The man in the suit silently roams the Streetlight Zone.
Some call him "The Professor." Others call him
“crazy, loco, or insane,” but most fear the truth –
that he’s a closet genius, a beautiful, aching
mind, that he may have complex, secret answers,
that he may dream more than everyone combined.
I know that he’s hearing things, more whispers
and shouts than what the Earth has ever offered.
I know because I’ve been there. I can see it deep
inside the eyes. I can see it hidden in the face lines.
I know because I’m still half-there. His black dog
crawls from one sidewalk crack to another, taking
long breaks. God help him if the creature gets sicker.
The two spend hours gazing at the sky, checking
the homeless weather signs, and maybe he’s hoping
that some strange, seasonal break will quiet the noise.
He’ll be there breathing, frozen in place, when I leave
to run errands, and he'll be there when I come back,
feeling suddenly new from society, freshly flushed
and weighted down. He doesn't move for Eddie,
who limps, walks sideways, and grabs anyone near,
telling his story, how he was shot nine times and lived.
He doesn't move for strangers who hurry to wait, soon
ending up trapped, crammed on the bus stop bench.
Someone asks if the 17's ever coming. He never
responds. Inside Mikey’s Garage, famous bands
once played the rooms. If I stand where the stage
once was, I can almost hear the forgotten roar.
Guessing from his gray, he should remember
those days, but he never says so. People warn me
against his danger, to steer clear, but each time,
coming and going, I wave Hello when I see him.
With wide eyes, he always looks back. Startled,
The Professor is interrupted from his daily work
with stillness, the most difficult employer.
For the past ten years or so, I've done a lot of advocacy work, and I've given many talks in front of groups, both large and small. These days, I love being in front of people, speaking, and doing this work; it's probably my favorite thing to do. But what's strange is that all growing up, I was painfully shy, incredibly introverted, and I was absolutely terrified of public speaking. Terrified. I wanted nothing to do with it.
Unfortunately, in high school, I was horrified when I accidentally signed up for a public speaking class called, SPEECH 1. When I was choosing electives, I marked the box for SPEECH 1, but I meant to pick POTTERY 1. Everyone wanted to take POTTERY for obvious reasons -- it was in a different building, so we could walk slow and goof off on our way there, the teacher often had red eyes and said she had "something stuck in her eye," and we could make things like a penis vase without the nuns realizing it. Anyway, by the time I went to change my schedule, of course the hippieland of POTTERY was full, and all of the other electives were full, so there I was, stuck for an entire quarter in the horror show also known as SPEECH 1.
When it came time for our first speech, while madly preparing, my stomach had been in knots for weeks and for some reason, the teacher reminded me of a crazed parrot, which didn't help matters. The first assignment was similar to an acting class; we had to create a three-minute character sketch. Three whole minutes. That night, I guess I saw Jerry Springer on T.V., I dunno, but I picked him as my character. At the time, I think he had a mustache, or maybe I just felt his "inner mustache." So when it came time for the speech, I wore a big, thick, fake mustache.
I hobbled on up to the podium, literally shaking as I went. It started off all right, although I was sort of stuttering. Suddenly, about one minute into the speech, the mustache slid down and got half-stuck in my mouth. I reached up to fix it, but by then, a bunch of hairs were stuck in my mouth. I wasn't sure what to do, so I just did what was natural. I stopped the speech, and I started spitting and picking hairs off of my tongue. This lasted for about one entire minute.
The whole class was rolling. Everyone thought I was doing it on purpose, so I kept spitting out hairs and really owning the character. By the time I was done with my three minutes, they thought I was a genius.
Well, I made it through SPEECH 1, and I recall my final speech, a "persuasion" speech, was a fifteen minute rant on the anti-fur movement. The last line was this: "Fur isn't cool. It's cruel." We weren't allowed to dress up for that one, but I totally wanted to wear a bear suit.
Anyway, I made it out of SPEECH 1 alive, but I still didn't like speaking until I was at Hollins University for college. Poetry and fiction readings were weekly performances really, even if they didn't seem like it, and for sure, these events involved a lot of whiskey. After attending a slew of them, I realized that authors often used this weird tone that rose at the end of lines for emphasis, stuff like that. So I'd show up half-wasted, wearing all black (and black Chucks of course), and I'd really use my voice to hammer home "deep lines." I totally embraced that high brow madness. I ate it up.
Weird, the last time I gave a talk, which was two weeks ago, it came out damn raw and afterwards, I felt quite exposed. It's not always like that, but for some reason, I was in a mood. Speaking of moods, here's a picture of the cool, Vertigo-ish stairs in the Moody Student Center at Hollins University:
Pretty rad. Hey, I'm giving a talk tonight actually. Wish me luck. Don't think I'll wear a fake mustache this time. I learned my lesson. A mustache is damn hard to pull off; however, just to be creative and embrace the memories, I may slip in some anti-fur propaganda.
P.S. Man, I should totally be an script editor on TV or a movie or some crap. I could iron that shit out, just sayin.
Ever since I was ten years old, I wanted to be a professional horse trainer. All growing up, I worked hard at it, and I started teaching lessons at the young age of fifteen. I achieved some great successes, including showing in the Junior Hunters on the A-circuit, and there were many Champion ribbons. We traveled to shows, and it was the biggest part of my life. Actually, it was my life. Later, I worked in the industry, and I did achieve my goal -- I became a professional trainer. At several different barns, I worked as Assistant Trainer and even while I was doing it, I could hardly believe it. Living the dream. I rode and trained many horses a day, taught a slew of lessons, managed barns, went to shows, you name it. The work was hard, but to me, it was second nature. No matter what, I always wanted more. More, more, more.
In 2003, I was working full-time at a Loveland farm, and the work was strenuous, but it was quite manageable for years; however, that year, there were a number of painful things going on in my personal life. By 2004, I was struggling some, and then my boss/mentor told me he planned to retire. At several different farms, we had happily worked together for many years, and it was a rare, fulfilling work partnership, so I was quite shocked and confused. The stress grew, and it began to affect me.
Then he offered the entire farm to me. Little me. I was gonna be the big shot. He wanted me to take over as the Head Trainer, to teach all of the lessons, make all of the decisions, go to the shows, everything. There it was, my "dream come true," right in my lap, and I could not believe it. I had to make a decision fast, and I felt immense pressure. But in my decision making process, there were many factors involved. First, I had no partner to help me, and it would've been extremely difficult, if not nearly impossible to do that amount of work alone. Second, I had no money to buy out the business or invest in the place. Third, I wasn't feeling well, due to all of the stress. After struggling with the decision until the very last moment, I still couldn't decide. When it was down to the wire, and he finally called for a definite answer, I was still going back and forth. Pacing, pacing, pacing.
At the last minute, I remembered something someone once told me: Which way are you leaning? In that moment, I realized that I had to say "no." That's right, I passed on what I thought was the dream of my life.
So what happened? My mentor left, a new boss came in, I was overworked, and it eventually led me to walk out. At the time when I walked out, I was literally at the top of my game. I was riding better than ever, I had more students than ever, I had the opportunity to travel and work with a famous teacher/trainer, and on the outside, everything seemed to scream success. And right then, right in that moment, I picked up my saddle and walked out.
Now, this might all seem negative, but looking back, I realize that without all of that upheaval, I never would have left the industry, because I was way too attached. In reality, although I loved the work, there were some hard truths -- it was tough on my body, I deeply disagreed with a lot of things that happened to the horses, it was stressful, and I was too tired to write and explore my creative side.
So saying "no" led me to dive into yoga, dive into art, and heal from a lot of past trauma. If it weren't for saying "no," I would never have written my two novels. My heart led me to explore other paths so that I could more honestly develop my true self. According to the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, this idea is called "Vairagya," or "non-attachment;" that is, it is the idea that as we travel through our journeys, we can choose to let go of the many attachments, aversions, fears, and false identities that are clouding the true self, whether it be a person, place, thing, or situation. The story of our lives is profound and interconnected, a web of mystery, depth, and ultimately, the combination of intricate, beautiful, and divine patterns.
Each day, I want to be open to discover that which fuels my heart's purpose. I believe that most days, I just want to feel free, like mustangs, but after many years of trudging along, I'm stronger and wiser, and it seems like my mind and muscles are leaning toward fighting for the little people, giving love, being transparent, allowing myself to receive love, and developing my creativity. More passion, more risk. Just where I'm at, and it's a raw place to be, but also, beautiful.
Often, even inside, I wear these sunglasses. For blocks, one woman follows me, blocking my sun. Here and there, I look back, and I see her shade; I see her gaining ground, but this time, I don't speed up. It's the way she moves that moves me; she floats freely, as if she'd rather be barefoot, despite words from any mother. I let her come closer. Looks to me, this one is a looker. When she asks to shake my hand, I say, Sure. Up close, I can see part of her belly. Here and there, her T-shirt is torn. In black, I write my name quickly, slightly legible, handing her notebook back. Thank you, she says, I bet you get this all the time. Shaking my head, I look at the sky, counting up the day's approaches. So far, ten, I think. She smiles, turns red, wipes her forehead with the back of her thick hand, and says, Man, it's hot. I don't have air. I bet you get this all the time. And maybe I've lived in this town for years now, but I lose all sense of direction, thinking of her gorgeous, bad, bad cut.
In seventh grade, Charlie (name changed) was the most popular boy in school; he was so popular that he was immune to any junior high "essential" style trends. No
matter what Charlie wore, no one made fun of him, and he was still considered the coolest. One day, he showed up wearing a girls' Rainbow Brite sweatshirt or something, and everyone thought it was hilarious. He was small, thin, and he had a mess of brown curls on his head. Also, he wore glasses, and he was wickedly funny and super smart. Back then, getting bad grades was also considered "cool," and people bragged about Cs and Ds, but no one made fun of Charlie's consistent straight As. His best friend, Bobby (name changed), was more model-handsome, but Charlie was always number one.
Now, mainly due to geography and chance, Charlie and I were thrown together nonstop for many years. All through grade school, the teachers placed us in the same homeroom. Since our first names both began with "C," our assigned seats were always close. For years, we both tested in to all the same classes. We were neighbors, we rode the same bus, and that year, we rode Number 52. Well, since we lived extremely close together, the way they made the route that year, it turned out that there was a strange fifteen minute gap of time when Charlie and I were the only two kids on Bus 52. During this window of weirdness, we would jump around from seat to seat, tell jokes, and crack up. How I loved those 15 minutes. Never really thought about it once I jumped off of the bus, but while we were there, it felt like "our time," and it seemed to last for hours rather than minutes. Some days, it sure seemed like Charlie and I were becoming a couple. Other days, it seemed like we already were a couple, but it never happened. We just goofed off, play-punched each other, belly-laughed until I almost threw up, and caused trouble. Partners in crime, I suppose. Still, I secretly thought about it, but he was off limits.
See, Charlie was dating my third cousin, Michelle (name changed) the most popular girl in school. Now, this girl was the sweetest, nicest girl I think I've ever met, and she still is. Her best friend was flashy-pretty, but Michelle was a natural beauty through and through, and no matter what, Michelle was always number one in any kid's mind.
The weird part was that Charlie and I were forced together for everything -- classes, bus rides, you name it, and when it came time for the Chicago school trip, guess who sat in the seat behind me -- Charlie and Bobby. Of course. And on this trip, guess who got in trouble for running away from the teachers in the middle of downtown Chicago? Charlie and me.
But I was Charlie's forever bus buddy, that's it. Later in life, this pattern has continued for me, ha. These days, last I heard, both Charlie and Michelle are happily married (not to each other) with kids. And the last time I saw them, I noticed that they were both just as "cool" as they were in grade school, in an adult/integrity kind of way. Michelle is still one of the most loving, selfless people I've met.
Here I am, still hanging out on Bus Number 52. What can I say, I like staring out the window and writing graffiti on the seats. Hell, we're all here for a reason. I believe that, and when I think about it, it's all a cool ride.
Yes, I think I have this one chiseled out now. Ha. Here's one I just tore up so much it feels totally new, ha. Sometimes you gotta do "ruthless cutting." I'm gonna try to go back to bed for once. Much peace. I'm not gonna settle for less than peace today. I've been so damn dark. Sometimes, it happens, and it can be tough for me to fight it at times. But I fight on. Today is new. May the Universe bless you...whatever's best for you. C.A. Mac
around your eyes
has long since turned dark-tired,
and these circles
match your brows,
inside the black
pupil, the hint of
creation, the oldest light,
true, today, you could save the
through shadowy scenes,
or you could visit
or you could rest your head down
and finally drift
Hello there. Here's a fresh short story I've been working on. Plugging away hard at it...playing around with voices and such. A young voice can be quite deep. A challenge. Pretty slick...takes some turns. :) See what you think. Love, C.A.
Bad Hair Bad
by: C.A. MacConnell
Let me tell you a secret. I am bad. They call me Shelly Hopscotch because I’m the fastest at the game. We’re junior high, so we’re way too old for it, but we play anyway. It’s either that or tether-ball, and there’s always a line there, so we get bored and hopscotch it is. I can stretch my legs, throw the perfect stones, and make it to ten before the other girls even make it to the playground. So I always stand there and laugh, watching how their ponytails chase after them like all those red-faced, horny boys. If it rains in the valley, I'm the first one to swallow drops. If the sun pokes up over the mountain and beats down, I'm the first one to take off my mud boots and dance. The other kids watch me tie someone’s shoelaces together, and they follow, one by one, until we’re all tripping over ourselves. Nice.
My hair is so black and so straight. No waves or anything in the way. Sometimes, it's tied back tight and smooth. Maybe I look like a seal, I dunno. Other days, it falls down my shoulders, tickling my chin like boys’ hands do sometimes, like when they’re being stupid boys. Today I have the black claw clip in, so my hair’s somewhere in between up and down. Mom got it down at the Dollar Store. She said I needed it. She said she wanted to see my face. We usually spend about twenty bucks at that place, so like Dad says, “that dollar thing is all a bunch of BS.” Dad cusses all the time when he thinks I don’t hear. I drag Mom in the Dollar Store whenever, because she’s a total sucker for a deal. Sweet.
I’m smiling all weird because Bryan just popped into my head, and my teeth feel so slippery, because I just got the braces off. To test out my teeth, I bit real hard into a whole green apple, and I ripped into that skin like a tiger. Last week, Bryan made some poetry, and he told me my face was as smooth as a freshly painted wall. He’d know since his Dad’s the town painter. Sometimes, after Bryan touches my chin or my cheek, he stares at his hands to make sure they're not stained white. I guess that’s what he’s doing. Strange, because whenever I check myself out in any mirror or window, I think my skin has a rough, yellow glow, like some joker just rubbed my face with Cheetos. I dunno, I’ll ask Christine at school later. She always tells the truth, which makes her only kinda cool, not totally cool, because she wouldn’t lie for me if we were in the principal’s office. That kid Jess is the same way – medium cool, never lies. I think they’re in love or whatever, which can be annoying.
The bell rings, and I think I’m a kangaroo for a second, the way I jump out of my seat. Always, I’m the first one out the door, the first one at the lockers because that makes me super cool. Everyone knows it.
All around, feet are pounding and people are yelling like animals. The boys stick together in choppy runs. The girls scurry into the bathroom. They never go alone. This is their only chance, for real. Later, they’d have to squirm in their seats and hold it. Or, they could raise their hands and ask the fake-blonde Social Studies teacher if they can get up. If her husband wasn’t out all night at the Do-Right Pub, she’ll let them pee, and they’ll get up, and everybody will stare at them and laugh, just to laugh at something, like the way we laugh at someone’s stupid no-name jeans. No loser wants that.
Slamming my locker shut, I peek into my brown bag of gross lunch. Some bigger girls will beg me for my sweets, and I'll trade them, because I like the taste of something another Mom made, something that fills me more than a Twinkie and some beef jerky, geez. My Mom is chef at the rich people’s Highland Restaurant, so when she gets home, the last thing she wants to do is make another meal. Dad always laughs and tells Mom that her dinners are dog food. Nice.
Lunchtime, yeah. We’re in our seats, passing food around. Some girls give me bad looks. I'm the only brave one who moves to a boy table. Those girls want to hate me, but I smile at them, showing them my new straight teeth. Kill them with kindness, Mom always says. I try thinking about what Joan Jett would do, what her face might look like right then and there, and I make a cool face.
Dirk pats me on the back.
I roll my eyes and munch on Doritos. He wasn't saying "hi." He wanted to feel my shirt to see if there was a bra strap there, which there wasn’t. Sorry to bum him out, but I'm still boobless, skinny Shelly. One of the boys, for real.
Bryan checks his reflection in a spoon. He’s the boy leader - brown-eyed, brown-haired, tall, and no doubt, he’s the most curly-headed deviled egg around. He's new. New kids in the valley are auto-cool.
Bell rings. Our stomachs full, we run to recess. Faces trapped in grins, we’re like little snakes. Someone has Twizzlers. The girls all try to beat my hopscotch record, but I win the game, one-footed and proud. Okay, sometimes I cheat. Bored, I cross the playground to the boys’ side.
They throw the football around. I don’t think they know what they’re doing, but they act like they do. Sometimes they even punch each other. Even Jess, the buzz-haired quiet one, is catching some. Mike, the shortest of them all, takes off his glasses, cleans them with his shirtsleeve, and looks at me all weird.
I feel like a loser, remembering the time I didn't dance with him in sixth grade, so I act like I don't see him. Sitting down on a log, I pull a heavy metal magazine from a hidden, inside coat pocket, flipping through pages of bands, tattoos, and tongues. Ratt is my favorite. They rock.
Bryan bounces back and forth, shouting, “I’m open!” He’s always open.
Mike comes over to bug me. He looks over my shoulder at the pictures.
I hand him the magazine, stealing his place in the football game.
“Hey!” Mike yells and laughs.
“Sorry, yeh snooze, yeh lose,” I tell him, catch the football, and run.
When I’m out of breath, I look over at the Latin teacher. She shakes her head, gripping her bell like a recess boyfriend. By her look, I know she's thinking, Shelly will be pregnant at sixteen, another kid lost in the mountains. She’s right about one thing. I’m going to end up in the mountains, living in a log cabin like that guy on TV with the beard, Grizzly Adams. I love him. Just me and my half-wolf, blue-eyed dog, Tesla, hanging out in the cabin with Grizzly. I know, “Tesla” is a bad name for a dog, but I was listening to that band when I named him, so whatever, everybody has to deal.
I smile at the Latin teacher. Kill her with kindness.
She smiles back, scaredy-cat like.
Science room. I take my assigned seat next to Christine. She’s obsessed with some book, something told through the voice of a wolf I guess. That’s what it looks like from the cover picture, but sometimes I think I know what I’m getting into, and then I open some book and get a big, fat surprise, which is annoying.
I pull the headband out of Christine’s hair and throw it to Bryan, who’s behind us.
“Hey, give it back!” Christine yells out. She laughs, feeling her hair. It's thick and perfect, like Tesla’s coat. I wouldn’t say I hate her for it, but she’s not my favorite either.
Bryan throws the headband to Jess, Jess to Mike, Mike to Lisa, Lisa to Stephanie, until everyone touches it. Everyone except Lara, the part-albino girl who sits in the closest seat to the teacher. Lara’s almost blind; she can’t even see the big E’s on eye charts. Sounds sad, but I think it’d be cool to be an alien.
The Science teacher runs into the room. He’s losing his hair, but what’s left of it is full of static cling, so it looks like he’s got wings on his head. “Sorry I’m late,” Bird Head says, writing definitions on the board. There are chalk hand prints on his butt.
Jess walks up to Christine, looks at the ground, and hands her headband back. “Here,” he says, shuffling back to his seat. He looks like Tesla did when he had worms, when he walked around our house, dragging his behind all over the carpets. Sick-o.
Christine blushes, going back to her book.
She’s bad too. Just not yet. It starts with the hair. Pretty soon, she’ll stop blow-drying. She’ll start wearing it messy, like it’s supposed to be, and Jess will make her squirm around like a belly-up hornet.
I pass Bryan a note that says, “Come over later.”
He passes me one back that says, “You got it,” with a smiley, winking face, which is ridiculous.
Lara sits alone in the front of the room, her Science book pressed close to her face, the light hitting her skin like the sun on mountain snow. She follows the lines of words with her finger, because it takes her forever to read. Every day on the playground, she sits on the same log, peeling an orange. I don’t know if she ever eats anything but oranges. Crazy, but I'm a sucker for her. She’s not cool, but she’s not a nerd. Lara’s in a whole other world all together. Kill her with kindness.
Lara looks up, staring my way, squinting her pale, blue eyes.
I know she can’t see me, but I look away at the clock, just in case. Watching the second hand, my eyes and ears lose focus, and the teacher’s words blur, tangled together like hair. The hand moves in its steady, slow, beat. I can almost hear it. I’m sorry, but I drift off.
Shocked awake, I feel a tap on my back, and I open my eyes to Lara’s half-blind, soft stare.
Lara’s thick, white hair blends into her skin. “You slept through class,” she says, floating out of the room, hunched over like old Suzanne, the Health teacher who lets us call her by her first name. She’s not fooling me, though. She’s still a teacher.
I'm an angry raccoon, because I’m supposed to be the first one out the door. I yank a hair from my head, leave it on the desk, and stand up, anxious. I grab my book pile. Book bags are for losers.
Home. I slip on my acid-washed jeans with the zippers at the ankles, my burgundy, thrift shop sweater, and my blue rain boots. I hear the sounds of dinner-making: the wrappers, the freezer opening and shutting, the beep of the microwave, Mom’s pant legs rubbing together as she paces, worried about Dad again, and “DarnitMaryMothertoHell” when she cuts herself. She never cusses like Dad does, because Mom takes Church seriously. I like the donuts.
There's a knock on the door. I rub the top of my head for good luck.
Bryan stands behind the screen, but it’s scary because his face is all blurry behind the gray, wire netting. Like a ghost, for real.
I sneak out, which is easy, since Mom’s buried in grease.
We run through the horse field and up the mountain to our waterfall, sitting on our favorite, wet rock. It's a biggun, like a boulder. I think it has a face too.
“Glad you came, but we don’t have much time,” I tell Bryan.
“Well let me just spit it out. Just in case you wondered, I love you, Shell,” Bryan says, kissing me sloppy.
I let him kiss me, and then I stand up, knowing Dad will let me have it if I’m out too late. There’s a long howl. I picture Tesla stretching his neck, pointing his nose up in the air, opening his jaws, letting the sound creep out. If I shut my eyes real tight, I can almost imagine the feel his thick, fur coat. “You know I gotta go,” I say to Bry. My bottom lip feels funny because he’s been sucking on it.
Bryan grabs my hands. “Not yet, Shell,” he says, pulling me down to him.
Tesla’s pitch grows higher.
Bryan pulls my sweater over my head.
I start to unbutton his shirt, but I get confused, so he finishes for me.
He looks at me, his mouth trapped in some serious, thin line, and says, “I’m...a virgin. Don’t tell anybody.”
“I know,” I say. "Me too," I lie. I'd already done Dirk and Mike that year, but whatever.
I move to a higher rock, put my arms around his neck, and kiss him, listening to the rush of water, which makes me have to pee. Tesla’s howl turns lower, sounding more like a moan, the kind that Mom makes at night, in bed, when she thinks I’m sleeping in my attic. When I listen to her cry, it's like metal music. I love Axl Rose.
Naked, shivering something crazy, we move to a flat, wet, grassy spot. I think it’s all moss, because it feels like Styrofoam on my back.
Soon, Bryan's on top of me, making noises.
I am quiet, for real, feeling him inside me. In the distance, Tesla is barking. By the sound, I can tell he's on his way home. I put my hands in my hair and grip it.
Bryan presses his weight into my ribs, his fingers moving across my skin. Insects.
When it's over, we grab our clothes from the ground. As I struggle with my jeans, Bryan brushes twigs off me. Then he reaches to pick leaves from my hair.
“Don’t. I’ll get it,” I say, making fists with my hands. Like I'm queen of some jungle.
Our boots heavy with mud, we walk back, lifting our legs high, careful not to trip. When we reach the bottom of the trail, Bryan runs down the driveway, his footsteps beating it up like hail on the attic roof.
I look down at my hands. One, open. The other, still clenched in a fist. I spread my fingers, one at a time. A small clump of hair in the palm. I brush it away with the other hand. Bad, Shelly, bad. I run fingers over my arms, legs, head, chest, until I feel like I’ve erased myself, the way rats slip into the wall cracks, disappearing for a while. But it’s weird the way they always come back. I watch and wait for them to come back. I stay ready because sometimes traps don’t work.
Home. At the table, my ankles are crossed. My hands, folded.
Dad sits next to me. His dark eyes stare hard at whatever. Dad's in serious mode. He looks handsome, and he smells crispy, like bacon smoke and mountain air.
Mom picks at the chicken on my plate. If it’s not on her plate, the calories don’t count. Mom thinks nothing counts if people don’t see it.
“How was your day?” Mom asks, dropping some peas on her lap. She laughs, nervous. Mom never stops moving. Even when she sits stuffed, leaning back in her chair, her lips quiver. Might sound creepy, but I’ve gotten used to it.
Dad nudges me and says, "Answer you Mother, pretty."
“Okay,” I say, pushing food around with my fork. “The day was okay.”
“Did you do your homework?” Dad says, shoving a roll in his mouth. He swallows without chewing.
“Done,” I say, studying his mechanic hands. No matter how many times he washes them, the skin cracks are still black. Like paws.
“Good girl.” Then with his mouth full of food, he says to Mom, “What’s really for dinner?” He laughs a little.
“You’re looking at it,” she says back, looking down.
I sneak away from the table before the heavy metal begins.
That night, I listen to Tesla scratch at the door. Paw to wood, paw to glass. Nights like this are always the same. Dad's tired again. Later, he slaps Mom around. No big deal. Nothing like Lara’s house. I hear there’s a reason why she was born half-blind; her mom got knocked around when Lara was in her stomach. Just one of those mountain stories. Well, they’re all pretty true, now that I think about it. I mean, nobody’s seen Bigfoot around, but we all know he’s there.
I pull the covers over my head, thinking about Tesla’s blue eyes, eyes as blue and clear as Lara’s. And I wonder, when Lara squints all funny and tries to see, I wonder if her eyes sting like a Daddy spank. I feel the top of my head. There is an empty circle, that spot in the back. Man, I need the claw clip. It’s no biggie. Soon, it will turn to long, jagged stubble. It’ll grow back in.
Morning is silent. Mom and Dad are gone at work already. Since I’m bigger, I guess they trust me to go to school alone now. Nobody told me that. It just kind of happened. One day, I woke up, and they weren’t around. So I am naked. I push the covers away and shuffle across the floor, and I feel the goose bumps on my skin. I hear Tesla’s paws hit the steps. Then his pounce comes. He pushes the door open and licks my face. Before I have time to wrestle with him, he's gone. Nuts.
I pick my purple sweatshirt and Forenza jeans off the floor, slip them on, and look in the mirror. I pull my hair back in my claw clip, fixing it so no one will see the empty space. Yes, I brush my teeth and all that. I wasn’t born in a barn. Christine was, but that’s just because she came out early and thought she was a horse or something. Anyway, carrying my books, I drop the History one while I’m running to the bus. I just leave it in the puddle for the stray cats. I take my seat in the back, the place where I can write on the seat in front of me and no one will see. No one will see my writing.
Bryan’s stop is next. Slowly, like the cool boy he is, he makes his way down the aisle and sits right next to me. His curls are all wet. At least his hair’s clean for once, geez.
“Hi, trouble,” I say. Someday, I might want him. I might be able to want him. I think of the way Lara can sit alone and just seem all right. How, with where she comes from, I have no idea. They all talk about her. They make fun of her. They say they hate her guts because she’s blind, but they can’t hate her. They want to be what they most hate. Because deep down inside her quiet, she’s as strong as a lion. I can see it there, that king, that wild, fierce hole. Everybody wants to be secretly tough.
Bryan nods, says "hi" back, and he acts like he’s reading.
Then he touches my leg. Got him. Could throw him like a stone. Could land him on any hopscotch number, hop over him, squish him, and win the game. Whatever.
Homeroom. I chew on a piece of hair, anxious. My stomach rumbles. I think of the night last week when Dad pulled me outside. I thought we were going to catch lightning bugs, but instead, he told me about his bad, bad days.
“Shelly,” he said. His dark eyes were wet and swollen up.
“Yeah,” I said, curling up on that old chair Mom never got rid of.
“I want you to know why I'm the way I am,” he said.
Then he told me how lucky I was. He told me about being little, that he barely ate because they were so poor. In a basement. Left there. Rats would crowd around. He thought about eating the rats. That his brother didn't make it. And most of the time, Dad wished he didn't. “I'm closer to you than I am to your Mom,” he said. He put his arms around me. He held his arms around me.
I was scared, because I never saw Dad cry before. I’d rather see him throw stuff around. And I couldn't pull loose. His cries were like music. High notes. Like Tesla’s nighttime cry. Like the screaming of a hard rocker. Like Skid Row. As Dad got up to go back inside, I put my hand on my head and pulled hard. I couldn't find Tesla. I hoped that dog didn't run away again, because Dad said he might shoot Tesla if he didn't shape up. And Dad had a loaded rifle in his shed. It was ready to go.
A soft tap on my shoulder snaps me back. Lara says, “Shelly, we have to go to class.”
"Oh, hi, Lara, all right,” I say, looking up at her glowy, white face.
"Thanks," she says.
"For what?" I asked her.
"For saying my name. No one ever does," Lara says, grinning. She's almost see-through.
I nod. I don't know what to say to invisible people.
I count. Mom always says that calms her down. Ten. The Latin teacher walks in. Her hair is blonde, long, and thick, like a horse tail. Today, we get our tests back. Nine. I have to get an “A.” I’m bad. Eight. My eye twitches. Seven. I look around. Six. Dirk carves something into his desk. Five. Bryan tears a piece of paper from his notebook, slowly, as if no one can hear. Four. Margaret and Christopher touch each other’s feet. Where am I? Jess watches Christine, who is buried in the same wolf book. Yes, three. As the Latin teacher passes the papers back, I feel them looking at me across the room, from the corners of their eyes, staring. I wonder if they can see it - the empty space. Two. Touching the top of my head, I remember that once, just once, in bed, when I was almost too young to remember, I think Tesla kissed me there. It was dark, super dark, so dark, I was half-blind like Lara. I could feel him above me, panting. Yes, for real, Tesla was panting. He wasn't going to run away. He kissed me there. One, breathe. She hands me the paper. Good enough. Saved by the scribble of someone’s hand. Never use my own hands. My own hand can only hurt and pull, hurt and pull, until I was left with only the memory of one kiss. Then the empty space. Because Tesla ran away before I could even tell it was him. Because Mom didn’t believe me. She said that Tesla and our family were good people, that I was making up mountain stories. She said that some secrets had to stay in Tesla’s ears, secrets like rats in the house walls. He kissed me there. It was him. In my attic room. And I knew that one day, he was coming back. Head banging is so cool.
Lara holds her paper close, trying to read the tiny writing.
I tap her back and say, “Hey, you got a hundred."
“Thanks,” she says, her red lips spreading out like a cut.
“How did you do?” she asks, touching me with her white hand.
“Bad,” I tell her.
Recess. Lara is nowhere. She must be at the nurse’s office again. I saw a bruise.
The English teacher is in charge, the one with the bell. She's pretty with reddish-brown hair. At recess, she pays attention to what kind of birds are out, and sometimes she forgets about us kids. Sweet.
I stole some cigs from Dad the night before, so I pull two smoke treats from my bag, sneaking into the woods on the side of the playground.
Bryan follows. “Shelly! Wait!” he yells after me.
I keep running. Like Tesla, I give his words, his howls to the wind.
It rains. I light up anyway, hearing Bryan’s footsteps. He’s coming.
“Why are you always running?” he says, pushing fingers through his curls.
I put out my cigarette, cough, and start to leave. I'm all head-rushy like a freak. Sick-o.
Bryan grabs my shirt. By accident, he pulls on some of my hair.
The claw clip falls out, and the pieces slide down and separate.
Bryan stands closer and sees it. The empty space. He stands back, like he thinks the bald place might be contagious.
“I have to go,” I say, running, the rain hitting my face. Tiny fists.
Back in Science class, everyone whispers. Everyone but Lara, who can’t even see the big E’s on eye charts. Bryan must've passed it around. Everyone knows. Shelly pulls her hair out. Soon, they'll make songs out of it. Get together and giggle and point. All but Lara, who could never see the notes. She’ll hear their whispers, but she can’t see it. They laugh. Bad, Shelly, bad. But someday, when they sit in their attic rooms at home, when they hear Tesla howling just outside the door, when Dad shakes a fist over something bad, when he cries and holds you and you can’t get away, they’ll know what it’s like to put a hand to the head, and pull out hair, strand by strand, until all dogs are gone, gone, gone, extinct. Kill them with kindness. For real.
Since everyone's been feeling "cabin fever" lately, this seemed appropriate. Something definitely ghostly about this building, and indeed, it is packed with history. Relocated and restored by the park district, this log cabin is now located in North Bend, Ohio at Shawnee Lookout State Park. It was originally built in 1795 in Elizabethtown, Ohio, by Micajah Dunn, an early settler, the son of a Revolutionary War Captain. Early settlement in the Ohio territory began at this time, and although there was a somewhat peaceful November feast between the settlers and a Shawnee hunting party, by April, war was full on, and the Chillicothe, led by Chief Blackfish (known in his native tongue as Cot-ta-wa-ma-go or Mkah-day-way-may-qua), were of course fighting to defend their sacred land. At this same park, there is also an Indian burial ground, as well as an early School/Springhouse built by the settlers.
When I was there, I felt most at home on the "Blue Jacket" trail, but the whole area speaks to me deeply.
Sure, it was zero degrees this morning. Like many people around, I've been feeling isolated, stir crazy, and alone, you know, so I've been trying to get out just to see people, just to feel a part of the world. So I headed to the market to pick up a few things, and as I was driving my filthy, salt-covered car around the parking lot, when I came to the stop sign, due to the icy film on the glass, I couldn't see left, so I cracked the window. When I looked out, I saw a pretty woman smiling right at me.
She was close. She wore a leopard-print head wrap. Her dark skin was seemingly flawless and smooth, and her cheeks were truly glowing. She had that perfect, exaggerated gap between her two front teeth, one of those unique, so-called "flaws" that made her even more striking, and it drew me to her even more.
To me, that smile looked so familiar. I swore I knew that face. I swore I'd heard a joke or a story from those lips. Even the eyebrows seemed somehow just right. So I paused there, mulling it all over. Sitting at the stop sign, buying time, trying to figure it out, I smiled back.
She kept looking as well, and then she snapped out of it. Shaking her head back and forth, she seemed confused, like me. Finally, she said, "Oh, I don't know. I swear I know you...from somewhere."
I laughed. "Me too," I said, "But I can't place it."
She laughed too. "Me either."
I shrugged. "Maybe in another life?" I asked her.
"Yeah, for sure...or maybe we were neighbors on another planet," she stated, grinning.
I nodded and said, "Probably."
Finally, feeling chills, I waved goodbye and found a parking space, but the mystery was still bugging me. Frustrated, I knit my brows and tunneled into my wild brain's library, but I still couldn't remember.
But then a vision flooded its way into me. A night in 1997. Around 3 a.m. I'd been wandering through some dangerous alleys. Wasted and alone, I was beyond lost. Right at that moment, two girls came up to me and said, "Girl, what are you doing in these parts alone? You're gonna get killed." Something like that. Then I blacked out, and when I woke up, I was safe, tucked under dry covers in a hostel bed in another part of town. How I got there, I have no idea.
Why the smiling woman at the market made me think of that night, I don't know. But back when booze was my game, there were a lot of sketchy nights. Sometimes memories flash at me at the strangest times, like when I looked at the pretty, warm face of the woman I saw this morning, when I was drawn to the perfect gap in her grin, when I studied her leopard print wrap.
So maybe there was another time when her unique smile drew me in, called me to her. Indeed, our flaws can bring us together in the most beautiful ways. As I walked into the market, and I wondered once more where I knew her from, something, maybe God, told me this: Yes, it's true. Once, she saved your life.
Recently, I took these pics of a skate park nearby. Sometimes, I take walks here and whenever I make my way past the skaters, it reminds me of when I lived in Seattle, and the times when I hung out at the skate parks there. Some days, these guys harass me just like the Seattle guys did. And it depends on my mood whether I let it slide or go ahead and bite back. Well, just glancing at this park reminds me of the past, but the one in Seattle was three times the size and much more dangerous. Those days, nobody wore knee pads or helmets, and the skaters' idea of safety was this: Who's still alive and not too fucked up? Who can take me to Dr. FeelGood to fix this wrecked arm? Fuck, I think I saw bones, yo. If I didn't say it, brother, I love you. Where the fuck is Mark? I want a fuckin' donut. He in the cage again? Fuck, this arm.
In the 'burbs, skating seems so much tamer now. Seems. Well, most of the time. It can still get rough. When the park maintenance crew was there, they told me that a few weeks ago, some of the skaters covered up the cameras, went in the park bathrooms, set off some explosions, and ripped the hand driers and toilet paper holders right off the walls. I guess they wanted to make sculptures or something, I dunno. Or they were just bored. It wasn't the first time. And about a month ago, the park cops called the crew in for cleaning. Apparently, one guy rolled right up to the skate park and shot himself.
Most of them are around 11-17 years old. Mostly boys, but a few girls here and there. Many of these kids have nowhere else to go. Often, home is a war zone. Many of them have nothing but their brothers and sisters who show up at the park. And today, as in the past, addiction is rampant. Some make it out alive. Some don't. A few days ago, this happened...
Me: How old are you?
Boy 1 (standing tall, holding board): Nine!
Me: Are your parents here?
Boy 2 (pointing at friend): Oh yeah, his are around.
Me: You okay?
Boy 1: They're coming back.
Me: You sure?
Boy 2 shrugs and laughs.
In Seattle, at the hostel where I lived on and off, and at the skate park, I watched and took notes, and I had no idea that one day these notes would turn into THE HOUSE OF ANCHOR, my second novel. Those skaters would take care of me sometimes -- give me a slice of pizza, make me laugh when I was at my worst, things like that. One of them truly kept me alive, just sayin'.
So when it began, THE HOUSE OF ANCHOR was quite close to my heart. As I wrote and edited the story, it evolved into something greater, and the process was lovely and profound. Now, the road to get the right agent and get published is a long one. These days, it's even harder than ever, but now there are a lot of other options as well. I've been through the traditional process several times before, and I've gotten very far with it in the past, which is an amazing accomplishment in itself. I've had some huge bites, so to speak. This time, same thing, which is exciting. Just waiting on a few people, and then from there, I'll figure out what to do next. Wild journey. I suppose I'll say more when I have some news. Anyway, I'm gonna give it my best shot and keep trying with that route, for now.
Whatever happens, I'll get it out there. Because it's good, damn good. And I feel like people will absolutely connect with this story and not be able to put it down. :) The characters are so real, so magnetic, and so vibrant. It is packed with feeling. And this one is cool because it sends the reader into a whole other world. As a reader, I love it when a book sends me on an imaginary journey, when it's so real that time disappears. Rad.
So the cold is bitter, and the streets are icy, and everyone is stir crazy, man. Last night, I braved the streets to give a talk about addiction, brain disorders, and I spoke some about my Seattle life, but I just brushed the surface. It probably wasn't smart to go out, because my car was sliding all over, and I couldn't see shit, but I made it all right, and I'm so stubborn when I decide I'm going to do something. I say I'm going, I'm going, whether there's a tsunami or blizzard, ha. I suppose I shouldn't try to test the gods, but sometimes, just like those skaters, I admit I still do.
Trying to get motivated. Trying to fight this depression. Ups and downs are nothing like they used to be, but some days, some weeks, it's still a real fight. Gonna do some reading. See, there's a time to write and create, and there's a time to learn from others.
Corrections, Update: Hi, upon reading this over later, I just wanted to say that I don't want to suggest that all skateboarders are addicts, ill, destructive, etc. Not at all. Many of these men were like brothers to me, and to each other, and of course many of them were just there for the fun, the camaraderie, and the sport of it. Absolutely...many did and still do lead productive, successful lives. But there is an underground side to this lifestyle as well. And I suppose there is a dark and a light side to us all, aye? Can't really have one without the other, and I have seen both sides. In later years, when doing research, I met many skaters who had lived through the dark side and later rose up to turn pro or whatnot. And then there were those who just let it go. And then there were many who kept on moving and riding, later rising up to help others. The whole gamut, as in all sections of life. Just wanted to clarify. Love, C.A.