On Island Road

Cooper City Florida, 1987
Voorhees and Krueger Come
To gruesome life on a suburban television
Screaming children run
Across a flickering screen
Fleeing bloodslick blades gripped
In the hands of fictional horrors unrelenting

The credits roll
The Screen goes blank
The groan and hum of the cassette
Rewinding breaks the brief silence
As the screams of so many murdered
Teenagers fade into the recesses
Of my young mind.
“What did you think of that?”
The words slide
From his tongue with cold eagerness
“Uh. A lot of people died.”

I am six years old
Spread on the floor
While parents wrestle with oblivion
Behind closed doors
He says ghosts live
In the corner of
Every room, watching
This scares me more than the movies
For some reason

His mother’s apron
Hangs limp from a hook in the kitchen
I imagine now, every corner filled
With aprons, suits, dresses

The cathode ray glow
Filled with cheap horror
Keeps my restless ghosts
At bay until the morning

Less than a block away
My parents sleep
Ashtrays on their night tables
Who smokes in the house around
A first grader with asthma anyway?

Late night cable
Takes a turn for the worse
Filled with wet mouths
And hungry curves
Speaking a language
I have yet to learn

He unzips his pants

There are power lines outside
Humming static against the
Thick night sky
The heat is oppressive

I know I should feel something more.

Right here
In this town
Sneaking around
Feet pound
Late night blacktop
Still clinging to the sun’s last heat
In this house
On this street

I feel nothing.

Do you know how
To give into hate?
I now know how to give in
To hate.

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Photo credit unknown

I don’t Know What To Say

I was six years old the first time I was sexually assaulted. I can recall the majority of the details with clarity and alacrity. This is a blessing and a curse, I guess because the memories have stayed strong and present with me all these for the past three decades. I have spent the majority of my adult life wrestling with them. Like many survivors, the memories often come bursting out of me with little warning, and at inopportune times. Sometimes during the summer if I am sleeping in a room with a ceiling fan, I wake up with a start thinking it is someone’s breath on the back of my neck. I have spent much of my life in and out of various states of dissociation and bottomless rage. I have spent much of my life like I still don’t know how to say no, and often find myself intimate with individuals who know just how to exploit that.

On the other side of that survivorhood, I distinctly remember being thirteen and my male friends and I figuring out that that there was a blurred line between persistence and coercion. To our young minds, the absence of physical violence somehow differentiated us from the individuals who assaulted me years earlier. Furthering that idea, when I was fifteen, a group of boys abducted one of my friends and took her to a party where they assaulted her. This crime was never reported, but served as singular turning point in the young lives of my friends and I; a reminder of sorts of the secret truth we had always known, encoded in our young bodies: The bad men were real, and they mostly got away with what they wanted. My best friend and I walked around school carrying knives secreted away in our pockets the rest of that year, swearing that we were going to stab the one perpetrator we could identify to death the first chance we got. We never did. He went on to live a normal life until dying in a car wreck on the run from the law ten years later. I was at a party when I heard, and I laughed audibly, comfortable in the certainty that my friends and I were so different from this sorry, dead asshole.

When you are a young person, especially when you grow up in punk, you define yourself by what you are and what you are not. You delineate everyone into a clear “them” and “us”. You surround yourself with other freaks and outcasts and convince yourself you somehow live outside of the unrequited-blood soaked horrorshow that is life on this planet. My friends and I naively believed we were somehow different, all the while shutting out the voices of the women and queers in our lives who have been imploring us to just fucking listen and do better. The few deeply intimate relationships with I have had with men have been with fragile boys with fragile egos, unable in varying degrees to examine hard truths about themselves, always wondering why their lives are perpetual disasters and their exes fucking hate them. Don’t worry. I am counting my relationship to myself in there too.

I wrote letters to two of the individuals who assaulted me at the beginning of my thirties, never having the nerve to send them. Two years back, I decided to send them while trying to reconcile and change my own patterns of abusive behavior towards intimate partners. I held the naïve belief that maybe these two men would hear me out and open a dialogue and that maybe we could sort out some of this mess together. One of them responded. I obviously could not hear the tone in their voice as they composed an email, but I am fairly certain it differed very little from Brett Kavanaugh’s as they berated me, simultaneously calling me a liar and weak for still feeling the effect of their actions thirty years later. They included their phone number in the email, demanding that I call them, which I never did. I have no doubt that had we spoken on the phone, they would have sounded *exactly* like Judge Kavenaugh did on television the other day.

This individual also came out to me as trans in their email. Two days later, they committed suicide. I blamed myself for the death of another trans woman, and wondered what kind of common ground we could have found had they just listened. I wondered how similar the paths we had walked really were. I spent the next week certain their ghost was in the room with me at night and slept very little. I left my room only to eat or walk my dog. I told my friends I was sure that they would be waiting for me in hell when I died. The crushing feeling of guilt stuck with me until I thought about what an utter fucking chump move it is to hurl yourself into whatever afterlife will claim you rather than take responsibility for your actions.

My heart feels ripped out of my chest this week. My heart is broken for all the people I love who are survivors (and that is almost everyone I know.). My heart is broken for all the people I love who are raising children, especially daughters in this thresher. My heart breaks for the kids who come after us, who were supposed to inherit a better world. My heart breaks for the people I love who live the duality of being both survivor and perpetrator this week, because every person I have loved the most has endured/is capable of/has inflicted some serious harm, and we have to live the lives we’ve made and pick up the pieces. My heart breaks continuously thinking about the people who I have done harm to. My heart breaks thinking about what it is to live in a culture that benefits you so intensely that your hard-learned life lessons usually come at the expense of the people you love the most, and that is treated as normal.

I am tired. We are all tired. We are all tired and heartbroken, and I have no optimism with which to end this post, only a small body filled with venom and unwavering love for my friends doing the best they can.


’67 Airstream with the radio on
Sweaty Appalachian air thick with heat
Cicadas sing me to sleep
Out in the restless southern dark

The night called me home
With song and blood
Skin never quite shed
Right here
Where god spoke to me
For the very first time
Once upon disaster and nuclear atrocity

Outside the trailer door
You can still smell the scent of it
In the air like a thousand sleepless hours
Passed in this city before this moment

This city
Always in my heart
There was never any choice
I loved this place ever since the moment
An angry kid first set steel-toed boot
To heat-cracked pavement
In the rush of misspent youth

I love it now, still
Walking alone on tourist-choked streets
As an outsider to my former home
With aging eyes searching for familiar sights
Across this beloved skyline
I lost my heart in the shining
Concrete and glass relics
Built for a collapse yet to come

Down in the dives
My friends and I
Drink our liquid bread down
Grown like bitter weeds
Breaking through cracks in the concrete
Poisoned plants from poisoned roots
Choking on words wielded like weapons
Smoking cigarettes and talking trash
Breathing in bitterness like our lungs could last
Building lives out of sculptures of ash

Two Drug Stories.

Hello!  I haven’t updated this thing in a while.  I’ve been busy working on a project I’m super excited about.  I’m going to share a piece of it publicly here for the first time.  I’d love feedback if you have time.

The following related stories are from a larger piece I’m working on detailing my time as a miscreant, maladjusted punk rocker in Rural Pennsylvania twenty years ago.  I completed this chapter today.  This is a first draft.  I have done little to no editing work.  All names have been redacted to protect the guilty who are no doubt all grown up and embarrassed by what I remember.  Enjoy!

 Drug Story One:

I can’t remember when the decision to stop smoking weed and drinking was.  I think it had been a gradual process as spring bloomed into being that year.  We had dabbled that winter, and I had a hard time saying no to things, but over time I think I just discovered straight edge and lost interest.  The last sip of alcohol I had was some warm beer we had found stashed in the trunk of the Cordoba the day _____ bought it.

There had been some funny times though.  Like when _____’s parents and my mom had all gone out of town on separate trips Valentine’s Day weekend, essentially leaving teenage lunatics in charge of the asylum.  ______, ____, ___ and I had spent Friday night mixing “just a bit” from each liquor bottle in my mom’s liquor cabinet getting wasted and talking to my dead dad with a Ouija board, and then _____and ____ had stolen _____’s dad’s car to pick me up and cruise on Saturday night.

I was already drunk when they picked me up.  Saturday had just emptily crawled by, filled with nothing much but an early winter sunset and long night to look forward to.  _____ had come over to hang out.  We decided to get drunk almost as soon as it was dark.  We would spend the night at _____’s parent’s house.  _____ and _____ planned to stay up all night on acid.  I was afraid of doing acid, but they assured me there was more alcohol to be had over there.  Good.  I was worried about my mom noticing how much we had stolen Friday anyway.

The weekend culminated in us staying up all night on Saturday, all fucked up and laughing at nothing in particular in an empty bathtub.  _____ and _____ dropped their acid.  I drank southern comfort from straight from the bottle.  We listened to The Misfits Collection I all night.  Somewhere in the empty wastes of a Southern York County landfill, a video tape of our night may or may not exist.  _____had found a camcorder somewhere, and wanted to document our misdeeds for the night.

Near four AM, I crawled down to ____’s basement room to pass out.  I was awoken a few hours later by hysterical laughter and moaning.  In my stupor, I could not figure out the source of the moaning.  When I had fallen asleep, only ____ and ____ were present in the house.  How the fuck had an orgy been initiated in the few hours I had been unconscious?  I was so confused.

I had passed out with my boots on and everything.  I groggily stomped up the stairs to see a hilarious sight:  ____ and ____ had raided ____’s parent’s room and found his dad’s VHS collection of pornography.  They had a movie on the TV in the living room.  The actors were vigorously penetrating one another and moaning fakely for the cameras.

In the neon nocturnal glow of the television, there were ____ and ____, high as shit on acid, and laughing.  They were sitting two feet away from the television tops.  Messily devouring leftover pizza, they had smeared tomato sauce all over their faces.  In with the combination of my blurry vision, and the glow of the television, the sauce eerily resembled blood.  The camcorder was set up on a tripod behind them, and they were still filming.  The scene was completely surreal.

“Y’all.  The sun is going to be up soon.  My mom gets home this afternoon.  We trashed my house Friday.  I need to get home and sober up and clean.”  I said.

____ insisted on driving his parent’s car.  ____ asked if it wouldn’t be better if he drove, considering he had only been up on acid, not acid and drinking combined.  ___ also insisted that he had mostly come down from his trip.  ___ wouldn’t hear it.

The sky was beginning to lighten as we crawled down the driveway in the cold.  ___ asked one more time if he shouldn’t drive.  ____ shrugged it off.  I was in the front seat with the camcorder, recording our drive for posterity.  Who the fuck is dumb enough to record their crimes anyway?

A four three way stop lay at the bottom of the hill.  The street we were on intersected with another street.  Ahead of us was a cornfield that lay fallow.  ____ showed no signs of slowing down as the intersection barreled towards us.

“____!  STOP!” ____ and I both yelled in unison.

He didn’t stop.  He plowed through the intersection without even slowing down.  As we blew through the stop sign, I looked over at ____ in the driver’s seat.  His head was bobbing loosely on his neck like a doll.  I wasn’t even sure if the severity of our predicament registered for him.

And I laughed.  I laughed and laughed with teenage death urge glee as ____ completely lost control of the car.  We launched over a pile of snow pushed to the side of the road by a snowplow from a recent storm.  I was still laughing when the car momentarily took flight.  All four wheels met the frozen ground of the field, and the car began to spin.  I kept laughing when we came to a stop directly between two telephone poles.  A few feet to the left or the right would have spelled varying degrees of disaster for all three of us, but we were lucky. The air was still and silent.

____just turned to ____ and said “Okay.  Fine. You drive.”

I suppose dying in a drunk driving accident two weeks after my fifteenth birthday is one of a thousand early deaths I could have gone to, but never did.  I’d like to think my survival, really the survival of so many of my friends was due to a small amount of self-preservation, and maybe some supernatural guardianship, rather than sheer idiot luck.

Drug Story Two:

 The first time I got high.  It was that same winter, maybe a few weeks after ____, ____ and I nearly met our doom.  ____’s little brother ___ and I are smoking weed in his room.  He has crudely constructed a bowl out of a sprite can, using a safety pin to poke holes in the side.  To add to the sheer idiocy of this scene, we are using a zippo to ignite our buds.  My lungs burn as I inhale copious amounts of weed smoke and butane.

Blowing smoke out the window, I realize I am totally baked.  ____ is ecstatic at this.  He wants to celebrate by going outside and “walking around”.  Even in my state, I know what this will consist of.  There is so goddamn little to do in this town, that “walking around” is really just code for walking to the McDonalds a few blocks away and seeing if anyone we know is there.

This walk is precisely what we do.  We walk east on Forest Avenue, very slowly and giddily.  We cut across Main Street, and behind the churches that line it, and into the cemetery.  The walk seems to take forever, and I don’t notice the cold.  I do notice that I have to think very hard about order which to put my feet on the ground though.

“Left foot, right foot.”  I think hazily.

“Just imagine you are seeing your favorite band right now.  It can be anyone.” ____ interrupts my concentration.

We’re nearing the hole in the fence behind the cemetery and I immediately envision myself seeing the Dead Kennedys fifteen years earlier.  I imagine myself in the swirling crowd.  I imagine the hopeful and angry faces of the punks that came before me.  I picture Jello Biafra jumping into the crowd to sing from the fray.

“Dude.  We were born too late.” Is all I manage to mutter to Adam.

The scene at McDonalds is totally dead.  We run into two casual acquaintances and I can’t follow our conversation.  One offers me a bite of her ice cream cone.  I decline.  I want to leave.  The air smells too greasy and it’s stuffy in here.  I can’t understand why ___ would want to be inside anything, let alone this paean to homogenized corporate monoculture.  None of this translates to anything aside form “Let’s just go home and eat hotpockets” though.

We go outside, and there are some jocks we vaguely know congregated outside of a pick-up truck.  They glare at us.  We look at them and try and walk past.  Right as we get to the hole in the fence, one of them aims a laser pointer at us and yells “We’re gonna shoot you, you fucking faggots!”.

Laser pointers had just began to come into prominence.  I hadn’t really seen them outside of movies where they acted as the sights for firearms.  It didn’t seem inconceivable that these redneck jocks might have a firearm with them.  All of these thoughts seemed to come slowly, and were their urgency seemed amplified by how high we were.  Before I knew it, I was ducking through the hole in the fence, and running.  Adam followed suit quickly.

We ran across the cemetery, occasionally ducking behind gravestones if we saw headlights crossing Highland Drive.  It made sense that the jocks might have jumped into their trucks, made a left on Forest Avenue and another left up Highland if they were truly dedicated to fucking with us (at best) or murdering us (at worst).  Most likely, they laughed at the sight of us running away, and went back into McDonalds and ordered shitty food.

That would have been the most rational line of thought.  Too bad drugs don’t always make you rational.

We waited until we were sure we didn’t see any headlights coming, and made a beeline for the church on the other side of Highland Avenue.  We ran towards the church hall, where I had been to one of my first punk shows a few years earlier.  We hid behind a wall for a while, completely convinced that we heard cars full of angry jocks circling the block looking for us.

We then made a break for Main Street.  Adam was sure that every car we saw was full of the same illusory, menacing jocks.  We made a dash across Main Street, and onto Railroad Avenue.  This was a relatively quiet side street.  The jocks wouldn’t think to look for us here.  Just a block or two to cross, and we’d be on our way towards Forest Avenue, and ___’s house, safe from all jocks, and other unfriendly faces.

Of course, the block we had to cross seemed like it was miles long.  We saw headlights creeping up behind us, and dove for the bushes in a field.  The car passed without even slowing down.  It didn’t matter.  It could have been the jocks.  It could have been anyone.  ____ was breathing heavily next to me.  Somehow a single isolated interaction with some assholes in a McDonalds Parking lot had escalated in our minds to the entire town being out to get us, and ____ and I having to cross miles of hostile territory to reach the sanctuary of his house.

We made it to the corner ___ lived on.  Finally.  The whole ordeal had seemed like it took hours out of our night.  There was a light on in the house.  It looked like ____’s dad might be up and tooling around downstairs.

“Wait!  We can’t go in yet.  My dad will realized we’re stoned!”

Fuck.  ____ was right.  His dad was an old hippie.  He’d be able to spot how high we were from across the room.  We’d be in deep shit then, for sure.  He would call my mom and tell her.  She’d never forgive me.  We decided our only course of action would be to run across Forest Avenue and hide in the park for a while.  We’d wait it out until ____’s dad either fell asleep, or we were just less high.  Still convinced the jocks were looking for us, we hid out in the dugout of the baseball field for another hour or so before walking home.

The best part of this story?  When we were hiding from cars in an empty field along Railroad Avenue, we were directly across the street from the police station.  It was closed, of course, considering it was after nine PM.  Had it been open, though…  All the cops would have had to do would be to look out their window and they’d see two paranoid idiots with blue hair, high as a goddamn kite, and hiding from cars full of imaginary jocks in the bushes.  ____ still had a bag of weed on him.  He might have even had our homemade soda can piece too.  The cops would have had an easy bust, but they missed it.

If you thought payback was a motherfucker, you never met us.

The shadows so cast by time grow long
Yet never so long across the tide of years
That the currents would ever absolve
Or erode the litany of your sins

A cold wind is growing now
Blowing wild and unfettered
Carrying the scent of blood
And vengeance upon it’s breath

We came for annihilation
We came for liberation
We came
Hard and breathless, howling into the wind

Backs arched and seething
Screaming, with love like blood and
Rapacious smiles full of glaring fangs
Claws set for tearing the black heart

 And rot of oppression out
Extravasating the writhing
And whispered wounds
From our souls

We came.
Hard against the wind
Howling into the black
Against night, against oblivion

Gone to shadow yet reborn to light again
A colossal spell
Cast for destruction
For gnashing teeth to shatter chains

Cast for the transubstantiation

We never died in motel rooms. We just got drunk on wine stolen from the happiest place on earth.

Sleeping pills cut into
A can of coca cola|
Sipped into grinning mouths
My broken teeth were born
Right here, where
I-95 cuts like a knife
Milepost after milepost
All the way through
The sticky-hot night

Insects hum and the
Air smells like
Ozone and asphalt
From South Carolina
And on into Georgia

Fluorescent truck stop lights
Light up the night
Lighter heads and blurry eyes
Leaden limbs stumble
Laughter meets our mouths
Pockets filled with
Stolen cassette tapes
Meant to be sold
To keep lonely truckers
Company on long drives
“Lynrd Skynrd’s greatest hits”
“Power Ballads Vol. six”

You grin.
Glowing and gorgeous
Awash in nearby highway noise
And flickering yellow
Lights lining the parking lot
Keeping the long bright
Darkness at bay

The long road to everywhere
And nowhere at all calls
The engine ignites
Into motion again

My head on your shoulder
A New Rose sings
In my headphones
And lulls me
Back into restless sleep



Christmas time is possibly my least favorite time

What do holidays really mean to someone largely estranged from their family of origin?

Maybe it means you start dreading the holiday season from about the day after Halloween, until January second.  It means you get to listen to your friends talk about going away to see their families, or what gifts they plan on giving their loved ones.  You don’t want to fucking hear it, because you don’t really have a family to go home to.  You can’t even imagine what that’s like.

Maybe you think about how the last Christmas you can remember spending with your family of origin, your solution was steal two bottles of wine from the store before making the several hour drive to your mother’s house.  It turns out, if you and your mother just keep drinking, that makes the holiday and one another’s company actually bearable.

You spend Christmas Eve drinking wine.  Mom drank from a glass, you drink straight from the bottle.  You look at dumb shit on the internet, and didn’t talk about anything of any consequence, except mom shows you this cool website where you can look up people’s mugshots.  She shows you your cousin’s latest arrest photo, for her latest arrest on meth possesion.

“Look at what drugs did do her face!”  She drunkenly exclaims.

“She was such a beautiful girl growing up.”

Then shit gets weird.  You half drunkenly start to think about saying something to your mom about the patriarchal weight put on physical appearance, and how damaging beauty standards are, how maybe your long lost cousin’s addiction boils down to more tragedy than the ravages her demon of choice have taken on her face and figure.  You think the better of it, and keep your mouth shut.  You turn your laptop away so mom can’t see it, and quickly type in the name of your neighbors who assaulted you as a child.  These are the real life monsters that lived under your bed that your mother denied existed.

And there he is.  One of the faces that has haunted you most of your adult life.  Your mom denied he existed all this time, denied your experience was real, and told you to get over it, and there he is.  Right there.  It’s the face you know so well, but with added mileage.  The years have not been kind, and maybe that’s just what you wish on this asshole.  You wonder if it means something in some grand universal sense, that you are happening to glimpse this face for the first time in over twenty years while sitting in the same room as your mother, who you rarely see.  You think about some grand tapestry involving threads of family, violence, neglect, mental illness and despair that weave themselves together to be torn apart as sure as night follows day.

You think about saying something to mom while you’re both drunk.  You wonder if the conversation won’t go differently this time.  Maybe the wine will soften both of you.  Maybe the wine will alleviate some of the bitterness that has accrued over the years.

You realize you are maybe too drunk.  You think the better of it, and go to bed.

You can’t sleep and you answer a craigslist casual encounters ad or two.  You try and work up the nerve to go have anonymous sex in the town your mom lives in.  Sure enough, there are lonely men who like effeminate boys in this place she moved to for it’s southern conservative values, even on Christmas Eve.  You drunkenly think for a second about how maybe this is replaying childhood trauma in your adult life.  You tell your brain to shut the fuck up.  Stop ruining your night.  Anything to fill the void, you guess.

Self preservation prevails.  You fall asleep in the guest room. You don’t drive drunk.  You don’t go to some stranger’s house and get choke fucked by him until he cums and you leave before he even pulls the condom off, or bother to ask his name.

You drift to sleep and you think of the void.

The void, that great colossal emptiness you are constantly filled with weighs heavily on you.  It is your oldest, and surest companion.  You stare at the shadows on the ceiling, and you are sure they are staring back at you.  You’ve known this since you were a child, and you sought the company of FM radio waves washing through your room at night to keep the abyss at bay.

You feel all that void this year too, as December drags on.  The daylight is short, and the nights are long.  The dark feels goddamn endless.  The dark feels abyssal and gigantic.  You have too long to lie in bed and think about where it all went so wrong.  The mornings barely push their light through the curtains in your room, and it’s so cold.  You don’t want to get out of bed.  You think about lighting candles, or doing ritual to bring light back to you, but you don’t have the strength today.  Maybe you will tomorrow.

You think about the Christmas when you were fifteen.  It’s one of the last fond memories you have of your family, and even that memory is stained with poverty and depression.  This was the Christmas just before you and your mom lost your house.  The house is dirty, and constantly filled with blue cigarette smoke.  Mom stays in the house and chain smokes all day.  Sometimes you go to school, sometimes you don’t.  Sometimes you go out with friends, sometimes you don’t.  You get uncomfortable when you are around your friends and their nice families.  When you are home, you stay in your room listening to records and staring at the ceiling.

You and your mother decide that even though you don’t have money for presents, you should both go to K-Mart, and buy one another at least something to open on Christmas day.  You find something you think your mother will like, and you think about how little money you have.  The heat has been turned off twice this winter already, and it’s a fucking cold one.

You do what any sketchy broke fifteen year old would do, of course.  You secret the present away in your rad teenage punk leather jacket.  This is after all, the K-Mart where just months ago, in the warmer, seemingly invincible summer days your friends would have you go in to the store with your mohawk spiked up to run distraction while they shoplifted to their little teenage criminal heart’s content.  This is the K-Mart where some hick managed to drive a riding lawn mower on display outside into his buddies waiting pick up truck and not get caught.  You think you are doing great, presents secure in your jacket, and saving this meager twenty dollars at the same time.

“Goddamnit, kid.  Do you realize store security is trailing your around the store?”

You hear your mom’s voice behind you.  Oops.  She manages to explain to the store security guard and employees who have assembled around you that you are doing your last minute Christmas shopping together, and you were simply just trying to hide your purchases from her since you were in the store at the same time.  You weren’t actually trying to steal.  She promises.  She insists you are a good kid.

“Of course that’s what I was doing.”  You agree vigorously.

They let you go, and just before Christmas comes, you and one of your older friends go steal a carton of cigarettes from the convenience store two towns over for you to stuff in your mom’s Christmas stocking late Christmas eve.  You wish she wouldn’t smoke so much, but not much else seems to make her happy.

Twenty years after that Christmas, the void pulls just as hard.  You sit at a bar with one of your closest friends, while she finishes her beer and you drink water.  You talk about how neither of you have any family to go to this year.  You didn’t really have anywhere to go last year either.

“Fuck it.  We’ll buy each other presents.  We don’t need our shitty moms.”

You both smile.  You talk about trauma, love, and loss.  You talk about the difficulty and depression of the season.  You talk about moving on, and moving away from destructive patterns.  You talk about legacies of mental illness and despair, how they leave their long shadows.  You talk about how you can almost see the light moving in at the edges of the dark.

You put your jackets on.  You leave the bar.  You hug and part ways, walking different directions  on Fourth Avenue.  You walk home through the fog, and think about what you are going to get your friend.  You think about how to move through the sadness that has persistently followed you for these last two months.

No, fuck it.  You think about the sadness that has followed you for almost as long as you can remember.  Maybe this year you’ll beat it.  Maybe this year, as this holiday season and it’s fake happiness fades into the the background and the winter days start becoming incrementally longer you’ll find new ways to thrive,  instead of just surviving like you always have.   Maybe all this hurting is really just growing, and the bad times melting away like muddied snow come the spring thaw.


The night that changed everything. Or, a cautionary tale about opening doors you can’t close.

death to grail street even harder
My haunted apartment as it looked in when I moved in, shortly after the acid casualty tenants who lad lived there prior to me had been evicted. 

We sat in my dark living room one night. It was a Saturday. I had turned thirty two the night before. I decided to have a weekend of celebrating. Friday night was the dinner party at a classy restaurant. Saturday night we were going to get rowdy. I had bought a bag of mushrooms just for the occasion.

The room is lit solely by a single lamp. My friends are laughing and fidgeting with the music. I walk into the kitchen and take stock of the scene: There are dishes in the sink, but not that many. The kitchen still seems dirty. Molly and I’s apartment is decrepit and cold. Everyone agrees on this. It’s like no matter how much either of us clean, there is still a layer of grime on every square inch of space here.  It permeates absolutely everything.

On the kitchen counter there is a brown piece of cloth, which has the bag of mushrooms on it. Around the bag of mushrooms are a single candle, and three runes, carved out of an elk antler. Raidho, for a safe journey, Elhaz, for communication with the gods, Eihwaz, for spiritual will and exploration of the mysteries of life and death. You see, we could use some magic right now. It’s been a long winter in this cold apartment.

I’ve said it once, I’ve said it countless times; when Talya died, something left this town. Molly and I spent an increasing amount of time in this house. We spent an increasing amount of time by ourselves, at home, with the curtains drawn. There had been a few times when Molly would be out, and run into someone, and they expressed surprise at doing so.

“I thought you had moved away.” They said.

The winter before this one, I lived here alone. The day I moved in, Adrien and Talya helped me carry boxes into the house. Upon entering the front hall and seeing the acid induced nightmare murals the hippies had left all over the place before they got evicted, Adrien nearly dropped the box he was carrying.

“Girl, we need to paint over this shit like, now. I’m worried one of those will come to life at night and murder you in your sleep.”

Talya was equally horrified. We loaded all the boxes in quickly, and then immediately went to the hardware store to buy as much paint as possible. Adrien and I spent the next two days covering the murals with as much primer and brightly colored paint as possible. We finished painting and arranging furniture just as X’s “In This House I Call Home” came on the stereo.

We did our best to clear out the bad energy and make it feel like home. I convinced myself that it was almost charming, in this bohemian sort of way. I was living in a dilapidated eighty year old tenement building, but that something positive would come out of it. I’d walk home up the hill late at night, and imagine myself as a tortured artist living in squalor for my art.

I guess I got some writing done that year.  The themes of living in ruins so long you think it’s all you deserve showed up again and again.

I also frequently told myself that this would only be temporary until I found something better, and similarly affordable. Molly moved in sometime during the previous summer, knocking the rent down to just over two hundred dollars each. The affordability then sort of outweighed the squalor and the discomfort.

All of that had been before Talya’s suicide, though. It had hit Molly and I both like a ton of bricks. In the wreckage and aftermath, both of us were not the same people we had been, and it seemed like neither one of us could hold our heads up. We stayed in. We shut out the light, drank too much, and tried to sleep whole days away. I fell out with my best friend, a completely devastating, and life changing heartbreak. I broke up with my self-absorbed boyfriend. The grief and loss in the house was palpable. I wanted to leave, and I felt like Molly was attached to staying both for financial reasons, and to further wear our suffering like some morbid badge.

Maybe the survivor’s guilt was palpable too.

We made smoothies for the mushrooms. They were mostly made of vodka, ginger tea, and blueberries. It made sense at the time. Molly, Josh, Lisa, Lily and I all poured ourselves portions. We made a toast, and started drinking. I laughed nervously and wondered what I had gotten myself into.

This apartment is too cold and feels haunted. We’ve been battling the roaches in the kitchen for a year now. I think they’re gone. The landlord is a slumlord, and won’t fix the heat. He has a twin brother who is addicted to crack and comes over sometimes pretending to be his brother to collect “part of the rent, and just a little early.”

Like we can’t tell the difference between the two of them. It’s funny, except when it’s not.

I close my eyes and listened to the sounds of my friends. The drugs are probably diffusing throughout our bloodstreams now, making headway to our brains. Josh and Lisa are on the couch, huddled together and giggling. It’s not just the drugs. You can see the sparks between the two of them, whether they admit it or not. Lily and Molly are putting last touches on their makeup and getting ready to go out. They down two more shots, and walk to the bar where we are going. I think they’re feeling it.

I hadn’t been able to really feel much in the months since summer ended. I mostly felt like so much of the light and life had drained out of me. No matter what I did, I couldn’t seem to recapture any of my spark. I was even in massage school, and even that wasn’t bringing much solace. I felt like I was going through the motions, pantomiming at life.

I had hear that mushrooms sometimes helped people feel lighter. I had heard that sometimes they helped you feel more connected to the world, to the people around you. I could use some of that right now. That was why I had chosen to do them with Lisa and Josh, two of my nearest and dearest. My friends’ faces looked radiant and beautiful, even in the grime and dim lighting of this apartment. We had been down this road before; the one where we try and make our way back after tragedy and heartbreak, I mean. Josh and I were forged in those goddamn flames.

Most days it seemed like the world couldn’t find a way to be gentle with any of us. We did our best to be gentle with each other, with results that ranged from soaringly successful, to mixed, to flat out disastrous. I wasn’t sure what was about to happen, but I felt cautiously optimistic.

None of us were ready to leave, but I was starting to feel it. So were Lisa and Josh. God, their smiles were getting lighter now. They were infectious and perfect. I could almost feel light. We put on an Om record with a slow build up. Thebes, the opening track off of God Is Good. I closed my eyes and leaned my head on Josh’s shoulder, and felt myself traveling out of this room, and into vast, sunbaked desert plains. The music was warming my body now, even though the room we were in was likely fifty degrees, at best.

But fuck it, this record is too slow, and we were about to go to goth night for my birthday anyway. We put on the Soft Kill An Open Door LP. I was time to pre-game with one of my favorite post punk records of the last few years. This winter had sucked about as much as anything had ever sucked in the entire history of things sucking for me, and this LP had been on heavy rotation in this cold house, a constant source of solace.

The opening notes of the second track A death in the family rang like a herald to tragedy itself.

“Like a death in the family
Lose a piece to the void
Regain trust slowly
I carry you wherever I go.”

I had lost so much that fall.  Almost everything I had thought I could rely on, or place faith in fell apart within a matter of months.  There Soft Kill was summing it up, and putting it into music for me perfectly.  Loss.  Loss of trust.  Loss of faith.

We are laughing and dancing now; the three of us in this cold room. I close my eyes and sway gently along to the music, letting it take me somewhere, anywhere, but this cold room, and this reckless, ruin of a life. I feel like every word is being sung directly to my wretched, broken heart.

Lisa is completely alight, and spinning around the room, like the most elegant dancer, looking completely resplendent, yet completely out of place in this awful room. Josh is doing his doing his characteristic “hop giddily around the room and shake my dreads like a woodland sprite” dance. It’s not really that different from how he normally dances, but the drugs make it, and him infinitely more charming. He moves, and for a moment I swear I catch a glimpse of a thousand tiny dots of light falling from his hair when he shakes his head.

A brief moment of silence, and the next song begins.

Borders Comfort.

“Silence the words
Falling like walls
Borders comfort
Borders comfort
But you won’t hear me
My only truth
Take it and burn
Just don’t leave it here with me
It walks these halls
And I need sleep
It walks these halls
And I need dreams”

The interplay of the drumming and sparse chords are completely hypnotic. The music fills the room and fills our bodies. We are dancing faster and harder now. Josh and Lisa become frenetic. For a single, crystalline, rapturous moment, all is well. The world makes sense again. My smiling, dancing friends, driven by the music, and out of the harsh eyes of the rest of the world. Just where they have always been, where they will always be safe. Even in this awful building, they are safe.  They were both precious beyond gold, so were Molly and Lily, wherever they were. I couldn’t stand the thought of any of them hurting for another minute.

It doesn’t matter that I am a stumbling, shambling disaster, dumb enough, or obstinate enough to continue living next door to the source my greatest heartbreak. It doesn’t matter that this house holds so much darkness and badness behind it’s roach filled walls. For a brief moment in time, the three of us had managed to fill it with love and light. It was like all the sweetness and joy that had drained right out of me in the last six months returned, even if it was too brief.

And then, the dark crept back in. We think we’re ready to go out. Josh insists we should probably just stay in the house. There is a birthday party waiting for me though, and I want to leave. We lift the needle, and take the record off the turntable, and put it back on the shelf. We blow out the candles that have been illuminating the room, lock the front door, and step out into the world.

The night sky is dimly red, in that strange winter way. The night is cold and crisp. I pull my jacket closer to my body for warmth. I’m wearing a gorgeous party dress and a trench coat. It’s maybe too cold, but it’s my birthday, and I want to look good, damnit.

By the time we are down the hill, and across Charlotte Street, and walking back up the hill towards downtown, the dread is starting to creep in. I’m thinking leaving the house was maybe a mistake. The dread is starting to creep in. That great, awful, emptiness that has been there for the last six months is starting to creep in. Terror is rising in my belly.

I look to the sky, and I’m sure the gods are not there. I’m sure that the dark goes on forever, and I am alone. I can’t even see the stars through the clouds.

“Odin? Frigg? Thor? Please?”

By the time we hit Church Street, I am beginning to lose it. Waves of nausea are crashing against the walls of my stomach, begging for release. I lean into a bush to try and vomit. My body does it’s best to reject the poison I seemingly just ingested. I try to tell Josh and Lisa that I feel wrong, but the words don’t come. I can’t talk. I know I’m locked in, headed for a waking nightmare now.

The lyrics of a punk song I loved at twenty-two come to mind.

“Welcome to the hell in the darkness.”

I had wanted to so much to feel some sort of connection again. This wasn’t fair. This wasn’t how it was supposed to go. Everywhere I looked, I just felt more emptiness and isolation. It overwhelmed my fragile senses.

For a moment my perception shifted. Josh and Lisa had turned and noticed my terror. They were trying to reach me. I could see the panic scrawled across their own faces, likely a reflection of my own. They were trying to reach me, and I was trapped. I was gone like I was adrift in a dead sea, below an empty sky, like a butterfly in a jar. They were pounding on the glass. They were calling my name. I couldn’t hear them. I couldn’t reach them. The void pressed around me, filling my body, shattering my illusions, turning my heart to ice.

I heaved again, trying to push all the poison and nightmares out of my body. I closed my eyes. I immediately regretted it. When Talya died, the police had found her. None of us had had to see her body. I could see it now, clear as if I had seen it in real life. Clear as anything. She was slumped against a tree in the woods, bleeding out.
“No. No.  No.  Please. Not this. Anything but this.”

It was too late. I was locked in. Headed for waking nightmares. The hell in the darkness.

I did my best to make it to the bar. I really did. We made it in, and Alien Sex Fiend was blaring from the sound system.

“I walk the line between GOOD AND EVIL”

Holy shit. I can’t be here. Josh. We need to leave, like right now. I need to go home and change my clothes. I need to cover up all of my skin. This is bad. David Rose tried to say hello, and wish me a happy birthday, and I muttered something about being sick, and ran back out of the bar. I never even saw any of the friends who had shown up for my birthday.  Supposedly Marty and Adrien looked so good.  I never even saw them.

Josh and I practically ran back home. He was sweet and soothing the whole way.

“We’ll just change our clothes, and walk around until you calm down. I don’t like that bar anyway. We got this.”

God, I fucking loved that boy in that moment. Here I was being that person, the one who ruins their own goddamn birthday by being too much of a mess, and his response was to just go with it. I change my clothes, grabbed my knife and pepper spray, and put Hope the dog in her harness and leash, and we were back out. I couldn’t stay in that haunted apartment. Trying to vomit in the bathroom again, I had an epiphany that at least three people must have been murdered there. It made sense at the moment.

Everyone knew there was some bad fucking energy in that place.

I thought that a walk through downtown would help calm me enough to go back to my own birthday party. I found that if I just kept walking, I could feel some semblance of calm. I couldn’t close my eyes. Every time I did, it was the same image of Talya.

I got a text message from Lisa right then. I had a hard time getting my get my eyes to focus. It took a minute to read what it said.

“Did you leave? Why did you leave? Why did you leave without me? Nobody has a real face, and they keep hugging me. There’s no faces. Please come back for me.”

So there we were, back on our way to the bar. Again. We hadn’t thought to just grab Lisa when we left the first time. That would have been way too rational. So we walked back across town to scoop Lisa up out of a sea of dancing faceless bodies. We began walking in the general direction of my apartment. None of us really knew where we were going, but I insisted we keep moving.

As we made our way towards home on Hilliard Avenue, a car sped by us and the passenger yelled out “CUT YOUR FUCKIN’ HAIR!” We assumed it was directed at Josh. Josh had incredibly long dreadlocks, which he had been growing since fifteen years old. Lisa and I both froze in our tracks, this random angry man’s voice now reverberating through our crashed out, drugged out skulls.

The car got stuck at a red light. The world moved into slow motion. We saw Josh’s face shift into a broad grin. He took off running.

Oh no.

Josh. Infuriatingly charming even while not on hallucinogens. It was impossible not to like him, even when you wanted to be furious with him. I’d seen him talk his way out of countless situations that I was sure would end up with one or all of us in jail.

One time he managed to sneak at least six of us into an overpriced show by convincing the door guy we were the opening band’s road crew. Or were we just the opening band? Either way, the show was so poorly managed, it didn’t even begin until well after midnight. We gave up and went home around three am when it appeared that the headliner wouldn’t be playing until near four. As we left, we attempted to demand our money back.
“I thought you said you were with the openers. Get the fuck out of my sight right now.” An enraged door guy growled.

It was like that with Josh. Years later, and across the country a mutual friend would do his best to describe him to another friend who had never met him:

“It’s like he always pushes something to the farthest limits of what he thinks he will get away with, and then just barely pulls it off.”

It was so true. Another time, during a particularly cold winter he decided to just bypass our gas meter altogether, and turned the heat on. We lived like warm, well insulated kings and queens for a few weeks. The December temperature may have been dropping to the single digits outside, but inside we were cranking the heat up to 70, and having dance parties in our underwear.

The gas company caught on eventually, of course. They turned our gas back off, and put a new lock on the meter. Josh simply cut the lock off, and turned the gas back on. We were back to living like toasty royalty. Who did those fuckers think they were, anyway?

The fun was over when the gas company cut service off to the house entirely. We toughed it out for a month with space heaters before we could convince the over-frugal Josh to just call the gas company and get it turned on legitimately.

The gasman came and explained to us we were in a lot of trouble. Not even he was supposed to access the meter without express permission. He was going to call our landlord. The other housemate and I started to panic. We’d get evicted for sure.

“What are we going to do? The landlord is going to be so pissed!” I said, trying not to hyperventilate.

“I’ll just smile at her, and tell her it won’t happen again.” Josh replied.

“You’ll just smile at her and tell it won’t happen again?”

That won’t possibly work. I was sure of it.
But it did. Time and time again.

Sometimes you got the feeling the boy was incapable of turning the hustle off.

“Did one of my best friends just run a scam on me?” I’d find myself thinking.

Friendship is so complicated like that sometimes. You end up being faced with the very harsh reality that the people you love aren’t perfect, and can sometimes have parts inside them that are downright fucked up. It’s so true for me. Something a member of the band Zegota once said on stage at a show has always resonated with me:

“We all ended up in this room, and with punk rock for a reason.”

It’s true with friendship too.  We end up with one another for a reason.  We fall in love with one another for a reason.  Sometimes it’s just so goddamn hard to see, or to hold on to when shit gets rough, and get rough it will.

The trick is learning to love unconditionally, and without judgment. This is a feat that I have not mastered, or even consider myself overly skilled at, much to my dismay.

Back on our mushroom trip, Josh had just reached the passenger side of the car who had heckled his hair. It was a man and a woman in the car. Maybe they were a couple. I never knew. The woman was behind the wheel, looking slightly embarrassed. The man, who had yelled at Josh was in the passenger’s seat. He was wearing a sleeveless shirt and gym shorts. It was February and freezing.

Josh knocked on the window; eyes gleaming, pupils dilated, and shit eating grin a mile wide. Lisa, Hope and I stood back a few feet.

Tap tap on the window, like a polite gentleman.

“Hello! I was wondering if you had a problem. It’s such a nice night. I’m having such a nice time out with my friends. Why did you feel the need to comment on my appearance?”

“I just think your hair looks fucking awful.”

“That’s okay. I think your face looks fucking awful.” Josh quipped back.

Josh was still smiling. It was disarming. Even from several feet back. Surely this pointlessly angry man would wither under his charms.

“You just need a trim.” The man snarled.

“You know, that is exactly what I said to your mother last night.”
The smile never left Josh’s face. The man in the passenger seat on the other hand; his face turned a deep shade of red, and twisted into a snarl. He turned to the driver of the vehicle and snarled:

“Pull this fucking car over right now.”

She complied.

Somewhere in my body, I sighed.

“Here we go.” I thought.

Somewhere more present, I began to panic. Shit shit shit. This man was going to try and fight Josh. I glanced over at Lisa. She was breathing heavily. She clearly had the same line of thought.

She was whispering to me now.

“He’s going to try and hurt Josh. We have to stab him. Are you ready? We have to stab him.”

Lisa had put a hand on her knife. I did the same. Surely it wouldn’t come to that.

Josh proceeded to belittle this angry man until he deflated and returned to his vehicle.

“Just get back in the car. Nobody cares about you. Nobody wants to fight. This isn’t anything. You aren’t anything.”

He dismissively waved his hand, and as if casting some diminutive spell on this man. He seemed to utterly shrink, and got back into the car, and his companion sped off into the night. We walked back to the apartment and I spent the rest of the night hiding in a sleeping bag on the couch.

When everyone else got home, we watched a dumb movie to try and come down. I could only manage to raise my eyes out of my sleeping bag. The rest of my body needed to be hidden, or I would start to panic. Whatever door had opened was terrible, and I was having a hard time closing it.

Josh would occasionally bemoan the crass humor of the movie, and lament us not watching a more sophisticated film. Molly would look over derisively and slur

“Whatever creepy-nails! I just saw you laughing!”

Josh had long fingernails. I forgot that part of the story, because it’s not really important, aside from it led to Molly’s nickname.

Eventually, people went home, and those of us that remained fell asleep in various parts of the apartment. Lily and I slept in my bed for a few hours. When the morning came she went to nurse her hangover at home.

Years later, the story of the near fight would diverge. Lisa laughed in that way that made her eyes crinkle, and her entire face lit up.

“It wasn’t like that at all. Josh did belittle that stupid man, but you and I were also holding knives, and openly talking about stabbing him.”

“For real? I thought we were whispering, and just reached for our knives.”

She was still laughing.

“No. Not at all. We were very audibly talking, and had pulled our knives.”

Shit. All this time, and we had been telling two different versions of the same story.

I was never the same, either.  I maintain that, all these years later.  It was the darkest period of my life, and I managed to do the stellar job of pushing myself further into the dark with one drug fueled night.  I’ve always struggled with depression and anxiety, but they came on even harder after that night.

Whatever door the drugs opened, it didn’t want to close.

Sometimes that summer, after the panic had started for real, I would think I heard death calling me.  It would creep in especially late at night, irregular heartbeat and panic setting in.  I would sit on the hood of my truck, with my boots on the fender near the woods just off Beaverdam Road and try to decide whether I should answer or not.    When my body would eventually wear itself out I would go and try and sleep at Ed’s apartment, but mostly end up hyperventilating and swearing I was going to die in my sleep.

And sometimes during the sweltering southern days, I would make my way through town like a ghost haunting myself.  During the day, and in crowds of people, it wasn’t death speaking to me, but something much worse.  There were factors surrounding Talya’s death that we rarely spoke of, and when we did they were in hushed tones.  Everyone said she had never been the same after it happened.  Some folks even intimated that it was only a matter of time.

Sometimes I would hear that man speaking to me too, a mocking whisper slightly above the din of the crowded streets.

I never admitted to anyone until now.

Whatever door opened, the only way I figured out how to close it was to leave home.

I’ll probably be sober forever now, but I’ll never feel the same.

The Ouijia Board

Ouijia Boad

I saw my father buried at twelve years old. After the funeral we had one of those weird post-funeral parties at our house. I always hated those. I hid in my room for as long as possible. I laid on my bedroom floor and played an old beat up Nintendo, trying not to think about or feel anything. Occasionally, someone would make their way upstairs and do their best to assure me that my father was safe, or in heaven, or watching over me. I would smile, or nod, or say thank you. My bedroom would then fall into uncomfortable silence until the person would feel awkward and leave me alone.

I couldn’t feel it. I couldn’t feel anything. I just felt that overwhelming numbing, isolation. I wasn’t positive anything of my father remained aside from a pile of ashes contained in a small box handed to my grieving mother. I felt how empty my family’s home felt now. It was January. It had been the coldest winter in one hundred years. Some nights when the winter sun went down to the west, you swore never coming back.

I spent the remaining winter months existing in my own tiny Fimbulvetr. I never saw or felt my father’s energy any more after he died. I couldn’t be sure of the solace of safety of an afterlife. I just felt an all-consuming emptiness filling the quiet house, and creeping in behind my mother’s eyes. At the funeral the preacher had talked about heaven, and god’s plan. I held my grandmother’s hand. She leaned over and softly told me that when she felt like she was going to fall apart, she counted the roses at the front of the room. Within a few weeks, we threw all the roses away, and it was just my mother and I in an empty house, standing on a quiet street. I was pretty sure god wasn’t there.

As an adult, I find myself taking breaks from whatever I’m doing to stare into a corner, or an archway. I have done this as long as I can remember, and I always wonder why. What am I searching for in those empty corners? Is my heart looking for something my eyes can’t see? Sometimes catch myself and realize I have been staring at a doorway or archway for several minutes. Am I looking for ghosts?

The year is 1996. We are fifteen, Forrest, Adam, Chris, and I. My father has been dead for two years now. This house is growing in it’s clutter, creeping dread, and all-consuming despair. The walls are yellow with cigarette smoke. My mother is gradually becoming less and less functional, and more and more a shadow of her former self.
My mother is out of town for the weekend. With the internet being newly available, she has found another escape, one that will gradually consume her. Through the use of the internet she has found a way to reconnect with a boyfriend from before her and my father’s marriage. They strike up a long distance romance, and decide to go on a cruise together one weekend in February, just after Valentine’s day.

Tonight, this house my mother and father bought on a hill is our playground. I am getting drunk for the first time. Because we’re kids, and because we don’t know what we are doing, we are getting drunk on that nausea inducing a little bit of this, a little bit of that from every bottle in the liquor cabinet, just a little so nobody will notice combination all teenagers do at one point or another. We mix it all together with cheap orange juice someone got before they came over. This is the kind of thing that seems like a pubescent good idea. I have no idea how some of my friends’ with more protective mothers talked their parents into letting them hang out with me for the night.

We sat around the kitchen table, with the lights dimmed and candles lit. We smoked cigarettes, and drank our awful teenage drinks. We played music as loud as we wanted into the night. The Cure, Sisters Of Mercy, Black Flag, and The Misfits were on heavy rotation. This was the year that both Punk, and Gothic rock carved a bloody, blacked space in my heart, one they have yet to vacate twenty years later.

We made small teenage talk. It consisted mostly of our friends, how much we hated school, and the bands we would someday start. Our words became more and more pronounced and slurred, as our smiles became wider and wider. At some point, we realize that Kevin has come home with his girlfriend, and is upstairs losing his virginity as we hang out downstairs getting drunk.

Kevin is an older kid who’s parents are friends of my mother. His father took a new job in North Carolina just before his senior year started. He had really wanted to finish high school in Pennsylvania, so my mother took him in. He’s kind of creepy, and is difficult to live with. He’s one of those relic 80’s rocker dudes with a mullet, and perpetual greasy Metallica shirt. He just turned 18. His last girlfriend was still in middle school. This one is fifteen. We make no attempt to be quiet and every attempt to be louder, hoping to ruin his romantic evening.

Chris mentions he brought his Ouija board with him, maybe we should goof around with that for a while. It’s late at night, and I’m stumbling and warm with drunkenness, so I concur. I add to the plan by suggesting we step into my mother’s room, the room my father died in, and try to contact my father. Everyone is quiet for a moment, then nods there drunken agreements. Chris gets his Ouija board, and we set our drinks down on the kitchen table. We trudge up the stairs to my mother’s cold room. Ever since my father died, she sleeps with the television on as loudly as possible, and the thermostat nearly as low as it gets. Sometimes I wake up at night and hear her TV blaring through my wall. I never understood why. I just knew some things were between my parents, and not mine to understand, some of my mother’s sense of loss must have been the same way.

We take our places on the floor at the foot of my parent’s bed. All four of us place our hands on the oracle. My head is swimming.

“Is anyone here?” I ask.

Our hands move to the “Yes.” position. I swear I’m not moving mine. I don’t ask the others if they do. I play along.

Sure, whatever. One of my friends could have very easily moved the oracle to reply in the affirmative. I’m not freaked out yet.

“What is your name?”


Okay, now it’s getting weirder. That was my father’s name, but still… One of my shithead buddies could have figured that out, and is playing a prank on me while we’re drunk. Teenage boys can be mean, after all. I know our telephone number is still listed under his name in the phone book.

“Fine, Mr. would be ghost of Josh’s Dad, what is your father’s name?”
I am drunk and smarmy, and think I have my friends shown up.


What the fuck? That is my grandfather’s name. It’s not a common name. Can you even think of anyone born pre-1920 who had that name? This level of knowledge definitely would have maybe taken more than the sleuthing skills of a liquor drunk ninth grader in the mid-nineties possessed. Especially since this was kind of right before the internet was widely available to everyone, and in dial-up no less. I am now freaked out, and need out of my mother’s room. It feels like the temperature has dropped several degrees in the last five seconds.

Just then, the bedside lamp on the night table just next to the spot where my father’s body was found snaps on. A picture of my mother and father from their wedding night that has been on the nightstand as long as I can remember falls over. For a minute, my eyes catch a shadow move right on the bed where my father had slept. It looks as if it is in the shape of a person. My friends and I stare at one another in a moment of pure, unadulterated fear. We all get up and are practically pushing past one another to get out of the room. We leave the Ouija board where it is. We’ll come back and grab it in the morning; when the morning sun creeps in through the windows, and this room is less filled with menace. My mom won’t be home until Sunday afternoon anyway.

I go downstairs to the kitchen, and pour myself another vodka and orange juice. I put on my jacket and step outside. Pennsylvania in February, the sky is that weird winter red color and the earth is dusted with snow as far as the eye can see. You can see the lights of the baseball field a few miles to the west, and the lights of the K-Mart parking lot the next town over, but not much else. This is home, and I feel stuck here. I’ll return to this spot over and over again in my mind throughout my adult life, either on the road, through years of traveling, or through memory and a seeming lack of movement.

My friends and I finish our drinks and run through the empty street, drunk at three in the morning. Chris is well over six foot four, at 15 years old. He looks so funny to my young and drunk eyes, a childlike gentle giant sliding through the snow. Forrest and Adam share a cigarette and laugh. It sets my mind at ease, four fuck ups, sliding around in the snow. The alcohol sinks to my belly, diffusing through my blood stream. I think about what my life will be like now. Am I going to turn into a teenage alcoholic, or drug addict like everyone seems to expect? Just barely a year ago Johnny Rotten screamed the words “No Future!” to me through a battered stereo for the first time.

“No Future.”

It was like entering a secret world. It was like finding a hidden path, or a secret doorway. You didn’t know where it led, but you didn’t care. You didn’t care because what really held any meaning anyway? All I knew were these cold rooms, my mother’s despair, and my teenage hopelessness. How was I supposed to look forward to anything else?

I don’t know where my father is. I don’t know if god is there or not. I just know that I feel that same old great emptiness when I reach out to feel either one of them. I’m thankful my mother doesn’t ask me to go to church with her. I’m thankful that two years have passed and people stop trying to talk to me about him all the time, and then getting uncomfortable when I just stare at them blankly.

Tonight I know this and this only: I have three friends, some records that are meant to be played loudly, and a silly haircut. Punk rock is changing my life, these distorted chords are changing every single thing about how I see the world around me. I’m excited, and the world feels new for the first time since I was a child. Night follows day, and spring follows winter. One day, I will escape this town. That much I can feel, that much I can rely on. If there is a heaven, it’s not to going to be found here.