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.

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Maybe we’ll work it out when we’re ghosts. (How it hurts to outgrow.)

I had the dream again last night. Similar variation to the one I have been having on and off for five long years now.

My life’s greatest heartbreak and I. Someplace warm and safe. We forget just how fucking mad we were at each other. We forget all the petty bullshit. We remember the love we shared, and let go. We don’t try and start over. We don’t try and repeat toxic patterns. We just lovingly let go.

The other night Relic and I were talking about our belief in ghosts, how maybe the places that were significant for us hold our imprints and this is what ghosts are. My first thought was “Holy fuck, my sprit better not go back to Grail Street.” Because Grail Street was significant, but goddamn was it miserable. Nothing says “healthy life choices” like destroying one another and then continuing to be neighbors, too stubborn to give up cheap rent; coughing up black mold and haunted by strangers with familiar faces for a full year. I hope they don’t go back there when they’re gone either. I used to sit in my room, beneath the sound of furtive footsteps I knew too well and write stories that I never had the nerve to publish about what I hoped our specters would say to one another if they were to linger on the steps or behind the walls of Grail Street too long. When I was finally done being mad, I’d tell myself:

“Maybe we’ll work it out next time around.”

Gods, I’ve been fucked up and sagging under the weight of depression for days but I love being alive right now. I love it harder than I’ve ever loved anything or anyone in the world, because it’s the one thing I can count on. I thank every heartbreak for never breaking me, but giving me the opportunity to reconstitute myself into a different form. I thank the heartbreak for bringing out the absolute worst in me so I can learn to never be that person again.

Once upon a time we were fucked up kids who saw the best in one another. We were the loving reflections offered to haunted and straining eyes when the mirror was too painful to behold. I’ll never not be thankful for that. There are nights where I wish we could just see the best of what we’ve become. I never quite know how to reconcile that feeling. The knowing outgrowing connections is okay, and sometimes painfully (agonizingly) necessary, but you still wish you could visit every now and then. Just because whatever, five years on you are so over whatever the fuck it was you were pissed about and you can see how thoroughly someone coming up at the right place and right time fundamentally changes you forever. You want people to know that they had a profound effect on you, even when they’re gone and you’re reflecting on a dead connection.

So if we meet when we’re ghosts:

I’d say in all the years that went by, I never forgot:
How much I love your awkward teeth.
And the sound of your laugh.
I still can’t refrain from breaking into a grin when I tell the story of your icy stare freezing a confused nurse while I pathetically laid on the waiting room floor.
I’d say I finally learned how to stop hating myself.
I’d say how sorry I was for my lack of patience; for not letting you grow.
Seeing the best in you was never an excuse.
I’d say whisper how sorry I am for letting you down.
For not knowing how to let my anger calm.
For holding on so tight that it stifled us both.
I hope you are warm and well, and that your demons finally laid down to rest.
I hope your body and spirit are hale and whole.
Always.

Maybe we’ll work it out when we’re ghosts. (How it hurts to outgrow.)

Homecomings (Dear Lover)

Work in progress from a larger piece written about a trip this summer.

Dear Lover,
It’s somewhere near one AM. Sam and I are driving through the middle of nowhere Pennsylvania. We are speeding along route 30 between the small town I grew up in, and Philadelphia. We should be arriving in Philadelphia just past one AM. We left North Carolina at nine this morning, stopping a total of three times between our departure and now.

We just left a diner in the heart of York County. The same diner where my friends and I used to spend hours rotting with nothing else to do; smoking cigarettes and drinking coffee after punk and goth shows in the 90’s. Sam was kind enough to indulge our stopping for two hours so I could have a reunion of sorts with some old friends, some of whom I haven’t seen in close to twenty years. We are talking the kids who formed the crux of the formative years and the person I’d grow into. I’ve practically written novels about these people, and here we were; all together again, and all grown up. Our reunion was brief, and joyous. Outside the diner I promised my childhood best friend and first love I wouldn’t wait seventeen years between to see her next time. I told her I’d come meet her partner and her baby.

I meant it too. I fucking miss the east coast. I miss the oldness of it. I miss my roots. If nothing else, I miss how compact everything is. I miss how trips like this aren’t so seemingly impossible out here. Sam and I had to coordinate for a solid six months to make our cross-country meeting happen.

Sam is leaning back in the passenger seat with their eyes closed, resting. I have the new Chelsea Wolfe record playing quietly on the stereo for company. I thought about listening to Sisters Of Mercy or Cock Sparrer for old time’s sake; I have those two bands on my iPod, and they helped define my youth haunting this old highway, but this record is just so fucking good. I’m listening to it again, and composing this letter to you in my head to stay awake.

The houses that line route thirty all have their lights long off. They feel like home to me in this strange way. Oddly frozen in time, as if I could just pull off the highway and settle here, like it was still 1998, and I never left Southern York County. I imagine moving into an old house; trading bitter winter walks to the post office and writing by the fireplace for Pacific Northwest winters drenched in rain. I tell myself I could keep in touch with the outside world by buying records and zines at 3DCD (or whatever record store that opened to take its place, since I’m sure it has long since closed.) again like I was a teenager. At this present moment the idea appeals to me. Funny, because I spent the entirety of my youth scarcely being able to wait until I was old enough to escape this place. Seriously, Melanie and I would talk about it for hours. We planned that shit out. We’d dream about running away. We would hold each other close, reassuring the other one just another year or two until we were eighteen and could escape. We counted down the days until our grand departure from Southern York County, never ever to return.

Now I’m laughing at myself in the late night hours for (however unseriously) briefly entertaining the idea of moving back here.

There was just a storm. For the first time in several days it almost feels cool outside. We have the windows rolled down. The air is thick with humidity and lingering lighting. A flash will crack the sky in jagged streaks every now and then, leaving the clouds red in the afterglow. I love it. I don’t know if I’ve seen a thunderstorm since I left the south. I have missed them terribly. The storm was torrential and massive, nothing like the pervasive Pacific Northwest rain we complained about all winter. I fell in love with you in that constant drizzle and gray. The rain smells differently out here, but I smile at the thought of how that love deepened to where I smell rain, and feel that love even three thousand miles away, in a place that feels light years away from the small world we know.

I don’t know if I miss Olympia right now. I miss you. I miss the sanctuary of my bedroom on my dead end street. It feels weird and indulgent to go on a trip when it feels as if everything around me is crumbling down and the world is a goddamn dumpster fire. Who am I to go running off to meet up with some of my oldest friends on the other side of the country when there is so much work to be done at home?

Over the winter, Sam and I often reflected on the nature of impermanence; just how fleeting and fragile everything feels. The world feels a shade darker than it did a year ago. In that regard, two old friends on a road trip makes all the sense in the world. Tomorrow we will wake up in Philadelphia and wind our way through crowded city streets to meet up with one of our other oldest friends. The three of us shared the stroke of luck to meet in this city almost exactly twelve years ago. We managed to forge the kind of friendships that survive the pitfalls and anxieties of old age.

We will sit on a rooftop overlooking the city that brought us all together so long ago. We’ll laugh at the follies of youth and be thankful for having left them behind. We will give thanks to for resilience and adaptability. We will give thanks for everything we ever outran. We will give thanks for a future that may be fraught with incalculable fear, but is still yet to be written.

Homecomings (Dear Lover)

I fell in love and it scrambled my brain.

So I haven’t been writing as much. Still grinding away at this novel, but aside from that I mostly try and sit calmly with the present. For whatever reason, writing about the present has always proven difficult for me. It’s like I have a hard time articulating the significance of an event until after it’s time as has passed and I’ve had time to reflect. Maybe that’s why my first book is about a life lived two decades ago. I can tell you with absolute clarity what it was all for, and what it all meant.

The present… The Present feels jittery and electric, like I want to do a million things at once. Maybe that’s the strong cup of green tea and chronic lack of sleep talking though. Or maybe too much time researching bullshit on the internet is making me foggy before my years. I don’t know. I can’t think clearly right now. Maybe I should just be outside with my dog (The real love of my life.)

What I’m trying to articulate here, is what a joy it is to fall in love. I haven’t been in love in some years. Opening my heart to another has never been something I’ve done lightly, and rarely something I’ve given myself to fully. If we’re being real, I’ll one part blame on being socialized in a culture of toxic masculinity, one part mental illness and trauma, and the last part just kind of feeling like a whole lot of the people I encounter aren’t worth my vulnerability and authenticity anyway. People can be disingenuous and dishonorable shitbags. I see it on most of them, and keep my distance. People are also flawed and wounded and wonderful and most of us are doing the best we can. It’s the ones that use their hardships as an excuse to never grow or change that I can’t abide to share my time with.

Or people can’t handle my authenticity or vulnerability. That’s possible too. I think I encounter that one a lot. I don’t know. It’s difficult to be objective about yourself sometimes. I am more than aware of myself as a “difficult person”. I am painfully aware that I’m unlucky enough to experience the terrifying and joyous journey of life through a certain lens, and the world I see through that lens doesn’t always match with the world the people I love are seeing.

That is to say, trauma and mental illness done fucked up my perception of reality. I won’t make any apologies for how I experience the world, not like I wanna experience it in this way either. I’m real sorry for the vital connections it’s caused me to break over the years, most of them anyway.

Anyway… Love poem in progress. I think we’ll title it Janky Love Poem #1 because I’m feeling real sweet and vulnerable and clumsy right now. I don’t know if I’ve ever written something about a relationship while I was still in it.

Falling in
Falling away
From an idea of love cheapened
With plastic sentiment
Filled with impossible promises
Of a saccharine soaked forever
And sepia toned happily ever after
Accepting each imperfect
And impermanent moment

Making monuments from ruins
An idea of love
Falling like walls
Cracked open
Like precious stones
Once hidden in rubble

Falling in love like
Tearing lonely cynicism to shreds
For gentle whispers of
How the world is still worth fighting for
Four simple words to sink in
“Nihilism is so stupid”
It’s true.

That’s all. I’m going outside. Maybe I’ll work on this more later. Maybe I’ll leave it as it is, a clumsily sweet monument to the first tenuous steps of falling in love. Only time will tell. For now, I will enjoy this moment.

Thank you for reading. ❤

I fell in love and it scrambled my brain.

Punks is sharks.

Adrift and sinking, out where the horizon unfolds
Into rows of waves crashing down
Our lifeboats are full of holes
And someone threw away the oars
Our boats are taking on water now
As the lives and loves We forged sink below…

I just want a metaphor
For how we’re maybe out of our depth here
Where the water is deep and dark
Maybe we’re out of our depth here
And way out here there’s sharks.

Maps marked with blurred lines
and the last of a sky so blue
Just as summer gave way to fall
“You have to breathe. You have to breathe.”
Swallowing mouthfuls of air where the traffic snarls
Marveling at just how fucking ugly
Of a picture this world will paint you
Right as it runs you through

We’re out of our depth here
With blurred lines inked indelibly into skin
Too tender, too thin
Blurring the line again
Always between the intimate
And the violent
We’re out of our depth here
Because nothing prepared us for trespasses like this
Or taught us how to love without fear

The hour is now late
Ashore, annihilation comes home to call
With a knock knock knock at the door
Wolves hunger at the windows
Sharks circle the shallows
Murderers who murder each other
Set loose to stalk the halls

Punks is sharks.

Anyway, things burn.

Flicking matches scratched
Off of broken teeth
Into broken homes hollowed out
Dry as bones and drenched in gasoline.

Making way for moving the fuck on
I just wanna watch it all go up in smoke
Tearing out every page we wrote

The story wasn’t even good the first time around
Bored as I get with cliched melodrama
And true tales of tragedy and woe

Come on baby, dry your eyes now
We’ve all fucked with fire
Just to know how
It felt to get burned. 

Anyway, things burn.

Boredom won’t get us tonight.

Hello!  I’ve been mostly posting poetry here lately.  The winter gloom has fucking worn me down, and a few lines at a time have mostly been what I could focus on for the past month or two.  I managed to make some progress on a as yet untitled book I’ve been working on about rural punks in the nineties for the past year this weekend, and I’m going to post a segment of it here.  I’m not sure if this will make the final draft, but I’m pretty proud of it regardless. Some names were changed to protect the anonymity of those involved in this story.

Thank you for your time.

Thank you for reading.

Take care of yourselves, take care of one another.  ❤

We sold weed sometimes too.  Weed was never a huge part of my life.  I had had a brief infatuation with it that previous winter, but it cooled quickly when some of the kids I smoked up with moved onto shooting dope.  Dylan and James smoked it when they could.  Skinhead Jimmy smoked sometimes, but mostly liked to drink.  I had been sober since spring, taking the lyrics of that Minor Threat cassette Forrest loaned me to heart.  I just had no interest in, (and far too many opinionated teenage judgements about) drugs.  However, I had no qualms whatsoever about selling weed to Kenny, who lived down the street.

Kenny was one of those dudes who was born to spend his life in Southern York County, loud, entitled, and dumb as all hell. He was the kind of douche who made those “Looney Tunes wearing generic hip hop clothing” t-shirts so popular in small towns in the early 90’s.  We had been friends a few years back; back before my dad died, but that might as well have been a lifetime ago.  We’d have sleepovers and late night wrestling matches often went on just a tad too long, and ended up with him pushing his ass back against me and breathing heavily until it got awkward.  We would never talk about it in the morning.  We drifted apart before middle school was even over.  The irony of his referring to me as “faggot” when he passed in the hall once we hit ninth grade was secretly delicious.

Faggots or not, we still wanted his money.  He would show up at the front door of Dylan’s dad’s house and start pounding on it.

“Dylan!  Open up!  I wanna buy weed!”

Dylan and I would share a look.

Fucking idiot.  He’s going to get us all goddamn busted.  Luckily Kenny was never dumb enough to show up knocking the door down on a night when Dylan wasn’t home.  The presence of Dylan’s not conspicuous at all Chrysler Cordoba was telling like that.

This particular night, it was just Dylan, Skinhead Jimmy and I watching some long forgotten zombie movie in the living room, waiting for Dylan senior to drink enough cheap wine to pass out.  We’d hit the streets and wreak whatever havoc we could after that.

BAM! BAM! BAM!

It was Kenny and his neighbor.  They were drunk on rum they had stolen from Kenny’s parents and swaying.  They wanted to buy enough weed to go smoke a joint on the baseball field.  Kenny shot me a look through the door.  I did my best to shoot one back that said: “You talk tough now, motherfucker.  I know how much you wanted my cock in your ass just a few short years ago.”  I don’t know if it translated.  Dylan told them to wait outside and he would go see what he had.

Dylan, Jimmy and I practically raced one another to the kitchen.  The act of summoning dimbebag out of kitchen spices to sell to Kenny and his friends was a tried and true routine between Dylan and Jimmy, and one I took much delight in observing.  Dylan stepped into his room, and returned with a baggie full of green leaf and some Elmer’s glue, the exact same kind I used to spike up my ‘hawk.  Jimmy rifled through the spice cabinet.  There it was.  Oregano.  This would be hilarious.  Since time immemorial, many a burnout in this town were known to shuffle through the halls of our high school selling dimebags or oregano.  We were not original in this endeavor.

I liked to imagine that none of them took as much malicious amusement in selling bogus weed as we did though.  The vein that bulged in the shape of an X in Dylan’s forehead when he laughed was practically jumping out of his skull as he sprinkled some weed on the counter to mix with the oregano in Jimmy’s hand.  Jimmy in turn, was giggling viciously and muttering under his breath.

“Fucking idiot.  I can’t believe he keeps coming back.”  Jimmy said.

I had to cover my mouth for fear of Kenny hearing my laughter outside.  I watched with amusement that bordered on amazement as Dylan and Jimmy poured some shake into a baggie and then poured oregano in after it.  My amazement turned to sheer awe as I watched them roll some oregano and shake together with Elmer’s Glue, and then jab a stem into the whole semi dried mess in order to make a fairly convincing bud.

Kenny was known to brag to anyone who would listen how fucked up the weed he bought from us always got him.  I didn’t know the chemical make up of Elmer’s Glue, but I wondered if he wasn’t getting at least a little buzzed from smoking it.  I imagined sticky brown residue filling his lungs and killing his brain cells all at once.  I couldn’t convince myself to feel particularly guilty either way.  He was after all, such a little asshole.

Dylan and Jimmy took their crafted dimebag back to the front door where Kenny and is friend were waiting eagerly.  Kenny was leaning against a post on the front porch for support, eyes half closed and grinning.  I hated him in that moment.  I hated him for the ease with which he walked the through the world, like it owed him something.  I hated him because of the stories I had heard about how he acted around girls at parties.  I hated his douchebag swagger, and the way he tried to make his voice sound deeper than it was when he spoke.  I hated him for convincingly playing the part of mommy and daddy’s good little Christian boy and then being such a piece of shit as soon as he was out of their sight.

Dylan palmed him the bag of mostly fake weed.

“Ten bucks” He said flatly.

Kenny laughed easily and pulled out his wallet.

“Here you are, my man.  My dude here and I sure do appreciate it.”  Kenny slurred.

“This shit got me so fucked up last time.  Goddamn.”

Kenny’s friend did his best to look hard.  I wondered if it was his first drug deal, and he was going off what he had seen in the movies or some shit.  I mean, I guess Jimmy with his shaved head, boots and braces was an intimidating sight, but we weren’t in one of those movies these sheltered ass small town white kids were always emulating to try and act hard.  That reality would have eaten them alive.

Whatever.  We took their money and sent them to smoke their dirt weed, oregano and glue combo at the baseball field.  Ten bucks would mostly fill up the Cordoba and we had the satisfaction of ripping off someone we all thought was an asshole.  The three of us busted out laughing almost as soon as Dylan shut the door behind him.

The ten dollars we made from poor Kenny took us no farther than driving aimless circles around Shrewsbury all night.  It was enough.  Dylan and Jimmy in the front seat, and me stretched out in the back.  The windows rolled all the way down and the AM summer air mixing with a tape of Subhumans Time Flies, But Aeroplanes Crash EP playing on the stereo.  The speakers sounded just fucking awful and perfect all at once.

I thought about Kenny, all those years ago writhing beneath me in his underwear, neither of us ever quite brave enough for what came next.  I thought about my boys in the front seat.   I loved them both as bravely as I knew how.  I loved them both in a way Kenny in all his stumble, swagger and posturing would never understand.  Jimmy and Dylan were both laughing freely.  Jimmy launched an empty glass bottle carelessly out the window to hear the sound of it smashing on country blacktop receding in the distance.

I imagined all the lights that small town streetlights flickering to the south of us.  I imagined those lights leading our way to everywhere else, giving way to the lights of all the cities I couldn’t wait to see.  Five miles to the south of us lay the Pennsylvania state line.  Another forty miles of rural highway and you were in Baltimore County.  Those exit routes counted for something.  In that moment I knew all of us would make it out of this place and might even have a chance of growing into the people we always wanted to be.

This tiny, shitty world we were stuck in for at least another few years may cater to Kenny and all the other thoughtless Neanderthals just like him, but tonight we had gotten his money and converted it to just enough gas for a brief respite.  With the music and our laughter cascading out the windows and into the summer air, we knew some things they would never know.  We went south on main, towards the Getty to turn right on constitution and creep the long way home through New Freedom, the threat of boredom and entropy vanquished for another night.

Boredom won’t get us tonight.