depression · divorce · favorites · wife

Day 150

I don’t know what it is. Perhaps it’s the fact that Brian showed up to class today with his new chef’s coat tucked into his checked pantaloons, or the fact that his dullard nature has him three paces behind everybody else. Maybe it’s because he calls the consommé raft a sofrito, or that he can’t figure out a three-sink system, moving sautiers from soap to sanitation without so much as a rinse. Maybe it’s because Junior is the only one laughing at his own insipid story about catching a homeless gentleman taking a shit behind the Walgreen’s dumpster; or maybe it’s because Junior acts the Philistine and quaffs his finished consommé from a mug instead of spooning it with the savor it deserves: “Fuck! I can taste it so much better this way!”

I lend him a napkin and sigh.

Me: “Just don’t keg-stand the stock pot, Junior.”

I don’t know what it is. I woke up this way, so lend my fellow students grace—they’re just add-on to my irritation–not the source of it–though their front-brain proclivities and tardiness to the kitchen unseat me at times. (On the contrary, I always beat Chef to the school, twenty minutes early being on-time, being on-time too late; and when it comes to using the old gray matter in the kitchen, I don’t use the pour spout when seasoning a velouté, nor grab the sherry bottle when a recipe calls for a dry white. I take myself way too seriously). These are just kids and I’m at present their current ages combined. Junior can’t even legally buy a drink; I’m in sober living with an advanced degree in transgressivism, my curriculum vitae espousing multiple stays in San Diego’s various detox facilities and one fated night atop the roof of my house (I digress).

No, it’s not Brian, nor Junior, or the particular manner in which they people a kitchen with youthful unconcern. I’m just wizened, not necessarily wiser–wizened. To wit: I used to think Bronte’s ‘Wuthering’ was actually a misspell, so were I a novel right now I’d be ‘Withering Heights’, a languishing tale certainly, and one featuring a Byronic hero gripped with ennui. Step aside Heathcliff; there’s a new broody dude to take your place. And appropriately he’s in funereal black beneath all the chef’s whites.

We are dicing onions. Junior is openly weeping—he’s in fact retreating to the kitchen sink every two minutes to rinse his hands and splash water on his face, lightweight—but I’m the one with the undefinable lump in my throat. It’s been stubbornly there since my 1 a.m. dorveiller, when taking a cigarette outside Amethyst I am hit with a kind of midnight melancholy. Usually I’m what I call a ‘Starry Nighter’, homage to Van Gogh who quoted “For my part, I know nothing with any certainty, but the sight of the stars makes me dream.” He also said “the night is more alive and richly colored than the day” and I’m inclined to agree. But at 1 a.m. I feel the first rising of an as yet unborn sob, stuck in the passages somewhere. It’s night and I’m far from starry.

Junior: “Goddamn! Aren’t you crying?” Junior is furiously scrubbing his hands of onion juice again.

Me: (drily, and while chopping planks into batonets): “Just on the inside, Junior. Just on the inside.”

” April is the cruelest month”—I say it all the time in deference to T.S. Eliot’s ‘Wasteland’—and historically speaking, the beginning of spring marks the end of my ‘Mad Season’, when I seasonally—and like Van Gogh—switch out moods in obeyance to my bipolarity. Winter, I fly high—I am something Icarus, something sky-bound—but by April I can crash a mess of spent feathers and melted wax. There is a price to pay for flying too close to the sun, or, in my and Vincent’s case, too close to the stars. I wonder if that’s what it is today, my body acting on a particular muscle memory of a now dormant manic-depression. It’s been three years since I felt the euphoric rush of my Mad Season, but maybe there are vapors still. My sleeping habits have been closely mirroring those of my old manic self: first sleep, dorveiller, second sleep—maybe five hours en todo. Still I am not somnolent during the day, a nap is not necessary. Go, go, go until I force myself into Nod. Let the fulgurations cease. Be still.

The surface of the stock pot is itself motionless, the barest of bubbles marking the beginnings of a simmer and Brian is champing at the bit. He is poised with nutmeg because Junior is too, Brian not having an original thought in his head, and their collective choice of spice is questionable if not downright Philistine. Even Chef gives them a weary look as if to say, “What fucking now?”  But not one to dampen their pioneering spirit, he just asks, “Nutmeg? In tortilla soup?” before leaving them to their own devices. I have Mexican oregano in lieu of epazote, which the recipe originally calls for, and am secretly hoping Brian and Junior over-season their creations (as they are wont to do) considering nutmeg is a kitchen poison in large amounts. Just a tablespoon straight up will give you a myristicin high, with norepinephrine flood gates wide open. I would like to see Brian on hallucinogens. It would make him at least interesting. Like a Dali clock or something. As is, he is the class dullard, a taupe paint chip of a person, done up matte. I try and give him the benefit of the doubt, but he gets lost in a room of only three workstations, often times grabbing my knife in error else my finished demi-glace, the latter of which is inexcusable and deserving of a fillet knife between the ribs. We are supposed to be a team, but lately I’ve been unapologetically spelling ‘team’ with an ‘I’. As in ‘I’ am saving myself. Junior’s already rifled through my knife set looking for his misplaced blade—and you never touch another man’s knife set, Bourdain famously saying, “Your knife is your cock”—and Brian is (he thinks) secretly weighing out my mise en place for reference when he can’t break down a simple recipe. ’32 divided by two is sixteen, Brian—it’s fucking sixteen. Now hands off my me-see.’

No, it’s not even Brian that’s having me awry. I’m just off-kilter, I seemingly have absorbed the askew nature of the Culinary Institute’s environs, both in and out. The Institute is located in Barrio Logan, once San Diego’s poorest and most crime-ridden neighborhood, now an epicenter of gentrification what with the explosion of microbreweries, restaurants, and art spaces. This used to be where Mexican cartels would send scouts to pick up nortenos for their bloody street gangs, now it’s a great place to buy a taco (Las Cuatras Milpas FTW) and check out the latest installation at the Soda and Salt. Thing is, the CCAI is on National Avenue, which—like a magician’s tablecloth—has been picked up by the corner on its south side, then whisked away for all to clatter into place, detritus to the north side. We’re on the north side. Outside the Institute walls is a tent city, a homeless enclave in between the Barrio and downtown’s southeast center. The vainglorious Petco Park is in view as is the Central Library and the Transportation building. What lies in the middle is everything that has otherwise been displaced. Ten dollars? It’ll buy you a pint at the Park else a hit of meth on the street. To pay for either generally involves psychosis and, indeed, the avenue outside CCAI is full of angry zombies in crystal heat. Loud voices and displaced aggression. Drunks can be amiable, hotheads on meth vapors not so much. I steer clear of the tent city, though it’s only a stone’s throw away. The closest I get is the café table next door to the Institute where I take my cortado on the daily in avoidance of Brian and Junior at breaktime. It’s across from the blue tent where I believe a homeless man of importance lives. His blue canopy is much trafficked. I just drink my espresso and watch the comings and goings of the randos, think of later when I will be going to Jenny’s.

I miss Jenny, and maybe that is what is setting me off. How to describe. I don’t know, but my room at Amethyst bares her imprint. It’s a practiced devotion, but not slavishly so: I know she’s gone and I’m not wallowing. Still, her picture is in no less than four places. Jenn by contrast has erased me from her apartment, reduced me to one photograph which is in her ill-used kitchen and on the side of the refrigerator (wouldn’t it be good, I think, for the kids to have pictures of their daddy?  I say nothing). We have established, me and Jenny, that there has been inequity—and I’m loathe to use such a pecuniary term but, sadly, most relationship words are—there has been inequity both in and outside of our togetherness. I sometimes lacked presence, erupted in fits of frustration; she sometimes lacked sentimentality, always needed to fix. I was the poet whose poetry was not needed and she was the begrudging muse who needed fewer words, more action. Still, we communicated so often and so well, that it is a wonder things were left unsaid, and unresolved. I used to love to sit on the rim of the bathtub with a cup of coffee while Jenny did her daily ablutions, staring at her adoringly while she practiced her mirror face and applied her foundations, did up her lustrous hair. I will never run out of words to describe her.  But somehow, I think all conversation ended a long time ago.

Him: “I think I love you more than you love me.”

Her: “I think you’re right.”

(Followed by the inevitable throwing of objects, which admittedly didn’t help his case any).

I recently got a tattoo for Jenny on my upper arm. It is a print by Egon Schiele who is renowned for his lascivious lithography—sometimes bordering on the pornographic—and it is inscribed with Jenny’s name. Brian says, “Someday we’ll know what Thom’s tattoos mean…” Luckily the Schiele is on the bicep above the rolled-up sleeves of my chef’s coat. Brian nor Junior will not see it and they, being of a diminutive age, wouldn’t understand it anyway. They do not know that the man who carries such confidence in the kitchen and who is punctual to a fault, is in fact a broken mess. I can cut a 1/16th inch brunoise with ease, but there are hundreds of as-miniscule cuts which make up my heart. And speaking of cuts, I am also keenly aware of the Angle of Luis, which begins below my mandible, crosses the throat, and ends above the opposite collarbone. It is the imaginary line the executioner envisions to guide the guillotine for the cleanest severance possible (severance: another pecuniary word).  I was severed in two on October 13th, left to my own devices, some say left to die. One applies alcohol to a wound, and I obligingly absorbed all things antiseptic. I could’ve died, and not just figuratively. The second and final death. I could’ve tattooed crossbones over the ‘;Amor fati’ stamp on my left wrist and just drowned in my thinking chair.

Listening to songs like: “You didn’t see me I was falling apart/ I was a television version of a person with a broken heart.”

No, Brian and Junior will not know this, my brokenness, nor see my Schiele. The tattoo depicts a male lover resting on crossed arms in a woman’s lap, she nude-save-for-stockings in genuflection over him. He is subordinate in his pose, kneeling before her, and the woman’s hair cascades over his crown. Her eyes are closed and her hands disappear beneath his crossed arms to rest in between her thighs. It is a highly sensuous drawing–not necessarily sexual–and I am subordinate to Jenny in the manner the tattoo depicts. Sometimes I’m even damn near placative so as not to upset any extant intimacy between us. I have worshipped Jenny far more than she ever will me. It is the truth. I have to accept that. She is her own person after all, but– goddammit–she was *my* Dulcinea. Dulcinea and ‘dulce’ share the same root—‘sweet’; I ink my flesh, I keep Jenny’s pictures, I relish this, the sweet honeyed pain. In my way, I practice the perverse devotion of the abandoned, the love in which some who have been abused love their abusers. “Batter my heart” and all that.

Divorce me, untie or break that knot again,

Take me to you, imprison me, for I,

Except you enthrall me, never shall be free,

Nor ever chaste, except you ravish me.

I am quoting John Donne here. And ‘Amor fati’ is Epictetus, Dulcinea is Cervantes. Brian will never know what my tattoos means let alone understand them, and the less he and Junior know of me, the better. They do not know that I’m soon to be an ex-, that my current state is ‘broken’ though Jenn forever tried to fix me. People have always tried to fix me. When I was a child, the doctor wanted to twist my scoliotic backbone into a brace and correct me. When I was a boy, the doctor wanted to break my jaw and rewire my mandible into something more presentable. People have always wanted to fix me.

But they always proposed breaking me further first. Every. Fucking. Time.

I still love. Does that make me fixed? Even as I am broken? Jenny says she doesn’t believe in ‘broken.’ But.

In ancient times, the Chinese used to mend broken pottery with gold so as to make the pottery more precious in its damage. In the kitchen, if you break a Hollandaise you can fix it by whisking in an extra egg yolk, enriching the sauce. The latter I tell Junior as we work in pottage and mother recipes. He doesn’t know I am working in metaphor, and not just in Escoffier.  

Me: “The added yolk helps the emulsification.”

Junior: “Wait—why not just add an extra yolk to begin with?”

Me: “The sauce has to break first, Junior. Only THEN can you fix it. Get it?”

‘To fix’ necessitates ‘to break’, and ‘to break’ engenders a fix. The snake eats its tail and so on: that old orobouros again, which, to think of it, my Schiele tattoo somewhat resembles. So Brian, if you must know: my Schiele tattoo represents me and Jenny, my Munch tattoo represents my ambivalence in its particular Madonna/whore fashion; my ‘Amor fati’ stamp represents my love of fate despite its inherent hardship. My Picasso penguin? Well, it’s just a fucking penguin. You know, sometimes things are just what they seem.

‘Sometimes things are just what they seem,’ this I tell myself as I drink my cortado in the shitty part of the Barrio in avoidance of my fellows, in my attempt to be solitary though the tent city is a bustle with meth-heads and the trafficking of wares, the air staccato with junkie complaint: I am just a broken man with a lump in his throat on a cruel April day, and it’s just like the three and reticent days prior. That’s it. THAT’s what it is. I needn’t think any further. I need only think that later I go to Jenny’s where I will be thankfully divorced of Junior and Brian and in the company of my loved ones. I will inevitably check the refrigerator to ensure my picture is still clipped there and, if buried behind other papers, I will move it to the front; I will inevitably watch Jenny apply her ablutions as I once did on the daily, but now as she prepares to go out for her every-Tuesday night with the girls; and I will watch her change from a backless number into a dress that better suits her, with a neckline that plunges to an empire waist, her decolletage on display and the sideways crescents of her breasts; and I will inevitably tear up at this, all this lost, things being as they are, and I will maybe feel a lift just being close to her despite her most likely being far away; and I will remember her in her best black outfit, the one with the particular rouching, and in seeing that how I used to know her beauty and know that it was in part mine and know that everything and everything would in the end no matter what be all and forever ok.

“April is the cruelest month”—Day 150 of sobriety  

depression · mental health

Gnatcatcher Fighting Himself

I’ve been obsessed with this nesting gnatcatcher that has declared war on himself in the side-yard. It’s said a good daily exercise is to look in the mirror and challenge yourself to say, ‘I love you.’ The gnatcatcher deplores his reflection—he finds it in the chrome hubcap of my car and expends way too much energy fighting it. I hear him tink-tink flurrying himself at the hubcap, striking the reflection with his bill and outstretched wings. He gets knocked backwards, does it again. Ruffles his feathers, then rears at his visage ten more times before letting up.

It used to be I did the same thing. “April,” TS Eliot said, “Is the cruelest month.” And I’m not inclined to disagree because April has historically been hard for me, but May always seemed the drop-weight of the calendar, a plunging anchor right about mid-year when the gray sets in in San Diego and when—during my Penguin Years—the lights would lower in an eventual return to Antarctic darkness.

I’m better now.

But it would get so that my blood would hurt mid-year, and I’d be spinning off into depression after the manic months of February and March. I’d look into the figurative hubcap and fight my own reflection. I’d go radio-static.

FB memories is an interesting tool for me to gauge my mental health. Like in Memento, where the protagonist would tattoo himself daily to remember his day, I write down my stories to placehold a time, to memorialize the days and months. I’m very purposeful on social media: all these stories, these songs, have reason behind them. And when the memories appear on FB, I quietly measure my mental health against old cycles. This may seem overthinking things, but it’s really a good tool concerning self-awareness. Sometimes I don’t know I’m manic until I’m in it; sometimes I don’t spot a depression looming until I see my annual tendency toward radio staticity.

But, again, I’m better. I’m not the gnatcatcher fighting his reflection, nor have April nor May been cruel to me. I currently revel in the light rain that accompanies my morning walks and remark the blooms, which are mine alone at 5 in the morning. I am serene. I am content. I am opposite the bird who sees himself and expresses his discontent. May this continue.

alcohol · bipolarity · depression · favorites · mental health

What My Tattoo Means (Amor fati)

flame-1024x972“I want to learn more and more to see as beautiful what is necessary in things; then I shall be one of those who makes things beautiful. Amor fati: let that be my love henceforth! I do not want to wage war against what is ugly. I do not want to accuse; I do not even want to accuse those who accuse. Looking away shall be my only negation. And all in all and on the whole: some day I wish to be only a Yes-sayer.”

–Friedrich Nietzsche, The Gay Science


I have Amor fati tattooed on my left wrist, prefaced with a semi-colon. The left wrist is where I once tested a chef’s knife to see what it would take to cut the ulnar artery. The nurses have always loved my veins; they are prominent and quick to bleed.

I was left with a scar for a few months, which has since faded. A semi-colon replaces the knife-mark. The semi-colon tattoo is reserved for those who have had suicidal ideation, or indeed, have attempted to quit their life altogether.

Two things stayed the blade. I thought of Ernest Hemingway, who eerily said, ‘I will go like my father’, he a son of a suicide. Both Hemingway and his father ultimately died during “hunting accidents”, the final flutter of dove wings and a gun’s report, but there was that one time Ernest tried to drown himself off the back of his beloved Pilar. He sank a few fathoms before thinking of his brood, and he exclaimed, “My sons!” through a mouthful of expired air. He swam to surface and gasped mightily, to live for a few more years.

Second, I thought of the Golden Gate jumper who, in a millionth of a chance, hit the water at the right angle so that his organs were saved rupture, and his lungs allowed the fortitude to breathe again. He speaks now against suicide on high school and college campuses. He is unfailingly asked, “What was your thought as you leapt?” He replies soberly: “This is a mistake.” I imagine him falling at 200mph with that his purported last thought.

I didn’t want to bleed out, close my eyes to the world weakened by a broken artery with a feeling of ultimate regret. I didn’t want to leave my sons with a father-sized hole. I chose to live.

I choose to live, amor fati.

From Marcus Aurelius: “A blazing fire makes flame and brightness out of everything that is thrown into it.”

From Epicectus: “Do not seek for things to happen the way you want them to; rather wish that what happens happen the way it happens: then you will be happy.”

From Friedrich Nietsche: “That one wants nothing to be different, not forwards, not backwards, not in all eternity. Not merely bear what is necessary, still less conceal it…but love it.”

When the knife blade sliced into my arm, I was sure I was done living, that I couldn’t live with or without alcohol, that I was at the jumping-off point. I bled, but I didn’t bleed out. I wrapped my wrist: “This is a mistake.” I calmly stopped the flow and let the wound see air. I would later be in a hospital for a dual diagnosis of depression and alcoholism, receiving the help I desperately needed.

I am a migrating moon, a panoply of phases that come and go. “This, too, shall pass” is wisdom for my nomadic self, tugged as it is by the pulls of my head and heart. Even the New Moon, however invisible, is beautiful, as much as is the Full Moon; I am cycles of life and in my mortal cycling, love every minute.

I did a gratitude exercise: I visited my grandfathers in their respective mauseleum crypts, knelt down before the names on the walls, and whispered my thanks to them both, for my alcoholism. For my manic-depression. Through the passing of their genes, I am who I am, and having the wherewithal to accept what it is that afflicts me makes me a more intact human being. Intact comes from the French, integrite. Whole.

Amor fati. May you love your fate, too.


depression · favorites · mental health · people · prisons · writing

The Guilt We Harbor, pt. 1 (for Maggie and my brother)


It’s been a long while since I contacted you.

“Where are you?” you may ask, though you have my mailing address and I have yours.

I ask the same question most every day. Not out of geographic curiosity.  I know where you are and I’ve an idea of what your walls may look like: the beds, the barracks. The sea of prison blue. I know you’re situated in the middle of King’s County with a sky that must be devastatingly incredible.

I’ve driven the 5 a few times over in the time you’ve been gone and have seen the tired pistoning of oil pumps; the ruminative cattle; and the white, white haze which seems to jump senses into whiter noise.

 “It’s my family.” I sat on the stoop, shoulders with Maggie, attempting to tell her, exactly, why life had, through the course of one phone call, suddenly changed.

“Family? When is it NOT family,” Mags said in return, shaking back her sleeves and lighting a cigarette.

Twenty hours prior, we had exchanged surprise at the fifth of Amsterdam Maggie had secreted in a potted ficus, yet somehow forgotten during the course of a mutually attended wedding reception. Like goldfish we had disremembered our aqueous surroundings: David’s wedding was on the water, and we were aquarium drinking.  There was a photo of us taken on a short pier, me and Mags seemingly in deep philosophical discussion, but most likely discussing the particular economy involved in sharing a surprise fifth–an odd number to split on the even—and she, smoking with abandon, her last cigarettes.

Maggie wore black to David’s wedding, because although David remained one of her favorite ‘Goys’, to Maggie weddings were on par with Shiva calls. She always wore Onassis sunglasses, especially when ‘I do’s’ were said, a widower’s affect despite not being a widow. She drug around her ex-husband’s last name, though, as if holding on to the dead like an odious and ill-expired pet, taxidermied and talismanic in the corner.

This is not chosen.

Maggie was herself seemingly always sitting Shiva, her own divorce something of funereal gloom and requiring shrouded wedding photos; since the divorce, funerals and weddings were all the same to her, attended with equal distaste and with equal aperitif of vodka, a bottle of which she carried in her clutch to mediate her more dour tendencies. All vows were requiems; all requiems were ‘Well, thank God that’s over’; life was just the something in-between.

She was the first person I called upon receiving the news.

I’m writing this letter. I need for you to hear me, or at least the story of the past three years–those you spent within labyrinthine corridors of concrete. Consider me a conduit. When lightning strikes a tree, its fires are shot through a thousand tissues and limbs fall in beautiful wreckage and the ground crackles a hundred feet around. In the end, the tree bears a scar and it continues wrapping rings of growth around its most blackened parts. The tree keeps growing but it will always have, coiled in its history, proof of its damage.

‘Hang in there’ was something Mags would never have said to me, and God help me were I to ever say as much to her.

‘Hang in there with what—a fucking noose?’

Maggie reserved her gallows humor for any day the executioner’s hood had any particular and existential menace. By this metric, her bed may as well been built over two trapdoor flaps, headboard at their join. Every day she wore black in presage of a coffin and the billowier her shroud the better—like Death, just ecumenical and without the scythe.

“My brother was arrested.”


Maggie smoothed out her dress, a Guatemalan print still wrinkled and maybe half-dry.

“Ok,” she said again, her Sag Harbor accent more prominent this time, and she leveled out the lap of her dress until it was in a neat triangle across her knees.

“Does he have a lawyer.” Maggie had placed her cigarette to the side, needing two hands to fix her skirt; she recollected her American Spirit from ash-headed perch on the stairs. We were sitting outside, the same stairs she had mounted just minutes earlier with crossed-arms and ever-present dark glasses.

It may have been the odd first question, not a query into the nature of the arrest, or inquiry into my wellbeing. Was I upset? Else perversely vindicated of any criminal excess I had participated in that weekend?  Mags and I were both still riding vapors of the night prior, the effluvium of surfeit vodka seemingly present. If not present, at the very least coloring the bedsheets I’d left unmade back inside, me having been near malarial with sweat. Maggie certainly had more than I did the night prior, but by contrast was already properly coifed and perfumed, tight curls dried to her forehead like a magisterial wig.

The last time I sped through King’s County was with Bradley in a U-Haul truck. A trailer shimmied behind us bearing a vintage car and three bristling, sleep-deprived cats. The cab smelled of Kamel Reds and spent coffee cups. By mid-morning, just beyond the King’s County HP Station and directly beyond the rutted half-roads which finger out into the farmers’ fields, I felt I couldn’t concentrate any longer on the highway lines. We pulled over and slept on the grass beneath these wispy clouds that promised an unerringly still, cricket-shivering night. Brad slept on the trailer rig and, when he awoke, pointed out that I had slept in the grass beneath a sign reading: ‘Dog Lawn.’

“Does he have a lawyer,” she said matter-of-factly, and not as question.

Maggie and I both knew, contrary to American judiciary standard, that we were all—and without courtroom session necessary—guilty of something or other, no need for trial. Innocence was reserved for children and cats. Maggie’s Talmudic learnings plead otherwise, and she herself was a social-justice warrior—her collected poetry spoke to that end—but Maggie was wisened, jaded, fresh off a nasty divorce.

To her, life had become unfair, or at least only comprehensible if everyone shared in a free-floating and collective blame. You couldn’t exactly call Maggie a nihilist; still she wore black to weddings.

And she knew that what everyone needed, sometimes, was just a really good fucking lawyer.

“I don’t know,” I said rubbing my eyes. “I just found out. He was probably in the back of a police car when Dave was cutting the cake.” I borrowed Maggie’s cigarette and took a draw.

“My mom called,” I said exhaling, “Which means my brother’s already past his jailhouse phone call.” I handed the cigarette back. I still hadn’t showered.

“I mean, I’m sure Mom wasn’t the first one he called upon being brought in. Probably the last person he wanted to talk to.” I crossed my arms while waving away the smoke. “I’m guessing he’s out on bail.”

I thought of you arriving at Avenal, looking up from your handcuff-fisted lap, and seeing stark blue lights against a long-ignored landscape.

Maggie finally asked: “What’d he do?” She looked straight ahead, working backwards from her initial question. Mags was the esquire in reverse and, with black robes, presumed judge, too. I stopped my hand from stupidly waving and inserted it into an armpit.  I turned to her with one eye squinted.

“Mom said he thought I’d have known.”

“Known what?” Mags wasn’t impatient, but rather soft in her questioning, dissolving me of complicity before I could place my own self in manacles.

I didn’t answer, not directly. Instead, I turned again to look straight ahead, parallel to Maggie’s’ gaze. I changed the subject.

“You know, I finished ‘American Psycho’ this morning. Ain’t that some fucked up timing,” I snorted. We stared at the street while Mags extinguished her cigarette. A jogger labored past, out of breath.

“Is your brother a psycho?” Maggie deadpanned, still working backwards with her line of questioning.

“Naw. But he is American, so there’s that.”

We’ve both ushered that fire into the ground in different ways, but both bear darkened rings. We’ve both been conduits and have had the lawn throw up sparks beneath our feet. We’ve both had fire run through us, and wait for the ground to speak its response.

Maggie allowed a half-smile. In her less sober moments, which were many, she’d throw on a Clash record and shout along with Joe Strummer: ‘I’m so bo-ooored with the USA!’, just replacing ‘bored’ with ‘scared’. These words she’d shout with expatriate gusto as if her garden gate was border enough to keep out the particular stars and stripes she eschewed on her own freak flag.

Mags was a raucous rabble-rouser, yet still privately scared of her own rebellion. She was convinced her phone was tapped and that the FBI had a file on her six inches thick. “Fuck the police!” was one of her war cries. “Fuck the Man! Fuck a duck!”

“My brother hit a woman over the head with a rock, Maggie. On a greenbelt. He wanted to drag her into the bushes and cut off her panties as trophy.” I scratched my head and blanched at the word ‘panties.’ I widened my eyes to rid them of disbelief.

I borrowed Mags’ smoke again. She had lit a second one already.

“Then again, Maggie, I dunno. Maybe he is psycho. On top of being American.”

I’m damaged. You are damaged.

 Maggie simply nodded and placed her hand reassuringly on my knee as I blew smoke.




Maggie and I lived in North Park, perhaps a mile apart, and though San Diego spans a 100-mile stretch of shoreline, there are densely populated islands in the median, one of which Mags and I inhabited, just shy of Balboa Park’s arcaded museums. Regardless of proximity, we drove cars to see each other. It was like living in Los Angeles, but with greater sun-bronzed apathy. The coastal architecture was made up of disused naval ships instead of gantries, and culture less varied than one would expect from a border town.

The first and last prisons built in California reside on the US-Mexico border. If the federal penal system could extend its reach into the Tijuana pleasure-lands, it would, depositing prisons like unwanted cargo just past the border checkpoints. As it stands, San Diego is where Father Junipero Serra built the first Presidio before heading North, waving judicial crucifixes at ‘savages’ and proselytizing others.

Since Serra days, the state has extended a thousand miles north, then back, so that at journeyed loop, there is also the last presidio, Donovan Correctional Facility, a concrete structure, Class III-IV, parked above CA on one face, MX the other. It can’t go further either way, and bulldozers scape the face of the hill where Donovan perches tenuously. There’s a watershed amphitheater down the canyon to one side and a landfill on the other. A mile distant is an amusement park.

Donovan holds Sirhan Sirhan, a  Menendez Brother, also one of the Toolbox Killers—all Los Angelenos with varying and gruesome psychopathy, all somehow housed in the same penitential block and classified equally despite the disparate sufferings of their victims. They’re all three hundred miles away from their respective crime scenes–the Toolbox Killers’ gore-theater in the Cleveland Forest being the worst—and now all are granted cinder block views of Mexico, in California’s fairest climate, all imperfect justice at the end of the Golden State Penal road.  My brother almost wound up there.

Maggie’s boyfriend—her ostensible boyfriend—as they’d only pressed palms against bulletproof glass, else talked on jailhouse phones, resided meanwhile in Corcoran.

He’d been serving time in the hole—an extended stay—for having too many postage stamps on his person; this in a facility where, across the yard, Charles Manson lived in a lush solitary all his own, free to write as many lettered manifestos as he pleased, relative to his notoriety.

Maggie’s boyfriend, Christopher, ran a poetry press from his cell, and was made medicinally contrite, weakened by the lithium he was prescribed, otherwise ravaged by years of meth abuse up and down the SW Sudafed Highway. He was a three-time loser, owlish in his spectacles and with jaundiced eyes; sleight of frame; and sporting slick-backed hair.  When the volume of Christopher’s correspondence became suddenly suspect, he was kicked to the Hole—this somewhere roundabout the time that Mansons’ third—fourth?—parole hearing was being televised.

There are no flashbulbs in the Hole, no video cameras, and precious bodily fluid certainly can’t be wasted on postage stamps, so Maggie—by default—ran Christopher’s press en absentia, dutifully licking envelopes and resuming correspondence where Christopher had left off, his Rolodex certainly less impressive, less shambolic than Manson’s. It was never talked about that Christopher may also have been dealing drugs during his Corcoran stay. It was easier to imagine his crime involved going postal, so to speak.


Maggie pours the scotch and we’re sitting on the back porch, which a friend of hers has fenced in with cheap lattice-work lumber, all to hem in the cat and otherwise give the ipoema a place to root, violet flowers sinking into wood, providing cover, but reducing everything to splinters in the meanwhile.

“What is this?” I jog a pill in my hand, white and nondescript.

Maggie rearranges her limbs to approximate queenliness. She has a crack in her glasses.

“A downer, I think?”


“I dunno. Let’s try.”

I shrug. Mags has a boom-box playing a bluegrass version of Pink Floyd. I swallow the pill with a hit of Dewar’s.

“Why—Mags—are your glasses cracked?” The Prayer Flags behind her are aged, evaporated with either over- or underuse, and there are two Guatemalan dresses left to dry in the evening air. Big purple blossoms break the lattice-work balcony, blue in the evening-set, and ‘Comfortably Numb’ plays, uncomfortably, on fiddle.

“I was so depressed today; and I got a second psychiatrist. I was prescribed something new and I literally hit the wall.” She shakes the rocks in her drink. “I mean, I fucking fell down.”

“Do your psychiatrists know about each other?”

“By name—shu-ure.”

“You really shouldn’t be mixing your meds,” I said, irony train neatly docking into station. The downer coursed my system, leaving behind a shivery wake. I fingered one of Maggie’s poetry books, which lay discarded on the patio table.

“Mayakovsky clutched a rivet, only the rivet metamorphosed into a gun pointing straight at his heart: Art”.

 Maggie literally wrote poetry to save her life when life was an otherwise confusion of conflicting meds and medicated conflict.

During Maggie’s divorce, when existence was the figurative wall she crashed into, and not the literal one that cracked her glasses, she wrote a book called ‘7th Circle’. It is a slim-spined collection of poems about suicides; she had sublimated her pain into researching and writing various pieces on Mayakovsky, Jean Seberg, George Trakl, Diane Arbus. It won the San Diego Book Award for poetry.

Despite having narrowly avoided the Seventh Circle herself,  still she says: “I can’t fucking take it anymoire.”

“I know Mags, I know.” On cue, ‘Comfortably Numb’ stops playing.

Maggie slept with a gun in her handbasket next to the bed, paranoid, anxious; she had a confusion of prescriptions, but always a neat handle of scotch in the pantry. I know because I unpacked it for her when I helped her move. Also, we hit it often when communally writing poetry, else editing other poets’ work. She was a mess and I was fast becoming one, all this speed and slowness, the cigarettes and pills; the walking into walls.

Maggie called life ‘Continuous Performance’, and that’s what it is, that’s what it was.


 Sometimes I spent the night at Mags’ when the gun was too present in the handbasket, when she was drunk and scared; when I would sleep chastely in her bed, wrapping my arms around her, she the Maude to my Harold, the tobacco present on her dressing gown. I’d lie awake and smell her lavender and love her to sleep.

She had a boyfriend in prison; I had a brother in prison, and we’d fall asleep lotus-eaters, shot through with pathos, rocks settling in the bedside scotch.




I remember when Christopher was released for a brief time and how he held forum at Maggie’s house in front of an ashtray. He was smoking a long and almost effeminately thin joint. Which was “safe” he confided, because “California only looks for uppers in my system.” His hands were strange deep-sea jellyfish, fingers not unlike wavering tentacles. “California is a river of blue, ” he said tapping out an ash, “It is punctuated by a braking of bus wheels and penitentiary-blue lights.”

A wave of the hand, a drag on the tightly-rolled cigarette. “California is blue.” He looked pleased because, above all, he was a poet.

This all happened before and after 9/11. On 9/11, Maggie and I traded a bottle of wine back and forth on her bed and watched the news, saw the Trade Centers fall in occasional time-elapse, like films of flowers speeding to the ground.

“I always hated those buildings,” Mags said, handing me back the bottle of wine, but with tears in her eyes. She was a true New Yorker. Christopher had yet to emerge from the Hole and my brother was just skulking the greenbelts in practice-walks for his later crime. Maggie had vases of yarrow on her bedside, and rosebuds. We were both fiercely against the New Cold War and fiercely into drink.

I don’t know who said: “We deserve this, don’t we?”

And it may have been a personal revelation, on a duvet, in a house with a TV and with buildings falling down, or it may have been a revolutionary statement.

As Maggie wrote:

‘A Gestapo agent pointed to Guernica and asked/:Did you do this?/No—you did’

We may have had Mexican food that night. I vaguely remember. I just remember falling down in the restaurant and saying, “It’s all my fault” like a building crumpling, like a spent flower.


Christopher was released from the Hole before my brother rode the sea of penitentiary blue. Christopher attended my wedding even—eight months following Tower One’s collapse—as Maggie’s date. And my brother was there, too, hands folded in lap in some premonitory idea of manacles, while my wife and I released butterflies into the June malaise.  Both Christopher and my brother would soon ride buses to penitentiary—in Christopher’s case, for the fourth go-round—near the same time.

Anyways, I thought of Christopher there on that dog-piss grass: I saw him last in the SD Jail. Maggie sobbed in the periphery of the visiting room and I took up the phone that lay unceremoniously on the steel-grey table. I picked up the receiver and looked at Christopher behind the glass–he was all slicked-back hair and waxed moustache; he wore a tight-lipped expression. By his admission, he was on a diet of heavy metals and liver medication. He wore thick glasses, which made his eyes look disproportionately huge and wallowy in the otherwise context of grey brick and cold, cold light. Maggie sobbed, and she sobbed. I held the phone to my ear and didn’t know a goddamn thing to say.

“Take care of Maggie,” Christopher had a habit of saying during his brief foray out of penitentiary, which I should have taken as premonition.

Christopher was picked up outside a house in La Jolla Farms, high on meth, having attempted to break into a house with clearly lit home burglary system alarms. He was seated calmly on the sidewalk in front of the estate smoking a cigarette in laconic fashion while flashing lights and a waiting pair of handcuffs coursed his way.

My brother, meanwhile, was found with blood on his shoes, walking in a daze after his victim had successfully fought him off. He had an unworn ski mask and a pair of scissors. He wielded other accouterments, too, he later told me, but he never revealed what. The full inventory must be recorded in some police ledger or stenographic receipt somewhere but I don’t have a transcript of his trial: I just don’t know, and some details are superfluous anyway.

To wit: I wore a black suit with a red shirt the only time I visited my brother at Avenal. I had IHOP for breakfast: buttermilk pancakes, black coffee, and two Vicodin Maggie had lent me for the occasion. Everywhere there were oil pumps in various stages of deterioration, piston heads slumped in mechanical inebriation, disused, rusted, their heyday sup of premium crude having long since been polluted with brackish transudation, a great and rusted machinery stopped. The fields were fallow and run through with weed-choked irrigation ditches. The suit which I caught sight of in the IHOP plate glass was the same I had been married in. My shirt was the otherwise feint at insouciance, a vintage find with a large collar worn unbuttoned at the neck. I was being an asshole. My visit was not so much out of compassion, and I hedged on it even being an obligation. No: I had come for my brother’s birthright. He was the eldest, the forever good son, and I had always been the black sheep—as evidenced even by my choice of black gabardine that day. I wanted to prove that after years in second place, my mere existence outside prison walls won me the favorite son pelt: I was Jacob, and my brother in his stupid penitentiary orange was Esau. Maybe he wore penitentiary green. Again, some details are superfluous. I just remember my brother ate from the vending machines in the visiting room, fingers childishly stained with orange Cheet-o dust, and I felt a snarling elitism. My fingers were clean, my shoes unbloodied. “Free, white, and 21,” as Maggie would always say, free in the sense I had virgin wrists, unlike my brother and Christopher, whose wrists had been defiled by the snapping of cuffs, their hands literally tied, manacled, courtesy of the penal system in the great and golden state Californ-i-a.

I first met Christopher on the phone 3(?) years ago when he corrected my pronunciation of Greek poet Yannis Ritsos. And here we were again–on the phone, but face-to-face. “Thom, take care,” he said. “Take care of M.” I took care of Maggie by kissing her in some hopeless manner on the cheek, and leading her out of the Piranesi-inspired civic building, phone hung-up and Christopher disappeared.

 In jail as in prison everything watches you. Elevators only open up to narrow corridors, there are mirrors everywhere. In penitentiary, there are gates upon gates, like steel-braced grimaces, and guards finger their clubs. It’s a matter of guilt by association, like Maggie said: ‘Everyone needs a good fucking lawyer,” even if there’s no blood on your shoes or if your system is clean of what the system says you can’t have. You’re just guilty for living, guilty by association, even if you haven’t been tried and accused of anything. We’re all guilty, and sometimes we sit on a curb waiting for the guillotine of justice to drop while waiting outside a burgled house, either high on Sudafed or with spatters of O negative on our boot-tip.

We’re all guilty. We’re all guilty.

At the Poetry Awards, Mags gripped my arm with nervous strength. A crooked arm flexed.

“I doin’t know,” she said, unsure if she should be here, there.

I kissed her cheek.

“Of course you should be here.”

We drank white wine and hid behind the junipers. When she was in her married house, citrus hedges hemmed in the house, and the wood was dark. Maggie always hid. Her current house was of a strange snail-shell design, her bed in the middle of a coil with an incongruent sunroof, briars out front. She decorated her windows with velvet draperies to hide in midday dark. She hid behind damask and dark sunglasses and drink.

“You ok?”

“Just noivous.”

She shouldn’t have been. She won. Maggie Jaffe for ‘7th Circle.’

I run too fast

I fly too high

I hit to hard

Too wide my eyes

Too full my heart.

Too deep the pain.

In the bathroom of the SD Jail I held her. She was in front of a mirror, red-eyed and cursing. There were so many cameras and squinched-in seats and phones and iron-greys; so many cramped elevators and narrow corridors and convex watching glasses; so many forms and disparaging looks; so much free-floating guilt.

She hunched over the counter with red-rimmed eyes, hands trembling, and her shoulder blades were butterfly-like when racked with sobs, pumping like wings.

“I just can’t take it anymoire,” she cried, jaggedly, and it was about being watched while simultaneously watching over, this curious opticon of prison existence where everyone is assumed guilty and no one is innocent.

“I just can’t take it.”

“I just. Can’t take it.”

“It’s alright, Mags. Let’s go home. I’ll drive.”



depression · mental health

Dark Water

dark waterThe workers in their safety vests surround a hose that emerges from the street like a sandworm; it is bilging sluice, and the workers look like a fluorescent coven as they stand around the vomitus thing, water collecting round their heels.

It is maintenance, this act of sewage, getting the dark water out. And I think about telling stories, what it means. How yesterday I talked to my brother on the phone while sitting in a canyon, and how I put the phone down at one point and just yelled, “Fuuuuuuuck!” to the unblossomed nasturtiums and the crows and the dead and unhearing trees. Just to get it out, the dark water of not having been told ‘I love you’ enough; this useless and impotent exclamation like a bilging hose, the water that collects sometimes around our feet; and I was breathless afterward, realizing myself odd but at one with the whole of human experience.

bipolarity · depression · home · mental health · neighborhood · people

Starlings in the Slipstream

Outside the Store, cowbirds and starlings dot the pavement, scavenging crumbs as they would other birds’ nests, ekeing out existence as robbers and cowards.

The starling was introduced into North America by a courtier of the English language, a patron of the arts who released two of every bird mentioned in Shakespearean language into Central Park as homage to the quill. The starlings proliferated and flew in murmurations across the country, gathering in numbers, thieving nests as they went.

And now they’re on the patio outside where, against better judgement, I toss them shreds of tortilla and watch as they look at me expectantly with varied colors of eyes.

“What do you have for me?”

“Are you my friend?”

And they’ll probably fly away with sated belly to fight a mockingbird—and you don’t fuck with mockingbirds—but they’ll do it anyway, just evolutionary subsistence and existence, the two sometimes being the same.

In the canyon, in the morning, I wait for the woodpecker to announce itself, rapping its head against the eucalyptus; I also watch the crows and wait for the hummingbirds. I’m depressed. I’m at the nadir of my bipolarity and I’m waiting for the lift, which is an exercise in patience, just like watching birds.

I’ve tried to describe this, but words fail, so I throw my tortilla crumbs to thieves and watch their rapid eyes dart as if in some cautious thankfulness.

What is wrong with me? I commune with the crows and the alley cats on my daily walks, hug the plants. I have made friends with the homeless people I meet, crouching down to talk to them, listening to their stories while they wait for sunshine and for the stores to open. My friend Doug—he says—I look better, right? And he gestures to his beard which actually is trimmed smarter than mine, and I give him knucks and we pore over the morning paper.

The other day I found Doug crying, and it wasn’t because of his situation or his friends downtown (which he’s told me in detail about), but because National City is now passing out carts to homeless people so there’s no more necessary thievery of grocery carts downtown, so that starlings of people can stop robbing Vons and Ralph’s of their carriages, and he reads this all in the morning paper. He offers to buy me a steak with his EBT. He is a good man.

I’m depressed. Doug points out the G7 conference on A-1, and I blanch. It’s hard for me to deal in this new world, and someone so used to Orwell, Huxley, DeLillo, and Wallace.

The can collector on 31st offers me a good morning and I’m happy to oblige a return. His life is harder than mine. He asks for a light, and I have some matches from Doug. The guy opens an Altoids can to demonstrate some effeminately-wrapped joints, and I light one for him as he roots around the cannisters. We all need our comfort.

Starlings in the slipstream. Starlings like a daydream. We can all exist and subsist and all at once. Love each other. Be thieves of love and murmurating participants in a bustle of wings. Love, and love.

depression · mental health

Left Wrist

My left wrist has scars because I’m right-handed and have hated myself until recently.

In the middle of a guitar session, I put out a lit cigarette right smack dab on the radial artery. Left a mark, and my friend at work dressed it the next day.

“What happened?”

“Burnt myself cooking,” which wouldn’t have been out of character.

Then I hacked the shit out of my wrist with a chef’s knife; I wanted to see if it’d hurt, and if I could go that way.

The wounds healed, as they always do, but the healing leaves scars and I bear mine, the right hand having, forever, damaged the left.



alcohol · Cayden · depression · family · favorites · home · mental health · neighborhood · parenting · sobriety

Bridge Over Dry Waters

It’s early, the marine layer still a curtaining veneer over the city, when we park the car just shy of the suspension bridge. cablesThe day promises to be hot but, at this hour, the sun hasn’t gained full expression yet. It remains a suggestion of itself, a lazy and featureless chariot, arcing somewhere low and behind us.

Cayde is dressed like an 8 year old wholly unaccustomed to hiking. It’s my urban failing, and arrears are still owed to the campfire gods for Cayde’s lack of trailhead savvy. To this day, kindling is less tinder to him than it is tablet play: Amazon Fire, Amazon Kindle. There are levels unlocked on Minecraft but nothing of greater Promethean practicality. Fires remain unthieved.

Although Cayden’s green, he’s earnest in his preparations. He’s packed some trail mix for the morning outing, which he figures as necessity. The road—the idea of it, at least—is stamped on the cellophane packet. He also carries a thermos of water, heavier than is wieldy. Cayde’s chosen a nylon drawstring knapsack to carry his all collected wares. It’s emblazoned with a smiling Pooh decal and Cayde gets tangled in Winnie’s ropes stumbling out of the car.

“The suspension bridge—awesome, Daddy!” He pokes at the nosepiece of his specs.

The suspension bridge is a hidden urban treasure, off the beaten path only in the sense that it’s hidden over Banker’s Hill dried-up arroyos. It’s nothing out of town, but rather in town, surrounded by established trees and near-century old buildings on Balboa Park’s left-hand side. I thought Cayde may’ve been disappointed, but an adventure’s an adventure and I’m only five days out of the hospital.

Cayde looks like my wife Jenn, more and more, but he presents as me. He wears falsies to approximate my thick-rimmed spectacles, grows his bangs long; he speaks nervously in the dark sometimes wanting only Daddy, Daddy, to share the sheets and talk down the fear.

The current light, the muted heat, is a consequence of the low-lying but evaporative clouds that overhang the mesas. The neighborhood is quiet both here and across the canyon, and the morning jetliners are rare. The skyway commute has not yet gained momentum.

Cayde slams the door of the car, and the jacaranda tree we’ve parked beneath releases a lavender sepal in seeming response. There’s no breeze so it falls both sun-struck and leaded, a straight drop to the hood of the car, where it skates to the asphalt, one flutter before settling among the already accumulated leaf-litter, the purpling of the sidewalk.jacaranda

“Let’s go, Daddy!”

Light lingers behind us and, with foot-traffic at a minimum this time of morning, the suspension bridge is relatively staid. It can be known as the ‘Wiggly Bridge’, an unfortunate though accurate moniker: it’s a 375-foot span suspended by only two steel wires and two concrete piers. The fewer the pediments, the more and uncertain the movement. It’s 70 feet to the bottom of the arroyo. The eucalyptus grows 30 feet above it to either side.

Cayde stops at its base, turns to smile at me. I’m open-carrying a cup of coffee, having not fooled myself with trail-mix. I smile back.

Crossing eastbound are freshly-caffeinated dog-walkers, youth implied in their cotton and nylon ensembles: sweatshirts emblazoned with collegiate block letters, and tear-away pants. They sport unlikely-colored trainers, sockless.

A terrier pulls at the leash. It’s dog-walkers’ first kid, surely, all sorts of big-pawed rambunctiousness and over-eager nose. As with all first kids, it’s unruly, but then again, no one knows how to parent the first time around. The terrier tries to navigate the bridge, stamping its forepaws on the wooden planks, straining against the straps and making the bridge sway slightly. The dog-walkers walk by discussing either HOAs or DAs; I’m projecting acronyms. The terrier pushes a wet nose against my hand and wiggles in presage of the bridge.

Cayden runs to the first pier and instinctively looks down. On a bridgesprucebridge no one glances up to see how close they are to the overhead; instead they look to see how far they are from the ground.

Below, the arroyo basin is an unwelcome sight, littered with green and amber bottles, spent cigarette packs around a sign that proclaims it’s against the law to litter. Should’ve told the kid to look up. Regardless, the litter is like a bed of needles so far as Cayde is concerned. He’s used to alleyways and manicured parks; whatever wild is simply wild, shards of glass like broken dragonflies.

A silver-haired gentleman walks by, westward, and doesn’t even displace the air in passing. He is wispy, shin bones in sharp relief south of his gym shorts, tibial and saphenous veins coursing rice paper legs. The man’s shirt advertises some 5K—he’s sponsored by vitamins—and the shirt is designed to wick moisture away from his body.

Sad Bill wore similar shirts in the hospital, most his time spent in bed half-dressed. The athletic tunics he wore stretched across broad shoulders and suggested an oarsman’s past, these lycra shirts made to expand with both swollen chest and biceps that were the size and approximation of mangoes. His wife had left him after forty years, his house half-evacuated in a slow and figurative fire.

Sad Bill’s Librium sleep moved in catch, drive, and release; blades feathering the water with constancy; dreams in lurch, the relentless slapping of water against the rigger, deltawavesthe repetitive sound of oarlocks carrying him through a sea of troublesome delta waves. Always asleep, always sad, sad Sad Bill.

The silver-haired man brushes past, out on his morning constitution. He’s most likely a resident of the deep canyon, where the houses are singular and identifiable, trophies of successful careers hidden in the groves of mellaleuca. The canyon is called Arroyo Canyon, a near redundancy when translated, a dry riverbed so dry as to feature only drought-tolerant plants, lantana and buddleia, woody things shot through with bright flashes of color.

Cayden runs a spell, then hopscotches the bridge’s planks.

Silver Man disappears into the neighborhood behind us having crossed the bridge opposite the dog-walkers. His house is maybe a concrete and stucco construct, an Irving Gill affair; I imagine a pea gravel driveway, cabinets full of Heath ceramic; pantries of wheat germ and wormy quinoa; a labial orchid in every room.

His nylon breaker swishes and his knees knock in determined retreat.

“Hold up, Kid.”

Cayde sways on the newly vacant bridge and looks back.

“There’s a trail down there, Daddy.”

“We have to get across the bridge, first.”

There are actually bridges beyond bridges. The closest one, within our vista, is a steel-trussed affair with an ellipsis of arches. And, from its concrete deck, girded with both wrought and cast iron rails, there is promise of yet more views, more bridges, most prominently the sinuous arc of Coronado floating atop massive concrete pylons over the bay. We can’t see that far, however, since the mesas overlap in a shingled manner and perspective is lost in the avenues.

“We can get down there from across the bridge, right?” Cayde looks at me with a face that belies his age. His forehead, like his mother’s, is unfurrowed, stretched tight on his skull, his eyes the expressive things, brown, with the irises inordinately large and almost aqueous.

I figure the Silver Man emerged from somewhere up the gully, and certainly the accumulated litter at bridge’s bottom didn’t create itself. Also, in the distance down below is the antemeredial sound of a landscaper’s hedge-trimmer, a morning mosquito in its persistent nuisance. There has to be a way down.ciglitter

“Sure, Kid. I’m sure there is.”

Cayde jabs at his glasses again and rearranges his knapsack straps into greater knotsbefore happily trouncing down the bridge.

In repudiation of the Boy Scout motto, meaning preparedness is not my strong suit, my coffee cup has no lid, and my shoes are new and suede. I just wanted to take the kid to the bridge and wasn’t expecting a tromp into the underbrush. ‘Hike’ was a term to get us both out of bed. I never could sleep like Sad Bill, but I’m expert at staying under the covers.

“Here’s some Temezepam,” the nurse said at midnight, ripping the Velcro of the sphegnometer loose from my bicep. “You’re a bit tense—blood pressure’s a little high.”

I was in jeans, no shirt, restless and clammy. Didn’t anyone else notice that the clock hummed, that if you concentrated on it’s incessant buzz, you could tell its batteries were most likely awry, that there was a wasteful arc of electricity seeking a bent contact point somewhere? Blackened copper, blue spark–anyone could hear this.

Pills and tray (4)I accepted the pill, a small thing in a corrugated paper cup. Temezepam, benzodiazepine, Prozac: all these ‘Z’s but no sleep. The hospital was, despite the buzzing clock, quiet.

It used to be that I dreamt of insomnia, that I would wake up tired, not having ever crossed bridge into meaningful slumber. Eventually insomnia dispensed with the subterfuge, and it was no longer that I dreamt of sleeplessness; I was instead wide-awake, never dreaming.instead. How often I’d hear the birds change shifts, the pauraque and mockingbirds’ din fading into the crepuscular murmur of dove-song, the morning never a new thing, but rather an insistent malcontent repeating its tiresome complaint of the night, again and again and again, glaring the windows, never satisfied.

I pressed my eyes to see stars. The door clicked shut quietly, Sad Bill oared magnificently to somewhere far and away from shore, flipping his pillow and resettling into the bedsheets.

“What are these locks, Daddy?” The bridge cables are decorated with promise locks, initialed locks left there by young lovers symbolically fastening their love into place. The bridge, precipitous and suspended, becomes a place where names linger defiantly in the air over threat of canyon-fall.

“There’s a bridge in France, Cayde…,” I begin explaining. I think of elaborating on the Ponts de Arts, the story of the locks. Then I remember all the promise locks had been removed from the Ponts after its parapet had fallen beneath the collective weight of symbology. I say simply, “The locks mean people love each other. They’re like wedding rings you don’t wear.”o-PONTS-DES-ARTS-facebook.jpg


This is a sufficient explanantion. Cayde jumps twice on the planks.

“You almost kissed Mommy here.”

“You’re right, Cayde. Good memory.” It’s part of our family’s history, the long ago tender nights and places.

It had been our first date and someone’s lips grazed someone’s neck. I forget who breathed in whose pulse, just that there were warm coats and upturned collars and the same eucalyptus trees Cayde and I were currently regarding, only moon-illumined. The skyway had been empty and fingers brushed shyly; Jenn and I, we froze warmly in suspense.

“If you didn’t have a wife, would you fuck me in that supply closet?” Janet whispered, and she pointed with her eyes to an auxiliary room just left of Group Conference. The front desk nurses were bored at their station, and the vitals monitors were white and plastic and parked in current disuse in the hallway. It was a time of night marked by infrequent speech, the dry-erase board featuring a dead and alcoholic idiom, the coffee table littered with crosswords and stupid coloring books, the NY Times.

There was a water dispenser with floating lemon slices.

I looked straight ahead, and gaped, once, grunion-like and stupefied, then exhaled. I pulled Janet into my shoulder and kissed the part of her hair, then rested my temple against the crown of her head.

“That’s not allowed,” said the nurse, shaking her head. “Not allowed,” while the vitals machines sat continually plastic.

“Janet, you go to your room, I’ll go to mine. Walk slow.” We excused ourselves from the Common Room and this was not a romance. We were due for pills in an hour, it couldn’t have been a romance, though I liked, intensely, the smell of her hair, her particular and Roman nose.

Cayde jumps two more paces and the bridge obligingly swings. Winnie the Pooh is so confused on Cayde’s back; the one decaled eye is almost pleading help. Cayde sits and swings his legs over the gully, as if debating a playground slide.

“Love you, Daddy,” which is what Cayde says when fine and perfect and otherwise excited. He wears Adidas, actively untangles himself from his bag and takes from the thermos, pumping his legs over the arroyo.

“Love you, too, Kid,” my coffee going cold.

The marine layer is burning off, and there are mosquitoes in the evaporation, not just the mosquitoes of leaf-blowers down below, but real and annoying things. I sit down next to Cayde and pick a gnat out of my coffee.00MOSQUITOSPECIES-master768

“We can go down there, if you want,” I say.

Cayden takes a draw from the thermos, hands it to me, and wipes his mouth.


The doctor palpated my lower left. He nodded approvingly.

“Yes, yes.” He adjusted my covering, examined my collar.

“Some spidering—this should fade,” he remarked, peering down through bifocals while tracing the angiomas, like brachia, which branched upward out the sternum.

He patted my shoulder.

“You’re good.” I readjusted on the crinkly paper.

“I’m good?”

He nodded.

I’m in fucking detox.

He said again, “You’re good, enzymes are fine.”

Enzymes break down things, so my negatives are in a positive.

“Ok…,” I said, readjusting the neckline of my gown.

“It’s early—go have breakfast,” and the physician’s face is a cherubic and pink marshmallow, a Hostess cake. There were the floating wafts of sweetened coffee which informed the otherwise aspirin hallways; bitterness faded, like the scent of disinfectants, and I held my gown in place while leaving the examination room.shutterstock_540202960

Cayde is already halfway down the hill, scooting on his bottom. Poor Winnie is getting dust in his eye, and goddamn why did I wear my new shoes. I follow suit, holding my coffee cup overhead and displacing the dirt with my heels on a slide to the river floor. I land on my feet and look up. The bridge is above us, a now silhouetted thing, sun shining through the slats. We’re among the broken glass and trailers of volunteer grass. ‘No Littering’ the signs says again, just closer, and there are Pall Malls in the crabweeds.

“Where, to, Kid?” I point with my deftly unspilt coffee: “Left?” Cayde has dirt all up his back.

He turns and smiles at me, aware that, with his dusty seat, we are now a plurality of messes. I cock an eyebrow.

“No,” he says. “Right,” with undue emphasis; and he scrambles off to the nearest and felled log to pretend Lord of the Flies.

“You think of trying sobriety instead?” Dr. Morrow asked, sighing over my petition for antidepressants, the line he may or may not fill out on Box 2. His key fob sports a BMW insignia and why didn’t he put the keys into his pocket. You put the keys in your pocket. It’s six a.m. You put the keys in your pocket at 6 a.m. when wresting patients from their beds, fuck you and please.


He double-clicked his pen.BMW_Key_Fob_Emblem_replacement_04

“It’s a long-standing joke, Dr. In my family runs anxiety, depression, OCD, manic depression, dementia…”

He double clicked again.

“Rimshot, Dr.,” and I take comedic pause, “Longevity, too.” I’m very funny.

He sighed and puts an ‘X’ in the box. The morning’s too short for long suffering, especially if you have a tee time and no gallows sense of humor.

“They’ll start you on Lexapro by the afternoon.” He has a bad haircut considering his means, and he gathered his keys in a fashioned swipe.

Replay: he grabs his keys between middle and (un-ringed) ring finger, the BMW pendant scraping the desk like a dog dragging its piles; I say, “Have a good one,” before he can. My nicety is non-tax reductible, and Dr. Morrow clicked before saying anything, words taken out of his mouth. He finally nodded agreement, and left.

“Yes, yes. Uhh. Just try not drinking so much.” Click-click. It’s so easy. Like a Par 3.

And he walked out, 6:07 before coffee was available, and I rejoin Sad Bill back in the room.

The hedge-trimmer, it turns out, is manned by someone in orange and apiarist gear, white netting draped over the face as protection. The plumbago is innocent, but gets the Jacobin treatment anyway, blue-lavender blossoms falling away in spent heads, and there’s pea-gravel as expected.

A Prius replaces the Saab and I’m envious of carports. Such a nice house.

The squared hedges release buggy things, paper and triangular moths, chartreuse grasshoppers. The moths are yellow-white and choppy fliers in the mid-morning sun.

mothCayde picks up sticks and beats at things, his knapsack sagging beneath the weight of the thermos. There’s an enviable bounce to his step, incongruent like the exodus of moths. He is growing up too fast, still the child in him is on full display; were that I could reclaim that myself, the noontime of youth, this could all be different.


It is now officially hot. Didn’t take long. Cayden readjusts the knapsack for show and I instinctively know I’ll soon be handed the thermos. Kids are easy and too quick to release their burdens.

“How would you describe this?” Peg asked from her therapist’s chair.

I rotated my cup of coffee counter-clockwise, sitting in a pantomime of ease while looking down at the carpet. The carpet had Thracian design, burgundy and blue, the colors—and I remember this from my art school days—you layer to create depth and shadow. There were curlicues of flowers and forest-colored accentsthracian

“This?” I asked. She nodded.

Behind her are books. I don’t remember how the room was lit, what light source, if there was an overhead fixture or a lamp; the room was always half-illumined with a peek of sunshine and garden shining through a partially-drawn curtain.

“This,” I sighed. I tap the rim of my mug. “This, this, this,” I trailed off.

I chose to describe a clock, which was mounted in my parents’ peach-colored kitchen. It was a kitsch owl-themed thing, a plastic owl with a clock-belly and orange glinty eyes. There were plastic owlets on a plastic branch, the whole chotchke shaped much like the state of Kentucky, with unreliable clock hands and a yellowed clock face.

“I remember these things, suddenly. And then think how long ago that was.” I readjusted my posture, and resumed talking with my hands.

“I remember these things, or else get suddenly aware of how fast the boys are growing up, and everything I think of becomes painful. Like I’m tearing off calendar pages and they instantly burst into flames and fly past me and I can’t stop it.

“I get nostalgic.”

“But nostalgia’s sweet, right?” Peg said, nodding assuagingly, smiling.

“No. The Latin. Means: pain of remembrance. Nostalgia’s being fucking homesick in your head and I feel it all the goddamn time. I get nostalgic for an hour ago.”nostalgia


As expected, Cayden hands me the big orange thermos.

“Hold this, Daddy.”

I am a purse. We pause in front of a wooden sign that welcomes us to the neighborhood—Arroyo Canyon. Again that tautology—and we’re just as quickly unwelcomed by the list of rules regarding trespassing, parking, where you’re not supposed to walk. A butterfly lights on the sign, a six-legged postcard of an insect. The wooden sign is carved in bas relief and the butterfly navigates its surfaces effortlessly with flitting wings. Butterflies have it easy. The hedge-trimmer is busy manicuring the hedges in shallow cuts and the sun is increasingly warm.

“Can I ask you something?” I say leaning over the front desk, meeting eyes with the head nurse before looking conspiratorially sideways. I had just helped my Roberto with his paperwork and was getting used to this place. There were coins of cucumber in the water dispenser, and—in bare feet—this was feeling more and more like a hotel.

She looked up, smiling, and tilted her head to the left, a suggested ‘yes’.

“Do you have my bloodwork on file?” She looked behind her at the other attendants working their stations, then returned to her keyboard. She held up a finger and clicked through a few screens. She adjusted the monitor toward me.

Proteins, globulins, Hg, potassium, sugars, Fe. I scanned the list. Not great on the pancreatic numbers, but I hadn’t eaten for two days when the phlebotomist stuck me. Good proteins ok, inflammatory proteins as expected, iron fine. Cholesterol alright, lipids normal.knorris_2

“Thanks, Sister,” I said, and she turned the monitor back to its appropriate position, tucked a tendril of hair behind her ear and continued working.

What the hell am I doing here? What the fuck am I doing here? I just called the nurse Sister.

I padded off in bare feet and, expectedly, Sad Bill was asleep in bed, his running shoes inexplicably on, and the curtains drawn.

I sat upright in bed and crossed my arms, glanced at the clock and watched only the second hand click; I tapped the flesh of my upper left arm with the fingers of my right hand, re-crossed my ankles and looked to the ceiling. I imagined my lipids unemulsified in the blood, yellow capsules like iu’s of Vitamin E swimming in capillaries, amoeboid and moving, moving in circulation, my heart a fleshy muscle flapping stupidly and sending beads of amber down their uncertain avenues. This is how you go to sleep.

Roberto had said I looked smart as he proffered me a pen; I helped him with his information, the triplicate forms, while I wore glasses and we manned the Group Table. There were pink papers, yellow ones, and white ones.

“Sign this here,” I pointed.

“And here.”

“Your initials in this box. There—finito.”

We sat up simultaneously when all paperwork was done.

“Thanks, Man!” Roberto beamed as we shuffled the rainbow of paper into a neat pile.

I didn’t know what to do—I gave him a hug. He had briefly died on Fentanyl and needed a halfway-house.

‘It’s hard coming back to life,’ either one of us could’ve said as I took off my glasses.

“Really, thanks, Man.” I waved a whatever wrist, squeezed the bridge of my nose and pushed back my chair.

“’S cool, my friend,” and we bumped fists as I went to go find Janet.

The second house Cayde and I come across has a running and penniless fountain, three peach and stuccoed stories, and plotted lavender surrounding the perimeter. Burgundy dracaenas mark the doorways where alabaster lions could easily have perched.

“Wow!” Cayden remarks, and he pauses with his stick because the lavender is full of bees. There’s an actual arcade running the side of the house, porticoes and flying buttresses; I point and explain the buttresses—the physics in the exposed wood—and any minute I expect a hipsome Lady Godiva to walk out the house, stretching yawningly, long and red hair shielding crème-colored breasts, in desperate need of a horse. This is a house where you recline naked, a Titian half-shell existence, no need for clothes. The house is sealed off, and the fountain runs its circulated course.

“The bees, Daddy.”

“What about them, Dude?”

He prods a lavender bush, and the bees buzz their discontent.

I feel sorry for the bees. Cayden just shortened their lives. Bees lack regenerative protein, so their lives are measured by distance, not days. They die skinny and used up. The more they fly, the faster they die.deadbee

“Don’t bother them, Cayde. Flowers.”

This is a strange sentence; I’m connecting dots in my head while voicing nothing of a bridge. Lady Godiva never makes an appearance, and the hollow porticoes speak of absence. Three stories, all peach-stuccoed.


Nervous Luke had his own horse—an aluminum one—which he was mandated to use when navigating the hallways. He’s a ‘fall risk.’ On the nurse’s charts this is signified by an ‘F’ and a circle. Nervous Luke would sit in the Group Room when most everyone had gone to bed. He hated his walker—embarassed by it—but he had passed out violently drunk before being admitted, ingloriously smacking the soft of his neck on the porcelain lip of the tub. He bruised the tender spot where his brain stem was busy that night being drowned. Double blackout. The doctors, being cautious, gave him a walker. They worried that he might experience delayed seizures else throw an undetected clot. It can be a long way to the floor, after all, or, when brains are involved, a short journey. Better safe than dead.

He hated being here, hated having to scoot around manacled to something so convalescent, so beyond his obviously young age. He only came out at night, outside of watching eyes, always in socked feet. He shuffled past the nurses with his aluminum horse, but then dragged it clatteringly behind him when corners were turned, hitching it, always, to his post-meridian post in the Group Room. hosp

“So long as I keep it near me,” he shrugged, gesturing to his walker while Janet, Luke, and I alone inhabited the Group Room. It was Nighttime Teatime, packets of decaffeinated oolong and mint fanned out on the table, a carafe of hot water at easy reach. Cottonballs soaked in essential oils sat in Dixie cups as some semblance of potpourri, and I’d taken to dabbing my moustache with the puffs, chloroforming some relaxation. A tinted window partitioned off the Nurse’s Station and silhouettes behind the amber glass moved in shadowy motion, the blue of computer screens occasionally eclipsed by the shuffling of files and clipboards.

I was elbows with Janet and we were trying to convince Nervous Luke to come down for meals, at least. He still had sandwiches routinely dropped of at his door, room service of sorts else something more akin to a thrice-daily delivery of bread and water. His room had no view, so he was inclined to think the latter; nurses have keys like jailors and, considering his sheepish view of himself, his nocturnal walks of shame, I didn’t blame him.

“We’re all in here for the same reason,” Janet said. She’d occasionally rouche the cuffs of her three-quarter sleeved cardigan, yellow, and replace her arm casually against mine. I was busy scratching away at some writings. The head nurse had allowed me earlier access to the counselor’s office, locking me in surreptitiously so I could print out some pieces I’d been working on. This wasn’t allowed, and she made sure to usher me out before the doctors hit the floor for rounds. I was beginning to think of her more like a concierge than an RN.

“’S true, Friend,” I said, marking up some margins, Janet and I suddenly Good Cop and Good Cop. None of us were having tea.

Luke fingered the fuzz of his upper lip, a blond and anemic moustache, and explained the extent of his champagne evenings.

“It got to where I couldn’t eat,” he said. In the medical manuals, it’s said that alcoholism is eventually a nutritional disease. I glanced up over my bifocals.

“I’ve written about that, Luke.” I shuffled my papers and found a piece I’d penned about being only occasionally hungry, this while always maintaining a constant thirst. I began reading.

Janet was acting funny. She had received permission to lotion this evening, these permissions and substances that must be granted, and she was fastidiously applying her ablutions. I read to Luke and Janet rouched her sleeves again to the elbows, quietly laughing to herself. She dabbed my exposed knee with a dot of moisturizer and began rubbing it clockwise into my skin with one finger. I kept reading, trying hard to keep eyes trained on Luke else the computer printout.

“These meds are making me feel weird,” Janet announced, and she excused herself momentarily to punch at the Group Room console. “What are we on again?” she called out from the keyboard.8325librium

“Librium, Lady. Unless you’re on Atavan, but that’s more for the DT cases.”

Luke ran his fingers through his hair and he reminded me very much of my good friend Dennis. I at once felt fraternal.

“Come to lunch tomorrow, Luke. Please.”

Luke turned his head to the side, then looked down at his hands.

“How do you spell librium?” Janet queried from across the room, pecking at the keys.

“L-i-b-r-i-u-m. Librium,” I repeated, as if winning the Sharp Mesa Verde Spelling Bee.

“Maybe I will,” Luke finally said. “I just gotta bring this goddamn thing with me,” he cursed, nodding sidelong to his walker. “Else the nurses will have a fit.”

Janet returned to the chair next to me.

“I knew it,” she announced.

I wasn’t completely done reading, so set to finish while Janet slid a paper from my portfolio, silently turning it over. She stole my pen, wrote something, then pushed it back into my stack.

Luke decided to go to bed. Tea Time was almost over anyway, the carafe now lukewarm. I glanced over at Janet with a smirk.

“I think I know what you found out?” I nervously laughed, feeling suddenly flush.

Side effects may include altered sex drive.

 I shuffled my writings back into their binder. The one turned-over paper read, “I’m pierced” and it was signed with a heart.

Chemicals do strange, sometimes libidinal, things. Janet had been right. We were all in here for the same reason. piercingChemicals had a definite way with us.

The third house is maybe where Silver Man lives. It’s a Cubist affair with punched up windows, minimal, without the Villa plantings. A lone palm tree acts as sundial, its shadow having a broad canvas to work on: a white and near-featureless wall, west-facing. There are low-lying shrubs otherwise, flowerless and empty of bees. I am more impressed with this house than Cayden is. I appreciate its restraint, the hedges of Japanese boxwood and the asymmetrical slats for windows. The light inside must be focused and well thought out, why I imagine Silver Man has a collection of orchids punctuating his living spaces, phaelenopses on small tables. I further imagine there is a wristwatch perpendicular to bedside reading material, and a water-rower machine on the second-floor. Surely there are soya granules in the larder, and blueberries next to plums next to celery root in the crisper.

He practices self-Tantra in front of a full-length mirror, cleanses his septal chakras. His expired wedding ring sits in a lower drawer and his cutlery has bamboo handles.

“What are you thinking, Daddy?”

“Oh, nothing, Kid.”

I wonder what Cayde thinks; I wonder what anyone thinks. It’s not every day you suddenly disappear. Cayde bustles down the path, Winnie the Pooh still sagging beneath the beltline. I had checked out, checked myself in. It was one bridge crossed, but there were multiplicities of them stringing canyons. It was Luke embarrassed by his aluminum horse and wanting two legs back. It was Sad Bill sad trying to row his skiff to shore. It was me drinking six pints in quick succession at ten o’clock in the morning hoping that at least one would hit its mark; that one would banish this oppressive and governing mortality; that one would finally correct the misaligned chemicals and quell the constant feeling of simultaneous explosion and implosion.

“What happens if you feel you can’t make it another day?” Peg asked from her leather chair.

“I’ll still be there the next day.”

“So, what if there are five days?”

“I hate to think.”

“But you can get through this.”


“Then get through it first.” brain fire

On the last day before I disappeared, I hunkered behind the mini-van parked in the driveway while waiting for my wife to get off a conference call. I was done. Done done done. And Cayde, from his couch-perch inside—I didn’t think he knew I was there—hit the panic button on the van’s key, driving me, startled, from my roost.

I met him at the back door. “Why’d you do that, Dude?” my voice quavering. He just shrugged and walked away while I guiltily retreated into the bathroom to brush my teeth. I gripped the washbasin sink and shook, first a tremor, then a full on body-quake.

“No, no, no. Please no.” I slipped my perch and had to sit on the tiles. I held up my hands, palms down, and assessed their inability to quit a bird-like shaking. I sat shivering for ten minutes, my foot planted against the door to bar all entry. I tried not to hyperventilate, but was breathing quick, shallow breaths.

“You okay, Thom?” my wife asked from behind the door.

“Fine,” I managed. “I’m fine.”

Fine, however, is not exploding into pieces, pieces hastening to the floor in leaded condense.

“I’m fine.”

Sometimes you become a shell of yourself. Sometimes that shell, once husked quickly fossilizes into weight before having completely separated from the soft parts. You are left swimming in rock, stuck to an unshed skeleton.

“Rock bottom,” I said when the check-in nurse prodded at my various edemas, my swollen feet. She registered my blood pressure as concerning. I was ashamed. I couldn’t get through it; I couldn’t get through the five days; it hurt too much, and no one likes having fat ankles. I swam in rock. fossil-fossil

We crunch through another pea gravel driveway in the dry gulley, me and Cayde, and Cayde stops in front of a lantana hedge to look at bees again. He’s giddy having this adventure with his dad.

He peers like a scientist at a worker deftly navigating the petals of lantana’s impossibly small flowers, collecting pollen on the hair of its legs. Cayde’s bangs fall into his right eye, which he closes instinctively. Makes him look more studious, as if scrutinizing the world through a magnifying glass. He grips the drawstrings of his Winnie the Pooh rucksack at the shoulders, feet planted firmly in the gravel. He follows the bee’s peripatetic buzzing with the whole of his head, neck swiveling comically as the bee dances flower to flower.

“It’s amazing to think, Daddy, that something so small is helping the world a million.” I’m not sure what Cayde means by ‘million’, but I get his drift, this boyhood satori of his. He looks skyward as the bee floats off, pollen-laden and hive-bound.

Cayden’s neck is long like mine, and, with head tilted back, he looks somehow more adult. I remember when he was two, when I explained the Children’s Moon to him from our shared vantage point in the backyard fort. It was the only moon he was awake to see childrens-moon-1024x768then, a white and limnal disc in chambray sky. I offered him this, the proxy moon, when he was two, its nighttime counterpart a year later; I gave him the moon done up in chalk and silver.

Cayde loses the bee in the burgeoning sun and squints up at me. His right eye is still closed, bangs insouciantly caught in his lashes. He’s the love of my life, there among the bees and pea gravel, in front of a house with unknown residents.

He’s the love of my life. I feel nothing.nothing

My bridge is only halfway crossed at this point, toxins having evacuated enough room for the nothingness to otherwise settle in. It’s to be expected. The serotonin is gone from my system, a string of chemical pearls unstrung. There will be thirty more days of this leadenness, time to write everything down in absence of feeling, words as proxy for actual emotion. There will be thirty more days, minimum, before the silver light comes back on.

Sad Bill greeted me when I threw my hastily packed rucksack on the hospital bed. The room was Antarctic cold. I espied the thin blankets and sighed. It was going to be a long night. I wanted pills, pabulums of sleep.

“Was just napping,” Sad Bill remarked with a yawn.

“Sorry,” I offered, an apology that he waved off with one hand while stifling his yawn with the other.

“No, no, no. ‘S almost dinner anyways.” Sad Bill cleared his throat of sleep and rubbed the back of his close-cropped head. He widened his eyes to rid them of slumber. “You’re fine.”

I looked around, taking inventory of the drawers and cabinets. I felt a supreme need to put everything away. It was the only measure of control I had remaining.

Sad Bill pushed himself off his bed—he had been sleeping atop the blanket—and arched his back. He was maybe sixty, sixty-five, but still exuded a young man’s athleticism, a purposeful manner of movement. I wondered what was locked into his muscle memory and decided he had been a rower, crew. Probably the coxswain.

“What’re you in for?” he asked slow, a Southern accent detectable, emphasis on the ‘h’: ‘hwut’re you in for?’

I searched for an answer.

He waved again. “I’m kidding. People round here want your diagnosis like it’s a jail sentence. You don’t have to answer.”

“I’m depressed.”

Sad Bill looked at me. You don’t check into detox because you’re sad, no matter the barrel you’re scraping.

Sad Bill started toward the door, turned and said, “Me? I was married.”

He closed the door behind him quietly.

“Daddy, I’m hungry,” Cayde says. I sweep the bangs out of his eyes and cup the back of his head.

“I’m sure, Kid.” I point up the path. “This’ll take us back into the neighborhood. We can get some breakfast at Jimmy Carter’s, then get home to Mama. Sound good?”

Cayde nods in agreement and skips up the gully. I follow behind with my erstwhile cup of coffee. I’m drinking coffee these days alcoholically, cup after cup as if searching for something at mug’s bottom. There are these free-floating cravings, which find traction behind my eyeballs, between my shoulder blades. I hold hot coffee in my mouth to quell the keening sensation at the back of my throat. More, more, more; more of something. vagus eyeballs to palate to shoulder blades is a straight line, vague and Vagus. My gut communicates incessantly—naggingly—with my brain, and I wish for a disconnect, a dropped call. I resignedly finish my coffee and follow Cayde up the trail.

We empty out into Mission Hills, a new neighborhood west of the bridge. The avenues here have the same names as the avenues east of the arroyo, back in Banker’s Hill—they just lie differently with slightly different orientation. The imaginary lines connecting Third from Third, Redwood from Redwood, are crooked things, some civil engineer’s ricochet. It confuses Cayden. He doesn’t know where he is in space and harbors, meanwhile, a growing mistrust of street signs.

“Are we lost, Daddy?”

I point left and up a hill. “Not exactly. We have to go that way. We went downhill, now we have to go back up.”

Before he can complain, I offer Cayden the thermos and he takes a long draw. Wiping his mouth, he plunks down on someone’s front lawn and roots through Winnie the Pooh in search of the trail mix. A cat twitches its tail from the nearby porch: absolute suburban reproach.

“Don’t set up base camp, Kid. This ain’t Everest.” Still I allow him a few minutes to finish his snack. I wish I had a canteen to offer, make Cayde feel more the scout. I could maybe give him a merit badge, lend him a neckerchief slide emblazoned with our initials. We are our own little troupe.

When finished, Cayde crinkles the cellophane packet and jams it back into his bag. He throws the last raisin at the cat, hoists himself up, and dusts errant grass off the seat of his pants.

“Ok, Daddy. Ready.” We begin our uphill march.

The nurse began to draw an ‘F’ on my chart.f

“What’s that mean?” I asked while the blood pressure cuff mechanically constricted my left bicep. The vitals machine ran through a series of numbers, looking to land on my particular metrics.

Nurse Richard paused. “Fall risk,” he said, meeting my eyes. “You said you was falling.”

“No, no—I said I felt like I was falling upwards,” I corrected. “Upwards—I mean the Librium has me floaty. I’m fine.” My fault for having used picturesque language. There’s no room for poetry in the detox ward.

Nurse Richard looked down, slowly scratching the ‘F’ off the clipboard, then looked up, double-checking my eyes before setting the pen down.

“Alright, Brother. Just tell me if you get too dizzy, a’ight?” He shifted in his stool, ripping the cuff off my arm once the vitals machine had finished its lottery.

“154 over 89.” He punched the numbers into the machine’s computer.

“What do I win?”

“Klonopin. Maybe Ativan. I’ll hafta check with Dr. Morrow in the morning.” Replacing the cuff, he said, “Meantime, Dude, I get you some more Librium. It’s your first night—you gonna need it.” I liked Nurse Richard. Almost as much as the Librium.

librium“Cool. Thanks.”

Nurse Richard weightily pushed himself off the stool and offered me knucks. He was a good 250, thick in the paunch.

“You’re good, Brother. I take care of you. I’ll getchoo that Librium.”

Librium is a benzodiazepine, cousin to Xanax. It’s an anti-anxiety med and straight avenue to Nod. It’s used clinically to curb acute alcohol withdrawal, sometimes paradoxically. Librium, after all, doesn’t agree with all chemistries—it can induce seizures, amnesia, paranoia as readily can two fifths of vodka given the right conditions. Librium’s also addictive, further paradox of detox. You have to hook yourself on a drug to get off another.

Michael in 324 was on suboxone to taper his fentanyl addiction. Nurse Richard had the unpleasantry of both catheterizing and irrigating Michael at 2 a.m. one night when Michael strained impotently at the toilet, unable to rid his body of junk. Nurse Richard dubbed him ‘Elvis’, the sardonic kind of shit he came up with when pinching off colostomy bags.

Sandy in 332 was on Lorezapam to calm the shakes; her chart dictated QID electrolytes and Nurse Richard meanwhile played Gunga Dinn throughout the day dropping off pitchers of water at her bedside. ‘Gotta get them numbers up, Sister.’ Sandy’s low blood pressure had earned her an ‘F’.

I was on a slow taper of chlordiazepoxide, an elevator forever creeping upward through an unspecified tower of floors. I never quite touched the ceiling, and the doors never opened to any penthouse; but for my entire stay, it was as if my ghost was in perpetual levitation, hovering always two inches above my skin. I gave Nurse Richard nothing to worry about. I was complacently high in the rerouting of my lows, the paradox of regaining sea level.ob_aa78c0_buy-librium-25-mg-medication-online


Cayde and I crest the uphill. We have the momentary elation of having made our suburban summit, and the ocean is visible in between buildings far and to the south. The Coronado Bridge gleams its particular shade of blue while curving out of view, its girders bolted to massive caissons, which, like concrete islands, rise defiantly out of the Bay.

“Are we there yet?” Cayde asks, the eternal question.

“Almost, Kid.”

The novelty of the hike is wearing off for Cayden and, despite medications to the contrary, I feel a slight rise in anxiety. Things are wearing off for the both of us. I’d like to be home, but I’m hoping Cayde doesn’t. Not yet at least.

I’d planned this urban hike in anhedonic flatness, the Librium having ceased its effect upon Odysseal return home. There were nights I lied awake next to Jenny in bed, my hand resting on the small of her back. I could almost sense through my fingertips the chemicals that coursed correct and aligned beneath her bedclothes, beneath her skin, the rivers carrying in their current the necessary salts and lymph. I’d told Jenn in the hospital I didn’t want to fucking be sober—those words—though I’d willingly checked myself in. Truth is I didn’t want to feel the anhedonia upon my return home, that unbearable joylessness sure to replace whatever numbness I could otherwise muster imbibing, lotus-eating, sleeping chemical sleep.

I was a practiced lotus-eater. The flowers had just become toxic.1-YdOxSE-M5EkCSK8cWj2l6A

Cayden had to have noticed. He’s Daddy’s Boy. I was the first to hold him in the hospital; I’m always the last to kiss him goodnight. I spent every waking day with him until, suddenly, I didn’t. I disappeared. I promised return in a few days, but disappeared regardless. Upon my return Cayde held me tight round the waist and I stooped to bury my nose in his boyish tangles. He cried, assuring me it was because he was so happy to see me. I believed him to a certain degree while I kissed his head and held him close, but not every spirit is a blithe spirit—there’s always a measure of disquiet when seeing a ghost. I imagined, in the doorway of our house, that Cayde hugged me, and right through me.

“We’ll cross over the bridge to get back to the car,” I tell Cayde. It’s lucky we left early. It’s now burgeoning on insufferably hot and neither one of us does well in the heat.

“Ok, Daddy.” He readjusts his knapsack and punches the nosepiece of his glasses with his thumb. He hasn’t complained about the sun, which has since burned through the marine layer, but I still anxiously await his first grumbles, any proof that this hike was a failure, that I’d somehow lost a piece of my dadness in the hospital. I worry my exit papers bear incomplete signature, that in between Sad Bill’s melancholic contagions and Janet’s Librium-fueled advances, I’m in some way permanently checked into Mesa Verde, the now ghost of room 323.

Cayde doesn’t complain, though. On level ground he takes to skipping again, his shadow stuck to blue sneakers. I relish his joy best I can, try to muster my own. I’m at least more comfortable in this neighborhood with its more homogenous dwellings. Unlike the vanity homes that island the arroyo, the neighborhood bungalows are predictable; they most likely contain predictable people as well.

The houses are ranch-style, Mission, Craftsman—early century affairs like our own back home. Most have gables else awnings overhanging the front doors. This pleases me: I’ve always like recessed entries. They provide once-remove from the street and its peripatetic traffic. How better to hide from the outside world then to lengthen the distance to one’s front door? It’s the same as pouring a pint, same as lengthening the distance between two people through practiced placement of a bottle. It’s akin to opening the hatch while closing a door.

I study Cayden as he trounces ahead of me, legs having to work twice as quick as mine in traversing the cross-streets. He has a boyish flounce still, though his limbs are coming into their own and will soon slow to match mine. Meanwhile, Winnie the Pooh comically vanguards Cayde’s youth, bearishly keeping his innocence though—of recent—Cayde’s questions have taken a different timbre, more mature. I can handle the questions. I can even bear the clumsy advancement of his thickening limbs, the pre-adolescent curling of his hair, but—more and more—I wish to suspend Cayde’s boyhood as if in amber. I’d like to to keep him golden, shining like his bangs today in the mid-morning sun.

I sat in my hospital bed regretting what I’d said to Jenn that morning. That I didn’t want to fucking be sober. We had sat in the courtyard on a bench next to the penniless180s fountain, the geometric fountain with its recycled water and white noise. It was a hands folded visit, though secretly we were both pawing the air as if testing the elements, deciphering the wind’s direction and the air’s particular viscosity. Still, we had a practiced geometry, and our bodies were touching in align, shoulder to knee, and again recombining at the feet. ‘I don’t want to fucking be sober’ was my way of saying, ‘I can handle this.’ The fountain with its lack of currency, the plastic wristband I wore, said otherwise. But it’s like the song says, before I die I want to make one lie come true.”

Jenn may have looked crestfallen as I expressed my great ambivalence; I didn’t check to see. I instead felt our bodies touch as once they did the night we almost kissed on the suspension bridge. I’ve since securely fastened my padlock to the bridge’s cable, figuratively stenciled our initials, but bridgefall is always the threat. Cables can snap and pediments can fall.

Sad Bill was asleep. Before retiring to his pillow he had the recited the means of his divorce, a hollow story really, nothing more than a verbal shrug. Marriages are sometimes broken with an insipid snap, and his had bowed like a wet twig well before its impotent surrender. His wife had simply moved out, no explanation. Forty years of marriage, more than half spent speaking the language of ghosts. No wonder he was practiced at sleeping.

Bill never snored, so reading was easy. I had a copy of Cheever’s Falconer cracked, the side lamp on. The curtains were always closed out of respect for Sad Bill’s ceaseless slumber, which seemed somehow fitting besides. Junk up in the dark, get clean in the dark. Emerge in the morning, walk out those doors, shiny and new.

I stopped at a passage on page twenty-five: “I find it difficult to imagine cleanliness. I can claim to imagine this, but it would be false. It would be as though I had claimed to reinstall myself in some afternoon of youth.”

 Christ. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to fucking be sober, I thought—it was maybe that I couldn’t. Sobriety seemed an imaginary thing, now that I had adolesced well beyond my first drink and into aquarial middle age. Here I was, birthdate on a hospital wristband, four decades distant from the cradle, and three decades separate from Cayden. At every pill distribution, I was asked my name, my birthdate, and every distribution wound up being a small exercise in arithmetic, reminder of my age. My afternoon was already half-spent. What lunch had I missed while languoring at the cocktail bar, and could I ever rejoin the table?

Cayden pauses in the half-shade, the crossroads of Third and Spruce, and there are jacarandas in full flower outside a concrete tenement. Spruce trees are non-existent. The street is not even named as such en requiem for what the asphalt and curb had replaced; there are groves of eucalyptus, always have been, and jacarandas purpling the property lines. Spruce is just another street in a north-south line of arboreal-themed avenues. All the tree streets are ordered alphabetically—Palm, Quince, Redwood, &c.—and most have their interruptions in canyons. The bridge, though, connects the west end of Spruce to its eastern counterpart—it makes for one of the few true thoroughfares west of Balboa Park. I explain as such to Cayde, and for a second time, but he’s only interested that we’ve come full circle, that the bridge is magical conduit to the other side. This is why jungle gym bridges are forever teeming with kids: they make a to b different.

“Can we go down into the canyon again?” Cayde asks as we walk through the sodden carpet of jacaranda flowers and toward the bridge.kpiv7l-13jacaranda10large

“I thought you were hungry. Also it’s getting warm.”

The sun shines through the trees and, not yet afternoon, it’s still bordering on hot. I glance sidelong at Cayden—we’re now walking side by side—and he remains agreeable.

“Alright, Daddy. Let’s go eat.”

I’m concerned that his sudden agreeability is, at heart, some manifestation of worry—that he’s being placative to avoid upsetting me. Kids are divining rods to tension, their antennae always on point. ‘Yes, Daddy’, ‘Sure, Daddy’. I try to readjust my face to mirror his agreeability, but joylessness is already a mask, and it’s hard staring through two sets of eyeholes at once.

“AnhedooOOonia,”Peg said from her therapist’s chair. “Feels like it sounds.”

It’s actually the state of unfeeling, but at the heart of a ghost story is a simple, apparitional fact: ghosts don’t exist in the afternoon and, without haunt, their number is up. alone

“Jimmy’s has great huevos rancheros—what do you want?” I ask.

Cayden ponders for a second: “Mexican waffles.” He says this resolutely.

I crack a smile. “Alright—try fooling the waitress with that one.”

Cayde kicks at a heap of spent trumpet flowers, purple, and we walk through leaf litter, less eggshells, toward the bridge.

Cayde suddenly grabs my hand and I start. Christ. I worry the gesture is placative. I want to say, ‘It’s not your fault.’

‘Iloveyou’, Cayde tells me, fast and softly. It’s all one word. I relax. This is his tell. ‘Iloveyou’ is the word he summons both as verb and adjective. ‘Iloveyou’ means he’s enjoying the afternoon, the afternoon I’m trying to return to. It’s a word I taught him in the delivery room; subject, verb and object combined; there is no breath in between.

Two weeks clean. Cayde places the polish.

I knucked Nurse Richard on the way out. He was grunting a juggernaut of water up the hallway, elevator doors slid closed behind him.

“Don’t come back now, y’hear?’ he joked, Southern-fried Gunga Dinn. The head nurse acquiesced a smile, having heard this joke a thousand times, most her keep having come back in some capacity. ‘She must get tired of the faces’, I thought. I kissed her on the cheek in apology as she cut my wristband.

“Thank you.”

She smiled and adjusted her glasses. The elevator door yawned open, didn’t turn its panels like a revolving door.

“Go write,” she said.

I exited left. The cabin of the elevator featured posters reminding its travellers to eat: faded photos of tomatos and spinach on white plates. The ceiling of the cabin was embossed with fleur d’lis damask, water-stains regardless of symbology; it was a short route down.

I left a book with Janet; I left Sad Bill alone, asleep at the coxswain. I left.

“Take me home,” I told Jenn, the car idling. “Please.”

Cayde runs half the length of the suspension bridge to its middle. On either side of the bridge is old-growth eucalyptus but, underneath the lowest sag of the bridge, there are only freeway shrubs, acacia and cigarette flowers. Admonishing signs repeat: ‘Don’t.’ Don’t trespass, don’t litter. The ground beneath is a depressing thing, parched and mud-cracked. Scales of earth peel back from the gully floor.

“How do you want your eggs?” I ask Cayden as we take a seat, legs dangling over the bridge’s edge. I still have my bounty of travellers’ cups, the thermos and the coffee mug, and set them down empty. Jimmy’s is just down the block.

Cayden kicks his legs over the gulf, deflated Winnie like a lackluster cape.

“Mmm..what’s it called when they’re a circle and runny?”

“Poached. Those’re poached eggs.”

The airways course their first traffic and I pick at my fingernails.

“You ok, Kid?”


I tousle his hair and look back to the gray tenement up the street, the dog-walkers surely home by now and maybe frying up sweetbreads for their pup. Silver Man is having his soya; Godiva is enjoying her porticoes.

I look up, measuring the sky’s distance, and the bridge sways slightly. Cayde kicks his legs.

“Let’s go, Kid,” I say, hoisting myself up. “Trail done.”

Cayde agrees. The eucalyptus do their first sway, noontime’s first push of relief; and though I feel nothing, nothing, upon crossing the bridge, the asphalt is assuring; and Cayden walks ahead of me. The marine layer is evaporative, the bridge is unreasonably steady, and, on the way back to the car, I shed a face, smooth my hair, and watch as Cayde plucks open the car door, the <click> of re-entry, re-entry and a jangle as, digging into my pocket, I remember myself the pilot and ready my keys.



death · depression · people

Bist du bei mir

violin stringThe violinist pauses with the rosin, and asks: “Are you sure?”

When thou art near, I go with joy
To death and to my rest

Misha says, “Yes.”

She wears plumbago on her wedding day, a gauzy dress that she’s had the Maid of Honor secure shy of her left breast; there are spangles that decorate the gown, upward of her navel and in a line down her right thigh.

“It’s our song. He just doesn’t know the second line.”

The violinist raises an eyebrow. “Bist du bei mir. It is pretty.”

She puts away the rosin bag into a narrow case, a recessed compartment, and rests her bow onto her shoulder.

“I’ll play it.”

Misha later draws water in the kitchen, for tea; she’s a surgeon and that she had wine on the day he tried to un-surger his own wrists, was granted three-months leave. She makes tea, has taken up cigarettes.

He emerges from the back room and there’s no spotting on the gauze he wears now as decoration, wrists healed, and because she’s crying he wraps his arms around her. Bach is playing in the kitchen and, because she’s crying, Misha is given a longer hug than usual. He begins explaining the song structure to her, though he still doesn’t know the second line.

“He wouldn’t otherwise hug me, but I was given pass. I was sobbing,” Misha explains. She’d rather not tears for him, but they happen.

Like when he frustratedly unwrapped her on their wedding night, where she felt she could be a treasure unlocked, but where he found pins and hindrance instead, the stars she had placed as if you could choose constellations, where above her sex he ignored the careful and particular twist of her dress that was meant to be revealing when unraveled, these details of intimacy ignored; he fell asleep and she cried.

O how joyous would my end be.”

And Misha presses her face to his collar.

“The continuo part is agitated in this version. You OK, Love?”

“Fine. Just hold me.”

Twice he moves to release their embrace.

If your fair hands
Would close my faithful eyes.

“It’s ok, Babe,” she says. And she wished he would remove the wristbands as they scratch the back of her neck.

The violinist exhales, not exactly ready. She then chords the throat of her instrument as Misha stands at the runway, wiggling in uncomfortable shoes. She raises the bow, shuts her eyes, and begins playing.


depression · favorites · home · mental health

On Defeating Bulls and Black Holes

blackThe neighbor boys bounce up the curb and slow onto the flagstone path that cuts across our yard and into theirs. From my perch on the living room couch, I hear bicycle spokes slow as they pass the gable, then smell the tarragon scent of the Mexican daisy, its leaves bruised by the boys’ tires and flowers crushed under treads. The sudden perfume means less the boys are reckless in their crossing of the lawn, and more that I’ve been delinquent in my gardening duties. The daisy is once again overgrown.

It’s currently unseasonably unreasonably hot, and in response the daisy has been extending a few exploratory flowers across the garden path looking, it seems, to transplant itself down and past the terrace. The street is twenty feet distant from the gable and the blacktop seems perfect? imperfect? for the basking. Who knows what flowers think. They have their proclivities though, plants with their determinations and sun-bent recklessness.

The boys trundle through the garden gate next door, handlebars and wheel pegs clattering against the pergola as they lug their bikes into the backyard. Spokes have slowed to a few metronomic clicks. Were I a more accomplished gardener, I’d go check on the plants—better yet scold the daisy with a set of clippers, menace it back into its corner—but I don’t get up from the couch. The funereal perfume of tarragon lingers.

I can feel a relapse coming from a mile away.

I can feel the depression returning; it’s anise-scented.

Depression is innately quiet, but though it may creep about on cat’s feet or otherwise silent stockings, it’s also naturedly inelegant; it tries to tiptoe, yet—like a thief bereft of stealth—always manages to upset discordant wind chimes upon its approach. It’s reckless that way. There are bulls in china shops, but depression is more like a black hole that opens up on the display room floor, upending chinoiseries and sending porcelain crashing to the ground: same destructivity, same ramshackle result, different tactic. Still—whether bulls or black holes—there’s the sound of breaking glass before there is the quiet of annihilation. Depression may have slippered feet, but it noisily cocks up the place first before settling in.

My tell is easy; if the garden is failing, so am I. If a leaf crisps too severely, or if a garden pot recoils from its spot in too hot a sun, I’m throwing plates into the black hole, else holding serving platters for the bulls to ravage in half like a toreador’s cape. When I take care of things, l am well.

I get up—it takes monumental effort—but the boys have now disappeared and the daisy bears a split neck and two petals for a crown.

I water, I deep-fertilize, I cut out the dead parts. The scent of tarragon fades and in exchange there’s the smell of watered porch. Depression has done me a favor by manifesting in droop leaves, and the trick is to answer in turn, irrigating the lot until flowers stand on their own again.

This is the trick, tired as it is, the chronic battle against evaporation, the sometime need for plants to rebel and require transplant; but know the trick, and you win. Know the sound of wind chimes upon depression’s clumsy entrance, else the smell of overgrowned-ness in its lingering lease; know the power of assessing a dying flower; know how to reverse its droop.

The gate closes behind the boys and I retrieve my watering can, the smell of tarragon fading, the couch cushion resuming its shape. There’s the sound of wind chimes, but it’s in the distance and, hopefully, as the heat continues its glaring echo off the pavement, the wind chimes, too, will echo away and somewhere, the sound of them in respectful and feline-footed retreat.