The Secret to Quiet

My stepbrother’s suicide was the catalyst. When he took his own life, it somehow freed me from the life I had been forcing myself to live, the life that was killing me, the life I felt was the only one I could possibly be living. The death rocked me, but did not surprise me. I had seen his eyes. I had felt his tremble. I had heard his mutterings. Of course, it had been years since we’d spoken—roughly four or five, I’m foggy at best when I stop communicating with people, which is something I am apt to do—but I was still unmoored by the choice he made. I felt like the death was some kind of harbinger, a looming thing willing me to push forward or die.

I have pushed forward.

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I am usually the kind of writer/person who will take years between a happening and the act of writing it out of me. This is how I have always operated. Words take time and vision is always clouded and the desire to understand my actions or my inaction always murks up the truthblood of it all. I can always take a happening and immediately create music from it, but the words take so much longer and need so much more care. Music is in me, words are around me. This is a truth.

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We did not know one another as boys. We did not grow up together. We did not have a secret language or shared memories or shared pain. We did not know one another as young men. We did not witness the heartbreaks and the failures and the triumphs as we grew into ourselves. We did not know one another as men. We were thrust together when our broken alcoholic parents—his mother, my father—took their long-running affair and made it a marriage. We shared that awkwardness, that pain, that fear of car wrecks and sad phone calls and picking people up from jail for driving drunk.

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I can clearly see the way his hand trembled holding a glass of Knob Creek the first night I arrived in Santa Fe, his dogs wandering at our feet and his eyes unable to connect with mine as he told me of all the goings-on in regard to my father and his mother and the cancer and the accusations of infidelity and the boozing and the money and the threats of leaving. I can even now, from where I sit and write this, feel the air leaving through his skin. I can almost taste the Thanksgiving leftovers he forced on me, my drunk and chalked-out body, post-flight from New York City, the hour drive up to Santa Fe from Albuquerque a blurry mess and a lit up cop car at the end escorting me to the place I sat before him. I can feel the roughness of the sheets in the guest bedroom I was to occupy for my time on the death watch. I can sense his teetering. Even now, even now.

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The compulsion to document is not always around. Sometimes I just want to live a little and not think, not act, just roll with it all and try to keep my head attached to this terrible body and see what comes of it all. What happens more often is that my subconscious mind will document everything for me in other ways. Scents and audio and textures all filed into places deep in the brain where I have little or no access until my brain decides I am ready. This is the way of my world, the way of my mind, the way of my hands stroking the keyboard at a speed that makes no sense. All brawn, no brain.

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My stepbrother’s partner of twenty-three years is left behind now. Left behind with the dogs and the Star Trek collectibles and the kitchen full of spices and shelves full of books. Left behind without his partner, alone to keep pushing forward. Alone to keep keepin’. I would call and try to speak to him, but I know that call would go unanswered and unwanted. I probably wouldn’t take that call. I wouldn’t want to hear a sound from a banisher who never explained the banishment. I split from their world a couple of years after my father died, tired of hearing about the sadness of my father’s wife, tired of knowing she was alive and my father was gone and tired of hearing talk about my lack of communication and my lack of compassion.

Tired is a thing that lurks and hurts.

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It took a bit, but I blew up my life after the suicide. I left my wife of nine years. I started to pull away from all of the sad and all of the uncertainty and all of the work that felt like it would never balance out, never amount to a shining thing. I tell my therapist about my own suicidal ideation, about how I know it isn’t a real thing, that I am a kind of tourist. I don’t want to die, I want to shift into something else, a Phoenix of sorts, a person I can believe in, a person who deserves love and light and smiles and a future. I am struggling with this thing, and the daily/hourly urge to run is always underneath it all. I think about the jungles of South America, I think about the mountains of the southwest, I think about arms to hold me and beds to sleep forever within. I want to live inside of songs, melodies, in light. I want to feel and not be shamed for feeling.

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A massive black hole could come down from the sky right now over the earth and people would still argue about it until the whole of humanity was sucked into it and shat out the other side a terrarium of frogs and protozoa. This is the world we’re living in, a world where eight billion people are about to face massive starvation and all anyone wants to talk about are politicians and celebrities and who is fucking who and who is angry about what and who is rich while the rest of us go dead inside.

What does this mean for the suicidal?

What does this do for the future?

The measurements we all use to find our way around in the dark are obsolete. We will fumble and we will fall and we will cry and we will have to—most of us who are alive and feeling and afraid and ready to walk away from a life—stop ourselves from stepping in front of the 7 at the Times Square station in the middle of rush hour.

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I am, as ever, learning how to love myself more.

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SLIGHTLY UNDER

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A dark and cold room with shadows moving and a glass case in which a skull sat lit up with blue light and electric light arcing through the air and I put my hand in the case and picked up the skull and then the blue light and I was suddenly in a car on the freeway, felt like California, the skull in my lap and palm trees on fire and cars stopped and crawling and then my father standing in a cul de sac with my dog and the trees are still on fire and someone hands me an apple and I bite into it and it tastes like BBQ and then I’m in REDACTED and I can feel bullets tearing through me and I can taste cordite and my ears are ringing and I can feel blood in my eyes and then the blue arcing light again and then I’m sitting up, face heavy and heart so so so slow.

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Always on for the journey, for the adventure, for whatever experience is out there waiting for me, ready, willing. This has always been a truth and will probably never ever stop. I will go. I will be open. I will witness. I will remember.

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I never took LSD. I babysat a ton of my friends who did it, but I always stood by this idea that anything a biker could make in his bathtub had the potential to kill me. That’s a goddamn lie. I did my fair share of methamphetamine when I couldn’t find cocaine. LSD freaked me out, caused me to sweat when I thought about it, got me believing that it would fuck with the weird way I already witnessed the world around me. I took psychedelics that occurred as naturally as possible in the world—mushrooms, peyote, tried to get my greasy paws on a Colorado River bullfrog to lick—but they didn’t really take me outside of my body, away from my consciousness. PCP was fun, but after a while it became boring and predictable. I’d get all kinds of warm inside and the world would taste like iron and dirt and the sky would be amber and the nerve-endings in my body would feel like they’d been in a hot tub too long and I would find myself doing things/saying things/acting like a goddamn lunatic, but I never went to another realm or plane.

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I have spent the majority of my adult life hiding myself. Hiding the things that hurt and burn and cause violence to rise in me. Hiding my fear and my reluctance. Hiding just about anything and everything I can from the light, from the faces, from the camera, from the song.

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Death always seems to keep coming around to remind me that I have a lot of work to do. Always happens when I am getting too comfortable with things and always happens to someone I didn’t see coming. Two weeks ago I lost my [step]brother, and it wrecked me. Not only did it wreck me, it took me all the way back into my father’s death and what we shared during that experience, and the inside of me turned from a semi-solid and secure thing into a thing composed of hot jelly and sad. I keep flashing back to moments of recognition between my [step]brother and I, moments when we would look at one another and communicate without speaking, knowing full-well what was happening to my father and what we needed to do for him.

This death, though. This death has forced me to confront so much of myself that I had buried. For years, I was jealous of my [step]brother and his brother. They got to have my father as a different man, a man without anger, a man who didn’t intimidate, a man who was supportive and kind and loving, a man unlike the father I had, but so much closer to the father I always wanted. I never witnessed a single moment that had my father be anything but good to them, even if/when it was totally warranted to be otherwise. Never heard a lick of criticism, the kind he always threw my way and cut me. They had relationships with him. I had history. I had anger. I had rage.

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It’s not like I have never been in a trance state before. I am capable of achieving it through making music—repetition to the point of muscle memory taking over can lead me to a place of deep calm where I drool and lose time/space—and I have achieved it through breathing/meditation. But the experience of being guided into a trance through hypnotism was something heavier, something involving trust and care, things I am reluctant to receive/give. Even when I was going under, my body still tried to fight it off, tried to stay present. But when I went? I went deep and fast and shot from place to place and scene to scene and I still see my father standing there with my dog, palm trees blazing, skies red and dark with smoke.

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I don’t know how to define manhood. I can barely define adulthood, let alone the set of weird ideas and structures in place that constitute manhood. I am a man, yes, born like this. But I have nothing else to base anything off of to complete the puzzle of manhood. What does it mean and how does it work and no, I do not know how to change the brakes on a car and I do not know how to rewire the electricity in a home and I sure as shit don’t know how to deal with all of the violence. I know I have violence in me, I’ve been tamping it down for as long as I can remember. Now I am in therapy again and my therapist—bless him, he is angelic—wants to do demolition on all the walls and do the work on the violence, unwrap the mystery of manhood.

How the fuck?

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I haven’t laid hands on another sentient being in a long time. It used to come so easily, any problem solved by spilling blood or intimidation or a wink that said “think twice, I’m ripe to throw.” I barely even raise my voice now. I live in a world wherein my size and my stature create space. I am so very aware of this and have been for a long time. I am aware that when I write of the violent world that brought me to this place I am now can frighten people, can cause trepidation in day to day dealings. I am aware that my privilege is a real thing, a thing that blots out the sun, a thing that makes me sick, ill, unruly. I know that even when I am trying to help someone, it can be scary, can be panic-inducing for the person I am trying to help.

I am aware of how broken I am.

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Always on for the journey. Always.

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SOME ARE WHITE LIGHT

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It is so hard to describe what the scent of flesh being burned away by a cautery laser is like. I remember walking into a supposedly sterile room, aloof, and wondering what was burning, what was dying. I remember what it looked like—the crackling and popping of the laser and the darkening and reddening of the flesh, the pattern emerging underneath tiny clouds of incinerated dermis—but the scent, my god, the scent.

I knew I could never go back to unknowing.

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I hit the down arrow button on my keyboard so much that it will no longer stay in place and the little rubber nubbin underneath is a flat and sad thing.

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I never write about The Now, but the last few months have been something. I like to put distance between a happening and an uncoiling of my thoughts, but some things burn. I am burning.

The fact that I have a book in the world is kind of insane to me. The fact that anyone in the world can plunk down money for it is also kind of insane to me. The fact that it got reviewed by The Chicago Tribune, Gawker, and other places is more than insane to me. The fact that the basement of WORD was overflowing with people the night of the release party was like being another person on another planet. The fact that I was able to go out to California and read from it and see people I love and shake hands with people I do not know and people I now know is some kind of thing, alright. The fact that I have had strangers—people I have never seen in my life—approach me and speak to me about the book is incredible and awkward and everything I never knew could be real.

I am so very thankful.

I also want more.

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The first time I ever witnessed someone hanging from hooks I was in a terrible bar in Phoenix and the person hanging was having a hard time and TOOL’s “Sober” was blaring from the bar’s sound system and I could feel so much anticipation in the room and so much disappointment wafting from the sweat of the person attempting to hang and the people trying to get that person into the air. While nursing a whiskey and witnessing, I felt a thing inside of me shift around—a knowing, seeing thing—and I felt some kind of garbled connection to the action, as if I was looking into a broken mirror and everything was warped, bloodied, remembered.

When the person lifted, the room lifted. Not up for long, but there was a beauty in it, a power exchange had occurred and a wall had been destroyed. I felt relief for the person airborne, a relief for their friends, something resembling a kind of relief for myself. Anything can be done if the mind is right and ready.

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I want to write more books but I also know that I am going to have to take my time. The way I am wired to write isn’t quick. The way I mine for blood is determined to get to the darkest and most brackish emotion. The world wants everything at a pace that is inhumane, unattainable. It would be ridiculous of me to try to keep up.

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The first time I cut myself, it was an accident. I was dicking around with little Star Wars figures—trying to carve bullet and sword holes into them with a tiny pocket knife—and the knife slipped and went right into the meat of my palm. I didn’t make a sound. Instinct told me to put the wound to my mouth and my blood tasted warm, rusty, salted. I removed my wound from my mouth and inspected it, the flesh opening deep enough to see into the layers, to see the blood rising into the wound, to feel some kind of excitement or elation that I had not felt before. I stayed there on the ground, opening and closing the wound with my fingers from my other hand, fascinated by my body and what lied beneath my surface. I didn’t have the words or intellectual capacity to understand what was happening to me, but I knew I wanted to know more about this thing, this inside of me, this shell.

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Sometimes I misconstrue my need for boundaries with a hardening of my heart. This is something I am still trying to balance.

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I didn’t realize it in my early teens when I was doing it, but I used to strike brand myself in my room when insomnia and adolescent sadness would swallow me up. I would take a guitar string and heat it up with a lighter and then take the hot metal and lay it on my skin to feel the sharp static bolt into me. I would do this over and over again in places where nobody would ever see—the tops of my feet, my thighs, my inner biceps—until the skin would harden and keloid. Then I would wait and scrub the wounds free with the pumice stone used to clean the tile of the swimming pool. It would take time and effort and a stomach I didn’t know I had, but it would get back to normal flesh again.

I also used to heat up thumb tacks and take them on a guided tour of parts of my body. I remember pushing one through a nipple to see how much it would hurt and the feelings that shot through my body have never been replicated, even all these years later.

Never did it smell like that cautery laser, though.

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The longest I have ever gone without food is a few days. I started to hallucinate and knew that if I didn’t get something inside of this body it was going to start to shut down. I know it’s unhealthy, but there are times I wish I could stop eating, stop producing new cells, stop recycling my blood. Sometimes I just want to see what would happen, where I would go, who I would become invisible to.

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I take my time because I have no patience and I want things to be right.

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SOFT SPOT FOR THE RECKLESS

6ss5wpui

Not having a place to live is a form of violence. The constant feeling of being something so other’d and letter’d that not even some empty space on the floor, let alone a couch, is something anyone can spare for you and your tired body and your tired mind and your tired heart. The constant feeling of hunger. Not just for food, but for kindness or a moment to wash clean and clear the mind. The constant paranoia of running out of options or time or friends or constructive thoughts. The constant needling in the heart and head about poor choices and how “if only” should be tattooed on your forehead for all to see and read as a warning for every interaction.

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I didn’t really know Smitty, he was a friend of Chongo’s and a friend of the Professor. I only knew what I thought I knew—he and Chongo apparently pulled a dopey-as-fuck heist on the place Chongo and I worked at and stole a few thousand dollars, he was a junkie-in-training, his mother was a shrink and they had some money—and even that knowledge didn’t line up for a bingo when he killed himself. There were stories, obviously, but I never knew what to believe once Chongo got high and started to spin yarn. One minute he’d be telling me about the visions he had, the next he’d be telling me about how he wanted to sing like Craig Wedren from Shudder To Think, and then he’d tell me tales about Smitty. The Professor never talked about Smitty, he’d stay quiet when Chongo would talk about him and then mumble something about talking to Smitty’s mom on the phone often and how he missed his friend.

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Desperation makes people do terrible things they would never think they would do. When I was on the street I used to go to church fountains at night and fish out all the silver so I could stay in smokes and some food here and there. Other people’s wishes were my wish to eat. Other people’s loose change my staying off a hustle and away from possible jail time.

When was the last time you looked a totally desperate person in the eye?

You should do it. Go on.

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When I was in Minneapolis this year for the big AWP writer’s conference thing, I noticed so many interesting things about my peers. I watched them slough off the homeless and the out-of-luck constantly. Minneapolis has a pretty large homeless community from what I saw, and because the conference was downtown, they were out and about, looking to see what they could get from people.

I didn’t see them get much.

There had been an article in the local paper talking about how the conference was going to infuse the local economy with millions of dollars. I watched people, that’s what I do. I watched people act like the people who were hungry were invisible. I watched people make faces at passed out people at bus stops. I watched people throw so much money around in a city that isn’t theirs and act like the locals who were asking for help had the fucking plague.

We can do better, indeed.

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I was in Smitty’s house once, when the Professor was housesitting and a few of us went back there one night to drink and soak in the hot tub. I saw pictures of him as a little boy on the walls. I saw piles of envelopes with his mother’s handwriting on them, doodles and curses and monetary amounts. I saw his room, the way he left it, like that cliché that always shows up in a movie or television show where a child dies and the parent cannot accept or move forward. There was a guitar in the corner on a stand and I’m the kind of motherfucker who cannot resist picking up a guitar and playing on it, but as soon as my hand wrapped around the neck to lift it and play it, the Professor shouted at me to put it the fuck down.

“It’s his, dude. Don’t.”

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I used to like to go sit in silence in bars full of ghosts when I had nowhere to sleep for the night. Something about watching other people trying to fuck or fight or destroy themselves made me feel less alone, less like the end was around the corner.

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I was sitting with a friend on a bench outside of her hotel talking while we waited for a buddy of mine from high school to show up. A guy was pacing back and forth and mumbling and trying to get my attention. I could feel him and his want and his need and so many other things. I knew he was coming to me, for me, and this was a scene that has happened and will continue to happen to me for ages and lifetimes and all time and space.

He started out by asking me if I had seen the video of the young man shot in the back by the police, asked me what was happening to our country, asked me why the police could get away with so much murder. I spoke to him openly, honestly, a little cautiously. We went back and forth on it for a while before he asked me for a smoke. I started to ask him questions—slowly at first—and he started to answer and started to stop and started to open up and started to get riled and I could feel every nerve in his body on fire and every emotion in his heart full of tears and fear and hunger. I kept on looking at my friend, to make sure she was okay, to make sure she was with me, to make sure she was witnessing.

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Chongo somehow ended up with Smitty’s car, a rundown white Toyota Celica with torn seats and bad brakes. We’d drive around getting high and listening to Stevie Wonder and Chongo would pull into gas stations, fill up the car, and then drive off. We would drive up mountainsides and sit in the car and on the car and look at stars and get higher and higher and he would start to talk his magickal mumbo-jumbo shit about his visions and he would get quiet and pat the hood of the car and put his cheek on it and cry.

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The guy’s name was Rob and he was on the street and the city was grinding him down and he would bounce between crying and laughing within the same breath. I got him to talk, and I got him to open all the way and tell me what his options were, where he could stay and where he could not. Rob kept on telling me how hard it was to be on the street, how I couldn’t possibly know what he was living. Then I told him. I told him and told him where I was from and everything shifted. He started to listen to me about maybe going to a church and asking them if they had room for a volunteer or someone to do work on the grounds. He told me about a shelter that was eighteen bucks a night and I slipped him some money and he looked me in the eye and I watched him well up and all of this was going on while people were walking by us and making faces, going about their business thinking the dollars they were spending were juicing the local economy.

When my high school friend started to walk up, Rob puffed up and said “that’s a bad dude, I don’t know if I like him,” but then I told him we’d known each other since we were kids and he lightened up and started laughing some more. Rob and my friend talked a bit and Rob loosened up again, but when he hugged me he said—loud enough for everyone—“You want me to do him? I’ll do him. For you.” We all laughed and Rob laughed and he asked me if he could speak to my friend and he told her she was beautiful and cool and then that was it—Rob was going to go to the shelter and get a bed and a hot meal and we were off to hang out in hotel bars with ghosts.

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The story as I heard it is this: Smitty walked into a house party full of people from a bar he hung out at and walked right into the middle of the room and put a gun in his mouth and pulled the trigger. Nobody saw it coming and nobody thought he was really depressed and people just thought he was making a joke with a gun but then it went off and they went off to never be the same again. I never met nor did I know anyone who was at this party. I only knew two of his people, Chongo and the Professor. I only met the guy twice, if that, and I thought he was just a weird gangly kid with social anxiety. Rumors flew after, that he was a heroin dealer and he carried the gun because he was afraid to get robbed and he had been having a lot of trouble with women and had been beaten up by some dude for flirting with his girl and all sorts of other shit.

All I kept on thinking about was his mother. That poor fucking woman.

Still no idea how Chongo ended up with that car.

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A few hours later I was getting into a cab outside of another hotel and I saw Rob, invisible to everyone around him, shuffling between people looking for butts to smoke.

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RIDE YOUR RIDE

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If we put three people in a room together and asked them to define loyalty or honor or respect, we’d get different answers from each one of them. Some of the answers might overlap and some of the answers might come out angry or defeated or even terrified of being seen.

We are living in the age of hyper-connectivity, but nobody is connecting.

******

I’ve been having panic attacks again. They keep starting in weird places inside of my body. Sometimes they start in the soles of my feet and feel like electric eels climbing up my Achilles and into my calves and then they explode like arcing light through my thighs and into my torso. Other times they start in my colon—a twitch or a gurgle that isn’t anticipated will happen and then everything inside of me goes dayglow and slithery—which isn’t a spot I am used to them beginning.

I am all out of my anxiety medication and I feel like that is a good thing. I feel like not relying on the pill as an act of desperation is a better option than me taking a pill and going fetal wherever I am until it kicks in and does the smoothing out thing. I want to feel it all right now. I want to sweat and convulse a little. I want to taste the pennies in my mouth and I want to feel the current in my limbs.

Ride your fucking ride.

******

I almost got married when I was nineteen years old. It was such a quick and wild thing, this sudden aloneness turning into impending marriage and all that. Everything was a blur. I remember telling my Senior Chief on the ship that I was flying to Arizona to get married and he looked at me like I was crazy and said “You have a girl? Had no clue.” My mother was stoked, because she really loved the girl. I loved the girl. My sister loved the girl. The girl, well, she fell in love with someone else before I could get back there and do the marrying thing.

******

I always enjoy how on a holiday meant to remember the dead, Americans of all shapes/sizes/ages will use it as an excuse to drink too much alcohol, scorch dead animals on grills, and ramble their rambles about those who have
served.

Don’t even get an old fuck like me started on the honor part.

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My physical being is imposing even when I do not want it to be. I soften and soften my face and my eyes, yet I am still this thing, this big lunk of meat and skin and scar tissue and possible violence. Possible violence is a thing.

The violence I think about all of the time is the verbal and unintended type. The kind where people speak and speak and yammer and yammer all while never looking around themselves to see their surroundings or whom their yammering may bleed from. The kind of violence that is unintended but steals away any comfort at all, the kind of violence that should have been taught about when small and innocent. The kind of violence I am thinking about is friend on friend, lover on lover, brother on sister, neighbor on neighbor. Words and words and words and words.

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The girl I was going to marry told me she had fallen in love with another. She told me this while I stood on a payphone in the rain thousands of miles to the northwest. She told me this only a few days before I was to board a plane and do the thing we were going to do. I kept asking her why it happened and what I could do to fix it and I kept asking her if she loved him and she said yes yes yes over and over again and then said the thing that clicked into place for me: “He’s here, Sean.”

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People always say that dogs are loyal. I agree with that, but I’d also like to add that dogs are love. They want love and give love and live love.

Ask yourself what loyalty means to you. Go on.

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Last night my neighborhood was a shitshow of fist fights, screaming drunks, people stumbling around and pissing on parked cars, vandalism, and plenty of other unseemly things. Memorial Day.

******

My physical being has survived plenty of violence. Self-inflicted, random, intentional, murderous—all of the types of violence one can think a physical body could be subjected to—and I am still here, in this body. My emotional self has suffered far more. The violence of witnessing ignorance and anger and hatred and disenfranchisement and cruelty. The violence of disinterest. The violence of righteousness. The violence of virtue. The violence of policing. I swallow this kind of violence into myself every day. We all do. We see it and hang our heads and we see it and slink away into ourselves and it stirs and stirs inside of us and it wrecks us from the inside out.

How hard is it to be kind?

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I sat outside in the cold and listened for sounds. I sat on the bathroom floor and spoke in an angry hush. I stared holes into a sleeping man. I kept fingering the electrical outlet. I kept thinking about my hands and the power inside of them and the anger inside of the rest of me and kept looking into her eyes and listening to her, hearing her, seeing she was yes, in love. It took a long time, but I left and walked in the cold and stumbled my way back to a home that wasn’t mine and drank myself into sleep and woke the next day with a new feeling inside of my body.

Recently, she asked me how I was able to forgive her.

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We’re all stars in a star-crossed universe.

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I keep on wondering when my body will finally give in and raise the flag. When will the panic attacks leave. When will the need for nicotine move on. When will my hunger for meat cease. When will my desire to be desired slip away. I am so close to invisibility in so many ways, yet my physicality is so impossible to ignore. I want to be smaller. I want to be leaner. I want to see my shadow and think it belongs to another, younger version of me I am. I want to step out of the shower and not feel like I am heavy with death or heavy with panic or heavy with a sigh that is slumbering inside of me. I want to want. I want to want. I want to want.

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Two days out of the calendar are set aside for Veterans and the fallen. Two. It sure seems like a lot more, but that is all there is, all that is official. Why people find the need to use those two days—those only two days—to flood the world with their disdain about all that has gone wrong is beyond my capacity of understanding. It can be done on any other day. Two days. Honor. Respect. Loyalty.

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I am not of the belief that people set out to betray one another. I might be touched in the head, who knows. I just know that there is no way the girl meant to betray me and I was never going to treat her as though she did. When she asked me how I was able to forgive her I told her that in order for me to live my life the way I choose to live my life, I have to be able to forgive others, otherwise I will never be able to forgive myself. Forgiving myself is hard and anyone who works that angle knows how hard it is. I am cruel to myself. I am constantly inflicting psychic and emotional violence upon myself. Sometimes I try to stick a mask on it and call it humility, but I know what it really is and that’s fine.

Let go.

Ride your fucking ride.

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It’s Not Like That Anymore

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I poured my father his last drink. Four fingers of scotch, ice, and a splash of water. I added three drops of liquid morphine. I made one for myself as well, same recipe. Richard Pryor had just passed away and it was late at night and my father was making me switch back and forth between CNN and The Weather Channel. I had tried to feed him some ice cream earlier and he spit it up and all over his beard and chest. As I was cleaning him off, he asked for the drink. Who am I to deny a dying man a drink? Who am I to tell my father no?

“Jesus fucking Christ, Sean. Are you trying to kill me?”

That’s what he said to me when I helped him take his first sip. Not thinking—just reacting and feeling terrible—I immediately apologized and took the drink from him but he hissed at me.

“I’m going to die anyway, idiot. Give me that drink back and sit with me.”

I saw the spark in his eye, a shot fired across my bow. So we sat in the dark. We sipped by the light of the television. He talked about how he wanted to have a drink with Richard Pryor, and about how that was going to happen pretty soon.

******

Every relationship is different. In groups of people who are all friends, everyone has a singular experience with everyone else. This is infallible. Nobody can have the same relationship with multiple people and nobody can claim to know someone the same way everyone else does. We all have different things inside of us that react to different things inside of others, and that goes around and around and makes being a human being having a human experience a weird as fuck thing.

You could say “everyone wears a different mask for everyone” and you wouldn’t be lying or wrong or even mean.

If you wanted to really fuck your own head up, you could try and maintain being one person at all times with every living thing. The same person with dogs as you are with the kid at the bodega you buy smokes from. The same person with the pharmacist as you are with the cable installation technician. The same person with your high school love as you are with your favorite Uncle. The same person with the detective interviewing you about a robbery as you are with someone you met at a job fair. This could go on and on, amen. Think.

******

When I was young I never listened. There were always folks around trying to kick small doses of rational thought and wisdom my way, but I was too insouciant and too full of myself to realize what was going on, how later on in my life I’d be begging and pleading for wisdom. Older punks would tell me to slow down, take my time, not to do this or that, but I’d barrel forward with every molecule of myself full of desire and anger and swagger. So much blood lost. I would have so much more of my blood if I had only learned to shut the fuck up and listen, to learn.

Now I know what both ways feel like. Now I know.

******

What we see as death, empty space, or nothingness is only the trough between the crests of this endlessly waving ocean. It is all part of the illusion that there should seem to be something to be gained in the future, and that there is an urgent necessity to go on and on until we get it. Yet just as there is no time but the present, and no one except the all-and-everything, there is never anything to be gained—though the zest of the game is to pretend that there is.

–from The Book: On the Taboo Against Knowing Who You Are, by Alan Watts

******

You cannot get time back once it is gone. As much as we give away, we give it away and that’s a wrap. Nothing comes back from the void. You can keep your ass in one spot long enough and sit in silence and then it starts to happen, you start to feel time slipping out from your fingerprints, from your eyelashes, from glances out a window or in puffs of smoke rising to the light. I’ve been sitting in silence more now than ever before. I sit in silence and I let my mind drift and sometimes it takes me places I never thought I would go, didn’t know mattered to me at all. Sometimes it drifts into my own home movies and that makes a ton of sense since I am working on a book about those home movies. But the home movies it selects for me to revisit are always so surprising. There are reveals in this book I never thought would carry weight for me, moments I thought were trivial or nonsensical, yet—they have immense weight and they hold keys to locks.

I don’t know if I want my time back or not.

I’ve been sitting in silence and thinking a lot about my heart and how it works and when it works well, when it doesn’t. I think about faces a lot. I think about the depths of hugs, the way a mouth feels on the cheek, the way a hand on an elbow or a shoulder can mean so many different things to so many different people, how many masks there are and who is/was wearing them and who will wear them. I think about nervous laughter. I think about eye movement and body language and unspoken things and things whispered. I think about actions and reactions and how each and every is different for each and every. I think about intent. I think about policing. I think about freedom. I think about medication and chemical reaction. I think about scent and tone. I think about failure and what a ridiculous concept it is to fail.

“You can only throw your own head.”

******

Saw Swans this past week with a friend I consider a brother. I took out my earplugs less than five minutes into the show because I needed to destroy everything inside of myself and needed to feel the pressure and the release the band intended for me, for all in the room. Wave after wave of punishment and bliss, wave after wave of sound and harmonic distortion and tones unknown rising and falling in the wash. Swans played six songs. They played for over two hours. My body was ecstatic. My heart was firing and peaceful. I could feel my feet, but I wasn’t there. I was leaving my body and returning to my body over and over again. I felt reborn with every crash and dead with every thud. It was everything I wanted and needed and more. I wish I could put your hand on my chest so that you could feel this.

******

A lifeless body is only lifeless because we know it has stopped working the way our bodies continue to work.

******

So very hard to justify personal battles when the world at large is burning and people are dying and everyone is starving and everyone is screaming. So very hard to express my politics without drowning out the voices that should be heard, so instead I choose silence and personal connection, personal conversation.

******

Words have been hard to come by so I have been using music to express myself. Sometimes I forget how much can be conveyed with three notes. Sometimes I forget music is my first language. Sometimes I forget to breathe. There are power dynamics in every relationship. My relationship with music is limitless, because I allow it to flow and I do not fight with it. My relationship with the written word—specifically the words I string together that will have my name attached—is more calculated, more affected. My relationship with the words that come out of my mouth is ever-evolving. I learn so much every day about how I speak and what I choose to say and how I choose to say it and to whom I am saying it and how those words will land. I am learning to shut up. I am learning to witness. I am learning to be still.

My relationship with myself is, and always will be, the hardest and most rewarding.

******

Ask the mirror.

******

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Welcome, Ghosts

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Eighteen years is a long fucking time. That’s what punched me in the chest the other morning while I sat in my kitchen window watching smoke drift from my hand and out into the fog—it has been eighteen years since my mother passed away—and now that realization is hovering around me, ghost-like, whispering. So much has happened in those eighteen years. Would she even know me? Would she want to? Would I want her to?

******

There will come a day when I stop writing about death.

******

This thing that keeps hovering around is not malevolent. It is something other, something needling but in a way that warms as much as it shakes. This thing is rattling memories loose and letting them push me around a little, which is kind of refreshing and kind of titillating because I need to be pushed around a little and ain’t much happening to do so regular-like. My clean blood is clean blood and will stay clean blood.

Yesterday I was standing on a pier in the middle of the East River and I was looking at the glorious fog hanging over the city and I kept on wanting to cry but the tears wouldn’t come. I closed my eyes and tried to let whatever needed to wash over me do what it would but all that kept happening was me seeing my dog—all wiggles and wags and snorts and grunts and happy sounds—sleeping at my feet in a way only dogs can do. I was trying to meditate, I guess. That is something I do every morning but I never do it out there in public even though it was early and the only other person I saw hanging around the park with the pier was an older bald man who kept looking at me warily and I could feel his sadness.

I can always feel sadness.

I had the new Swans album going pretty good in my headphones and the rhythm was perfect and repetitive and I felt myself leaving my body a little bit as I stood out there and could taste the moisture of the river and of the fog, but as soon as I would drift I’d see the dog again and come back to my flesh.

******

When all of your elders—the flesh and blood you came from—are gone, it’s unsettling. I’ve had time now to get used to it, but I don’t think I will ever fully get used to it. Mother, father, grandparents, aunts—all gone. Superstitiously, I mostly feel them around the anniversary of their death[s]. Emotionally, I mostly feel them when I feel unmoored and without a base. When I think about them when they were living, I don’t think they knew me at all, which wasn’t their fault as much as my own. I’ve always been secretive, dark, someone with a path hidden in the larger path everyone else sees. I have always been uncomfortable with lovers and friends who disclose their entire lives to their elders, people who share too much of their innermost and dangerous with people who are wired to worry, wired for concern and anguish. My elders didn’t need to know about my darkness. They felt it.

******

My neighbor has been riding a bike everywhere. He is a weed delivery guy, which is a very lucrative gig here in this city. Yesterday morning I was outside, smoking in front of the building, and he came down with his bike and we started rapping and joking. He’s from Oklahoma, loves metal, and—like me—is an orphan as an adult. His mother recently died and whenever I see him I just hug him and we don’t need to say anything because we know the secret handshake of orphaned adults. Back to the bike thing, though—I noticed he had no helmet and basically begged him to wear one. “Nope,” he said. I told him about my friend who was killed and how he wasn’t wearing a helmet and as the words were slipping out of my mouth an understanding coursed through my body, an electric current made of blood and knowing.

Orphaned adults don’t wear helmets because orphaned adults already know pain and give no fucks.

******

I would wear a helmet. I want everyone to know that. I would.

******

Whenever I start to feel sorry for myself about this shit, about the deaths and my hurt and my sad and my familial aloneness, I try to walk. I throw on headphones and get moving and get getting and get to watching other people on the street or in the park or in the stores or in the pews. Watching people be people is a cure-all. Watching people be people is an inspiration to be a person and not a mope and I’d be a monkeys uncle before I’d ever be a mope.

I think about my sister out in California and wonder how often she goes to see our mother, I wonder how her heart feels, I wonder if she feels the same aloneness, I wonder if she speaks secret words in the night to the ceiling like I do, I wonder if she sees our mother in the faces of cats and the tail wags of dogs, I wonder if she wonders—like I do—if our mother and our father have ever spoken in whatever world or place or chemical compound they are in after this life has ended for them.

******

Have you ever held a dead body? It’s an incredible thing. The physical is there but you can feel something has gone and something was there and electricity is still in there a little bit but it’s like holding a light bulb after taking it out of the socket and letting the glow dim. I held my mother’s dead body. I held my father’s dead body. I’ve held my own dead body. I’ve held your dead body.

Who will hold my dead body?

******

Trivial, but true—

My mother once found a series of letters I had written to Jimi Hendrix. I had been in a bad place, drugs were fucking with my head and my head was fucking with my heart and my heart was fucking with the world, and I had set up a typewriter in my room—I was around sixteen or so, I believe—and started clack-clacking away in the night. Stacks and stacks of letters, all of them free-form and flowing with my madness and my sadness and my desire to leave my body forever and leave the world forever and my blood feeling about my father and my mother and my friends and my sister and my classmates.

I really didn’t understand any of my classmates. I was an alien boy.

Any other mother who’d found those letters would have freaked. Any other mother would have sent that child away never to be seen again. Any other mother would have put a pillow over the monster’s face in its sleep and let it slip away.

Not my mother. No.

She told me she found the letters and encouraged me to keep writing.

******

My mother let my band “rehearse” in her house. My mother let me and all my dopey and beautiful punk rock friends smoke in her house. My mother would sit up late at night and drink coffee with my high school girlfriends and talk to them, soothe them, treat them like adults when nobody else would. My mother secretly made t-shirts for my band and gave all of them to us on the eve of our first show. My mother cried when I graduated high school because she never thought I would be able to follow through and do it because I’d dropped out twice and went back and still finished on time. My mother cried when I enlisted in the Navy because I did it on my own and didn’t tell her I was doing it and she was proud. My mother cried when my ship pulled in to San Diego and she couldn’t see me because I was locked up in the brig. My mother called me by my secret name—the name she gave me as a child—when she saw me after she came out of her coma. My mother danced with me at my bar mitzvah and I remember seeing her deep brown eyes and how proud she was and how glad she was and I remember right now—sitting here, right here—how much that meant to both of us.

******

I joke about death because death is a joke. The joke that never lands right. The joke that stings. The joke that twists.

My mother, born on Father’s Day, died on Mother’s Day, loved to laugh.

I need to laugh more.

******

I’m still writing, Mom.

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