In college I was known for wearing thrift store jeans and over-sized tee shirts. I smothered my insecurity in loose-fitting clothes and obvious sarcasm. Those around me, the few I tolerated, interpreted my indifference as attitude. However, they didn’t realize I suffered from a rare medical condition known as Resting Bitch Face, a disease described by unaccredited websites as a chronic expression of anger or disgust, which apparently made me unapproachable. While most who struggle with this affliction constantly reassure the public that it is just an uncontrollable feature of their personality, mine was a blessing. I was perfectly content being left alone. Well, not completely alone.
In fact, most of my post-pubescent existence was lacking a certain ceremonial rite of passage: having a boyfriend. I’d had one or two informal flings in my early teens, but I regretfully graduated high school with my virginity hanging over me like a Vegas marquee. I looked forward to college as an opportunity to find that life-altering love affair, or at least someone to fondle until the former arrived. Continue reading
Review by Tess Tabak
A quick yes or no question: Does someone calling themselves a “community architect” make you want to punch things?
If yes, this is not the book for you.
Before anyone accuses me of being cynical, let me say that I wanted to like this book. I actually enjoy reading self help / new agey stuff. But I want them to either tell me something I didn’t know, or at least tell me something I did know in a new way. Most of the information in Radha Agrawal’s Belong: Find Your People, Create Community, and Live a More Connected Life is fairly common knowledge (don’t we all know by now that Facebook is not a substitute for in-person contact?). The exercises feel half-assed – at one point she says, “If you need ideas, Google it.” The amount of doodles and blank journal pages in the book make me think that Agrawal came up about 25% short on the page count, and they went with filler instead of more content.
Worse than that, Agrawal clearly has never experienced, and does not have a deep understanding of, what it truly means to feel alone and friendless. Good for her, but reading this book from such a state is akin to a guide on the Heimlich maneuver that begins, “First, take a deep breath.” What is someone truly friendless supposed to do with advice like “make sure you get 5 hugs a day”? Continue reading
I still have the same sex fantasy about my dead friend that I had when she was alive. I try not to let it happen often, but when it does, she’s still super into it – toenails red, shaved here and there, happy to play in my old bedroom at my parents’ house. Before we remove ourselves from each other, we talk about what an awesome idea this was. We giggle and stuff. Our bodies are the bodies we had in twelfth grade – lithe and tireless. She glistens with a soft, damp sheen. The lights are all on. She doesn’t care that I’m not part of the cool group she usually hangs out with. None of it makes much sense.
Sometimes, when I’m done fantasizing, I apologize out loud.
I never make it past the sex part, but if the fantasy comes into my head when I’m doing other stuff and not horny enough to bother, I imagine that there’s no cleanup involved; she just pulls her jeans on and raids my parents’ fridge. Maybe we watch cartoons in the living room. The scene outside the window is gray and featureless. I have no idea where my parents are.
It has been said that art represents humanity’s collective attempt to reconcile its own existence against an otherwise cold and uncaring universe. To strip away artifice, to obliterate pretense — to provide a context through which we may hope to define, at its core, exactly what it means to be a person. Which explains why art is so often heartbreakingly, unyieldingly, sad. Because, loath as we may be to admit it (and despite all of our attempts to the contrary), ours is a conclusively lonely existence — one fraught with sorrow, doubt, and, ultimately, disillusionment. That’s the torment heard in Juliet’s deathbed soliloquy, the longing behind the chords of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah,” the anguished panic pulsating through Edvard Munch’s “The Scream.” And that’s the reason why, every Spring, I make sure to stock up on extra-soft, triple-ply, Kleenex-brand tissues in anticipation of the season’s most gut-wrenchingly devastating artistic offering: the premier episode of the ABC network’s hit reality television series “The Bachelorette.”
Who breaks their arm planting bulbs? Well, technically, I was retrieving bulbs, from a box on the other side of the low-rise-industrial-wire fence they put up around small urban gardens at street level to keep out the dogs that don’t keep out the dogs. Why build a fence just high enough for me to trip over? This question begets an annoying answer. The kind of answer that targets you, relentless as the sunrise. Most wouldn’t trip over it. The fact that I did is a visceral confirmation of aging, a steady and sure march to death, bringing with it the accidents of youth.
The virus is also on the march and the Governor has closed my pool eliminating the aquatic option to recovering my range of motion. So, here I am—albeit four staggeringly painful and miraculous-in-the-fact-my-bone-healed-at-my-age months later—in physical therapy, a risk of a different kind.
Kim, my physical therapist, announced on Tuesday I should have worn a mask. They had sent an email. One I deleted before reading as I do most irritatingly-perky missives that fill up my inbox with random products, services or advice on healthy choices I thought I wanted to make. In the wake of the virus, I’ve decided I’m healthy enough for someone who may die soon and has long planned on dying at year seventy-five. Which is the perfect age to do so, and I could tell you why but I won’t digress.
On Thursday, I arrive orange bandana-bound. I insert my disinfected credit card for the co-pay. I Purell my hands and look right. A talkative young man, without a mask, seated on the banquette adjoining the front counter, his body twisted toward the receptionist, is chattering non-stop. His way-too-low pant waist is way-too-revealing. He twists again, his white fleshy cheeks pressing against the rust vinyl cushion in cringe worthy fashion. This can’t be the hygienic standard to which they aim.
The machine buzzes. I extract my card and whisper. “He needs to pull up his pants.” Continue reading
Ever since I was small, I’ve always imagined myself somewhere else when I go to sleep. Someplace outdoors, usually, someplace wild, a rainforest or a mountainside or an island off a rocky coast. I’ll be traveling, escaping something maybe, and I’ll have found or made some kind of shelter. Rain or snow or wind will be battering it, but I’ll be warm and protected.
Of course, I knew when I ran away from home that it wouldn’t be like that, and it wasn’t. I slept in a tent pitched under a leaning redwood stump in a canyon north of Mendocino, less than twenty-five miles from home. It was summer, so there was no snow or rain, but every morning and most afternoons there was cold fog that couldn’t be kept out. My feet felt like blocks of wood. Banana slugs clung to the outside of the tent. Spiders found their way into my sleeping bag. I was living on apple juice, peanut butter, and raisin bread.
I spent too much time thinking. About my mother’s suicide, about who should or shouldn’t have done or said what, about how it played out in parallel universes. We’d all seen it coming, my father and my brother and I. She’d been depressed, delusional, obsessive for years. But (as I saw it that summer, anyhow) I was the only one who felt guilty about it, who thought there was something more we could have done. My father seemed fatalistic about it, my brother downright nonchalant. That was what had driven me out of the house, that one last feeble protest I felt I had to make. Continue reading
We Regret to Report an Anomaly
Kandahar Airfield, January, 2013
You know, it had not been the best day of my life, that day back in the early spring of the year before when my mother had posted on my public Facebook wall that “your doctor’s office called and said your cholesterol is too high and they’ve written you a prescription for Lipitor.”
“Mom, you can write those kind of private things in a private message,” I reminded her in a text.
Gawd, cholesterol, I grumbled to myself, ripping open the box of mail my mother had forwarded to me there at my new Ed Center in Kandahar, Afghanistan. What could be worse?
This could. This letter from my doctor, the one I’d self-addressed to my Georgia address without giving it a second thought. It went a little something like this:
“We regret to inform patient ****** ***** (my name handwritten in the form letter blank) that her recent mammogram has come back abnormal. We regret to report an anomaly and we recommend that she follow up as soon as possible with her primary care provider and/or any recommended specialists.” I read it again, and again, and then again. Anomaly. Specialist.
And then I refolded the form letter, put it back in its envelope, and laid it flat on my desk, my own breezy handwriting looking back at me. Continue reading
Trigger warning: child abuse, sexual assault and violence
“Cuz Christy, if you ever show up around here, I’m gonna kick your ass. And you know I can”; her heavy emphasis upon “know” reflected her conviction that she had done so previously.
Struggling to appease her fury, I conceded “Baby Sandy. You can kick my ass. But I’m still a pretty good runner and I’m not sure you’d catch me. We’re both old women now.”
“Oh, I’d catch you alright and knock that fuckin’ useless head off your shoulders,” Sandy snarled.
“But why? I’ve just been trying to help. What did I do? I love you. Always have. Always will. I worry about you every day and night. I wonder where you’re sleeping and eating. Are you safe, happy? The questions keep coming. But I get no answers. Ever.”
Without hesitating, Sandy barked “Because you left. You fucking left us here.”
The worst part about this allegation?
It was true.
And I’d do it again. Continue reading
Matt pushes open the rear door to the office and creeps across the floor in torn jeans and a flannel shirt. He wipes his nose on his sleeve and peers through the square hole separating the front office from editorial. He clenches his teeth against the bitter air, but can’t discern any sounds except the light tapping of a keyboard and the radiator clicking. Then a woman’s voice and then another buzzes like a radio going in and out of tune. Leaning closer, he attempts to translate the sounds into language, but can only make out hard k’s and soft s’s. One of them is Jean, his editor, and the other is Mary Ellen, the 25-year old receptionist. His girlfriend. Maybe they’re talking about the weather or the details for an important delivery, but Mary Ellen’s face, when he saw her a moment earlier through the front glass window, had the look of someone sharing important secrets. A chair scrapes against wood and Matt abruptly steps backwards, careens over Jean’s desk, and crashes into her chair, spilling it on its side. He rushes to his own desk and turns on his computer. It’s just coming to life when he feels a tap on his shoulder.
“When’d you get in?” Jean comes around to the front of his desk.
“A few minutes ago.” Continue reading
Sitting across the rotting planks of a water-worn picnic table at a lake dive in Rome City, Indiana, Chris glowered at Bob and strained not to hear him. She studied his ruddy face with his pale, hooded, sky-blue eyes. His face was unmistakably and disappointingly redolent of her own. In anger, her mom would shake her head slowly and deliberately while growling in revulsion, “You look just like him.” She usually managed to render “just” a two-syllable word to make her point. Chris hated this actuality and longed to resemble her mother who always lingered just beyond her reach. But his widow’s peak, unruly hair and godawful teeth were all lamentably hers too. Maintaining her own teeth was a Sisyphean task. They’d crack or break. Dr. Hill would patch them up. They’d break again and Dr. Hill, again, would do the needful. Bob simply let his rot. In fact he seemed proud of these gaping holes as they were yet another signifier of his indifference to the consequences of his decisions.
She wished she could be tender or something like that. But, “This putrid son of a bitch” rolled around in her head like her moist sneakers in the dryer after an early run in the dew-kissed grass of spring. She tried to appear indifferent as he plowed along in his flat, nasal Midwestern voice which also—irritatingly—sounded like a more masculine version of her own hilljack voice. Episodically her ears grabbed onto his words and she could feel that familiar anger rearing up on its hind legs, begging for permission to lunge at him, sink its teeth into his crepe-skinned neck and suck out whatever life lingered in that wankstain’s body. She forced herself to intermittently grunt or nod, feigning interested disinterest. The task helped to keep his venomous words at bay.