Titanic

Me and Time, we stared at each other

Skipping stones across the trembling lake of the gymnasium floor

Considering the risks, calculating the half-life of the student body

Through the rippling reflecting tiles

And muted babbling.

 

Time and me, we glared at each other

Spitting spite and acid and Mountain Dew onto the asphalt

Eye to mocking eye locking us in place, even as the lines surged forward

Through the densely muttering air

And mindless chatter.

 

Time and I, we ignored each other

Gluing our gaze to the dried-up-macaroni figures at the podium

While all around us eyes rolled, nostrils flared, lips smirked, hands raised

Through the clashing camera constellations

And monotonous droning.

 

I and—

 

No…

 

No, just I.

 

Helplessly frozen in the sinking iceberg labyrinth of flashbacks and shitty yearbook photos and dusty artifact moments that cocoon the caterpillars in my stomach with nostalgia and regret and untouched wine bottles and crushed soda cans and homemade sandwiches and rambling rambling rambling trains of thought at a station where Time has finally grown tired of waiting and jumped onto the tracks—

 

And the second of eternity is over, and I am stepping onto the ragged grass

Through the lazily drifting parchment speeches

And polite applause

Single Scene

            When she was finished, she set the pencil aside and rolled over on the grass to gaze up at him. He seemed almost asleep to her eyes: dense breath rushing in and out of his chest, a hand resting carefully on each of his thick knees, eyes concealed and unmoving behind a round pair of dark glasses. Yet as she stretched out her hand, mutely proffering the stack of papers, his fingers opened. His left hand accepted the offering, while his right produced a slender brown pen from one of his pockets. Both figures reclined back in their positions, their transaction concluded. He in his vaguely academic lawn chair—one that sagged handsomely in places—regarding her work with the slow sort of crushing curiosity that she had come to appreciate. And she in her bed of tangled foliage, dry shoots and long stems caressing her body, watching the wrinkles in his brow crease and the lines around his mouth tauten and tighten.

            So they rested, shaded in comfortable silence, while the swamp lived and died around them.

            She decided that it bothered her. Not knowing what he was thinking, that is. Oh, she could read his appearance well enough. The weathered collared shirt, tanned azure by the sun and unbuttoned down to his chest hair. When he’d rolled his sleeves up she’d known he was enjoying the heat. His not-quite-white khakis, sturdy and stiff and studiously belted. Only the observant would notice the slight hint of purplish-blue sock that suggested a different persona. His grey beard, rough and scraggly and combed to ware off intruders; his feet, encased in dark leather shoes and planted firmly in the soil, undoubtedly sensing a myriad of miniature creatures; his wide flared nostrils, the only part of his body that never ceased moving.

            But his expression remained as unreadable and indecipherable as the sun hanging heavy above them. How many countless peoples had looked up at that searing yellow sphere, the only thing on the horizon, and wondered what mysteries it held? Tried to interpret meaning for themselves? Unfortunate that none of them realized how uncaring and distant and utterly alien that ball of superheated gases really was.

            “You’re doing it wrong,” he said.

            She blinked suddenly, thrown out of her daydream. “What?”

            “You’re doing it wrong. You’re not thinking about all of that,” he said, motioning to the terrain before them, “you’re thinking about this.” He gestured dismissively at their tiny corner of the bog. One of his eyebrows was raised in a stalwart expression of try and surprise me. Perhaps it was a permanent position.

            She crooked her mouth into half a frown, trying not to grin. “I wrote about the swamp.” Her toes wiggled against the bare air.

            “You did,” he acknowledged. “But you were thinking about yourself. Listen.” He rapped the papers with his pen. “‘The gnarled tree dapples the clearing in veils of sunlight, doing little to dispel the humidity that hangs over me.’ ‘The water beckons the weary onward, hoping to ensnare them within its reflecting depths. But I am one of the wary.’ ‘A beetle crawls along my palm, drinking in my presence. I am a stranger here, it seems to chitter.’” He shook his head and she smiled sheepishly.

            “You can’t be a stranger in this place. To write credibly, compellingly, you need to be a part of whatever you create. If that means inhabiting the mind of your character, losing yourself in the words, or speaking directly to the environment, then that’s what you do. And you commit to it.” He rolled the words around in his mouth before continuing.

            “The swamp knows when you’re not committing. It knows when you’re being facetious. Be comfortable with your subject, be decent and true to it, and it will tell you truth in return.” He handed her the papers and settled back in his chair, and she knew the lesson was over.

            They sat without speaking again, for a little while. Only this time, she realized, there was no silence. The murky ponds were flush with fish and tadpoles and ripples upon ripples of movement. The foliage shuddered and quaked under the weight of countless tiny padding footprints. The long grass stems whistled to themselves, echoing the pitch of the wind as they rocked back and forth. Shrill birdcalls sounded over the clearing, stirring insects that buzzed fearfully and ferociously at one another as they traversed their territory. As she listened, she supposed that perhaps all the noises blended together into a single solitary thrum, a thrum that resonated in the bowels of the land and radiated through the aura of the air and captured the eye of the sun. She wondered whether her own heartbeat could match that sound.

            She picked up the pencil and began to write.

Cold Turkey (Happy Endings Stop at 21)

18

Doctor told me to do this, otherwise i wouldn’t have bothered. he said i needed another outlet and that i was staying out too late. said he was starting to get concerned by my erratic behavioral patterns. what i get up to at night isn’t really his business but he’s a nice guy. always been good with me. soothing voice, thank god. not like the others.

maybe he’s right. maybe it’s time to find new ways to express myself. wouldn’t want to worry him. 

think i’m going to write the number at the top, above every entry. it’s a good reminder. Dad said once that the highway of life is confusing but a little marker on every mile can go a long way. Dad liked sappy stuff like that, things that didn’t make any sense when you thought about them. like something you’d find in some stupid weight-loss book. how to look like a skinny bitch in ten short days. maybe he was being ironic. maybe i should have laughed.

when Dad died i broke into pieces. happened when i was in eleventh grade. came home and he was in the garage with the doors closed and the lights off and the gas on. IT WASN’T SUICIDE. kids told me at school that he killed himself because of what he did to mom, that it was an act of remorse. they were fucking liars. somebody did it to him. somebody got him drunk and turned the key and left him to rot. he had enemies, people hated him. mom and i were the only ones at the funeral. don’t think god even bothered to show. i never hated Dad though, never. wore my black velvet dress with the fringed sleeves and the scoop down the back that he gave me for my fourteenth birthday. mom said it was my fault when they were laying him down to rest. i wanted to jump into the grave and take her with me.

my head hurts. i don’t feel like crying. going to turn in for the night.

 

18

it’s been tough but the number hasn’t changed. not for lack of wanting. been at the office for three years and people still stare. people are always predictable in the ways that they disappoint you. frustratingly bland and relentlessly moronic and obliviously stupidly selfish. Doctor’s been coaching me on breathing exercises but i don’t think the broken parts are going anywhere. least i’m not hyperventilating anymore. progress.

ate lunch with rita today. she’s still a dumb skank. never lets me get a word in edgewise, only wants to talk about her kids and her yoga and her boring pool parties. just nodded, said yeah a lot, watched her stuff down shitty chinese. Doctor asked how i knew it was shitty and i told him it was because there weren’t any chinese customers. he laughed, ha ha. it wasn’t a joke but i didn’t mind.

what the hell do i write about now?

 

18

called in sick to work today. decided to watch lost for the first time. thank god for netflix. decided my favorite scene was the flashback where john locke stands up after the plane crash. wondered for a moment whether i should include a spoiler warning. but who for? anyway locke used to be in a wheelchair but stops needing it after landing on the island. of course he doesn’t tell anyone that he couldn’t walk. they don’t really deserve to know.

Doctor wondered if i liked that part because i thought it was inspiring. told him i just liked the acting, didn’t mention anything else. honestly i liked that it changed his character from someone i thought i knew into someone i didn’t. gave him a secret, showed he’d been to a sad strong broken place that no one else could inhabit. admired that about him.

in the next episode jack starts seeing visions of his dead father all over the island. got to the part where he finds his father’s coffin and it’s empty. it’s empty. closed the computer. got back in bed. didn’t do anything else for the rest of the day.

tomorrow i’m going to watch something else.

 

18

the girl who sits near me at work is beautiful. don’t know how i didn’t notice before now. her hair is a crimson tapestry and her freckles are fascinating. constellations come to mind. stared at them for a while until it made her uncomfortable. she told me her name was jennifer but that might be a lie. could ask her to dinner. been a while since i’ve had anyone new to talk to.

tried to bring home a girl once before Dad died. her name was lisa. she liked blue nail polish, gymnastics, comic books. my favorite thing about her were her eyes though. they were liquid brown, the color of earth, and they were so normal and real and right. we rode bikes up and down main street and launched bricks onto rooftops and laughed when they didn’t quite make it and threw pinecones at lisa’s bonehead little brothers. sometimes we would even share each other’s ice cream. made summer nice for a little while

dragged her over to dinner one night and announced at the table that we were dating. mom exploded. she was madder than i’d ever heard her be with Dad so i knew it was serious. lisa turned white and tried to leave but mom just kept screaming. by the time mom threw her out the door they were both crying. Dad looked upset but not at me. he told me to Sit Down. that was what i was supposed to do when they fought. Sit Down in the stiff-backed wooden chair in the study and stare at his medical textbooks with the doors closed. hated it but i had to obey. don’t remember what happened after that…

maybe i won’t ask the girl out. eating alone isn’t so bad when you think about it.

 

20

hadn’t written anything in a few days and had a lapse. stupid stupid. shouldn’t have gone out but i was sick of being cooped up and bored of the apartment. went to a new bar, had a few drinks. met a couple there, horny boyfriend plus drunk girlfriend and one thing led to another. by the time i realized what was happening it was too late to stop. left them there and called a taxi as soon as my hands stopped shaking.

been staring at the wall for the past hour. mom would always do that after she hit Dad, just stare at the wall with her eyes boring holes into it, trying to drill through and find herself a home without discolored bruises. maybe those were her lapses. don’t want to be like her. never wanted to be like her. 

Doctor was right. i need to keep writing things down, accept my mistakes and move on from them. that’s what mom could never do. that’s what Dad should have done.

 

20

was tapping a pen on the lunch table today and jason from human resources asked me to stop. when i didn’t he threw his tray across the room and started yelling at me. called me a crazy bitch while i picked peas out of my hair. didn’t say anything. just stared. wasn’t sure if i disagreed. later after security dragged him away, rita said that he and steven were good friends. no one’s seen steven in a month. boss assumed he just quit quietly. felt bad about it. not my fault, people just disappear sometimes. but still. didn’t know they were friends. and Jason never stares as long as the others. won’t hold it against him. i hope he’s not fired.

talked to Doctor a bit more about my slipup. still not used to the new number at the top of the page. he said that sometimes people fall off the horse but what matters is doing your best to get back on. he said that there’s no use crying over spilled milk. he said that admitting mistakes is the first step to fixing them. i asked if he and Dad were writing a book together. he thought that was funny.

we discussed thanksgiving for a while and what it meant as a holiday. what families should be grateful for. or anyway he talked about that while i steered the conversation to the food. don’t believe in insincere thanks, especially for a holiday about killing indians. and anyway murder is something to regret not something to remember. better to imagine gravy and sweet potatoes, buttered rolls and juiced cranberries, braised brussels sprouts and hand-molded stuffing, warm turkey cut to the glistening dripping bone.

better that way. better not to think about the death.

 

20

mom talked to me today. she hasn’t visited in ten years but she talked to me today. didn’t expect her, didn’t have anything to say to her. wanted her to leave the second i heard her speak. she asked if i was seeing anyone and i told her yes, my Doctor. she said you know what i mean and i said none of your business. she asked what drugs i was taking and i told her Doctor hadn’t prescribed any yet. had to fight the urge to dredge up Dad’s corpse and shove it in her face, but he wouldn’t appreciate that. told her about jason’s blowup instead and about dumb skank rita and about lost, being lost, feeling lost. pretended that she’d never even left, that our conversation was starting right where it’d left off years ago. just wanted someone to care about me.

she wants me on medication. and she wants me to see a new therapist. tried to tell her no, to say something, anything, to get up and go at least. she said Sit Down and her voice took all the broken pieces and grinded them together. like razors dragging down the insides of my skull. in that moment i hated her more than i’ve hated anyone else. stared at the floor and held in my scream until she was gone. too angry to cry. mom always gets what she wants in the end. she never leaves.

wish we were both dead. wish Dad wasn’t. wish someone would tell me what to do.

 

20

been drinking for hours and hours can feel the bile rushing up and down my throat brain is swimming in its own fluid glasses and bottles all over my floor one’s broken don’t know if i stepped on it by accident or threw it against the wall hate not being able to remember makes me useless useless useless why did god even give us voices and thoughts what’s the point if all you can do is regurgitate nonsense in times of crisis why can’t i talk about thanksgiving without a lump sticking in my throat why do i look guilty with peas in my hair why did locke have to Sit Down in the wheelchair in the first place why did mom and Dad have to go the way they did why can’t i just like boys why did lisa leave me why hasn’t Doctor talked to me yet i need help i need answers i need somebody’s voice in my head besides my own

why do i do what i do to people

 

20

finally heard from Doctor. he told me that he wouldn’t be upset if i worked with a therapist as long as i was honest and sincere. asked him for specifics and he said be forthcoming with the details. asked what he meant and he said be as open as you can be. wondered aloud if he was coming on to me. he chuckled and wished me luck.

 read over some of the previous entries. wish i could explain myself to people. if i could sit them down and paint them a portrait of my life and show them all the broken parts inside my mind, maybe they’d understand. maybe i’d be justified in who i am. i have thoughts and emotions and reasons. a mind, a heart, a soul. yes i’m damaged and disjointed, searching and struggling, a fragmented malfunctioning wreck of a human being. but then so is everyone else. so why are we all trying to fix each other?

the saddest thing about the world is how judgmental it’s become. decided today that i’ve got nothing to hide from it. would gladly be called crazy for the rest of my life just as long as i know myself.

 guess there are worse ways to live.

 

21

went to meet the therapist. called ahead yesterday and scheduled an appointment for six near the end of her work hours. she said she’d be happy to meet at her home office. said she’d pick up the necessary forms from the records. drove out to her tiny house. forty minute trip. drummed my fingers on the wheel the whole way. tiny goosebumps going up and down my arms. she opened the screen door in the back for me. rough-looking woman, forty or fifty. faint wrinkles crisscrossing her face in trenches. hooked nose like a carrion crow. told me to call her doctor simmons. decided i didn’t want to call her anything but a therapist.

she took me to her office. black ballpoint pens on the desk, masking tape, paper clips, post-it notes. silver letter opener. she asked me what my favorite color was. what shows i watched. where my ideal vacation spot would be. didn’t answer. the room smelled fresh and nauseatingly trimmed. reminded me of rita’s house. boring and organized.

she asked me if i had any friends. i told her about Doctor. she said doctor what and i told her just Doctor. she wanted to know where he worked and whether he’d prescribed me any medications and why hadn’t she gotten any forms from him or found a record of how long we’d met for or heard anything else about him. i didn’t want to talk about Doctor or thanksgiving or the number. told her none of your business. her eyebrows scrunched up into a knot when i said that.

she opened some files. she asked me about my parents. she said tell me about the day your father died. told her that it wasn’t suicide, that the murderer set it up to look like he killed himself. she said listen to what you’re saying. she said you need to face the facts. she said accept the truth. told her she was a liar, that i loved Dad and that someone had taken him from me. might have even been mom. told her she wasn’t a very good therapist. she said

 

she said

 

she said do you think your father killed himself because of the role he played in your mother’s death

 

she said i was in denial. she said you blame yourself for your father’s suicide. she said your sexual orientation is not a crime. she said your mother pushed your father too far one day and he just snapped. Doctor started saying he was sorry. mom started saying it’s all your fault. i told them shut up, i can’t think straight, i need you both to leave me alone. therapist asked me who i was talking to. she was rapping her pen on the desk and she wouldn’t stop. realized i was clutching my head in my hands. tried to tell her i wanted to leave. couldn’t make the words come out the way i wanted. got out of the chair to go.

she said Sit Down.

thrust the pen into her face. it stayed still when i pulled my hand away. black ink leaking out and mixing with the red. she was shrieking but i couldn’t hear Doctor and mom anymore. grabbed the letter opener off her desk and slid it into her throat, started sawing. blood on the desk, on the chair, all over the files. hands battering mine. soft wheezing gasps coming out of the holes in her neck. worked it into a solid spot and yanked. warm turkey cut to the glistening dripping bone. couldn’t stop crying. all the broken parts were screaming. when she finally let go she reminded me of steven.

took the pen and the letter opener and the files with me. left the rest. drove home straight away. took a shower. accept your mistakes and move on from them.

too bad about the lapse though. the number’s gone up again. didn’t want to break twenty. won’t be fun explaining it to Doctor. at least mom isn’t talking to me anymore.

 

22

 

24

 

25

 

28

 

30

 

Doctor says we’re all broken but how we put the pieces together makes us different. guides us towards fate. the end of the road. mile markers. Dad said that, once.

guess there are worse ways to die

Tipping Your Terrors

            You are not most people. You know this because most people, when asked what they fear most, have boring answers. They’re afraid of falling, or spiders, or disappointing their parents, or a host of other terrors that essentially boil down to an eventual death. Not you; your fear is greater and deeper and yet somehow realer than any human being you’ve ever met. Simply this: you fear the barber. You hate going to the barbershop. But “hate” is a strong word that people use to describe something they only dislike, croon the voices of people who have never had cause to hate anything in their lives. They don’t understand: you detest the barbershop, you loathe it, you even find yourself looking up synonyms for hate in your spare time. Abhor, despise, abominate. You’d burn every barbershop in America down if you felt brave enough. Not, you suspect, that it would do you much good.

            The reason for your fear is this: every time you walk into the barbershop, the same man cuts your hair.

            Not that you noticed at first. After all you were a half-formed child for most of your early years, concerned only with what your parents told you, and making friends, and doing well in school, and sports, and recess, and kisses, and keeping a watchful eye on your siblings, and birthdays, and presents, and always always what there was to eat. Your developing mind could hardly be expected to keep up with the identity of the man who trims your follicles.

            You must have been fifteen when this man’s familiarity suddenly occurred to you. Indeed, you realized how frequently you’d seen him standing that exact way in that exact bow-legged position. He worked, a slightly stooped willow branch of a man, crooked and greying, with a half smile on his face that hinted of mischievous warmth. Perfectly normal though—you’d lived in this town and gone to this shop as long as you could remember, why wouldn’t your barber be familiar? So you watched him steadily sweep the last few tufts of fallen hair away and left the door jangling shut behind you. You were sure you’d see him again, after all.

            In the years to come, you never truly talked to him. At least not beyond banal conversation about the weather, recent movies, what classes you were taking. You never asked him his name either. What if he’d told you once and you’d forgotten it? What if he was offended you hadn’t already asked? No, better to keep the exchange of personal information to a minimum. That was how you liked your haircut experiences: bland, unobtrusive, and archetypal, the way they were meant to be.

            It was only when you went off to college that his presence began to unnerve you. You were headed to the closest local barbershop, fresh off of the phone with one of your new (fair-weather) friends. And there he was, spinning the high-backed chair around to meet you like it was business as usual. You were stunned and struck dumb all at once. You couldn’t think of anything to say. Or at least you couldn’t muster the ability to say any of it. What are you doing here? Did you get fired? Are you stalking me? Is this some kind of a prank? Very funny guys, where are the cameras? Come on guys, this isn’t funny. Guys? Please? Much to your dismay, none of your friends actually believed your crazy story about the barber who’d followed you to college.

            It took two weeks of hair in your eyes before you were willing to step back into a barbershop. It was a different one this time, several towns over, but it didn’t matter. He was the only barber on staff. The other customers seemed to accept him as just another fixture of the establishment, or at least didn’t acknowledge his presence. You had little choice but to sit and wait your turn. And true, the haircut itself was uneventful…but you couldn’t shake the feeling that he was sizing you up, like a particularly juicy piece of clean-shaven meat.

            And now every time you need a haircut, no matter what barbershop you visit, you know you’ll see him. He is the permanent presence in your life. He is your eternal nemesis, your darkest nightmare, the master of your soul. Always watching, always anticipating your arrival. On the day you can take it no more and blow your own brains out the back of your head, he will be standing at the door to Hell’s Barbershop, scissors and spray bottle in hand.

            You know you are greater than God, because God never had to tip Lucifer twenty percent every month.

Sainthood

            He ran, stumbling and puffing, jacket tails billowing in the breeze behind him.  He could feel the black vest constricting his stomach, making layers of fat jiggle and bounce. In the distance the sirens blared, a steady wee-oo wee-oo that renewed his purpose and redoubled his hurried pace. If they caught him, dragged him into a cramped car or a busy station or a holding cell, there would be too many innocent bystanders. Overworked officers with families, victims seeking recompense, recovering addicts hoping for third chances. He couldn’t let that happen—the news would call him a murderer and a terrorist, what would Joanna think?—and so he pressed onward, every step sending lances of pain through his side. He silently cursed his lack of exercise.

            A boy on a bike careened towards him, dark-skinned and dark-haired. He seized the opportunity, leaping forwards and wrenching the worn handlebars away. The tire cut into his foot and the boy was sent flying, but there wasn’t time to negotiate. He had to get to the water. He swung the bike around, clambered aboard the seat, and took off, ignoring the boy’s indecipherably frantic cries. Unbidden he saw Joanna cross-legged before him, wide-eyed and wondering as he read her nursery rhymes. The bike was blue with orange stripes—funny what people noticed when their lives flashed before their eyes.

            It occurred to him that he had no idea where the water was.

            He heard a dull beeping noise, and instinctively checked the watch strapped to his wrist. Seven minutes, twenty-three seconds, and dropping fast, intoned the cheap digital display. He knew then that he wouldn’t make it in time. All around him the streets were packed with people, teeming and swarming over one another, overflowing to the brim. None of them had any idea; none of them cared; he was striving to save a city of machines and retards. New plan: find the closest, tallest building, and find it fast. Passersby were starting to notice the two-hundred-and-thirty pound man riding a child’s bicycle.

            There, ahead, the Hotel Lincoln. Twelve stories, reasonably luxurious, bellhops flanking the entrance. It would do, given the circumstances. Given the circumstances, how delightfully clinical. As if he could pretend his nerves weren’t fraying at the seams, rivulets of sweat running down his balding brow and into his thick fingers. All the king’s horses and all the king’s men, couldn’t put Humpty together again. He stumbled off the bike and through the Lincoln’s clear revolving doors.

            The elevator stopped so many times on the way to the top that he had to struggle not to scream. It was almost a relief when he found himself on the desolate rooftop, heartbeat slowed to a ponderously thudding crawl. Twenty-two seconds on the timer, and undoubtedly police on their way. I’m sorry, Joanna. He ran towards the edge, lurching footsteps pounding the pavement, explosives tight around his chest, and leaped.

            His last thoughts were of flight