Monday, September 9, 2013

Anika - Chapter Nine

Chapter Nine

Of What There
Is to Know

                        It’s a rather tired trope, by now.

           You see it on TV. You read it in books, in comics. You play it in games.

                    “Be careful what you say to your loved ones each day,
                            because your words may be the last ones you share.”

        Turns out, in real life, it doesn’t usually work that way. I mean, I’m sure it happens,
           but people don’t usually have a screaming fist-fight and then run outside
             to get killed by a falling piano.

Instead, they say something mundane.
              Something that takes the continued existence of their loved one for granted;
           something that takes the grand sum of Life So Far and
        turns it into just another episode of General Hospital.

The last time I saw Dad, I told him I would see him later.
My sister asked him for twenty dollars.
Mom told him not to forget the potatoes, again.

      Sure, I’d change it.
        I’d tell him I loved him. I’d tell him he was a great dad.
         Who wouldn’t say something nice to someone who was about to die?

                          But that’s a given. It isn’t important.
                    Like most of what we do when someone dies,
              none of it matters one little gram to the person that’s gone.

They’re dead. Cashed in. Poof, gone.
 Like money, or cars, or houses, any remaining fucks my dad might have given
        were abandoned  shortly after that truck driver fell asleep at the wheel.

They were left behind with the twenty-dollar scratch lotto in the glove box,
              a gallon of milk in a bag from the gas station down the street, and
                     a pair of panties under the seat that didn’t belong to my mother.

          I think a better trope might be something like:

                    “Be careful what you say and do each day,
                            because your loved ones might not ever forget.”

Dad’s last reply to me was a shrug.
He told my sister he didn’t have twenty dollars to spare.

And I guess he forgot the potatoes.

West Palm, Florida – Winter

          With a stifled huff, Rebekkah stuffed the last garment of clothing into the already-overladen suitcase. When she finally managed to zip it shut, she plopped onto her knees on the carpet with a tired sigh. Packing for Vala was always the worst experience. Vala never had an opinion on what to pack. When Rebekkah made suggestions for outfits they were unanimously greeted with uncertain mumbling, and every trip they made together culminated in Rebekkah shoving twice as many outfits as necessary into a suitcase the morning of departure.
          Thankfully, they still had some time. It couldn’t have been any later than six. At least, she hoped it wasn’t. Somehow the alarm in her phone had either been shut off the night before or ignored for long enough that it got offended and decided to keep to itself. There was a decent chance mixed drinks were to blame, but thankfully she’d been waking up at five-thirty every morning for the past two years for school and couldn’t sleep past it to save her life.

Anika - Chapter Eight

Chapter Eight

Prescribed Freedoms

I remember the first time I met with Marty.

I could tell right away, this guy, he was… you know, real. He cared, and it wasn’t all show. It was nice, but…

…I didn’t think he was listenin’, when I talked. They never do. That’s the irony, with all these ‘mental health’ assholes. They tell you to talk, they push and push and push until you do, and then they just…

See, when you’ve got a problem, it’s like…

…people filter it all. Your words, I mean. Like, what you’re saying, they’re not sure if it’s you or your problem. Are you thinkin’ clear? Should they take you seriously? God forbid they, eh… ‘enable’ you.

Is that comment because you hurt inside, or because you have too much serotonin and not enough dopamine and maybe your reuptake inhibitor is inhibitin’ too much reuptake and they should adjust your dose and—

Just, fuck.

So you gotta talk like a goddamned robot, act like some little machine. Beep boop. Illogical. Does not compute. Emotion is invalid; opinions are futile. I hereby swear to take my medicine and cease to be myself.

I ask Marty if he saw on the news where that one teenager, Bill Gardens, was caught snatchin’ some little kid off the playground. They found the bones of five, maybe six little girls in his back yard.

He gives me this look, like he wants to say how sad that is but…
he’s not sure where I’m going with this.

I tell him I went to school with Bill. Every time he talked to me I
smelled rotting meat. I threw up on him in sixth grade, and they
kicked me out of school.

Marty was quiet for a minute.

And then he changed the subject.

New York City – Winter

          THE WINDOW PANE was cool against Raiku’s face. His eyelids felt heavy; the sounds of the highway aimed to lull him to sleep. Car rides had always made him sleepy, since long before he could remember. Yet, despite the best efforts of the ambiance, the pain in his abdomen kept him awake. The only comfortable position for him was lying on his back, and there was too much stuff loaded in the back seat of the car for him to tilt back and relax.
          His Aunt Kana had been quiet for most of the trip home. Every now and then, he could feel her gaze turn to him, or see her mouth open to produce words that she soon realized she could not find.
          She’d been like this for days. Ever since the hospital agreed to release him, she’d insisted on bringing him with to every legal and medical matter even remotely related to Raiku Hirubasa and his crazy, crazy antics. Court orders, doctors’ orders, psychiatrists’ orders, orders orders orders orders. Yet his obasan had had very few orders of her own, and every night when they got home, after watching him take his medicine, she left him alone in his room.

Thursday, July 11, 2013


Cross-posted from Facebook:

So, anyone remember that post about how I came home from New Hampshire to find a "surprise" from my cats?

Well, they had peed/shit on some laundry I'd forgotten in a corner in the bathroom, for some reason. When I washed the laundry five times with colored bleach and animal waste remover chemicals, they still came out of the dryer smelling a little... off.

Not like the cat mess, but then, I couldn't imagine what else it might be. I assumed it was the faintest remnants of the cat mess, and would wash/dry out in the future.






Thursday, June 20, 2013

space roach

Wrote this yesterday, forgot to post it. Seems kind of weird now after my previous post, but oh well.

Trauma log, 06/19/2013. While up at 3am, I decided to sit out in the living room and play some video games for a few minutes until I was sleepy enough to achieve slumber.

A few nights ago, I'd heard a chewing sound while out in the living room. I thought for sure that I had another rat in the house, so I had placed rat poison in the vents, again, that evening. Surely, the problem would resolve itself.

Last night, I heard it again. I thought that perhaps the rat was trying to dig for water as a result of the poison, or maybe it hadn't eaten the poison and I'd have to drop more of it elsewhere.

I turned on the light to check. As soon as I turned toward the kitchen, I froze. On the stove, atop a baking pan that Lola Lin had baked some lightly breaded fish upon earlier that evening, was a cockroach nearly three inches long. It was perched on the tin foil the fish had been baked on, chewing the crisped grease off of the foil.

This cockroach was chewing so loudly I could hear it halfway across the house.

Thankfully, I had recently purchased a can of Scrubbing Bubbles to compliment the roach bait I've scattered across the house. Florida is not a place where roaches can be avoided, no matter how clean the kitchen (especially in an old mobile home), and I like to be prepared for any encounter.

I hadn't expected to come face to face with an other-worldly beast such as this, but after some initial, um, war cries, and a little battle dance for morale, I sneaked past the beast toward the cabinet. Retrieving my arms, I crept toward the monster, still sucking down succulent fish fry, oblivious to its impending doom due to the sheer rapture of baked grease.

I attacked. It fled, of course, down the side of the stove and onto the floor. But by the time it left the pan, it was already slick with cleaning supplies. When it hit the floor, it landed on its back. I doused it in an enormous foaming mound of death and justice. When the suds cleared, it was still twitching.

I doused it, again.

Finally, the monster drew its final breath. Victorious, I sighed in relief. I buried my foe in the toilet, and saluted his honorable death with a thundering flush.

It took a while to fall asleep.

On Learned Helplessness

I'm not really sure where to start with this. It's a topic that's been bothering me for quite some time - days, weeks, months, years, I'm not even sure how long. But in the past few weeks - no, let's say month and a half - it's been especially prevalent. It's been bothering me almost every conscious minute of every day not consumed by thoughts so immediate and pressing that they can't be ignored.

When the lights go out, and there's nothing but calm and quiet, this is where my mind goes.

But it hasn't been clear, or defined, or even all that evident what's been bothering me until tonight. I'm not going to claim to have had some tremendous insight. More of a final straw, as it were - except the straw has been there now for weeks, and it's only now done its allegorical duty. The camel's back has broken, not in a momentous, sudden 'snap!', but in a silent, shambling motion. The beast has sloughed to the ground, almost, but not quite, unnoticed.

I work in an insurance claim call center for one of the major competitors in the automobile and home insurance industry. I took a phone call from a man today who had had his home broken into not once, but twice, since yesterday. After coming home from work today he found that his personal space had been violated a second time in the same with, his belongings re-checked, as if the perpetrator of the act had realized they'd forgotten something valuable and had decided to destroy what semblance of safety and order he had left.

As I listened to him speak, I stopped hearing individual words. The meaning was taken, consumed, acknowledged - processed, as it were, for the sake of the conversation. Yet, this man was asking me a slew of questions for which I hadn't had the first idea of how to answer, because after exhausting all the avenues a normal, reasonable adult would take - the police, for example - and being told he was on his own, he didn't know who else to ask.

The questions themselves were simple. All of them revolved around a central question - What do I do, now? And it's this question that I heard, in every word he spoke, in every sentence he shared about his ordeal. Beneath the question itself, a plea - Please, tell me what to do.

I didn't have an answer for him. I didn't know who else would have the answer for him. I directed him to the people who would handle his claim, because that's all I knew how to do. I sent emails, both directly to the claims adjusters' email addresses and through the intake program we share for claims processing. Though the phrasing was different - curt, blunt, distanced, and professional - the central plea was the same. Please, tell him what to do.

As I left work, I felt the need to call my girlfriend. She had had a job interview earlier that day within the same company that is currently phasing out her department and planning to lay her off. I've been attempting to help her find employment in my own company, but beyond submitting a referral to our HR department, there is very little I can do to help. I wanted to know, immediately, how her interview had gone, despite knowing that I would see her in person within minutes of leaving the parking lot.

The interview went well enough. She may have a job next month. She may not. She's asked me several times in the past few weeks - Why won't anyone hire me? 

I don't have an answer. She's competent, professional, intelligent - all the things I would look for in an employee, were I to pick one. She knows I don't have the answer to the question she asks, but she asks it anyway, both to voice her frustration and because, at the heart of it all, the question is the same. Please, tell me what to do.

After she'd fallen asleep, I found myself lying awake in bed, as I have each night this week, thinking about a story I want to write for a friend who is in pain. I don't know why she is in pain. I've asked, and she hasn't wanted to tell me. Were she local, I would drive to her home with a six-pack, a dumb comedy, and good intentions. I'd do everything I could to help raise her spirits, and to hell with the cause - it's her business, and my job as her friend is to be there for her, regardless of what haunts her. I care for her feelings, even if I don't know what pains them.

But, she's not. So I lie in bed, and I think about a story. I think about how to write about the character she draws that represents her mood, and I think about how to write about it. I realize I don't know the first thing about this character. She has a story, a world, a context, a place to exist in that's filled with other characters, with other stories, with a rich history all its own that I hope one day to help discover.

But I don't know who she is. I don't know how to write her. I don't know how to take my own character, who is little more than a nebulous concept at best, and insert him into her world. I don't know how to open the door to a place unfamiliar, to a setting I don't understand, for the sake of writing a conversation between a vaguely felid dream-spirit and an anthropomorphic, sexually dimorphic gryphon. I don't know what a loose representation of my own helplessness and goodwill should or could say to another that would function to encourage and to reinforce and maybe, just maybe, provide some form of relief to my target audience of one.

I don't know why I can't just goddamned fucking talk to her.

I've been trying to write the first sentence of this story for a week. I have nothing. In its stead, I've sent her the occasional text, an instant message here and there, awkwardly reminding her that I am here if she needs me. It's the functional equivalent of telling her - I'm worried about you. Please, tell me what to do.

It's a selfish gesture. It reflects a lack of a sense of control, a learned helplessness, and places the solution in the hands of another. Worse - in the hands of someone who is already overwhelmed, already in pain, already seeking their own answers to their own questions.

Perhaps that's my grand realization - perhaps that's what prompted this stream of thought. I have a friend in pain and my automatic response, after heartbreak and poor health and financial hardship and day after day of looking at those I care for and love and having no answers, is to ask them to place their happiness in my palm, so that I may experience the satisfaction of handing it back to them. It's a request for control. It's self-serving and indulgent and disgusting and completely buried in genuine good intentions.

I want her to be happy, and I've been so focused on this notion that I never stopped to realize: in the pursuit of this goal, I am capable of being selfish. I am capable of alienating a friend. I am capable of hurting someone.

There is a phrase used in debate in courses on ethics: The end justifies the means.Though phrased as a statement, it is really a question - if the end product of a terrible act benefits more than it harms, is it really wrong? Yet, no one can truly know what will come of their actions. I wonder if a better question might be: Does the goal justify the means? or maybe, Can good intentions house selfish needs?, which leads to another question of historic debate, Is there any such thing as altruism?

I'm reminded of an intestinal parasite, living in an affable creature.

Maybe this is why, after years of careful consideration, the closest thing to a 'persona' that I've managed to invent has been a shapeless spirit that paints dreams, a being whose palette is chosen by his host, who takes buried emotion and turns it into color, into sound, into sensation. The emotion is already there, and the tools are predetermined. He is helpless to alter either. His job - no, his purpose - is to create something that, at its best, may leave his host with the tiniest sliver of understanding of who they, themselves, truly are.

His reinforcement - his reward - is the knowledge that his work may, once in a rare while, bring another soul one step closer to self-acceptance and peace. Yet his peace is not derived from the peace of others. His tranquility is a product of his own creation. He understands what drives him and, despite that, is no more or less inclined toward achieving his purpose purpose.

It's a lesson I need to learn. Whether or not I intentionally laid it before myself is something I may never know. It ultimately doesn't matter. What does matter is what's present - the fact that there are those I care for that are in pain, and that my response has been a combination of inaction and selfishness, guised in the acceptable social norms - I'm here for you, and You can talk to me if you want to.

To my friend: Though I'm certain none of this occurred to you to think of when I tried so hard to be a good friend, I'm sorry for losing track of how to actually be a meaningful friend. I don't need you to tell me what's going on. I don't need you to place your emotions in my hands. I don't need you to do anything - except, perhaps, to understand that I truly, deeply, sincerely care about your happiness. I want you to understand that I am sorry that you're in so much pain, that it pains me to see - to understand that I know you hurt, that it's okay, and that you needn't feel any pressure to pretend to be alright around me. I won't try to fix it for you - I know I can't. I won't try to tell you how - I know that you're the one person who knows best how to do that. I won't tell you how to feel - that's entirely your right, and I don't have the closest thing to a shred of authority over that.

Now let's go buy some goddamn shoes.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Brief hiatus

As usual, this post is apologizing for my lack of content lately. I have a good excuse this time, though! I had a stone in one of my salivary glands and the gland had become severely impacted, which was putting pressure on the nerve that runs through all the muscles in my jaw and tongue on that side of my face. In short, I basically felt like I had severely impacted wisdom teeth, and every tooth on that side of my face hurt. I also couldn't open my mouth more than enough to fit a spoon in there without severe pain.

So I had the gland taken out, and I've been recovering for the past week or so. I wanted to do a bunch of writing while I was home from work, but as it turns out, hydrocodone and writing don't mix.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

General updates

Been working on some side projects that I can't post here. Latest Anika chapter has been posted, months overdue. I'm actually about halfway done with the next one. I've gone ahead and added an index to each chapter for easier, continuous reading.