I –
The one lamp illuminates the room with a yellowish-orange light. It must be almost 9 pm. “Dad, you’ve heard of this….you’re not one of “them”, are you? “His brow furrows, he sighs. ” We’re not Jewish. I’m not, your mother is not, and you are not. “” No, Dad. That other stuff we talked about?” Dad laughs now, not a true nervous laugh, and not the laugh when he talks to his friends on the phone, but there is something wrong with this laugh, it doesn’t fit into the something-really-is-funny category. A disturbing chuckle which does not refute. I am helping him clean his den while he transforms PDfs into Word documents and types up my legal forms. Tap, tap, and tap. Space. Pause.

“I need to focus on this now” he says as he types away. ” and don’t talk to your mother about all this.” Space, tap, tap. He touches my wrist- “Go, take a break. You look tired. There’s coffee and food out on the table. “When all this is over you will feel better,” he says, unconvincingly.”Oh, before I forget, when we go up to Russian River, you will feed the fish, water the plants? “Of course, Dad”. The phone rings, I recognize the name, one of his professor friends. He wheels around to look at me with that blank, confused “I-don’t-speak English” look on his face which I know in this case means “Are you still here?” I go, close the door behind me, I head to the kitchen, and mother must be out on the front deck smoking- and eye the prosciutto, cheese, salad, bread, all spread out on the deli paper. It’s the good stuff, but I don’t want it.

Later.I’m standing there, waiting, waiting- the inevitable cash register/computer that never fails to quit in almost any line I am standing in. Strains of “I Shot the Sheriff” play out in the background. The woman in front of me turns her head over her shoulder and rolls her eyes at me in acknowledgment of our mutual suffering. Both of us are too far in to defect to another register, our stuff is on the conveyor belt. The hateful Sheriff song has ended a worse one in its place, behind me a man with chips and a bottle of some kind of alcohol sings along.” Brandy, you’re a fine girl, do, doo, dodoo it, doo, do”… I catch his movements peripherally and discern possible methamphetamine at work. I feel relieved he is lost in his own world, and will not likely share any mutual suffering with me. I get to the register, the poster child for future perfect dead soldier scans my items, he brings to my attention my failure to press some button .”I’m sorry, I’m not really awake today”.

“Neither am I”, he says, looking at me. His hair is fair and cropped close, his eyes are surprisingly dark brown for how light his hair is, and he has been in the sun recently. He smiles a friendly, sympathetic smile; I smile a weak, motherly smile back. I haven’t noticed the bagging clerk, who looks vaguely like a Santa Claus mixed with an aging, heavily mustached country singer. He asks if I want help out, I sweetly decline, as I know he will keep me in the parking lot talking, and I already know too much. This time he doesn’t’t get huffy that I said “no thanks”.
I get back to the house, put everything away, boot up the PC. The Skype is flashing. Lists of names of people I don’t know- or know better than I should. Pop up messages with links I will not click on. Pop up “add me” requests that seem to come from nowhere, with nothing that identifies them as anyone familiar even in a vague “screen name” sense. People telling me more things I really don’t want to know. Asking me stuff I don’t have answers to. Wanting what I can’t give them that I no longer have myself. People “happy” for me -“sympathetic”. Then there are the resentful, the cautiously casual, the “fake friendly” and the “fishermen”. Dante, surely there is room for instant messaging in Hell?
Mental note: take that out of the start up. Run;msconfiig startup ;uncheck. Talk to tech geek son about other VOIP clients. Or not.
The Thoreau-esque cabin image comes to mind again, the scent of dirt, eucalyptus, cypress, the sound of leaves crunching- simplicity. There is no Laura Ashley or Martha Stewart anything in these visions. Ever.
Answering machine flashes. Appointments. Discussions. Questions. Fake good cheer. My eyes narrow. I erase them all.
Colder than tepid water surrounds me. I have fallen asleep again in the bathtub. The phone is ringing. I look at the empty silver bowl next to the tub and feel a renewed nausea, hold back the dry heaves. With my foot I push the drain lever down. The caller has hung up on the machine, good. I have at least an hour before I must be at the school, but I am moving slowly today, it takes me an hour to do what I used to do in 15 minutes. I used to be praised for quickness. Now I have to go through all these mental checklists, as if I don’t even trust myself to be spontaneous with my own judgment. What do I need to take with me? Does the car have enough gas? Did I leave anything on? Lock the doors? Do I need to bring anything to the school?Hmm, that is a strange pain, almost as if someone was hugging me too tight , as if , when a child, someone picked you up a little too enthusiastically .
This wasn’t like the other one, which was also in my chest, but sharp- enough to cause a grimace. This one was more like “Hello, Avon calling. Would you like a sample? You might be an ‘autumn’ type, let’s try this palette on you”…always enjoyed having them come by as a child, and started to think that make-up and perfumes must have the power to make people happy and nice. In a way, I think I have still been guilty of making unrelated correlations like that, missing the “they want something, they’re selling something” factor. Blahh what is wrong with my coffee? It doesn’t’ taste right. I look at the glass coffeepot, and then peer into the area where I pout the water, but the coffeemaker is black, I can’t see anything. I sniff the glass coffeepot, thinking maybe something was in the cup I drank out of, maybe the dishwasher didn’t get all the soap off. I microwave another cup from what was left in the pot, but that one also tastes strange, metallic. It’s going to be in the 70’s all week here, in November. It-s 1030 PM now and it is 60- still I am cold. I don’t care about the weight loss, I am only peeved I don’t fit my old clothes and my pants are falling off. It is all the hair in my brush I feel bad about. MMy face is not the same – it scares me that the more the bones in my face show, the more I look like my mother, and we don’t speak much.~~~~~~~”I don’t know. He doesn’t do things like that. I don’t know if I believe it. Uh-huh. Uh-HUH. Yeah well, what do you expect, right? Yeah, I’ll be there. ” I knock on the door to his den, feeling bad for listening. He opens the door, still on the phone, “My daughter is here now. Yeah, I’ll see you up there.”
He sits back down in the obnoxious overly padded leather swivel chair. “What are you doing here? You’re still sick. You look awful. Are you eating? “I miss you too, Dad.” I say sarcastically. “Are you still going to that thing in the redwoods?” He ignores my question, puts his hand on my head. “Dad, don’t. I don’t feel that bad today; I just wanted you to print out my transcript. Remember, I emailed you?” I get the dreaded “Huh? Duh” look that says he has forgotten about it. “Why don’t you go lay down on the sofa? I’ll bring it out to you, there’s smoke in here”. I leave and head for the living room, my mother gives me a random undeserving dirty look, the look that at once says “you’re a pain, you want something, don’t bother me..” which I have no intention of doing. If I am lucky, she will not offer me some god-knows-how-old leftovers. The main phone rings. I know it is my sister, it is always her on the phone almost every rare occasion I am at my folk’s house, she must have radar, and I resent her for it, even though I don’t really want to be there myself. Still, she manages to occupy my mother, having the gift of seeming interested in my mother’s ramblings , most often times second-hand accounts from my grandmother of what famous person died that day, interspersed with whatever else mom is worried about. …” and Anne-Marie is here.” she whispers, though she knows very well I can hear.
She mentions me as if I am the topper of all the days bad tidings, and as though they can’t ‘really talk’ because I am there, the useless non-eater. I start reading titles of the books on the walls. I look at authors, trying to discern whether there is any order to their book madness. There isn’t. Vonnegut, Snyder, Burroughs. At least they have them by genre. What is wrong with me? I never cared about order as far as stuff went before. Now I want to categorize everything. Taxonomy “Taxis” in Greek. Arrangement. “Nomia”= “method” . I only used to do this when I was super bored, not merely stressed or waiting. Something has gotten into my blood. Classify, re-classify, sort, hierarchy. The unequalization of the stuff of our lives. I conclude that messiness is much more “=” than neatness and order. Mess makes everything actually “less than equal”. I think of the computer error I got a few months ago “IRQL_NOT_LESS_OR_EQUAL”, a different blue screen of death that flashed and rebooted. Mother brings in a bowl of consommé, and puts it on the old 60’s picnic style wood TV tray. “You should let me cut your hair. It will come back better. ” she says as an aside, covering the phone mic, then goes back yakking to my sister about Pavarotti and the neighbors and their horrible barking dogs, and taste in backyard decor.
Chapter III, A Kettle of Vultures
Slowly I convince myself it didn’t happen. Pieces come back to me and I mentally try and shred them, “obliviating” them into nothingness. I have become a revisionist of my own life, and I can say I am getting damn good at it. People who are simply “in denial” have no ambition. Fooling oneself is a daunting task. I wonder if this is why people do drugs and if the drugs actually work for them, to achieve what I am trying to get. I mean, if one drinks to forget or go numb, one knows the pain will come back. Sometimes I resent drugs and alcohol don’t do for me what they do for addicts and drunks. They have some easy way to escape, even if it hurts them -t least they have something that comforts them, or keeps them from crossing the fine line between being OK , not being ok, or worse, not being OK and people knowing it. I know there are other reasons people get “high”- fear, or because it makes their mind think more quickly, maybe they think it makes them more creative or able to work longer or be inspired when they really aren’t, to care when all the caring has gone, their passion like a child’s helium balloon that has drifted into the hallway.
The mommies chit chat, tell me how wonderful I look while I secretly envy their bovine happiness, as if being evaluated is part their social dance -they notice my weight, though to me, these women always look the same. I try to remember the self-deprecating obligatory return compliment about some quality they have that I wish I did. Their leader yaks on about something, the others infomercial- like, coo and asks questions. Ha. They have no idea. Found out I had something called a key logger on my PC since January. I thought I had complete control over the PC. I didn’t. There was something else too, a “snuffer”, but I am not sure where that was, I ran the usual anti-spy stuff, but it didn’t get it, and it was hardware, not software. It is interesting how some people can play it cool like they don’t care about stuff and be totally insane inside over something. I can’t do that, not convincingly anyway. I could only get away with only letting part of it show. Do people have to learn how to be that way, or are they taught? One of the dads had “reading duty” the same day I did with the class. He sits at the end of the table; I sit in the middle, facing the wall doing the one-on-one reading with a first grader. I thought this dad would have gotten his own table.
There are others sitting empty nearby. I was here first. The “Rules of Space” dictate that he has invaded my space. “Erik Geier”, (not his real name, he has a name with an odd spelling, that tells something of where he is most likely from) he says, telling me who his son is, (I already know). I think I have seen the mother here and there at school. She is tall and big, with a slightly contemptuous look on her face. I am somewhat afraid of her, but only in the sense that I am afraid of crossing the street in front of an oncoming RV. I don’t think she has ever deigned to say even hello. It is possible I have become so small and insignificant, I have become invisible. Still I am stared at, but rarely does anyone smile at me. Not even away from school, like at the grocery. People talk, people tell lawyers stuff (even about my politics) lawyers tell other lawyers stuff. Feeding upon your soul, endlessly generating paperwork and letters, pitting people against each other. I don’t want to have anything to do with lawyers ever again, even if they are on “our” side. I have lost faith in doing things the “regular way”, speaking of which, I may visit the “compound” next summer. I only allow myself to look at him while finally gets to reading to his own son, and I am waiting for the next kid to come in. I do it to torture him for sitting at my table, but I don’t know if he notices, or if it has any effect.
Then I stop, as if I were lost in thought and called back to my task, as if I had never looked at all. He is not very patient with his son, though he spends a long time on him, after he is done, says he has to catch a plane and bolts. He’s attractive enough, but there is something creepy about him, and not in a Dracula way. He made a big to-do about telling his son when he is at mommy’s to do more reading. Does he know? Why did they schedule him today to volunteer? Ugh, maybe it is all one big cluster f*&k coincidence, and I am reading into stuff. But everyone else sits at their own table. I feel that sick, sweaty sense of embarrassment and shame, but he does not notice. La Di Da. Nothing means anything. I wanted to give him the benefit of the doubt, but sorry, I can’t afford to be like that anymore, now everyone gets what I call the “disadvantage of the surety”. Your subtlety blows, Geier. As does your style. It would have been better if he said nothing and we just read to the kids and it was nice, for what it was, without all that. Without you making comment after comment to your kid in front of me so that I know what your situation is. As if you were waiting for me to ask, or volunteer info. Good luck, Jack. I have never even spoken to you before, though I have seen you around occasionally. Your kid, though darling, does not resemble you.
I finish reading with the rest of the kids then go outside in front of the school alone during recess as my “shift” is not over. Some other mom is trying to get me to buy something. I can’t buy jack. I owe my father nearly 10K .

I met with the college adviser. The one for my major, that guy was all right, somewhat nerdy collegiate type, round glasses, sweater, probably about 10 years older than me. He leaves the door open to the hallway even though there are people out there. I ask if the towheaded children pictures on his desk are his. He says grandchildren. I praise him for having kids early. He actually looks up at me for saying this. We speak about what class catalog requirements I will be held to, the one 20 years ago, or the present. It is called “bulletin rights” now. I make a comment about that sounding “PC” but he doesn’t respond humorously. I am creeped out. He is as bland as stale Saltines to my comments, only sometimes looking up at me, I can’t tell whether he is afraid, curious, or simply thinks I’m weird. I looked at what his “specialties” were, but picked him for other reasons, because I knew he would probably do a good job and not offend me, yet I am afraid if he knew me, he would most dutifully be offended by me.
I notice he is a little unnerved and unused to the “familiarity” of someone my age. He also has a whiff of do-gooder righteousness. I also pick up he has picked up something about me, and I am not sure he is crazy about it. I stop with the “we are ‘equals’ ” camaraderie and go into “respectful student” mode. He starts functioning a lot better. After another student peers in and asks to see him after me, I try to cover my earlier attitude with some sappy thing about my parents having been teachers and how people don’t realize how much out of class work there is. Right after this I have a momentary panic as I try to remember whether my dad has worked there. No, I think not. Mr. Sweater & Jeans has relaxed a bit. I asked him if he has been here a long time, and he says something about how he was probably here when I was here the first time, after attending JC- I don’t think I had him, but rather than be rude and either a) not remember him, or b) lie and say I didn’t have him, while he has my transcript in his hands, I plead it has been a very long time and much has happened. This isn’t a good enough cop out for him, and he says Oh, he still thinks I would be able to remember. Oh man, now he has turned the tables on me and I am not half as good as he is at playing it cool. Oh hell, I actually stuttered” I, I don’t think so”.
He smiles, having got me back, and glides right back to where he was. I try not to exhale audibly, as he has blown my entire fake confident act. We go over all my paperwork, my long transcript, he praises my grades, shows me what I still need to do for my degree. I had thought he would be my one and only stop, and we have made progress as far as information, but he sends me to yet another building for further bureaucracy. I walk up the hill, passing though the student union, past the murals of Cesar Chavez and Farrakhan .The collective “gayness” of the advising dept is only surpassed by their officiousness, and their dramatic airs, as if they stepped of the set of “Dangerous Liaisons”. I wonder if they realize the silliness, or if they simply can’t help it. I make a comment about “back in the old days” when I started school there, and another one appears, an older Black , and sashays past the others, without looking at me, he comments to another in a whispery voice, ” She doesn’t have the right to say that”. I think I am supposed to take that as a compliment, but from him, it doesn’t’t feel like one. They all affect the tone of “I’ve heard it all before, honey, let me tell you, nothing surprises me, nothing is a big deal. La Di Da”, which is bad enough when straight people do it. I think I prefer the straight “Flo the Texas waitress” version of this.
The lead one does not want to give me an appointment, and starts questioning me about who sent me, and what my issues are. I don’t want to tell these fags my details, but then I recognize this guys voice, though it is clear he is trying to sound less gay now in person than he was on the phone- why I don’t know, I can still tell- I realize I spoke to him on the phone the previous week, figure I might have to deal with him again, might need help from him so I better be nice. It is clear they have pegged me as a straight white woman, they trying to weigh whether I am an “OK” one who “approves” and finds them fascinating or whether they are objects of puzzlement and derision. I can’t fake the former, but try to cover the latter with an air of nervous desperation about school. My part in their play, “Clueless Breeder”. I can tell they are entertained by me, even as they condescend to me, which is something I don’t think I have experienced from a gay man before, let alone a clutch of them. I get an “Alice in Wonderland” feeling.
They give me pages of paperwork, yet tell me there is yet another place I must go to- I turn back in the direction I came from originally and head back down the hill.
IV : Path of the Puritan
I’m walking down the path to the next building, black-clad. There are college students climbing a cypress tree. Lots of them. It is cold and the humidity is high, made worse by the fact the encounter with the fruitcake division made me sweat. I find the student services building. There are many cubicles to approach, like at a bank. A black woman beckons for me to come up, as there is no line. I explain to her my situation. She starts musing to herself why I was sent there, and how possibly my advanced standing paperwork is on microfiche because I went there so long ago when I started, blah blah blah.. I have more stuff to fill out, she says they will mail it. Registration is a month away, yet I don’t trust this. It seems flaky. I want my damnable paperwork, what is the big deal? But it is always a big deal at “institutions”. I see arguing or trying to get her to do things differently isn’t going to work. I see now I will have to get dolled up like Judy Garland and go back up the hill prob next week and sing show tunes. It is only approaching 5 yet it is almost dark. I have to get to the car as I am in a 2 hour parking and probably almost a mile away from where I am. I put on the IPOD knock off and listen to the Puritan pod cast, walking in the cold in my decidedly unhip leather bomber jacket and boots (see page titled 2+2 on the home page for a better look at these, click on top of page “Spoils of War” to get back there). Walk , walk walk, past the gargantuan Leona Helmsley Parkmerced apartments, past the low lying ones in their shadow . I used to know people that lived in the towers. They had metal doors that slammed like prison cells. The apartments were big , but smelled funny like a mixture of various foods and people, and had this unhomey feeling. Yeah all apartments are kind of un-homey, but these were even more so than any of the smaller complexes or duplexes I had lived in then. There were always noises of other doors constantly slamming and echoing voices of other tenants. It was far from peaceful. Now they are painted in awful “urban trendy” tri-color earth tones, which give it that false “new and happy” look common to many housing projects.

No, I definitely wouldn’t like this a bit. Vague memories of the apartment complex my Yiayia and Papou owned out in the avenues when I was a little kid come back to me. But that was a normal sized building, not a tower. It must be the scenery that brings it back. The Puritan guy is going on and on. I listened to some other educational mp3 from the teaching company a while back on Cotton Mather and think of the Mencken quote:
Puritanism: The haunting fear that someone, somewhere, may be happy

I think I could be bitter enough to be a Puritan, but don’t know if I could be ‘good enough’. Besides, I have this horrible tendency to end up laughing at my own folly, even as I repent. Definitely not Puritan-like. I have the clothes, though- loads of black cotton gear, and long skirts. But the piousness is what makes it, and I don’t yet have that. I don’t like their premise either, that we are all damned, but some of us are saved by God’s grace, but it is not based on what we do, it’s just random. Huh? All of this for possibly nothing? Worse, probable damnation? Is it just me or would this philosophy encourage “getting ones damnation’s worth “? Pure? Well, untouched, yes, for the most part. Pure , I don’t know. Not of heart. I turn off the preaching and put on AC/DC.
I drive to my parents to pick up my sons, dusk traffic on Skyline, red tail-lights foggy beacons , window open to keep me awake like all the coffee hasn’t.
V Prisoner’s Dilemma
The task I have been avoiding- getting the last bits of stuff out of “that room”, which hasn’t’ been “my room” for months. It feels as if everything that happened, happened there. There’s my specter, outlined in chalk in 3-D, illuminated by the glow of the CRT screen. They say murderers do like to revisit the scene of the crime , but I would tend to think the dead try to avoid them, unlike the popular ghost mythology that says they hang around. Perhaps they only need to get their things packed as well. This place is like a hotel now. Sometimes the “boss” is around, sometimes not. Winter (for SF, anyway) is here, and I now realize that room was a lot colder than the living room. There’s still not much talking, I’m not doing this to win approval. I may have started that way, but now it’s become something else. The advertisements say “think different”. I have “become different”, and not by choice, which is a whole lot “different” than reading a “self-help” book about “how to….” the old me is still there someplace, but the new person ( her name is Prudence, like the song) is running the ship for the time being. I wonder if she will stay , and if she does, if that means I will have “to go”. The new person doesn’t approve of a lot of the stuff I’ve done. I don’t blame her. Neither do I. She knows talking to me is dangerous. That is when she must be sleeping. Like now.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~I worked so hard in front of the house weeks ago, tearing weeds out for hours, digging holes , putting new plants in. The more strenuous and back-breaking it was, the better I liked it.
There really is something to be said about the old penitentiary system. It causes one to think, yet the work prevents going over into dangerous mental territory. The thing that the prisons don’t get is that the work itself is not suffering, it gets one away from the suffering. I have never cleaned, scrubbed, weeded, carried, donated, just in general worked as steadily and as hard as I have the last couple months. This work isn’t “to get” anything. It’s to try and “make up for”. I don’t think there is anything to get, now. I can only give work, so this is what I do. I also have done a lot of volunteer stuff, telling you where and what doesn’t matter, only that if a person wants to do these things, all I can say is that you do not need to contact a group, there is plenty to do on your own, without getting someone’s permission to do it, then having to do it on their terms. In many cases you don’t even need to tell anyone you are going to do this or that nice or useful thing, you just do it. If you do it this way though, there is zero glory, no school credits, no starring role banner or anything like that. Like paying off a debt. You don’t posture or advertise it. You don’t expect the credit card company or a bank or whoever loaned you the money to say “All right, we’re going to host an awards ceremony for you because you paid it back!”. You pay it and make it right because you know if you don’t, bad things will happen. Or have already happened. Or are still happening. Hope only gets you so far, then it shoves you out of the train, and you fall, go rolling down the rocky slope, “Oh Effing hell, it’s really like THIS!”…That’s when the crying comes. Where is this elusive http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Denial ? Maybe the same mechanism I am lacking w/drugs and alcohol keeps me from this little goody as well.~~~
So as I was doing some task that in More’s “Utopia” would be deemed demeaning, I was wondering about the differences between prison labor and monastic life as compared to the “Utopia” concept. Work as penance, work as spiritual, then this “utopia” , which sounds neat-o, but gives me the creeps, not only because I don’t believe it, but because I am not a believer in equality -let me say, I am anti-equality. I don’t think it is even possible. How can everyone contribute the same value and get the same benefit(s) when all cannot fundamentally do the same work, or even the same quality of work? Kind of like I have my doubts I can ever be a “good Christian” (if I wanted to) , but there are women who are and can, like some are engineers and astronauts, but men are generally better at it. Women bleed with the tides, what does that tell you about our connection to nature, not artificial rules? Speaking of blood, I have cut myself on something, but the pain and mess only make me angry that I have to stop what I’m doing to bandage it. When one is in the prison of one’s own mental torment, anything that is a distraction is news and welcome.
Like I said in a previous chapter , drugs and alcohol never have done much for me, if they did, I most likely wouldn’t be scrubbing shower grout and starting to feel woozy like perhaps I have created a poison gas with bleach in the toilet and the anti-mildew ammonia spray in the shower. I think I romanticize Christianity because it seems so simple and easy, and yes, even magical. But I know life isn’t’ that way- I have to focus a million times a day back to what I am doing and not drift . Intention, intention. Be strong, behave well in front of people , go to the meeting with the principal, the teacher, the school psychologist and the speech therapist- I take them all on and beat them at their own game, making up little catch phrases they seem to love, putting things in terms of “plans” and “steps”, knowing I am Basing them all the while, and almost hating them all, with the exception of the principal, whom I can tell is doing the same thing I am to a degree. I leave and look around- there still no priest, glowing light of goodness anywhere to be found, no dove flying with an olive branch. I actually wait to come here to get my stuff until after dropping the kids off for school , until after the garbage men have left for fear I will run into the same guys who have been there for the last 7 years. Hence avoiding my own history. Avoiding explanations. The light has burned out in the lava lamp, the wax coagulates around the coils.~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

VI Before and After
” I know you don’t want to fly, but just think about coming to Greece with us, ” my father says and takes my hands in his. I really wish they weren’t going , but I won’t say this. I wish he hadn’t asked me, I feel like they need to get away from me and my problems. “you can forget about all of this, you can rest, see Athens, Piraeus, Skyros.” After months of continuous motion, it is all I can do to get dressed, deal with the boys. “I’ll think about it. , Dad”. He stares at me, brow locked into a permanent furrow. ” I will call you later. Drive carefully”. I get a call from a friend, we exchange tales of woe, make unfunny jokes at the others problems, commiserate. I feel bad that I know he is too smart to be fooled by false brightness, so I don’t try. I wish I could handle things the way he does. I don’t know if I go with this “misery loves company” stuff. With few exceptions, I have learned that most people are pretty much assholes and don’t care, they only fake it for one reason or another. From some other universe, speaking another tongue. I used to feel bad that people made fun of me for not being as hard as they, it hurt to be mocked in such a cruel way, but now I am becoming so bitter and awful myself, I mock myself better than they using their sophomoric , second-hand, unoriginal humor. Lots of Lulz. Worst. Year. Ever. Best. Mindf*ck. Ever. OMG ! Secret Sock puppet In-Joke screen names! Wowie Zowie, aren’t we cool and clever, let’s rip on some more people, yeah! Itz all about ME! Whee, everything is a big f*cking joke. Everything is a sarcastic put down. A rip off of something or someone else.
Amalgamation of pop culture crudity with the little smirk of haha I’m going to get mine. Mo’ money, mo’ bitches, MTV or “family guy” cartoon ‘humor’ at its kosher worst.

Yeah, it’s been real. Real f&cked up. Lawyer $ score 10/8K his lawyer is winning, almost 20K total! . Those papers would have never been filed had it not been for the 6 months that preceded it..Best. Bullsh*t. Ever. This Sunday I will be spending the entire day at a required and court ordered workshop about kids and divorce. Pieces of my hair, in light daddy-long-leg spider colored strands swirl by my feet, and collect at the bottom of the broom in tangled skeins. I tried the expensive shampoo I have stashed away, didn’t help. Tried to eat more protein, tuna fish. Didn’t help. According to the net experts, if there is a little bulb at the root, it is not breaking, it is falling out, but they say it will come back. It’s not covering gray that did it, it’s ‘stress’, the HMO Dr. says. I know what it is, thank you very much, Doctor. The rest is “low hematocrit”, you can’t give blood (I already knew that)- here have some iron pills, rest more, come back in 3 weeks for more blood tests. The good news is, you don’t have Thalassemia, but you could have a blood transfusion if you want (NO THANK YOU). Haven’t had this crap this bad since I was pregnant with my teenager. My hair was great then, though. At least mosquitos left me alone.

A light chest pain, like a cloud floating over the sun, passes, another smaller pain, space bar, done. Is this where my heart was? I wasn’t going to tell them about this new little development, they have done enough to me today. ..Think about the work I will have to catch up on, since I have been too tired today to accomplish much. I actually had to lay down and drift off, even with Jr here for a short time- thought I had slept enough last night. Think about what is in the freezer in terms of making dinner. I think much about when we are done with this life, and what , if anything there is after this. What will be left behind. It comforts me that for the most part , the kids will most likely be all right, as there are only 3 grand children. Someone walks down the street, whistling the tune to a song I was playing on the guitar a few days ago.

I used to have so much faith, I had extra for those who didn’t’. Feel like I paid in blood for all the depth of a Bob Ross painting lesson. “Let’s put a little tree here, swish swish, there we go, and a bird in the sunset, maybe another…it’s so easy, there’s a mountain, add some snow..”I’m folding laundry, myself and the boys are watching “Little House on the Prairie” re-runs. My youngest asks “Mom, where’s the prairie?” The oldest finds this funny, then launches into one of his trademark lectures, this time outlining the history and features of the ridiculously expensive fountain pen my father got him. ” and look , Mom, the nib is engraved. Did you know there are people whose sole purpose in life is to repair these? This guy Waterman gets all the credit but really other people made fountain pens long before he did. There was this French guy….” Lately , I am grateful for his superb recall, his vast knowledge of trivia and love of thoroughly knowing a subject. This used to drive me up the wall after a time, now I could fall asleep to it, his informed litany, punctuated every so often with “Do you understand? Are you listening?” (How he knows if I am not perfectly attuned to him I don’t know, but he does).. ” Mom, aren’t’t you going to ask me stuff about it?” I say, “No, I just like to hear you talk.”
Chap. VII Endurance
I am looking out the museum doors at these little day-moth type creatures, flitting in the sunlight. Stuff starts playing back in my head from earlier this year. All fake? Some real? All a total scam? How could someone keep that up for that long? None of it was the truth? If one constantly equivocates , hedges and backpedals, does that take away from anything they do as half-assed and whatever is convienent for them in the moment?   Or are the things backpedaled on just as real (or unreal) , but the person is full of cowardice about whether real or unreal, either way? Are people really that good at lying?  Both? Neither? -It is kind of like that game where one person says “I always lie” and you have to figure out what statement is true.  Only in this game, no one says “I always lie”. I can only believe it was a horrible game. A very high-stakes  game- a game that as it played out, did not occur in a vacuum to which the other party was “incidental” , a bystander. Moves were made because of the other party. He was the reason. Oh God, make this stop. Hot feeling behind my eyes.

“Oh no you don’t, Missy, not here”, says Prudence. “Stop it! Get your sh*t together. Stop worrying about luxury things like sincerity , conversation, companionship- you don’t require a great deal of that anyway, you can’t miss what you never really had, honey- what part of the charade was more or less real, stop clenching and grinding your teeth, girlie, you can’t afford to wreck those crowns now. Believe it or not, some people are even more f*cked up than yourself, how many more people do you need to tell you the same things!? They should know, right? You got people helping you, you are doing the best you can, you got this weekly radio thing going, you’re going on tomorrow at 7 , shut the f*ck up with your crying, and ‘ was any of it real or not real, ” crap, no one f*cking cares and as long as you do, you are more of a JOKE so suck it up, I’m sick of your sh*t!”..

I catch the widower looking at me across the carpeted classroom of a horrible presentation on hissing cockroaches from Madagascar. I have no clue how to respond, and it is not because there is anything “there”, or that I am made uncomfortable, like I once would have been. I don’t feel anything. He is not looking in the way I would have expected. I am far away and he is looking at me as if he concerned , yet far away as well. I can’t worry for him, his memories are better than mine, more officially “real”. Earlier he made a comment about something I was looking at, ending with my name at the end. It was some kind of question, but I didn’t’t hear the whole thing, and feel like an assh*lle that I was still in outer space when he was talking to me.. It was something like ‘wouldn’t it be nice to have that, Mia?” but it was about a waterfall or something in the nature preserve. There is enough chaos with watching all the children I am able to avoid whatever it was he said. However, having recently learned some lessons in ‘shining on’, I hand him a piece of dark chocolate from my pocket. He takes it. I tell him it is the dark stuff and he says that is his favorite . I only feel self-conscious in the sense that perhaps I am not putting up a good-enough front of ok-ness.

I cannot afford to feel anything, certainly not here, in front of teachers , kids and parents, don’t feel, forget, forget, not real, not real…I am haunted by my own suspiciousness, mistrust, even of myself. Like going to a play , you think you know the plot, and not only does it not end the way you thought, which would have been a disappointment, but not horrific- In this scenario however, when the last act commences, it starts off well enough- but then you start to realize the actors are impostors, they are not the same as you have been watching for the first three acts and worse, they are playing reversed roles, then an alarm goes off in the theater, people start yelling, throwing things, calling names, you run outside to escape, disgusted by this- you find that you are ill from the dinner you had earlier, someone has stolen your wallet, and upon returning dejectedly home, having stepped in something unpleasant along the way, you find it burned to the ground, your children and spouse blame you, your friends, neighbors and even people you don’t know are either laughing or looking scornfully at you, having read the local tabloid paper starring someone you thought close who has now betrayed you, and uses your pain and his lies -or were they lies after all, or are they only ‘lies’ now-in which to make his case for some new scam “See, See, I was saying it like this, I meant it like this, really it is all her fault, do you see it like that? You can, right? hot/cold, bait and switch”..and the solicitor has sent his man , who is standing in the ashes with a note demanding more payment.

Whatever confidence in my judgment and perceptions I once had has been shaken. I did so well in the logic classes, not-so-well in math. Some teachers couldn’t understand this. I do. Theory vs. practice. Stuff that doesn’t make sense is making me crazy. Now I not only don’t trust anything on its face, I don’t trust that things that used to make sense still will. I stretch out my legs and put my head back against the wall and pretend to sleep. One of the giantess mommies wakes me up. It creeps me out that she is nice to me though secretly no one likes her much ,and for good reason- she does come off as sort of a worldly snot, always preaching about how this other school doesn’t allow sugar and neither should ours , how there should be a better dress code, how many places she has traveled to, bragging to the other moms how she ate crickets and other insects. Is she nice to me out of some kind of pity or because she perceives I too, am an outsider?

The boyish girl presenter has now taken out a tarantula, and one of the moms goes outside, gesturing as if she is phobic of this hunk of fur and guts , carried on a piece of wood that is not going to be put down . I am not afraid of the tarantula, though the presenter girl-boy creeps me out as she seems to be overtly attached to pet insects like spiders and exotic cockroaches, and has named them, so thrilled when she gets one under the microscope (or whatever it is) and projects it onto the screen for the kids , huge images of close-up insect parts- “Look there is its fangs!” “See, see the spinneret’s, you can see her making some silk!” Blah. My older son might like this as there is something vaguely medical (something he is interested in- medicine, physiology ). I wonder if she is aware she has given it a name that means “little she-bear”, after the constellation Ursus Major.

For some reason, there are many more boys in my son’s class than girls-my mother would say “that means there is going to be a war” Mom, there’s a war now- and they all sit together at the picnic tables. Widower has to sit with his daughter and her girlfriends that he drove, alone. All the mothers who agreed to drive and chaperone have boys.
Nurse Ratched (my new best friend-ugh) starts in about her in-laws and how past Thanksgivings have gone, and how she got some crap because she made stuff that wasn’t traditional Thanksgiving fare last year, or changed it somehow….”and then I made a Thai lemon thing, blah blah”….Another one chimes in, an especially smiley, self-satisfied and very round mom chimes in about how we should go to the Ritz-Carlton for their Christmas whoop-de-doo, how it is free, you don’t have to even be a guest there, and they give away free egg nog and favors, blah blah blabbity blah, and oh how if you get a glass of wine how we should go to the bar to get it because some waiter came by and suggested a glass of wine and it turned out to be 30 bucks a glass -her obnoxious braggart part as obligatory as the moral in an Aesop’s Fable. I say something like , “they should have told you it was going to be that much a glass”- there is enough of a small silence in response to let me know I am outclassed, even though I know I shouldn’t have said that, but was disgusted enough by her peacock display to not care. She then tries to pave over it saying “Well, I didn’t tell my husband “- conspiratorial laughter between she and Nurse, who misses the obnoxious part and feels the urge to compete, citing some wine tasting thing up past Healdsburg , where you pay per sip .. This was now my cue to brag, but I don’t, so Humpty Dumpty starts with how she has tried to cut down on the drinking because she is watching her weight. I still don’t care what they think.”Oh, does wine really have that many calories?” I ask innocently , the insinuation being it is not the wine but whatever she is gorking out on. She says something to the effect of “Oh , well it sort of takes away my willpower as far as saying no to food as well. “.”Hmm, I never thought of that”, I say, the proverbial knife in her prodigious gut, I wouldn’t know, I’m neither a drunk nor a compulsive eater- this isn’t just payback for this one money-flaunting episode, I have had to listen to her brag for over a year.

Why these two seem to want to include me in their little mini snot-bitch-cadre makes me worry. I don’t brag about my travels, I have never even been on a plane- I feel smug that even though I am not stick thin, and have even been a little overweight for standards in CA though I have been described as ‘Bite-Sized’, I am fairly thin at present, much more so than either of them anyway. I suppose this whole snooty rant of theirs was payback for my rant about consumerism and vulgar materialism at Christmas. Roundy didn’t’ like that one a bit, I could tell, she was going on and on about how she was buying some cell phone and her son was going around the store saying “I want this, I want this”. And she just laughed about it.
“but he isn’t’ going to get all of those things?” I say , in my best self-righteous, almost religious voice.

“Well, not ALL, ” Roundy laughs. That’s when she launched into her charitable lady routine about the Ritz. What almost made me laugh out loud at this, was when she spoke about how “you find a really nice sofa, or something with a nice background and decorations, then you get someone to take pictures of the family in front of it”.. As if her own palace was not possibly up to par?!. Still this whole rant wasn’t as bad the first rant I heard from her- talking about some relative of hers, someone who had married into the family.
“Those people actually thought that buy-on-credit , you know, ten dollars a month from Fingerhut stuff was ‘nice furniture’ . Their whole place was full of that cherry -veneer-looking-but-really-particle-board junk . Can you imagine? They had all these crappy little end tables and cheap reproduction prints of ladies and angels on the wall, you know the stuff. Kind of a mish-mash of their idea of what ‘rich people’ had . You know, as if they were desperately trying for a pretense of grandeur they had no hope of possessing. Oh, and get this, when they came out and stayed with us, they said something about “we should have brought the extra furniture we were going to give away in case you ever might want to fill up this place! as IF!? ” (bursts into hysterical laughter). How I hate her, flighty yet pretentious. Her Cheshire cat smile conceals a greedy viper, ready to unhinge her jaws and swallow entire shopping malls. I feel bad for her Fingerhut-loving family wherever they are. Not because of their catalog furniture, but because of her.

I was wondering what she would think of my decor, or lack thereof. Kind of hunting lodge gone to seed . What she’d think if I told her that I dream of playing Scrabble with Ernest Shackleton in a cabin in the Antarctic , or making coffee for Thomas Edison and telling him I love him too, (so what if it’s post-mortem-) not for his numerous inventions but for the way he thought.
VIII: Homeostasis
“Thanks, you have a good one”, I say, putting on a no-teeth smile, and handing the student an empty coffee cup. I used to be good at making people happy, entertaining them, and it was real- now I don’t know that I can do this anymore. I look in the tip jar and it is confirmed. I used to make huge money in tips in my youth, even when I spilled things on people. What am I doing wrong now? A question I ask myself several times a day, looking over my shoulder as if there will be another self, namely “Prudence”, who will either shake her head or nod in approval, but she hasn’t’ been around lately. Or, is this her? OK let go of that for now. No, I don’t think I am her right now, she doesn’t worry or think about things this much. Prudence is a hard, get-it-done type. Prudence doesn’t cry or think about “what if things happened this way..” I start the trudge up the hill in the semi-fog, cutting across the very green but not recently shorn grass, past the murals of Chavez and Farrakhan, wondering where the Palestinian mural went that there was so much made of earlier this month. “Well. What are you interested in, what are your talents? What do you have to offer….” the advising person says to a boy probably less than ten years older than my son.
The adviser is a somewhat loud Morgan Freeman-esque type, very self-possessed.. I think about these questions as I wait my turn, happy that at least this boy, according to his story, has made it out of the military looking to be relatively unscathed. Talents? Offer? Ha. I am relieved he does not seem to have the chip on his shoulder, at least not the same kind as some blacks half his age or less. He has attitude, but he is neither pissed off nor a victim. This old, wise preacher thing I can deal with. It appears the Officious Broadway Actors Guild of last week is not around.

“You are not the oldest student here,” “Morgan” says to me, I cringe. “I had an 85 year-old woman in one of my classes last semester” (all right! At least I’m not 85! Thanks, dude!). This does not make me feel better. He looks down at all my paperwork, I start rambling about requirements and asking about deadlines. “You need to relax. Calm down”, he says. I am afraid he is going to offer me a paper cup of water or something. He lifts a stack of papers and shuffles and straightens them, then gives me “the look” as if to figure out what exactly is wrong with me, before he makes his pronouncement.” It appears , at least for your GE , all is in order. Your grades are good. ..okay, okay..” as he flips page after page of my over-long transcript. “We can use this and this and this for your segment three related cluster..” I am thinking about how much time I paid for the parking garage and how much time is left .

“So, it looks like we can use human sexuality for your segment three even though they are not concurrent or your official concentration- hmm you haven’t declared a concentratio.OK, if you think I need to declare something, then go ahead. I guess that is just how it worked out, if you can use the health ed stuff, then that’s a good thing. Don’t be embarrassed, ” he says, in the voice of a combination of benevolent guru , “lots of people use human sexuality as their segment three, it’s a part of life, nothing to be ashamed of”.

I wasn’t embarrassed until now. Because he is so loud. The down jacket is now feeling sweaty. I tell him I didn’t’t bother to get much advising when I was last there, I just followed what was in the bulletin as far as requirements. “Well, that is a mistake many students make, they try to do it all themselves, without any advising, and see, see how you lose out that way- this other class, you didn’t’t even need to go through all that with the internship at the boy’s school. You could have just used this one that you already had passed with an A…” I try not to breathe audibly as he continues his sermon.

“Yes, I know that. Now” I say, in my best I-am-repentant-better-believe-it -you -are-the-voice-of-the-prophet solemn voice, which is actually my most real voice as of late. I am afraid he will misunderstand, take my statement in a back-talk type of way, but he doesn’t. He believes me. He looks up and past me, greets a co-worker.

“Hey, you criminal, when did they let you out? ”

They have an exchange of sorts, whereupon the adviser abuses him a bit, and the other, a short , somewhat chunky South American (?) looking man nods and laughs and then makes his exit. “Morgan” then makes a few little reflective chortling noises to him as he gets back to my forms. Now I am starting to feel post-sweaty-panic icy-cold shivery , I can tell this is almost over. He sees the pictures of my sons in my folder and asks if those are my boys, wants to look at the pictures. “Big age difference, hmm?” he says as he surveys the wallet photos. Remarkably, he doesn’t’ comment that perhaps they don’t look very much alike, as 99.9% of everyone else does. He must have drawn his own conclusions. “Yes”, I concede, “one is now 6, the other 16″. I look at the pictures, smiling what I hope is a sentimental, motherly smile.

” Well, ” he continues, “they will be so proud of you..” and he continues, which is making it all worse for me. I cannot even tell if he is sincere, or if he is on some level judging me. It doesn’t’ matter much, but I want out of there so badly by now that I say some trite thing about not giving up after this long. He likes this and heartily agrees, the others behind him echoing that sentiment about never giving up, and how it’s ‘never too late’. This is truly retch-worthy, but now I smile a grateful, I-am-saved type smile. He likes this too, and bestows on me some parting blessing, “Go, my child, go out into the great big world , and get yourself a better job than shucking lattes, so you can support your kids, and may God keep you..”. He doesn’t actually say that, but that is what I hear.

In dreams, I can escape all this. In dreams, things have played out in such a way that people are treated better, things make much more sense. In dreams, things seem less surreal and confusing than waking life, where there is supposed to be a road map, laws of up and down- physics of living. In dreams, I never want to wake. An alternate reality where there is peace, all things wrong have not happened, and all things right follows the course of things that are good. Good begets more good, empathy and compassion begets true intimacy, understanding -similarities that words only serve to redundantly illustrate. In dreams, there is no fear and despair- loneliness, confusion. In dreams there is no constant disillusionment.
Even dreams that are not happy make more sense than my real life. If logic is not at least a close relative of reality, than what possible gauge does one use? Perhaps the lady doth expect too much.
Tomorrow night the boys won’t be here. I think of last time I was left to my own devices with movies. What I think I told you before were “feel-bad movies” One was a documentary http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6RNfL6IVWCE “Jesus Camp” , which chronicles some kind of Christianity that probably doesn’t’t much exist out here , but sure does in the Midwest. The lady who runs the children’s program in “JC” is scary. But even the “JC” documentary was better than http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uUgMUYD8olU “Imaginary Heroes”. Want to feel like sh*t ? Yeah, rent that. If I never see another fake-edgy, overtly dysfunctional (obligatory gay suicide or drug suicide etc, as if most White teenagers are ready to blow their heads off at any given moment. Don’t worry I didn’t’t ruin the end of this POS flick, that was how it opened) and disaffected grownups and youths movie, I’ll be better for it. Blah. Here’s a torrent link to it just to further deprive them from making a buck. . http://www.sumotorrent.com/details_492337.html?ref=
That whole “genre” of crap makes me want to watch Nick at Nite for the rest of my life, which might be a bit longer if I stay away from “feel-bad” movies. Mind you, I don’t need a gazing at the stars happy ending. I don’t much care for the typical romantic comedy (or any comedy for that matter). I am a black-wearing, paleo-goth . I am not after schmaltz (isn’t that what the yids call it?). However, I also don’t need to take away the message “Yes, your suspicions are confirmed. Life really does suck, and look how much worse it could suck if you were these people, although this too, could be you someday.” F&^% you, producer of this depressing, non life-affirming, no redemption value, un-biodegradable, unsustainable, soul-poisoning product. Take your fake edgy, celebration of F*&^ed -upness , and grow yourself a polyp with it. I’m going to rent Passion of the Christ, even if I don’t watch it, just to give a dollar to Mel Gibson.
I can’t decide if I want to hold my breath, gasp for air or light a smoke…
IX: Dear Prudence
Dear Prudence open up your eyes
Dear Prudence see the sunny skies
The wind is low the birds will sing
That you are part of everything
Dear Prudence won’t you open up your eyes?~ Beatles

This is the song I was listening to when I wrote the poem about the murdered kids.
There are people in this horrible seminar who are ordered to be there. One guy is loud and mad he has to go to this as well as the twice a week therapy with one of the co-facilitators. There’s what appears to be an illegal alien next to me with a translator, another one, a male, a few rows up . There are people who only have recently been granted custody because the other parent has beat the child. The facilitator, who sounds like “Lois” on “family guy” swaggers about the room, pausing for effect-
“You don’t call your ex an asshole or a bitch. It’s about the chaaaaaaaalddd” (child) as if she is a combination of jewish grandma meets evangelical preacher. When I go out to smoke on the break, the few other women there talk about how horrible their ex.‘s are, how long it’s been since they’ve seen their child, one shows me pictures of her new boyfriend. “so then we all meet in the park , in a public place, like we’re supposed to, my 13 year old son comes up to me , and throws a bag at my feet. ‘here’s the rest of your stuff!’ ” one woman says, she looks not only thin, but possibly on drugs. Another one, who has hair sprayed, dyed Elvis-black hair and is missing a tooth, tells me she has a four year old from a one nighter. I try to be kind and say, “well, you did the right thing, it beats the alternative”. To this she says , “Oh, I already did that three times”. I’m aghast, I don’t know what to say to this , but nod and act impressed with how sad and horrible her story is . I go into the bathroom, into the large handicapped stall and lean against the wall.

“What are you doing in here? Hiding much? What did you expect it was going to be like today? Did you think it was going to be ‘fun’? Gawd , M”.”Go away Prudence, I didn’t’ call you”.”Ha, this is the thanks I get for trying to help you. You go back in there, and take your medicine and stop with your middle-class sniveling. You should be glad you aren’t’ them. You don’t feel like one of them, do you? I bet you’re going to cry for a week over this, haha… oh and do something about that hair. Is it still falling out?” You’re just as fucked up as I am, Prudence. At least I’m not afraid to feel, I’m not a poseur like you, who prides herself on how fake tough she is. Even if I am weak, at least I’m REAL ” ..

“You better watch how you talk to me, Missy. I kept your anemic blood in your pathetic little veins. Keep it up and next time I won’t save you. I may be a bitch, but at least I’m not a whiny little bitch like you. Awww, why don’t you just go home , put on your wuss Cat Stevens and smoke your pussy Merits and write your shitty poetry , or touch yourself, then cry into your pillow…”
“Shut. The. Fuck. UP!”I go back to endure hours more of the workshop. I write notes to the closet queer on my notebook, he leans over and reads with great interest. If there’s one thing fags love, its intrigue, no matter how small. I write how I feel like the high end of the Springer show. He nods and smiles, amused. He writes back about a book he thinks is so wonderful, called “Mistakes Were Made”, he says the cover features a man from the waist down, who has painted his house and painted over himself as well. Now I feel betrayed by this 6′ 7″? (some ungodly height, much bigger than all the normal-tall boyfriends I’ve had, to be sure) will o the wisp . I wonder if he has Klinesfelter syndrome. He is into mainstream Oprah reading material. I feel like telling him “listen girlie, I’ve been rejected for who I am too, though not for the same reasons, and I haven’t resorted to Dr. Phillistic Psychosnivel woodpulp.” He whispers to me about how Aronson and Tarvis, or whoever it was who wrote it won all these awards, blah blah and how great they are. About now I’m thinking that the TV Oprah book of the month club mentality would be even more unbearable than his faggotry. However, he is , as is typical for his kind, much more articulate than your average very dysfunctional (or illegal alien) adult male, so I am happy he is in my “group” when we have to start doing the obligatory dreaded small groups, because then it won’t have to always be m who is the “group leader”. Who wants to lead these, oh, what is the cutesy internet put down of the week – “ass clowns”?

Lois continues on, Virgil leading Dante onward to further reaches of hell,” So you tell them ,

“Mommy and Daddy still love you, we just don’t love each other”. I feel ill. I think of the cliché “I love you, I’m just not ‘in love’ with you”. How about “I’m in love with you, I just don’t love you”. That kind of stuff is all bullshit. If you love someone, you love them for THEM, not because of what they can do for you, or these asswipes who come up with cliches like ‘love is a decision’. That stuff is crap. It’s not about checklists. It’s not there one day, and not there the next- if it is, you’re in 7th grade.

At last lunch break comes, some kind of Asian woman from the class is walking next to me. I ask her where I can get a sandwich. She gives me directions to Draeger’s . I tell her I heard what she said about the lawyers and this psychiatric evaluation they encouraged her and her husband to pursue, as they fought over custody, which is hugely expensive.

“Now we don’t want this, but lawyers say ‘can’t stop it now, must follow through’, and they keep writing letters to each other, costs so much. Now husband and I hate lawyers more ! We are friends now against lawyers. We both don’t want this psychiatric evaluation. I not crazy, he not crazy, we were just angry, now this cost thousands, we say we will agree on custody plan, but lawyers keep push, push , push..” I agree how evil they are, and tell her to try and talk to someone at the superior court, say because of the language problem you and he both misunderstood, see if they can get out of it, and don’t go to the evaluation, both don’t go, and don’t sign anything else. She leaves to go to some Hawaiian place and I find Draeger’s. The place is very la di da. Expensive, dolled up to the nines in Christmas decor, crawling with well-groomed, bejeweled elderly rich from Hillsborough. I get my turkey sandwich and get the hell out of there.

Upon my return, I notice the people in class are all standing outside. We are locked out, only the people doing ‘supervised visitation’ and ‘child drop offs’ for weekend custody (parents get there, drop child off and leave, then other parent comes and picks child up) are coming and going. None of them let us in when they get buzzed in , as if this is the ad-deg wing at Pelican Bay. Super-max loser zone. Finally Lois comes back from stuffing herself through the lobby , sees us, and lets us all in. I go to the restroom and piss like a racehorse, having consumed 2 large coffees in the AM. More photocopies are being passed around, with little diagrams and charts and cartoon people on them. This is reminiscent of psych 101 with a sprinkle of women’s shelter material. No, those were even better than this. People are eating their food, and the second workshop woman gets her turn to start in asking us about our kids. More horrific stories. Lois’ co-conspirator looks to be late 20’s or early 30’s , prob a psych or developmental childhood major. She barely hides her disdain and revulsion behind a squinting , concerned mask as people talk about how their kids are “handling it”. She puts us all in groups according to the ages of our kids- those of us with big age differences in children have to pick one. I go with the oldest, so I can stay with White Sissy Pants, whose kids are a bit younger than my oldest, even though he is prob 10 years my senior yet he has been married 30 years. Will this day never end?
Chapter X: Ides of March
At one time, I would have been uncomfortable in a place like this, now I’m not worried. The receptionist (or whatever she is called these days) looks me over, she knows I am not a regular.
“Hi, this is your first time here, right? Would you like some tea?” a tiny Asian girl says. I am holding a coffee.
“Thank you but..” she notices my coffee now”Oh, hee hee, my bad.” (now she seems out of place) “we have a fruit bar, if you want to check it out”. (I don’t)
“OK, thanks,” I say , ignoring the fruit bar and sit down on a sofa. This looks like a combination of office, lobby and living room , but very small. There is a kind of picture on the wall, with raised fake rocks and water running down. It makes an artificial trickling sound. The place smells vaguely like incense , and something soapy, like lavender. There are various small vases with flowers around. The colors are all pastels, peaches, pinks, purples and some dark green accents. I’m so tired from tossing and turning and waking up various times all night I have that out-of-it surreal feeling , I didn’t really want to go to this , but this was a gift from my father, so I couldn’t reject it. I close my eyes, try not to actually fall asleep to the strains of some new-agey type music going.
” She will be with you in a few minutes, just be comfortable” she chirps.
“OK, ” I say opening eyes, small smile. She looks at me a second too long. Maybe she thinks I’m high or something, because I’m tired.
A few minutes later I am guided down a hall – this place is in what probably was once a garage in these San Francisco big stuck-together stucco houses-
“We have two rooms available, you can pick which one you like, OK?”
She lets me in first. Square, about 10 X 10. The room’s even parameters with this mish-mash of girlie frou-frou are incongruent. The window has chiffon-like periwinkle-colored drapery. The walls are purple and pastel, fake flowers in a huge vase, massage table, different new- agey stuff playing , and a large mirror with a little ironwork cat on top. “Want to see the other one?” she says brightly.
“Sure” I say and follow her down the hall even further. There’s a narrow door with a too-high doorknob, as if it belonged to a pantry. This room is small and narrow, real wood lines the walls, small slats of redwood . Unlike the first, this room is dark, the window has some kind of opaque curtain, and the heavy, utilitarian hand-crank peeks out underneath. A faint scent of pine permeates the air. There’s a Sheepskin rug on the floor near the table , a chair at the far end, and a floor lamp next to it. I walk to the chair, and half-turn , “This is fine”, I say , removing my jacket and hanging it on the back of the chair “Thank you” I say, hoping she is on her way out soon.
She has materialized a gown, “You can wear this if you want to. OK, she’ll be right with you”, and puts the gown on the table as I have started to undress.
“Ok , thanks”.
The table, which is really almost like a dental chair, it has beige leather and a white sheet tucked in around it like a bed. Where the pillow would be is another segment of the leather insect body of this table/chair, with an open space so one can breathe. I don’t put on the gown but lay face down trying to find a way to get my hair out of the way.
“Hi. I’m Lucinda . Looks like you’re ready.” she says, or something like that. I look up. She is tall, shoulder length hair styled surprisingly into a non-hipster-y, almost politician’s wife ‘do. She looks almost like a doctor. I feel relieved . Some people are scared of doctors, but I like them. Not because I think they necessarily “have the cure” but because (good ones anyway) are direct, they have a systematic way of finding what is wrong , usually do and fix it efficiently (shrinks don’t count) , they notice details , and they don’t tend to get lost in their own head .Doesn’t mean I will always follow their suggestions, like flu shots, I think those are a scam and ineffective . Lucinda is solid, or at least tries to appear so.
She starts working away on me, and I am driving down the mental highway, trying to figure out of I should stop for gas and keep going or look for a “vacancy” sign. I’m happy she doesn’t have music playing and tell her so. She gives a short non-committal reply about how people who like the music usually pick the other room. She keeps rubbing away.
” You’re very tense” she says,
“Yes.” I agree. “I know” .
“Well, try not to fight it if you can, become conscious of your breathing, I’m going to work on your legs and lower back , and come back to your shoulders and neck ” (I wasn’t aware that I was fighting it, thinking now maybe I should just go to sleep).
I try for the real thing and go against the drone of her advice, or whatever she is saying “become aware of your surroundings, blah blah”..and eventually she stops talking-. I try to become less aware of my surroundings as far as paying attention, and start noticing things that just drift in.. that halfway zone where thoughts, memories are non-linear, but this is not the real sleep I didn’t get last night, this is “dollar-store sleep”. Ahh well, you get what you pay for – but I’ll take it. Finally she gets back to where it hurts most. She turns my head out of the little breathing zone and to the side. As much as I didn’t want to come here, she is helping me. Or trying to. She is really pushing hard now, I feel my neck make little clicking noises as she works away. When did I last feel this relaxed? I think I am drifting again, starting to feel a dizzy sense of letting go.
“Am I hurting you?” she says, out of the blue .
It takes me a minute to process this, I thought I was asleep , for real this time. She hands me a tissue. “It looked like there were some tears” she says.. and there are, the little paper from the table wet and stuck to my face . There’s salt water pooled near my nose. I’m somewhat embarrassed, but pretend it like is a non-event. I know why I cry. . Being touched at all, as nice as this is, it is not the real thing, or even a close relative. It only mocks the memory of the real thing, kicking sand in its face like those old Charles Atlas cartoon ads. Nyah nyah, haha . Empathy without intimacy. Nearness minus passion. A bloodless pulse. Incompleteness. I would like to have one of those sobbing, racking cries, like I have not had in months, but I don’t do so. I’ll save it for a special occasion.
“Oh. No, no, it’s good, I’m fine , probably just letting go of some stress in my sleep, go back to it, ” I take the tissue and pat my eyes. She replaces the paper , and I lie back down. She returns to it, not quite as hard as she was doing before then after a while she says to turn over, she then massages my temples , scalp and jaw.
“Try not to hold your jaw so tight. ” she says . I decide not to tell her about the past “TMJ” or the gnashing of teeth at night, or pain that makes one’s mouth water, or bags of frozen vegetables pressed to the jaw, or doctors who didn’t have the answer to this. She works on my arms now, I figure it must be getting towards the end of the hour as it seems the arms and hands would be the last stop.
“you don’t go out in the sun a whole lot ” she comments, almost as if to herself. Ha. I don’t go out much at all.
Then a qualifying ,
” you must cover up. Usually people’s arms or legs are darker, but you’re pretty much all one color” .
I didn’t know what to say to this, but fake laugh and acknowledge the truth of it.”Yeah, that’s true”.
“Now people won’t get that little bump on their finger from writing so much, because of the computers , you know , from when people wrote with pens” She is working on my right hand, I know she can see the remnants of exactly what she was talking about. I wonder what else she has noticed that she didn’t comment on.
I think of that scene in Silence of the Lambs where Jodie Foster as “Clarice” circles the body , looks at the hair, holds up the dead girls glitter-polished nails , “looks like town to me”.At the end she gets a warm towel and puts it over me, tells me “please, don’t leave anything, your dad has taken care of it” (I’m assuming this means to not tip her?) then says have a good weekend or something, and shuts the door quietly on her way out. After a minute or so, I get up , go over to this strange blue standalone sink and wash my face, brush my hair and get dressed. I feel lighter, but still very tired.

Chap. XI: Duality
I’m soaking in the tub, the water dyed green by the pine bath salts. The only thing better than being near the water is in the water. It is probably too hot. My hair, up in a banana clip is growing damp with sweat. I start to feel that awful relaxed feeling that might lead to a tear. As I grab the soap and shaver knowing I will not cry if I am too busy trying to avoid cutting myself, the phone rings. I grudgingly answer it in the you-might-have-the-wrong-number voice. It’s my long distance friend Betty. She asks if she has caught me at a bad time.
“No way, ” I say, keeping still so she doesn’t hear the splashing .
She’s very polite, much more conscious of social niceties than I am. Sometimes I wonder why she even likes me, then realize I may provide some kind of entertainment for her, a ‘place’ she has never been, or out of some kind of bizarre curiosity. Then I feel like a**hole for thinking that. No it isn’t that, I tell myself, she’s not trying to get information, maybe she actually is just being nice, wants someone to talk to, be a friend to, as we all do . Sometimes I am jealous of her, not even in the usual way, not for the things she has that I don’t, but for her whole life. I don’t know if I saying simply “she knows more than I” would be accurate, but I can say “she has seen a lot more than I” which I believe has lent her some kind of strength or resolve, though sometimes I also think this is partially affected.

Again I wonder what she sees in me . What is it I could possibly offer her, after the adventures she has had. She always tells me I don’t give myself enough credit, but sometimes I wonder if this too, is a backhanded compliment, rather than sincere, there’s gentleness in her tone that skates on the coldest , thinnest ice. I remember at one time feeling sorry for her, but the thought of her feeling bad for me is more than I can bear on many levels. I hadn’t even entertained this possibility till recently. The ideas of someone else being the sympathetic, mature ‘bigger person” towards me makes my guts rumble. My holier than thou way of coping has not only been outsourced, but she is better at it than I.

Oh why O why couldn’t she just be like the scowling , squint eyed grade school girls from the other side of the tracks who yelled nonsensical curses as they tossed me down rocky slopes – I dusted myself off and it was over until the next time they caught me walking alone. I could console myself with my father arguing with my mother about whether to enroll me in private school(they didn’t) , and how I felt favored by him -the horrible girls who hated and made fun of me for no reason no longer mattered . I saw them all as a pack of wolves, or jackals. Betty is much harder to cope with. I wonder if I am to Betty what those girls were to me. I dodge panicked moments of silence by making lots of noise and pretending not to hear what she said, buying time.

“What?” Clang , clang. “Oh sorry, I was trying to put stuff away, bad idea!”. I vacillate between moments of feeling I can handle Betty, with or without backhanded compliments and subtle messages and innuendos and moments of sheer terror that she knows everything and wants to kill me. I want desperately to believe, for all her experience out in the world, which I lack, that I also have skills , or at least good instincts- that sense sniffs the air, tells me whether to run or fight. I drink iced coffee in small sips, so as not to choke or develop nervous hiccups. I fight the urge to become loud, to yell “It’s true, it’s ALL TRUE! I had no idea it was you. I never thought it would go where it did . God, if only I had known it was you, yes, I remember what you told me, but I didn’t put it together. Oh God, Betty, I’m sorry, forgive me. ” That’s one variation on the theme. This particular one is only any good if she doesn’t already know.

She asks me how things are going. I, at once eternally guilty and paranoid, stutter something about trying to stay busy and healthy. This is almost like how I imagine “confession” must be, perhaps worse. She compliments me and says she is trying to do the same.
Ironically, we almost never talk about political things unless it is impossible to avoid. Politics can be an ugly game, kind of like internet faggotry consisting of Clintonesque half-truths,deny, deny, deny -make up one’s own defintions so you aren’t technically lying. Next: lay the groundwork in case. Next: Destroy evidence, convienently ‘lose’ stuff Next: throw little clues out there to see if there’s a reaction to test what people know, what they might say- don’t make it about yourself of course. “I have this friend…Can you believe that!?” and see what the reaction is- or have a sockpuppet do it, see who is pro/anti your ‘friends’ problem. This can also work with trying to steer the herd a certain way by making it look as if all these different personalities are going the way you want them to go. Next: Spin with what info is already out there or make it up as one goes along. Next- use the ‘ridiculed, opposed, accepted as fact’ formula and try to get friends to rally, add a few in to half-criticize to make it more believable. Lather, rinse, repeat.

I peer out behind the heavy drapes and glance at the powdery moon in daylight. I alternately smoke and tear off my fingernails, we discuss her visiting me, and she knows I am not keen on flying, but to her, it’s nothing, so she will come to me . She is on a cell phone outside, I can hear the gravelly crunch of her steps, though her speech is not that of someone walking at a brisk pace, more like walking around a yard . Crunch , crunch, and then quiet, maybe walking on grass, crunch , crunch. Get this, she wants to take ME on a tour of my own city. What have I gotten myself into? I do not want to try all this weird foreign food at downtown restaurants-I hate spicy , exotic food! I even said I would cook everything! But I don’t say this.
How can I say anything in objection to anything she says? I have no right. I treat her as if I was the murderer of someone in her family, and she is unaware of it, though she suspects. Sometimes I can’t tell whether she is trying to “gaslight” me, or I am just reading stuff into everything. “Sure , Bet, It’ll be fun” (ugh, pain in my side). I try not to breathe audibly, putting a washcloth in the drain so it won’t make that slurping noise, my finger over the receiver while she talks so she doesn’t hear as I silently rise out of the dark water. But this part about Betty is revisionist , this is how things would be Betty was actually still talking to me. As is, she hasn’t spoken to me since last year.

I don’t really know Betty. I don’t think I know Betty. Though I don’t agree with at least one thing Betty did- I don’t know Betty’s whole story, the real story- and because of this not knowing, I feel guilty.

Chap XII- Shore Leave
“hey, not so close to the water!” someone yells, as a black dog, maybe some kind of Labrador mix, bounds up to me. The dog makes me turn to see how it is. A white-haired, white bearded man wearing a Greek fisherman’s cap is waving to me, I think. I look around. I’m not in the water exactly, I have my boots on. I’m picking up rocks and am holding an especially good volcanic one about the size of my fist. “you shouldn’t walk so close”, he calls , walking towards me, ” its deep right there where you are, there’s an undercurrent”. I recognize him now, he’s out here a lot in the morning. I back away from the water and up the grade. through the mushy sand, and think how to thank him for rescuing me from a danger I am not sure exists and how to sound sincere about it. He has abroad smile “Never turn your back on the sea, ” he says.

“I thought this beach was OK,” I say. He goes on to lecture about how people get swept out all the time. I realize quickly he just wants to talk, which is fine. I look out on the water. .”That’s not the islands,” I say, “Do you see that?” . I know very well what I see out on the horizon is not the islands, it is probably a ship, but this will give him something to talk about. There are little patches of white to either side of the freighter. “I thought it would be kind of a lousy day to be out there. Supposed to rain, look at the waves.” The waves aren’t that big, but picking up.

“Oh this isn’t bad at all, and you have to consider out there isn’t as bad as here. If you get lost or things get rough sometimes you’re better off riding it out there than trying to come back in. ” I mention the movie The Perfect Storm . “That’s a true story, you know”. I tell him I do know, but only found out either at the end of the movie or sometime after that and wished I hadn’t seen it. “But you knew about ‘Titanic’ and you went and saw that.” he challenges.

“Yes,” I say, feeling cornered, ” but I knew that ahead of time”. He looks puzzled. I just smile at him, makes perfect sense to me. He seems to be over whatever it is he can’t fathom and starts telling me about the different sizes of swells -the closer together they are, the worse it is. I tell him it sounds like childbirth contractions and he laughs. I can tell he is not from here, he has some kind of light accent, but it is he who asks if I was born here.

“Yes, I was, at UC , in the city”. He seems thrilled that he is talking to a native Californian, which amuses me . I bite my lip to keep from chuckling at this. Is it that rare to be from here? I don’t tell him I haven’t been much of anywhere else , a few western states, Canada and Mexico, that I’ve never flown. He says

“In ’67, I was out in the bay and had a boat sink on us. Got rescued, obviously, we were only in the water an hour and a half but it was miserable”. I recount the story of a friend who spent 7 hours out in the bay with another crab fisherman but survived. He seemed surprised they survived.
“Well, they were really fat, and probably drunk,” I explain.
Then he starts telling me about how expensive things are in the UK. I try to keep up with this.
” More than here? I remember, wasn’t it, if something cost a dollar here, it was 2 pounds there?” I say.

“Oh no, you’ve got it in reverse, you pay more here for the same thing.” He starts talking about economics, I start treading water, dog-paddling as I walk . I’m thinking I wish he were a real teacher, and I am pretty sure he is not, but he is teaching me nonetheless. “It’s because our dollar here is worth less now, because we are so in debt as a nation, this war, not exporting anything”, he says, and I try to steer the conversation to politics, thinking that if he brought up the war as a detriment, he won’t mind my criticism of it. We talk about the “100 year war” proposed by one of the candidates. I talk about my kids, how sick I am about all of it with worry. He starts telling me about that particular candidate and something called the “Keating 5”, and ripping off older people.

“When did this happen?” I ask. “About 25 years ago” he says, “It’s going to come out, people have short memories here, the news only cares about who people sleep with, and no one even cares about that anymore”. Then we make off-color jokes about the Clinton/Lewinsky scandal, how she was famous for that and later diet ads involving what she does or does not umm, imbibe?
” We live in a tabloid culture”, I tell him. We talk about the remaining candidates. Aside from the candidate we have already rejected, I make a comment I don’t know the real difference between the other two. He can take this any way he wants. It is too early to hear or speak about Muslims and black churches, for one, so let him think I am color-blind, which isn’t a total lie, as I do not think the candidate is particularly representative of black America. I think he favors the charming, articulate one, than the holier-than-thou bitchy one. I agree that many think his competition is not particularly like-able ,to her detriment. He says he doesn’t trust her and stars talking about things I have a vague idea about, but know he doesn’t have the time to explain to me. ” but they are all dishonest in some way, they all wally gag back and forth for whatever suits them that week, whatever will play well”.
He says he is torn between “charm” and “bitchiness” as to what the country needs. He doesn’t believe the US will ever go for socialized health care because of the big pharmaceutical companies losing money, that they wield too much power and have too much money invested to relinquish anything to socialized health care. I listen with interest and feel lousy that he is probably right. I remind him we already have lots of socialized health care, just not for working stiffs who can’t afford it. We start talking about local politics and begin the long trek back to the parking area. The sky is turning a grayish-blue.

” It was good to talk to you, maybe see you here again, ” and tells me his name. I immediately think of an English actor with the same name. I tell him mine and he takes a hold of my hand, not exactly a handshake in farewell. It seemed a genuinely friendly gesture, which leaves me with a feeling of good-will, yet somewhat saddened. Will I see him out here again? He is not unattractive though not my type, but this is not that kind of thing. It’s not a man/woman thing . Nor is it some weird father-complex. Have I forgotten what it is like to have a friend?

XIII: Carrion/Carry On
I spotted his movements as I started up the narrow, steep path of the cliff. Up, down. Up, down as he pecked and tore at whatever expired creature -turned-dumpster-dived brunch lay at his feet, resigned, floppy. Both of us were in dusty black , but his feathers, richer than my faded clothing bore a sharp contrast to the brightness of the red comb on his head, while I only shone with sunscreen and mild sweat. He opened up his wings a bit, not all the way, as if to tell me “I don’t appreciate you interrupting my carrion-noshing”. I stood there for a moment , uncaring what the tiny people on the beach and in the water would think, and raised my own arms while advancing up the path. He flew away, circled high as he watched me pass, a little goat scampering up the hills of the acropolis. Probably less than a minute later when I got some ways away , near a configuration of larger boulders and rock promontories complete with a cave, place to sit with a view, and a wall out of the wind. It looked like something out of ‘Journey to the Center of the Earth’. I decided to rest there and looked back to see if Mr. Turkey Vulture was still swooping high overhead, worried about his lunch, but he was not.

He was busy flying the length of water, from the sand back to where I had originally seen him, but without landing or seemingly even flapping his wings- coasting. He had transformed himself into something almost majestic, if it were not for the fact that he fed dead things, and was not quite as good-looking as his brother raptors, the hawk and eagle. Feasting on the dead lacks the warlike and more risky appeal of killing and victory – the vulture will not appear on coinage. At first sight, he was actually fairly repulsive, the way he rhythmically pecked at something that was probably once a smaller bird as there were no rabbits here that I knew of here. I could not tell if the white was fur or feathers . Oh, he was far from pretty, yet I could not help but be impressed by his flight, his crude table manners belying his grace and wingspan.

I thought how, for all his bluster, he must never have been truly worried I would steal his breakfast. Perhaps I did not give him enough credit. Look at him now, he was quite far away from where I stood, continuing his pattern of soaring back to the land, half swooping over the sea, and back to the outcropping of rock where I sat , watching. He was never worried, knowing people don’t eat the kind of meat he does, even with his tiny brain, he does not act the way a dog might in that situation. Is he showing me I was never truly a threat? Is he showing off? It is obvious he was not much worried much about ‘politically correct’ as I approached his picnic table of death. He wasn’t interested in ‘social justice’, being at once the coroner, waste management system and garbage disposal, among other things. He is not a predator, but more like hospice, watching over, circling , and almost guarding the dying until he catches the tell-tale scent that life itself has flown away . The eagle neither looks nor waits for death, but rather opportunity to cause such. Mammalian carnivores will eat something deceased, but would probably prefer to thin the herd by preying upon the weak, or injured.

The turkey vulture doesn’t care about gender inequity ,or privilege – he has not one shred of Vulture Guilt ,nor does he worry about investing in programs that would help birds less equipped to survive-in fact he is very carefully involved in seeing how other creatures are either < or > than himself ,especially as it relates to his survival. His slight show of feathers was meant to show he was not pleased at my unexpected arrival, yet the protracted flying which followed showed he was neither starving, nor was I a threat to him. I leaned back on the rock and looked up towards the tops of the cliffs, away from him, due west. Not even a gull to be seen out this far. Of course he is relaxed, he has no competition.

XIV: Correct Me if I’m Wrong
” Aww man, I don’t know if you want to say that around me.” the young man said. “I told you about my accident, right?” In fact this was probably the 5th or 6 time I’d heard about his accident. He carried around pictures of himself in the hospital, in a coma, with what looked like part of the left side of his skull gone a beautiful, sleeping angel . Then pictures of him awake, a decent enough looking kid, with the blank stare reminiscent of the vacuous wannabe tough-guy rappers like Eminem, but this kid isn’t mugging for the camera. Above the hospital bed a sign read, ‘My name is Sean. Please use my name.’ I ask him about this, he says in so many words it was the only thing he clung to, though he didn’t remember his name from before the accident, the fact he even had a name was proof of a life before.
“Well, since the accident, I changed. I’m not like my dad now , this total republican..” he continued on about how he didn’t like to hear this word or that word, and trying to form a coherent argument but keeps pausing, trying to remember the point, and what he just said. I start to realize even if I ‘get anywhere’ with this kid discussing what is going on in the world, he won’t retain much of it, the ending conclusion or why. Still, I feel kindly towards him, almost motherly, he is so damaged. We had kidded around the last time I ran into him that his accident had caused him to become ‘politically correct’. Interesting that he can’t remember he just told me this story a day or two ago, and the week before, but can replicate a UK accent and Scottish brogue with no problem. I am reminded of a computer that is low on RAM when he loses track mid-sentence.
“You know, you don’t have to label yourself,” I said, “You’ve had an accident, and you’re a lot better. You aren’t really the same as all other groups who want special protections, you’re still you. Because you’ve had an accident doesn’t mean you have to give up who you were before and sign up as this new category.” He looked at me, his peach-fuzzy startlingly blond-red goatee blazing away above the chain around his neck that carried a flask full of ativan to prevent seizures, and a round medical ID tag.

“You’re still not black, or gay , or an illegal alien, OK?” I try not to say this last with either derision or sympathy towards aforementioned groups, but factual. He shakes his head at me, like I don’t get it while I am thinking the same but then he laughs and says

“You’re cool, I can talk to you.” as he gives me another one of his fake punches to the arm, buddy-style and continues.
“Hey, I used to be really good at math. I know I’m not as smart as I was. It bothers me, I remember the way I was, but I can’t be that way now. Hey you know that kid, the one that hangs out here with the really sad looking girlfriend, I think he’s like homeless? ” I know the one. The one he is talking about is a real piece of work.

“That guy ripped me off for 50 bucks a few days ago . I probably would have helped him.” he says and I am amazed he can suddenly remember all kinds of stuff about this guy now that he is angry.

“How did it happen, ” I ask, “you leave your backpack around?”
“I don’t want to talk about it”, he says, even though he brought it up. This explained why when that same kid was making a huge point to hang around in front of us a few nights ago, Sean avoided him , looking past and through him with a far-away smile on his face, while the thief smoked and hung out with some guy that looked like a combination of meth addict, male hustler and Columbian drug dealer.
It’s the left side of his head that was crunched, though he has been put back together under the knit , north woods with ear flaps hat he wears along wit the knapsack/portfolio of news articles and hospital pictures. All laminated and in a kind of order. Sometimes I ask to see the articles again, to pick up things I missed the first time.

“You have to stop apologizing for the accident and what it has done to you. Unlike what Reagan when Reagan asked the question, you actually ARE a lot better off.” He doesn’t get this , he wasn’t born then, even if he did remember stuff. “That was the one-liner Reagan used in a speech, and successfully, though some would argue we were or weren’t better off under Reagan. Forget that, ” I say, “That is just something from a speech, asking people if they are better off , just campaign talk and promises, you know, like what is going on now. My point is, even with whatever damage you have, you’re still a lot better off than most of the rubes wandering around here. ”
One of the stalwart coffee shop hangout dudes laughs in agreement.

“Sean, look at it like your brain is a computer, which it kind of is, but way more sophisticated- yours might be hurt, but there is still a lot going on inside, whether or not we agree on this or that. A lot of these people ,” I gesture towards the far-side people being dispensed out of the Ross store toting bags of trendy crap, their hardware is OK, but their programs are all messed up. Or there just isn’t much there period. There isn’t a lot there in many people, or what is there is messed up, and it’s not by accident .” I almost start railing about MTV, but decide that would be too much and make him lose the one point I am trying to get across, make a mental note to use that another time.   ” Besides, you are a warm and friendly guy, and not scummy, and I’m not just saying this to be nice or charitable. ” I think of Phineas P. Gage, and wonder what Sean was like before the accident.

” You know how , umm ‘intolerant ‘ I can be. I hardly like anybody ” I’m not sure if he is following but I think he realizes he has been complimented. I begin to wonder if it actually is a compliment. Is he like a big but harmless dog to me, like his Irish Wolfhound is to him? Is hating and being disgusted, let down by so many others good reasons to be friendly with someone? Because they aren’t in a position to hurt you?

“Well, thanks for hanging out with me today, I was all bored..” he says..

” Don’t thank me for hanging out with you. When you say me out walking today, and waved , I didn’t think, ‘Oh, let me do a good deed for the day and say hello to Sean The Disabled’. I might be hanging out with you for my own reasons ,maybe I want someone to talk to , or just listen to. ” I am reminded of the ‘it isn’t always about you’ small psychological maneuver too often used to change the subject , put the other person on the defensive, but I don’t mean it like that. I’m not trying to dance away from the subject- I am running towards it.

“Wait, wait, what was that last part again? ” he says, a flicker like the orange light on my PC . He’s thinking about stuff, at least making an effort. I stop myself from saying “It’s not that hard”, and again realize how many of these verbal little nasties I have picked up, feel disgusted at myself, even if I don’t use them, I’m thinking them, if only in attribution.

” Sean, I’m not hanging out with you for charity. You’re OK. You don’t even have to be politically correct around me. ” Now I almost feel like I am politically’ molesting’ him, or practicing  WN approaches on him. The playing field here actually IS imbalanced , greatly. He has a good excuse for not catching on too quickly or needing things repeated, unlike a lot of others who never catch on, even if they understand the words. In some twisted sense, from how he speaks, and even at times how quick he is to stop me in whatever rant I am on, I can tell that there really was a great deal of intelligence there. I don’t want to cry but have to be careful. I feel a power over him in a way I wouldn’t have had sans accident, and it is not the usual type of power I have. There’s no way I’m going to tell him this, even if he understood it might be offensive or hurt him. There is nothing sinister in this realization, but I feel I must not abuse it, or try to go too far with my own crusade. I decide to keep the focus on trying to get him to self-identify as who he was before, rather than see himself as lumped in with every other I-am-oppressed-and-downtrodden group.

“You’re still you, Sean, not a head injury or a group, if you want to talk to teenagers and show them the pictures and crusade for helmet safety, great, but I’m just saying, you really don’t have a lot in common with these other groups. We both grew up here, went to the same high school here, know a bunch of people here. You know the kids of people I went to school with- we have similar parents, similar up bringing, you liked to skate, I like to walk and climb. ” I avoid the W word, I feel I  don’t need it, the W word is there in expressing the things we have in common. I feel a twinge of sadness that I know he would have gotten my jokes , before- though he might not have cared about the political stuff either before or after his accident.

“You are not a head injury whose name is Sean, who is completely as apart from everyone else around here , OK?” He’s staring, his pupils always large even in daylight. I don’t think this trait is from the injury, as I have seen this same thing , and usually in eyes the same color as his- a pond-like grayish-blue, not many assorted flecks or striations of color.

“You’re not bullshitting me, ” he states, ” I can tell. ” and I believe he can tell. If he thinks I have an agenda, he doesn’t know what it is.

“No. ” I tell him, thinking of the ways in which the ‘rest of us’ are disabled or damaged. It’s not like that ‘We all have AIDS’  stuff either, what I mean. Most of us have something that has hurt us or screwed us up in some way. Some of us are good at hiding it, or distracting from it. Though I may not look the part I feel like an old Mabel thinking ‘I hope he is not smoking pot again, that is the last thing he needs.’


Chap XV -The Third Rail-
I sit , pretending to be listening to the mp3 player and reading, occasionally adjusting it. I’m starting to think I am not paying for the coffee anymore, I am paying for the privilege of hearing other people’s stories. At times the chatter is almost as unbearable as TV, and at those times I really do listen to the player. I almost can’t stand music altogether anymore-even music I like, I grow to hate. I wish I could get them to close part of the blinds in here, and only leave the window open that has the view. I think of that poem “I grow old, I grow old, I shall wear my trousers rolled”, and think how cranky I am starting to get- or perhaps just being sure of what one doesn’t like is interpreted as cranky, as opposed to those who are more ‘open minded’ and ‘tolerant’, who will put up with anything. If I was like that when young, I was faking it. After dating a guitar player in the 80’s ,I never need to hear a heavy metal ballad ever again. Noise, bickering. I detest the illegal aliens babbling as much as I detest the Berkeley-sequel- everything-ends-in-a-question? way of speaking. The tone is wrong, what is being said is unimportant. Silence is underrated. Still, I listen, because it is warm in the café, and foggy outside, and I have an hour to kill before I pick up my son.

“That is just so sad” one woman says to her companion, another woman similarly dressed in those loose, baggy ex-hippie-meets-retired-nun type clothes. “yeah, he won’t come here anymore since the accident She does, though, I ran into here about a month ago. ”

“you did?” says the other ex-nun type.

“yeah, we didn’t talk very long, she said Nick is in SF” The first one looks out at the water, her eyes squinting against the harsh light.
“What? I thought they..”

“No, She said after what happened, he got really.. strange. He’s having a hard time. ”
“How is she holding up? The drinking?” the second one asks, raised eyebrow.

“Better than him. She’s going to AA, court mandated, I think, I’m not sure about that. She wasn’t drinking when the accident happened, still he blames her”. The first one slurps her latte, “but, it was the other driver’s fault- they ALL could have died.Oh, that sounds terrible” the second one looks around, looks at me, but I pretend I don’t notice, look as if I am lost in music and the throwaway SF magazines. I start tearing a piece of the newspaper off, to be more convincing.

 The first one goes on, “I think she’s on something. Like Prozac. Or something. I don’t know, she takes a lot of stuff for the health problems. I hope she stays sober. She says things like ‘oh, we will all be together again someday, we will see her again’ and stuff like that. She’s angry about the way he is dealing with it, withdrawing. I think she was hoping he would ‘be strong’ for her, whatever that means, but he wasn’t. Isn’t. I mean, in the way she was hoping he would be. He says it gets worse with time, not better. She seems to have some faith to hold her up, she’s got her family, you know how they are- he doesn’t have that.”I haven’t noticed until now there is a small dog in her tote bag. She starts tearing little bits off whatever she is eating and gives little pieces to it.

” Well,” the second one says, adjusting her robe-like wrap around her, ready to make her pronouncement, “he’s got his older son to think about. ”  The first one changes her tone a little, as if to convey she has taken a side that she feels sympathy for this ‘Nick’.

” Yes, he does, and he is doing what he can. That boy is stronger than he looks, he actually has been very supportive to his dad. He misses his little sister, he knows things are not going to be what they were. I don’t think things were super-great before this happened. I mean, I used to see him down here with (name). ”
I now start feeling strange, because I think I know who they are talking about. Is it a coincidence the daughter’s name is my middle name. Oh please let it not be him. Oh please let it not be this girl. When I would go outside to have a smoke, there he would be also, I think I might have seen him smoking too once or twice, but I remember a man there with a little girl , and I am hoping it is not him they are speaking of, but I also know I have come here twice a week at least for quiet some and have not seen him or the girl. He was older than me, but not by much, probably once blond hair turned to that murky grayish-ash color. He was very tall, but his daughter did not resemble him so much, I cannot even remember much about his face, so charmed was I by his daughter.

She had the coloring of Snow White, masses of almost black hair, unearthly pale skin, and I think blue eyes. She was not a fragile , tiny girl, but she was also not heavy, probably around 4 or 5 or so, she did not look to be particularly tall for her age and had either the remnants of baby fat, but on her it did not look like the fat of poverty, that all over rotundity. No, this was more doll-like, her cheeks and dimples, long dark lashes and Kewpie mouth. I figured she probably looked more like her mother, though I could tell she was not adopted. I did remember he had books with him, though I couldn’t see what they were, but other than the college kids, most adults my age or older didn’t carry books around, they carried laptops- I mean-notebooks- or blackberry’s or walked, ran or biked while listening to ipods. I don’t remember saying much to him, though I had seen him there probably 3-4 times.

He commented once about how it was loud inside and I concurred, smiling at feeling I was in the midst of a kindred spirit but not wanting to subject him to even more noise by having to hear my rant about being disturbed by noise myself. We didn’t say much but I picked up much just sitting next to him on the little makeshift chairs and table outside that the employees had placed there, probably for themselves, but rarely got the chance to use. The tired yet unwavering joy he took in his daughter spoke to me of a man who was not particularly happy with life in general , yet she was something real and good and not among the regrets. He watched me watching her, and asked if I had children . I told him yes, two boys. Now I forgot what he said, if anything. He didn’t talk a whole lot. When I looked at him, most times he would look down or away. I didn’t think he seemed shy or embarrassed, but something was off. It was in his walk, it was in the tone of his voice, the way he moved. I remember him watching me go to my car and drive away the last time I saw him.

“and can you believe she actually tells this guy ‘so, isn’t Pasadena like a ghetto now?’ I feel bad saying this now, after what happened, but that’s what she’s like. I think she embarrassed Nick more than once. ” prattled on the first puffin bird, still feeding the Maltese . “I thought it would have been her that would be more messed up, but no-the drinking I don’t know, I guess that was going on before, but probably got worse. ” The second one leans in conspiratorially , but her voice isn’t particularly lower ” That legal agreement- it was almost like blackmail. So what was he supposed to do? Remember, shortly before the right before the accident? I mean, no one deserves THIS,” she says , but her voice says she deserved something, just not this. The first one flaps her robes and starts a series of head shaking and long nods of agreement.
“No, I wouldn’t wish this on anyone”, still flapping, presiding over her courtroom-cum-coffee shop. They sit there , one sips, the other continues to feed the Maltese and I am grateful for their moment of silence. Second makes a small mournful sound. First one sighs, signaling that their Lifetime movie discussion has concluded . I want them to get up and leave because I have to, and don’t want to call attention to myself , or worse, do something spastic or clumsy because I am pretty sure by now they are talking about the same man I had seen here and don’t want to believe anything could have happened to that girl, but I have a feeling she is gone. I try to talk myself into believing I misunderstood what they said, that I didn’t hear them right. Plausible Deniability. They don’t leave. I get up, leaving my stuff on the table and go in the restroom as if I wasn’t really going to leave, come out and look at the clock in the café, as if I just noticed what time it was. I pretend to fiddle with the mp3 player again, then leave, pausing for a few seconds outside by the chairs.
Chap XVI: Reprisals
They are back again, the same two, only this time I don’t see the dog.

“Didn’t you hear? She got fired. Well, they were looking to fire someone in her department anyway. Something about the points on her record, she is now considered ‘un-insurable’ or something..” says the second one.

“But she doesn’t drive for them..” says penguin # 1.

“Well, apparently , that doesn’t matter. Doesn’t matter that she worked for them for over ten years, hardly ever called in sick, was there on time every day, and was the only one there who knew anything. All the other idiots who couldn’t help anyone if their lives depended on it are still there” says Penguin 2, shaking her head.

” So , where does that leave Nick? ” p1 says, brows furrowed, ” I thought he wasn’t working. I thought she actually had to send him money, since he was the one who stayed home”.

“I don’t know. Maybe if he starts feeling better , he will find something. He’s not lazy, I know that, he did everything ..before”, says P2, “I guess he could live with his folks, they live around here, but I bet he won’t want to. I’m not even sure if his folks would help him, even given what’s happened.”

“Why? He was never in any trouble?” P1 says, rummaging in her over sized handbag. Still no dog.

“They’re strange like that. They have enough room. They let his son stay there whenever he wants. I don’t know, people are weird. Maybe I should try to call him, see if he’s all right. I don’t know if I have the number where he is now. I could find out , though.” P2 says, looking at P1 ,as if for approval. P1 does approve, she nods and unwraps a straw , jabbing it into the coffee lid.

 “That would be a nice idea. He’d probably like to hear from someone. I bet he is having a hard time, and now with this. I hope he doesn’t have to move again. They sure have been through a lot. Didn’t think she would lose her job though. How long has she been out since the accident? Is she still sick? ”

“She got some type of staph infection from one of the operations, has to inject herself with antibiotics and blood thinner. I think for almost 2 months. They can’t fire her until she comes off disability, but I heard Lily say if she goes back to work, I mean even sets foot in the door she will be canned right there. She really does have some bad injuries, though. I can’t believe her work would do this to her. After all those years. Guess that company is hurting too, that’s what I heard anyway, saw something on the news. She seems to be handling it well, according to Lily anyway. She says she will start her own business. He’s taking it harder than she is. But, that is how it has always been with them, everything just rolls off her” P2 says looking out at the water, the cars rolling slowly by, the post office.

” Well, yeah, of course he is, he depends on her for now anyway. How is all that going to be worked out? Can’t get blood from a stone.” says P1.P2 leans in , and I know from last time she is about to drop a bomb. 

“One time, Nick was talking to someone on the internet phone , I don’t know if it was anything …you know..it was hard to tell with her, she always acted like nothing bothered her, like she was the Queen of the Castle- but anyway, she gets on the phone, she says ‘how are things in your mom’s basement? Things real great in Iowa, or wherever it was- she says, you can have Nick if you want him, and the woman on the phone says , can you believe this, “OK, I’ll buy him for 20 grand”. Nice huh? Can you believe people! Oh, and then, get this, she actually gets into a political debate with the person on the Skype call. Like all animated., like she was enjoying the debate. This was in the middle of the night!”

P1 laughs, “yeah, that’s our girl. Sounds about right. I bet Nick was embarrassed, but probably used to it. God, that sounds awful. Funny in an awful way. I feel bad even talking about them like this, I’m just worried. I hope she is going to be all right through this, it kind of seems like she is trying to put on a good face.  I mean, considering. If one can.”

“Well, ” says P2 , fluffing her hair and pulling a loose strand out, “I’m more worried for Nick and his son. They are the ones who are ultimately screwed because of this. I know that sounds awful, after losing.. but you know- this happens so soon after he leaves. I know she didn’t do this purposefully, but still, he is really up a creek. ”

XVII: Through a Glass, Darkly
I’m dreaming, and in the dream I am in a room with the girl I did a paper about in school. I see her out on the periphery of my vision, she only looks at me when I look away. I remember something from long ago, then not-so-long ago but it is not clear. Then I realize it is not her, it is not the place she was held, – and it is just a mirror. I remember my hiding place and check to see if my weapon is still there, a scythe-like shiv fashioned out of one of the under wires I have pulled from my brassiere. Muscles or whatever spasm in map like interstates around my gut, I breathe , go through mental checklists, and little rituals of listening, checking the food in the mini-fridge and placement of objects thus calming myself.

I hate that though I can write, and am surrounded by books-books I can hardly read any longer– but it takes such work to concentrate , to try and understand what I have read, to remember what I have read, to get the point of what I have read and many times it is drivel anyway. My general sense of hearing is not great- but my sense of picking up nuances of sound is keen. One hears so much about those concentration camps, if they were anything like this, one could never concentrate at length on anything, but only pay attention in small bursts, a chicken vigilantly pecking for grains. Distraction camp is more like it. Listening for steps, voices, noises. I chronicle who is likely doing what, what time it is by the light coming in from outside, how many footsteps I hear, if there are sounds of birds. The computer fan warms me. I look around the same way the blind do, when they are listening intently, only my eyes move, not my head. I’m playing back scenes. They show up whether or not I want them to.

” People hate you that have never even met you” I hear myself say .

” No way, everyone hates YOU, you’re the one who has no friends! ” he says.”That’s not true”, a younger , male voice pipes up.

“Are you calling me a liar?” the older voice says, in shock at being challenged so insouciantly.

“I didn’t say that. I said what you said wasn’t true. ” says the younger.

“What’s the difference? If you say something I said isn’t’ t true, you’re calling me a liar! ” says older.

“The difference is,” continues the young man ” I don’t think anyone hates her and she doesn’t even care if she has friends. Having friends is not proof of being liked, necessarily. Just as not cultivating friendships is not proof in and of itself proof of being a shit. Stating something that is not true doesn’t mean you are in fact , a liar. I am correcting an incorrect statement “.
“““ nightmares can be real
Time passes. The same mans voice, it goes on and on and on ” Yes you will sign it, you will sign it or you know what will happen. YOU started this shit -I’m thinking uh no, actually you did long, long ago, Mr.-

” Blame yourself-your days are numbered , there is no way I am going to take care of you longer than I absolutely have to. I’ve had it all explained to me, how it is, don’t try and tell me that isn’t always the case. There is no way I am crossing that line and paying out to you long term. There’s only one other way out of this, and I’m not going to prison over your bullshit. YOU don’t have a choice. You HAVE to do it MY way because your parents won’t help you, so you are screwed. I was a horrible kid and my parents will do anything for me. I got nine lives, you got maybe one if you’re lucky. So you go and have all your little fucked up meetings with your dad, you are wasting your time. He isn’t going to help you, your mom has his balls in a vise. So tell me about how cold you are, you need this , you need that. You could be a lot COLDER. Or go talk to your little internet buddies, maybe they have room in their mom’s basement for you. Hope they have room for all your books and ebay crap, I sure as hell won’t miss that either. I don’t love you, and probably never did, except for giving me a son. We don’t have anything in common. You’re always turning the sound down on the TV, you’re a social misfit, you don’t like to have people over, you don’t like to have music on, you don’t like amusement parks, and you are no fun at all. Something is wrong with you , that’s why you don’t have any friends, you just don’t understand how to Be Cool and Enjoy Life. You hate grateful dead dancing people, you hate hackey-sack, everything social and fun annoys the fuck out of you, how are you going to function in this world? Why do  you give a shit about all this crap that doesn’t affect you? Why do you care about how redneck trash has to live? Why the fuck would anyone give a shit if it doesn’t affect their life? When they make more money than me, and own more than me, then they can come talk to me about mexicans or jewish conspiracies running the world and all your other insane crap. You’re going to find out , and I’m going to love that, seeing you not being able to make the bills, and laugh at you when no one cares- ha, then see if you have time to care about mexicans and ZOG. I love ZOG, ZOG is great, ZOG has done a hell of lot more for me than any of your little loser Nazi friends ever have. ……I wasn’t sorry then and I’m not sorry now, so go cry, go cry in there like a little baby. You say I’m not fair with the kids? Too fuckin’ bad. You say I did this or that, too fuckin’ bad. I’m glad I did it! I was never sorry, that’s why I kept doing it- yeah stay in there and cry. ”
I look at the locked door.

” and if you EVER, EVER threaten to call the police on me, I won’t even tell you what will happen to you. Don’t you EVER MENTION POLICE IN THIS HOUSE AGAIN! You tell anyone ANYTHING AND YOU WON’T have TO WORRY ABOUT MUCH! HIDE IN THERE ALL FUCKIN’ NIGHT ! ” Big thump on wall. I think about how much coffee I have had to drink today and look around the room in case I don’t want to come out for a long time. I hear ice cubes in a glass. Muttering. Slamming of objects. More ice. More time passes. I try not to make any noise. Hallway. “I’m going out. Don’t wait up.” Door slams. Engine. I lie down and breathe for a few minutes, deciding to wait to make sure he doesn’t forget something and double back.

“Mom, can you make me a little snack now?” I hear from the next room. I wake up from semi-sleep, semi-nightmare. It’s not happening right now. It’s not happening any more. I wonder, did he hate me more than I hate me?


I am walking on the coast, far out to land’s end. Slithering between the rocks by the deeper, darker water, he searches for shade to maintain his body temperature. I pull back, but it is too late to run from this thing, the landscape too rocky. I can see the tiny space where I know he resides, and he too , has caught my scent. I have to pass by his way to get away from the ever encroaching tide. I imagine I can hear him slowly making his way in the sandy crevices but it is I who is ready to spring. He may bite me but I am prepared to kill him. He is in more danger than I because I am no longer afraid of his bite, or pain or death. Come out, come out wherever you are, I have a present for you, a sharply jagged rock that will slice you -and like old widows, vultures not Valkyries will spirit pieces of your remnant away to Hell, where all shall feast upon you. Come on, come out. How long has it been since you have eaten? Oh you think your little display has frightened me? You think I care if anyone is watching as I strike more than the necessary blow to finish you? You heard me singing out here, and not quietly. Did it seem like I was afraid as I edged and climbed until I was on the last rock where no one could see me, and no one knew where I was?

I decided to wait a while to see if he would come out, as I stared towards where I knew he also lay in wait, my rock poised. I knew he would be faster than I, I took that into account as I selected a rock big enough to do damage, yet not so big it would fall before it hit the mark, or take too long to move through space. I took into account how hard and fast I would have to throw it, and because he could sense my movements, if I would have to act precipitously , or at the last minute to achieve my goal. I thought of waiting until the tide came further in to force him out, but knew that would jeopardize my rock plan, and he could easily slither past me should the water come in. No, I would wait a while, see whether he would play this , see if he would become more afraid and do nothing or aggressive. Either way I would do something. He could hide where I could not get him, but I could either crush him or blockade his escape with rocks. He might still find a way out, but it would be harder. He wasn’t smart enough to think of drowning, only of being attacked.

As I crouched there , a ways away to the side of where he was- I started thinking about a story an older friend, a woman my mother’s age had told me recently about her first husband, about how he had served two tours in Vietnam. About how he had sent back pictures of himself holding ears sewn together on a string, like Christmas tree decorations. How he had lost his best friend, also in the military, the friend riding atop a military vehicle in Hunter’s Point in San Francisco- he was guarding the troops within this truck or bus- for whatever reason people had been shooting at these vehicles that had to come in and out of the area every day , as that was a base in the Vietnam war, and how someone, not military – had shot and killed him as they drove by. She said as psycho as the first tour in ‘Nam had made him, losing his friend made him much worse. She said it wasn’t war protesting hippies who shot the man, it was a racial thing. Back then, no one fretted about telling it like it was.

 I didn’t get why the blacks would be killing the military, but she said the war didn’t figure into it, that the soldiers were, for the most part White, and that was enough of a reason. I gently launched a rock at the hiding place-no response. I launched another, blocking the escape by almost 50% . He would have to go further down into the mucky wormy sand to get away if I kept this up. I adjusted the hat to keep the sun off me and drifted back to my friend’s story as I continued to survey the rocks. Apparently , having lost his close army buddy, my friend’s ex lost respect for life in general, and gained an appetite for killing. She said that is why she thought he went back and came back alive twice, because he was so good at it, that he had said he never, ever hesitated when he came upon even a woman or child there. Telling him it wasn’t the Vietnamese that killed his friend didn’t matter. It was the violence, the revenge he wanted, and it didn’t matter to him that he was also in harm’s way. He said he was glad he was getting paid for it, but he would do it for free. She thought he didn’t even care so much about the politics of it, it was more like  Disneyland for a serial killer.

His letters, like the ones that contained picture ‘trophies’ were not that that one of one stoically resigned to doing what he had to . They were inappropriately light-hearted , as if he were having fun- letters home from a summer-camp. “look Ma, what I caught out on Uncle Bob’s pond!” . I threw another couple rocks. I thought I saw movement, but there were other creatures around as well, these strange black baby crabs, so fast they were. My quarry might drown, but it was clear he would not starve. He had told her a lot of the men who got killed had families, that the way he saw it, more of the ones who had families got killed than the single men. I asked her if that could be because they may have had more sympathy, not wanting to kill women and children, falling into traps that way- or if that conclusion was simply because so many men who had gotten drafted or signed up had families anyway. We decided there was no way to get to conclusions like that without knowing the stats about initial sign ups, and percentages. I thought about someone who looked for opportunities for death as he did. It was not personal for this guy, it was just something he liked to do, felt compelled to do. She said he was always trying to insert himself into his friend’s revenge schemes- he called this “doing favors”,and how he thrived on watching the reaction when whatever prank or destruction was discovered.

She told me about how he was when he got back, how he might have hurt her youngest daughter and caused her to have epilepsy . She cried telling me about how after she left him, how he had called her up and was beating his dog with a tire chain, how she heard all this over the phone, and how it had made her sick. He thought he had actually killed the dog, but this dog, somehow dragged himself out into the street, where a truck hit and finished him off. He never apologized for killing the dog-in fact he blamed her for “making him do it” by leaving . She told me how he lived in the city and wondered who he is hurting or killing now.
XVIII -Visitation
“Change, Change, Obama is all about change… change your name, change your socks, change your underwear. ”

“Hello Jim. ” I say. I can see him in my peripheral vision, like he is sitting there watching TV.

He continues, ” Ya know, change has a lot of definitions, to change something, alter something isn’t always a good thing”. I know where he is going with this, and I truly see the merry-go-round that is on every level of every inferno, where you keep going around and around in your head, and there is no end. Worse, with every go-round, you find out what you thought you knew just isn’t true at all. Other times, the same old stuff is dogged to death, ad infinitum, in new and different ways, but always the same theme to the torture.

“Yes, I know” I answer him. If there is anyone who can beat a dead horse, it’s Jim. But he’s good-natured about it. He reminds me of the kid in high school who was always bumming a smoke off you because he knew you were good for it. You couldn’t say no, no matter how many times he did it, just because he was such so damn likeable. He knows in a different way, he can appear and do this and I will take it stoically, patiently. I wonder how he can be sorry and yet still angry- after he has exacted his revenge? I know he ‘apologized’ …before he was done. I know he was truly sorry.  I heard him say it, I saw him fall to his knees and ask God’s forgiveness. I know it didn’t take him very long to finish himself after what he did. 

I’m thinking of Schopenhauer “All truth passes through three stages. First, it is ridiculed. Second, it is violently opposed. Third, it is accepted as being self-evident.” I face his ghost and give him a questioning look. I sigh, wondering if he will ever get to ‘go to the light’ like in Poltergeist. Something falls in the kitchen. I hear the ‘plunk’ which signals it is a ceramic mug and not glass. He says he misses being on the radio, he misses talking to people, that it’s lonely where he is most of the time, though he is not alone. A door I thought was closed makes a couple creaks, my stomach starts gurgling. He starts in about aluminum, and NutraSweet,  how I shouldn’t microwave in plastic, and starts telling some story I have heard before, a confession of sorts. Tickaticktick goes the door. I put my hand out to where it feels like he is. I feel cold in the way one does when one hasn’t slept well for days-shivery, like I have the creeps, but not because he is here. I want to cry but am just too tired. I lean over closer to where he is, as if I was putting my head on his shoulder, not like the 50’s song, not like a date, not like a father-I lean on him, but it is he who is comforted. As usual, he does most of the talking.

“Usury and losery ” he says.

“Will you ever be free?” I ask him.

“Oh, probably not”, he says, “but – am I better off than I was four years ago? ”

“You make everything into a joke”, I say. “You are sorry?” I ask.

“Yes, I am, I could have done things differently. I don’t know what, but I could. Despair makes you crazy, ” he says, ” You get used to it, but then you get tested. I lost control. So, I guess I can say I was weak in that way. I’m not a hero by any stretch .”

“I know. Being perceived as having control is much different that te subjectivity of one’s own perception and resources- what exactly one has to deal with. Considering that factor-that some people get angry- like you. Other people are angry ALL the time, Jim. Everything is an opportunity for attack. I don’t know what is worse- being angry, or being afraid.  You were never afraid of much. We were both weak, in our own ways,” I say.

“Yeah, but I was weaker. Weaker than a woman. “, he says, “that’s pretty bad”.

“Your kids turned on you, but at least you had them, you tried. I hope mine don’t. I can’t say I have no responsibility in what I’ve done. I can’t say I’ve never entertained at least part of what you did. ” I tell him .My stomach is feeling sick. I think about what I have lost, what I have yet to lose, what I never had, what I didn’t know I had, and yet didn’t have, what I didn’t know about life, people, period. I unravel the yarn from an old blanket. God, it was cold in here though no wind was blowing, no rain was falling.

He goes on, “By the time I came to my senses, it was too late. I didn’t plan this, you got to believe me. Think about it before? Yeah, in passing, in anger- but I didn’t think I’d actually do it. Just when I thought I could take it, and deal with it- you know how that is- you think you can handle it- then there would be more. I couldn’t see a way out of it, I could only see losing everything. My kids, her, my life here. This might even seem weird to say, but on some level I felt like it was my fault. I didn’t live a perfect life before that. You know I’m not an angel now and I wasn’t then. I know I wasn’t thinking straight. I just didn’t know what to do with the hurt. I knew there wasn’t anything I could do to back at her, to hurt her back or win her back- she just didn’t care anymore. It wasn’t even like she doing these things, saying these things because she was angry about the past- it was the indifference- like she just didn’t give a fuck. Yeah, it was the disrespect -to a degree- but it wasn’t just the disrespect, it was thinking this whole thing , who I thought I was with all this time was a lie, was bullshit. I loved a bullshitter… and my kids. That made me insane. I mean, I’m a pretty easy-going guy, I don’t like to fight. Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying to say what I did was right, I’m not saying that- just telling you how it went down. Some people go through this same stuff  , but the guy I’m thinking of, he didn’t flip out,  but this guy, he’s nothing like me, he’s a successful, good -looking guy,  lives in a mansion, has some kind of business– I just look at this guy and think, yeah, he could be kind of an asshole or at least could sound like one- I dunno- maybe where he’s from everyone kinda sounds like like a dick. He wasn’t, though. But guess what,  he thought it was worth it to work it out.  Somehow they did. One of us, can you believe it? WN can hardly ever work out shit, ha, you know, being like how most of us are.  But this guy- he had a lot more going for him than me. There was a lot of money there too. He wouldn’t come close to doing what I did, he’s a lot harder than I was. He’d probably have a smoke and mutter under his breath . That and probably since he already almost lost a  lot more than her-the sick child- he had better inner strength or whatever. He seems to be happy as shit nowadays, and I’m happy for him. ”

” I know who you mean. I was glad to hear that too. Your birthday is coming up” , I say, hoping for a break in the loop. I hate that he puts himself down somewhere in almost everything he says- though the story of winning the Detroit spelling bee still makes me smile- about how he realized the humor in it so many years later.

“So is yours”, he says, “Only you’re really having one.”

“That’s not really funny,” I say.

“Yeah well, dark humor is better than no humor at all ” he says. “ya gonna rag on a guy for trying to get a laugh?”

“No. ”  I too see the small passing moments as something to cling to, when there is no joy left,  shards sometimes catch the sunlight- like a memory of a good feeling, but not having the feeling itself, you just  remember it was there, and it hurts all the more for losing it- do you know what I’m talking about? I ask him without having to ask him aloud. That thinking-about-crying pressure feeling is on my chest.

“Yeah, I know. I thought I wouldn’t even have that where I am now, but I do.  It’s just…much  further away- like you told me once, the Being John Malkovich movie, feeling like being in a third person shooter game. I still see it, still see it all- from the beginning. Just the damn repetitiveness of it kills me, like losing your keys over and over, except it’s not keys. ” he says. “I know you know what I mean.”

“Yes. I do.” I tell him.

When he said that about not ragging on him for making a joke, I think about some wacked out website that said “Don’t say my job sucks, don’t say WTF, don’t ever apologize. Just say “that’s interesting”.  Ha, yeah, the magic formula – do’s and don’t to make you a Real Man and get chicks, but in the context of All Women Are Evil so why not play games with them? Yeah. Right. I pity the man who has never been loved, more so one who has never loved sincerely, or for long. At least Jim loved his mother, wasn’t one of the pathetic ones who were disturbed for life because of their mom, or more pathetically, made it up.

” It’s not the same story. Yours I mean. This wasn’t a new thing for her. You’re not remotely like her, not even close.  People didn’t know you, so they threw you under the bus-  it still wasn’t officially right-but in her case it wasn’t with someone she really cared for- she didn’t love him- you took a lot of shit and ignored a lot of stuff for years- and people thought your life was something completely different than what it actually was. I know, you said it was good once. That’s how it usually goes. ” he says. ” I can’t stand to see you cry, M. I can’t stand to see women cry at all. Even her. She wasn’t really a crier, though.”

“Dammit Jim, I’m a doctor!” . My stab at retardo humor to avoid completely breaking down. I know he is old enough to get. He’s not going anywhere. As long as he doesn’t start endlessly whistling and humming like last time. Doesn’t he know I hate that? I try to think of things I am pretty sure he will know about.

“You know that movie The Shining? Stephen King ” I ask.

“Do I know it? Do I know it? I went to see that when it came out and it scared the living shit outta me – could hardly sleep for three days! That was a damn creepy flick. I like that one line “You’ve always been the caretaker, Sir”…” he says.

“Well check this out, you do know, in the movie, the main character is a writer – Jack Torrance – but.. what is he writing about? A play called “The Little School,” with a character called ‘Denker’, the same name of the former Nazi commandant in Apt Pupil, ‘real’ name of Kurt Dussander. What do you make of that?” I look at his hands, which he is turning over and over, not quite wringing.
I can only smile when he starts his “ah, ah…umm” so typical of those who have not been ‘educated’ into establishing correlations between everything in endless blathering term papers. That is exactly why I ask him. I know whatever he says will make me smile and no resemble any of that crap.

“Welllll ” he says..” I have heard writers write about themselves, put themselves into the story somehow. Like Hitchcock, playing cameo roles, you’d always see him, ya couldn’t miss him, he was so damn fat- like a customer coming out of a pet store holding a poodle, or standing at a bus stop , and has to pay attention to see it. King is no Nazi, come on, that’s a stretch. He glorified that black in the Green Mile movie”, he says.

“Oh, I’m not saying that, Jim. Yeah that would be a stretch. He didn’t glorify the Green Mile guy. Sure, that guy had magical healing powers or whatever, but he was dumb as a brick. The whole idea being he was close to nature, he was a force of nature, powerful but non-intellectual as could be . Depends on how you see it. “.. I explain.

“Yeah, yeah, OK. I can see that. That guy in the Green Mile was a total stereotype in that way, falsely accused Brutha on Death row, gonna die for our sins, didn’t do it, White man electrocuting him to death. yep place is just crawling with falsely accused brothers- but I see what you’re talking about- that guy was not the standard Morgan Freeman Wise Old Negro/forensic psychologist movie character you were talking about on the radio way back. ”

“You said ‘usury’- I tell him about another King book, ‘Needful Things’. “I didn’t see when I first read it , that it was about that on some level-about suckering people into debt, about bargaining with the devil, the parallels to Goethe. Sure, Leland Gaunt was an obvious devil-figure-a bad guy, but I didn’t see the usury part then- hell I didn’t even know what usury was. ”

 He looks up into nowhere. “Are you ever going to eat something?”

” We forensic psychologists don’t eat on the job. It’s rude to clients”. I say.

He likes that one, I am rewarded with a roaring laugh. I have turned into stand-up for the dead. Ah well, he’s getting a better deal than if he went to a psychologist in life. I get a glass of wine and plate of fruit and cheese and place it on the coffee table before him. Whenever someone else wants you to eat, chances are they are the hungry one.

“You don’t really believe in that shit , do you?” he says , slightly contemptuously, looking at the plate. Now I have to stifle a laugh, trying not to jab him with the unintended irony of his statement that he fails to get even now. Then maybe he does get it and is embarrassed .
“Well, don’t let me be a distraction”, he says. “If you have stuff to do, don’t mind me, just go ahead.”

My hands lose circulation, more immobile than chilled. It is almost word-for-word. He has heard me. He has listened- the part about being a distraction. I realize I am holding my breath and don’t want to let it out in a big huff. Holy Hell , Jim, you always were good at sliding the passive-aggressive by so nonchalantly. How she could have failed to pick up on that I don’t know. Passive-aggressive is still hostile, couched in harmless talk as it may be. How many times have I heard him do this, with the double-meanings and statements that implied more than what was actually said. He could do this as well as any jewish lawyer. Better even. I try not to visibly shiver. I know he knows, he catches it all. He gets and gives the subtle jab better than any of the snotty mommies at Starbucks.

Oh, I don’t want things to turn bad with my friend here. Do I pretend I don’t know he is telling me he knows things? This serves to confirm what I suspected long ago about personality theory – stuff that I thought  wrong actually is wrong. Some people are violent all the time. Some people build up to it. But he doesn’t want to hurt me. Right? Oh I wish I had a mother sometimes. Not my own mother, not her- but a mother. Not to talk to everyday about nothing, but just that she would be there, and act like one on the rare occasion I needed her. That she in turn, would need me. I’m grateful for whatever I have left of my father but it is not the same. How long had Iphoned him, emailed him, asking for help- how long would my own father not give me a straight answer? How long would he continue to put me  off, procrastinate, avoid?  There’s always something missing or something imposing itself upon us-that makes us suffer. Longing. Sickness. Loss. Threats. Fear. Truth. Disappointment. Hope. Loyalty. Pain. Terror. Privation. Love. I had the meaning of ‘stoic’ wrong. I thought it meant to suffer anything for the greater good, or for someone’s good- a strength I thought. No, it doesn’t mean that. Had I been stoic all those years- or simply afraid? After reading the definition, I had my doubts.
Main Entry: Pronunciation: \’stō-ik\ Etymology: Middle English, from Latin stoicus, from Greek stōïkos, literally, of the portico, from Stoa (Poikilē) the Painted Portico, portico at Athens where Zeno taught- Date: 14th century 1capitalized : a member of a school of philosophy founded by Zeno of Citium about 300 b.c. holding that the wise man should be free from passion, unmoved by joy or grief, and submissive to natural law 2: one apparently or professedly indifferent to pleasure or pain

“Don’t ‘trust your gut, that’s all bullshit, use your head, what you feel doesn’t count .” someone once told me . Sharks don’t use their brain and they do all right, don’t they? I feel like John Coffey, crusin down the mile, only I’m not a giant Negro holding a caduceus, ready to heal the sick and breath life into the dead. How can I use my head when by all accounts it seems like it might just be scrambled up. Or, I’m Ok and everyone else I know is F&8ked. Or we are ALL crazy. Rely on my judgment now? Hahaahaaha. Seems like any choice I make I’m totally screwed. Failfail sleepless fail. How long had it been since I had a really good sleep, without waking up super early, a pounding in my chest?

 “We both want the same thing, Jim. Maybe peace. The Truth”, I say, hoping this will pacify him, get him away from quoting things I said when I thought  no one else was around. He’s not afraid of the truth, either knowing it or telling it- he has no more to lose. There’s nothing he can ‘get’  from me. He doesn’t have an agenda, nothing he is after-never did. He may have committed the ultimate crime, but he doesn’t steal what is not his, he doesn’t lie. I pace around, knowing if I lie down, my heart will race and I’ll feel sicker. If I say “How can I help you?” he might tell me. He might tell me and I will feel like I’m working at Target. Which I may be soon. Wait, they don’t ask if they can help anyone now. 

“All things being equal” he says, “but they aren’t =. It isn’t the same situation. She didn’t even care about that guy.  What do they call it in law? Prima facie? Yeah . ‘On it’s face’ I have to work on that, want to paint all of we sinners with the same brush and all that, I forget to make distinctions.” He lets me down off the scaffold, and I am grateful. There he goes, doing what I sometimes am guilty of. Explaining to people who don’t need it. It has become cold in here. I want to tell him “don’t apologize”, but think better of it.

“Quality, Jim. Not E-quality”, I say, shaking out the remains of the coffee filter into the sink and watching them collect and swirl down the drain.
XIV: funeral
I had forgotten that death felt this hard and cold. I resented the light peach-colored lipstick, not knowing the following day it would be a dark red. I wondered who it was whom had applied it, which had done the rest of her makeup, why her fingernails were painted such a dark shade and if they had done that to cover some sign of death. She became so painfully thin , nothing like I remembered growing up-not heavy but voluptuous in the old sense of the word.. I wanted some sign of something continuing- the memory of the bony hands and arms that held onto me the week previous was no consolation. My sister said when she visited the doctor was taking her vitals , and checking a bad bedsore, doing various things, and she had said “Leave me alone. I’m trying to die”. And now it was done. It was bad that she had lost most of her memory, though towards the end, there was some recognition, although not of exactly how I was related, but of my face.
It was as if her body, having no need to move anymore, and little to no immunity to fight the bedsore(s) and no food to digest- sent all the blood it had left to her brain- in the falling apart deep in the structure of the Titanic, lights would flicker now and again in the wreckage. It was bad enough she had stopped eating- was it for weeks now? She was frustrated at the increasing demise of her mind and though she likely did not have an accurate concept of time, to her it was taking too long. . I didn’t want her back how she was, I wanted her back the way she was before, but there was no possible way that was going to happen. On some level she knew it and couldn’t stand it. It was clear she had made her choice. I told her I loved her. I told her not to worry. I told her stories of the places she had lived, stories I remembered from childhood of staying with her and my grandfather. I brought her pictures of herself, of her husband who had passed some 17 years before. I wore her perfume though I wasn’t so crazy about any perfume- that I had salvaged from the great pile of her belongings in my parent’s garage, when it became apparent she could no longer take care of herself on her own.

I thought about doctors. I thought about how I had trusted yet resented them. I thought about when I had my children, routine checkups. I thought of how I didn’t particularly like to have male doctors for women problems until one day I decided I simply wouldn’t have male doctors if it could be helped. One bearded gynecologist grinningly said “Ohh , so you had a little (astrological sign)” in reference to the birth of one of my children as if he were one of my parent’s weird pot-smoking friends in the 70’s. As if this were a bar. I excused myself -using needing the restroom as an excuse before he got a chance to creep me out further and left, without having the exam or returning to the room. Where was the formal and clean-shaven Dr. Andersen, who took care of me throughout my first pregnancy, who would never affect false jollity or make cutesy jokes?

I looked at her as I knew this would be the last time I would see her, looked at her and saw a part of myself going away with her. I saw in her face all the things I had said goodbye to. The endless dreams of being chased, of trying to pry things from my path so I could keep running, the panic in these dreams, the difficulty breathing, being unsure whether I was escaping from the creature after me or going deeper into the darkness, the tangle of wood and thorn. Waking to a sick sweat, racing heart- thinking of new things to make a desperate bargain with, finding none. The weight of the burden I already carried in my soul, mixed with anger and fear, and a creeping sense of an even greater price I would pay, though the thought of paying it felt like an escape-even if I would be sentenced to run forever through that cold, darkened wood- I would be far too busy to bear the ever-heavier burden that seemed contagious- I thought of how I had once laughed at the movie The Butterfly Effect, and wished I could go back to the time I had seen that movie. I now knew no matter what I did, what I tried- the effect had already been too far set in motion. I thought of the dreams I was grateful for, the ones where I knew I was in some kind of half-life, the one that was missing many of the things from this one. I awoke from those wondering what I would have to do so I could at least stay there, at least not have to go into the dark place- if there were somewhere some kind of roadmap, a sign that would only tell me ‘go this way, it won’t be as bad as the other’, but there were no such signs. Any kind of work was better than this.

Which was the  illusion?  The life I had known or the one I thought I would begin.  It had been real- once. There was never any rest as I ran, ran. Whenever I stood still, the racing heart and sick feeling found me. Sleep that brought renewal was a distant memory. Sleep was only another form of work, except it was work where nothing got done. There was no compensation, only another tired day with more to do.  Others saw it in me as well, as I was able to see in them their own motivations, the way they looked at me, as if from a full lifeboat. I didn’t want them to see me, as I knew they knew how I was before. I knew they were unable to undo what had been done. Hell, I couldn’t undo it even when I tried. I felt them look away back to their own lives. Others looked right through me, as if I were a ghost- or stared. Was I staring at them , too? They stared at the person who managed to do the things she had to do, the things that convinced others I was still fighting, was still trying to survive. Did they know she was not me? The person in the rear view car mirror. The person who showed up at various places and did what was required and did it well- did more than was required. The way I did everything now- re-doing the same things over, as if I somehow knew I would not get it right the first time. When I did get it  even half-right, I was incredulous and felt fraudulent, as if someone else had done the work- that there was some mistake and I was getting the credit in error.

Why did I not feel good- why did I feel like none of it made any difference, because there was nothing else to gain and I had lost, failed even- and continued to lose, all that was meaningful- I was alone in The Combine, and those that ran it were telling me I was about to get transferred to another one. I began to understand the actions of others that had once so upset me. Now I felt we shared similar thoughts, as though in Hell I had inherited what was in their head too. I thought of those who ranked ‘higher’ in this place, and how they also realized too late and lived amongst shadows, fear, anger and despair- and how they saw their own mask-although  some could- some could not– amid the wreckage , drowning in their own wake.

How they too sought an escape- and seized upon any lifeboat, sometimes pulling someone overboard into the dark waters where there is no comfort- the only warmth an unholy sweat from fear.  How I wanted the luxury of apology, of  real forgiveness, but there was none- only the promise of none to come. If I had religion I suppose I would feel there was, but it wasn’t from God I wanted the forgiveness, I wanted it directly. I talked to God , I cried to God, I prayed to God – I thought maybe it was too late for me- and of a conversation I had years ago with a believer- how he quoted bible verse or I would, desperately trying to understand- wondering if it was perhaps only a matter of some kind of spiritual language translation- once I grasped the concept, I would believe, I would feel it, and it would be real. I realized now why people bother confessing  their sins, that perhaps there is some sense of freedom or release of one’s own torture. Perhaps there was some kind of joy in unburdening- but there was none of that here in this new universe- one simply paid whether or not they were sincere, or guilty or repentant- or if they had even paid back, paid in blood- and I realized some could not forgive. In this place I realized the folly of reparations. If the crime had done enough damage, there was no single payment that made things right.  One simply had to keep on paying, like a bill that came every month for a debt that was so large one could never hope to fully pay it back. The debt and suffering would keep building by increments-and it wasn’t a fixed rate, it was a variable rate. At times you might even feel you were making some kind of progress- you might feel if you had suffered enough that maybe you had made some kind of dent , and then you would see that the principal had not decreased, but expanded-your debt then becoming that of your parents,  friends, even your children.

In this last I saw others who I had made suffer, who I had somehow stolen something from, even without malicious intent. This felt  much worse, the suffering of the innocents- and again I heard the voices of those who had been where I was now.” Yes, yes ” they would cry out from far away, “that is why I did what I did, it wasn’t for the reasons everyone thought. Do you actually hear me?” Yes, I hear you. I don’t have to hear a voice to know I am in the same place you were. I thought of justice. I thought of how I could possibly pay back, though I thought I already had, indeed I realized I had only begun, as I now knew I could not be the one to choose what to do to pay back, it would be chosen for me, and there was no deciding not to go along with it- it would just  happen, like it or not. I could not concern myself overmuch with the justice of those ‘above’ me,  I saw those that ranked higher on the culpability scale – but the fear and running kept me too busy. Every day the world was different. Every day brought new threats, threats that were no longer only threats, but real. Now I wished for the luxury of only threats- stones thrown. Those were infinitely preferable to actual dates and numbers to the condemned. Knowing one must die someday is preferable to knowing one will die on a certain day, the ticking of a clock that would mete out months, days leading to a different type of sentence.  The condemned in life can at least appeal- but there was nothing like that  for unofficial non-prison crimes, the crimes of the everyday. There would be no jury of one’s peers to deliberate, weigh evidence,  temper justice with mercy or whole  teams fighting either for or against you. There was only endless judgement and then an execution.

I saw in the looks of the people on the lifeboat- what appeared to be smugness, what appeared to be disgust at what they perceived as weakness- but weakness has time on its side. Panic has no such time. I thought of the Buddhist type people, who accepted almost anything , how they advocated not being attached, how they just accepted everything “it is what it is” . I thought of the people who had religion, whom had faith things would ‘be ok’ – some even believing things would ‘get better after they got worse‘. I wondered if they had the crushing pain in their chest, if through the day they felt sick or like they might pass out, even as they carried on what they had to do.

Knowing this- at first fearing these things, then starting to accept what might happen, by accident, by my own body or otherwise- I was determined to fight to the end. They would either form simplistic judgements or accept pronouncements made by others- or they would see the times and dates of the writing on the wall and put the story together on their own and come to some kind of conclusion about the stories- if they could figure out for themselves the real story at all. Which part, which time?  Sin, yes. Sincere?  That also.  I would not be remembered as Mother Theresa, but I  would not be remembered as bitter, conniving,  paranoid-or as stingy, nasty, and unloving.

 Though by all appearances I was alone, and would become more alone, I now knew Hell was not a lonely place-only the getting there was. Other’s sufferings became one’s own. It was like a swap meet of pain, except you couldn’t choose what you would be exchanging and it might be worse than what you already had. People believed they could trade up, and maybe take a loss–but come out ahead in other ways, maybe thought they could ‘live authentically’. No one ever thinks they won’t be able to stand the new terms and won’t be able to live at all. The sellers are only too happy to trade, and there are no returns. In Hell no one cares about being called a ‘hater’, one is too busy worrying about the ones actively hating, and that hate being acted upon to worry about being called names. In Hell, it is all hate, all the time, even on a slow day. Oh for the days of only being called names by those who never knew the real story, either part one or part two. One has left the rapids only to find oneself alone on the ocean,  there is no one left to tell the story to who is not part of the story, and neither one of us has clean water to drink- so more times than not- there is not much in the wayof news, so instead we talk of the port that may exist- sometimes we dream of the same port. Sometimes it is simply the shore, sometimes it was anywhere but this limbo. We know it exists, for we have been there more than once.

XV: System Tools, Systemic Lies
I could not help but stare at her. She had a weak chin, smallish eyes of indeterminate color, and a nose that had this extra little tip that only added to the overall piggy look. Her mewky-blonde on-the-verge-of-impassably dirty hair hung to where her shoulders would have been. Her front teeth seemed unnaturally large, making her lips purse when she closed her mouth in concentration while looking something up. I had thought she was probably an average to petite girl until she had to get up to get something. Then she morphed into this penguin-duck creature.

It was as if she had been cut in two in a horrible elevator shaft accident and the only available lower-half transplant was something that resembled – no, it wasn’t the classic pigs fighting in a sack or whatever that saying is-I thought maybe something was wrong with her- maybe she had a touch of that kind of dwarfism that makes one gain disproportionately in the lower half and legs. But she wasn’t a real dwarf of any sort. She moved along, half waddly- as if the force of her entire momentum was rooted in the vast machine that held it up, a continental shelf. This was not like the classic black steatopygia. Wider and more all over rather than localized and pronounced. She shuffled though files, her shoulder less , round pinkish arms I could see holding pails of milk or a bucket of entrails, or from any early time, wearing one of those white hairnet things from the middle ages, scrub brush in one hand- towel in the other-except in the last vision, she wasn’t as placid.

She plopped herself down on the spin chair. If she was representative of those ancient clay figurines that represented the classic goddesses of earth, than I was surely a man- It didn’t matter that millions of women were paying for what the creator had given me, imperfect or not- it was on the wrong hour of the clock. I suddenly started to vaguely understand the rap video obsession with the big butt. It must be something primitive. I thought I was safe from the few blacks around hitting on me not because I wasn’t a blonde, or because I was bookish, but although I wasn’t the naturally scrawny type, I was not a ‘pear’. I was not an earth goddess. Just like the mommy’s I spoke of at the elementary school whose bovine happiness I envied-now I envied this poor pear-woman who may even have been of sub-normal intelligence, her goddess figurine shape, acquired through no fault of her own.

 She primly tucked her strangely tiny feet into the supporting bars of chair, I felt like a linebacker who better keep on top of his game or at least go for morning walks lest he have a heart attack and die. I was a cartoon, an aging version of a nerdy Betty Page and she, this office-lumpen, for all her sow-like features, her beady eyes and snubbed nose, got to be the goddess, the eternal feminine, the clay figurine and Head Prole In Charge- or at least the sending and retrieval of system paperwork. Although I could spot mistakes fairly well, I would never be as organized as Little Pear-Sow-Queen of redundant paperwork. I thought of jobs I had similar to what she was doing, and how my bosses would spend all day talking to me, then ragging me for not getting XYZ done, or ragging me for trying to get it done when they wanted my attention, or to tell me a funny story, or a problem they were having. There wasn’t ‘harassment’ then, it was just called work. I saw no ‘boss’ anywhere here. I actually missed the eunuchs I dealt with before doing similar jobs. They were more lively at least.

” Well, you’re just going to have to go back and deal with it in person from what it looks like. ” She paused for effect. I wondered if she knew I had been surveying her like Marlin Perkins of what is now called Nat-Geo and wasn’t happy about it. She didn’t like me, but that was standard. There was in me a begrudging respect for her not pretending to.

” Well- I **could** go check with so and so and see if possibly I could blah blabbity blah..”

Oh Gawd. Here it comes. My cue to grovel. I did so quickly, to get it out of the way . I did it with such just a teensy bit of appropriate snivelly gratitude she would buy it. I made my eyebrows rise with false hope. My stomach was starting to make noise, the noise it always makes when I hated doing something. Or maybe I was just hungry. I tried to talk over it .

” Really? Oh, that would be so great, that would save me from having to…” I made reference to other responsibilities, trying to prove to her I really was a case worth an extra waddle.

 I knew this dance, was good at it, but despised it. I wanted to shake her, knock her off her swivel-pedestal- “Will you do it or NOT ?! What is it you WANT? ” She placed her hair behind her ear as if she were a judge on American Grovel .Said the mock turtle ” Will you , won’t you , will you, won’t you , won’t you join the dance? ” At the moment of this retarded reciprocal exchange, this tea party, this tete a tete of mutual disdain and contempt- I almost wished she weren’t White. If she weren’t, I may or may not get the correct information, but there would have been absolutely none of . I may have gotten a surly look, a stack of papers handed to me, or simply a gesture towards a different area- I may have had to even call back or talk to a third party if given the wrong information- that I was certainly used to. Then I started to re-think that one and how much either sheer not-giving-a-shit attitude or incompetence had caused so much fail -a conspiracy of ineptitude- like the SCUM society of the 60’s or 70’s, of UnWork. I decided it was best to ingratiate and placate the pig-woman for the time being. I HAD to placate the pig-woman, but what I hated more is that this wasn’t ‘it’. There would be many others to placate, to ingratiate, and whether it would even ultimately help me, I didn’t know.
I hated this cowardly new world where everything was subjective- subjective ‘ in a bad way’- where your worth and soul were weighed against a feather as in ancient Egyptian belief. You couldn’t simply produce something of quality and say :Here, this is what I made. Here, this is what I can do. This is what I am, this is what I am here for, recognize my worth, you useless fag! Fag being used here in the context which could be male or female, sexual preference notwithstanding, faggotry in the sense of inept yet persnickety paper-pushing aholes.
The Real Thing , not the Velveteen Rabbit- would look at said work and using a real measure, tell you where you went right and wrong. You handed them your work, your application, your whatever- Here, this shows XYZ about perseverance, about work, about anything, but it would be real. In that world it wasn’t about what you wished and hoped, or drawing a rainbow and smiley-faced suns and using phrases about ‘cultural competency’. Don’t they get that doesn’t exist. To them, made up things exist, but White people don’t. “Race is a social construct.” Yeah, and the sky is now a shade of orangey-green too.

How can people be ‘racist’ if there is no such thing as race? We ALL believe this tale out of nowhere, right? Sometimes it exists, but only when White people believe it. The White people who don’t exist either, you EvilNaziRacistHaters whom we hate. How can you possibly tell us apart from a mexican, from an oriental – if race is not real? Cake>Eat>Too. There’s no more cake. People are beginning not only to wake up, but wake up pissed off, heart racing.

What the System Wants:
“I’m special in my common yet glorious ‘diversity’, I have an ‘ethnic narrative’ that supersedes knowing how to construct a coherent sentence or multi-task. I can get jobs and various positions of power that can actually break the system of my Oppressor (AKA Whitey, The Man) . Oh, the possibilities of non-aspiration. Of non-excellence. I can make people even dumber, I can screw things up, I can make people believe thing that are worthy aren’t anymore, are simply passé and outmoded, although I won’t use words like that, because I don’t know them, because I have been given entrance under some NWO criterion of baseless worth, or merit dependent on whether or not I can speak another language, or if I am ‘diverse’ enough. I can make people believe they don’t really exist, that they themselves are a ‘social construct’. I will learn by rote made- up words and phrases and parrot them back. If I am what they want, a zog-bot of the highest/lowest order, I will do all this, because lacking much IQ or creativity, I will simply glorify the most short-form, dumbed down principles that I can. If I don’t know a metaphor from a malapropism, use lousy grammar – hey, all the better, because no one will ever correct me- so afraid I’ll scream racism or hostile environment they are.

Go ahead and laugh behind my back, I’m ‘gettin paid’ , while you do all the actual work. That’s why everything must be done as a ‘team’, as a ‘group’- but not really- because some of the people are actually working, while others aren’t even showing up, let alone contributing in any way , just ‘representin n shyt’.It’s all about the catch-phrase. It’s all about checklists that make it sound like I know what I’m doing : ‘ Identify goals’ ‘Make an action plan’ ‘Be a team-player’ Doesn’t matter if there’s anything there of real substance, if there are no dots to connect one idea to the next, if you cannot support your ideas or understand why you are doing what you’re doing. Make enough tard-o PowerPoint presentations and hope it *sounds* like I know what I’m talking about and gettin paid is all that counts . ” Insert smiley face. Good Job! Gold Star! Keep it Fake, not Real! We don’t want Real, cause Real is for people who think about stuff, and we’ve had quite enough of that.
You’ve got to accentuate the positive Eliminate the negative.. Johnny Mercer song (no, I checked) .Yeah, I want to really hear about ‘learned optimism’. Keep a happy journal, because if you do, it will reinforce happier feelings- and if you do these things, if you challenge yourself by acting like an extravert when you would rather sit quietly and read or take a walk, if you challenge yourself by taking up skydiving when you like your feet on the ground- well, now- you’ll be happier, healthier, more ‘liked’, have more ‘friends’ and have more ‘fun’! Yeah, even if it is all an act, then you will be considered an ‘optimist’. Don’t worry, be happy. Doo, doo , do, do, doodle-do-do…


As I dragged myself to the car I remembered what I had read back in school about brain function and depression, stress, fear or even  grief causing people cognitive impairment. I wasn’t slow- officially anyway, but I was slowed down. I had scored a 130 on an IQ test about 20 years ago- they didn’t believe me (though I was in a room alone when I took it)  and made me take it again. Big deal -130. I got a 135 the second time. It wasn’t only depression and loneliness that had slowed me-there was the fact of  functioning on little sleep for a long time- it was hard to let go of feeling like I  had to measure what I said, lest I choose the wrong word and be cut off-whatever I had tried to say blown away in a maelstrom of  mounting anger. My mind had become locked in oh-no-what-did-I-forget/miss/not-do-right mode. Once in a long while- maybe a couple times a year, I would ‘talk back’, or cry. I was skittish, but never shrill.

 There was that, and there was the fact I hardly ever spoke to anyone at all for a long, long time. I only listened. I quietly served in the background, becoming ever more resourceful in finding ways to do things without having to ask for anything.  I dumpster-dived, picking through the items left after the weekend garage sales at the goodwill truck. Sometimes I found brand new things with the tags still attached. I would take them in case I needed to give someone I knew a gift- again, so I would not have to ask. I figured re-gifting from strangers – it wasn’t as as if I were  re-gifting  things had received for myself, or worse, keeping something meant to be given to someone else. I got books at the library sale room for 50 cents.  I would do the dishes , laundry, whatever- going over in my head which question I need to ask that would be the most important, or encompass the answers to others so I did not have to speak again. The worse it became the further I retreated.  I thought of ways I could make less noise and make it so after the kids were in bed I could go in there and not have to come out.  I hid food in that room, prepackaged grain bars  I pilfered whenever I went to my mother’s to watch their place while they were gone. I didn’t like the grain bars or any of those prepackaged snacks much, but they didn’t go bad. Whenever I was lucky enough to get to run to the store for milk or bread, I stole a strawberry or grapes. Sometimes I could get the deli person to let me try stuff I couldn’t sneak in the produce.

I longed to have a real conversation again, if that were even possible. I posted messages on boards, but rarely dealt with anyone in real-life outside of polite small-talk at the playground. People thought I had a normal life and I let them- and it  was- once. I was told years ago I would get nothing  if I left because of being taken of the deed in an inch-high stack of papers I was asked to sign during a refinance and I believed it. I didn’t want to give up my children because I would be on the streets. I believed it.

Not being seen in whatever capacity is not necessarily not being heard. There’s many combinations that can be true, or they can all be true at different times, depending on the context. Seen and heard. Heard not seen. Seen, not heard. Do they believe I was incommunicado, AWOL, MIA until 09, or only recently? I’ve never been known to be an impulsive person; it takes quite a bit to convince me of much. Sometimes months and months, which lead to years.To this day I have never been on a plane. Some people say they are not afraid, but they won’t do it. I won’t hedge, waffle or claim I am innocent of all wrong-doing, for I am not.  I was however, somewhat naive. It’s not a  good thing , because unlike the flu or allergies, you don’t know you have it until it is too late. 

For the record, no- I don’t have a book deal.  Parts of this story  not written here  have already been ‘sold’  and not by me. They were told, reformulated and re-told- used for entertainment material elsewhere as if they were fresh conversations between pals, and not anywhere one might expect. I heard ‘material’ that came from others, others perhaps  like myself spoken of and I wondered if they had also heard it and thought this was a compliment- or a betrayal. I thought it strange.  I thought it stranger someone well-known and successful would need to garner stories from the real lives of people he didn’t know to enliven or decorate his own gig.

I wondered if this rich and famous person knew the ‘material’ was not really all that original. I wondered what the exchange rate for bits and pieces of late-night talk and/or writing was going for these days? There were too many specifics for the topics mentioned for it to have been coincidental or by accident.Was life so boring for those who didn’t have to worry about much anymore, had they come so far from their own beginnings that their own stories had begun to fade and they had to occasionally sup from the unwashed cup of others in order to appeal to the masses? Maybe so. Of course I knew that these anecdotes and stories were not culled from my conversations only. From what I had heard over time I knew how the dots connected, and where they intersected. 


XVI: See Salt
The rottweiller stirred and it’s collar and tags jingled. I was already awake , it was that grayish pre-dawn. I could hear birds beginning to chirp, triling their collective mid-Spring songs. Was it already 2009? I lay there on her couch, eyes closed until I heard movement. I was still very tired, but the 5 or so hours of lying down had helped. I couldn’t believe I was back already.

” Do you want to go take a shower or something?” she said. “No one else here will be up for a while.” she says ” What is that smell?  Did you spill gas on yourself after you called me? ”

” Ha, no, I don’t think I spilled gas on myself. I’m OK, just still a little tired. After I have some coffee I’ll be OK , have to go soon.” I said. The break was over- it was going to be a long day, both day and night classes awaited me.

” I already made you some cereal, come in and get it. At least eat something, probably been a while since you had anything decent. ” she called from the kitchen. I got up , followed her there.
” What the hell is that on your boots? ” she said, handing me a bowl of cheerios and sliced up bananas. In the state I was in, I had a vague memory of a similar bowl, something from long ago, but not here, not her. “Salt, I think.” I said. ” Are you sure you don’t want to clean up? You’ll feel a lot better. ” she asked me.

” God, do I look that bad?” I asked, half-smiling.
She laughed. “No, not really , I thought you would look a lot worse- you look good for having been on the road so long. Anyway, before everyone gets up here, I wanted to ask you something.”
” What is it you don’t already know that matters?” I replied, between bites of wolfing down the cereal. I didn’t feel especially hungry, but hadn’t had much in days.
“Nothing like that. Come sit down.” We went to the dining room table. The sun was still not up. ” I want to help you. I want you to help me too. I think you’re the only one who can.” She took my hand. I thought she might cry, because if something was this serious, and because I loathed asking for any help, it was what I might have done as well. I had only seen her cry a few times. I was glad that she had only seen me cry once. For years I had to be stoic-showing weakness was dangerous, and this was still with me. I feared if I did cry, the damn would burst. I discovered one can cry without sound, or my voice barely breaking- and one can heave and sob without any tears. The two are related, but not quite exactly alike.

” There are two situations that could happen that I want you to help me with. I’m hoping neither will happen any time soon, but both will happen eventually, ” she said. ” One is I might die, and who will make sure my daughter will have it together enough to pay the taxes on the house, and manage the money, do basic stuff, and not just act like a teen-ager forever, though that might not be possible ” She paused, looked out the windows at the top of the trees. She still did not cry.

 “The second is that she is not getting better. She legally can refuse hospitalization. You know, you were there with me through all of the last rounds of trying to save her. This is the worst she’s looked, probably even since her first hospitalization. She’s 5’9″ and she probably is 100 pounds now or less. She lies to me that she’s not doing what she used to, but I know she is. I’ve seen her throw away food, pretend to eat and give it to the dogs- I know this is something a person can’t do forever. I can hardly stand to look at her, and legally, I can’t force her back into the hospital because she’s an adult- almost your age- they won’t treat her like a teenager and force her in, it doesn’t matter what her MRI says. My other daughter might lose her husband to the lymphatic cancer- they’re in denial- they’re having all his fillings removed, some new-age quack told them it was the mercury- she has her adopted kids, the one with all the problems, and the baby. They’ll be taken care of, but she will have too much to deal with, she has too much to deal now with for me to ask anything of her. My brother- he’s 73- not in great health and he’s taking care of his own adult kids- I love him but I can’t trust him to do what I want. He cries poor but I know he’s not. He wants to go back to Costa Rica, says he can live really well there and not have to deal with the kids constantly hassling him for money, and God knows what they are up to, he already gave them everything they could want- he’s just tired of it. ”
She starts to stir her coffee.
” What is it you want me to do?” I ask.

” I have a lot of notes I made, I have to get it all together with my attorney. I know you are doing your best and I want to help you too.”
Now, as whenever someone is kind to me- I am about to cry.

 “Stop that. You have somewhere to be pretty soon, and you have to drive again, you’re just tired from this week. Nothing has to happen today. Just listen to me. I trust you. Do you know how rare that is? You helped me , maybe at your own expense for a long time. You’ve always been straight with me. You’re smarter than my brother.  I’ve gotten to know you pretty well and I have seen how hard you work and what you will do for people you care for. I need to have someone I trust in case something happens to me. I know you will help me if …when something happens to her. ”
” You know I will. ” I say. ” I didn’t think I would think of you like a mother, but it seems to have worked out that way. I wish you would have been my mother. You know what she said? “Well, if you go somewhere, write where you went on a little piece of paper in case you don’t come back, we’ll know where to look'” – what kind of mother says stuff like that?  Or the one about “Is helping us when we’re old contingent upon whether we help you? ” Then she acted like she didn’t say it or says she didn’t mean it in a bad way, or was kidding- she’s always got the pre-emptive strike at the ready. ‘I said I liked parsnips? I must have meant the one time your dad and I went to this restaurant about 30 years ago.’ 

” I know how she is “, my friend continues, “you don’t have to prove it to me. You don’t have anyone to lean on, and neither do I. You’ve helped me, and I want to help you. I believe what you believe- you didn’t convince me. I lived it. You know where I went to school. I believe in what you’re trying to do. I believe all the other stuff you told me- no one believed me either. I’m not one of those people who feel guilty about my father and ww2. My brother has all that stuff someplace, and won’t show it to me, I don’t know why. Anyone they could get is already dead, they can’t get him now. It’s either my brother  is scared, or guilty- or he is hiding stuff that is worth something- I don’t know.  I want you to know, I don’t have a problem with what you believe, with what you do. I believe it too, and I have my own secrets- I should have told you about my dad myself. I knew some about what you believed, but I didn’t know how far it went. If I had known, I would have told you myself, and not have you had to find out from someone else. ”

“Don’t worry about that, ” I say, ” I understand why you don’t talk about it to most people. You have welcomed me, and even though you don’t know the whole story, you know enough, and you’ve seen enough to figure out the general idea, and you have not turned on me like many have. I wish I could tell you it all, but I look at it like this, it isn’t I think you are going to broadcast it, I know you wouldn’t do that, and none of these people give a shit -most anyway- it’s more I don’t want to burden you.”

 “Have I burdened you?” she asks me.

“No, not at all, ” I say, “How many friends do I have that are remotely near here? Not many. Like none. Yeah, almost everyone here is White, but they sure as hell would freak out if they found out. Some already might have. I may have picked up a wireless signal at one of the schools and it wasn’t the local one, it may have been theirs, if they maybe could see I had a different IP, what sites I went to. Can’t tell if people are just aholes and I am being paranoid- but the ones I have to deal with , even volunteering have acted weird for a while. Driving you, helping  you with your daughter- listening to your stories- it’s helped me. I’ve kept to myself, staying inside for years. You know that was part of the problem- I wasn’t  social enough. But I want to help you, no question.”

  She lowers her voice. It is getting brighter in the dining room alcove.  ” OK, well, that’s why I want you to be in charge of this nightmare. You’re stronger than you give yourself credit for, and I know you will keep all this between us and in a safe place- the papers. There’s things I want taken care of, that I haven’t bothered with until now, but seeing how my daughter could go, how my other daughter’s husband could go, my brother and his stroke – I see how I could go too, and I want someone who will carry out what I want to happen in that case. I want you to be OK, and if she lives, I want her to be OK. If she doesn’t, I want you to help me arrange things. I can’t ask that of my other daughter right now. My brother’s health isn’t great. ” I set down the coffee and put my other hand over hers.

  “I’ll do it. I’ll help you with these things, you don’t have to worry . ” I tell her.

 “Thank you, M. I hate even bothering you with this, knowing you have been working hard at school. I understand why you are involved with the political stuff. I didn’t know when I met you you knew about all this. I know how it is to feel people are against you. The military kid  in the coffee shop, Private Gerhart-  he was affected by what you told him, about how he should have kids, work, do anything  rather than go to war. He talked to us for like 5 hours- I thought it was  just internet or passing out flyers, going to meetings, not just talking to regular people. You told him his life meant something, he was worth something. He didn’t want us to leave, his wheels were spinning when you confronted him about that awful T-shirt he had under his flannel- ‘easy-E’ , some rap star, when you got into it with him and told him his own people, his own history is so much more real and powerful than  MTV garbage. I wish I could have said some things myself- but I was crying because of what Vietnam did to my kid’s  father…You better get going, you don’t want to be late .” She turned her head, there was stirring which meant people would be getting up.

    ” I’ll call you from my little crappy go phone at some point today, I think I have a few minutes on it. We can outline what you want in the next couple days- whatever you want done, I’ll do it. ” I told her. “Call 411 for the number of the group that helps with the paperwork.”

 I hugged her and left, in the same clothes I had been wearing the day before, my hair still unwashed yet not dirty, the morning sun glaring out to the car. I got in, checking again for the few real  and beautiful things I had with me  that I would always keep-things that meant so much, that would keep me going , looked at them for the millionth time, arranged them, read the words written, thought of all those that had come before over the last couple years- a culmination of so many things shared. I reached over and touched the paper as I drove.  Here, it was steep, inclined,  finite- isolated-  wafts of fog drifting over despairing cliffs,  foot-hewn trails peering down at the ravenous, encroaching waves. Wending one’s way through, strangers would smile and nod as they hiked. Over the mountains and through the valley, they merged into the shopping centers and buildings. I drove to school on what was called the ‘World’s Most Beautiful Freeway’- thinking of the open road, seeing so far- of catching my breath at the overwhelming expanse of endless highway- spring sun, rain and snow in the largest open space I had ever seen. The sea is more vast, though one cannot drive across it.

 I unwrapped a chocolate bar , just a small amount- savoring that sweetness that would fortify me- wishing beyond all wishing I had received these gifts earlier, when they were intended to be received, the pain of knowing how much it would have helped me then – but I had them now, and I would hold onto them. When I was to have received those gifts, in the bright semi-cold that defines western winter-I couldn’t pay the fee and so had lost my PO box months prior, then at Christmas my hematocrit had fallen so low  they offered me a transfusion, but I said no, I didn’t trust someone else’s blood- it wasn’t life or death, I wouldn’t take it. The regular IV didn’t cure me, but made me feel better enough to keep going. Because of this low hematocrit, my blood would never be worthy to save anyone else. I could not donate. Anemia-  without blood. 
          There was no way in hell I was going to tell her I had considered the same things  out of practicality- not knowing what could happen in life, although those kinds of thoughts, how to work out things post-mortem for the benefit of those left behind were never super far away. Having seen the aftermath-it is a very good idea having things in place. I had already read up on what happens if one doesn’t . I knew anything I did in some way was connected to that. Life was fragile, but now my will was strong. This wasn’t some kind of ‘The 7 ways you can increase your will’ pop-guru crap; I wasn’t about to write a book advising others. It was just something I knew. Like talking to that kid- something I am compelled to do. It wasn’t a decision, it just was natural. I knew decisions I made had to be based on the same things she was asking me for help with, should something happen to me, should I not get to that next stop-  I had to do what she wanted me to do ,what I had to put in place had to cover this contingency, but I would not tell her in the midst of what she was dealing with. I wasn’t worried about DNR’s and things like that . I felt like leaving a little sticky note for my mother “here’s your little piece of paper so you know where to look to find me” attached to this ‘living will’ paper.

In that week that had passed I had a measure of hope, hope that I had not had in a long time- there was so much more I wanted to do, would do to make those things happen. It was not impossible. Maybe it was not always such a good thing for me, but I was always willing to give more than I took. I  probably had one last fight in me. Autumn with bronchitis- winter with its anemic sadness-my wireless USB broken, the wireless thing on my old computer had long been broken- was out of touch with anyone I wanted to talk to except by long-distance, which I couldn’t afford either- it had weakened me  -but now I burned with the thought of no longer being afraid, no longer having to hide, no longer having to keep silent. Burned with the thought of having nothing left anyone could threaten me with- I felt like if I were the last man standing and knew I was about to die, I could control what was left of  the spoils of war.

These words are not the entire story, but they are true.

6 thoughts on “~Writing: The Accidental ‘Racist’

  1. Jon says:

    I liked this. There were parts that were a little too disjointed for me and when I read them I emerged from the narrative and had to re-read and, in some cases, accept that meanings and chronology had eluded me. After passing over these disconnections I was soon following along again and it was worth it, especially for the Chapter called Funeral, which has lovely prose that is both accessible and compelling.


    1. -I’m glad you revisited and thanks for reading and commenting. As to chronology- I wrote this over the past couple years, sometimes writing more , sometimes less. I realize it is disjointed- not a lot of transitions, not a lot of explanations- the writer’s dilemma- how to go with it when moved to write- how to get things across that will make the reader stop and think- figure things out and interpret those things on their own, as it appears you have. I should also proofread/correct it -but had so many browser crashes and wordpress page restore fails it is discouraging to bother- I should have figured out how to put chapters in separate pages – ahhh well, I will probably write other stuff in the future or perhaps use some of that story for future projects, but for now I am working on developing another project.
      a picture of the rottweiller from the story, http://img218.imageshack.us/img218/1188/rottweiller.jpg

  2. Jon says:

    What to leave out is the constant question. After that, one struggles with what must be contrived and how to lend contrivance efficiency. Still later, one hopes for moments of clarity and disclosure. Pretty sentences are nice too. Interestingly, your story is rife with the kind of moments that most artists hope to catch-hold-of as they clunk together their drafts and plot-notes. Perhaps you are too good at putting words to elusive meanings, an not as practiced at the subtle lying that gives regular people a foothold in fiction prose.

    Truth may be an illness, B, but I admire it anyway and, likewise, admire honest people. For this reason I like you. I’ll try to check back now and again, to see what you’re up to.

  3. Jon says:

    I really should pay more attention to what I write. I meant to say that the pursuit of truth may be an illness.

    It is always a little embarrassing when I scribble errors and then publish them.

  4. Jon says:

    …or that the compulsion to pursue truth may be an illness…

  5. Gene says:

    Interesting story here. Is it your story in direct means or in metaphor? Either way I can feel the pain of it even only 5 chapters into it.

    Seeking the truth is dangerous road you can see things no one should ever have to see, so keep your head up. And don’t forget to sit in the sun and smile at least for those who will break if they do.

    the only pics i have taken to put up: http://www.flickr.com/

    My JEW TUBE: http://www.youtube.com/user/noelites

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