Creative Nonfiction

WRESTLEGY by Timothy Parfitt

We met under the spotlights, cast as Macduff and Banquo in our high school’s production of Macbeth. Alex and I became fast friends. We goofed around a lot back stage, smoked a little weed in the alley. My big moment was when I got to run onstage and yell “horror” until the word lost meaning. When the production was over, Alex invited me to join him and his other upperclassman friends in their backyard wrestling league. Boys playing dress up, immortalizing our daring feats on a bulky 90s camcorder. I played a janitor in coveralls and wielded a mop. We fell on each other from great heights, a mattress or trampoline underneath us. If you do it right, it’s a kind of embrace.

Dark Arena. Ring stands empty.

Into the light dances a myth,

purple feathered boa wrapped around torso.

Pink boots a stompin’.

Larry Sweeney barrels down the aisle

and dives between the ropes of the ring,

bounces to his feet, taunts the crowd,

delights in their jeers, flexes, preens.

His shoulder-length bleach blond hair is wet,

droplets rain with every whip of his head.

We stayed friends but never became close ones, even after I followed Alex to the same Midwestern college. After graduating, Alex moved to Pennsylvania to train with Ring of Honor. That’s where he created Larry Sweeney. I followed his career from afar, got Facebook invites to his matches when he was in town. He doggedly pursued his art, something I admired and even envied. Mine was an idealized notion of Alex. I only heard about the rest later, after he killed himself. Barthes said “In wrestling, a man down is exaggeratedly so, filling the spectators’ entire field of vision with the intolerable spectacle of his powerlessness.” Alex lived to put on a show, so to mourn him, so will I. Good taste is never of paramount importance, least not in wrestling. Book an arena of the mind. Reanimate the dead. Print fliers. Spread the word: a rematch.

Good evening!

What a treat we have in store for you tonight.

Re-birth, Re-venge. The Re-turn…of

Sweet ’n‘ Sour Larry Sweeney!

Close up of Sweeney’s face in pain.

He takes his pink aviators off.

Then puts them back on.

More, More, More demands Larry’s theme music.

When a friend kills themselves, there is no ref to whom to appeal. I read online that Larry hanged himself from the turnbuckle of a ring in Louisiana, that it was his parents who found him. “Unnatural” is a word people use when parents bury their children. Kayfabe is the concept in wrestling that the shared fantasy created in the ring is a code and that the characters and stories created in the ring are sacred. Reality outside the ring, once acknowledged, betrays the fantasy created within it. To “break” kayfabe is wrestling’s greatest sin.

Venue change: Starbucks.

Behold Alex, gravel-voiced bipolar disturbance. 

He delivers a kick! to the plate glass window 

then stays to kick and kick 

until the shatterproof glass comes down. 

Stays long after 

the baristas call the police. 

Rematch implies the possibility of changed outcome. Alex is gone but some version of him (Larry?) kicks around my head. I hate movie suicides, the sad minimalist piano music, the familiar storm clouds and pockets full of stones. I watch dedications online, teary bloggers recount what they all agree was his low point.

Toyota Center Parking Lot:

Shaky camera work,

an opponent named the UK Viper.

Fans getting a chance to mix it up

with a fallen star.

Alex is a manic

and good-natured ringleader.

Tractor trailers in the background.

Halfway between Alex and Larry,

switching back and forth.

When the amateur announcer calls him Larry,

he stops him, and speaks of the name his parents gave him.

I track down and speak to a man who shot the video, who documented what others describe as the zenith of Alex’s unchecked mania. Aaron was a kid skipping school when he met Larry in a McDonalds down the street from the arena. Over the course of that afternoon, Alex became something like a mentor to him. Aaron was the “promoter” of that improvised parking lot match witnessed by a dedicated handful. No one had believed in him like that before. Before what I saw in the video was a tragedy, a fallen star vamping for attention and beer money. After talking to Aaron, I remember Alex could be plain fun. So many known and recorded versions of Alex: artist, friend, inspiration, danger to himself and others, suicide.

Crackling audio of Alex discussing

the awakening that sealed his departure

from Ring of Honor:

“The sky parted ways.

They opened up.

I don’t know how else to describe it, man.

It was like God

staring directly into me

and through me and

I was looking back at him.”

In his own words, 2009, the year of the parking lot match, was the worst of his life. A qualifier though, when he speaks of it, one that haunts me. He calls it the “worst event of my life, up to this point.” “Up to this point” is probably just Alex being realistic, life is a series of hurdles, but to me it sounds expectant.  I track down Aine, one of the witches from Macbeth. They never dated-dated, but he was her first kiss. Back then I thought he walked on water, she says. She tells me of the time Alex drove halfway across the country based on a message he heard within the “Jesus Christ Superstar” soundtrack. How far do the dead plan ahead? He would have done big things in the big leagues.

Sweeney kicks a tombstone into an open grave,

then begins to shovel.

Breaks free, jumps upon the turnbuckle,

makes the international gesture for suck it.

Fireworks punctuate the gesture.

From my spot on the mat,

I regard the figure on top of me,

monster stitched together from Youtube,

memory and daydream.

Surely this is not Larry, much less Alex.

Once he was gone, Alex became a sinking feeling. Instead of making sense of his death, I wallowed in the messiness of it, got lost in the versions of him that live online. Dying in the ring made him myth. Reanimating him has done little to make the spectacle of his death tolerable. My imagination has failed me.

A flicker passes across his eyes,

recognition perhaps,

or resignation.

He jumps, sends his feet

out in front of him, cocks his elbow,

his hair streaking in the wind.

It’s a very interesting question,

though only one person who can answer it.

The man under that big black hat.

Credits roll, time marches on.

Tune in next time.

Larry elbow drops into the ether.

I remember his bark of a laugh. Put the various versions of him away. I’ve been grappling with him so long fantasy has dried into memory. What a poor promoter I was. None vanquished, no new storylines to pursue. If anyone real were involved were my checks would have bounced. I miss Alex. I close the browser windows.

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ROUTINE by T.J. Larkey

My girlfriend works late hours, without any real breaks to eat, so it’s my duty to feed us when she gets home. I take this duty seriously. Not serious enough to learn how to cook, but serious enough. I sit in bed fully dressed, waiting. Then she calls me as soon as she’s off and tells me about her day while I drive to the nearest fast food place. It’s our routine. I like routine. It keeps me in line. 

“You’re a boy that needs to be kept in line,” she tells me.

“Yes,” I say. “I like routine.”

I get to the fast food place. I always get the same thing and the kid that works the late-night drive-thru shift knows me well. More routine. Keep things simple, and nothing will hurt you. I pull around, collect the correct change from my pocket, and wait for the car in front of me to drive away from the window. On the side of the restaurant, amongst the rocks, the cacti, there are bugs and lizards crawling around. I’ve never seen this before. I watch as a grasshopper is struck down by a lizard, mid-flight, and it scares me. This is not routine. But it’s okay. Get the food, drive home, don’t die, feed your lady, go to sleep, repeat. Okay? 

At the window, the kid asks me how it’s going.

“I just saw a lizard end a grasshopper’s life,” I say. “It was ruthless and terrifying.”

“Cool. You want sauce?”

He always asks me if I want sauce. And I always want sauce. It’s routine. It’s comfortable. If he were to not ask me if I wanted sauce, it’s likely I would spin out of control, burn it all down-- the lizards and the sauce and the routine-- all torched. 

“Hit me with some ranch, young man,” I say. “And you know I gotta have that hot sauce.”

“Ranch and hot sauce?”

“Oh yeah.”

The kid walks over to the condiments. I watch him. He’s short and a little soft around the middle and he is missing an eye. I try to picture his life outside of the fast food place. And every night it’s the same. I imagine him at home, smiling, playing video games or watching his favorite TV show. I imagine him eating his mother’s cooking, a healthy redness in his cheeks, oh so happy and loved. But then it turns into picturing how he lost his eye. I imagine him screaming in pain, near death. Then I see him in the hospital, bandaged up and trying to come to terms with the fact that this is his new reality, his new view of the world, without depth or promise or opportunity. I feel so sad, thinking about him. I want to tell him it’ll be okay and have him believe me. I want to believe me. But mostly I want to climb into the drive-thru window and hug him and take over his shift so he can go home and play video games and kiss his mother. 

“Here you go,” he says. “Sauce and napkins in are the bag.”

“Thanks man,” I say. “Have a good one.”

On the drive back, I notice the SERVICE ENGINE SOON light is on. And my gas is low. I don’t get paid for another 3 weeks. The cost of fast food is cheap, but it piles up. I need to learn to cook. I decide cooking will become my new routine. I will become the greatest chef in the world but I will only ever cook for me and my girl. I’ll buy cookbooks, new pans, a spice rack, the whole thing. My girlfriend will come home to the smells of my love and labor. Scents so good it will become erotic. That’ll be the new routine. Learn to cook so well it makes you irresistible sexually, save money in the process, fix your car, don’t die, keep it simple, repeat.


At home, my girlfriend is in sweatpants, starving, tired, but smiling.

“I missed you,” she says. “How was your day?”

“It was good. I didn’t die. And the same cannot be said for everyone.”

“Did you see another accident today?” she asks.

I’d seen an accident the other day. It was bad. One casualty. I’d told my girlfriend all about it, then went on a rant about how my biggest fear is dying in a stupid way. Like a car accident because I was day-dreaming about becoming a master chef/sexual chemist.

“No accidents today,” I say. “Just nature’s routine.”

“Good. Now come here and stuff your face with me.”

I sit down next to her and we stuff our faces. It’s great. It’s routine. I feel full. I look over at my girlfriend and she appears full too. We are tired. I turn the TV on. My girlfriend needs the TV on to fall asleep so she doesn’t think about bad things that keep her awake. And I cannot sleep with the TV on because my brain latches on to everything. So I stay awake. Reading while the TV is on. I use a night light she bought me to further enhance the routine-- holding the book in one hand-- while the other hand is placed gently upon my girlfriend’s ass. Until she falls asleep. I turn the TV off. And for a few minutes I think about my day. I know a good portion of tomorrow will go the same, and it makes me feel calm. For the first time in my life, I feel calm before bed. Because of the routine. I fall asleep.


A few days later, at the fast food place, there is a disturbance in the routine. I order my food, but the line isn’t moving. I start to panic. I text my girlfriend. Long line. But I’m okay. I’ll be home soon. In the rearview, I see a man approach. He’s one of the employees. Belly hanging over belted khakis. 

I roll my window down.

“Hello,” he says. “Sorry about this line.”

His voice is soft. Soothing. A bit of a lisp. And his face makes me trust him.

“It’s okay,” I say. 

“The man at the window right now,” he says, looking around at the empty parking lot. “He won’t leave. I just called the cops but he still won’t leave.”

He smiles. I love him. I would do anything for him. His voice has pain in it and I want to bottle it up and take it home for him. Make the pain my own. 

“You want me to talk to him,” I say, unbuckling my seatbelt. “I come here every night so I feel kind of protective of it.”

He laughs. “No. But if you wouldn’t mind pulling out and walking inside we can get you your food in a few minutes?”

I wouldn’t mind. I would love to come inside. It’s not routine. But it’s exciting. A whole new world.

I back out of the drive thru and park near the entrance. The cars in front of me do the same. I’m first to the door and I hold it open as a group of people, all wearing clothes they wouldn’t normally wear in public, walk in one by one. The man that was in front of me is in flip-flops and tank-top, making a face that expresses how much he’d like everyone to know how annoyed/exhausted he is. And a group of three very large women follow behind, wearing sweatpants and talking about how crazy/weird this is. 

“He’s probably drunk,” one of the women says.

“Yeah, what an asshole,” another says.

I stand behind them. Thinking about other strange occurrences that have happened in this fast food place. There was the time an ambulance was called because a man had a heart-attack inside, right before the dining area was closed for the night. And there was the time a man tried to break in because they wouldn’t let him order through the drive-thru on foot. I think, how would these women react to those incidents? Then I stare coldly at them.

“We better get a free taco or something for this,” one of them says.

“Shush,” the woman who started this conversation says. “They might hear you.”

The man in flip-flop’s order is called and he walks up to the counter. He pays. I watch the man with the soft voice apologize to him and hand him his food. Then I watch as the kid with one eye scrambles around making the women in sweatpants’ food. 

“Your food will be ready soon,” the man with the beautiful voice says to the women. “And, umm, we threw in some free curly fries for you.”

The women all thank him. But it’s not good enough. Nothing in this world would be enough for the man with the beautiful voice. Nor the kid with one eye. I think about the man that started all this, and I hate him, yes, but in another way I love him for creating this beautiful scene.

“Three cheeseburgers, and three large cokes?” 

“And curly fries?” one of the women says, walking up to the counter.

“And curly fries.” 

They pay. I wait. The suspense building. When my order is called, I walk up to the counter smiling.

“Here you go,” the man says. “And I threw in an extra taco for you.”

“No,” I say. “You didn’t.”

“Yeah. For the wait and everything. We’re really sorry.”

“It’s no problem. The guy still here? Need me to talk to him?”

“Actually, I think he umm, heard me say I called the cops to those women that were behind him because he left right after.”

“Good,” I say. “Was he drunk or…?”

“Yeah. He took a really long time to order and I couldn’t understand him so he started cursing at me and umm, telling me I should go back to my own country.”

“Fuck that,” I say. “He should go home, forever and always.”

He laughs. The kid with one eye brings the food to him and gives me a thumbs up. The exchange is complete. I feel sad. But I understand.

“Well,” I say, “Hope you guys have a good rest of your night. See ya next time.”

“You too,” the man says, his voice seeping inside me. 

On the drive back home, I start thinking about my life before the routine. Through all the memories, one obvious moment sticks out. Years ago. I’d woken up in a strange place, still drunk, and decided to spend my last three dollars at a fast food place nearby, in order to sober up. I hadn’t had fast food in years. When I was drinking every day, I ate very little. Mostly eggs and nearly expired deli meat—in order to save money for booze. But that day I didn’t have a choice. I sat at a table near the empty play-area for children, eating a two-dollar cheeseburger and sipping free water from a small paper cup. After the cheeseburger was in my stomach, I just sat there, watching people eat, feeling sad and unable to move but not sure why. It seems funny now. Life before the routine. I laugh. My entire life before the routine seems absurd and distant. But I realize that very soon, I will need a new routine. I will feel that same kind of two-dollar cheeseburger sadness and a new me must emerge from that sadness. The discarding of and creation of routines will become a part of a larger routine and they will all build and be called my life. 

When I get home my girlfriend is wearing one of my t-shirts.

“How was your day?”

“Full of love.”

“Kiss me.”

“They gave me a free taco.”

We kiss. We eat. We have sex. She falls asleep. The routine is complete. And the last thing that goes through my head, before I drift off, is nothing.

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Firefighters in reflective neon suits stormed into the blazing Texas Thrift Store as helicopters circled the building in surveillance. The flames that escaped from the structure’s openings whipped and stirred together like vermilion lovers beneath a glassy black sky. A generator on the roof of the thrift store flickered—once, twice, like the first few seconds after lighting a sparkler on the Fourth of July—seconds before an atomic cobalt and orange explosion. Fire swallowed the structure in one gulp, almost offended by the attempt to save the remains of the building with hose water. That night, not much light was needed for the team of hundreds who, for hours, battled the inferno. The slight glimmer from the flames flushed against the white and crimson of parked ambulances and firetrucks from 83 units. Crime scene tape labeled “do not cross” enclosed the perimeter of the thrift store’s parking lot: danger, keep out. 

As I watched the media’s minute-by-minute sky coverage of the Texas Thrift Store’s four-alarm fire, I held my breath. I wrapped my arms around my knees and pulled them close to my pajama-ed chest. I imagined the sorrow on the faces of onlookers, on the faces of medical crews on standby when two firefighters were not accounted for after an emergency evacuation. Inside the structure, the heat of flames sizzled around brave suited bodies, the smoke heavy like weights in their throats and chests. One firefighter was found and rushed into the back of an awaited ambulance, his body covered in a sheet of black residue. Where was the other unaccounted fireman? Why hadn’t they found him yet? 

Parts of the thrift store’s roof caved in and collapsed, like a house of blocks that tumbled down and down and down, as the blistering fire singed through the walls of other businesses in the shopping center. A tingling sensation tugged at the backs of my eyes, but I continued to watch the news updates, mostly nauseated over what might be unearthed after the last flame was extinguished. As the footage continued to play across my television screen, I wondered if my estranged father watched the yellow firestorm engulf the place we once visited so often.

On one of the two weekends a month I spent with my father, John took me to the Texas Thrift Store. He held my hand as we walked in through the glass doors and underneath giant red letters. The inside smelled like one big garage sale. We browsed the little girls’ aisles for clothes and shoes until I snuck away to the more interesting area of the store: the toy section. These rejected or donated toys—some brand new, others slightly used with a film of grey tinge—were piled in low, rectangular wooden bins for children like me to rummage through. Layer upon layer of toys were thrown on top of one another, sometimes in a pile of rubble already plowed through by other curious children. There, I glanced over dolls with ragged hair, play cash registers without batteries, puzzles, and boxes of Legos with missing pieces. 

John found me in one of the aisles and held up shirts and bottoms that clung to plastic hangers: a faded floral blouse; a pair of scuffed, knock-off Sneakers; and a few pairs of wrinkled jeans and cargo shorts. Round tags that hung from the garments read five dollars, some two dollars. At the sight, I envisioned the little girls who had worn those items before me, how their daddies had purchased these clothes for them, brand new, as a birthday gift or just because. John pushed the items into the crevice of his arm and led me by the hand to the register. A tired shadow clung to the lower-half of my father’s round jaw and his unshaven skin, but his face still looked so much like mine. 

When my father removed his withered and worn wallet from a jean pocket at the register, I recalled how his face looked when I asked for a McDonald’s Happy Meal two weekends before our trip to the thrift store. John had just come home from work on a Saturday afternoon. His skin always smelled of a greasy mechanic’s shop, sometimes with the stale twang of cheap beer and a female stranger’s cigarette smoke. I tugged at the bottom of his shirt that was still stained in white patches near the chest and armpits.

“Please, please, please daddy, can we go to McDonald’s?” I extended the vowels in the question, too eager for the plastic figurine in the Happy Meal.

My father slapped his jean pockets with ashy hands. “We don’t have money for McDonald’s,” he shot back. John used that tone with my mother on the phone. I once overheard my mother say we didn’t need a dime from him, that he could keep his unpaid child support. 

His mother, Ruth, whom I once called Momo, chimed in before I could ask another question. She pulled out a few dollar bills and quarters from her coin purse. The skin on Ruth’s face and arms sagged like the withered branches of the front yard’s pecan tree during summer months. The tree was heavy with rotting pecans and empty bird feeders. I blocked out the fact that John’s mother bathed me, head-to-toe, at age eight, age ten. In the court custody battle, Ruth stood on the stand and testified, under oath, that she always waited outside the bathroom door while I showered. My mother cut my hair like Velma’s from Scooby-Doo because, for most of my elementary school years, I refused to bathe or brush out the knots from the bird nest on the back of my head. Ruth handed her son the money, kissed my cheek with thin, wrinkled lips, and sent us on our way.

The newscast on the thrift store fire continued well on into the early hours of the morning. That night I tried to remember when John and I left the thrift store for the last time. I couldn’t. The television screen lit up my living room like an open furnace until the final firefighter’s body was located. The man, a six-year veteran of the department, was a father of two, his wife still pregnant with their third child. I imagined the Texas Thrift Store’s charred entrance doors that John and I entered and exited through before and after our brief shopping trips. These same doors are the doors that many expected one firefighter to run back through, unharmed, able to return to his off-duty life as a dad after a grueling day of work battling other people’s blazes. For those few hours I exhumed memories shriveled and dried like raisins, discolored by the hue of scarlet fury. For those few hours I, too, battled my own fire. 

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OUT by Michael Lehman

I walked out of the desert to get on a bus, and the driver threw me off in Phoenix. He said I was too dirty and shoved me out the door with a big bucktoothed grin. I changed my ticket at the counter. Immigration cops wearing body armor with black-and-white American flags on their shoulders were standing at the exits barking for papers.

Past them, the valley floor was baking, the air full of dust. I walked by a campus of telephone company buildings, surrounded by glistening lawn and a cyclone fence topped with razor wire full of snagged plastic bags that hissed and rattled in the wind. Then the road passed through open desert, low brush, a hawk floating near the sun, a rabbit escaping. There was a whole subdivision of crumbling streets that had been named and paved but never built on, and in the distance, in the shade of a raised portion of the interstate, a neighborhood of tents and tarps.  

After a couple more miles, I passed into streets of small, decent houses, old trucks and little kids on bikes. I bought a clean T-shirt in cool, dim, low-ceilinged store where the man gave me my change.

Back at the station I sat down in a row of plastic chairs. Across from me, a young woman in a hospital smock and flip-flops was pretending to read a newspaper. Every once in a while she would run her palms over her legs, rattle the paper and laugh. When I looked at her, she looked right back, peeking out behind the paper, and held up a finger to her lips.

We got on the bus towards evening. Distant mountains shone in the orange sunlight and my head rang with the diesel engine. The girl leaned back in her seat, and deep laughter rolled out of her like it had been a long time coming. I wanted to ask, 'What's so funny?' but I almost thought she would say, "I gave the driver a dried-up leaf, and he thought it was a ticket."

A spun drunk lady wearing pink spandex got on in Quartzite and riled up the back of the bus with a long, racist rant that devolved into a chorus of Who Let the Dogs Out? with lots of barking and yipping. When the laughing girl got up to use the bathroom, the spandex lady stole her seat.

"This is mine now, ya voodooo witch!" she cried. The laughing girl moved up the row and sat down quietly next to an old woman in a black shawl.   

The sky got dark, and the stars came out like a breath slowly exhaled. The spandex lady kept singing, but her voice changed until it became as fragile as a coyote call. She sang Country Roads, Take Me Home and the bus filled with silence. She sang Long Black Veil, Danny Boy and The Wind that Shakes the Barley.  

The bus stopped at a hamburger place, and I bought three baked potatoes. The laughing girl sat in her old seat and watched me eat until I gave her one.

"Got a fork?" she asked. I looked in the hamburger bag and found two forks, handed her one, and began to eat with the other instead of my hands. Back on the road, she started laughing again.

"You shouldn't have fed her, dude," the spandex lady said.

"I'd rather hear her than you," I said.

People were drifting off to sleep. The laughing girl slept, but her laughter still rose out of her every so often. Somewhere around Bakersfield or Barstow she got off, still laughing, sprinted across the street through the lights of traffic, and disappeared.

The sun was just rising as we pulled into the L. A. station. I saw the spandex lady sitting alone over a cafeteria tray.

"Hey dude," she called to me, "do you want this? I can't eat."

I sat down next to her and leaned over the tray, gobbling the soft, salty food.

"You look like you been fightin' fires," she said.

"There was no fire . . ."

She nodded, knocked twice on the table, the way convicts do, and walked away.

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Instead of buying a new costume for Kelso, our 7-year-old Aussie/Collie mix, we repurposed an easy one from years before, and strapped a small rubber jockey to his harness. All of the puppy parents at the doggy daycare costume party kept referring to Kelso as a jockey, although technically he was the horse in the horse and jockey relationship, but still I failed to correct them, not wanting to be the asshole who insists the green guy with the bolts in his neck is actually “Frankenstein’s Monster,” not Frankenstein. There were no fewer than three dogs dressed like Wonder Woman, and one as Robin (Batman’s young ward). Diego the Chihuahua was a piñata, Nigel the Corgi was a sushi roll, and Gladys the Leonberger, who was only 8 months old and already nearing 100 pounds, required no costume. The party was professionally catered. We ate sliders, potato salad, hand cut potato chips, and Chicago style hot dogs, and I discreetly shared my scraps with Kelso. There was not one but two live DJs, both of them dressed in flashy evening clubwear - one with a silver fedora - and they switched tracks as each dog was called to the stage. For Manny the Miniature Poodle, who was dressed like Beetlejuice and accompanied by his mother, who was either dressed like Winona Ryder’s character or just an aging goth, the DJ played “Jump in the Line” by Harry Belafonte. For Goose the Australian Shepherd, who was dressed like a werewolf, they played “Werewolves of London.” And when the DJ couldn’t find a suitable track to match the dog/costume combination, they played “Who Let the Dogs Out,” the innocuous Baja Men hit. The costume contest was judged by three local “celebrities,” one of which was the owner of a bakery (for humans), who wore a full Scooby-Doo costume. Most of the contest entrants won a prize, and even those who didn’t, such as Kelso, received a complimentary bag of treats. From start to finish, the entire event was little more than two hours long, and being the grand soiree that it was, almost no one shat on the floor.

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FOOTNOTES by Erin Cork

Stopped at a red light, Malfunction Junction. A seventies model Chevy pickup ahead of me, bull balls dangle from the trailer hitch and a faded bumper sticker that was probably added when the truck was new, “Disco Sucks”.  There’s a man-child anywhere between the ages of 18 and 30 in the driver’s seat. It could be a hand me down, his father’s rig.

I’ll never share the memory of peeling the backside from that sentiment and slapping it on the tailgate in front of me. But I do have a scrapbook full of goose bump gospel moments in the fellowship of outcasts.

The anti-disco slogan, ‘Disco Sucks’ available on t-shirts, bumper stickers, buttons and more…” Luis-Manuel Garcia explains, “…wasn’t just a metaphor in the ‘70s: it was a direct reference to cock-sucking, aiming a half-spoken homophobic slur at disco and its fans.

I came of age in queer bars. I’m not gonna lie, I had some moves. I’m like Pavlov’s dog when I hear the thump of a drum machine and the pulse of a synthesizer. My shoulders roll, hips gyrate, feet slide and arms rise towards swirling colors real or imagined.

The light turns green, a new generation on my playlist; Janelle Monae’s “Django Jane” revs into the speaker, volume up, foot on the pedal I’m singing along, head nodding. I’m as fired up as ever.

My education began in earnest in the basement of the Palace Hotel and house parties in the late seventies. I was still in my teens. I was reading Our Bodies, Ourselves, Rita Mae Brown and Patricia Nell Warren. Holy Shit, I wasn’t alone.  

House parties grew into clubs. We danced to meet each other, to be together, to celebrate. We were outcasts in high schools and hometowns. We were weirdos filled with shame but when we twirled and moved sang out “Don’t Leave Me This Way”, “I Will Survive” and “We Are Family” always ending our nights with “Last Dance” it was with a fist in the air.

It was life schooling. I enrolled in advanced courses of acceptance and denial, hitting the floor with an earnestness I had previously reserved for class officer campaigns. “Voulez vous coucher avec moi ce soir, Voulez vous coucher avec moi”?

In 1979 radio D.J Steve Dahl lit the fuse on the Disco Sucks movement in Chicago where he blew up disco records in Comiskey Park at a baseball game. AIDS was new and on the rise, terrifying the club scene. Confusion about what it was and how you might catch it contributed to the backlash.

Fran Lebowitz commented on the events, “There’s music I don’t like, but I don’t make a career out of not liking it-I just don’t listen to it. ‘Disco Sucks’ was kind of a panic on the part of straight white guys. Disco was basically black music, rock ‘n’ roll was basically white: those guys felt displaced.” A familiar refrain today, a scratchy record on repeat.

About the same time the assault on Disco was picking up speed my parents split for good. My father left his longtime teaching job in a local high school after falling in love with his student teacher, a young man in his mid twenties, closer to my age than my dad’s. Pop came out in a blaze of glory or burning bridges depending on which angle you looked at it. He moved to Portland and went to work for the Oregonian.

Thinking about it now, I may have wanted him to hang his own balls from his rear-view mirror like he had dice in his Northern Montana College days. I guess this might really be a sign of castration. These are steers, not bulls. Whatever. Anyway, I wanted him to be my dad again, not the poster child for a mid-life crisis. I jumped in my ’66 Dodge Pickup, a retired forest service truck that I had painted sky blue and followed him out west.

I pulled into the city, both cocky and overwhelmed as I went the other way on a one way. I had a meager savings, a typewriter and big dreams, muted and muddled but recurring. Dad and I had some reparation to be done. At least I thought so. His part included subsidizing my writing ambition. After all, he had created and nurtured this monster. He couldn’t just walk away.

The transformation he was going through had nothing to do with fatherhood. He was trying to leave his past, all of it behind. I wasn’t going to make it easy for him. After all, this was about me.

In the beginning of this contract I wrote by day. I was working on a brilliant debut novel about a talking dog that had witnessed the murder of his mistress, stunning the world when he exposed the killer that had tried to silence him with peanut butter. Ha, who wouldn’t want to read this?

At night, Dad and I would hit the town. A weird and tentative twist on our relationship. I wasn’t old enough to drink but I had swagger. In my black polyester pants, matching vest, white t-shirt and cowboy hat that may have had a feather in it, I must have been hard to resist. We’d dance until the bars closed then work all day. Eventually, the arrangement got uncomfortable. Watching my father cruise was unsettling. I started venturing out to different clubs on my own like The Other Side of Midnight, Embers and Aaron’s.

I was shaking my stuff to A Taste of Honey with a local DJ who had befriended me when a small, beautiful dark-haired woman moved in and up on me. She winked at the other woman, pulled me away and into her.

This was Kris, a local attorney in her thirties. She fed me maraschino cherries from her amaretto sours. I’d practice tying the stems in a knot with my tongue.

Kris treated me well, took me to concerts, the theatre and barbecues with her friends. She’d pack a picnic lunch, her secret recipe potato salad. We’d drive into the mountains in my pickup that she claimed was a chick magnet. We’d lie on a blanket by a stream where I continued my lessons. We’d laugh hard and loud. I’d tell her about all the stories I wanted to write. She’d kiss me and tell me that she believed I could do anything. At night, we’d go dancing. God, I loved to dance.

Dad wanted me to find work if I was going to stay. Supporting the nightlife for both of us was taking a financial toll. I tried to convince him that I was working. My novel was my job. He was a patron of the arts. Unconvinced, he wanted me to contribute to the household, pay rent and help with the utilities. In a fit of rage and abandonment issues I left. I drove back to Montana where I found refuge in the arms and house of my high school sweetheart. I went to school and found a part time job.

Disco wasn’t dying, it was alive and well. I sought out house parties with the music cranked where I could find my groove again. I needed the fix. I felt alive on the dance floor with a girl running her hands over my body and whispering in my ear.

Later we’d have makeshift clubs of our own like the Amvets and Daddy’s. These were our safe havens away from the slurs, mumbled hostilities, nasty shout outs and bashings. We found refuge under the rainbow tent, in our big ol’ queer revivals.

I struggled to settle down, met another girl who would eventually get me to Seattle where I would let the colored lights and thumping beats take hold again. I just wanted to dance. When we split in the mid-eighties I gravitated toward the clubs like Neighbours where I would spend my weekends shouting and singing, going home with miss “right now”.

Our community though was experiencing devastating losses, our brightest, most creative men, our friends were sick. They were dying.

I have a painting that hangs on my wall done by Seattle artist Matthew Luzny. I shared a house with Matt. He had a quick, dry wit and a bark of a laugh. He’d whip his shirt from his lean and muscled body. He’d shake, shake, shake in the heat of release. He loved light and color. Oh the things he could do with texture, glass and paint. He had vision.

I’d met him through an artist I was dating. His diagnosis was perplexing and stunning. We didn’t know what to make of it. He and I had talked about having a kid together. The reality of such a venture was just the beginning of what we would come to understand about HIV and AIDS.

The “we” was taken out of it because I would never fully comprehend what it meant to live with the disease, the terror of a sore throat progressing to a full-blown cold. Matt died in 1994 at the age of 36.

In her book Hot Stuff: Disco and the Remaking of American Culture, Alice Echols says, “Lesbianism has never carried the same cachet as male homosexuality in either the music business or in disco studies. Disco’s only self-declared and unambiguously lesbian performer, Alicia Bridges, came out twenty years after she scaled the charts with her 1978 hit “I Love the Nightlife” And yet lesbian and bisexual women were part of disco culture-both in their own bars and in gay male and mixed clubs.”

Our history like history in general centers on men even in gay history. The dances and parties were filled with women too. These men were our brothers, we danced and sweated right along with them but little of it is documented. We participated in the seduction, the lure, our own sexual awakenings side by side.

  • In the first minutes of January 1st, 2014 Musab Mohamad Masmari dumped gasoline down a stairwell at Neighbours the popular Seattle gay club.  The 750 people inside escaped without injury, certainly not the attacker’s intent.
  • On June 24th, 1973 an arsonist set fire to the Upstairs Lounge in New Orleans.
  • On February 21, 1997 the American terrorist Eric Rudolph set off an explosion at the Otherside Lounge in Atlanta.
  • October 6, 1998 Matthew Shepard was beaten and left for dead near Laramie, Wyoming.
  • September 22, 2000 Ronald Gay opened fire in a gay bar in Roanoke, VA, killing one and injuring another six.
  • On March 1st, 2009 Lawerence and Lawrneil Lewis along with their cousin Alejandro Gray launched chunks of concrete at customers in a gay bar in Galveston, TX.
  • On June 12, 2016 Omar Mateen shot and killed 49 people and wounded 53 others in Orlando’s Pulse nightclub.
  • June 28th, 1969 a police raid at the Stonewall Inn in New York caused an uprising and led to gay pride marches. Pride as we know it.

We cut loose. We were free. We got to be with people who understood. When you say, “Disco Sucks”, you can’t comprehend how we found one another or the way our bodies moved together. The risk involved was everything. It’s how we created community.

I love Disco. Dance music. It’s not the only music I love, I’ll put my eclectic collection up against anyone’s but I won’t be embarrassed by the 12” mixes that have contributed to my education as much as any lecture I sat through. Stonewall, discos, the seventies helped us find and shape our identities. It didn’t suck.

“I’m Coming Out” is an anthem we scream and shout. Don’t stop the dance.

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Henry had to abandon his car. It was clear that the winter storm had curbed all travel, as massive snow serpents slid across the vacant highway. Had he hit a deer, or was it a person? Either way, any visible evidence had disappeared, and the car wouldn’t start. He was on the highway miles from civilization, but the county’s landfill loomed close like a craggy white mountain, where a single soft green light pulsed. He fled for help.

Snow quickly filled Henry’s boots as he plowed through a deer run toward the dump. Before squeezing through a small hole in the rusty fence, he turned back to affirm the location of the road, or to find a landmark in which to anchor his direction, but everything turned blinding white, and Henry’s orientation became scrambled. A foreboding chill swept over him.

Beyond a small trash heap of a hill littered with thousands of gulls, he saw the light that pulsed from inside a small concrete structure. Weaving in and out of the tittering gulls, a deep but quiet voice called out to him. Paralyzed with fear, the voice came again. Looking down, coming from all things, a gull. He nervously adjusted his knitted winter hat, and muttered, “The fuck?”

Casually, the gull said, “Friend, you will die here.”

Henry disagreed and barreled through the snow toward the structure. That conversation never happened he thought, he must have been hallucinating from the crash. Out of nowhere, a heavy bill whacked him in the head and ripped at the back of his neck. Henry fell down, covering his head. Panic set in, it was real.

Every time he attempted to walk towards the glowing structure, thick bands of snow would develop and turn him around. He wondered if something was actively preventing him from seeing what was inside of the structure. If not snow, the crows would swoop in, litter the ground leading to the structure, and block him from continuing. He tried hiking back to the road, but that was equally unsuccessful. Henry scrapped the idea and decided to escape in the morning, so for the night, he carved out a spot within the mass of gulls, hiding from Gene, the one that attacked him.

Unfortunately, morning never came. It stayed dark for days, the snow subsided and it turned warm—so warm, he stripped himself of his winter coat, at one point attempting to use it as a pillow. He fell asleep on and off between the unworldly noises the gulls made. How long had it been night, he was unsure, but he knew he needed food. A gamey, malodorous smell now consumed the wet dump. Henry’s nose burned from the soupy garbage, he couldn’t understand how the warm spell came on so quickly.

A fog, as thick as cake batter, kept him from finding his way out of the rank hell. Further disoriented, he tripped over a bowling ball and fell on a broken bottle. He conjured everything inside of him to get to the structure. The light flickered. He dragged himself over as far as he could go. Henry finally closed in, although now, the mud thickened and swallowed him. The pulsing glow electrified the top of his head, he was so close. Out of nowhere, Gene, like a kamikaze pilot, came up from behind, and Thwap! His thick spear of a beak went right into Henry’s ear puncturing the eardrum. Already trapped by the thickening, slurry mud, his arms were stuck to his sides. He cried out like a short-circuited ambulance siren. His hat was being carried off by a lousy crow. Gene sidled up next to Henry and and said, “Get up.” Knowing full well Henry wasn’t going anywhere.

Bright fluorescent lights from all angles suddenly flooded the dump, and tens of thousands of gulls consumed the sky, whirling in a giant mass of screaming havoc.

His last flickering visage was of a large 4-wheeler charging towards him with two glass-masked men who appeared to be dressed as surgeons, blades out. They shoveled Henry’s limp body into the back of the open air vehicle and roared back to their bunker. The green light turned off until the next one arrived.

Gene hardly registered the commotion, instead, he preened his pale white knives, alone, lording over his kingdom of beautiful, rancid wreckage.

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DIRTY SHIRLEY by Sophie Ruth

I have a rash on my neck and it must be because I wear my short necklace to bed every night and it tries to choke me in my sleep.

I look over to my left at the wine bottle left over from my time with A. I think I wear the necklace to bed because I miss him. His hands did what I wanted them to and he wore the same sneakers as my dead grandpa. For the first time, I wonder what shoes my grandpa was buried in. I strongly consider asking my grandma and then decide against it. His memorial service was held last month even though he passed away over a year ago. It’s all because my grandma doesn’t like pity. On the way to the memorial I ate chocolate covered raisins, and when I read the ingredients I was disgusted to discover they contained milk fat. When we got to the funeral home, I made myself throw up in the bathroom. When I walked out of the stall to fix my mascara in the mirror, the Rabbi walked in. I thought at least this is the best place to be seen with wet eyes.

I want to have a baby. I want to have a baby and I think about what it’d be like to have a baby with everyone I’ve been with this year. Except the one from vacation, he doesn’t count. And if I am forgetting anyone, that means they don’t count either. There are already two guys I call my baby daddy in my head and they have no clue. It’s all their fault for being all the same and reminding me of my father. What is familiar to us is a curse because that will be what we attract. So you better pray you get born into some good shit.

Sophomore year I had about 6 hickies around my collarbone and neck. The rest of my skin was snow white and I wore a shirt that showed it all. I went to listen to a hot drummer play music and a different hot drummer gave me the hickies. I told Ariana I wanted to hit on the hot drummer. She said you already have hickies from the other hot drummer. You don’t even care do you, you like it. I smiled in the way that I knew I was made of cherries only then.

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Me, Myself, and Eye

My earliest memory is my mother’s panicked expression as she grabbed my face and told me to look at her. I assured her, as best a three-year-old could, that I was looking at her. I had developed a lazy eye, but that wasn’t my first foray into the world of eye troubles.

When I was thirteen months old, I was a quiet baby who didn’t cry, but whose eyes darted back and forth and watered continuously. I’m told my eye pressure at the time was 40, which is extremely high. I was diagnosed with open-angle juvenile glaucoma. The lazy eye, my left eye, my weaker eye, would be a later side effect. Multiple surgeries would take place by the time I was five.

Before I knew how to spell, count, or tell time, I knew I was partially blind. I had to wear glasses long before I knew how to take care of them; even in the McDonald’s PlayPlace ball pit, where a pair still remains undiscovered. I was told for years that a field of vision test was “just like a video game." I had to bring a note on the first day of every school year that explained why I needed to sit in the front row and completely throw off the alphabetical seating chart. I know how to live with it because I’ve never lived without it.

I find it hard to write about my disability for two reasons.

One reason is that I don’t fully grasp it. For most of my life, it has been something handled for me, never by me. All doctor’s updates were directed at my mother, and most of the terms flew, and still fly, over my head. I am not an expert on my disability, which makes me feel like a fraud.

The other reason is that I have the luxury of hiding my truth. You don’t see me as disabled until I tell you. And when I tell you, when you see me that way, even when your intentions are good and your heart is pure, I become incapable in your eyes. It becomes easy for you to see me as someone who cannot achieve anything. And that’s a hard way to be viewed.

But I’m going to try to write about it. So I can see myself clearly. For once.

Explaining Myself

Loosely cup your hands around your eyes like a big pair of binoculars. Now you see what I see.

That’s the explanation I’ve used since middle school because it’s simple; makes me sound like I understand what is wrong with my eyes and I’m dumbing it down for outsiders. It was harder to explain when I was younger.

It started with a cloth eye-patch that would go over the left frame of my glasses. It was used to strengthen my right eye and alienate me from fellow toddlers. I had two alternating patches; one with an embroidered train, the other had a teddy bear. I would wear my glasses lower on my nose and just look over them.

This resulted in an upgrade: flesh-colored adhesive patches that covered my eye and stuck to my young thick Italian eyebrow. My routine became:

Have my mother administer drops.Put on a fresh eye-patch.Have concerned peers on the playground ask me what happened to my eye.Itch around my eye.Have an attendant at the after-school center rip off my eye-patch to administer eye drops.Rub my eyebrow.Put on new patch.Have my mother rip off my eye-patch before bed to administer drops.Rub my eyebrow.From a distance, you would look at me, the flesh tone of my eye-patch blending with my skin, and think I didn’t have a left eye socket.

In middle school, I didn’t have to wear the patch and came up with the binoculars metaphor. I was selective with who I told, but word got around. I was never bullied, but it did come up. It was acknowledged, but never outright mocked. Velma from Scooby Doo, a white Ray Charles, Mr. Magoo, a white Stevie Wonder, or, as a friend from AP English said, “an ancient Greek oracle, a blind prophet.” Or a white Denzel Washington from The Book of Eli.

I would laugh along, only slightly bruised, but knowing that most of the people used as references were fully blind. They didn’t have the luxury of the label and the ability to see the person pointing the finger.

Now, I mostly refer to myself as “legally blind.” An asterisk next to my disability. A technicality. Something I get to use if I need it, hide if I don’t, be ignorant about, and reap the benefits from. A privilege.

Sometimes I’ll try to look up articles about glaucoma and learn about the details of what’s happening to my diminishing peripheral vision and deteriorating optic nerves, but usually, I just get depressed.

There’s no magical eye drop or surgery that could cure me. It can be stabilized when monitored correctly, but any vision lost can’t come back. Right now, I don’t see the importance of becoming an expert. All it would give me is more acute anxiety.

You’re standing on a mountain looking at the most beautiful landscape you’ve ever seen. Loosely cup your hands around your eyes like a big pair of binoculars. To your surprise, you see the magnified details of the landscape and notice a growing darkness racing towards you. There is no way to escape. The darkness will consume you. Do you focus on the darkness for the remaining moments? Or do you put your hands down and enjoy the view while you can?


I love movies. I have felt stronger emotions toward movies than I have most people. Friendships have been ruined based on opinions about movies. And one day, maybe, my glaucoma could progress to the point where I would never be able to see a movie again.

It’s hard for a young kid to sit still in an exam room and get their eye pressure taken. You have to rest your chin on a big metal device with lots of lights and rotating parts. The doctor tells you to stay perfectly still, look forward, and don’t blink as a small blue-glowing nub comes towards your eye. Luckily, pediatric ophthalmologist, Dr. Arthur had a TV in a cabinet in the corner of his office with a VHS player.

I would spend hours as a seven-year-old agonizing over whether to bring The Jungle Book, Beauty and the Beast, or The Lion King. The selection was ultimately pointless. I’d only get to see about four or five minutes before my pressure was checked. But I was always transfixed. So much so that I didn’t realize until years later that the blue-glowing nub was even touching the surface of my eye.

I’ve spent a lot of my life looking past what is happening to me and focusing on a film. Instead of focusing on an eye exam, I’ll watch “The Circle of Life” from The Lion King. Instead of wondering why the cable’s been turned off again, I’ll watch School of Rock. Instead of dealing with my unresolved emotions over a break-up, I’ll watch Sleepwalk with Me five times in a row.

On the nights when my mind anxiously wanders through all the possible scenarios of my life and my health and my vision, I wonder what the last movie I’ll ever see will be.

I hope it’s a good one.

Bad Habits

When asked if they brushed their teeth, it is instinct for kids to say Yes, even if they mean No. That same instinct kicks in when you ask a kid if they put in their prescribed eye-drops every morning and before bed every night. They say, “Yes, I’m taking the drops that regulate my eye pressure so it doesn’t get too high and weaken my optic nerves,” but they mean, “No, I’m ten years old with terrible aim and no concept of responsibility.”

I don’t know if my mom knew I wasn’t taking my drops. I do know that every three or four months, when we went to an eye doctor appointment, she would give me the drops right before going into the office. I do know I grew up without facing the consequences of having a messy room, not doing laundry or dishes, general laziness. I don’t know if it’s fair to entirely blame my mother for my bad habits. Shouldn’t I be held accountable too? She never communicated the severity of my condition to me, but I never asked questions to begin with. She never made sure I brushed my teeth, or cleaned my room, or took my drops, but I never cared about myself enough to start of my own accord.

At a point, I became willfully ignorant.

At a point, I went to college over eight hundred miles away in the Western Mountains of Maine where I didn’t take an eye-drop or see an eye doctor for four years.

While engrossed in Theatre and Creative Writing classes, I neglected my physical and mental health, like a majority of college students. There was a subconscious belief that I was immortal. I could bounce back from anything. Everything.

Now a year out of college, I have to actively tell myself that I can’t eat pizza every day, that I have to brush my teeth before bed, that I should try to stretch in the morning, and that I have to face the inevitable consequences of the effect these last five years have had on my eyes.

At the time of writing this, I’ve scheduled an eye doctor appointment. I’m trying to figure out how my insurance works. I’m trying to make sure I have all the right records and information. I’m trying to not stress myself out about my deteriorating vision. From my perspective, nothing about my vision has changed, but since when have I been an expert?

I don’t regret my actions. For a brief time, I got to live without a disability. Or at least pretend to.

Defining Myself

I once had a friend ask me if he was only getting cast in productions because of his race. He was constantly overthinking things, so I gave him a stern, “No. You’re a talented actor, duh.” I thought he was crazy to assume that his race was a factor in a talent-based audition.

Then I started applying for jobs, fellowships, and gigs. To stand out on the page, I would identify as a “legally blind playwright” to hopefully off-set my checked boxes of “white” and “male.” I got a small sliver of what my friend experiences on a daily basis. Is my work being recognized as good work? Would I receive the same attention anonymously? If I get a great opportunity, is it because of my talent or because I fit into “a diverse collection of writers”?

But, walking down the street, I get to blend in. In classes and workshops, my disability is never a factor in the work I present or the notes I give. I never have to speak on behalf of a whole community or justify my right to exist. I get to hide in plain sight, only revealing the full truth when it’s convenient for me.

I’m always trying to find that balance of identification. In high school, my IEP teacher would always tell me if I needed anything, like an iPad or something, the state would pay for it. Of course, I wanted an iPad, but I never needed one for anything related to my vision. I always understood that those resources should go to other IEP students who actually needed assistance.

However, there are resources I do need. I’ll never be able to drive, so I need to live somewhere with a good public transit system. I’m currently applying to get special rates on transit because costs add up quick. And I dream of the not-so-distant future where self-driving cars give me the independence felt by every teenager with a fresh new license.

It’s a hard line to walk: advocating for myself, but trying not to take advantage. Fully representing myself, but not letting my disability define me. Blind, but only legally blind.

Right now, I define myself as Zack Peercy, a twenty-three-year-old writer who loves pizza, movies, and theatre. I don’t have a good singing voice, but that doesn’t stop me from trying. People in my improv classes think I’m weird, but seldom in a good way. I spend a lot of my time fabricating the reality that my friends hate me. That U2 album is still on my iPhone because I never figured out how to delete it. I probably masturbate too much. And I feel more comfortable sharing personal things on stage or in my writing than I do with the people I love.

My disability is part of what defines me, but it’s not how I define myself.

Am I renouncing my community by saying that? Am I doing enough with my privilege to speak out for others? Is it my responsibility as someone on the fringe to speak as or for this community? Am I writing about this for my own journey, or am I writing for you to see me as someone special, honest, real? I’ll get back to you on that.

Looking Myself in the I

My eyes, with a panicked expression, grab my face and say, “Look at us. Acknowledge us.”

And, after twenty-three years, I do. As best I can.

Listen to the audio recording of this essay on SoundCloud here.

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marston hefner

SO COME BACK, I AM WAITING by Marston Hefner

“You won’t see me again.”

I thought she was wrong. This is such a small city. I thought I saw her at the farmer’s market. I thought I saw her at my yoga studio. She is everywhere I go.

Her name is Leah. She is the woman who causes me mental pain.

If you asked me if I loved her, I’d say of course. I wouldn’t even make exaggerated hand motions.

It is her, driving my car down the 101 after a weekend in San Francisco. I’m in the passenger seat listening to my iPod. She puts her hand on mine and speaks, but I can’t hear what she is saying. I pull off my headphones.

“Can you stop listening to music?” she asks.

“Sure.” I put my hand in her lap. I’m happy to be with her, but I’m also tired of being with her. It’s been a long weekend. We’re always moving when we’re together. Vacations are filled with activities. We equate movement with life. “I want you all to myself,” she says.

It is her, not dying but I think she is dying in the Emergency Room in Lake Arrowhead. She has a urinary tract infection that messed with her bladder or something. I’m sitting across from her dying face. She’s pale and smiling at me. Fluids move into her veins since she’s also dehydrated. She’s dying and I’m looking at her face and she’s smiling at me. I have to be strong. She has no time for the I-will-die-for-you part of me. She has no time for my depression. So I am the strong boyfriend, holding her hand.

Or it is her, at a Halloween Party at my father’s house. She’s dressed as Dexter’s victim, and I am Dexter. Her costume is great. She is exquisite.  She has Saran Wrap around her naked body. We didn’t realize she won’t be able to pee in her costume until she was already in her costume. After a while, we go into my room so she can change. She pees and walks into my bedroom. I pick her up and place her on the sink.

It is her, watching Drunk History with me. We’ve been living at my father’s house for a few days, and we watch Dexter and Drunk History before we make love and then fall asleep. I order the usual fruit bowl for the two of us. A butler brings it in. We’re in bed, looking at a tv that seems too old to be in the room. We’re in a room with pink and white striped wallpaper. We’re in a room with light fixtures that are plastic and black. This was once my mother’s room, but I don’t recognize the room. I don’t recognize the house I’m in.

But with Leah, I am home.

Then there were those other times.

“I mean what kind of father would you really be?”

She felt the love story I wrote about her was too much.

She broke up with me for no reason and came back.

She asked, “But how can you be so certain about me?”

“I just am,” I said.

“I wish I had that.”

And if for some reason she were to cease to exist through a rare blood cancer—did you know someone is diagnosed with blood cancer every 3 minutes?—maybe she’d cease to exist in my head. Because every moment she is alive means there is an objective possibility that she will come back.

We have split 5 times. She has come back to me 5 times.

I am writing a book about my father’s death, but the book is really about Leah. Many times, I’ve written stories that have eventually happened in real life. I wrote about a man dating a woman in a wheelchair, and then I dated a woman in a wheelchair. I wrote about a man who was uncomfortable in an AA meeting, and now I’m in AA.

I wrote a book about a man grieving his father’s death as he falls hard for a woman named Leah.

When my father died, Leah sends me a text, even after I told her to never talk to me again if she didn’t want it to be romantic. She knows every time she reaches out to me, I grab on tightly. She writes her condolences. She says if I need an ear, there is hers. So I tell her I’d like her ear and to see her for coffee.

When I see her, she is shorter than I remember. It has been 4 years since seeing her face to face. She is always breathing heavy. She is always sweating. She pulls her hair from her face.

We walk. We go to an Organic Café/Dinner spot. We don’t talk about us. I am disappointed. It doesn’t seem like she feels anything for me.

But she tells me over the phone she loves me but I know she’s just in love with being in love.

The day after she breaks up with me.

A month later she texts me again.

“Can we talk?” she asks.


“I like you so much and I’m afraid how much I like you. I’m afraid of what people will think. I want to take it slow because I’m going to be all in if this real. It feels so right on so many levels.”

The day after, she forgets to call me.  When she does, she says,  “Like on an emotional level we are 100% compatible, but I just don’t see you in a physical way. I don’t think. I’m sorry.”

“Are you really, really doing this again?”

“It’s not like we were boyfriend and girlfriend or anything like that."

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