Implausible Non-Fiction

For the last thirty minutes, I have systematically put myself into a state of exceptional terror. This is what happens when a vivid imagination is bored, anxious, and mildly startled.

No one else is on the homestead tonight, we have no neighbors in shouting distance.

Just outside the front door, I heard one of the cats have a very brief fight – a couple of yowls, a few growls, then silence.

Concerned for my feline friend, Jasper, I turned on the very dim front light and opened the door, calling him quietly. Nothing in reply. Crickets and tree frogs continued their conversations without pause.

I closed that door, and went to the kitchen door where Jasper usually lurks, and cries for me to come out and pet him, and makes me feel just horribly guilty for not being able to accommodate every single second of every single day.

I called him again through the screen door, and began to open it… but developed a very strong, very weird feeling and stopped. I listened. The symphony of night stopped. One lone frog gave a half-hearted croak and fell silent.

A moment later, I heard what sounded like two heavy footsteps in the lava rock mulch right around the corner from the door. I closed it, locked both locks. Locked both locks on the front door. Locked the sliding glass door. Closed all the drapes as closed as they would go. Fretted about the gaps.

Paused.

Performing fear-based tasks such as these tend to reinforce one’s sense of paranoia. “My God, I’m locking the doors, there must really be something out there, this isn’t something I’ve ever done before, what in hell is going on? Ok, better safe than sorry in cases like this. “Cases like WHAT?!” “I DON’T KNOW, SHUT UP AND BE VIGILANT.”

A stronger, very bad feeling. Situational awareness felt insanely acute.

Got my bear spray canister. Desperately wished I had a firearm. Turned off the computer monitors, the only source of light in the house. Crept to the stairwell and sat there, halfway up. and began listening.

Here’s where the actually scary stuff comes in – in my head: This is what it’s like to live in my brain.

I sat, still as a stone, breathing slowly and silently, listening. My pupils were expanding wide enough to make out a few things in the minuscule light cast by LEDs in two power strips upstairs. My insane imagination began to work:

  • It’s a prowler, just looking for an easy score. Everything is locked up, if he takes the bikes, they’re insured. He’ll move on, you’re fine.
    But what if he breaks in?
    You’ve got your bear spray.
    What if I get it all over me and am equally incapacitated?
    Fair point. Don’t do that.
    Ok, but what if he’s on PCP and doesn’t even notice the bear spray?
    Well, then you’re fucked, aren’t you. Also, PCP? Seriously? What is this, the 70’s?
  • A few moments pass…
  • Remember the scene where the T-Rex busts into the wooden outhouse in Jurassic Park?
    Of course I do, everybody does.
    Isn’t this house made out of wood?
    [Image of T-Rex bursting into stairwell fills my brain. Vividly.]
    Oh COME ON. Be serious.
    Shh, listen. Do you feel that?
    STOP IT.
  • [A few thumps on the roof.]
    Probably acorns – we have those here, right? Probably.
    OR IT’S RATS.
    I’m not even afraid of rats.
    Oh yeah? What about rabid rats with brains the size of Camaros. That have opposable thumbs.
    Are you being serious right now?
  • Alright, so it’s a monster – some kind of werewolfy, black-furred, scraggly, red-eyed, growly, toothy beast that’s as strong as an ox and easily bursts through the sliding glass door.
    …Ok, you have my attention…
    It can smell you and hear you anywhere you go, it can even sense the heat of your body. You can’t hide, and you’re halfway upstairs. You know what’s upstairs? NO WAY TO GET DOWNSTAIRS WHEN A MONSTER IS ON THE STAIRS, that’s what.
    [nervously]… Go on…
    Let’s say you somehow manage to jump through a window down to the ground without breaking your ankle, then where do you go?
    I get in the car!
    THE CAR IS LOCKED. Where’s the key? That’s right, inside the house. Oh look, the monster just broke through the window and you’re being torn to shreds and eaten.
    [heart pounding] This is terrifying. [I remove the bear spray’s trigger safety.]
    It’s not supposed to be a guided meditation up in here. Ok, it bursts through the door, and…
    Ok, I trick it! I turn on the TV in the upstairs bedroom…
    The TV that’s not plugged in?
    I plug it in! Then turn it on as a decoy and when the monster goes past me to the obvious target, I run downstairs and over to Mary’s house and lock the door.
    The door that’s just like the one that thing broke through as if it were balsa wood. It runs up the stairs, pauses ever so briefly to break down that door, too, and begins consuming your entrails while you scream into the lonely darkness.
    [The dogs begin barking their heads off]
    I’ll run in with the dogs! There are five of them, surely…
    The dogs that are terrified of your stationary, inert motorcycle.
    SHUT UP, they’re different when threatened.
    The dogs that sing with the coyotes.
    YES.
    If you say so. It kills the dogs first, and then kills you. Happy?
    NOT THE DOGS. Can we please be scared to death in another way? Please?
  • So a T-Rex bursts through the wall
    [Images]
    YOU ALREADY DID THIS ONE. It was more effective when I was six. Or thirteen.
  • A giant Anaconda escaped from … oh, from somewhere irrelevant. The fact of the matter is, it’s 27 feet long and has just pushed its way through the screen of the open kitchen window. It is, at this moment, slithering toward you, flickering its tongue which is roughly the size of Florida deliberately, seeking you out, sensing you hiding here in the dark. It doesn’t give a fuck about the dark. You know who can’t see in the dark? That’s right, YOU can’t. It could be right in front of you, coiled to strike, and you’d never know it was coming. It would grab you by the face, teeth sinking into your skull, wrap itself around you more quickly than you can fathom, and squeeeeze. Every time you struggled or exhaled, it would get tighter, tighter, until you feel your ribs popping, and your arms breaking and then you don’t care anymore because you couldn’t breathe anyhow with a snake mouth over your face, so you’re dead. Again. You’re that long, vaguely human-shaped lump in a big-assed snake. Creepy, right?
    You are SUCH an asshole. Next?
  • An elite squad of a paramilitary group has mistaken you for someone important and dangerous…
    Ha, if they only knew.
    HEY, T-REX!! Ha ha, just kidding. Anyhow, they have infrared and microwave and so on, and sniper rifles, and it would be so very easy to just pick you off right through these walls. Ok, this isn’t even fair, you’re of no use here. Well, what would the boyfriend do?
    BOYFRIEND would have already killed these motherfuckers. With, like, a shoe. And he would’ve left me with a shotgun. And a machete. And probably some napalm. As well as a plastic cup, whose genius purpose would only become clear the moment it was needed.
    Fair point. Moving on, then.
  • Land-dwelling great white sharks have…
    That’s not even fair.
    Sorry, ok.
  • ERIN, GET YOUR PISTOL!
    Real-life situations aren’t cool.
    Sorry, for real this time. T-Rex?
    Ok, T-Rex.
    RAWWWWRRRRR
    Thanks, not bad.
    Grizzly Bear?
    I don’t think I’m up for Grizzly Bear right now.
  • It’s surely been long enough now, nothing and no one is coming.
    They only want you to think that. They’re patient – unlike Little Miss AntsyPants here. You move and BOOM! Snake. Or sociopathic serial killer, your choice.
    How about no. Just… no. I’m going to go write down this completely insane chain of thoughts before I forget.
    Pff – “forget.” As if these things aren’t going to haunt your nightmares for, like, 17 years. I’m just that good.
    Tragically, yes; yes, you are.
    Sorry.
    Oh, you are not.
    True fact.

I snuck carefully toward the computer, only tripping over something in the dark three times in the span of 15 feet. The “Mission: Impossible” theme quietly played in the back of my mind, mixed with the womp-womp trombone.

I kid you not, I knelt in front of my desk, waiting for a good 30-45 seconds to make sure my movements hadn’t triggered a stealthy attack. I flipped on one monitor and ducked, all ears. Nothing moved. A small thump on the roof. Acorn.

Surely.

Slowly, I moved up onto the chair, still gripping the live bear spray canister. The house creaked. Suddenly, nothing happened. Nothing continued to happen for sufficient time that I began typing and completely forgot all about the perceived reality of the story I was getting written down.

Then, a distinct thump on the patio.

FOR FUCK’S SAKE, SERIOUSLY?

I pretended not to hear it, unceremoniously got ready for bed, climbed under the sheets… made sure the bear spray was right next to the bed… and listened to the cacophony of my heart pounding and blood racing. I could feel every capillary in my body, every cell was in total fight-or-flight mode. Of course, neither fight nor flight would save me, because the sound was actually…

[…and so begins another endless loop of self-torment.]

What do you do when the enemy is inside your own mind? No hiding from that. No bear spray fends off the brain weasels as they burrow deeper, getting good and comfy, writhing and biting, digging and chewing, scraping and clawing.

“Meditation,” some will say, “Cognitive Behavioral Therapy,” others will murmur gently. The brain weasels chuckle, genuinely amused. “Yoga?” Oh, sweetiebabyhoneychild, you are aDORable. Brain weasels are as old as time and are as inexorable as the tides. They ebb and they flow by their own rules, and are swayed by no other law.

This is how we develop tics. This is how we begin talking to ourselves aloud without noticing and become That Lady. This is how it begins. The descent.

Buckle up.

I’m romantic, ho

Many of you are familiar with my complete aversion to online dating – It gives me the screaming heebie jeebies. Nevertheless, having utterly failed to meet any single people who seemed like Dating Material, I decided to enter that particular fray One. More. Time.

Once more unto the breach…

[Incidentally, if you haven’t seen Brannagh’s “Henry V,” fucking do it. Possibly the best Shakespeare film ever.]

There was an approximately zero percent chance I would ever give OkCupid another go – that site is a good idea that turned into a complete shitshow. It’s a nightmare for all genders, an onslaught of both information and assholes. The whole thing is awful. When I first moved out here, I got onto OKC (as the hep cats call it) for about a minute and a half in the hopes of meeting people to ride with or possibly date. Silly, silly me.

I met with one guy as a potential riding buddy (nooooo dating potential at all there,) but he was only interested in dating. That, and shoving information about every detail of his (actually really shitty) old WRX at me. Fine, there’s the door. No, really – go away. No, it’s not the ratty car – it’s your ratty personality. Fuck. Off. Off you shall fuck!

I met a second guy, who is actually wonderful, but who is also 20 years my junior and a fair distance away. He’s perfect for someone, but not for me – we still chat online, and have hung out a couple of times platonically. He’s a fucking phenomenal author, incredibly woke, and just generally super cool. I’ll put that one into the “win” column in terms of meeting someone interesting, even though dating isn’t an option.

A couple of women I know here in San Diego recommended Bumble, an app driven entirely by women — only women can initiate a conversation if both people indicate interest. This cuts down on the volume of dick pics and random assholes by orders of magnitude. The profiles have only a tiny amount of space to try to catch someone’s eye, which has its pros and cons.

However.

I am profoundly outclassed. The devs apparently front-load a new user’s experience with the wealthiest, most classically beautiful people in the fucking world. I joked on Facebook the other day that this is how I typically compare with what seemed to be the “average” Bumble user:

Their profile: “CEO of $THING, singlehandedly funded $PHILANTHROPIC-THING. Clean-eating. Passionate and fun. Here is a photo of me holding a perfect Crow Pose on my yacht in Tahiti – notice my 72 abs. President Obama came to me for advice. Fit, athletic, motivated, spiritual, deep thinker. Love dogs. Invented powdered sugar. I organically grow my own cars. Award-winning National Geographic photographer. Working on a cure for Alzheimer’s. Here’s another photo of me being genuinely happy and quirky in the company of many beautiful people. Work out 18 days a week. Seeking a partner with all these same attributes and more. Ego plus quam perfectum, et ego in æternum vive.”

What I would have to say to such a person: “So… I went to Mexico on my motorcycle once. I’m really bad at yoga, but I do like powdered sugar. I make terrible financial decisions, and I can’t take a good photo to save my life – Chandler Syndrome, ha ha. Wait, you never watched ‘Friends?’ You found it trite and boring? Ok, ok. Anyhow, I don’t know what I want to be when I grow up. What’s that? Yes, I am 47 years old. What’s that face about? I listen to NPR… I stand up for other people, and I … sorry, I got distracted thinking about powdered sugar. Oh hey, you speak French!!

Par example:

Hi Doctor – 

space cadet nerd atheist,,, awkward dull chubby maybe fun numbers go here… born and raised, um, literally in the middle of a cornfield… traveled also. I traveled to the store just this afternoon, in fact, and also went to the bank. Obviously, I’m going to need a nap after all of that activity. I do not like children. @jupiter (also a planet!) semi-adventurer,like the idea of being an activist but bad at it,animal lover too! I also love spaces after punctuation, so I have to stop that nonsense immediately. Luv 2eat pudding say things breathe sleep watch shows while on edibles… and here I am, talking to you and seeing! Hey, by the way, I have this growth thing right on the front of my face – what might that be? It’s about 6 inches in diameter and smells terrible. OK THANKS HAVE A NICE DAY HEY TELL ME ABOUT YOUR PENIS.

(The penis thing comes in a bit later.)

Those who didn’t sound like completely pretentious tools seemed to be far too conventionally attractive and down to Earth to even give me a second glance (not that I would want them to:)

Hi David –

Jesus fuck, are those your actual arms, or did you have bear arms surgically grafted onto your body? I, too, know some words. Here are some now:

mittens
poodle
swim trunks (is that too suggestive?)
stoichiometry (I IZ SMARTS!)
egg
faucet

I’ve heard people say that I am super awkward and they do tend to stare when I dance, so I’ve got that going for me, which is nice. But who knows, maybe they were just… no, they were right, I’m a terrible dancer. I have made a series of unfortunate financial and career choices, so I will be working literally until the day I die. WRITE ME BACK OK THANKS BYE.

Hi James, 54!

Born in the middle of nowhere. Lived elsewhere for quite a few years. Ran my own business for 6 years and then gave it away for free to my best friends back home. I, too, am Single, though not really into the sportsball – but I fucking love watching hockey and MMA. Couldn’t tell you a damn thing about who’s competing these days, mind you, because who has that kind of time? Manhattan is terrible. Uniformly. Oh wait, we’re just saying words now! This seems to be a popular pastime on Bumble. Bees, Doritos, tabletop, roof tiles, appetizer! Looking for… you know what? Never mind. You are not at all what I’m after.

Many of these ostensibly “perfect” men and women put literally nothing in their profiles – they rely solely upon their (admittedly fantastic, yet wholly unappealing to me) photos to sell themselves. Who reaches out to someone like this, knowing literally nothing about him?

I’ll show you who – Tamara, who relies on a similar tactic, and is…. oh. Oh my…

Um. Gawrsh.

Gosh, Tamara –

Blush. Stumble. Um. So, live around here often?

A few have interesting profiles, but what the hell would I say to someone like this?

Hi Alexandre –

I’m Erin (nope, just plain ol’ E-r-i-n.) While I have never danced on a kitchen, per se, I have danced in a kitchen – and I broke three toes doing it because there was a fucking table in the middle of the floor. I, too, enjoy eating delicious things in places (it looks like you enjoy seeing lists of places, so here you go: City, country, plains, ocean floor, that bench by the sell-your-plasma lab.) I most definitely cannot afford to purchase an airline ticket to anywhere on the spur of the moment “just cuz,” unless that ticket was to, like, Bakersfield, and who the hell wants to go there at all, let alone pay for the displeasure? I have only one layer to my personality. I WILL NEVER OPEN TO ANYONE MY HEART IS DEAD INSIDE. 

Hi Ken –

DON’T WORRY ABOUT WASTING MY TIME, I DO A GREAT JOB OF THAT ALL ON MY OWN. 🙂 Deal breakers: People who can’t punctuate or spell properly, Labradoodle owners (Labradoodle is a ridiculous word, right? Fuck those dogs!! Figuratively, I mean, obviously.) (j/k – I love dogs, all of them.) POT IS A DRUG?!?!!?!? Fucking hell, thank goodness you were here to elucidate me on that one. Phew. I am lighting all of my weed on fire (though I admit it will be in very small amounts at one time.) I am very kind, and I am also active – just now, I, in fact, walked downstairs to the mailbox. I mean… I used the elevator, but there was movement involved both before and after that. Being transparent must be rather difficult! Due to your disability, I assume I can’t see you in your photo above, and that you are in between the two guys on the left. Have you ever thought about wearing clothes so you could be seen by other people? Just a thought. You do you! I’m totally not trying to smother or change you right now, ha ha ha. You’re still using “I’m” when listing things like “outdoors” (I am indoors myself,) “live music” (maybe this explains why you are transparent – you are music, not a person?) and so on. You’re touching 6′ of what? That sounds a little risque. I can totally solve the math problem at the end!!! If you just need one, subtract 2 from 3, and there you! Magic! Lastly, I notice you mention “fit” in your description. I still fit into most of my clothes – does that count? OK THANKS HAVE A NICE DAY.

After pummeling my self-esteem into the ground, the next day they began to show me people of a slightly different caliber: Those covered in prison tatts. Seriously, teardrops, the whole nine yards. Everyone makes mistakes, and being a felon doesn’t necessarily immediately disqualify someone, but we went from literal millionaires to felons in a heartbeat.

My friends encouraged me to “just get out there!” so I sent a few half-hearted introductions, and holy shit… well, I’ll just let you see for yourselves here in a moment.

On the plus side, just as I was getting ready to give up, I met Someone Kind of Awesome. Pretty cool. We went out the next day (which was last night,) and had a great time. We’re having dinner tonight, too. So, thank you, Bumble, after all. You rocked it just as I was about to bid you adieu, at least I got a friend out of it.

Without further ado, behold – I’m probably going to keep the app around purely for the comedic value. I’ll start you out with the whinging I did on Facebook, and select helpful answers:

Some actual conversations with people I matched with largely no hope of having anything in common – this is where the penis thing comes into play:

#UnMatch

#UnMatch

This one… this one realllllllly made me question what the hell I was doing on the app:

No, wait! David! Come back! I llllllllooooooovvvvvve youuuuuuuuuuuuu – I take it all back, Baby! How could I possibly resist your charms?!?!?!

Sigh. #UnMatch

This poor guy had the app cut him off at a truly unfortunate place, and his prize is winning the title of this blog post:

I sent him a quick note letting him know he might want to proofread his profile.

I don’t even know what to say about this one:

Pros:

  • I know what his bangs look like UP CLOSE.
  • He’s either terribly honest or a halfway-decent troll

Cons:

  • Well. I mean… yeah.

Bumble can be used to meet same-sex partners, too. I picked both genders, even though the likelihood of meeting an interesting girl would be far lower than a dude. Of the approximately 1839 women the app showed me, exactly 3 were interested in women. The rest apparently tapped the wrong button. They were nearly all, however, astonishingly beautiful, incredibly successful, and generally superior to me in every quantifiable way. Whee!

Bumble can also be used to meet…. clowns.

Some people do a fairly decent job of self-description, and then go one bridge too far:

It’s not easy for the dudes, either, I’m sure. More than a few said things like, “I’m X’Y” tall, because apparently that matters a lot here,” and some seem to have just Given Up Entirely:


Hi Mark!

I did actually read that, but I’m honestly more alarmed by your apparent state of entanglement with what I can only assume is some sort of human fishing rig.  Do you require assistance? Please send exact geographic coordinates, approximate speed, heading, bearing, and color of attire, and I’ll see what I can do to help. 

DAVID –

WHAT THE FUCK ARE YOU DOING TO THAT POOR ALIEN DOG?!?! You are squeezing her so hard with your … anaconda arms… that she’s about to explode, eyes-first. Stop it. Also, RE: This photo:

I am really sorry you got kicked in the nuts so hard, or that you see someone eating the sandwich you left in the fridge for lunch.

Nurse Cody – 

Fucking hell, you can sure jump high. Not to brag, but I, myself, can jump almost three full inches into the air, unaided. So, did you ever find your way out of the desert? 

Some images defy explanation. Others can be explained by the next image in the series:

Dear Marty –

The hell are you doing to that tiny car? Oh – you are going to crush it into the ball we see in the next photo. Got it.

Like many other men here in Bumble World, you seem to have an interest in fitness and…. WHAT THE FUCK IS THIS, MARTY?!!?

Marty, I don’t even know what to say anymore. I was just starting to feel safe with you, despite your car-crushing robot arms, and then you go and pull this shit? Don’t get me wrong – I, too, watched “Magnum, PI” a thousand years ago. HOWEVER. I do not recall Tom Selleck running around in junk-hugging … Speedo… short… things. I’m not sure I can get past this, even though things were going so well between us (well, between your previous photos and me, I should say.) Is there anything you can say in your defense?

Dawwwwwwww. Marty, I’ve never seen this side of you! You’re so fucking sweet, despite your egregious random apostrophe for no reason. Wait, though – you’re a bloody attorney and you can’t figure out an apostrophe? What kind of law do you practice, anyhow? And who are you to make demands on me already, like “court your significant other?” I don’t even know who she is – would I like her? You know me so well, Marty… I mean, there was the whole Porn ‘Stash Selleck Thing awhile ago, but we’re past that, right? This is a whole photo later – entire seconds have passed now. Ohhh no…. country music. And here I was already planning a surprise grammar class for you to improve your skills and to therefore be a more suitable mate for me. Goodbye forever, Marty – it just was never meant to be. Shhh now, no tears.

Hi Michael –

We are so ill-matched, but I just wanted to warn you that your shirt seems to have begun annexing the table next to you. Watch out – who knows where it will strike next.

WHAT THE FUCK ARE YOU POINTING AT, DAVE, 52?! Do you realize we, your audience, cannot see it? Oh wait, is this some kind of bad Saturday Night Fever parody?

Robert –

Please don’t take this the wrong way, but that photo is fucking terrible. I mean, unless you are really proud of auditioning for the voice of Phlegm in an upcoming Nyquil commercial, you really might want to pick something else here. You’re 63, man – time could be short. 

Dear Kamran, 

I KNOW, RIGHT?!?!?

Lastly, I leave you with… um…Robert.

Robert –

I am having tremendous difficulty reconciling these two images. You are either the second coming of George Peppard or you are in talks to act/direct/write/exec-produce/produce “Sheldon! The Retirement Years.” We get it, you’re versatile!  Either way, I’m not sure if you realize this, but Bumble isn’t a place to get acting gigs.

I feel like this guy hit “match” accidentally on my profile. Call me utterly shallow and judgmental about appearances, but I can’t imagine ever being comfortable in his presence with my lumpy self, even though he said, “good things come in all shapes and colors, right?” You look nice, Scott – best of luck to you, bud. And can we just talk for a minute about your fucking obliques? SHIT, SON.

 

So, I have once again discovered that online dating is fatiguing. Exhausting. Depressing. Horrible in every conceivable way.

I am spent.

And yet… I did find someone who was really cool, and we met a few times:

"I just kept swiping until I found the nerd girl!"

“I just kept swiping until I found the nerd girl!”

But, at the end of the day, I had to say “fuck this” all over again. I just … I can’t do online dating. Nope. Not for me.

Careening Pinball

A few days ago, someone to whom I had not spoken in a very long time wrote a lengthy, wonderful, deeply touching bunch of words to me when I really needed them. Much of it I cannot share, because it’s just too much, but this bit – this really helped me to wrap my brain around a bit of why I have been so extraordinarily lucky to have people sometimes pay attention to what I say and do, who wish me well, and who seem to truly care about what happens to me:

We want you to win. We see ourselves in you. You’ve managed to channel the angst and hope and struggle and random joy of life into a strange and wonderful arrangement. We want to know it works, that there’s a better way, or at least another way. “If Erin, that careening pinball, can make it, doing all that crazy shit, maybe I can do this.”

“Careening pinball.”

Adding that to my usual “Tornado/Catalyst” self-description lexicon.

Dawn Eternal

You will find her amongst the strawberries at dawn. You will see her profile, as she stands with dew drops in her curls, fingers outstretched toward the sun, her white, flowing dress whispering secrets to the wind.

Her face is peaceful; she has no memories.

She will not sense you at first; her lashes will not lift slightly, acknowledging a felt but unseen presence. Her breath will not catch for the briefest second.

This is the last innocent moment. She is pure. Vulnerable. Unbloodied. Unchanged.

Your heart aches, burns, twists. It has been one thousand days.

This is the time when you will gather every bit of strength you can muster.

You will not hesitate longer than this – you cannot.

Beyond this moment, the strawberries will begin to slither, to change, to writhe. Her dress will become ragged, first at the hem, then tearing itself into strips, whipping in the now-fierce wind. Her fingers will clutch, urgently grasping at nothing.

Now, you will be done for, should you see her eyes.

You will not look at her face. You will not see her pink lips turn black and necrotic. You will not see her young, supple flesh transition into something else entirely.

If you do not act now, you will never act. You will not exist outside of this moment.

You will slip the ever-sharp blade between her ribs. It will cause her little discomfort – the change is all-encompassing, and the blade is slender. And sharp. Its only task is to be quite small, and very sharp. Your only task is to wield it.

And so you shall; you may wish to have a choice, but you know you do not. You surrendered choice so many years ago, before you realized the truth of the bargain.

Here we are now. The not-quite-strawberries-anymore have taken on indistinct edges. There is an odd rustling, scratching sound, like talons raking through leaves. The spines along the ridges of your shoulders tingle, raising up. You stalk softly across the shifting earth.

There – there is the tiniest movement of her eyes; she knows. Move swiftly!

Your aim is precise and flawless, as always, as ever.

You catch her as she falls, her sighs dotted with blood.

She thanks you for the eighty-seventh time, calls you her love. Her kiss tastes of copper and ozone as you say goodbye.

Again.

Always goodbye.

You will see her again, as you see her now.

The strawberries resume their berriness. The talons quiet.

You fade as she fades, becoming the merest whisper of a shadow before becoming nothing at all.

A Hallucination of Spiders

I am terrible at dialogue. Just awful. So I thought I’d tried to write a short story using nothing but.

——–

“Have you tried not being insane?”
“That might be funnier if you weren’t my goddamn shrink.”
“I never said I wasn’t terrible.”
“One presumes, though.”
“One supposes. Tell me.”

“It started out with this giant bag of organic onions. Home-grown and tended by my step-mother’s brother. Lovingly and carefully raised. And she’s giving me approximately 17 pounds of them.”

“Seventeen is a very specific number.”

“Whatever, it’s a guess. She’s giving me an inordinately large poundage of onions.”

“Alright.”

“There is no possible way for me to eat all of these amazing onions before they go bad, right? But I try. I put onions in everything, regardless of whether they’re called for or even complimentary. Every savory dish – onions. Most sweet ones, too. Apple sauce is surprisingly tasty with caramelized onions, by the way. Fucking onions. Onions. I eat them raw, roasted, sauteed.”

“Do you even like onions?”

“They’re ok. They’re ‘fine.’. I like them most of the time.”

“Interesting.”

“Sure. One of the things about onions is if you’re sauteeing them and let your attention wander at the wrong time for just the merest moment, they will turn on you and burn.”

“‘Turn on you?’ That’s a very interesting thing for a vegetable to do.”

“You have no appreciation for words. For a turn of phrase.”

“Oh, to the contrary; words are everything to a person in my profession. What you may think is a casual turn of phrase is actually a bay window into your psyche. For someone with the proper training.”

“So not for you, is what you’re saying.”

“So the onions burn.”

“So they do.”

“And then what happens?”

“Unmitigated chaos. I catch that first, sharp tang of onions starting to burn and reach for the pan handle to take them off the heat, only there isn’t any handle. It’s a frying pan with no handle, so I can’t simply pick it up – I either have to let them burn, or burn myself.”

“Fascinating! Those were the two options you thought of, nothing else, like ‘bump the pan off the burner?’”

“Nope. Burn or let them burn.”

“So very interesting.”

“My God, you are so bad at this. Undeterred by your grotesque lack of training, I plow onward.”

“Amused by your self-narration, I listen.”

“I roll my eyes dramatically. There are no potholders within reach, and the bloody onions are burning, starting to show black around the edges. As gingerly as I can, using my fingernails as much as possible, I lift the pan, searing my tender fingertips as I carefully drop the pan onto a cold burner.”

“Do you normally have pot-holders by the stove?”

“Yes.”

“Go on.”

“They’re ruined. They have passed the point of ‘caramelized’ and moved on to ‘bitter and burned.’ I have to start everything over.”

“Why was burning your own fingers your choice over letting the onions burn?”

“They’re organic. Home-grown. Beautiful, sweet, and enormous. They were a gift.”

“Aha.”

“It’s a waste to burn them. A waste of food, a waste of Harold’s labors. A waste of Marcia’s time and effort bringing them to me. I’ll heal – the onions are just… gone. Ruined.”

“Keep going, I’m taking notes.”

“I run my fingers under cold water to soothe the burns. They’re not too bad, more nuisance than anything.’

“Especially for someone who types for a living?”

“Yes.”

“Good, good. Go on.”

“Burns tended to, I turn back to the pan, which now of course has a handle, now that it’s cooled and not needed. I reach for the handle, and the burned onions turn into millions of tiny black spiders, swarming up out of the butter, over the pan’s edge, along the handle.”

“Oh my, really.”

“They’re so small, I can’t see individual creatures – just one massive, undulating flow, one united organism.”

“‘United….’”

“They’re of one mind, they’re all up to the same thing.”

“Which is…”

“Getting on me.”

“Afraid of spiders?”

“Extremely. Like a schoolgirl.”

“What is the schoolgirl wearing?”

“Oh, ugh. Wrong, wrong, wrong. Wrong line of questioning – would you at least please try.”

“Fine. Sum it up for me.”

“The spiders flow up my arm, inside and outside of my sleeve, up my neck, over my chin, and up my face. Then they… scurry… inside my mouth, my nose, my eyes. My ears. They’re inside me and everywhere. All I can see, hear, smell, is spiders. Unified spiders. Have you ever smelled spiders?”

“That sounds horrific. Also like a 1980’s horror movie.”

“It was. I have goosebumps just thinking about it.”

“What happened after they got inside your head?”

“Interesting phrase for a shrink.”

“Work with me.”

“Nothing. There was a moment of abject panic, and then everything was suddenly calm. Time passed over me like a gentle current, leaving me completely grounded inside it – time passed over me. I wasn’t a part of time.”

“And?”

“A few minutes later, the current became more insistent, tugging at me, and finally lifting me back up into the normal chronological paradigm. I looked at the stove, and the ruined onions in the pan were gone. Poof. Their unsliced brethren were in the colander on the counter, but they were sprouting extremely vigorous, lush plants from the bulbs.”

“Really! Onion plants?”

“I have no idea. Plants. Big leafy plants, so probably not onions. They looked tropical. I looked at my hands – no burns. And then I woke up.”

“How did you feel when you woke up?”

“I still had the surge of adrenaline from the spiders in the pit of my stomach, but other than that… fine?”

“But you brought it up here today.”

“Evidently.”

“Do you want me to tell you what I think?”

“A good shrink would let me figure it out myself, but I like shortcuts.”

“Your step-mother brought you entirely too many onions for a person living alone to consume before they went bad. She’d probably gotten even more from her brother, and realized she couldn’t possibly eat them herself, so she passed some along to you. It was a gift, but also an out for her, to mitigate some guilt. She knew you’d eat them, or ‘die trying.’”

“Interesting.”

“Ha, that’s my line. Now listen, seriously. You did your best to eat all the onions before they went bad, even to the extent of putting them into weird things like applesauce.”

“That was tasty, though. Well, at least in the dream. It was like… vanilla mint. Things you normally wouldn’t put together, that turn out to be good, or at least interesting.”

“Fine, my point is, you were terrified of the onions going to waste. When you went to rescue them after your attention wandered, a safe means of taking them off the heat was not present – no handle, no pot holders. You had to either hurt yourself or save the onions. You chose to save the precious onions.”

“Like I said, my fingers would heal – the onions wouldn’t.”

“But you had more onions – you still had Way Too Many onions. You could have easily done it over, and with unburned fingers.”

“I reckon so.”

“In my professional opinion, you feel like people hand you their burdens and expect you to deal with them, even when that process puts you at risk. They know you’re going to do everything in your power to help. And so you do. Even though it is inconvenient or painful.”

“And the spiders? The time thing?”

“Oh, I have no idea about that. It took everything I had to sum up just the onion part.”

“Which actually isn’t a bad theory, by the way.”

“Why, thank you. High praise from someone so averse to this process.”

“Listen. You try State-mandated therapy for a few months and see how you like it. Compounded by the fact that the facility’s only shrink is an alcoholic with a degree from an online college.”

“Fully-accredited online college.”

“It doesn’t matter. You’re a lousy therapist, I’m a lousy patient, and we’re pretty inextricably enmeshed for the next 8 months. With some luck, we’ll both make it out alive.”

“You want to talk about that?”

“No.”

“Fair enough. She can wait until Thursday.”

“I don’t want to talk about my wife.”

“I know. But you will.”

“I very much doubt that is the case.”

“You’re not going to have much choice, once everything sinks in. Those emotions are going to need a place to go, and I’m that place.”

“You don’t want these emotions. Trust me.”

“And I believe you. But you, as a human being, cannot walk away from that and simply carry on as if it didn’t happen. You’re going to need me sometime.”

“Be that as it may, our time is up.”

Dear Daywalkers

Dear Daywalkers,

I apologize.
I apologize for my entire species of second- and third-shift workers. I know it must be irritating to hear the scrape of my snow shovel going across the sidewalks at 2am in the morning, when you are long abed, snuggled under your covers and sound asleep.
Always mindful of your slumber, I try to be as silent as possible while removing the foot and a half of snow from the sidewalks and driveway. I am not always successful, however, and a needle of guilt slinks into my heart. “Shit; I’m going to wake someone up.”
Then it occurs to me – my schedule, while less populated, is no less valid than yours.
Do you enjoy having 24-hour tech support? Doctors and nurses in the hospitals in the middle of the night? Grocery stores, gas stations, and restaurants open whenever you need them?
Then thank us, the off-schedule night creepers. We’re here for you.
We are what makes those things possible.
So as I labor in the dark, snow and wind blowing into my eyes, try not to be angry with me. Perhaps notice I also shoveled your walk as best and as quietly as I could. When you awaken and leave for work, perhaps don’t slam the car door quite so loudly, or yell to someone still in the house, for those are my hours of rest.
I don’t expect you to think of this, for why would you; I am just the weirdo neighbor girl who comes and goes at odd hours, and has friends over until nearly dawn. Surely, this must be of my own doing.
Some of us work these shifts by choice; others are relegated here because they have no say.
But we make the night world run. Your infrastructure is cared for night and day because of people like me and my friends. Your roads are plowed, your city streets patrolled, your packages transported. You rely upon us, even though you may not know it.
We forgive you your impatience with us, if it exists; we do.  We understand. Even though your world forgets us – banks, educational institutions, business offices – we’ll be here.

Tornado

Since the first time I saw “The Wizard of Oz,” when I was but a wee lass, I have had fascinating nightmares about tornadoes.

Then, in college, I became one.

I didn’t realize until someone whom I greatly respected (and somewhat feared) told me I was a catalyst as we were demolishing his garage. That I made otherwise slow or unlikely things occur by my mere presence and influence.

It was a profound statement that stopped me in my tracks.

He was right, of course – I do.

Later that day, the garage toppled over on his thigh, trapping him. In a fit of panic, I picked up the garage and extricated him. Adrenaline is fun.

Since that time in my mid-twenties, I’ve rolled his words around in my head often, especially when I have stampeded, bull-in-a-china-shop style, through someone’s life and when that stampede has had Consequences for the other person.

Most recently, I’ve been thinking about having been a ravaging force in Mike’s life. Did any good come to him from our relationship, or was he just swept up in my current and dragged along until I released him from my grasp? Did he learn any valuable lessons (other than, “well, don’t marry her again?”) Was the net balance positive or negative? Was it worth it for him?

I’m fairly certain I don’t like the answers those questions.

And yet, the vortex must be fed. At times, with my own blood – usually with others’, sucking the life essences in, violently thrashing them around, and then flinging them away.

The nightmares, incidentally, continue. We can conjure all manner of symbolism for the tornadoes which rumble on the horizon and inevitably come for me: Change, chaos, the unknown, the uncontrollable, time, fear… you name it and I can mold it to fit.

It doesn’t really matter. What matters is whether I can overcome its destructive forces. Thus far:

Forces: ~ 4,786
Me: 3

To be entirely honest, though… I take some measure of pride in my catalytic nature. After all, I make shit happen. Quite often, that shit needs to get done.

I rather enjoy that part.

A bit of temperance would be nice. Some sort of conscious restraint, so as to not throw casual passers-by (or worse, people I truly care about) under my own personal bus.

In the meantime, stuff will get done, blood will spill, I will spin.

Barefooted

These feet are not the soft, well-groomed appendages of a delicate flower. My feet have walked the earth for decades, these callouses testament to the miles, the corn fields, the beaches, the cities.

Ridged toenails from bruises and slights, crooked toes from cruel ballet shoes, scars from punctures, stubbly hair.

I walk barefoot whenever I am able – skin to earth.

The dirt, the moisture, seeps into cracks and pores – picked up and carried on to be brushed or rinsed off elsewhere, another step on the journey.

Each stone on the path touched, experienced – some smooth and round, others jagged, hungry.

I leave cells, impressions, blood, as I move.

We were all born amongst the stars – what staggering odds to leave remnants of my erstwhile celestial self right here, as this form, in this place.

I glimpsed the starlight girl for a few moments once, long ago, listening to His Holiness offer his wisdom. His presence flowed across the rows of other eager souls, reached into my heart, opened a floodgate of vision. Those moments will remain seared in my heart eternally, for I do not honor the places from whence I have come.

But I step.

I step.

Barefooted, I walk.

 

Let be be finale of seem.

The Emperor of Ice-Cream
Wallace Stevens, 1879 – 1955
Call the roller of big cigars,
The muscular one, and bid him whip
In kitchen cups concupiscent curds.
Let the wenches dawdle in such dress
As they are used to wear, and let the boys
Bring flowers in last month’s newspapers.
Let be be finale of seem.
The only emperor is the emperor of ice-cream.

Take from the dresser of deal,
Lacking the three glass knobs, that sheet
On which she embroidered fantails once
And spread it so as to cover her face.
If her horny feet protrude, they come
To show how cold she is, and dumb.
Let the lamp affix its beam.
The only emperor is the emperor of ice-cream.

Love; Changes.

On Tuesday, I filed divorce papers. A week prior, my husband posted a very eloquent note on Facebook; it was poignant, fair, and painful to read. I read it several times, astounded at his newfound writing talent, heartbroken for causing him so much pain, but glad to see him reaching out for help from his friends, who of course responded warmly and generously.

He wrote about how, when he took off his wedding band, the skin underneath it cracked and bled, and used this as an analogy for how our marriage had protected him from various aspects of life as the ring had protected his finger from the elements. He’s working to overcome those obstacles, and I see him posting about going out with friends and socializing more, which heartens me. I am sad not to be a part of it, and I miss him, but these are the choices I have made.

Reading his post got me thinking about writing down my own thoughts, as I’ve mostly just been processing things subconsciously, and answering questions when I get them as honestly as I could.

I used to be a writer. I stifled those processes somewhere in the last few years.

It pains me to see how much Mike is suffering. It pains me to deliberately avoid talking to him, lest I accidentally tear open a fragile wound. However, as much as I love him (and I do love him,) I know we are not going to be happy together. We will both grow and move on, and I hope at some point he’ll be able to talk to me again. I am certain he’ll find someone who makes him deliriously happy, rather than settling for someone he can put up with. At the very least, he won’t be dragged down by our relationship.

Love, tragically, does not conquer all – at least not in and of itself. With Love there must come Work. Effort. A lack of Apathy.

If Apathy prevails for too long, the hole to climb out of becomes deeper and deeper, very very gradually. Once in awhile, we stopped and noticed the equivalent of, “Wow, we’re in a pretty deep hole here; we should probably do something about that.”

And didn’t.

It wasn’t hellish, it wasn’t horrible, it wasn’t “bad.” It was mostly comfortable. So, we let it continue.

This went on until I realized I could no longer even see anything that wasn’t the hole. We couldn’t dig ourselves out together, so I started digging my own way up… and I left Mike behind.

It was not without soul-wracking guilt. In many ways, Mike saved me – Financially, emotionally, professionally. I hate to repay him with… this. He was always there for me in the most pragmatic ways – for he is a pragmatic man – and amazed me continually with new feats of engineering and ingenuity.

We had a good life on paper. Logically, we are a great match. We had a good life in other ways, too, but I am an impulsive person, a spontaneous person. Mike is very much the opposite: He is methodical, considered, meticulous – things I wish I were better with. Too, he wished for some of my spontaneity.

Instead of balancing each other out, as would be ideal, our instincts fought and clashed. Very seldom did we ourselves actually fight, or even argue, but we approach life very differently, and neither of us was compromising. Our descent into the big hole was smooth and gentle. A very professional veneer coated us, insulating us from truly connecting with each other.

A decade ago, I bought a wonderful set of wind chimes when I was shopping in Olympia with Mark and Wendy. The sounds they create in a gentle wind resonate deeply in my soul and make me happy. I don’t remember why I didn’t have them hanging outside at our house, but they weren’t – for years. They lay in a box, still and silent. I would see them occasionally and feel a pang of regret, but still didn’t hang them.

Several months before I left, Mike found them and hung them up in the family room one night. I was in the kitchen, and he moved the clapper slightly so the chimes toned, and then carefully watched my face. I remember being so surprised and touched at his thoughtfulness – but I can’t remember whether I let that expression show on my face. I was emotionally locked down. He did something so sweet to make me happy, and I’m not even sure I let him know he had succeeded.

Later, when I reflected upon this and realized what had probably happened (not showing happiness,) the first stirrings began of needing something else. I thought back to how our relationship started.

I came at Mike like a Mack truck, blind-sided him with the full force and intensity of which I am capable. He frantically waved his arms and tried to get me to back up a bit, but my mind was made up, and I am stubborn. I didn’t know who he was or what he was about – I just remember so vividly the profound gravitational pull Mike exerted on me the day we met, and how I was convinced we were destined to be together. And we were – for awhile.

I can’t help but feel, however, that my decision to leave will ultimately serve us both better in the long run. The breaking point for me was becoming friends with two people who are so clearly meant for each other – witnessing their connection jolted me into the reality of our situation. We would never have that, regardless of how much work we might do, and what we did have was making us both miserable.

We both deserve to be happy. We cannot be happy together. Therefore, I had to leave, because I knew he wouldn’t – he is too good a man.

I started staying out late after work more nights than not, socializing with friends from work until four or five in the morning. I didn’t want to go home; I didn’t want to face the awkwardness. I was going to say “oppressiveness,” but that implies it was Mike doing the oppressing, and he was not. It was the situation in its entirety – the too-big house, the too-deep hole, the too-prevalent lack of joy.

I wanted him to be asleep when I got home, so I could just curl up next to him and be close without being confronted with all of the Issues. Cuddling up at night was the best part of my day, despite everything. The love was there and it was easy when we didn’t have to try to communicate. We fit together so naturally, wrapped up in the same position every night without even thinking about it, literally all the way from our fingers to our toes. It was warm and comforting.

Looking at the big picture, each of us is to blame for the course our relationship took, but I am acutely aware of my guilt for the abrupt ending. I could have done it better, but this is the first time I’ve been through the end of a marriage – I fumbled my way through. I could have made better choices, I could have been more communicative. We didn’t know how to talk to each other at all about simple things – how could we talk about this?

I was in an untenable mental state – held almost motionless and emotionless by the gelatin of the relationship surrounding us. Mike was right there, right next to me, but the distance between us (even cuddled up with each other at night) was a chasm. We could not reach each other. This was not his fault; it was what it was.

Many nights, as I was fighting my daily battle with insomnia, I would have this fantasy that inevitably made me cry: I envisioned myself trapped inside a nearly lifeless body; depressed, scared, dark – suspended in black space. Another being I thought of as Mike was there, radiating this brilliant, warm, yellow light. Waiting patiently, watching, trying to gently help but unable to rescue me from my prison. He was patient, knowing I was trapped and that I would eventually find my way out. He did not leave me.

At some point, though, he succeeded in coaxing my true self out of the prison, and my own glowing light burst through the shell and spilled into the darkness. We are both deliriously happy, and I say to him, “you saved me. You stayed, you waited; you saved me. Thank you.” We go on to live an exuberantly happy, vivid life, alive and together, experiencing everything with a new intensity.

It brings tears to my eyes now, just thinking about it – moreso because I didn’t stay or wait until we somehow managed to save each other. I cut bait, jumped ship, deserted. I left a man behind. I gave up. Mike was strong enough to carry me, but I wasn’t strong enough to do the same for him.

I left for me, I left for both of us, because I believe we’ll find happiness apart where we couldn’t have together.

Lastly, I am nearly certain this is the worst decision I have ever made, and I told him that the other day. Understandably, he was confused. It’s difficult to articulate how I could think that, and still make the choices I have. The reasons to stay were largely pragmatic – We had firewalled off a great deal of the emotional side of things long ago – and I am not a pragmatic person.

I hurt him, I hurt his family, I hurt my family, I hurt myself. I’ve probably created awkwardness with our wonderful mutual friends.

As difficult as this is, ultimately, I feel I made the right decision. Despite that, I miss him, I love him… and I do know I failed him.

There are many things each of us wishes we had said or done, but didn’t – something I hope we can both overcome in the future.

I hung the windchimes on my front porch this week. They are lovely and gentle, and they make me happy, though each time they start to chime, I see Mike Neir’s face as he rang them for me, and I wish I had told him.