Danny

I watched his thin body spiral to the ground. He lie convulsing in the grass, on the side of road I take every day to get home. The billboard over his head displays before and after shots of Brian Urlacher’s hair transplant.

I don’t know what made me turn around. It was just important for me to know if he was still breathing.

I pull over at the car wash across the street, close enough to see his limbs pulsing like they’re wired with electricity.

“Hey, do you need help?” I call to him from my open car window.

Slowly, he lifts himself up off the ground in a movement that reminds me of a marionette.

A smile sits sideways on his face.

“Do you want me to call you an ambulance?” I ask him.

He staggers toward me. Cars blur past us.

“Do you know where I am?” he asks me, tottering closer.

He’s wearing a neon orange vest with reflective patching. Dirt covers his forearms and throat. He appears to be a tradesperson of some sort.

“You’re on Martin Road. You fell. Pretty hard, it looked like,” I say.

A pair of bloated eyes fights to stay open. “I hate my life,” he says.

“I’m sorry to hear this,” I say hesitantly. My stomach grumbles, reminding me it’s dinnertime, and this isn’t a part of my daily schedule.

“Where were you going?” I ask him.

“No where,” he slurs. “I belong no where.”

“Well, do you need me to take you somewhere?”

I arrive at that never-ending place I sometimes I find myself in conversation. The jogging pace inside my chest picks up to a full run.

“Can you take me to my parents?”

I stare at a tattoo on his arm of a stuffed bear. The words underneath it read, “Amber Lee.”

“Where are your parents?”

“In Winston.”

“Winston’s 40 minutes away. How were you getting home?”

“A bus, I think,” he says, scratching his head.

“Were you working earlier today?”

“Yes.”

“Have you been drinking?” I ask, letting his sour scent fill my nostrils.

“A little bit. Since I got off work.”

I peer at the man’s pockets and size the rest of him up. “Do you have any weapons on you?”

“Wait, what?” he says. “God no.” He pats himself down. I watch his hands intently.

“If you try anything, I’m going to ask you to get out of my car okay?” I tell him.

I’m usually not this straightforward. But then again, I don’t usually pick up men off the side of the road. I can hear my mother and grandmother screaming at me as I help him into the passenger side of my car.

“Okay, I’ll be good, I swear,” he says, raising his arms over his head.

“What’s your name?” I ask.

“Danny.”

I help Danny’s tattooed fingers find his seatbelt and then fumble with my own.

I drank a cup of coffee on my patio this morning. A hummingbird fluttered from flower to flower of my hanging plant, the longest living outdoor plant I’ve ever had. I sat, transfixed on the branch the hummingbird landed on. I had never seen one at rest. It blended in with the branch. Then the large twig sprung to life and zoomed out of mine.

After a few minutes, Danny’s sobs puncture the silence. Traffic is bumper to bumper. I realize that this is going to be a long trip.

I don’t know if it’s true, but I tell him everything’s going to be okay.

“You don’t understand,” he wails. “I’ve ruined everything. I’m a terrible person, and I don’t deserve to live.”

His tears wash over the dirt and streak his cheeks.

“Why do you say that?” I ask, grasping for context.

“I got my kids taken away from me, again.”

Before I can process the full weight of these words, Danny changes the subject.

“How old are you?” he sniffles.

“28.”

“Where are you from?”

“I’m from Oakton Grove.”

“Do you have a boyfriend?”

“Yes…But I’m not sure why this is relevant.”

“Do you love him?”

“I… love him.”

“Are you sure? Do you really love him?”

“Yes.”

“Then why did you hesitate?”

“Because I don’t know why me having a boyfriend is important.”

“Why did you pick me up?”

“Because you looked like you needed help.”

“You’re an angel. Are you here to save me?”

I clear my throat. It’s suddenly very dry. “I just want to make sure you get home,” I tell him.

“Do you want anything more than that?”

“No.” I make sure to look Danny directly in the eyes.

He turns and looks out the window. We inch down the road. “If you want me to go, just say so. You can pull over and I’ll walk the rest of the way home.”

“Is that what you want to do?”

“No,” he says, sinking into the passenger seat. “I like talking to you.”

“Well, that’s good then.”

“You’re pretty,” he tells me.

“Again, I don’t get the relevancy.”

“You’re hilarious. Nothing I say gets through to you. You don’t give a shit. How old are you?”

“I told you already, I’m 28.”

“Oh. Where are you from?”

“Oakton Grove.”

“Do you have a boyfriend?”

“We’ve been through this. Yes.”

“Someone sent you here today. You’re an angel sent to save me.”

“Why did your kids get taken away?”

Danny bites his lip and drums his fingers on the window. “Because I’m a bad dad.”

“What makes you a bad dad?”

It’s as if I accused him. He yells, “I love my fucking kids, okay?”

“Okay, I believe you,” I tell him. “Please don’t yell at me.”

“I’m sorry, angel. Will you take me away from here?”

“I’m taking you to your parents.”

“My parents can’t stand to see me like this.”

“Are you like this a lot?”

Danny nods and begins to sob again. He rocks in his seat. I see a five year old boy, lost and without his mother. I want to him pick up and hold him. This feeling fades into repulsion, as I watch a trail of snot run from his nose.

“Have you ever considered getting help?”

“A bunch of times. They spit me out, and I get right back to it.”

“You can change. You can get your kids back,” I tell him. I feel a swift sermon overcome me. “I know a dad who once lost his kids. He turned his whole life around and got them back.”

It’s the truth, but I don’t want to tell him how close this truth is to home.

“How old are you?”

“What?”

“Where are you from?”

“Danny…”

“Please tell me you don’t have a boyfriend.”

This circle of this conversation begins to wear on me. I continue to drive down the same road I’ve driven down for the last 10 years. It makes me feel old to have conversations that lead nowhere on roads I’ve travelled my whole life.

“When you drop me off at my parents, I’m going to run back the other way. The way we came.”

“Why would you do that?”

“Because they can’t see me like this.”

“Then why are we going there?”

“Because I don’t know what else to do.”

“What if I talked to your parents with you? What if we tell them what’s going on? And that you need some help getting treatment for your drinking?”

“How old are you, angel?”

When we arrive at the address Danny gave me, he sighs. He points to the house. “Look at those dumb Christmas lights. It’s July,” he laughs. “See, my parents are goofy. They don’t know anything. They never knew what to do with me. I’m just some dumb white boy. I’m a nobody.”

“That’s not true. You’re a dad. You’re somebody to someone.”

“Danny!” someone calls. Danny and I face the sound. There’s a skeletal woman with long, straight hair and dollish eyes standing in the street in front of my car.

“Danny, I was worried sick about you. Where the hell is your phone?”

“Dead,” he tells her, not moving from my car.

“Who are you?” she asks me.

“I’m no one. I found Danny here on the side of the road and just wanted to make sure he got home okay.”

“He’s fucked up, isn’t he?” Then she asks him. “You’re fucked up, aren’t you?”

Danny slips out of my car, slamming the door.

“You seem like a really nice person. Thank you.” The woman’s eyes hold mine for several seconds. I will myself to read her mind, decipher the pain that swims in her two pools of eyes.

I drive away and settle into defeat. My mission was to get Danny home, but I felt like I failed on a fundamental level. I have found myself here before. I know what it’s like to care about someone who talks in circles. And what happens when the patience dwindles. When hope runs dry.

My eyes catch a piece of blue fabric in the rearview mirror. It’s a utility bag of some sort. There’s a flashlight jutting out a side pocket. I don’t recognize any of these contents.

When I pull back into Danny’s parents’ driveway, I catch a glance of him and the skeletal woman embracing each other. He strokes the middle of her back, as she cradles him close. I wonder how long they’ve been falling apart and piecing themselves together.

I clear my throat and offer up Danny his work bag. “Thank you, angel,” he tells me.

For the next few weeks, I see Danny and his kids everywhere. There’s a daughter dancing on her father’s toes at a party. A father pushing his son on a swing. A father who tells his kids to wait for him at the end of the sidewalk.

I make up stories about them. There’s one where a dad hits rock bottom. He loses his kids for five years. The state says that he will never see them again unless he gets clean. When he reunites with them, he tells them he loves them, and the words are pure, unstained. And in that moment, everyone believes in the magic of being together again.

Clem

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I bought my rabbit, Clem, eight years ago from a thin, springy woman who ran a rabbit rescue from her large house in the country. Upon entering, I remember a sharp, rusty odor, but there was not a wad of fur or dropping to be found. Her house was immaculate for someone with animals living in every pore; rabbits munched and frolicked in their cages in the garage and living room. She even had a “private stash” in her bedroom that weren’t for sale.

I found this woman slightly unhinged. Little did I know, I would soon understand her need to cut across four lanes of traffic and throttle her car to the side of the road to retrieve an unventilated box of abandoned kits.

Clem was not my love at first sight. Nay, I had my heart set on a four-year-old Rex that looked just like the Velveteen Rabbit, one of my favorite fictional critters as a kid. My boyfriend, Sean, adored him too, but convinced me that it wasn’t such a good idea, since he had a large tumor on his hind leg. This would be our first pet as a fairly new couple, so I agreed to move on, reluctantly.

Clem flopped around a cage with a litter of rabbits that were indistinguishable from each other. They each had shiny black coats and stubby ears. We knew he was “the one” when he plopped right in front of us and shoved his nose into my hand. For 20 bucks, he was ours. On the ride home he nuzzled my waist, poking me with his whiskers and every now and then stretching his neck and sniffing the air. We named him Clementine; I didn’t learn that he was a male until a year later, when we went to get him neutered. I remember correcting the vet, who then schooled me by showing me my rabbit’s testicles.

Rabbits are not rodents; they’re lagomorphs, which is something I always threw into my father’s face. He assumed that rodents were less than those of the canine and feline families, and called Clem a “chew toy.” But I’m here to tell you rabbits are as sassy and conspiring as cats and as athletic as dogs. Did you know that rabbits can do kick flips with their hind legs? That they can throw cardboard boxes across the room? Pretty badass for a chew toy.

Clem has his own special brand of sassery. When I would study for college exams, I’d arrange all my books and notebooks across the floor and work, and Clem would come bounding across the carpet then nudge my hand. I happily mirrored his affection, but I’d have to shoo him away after the third or fourth round of pets in order to get any work done. Clem detested being shooed, so he’d devise a plan out of spite. He’d stare at me while threatening to chew through my lamp’s power cord. I’d sternly tell him NO and he would inch closer and closer to the cord anyway until I launched from the floor. The fluffy-tailed bastard would bolt underneath my dresser.

His favorite game to play with me though was the one where he’d rip a page from my notebook and flee with it into his cage. So fun. And everyone knew that once he was in his cage, he was untouchable; one could likely lose a finger in a single instant of reaching into his highly protected turf.

In literature, rabbits have always been depicted as tricksters, and I believe that every rabbit has a little of that witty, conniving Bugs Bunny in him. I believe Clem receives great pleasure when I bumble around the room to catch him. He is after all prey, and maybe he wants to be true to his nature by making his large, dim-witted oppressor hustle.

Clem lives for yogurt drops, his preciouses. All I have to do is rattle the bag of Yogies to get him to emerge from his dark tunnels. He rips them right out from my hand without a thank you. I was curious to know why he’s so hooked and decided to test them for myself. It turns out that the tart, artificial strawberry isn’t half bad. Hell, I prefer them to Smarties. Clem also saws down at least a quarter of a bag of hay a day. His mouth is constantly at work, rolling around in little circles.

A rabbit’s chow-down is much more complicated than it looks. They chew in sequences, first chiseling hay like a paper shredder, then grinding it down between the molars on one side of the mouth at a time, then pumping their intricate jaws to bring food to the back of the throat. They have a total of 28 teeth, including their trademark front incisors. Rabbits are delicate creatures; their skulls are not solid bone, rather they are thin and fenestrated, resembling a lace-like fabric.

There came a point when I felt guilty about Clem being alone all day, so I bought him a rabbit friend, whom we named Dexter. He’s cotton swab white with black rims around his eyes, which makes it look like he wears glasses like Dexter from Dexter’s Laboratory. Dexter and Clem hit it off right away. They cuddled together so tight that they looked like one rising and falling ball of yin and yang.

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Around the time Dexter hit his teenage rabbit years, the love spell wore off. Dexter grew impatient with Clem’s dominance, his insistence that Dexter should clean his fur whenever he commanded. He was smaller than Clem, but faster, and growing into himself. He didn’t like to be bossed around and thumped in protest. I noticed they started sleeping on different levels in the cage. Dexter took the top bunk, and Clem huddled in the bottom one. It was a tragic observation. They were supposed to be brothers for life.

One day I was doing laundry in the basement, I heard a loud clamor coming from the ceiling. I slammed the laundry basket on the floor and heaved myself up the stairs. When I opened my bedroom door, Clem and Dexter were one again, except this time a tangled tumbleweed rolling around on the carpet. Patches of Clem’s fur were scattered across the floor in between small red dots of blood. I didn’t know what to do. I sat there deciding which finger I could afford to lose. I had a feeling this was an ultimate death match to decide who would be the alpha once and for all. Finally, Clem staggered, so I scooped him up, saving him and his dignity. Dexter’s tail was raised, and he was still grunting heavily. This fluffy bunny wasn’t fucking around.

In the end, Sean and I bought another cage and split them down the middle. It was devastating for us to watch. Their brief and passionate love was no more. I’m going to be honest with you; I felt a little resentment toward Dexter, even though I knew he was transforming into a man rabbit who wanted his space and independence. Clem couldn’t handle that. To him, he and Dexter needed to share one beating heart — one that beats 180 beats per minute (at rest). Was Clem’s affection too big, too suffocating for Dexter? Clem handled their breakup fairly well, though, in the time he spent chasing Dexter around the apartment, he made up for in eating. The poor bastard put on a couple of ounces.

It’s interesting how much value you can get out of 20 dollars, and also how much work. I guess most pet owners stumble over these crossroads.

The brushing of a rabbit is serious manual labor that you have to keep on top of. There was one year I was up to my eyeballs in jobs and homework. I vividly remember the messy hair buns and basketball shorts, the Monster Energy drink-induced nights where I was trying to decipher the Canterbury Tales, the braille of English. I slipped. I couldn’t keep up with Clem’s high-maintenance fur. What happens when you don’t brush a domestic rabbit? Well, they start to ingest their fur, which does startling things to their digestive tracks. Anyway, Clem ate so much of his own fur that it formed a web-like weave around his shit. The result was solid, golf ball size turds that Sean and I had to chop off with a pair of designated scissors.

Let me just say that rabbits aren’t as cute with solid rock turds hanging from their butts. Or when they’re yawing. Or when they’re eating their poop, which is pretty standard for most animals.

I thought we almost lost Clem. He wasn’t eating for a couple days so I rushed him over to a pet clinic near me. They turned me away because apparently Clem is considered “exotic,” which blows my mind. Clem, exotic? Give me a break. Exotic basically means risky, specialized, not to mention expensive, in veterinary terms.

So I drove Clem 45 minutes to a pet emergency center that was open 24 hours. I couldn’t locate his carrier so I sat him in my front seat, draping my cardigan over his head so he could hide, which he seemed to appreciate.

“We’re almost, there, Clem. Hang in there, old chap!” I told him. I turned my wheel gently, as opposed to cranking it. I didn’t want to freak him out even more than he already was with his wet, black eyes maniacally jutting out of their sockets.

I shoved my rabbit underneath my armpit, and we entered the emergency room. The receptionist, a young man with messy hair, jeans and a slight lisp, escorted us to our room and left us. I began to pace. I texted my friends about Clem’s updated status even if they didn’t ask. I let Clem sit underneath my chair as we waited for the vet.

About 30 minutes later I asked the receptionist how much longer until we were seen. Just as he was about to respond, a loud screeching alarm blasted through the hallway, bouncing off walls. Dogs began to bark, and two women in blue scrubs hustled past me with carriers with whiskers protruding from them.

“There was a gas leak. We all need to evacuate,” they told me. Clem was statuesque in his spot on the floor where scooped him up.

Rain pelted the street and cars. People huddled with their pets under umbrellas or scurried to their cars for shelter. Clem buried his head in my lap.

This was it. I thought chopping a poop ball off my rabbit’s ass had officially made me a crazy bunny lady, but I think the moldy cherry on top was waiting out the rain in my car with my supposedly dying rabbit until the firemen fixed the gas leak and told everyone to go inside.

The firemen waved everyone back in. We sat in the lobby waiting to be resituated, dripping in our chairs. A sick pitbull rested his head on his owner’s lap. The woman stroked the spot around his half-shut eye. A vet tech who was holding a cat in its carrier dozed off against a wall and dropped the cat’s fluids bag on the floor. Everyone in the waiting room peered at it on the floor until the tech noticed and snatched it up. Clem and I had a staredown contest with an overweight Yorkie who looked unamused with the entire situation.

Finally, Clem and I were herded into a room again where I began to pace back and forth, anxious to hear my rabbit’s fate. A vet tech popped her head in. She was pretty and looked slightly older than me. I stared at the infinity symbol strung on a chain around her neck when she spoke to me. I stared at it some more when she told me the final bill to keep Clem over night and administer medications. 1,200 dollars minimum.

“Lady, I love him, but he’s a rabbit. Give me a break, huh? I suppose you don’t do payment plans?” I laughed.

“No, but we take credit cards,” she said. Not a drop of sympathy in her clear, blue eyes.

“Ah, I figured as much. I think I’m gonna just take him home then. I mean, I just don’t have that kind of money. Is there any way I can just give him the meds on my own?”

“Well … I will check back with the doctor and see what I can do.”

She was tired. Clem and I were tired too. I took a peek at him. He was trailing off in my arms, but not really, as rabbits only sleep when it’s safe, which isn’t often for an animal born into fear.

We nursed Clem like he was a newborn. Five different medications, including one you have to mix into a green sludge. We’d take turns wrapping Clem burrito-like into a towel and shoving syringes past his two teeth. He jerked and sneezed as we force fed him the green sludge and spit it up if we gave him too much too quickly. Why is love always such a messy operation?

In two weeks, Clem was in perfect health. He rejoiced, kicking his hind legs, and all my began innards began to frolic.

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The loudest way to survive

So you didn’t get the knobby
shoulders you needed.
That’s a lot of us,
and I sympathize with relativity.
But let me let you
lean in on my secret:

my big-mouthery is
my own, but it’s also
cavewoman survival.

I did what I could
with sticks and stones.
But tried my best not
to break any bones
because I recognized
their malnourishment.

Children who have been
pushed down rivers
in baskets please
cry, cry, cry
as loud as you can.

Your cries will give way
to words, which you will use
as an armor of testament,
of existence, of proclamation
that you belong here,
that we’ve not yet
occupied Mars.

Don’t press so much on
the bruises, which
are designed or not
designed, depending
on how you look at it,
to fascinate and distract
you from what tickles
your insides and makes
you sneeze at the flower
raised in front of your face.

And if you can see it
don’t pluck the petals
just yet. Love me nots
are not yet in your equation.

This is your cliche to own.
These are your metaphors
to mix and match.

So lasso love.

Sling what you
did not receive.

When you pull it
from the earth,
rock it back and forth.

Then put it back
in the river you
remember floating
down so clearly.

Feed what will cleanse you.

The seeds of screams

The Scream by Edvard Munch, 1893

The Scream by Edvard Munch, 1893

“One evening I was walking along a path, the city was on one side and the fjord below. I felt tired and ill. I stopped and looked out over the fjord—the sun was setting, and the clouds turning blood red. I sensed a scream passing through nature; it seemed to me that I heard the scream. I painted this picture, painted the clouds as actual blood. The color shrieked. This became The Scream.”

http://www.artic.edu/aic/collections/exhibitions/Munch/resource/171

“This is where it picks up,” my brother says,
strumming his pant leg with long fingernails
lined in the dirt he’s been digging up for years.
He glances at me to see if I’m still watching
then peers at the lyrics he’s scribbled down—
four lines at a time about rising from ashes.

It’s anti-climactic when my brother screams.
To him, screaming is song and second language,
and as he teaches me I marvel at his proficiency.
The guttural sound erupts from a bubbling pit
in the diaphragm, rising from the gut quick as bile.
The acidity sits in the back of the throat, not burning,
but patiently waiting, stalking, until the mouth opens.

When he screams, his flesh remains the same pale
with a hint of peach. There is no crimson waterfall,
soft bleeding of pinks, or plum purple in his cheeks,
I see no pulsating veins bursting like fresh bruises.
His face does not contort into rage, disfigured hate.
He could be blowing candles out on a birthday cake.

Women of horror used to be called scream queens,
and I wonder what kind of primal cue it’d take for me
to emit a sharpness as blood-curdling and skin-liquefying.
Somewhere there’s a scientist with a lock box of screams
and an outdated psychologist who tells patients to relive
their pasts, rehash a few lashings in order to purge pain.

The same people who brought you into the world began
with a scream – a concoction of pleasure, pain, and relief.
And when a baby’s head protrudes from the womb, it’s harsh
and sweet. You break your mother, and she transcends sound,
feeling to reach infinite barriers, beyond pain of femininity.

Once when I was a kid, I was playing before I trapped myself
underneath a door that was yet to be attached to its doorway.
I squirmed in my winter coat, and the weight on top of me
stifled the cry of terror in my lungs; it was barely a whisper.
My mother had pulled the heavy mass off and showered me
in comfort, soothing coos to calm to my close-call tears.

Now the only time I attempt to scream is in dreaming.
I kick like a dog who can’t catch her unconscious assailant.
I wake up and my throat is hoarse, but there’s no memory.

“Before you scream, don’t just throw it out there, focus it,”
my brother tells me. “Then let it flow, give it room to breathe.”

So I gulp air, cradling my own wind close to me before I scream,
and when I do, I call out to all my silences and shake them
like branches of trees laundering seeds ready to be born.

I feel like a Linkin Park song

Sometimes the noise in my head is so loud I just have to say fuck it and surrender to the tears that are pushing and shoving their way through my tear ducts. They all want a turn to star in the show. Me, me, pick me, Sarah. Cry me! I’m next in line.

Today I cried in my car parked in front of a Subway. I’ll take the 6’’ inch turkey with chips, and a cup full of snot, please. There was this guy in a dark Mustang parked next to me who looked startled, then squeamish—like he just saw a squirrel get run over, and he was trying not to stare directly into the pool of glistening guts. So warm and gooey.

Subway is long gone. I’m home alone. I reactivated, then deactivated my Facebook at least five times. I tried to change my profile picture to something less morbid, less “feel-sorry-for me.” But then again, I don’t know what face I could possibly make to convey all of what I’m trying to say. It’s known in my circle of friends, co-workers, and family that I’ve shied away from social media and why. After fumbling around on Facebook again and again and failing to speak up for myself, I went to the gym.

The gym is one of the few routines—that and my beautiful drop of delicious sunshine a.k.a writing group—I have to my name. Zumba always makes me feel GOOD. Like I’m one sexy, strong mama with a slammin’ pair of hips. Like the flaming-bird-spirit-child I’m supposed to be. If I could stare at my ovaries in the mirror during Zumba, I would. I would ask them out on a date and get to know them.

And then the adrenaline dripped like a hose that’s just been turned off. And here I am. Alone with myself. It doesn’t help that my pits smell.

It’s 10 p.m. right now, and I’m forcing myself to write. Even though I detest writing when I start to dip this low.

The truth is I don’t want to sound like a Linkin Park song.

I’m sorry if you like Linkin Park. I like Linkin Park, too, actually. Back in the day, Meteora was my jam. But for some reason I thought I was light years away from Meteora in terms of my life. I thought I only had room for Bob Dylan, for Iron and Wine right now.

It’s not only the lyrics (Somewhere I Belong, Breaking the Habit, and Easier to Run, if you want to get all technical about it). I also feel like I’m made of Chester Bennington’s voice. I’m the hairball covered in shards of glass scraping on your tongue. I’m like swallowing a blister that explodes in the back of your throat. I guess I just want kind of want to break things. Or run.

I told everyone that I need some alone time because I truly do. I told them because I’m not one of those people who just disappears. My brother tells me, “Dude, Sarah, you sound sooooo emo right now.” One of my cousins thinks I’m pulling some bomb ass Edgar Allan Poe shit. My friends and boyfriend support me, but linger in the shadows just in case I need anything. My parents have no idea what planet we’re on, and that I live in it.

I’m not blaming my parents for this. Even though they have a lot to do with things. In fact, I have this ancient biblical-like scroll I could pull out and read to them. But I have never blamed anyone for my problems, and I’m not about to start.

My wanting quiet time is supposed to be a good thing. I set out to work on my writing, settle the racing thoughts, figure out where I want to go next. YOU ARE HERE on the map. But I’m having a rough time with it because in the silence, I’m finding yesterday’s news. It turns out I’ve been hoarding newspapers for years.

I’m reverting back to the gurgling, black pit of insecurity and helplessness that we so cherish in our adolescence. And the worst part is I’m not okay with that. The steaming bitch inside me is not onboard with letting me feel this all out. Even though “feeling this all out” is a part of the plan.

Because the same hustler, the same back patter who has been working with me, inside me, for years is also the one handing me my ass, my severed head.

Here’s what you don’t learn sitting at a desk or find staring at you in the middle of the notes you wrote in your college rule notebook: sometimes you sweat blood to get out of the dark cloud of your home life, you push yourself, you come ploughing through the other side—and you realize that it kind of feels the same. Except there’s nothing there. There is no broken home, no screaming match, no violence on the other side. The nothingness itself is what eats away at you.

You move into an apartment. You feel the wind in your hair of being on your own. You find a full-time gig, a window to your career, something to do with your time. You have someone to share it with, who understands what it’s like to be a 20 something on your own in 2014, someone who will hug you through it all. You think, I’m ready to begin my life, but wait…

And suddenly, IT is there. IT never left you. IT rings like a bell reminding you what you left behind. (Speaking of Poe) BELLS BELLS BELLS; to the rhyming and the chiming of the bells. There’s nothing touching you. You can’t feel it on your skin, taste it on your tongue. You try like it’s your religion to phrase and re-phrase it the best way you can. You try to outrun your past, and you find it here waiting for you—sleeping in your bed, sharing a cup of coffee in the morning with you. It says, “hey man, remember me?” with a nod of its head. It tells you fuck off in between red lights.

My parents are cropping up in casual conversations. It’s almost how I introduce myself, how I recap my weekend. How was your weekend, Sarah? Oh you know, my mom wants to live in my living room. The usual. How do I tell people that that she calls me weekly, pleading in pain, while I’m at work? I don’t. Because that shit doesn’t fly, dat shit don’t pay rent. Sarah, please help me. Please help me, Sarah. And I feel ready to cave, to just give it all up. To move back into the cigarette-stained apartment, to suffocate again with her. All in the name of HELP.

If you read my pulse, you’d find my family there. If you listened close enough, you’d hear something bleating like a half-wounded sheep. I used to have this on lockdown. For a long time FAMILY was the one genre of honest writing that was off limits for me.

I desperately want to ebb and flow in front of my siblings. They after all lived through the same thing. But I’m too stubborn to show them, too scared to get black ink all over their clothes. My brother is a young dad now. He’s found a way to outsource his rage, through scream-o music, and my jaw drops in awe whenever I hear him scream. It’s thrilling to me—like the feeling I get on the Giant Drop. My sister has a new boyfriend she’s really pumped about. And apparently she’s what the kids call “a boss” at her job. The other one is going to school after silently digging holes into herself and straggling from house to house for years. I worry about them as often as I click on a link, as I type a sentence, as I turn a tight corner. I also well an ocean of pride for them because I know what it takes. It takes everything just to move an inch in the muddy waters of poverty, of pain you wouldn’t believe even if you lived it. Because trust me, I don’t believe my eyes.

Being the first to graduate in your family sounds like a big fucking accomplishment. It is, don’t get me wrong. But there’s something so pathetic about coming out the other side alone. There’s no one at the finish line to share this with me. I left people behind. When I come back to visit, there’s this artificiality, this distance, this need for them to understand me. I miss my people. I need my people. But I’m afraid to get close.

Let’s get back to Linkin Park, and why the bitch inside my head is not okay with me feeling the music. When I was 13, this was expected. I just let myself feel whatever I had to feel, and then moved on. Mostly, I felt angry. I felt suffocated. But as soon as I opened the sliding door, when I left the dingy, cigarette stained apartment, shit was funny again. I turned to my friends and teachers; I didn’t push them away or push the button on self-sabotage when my open life was staring me in the face.

Sometimes I wish I could just inject funny into me. I used to see directly past pain, and a lot of that had to do with my ability to open my mouth, hear the sound come crashing behind my tonsils, and laugh with my entire body. My defenses are down. I’m so good at making myself laugh, at laughing at myself. But right now my humor sounds like a radio playing muffled music, short-circuiting under water.

I try to move on, but really what I’m doing is distracting myself, over stimulating myself—with the Internet mostly. With the opinions and thoughts of everyone else, so I don’t have to be alone, truly alone. At home and at my desk, I’m living in this hyper sensory bubble. When something happens—not just to my family, to people I hardly know or don’t know at all—the bubble I’m living in zaps me. My hair stands up straight from the electricity. When a journalist is beheaded. When a comedian kills himself. When an entire population is led to an edge at gunpoint. I suddenly can feel that, too.

I feel like a dandelion that’s being plucked over and over. When did I become such a delicate, little flower?

And then there’s the whole what am I going to do with my life thing that plagues us all. I figured out a long time ago that I’m not okay with doing something that isn’t meaningful to me. What I really want to do depends on if other people think I have anything legit to say. It has to smell new, feel new. It can’t be covered in chocolatey clichés. For the love of god, I want to be a writer. A WRITER. I usually follow this with a punchline, chortle, a snort. Why of all things, does it have to be that? Why couldn’t I have picked something else to fall in love with?

I don’t even know what kind of writer I want to be. My boyfriend tells me I need a niche. Hey babe, you’re good at movie and book reviews. Hey babe, you love poetry. I know I need to narrow things down, too. The trouble is I have this professorial snob in the back of my mind who is wagging HIS (because let’s face it, most known writers are men) finger at me, telling me I’m not smart enough to be a writer. He speaks in a British accent of course. He asks me what I know. I tell him I’m not sure. And he laughs a merry laugh that only a well-esteemed, well-accomplished old, white man can.

I know a million people around me who are feeling the flimsiness of being a 20 something in 2014. As my best friend said to me last night in between my large gulps of air, our parents, people before us, don’t know what it’s like now—to graduate from college, to write a resume, to encourage yourself, to find a job, to learn the ropes of a new one, or to be stuck in one. It’s a miracle that I still have my best friend, that I have friends to share these raw sentiments with.

In a sense, this is why I’m sharing all of this. I know I say I want alone time, but this does not mean I’m truly alone. I know you are on the other side feeling some of these things, too.

Here’s the advice that I’m telling my wide-eyed, sleep-deprived self this morning. (It’s no longer 10 p.m. I woke up. It’s 7:30. I have to be at work at 9.)

The advice I tell myself is nothing fancy. It doesn’t wear designer clothes. It’s what I tell everyone else. Here it goes: just roll with it. If you feel pain, fucking let it shine, let it shine, let it shine. Girl, don’t push it down. Where do you think that shit goes? You can’t simply have a bowel movement, and out it goes. Wrapping up insecurity and pain and stamping a frilly bow on top of it all is not the way to go about things. It has never helped anyone. Hiding breeds bad adults. Plain and simple. Say something. For fuck’s sake, wake up, speak up. Turn around and look. We’re all bleeding around you.