Ceci n’est pas une cravate

“Dude. That’s a lot of fucking ties,” my roommate Alex ‘AG’ says, “What’re you doing?”

“Just organizing,” because up until last night they were amassed in a dresser drawer despite Tony’s tsk-tsking that I needed to press them or—for God’s sake—at least ROLL them, and what with it being the Father’s Day sales at the Bins–ties for $1-$3 apiece save for the Dolces and the Hugos and the Armanis–I’ve been compiling them like so many Medusa heads—albeit colorful ones–with sartorial fervor.

What can I say: I like ties.

AG remarks this, and I explain: “It’s kinduv a calling card and besides—you know how I don’t wear jeans anymore? but, like PANTS pants and in all different colors: I got merlot, saffron, taupe, black of course—”(and God forbid I call a ‘terracotta’ pair ‘bordeaux’ lest Tony correct me, fashionista that he is, and how fun to have a veritable Yves St. Laurent running around the House, just less bitchy, and without the 10 pack a day nicotine habit)—Well it’s fun tying together a top and a bottom with a third element, y’know, like a haiku.”

That needs further explication. (Here I go again, all writerly and shit).

“Cuz a haiku isn’t just stringing together 17 syllables and calling it a haiku, k?—there’s good haikus and bad ones. A good haiku? The second line is the fucking bridge, right? It builds off the first line but leaves a subtle tension. The third line is usually unexpected—it’s relative to the preceding two—but it ‘kicks’. It’s the satori, the punch in the eye. I mean, you could write three tidy sentences about a cherry blossom tree, but somehow relate that to ‘lying drunk in its petals’ or relating it to the passing Season, and you get a better poem.”

I go on: “It’s the same in cooking. You got your traditional flavor pairings—let’s say lime and cilantro. You got lime and cilantro for an aguachile but then you remember that lime and maple are this weirdly good combo—totally unexpected, kinduv a sweet and tart thing—so you throw some syrup in the mix, and suddenly you got the lime bridging the cilantro and maple and—in the end–it totally fucking works.”

(AG is cool—he allows me my weird tangents).

“Um, so that’s why I wear ties?” I say, stringing my neckpieces onto some newly purchased hangers.

“They’re the bridge.”


“Y’know when you’ve burned plenty of bridges in your life, AG, build ‘em where you can,” and I tidily unknot a stubborn Windsor from its noose and the night continues.


En Vino Veritas

She sits hugging a pillow to her body because she says she’s self-conscious and I tell her, ‘Don’t’, because I’m not the audience to be self-conscious around for that sort of thing—quite the opposite—and she proceeds to tell me that she doesn’t like to feel. Nope, and she has her reasons. This maybe surprises me as she is a passionate person, which I love about her—you could almost call her fiery if one were to resort to cliché, and she has had violent outbursts, a diminutive fury-thing that once even landed her a night in lock-up, but she only generally shares her temper in matters of realpolitik and thank God we share the same political bent else she would reduce me to dust—she likes to win arguments—and I’ve even sicced her on unsuspecting strawmen so she can handily dispose of them, she’s that cutthroat with her words.

“That’s why I didn’t read what you sent me,” she explains, and I instantly wave her off—no big deal. It was a writing about signing divorce papers and, ironically, it was about attempting to conjure the appropriate emotions—about feeling, maybe too much, too little—all ‘feeling’ which she has just admitted she likes to avoid at all costs, and although I like it when she reads what I write, I mean, she knows more about me than some, including my recent lapse with The Girl From The City of Twelve Bridges so she has keener insight into my machinations than some; and fair to say I’ve been privy to HER intimacies, which makes  this all the more choice—still I’m not offended when she says she didn’t read my latest sturm und drang. “Your writing just. So. Invokes. Emotion in people,” which I love hear being said—it’s the fucking point—“That sometimes I just can’t engage for fear of feeling something. I’m really invested in being comfortable.” And she proceeds to describe herself as something of a shallow woman, which she has a hard time convincing me of, because it’s patently obvious I’m attracted to her, and requisite to that is materiel upstairs, helps she has highways of curves and I’ve known her for ten years now.

I feed her wine, it is two a.m, and I am exactly six months sober. The wine must be vicariously enjoyed and instead of en vino veritas, there is just veritas veritas for me, of which I’m used to, having re-sensitized to the mundane. But veritas veritas is fine, and vino is almost superfluous anyway seeing it is as early as it is in the antemeridian–something about the single-digit hours and loquacity–and I say, pointing to her glass: “It’s funny—I used to drink TO feel,” which is true. It sets me apart in Recovery. How often people drink to numb out—it’s the most common refrain in the Rooms and maybe there’s some element of that for me, too, Jenny having called me “the Saddest Boy I’ve Ever Known” but I like the serotonin fix that, opposite a prism, takes muddy rainbows and focuses them into something white and laser sharp.

“Oh, the emotions are there, I just need them heightened and brought into sharp relief.” Like the Tin Man having a heart all along but needing the clockwork one awarded him to realize it, alcohol is that wizard. It’s cheating really. Like spiking a bed of onions with brown sugar to speed along the Maillard Reaction.

“I used to think that I needed it to write. Part of the Process.”

Hemingway did famously say, “Write drunk, edit sober,” And Tennessee Williams, he wrote about habitually taking a trip to Echo Springs—the liquor cabinet—to ‘get the click.’ The ‘click’ is the best term I’ve heard of for it and there are many, but the ‘click’ conjures thoughts of gears and cams rotating into sequence, a proverbial unlocking, and how addictive this is, the feeling of connection. Like Archimedes shouting ‘Eureka’ upon discovering displacement and how Eureka is itself its own displacement, the alcohol knocking loose buried words and feelings from the synapses for the reaping. Writing high, riding high.

“I came from such an emotionally-stunted family, it was a way to access passion” I explain, and it was Sylvia Path who said, “Even when I feel nothing, I feel it intently.”

So she and I are opposite in our takes on feeling, and I wonder briefly if the wine is a disservice, but she’s had a rough day as she has elaborated, starting with her husband stranding her at the hotel with the three kids, Uber and rail her default chariots to get to Disneyland and back. The Coaster failed to run come ten o’ clock so she’s two hours later than expected, but it is beyond nice having her here and hopefully the wine acts as nepenthe— a ‘not-sorrow’—to erase the otherwise busyness and sometimes calamity of parenting—her kid had a breakdown at the Happiest Place on Earth and why do the Princesses cease their photo ops at three, but if for the Ball?—and she says, “Now I feel bad. I’ll read it.”

“Don’t feel you have to,” and I mean it. She knows she is a select audience and that’s all that matters. She’s removed the pillow, and I feel better.   


Seeing Justin Dead

“Wanna see a picture of me dead?”

I nonchalantly shrug. This counts as icebreaker in Recovery. Seriously, nothing phases me.

His name is Justin, a weedy Horse addict new to the Program. He’s so strung out on suboxone, he tends to nod off in Group. Doctors think he’s actually overdosing on dopamine, which is a thing, so he has to micro-dose his meds. Like, razor blade the milligramage he keeps wrapped in a tin foil packet. It’s ironic: watching him med up on the cure is like watching someone tie off their arm. I’m not surprised he’s been dead. If only briefly.

He thrusts a. cell phone my direction. There he is, slumped down, chin to his chest. He has a blue pallor and a rivulet of saliva trailing from his mouth.

“I took some heroin. Didn’t know it was cut with Fentanyl.”


“My friend was annoyed. Wanted to take a picture to show me how stupid I look when I’m strung out.” Jenny’s done this, too. With me passed out on the couch. I’ve never been dead, though. Just Amy Winehouse close.

Fentanyl killed Prince. Would’ve been his 64th birthday today in fact.

“What’d you see?” I know to ask.

“’S true what they say about the tunnel. Light, man, just orbs and orbs of light. Like a whole galaxy. I’ve written about it.”

Of course he has. Justin’s an artist. Also a computer hacker. He breaks through firewalls with alacrity and is attempting to get into Sharp’s mainframe. For fun, he says.

“They resuscitated me, obviously, but I was dead for a good five minutes.”

Wasn’t the first time. He hanged himself when he was twernty-one. Had sold off all his DJ equipment for the Habit and had taken to a degenerate amount of thievery. A junked out Prometheus. Tired of it, and mortally ashamed of himself, he swung from his parents’ tree by a hangman’s rope.

Justin went through months of rehab to learn to walk again. Then he killed himself a second time over. He’s now only twenty-four. Were he a cat, he’d be thirty percent exeunt.

We became friends, me and Justin, though I haven’t heard from him in a while. Don’t know if he’s gonna make it. He relapsed while in Recovery a week in. The bupe wasn’t enough and he had found a vial of powder in his knapsack. Wanted to see if he could take it like a gentleman. Against all odds he wasn’t kicked out of his sober living; I used to drive him home and would wish him well.

“Good night, Justin. Don’t do drugs.” Or something to that effect.

Fentanyl is a scary motherfucker, and it’s in everything. Mexican cartels had to market something new in the vacuum legalized marijuana left. And, unlike H, Fentanyl doesn’t require acreages of poppies or serious manpower to produce. It’s synthetic. Cheap as hell. My current roommate? His girlfriend died during COVID trying to get a cocaine high. Whatever happened to cutting street triturate with baking soda?

Just stay away from the powders, People. Don’t get dead.  


The Sleeve of Follies

“Trust me, I’ve been asked by many men if they’re prison tattoos. I’ll be the first to admit they’re egregiously bad, but it’s a longstanding comedy and they were all done by different artists, most of them NOwhere near professional.” Carte blanche to the needle, devil may care attitude, Sarah has a sleeve at this point, done up in black and white. At first glance they appear a secret language of glyphs, strange Miro-like geometricities until you realize they’re numbers. Just crossed out with ‘X’s.

It began in 2012.

Having grown up in a Church that would later be reclassified as a cult, Sarah possesses a particular eschatological bent. This, despite an early-onset godlessness and a Bacchanalian edge that would later get her kicked out of a Christian college in her sophomore year of University. 2012, Sarah was in an industrial noise band called Sixteen Bitch Pile-up. When not menacing her bass else deep-throating a microphone a la Luxe Interior, she was amusing herself with apocalyptic prophesy, giving partial credence to Lawrence E. Joseph and the like. There was the idea that the world would end in a sun-spray of magnetic energy—solar flares were constant in 2012–or fuck if the Holy Wars would beat Nature to the punch. India and Pakistan had missiles pointed at each other, which is akin to passing a hand grenade to your next-plate-over dinner companion, and the Atomic Clock was measuring things by the nanosecond. Even idyllic Yosemite was threatening to explode in Plinian fashion. A meteor would have been trite.

So Sarah got ‘2012’ tattooed on her forearm, just above the basilica vein, as a sort of memento mori. By December 31st, it would be just another Cracker Jack novelty, right? How could a ‘2012’ tattoo pretend permanent if the world itself was a tenuous Impermanence, and if we were slated to soon greet the dinosaurs in forever rot? Well, January 2013 rolled around and damn if Sarah was still here, the rest of the world too for that matter. The dinosaurs would have to wait. But what of the tattoo? 2012 was only significant in that it was supposed to be the End. Sure 16 Bitch Pile-Up disintegrated into its atonal resting place and Sarah was later to sell off her instruments in one of three ego deaths, but ‘2012’ remained steadfastly above the ropy phlebotomist’s vein advertising nothing. Enter a friend who suggested just crossing the damn thing out, like a stroke on the Advent calendar. And so Sarah did: a simple ‘X’ through the tattoo making for a clever palimpsest.     

She then tattooed ‘2013’above it. Because there must have been a grave mistake–someone forgot to carry the zero—the world was gonna end, goddammit. Someone misspoke and 2012 was just the aperitif: extinction would be served in 2013. That didn’t happen obviously, and so it went. The numbers crawled up Sarah’s arm, each crossed off in annual succession. Each tattoo was inked by a fellow artist, then crossed out by another, making for a collaborative project, which at current count, spans one decade, a collective of artists, and 2 ½ feet of frustrated numerical flesh. ‘2022’ arcs over the ball of her shoulder and parallel to the Angle of Luis and it will be a shame, Sarah reports, to ‘X’ it out as it’s actually a nice design this year, larger than the other ones, and following the nice round of her upper arm.

“I don’t think they’re egregiously bad at all; I like them. Kinduv has you wondering, though.”

“What’s that?”

“Where exactly is the art located?”

Sarah and I have talked about this before. 16 Bitch Pile-up was purely performative: skronking feedback, hyaena vocals, the sound of a freeway turned inside-out and recorded through a vacuum cleaner hose. To have an lp would be to have evidence that “music” happened, but it wouldn’t be the visceral nihilistic event itself. You wouldn’t have Sarah on stage deciding whether or not to rape her bass with an electric sander or the other Sarah play inconsequential keyboards as counterpoint or hear the tintinnation of ambient cocktail glasses. Everything would be lost in translation. (Com)Pressed to vinyl would be literal.

So are the tattoos art in and of themselves: ten individual art pieces? Or is art in the act of canceling them, else the years they signify? One of these days, one of Sarah’s tattoos will come true, the tongue-in-cheek folly will become suddenly dead serious—prophetic even—and Sarah’s arm will be as important as the Venus DeMilo’s are not. The Abacus of the Apocalypse. Whatever: it’s a project and it is delightfully witty. I tell Sarah so.

‘2022’: is it a harbinger perched atop her deltoid like a haunted owl? Will a solar storm destroy the power grid and cease life as we know it? Could this actually be the year? In which case, I just say, “O Angel. Angel, we go down together.”


The Church of Me (a lament, formal)

The Church of Me is subterranean and is not so by all fault of mine. That it stays underground, however, is proof of my damage, that I cannot alone resurrect a sunken thing. I am like a buried citadel, which needs the brushes and pickaxes of a willing army to be excavated, I am so covered in dust. I don’t think I was always like this; I know I wasn’t. I was above ground once. Kindergarten me was gregarious and self-assured (and that I have to retreat forty years to remember such caprice, such assuredness is telling); but something happened, and whether it was a long, slow curtailing of the ego—“Thom, you’re smart. Just don’t show it”—or its sudden devastation, I don’t know. I do know the buried church is fantastic, with vaulted arches and an altar to my corpus, and liturgies are elaborate songs that penetrate the soil in which they are otherwise muted; still its parishioners are few because the church is thus buried and were it not for my constant and psalmic report, I’d just as soon not exist. People, they hear the songs, they read the canticles that I leave at surface, but they are difficult scrolls, which by nature are of a cryptic fashion, and lead to a constant misinterpretation—“I don’t get it.”. My religion is a confusing one. I am forever misunderstood or, worse yet, thought inapproachable, which is why the eucharist remains full, the tithing plate empty. I am a lonely priest, worshipful of the world and a vessel of all that is beautiful, no matter its unlikelihood. I am the curved lens through which love is magnified; I am an ewer overflowing, but only the means to an end it seems, for the glass is seen for its imperfect bend and the urn unremarkable save for its contents. I am left alone, heart-achingly alone, and thusly unrequited I become my flaws: a cataract on the lens, a crack in the pitcher. I am no longer a conduit of the psalms, rather the lamentations; I am seen for having overturned my own temple—“You really fucked it up this time, didn’t you”—then for the temple I once and unswervingly was. I was never enough and so forsook my own church until the last parishioners abandoned me, a wretched and unwanted thing, at last buried by my own hand.

I was not always like this, but how to return to the above-ground? Has my time expired, the soil I rot in too deep? Or do I yet grow roots in my subterranean sleep? More importantly can they grow un-watered, without there being anyone to rain upon me? I’m thirsty, have been so for years, when all my affections were fixed on the one promising cloud that intermittently poured, other clouds having ceased their waters, and how nourishing that was. The perennial can forgive the cloud its occasional reluctance—the perennial remains a beautiful thing even in its dormancy. It is evergreen, and therefore a thing of constant potential. A blossoming is sometimes just the accident of weather, a fortuity afforded its roots, but accidents are nonetheless necessary, at least intermittently. The perennial cannot itself seed the cloud—it is impotent in that regard—though in its cyclical death, the perennial can seed itself. This is its only self-reliance; in all else it depends on the cloud to occasionally spill its abundance. The seeds, they wait to re-establish root by waiting on the cloud to reform. What happens when the cloud dries up? What happens when the season is unkind? The cloud doesn’t need the seed, but the seed needs the cloud, and so long as the cloud refuses to water, the seed is left to feed on itself, or worse yet sup on the poisonous salts of its own bed qua grave. Roots, they do not grow in salt and I am the seed having tried. I swallowed the salts in absence of water, I poisoned myself for lack of precipitation. I poisoned myself and the cloud refused to rain. The cloud, it moved on. The soil is no longer poisonous, but it remains dry. How do I return to surface without sustenance? The flowers are dying within, and I cannot control the weather. There is stubborn potential, but is it too late? Seeds are not immortal, just at times dormant. Just one more rain, please.


Murph and the Fata Morgana

Passing through the furthermost finger of Hospitality Point, where there are cobbled jetties populated with pelicans and cormorants, a gray whale erupts the waters and draws sudden breath.

“Do you get seasick?” Yippers asks.  He’s actually Yip—Keith Yip (though everyone refers to him as Yippers)—and he is piloting the boat.   We’re a two-boat caravan, actually: Yip and I have a pelican en tote, the boat ahead of us has three sea lions and a team of videographers from somewhere out of country.

I cock my head in a fake ‘lemme think for a sec’ but immediately reply, “I dunno.”  Truth is, I’ve never been out on the open ocean.  Harbor excursions, sure, and kayaking in the same-said point we’re now exiting, but never a venture too far beyond the breakwater or past the white buoys that bob in cautionary stop-sign fashion: ‘Now Entering the Ocean.’

This is ironic because I’ve lived on the coast all of my life and have worked at SeaWorld for half that.  Yippers registers surprise at my greenness, and he has stories about weathering violent waters in half the world’s oceans; in comparison, I just had a pretty good day, once, catching the surf at Tourmaline and landing a sunburn. Regardless of our experience gap and there being jury out on whether or not I have sea legs or—more importantly—a sea-agreeable stomach, Yip and I are on a mutual mission: we’re releasing rehabilitated animals back out into the ocean.  He’s the charge of sea lions; me, the pelican. 

There’s linguistic play here.  Sea lions are pinnipeds, which, when you boil down the Latin, means ‘feather-footed’; my pelican is obviously and fetedly plumaged. In which case, it’s a return-to-the-ocean celebration for all manners of feathered things. 

The sea lion pups: they were nursed back to health after having been rescued–debilitated and dehydrated—from San Diego shorelines; the pelican was, too, but just stubborn on return, flying back to SeaWorld often and needing a final deep-sea release to remind him of his home out and among the waves.  We named him Murph.  Because of the Law and all.

I’m not seasick upon exiting Hospitality Point, and it’s a grand gesture that a gray whale arced its back in acknowledgement.

Fifteen minutes past the wave-breaks and there being only horizon at this point—blue sky met by the denser blue of water—we cut our motors for a minute.  There’s something of a curiosity eddying the waters and we round the boats to witness.  It’s a shark—rather half of one—something dredged up from somewheres deep, floating and purple at the top of the waves.  It’s a carcass of something in the cow-shark family—neither Yippers nor I can exactly identify it—but it’s come a long way to surface seeing as it most certainly was a trench-dwelling thing.  What’s amazing is not only the fact that we came across this rarity (and quite by accident) but the play of sunshine in that aqueous moment.  The light is of remark: directly overhead and soundly noon-ish.  We can see down and beneath this open-mouthed carcass and approximately thirty-feet below the surface.   With the motors of our SW boats extinguished and us just floating, there is the lapping of water against the hulls—unmistakable in its hollow, slapping sound—and there is thirty feet of vision revealing a virtual cyclone of blue sharks swimming below.  They circle, scything tail fins cutting an underwater ballet made up of simple and practiced pirouettes.  Occasionally one breaks formation to nab at the cow-shark which is certainly done but still the conductor in all of this; the carcass gives up meat.  We remark this in wonderment because it’s nature in its most present tense and we’re accidental witnesses to it.  Yippers hauls the carcass halfway onto the boat—for a picture, at least—because in our awe we also want to document this and report back to the shark experts at the SW campus: ‘What’re we seeing exactly?’  What type of shark is this?’

We eventually leave the cow-shark to its posthumous stay atop the waters.  Our photos have been taken, our curiosity piqued, and it’s now half-past noon.  We’ve already seen a gray whale and, in a rafting moment, the spectacle of shark eating shark.  The boat plows forward and, while lurching at the bow, I repeat to myself over and over like an excited school-child: “This is amazing this is amazing…”  The salt and iodine run their negative charge, and grebes dive into the swells with red-feathered bottoms disappearing suddenly shy of the boat’s edges.  The grebes: they take advantage of the boat’s surge and pulse downwards when the boat’s wake lifts upwards.  I see bottoms of feet and the constant disappearing act the grebes manage, ducking just short of recognition before becoming a trail of bubbles, pink toes folding in accordion-fashion, green-water enveloping them.  Occasionally they surface and it’s a wide-eyed something (the boat’s very much the intruder here) and with crest feathers exaggerating their surprise, pupils pinned, they simply dive again.  It’s only a clumsy gull that actually takes to the boat’s wake, dumbly shaking its feathers and clapping its red-spotted bill.  Clap-clap.  The gull is smart and lazy all at once, certainly expecting a meal out of this, expert at looking unperturbed in the white-froth aftermath of a motor.  There are flashes of metallic fish to the sides of the boat but otherwise the ocean is calm.  The gull constantly preens its feathers in the incessant back-spray, and, in doing so, is fairly ridiculous.

Murph taps at the front of the crate with his hooked bill.  We’re almost home.  In the boat ahead of us, the sea lions bark.

The boats stop twelve miles off the coastline.  To my eye, it seems a random place to stop, because—left and right—it’s just anonymously blue.  In actuality, though (and were you to cast a weight on a mile-long string over the boat’s rig) we’re suddenly much further out than we were mere minutes before.   Below us, there’s an unexpected and precipitous drop.  The ocean space beneath our hull is now thrice as deep: there’s a trench evident by SONAR; it can otherwise be known by aid of a precisely illustrated and underwater topographical map, which we don’t have at present. This is all to say, we’re actually SOMEwhere despite an above-water feeling to the contrary.

 The gulls wheel overhead as if circling an abandoned FunYun packet left on the beach; we bob up and down, though on a very specific coordinate in the middle of a blue nothing. We’re miles away from the shoreline yet the gulls don’t seem to know it. To them: the skiff equals shore.  We don’t have fish, though, nor Fun-yuns today. 

I begin feeling a slight bit nauseous.

Motors are cut twelve miles out.  Twelve miles to the right of us is La Jolla, out of sight at present, and where I went to school; there are limestone cliffs there that run sheer on down to hidden beaches. Unlikely eucalyptus trees cap the in between ravines; there are otherwise seasonal sedges that can cut the hand in wintertime and softer springtime flashes of mustard grass and sea fig.

(La Jolla is pretty.  Some guidebooks translate ‘La Jolla’ as ‘the jewel’, which is an appropriate and tourist-friendly description.   It’s a misnomer, though: ‘la hoya’ equivalents to ‘the jewel.’   ‘La Jolla’ translates more properly as ‘The Hole’, perhaps in reference to its coves, or perhaps also to its mostly hiddenness: an oceanfront made up of reclusive pockets despite the fact of its famous mile of shoreline—public and well-visited—just north of the SeaWorld campus).

Twelve miles out, though, guidebooks don’t matter: La Jolla serves as a triangulation point, this time the easternmost one.  Usually it serves as the westernmost one, which I say only by nature of having been generally inland-bound most my San Diego life; also because I spent a lot of time on La Jolla’s cliffs looking out west to the horizon where our boats are currently staid. 

The horizon is actually only a mile distant.  There’s a simple math to this, but a math confounded by the arc of water which is big and refusedly measurable. It means I’m twelve times away from what I can see from the shore, and further out than I imagined I could be.

There’s a sudden whale-spout and Yippers and I take note.  We don’t see the exhalation, rather hear it.  I’m fighting the nausea that occurs when a boat stops.  The skiff is floating atop the waves rather than cutting through them and the loss of momentum has my stomach something of a bolo bag: bloated and certainly changing shape.  I’m without Dramamine.  

Yippers is at the wheel, my head is resting on my knees, and the whale spout sounds north and to the right of us.  We both instinctively look. 

“Lookit that, willya,” Yippers says, quietly.  We do, expecting another Grey Whale.  An exhalative cloud breaks the surface, plumed.  Then there’s another.  Two backs arc out of the ocean: leathery, smooth.  The respirative spray dissipates and seeming miles of backbone course the surface.  We are in awe as they slip at last into the ocean.  There are telltale caudal fins. 

‘Blue whales.  Those were blue whales.” Yippers whistles. It’s a moment.  My stomach, in knots, flattens briefly.  There’s a long-ness to a Blue which is an incomparable sight:  the Gray in contrast is warted, knobby and small, should you consider a school bus small; the Blue is a feat of flesh, aquiline and steel-colored.  Rivulets of water eddy about those last fins upon surfacing, telltale signs that there are twenty extra feet of caudal mass piloting some submerged tail flukes. 

This is the largest animal on the planet.  Nothing else has been as big.  When you see one, you know:  rivaling creatures fashion tar pits; there are skeletons on display in Natural History Museums.  But the Blue is big and effortlessly so.  And we’re seeing two at once.  In sheer cardiac-size, there are two VW Beetles afloat in sacks of blood and corpus pumping yards from our boat. One feels diminutive, thimble to a large and impossible embroidery. I forget my stomach.

Murph is increasingly impatient. I can see the hook of his bill through the carrier’s wire grating, poking curiously through. He’s necessarily tucked back in his nook, the encumbrance of his beak and gular pouch taking up the majority of the space, but I peer in and see his eyes, comically on either side of his narrow head, like soap bubbles halved and affixed to his face, a googly-eyed something. He doesn’t blink. The gray-brown tuft atop his cranium is erect and comical, too, a millenary mistake; it will be yellow come two years from now but at present it is a dusty color and more of a cowlick than a coif. It grazes the roof of the carrier.

“It’ll be just a few minutes,” Yip says as he rests an arm on the boat’s throttle. Across the water, camera crews—they’re from the UK, I think—are readying cameras, adjusting light diffusers and reflectors, a busyness of charcoal scrim shades and tripods, to capture the imminent release. The boat neighboring ours has three carriers, one sea lion apiece, arranged in a row at the back of the skiff. I can’t see them from where I sit, arms still wrapped around my midriff in pretend insouciance (I’m feeling every air bubble in my stomach), but I can envision their sea lion faces, vibrissae at attention and eyes all of dark soporific liquid. They are the epitome of cute, canine, with pointed faces unlike the harbor seals which also frequent these waters. Their distinctive ear flaps are nominal things, like the ends of balloons tied off, and the auricles rest back on their skulls.

Jody is Yipper’s counterpart on Boat #1, and she has donned a SeaWorld jacket and gone from contrapposto to camera-ready as the videographers give her the signal. Microphones are on point. Though we are only a few yards distant, Jody’s words are lost in the oceanic lull. Sounds are erased out here in the soundless deep. The opposite of white noise. It’s a clear afternoon, one o’ clock now, and the marine layer is non-existent. The sky is cloudless, the sea not glassy but ripe for Fata Morgana as the horizon is thermally inverted; there is a band of haze above the mile-distant water.

“Sea lions…health…why we do…best part…back into the ocean,” I catch part of Jody’s address. I know this speech: I’ve heard it many times and have experienced its import in full. Releasing healthy animals back into the ocean, back into the skies—back into whatever blue, is the best part of a rehabilitator’s job. This is my first time with pinnipeds, but I’ve let loose hundreds of pelicans; ducks; a number of gulls, egrets, and Great Blue herons. The main culprits for debilitation in my line of work are twofold, and they are opposite: savvy and lack thereof. Pelicans fill their pouches with fish and what better place to find food close to surface than at the end of a fisherman’s line. Savvy, kinduv. I’ve disentangled scads of Pelecaniformes from nylon and barbed hooks, twists of wings and pierced gulars like grotesquely knotted marionettes.  Snip-snip, scissoring wires and bolt-cutting hooks. As to the lack of savvy: the majority of pelicans that come in are juveniles who have not learned to fish, nor have found the convenience of the wharf or bait station. They plunge-dive fruitlessly, especially when the waters are warm and fish have run deep, and wind up emaciated for lack of nourishment. Two kilos sometimes—a third their weight down before becoming torpid and land-bound.  Murph is the latter. Well actually a little of both.

Murph had grown accustomed to our faces (in ‘My Fair Lady’ style). After a stint of rehab, he was released not once, not twice, but thrice–each release further away from the SeaWorld campus. And each and every time, he would stubbornly return to perch atop the outdoor pens, floppy feet slip-slapping the chain-link mesh, forever eyeballing the food trays of capelin. Let me in, let me in! He knew where to go—where to go to “diet” at least. He’d  be allowed readmission once his weight dropped enough to warrant another round of calories. Murphy’s Law: free bird doesn’t like freedom.

The moment has come. I see Jody kneel to release the pins on her pinniped carriers, so I ready myself at Murph’s. The grates swing open for the sea lions and, on cue, the pups hobble out in goofy-flippered fashion. They wriggle with their little hind ends until at skiff’s aft, then slip into the water seamlessly as if transforming instantaneously once aqua-bound. They are streamline and grace. I hope for similar grace with Murph, perhaps a winging away in low camber over the water. The pups meanwhile, take to the sea with aplomb, poking their heads above water in quick reconnaissance—a perhaps impish good-bye—then as quickly disappear. There is applause.

“OK, Murph—your turn.” Yippers looks amused, still leaning against the helm. It’s not often we take to the Trench to release birds—it’s usually sea dogs and dolphins. Murph misses his cue as I swing the gate open. He slaps his feet—once, twice—then cocks his head. I have to wrest his beak gently and coax him out. He half-opens his wings in complaint, then acquiesces as I slide him from the carrier. Yip emits a chuckle. The cameras are staid, so there’s no documentation as I pin Murph by his humeri and steady him over the ocean. I have one hand on his bill, finger slid in between his mandible and maxillae to allow him to breathe. I half hoist him outwards and let go. I hope for some drama, but Murph just plops unceremoniously into the deep and sits. He bobs impotently and paddles his feet as if treading water (though he’s perfectly buoyant), goes absolutely nowhere. I imagine he blinks, but I see only his back, and it takes him gumption and a good three minutes before he decides to—’well, guess I gotta go’—scoot. He swims eastward, which is at least opposite SeaWorld, and toward the open sea. Then he stops and again bobs. It’s the most undramatic release ever, but though lacking theater, Murph is at least where he belongs. There is that.

We ready the boats to leave, camera equipment and refractors folded. I’m thankful to feel the thrum of a motor: movement will settle my discombobulated stomach. Carriers are stowed, and the sea lions have disappeared. Only Murph remains steadfastly motionless as the skiffs rev into an about-face and head southwestward. Twelve miles return trip—should take an hour or so. Another twenty minutes and we’d be in Mexico waters, the golden bull ring coastal and Tijuana glinting like a rhinestone tiara. Yip accelerates and we pull alongside Jody and crew as we cut across the glass. We leave a wake, the only whitewater this far out, until—seemingly out of nowhere and behind us—appear tiny crests in the distance.

Jody is the first to notice as she’s not piloting, but rather taking in the view. She signals to Yippers who peers over his right shoulder and smiles. “You’re in for a treat,” he drawls, and slows the boat some. He knows this is my first time—that, and he’s never tired of oceanic wonder despite his veteran status—so doesn’t explain, just keeps peeking over his shoulder. “You’ll want to lay down in front,” he directs. I oblige, taking my place on the bow, and look over my shoulder, too, as the crests materialize and outwardly multiply. Soon the horizon is glittery with flecks of white, and—wow—there are scything fins cutting the water, blunted gray triangles cresting and falling sinuously in the water. They look like penny arcade horses, operating as if on rigs, up-down, up-down, fast approaching. We collectively decelerate, our own wakes slo-churning twin trails. We are beacons.

Quick as silver, they are upon us! Hundreds—literal hundreds!—of dolphins fast-tracking through the sea, metallic bombers with hourglass signatures on their sides. “Commons,” Yippers laconically says. Delphinus delphi, and a super-pod of them! They overtake us and we gas the motors slightly to keep up. I cross my arms beneath my chin and lay horizontal with the water. There are dolphins within reach, all pulsing aquiline muscle, just feet from the bow. In, out, through: they dart intrepidly, no time for acrobatics, blurs of gray and white just speeding in one collective direction. I see their caudals pump up and down in meter, their blowholes occasioning a quick exhale-inhale, backs occasionally cresting the surface, eyes determinedly open against the flow. They move like the hands of kahiko dancers but in fast-motion–perfect sine wave–graceful, lithe, and exceedingly able.   

I am dumbfounded. I remember something seemingly unrelated, something from adolescence:  I saw the Grand Canyon when I was younger; the endless ravines of silt and ash and sedimentary rock; the limestone and basalt. It was too much for me to take in, sitting on the East Rim and looking out across the Canyon, the whole thing didn’t fit my eye. And I’m used to things fitting in a viewfinder: <click>. I like taking pictures. But the Canyon scared me, kind of like looking at the sky and knowing it goes on forever, and feeling suddenly infinitesimal. Things just too big with nothing to define the corners. And I feel like I did as the young canyoneer, when surrounded by the dolphins in their vast juggernaut forwards, not knowing which direction to look. One can only be in it.

The dolphins are echolocating something it seems. They swing right, slightly east, but unwaveringly south. Jody and Yipper exchange shrugs, and off we tack to follow. It’s apparent we weren’t their destination. We have time; we adventure. The dolphins lead us on a diagonal, then a straight ahead for about twenty minutes. We’re not too far off course and the contagion of dolphins has us not caring either which way. This is a gift.

In the distance is a shape? THIS is Fata Morgana now, striations of lines, not static though. Whitewater reflected up and down in the sky, floating waves—something is moving. Black specks rise and fall relative to the horizon. What is it? As we draw closer, the image snaps into focus. We are approaching a froth of water in the middle of nowhere. The black specks grow wings, and there is a flurry of activity close to surface. It is a feeding frenzy, and every animal in the nearby area has somehow been alerted. There is probably some shallow-dwelling school of sardines or mackerel in transit which has piqued the interest of not just the dolphins, but sea lions, harbor seals, and their aerial neighbors the pelicans. The sea dogs somersault in the foam creating hundreds of individual splashes, and the dolphins, as well, are leaping and twisting back and forth, their acrobatics finally at play. Pelicans fold their wings tight to their bodies and plummet, seemingly buckshot from the sky, their pouches fully open and extended to swallow the water and whatever fish with it. They break the surface post-dive and wing upwards, so there is a yo-yo of aviiformes, plunging and rising, plunging and rising. The gestalt is incredible, and we stop our motors at a respectful distance to gawk.

Yippers gives another low whistle, and we are otherwise mute. Pods of dolphins are descending from all directions—not just the pod we followed—and how could a school of fish be so big as to sate so many appetites? The scope of the frenzy is big, Taj Mahal big, Mt. RUSHmore big—it is monumental and just as beautiful, the animals competing in a mutual trapeze, a real life Cirque de la Mer. We watch the water until it calms slightly, a boiling pot turned to simmer, and—respectfully—we idle away slowly, our senses having been satiated by this accidental and serendipitous feast. We tack left and return home.

‘How could this be,’ I ask myself, ‘That so much splendor was afforded us in three short hours?’ A gray whale, two blues, a trench-dwelling shark, a megapod of commons, and the menagerie of every feathered and finned thing in the surrounding environs descended on one spot: it was as if Poseidon himself was orchestrating a thank you for returning his children to the kingdom, a languorous Murph included. Speaking of, I look over my shoulder to see if our wayward pelican is hot-tailing it in pursuit of our wake but—no—just the erstwhile gulls again as we approach terra firma.  They clap-clap their bills, vermillion spots on their maxillae red flares of greeting. Again, no FunYuns, sorry.  We dock anonymously enough, empty crates and full hearts. My stomach is even normal, and my legs have proven seaworthy. I de-boat comfortably, take one last look at the horizon. That faint black speck could be Murph. Maybe? The day has proven that, if anything, more fantastic things can happen.

Postscript: Yes, Murph did return. One day later.


Day 120

“Dare I say, Grant” and Grant is my house manager—a genteel Bear with a dyed-blue mohawk currently combed down over his pate—“Dare I say, Grant—today is a good day.” It’s been a while. Grant lights up because he has seen me disappear into myself the past couple of weeks, and he has been kind to offer “whatever help you need.” This is what the House is for. We’re all on disparate journeys and there is an undercurrent of loss, heroes in the perhaps making , maybe not. We do what we can and there is a congenial mirth, a camaraderie even as we can sometimes be ships passing in the night.

Grant smiles and my roommate Tony is correct. Damn if Grant doesn’t look like a thirty-five-year-old Haley Joel Osment—something about the eyes and the cherubic cheeks.

“Glad to hear,” he expresses, “That’s really good news” and there is a slight Arkansas twinge in his voice, which is left over from a childhood in the South. Something Delta. Appropriately his chosen drag queen name is ‘Delta Variant’ and I can’t help but laugh (I’m Felicia Salume, by the way—it’s a House game). He offers some prosaism about sobriety, and it is true that I have 120 days, but that’s not what I’m really celebrating. I just feel good for once. I don’t take my fourth months for granted, mind you, it’s just that I can’t drink so I don’t. Simple for right now, which is a feat for someone who almost fetishizes complication. (David Foster Wallace, of a similar bent, was dumbfounded when writing ‘Infinite Jest’: ‘you mean these needlepoint samplers ‘one day at a time’ and ‘you are where you’re supposed to be’ actually work? He had respect for the Rooms in ways that the more exploitative Chuck Palahniuk does not).

The night prior I spent at Jenny’s, which is sometimes difficult. Our once Hygge home has been recontextualized into the confines of her apartment and it is familiar to the point of nostalgia. Nostalgia is an oft misunderstood term: it’s not as saccharin or amber-hued as it’s made out to be. Nostalgia literally translates to ‘the pain of returning home.’ And it is painful, everything in its right place but not, us decantered into what is now Jenn, me the wine diamonds at glass’ bottom. There is the sofa and chaise, the erstwhile chair, an unsatisfactory light though, which, like an existential dimmer switch, never fails to depress my mood. Venetian curtain blades clack, Cayde usually has the TV too loud, and Finn sing-songs his content. Despite the low light and the white noise, I manage to photosynthesize here, which can’t rightly be said for the struggling fiddleleaf in the apartment corner. Make gray cells green, this my family.

There is the wafting of Jenn’s perfume, and I wish to venture into her closet and cast my arms around the empty dresses hanging there. I don’t, but the want is there, an almost need to pretend her decolletage, her neck, her hair (!), her lips to my ear, and it’s a wantonness that has vegetative root in my gut. But I don’t. “Oh, Thom. I never needed your poems,” she has said. She never needed them, but they are there and will always be should she ever desire listen. I am a poem and she was the finger drawn circular along the goblet rim that made me sing. I am the wine diamonds, she is the wine. Together we are a volume, just now a volume separated. Alone together, together alone. I will always love her.  

I photosynthesize in the apartment, like an areole awaiting blossom, hoping to grow sunwards and away from the otherwise gloam. It has been stubbornly dark of late, the Escitalopram not punching the synapses, no lightning pulses of serotonin. I sit in the garden at Amethyst errantly wasting cigarettes and ruminating once unfathomable things. I read Virginia Woolf. My pocket is full of stones. I read Anne Sexton: I am like a watercolor. I wash off. I read DFW: a man jumps from a burning building not because he is suddenly afraid of falling, but because the alternative is so much worse. I think these things. I think that love is a burnt match skating in a urinal. I think love is pecuniary. I think I’m forever unrequited. I think Kurt Cobain’s last album was supposed to be entitled ‘I Hate Myself and Want to Die’.

Still, I photosynthesize. Cayden and I have a ritual of feasting and watching adult content on television: Breaking Bad, American Psycho. I fucking hate Jenny’s stove (electric range be damned) but I bang out tikka masala calzones and tournedos and tagliatelle. Cayde’s never eaten so good. We lay on the couch in opposite directions on the couch, legs intertwined. He intermittently farts. “Jeezus, Cayde,” and it’s as if we’re back on Herman Ave. I bathe Findlay and he dresses himself in undersized pajamas and wears some ice cream for dessert. We snuggle in bed because he asks for me and he grips my hand like he used to, rubbing his palm over the blade of my thumbnail. His breathing slows and he inserts a thumb into his mouth, eyes closed in parabolic slits. My eyes are staid and open and my heart opens to receive this, the light, the grey cells green. I miss my Boys. The loneliness and love are competing tendrils growing inside of me. There is something splenic, a phloem for black humour sprouting from my gut. There is love there too, something more sanguine and housed behind my ribcage. My body, it is a confusion. Oh, Jenny, I miss you, and I know you wake up, too, and wonder how it is we are so alone. Alone together, together alone.

But today is a good day. Four months since my orange chair purgatory back in the Hygge home, resolute bottle of vodka, records spinning on repeat. My friend had come down from Modesto and kept me company for four days. I was numb, bordering on a counterintuitive happiness, like the euphoria before dying, dying which, I reserved for later. (And die I did mid-January, then again early March). I spun Death Cab on the Crosley and sang with my friend: “Lushing with hallway congregation, my best judgement/ Signed its resignation/ I rushed this. We moved too fast, trips into/ The guestroom.” Moving too fast; also in torpor. An occasional bath which my friend insisted, sitting with my knees perpetually drawn up, hugging my body. I stopped going to work. All this four months ago knowing I was going to disappear somehow. But today is a good day, 120 days since.

Grant tells me he’s happy for me, and I believe him. Corpses are unsettling. I’M happy for me. I paw the air in expectation of the usual malaise, but it’s not there. The sun has not yet burnt its way through the marine layer, it’s gray, and the light is peeking. Challah, I think, fresh from the bakery. A bread pudding for the House. I am planning. This is good. Hillcrest is not yet bustling, its rainbow crosswalks untraversed and the storefronts still half an hour till open. The Hub is not a hubbub, University is whooshing with the air brakes from early morning buses. I sport a gray blazer and burgundy pants, sunglasses and headphones. I am in my uniform, I am me. I’m rested, but not too rested, and there is a difference. Pigeons alight; the crows are not so urban this antemeridial hour. Challah, butter, chocolate medallions, milk, chicken breast for the poaching. African black soap. A ginger beer and a Newport. I could be telemetrically transmitting all of this, a collection of datapoints, my thoughts are so concise. The sun makes its appearance and I decide, no, this is not a fluke. I’m, dare I say it, happy. I text Jenny and Cayden—I do every morning—to wish them well today. I tell them I love them. Cayde thanks me for the calzones and I promise to put them on rotation. It’s the least I can do.

My dad says I have necessarily fucked up Cayden for life. He says ‘broken home’. My dad, he is Hermann Kafka putting a young Franz out on the balcony and locking the door. I am ashamed. Cayde has endured a lot, but he is resilient and we have a particular love that is a tornado cellar through all of this. Getting better, as today, feeling photosynthesis and stretching toward the sun, we regain. When first I went to the hospital, he cried, said, “You don’t understand, Mom, he’s my favorite.” I don’t believe Cayde has a favorite, I don’t. Still, the father-son bond is strong and by nature of our early cementing, there is the hope that all this will make us stronger. What better way to teach a son than to teach him redemption? I wrote:

“And never mind the change in weather—though I prefer afternoons of high nimbus and when the sky is a Crayola-blue—I look forward to picking up my kid everyday. Especially on Wednesdays when he’s home early and I’m the one to gather him from class. I didn’t grow him, per se, I was not his avenue into this world, but he’s me in part; and more importantly he takes that piece of me and makes it better because he is that kid who’s remarkable, who could’ve invented the rainbow or something and wouldn’t be any less remarkable than he already is.

I see his blond head at the curb, which is the cue for my heart to do it’s jump-thing. It’s the jump-thing every time, because seeing him is recognition and love at once, and there’s that emotional spike, that adrenaline, when chemicals understand they must be employed like fireworks when I rest eyes on him, him my kid.”

I do not lock him on the balcony where I currently stand, cold and lambasted by my own father. Cayde is warmed by the thrumming of my still hummingbird heart, the heart I’ve written about, which vibrates more than it beats. And if hummingbirds do not take sustenance every quarter of the hour, they fall into torpor. May these last few years just be that: a temporary torpor. Today I’ve found flowers on which to sup, and though I’m heartbroken as fuck, I’m probably more me than I’ve been in a while. It is today and I am making bread pudding. I will go to self-storage, avoid the minefields of wedding photographs, and loot the place of its kitchen gadgetries. The House needs bowls, a mixer, my roommate needs a spice grater for his teas—I have all these things. It is today and I have a plan.

The woman at the bread counter—she could be Zoe Kravitz—is hurried and is almost taken aback when I ask her how she is before placing my order. “What’ll you hav—oh, fine, ok.” ‘How are you?’ is as important sentence as ‘I love you’; I didn’t ask it of Jenny enough, I regret. Oh, I regret. “How are you this fine day?” I ask Zoe. And I claim to be “Fantastic as always,” which I always used to say when ringing groceries at my now defunct job. It’s not true—a few short days ago, I felt the weight of rocks in my pockets—’rockys in my pockys’ as Cayde used to say when collecting stones—but why explain that I was the ghost of Woolf begging Jenn for some magnanimity, a life preserver to save me from holing up in the Lafayette and drinking into Oblivion.

 “What I want to say is I owe all the happiness of my life to you. You have been entirely patient with me and incredibly good. I want to say that – everybody knows it. If anybody could have saved me it would have been you. Everything has gone from me but the certainty of your goodness. I can’t go on spoiling your life any longer.”

Zoe remarks that she is fine and asks my order again. Challah, it turns out, is only baked on Fridays. Right—the double helping of manna on Friday to last through Shabbat on Saturday. I forget. So I get brioche, which is not the same, but I have a loaf of something—give us this day our daily bread. The sky is clear outside and I venture down the block to Whole Foods for chocolate medallions and Dutch cocoa.

A text comes through: it’s Alex, my therapist reminding me that I have an appointment tomorrow. I’m not sure yet she can handle me; I’ve a history of outsmarting therapists in an almost willful manner. I’m tired of being left out on the balcony by authority figures, and authority figures are not just parents or clergymen, but the residents of wingback chairs in cloistered rooms. The quiet measurers of the mental abacus. I just want to be enough. Grade me but give me an ‘A’ necessarily, please. A kid looking for affection needs a good grade to get it. Alex—she is looking for me to identify the negative belief I have of myself. Ironically I ask Jenny (codependent much?). She delivers a good answer and I just revealed it: I don’t deserve love lest I perform and perform well. Continuous performance my poet friend Maggie used to say, the exhausting and forever tap dance for affection, validation. I am hole and not a whole unless I am filled by an other. I have bad self-sustain. I can be indignant, blindingly arrogant in self-defense, when no reward comes down the pike. It is bruised ego. It is Franz knocking on the balcony door looking for an answer, looking to be let in. I’ve been failed too many times looking for a love unconditional. I am trapped because I’m led to believe that I must meet certain conditions to earn unconditional love—it’s a paradox. “Thom, I never needed your poetry.” But, goddamit, if there is one true thing: I’m a fucking poet and that’s not an act. It is true, though, I write the bones so you can see my skeleton—see me stripped, just SEE ME and hopefully love me. Maybe I’m not simple enough, no I’m not simple enough, and in trying to write down the bones, I sometimes fail to get right down to the skeleton and I wear a bone suit instead, which is not the same; it is another form of donning a cloak. “You hide behind words,” I’ve been accused. But I’ve lied only by omission, by overcomplication. “If you tell the truth, if you’re so confessional, why don’t you write about the alcohol?” it’s been parried.  Ouch. Stymied. I’s always been there actually. I just hid it in plain sight. From my first big blog entry:

“ Like the pool water finding form on the under-lobes of philodendron leaves, guilt just precipitates, finds home.  Doesn’t matter what I have or haven’t done; that guilt I always feel when disciplining Cayde becomes something real, and it finds deposit in recollections of my guiltiest moments.

I’m sorry I yelled at you, Cayde.  I’m sorry for yesterday.  I’M SORRY FOR THIS EVER-PRESENT RED CUP, the lack of stars, and this highway which is long and too curvy and which makes you throw up.  Sorry, Cayde.  It’s all my fault.  Tomorrow we’ll do better. Sorry I punched a dent into your wall at age 2 and that you actually remember that.”

From the same piece:

“Later, at the Best Western in Mariposa, I watch the traffic pass on the 41.  I’ve sat myself down curbside with a plastic cup of juniper ale.  The cars pass and their brake lights are something beautiful: streaks of red down the highway.  The sky is not what you’d might expect crowning the Yosemite Valley.  It’s muddy and flecked with very few stars.  Not exactly what I was hoping to show Cayden.  The Milky Way is still something he hasn’t seen save for the telegraph points present in our San Diego sky, the stars that barely suggest the galactic sweep hidden beyond our view.  I remember the first time I saw the Milky Way in its full splendor, the moment it really hit home that we were looking outwards through the cosmic arm of a giant spiral.  The stars set slowly in their great arc as satellites traversed the same curvature–just more quickly–and there was the sense that orbits were relative, and circular.

Cayde will not experience that this trip.”

From a later piece, when experiencing anhedonia following a detox:

“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.”


“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 then, 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.”

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.”

These things I have written. These are my truths. I didn’t say them simply, but I said them.  Do you still like me? Ironically, do you like me more? I continuously perform. I’m gonna have a helluva session tomorrow. But today is a good day. I have challah (Whole Foods had it), I’m Lyfting to storage, I’m gonna wade through pieces of me, and find my potato ricer at least. Pommes puree for dinner. Herb-butter basted pork chops and charred broccolini. That should round out today. And I’ll call Tammey as usual, and write. Last I left off, I was in Kava Bar’s side room at a meeting, an upturned euphonium as Christ’s corpus, listening to fellow alcoholics explain the Miracle while I felt the lack of thereof. It was the longest day and I almost didn’t survive. A cliffhanger certainly. But I’m here. Hello, World, how are you? May the day be filled with love and hope. Onwards.


Day 105

Depression is palpable despite it being a coruscation of neural flashes and otherwise ephemera. Ask anyone who has pawed the air upon waking, 6am maybe, with the uncertain question, “Are you here today?” Depression will always answer and with its particular plummet: it is a plane and it is definitely crashing.

6 a.m. and I have slept in my clothes again. The open window lets a chill into the room—fresh air at least—which my grandmother’s quilt is unfit to quell, and I am cold as the ceiling fan blades do their slow rotor. It is here today, this depression, just as it was not five days ago; the inconsistency is baffling and serves to somehow make the depression worse. Were it present every day, there would at least be comfort in its erstwhile reliability, like the ibis returning to the Nile on the annual, harbingers of the coming floods. No, this depression is trickier: it wings in according to its own almanac. Waters rise one day only to recede the next. I have dealt with the waters before, and when they were constant, the pills not working and my fingerprints something of erasure having soaked in the baths for so long. This time, this 6 a.m., I am surprised by the flash flood. It is not supposed to be like this, for I am well, considering—I look down at my hands and the fingerprints are intact, which means the self is intact, and I haven’t been one with the waters in weeks. I almost felt ashore, the Escitalopram and lack of drink slamming  me onto the silt, shipwrecked  but hull intact. No, there has been a breach and fuck if I’m all wet: It is a ship and I am definitely sinking.

I walk to get coffee, every step just one step that’s not falling down. It is cold, not bracingly, but enough of report that the coat doesn’t work and I pass by my friends in the ‘Rare Society’ steakhouse parklet who have endured the night in cardboard and tatters. A man, he pushes a grocery cart in the middle of the street and it is full. Sundry clothes, the requisite bags of cans, something almost architectural protruding above it all like some junk parapet. He provides pathos to the morning: “Why?” he shouts. “Why? Why?” and he is broken and cannot rewind. I feel him with every ‘why’, the question we ask as placeholder for lack of a more specific query. In the moment there are no answers—not even questions for there to be answers to—and my bones are bone-sharp buried within. I am particularly cynical this morning. There is no tenderness, and I inwardly snarl that ‘tender’ is at heart just a pecuniary word. The world offers me nothing, and this is not a way to start one’s day, transactionally bereft. I need something, some miracle of magnaminity because I am an alcoholic. For me to drink is to necessarily die. When you know that dying is the option and that it doesn’t seem necessarily unfavorable, an alcoholic brand of suicide seems tenderness of a different currency. As is, my pockets are already lined with stones, and it would only take a river. I am a car, and it is definitely crashing.

I get my coffee. I lean against an available trash can and have what will be one of too many cigarettes today. Cigarettes are markers of time, as were drinks. Smoking is an addiction of chronology moreso than chemistry for me, time a catenary in between rolls of lit paper. I know there will be too many today, as time is tauter this morning, and of nagging essence. I don’t know why or essence of what. It just is. I refer to the mathematic I have in my head as to how much alcohol it would take to kill me, and know that it is doable. I know that 44 is a viable die-able age. I am a watercolor and as Anne Sexton wrote in her passing, I know I will wash off. It’s ok, this tacit permission.

The man in the street has ceased yelling ‘Why?’ Perhaps he found an answer, or perhaps he found a new question. He has filled space momentarily, the town crier slipping down the avenue. I put out my cigarette and trudge back toward Amethyst. It is safe there. Amethyst is an oasis painted orange despite its aubergine name and I pay a relative pittance for its haven. There are six steps leading up—I count—and I am already tired of counting. For example, this is the 105th day of my sobriety. For example, this is four months since Jenny left. For example, this is all a negative integer approaching zero. I’ve forgotten my calculus but I remember the language of approach and there’s something to that, something about never getting there. It’s ineffable and zero is something in a bell jar. Whatever. The bell jar can be smashed.

I resist sleep. I slept for the better part of three days earlier in the week and one must have a plan in between lifting one’s head, then refunding it to the pillow. Never lifting one’s head is cheating. It’s principle. Again those pecuniary terms. ‘Tender’, ‘principle’, ‘refund’. ‘Debt’ is pecuniary, too, as is ‘amends’ and to settle one’s account with the existential registrar, the pillow must be resisted. Procrastination is too easy and is also sign of hidden anger, resentment toward a task, resentment too toward the assigner of said task. I don’t know who is the taskmaster here, who wags the figurative finger, but it’s pointed in my face and I heed the call-up. Resentment is to be avoided at all costs. This much I’ve learned.

I light another cigarette on the back patio where there are aloes and grey-green succulents of substantial tooth and flesh. Flowers have not yet sprouted but it is February; the sourgrass has not yet exploded chartreuse. Dandelions are busy doing their thing all pappus and stalky and I sit unimpressed by it all. Four fifths of vodka. This has suddenly presented itself as an option to be reckoned with, a Winehouse proportion certainly, but one as blithely offered as, “Coffee, or tea? One lump or two?” The other option lies at the end of a pack of cigarettes, and the telepathic push necessary to move the clock arms forward. To have these options even be options in the first place, and for them to make the scale beam horizontal, is absurd. I demand a recount. First rule: don’t believe all your thoughts.

Recount comes one pack of cigarettes and thirteen hours later. I receive an official job offer from Whole Foods, I actually eat something of substance—creole shrimp atop a bed of macaroni and cheese—and subsist. By the numbers: four ventis and three ginger beers quaffed; two phone calls to my therapist; four to my best friend in Arizona who, by her account, wishes she could just give me a hug already; and two meetings. The first one I attend is out of necessity, heeding the alcoholic wisdom that meeting-makers make it. And making it this morning takes on a deeper significance when thoughts venture into mortal absurdity and within the brain is manufactured impasse.

(My roommate said something funny this morning if I can break the Fourth Wall momentarily: when I finished the sturm und drang of this piece’s beginning, he simply said, “You could’ve turned off the fan.” Perfect Beckett wisdom—touche. The town crier shouted, ‘Why?’; Tony essentially asked, “What for?” He could’ve also said, “Penguin dust! Roman coin soup!” It would’ve made the same difference) .   

The second meeting of the day is of greater report. The Kava bar sits on University Avenue on the easternmost edge of Hillcrest, before the Avenue takes a precipitous drop beneath the Georgia St. Bridge and into University Heights proper. The Kava Bar is as it sounds: it is a bar, there is a bar top, there is a barback proffering brews. Minus a jukebox and the obtrusive glare of TV screens, the establishment is much like any other brewhouse in Hillcrest; it’s just that kava, despite its mollifying properties, is non-alcoholic. Kava, which comes from the Polynesian word ‘awa’ for bitter, is root extract from Piper mythisticum. Like alcohol, though, it hits the Central Nervous System as well the liver. It is imbibed to abate anxiety, to provide a calming effect, and ameliorate the symptoms associated with benzo withdrawal. As can be intuited, kava is very alluring to alcoholics: it’s alcohol but not. The fact that it is mind-altering has the community in a quandary: is it a viable replacement, or is it verboten? This is not the first time alternative drugs have been the debate among the Rooms. Some die-hard old-timers eschew even prescription anti-depressants. They instead champion the ‘miracle of the Program’ alone as ameliorative: a straight, no-chaser brand of relief. But even Bill, founder of Alcoholics Anonymous, was known to chemically wander, campaigning at one point for the use of mind-expanding psychedelics he said, to heighten understanding of the Higher Power. I just know, I’m disallowed from all mind-altering substance and, as resident of Amethyst Landing contractually obligated to place my hand over my glass were kava to be offered. Ironic then, that I find myself at Kava Bar for an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting, eight o’clock on the longest day of my sobriety.

The Room is through a wood-paneled door adjacent to the bar, and really it is like being in a brewhouse again having to wave down the barback for a drink with a fistful of dollars. I get my cold brew and walk through the door into a cinema of candles and folding chairs. The room is dark, but not too dark, and the votives act as footlamps as if in some primitive theater. Everyone  is underlit, which adds not only to the ambience, but to the cast of anonymity: one can make out details, but details which don’t lend themselves to a full gestalt. The man next to me, he has a spike through his ear; the woman in front of me has an embroidery of hair. I stupidly wear flip-flops with my brown peacoat. I find a seat in the back opposite the stage where the Leader is currently speaking. Behind her is a curiously illuminated stool atop which sits an upturned brass instrument, a euphonium maybe. There is a potted plant. An open door leads to a utility closet.  

The Leader speaks not in a hushed tone, but reverent nonetheless; her cadence is perfect so that even when her story goes sideways, there is no faltering, and the redirect is a gentle and rhetorical entreaty for forgiveness—“I’m an alcoholic, please excuse me my distractions.” She is a good speaker and exudes the serenity people who have witnessed the miracle do: we’re antennae to it, we alcoholics, and can gauge when a person has finally and lastingly approved of themselves. To hit a valley, then climb a peak necessitates going twice the distance, and the accumulation of experience along the way rounds the voice; in the Speaker’s mouth therein lies a pearl.

I am rapt. As Cheever says: “the tonic or curative force of straightforward narrative is inestimable.” (He is also attributed with saying we tell stories when in danger or pain, to wit: “I expect as I lay dying I will be telling myself a story in a struggle to make some link between the quick and the defunct”). In the Rooms, we all harbor and–Lord-willing–share our stories for we are all very afraid, even when we are seemingly not as with the Speaker, for in our bodies is an incurable disease that cannot be excised. It pervades our spirit and guides us into alcoholic thinking as with my thoughts today. It ravages us, has us as the town crier shouting an interminable ‘why?’ while pushing a grocery cart of regret, the salvages of a life.

I am rapt. I close my eyes even. I am not praying, though I could be. The votives, the liturgy of the Room—it is like a church, people in half-light, the euphonium our makeshift corpus. No, I am not praying; I’m just accepting the tonic that is offered in the otherwise Kava Bar in Hillcrest in San Diego in this, my 105th day of sobriety. I am relieved I have made it to nightfall. My bed is two blocks away. The fan, Tony, is still on.

It is my turn to tell a story, to link that quick and defunct, and I admit this to be my hardest day in sobriety. I didn’t elaborate the machinations of my thinking as I do here, except to say that ‘to drink is to die’, which at surface seems hyperbolic, and in my stupid flip-flops appears moreso—like prophesy coming from a pig—but it is a necessary way to think, this all or none ruminating. ‘I can die’ is the same as ‘I will die’, semantics be damned. If I didn’t think this way, I’d risk everything in a heartbeat. The pull is that strong. So I say it, my mortal algebra, but then tell a story of gratitude.

You see, I am bipolar as well as alcoholic, and both afflictions (for lack of a better word—they both are in the DSM-V) have their genetic roots. My paternal grandfather was alcoholic, though sober when he died, and my maternal grandfather was what they called at the time a ‘manic-depressive’. As fate would have it, they both lie in mausoleum crypts across the street from one another. One day, in the height of mania and when I was newly sober and dwelling on a Pink Cloud, I visited my grandfathers, kneeling in turn at their final resting places. I did not offer funereal flowers, nor lamentations of any sort—I thanked them instead for what they unwittingly gave me by nature of their twisted genes. My maternal grandfather inadvertently lent me God’s address when he passed on his bipolarity—to be manic is to know this—and my paternal grandfather gave me a disease, certainly, but he also gave me access to the Rooms, a members-only club, through which to salve the spirit.  A Room, I went on, is a place to be vulnerable and ‘vulnerable’ stems from the Latin ‘vulnerabiis’ which literally means to wound oneself. We metaphorically draw knives across our arms in good faith; healing necessitates there be injury, It is a sacred ritual of sorts and, as a seasoned AAer once told me in a veritable twist of the kaleidoscope, “You see, we don’t HAVE to go to meetings; we GET to go to meetings”, which is an impassioned way of recognizing the sacrosanct nature of the Rooms, the holding of space for others and the space otherwise being held for us.

I finish as I begin: “My name is Thom and I am an alcoholic.’ This ends Day 105; the depression it abates, and, as always I carry onwards.


Day 90

I was in the middle of my dorveiller last night, awakening at midnight for a spell before retiring to second sleep. As it was 12 and yesterday a fade-away, I thought to the morning ahead before realizing the day’s significance, which is twofold.  There, wrapped in my Grandma’s quilt with my lemongrass tealights effusing their citrus, I remarked that this is my first Valentine’s Day in twenty-six years where Jenny is not (expressly) my valentine. It is also the ninetieth day of my third? fourth? but most successful attempt at sobriety. Alki wisdom says Day 90 is the bellwether day for continuing sobriety, the day we have it somewhat figured out. I don’t know about that, about having things figured out, but I do know what Valentine’s Day is. It remains, perhaps counterintuitively now, my favorite holiday.

 A cartoon this morning interpreted the arrow through the heart as a ‘vital organ being wounded’ and a bouquet for what it is: truncated and dying flowers. The comic IS accurate, perhaps cynical. One can also say that Valentine’s Day is the day that Captain Cook was stabbed in the heart and neck by Hawaiian tribesman, else the day that seven of George “Bugs” Moran’s made men were massacred in Chicago’s North Side.  I don’t celebrate those things, though Cook was an Imperialist and the Capone-killed mafiosos were murdering criminals. This is the dark side of the holiday; the holiday is about love. Before the protestations of commercialism  with its glut of red-sequin candy boxes, before the trite aphorism ‘Everyday is Valentine’s Day’ gets uttered (which I happen to believe), may it be realized that February 14 is earmarked to celebrate the greatest human emotion of all; that we red-letter such a day is no less than a grand acknowledgment of our synaptic firings and coursing bloods and breathless esprits acting in great concordance.

There are seven types of love (according to the Greeks), so Valentine’s Day is necessarily a multifaceted celebration. I’ve written about them before but to recount: there is philitia, intimate and authentic love; eros, romantic and/or sexual love; ludus, flirtatious or playful love; pragma, committed and compassionate love; philautia, self-love; storge, unconditional and familial love; and—most importantly—agape love, which is love of everybody.  May you have experienced all seven at some point, or aspire to. I have, of course—and through the span of twenty-six years—shared most these with Jenny. I usually bar philautia love, for it is love of self, but today, the ninetieth day of my sobriety, I change my perspective: to engage in philautia love is to engender all the rest.

In January, I admitted to Jenny that my thoughts had grown explicably dark, that suddenly alone, I had morbid ideations. I know how much drink it would take to kill a person, and I had a loathsome and terminal thirst. This is not to say I was suffering from cravings—haven’t had but one in ninety days—but rather that I was abstracting my death by Erlenmeyer milliliter. I figured it would take four fifths of vodka and, if need be, a saccharin chaser of ethyl glycol. Thankfully—and though any therapist worth their mettle would raise a flag and an eyebrow at me having elaborated the ‘hows’ of my undoing—the thoughts were fleeting, if specific. I later told Jenny that I was failing the Mirror Test—the ability to still love oneself in the mirror—and that I was necessarily going through a self-loathing phase, that I had lost touch with anything philautia. “Does it get better?” I asked her, and she assured me, yes, it does. She had a head start on the grieving cycle, so, as I do, I chose to believe her.

Time will heal, the cliché says, but what the cliché doesn’t elaborate is the outright Hell one has to go through before a wound begins its hemostasis. Blood seeps, sometimes flows, and without seeming remedy. Add alcohol to the mix, rather the sudden lack of it, and Hell is realized in its iciness, like in Dante Alighieri’s ‘Inferno’: one is like ‘a straw in glass’, frozen and refractively distorted. For me, I thawed sometime in late January, after a spate of false starts, but I was finally able to pass the Mirror Test again. I wrote and cooked my way out of it, doing two things I truly love to do, so as to fill the hours and melt the ice till it became flow. Ice cubes liquesced in glass; right angles softened. A turning point: I offered my friend Billie, who I have great philitia love for, a plate of food after some failed attempts, and he finally accepted. “Know why I didn’t take food from you until now?” he asked. I mumbled something about being ships passing in the night, but he replied, “No—I couldn’t take your food because your heart wasn’t in it.”  Billie is a keen reader of the spirit. “Game sees game,” he famously says. It should be said, Billie was also the one who preemptively warned me of the Hell to come in late December. I believed him then as I believed Jenny in January.

Throughout these months, one thing was constant aside from my imperishable love and equally keening sense of loss: the calendar page. At Amethyst, the manager strikes each day off the calendar with a pen, veritably erasing another twenty-four. Or, to look at it in a different way—if we’re to twist the kaleidoscope—to mark the GAIN of another twenty-four. Another day of sobriety, which is the point of being in a sober living residence, or, to use a more dated term, a ‘halfway house’. I’ve always disliked the term ‘halfway house’—halfway to what? Are we half-people? Half-dead? Maybe, but in sobriety we choose to act contrary to our diagnoses, our proclivities, which would otherwise have us–and have had us–acting contrary to our values.  The point of the Twelve Steps  (and I still don’t know in what capacity I will work them if formally) is to recognize one’s defects, work with a Higher Power to innervate personal growth (and, trust me, a Higher Power can just be mathematical as in yourself plus one [a friend, the Book, the Spirit, God, whatever]), and to make amends where amends are due. To, lastly, practice these principles in all our affairs. That’s it. You don’t have to be a Believer, though it’s hotly contested in some circles of Twelve Step programs (of which there are many: I belong to two groups—it’s not just AA we’re talking about). This is all to say, a sober living residence is, if anything a SAFE place, to engender the process of returning to full self from some halfway, else rock-bottom, point. The return to self through acceptance and contrition–the Lazarus miracle coupled with some Psalm 51 (David forever the poet)—is the ultimate act of philautia love.

Philautia love, you’ll remember, is what I claim to be the engenderer of all other types of love. It’s a prosaism that ‘before one can love others, one has to first love themselves.’ Not inequitably, mind you—one can teeter into narcissistic gandering at one’s own reflection—still the Mirror Test must be passed. I remember staring hard at myself in the full-length looking glass of my spartan room, come late January, taking inventory both literal and figurative. Like an Alice, I almost wanted to pass through the mirror toward something Wonderland, where a backwards me existed, else something temporally distorted and prior to October 14th, the day Jenny left. But though glass is technically a slow-moving liquid, it resisted my touch—I couldn’t find passage–and I rested against it with an arm outstretched. I was very in the now; I looked myself in the eye and accepted it—whatever IT is–the way one does the fact of water, the product of melted ice, and felt thaw. Blood flowed, but not out. The spirit—which comes from the word sprit, or breath—saw rise, and my thoughts of glycol and firewater dissipated. There was something self-love in the moment; I didn’t forgive myself—not then, not yet—but I felt half-alive on my side of the mirror and not half-dead. And, though she wasn’t in the room, I felt great tenderness for Jenny. I have told her she did the right thing by leaving me, and that was really fucking hard to say, but for her it was an act of both storge and philautia love: it saved everyone involved, everyone including me.

Tenderness and time begets a timely tenderness. Jenny and I are at a Pax Hofmana as I call it, a time of no war, no strife. We’re in each other’s’ lives—there are the necessary boundaries—but there doesn’t exist stalagmites of ice separating us, nor hoarfrost decorating the underleaves. Aside from my early and ill-conceived resentments at having been abandoned—resentments I realized were ultimately deflective and undeserved, mea culpa—the fact of us has been what in November Jenny called our ‘time of being alone, together’. It’s as if we share one space while simultaneously standing at two physically disjoint points: a near Lynchian paradox of geography and self. I visit her apartment a few times a week. Sometimes I relieve her to parent the boys for a few hours, other time she’s stayed. I made her a fillet and a tartiflette for what could’ve been a Valentine’s dinner; we enjoyed the Super Bowl together yesterday with the kids and Jenny’s (and my) longtime friend Aurelia (Gidget). We remarked—the lot of us—that this was just like family. Correction, as Jenny said: “This is family.” Storges love. Jenny and I sat side by side on the couch and I was very aware of her presence though I didn’t upset things by wrapping an arm around her as she did Gidge. It didn’t matter: you know how you feel when there are electrons positively charged in between two peoples despite being inches apart? I felt that. It reminded me of when Jenny first visited me in my first detox. I wrote in ‘Bridge Over Dry Waters’:

“ 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 penniless 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 Spruce St. suspension bridge. I’ve since securely fastened my padlock to the bridge’s cable (author’s note: like the love locks at the Pont des Art), figuratively stenciled our initials, but bridgefall is always the threat. Cables can snap and pediments can fall.”

That was five years ago. In that time, we still have a practiced geometry, even if not touching at shoulders, hips, and feet; and—yes–we did have bridgefall. Still, the lovelock remains fastened, even as the suspension cables swing over the precipice of divorce. My tune has changed, too. I DO want to fucking be sober. Before I die may that one truth remain true.

And I texted Jenny this morning to wish her a Happy Valentine’s Day, that she was still my valentine despite everything. How can she not be? To be a valentine is to be a participant in any of the various forms of love, and she has my love in a multiplicity of ways. We are family, we are friends, we are a lot of things. Yesterday Jenn put her arms around me while I was making a bisque in her kitchen, and she said, ‘Thank you. This feels so normal,’ and I could only smile over the celeriac. We kissed politely and my heart felt pragma: COMmitted and COMpassionate love, ‘com-‘ being the prefix meaning—very importantly– ‘together’.

Why Valentine’s Day remains my favorite holiday.


Day 86

I am not my diagnoses AND I am responsible for my recovery and amends (to use the word ‘but’ vs. ‘and’ would diminish both the right-hand and the left-hand clause of this sentence). I contend there is something essential at my core, which is beautiful and diffusive, like the stamen of an autumn crocus–the saffron flower–and I also contend that said stamen can be plucked mercilessly before harvest. I can be an impotent blossom.

Jenny knows my core, which is why we were married for so long. And I have also had my core hidden when wracked with illness and substance. I metaphorized it as such in ‘Amethyskos’, a piece I wrote at year’s beginning:

“And joie de vivre is what I maintain at the core, though the core is necessarily hidden by an ever-shifting mantle—it sometimes takes a keen and dedicated geologist to know that the core even exists. People in my life have tired of the constant need for excavation. Wouldn’t you be? By my wife’s admission, she didn’t know who she was going to get on any given day. Manic one day, at the bottom of a glass the next. This does not make for a solid foundation, the mantle doing its tectonic shifts while the frustrated geologist tries to keep a read on the core. At some point the geologist has to run for shelter lest the ground give way. Pack up base camp, we’re out.”

In this metaphor, it is obvious that said geologists are my loved ones and familiars–the tired excavators–many who I’ve sadly lost in the past year as the event of my unraveling. The core can be decimated by virtue of eruption. To wit:

“The core can be explosive, too: just ask a volcano. Better yet, ask Pliny the Elder, the famous Vesuvian victim of whom Plinian volcanic eruptions are named. According to Brittanica:

In this type of eruption [Plinian], gases boiling out of gas-rich magma generate enormous and nearly continuous jetting blasts that core out the magma conduit and rip it apart. The uprushing gases and volcanic fragments resemble a gigantic rocket blast directed vertically upward. Plinian eruption clouds can rise into the stratosphere and are sometimes continuously produced for several hours. Lightning strikes caused by a buildup of static electricity are common close to Plinian ash clouds, adding one more element of terror to the eruption.”

To the friends and family who have witnessed my eruption in real time and who have strategically relocated base camp: I don’t blame you. It is in everyone’s Bill of Rights to think and feel in the manner that they do; it is none of my business what you believe is me. In the sturm und drang of my Plinian self, you may have thought—or you may think—Jenny has been too kind, that I am a lightning-charged ash cloud in need of dissipation. That the terror just need subside. It hurts knowing all of this—I’m only human and have a keening fear of abandonment—but it is what it is. I can only say my sorries, and turn my ash into rain-wet fertilizer.

The good news is that I still have my family, to whom reparations are due. They have radically accepted me and continue to love me despite all. Both Jenny and I look forward to Chapter Two, knowing that we’re always going to be each others’ plus-ones. Where ever I go in life, she is a necessary part of me, and vice-versa.

Yesterday we lunched at Brockton Villa overlooking the Pacific Ocean—an early haunt of ours–then retired to a sun-spoilt blanket for THE conversation, the entire gamut of emotion being on display in the company of water and lawns and seabirds. It was brutiful (to quote Glennon Doyle), intimate, tear-stained, smile-some, endearing.

We are good. That is what is important.

Many people ask if there is hope of reconciliation after half our lives being spent together. The answer is ‘no’—we agreed amicably to the terms of our divorce—but most importantly we understand each other and do not carry around anchor-some buckets of resentment. That is testament to the foundation of communication and compassion we have laid down over the past two decades. I have acted against my virtues, so this is of no small feat. I carry with me much shame—it is my burden—but I’m on a heroes’ journey of redemption and transformation. A return to the core, a return to the essential me. Thank you to those who have stuck around. Much love.

Day 86 of sobriety.