Chapter Four introduces Max’s legally insane mother, as well as Cornelius Ito, the male nurse with the impossible face, and the eerie Tall Man…
His face does something to Max. It’s the kind of face you want to study in private, even though you can tell in a split second that a week of studying still won’t get you the answer. A face greater than the sum of its parts: the pure icy greenness of his eyes, for example, the shape of which put the word “almond” to shame. They haven’t even invented the particular nut that could describe them…]]>
“Queso, it’s Max,” she says. The monkey turns his head a half inch to the right. Max tugs at the door but the secure keypad holds its lock.
Boris takes her elbow and guides her away. “Subject 17 has been resistant.”
“Resistant to what?”
Boris says nothing, swiping his card again and leading her through three or four more Peppy Step laboratories – she loses count – until they come to the office at the dead end, where a man with black thinning hair and sensible slacks stands with his back to them, absolutely motionless, peering at an X-ray on a high-definition monitor. The X-ray appears to be of a stomach with something dark and bristly lodged within.
Read all of the first three chapters at SUICIDE SKIN.]]>
Max sucks air into her lungs, face-down on the train platform with a big-ass BART cop pressing his weight on her shuddering body. “Calm down, Miss!” he yells into her ear. Smells like he’s had Taco Bell. “Calm down!’
“A reading? In a bookstore? Will David Sedaris be there? No? Um, well, you see, I have to clean out my lint trap that day. I don’t know if you’ve heard, but this is International Masturbation Month, and ‘clean my lint trap’ is a euphemism! Ha ha!”
I will not hold a gun to your head. I won’t read in a sing-song, wear a beret, or force you to buy six books of poetry at the cash register.
I’ll read an excerpt of my memoir that’s going to be published in the very first issue of California Prose Directory. Some very good writers will read a few stories. That’s it. I promise the pain will be minimal, and it will end at a decent hour, giving you plenty of time to celebrate the month in the manner of your choosing.
That is all.
Sunday, May 19th, 5 pm
3036 24th St (between Folsom and Harrison)
I’d swallowed the pop culture definition, in which my future happiness and security depended upon extending forgiveness to the man who’d molested me as a kid. Hank the Blank, the same man who then, thirty years later, attracted thousands of fans with stories in which young boys were always eager participants in acts that made my skin crawl to read.
If I wanted to be a wise, sober, evolved person, I must forgive. If I wanted liberation from suffering. If I wanted to be a good man.
I went there immediately. I went there first. And it felt fucking horrible.
Then I read Judith Herman’s Trauma and Recovery, and I came to this passage:
Some survivors attempt to bypass their outrage altogether through a fantasy of forgiveness. This fantasy, like its polar opposite (revenge), is an attempt at empowerment. The survivor imagines that she can transcend her rage and erase the impact of the trauma through a willed, defiant act of love. But it is not possible to exorcise the trauma, through either hatred or love. Like revenge, the fantasy of forgiveness often becomes a cruel torture, because it remains out of reach for most ordinary human beings. True forgiveness cannot be granted until the perpetrator has sought and earned it through confession, repentance, and restitution.
It was only when I read that passage that I felt something like liberation. That I got unstuck. For 31 years I’d tried to be a good boy. I’d crammed 98 percent of my feelings into the farthest darkest corners of myself.
I honestly couldn’t answer Ground Control when he’d ask me what I felt about something. Here I was, the “sensitive” kid, the “sweet” man, and I had no fucking clue what I felt.
“I know depressed,” I told him.
“That’s not a feeling,” he said.
Shit, I thought. I had 31 years of feelings to vent. 31 fucking years. I better start now.
I once remarked to the Manly Fireplug that I had a lifelong attraction to bad boys. Friends or lovers, it didn’t matter. I liked the boys who could tell the world to fuck off.
“That’s cause you’re a bad boy,” he said. It was one of those ah-ha moments. But that was a few years ago, and I stayed stuck on the rock.
After I found Hank’s stories and lost my mind, after I bought a knife for self-protection and positioned myself so that nobody, nowhere, was behind me, so that I could watch everyone and suss out their motives, after I tore Hank the Blank a new one over the phone, after I came home from work every night drenched in my own sweat, after all of that, I gave myself permission to be angry, petty, sullen, and stubborn. I dropped reasonable, diplomatic, and forgiving. I wouldn’t torture myself in the pursuit of “fairness.”
I told myself that if I fucking wanted to say fuck on Dogpoet, I’d fucking do it.
Sometimes a well-meaning person tells me I need to forgive. That it’s the key to my happiness. And sometimes it feels like a cobweb on my face that I just brush off. And sometimes it feels like control, like Hank the Blank himself is imposing his will, trying to bend me to his own fucked-up purpose, and I can’t get away from that person fast enough.
Look, I get it. We don’t want to see people we like suffering. We want to imagine that there could be a tidy resolution to pain, and we gently push our loved ones in that direction.
But there’s nothing tidy about child abuse. There will never be a day in my life that I won’t be affected by it. It’s fucking family. It’s primal. It’s everything. It cuts deeper than anything else, working its way into our marrow. We don’t “walk away” from it. We can’t.
I tried the tidy resolutions and the peremptory forgiveness. I tried whiskey, and meth, and Manhunt, and Playstation, and shoes, and gardening. I got snatches of songs stuck in my head every waking moment for over a year because I couldn’t handle hearing my own thoughts. That way doesn’t work. That way ends with the razor and the gun and the rope.
Look, Hank the Blank isn’t contrite. He doesn’t get it. “It was only an hour of your life,” he told me. Four months ago he made me a promise that he’d seek therapy. I knew it was empty, and I was proven right. Hank the Blank doesn’t deserve forgiveness.
That doesn’t mean that I’ll lug his crap around forever. Four months later I feel less burdened, not more so, because I cut ties with him and decided not to forgive. I’ll feel what I need to feel, once I figure out what a feeling is. I’ll save my love for the people who deserve it.]]>
“She blinks, and finds herself holding a miniature blow torch, staring into the corner of the room above her brother’s garage, where she’s lived for the past 263 days…”
While not breathing, I started thinking about stress, which, you know, kind of defeats the purpose. Thinking about stress convinced me that I was suffering a heart attack on Saturday.
“Do you want me to take you to the ER?” asked the Fireplug.
I paused from checking my pulse for the seventh time and whispered, weakly, “Let’s finish this episode of Southland first.”
I crossed a sort of threshold over the weekend, where I stopped looking at stress as a modern badge of honor. I suppose not breathing will convince anyone to entertain the ludicrous idea of slowing down.
When anyone asks me what I’m going to write next, after this family memoir that’s swallowed nine years of my life, after PTSD and therapy and suicidal ideations, I joke that I want to write fiction so that I can just make shit up.
After I finished writing and posting A Story About a Very Bad Thing, my excitement for the idea of fiction began to build. Frankly I didn’t know if I had the correct amount of perspective anymore, after the batshit craziness of the past four months, to finish the memoir. And starting a new project might actually make finishing the first book easier, by redistributing some of the obligational weight.
I sat with the idea for a couple of weeks, to make sure it wasn’t just another compulsive distraction that I regularly cook up to keep me from dealing with Oh-God-My-Family-Is-So-Fucked.
And once I started thinking about the new book, and scribbling down some ideas, I realized that fiction would allow me to confront the batshit craziness, but in a metaphorical kind of way that felt liberating. And then, strangely enough, and for the first time in months, I started to actually feel better.
So starting tomorrow I’ll be posting the (nice and short) chapters from my new novel online. SUICIDE SKIN is a thriller about a girl, a monkey, and an alien invasion. My goal is to write a darkly engaging page-turner. Or screen-scroller. Or, well, you get my drift.
I should add that I’ve written exactly one chapter so far. It’s my goal to post as I write, a prospect that pretty much scares the living shit out of me, and so it kind of negates the whole liberation-from-stress angle. But maybe, if I can push past the need for polished perfection, I’ll get back to liberation. It’s supposed to be a thriller, after all.
As for posting it free online, well, why the hell not? Publishing is all kinds of fucked right now, I’m writing to save my life, and in the process I hope to entertain you.]]>
My father, Hank, once took me to a men’s gymnastics meet at the University of Minnesota. I was maybe twelve. Thirteen. His partner joined us. I don’t know if you’ve ever been to a non-Olympic men’s gymnastics meet, but you pretty much have your choice of seats. Hank steered us to the second row. And this is where it gets, from the point of view of a 12-year-old boy, batshit creepy.
He broke out the binoculars.
Oh my fucking god we are sitting in the second row and Hank the Blank is looking at the gymnasts through binoculars. Every time he raised those fucking things to his eyes I felt like a huge million-watt spotlight swung over and fixed us in its glare, while a loudspeaker boomed:
HOMOSEXUALS SITTING IN SECTION A, ROW 2!! THREE HOMOSEXUALS!! YES, THE BOY IS ONE TOO! HE WILL NEVER AGAIN BE NORMAL! IN FACT, SECURITY, PLEASE ESCORT THE HOMOSEXUALS FROM THE BUILDING!
The handful of times I’ve recounted this memory to friends I’d stop there, framing it as nothing more than a squirmy-funny anecdote of What It Was Like to Have a Gay Dad.
But there was so much more.
I remember that the gymnasts took my breath away. I remember the smell of sweat and powdered chalk. I remember their smooth round muscles. I remember their nerves and their power – the fluid impossible beauty of their mid-air contortions. I remember my scrawniness, and how small and clumsy and ugly I felt sitting there beside my father, from whom I’d inherited that scrawniness. I remember the yearning – peculiar to gays, maybe – of wanting to be what I also desired. I remember knowing that all of it – my yearning, my father’s yearning, the fucking binoculars – was wrong.
My sexuality was waking up alongside my father’s coming out. And I didn’t want it. I didn’t want to be like him – I didn’t want to be a child molester. A creep. A blank.
I remember how the gymnastics coaches would step in, and help lift the gymnasts up to the rings, and then step back.
I remember how desolate I felt, sitting there, imploding with feelings I didn’t want, and that the man who could have helped me understand them, the man sitting next to me, had proven himself, one night, three years before, to be utterly untrustworthy. The man who had abdicated his fatherhood of me.
Few fathers help their sons understand sex. Or at least, that’s my guess. I don’t mean to suggest that I was special.
Only that I wanted to pull away from Hank, and from the binoculars, and climb somewhere higher in the stands, somewhere up near the back, so that I could watch the gymnasts on my own, not just the parts of them that the binoculars could show, but the whole fucking thing, all of it, the crazy, heart-rending, mid-air opera. The men stepping in, lifting the boys, and stepping back.
For several years after that day in the gymnasium, I’d steal Hank’s porn mags. First Hand, they were called. I was a teenage boy. I’d read those stories and then slip them back in his dresser drawer.
Sex is a goddamn mystery. It’s a distant alien star pushing and pulling us, and we deny it every step of the way. Until we don’t.
It’s funny in a squirmy kind of way to admit that when my father first told me that he’d been writing erotic stories and posting them to an online site, I knew exactly which site he was talking about, because I’d visited it many times.
I never wanted my sexuality to have anything to do with Hank. And so for many, many years I tried very hard never to wonder why I had a thing for older guys. And in recent days, when I’ve forced myself to sit with that wonder for a while, I feel confident in saying I never desired Hank.
Rather, I wanted what I never had. I wanted what those gymnasts had, someone to step in and lift them up to the rings. Someone who’d step back and make room for their miracles.
So this is a very long, digressive, muddled answer – there is nothing wrong with reading those stories. There’s nothing wrong with writing those stories. We all have our shadow sides, and it does us no good to deny them. Consenting adults, be free!
I want that to be clear. My pain and skin-crawling horror of recent events has little, really, to do with the stories themselves. If I’d found out, accidentally, from some other source, that Hank the Blank had written stories about incest and posted them on the internet, it would have been awkward and weird and yeah, I’d probably wonder a little about his inner self.
But that’s not what he did. Hank the Blank wrote stories about incest and then decided to share those stories with the son he’d once molested. A series of decisions that made a couple of things clear:
This took some time to put together. Immediately after reading his stories, in those first few weeks, I walked around, shell-shocked and hollow. I couldn’t see anything, let alone make connections.
My own sanity, my own sense of being a man, a human being walking around on the planet, demanded that I leave him, separate myself, climb up, somewhere higher in the stands, so that I could see not just the separate parts, but everything.]]>
“You ready to go?” asked the Manly Fireplug.
“My blog is gone.”
“You have surgery.”
“But my blog is gone.”
He talked me into the car, though I brought my laptop and attempted to find my blog again in the waiting room. Also in the surgery prep room. No luck. I woke up about an hour later with a two-page print-out:
You have mild inflammation in the stomach, the esophagus (where you swallow) looked very inflamed and there was a small ulcer at the bottom of the esophagus as well. You have a hiatal hernia, a benign condition that may predispose to reflux disease. A biopsy was taken. I will notify you of the result in 4-10 days.
I waited around for someone to wheel me down to the lobby to meet the Fireplug, but eventually I got bored and walked down on my own.
“Are you in pain?” the Fireplug asked in the car.
“No. But my blog is still gone.”
Back home I ate for the first time in 20 hours and attempted to find my blog. Chalk this up to another consequence of depression: hackers will infiltrate your site via old plugins and third-party software that you just don’t have the energy to update.
16 tedious, screen-squinting hours later, I got my blog back. Hi!
Also I was right about an upper G.I. endoscopy having nothing to do with Channing Tatum.]]>
I’ll be embarrassed if it’s pyschosomatic, but since this all got worse when I found Hank the Blank’s stories, they might tell me I need to keep frickin’ meditating.
For distraction I decided to build a 30-foot dry stack retaining wall in our backyard garden. Do I know how to build a 30-foot dry stack retaining wall? No! But this is the kind of shit you do when you find out that your father is a replicant.
Seriously, I do want to thank everyone who has written me to comment on my recent posts, especially those of you who said that you went through similar crap as a kid.
I thought it might be helpful to somebody, someday, if I put a list together of things that helped me as I tried to actually deal with, and not ignore, childhood sexual and emotional abuse. So I have a Resources tab now which I’ll probably update from time to time.
The last time I went into surgery at Kaiser on the mandatory empty stomach, they had the Food Channel playing in the waiting room.]]>