Here’s my obligatory author-signing-copies video. Had to do it. 😂 The song is “Yes I’m Changing” by Tame Impala, which was basically my theme song for the book while writing it. And yes, my cats do make a special appearance here. 😸
We met in outpatient, but we didn’t really get to know each other until the tunnels. She was caught-you-staring, under-slept, a couple of days past her last dose. I was long-sleeves-all-the-time, tiger balm scent, blurry-eyed side effect. It was: sharing trauma in early morning semicircle. It was: vending machine routine and too-strong-too-much coffee. It was too much and never enough. We were: in there for indeterminate lengths of time, just waiting, collecting chips from AA vet/counselor. We talked when we had to talk.
Down in tunnel-dark, light slices past manhole cracks, like peeking up through vertical keyhole, decaying stink, and I never really saw her until I could barely see her at all.
She was gargle till it’s only mouthwash, can only be mouthwash if you ask. I was take everything possible, imbibe the world if you can, blackout, try to die, come back to yourself and do it all again. We both came to in backup reset state, glitching through reality’s walls, bug fix coming but no word on when, just trying to move on. It was real agony. Beautiful labor. I loved the idea of her more than I loved the thought of my death. Progress.
Manhole liberated by strategic crowbar. Always carried it with her, she told me. And down there, hidden away, the under of everybody, and the snaking, tunneling worlds that are always terrifyingly just beneath our feet. The crypts centuries-kept, stone-wall-ruined, tunnel sarcophagi down there, and all the people that the underworld can and does house. Making contingency plans for moving down there if and when it ever came to it. Missing appointments to be down there together, sleeping among stalagmites and calcified dreams.
Both of us, under fluorolight, alive despite our best efforts, still here, incredulous at our own survival, and patching in memory’s holes with newfangled sobriety. The audacity of wanting to get better. And the inevitable chest tightness, dry mouth, emptying cup after cup of too-strong-too-much coffee, my definition, yours being that coffee can never be too much of anything, and both of us wanting to be in a place before this great fog of being, this mandated outpatient program, these burning stomachs and blurry eyes, all the ways in which are bodies are failing us. What we wanted, in the end, was to be clean just one more time in our lives. Just one more time.
Dipping in and out of moonlight cracks past sewer covers, ladder rungs falling up or climbing down, forking, snaking tunnels that we’ve gotten to know on nocturnal adventures, and how if you breathe in real slow and stare out into all that black, for just a moment it’s almost like you’re floating, hovering, imperceptibly shifting in space, and it’s warm and inner-bright, just the way we feel when we’re down and out together.
My heart is happy right now. To be able to see my little bi love story go live in such a wonderful journal, among so many talented writers, this is a true honor. Thanks so much for seeing something in this one, L Scully. Here’s one for all my fellow bi peeps!
The dead friend shows up like a glitch in a poorly-tested video game, clipping through walls, lagging, animation wonky. He’d look real enough in a freeze frame, but in motion the physics are just off.
The dead friend shows up wearing the jacket he wore when he became the dead friend. The jacket is thick, and woollen, but its fibers cannot adequately absorb the blood from the dead friend. They were made for other things.
You can’t seem to get the attention of the dead friend, and you’ve tried everything. All that DF is capable of is to carry out glitched animations, cycling through the keyframes until he can start the next animation.
And here is the dead friend now, sitting on an invisible bench, talking into an invisible phone, asking inaudibly for help. And you can try to sit on this invisible bench with your dead friend, can fall back and onto the ground. You can crouch down beside him, get right in front of him, attempt a lip-read, wave in front of his eyes, call out to him. You can do whatever you’d like, but he won’t notice.
Your dead friend will come for you in the liminal states, too. Don’t think it will only be when you’re out and about. He will sit on your chest like some sleep paralysis demon you’ve seen paintings of, but you will only see the whites of his eyes, will only hear his underwater voice of regret, not words but still intelligible, because regret can never adequately be expressed in words anyway. How would you even begin?
Your dead friend has been dead long enough where the experience of being a person is clearly fading from his cellular memory. He has more in common with the fog coming up off the hills during your morning walks, sunlight breaking up the view through car windows as you pass, thinking always that you’ve seen him, that he’s seen you, that there is a way out of this paroxysm of grief.
Or maybe he’s not the fog, not the wind, but what’s traveling through it. A dream, something that’s been coming back night after night. Your friend is a kite floating on the wind. You are holding the string that is tethered to his foot. All of him has been hollowed out. He is paper-thin, and empty, and his eyes are holes that wind can get through if it must. You look up and the string you hold is tethered to two other strings. They connect to his arms, to the spots once cut, tethered to the places that untethered your friend from this world.
In the dream, you’re not sure how you know that things will be okay eventually, but there is this deep, all-abiding sense that that will be the case. You can bring your friend down and out of the wind, collect his string, and walk him back home when the conditions are no longer right for flight. You can both go back home.
Some days he felt his memories had been implanted in his skull, injected from somewhere near the base. It would at least explain all of the headaches. Makes the urge to drink a foreign entity that doesn’t arise in him. Something he picked up from another lifetime, one he can’t remember. Angling down and into sleep is languid and painful, like dipping toes into scalding water, then feet, then shins. He gives in sometime in the second week of this.
When he comes to again after so much time without it, one more big binge, he can almost remember the name from before. Rather the designation. To be held captive by drink is to not be alive, not really.
In bleeding early mornings he is alone. Times when his head will burn and the urge will come in like rolling sick deep in his belly, hands on knees, collecting air and hoarding it in his lungs. An image: big splasher flopping on a pier, gaggle of children huddled around it, in semicircle, watching. Waiting for it to die, and not knowing what they’ll do once it does.
The permutations of who he could be and could’ve been, dancing around him in the early afternoon, dew burnt off already, and he’s got years on his mind, ash in his hair, and he’s weighing himself on a scale he knows isn’t accurate but which he uses anyway. It’s just something he can’t seem to part with.
He’s trying to live in a way that will let him remember, after all this time forgetting. He’s trying to be a person again.
When he opens the blinds in the morning, he half expects to see the crowded block he used to live on, halogen lighting blinding at night, tracking the paths of strangers and their shadows coming in and out of view, when life wasn’t a series of days to be crossed off. He thinks he can see himself now, over there, just past the window. Can see, yes, the shape of unkempt hair, the mop of it, can figure out the era from this mop, estimate his age, through the window, and the whole block is lined with versions of himself at different ages, different branching pathways. “All the varieties of me that there might be.” He couldn’t really feel himself coming alive anymore, is what it had come down to.
He fell away into the bottle again, and when he came back to he was flat on his back in a bathtub that wasn’t his, shower curtain as blanket, and the light was on, and today’s repeat mental word was haggard. Haggard, and the songs his brain gave him, wanted him to sing, at least hum along to, and all the lyrics had to do with failing, falling, losing some intrinsic part of you in all that darkness. The way the water felt when it sputter-spilt out of limescale shower head was something like baptism, and there’s another image, of communion he’d refused after so many years of taking it, sitting in a pew he’d never sat in before, letting the late melody of half-forgotten hymns wash over, and the way to forgetting is the opposite direction of forgiving.
He goes back every now and again, to his old town, course charted, cautious turnings, changed directions, taking a roundabout way to get to his old block and only upon getting there realizing that he did it to avoid the old church. Of trying to remember these call-and-response words that they gave you there, of all the prayers and songs and affirmations that can be repeated like ingredients from an old recipe, rote memorization, and he’s pouring every bottle he’s got down the drain, throwing the last of them against church wall, and the spray that explodes on the side and even onto the window, a different kind of stained glass, and to be inside with the pain is like being an observer of an observer, a neuronal game of telephone you can never quite make sense of. He’s going to the broken bottle and grabbing a long shard, checking the way it looks against the smooth draw of flesh. Breathing. He is breathing now.
And when he’s done and it’s finished, there are carvings in the body of the old priest’s car. Words, and scratches, and reminders, all for him to find later. Something he wouldn’t forget.
1. Today is my birthday! So far, 30 is pretty rad. 😊
2. In exactly one month, Here’s Waldo is coming out, and I’m doing a Zoom launch party to celebrate! It’s free, and the best birthday gift would be to see a bunch of you awesome folks sign up! 😁
I want a time travel story like the thing that just hit me. I don’t want travel to dinosaur times or prehistoric man, although that would be cool. I don’t want splintering realities or historical hijinks or grandfather paradoxes. I want a book to appear, dog-eared, in the bottom of eighth-grade-me’s backpack. I want him to see his name on the cover and to wonder about what might be inside, what might be in store. I want him to sit, cross-legged on the floor in late-night TV glow, turning pages, reading his own words from fifteen years in the future. I want him to fall asleep with that story flickering through his mind’s projector, and a repeat message like a nightly mantra:
Things will get better.
Things will get better.
Things will get better.
They already have.
Growing up, I never thought I’d see my name on a book cover, let alone one with a back cover blurb like this. Thank you so much, Gauraa Shekhar, Maudlin House, Atmosphere Press, Nick Courtright, and all of you who support my work. This is a literal dream come true.
I had the great honor of speaking with Gauraa Shekhar about Here’s Waldo, growing up poor, trauma & recovery, writing & home. Thank you so much, Gauraa, for the wonderful interview, and thanks, Maudlin House, for sharing my story of a poor kid from DP. This is a dream for me.