Queen of the Hill

Buried Johnny Pump: South Brooklyn

Dear M – – – – ,

They’re making me write this, and I’ll trash it when I’m done, so don’t expect too much. Dr. Charon wants us to write these to get it out. The Hurt. He wants us to capitalize it, and I know it’s all BS, but if I’m going to write a fake letter then I might as well go all the way.

Last week my roommate went out on a belt. I found her first. She’d made her bed up nice and neat, folded her socks, dusted her shelves and fluffed her pillows. Watered her hibiscus and fed her koi, then levered her belt over the closet rack and kicked over the books she’d stacked in place of a stool. They were all self-help books. My roommate was funny like that.

We had group session today. Dr. Charon led it, and he decided we needed Allegorical, so we did the circle routine. Share How You Keep Yourself Safe. Live Your Grief In One Word. That old chestnut. Anyway, everyone was blabbering about their Hurt and I was just sort of leaving the circle and Charon was trying to stop me but I continued. I ran into the girls’ and locked the door.

So there’s this stall I always pick. Nothing too special about it, only it’s right by the heat vent and if you unroll the TP just right the air sort of takes it and makes it billow like Mom’s dress used to outside on windy walks. I don’t know if you remember.

I liberated a couple pins from one of the RNs. It’s a messy job but I make do. You always wonder why I ask for the thick socks, heavy and woolen, even in summer. They’re best at hiding the blood. Razors are quicker but there’s beauty in the pins. Constellations form and expand underneath my pins. Singularities bleed to supernovae. Neat little streaks you can whirl into galaxy spirals. And all that. There’s an art to it.

Sometimes I don’t cut at all. Sometimes I sit and I breathe and I wait for someone to try the faulty paper towel dispenser. There’s a lot you can learn about someone from how they treat faulty equipment. The trick is to reach in and jiggle the sensing mechanism. One jiggle for one towel. But girls will bang on it, open palm slap it. One girl nearly broke her fist on it. And on those times I don’t cut, when I’m in my stall and a girl does it all wrong, I’ll wait till she leaves, get one towel for one jiggle, and go back to Allegorical.

Charon is a jellyfish. You can see through to the other side. He thinks I’m cutting to “assert my identity.” He doesn’t know about the star maps and the TP dress billowing for a while before I tear it off and stain it red. He doesn’t get it.

Do you remember Mom’s lint rollers? When her hair first started falling out and she thought she had to hide it? At first you could only tell from the scraggly jungles stuck to sticky paper in the garbage. The paper would stick to the bag like it wanted you to know. And the bandanas and the hats and the rollers scraped over every surface till she’d stuck every damn hair in the house–hers or not. Dr. Charon tried to take away my bandana my first week and I punched him in the face. I can wear it whenever I want now.

Sometimes I sneak away after Lights Out and get lost in the labyrinth under the Center. I only let the girls with smuggled cigs tag along, and even then I stick to the baby route. The belly of the beast can’t be shared. They whine about shit like boys leaving them and I fake it for as long as my cherry will glow in the dark. I head back with or without them.

They’re strict on Recreation since last week’s breakout. Clean getaway. That could’ve been my roommate, but she had to go out on a belt. I spend Recreation out in the parking lot, looking for your beater. The snow that the plows deposited over curbs and into bushes has turned into a mini mountain range that obscures my view, so I climb to the top and perch from there. This makes some of the girls uneasy, but I tell them to go fuck themselves and they suddenly find the view behind them very interesting.

I know you just want me to get situated before you come for me. I get it. So I watch snowflakes gather on the pane and remember construction paper days with Mom. Before it all fell out. Sometimes I think I can gather her in the fog on my window, but only my reflection shows.

I give Charon incident-less days, days where I sit rapt in Allegorical and smile and cry in all the right places. At first he made the mistake of commending me and I called him a twat. He doesn’t make that mistake anymore.

Dad–can I still call you that?–I’ve situated. Okay? Joke’s over. Ha ha. You can take me home now.

Charon wouldn’t give me a stamp, so I liberated one from his office. Should find its way to you. Don’t worry about finding me out here–I’ll be the one on the highest peak, peering down over all my domain: Queen of the Hill. I love you. Shut up.

Ariadne

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THE TWISTER

I was in a twister.

That’s not intended to be a metaphor, or something cute like that. There was literally a violently spinning column of air rampaging my neighborhood and I was actually inside of it.

It’s funny how it happened.

I saw the news reports, heard all the obnoxious sirens. That wasn’t the problem. The problem was that my brand new Kawasaki was parked out front. And I paid damn good money for that thing.

I had a storm cellar, naturally. Out here in the plains, having a storm cellar was like having a bathroom. An assumption. If I could just get to that bike in time, it could ride out the storm with me down in the cellar.

I ran outside, tie trailing in the wind like it wanted to strangle me. The sky was this noxious brown, pulsating like it was a living thing. Rain shot past in little knifelets, cutting against the skin. Abrasive.

I could see the neighbor’s above ground pool from across the way. Ugly thing. How the weeds just sprouted around it, like they were claiming it as one of their own. Always an eyesore when I’d pull the Kawasaki up after a long day at the office. It’s funny the things that cross your head in situations like this.

I reached into my now-soaked business slacks, fumbled for the key. As I pulled it from my pocket and went to jam it in the ignition, I watched as it was ripped from my hands. It was all so slow, how it seemed to hover there, just like that. I considered how strange it was that gravity seemed to be turned off for that little key.

And then I noticed I was flying.

The key was feet from me, turning and twisting with the same relentless speed that I was. My Kawasaki glinted in the brown sky as it hurtled up above me. The windscreen went first. I saw my face reflected in it for the briefest of moments as it shot free of the bike and flew away. Half of a door frame collided with the front wheel, tearing it to shreds.

The key came back, smacked me right in the head. Blinding pain, to the point that I couldn’t feel it. Like when something’s so hot it feels cold.

My Armani loafers went next. They pulled my socks halfway off with them, which socks fluttered more like windsocks than human ones. The Kawasaki’s windscreen sliced one of the loafers clean in half. The other one simply frayed apart at the seams from the force of the wind. It whipped apart, in tatters. Four hundred dollars torn up at once.

My tie really was strangling me now, pulled centrifugally outward. Like an invisible man was tugging with all his might. I tried to reach for my neck, but my jacket was wrapped around me like a scarf. The sleeves were tearing, threading from them coming apart and into my open mouth, how it gaped as I fought for breath.

I cursed God for doing this to me. I cursed myself for not acting quicker, for failing to get the Kawasaki down into the cellar in time. Everything was fading to black.

It all flitted back in an instant.

I was tiny and muddy and just inconceivably small. I was down there in the mud with that frog that I caught down by the river with my dad that one time we went fishing. He was hopping around my mother’s garden, looking for some sort of escape.

But every time he got close to the little wire fence, I picked him back up and plopped him in the center. Little flecks of mud on my face, in my hands. My hair was caked. It was raining. I was a tiny five-year-old and I was playing with my frog.

I blinked.

The feeling came back to my extremities. I could breathe again. My tie had ripped away, half of it ineffectually rippling against one of my outstretched arms. I didn’t know why, but I’d been freed.

Fuck the Armani loafers. I never wanted them. As a matter of fact, they crowded my toes. Johnson in Advertising had a pair so I had to get my own. The Kawasaki was bullshit. I hated bikes, come to think of it. It was nothing more than a fifteen thousand dollar ego boost.

As the wreckage of my life came hurtling past, I made peace with it. I wasted away my life working a job that made me cynical. Buying things I didn’t want. Always hungry for more. Never satisfied. Maybe I couldn’t set things right, but at least I knew in the end. At least I admitted it.

If I could do it all over again, I’d get it right. It was easy to say that, spinning around toward my certain death, but I just knew it. Life was more than a pair of loafers and a motorcycle. There was more to it than having my own office, owning a McMansion in the suburbs.

I was plummeting.

I closed my eyes, braced for the impact. I wasn’t terrified anymore. Not even angry. I just accepted that the next event in the sequence would be my death.

And then I hit hard, like concrete on the surface. Water flooded my ears until they were useless flaps on the side of my head. My nostrils burned as the water rushed in, hitting the back of my throat.

I thrashed instinctively, fighting my way to the surface. I caught my breath, opened my eyes. There I was, in the tatters of my business attire, floating in my neighbor’s above ground pool. And you know what? It was wonderful.

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JUST SEE

There are few things as frustrating in this life as an idea that just won’t come. You sit there as if frozen in time, pen hovering over that blank page that refuses to be blotted out. The Muse is on holiday, if it ever existed. The inspiration’s gone. It’s just you and that page, locked into battle.

I counted each blue line on the blank page, tapped my pen to each intersection of the margin’s red and line’s blue. I drew careful circles around each of the notebook’s three holes, studied the perforation on the page. I was stuck, ladies and gentlemen.

It didn’t help that I was crammed sardinially into the hell that is the American subway train. I was losing feeling in my writing hand, a consequence of my arm being squished against the questionable, faux-wood paneling of the thing. There were loud conversations punctuated with the staccato of exaggerated laughter, a homeless man was sprawled out across several seats, loudly singing the Star-Spangled Banner to no one in particular.

It was pretty hard for me to find a single thing that interested me in the positive sense about the majority of the people I was riding with. The ones whose eyes weren’t robotically glued to shining screens were loudly listening to music, having phone conversations for all to hear, or speaking in the kind of false, superficial tone that made my skin crawl.

And try as I might, not a single idea would come to rescue me from it all. I started counting my breaths. I felt my heart as it beat steadily against my rib cage. I allowed myself to be conscious of the fact that I was sitting in a large piece of metal that was moving through space. I closed my eyes.

When I came back to, I felt like I was ten miles away from myself. My skull had the distinct feeling of limitless space, of being filled to the brim but still going on and on. A million miles in every direction.

There were sixty-seven cents in the right back pocket of the man seated in front of me. Two quarters, one dime, a nickel, and two pennies. The oldest of the coins was the dime, minted in 1972. It had once been in the possession of its current owner’s grandfather, but neither of them did, or ever would, know that. So why did I? It was all weird.

The man sleeping next to me was born in a poverty-stricken rural village in Mexico. He was currently battling a kidney infection, which infection his wife had no clue existed yet. He didn’t want to worry her.

The woman talking loudly on her phone a few seats up suffered from tinnitus, her loud speaking voice the result of her desperate attempts at hearing her own voice over the persistent ringing in her ears. It all dated back to when she was six, when some idiot kid in the neighborhood tossed an M80 at her on the 4th of July, said M80 exploding dangerously close to her ears.

The young woman speaking in the cringe-worthy, false tone was dealing with crippling anxiety, coupled with her severely low self-esteem. She was just considering that today might be the day that she finally ends it all when a classmate came onto the train and struck up a conversation with her. The tone was nothing more than an attempt to feign happiness. If the classmate thought she was happy, maybe she’d be her friend. Maybe the young woman wouldn’t have to end it all today. Maybe not ever.

The homeless man sprawled out on the seats across from me used to be a tenor in a prominent a capella group. After being foreclosed on during the recession and losing his wife to her fight with cancer, what started out as self-medicating with pills turned into a full-blown addiction. In his head, he was out on the field at the ball game all those years ago, harmonizing with his group as they sang the Star-Spangled Banner.

There were two people in this very train car that would one day get married and have a wonderful life together. A marriage that would last more than sixty years and produce four kids. Those two people didn’t know each other at this moment, and they wouldn’t for another five years.

I knew the birth dates, blood types, favorite foods, hopes and dreams of every last person in that train car. I knew their entire genealogic histories, (one among them was a living relative of George Washington) how many children they would have, what they ate for every breakfast of every day of their lives up until this point and beyond.

I blinked rapidly, taking it all in. How or why any of this happened to me, I hadn’t the slightest clue. I looked down at that empty page, at the blankness of it. And then I looked back at the people. At each and every individual one of them. I put my pen to the page and I wrote. Line after line, page after page. I just wrote.

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