Momma,

 

I know that you come here from time to time and read these words, and believe me when I say that the day I first discovered that you had seen the things I do here my breath took a time out. With a lung half full—or half empty, we are both pessimists after all—like a claustrophobic trapped in a revolving door, the air stopped in mid-breath, refusing to come or go. There are parts of me spattered on these walls like graffiti on a bridge; things that I would never have told you if given half a chance.

These things a mother shouldn’t know about her son, and for that I have to say, I’m sorry. I wish that there were a way for me to have been the boy, or man, that you always thought I was, or dreamed I would become. Do me the favor of not bothering to tell me that I am, or some other nonsense equally ridiculous. I am not anyone to be proud of, and that’s going to have to be okay for a while. Maybe someday, but not today.

Momma, I know that things between us haven’t been great for a while. I know you miss me and my brother. I know you’re lonely.

I try to think about where it all went wrong; I try to remember when exactly things turned bad for us, but it’s hard to. Things have always been tense for us. I was a fucked up teenager when I first came to live with you, and you had no idea how to erase the guilt that ten lost years had left behind. I wasn’t easy; I always latch on to the first clue—no matter how contrived or imagined—that someone is going to give up on me, and run before they can. It has always been easier to say “fuck you” than it has to hear it. Missing someone is always harder when you know it’s because they don’t want you anymore. That doesn’t mean it’s right, but we all protect ourselves the best way we know how.

I never told you this, but there were times, after dad through me out but before I moved to NC to live with you, where I was drinking a lot. I was only 15, I know, and homeless, I know again, but it was easier to find a pint of Jack than it was to get a jam sandwich. So, I drank, a lot. And I would always eventually end up crying. I would tell any pair of ears within a mile that my parents hated me. “My Dad tossed me on the street, and my Mom left me and never looked back.” I know now that there was plenty of looking back, and that you had had your reasons; reasons that I would never have understood at that age, and I need you to know that I do now, I do understand. I have become intimately acquainted with my own fucked up problems, and see so many of them in you as well. I know that your life wasn’t any easier than mine, and when I imagine adding a child to the mix when I was twenty years old, I can’t imagine the tears that that child would have cried in my honor. I can only hope that they would have been the same as the ones I shed because of you, and not the ones I shed because of Dad. You made a hard decision, and I know you did what you thought was best for us. That’s all anyone can ask for. My only wish is that it had helped, and you had been able to get free of your demons as I have tried to get free of mine.

I have never forgiven myself for hitting you. I won’t make excuses; won’t give any fucked up reasons. I did it, hate that I did, and can’t help but think that I don’t deserve forgiveness, from either of us. It would be easy to say something like, “If I could go back and change it…”, but if wishes were horses and all that shit, right? It was a dark day, and it haunts me still. It doesn’t escape me that I’m sitting here, at almost 40 years old, and you are one of the few people I can call and expect an answer; but what does escape me, is the reason; what makes me not call, is the feeling that I don’t deserve it.

I could sit here for days and talk about regrets and missed opportunities. I can list the million and a half ways that I have contributed to the state of us, but neither of deserve that either. But I need you to know one last thing: this cursor is flashing in the eyes of a broken individual. I write and write about the New Me, about the ways in which I am changing, but I am still fucked up. I feel so screwed up, so completely twisted that I spend most of my days locked away by myself. I feel so Not Safe For Human Consumption that I have pulled away from everyone. So, in short, don’t think that I hate you, don’t allow yourself to think that the way we are has anything to do with the way I feel about you.

I try not to give up hope that I will one day feel worthy of someone’s love, and if that day ever comes, you will be my first call. I love you. You are always going to be in my heart.

All my love

The Twitch is a Bitch

My mother tells a story about when I was two years old, and we were all still one big dysfunction, not that that would ever really change after my parents split up. She and my father had bought lobsters to toss in a pot for dinner, but before they met their boiling end, my parents took one out of the cooler and set one on the table. I freaked—at least according to her I did—I began crying, and screaming, “Spider! Spider!” I said, over and over. Even at that young age I was able to see that lobster is nothing more than a salt-water insect; exoskeleton, segmented body, and jointed appendages: you do the math. I often wonder if that moment is where my fear of most bugs began. They, in effect, ruined lobster for me, forever. I have tried it only once, as far as I can remember, and though it didn’t make me vomit, I can say that it isn’t something I occasionally crave. Nor is it something I wish to try again, sorry.

Now, I’m no psychologist, as I am sure you’ve suspected, and so I am kind of a novice in the way of phobias. I have a healthy fear of heights, but I can’t really claim to be acrophobic. If pressed on the issue, I would say that what I have is a healthy respect for heights. I put forth to you that anyone who doesn’t feel better with both feet planted firmly on the terra firma is the crazy one, but I’ll let you make your own assertions there.

Not that long ago I was a self-diagnosed agoraphobic-in-waiting. Which is to say that I was well on my way to never leaving my house again. At the time, I only left the house to go to work; I couldn’t even manage a simple call to order a pizza. The idea of speaking to a stranger, for any reason, would seize my brain tight and send me into fits of anxiety. But, as I am sure you’re well aware, the bills do not stop coming just because you’ve found yourself incapable of being normal. No matter how I felt about leaving the house, the bills still came every month, almost as if they were on a schedule, and since I was still healthy enough to not want to practice agoraphobia from a cardboard domicile, I went to work on a semi-regular schedule. There were days in which it just couldn’t be managed, and I would concoct some story in order to keep me from under the sun’s shine.

In retrospect, I think it was much more a crippling social anxiety, but isn’t this a precursor to agoraphobia? I really am asking, because, as we’ve already established, I am not a psychologist. I developed this anxiety as a side effect of massive amounts of cocaine taken straight to the face. Whether I was packing it into my nose or smoking it, it kept me locked away for days on end. It also, as it turns out, will make you think a little sideways, and I became convinced that I couldn’t manage normal conversation and that—I suspected—would lead to my addiction being discovered. I was deeply ashamed of my behavior, but was far from ashamed enough to stop.

While I was high, actual conversation really was impossible, unless the person unlucky enough to try to speak to me had several hours to waste waiting for me to actually spit the words out. I would develop a stutter, my mind working so fast and frantic that I couldn’t get the words out fast enough, my brain would shoot several pages ahead and leave me standing there struggling to force the original thought off my tongue. If asked a simple question, the person asking may have to wait, on the other side of a locked door I might add, for several seconds—sometimes even a full minute—before I could manage some semblance of an answer. Unless of course the answer required more than a single word, then they may have a very long wait indeed.

My mind would become a caged animal. One who’s cage was two sizes too small, and they had been repeatedly jabbed with a stick for days on end until they’re insane with fear and rage; snapping and snarling from the sheer anticipation of the next poke. This would happen no matter how I was ingesting the cocaine. If snorting it, I would be able to manage to act almost normal for a while, but I would eventually do so much—usually after an hour or so—that I would be high enough to be frozen to the floor and babbling like a fool. But, if I was smoking it, the effect was almost instantaneous. I would be so high so fast, that I would be lost to the outside world (hell, the inside one was gone too).

Eventually, I would find myself stripped down to my skivvies and literally standing in a puddle of sweat. Scared to death someone would knock on the door, or ring my phone. Even though I was well aware that I did not have to answer my phone, I was somehow worried that not answering would cause the caller to get in their car and drive to my house to find out why. I distinctly remember calculating how much time I would have from any unanswered caller’s house to mine, and God forbid that I heard a car door outside after a missed call. Even if it were moments after, it would send me into fits of panic and franticly trying to remember if I had locked the front door.

I imagine by now you’re wondering why I would subject myself to such abuse, why on earth would anyone do this to themselves, right? Well, the best—and only—answer I can offer is: I was a junkie. I was so utterly caught up in my addiction that it took me a long, long time to even realize that I wasn’t enjoying it. Even though I was counting the moments until I would find the courage to kill myself. Even though I was petrified to be in a room with a stranger to the point that I would drive halfway across town in order to go to a store that had a better chance of fewer customers than one around the corner. Even though on my way home with a fistful of cocaine I would gag repeatedly, my brain getting so amped for the dope, that I would almost vomit. Even though it was eating me from the inside out, I always thought I was just partying, in a locked room, all by myself. Truth be told, I am still a junkie; they say you’re never not one again, whether you’re using or not, and I’d have to agree with that statement. I do still think about the rush, but then I remember that puddle of sweat, and keep on keepin’ on.

But there was something else, something that was far worse and still haunts me, even now. The bugs. Junkie or no junkie, all the locked doors and twitchy tongues, the bent brains and shameful sweats never were as bad as the bugs. Here, in North Carolina we call them waterbugs, I’ve heard them called palmetto bugs and American cockroaches as well, but can’t say for sure if they’re the same thing or not. I think it’s important to note that there really is no way to keep these things out of your house, they’re not like regular roaches where you can have the bug man come and spray a few times and they will die off. No, these things are everywhere, they come from outside, and no matter how clean you keep your house, no matter how meticulous you are, they will get in.

Coming from Maine, I had never seen a bug as big as a waterbug, and certainly had never seen one that big that could move as fast as those fuckers do. Plus, some of them can fly, and the sound of their wings has a very distinct buzz to it. You can hear one coming from a block away. Not long after I first discovered these mutant beasts, I made my first rule concerning them: if I see one, I have to kill it. I can’t tell you how many times I have had one scurry up my leg, or run across my shirt. Once, when I was about 17, I was lying in bed just about asleep, my mind was drifting away to dreamland and a waterbug ran across my open mouth. Legs on either side of my lips! Needless to say, I didn’t get any sleep that night. So, if I saw one, I would kill it. That way it would never get the chance to crawl on me.

But they took over my mind whenever I would use. I not only felt like there were things crawling all over me, but I would see those big fat bastards lurking in every shadow. I was convinced that they were waiting for me to look away. Then, in that instant, in that fraction of a second that it takes for my brain to send a signal to my eyes explaining to them that it is completely and utterly convinced that there is a waterbug darting toward us, then they would charge me, run up my leg, and cause my heart to stop from the intense fear they instilled in my drug addled mind. If I actually did see a real one while I was all coked-up, I would let it have whatever room I saw it in and hope that it would be content with that. I couldn’t risk trying to kill it, and have it get on me; they would find my body right where those six little legs first touched my skin, pipe in one hand, my pecker in the other, and a big fat puddle of shit in my shorts.

I’m not like other junkies, in that I don’t know exactly how long it has been since I last used. I never bothered to mark a calendar, or make a mental note. All I can say for sure is that it has been years. Probably not ten, but maybe, can’t remember. All that time and I’m still a little crazy; I am still working through some issues that I developed in those days, but I’m getting better, and the fact that I can even see that I am, is progress.

I have made some really good progress actually, in many aspects of my life, but some are harder to shake than others. A couple weeks ago some friends went out of town, and asked me to stay at their house to take care of their dog. Having been in desperate need of some canine company since I lost my best friend earlier this year, I accepted. One issue that I still deal with quite often is insomnia, late at night my brain gets obstinate, and it refuses to settle in. This problem gets compounded when I’m not at home. Especially if I am in a strange bed, so I wasn’t at all surprised on my first night there I was still wide awake at 2 a.m.

After lying in bed and reading for an hour or more, I got up and went to watch a movie, thinking maybe a documentary will slow me down a little. I turned on my computer, and went to grab a beer—something else that might dim the lights—from the fridge. When I turned to find the bottle opener, I saw it. The little fat fucker was perched right on the edge of the counter above the drawer I was headed to. Now, I can say “progress” until my peepee’s hard, but when it comes to those little six-legged ninjas, I might as well be wearing pig-tails and shouting for my Daddy.

It took me five minutes to find the light switch when I first got to the house, but let me tell you, I suddenly wished I had took the time to find an implement of destruction afterward. While I was trying to mentally picture every corner of that house in an attempt to recall if I had seen anything with a long handle that wouldn’t pound holes in the walls, I stood as still as possible. Not really holding my breath, but almost; inhaling and exhaling as slowly and quietly as my fat-ass could manage, and believe me it was watching me as closely as I was watching it. One of us was scared and the other was glad of it. Though it isn’t ideal, because of the required close proximity in order to use it, I finally decided on one of my flip-flops.

While trying to keep an eye on my prey, I slowly moved around the counter to brag one of them, but when I went one way, it went the other. Suddenly in a rush, I grabbed my intended weapon and rushed back to send my tormentor to Hell. As is the case much of the time, and the reason I had tried to watch him so closely, he was fast and vanished behind the coffee maker. I tapped the right side of it trying to coax it out the other, and it worked just as I planned, but once again, it was too fast for me. That side of the counter in their kitchen acts as an island, and separates the kitchen from the dining room. The little demon must have known that I couldn’t reach him if he could get to the edge fast enough because he was like a blur of legs and evil as he made for freedom, and the chance to exact his revenge later. Missing with a poorly placed swat, I watched as he made the corner and disappeared up the wall.

The kitchen cabinets end evenly with the end of the counter and momentarily blocked my view, which I must say caused my brain to twitch a little. So I ran around the counter to finish the job at hand and watched as he ran behind a painting on the wall—not only could he hide there indefinitely because I won’t touch the damn thing while I know he’s back there, but I’m not going to destroy someone’s art they way I would…, anything at all that belonged to me in this same situation. It’s also tricky because I can try tapping one edge or another to try to force his flight response to send him back into harm’s way, but I risk knocking the art to the floor and damaging it anyway, and that would be a kick in the dick. I tried it just the same, and am happy to report the painting stayed hanging right where it belonged, but the waterbug wasn’t at all interested in giving me a win of any kind and stayed put. What my tapping did accomplish however, is forcing another little asshole—that I hadn’t yet seen and was just as big and nasty as the one I was currently hunting—to flee in the other direction, back into the kitchen.

I managed to kill the second one pretty quickly, but the first eluded me for another hour or so. I’m not sure if it was just a busy week or if there was some sort of hit taken out on me by the Godfather of waterbugs, but in the five days that I was in that house I literally killed a sum that went into double digits, including one more later that night. Whenever I would see one I would immediately find a flip-flop and start the hunt, but—and here’s the rub—while I was searching, and for a while after, I would get the old familiar twitches. I could feel the creepy-crawlies on my legs, arms, and neck. I would see little black rockets shooting at me from the corner of my eye. I would be unable to concentrate on a book, or movie. I couldn’t even go lie down and try to sleep; how could I possibly sleep with all the invisible insects crawling all over me? Noises, no matter how small or recognizable, would cause me to have to tip-toe around inspecting everywhere I imagined the ninjas would hide.

So, no, I’m not a psychologist, but I do play one on the internet, and I don’t know how to fix this one. I know that they can’t hurt me; I know that I’m being silly; I know that if one actually were to get on me it wouldn’t be the end of the world, but my mind isn’t able to justify these facts. Those of you that believe in the Gods may think that this is my penance for a life spent killing off millions of unborn brain cells, and maybe you’re right, but what kind of God avenges slaughtered brain cells by forcing me to commit genocide on bugs?

Blog Tour

I was recently honored to be asked by a friend, Michael Douglas Jones, to participate in a Blog Tour in which we highlight creative blogs through a few question and answer type thingy’s. You can visit Michael’s blog here. Michael’s tour post was published last Monday, mine today, and the three I name have until next Monday to answer. What fun, huh?

Michael is a poet and an artist, and a damn fine one. His art will capture your imagination, and his words will woo you; he can produce power in a few sentences, a talent I have yet to master. I thank him for this honor, and hope I can manage to live up to the implied greatness.

Now to the first question:

What am I working on?

Well, the answer to this one hasn’t changed—and probably never will—it is me. I am, and have been, working on me for quite a long time. I recently finished my first semester of college and am waiting for the fall semester to begin. As far as what I have in the works as in the way of writing: There are a couple stories bouncing around in my head right now, one fiction and one not-so fictional. Plus, and I swore that I wouldn’t say this to anyone because it adds a level of pressure that tends to make me freeze up with anxiety, but I have four chapters of a book that I wrote last summer, or the summer before, that I am dedicated to pulling back out and working on again. That story has been bouncing around in my head for years now and I am convinced it won’t go away until I purge it from my brain. So, I hope to get that out of there by summer’s end, and now that I am not loaded down with homework, I think it is time.

How does my work differ from others in its genre?

The short, and honest, answer is I don’t know. I can’t even honestly say what genre I fit into. I tend to get the most response from a memoir, but I write fiction also, and honestly wish to someday write a book of fiction. But, I wouldn’t say that I fit into any one genre and almost prefer it that way.

Why do I write/create what I do?

This is an easy one. I first started writing in ninth grade, and thank the Gods that those words are long lost. But, over the years I’ve often been compelled to put my thoughts to paper, more of a way to purge them than anything else, it was a way for me to flesh out thoughts that I was struggling to understand. Fast forward to a few years back and I decided, on a whim, to start a blog; I wanted to rant about a few things that were bothering me, and was curious about the blogging world. I had read a post here or there that I ran across on the internet and decided to investigate. What happened next is I found myself revealing secrets. Things I had buried deep within myself, so deep in fact, that often times even I was unaware of them. With each new secret cut loose from my brain, I was finding layers of why I was angry/depressed/suicidal. I was in therapy, self inflicted, self prescribed therapy; and it was working.

How does your writing/creative process work?

It usually starts with a single thought. Why do I _____? What would happen if _____? There are several times in which I wrote things that I had forgotten, and when they came bubbling up I was so bothered by the remembering of them that I HAD to write them or be forced to re-remember them every day—multiple times a day. So I sit down and put them on the page, but I force myself to face the truth of these memories. I force myself to be honest with myself and, by default, the people who read them. If I did something horrible, for a horrible reason, I confront that, because the only way to not only get over it, but to forgive myself is to look at it honestly, and face those decisions. Unfortunately—or fortunately, depending on how you look at it—I was a bastard for much of my life.

 

Well, friends, that is the end of the question and answer portion of this tour. Now, I am to name three creative friends so this tour can continue, Unlike Michael, I have not asked anyone to participate in advance; half because I am a lazy sot and half because I was afraid of the rejection letters. So I will name three, but they may not be happy about it, not everyone will see this as an honor; some may, in fact, choose to think of it as unpaid work. See? There I am being a bastard again.

 

Brandee Baltzell

Brandee is a writer, and a budding artist. She also happens to be a great friend. But, I have to say that she, more than anything else, is the matriarch of a wonderful family. Her, her husband, and her two wonderful children are genuinely good people. She is the type of mother that people wish they had been lucky enough to have been born to, and because of that, her children will one day become the type of people we all aspire to become. You can find her work here, and follow her on twitter here.

Mark Stratton

Mark is a poet, and even though he kicks himself in the ass more often than he should, he is a damn good one. Mark is another good friend; he found my blog years ago and has been reading and responding to my nightmares for almost as long as anyone I can think of. Mark has a self-published poetry book titled Tender Mercies, and I have never told him this, but it is the one of two poetry books I own, and I own it on kindle and a hard copy that has moved with me several times. He is another wonderful person, and has always been there with a kind word, even when I was practicing my bastardly ways. You can find his work here, and follow him on twitter here.

Noel Rozny

Another poet. Noel has a way of draining every word of its utmost power, and can move you with a few lines. I am always moved when I read her words, and think she will one day be published, if she has not been already. She honors me when she reads my work, and always has such thoughtful and insightful comments. She is a truly beautiful soul, and I only hope she gets her just desserts. You can read her work here, and follow her on twitter here.

I count these people; Michael, Brandee, Mark, and Noel among my friends. Even though I have never met any of them, I still feel as though they have enriched my life and I am all the better for it. Can you think of a better definition of “friend”?

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.

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.

(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.”

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.