Who’s Your Perp, Bro?

Worse…

…………….gets worse…

…It gets worse before…

……………………………….it gets better.

I heard these words as I fell – an astronaut sucking on a near-empty oxygen tank

plunging down a rabbit hole.

flyingsoldiersWho said them? I can’t remember. Ground Control, maybe, on whose couch I’d been riding for 60, then 90 minutes a week, spilling my guts for the discounted rate of six 20-dollar bills, which I’d remove from an ATM up the street on Castro before each session, later ducking into Walgreens for a Cherry Coke Zero, all the while feeling like someone behind me was getting set to toss a grenade at me. Do people get grenaded on Castro Street? I mean literally grenaded? No. But reason couldn’t touch me in those days, just after I’d found the father-son-incest-erotic-skincrawling-get-the-fuck-away-from-me stories on the fucking internet.

Grenades at work, grenades on Market Street, grenades on MUNI. They were all flying my way, the poor astronaut in a sweat-soaked business casual shirt. More than once Ground Control found me hiding in his waiting room a good 90 minutes before our session. I’d wave my iPhone at him, ear buds firmly in place, as I pretended to rifle through my bag. “Don’t worry, plenty to do here, I know when our session starts! Haha!” Truth was I just felt safer in there.

…gets worse…

Maybe I heard those words from some other poor rabbit-hole-plunger, one of the shut-in dudes I’d chatted with in online forums where those of us in various stages of the shut-in process hung out, dudes who spoke their own shared language, using words like perp, as in, “Who was your perp, bro? Mine was my uncle.” Or simply letters. for therapist. As in, “My t tells me it gets worse, bro, before it gets better. Meanwhile my disability is about to run out.” I got pretty good using bro in a sentence without irony.

I kept falling. I told Ground Control that I couldn’t remember what a feeling felt like. He eventually figured out that me getting molested by Hank the Blank at the age of nine was merely one event in a chaotic childhood. That my favorite childhood memories were the ones where I was alone. That all I felt growing up was lonely and that today I only felt empty. That I couldn’t concentrate, couldn’t focus, couldn’t get my work done at work, couldn’t write, couldn’t find the word for..for…fuck it.

But I could talk on his couch, that much I could do. For 90 minutes I’d fill that oxygen tank and hope it would last me the remaining 6 days, 22 hours and thirty minutes…

Then a package arrived from my father.

I had a feeling. I just knew he would send me something. “How did you know?” asked Ground Control, after the fact.

“I just sensed it coming.”

Hank the Blank had disregarded my plea to leave me in peace for the rest of our lives, and sent me a package that contained everything, he said in the accompanying letter, that he could find in his “Mike File.” Old family photos, graduation ceremony programs, newspaper clippings. He told me he thought I might want these things, as if what he were giving me was a gift, though it felt like a sucker-punch. Here’s everything I have of you. I don’t want it.

The rest of the letter was such a masterful example of…what’s the word? I can’t…can’t… fuck it, here’s what he said:

1.  Hank the Blank was in a lot of pain because I no longer wanted to talk to him, and he really wanted me to know exactly how much pain he was in, and how all of it was my fault.

2. He would like to have a relationship with me, but only if I agreed to “shield” him from my anger.

3. He and my stepfather were getting married in the spring, and all the family would be there, but I wasn’t invited unless I could agree to number 2 (see above).

4. He hoped my therapist would help me see the “big picture,” a.k.a. all the things he had brought into my angry, ungrateful life aside from child molestation.

5. He assumed that I no longer expected to be included in their will. In either case, he and my stepfather agreed that I shouldn’t be “rewarded” for blogging about this very delicate matter, which I had entirely misconstrued and then advertised to the internet.

6. No matter what I said or did, he’d still be my father.

Yeah, so.

I’d like to say that I was all like, psssht, no sweat off my…don’t let the door hit you in the…

And maybe I pulled that off for about 48 hours. But I kept falling

…faster now…

Couldn’t think for shit at work. Sat paralyzed at my desk, as if I getting up and moving would lead to my death. Sometimes got up and moved and didn’t die but found an empty office, closed the door, barricaded it, turned off the lights, and lay on the carpet for two hours.

Went home at night on BART checking my six for grenade-tossers, locked the front door behind me, climbed the stairs, took the dogs out back to pee, then back upstairs, into the bedroom, closed the door, pulled the blinds, lay in bed getting kissed by dogs, flipped on Netflix streaming and watched docs about soldiers coming home all fucked up from Iraq.

Then one morning I pulled myself out of bed and emailed work and said that I couldn’t come in for a while, I wasn’t sure how long. And for the second time in a year I went to Kaiser and told them that despite my totally amazing husband and my loving dogs, and my house, and my friends, and my punch card at the pharmacy, that I couldn’t stop thinking about ending it all.

So Yeah, Fuck It

February, fell down a rabbit hole. Turned around to take a hard look at some hard times and fell head-first.

Kept

falling. Every time I thought I’d hit the bottom I just kept going. I honestly didn’t think it would be this hard.

I’m crazy now. Or crazier, maybe, than I used to be. Me and Alice, down here in the hole. Mentally ill by definition. No straightjackets down here – I tried to get a bed in the loony bin, forgetting that we’d already shut them all down.

So I sit in a law firm by day, sipping my tea with all the Mad Hatters, quietly going bananas in a Banana Republic shirt. I do make this look pretty good.

Chronic PTSD, that’s the label they’ve pinned on me / I have a punch card at the pharmacy.

That’s the lullaby we sing at night, down here in our rabbit hole. It’s been a while – since we last spoke I’ve kept my husband and said good-bye to most of my family. But to you I wanted to say hello.

Fuck Forgiveness

Less than 24 hours after reading the stories promoting incest that my father Hank had spent the last three years writing and posting to the internet, I got stuck on the rock of forgiveness.

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.

The Six-Hundred and Eighty-Four Cents (After Taxes) Bionic Man

six-million-dollar-manSpent the morning plugged into a treadmill at Kaiser in an effort to find out why I haven’t been breathing like my old self. Electrodes and wires dangling everywhere. Have they made bionic lungs yet? Are they covered? Will people make fun of my now-patchy chest hair?

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.

The Homosexuals in the Second Row

binocularsA reader left a comment asking my take – in light of recent events – on erotic stories, particularly those involving, well, a daddy. I’m glad he asked, because I’ve given this a lot of thought.

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:

  1. He had no remorse, or even the barest understanding, of the long-term effects of molestation.
  2. Someone that unaware was dangerous.
  3. His disinterest in attending therapy or examining his actions in any kind of sustained, supervised way, made it unforgivable.

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.

Spammed to Pieces

Wrote my post yesterday about going in for an upper G.I. endoscopy, hit “publish,” then watched as my entire blog disappeared.

“You ready to go?” asked the Manly Fireplug.

“Um…”

“Um what?

“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.

Distractions for the Gastroenterological Soldier

Going in to Kaiser today for an upper G.I. endoscopy, which is not the fun kind of G.I. involving Channing Tatum. Hopefully we’ll figure out why Prilosec is no longer wiping out my reflux, and if acid is backing up into my lungs making me constantly short of breath.

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.

The last time I went into surgery at Kaiser on the mandatory empty stomach, they had the Food Channel playing in the waiting room.

The Remains of a Family

So what do you when your father, who molested you and your brother when you were both little boys, spends the last three years writing stories that promote incest to the internet, stories that attract thousands of fans and that he wants to share with you? What do you do next?

I mean, aside from therapy.

Yeah, I don’t really have a good answer for that one.

I can tell you that in the weeks following New Year’s Eve (when I found the stories) I spent a lot of time trying to figure out if my father was a psychopath. I didn’t come up with an answer there, either.

Then I started thinking about those common bits of wisdom, you know, like “blood is thicker than water,” or “everyone turns into their parents eventually.”  Sometimes, riding the train home through the tunnel, I’d look at my reflection in the darkened windows and catch sight of him looking back at me, through my own face.

I knew that there was something missing in him, something human, and because I’d felt myself grow cold and shut down as the years went by, I wondered how much of him was in me. But I’d like to think the coldness was a reaction against what he did, not some genetic bit of wiring guaranteed to short me out before I hit 50.

I’m not driven by the need to prosecute my father in a court of law. Maybe because I’ve already done the worst thing imaginable to him – I fucking told the internet everything. And though maybe I changed a few facts about him (not to protect him so much as to make it easier for me to “see” him, and write about him, with less of the obligational baggage I’d been carrying around), anyone who knows the two of us and who reads this thing, will now know what he did.

I’ve gone back over most of our correspondence in the past year and what I found was a man whose ultimate concern was not for his sons, but for himself. He was terrified of people knowing him for who he really was. So writing my 3partstory shut something off between us. We can’t go back now. I haven’t heard from him, and I hope I never will.

I think a lot about the line between sanity and madness, where I spend most of my time now. And I wonder who gets to decide where that line goes.

What I’m left with is a tremendous sadness, which was never safe to feel, growing up in a family where me and my brother were never wanted, by either parent. Where we couldn’t trust either of them.

My parental figures are gone. My brother and I are trying to figure out how to trust each other. And I know I’ll keep writing, to keep myself a couple of inches this side of madness, and ’cause I hope this fucked-up story will be of use to someone else.

A Story About a Very Bad Thing (Part 3 of 3)

Dead-Space-3-Isaac-Floating2The little boy stayed up too late one night in front of the TV, transfixed by a movie about pod people –  emotionless replicants taking over the planet. Humans could only escape detection by walking around, stiff and flat and drained of emotion. This terrified the boy, who’d always been one big ball of emotion – sensitive, they said. Thin-skinned. How could one survive a world stripped of feeling? Where the hint of emotion made you a target? Where someone you loved could be replaced by an alien hostile to love or tears? Every night for the next month, and for years afterward, he had nightmares about replicants coming for him.

***

The man now leaves the train, his entire body shuddering from feelings he can neither name nor control, and the center he’s trying so hard to maintain breaks open as he drifts up San Jose Avenue, and noises come out of him, animal, primitive sounds of a very old pain.

In the safety of his house his dogs, alarmed by his noises, climb all over him, pushing him to the ground, where they lick the hot, stupid tears from his face.

* * *

The next night he and his husband drive to their regular 12-step meeting. The man sits hunched over in a metal folding chair in the back row, silent, a dull, brutish anger pulsing within him. It moves through him like a virus, infecting every organ, every nerve ending, every cell. The meeting is meant to keep him steady and sober and true, but he’s no longer there. He’s infected with a rage, and to protect his husband and the friends around them, he leaves his metal folding chair and tries to cool his flat, hot skin outside, in a courtyard, sitting in the dark on a bench.

He feels the full deep sickness of his family. He comes from sickness, and he sits, sick, in the church courtyard, scared of himself. He needs to throw a punch.

The man pulls out his phone and texts Hank the Blank.

I read your stories. Fathers and sons having sex?? Barbers?? Why the fuck would you think that I would want to read that shit? You are not human. You are the most selfish man I have ever known. You are sick. You will never be my father. We’re done. I am through keeping your secrets. I am through paying the price for your actions.

He hits “send,” and feels the rage within him dim, leaving him heavy and sad and cold on the bench. His husband finds him and together they drive home.

The next day on the train after work he reads the email his father has sent him:

1.  I accept the fact that my stories are not your cup of tea, but they have been widely praised by thousands of readers in the past three years, including many well-educated, well-adjusted people whom I’ve come to know and admire, including other more experienced writers.  Far less than 1% of the feedback I’ve gotten has been negative, and certainly none as vicious as yours.  It was uncalled for.

 2.  They are fiction.  In 12 stories there is only one instance of actual father-son sex, which I don’t endorse and which had nothing remotely to do with you.  Even famous authors write about things they would never personally engage in (murder comes to mind as one obvious example).

 3.  Yes, some of my earlier stories lacked maturity and the best of taste, but there’s long been a noticeable shift to ones that now focus on adult relationships, feelings, and upbeat endings.  Yes, there is sex, but sex is a normal human function.

 4.  I think you are a  first-class hypocrite for complaining about my little web stories, for which I get no compensation and write only for adults who choose to come to that site.  For years now you’ve been immersed in writing a non-fiction account about the foibles of the people who raised you and expecting someday to get money and adulation for it.  Maybe it was cathartic for you to write it, but it’s hurtful to many of those you have written about, including your mother who isn’t even around to agree to it or defend herself from your less-than-gracious portrayal of her.  And you have the nerve to call ME sick!  If you’re such a great writer (and you are), why don’t you write a novel instead and leave your family out of it?

 Your beef with me feels like something much bigger than my stories.  Talk to your counselor about it, but keep the above points in your mind when you do, because there are always two sides to any story.  Then I would ask that you take a few months to think it over before burning any bridges or inflicting unnecessary pain on anyone.  I can take anything you throw at me, but I’m not taking sole responsibility for this.  It takes two to make a relationship work, and I don’t think you’ve done your share.

Rage again possesses him. He flies off the train and up the hill, blowing through the front door like a bullet. His husband is there. The man calls Hank the Blank and puts him on speaker, because even now, with hundreds of miles between them, he fears his father, and right now, he fears himself even more.

And what comes out is a primal scream. He loses his mind. He screams the things the nine-year-old boy never could. He screams for every wasted year of his life, every twisted, balled-up feeling he shoved into every back corner of every internal organ.

The house rings with his screams. The dogs cower. He bawls, “Inward focused? Non-fiction? That was how I survived, you idiot. You made me that way. I’m your fucking Frankenstein.” The man is nine years old. He is 16. 28. He swings between demon and man.

“Stop screaming. You’re being irrational.”

“You’re a fucking psychopath.” The man has never, in his life, swore at his father.

“What do you want from me?” Hank says.

“I..I don’t…those stories…”

“They’re fiction. They’re fantasy.”

“THEY REALLY HAPPENED!”

“I wasn’t writing about you.”

“Are you fucking kidding me? A father and son naked in a fucking bathroom? You’re in so much fucking denial you don’t even know who the fuck you are!”

“I repeat, I wasn’t thinking about you…”

“I was your fucking son! You were supposed to fucking protect me!”

“…and the story about the barber – I wasn’t thinking about your husband -”

“Shut the fuck up!”

“I don’t know why you are so upset. The incident when you were nine years old. I didn’t plan it, it just happened. And it only took up an hour of your life.”

The man turns to his husband, who sits, crying quietly, on the couch beside him. “He doesn’t get it,” his husband says.

“What do you want from me?” Hank says.

“Nothing,” the man replies. “I don’t want anything from you.”

“Are you going to take this to a public forum?”

“Have a nice life,” the man says, then presses “End.” He sets his phone on the coffee table. Its screen is flecked with layers of dried spit. His clothes hang from him wetly. He’s hunched like a burned-out bulb.

“I’m so sorry,” his husband says.

***

Hank the Blank goes into damage control mode the next day, pulling his stories off the internet, and calling family members to corral their support. The man’s brother calls him that night. “I just talked to Hank. I’ve never told you this, but he did it to me, too.”

They talk long into the night.

***

The man searches and, after some trial and error, locates assistance. Once a week, after work, he sits on a couch in an office of a stranger, above Castro Street, staring at the Chagall print hanging on the opposite wall, and talks to this stranger. A figure in the Chagall floats near the top of the frame. Chagall liked floating figures.

The man tells the stranger that he feels like an astronaut. He tells him that his father, Hank the Blank, comes from another planet, and that the man feels at home neither here nor there. He’s floating, drifting, untethered, with a dwindling tank of air, hovering over a planet that talks about karaoke and Frappuccinos. He’s an alien.

The stranger calls the Minneapolis Police Department, and a detective there tells him that the statute of limitations has long passed, and there is nothing they can do about what happened to the man when he was nine years old.

The stranger asks the man if he believes that Hank is an immediate danger to anyone else. To other children?

“I don’t know,” the man says. “He’s a fucking replicant.”

After a few weeks the stranger has gained his trust.

I call him Ground Control.

I tell Ground Control that I don’t understand the things that are happening to me. I’m afraid all the time. I don’t trust anyone. I panic on BART. “I bought a knife,” I say. “For self-protection.”

“Your father is in Arizona.”

“I’m not scared of him,” I say. “But I ignored my gut and I trusted him, for the last ten years, and look what he did. If he could do that, what are strangers capable of?”

I’m terrified of Facebook, where psychopaths can more easily disguise themselves.

After work I return to the house I bought with Joe – I return to my haven. I close the bedroom door, shut the blinds, swallow my evening meds, and I lie in bed with the dogs breathing beside me. I watch Netflix streaming. I watch documentaries about soldiers coming home from Iraq. Soldiers hiding in their bedrooms with their guns cocked.

I am deeply fucked.

I find an online forum for men who endured childhoods like mine. I talk to other grown men whose lives have narrowed as they aged. Men who can no longer hold a job. Deeply fucked men. Some of them are all alone, in their houses, in their rooms. Talking, at least, to each other, typing on their keyboards and hitting “Send.”

Joe comes home and sees the closed blinds and says, “Bad day?”

I tell Joe that I know that I’m lucky to have him, that someday soon I hope to be a partner to him again.

In addition to the Ke$ha songs and the knife-wielding clowns filling my head, a courtroom trial runs there, and every day I flip between prosecution and defense, running down the list of evidence against my father, trying to determine if breaking off contact was the right thing. How will I feel when he’s on his death bed?

I don’t know why he wanted me to read those stories. Even if I wanted to ask him, I couldn’t trust his answer. I can’t trust that he knows even his clearest motives.

I think about fiction, and fantasy, and memoir, and how Hank and I’d hurt each other with our stories. Hank the Blank had feared my nonfiction, for good reason, and Hank’s fiction had been anything but, at least to me. I try to inch down the hall of mirrors, puzzling over fiction and nonfiction, but my head quickly grows weary and confused.

They have power, don’t they? Stories still have power.

The truth has a current, and I’ve spent eight years and nineteen drafts rowing upstream. I wrote a book that was lighter than the truth, wanting something madcap and funny, wanting to entertain with a story about a Modern Family full of same-sex love. I’d set out to write the truth, but I’d left out one crucial bit, to protect Hank, ending up with a book that I couldn’t, in good conscience, release into the world. I’d written the wrong book, and it had nearly killed me.

Eight years and nineteen drafts later, I give up. I throw my paddle into the water and let this boat drift with the current.

Fuck it, I say. I’ll write a book about a deeply fucked family –  to give comfort to the deeply fucked reader.