and tired as a slave
from building in the Nevada summer
Her laugh enlivens me
She's so smart it makes me hard
We wait for her son to sleep
I hold her
Tell her she fills my heart with light
like a sunrise in my chest
We fuck in the bathroom
her legs wrapped around me
into the sweetest oblivion
Heroin’s that lover
whose beauty one regrets
that fantastical, maniacal
that has you rivaling Zeus in orgasm—
body driving deep with one sublime focus
of nerves and brain and skin and chi
shuddering, then spent
awash in flowing life energy
Or is it?
Closer maybe to that
picking, pecking, poking, pest?
accusing you with sharp tattoo?
We crave that which is forbidden
And sweet oblivion!
Soothing me with her nepenthe kiss
in embrace eternal
I sink into the Styx
and learn to breathe those poison waters
as only the dead know how
When I’m haunted
When the clock ticks thunder
When hope dies
When I long for escape
When I pray to Oblivion and observe the needle rites
When I lose reason and forsake joy
Then I wonder: When?
I’m sure I had a weird answer in second grade when I was asked what I wanted to be when I grow up (if I grow up?), but my first firm answer was a rock star. Thanks to my wildly liberal upbringing and severe disconnect with reality, I held on to that dream until about 16. I remember meeting my girlfriend’s mother for the first time and she outright laughed at me when I told her I was planning to attend the Guitar Institute of Technology. I laugh (internally, of course) when I think about how wounded my tender self was when she didn’t take me seriously. Maybe if I played the guitar, at all, ever, I should’ve considered such a vocation, but that turned out to be a serious flaw in my plan. Plan B: writer.
I say that like I’ve ever had a plan B (I think when plan A fails and one goes back to planning, one ends up with a second plan A.) Punctuation nerds: do I have the period in that last sentence on the correct side of the parenthesis? I’d look it up but I have to get up and go to work at, sigh, my construction job in three hours. Fucking stupid planning anyway….
So yeah, there was some majoring in Art in college, and some consideration to becoming a physical therapist, who hates touching people, before dropping out completely, feeling utterly defeated by Howard Rosenburg’s design course, and resigning myself to a strictly blue collar future. It wasn’t until years later that I correlated my dad going to prison with my first college drop-out. I’m not saying it was his fault, but it sure didn’t make that fucking hellish class easier. Like dad’s are here to make shit easier. Ha! Ask my kids.
Here I am, 150 years older, and still “transitioning” into full-time writing. It’s not for lack of trying this time either. Then one day your junkie girlfriend nags at you to get off heroin (because she doing the superior drug), and you finally do, and realize you’ve been driving the car that is your life while mostly asleep. I crashed a literal truck that way–I do not recommend it literally or metaphorically. Now, the vague point. Why am I telling you this?
I was recently offered a union construction job (I worked in the union for over a decade), which pays a lot more and has benefits, and the people who I tell look at me like I’m a little simple because I don’t run back to the union. “That’s a no-brainer,” they say, or “that’s why it’s called ‘work,'” they say, forgetting that they quit the only construction job they ever had , if they ever had one, after one or two summers. I loved the union when I was planning on staying a carpenter. When all the union work dried up and I went back to college to fill the time and my belly (by borrowing lots and lots of money from the government and banks–fuck ’em, they fuck you all the time) I thought I was never gong back to construction. Well, plan B2: I want to publish a book before I die and survive any way I can, and I’m fairly certain I’m done with the union. I will probably keep doing side jobs because I do enjoy building stuff, but since the government and the banks are gong to do what they do best–hound and threaten me for the money they foolishly loaned me–I’d like to turn some profit out of this degree. But even if I don’t, and the banks take two-thirds of my money and the government takes the rest and kicks me twice in the balls, they won’t be able to take back my education.
A friend of mine killed himself recently, after he started hearing voices that would not go away, voices that urged him to hurt people, voices that kept him awake for five days at a time. I have trouble imagining how horrible that would be, and I have a fairly good imagination.
I didn’t cry when I heard about it, though I knew this man probably twenty years. I told a councilor we weren’t that close, but the fuck we weren’t. We may not have spoken constantly or hung out as much as we once did, but we were close. I started to worry there was something wrong with me–not only did I seem to have no reaction to his death, but now I’m minimizing it to some one concerned about me?
Well, it caught up with me tonight. That little talk about him triggered some tears. I had been subconsciously fleeing from the reality of the situation. While free writing, I found myself making a list of the people I knew who killed themselves, OD’d, were blown up fighting overseas, and this list was a lot longer than I’d thought it was. The recent suicide finally hit me, and I couldn’t stop crying for some time.
Life can be fucking ruthless man, matched only by it’s sublime wonder. I may be a lot of things– a junkie in recovery, undisciplined, bi-polar– but as of me writing this I am alive. I have this moment to not suffer. I have time perhaps to fulfill a dream, or just plain know gratitude for one more breath. But how much time? Clearly that shit runs out at any moment, so I shouldn’t put off anything. And I should use my time wisely, cherish it.
But will I?
I want to disappear in a whirlwind of words
forgetting everything at once
and dissolving into void
I want to rise like smoke
and dissipate in a gust
merging into nothing
unbound and free at last
I want to glide like rain into the sea
splashing, then I’ll go
wash away my skin and flow with all that is
I want to take a breath
and know infinity before exhaling
and calm as stone
and vast as blackest space
Life is good. I’ve too many blessings to count, and though I often lose sight of that, at this moment I recognize them and am grateful for them. I’ve struggled—really struggled—with drug and alcohol addiction for decades. I lost custody of my children, for which I doubt I can forgive myself; I’ve lost jobs, girlfriends, and blacked-out periods of lunatic time when something else was piloting from the cockpit of my skull. First time I tried cocaine, I thought 6 pm was actually 6 am and time for me to go to work. Once I figured out what time it was, clever boy that I was, I took my Rottweiler in a cab from the back of Lemmon Valley to the bar. I bet you can’t do that in Reno anymore. Anyway, when I got home, I smashed up the house I rented with my crazy girlfriend (I know it’s redundant). I have only the vaguest wisp of memory of doing that, but I do remember what she told me later: “You looked like you were possessed.”
I didn’t know then how often I would later rent out my brain like an Uber for demons (or hire them to drive? forgive the poor simile). I used to black out so frequently at the Jazz Club (ah, Fourth Street), I started running into people only my drunken beast-self knew. It was like having a multiple personality disorder. Crack a bottle and let the chaos in. Meth cured my alcoholism. Opiates cured my meth addiction. Shooting heroin not only almost killed me physically, but it numbed me into an emotional un-death. Once I started medication-assisted recovery, I started feeling again, and I was in awe of all the sensations I had ghosted in flight from myself.
I drink some still, but I don’t emotionally shape-shift anymore. I’ve seen demons and been in the presence of the divine—I didn’t need faith either: divinity was there and even as an atheist I could do naught but be humble before it. Laugh if you want to, if it makes you feel better. I have eaten more acid than most people have probably seen, but I’ll wager in blood when the time comes.
What I’m trying to scratch together out of this rambling is that I feel really fucking good. I’m far from cured, and I’m still bi-polar as ever, but the wounds, self-inflicted and otherwise, are healing. For the first time since early childhood, I don’t feel the constant, pressing need to escape my skull. I enjoy that which I have and value those people close to me (formally related or not, I call them “family”) more than some of them probably know. My kids still love me, and my life doesn’t feel like a waking nightmare or a series of car crashes anymore. I’ve been lucky enough to have the mentors I needed, and they were stubborn enough to put up with my lunacy. Joker resonated with me in a way that should make me uncomfortable, but damn it if I don’t spend most of the day laughing because I’m happy-ish, not because of a head injury.
What I’m really trying to say is thank you. Thank you God for having a sense of humor as sick as my own, thank you all my lovers for teaching me lessons I can’t forget (and not for lack of trying), thank you brothers for being down for life, and thank you teachers for giving me gifts I didn’t fully grasp the value of. Thank you mom for doing the best you could with your insane offspring and setting an example I can strive for, and thank you dad for teaching me the importance of a father, even if it was by showing me all the things a father should never do. Fuck you, dad, actually, but you really did make me a better father. And if you read this stumbling mess of words, thank you too, whoever you are.
She loved me when I was wretched
her acceptance raised me to my feet
but once I stood, she faced me down:
an Angel of Self-Destruction
with poison pumping through my veins
and my emotions dead or dying
She helped me clip those wings
though I know that they’ll grow back
but for now I rejoice to feel all my pain
and shed tears of boundless joy
you’ve given me back my life,
and for that I’m ever-grateful
I was slogging away in the triple digit Nevada heat when I received one of those phone calls we don’t want to get, yet keep the ringer on all night so we don’t miss. A long-time friend of mine was beaten and left in the desert. He died in the hospital.
I collapsed in the dust amid my scattered tools. I sobbed, choked on despair. I was slammed by that irrevocable sense of loss—the emotion of death—of some palpable, human sensitivity being ripped away. I wanted to vomit but could only cry in the middle of a construction job site.
My co-worker offered me a ride home. I tried to make jokes—it’s my last defense against the devastation of tragedy, but I just kept thinking of that goofy kid, a kid who got caught up in some bad shit, but a kid struggling to breathe, blasted by the sun, bones broken, lips split. I couldn’t wait for the numbness that inevitably follows such emotional output.
It was all bullshit. I found out, after about an hour, that it was somebody’s fucking prank. Never have such diametrically opposed emotions shared space in my mind and body. Intense rage coupled with extreme joy. The re-contextualizing of reality brought about by a death coupled with deep shame at having been hustled. I was a sap, a rube, a fool, and I wanted very much to meet the author of this lie and have a frank and violent discussion about his antics.
What a mindfuck. I was numb the rest of the day like I’d gone to a funeral, but I had no reason to feel that way. I’ll take this kind of resurrection any day over the death of a friend, but believe me: it is a thoroughly enervating experience.
I’ll say this. To those of you yet untouched by death and illness and all the shit that breaks us or engenders empathy in the human soul, think twice before posting some false bullshit that people might take seriously. Think of people’s mothers if nothing else. Maybe imagine your mother hearing that kind of news. Or imagine one of us who cares catching up with you in person.
I did some time in Sunday school when I was seven or eight years old, in a flaky, New Age Christian church of some kind. I’m told I connected Jesus Christ to black widow spiders by some no doubt tenuous thread, but I don’t recall that. I do, however, remember the “teacher” asking us to draw a picture of the most powerful weapon. Bam! Mushroom cloud. Atomic bomb. Nailed it (don’t bring up nails around Jesus…) Right? Wrong. Trick question. The dude said the most powerful weapon was love.
Depending on how he or possibly she worded it, I think that is a terrible analogy. The question was probably what weapon eliminates all enemies (or at least I hope it was), but that and my mother getting remarried are the only childhood memories I have of church. I steadfastly rejected religion through my teen years and into my twenties, when I began attending services here and there at different churches.
My girlfriend took me to a predominantly black Baptist service, and I enjoyed that because they played their music live and loud. The drummer was just getting down. Once it came time to hug strangers and tell them how much they are loved, my social anxiety sky-rocketed well past heaven. Another time I found myself sitting alone in back of a service listening to the guest speaker, who also painted beautiful pictures of angels as light and color. She seemed to be speaking directly to me—every statement applied directly to my struggles and resonated deeply with me. I’ve always been embarrassed by public displays of grief, yet I cried uncontrollably through the entire service. I went to a handful of funerals, one of which disgusted me completely, steering me back toward my anti-religious path.
I consumed myriad kinds of hallucinogens, in sometimes dangerous amounts. These experiences definitely broadened my mind, but they never answered the God questions for me: Is there one or more? If so, does it or they give a fuck about us?
In 2016 I joined the Satanic Temple—a non-theistic “religion” that combats the oppression of people by Christians using the very tools employed by the church. The Satanic Temple views Satan, as I understand it anyway, as a literary figure symbolizing the eternal rebel. Well, all that was right up my alley, but I don’t think that stuff has anything to do with my beliefs concerning actual deities. Taoism and Buddhism were/are also attractive to me because of their lack of Gods.
Strung out, heart-broken, and damn near ready to give up, I had the good fortune to be invited to a traditional church that was totally foreign to me as well as illegal for me to attend. During the first service I experienced a presence FAR greater than myself that I can only describe as divine. Every element of that service was complexly sacred, resonating with my spirit and my life on innumerable levels. It was beyond comprehension. Afterward I felt reborn. I knew no fear. My heart had been healed. I had communed with divinity and been blessed by its touch. I’ve been allowed to attend three such services, and every one connected me to that divinity and left me feeling rejuvenated in spirit, mind, and body. The only church in which I’ve ever seen God is illegal for me to attend in a country that prides itself on its religious tolerance and freedom. Really though, I wouldn’t have it any other way.