Sitting at this job
At this desk
At this counter
For a position that I know I will lose come December
Gets harder and harder.
They say “cutbacks” and “downsizing” never comes easy
And they don’t know that I know, but the pressure is heavy
And it weighs me down farther and my shoulders get weary
And I'm not quite sure how much more I can carry.
I’ve never really considered myself a sympathy crier. Or, really, an empathy crier. Feeling sympathy means you feel bad for someone; feeling empathy means that you feel what that person is feeling. As an interning counselor-in-training in my fifteenth month of grad school, I often feel bad for those I counsel. However, I do not often feel what they’re feeling.
S changed that.
“S” was a student that really struggled with being at the same university as myself. She was an undergrad student, a junior, and a closeted lesbian at a very conservative Christian college. She knew that she could potentially be kicked out, especially since she was in a serious relationship, but committed to staying for the sake of her education and her fiancee. She started seeing me the second semester of her junior year, shortly after becoming medicated for her depression and anxiety.
It became quickly evident to me that S’s medication hadn’t balanced her out yet. She was on a steady antidepressant and a sedative for panic attacks, but the sedative didn’t help and the antidepressant hadn’t fully integrated itself into her system. There were days that she would sit in front of me, shivering and blank-faced, as her body tried to make sense of the foreign chemicals now present.
This day, however, she wasn’t blank-faced. Her face was taut with anger, jaw set and mouth a hard line.
“We got harassed the other day.”
I encouraged S to tell me about it.
“We were at Barnes & Noble with some friends, and we were holding hands. We were a couple towns over, almost forty minutes away, so we thought we’d be fine. But a group of students that we kind of know said that if we don’t stop holding hands, they’d ‘say something.’ They wanted to report us to the administration.”
S rubbed her temple, and I imagined that a tension migraine was probably on its way.
“Did you respond to them?"
She shook her head, folding her arms across her stomach. "No, I didn't. I was so mad I couldn't even think."
“How else did you feel?”
S chewed on her bottom lip. “Upset. Scared. Unsafe.”
“How did your friends react? Your fiancee?”
She sniffed, pushing hair out of her eyes. “They were furious.”
I smiled a little. “At least they were there to back you up.”
S nodded, smiling a little as well. “Yeah, that’s true.”
She was silent for a moment, and her face returned to the blank stare that her medication frequently bestowed upon her.
Then, so quietly I could barely hear her:
"Can't I just...live?"
Before me, S dissolved. Her face fell into her hands, her elbows jabbed at her thighs, and sobs wracked her already-shaking body. She was melting before my eyes, a young woman who had tried so hard to be strong that she no longer had the stamina to do so.
Then I felt it. Fury. Terror. Frustration. Grief. All flooded my body in a matter of moments, and I found myself resisting the urge to also melt. I took in a shaky breath, rubbing my lips together to stave off the tears in my eyes. My heart wanted to burst in my chest.
S still had her hands in her hands when she spoke, and these were the words that finally made my tears slip free.
"Just being seems like too much to ask for."
#counseling #therapy #mentalhealth #lgbtq+ #nonfiction #creativenonfiction #challengeoftheweek #prose
The New Theia Event
I wrote the original draft of this piece for an exercise in a creative writing seminar my senior year of college. The exercise was to take an outrageous tabloid article (in my case, “Super Earths Found!”) and weave the concept of the article into a fictional short story. After receiving feedback from my peers and working on the piece for a few months, I entered the story into a writing contest with a small publishing house in Wisconsin. The story was chosen by the editors, and was included in a state-by-state published anthology of emerging American authors.
The New Theia Event
I was thirteen when they found the first planet.
Everyday, upon my arrival home from school, my mom would meet me at the van to drive me to soccer practice at the rec center. That day, when I got home neither my mother nor father were outside. I entered the house to find my parents planted firmly in front of the television, something they never did. They didn’t turn to greet me as I entered the house, didn’t even acknowledge I was there. They just stared at the screen blankly, slack-jawed.
The TV was on a news channel, and displayed pictures of what appeared to be a planet in the sky.
“...scientists found this ‘new planet’ only hours ago, when it first became visible in the sky over Johannesburg, South Africa. NASA has yet to name this strange planet, but have categorized it as a ‘super Earth’, in that it is a planetary body one to ten times Earth’s mass. Oddly enough, while NASA’s astrophysicists can typically see planets hundreds of millions of miles away, this planet did not make itself known until it was closer to us than our own moon. While other super Earths that have been discovered, none have been within our solar system, and it seems to be growing only closer to us. Even stranger, the planet’s velocity seems to be decreasing the closer it gets to Earth...”
My dad, perched on the edge of the recliner, rubbed a hand over his stubbly beard, like he always does when we’re talking about something serious.
“What the hell is this?” he asked my mom.
“I don’t know, Jonathan.”
I stared at the TV with them, wondering what could possibly be on that planet.
People panicked. Many said it was the end of the world, that this new planet was going to crash into Earth and everything would go extinct. I didn’t believe the planet was real until I saw it with my own eyes.
The new planet wasn’t visible from my house until two months after I first learned of it. Once it became visible from my neighborhood, the panic around me set in immediately. People boarded up their windows, brought their pets inside, and some even evacuated. To where, I don’t know. It wouldn’t make a difference. No matter where you went, the other planet was always there.
I was eighteen when they found the second planet.
I was laying in the bed of Josh Keller’s pickup truck, staring blankly up at the evening sky as he lay on top of me and kissed my neck. It was chilly, and through amber leaves I could see the new planet, hovering above me like an overprotective parent. However, near it, I could see something else I had never seen before: a faint curve, an outline of something new. It held my attention much more captively than the boy on top of me, and Josh asked what my deal was. I told him to take me home.
When I got home, my parents were in the same spots they had been five years earlier: right in front of the TV, watching the same anchorwoman break us the news: Another super Earth was found, just a short distance away from the first one.
A lot of people said that, not only were there random planets appearing, but that even then something was off. If these planets were so much larger than Earth, they would be affecting our Earth’s gravity. We would be pulled less toward our Earth’s core and more toward the cores of the other planets. The tides would be drastically altered. Volcanoes would erupt so violently that the sky would go dark with ash, and Earth’s temperature would cool tremendously.
But nothing was happening.
I watched dozens of TV specials on which astronomers and astrophysicists fiercely debated the physical makeup of these planets. Maybe they were gaseous planets, whose lesser density would yield a smaller gravitational pull. After all, Saturn has such a low density that it would float in a body of water. Maybe they weren’t actually planets, and were instead images of our Earth reflecting off of the greenhouse gases that were quickly accumulating. Other doctors, such as psychologists and neuroscientists, suggested that there were neither planets nor images in the sky, but rather it was an extreme form of mass hysteria--someone suggested it, and we all began to see it.
I didn’t know what I was seeing.
I was twenty-three when they found the third planet.
I was drunk off my ass on liquor and sorority girls, walking from a club to my apartment when I bumped into a homeless man wearing a cardboard sign the size of his torso around his neck.
“Sorry,” I mumbled, trying not to tumble to the sidewalk or gag on the pungent odor of urine pouring off of him. Once I was successfully upright I rearranged my glasses where they were perched on my nose, allowing myself to read the sign.
Three days the cock crowed, then Jesus returned from the dead. What do you think will happen with three planets?
I laughed aloud.
“You do know there’s only two, right?”
The man shook his head. When he spoke, his voice was solemn. “There’s a third.”
“A third?” I asked. “Buddy, you see those right?” I shoved a finger toward the sky, pointing at each heavenly body individually. They were blurry. “One, two. Two planets, not three.”
“The third will be revealed to us,” he said. “And then they will destroy us.”
“They who? You think these planets will kill us?” I slurred with amusement. “If they haven’t yet, they never will.”
Without hesitation, the man looked me in the eyes and said: “They will.”
I stumbled back a few steps and he advanced toward me. I blinked and tried to gather my thoughts, then began walking toward my apartment.
When I got home my roommate was asleep on the couch, and the TV was on a news station, where that same newscaster from eight years ago was still telling us the breaking news.
“...Yes, a third planet has just been discovered. In the case of the first two planets, their velocity decreased as they approached Earth, but in the case of this third one its velocity is increasing…”
I stood gaping in the living room, the TV flashing bright colors into my eyes.
“Shit,” I whispered, not bothering to wake Kara.
“...It seems that all three planets, including the ones that had been previously hovering in our orbit, are now headed toward Earth, with, um, accelerating rapidity…”
The anchorwoman stammered, looking down at her notes and gulping. She paused for a moment, taking a breath.
At that moment a tremendous rumbling reached my ears, and suddenly a bright heat pierced through me. I struggled to breathe, feeling as though my insides were boiling. I tried to shout Kara’s name, but the air had been sucked out of my lungs. Out of the corner of my eye I saw light dancing, and I turned my head to see my neighborhood bathed in a more brilliant white light than I had ever seen.
I looked back to the television and just as the anchorwoman raised her head to make eye contact with her audience, she announced her sign-off as she too gasped for breath:
“God help us all.”
We were going to dig up dinosaurs.
We were going to hammer away rock and sediment, sand and grime to unearth something more calcified from millennia of stone. We were going to heave the lump of rock and bone, store it away for safekeeping until the tiny pieces of history could be chiseled away and lifted from captivity. We were going to hunch over miniscule vertebrae, to brush away eons of sedimentary cover up. We were going to crave this labor of love, anticipating the ache of work-worn muscles and sunburned skin sprouting freckles overnight.
But we were wrecked.
Ten years ago, a large black SUV backed into our mother’s van while she was driving on a residential road in the town where our family went to church. The SUV T-boned our side of the car, and as we were launched in the opposite direction our seat belt tightened. Our right collar bone snapped.
Eight years ago, we were getting off the bus outside of the library where we worked, hauling our backpack along with us. One particularly large chemistry textbook residing in the pit of our bag weighed just a little too much. That time, we heard our right clavicle crack.
Five years ago, we began working at a local restaurant. Twelve hour shifts of hauling towering stacks of plates, massive pans of Midwestern comfort food, and enormous boxes of frozen goods drained us of our strength. We were heavily strained, and were prescribed a sling and three months of physical therapy. We disregarded the sling.
Three years ago we began to study film. We were made to lift eighty pound light kits and balance fifty pound cameras on top of ourselves, exerting us to the point of tearing. This time, we didn’t bother going to the doctor. It seemed pointless to us.
A decade, multiple breaks, muscle tears and other injuries later and we are almost out of commission. We’ll never huddle over the exposed fossil of an extinct creature, protecting it from the wind-tossed sand. We’ll never help others heave enormous femurs of out the sediment, straining against the weight of a bone that supported a ten-ton reptile. Were we to do that, we would be done for.
"Can you tell me about Edith?"
Willa smiles, wiping a bit of foam from her lip. She nods, prompting me to ask away.
I swallow hard. I don't even know where to begin. I down a gulp of Blue Moon to
soothe my nervously parched throat.
For decades, scholars have debated as to whether or not Willa Cather and Edith Lewis
were romantically involved. Most claim that if Cather was a lesbian, we would know.
She would be explicit. But how could she be? She was born in the nineteenth century.
Who then could have been explicit about same-sex interests? Those who protest her
likely homosexuality also proclaim that writer and editor Edith Lewis was simply her
best friend and long-time roommate. But for Chrissakes, they lived together for 40
years and are buried next to each other. I've never liked any of my roommates that
"Did you love her?"
Willa smiles again, leaning back in her chair, folding her arms in a way that doesn't
display discontent, but rather the most comfortable contentedness I've ever seen.
"If there was no woman like her in the world, there would be no poetry."
I wish to leave this planet. Not take my own life. Just leave. I wish I could be somewhere else, another planet, another galaxy, another universe. One with endless lush life, lacking the hard corners of the man-made world. Just the lines and curves of what naturally exists.
I wish I could be transported through the stars, to look out the protective plate of glass and whisper Here we go to those who may or may not be able to hear me, to the heavenly bodies neighboring me, to the empty space surrounding me. I wish to discover that new home, to start fresh and anew, to feel alien rock beneath my feet and alien gravity pulling me down.
And yet, in spite of everything, this planet I'm on has endless lush life. I can look out the window right now and see hundreds of trees surrounding a small lake, an independent ecosystem that thrives off of a lack of human contact. I can breathe in the breeze and exhale that air back into the universe, each time sending little pieces of me out on the wind. Who's to say I could do that on another planet?
The Biggest Question
I didn't know as a child, but I would grow to live my life in most people's moral gray. As an adult I live that way now, and it completely changes everything.
How you present yourself:
The way you walk.
The way you speak.
The way you dress.
How much information you're willing to share:
Do I bend the truth?
Do I flat-out lie?
Do I speak the reality of my life?
The legality of it:
Can I get insurance?
Will my marriage always be legal?
Will I get denied housing?
But the biggest question of all:
Will we get attacked?
Will we get attacked?
Will we get attacked?
Will we get attacked?
Adventures in Tequila (and Billiards)
My mouth feels like desert. So does my skin, and my head feels like a paved road after a winter of thawing and freezing. Opening my eyes is such a chore that it takes me multiple tries to complete it, and when I do, glaring brightness fills my vision. The piercing light makes my eyes snap shut.
A hand on my shoulder jostles me closer to consciousness. I now realize that the surface I'm laying on is hard, but with an abrasive fabric texture to it.
"Carver," a voice mumbles. The voice sounds like my mouth feels. "Carver, I don't know where we are." I don't know either.
I manage to raise a hand to cover my eyes, and struggle to open them. First, the flesh color of my hand, backlit by the same bright light that nearly blinded me only moments ago. Second, as my body shifts atop this rough hard surface, my bare foot kicks something hard and heavy, but smooth, and the object is suddenly no longer against my skin. Third, the hand on my shoulder has long nails that scrape lightly on my desert-dry skin.
It's difficult, but I will my eyes to open. The source of light hovers only a few feet above me, three bulbs huddled together under a circular glass lampshade. Allowing my head to roll to one side, I see that the coarse surface I've been laying on is a bright kelly green carpeting, framed by deep chestnut wood with gold trim. A pool table. I would laugh aloud at how ridiculous it is if I didn't feel I would vomit upon doing so.
I allow my head to roll to the opposite direction, to my left, and see the woman who spoke my name a moment ago, pushed at my shoulder with nails that are only slightly shorter than her actual fingers. They're painted bright pink, and her hands cover her face like my hands were covering mine a moment ago. Kat. My sluggish brain tells me her name is Kat.
"Where are we?" Kat struggles to say. "I don't remember where we are."
Taking a deep breath in through my nose I sit up, careful not to hit my head on the lamp, and take in my surroundings.
Item number one: pool table. Earlier I had kicked the cue ball, which sadly did not sink any of the other balls still on the table.
Item number two: lots of bottles of liquor. Mostly tequila, which is mostly Cuervo. No wonder my head feels like cracked pavement.
Item number three: a man I do not recognize. He's sitting on a chair in the corner, head supported by his hand, propped up by an elbow on the wall. He's an older man, with oil-black hair and a creased face worn by weather and time. He's asleep, and remains that way until I attempt to get off of the table and fall spectacularly. When my body hits the hardwood floor he jumps awake, hand over his heart.
"You scared the living daylights out of me!" he exclaims, looking down at my prostrate body for answers. His words form around a thick accent, the origin to which my American ears can't place.
I rub my eyes as I stand, trying to recover from the fall I just took. I look to Kat for a moment, then back at the man with the accent.
"Where are we? Why were you asleep there?"
The man points to the pool table I just climbed off of, laughing. "Why were you asleep there?"
Fair. I chuckle to myself. "Where are we?"
The man's eyebrows raise. "You don't know where you are?"
I shake my head, and the man laughs again, this time making me feel embarassed.
"My boy, you're in Nuevo Leon, in Monterrey."
I'm guessing the look on my face makes him feel like he needs to elaborate.
"You're in Mexico."