It held me down by the throat, strangling me, until I passed out and when I awoke, after the rape the first thing I saw was a stray cloud, a shade darker than the others, moving rapidly against the flat sky.
In the distance a lonesome hawk flew right through the stray cloud searching for its prey without mercy; my saving grace, triggering an unknown voice speaking to me in a foreign tongue.
The voice said.
"Go inside. You left the cake in the oven and it is done. Actually it is overdone. Can I be more frank? It is now ruined. The timer has been ringing. Where have you been and who told you that a cake can be baked at 500 degrees Fahrenheit? Talk about being asleep at the wheel. How many excuses can one person make? Listen to me. Just throw it out. Start over. I placed the recipe for you on the counter, again. You can't miss it. It is between the knives and the sugar tucked under your vitamin B12. Follow the instructions to the T.……Yeah. I know what you are thinking. It is true. All oven temperatures do vary, but seriously. 500 degrees Fahrenheit? You are smarter than that. Better than that. Are we on the same page?"
Heeding the advice, without recollection, I collected myself and went back inside. Before I did, I looked back up at the sky. The stray cloud was gone. Nowhere to be found. The hawk, without my knowledge, sat on a branch beyond me, satiated.
It was on the counter. It was there all along.
I read it, and with the keen eye of a hawk I participated, seriously hoping to avoid a miscarriage.
I took out the eggs, the butter, the flour and sugar, using a flat knife to assist me with all the measurements.
"This time I will bake the perfect cake." I spoke out loud to the unknown voice, feeling victorious, feeling as if it was me who had control over my own body; my own thoughts.
But alas, when the batter was ready, before I placed the cake pan in the oven, along came the hour of my discontent. As if possessed, I picked up the recipe in absentia, shamelessly discarding the written card in the trash in between the shards of cracked egg shell.
Once again, like a broken record, my hand, with a mind of its own, turned the oven dial back up to 500 degrees Fahrenheit, while the hawk hunkered down for the night against the black sky unperturbed.
The great change
In the beginning, there was only absence. All was an endless black night of nothing waiting to become something. Well, not exactly waiting. There was no consciousness, no being aware of its lack of existence (corporeal or otherwise), anxious to be.
I think therefore I am, was not yet a thing.
And then, in the time it takes to blink, all that nothingness changed. It became everything. A spark became flame became a sizzling ball of fire that set alight what has become, to you, the universe. The heat caused innumerable chemical reactions, creating the possibility of what you call life in more corners of the galaxy than we currently have knowledge.
Correction: Than you currently have knowledge.
For there exists in the hidden folds of the deepest black hole a pinprick of light, invisible to the most advanced piece of probing equipment ever uncovered (yes, uncovered, not discovered) by any consciousness that has emerged from the abyss: The source.
Within this nanoscopic flash of infinity is everything that has ever been, ever will be...is. Every possibility that arises from each and every possible action and/or reaction of
e v e r y t h i n g exists there. Impossible for you to imagine, but no less true.
You, with all your joys and sorrows, your fears, your anger and anxieties, your aches and pains, your ambitions and doubts, your successes and defeats, your desires, your hopes and dreams...you and all your vagaries are there. The you you are right now as well as the one you might have been..the one who did that thing you never could...never would...the one who made all the wrong or right decisions...the one that will be if…
Yes, since that miraculous explosion, I have sensed you. There is nothing that you can do that will surprise me. You’ve done it all. Correction, are doing it all. Fascinating, isn’t it? To think that there is nothing new, not even you and what you do. That deja vu is merely leakage from some other plane where you have done X already. That change is merely a word since for something to change, it cannot have yet happened, been...but, it all has...was.
Since the beginning. The great change; when nothing became everything.
You just don’t know it.
Without change we would be loose
Without change we would be naked and afraid.
Without change we would be stale mate and stagnant.
Without change we would be void of unicorns and Sasquatch.
Without change we would be zero grit and our lungs full of sand.
Without change we would only eat cheese enveloped by cardboard.
Without change we would be hiding behind signs directing their paths.
Never seen as one.
Without change we would be lack of braille , no longer able to see.
Without change we would be last in line as our wheels or lack of chromosome take us there.
Without change we would be haunted by division. Separation.
Without change we would be lacking control of our bodies and mind.
Without change we would be without a future.
They came closed, expectant with colorful promise
Twelve apologies, fresh and fragrant on a spring morning
They open slowly, thirsty for the sun's attentive rays
Twelve wishes, delicate and hopeful on a new day
They begin to wither, starved of nutrients and faithful care
Twelve warnings, wrinkled and faded beneath a graying sky
They fall apart, stained with blackened stains and foul splotches
Twelve reminders, bitter and broken splayed on the floor
Sitting in a Hot Tub, Between Nothing and Nowhere
Blue is the only color that matters.
Outside of this
There is only blackness,
To which, my hands reach into
And are greeted
There is no one waiting out there.
I am the angriest man I know.
My stomach is rotting from the inside.
I crumble under the weight of kindness.
That silence feels like a brick
In the back of my head,
Blue is the only color that matters.
Inside of it
There is stillness,
The only barrier
And pitch black.
The rain falls on the tin roof
To remind me of the season,
With it comes change.
I think I can change, but all I really know
Is that some changes require attention,
While others, require destruction
And the rain doesn’t know the difference.
One day, it will get so heavy
That it falls through the earth;
Right through our houses
Right through our hearts
And our minds,
Through our every accomplishment
And all of our regrets,
Through our long goodbyes,
And scripted endings,
Straight through the other side of the world
And into the void,
Where our story
Has never been told
Some things don’t deserve a rewrite.
Change is Like a Cup of Coffee
Change is a funny thing. Some of us crave it. Others of us are so terrified of it, we’d rather be frozen in place, even if the place we’re stuck in is objectively shit. But what molds one person into being a risk-taking change seeker is the same thing that causes someone else to live their lives in a sad little bubble of their own making.
Think about it. Half of us rock the boat as little as possible to stave it off as long as we can, while the other half of us rock the boat as hard as possible on the off chance that death will come scraping his sickle at our front doors tomorrow. But are any of us - no matter the camp we fall in - really living in the meantime?
Angela laughed at herself.
“Are we really living, man?”
Is this what she’d been reduced to? Recording voice memos of hippie platitudes into her iPhone while staring at the ceiling at 2 AM? She’d never get to a Ted Talk stage at this rate.
But it’s true, what Heraclitus said, she thought.
“The only constant in life is change.”
So why was she trying so hard to control it? She, more so than most, should recognize that this was an exercise in futility. It was her job to coach other people on their lives.
“Live in the radical now,” she’d say. “Live as if death does not exist, measuring life in feelings, not minutes. Not time to fill, or use, or waste. Just time to live.”
The problem with that, she was discovering, is that time moved much more slowly in the woods, and the quiet here had settled over everything, resting on her chest like a heavy stone. She missed the whir of sirens and angry car horns. Cricket chirping at night was Musetta’s Waltz, but the city was Purple Haze. She missed the rock and roll.
As she drifted off to an uneasy sleep, she dreamt of a long corridor with a bright red door at the end.
“Angela...” it whispered.
She walked toward it but didn’t seem to get any closer no matter how many steps she took. It was like walking on the moving pathway in the airport, but in the wrong direction. She gazed down at her feet and noticed that she was not standing on a floor at all. Rather, she was in the sky, gazing down upon her new cabin in the woods.
“Huh,” was all she said before taking her next step, which sent her falling through the air and straight toward the forest floor. She tried to scream, but her voice caught in her throat. Just before she hit the ground, she woke with a start. A particularly loud songbird cooed outside her window.
“Moving here was a mistake,” Angela told her mother over Zoom. “People buy second houses in upstate New York because it’s nice to be here on weekends, not live here permanently. I know I wanted peace and quiet, but all I have is the silence.”
“It’s only been three months, honey. Give it time. Use this challenge as inspiration for your next seminar.”
Angela rolled her eyes. “Easier said than done. I’m not sure I’ve learned anything other than I’ve made a complete mess of my life.”
“Some people would be quite happy to be in that ‘mess’ of yours, Angie. A home in a beautiful place and a stable job that helps change people’s lives. What would you tell a client in your position?”
“Hhnn..” Angela sighed deeply before responding, “It’s all about perspective.”
“There you go,” her mother said, with her soft smile.
“But I feel like a fraud.”
“Explore that feeling then, darling. See what it’s trying to tell you.”
Having a therapist for a mother often exhausted Angela, even if she was right…which, most times, she was.
“Okay,” she said, “I love you.” Then she clicked the red x in the corner and watched the little square containing her mother’s encouraging face disappear from view.
She’d chosen to be a life coach because she was good at ticking boxes off lists. Knew what was expected and how to get there. She loved a good five-year plan. Therapy was about emotions, but life coaching was about concrete results. And that’s the way she’d liked it. At least, until now.
“I’ve got news – we’ve maxed out at 500 attendees since the feedback was so great from your last program. It practically sold itself, Ang. Have you thought of the title yet? We need to get it to the designer by end of day so he can mock up the programs and signage.”
Angela’s heart pounded in her chest. She gazed out the window, attempting to steady herself with the serene naturescape outside her door, but it only made her anxiety worse. She felt isolated. Trapped. The backs of her knees sweat.
She glanced at her empty mug.
“Sorry, Joy. Um, I think change is like a cup of coffee. I…” Angela would have continued to try to talk out of her ass, but her manager interrupted.
“Change. Is. Like. A. Cup. Of. Coffee.” Joy said, repeating the words with aplomb.
“Of course! I’ll let Mary Rose know and she’ll send you the renderings by Friday. One month until you impart all that fresh air wisdom to us high strung city folk. Chat soon!”
That little sound of that call ending was the sweetest thing she’d heard all day, maybe since she’d moved out here altogether. Sure, it looked romantic and amazing online when people sold all their stuff and traveled the world or moved to tiny houses. But now that she’d done it – and her 2500 square foot A-frame in the Hudson Valley was far from roughing it – she realized how stupid she’d been. Of course it looked great on the Internet. Nothing there is real. It’s all stories and curations and outright lies. She’d done all this – uprooted her life – just because she felt stuck and decided she needed a change.
“It will be good for the business,” she’d said to Joy. “If I want my clients to be brave, I need to lead by example.”
She should have just gotten bangs like a normal person.
That evening, Angela wrapped herself in her favorite oversized sweater and went for a walk along the creek that ran through her backyard. It led to a river somewhere, perhaps a big one like the Hudson itself, but she hadn’t given it much thought until now.
“Change is like a river, maybe…winding, unpredictable, raging one minute and quietly gurgling the next. I could have made that work. But change is like a cup of coffee? My ability to completely screw myself apparently knows no bounds.”
She continued berating herself for some time, until she looked up and realized she hadn’t a clue where she’d wandered. She was so caught up in her thoughts that she wasn’t paying attention to where she was walking, and now, she was in the middle of the woods as the sun was beginning to set.
She placed her hand on a nearby tree for support. “Take a deep breath,” she told herself, before looking in all directions for something, anything she’d recognized. In truth, she hadn’t spent as much time learning about her new home or the wilderness lifestyle as she should have by now. She felt like a New York City skyscraper in a field of trees. Exposed and out-of-place. In the not-so-far-off distance, she swore she heard branches cracking.
“Hello?!” Angela called into the space around her, growing darker with each passing minute.
And then, a shuffling of bushes behind her.
Angela did not turn around to find out the source of the noise. She ran as fast as her new Chelsea boots allowed, not knowing where she was going accept forward. No time to second-guess or equivocate, her focus was singular.
When the blister on her heel and the stich in her side became too unbearable, she collapsed to the ground and stared at the dirt, panting on all fours. Eventually, she caught her breath and turned over to lean against a tree. This time, in the not-so-far-off distance, she saw the star pendant light she’d hung at her front door. It shone like a beacon for her and she began to laugh.
Angela laughed and laughed until she lost her breath again, and then laughed some more at the thought of the sight of herself.
“If anyone walked by right now, they’d probably think I’d completely lost my mind. Hell…maybe I have.”
And then she sat with these feelings for a while, just like her mother urged her to do. By the time she made her way inside, she was eager for something warm. She put a pot of coffee on and as she waited for it to brew, she realized for the first time that feeling lost didn’t feel so bad. In fact, it made her feel alive.
“Who knows what will happen next?” she asked to an empty kitchen.
“Four months ago, I decided to leave the city behind for the Hudson Valley. I thought I was seeking a lot of things…peace, space and, above all, change. But when I got there, nothing was as I’d imagined. It was lonely, there were spiders and the WiFi was spotty. I struggled to find the inspiration I’d sought and felt more stuck than when I’d left. I missed the city, my friends, and my bagel guy – especially my bagel guy.”
Quiet laughter rolled through the crowd.
“Until one night, I wandered into the woods and quite literally got lost. A harrowing run from a bear (that was in hindsight was much more likely to be a confused squirrel or someone’s lost dog) made me feel terrified, but giddy. It made me feel free, but focused. And then, it hit me. That’s how change should make you feel. Because change is like a cup of coffee. It wakes you up. The question is, what will you do now that you’re no longer sleeping?”
Angela turned to the screen behind her, pressing the clicker to reveal a pensive photo of herself sipping coffee amidst a forest of tall pine trees.
He mounted the stairs. I imagine him, in this moment, calling out my uncle's name. It is said when he entered my uncle's bedroom, he exclaimed: "Oh, c'mon Bill!"
Later, he and my dad would strip the sheets of my uncle's bed. My dad told me later that there was blood on them.
Aneurysms aren't supposed to be genetic but I'll never know; the moment it hits I'll be dead. Maybe it's better to be alone in such moments.
I'm upstairs before the funeral; I am alone in the house. I eye the Advil on the bathroom counter. Headaches come before the final rupture.
He arrives at the house, and I hear him like in my imagination of the moments before death, coming up the stairs.
He asks me how old I am.
I imagine this moment in a different way: the snow trickling down out of the grey sky, sheets of oblivion. The winter my uncle died was beautiful. I could taste the snow as it fell. That was before I told him.
My answer was, of course, my real age.
There are moments that define enter seasons of my life. There is the creak of the stairs that had held my uncle before his arteries built to a crescendo, the drifts of snow almost blocking the driveway on our way to the house to identify his body.
One day, I will remember that age differently. I will have changed.
I will hear the creak on the stairs, and I will remember what it feels like to be innocent and alone.
Dress in the closet,
Eye-brows are done,
Invites are sent,
I love you so, hun!
Gifts are packed,
The menu is spun,
The venue is decked up,
Oh darling, we can't be outdone!
Bridesmaids look gorgeous,
and friends are having fun;
The uncles and aunties,
you bet, are overdone!
Dress is now out,
Fake lashes, a breathtaking bun,
Stars on my lips,
Soon, I won't be a maiden!
As I slip on the dress,
A change in my disposition,
As I look in the mirror,
Red's my complexion,
Spiders crawl my back,
Stomach's in contraction,
I wonder if I can do this,
But, I love you so, hun!
It's time to walk down the aisle,
and my feet are frozen;
My body's all ice,
but, I love you so, hun!
From Miss to Mrs.,
the leap's a big one;
From this house to that,
a change of foundation!
The life that's gone by,
a kaleidoscopic procession;
The life that's to come,
coz of you, a worthy proposition!
You my darling, are
the sign on the side of the mountain;
With you on my side,
I'm ready for this expedition!
I Knew This Would Happen But I Still Hoped it Wouldn’t
This was always going to happen. And why shouldn’t it? I can’t expect you to remain still just because I silently asked the void. It’s selfish of me to even think otherwise. You’re so eager to move while I’m content with a standstill. Why do I want you to stop too? How can I claim to be in love if I want you to stay in a place you aren’t happy? I’ve begged. I’ve pleaded to whatever powers that be, hoping for some divine intervention to stop you leaving. I knew this would happen but I still hoped it wouldn’t.