#35

It was sometime in 2012 that they died. One was naked, running through a field. Stripped of his clothes, the last thing he could control, trying to stop it stop it stop it. His own mind his worst enemy, flashing thoughts and images and together to became a new terrifying reality of death.

My cousin’s roommate tried to tell us once that you couldn’t overdose on hallucinogens, that the only effects were psychadelic. But what isn’t psychedelic? Our brains take the information it is given and translates it into what we see and feel and hear and understand. And if your brain is telling you you’re dead, surrounded by death and fear and horrors, then how could that not be true? My cousin told his roommate that he was wrong.

My cousin’s roommate was the one who sold them the drugs.

I imagine their hearts exploded, like in the end of Balto. Crossing the finish line, Balto pushed and gave everything he had, and then his heart just gave out. Except these two boys were pushing, giving everything they had, to escape their own minds. “This will never end,” they thought as the panic of the thought coursed through them.

It didn’t start that way though, I’m sure. I’m sure it started with a comfortable, warm sensation in their fingertips, running up through fingers into wrists and elbows and shoulders, into their jawbone, around their eyeballs and back down the spine into their toes. The walls would shift, like honey, slowly molding into droplets that turned to look at them and smile.

But then garish teeth emerged from the mouths on the walls, and it was all a little too much. A rasping, clanging, screaming, agony of sounds banged between their ears, and visions of skeletons and vomit and teeth gnashing flashed in their head. One boy would stand up, hoping the sudden increase in elevation would clear his head, and it would, for an agonizing second. Look in the mirror, get a hold of yourself. Terrified by what he saw, he sat back down and looked at his friend, now reduced to the trembling mass of a frightened monster.

I can only imagine the horror that pushed them to flee from their home, strip their clothes off, and die in a field aside I-29. The linen delivery driver told me he saw them on his route earlier that morning, running down University Avenue. Those poor souls, tortured to death by their own minds, their last moments only terror and agony.

I don’t know how to end this one.

#34

On my 26th birthday I realized that I had, somewhere along the way, gotten quite fearful. It’s hard to pinpoint something like that, you know? At what point did I start to choose to back away, to not try, to give up, to hide? Was it a series of small decisions, seemingly so insignificant I didn’t even notice, or was it a jarring moment of giving in that felt so good I didn’t even realize I was changing? I used to raise my gauntlet to the challenges, stare my own fears in the face with an unflinching glare of determination, and then do whatever the hell I wanted to.

But then I thought maybe this is just how I remember being–and that it isn’t true at all. That my reckless behavior was just that: reckless. Not defiant or thought-out or intentional, but a flimsy side-effect of wanting to do everything however I wanted to. Maybe I’ve been afraid the whole time, and the way in which I’ve hidden it has just changed to something a little less obvious.

It’s just so much more exhausting to be afraid. I’m tired of being tired of it.

#33

It was windy the day I met David. I crossed the street in front of a truck stopped at the crosswalk. The driver was handsome, with dark eyes and eyebrows and a nice looking nose. He smiled at me as the wind whipped my skirt against my knees, then tossed them up, revealing God-knows-what, and the man laughed at me. I smiled and glared, swinging open the door to the coffee shop dramatically to hide my embarrassment. After settling into a corner chair, the door chime rang and in walked the man from the pickup truck.


That was the moment I knew, I would whisper to him on the night of our fiftieth wedding anniversary. Knew what? He would roll over and look at me, his dark eyes still just as beautiful as the first day I saw him. Knew we were going to be together forever, I would explain. Laura. The way he would say my name would be perfect. You’re still bad at lying. I’m not lying! I would exclaim. The way you laughed at my skirt was just perfect. Just the right amount of pity. Pity? You knew I was dying, I would say. Now how would I know that? David would be kissing my fingers, maybe the palms of my hands. You just knew, somehow, I would say. And then we would kiss and make love and I’d fall asleep with my naked back against his chest and we would grow older and older until one of us died of the most natural causes, and then the other would live for a few days before deciding it wasn’t worth it without the other.


It was a windy day when I went to the coffee shop before my appointment with Dr. Grace. I walked across the crosswalk, the wind blowing my skirt every which way, with one final gust that made the man in the pickup truck laugh at me. I smiled and glared, dramatically opening the door of the coffee shop to hide my embarrassment. I curled into a corner chair, sipping my mocha.

“The cancer has spread to your pancreas,” Dr. Grace had said. I nodded, imagining what David would say to that. You’ve got this. He would say, and I would believe him.

#32

The day of my birth was quite a commotion. Mom told me how they couldn’t make it to the hospital, so I imagine they had just dealt with an oven fire or something when the couple trying to get divorced who lived across the street came over, yelling about a bear they saw in the backyard. It must have been a bear, because I don’t know what else would get my dad in such a state.

“Dammit, Maria, what do you want from me?” My dad loved how “Dammit, Maria” sounded, so he says it a lot.

I know women make lots of noise when having a baby, at least on TV they do. So she probably would have just yelled a bunch instead of answering his “Dammit, Maria” question.

It was around 4am when I arrived. The orange couch in the living room was never quite the same, because it didn’t show up in family photos after I was born. I’m not sure exactly what that meant, so I’m assuming the bear was somehow involved.

Anyway, the day I was born was a big deal.

#31

Nicki took the job in Washington state in the ninth month of their relationship.

She broke the news over dinner. “I’m sorry, Mitch. I’ll probably never get an offer like this again. It feels like it’s now or never.”

“It’s okay, Nick. I would have done the same.” Mitch was relieved at how reasonable he sounded, though he regretted saying that last part–he would never have done this. But he looked at her and smiled.

Nicki reached for his hands from across the table, her elbows pulling the white linen tablecloth and tottering their water glasses. He pulled his hands away to steady the glasses.

“I really hope we’ll stay in touch,” She said.

“Me too,” He said back. But his head was echoing with blurred memories that forced themselves to the forefront of his vision, clouding his ability to respond to her. The rest of the meal was a blur, and he was barely aware of paying the check, out of habit, he didn’t remember her response or if she tried to pay her half, stumbling outside, finding his car, driving home, untying his tie, taking off socks and shoes, falling into bed and instinctively feeling for her warmth.

The next few months were a painful blur of too much wine, not enough sleep, and trying to not think about her. Of course he helped her pack up, move, and even offered to help in the long drive out West, to which she politely declined with sincere gratitude. His smiles and nods must have fit the role of whatever she was expecting of him, because she not once questioned his state of mind.

After she was gone, he started talking to her when he was alone in her apartment. He found pictures of her, pictures of them, pictures she took, and taped them to the wall next to the window in his apartment. The collection slowly overtook the window, and now only slivers of light sliced through the cracks of the memories he enshrined.

“You should try running,” His neighbor said to him one afternoon as Mitch wrestled with the key in his mailbox.

“What do you mean?” Mitch couldn’t remember this neighbor’s name–Al, or Andrew, or something. They had talked about board games at the last apartment social.

“Running,” Al or Andrew said again. “Nicki left you, right?”

The words hit Mitch like a punch in the stomach, and he felt the air in lungs leave in what he hoped sounded like a sigh.

“Yyyyyes.” It was hard to say.

“Pick up running,” Al or Andrew said. “Trust me.” He patted the back of his shoulder, and walked away.

Mitch felt of his shoulder that had been touched. He didn’t realize how long it had been since he had a friendly, normal interaction with someone. The spot on his shoulder felt warm, and the heat slowly spread across his back, through his arms, and into his fingertips.

“Running,” Mitch tried it out outloud. What did he have to lose?

#30

“What should we do about Molly’s birthday party?” Diana asked her husband, pulling off her black work slacks, her sock halfway off from the effort, nearly tripping with the final yank.

“Elise is too young, don’t you think?” Dan was a tall man who held himself as straight as possible, even as he bent to examine his toenails.

“I don’t know, I was thinking it would be okay. How old were you when you went to your first slumber party?” Diana was working on her top now.

“I was about her age,” Dan said, picking through the drawer in his nightstand for a nail clippers. “But things are different now than they were forty years ago. Don’t you think?”

Diana, top successfully removed, her hair staticky, sat on the edge of the bed facing away from him.

“We can’t make our decision based on fear, Dan.” She held her voice as still as she could.

“I’m not.” He said coolly, sitting on the opposite side of the bed. He had found the nail clippers, and began methodically trimming his nails. “I just want to learn from our mistakes.”

“Those are similar things.” Diana wanted to remove her bra, but didn’t want to change the subject. “We can’t control the actions of others.”

“So that means being reckless? Blindly shutting our eyes and hoping for the best? Yes, Di, that sounds brilliant.”

“Dan.”

“What? That’s what you’re suggesting right now.” Dan finished with his toenails, and carefully returned the clippers to where he had found them.

“You know I’m not. Don’t twist my words. Don’t punish Elise just because of what happened to Allan.” Diana wanted to stand, but could only sit and stare at the wall, the bluish grey color they agonized over for weeks. They finished painting the week before The Incident. Their son Allan’s summer long soccer camp seemed like such a good idea at the time.

“It’s not punishment, Diana, it’s just the reality of our family now.” Dan clicked off the lamp on his side and slid under the covers. “Are you coming to bed?”

“No. Yes. In a little bit.” Diana unclipped her bra and felt the darkness on her skin as she turned off her light. A dry sob rose out of her throat. She heard Dan slide across the bed to her side, and then his hand on her back. “What didn’t This take from us?” Diana cried. “Is there no part of us that is free?” Dan pulled her closer, his skin warm against hers.

“We’re in this fight together,” He whispered to her. “We’ll get through this.” In their awkward embrace, as he drifted off to sleep, she lie awake and alarmed. She would choose to believe him, even if she couldn’t feel it.

#29

Marion picked up a garbage bag, her shoulders slumped in premature defeat as she gazed at the room before us. The state of the one room apartment looked like the result of a wild and angry animal.

“Well,” She looked at me. “I guess we’d better get started.”

I nodded, slipping on gloves and bent to examine a broken picture that leaned against the wall, presumably not having been touched since its fall. Our parents had gone out in flames, almost literally.

“Should we go through it piece by piece?” I wasn’t sure what I wanted Marion’s answer to be, but braced myself for not liking it.

“What? No. Let’s toss it all, right now.” She was stuffing her garbage bag with what looked to be the contents of a down comforter, thick wet chunks of feathers and strips of deep blue satin. Marion treated every obstacle like a band-aid that needed to be ripped off as quickly as possible.

“What about this?” I held up the broken picture.

Marion stopped stuffing, beads of sweat just beginning to form around her red face. She took the picture from me, slowly, carefully, shards of glass tinkling down to our feet. The picture was of our family, taken about fifteen years ago in the JC Penney photo studio. We all looked happy, smiling, our matching jeans and white sweaters a believable facade for who we actually were. There was no evidence of the screaming and hitting and throwing and hiding and crying and just wanting love, love, love.

“I didn’t know they still had this,” She said, trying out a few facial expressions. Angry, sad, touched, then cold and unfeeling. “Toss it.” She said.

“I’m keeping it,” I said, pulling the photograph out of the broken frame.

“Whatever,” Marion said, resuming her violent stuffing.

I folded the photograph and slid it into my pocket, realizing I was wearing the same pair of jeans as in the photograph. Sighing, I reached for a garbage bag and tossed the frame inside, the corners pushing out the plastic restraint in sharp protest. I felt sympathetic, and snapped the frame into pieces to better fit, then felt even worse. I grabbed an empty vase, vomited quickly, and straightened.

“You good?” Marion asked, glancing back at me.

“Yeah.”