welcome to the workings of my melted brain

  • I don't feel like a writer.

    “I don’t feel like a writer,” I say because I don’t. But I do have little scraps of paper with sloppy sentences and thoughts spread across them—something I always imaged real writers do. Didn’t J.K. Rowling write “Harry Potter” on bar napkins? Either way it’s something I never used to do but I find myself doing it now since I can’t remember little thoughts as well as I used to. These tiny snippets of sentences are littered everywhere throughout my apartment, in my locker at work, and in pretty much every bag or purse I own. I don’t feel like a writer because they are only sentences that I jot down, a glimpse of something that could become a good idea if I sat down and actually focused. I don’t feel like a writer anymore because writing is way more of a challenge ever since Fibromyalgia took my body hostage—holding my brain, my favorite part of myself, captive. I don’t feel like a writer anymore and yet I am literally typing this on my phone as I walk down Division running errands, dodging the people walking against my direction who are probably rolling their eyes going, “Oh my god, just look at what technology is doing to society, nobody looks at anybody anymore,” BUT LOOK I’M WRITING, I want to yell at them, yell at myself, yell at the world. I’M WRITING. I don’t feel like a writer anymore because sometimes I honestly cannot keep track of one sentence, especially if they’re long winded, and if you know me, you probably know that I have a healthy relationship with run-on sentences. I don’t feel like a writer anymore because I haven’t finished a new short story in god knows how long. I’ve started a bunch, though. A bunch of starts that have been abandoned because when I reopened the document to pick up where I left off last time, I literally cannot remember where it was going, and I get so frustrated that I hide that document in a folder that isn’t right on my desktop and in my face. So many starts to pieces that I swore I couldn’t forget because it was such a good idea and yet I have. Yet I do. Sometimes I try and just keep writing to see where it’ll take me, like maybe my fingers will glide across the keyboard like I’m playing a piano and it’ll just come back to me naturally. This never happens. The reality is I just become more frustrated with myself because I can’t stop obsessing about what it was supposed to be. I don’t feel like a writer anymore because I haven’t been querying agents for my novel lately, haven’t even submitted any work to be published, haven’t even been to many literary events, and what am I doing? The first two years of life with chronic pain I didn’t write at all. I was depressed and scared and constantly fatigued and always throwing up and my memory issues were even worse back then. I remember there was one point before I was diagnosed where I truly feared that I was experiencing super early Alzheimer’s. You know how terrifying it was to feel like I was slipping away from myself at 29 years old? Absolutely terrifying. I’m grateful that it isn’t that intense anymore but during exceptionally awful flare ups it can get pretty bad. I don’t feel like a writer anymore because I used to be able to spit out multiple, complete, fully told short stories a week and now I can’t even cough up—can’t even vomit—one at all. I remember when my thesis advisor told me that he envied me for my ability to generate such meaty material in such little time and I remember that compliment made me feel like a writer.

                But what does it mean to feel like a writer? I still walk down the street and listen to the sounds unfolding around me and think of a vivid image and scene that could go with it. I still sit on the CTA with headphones on but music off so I can jot down overheard conversations in my journal to practice the flow of true human dialog. I still write down random ideas in a tiny journal I keep behind the bar with me. I still write messy poetry and I still sit down with the intention of writing stories even if I only get the beginning on the page. I have at least ten different beginnings to an essay about Fibromyalgia alone. I still read every single day. I still fall in love with the shape of a story, with the structure of a novel, the structure of a sentence, with word choice. These are all the same things I did when I did feel like a writer. Why don’t I feel like one now, then? I thought about this long and hard and I think I have finally come up with an answer. Guilt. Just like the guilt I carry all day everyday about everything else fibromyalgia has seemingly ruined for me. Guilt that the excruciating pain that never leaves my body has turned me into a bad friend. Guilt that I’m a bad daughter. Bad girlfriend. Bad sister. Bad teacher. Guilt that I can’t work as effective behind the bar. And now, newly identified, guilt that I can’t write as efficiently as I once could. Guilt so heavy I could jump into a body of water and drown. But I’m working real hard on letting that guilt go because the truth is I can do all the same things I once did. Every single one of them. I may not be able to do them the same way as I once did—but there isn’t one single thing I can’t do. Every morning I wake up and problem solve. I find new ways to exist with this nightmare. I find new ways to accomplish things that were once so easy I didn't even have to think like maybe from now on I need to do what I'm doing now-- sit down and write one full thing with a beginning and a middle and an end, without looking back or fixing anything no matter how sloppy or all over the place it is as long as it gets out. I stay grateful. Every day I work on letting go of the things that no longer work—the things that hold me back. And I will continue to let go of them in pieces, one by one, until I’m completely weightless and floating above the entire world.

  • Phantom pizza.

    It starts out as not so much a sound but a presence. A feeling. You know, like, how when you leave the TV on in the other room muted but you know it’s on because of the vibe that fills the space surrounding the silent TV.

    I walk in the house from a casual night out and I feel it instantly—that presence. I plop on my couch and think about food. I wonder if I am hungry. And then I feel that feeling again—a TV left turned on except instead of in another room it is left turned on outside of my living room on my patio right outside of my window. The only other example I can think of to describe this phenomenon is this: sometimes when I order food to be delivered I feel like I can sense when my delivery person is super close. I know that sounds impossible or magical, but it isn’t. I’m probably not even correct half the time—I just talk myself into believing, “I sensed it therefore it came.”

    My cat, Mr. Cat, purrs at me from across the living room. He’s sprawled across the carpet like he owns the place. He demands I get up and come to him. I realize he needs to eat and so I do get up but on my own terms—not because he made me. Once in the kitchen I grab his bowl and aimlessly dump dry food into it. And then suddenly I get that feeling—the sense that a delivery person is to be arriving soon, but it weirds me out real bad because I have not ordered food to be delivered. Never in my life have I ever felt this feeling at a time when there wasn’t the possibility that perhaps there is a delivery person on their way. So what I am supposed to do with it—I have no idea. I shake my hands out and try to clear my head. But there it is again and then—ring ring ring the door bell whistles and all at once I both understand and cannot even fathom this fact.

    I chew at my mouth a little and wonder if I should open the door. Mr. Cat is meowing over and over again so clearly he thinks I should. I don’t think Mr. Cat would feel the same way if he could understand this weird sense I can’t shake. What if this feeling is a warning? I can’t be too sure. I haven’t looked at a clock in hours or maybe days I’ve lost count but my windows look like closed eyes and so I know that it is late and so what can this person ringing my doorbell possibly want?

    Ring ring ring.

    And I decide okay. Okay I am wearing my lucky shirt today and everything happens for a reason and the universe made me decide to wear this shirt by an exact placement of this shirt in my closet probably a while back which eventually, as the days went by and the shirts got removed from hangers, brought me to this shirt on this day and do you think that’s on accident? Abso-fucking-lutely not. I think about that a lot – about how many seconds I’ve spent wondering about how the seconds added up.

    So, I walk up to the door and then I open the door towards me and I curve my body around it as I swing it open because my foyer is cluttered with the cat towers I’m always building.

    A man with a red beard that looks like tumble weed stands before me. He is—to my absolute fucking shock—holding a perfectly square, perfectly brown box in the palm of his hand – holding it like the delivery boys in movies—and he says nothing. My stomach howls. Behind this man and his tumble weed beard is the rest of the world unfolded in front of me extending forever like a virtual reality map and I realize it isn’t late or it might not be late because it only seemed dark from inside because of a storm and maybe not because of the time.

    “And what have we here?” I say like I’m flirting with the man.

    “Pizza delivery?” he says it like a question and cranes his neck to see the ticket on the top of the box but it’s flapping in the brilliant wind like a flag. “I think it’s pepperoni, or something,” he offers.

    Rain pours down like a broken heart and I feel bad for the man but he only squints against the weather like a challenge. My stomach punches itself.

    “I think you got the wrong number,” I say and immediately chuckle at the error and shake my head dismissively, but I’ve only ever had wrong numbers and never wrong humans knocking on doors, so the words just fell out of my mouth in that order. “I mean I think you have the wrong house.”

    Birds chirp somewhere above us, and I wonder if I’ve ever seen a bird in a storm before but I’m sure I have.

    “You Martha?”

    “I am.”

    “Then this is the right house.”

    “But I have not ordered a pizza yet,” I say because somehow, I realize right then that I am hungry for pizza exactly which makes all of this even more bizarre than the direction it was already heading,

    “Well this is to be delivered to Martha Merkin at 2574 Marine Dr.”

    “How much?” I feel a pang of chills like broken glass as I wonder if I somehow managed to have ordered a pizza and completely blanked on the entire process but that can’t be true because he’s shaking his head.

    “Zilch.”

    “Pardon?”

    “Nothing. You owe zero whole dollars.”

    “How can zero be whole?”  I find myself asking though I feel no commitment to the answer.

    “Exactly.”

    The pizza handoff feels like a drug deal for some reason.

    “Have a great night magical pizza man!” I call out with confidence as he disappears into the storm. I don’t shut my front door until I see headlights reverse into the fog, pause, and then lurch forward slowly until they curve against the road and until instead of headlights I am looking out at the taillights.

    I bring the pizza to my kitchen. Mr. Cat is weaving in and out of my ankles as I walk like he always does, and I always hope he realizes that when I kick him it’s on accident. Or maybe even that it’s his own fault. But he never learns his lesson and I find myself tripping over my socks to avoid striking him.

    “Mr. Cat!” I call out angrily as if he can understand. I hear the pizza pie slide inside the box—the sound making me cringe because I imagine the cheese is now only on the left. I place the box on the giant wooden table and then it happens again—that sense. The one about the delivery boy but this one more explainable because it’s accompanied by a light sound. A distant humming erupting from somewhere simultaneously outside of and within my walls— and then that sound combing and swirling and melting into all those other mindless sounds that never go away in the background of life. There is a humming making itself visible amid the generic other noise. A car engine. A car with the key in the ignition and parked somewhere outside of these walls.

    I open the pizza box and get chills from the sound of cardboard against cardboard. To my delight the pie looks perfectly fine. Mr. Cat jumps up on the table to have a looksee at whatever I’m doing. I snatch a slice as if there is someone else here who can take it from me. The pizza is delicious.

    The humming builds on itself and it now sounds like a parked garbage truck—I feel as though I can sense the body of the thing outside my window. I imagine the driver’s bent knees pressed against his outdated white wash jeans. There are scabs like open mouths across them. The bottoms of his sneakers are like cleats.

    But there is no man and there is no truck because it is only a sense and nothing more. I examine the pizza box. It looks like every pizza box I’ve ever seen. I pull the receipt off the box and walk it over to my couch and take a seat. My chewing sounds like cracking knuckles. I’m somehow nervous about this mysterious pizza. I pull the last bit of a joint out of my wide, half-melted, candle in it’s candle holder and light it so fast I can’t even see the spark. I inhale till it burns and then exhale slowly watching the cloud do a belly dance to the sky. It tastes like candle. Like pretend Spring break. Like plastic beaches and waves. Like “Spring Ocean Blue,” some generic beach scent.

    There is definitely a truck outside my window, but I don’t feel like getting up to check. I’m freaked out by the pizza. The ticket gives me no information. It only says my name and my address. I stretch my arms over my head and everything cracks down like dominoes.

    Birds are chirping so loud they overtake the parked truck sound. I see the rain but can’t hear it. I pull myself off the couch to get another slice from the kitchen. The second slice is just as good, but it burns my mouth. The heat shocks me into throwing it back into the box as if it had struck me. I stand still for a moment. I feel like I’m forgetting something. I close my eyes and clear my mind like I do when I meditate. The sudden blankness of the mind is almost startling. Almost feels like what I imagine suffocating must be. I know I’m forgetting something—it’s right on the tip of my tongue I just can’t think and then I accidently pinch it perfectly between my two front teeth. I yelp in pain—the sound something unfamiliar—something I cannot remember.

    I can’t remember ordering this pizza. And my apartment feels so warm it’s like it’s walls are made of flames. I can feel you watch me. It’s just the sense of you. The warmth of your body heat perfect for cookies. I feel you there with me. Your weight. But it isn’t until you touch me—you reach for my face and kiss me like the world is ending—that I finally see you. You are under my palms. The shape of you building above me. You are saying, “I’m sorry,” and somehow, I can hear you over the parked engine, over this warmth, “I’m sorry,” you say again and again and even though I don’t forgive you then, we both know I will.

  • Please.

    My eyes stuck on the page of the book spread open across my knees and I am re-reading the same word. Not even the same sentence. Said. Said. Said. The letters nothing more than lines and curves on paper. I cannot possibly focus. The words on the page cannot possibly matter enough.

                “Please,” a man is begging from somewhere on this crowded train – a collage of faces and bodies—a tossed salad of strangers—and I cannot read a single sentence because although I cannot see the face from which this pleading is coming from—the words loom so large that he must be everywhere all at once.

                “I don’t want money,” says the voice. “I’m so hungry. I’m so thirsty.” The sound of it cracking like nervous knuckles. He is breaking. Spider—webbing.

                Here I am with all the strangers wearing heavy jackets and colorful scarves and gripping expensive electronics and smiling and laughing and then there is this face that must exist somewhere beyond these pleads and we are all on a blueline train toward Forest Park. I am on my way to work.

                “Please,” the word hangs in the air and I see it everywhere. Every word in my book. Please please please please. The walls and ceiling of the train covered not in advertisements about surveys you could be part of but with that word. That word uttered so many times for so many different reasons and right now the  reason is clear please help me I’m just so thirsty I’m just so hungry.

                I can’t remember the last time I have begged for anything but I’m sure about one thing—when I did beg it was for something stupid like the attention from the boy I like or to get a shift at work covered so I can do something fun like go to a concert and dance and sweat and end up curled around someone I love or for someone to bring me coffee while I was working. But to me none of this is as much begging as it is whining. Maybe I haven’t ever begged, then. I have never had such a longing come from somewhere as raw and hollow as this man.

                “Please,” he says again. The weight of that one single word enough to sink the entire world.

                The train pushes forward and everyone’s body rocks with the movement back and forth nodding our heads like we’re all listening to the same song but we are not. There is no song. There’s just the grumbling of the train or maybe the hungry man’s stomach or maybe both at the same time and when the train slows and the people standing in front of me sway I try and peer around the spaces of their bodies like I’m in a thick forest and look for the mouth these words are coming from. I have given up reading a book. There is no more book like maybe there was never a book at all. I slide my hand into my jacket pocket and curl my fingers around the cold neck of the bottle of OJ I was bringing to work.

                Do I want this orange juice? I do.

                Do I need it? Absolutely not.

                Absolutely not.

                “Just a drink? Leftovers?”

                Last week I screamed so loud and hard that my throat turned into sun burn because I felt completely overwhelmed with life and bills and my mysterious health issues and I screamed because I was frustrated and angry. I am aware that I’m only struggling financially so bad because I’ve been careless and reckless and comfortable and then I screamed because I should know better than that. I remember feeling a little relief after getting it out. And then I got a hot shower and made some tea and sat on my couch to write out a list of attainable goals and a very detailed budget plan and right then and there I came to a very simple conclusion: I am going to be okay.

                I have a roof over my head. Is it expensive? Hell yeah. But I afford it.

                I have a fridge with food and drinks and half of that food and half of those drinks I won’t even eat. Half of those foods will be wasted. But they are there for me if I feel like I want it one day.

                I have candles scattered throughout my apartment with names like “Cozy Home” and “Warm Lavender” that I light every single night.

                I have a Netflix account that I use to watch my favorite TV shows when I’m having a bad day and need an easy laugh.

                I have a stupid cat who waits for me to come home every single day and greets me like I’m the greatest thing in the world.

                I have a phone.

                I have an army of people who tell me I’ll be okay and mean it.

                I have cold orange juice. I feel it in my fingers. I feel it in my palm.

                When the train stops at Clark and Lake I stand up and fight against the people pushing to get off the train—a smear of people with places to be—and make my way to that sad, sad, voice.

                “Here,” I say but it’s a whisper on accident and I don’t think he hears me.

                “God bless,” he says and that’s how I know he did. He takes the bottle from me gently, patiently, lacking the hunger I had just heard in his voice, but I see it in his hands. I see the eagerness in which he unscrews the cap. I notice it in the whites of his knuckles— grasping the drink like it’s saving him from a great fall. And then, I swear to god, in one single gulp he finishes the entire bottle. He uses the back of his hand to wipe his mouth and then his eyes and face because he is leaking. He is a broken pipe. He is crying and crying the sobs escaping from him in hiccups. And suddenly his please is now thank you, “Thank you thank you”—the chorus of the song we are all listening to.

                “I’m sorry,” I say because what else. I feel a heaviness I don’t know how to distribute. “I’m just sorry….” I don’t tell him what I’m sorry for. I don’t tell him I’m sorry for repeatedly telling the universe that I have nothing when I am so incredibly lucky. I don’t tell him I’m sorry that it’s even possible for some of us to have so very much while others have so very little. I say I am sorry because I can honestly say that I have no idea what it’s like to be so thirsty that drinking orange juice would bring me to tears. I cannot begin to imagine what living like that must be like. “I’m sorry,” I say and as the words fall out of my mouth I fall apart myself and before I know it I am crying with him. I am crying and crying and the train lurches forward and it’s almost time for work and this man is sad and I am sad and I have no idea why this moment is so powerful to me. I have seen and even in been in so many other situations much like this one. I have no idea why this one consumes me. All I know is that it does.

                I get off the train with my heavy limbs and steady my breathing. I am angry at myself when I cannot picture his face with the kind of clarity he deserves. I want to be able to picture him smiling. I want to be able to picture him happy and not lonely or afraid or thirsty. I stand there on the train platform—a car crash happening somewhere inside of me—because I am conjuring an image of this person in my head and all I have is the shape. All I have are the words; Please. Thank you.

  • My writers block

    I am on my couch trying to write when my stomach grumbles a little bit. I’m probably hungry. I make myself a salad and return to my seat.

                  I’ve done everything to prepare myself to sit down and make words. I meditated. I cleaned. I lit all the candles staggered throughout my little apartment that I share with my fluffy cat. I tried writing through the struggle that is writers block but it felt exactly like running in place which is good exercise, really, but it (literally) gets you nowhere.

                  “Writing is hard,” I say out loud. And like it’s another person replying—my stomach growls. Weird, I think. I ignore it.

                  I write a few sentences and cross them out because nothing sounds right. I honestly think I have forgotten how to write overnight. I wonder if I should call a hotline of some sort. I am terrified for my sanity.

                  What does this mean for me?

                  What does this mean for the people in my life who will now have to tolerate me?

                  My stomach grumbles again very loudly. My cat narrows its eyes at me as if the sound coming from my tummy is a threat to her. It doesn’t necessarily hurt but I can feel pressure in my stomach pressing against my other organs. I’ve never had a baby so I don’t know what it feels like when a tiny fetus foot kicks but that’s the only way I can describe this sensation. I start to panic. Am I pregnant? Impossible. I stand up and place my blank-paged journal face up on my always wobbly coffee table. My stupid cat makes her little bird noises. I start pacing—momentarily distracted from my mysterious stomach by how good of a job I did on the kitchen floor earlier. My stupid cat is at my heels because she follows me literally everywhere. I almost trip over her. My kitchen smells like bananas and I instantly realize how much I dislike the smell of bananas. My stomach pulses. It pulses again more violently. I reach for my fridge to hold myself up. A car rumbles by my garden unit window and the glass and pebbles popping under the rolling tires sound like fire crackers.

                  I lift my Philly Pretzel Factory tshirt and look at my belly and sure enough it’s now a soft curve—half of a basketball. I’m sweating. I walk back into the living room while my tummy expands more—the pressure against my other organs almost unbearable now. I notice something yellow protruding from my belly button and because I am desperate or scared or angry I pinch it between my thumb and pointer finger. It’s soft and ropey like yarn but super thin like thread. I tug at it and instantly feel tension release from my insides so I pull again. I pull harder. I lick my lips. I can’t swallow. My stupid cat is shrieking behind me still in the kitchen and for a second I wonder how super confused she must be. I pull and pull this yellow thread feeling movement sliding between my organs reminding me of that one time I had a drainage pipe taken out of me after surgery. It felt like really, really, deep butterflies. I bite my lips and give it one, hefty, final, tug because I can sense that it’s almost all out. I simultaneously feel a great relief and great terror when the thing comes out of my belly button. I feel incredibly nauseous when I see the squirmy yellow creature hopping from foot to foot in front of me. He looks like one of the monsters from that show I used to love, “AHHH…. Real Monsters,” and so I am not scared. He has eyes as round and shiny as coffee mugs. He has no nose. His mouth is a gaping, oblong, circle.

                  “Go away before my cat eats you!” I shout as I shoo it with my socked foot. It prances into my foyer I forgot to mop and pushes itself out my screen door.

                  Relieved, I close and lock both my screen and my front door. I walk back into my living room where my stupid cat is licking herself. Everything is as if none of that just happened and so I sit down and pick up my journal.

                  I am back on my couch and I am trying to write when my stomach grumbles a little bit.

  • Eaten alive.

    My cries for help were ignored. I was drowning. It was your fingers I felt curled around my skull, holding me under. Your teeth gnashing. And yet I love you. And yet I love you with all that I am. I love you more than you deserve.

    I love you too much, you’d said right before you devoured me. You held the fork and knife in the same hands that used to draw patterns across my skin. The same hands that used to push the wild hair out of my face. The same hands that held me together. You were my bandage. 

    I have never needed to be saved as bad as I’ve needed to be saved these last few months. Where were you? You were preparing recipes. Shopping for spices. What goes with a broken heart all split open and hollow like the pumpkins we carved last Halloween? Wine as red as I bleed?

    The galaxies behind your eyes was misleading but I followed it anyway leaving breadcrumbs behind me so I could find my way out eventually. I waved goodbye to all the faces that didn’t matter anymore. Goodbye goodbye goodbye. It had never tasted so sweet. I licked my teeth into a smile.

     And then I am spiraling. Losing myself. Please please please I’m not ready.

    I used to think you’d save me. I wrote it on a piece of paper once and gave it to you. I drew pictures of promises that I would swear to keep (promises I still keep). I drew shapes of love and hope and safety. I trusted you. I thought I had escaped from my misery. My mistakes. Myself. I fell into the stars with my eyes shut. When will I land?

    I am red and blotchy and staggered breathing and coiled. I had made the decision. I am floating above myself as I approach you and that smile, those teeth. Everything is a blur. Everything is blending. I am empty.

    It is a Sunday. Maybe if I were religious I would smirk at the irony. But I am not and the more I see your perfectly shaped oatmeal eyes the less I believe in anything.

    I’m supposed to work but how can I go in if I can’t even get dressed? I am a sopping pile on the dirty bathroom floor where I’d collapsed, falling. I fold into myself. You are waiting. I am evaporating.

    I think back to that night when I held my palms open, collecting pieces of you surrounded by strangers before they disappeared. Or was it us who disappeared? I lost track. We looked down from the height of the ferris wheel and the city lights looked like lighters swaying at a concert—the flame dancing all the way up to our feet. Don’t look down, you pleaded. But I did. I got you, I said. I meant it. I still do. I want your face back, I’d begged and you told me it was there. It melted off and I held my splayed hands open feeling you ooze between my fingertips. I liked it better that way. I liked you in the palm of my hands. We ate churros. We kissed until we were ashes.

    It’s okay, you say now but I am not sure. The bed is made. There are roses. My stomach is a fist because I know this is right but I am scared. I never said I wouldn’t hurt you, you say. But that’s a lie. You always said you wouldn’t hurt me. You said it in bed, our twizzler bodies twisted into something exquisite. You said it dancing through the aisles of grocery stores. I will never hurt you, the honey dripped down your chin.

    You scrape the metal silverware together and the sound drills holes into my brain. You dim the lights and everything is a shadow. Everything is smeared lead. I can feel your warmth. Your beat. Your breath. I lie on the bed.

    I feel the teeth of the fork press into my skin gently. I feel the razor edge of the knife, cold and looming.

    Hold still.

    I made promises so I hold still. I do not blink.

    It’s a dull ache at first. It feels like sunburn. Like something bright. I am an open wound.

    You take me piece by piece. Carving me into the shape of beautiful things because you tell me I deserve the best. That’s the reason for this. That’s the reason for everything, I suppose. Because you know what’s best for me you say. But then why am I shivering. You don’t know me at all, I sing because I am sad.

    You take every last bite. You savor it and let it float in limbo before you’re completely finished and I think you’re cruel for that. I want to treat it like a band aid but I also can’t seem to let go.

    I am suffocating inside you.

    I love you too much, you say. But I am also being swallowed whole. And then I will be digested. And then I will be nothing. I’m sorry, you say but we both know you don’t mean it. Maybe you never did. The apology sounds like another language.

    I’ll start letting go of little things till I’m so far away from you far away from you, I whisper through the cage of your heart. I promise. We both know I don’t break promises.

     

  • Dear John.

    I could never live somewhere that doesn’t have good public transit. There’s something satisfying about taking the train to get places. On the train right now to get to John’s wake. I feel oddly at peace. A type of peace I wouldn’t find if I was in a car on the road stuck in traffic listening to someone else’s music—or no music at all because it seems like every lyft or cab I get into is so quiet that it’s suffocating.

    I’m not listening to music right now either. I’m listening to the generic sounds—the typical noise that that combines to make a soundtrack to the brownline. People talking on the phone. “Well when we hang up I expect a selfie,” a man wearing a blue and white checkered shirt and wiry glasses says to whoever is on the other line. The crinkly sound of a newspaper being turned over. The achy, sighing, creaking of the tracks as we push to a stop. The steady hum of the train like a giant, breathing, mammal. A little girl splitting up into laughter. I find comfort in these sounds.

    John taught me the importance of being present. Of listening. Of pausing. Of being aware. Story is everywhere. There is a story behind every sound. Each sound is a story. Each sound, each moment, has a beginning, a middle, and an end. Why have I spent so much time acting as if there weren’t things I should be exploring? Why have I wasted so much time complaining about how hard it is to write? I make excuses. I don’t slow down. But I should. I will. I’m awake now.

    I will never in my life forget the time John read, “The Ledge,” to my class. It was a normal day otherwise. We had arrived before John and Betty. We set up the semi-circle—the semi-circle that confused the hell out of me way back when I was lost and excited and new. But it became second nature. It made so much sense. Everything that John did had a reason. Every move he made, he made deliberately. I’ve never known another human to exist so purposefully. Eventually in shuffled John. He pulled a black, carry-on suitcase behind him like always. A suitcase heavy with student work and books and teaching stuff and I always imagined his home was like that, too—filled to the brim with the weight of a billion words which sounds like the perfect home to me. In his free hand, he held his redeye—the coffee he drank every single workshop without fail. Or maybe the official name was a doppio? I only know the coffee he drank because sometimes I’d get it for him so he didn’t have to make the trip. And, like any other day, before he sat down and settled in he’d placed that little pillow on the seat at the head of the semi-circle; a little square shaped faded cushion—yellow with a red floral pattern.

    The class probably began with recall. Class always started with recall and no matter how annoying recall sometimes felt—it was greatly beneficial and so we did it and we did it with purpose because that’s what John taught us to do. When we got to the reading part of workshop, he presented us, “The Ledge,” by Lawrence Sargent Hall. I had never heard of it before so I leaned in with interest.

    Long story short (or I guess the correct phrase would be ‘short story even shorter’) it’s about a fisherman who wakes up early on Christmas morning to take his son fishing. It starts off beautifully with images of snow and water and love and that feeling you get every Christmas morning no matter how old you are. They take the dog, too, if I’m remembering correctly. Anyway, the boat ends up crashing because of a heavy storm. There is a moment when the father is trying to save his drowning son but cannot. When we got to that part of the story, it was John’s turn to read. He started in that same, strong, John voice that we all know and love. That deep, powerful, voice that he existed behind. A voice that didn’t ask for attention—it demanded it. And then, as the story started to take that dark turn, his voice became quiet. It became shaky. His eyes got red and watery. He kept pausing. Me? I was terrified. I had no idea what was happening. I wanted to hug him. I wanted to understand. I looked around at my classmates. They were all shifting uneasily, too. But John kept reading. The more he read the more his emotions melted off him. It was a physical manifestation of John’s response to the piece and it gave me goosebumps so intense you could read them like braille. John finished the story himself even though multiple times I leaned in and extended my hand in case he couldn’t get through it. But he did. He thanked me but he continued reading and crying until finally at the end he was literally sobbing and blowing his nose into the handkerchief he kept in his pocket. The classroom grew so exquisitely quiet that it felt loud—have you ever experienced that? Something so quiet it hurts? That’s what happened that night. We all sat there together. We sat there quietly. We sat there emotionally.

    John never exactly told us why he cried so intently while reading that story. We have read so many other stories that were just as sad or even more sad and he didn’t even flinch. I like not knowing why it touched him the way it did, though. Seeing him shed himself like that—literally watching the way this story broke down his walls was fascinating and powerful and made me cry with him. It made all of us cry with him and we didn’t even know why but I think I understand it now. I cried with him because I was there with him. In the moment with him. I felt his energy. I was there. We were all there.

    I’m getting off at Southport. My stomach doesn’t feel too upset which is surprising seeing as how hearing about his passing knocked me into a pile of sadness on my couch. My heart feels heavy, yes, but it feels strong. I may have lost John, one of my greatest mentors and biggest fans, but I haven’t lost all that he has taught me. I haven’t lost everything he has given me—I will carry that around with me forever. I will take what he has given me and I will use it. I will not waste my time. I will not waste his efforts.

    Death is a part of life and so we should be used to it yet when slapped right across the face with it—it feels impossible to process, like any great loss really. I will keep John with me forever. I will never forget his support or that time he told me I was ‘formidable’ and told me, “You’ll realize that about yourself, too. And when you do—it’s going to be everything.” There was something about John that was incredibly special and he made me realize things about myself that have changed me for the better. I’m lucky to have known him, to have learned from him, to have found a friend and a mentor in him. I will push forward to pursue everything I dream of—everything John believed I could do. I am lucky to have had the best kind of people in my corner. The kind of people that say the right words at the right time. The kind of people who understand the importance of being present.

     

  • Number one.

    “You kiss like a dog, you smell like a pig, how could I be so dumb, to date a loser so big.” This is one of the earliest things I remember writing and as I look back on it now— even then— I wrote to expose. Granted my writing back then wasn’t as structured and didn’t make much sense. But I wrote because I thought it could change things. And I think that maybe that’s why I still write. To tell some kind of truth.

    One of the things I miss most about being in a writing workshop is the immediate sense of audience. Knowing I had that audience made me write. Knowing I had that audience gave my writing purpose. Sometimes I feel like writing is greedy because at the core of it all I write for myself. Because it makes me happy. Because I am the best version of myself when I am writing. Because my brain is a giant word search and I’m just filling in the blanks. But I also write because I want to be heard. Because (if you know me personally) I have a lot to say. Since I don’t have class anymore— you guys, whoever is reading this (yes, you), are my audience and for that I thank you.

    Growing up I mostly wrote poetry. Really bad, angsty, teen heartache poetry but I did it because my friends responded. They were the first ones who taught me about audience and how to cater to one and I’m pretty sure they had no idea. I would write sad depressing poems about death and drug abuse and none of them meant anything to me but when I sat in my friend’s kitchen surrounded by my girlfriends and I would read and as the room would grow silent like a photo in a text book, I would watch their faces change shape. I would watch their lips quiver, the muscles in their eyebrows tug like maybe there was a string being pulled. I would watch their eyes grow heavy, shoulders sink, and it fascinated me. My poems were always sad because I liked sad. I still do. My friends would sit around that table and cry like it mattered – and because of that, it did matter. It mattered to me that I could create something that would change the shape of another person’s face.

    “You should submit your poetry,” my friends would say and I just brushed it off until one day I didn’t. I was naïve and knew nothing about publishing or where or how to submit but I saw an ad on the back of a “17 Magazine” or something and I thought, why not? I was young, probably not even in high school yet and I submitted the hell out of that poem. I can’t remember what it was about but I remember it rhymed because back then I believed all poems should rhyme.

    I waited anxiously to hear back from this place and when I did I was in denial. My mom greeted me at the door holding the envelope in her hand. I grabbed it and plopped on the couch, ripping the paper like it was Christmas.

    The letter indicated that these people would be happy to print my words, to expose my passion, my thoughts, my pride, for the low rate of $49.95. But I was blinded.

    “They loved it!” I told my mom. The price didn’t matter. All I could think about was seeing my work somewhere that everyone else would be able to see it. Not even caring who the ‘everyone else’ was.

    “Honey…I don’t think…” she stopped and stared at me. Probably figuring out the right way to say this. I waited for her to continue, holding the proof that my writing was good enough in my hand. Or at least what I thought was proof my writing was good enough. “Honey I don’t think this is real.”

    “Why?” I demanded. “Because you’re jealous?” I was furious. How dare she stomp on my hard-earned recognition of being an impressive poet.

    Obviously I did not pay. I did not follow through and I don’t remember who or what convinced me to drop it but I did and all I remember now is that it didn’t stop me. It kept me going. Kept me wanting to prove a point though at that age I had no idea what that point was.

    After poetry my second love was journalism which I loved for the same reason I loved bad poetry— I was in love with the idea of revealing something. Exposing information or lies or secrets. I was obsessed with truth and so I wrote to find it. I am still writing to find it.

    I started journalism in high school and would continue pursuing it at two of the colleges I would attend before transferring to Columbia, the place that would finally confirm what it is I want to spend my life doing.

     In high school I wrote for the school paper and my teacher was great. She was fun and informative and let us choose our own topics. I remember when it was around prom she wanted to do an entire paper on prom. Interview students about the perfect prom, write articles on the perfect dress or tux, all that good and cheesy prom stuff.

    “There is one article that I think is very important to write,” she said. We listened. “I want someone to write an article about not having sex or doing drugs or partying. And it’s going to be rough because I know it’s ‘cool’ to partake in these things and I don’t want anyone to be picked on for writing such an article. But I find it important and it needs to be told.” The class was silent and we all looked at each other. “Any takers?”

    Naturally, I am a fan of confrontation and always had been even in high school. Not confrontation in the sense of arguing though sometimes that was okay too, but confrontation in the sense of discomfort. I think discomfort is why I write as well. Sometimes (most of the time) it is healthy and absolutely necessary to push boundaries, whatever those boundaries are to you. So I raised my hand.

    “You know, we can just say it was written by the entire staff so we don’t expose you and so your peers don’t laugh at you,” she said.

    “I don’t mind,” I said. And I didn’t. And I wrote that article whether I believed in the things I wrote about or not. Someone, somewhere did and that was all that mattered. I wrote about how cliché the idea of losing your virginity after prom is. I wrote about how alcohol isn’t necessary to have fun and how childish the whole idea of getting wasted at a school event was. I wrote and wrote and wrote and turned that sucker in. It was going to be the center spread and I could not wait for my entire school to read that and for them all to think I was some kind of prude.

    When the paper was released, the first thing I did was turn to that article, my pride and joy, only to see that she had written ‘by: STAFF’ where my name should have been. Of course I was disappointed and I asked her why. She told me it was to ‘protect’ me and I told her I thought it was stupid and that I wanted to be recognized for the things I created. I don’t remember what happened after that. All that I remember is that I kept writing.

    After high school I went to NIU for journalism. They seemed to have a decent program and I was excited about living in the dorms, being on my own, and writing the truth about everything I wanted to explore. What ended up being true to me then was that I was pursuing the wrong thing, though it would take me a while to realize it. My journalism professors told me I was being too creative. That my language was too pretty. I don’t remember much about journalism now but being told those things confused the hell out of me. Where I fell in love, for real love, was in my literature class. We read “The Things They Carried,” and it changed my entire life. I often ask artists what that thing was that changed everything for them because I’m curious and I think little moments that cause huge changes is one of the best things life has to offer. “The Things They Carried,” changed everything for me and it was weird because I never was a fan of war stories. And that’s the thing-- this book was not just a war story. It told the truth about love, loss, war, pain, and regret. The chapter, “How to tell a True War Story,” gave me goosebumps to my skull. I read it over and over again with the same hunger I read it the first time. And then, the very last part of the book, “The Lives of the Dead,” made me cry. It made my heart hurt and the pain was beautiful. Before then, no books had ever touched me so dramatically and I realized then that Tim O’Brien was doing the one thing that I had been wanting to do since day one. He was making people feel things. The power behind that very idea, the power behind being able to manipulate words and sentences into something so heartbreaking and honest and real, the power to make strangers feel something so deeply that they cry or yell or gasp or groan— it would become the very reason I write. I write because I want to make people feel.

    During my first semester at NIU I ended up getting a surgery that forced me to drop out, which was fine. I was feigning for my new love of writing stories and in that time off from college, I fell in love with other books I had read before and didn’t know I loved. “The Great Gatsby,” “Animal Farm,” “The Scarlett Letter,” I read these books over and over and realized that they were all doing what I had been wishing for all along. They exposed a truth. Every single one of them.

    I write because I fall in love so easily. I fall in love every single day and sometimes it’s beautiful, sometimes it’s tragic, but it is always powerful. I want to write about this. About how many things can change us if we let it. I want to write something that changes things.

    I look back on all these things that have prompted me to write. All the people that have saved me and hurt me and the books that opened some kind of truth inside of me. The people I have made cry, the places that have rejected me, the things I long to expose, and ultimately I want to be that for someone else. I want someone to come across something I have written and I want them to think, “This is what I need to do for the rest of my life.” I think this is why I write.