3.14.4.18

One.

The first time I saw you:
You were magnetic
With your cracked tooth grin
Tattoos gracing your skin
Your steel toe boot
Stomp across a scuffed
Hardwood floor painted
The color of one hundred
Midnight hours passed
In delicious summer stillness
Your eyes
Catch mine
You smile
And I smiled back
The humidity hanging
Thick in the air
Turned electric, sending
My skin tinging
For a moment
Like an alien
Sensing a kindred spirit

Two.

Two hours later
Dancing at the show
Sweaty and smiling
On the precipice
Of “punk for life”
I wonder
Just when we get
Too old for this
Fifteen years after
I screamed the words
“Young until I die!”
For the first time
The band
Right on the cusp
Of stardom, or what passes
For it down here
On this dirty living room floor
Is giving it their
Absolute all
You introduce yourself
In the sweaty afterglow
Wild hair stuffed
In a knit black beanie
Despite the summer heat.

Three.

Two years on
All fucked up
On sleeplessness and loss
And expensive liquor
Twenty-one days since
A single shotgun shell
Shattered the world
Of almost every person I know
Back home

So I came out here alone
Breaking in steel toe boots of my own
Praying to stomp my way down
Enough strange streets
Turn down enough blind curves
Walk up enough steep hills
To outrun this
Sadness swallowing sadness

We share a drink
And a fierce affinity
For one another
Intelligent eyes
Growing harder
And harder
I look at you
And see a mirror.

Four.

You are my friend
And one of the
Best and brightest
I know
Sitting in your parking spot
Making the most
Of our small hours
Before the dawn

I wouldn’t go back now
To visit those hours
Inhabit those shed skins
But I wish
I could visit
To hear the grace
Of your laugh
And the light
Behind your eyes
One more time

Five.

The sharpness in
Your words matches
The razor glint
In your eyes
I’ve seen that malevolent
Glow pouring out of my
Own skull, tasted that venom
Dripping out of my mouth
So many times before

Blessed as we are
With this curse
Brilliant minds, that move too fast
And suspicion to match it
Paranoid thoughts pushing
A soul past the red line
Like the time
Our friend kissed
That boy who
Wasn’t your boyfriend
But you wanted him to be
Even though you claimed
It was all no big deal
Later.

You sent a text
To our other friend
Telling her you hoped
Her clit shriveled
And fell off

“Goddamn, girl.
I wish you hadn’t said that.”

“What?
She fucked me over
And now she doesn’t
Deserve to ever
Feel pleasure again
I don’t see what the big deal is.”

Like it was the most rational thought in the world

I shuffled my feet nervously
Beneath the table
Reminding myself
To never get on your bad side
After all
We are so much alike
And I been on my own shit list
For most of my life.

Six.

I have been in bed
For four days now
The diagnosis came Monday
And with it a shattering
A feeling of never being
Able to trust myself again
I could stay here
In this room
Forever
Let heart starve out
Go to oblivion
Nobody calls on the phone
And I feel a loneliness
Like I’ve never known

And then you are at the door
Pulling me up into your arms
And into the world outside my window

“Come on, let’s get something to eat
Your brain may be trying to get the best of you
But this shit doesn’t have to be a death sentence.”

Seven.

Christmas comes.
And you, Josef
And I, are all alone.
Running from the worst
Goddamn heartbreak
I ever known
And the kind of cold
That cuts to the soul.
I made the three
Of us dinner
And we ate together
Thankful for the sanctuary
Found here in one another
From the heartless
Rain of this wretched city

I didn’t take any pictures
Of that night
But now I wish I had
You were too on edge
Looking out the windows
Over your shoulder
As if some unknown enemy
Would cross Eastside Street
And knock on the door

I mostly remember trying to play off the tension
And Josef hating the movie I pirated
And with good reason
That shit was way too violent
To watch on Christmas

And I see now
All the little red flags
I should have seen back then
The Storm getting ready to rage
Suspicion bordering on madness brewing
In the world behind your eyes

Eight.

New Year’s Eve
And We’re fighting
In earnest now
Outside a bar
That I didn’t even want
To be at anyway
Feeling like a thousand
Eyes are staring at me
In judgement
And condemnation
The beginning of
A long and painful
Process of separation
From this city

The same city
We both arrived in
With such cautious hope
Once upon a time
Like shaking hands
With something waiting
To gnaw at your insides

Struggle to comprehend
The reason and rationale
Behind your wrath
But the silence
And the evasive glances
Drive the final nail
In my new year.

Call it good
And leave the party
Before the countdown
To midnight even begins
Walk the tracks
Alone all the way home
In the bitter cold
Which I like
More than rain soaking to the bone
Ring in the new year
On the phone
Sitting at my desk
Staring out the window
Whispering nervously over
The phone to my best friend in this world
Because I got a feeling
That all hell
Might be coming home
For both of us
In the year to come

Nine.

I see you crossing the street
Through the fog
Walking home alone
The rumors been swirling
Around this lonely
Little town for weeks now

We all know
But don’t know
How to hold
Or how to even sit
In proximity to your pain
And the paranoia that follows
Praying to all the gods
Above and below
For your freedom
The best lover not a one
Of us ever got to know
From sorrow
Thirst
Hunger
Want
And loneliness
To wrap you in its arms
And bring you safely home.

Ten.

You are my friend
And still one of
The best I’ve known
Pacing around in the back yard
Pointing the finger of suspicion
In every direction
We’ve all known loss before
But goddamn,
It never came to me
Quite like this
There’s a first time
For everything, I guess.

Watching the mask of sanity
Slip away not with a whimper
But with a plaintive wail
And every accusation imagined

I drive home
And want to cry
I want a flood
To fall from my eyes
To wash this city clean
From all the bitterness
And all the fights
And all the plots contrived
That drove us to this point
That we may finally sleep
Through the night

Twelve.

We sit in the sun
In the bed of my truck
Outside the storage building
Where we both rent units now
You smoke a cigarette
And we soak
In that familiar
Feeling of defeat
Staring down the barrel
Of uncertainty and instability
For the hundredth
Time in this life

When you sold
Most of your stuff
I never told you
How I raced down to Rainy Day
And begged them to sell
Your records back to me
“Look, my friend is just
In a very dark place
I’ll pay double whatever
You gave her for all this stuff
So I can keep it safe for her
Until she’s well again.”

I threw my hands up
In exasperation when the
Guy behind the counter
Offered to sell me the
One of your records I
Could even identify
For seventy dollars.

You give me your bookshelf
Saying you might come back
For it someday
Even though I know you wouldn’t
And we carry it into my unit
And I padlock the door behind us
I see the resignation
Like set deep in your eyes
And feel a morbid sense
Of relief at what
That resignation replaced.

Thirteen.

You send a text message
To my phone right before
You get in your car and drive south
Straight out of my life

“I’m sorry.
I know you did your best
And you’ve been such a good friend
I just don’t know what’s real anymore
And I have to go.”

Fourteen.

Everyone hates what happens next
All the worry
And the wishing
Praying to the gray
Sky above us
Even though we
Are no longer certain
It even listens
For you
To just
Make it out
Of this.

Fifteen.

The last time I saw you
You were scared
And all alone
Smoking a cigarette
Flying a sign at a rest stop
Outside your busted car
Somewhere along the I-5.
When I stopped to piss
I had a feeling I would
See you standing there

I said hello
Gave you fifteen dollars
Told you I loved you
I didn’t try and argue
Or even address the demons
Taken up residence
In your head

I got back in my car
Drove and drove and drove
Away from Washington
Through Oregon
Straight to California
Luna and I didn’t stop
Until Los Angeles
Where the sun finally shone above us

Standing at the observatory
above the glittering ocean
Of electric starlight
I wished for a way
For the light
To wash away
The resignation
That comes with
The knowledge
That you can love
Your friends
As hard
And as true
And as purely
As anything you have
Ever loved in your life

But sometimes that love
Is not enough
To keep a flame alive.

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3.14.4.18

Brief notes on the politics of desirability

I remember the last queer dance party I went to. It was towards the end of my final summer in Asheville, stunted in the shadow of a terrible relationship.  All summer long, I felt like a ghost haunting myself. I remember standing there in the bar just thinking I hate this. I hate the meat market, and I hate the desirability politics and the plastic performativeness and predictability of it all. I hate feeling like I have to pretend I give a shit who you think is hot to keep up. I hate feeling like I have to scramble to fuck whoever will have me just to feel as desirable as the rest of my friends, because that’s the commodity we trade in.

I said as much to the people I was with, and tore out of there to go pick Josh up so we could drive my loud ass truck up and down Riverside Drive blasting the Military Affairs Neurotic LP and look for shit to break. When I replay the scene in my memory, I have a drink in my hand and I throw it on the floor, shattering the glass to as if punctuate my valedictory statement. That’s wrong though, because I wasn’t drinking that summer. I think the image just makes for a better story.

Roaring past the city limits with the engine opened up and the windows down to the late night, I laughed a lot and breathed easier. That entire summer was bereft of laughter in a big way. I remember a sense of coming home, like punk has always been the one thing that holds true for me, long after everything else cheapens and falls away.

I came back to back to Asheville with a sweetheart a few years later when I was well again. I took them to meet some friends, sitting on the front porch in the sun.  As soon as the sweetheart got up to piss, someone made sure to comment “and they’re so hot too” and I just remember feeling like fuck you. You’re talking about this person who I’m sharing the most intimate parts of myself with, but apparently how fuckable you think they are has the final say. I think that’s when I realized how much the culture I had been surrounding myself with had contributed to my sickness.

Shit just mirrors commodification and capitalism and I feel gross.

Riding my bike home from a friend’s house tonight after working a long and hot day on the same bike, I think about how deep my alienation and exhaustion with queer social dynamics runs, like to the point where I wonder how I even identify. The ways I experience desire and safety in intimacy are often in flux, save for a few constants which would probably be described as boring and heteronormative for a lot of people. I don’t think I’ve had a single queer relationship that I didn’t end up feeling disposable on the other side of. Maybe that’s me. Maybe it’s BPD. Maybe it’s having such a hard time existing in this body. I don’t know. I just know I feel too tender and too smart and too vicious for it all. I wonder a lot what will happen to some of my friendships if I find my soul no longer aligning with the identity of mine they are most comfortable with because it fits into their worldview.

Shit mirrors capitalism and I feel gross.

Brief notes on the politics of desirability

The Only Hope I Never Abandoned

To the old man
Limping up the Lareda Street
Hill with the young dog
Spirited and playful
Barking, pulling at his leash
Champing with vigor
While you tried to keep up
I do not know either one of you
I don’t know your story.

But I love you
I love you
Like I know
The purity of love that accompanies
My very best friend
Friend curled up asleep
In the crease
Of my creaking knees
Every single night
For the past 14 years.

I wonder if you worry
Too, about how the cars speed
Up these narrow streets
If you pull too hard like I do
On my girl’s leash
Holding her nervously next to me
Until the taillights recede
Into the distance.
“I’m sorry”, you say
“She just wants to play”
“I’m the only other living thing
She sees all day”
And there is a pain
Languishing in the space
Between us on this street
In this city
That I wish more
Than anything
I had an answer for
In a moment, I remember the sinking sorrow
Of walking through the world alone
Certain every other inhabitant
Crashing across the surface of
This lonely planet
Has long left you behind.
I’ll see you out here
Sometime this summer
Making my way down the hill
With my girl as her graying year
Slow her down so that I worry
Which walk will be the last one

Walking in the same old circles
In a different city
And a different year
Haunted by the same
Burning questions
Maybe I’ll tell you a story
Of how one day fourteen years back
When I threw my journal off
The Burnside Bridge
Into the Willamette rushing below

Friend, I was tired
Just so tired
Of pouring the same poison
Out of my pens
Always reaching the same goddamn conclusions.

It was just one of those days
Where giving in to desolation and a darkness
Of soul seemed as good a choice to make
As any other with the shadow of the
Void breathing hell into my heart.

Do you know?
I think you know.
Maybe my story
Isn’t your own
But I’d bet you bottom dollar
It’s goddamn close enough

Just like I know
How a chance encounter
Maybe not so chance at all
Has a way of calling
A heart home back to a body
Running across the yard
With four paws
And a tail wagging
A hundred miles an hour

My girl, we basically grew up together
I was a kid
Living out of a backpack
Curled up in a sleeping bag
In an abandoned building
Walking with misanthropy for company
When she licked my face for the first time.

It was like a door opening
And the warmth
Of the purest love I ever did know
Rushing into a bitter heart
To drive out the cold.

When I count off all the strokes of good luck
That this life has offered
On my calloused fingers
This dog here
Is always the first.

 

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The Only Hope I Never Abandoned

A rose for every enemy, save two.

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He lies in a bed with his best friend.  The two of them drew the curtains closed tight against the South Florida Sun.  The air conditioning keeps the sweltering heat from encroaching into the room too much.  The dark adds a layer of cool blanketing their young skin.  He stares at the fan spinning on the ceiling and sighs.  His friend stole the Lita Ford/Ozzy Osbourne Close My Eyes forever cassette single from his older sister, and the two of them listen to it obsessively, flipping the cassette over almost as soon dead air fills the speakers and the sound of the spindles grinding away fills the room.  They talk about the mysteries of death in the language of children.

As trite and cliché as the lyrics might end up sounding thirty years later, they are transfixed in this moment.  Death is a door.  Death is a shock sometimes.  Death is a choice sometimes.  Death is not the end.  He hears Lita singing to them from the perspective of someone who has taken their life and come to regret it, a moldering corpse, singing from the grave:

“If I could have just one more wish, I’d wipe the cobwebs from my eyes.”

“What the hell are you two doing?  Give me my tape back!”

The sister is onto them.  The gig is up.  The boys race out of the house, onto their bikes, and they take flight, soaring through the steam rising from South Florida blacktop, out in the sun; full of life.  Out on their bikes in the park, they make the figure eight on the path over and over, watching the wild parrots jump from transmission tower to transmission tower, the static hum of civilization ever present, but enough to drown out their songs.  They halfheartedly look for ghosts.  They never see any, for the sun is still shining down on South Florida and whoever heard of a ghost appearing during the day anyway?

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The ocean is warm and gentle.  The day is already hot, and the early morning breeze feels perfect on his tanned skin.  His mother sets up her umbrella, and puts her day bag down in the sand. He is already racing for the surf with his friend when his mother warns them not to go out too far.  Those riptides can come up out of nowhere and drag you out to sea forever before you even know it, she says.

Out in the swell, he is elated and alive.  He knows he should be afraid, but he is not.  His friend tells him that his older brother told him there is a sandbar roughly a hundred yards out.  The ocean feels like a warm and loving embrace.  They reach the sandbar and sit there letting the waves lap at their bodies.  Their knees sink into the soft sand, allowing their bodies to rest.  The horizon stretching out to infinity, and the distance from the shore gives the boys an illusion of being in the middle of the sea.  His mother looks like a small dot in the expanse of alabaster.  He wants to taste the precise feeling of forever that must exist out where the sky and the sea meet in a brilliant expanse of blue.

His friend looks nervous, glancing back to the shore.  He asks if he thinks they should swim back in, just a little closer to the shore.  What about the riptides?  What about sharks?  Just a little bit longer, he implores.  They hold onto one another’s arms, bracing one another against the timeless roll of the waves, resting on the soft precipice of forever.

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He stands on a small dirt hill in a neighborhood where the all the kids all ride bikes and play flashlight tag during the summer.  He isn’t it, but he wants to hide anyway.  He feels safer in the dark, away from his friends, even though they are his friends.  He looks up at the stars flickering in the sky and has a feeling he will always be alone.  He stretches his arms to the sky and inhales, breathing the late summer in.  Something in the night makes him feel at home.

Last week, he watched unflinchingly as his friend got unceremoniously  dumped by his girlfriend at the carnival.  They were standing just in front of the tilt-a-whirl when it happened.  His friend cried all night and he feels only a little embarrassed for him when they get home and he breaks down into his tears in front of his parents.  He is genuinely confused when the parents inquire on his emotional well-being and tell him they knew he loved the girl and that there are other fish out there in the sea.  They sleep in his friend’s room later, and he can hear him stifling sobs from his makeshift bed on the floor.  Sometimes his friend starts late night wrestling matches that go on for too long and his friend inevitably ends up on his stomach, pushing himself against his crotch.

Tonight, the girlfriend has since taken his friend back, and he spent the night following her around the labyrinth of well-manicured lawns like a happy puppy.  At 8 PM, The Simpsons comes on and all the kids want to make sure to catch it, even though it’s a summer rerun.  One of the neighbors has brought a television out onto his patio.  The neighbor invites all the sweaty youth to watch with him.  There’s plenty of patio chairs, after all.  He sits away from the crowd and broods.  His friend and his girlfriend share a wicker chair with a cheap cushion beneath them.  They are all smiles and sneaking desperate kisses, holding hands in the cathode glow.

He tilts his head, and catches the two when they think no one is looking.  Something about the way their forms molding into one another makes sense to him, while feeling alien all at once.  Like he is catching a glimpse of a world he will never truly feel part of.  He can almost taste the longing at the back of his throat.

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He met her in the spring of 7th grade, and they become fast friends.  They pass notes in class during the day.  They stay on the phone late into the night.  She sneaks the calls, because she isn’t allowed on the phone after 7 PM.  He picks up on the first ring so as to not wake up his mother, who sleeps fitfully, if at all these days.  His father has been dead for six months.  His mother still sleeps in the room where his father’s heart stopped beating in the middle of the night.  She can only sleep through the night if the television is on, turned up so loudly that he can hear it through his bedroom wall.

She is the realest person he has ever known, despite her sheltered upbringing and the fact that they are children.  They flip through channels on late night television together.  “Do you like this song?”  “Do you like this show?”.  They make small talk about the details of their slow as molasses summer days.  He finds himself looking forward to the small instances during the long weeks with no school where they can see one another.  He feels himself softening into more than the couch of his mother’s living room.  Staring out the window into the waves of grain and sea of cornstalks that cover the darkened countryside, he asks if he can tell her a secret.

The words fall from his mouth before he can even stop them and all the shame and rage he held for so long is laid out there it’s like a dam breaking.  His tears fall until they stop, and they talk of other things.  That was the night he learned that there are some secrets that a soul doesn’t have to bear alone.

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All the small town freaks dance in the back of a rented church hall with one set of fluorescent lightbulbs hanging from the ceiling illuminating the room.  The band is all clumsy chords ripped jeans and waving hair.  He falls in love with the feeling of dancing the Doc Marten stomp in a circle so hard with his friends that he’s sure it might burn holes in the dirty brown carpet below them.  The words ring in his ears with the echo of feedback, and he feels like everything he knew before tonight is a lie, he’s locked into some truth that the dull-eyed masses around him will never know.

After the gig, some rednecks wait for him outside in the parking lot.  They wandered into the show.  Nobody knows why, or what they think is here for them.  They taunt him from their pickup truck, swearing they’re going to beat his ass for the unforgivable transgression of “being a faggot”.  As always, he is the smallest of his friends.  The rednecks move in, and his friends surround him.

“Sorry boys, y’all gonna have to go through the rest of us first.”

He hears the flicking of a butterfly knife unfolding behind him and he smiles.

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They were young, loyal, violent, and most all, they were in love.  They made their plans one Sunday night in spring.  Wait for Monday morning, stick the blade into the back of  the boy who did their friend wrong and fuck the consequences.  They’d go out in a blaze of outlaw teenage glory before they let this sin slip under the rug unpunished.

They see him in the morning, and he hands her his knife without a second thought, like he was passing her a cigarette, or a bottle of wine.  They follow the boy in the hall for a while, and they lose their nerve.  The rest of the day comes and goes.  All without a single small town burnout bleeding to out on a lunchroom floor.  The summer follows the same way.  He never even knew.

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They make out clumsily and say their goodbyes, too young to know how to make the other one cum.  After she leaves, he locks his door and takes off all of his clothes.  He jerks off into the empty corner of his room, right where his stereo speakers used to be.  Two nights ago, almost every single one of his friends came over and they laid waste to the house downstairs, kicking holes in the walls and spraypainting pentagrams all over the basement.  His mom cried.  What if we got a miracle, she said.  He doesn’t believe in miracles anymore.

He figures he will leave just one more parting gift encrusting the carpet for the bank when the come to take the house.

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The two of them sit on mountain overlooking the city.  He’s read about spots like this in books and seen them on movies, but has never actually been to a place like this before.  They spent the night together for the first time a few weeks ago.  Two nights in a row.  The first night they stayed up all night talking about their lives, waking up two hours later to go to school.  The second night they shared an illicit kiss.  Infatuated, he broke up with the girl he was dating the next day and never looked back.

Now it is love with wild abandon, the kind that only comes when you are young.  Before you accrue scar upon scar on your heart.  She straddles him on a rock and they kiss, while the lights of the Coors brewery twinkle below them.  His fingers trace the scar on her leg, given to her by her last boyfriend the night he got drunk and pulled a knife on her and her friend.

The secrets they share run deep and shine bright, like black wells with stars burning in the depths.  She tells him that with all the quiet atrocities endured in her short life, even with a genetic time bomb ticking in her DNA.  The one waiting to wage war on her body and brain before she turns 40, that she loves her life.

The certainty in her voice shakes him to his core.

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An older woman kisses the two of them on the cheek as they march down a pink brick South Florida Street.  They hitchhiked two thousand something miles to across five days to reach this exact point.  He can see the armored phalanx of riot police in the distance; already beginning to smash their clubs against their shields, clamoring for an asymmetrical war.   The sound terrifies him.  On the way downtown, they drove past one of the police staging points and he heard a commanding officer rallying the officers under him:

“Alright.  Everyone get ready.  Strike fast, and kick ass!  This is what we’ve been training for!  Let’s make these pussies regret ever coming to the city of Miami!”

The bark and bite in the officer’s voice reminds him of portrayals of Nazis war criminals in films and it terrifies him.

“That’s for luck.” The old woman says.  I know what you and your friends are here to do, and I know what you’re up against once we get to that wall.”

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He hears the woman standing behind him scream.  He feels the car collide with his body.  He is surprised when it doesn’t feel like anything.  It just feels like something kind of bumped into him.  He feels his body hurtling forward.  “Oh shit.  I just got hit by a car” is his last cognizant thought before blacking out.  He comes to on the street, with a woman holding a napkin to his bloody mouth and nose.  “I’m on the street.” He thinks “How did I get here?” The recollection of the car hitting his body creeps in.  He wiggles his toes inside of his boots, realizing with relief that his back is not broken.  An awareness of pain in his mouth creeps in, and he presses his tongue to the front of his mouth, where his teeth should be.

The doctors tell him later, colliding with the street face first saved his life, or at least saved him from a traumatic brain injury.

He thinks there is a victory to be found here, in not being able to win them all.

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She helps him sew together his first skirt.  They buy underwear at the store that will flatter his ass, and hide the harder parts of him.  He clumsily applies lipstick, eyeliner, mascara.  Before they go out, they share a kiss.  He has never been kissed like this before.  He asks her to please put her hands on his new body.  She spits on a finger, reaches down and slips it inside him.  He moans softly into her mouth.

Out in the sun, they nervously think about what to do with their day, and her in her fresh skin.  They settle on the bookstore and reading comic books.  She reads The Punisher Volume 5: The Slavers.  She reads Marvel Zombies, and doesn’t care for it much.  She only worries a little bit about being noticed when she goes to take a piss in the woman’s bathroom.

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The river was low that fall, right after their friend died, stabbed to death and set on fire thousands of miles away.  The sick horror of it sticks with her at night.  She wakes from restless sleep to pull swigs from a bottle of whiskey next to her bed.  She stares through the dark at the ceiling until the alcohol warms her body and numbs her spirit enough that she can fall into dreamless sleep.  Everyone around her is heartbroken, and with good reason.

The day after Halloween, three of them clamor over the rocks usually submerged beneath the rushing right and light candles.  Someone pulls tarot cards for each one of them.  She burns an effigy not of their friend’s murderer, but of the forces that motivated him.  They drink one beer each, and watch the candles lit for their dead friend burn low.  Before walk over the rocks and to the shore, she spraypaints “PATRIARCHY KILLS” in angry red letters on the pillar.  One of her friends paints “Mourn the dead and fight like hell for the living” in beautiful flowing script.  They walk up the hill in the gloom, hearts held fast against the gathering dark.

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She meets him at a party and is standoffish immediately.  “Who is this old man asking me who I am and what my story is?”, she thinks. Unaccustomed as she is to genuine interest from her elders.  Guarded by nature, she responds to his inquiries tersely.  She feels herself warming up to him despite herself.  At the end of the night when it’s time to leave the party, he simply says “I hate that y’all are leaving” in a drawl more affected by a life well-lived and filled with the deepest love for everyone around him than anything else.

The next time she sees him, it’s because the grease trap at the restaurant she works at is broken.  A struggling business, run on lofty anarchist principles, they can’t afford to fix it.  He comes in and spends hours installing the piece.  When they ask him what they owe him his response is “Not a damn thing.  I’ve had one hell of a good life, and I try and spread it around.”

She starts to get an inkling somewhere that this man is going to affect the trajectory of the rest of her life.

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She got married in an April Fool’s Day prank that got out of hand, but the story really isn’t that interesting.

1.344×109 (give or take)

Her heart pounds in her chest thunderously, for months now.  She sees demons dance behind her eyes.  She hears the voices of the restless and angry dead when she is in a room by herself.  She sees an emaciated stranger staring back at her when she looks in the mirror.  She walks like a ghost haunting herself, eyes grown bitter by the sight of almost every single thing she thought she could rely on ripped away.

Zie is there, standing tall like a pillar made of glass, beautiful and fragile.  They don’t mean to fall in love, it just happens.  A few months ago, her horoscope told her she was going to re-learn everything she thought she knew about love.  She had hoped the lesson wouldn’t be quite this fucking hard and leave so many bruised hearts in its wake.

1.428×109

She tells hir she sees hir the darkness zie walked in for much of their life, and that she is not afraid.  The words hang there between them, brave in the dark.  The moon is rising outside the window, old and red.  Zie takes the words to heart because nobody has ever said them to hir before.  A week later, zie’s lost in the crowd with everyone else.  The Nazi skins put the word out that they were roll downtown and stomp every faggot commie and Black Lives Matter motherfucker they can find.  The punks wait, all brave with their baseball bats and blades on 4th and Adams to see if the fash will actually show up.  She told hir later how she drove by the crowd on the way home to get her kid to bed, craning her neck nervously out the window to see if she could spot hir shape in the sea of black masks.  Her child asked a question:

“Momma what’s that?”

“Uh.  It’s a crowd of people who are trying to defend our city from these bad people called Nazis.”

“Momma, is hir out there?”

“Yeah baby, but zie is really smart and really strong and will be safe.  I promise.”

“Momma, does zie have hir dog with them?”

“No, baby.  I promise the dog is at home safe and asleep.”

The fash get beat back, straight out of downtown and zie goes home close to four AM when zie is sure that every one of their friends is home safe, and the streets are empty.  Zie calls her to let her know zie is finally home and will be surrendering to well earned sleep shortly.  Zie loves the sound of her voice, and won’t lie that zie wishes that zie was curling up next to her for the night.  Being so near to danger and death makes their exhausted sex the next day all the more sweet.

Hearts open, and hearts break.  Tender trespasses and broken promises.  Neither one of them will ever forgive the other.  Zie thinks what a shame to watch hard earned intimacy die and rot into nothing at all.

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They have been out hunting all night and, just became the hunted.  The van screeches to a halt in front of them.  Zie is sure at least six Nazi skinheads are going to jump out.  “This is it” Zie thinks.  “I am going to die with my friend right here on this street in a city I can’t even bring myself to love.  Or we are at least going to the hospital.”  Everything moves in slow motion, just like they say it does in moments like this.  Zie puts one hand on hir friend’s shoulder, and feels every muscle within it tense, poising to strike.  The feeling sends a shockwave through hir hand.  Zie puts hir other hand in hir pocket, and feels hir fist curl around a cold metal cylinder and waits for the moment to come crashing in, and for the world to spin right again.

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She wrote him a letter twenty years later after their youthful plot to stab to death a boy who had long since died in a car wreck over a friend who had long since moved on.  He received the letter in the small town he moved to on the other side of the country from the small town where they grew up.  It said:

“Sometimes I think that everything I ever needed to know about loyalty and being a good friend, I learned from being friends with you when we were fifteen.”

He was sitting alone at the kitchen table in his house on a dead end street, in the dry, rainless depths of a nowhere summer with the constant hum of heartache and regret ringing in his ears.  She had no idea how much he needed to hear those words at that exact moment in time.   He didn’t believe in coincidences.

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Aging lovers in a small room, they were tired.  Tired, from the past few months, the past few years.  Maybe it hit them all at once tonight.  The road that led them to one another had been at once both winding and strange, and fraught with fear.  All the same, he could see where the path will diverge in the very near future.  They weren’t the last great love of his life, but was as close as it was going to get with his giving up on love and all the headlines screaming hate and war.

Their wild Friday night date consisted of watching hurricane footage down south that filled his heart with ice and made it ache for home all the same.  On their laptop, they looked up survival gear and talked about what to order their family he’d never be a part of for the apocalypse everyone can feel building. They watched a movie and cried together at the ending, knowing the tragic hope in fiction and the improbability of happy endings for people like them.   With heavy eyelids, they slipped into one another for what ended up being the last time.  They grind, and moan, and giving into one another and then to rest.  In the morning they leave.  He smiles alone in his room, his eyes already gazing towards some other horizon, knowing this one will never burn any brighter than than this, hoping for the best, planning for the worst.

“If they take you down, I wanna mourn you.”

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He pulls the car over on the highway in the desert beneath a sprawling sea of stars.  He needs to stretch, and they want to look at the sky.  The kid has never been to the desert before.  So they sit on the hood pulled to the side of an empty country road and listen to the engine cool in the darkness and look up.  The majesty of the night sky goes on forever, and he feels safe out there, in their solitude.  The kid still winces at far off headlights, as if even the visibility their glow brings could stain their skin.   He subconsciously touches the knife on his belt as if to remind them of the safety it brings, that he made a promise, and he’d be cold in the goddamn ground before he let any harm come to them.

“What is that glow in the distance?”

“Oh shit.  Baby, that’s the moon rising.”

“Oh!  What the fuck?  I’ve never seen anything like that!”

A coyote howls and he makes a note to tell his dad who isn’t his dad how if he can be just half the elder to this kid that his dad who isn’t his dad has been to him, he will have done one thing right with his fucked up mess of a life.

A week later, he does just that.  He is sitting on the porch in the cicada swell of summer with his dad who isn’t his dad but goddamn close enough.  They are holding hands and crying when he tells him.

“Well goddamn, son.  Thanks for picking me.”

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He takes a photograph of the moment the kid’s feet meet the warm waves of the Atlantic for the very first time.  He thinks about the thousand tiny victories that surmounted to this precise moment on a spinning earth.  The sun burns down on both of them, and it is delicious.  They wade into the water and feel the waves roll.  The dog swims back and forth between the two of them, happily bobbing with the waves, making sure both of her humans are safe.  He tastes the salt crossing his lips, and remember the ocean’s worth of tears both of them cried before this immortal moment presented itself to them.  How every one of those tears, worth their weight in salt dried eventually.  Tears fall.  Tears dry, and more tears follow.  We keep living and we remember how that counts for everything.

All you can do is keep living.

Until the last beat of your heart, and even then maybe death is not the end.

A rose for every enemy, save two.

The Road – 5/17/19-5/19/19

I got back home from Philadelphia late last night.  I spent just under 24 hours in the city of brotherly love, but I managed to pack those hours with as much living as possible.

In order, then.

Not a ton interesting to tell about the drive to Philadelphia.  I stopped in Lancaster to stretch, and dropped in Angry, Young, and Poor.  Partly for nostalgia’s sake, partially to look at boots.  I always want to look at boots.  I bought some records, but didn’t find much else I was stoked on.  I still loved the familiarity of being in the shop.  It felt like returning to a place I had known and loved after a long absence.  Punk Rock one hundred percent saved my life when I was a lonely teenager stuck in Southern Pennsylvania in the nineties, and this place was a lifeline back then. I even still have some of the records and punk rock t-shirts I bought at this place twenty years ago.  I made small talk with one of the owners behind the counter, joking about how I hadn’t set foot in the shop in just about two decades and I was just happy that it still existed.

“Well damn, dude.  Welcome back to Pennsylvania.”

Something hit me that would be a repeating motif all weekend, was how friendly and just how real punks, even jaded aging punks keep it on the east coast.  I couldn’t remember when a punk rocker I didn’t know in the Pacific Northwest was this friendly to me.  Even some of the ones I did know, well odds are just as good they are gonna pretend they don’t see you in the grocery store or at the show anyway.  Olympia is a cold fucking town and I was so glad to be done with it for good.  As if to punctuate all this – the friendliness of punk rockers, the eager kids still keeping it real – as I was getting ready to leave the shop, two young kids came in to buy t-shirts and patches.  Dude behind the counter eagerly engaged with them, asking them what they were looking for, instead of treating them like some chump posers who would be so lucky to shop at his spot.

I smiled to myself the whole way out of Lancaster.

Driving through Pennsylvania doesn’t haunt me the way it once did.  I used to not be able to roll through Southern York County and through the expanses of forest and farmland without returning to the eerie feeling of being trapped that accompanied the very first time I crossed the Pennsylvania state line with my mother twenty-eight years ago.  I remember it still, like it was yesterday.  Ten years old in the passenger seat of my mother’s car and feeling like the trees that lined either side of the highway became more ominous as the mile posts ticked ever upward until we were in Pennsylvania proper.  Even then, I had a sinking feeling I might never leave this place.

So it was a surprise seven years later when Momma moved away.  Still, the feeling of being ensnared by Southern York County lingered for years, decades.  This place was a backdrop, a foundation.  So much a part of me and the person I grew into.  I see this place in my dreams, in my memories.  I write about it often.

More on that later though.

I rolled into Philly through rush hour traffic and went straight to pick up J for the show.  I know I used to talk shit on cities, and the gray concrete expanse of Philadelphia does make me feel a little bit claustrophobic, but goddamn.  This city has some beautiful architecture.  Rush hour sucked, but I was happy to take a breath and marvel at the buildings.  The whole northeast feels fresh like this for me, really.  I think this feeling is another product of living in the drab as shit, Pacific Northwest for five years.  I remember when Hannah visited me there a few years ago and she commented on how drab and lifeless, without history all the buildings and houses looked.  She’s not wrong.

I picked J up and we went to the show.  It was at some bar in South Philly.  Inside the show, the feeling of familiarity found me again.  I commented to J about how little the Philly street punk aesthetic had changed in my twenty-year absence.  I even saw a few kids with Blanks 77 and Violent Society patches on their jackets, bands I loved and absolutely lived to see when I was a kid who I don’t think have put new records out since before I was old enough to drink alcohol.  I think I read somewhere that Blanks 77 are playing shows again, but I don’t know.  They’ve been off my radar for years.

I don’t remember the name of the first band.  The Stance played second.  They played the gruff brickwall Oi that the punks and skins go nuts over.  I liked it well enough.  A little too gruff and not enough melody for me.  If I had any complaints, it was that the show felt a little bro-heavy, but I was still happy to just be out in the sea of smiling punks.  When the pit started too close to me, I just kept a side eye on the crowd and kept an elbow out, a tactic that has kept me safe for well over two decades now.  I thought about that time kids in Olympia jumped a dude, drug him out of the bar and broke a pint glass in his face for dancing too hard.  Color me relieved to be far away from reactive nonsense like that.

I grabbed some water at the bar before Battalion Zoska.  Pat was up there grabbing a pitcher of water for the band at the same time.  We made small talk for a second when he complimented me on my “Sometimes Antisocial, Always Antifascist” shirt.  Thanks dude.  I awkwardly shuffled through saying that catching Violent Society shows when I was a teenager was like finding an island in a sea of dead eyed pop mediocrity when I was a kid.  I went on to elaborate that watching one of my best friends deck a Nazi skinhead with every ounce of strength and bravery in his teenage body at a Business, Warzone, Vision, Violent Society show in April of 1997 was one of my introductions to antifascism, and gave birth to a lifelong hatred of Nazi skinheads, full fucking stop.  He said thanks for telling him that story, and walked to the stage.

Watching Battalion Zoska, felt so much like coming back home to the kid I once was, enthusiastic about punk and guarded all the same.  I only felt sad for not knowing any of Battalion’s songs.  I did, however admire Pat’s vest from the front of the stage – it looked like the kind of thing any one of us would have worn as a kid, but made by a man well into his forties, decades past giving a fuck about what anyone at the show thought, and if they thought he was a poser for having a Sex Pistols backpatch or not.

The Boils played next. I’d been so out of touch with their music, that I didn’t even realize that they had more or less retired a decade ago, only reuniting occasionally for special one-off gigs.  The kids and the middle-aged weirdos absolutely fucking lost it from the first note, to the last echo of feedback.  I stood onstage occasionally ducking a stage diver or crowd surfer doing their best to get into the light fixtures hanging from the low ceiling.  I smiled and got that feeling in my body that shows gave me before I left the east coast – the one where you feel at home and like this room is the center of the world for a half an hour, and that’s just fine.  All the war and oppression, and atrocity that you worry about 8 out of 10 of the days can wait at the door for a bit and you can just be.

I’m well aware that I’m idealizing a scene a bit, but goddamnit if I don’t need to believe in something right now. When I was a kid, punk kept me from killing myself I don’t even know how many times because it was there to remind me of the good inherent in my fellow human beings.  Right now, I want to remember that more than anything, so it’s what I’m running on because it’s a thousand times better than bitterness, emptiness and misanthropy.

Lion’s Law played, and shit was energetic, flawless, but less emotional.  I sang along to the songs I like and wondered how skinheads make those tiny cuffs in their jeans.  I’m more paranoid about germs than I used to be, and it’s funny.  I have papercuts all over my hands from work, and was constantly trying to touch sweaty crowdsurfers as little as possible for this reason.  The set ended, I bought a shirt and J and I drove back home listening to Bell Witch and making plans for a trip down south later in the summer.

I stayed up way too late talking to N, well past three AM.  The next morning all three of us went out for breakfast and coffee.  I felt hungover despite having consumed not a drop of alcohol the night before.  Just ragged from no sleep and movement.  I was happy to sip strong coffee and think about how much I love punk and my friends.  Maybe I was drunk on how real J and N are, and how sorely I have missed that authenticity while sequestered in the gray land of passive aggressive cliques and infighting.

Driving through Southern York County felt like searching for something without knowing what I was looking for, as it often does.  I followed my routine of going to the Shrewsbury Wal-Mart that opened in 1997, reshaping (read decimating) the economy of this town, like I always do.  I go to the bathrooms in the back of the store to piss, then I buy some tea.  I am always ready for someone to recognize me and make what-have-you-been-doing-all-these-years small talk, but it never happens.

When this fluorescent lit monument to consumerism opened in 1997, all my friends, and my mom got jobs here.  Before the Wal-Mart opened, these were just some vacant hills that kids rode their dirt bikes around on homemade trails.  Those days are long, long gone.  You stand in the parking lot now, and it’s almost impossible to imagine there was anything but a Wal-Mart here.  I cannot help but wonder how long the structure will stand after humanity starves itself off the planet?

When my mom briefly worked here, it was the first time I had seen any trace of hope on her face.  She even chastised me viciously for bleaching my hair blonde while she was at work.  “Now you look like a San Francisco Faggot, and I can’t take you to meet my manager!”.  It was like she believed a nine hour a day, forty-hour week at nine dollars an hour shift might let her re-write her story just enough to let her forget that she spent most of her days wanting to die.  The despair crept back in within a month.  The work was grueling and thankless, and for scraps at that.  The final straw came when one of her co-workers told my mom that their manager had been mocking her for wanting to change her schedule enough that it would allow her to see me on some days.  Writing this twenty-two later, I still feel incredibly anger at the insidiousness and heartlessness it must take to exploit the fading dreams of all the small-town suckers like my mom and my friends, desperate to change their stories.

It’s strange to think about my mother wanting to see me, considering how little she has “seen” me my entire life.  She saw what she wanted to see, putting the low down and dirty of who I was from her mind.  She still does this, I just resent her less for it now than I used to.  I mostly feel bad for her.  She missed out on the entire adult life of her only child.

I remember when one friend quit this place when she went to the hospital for her eating disorder.  That trip to the hospital began a downward spiral into heroin addiction that I don’t know if she ever recovered from.  I lost track of that friend over two decades ago. My other friend, the same aforementioned one that punched out the Nazi skin at the show worked there too.  He quit in style, just a month or two after my mom.  He came over directly afterwards, laughing and telling us how he balled up his apron and threw it in the shift manager’s face, telling him to go fuck himself.  This was the same manager my tangled with.

After Wal-Mart, I drove to the Shrewsbury Cemetery.  I’m always drawn to this spot anytime I’m back in Southern York County.  I’m not sure why.  Maybe it’s because it’s in such close proximity to where I attended my first punk show, at a rented church hall across the street.  Maybe it’s because it’s where my friends and I rotted away countless crawling hours that seem so serene and idyllic now.  D and I would hang out in the gravel shack during slow as molasses summer days, doing graffiti while D smoked weed.  We’d stand on the hill at the south end of the cemetery and look out off into the distance, into Maryland.  Watching the radio towers blink red steadily in the distance reminded me that life, an entire world existed outside of this tiny town, and one day we’d all escape it.

I couldn’t tell what, but something felt missing, like I was being pulled somewhere else, so I got in my car and moved on.

From the cemetery, I drove south on whatever that street that runs parallel to Main is.  It exits on Tolna, right near where E and L lived when we were kids.  Tolna Road is unrecognizable now, and part of me felt sad about this.  I drove down Main and took note of what all has changed at the intersection of Constitution and Main. I surprised myself at being disappointed that the Getty Mart is gone.  Torn down who even knows when to make way for a Walgreens.  The shopping center next to it looked like it had changed, but it was hard for me to tell, never having been as much of a focal point for my friends and I.

I thought about driving through the neighborhood where I had my first job – a paper route when I was 13, but skipped it.  Instead I drove South on Main as it gave way fully to Old York Road.  I passed the hill near the baseball field where DS broke his arm in 1993.  It’s still there.  I wondered how many kids have broken bones on it since.  There was the house across the street from the hill where I used to awkwardly fool around with a girlfriend in the basement when her parents thought we were watching movies when I was fifteen.  I thought about pulling into the bank parking lot further down the street to snap a photo of the spot in the parking lot that my friends and I utilized for skating late at night, but thought the better of it.  I try and spend less time looking sketchy nowadays.

My old neighborhood has changed considerably.  The last two years mom and I lived there, developers were building a new street and new houses at the end of our road.  J, A, and I hid up there one night when it was still relatively empty to smoke weed.  That’s my big memory.  Not worth driving up for.

My childhood home looks significantly different than it did the last time I drove past it.  It doesn’t look at all like the dilapidated repository for my mother’s dead dreams that I left behind two decades ago.  No overgrown lawn.  No peeling paint.  No foreclosure notice tacked to the door.  The owners built a new front porch, vastly extended from the stoop that my friends and I once sat on, listening to tapes and talking.

I left my neighborhood and headed back to New Freedom proper by the back road that I surprised myself by remembering my way around after two decades since the last time I walked it.  I remembered this one night during the summer between seventh and eighth grade when M and I were spending the night at his parent’s house.  I was on the phone with two girls across town while M tried to fall asleep watching TV.  The girls asked if we wanted to come over and make out.  I was into it.  I asked M if he wanted to go, and he said no.  Too worried about getting caught.  I tried to implore him to go along, telling him we could take this road, and not a soul would be on it at this hour and see us.  M wasn’t having it and went to sleep.  I got off the phone.  I remember little about those two girls past that night.  I fell into punk, and they fell into the background, significantly less enchanting then the world full of joyous outcasts I was falling in love with.

In New Freedom, I went to the Rutter’s to buy coffee and piss again.  I skipped going up Third Street.  I don’t even remember if M’s parents still live in that house.  I think she told me that they had long since left.  I think I remember the last time I drove east on Third, that K’s old trailer had been demolished.

Probably just as well.  Who knows what kind of energy would still haunt that place?  I think about that house, and being there as a wide eyed and scared kid.  Watching K’s mom nod out, watching her sketchy murderer boyfriend drink beer after beer. I remember listening to sad songs in K’s room, huddled around her small boombox and CD collection like it was salvation, or at least an escape from the kind of listless summer drudgery that I could almost wish for now, in that our days were filled with more boredom than worry.

Somewhere in the winter of ninth grade, K’s mom disappeared for a few months.  She ended up living with relatives.  One night she spent the night at my house just as the nights were their frozen nadir.  My mom made her sleep in the guest room, as if I wouldn’t end up just sneaking out of my own room and sleeping next to my friend anyway.  If my mom knew, she never told me.  Nothing happened that night anyway, aside from shared secrets.

K told me how she lost her virginity to a boy she was dating a few months earlier.  He was older than us by a couple years.  His name is lost to the years now.  Something beginning with a J, I think.  She told me how they had nowhere to go to have sex, so they broke into her mom’s vacant trailer and she had sex for the first time there.  When they were done, the boy held her all night.  They broke up a few months later.  I always thought that the trailer was maybe totally empty, and they must have fucked on the floor, but I think how little sense that made now.  K was living in the trailer with her mom and a different sketchy boyfriend by that next summer.  D, L and I went to see K shortly after they moved back in, and all the furniture was still there, smoke stained and sticky, just like it had been the year before.

I drove north to Glen Rock, and found the high school without a GPS after a friend challenged me to see if I could do so. I was only a little disturbed to find out I could still remember the way.  I drove around the parking lot and remembered being up there fucking around with D one summer and seeing this other fuck up that I knew only as someone who one of our friends had tried to stab in the neck with a pencil that year over him violating one of our other friends. The boy was driving his parent’s van fast over the speed bumps in the parking lot to see if they could get all four wheels of the van airborne at once.  Everyone in the car was laughing.  I noticed a younger girl in the passenger seat that I didn’t recognize.  The next school year that girl was dead from an accidental overdose after the boy broke up with her.  Everyone blamed the fuck up boy their friend’s death. So much so that he had to change schools to escape the bloodthirsty groups of kids out for him.  A few of us found out where he lived one night later that fall and threw forty bottles full of piss through his car windshield.  I remembered driving away laughing, and seeing him darting out to his front lawn to stare down our taillights.  I remember how angry and defeated he looked standing there in the lawn, fists balled up at his sides.

I thought about hanging out at school to write and let my dog run around, but the memory (and many others left a bad taste in the back of my mouth).  It felt too weird being there, almost like an atmospheric pressure, telling me I was in the wrong place, to keep moving.  I took a picture and left.  Eager to put distance between me and the place that had done it’s best to indoctrinate me and kill my creativity.  It didn’t even feel like a victory, writing there.

I drove to Glen Rock proper, left at the intersection where J and D and I once stalled out in a stolen car.  I drove past SM’s old house which I had totally forgotten about.  I instantly remembered how F told me he was out walking with his niece one night, and had seen the cops in front of the house, looking for SM.  They walked by later, just as SM was coming home.  F told me how he saw SM’s dad on the porch, waiting, and how hard he shoved him, right there on the porch.

I have always wondered if that was that awful night.  Driving past, I wondered if SM’s parents still lived there.  I heard somewhere that his mom never got over having to bury her firstborn baby.  I felt for SM’s mom, and his dad, and his brother and sister, and his own children.  Weird how different people can have different perspective on a life and its loss, and how time can soften that perspective.

I wished that the Wetzel’s was there, so I could go see if DS still worked there.  I haven’t seen DS in twenty or more years.  I’ve heard things here and there though.  F and L both told me that he worked at the meat counter there since just after high school.  That’s twenty years and a thank you for all your hard work and good luck out there.  I just googled it.  Wetzel’s was open for thirty-three years.  That means D worked there for twenty of the thirty years the store was in business.

I wonder how that was for him.

I drove back down Old York Road from Glen Rock, trying to find a place to write in Shrewsbury.  The park was filled with cub scouts.  Not really who I wanted to be near while I sat around and chronicled my lost youth and dreams dried out.  I went back to New Freedom to sit b J and L’s graves for a few minutes.  In another month, they will have been gone for twenty years.  I remember how significant that death felt at the time.  We were so young.  I sat with them for a minute, said hey, and moved on.

I used to skate in that church parking lot. A and I used to meet there to make out too.  I wasn’t allowed at her house.  Both because I was a bad kid, and because she wasn’t allowed to see boys yet. So that left the church.  The day before ninth grade, we met there to talk and make out.  She was mad that I had cut my long hair in favor of something I could put into liberty spikes.  We kissed goodbye and said we’d see each other tomorrow.  The next day I passed her in the hall, said hi, and she ignored me.  That was it.  We never spoke again.

I think we saw one another one more time after that.  On D’s porch.  She came over with her cousin who I had also dated to score weed.  I was visibly uncomfortable, and I remember D joking that I should make an ex-girlfriend club.  I heard later that she was seeing SM.  I worried for her, knowing the monstrosity that guy was capable of.

I finally settled on New Freedom Park to write.  I sat at a picnic table beneath the bandstand and wrote a love letter to C, wanting to share a significant and strange part of my history with them.  While I was writing, I noticed Crip and Blood graffiti on the table, which amused me to no end.  I told C a few things I remembered about the park and told them I missed them, but I was maybe glad they weren’t here.  I thought it would just be boring for them.

The park was eerily empty, save for a few kids playing on the other side of it, near where A and I once made out.  I left and went back to the cemetery in Shrewsbury to say goodbye to Southern York County for now.  The moon rose red and low in its majesty just as I pulled up.  I felt so thankful to greet it.  I looked to the south at the radio towers that my friends and I used to watch when we were kids, desperate for any sign that life existed outside of this place.  They were there, like always.  Blinking softly in the fading light.

When I looked to the south, I felt an old lover out there, somewhere else and I smiled.  I said hello to their spirit out in the night and thought about love, and time, and movement and letting go.  The sun was down, and it was time to get moving, to go home.  It was sweet, and I was ready to leave Southern York County.

I drove through the night, arriving home reinvigorated and relieved to live on the east coast once more.

The Road – 5/17/19-5/19/19

The Downward Spiral At Twenty-Five.

The Downward Spiral cover
The album cover that graced countless adolescent CD collections in 1994. 

Happy 25th birthday to an album that defined my adolescence and gave voice to my tween angst. I bought this record the day it came out in 1994. My father had died very suddenly just under two months prior, and it was the coldest and snowiest winter Pennsylvania had seen in something like 50 years. The snow kept falling, making a mess of the roads in the rural town where my mother and I lived; cancelling school for days at a time. We lived in a small housing development at the edge of town, and I didn’t have a lot of friends.  I found myself alone in the house a lot with my mother spiraling into an abyss of grief from which she would never really crawl out of.  I would hang out in my room for countless hours, listening to this album.

I was a lonely and weird kid with not a lot of social skills (this hasn’t necessarily changed) and cheesy and cliché as it sounds, while I had not yet lived enough to fully understand some of the themes and concepts Trent Reznor was exploring in this record, this album did keep me company during a pivotal period when so much of my young life was defined by chaos and isolation. I will always be grateful for that company. I know I’m not alone in this gratitude, considering just how many copies this record has sold.  As an adult, I would argue that this speaks more to the loneliness and isolation that we collectively feel as a culture, but at 13 years old I didn’t really quite grasp such concepts.  I just knew that I was hurting and lonely a lot, and this record gave voice to that hurt.

I played this album heavily for a few years, all the while immersing myself more fully into the punk and goth subcultures, searching out more obscure bands and ways of being. This record served as a starting point for that immersion though. Everyone talks about the band or record that introduced them to the underground, that made them want to dive in and see what else was down there.  For a lot of people my age, it was Nirvana.  For me, it was Nine Inch Nails.  There was just something so much more honest and real about this band for me, much less silly.  Where Kurt Cobain used clumsy metaphors and thinly veiled references to express alienation and pain, Trent Reznor just bluntly put it out there for the world to take or leave.  A year later, I would come to associate this mode of expression with punk and hardcore when hearing Black Flag for the first time hit me like a ton of bricks.  I see now how The Downward Spiral primed me for the world of punk rock.

Despite moving on, I remained a quiet fan. I listened to the new records with a polite detachment; more connected to nostalgia than anything else, connecting with a song here and there, but nothing quite recaptured the significance of this record.  It remains a time and place piece for me.  Had I not come across this album when I did, and where I did, I think my entire life would be very different.  I’m not always sure if this a good thing or bad thing.

Revisiting this record as a maladjusted adult, I still wince at the rawness and vulnerability of this album – documenting your own descent into self-hating annihilation with but the faintest glimmer of hope for crawling back out at the end of the record. There is a subversive power to all that vulnerability and transparency.  I see the influence in my own life and art (ha!) of just sitting with naked pain and transforming it into something so ugly and beautiful all at once.

 

The Downward Spiral At Twenty-Five.

Diagram of a busted mouth.

Fig. 1

Sitting in a chair at the dentist’s office
Steel toes tap together in nervousness
Dressed in bravest black, winter 1996
Drill bits scrape the mess
Growing in my mouth for the first
(of many) times in my young life
Stare out the window
Catch a lone small town
Punk rocker on their
Way somewhere else in the snow
Footprints sunk into the white
Show where they been
But offer no hint
Of where we’re going.

Fig. 2

First dentist trip in three
And a half years
Mental illness met poverty
Long enough for fifteen cavities
To carve their way in
To a mouth well on
Its way towards rotting
Digging in for the duration
As childhood ends
Sugar coated swath cut
Through enamel and dentine and pulp
Floss and rinse and dig
And brush and drill
Scrape plaque away
With a mad desperation
But never reach the
Source of the rot.

Fig. 3

Sipping black coffee
Burning belly filled:
One part all hell
Ready to break loose at any moment
One part bag of peanut butter pretzels for breakfeast
Bought with food stamps and pocket change
Basking in the glow of
Spring’s latest lover
One morning in the sun
Spinning
Blissed out on three hours
Of sleep weighing down
Eyelids pried open
By caffeine and lovesickness
Frantic need for connection
To fill every hour with
The sweetness and agony
Of feeling it all
Feel a sickening snap
Cracking in the back of my mouth
Reach a finger still warm from last
Night’s lust in and wriggle part of a molar out
Shrug like you can’t win ‘em all
Put the blackened tooth chip
In my pocket, like a keepsake.

Fig. 4

Oh, good. You’re awake.
Do you remember where you are?
You were crossing the street
When you walked into the path of an oncoming car
The good news is your spine isn’t broken
You are bleeding internally
But your organs did not rupture
And your shoulder will heal
And even retain most of its mobility
The bad news is what’s left
Of three of your teeth
Have to come out now
The force of the pavement
Rushing up to reshape your face
Left your teeth shattered
Rammed the remaining roots
Back into your jaw
You are in shock
And heavily sedated
You probably won’t
Even remember this
Or feel it.

Fig. 5

It becomes an identity
A way to laugh at the pain
Taking a mouth full of
Broken teeth as my name
Example:
The words
“busted teeth, broken heart”
Inked forever into my skin
Or it’s a cute party trick
Like the time I decided
To spit my new set
Of fake plastic teeth
Out of a mouth, healed
But still fresh enough with phantom pains
That come when the weather changes
Into my best friend’s
Glass of wine at
A fancy restaurant
Oh sorry. You were drinking that?
I guess I’ll just finish it.

Fig. 6

The nerve pain wakes me
Up one morning in summer
Shooting through my jaw
I call out of work
And spend the day at home
Part of it on the phone
With the same best friend
Seven summers later
Holding an icepack to
The side of my head
“I’m paying the price now
For never quite taking care
For always living with
A low intensity self-loathing.”

Fig. 7

Floss and feel
The very last piece
Of my very first root canal
Come loose from its molar mooring
Spit silver and blood and mercury
Into the sink
Pick up the piece
Bury it in an
Unmarked backyard grave
“Here lies my last self-destruction”

Fig. 8

A piece of my broken tooth hurts
So I do what any person would do
Reach into my mouth
Wiggle the last shard back and forth
With a single-minded determination
And pull it out on my gums
Throw it in the trash
Without ceremony
Or reverence
Having long since
Grown used to this
Saltwater. Rinse. Repeat
The hole closes up.

Fig. 9

You used to do meth, right?
No, why?
I don’t know. I just thought you did.
Did you think I used to do meth
Because I’m missing my three front teeth?
No! I swear! I just thought you used to do meth
Like, I thought you said something about it once
Fact: I’ve never done meth.

Fig. 10

I hate it when my friends
Call me “Creepteeth”
Except maybe I bestowed
That nickname on myself
Making an identity
Out of pain again
Or as a way to make peace with a
Self-conscious smile
I can’t remember now.
I just always knew something
About standing in the shadow
Of so much beauty
I could never ever know

Fig. 11

Morning routine of brushing
Serves as a reminder
Of roads to ruin raced
I have long since
Gotten used to the taste
Sour mouth, brown spit
Washed down the sink
Followed by the reprieve
Of toothpaste and blood-spit
Swirling down the drain.

Fig. 12

A dissolute pain
As company for
The past 8 days
With yesterday spent
Entirely within the confines
Of a borrowed twin bed
This isn’t even my room
And I’m tethered to it
Anyway
Every time I move
Nausea rushes in
Making the world
Sickeningly spin and spin…

Fig. 13

Not a single shred
Of solace to seek
Beneath a gray sky
Sighing with rain
While hours crawl
Into another lost day
Shuffled through in
A nauseated narcotic daze.

Fig. 14

I write from my sickbed
Good reasons to
Just stop feeling
Anything at all
The numb warmth
Creeps through my limbs
Like crawling skin
Filling the void
Ever writhing within
This tired body
Spreading outwards
Beneath my skin
I get why people get addicted
To this shit
There is an elusive beauty
Found within numbness
And I hate it all the same
Just like I hate that
Someone somewhere out there
Learned they could line their pockets
And the pockets of their children
And their children’s children
Selling the cure for pain
Then selling the cure
For addiction
Or the punishment
For those deemed unworthy
Or unable to afford
The cure
Somewhere
Someone owns all of this
And I wonder what it would
Be like to rip his throat
(Yeah, I’m making an assumption here)
Out with my jagged teeth
But then again
The thought of strange blood
And bacteria in my mouth
Fills me with an unquiet revulsion.

Fig. 15

I write a litany to numbness
To later be forgotten
In an overpriced notebook
That I paid $20 for
Instead of stealing
Somewhere along the
Road that always led nowhere.

Fig. 16

I listen to a tinny
Clash bootleg and feel
My spirits wanting
To soar like so many songs
Long since sent into unsuspecting airwaves
I write my way down
Every road back home
And write down reasons
To convince this body
To keep breathing
And greet another day
As a blessing
On the outside
Where the beautiful
People are ugly too
I want to live long and strong
With that invincible
Heartbeat as the backdrop
Sometimes I just think
That a set of invincible teeth
Would also be just the kind
Of company I would like to keep.

Diagram of a busted mouth.