sunny side up

excerpt

Cooking on a gas range top for months as the valve seems to slowly break.

At first, it was the eggs. I’ve had this stove for years, I know how to work with uneven heat.

Some mornings I had to throw them in the garbage and start again. I mean, eggs. I began to lose my patience.

But I can’t afford a new stove. The money just isn’t there. So, I do what I always do. I work with what I have.

In the middle of the night a few weeks ago, after three days in a row of giving up on breakfast and going to work hungry, I laid perfectly still, waiting for the breeze to reach my sweaty forehead.

Eyes open, looking at a stucco ceiling in the dark as the light from street lamps play with the ruffled leaves and cast certain shadows, shapes that feel familiar.

A desire to give up cooking eggs altogether rising up from my chest, from somewhere behind my heart, but there’s nothing else for breakfast. That’s it. That’s all I have. Eggs that are delivered to my door each week as part of the communal fresh food project I signed up for. It was supposed to reduce the grocery bills.

But now I can’t remember how to shop in a store. On the third day without breakfast, I tried to find something in the cereal aisle. Picking up boxes with shaking hands. Reading ingredients out loud, hoping a nice old woman would come by to offer help.

The store was pretty bare that morning. And nothing on the boxes made sense. I couldn’t figure out what I would have been ingesting, so I put the boxes down on the floor and walked out without anything.

Watching the blotches of light on my ceiling and how they don’t bleed into the shadows. Wondering what is the purpose of light that remains separate.

Going to the bathroom at four in the morning, splashing water on my face to wash off the sheen of sleeplessness. In the mirror, in the dim light afforded by a lamp I had left burning in the other room, I look at myself.

There I am. There is me. The me that I am right now. The me that is a harmonious collection of each moment I’ve lived so far.

If harmony exists, then so must discord. And this sets my tired brain cranking the handle that starts up the cogs.

Parts of me hurting parts of you the way they hurt me, the way you reacted to them.

Parts of you twisting parts of me the way they twisted you, the way they tied me down.

Parts of us working together to kick parts of them in the back of their knees, felling them the way they once tore us down.

Parts of them laughing at us, picking us up by the hair, flicking us back through the air.

Parts of them leaving us the way they were left, the way they would, so long ago, discard a stale, half eaten butter and sugar sandwich even though they were starving.

None of this makes sense to me at four oh nine in the morning. But there it is, a jumble of ideas flowing through my mind, coming out as words that might make sense later.

Back in bed, reluctant to close my eyes, hesitant to allow time to march forward.

To face another morning trying to make eggs when failure seems likely feels like too much.

I want to curl up under my blanket and stay all day, forgetting about everything, letting whatever needs to be done be put on hold.

Have I reached the summit, I wonder. Could this possibly be what the summit feels like?

I always imagined the highest point to come with elation.

And then I remember, almost eight months ago, how I climbed that steep hill and stayed with the breath that filled and then left my lungs.

At the top, I threw my hands up in the air like I had won the lottery. I knew somehow this would change things. And my nerves spoke gently to my mind. Somehow, I believed the accomplishment would bring a need to be more cautious.

Maybe this giving up on eggs for a day even though there is nothing else for breakfast is a low, not a high.

I can’t tell anymore, because so many summits have felt like pain and so many valleys have felt like relief.

POSTCARDS FROM HELL: leaving the cult

story 7

Once upon a time there was a girl named Anne who was born and raised on the campus of a clown university.

There were secrets and magic at the university. First of all, these clowns were no ordinary clowns. And the classes were no ordinary classes.

At this university, there was no classic training. No tramp, no auguste, no mime.

In fact, it was a cult masquerading as a university. And that meant everything that was taught was taught to support the singular self-serving ideas and ideations and delusions of the leader, the founder and CEO. The prophet Sir Gregory.

The self-appointed prophet had many wives and daughters and sons. Nobody gives a fuck about him anymore, though, not since the Feds infiltrated the cult and threw him into prison.

But some of the young up and comers in the cult had envisioned Greg’s demise years before the fall.

They began to work in secret to divvy up the inheritance.

You see, though these men would suit up and travel with circuses in public, what the cult really taught was metaphysical law and how to bend it.

These men were pulled off the streets and given shelter and food at their weakest, most vulnerable moments.

They were groomed based on their God-given talents.

Some were natural healers, others magicians, still others mediums and time travellers, shape shifters.

You name a gift and Greg had pulled it off the street.

Anne was betrothed at a young age to one recruit who was a talented telepathic. Her father chose him because he knew that unless he taught Basil how to handle that wild gift in the insane ego-driven world, the potential to lose his mind was always there as a way to control him.

But his skill came in handy. And he needed someone with flimsy morals to control Anne as she started to come into her own God-given talents.

The exchange was this: Basil would get the prestige and title of son-in-law plus a few other perks (like the keys to a certain purple basement room) and Basil would do the work of keeping Anne locked in an invisible metaphysical box with no windows.

At first Basil thought it was a little harsh, but Greg flashed the gold and he was charmed.

Anyway, as the cult began to fall, Anne’s marriage began to fall apart.

Other young men who had grown disillusioned with the lack of advancement in the ranks started making their own plans.

Many were sick of putting on their clown faces and going into the crowds like soldiers with no true purpose.

Anne’s father had never figured out a way to remedy that. In private, he cursed millennials for their strong sense of self and ability to know they deserve more when they are being cheated – either by themselves or those around them.

It was a truth he couldn’t distract from, take away from, turn into something else or hide.

As Anne was mourning the loss of something she once thought of as real, scheming and backstabbing was happening all around her.

She had no idea why anyone would want to spend time with her. She was the daughter of a tired old cult leader who was losing the respect of his inner circle, and the soon-to-be ex wife of a man who had never thought of her as more than a pay out.

But they did. They did want to spend time with her. She hated the fighting. She hated competition.

And one night, while she was sleeping, a man who was really good at being invisible put a magic hood over her head and transported her to his room.

Anne wasn’t aware there were magic hoods. She had been taught nothing. The whole reason for Basil was to keep her as far away from learning about her natural talents as possible.

But this hood was able to daze and fog any person. It made a person more susceptible to brainwashing.

He set her up in a bed. He told her she was sick and that he would nurse her back to health.

Anne was incredibly vulnerable at that time. As Basil was ordered to leave the complex, things that he had blocked from her mind started to flow back in. She started to feel terribly afraid of her father. And her mother.

The only two people besides Basil that she felt she could trust in her whole life.

The things that came in were so horrific and violent, Anne had trouble believing it at first, but the intense fear would not leave her.

Yves told her things were crumbling. He said that life would change but not to be afraid because he would always be with her.

She believed him. Yves was the first face she saw when he took off the hood.

Anne loved him, her savior. This man who picked her up and carried her away from trouble. She believed he would always keep her safe and take care of her. She thought he took the risk because he loved her.

But then Greg found out that Yves had betrayed him.

It became a war of manipulation and lies and defamation. They both took shots at each other’s futures using the dark power of knowing how to bend the universal laws.

Anne was stuck in the middle of the danger without even knowing.

Yves would go out at night and she didn’t ask any questions. It wasn’t her place.

She was raised to be complacent. Just curious and lively enough not to raise red flags with anyone Greg or his wife had to interact with outside of the cult.

Yves presented himself as a knight who would rescue Anne and her unborn child.

Greg didn’t know about the unborn child when he ostracized Basil.

Yves had had a vision about the child, though, and if Anne hadn’t been hooded, she might have questioned his motives.

But she was too vulnerable when Yves swooped in to do anything but be thankful.

As the war raged on, the years went by. Anne’s child was born. A beautiful girl. She named her Rebecca.

Yves said he would teach Anne some basics to keep her safe. He said she had so much innate talent, it wouldn’t take much teaching at all.

But he was always busy clowning. He said he had to or Greg would know for sure that he was the traitor hiding his daughter.

In the meantime, Anne enjoyed more freedom than she ever had in her life, and she really liked the new neighborhood.

Her and Rebecca would go for walks and play in parks. They would go out for lunch sometimes with the money Yves left for groceries. It wasn’t actually his money. But there it was, in a jar in a kitchen cupboard.

Anne wanted a burger. Back home, they used to eat burgers all the time. Even though she knew it was no longer a happy place, Anne still missed it. It was her home. All she knew. She had nothing else but memories and this tiny apartment where Yves had taken her and claimed her for himself.

On the street one day, as she and Rebecca headed out for lunch, she bumped into a man. Literally bumped into him.

She was looking away at Rebecca, and this man was looking down at a book.

He smiled. She smiled. There was something familiar in his eyes. But she didn’t know what to call it.

It turned out this man worked on that street. And more and more, Anne would find herself going into the store to say hello without really saying hello.

This new world was wonderful and terrifying at the same time.

People just spoke their mind. Without hesitation or permission.

There were no rules.

Anne wished there was rules. Only so she would have some idea of what to do, where to go, how much of herself to share.

She was used to giving all of herself to anyone her father had okayed as needing her gifts.

Which, as far as Anne could tell, was her attention.

But to give her attention without command was seen as blasphemous. A brazen overstepping of her role.

But Anne kept going back. She loved to play with the wooden and steel puzzles as she sipped her tea and watched the world.

Yves, of course, though he was away clowning almost always, knew that Anne had met this man.

He never said he would marry her, but he made it clear he didn’t want Anne to be with other guys.

It was all very confusing for Anne, but familiar as well.

She loved Yves and would do anything for him. Anything.

But she didn’t want to be her mother. Wife one of fifteen.

Yet, Yves had rescued her. And that meant something to her.

So, she kept her interest in this man platonic.

One day, Yves came home from clowning and told Anne they would have to move. He couldn’t keep her and her daughter anymore.

He had run out of money. He had nothing left.

Anne didn’t know what to do. She had never been in the world all by herself. She had Rebecca to take care of. She didn’t know what she could do to make money.

Yves said he couldn’t take care of her. He had to go. He was sorry, but she was on her own. He knew she could do it, though. He believed in her.

She stayed on her own in that apartment as long as she could after Yves left. But the landlord started threatening eviction after one month short. And money for food was running out quickly.

Anne had no choice. She had to call her parents and beg them to take her and Rebecca in. She knew that she would be punished. She knew she would likely pay for the rest of her life.

Part of her wanted to explain the situation to the man down the street, but the last thing she wanted to do was pull him into the clown cult.

She knew the best thing she could do for him was to keep him safe the only way she could think of.

Yves had never been around, so the man assumed she was fully single. And there was no way to explain the clown who had rescued her from the cult run by her father.

She started to wear a ring on her left hand. She had found one in a bubble gum machine and it looked realistic from a distance.

About two weeks before her parents came with a moving truck to take her back, Anne walked down the street while the man was taking a break.

Her heart was breaking but she was good at burying grief and fear. Rebecca wanted to say hello, but Anne said no, they had to go to another store.

He had an expression on his face that she couldn’t scrub from her mind no matter how many years went by.

The man never knew what came of Anne. And though Anne prayed for him, she never saw him in her dreams.

She did mail a letter before she left. But she had no way of knowing if it got to him, or if he would understand what she was trying to say.

(photo from madonna bible on Twitter)

POSTCARDS FROM HELL: shore fire

story 2

Thinking about metaphysics again.

Some babies are read fairytales, some spend their hours listening to npr, but I was a baby who learned the imprint of human voices that carried waves through long monologues that basically consisted of the philosophization of metaphysical principles.

They seemed very malleable back then – haha I hope you get the joke or at least understand that I’m making a joke.

I was raised first listening to, then actively participating in friendly debates in relation to one man’s idea of the nature of reality.

I was told taking short cuts is for sissies.

I was quite present and needing love, comfort, acceptance, while listening to the man who gave me shelter talk himself in circles about the nature of reality.

Is it even real? What is real? Is this table real if it consists of the same material – particles – that make up things that are invisible? How can a molecule create something solid if it can also create something invisible, and not at all able to hold me.

The way, for example, the ground can hold me. Can it, though? Can it really? I mean, what are we made of? Is the ground solid? Is it real? What is real?

My mind grew this way. Not the way a tree grows around a chain link fence, but the way her roots grow in soil and reach out to form part of the network.

Short cuts are for wimps.

It means you can’t do the real thing.

And as I got older, I would respond “But what is reality?” and he would laugh. Ah, you got me there. But I hadn’t really. I had regurgitated a simple sentence that I didn’t understand back to the man who taught me the sentence. He expected it.

This was my safe space.

The spaces unlike this were cold. Unpredictable.

I was raised to wait for the second marshmallow. I was shown more than sugar for my patience. Approval. Ding. Praise. Ding.

And if I did not wait, something slightly different. Just a few degrees cooler. A simple, ‘oh’ in a tone I had learned was reserved for disappointment, exclusion. A ‘maybe next time’. A passing over.

Having watched the reaction of others who had been passed over.

So, I waited.

But sometimes ‘real’ life got in the way of those little games and I was left in the care of another while I sat at the table and waited for my second marshmallow, the first sitting perfectly still in front of me.

The creators of the test he used weren’t cruel – marshmallows don’t radiate smell like a bowl of soup. I wasn’t starving. But looking back, I see that it wasn’t an act of kindness.

The marshmallow was chosen to eliminate factors, to bring about the cleanest results possible.

And when I was put into the room under a certain set of circumstances and ‘real’ life got in the way, another scientist would come in to get me.

Angry about something that I never understood. Mean for reasons I couldn’t shush with my keen ability to follow rules.

No matter what I did with or for the second scientist, there was no way to predict how she would react whether I listened to the rules or not.

More often than not, the rules didn’t make sense. Not to me.

Sit down. Shut up. Go away. Leave me alone. Come here. Do you see what I’m doing here? Stop that. Someone’s coming over, get your finger out of your nose – we’re not heathens.

Watch tv, not too loud, I’m on the phone, don’t push your sister, I said not too loud, don’t you see I’m busy, what’s wrong with you, why can’t you listen to me, you know how to listen and I know because I hear about it all evening long, you’re doing this on purpose, you’re trying to punish me, you’re a little shit disturber, go outside, you’re driving me crazy.

And I never got the second marshmallow.

So, the next time the first scientist would tell me it was time to go into the room, I’d say no.

That was part of the game. Saying no. There was always space allowed for the weird and wonderful things tiny humans did. Because we are pure. We have no confines other than those we learn. Those we are taught.

Why not? Did I do something wrong? No, of course not. Not you. It could never be him. Or the scientist wouldn’t play. ‘Real’ life would get in the way much more quickly.

The conditions couldn’t have been more perfect. Those that were controlled. And those that couldn’t be controlled.

I am still struggling with the concept of short cuts. They seem deeply rooted as a sure fire way to bring collapse to everything I’ve worked so hard to create.

One short cut and it might all crumble. The entire idea I’m basing a life on might be claimed by the sea while I have my back turned tending to the small fire I created with a short supply of sticks and kindling that I rushed to gather as twilight approached, having been distracted all day by an elusive school of fish.

What is a short cut? I don’t know exactly. That definition, as many others, was left open-ended.

And it seemed fun at first. Considering the alternative. It was fun until I suddenly found myself on the beach beneath approaching night scrambling to find a safe place to sleep.

Kiss me now, I have food in my lungs.