Big H, Little M

Hangups get a big H in the center of the card. It’s okay if it covers up the name of the person you called. The ones that go to message get a little m. You put it in the corner. It wasn’t like working at the suicide hotline, or the telemarketers, or even the sex line he’d gotten involved in in college. This was different.

What they did was sell people another life, one phone call at a time. The first call was the hook. You’d do best at midday, Wheel and Jeopardy! time, when prime customers were likeliest to be by the phone. There was a script they gave you, but it was best to memorize it, do something new with the material. People could tell when you were reading off the page. They wanted a human conversation. They wanted reality. They wanted a new life.

He’d turn colostomy-bagged Vietnam vets into NFL players. Lonely widows into supermodels. Shut-in octogenarians into movie stars. The trick was to make the free trial believable enough, but to hold onto your best cards for the paid subscription.

What they paid for were the galas, the sold-out premieres, the grandsons who called. Someone to read them something, anything–the phone book, receipts, junk mail. Didn’t matter what.

After a few weeks of briefing Presidents on foreign policy, mentoring chess prodigies, and flirting with Oscar-winning actresses, he got this one lady:

“Describe where I am.”

This was breaking protocol. The scenario was always agreed upon ahead of time. The client was never to refer to the scenario once it was agreed upon. Suspension of disbelief and all that.

“You’re, uh… You’re in a sprawling mansion nestled in the hills. Sipping daiquiris.”

“No I’m not. I’m in a doublewide my husband left me after he passed. I’m thirsty, but if I stand too quickly to fill a glass I might faint. I’m hypoglycemic.”

“A… Um, a butler greets you in the foyer. He asks what you’d like to have the chefs prepare for dinner.”

“Wrong again. My WIC card finally got refilled, so I can Uber over to the grocery store with what’s left of my social security for the month. Get a bag of frozen peas. Maybe potatoes if I’m lucky.”

“You’re, uh… What is this? Um, as the butler leaves, you catch a glimpse of the Olympic-sized swimming pool in your backyard, perfectly-manicured hedges behind it.”

“Try the city dump. I can see raccoons from here, fighting over a bag of rancid Mickey D’s. Can smell it, too.”

“Once inside your lavish bedroom, you peruse, uh, your walk-in closet and pick out a tasteful sundress.”

“Honey, the only dress I have left is the one my husband picked out for me fifty years ago. April 4, 1966. Our one-year anniversary. Got it at Macy’s, on Fifth. Had to sell the rest to thrift stores.”

“You pause for a moment at the bathroom’s mirror, apply lipstick. Gather your earrings.”

“Doctors tell me it’s fungus. The heat only aggravates it, and I haven’t had AC all summer. Can either afford the antifungal medication or the repair, but not both. Damned if I do, and if I don’t.”

“You slip on the dress, admire the way it clings to your frame.”

“I knew what it was before I even bothered going in. The right one was bigger. Bigger than usual. Painful, sometimes, too. I felt the lump, so the only news I got from the doctor was how long I had. A couple months, if you’re wondering.”

“You glance to… I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.”

“What’re you apologizing for? You didn’t put the lump there, did you? It’s fine. It’s all right. Everything is.”

“I can’t even imagine.”

“Well, you’d be able to. You’d be able to pretty quickly.”

“I don’t know what to say.”

“You don’t have to.”

The quiet of a line being held, only air flowing over mics. The sterility of an office. Stifling heat of a doublewide.

He quit the job that night. Hopped on a Greyhound. First one he saw. Didn’t know where it was headed, when it would get there. But then again, maybe he didn’t have to.


Cease, Cows Love!

Today I remembered the importance of being doggedly stubborn: after trying for two years and several submissions to get a story published in Cease, Cows, my story “Greatest Hits” has been accepted! Also, in a twist of synchronicity, I recently applied to be a reader for the same litmag, and was just brought on board thanks to this story. Things have been pretty rough for me lately, so this news is exactly what I needed to hear. So freaking excited, it’s not even funny. It’s so strange/cool to see my name included in a fancypants staff page.



Try Luvox. Try Buspar. Try Prozac, but that’s too obvious. Don’t try the benzos. Any of them. They’re what got you into this mess in the first place, you’re sure of it. So try CBT. Try EMDR. Try ECT and play therapy and art therapy and Rexulti and ecotherapy and journaling. Don’t try Fernet-Branca. Or Montpelier. Or PBR. Or the wine that comes in the little box at the convenience store. They’re what got you into this mess in the first place, you’re sure of it. You can try casual sex, although the science is lacking in re: to its effectiveness in treating what you’ve got. But it can’t hurt. Just be safe. Be smart. Try picturing your brain as an endless field of untouched snow, you standing at center, taking steps but not leaving any. Looking ahead and seeing chips of undisturbed light. Looking behind and seeing same. Knowing you got here somehow, but the details eluding you. Slipping from your grasp. A robber of sanity, these memories. Memories are what got you into this mess in the first place, you’re sure of it.

Try starting a fight in a Walmart. Take a big bouncy ball out of its ballcage and whip it at the first person you see. Spike a second ball just to see how far it’ll bounce back. Try to take out a ceiling tile with one if you can. But try not to get caught. If you do, tell them you don’t remember why you did it. You’ll be more right than you know. Try stealing the 92 bus when it inevitably stops at the Dunkin’ Donuts and the driver steps out for a medium coolatta. Maybe the adrenaline of the steal will help clear things up. At the very least, it should be interesting. Again, try not to get caught. Try hopping your neighbor’s fence; commandeer their swimming pool when they’re not home. Try putting seran wrap over the top, tight, with weights at all four corners to keep it in place. You may need a willing participant for this one. Try holding your breath for as long as you can. Try squeezing your face past the wrap, to breathe, without puncturing it. Try to feel alive. The next time you see an ambulance, try following it to the hospital. Try getting inside with the EMTs. Wear scrubs at all times just for this possibility. Try sneaking into the pharmacist’s. Try taking everything you see, especially the antipsychotics, the psychotropics, the antidepressants, but NOT the benzos. They’re what got you into this mess. Etc.

Try visiting your mother in the home. Not her home or your home, but the home. Even our pronouns get taken from us with age. Try holding a conversation with her. When she thinks you’re her father, try going along with it. Try letting her air all her grievances out. Try apologizing for all the things “you” did, taking the heat for decades worth of shit you weren’t even alive for. Try playacting her childhood, with pet rocks and hula-hoops and silly putty newspaper comics. Try telling her you miss her but catch it in your throat, like a popfly in centerfield in little league, sun in your eyes, squinting to see it but it’s no good, it’s already in your glove. Etc. Try not to notice when she shits herself. Try to seem casual when the CNA asks if you want to come back when they’re done with cleanup and you tell her no, you’ll stay here. Try to look out the window, where there’s a mama bird attempting a feeding. Attempting because her regurgitation falls past her baby’s mouth, splats half on the ground, half on an unfortunate passerby. Try to explain the situation to the CNA, but stop because she’s already got enough to deal with, thank you very much.

Try to make it easy when you say goodbye. Try to pull your fare out of your pocket and step on without looking back. Try to sit next to an expectant mother and stop yourself from picturing all the possibilities lying dormant inside of her: president or scientist or murderer or… Try to feel what it was like without the haze, the fog, lens out of focus, a human camera is what you are. Try to remember something. Try to remember something. Try to remember something.

You don’t have to try to forget.