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PTSD, or The Little Self of Horrors

Pic of Author Looking HauntedThis is you smiling.

You’ve hiked into the forest behind the house in Portland where you’ve crashed your deep space bunker, and now you’re exerting all of your facial muscles to perform the most common exercise known to modern man. This is your selfie. This is your smile.

You used to be sweet. Now you’re scary. That’s what they keep telling you. You frighten me, they say. You’ve left three jobs and three homes in the past year because you can’t keep it bottled. 44 years of rage uncorked, the vintage 1971 was a bad crop. Straight outta Oklahoma, you sad, scary hayseed.

The fucking bunker is failing. You watch astronomical amounts of television while playing match-three games on your phone just to keep the hate in check. You watch so much TV that you’ve run out of TV. You’ve watched it all. Congratulations.

You are a 44 year old dog walker courier who’s about to lose his job. You’re scorched earth. You have nothing left but a 4Runner and a chihuahua named Agnes. You are such a fucking loser that you’re sucking up all the loserdom in the vicinity. You’re the kicked dog who keeps getting kicked simply because the last guy kicked you.

You’re in a strange city where the streets make no sense and the faces come out of the rain. Nobody here knows your name and you drive the strange streets thinking you could at any moment just disappear and would anyone hear that tree when it falls in the woods behind the bunker, over and over, a woods full of trees falling one at a time?

You think you’ve found a new Ground Control, you sit on his couch every Wednesday morning for 50 minutes trying to figure out if you could trust this one, if you could hear his voice as you drift through deep space, the only voice you hear now because you have successively shut everyone else out, even though you know that the one thing you need is the one thing you can’t accept – human connection. The only thing the kicked dog trusts is the kick itself.

You shield the world from your rage and at the end of the day you’re spent, a skinless man with bundled, singing nerves in the dark of the back bunker, the most farthest deepest room back there at the back. You hold the chihuahua to your chest, both of you fetal, and you keep checking to make sure she’s still breathing. 

You know the only thing that will save you, if you can’t accept human connection, is this. Putting words together even if your head is fully occupied by OCDish snatches of pop songs you’ve heard on the radio. Put the words together somehow. But don’t fucking put them here. Put them here and you’ll never get hired again. Put them here and the only humans who will connect will be the other freaks. Don’t do it. Don’t hit [publish].

As a Kid I Called it Duck Tape

Every morning I put myself together with duct tape and fear. I double and triple-wrap to hide the black hole in the center of my chest. Some days it holds. Most days it won’t.  Under the tape I’m empty and formless, a squirming hogpile of failures.

Everything hurts. The thought of forming a sentence hurts. Talking to a stranger hurts. Emailing a friend. Walking the dog.

I crawl back to the bunker to dress my wounds. I flip on the television to drown out the voices in my head. I pet the chihuahua to prove to myself that I’m still capable of love. I rearrange the stacks of duct tape I’ll need in the morning.

A Blip from a Deep-Space Bunker

I’ve been masticated by life.

Chewed up by the gods of marriage and money and spit out from the stupid, beautiful city that I called home for 18 years.

I’ve crash-landed a few worlds away, in a town called, ironically, Oakland. A stone’s  throw from Interstate 5, in an Oregon valley of ranches and moss-covered oaks. Population 927.

As I type there are frogs singing and a sheep crying from across the road.

On the table in the center of the mother-in-law’s apartment I currently call home there is a stack of papers; a new bank account, old bills from my previous life, and a Petition for Divorce sent to me by my husband’s lawyer.

I came here with nothing more than a few boxes of books and a chihuahua named Agnes. I live on the generosity of a cousin I’ve only just begun to know.

I lost touch from you, stuck in ice, spinning slowly out here in space, in a bunker that protected me from people and suicidal ideations. After two years of weekly appointments with my Ground Control I realized the bunker was to protect others from my rage.

I’m lost and broken and broken-hearted and the chihuahua has wandered away from me, drawn inexorably to the neighbor’s chicken coop. In a minute I’ll carry her back to this bunker and settle in for the night. Hello, good-night.

Mortgages Are For Masochists

MFAgraduationYou ever get that whiny voice in the back of your head that says, “Boy, it sure would be nice if life only gave me one, maybe two things tops to deal with at a time?” Apparently life doesn’t work that way!

I know. I’m still processing this, too.


Three jobs and an arson are nothing compared to the mortgage approval process. If you recently took time off to go to grad school, work on a book, or engage in nontraditional forms of employment, prepare yourself for weeks and maybe months of financial proctology.

Dig out your bank, credit card, IRA, and 401k statements (yes, Dad, I really have a 401k). Scan and email your tax returns. Check your credit score and try not to give in to despair. Write three-page emails trying to explain the six or seven w-2 and 1099 forms from 2010.  Keep your cool when they say, “Um, that was really confusing.”

Stay near the phone and field each day’s new request. For example, “Can you give us the contact info for the two years of employment before you had this really weird urge for an Ivy League education? Actually,  make that three.”

Also: “Can you get us a copy of your degree from Columbia?”

“How humiliating,” Joe said when I told him.

“Someday,” I said, “I will look back on all of this and not throw up.”

“Even better,” he said. “You finally got to put that MFA to use.”

Blue Jasmine, Blue Dylan

In the usual media-churned-ocean of post-Golden Globes buzz, I stumbled across a tweet by Mia Farrow’s son, Ronan: Missed the Woody Allen tribute – did they put the part where a woman publicly confirmed he molested her at age 7 before or after Annie Hall?

That, in turn, led me to the recent Vanity Fair article about Mia and her children. The sordid Woody/Soon-Yi spectacle hit while I was in college and largely oblivious to pop culture. Until this morning I had no idea that Woody had been investigated for molesting another of his adopted daughters, Dylan, who would later suffer from crippling depression:

The depression lasted all through college, exacerbated to high decibels twice when Allen succeeded in contacting her, Dylan said. The first time, she was bringing the mail in when she found a typewritten envelope addressed to her with a postmark from London. It was shortly before her 19th birthday, in 2004. Mia also saw the letter. According to Dylan, it said now that she was 18 he wanted to have a conversation. He was willing to meet anytime, anywhere, and would send a helicopter for her. He allegedly said he “wanted to set the record straight about what your mother has told you. Love, your father.”

Three years later, during her senior year of college, she said, a large stuffed manila envelope arrived at the school. “I should have recognized the handwriting—I didn’t. It had a fake return name: Lehman.” Inside she found “a four-inch-thick explosion of pictures of me and him—pictures, pictures, pictures everywhere. Some had tack holes in them. There was never anybody else in the pictures—there was definitely a theme going on.” None of them was inappropriate, but “it was scary.” According to her, the accompanying letter read, “I thought you’d want some pictures of us, and I want you to know that I still think of you as my daughter, and my daughters think of you as their sister. Soon-Yi misses you.” It was signed “Your father.”

“How do your daughters think of me as their sister?,” Dylan wondered. “How does that work?” She told me, “I held it together enough to get back to my room, and for three days I didn’t move. I wouldn’t answer my phone or answer my door.” She asked her mother to call her lawyers, and they were told that this did not constitute harassment. (When asked about the letters, Sheila Riesel, Allen’s attorney, called it a “private matter,” adding, “This is a man who loves all of his children and should be respected for that.”)

So this really fucking creeped me out. Not the helicopter part. The part about the package with the photos and the letter that reiterated his claim on her as a father. Creepy because my own father, Hank the Blank, sent me a similar package this past September. Despite my best efforts, the occasion sent me into a suicidal tailspin.

Before today I was a mild Woody Allen fan. Willfully oblivious, I think, to his private life scandals. I loved, and maybe still love, some of his movies. But after today, well, my entire body shivers in sympathy-pain for Dylan. There’s no question whose version I believe. I’ll be spending my entertainment dollars on other stories, with no regret.

Like me, Dylan later found a savior in a patient and compassionate husband. I hope one day to be a little less broken, so that I can give and receive the love that we humans need in order to deal with life on planet Earth.

Life Sentence

From the San Antonio News-Express:

A mother and former Army sergeant who pleaded guilty to a charge that she recorded herself having sex with her 3-year-old son was sentenced in federal court Friday to 28 years in prison.

Chief Judge Fred Biery of U.S. District Court in San Antonio told Epperson moments before her sentencing that her assaults on her son had effectively “sentenced him to life,” adding he would have 70 years or more to remember and relive the abuses.

“Instead of doing what you should have done (as a mother), you provide this sacrificial lamb of your son,” Biery said. “Because of your own needs, you were willing to make a sacrifice of your son.”

Nice to see a judge who gets it.

A Message from the Minor Chord

LiftoffjpgI am an astronaut.

I’m an astronaut without a mission.

I type these words on the only working console in the dim-lit, womb-like control room of the space station Minor Chord, circling an unnamed moon of an unnamed planet in an uncharted galaxy.


I await my orders.

I was never like other boys. I never wanted to be an astronaut. I was always too afraid of this world, let alone any others. I was trained and selected for this mission without my knowledge. I went to sleep in my own bed, beside my husband. I woke up here, out here, alone, save for the chihuahua that we’d rescued from the streets of central California. My husband brought her home and we named her Agnes of Bakersfield. Apparently she was selected for the mission too. Or she selected herself.

She took to me immediately, followed me around our house back in San Francisco. (When I type the words “San Francisco” I have to close my eyes and steel myself against the longing.)

Agnes now follows me as I pace the long empty corridors. The lights flick on and off automatically, marking our progress. She’s my sole companion. Agnes curls up at my chest at night, a small, soft source of warmth. When she curls up she makes a noise that kills me. It’s the noise of surrender, the noise of a creature who feels safe.

I want to cry when I hear that noise. I do not feel worthy of such trust. But I’m unable to cry. This is an issue that I would like to rectify.

Before bed each night I talk to my husband through the video screen in the control room. His image flickers and his voice comes to me across a hundred trillion miles, full of space dust and distortion.  I’m an astronaut who nearly failed high school physics, and every night I smack the side of the monitor. My husband continues to flicker. I’ve put in a work request through the proper channels but my anonymous employer has yet to reply.

“When are you coming home?” my husband used to ask. A year later he no longer asks. Still he remains optimistic. He tells me that all of this is a temporary setback. He tells me to be patient.

Every three weeks I’m allowed a twenty-minute video conference with my appointed psychiatrist. She has dyed hair and tattoos and a statue of Buddha on the shelf behind her. I’d like to think that in real life we’d be friends. I’ve asked her where she lives, where she speaks to me from, but she always deflects my attempts. “Why don’t you tell me about yourself instead,” she says. A stopwatch on the margin of the screen counts down our remaining time. Seventeen minutes. Twelve minutes. Three.

“I feel like a ghost,” I tell her. “I feel like I’m already dead.” She makes a note on her pad.

Drones deliver my new medications, along with boxes of Triscuits, Life cereal, and countless packets of Crystal Light.

I would like to be a Buddhist. I’ve read about and thoroughly understand the physical, mental, and emotional benefits of meditation but can’t stand being alone with my thoughts – I’ll do anything to distract myself from my own head.

Sometimes after my psych appointments I scroll through the medical records to which my anonymous employer has given me access:


One day I log on to find that MAJOR DEPRESSION, RECURRENT has disappeared from my record. In its place is a new entry: CHRONIC POSTTRAUMATIC STRESS DISORDER.

I scroll back and forth to be sure. It’s gone. Maybe you are only allowed one of the two.

For a few days my record is clear of MAJOR DEPRESSION, RECURRENT. I resolve to ask my psychiatrist about this, but keep forgetting. My short-term memory has been severely compromised. Another temporary setback, I hope.

A few days later the MAJOR DEPRESSION, RECURRENT appears again, above the CHRONIC POSTTRAUMATIC STRESS DISORDER. I keep forgetting to ask what happened to it.

At night I climb into my bunk and roll onto my side. Agnes jumps in and curls up next to my chest. She makes that noise I told you about. I used to lay awake for hours, tossing and turning, always picking up the chihuahua with calm hands and placing her again at my chest. But a new medication arrived, and I fall asleep quickly now.