clean sweep

I never realized getting my hair cut would be such an ordeal, especially because I don’t have much left. Just sip the shaggy parts and let me be on my way. But it hasn’t been that easy. Living in one city, working 6-7 days a week in two other cities, and battling a depression that exhausts the hell out of me has not made it easy to disrupt my binge eating and extended nap sessions in order to sit in a barbershop surrounded by screaming kids so I can get a crooked crew cut.

But I also don’t want to look disheveled so I got up super early Saturday morning (usually my only day to sleep in late) so I could walk into the barbershop as they opened. I thought I’d be one of the first in line but when I opened the door, it was already packed. I almost turned around, my anxiety peaking, but I took a breath, scanned the room, and found the one empty seat next to two older men in Member’s only jackets and retired Navy hats.

The shop is about the size of a refrigerator and there’s 3 barbers and probably only 8 seats for customers, which wouldn’t be much of a problem except lots of little kids get their hair cut at this particular establishment. That means mom and dad and siblings have to tag along, which clogs up the already narrow space of the building.

It’s an old-timey barbershop, complete with a vintage drink machine that dispenses glass bottles. Their sign is hand-painted, their floor a cracked linoleum. Not dirty, just well-loved. Almost charming. Football jerseys representing each of the barber’s high school football teams hang from wire hangers above their stations. Cheap shaving cream and hair gels line the sinks below a giant mirror that extends from one end of the shop to the other. From a customer’s seat, you get a great vantage point of men’s bald spots I always worry people are looking at mine.

As I waited, I noticed a man jiggle the handle through the clear glass door of the shop. He was in his late forties, hunched over with a grizzled unshaven face and tattered tobacco-colored shirt, black Dickie pants and a scuffed pair of black-brown boots. He jiggled the handle some more until one of the barbers stepped over and opened the door for him.

“Musta got stuck,” he said loudly as he shuffled inside. And I mean loudly. He followed it up with a phlegm-filled laugh. And sure enough, he sat down next to me. Then he proceeded to chat up the barbers. “Y’all, I needa good lookin’ haircut so I can find me a good lookin’ woman,” he said with more phlegm laughing.

Within a few breaths, I smelled alcohol on him. Great. Recovering from a late night. Or starting early that day. Maybe both.

He then tried to chat up a nervous 10-year-old in the barber’s chair in front of him and asked him if he was getting a good-looking haircut to find a good-looking girl. The boy shrank into his shoulders and shook his head before scanning the room for the safe familiar face of his mother. Make the man stop talking, Mommy.

Yes, Mommy, please, for all of us.

“I know a little girl, she’s about fourteen. Probably too old for you,” he said with more chuckling and phlegm.

After enduring the loud lush for about fifteen minutes, it was finally my turn. I got in the chair, told the lady what I wanted, and she started to buzz me up. After another few minutes, I noticed what looked like hairspray in the air. And then I noticed more. And then detected a smell.

I turned to my right to see a cloud of smoke hurl toward me.

“Oh, that’s not good,” one of the barbers said.

My barber opened the shop door and the smoke floated out like a patient dog slipping through to have a potty break. “You’d better call the fire department,” one of the barbers said to the shop owner. “Oh, yeah, I’m on it,” she replied as she raced out the door with her phone in her hand.”

“Probably it’s the A/C unit,” another said. “We turned it on this morning but it just kicked in a few minutes ago. I bet it caught on fire.”

And that’s when a few little kids started screaming. And I screamed inside my head. I sat in the chair wanting the barber to get on with the cut. But she was hesitant, fearing if she turned on the clippers, it would cause a spark that would blast us all out of the building. I was willing to take the chance.

“Of course this would happen,” I thought as screams and smoke filled the building, like we were all bits of bread caught aflame in an oven set to broil. We were probably never in any real danger. The only thing on fire was my nose from the acrid smell of smoke. And my patience.

Sirens called in the distance, followed by three firefighters in blue uniforms. They brought some sort of vacuum with them and sat it outside the door to suck up the smoke. And as it cleared, the drunk man who’d sat next me came into view. He was sweeping hair up off the floor.

“Hehe, well, I thought if I could help out, I would,” he said between sweeps. “Sometimes in life, you just gotta do what you gotta do.” A laugh that turned into a cough that sounded like he was gargling buttermilk. He stumbled around my barber’s station, sweeping and swaying. I half-thought he’d fall right over.

“Uh, thanks?” my barber said, confused.

When everything was determined to be all clear, my barber finished me up and my hair actually looked decent, you know, for a balding dude. I’d definitely gone too long without a cut and running my hand over the back of my head felt soft and smooth. I actually felt lighter. Although I wished the morning could have gone better and quicker, it felt good to get it out of the way. I supposed giving up a late morning was worth the shearing. My buzzed buddy with the broom was right. Gotta do what you gotta do.

Every once in a while it’s worth it.

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binge and dirge

Heartbreaks and bellyaches seem to be the name of the game as of late. But why shouldn’t it be? One always leads to the other.

I had my usual year-end binge in December and said I would do better in January. Don’t I always? Don’t we always? But the funny thing about making plans is every time I say I’m going to do better, I usually end up doing worse. It’s the conscious effort, the deliberate decisions that derail me every time. It seems I always do my best when I don’t think too hard about it.

After helping myself to Christmas leftovers, Valentine’s Day came around and I had to allow myself some candy. And by some, I mean 3 boxes of post V-Day clearance candy that I ate in as many days. I also had two new donut shops open up and Taco Bell has these new amazing nacho fries and I discovered a new coffee shop in the town I work in. I’ve also had various co-workers who wanted me to join them for a dinner out and how can I refuse the chance to go to a restaurant? It’s been a whirlwind of grease and cheese, fried chicken and Cheetos, ice cream cones and creamy parmesan noodles.

I’ve been progressively bingeing more and more and it’s getting so out of control that it scares me.

These new food discoveries and opportunities are just convenient excuses to eat, to soak up all my melancholia with a slice of fried bread. But my face is getting fuller and my pants are getting tighter, all following the familiar formula of sadness leading to overeating. My mother criticizes everything I do so I get fast food. My dad only talks to me when he’s drunk so I eat 20 snacks a day. My boss at work drives me crazy so I ignore my packed Lean Cuisine and grab a burger and fries for lunch. I’m bored on my hour-long drive home so I eat a bag of chips to occupy myself so I won’t sleepily swerve off the road. I’m lonely as hell so I treat myself to two desserts after dinner.

Sometimes three.

I try to walk a straight and narrow path and these people come along and throw me off course. They’re demeaning or dismissive, dramatic or deteriorating and sometimes I think they’re determined to throw their drama onto me. And I have to eat in order to balance myself out again. It’s the only way I know how.

But I also know it’s not the best way. I look at myself and see the changes, the way in which my lack of support system and sour opinion of myself are bloating my body, branching out into every aspect of my life, making work harder, making family more frustrating, and isolating me from the fun times I used to care about.

My tears are like the tide, coming and going and I have no control over the contents of the ocean or how they sway to and from the sand. All I can seem to do is sit back and watch and respond accordingly. I don’t have a choice, just a spectator to the mouthfuls of agony, awash in a fog that hovers over everything and steals all the scenery from me.

red line

Your words are just like alphabet soup, random characters clumped up and strung together by growls from the gut. They are messy, unintelligible, senseless. But they were once expressions of love, compassion, and confession. They moved me with their meaning. But the meaning only moved as far as your breath, dissipating on the precipice of your lips. Your mouth moved in an unwavering undulation of adulation but you kept your arms by your sides.

You shrank when called to action. You frayed when we came face-to-face. Time after time, you used your tongue just to tease me but never to reinforce your rhetoric.

You betrayed your words and allowed me to float aimlessly in a deceptive deep end. I slowly realized you didn’t like me as much as you said, didn’t care about my well-being as you claimed, and did not see fit to continue conversing as you promised you would.

All I wanted was for you to stick around and despite your declarations, you dropped me when you got bored or busy. With each broken promise, you pummelled your own prose. Consequently, I don’t care about compliments anymore. I am quick to shoot down suggestions and brush off bragging. And I don’t give a damn about terms of endearment.

From anyone. Anymore.

You filled me up with your words of praise and possibilities but once I got a glimpse of who you really were, I realized those same sentiments were the very things that emptied me out.

You really pulled one over on me, using your words to weaken a writer. It’s like slaying a dragon with fire. I can only hope this brokenness is temporary, that I’ll be able to rebuild my language so I can one day run a red line through all your lies.

ditch

You know how moms are always worried their kids will end up in a ditch one day?

Well, my mom found me in one last week.

//

Ever since I got my full-time job in November 2016, I’ve been doing well with my money. Long-time readers will know my biggest regret is college and my biggest debt from that regret is the student loans tagged on the awful experience. Over the years I’ve struggled to make the minimum payments, which hasn’t helped me pay down my loans at all as most of the money is going toward the exorbitant interest.

But I’ve been able to build my bank account up to a healthy amount and I’ve been able to make extra payments to my loans, which has finally caused the principal and monthly payments to go down. I’ve been stuck for so long and I never thought I’d get out of the postcollege quicksand. And although I’m not free of the muck yet, I can see the light at the end of the dark, dank, depressing tunnel.

Or so I thought.

//

I like my car. It’s not fancy and it’s not new anymore but I bought it brand new when I first went to college and it’s carried me across many states and many states of emotion. It’s seen me laugh and cry and carry more fast food than a McDonalds drive-thru. It’s been good and although I’ve had to do the usual maintenance of replacing parts and such, it’s been very reliable.

But everything reliable will eventually decline.

I noticed an orange light flash on my dashboard a few weeks ago. I told my dad and he took it to a few places, all which said I needed a certain part. And after each part was replaced, the light went away. But only for one day. And then it came back. Not knowing what else to do, my dad said I’d need to take it back to the dealership and have them take a look at it.

A few days later, I was headed to work and stopped at a red light. When the light flashed green, I pressed the gas pedel and it was stuck. I pressed harder but it would not budge. I checked to make sure I hadn’t accidentally put it in park. Nope. Then I looked over at my dashboard and my orange light had been accompanied by a slew of new, multi-colored lights. The “oil” light, the “battery” light, the “you’re screwed” light. All of ‘em.

My car had stopped working.

As other vehicles switched lanes and passed by me, I didn’t know what else to do other than to put my hazards on. I grabbed my phone to call my mom when I noticed blue lights shining in my rearview window. I have to admit, the timing on this was pretty great.

A cop walked up to my car and I rolled down my window.

“Everything all right, son?” the man asked. He was middle-aged, sagging eyes to match his voice.

“Um, no, my car has stopped working and all these lights just popped up here,” I said as I pointed to the rainbow of warning lights.

“All right,” he said. “Well, I can push you off to the side of the road but I can’t stay as I just got a call.”

“That’s fine,” I said.

He walked to the back of my car and pushed as I steered it off the road. And without checking back with me, the cop hopped into his car and drove away.

I called my mom and she said she’d come pick me up. Thankfully, I wasn’t too far away from home. As I waited, I noticed I was getting colder. I could see my breath although I had the heater on. I pressed my palm up to the vent. Nothing was coming out. Great. At least the radio was working. Thank God I had the same Selena Gomez song on every station to keep me company. And just before a cocoon of ice formed over me, my mom pulled up and saw her baby boy trying to defrost in a ditch. I got into her vehicle, leaving behind my beloved car.

I dropped Mom off and she let me drive her car to work. What a way to start the morning.

My dad had the car hauled away and inspected. After getting more replacement parts, my car was back and I was good to go the next day. No more orange light. But the day after, it was back again. The hell.

The latest parts replacement added up to a lot of money and I’m scared to take it to the dealership and see their price tag. I know it’s got to be done but just when I had finally reached a place of financial stability, I was hit with this unexpected expense. And to salt the wound, a few days later, I got a letter from the company I have my loans with telling me my monthly payment is going to increase due to rising interest. Of course. Beautiful timing.

But I guess that’s the way it always goes. Two steps forward, ya know? I’m grateful that I can afford to have it fixed but it is a small reminder that I’m not ahead, that the plans I’ve made to get my loans paid off has hit another snag. And it sucks because I really want to feel like I have something under control.

The only thing I can do is pay off these extra debts, try. not to spend any extra money if I don’t have to, and once everything is back to normal, go back to paying off those loans. The sooner I can do that, the sooner I can focus on moving out and far, far away.

And then maybe I can actually start living.

hold me back

I feel you coming closer to me. A heartbeat that quickens and deepens with each step. Your face leading to a trickle of excitement, a pinprick of nirvana. Gliding to the floor, cradling yourself next to me in a silent, semi-conscious stupor. Turning over, my nose brushing your mouth, black circles expanding, blood branches rushing to compensate your exquisitely crafted face.

A hazy vignette hangs over us, dream-like in the notion of you finding me, a mass of mess on the cold tile and molding me into a man again. Hoping to remain locked inside this lucid dream in order to replay this scenario until it sears into my head.

When I close in and pull your lips apart with my tongue, I want you to move toward my mouth, push forward and kiss back. When I trace lines on your skin to write love letters on your legs, I want you to run your nails over my shoulder blades to write me back. When I cry into the crook of your arm, I want you to wrap your arms around my neck and hold me back. I want to look into eyes like teeth, salivating for a single sovereign kiss.

I wonder about your journey as I make plans to be your destination. I want you to set forth and secure a place with me. I want to be encapsulated by your presence, to braid my bones with yours, to live knowing I will die loving you.

We need to love just as much as we need to be loved. I want to care for you as my own, to raise you higher and rake you down. I need the approachable animal, the amiable assault, the hurricane of spirit pounding down on me. I want to be tied to your tongue, healed by your hands, cemented by your ice-blue eyes.

This warmth is foreign and your touch shouldn’t feel as good as it does. I’m as scared as I am serene. Sirens slice through the candles and conversation, warnings of wild fights and fears of decaying. But the blaring blurs into a hum at the base of your throat, an inescapable moan, a penetrating penance for past punishments.

I’d become accustomed to pain. Persistent papercuts that pervaded all my parts. Slugging through the day with open wounds and worry of another tomorrow. Now here, lying on this cool floor, I am flushed with chemicals. My spine is tapped. And with you sliding from me, swelled, spent, sweating, I finally know about comfort.

feelings never felt

recovering corpse

I could feel myself rotting. My skin was sandpaper. My heart a hunk of meat.

I was dead for a few years. Crushed beneath student loans, liars, and the realization that I’d lost all I’d built my life to achieve. I was no artist. I was a con. I was no friend. I was a fraud. Friends, Family, and The Father fled and I was left alone to bear the weight of failure. But I was not strong enough and succumbed to the stress, the shame, the disappointment of departed dreams.

It was an avalanche, crashing on top of me, propelling me to the floor, grinding me into the dirt.

And then I thought I was alive again.

Someone came along and gave me several months of mouth-to-mouth. They gifted me a breath that burrowed its way back to my desiccated body. But when they broke the kiss, that connection to life did not linger and I was left in limbo, teetering on a thin string between life and death, losing all identity of being alive and all the peace of being buried.

It hurts to be in the middle, to be torn between two realms of being, to not belong to the day or the dirt. A lot of times, I don’t care which way I fall as long as it’s a clear conclusion. I would feel just as comfortable in a coffin as I would under a comforter.

My heart beats every few weeks. It reminds me I’m alive again. And so does the pain. It’s not the kind that sinks into me like a hot knife but the kind that gently evaporates all my joy. It arrives through the doorstep, dancing silently, getting to work with nimble fingers, picking up pieces of me and peeling it from my being: art, writing, pets, music, and food. It’s a more subtle searing sensation that’s not visible to others. It lurks in a lonely mind when I’m not occupied with work or worry. It’s the pain of being scraped hollow. It’s the pain on looking back on a life that had no real value.

It is not the pain of what has happened but the pain of what has not.

My heart halted. My spirit stopped. But my body continued to age and so much time was stolen from me. It was a 7-year gap of gaping wounds and unheard screams. It was a failed book, a failed relationship, a withering of animals and blossoming animosity.

And when I think about the mess I’m still in, the darkness deepens, blinds me to any future at all. That crushing weight descends on me one more time. It pulls at my eyelids, lulling me to a glorious rest, a sweet promise of permanent peace. But bills and responsibilities to jobs and family keep my eyes open. I reluctantly fight the urge to lie down. I want to give into it. I want to welcome it. But I can’t. Not just yet.

I can laugh and cry and carry on with my day. I can scream and howl and binge eat and nap away my week. I can work hard and impress my bosses. I can listen to the worries and daydreams of others. I can construct a daydream of my own, a vision of a better time, a better life, a better opportunity. I can act like a living person. Because, in many ways, I am one again. But it’s only a temporary recovery. I was carried out of a pine box prematurely and I’m left to deal with the consequences.

My path has been lined with sour honey and I’m forced to trudge through the muck to face more agony. And on this day each year, the clock resets and I regress a little more. More dreams die. More people disappear. My outlets are drying up, including the divine. God does not listen to my cries. He’s only interested in dictating my direction, the ebb and flow of fire in my head, and the distractions and derailments that set me back even further. He’s a voyeur of the coldest kind.

It’s impossible to go back. It’s daunting to look forward. All I want to do is just lie down and sink into the sticky substance. To be enveloped in the bittersweet bath. To rest. Because I know, I’ve always known, that I just don’t want to be here.

heartbreak hangover

”I believe in clean breaks
I keep the old troubles away…“

-Dashboard Confessional, Clean Breaks

I always get despondent when I think about past acquaintances and how almost all of them have ended on bad terms. There’s tension toward the end. Eventually, one person (usually me) stops speaking to the other and the issues never get resolved. And sometimes I don’t think I so much mourn the lost friendship as I do the fact that I never got my feelings across. The few times I tried to do that, it ended with the other person showing no signs of caring about how I felt.

It never seemed like there was a genuine communication or concern, just excuses, something said to get me to shut up. I haven’t felt heard in a long time and certainly not validated, which is one of the reasons why I feel like such an emotional mess. How can I feel confident knowing I did and said all I could when I’m not even sure if how I’m feeling is genuine in regards to the other person.

But that’s why I was drawn to you. I felt I had a choice with you. You gave me a platform and the encouragement to use it and I drank it down like fine wine. It was fun and dizzying. And it felt good. But then you took it away little by little, clipping my concerns with cutting remarks and minimizing my talents and accomplishments. I tried to hold on, to excuse your behavior, to sidestep the sadness but I kept coming to the same conclusion. You made me feel good but you were not good. I had to let you go before I developed another dependence.

Remember your two-think minimum? You said, “Relationships shouldn’t be hard or work. They should come easy.” Well, I’ve had to seriously think about the status of our relationship more than twice so I guess that means it didn’t come easily to me. I wracked my brain day after day, wondering what I did to make you distance yourself from me. I stayed awake at night. I couldn’t concentrate at work. Every free moment migrated toward your motivations.

I had to go, had to get out. And you let me go so easily. I haven’t heard from you since January. I’m not sure I ever will again because every time we got clean from each other, one of us relapses and gives in to those good feelings one more time. We’ll tell each other we miss each other. And we will resume with the past unresolved. But the past is a pest and always comes back to crumble all that we’ve constructed.

This time feels different. I won’t give in to the cravings anymore. And I feel like you won’t either. I’m thinking you must be tired as well.

But the truth is I still do miss you. But I know you’re no good for me. Maybe you’re fine in moderation but I’m prone to bingeing. And I know I won’t have any more mouthfuls of you.

What surprises me most is I’m not really that mad or bitter about it. I’m sad, sure, but I’m used to that feeling. I hear a lot of people say they regret past relationships and say it was all a waste. But I don’t think that way about you. I enjoyed our time together and our brief in-person meetings. And I don’t regret how you made me feel. I swallowed you up unencumbered. It changed me, if only for as long as you were in my system. It was nice to go from numb to nimble, to feel good for the first time in a long time.

And I would also like to think that I’m clear-headed enough to know good times don’t always translate to a good fit. I really do think I tried. Sometimes friendships don’t work out and that’s okay. Maybe it was my fault or maybe yours. Or maybe it was just a case of too much of a good thing. We took too many shots of fun and too many shots at each other. And now I think we’ve had our fill. And for me, I think it’s last call on us.

Everything hurts. It has for a while. And it probably will for a while longer. Especially because I can’t get through to you. But I know it won’t change and I have to accept that. And I’m trying. I really am. I take it one step at a time, slowly shedding the hurtful things you said, the callousness in which you conducted yourself, the ambivalent absences.

What you and I have become feels a lot like a hangover. It hurts like hell right now. But what we did to get to this point was a hell of a lot of fun.

your mouth could have been the best thing to happen to me

I can see us lying in those supple sheets, your hand running up and down my bare chest, your lips brushing against my neck. I can feel the tingles and tickles charge through my body in the orange light. I can envision these pillows like portals carrying me out of my world, my mind, my self. I can fantasize taking you with me, this place we’ve carved for ourselves in the early morning hours, a space without alarms or algorithms. An alcove of absolution.

We are perfection, free from guilt and insecurity. We are all the oxygen, all the rush of blood and water. We are connected to the creatures that fly and furrow. We’ve tapped into each other and all that surrounds us, grafting onto gulls, gears, and ground. I could stay here forever, reckless in responsibility, oblivious to obligation. Nourished by you alone. I could get used to my heart pumping anew, filled with a forgotten joy in the face of a long-abandoned possibility: that love could touch me. That love could last.

I can imagine it all, each blade of grass and each strand of hair, all made presentable for you. But it’s all just in my head, a vision unraveled in times of respite. Perfection was possible but yet you remained unattainable. As much as I wanted you to hold my heart, I could never find a way inside your mind. You shielded it with smiles, distracted me by drumming your fingers along my spine. I was guarded, kept away from the cancer thriving inside you. It deteriorated your ability to be close, to fuse yourself to a future with me.

The orange light only burns now. You’ve left long ago but I still allow myself to take a semblance of you back to that sanctuary with me. I don’t know if I’m soothing or searing myself by doing so. But it’s comforting to imagine us together. I sail right past the painful realization that love has never been with me after all. I’m unaffected. It’s nothing new. I choose to focus my thoughts elsewhere. It’s healing to think of the possibility that your hands could be real, that your mouth could have been the best thing to happen to me.

The alcove is empty now. I often sit there alone. And I think. And I pretend to know how people carry on with each other. I go through the motions. I plan our partnership. And I know it’s all for naught. But not for me. It feels as natural as your smile sinking into mine.

chuffed to meet you

locking eyes and mouths and hands
a body once a fraction
grafting onto another
whole numbers and whole milk
steamed in styrofoam
aroma’s leading to a lingering stare
a laugh in tune with the tempo
a simple smile in line with my intentions

weaving into the worries and wonder
of two minds and hearts and heads
blankets and coffee and bedroom candles
plush pillows next to velvet hearts
going to bed beguiled and waking up a wanderer

summer’s skin reveals laugh lines
like the winding road of two travelers
a journey of cataclysmic fights
and celestial peaks of passion
puppy’s breath and paying bills
wilted roses and renewed vigor
promotions, property, and pedigree
pushing forward and pulling closer

old boxes and new box springs
fall skies casting out red and brown confetti
crunching beneath oxblood boots
with scarves and sugar plum lip shine
walking to a quiet cafe
to converge over caffeine again
reminiscing on regal handshakes
and a first brush with heavy breathing

thinning in frame
and frame of mind
but sharp in recollection
of dates, deeds, and determination
intertwined and realigned
married in law, meshed in time
waiting with an old dog nearby
for another glimpse of grace in your eyes

each passing season illuminates
a life spent in luxury
lacking in gold and loneliness
and pinning down a particular action
to find reasons to alter shirts and genes
and recalling why I wanted you to stay

sincerity, security, strength
a head hard enough to fix me
a tongue nimble enough to tease me
a soft heart with a sharp wit
hands ever extended to help,
praise, and pursue

peeling back the years
and plumping up memories
leading back to that single night
and the first blush of reverence
found in that simple smile
in a simple spot
to meet over a simple steaming cup