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.
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
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”
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.
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
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.
Even the brightest stars die
Over and out
Rain slick and
Steaming southern streets
Long after they have released
The sun’s last heat
Even the brightest stars die
Collapsing just like
A black hole
Which nothing will escape
Not even light
This time around
Inner light hemorrhaging
Angles and breaths
And all too sharp
Following the path
Of an irregularly beating heart
You and I:
Did not create this world
Nor did we do a thing to deserve it
But here we are, chained earthbound
To this violent and rudderless world
Accelerant soaked and burning down
Now I write this for you:
Love letters to dead summers
Pages torn out from closed chapters
Love stories for
Ghost lovers singing
Silent songs carried
Across empty years
And barren deserts
Dried of their tears
It’s that time of year again, where I write about you, or write to you. Four years ago tonight you texted me, late at night. I didn’t answer until the next day. By then it was too late. I hope you at least read the reply before you went.
I still have two bottles of mead that Roth and I brewed with the last of your honey. We brewed them in that awful haunted apartment on Grail Street that you and Adrien helped me move into. I’ll never forget the look on your face when we walked through the front door the first day and saw the acid-nightmare graffiti that the hippies who lived there before me left scrawled all over the walls.
“We need to paint all over this shit before it comes to life at night and eats you.”
We all laughed. It was funny in that “Maybe it can’t get any worse than this” way. There were a few months in that apartment that were alright. I liked living alone there. Some days I hid too much. Some nights I was really good at keeping myself occupied.
It was sweet when Molly moved in too. You only came over once more because the place was so creepy. I always look at that summer now in that like they were the last few good months we had before you died. You know how it is, when you end up dividing time in that before and after a person died way. Everything before they died just looks pristine and feels light, even if that wasn’t actually the case.
I felt haunted by the spectre of your death and it’s aftershocks for a full year. It manifested it self physically and I had to leave North Carolina. When I left North Carolina, the mead continued to ferment with Roth in the home they took me into when I got too sick to stay at Grail Street. I came back a year later and we bottled and labeled it. Then we spent the night we creeping around town like nocturnal fairies in the late night heat, delivering the bottles to your friends and loved ones. I think you would have appreciated the design. There was a lot of glitter.
I still have mine. I haven’t drank them yet. Whatever broke in my heart and brain in the aftermath of your passing still won’t allow me to drink alcohol, despite the fact that I maybe stayed drunk for an almost heroic three days straight in the immediate aftermath of your passing. Now I just can’t do it. I’ll start to feel sick and dump the rest of my bottle out. Even last summer, I tried to drink a bottle of hard cider on the banks of the French Broad with Ed. One of my favorite places, with a person I cherish. I took two sips and felt nauseous. I dumped the rest of the bottle into the the rushing water, thinking of it as an offering, and feeling comfort in the thought of all rivers leading to the Ocean.
Or worse, when the alcohol hits my bloodstream and I start to feel that sinking terror that I felt in the aftermath of your passing. You know that gnawing, deep dark existential terror we all feel at some point. We stare into nothing and worry that maybe just maybe, we live our lives for nothing, suffer, and then go into oblivion at the end. There is nothing else. No rhyme or reason, just chaos, violence, and darkness. That feeling happened a lot after you died.
The winter after you died Adrien and I had an end of the world party for ourselves on December 21st, 2012. You know, the night all these annoying ass new age crackers were telling us that the Mayans said the world was gonna end, or change, or whatever. It seemed like nobody could really decide which. I wasn’t sure if I cared. I just knew I was in pain a lot of the time and I hated everything.
We sat in my room on Grail Street. I was cleaning. Cobwebs lined the corners of my room. I didn’t knock them down. I thought of spiders as company. I put things that had belonged to the boyfriend in boxes to throw out. You had lived with him when you passed away. We broke up shortly after your death. It wasn’t sad. I was just ready for something else, and clawing to get away from him.
After that, then I read the runes. I can’t remember what they said. I only remember that it was no comfort. It thought back to a few months before you died in the summer. The day was too hot. You were crying alone in your room. I had never heard anyone be in such pain. I asked the boyfriend if he thought we should go comfort you.
“She’s fine. She just does this sometimes. I’ll check on her later” He said indifferently.
I had to leave because it was too agonizing to hear you hurting so much. I will probably regret not saying anything, or at least offering to bring you snacks, water, just fucking anything for the rest of my life. I thought about that day, and told Adrien I’d be right back. I took the boyfriend’s stuff out to the curb and threw it unceremoniously into the garbage.
Adrien sat in my bed drinking beers. As if he could tell what I was thinking, he mentioned you. Of course. It had only been maybe four months at that point. We talked about you a lot. All of us did. I’d like to think that you could somehow see how utterly beloved you were. I mean, seriously.. People were literally painting the town with your name. I also think you might have been embarrassed. I don’t know. Adrien was so sweet and assured me that they didn’t believe in oblivion, and that you were finally safe.
I just didn’t know. I just didn’t know anything except I missed you and you were gone. The nagging feeling that you had gone into oblivion just wouldn’t subside.
That darkness and emptiness swirled around the apartment all winter. We saw ghosts, but they were all scary, and none of them were you. Maybe you were just so ready to leave earth. I never really blamed you. And who would wanna spend the afterlife visiting the fucking Grail Street apartments, anyway? Sometimes I worry that I spent so much time being miserable in that building that my spirit is just going to gravitate back there when my time is up. Don’t worry. I’m doing everything I can to avoid that outcome.
That last summer in Asheville, mold sick and more depressed than I had ever been, I’d think I heard voices in both my waking hours and my dreams. I never knew if I was hearing an actual malevolent force, or if I just had to personify something that took you.
I got too sick and lost too much of my mind to stay at Grail Street. I moved in with Roth. Sometimes the voices and the panic would come to me there at night. I would lie in bed and claw at a now irregularly beating heart and pray for it to just beat right again. Some nights it just wouldn’t stop raining. The terror would get to be too much and I would lace up my boots in the night and speed over to Ed’s house to hyperventilate in their bed until daylight crept through the blinds. We were both terrified that my heart would somehow stop and death would come for me as I slept.
When I did sleep, I started to sleep with a loaded gun under the bed. I kept a baseball bat in the passenger seat of my truck. I would walk through downtown like a ghost haunting myself; eyes to the ground, fists clenching and unclenching. It was time to move on. It’s not that you were Asheville, but the pall your death cast across everyone I knew became to consuming to stay.
It took two full years of you being gone and a move across the country to feel any sense of lightness about you. Rachel, C-80 and I climbed a mountain on the anniversary of the day you left. We got to the peak late in the afternoon. You cold see for miles around. I whispered hello to you, and I told you how much I had loved you.
And that it was nice to see you again.
Maybe it took going to a place that was just too beautiful for words to feel like there had been anything else but pain and death for all of us.
And I hope you could see it. I really do. Because places this beautiful deserve to be shared with the people you love. And goddamn, were you ever loved. Not just by me, but by everyone who encountered you. Nobody had a bad thing to say about you. That’s a rarity in something as viciously petty and rife with shit talking as the radical queer community.
Every year, I write about you or I write to you. I post the same haunting photo of you. This year won’t be any different. I’m not ready to drink your mead yet. Maybe I’ll give it another six years. In 2022, it will have been ten years since you left. You’d be turning 38. I’ll be 41. If you were alive today, you’d be turning 32 this year. I still don’t resent you for choosing to go. I say it every year. Your death and it’s aftermath devastated me in a way that was almost awe inspiring. It broke me down and left me in pieces in a moldy room.
It broke everyone.
The only choice as to forge ahead through the ruins and reconstruct ourselves into newer and better people. We’ve all got to do that work for the rest of our lives. I know my works in that realm are far from complete. If anything was to be gained at all in the aftermath of your death at all, it’s to be inspired by the level of kindness, deep love, and humor you brought to your friends.
I hope to one day be able to bring even a fraction of the kindness and light to those I love that you showed everyone around you.
It hurts to become. It hurts to outgrow. It hurts to grow back.
In an empty room
Echoing off cold walls
Small and out of tune
Beneath the floorboards
Behind grey walls
Words like “No Future!”
Never, ever rang so true
Up the steps
Out of this house
And into the endless
Wasted, waning days
And the hearts we awaken
Just to break
And all the strength it takes
To face just one more day
Did you know?
Did you hear?
There’s a story somewhere
About what I did on my vacation
For the last twenty years
Moved like smoke
Through this place
And every other home
That I could never bother to make
I have been spending the last week working on my practicum for work/school. I had initially leaned towards doing a research project on adult basic education. I’ve been teaching a class of three 19-21 year olds every Wednesday for a few weeks now. I like the work. I find it meaningful, and it suits me well. I think that may be the first time I have ever written those two sentences in my entire life. To give the reader context for that statement, I will be thirty-five in three months.
I’d like to think that my kids (I call them my kids, because they are still basically teenagers.) like me. I tell jokes with them, and I swear in class. Sometimes they tell me that they think a reading we’re working through in the text book is boring. I sympathize with them. I can see the frustration on their faces. The reading isn’t challenging. Maybe they feel like it insults their intelligence. Maybe just want to be somewhere else. I don’t take it personally. I just do my best to try and remember what it was like to be 19 and have that feeling like your whole life was just somewhere else. I remember that feeling so well. Maybe I remember it so well because it has persistently followed me since I was fourteen years old and stuck in a rust belt town in rural Pennsylvania.
I wrote a draft of a paper about my kids and I scrapped it. I wrote a second one and scrapped that too. I think I just couldn’t actually translate my enjoyment of working with my kids to paper.
I think it’s because it’s just that. Enjoyment. I’m so lucky for that, that my work is something I enjoy. I’m aware of that.
I found myself abruptly switching topics to writing as therapy, something I fall deeply into. I wanted to talk about writing as a means to heal, and work through our old traumas and horrors. I related my own story as a childhood sexual assault survivor. I talked about how a “trusted adult” encouraged me to write stories about my abusers where I was a victor, not a victim.
There is my first lie of the night. Referring to my mother as a “trusted adult” gives me a hearty chuckle. Of course, that part of the story is true. My mother actually encouraged me to write those stories. She gave me a black and white composition notebook to just that. I wrote those stories for a few weeks and then gave up on it as winter gave way to spring and I began to feel more calm in my ten year old body.
Of course, I left out the parts where my mother grew tired of my crying and my nightmares around a year or so after disclosing my abuse to her. I left out the part where after a move to a new state far away from my abusers she told me one night when I was eleven that it was “time to get over it.”. I left out the part where as adult, my abuse has been written out of the history of our lives. I left out the part where my mother attributes my bottomless anger and depression to the early death of my father.
I feel dishonest as a writer. I can’t just turn in a practicum to my colleagues where I say: “Yep, I was molested. My mom sucks too. Whatever. Long live nihilism.”
Even further into my practicum, my lies get deeper. I talk about writing as a means to heal. I talk about the power of the written word to transform our lives. I talk about it like writing has saved me. Maybe it has. Right now, I’m not so sure. I feel like the same fucked up kid I always did, even three months shy of my thirty-fifth birthday. I talk about writing as a force for positive personal change like I can ever concentrate on it for more than ten minutes at a time.
I talk about writing like it’s actually brought significant light to the darkness that lives in me. I talk about writing like it has brought any sense of functionality to my life. Maybe it has. Maybe it’s harder to see right now. It’s getting late here in the Pacific Northwest, and it’s been dark for goddamn hours now.
I don’t know. It’s all the same words. It’s all the same stories; the ones I’ve told myself year after year about spending most days feeling like the living dead, or about trying to shape nihilism into a life. They are everything I know but goddamn it, if I’m not tired. Maybe I should shut up and take my own fucking advice.
I’ve spent years writing, filling up journals that I never share with anyone, writing blogs, zines, whatever else I can think of. I pour my heart and soul into staining pages with ink, and still feel empty, and empty handed at the end of the day. I don’t know what to show for it. I’ve got a zine that I constantly let out of print, because the shit is so filled with pain that it’s almost embarrassing. What did my bestie say when she was proofreading it for me?
“God, your honesty is almost uncomfortable sometimes.”
It’s true. Except right now I feel like I’m lying like I’m healed, or don’t have some vicious shadows crawling around my head and heart. Twenty years of writing it all the fuck down hasn’t changed that. Maybe it never will. I’m not gonna stop filling up notebook after notebook with black ink until maybe one day I’ll wake up one day and feel like the shadows have shifted a bit.
Tonight though, I’m a liar. I write like I’m healed. I write like I trust any of my feelings. Tonight it’s like most nights I feel like I’m stuck in a room where the January wind is howling outside my window and I’m fourteen years old and hopeless, and it’s 3:23 AM forever. Fuck this. I’m not even going to proofread this shit.
Edit: I lied again. I totally proofread this an hour after I posted it. Ha fucking ha.