The Girl Who Knew Shit

The group home is where I hear Pink Floyd: The Wall for the first time. There are 10 of us. Two teenage girls have their own room next door while the rest of us younger girls sleep in the other room with four bunk beds. The teenagers don’t usually talk to us, except to bum cigarettes or laugh at us for Not Knowing Shit. They dress in black with torn jeans and 80’s hair. They only want to hear bands with 80’s hair on MTV. They’ll ruin our game of Skip-Bo if we don’t let them control the TV. Nancy has the big black hair, and Susan has the teased up blonde. Their laughter is mean and screechy, like metal eating another piece of metal.

I keep quiet and warily study them. There were teenagers where my mom lives, too. They’d hunt us from carport to carport, and if they caught us, they threw us in the dumpsters. So I keep my distance from these teenagers, just in case they also want to throw me somewhere unpleasant.

One day it’s just Nancy and me down in the basement where the foster kids live. I’ve given her wide berth, but she flits around me like I’m a power source she can’t resist. Finally, she’s like, “Hey, kid, over here,” and motions for me to follow her into her room.

I’ve watched Susan and Nancy work magic with their Don’t Fuck With Me faces, and I do my best now to imitate the angry eyes, the “whatever, man” frown. I saunter toward her, not too slow, but not too fast, either.  For all I know, Nancy’s in her room waiting to shiv me with a sharpened, un-sanctioned toothbrush.

Their room is smaller than ours and finished in white brick. A dumpy dresser with a boom box sits against one wall, a flimsy bunk bed on another. Nancy waves me toward the bottom bunk. “Here,” she says, pulling back a ratty blanket. She points down at a wet stain on the sheet. “Look,” she says, “It’s cum.”

She waits for my response, head cocked, coal-lined eyes fixed on mine. I sense a make it or break it moment. “Wow,” I say, dead serious. “Impressive.”

Nancy throws her head back and cackles. “We had two dudes here last night, and nobody knows!” She struts over to the boom box and turns it on. Crude rap lyrics tumble out. “Have you heard 2 Live Crew yet? This shit’s nasty.” She jumps around the room and shouts lyrics.

I listen, quiet, as my face turns red. The lyrics are disgusting. So disgusting they’re funny. I giggle, laugh, and after a few minutes, yelling just as loud as Nancy.

Me: Suck! My cock! And I’ll eat yer pus-sy!

Nancy: Eat! My Pussy! Eat! Eat! My pus-sy!

When the tape is over, Nancy looks me over. She flings a Metallica t-shirt from the bedpost to my chest.  “Here,” she says, “wear it.” She reaches over to the dresser, picks up an opened pack of Marlboros. Places them in my hand. Appraises me. “Smoke these.” Pauses. “And listen to this,” she thrusts a cassette tape at me and smiles at her own generosity. “Now, get out.” She pushes me into the hall and slams the door. Just like that, I’m banned again.

Late that night, when everyone is asleep, I pull out the lighter and the ashtray the younger girls use to secretly smoke in the house and lay it on my bed. I rummage through my dresser drawer until I find my Walkman.

Back on my bed, I pull out the cassette tape and study the cover. “Pink Floyd The Wall” is splashed like blood across a white brick wall. I put the cassette in and place the earphones against my ears. I expertly light a cigarette—I’ve seen my mom do it millions of times—and suck in. When my eyes stop watering, and I’ve mostly stopped coughing, I hear the first faint lines of a pained, angry voice surmising the next decade of my life:

“So ya, thought ya, might like to—go to the show.

To feel the warm thrill of confusion—that space cadet glow.”

 

The Home {Chef} Break-in

When I was six, I lived next door to Jude and Justin in a sleepy but central neighborhood in Boulder, Co. The brothers weren’t allowed in my house, but sometimes their large and boisterous family would invite me into theirs, which was always an exciting thing: to get to play INSIDE. It was the early 80’s and children were still expected to run around outside from morning ‘til the streetlights turned on.

Their cluttered house stored so much stuff and people, I never knew where to look first. Every space occupied something. Toys lay scattered on the kitchen floor. Heaps of laundry piles dotted the living room like small fabric volcanos. Babies in droopy diapers ran around sniffling and sticky-fingered, while their mom and dad yelled and laughed, laughed and yelled.

One sunny day I wandered over to Jude and Justin’s to see if they wanted to play. Their house stood eerily quiet that afternoon. The porch slanted at an odd angle. The whiff of poverty normally hidden hung more noticeably over the barren yard without the frenetic bodies there to obscure it. I climbed up the steps to knock on the door anyway. Maybe they were all asleep on some giant family bed, like the Walton’s. No one answered. I tried the knob, and it clicked open.

A person doesn’t just walk into another person’s house. I knew that.  But I figured, hey, I’m no stranger. If they’re napping, I could say I’m merely looking for them, which I was. And no one ever told me I wasn’t welcome there when the family was gone, so…

The chaos inside absent Jude and Justin’s family was like a movie set without its characters. Like walking in on the aftermath of an alien abduction. All the blinds were drawn, and the air was cold. I stood in the middle of the kitchen, shifting from one foot to the other. Now that I was in, I wasn’t sure what to do.

I’d visited during breakfast before and watched as Jude and Justin’s dad cooked scrambled eggs, bacon, and buttered white toast. Now, I peered into the cavernous refrigerator. Tubs of unidentifiable foods were stacked next to vegetables in various stages of decay. A plated stick of butter lay atop an inordinate amount of eggs. An idea popped into my head: I’d make scrambled eggs.

I pulled out the butter and set it on the counter, grabbed a dirty knife from the sink and chopped off a corner to put in my mouth. The mixture of salt and fat tasted horrible on its own. Not like when slathered on a piece of white toast. I looked around. No bread. I went back into the fridge for the eggs, grabbing about five or six.

I randomly opened cupboards until I finally found the cast iron pan I’d seen their dad use. I placed it on the gas stove and stood back. Now that I had committed to the task and had my items assembled, I felt pretty confident I could remember how to make the eggs.

It involved a lot of stirring, I recalled, so I searched drawers for a fork and pushed the whole stick of butter into the pan. I turned the stove knob closest to me up to two.

Standing on tiptoes afforded a better view of what might be happening on the stove top. So far, nothing was happening. I cracked six eggs into the pan and stirred, mushing down the butter as best I could. The eggs coalesced into an orangish, gloopy soup, while chunks of butter floated on top.

It wasn’t cooking. I turned the knob as far to the right as it would go. A loud clacking sound filled the kitchen, surprising me into dropping the fork into the slime. I quickly turned the knob back to two and fished the fork out, getting sticky egg all over the stove, the counter, and my hands.

Suddenly, things weren’t feeling so good. Eggshells peppered the entire area, including the floor. The fork was already gluing itself to the counter. And the damn eggs in the damn pan sat there, uncooked, accusing me.

Why the heck had I thought I could get away with this, making scrambled eggs at all, much less in someone else’s house? I wasn’t even allowed in there! The entire kitchen exuded incriminating evidence. I was gonna get caught. The adults would want to know why and I wouldn’t have an answer.

What I needed to do was clean up the crime scene, hide the evidence. I grabbed a dirty sponge from the sink and halfheartedly scrubbed the stove top.  My chest tightened, and the sponge fell to the ground. I slowly stepped away from the stove, panting.

I took three more steps backward. Slowed my breath down. The egg-filled pan didn’t really look that out-of-place compared to the rest of the kitchen. In fact, it fit right in.

There’s nothing saying they didn’t leave those eggs there on the stove, I decided, walking toward the door. It’s possible that they left them there, and didn’t care to clean up their mess. Look at the rest of the house. What a pigsty.

I stepped on the porch, considering. No one would ever think that a person came in, made eggs, and left. Because who would do that? It didn’t make any sense.

No sense at all, I decided, locking the door behind me.

 

 

 

Check out this daily prompt: egg 

(Listing) Fears of My Life

The red book with the scraggly drawings on the cover which is prominently displayed on my living room bookshelf is called Fears of Your Life, and it is written by Michael Bernard Loggins, list-maker extraordinaire. Inside is page after page of Loggin’s fears, plaintively laid out in a simple, bare-bones script that accentuates the earnestness of his endeavor.

I am so enamored by Loggin’s raw truthiness, I decide to make my own list of fears. I start late one night, after several beers and a few slices of pizza.

  1. Fear of drinking until I become an alcoholic
  2. Fear of this nightly tickle in my throat growing until I wake up one morning realizing I have emphysema
  3. Fear of a drone outside my living room window recording and posting candid nose picking shots of me onto Nosepickers.com
  4. Fear of realizing that in jail, I am the bully, or the kiss up, or the sodomy instigator. That I am not the convict with a heart of gold

Mr. Loggins is considered to have a developmental disability. He has found an outlet for his art and writing at Creativity Explored, a visual arts center in San Francisco. They cultivate a platform for artists like Loggins, people that perhaps would be overlooked in a more conventional setting.

There are the usual suspects on Loggins list, like:  42. Fear of Death or 26. Fear of Bees and 13. Fear of Being Lost. Then there are the fears of a more particular variety:

50. Fear of being spank by a principal when a parent give an permission

Fear #2: I fear that those tv. People would take off my favorite cartoon. The Rugrats off the air and wouldn’t be able to watch them anymore for a long long, long time. “Please let well enough alone.” Please don’t take my Rugrats cartoon off the air because I love that cartoon. Let there be a possibility that life with the Rugrats stay put means leave my Rugrats cartoon on tv. Michael said.

I can certainly relate to that. When I heard a (false) rumor that Better Call Saul wasn’t going to be given a second season, I seriously considered writing a letter. Or, Jesus Christ, all the shows that get preemptively cut, and we never get to know the end, the creators ending vision?!? That’s the absolute worst.

  1. Fears that my mental illness holds my husband back and that he would be more successful if I killed myself
  2. Fears of my husband dying before me and I won’t be able to tell him what it is like to live without him
  3. Fears that instead of our lives getting better, our lives will get worse and we will have to survive an apocalypse in our sixties

Sometimes Loggins will tag his fears with “Michael said,” or even write out his entire name. It’s almost like there are just some fears one has to super-double claim.

Loggins lives and moves around in the city, so a lot of his fears involve transportation issues, like:

Fear #5: I’m afraid of my fear of crossing the streets of San Francisco when there are so much safety rules of streets for people to go by the laws and not break those safety rules….

  1. Feared that the bus driver is driving much too fast like if he don’t know how to stop it or he tries slowing it down some so that he wouldn’t hurt bunch of passengers

Fear #7: Only dangerous thing about stop lights they don’t stay on long enough for you to change your mind about crossing the street…

It reminds me of a recurring bad dream where I am driving up a long windy mountain road and can’t stop myself from plunging over the cliff and into the ocean. Cars and transportation are easy access to anxieties about control, and the loss of control, so I can see why such worries take up so much list space.

  1. I fear time will freeze and I will use that opportunity to pinch someone’s nipple, Amy said.
  2. I fear I will fail so many times at the same thing that people will stop believing I am capable of change says Amy Bee.
  3. I fear there is more bad to me than good, more dark than light, more selfish motivation than compassion. And everyone already knows this except me Amy Bee.

One of my favorite fears on Loggin’s list comes at the end, and I find it so sweet and touching and achingly universal:

Fear #45: Afraid this is the last thing that ever occur to me. This is the end of Fears of Your Life page in my book. Tuesday February 19, 2002 is when Michael Bernard Loggins finishes these pages up. So there be the last to be done for Michael Bernard Loggins. Congradulation! Michael my Buddy buddy! Pal you did it you got it done.

Loggins knows fear, and therefore, Loggins knows people. It’s as if he has his fingers on the crux, the tender spot of what is us, what it is to be people, what it is to be the same and connected, and yet unique and alone.

So alone.

Fear #?? One night  I finished the beers, I wrote a list of all my fears, and it occurred to me these may be my last thoughts. Oh well, Amy Bee! You did it! You got it done! The End!

*All fears in italics are the words of Michael Bernard Loggins, from his wonderful book, Fears of Your Life

Spaces with Men

*Friendly advisory: domestic abuse*

A Job

I’m an assistant manager working the graveyard shift. Every night I organize the aisles, count the cigarettes, stock the cooler. They hired Gary to help me out; to take care of customers and clean the store while I make orders and reconcile the register. An assistant for the assistant. Gary is an old Harley guy who will smile when I ask him to make the coffee and call me a bitch once I’ve turned my back. He is a man who whose ego is easily bruised, so I humor him the way all women have learned to humor men. I play distraught by tasks so that he can think he is saving me rather than taking orders from me. If he can portray not just daddy, but sexy, virulent daddy, he is temporarily soothed, and I can get my work done. If he catches any whiff of actual competence from me, it’s back to calling me bitch.

We are in the middle of this humiliating dance when a neighbor calls to say she saw my Ex climbing into the bedroom window of my apartment. I cradle the phone with my shoulder, watching Gary’s face grow red as he takes apart the nacho cheese dispenser, angry at doing women’s work, I suppose. His fingers leave cheese prints all over the steel counter, the nacho trays, the backroom sink. Like a little boy waging petty revenge against his mother.

I thank my neighbor and hang up. I’m sure my own face is raging red now, thinking of my ex, sitting in my apartment. Waiting. Maybe with the T.V. on. Maybe smoking my pot. The fucker.

“Gary, I have to run to my house,” I say. “You are gonna have to do the rest of this yourself.”

Bitch, I’m sure I hear as the glass doors swoosh shut behind me.

 

A Home

How could I have fucked this guy, this asshole. Sitting on my couch. Watching my T.V. Smoking my pot. How could I have let him move in with me. What was I thinking? Things are going well, so let’s throw a bomb into the mix. And he is a bomb; a dirty bomb ready to spray chunks of metal and hatred onto anyone standing in the path of his kamikaze suicide. And here I chose to be the one standing in the blast range.

There are half-eaten nachos on his lap.  Nachos from my store. A greasy drop of cheese hangs from an arrogant grin. He knows. He knows he’s pushed me too far, and he likes the feeling. I reach for the tray; I want to spill that shit all over his weasel dick. But he is faster than me, up and over the coffee table; shoving me against the wall before I can even begin my tirade. He’s been ready, waiting for this moment, who knows for how long. Maybe forever.

I fight back at first. I bite his arm when he throws me to the carpet. He grinds my face so far into the beige shag that I can taste the litter my cat trails into every room. I struggle, but he isn’t just angry, he’s crying, wailing, waging war against demons much bigger, much older than our measly affair.

I go as slack as I can; I will wait him out. I will let him call me dyke and bitch and cunt and whore. I will stay as silent as can be. His hands wrap around my throat, holding on for dear life, repeating like a prayer: “I hope I gave you AIDS.” We are frozen in our embrace until the cops come banging on the door.

 

A Place

Only drunks get put in holding cells. The rest of us sit on the kind of plastic seats that plague DMV’s or waiting rooms. A sort of purgatory where time is suspended, and you are left with only your dark thoughts and your stupidity to keep you company. The walls are white, and there are no clocks. There are no windows, and there are no friends. We wait. For our mug shots. For our fingerprints. For our onesies the color of processed cheese.

The cop that arrested me was apologetic. The domestic violence laws in Colorado, he tsked. When I gave him the weed from my back pocket, he seemed to care for me a little less. When I said I lived alone, paid my own rent, and the fucker over there broke in, his face grew stoic. When I admitted those were my teeth marks on that asshole’s arm—but I was defending myself!—he took my tears as supreme female manipulation. In the eyes of the police officer, we are both culpable. He will let the system sort it out.

It’s not my first time in this place. It’s not my last. There will be many more times than this one where I will undress in front of someone I’d rather not. I’ll try to look tough. Unaffected by my circumstance. Too far removed to really be touched. Chin up, as they say.

If you’re quiet and follow their direction, chances are good they won’t pick you out. Don’t bother with logic or question their motives. It’s safer to shuffle along; keep your wrists slack so the cuffs won’t bite. They will be unimpressed by your story or your narrative or your traumatic history that led you here. They’ve heard it all before. You’re not new or unique. You’re just another woman in jail.

 

 

Foster Home #2: The Well Intended Couple

*This is an excerpt from a longer essay titled, “Into the System.” (W.I.P.)

 

They live in a rich community, and they can’t get pregnant. They feel sorry for me. They bear a vision of how I will be, with just a little polish and shine.

Their house looks like a furniture brochure. I look like a dust ball on their carpet. Stephanie takes me shopping. Blouses and pantyhose. A haircut and new earrings.

I get my own room upstairs, so clean and white. I can’t relax. I tip toe to the bathroom. I steal salami from the refrigerator.

I dream that they will adopt me and we’ll go on exotic vacations. They’ll fix me, and I’ll be their daughter. The child they couldn’t have.

Stephanie instructs me how to make lemon meringue pie. We talk. My voice sounds thick and unwieldy in the stainless steel kitchen. I strive to dazzle her with my charm and wit. I’m obedient. I’m a quick study. I’m worth keeping.

Sometimes I make her laugh. Sometimes I think she likes me.

I stay away from Bob. I don’t want to be alone with him, just in case. He works all the time. I wonder if I’m here as Stephanie’s project. I don’t mind.

Things are looking good for me.

She lets me have a sleepover. I show my friends around, proud. See what I landed. See how big my room is. See my new pretty family with sophisticated tastes. They are my family now, all mine. I get comfortable.

I get careless.

I want to be good for Stephanie. But I can’t tame my hair. Or my anger. Or my crying jags. I can’t smile all the time. I’m not organized. I’m not obedient. All the nice stuff they give me does not cover up the dents and dings.

I sense her disappointment. She is pulling away from me, finding new ways to occupy her time. I hide in the bathroom. I steal cold hot dogs from the refrigerator.

After school, I find the Social Worker on the couch with Stephanie. Stephanie has some issues. She has some concerns. You don’t clean your room, Stephanie says. You don’t use soap in the bath, she says.

I used the gel, I say. That’s for shaving legs, she says.

I’m sorry, I say.

She’s talked it over with the Social Worker. They think I would do better somewhere else. They are not the right people for me. I panic and beg. I plead until I run out of breath. I promise a spotless room and a clean body and perfect grades and the right attitude, anything if I can just stay.

One more day, I cry.

Go get your things, they say.

But I have no things to bring.

 

 

 

Remember These Things

I don’t know why I remember what I was wearing: tie-dye tank top and loose shorts past my knees no bra no shoes I went barefoot everywhere and that day the bus was empty I sat in the back just one long seat taking up too much space looking out the window smudged from greasy foreheads or fingers maybe a little girl’s head pressed against glass making hearts with peanut butter and strawberry jam hands? And that was the day my breast was sore from tiny marks around my aureole left by his braces. Train tracks he called them. It wasn’t love but it was fun and the bus hit a bump an empty beer can rattle-rolled back and forth in time with my belly sick and dizzy and full of fear I remember that rattle but I don’t know why.

I don’t know why I remember falling on the sidewalk, I just do, I do remember it solid cold grating against my cheek like a five o’clock shadow all those pebbles green and silver and yellow and tan making white concrete when you’re standing upright and I needed to be upright and not facedown tonguing the ground so I pushed myself back up into the world. It was a quiet day a perfect sunshine day a tiny breeze ever refreshing and all the quaint houses with their little green yards and beds of bright poppy flowers and sprinklers tick-ticking away a lovely neighborhood so lovely and not mine, I remember now it was the wrong bus stop and if there was a reason, I don’t know why.

I don’t know why I remember these things.

I don’t know why I remember these things about my mother: tarot cards, skinny jeans, a roach clip, a cigarette ember, white musk, a suitcase and a gun. She called me pumpkin. She divided my dark hair on each side to yank and braid and smooth and tie to perfection. My friends had a secret club they wrote her love letters and when she read them she smiled, happy for once. I remember swimming all day long, no I rode my bike all day long riding over to their houses to eat their food to take a bath in their tub to try on their clothes, play their games, any games they had so many like race cars, teddy bears, baby dolls, soccer balls, family nights, movie nights, please let me stay the night! Let me go camping with you! Let me go to the amusement park with you! I’ll even go to church! I remember a night at one house frozen on the hardwood floor no pillows or blankets or room on the bed and their house creaked so scary the shadows like claws on the walls wishing for my room my bed my mom I loved her so much I wrote her love letters, I remember. I remember my love red hot a terrible inferno.

I don’t know why I remember the bus number: 58. Route 58 from Boulder to Lafayette and back again every half hour from 6 a.m. to midnight except Saturday and Sunday good luck finding a ride then. It was the right bus the wrong bus stop. I had a little cry on the ground and heaved myself back into the world. Bold colors everywhere even on my ugly tie-dye. I wandered through the stupid fucking streets with the crappy little houses full of asshole people. The heat oppressive and my heart jackknifing in time with my heavy feet. Then there was the rattle in my pocket my fingers rolling back and forth across the label the scratch of fingernail to paper and plastic a ball of lint caught between my pinky and ring finger. Why would I remember that? Or how it was bright enough to want sunglasses and hot enough to want water and easy enough to swallow a bottle of pills all cotton mouthed and chalky throated and kids playing in the park, kids laughing and moms watching and dads working and all the people doing all their things and I told myself to remember it, I told myself…

…I don’t want to remember this next part.

Why I remember. Out of all the things I could remember: I wasn’t wearing a bra. I had no shoes. That my legs were hairy and I wanted to say sorry. That they were going to find the train tracks: it wasn’t love but it was fun. Everything was white lights and needles and loud machines: their hands, my head. My head especially firecrackers of blooming white flash bulbs of emergency crowding around me with distant voices and solemn faces looming full of slurred and silly gibberish. What a nonsense thing to remember but I do doctors and nurses and interns and my mother off camera and I was there too!  I was there black coal fizzing out of my throat the tube so cruel to my tongue and sucking up a swirling mess sick like on a swaying ship and no balance (no bra!)I’m choking on ocean I reach for the air, or wait— I grabbed for the rail—it was metal I think, no, no—it was a wet noodle it was a fish I couldn’t catch it was a pinprick in my arm and it was a little red balloon no a little green monster no it was blurry blubbery snotty fear no more voices no more white I hear them fuzzy through a tin can and I remember the earthquake feeling a terrible shaking a volcano ripping me like an inferno a tidal wave a bitter black heart that only I could see.

*This Essay was published in the March 2017 issue of Indiana Voice Journal. Check it out!

A Letter to My Therapy Group

Dear Group,

This illness has been my single most defining force, whether I wanted it to be or not. It has destroyed the last decade of my life, aged me beyond my years, worn me out and separated me from people I loved and from people who might’ve loved me back. It has always chosen the hard path, the path of most resistance, the quick escapes and easy ways out. It has shrunken my brain, widened my body, sagged my cheeks and dulled my eyes. It has stolen me from myself, stolen my time here on earth. It has been cruel. It has been unforgiving.

I sit here today, one hot mess.

I have been on medication now for two years, a.k.a. “managing my illness.” Progress has been slow. Before I finally admitted my illness and accepted help for it, I spent 10 years sequestered in my apartment. I’d go weeks without leaving or talking to anyone other than my husband. He was my only friend and my only family. Everyone else had abandoned me, some of them for a good reason. I simply did not feel like I deserved to be alive. I felt like I had failed as a human, and it was important to keep myself away from people so that I wouldn’t hurt them, and so they wouldn’t hurt me.  Isolation was my self-medication. It was my truth, my life, and my slow, tortured attempt at suicide.

Things have changed in the last two years. I am not constantly in the grip of my illness and medication has created a window of opportunity to think before I react, a skill impossible for people with bipolar to master without help and practice.  I have done a lot of healing and learning.  I am starting to want things for myself, and sometimes I even feel *gasp* hope.

I am better now, but here is the thing I need to share with you:  I am full of fear, and in spite of help and medication, I am continuing to punish myself through isolation. I recognize that I am at the stage in my recovery where I need to forgive myself, and rejoining the world is part of that process. But, group, my heart still believes that I don’t deserve life, friends, family, or a chance at some kind of self-fulfillment. I am paralyzed by the notion that I am unlikable, that I won’t be accepted, and that I have nothing to offer the world or myself.

It’s been so long since I’ve had relationships with other people. I am afraid that I will manipulate and hurt and sabotage them like I did so long ago. I am afraid to connect to people, feel close to them, go through the good and bad of what relationships have to offer.  I am afraid to find out that, even with the illness managed, I am simply not a worthwhile person.  That I am too needy to be a good friend. So far, I have not found a way to forgive myself, and I’m afraid I will never be able to figure out how to do so. It’s an infuriating and willful place to be.

That’s where I am, group. I’m lonely, I’m scared, I don’t really know who I am without the grip of mental illness defining my personality.

Thanks for listening,

Amy                                                                                                                      June 12, 2012 

(found while cleaning my desk)

*Photo Credit: Porsche Linn

Excerpt from 2016 Pacific Crest Trail Journal

*Earlier this year, I backpacked 700 miles of the Pacific Crest Trail (A 2,660-mile trail from Mexico to Canada.) The plan was to hike the entire distance, but I did not make it. Here is a journal entry from Day 7. Interested in reading more?(Bonus: I met a nudist hiker a few weeks in) Day 1 PCT 2016 I may share more here as I rummage through my journal, reminisce, and try to talk myself into trying again in 2017. It would be my third attempt. As Churchill says: “Success is stumbling from failure to failure with no loss of enthusiasm.”

(Day 7: March 20, 2016)

The trek from Chariot Canyon to Scissors Crossing was my final day on the trail last year, and it was an extremely painful 15 miles. I have regaled Aaron with stories about how the elevation profile for this part is a dirty LIAR and that we will go up for HOURS instead of a lackadaisical DOWN like the profile PROMISED. Of course, my memory is tainted with the amount of pain I was in. I remember the traverse of granite mountain as hellish, and the flat, crazy hot,  going-the-wrong-direction trail to the underpass as hell’s middle finger aimed at you when you turn your back. (Yes, I know hell has no fingers.)

What happens is: we wake up at dawn, tumble out of our tent with sleepy eyes, try to get water without waking up some hikers that came in the night, super- bandage all the blisters, click our packs, and take deep breaths. “This will be HORRIBLE,” I tell Aaron. And so we go.

And it’s….not so bad. The fact that it’s early morning and in the shade helps. A lot. “Just wait, suddenly we’re gonna go STRAIGHT UP,” I keep saying, but it never happens. Steep parts, sure. Hard? Yes; pretty much the whole trail is hard for me. But it’s not the monster that has plagued me for a year. “Whew, hard.” Aaron says when we reach the top, but I think he’s just protecting my ego. “Blisters, pain, so thirsty…” I mumble, a little shame-faced.

Thirst has been catching up, btw. We bring enough water, but not ENOUGH water, right? This morning I woke up a little horse. And water seems to be popping into unrelated thoughts more and more. Showing up in song lyrics. When Aaron tries to get me to play “What we’ll eat in Julian”, I can only conjure visions of water pouring from a pitcher.

We reach the flat, last few miles to Scissors Crossing. It’s so long. The dirt is burning my feet, expanding them, turning the skin into bubbles of future pain. And the trail goes the wrong way. Then changes its mind and cuts back along the road. Hot. Hot. Hot. Water.

We have water. But we don’t count on caches, so we mete it out because we will dry camp tonight. Yet both of us are secretly wishing: Please let there be water at Scissors crossing. Pretty please. We cross the street before the underpass, and spot some plastic hidden in the bushes. We rummage through them. “Nothing.” Aaron says, disappointed. Then I see it. “There!” I shout. One single, glimmering, beautiful 19oz bottle of fresh, glorious water. “Let’s share.” we gulp it down in minus 1 second. Oh, man. that’s the stuff.

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Finally at the Scissors, we find water, La Croix sparkling water, shade and cell service. Again, I marvel at strangers so going out of their way to help other strangers. We lounge in the shade like kings, taking pictures, texting, napping and making our customary stupid jokes. We do drink some of the water there, but don’t refill because others might need it more. It’s a fantastic break. Last year, when I got here, my feet were bloody and gross. Now they’re just….gross. Blisters, but not get-off-the-trail blisters. Not yet. Hopefully never.

It’s 3 and the hottest day, it feels like. But we want to head up into the San Felipe Hills. The trail looks daunting, how it hugs the side of the mountain, cutting steep-looking zig-zags up the slope. Oh well, let’s go.

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We cross the street and it’s like the desert instantly changes. There are all these alien-looking cacti everywhere. Things are stark. Things want to poke. Yet they are also blooming, giving mixed messages. And we are climbing, climbing, it’s windy and steep and never ending. It’s scary. But gorgeous. We are so far above Scissors Crossing. Did it even exist? Were we actually there? Maybe we’ve always been here, forever climbing.

The sun hits that magical hour where colors are enhanced, everything is super saturated and my heart swells with the beauty I am in the midst of. We find a campsite off the trail that feels like we are nowhere near civilization. It’s just us and red rocks, plants ever aiming their needles at us, a purple-pink sunset spreading over us while a blueish-white moon patiently waits for her entrance cue.

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It’s Time to Have an Uncomfortable Conversation With You

I wish there were a way I could talk to you. Somehow skirt around all the buzzwords and inflammatory memes. Avoid the phrases that cause you to relegate real events to political discussions, instead of arousing your sleeping sense of indignity at what is crushing the soul of our country and our humanity.  I want to loosen that tight grip you have on your heart, for you are strangling yourself. You are becoming cold and numb. The tighter you clamp your heart shut, the more you are constricting blood flow to your brain. Emotion has to go through your heart to get to your mind. Insight requires migration through your mind and back down to your heart. It is the circulatory system of knowledge. Knowing what is just and what is unreasonable.

You need to be affected by these deaths. You need to be affected by how we have all been failed by the people we put into a role of authority. Those whom wield power must be held to a higher standard. If they choose to accept the role of authority, they also accept scrutiny. They need to be smarter than us, quicker to glean the crux of a situation, and slower to react to heightened emotional provocation. This is a fair expectation—for our people in power to live up to the badge we have given them.  I know you feel resistive but think of all the other areas where you easily conjure up the expectation of justice and fairness: business, money. The government. We all inherently want the system to be scrupulous and unbiased. We want the institutions to work they way we’ve been told they do.

I feel that you, especially, are quite equipped to stand up to this flawed establishment. You are just as skeptical of authority as the ones in which you currently seem unable to commiserate. I even wonder why you aren’t the loudest of all of us: demanding change, reform. Accountability. I wonder why you don’t feel manipulated by the smooth talkers whispering in your ear and pitting you against your people. Yes, your people: Americans. Humans. Perhaps they contribute to your unwillingness to recognize abuse within an institution you hold up as honorable.

What can I say to you that won’t make you defensive? I want to tell you to look at your family. Your children. Envision them getting pulled over and something going horribly wrong. Imagine the phone call informing they are dead. The loss of control. The terror. The inability to change the outcome. It’s not a political thing. It’s not an ideological platform or an agenda or an opinionated debate point. It’s not even who is right or wrong. It’s just you, and your dead child. You can connect to that, right? Take out the rhetoric, and you can relate, right? Can you loosen your opinions, your vice-like grip even a little bit, and let in the shock of bitter loss? I want to believe you can.

I’d like to ask you to empathize. Just a little. Picture living in a community where no one looks like you. A community that has been told to fear you. And you have been told to fear them. Please don’t make arguments or conjectures. Just picture it. Feel uncomfortable, feel anxious about how you are perceived. I wonder if you need to experience this ‘difference’ to find common ground. Proximity can often breed compassion. I don’t know how else to counter the very human urge to believe that one’s opinions about the world are truth. That how things are for you are how they are for everyone. They are not. Acknowledging that on a fundamental level is not betraying your traditions or your politics or your way of life. It is a neutral acknowledgment. It is part of being a real person.

My guess is that deep down, you are scared. Scared of guilt and blame. Scared that wounds we were taught in school to think of as healed, might not be. You want to believe that our civil wars are over, and you don’t want to consider that you might be wrong. You’re scared to make room for all the different points of view, because what will that mean for you? Your perspective has been the main perspective for a long time. You haven’t truly been challenged like this before. You haven’t had to experience open hostility or judgment over things you can’t control. Like the color of your skin. Your motives haven’t been questioned so vocally that it has become part of the tapestry of our current cultural mood. But you need this growing pain. People are asking you to recognize the wound; that even if you can’t see it, trust that it is there. Because it is making us ill.

I can’t seem to figure you out. I’m confounded by your refusal to look and see what is happening. I’m often embarrassed, and I’m tempted to write you off and name you hopeless. But maybe that you feel fear is a good step. I say go into that fear. Feel uncomfortable. Be the unfavored group. Allow yourself to see what it is like to be characterized. Maybe it’s just finally your turn.

I’d like to consider you as able to be brave and grow, that you can be touched by the ordeal of others, you can do what I am doing now: trying to understand you. I am trying to see the flawed, yet generally good person that you surely are. I am trying to acknowledge your fears and motivations, trying to be kind and gentle with them. I’m telling you: loosen that death grip on your heart and you will feel a kind of relief. You will watch those videos and cry. You will hear that audio and want to tear your heart out. You will mourn our collective loss and hang your head in our collective despair. Come, and join us.

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Forming a Writing Habit in 6 Easy Steps: Carnanan Smithee is Here to Help

If you want to find the perfect system for producing the best words, don’t listen to other people. They’ll just feed you a lot of words. I say, don’t eat them! I have even tastier words right here, and I’m willing to put them on a tiny, rectangular plate and serve them to you on a table made of pallet boards and metal pipes, like at the cool café you take your parents to make them feel uncomfortable. Smithee is more than glad to make you uncomfortable and also show you the one true way to form a habit out of that dastardliest of drugs: writing. So listen. And listen carefully:

ONE:

When I write, I load my fingers with the finest fake Cuban cigar I can find at BevMo and sip a glass of scotch on the rocks. Oh, I don’t smoke cigars. And I drink chardonnay, not scotch. And writing isn’t really about smoking cigars or fancy drinks, either. It’s about giving the impression to all whom might be looking through your window that you are a very serious writer currently lost in deep thought. When I am feeling especially writerly, I’ll don a deerstalker cap to accentuate my spectacles, tobacco pipe, and big, big brain. If you’re too dim to remember anything else, at least remember always to dress for the story you want to write.

TWO:

Stop writing all your junk longhand on pieces of college-ruled binder paper like a school girl with a crush on her P.E. teacher. Oh, I know all the hacks who count say to do this. I say, hogwash! Have you ever seen a computer? Buy one! You can type to your heart’s delight and then edit everything when you realize you suck. Can you do that if you write your book on a piece of paper? No! There is absolutely no way to change anything once you’ve committed ink to paper, so just stay away from that bad mojo at all cost. Most importantly, when you are out and about and your brain stumbles like a drunkard on your next big idea, remember never to write it down anywhere unless it’s on a computer.

 THREE & FOUR:

Special Smithee Creative Prompt: Drive immediately to the nearest Costco and purchase a package of index cards. Make sure to buy bulk, so you are saving tons of money because you are a broke writer newb. Unwrap the package and then start scribbling whatever words pop into your head on each card. Don’t think, just write. Commit ink to paper. No erasing. The past is pointless! Move forward. Always move forward. Once you have filled out every single card, set it aside. Take some time for yourself. Maybe a bath, or a nice little gardening session. Then head back to your cracked kitchen table and sit on your wobbly chair. Look at what you’ve created. These are your writing prompts. Every time you are writing and get stumped for more than ten seconds, pull a card from the deck and use it to lubricate your brain. You’re welcome! Also, it’s good to keep in mind that I make more money than you.

FIVE:

Schedule. Schedule. Schedule. Some so-called professionals will tell you that you can write whenever you “feel” inspired. What’s all this hippie gobbledygook? Guess what, if that’s true, then you will never write! Feelings are for teeny, tiny, sad little wimpy types. Inspiration doesn’t knock on people’s doors and offer them a giant check with lots of zeroes on it. How can this be? You might be wondering to yourself while you sit there in your snug sweatpants and an unwashed t-shirt. Well, Smithee once waited by the door to get knocked up by inspiration, and it never happened. Now Smithee keeps a rigorous schedule and never strays from it EVER. Here’s the schedule you need to be a successful writer: Wake up. Eat breakfast. Read the newspaper. Write for two hours. Sit down on a chair outside and take a break for one hour. Eat lunch. Read a different newspaper. Write for two hours. Sit on another chair for two hours. Write for two hours. Eat dinner. Sit on another chair for one hour. Drink a cocktail. Write for two hours. Sit on another chair for 1 hour and 45 minutes. Write for two hours. Read a book. Sleep. If you can’t keep this schedule, do not write EVER. Don’t wait for inspiration to knock you up, hippie. Take the initiative to go out there and knock inspiration up.

SIX:

Self-talk. How you talk to yourself is important. If you say the wrong things to yourself, you will not succeed. You will fail. Miserably. Every morning when I wake up, I look at myself in my gold-plated bathroom mirror, and I say the following: “Today is the most important day of your life. Do not fuck this up or you will fail, and there will be no way to recover from it EVER.” Always say this eight times, just in case.

 I hope these pointers have been helpful to all you young, wannabe Smithees out there in internet land! Happy writing to you!

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Author Bio: Carnanan Smithee, the world’s Author Auteur, wields their keyboard like a scalpel ready to cut the flesh off words. Born to write, Smithee is doing the unthinkable: writing to write the good write. They are the quintessential Writer’s Writer, impregnating the world with stories and birthing a legacy via C-section. They also have two ferrets and love ginseng lollipops.