A fever dream without a fever, mayhaps. A long night-to bed early, early to rise-spent tossing and turning and in restless spaces between blankets and sheets and a pile of pillows meant to make me feel less alone. Cloth lovers’ arms around me, all.
The dream was winding.
This way. That way.
At first just the two of us. Then, as we walk, another. And another. Four of us approach the door of the modest apartment. Excited hushes and shushes precede us as we drawn near. A rhythmic knocking, and sparkling eye, the night paints the scene around us dark, the fire from inside the building peeps out between old insulation edging the door and through the slats of the dusty blinds. Blinds exist in a state of perpetual dustiness. The lock clicks open, the door wedges out a bit and a beam of warm light escapes. Whispered secrets pass from guide to gatekeeper and back again, and we are permitted entry. At this point, I am aware I am a visitor in a foreign land. This threshold is not a normal one, but one into a different realm where other sorts of things and people rest. I am not of this place, but am permitted on a trial basis. The room yawns before us. I try to follow my guide, but he has long legs and knows the terrain and the inhabitants. Where his casual greetings suffice, I am asked who, what, and why. Where he steps nimbly over lounging bodies and furniture, I scuttle around a labyrinth of barriers no taller than 4 feet.
When I realize I have completely lost my guide-or maybe it was him who completely lost me-I notice a witch, mostly naked and lacquered in gold and black paint. Her skin shimmers and cobwebs hang from her hat. Her long black hair tumbles in a tangled mass over her shoulders. She beckons me over with a neon green-tipped finger. I sit in an overstuffed chair beside her, suddenly aware that I am very tired. My bones sink through my flesh and come to rest gently as the cushion compresses beneath me. She leans across the chasm between the furniture, her face so close to mine I can see her pores and smell the moss in her hair. She smiles and asks how I am. I mumble-a string of consonants and vowels, a string of nonsense-she smiles knowingly and sits back in her chair, her curiosity sated. A sly smile precedes her invitation to the romp.
It is now the room comes alive. There are live bodies streaming like water in a gully. Singing, dancing, leaping, laughing through the room. They skip through the space like blood through a heart, from one hallway across a gap to the next to shuttle forward. I am swept up in them. I am swept up by them. They continue choosing to keep me. They continue abiding my bumbling, grief-addled mind.
We do not exit where we entered. Our escape is made through a cabinet in an impossibly small kitchen. We walked through night dark before arriving at the apartment; we now bound in the cold, clear light of midday. The sun pelts us-our eyes stunned and renewed. In this new place I am watchful, but do not spy my guide. The others, sparkling and tall and short and wide and thin and green and blue and silver all usher me through the streets. We dart across traffic-the drivers turning loops in the roads, our bodies small, darting birds testing our speed and agility. We listen to crowds of people in fields playing soccer with friends and walking down sidewalks conversing. We see a great museum, dead. The marble horses in front shine a plastic green reminiscent of roadside carnivals. The columns which once beckoned visitors to learn now shimmer with cheap gold plating and disco ball lights. I turn to discuss this marvel of evolution with the others.
And I wake up. The sounds of their flutes recede. Is that the fire alarm going off down the hall? The building shudders and sways. An earthquake? The air heavy. The end? It is 3 am-dear witching hour dear witching hour, but only because I went to bed at 8-and no, there are no alarms, there is no earthquake, there is no end. The ringing in my ears recedes as I grow more alert. The gentle movement of the building is wind pressing outside and my pulse pressing from within. The air becomes air again, light and clear as is best.
Today is 7 years and 1 day since my mother passed. Today I ache and can’t tell if it’s grief? The dream? Stress? Grief.
Time moves slowly. It moved even more slowly yesterday. Maybe this perception of time crawling is a sign that I need to steep in this visceral experience.
Sometimes the missing is great.
The earth sang to her, gave her missives in her bones. It cried to her, “You are more than this! You are stronger than this! You are a wild queen meant for the rivers and glens, flocks and packs!” Day after day she fought this song coursing through her. Every day she played threnodies for her own soul to drown out the song of the earth, to convince her bones that her civilized existence, while the death of her soul, was the right thing. The overpowering thing.
Her existence continued like this for years: the earth sung to her melodies of wild love and exuberant pain and for years she drowned it out as best she could.
One morning she woke to silence. Her patient lover, the earth, was no longer singing. The quiet rocked her, a void as cold as space but claustrophobic like a gathering of demeaning peers. She listened, laying still in her bed. She turned to her side and pressed her ear into her pillow, hoping the tune was quiet, muffled beneath her bed, but she heard nothing.
She crawled from her bed, to the floor, and pressed her ear to the scratchy grey carpet. Now she rested only feet from the dirt, from the soil, from the lifeblood that clotted beneath her home. Still she could hear nothing. She wept. Quietly at first, because she didn’t realize she was sad. She didn’t know how great her missing was.
As she lay there weeping the minutes ticked by. Slowly. Slowly. Slowly. But as her weeping grew to the mourning cries of widows and children of war she knew, in the back of her mind, her time was running out.
The safe world was striking up a call: pull yourself from the floor, deny that vibrant, animalistic pulse beating in your heart, for you are my child now. She slowed her tears. She took deep breaths of the air conditioned air and dug her nails into the synthetic carpet scratching her skin.
She slowly, slowly pulled herself to her knees, then to her feet. She shuffled to her closet and dressed. She pulled herself, step by step, to her bathroom and plastered her face with makeup, the war paint she donned to protect her from her own insecurities.
She was a sleeping body drawn by unnamed forces to the door. Her hand knew without her consciousness to grab her purse and keys, to lock the door behind her. She sat in her car, key in the ignition, but stopped. The soft call of domesticity increased its pitch, increased its volume, increased its demand. “Drive. Drive. Drive. Drive, my dear.” It commanded. It pleaded. It cajoled.
She clutched the key, her hand growing angry at being clenched so tightly. Her arm began to tremble and the tremble infected her shoulder, her lips, her heart.
She turned the key and backed the car into the street. She began her commute. The city song eased, sure it had won.
She entered the crowded highway, contested with others bound to the urban mother’s milk. She saw in the fume-filled highway her brethren in their own paths, in their own cars. They sat, angry, sad, empty. She saw the exit leading away from the city. Away from what she knew. Away from what she had built herself into. She flipped the sun visor down and met her own gaze, black mascara tears running down her cheeks.
She considered stopping. She thought how quickly she could end it all in a hot car on the highway. She knew the paramedics wouldn’t be able to reach her for half an hour after a call was placed. How long before her highway-bound brethren noticed her slumped in her seat?
As the cars inched she felt herself grow nearer surrender. When the traffic slowed to a stop, she told herself she would do it.
As the cars’ brake lights flared in front of her she knew. Her car slowed with the rest, now in line with an exit leading away from her goal. She put the car in park and cut the air. She began to sweat. She grew restless and angry. As the heat grew around her, an entity of its own, she heard it: the earth singing to her again. Her hope hadn’t died. Her fate wasn’t sealed.
So, I want to get a bachelor’s in drawing.
Art has always existed in me. I’m not sure from where it sprang: looking at it from a genetic perspective, none of my family has displayed an artistic predisposition. Even upon looking at it from an environmental viewpoint it can be noted that there wasn’t much to encourage me to do art in my home, but I did it nonetheless.
I began with what I could grasp: crayons on walls. I think a lot of people start there. Somewhere in the rampant scribblings of childhood, my interest changed from destruction to observation and creation. As a young child I began to use art to express my experience as a person.
My family, though they don’t “get” art and don’t do it themselves, was very encouraging. Once they became aware of my love of creating, they did their best to offer an environment where that passion was nutured. They provided me, early on, with paper and pencils, encouraged me to take as many art classes as I desired, and, as my skill level grew, provided nicer media with which I could create.
Upon completing high school, I was under incredible pressure to choose a school and a “viable” career path. Not wanting to abandon art, I decided to do graphic design, enrolled in and was accepted into the design program at UNT. As a 17 year old, I was wholly unprepared for such a competitive program and for the social climate pervasive in and around UNT. I ended up dropping out, even though I was meeting with some success in (progressing through) the design core.
I took a break and lived with a friend for a while in a small house in Denton. It was an ill-kept house, and a January storm sent the sopping ceiling down on all of my possessions. The accumlated mold and rat carcasses made the house unliveable, and I ended up moving in with my parents. At that time I decided to pursue an associate’s degree in visual communication at Brookhaven. I adored my professors, classmates and the school. My experience there was an idyllic one and I graduated without issue.
I decided to attempt to find a job and work to save money before returning for my bachelor’s degree. I applied wherever I could, but could not land a design position. I found a barista position with Starbucks, and thus began my long tenure there. I made attempts to find design jobs during my time slinging coffee, but didn’t meet with any luck. I had a go at doing freelance design work, but found it wasn’t what I enjoyed.
In the midst of my years spent working for Starbucks, my mother lost her battle with cancer. For a decade she fought it, and, even as she grew small and weak, we had hope until the very end that one of the treatments would work. Hers was the first loss I ever experienced, and my grief was a maelstrom. For years afterward I lived in a sort of attempted “normal,” but never felt myself. I attended therapy, which helped, but grief cannot be assauged by anything but time and good company.
Shortly before my mother’s passing, I met a young man and began a relationship with him. We spoke of my returning to school, but it was put aside to make room for other things. He wasn’t a bad man, but we were a terrible match, and it took my emergence from my grief to realize it. In late 2015 I left him, and have been on the warpath to acheiving my goals. Where I once waffled over choosing a degree which might assist me in landing a “normal” career, I have grown a determination and passion to instead invest my time and money in doing what I love. I love drawing. I love drawing more than I love painting or graphic design. I love it a whole lot more than the idea of spending my time learning to be an accountant, executive, or anything of that nature. Part of my recent determination to live as I want is in no small part influenced by the position I’ve recently held: the past year I have worked as a graphic designer creating funeral programs. Editing obituaries every day certainly helps keep things in perspective: life is brief, do what you love, do what you want and do it while you have the chance to. I want to draw.
My home town is a suburb of a bustling metropolis located in the hot heat and icy winters of central Texas. When young, my house stood one street away from a field of cattle. My parents would often take my sister and I to the barbed wire fence running the length of the field to feed carrots and apples to the gentle beasts. When the field was sold, and the city moved in to build houses and a middle school, all sorts of small denizens of the earth came creeping into the neighborhood. I witnessed, in the exaggerated vision of my youth, a snake, ten feet long and white as alabaster, creeping its way through the dry, caked dirt and rustling, yellow grass. I saw, to my bewilderment and excitement, a tarantula which easily measured five inches in height, parade down the alleyway as if he were mayor. I passed the afternoons counting scorpions in their rush to relocate, scorned from their homes by bulldozers and cement trucks.
The change was drastic: in a matter of years the quiet neighborhood grew to thrice its original size, and boasted an elementary and middle school. I had no problem finding friends, for it was a popular group of homes for young parents. I ran wild in the dusk, yowling with my friends like a feral thing in the setting sunlight. There was no greater joy for me than watching a great thunderstorm roll across the sky, counting with bated breath the time between flash and boom to see how fast the wind pushed the tempest, and hiding in the open garage when the sky let down its fury. Time passed and I aged, my friends aged, their families aged, and their homes aged. The neighborhood is less polished than it once was. Each street is host to at least one neglectful homeowner who lets their shrubs devour their house and leaves their grass to grow as high as their knees. Some crime has crept in: an assault here, a theft there, but for the most part the neighborhood remains safe.
The suburb outside the neighborhood is made of other neighborhoods, each essentially the same, and is pockmarked with grocers, pharmacies, fast food restaurants and churches. One shining exception to the demographics sprang up, on unsteady ground, in one corner of the suburb. People spent more than their life’s savings would ever amount to on palatial houses. Much to their chagrin, the houses were built cheaply and on unsteady land, and many of those glimmering trophies of false wealth cracked as the earth shifted below them.
Small snippet about my childhood home.
Peering through the rusted door’s window, Grace mouthed the words, “Do as I say,” and pointed to the corner behind Opal where Eli had just pushed his way through another door. Coalescing in the shadowed corner behind him stood a specter, dark and ominous. Opal rushed, her limbs suddenly weighted as though full of sand, to intercept the ghoul, but her vision went dark as she crashed to the floor. She knew her failure by the taste of blood issuing from her split lip.
I’ve finished cleaning up the novella I wrote. Come to find out, the novella wasn’t complete. I still have another chapter or two, maybe even three or four, to go. At the end of the document I found this snippet, which has nothing to do with the story, but might have, had I decided to integrate it. I thought it was a fun glimpse into the type of writing I’ve done for this project. Maybe I’ll find a way to work it into the story, but at the moment I feel that’s unlikely. I’m hoping to have this novella wrapped up in the next week or two; I’ve been working on it before and after work where time allows. I’m eager to get it ready to present to publishers. Maybe, just maybe, I’ll get lucky and get published.
I’m off to cross my fingers, hash out a chapter, and down a hot toddy against this chilly February weather. What’s your favorite cold weather drink?
After years of nudging the tie was finally severed, and exaltation ensued. What once had been a tug-of-war, a cajoling to trust where words were not allowed to tip toe through fear or hurt, was now a vast openness. A great, rickety scaffolding built around air, around the lack of substance and words unspoken, or spat too loud, had toppled leaving only whispers of past structures playing in the wind: “Trust. Trust in me even though I react with daggers and thorns. Trust that my reaction is that of an honest and moral man. If you trust, you will have no need to discuss it. If you trust, you will not bat an eye when I enter knowingly into questionable situations.”
I look at my past as a great font of inspiration, a well of stories blurred by emotions, bubbling, waiting to be tapped, watered into the flowers, misted onto the hornet’s nest and settled in words and art.
Tonight I will toast myself for having a light & happy Valentine’s Day.
Through tangled slabs of cracked cement,
Through hot summers’ winds and sun,
Through rattlings loud and sonorous,
This tiny tree did grow.
Prints of my dear tree available here.