Category Archive: Short Stories

Sep 10

Seven Years

“You are late and, therefore, you suck!” she greets him.
He chuckles. “And you are even  more late than me,” he observes. “And as sweet as always.”
She looks at him through squinting eyes. “And you are uglier than usual” she retorts.
He squints back. It’s their thing – the expression they always use when they are “pretend-pissed” at each other.

Then, a smile forms on their lips, and all mock-anger leaves their eyes. His eyebrows soften, his chin relaxes, and she can feel her own face loosening up, as their eyes become livelier… lighter. It’s almost exactly like it used to be, except the rest of their world feels so much heavier now, she thinks.

That’s when the first, innocent raindrop hits the bridge of her nose. She peers at the sky, her tiny eyebrows furrowed, her blue-green eyes turning grey. Fantastic, she tells herself. The one day she gets to go on a walk with him, and the weather sucks.

During the weeks before this moment, she had spent the better part of her evenings fantasizing about what seeing him again would have been like. She had envisioned the two of them lying on the grass after a long, satisfying walk, their faces turned towards the blue sky, their skins soaking up the sun, birds chirping all around and the faintest smell of jasmine flowers tickling their noses.

She had accepted that reality would have differed from her dreams somewhat, but not this drastically: the streets are quickly turning the color of cement, as the light gets sucked out of the sky, and the air around them becomes stickier and gloomier.

“It’s only a little rain” he reassures her, tugging at her skirt, gently. Just like that, she feels a tad less pessimistic, and the two of them start walking, in silence. He keeps his hands in his pockets. She keeps hers crossed over her chest.

“You are not going to be intimidated by a little rain, right?” he prods her. She ignores him, her eyes skeptically evaluating the large black sheet of clouds steadily mushrooming above their heads. The drizzle quickly turns into a light shower, tickling the surface of their skin.

“Do you know how to swim?” she asks.

“Do I have to remind you that I’m a certified scuba-diver?” he replies.

“Then perhaps you should have brought your gear…because you’ll need it,” she tells him, ominously.

Seconds later, it’s pouring.

“Rain in August!” he exclaims. Frankly, he’s almost as pissed as she is. He had been looking forward to this walk for months now, maybe years. And, now, the whole day is ruined.

“This is not rain,” she complains. “It’s a monsoon! It’s…. it’s like Fantozzi’s cloud – Bad luck literally follows us around!”

He looks at her closely, trying to detect early signs of disappointment in the almost invisible line on her forehead.

“What are you staring at?” She quickly places a hand over her forehead. Although she is only twenty-three, she feels old.

“Your boobs” he replies, shrugging his shoulders.

“Ha… ha… Very funny.” Out of nowhere, she covers his face with her hand and presses hard enough to make a point, while being careful not to hurt him. She then pinches his nose, sighs loudly and calls him “peste,” which is a cute way of saying that someone is being a pain in the ass. Seven years ago, she would have reacted in the exact same way, the only difference being that she wouldn’t have been self-conscious about wrinkles, but about a bad grade she got, or having a big pimple on her forehead. Even though he never understood why, he had missed her slightly overblown reactions, the “pestes” and the nose-pinching. A lot.

“We are getting drenched.” She observes, taking him back to the present moment.

“Should we take shelter inside a cinema or something?”

“You are wearing white pants, and I want to see your underwear, so no!” she replies, her eyes glittering with energy and a shade of malice, which he finds terribly sexy.

“I don’t care: it’s nothing you haven’t seen before,” he shrugs.

“Great then. Let’s go!” She grabs his hand and pulls him decisively towards the darkness, the rain now beating furiously on their faces and backs.

They are walking towards the center of Rome. More than walking, it feels like swimming. Water drips from their hair and eyelids, collecting in the creases of their clothes, soaking into his socks, and making her shirt stick to her body. Seven years, and her figure has retained the slenderness of youth. Her breasts have grown, however, he observes. (Or “matured,” as she puts it.)

He, instead, is heavier around the belly. “Long gone are the days in which I could eat junk food all day!” He complains. Then, he gives her a longing look, with those deep, almost black eyes of his. “I remember those days,” she says, placing her hand comfortably around his waist. Organically, perhaps unwittingly, their feet adjust to each other’s pace. Soon, they are moving in unison, warmth irradiating from their bodies, protecting them from the cold.

Apart from getting completely drenched, they don’t do anything special. One of her sandals breaks in the middle of an intersection, so he is “forced” to carry her, like a newly wed bride, down the crowded street of Cola di Rienzo. People stare at them and laugh openly, but that’s okay, because they are the first to find this situation hilarious.

At the store, the only sandal that fits her is a size 40 (which, in case you are not familiar with European sizes, is something that only one of Cinderella’s evil sisters would wear.) He teases her. She calls him “peste” again, pinches him, and threatens to kick his ass. They look at each other in that way, with lust, with brightness, with the faith that you have in someone who has loved you deeply, hungrily – not like the others.

But, this small episode aside, nothing transcendental happens.

——

They talk about light things:

“Only because a chandelier fell over my head once, that doesn’t mean che sono sfigato!” he says.

“What about the time you fell from the never-ending flight of stairs at Piazza del Popolo, crashing into a poor old lady?”

“I only almost hit her… I didn’t crash into her. And she wasn’t that old,” he protests.

“And the time you got hit by a taxi?” …

“That was not bad luck – just the consequence of living in Italy!”

“Fine, but the monsoon…” she says, pointing at the sky “this is bad luck! Pure sfiga!”

——

They talk about heavy things:

“I’m relieved that you are single, you know?” he confesses. “Every time you sent me a message or called, I was always terrified you were inviting me to your wedding.”

“Oh, he would have rather cut his balls than married me,” she says, dismissing the whole thing with a light wave of her hand, as if she were shooing a fly from under her nose.

She is acting tough, but he knows that, inside, she is hurting. Although he wants to stop, turn to her, take her by the shoulders, look straight into her eyes and state the simple truth – “the guy’s an idiot!” – he keeps his mouth shut. That’s what you do when you love someone: you don’t say anything bad about the people they love. Not even when it’s true. Especially if it’s true.

Instead, he changes the subject. “Seriously, I think about it sometimes. Wouldn’t it be funny if…” They are walking near St. Peter’s now. She is wearing her Cinderella’s evil sister’s shoes, he is carrying a box containing her old sandals, and, perhaps not so trivially, they are holding hands.

“If the two of us ended up getting married, you mean?” she says, gently squeezing his arm.

“Yeah.” He nods. And, simultaneously, a thought occurs to him: this is one of the things he likes about her – how she delicately brings unspoken dreams into the realm of the real, by simply having the courage to acknowledge them.

She doesn’t say anything, and, for some time, they walking in the most noisy of silences, overflowing with blaring horns, angry drivers cussing each other, and the annoyingly high-pitched voice of a tiny guide trying to sell her private tour of St. Peter to a group of clueless tourists who probably don’t understand a word of what she is saying.

Amidst the Roman chaos, the two of them are incredibly quiet, their souls incredibly close, their attention focused solely on the warmth of unspoken possibilities.

“It would be funny… but strange,” she says, finally.

“Why strange?” he asks, in a whisper. Honestly, he’s almost afraid of the answer.

“I mean, after all these years… “ she turns around, places her free hand on his shoulder, to stop him. “We were teenagers when we got together.” She makes sure to focus on his dark, deep eyes as she speaks to him. “Now we are adults. It would be insane if the first person we loved ended up being the person we finally end up with!”

“Not insane…more like a fairytale…” looking right back at her. He hopes that, if he looks hard enough, he will not just see her eyes, but know what she thinks, what she feels…

She holds his gaze for about a millisecond, then looks away. He can see she is frowning.

“What’s wrong with fairytales?”

Her usually blue-green eyes, now still greyish, look beyond him now, as if they were piercing through his body.

“Nothing” she finally brings herself to say.

Maybe, she reflects, there isn’t anything wrong with fairytales. After all, the time they are spending together has a surreal quality to it – almost fairytale-like, if you wanted to be cheesy about it.

She pulls his t-shirt forward gently and, just like that, they resume their walk.

——

They buy an umbrella.

Photographer: Krista Guenin

——

Then, capriciously, the rain stops.

——

For the rest of the day, it’s as though nothing has ever changed. She leans on his shoulder while they watch a movie; he whispers sweet things to her ear. She gets tipsy on raindrops of wine; he offers to carry her purse. Simple things, really, ordinary gestures of affection that have been exchanged between billions of other people already, for hundreds of years. But, when they hug goodbye underneath the stairs that lead to her house, he tells her: “I am here for you.”

Just like that, her tough façade breaks, and she starts crying.

Her reaction is not out of the ordinary. After all, she has had a rough year. No, the extraordinary thing is that she feels comfortable enough to cry in front of him because, when he tells her that he is there for her, he means it.

With him, she doesn’t only feel safe: she is safe.

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Sep 02

Moonlight Memory

When I was a child, I was plagued with a variety of nighttime issues. The majority of them were innocuous things brought on by the simple process of growing rapidly, things like bone-deep aching pain in my calves as the sinew stretched and lengthened in the quiet evolving hours. These would send me creeping softly to the corner of my parents’ bedroom door, where I would cry barely audibly in hopes that I would wake my mother (and only my mother) for help. She was a light sleeper, dad was not. And dad was much more surly when woken at odd hours. But I digress.

What I liked the most – if I can say honestly that I liked any of these things – was the inexplicable wakefulness that occurred every few months. No reason or rhyme to these episodes: I would be peacefully asleep one moment, then suddenly I was as awake as if it were noon. Sometimes it would happen a few times in the same month, sometimes I would go nearly six months in between. But came it did, without cause or provocation, like an old friend sneaking in through the window to take you out on the town.

 

Photographer: Jessica Lucia

In the wintertime, there were often fires in the fireplace. I would creep from my cozy flannel sheets to tiptoe into the living room, where the soft glow from the dying embers would cast dim shadows to dance on the furniture. I would tuck my knees up inside my long (and usually hideous) nightgown as I sat on the brick hearth, trying to thaw my frozen feet. My feet were always bare, even in the dead of winter, and the fire was always a relief for numb toes. I would dreamily watch as the last remnants of flame snuggled into the coals, not really thinking about anything in particular, simply enjoying the hushed silence of the house surrounded by a sleeping world.

Other times, I might simply sneak to the refrigerator. My family had two growing boys and my mother often bought large quantities of things from Costco, like chocolate syrup, maple syrup, whipped cream, and sour cream. All things I coveted jealously and would gobble up without hesitation or second thought. So, knowing I oughtn’t, I would pad lightly to the kitchen as stealthily as my bare feet could carry me, and gulp down highly sugared and fat-laden foods like a giant invading mouse. Nibbling a bit of cheese here, a pastry there, drinking syrup straight from the bottle, and eating sour cream by the spoonful. A can of soda, a half-eaten candy-bar, even a few of my favorite vegetables weren’t safe. Then, having gorged myself, I would almost always wash it down with several gulps of cold, creamy milk, and furtively make my way back to bed, half-blinded by the refrigerator light.

But best of all was the summer.

The summer time was hot, even at night. There were days when the lowest temperature of the day was still in the 90-degree range. And sometimes it was humid along with it, forcing us to kick off our covers and sleep with the fans on. On the nights when I would suddenly wake in the summer, it was as though the very air was beckoning me outside. And so – in bare feet – I would make my way through the house to the back door, where I would sneak outside to our enormous back yard. Often as not, the moon was brightly shining, and I would walk onto the wide grassy lawn, often wet from the sprinklers, enjoying the cool sensation on my burning soles. I would look up and wave. I don’t know why I waved at the moon. I do it still. And then I would dance.

It was only dancing in the loosest term. It was more like holding my arms out and spinning, face turned to the heavens, dipping and weaving with imaginary music. Sometimes I would hum little tunes, or make up lyrics on the spot to a song that didn’t have any flow or rhythm to it at all, but always quietly so I didn’t wake anyone. Sometimes the dog would join in the dancing, slowly and sleepily, having been roused by my sudden appearance. The wet grass would coat my naked toes, which was always a challenge to wipe off before going back inside, to avoid arousing suspicion.

But, even better than dancing in the moonlight… Water.

The pool was respectably sized, though not the largest by any means, and deeper than I was tall at its lowest point. If I was awake when everyone else was, and it happened to be dark out, the underwater light would illuminate the whole thing. But for some reason, with the light on, I held this terror that an impossibly-sized shark lived in the deep end and would chase me as I got to the shallow end. As a result, when I went to exit the pool – even if it had been a perfectly relaxing swim to that point – I would race through the shallow end. It terrified me, this irrational and non-existent shark.

But if all the lights were off, there was no threat of an unseen imaginary shark. And so it was that – sometimes, just sometimes – I would slowly wade into the dark waters. I only did this on starry nights, when there was no moon. I would move slowly, secretively, feeling the cool water caress my skin where the hot air kissed it only just before. I played a little game to see if I could get into the water without making ripples, feeling almost guilty about marring the glass-smooth surface. And then I would turn, floating on my back, and fall into the Milky Way.

There are no words to describe proper night swimming. It has to be quiet, soft, and tender. Oh, certainly, there is skinny-dipping and other night-aquatic activity, both innocent and risqué. But there is a sacred art to the night swim, wherein the breath becomes a hymn, and buoyancy a prayer. There is truth beneath the surface that will bear you up, and an echo of the womb sleeps in the depths. The stars would rain down on me in their eternal dance, sheltering me like a canopy and yet being as wide and far and welcoming as only they can manage. There was never a coldness to them, only a silvery journey across the endless sky. It was me, the water, and the stars. Nothing else existed. I might as well have been floating in the constellations myself, just a little speck in a quiet, dark river.

Now, the night sky is often hidden by the harsh glow from street lights, and I seldom have the time to indulge my old night-time habits. But somewhere deep within me, there is a little girl, still floating in the starry sky, still dancing in the moonlight, still sitting by the firelight, and who still loves sneaking foods from the fridge. I wonder sometimes if one of my own children will do something similar. I want to be able to give them that gift. But I cannot explain why I would wake in the middle of the night, and cannot predict that they will also. Perhaps this gift was given to me only.

I feel sorry for the world if I was the only one to share in the joy of the gentle night.

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May 01

Inheritence

When I was seventeen, I lived with my grandmother in a five bedroom house with seven other people, most of whom were cousins of the second and third variety. I had only lived in NC for a couple of years and was fairly new to this side of the family; dysfunction ran rampant throughout. I had inherited a plethora of crack-heads, convicts, or worse, but I was one of them, one of the fold. I felt at home among them, felt welcome.

Photographer: Enviied

Two of the cousins and I were teenagers and, with Gram closing in on 60, we took full advantage of the situation: we came and went at all hours, drank, brought girls in and out as if on a conveyor belt. Gram made plenty of threats, hollered and screamed, but we paid no attention. She had a new boyfriend at the time, and he would try to talk to us, but that only made things worse.
Dave was a tiny little man, short in stature and as skinny as a malnourished puppy. Dave didn’t like to work; he had a simple approach to life: he liked to sit in the yard with a cold beer in his hands, soaking in the sun. As a result, his skin looked like a tanned hide, a dark leathery brown. Dave had been promising Gram that he was entitled to veterans benefits; his daughter was collecting the checks in Pennsylvania, and all he had to do was contact the V.A. and give them his new address to start getting his pension sent to him in NC. Every time she would raise enough hell to get him to try, he would concoct some grandiose story about why the check had been delayed yet again. It soon became clear to everyone that he was a freeloader–clear to everyone but Gram.
She was glad to have someone to talk to, someone she could spend time with; she liked being doted on, even if Dave spent much of his time drunk. He tried to compensate for his employment status by doing chores around the house: cooking, cleaning, doing the laundry and making her laugh, which–I have to say–was a rarity before Dave came along. I can’t speak for his true feelings toward her, but I can say that he made her feel good… for a while, anyway.
Gram soon became frustrated with Dave’s drinking; she tried talking to him about it. When that didn’t work, she started yelling, then the silent treatment and, eventually, withholding cash. Dave replied by going to friend’s houses to do his drinking. He would stay gone a day or two and, when he came back, all would be forgiven. The harder Gram tried to rein him in, the more he would buck against her. Eventually, she started drinking with him; I guess it was her way of keeping him close.
Gram had been 15 years sober by then. At one time, however, she had been what most people would consider a “wino.” My mother had told me stories about my grandmother from when she had first moved to NC. Stories of hiding Gram’s bottle from her, or pouring out the stash she found in the cabinet under the bathroom sink. She had told me stories of Gram, suffering from withdrawals, shaking to the point she couldn’t lift a glass to her lips to have a snort that would relieve the pain. She would wrap a towel around the back of her neck, putting one end in her hand and grabbing a glass of whatever poison she was drinking that day. She would grab the other end in a fist and pull down on it—using the towel as a rope and her neck as a pulley—pulling the glass off the table and toward her mouth. This would get her that first taste or two, until she could manage to do the work on her own, without spilling too much.
It didn’t take long for that woman to reemerge after she had that first taste in 15 years. Soon, she was drunk constantly, and became belligerent to the point that no one knew what to do with her – including Dave – but he was enjoying the new freedom to drink all he could pour down, and wasn’t keen on relinquishing it. So, instead of trying to keep her from falling into that hole again, he babysat her, even as the rest of us grew to hate him for Gram’s backslide.
Things were getting bad, but I had grown up with an alcoholic father, and knew the stories of how Gram was before, what I didn’t know, however, was the one thing that Gram used to do that Momma never shared with me.
I got home in the early morning hours of that Saturday morning. This wasn’t unusual, I was having a great summer, and it wasn’t out of the ordinary for me to see the sunrise before I went to sleep. I went into the rear bedroom that I shared with my two cousins, Bobby and James. I lay down on the love-seat couch we kept back there. Bobby, the one cousin closest to my own age, was already asleep in the bed. I was just starting to doze when I heard Dave’s shrill voice in the dining room.
“What the fuck are you doing?!”
I could hear Gram saying something, but her words were a drunken slur, so unintelligible they could hardly pass for spoken English.
“Give me that!”
I heard Gram say something else, then I heard—what sounded like—them tussling; unless I was wrong, he was trying to take—whatever it was—from her. I decided that I was needed in the dining room. I walked out of the bedroom door, and I could see down the short hallway, through the kitchen and into the dining room, but only part of the room was visible from where I was. The lights were on and I could hear them in there; they were definitely in some sort of feeble-old-drunk struggle. My pace quickened, ready to body slam Dave for fuckin’ with my Gram, but, as I entered the room, the scene that presented itself  before me were so perplexing  that I was unable to do anything  other than stare, just trying to take it all in. When I entered the room, they were indeed struggling over something, and they both stopped as I barreled into the room; I could see clearly that it was a kitchen steak knife. I could also see that Gram was bleeding–from her wrists.
“Jason, go to bed, she’s fine. I got this under control.”
Dave’s words spurred me to action, and I started toward her saying, ‘Fuck you, you go to bed.”
Had she cut herself?! What the fuck was going on? I reached over Dave and grabbed the knife from her hand.
“Okay, give me that, and go to bed. I can handle it from here.”
I put my face up against his—so close I could smell stale beer and cheap cigarettes—and I screamed into it, using every ounce of strength in me to force the words into his face.
“GET THE FUCK OUT OF MY WAY, OR I WILL HURT YOU, OLD MAN!”
Dave’s retreat was instantaneous; my message came through, and he responded as I expected him to. I would have hated to put my hands on him, but my grandmother was bleeding, and I needed to see to her.
“Jashun, git ou’ve ere.” Her eyes stayed pointed at the table, as if her shame was too heavy for her to lift her head.
“Gram, I won’t. What happened?”
Dave stepped up close behind me, he seemed desperate to get me out of the room, “She cut herself because I …”
“Who asked you? Shut the fuck up, and let me handle this.”
In a tone reserved for unruly toddlers and disobedient pets he said, “I’m just trying…”
I turned on him allowing the fury that was building in me to show through my eyes and put my finger in his face but said in a level voice, “Not another word. Do you hear me?”
He nodded and took a step away from me. I turned to my grandmother again.
“Gram, what happened?”
“I did it, now you go to schleep and lemme taw shoo Dave.”
“What the fuck is going on?” Bobby? I turn to see him wiping his eyes and standing in the doorway.
“I don’t know. I think she’s cut herself.”
“What!? What the fuck?!”
“Get some towels and put them on her wrist. I’m going to call an ambulance.”

Both she and Dave protested loudly, but I ignored them. I dialed 911 and requested an ambulance. I then dialed my mother’s number.
The two of us hadn’t spoken in months; whenever we had an argument, it would end in me packing all my things into an army duffel I kept just for such occasions. We wouldn’t see or speak to each other for long periods of time. But this transcended that; I was obligated to tell Momma.
“Hello?” It was her; I could hear the twenty years of chain smoking in her husky drawl.
“Momma, it’s me. I think Gram cut herself. I called an ambulance. They’re on the way. I don’t know what to do. You have to help me. What am I supposed to do?”
“Wait, what?” I could hear her brain deciphering what I had told her. “Is she drunk?” Momma hadn’t been aware of Gram’s drinking. I certainly hadn’t told her.
“Yes.”
The conversation didn’t last long; I relayed the pertinent information, she absorbed it—better than I expected—and then we hung up so she could make the journey to Gram’s. I went back to the dining room, where Bobby was receiving a thorough cussing. Dave, having gotten no more sympathy from Bobby than he had gotten from me, had resorted to patting Gram on the shoulder while rubbing her back, cooing in her ear all the while, like a pigeon on a stoop.
In that moment, I could have beaten him, pummeled him into a coarse powder and threw it to the wind. The rage building in me threatened to consume me, to overcome my willpower and force me to lash out at him in response to the fear and confusion that were ripping at my mind like ravenous hyenas. He never knew it, but he had been within a whit of walking with a limp for years to come.
“Momma’s on her way.”
“Ammit, Jashun, Why canth you mine your own damn biznith?”
“This is my business, and you left me no choice. I had to call her.” My patience was wearing thin and it was evident in my voice as I said this.
“Mother fucker,” These words were spoken clearly, as if she hadn’t drank a drop, spoken with an ease that comes with practice, “You a pain in an ass.”
I turned my attention to Bobby; his face bore the shocked look of a young man that has just woken up in the Twilight Zone. He was holding a towel to Gram’s wrist and staring at the wall on the far side of the dining room. I don’t know where he was in that moment, but he certainly wasn’t in that room.  Wherever he was, he was furious.
“Bobby.”
He didn’t even flinch; his name had soared over him like a loosely gripped balloon at a parade. I thought about leaving him be, letting him continue to dwell in his fantasy, but I wanted to know what he was hiding under that towel.
“Bobby!”
He snapped to this time; his head whipped around, forcing his neck to crackle. He didn’t say a word, but I could see in his eyes that he was with me now, shaken, but not useless.
“How’s it look?”
“I don’t know, haven’t looked.”

I walked to where he was kneeling beside the chair Gram was slumped into and stood behind him, peeking over his shoulder. Gram grumbled something that was hardly recognizable as human in nature when he removed the towel and turned her wrist so we could see.
It wasn’t nearly as bad as I had imagined. The amount of blood I had seen when I first walked into the room had convinced me that Gram was not long for this world, but what I saw then  told another tale altogether. Her wrist was scratched several times in lines that ran parallel with her wrist joint; a couple of them still showed splotchy bleeding, but she could have done as much damage pruning roses.
Just then, headlights lit up the window, and I realized that Momma was pulling into the driveway.
As Momma charged into the house; her eyes wore a glaze that whispered of dreams lost to this nightmare. Her mouth was set in a rigid line, and I could see that she was frantic with worry. Her actions would show none of her trepidation. She took full control of the next thirty minutes.

She started by looking at the wounds. She stepped around Bobby without uttering a word to anyone, and he knew to get out of the way.
As she pulled the towel from Gram’s wrist, I said, “I just saw it. It’s not bad.”
Momma looked at the scratches on her mother’s wrist, and even though she didn’t actually do so, there was a visible sigh of relief.
“What the fuck is your problem?” Momma looked up into Gram’s face as she spoke, but before Gram could say a word Momma asked her, “Are you fuckin’ stupid?”
Gram’s face twisted into an angry snarl, and she started to speak, but the words that came out of her mouth amounted to nothing more than incoherent blathering.
“And you’re fuckin’ drunk.”
The accusation was laden with hurt and anger; Gram cringed away from it like a hand was sure to follow, aiming to slap the alcohol out of her. It never came.
Just then Dave spoke up, apparently hoping to finally get the sympathy he was due. “Robin, she wa…”
“You better shut the fuck up, you little motherfucker. My mother has been sober a long time. Then you come along… look at her. This is your fault. So, you better just shut the FUCK UP!”
Dave huffed and puffed like a card sharp caught with a sleeve full of aces, but uttered not a word. From the look in Momma’s eye, it was a good thing he didn’t.
Just then, an ambulance pulled up out front. Momma went out the back door to usher them in that way; the front door had long ago been nailed shut. She held the door open for them, and I heard her talking up a storm.
“She had a few drinks, mixed her pills with it and had an accident. It looked really bad at first, but once we cleaned it up it looks like she’ll be fine.”
“What kind of accident?”
“She scratched herself up pretty good, but we can’t figure out how. She’s too fucked up to tell us.”
“Okay, well we’re here, and we have to at least look at it.”

They did, and the police came, but by then the paramedics had bandaged her up and never acted like they suspected anything was wrong, so they all left us there with Gram, who was fading fast. She was hanging her head and unwilling to attempt conversation anymore.
Momma went through the house looking for sharp objects. She took knives—even the plastic butter knives you get with those prepackaged utensil pouches that come with to-go orders—she took pins and razors, anything that had an edge went into a bag. When her search was finished, she called me into the kitchen.
“I’m going to go home. It’s late, and I have to work in the morning. She should be fine now. She’ll go to sleep. Tell her I’ll be back tomorrow. Call me if anything happens.”
“What the fuck is going on, Momma?”
“She used to do this all the time. Haven’t you ever seen the scars on her wrists?”
I shook my head.
“Well, when she gets drunk, she cuts herself. Usually, it is just to get attention, but sometimes… sometimes she really tries. Anyway, go get some sleep.”
I kissed my Momma good night for the first time in months, and she left as quickly as she had come. Bobby had gone back to bed when the paramedics arrived. Dave was shuffling Gram to their bedroom.  I went into the back bedroom once again and laid down on the love seat to finally get some sleep.
What’s she doin’?” Bobby asked, from the darkness. He had been lying there quietly, no doubt reliving the last hour over and over.
“Goin’ to bed, Dave is putting her to bed anyway.”
“Kay. Fuckin’ crazy right?”
“Fuckin’ crazy.” I echoed.
There was no more chatter, nothing really left to say. Fuckin crazy had summed it up nicely.

Before long, I heard the deep, rhythmic breathing that will give away anyone sleeping soundly. I too fell into sleep quickly; it was a fitful and restless sleep, but deep, nonetheless.
Sometime later, I was startled awake by a noise. I wasn’t sure about what I had heard, wasn’t even sure I had heard it in the real world and not just in my dreams. My ears listened intently for a few minutes, but there was nothing there.
I closed my eyes again, trying to doze for the third time that night when it came: a shrill voice charging from the inner part of the house.
“What is that… where did you get that… give it to me… HEY, give it to me, NOW!”

Dave. Again.

I ran for the door and heard Bobby right behind me. We were headed back to the dining room. Déjà vu isn’t an accurate word for what I felt as I ran for the dining room again that night, but it’s close. I was awash in it, flooded by the feeling of having been there before. I tried to shake loose the idea that I was running into a macabre scene of blood and misery starring my grandmother, but it clung to me like an infant chimp to its mother.
I raced into that room fighting the truth; I wanted to imagine that I was crazy, confused; I wanted to believe that Bobby was falling prey to my madness, that we were both having delusional fragments of the night’s events steering our consciousness into this hysteria. I wanted—needed—my grandmother to be asleep; I needed to be dreaming, or wrong, anything but admitting to myself what was really happening.
You see, my grandmother was bleeding again when I entered that room; she was fighting Dave over a tiny piece of metal that she had used to open her other wrist. There was blood flowing down her raised forearm as she held it away from Dave.
She had ripped open a disposable razor and extricated the sliver of metal inside, using it to slice into herself. The wounds would prove to be superficial once again; Gram wasn’t ready to die—she was just begging for help; screaming for it.
My mother would end up moving into that house, along with my step-father, to keep an eye on Gram. Dave would be gone soon after. Gram missed him when he left. She never said it aloud and would vehemently deny such nonsense, but we all knew it.
In the months to come, I would look for the scars on her wrists, when I could get away with it, when her attention was elsewhere and I could look without her seeing—her knowing—what I was doing; never really hoping they would be gone that time, never really praying the gods would have erased the evidence, but allowing myself the time to check.

A little over a year later, I would cut myself much in the same way that Gram had. I was sad, and lonely; I was confused. And yes, I was drunk.

I went into the bathroom and took out a razor. I nearly took a piece of my thumb off trying to pop the top off of it so I could remove the steel inside, but I got it out after a little concentrated effort. I toyed with the idea of getting into the tub; I knew that water was supposed to help slow clotting, but I decided waiting to die warranted television. So, I sliced into my wrist, wincing at the horrible sting that it produced, and went to watch some T.V.

I woke the next day to a horrible headache and a puffy red wound on my wrist that felt like fire when I moved it. I was ashamed and scared, full of relief and sadness; I had lived, but I was still sad, still lonely.

I washed as much of the blood off as I could and went to the bar, where Momma was hustling beers to the kind of people you’d expect to see drinking in a redneck bar on the south side of Wilmington at eleven a.m. She was unusually busy, and I waited patiently for her to have time to walk over to me. When she did, I slid the sleeve of my shirt up so she could see what I had done, never saying a word.
She looked at it and said, “Oh Jesus, Jay. Come back here.”

She walked toward the storeroom in the back of the bar, and I followed. She never asked me why, never yelled or cried. She never called anyone; she just cleaned it up, put a bandage on it and went back to work.
There was an instant, while she was bandaging my wrist, when our eyes met. They locked onto one another, and I could see there what we both knew: it was in me. I had inherited this—this constant battle for happiness—from her and her mother; I had witnessed my legacy and was taking tentative steps towards claiming it.

I don’t consciously think about Gram when I think about dying, but I have a feeling that she’s there, somewhere deep inside me, whispering that, if I just take a little off the top—just open it enough—then someone will come along and save me.

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Mar 06

Reminiscence

Recently, I was asked a question and, in pondering the answer, I was suddenly overtaken by the memory of that day. It came upon me like a hungry tiger, tearing me to shreds and leaving a disemboweled lump of meat where, only moments before, was a thinking, feeling, functioning man.

 

Photographer: mayu**

Cotton Candy. The smell of it is floating through the air and sweetening each breath. This, in no small part, is making the day better. What else could I ask for? Not only did I get to ride The Bullitt this year (a big kid ride if there ever was one) but to walk in the parade too! I am eight years old, and my Father and a group of his “friends” (other men who lived their lives in the bottom of a bottle) are members of a Veteran’s group for people who saw combat in Vietnam. They have been asked to bring their families to walk in this year’s parade during the regional Franco-American festival.

We have known about this for weeks, and I hardly slept last night. We each wear a little t-shirt with the logo of the Veteran’s group on the front. I couldn’t be more proud. Some of us have little flags, and others pass out bumper stickers, but we are all having fun. There is something about everyone looking at you, waving, and just generally having a good time that puts a smile on my soul. Next, I’ll run for Senate and become an Astronaut. I am on top of the world.

Now, we are being addressed by the Governor of Maine. He is speaking of things I can’t and have no interest in understanding. I have better things to think about at my age: baseball cards, my next birthday, how to stop that stupid girl at school from pulling my hair every day. I start to imagine pushing her down the next time she does. My imagination runs wild while the speech continues. I wish Knight Rider would come out next. That would make this day complete.

In the middle of my fanciful daydreaming, my Father taps me on the shoulder and says, “Let’s go.” I don’t know where we are going, but I have little time to ask before he starts walking.

Walking with him is always hard. He moves with fast, long strides that eat up the ground in front of him in big gulps. Today is especially hard because there are people everywhere, milling around lazily, languidly looking at the trinkets being sold by the vendors and watching the children on the Merry-Go-Round. I am small and not exactly built to push my way through a crowd.
We walk only a few short blocks when we come to this house. It looks like every other apartment house in Lewiston: run down and begging for paint, sheets in more of the windows than the shades that are popular now.  Huge chunks of the asbestos siding are gone, wasted by the years of harsh winters and its bitter cold. In front of the apartment is a bicycle, missing both tires, and its chain has discolored the concrete of the sidewalk from years of sitting there, rusting. The body of the house is yellow with a dark brown on the windows and the one door that once had glass in the top third of it. A condemned sign wouldn’t look out of place here.

My Father knocks on the first door we come across after entering the building. We hear a yell from inside, and we enter. I already know what is in store for the rest of the day. I can smell the distinct odor of old beer that has been sitting in the can and getting hot and stale, a smell that I loathe.

I see that the room holds the men from the veteran’s group, and I can also tell within moments that few, if any, had stayed as long as we did after the parade. The slurring of their words, apparent in their voices, says that they have had a few drinks already. Five, maybe six men and a woman that must be somebody’s wife.. They are sitting around a glass topped table, with legs made of what looks like bent pipe―four separate pieces, connected, shaped like a large squarish C. The walls are dirty from years of cigarette smoke and not being cleaned, making what should be white look as though it were river mud; yellowish brown with hints of green.

In the adjoining room there are two other kids, so my brother and I know that these are our friends for the day, and we run off to see what games are currently afoot. This room is the same color but much smaller and contains a couch which I am sure has come from the side of the road. The smell of cigarette smoke and body odor lingers everywhere, and I know it is safest to not be seen or heard for the next few hours—if we can help it.

The afternoon progresses like most of this nature; there are beer runs and arguments, the voices get louder as the hours pass by, and the thoughts become less coherent. I have been in this situation as often as I have been in a room with a window.

********

I am playing and not really paying attention when it happens. Why? To what end? Have I looked too much like I am having fun? Was there an instant where I looked too much like my mother? I do not know. What I do know is there isn’t a warning―no loud crash or even an instant where I can feel the malevolence building. One second, I am playing happily, waiting for word to get ready for the few miles home with my Father weaving on the sidewalk, and the next there is a hand on the back of my neck, and it is squeezing. Hard.

I instinctively try to duck and run, but it’s too late. I have been caught unawares, and the fear grips me like a blanket wrapped around me in a restless sleep, getting tighter with each attempt at escape.
“Come ‘ere, I wan-na show you summten.” His breath hits me in the face and my stomach turns, exacerbating the terror that has begun to settle inside me. It smells of cheap beer, Marlboro Reds, and the not unfamiliar stench of hate. It’s a seething anger that I know well. He had had it rough, and I was ungrateful for all his sacrifices.  Just a spoiled little brat that doesn’t know how to be a good little boy―stupid and too much of a sissy boy for his tastes, in need of a little mettle in my blood.

As I am being dragged across the floor, trying to wrestle myself from his grip and getting nowhere, nobody seems to notice. There is no apparent lull in the conversation. No people crying out for my Father to release me; nothing out of the ordinary going on here at all.

“If you don’t quit squirming, you little motherfucker…” The threat is left open, allowing me poetic license to finish as I see fit. The options that my brain offers are no less frightening than anything he would have managed.

Where, I don’t know, but from somewhere, a set of handcuffs appears. The metal ones, not exactly like the ones issued by the police, but not the cheap kind with a lever that will unlock them if you can manage to get your finger on it. He reaches down and seizes me by the wrist and clicks the first bracelet on me before I see what he has. The other people in the room have stopped talking. They have all noticed that something is happening and are transfixed by the spectacle of a man dragging his son across the room. They watch, fascinated as it unfolds, rubberneckers to the car wreck that is in front of them.
Before he clicks the other bracelet in place, he slides it under the leg of the table so my wrists are close together. Had he been compassionate and put the other bracelet around the leg, I would have had some freedom to move. However, he is desperate to blame someone or something for the ruin that is his existence, and it is my turn. Again.

My struggles to free myself prove fruitless very quickly, and I start to cry. Not a whining wail or a screech―just tears, silent and accusing, dripping from my chin, streaming down my face and washing streaks of red into the pale color of my face.
“Whassamatter, crybaby?” he asks, bringing laughter from the other men in the room. I am too young to tell if this is uncomfortable laughter, or if the hate has spread to the others through osmosis.

I get tired fast, and my efforts to free myself start coming in spurts. I sit and try to find a comfortable way to position myself in order to rest between the attempts to free myself. I try everything. Picking up the table. Pulling helplessly against the pipe. I am just too small and weak to get anything accomplished. My father insults me and pushes me down with his foot while the other men laugh at his words and even have a chuckle or two when confronted with my tears. It always makes these types of men feel better to see someone suffer and writhe in pain. It makes them forget that they are miserable human beings, each lost in their own tragedy.

After I have been sufficiently humiliated and defeated, I become boring, and they lose interest. They resume the conversation as though I am not even there. The only woman  waits until it is obvious that she will suffer no ill will for doing so, and gets up to find the keys. I have been under this glass table for almost an hour, and the men are no longer even glancing through the glass to get a look at the kid trapped down there. The woman comes back with a bobby-pin, because the keys are nowhere to be found. She mutters something about how mean they all are. Her comment is greeted with some vulgarity and a warning to mind her business lest she find herself locked there in my stead.

My wrists begin hurting from all the pulling and moving about, red and scraped from the cheap metal of the handcuffs. My shoulders are burning from the struggle with my father as well as the exercise of trying to lift the table.
The woman manages to free one hand and looks at me with what little compassion a woman resigned to such a life can muster. She whispers, “Go in the other room, sweetie, and I’ll try to get the other one.”

I run into the living room, where I was playing so quietly only an hour before. There will be no more playing for me. Not today. Not for a few days. Once again, I have been reminded of my station in life and the reality of it all.

The woman comes in behind me and eventually does release me from the other bracelet of the cuffs. It takes her a few minutes, and the men start demanding she forget it, do it later. Eventually, she gets tired of their remarks and risks their wrath by saying something back. I do not hear it against the thunder in my eardrums that is my heartbeat. I internally beg her to stop, scared that her mouth will make this day worse for me.

I watch as she walks away after freeing me from the second bracelet. She sets the handcuffs on the table and grabs the beer she left there to help me. She sits down and tries to steer the conversation away from herself by saying something light and funny.

I sit on the couch, scared to move for fear of being noticed again. The tears are slowing down now, but still trickle down my face as if they’re not sure I am finished needing them, each one releasing more of the emotions that are holding me motionless―washing away the pity and the anger that consumes me.

This time, when it happens, I hear his chair. It drags across the floor ever so briefly. It sounds like nails on a chalkboard, not fingernails, but nails. I am afraid to hope he is going to the bathroom. Too frightened to turn my whole head and watch him,  I try to use my peripherals to see―but the question is answered when I hear the clink of the handcuffs as he picks them up. I try to make myself smaller. Try to climb into the couch as if I were really the cockroach he makes me feel like.

The tears start afresh as his shadow comes near me. This time, the sobs overtake me. They are so powerful and deep, the world swims around the edges from oxygen deficiency. I do not fight him this time. Years of life with him have taught me to know that I am better off not resisting him too often. It doesn’t matter, though; his grip is a vice around my wrist and the nape of my neck.

He is saying something that I can’t hear. The anxiety and fear have deafened me to anything other than my thoughts. I wonder why he hates me; why his love always hurts. What I do hear, though, is the click of those handcuffs as he starts putting them on me again. Snatching me around like a doll to put me under the table once again. This time, he puts them on so tight I think they are cutting into me.

I don’t hear the second one click. I hear my innocence being severed from my eight year old soul. I hear my sanity as it grips the edge of the cliff and struggles not to fall into the darkness that awaits it. I hear the sobs of a little boy that I once was as I enter a maturity I won’t catch up with for almost twenty years. One I still struggle to keep in front of me.

When I think about it now, I can’t remember how long I was locked there the second time or how I got out. I can’t remember going home, or whether my Father tried to be nice to me later. I can’t remember anything after the snap. If you ever ask me what I once wanted to be when I grew up, you will see me think about it, but I won’t remember. I can’t. I don’t remember ever wanting to grow up. I can’t remember anything about that child; who he was or what he dreamt about. He is a far away little boy that couldn’t be invisible. Couldn’t not look like his mother. Couldn’t find love in a world he never asked for and never wanted.

********

That little boy is still handcuffed to that table. Still struggles to free himself. He will never learn to hate himself, never think about death when he wakes up in the morning. He will never find the release of drugs and alcohol, or be mean to someone because that is how he thinks people are supposed to deal with disappointment. No, those are my crosses to bear and I left the innocence of that little boy behind me with those handcuffs. He still sobs in my heart late at night as I try to fall asleep and lures me into thinking I deserve the trials I’ve endured, but I’ve finally caught up to my maturity and am trying to leave that little boy’s pain in the past where it belongs.

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Feb 19

Bury Me Close

I have always loved the beauty of the old cemetery;  the serene air floats over those that have left this earthy world, showcasing lovingly placed flowers and mementos in remembrance of the missing pieces of their hearts. Some of the mounds sit in full sun, and others are shaded by a tree unhindered now by heat or any irritations. Looking over the grounds I would think that those left living, as I always do, feel  vulnerable here, trying to grasp the brevity of our time here and the sadness that accompanies the miracle that is life.

I have always thought this is where I want to be. Even though it is said that your spirit leaves the body, I believe that where dust turns to dust is significant. I would like to believe there is something in that soul that continues to remain for our Earthly companions and the soul is fed still, unconsciously, by what life was, as a reminder:  Yes, I was here. I related to the world, I was part of all this, I belonged to the earth.

Since energy does not die, perhaps it is the sounds that remain intact for us to remember our journey. Wishful thinking?  Most probably so. But it is my dream to be connected to the life sounds that have always lulled the hum of humanism in me. To sit at night without the regular beat of activity in the house, one can hear for miles.

So bury me close to the hum of life.

Photographer: Rantes

The sounds of the crickets and frogs, the sounds of children. The trains that rattle us and the sounds of fireworks. The grief, the sadness, the joys, and surprises.
Think about what it would mean if we could choose what our spirits could participate in after death. Have you ever had someone softly sing you to sleep?  It feels like a soothing touch. Have you  heard another grieving the loss of a loved one?  Your heart feels heavy. They say that seeing is believing, but I say that hearing is feeling, if only you listen close enough.

From these thoughts, I want to be in the middle of it all. I still will want to be connected to the old life. No matter what comes after, I cannot convince myself that I won’t want to know. I will.

Life is not insignificant in the scheme of things.  Whether or not we sprouted from one big event does not matter. We are more than that now. We have evolved. Stephen Hawking has said that time travel could one day become possible.  If  so, I never want to be too far away from the sounds of my life. The sound of angels may be sweet, but no sweeter than the sound of my husband’s warm voice comforting  me, or of the little voice of my granddaughter talking to herself while playing.  The emotions I feel at a child’s distress, a siren blaring, or a glass shattering, I want to take with me. Good or bad, I want to retain that.

When I die, and die I must, bury me without the beat of my heart but understand that the beat in my ears will be straining to hear. Just as the breathing of a puppy on your chest comforts us, so will the beat of the Earth in my rest. I may be wrong, but I feel what I feel. Let me find comfort in the idea that I can still remain connected to what I once was.

So bury me close to the hum of life.

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Jan 28

Married To The Sea

Sebastian, our son, was born this past April. We had been a happy and well adjusted American family for 2 and a half years at that time. We then become something else; something sad and detached: a military family.

At the end of our “home cycle,” the time between deployments, comes transition. My husband, Jason, will either deploy or the whole family changes duty stations. These moves can be good and bad. A joke among Navy wives is “if you don’t like the town, wait 2 years,” the time between moves. We laugh and remember those moves filled with busy plans and excited packing; but there are other moves too. Moves that break the heart and the ties of new friends, promising careers and comforting places you had learned to call home.

 

Courtesy of the Official U.S. Navy Imager

The family “moves;” the military man “relocates.” Navy wives keep address books in pencil. The erasures are many and deep. We are quick to bring food during tragedy or blessing because we know how it all feels. We keep pictures on the fridge. We jealously guard frequent-flyer miles, in order to visit our husbands. We have boxes that are no longer worth unpacking. Yet, we keep the boxes for electronics, collectibles and wine glasses; even when one breaks.

Despite technology, we still hand-write notes and letters, especially to our deployed husbands and far-away friends. We clean sand, mud and dirt off our kitchen floors from all over the world. We put our careers on hold until retirement. We refuse tenure at wonderful schools and we get disappointed. But we are rarely afraid.

Why, you ask? Because we fell in love with men who fell in love with their country before us. We simply must wait.

Patiently wait for the sun to set, for the plane to land, wait for dinner and for him to come home and, mostly, wait for the tide to change.

Until then, we must be strong.

I will continue with my passions for Literature and Education. I will teach the children given to me in the town to which we are assigned. I will love them and teach them to love the great words of people past and present.  I will share my enjoyment for “a good story” and the value of knowledge.  I will, yet again, decline offers of tenure with a smile and a prayer. Because my country was founded by great men, and it is kept free by men who are even greater.

An old Navy blessing is wishing one “fair winds and following seas” as a family moves to the next transition.

The sea is a cruel mistress: she takes my husband away; but she also returns him home.

 

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Jan 13

2:37 AM

Why are you in such a hurry, little girl?

You can’t keep running away from a world where you have no voice. That world isn’t going anywhere. The bronzer on your jawline and the shimmery powder on your eyelids aren’t going to make the blind sit up and take notice. The heels chafing at your toes and rubbing your ankles raw aren’t going to give you the platform you’ve been falsely promised.

What are you hoping for, little girl?

You read as though your books could be ripped out of your hands momentarily. You write as though you fear your hands could suddenly

stop working. When you plead mercy of the silence that greets your tortured prose, your desperation cuts a ruthless line through your chest and bursts into the air like a flock of birds escaping a little boy with a slingshot aimed at their home. Yet when you sit down to pour it all onto the page in front of you, your colours are muted, your lines are uncertain, and the disappointing slip of paper eventually finds its home amid the bills and the torn up to-do lists in the recycling bin.

Where are you going, little girl?

You wander the city in your best camouflage, standing out like all the other girls do. You get your hair cut short and stare superciliously down your nose at all the imagined slights you’re dealt. Your muscles strain from the quick clip at which you assault the pavement, pushing from one crisis to the next, but your mind only relaxes when you step onto a treadmill, racing to nowhere at 6 miles an hour.

Who do you want to be, little girl?

You step off the scale and pretend to yourself that you don’t care a whit that the number has crept up by 0.2 since the previous day. You’ve polished and scrubbed and washed until you’ve run the gamut of cleaning products under your sink and run out of hot water. But even the innumerable screens nestled in the room must wink off for the night eventually, nestled in a careful imitation of order and meaning. And when the neon digits on your dollar-store alarm clock announce that it is now two thirty-seven in the morning.

Who are you, then?


Photogapher: Ionan Lumis

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Jan 12

Convergence

The tension is palpable.

Photographer: Brice Cannone

Seeing

those

eyes

focused

on

me

from

across

the

room

is

….

making me forget what I am saying.

It’s not the words fleeing so much as me forgetting where I am―who I am, that there is more to say. I can’t think. I am alone in a world where those eyes are a beacon to the knowledge of life; if I follow them, I will discover the secrets to everlasting happiness.
I send you a drink and raise mine when I see you look to where the bartender points. A smile and a nod is all you offer. I think to myself, the night is young, and I have all the time in the world. I do. I feel the energy between us and know that if I can be patient, I will someday know your thoughts just by seeing the shine in your eyes, and be able to read them as easily as if they were a book.
I try to return to my conversation, but the effort has left me. I can think only of you, how to get close enough to smell your fragrance. The scent that will tell the animal in me what’s on the menu. I would drink in this aroma, imprinting it on my mind―searing it there like a hot iron on flesh.
I feel something on my arm, and as I look, I have enough time to register that it is a small slender hand before you lean into me and whisper, “Don’t ask me to love you.”
I turn my head and look you in the eye, feeling the hair stand up on my arms. I can see it, in those eyes, the accusation. The challenge. This is a test, and I feel it instantly. If I fail, I am forever doomed to wonder… what it could have been like. I don’t smile, I know I need to be serious, I focus on the dare in your eyes before I say, “Don’t make me.”
I wait. In this instant, I could live a lifetime. I think of how I will enjoy getting to know you. Learning how to fix your favorite breakfast. How tightly to hold you when you are frightened. What your smile will do to me when I feel sad. Just what to say to make you know, without question, that I am there for you. Learning the perfect place to place a kiss on your neck; the one that will send shivers racing across your skin.
“Dance?” you say, finally.
“For starters,” I reply, taking her hand in mine.

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Nov 13

My Apartment

Photographer: Brian Kuzma

The fire escape had a loose bolt; when I would climb it it would pull free from the wall slightly. It was two stories off the ground so it would scare me half to death most of the time but I had little choice—I had no other way to get in—I had no other place to go. I had been homeless for a few weeks and I knew someone who had lived in this apartment and had gotten evicted, so I started sneaking in at night.

I was still trying to go to school—it was a place to be for a while and I needed the company. The worst thing about being homeless is the solitude. You are alone all the time. Even people you know all of a sudden act like you have an infectious disease and, if they do get trapped talking to you, you can tell that they are nervous and leery. You find yourself talking out loud to no one at all—simply to hear the sound of a human voice. The apartment was a block away from school so I would sleep there and go to school in the morning. Afterwards, I would find a place to hide myself from the world until well after dark before sneaking in.

When you opened the window the first thing you would notice was the sweet smell of rancid food. The power had been off for over a month and the refrigerator still had a few items in it. Its door had been left open so that the food would spoil—I did mention that the former tenant had been evicted, did I not?—and the smell had soaked into everything.  It was absolute.  I thought of death and decay every time I entered the place, and a chill would run down my spine as I imagined something other-worldly waiting in the shadows for me to get too close to escape it. Soon, I took to closing the door to the kitchen, to try and stem the odor from the rest of the apartment.

I slept on the floor in the living room, where abandoned clothing scattered around the room reminded me of casualties from a plane crash. For a pillow, I used a few pieces of castoff clothing bunched together, and pulled my jacket over me as a blanket—doesn’t exactly say Serta Sleeper does it? The carpeting was so thin you could still see the grooves from the floor beneath it–it was brown with orange and green flecks; a jack-o-lantern’s vomit.

The walls were covered in wood paneling from floor to ceiling—this made the room seem darker than normal. In an attempt to make the situation a little brighter, I would try to steal candles from the grocery store when I would go there to swipe food and cigarettes. I don’t know if you have ever been in a pitch black room with clothing littered about and the smell of carrion looming in each breath, but a single candle only adds to the effect and provides little resistance to the wild imagination of a fourteen year old.

********

Yogi was the name of the kitten I had saved from some dogs. He was the last one left of three and he had some scrapes but, for the most part, he was all right when I found him: as black as fresh tar with about two dozen white hairs on his chest. His fur was fluffy and he was still so small it stood straight out as though there were electricity flowing through him all the time. I always thought he looked like a bear–hence the name. Most nights he would eat as much of whatever I managed to steal as I did—that is, if I managed to get anything. Cold corned beef hash or raviolis, usually, but anything was better than eating Yogi.

He would love to dart out of the shadows and pounce on me before playfully hopping off to some other part of the room. He helped add some normalcy to the absurdity my life had become. The second or third night he lived with me, I heard him retching in the darkness and grabbed my candle to find him—what I found was that evening’s meal teeming with a large pile of worms. I was mortified and a little confused—for a second I thought the movement I was seeing was a trick of the flickering candle. I picked up what I could with an old t-shirt that I threw into the kitchen and covered the rest with another.

The next night I was walking towards the apartment around midnight—I had made it a point to steal some de-wormer medicine from the store earlier and was about to turn towards the driveway when something caught my eye. I looked up and saw the beam from a flashlight moving around the room. As I stood there watching the window I saw a police officer walk past using his light to watch where he was walking. That was it—I had just been evicted—in that instant I knew I could never go back, ever. All of a sudden I was being cast out on the streets again—I didn’t know it then, but it would be for a lot longer this time.

********

I never managed to go back to that school—I was about to start my adult education. The one where I found out about soup kitchens and day old donut shops. The one where I first met a prostitute, and learned about hunger and cold.  I can tell you this much, though. In that apartment, I may have been scared and lonely—I may have been pretending I was okay while I wasn’t. But at least, for a while, I felt like I was home.
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Nov 11

Jamming At Colonial House

Size in northern Wisconsin is something I began to notice only after moving to Madison. Wisconsin is a gigantic empty space, with small blurbs of civilization around Madison and Milwaukee. The buildings of the state are huge and low, surrounded by expanses of asphalt and decorated lawns, vast fields and deep forests.

I’m sitting in the basement of the Colonial House supper club. This building is no exception. On the wide open rural edges of the Fox River Valley, it’s the classic supper club of the Midwest. Wisconsinites gather here for buffets, steak, fish fries, beer, baked potatoes, Mother’s Day, Easter, and weddings. The one-story building houses five giant halls, plus this basement that is a bar, dance floor, and dining room. This building is huge, surrounded by a vast parking lot and lawn among the endless fields of the tiny town of Freedom, Wisconsin.

The Colonial House is home. Family. History. My wedding reception was in this very basement; everyone’s is. The restaurant upstairs remembers the faces of everyone who went to my high school. The bartenders have known my husband since he was six. My best friend’s cousin’s mom owns the place. This basement has seen the celebration of every marriage, anniversary, and holiday in town.

We’ve been gathering here often lately, after hours, with a smattering of musicians from around the Fox Valley to “jam”. I have to use quotations because the word doesn’t roll off of my tongue with ease; I’m not as cool as these guys. But that’s what they’re doing. We’ve shoved aside catering carts and dining tables, and we’re surrounded by amps and electric guitars and drums and keyboards and a violin. Tonight, in addition to the music, there are artists taking pictures, I am writing, and one woman is sketching the scene.

We’re surrounded by the magic of art, come together.

Photographer: Fernando Garcia Redondo

It’s the simplicity of artists crossing the line together from childhood toward our dreams. We all came from this tiny place, from this town of small hope for big dreams. This is the beauty of jamming at Colonial House. Here, we aren’t the sons and daughters of plumbers and mechanics and pencil-pushers and teachers. Here we are just artists, come together, sharing one life. Hearts and souls, and people and their art, all piled together into a space. Together, we are bigger than this place.

The music is organic, each of us playing our part. The musicians come together and play. The artist sketches Sam on the drums. My brother-in-law jumps to the sound board when he’s needed, and he rolls the joints. Our French friend rolls around on the ground snapping pictures. My husband strums the bass guitar. A high school friend shakes the tambourine. A girl I slept with once sings the melody. My sister plays the keyboards. Ob-La-Di Ob-La-Da.

And I write. I watch the scene, and I play my part, capturing the memory of the night.

From This Artists’ Life Volume One: Welcome to the Shit Show, You can buy my book on Smashwords.com

 

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