Bummer Summer, Redux

It’s bummer summer redux, baby and I’ve been adrift in a pavement sea. I’m out here alone, again. Drowning in the haze of a lazy late summer heat. Counting the crawling minutes in heatwaves shimmering skyward off cooking concrete. Turn my phone off and walk the city for hours at a time. I threw all the clocks away when I moved all my things into my new room, the second set of four walls and a door and a window I’ve called home this summer alone. This distance between minutes and hours and days blurs lately. I’m too busy marching nowhere fast to the rhythm of that familiar thunder pulse rumbling away inside my ribcage. I don’t have an appetite, but I’ll drive to the store to stock up on the food my body needs to stay alive. Sit in the car and hyperventilate in the parking lot like my heart is begging to break free from the bones that held it hostage for so long.

I hate this city, and I love it. And I hate it. And I love it. All at once. We all worry the water wars to come are gonna hit these parts hard. Mo said something in the bookstore about how when the chips are down, and we’re down and out, nothing beats watching those mountains materialize on the horizon when you’re driving home. And goddamn, if I didn’t know exactly what zie meant.

My heart beats right and I get out of the car. As if the little fucker had anywhere to go. We’re stuck together. Until the end of the line. I run like hellfire flicks at my heels. Press iron in my palms until they blister and my muscles break down to be reborn. Just to keep that merciless little muscle healthy. To forestall the inevitable for another day.

“I keep in shape like a Super 8, because I’m afraid to die.”  

Wezel told me the other day, the only thing that scares him about death is the concept of eternity. Being stuck in one place, be it damnation or paradise, forever. Though the concept of oblivious terrifies me, I think I know what he means about wanting to stay in motion. I can’t settle anywhere. In houses. In rooms. In my skin. This new house it is my fourteenth mailing address in the last ten years. Moving from room to room, as if sheltering behind the same four walls longer than six months at a time, might wither away my momentum.

As if I’ve ever had any idea where I’m going, anyway.

I don’t even remember how to write anymore. I just stare at blank page after blank page. Reflecting on a lifetime spent amongst the drowning and drowned. All of my friends. Trying to keep their heads above water. Hurting. Hurting each other. Hurting themselves. Fighting against the swell. Swimming against the current. Trying not to drown in depression.

I read a story last week. The scene: The Pacific Ocean, 1945. A United States Naval destroyer torpedoed just after midnight. 300 men went to the bottom with the ship. Another 900 went into the water. There’s a monologue in the movie Jaws about it. 900 men spent Four days adrift in the open sea. Too few lifeboats between them. Barely any clean water. The only food what they scavenged from the flotsam. Then there were the sharks circling for the feeding frenzy. A horror unimaginable. Four days in the water with not enough to go around. A horror unimaginable. Close your eyes and you can see it. Water as far as the eye can see. No land in sight. Listen and you can hear it. The rise and fall of the waves. The screams of the devoured. Some men clung to one another, banded together for survival. Some of them turned on one another. Desperate for the slimmest glimmer of survival to shine on them, they swore fealty to betrayal and instinct. Shoving one another into the maws of death to buy more time for themselves. One sailor sunk so far as to slit the throat of one of his companions and drink the blood that spilled from the wound to slake his thirst.

80 years and countless wars come home later. We are drowning in an ocean of our own. Everyone I have ever loved is hurting. Fighting for air. Searching for shore. Trying not to succumb to a sea roiling with despair. Adrift. Sinking. We are a generation of the drowning and drowned. Despair. Debt. Addiction. Everyone scrambling over one another for solid footing, desperate to breathe. Begging for those moments where the world spins right. Where the cycle breaks free from an axis of despair.

The cycle of hurting people, hurting people. Scrambling into overloaded life rafts in madness. Trying not to drown. Trying not to be devoured. Driven mad by hunger and thirst. Bereft of fulfillment or meaning. Arms swimming and swimming until the lungs give in.

Searching for a searchlight. Any sign of hope.

We are a generation of the drowning and the drowned.

I am so tired of watching the people I love most cannibalize one another, fight over scraps, feed one another to the sea, to circling sharks.

Do you hear it?

The sounds of everyone you love begging for reprieve?

Wishing for once that these long nights would pass with ease?

Good Night Sweet Hope Street.

I returned home to Western North Carolina just in time to let my girl go. When she let me know it was time I packed all my things and drove straight home. Philadelphia to WNC with a stop in the triangle just long enough for Natalia and Jess to say goodbye to her.

I was a dumb kid when Hope came into my life. Walking down the street in Southeast Portland, lonely and directionless when I saw a man selling pit bull puppies. I think buying selling animals like they’re commodities is bullshit now just as I did back then but I saw this tiny puppy and my brain started making all kinds of rationalizations. I leaned down to pet the dogs and one of them jumped up to lick my face. It was a done deal, just like that. The first and only time I ever experienced love at first sight. ⁣

I handed the man the money I had in my wallet, picked up my new friend and headed back to the house I was crashing in. I didn’t even have a leash or collar. My decision was that impulsive. She was so small and so light. Carrying her wasn’t any sort of burden. Somewhere along the walk I said to her, “I think I’m going to name you Hope. What do you think about that?” She licked my face again, and I knew, reckless or not, that I had made a good choice. ⁣

Hope and I grew up together. Every moment of joy, of heartache and heartbreak, all the slow hours of depression and struggling against the void, I literally had Hope by my side. She was smart, she was strong, she was fierce and she was devoted and outgoing. She loved people and she loved other dogs. If I have one regret about our time together, it’s that we had to grow up together. That she was subject to all of my growing pains. I’m a healthier person at 40 than I was at 24. I owe so much of that health to Hope. I only wish she could have stayed around longer to reap the benefits. ⁣

But I would like to think I have given her a good life. 15 years and 11 months isn’t a bad run for a little dog. She nearly met her doom a few times over the years. There was a snake bite, a fight with a goddamn horse, and the time the two of us almost got swept out to see by a surprise wave. Despite it all, it was old age that got her.

The better of the two of us to the very end, there have been so many times over the last year where I could feel her telling me, “stop making such a big deal, Sass. It’s only death.” The thing that we all fear the most, and my girl faced it with bravery and humility.⁣

It’s a gift in a way to know when your last hours with someone you love have arrived. I spent the night with Hope with a hand ever near her too bony chest, listening to her breathe. Counting the fleeting flickering of her eyelids. Whispering a thousand prayers of thanksgiving to her and whatever benevolent force led us to one another, giving me the chance to experience a love like this. ⁣

I held her as she let go this morning, surrounded by flowers Roth both planted and picked for her. We were in the shade on the farm. As she went I thanked her for a lifetime worth of love and told her she was the single best thing to ever happen to me. I reassured her all the dog friends and people who loved her and went before her were waiting for her on the other side. I told her I would miss her for the rest of my life and that I would see her again.

First photograph together. Oakland, 2005.
Final photograph together.

HOPE!

2005-2021

Heartbreak Summer: Compounded

I watched my best friend’s legs wobble
Struggling to stand against
The shimmering haze of summer heat
Carry her up the stairs
And into the bedroom
With the air conditioner on
With the curtains open over the alley.

90 degrees today
With a seven percent chance of rain
The swelling thunderheads gathering
In the distance, gray and pregnant with rain
Seem impossibly far away
I know, baby girl, I know
Breathing through this industrial haze
Is hard on anyone
Especially you, making your way
So fearlessly to the end of the road.

Sit at my desk
Stare at a blank screen
Shuffle papers around
Try to will the words
That will make sense of so much loss
From my brain onto the page.

Every few minutes
A nervous sideways glance
To the pile of pillows and blankets
On which your tired body rests
To nervously check for the labored
Rise and fall of your weary chest.

Six years ago, this week
You were sick
Tired and wheezing
At ten years old
I cried my eyes dry
Begged whoever might be listening above
For just a few more years
Of coming home
To the side of the best friend
I have ever known.

You and me, girl.
Wherever we were,
As long as we were together
We were home
Not everyone gets to be that lucky
In life and in love
I know that now.

Every single night
I tuck you in
Ache wrecks my whisper
As it makes its way to your ears
I tell you that when you are ready to go
To just let me know
I won’t keep you here, in pain
Not for my sake.

If these long years together have taught us anything
They taught us everything we ever needed to know
About a little thing called strength
I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again:
The day you leaped into my arms
Pressed your face against mine for the first time
That was the closest I have ever come
To believing in love at first sight
The rumble of your paws
Romping across a forest floor
As you grew into them and made this ruin of a world your own
Rattled the dust of despair from my bones.

You, more than anything else
Washed a decade long death wish stare
From my eyes.

You braved sixteen years of this mess
To offer an unshakable love
I whisper to you;
After sixteen years of a love as unshakable as this one
I am strong enough
To brave the emptiness of a world
Forever without you.

Even though
I am uncertain
Which one of us
I am trying to convince.