Some Ballads Shouldn’t Be Sung

This is a paper I have written for my English class. It is a narrative essay and I thought I would share it here, with you.

This story starts with addiction, and not the, “Oh my god, I just can’t get enough of those peppermint-soy-latte-pumpkin-cheese danishes; I ate two yesterday.” No, I mean the other kind; the kind that nestles into your brain, determined and willful, expecting to stay a while; a parasite that wears your face and commands your every thought, it forces you watch as you give your life over to it. Mine was a love story: a strong young man with a lifetime of pain, genetically predisposed to weaknesses of a self-medicating nature, meets the sophisticated lady—she was soft, and white, came in a little plastic baggie—and I loved her. She, and she alone, made me feel smart, funny, even happy; she made me feel alive. It was her whispered wishes that I would honor, her acceptance I craved.

I snorted it, I smoked it, I devoured it. I crammed it in my nose and stuffed it in my pipe; I stood for days in puddles of my own sweat while scratching and picking at invisible bugs racing across my flesh. Day in and day out, I lived with a clenched jaw and a bent brain; I fell so far and so fast that by the time I realized I was at the bottom I could only see one way out. I used charcoal that first time; I spent the evening filling and refilling a wine glass until the bottle was empty, and then I filled a small grill with those presoaked briquettes, took it into the bathroom, lit the fire, and sat back to wait for the sweet relief. I waited for the air to leave the room and my wasted life to hitch a ride but for whatever reason, it didn’t take. I awoke the next morning with a throbbing headache and a persistent heartbeat; I was, yet again, a failure.

I tell you these things not to illicit your sympathies; I do not need your understanding; I do not want your pity. This is not a confession; forgiveness cannot help me now. I share these skeletons from deep in my closet in order to reveal just how he saved me.

It happened by pure chance; a friend found him at three months old and brought him to me. I can’t say how long he had been out there; all I know is when I first saw him he was shivering with fear. His eyes, large and brown, searched my own; he seemed to be looking for malice in them and was not convinced it wasn’t there. I approached him slowly, trying to show him I could be trusted, and when I had properly introduced myself, I picked him up. His tongue shot between his low hanging jowls and licked any and all available skin it could find—a habit that it still practices to this day. I took him to the pet store and bought him some food and a collar, some toys and a bed; he licked me all the way there and all the way back. The veterinarian told me he was a full blooded Boxer and that he was playing host to a few parasites, but they were easily eradicated. I named him Sloppy Joe, and he would save my life.

He weaseled his way into my heart in no time; I could no longer spend every moment locked behind a closed door holding my breath and listening for unseen antagonists. He needed walks and socialization, he needed food and love, he needed me; my hunger for dope didn’t stop but it did slow down. He and I spent sixteen Saturdays at a training school that was much like a dance class. I learned to lead, and he learned to follow; he was smart and picked up every new step as though it were natural. He was endlessly in the passenger seat of my truck, going to the park or the beach; sleeping next to me; or sitting and staring at me for endless hours.

When I would lock myself in my room and scratch my self esteem into little lines of love, Joe would scratch at the door; if I smoked away the day he wouldn’t get food or water, and when I came slithering out of the room at last, those big brown eyes always made me feel like walking, talking rubbish. But it was more than just that: all the guilt in the world couldn’t put Humpty-Dumpty back together again; here was this living, breathing thing that relied on me. If I wasn’t there to fill the bowl, he didn’t eat—suddenly, I was wasting more than just my own life. And on days when suicide would be my very first thought when I opened my eyes, it was his need, his joy, his energy, that made me shake it off. While I couldn’t summon the strength to care whether I lived or died, I cared very much whether he did or not.

There is no malice in his heart; he wants only to love and be loved—and eat, can’t forget the food. He is regularly around a friend’s chickens and has never once tried to hurt one; the same for cats, babies, rabbits; anything is a friend to Joe. He is a pure being, and if I had broke him the way I had been broken, I really would be all the awful things I fought so hard not to believe about myself.

There was no epiphany, no burning bushes or lightning bolts; there was no thundering voice from the heavens that changed it all for me. It was a slow and arduous struggle; I would tumble from the wagon face first and land in a three day binge, but eventually I took off my junkie jacket and slipped my neck from the noose I wore there. I did the work, you’ll not hear me say that he made me give it up, but he did make me want to. I haven’t invited that little white tramp into my life for over six years now, and Joe says hi.

This past Sunday I finally got out of bed around noon, my head was swaying back and forth like a tether ball dancing at the end of its rope after being discarded in the middle of a game and stuck in a lazy arc. My tongue wore a layer of fuzz; it tasted like a dust bunny had climbed up on my chest while I was sleeping and defecated in my mouth. All this a byproduct of the vicodin I had been eating the night before.

I had been invited to dinner and when I arrived my friend was just stepping onto her front porch to smoke a cigarette. We stood talking while she smoked; her dogs were inside demanding their hellos, and we had a good chuckle at their insistence; I hadn’t seen them in a couple weeks and they are among my biggest fans. As we stood discussing what we wanted to eat, I leaned against the handrail that juxtaposed her front porch steps; it was of the wrought iron variety and had been painted a glossy black so many times that it almost looked like it was melting. Seconds later, with not so much as a warning shot, the rail gave way and sent me ass over teakettle in the slowest half second ever recorded. Lightning ran up my arm and set off sparklers in my brain; I had broken my finger and had known it instantly—even though I would wonder many times that night if I hadn’t been a little overzealous in my diagnosis while I waited the doctor would verify that it was indeed broken in the Emergency Room later.

So, I felt like I had been run-over when I got up Sunday morning and made breakfast my first priority; I fed Joe and made myself an egg sandwich in the hopes that some food would settle down the lava in my belly. After breakfast, I ate another pain pill despite the warnings from my good sense, and as I sat down on the couch, Sloppy Joe began to cough. He had developed it a couple days before but it wasn’t anything to really worry about; he had had kennel cough once before when he was young, and it is as simple as a couple of pills to be rid of, inconvenient but nothing that couldn’t wait until Monday. It was a weak and dry cough, more of a cuh-cuh-cuh than a hak-hak-hak; it sounded like he had an itch in the back of his throat; I made a mental note to call the Vet’s office first thing the next morning.

Then something happened that changed everything: his last cough in a string of four or five ended a little rougher, and as I watched, he coughed up a small puddle of blood that was almost purple. And again, as I went to fetch a paper towel to clean up, more blood, not as much, but blood just the same, and the same slightly purple color. I made a frantic call to a friend because the vicodin and my racing heart both told me it was a bad idea to drive, and we raced to an emergency vet’s office.

I sat in the waiting room googling things like “dog coughing blood” and “blood cough dog” and hated everything I read in the results, until they ushered me into an examination room. As soon as I sat down, I could smell feces; I couldn’t see any, but the smell seemed to be coming from the walls and it made me think about the poor animals that came and went in a place that was built to deal with the issues that couldn’t wait until Monday. The doctor that was seeing to Joe was one that I had never met before—this was my dog’s first full-fledged emergency—but when she walked into the room her face told me what I was worried her lips were about to. She looked like she was fighting tears: quivering lip, red puffy eyes, a slight shake to her hands; by the time she started talking, the words buzzed by my ears like fifty little flies.

I caught them at random, “Worst part of my job.”

“…several masses in his lungs…”

“…not much time….”

“…multiple tumors….”

“…just keep him as comfortable as we can until…”

I was given some pills to help him be comfortable and keep the pain down until he decides his time has come; right now, he is still eating and acting normal, except for the blood on his lips, and the doctor assured me it wasn’t yet time, but soon.

I don’t normally wax sentimental; it does nobody any good for me to live in the past, but in a real way, Sloppy Joe saved me from myself and now I can’t save him.

One day soon I will be saying goodbye to my best friend, who, at times, felt like my only friend. He made me want to be a better person and I owe him this anguish.

3 votes, 5.00 avg. rating (96% score)

Holiday Harlots

Look at you with your Christmas cheer, your peppermint leer; look at you with your colored bows, your ho-ho-ho’s, your Jingle Bells, and your Batman smells’. I marvel at slaughtered trees withering on roadside graves having been stripped of their adornments; each and every one packed neatly away to be saved for next year’s sacrifice to pagan gods long forgotten. I cringe at your ringing bells and wait with dread for the inevitable “an angel gets its wings” line; I hide from your twinkling lights and your Walmart warzones. I discreetly cackle at frustrated Old Nick sitting plump on his perch with gin on his breath and vomit in his beard servicing greedy little grabbers, one after another, until each swallow of poison makes him wonder if a bullet wouldn’t taste better.

Do you need another knick-knack or patty-whack; do you need that silly Santa hat? Ignore the crack babies and beaten ladies; ignore the bloodshot eyes, the genocides, the hungry cries. Fill your stockings to the brim and tell Jesus it’s all for him; believe the lies and wait in your lines all to buy a Chinese prize built for you with nickels and dimes. Do they fill your Heaven with the bigger spenders or the greediest lenders?

Look at you with your Christmas cheer.

3 votes, 4.33 avg. rating (86% score)

(Insert Title Here) #reverb13 Day 17

Prompt: What word did you select to be your travelling companion in 2013? What gifts did this word bring? What word will you choose to guide you through 2014? What do you hope it will bring into your life?

 

 

You’re a little surprised when I sit down; I can tell by the look in your eyes even if the rest of your face is all business. You knew I was coming so I imagine it’s because you didn’t see me as I came in; I shoot you a reassuring smile as I set the boxes on the table. You don’t look down, but not without effort.

I point to the first and watch your eyes waiting for you to look; I want you to see it. It’s looks to be about a foot long and a couple—maybe three—inches high. It’s made from heavy wood and still rough around the edges; you can tell that whoever made it cut the wood and sanded it just enough to take the edge off. The whole thing has been painted a high gloss black, but you can see hundreds of small scrapes and dings; even a chunk or two big enough to expose the raw wood hiding underneath.

I wait until you’re eyes come back to meet mine and say, “Thirteen.”

You give me a nod and suddenly you’re being nominated for an Oscar because all of the tells you were showing a moment ago are long gone and, for the first time since I sat down, I feel the twang of unease in my belly.

Even as my stomach is snitching on my brain and telling everyone with eyes that I’ve been caught in a bluff, I labor on pointing to the second box. This one is also made from wood but is much better crafted even though it is the same length, height, and basic shape.. There are ornate carvings adorning each side and the top; it’s been stained a dark mahogany with a shiny clear finish that makes the whole thing look soaking wet.

Once again I wait for your eyes to drop, take it in, and return back to mine before I say, “Fourteen.”

There’s no nod this time so we sit staring into one another’s eyes for a moment and just before I leap to my feet leaving my skin in the chair you say, “Can I look inside?”

“Up to you.”

“Do I want to look?”

“I don’t,” and then very quickly, “and please…, not while I can see.”

“How bad can they be?”

Bad enough that I brought you here, I think to myself. “I’ve named them Shame and Stamina.”

2 votes, 5.00 avg. rating (95% score)

Rest in Peace #reverb13 Day 16

Prompt: Habits and addictions: some are silly, some serious; when we have issues without answers, they can hold us so tight that we stop moving forward with the life we intended. Were you able to loosen those fetters this year, and if you were successful, how did you manage it? Did you accept outside help, or work alone? If you still feel that grasp of addiction or hurtful habits, what will you do differently in the year to come?

 

 

Every now and then I get that familiar lump in my throat and flutter in my stomach; every now and then I think about the sizzle and pop of the pipe, the stallion in my chest threatening to burst through my sternum, and a  tsunami of endorphins bolting through my brain like a summer storm. I think about the taste of metal in my mouth as I melt that first blast and dance the junkie jig; I hold my breath and imagine a lungful of sour smoke and wait for my heart to swoon.

But then I always think about that puddle of sweat; the one I stood in for hours. I think about the stutter that would always plague my mind after long hours locked in my room and how it would translate to my words; words that were poised on the edge of my tongue and cling to it like a baby bird about to make that first jump into the void. I think about that first shower after days of abuse and how the hot water would always open up my chest and I would cough up charred bits of steel wool because I couldn’t stop smoking long enough to change the screen.

I think about the constant pressure in my chest these days; the icy fingers of death clenching my heart like a jealous lover. I think about the unseen bugs that would inevitably crawl across my flesh, about how my eyes would scan the floor from shadow to shadow, corner to corner waiting to spot them, and how, on the nights when I would see a waterbug, I would be incapable of anything but locking myself away and hoping that it wouldn’t somehow make its way in. I think of all the lies I told, and all the guilt I wore; I think of all the days I lost and all the ways they cost.

Most of all, above all other things, I think about that man; I think about him, the one scared and silent stripped to his sweat soaked underwear, unable to talk. I think about who he is and what he did to be that man. I think about the shallow grave I put him in and why he didn’t struggle when I killed him. I don’t mourn his passing, don’t pretend he is a lost homie or martyred savior; he is a vanquished foe and is where he belongs.

So, I leave my phone in my pocket. I don’t make that call. Somewhere, somehow, some way,  I’ve decided to live; it’s a lot harder than striking a flame and smoking away the day—and it may be too late, only time will tell—but nobody will ever love me if I can’t figure out how to love myself first and I’ve never found that at the bottom of a fifty dollar bag.

2 votes, 5.00 avg. rating (95% score)

Bring a Covered Dish #DEverb Day 2

Prompt: Who do you most dread having to see at family gatherings, and why?

 

 

My father was working at my aunt’s house and I had been elected to help. I was only fifteen and would have rather been anywhere else in the world but at least I got to see her every day. She lived with her father but was visiting for the summer; she was about to turn twenty and was the epitome of beauty. She barely knew I was alive and I spent countless minutes admiring her from the corner of my eye.

After two weeks of working there with my father we had very little left to do and I knew that soon I would be leaving and wouldn’t see her again, at least not for a long time. She would be leaving to go back home and who knew if she would ever be back. So, late one night as I lay in my bed thinking of the wonderful life we could have together, I decided to not let her leave without at least telling her how I felt.

The next morning I had been at work for a couple hours before she materialized; she was wearing a bikini that had been specifically designed to drive young boys to the edge of madness. I waited until we were alone and walked up behind her; there was a moment when I almost swallowed my face and ran for the hills but I knew it was now or never so I said, “You don’t have to turn around, or even acknowledge that you hear me, I just had to tell you this: I know you think I am just a child but your smile, in the right light, is proof of God. You consume my every thought; when I see your eyes my heart races and my palms sweat. And yes, I may be young, but I would travel to the ends of the earth to hold you close and feel your hand in mine. I couldn’t let you leave before you knew…, knew that I love you.”

I was about to turn away and find the smallest, darkest hole to hide in when she turned to face me; my heart raced as I waited to hear her next words. How could she not see the truth of my words? How could she deny the electricity that was sparking between us?

I held my breath as I waited and almost fainted when she stepped close enough that I could feel her breath on my face. “What the fuck is wrong with you, you little freak? I’m your cousin.”

That day at lunch time my father took me home without saying much, but he wore a grin that I had never really seen before. My brother was forced to help my father for the rest of that job and not long after she was gone again. I’ve only ever seen her once more, at a family reunion, and she had a man and small child with her but I saw her looking at me. She didn’t have to tell me what she was thinking because I could see it written all over her face; she loved me and not like she loved our other cousins either.

0 votes, 0.00 avg. rating (0% score)

The Book of Face #DEverb

Prompt: How many friends do you have on FB?
How many would you have if you had to hang out and interact with them regularly?
Who would be the first to go, and why?

 

I know, I know it is a little ironic that it's Twain, sue me.

I know, I know it is a little ironic that it’s supposed to be Twain, sue me.

 

Well, here we go; somebody has finally decided to make it easy for me to piss and moan. Unfortunately, I do not have a deep seeded hatred for FaceBook, but don’t fret little one, I do know hate many things about it.

The magic number is one hundred-thirty, (not a huge number, but more than I would ever claim as “friends” if pressed for an answer). Aside from a few strays here and there used to fill in blank spaces in a game or two I know each one of them personally and have spent time with them one and all. But I have a dirty little secret: I know how to hide the douche-nozzles; when I simply cannot read one more misspelled (I mean Jesus! The damned thing has spellcheck built in you fuckwad), half thought out, ignorant piece of opinion, I simply send them to the injured reserve roster.

Sworn Enemies, and look how happy they are now that they’ve put their differences aside.

I believe, wholeheartedly, that everyone has a right to their opinion and a right to voice that opinion but, too bad for you coocookachoo, I also believe everyone else has a right to not give two shits about your opinion. Occasionally, I grow weary of the political rhetoric—apparently when you are friends with intelligent and passionate people they may devolve into ravenous monsters at the simple mention of their favorite deity or political pundit, who knew? Why can’t we all just get along?

I guess the simple truth is this: I usually speak my mind and FaceBook is no different. I will tell an asshole that he is, in fact, an asshole which means that assholes tend not to stick around long, win win.

2 votes, 4.00 avg. rating (82% score)