a dead man’s day

As many of us know by now, our relationships don’t end when one party dies. I’m not even sure it ends when both parties die, because the lessons we’ve learned, the common language we cultivate, the individual culture we’ve fostered with them spreads out, permeating our extended community in ways that cannot be measured.

My father and I loved going to the theatre together, and I remember one year, when I was maybe nine, we were off to some fancy show in downtown San Diego. We took a cab from some place, possibly the train station (this detail now lost to the natural fuzziness of memory that inevitably develops with time) to the theatre, and the driver, a staunchly blue collar type, was asking us where we were headed. They chatted, and the man went on about how he loved the language of Shakespeare, even though it was hard for him to understand. Not a stranger to early pretension, I remember being skeptical of his interest and judging him for it. “What a stupid reason to love Shakespeare,” I thought.

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KEEPSAKES

The saltwater stung my lips as I sped down the highway, edgy from the bitter gas station coffee I’d pounded throughout the ride, rushing to meet the body of a man who was already dead. My mother beat me to the coroner’s office.

“You don’t want to see that,” she told me. “His body looked so small. It didn’t even look like him,” she said.

His apartment was littered with sentimentalities: a box of old photos scattered across the dining table; a hideous porcelain lamp with a base shaped like a bowl of fruit that had once graced the apartment he shared with my mother; the dishes from my parents’ marriage, an institution that had been abandoned fifteen years prior. I took a three tiered black metal basket and the black bear statue I gave him for Father’s Day when I was six.

As we drove the cat to the shelter, I sat in silence. My mother tried to comfort me with all the reasons that this was the best decision, but we both knew that this dusty drive to the shelter was a funeral march. The old tortoiseshell, weary and violent after being neglected and abused by a decaying alcoholic, was not likely to be adopted. Her name was Stripe. She was my seventh birthday gift from him, and twelve years later, we were dropping her at her execution.

That evening, we returned to our cheap motel. As we pushed the door open, the radio played a song in Spanish–the lyrics were about loving the dead.

The first night in the motel, some men were ogling my mother and I as we moved our things into the room, and the anger inside of me flared something fierce. I nearly started a fight when I asked if they had something better to do than stare at us.

“Honey, I can’t protect you,” she told me, as if it was news.

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Writing Elsewhere: A Woman is More Than a Mechanism

“The downside of solitude, and a string of romantic and sexual connections that lack any kind of healthy intimacy, is that I have rarely, if ever, felt seen. Maybe it happened once, a long time ago. Mostly I’ve felt like an actor, playing the role of Great Date or Decent Fuck or Ego Boost. Rather than being recognized as a whole person, I often feel like an accessory–something to be set down on the shelf when not in use, merely a mechanism used to get a man to what he wants to feel about himself.
I’m just as responsible for this as anyone else, because I’d willingly play the role. Recently, I told someone that I’m a shoehorn, always saying, “Goddamn it, it may not be a perfect fit, but we’re going to make it work.”
Put me in a tight space; press your heel against me. I’ve got this.”

I wrote a thing for the Urban Dater. I haven’t been acting as Managing Editor and/or even a contributing writer for a long, long while now, but this was sitting in my brain, and what better place to publish than UD? It was written a few months ago, so the feelings are somewhat past-tense at this point, and I don’t think it’s my strongest piece, but I guess not everything can be. Enjoy.

THE SNAKES AND THE DOGS

Ah, yes. Another day on the internet, where a clickbaity hot piece-o-garbage has us all running to our thinkpiece machines to churn out an adequate response! WHAT A GLORIOUS DAY!

Recently, essayist and seemingly professional troll Amanda Lauren published an article entitled, “My Former Friend’s Death Was a Blessing,” on xoJane, which detailed her relationship to a former friend–or rather, detailed said former friend’s social media activity after their fall out, and that friend’s unexpected death.

Lauren’s perspective was that her former friend’s mental health issues made her death an ultimately good thing:

I felt like Leah’s death was inevitable. Every box for being a danger to yourself or someone else was checked. A few weeks later I got another Facebook message from a different friend, saying that Leah passed away. She supposedly hit her head and drowned in a bathtub. Sadly, I really believe knowing who Leah used to be, that she would have wanted to die that way. Big and dramatic with an obit in the New York Times. Her better self would have been strangely proud. She would have laughed. Then again, it doesn’t really matter how Leah died. She might have drowned, but schizoaffective disorder was the hand that kept her head below water.

It sounds horrible to say, but her death wasn’t a tragedy, her life was. Her sister died when she was in college. Schizoaffective disorder robbed her of reaching her potential. There were some other things along the way. She was alone and terribly unhappy when died. Leah with the big heart didn’t deserve that. Judging Facebook pages, we all compare ourselves to other people, what they have, what they don’t, and their accomplishments. This girl had nothing to live for.

Naturally, the piece (and lack of empathy or perspective within it) inspired a new fashioned internet shitstorm, leading to the initial byline being deleted, and then eventually the article being replaced by an apology from xoJane founding editor Jane Pratt.

Lauren is not unfamiliar with being the cause of angry internet flurries; she has written a variety of other controversial and downright vapid pieces that have drawn a lot of attention to her. In an interview with Gawker about her most recent bid for Most Disliked Confessional Writer, she stated that her article was an attempt to draw attention to mental health issues and the lack of support for those who have them. Seems like a clumsy attempt at backpedaling to me, but what do I know about what lives in her head?

When I read Lauren’s article, it reminded me of a conversation I had not too long ago, during the second worst mental health crisis of my life. Someone I had considered a close friend outrightly accused me of lying about the state of distress I was in, amongst a slew of other insults about how selfish and “narcissistic” I was for trying to seek a space to calm down before having further conversation with her about it. During that time, I was having crippling panic attacks every day, seeing several doctors, and frantically trying to receive care to bring myself back down to a calm state.

See, I have Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (CPTSD). It looks a lot like PTSD, but with other long term side effects. PTSD is caused by a singular traumatic event, and CPTSD is usually the result of sustained, long-term trauma, and/or a series of traumatic events, which means the impact of it looks slightly different over time. Rather than a singular source, it has multiple, and creates a higher level of activation that expresses itself as anxiety and hypervigilance. CPTSD is most well-known amongst veterans who have been in long-term, sustained combat, but they aren’t the only ones who are capable of falling prey to it.

As one of my doctors described it, I exist in a state of “hyperactivation.” Her analogy for it: If she was in a room, and a snake entered, she would become activated. That would be a present threat, and her body and mind would respond accordingly. If something else happened, even something small, that caused stress, the combination of things would cause her to respond even more intensely than she might if the snake wasn’t with her in that room.

For me, the snake is always in the room.

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THE GHOSTS OF JAGUAR SHARKS PAST

Acceptance is a small, quiet room.
-Cheryl Strayed


When I arrived at the building, I was ten minutes late, and the short winter days had already caused darkness to fall in the early evening. The rain came down upon the red-brick building, and I let myself in the unlocked front door. I walked down the long, thin corridor, passed the mailboxes, and into the back of the building, only to realize that I had missed the stairs, obscured by a heavy firedoor right by the entrance.

There was a couple already looking at the apartment, and although in another circumstance I might find them charming, pleasant–potential friends–they had become The Competition for this four hundred square foot space that I was determined to call my own. I succeeded at securing the apartment by throwing the application fee, in cash, across the property manager’s desk, and telling him, “You’ve taken my money. It’s mine now,” while laughing. He’s not sure what to do with me (I’m rude), but he does what I say. Four days later, the place is officially mine.

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POSTSCRIPT: WHEN YOU’VE RETURNED

1

My first night in Sacramento is spent lying awake in the dark listening to the rain fall. My legs keep getting caught in the sheets; the sound is comforting, but I cannot sleep. Everything feels wrong. I’ve lost even more weight in the last two months; the clothes in the closet were already slightly too big, but now everything is unwearable. When I last left this place, the heat was still in the hundreds. Now, a deluge.

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THE WAYS IN WHICH WE MEET

I had planned to go NY > Boston > possibly Florida > either NOLA or Austin, but my plans changed last minute. I wanted a little more time in Oakland, and after an incredible week in Wisconsin, I realized I hadn’t had my fill of the Midwest. Enter Indianapolis.

Four or so years ago, when I was fetish modeling on the regular, I was searching about Tumblr for something or other and stumbled across brilliant photographer Rachel Schwebach. Her work was glorious and she was seeking models; I contacted her only to discover that she was nowhere near California. Over the years, we sent each other the occasional letter or postcard. Once she even sent me a gorgeous vintage black slip in the mail (we have an intersection of interest when it comes to the erotic–it only seems fitting that lingerie would make its way into our exchange).

I’m not sure exactly how I came to the conclusion that Indianapolis should be on my roster, but it popped into my head, and as I was entertaining it, dear Rachel decided to host an art horror extravaganza in Peoga, which, according to Wikipedia, is an “unincorporated community” in Indiana. Clearly, the timing was right: This was not something to be missed.

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and away we go

The sun descended on the land behind the trees, transforming them from a barricade of green to a silhouette that reflected black in the small lake that had been rented on our behalf. Once I saw the fishing boat out in the lilypads, I ran down to the tiny L-shaped dock on the edge of our Wisconsin oasis while shouting, “I AM HERE TO RUIN YOUR TRANQUILITY!”

Graceful entrances have always been my forté.

I kicked off my shoes and pushed the paddleboard into the shallow end. The competing winds had disappeared, leaving behind a placid surface and acute silence. All I could hear was the sound of my paddle dipping into the water–three strokes on the left; three on the right.

As I balanced myself on the board and pushed myself out to the deep, one of the boys in the fishing boat said to me, “Watching you do that is nerve wracking.”

I shrugged.

“I mean, I don’t want to get too cocky and jinx myself, but I feel like I’ll be okay.”

Even as I said it, the muscles in my calves twitched, my balance faltering slightly. It was my second time out on the water without a bathing suit or a backup plan; I came to the center of the lake, shifting my weight with each push of the paddle.

I looked up to see the crescent moon peeking above the glorious oranges of the sky and the dark wall of trees. This week of grown up summer camp, filled with s’mores and beer and hilarious company, would be ending soon. This time last year, I was finally letting what had long been unraveling completely undo itself–including myself.

In one year’s time, I managed to get everything I had said I wanted for years (or at least, I was on the pathway toward it), as well as just what I needed–unexpectedly, remarkably, often painfully. I didn’t know at the time that it would require reducing my life to a smoldering crater to get there.

Read more and away we go