welcome to the workings of my melted brain

  • There is screaming in my head.

    There is screaming in my head that doesn’t sound like my own and so I jolt awake from my sleep and turn the light on. I roll out of bed and my white nightgown tangles around my ankles as I run through my apartment to find the source and the more I run, the more apartment spreads before me. The screaming, it doesn’t stop. Screeching tires. Nails on a chalk board. A car accident happening inside of me. An entire world, an entire universe ripping apart deep within me. Screams that sound like destruction.

                I run through a doorway and suddenly I am in a room that is outside—wide and vast and dark. It smells like freshly overturned dirt. Wet ground. The rain is permanently pouring from the sky so everything is heavy and grey like smeared lead and I just want to take my palm and wipe it all away until it’s bright and clear and blue.

                I find her here, the screaming.

                “But I want to die! Let me die!” she screams from beneath the entire earth and the wind blows and everything sways and it feels like I’m in a movie.

                I’ve been trying to save her for a while now. I’m always finding her in places that are hard to breathe in—underwater, overwhelmed, holding her breath, holding everything until she is blue in the face, until I come to save her.

                I drop to my knees and I cup my hands like little shovels and begin to dig. I can feel the damp ground soaking through the thin material of my white gown, stains that I’ll never be able to remove.

                “I want to not breathe right now,” I hear her muffled screams but still I dig furiously until my biceps pulse. Until the bend of my fingers cramp. Until the sweat pours down my face or maybe it’s the rain but probably it’s both.

                “Don’t,” I say to her but so quiet it’s to myself. “Don’t say that!” I try to say louder but a gust of wind takes it in another direction and the wind is too strong and loud and powerful to yank it back.

                “Leave me alone!”

                I know she wants to suffocate.

                “I’ll never not save you,” I yell back.

                I am frantic and I think back to all the people I’ve said this to. All the people who left and didn’t realize I would have fought for them if they stayed. Out of all the people I promised to always save, you were the one that mattered most.

                “I’ll be here forever,” I’d said to your brown eyes, the mole above your mouth like a little chocolate chip. “I’ll stay,” I said to your face, your soul, your entire being but you let go before I did and sometimes I still wonder when you’re gonna smash to the bottom and will you take my hand then? Surely it’ll still be outstretched toward you. I see your eyes as dark and heavy as this mud, this dirt, the world. The weight of everything I couldn’t save you from pushing me under giant, crashing waves—the last thing I ever feel is the curve of your hand on top of my skull holding me there, drowning me until I hear those screams echoing through the empty halls in my mind and I jolt awake to find her again. She is always somewhere hard to reach—hard to find.

                “But I can help,” I always say to her when she’s found—a line repeated so many times it might as well be lyrics to a song only I can hear.

                The lightening flashes like a billion photos being taken, like the paparazzi is here, blinding me. But I keep digging, ignoring my wet hair soaking through and sticking to my cheeks, ignoring the jackhammer in my chest that’s threatening to break through the hardened concrete there. I see a little movement under the dirt. I know I’m getting closer—the screams are louder and louder, almost too loud, the screeching rips through me until I realize it’s no longer inside of me, inside of my head. It’s coming from under the pile of dirt but she is not screaming for help, she’s screaming at me to stop but I tell her I won’t. I can’t.

                “I don’t wanna be saved anymore,” she says from somewhere deep. Her voice is booming, thunderous, a storm. Rain and sleet and cold.

                “I’m never going to stop,” I yell over the gusts of wind and this time I know the words reach her. I know that they grab her pale, thin wrists and pull her up and up and up until she breaks through the dirt like something blooming. She is gasping for air because even though she tells me she doesn’t want to breathe I know that she’s starving for it. I rock back onto my heels, gasping for my own air. My chest rising and falling so heavily it feels like rug burn. Like my heart has been dragged for years across a surface as jagged and broken as itself.

                When the storm clears and the rain slows to a trickle and the screams are now nothing but a shadow from a figure I can’t see, I get up from the wet grass and suddenly I am running. I pump my legs until they match the burn in my chest. I can hear my wet gown dragging behind me as I run barefoot, ignoring the pinches from loose stones biting my heels. I don’t know where I am going. I am going nowhere. I am going to your old house. I am on an empty train going towards where you once lived—where we created our little world and built the strongest bond, the strongest connection, that I had ever felt in my entire life. A connection that I secretly know I’ll never find again. At least not quite like that. I want to run by that place we once called home, the only place that had ever felt like home to me whenever I was homesick. I want to know how it feels now. I keep checking every now and then because if I lose that sense of wholeness I felt when I was there, I’m afraid I’ll never find it again.

    It is only me on the train. It is only me when I get off the train. It is me walking down this familiar street. The entire world around me so still and unmoving it’s nothing but a photograph. I approach the front door to the building I found so much love in and I hold my breath.

    How does it feel?

    It feels like nothing. It feels as vacant as this neighborhood. There is nothing where there should be nostalgia. But I want to feel something. I long to feel something because I thought my love was forever even if yours wasn’t and it scares me how hollow I’ve grown.

    I head home with an overwhelming sense of defeat. Defeat and exhaustion that is swallowing me entirely. I want to shriek as loud as I can just to feel the fire burn through my throat. I finally make it home and I walk into the warmth through my front door and collapse like spilled guts onto the couch. She is sitting with her legs twisted like a pretzel on the carpet, leaning back on her hands behind her. I close my eyes.

    “I’ll never not save you,” she whispers. “I promise to save you for the rest of my life.”

    And it brings me great comfort to know that there’ll be no screaming to wake me this time.

  • The story of my little Tweety Bird

                When I adopted my sweet Tweety Bird, I was still only a dog person. I hated cats, in fact. I had never actually been around a cat that didn’t pee all over my things or smell like dirty litter or chew up my chargers or chew up the strings to my brand-new bathing suit or knock entire drinks off the counter or scratch or bite humans for no reason. Growing up I had dogs. I had gerbils. I had hamsters that ate their newborns. I had multiple different bunnies (that’s a whole different essay right there). I had lizards that I caught with my own two hands while in Florida. I had boring fish. I grew up loving animals and I remember when I was real young I would see dead animals on the side of the road and beg my parents to stop so we could help them somehow. Honestly I thought I would grow up to be a veterinarian because I loved animals so very much. All animals except for cats of course. My mom is highly allergic to them and I just didn’t think I should like something that could kill her just by breathing in the same air as her.

                The impulsive purchase of my lovely Tweety Bird wasn’t impulsive in the sense that I just randomly decided to adopt a cat out of nowhere after spending most of my life wanting nothing to do with them. It was my therapist who gave me the idea. She told me that having a pet would help make getting out of bed easier. Getting out of bed isn’t something that’s ever been hard for me in the past but at that time in my life I was still undiagnosed, and life just felt like one giant bruise. Every single waking moment of my life was agonizing. Just imagine the worst flu you’ve ever had; shivering and freezing while simultaneously so hot you wanna rip your skin off, fatigue so heavy it’s swallowing you whole, stiff and achy muscles, nausea so intense all you have to do is look at a toilet and suddenly stomach bile is pouring out your mouth, burning all the way up the esophagus. I lived this way for so long. The people in my life were growing frustrated because they just didn’t understand and I’m pretty positive half of them thought I was exaggerating the entire time. I became bitter and short and incredibly negative. Not even any doctors believed me. I’ve had doctors tell me I’m being dramatic. I had a nice man in the ER literally say, “I can’t even take you seriously right now. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with you,” as I cried on that bed they have in hospital rooms with the crinkly paper sticking to my sweaty legs. I tried everything. I begged. I pleaded. I asked for advice. I went to so many different clinics and hospitals that it felt like one long smear and the only conclusion that every single one of them could come up with was this: it’s all in your head. But the pain was so severe and the brain fog so real. Eventually I dragged myself to a therapist because I remember one day thinking, Maybe it is just my head. Maybe I’m literally losing my mind. And to this very second when I think about that, about how these doctors made me question and doubt myself, I am filled with rage. I can’t wait for the day I can let go of that bitterness because it’s quite heavy and I really don’t like holding onto negativity that weighs me down.

                My therapist was the very first medical professional to listen to me. She was the first one who never once made me feel like the physical pain taking over my entire body was just in my head. Our first few sessions were basically me vomiting up words and anger and fear and frustration while she stayed silent and I respect her so much for that. Maybe most people would have wanted their therapist to offer deep insight about the things I was going through but honestly all I wanted was to be able to get it all out without being cut off or without someone rolling their eyes or without someone sighing or telling me to ‘stop being so negative.’

    At one point I became well aware that I was suffering from depression and it was unlike anything I had ever felt in my life. I remember thinking that I had been depressed before, like when I was sad about a boy or not getting that job or when my family got evicted with no place to go. But no. This was depression. A feeling so thick it was like I couldn’t breathe. I was severely depressed because I felt so alone in this mysterious battle. My family, who is the most supportive and loving family I could ever have, was 900 miles away. A person I once trusted with my everything told me he was “desensitized” to my pain because it was never ending and ruined everything we made plans for. I lost a couple friends who I think just thought I was being a bad friend because I kept flaking on plans but really I just couldn’t find the energy to even shower let alone be social. I had to keep missing work because I couldn’t stop throwing up. I missed friends’ weddings. I missed a couple best friends’ birthdays last minute. It felt like there wasn’t one single person on this Earth who understood that whatever was happening to me was ruining my life and there was nothing I could do to stop it. If doctors couldn’t make even a mere suggestion on what I should try to do to get well, how was I supposed to get well? I had truly never felt so alone and so scared in my entire life. I gave up attempting to get my dream job. I gave up writing. I gave up all the things that made me me and I became a bitter, miserable, depressed shell of the person I used to be.

                And then there was that one therapy session that I told her about how most of the time I felt like there was no reason to get out of bed. That sometimes I wished I could just stay in bed and stay asleep for the rest of my life.

                “I don’t want to die or anything!” I added quickly because I knew how that sounded and the truth was I didn’t want to die. Even at my scariest and worst depression I never wanted to die. In fact it was the opposite. I wanted so badly to live again. To go for a run. To write a short story with a beginning and a middle and an end without my cognitive malfunctions forcing me to throw my journal against the wall because my memory was so bad that I’d start a sentence or a thought and by the end of it, I had forgotten what I was trying to say. I wanted to work a shift behind the bar without running to the bathroom every 20 minutes to vomit up thick, yellow, bile. I wanted to go dancing with my boyfriend again. I wanted to be able to go out with my friends and laugh and make jokes. I wanted to be able to go out in public and not be moody and miserable and snappy. “I just don’t want to feel this anymore,” I clarified.

                “I think getting a pet might be really beneficial to you,” she said gently.

                I told her I couldn’t have a dog and so she suggested a cat.

                “Are you writing me a prescription for a cat?” I asked as I imagined going to a pharmacy and handing a script over to a person in a white lab coat, watching them disappear into the back and returning with an animal all hissing and meowing.

                “No,” she’d laughed. “But I could always fill out a document that states your cat is a service cat and your landlord would be more than likely forced to oblige.”

                When I thought of service animals I thought of seeing eye dogs wearing bright vests like they worked on the CTA or something. I never imagined a cat. What kind of service could a cat even provide? Luckily I didn’t need any paperwork that solidified I was insane and needed an animal to make me feel loved because my landlord emailed me that night and said a cat would be fine.

                I didn’t know where to begin on this newfound mission to get a cat and make it love me. So I went out one day just to ‘window shop’ at local shelters. A while back when I was still alive and full of motivation and was teaching, we went on a field trip to the Anti-Cruelty Society and so I decided to start there. It felt strange telling the lady behind the giant desk that I wanted to look at the cats.

                “Are you hoping to take one home today or are you just looking for now?” she asked.

                “Um. I’m not sure. I guess I’ll take one home if I like one?” I literally had no idea what the process of adopting a cat was or how long it took.

                “Great!” she said, and pointed me to a clear door surrounded by clear walls so I could see right through at all the tiny cages the cats stayed in.

                The room smelled like cat and was filled with sad mews and scratching. I’m such a big believer in energy and vibes and never not trust my gut when I sense something. A crabby looking cat caught my energy and I looked through the bars of her cell and she glared me, unmoving. She was already one and I thought I wanted a cute little baby so I ignored my gut and kept moving. I took a few adorable kittens into the rooms that gave you space to feel them out like test driving a car and honestly I was bored with all of them. Yeah they were cute. Sure they were tiny and fluffy and clumsily rubbing up against me with affection but I just didn’t feel it. I test drove, like, at least five different cats and decided that perhaps tonight wasn’t the night to adopt a cat. On my way out I passed the one that gave me a dirty look and I put my face up to the cage. I immediately felt like I wanted to love her when I looked into her grumpy face.

                “Fine,” I hissed at her. I looked around and asked the volunteer if I could test this one out.

                “Her?” she asked. “She’s a tough one,” she said but she was smiling so I didn’t know what she could have meant. She got her loud jangling keys out and opened the cell door and the cat instantly hissed and showed her teeth. Her hair got all puffy and she narrowed her eyes at me like a challenge. “Hang on, lemme try and coax her with treats,” she said as she dug in her pocket for some treats. When she presented them to the cat, the cat cautiously took a few steps forward and ate the treats, never taking her eyes off of us as if she didn’t trust us. The volunteer tried to reach in again and the cat emitted a loud shriek of defiance. “I’m so sorry,” the volunteer said, sounding defeated. “We have this policy where we never ever force an animal out of the cage if they don’t want to come out. But this is how she is. She’s moody and demanding and she really makes you work for her love. She hates other cats and doesn’t really respond to most of the things a cat should like. We really do call her the diva in here. She has the biggest personality, that’s for sure. She has her own rules. Clearly.”

                I stared at the thing and that strong feeling of connection I had inside didn’t falter. I don’t know why. To this day I have no idea why. “Can I try to pet her?” I asked, thinking maybe the energy I was sensing about her was something she felt too.

                “Sure, you can try,” she said.

                And so I did. I slowly reached my hand in the cage and the cat let out a low, annoyed, grumble. I pulled my hand back out and stared at her. She blinked. She lifted up one paw and began cleaning it as if bored with our antics.

                “You know what? I’ll take her,” I said.

                “Excuse me?”

                “I’ll just take her. So just put her in the box and do whatever needs to be done but I wanna take her home tonight.”

                The volunteer was visibly confused. Probably she’d never adopted a cat out to a person who never ever got the chance to touch the thing first.

                “Are you sure?”

                “Very sure,” I said, silently nodding to my gut.

                I was brought into a fairly empty room so they could interrogate me and find out if I was a sociopath or maybe if I partook in underground cat fighting (is that a thing?) or if I would smack it around if it made too much noise. I passed their test and shortly after I was on my way out holding a box with a creature eerily quiet and unmoving inside of it. I peeked in to make sure she was even in there and they didn’t just put a weighted pillow or something to distract me because everyone was really weirded out that I so badly wanted to take home this cat that wanted nothing to do with me.

                My honest first thoughts upon gently dumping her from the box onto the floor of my living room floor was this: “Oh my god. Are cats returnable? How long do they live for? What am I supposed to do with it?” I had shockwaves of panic as I realized how little I knew about owning a cat and how much of my life I spent hating them.

                But cutting to the point here because this thing is getting much longer than I imagined it in my head—I ended up naming her Tweety Bird because she walks around chirping all day. It only took her a small amount of time to warm up to me and when she did, we were total buddies. She followed me absolutely everywhere. She’s not very affectionate but she’s literally never not by my side. When I go into my bathroom to do my makeup, she plops down right next to me staring at our reflection. When I go to bed she crawls under my bed because god forbid she shows me some sort of affection, but knowing she always wants to be near me is honestly enough. And my therapist was absolutely correct. The love I feel from this stupid animal has rescued my sanity way too many times to count. It’s like she knows when I’m feeling depressed. After finally getting diagnosed with fibromyalgia and being told that depression and anxiety would now forever be part of who I am simply because of the way fibromyalgia changes the brain waves and chemicals—I became even more grateful for my little Tweety Bird. Because while she may not be the most full-time affectionate kitty, whenever I’m having a serious bout of depression or feeling exceptionally anxious for no reason, Tweety suddenly becomes affectionate. And when those days come where just getting out of bed is almost too overwhelming to do, here comes baby Tweety Bird pawing at my head and purring and meowing because she wants me to play with her or feed her. When I sit on my couch to get some writing done she’ll jump up and curl up on the back of the couch right next to my head. When a bad flare up consumes me and takes my body hostage, Tweety will curl up with me and give me sandpaper kisses with her tongue across my face. Tweety matches my mood day in and day out. When I’m happy and feeling good she wants to play and lick my hair like she’s grooming one of her old friends. When I’m sad and lonely, she rubs against me and gently butts her head with mine like cheer up, I got you! When I’m stressed and overwhelmed with work she plops onto the ground and dramatically rolls onto her back to stare at me upside down and meow for my attention, demanding I take a break from whatever is consuming me so that I could remember I have her love to keep me grounded, to keep me going. Tweety is the exact cat that I had never come across. She doesn’t chew on anything. Hasn’t ruined a single thing in my apartment. She doesn’t make messes. Doesn’t try to eat my food or knock things down. In so many ways she reminds me of a dog and maybe that’s what my gut was telling me. All that I know is I wake up every single morning, pain or no pain, and happily jump out of bed because Tweety wants to give me her love and watch me get ready for work and I know that when I come home after a long day, she (and now my newer little baby gremlin of a kitty) will be sitting at the door ready to throw a party when I walk in the door because they’re so happy that I exist and it all just makes this life with chronic pain so much less painful.

  • A poem (i think) on the places we used to eat.

    All the places we used to eat are disappearing, shutting down.

    All the spots we held hands in are gone and it feels like the last sentence of a favorite novel.

    The vacant windows are boarded up, dusty and cracked.

    There used to be bodies that filled inside of these spaces.

    Our bodies, usually.

    I press my face against a window and peer into the darkness as quiet as a whisper and remember when our voices were loud?

    When I walk by I wonder why they're closing.

    I wonder what events may have led them to collapse into themselves like stars.

    Like us.

    And I realize that these memeories no longer make me sad.

    I can't remember what the food tasted like anyway.

    I barely remember the sounds.

    Did we even love those places?

    Probably not.

    We were only ever good at loving each other.

    And we couldn't even get that right.

  • 100 N Western.

    I walked into 100 N Western with the kind of fear that can only exist with excitement. If I wasn’t even just a little scared, I would probably question my motive.

     Almost every creative person I know has a moment that changed everything. A moment where they just knew what they wanted to do for the rest of their life. Sometimes it’s a piece of art, something that set blaze a fire so deep in their soul it could light up the world. Sometimes it’s an experience, a moment that jumpstarted their heart in a way that brought them to life for the first time. Lucky for me, I have felt both. The piece of art that changed my life was reading Tim O’Brian’s, “The Things They Carried.” Up until that point I thought I wanted to be a journalist. “I want to write to tell the truth. To expose the world. To strip everything away,” I used to say. And back then I thought that only writing journalism could expose a real truth. And then I read “The Things They Carried,” and realized that through storytelling, Tim O’Brian told more truth with more honesty than any news article I had ever read.

     And then there was the experience that would change me forever. I will never forget that panel I sat in at the AWP writers conference all those years ago, before I even started grad school. The one I stepped into simply to kill time before the next panel I wanted to sit in on. I was restless and curious and wanted to devour everything all at once. I was greedy for knowledge. I was starving to become part of this literary world Chicago is so known for. Teaching Writing Behind bars and beyond, the sign said next to the double doors that led to a large conference room. I didn’t know what to expect. I think I expected nothing. But what I gained from it was a life. An entire life that I didn’t know I wanted. Didn’t know I needed. I sat in the back row on a folding chair close to the exit in case I grew bored and wanted to dip early because back then I was young and impatient and didn’t give things enough time to grow. There was a long table at the front of the room that faced the audience where three teaching artists and one inmate sat. They fidgeted with their crinkly water bottles and leaned into each other to whisper things the rest of us couldn’t hear until someone who looked important with a lanyard around their neck announced that the panel would begin. The room grew quiet, all the shuffling and talking and polite laughing melted away. For me, the entire rest of the world melted away. Each person at the big table in front of the room took turns talking about why teaching in prison matters. They all took turns telling us how important rehabilitation was. Before this moment I never really gave the justice system thought. Before this very moment I believed in the death penalty. I believed in “the hole”. I believed people couldn’t change. I believed that those mean looking people locked away in cages like animals all deserved to be treated as such. I believed that. I guess it wasn’t so much as believed in it as much as it was I trusted it. I trusted that these systems were built for a reason. That everyone who commited crimes deserved whatever discomfort and consequences our justice system offered them. I actually didn’t give much thought to it at all and sometimes that’s just as dangerous as perpetuating it. Just admitting this out loud to the world embarrasses me. I am ashamed to have ever felt so cold, that my heart had ever been so hard. It’s not like I now believe no one should suffer consequences from the choices they made and the people they’ve hurt. But I now see them as human. Human’s who need work. I believe in rehabilitation. Our justice system just sucks.

    I listened to each person speak on their experiences and I swear to god I got goosebumps to my skull so severe you could read braille. Listening to them talk about their students made me see the inmates as humans. As people who wanted to do better. As people who wanted to be better. They talked to us with the type of confidence and passion that I speak with now. Some of the inmates the teaching artists told us about were people that would never step foot on this earth as a free man or woman ever again and I remember wondering why it mattered if they took these writing workshops or not. If they could never be part of society again, why waste time and effort on them when you could be using that energy on good people? On people who could make a difference? On people who actually had an influence in the world?

     And then the inmate spoke.

    He was a broad-shouldered light skinned man who still had his hands in cuffs. I hadn’t noticed before from where I was sitting. But when he stood up to address the room, the silver metal glistened against the light pouring in from the window behind him and it never occurred to me then that this was probably the first time he was surrounded by humans who weren’t in chains or humans who weren’t there to  put other humans in chains in a really long time. It never occurred to me then that he once had a life. A life that was filled with choices both good and bad, and that one of the bad choices was what  brought him to the life he was now unpacking in front of complete strangers. I never wondered then when the last time he had seen the sun pour in through clean windows in such a way that reflected patterns to dance across the wall.

    “I want my children to understand,” was literally the first thing he said and I remember this moment so vividly because it was literally the sentence, the moment, that changed everything. His voice was deep and broken. I could hear the hollowness like an empty hallway. “I want my kids to know their daddy. Even if their daddy made a bad decision. I want my kids to know my story. The way I lived it. Not the way the world chooses to tell it.” I sat on the edge of my seat and the tears behind my eyes felt like rugburn. This man stood before us in shackles and told us how important it was that he use the very last thing that he could have as his own, the very last thing he had left that hadn’t been taken from him; his voice.

    I remember crying. I am crying right now as I remember this moment because for as beautiful of an epiphany it was for me—for as very important and life changing it was for me—it was a tragic and sad and vulnerable moment. This man stood in front of a crowd of free people. Free people that didn’t live the kind of life he did. Free people that probably never had to make the kind of choices he made. None of this is to say he didn’t deserve to be punished for the crimes he committed. He, himself, told us that he deserved this. That he did something wrong to get here.  But this moment was so powerful because of how important he told us writing was to him. How it gave him perspective. How it gave him hope. How it made him human.

    I truly don’t believe there has ever been a moment in my life quite like that again. It felt like my future crashed right into me. A car crash that would lead me right to where I am now. Surrounded by young people who have all made both good choices and bad choices. Surrounded by young people who are currently trying to outlive their bad choices. Trying to prove to the world that they are not just one moment. That they are complex  and brilliant and kind and scared and hurt. That they are human. That they deserve to use their voice to share their story so that maybe someone else might not make that impulse decision to break into that house, to sell those drugs, to run from the cops because their instincts told them to fear for their life.

    It became my mission after that panel discussion all those years ago to get to where I am now. The other day I was cleaning out the ungodly amount of notebooks I have lying around my entire apartment and I came across one that made me close the journal and sit with it. To sit there in silence and soak it all in. It was a dream journal. An entry that explained where I wished and hoped to be in my future. And there I was—living it. Living the dream for real. What a cheesy saying. But what weight and what truth it holds. How did I make it this far in my journey? How did I manage to keep pushing and fighting and trying despite all the hurdles life has slapped me across the face with?

    I remember when I walked into 100 N Western on that first day. I was giddy. I was scared and nervous and I was filled with pride. Filled with hope. Filled with the intention that I was here to make a difference. That I want to be for them, what those teaching artists were for the man who stood before a group of conference-goers just to tell us that it matters. Growing up I was always an avid reader and I always wanted to be like my older brother and my older brother was into reading “The Redwall” series books. It’s a book series that I can easily say shaped me as a writer and a human. A book whose stories planted the same seed that later “The Things They Carried,” would blossom; that you can build worlds of truth right there in your imagination. When I walked into this space I would later (literally) call home (god am I so fortunate to have so many places I get to call home)—I placed my things down on a desk and on that desk sitting right there in the middle of it as if it was a centerpiece was “Martin the Warrior.” A book from that series that had changed so very much for me and my life when I was such a little kid. And if I ever needed a for sure sign from the universe that the path I am on right now is the one I was made for—it was that. And I know everyone is constantly telling me over and over again how much I’m changing things for these young people. How big of a difference I am making in their lives. But the most  beautiful thing in the world to me is the fact that these young people save my life every single day. And all of it matters.

  • 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.



    “Nothing. You owe zero whole dollars.”

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


    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.