What’s in Your Pockets

For what it’s worth, the way you’re doing it is right, precisely because there’s no right way of doing it. So there’s that. Nothing for you to worry about, really. No, I’m not hiding my derision behind my smile, it’s just how I look when I smile at people, I guess. No, I wasn’t trying to be sarcastic with the “I guess.” It’s just how I talk. Yes, I’m here because I care about you. There isn’t any other reason. No, I know it’s not like what they show on TV. I know it’s a personal experience that I can’t begin to insist I, like, understand at all. I can just see how it affects you. All I have to go on are your words and your appearance. No, that wasn’t meant as a dig against the way you dress. Again with the whole no right way of doing it thing. Yes, I support you no matter what. But if you’ve fallen off the wagon there will be consequences. No, I’m not trying to threaten you. I just want you to know that your actions have consequences. Okay, that was a bit patronizing and bitchy of me to say. I see that now. I apologize. No, I’m not apologizing just to placate you. I mean it. I just think there’s a time in a person’s life where they get down into deep psychic hurt, like bottom-out hurt, like plunging into icy water with no land in sight hurt. Yes. It is. Yes, that’s where I see you right now. And it’s– Yes, it’s scaring the shit out of me. Because I look at you and I wonder which picture of you they’ll use when they talk about you on the news. No, I’m not trying to be dramatic. Yes, I know you can make it through to the Other Side because you’ve already been to the Other Side. No, this isn’t any different. The only thing that’s different is the time and the place. I know you have memory issues. The Fog. I get it. No, I’m not trying to play doctor, it’s just that you’ve had a set of recurring symptoms that come back every time you use again. No, it’s– Yes it is. It is using. That’s the word for it. That’s the nice word for it, if anything. Yes, I do believe it accurately describes your situation. I just think that you have no concept of, like, how to get out of this black hole that you’re spaghettifying towards right now, as we speak. Spaghettification is happening and I’m worried that we won’t be able to un-stretch you this time. It’s just a chance. An opportunity. You don’t have to call it by any other name. You are the sole keeper of you. All I can do is darken your door and stay by your side. It’s like when I found you in the snow that one winter, how you nearly frostbit your ass, your hands. You stayed off for six months after that. And we were proud. Are proud. I am. But listen. You have to hand me what’s in your pockets. You have to rifle through your hiding spots and give me everything. All of it. If you’re in this, you’re in this. Because. All right. Let me tell you a story. When I was 4 and 5 and 6 my dad molested me. Made me put on dresses that he had to “adjust.” Would belt me when I resisted, so the welts were like little inching worms. I called them my little gummy worms and would watch every day as they burrowed under my skin before finally disappearing. It stopped for a few years. But then I’m 13 and developing. Mom’s working late more and more. Dad’s beer breath makes my eyes water. When it happened I was in the shower, singing some Christina Aguilera song. He opened the door quietly. I didn’t know to lock it then. It happened in the shower, his clothes soggy and sticking to me as we both slipped around and took down the shower curtain, nearly smashed our heads into the wall. The bruises on my wrists didn’t go away for weeks. So I report him. Tell them everything. Dad goes away and I go to the Center. At the Center they make you do groups and art therapy and meds and the whole nine. Mom got diagnosed the first week I was in there. I stayed so long that I could chart her cancer fight through how much more hair was gone this week, when she started to wear hats and bandanas. You get it. Mom says we’re fighting this together. Whatever this is, we’re fighting it. Every day she visits I’m losing more of her, like she’s fading away into the background. I ask her how she feels and she says big and strong. Every time I ask her, even when her body is caving in on itself, this is what she tells me. “I’m feeling big and strong.” Then one day she doesn’t show up. The doctors are too-nice to me. I know before they tell me. Graduate from the Center the next week. Woohoo. And you know the rest. Foster care. Group homes. Working. Getting my own place. All of that. Anyway, I don’t know why I’m saying all of this. I don’t know the reason. But I do know you. I do know you. Yeah? You mean it? For real this time? All right. Okay. Let’s start with what’s in your pockets.



You can see through the symptoms, past the stigmas, bedlocked all day, getting up only to eat or shit, and there’s the not being able to pay for your meds and so taking what you have every other day, then every third day, and of looking into the mirror and seeing exhaustion, eyes hazy, cheeks hollow, and of waking up and holding your skull to figure out what’s really going on, with also of course the putting off hangouts, rescheduling, and then ghosting altogether, and there’s weeping in the morning and at night with no reason, of the way that people look at you different once you disclose your diagnosis: pity or fear or both, and then there’s going to one specialist, then another, and being (im)[in]patient, and there are the side effects, blurred vision and slurred speech and constant fatigue, and there’s taking one to counteract the side effects of another, then taking another to balance out the new side effects, and there’s finding the right pharmaceutical cocktail that will keep you alive, and then there’s getting cocktails with friends and the panic attack that comes only because of people being in your vicinity, and there’s bringing someone home and having to stop without knowing why, and to go out in a field where there is nothing but grass and open sky and to lie down in this and look up at this and there’s nothing more you can do now but to lie here and wait, and of course there’s not sleeping for days and having the delusion that you’re now in hell and your body is a macrocosmic vessel holding light and dark and you’re walking through the grocery store in clothes you haven’t washed in weeks, walking through aisles and seeing the lights all around, the cold air of the freezer section, and the faces of grocers are distending into sneers or ghoulish smiles and everything you hear is directed at you, and that you haven’t taken your meds in a week, haven’t slept, haven’t eaten or showered, and there’s making a concerted effort to get out of bed and get to your therapy appointment, and there’s tracing it back, or else trying to, back to the source, where it all began, and was it some instance in your childhood, eating paint chips or dust bunnies or teething on the electrical cord, what was it you want to know, and it’s so hard to remember when you haven’t slept, so you take benadryl like it’s candy and knock out for a day or two, get your shit together, wash, etc., and you’re still wondering what it was, sourcing it back to trauma that might’ve caused it all, and your family history becomes a set of Russian dolls, pulling out one surprise after another, and you’re unearthing bodies buried with concrete slabs on top of the caskets, and old wounds bleed freely as you lie in the bathtub with no water, grabbing the razor but not knowing what to do with it, and thinking of drawing the bath first, and the jumble that comes with counteracting your body’s natural instincts, fears, etc., and there’s putting down the razor, picking it back up again, wanting to cease consciousness, it’s here, the weight of being as you see it now, the supreme responsibility that comes with being alive, and you’re looking at your arms, the way the blood courses through your veins like miniature rivers, and you’re not a macrocosm after all but a micro-, and you’re still palming the blade, now testing it on a small patch of skin as if this is some sort of allergy test, and you let the blood trickle slightly down the flesh before pulling back and then wanting to do it and then wanting to do it and then wanting to do it and then not…wanting…but it isn’t clear which way this is going to go, and so you put the blade down to think it over, and in the process you fall asleep, and wake up half a day later, not even remembering why you’re in the bathtub, until you see the razor, and before you can stop yourself you throw it in the trash and take the trash out to the dumpster and don’t look back, and you come back in, and you sit, and you listen, and you cry, and you remember to breathe.


63rd and Halsted

A pile of counterfeit purses sits in one corner of the living room kitchen till Saturday when Momma will try hawking them on the corner of 63rd and Halsted. JT’s got a hot dog over the gas burner, skewered with a plastic fork, and he’s hoping the thing doesn’t melt and drop the dog into the fire ‘cause he’s only got two for the rest of the week and it’s Monday. Momma’s got the gas station and the McDonald’s and the beauty salon where she washes hair and sweeps up at the end of the day. Dad’s got who-knows-what ‘cause he hasn’t been seen since JT was three days old.

At the bottom of the shoe closet, under Dad’s jackets that Momma “just hasn’t gotten around to pitching yet,” JT keeps a stack of books he’s lifted from the library: biology textbooks, history books above his grade level, Shakespeare. Some action adventure for fun. He hides the peeled-off barcodes under a radiator in the library, puts them back on when he feels bad and swaps one book for another. Lifts them because he can’t afford the late fees and he’s not the type to keep a book for only two weeks.

Momma’s name is Hi-Bye, but JT doesn’t tell her this. Back from Mickey D’s and then a shift at the beauty salon: Hi-Bye. Dropping off the leftover purses to get to the gas station on time: Hi-Bye. JT makes up stories in his head where Momma ain’t Hi-Bye and you’ve got more than a couple hot dogs for the week and dads don’t leave when you’re three days old. Sometimes he writes these stories down and slips them into his lifted books like too many bookmarks. Sometimes he forgets them and they stay there when he returns them. Sometimes he leaves them there on purpose.

He starches and irons his own shirts ‘cause when Momma comes home the last thing she wants to do is be minding no shirts or pants or anything but sleep. He doesn’t mind starching and ironing his shirts. He handles each one like it’s a butterfly he’s setting gently on the bark of a tree. When he’s done, it might as well be a brand new shirt. The other kids at school don’t know about Hi-Bye and the shirts and all that. They don’t know about how when the hot dogs run out JT waits for lunch ‘cause that’ll be the only food he gets all day.

JT gets lonesome on the weekends when Momma’s busy working and no kids are around and it seems like it’s just him in the whole wide world. In the summertime, you can’t tell if the sounds outside are gunshots or fireworks, so you go out anyway. When the crunchy leaves are on the ground and you can play tackle football ‘cause the snow’s there to break your fall, you know the sounds are gunshots. When you hear the sounds, you go back inside even if it’s a tie game and you’re playing best two out of three, one game won a piece.

On the times when there’s no gunshots and no football games and the lifted books have all been “returned,” JT walks around and tells himself in his head that he’s an important man who tells stories and everybody loves him. One day he was so important he saved up a couple bucks and hopped on the el train. It was dinnertime when he got on and he watched the sky’s color darken, buildings and cars and everything rushing past.


When he woke up, there was no one else on the train. If it weren’t for the streetlights outside, he could be on a train riding through outer space. Then the man sitting next to him made a noise. JT looked around and saw that the man could sit anywhere in the whole train car but he chose to sit next to him. The man spoke up.

Didn’t JT have no Momma to mind him? And he did, but she was at work. And was he all alone then? And yes, he was. And that was quite a shame.

The man pointed at the stars outside the el train’s window and leaned in close to JT so he could tell him which constellation was which. When he got up close, the stink on his breath made JT’s eyes water. It was the same stink his Momma’s breath had when it was her day off and her eyes got bleary and she cried a lot and had to have JT help her to bed.

The man put his hand down on the edge of his seat, next to JT’s leg. He lifted and dropped his pinky like it was a worm inching on pavement. The streetlights outside went whoosh and neither of them made a sound.

The train clacked on the tracks and the worm went inch, inch, inch. JT leaned into the barrier next to him and made like it was just so he could see the subway map better. And the clackclackclack went to just clack, clack, clack, and the train came to a stop at Division. When the doors opened, JT ran like it was a football game in the snow and he just heard the sounds.

The snow crunched under JT’s feet as he ran all the way back, streetlights like false stars above him, snow coming in his shoes that had holes in them ‘cause Momma ain’t got the money for boots, JT wondering if he really is an important man after all, wondering how it is we can leave so many tracks behind us when we’re running away.


Henry’s List

urban volcanos

_ Henry’s son’s coffin’s wood’s grain had little knots and imperfections in it.

_ The little knots and imperfections were lowered into the ground on a Sunday.

_ Dirt hid them forever.

_ The pastor’s fingers’ sweat stuck pages from flipping chapters and verses and a fly went by.

_ The pastor had a name and everyone else there had a name.

_ Things still needed to be bought at the store.

_ The store stored people who could keep living and who needed their receipt.

_ Henry did not need his receipt or his change.

_ There was a Bible with mustard pages.

_ It had brittle pages. Paper pages.

_ Henry wrote in the margins and added footnotes and scrapped the whole thing and started a new draft.

_ The TV had a voice that synced with the birds who owned the sky outside.

_ Henry emptied his stomach onto his bed on a different Sunday.

_ There was a numbered list.

_ Laundry detergent was seventh. New bedsheets eighth.

_ Henry collected the empty cans that rashed along the train tracks next to his house and crushed the cans with his teeth and licked the rims but didn’t drink what was inside.

_ Lip balm was ninth.

_ Henry’s son’s mother’s house had an alarm system.

_ The alarm sounded like Os being called out in a storm.

_ Henry’s son’s mother’s lover had a dog that had teeth.

_ Antibacterial was tenth.

_ Is.

_ Henry is most alive in the half-awake morning seconds before memory catches up with consciousness.

_ Henry is running and watching things.

_ One of the things is a crushed brown leaf that doesn’t belong to him or anyone else and never will.

_ Henry’s son was eleventh. Henry’s son was eleven.