Do you remember when we used to sleep on the trampoline?
When we'd fall over laughing, bruising ourselves on the gravel of our driveways
Sideways, crashing down
I can hardly remember those days anymore
I only remember the soreness of my limbs and tree bark against my skin while I climbed
The path we carved in the woods to a place we considered sacred and holy
The pain we explained to each other in a tiny room without light
The flowers we exchanged in hopeful dreams of retaliation
The tears in your eyes when you said you were leaving
The breath we shared for three seconds
The time it took to get up
The space between us
I don't know about you
But I can hardly remember those days anymore
Only when I think about it
"Does it hurt?" I ask while watching her.
"Only when I think about it." She winces.
"Oh, damn, I'm sorry."
She laughs, brushing a strand of hair behind her ear as she tosses her insulin needle in a sharps container. "It's fine. I'm used to the whole thing."
"You started when? At ten?"
"No, I was twelve. Right after this." She traces the line of a scar on her thigh. She was riding a horse, and it walked her into the tin eave of a low-slung shed. The cut was scary deep and crazy long, running from her hip down and across the thigh well short of the knee. "It was that trip to the hospital that we discovered the diabetes, so I guess it was a good thing I was nearly murdered by the horse."
"Was it the horse, or the roof?"
"I think they were in on it together." She grins, leaning in to kiss me on the cheek.
I smile back at her, and the kiss becomes a hug.
"Well. I'm glad they didn't succeed."
"Wow. That's just about the sweetest thing you've ever said to me."
"Not true. I've said you have fantastic bazongas, and that's a pretty damned sweet thing to say, I think."
It's true, she did. Maybe still does.
"Wow," she chuckles and smacks me on the arm. "Remind me again why you haven't swept me off my feet?"
We both laugh, and I look away.
It's true. I have. I know it, and she knows it, but she knows that I've pretended I haven't. It's best that way.
Does it hurt? I never ask anymore, because we don't talk.
Only when I think about it I say to myself, as I scroll past her name in my contact list.
The Crop Circle
When the paper mill closed its doors for the last time, a domino effect blew through the surrounding areas like a twister. In small towns where every industry is connected, losing one is like flipping over an hourglass. You only have so much time before the rest follows.
In 2009, the job losses in Annandale, Lone Pine, and Mill Haven reached a still unbroken record. 450 jobs alone at the paper mill, followed by the chemical plant in Lone Pine with over 100, the peat moss plant in Mill Haven with 50, and these places were all serviced by the railroad, who laid off 30 conductors and engineers who operated those lines.
That was over 600 jobs in a town and surrounding communities of just over 8,000 people, with 30 percent of those 8,000 being retirees. The heart of the working class was effectively ripped from its chest.
This didn’t even account for the small motels that had contracts with the railroaders, the bars on Main St, the blue collar clothing stores, the industrial laundry, dealerships, real estate, and the restaurants that families with a little money in their pockets went to for Friday or Saturday evening meals.
When paper was no longer the cheapest means of production, the money left the pockets of the working class, and when that money left, the stores who depended on it to keep their doors open were forced to declare bankruptcy.
The white collars stayed afloat a little longer by wheeling and dealing, as was their custom. The lawyers and accountants landed some work because wherever flesh was being ripped from the bone, there was paperwork to be made up and signed, and money to be transferred from callused to bloody hands.
I remember the chaos like it was yesterday. I was 16 years old. Old enough to understand that my father and mother were in pain, but not quite old enough to understand the nature of the beast. But that would come.
I remember them fighting a lot. My mom was insistent on getting out of dodge, but my father didn’t want to leave. He told her nothing was different out there and even if it was; he had no connections. What were they going to do, pack up their shit like the Joad family from Grapes of Wrath and travel until they found something? The world didn’t work like that, and after the market crash, Annandale certainly wasn’t the only town flatlining on the operating table.
But I knew they loved each other. Their world had just been turned upside down, and it was reasonable to believe that certain resentments and animosities would rear their ugly heads during a period of such turmoil that they’d never experienced before.
I never held it against them. They did their best to make it seem like things were fine during the day. I was just a light sleeper and heard what was happening during the hours when they thought I was thousands of miles away.
My father never laid hands on my mother, but the same couldn’t be said for many of my peers. The uncertainty of the abrupt decision to shut down the only reason people lived in Annandale took its toll on a much deeper level for some. The industry men, who were hanging on by a thread during the best of times, lost all control.
Chris, Jack, Andrew, and Ryan, just to name a few guys from my school, were getting roughed up by their fathers after long nights of drinking and gambling. And they were carrying that cross to school with them.
Those had always been vices of the working class in Annandale, but it used to come in a more controlled setting, at least for many, where you could drop a few bucks for drinks and hit the blackjack table for an hour or two without pissing away your family’s life savings.
Now, some of the newly unemployed were drinking and gambling heavier, hoping to strike it rich at the casino in Mason. Of course, that never happened. They continued to dig deeper and deeper holes for themselves, and took the losses out on their kids.
Like some wise person once said, shit rolls downhill. The abuse that was going on at home made its way to Annandale High, and for a while, the school was a jungle. Drunken fatherly rants about brown-nosing cocksuckers sucking up to management and stealing their jobs, were told to their kids, who took it as holy scripture, not to be questioned.
This happened mainly within the railroad fathers because, although the railroad was hanging on by the skin of its teeth, it was still operational. Fights broke out, most of the time on the second floor landing during lunch break. Some were funny to watch, clumsy, skinny kids, throwing haymakers that weren’t landing, but others were frightening in their reality.
While this was going on, Richie Marks’ (seemingly one of the brownnosers) cabin was burned down by Roy Jannie(one of the good guys?) Roy, of course, denied it, but small town rumours spread like wildfire. And he was being condemned by the Annandale gossip jury. More powerful than any real court. He would end his life by shotgun blast a couple of years later. A social pariah in the only town he’d ever known.
There was even a Molotov cocktail thrown through the window of McCleans Fishery, over some behind-the-scenes deal to get Jamie McClean, who didn’t have much seniority at all, to keep his job.
After turning the other cheek as long as they could, the teachers or better yet, prison guards of Annandale High eventually started handing out suspensions to those who were caught fighting inside the school. But, despite the valiatn effort, it didn’t stop the carnage, it just relocated it. The fights moved to the pit, which was the 3km race track just across the street.
I have a vivid memory of Braxton Andrews skipping backwards down the second floor between first and second period, announcing to the crowd of students, “If anyone wants to see a man get beat senseless, if anyone wants to see a man lose his mind, then come down to the track. Corey is going to face the wrath of a God. Yes, he is.”
He was giving a full Ali performance, while the teachers pretended to be deaf and blind.
They had just been on the picket line a few months back because of low wages. I didn’t think they were prepared to play referee, to a bunch of fucked up high school kids who were out for blood.
The pit fights went on for a while, and I was there for most of them. Standing on the gravel track outside the grass ring, with my fists clenched. Smelling the blood, but still too timid to taste it. It felt like the Lord of the Flies. Man returning to its most primal incantation. Some were scared of what they were seeing, and left the pit, shaking their heads, others in tears. It felt like the end of civilization, but it felt good too. Because civilization obviously wasn't working. That’s why our town was dying.
But the fights at the pit did eventually stop when Bobby MacMillan put Jesse DeSilva in the hospital, and nearly killed him. These were two heavyweights who had hated each other since they were kids. This went beyond the job losses and new petty rivalries based on drunken ramblings from their folks.
It had rained the night before. Jesse slipped on a damp patch of grass, and Bobby pounced on him like a jaguar. Throwing punches long after Jesse was unconscious, while the rest of us stood like statues. Still as though we just looked in Medusa’s eyes. And if it wasn’t for Trent Galley, who ran through a crowd of us to throw Bobby to the ground, Jesse would have been killed, while half the high school watched.
Trent was one of those quiet guys who never asked for trouble, but never ran from it, either. He was an anomaly unto himself when it came to the high school click hierarchy. He was just there, someone who was left to their own devices. Untouched and uncouth. He became the one to announce a change in the way the animals went about their fighting. He proposed the crop circle behind his house.
This was a dead circle of grass in his backyard across the river that acted as a makeshift boxing ring. People would schedule fights with whoever they wanted as long as both parties agreed. Fights would take place across the river in Cross-Point on Saturdays and Sundays. The school was off limits. No one touched anyone during the week. If there was a problem, they went to Trent, who marked it down in his notepad and scheduled them in.
The common consensus became that the fighting wasn’t about hatred for their schoolmates, but by a shift in their existence. By coming to terms with the madness, the guys understood that the anger was coming from drunken words without validation.
They just wanted to look up to their fathers as though they were gods, but the reality was they were human, they were in pain, and they were venting their frustration in their homes, where they knew someone would listen.
We also came to understand the importance of getting out while we still had time. If we got kicked out of school, we’d be stuck. And unlike the generations before, there weren’t going to be any jobs waiting for us. Now that was a fact.
Trent’s idea to fight only at the crop circle helped a lot of the angst and anger ridden teens. Many of us got out of Annandale, but, of course, not everyone.
As the years went on, the men who got too deep in debt ended up sitting on the train tracks around Christmas time when their families had nothing to put under the tree. The engineers often said they went with a peaceful smile on their faces.
Trent didn’t make it out. He stayed at home, taking care of his old man, who was dying of cancer. He ended up working as a cleaner. Making his rounds through vacant office buildings and grocery stores after everyone had gone home.
And now, for the first time in fifteen years, I’m driving back to Annandale. I’m heading for the crop circle.
Throughout the four-hour drive, I’m thinking about my family. I got married, had two kids, went to college and got a good job. I did what civilized society told me to do. But that feeling inside of me. That one I felt watching the fights in the pit, has never gone away. I’ve tried to silence it, and I can for a while, but it just sleeps, it never dies.
A few weeks ago, around Christmas, I received my lay-off. Christmas will be thin this year, but I won’t be on the tracks. I’ll be in the ring. Once some blood has been spilled, I’ll return home. I’ll figure something out.
The sign for Annandale is old and decrepit. The ghosts are in pain. I’m home.
They came closed, expectant with colorful promise
Twelve apologies, fresh and fragrant, on a spring morning
They opened slowly, delighted at sun's attentive rays
Twelve wishes, delicate and hopeful, blushing deeper red
They posed patiently, noticing novelty start to wane
Twelve wallflowers, deflated and dejected, lowering their heads
They withered steadily, starved of nutrients and faithful care
Twelve warnings, wrinkled and faded, beneath a graying sky
They fell apart, succumbing to foul, blackened blotches
Twelve reminders, bitter and broken, lying in the dust
My lip hasnt stopped
Since I left your apartment and cried happy tears at the airport
Which turned into rain
Slowly melted into some sort of
Evaporating into the detached ether of numb
Just empty fog that makes it hard to see the threads of thought that I want to pull until
Again I feel that
Intoxicating Joyful thought of you
Again to start those burning tears that singe my lashes and
Again exist in a whirlwind of
Hi, my name is Lou and I would like to tell you about the worst feeling I have ever felt. I am a happy person who smiles easily and always sees the good side of things. However, since the beginning of the year I have felt a huge emptiness inside me twice. As if my body was made up of no organs, only emptiness in my body. The first time I felt this was the second week of January. The week before I had learned that my aunt's mother (on my mom's side) had passed away, her mom was a nice person and had a great memory for her age. I didn't know her very well but every time I met her she remembered my brother and I and the little events that had marked our lives. The funeral was supposed to be on Friday of the following week, but Thursday was the day that was too much. For about 3 months I had a 7:45 am pool so I would get up very early and finish very late at 6:30 pm with 1 hour to eat. But that Thursday was special because at the end of the day I had two tests, one in science and earth life and the other in physics, two subjects where I understand absolutely nothing and even more since I stopped taking math classes. Usually I don't care if I fail these tests but this time in physics at the last hour, I started to cry. I hate crying, for me it's a sign of weakness but I also know that this vision is false and that it's human to cry but I hate crying. So I started to cry on this test but so that no one would see it I hid behind my hair holding back any little noise that might show that I was crying. I think only my classmate saw it because she gave me a tissue. I turned in my test and when I got home I continued to cry even though the test was over but I couldn't stop myself. I felt nothing but emptiness. But the worst part of it all was that I couldn't figure out why I was crying. I never cried because I failed a test especially in physics, I think it's ridiculous to cry for a grade, even though I loved my aunt's mother I didn't know her well enough to get in such a state, I was very sad for my aunt and my cousins but I had the feeling that it wasn't for that that I was crying. On Thursday night I was sleeping with my cousin and she heard me crying so we went to the bathroom and she tried to cheer me up by asking me what was wrong but I couldn't explain it to her I was crying even more. This emptiness was getting bigger and bigger and I couldn't even figure out what was causing it. This emptiness left when I fell asleep.
The second time I felt this void was the week before the baccalauréat (in France). My grandmother (on my father's side) was in hospital for a small operation. The Sunday before I had gone to see her with my cousins who had to be motivated. My little brother and I had to explain to them why we had to go and visit our grandmother so that they would come. When we visited her she looked very weak, I had never seen my grandmother like that, she didn't have that cheerful look anymore. The doctors kept her under observation but she told us she would be out soon. The following Thursday I was in the library working and I got a message from my grandmother wishing me a good day as it was Saint Lou's day and just after she told me that my grandfather (her husband) had also been in hospital since Tuesday. So I immediately saw a message on the family group where there are my cousins, my uncle and my aunt and my father (but I haven't spoken to him for about 4 years for other reasons). In the message I explained to them that I was worried about my grandparents health but they told me not to worry that everything would be fine. Just after I called my grandmother to check up on her and she told me as if nothing had happened that she had cancer and that she had known about it for at least three months. So I made little jokes to hide my sadness and to hear her laugh. But that's when the emptiness came back, I felt nothing but sadness and emptiness again. As my grandmother just told me that, I thought that my cousins, my uncle and my aunt must not know about it. I sent a message back to them to tell them the news, and my uncle told me that they knew. This time I felt my organs and especially my heart, I thought it was going to give out and then the void. My uncle and aunt and I have never been very close but I wish they had told us. The hardest part of the story was telling my mum and my little brother. They are much more sensitive than me and hearing them cry on the phone just broke my heart.
This time, the void that was created disappeared because I focused on my exams. I really stopped thinking about it and focused on my exams. It's not the first time I've managed to detach myself from my emotions in this way. But at the same time, I can't stand feeling this emptiness. Sometimes I wonder if I really have a heart. I don't really know if I'll ever be able to fill this void, but the fact that I was able to express all my pain in writing made me feel a little better.
The Sound of a Soul Breaking
It sounded like a brittle stick snapping. It isn’t a physical pain, nor an emotional one, it is a pain from part of your soul being destroyed. It is the realization that someone you loved, trusted, and gave everything never loved nor trusted you, but took everything. It sounds like a cliche, but when the veil is lifted from your eyes and you see the demon that you thought was an angel, the feelings of betrayal makes the sound of a tree branch breaking. You can’t cry anymore, and laughter hurts. Listening to music hurts. It is a constant pain- sometimes excruciating, and sometimes a dull percussion like a faucet dripping.
I never understood the purpose of Judas betraying Christ until that moment. Christ suffered to understand what we will experience- emotionally, physically, and soulfully.
We don’t usually separate one’s soul from their emotions, but they are different. They have stolen part of your soul. Any attempts at drugs or alcohol or any other methods to forget don’t work. It only worsens the pain in the long run. So you try therapy, and it helps with the fear and sadness, but not the pain.
You then try what Christ commanded - forgiveness.
Forgiveness doesn’t mean letting this toxic person back into your life. Forgiveness means that you understand why it happened and how you can fix the pain that seems to never go away. Forgiveness means that you forgive yourself and can shed the feelings of stupidity. You weren’t stupid, you were kind and trusting. Therapy helps you reach forgiveness, but in the end, it is only you who can forgive and put that pain away and move on. You can’t repair that tree branch, but you can grow another. You discover that when you cut away the dead branches, the new ones will have more life and growth given to them.
It still hurts to listen to music. It still hurts to laugh, and the tears don’t come when you need them, but you look around and discover all the good that has happened since then. You are always grateful that the veil was lifted in time to see the good.
Dark In Lightness
So dark in lightness
My mind like a storm
Its clearing imminent
Still drowning life with thought patterns in swarms
And profusely shed tears
As if joy was a person
And depression her attachment and fear
Thoughts of wonder
Delight and misery
Anger in gratitude
I create like some sort of witchery
How can I be
But not all the same
Each day feeling reset
No pause in this game
A level higher
I seek to climb
But as I ascend
The deeper I dive
Into a darkness
Cast obscurely aglow
They say you reap as you sow
And so I see
Or at least I listen
All I know is my breath
And I inhale as if it my soul mission
So dark in lightness
Maybe it’s balance I crave as I swing
The clouds always part
The sunlight sparkles in the spring
As the frost begins to melt
Nature assures its return
Ebbing and flowing in evolution
In its fluctuations I’m beginning to learn
I honor my darkness
I respect my light
I embody it all
So with my soul I may reunite
Pain, you don’t know pain
Despair is alot like chocolate. You feel it, and then it's gone. You crave it. You crave despair. Don't you crave despair? Yes. That itchy feeling in the back of your throat, that won't go away, until you feel despair. Until you eat your cake. Drink your milk. That is despair
Love. Lost. Eternity. Forgot. Remembered. Crying. Caring. Depression. Hope. Satisfaction. Dedication. Repeat.
You thought it was more. It sounds like Eternity.