I just found this on my old live journal. I wrote this when I was like 18. Its actually not that bad for a guy who knows absolutely nothing about the world.
tick tock tick tock the clock bellows thickly
click clack click clack my finger rattle onward
pitter pat pitter pat my heart beats faster
thump thump thump my feet ignore the boredom
empty voices echoing, sneaking through the halls
the confident business man as he forfeits his soul
and the women strangly sound very much the same
do they know their forsaken souls have misguided ambition to blame?
They don't notice me sitting in my safty spot
hiding out and counting down the minutes until I leave
because unlike them my time in here is a pause in real life
that resumes between 9 and 5 and continues on its path
oh this wretched trap has taken slaves indeed
if I wait here long enough I fear it may take me
no rhyme nor prose could possibly pose
a threat to this industry
I sit and think as I pass a new day about my former life
of locker doors and those fucking whores that loved to make me squirm
the very scum that later become society's living dead
yet deep inside I miss the pride of knowing where I'm going.
Perhaps I'll change, as we know the wind does, onto a deeper path
where enrichment and knowledge can set some goals other then getting by
or getting richer for that matter, for money and fame is not my desire
I want a life devoid of complacency that knows its destination
Then later I found this one... this is like reading the words of another person. Funny to think how I was so in love with somebody and now it is just like... information.
shes the thump thump thump when my heart heats up
and the blood that rushes to warm these cold bones
and I'm not so young yes I'm very very old
and this girl is the one for whome my heart is sold
she's the little tickle feeling jumping down my spine
and the the scarf that keeps me feeling so secure
and this time I'll do it right oh I promise this is it
and I promise I won't hurt you, how could I hurt myself?
she's the rhythm of my footsteps in God's classy rhyme
she's the telephone reciever when God's on the line
she's a mustard seed sprouting in God's perfect time
God has given me a feast and she is the wine
I've said such things twice before or maybe three I can't be sure
I've held the hands of wicked people and closed an open door
and all the while I told the world that I was getting better
while I branded on my naked skin a velvet, scarlet letter
and now I'm sure they all will laugh and say "he's just having fun"
but they will see, I promise you, this has just begun.
He is my rhythm and she is my rhyme
What was wrong with me?
My mind doesn't mind
that I sleep all the time
as I stand in the checkout line
When I buy my milk
It must be said that I once said
that I am never asleep as I lay in my bed
and repeat over and over the words in my head
When I dream a real life
Perhaps I will start to finally start
to examine my brain and pull it apart
and see the truth of what's in my heart
and see where my thoughts go
I'm a 19 year old and I'm not getting old
So I'll bask in ignorance and just do as I'm told
and always bid and never fold
and stay asleep all the time
Oh dear god... this one is really bad. So emotional haha.
no more warm nights
no more small fights
I have strength in numbers
and the only number I need is me
There is a bird that sings in my walls
every morning when I wake up alone
I listen to his song as the day slips by
and all the time i don't think of you
If I stumble upon you in some
time and place, will you
look to the ground for comfort?
will you use your silance as your weapon?
Then go ahead and close your eyes
so you don't have to look at me again
because my bird sings songs to remind me
that days are brighter now that you are gone
with the vail off of my eyes I see
you settled for less
Oh and I found this on there too... I wrote this while I was in high school. I'm pretty sure it was the first short story I ever wrote. It is actually not bad for a first attempt from a 17 year old.
I don't know how long I lay there. The air was warm, but not in a good way, it was more of a stale and empty kind of warmth. It may have been that mixed with the humming of the engine that caused me to black out. I was not tired from exhaustion, but my mind had grown so occupied that I suppose it was too worn out to be distracted. I did not know I had fallen asleep when I suddenly found myself back in Audrey's room. I was not sure why I was there exactly but she had sort of a half grin on her face. I was so taken by her lips and eyes that I immediately forgot about the car and about my conversation with Ari, and really about everything that happened the night before.
I looked at her for a long while before I spoke. It was nice to share silence with her again. I was noticing every little detail I could. This is a habit I picked up because I was never sure just how long the good moments would last with her, so I was always trying to fuse some sort of memory of what those moments felt like, so I could sustain myself when she wasn't around, or when things got bad again. There was a sort of iridescent light coming off of the Christmas lights in her room; they made a bright silhouette around her body. Her socks did not match, and it was not on purpose in that silly way that girls often do. There were a lot more details, but they sort of drifted into my subconscious and got lost in the mix. She was the first to speak because frankly, I was too scared.
"Do you hate me Jeff?"
"my eyes are very dry, I'm sorry, what?"
"do you have any water? I think I am going to pass out."
"why do you do this to yourself Jeff? You are worry mongering"
"you did this to me"
"I can't win with you, lets go watch a movie okay? And I will get you some water."
suddenly I felt normal again. All I could think about was that she has such a power. I felt like I had been horrible to her, but there was always such closure when she would just grab my hand.
As we walked into the kitchen I began noticing details again. The way her hand felt, the way her apartment smelled. I noticed flies stuck in the windows, they made a quiet white noise as their wings beat against the blinds.
Suddenly all the clarity in the world was mine. It was as if the veil had been uncovered from my eyes and the floodgates of comfort were opened. None of the shaking and none of the hypochondria. I was alone with her and she was perfect.
"What movie do you want to watch?"
"it doesn't matter, I am glad I came"
I waited for a reaction but she said nothing. Then I looked over and she was gone. In her place was a blinding light. I squinted immediately and a sweat instantly burned through my pores. I kept thinking she would still respond but there was nothing around me anymore.
"Please answer me Audrey, I hate not knowing."
nothing just the blinding sun.
Then the humming started again. I noticed that the flies were not stirring in the windows anymore and I noticed that I had a sharp pain on the side of my head.
The feelings of discomfort began to grow exponentially as I gathered to my senses and turned my head away from the sun.
I sat up in the back seat of the car, which was still parked.
"I must have fallen asleep" I said
I was pretty sure I had never talked out loud to myself before that, but I was growing used to behaving differently, if that makes any sense.
I got back in the drivers seat, I wasn't even sure how I had managed to get out of it in the first place. I looked out my window and down the beach and noticed Ari was coming up. Again I took off the park break and put my car in reverse, but then I just put it back in neutral. My motivation had ceased.
Ari approached the car; he was walking in kind of a fast paced sulk. I was having trouble pinpointing his mood. As he got almost in front of me he made eye contact and I was sure he would come talk to me. Probably put me in my place, or perhaps try to sympathize with me like everyone else, but in the end he just looked. Then, as if nothing had happened, he looked down and kept on walking.
I was shocked at what had just happened. Who did he think he was? Could he really get away with that? I thought about getting out of the car, but I had been sitting there for so long that I felt it would ruin my streak if I got out then.
I sat there staring until he vanished around the trees.
I was not running out of things to think about, but I was running out of motivation to think. All this time I had spent trying to convince myself to just go find her. To grab her. To say "god damnit! I need you!"
but this time was different.
Everything was gone and I was left with an unfinished story.
There was no plot twist
my story had reached its climax.
After all that time, and all my hard work.
I reached for the key.
And let the engine die.
The silence was deafening.
Monday, February 10, 2014
Dad is reclined in the driver’s seat. He has it pushed so far back that it couldn’t go back anymore. I glance down at his outstretched leg on the gas pedal, and it is fully extended so that he can only press on it by moving his ankle. He is about an inch shorter than me, but anytime it is my turn to drive I have to scoot the seat forward in order to be comfortable driving.
“What are you? A gangster or something?” I say sarcastically.
“What?” He responds, “we’ve got a long drive ahead of us, I gotta be comfortable.” I laugh out loud, roll my eyes, and look back down at my book.
Outside of the car is endless desert. We are going north on the 15. When we started the trip we took in the breadth of Orange County. The endless sprawl of Los Angeles is fascinating, like God’s great ant colony. The density of mankind’s thumbprint faded slowly though and eventually slipped away altogether, leaving before us an ocean of yellow rolling hills, and at the horizon - tan mountains, snow capped, whose faces are gnarled from ancient geology and stained with contours of dark amber and burnt sienna.
“We were somewhere around Barstow, on the edge of the desert, when the drugs began to take hold,” I say as I look up from my book and take in the landscape around me. Dad doesn’t immediately know the reference.
“Drugs?” he says, checking my expression out of the corner of his eye, “I don’t think we will be having any drugs on this trip.”
“Perhaps not, and I don’t see a sky full of bats either,” I say. I roll down the window and hang my head out. The wind blows my hair. Dad is always telling me I need a haircut. He thinks I should gel it back like him. He is always telling me that. I generally take his advice on most things, but on that, I always have and always will disagree. I think about this as the wind whistles around me, and I feel the freedom of having my hair; untouched by product, blow freely away from my face.
“I was reading from the book,” I say as I settle back into my seat and roll the window back up so the AC won’t be wasted. I do this because I already know my dad is about to mention it.
“Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.” Dad says, reading the title of the book I am holding in his vision.
“Did you ever read it?” I say. Dad reads a lot, but mostly different types of books from what I read.
“I think so. A long time ago. I saw the movie though.” He says. “It’s a good book to read for this trip, Pat. We probably won’t be doing any drugs, but we may have our own fear and loathing before this is all done.”
“Have you ever been to a casino, Pat?” Dad asks as we casually stroll into the lobby of Mandalay Bay.
“Yeah, you took me and Linz to Pechanga last year remember?”
“Oh yeah, but you could only watch because you weren’t 21. Are you going to try your hand at a little blackjack tonight now that you are able?”
“I think I’d rather play poker to be honest. I’m not very confident in my blackjack abilities.”
“Poker! Jesus. Well let’s see how I do at blackjack and maybe I’ll come play poker with you later.”
Seeing that there is a desk agent open, dad quickly darts away to check us in. I stand back with the bags and look around at the throngs of tourists that are passing by in every direction. Some have fanny packs on and haircuts from the 70s. There are college guys that probably play water polo, there are elderly couples creeping through the mania in the last years of their lives, lots of artificially beautiful women, a lot of Asian people. The lobby has ornately designed marble floors, great white pillars, and elaborate chandeliers. The place has a Hawaiian theme but it is all such an obvious façade. The artificial nature of everything devalues it. The simulacrum is more apparent than that which it so confidently pretends to be. Yet, there is something magical about the farce. I find that I can ignore the truth a little bit. I decide I like this place; this is Disney Land for adults.
I look back at dad; he is flirting with the desk agent. She looks about my age, Thai or Vietnamese maybe. Dad has those brown loafers on that he wears without socks. His legs are crossed casually with one knee bent as he leans on the countertop. He has casual slacks on, an un-tucked dress shirt, and a loose fitting grey sports coat over that. This is a new style for him. He has gone casual ever since losing his job. 25 years of executive suits and ties, all gone in a flash. Now he is honoring his unemployment by dressing in what he calls “Larry David style”. He wants to be just like Larry David. It makes sense in a way, they are both so cynical, deep down they both abhor social structures, but my dad is too afraid to break them. He dresses like Larry David, but could never truly act like Larry David. Never to someone’s face, only when they are out of earshot. I am the same way. So is my sister. We are all so much the same it makes me sick and so I put it out of my mind. I can’t hear what my dad is saying but I can imagine he is crossing some sort of line with the cute girl. Nothing too far, just enough to make her uncomfortable.
Our rooms are adjacent to each other. We are at The Four Seasons, which occupies the top four floors of Mandalay Bay. My dad, prior to losing his job, has spent much of his life in Las Vegas for business and as such has many friends and connections in the city. One such friend, as a gesture of kindness, and also probably out of sympathy and some sense of duty, set us up with these suites all under the pretense that we are potential business clients. This friend works for the company my dad was fired from. The Las Vegas portion of the trip is, in a way, an underhanded fuck you to the executives of my dad’s former company who value money and pride over human decency. “Go crazy on that mini bar, Pat” my dad says just before we part ways to explore our respective rooms.
That evening we are on the casino floor. This is after sampling every type of booze from my mini bar and eating all the chips. This is after the Grey Goose cocktails at the lobby bar, and getting a $300 bottle of wine to wash down my duck confit at the House of Blues Foundation Room which has floor to ceiling windows at the southern point of the Strip, overlooking this whole great lie. This is after the bouncer at the Foundation Room refused to let me up the elevator because I was wearing Vans, and my dad’s friend took me to Elton’s Men’s Shoe Store and bought me a $250 pair of dress shoes that I never wore again just so we could have dinner. This is after all that. When my dad’s friend went home and it was just the two of us, sitting at an otherwise empty blackjack table, a pack of Marlboro Lights between us, Coors Lights in the plastic drink holders that never perfectly fit under padded edges of the table.
“You see, Pat, gamblers always have superstitions. Good gamblers do anyway. I’m not superstitious of course, but I still have traditions.” He says as he stacks his green chips up neatly next to the smaller pile of black chips. I am listening intently. Focused. There are no chips before me, but because it is a quiet night the dealer and pit bosses allow me to sit without playing. I drink. I smoke.
“I always smoke,” he says “I know its probably bad, but its what I do. I smoke and I like to hold the cigarette a certain way. I like to have the ashtray in a certain place. Sometimes I won’t sit down at a table just because I don’t want to sit in a particular spot at that table. Sometimes I won’t sit a table just because I don’t like how the dealer looks. These things don’t actually matter because they don’t change the randomness of the cards coming out, but your state of mind does matter. I like things to be a certain way so that I can get my mind right, otherwise it will all feel wrong, and I’ll lose. You understand?”
“I think so,” I say, “yeah… you gotta get in the right frame of mind. I get that.”
Dad plays for a while, always explaining his moves. We have played blackjack before, at home, always for a little bit of money, never just for fun. This is the first time I am getting this instruction at an actual table though. I know the moves to make, he has already taught them to me. Hit soft 17. Always split 8’s. I know these things, but I’m watching his mannerisms, seeing the etiquette. His first card is an ace, he lightly pounds the table with his fist, “paint it!” he yells out. The dealer smiles as he couples it with a king. A blackjack. Dad stacks the winnings on top of his original bet to let the whole thing ride. He puts a red $5 chip just outside the betting circle
“This bet is for you James,” dad says to the dealer, “lets both get a blackjack.”
“Thank you sir,” says James the dealer as he deals out a second consecutive blackjack. A-10. Dad is beaming, he is positively thrilled. Dad is drunk, and so am I. He slides a green $25 chip over to me. “You play,” he says. I don’t respond. I just put the chip in the betting circle in front of me. It is time to be serious. I light another cigarette. The cocktail waitress comes by with another Coors Light for me. I didn’t even have to order it, she knew. Drinks are free in Vegas as long as you are gambling but I tip her with a white $1 chip. I do this because I saw my dad do it, and he knows what to do.
At 6am I am at the Cashier’s desk next to the poker room at Caesar’s palace. This is after turning my dad’s green chip into three black chips back at Mandalay Bay. This is long after dad suggested we walk to Caesar’s and watch the Bellagio fountain on the way. After dad got bored with poker and went to bed. He has a short attention span. He hates poker for this reason. This is after the cowboy looking man with the white beard at the poker table called me “young gun” as I sat down. This is after losing about $100 to the man in sunglasses and a Hawaiian shirt who laughed in my face and told me not to quit my day job. This is after five straight hours of No Limit Texas Hold Em’ and after I won my $100 back plus another $400 from the man in the Hawaiian shirt, who said, “what are you gonna do young buck? Just take all my money and walk away??” as I stood up and did just that. This is the moment when I am standing at the cashier’s window, with two racks full of chips.
“OK, here you are sir. One, Two, Three, Four, Five, Six, Seven hundred and Ten, Twenty, Thirty dollars,” says the cashier as she places the bills one by one on the counter before me. I take the money, smile politely, like I’ve done this a million times, like this is no big deal, and walk away. I put the money in my pocket and realize I forgot to cash in a white chip. I feel its soft clay exterior; I pinch it and can tell it is strong. I decide to keep it. It is 6 am but it could have been anytime. There are no clocks and no windows. The light in a casino is always the same. I stroll through the casino floor and there are businessmen, still in their suits with loosened ties shouting and high fiving over a craps game. The clanging and chiming of the slot machines is harmonious in a dissonant kind of way, if that is even possible.
I step out of the doors of the hotel and the sun is up. I squint my eyes. I realize I am still drunk. Some joggers are running down the street, they almost run into me. Cars are slowly meandering down Las Vegas Boulevard. The world is still happening. This is a harsh and overwhelming reality. I see a cab and I get in. He takes me back to Mandalay Bay. In the room I drink another mini bottle of whisky because I can. I stand naked in my window, exposing myself to nobody and everybody. I pass out in my bed.
We are in Yellowstone National Park. The trip so far has taken about three weeks. We left Orange County at the beginning of October, the Ford SUV that dad rented was white when we started, now it is varying shades of black, brown, and gray. After Las Vegas we saw the Grand Canyon. Rode a helicopter over it. We explored the artsy communities of northern New Mexico. The whole town of Taos was out of power and it was mysterious and exciting. In Amarillo, TX we ate at a roadhouse where my dad tried to convince the waitress to go on a date with me. He is always doing things like that. He always tries to make me feel so awkward. In New Orleans we visited the 9th Ward and took in the aftermath of Katrina only a year after it happened. We gambled at Harrah’s Casino. We gambled in Biloxi and I lost $300. In Atlanta I packed up my apartment. We put most of my stuff into storage, not that I had much to begin with, and we put what we could fit into the car, along with my dog, Jesse, in his huge rattling cage. We had to put the seats down. After Atlanta we visited my half-sister Sarah and her husband Nate in North Carolina. We took back roads through the coal mining country of West Virginia and listened to Johnny Cash and Loretta Lynn. We went to Washington DC. After DC we made a left somewhere and began the long crawl West. We drove longer stretches without stopping. We made it to Indiana where we picked up my dad’s ex-wife, Kimberly. She has an infant son now, Rowan, he came along too.
We made it to Madison Wisconsin. This was before we all visited the Wisconsin Dells, before we had brunch on a rooftop restaurant in Minneapolis, and before Kimberly flew back to Indiana. This was before dad and I went to Fargo and visited the giant statues of Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox because we love the Coen Brothers so much. This was before we visited Mt. Rushmore, before we listened to Bruce Springsteen’s album Nebraska in silence while crossing the badlands of Wyoming at sunset. This was before we drifted over the high plains and passed into the heart of the Grand Teton Mountains. This was back in Madison, when we all went to a German beer hall for dinner. Rowan began to cry, so Kimberly excused herself to change him.
“Is it ok that Kimberly is here with us?” dad said once she was out of hearing.
“Yeah,” I said, wanting to avoid an uncomfortable conversation, “of course it is ok. I’m glad she is here, I love Kimberly.”
“Look Pat, I know things are sometimes weird with me.” Dad said, aware of the fact that I was just giving him the answer I thought he wanted to hear. “I’ve made a lot of mistakes. There have been times in the past that I have been wild, and that I drank too much, and my judgment was clouded by what was before me. I was always living in the moment. I have done things that I cannot be forgiven for, and there are things that you have no idea about and that you probably will never want to know about.” His hands were shaking, and so were mine. We are always shaking though. It’s a genetic thing. We are just a shaky family. A serious or emotional conversation only makes the shaking worse.
“So are you bringing Kimberly along on this trip because you feel bad about the past? Like, because she is having a hard time as a single mom and you want to make up for that past by rescuing her?” I said. I’m usually not this frank with my dad. My whole life I have lived out the son to father relationship by avoiding conflict as much as possible, and avoiding direct accusations. We had spent nearly a month in a car together though, exploring the country together, both of us starting new lives, and I felt like I could speak to him this bluntly, maybe for the first time ever.
“No, its not that,” he said after looking me in the eyes for a few seconds, “I love Kimberly. I have never stopped loving her. We just couldn’t be together, we couldn’t work. I will always love her though. I’ve been doing a lot of thinking on this trip. I have been very humbled by losing my job and this bankruptcy. Pat, you have no idea what this has done to me. I have cashed in my 401K. This whole trip is being funded by my retirement savings.”
“Really?” I asked. I had never asked how he was paying for all this. I just assumed he had it taken care of. I hadn’t spent a penny of my own money except to gamble with at the various casinos we always stopped at along the way. I began to feel selfish. I began to realize how presumptuous and spoiled I have been for so long. Walls were starting to break down.
“Yes, I cashed in my retirement just before we left,” my dad said, “I realize how fleeting material things are. That is why I am on this trip with you, and that is why I wanted Kimberly here. I can’t make the past ok. I can’t change the way I have been neglectful or hurt people. I am calmer now though. More mature. I want to be with the people who are important to me. Right now I am happy we are all together. Can we agree on that?”
“Yes, of course,” I said, feeling slightly choked up. My eyes were watering a little bit. I’m not one to cry so I held it in. “I’m sorry,” I said after a minute.
“Why are you sorry?” dad asked.
“I don’t know. I’m just so sorry.”
“Its ok Patty boy,” dad said and he put his hand on my shoulder. “I love you.”
“Woah stop! Stop! Stop!” my dad screams. I slam on the breaks just in time as the enormous buffalo strolls onto the road, without a care in the world.
“What the hell is going on?” I say, hardly able to contain my laughter. We hear a loud groaning sound and both instinctually look across the street at the dust cloud being kicked up by a female bison who is rolling on her back and kicking her legs up in the air. Dad rolls down his window, flabbergasted and awed. We begin to whisper.
“This is so crazy,” I say softly, holding back giggles, “have you ever seen anything like this?”
“Never,” dad says.
We check into the Lake Lodge, and after dropping our bags off in the room, we head to the large back porch where we can still see the wild buffalo herd grazing. It is late October and this is the last weekend the lodge will be open. The snow has already begun to fall. Soon it will cover the whole caldera and the only way in or out of the park will be by snowmobile. This is the first time Jesse has seen snow, and he is wagging his tail with enthusiasm.
“So what is your plan Patty?” Dad asks as we both look forward at the placid blue water of Yellowstone Lake.
“My plan for what?” I ask
“Well you are 21, you are not in school, you don’t have very much money saved up, and you are moving to Oregon on a whim with no guarantee of a job.”
“I guess I’ll just figure it out. I mean, I know it’s a risk, but making this move is important to me. I need to get out of Atlanta, and I want to prove to myself that I can make it on my own, truly on my own.”
“Well, I’m proud of you” dad says. He stands back a little and looks me up and down. I am wearing my checkered vans slip-ons, the only shoes I own besides the expensive dress shoes I got in Las Vegas. I have on blue jeans, and they are way too tight for me but I am abnormally thin for my height and I believe they are the only ones that look any good on me. I have on a plain red hoodie with no string, and the hood is up. I am slightly hunched over, arms straight down at my sides, and Jesse is attached to the leash in my hand, sitting silently next to me with his big red tongue hanging out. He is unaware of us, he is staring out across the lightly snow dusted lawn with his deep blue eyes, he wants to frolic in the snow because he is a Siberian Husky and it just makes sense to him.
“Thanks,” I say, “but I sort of expected you to give me some lectures or something by now. Something about how foolish it is to not have a safety net and how I shouldn’t have stopped going to school bla bla bla.”
“Those things are true,” dad says, “you know them though. I will always give you advice when you ask for it, and even when you don’t ask for it. Sure it is dangerous what you are doing, but I know it is what you really want to do. You are still young and you may never have another chance in your life to do something like this. I’m really happy for you. I am glad we are taking this trip together. I never expected my life to turn out the way it has, but I’m glad in a way that the circumstances allowed for me to be able to drive you to Portland.”
“Los Angeles to Portland via Atlanta,” I say laughing.
“LA to Portland the hard way.” He says.
The next day we visit old faithful. We drive around the park and out into Montana just so we could say we went to Montana. We see more buffalo. We see large herds of elk. We see a black bear. We see some female moose. We tour along the volcanic caldera that causes the surface water to boil and geysers to spew steam and fiery hot water into the air. There are pools that smell of sulfur but they are beautiful to look at, oblong shaped with swirls of color on their surface, emerald green, sapphire blue, ruby red.
“Did you know this whole place is one huge volcano?” I ask as we stroll back to the car across a wooden plank that spans a pond gurgling mud.
“What?” Dad says, not paying attention, distracted by his own thoughts.
“Nevermind.” I say, and I continue thinking about the volcano privately to myself. I am wondering what would happen if a super volcano erupted at Yellowstone. I wonder if the world would end.
“Do you want to leave here tonight?” Dad says.
“Why?” I ask, contemplating the possibility.
“Well, I mean, we’ve seen it. What more is there to see?” Dad is always so impatient. I am impatient too. It makes sense. Yes it is beautiful, but the memories are there. I am persuaded.
“Sure, ya, let’s just leave tonight.” I say
That night we are quiet as we drive through the darkness. This is before we have to sneak Jesse into a “no dogs allowed” hotel in Boise which he dutifully chews to pieces and pisses all over. This is before we cross the long boring desert of Eastern Oregon and before my heart races as I first see the tip of Mount Hood ahead of us, piercing the sky like a giant tooth. This is before my dad drops me off at my friend’s house in Portland where we unload my things into the empty room that is waiting for me there. This is before our simple dinner and before he buys me a futon so I’ll have a bed to sleep on. This is before the last morning in Portland, when we have some breakfast and don’t talk about much, when dad says he loves me and gets in the car and drives away. This is before it is all over.
This is the moment when we drive west on Wyoming State Highway 191 in the pitch black of a moonless night. Jesse’s cage is rattling so loud that we have to pull over and put blankets and sheets between the connecting pieces of metal to silence the rattle. Before getting back into the car we pause for a moment and look up at the sky. The stars are like a painting or a photograph. There are so many that they are indistinguishable from one another. The dense middle of the galaxy is a bright white blob reaching across that endless expanse.
“I never did anything like this with my dad,” my father said to me. “We went on trips, family trips and stuff like that, but it was never like this.”
“Never something this long and involved?” I asked, still looking up, captivated.
“I mean we were never this close. We didn’t talk about things. We didn’t gamble and drink together. We didn’t talk about relationships or hard things. He never shared himself with me like that. I feel like I can do that stuff with you though, Pat. It took us a long time to get there, but I feel really good about it.”
“Yeah,” I say, as I look down from the stars and over at him. He looks at peace. “It feels good.”
It was the summer of 1994 and I was 9 years old. My sister, Lindsey and I were in the back seat of my dad’s tan Ford Explorer. Lindsey was 10 and she was holding dad’s hand as he drove. He liked to do that. He held my hand sometimes when we were alone, but usually if both Lindsey and I were there, he would hold hers. My dad has never been very good at saying sentimental things. When the time comes to say them he tends to divert his eye contact and his shoulders tense up. He held our hands back then though, and it made me jealous that he usually chose her over me. Times like this I would ignore it, and stare out the window. Spaghetti Junction was just ahead and I imagined that it was a real plate of spaghetti. The car was a fork heading into the pile and all the other cars were meatballs or flakes of Parmesan cheese.
“Do you like being in school now, Pat?” dad asked, looking back at me through the rear view mirror.
“Yes,” I said, “I like it better than being home-schooled. Today they gave us pizza at lunch and this one boy, Joshua, he dropped his pizza on the ground and he was crying. I told him he could have my piece but our teacher got him a new one.”
We lived in the rural community of Suwanee, GA. The town lies about 40 miles northeast of Atlanta, and at the time it was specked with intermittent communities of old houses and small cornfields. It was a town where childhood summers were spent climbing through kudzu, throwing rocks at trains, and tiptoeing through abandoned graveyards where the names on the tombstones are eroded away and forgotten.
Our large green house was from the Victorian era, and had a gravel driveway and a large ominous oak tree that hung over the tin roof. Sometimes, when the sun was bright, that oak was a kind uncle, arms outstretched for an embrace. Other times, when those great southern thunderstorms would roll in, and the lightning would brighten the night sky as if it were day, that tree was a hangman.
In the early spring of 1994, shortly after my 9th birthday, my dad took my sister and me out onto the front porch. He sat down with a plop on the porch-swing and set Lindsey in his lap and I sat beside them. I stared at the hundred-year-old carved wood pieces that made up the railing to our porch. One side was always leering at a strange angle and parts of the rail sagged. My father was speaking, and I heard and understood his words, but I took the information in the way somebody takes in a history lesson.
“Your mother and I are getting a divorce,” he said. Simple. Matter-of-fact. Lindsey began to cry, her shoulders heaving with each gigantic sob. I looked at her as if she were on the television, making mental notes of the actions before me, packing each part into the organized pockets of my brain.
We decided we would walk a little bit. The gravel driveway did little to hinder my calloused bare feet as we approached the road and the railroad crossing there. My dad was still talking.
“I want you guys to know that this isn’t your fault. Your mom and I love each other very much and we love you guys too, that isn’t what this is about.” I wasn’t listening though. I heard it, but I was watching the flocks of birds that were gathering to head back north for the spring. They were swallows or maybe black birds. There were dozens of them all sitting on top of the large metal structures that made up the railroad crossing. I wondered if they knew each other, and if they had friends and enemies.
In those early years, when my parents were still married, my mother home-schooled my sisters and I and brought us up to memorize scripture verses, and eat organic vegetables. This changed almost immediately after the divorce. My mom had to find work- even though my dad always paid more than he owed for child support and alimony - she had a big house to pay for and three children to raise. She began working, enrolled us all in school, and for the first time a microwave and television became useful parenting tools.
One day I heard my mom click-clack down the wood floors of the hall, with her bare feet in a pair of Swedish clogs that she ordered from a catalog. I hopped up from the old Apple computer that was set up near the front of the house and found her in the kitchen with her hands full of paper grocery bags.
“What’s for dinner?” I asked.
“Go get the rest of the groceries out of the car, Budman,” she said.
“Ok, but what are we having for dinner?” I asked again.
“Dinner?” I asked more slowly.
“Oh, sorry Patty. Um, it depends on what I bought at the store.”
“You don’t remember?”
“Will you please just go get the groceries out of the car like I asked?”
When I arrived in the kitchen, my own arms full of groceries, I found my mom lying on the couch in the adjacent sunroom. She was on her back; her long flowing white skirt was tangled up in her crossed legs. Her right hand was hanging limp off the couch and Mollie, our loyal Boarder Collie, was licking her fingers. Her left arm was covering her eyes, with her palm facing up toward the ceiling.
“Are you okay mom?” I asked.
“I just have a headache,” she responded “I think I am getting a migraine. Why don’t you go watch TV ok? I’m going to sleep some. Will you put the groceries away?”
By April of 1995, my mom had been asking her doctor about the headaches for months and he always blamed it on her depression over the divorce. He said it was normal. When she began losing her vision though, she knew she needed a second opinion. On the same weekend that my father was in Las Vegas marrying his new wife, Kimberly, my mom was at a doctor in North Carolina being diagnosed with a brain tumor.
The pituitary tumor was rapidly increasing in size and pushing against her optic nerve, which is what was making her go blind. She found a specialist in Atlanta and they scheduled a surgery for the next month and sent her home with painkillers for the migraines. Several days later she took a nap on the couch and didn’t wake up for 13 hours. My 16-year-old sister, Sarah, drove her to the hospital and the doctors confirmed that the tumor had hemorrhaged. As it was described to me at the age of 9 “your mother’s tumor exploded in her head and sent tiny seeds of the tumor all over her brain”. The doctors gave her a 50/50 shot at waking up from the surgery.
My grandparents flew in from New Jersey and took over the job of parenting while this was happening.
“Your mother is very sick, you know that right Patrick?” granddad said. We called him the general behind his back. We still call him that.
“Its ok she won’t die,” I said “I prayed for her in my class today. My teacher asked us if anybody had a prayer request and I raised my hand and told her that my mom had a brain tumor and we all prayed.”
“I’m glad you prayed,” he responded. “Its good to pray about things. We don’t know what will happen though, Pat. If something were to happen to your mother, we would make sure you and your sisters were always taken care of, ok? Your grandmother and I aren’t going anywhere.”
“Does that mean we would come live with you in New Jersey?” I asked.
“Maybe,” he said. “Or maybe we would move here. Lets not talk about it now though. I just want to make sure you understand what could happen, and that you’re prepared.”
I wasn’t prepared though. I was 10 and I didn’t have the capacity to understand the implications of that conversation. Those words shook me with a kind of fear that was so deep down that it rooted itself in my core and I would never be able to let it out of me. I was a boy lost in my own world. My imagination was a place where I had control and if something wanted to hurt me, I could just run away from it, or turn it into something I liked.
It was 1996. I was 10 and Lindsey was 11. After a legal battle my mother had full custody of us and we would visit my father every other weekend at his home in Atlanta. He lived there with our step-mom, Kimberly. Their marriage lasted about 5 years. My dad was making good money at his job, and Kimberly was relatively successful in her own life as well. She was loving and sweet to us, youthful and fun. She always seemed to point out when she thought my dad was “being an asshole.” She said it in a lighthearted way so that we would see that she was putting him down to stay on our side. Patronizing as it was, as children we loved it.
“Dad, can we put the cart on the shopping cart escalator?” I asked one day while we were all shopping together at the Target outside of Lenox Mall
“Why don’t you and Kim go up there and Linz and I will stay down here and finish looking for the things on our list?” dad said.
“Ok, come on kiddo,” Kimberly said as she grabbed my hand and we walked away – cheerfully - smiling.
I loved being at Target. This was the first Super Target in Atlanta, and it was like a Kroger and a Kmart in one. Kimberly let me put the shopping cart on the special cart escalator that went up to the second floor and we picked out a jigsaw puzzle in the toy section. Excited with my new puzzle, I raced back to dad to show him, Kimberly at my heals.
“Dad look! Kim said we could get this puzzle! It’s a thousand pieces, see?” I said, holding the box above my head, my shaggy blond hair falling into my boyish blue eyes.
“Wow Budman, that’s a good one,” dad said as he grabbed the box from my hands and placed it in the cart. “Did Kim help you pick it out?”
“He picked it out himself,” Kimberly snapped back. Suddenly the joy had been sucked out of the room. Kimberly could go from a shining sun of kindness and love to a black hole in a single moment.
We spent the rest of the shopping trip in relative silence, everyone sizing up the situation based on sideways glances and forced smiles. On the way to the register dad picked up a 12 pack of Coors Light and my sister and I looked at each other with a familiar emotion in our eyes. There’s gonna be a fight tonight.
Dad and Kimberly fought a lot. My sister and I would go into our room and close the door. We didn’t talk about what was happening, but she would turn the television up loud and put her arm around me. One night we were in the room and we heard a loud crash from the bathroom. It sounded like glass breaking and small pieces of it scattering across the floor. Kimberly was crying and my dad’s terrifying anger was an evil sounding hiss that only made things worse because not only could we hear it, but we could tell he was trying to hide it, which insinuated that we were being exposed to something secret but we couldn’t turn our ears if we wanted to. We turned on the television and there was a car chase happening on the news. My sister turned it up to drown out the fighting but the cacophony of sirens from the television intensified the atmosphere. We should have changed the channel but we were both transfixed, unable to move or think. The news reporter was excitedly telling us that the car had just passed The Big Chicken on Cobb Parkway and the driver had a gun to his head as he was driving.
My dad entered the room suddenly, swinging the door hard so that it bounced off the rubber doorstopper and back into his arm. My sister and I both looked up and he had Kimberly by the elbow, her face was red and she wouldn’t look us in the eye.
“Kimberly has something she wants to say to you guys.” My dad said, pushing her toward us, his face hard as stone. She said nothing. “Kim you better apologize!” he roared.
“Apologize for what?” Lindsey asked.
“For making you guys listen to this!” He yelled into Kimberly’s face, “for being so fucking – irrational! - that she makes me so fucking upset! Now tell them you’re sorry for Christ’s sake, Kim! Do you even love them?”
“Okay, I’m sorry,” she said meekly, looking at the ground, and then finally looking up at us, “I’m sorry you guys, I love you so much, I’m so sorry,” and she wept.
I quietly snuck out of the house and into the front yard and climbed up the maple tree that grew there. I was a soldier in a war and the large buds that were still unflowered were grenades. Look out below! I’d yell, bite the stem off with my teeth, and throw the bomb down on my imaginary enemies. Eventually my dad came outside. It was quiet when he stepped out except for the occasional passing car and the chirping of the crickets and cicadas.
“Come on Patty,” he said “we’re going to a hotel tonight.”
The next day my dad drove us back to our house in Suwanee.
“Hey guys, so listen,” he said. “I don’t think it would be a good idea for your mom to know that we stayed at a hotel - and about the fighting you know? With her condition she won’t be able to handle stress very well, it’ll only upset her, and this is something that should just be between us. Okay?”
“Ok,” Lindsey said, and put her little hand in her father’s palm.
“Ok Budman?” he asked, looking back at me in the rearview mirror. I felt warm and flushed all over.
“Ok,” I said. He turned the radio up and we listened to the Braves game for the rest of the ride home. I was staring out the window as we passed under Spaghetti Junction. The car was a piece of garlic bread, and the heaps of noodles were looming above us, tomato sauce raining down, and maybe we would all be buried beneath it.
Wednesday, May 8, 2013
Here is a revision to a story I posted earlier. This one is much better. I am going to try to submit this to some literary journals. Any thoughts? I'd love your comments.
P.S. Although this is loosely based on various autobiographical events of my life, a great deal of it is entirely made up. So it is a piece of fiction.
An Account of Crying
By Patrick Knott
Mary and I hadn’t spoken in about two hours. We were silently packing boxes, taping them, and moving them into a pile in the far corner of the emptying living room. There really was nothing more to say, I was moving out, and when I set my mind to something that is it. Mary couldn’t handle the thought of living in the house without me, and couldn’t really afford it anyway, so we were going to pack it up together, and that would be that.
“Why is it always your way or the highway!” she had screamed at me earlier that day.
I said nothing. Mary stared intently at me for several seconds, turned around, walked into the kitchen and out of my view, and then returned moments later with the potted cactus I had given her on her 24th birthday. She held it and we stared at each other a while longer, neither of us moving. Suddenly, perhaps to break the silence without actually having to speak, she took the pot in one petite hand and, like a shot-putter, flung it at my head. I ducked, and it crashed against the hallway wall, scattering broken shards of tan porcelain, and clumps of black soil across the hardwood floor. The cactus itself fell with a thump, its roots tangled and exposed, its prickly green arms stretching out in despair. I quietly grabbed the broom from a closet in the kitchen and began cleaning it up. After that she knew there was nothing she could say to save us.
Mary was the first one to break the silence at about 6pm. These silences were like a game between us, and I always won.
“I ordered a pizza, it should be here in about thirty minutes, you can have some if you’re hungry”. I looked up from my crouched position and saw she had been crying, her makeup was a mess and she had hastily tried to fix it. She looked ashamed.
“Ok, thanks” I said, and after a moment, “I’ll give you some money”.
“It’s ok,” she said.
The rest of the night we didn’t say much else, just more packing, taping, cleaning. By 9pm we were finished. We had moved everything either to the dumpster, or to the U-Haul truck I had rented. Mary was flying on a red-eye that night to Tennessee to spend a month with her brother. This meant I would have to take her share of our things and put them in a storage unit for her, but I didn't really mind that. I wanted to be as compliant as possible. I wanted things to be smooth.
Standing at the back of the open trailer I set the last box onto the silvery metal floor of the truck. I reached up with both hands and grabbed the black rubber handle of the back gate and jumped down to the street, letting gravity pull my body down to close truck. The gate rattled loudly and I intentionally slammed it down hard so that the metal latch clanged aggressively into the locked position.
“What the hell?” Mary said in an aggravated whisper?
“What?” I replied, “do you need to go back inside and get anything or are you ready to go now?” Mary turned without responding and walked back into the house to get her bags. I waited by the car and smoked a cigarette. It was late September in Portland so the days were getting longer, colder, and wetter. I shivered a bit in the breeze and observed the orange haze of low-lying clouds visible through the light of a street-lamp. It began to rain. I covered my cigarette with my free hand but did nothing to shelter my head. I felt my shaggy hair growing heavier with each drop and after a minute or two my saturated scalp allowed the pooled up water to pour down my cheeks and run into the corners of my mouth.
Mary scurried out of the house, one hand covering her head with a newspaper and the other tightly grasping her bag that was pulling her down like a great magnet drawn to the earth.
“A little help?” she said. I casually threw my cigarette on the ground, stomped it out, and opened the back hatch of the decades-old, brown Volvo station wagon. I made a genuine attempt to intercept her before she made it to the car and grab the bag for her, but I was too slow and she loaded it herself.
“What time is your flight?” I asked as I slammed the hatch shut. She was peeved at my repeated slamming.
“Why are we standing in the rain?” She asked, and walked around to enter the passenger side door.
“What times is your flight?” I asked again after we settled in the car.
“11.” She said.
The car ride was peaceful in the kind of way that the cabin of a ship might be in a storm. The winds outside are howling but inside there is just soft rolling, the creak of wood being stressed, and the subtle scrape of objects sliding to and fro on their shelves. When we arrived at the terminal, I pulled over and opened the door. Like exiting the cabin of the ship we were met with a chaotic cacophony of honking car horns, police whistles, and the intermittent rumble of aircraft overhead. I thought about parking and walking her inside, but I wanted to get this over with as quickly as possible. As I stepped from the car to help with the bags, Mary broke the silence again but I couldn’t hear her. I leaned my head back in and she repeated,
“Aren’t you going to cry?” Her tone was sorrowful and it turned my stomach because I knew I couldn’t possibly feel what she was feeling. Her green eyes met mine; streaks of black mascara now shamelessly tainting her powdered cheeks. I contemplated my response. Volumes of emotion were flitting through my mind like an automatic Rolodex on the fritz.
“Probably not” I said.
When I got home I wasn’t ready to walk back into the empty house alone. I only had one more night to stay, and I was sleeping in a sleeping bag on the hardwoods. It was just too depressing to face sober, so I walked to the closest bar to lubricate my sorrows a little bit. I sat silent at the bar, staring into my beer and the bartender let me be. There was hardly anybody there, but a good bartender knows when a person needs some old fashioned cheering up and when someone needs to be left to alone. This was a good bartender.
“You need a refill?” he’d suggest every ten minutes or so when I was nearing the end of my drink. I’d nod and he’d refill.
At about 1:15am, when the lines between the poly-coated chestnut bar-top and the vacant space beyond it began to blur, when my foot kept slipping off the barstool and I’d slosh some beer out of my clear glass mug and onto my hand, when the lemons and limes in the garnish tray all looked the same, I walked back home in the drizzling rain. When I entered I kept the lights off. It seemed darker than usual. The unfamiliarity of the house caused by the lack of furniture mixed with my inebriation made it difficult to navigate through in the dark, so I kept my hands along the walls. I closed my eyes to complete the darkness and in that void made my way to the back of the house. I staggered into the room that Mary and I used to share. Turning on the light made me wince and I noticed tiny specks of dust floating around in the air. I closed the door and watched the heavy wood panel slide shut from left to right and the unexpected sweeping sound it made was shocking in a way. It was upsetting how the echoes bounced around the room. I wondered how, after a year of struggle with that door, I managed to get it closed with ease this time. One of the screws holding the track to the floor was partially up and stripped beyond repair. Usually it required the right leverage on the top of the inverted handle that would cause the bottom of the door to slide smoothly over, but I always seemed to forget and would get frustrated when it jammed. I was thinking about how lucky I was for a little while but it was probably only a moment. Time is pretty irrelevant in general, especially when you are nowhere, doing nothing.
I stripped down into just my underwear. I walked over to the outlet below the windowsill and plugged my phone into its charger, and the response was an old familiar vibration in my palm. I laid out the sleeping bag and crawled inside. It occurred to me that I had neglected to leave a pillow behind so I awkwardly inch-wormed my way to my pile of clothes and bound them up below my head.
On normal occasions my brain would have just worked itself to sleep and then the dreams would come and then the morning. Not this night though. Something profound happened. Something that I still don’t fully understand. What happened was my head exploded. Or at least that is what it felt like. Finally, in the privacy of this empty space, I rambled to myself so fast that like an eclipse of the brain, everything went black. My fractured words bounced around the room and re-entered my ears. Somewhere in the depths of my brain I tried to get a hold of myself and stop this but I had lost all agency. I had reached the end of the line. I felt a bubble in my chest. It started subtly but picking up speed it settled just at the top of my throat. I held my breath to keep it in. Then, with pressure building, it burst forth into the world. 25 years of anxiety and emotion called out to the night, filling all of Oregon with its soft sobbing song.
I cried for a about twenty minutes. Blurting out half sentences in utter despair. I did that kind of crying that children often do when they are actually upset, as opposed to that fake crying they do when they can tell you noticed they fell down and they want the attention. The sort of crying that makes your breathing come out in short, wheezing bursts. I did this and was surprised at how much my nose ran. I thought to myself “Is this what happens? How do people deal with all of this? Do regular people just carry tissues around all the time in case this happens?” I was reluctant to go get toilet paper from the bathroom for my nose because I was afraid the echoing of my pathetic sobbing would wake up the neighbors. I was terrified of being vulnerable even to strangers. Instead, I just wiped my nose with the legs of the pants that I had bundled under my head.
I cried off and on for about an hour. I had taken the curtains down earlier that day and when all the crying was done, I noticed that the moon was in full view and everything was illuminated in its glow. It occurred to me that the rain had stopped and the clouds had cleared, and after that I didn’t cry again.
I laid awake a little while longer and thought about my father. I wondered if he had felt the same nostalgic terror when he spent his last night in our home back when I was 8. That night that he told my sister and me that he was divorcing my mother. I remembered that he cried then too, right in front of us, unashamed and raw.
The next morning I was awoken by the sounds of piano coming from the apartment upstairs. It was a warm and wandering sound and the notes floated around in my ears. I got up and in the light of day looked out the 2nd story window at the cars on Burnside St. I imagined myself floating on those piano notes, slowly over the bungalow homes, swirling up the Willamette River and East through the Columbia Gorge. I saw myself riding that music across the dense wilderness of the Hood National Forest and up above those snow-capped peaks. I joined the circles of black birds that swirl and swoop around an old brick chimney in autumn. I saw myself high above the continent and then returned to alight on a park bench atop Mt. Tabor and looked down on Portland as it woke for the day. It yawned and opened its eyes, and so did I.