I am realizing that my desire to be known and know is based in a desire for respect and not need. I am realizing that my need is small. I am realizing that my respect is limitless. I am realizing that my reticence is not birthed from fear, but from an ability to feel a misguided need or a misunderstood want that hums just underneath the melody.
I have come to a terrible and incredibly freeing understanding with myself:
Without the death of my father, cleanliness/sobriety/abstinence would have been impossible.
At the center of my desire for self-destruction was a whirring thing, a ticking voice that echoed while belittling.
A young woman who worked for me was having some issues with an older man who was stalking her. He came to the restaurant once and I could see the change in her, the way her entire body went rigid and her eyes clouded over. I watched as he purposely sat in the area of the restaurant she was working, and as he followed her every moment with his eyes, smirking. She did not speak to him; she only made gestures with her hands and yelled at him with her face. As he was leaving the restaurant, I followed him out the front door and very calmly told him never to come back. He just stood there staring at me with the same smirk.
I underestimated his resolve.
He continued to harass her. At one point he slashed all the tires on her car and I ended up giving her a ride home. During the ride, she kept on crying. I told her to go through the music I had in the truck and put in whatever she wanted. She started laughing at me, asking me why I had so much jazz and punk rock.
“That’s pretty much what I am — jazz and punk rock.”
She laughed, took a smoke out of my pack and stared out the window while Coltrane smoothed out the rough.
“You are here as a protector. You are a gift.”
Recently I read about the suicide of someone I once knew a little bit. Because this person had a murmuring within them to try and expand and accept life on terms that went beyond the surface and paleness of outwardly human appearances, the suicide ended up plastered all over the Internet. Comment sections ablaze with disdain and judgment. Snark-filled sentences reducing a life to assumptive anecdotes and hardly-concealed ignorance to the pain one might hold in the chest, and how freeing it might be to refuse that pain any longer.
Community is never what we believe in our hearts it can be.
This human being transformed. This human being was brave enough to look inward and upward and risk the life that everyone else has and takes for granted for the life that felt right for them. This human being could easily be labeled “unstable,” or even “fucked in the head.” This human being was a human, transforming itself into what it felt as if it should have always been allowed to be.
So many broken and lost children, looking for love in all of the most obscene places.
After I was fired from that job, the young woman was the only person who reached out to me. She left a voicemail thanking me for being kind to her, and told me that she felt lost there without me and had quit after a couple of shifts. She left her phone number and told me to call her so we could catch up, get coffee.
I was already working in a different world, a world where I was surrounded by people who felt like they were pushing their envelopes—both spiritually and physically—through body modification. Everywhere I looked I saw flesh: tattooed, branded, pierced, scarred, transformed and shifting. Most work days involved exposed genitals, skin glistening with fresh blood, endorphins flooding the air around me. Dust from machined steel in my eyes and mouth and lungs. Every day was filled with a soundtrack of Bacchanalian cries and ecstatic moans.
Did I tell you about all of the blood?
There was a lot of blood.
[Ongoing and Unfolding]
There is always a knife. Whether it is seen, unseen, or unknown—it is present. The knife can be metaphysical. The knife can be rusty. The knife can be fresh out of the shower and smiling at you in the mirror. The knife can be a combination of syllables and breaths. The knife can be a screwdriver, driven into the meat of your thigh by someone who felt the need to attack you because you did not show them any sign of fear. The knife can be the blinking light that tells you that you were so fucking high you forgot to get gasoline. The knife can be an exploded view drawing of your heart, taped to the inside of the door to the medicine cabinet. The knife can be you. The knife has been me.
Motive, whether hidden or implied or finally unveiled, is always at the center of conspiracy.
When I first started openly—walking out of the house with a joint in my mouth or defiantly drinking a beer on the couch while watching cartoons—dabbling with drugs and danger, my mother thought it wise to try and find a mentor for me, someone to guide me and report back on me to her.
My risk-taking behavior had led to being brought home in the middle of the night shackled in the back of squad cars, to being removed from a school and having to beg to be allowed to attend another. To me, this just seemed the normal trajectory of exploration. How else was I supposed to figure out what the fuck I was? Was I supposed to just keep my head down and act like every other kid, mindless, hopeless and living in a shell of fake faith and under the weight of the albatross of expectation and potential?
My mother chose a mentor based on hearsay from a co-worker—this woman claimed her son was a reformed “bad kid” and would be a good influence on me—and slyly set it up to have their family over for a cook-out so he and I could meet and he could size me up.
I could tell I was being set-the-fuck-on up just by the way my mother said she was really hoping he and I would click.
At night I was working construction on an open and bare space, converting it to look like a doctor’s office/travel agency. This was for a friend I had met through the blood and steel people. This was her grand and insane thesis project for her MFA. A few of us would go to the space and drink while framing walls and hanging sheetrock and I always referred to her as “The Mother Fucking Artist,” which would make her laugh and smile.
Making people new to your meadow laugh and smile is an important thing. Much more important than anything anyone else will ever tell you.
A lot of the chatter and noise was about the formation of a church. I had just left a situation that was under the cloud of the word cult, a mystery school in a condo with a poorly-hidden hum of agendas ice cold wrapped beneath the guise of Gnosticism. The church being spoken about by the blood and steel people started as a joke—a way to stop work-place persecution for visible tattoos and choices made—and had shape-shifted into something an arrogant and self-serving few thought could benefit many. I tried to stay in the cut, an observer, but ego always breaks out of the shell when confronted by an affront to actual wisdom and good will.
That part of the story could and should—and someday will—become a book. For now it is a knife.
The young woman who used to work for me lived near to the space we were transforming. I had spoken to her earlier in the day and told her where it was, and told her that she was more than welcome to come by and hang out, drink some coffee. I had been so lonely. I felt this burn for human touch of any kind that didn’t involve some kind of manipulation or some kind of hidden hum. I wanted a hug from someone who saw me as me and not me as they needed me to be.
I was atop a ladder screwing two-by-fours into a wall to create a false wall when I heard her laugh beneath me. She was holding two very large coffees. She was smiling and glowing.
“I know this is going to sound very strange, but my mother asked me to tell you that you should give me three hundred dollars. It’s important.”
All I could do was say yes.
The mentor candidate grew up in Nebraska, playing eight-man football and listening to KISS records. He had a child. He had been arrested a few times for really petty and dumbass things as a teen. He quit school to do the right thing and try and help raise his daughter but he was a natural born fuck-up and that didn’t work out for him so well. He was only allowed to see his child during supervised visits. He had a bad habit of dating girls who were too young for him. He had a bad habit of fucking up at work. He had a bad habit of being a really bad liar.
These are all things I was able to pull out of him within the first ten minutes after getting him high in my bedroom directly after meeting him, while the two families converged and ate and made nice with one another.
Nothing like marijuana and barbequed chicken to take the well-intentioned plan of a parent and leave it a pile of glitter on the carpet.
I barely had enough money to survive, but I gave her the three hundred. My truck had been repossessed already, and I was smart enough the morning I was fired to make sure my rent was paid up for two months. She was shocked when we walked a few blocks over to an ATM machine and I pulled the money out and handed it to her.
“Aren’t you going to ask me what the money is for? Aren’t you curious?”
“Nope. That’s not how prosperity works.”
“You really aren’t anything like I thought you were when you hired me.”
We took our time walking back to the space, smoking cigarettes in silence while sipping the coffees. The air was getting cooler and the sky was much darker than it had been and the stars felt closer and alive. I felt something inside of me. I wanted to hold her, to kiss her. I wanted to know if the light in her eyes stayed the same after, or if they muddied and mulled. I wanted to know her warmth.
I went back to work on the space with the blood and steel people and she hugged me goodbye in a way that told me the things I wanted to know were things she already knew and I did not need to know them in the way that I burned.
When I got home with the sun there was another voicemail, thanking me and telling me that in three days I was to go to Sedona for her mother’s wedding. A ride would be arranged for me and I should be ready by noon on that day.
I said yes quietly to myself and went to sleep.
There are times when I am completely overwhelmed recognizing the vast and unbelievable number of people there are in the world and how each one of us has something inside or outside of us that is familiar and alien to one another.
Things with the mentor candidate progressed in a way that my mother and his mother felt good about: he took me to see auto racing, an air show, playing mini-golf with his supposedly do-gooder pals that weren’t such do-gooders when I got them high as a giraffes ass and sold them amphetamines stolen from a friend’s mother. We’d be out and he would try and get me to talk to groups of young girls, so he and his supposedly do-gooder friends could try and get some head. He’d call my mother and keep me out way later than she wanted me to be out because I knew where he could score some coke and she’d go for it because he was the mentor candidate and she bought all the way in.
One night he took me out to see some horrible local metal band he really liked—he had met one of the dudes at a pool hall and said he was “fuckin’ cool as shit, man”—at some really fucked-up indoor soccer arena. The bouncers weren’t going to let me in because I didn’t have any identification on me, but he somehow managed to talk them into letting me inside. He could be charming if it was good for him. He tried to pull off some sort of street tough swagger, but I think most people saw through it as easily as I did and realized it wasn’t worth the hassle.
Inside the arena was a sea of hairspray and leather. I was so high it was impossible for me to tell gender. He was so high his jaw was the end of a loaf of bread hanging off of his face.
As soon as the terrible metal band started to play, he went nuts. Sweat flying off of him as he shook and headbanged. Hoots and hollers. Lots of “FUCK YEAH” and lots of “isn’t this fuckin’ cool, man?” action coming out of his face. I tried to watch one of the guitar players but was distracted by how much he looked like a girl I had put my fingers inside of in the back of a Chevelle and then I thought about that girl and how I took my fingers out of her and put them in my mouth and she kissed me hard and made a sound from the back of her throat while she did it. I stood there among all of the metal people and that was all I could think about and the erection was completely noticed by some girls standing near us.
I smiled and then shrugged while nodding my head toward the mentor candidate.
When the band stopped he was still seizing and yelling. The girls had moved closer. He noticed them and then started unfurling his rap on them—all of the “oh, yeah—this is sort of my kid brother and we have a car do you girls wanna get some beers and go hang out somewhere?” shit—while I just stood there, remembering how my fingers tasted that night.
I told the blood and steel people that I needed a day off to take care of something personal. They didn’t pry too much, but the Mother Fucking Artist did and I made a mistake and told her what was happening. She then proceeded to ask me a lot of questions while I was not only high on paint fumes and running on empty from hanging sheetrock but also high on a fistful of benzos and some weed.
This became a knife later on, when I least expected it.
A cell on a ship anchored off the coast of a city—separated from the other cells and the other prisoners—is as good a place as any to have a nightmare about a future you who doesn’t get to hug anyone or say you love anyone or breathe peacefully.
I ended up in a car with a very nice husband and wife. They showed up right on time and I stamped out my cigarette and got in the car like a hitchhiker and introduced myself. They had a young boy with them who was very quiet and wise and I could feel him as he kept on studying my profile while I looked out the window on the climb up the desert to Sedona. The adults in the car knew my name and knew I was the former boss of the young woman. They had been told kind things about me.
None of this felt forced to me. None of it felt out of the ordinary.
I woke up as we pulled up to the house. I had been asleep in the car for a while, so I let the family and the boy go inside ahead of me as I stayed out by the street and smoked, trying to shake the fog in my head. I somehow knew the boy was not their child.
I walked through the front door of the house and everyone who was gathered stopped talking and a woman I knew to be her mother smiled at me and started to walk toward me.
“The most important guest of all is here. We can start in a few minutes.”
She hugged me and took my hand and led me out to the back yard. She and I stood there, looking at a pond. She was quiet and radiant and held my hand so tenderly that it didn’t even bother me. Here was the human contact I had been burning for.
“Thank you for the pond, Sean.”
“You are very welcome. It looks beautiful.”
She squeezed my hand and hummed something and then I felt a burning sensation between my ribs under my heart and I got a little wobbly and she squeezed my hand a little tighter and put her mouth next to my ear.
“Your mother wanted me to tell you Happy Birthday, Sean. She loves you very much.”
I lost my breath but felt immense. The tears that came out were a relief and I was unashamed. The burning under my ribs stayed and moved around inside of me and felt like it was warming my blood. I laughed a little. Sighed a little. Hugged her again.
“Come inside and see how beautiful my daughter is?”
We walked back inside and through all of the people, down a hall and there she was—sitting on a bed in a robe and writing into a tiny notebook. Her eyes lit up when she saw me and she jumped up from the bed. Her robe popped open and I could see her breasts and a scar in the middle of her chest. She pulled the robe closed and hugged me. She cried into my shirt and her mother left the room.
“Thank you for being here. I don’t think this wedding would be something I could stomach if you hadn’t made it.”
“You told me I had to be here, so I am here. Are you okay?”
“I am now, yes. Did my mother give you the message?”
All I could do was smile and say yes.
[As Always, Forever and Constant]
I spent the majority of my life trying to make someone proud of me when they were incapable of even being proud of themself. This is apparently normal, but still frightening as fuck. Even when that person would mumble “I am proud of you” it was far from enough. The words never connected, they just hung out in space and evaporated right before my eyes. The alcohol and the pills and the cocaine and the women—oh God, all the women, I am so sorry—and the marijuana and the heroin and the amphetamines and the sugar and the sadness and the anger and the violence and the tears were all coming from the same sad little hole in myself that not even Hans Brinker could stop from leaking out.
I know now that the hole was made by me.
The illusion of control is just as poisonous as the need for control.
After the night with the mentor candidate and the girls—ending up in someone’s apartment blowing lines of methamphetamine and drinking beers and having some random dude show up and pull a gun and put it to the temple of the mentor candidate and the girls run screaming and I just sit there silently until I rise from the chair I am sitting in and calmly take the gun from the random dude and walk outside and throw it into the street where it goes off and shatters the window of a parked car—I had to concoct some way to get my well-meaning and loving mother to allow me to cut him loose. This became easy when we were invited to his family’s house for a meal and his mother lit up a joint of her own.
My mother was a lot of things, but she could never stand hypocrisy.
She never tried to find me a mentor again.
Whether I needed one or not is still up to the jury.
Missing pieces are always people. People are always missing.
The wedding was beautiful and the young woman looked happy and her mother was a glow and a smile and kindness. All of her people were uplifted by the wedding and the room felt light and fair. Everyone hung around for a while after, and as they were all leaving her new father came to me and put a set of keys in my hand.
“Use this car to take you home. We’d really like it if you took our children with you for the night. Can you do that for us?”
All I could do was shake his hand and nod yes.
The young boy was her brother. He had autism and a congenital heart defect, the same heart defect the young woman had. She told me these things as her brother slept on my couch, my cat curled into him. We were in my bed with the door open, still wearing what we had worn to her mother’s wedding and curled into one another and processing so many things that one tries to process when there really isn’t anything one should waste any time trying to process.
She cried when she told me that the man who had come to the restaurant was a former professor who she had a relationship with and she broke it off when he gave her herpes and tried to claim she had been the one. She cried when she told me that she had four heart surgeries for a faulty valve that would always be faulty. She cried when she told me that her mother used to be normal but after the fourth surgery—the one where her mother was so depressed she consulted a shaman and took peyote to try and see her daughter’s future—her mother became this new person, a person she knew and a person she trusted but also a person who spoke in riddles and a person she no longer felt close to, was no longer her mother.
We stayed that way for hours. We stayed that way until not only did the sun rise, but all the doors were opened. She asked me about my life, about my mother, asked me why I no longer spoke to my father, asked me why I was so sad and so kind and so lonely. I tried my best to answer with my real self and not the self I used when someone tried to get inside.
She kissed me goodbye when she and her brother were leaving. I never heard from her again.