This morning I saw Jesus (I call it Universe) reflected

in the eyes of a Black Man I picked up on Dixie Highway

in the rain. He looked younger than me,

had dreads and dressed in Carhartt layers

and carried      two work bags.   Tools,

heavy like my step-father’s

(I’ve been trying not to write about him,

not because the topic is too much, but because

a Christmas Eve suicide deserves more than a fit of words

vomited on an anniversary. The story is a real gas.

I promise.)

 

Rocky has three boys:

13, 11, and 8 (I think).

“I’m working on seven,” he said.

 

We talked about the weather in earnest

(we both fear February’s revenge and agree

that December has been mild, though, the last few years—

maybe the season is shifting).

 

“Thank you for trusting that I wasn’t a serial killer and letting me help you.”

“Be careful out there.”

And that’s when Love, the divine kind, became solid

and I saw it in the way his face froze

when he saw himself in my eyes, too

 

 

 

 

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An Open Letter to My New Neighbors

Fellow Tenants:

I like it here. Despite the See You Next Tuesday I don’t even share walls or a hall with who told the police she smells weed coming from my apartment, I like it. (As an aside, I wish I knew what word she used. Was it “reefer?” Please baby Jesus let it have been that. I suspect it was plain old “marijuana,” but Chicagoans can nasal that word up good enough to make it fun too. This makes me think, though, of the time Old Best Friend kicked her feet up on her mother’s dining room table and declared, “There’s nothing wrong with blowing a little grass, Mom.” It was like The Universe whispered a dare into her mind to do it, and she rose like a maniacal champion to the challenge. So much of why I loved her.)

I like how this place feels, and I want to stay a while. My son can run here (we just left a second floor apartment where I not only had to ask/tell All Children Who Entered to be  Calm, Quiet Things, but in order for them to go outside to play, an adult had to be willing to stop what they were doing and go with them the whole time because distance and traffic demanded it). Imagine how much we both love the giant first-floor windows that let him play in the courtyard on his own or with friends while I watch from a couch or table.

Once I had most of my stuff here, I knocked on all of your doors—the ones across and above, whose entryways and stairs connect with/are mine too—so I could introduce myself and deliver the following awkward address:

 

Hi, I’m your new neighbor. I just moved in with my son. He’s four and energetic, so if we’re ever too noisy, please let me know. Also, if I park in the wrong spot, or if my boyfriend needs to move his car for you, please just knock and tell us. He sleeps over sometimes. Additionally, this is my medical cannabis card. Please please please tell me if the smoke is coming through a vent or in the hall so I can adjust something in my place to prevent that.

 

I only got to say it to one of you, a gentleman above me who mostly made no words and stared at me while I just kept talking. No one else answered.

Since then, I’ve been burning incense, lighting candles, white saging the shit out of my living room and kitchen (the two rooms with doors going to our shared halls) every time I smoke, and I even was using an eighth-grade-dryer-sheet blow tube to try to reduce the smell. (No joke. I tried to get friends to do it too. No bueno. No dice except for a few uncomfortable sessions in my bedroom.)

Although I still desire to be a Good Neighbor (and I really do—I have OVERWHELMING LOVE for other humans. It’s probably part of my mental illness—which is why I have the card that made the police not give a damn that someone/anyone/everyone smells weed coming from my apartment—to love like that. My instinct is to nestle into the soul of every person I meet, and I try to bring you all inside me. I totally want to be a nice person to live next door to.), I won’t be jumping through any more incense-hoops to spare your sensibilities or your noses.

Because cannabis is my medicine. One of them. And it’s as legal, less risky, and more effective for anxiety-ridden-addict-brained-artsy-creative-types like me who might accidentally or intentionally die from Other Things Doctors Give Out For Kickbacks. (It’s great, too, for cancer patients, chronic pain sufferers, and anyone who wants it, because New World Order, bitc— I mean, it’s real medicine. And it works. It has a long history of working, and our country’s nasty, racist laws have prevented our scientists from doing real research into modern benefits and methods of terpene extraction for way too long.) And after cartwheeling courtesy at you, it stung (despite the dark humor)  when I thought I was dying and called 911 and one of you took time out of your day to tell the police officer that you smelled weed.

So by all means, let me know if Boyfriend or I have parked in the wrong place. Please tell me when my kid and his friends are being too loud (they will be—I promise—because they’re an awesome troop of bandits with loud voices and big hearts. They have dance parties and play hide-and-seek. Sometimes I let them play my synthesizer.). But I’m not going broke on room spray or candles so I can take my medicine.

 

Right Now, I Need My Meds

For three days after I turned into a Prozac Dragon, I didn’t take my medicine.

Prozac Dragon is the fun name I made up for when my antidepressant capsule got hung up somewhere in my esophagus last week (December 12, 2018, to be exact–a Wednesday. I was supposed to work at the bar, and when I sent my manager a picture of the paramedics, he texted back I’m very sorry to hear that. You are still coming to work though right?), but I somehow didn’t feel it get stuck (there was a weird twinge when I took it, but I ignored it, because I tell myself daily that part of being a human is having random physical things stab and pinch and jolt inside of you for no alarming reason, so that I don’t always have panic attacks).

50449628_1423630437778610_5834505293983121408_nWhat happens when a powder-filled capsule hangs undetected in a saliva-y esophagus is that eventually (for me 20 – 30 minutes after I thought I’d swallowed the thing) the capsule’s coating dissolves. I am not a doctor. I was not inside me watching this shit happen, but what I imagine was that the little load of powdered fluoxetine went POUF and hovered like Wile E. Coyote running off a cliff, and then my autonomic Will to Effing Live (take that, suicidal ideation) sent a geyser of breath up from my root chakra/maybe my ass hole to expel the powdery death trying to invade my lungs.

Sister-Friend was there. Sister-Friend is bad at emergencies, but it’s not her fault. She just is. My mother, who is also bad at emergencies, was on the way to my apartment (Wednesday was her babysitting day).

Back to the Dragoning.

Whatever precisely happened inside, what I experienced was a sudden rush of Breath I Neither Took Nor Willed moving so forcefully and fast out of me that my mouth opened and I dropped to the floor. I saw a vapor-like powder come out of my nose. It was like a line of cocaine in reverse. It burned bitterness all the way up, and the chemical taste nauseated me from the throat down.

This also tripped the fight-or-flight wire in my delicate little brain and threw me immediately into a full-blown-all-the-adrenaline-I’m-dying anxiety attack.

crying into plathThe burning feeling was turning to numbness (a totally normal thing when time release medication has fracked its way up out of you, but when you don’t know that’s what happened, because you didn’t know that was a thing that could happen, it feels like dying). I thought I couldn’t breathe. I also thought I couldn’t stand up.

I mean, I don’t remember thinking Oh fuck, I can’t walk! I just stopped. From the time I hit the floor until the paramedics arrived and sat with me on my couch, I crawled. For some reason when physical attacks come like this, I want to press myself to things or be held tightly. I cling to floors.

Sister-Friend brought me water and called Boyfriend for me on speaker (a remarkable thing, because she was nearly crying–she’d never seen this kind of chemical fuck-up panic disorder episode and was upset by how the adrenaline made me shake), but I don’t remember much other than hearing him talk.

Ultimately, I called 911. Because I didn’t know if I should or not, and neither did Sister-Friend or my mother. They wanted me to make the decision. They wanted the lady on the floor who just blew Prozac fire out her left nostril to be in charge.

The paramedics were kind (and so was the cop, the obligatory There’s An Emergency So a Cop Comes officer–once we all knew I wasn’t dying, he left then came back minutes later to tell me a snitchy neighbor had pulled him aside when he walked out to tell him she smelled weed coming from my apartment. He documented my medical cannabis card, and there was much rejoicing).

So you can see why I was afraid to take my Prozac.

The first two days were good. In fact, I started building a belief that Prozac was causing my severe anxiety attacks (not upheaval, not sadness, not daughters going back to Kentucky, moving apartments, leaving my cushy job I hated and giving up health insurance–it’s the damn SSRI), so I didn’t take it.

Today I held hands with a woman on a train station bathroom floor. She was cold and nodding out on a toilet, so I gave her my coffee and three dollars. I rolled a joint in my own stall then went back to Starbucks to replace the coffee, and she was there at a table (the cup meant the employees could let her stay a while–something I didn’t think about but was grateful for when I saw it).

48366241_10218915901996342_1656540466268602368_n“I know this is gonna sound crazy, but I write a blog about everything I do instead of killing myself. Can I take a picture with you for it?” But I was starting to cry, and I could feel myself sweating. Where’s-my-next-dose, chemical perspiration.

So I took my damn medicine.

 

Featured image by Gail Potocki.

12/6/18

Grace is waking up as late as your dizzy, dizzy head needs to and knowing that a stream of angels will pass through today, that your bar manager is getting your day covered for tomorrow so you can move out of your apartment on time. It’s relocating your three customers on yesterday’s shift (favorites all–trusted–five years ago you lied and said you were a niece to one [you and another bartender who has resurfaced too] so you could visit him in the ER after he fell off his bar stool) to the far side of the bar so you could share the small space heater on the counter away from the doors. Love is when one sunbeam fought through the awful December sky and landed all over you and you caught one of them seeing you bask in it without any objectification fucking up the warmth.
 
This is what it looks like when your circle knows you’re tired. They carry you.
 
Your mother packed your boxes while you practiced the tease with Old Man _____ at the bar. Sometimes you held his hands on the counter. He’s a kind old man who hugs you and tells you to be careful when he leaves always. He’s the one who fell all those years ago. This, too, is love and grace.
 
You spent as much in the jukebox as you made in tips, but you made it through and home. That’s what counts on those days.
 
Today is different. Better and just starting. I could die this afternoon, but I probably won’t. The fact that I can even type that out means I’m wandering out into thinner trees. My Tribe will come like they said they would, and somehow this will get done.

This Is a Controlled Burn

Drive your children 400 miles away because they want to go back to their fathers. You understand and want it for them, too. Flames have licked through the plaster walls you’ve all been living between, and it’s time to go.

So you drive down Saturday morning. Leave late to avoid the rain, and because none of you can really get your shit together. You make it, though, and you still know this is right. But you sob when you leave the first daughter. Fucking bawl but not in front of her.

Number two is easier, because you’ve been slow-drip delivering a telephone soliloquy to that one’s other parent for months.

I’m not sure this is good for her. I want it to be, but it might not.

I’m trying. I think she hates me, and I get it.

You’re better at this with her than I am.

This one has complications, but there’s less fear in it. Because you’ve been to court for her, and you know the steps to How We Got Here This Time. This goodbye is like dancing. She hugs you and hangs on; you both smile and sway.

Sunday’s departure becomes Monday–you barely slept after you left your daughters. Drive straight to work and spend seven hours talking with your mother and customers at the bar you work at (again). She’s there (for an hour)  because she knows you’ve slept less than seven hours since you woke up on Saturday. You’ve driven 800 miles and are wearing a Ralph Lauren t-shirt from Goodwill that you picked up on the way in, because you didn’t bring enough clothes with you over the weekend (see Paragraph II above, RE: Shit Not Together).

After she leaves, your regulars treat you kindly (they usually do), but you really don’t feel like talking, so you find reasons to walk away. There are dishes to wipe, ketchup bottles to bring to the grill next door.

Go home and see more evidence of how surrounded you are by grace. Your mother has packed half of your kitchen and the bedrooms your daughters don’t live in anymore for you while you’ve been away. Somehow you’re going to move into a new apartment by Friday, and you know you will because you’ve finally started telling the people around you that you’re Not Okay At Present.

Today’s eyes look less like bruises than yesterday’s. You haven’t taken your medicine yet because it’s in the car, and it’s so cold outside. You don’t feel ready for that yet. You’ll get it soon, though, and swallow it. Then you’ll start doing the Things You Need To Do Today.

OMG. WTF, Me?

If my daughter stands any chance of surviving her sexual trauma, I have to deal with my own.

Yesterday I hung on the neck of an abuser I love like fireworks. The only maniac who would huff gasoline with  me in ___________’s basement when we were kids. An ex-roommate who threw his lit cigarette at me the night after he (date? friend? roommate?)raped me and claimed he did it in his sleep. The cigarette, not the sex.

He walked in where I work right now–a cavernous “sports” bar that rarely has more than ten customers on the day shift unless you count the quiet stream of gamblers who sit on the four machines along the front wall and bother no one. The Greek owner never pops for any pay-per-view, the huge screen on the wall rarely has anything projected onto it, and all the liquor bottles have electronic collars that tie each pour to the register and measure them out.

46710486_320250828569764_1928844206038581248_n

This isn’t what bartenders at sports bars dress like.

I’m here because I’m on leave but need a tether to the outside world. FMLA days from a university job that I NEVER should have taken, except I learned a ton and–whatever. I went publicly insane for a while. Again.

Here, we are.

When my Shouldn’t Be Friend walked in, I hugged him like I was surrendering. I didn’t mean to. I hung like death on him, limp, because we haven’t seen each other in a year, and the way I’ve always dealt with this particular pain is to never try to see him but allow myself to take advantage of it when The Universe throws us back together. So I did.

This morning I’m sobbing. I’ve been in my bathroom with my hair pulled back, searching for a hair tie but spotting scissors. Walking out, then back again.

This is the kind of pacing I don’t want anyone to ever see, the physical manifestation of too-much-happening-in-my-head. Boyfriend did one time. It was just a glimpse, but I heard the catch and dawning in his voice when he saw it (it elicited tenderness ultimately, not a break-up, but I felt him seeing me–I think it startled him).

I swallowed a dozen pills in that apartment, the cigarette one. I don’t remember trying to die; I just wanted to go to sleep. We lived next door to rock stars, played poker with matches pilfered from another roommate’s diner job. I called ___________ and told him what had happened. He came and sat on our third-floor porch stairs that night, but he kept being Friends with him. And so did I.

I won’t write my child’s story here; I can only tell my own. Part of my story is learning how to safely mother a sexually traumatized child.

Yesterday was a gorgeous, terrible lesson. I have to deal with my own shit. FML.

 

Journal 11/20/18

I can’t slow it down. What if I just start typing it all? The whole river that’s coming through my head. Word after word after word–there’s no way to do it. The moment I start making sentences, organization begins. All those words, all those feelings I’ve learned to associate with sound conventions designed to transmit meaning to others and create a sense of communion–that’s why I write. It helps me.

Sometimes I talk about Writer Brain. If I never see another word of mine published, I still have it. The way I’m wired, I need it all to connect on paper, because I spend most of my time feeling out of order. Whatever diamond thread stitches 1995 to 2018, right now to last week, I struggle to find it on my own. I grasp at it running through stories, the narrative I construct in order to keep going in “the right” direction.

I’ve learned to live by the cardinal points. Am I going north or south? Up or down, and which way do I want to go? The devil is forever in the details, so sometimes I keep it vague. Other times I lay out an intricate plan so Satan and I can rendezvous and have a snog (I would like to steal this slang from the Brits–sometimes it’s just the word). And then I set things on fire.

I’ve junior high-daydreamed several versions of a Why I Write (that thing, that personal essay requested by an editor, that I learned as an undergrad to associate with Making It As A Writer), and I even have one pretentious stab at it on a story that a flash fiction site published (it was my way of trying to explain why I’d stayed with my daughter’s father after I realized his transgender thing wasn’t a thing, she was she and that was that–I should have gone immediately out of kindness to us all, but I stayed and let falseness mark our lives. I contorted myself and swung from one flaming treetop to another and pretended it was all right. I went nose-to-nose with strangers in stores who harassed my partner, then I hate-fucked them at parties weeks later). It’s not necessarily false, what I wrote, but I tried to make it slick and palatable.

Today the words are a stream in my head, but they’re slowing down. I’m technically on vacation; all of my children are with their fathers. I’m using this time to study the map. I’m using it to reconnect. Right now, everything feels shattered.