On the Street Where Bob Dylan Sings

When I was seventeen, I flew to California to meet my father. I wore a shimmery blue A-line floor length skirt with a sparkly moon on the bottom in the front, and a red hoodie with 3/4 length sleeves because that’s what they wore in the Delia’s catalog and my only dream then was to imagine myself one of those girls: capable of effortless, cool outfits, endlessly reaching into my closet and producing something other than the same pit-stained baby tee that said something like DOLLHOUSE or FRESHJIVE on the front. Oh, and headphones: anything with an image of those chunky serious record producer-style headphones on the front meant Cool. It meant Probably Has a Skateboard. It meant Is Interesting to Talk To About Stuff Like Bjork and Knows About Bands Like Snowpony. It meant oh yeah I can totally afford a shit ton of $34 tank tops on my Dairy Queen paycheck. And since I was seventeen, nothing really had to mean anything else, I guess.

From the Freshjive Summer 2020 Collection: “DRUGS.” Cool beans, you guys.

My father told me a story in between driving me to one place or another (driving everywhere, we spent the whole trip in the car: visiting the rehab facility where he had spent nearly 15 years, visiting his mother and stepfather, driving to see this or that relative), in the story he had been crashing in some drug dealer’s apartment. It was a trashed out old Victorian home in the Haight-Ashbury district, where scores of them would come just to find a place to do drugs on an old mattress somewhere in the dark. Upstairs, they squatted for days just shooting up, coming down and shooting up again. In the midst of the euphoria, something kept shaking them from their stupor and crashing them back to reality: a busker on the street below, wheezing his heart out for the passersby. All was well and groovy until his harmonica came into play, a screech so incompatible with the drug haze, they all conferred (as much and as closely as a whole lot of really high people can) over what to do about the noise. My father, ever the man to take action, found a soup pot and filled it with water, and dumped it out the window right onto Bob Dylan’s head.

“You threw water…on Bob Dylan??

“Well,” my father shrugged, his eyes scanning the curb where he once scored, the curb that used to look like a hippie paradise but was now home to an Urban Outfitters with a giant plastic Buddha in the middle of the floor, “he wasn’t Bob Dylan yet.”

He had so many stories like this. They were his only stories, really: things he did while he was high. Because he was always high, from the age of twelve to the moment he entered rehab, then again after, then again, then again. So high it was okay to smoke in the car with his two babies in their car seats in the back, so high it didn’t matter anymore if it was heroin hidden in the basement workshop where small-town dads were supposed to keep wrenches and porn. He once got so high, he said, that he lost time completely, and woke up in a hotel room with just the elastic rings of the tops of his tube socks, dangling around his ankles, some tatters of the yarn attached, and the wreckage of an epic binge all around him. He was injecting into his feet by then, of course, so who knows what really happened to his socks, though he maintains that he wore his shoes for so long they rotted inside. Maybe they did. Maybe that wasn’t Bob Dylan on the corner, just some other fool with a guitar and a harmonica.

Someday these people will be enshrined on a Pinterest board titled “Hippie Ideas!”

It seems like there would be lots of them, how probable is it that Bob Dylan was the only one to come up with that? Of course, you can’t really trust the memory of a serious drug abuser. You can’t really trust anything they come up with. I used to tell myself it meant we were almost kind of a little bit famous: my dad threw water on Bob Dylan! Now I see that it fits neatly into a folder and slides into the file where I put all the lore of my father’s long and blurry drug years.

What I really, actually know about my father could fit into my hand, and all of it is stitched together from the things he told my mother.

His father left him on the side of the road once, during a family trip: just pushed him out of the car and tossed his pillow out after him (across his mother’s lap, out her window) and drove away. I used to imagine the road as being in the middle of nowhere, like a desert, but now I see it as having fruit stands on either side, selling avocados and melons. I see that there are diners and gas stations, but it’s still a lonely and heartbreaking landscape when you think of a little boy in the midst of it, a little boy trying to keep his upper lip straight while facing the ultimate rejection, watching his family shrink into the distance, the yellow California sun fading into the horizon ahead of them like an egg yolk sliding down a wall. His two brothers don’t turn around in the back seat, maybe his father has told them not to. The little woman at the fruit stand is staring, waiting. He goes into the diner and wonders who to call, how to call–he has no money.

His mother, I imagine, said nothing, preferring to wait for the literal dust to settle behind the car, for her husband to cool off and turn back. For most of the rest of his life, my father would try and fail to convince his mother that he was worth turning back for–and I don’t think it ever crossed her mind that she had any kind of role or responsibility in it, in motherhood, apart from feeding and disciplining them. I don’t think it occurred to her that she was becoming a mausoleum for the damage her husband caused her children.

This, right here on this dusty road, where he is a briefly abandoned twelve year old boy, is where I lose my father.

Somewhere along that road he met my mother, and if ever two more similarly and perfectly damaged people found each other, I can’t say. He was on a healthy, drug-free spell and working at a Denny’s as a line cook. She was sleeping in a tent on the front porch of the house rented by her cult leader and filled with his followers (she was in trouble for some kind of transgression and being punished with porch sleeping, a thing she relished, because if cult leaders know anything it’s how to find the people with the worst parental-induced damage and replicate it in exactly the way you like it). All of her Denny’s tips went to the cult leader, and she couldn’t have been happier.

There wasn’t any getting together with my father, she said, no moment when they became an item. They just understood from the beginning that they were together. He ridiculed the cult leader until she started saving her money, until she rented her own place in Santa Cruz. That’s how he got her out, even when they kept calling and shaming her to come back to her porch tent punishment: he laughed at them, that kind of laugh where you throw your head back and look as if you’ve unhinged your own jaw to let out a laugh that was just too big for your natural anatomy.

The cult was over. They lived in the little apartment on their Denny’s wages. They got pregnant and got an abortion. They drove up to his mother’s ranch house in northern California and got high in the den with his little brother, stretched out on the carpet at 2 am and laughing about nothing, when she stormed in and demanded to know what they were doing, shouted at my father to leave “and take your whore with you.” He had a nickname for her, some kind of red wine that he liked, something I’ve Googled endlessly and cannot find or figure out how to spell. She got pregnant again, and he made her sandwiches of graham crackers, peanut butter, and bananas. It tasted so good, she said, she’s never eaten it again out of fear that it wouldn’t ever taste that good again. She came home to Southern Illinois, obviously pregnant, and my grandmother and great-grandmother took her out shopping for maternity clothes. He joined her and they settled into the little house on Glenwood, a rental property owned by my grandfather. They decided to try and do the family thing in that shitty little coal mining town, and maybe for a while it worked.

Years ago, a coworker asked me what my father said or thought about something. He was one of those men who felt it was his duty to know everything about the women in the office. He said we were a family and it became clear over time that he imagined himself the head of it. He demanded the appropriate amount of morning greetings and afternoon goodbyes from the women in the office, out of respect, he said. So, for this reason, our real fathers and what they thought came up a lot for this man, who probably imagined himself on some sort of regional golf team with all of our dads, having taken up the responsibility for the care and training of all of their adult daughters here in this office.

I stared and my mind felt blank and terrified when he asked me this. My mouth dropped open and I wasn’t sure whether to lie. (I’d done that before: once, at church camp, I felt that the truth of my life made me shameful and farther from God, farther, that is, than the kids with normal families. So I told one of my camp counselors, who I knew was a father, that my father adored me and thought I was wonderful. Saying it made me want to cry–but I choked it out. The man scoffed and said “I’m SURE he does,” because my cabin had just organized and carried out a plot to steal all the pool balls from the rec hall and hide them in one of my stuffed animals. He scoffed because he had just found the 30lb stuffed frog and busted us, and because I’d done such a good job of saying the words that they sounded like the lines from an atrophied 90s sitcom.)

I stood there with my mouth dangling and finally my coworker said, “Oh, I’m sorry, is your dad gone?” As if this or anything else was his business. I nodded and hoped for the entire thing to be over. “When did he pass?” he asked, my god the things men will step in and take without asking, and the question blitzed my mind so hard, I wasn’t sure what to say and I still don’t remember what I said. He didn’t pass, he’s just gone.

It all came apart after I was born, as if it ever had a chance of staying together.

My father drove a truck for Scot Lad foods, carrying loads of generic branded goods across the tri-state area all night. He dosed himself on dilaudid and coke day and night, staying up for hours at a time. If he wasn’t raking and arranging the gravel on the side of the road by their house, he was accusing my mother of plotting against him, throwing her up against walls, pawning her jewelry (a garnet ring, with four little pearls and two opals), stealing her savings (there was $400 then one day just an empty box). If the responsibilities of fatherhood ever entered his mind, they served only to weigh it down further and drive him to do more drugs. He lost the Scot Lad job when he took the turn toward Evansville, Indiana; across the ravine and into the next state, too fast. The truck rolled down the steep embankment, pouring its entire load of white sugar into the water. He sat there, strapped upside-down and high as shit, without a scratch on him. And he emerged from the whole thing perfectly faultless: the environmental cleanup, the wreckage, the drugs. My mother’s grandfather, who had gotten him the job, also got him released from it and all responsibility for the wreck. My father swore to my mother that he’d get clean, he got a job as a line cook in a restaurant in town, he promised her he would be different and better. She realized that she didn’t care what he did, that her feelings about him were completely ambivalent. She asked him to leave her and offered to buy him a plane ticket, but he insisted on being left on the side of the road somewhere so he could hitchhike back to California.

January 13, 1983: This is where I lose my father, on the side of the road in Marion, Illinois, with his thumb out. Right here, glaring at my mother sitting in the car, wipers smearing snowflakes across the windshield, this is the road where I lose him.

When you’re a hopeful child, even something as depressing as a birthday card made from a used and re-used file folder, with a Grateful Dead skeleton pasted on the front, sent from a California prison, even something as awful as that can make you fly for weeks on possibility. When you’re seventeen, drug stories are cool. Those smeared green prison tattoos of skulls and bones that look like they were drawn on in Magic Marker are edgy. Prison and rehab are these romantic ideas as long as you get to be the star emerging from the middle of it all.

I am my father: I am his face, I am his look of incredulous innocence when I have definitely done the thing you accuse me of, for which I should be ashamed. I am his ability to look through the kitchen cabinets and put together the perfect meal out of nothing. I am his love of Mexican food, of wry humor that always comes alive at the opportunity to hurt someone’s feelings. I am his anger and his ignorance and his denial. I am years of years of his addiction, Christmas cards from prison commissaries, butterflies and bad writing. I’m his dry brown skin, baked in the California sun, creped by years of exposure, his ringless hands, his exhausted eyes. I’m a cast iron pot and a wooden cutting board that belonged to his grandmother, the things he brought with him and then left behind: I am heavy and dependable where he was neither. I am down in the reservoir when the truck goes over the rail, I’m in the water turning sweet and gray around me, the idea of fatherhood drowning next to someone’s tossed-over refrigerator and the carcass of an old innerspring mattress.

This is where I lost him: getting out of a stranger’s car on some street in California, newly free of his familial responsibilities and looking to score. Going up and down these alleys, places where I never existed or mattered, streets where Bob Dylan sings or doesn’t. On the map of my father’s life, the corners and streets are always changing, dead ends coming up everywhere, everybody else’s fault. You little fucking bitch, he wrote, You’re a bitch just like your mother. You either talk to me or I’ll give all my money to my wife’s kids when I die. (When he did die, on December 4, 2020, I don’t think he was married to her anymore. He expired alone in an ICU in California, his body handed over to sepsis and kidney failure, which I’m told is usually the result after years of intravenous drug use. I don’t like to imagine what a California ICU looked and felt like in the height of COVID-19. I don’t like to imagine most of what my father went through.)


I don’t know why I’m telling you this. I have convinced myself that I have nothing to say, that if I did, I wouldn’t know how to say it. My brain has let go of all of the curvy, elegant words it once knew. I am frequently tired by just the thought of writing. It’s like I was doing it and then someone poured water on my head and I decided it was time to stop. But something is telling me to sing this song, even before I know all the words, before it’s finished and polished and when most of it is just annoying harmonica breaks. This is it, tangled up; this is me, sorting it out.

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You will not forget this.

A lot of things have happened to me and every now and then, one of them bubbles to the surface and becomes the Worst Thing That Has Ever Happened To Me. Yesterday, it was the moment when I walked past one of those fire hose connection things that sticks up out of the sidewalk next to a building, and it had some kind of screw sticking out of the side, and that screw grabbed and ripped a chunk out of my dress. It wasn’t a special dress, or an expensive dress, or a fancy dress, but I liked the dress! And it had pockets, which did sort of make it a fancy dress and at least a good dress to wear to parties so I could have a place to put my beer while I ate chips with both hands. Anyway, I liked my cheap little striped Target dress that I frequently saw on other women on the same days I wore it, which usually makes me feel bad, but in the case of this dress gave me a kind of feeling of sisterhood, like I should nod in the direction of these women like, “We’re all in it (this dress) together, huh?” And they’d smile and be like, yeah girl. Way to accessorize.

At the moment I felt a yank on my dress and heard the fabric ripping, I thought WHY DID YOU WALK THIS WAY??, instantly blaming the ripped dress on myself and my choices. Like, if you didn’t want your clothes ripped, why did you dress like that?! Also, considering the various other shitty things that have happened on my afternoon walk, on that exact same strip of sidewalk, I felt that maybe I should have known that this was somehow a dangerous area for me and only me and that it was to be avoided. Here are the other things that have happened to me on that street, on my afternoon walks:

  1. Approximately two blocks north of the dress-ripping screw, I stood at a red light under the Green Line stop. I stood behind and to the left of the little square at the edge of the sidewalk, because some disgusting, smelly liquid was dripping from the machinery beneath the elevated structure. Phew, I thought, I really dodged a bullet. That’s what I was thinking when the half-empty box of Kellogg’s Frosted Mini Wheats hit me in the head, scattering its crusty payload all over my hair and shoulders, having been tossed over the railing above.
  2. Approximately two blocks south of the dress-ripping screw, I felt a tap on the bridge of my nose. It turned out to be the dribbliest gob of pigeon shit from a pigeon who no doubt ate nothing but jalapenos and the shit of other pigeons. The gob ran down my nose and poured down the front of my white shirt, and I had no choice but to ask my work friend if this was, in fact, bird shit all over my face and shirt. He solemnly confirmed that it was and watched as I yanked off my cardigan and furiously wiped off as much as I could, screaming silently into the bottoms of my lungs as I scraped splattered bird shit out of the corners of my eyes.


Here I am floating in a pool of acid covered in bird shit because I went for a walk.

I feel like these two bad things are enough bad things to happen to one person on one stretch of sidewalk. Now that there has been a third Bad Thing on this route, I can either stop walking that way every day, or stop walking every day entirely, thereby resigning myself to an extra 30 minutes of soul crushing boredom in the freezing air conditioned office that will become my tomb. Because, clearly, if I go that way again, I’m fuckin’ asking for it, yeah?

I peeled off the ripped-up dress last night and threw it in the kitchen trash can, then sat there in my underwear having a major sad about it. I saw it again this morning when I pressed down on the trash can pedal and the lid flipped up, and I dumped coffee grounds all over it. I gasped because even though the sad little dress was ALREADY IN THE GARBAGE, I somehow felt bad about messing it up even more. I thought about taking it out and laundering it before throwing it away, then I realized that’s crazy and I should forget about it. Maybe if I spent more time forgetting about things than I spent remembering them and wallowing in how awful they are, I’d feel less like a target for all of the universe’s leftover cereal and bird diarrhea and more like a person just moving around in the world.

I tried to think about other wardrobe malfunctions I may have had, to prove to myself that, if I couldn’t remember any moments in which I ruined favorite pieces of clothing, it was possible to forget this one. The problem is that I remembered a different dress, at a different time, a dress that wasn’t ruined but somehow had the stains of a bad memory pressed into its cheap cotton knit fabric.

I was fourteen and I had this Sporty Spice t-shirt dress from Old Navy, from back when everyone was wearing stuff like that: stuff that looked like men’s professional baseball apparel had been stretched and fitted so women could wear it to parties. It was colorblocked in a way that I found very sexy: the back and the t-shirt sleeves were black, as was the front up to the boob area, which came together with a mauve and gray swoop that went across the chest and up to the neckline. The neckline, high and conservative like one of your grandpa’s t-shirts, was ringed in black. There was a fancy cursive Old Navy logo just above where my tiny left boob started. I wore it with my black foam platform sandals from the Deb in the mall and thought I looked pretty fucking rad.


Is it sporty or classy?! Guess what: it’s neither. THANK YOU, DELIA’S CATALOG.

My mom’s friend Laura* was not our aunt, but for some goddamned reason, we had called her Aunt Laura since forever. She was this skinny-as-a-rail, muscular, rootin’ tootin’ cowgirl lady. She sat on our porch swing smoking Camels, tapping her ash into the rolled up pant leg of her work overalls. I always thought she wore a lot of weird perfume but it turns out she was just always drunk as shit. Her skin was always the same color and texture of those brown leather jackets with the silk map-print lining everyone was buying. Her face, though, was shiny and red. I never could tell if she was sunburned or her face was just red from all the booze.

(Aunt Laura had seriously been around forever, forever forever, at least since my little sister was a baby, since I was seven or eight. I knew this because I remembered very clearly one night when I went from Very Asleep to Very Awake because my stepfather stormed into the bedroom I shared with my baby sister under his arm. He stomped up the stairs with her and snapped on the light, screaming and yelling something about how he would take them, he would take them away. The light was so yellow and strong and I was too shocked to move as he yanked back the Ninja Turtle covers and ripped my sleeping brother out of his bed across the room, tucking him under his free arm. The baby started to scream as my mother, just a few steps behind my stepfather, pleaded with him to calm down and hand her the baby and please don’t do this, but he would not relent, and the whole screeching parade left the room and stormed down the stairs: he with his two screaming children under his arms, their heads bobbing with each step, my mother behind him, and my older sister following in tears. I sat in bed with no feelings except a prickly sensation in my mouth that might have been fear but might have been something else, something angry growing tall vines through my chest. I looked at the wall by my bed, illuminated in the light from the brown-yellow bulb overhead, and stared into a tiny crack that led to a little chipped hole. You could see under the layers of chipped-off paint in the hole that the walls used to be blue. I stared into that hole and thought about putting my thumb into it and said out loud to myself “I should go downstairs?” I said it like that, like a question to nobody, to myself, and waited for an answer. The only answer was in that blue dot of forgotten, painted-over wall, and it said in a voice as loud as anything I’ve ever heard:

you will not forget this

and I didn’t.

It was decided by the less hysterical adults who later got involved in that evening’s display of domestic violence that each of the kids would be taken out of the house to spend a night somewhere else, somewhere quieter, where one parent wasn’t threatening to grab up his two biological children and disappear with them. We were asked to choose between our grandparents and Aunt Laura, and I chose Aunt Laura because I was curious about where she lived. All I remember now about her house was going out into her overgrown yard early the next morning and finding the remains of a rotted wooden chicken coop. A rusty handle was attached to the molded wooden slats on top, and when I opened it, there inside was the perfectly preserved skeleton of a chicken, featherless and sun-bleached, the delicate bones of its wings spread out like tiny hands, left forgotten for a century.)

Anyway, Aunt Laura stopped by one day to finish off the six pack of PBR she’d started in her truck on the way over and invite my mom to her fourth or fifth wedding, this time to a fellow drunk she’d known for about an hour. The wedding was going to be in whichever church allowed an all-denim cast of characters, followed by a reception in someone’s house out in the boonies, which would no doubt be a doublewide trailer onto which a structure resembling half of a house had been built, then filled with deer antlers and those tables and clocks made out of a cross section of a tree cut down long ago and shellacked to a high shine.


Hard to read or hang up right but sure looks purty.


I don’t know why I was my mother’s date for this occasion, but I was, and I wore my Very Fancy and Grown Up Old Navy knit dress and foam platform sandals. Aunt Laura spruced up a bit and wore a floral sleeveless dress that made her arms look like stringy pieces of fried chicken wings. Her fiance wore jeans and a white button-down shirt, that kind of Fancy Western Go-To-Meetin’ shirt that has shiny metal tip things added to the edges of the shirt collar, and some kind of lanyard with a medallion at the end of it, tightened up to his neck, because that’s what fuckin cowboys wear when they get married, all right?



(This reminds me of one of my friends who married her first college boyfriend, JUNIOR college, at that–and the whole ceremony was Zelda-themed and the bridesmaids wore dresses made from Butterick Halloween princess costume patterns. The dresses had that obnoxious v-shape in the front center of the waistline, like an arrow pointing down to the pussy goods, and each bridesmaid’s dress was so poorly fitted and sewn that each time they exhaled, the little point of fabric flipped up and lay flat against their stomachs, so as the bride flounced down the aisle to the Zelda theme song, there was a little row of backwards pink fabric saluting her over and over again from the stage area as the bridesmaids continuously flipped them back down. The wedding theme was perfect, as far as her father was concerned, because he wasn’t wearing no goddamned suit, goddamn it, because “cowboys don’t dress up like fags,” and he insisted on wearing jeans but since she was his firstborn, he finally relented and wore this weird piece of brown felt she’d cut into the shape of a tunic, which was basically a rectangle of fabric with a hole for his head and a fringe at each end. He wore a belt with a huge shiny cowboy buckle over the tunic, and insisted on strapping a fucking gun to his right leg and carrying a sword he ordered off late-night TV on his left, because that’s what fuckin cowboys wear when their daughters get married, all right?)


Baby, you don’t got to be afraid o’ nothin no more.

Aunt Laura’s teenage son Brad** was the only person in the wedding who wore a black suit with a shirt and tie, and I thought that was hot. Maybe he just stood out in a sea of shitty Wal-Mart button-downs and Lee carpenter jeans, or maybe he actually was good looking. Either way, there’s nothing better than a hot dude who doesn’t go to your school, because nobody can tell him about all the times when you were weird. The group of pretty cheerleaders who harass you every day can’t walk up to both of you at recess and ask him really loud why he’s talking to you, making him question his choice in girls and deciding never to talk to you again (WHICH HAPPENED TO ME BECAUSE JUNIOR HIGH IS A FLAMING HELL HOLE OF FEELINGS AND WILL EITHER KILL YOU OR MAKE YOU AWFUL).

At the reception, in said half-trailer, half-house surrounded by gravel and cheesy lawn signs about how you’ll get shot with a gun if you piss anybody off, Brad, who was seventeen, was allowed to take part in the drinking, which began almost immediately. He proceeded to slam PBRs and gravitate toward me, and I’M SURE it had nothing to do with the fact that I was staring at him from the corner and I looked really cute in my Old Navy dress. Anyway, Brad asked me if I wanted to go for a walk, and of fucking course I did, even though everything within a 2 mile radius around the house had been covered with gravel, on top of which I had to sort of scoot in my platforms, kicking bits of rock out from where they were embedded into the bottom of my shoe with every step.

So we walked along the gravel and chatted, and I don’t remember a word he said to me except one weird question, which I must have thought was weird at the time or I wouldn’t have remembered it, but after about ten minutes of beating around the bush (HA!), Brad came right the fuck out and asked me if I was a virgin.

I was fourteen.

So yes, I said, of course I was. Because it was the truth, and if I knew anything about relationships from Seventeen magazine, I knew that they shouldn’t start with a lie. I also knew that good dudes would respect your virginity and bad dudes would resent it because, to them, it was nothing but an obstacle to that sweet teenage poon they walked around thinking about 98% of the day. I also knew, somehow, deep down in my bones, that if you wanted to get a boyfriend you had to play the motherfuckin game. So yes, I said, of course I was, but that status was negotiable, and anyway, it was only because none of the other teenage boys in my town appreciated how cool and hot I was. So even though I was a full on chicken shit (and should have been, I think, at fourfuckingteen) and this fact was definitely not negotiable, I dragged that shit out because I was going to force this dude to get to know me and take me to at least one single school dance before inevitably dumping me when I refused to take off my Fashion Bug underpants.


OK how do I get the “sorta” boyfriend?! TELL PLS

I was surprised when the walk ended suddenly after the Big Reveal, but I chalked this up to the fact that he’d made up his mind to date me and the interview was just naturally over. We’d exchanged phone numbers and emails earlier, and since I was going to play this shit until I had a boyfriend, I started calling his bedroom phone and emailing his Hotmail account like there was no tomorrow. I checked my email every five minutes for about ten weeks.

His responses to this assault were lukewarm at best. “Oh, heyyy” he’d say, then cover the phone with his hand until I finished telling him every little thing about my day, when he’d say “Welp, I’m gonna hit the hay.” He responded to 2-paragraph flirty emails with one or two totally blah, completely misspelled sentences. Sometimes he just answered “yeah.” He once invited me to a county fair to hear his band play (they were called CELOTEX, he said, a clever name he and his bandmates had come up with, which also happened to be the brand name of the insulation covering the walls of the drafty garage where they practiced, but that had nothing to do with anything). I went, and all I remember about it was waving to him as he set up his drum kit, and he looked kind of scared and sort of half-waved back and then didn’t look at me again for the rest of the night, which was all very My So-Called Life of him to do, thank you very much, I will now sit here and enjoy this Buffalo Tom soundtrack to my life, now that I have been Buffalo Tommed.


Garage Insulation Specialists, Garage Band Specialists

Once, I called him while his best friend was over. They were in his room playing video games, he said. I told him about the football game I’d gone to that day (which was something that I did so I could eat popcorn and Airheads). I mentioned that I’d sat with a girl I knew from school. I pretended that she and I were great friends, not letting on that this girl really just tolerated me because she was too nice to avoid me like her mean girl friends urged her to. I said her name and Brad repeated it. “I know her,” he said. Off to the side, he asked his friend if he also knew this girl. “Is that Dr. Chrisman’s*** daughter?” the friend asked. I confirmed that it was. “She’s hot,” the friend said. Then they both had to go because they were gonna hit the hay or whatever.

As traumatic as it is to play an endless game of desperate phone tag with a dude who is never going to like you as much as you like him, it’s about ten times harder to do this for the first time, because you can’t quite put your finger on what that feeling is that’s creeping up through your stomach and making you want to barf all the time. That feeling, of course, is doubt, and the sneaking, scraping suspicion that you maybe, perhaps, look like a fucking idiot. I was already starting to have that feeling, and was getting to a place where it was undeniable and impossible for anyone with even a shred of emotional intelligence to ignore. I couldn’t pretend like this was going well anymore because every day that passed when Brad didn’t pay any attention to me just made it more and more obvious. It finally broke me when about ten days, nine hours, and twelve minutes had passed and I hadn’t gotten a response to an email I’d sent him, so I just sat down on my bed and cried.

My mom came in and patted my shoulder. How I wish we could go back to that moment, and I could lean in from the other side and whisper to my mother just do that, just pat her shoulder, DON’T SAY ANYTHING unless it’s something about how there will be other boys and he’s the dumb one for not realizing how great she is. You know, mom stuff! DO NOT SAY ANYTHING BUT THAT STUFF. If I could, I would pop her right on the mouth a little bit, not hard, just a little tappy tap, like boop boop boop you’re about to fuck up! And then she would not say that thing that would be a fuckup and Future Me would disappear because there wouldn’t be a reason for me to have been there in the first place.

She didn’t say any of the right, non-fuckuppy stuff. She didn’t say anything for a very long time, but finally she did start talking and it was awwwwwful. She shared with me that she and Aunt Laura had been following the teenage romance of myself and Brad since its beginning at the wedding earlier that summer. They had both been really excited and hoped that the two of us would date, because wouldn’t that be so cute, but recently Aunt Laura had called my mother and let her know that Brad was a sexual guy, okay, and that he had confided in Aunt Laura that he really didn’t want to waste any time with a girl he wasn’t going to get to fuck. My mother didn’t say this in these exact words. What she did say was that Aunt Laura told her that Brad told Aunt Laura “that he was interested in young women with whom he could share a sexual relationship.”


Here I was, crying over a dude, and my MOM reveals to me the exact reasons why the guy doesn’t want to date me, and they’ve been revealed to her through some fucked-up game of Drunk Telephone, and they’re SEX REASONS that HAVE TO DO WITH SEX and NOW YOUR MOM KNOWS ABOUT YOUR NONEXISTENT SEX LIFE AND SO DOES THE BOY YOU LIKE AND SO DOES HIS MOM AND PLEASE I WANT TO DIE NOW.

This was a Bad Thing. A very, very Bad Thing. But I did not die.

I wore the Old Navy dress several more times. I chased men who wanted nothing to do with me many, many more times.

I saw Brad one time in the parking lot of a Dairy Queen, when I was a junior in high school. He waved to me from a car window and I narrowed my eyes at him and said “What do you want?” Which was, I think, the appropriate response to someone who can’t be straightforward, who has to tell his mom to tell your mom he will only date you if tell him beforehand that he can fuck you.


I’m just here for the goddamn sundaes.

I’ve heard that Brad has several children with several women, and is just as poor and as drunk as his mom, who divorced Husband #4 and has moved on to 5 and 6, maybe 7, I don’t know, I don’t live there anymore. I do feel sorry for him, in the way that I feel sorry for most men who rejected me or were mean to me when we were teenagers because I was ugly/weird/virginal, and are now meth addicts and drunks working in coal mines and struggling to make child support payments. I don’t like to think of my little teen self being treated like shit, but I also don’t like to think of these boys I dreamed about day and night being miserable old men. I wish there could have been some kind of balance, some kind of even playing field both then and now, and maybe a place where we could have all met in the middle.

I still see Brad’s best friend on social media, because I’m still friends (in that let’s share cake recipes and politely ignore each other’s political views social media type of way) with the Too Nice Girl from the football game. The night after the conversation with Brad and his friend wherein I mentioned her, Brad’s friend went to the next football game in our town and chatted her up. They’re married now and they have two kids. Her wedding dress was white and princessy and glittery and strapless and they did the thing where everybody jumps up in the air and the photographer snaps a picture just as they’re coming back down, all puffs of fabric and blurry limbs. In the background, near a bridesmaid with a blurred face, Brad floats back down to earth, and maybe it’s the suit or maybe it’s the anti-gravity, but he looks almost like the asshole teenage boy I was in love with in the summer of 1996.




*Not her real name

**Not his, either.

***Come on.

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I’m Not Even A Little Bit Scared Of You, Science Doctor Harrison Ford.

What Lies Beneath: A Synopsis

What were you doing in the year 2000? Specifically, what were you doing on the weekend of July 21-23, 2000?

Well, if you were living in a small town with nothing better to do on the weekends than go see a movie for $5, and you were about to leave everything you’d known for 20 years and move to Chicago and were in need of a distraction from your oppressive anxiety, you were probably in the air conditioned theater watching Robert Zemeckis’ psychological thriller-horror film What Lies Beneath starring Harrison Ford and Michelle Pfeiffer! And you probably weren’t scared the whole time, either! Not even during the scary parts!!!

It is a stupid movie, full of stupid people with stupid feelings.

We start out in a beautiful waterfront mansion where poor, sad, white Michelle Pfeiffer is knocking about and spying on the neighbors because she is traumatized from a car accident she was in a year ago, which caused her to lose some of her memory. Her daughter leaves for college, and then poor lonely Michelle is even more poor and lonely because her husband Harrison Ford has moved her out here to this gorgeous property and gone straight back to work as a teacher at The Science College. She doesn’t like to garden or anything because you need two hands to do it and most white ladies who live in waterfront mansions only have one free hand (because of the white wine spritzer in the other), so she spends her time practicing Wrinkle-Free Pouting in the mirror and watching her neighbors fight in their yard. Poor lonely Michelle!


OMG I am so sick of staring at water.

The neighbor lady disappears one day after Michelle spies her walking around crying and I guess looking like she’s about to disappear. Then she sees Mr. Neighbor stuffing a body bag into the trunk of his car. She finds a bloody flip flop in the yard and at first she wants to toss it over the fence and yell KEEP YOUR DAMN FLIP FLOPS ON YOUR PROPITTY but she thinks better of it and holds a seance with her BFF instead. She figures if Dead Mrs. Neighbor is anywhere, she’s most likely definitely in Michelle’s beautiful shore house, because PEOPLE ARE DYING TO LIVE THERE AHHAHAHAH no but seriously stuff’s been falling off shelves and shit, so.

BFF is one of those characters that always accompany Nice White Married Ladies. They’re CRAZY because they dyed one strand of their curly hair bright red and probably fucked Mick Jagger and usually have a roach in their bag. They drive some kind of ridiculous car (“I got it in the settlement! Fuck that asshole!”) and they drive it fast. They come to fancy parties and ruffle feathers by making jokes about sex and saying EVERYONE DRINK MORE YES DEBAUCHERY YES and they fling their curly hair around and dance to no music at all and Nice White Married Lady smiles and shakes her head and says something like “That’s Begonia, she’s been this way since we were roommates in college, she’s a free spirit, you know, she’s like the yin to my yang which is something she read in a book from the occult store.” She’s the Manic Pixie Dream Girl they sell in the LL Bean catalog.


Shutup and let Begonia do this, she’s done it like a thousand times before. She’s so crazy! Calm down, Begonia!!!

Nothing happens during the seance, so Begonia hops into her hot car and speeds down the mountain toward home, which is probably a tiny apartment above a candle store, an apartment she describes as “funky,” which is full of nothing but wine bottle sculptures and prescription medication. No sooner has Begonia roared off to Funkytown than Michelle sees a message in the bathroom mirror because she was dumb enough to shower and leave steam on it for the ghost to use to communicate. “YOU KNOW” it says. You know!!!! She’s like, know WHAT? Seriously, I don’t…ugh! So frustrating.

Scared Michelle runs to Science Doctor Harrison Ford’s office to tell him the house is haunted as a muhfucker and he slams a bunch of papers down and says things like “I have to focus on my science!” and calls her needy and crazy. They’re standing there arguing and Science Doctor Harrison Ford is cramming stuff into his  briefcase and DUN DUN DUNNN there’s Mr. Neighbor! Michelle goes ape-shit ham balls on him for killing his wife, who scoots up behind him like “Oh what’s this my ears are ringing?!” Michelle concedes that okay maybe she is a little bit crazy and needs to take a nap. Mrs. Neighbor is like, yeah girl, I’m alive, so blame your haunting on someone else, also I don’t appreciate you taking my flip flop and that crazy friend of yours needs to quit parking on top of my rose bushes.


“I feel so dumb for acting crazy in front of the neighbors, I’ll be in the tub for the rest of the day.”

Everything is all well and good now, and the movie can basically end, except a picture explodes in Science Doctor’s home office and while she’s cleaning it up, Michelle finds a newspaper article about a missing girl who used to attend Science Doctor Harrison Ford’s Science College! WHAT! Naturally she heads on over to Missing And Presumed Dead Girl’s House to chat with her mom and get all the gory details. She also steals a full fucking braid of the girl’s hair out of her grieving mother’s clutches because fuck it, this haunting needs to be solved like yesterday because the property value is going down, which canNOT happen. Begonia lends Michelle a book from the occult store and she’s bookmarked the page with a ghost possession spell, probably with like a cat bookmark or a woven Celtic symbol or something. So Michelle flaps the piece of hair around and invites Missing And Presumed Dead Girl into her bod for the evening. Together, they seduce Science Doctor Harrison Ford and freak him the fuck out by doing this creepy mid-coitus face-swapping thing. He is NOT a fan and tosses Michelle across the room. She hits her head and remembers coming home on the night of her memory-wiping car accident and seeing Science Doctor having sex with Missing And Presumed Dead Girl on his desk. She’s like YOU A-HOLE and runs off to Begonia’s funky shithole, where she tells her the whole story between giant goblets of wine and Begonia is like oh yeah, I totally knew about the cheating all along, sorrrrr-ry.

Science Doctor Harrison Ford promises to be better. He also accidentally drops the hair dryer in the shower with himself and gets slightly electrocuted and needs Michelle to nurse him and listen to all of his bullshit apologies. Michelle comes home when he points out that he could have died! And anyway, none of this was his fault, he just slept with his student and then she totally bitched out on him and threatened to kill Michelle and he couldn’t have that so he told her to hit the bricks, and she straight up killed herself on their porch like a total fucking psycho! So he had no choice but to put her body in her car and push it into the lake. Because bitches be crazy, Michelle gobbles up every word, but tells Science Doctor Harrison Ford that he should prolly let the cops know what happened. He’s like, aw man, okay, fine. She stands there nodding and pursing her plastic lips at him while he tells the cops over the phone they’d better stop by if they wanted to hear a real hum-dinger of a story, oh boy! He says “Yeah okay so definitely talked to the cops just then, I didn’t just dial and then put my thumb on the receiver and say stuff to make you feel better. I’m gonna hop in the shower.”

This is when you can tell the movie expects what’s happening to be a Big Twist! and Shocking! and maybe even Scary! Whaaaa! Guess who’s not even in the shower, at all, but instead is lurking around in the dark with a syringe full of muscle-paralyzing Science fluid?! It’s SCIENCE DOCTOR HARRISON FORD, who is a bad guy!!! He dumps Michelle’s paralyzed bod in the tub and starts filling it up with water to make it look like she drowned. Because that shit happens all the time, you know, women forgetting that they’re in the bath tub and can’t breathe underwater and just go to sleep. Anyway, he’s a man, so the cops will believe it. This is also the part when the villain is like “I have nothing better to do right now, so I might as well tell my entire twisted story and laugh maniacally while our heroine is in this slow-moving life threatening situation.” He spills his guts about murdering Missing And Presumed Dead Girl, who is now Missing and Definitely Dead Ghost Lady. He tries to adjust Michelle in the water so she’ll drown faster but her face magically transforms into zombo-Dead Girl and it freaks him out so he falls and hits his head.


Everything but your face is paralyzed, you know? HAAAATE that feeling.

This means that Michelle has exactly 30 seconds or so to Kill Bill-wiggle-your-big-toe herself until she can wrap her foot around the chain and pull the drain stopper out. She’s saved! Then she has to crawl out of the tub and get to the truck outside. She notices that Science Doctor Harrison Ford’s gotten blood all over the floor and not bothered to clean it up before booking it up out of there, where is he anyway? She hits the gas in the truck and runs over the neighbor’s rose bush because she’s staring at her cell phone, which is the size of a VCR, waiting to get a single dot on the screen so she can call 911. Things are never that easy, of course, and Science Doctor was hiding in the back of the truck under a tarp, of course. He’s grabbing at Michelle and she’s trying to drive through the fog and then HOLY SHIT THERE’S A PERSON IN THE FOG IT’S A LADY WHO LOOKS SORT OF FAMILIAR because of course ghosts can only show up in misty, foggy areas that look like ghost-y places anyway. Michelle swerves to avoid hitting her because she doesn’t realize you can drive right through a ghost and they don’t care. The whole shebang goes off the side of the same bridge where Doctor Science threw Missing And Definitely Dead Ghost Lady’s body and now all of them are together at the bottom of the lake. Science Doctor is pulling at Michelle’s J. Crew chino pants to try and drown her again, but whoa buddy. The truck slamming into the the bottom of the lake awaaaaaakened the spiiiiirit of the ghooooost and also knocked her decayed old dead body loose. It floats up the side of the truck and lays some major side eye on Science Doctor Harrison Ford because she is NOT happy with him. She grabs his ass and drags him down with her, then looks up and tells Michelle to shoo fly on outta there.


oh she mad.

Michelle hightails it to the surface where the whole entire world is waiting for her and they all believe her story, even though she recently had a very crazy outburst in public and there is zero evidence supporting any of her claims, but whatever. The final scene shows her leaving roses on Missing and Definitely Dead Girl’s grave, presumably to apologize for stealing shit from her mom, but mostly probably so there can be a scene where she walks away through the cemetery in her finely tailored wool trench from Banana Republic. Missing and Definitely Dead Girl’s face shows up in the snow. She winks and goes WHATUP Y’ALL and the credits roll because there is literally nothing else they could possibly think of to make this movie scary.

A Detailed Analysis Of Why This Movie Isn’t Scary

Ugh. Michelle’s problems bore me. OF COURSE she’s bored and lonely, she lives out in the middle of fucking nowhere and has never had a real job, aside from Musician. I mean, I wanted to be a writer but I didn’t go after it as a job, because I knew I’d end up someday more like Begonia than Michelle, just drinking a lot and living in a crap apartment, selling soaps at the farmer’s market every weekend and pretending that a Fun Personality! makes up for total unhappiness. The loneliness part is, I guess, a little bit scary, maybe. It is sort of tied in with the idea of isolation and rejection. She keeps trying to talk to people about stuff and they look at her like she’s nuts, and she IS nuts, because she’s had something happen to her and it was awful and scary, but you’re not supposed to talk about those things because they’re not polite and would you just GET OVER IT already.

If they really wanted to make this movie scary, they’d have focused on that rejection shit. That stuff will keep you up at night, creeping around the corners of the door frame and floating above your bed, moaning at you YOU’RE A FAIIILLUUUUUURE and NOBODY LIIIIKES YOUUUU and stuff. You lie there and swallow and turn on the TV to drown it out and if you do end up getting some sleep, you wake up in the morning wanting more of it and you’re mean to the dog and late for work and just sit in your office and watch other people Move Around and Do Things all day. It’s exhausting to think that people somehow have the ability to ignore how awful everything is.

A truly scary movie would be about Michelle Pfeiffer applying and interviewing for various jobs like crazy, just spending 4 hours a day revising cover letters and plonking through phone interviews and answering the same questions over and over again, fielding laughably low offers and zero-dollar relocation assistance and banging her head on the wall. It would be really scary if she was very excited about one particular opportunity, and put all of her hopes into it, and got a second interview, and thought everything was going really well–then DUN DUN DUNNNN got the thank-you-but-no-thank-you phone call!

It would be really scary if she just sort of walked around for an entire day with a prickly feeling in her mouth and confused tears in her eyes and a kind of tired, disconnect-y feeling with her body. I guess they call this Shock, and she’d be like, why do I feel shock over this? I should have known it would go this way. Stupid, stupid dumb and stupid Michelle, hello? This is the universe calling! You are mediocre, and aiming for anything above-average will be a misfire every time! Hahaha! Don’t you know that yet, dummy? Don’t act like you’re surprised that you failed, because of course you did.


Uh, yeah…that’s basically what that means. Dick.

Zemeckis could have added an extra super bone-chilling thread to this yarn if Michelle had been job searching and simultaneously submitting pieces of her writing, like, I don’t know, personal essays and shit, because everybody is like “your blog is good, don’t give away your work for free!” but now she’s getting constantly rejected at every turn, when it used to be fun to write because it was only for her blog which felt good and free. Maybe she could join this group of lady essayists who all comment on each other’s posts and encourage each other in their essays about dogs with PTSD and struggles with cloth diapers, maybe she could start to feel a little bit comfortable with trying to be part of a community, then she totally fucks it up by pitching an idea for an essay about racist remarks about slavery, which she has NO RIGHT to do because she’s white and her ancestors owned slaves. They could put in the cricket sound right there, a tumbleweed could roll across the Internet, right across her post which has one single comment from the lady who comments on everything, and is ignored by all the rest. She could feel bad about it all day, and rejected, and pushed out of a community for being weird/doing something wrong/looking stupid. It would be like two million layers of failure. You can’t do any of the things you like to do! Also, people hate you and think you’re stupid! YIIIIIIKES. That would scare the hell out of me.

What if Science Doctor Harrison Ford had come out of the bathroom and confessed the whole terrible tale and then said, “You know what’s going to happen now? Nothing. Nothing is going to happen.” That would have been way scary. I mean, I spend about 90% of my time in the tub these days, whether or not there is water in it, so don’t give me that I’m-going-to-slowly-drown-you bullshit. I ain’t afraid of no tub, I’m afraid of being out of the tub! Hahahaha! What I am afraid of is, I don’t know, what if there was this giant clock on the wall and it counted down over and over again to absolutely nothing happening, all of the things and situations staying exactly the same? Michelle had to sit there and watch, paralyzed, while the clock just started over and over again, and the longer she was unable to move and the more things stayed exactly the same, she kind of hated herself a little more? Maybe they could do a really close-up shot of her hairs turning gray one at a time, or the second hand of the clock slooooowly ticking forward with a really loud TOOSH, TOOSH, TOOSH sound every time?! They could really drive it home if Michelle is sitting there watching nothing happen to herself while everyone around her succeeds at things and focuses on what they want to do and lets disappointments roll off their backs like normal people instead of crying about it for a week? Then it would be this whole layer of “everyone else is normal and you are not” and THAT shit, my friend, is fucking creepy.



These are just things I’ve been thinking about. About how sixteen years ago I watched this movie and it was maybe a little bit scary then, but how these days, things that are supposed to be scary are kind of dumb when you have real stuff to worry about. It’s not until you get out into the world and try to take steps forward and get knocked down and start to hear yourself telling yourself that you’re a horrible disappointment that shit gets really fucking terrifying. Don’t give me that goddamn ghost-in-the-fog shit, okay? Try walking down the street in broad daylight feeling like everyone is looking at you and thinks you’re dumb. Don’t come at me with your syringe full of paralyzing science drugs, dude. I’ve been trying to get out of bed for a straight month, so it’s not the inability to move that scares me, it’s the Getting Up And Doing Stuff thing that freaks me out. I’m not even a little bit scared of you, Science Doctor Harrison Ford. But I’m terrified of everything else.

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You and Whose Army

flat, in theatre terms, is a set of two-by-fours in the shape of a rectangle, 8 or 10 feet tall, with one side covered in plywood or muslin. They’re painted over and over again, fitted together on a stage in configurations necessary to give the impression of the walls of a house, or the sky behind a barn, or whatever else it is that’s needed to convey to the audience that what’s in the background is a real thing and not a bunch of plywood and paint. The back of a flat is basically an unfinished frame, the edges of boards sticking out. One of these was lying flat side down on the floor backstage during a rehearsal for The Musical Comedy Murders of 1940, at Southeastern Illinois College, in the early spring of 2002. I played a cross-dressing murderous maid in the play, and wore a terrible, thousand-year-old dirty blonde wig with the appearance and the texture of a really old scrubby sponge. I was pulling it onto my head, running from one side of the stage to the other, in the pitch black behind the little false sitting room, made of flats painted pink, that made up the set. I barely felt something hit my toe, then I was going down hard, flying forward to meet the ground, and landed smack dab in the middle of the flat on the floor. The edge of the two-by-four in the center of the flat collided with my right thigh muscle. For weeks, I had a dark bruise the size of my wide open hand, running sideways across my thigh.


I complained about it a whole lot, surely. It hurt! Also you could totally see it under my dark black tights I had to wear for the entirety of the play. It was unmistakable: a big raised black/blue area, which eventually turned to purple, then faded to green, then yellow, and finally went away. The thing is, it’s still there, I see it every time I’m in a yoga class and I go into downward dog. I’m face to face with my thighs in tight pants and I can see the depression, the area of my leg that looks like a bit’s been scooped out with a ladle. Oh, hello, Imperfection! There you are. And look at that: you’ve positioned yourself right above the stubby little scar left behind from the time I attempted to make Barbie a t-shirt with an old sweatshirt and my mother’s sharpest sewing scissors and ended up stabbing myself in the leg, then running around in circles making the stab hole bigger! Then getting stitched up by some half-drunk dope in the shittiest small-town emergency room in the world, ending up with a scar that looks like a puffy, sick caterpillar!

(The doctor used some kind of thick, hooked needle to stab seven or eight tiny holes in my leg around the cut, then connected the holes together. As the cut healed, a little chasm formed between the two sides, a chasm that filled with scar tissue and became a scar the size and thickness of my pinky finger. There are even scar marks where the stitches went in, so incompetent was this guy. If a kid suffered this injury today, and went to an emergency room that was better prepared for injuries of this type, she’d get more than a few stitches to hold the wound all the way closed, and end up with a smaller scar. They told me, when I asked about scarring, already concerned in second grade about marks that don’t go away, that the scar would get smaller and smaller, and eventually move up my leg as I grew, as if the skin on my legs would stretch like leggings, until the scar would disappear into my crotch. That didn’t happen. It stayed right where it was.)



When the flat, uh, flattened my leg, I felt the same panic I felt when I’d cut that leg open years before. There was something about these injuries that scared and disappointed me. I was cartwheeling through life, destroying my body, screwing it up. It wouldn’t be the same anymore. These things were happening to it and leaving evidence that they’d happened. I wouldn’t look right anymore. I was damaged and you could tell just by looking at me. This is why I hated getting fillings at the dentist: some of your tooth, your tooth, that was there when you were born, is now just gone, dust floating away in thin air. You watch it go through the orange plastic over the drill, you smell it burning. It’s gone like it was never there. They don’t save it for you in a little jar, you’ve just lost some part of you forever. Then they fill the hole it left behind, the place where there used to be stuff that was made of you, with some kind of goop that’s going to crack and need to be replaced in a few years. You leave and there’s something in your mouth that doesn’t belong to you. I’m terrified of that concept. Isn’t everyone else? Shouldn’t we be?

The other day, I surprised myself by how mean I could be. I looked in the mirror and wiped a bit of excess eyeliner away with my fingertip. I stood back and looked at the body in front of me, which I described to myself as huge. I examined the face, which I called pasty and pale and worthless. These things come to me so easily, it’s like someone else is sitting next to me saying them. They happen before I have time to fully form them as thoughts in my head. They’re my voice, but meaner. After all of these mean things, they said

You should really apologize to people for having to look at you.




The neighbor girl used to say “Go like this” and then bare her teeth at me, her lips peeled back so I could see both shiny rows, top and bottom. Sometimes I said I didn’t want to, but usually I gave in on the first command to get it over with. I’d do it, and she and whichever of her friends she had invited over for an afternoon of swimming in her bean-shaped pool on the other side of the fence would step forward and peer into my mouth. They’d stare in horror at the crooked little teeth, struggling for a place in the front, pushing each other out of the way. They’d be especially interested in one particular tooth in the bottom center, the one that had a little brown spot on it, right in the middle. They’d stare with their hands on their hips, as I mouth-breathed into their faces, and when they got to the little brown tooth, they would all fake a shudder and say “Ugh!”, rubbing their hands together as if they needed to go wash off somewhere to avoid becoming like me. And because children are marvelously blunt, I got to field all kinds of questions and comments about my mouth.

“Your teeth are so ugly. Why are they so ugly?”

“Why don’t you get them fixed?”

“Don’t you brush your teeth?”

“You should get braces.”

This stuff is all minor-league. I mean, all of us were plopped down suddenly one day into a world where all of our imperfections were pointed out to us, and all of everyone else’s imperfections started to become really, really obvious. Then everyone started to separate into groups based on this information. So it goes, right?  You’re a little bit weird and there’s something on your tooth. You can’t come over and swim, and you can’t have crushes on any of these seven boys, okay? That’s how it works! We’ll come by when we want to see a freak show.

Sometimes I’m still nervous to talk to or around kids. For years and years after being subjected to repeated torture by the neighbor girl, forced oral examinations, taunting, and general exclusion based on the fact of my terrible mouth, I’d say something around a kid and they’d say, “You know you have something on your teeth?” I’d have to explain that it was always there. “Why? Can’t you get it off? Can’t you brush your teeth? Can’t you get rid of it?” They were like little radars finding that one lone signal in the grid that shouldn’t have been there, trying to destroy it with shame. People usually shushed their kids after a few protestations, but the same situation happened again and again. That fucking brown spot on my teeth was like a magnet for questions. And sometimes adults would point it out to me! Some of them meant well, I’m sure, in an “oh, you have a piece of something in your bottom teeth” kind of way. But some grew defiant when I’d say, “Oh, no–that’s a part of my tooth, it’s always like that.” They’d puff up a little bit, embarrassed, and shoot back something to the tune of “Well why don’t you get it fixed?!”

Is there anything worse than an adult who can’t deal with their feelings?

My stepfather’s teeth were terrible. They were a crowded mess, top and bottom. They were all different shades of yellow, black, and dark gray. They were actively rotting away in his jaw, as was the mucus constantly pooling in his sinuses, which made his temper worse and his snivelly voice all the more nasal and piercing. The smell of his face was nauseating: if you were in trouble, he’d breathe his rot-stench breath down on you, as close to your face as he could get. I think of it now as an animal’s spit-shiny teeth in your face, strings of saliva trickling down out of the corners of the cracked lips. I can still smell the rotten teeth and sinuses, the beer breath, the Speed Stick. Those were his smells, those are the smells of my terror.

He’d hold my head. With one arm under my chin, bicep smashed against my right ear, he’d hold me in a headlock in front of the sink. I was too small to see the mirror without standing on my toes, so I stared at my forehead and gripped the edge of the sink. With his other arm, he furiously scrubbed my bottom row of teeth. He held my head tight so it was still as he scrubbed. He scrubbed until I bled, and then some. He scrubbed until he got too angry to continue, or too bored. He went down to the basement and came back up with a wire shop brush, Next time I’m using this, waving it in my face. I never knew when he would brush my teeth for me: it came out of nowhere. I’d be sitting there talking, laughing, telling someone a story, and the next thing you know, he’d be exploding in anger at me, screaming about that fucking spot and how disgusting and lazy I was for never brushing my teeth. He’d drag me off to the bathroom and there we’d stand for what seemed like hours: him scrubbing the skin away from my gums, determined to get that spot out. Me inhaling the stench from his rotten mouth and waiting for it to end.


Choose your adventure.

These were things he said:

You’re a quitter. You’ll never finish anything

Food would last a lot longer around here if you didn’t glut so much, Miss Piggy

You’re worthless

You’re a psychopath


Big mouth


You’re a disgusting pig


You’re an embarrassment

And on and on. It didn’t always start with me opening my mouth, with him catching sight of my teeth. It could be something as small as not getting a dish clean enough. It could be for making too much noise. For eating to much. For having a radio on loud enough for him to hear when he was standing with his ear pressed to my bedroom door. There was no telling when or how much anger I’d inspire in him, or for what. When you were the target, everyone else would just sit around, pretending to pay attention to the TV or read a newspaper. We were a family of ghosts, navigating the house quietly, invisible to each other, trying to steer clear of this screaming, angry man and his torments.

There was one time, one time when I decided I was too old (at fourteen) to be threatened like this. He’d been trying to help me with my math homework, and both of us were frustrated with it. He, of course, began screaming about how I wasn’t trying hard enough. He said if I didn’t do it, “it” being some kind of function related to the math homework, he’d beat my ass.

“I’ll beat your ass,” he said.

“No you won’t,” I said.

“Oh yes I will,” he said.

Then I was on the floor. He’d grabbed both of my ankles and yanked me off the couch. I’d tried to turn and grab the cushion and ended up on my stomach, my cheek scraping the carpet. He wrenched one arm behind my back in some kind of wrestling choke hold and sat on it. It felt like being stabbed in the shoulder. It felt like someone was trying to tear my arm off. We stayed there like that for a long time, him punching, punching, punching into my back. In my struggle, I had flipped up the corner of the fabric at the bottom of the couch and I could see its broken leg, the one he had steadied with a small stack of books. I kept thinking of myself as being punched down to be as flat as Flat Stanley, small enough to climb into an envelope, to hide between the pages of a book.


There is safety in dimension.

But I must have been screaming. I must have been screaming because I looked up and my brother was running down the stairs. I saw the light from the windows behind his head. I saw his shoes where he stood inches from my head, speechless, absorbing the scene. Eventually, my mother came down the stairs and screamed for him to stop. I packed my things and moved in with my grandparents, my mother’s parents.

After the divorce, during the custody hearings, my brother denied having seen the beating. I insisted to the judge that it had happened. He replied, “I don’t think he meant it that way, I don’t think he’ll do it again.” My grandmother and my aunt, my mother’s sister, the ones I had run to after that final beating, showed up to court and sat on the side of my abuser. Everyone thought it best that I forgave him. Everyone thought it best that I moved on. The state of Illinois thought it best that I visit him three nights a week. “If you don’t get your ass out here,” he said over the phone, “I’ll have your mother put in jail.”

Sometimes, the truth just gets overtaken in a wave of bullshit, of good intentions, of bad ones, of the way people wish things were, instead of how they actually are. Sometimes Jedi mind tricks really work in the way that someone can wave their hand and say “that didn’t really happen, and anyway, even if it did, I’m sure he’s sorry, even if he hasn’t said so, and he’s never done anything like that to me, or in front of me, so how can I be sure it’s even true?” I guarantee you that there is a whole mountain of evil out there hiding behind a forest of people who just don’t want to believe it could happen. I guarantee you that the balance of power is all someone needs to do awful things to you and never be called up to question for it.

My brother still doesn’t speak to me. Neither does my younger sister. Both of them have said “She’s crazy.” I don’t blame them. He is their father. He is the mountain.



Now tell me how it is I’m supposed to go through life opening my mouth and talking to people? Tell me how it is I’m supposed to trust that they won’t look into my mouth, down my throat, and tell me all the things that are wrong with me? Sometimes I am so afraid to be in the world, I can barely look at a bus driver or stand to have someone sit near me in the doctor’s office. Sometimes my head swims so fast with all the things I should say to sound like a normal person, I end up squeaking like a rusty door and making no sense, answering questions backwards and upside-down, coming off like a completely insane person. There’s not enough time to think, not enough time to generate the right answer, the one that will keep me safe from whatever harm this other person might be ready to inflict on me.

Tell me how it is I’m supposed to look in the mirror and say nice things to myself?



The last time I saw him, he was in a bookstore with his wife, a squat little woman with a frown that appeared to be carved into her face. Her arms were crossed, she scowled at me from across a row of books. That nasally, rotten voice said “Hi.” I returned his casual greeting as if it didn’t mean anything to me, as if he hadn’t terrorized me for the first half of my life. I wondered later if he could see, from where he was standing, inside my mouth, if he could see the clean white tooth in the middle of the bottom row, where the dentist had drilled out the brown and replaced it with some kind of white tooth spackle.

I wanted to tell him she’d done this, how I’d been ashamed to see a dentist for years, and when I finally had gone, I’d shown her that spot and told her I hadn’t brushed enough when I was a child. “No,” she’d said, “that’s a deformity. You’ve got one in a back molar, too. You had an illness or a fever when these teeth were growing in your jaw that’s caused this. You didn’t do anything wrong, it’s anatomy.” IT’S ANATOMY, I wanted to scream at him. I DIDN’T DO ANYTHING WRONG.

“You will need a skin graft here, though,” the dentist had continued. “Did you do really hard brushing or something on these bottom teeth when you were little? Because the gums are just completely worn away.”

“No,” I said. I didn’t do it. But someone did. I told her about the forced brushings I endured in a headlock and she winced. She patted my shoulder and shook her head.

Apart from the day in the bookstore, I have avoided any further contact with time and distance. Before my little sister gave up on speaking to me, she sat down one day and told me that she thought he was really sorry “for everything that had happened,” and really missed me, and did I know? Did I know he had a picture of me as a baby on his dresser?

“If he’s sorry,” I said, “why hasn’t he ever apologized to me? Why are you doing it for him?” That was one of the last times she spoke to me. Because I am crazy.

Another time, a few years ago, Facebook notified me that my name had been used in a post on my abuser’s wall. “Happy Birthday,” it said, “wherever you are.”

I threw my head back and laughed like an actual crazy person. Wherever you are. IT’S FUCKING FACEBOOKI screamed. I AM ON IT. YOU JUST TAGGED ME. YOU KNOW EXACTLY WHERE I AM AND EXACTLY HOW TO FIND ME. Then I started crying because there’s really nothing like your name being used in a passive-aggressive call for pity from someone who works harder to convince the world he’s a good person than the people he’s hurt. On your birthday.


But sometimes I’m not sad about it at all. Sometimes I’m so angry I could burn up, smash things, run screaming through the streets. I hate that I was a child and he could do these things to me. I hate that he had the power, that other people gave it to him time and again. I hate whatever happened to him when he was a child that made him such an awful man, that made him go to battle over the smallest things with little children. I really hate that nobody spoke up for me until they absolutely had to in a court of law, and I hate that even then, the odds were in his favor, based on the ideals of forgiveness, love, family. I hate that it opened the door right back up for him. I hate that I still have to deal with the mess he made.

Sometimes I stand there and stare at myself in the mirror and I can’t believe how old I am. I can’t believe I’ve got a life apart from his, I can’t believe I’ve managed to get away from all of it and be a whole person. I can’t believe that someone saying terrible things about you doesn’t make them true. Then I start to wonder about him. I wonder what would happen if he tried to pull any of that shit today. I’ve surrounded myself with people who would protect me. Even if all of them fell, I’ve armored myself. I wish he would come at me now, where I have the power, and just try it all again. Come out of the dark, from behind the trees. Come and see who I am now.

My doctor looked at my leg in an x-ray. “The muscle took a hit,” she said, “but the bone is strong.”

The dentist tapped at my bottom teeth with her metal tool. “The gum is worn away,” she said, “but the teeth are sound.”

I’m bigger now than I was when I was two, eight, fourteen. My bones are strong, my teeth are sharp.

Come and see.


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Pussy Control

Meanwhile, at the Cat Ranch

The wet and cold of this lazy-ass loser springtime finally started to look like it might be receding this morning. The light coming in the bedroom window looked less blue and more yellow, so I thought it would be an excellent morning to get up and have coffee on the porch. I did just that, relaxing on the lounge chair with my mug and a magazine I didn’t have to pay a whole lot of attention to in order to get the idea of what it was about. The dog found a patch of sun and curled up next to me.

I let out this long movie-length sigh because it’s been a stressful, fruitless, six-month job search, my mostly non-existent confidence and general unwillingness to keep working on anything pointless have lagged considerably, and that mixed with the dark and rainy weather has made me basically hit the point of “nobody will mind if I just stop going to work, will they?” that makes me stay in bed every morning until I absolutely have to get up in order to keep the job I do have, which is quickly eroding as more and more coworkers find their dream jobs and move on and the big bosses try decide whether to just fold the whole thing and give us gas money and ask us all to go home.

It’s been hard, basically.

So I sit there exhaling and letting the sun warm up my toes and think about how maybe everything will be okay, and telling myself to just take this quiet moment for myself and enjoy it because you never know when they will come around again. I’d been out there for about four minutes when the upstairs neighbor’s door opened and out he came, with a visitor. He shifted a cooler or a lawn chair or something above my head to give his friend a place to sit, which pushed about a tablespoon of dried leaves and crusty potting soil through the crack between the boards of the porch and directly down, -plop-, into my coffee.


Don’t buy it from these assholes, just stop by my porch and wait a minute or two.

Okay, so just…no more coffee for me, I guess, I thought. I will just sit here and read my magazine and enjoy this weather all the same and then the friend started talking. Loud, deep man voice interrupted my reverie, talking about how great it is to live in Portland and how great his apartment is and how everyone who visits says it’s better than theirs. I started to wonder if they ever de-bark humans who won’t shut up. What a waste to only do that to dogs. Is there a way to get this guy to shut up by maybe giving him a piece of vegan bacon, or something else he likes to eat? How can you make dog tricks work on humans? Is there a special collar…That’s what I was thinking when Neighbor interrupted his friend to explain the amalgamation of broken windows, busted baby gates, string, wire, two-by-fours, and other random garbage dragged in from various piles of shit in the alley and arranged at the top of the porch stairs. Apparently all of this refuse was intended to act as a sort of cat gate, to rein in their three cats, whom they allow onto the porch from time to time. The reason for the cat corral, as he put it, was “Because the downstairs neighbors have a dog.”

You’d think the reason would be BECAUSE DOMESTICATED CATS HAVE NO BUSINESS ROAMING AROUND OUTSIDE OR WHATEVER but apparently it’s the fact that my dog exists, making my porch an unsafe place for their obese felines to hang out.

Mere moments after this monologue extolling the safety of Garbage Gate, Dog stiffens next to me. He bounces up into a pushup position which means he’s about to tear off across the porch in search of something to murder. I grab his collar and look over and oh guess what the fuck? There are two cats hunkered down on the stairs less than five feet away from us.

“Uh,” I say. “Did you know your cats are down here?” No answer at first, and then Neighbor comes clomping over Garbage Gate in those sneakers made of cement and wood that wake me up stomping across the ceiling at 2 in the morning.

“Yeah, I’m coming,” he says. He leans down to collect one of the cats and that’s when Dog leaps with all his 65 pounds, taking my arm with him, slamming my wrist into the corner of the lounge chair.

“Ohhhhhkay,” I say. “Inside.” Defeated, I drag Dog with my busted and bleeding arm toward the door.

“Aww, you don’t have to put him inside!?” Neighbor protests. Because that’s the best he can do, I guess: expect me to sit outside listening to his friend talk about himself while the both of them shower me with dirt with every movement and my dog tries to eat their cats, so that he won’t have to feel bad for being inconsiderate and annoying.



The Wildlings have definitely scaled Mount Trash, dummies.

All I wanted was a few peaceful moments to myself, a few moments to feel like I’m not being dragged under the wheels of life, but instead I got dirt coffee, a cut on my hand, and a bump the size of a walnut on my wrist.

I know I’m the royal idiot for thinking there could or would be any kind of respect for peace and quiet in a city where everyone is stacked on top and on either side of everyone else. I’m the dumbass for thinking maybe the neighbors shouldn’t, oh, let their cats outside, or build things over our heads on nice weekends, using circular saws and other noisy power tools as we sit below with our guests, our plates of barbecue getting showered with sawdust. I’ve given up on being able to be outside as they grill above us, scattering ash all over our heads with every movement. I’m the asshole for always being aware of the noise of their feet, their slamming doors, their cats knocking shit over at all hours of the night, the noise of their stereo, their friends coming and going, shouting in the vestibule as if the door next to them doesn’t lead directly into someone’s living room. I’m probably being really short-sighted in not realizing how much noise I contribute to the situation: the dog barking, me screaming at the dog to shut the bleeding fuck up, running the blender at 6am, slamming cabinet doors in frustration that there isn’t one single cookie to be found anywhere in the house.

I’m an asshole, I know it. But I just want to go somewhere for half an hour where nobody is making some kind of bullshit noise or dumping crap in my coffee or doing something dumb like putting a pile of trash between their cats and my dog.

Anyway. I went inside and waited for them to leave, then came back out. Now there are two drunk bums having a screaming fight in the alley behind the garage, one of them insisting YOU DON’T LIKE MY FACE HUH YOU DON’T LIKE MY FACE and the other screaming DON’T SAY SHIT TO ME, DON’T SAY SHIT TO ME MUHFUCKER while they run and slam into each other over and over. It is called Alley Sumo and I guess it’s better than dirt coffee and cat wrangling.

Barf Hoes, bounce your ass and let your knees touch your elbows

I wish you would just take a minute to watch Bad Girls Club on your television. Because you’re probably smarter than me and will make some kind of scientific study out of it. Basically the idea is that a bunch of hot young girls inhabit a house in some heartless city somewhere. The house is full of two things: egg whites and liquor. They are allowed to leave once each night to go to clubs and get more liquor. They drink a whole lot and lie around in bikinis and then fight and barf everywhere. It is pretty much just the Fight & Barf Show.


Drink, drink, drink, now FIGHT

Last week, the chosen target for the week got too turnt up at the club and puked contraband chicken noodle soup all over the bathroom. The big fight for the week was the fact that she straight up left puke in the sink and all over the floor, and was hollering about how IT DON’T MATTER IT AIN’T THAT BIG A DEAL BITCHEZZZZ and all the other bitchez were like “you nasty” and yelled at her and stuff until she wiped it up with a paper towel and was like Y’ALL HAPPY NOW, HOES? The hoes were happy, but then they had a meeting in the kitchen over some egg whites and decided they were mad now and there was a fight in the back of the limo the next night on the way home from the club. All of this, from the full barf scene to the screaming to the wiping-up of the barf to the fight in the stretch Hummer, was on film. Meanwhile, there are about a thousand people with cameras and a bunch of huge security guards around to break up Lady Fights and stuff. I bet there’s also someone around to clean up the broken glass all over the floor, because if there’s one thing these women like to do, it’s throw dishware on the floor to make a point. They also like to ban each other from bedrooms by tossing each other’s stuff into the hall and then throwing their mattress on top of it, so that like, they know they’re kicked out of that room, there can’t be any mistaking it. No, Khym, a tornado did not come through here and suck up all of your stuff and leave it in the hall. See how your bed is out here too? Yeah, Jaimee and Mylysza want you to sleep somewhere else.

Sometimes I watch this stuff and I can’t believe we’re lucky enough to live in a time when all some people have to do is drink and hit each other with stuff. I mean think about how in the Middle Ages you could have died on your way out to the poop trench in the middle of the hay field. You could have been stabbed by marauders or (more likely) frozen to death on your way. Now all you have to do for a job and to fulfill basic human needs is live in a house with a bunch of other people and let someone film it. Oh, and be super hot, I guess. And wear a bikini. And flush someone else’s makeup brushes down the toilet as a matter of principle or something.


Yayyyy we’re dancing! Some of us are dancing. Stop dancing, Rhachyl, no one likes you.

If you punch enough people, they make you leave the show. Then they distribute a photograph of the replacement Bad Girl to all the Bad Girls in the house. They talk about how fat and ugly she is and decide that no matter what, they are NOT going to like her. She shows up and endures about a week and a half of everyone telling her she’s ugly and fat and stupid and throwing her shit down the stairs and urging her to kill herself, and if she survives, one or two Bad Girls decide she’s not really all that bad, and they end up staying up all night with her, drinking some kind of nasty pink lemonade flavored booze and crying about dead friends from fifth grade or something, and the next morning there’s a huge rift in the house because of the new friendship. “Jazmyn swore she wouldn’t try to be friends with Nhatylie,” one of them will whine to the camera. “Like, why you gotta lie? I can’t be friends with no fake bitch, nuh uh.”

Anyway. I’m thinking of applying to be a cast member on the show. I’m going to win because I’ll smuggle in a ton of anti-anxiety meds and just basically pill out and sleep 24-hours a day, through all the screaming and dish breaking and hair-pulling, and eventually I’ll be the last one standing, er, sleeping. That solves my job search issue, because where else am I going to find a gig where I can just sleep all day?

I just want to mention before I send you out into the world to enjoy this content that it’s on Oxygen. They have this to say about their programming:

Oxygen Media is a multiplatform entertainment brand that targets young, multicultural women.  The network’s relevant and engaging content reflects how real women with real stories see the world – vibrant, optimistic and bold.  Oxygen is the destination where women can come together across multiple platforms to have fun and encourage each other through their individual and collective journeys.



It’s helpful to note that Vybrint, Optymystyc, and Bhold are the names of the next three Barf Hoes to join the Pukefight House in Vegas.

I don’t know why I told you any of this but I hope you enjoyed it.





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The Last Pie Queen

On the night I became the Pie Queen, I was drinking rum and Coke out of a 2-liter bottle. At first, I thought I’d be civilized and buy the bottle of Coke and the bottle of rum and politely mix responsible amounts into a glass, like a person who had been places before. But at some point after dinner, when the square dance band started up, my brain sloshed over in its alcohol bath and said to itself this is just stupid, cut the crap and instructed me to just dump all of the remaining alcohol into the liter or so of Coke that was left in the bottle, using my hand as a funnel, one eye closed for, uh, balance? Now you only have to carry ONE bottle instead of TWO, you Smarty von Smartowitz!

The barn party was this thing that happened every year in the field next to the weathered barn and farmhouse owned by some of The Pants’ oldest friends. They lived way out in the flatlands of Indiana in a wasteland of a little town that had nothing but the Lions’ Club Pork Chop Boil and the Sweet Corn Social every few Sundays. Other than that, it was just dirt roads and tulip bulbs and corner stores with no lights on during business hours. So these friends invited all the city folk out to this fart hamlet near Old Dust City for a good old fashioned day and a half of cooking food outside and sleeping on the ground.


Come on, put Randy’s sausage in your mouth.

I had heard that there was a pie contest that took place sometime after dusk. I researched pie recipes for a week and finally settled on Banana Rum Cream, then set to work producing it and FUCKING NAILED IT. It was basically a graham cracker crust with rum-soaked bananas and a creamy topping that extended about a mile high. I wanted so badly to win the pie contest. It meant a lot to me that my identity as Best Dessert-Making Person was forever cemented in the minds of all of these strangers and acquaintances who happened to be sharing the same field with me for the weekend. I showed up and basically bolted out of the car with only the pie in my hands. “Where do I put the pie?” I frantically asked the hostess. “The pie, though. Where do the pies go??”

(Nowadays I think it’s sort of cheating to bring a pie based on an internet recipe to a pie contest. I mean, all you have to do is find something that looks good and will taste nice and slutty, follow the directions, and show up. Shouldn’t the winning recipe be something you slaved over and perfected and wasted 500 pounds of brown sugar in testing and re-making again and again? How is it fair that you find a recipe in a magazine and say “guess I’ll make this shit” and that wins? Basically it just becomes a contest for who can find the best pie recipe, not who can make the best pie, unless you’re a total baking dumbfuck and can’t follow instructions. If I had it to do over, I’d…probably do the same fucking thing AND STILL WIN.)


It looked just like this only I had to close one eye to see it right.

I had used about 1/4 cup of rum in the pie, and reserved the rest of the entire bottle for recreational use that weekend. I stashed the bottle in the corner of our tent, which, because only families with small children were allowed to camp in the shade of the few trees in the front yard, sat in a freshly mowed field in full sun. By the afternoon, the rum was heated to boiling, but wasn’t so bad mixed with the Coke and a handful of ice. “I’m just excited about the pie contest,” I kept saying to people I’d just met, because they all had jobs at liberal arts colleges teaching jewelry making or photography, because they all wore carefully curated thrift store wardrobes, because they all had ribbons braided into their hair and did things on the weekend like choreograph acrobatic dances for community theater performances or teach bees to make tiny sustainable pottery. “The pie contest though, right?” I kept saying to these Eames-chair-collecting quasi-hippies and their homemade ginger beer and apple sodas. “I wonder who will win?!”

What else was there to say? “Uh huh, I also like art and things and only eat conflict-free carrots and I clean my piercings with vegan butter because it’s got vitamin E, would you like to chew some of this chicory root and talk about design?” I only had mean things to say, things that are not usually appreciated by people who carry their babies in homemade cotton slings dyed with beet juice. Things like “oh my god, are they seriously all going to square dance now? That sounds like it could only be fun if there were guns pointed at everyone’s feet.”

I was definitely smashed by the time the square dancing started, and sitting it out by planting myself in a lawn chair on the perimeter of the concrete slab dance floor near the barn gave me plenty of time for pouting and swigging out of my 2-liter bottle of sweet burning goodness. Maybe I wasn’t even really pouting? I don’t know. I think my face always looks either concerned or pouty if I’m engaged in my own thoughts and don’t care about what’s going on around me. So I sat there drinking out of boredom and watching the dancers swing their partners round and round and I eventually had to uncross my legs and put both feet on the ground, because my brains were going round and round too. But no matter! Because the PIE CONTEST WINNER WAS ABOUT TO BE ANNOUNCED!!!!

I’m going to go ahead and own up to the fact that I had no idea that the pie contest was being judged behind the scenes during most of the twilight square dancing. I was blissfully unaware of it, and to this day I’m not sure exactly what I was doing that whole time (besides drinking) that allowed this exciting fact to escape my sloshbrains. I guess since I’m a person, I sometimes drink too much, especially in social situations. But this time wasn’t as bad as the time I drank a whole bottle of Skinny Girl Margarita and fell into Lake Michigan. Who DOES THAT? A trash person, that’s who!!


Gail, you need to get your shit together.

This time wasn’t that bad, I told myself. I wasn’t overdoing it! Not yet, anyway. In hindsight, I was probably stumbling around trying to stay level because the ground was doing that thing where it went up and down real fast and you had to do your best to walk on it and nobody else seemed to be having trouble with it what the fuck. I think someone came to get me specifically to tell me that the pie contest announcement was about to be made, and they pushed me up to the front of the crowd in the barn where the three judges were standing behind the array of sad, store-bought crust pies they’d been asked to judge. They said a bunch of things about honorable mentions and second or third place or whatever, and called out one entry for having tasted great but being in one of those Pillsbury pie crusts you find in the freezer aisle, which was “unfortunate because the filling was so good!” The offending baker threw her arms up and said “Ohhh wellll” as the crowd judged her mercilessly.

Ha, you bitch, I thought. You don’t bring a Pillsbu–hic–a Pillsurrby, a Pilsuh..hurby..to a pie fight.

Surprise, surprise: the winner was the entirely made-from-scratch Banana Rum Cream pie, brought by Yours Truly and shared with this crowd of Crystal-deodorant-wearing bing bongs out of the goodness of my own heart and in the interest of my own ego. The girl who announced the winner, who spoke for her two fellow judges, hollered at me to come down front, where I already was. I was jumping around, pretty sure that my shirt was going over my head but not really caring because I didn’t like anybody, anyway. Also I might have been a little bit drunk on sugar fire water. I couldn’t tell you. So anyway, I was down front in a 100-year-old barn in the middle of Whatthefuck, Indiana, high-kicking my way back and forth in front of a table built out of two sawhorses and a slab of wood, on top of which sat 9 sad pies and one AMAZING pie, and do you know what announcer bitch did? I guess she felt like she needed to take me down a peg. As she leaned in to slip the PIE QUEEN sash over my head and arm, she leaned in close and said, “Just wanted to let you know: next time? Bake the graham cracker crust a little bit longer, okay? It kind of fell apart a little bit and if you bake it longer it won’t do that.”

I can’t think of another time in my life when I have gone from so triumphant to so face-meltingly enraged in so little time. I wanted to rip that bitch’s fucking face off and staple it to a dog’s ass. If the title of Pie Queen had come with actual royal privileges, my first order would have been to roll this skank through the blackberry bushes and into the gravel parking lot, then pour vodka all over her, then strap her to a pyre and set her ablaze and cook pie crusts on her flames. I’d make everyone else stand back while I toasted bits of crust under her nose, screeching “IS IT DONE YET??? IS THE CRUST CRUUUUSTY ENOUGH FOR YOU NOW?! AHAHHAHAHAHHA!” We’d torch her until her black heart stopped, then we’d all pee on her to put her out and toss her in the pond and let the bluegill have her. But since I often let people say annoying things to me and don’t do anything about it in the moment, except swallow a big gulp of heartburn and use all of the muscles in my face to make Something That Looks Like A Smile until I can get away somewhere to complain about it, I did just that: weak thing that looked like a smile, then I said “Uhhh huh, okay.”


“And hereby she shalt no longer be a scourge on pie contests, for she shalt die choking on her own internal ashes, and we shalt continue to ask her if thine crust art yet done.”

Anyhow, it didn’t matter what this oily cunt thought of my crust. This was the winning crust. How dare she continue to judge it after awarding it Best Pie of the Year?? Was there an even higher prize it could have won? Well, I didn’t see any other desserts hanging around among the power tools and sawdust piles, waiting to be judged against the winning pie, so you tell me. So basically she was saying, “This was good enough to win, but it could have been better.” Which is impossible. Because all a pie has to do is be good enough to fucking eat. Good enough to win is just one more notch above that. There is no higher notch than WINNER.

Someone had quickly set about slicing the pies into taster slices so that the enormous crowd of guests could all have dessert. I snagged a slice of the WINNING PIE which was MADE BY ME before descending back into the crowd and somehow finding my lawn chair and my Rumsoda bottle. I couldn’t tell you what the pie tasted like (probably bananas and rum) because by then I was busted drunk and owning it and just shoving pie in my face because it was something to do besides talking to anyone, washing it down with sticky hot goo juice from Hell and hoping I wouldn’t die.

Here is another brief interlude during which I am not sure what happened. I somehow made it from the lawn chair to the end of the field where the circle of guest tents sat in the dark near the pond. That’s the next place I remember being. Specifically, behind our tent, clutching the empty soda bottle and barfing gallons of rum and Coke and pie into the grass, struggling to keep my Pie Queen sash from falling into the fast growing puddle expanding in front of my grass-stained knees. I would have fallen face-first into the puddle of Piebarf if not for The Pants grabbing me and getting me back into the tent. I barely remember groaning at the sound of the partygoers who had paced themselves, splashing around in the pond on pool toys by the light of the moon. They were having too much goddamn fun and keeping me awake and I had to pee a little bit and wondered if I would wander outside and end up peeing on top of the barf and oh god.

The next morning, I woke to the dismal feeling of the noon sun baking me like a dead body in a sealed apartment, and a headache that felt like a dog barking broken glass into both ears. The hippie commune was busy cooking enough pancakes for 75 people on a massive outdoor griddle that someone had built out of scrap. I pouted and stomped my feet and insisted that we leave ASAP because everything was awful and I wanted to puke again and also wanted a cheeseburger and I was QUEEN didn’t that count for anything?! Do as I say and pack the shit and start the car! In the driveway, I made a comment about the asshole with the ukulele who had kept me up all night, in between bouts of drunken unconsciousness, crooning Bob Dylan songs by the pond. A bunch of CSA-subscription NPR listeners scowled at me in a way that made me think the ukulelist was either among us or poly-married to at least one of the audience members.

In the side mirror, I watched the dust of the gravel road create a brown cloud behind us as we finally tore away from the unwashed, unshaven madness of dancing in a field with a whole bunch of people who wouldn’t know a good graham cracker crust if it chewed up their rope sandals. I spit on a Culver’s napkin and wiped a crust of dried brown vomit off my right cheek and declared that I was going to sleep all the way home, so deal with it. The Pie Queen tilted her royal car seat into the supine position and complained once more about the temperature in the vehicle before passing out again.

As far as I know, the title has not been revoked or reassigned. I am the Last Pie Queen.


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Koko Sad Cry Week

Last week was terrible and I feel like I did something to deserve every second of it. Why did I have to admit to the world that I am sometimes totally overcome with the fear of death, why did I have to mention the fact that every now and then I think oh fuck the dog is dying! I couldn’t help but feel like I’d tempted fate and brought this all upon myself.

Dog, trotting along on his afternoon walk, suffered a petit mal seizure. I guess “suffered” isn’t the right word, because he didn’t know what was happening anyway, just looked like all thought (and spit) had left his head for a couple of minutes. That happens all the time when you’re a dog, so that’s no big deal either. But the fact that this was a thing that happened and could now be a thing that happens more often made me feel like I was in a tiny canoe with a hole in the bottom and a fragile teacup in my hand for bailing water.

The vet said not to worry, the billion dollar bloodwork came back fine, and counseled us to just watch the dog for seizure behavior, and let us know we might have to medicate him in the future. Otherwise, no big deal! That is, until The Pants left for his business trip on Monday morning, which is when Dog decided to kill himself.



It was a decision he arrived at slowly, between bouts of vomiting. It was as if the pain of his loss had wadded itself into a cork at the Out end of his stomach, causing his body to reject every bit of food he ate. I gave him fucking dog gourmet all week: chicken breasts and rice and pumpkin and ground beef, and he ate it happily, then sprayed every room in the house with partially digested chunks and retreated to his bed to sigh and whine in the dark. By Wednesday, he had made the decision to never drink water again. He dragged around the house and groaned, approaching every task (such as Standing Up, Lying Down, and Looking At Toys With Disinterest) as if it was Dog Everest, and he just didn’t have the constitution to make the climb. Go on without me, his eyes pleaded as he stared up at me. Just let me die here.

Remember the gorilla they taught how to do sign language? They taught it something like 1,000 words and gave it a kitten. It would say things like EAT SAD CRY FRUIT if it wanted a lemon, or GIVE KOKO LOVE BABY LOVE if it wanted to pet its kitten. I stood over the dog and wiped the booger tears from his eyes and thought about trying to teach him this stuff. I’d say NO DYING MAN COME BACK. I’d remind him DOG DRINK WATER NOT DIE. But soon I realized that while dogs can technically learn all of these words, they can’t grasp the meaning behind “in 4 days” or even the very simple fact that a person is still alive even when they aren’t in sight.

Is there anything worse than a person with depression and anxiety owning a dog with depression and anxiety? Maybe it is a good thing that I’ve got something besides my own worries to focus on when I’m alone. Maybe it’s a bad thing because all I did last week was cry and clean up dog barf by scraping chunks of it onto old magazines and dumping them into plastic bags and spraying the floor with Nature’s Miracle and sobbing as I sponged up the rest of the vomit. Either way, I stayed busy, I guess. Dog watched from the corners of the rooms and expelled heavy, heavy sighs.

Nighttime all week was a marathon of crying and barfing. At least once every hour, I was ripped from my sleep by frantic barking. SOMEONE AT DOOR! Dog seemed to be screaming. SOMEONE AT DOOR WE ALL GOING TO DIE!!! He would run back and forth between front and back doors and I’d have to drag him back to his bed and calm him down. By the time the hair on his back settled down and we both tucked back in to sleep, I’d have about ten minutes of rest before waking again, either to another emotional meltdown over nothing, or the unmistakable hurrrk hurrrrk sound of a dog about to paint the floor with his stomach contents. 1am, 2am, 3am, wake up, get dog, calm down, clean vomit, calm down, wake up, get dog, clean barf. Repeat. Wake up at 6, clean up more barf, go to work.

I left work early on Wednesday, intending to take Dog back to the vet. At this point, he needed an IV because his gums and nose were dry and his body was basically drinking itself for survival. I ran inside, grabbed his leash, and lead him to the garage. “We’re going for a ride!” I exclaimed, placing the emphasis on the word “ride” because he knows it means GETTING IN CAR LOOKING AT THINGS GOING TO A PLACE and those are all things he likes to do. “Going for a ride, going for a ride!” I kept saying as I jammed my key into the garage door lock. We had fifteen minutes to get to his appointment. I jiggled the key in the stiff lock, this fucking lock, always an asshole piece of shit lock stupid–SNAP.

I stood there staring in disbelief at the broken end of the key in my hand, and the rain started to fall. Dehydrated Seizure Dog took refuge under the porch and watched me as I stood there staring at the jagged end of my key in the shitty lock. I’m pretty sure he knew we weren’t going anywhere, but I was still trying to fucking figure out what was happening. Okay, so…key stuck in lock…door still locked…car on other side of door…

After about an hour of noisy lamenting (from both of us), I finally wised up and walked to the grocery store in the rain, where I bought several liters of Pedialyte, under which I submerged a piece of chicken. After several minutes of piercing side eye and quizzical head tilting and some what the fuck is this shit?? whimpers, the dog set about the task of slowly, laboriously lapping up the Pedialyte to get to the chicken. We went on like this for days, me drowning tiny bits of food in a hydrating solution intended for FUCKING INFANTS and him whining and complaining about the unfairness of life and just wanting to throw in the towel and then finally just fucking drinking the shit. Then The Pants came home and, like flipping a switch, the furry motherfucker decided that life was worth living again. Now that the Alpha Male is home, Dog has gone back to his previous lifestyle of completely ignoring him and instead following me everywhere I go, begging for more chicken.

What a terrible week. How is it that you can be scared for the life and well-being of something and want to break their goddamn stupid fucking face at the same time? Is this what parenthood is like?

shitty writing

Writing is a weird thing now, for me. It’s the only thing I do that makes me feel like I can’t do anything. I sit down to do it and can’t seem to push the noise of failure out of my head. Why are you even bothering, you suck so bad. This is a waste of time. But! But but but! Think of all the other things I did today that were a waste of time! Think of all those hours of EXTREME HOUSE HUNTING I watched! Think of all the couples wandering through empty homes, commenting halfheartedly on the crown moulding, prompting mock enthusiasm for one another, because they’ve already actually bought the house they’re going to buy and are re-enacting this entire futile search for the cameras! What about all the time they’re wasting, huh? Time that, in turn, forces me to waste my own time! Yeah but in the end, they bought a house. They accomplished a goal. When’s the last time you did that? You suck.


Ashley wants room for a candle making studio and Steven wants a garage for his camping equipment and knife collection and both just want a house that you knowwww SPEAKS to them like, you know?

Every week after writing class, I think about quitting writing class. I guess it’s served its purpose in that it’s forced me to start writing more often, but I leave there so dejected about everything and feeling like this has all been another exercise in uselessness. When I enrolled, I thought that maybe the class would be filled with funny people who wanted to learn how to write about their own lives. Really it’s a class full of people who want to start writing for the fun of it. Which is totally fine, but I can’t help but feel like I’m missing out on something by having to sit in a room for three hours a week listening to the same girl rehash stories of different times she’s shit her pants and how cute/quirky/fun it is when she does it. It’s anti-inspiration. It’s like soaking your heart in bug spray.

You would not. beliiiieve. how hard people laugh at pants-shitting stories. If class was held on the roof of a building, I’d go ahead and tip myself off the side at the first mention of a rogue turd in this girl’s underpants. Goodbye, everyone. Shit’s been real.

I don’t know how to say what I thought would come of this exercise. I guess I thought I’d be inspired and held accountable to crank out new writing every week. I didn’t expect to be surrounded by people who get high on the parts of constructive criticism that can possibly sound like positive comments and shut off their brains and decide they’re done for the day. I didn’t expect to be surrounded by people who say things like “I think anxiety is much easier than depression because you have so much more energy!” I didn’t expect to be surrounded by people who don’t want to actually read a book, or who didn’t even consider that a requirement to being able to write something: you know, that you might want to read some writing every now and again?

So I leave class in the dark, shaking because I’m hungry since I missed dinner and shaking because I’m angry that people with so little meaning or even interest in meaning in their work are so goddamn confident. Or maybe they’re not. Maybe the shit stories are the symptom of a deeper fear, and they’re just really good at hiding it (by covering it with feces).

Confidence is a difficult thing for me. Most of the time I enter a room with other people in it and think what the fuck am I doing here?? Most of the time, I feel like I’m hulking around the world with a Sloth face, calling BAYBEE WUUUUUTH to anyone who will listen. I feel like the blobby guy from the mucus commercials. I went to a show this week and as we stood in the crowd, my friend asked me something along the lines of whether being in a crowd made me feel like I was doing alright in the looks department. “Oh my god, no, not at all,” I said. I told her that nothing makes me feel duller and uglier than being in a crowd. It’s like being swallowed by the world and shown how really meaningless you are.


Hello, would you like to have a conversation?

This is all very overwrought because I’m tired today and I have dark circles under my eyes that won’t go away. Mostly I wish I wasn’t so far up my own ass all the time. Mostly I wish I could see below whatever is hiding under stories about poop and have some kind of appreciation for the humanness of it. Mostly I wish I could focus on the fact that people are all just little baby birds in the road hoping they won’t get smashed by an 18-wheeler.

Mostly I feel really, really bad for writing about the time I shit my pants.

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Born to Trot

I used to go into my sister’s room and dig through her bookcase. She also had an overflow book storage area that was the top few drawers of a bureau. I’d dig through there, too. She always had something I could borrow and read at least a couple pages. Most of the time, though, whatever she had was too cerebral for me, so I’d paw through stuff and read the synopsis on back covers to see if there was anything about horses in the book, and if not, I’d usually discard it.


Have just realized I never read Born to Trot and am requesting it from the library right now.

I would read literally anything about horses*. Especially if it was written by Marguerite Henry, who wrote about those big ol dumb ponies in a way that made me believe in pony magic, for real. It also made me cut up my horse calendar every year and tape the pages to my wall until there wasn’t room for anything else. I had a boyfriend in junior high for about a week and when I showed him my room, full of horse books and horse statues and horse pictures, he said, “So you like horses, huh?” and I shout-screamed YES. So excited was I to answer the question that I practically barked it at him and he took a step back and handed me a little Valentine bear and rolled away on his skateboard and never came over again. (I buried the bear in the yard and smashed a piece of dog shit into the dirt on top of it with a garden spade, but not until years later and after lots of crying into its synthetic fur. My stepdad was like WHY IS THERE DOG SHIT ON MY SPADE and of course I had no idea. Maybe the dog?)

I loved horses so much that I would beg my mother to buy me Horse Illustrated when I saw copies of it at the grocery store, and when she did cave and buy me one, I’d wear out the glossy pages by flipping through it constantly and reading every article and studying the diagrams of hoof injuries. There was a feature article once about a revolutionary technique to fix broken legs, and I remember being enthralled by the news, as if it would really change everything about the world and my life in general, and I ran downstairs and yelled “MOMMY THEY CAN FIX HORSES’ BROKEN LEGS NOW!” No one was as excited about this as I was. “Think of all the horses that will live now! All for me to riiiiide!”

My sister did not have a lot of horse books, but I checked just in case. I was digging around in there one day during the summer after fourth grade when I found a book called Confessions of an English Opium Eater by Thomas DeQuincey. The front of the book had a skeezy looking guy draped over a bed in some kind of bad shape. I had no idea what opium was but just in case it had something to do with horses I thought I should read the entire back of the book. So I did, and this lead to my very first panic attack!



Thomas De Quincey, it seems, was born in 1785 and died in 1859. Between those years, lots of stuff happened to him, like, uhh, being English, and also ships were invented, and he smoked some of that sweet sticky opey yum yums. Then he wrote a book about it. But what stuck out to me was that he was born in the 1780s. Which was the same decade of a different century in which I was born. The year of his birth within that decade was only three years from the year I was born in my century. So if he died in 1859, I would most likely die three years sooner in 2056. Which would mean I only had a FEW YEARS LEFT TO LIVE OH GOD I WILL DIE SOMEDAY

I spent the rest of the day trying to ignore the terrible realization. This was probably the first day of many days I spent trying to ignore terrible realizations! Nothing’s so bad as long as it’s daylight and you’ve got stuff to play with and people to talk to. At night, though, everyone goes to bed and you’re expected to stop talking and thinking and just go to sleep. Up until that night, this was easy, but the night I realized I would die, I just sat up in bed for hours, shaking and crying and turning lights off and on. I closed the toilet lid and stood on the toilet so I could watch my face swell and contort while I cried into the bathroom mirror, washed with dull yellow from the night light. I was too young and dumb to realize that just because an opium addict in the 18th century didn’t live for more than 74 years, it didn’t mean that I would be resigned to the exact same life span. I was also too scared to realize that 74 years is nothin’ to sneeze at. I was more obsessed with the whole “this is about the span of a normal human life and that’s because death exists.” So I stayed up, night after night, thinking about dying. I remember the house as being empty and creaky, of smelling different and feeling cavernous and lonely.

I can barely remember resisting sleep as a child and not knowing why, or thinking of bedtime as a sad time, something to be avoided as long as possible. But also, being awake after everyone else seemed very sad, too. As an adult who understands more about how a child’s brain works, I’ve spent some time thinking about what was probably going on with me during those first trips to Panic City. First, my family had just moved into a new house. We hadn’t been there for an entire month before I had my first panic attack. I had gone from sharing a room with my sister, our twin beds 4-feet apart, to being in my own huge bedroom, all by myself. Moving is fucking stressful! Sure, I didn’t have all the responsibilities that adults have, but adjusting to something like that is difficult for a child. Second, everyone was busy unpacking and working and I was running around like a crazy person because if anxiety makes me a slobbery mess at night, anxiety and lack of sleep make me a terrifying cokehead during the day. So basically, the response to my behavior during daylight and my inability to cope at nighttime was GO TO YOUR ROOM AND STOP TRYING TO MAKE EVERYONE CRY. YOU CAN COME BACK WHEN YOU ARE DIFFERENT. Everyone was annoyed with me and tired and grouchy and I was dealing with feelings that were way over my head, so my brain thought oh hey, seems like a good time to think about the concept of your IMMINENT AND UNAVOIDABLE DEATH?

I don’t know a lot of kids these days but I certainly don’t know many of them who are obsessed with illnesses. I read books about Hiroshima victims dying of leukemia, and then I had leukemia. I watched part of And the Band Played On and then I had somehow contracted AIDS from a toilet seat or a tiny cut on my hand or from being in the girls’ locker room at a rival school during an away basketball game. Because of a certain camp counselor, I was convinced for fucking years that the sharp pain I often got in my right leg was leg cancer and that I was definitely dying. I’d lie in bed at night, sweating and crying and thinking about how to tell my mom I was going to die of AIDSkemia because sometimes I got dizzy or had weird pains or felt pukey. If they’d had WebMD back then, I’d have straight up died from anxiety.

In college, I went two weeks without sleeping because I thought I was going to have a heart attack. I lost 20 pounds so quickly that it started to hurt to eat food, like my stomach forgot what it was supposed to be doing but had been enjoying its vacation so much it would rather just sit there and churn out gas bubbles and not turn anything into valuable energy. I went to the doctor and she told me I was having panic attacks and severe IBS and that basically all my problems would go away if I would chill out and stop drinking coffee all the time.

Still convinced she was full of shit and that I was dying, I called her every single time I had a heart palpitation. I was really trying to get her to see her error, because while it would have been sweet revenge to die and let her know how wrong she was, I was pretty sure I’d rather be alive to have her apologize for misdiagnosing me. I read internet forums written entirely by people who had been diagnosed with the same thing. They all went like this:


Well just got back form the dr today. He says the heart palps r from diet meds but wants to put me on Lexapro. Are you crazy? I said! If there is one thing I kno its that Lexapro causes stomach cancer!




I have a friend who died from SuperCancer due to similar drugs to lexapro its not a pretty picture. have been off my antianxiety meds for 3 weeks now and definitely feeling more safe from SuperCancer. I am now just dealing with spots on chest that may be some kind of sarcoma or possibly shingles??? Does anyone have pics of shingles they can share thx

And on and on and on, because rational, sane people who have been healed or helped by whatever modern medicine suggested they try don’t go on forums and talk about how awesome life is now. They just go do life. It took me a VERY long time to realize that. A very long and arduous time. It also took me a long time to realize that my doctor was totally right, and she had me figured out, but only because she had tons of other patients who were acting exactly like me. I didn’t really feel too bad for jamming up her voicemail with tons of frantic calls about how I thought maybe I was going to drop dead that afternoon. I only realized that she really knew what she was doing when I called her from a crowded train and had this conversation with her:

Me: I just had a really bad heart palpitation! It was like really fluttery for a few seconds and then it was like BANG like a big gulping feeling!

Her: It’s probably the amount of sugar or caffeine or both that you had today. It’s normal for people with anxiety to have this anyway, but with your diet–

Me: I’ve hardly had any! All I had today was a can of Arizona green tea and that’s just green tea!

Her: Well, if you’re really that concerned, you could come in for an EKG–


There was something about the tone of her voice: a little bit exhausted, maybe from dealing with people who were actually sick and then having to return phone calls from crazy people who had been reading too much Internet and drinking too much caffeine and not dealing with their emotional problems. She scared me by mentioning an actual medical test which, when it really came down to it, we both knew I was too chicken shit to commit to. So I decided to at least pretend I was not sick until I either a) died, or b) felt better?§


All natural! Plus 40 grams of high fructose corn syrup because you drank the whole thing.

There was never a time when anyone sat down with me and talked to me about my feelings when I was a kid, so I wasn’t sure that I had them until they had manifested into Something Else. The Something Else has continued for the rest of my life. Figuring out where and why the pattern began has not helped in putting a stop to it: I still lie in bed and think I’m going to die tomorrow, or The Pants is going to stop breathing. I still lie awake in the dark feeling really lonely and sad and the first thought that comes to mind is You probably feel this way because the dog is going to die someday. So I reach down to the floor to make sure he’s still breathing. Really what I should be doing is reaching under the feeling itself to find out what is hurting or howling or really bothering me. I do that sometimes. Other times, it’s just too difficult to catch the frantic 9-year-old on her 500th revolution around the dining room table at top speed and calm her down and find out what is really scaring her. Sometimes I just don’t want to know. I’d rather just think that maybe I’m possibly dying, a little bit, maybe.

I think it would be really nice to die when I’m very old and there’s nothing much left for me to do. I imagine I’d live in a small house on a hill in a little town out in the middle of nowhere, and that I’d know when I was going to die, so I could invite all the neighborhood children in to my horse library, the world’s largest, and say “Take anything you want.”

Would that be scary? I hope that wouldn’t be scary. I mean it’s not like I’d be saying COME GET MY HORSEY BOOKS I DON’T NEED THEM ANYMOOOORE HAHAHHAHAHHAHAH *hacking cough* *dies on porch* *lifeless body rolls down hill into town*




* Also donkeys! Brighty of the Grand Canyon was about a wild donkey who got attacked by a mountain lion, then saved by a cowboy who earned his trust by putting a pair of overalls on his front legs to keep flies out of his wounds. BRIGHTY!

† They cannot.

‡ It was and is sciatic nerve pain that haunts me to this day. (Or possibly leg cancer.)

§ I did not die, I felt better later.

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God and a Good Time

It’s listening…

The new Apple TV has a new feature that I’m sure lots of normal people would be interested in using but it only makes me more anxious. Or maybe I’m the normal person and all the rest of these freaks are the weird ones for talking to their televisions?

For starters, the whole remote experience is different. Where you once had a choice between three buttons, you now have a totally over-sensitive track pad, which is also a giant button. I’m so serious about this stupid track pad. If you so much as look at it, it pauses your movie or starts running it backwards at a seizure-inducing speed or just smugly turns the whole shebang off and drops you back into normal TV with a shudder, like oh fine are you happy now? Now nobody can watch HBO GO! The other buttons are the old Menu button that gets you in and out of apps, and the play/pause button, without which we’d all be stuck. I don’t have any fucking idea what that button with the little TV icon is for. I also don’t know why I need volume control when I already have it on the TV remote, but okay.



The offending and most confusing button is the one with the microphone. You’re supposed to talk to your Apple TV now, as if that’s just the most normal progression of technology in the world. I feel like a crotchety old lady about this stuff, but I’m going to resist this movement because I’ll be damned if I’m ever going to get caught standing in my kitchen, screaming MAKE TOAST MAKE TOAST at the toaster while it says “Here is what I found for baked roasts.” So now there’s this button smack dab in between the two classic and most oft-used buttons, and I press it accidentally all the time and before I realize what’s happening, the screen has gone black and a terrifying little message comes up that says LISTENING… and I’m just supposed to be okay with that.

You’re supposed to take advantage of this and become even more lazy and thoughtless about your television consumption. Or maybe it’s supposed to streamline your iTunes purchases and Netflix viewing? I don’t know. You’re supposed to say stuff like “Val Kilmer” or “Movies with a strong female lead” or maybe “Movies with Val Kilmer dressed as a female” and it’s supposed to think about it and get back to you and tell you to watch Willow for the 3,000th time. I’d like it to stop listening to snippets of my conversations when I accidentally hit the button and telling me to watch Guy Ritchie movies. So I have made a list of things to ask it.

Things I want to ask the Apple TV:

I like movies. Do you like movies?

Can you find me two things on Netflix that are not total crap?

Find me a movie in which the weather is what it will be like here tomorrow.

Did Steve Jobs tell you any secrets before he died?

Is Steve Jobs telling you secrets now?

Why do you keep suggesting that I watch the movie “Ouija”?

Is the movie “Ouija” about Steve Jobs?

You are listening to me at night, aren’t you?

leg hunt

When I was in junior high, I spent a week out of every summer at the Southern Illinois Christian Service Camp, “Where God and a Good Time Go Together.” As I recall, what we did there really didn’t have much to do with service, but okay. I just remember being super excited about being there because we got to go swimming every day and we stayed up late at night and those things alone were worth putting up with the endless barrage of Jesus crap they made us eat. I mean seriously, it was God o’clock all the tiiiiime in that shit hole. And it was a shit hole, one year I was putting my sister’s New Kids on the Block sheets on my wafer-thin plastic mattress, and when I lifted it up, there was a pile of sand and a calcified white hermit crab claw under it, as if some poor unfortunate crab had been forced to chew its own claw off to escape the place. The bathrooms smelled like sewers and the shower walls were moldy, mold upon mold upon years of mold, so it was like showering in a greasy cave.

The kids there thought I was funny but otherwise did not take me seriously. I never had a Camp Boyfriend and it seemed like everyone else did. I didn’t wear makeup and I didn’t know how to do my hair and my only Cute Outfit was a pink and white striped t-shirt tucked into white drawstring shorts that I pulled up to my neck. I didn’t wear a bra yet because I had no boobs and I was pretty sure you waited until you had tits to strap them down. But according to the girls at camp, you wore one because you were supPOSED to wear one, because how else will anyone know you’re a girl and want to date you? They were so right, with their French braids and Eastland shoes and bras. Having struck out hard core with the dudes at home, who thought I was weird, and then believing I could be totally different with a new group of kids a few hours away but falling flat on my face there, too, I realized that I would just have to deal with the fact that I was perpetually a weirdo and did not fit into any social groups. I was okay with being the funny kid, but I vowed to study what the others did that made them so successful with one another. Boys did sports stuff and said dumb things to make people laugh, and girls were mostly quiet and did their hair really good. I learned this by following around the established couples and taking pictures of them, which I would develop and study later, which was, admittedly, a bit weird, so maybe that’s why most of the kids and adults there thought I was a creep. It could also have something to do with the fact that one summer I found a pair of perfectly good Airwalks that someone had thrown over a power line and spent hours throwing rocks at them until they unraveled and fell, then wore them around even though they were two sizes too big for me because having nice shoes is one of the main things you have to do if you want a junior high boy to hold hands with you. So basically I was a church camp kid (strike 1) shuffling around in gigantic power line shoes (strike 2) taking clandestine photographs of prepubescent lovebirds and studying their hairstyles and mannerisms (I’m out. Fine! Okay.).


OPPORTUNITY: Don’t wait for your shoes to fall. Throw shit at them for a while.

(Now that I’m remembering all of this, I’m realizing I should have been nicer to the fat kid at school who told all of us one day that he had a girlfriend but we’d never meet her because she lived in North Dakota and her horse training job kept her too busy to visit. I should probably have recognized that he and I were mired in the same pit of total middle school despair and been kinder to him, or maybe I could have laughed a bit quieter, or not at all, but really I didn’t want to think that he and I were anywhere near one another on the spectrum. Because he was near the garbage end, in constant threat of being shot out the sphincter and joked about for the rest of his life, and I, having considered the old Fake Boyfriend storyline many times before, was by proxy only a hair’s breadth away from the same fate. I guess that’s why everyone is such a fucking asshole in school, though: everyone identifies with everyone else’s struggles, and it’s just too scary to think about so you say something mean and feel a little better? I’ll never be like you because I’m laughing at you! AHHAHAHAHHAHA cryinnnng.)

OK but anyway, Jesus Camp. It was really just a microcosm of the school experience, but God Was Watching All The Time so everyone had to be nice at least on a phony level. Like the really nice girl who came up to me at the pool and very nicely pointed out that I should start “shaving, you know, down there” because we were at the age where we were starting to get hairy and “you’re a little bit hairy now so you’re only going to get MORE hairy and I’m just letting you know because everyone is laughing” and everyone was laughing because now everyone was specifically looking for my crotch fluff at the most secret edges of my teal one-piece Wal-Mart bathing suit with the scuffed-up butt. Anyway, she said it really loud because she wanted to make sure God could hear her being so nice to me. It was a lot of stuff like this, interrupted every few minutes by a chapel bell ringing, meaning we all had to run to church and watch videos about Jesus or listen to a preacher talk about how touching each other was “Playing with FIYAHHHH” or watch skits about how to be friends with each other. There were these little classes we had to take during the hottest part of the day, where we sat wilting under shitty little awnings, listening to stories about Jesus and doing activities that were supposedly sanctioned by Him but conveniently came out of little workbooks that the camp counselors read from. You were supposed to be part of a giant group prayer about every five minutes. Every night, we suffered through Cabin Devotionals, which were just about the worst thing ever, because the best part about church camp was staying up late in the dark and not having any adults around to tell you what to do. But before you could do that, you had to sit in a circle on the floor and the counselor would tell you God stuff you were supposed to think about.

One year, our cabin counselor was a lady with one leg. Leigh Anne had that crinkly yellow 80’s hair that always looked wet with bangs that looked like some kind of scouring pad stapled to her forehead. She usually wore a prosthetic leg with a white New Balance shoe attached to the bottom of it, walking with a single crutch on that side to help her along. Sometimes, she went without the leg and zoomed across camp on two crutches, the empty flap of her shorts dangling loose on one side. Leigh Anne was nice, but she scared me because she had one leg and I wasn’t sure if we were supposed to talk about it or not.


My, what a nice and also realistic leg.

The leg was nice, I guess, but definitely not a top-of-the-line model, as far as  prostheses go. It looked like it was made out of the same material as those stretchy ankle bandages you wrap around an appendage when it’s sore but not broken. It was the same color of No. 2 pencil eraser, too. It was always a little bit dirty and it smelled kind of bad from the stump sweat and it sometimes had one of those scrunchy ribbed socks on it, the kind that you pull up then push down like some kind of poofy ankle decoration. Sorry to linger on the smell, because I know these things can’t be helped, but the thing definitely counted as a stanky leg.

One night during Cabin Devotionals, Leigh Anne lowered herself to the floor by sitting on a bunk and then scooting herself over to the circle on her butt. Her sweaty stump stuck out from under her nightgown and I was so glad when she sat far away from me, on the other side of the circle. Of course, that treated me to a view of the stump, but it was better than having the stump brush against my arm or being able to smell the dank air coming from her crotch, where the prosthetic had been situated all day in the 100 degree heat. As the leg looked on from its post, leaned up against some poor unfortunate soul’s bunk across the room, Leigh Anne shared with us the sad tale of losing her leg to cancer when she was in high school. She’d done a cheerleading stunt and landed on the leg, breaking it. The doctors found the cancer in her leg bone and amputated the leg and God and Jesus and “now I’m super happy to be here serving Him!” If you had asked me, which no one did, Leigh Anne got a shitty fucking deal. I’m pretty sure everyone else thought that, too, thereby missing the point of the devotional, but most girls were hung up on the whole “I used to be a cheerleader” thing because when you’re in middle school, that’s still a viable life goal and solid career path so the idea that there were such things as former cheerleaders, and through no fault of their own, now that was just too much to handle.

On the last night of camp, there was usually a scavenger hunt. We ran around in the dark with flashlights, screaming at nothing. My team had some clue about getting children to school, so OF COURSE we had to venture out to the old broken down school bus sitting at the edge of the property (doesn’t every church camp have one of those?) and look inside. We drew this creepy moment out longer than we had to by following the suggestion that maybe whatever we were looking for would be outside the bus, in the grass, maybe? So we shined our flashlights all around the bus, behind the flat, cracking tires, in the tamped-down weeds, but realized we’d have to look inside. So we reached up and yanked back the screechy bus door and climbed inside. I remember walking down the aisle of the bus, flashlight beams shooting around in all directions, when one of the girls near the front of the line screamed and ran out, quickly followed by the rest of us, but not before we’d all had a chance to lay eyes on it. There, in the last seat on the bus, by the exit door, was Leigh Anne’s stanky leg, foot on the floor and bent at the knee, as if some legless person had been sitting there when the rapture happened. You’re not going to sit here and tell me that rapture mindfuck wasn’t intentional. You could practically hear one-legged Leigh Anne cackling from some dark room where they’d hidden her during the scavenger hunt.


Get in! Jesus wants you to.

What was my big fear about the rapture anyway? Loneliness? A lake of fire? Maybe I wasn’t afraid of it, after all, because they never scared me bad enough to make me one of the kids who broke down crying and allowed themselves to be baptized in a giant tub in the chapel after dinner. Maybe I realized that earth after all these assholes would be slightly better than the assholey place it was at the time. You could wear whatever you wanted to the pool and have all the blow-up pool toys to yourself. You could break into the canteen and eat all the Whatchamacallits and WHO’S GONNA SAY SHIT? There won’t even be anyone left to punch your canteen card and keep track of what you owed. Boom. Sold! Later, y’all, have fun in heaven.

So, the most terrifying thing I’ve ever seen was a prosthetic leg on a broken-down bus in the dark. These are the kinds of horrors reserved for your children at Christian church camps. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

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I Am Not Weird.

shitty dress

One time I went to Ireland and saw a lot of amazing things, but I feel absolutely ashamed when I think about the fact that the most amazing thing was the night I stayed in binge watching episodes of the UK’s answer to The Jersey Shore on international Netflix and binge eating a huge sack of tiny gummies in the shape of fried eggs.


Geordie Shore! They’re all dead now.

It was in Connemara in a little b&b that was set up on a hill overlooking the little fishing town of Clifden. I had cramps that felt like Sonic the fucking Hedgehog from Hell was doing his damnedest to collect all the rings from my uterus, while wearing little razor blade boots. I was mad and tired of Looking At Things and also I had this giant bag of gummies and a pile of UK teen magazines and also there was Overseas Netflix and a tub the size of a sarcophagus in our room so BYE GUYS HAVE FUN AT DINNER.

I mean I guess there were other noteworthy things about the trip. Like when I walked around Tollymore Forest Park by myself because everybody else was too hung over to join, and it was like I was the only person in there. Or like the night before when I drank too much and danced around in Belfast’s only gay bar, screaming I LOVE GAYS YOU GUYS ARE ALL SO HOT okay wait maybe actually that was not a good time. Because I threw up an hour later and now realize that gay bar patrons hate it when dumb straight white girls come up in there and turn it into a pandering screech festival, and I bet they hate even more when this is their ONLY gay bar and oh my god, here comes Loudy McStraightgirl to dump a big shit bucket of lame all over everything. So maybe that wasn’t the best time but I remember it really well and at that moment I was having a really good time. There was also a lot of good scenery and shit because that country is green and beautiful and everyone should see it before they die. There’s a photo of me somewhere standing on a cliff while a big wave comes up and I look really shocked because a) it’s cold as shit by the sea and the wind is 500 mph so I had to wear a big puffy down coat that made me look like a charred marshmallow and added enough mass to my body to make it easier for the wind to flatten me instead of just going around me, and b) the wind grabbed my strapless dress from under my coat and yanked it down to my ankles and into a tiny pile of sheep shit. I could not find the photo so I drew it for you guys.


Is that my dress? Tell me that’s not my dress.

But I just want to confess that MOSTLY what I remember is taking a bath in a tub the size of a Range Rover and eating gummies and listening to some of the world’s trashiest people talk about their hair products and underpants. I’m sorry. I should not be allowed to travel. It is wasted on me and I complain a lot anyway.

Mrs. DinoHand

My fifth grade teacher had a birth defect that caused one of her arms to curl up under her massive right tit, and rest there in between her boob and belly. The arm was smaller than the left arm, so not only did it constantly look like she was trying to clandestinely adjust her bra or push up her boob, it looked like she had a little T-Rex arm attached to one side of her body. She couldn’t stretch it out straight in front of herself, or really do anything else with it, as it seemed to have very little range of motion at all. So it sat there, sandwiched between two large portions of flesh. She did have a method for clapping, which is really something that everyone needs to figure out how to do, regardless of physical impairment. You’d think she would take the easy way out and slap her knee when she wanted to show appreciation at a Billy Ray Cyrus concert or bring her class to order, but no, not Mrs. DinoHand.


This is not a Tyrannosaurus Rex arm but it may in fact be a picture of Mrs. DinoHand’s arm.

The arm didn’t budge except for maybe one or two inches toward or away from the body. The hand, however, had been equipped with some kind of mechanical swivel technology that allowed it to turn on an axis, palm up and palm down, like some kind of magical flapping device. She would turn the hand to the Palm Up position, then anchor the arm in place by plopping it down on a hard surface (usually her desk, a hollow metal structure that would go BONGGGG when she’d bang her dead arm down onto it), then slap at the hand on the desk with the hand on the good arm, thereby creating a flat-sounding semblance of a clapping sound.

At our last class party, she was clapping along to “Boot Scootin’ Boogie” while several of the popular girls and one unfortunate boy (who had no idea how this decision would affect the rest of his life) performed the line dance in the middle of the room. We all had to push our desks back so these fools could dance, and dance they did, again and again. We must have listened to that goddamn song 4 or 5 times in a row, so tickled was Mrs. DinoHand, who clapped along into her dead arm the entire time, letting out little Yeahs! and Wooos! every time the dance crew spun around on their heels. I was pissed because I didn’t know the dance and I wanted SOME of the attention that appeared to be up for grabs and I’d brought my R.E.M. Automatic for the People cassette tape with me JUST FOR THIS PARTY. I’d asked for the tape for my birthday because a boy I had a huge crush on randomly came up to me at the Halloween party and recommended it to me. He rolled up to my desk on his Roller Blades and lifted his Richard Nixon mask and said “Have you heard of R.E.M.? My dad listens to them. It’s good.” I think I said AH-BUH BUH BUHHHH and he rolled away but you bet your ass I got my parents to get me that fucking tape.

“Can we listen to my tape nowwww” I kept pleading with Mrs. DinoHand from across the room. “Heyyyy,” I squealed every time Brooks and/or Dunn started to wind down, “Can we listen to a song on this nowww?” I was sure she’d like it, I intended to play “Everybody Hurts” and maybe I’d fucking dance to it, too? Who knows! This is the END OF THE YEAR PARTY, ANYTHING CAN HAPPEN. I waved the tape in the air, trying to get her to notice me, also glancing over at Crush Boy to be sure he saw that I’d taken his advice. For the love of God, somebody pressed rewind and the twangy twats started up again, tellin’ us all about the sun goin’ down and whiskey git down turn around go to town and it was like she just wasn’t hearing me.

I got up and crept over to Mrs. DinoHand’s desk, the tape clutched in my sweaty hand. “Mrs. DinoHand?” I said, “I brought a tape too! It’s real good, it’s kind of country I guess,” and at this, since she still hadn’t turned to acknowledge my presence, I put my hand on the elbow of her dead arm, where it lay anchored against the desk, thinking if I could only get her to turn around and look at the cover of my tape she’d totally want to hear it. The second I touched her elbow, she jerked it away from me, turning her head sharply, all in one quick, terrifying motion. The look on her face said “sit down and shut the fuck up and don’t ever touch me again” so I went back to my desk without a word and put the tape in my pencil case and watched the boots do some more scootin.

This is probably why she thought I was weird and didn’t like me as much as the normal kids. How dare I touch her and demand to be acknowledged?!? Or maybe she had heard stories about me from earlier teachers. Like maybe my third grade teacher told her that I went out at recess and caught a bunch of bees in my empty sandwich baggie and stored the bee bag in my desk and when she finally traced the source of the incessant buzzing back to my desk, where there was A FUCKING SACK OF BEES, I told her I had absolutely no idea how they had gotten there. Maybe my second grade teacher showed her my confiscated copy of the yearbook, in which I’d drawn green marker arrows pointing at everyone’s butts in the picture of everyone hunkered in the hallway for a tornado drill, and green dribbles of snot pouring from the nose of a beloved former administrator in the “In Memoriam” section in the back. Perhaps she’d heard from the science teacher about the day a student had brought in boiled crawfish for us to eat in some kind of weird nod to her New Orleans roots, and I thought it was some kind of exotic water bug, so instead of eating it, I wrapped it in tissue and put it in my backpack because I was sure my dad had never seen one of these and he would probably think it was cool, then he’d think I was cool. He would say “thank you for showing me this strange spicy crab that I have never seen, you are a great kid and also smart.” But the science teacher found it because by the afternoon it had started to stink up the joint and she made me open my backpack and show her what was rotting in there and when I tearily told her “I wanted to show my dad” she rolled her eyes and made me throw it away. Or maybe a certain classmate told her about when we all went to see the StarLab and the lady running the joint turned off the lights and showed us constellations on the ceiling, then asked if anybody knew what this constellation was? And because I wanted someone to acknowledge my star expertise, I practically screamed SCORPIOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!! causing my classmate to look at me in the dark and say “Why’d you do that? Why’d you say it so loud? You are weird.”

Whether it was my reputation or just the plain old fact that I was annoying in that moment, here at the end of the year, she could no longer bother hiding it. Mrs. DinoHand did not like me.

She had two sons named Rhett and Ashley because Gone With the Wind was her favorite movie. She was somehow surprised that neither wanted anything to do with her. I’m sorry, but I don’t feel like this kind of person is really the best judge of who is a weird fifth-grader and who is a fucking awesome person in the shell of a fifth-grader in this shitty little town full of dried grass and country music. She didn’t know shit.

That, of course, didn’t occur to me at the time, so I went home and played “Everybody Hurts” on my purple plastic cassette player and dreamed of the day that Richard Nixon would carry me away from here on his Roller Blades.

Goodbye, Dougie!

One time I posted an ad for a ghost dog on Craigslist:

Date:2014-10-31 08:17:14
Title:(pets) Lab/Shepherd mix FREE to good home!!!

Need to find a new home for 9 year old Lab/German Shepherd mix, Dougie. Well trained, housebroken (never has accidents in the house), and great with kids, maybe a little scary at first. Doesn’t eat much. The only thing is that he is a bit of a night owl and likes to roam the halls all night, and the sound of his toenails on the tile is keeping us awake, so it’s time to get Dougie a new home. He would be great company for an insomnia sufferer. He passed away 2 years ago after finding some chocolate in the garbage and has been very low-maintenance ever since, you won’t even know he’s there.

Pick up ONLY. Unfortunately Dougie is not microchipped so it will not be possible to send him through the television, we can’t be responsible for him getting lost in the netherworld or adopted by a poltergeist. Check out pics of this handsome boy, please email if interested.


Location: Logan Square

it’s NOT ok to contact this poster with services or other commercial interests




Susan Gardner <8522d022ba1d3a7e930995027273f26b@reply.craigslist.org>
to 7qvxs-41629270.


Is he still available? Thanks




Cupcake Heartbreak <7qvxs-41629270>
to Susan <8522d022ba1d3a7e930995027273f26b@reply.craigslist.org>

He is still with us. Let me know if you can pick him up this week. You don’t need to worry about a leash or collar but you will need to bring a proton pack and ectoplasmic trap to transport him safely to your house.

Pickup shouldn’t take long, usually we put his favorite chew toy on a Ouija board and call him a few times. He comes out within 5 minutes or so.

Let me know when you’re available and if you’re still interested.



Susan Gardner <8522d022ba1d3a7e930995027273f26b@reply.craigslist.org>
to Cupcake Heartbreak <7qvxs-41629270>

DO you have a picture of him?



Cupcake Heartbreak <7qvxs-41629270>
to Susan <8522d022ba1d3a7e930995027273f26b@reply.craigslist.org>

He is in the picture on the ad. Just a little hard to see since he is invisible most of the time. We can try and get another pic tonight if you need it but we will need to borrow my sister’s infrared equipment.



Cupcake Heartbreak <7qvxs-41629270>

to Susan <8522d022ba1d3a7e930995027273f26b@reply.craigslist.org>

Hi there,

Just found a picture of him I forgot about. Here is my daughter walking him last week.

We have a couple of people interested so let me know if you want to pick him up. You were the first to inquire so I am giving you first dibs on the Dougster.


craigslist – automated message, do not reply <robot@craigslist.org> to Cupcake Heartbreak <7qvxs-41629270>

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