Feral

I always said I might as well have been raised by wolves, with that practiced smile meant to shut down further inquiries, smile hiding sadness, no crows feet next to eyes so you can tell it isn’t real.

Not a sob story, really, not anymore. Just day after day of pushing through pain, learning to accept it, even embrace it, in a fucked up way, convincing yourself that this hole in your chest builds character.

It gave my brain a way of darting through temporal realities, flying backward and forward through time and space, because if you’re sequencing the genesis of man among hominins or imagining our ultimate end in the (hopefully distant) future, then you rarely notice the horrible reality you’re living in right now.

It makes you open to possibility, being feral does.

I’ve tried fasting, gorging, sensory deprivation, sleep deprivation, walking 37 miles at a stretch, biking all day, eating an entire pumpkin pie, drinking nine or ten beers in a row; water fasts and exsanguination and meds and meditation and breathing. I’ve tried breathing.

And now I’m here, scribbling words on a page that will be transferred to a screen, used to have to do this at the public library for the internet access and working AC, but now I’m at my desk, before work, with little more than the glow of my screen and the mechanical hum of the office, before anyone else gets here. Now I know comfort.

And you feel guilty for the most ridiculous things. Guilty for hot water, and an ice dispenser, and a coffee maker, guilty for no longer having to scrape by but instead, somehow, miraculously, being allowed to thrive. A survivor’s guilt that marks the death of souls and not bodies, others just like you from that same neighborhood, feral kids who never found a way out of the pit they were left in, could only make that pit as comfortable as possible–a home that became a grave. There are these facts, these realities.

So I walk. I move. I write and I draw and I read and I try to make sense out of this crucible childhood I was given, this tremendous heat I survived and escaped, that I can now chart and describe for others. I don’t want to go over the same ground, God knows I don’t ever want to be there again, but there’s a power-taking in the naming of it. If it can be seen clearly, with a light shining into even its darkest corners, then it need not have power over you. Over me, over us.

I read this over, think of deleting it but don’t. I click submit, because there was never any other choice but this.

Patience

As I write this, I’m listening to Tame Impala’s latest song, “Patience” on repeat. It’s the first single from an upcoming album that will break a four-year dry spell since their last one: Currents. You can listen to that song while you read this, if you want. “Patience,” I mean. Might help set the tone. Couldn’t hurt, at least.

I discovered Tame Impala during a Dark Night of the Soul of sorts, although of course I didn’t know it at the time. Denial works wonders, and we can never fully grasp the heavy shit we’re going through until we’re not going through it anymore. For me, it was being in a toxic relationship–one I’d sunken nearly a decade of my life into–with no way out in sight, and working at a job that was slowly chipping away at who I thought I was, who I thought I’d be. That and the onset of mental illness I’d been outrunning since my teens by engaging in compulsive, self-destructive behavior.

Short laps on foot around my work’s office building, at the time, maybe playing Tame Impala out of tinny phone speakers, listening to those songs of regret and loss (but hope) on repeat, alternating between that and placing calls to people I hadn’t spoken with in years, old friends I’d broken away from, trying to cling then to something familiar in the weight of all that Hurt.

Short laps growing longer, even during Chicago winters, bundling up and trudging through snow in boots, self-commentary becoming as biting as the wind, tears to clot my eyes in the cold and threatening to freeze, and having nowhere to go but going there with purpose anyway.

I fell, and when I did, I fell hard. In and out of the psych ward. Bandaged arms. Prescribed pills only taken at certain times for certain purposes. Relinquishing my dignity to get help, or so I thought, or so it felt. But going with it. Moving forward. Every day. Living life in stages and exercising (exorcising) patience.

Listening to those same Currents songs on repeat, writing out my story in fictionalized words that were basically the truth but which had been changed just enough to make me comfortable enough to share them.

But I don’t want to mask my words anymore.

So this song. It pops up in my YouTube notifications as I wake up to go to work, at a new job, in another state, a job I actually love. As I wake up next to someone who treats me right: an effortless love. As I have tickets sitting in my inbox to see Tame Impala in Asheville, in a couple months, for the first time.

It can’t be helped that I smile. All of this, all of this growth and change and experience. At the time, it felt like it took everything from me.

And yet all it really took was patience.

Interregnum

I could pinpoint the place between recognizing something was wrong in my neighborhood and taking action by the golden glint of a Winchester shell tucked safely between the cracks of sidewalk slabs, sidewalk right next to some kid’s chalk art, probably the kid I passed on my walk to work every morning, waiting for the bus, and I could see a younger me when I looked at him, a version of myself I’d forgotten about, the one whose baseline was anger and uncertainty, fear mixed in, knowing only poverty and its effects on people. This kid reading stories of superheroes and wondering when they’d come to his neighborhood, why they never showed when he needed them most.

There was the interregnum between action and inaction, going along with the status quo and assuming that That’s Just The Way Things Were. Only it wasn’t. Not necessarily. Because we are the deciders of our fate, the makers of community. Badges and words can only do so much, offer so much lip service to a community that’s bleeding out, day after day, unable to help its most vulnerable. There’s an antecedent to every action. Newton’s law. Etc.

So you can walk down these streets now, at night, barely different than you were before, but with purpose now, green excitement, green nerves, can walk past the tenement buildings with boards over windows here and there, spreading like pox of sickness, and the way the dying fire alarms inside these apartments beep at different pitches in their life cycle, batteries just about to go out.

You can see the side of the city that everyone would rather hide in its closet or shove under its bed, the monster that no one dare speak of, not even report on in the papers, for fear that Development should stall, that Progress might halt. The divide of crossing over the highway and going from marketing startups and hipster coffee shops to abject poverty, of seeing this stark reality on a daily basis, on walks both during the day and at night, and the knowledge that something has to change.

Of getting started.

Something New

Waking up before my alarm in after-season cold–in a melatonin haze meant to replace the lithium days. Can’t eat much in the mornings anymore. Is that just part of getting older, or is something else at play?

Cat’s got to eat, so I might as well wake up and open a can for him. I still have to chastise him for scarfing his food down too fast, warn him that he’s going to choke until he finally listens, stops eating, and starts licking his chops instead. Same routine every morning just about, and the way that we’ve bypassed trying to cross the language barrier–now I just grunt at him and he murrs back.

I cut my hair the other day, and in doing so found a gray patch I’d never noticed before. A memory: The first gray hair I ever plucked from my head, and how I pressed it into one of my old journals at the time. I don’t know where that journal ended up. I probably lost it in a move.

Aches and pains last for days at a time now, and there are muscle striations there that I’d never seen before. There’s also this great patience, this abiding calm that’s as foreign as it is welcome, a non-Pollyanna attitude that reminds me that things will be okay, that I can and will get through anything.

I treasure simple things like walking to work in the mornings as the sun is just starting to rise, a time when people honk less and drive slower, their consciousnesses in a reboot state.

Waking up early has never been difficult for me. Eighth grade days of waking up at 5:30 in the morning to catch an episode of Ed, Edd, n Eddy that I’d already seen ten times before. Now it’s getting up before dawn to sit in a quiet room alone, to write stories like these, and to hear only the sound of my cat purring on my lap before I leave, the birds as they wake up outside.

Coming home is choosing focal lengths on the walk back, whether mottled sky or shaking branches or the inside of my skull and its constant turnings.

I’m trying to eat healthier now. I’m getting good sleep. I take time to meditate, or at least time to breathe. I want to be here a while. And that’s something new. So I guess that’s progress.

Even the Good Ones

Sitting on a reclining chair with my cat on my lap before 8 a.m., watching the city come to life through my window, hearing its faraway trains blare on horns that from this distance sound more like suggestions, watching the sky wake up by degrees as well, its oranges and blues fading to something more muted, something more mature.

Being used to chaos, you end up craving quiet while not knowing what to do with it once you get it. It’s a paradox. You can do the breathing exercises, you can sit still with your hands forming a perfect circle in your lap, and you can light that incense and wait as the smoke fills the air, all while battles and carnage play through your mind. You learn how to quiet this a bit, or at least make it appear invisible from the outside, invisible to the people who don’t know you enough to recognize, but that deep breath has something more behind it, that tension in your shoulders isn’t just stress from work, and they will ask their questions and you’ll do your best to answer them, all while memories come in scattershot–in sawed-off sprays of light, waking you up when you try to sleep.

Not all of them bad memories, but all of them vivid, even the good ones, the moments you’d forgotten about: running around town at seventeen, shooting a short film with friends, using a crappy old JVC you thought was state-of-the-art at the time, and kind of was, it’s all relative, and you’re kind of glad this was the hobby you guys chose, because you can still find some of these short films on YouTube (the ones that are still up there), and you can download them in case ancient accounts ever get deleted, and you can watch these living time capsules and remember even more.

It’s amazing how much things stick, now more than they ever did before, or maybe just in a different way–the objective versus subjective, digital to replace analog, and the way that you will sometimes not want to watch the video because it will change what really happened, or at least what your brain tells you happened, filling in the gaps with fiction and coloring all the facts with bias, because in this world of data it’s if-then arguments, binary constructs, zeroes and ones–hardly any more sophisticated than the dots and dashes of the Morse code days and yet worlds apart technologically. So sometimes you just want to let the truth have its day. Sometimes you want to keep the memories as they are.

They All Fall Down

You can smell violence like you would a dying flower in an empty lot, mold gathering in all the cracks, hearing the distant sound of sirens, eating a honey bun you got with your last $0.50 from a convenience store you haven’t been to in years, understanding that this is the place, this is the time, this is where you make your stand, on the street corner standing opposite the ones who wave confederate flags, showing toothless grins, with beards the color of puke, knowing that this place you now call home is not where you were born but where you were born again, and all of these fuckwits come in with out of state license plates, cheesing for the cameras, trying to get the next soundbite that will go viral, no real conviction behind their words, and you can tell that last part by how they look at you, or rather how they look away and won’t meet your stares with their own, because they haven’t been through real hardship, really, maybe drink and drugs but not poverty, not violence, not the gnawing sense that you could be hurt or killed at any moment just stepping outside your door, being told not to leave your home or go certain places at certain times, having to take precaution always, not knowing if you can trust your own neighbor, you’ve been there but they haven’t, because you can see it in their eyes when they spout their slogans, when they sing their dixie, you can see the death in there–a death that their bodies and brains haven’t caught up to yet but their souls have already suffered, and what comes out of their mouths is a result of fear, and all fear can be exploited–you know this as you stand in front of them, some of these old men still playing confederate dress-up, LARPing as johnny rebel even though they’ve never had to fight their entire lives, only fought by choice, always on the losing team, the wrong side, and when you stand in front of one of them and ask him if he knows that he’s on the wrong side of history, he’ll say this is his history, this alternate story constructed in his brain, and you know he’s not worth the effort to swing your fist, not worth the effort and yet there might be one in the future who is, so you show up every time because this isn’t done until it’s done, statues aren’t gone till they’re gone, and you have to show up, have to be present, have to be visible so that they know they will be fought every step of the way, so that they know their ideology is cancerous, so that they lose the same battle their ancestors lost before them–because these wars are not won with rhetoric or even argument. They all fall down, but they have to be made to fall.

America’s Emerging Writers Link!

So this is one of the coolest things that’s ever happened to me: My work is in an America’s Emerging Writers anthology! Z Publishing House mentioned that they’re now in a position to offer solo-author book deals, and they’re deciding on those deals mostly through Amazon reviews.

Long story short: If you read this and leave a positive review with a name drop for me, you will be doing me an incredibly serious solid, and I will legit be eternally grateful. Thank you!

America’s Emerging Writers!!!

I JUST GOT THIS FROM Z PUBLISHING HOUSE!!!!!!!!!

“It is our pleasure to invite you to join our upcoming nationwide edition of the Emerging Writers series. Out of the more than 2,000 writers who were accepted into our 2018 Emerging Writers series, yours is one of 136 writings we would like to publish in the nationwide edition, America’s Emerging Writers: An Anthology of Fiction.”