario, alcoholism or not, there is not a good chance for the relationship to survive when the foundation is made of bricks of self-doubt. I moved in during a January ice storm, renting a large U-Haul to move my house on Patterson just a few blocks north into the attic of Ted Hattemer’s house, the only stipulation was my bad dogs had to stay in the attic as the other dogs in the house would not tolerate the intrusion. So up the stairs we went, several flights up to the third floor where Ted had built a small two-room flat for me, he also had a small bathroom installed.  I lived with Ted for a couple of years until I moved out to live with Merijn for the next twenty-two years.

The house was the defacto landing pad for Moviola although main songwriter, Jake Housh had built a studio on top of his garage just a stone’s throw from Ted’s house on Dodridge Street. Moviola was working on their second album “The Year You Were Born”, after the 10” “Frantic” came out a few years prior it was the third record put out through my P&D relationship with Revolver USA. “Frantic” had sold well, and the band had toured some including some well attended shows in NYC, one at CBGB’s with the Siltbreeze bands Temple of Bon Matin and The Strapping Field Hands. Ted was also playing drums for The Thomas Jefferson Slave Apartments which had signed to American imprint Onion Records, and the band had gotten glowing press from various outlets such as the College Music Journal, Alternative Press and Your Flesh. None of this was really important for the way we lived our lives though, the days and nights were mostly filled with music, combined with the hope of being connected, and of course, alcohol. Creativity was the most important aspect of our lives, whether it was music, writing, filmmaking or painting, everything held an idea. Although, now at fifty-one, it is easy to think of these as our salad days, for me I lived in such an emotional panic, akin hearing last call while taking piss but living that feeling every day of your life. I don’t miss that rabid anxiety that was only tempered by drinking and fucking. Both of which seemed to somehow increase it.

Out of all the bands I had worked with, Moviola were easily the most organic, both in how they lived their lives, friendship over ambition, operating as a collective versus a musical dictatorship, and blending sound on top of sound. Their music has layers but is simple in the best sense of the word—they use sounds, hum from guitar amps, feedback and clunky echo to feed the songs like compost.  I used to attend their Wednesday night practices, mostly to get a musical fix and they were my friends, they would let me sit on the floor, drink my six pack, offer my suggestions and leave to hit High Street by 10 pm with a head buzzing and full of ideas. Wednesday nights were a highlight for me. The recorded almost everything in their home studios, with the exception of “Frantic” which they recorded them selves at a larger studio and a handful of songs they recorded while being courted by several major labels, an experiment that almost broke up the band and most importantly their friendships.

The Blake house was comfortable, and not just for the pack of dogs that lived there, there was music constantly playing, both downstairs and in my attic room. There were ashtrays filled with cigarette butts, the bong next to the couch was in constant use and there was always beer in the fridge. Whoever was cooking would share their food and the conversation was always a constant. We all worked full-time jobs, and it wasn’t any sort of campus living situation, we were all in our mid-twenties and looking for something to ground us. Music was the one thing we all swarmed to. The was constant motion, nothing was staid, I had been booking shows for a while both at Bernie’s and Stache’s, and Moviola were also bringing bands in—Built to Spill, Jennyanykind and The Flaming Lips were all bands they helped bring to town, both with their music and their affability. If there was any band that best exemplified what I enjoyed about music it would most likely be Moviola whose songs have always had a strong sense of melody, with layers of guitars and noises either propping or slowly tearing the song down depending on one’s perspective. There music certainly owed  a debt to Neil Young, or more distinctly the creaky guitar solo’s from “Cowgirl in the Sand” and “Down by the River” as well as the shambling sounds of the Grateful Dead and the Band but because four-track recording and the liberation it offers the “keepthemistakesin” philosophies of the Velvet Underground, Sonic Youth and Moviola’s contemporaries Pavement and Guided by Voices allowed for a much more organic (de)construction of their music. They were most often compared to Pavement and GBV (whom they played with a lot) but in hindsight these were lazy comparisons, we were all operating on the same playing field, ones that were made from our collective record collections culled from the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s, we were all inspired by the Velvet Underground, Stones, Ramones as well as the DIY ethics of Half Japanese, and our own local bands such as Scrawl, Great Plains and the Gibson Brothers, we could all do what ever the fuck we wanted. Something they always touched on was relationships, whether about straying strands of friendships or the tug of wandering that lovers have, how the mundane can both drag a couple down or put the shine of love by sharing a coffee, hanging clothes on the line or the magnetizing way a drive out of town can strengthen bonds.

As I walked this morning, with headphones purposely both drowning the world out in sound but also in their own way, pulling the outside world into my inner world, I listened to music—a singer rocking herself gentle, describing her love and her shortcomings. We are made of shortcomings; we stack them upon each other until we try to make them a whole. On the walk a mother in green windbreaker, gathered and tugged two small girls around her, a dog yanking a leash in front of them—she stopped and smiled at me. Caught in her life while I coaxed my own dog to settle-the-fuck-down, her smile crooked, I had been there—but it was a different time for me. When the horrors of the world didn’t play out in some fucked-up, awful science-fiction way, when getting the kids home and fed before the clouds spit rain down upon us was a concern, not the fear of a stranger breathing in your child’s direction. I felt for her and how the present can swipe the hope for the future in the simplest ways. Going for a morning walk, running to the store, hugging your mother. The ugliness of the world begs me to dip my foot in, beckons me to scoop my hands in, wipe it over my face and breath it in deep so my breath exhales gasoline, my muscles clinch and flex to turn my insides out. That is an urge, and somewhere inside of me, perhaps I was constructed that way, a blueprint of pain but of course this is a choice as is taking the other route. One of seeing the humanness of that mother’s struggle, of being able to identify with the vast innocence of a child pausing, then stopping, then picking up, then examining a bottle cap on the sidewalk all while the dog pulls, the clouds sputter and exhale droplets of rain in tired heaves, and waiting as she hands this metal gift to her mother who sticks it in her windbreaker, cooing her child on. “Come, let’s go. It’s going to rain.” I find that discovering the secrets of the everyday is a choice, a quiet careful deliberation best done with a soundtrack.

Moviola’s new record “Scrape and Cuss” and all of their back catalog are now available for streaming.

 

photo of Richard and Istvan by Michael Galinsky. Thanks, Mike-B

https://moviolamusic.bandcamp.com/

Jenny Mae. April 9th. 2020.

April 10, 2020

“Don’t come to the fair, you will only get hurt, I don’t want you there. It’s my time and I don’t need you to bring me down,” she said this over the phone, we were ready to go off to college soon and the Clark County Fair was the biggest event of the summer for most of the kids who went to Northeastern High School. My brother and I had to go every year, to work at the Catawba Methodist Church Sausage House, or something like that. Bob, our minister/stepfather, would tell us of our responsibility to the church. We would go, ditch off somewhere, looking for the other kids who had beer and some weed to smoke in the campers that lined the back of the barns filled with fancy chickens, hogs, lambs and cattle. I would dart around the mid-way, the summer drawing out all the moisture I had, I’d be covered in sweat, and the flies would fawn over my limbs. After a few hours I was ready to leave. The fair held very little for me. This was different though; we were recent high school graduates and ready to go off to Columbus. She was my girlfriend. My sweetheart. “Jenny, c’mon. Why wouldn’t you want me to go?” I was annoyed and pleading. Distrust hung over the line. “Because you won’t like anybody there, Mark Markley, Brian Stoops, you’ll just get drunk and be annoyed. Its’s a tradition, we girls get a camper and play quarters. I don’t want you there. Period.”  Later she would come around, giggling, and pulling me close in my bedroom, a photo of Lou Reed torn from Rolling Stone stuck besides my bed, “you shouldn’t worry about those guys, I’m just teasing them,” she climbed on top of me pulling off her shirt. She liked to flex her love until it finally cut me down. This would be a lifelong pattern.

I couldn’t wait to move out of the house, I felt smothered, a fear growing in me that the longer I had to stay, the less chances I had to leave. The rituals of high school did nothing for me, they were something that happened to the other kids-I watched from a distance, books and records fortifying me, but Jenny pulled me into that world. The world of institutionalized rituals, prom, Friday night football games, hog roasts, pep rallies, the American Flag strung up on porches every morning, the fair, all of it fell at my feet and I tried in my adolescent way to step over it. But Jenny had other ideas and if I was her boyfriend, I had to take part, but only at a distance, her choosing.  Which left me at home, feeling humiliated and filled with anxiety.

I wanted to collect the smiles she offered me, put them in my back pocket for later when the depression or sadness rose around me. She was easy to laugh, maybe the easiest I have ever known but underneath that laughter was a razor that would cut the flowers that seemed to pop up behind her. There was a restlessness that rose and washed away everything before and after her, and for myself it only increased some of the doubt that was already present from the beginning, before I could name it. Happiness was temporary, but the mundane lined with murky darkness was always present. I went through my life looking for the smiles, the raised eyebrows and laughter of lovers, like a child in the lawn doing cartwheels, “lookie mom, mom…look!” It was a way to live, hopscotching from one smile, one beam from a beautiful face to another, with one hand on the door. Temporary was the norm, change was not. There is a difference of course, change involves introspection, motivation, encouragement. From Jenny, who resisted change as if she would choke on it, wrestling it with teeth bared, her viciousness at her peek, she would rather destroy everything around her to stay the same. Over the years she would eye me skeptically and with a sense of judgement, “you think your life is better than mine” she spat at me one afternoon, her yellowed hands and red lipstick smudged from the can of beer she held in a brown bag that wasn’t fooling anyone. “No, I don’t” I sighed, “I just want to help you.” She would scowl, “fuck you” followed by an apology, “I’m sorry, you have a nice life, a beautiful wife and kids…I’m a fucking mess and I’ll never change.” Gazing over my shoulder, High Street just a parking lot away, “why don’t you go on home?” I asked. She had made her way to campus to watch the Ohio State Marching Band warm up before the football game, and bounced around the bars while the game went on and now, nearing seven pm, the early fall sun sinking away, a slow pull of the curtain, she was wasted miles from her tiny apartment. “I don’t want to….why don’t you go home to your fucking perfect life?” she blurted out followed by another apology.

There was of course, nothing perfect about the life I lived, underneath it all was doubt, anxiety, fear and of course there was happiness, and love. A large mixture of what-the-fuck, thrown in but in some ways she was correct, the life I had lived just six years prior was one that was on the verge of ending, one thought decision of not wanting a Motel 6 cleaning woman from not discovering my blown-out brains, followed by the loving kindness of a wife who gently coaxed me into treatment, into sobriety, literally one moment at a time. When she said those things it stabbed at me, like a soft poke into my underbelly because I doubted it all. Nothing lasts, this was burned into me from the earliest age, with every moment of pleasure, of calm the drift towards pain was inching closer, not even over the edge but from the sky, it was a cloud that crowded everything out. At least that is what it felt like, but of course everything changes, we move through life like we are on the longest escalator, a moving sidewalk where we can either run forward but it’s never going backward, we are stuck on it. I did learn to breath in the happiness of childbirth, of holding hands, of whispering in the dark. Later, when my marriage was slipping away, broken up by bits of mis-communication, hiding and frustration, there below me, around me, I shook in the darkness of a depression that had been fed by secrets and the hiding, oh the hiding and the fear of being alone. It was there in all its’ resplendent murky gloom. There seventeen years from the last Natural Light, that somewhere, half-finished, it was still waiting for me to pick it up, lifting it to my lips and swallowing the last of the bottle, I shimmied out of my clothes, climbed and slowly sunk in the water, it was cold, bracing my body didn’t help, after a few minutes, the rain falling softly, my teeth started chattering, not from fear but because it was cold, early spring. The water didn’t hold me that day, but it calls at times louder than ever. That night, as I felt the muck under my feet, the rain hitting my face, splashing the brown water around me, I felt the string of love, that traveled from twenty miles away, I was pulled out—once again by a woman.

We were in Athens, it was Springfest during the mid-eighties, most likely 1987—we had done an evening and half a day of drinking. Night-Day-Drinking. Chris Biester lived on Mill Street, just a few blocks from the annual free music festival, one I had fond memories of as a boy, my very first concert. Jay Ferguson, he of Spirit and Jo Jo Gunn, hot on the heals of his break-out hit, “Thunder Island” although his new single, “Shake-Down Cruise” has aged about as well as the title would imply, later I saw Commander Cody and other acts, from the age of 10 to 14 I went every year. This time, Jenny had grow her hair long, she had entered a phase where she was dropping acid, listening to the Grateful Dead and wearing long skirts. I had entered my serious-music phase, had curly locks, and had started working at a corporate record store on High Street, I would forgo the weed and acid for Black Label and Natural Light—my tastes were simple. It was mid-afternoon, we had been eyeing a bearded man all day who had been carrying around a bottle of Jack Daniels from the moment we arrived around noon, he was fully clothed at the time and as Jenny nudged me towards Chris’s apartment for an afternoon nap she pointed out the poor fellow. Laid bare in only his ripped jean shorts, zipper undone and soaked with piss, he was laying on the ground the empty bottle near his head while several police officers tried to rouse him. “Guess he can’t handle a whole bottle of Jack” Jenny cracked, as she took my hand. He hobbled to Chris’s, laughing all the way and made our way to his bed room which was down a long hallway off the kitchen. He lived with a bunch of other musicians, he must have been a junior or senior at Ohio University and his room was a mess, piles of clothes on the floor, posters on the wall, empty beer bottles used for ashtrays. In the living room a beer light hung on the wall, a giant Bob Marley poster, several foot long bongs next to dog hair covered couches, the entire house smelled of must, marijuana and foot. Climbing into bed, Jenny grabbed me, “let’s fuck” she cooed and soon we were in one another’s arms. Out of the blue we heard voices down the hall, “where is the bathroom?!” some college girls were heading down the hallway, “Bela, go block the door, I’m fucking naked” Jenny ordered. Flinging myself against the door to protect Jenny’s honor, the door suddenly opened out, and I fell down the hallway through a chorus of “ewww, he’s naked!”, “Oh my God!” and one “he’s kinda cute” as I tumbled through a small pack of drunken college girls. On the other end of the hallway Jenny yelled, “Don’t worry girls, he’s mine and we were just finishing up!”

This was the Jenny I like to remember, the one who during an absurdly boring cookout said, “hey, why don’t you put your dick in a hot dog bun and bring it out on a platter?” Somehow, I thought this was a good idea and she lathered it up with some mustard and yelled, “Bela has some franks right off the grill!” into the living room, we were promptly kicked out and lost that friendship. “Totally worth it” she cackled on the way home. She of course told everybody that story, even my grandmother, “hey grandma, guess what Bela did last week? He put his youknowwhat in a hot-dog bun!” My grandmother, who always got a kick out of hearing bawdy behavior would howl, “Bela, you deeed vat?!! No vay, you did dat?!” “Well grandma, it was Jenny’s idea.” “Noooo, she would not tink of someting like dat, no vay!” “Grandma, I told him not to do it! But, you know if he’s drinking, you can’t tell him anything” she smiled at me while shaking her head. “Wash your hands” instructed my grandmother. We were at Larry’s one night, I was with a new lover and Jenny was with her boyfriend, the booth was crowded, Jenny went to the rest room and came back laughing. “Bela, I thought you should know that some slut put your name up on the dick tree in the women’s rest room but I just crossed it out to spare your new girlfriend from seeing it.” “Hey, is my name on there?!” Jerry howled. “fuck no, you actually have to fuck someone to get your dick on there,” Jenny replied while drawing her drink to her lips. She spared no one in her antics. Jenny would have turned 52 on April 9th.

 

Jerry Wick & Bela Koe-Krompecher (Jay Brown photo)

Jenny Mae & Jeff Regensburger (jeff was also in Gaunt, photo Jay Brown)

Sleeping.

February 23, 2020

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

 

Sleeping.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Looking. (from Punks Around vol 9)

February 6, 2020

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“It’s o.k., I’m Mary.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“yes, I remember—she’s nice.”

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

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

“Jesus” she sighed and washed her hands.

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

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

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

https://www.punkswithlunch.org/

https://safepointohio.org/

https://punksaround.com/IMG_2550LZFZ6536

 

January 10th.

January 12, 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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