You told me to buy presentable clothes and I did, a whole new outfit from Target. Neat slacks and spiffy shirt, even found shoes to match. And now here I am dressed like a fish trying to understand what it means to breathe air. We’re toddlers on a see-saw, you and I, for the first time trying to find stability. But this gala is full of coroners. My first big affair for a serious career, and my editor escorts me to a corner booth to meet the district managers who pay us both. I laughed at the right jokes but I kept my mouth shut, and they never once saw the tattoos ‘round my gums. The molars I had pulled from eating rocks as a drop-out. Clean-shaven clean-cut and dressed like the guest of a judge who doesn’t recognize my face from four years before, I could maybe fit in if my conscience didn’t heave. The walls are turning purple. Faces start to swirl with open jaws of twisting laughter, vortices of features. The chandeliers are bleeding light. The hotel porters are cackling rapists out in the foyer looking for a fix and I don’t know what I’m into but I’m out in the rain. I am the news man who screamed out the window and tossed himself to pursue his echoes. There is a limo parked in the curbside puddles, seven porters to open the limo door. Out steps the Big Man himself, CEO of Gannet. “It’s a pleasure to meet you, sir.” My editor masturbating through his pocket. I am pouring vodka into champagne so no one will notice the changes bringing back the alcoholic. Unemployment gets me paid about half as much but if I don’t need a car or to keep my appearance, well, that’s money well saved and spent at the bar. No – I should give you a call to keep my head grounded but our conversation cannot be heard by these howling de Sades. Their suits are worth more than the hearse they’ll wheel me out on. I am cackling at the bar. Am I the Marquis in the mirror? Behind me spins the eloquent calculations of Murdoch’s publications, wives and the mistresses of breaking war stories and the talking heads from GE that just won’t quit. I am performing Coyote Ugly on the bar, finally shouting all the things that should be said. I haven’t had a care in the world since Makers’ Mark let me forget the debts I owe and the kids we support and I may be the Marquis in the mirror but god damn these cruel fools, our see-saw will stay stable if we place a god damn trailer on it.
There are rats in our ceiling though I know you didn’t hear them. The house was crowded, it was loud, little house reverberating with the sound of New Year’s tidings. You were speaking to your friend’s parents, the ones who work at a hospital, and my sister was planning her wedding day. Everyone was talking, everyone was watching the countdown on TV, everyone was enjoying the simple normalcy of things. But there was a scratching in the ceiling over the kitchen, a noise that isolated me. I had to focus to hear the little claws. I admit it was easy, to disconnect from the party and hear the silence in my head quickly broken by the scurry of little claws. And maybe the silence has been there a while, is why it was so easy to find – spaces in broken conversations to hone in on, like the air you find inside the cardboard décor of furniture stores. It is all empty air and the silence it was piercing my head. And this is when I first heard the rats, seated in silence at the kitchen table hearing friends go on about fantasy sports and TV shows to ring in the new year and the vacuity of it all suddenly transpired – in me a distant hollow ringing, the fear of floating away in the wake of a cruise that’s already left the bay.
I believe they noticed I was pale and clammy, these people at the kitchen table with me. They regarded me with a safe distance, like a child around whom you carefully choose your words. I was the idiot they looked at and had to repeat exactly what they meant when they said the stock market was a better way to hedge their bets. As if I were the idiot! They couldn’t hear the rats clawing six feet above our heads. The tendons in my chest began to tighten, I was sweating with a pain that could have been the flu or claustrophobia – more rats were filling into the ceiling, the scraping reaching a frantic pitch and no one could hear a god damned thing but their own platitudes and plaints. My eyes were stuck in the middle distance of nowhere, focused compulsively on the silence that surrounded me, filled me – and how quickly it was broken by the clawing in the ceiling! I had to act. Visions of insulation and wires being ripped apart by the clawing horde making nests in my ceiling.
It was the footsteps they heard, paired to the conspicuous vacation from the kitchen chair I’d occupied all night: they knew it had to be me on the roof. Figure, it would be only me they heard through the ceiling. I admit I was stomping trying to find a weak patch in the roof, a way to get through to the rats making nests in my ceiling. I didn’t notice them at first, my audience below, and the sight must have been something to see – the front yard matted with leaves I never raked, garbage bags piled in the drive I never took to the street, and the dozens who gathered in the cold New Years’ drizzle to see me stalking the roof with a flashlight and cleaver. My plan I hadn’t fully thought through. It was you who called up to me first. I waved you away and said go back inside, this was something I could handle. And this must have been the stroke of midnight, because somewhere behind our house fireworks were going off. And I imagine the fireworks put me in silhouette because the light of them was bright enough to hide the shine of my flashlight. I was looking up in the trees over the house, for the rats, because even on the roof I could still only hear the scraping somewhere above me.
The boxes beneath the tree tremor with soft scraping sounds etching into the cardboard from the inside-out. The tree is dry and I haven’t watered it since you dragged it into the house, put it up yourself and strangled it with lights. The strands flicker electrical shortages. I am in the armchair across the room, alone and in the dark – the dark broken across the room by the white and green lights sparking in and out, and behind the tree in the lousy bay window (bay window stuck to the front of our drowsy rental by a landlord finding a reason to charge more) are the outside lights hanging from the gutter and these lights too sputter in and out, a madhouse effect of lights’ electrical shorting and the rats in the fucking boxes wrapped in cheery Ho Ho Ho! are finally scratching through the cardboard.
I am in the armchair and I am wracked. My hair is at odd angles from hands that tried to hold the itching, the itching inside my skull, from cracking out, greasy and clammy from three days’ sitting here to remember what this was all about. I don’t how I arrived here to live in this house, with you. I can’t remember why I went to college, or why I dropped out, or why I stopped going to work last week. I don’t know how it is that you can cry, or what it is I’ve done.
I can’t rationalize why I should feel pleased that you – or anybody else – thought to buy me a sweater or a DVD or a god damned mouse for my laptop. ARE YOU EXCITED ABOUT THE WAFFLE IRON? I want to crack my teeth on the concrete steps that maybe the pain will be sincere enough to let me enjoy a moment of quiet television-watching so I can tell your parents how glad I am for the 12 months of Hulu they gave us.
There is something wrong here that I cannot understand. But maybe it’s me. I never remembered to buy you a gift, and to be honest it was far down my list of important life goals to accomplish. I sit here now, in this armchair, with a shuttering heart of regret as I watch, with a head that feels the pressure of a thousand leagues down, the sparking lights set fire to your tree.
I do not flinch, I do not think twice about the presents or your dreams or the life we’ve dumped into our little house, I can only sit here and stare as the flames reach the ceiling and I am drowning in a feeling I may someday call remorse. Remorse that I could never tell you how much I cared for us, because I could never put together what I wanted for myself.
There is something eating away just beneath my scalp, the frantic nail-breaking appeal of a damaged mind just trying to get out of hell. And I am sorry I dragged you in without properly marking the door.
I don’t know what it is I wanted with you, if I just can’t remember or if from the beginning I never knew, what it was. But the problem remains, every day; I am still completely in love with you.
I just want to one day be able to wish you a merry Christmas.
It began with a long day in bed when I slipped too deeply into my head… Short walk to class, an hour long now trying to avoid the eyes of each person I pass by.
I am the person walking up and down the same flight of stairs, convinced, utterly convinced this is the quickest way to nowhere.
I am the hollow-eyed nightmare shaking, standing in the campus square, trying to ascertain which direction I was supposed to go.
I am the unreachable stranger walking laps through the mall bundled thick in winter jackets on an August hot day, speaking nothing to no one, softly muttered to no one.
These are the gaps in my flesh – please come take a peer at this hollowness, the oblivion inside these cracks.
This is the fragile waste bucket seated beside you in class, huddle forward on my desk with a face distantly pacing the floor beside my chair; that is my spunk right there on the desk, naked and scared and bared boneless for all to feast.
Bury yourself face-first in the muck of this mire, self-negated with nothing left to hide, nothing to strive for or to die; the wandering days melting down the clock-faces into a formless pulp rid of meaning.
These are troubled times.
The skeleton stalks through the bookshelves for something to eat, having found behind his eyes the rats that infest the manifolds of his brain; having found nothing of interest, he wastes 7 hours browsing internet trash, and then goes back to sleep.
This is the trouble with trying to complete the litany of tasks dictated by a dream of socially-acceptable success – these dents in the table are the blood-smudges of a forehead that bears repeating: It cannot fucking focus. Have you paid your fucking speeding tickets?
Did you finish your homework on time?
Did you remember to pay the bills your wife keeps asking you to pay the bills but instead I put rat-traps in the ceiling is what I did for all of fifteen minutes yesterday. That is what I did yesterday. The rats haven’t been heard again and I am safely huddled in my bed trying not to openly weep; it is now my new belief the rats are dead.
There is a purpose here buried in the interference and the babble of a family speaking distantly at Christmastime – distantly from across the dinner table. And the task here is keeping track of the echoes to listen for my name while simultaneously keeping track of the little sparking flashes fluttering ‘cross my corneas. The fluttering it needs to be pinned…
to stick them to the wall with nails pulled from this cranial rot, stick them to the walls the butterflies with their wings spread wide and poke at them, the wings, until I’m sure each one has died.
But I am utterly convinced it is just as futile to die.
The foyer is empty before anyone is out, early-morning campus. The floor tiles smell dusty, in a custodial, public school way underscoring the surreality of this normally bustling foyer that is right now empty and hollow. Empty and hollow and echoes reverberate from maybe down the hall or from the second floor, but the foyer here is big and bright and wide and completely empty, but there’s a table along the far wall (trophy case memorabilia behind it) with two black coffee cambros on them. The table here isolated along the sweeping rear wall, it comes to dominate the view of this barren landscape – like panning the New Mexico desert and the camera stops and zooms in on this house, suburban 3 bedroom with green grass, white picket fence in desolate expanse – here is this table, out of place and isolated along the wall of this empty, unused foyer. I am standing in front of the table, holding a cup in one hand, other hand in my coat pocket. There is another person here, a lizard that has crept across my peripheral to stand beside me, reaching for a Styrofoam cup. Read More