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"Hello? Hello? Are you there--" and then the deafening roar, and then the deafening click, and then the deafening silence.
"Hello? Hello? Are you there--"
"Hello? Hello? Are you there--"
It plays on repeat in my dreams, waking, sleeping, walking, drinking "Are you there--" The roar. The click. The silence.
"Are you there--"
I can't bring myself to delete the voicemail.
I can't bring myself to erase the pain.
Because the pain is the last memory I'll ever have of her.
What if I had picked up the phone?
What if I had told her to pull over like I always did?
What if I had told her I loved her.
One. Last. Time.
Would I be living in this constant state of agony if my what ifs were dids?
The roar. The click. The silence.
I can't get away from the silence. There is only silence when she's gone from the world.
I should have told her to stay home.
I should have been the mean, awful, terrible mother she believed me to be.
But I wanted to be her friend.
I said yes when my heart sang no.
I pay the price.
"Hello? Hello? Are you there--" the roar. the click. the silence.
I've been trying to glue all my pieces back together, but then I listened to it again. One last torture before I say goodbye forever. Goodbye to agony, goodbye to grief. Goodbye to my beautiful daughter who'd just turned seventeen. I deserve to suffer. So I listened to it again. And again. And again.
And then all of the pieces I'd glued began to crack anew.
"Hello? Hello? Are you there--"
And then my heart did gnaw open, yawning wider than the cavernous canyons being beaten by the waves below.
She was alive when her car hit the water.
There was fabric under her fingernails from where she'd fought to claw her way out of the convertible top. And she'd made it, only to drown before she reached the shore. Her battered body was found on the rocks the next morning. She'd swerved to miss a deer. I stared at the rocks below and hung up the phone.
I don't know why the coroner told me those parts. My daughter was dead one way or another. Did I really need the details of her suffering? "Hello? Hello? Are you there--"
He'd told me that she wasn't in pain, that drowning isn't a bad way to go.
Why would he tell me such a thing?
"Hello? Hello? Are you there--"
I set the phone down next to her cross and dialed my voicemail one last time. Press 3 to play saved messages. I pressed.
I stared at the night sky, alive with the light of a billion stars, her voice singing from the black folds of velvet night. I stepped closer to the edge. And when she asked, "Hello? Hello? Are you there--" I replied, "I'm here."
And then the sky fell, spinning away in a thousand points of light, welcoming me in blackened reflection to the waters below. I gulped down the essence of the sea, greedily swallowing my death. I'm here, I thought, I'm coming with you.
And then I knew-- the coroner had lied.
It did hurt to drown.
A Soft Pat on the Hand
I wish I could tell you that you're going to survive this, but you won't. I know. You want to put this letter down already. You want to run away before you read the stark truth contained within these pages. The unfortunate reality is that you'll know what I've written all too well, in the end. We all will. Because... None of us is going to survive this.
Not your children. Or pets. Or even the giant sequoia tree you planted as a seedling. Sure, it might outlive the rest of us, but eventually, under some circumstance or other, it'll die. You'll die. I will die.
And frankly, that's terrifying.
But it's also kinda wonderful.
Can you imagine the low stake rubbish our lives would become otherwise?
You know, for a brief, shinning moment, we'd captured it. That phrase "You only live once." It was a hollow call that sang to the heart of us all. It was an anthem of freedom: jump. Run. Walk barefoot in the forest. Swim in the ocean. Taste the essence of life.
Before it became an excuse to eat tide pods, the heart of the sentiment was pure.
You. Only. Live. Once.
Yeah, yeah. We're not talking about your theories or beliefs here. We're talking about now. Today.
You get one.
And then it's gone.
Shit. It'd be easy to collapse under the weight of such a responsibility, wouldn't it?
So many of us do. Wasting hours scrolling, eating, loathing ourselves and everyone else on this god forsaken planet. I do it. God, how many hours of my life have I wasted playing fucking Candy Crush?
And I'm not saying we don't sometimes need to "zone out," for lack of a better term. We do.
Zoning out and checking out are two different things.
Have you checked out of your own life?
Have you signed off?
Are you content to waste one more precious, finite second doing all this shit you hate?
Screw being stuck.
Dig yourself out.
We are running out of time.
And I've seen people die. I've seen the breath of life leave their bodies in one quaking, gasping shudder. I've seen their souls clinging about the ceilings, yanking at the hair of their loved ones, desperate for one last touch. The lights flicker to the sounds of their screams: their agony at having wasted such an opportunity as life itself. And before they can touch-- hold to their loved ones one last time-- they're sucked away into the abyss. For better or worse. To the sound of heaven's trumpets or the shrieking parlor of hell.
And then I've seen the quiet peace of saying goodbye to a life well spent. The room is warm. The hearts that ache, but do not shatter fill all the world for but one moment with the sound of their pulsing love. There is light, and quiet, and a silence that does not grate, in that moment-- in that soft rush of breath. These souls do not cling about the shoulders or scream or weep. They exit our world with a soft pat on the hand of the one sitting beside their bed. And the tears that fall water flowers in a garden of memory.
I want to step quietly.
I want to know, when my time has come that I have lived and loved and held tight to the things that are truly important. I want you to know it, too.
Because, I want to tell you that you'll make it out of this alive...
But you won't.
And if death should greet me on the morrow, I would leave with a soft pat on the hand.
Feed the Devil
I’d feed it to the debt.
To the beast that sits sullenly on my chest.
To the monster grinding me to ash.
To the freedom that never existed.
Just another dime.
Just another dollar.
Just another thing to add to my dusty, useless collection.
I’d buy back my soul from the corporate devil.
I’d laugh in the Joneses' faces as I sold off every last scrap of garbage cluttering the nooks and crannies of my life.
And if there was anything left,
I’d buy that little cabin in the woods.
I’d sit in the solitude of escaping the race of rats.
I’d breathe in the important.
The little laughs.
The mud between the toes.
The growing people, growing things marching in the whisper of quiet days gone by.
I’d swallow down gulps of the essence of life, until I was bursting full, ready to wither in silent contentment.
But who am I kidding?
A windfall doesn’t do much when you need a hurricane.
I’d feed it to the monster, the corporate devil, the debt.
And when I had,
It’d still be hungry
I think of scales,
Constant in motion.
Wins and fails
Adrift in an Ocean.
I am a brass-weight tipping
Sometimes I slide, sometimes I’m slipping.
Forever in a tug-of-war
with Backward curiosity.
Thought I’d breathed hate’s last breath
But ever-building animosity:
Loathing my unnatural motives
Learning an alternate truth to
Water an ever-hungry seed of hate.
Reckoning at your doorstep
My seed did grow so tall
Ulterior motives in lockstep
I think I’d like to fall
In hate’s abyss.
Entrench you into rotten bliss.
We carry on. We slide. We slip.
I tear and rip: You claw.
Near end of days upon this trip.
Toxic dance in devil's maw.
Our love is nothing more
Than the undertaker's dream.
Both us dead and keeping score.
We hurt, we maim, we scheme.
In our battle for control,
Ever tipping, on we roll.
And the undertaker chuckles
When we both lie dead.
The scale is not in motion
It's all inside your head.
Not Even Once
Be warned, the following is explicit
Back again, mutherfuckers. It’s me, your favorite blood-sucking monster. Vampire, phlebotomist, blood bank robber extraordinaire. Yeah, yeah. I’m a self-righteous prick and I gotta do the intro every time. But shit. Springing the news never does get old. Except lately. You're all so caught up in the manufactured crisis of the day, who gives a fuck if vampires are real? You certainly don’t. Hell, they told you about aliens last month and you didn’t bat an eyelash. You just gestured to the price tag of eggs and rolled your eyes. Some of ya even begged for the mothership to land and take you away. It’s not that I blame you, really. If I was stuck in your little lives, I’d be first in line for the probing express. But I’m not you, and we’ve really gotta talk. Let’s dive in, shall we?
It’s been a decade since I first saw one. Back before I discovered the brilliant convenience of phlebotomy, I got a job doing janitorial in the ER (The blood’s not as fresh, but hey, a guy’s gotta eat). I heard him come in, incoherent mumbling echoing in the tiled hallways. They’d shuffled him into the tiny psych room in the back corner of the emergency department. It was padded in dingey white, but before the night was over he’d pull a Picasso in bright red blood. It was too much for a creature like me to resist. The smell of death was overwhelming on him, and curiosity got the better of me and I used those special skills I’d vowed to put aside for the first time in half a century. I gotta admit, even I was surprised when Phil (the security guard) placidly handed me the keys at my mere request. I was out of practice, but it seems human will has weakened in the last handful of decades (or Phil’s just a big softie– probably both). Phil shut off the camera to the little padded room and stood watch at the door. The thrill at using my power was short-lived as I stepped inside.
He sat hunched in the corner nibbling at some indeterminable bone I assume he’d pulled from an un-checked pocket. I didn’t blame them for missing it–I wouldn’t want to dig through his crusty clothes either. A strangled hissing sound emanated from little holes in his cheeks a he suckled at the marrow. When he looked up at me, I stumbled back. Now, you know me. I’m not one to balk in the face of any monster. I taught the Weres to be afraid of me two centuries ago. But this was something different. This was something unnatural. An abomination, like what you lot called us in the witching days. He stood, tattered clothing sucking at thin skin, pulling it away in large patches, and laughed in my face as he met my stare with milky, dead eyes. Zombie.
Surely, that’s what he must be. But. He couldn’t be. They weren’t real. The only undead that roamed this earth were the creatures like me… And yet. There he stood. The flesh of his hands had been picked away to reveal tendons crawling with maggots. He reached toward me and uttered a moan. I fled.
Safely tucked on the other side of the padded door, I watched with sick fascination as he pulled at one of the exposed tendons, stretching it thin in his efforts. He laughed manically, glazed eyes never leaving my own. When he tired of the tendon, he began picking little bits of skin off of his face, popping them into his mouth like Nerds candies (those are ruined forever for me, by the way– I hope they are for you now too). As a steady stream of blackish blood oozed down his cheeks, he began to gleefully paint on the walls, rubbing filthy fingers on the flapping flesh of his face and smearing spirals. I was so caught up in the horror of the thing that I didn’t hear the nurse come up behind me.
“First time you’ve ever seen one this far gone, eh?” She laughed when I jumped. I started to explain myself but she held up a hand, “Don’t bother. You work here long enough and you’ll start to see these.”
She barked a laugh, “Exactly. Yep. Turns out that’s what you become when you mix too many of the hard drugs.” She flipped open the chart and ran her fingers under the lines of the tox screen, “Ah— but.” She shrugged and gestured to the creature behind the padded door, “Just Meth.”
I shivered, “That is… terrifying.”
“Well, if you don’t wanna see it again– you should probably find another department. Maybe go work in the lab or something,” she raised her brows knowingly, “Now get outta here before someone who actually cares sees you. I heard Jennifer is rounding.” She laughed and shoved me into the hallway.
I put in my application to work as a lab courier that night and never looked back.
When you’re a phlebotomist, you have to draw the blood for those tox screens. Last week, I saw four Zombies, so far gone their flesh was sloughing away and wee beasties crawled across every last inch of their torn skin. Four. That’s a record. So no, it’s not the price of eggs or imminent invasion that has me thinking humanity is in the toilet.
All of this to say… You lot better get ahold of yourselves, or I’ll be facing a food shortage before we know it. Signing off now.
Your friendly neighborhood blood-sucker,
Don’t do meth, kids— Not even once.
The Happiest Day
Whoever said it was the happiest day of their life lied to you.
The day one births new life into the world isn't happy. To call it such is to downplay it into near nonexistence. A singular emotion cannot sum up such a day as that, and I'd argue that it is not the day of birth which is happiest, but the day after (in the case of a healthy child and mother, of course). Yes, the day after is happiest... but the day of?
To understand the day of birth, one must rewind several months (several years in the heart of one longing for a child, but we'll just go back the months for the sake of keeping things concise).
It all begins with a day of reckoning, for better or worse, when two little pink lines appear on a pregnancy test. No matter where the test is taken, Walmart bathroom or villa in the hills of France, the world stops spinning for those few seconds, as you stare into an unpredictable, terrifying, splendid future. The moment stretches, and you are surprised when you don't just fall into eternity right then and there. But then, inexplicably, life goes on.
And you feel, for all the while you carry that life inside of you, like a spectator-- removed from who you were before. You're changed somewhere in the deepest part of yourself.
Now, I've always said God made pregnancy miserable, else we'd never get over the fear of birth itself. Such palpable terror that courses inside oneself at the thought of delivering a babe is unlike any other I've yet to encounter.
But, if you're anything like me, you'll be sick before those two little lines even appear. You'll hate food you used to love. You'll be angry. You'll weep without any reason at all. You'll feel suddenly, terribly out of control of yourself. And as the months stretch, as your everything stretches, weaving webs of womanhood down the lengths of your stomach, your thighs, your hips... you'll begin to feel better. You'll begin to enjoy some secret power, some fragrant flaunting of fertility, some delight at the brows that raise, at the quiet knowledge of just how you made that little life now growing inside. But of course, just when you begin to enjoy it-- the pains will begin.
They'll start small.
First, a twinge in your leg when you've sat too long.
And then, if you keep sitting, a hemorrhoid might appear.
You'll be bothered, but hey-- that's the cost of motherhood, you'll tell yourself.
They'll go away after the babe is born, you'll tell yourself.
Then comes a different pain, a toll wrought by the weight of carrying another being inside oneself: back pain. It starts with a minor twinge now and again, then settles into a permanent ache, only alleviated if your partner is so gracious as to come behind you and settle arms under the weight, to lift it off of you, if only for a moment. When you're nearing your time, but still too early to feel it safe, you'll begin to have the birth pangs: a tightness in the center of you, a pressure and pulling, the sensation on sharp claws running down the inner walls of your abdomen. You'll think, surely, this is it? Surely, that was real. So, you'll begin to panic. You aren't ready for this.
And God knows.
Yes. That pain wasn't enough. You haven't suffered enough to wish for the earth-rending, tearing pain of birth.
So, you'll continue, pains mounting, ever-growing like the child inside of you, for another two months.
On the last week, you'll be bitter.
What a fool I was, you'll think. What liars they were to have espoused the 'beauty of pregnancy', you'll think. Glowing? MY ASS, you'll think. If you are like me, your feet will swell, your breasts will ache, full to the point of bursting, the skin on your belly will be taunt and tight and those motherhood lines will scream and scream as you work lotion into them in vain. And yet, somewhere inside of you, you'll begin to feel it: a strange pleasure in the pain. There will be a rightness to it, and so the true ache will begin, when you stop fighting against it, when you fully lean into the power of the pain when you admit to yourself and to God almighty that you're ready for real work to begin-- whatever the cost. You're ready.
And so begin the contractions. The shifting. The sensation of fullness to bursting. The unwavering knowledge that you will do what must be done. Your mind and your body will join and the world will, once again, cease to spin. There is only you, only the raw, wretched, wonderful pain, only the child in that moment. God help your partner then, if they make a nuisance of themselves. For they'll not realize it isn't you they're talking to. You'll have become some other. Some creature fed only on sensation, on desire, on pain. You'll speak in a new voice, then. You'll utter words and shrieks you didn't know lived inside the very center of you, dormant all this time until this singular awakening... or... if you're like me.. You'll hold that all inside: a tempest in the heart of your soul. You will be silent. The room will be silent but for the quiet exhalation of breath. You will know the truth. You will do what must be done. And so, as your body stretches and tears, you'll cling with vise fingers to the bed-sheets, your eyes will scream with silent determination as you cleave that little life from you, as you force your most precious possession outside of yourself and so give it to the cruel world to hold. Then comes the shattering of the silence, the moment when the world clicks back into place and begins to turn once more: A cry, defiant, powerful. The warriors cry that screams from tiny rosebud lips, shouting triumph, echoing down the corridors of time: I. am. here. And when the child is placed upon your chest, they'll be warmer than you imagined. They'll be the missing piece of you--the piece you just tore out. And you'll know, then, that you'll never be the same again, because now the biggest piece of your soul lives on the outside. So, you will not be happy, no. You will feel everything all at once: fear. Pain. Longing. Love beyond reckoning. Worry. Anger at the world your soul must now live in. Sadness, because you have come to an ending along with the new beginning. And yes, happiness. You will feel happiness.
But whoever told you it would be the happiest day of your life is a liar.
Those come after.
Those come when you realize that cutting a piece of your soul out and letting it run about the world isn't such a bad thing, after all.
The happiest day is the day they place a tiny hand on your cheek and coo the love you let out right back into your heart.
And then, you'll know.
It was worth it.
Chalk lines washed away easily enough, but bloodstains didn’t. She dipped the brush back into her bucket of water. It stained a lovely pink to match sore knuckles. She furiously worked the brush until the floor was lathered in frothy red. It was almost beautiful in the late afternoon light… almost, well, no–not almost: definitely a bit seductive. Fuck it. She frantically pried up her loose floorboard and plucked out the knife with blood still crusted around the handle. Lovely. She stood, hungry for more than the mere memory of blood on her hands. The mess would wait. She couldn’t.
There'd be a purple ribbon.
A leaf dried between the pages of Ride the Wind.
More baby teeth than seem reasonably possible.
There'd be a business card with Dad's phone number printed in dark green.
And then there'd be bigger things.
Innocence. Faith. Trust.
There'd be love, lots and lots of love.
There'd be whole entire people in there.
But I wouldn't reach for them. I lost them on purpose.
They've tried to be found before, but I just bury them under the soft folds of my yellow baby blanket. I might stop to look at my cowgirl hat and the matching pair of boots. I might even think about picking them up, but then I'd continue on, inside the terribly big treasure chest of all my lost things. I might begin to feel hopeless, as I waded through a sea of bobby pins and earring backs, but I hope, after long enough... I'd see her.
The little girl with blazing red hair and matching fire in her eyes. A brave little girl. A good little girl. A little girl so full up on loving life that she spread it all around like Christmas confetti. The smile never seemed to leave her lips. A laugh barely caged under rosy cheeks. A wonderment reflected in the way she ran tiny fingers along leaves and lilac petals. A deep well of kindness in the core of her, where others might come and drink and drink until they were drunk on the sweetness of her spirit, and somehow, still, she'd be full to the brim, spilling little drops of joy wherever she ventured. I'd look for her first, so that maybe, just maybe, I might take her hand and I might walk with her again. I might carry her out of that place full of lost things. I might drink and drink her in until she was found, at last in the place she should have stayed... But.
There is no treasure chest wherein to search for the little girl, for her hope, for her quick laugh, her unquenchable joy. Because the world came and drank and drank and drank, and she gave and gave and gave. Until. One fateful day, she ran dry. What had seemed impossible had happened-- she had nothing left to give, not one drop of joy left to share because they'd taken it all from her and given none in return. And so she is gone, and I would not find her, even if I had a treasure chest of everything I ever lost.
Because she isn't lost.
Echoes of Starlight
When I saw the moon, I thought of you.
A compliment, to be sure, because this was no ordinary moon.
This was echoes of sunrise all bottled up in the darkness of night.
A moon so bright, it cast shadows of midday on the forest floor and sprinkled the perfume of romance across a late summer night.
I thought of you because the moon was like you: brighter than the stars, but only brave enough to shine every now and again, more beautiful than the sun because I could behold with my eyes all the splendor of its light. One cannot look upon the sun, but the moon? In its ever-changing cycle of wonderment? One could look at the moon for all eternity and never grow tired of seeing the marvelous little ways it had changed.
And when the moon hides?
That reminded me of you, too.
For when you are gone it is the blackest of nights and the echoes of starlight no longer reflect in the shadows, so I hide in my pillow until darkness passes and the morning light shines through my curtains. A comforting light is the sun, but none so precious as the moonlight. None so precious as you, ever-changing, ever the same– a tide in the marrow of my soul pulling me forever into your gentle gravity.
Yes, when I saw the moon, I thought of you.
Ya know, I was inspired the other day. I wasn't looking at the sunset or ocean waves or snow-capped mountains, no.
I was inspired by the leathery, deeply tanned ass-crack of some drunk pyromaniac leaning down to light the fuse on what he referred to as, "the finale."
Is this the one where he blows his fingers off?
The 'finale', huh?
His night ends with a big red boom, right?
Blood spraying everywhere and a toothless grin because he's too drunk to really feel it. He'll say something stupid like, "Told ya was gon' be the best show of y'all god-damned life."
I could see the whole thing unfolding in front of me, but that's not what happened.
I have an overactive imagination, ya know?
A taste for the morbid, perhaps. Okay, definitely.
Fuck. Is it really fourth of July if your drunk, shirtless, toothless, witless uncle doesn't blow off a finger or two?
Where was I?
Oh yeah: ass-cracks.
How long did his ass have to be hanging out of his pants to get that tan? That's not even a plumbers crack. That's the ass of a nude beach swinger gone too long cooking in an oven of impetulance.
Anyway, where there are ass-cracks, there's bound to be beer. Beer aplenty. Cheap beer.
I don't drink cheap beer. Yeah yeah, come at me. But shit, if I'm gonna drink-- I want to savor.
Give me wine and whiskey.
Let me at least pretend to be classy while I kill off brain cells. That's the allure isn't it?
To be stupid, if only for a moment. How nice it is to be stupid.
But Uncle Garth is already an idiot. He drinks because it's fun. That's it. It's fun to get drunk and swing your fists around and fall down without feeling a thing. It's fun to be a small God for a little while-- to pretend your base humor has everyone laughing with you instead of at you, for once. Yes, idiots drink because it's fun.
And it is fun.
C'mon, we know it makes us dumb, don't we?
So, for the highly intelligent, drinking is fun. Oh. So fun. But so, so dangerous.
Just another drop might numb our awareness of the dumpster fire of a reality we live in.
Just another drop might turn off the incessant stream of consciousness in our minds.
Just another drop might make us laugh at the pretty lights instead of thinking about the intricacies that must go into re-attaching a finger. Or the minerals that make those pretty lights. Just another drop and we might be dumb enough to fuck.
Just another drop and we'll laugh and dance and tell that joke. Or maybe we'll get moody, and write some shit, and it'll turn into a masterpiece? 'Cause everything is a masterpiece when you're drunk, right?
And after that drop, I'll remember. I'll want to crawl out of my skin. I'll think about that thing I did, that declaration I made, that clumsy fuck, for the next decade.
But Uncle Garth?
He'll wake up in the morning and crack another cold one. He'll wonder how his knuckles got bruised and he'll chuckle, or leer, or blame it on Aunt Cheryl that she didn't make him quit while he was ahead. Uncle Garth will be alright because the alcohol couldn't possibly make him any dumber than he already is.
We'll want whiskey.
We'll want wine.
We'll want to savor our demise.
So Cheers-- to ass-cracks, bloody stumps, and being just a little bit dumber.