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Birth and Consequences

This is your country, this is your world, this is your body, and you must find some way to live within the all of it.

-Ta-Nehisi Coates, Between the World and Me

And when you’ve taken down your guard
If I could change your mind, I’d really love to break your heart
I’d really love to break your heart

-Tears For Fears, Shout

It’s my birthday.

Two years ago today I was in Houston. Today Houston is under water.

Two years ago today I was heartbroken.

Two years ago today I was alone.

Two years ago yesterday I helped a drunk across a street.

Two years ago today was worse.

Two years ago today was better.

I spent the day at West Alabama Ice House and because I’d stopped traffic and helped a drunk old man across the street to a cab the drinks were free, they said. Maybe he was a regular. I checked their Facebook page today and there was a post that says “Tippy” died yesterday, two years to the day. Is Tippy is the same guy I helped? Maybe.

I feel like probably.

Yesterday, two years from Houston and Maybe-Tippy, I buy groceries for a family walking around downtown Sacramento in the 108 degree heat, their three kids limp in their strollers. Two in the double stroller the father is pushing, a tall black man his right eye pointing aimless to the sky while the other looks at me with desperation and shame. They are believers, the mother says. God said to ask for help and not to bring shame to his name, she says. They are from Louisiana or Alabama, all I hear is THE SOUTH, came all the way to California on a Greyhound for their autistic son, they say. No services for them in THE SOUTH.

No services for them in God’s country.

I did not tell them I am an unbeliever, that the Catholic Church and the secrets they continue to try to bury is proof enough that whatever flavor of god they believe in doesn’t exist. I don’t tell them my son is T1 diabetic and diagnosed with ADHD. I do not tell them I’m on medical welfare, that I don’t make enough money to live without roommates.

I fight away cynicism and judgement and suspicion. I have no room. There is too much already in me, the Internet, the fucking air, everyone’s lungs thick with it. Choking on it. I help them. We walk to Rite-Aid and I tell them to buy what they need. My son and I wait and I check my phone to make sure I have enough money in my bank account. I don’t care what they buy. They ask if it is too much and I say no.

I want to feel good. I want to help. Fuck the rest.

Two years ago the next day same as today my birthday, I meet Daniel Quinn, whose words had cursed my vision with disturbing validation. Trump hasn’t stolen my laugh yet. I’m not mulling the morality and efficacy of punching neo-Nazis yet. Some white dude on Facebook brandishing a handgun in a featured picture on his page isn’t wishing for civil war and for me to piss my pants. Houston isn’t under water. Everything isn’t coming home to roost. Not yet.

The woman from Mississippi I’ve fallen in love with hasn’t sent a cryptic text and tried to commit suicide yet. She hasn’t been released from a psych hold yet. She hasn’t lost custody of her child yet. I haven’t stopped contact. Not yet. She’d just stabbed me from the heart of her own storm and I’m reeling, still trying to reach her, trying to save her from her rising waters. I haven’t erased every text and email and photo I have from her yet.

It was good I live in California and she in Mississippi. I get lost in other’s storms. Gravity steers me to stare down the eye of other’s rather than my own.

By chance, someone else is in Houston two years ago. I’d flown to meet her earlier that year in another city before I find the storm in Ole’ Miss. Another storm, a blizzard that sets records.

I write her a poem before I leave, using Margaret Wise Brown’s Goodnight Moon as the scaffold:

In the 13th floor room
There was a lonely man 
And a pillow spooned
And a picture of-
The window framed with snow at noon

And there were talking subways down the stairs 
And tall building crannies
And Han Solo cabbies
And scary spinning doors
And ice-white floors
And naked cheeks all flush and gutters filled with slush
And a red-headed lady and my long distance crush

Goodbye room
Goodbye pillow spooned
Goodbye window framed with snow at noon
Goodbye fear
And blanket maroon

Goodbye ice
Goodbye twice
Goodbye Picasso
And goodbye smile’s lasso

Goodbye Monet
And goodbye to hay
Goodbye for today
And goodbye, Lady

Goodbye cold
And goodbye luck
Goodbye not knowing
Goodbye stuck
And goodbye red-headed lady whispering “fuck” 

Goodbye lark
Goodbye dare
Good bye Elina, life’s not fair 

She said she couldn’t meet. Two years later, she’s sober and shacked up with Superman. It’s a curious thing to hold envy and goodwill in the same hand.

Harder to acknowledge what you are running from. Even with both hands.

Someone new says to take the boy. Of course she’s right. Sometimes it’s best not to listen to yourself. Resistance is the call, a summons to change the flow. Maybe it’s a postcard I’m sending to the future, something for him to recall in darker times. A memory, a light. Something to balance the in-between wrongs. That’s why I drag my son through the Nevada desert. That’s why I take him to see the eclipse.

I hope she stays. She’s wind in my sails.

It’s a curious thing to watch the world slide. To acknowledge rising tides. To not relate to sides. To dispense with ego and pride.

There is a a sense that we are all each other’s consequences.

-Wallace Stegner, All the Little Live Things

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Until There’s Nothing

To home come our ills
Roosting, cawing
In the midst of the unwinding
All of us
Burning, falling

Now comes the call of war
From drum beat lips
Claiming Freedom and Equality
Clueless of the irony:

ABSOUTE HATE
WE MUST ERADICATE
THIS WE WILL NOT TOLERATE
WE WILL OBLITERATE
BRING A CAN OF MACE
PUNCH A NAZI IN THE FACE

A nourishing lexicon
Feed for the fight
Yet victory after victory
Our demons return from history

We spite pieces
Coddle the whole
A reflective tapestry
A Greek tragedy

Minds
Born from the womb of war
Our only knowledge
Dominion’s carnage

Craving a rite of passage
To transcend our binds
A denied ache
A blind desire

Whether forests or seas
Jews or bumblebees
Navaho, Buffalo
Passenger Pigeon
Combustion engine
Polar bears or Palestine
Annihilation is divine

The ends we use are physical
But the end we seek is spiritual
Metaphorical
There will be no miracle
Our future predictable
This curse is cyclical

The answer isn’t silence
Neither is violence
The circle will not break
In war’s wake

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Loss

In my guts
My veins
My mouth
In my mind, my heart
Less a spleen and dopamine
Symmetry, mystery.

Never-things
Used-to-be’s
Their force unseen, evergreen.

Tugging.
Pushing.

Sometimes subtle—
Metaphor, folklore.

Father
Son
God undone.

Mother
Son
Innocence gone.

Brain’s misfiring
Cuture’s dying.

Sometimes violent—
Corporeal, literal.

Bloodletter,
In pints and liters
Keeper of time and meter.
Untethered fits,
Raven-feathered drama.
Tooth Fairy’s fists,
Uncouth’s karma.

Body’s pitstop.
Porcelain on blacktop.

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Generation Annihilation

I don’t think you understand
Your reason lost in bullshitland
The answers, the truth
Beyond your grasp
Your solutions just illusions
From the throne of control
Will be your last gasp

The Machine Tomorrow Today
This is the way we pray
Improvements, efficiencies
Flush out the impurities
Quick, jail the heresy
Rules and fiction theory
Magician’s ingenuity
Trademark perpetuity
Keep it running, running
Incessantly
Indefinitely

When the motor sputters
The tip curses the base,
Damn its unbearable weight
Goading, sewing seeds of hate
Go to work, don’t be late
The fodder pushed harder
With a sucker-punched face
Challenge not rule’s desire
A heavenly space

Blame is the game
And they call you out by name
Sinners, Losers
Spooks and Gooks
The poor, the powerless
We always hold the shame
A bait and switch
A gaslight glow
A pharaoh’s triangle
The lie we sew

Your gods live in Neverland
Your equations, folly
Your leaders, power jolly
Your systems, tragic melancholy
No, I don’t think you grok the jeopardy
The truth is ruthless
Its storm merciless
And its winds blow westerly

Destruction has many faces
Beware its gifts and graces

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A Spoonful of Sugar

I fight fiction
I rage against it
Too many lies, denials
Of who we are
Of from where we’ve come
Of where we are headed…

But

When truth is too bright
Blinding
Too loud
Deafening
It sends hands to protect the senses

Just fiction is softer
Lighter on the ego
Easing us into understanding
The deception noble

Where walls and armaments stand
This thief finds a way
A way through, even for only a penny
And from that tiny loss
Begins a crack
A welcome mat for the thief’s return

Even if only for a penny

Photo Credit: Wikipedia
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Of Faith and Maybe

Leaving a story, writing anew
By force or will, often a marriage
Spurred by an ache, a wound
A wicked blow, an itchy nag
Or hollow’s hunger
Because easy never inspires
And pleasure sings a lullaby
At best, short blessings
At worst, crippling lies
Only pain’s heralds keep life true, keep us moving
Strides and footfalls of Faith and Maybe
Over no bridge
Down no path
Just yes, yes, yes
To the land between Was and Is
A destination carried
Under ribs, between lungs
Its thumps pushing the world
Through four rooms of meaning
Story always wins, has always won
In micro and macro, for better and worse
Stories are human and humans are stories
Stories within stories within a Story
But
Character or author?
This, the hardest question
This, the hardest choice.
Photo Credit: LearningLark/Flickr
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Not This Disease

Words come slowly
Sometimes, none.
A struggle never won
The words lonely, until done
Hopefully

Another coffee shop
A warm cup and company
Muse’s altar
Bodies, voices
Faces, stories
Reminders
The world is still here

Then, lyrics.
Goddammit, pull the reins
Paragraphs, please
Not this disease

“You prayed, I gave.”
She says
“Why question the sun’s rays?”

No prose
Just meter and verse
Creation in reverse
Buried first, cleaned by worms and dirt
From the ground sprouts
The gleam of singing bones

Fuck Kenton and Davis
Fuck improvisation, syncopation
Curse my father’s trumpet
My mother’s lungs
Damn my blue note origins
I don’t want to be bullets
Fired from poet’s guns

Heart’s call
The heeding, hard enough
The beating, in fits and leaps
The bleeding, always
Somewhere between clot and flow

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Less Filling, Tastes Great

It was not the intention
But we let it all go
Well, it messed up the function
And sure fucked up the flow
I hardly have people that I needed to know
‘Cause you’re the people that I wanted to know

—Modest Mouse, People as Places as People

It’s hard to be open. Especially when I tap the glass of convention with a hard hello. Especially because I often tilt sun-warmed rocks and say, “Look, it’s dark under here.” Everyone wants a feelgood. I inspire doubt. I punch darlings. My thoughts, middle fingers of defiance.

There are hard paths I want to take, parts of me that I want to nurture, Big Things I want to choose. But dammit, there’s so many distractions, escapes. It’s a whack-a-pleasure world and the arcade is on fire.

Awareness is a bitch. There’s layers, a sea both deep and shallow. Everywhere there is a reflection…a connect-the-dots of inconvenient truths. Our clever constructs of metal and mind reveal our fear.

I claim no high ground or special wisdom. We’re all dancing. But I wonder if you see where we’ve steered too. I wonder if you notice the duality of how we wield our potential, our gobsmacking ingenuity. We are ego-stroked by each new high we achieve to perfect the art of eating our own tail. The irony is neutron star dense.

I wonder. I wonder about destiny and choice. I wonder about you.

I abandoned cable television seven years ago. Now when I’m exposed to it, it is surreal. The commercials. The news. The regurgitated storylines. It’s all spectacle. Attract and distract.

The Internets filled the void, especially social media, which conveniently sprouted at the time of my divorce and ensuing avalanche of loss. It filled my many holes of empty. But what I’ve come to realize is it’s just an hollow can of noise. Incessant bells and whistles and cries and shouts. A circle jerk of soapboxes. Selfies. Click bait. Posturing. Hustling. Snark. Arguing. Arguing.

The fucking arguing.

I’ve participated earnestly, addictively, in the electronic bukkake. I’ve played all the roles and I don’t feel better for the effort. When I think of the time I’ve invested in Facebook alone my stomach and conscience perform synchronized churning. I could have built a pyramid or written an epic novel instead. When I admit I’ve chosen digital over analog, shame washes in.

Its easily wielded power leads to a slow hazing of awareness. Entertainment infects information. Reaction swallows reason. Instant gratification murders intention. Always the answer is more bandwidth—more lanes to feed the streaming sprawl of disconnection to the hungry ghost within each of us.

As with the automobile, so is the Internet.

You can’t forget the kinetic danger of tons of steel and plastic ripping past while riding a bike on a road. You can’t ignore the roadkill. There’s no tinted glass or synthetic air freshener to shield yourself from the intimate scent of death. The unending logo-stamped garbage decorating each side of the blacktop isn’t blurred into nonexistence by cylinders and pistons.

Here, a squirrel, a dog. There, a Starbucks cup, a grocery bag, the shattered remains of a Bud Light bottle.

The bloated body of a cat lying in the bike lane could be a stuffed toy. But pedaling up on a full grown deer that has been ripped in half, its near-to-term calf staring dead-eyed through the mother’s entrails is something else. It’s a knife to the mind.

No soothing denial. No ignorance. No unseeing.

The devil is in the convenience. We lose respect for place. We choose pixels over the person standing next to us. We become “friends” with someone seas away but don’t say hello to the person walking by. We behave in ways we’d never dare in person because we can hide from consequence in the disconnection.

We’re blind to the accumulative effect. As our actions cheapen our humanity dims.

Life is experienced in the struggle, not the ease. Growth requires a met challenge. I know. I spent a good chunk of my life choosing easy and it didn’t work. The pain of wisdom is why I quit social media. It’s not true. It’s a hollow distraction, emotional masturbation.

Twitter deleted. Instagram too. Linkedin, Goodreads, Scribd, Tumblr, Pinterest, all gone.

I deactivated Facebook, giving myself a month to see how I would feel. When I came back I quickly fell into the same patterns. I created an anonymous account to be the admin for my author page and deactivated my personal page again.

Deactivation is not deletion though. Part of me doesn’t want to let go. It’s the comfort of the option, I guess. If I don’t have the option of this escape what was sacrificed to the info-ether becomes undeniable. I can’t create emotional destinations without the messy investment required by flesh. People as places as people.

The “likes,” the “follows,” the rants and the snark…all just a fix. Without it there’s just four walls, a bed and a laptop. Just me and the internal slam-dance. Just me and the big things, the real things.

I’ve reached through the computer screen at times out of sheer rebellion. I’ve traveled thousands of miles just to look into another’s eyes. I want to see them. The real them. They are always different, deeper. So am I. Bubbles of perception and projection pop. What remains is human.

It’s not convenient.

Photo Credit: Mike Mozart/Flickr
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Altars

Daylight Saved
Daylight Saved
To spite the dark
In spite of the darkness
There I’ll crave
There I’ll crave
To get to the heart
In spite of the darkness

—Tears for Fears, Sketches of Pain

“To remove such powerful obstacles to truth, we require the instrument that is the subtlest, most powerful, most appropriate for grasping the truth. This instrument is given to us in suffering.”

—Martha Nussbaum

I framed life. I defined the laws of reality through circumstance, choice, and consequence. From this a faith was born.

We each build a prison of Unified Theory. A comforting veneer for the unfathomable complexity. A fireside chair and blanket.

When did you frame the world, reconcile and fence your view with gilded barbwire? What happens when the fire grows cold or roars uncontrolled, when moths or fire’s tongue have eaten the blanket? When the body screams from sitting so long? When the chair betrays, cracks, sends you tumbling?

The Universe isn’t a mystery. It presents itself openly, its unending depth and breadth naked, its truth here, now. We choose not to see it. We choose to kill our wonder. We choose the comfort of limits.

Fear of a frameless view is the fear of possibility. One could lose grip. One could see that they’ve been mistaken about a great many things. One might find lies in precious truths, realize that they’ve invested in myths. One might be misunderstood, judged. One might have to be alone. One might change.

Who chooses to leave their belief unprotected? Who invites uncertainty to dinner, surrenders their flesh and soul on a plate?

This is the hard way, the vulnerable passage. This is the fertile ground.

I’ve spent many years chipping away at my altar of belief, my prison. I acknowledge, forget, catch myself piecing it back together. I measure. Compare. I fall asleep, choose a familiar road. I wake, the defeat heavy.

It’s hard to surrender. But only then can there be flow.

Though my persistence may flounder, it remains. But consistency is predictable, mechanic, imagination’s bane. Creation is not industrious or formulaic, it is chaotic. Wild. It withers in cogs and springs. It dies in chains.

Possibility is what I fight. Potential is what I fight.

I went to Portland and fought some demons.

I’m not sure if it was just shitty timing or synchronicity, but either way conditions were perfect for some emotional surfing. I’ve never visited, so I was popping a geographic cherry. Funny thing is, my fractured origin story forks from here. They were the Devenpecks, from the maternal branch. The details are sparse but apparently they were well-to-do, at least until the siblings blew their inheritance wads and the Roaring Twenties tanked.

The roads in Portland weaved their inspiration from a pile of barfed spaghetti and a bridge fetish. Dampness rules, the ever-wet city simultaneously in a state of decay and birth. Direct sunlight is fickle, allowing shades of grey to infect the hues. Coffee shops, bars, and strip clubs offer a temporary reprieve from every corner. Diversapaloosa walks hand-in-hand with monochromanticism. Tolerance lives as a hug, or at the very least, raised hands with shrugged shoulders.

Maybe it’s dying, maybe it’s thriving. The flux is palpable and somehow it works. It wakes up daily and does what needs to be done. Occasionally it casts some magic. It’s contradictions stand naked, serving punches to the brain. I am in love. It feels like home.

Even before I arrived I could feel a wave’s dark trough coming.

The night before, I dreamed I was in a bar talking to Chuck Palahniuk and he started rubbing my ass. What the fuck was that about? There wasn’t going to be time but I wanted to spend a day at Powell’s. I wanted to shoot the shit with Chuck. I wanted to stalk Strayed and Yuknavitch. I wanted to commune with Issac Brock and sing his doomed lyrics.

Instead, I came to race my bike. And by “race,” I mean an event that is more a masochistic party than serious competition. There shouldn’t be any fun in racing what is essentially a road bike with only one gear on a off-road course comprised entirely of sloppy-wet earth of varying consistency and depth in the cold of December. And yet fun it is. It’s a glorious sufferfest featuring a repeating course of impossible obstacles, acts of debauchery, obscene ridicule, an open bar, and costumes—a perfect metaphor for the inside of my skull.

Pleasure. Pain. Struggle. Repeat.

After, a fellow racer and gracious local offered to be the city’s ambassador for my group. She also happens to be a dominatrix. But I could be entirely mistaken. I felt it would have been rude, possibly threatening, to clarify. Her husband had to work early and was not accompanying our entirely male-lopsided foray.

After some food, she took us to Union Jacks, one of Portland’s oldest strip clubs. I don’t go to strip clubs. It’s uncomfortable. None of it is real. It’s business for the girls, objectification for the guys. Disconnection fills the room. Strip clubs just make me feel more lonely. Too many reflections.

This time I tried to use it as an escape.

Where the mind and heart fail, the body prevails.

A survey of my bare body confesses that I process corporally. It’s written in scars, my phantom suffering anchored in flesh to give it connection, a reason for being. I stopped channeling this pain through my body long ago but the ghost-ache never left. It wants to manifest. It wants to be heard, to speak truth.

Once I asked a woman to tie me up. She was knowledgable about these things, and I wanted to know. She knew a guy who had a dungeon and she went there sometimes. Sometimes the dom, sometimes the sub. She tied my hands together and then to the headboard. She added some prop handcuffs for effect. Each of my legs were tied to a bedpost.

I told her to hit me. She slapped my face and then I said harder. Harder. She bit and scratched. Then I had the urge to resist and pulled at the bindings. She sat on my chest to hold me down but her frame was petite. The bindings gave way and I broke the cheap handcuffs.

So, she hogtied me.

That’s when I started to cry. Not from pain or humiliation, but powerlessness. As open as my writing may be, I still live in a fortress, still cling to myth to protect myself. I had to surrender. She held me and I sobbed. It felt good and I slept deep that night. She said she would bring rope and real handcuffs next time. There was never a next time.

Our ambassador, who by this time I have become silently enamored with, talked about lap dances after we moved away from the chairs at the edge of the stage to a couch. I said I hadn’t had one. This surprised her. “No?” She asked. She said she didn’t ask for lap dances unless there was a particular connection with a dancer. This only made me want her more.

Curiosity of BDSM as an unconventional portal to healing combined with my invisible suffering is a potent mix. I’m aware enough to know that during my bouts of emotional ebbing I’m particularly vulnerable to attachment. When my moon is new, it’s needy. But it’s a lonely ache for that which does not exist. What is unattainable, unrequited, unavailable, unsaid, this is what’s attractive.

I have a denial fetish. I deny possibility, potential. My demon’s name is Denial. It’s all very Freudian.

The dancers pulled some guy on stage for his bachelor party “gift”. There’s nothing about a man being on stage at a strip club that is about his glorification. They made him get on all fours, spanked him, rode him like a pony. Through their smiles I wondered if the dancers found this cathartic. Or was it just more entertainment? Both? Our ambassador made a joke about pegging the bachelor. I said I thought the dancers would have pegged the guy, given the chance.

The dancer I found most attractive stopped and squatted at my feet, unbidden, as I sat on a couch. The way she had worked the tall pole on stage confessed her athletic ability. She wore black rimmed glasses and matching lingerie. Her top hung from each shoulder with a pair of thin straps that crisscrossed her back in a double “x.” She was lean, strong, but not stick-like. Her small waist gave way to wider hips.

“Do you want a personal dance?” She asked. I hesitated. Is this just business, or is she attracted to me too? Would I be a small pleasure, a break from the less desirable facets of her profession? I thought. I wanted to believe that. I wanted to be wanted.

I said yes, curious. You can’t intimately know a thing until you do a thing.

In the private booth she offered some small talk and informed me of the rules. The song started and I sought shelter in the fantasy. Then the song was over. Then she made change for payment.

I was denied my truer needs. Fetish fulfilled.

The next night I sought shelter with an old friend who now lives in Portland. It was a far better choice. She took me to a couple of bars and we caught up. I didn’t say that I was hurting, even though I know she wouldn’t have judged or become uncomfortable. It’s a natural reflex to hide the dark inside even though she is a safe place. It was enough to talk, to connect. To laugh. She said I should move to Portland. Maybe someday.

By the time I returned home, the dark was in full bloom. I had a hard time getting out of bed the next few days. I stayed home, hid. I told myself to surf the wave, that it will pass. It always passes.

A friend died. Christmas came, passed. I wrote letters to people I don’t know, just to get words on a page. The new year brought a sense of beginnings, even though I refuse such cultural constructs.

It’s the Year of the Rooster again. My fourth turning. Perhaps I can perch on that and crow.

Knowledge is only a rumor until it lives in the muscle.
—The Asaro tribe of Indonesia and Papua New Guinea

Photo Credit: Public Domain
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The State of Man

anger

Well I feel lying and waiting is a poor man’s deal
And I feel hopelessly weighed down by your eyes of steel
Well it’s a world gone crazy
Keeps woman in chains

—Tears for Fears, Woman in Chains

Men go crazy in congregations
They only get better one by one
One by one, by one
One by one

—Sting, All This Time

 

Son,

It’s a strange land, the modern masculine. There’s been progress but there’s always the urge to lurch backwards. Now feels like one of those moments. There’s still much that needs to change. 

I don’t fit within the narrative well even though I’m all the “right” things. See: White. See: Male. See: Straight. I don’t follow Jesus though. So, maybe not ALL the right things. As I navigate, there is conflict, isolation. I’m more observer than participant. At least that’s what I tell myself.

I was raised by my mom and she taught me to respect and protect women. When I was young one of my best friends was a girl. There’s my sisters, too. I am eldest child by a decade and my mom needed help. I changed their diapers. I fed them. I helped herd them, wash their faces and hands.

Women are people. Women are family. When I lose sight of this, it’s brief. There’s too much love for me to stray far. This is not true for all men.

My mom is sitting on the toilet and we are one still, soon to be two. That’s when a man’s arm reaches through a small window that is ajar, in up to the shoulder. He is trying to touch her. Grab her? Just scare her? She screams with the lungs of a professional singer, which is powerful. I jerk inside of her.

This is the first time I witness a man wielding privilege. Of course I do not remember this. And yet I was still witness. I do remember the next.

We are at the grocery store and I’m slightly ahead, sliding my fingers along a shelf edge, wreaking pricing havoc. She lets out a gasp and I turn to see why. Her face is shock-rage but she stands still. I ask what is wrong and she stumbles for words. How is she going to tell her child that a man just grabbed her pussy? She says a man just goosed her. I don’t know what “goosed” means but it’s clear that it is a bad thing.

Then it’s when my mother and I are walking back to the motel after spending the day at Disneyland. A girl’s screams. I can see a teen-aged boy in a pool dunking a girl underwater, his teeth framed by smiling lips. She thrashes, but the pool is too deep for her to stand. A woman sits in a lounge chair watching without reaction. Their mother? The boy relents, but only for a second as the girl breaks the surface and gasps. Then she’s under again. 

Mom grabs my arm and looks me right in the eye. “You keep walking up to our room. Don’t stop,” she commands, shoving our room key into my hand. I keep looking over my shoulder as I leave and stop walking before I lose sight.

“HEY, MOTHERFUCKER, STOP,” she booms and the boy visibly jerks. “WHAT THE FUCK DO YOU THINK YOU ARE DOING? LEAVE HER ALONE.” The boy stops, dumbfounded. The girl pops up scream-crying and swims away to shallow water. “SHE’S TERRIFIED, ASSHOLE. SHE CAN’T BREATHE.” The girl shakes her head in agreement as she trembles and sobs.

The boy yells back, “FUCK YOU, BITCH, WHO DO YOU THINK YOU ARE?”

Then it’s high school. I’m on the bus across the aisle from a semi-friend and he’s flirting with a girl seated in front of me. The bus stops. He reaches out and shoves his cupped hand between her butt cheeks, and then up, as she begins to stand. Her face is straight shock laced with confusion, hesitation. I am shocked too, but other boys laugh.

Then it’s in the car next to mine, a man driving is leaned over, punching the woman passenger in the face over and over, his face ugly with rage. Cell phones don’t exist yet and I’m getting on the freeway, they aren’t.

That’s my memory’s excuse. Maybe I just drove next to them and didn’t do a thing.

Then there are the retellings.

Like when your mother tells me that she and her sister run to their bedrooms when their father comes home from work. He is drunk and, dammit, dinner isn’t ready. Next time it will be something else. There’s always something. Then the sound of their mother’s punishment finds its way to their rooms. 

Like when a lover tells me she was drugged and gang-raped when she was 16 and I am swept into the emotional devastation that holds her captive and makes her cut, makes her drink, makes her fuck men that harm, makes her try to die, makes her lose custody of her child.

Like when my sister tells me she was drugged and gang-raped years ago by boys who are high school classmates—the same high school where one of her best friends, Michelle Montoya, is raped and then murdered by a janitor. They find her body in wood shop, her throat slashed.

Like when I’m told a talented woman I know but never met in the flesh committed suicide because she’s been violated too many times in life and can’t stop the pain.

It’s also the aching disappointment I feel when the first question a man asks about a girl I’m seeing is, “Is she fat?”

When I pull out an unusual amount of cash from my pocket and a man’s reaction is, “Man, you’re nigger-rich!”

When a married man’s phone is filled with pictures of swimsuit models that he and his married friends send each other in texts. “Check out this one,” he says.

When I hear a man say, “Fuck Black Lives Matter, they just need to go to jail. Stop breaking the law, stop resisting. Problem solved.”

When I mention that the armed white men who took over the nature preserve in Oregon are found innocent of any wrongdoing by jurors and a man says, “Good, they stood up for what they believed.”

When I hear a man say, “This shit is nigger-rigged.”

When I hear a man say, “He’s such a Jew.”

When I catch myself objectifying women—I like tits just like this, ass just like this.

When I notice subtle fear tickling up my back when black or gay men outnumber me.

When I admit I’m attracted to strong women but also fear them.

When I watch the nation elect an unabashed sexist bigot to the most powerful position in the world. Just for spite’s sake.

There’s scores more. More than memory can serve in one pondering. Even if it were possible, even if I could recall each instance clearly as I write this, the pervasive weight of it all would break me.

Here at the coffee shop, a late-aged white man just asked the barista, “Hey, how about a smile?” She doesn’t react, doesn’t even acknowledge him. “Whoa, guess not.” he says, looking at his late-aged white male friend. The friend laughs, replies, “there’s not much to look at here today. Where’s what’s-her-name, you know, the redhead?”

I stare at them and seriously consider making a scene—the kind that escalates quickly to violence, especially in this political climate. But I don’t. I settle for a cold stare but I think my distain is lost on the two. I think what they just did is lost on them. 

It’s the water they swim in. It’s the water they were born in. It’s likely the water they’ll die in.

My mom would confront them. She wouldn’t hesitate. She wouldn’t consider safety first, she’d just roar. She’s beyond worldly events now, but if she were still here, her fury would be epic. So much of her life was survival and struggle. I’m glad she doesn’t have to witness the present.

The cognitive dissonance today is deafening.

I wonder what my perspective would be if my father would have been present. I wonder what my perspective would be had I not been molested by an older neighborhood boy. I wonder why, how he became that way. I wonder if I forgot some things purposely. I wonder about a man that also lived in the trailer park, the one I was introduced to by the older boy.

There are fragments of memory, suspicions. But memory is fickle, especially concerning things that don’t want to be remembered.

What did I lose? What did I gain from my childhood? Do I hold women too high? Do I hold all men accountable for the trespasses of a few? Is my heart too soft in places and too hard in others? Do I, in some twisted way, hate myself because I’m a man? There are no saints, but women have left me far fewer scars. I know this is not everyone’s truth, it’s just mine.

But historically speaking? Well, it tells its own tale. Our culture is traumatic and carves a particular wound on us, yet each outcome is unique and complex. We are all perpetrators, victims, and enablers of variable degree. Men have just led the way.

Like how I was abandoned by my father, and how now I’ve abandoned you, in a sense. Divorce causes collateral damage, son. I’m so sorry. You didn’t get to choose the consequences.

I hope I can make up for it, that I don’t lose you to resentment and rage. We need more men in this world who are gentle and kind, not brutal, their hearts bled cold by loss and the desire for control.

I love you.

Photo credit: Welcome Images
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