Living Dead Girl

The Disappearance of Julie Peters – Part 13

(This is Part 13 of a series that I began several months ago. If you’re new here, you may want to start from Part 1)

September, 2019

Eagleville, Missouri

Sweat burns in my eyes like sulfuric acid as I draw my right arm back for the final blow.  I can feel the lactic acid burning in my shoulders and upper back, accumulating slowly  under the sweltering Missouri sun. 

Drops of  fresh blood cake the jagged edges of the stone as I hold it’s awkward weight aloft in the air. 

I summon what remains of my dwindling energy, grit my teeth, and swing the rock down one last time, hammering it home with an almost animalistic brutality. 

The force of the blow ricochets up my forearm and settles deep within my bones.   A muffled THUD rings out across the grass and over the nearby pond, before dwindling off into silence.  

I rise slowly, and stumble backward as the rock falls from my fingers.  I wince as it grazes the raw, open skin of my right palm. 

Take a minute to admire my handiwork as my labored breathing begins to slow. 

Not bad, considering I’ve never done this before.  Not bad at all. 

I make my way over to the water and dip my hands beneath it’s murky surface, watching as the dirt from my skin mingles with the silt and the soggy weeds. 

Finally, I turn back towards the source of my grisly efforts, and breathe in the stunning panoramic view. 

Trees line the perimeter, offering an eerily quiet and utterly palpable isolation.  A bright blue cloudless sky hovers above.  Springy grass carpets the Earth.  Tiny bugs weave through the undergrowth, humming cheerfully to themselves.  

And framed perfectly between the foliage and aloft the greenery  – a small tent, big enough for one. 

Bright-orange, plastic stakes secure it to the ground, hammered home by a large rock, now cast aside… having served it’s purpose.  It’s surface is stained a soft, bloody red.

A gentle breeze floats across the campsite and brushes my sweaty skin, pulling me out of my reverie with a subtle shiver. 

It’s late afternoon, and the sun is inching it’s way towards the horizon.  Soon, it will be dark. 

What to do, with these remaining hours of daylight?  What options do I really have, in this tiny RV park near the Iowa border, surrounded by rolling farmland as far as the eye can see?

 The fatigue from my earlier efforts has already begun to dissipate.  I can feel the anxious energy building slowly again, crawling up my belly towards my chest.  Nothing seems to quell it’s hunger, this ravenous beast inside me. 

What had once been a limitless well of euphoric energy has begun to transform into something… unrecognizable. 

I suppose all those nights spent gazing up at the ceiling of a shoddy hotel room, plotting and planning instead of sleeping, has begun to take it’s toll on me. 

Eating one hurried meal a day and sipping water only occasionally hasn’t helped either.  Factor in the countless hours of disheveled driving, and it’s a wonder I’m still standing upright.  

But while my body is near it’s breaking point, the tiny neurons inside my brain continue to fire ceaselessly. 

Always churning, always contemplating.  Deliberating.  Dwelling.  Ruminating. 

And the only way to quiet it is with motion. 

Physical exertion.  Constant movement. 

Constant progress.

Go. Go. Go. GO. GO.  

Another wave of energy washes over me, and I hurry over to the rental car, parked haphazardly on the grass beside my new tent.  I pop the trunk to reveal a jumbled heap of clothes, camp food, and highway maps.  Reach into the pile and retrieve a pair of freshly-purchased hiking boots. 

Lace them up. 

And feel my legs carry me away.


Several Hours Later…


Bits of gravel scatter down the dusty road, my dirt-covered boot-tips knocking them loose.  I stop to moisten my parched throat with a long drink from a crinkled plastic water bottle. 

As I raise my chin to the sky, my eyelids scrape across my bloodshot eyes like sandpaper. 

As they pull strenuously downwards, a curtain of black shrouds my vision, and little dots of light sprinkle into existence in front of me.  They coalesce into figures – silhouettes that dance and waver to silent, unearthly music. 

I open my eyes and they disappear. 

But with each and every blink, they return. 

I shake my head pointedly from side to side, attempting to remove their wispy bodies from my visual field like the erasable lines of an etch-a-sketch.

I force myself to continue walking, kicking up more dust and distracting myself from the light-people by forcing an interest in the surrounding farmland.

A brown cow rests serenely behind a nearby fence, chewing in his enviable and blissful ignorance of the woeful tragedies of my human condition. 

What I wouldn’t give to be that cow. 

To bask in that mid-afternoon sun, admiring that cornfield…

…unaware of the all the little political and societal nuances that allow for that genetically-modified corn to be planted, reaped, taxed, branded and advertised as the quintessential component of the American diet…

… elevated in price and processed by underpaid workers into cereal, after being drowned in carcinogenic additives and refined sugar…

… and plastered with the colorful cartoon label that’s been psychologically proven to ensure that children will beg their mothers to purchase it. 

 Because our society has become nothing more than a consumption machine – a chronically underfed one. 

Because the basic components of human need as defined by Maslow, have been exploited, repackaged, and sold back to us for profit. 

Because we’re spending our hard-earned dollars on the publicly tangible evidence of our accumulated material wealth…

… all as a means to appear successful to our peers – without stopping to question the origins of this perceived idea of success. 

Because our definition of success is, at it’s very roots,  bred into us as children in the form of standardized public education and pressured social conformity by which we feel we have no choice but to abide. 

Because even now, in the 21st century, in the era of globalization and widespread publicly-available knowledge, it’s even harder to tell the difference between truth and fiction than it was 20 years ago and that despite social media we feel more disconnected from each other than we ever have before…

… and because our replacement for that lack of connection is a DIGITALLY-SIMULATED VERSION OF CONNECTION comprised of airwaves and fiber-optic cables… 

…and we’ve all become slaves to these imaginary digital misrepresentations of ourselves and spend our entire lives locked inside the confines of these prisons of our own making…

…and adding to that we have the political unrest and generational divide which are all perpetuated by the media in news-stories that are spoon-fed directly from the mouths of the shady politicians that are bought and paid for by the greedy corporations that keep all of us in a form of…

… INDENTURED SERVITUDE BY ENSURING WE NEVER RISE ABOVE THE POVERTY LINE BECAUSE WE WILL SPEND OUR ENTIRE LIVES PAYING OFF THE INTEREST OF OUR VASTLY INFLATED STUDENT LOANS and can’t afford to buy houses or start families…

… and half of the American public believes that the solution to that is to introduce a form of governmental socialism and to demonize capitalism which is actually fucking ridiculous because capitalism is the most productive form of self-governance when it IS NOT CORRUPT BUT THAT’S OUR PROBLEM IS CORPORATE CORRUPTION AND WE’RE TOO BUSY bickering amongst ourselves to actually do anything about it AND THE CORPORATIONS LOVE THAT BECAUSE THEY ARE THE ONES THAT PAY FOR THE PROMOTIONS THAT START THE BICKERING AND—-


Fuck.  

That little spot in my left temple is throbbing again. 

Breathe, I need to breathe. 

I plop down on the picnic table and stare at my little tent.  How long have I been back here, at my campsite? 

My mind is whirling again.  Spiraling out of control. 

Rest… I need some rest.

But it’s difficult to rest when your mind is buzzing, whirring, vibrating. 

When you can see all of the problems of the world so clearly.

When you know the answers to those problems. 

I know that I know the answers…

…don’t I? 

See, that’s the thing.  I’ve had so many epiphanies over the past week. 

I’ve had so many ideas. 

And sometimes, when I go to plan out those ideas, more ideas pop up before I finish the plan for the first ideas…

… and so what I’ve done is I’ve taken certain parts of some ideas and other parts of other ideas and I’ve sewn those parts together…

… and then I took still other ideas and I glued them over top of the first ideas and now what I have is a giant, amorphous blob of idea-parts – a Frankenstein idea.  

The problem with all this, though, is that the idea is so big that when I look at it, I can no longer see the whole thing, and it’s a bit fuzzy on the edges and so my plans have begun to represent that. 

For instance, part of my idea required that I drive South and the other part required that I go North, and so I tried to do both and wound up driving in a bit of a circle, which is how I wound up in this strange little farm-town. 

Also, I had planned to walk for a long distance but I had also been determined to bike that same distance and so I’d bought hiking gear but also tried to buy an expensive bicycle before I’d run out of money.

And even now… my body seems to be telling me to slow down, while my mind is telling me to speed up. 

It’s all so very confusing and I’m starting to get a bit scared and also sort of lonely. 

I’ve been awake so long that none of this feels real anymore and I’m beginning to suspect that I may have already died and that I’m walking around in my already dead body. 

A living dead girl.  That’s what I am.  

The ghost of a person, who wasn’t ever really a person at all. Just a big, jumbled mess of confused ideas that never came to fruition. Just a scared little zombie out in the middle of nowhere, all alone.

I find myself walking towards the pond at the very end of my little campsite. 

I step out onto the dock. Stoop down. And begin to cry.


To Be Continued…

The Game

“Aaaaannnnndddd… welcome back for another episode of BIPOLAR, MEDS, OR MYSELF?”  the host croons into the microphone, as the audience claps and whistles loudly.  

The camera glides quickly over the crowd, melting the gleeful smiles and wildly-waving arms together into a giant soupy miasma of feverish enthusiasm.  Their brightly-colored graphic tees host a jumble of printed slogans.  

‘It’s all in your head!’

‘Have you tried meditation?’

‘I get mood swings too.  Have you tried counting to ten?’

The lens finally pans over to the stage, decorated vibrantly with the tacky hues of a Sunday-morning newspaper comic.  LED lights strobe to the staccato beat of the cheerful intro tones.  A man in a splashy suit flashes a winning smile at the camera, his plastic-looking hair remaining stationary as he jauntily strides across the stage with his microphone.  

‘And I am your host! DOCTOR FEELGOOD!

 Today we have with us, a very special guest…’

The crowd takes it’s cue, and the ambient noise is silenced.  

‘She hails from a recent diagnosis and joins us today from… well, Julie, where exactly do you call home?’

The screen zooms out to reveal a thin, pale woman wearing an over-sized hoodie and ripped jeans.  Her long brown hair is piled on the crown of her head, held in a messy bun by an elastic band that’s stretched nearly to it’s breaking point.  She clears her throat and eyes the microphone nervously before muttering into it:

‘Well.. um.  I don’t really know.  I don’t remember how I got here.  I’ve been, a little lost lately.’

Unperturbed, Feelgood lets out a booming laugh.  ‘Well, that’s wonderful.  But the important question is:  are you ready to PLAY?’ 

The crowd erupts in a unanimous, encouraging cheer.

Our tiny contestant flinches slightly at the sudden noise. 

‘Do I… Do I have a choice?’

The crowd laughs heartily, as Feelgood responds, “Does she have a choice, folks?”

‘NO!!!’  They announce in unison.

‘Then let’s begin!!!’  He chirps into the microphone.

The cheesy music returns for a moment as a large curtain is hoisted, revealing an enormous illuminated screen hiding behind it.  Feelgood shuffles the deck of plastic index cards he’s been holding and chooses one seemingly at random. 

‘Okay, Julie! For 100 points each… we’ll be naming some of your symptoms… and you’ll have 3 seconds to identify which category they belong to – BIPOLAR, MEDS, OR MYSELF.  And the clock starts NOW.’

Feelgood eyes his card quickly. 

‘Okay… the first one reads:

Your head feels as though it’s filled with cotton fluff, like an unopened, vacuum-sealed Tylenol bottle.  It’s difficult to concentrate on even menial tasks and you’ve been forgetting simple things on the regular, and so you’ve recently taken to writing your entire day out on a bulleted list before it even starts so that you’re not bumbling around aimlessly forgetting why you walked into a room or if you ever ate lunch today.’  Is this your Bipolar Disorder, your new medication, or just YOU?

The clock ticks loudly.

‘Ummm, I think it might be… my meds?’  

Our chipper host turns pointedly towards the screen behind him.  ‘Well folks?  Is she right?’  

A giant green check mark appears on its surface, along with a resounding “DING!” 

The crowd goes wild.

‘That is correct! 100 points for you!’  

Julie smiles rather reluctantly and fidgets with the pockets of her sweater.

‘Okay… next one.  You’ve been feeling rather flat lately and seem to be devoid of emotions.  You don’t feel sad, but you don’t feel happy either.  You’re just… numb. 

It’s alarming because you used to feel everything INTENSELY and now you’ve begun to wonder if you’re doomed to exist as a soulless robot for the rest of your life.  You’ve been wondering to yourself: ‘Do I have to choose between being crazy-but-full-of-passion or boring-but-stable?’  What is the culprit here, Julie?

Her eyes glaze over a bit as she ponders it.  ‘Well, I’d have to blame that one on my meds too, I guess,’ she answers.

Both a check mark AND a looming red X appear simultaneously on the screen at once. 

Feelgood’s booming laugh fills the stage as the audience mutters among themselves in confusion.

‘Ah!  It’s a bit of a trick question, actually!  It COULD be your meds, but you also could just be cycling through a depressive phase… which could present the exact same way.  You are HALF right, so you get 50 points!’

More clapping.

‘Third question!’  He grabs another card, takes a breath, and is just about to speak when all of the sudden a loud buzzer rings out.  Julie jumps and looks upwards towards the speakers.  A cartoon lightning bolt appears on the screen.  

Feelgood’s eyes widen theatrically.  ‘Uh-Oh folks… you know what THAT MEANS!!’

‘RUMINATION ROUND!’ they holler maniacally.  

Feelgood turns toward his contestant, brimming with excitement.  ‘Okay, Julie, here’s how it works.  I’m going to quickly list a series of events from your life, and you’ll have to choose immediately if it was a result of Depression, Mania, or your own natural decisions.  We’ll see how many you can get right in a minute.  Are you ready?’

‘I don’t really know how I could know that for sur–‘

‘HERE WE GO!!’ 

Numbers begin to pulsate on the screen, counting down from 60.

Your substance abuse problems and alcoholism as a teenager and young adult.

‘It was… me?’  

BEEP.  A loud chime rings out, neither confirming nor denying that the answer is correct.  A large question mark appears on the screen.

On to the next!  Your ability to cram for tests at the last minute, landing A’s in every college class you’ve ever taken, despite having been stuck in bed crying for a large part of that time?

‘Mania.  I think that was mania.  Sometimes?’

BEEP.  Another question mark.  

‘Wait, what? did I get it righ–‘

‘NEXT!!  Your inability to handle failure and tendency to blame yourself for everything that goes wrong anywhere around you?  Quickly now!’

‘I don’t see how I could ever kno–‘

BEEP! 

Your propensity to sabotage your romantic relationships?

BEEP. 

Every career choice you’ve ever made? 

BEEP.  The inability to stay in one place for any amount of time?  BEEP.  All the embarrassing things you’ve done when you were feeling GREATER THAN GREAT? 

BEEP. 

Well?!!, the clock is ticking!!!!

‘But, I don’t know if any of those things were me or my disease, I mean how should I kno–“

BUZZZZZZZZ.

The screen flashes ‘00:00′, signalling the end of the round.  

‘Well, Julie, I can see that your frustrated.  But not to worry!  I’ve got a little secret for you,’ Feelgood whispers into the microphone, pulling her reluctantly close to him and donning a mischievous grin.  ‘None of those questions even HAD answers!’ 

The crowd laughs wildly.

‘Let me ask you this, Julie.  Do you feel exponentially worse, now that you’ve been questioning all your life choices and are unable to differentiate between your own personality and the symptoms of your disease?’ 

He holds the microphone out expectantly.

She thinks for a moment.  ‘Yeah, I guess I feel pretty bad.’

‘BINGO!!’

‘+500’ appears on the screen.

Feelgood beams at the crowd, ‘Well, you’ve passed the Rumination Round and have managed to rack up a pretty hefty score.  Let’s move on to the final portion of our show, shall we?’

Applause. 

Both host and contestant make their way across the glossy stage as a leggy assistant in a sparkling dress pulls over a giant, multicolored circle-shaped contraption.

‘AND IT’S FIIIINALLY time for… The WHEEL OF SOCIETAL STIGMAS!!’

The excitement of the crowd bubbles over onto the stage and the camera quickly turns to capture them as they jump up and down in delight.  

‘Go ahead and give the wheel a spin here, Julie, don’t be shy.’

She reaches up hesitantly and pulls the lever, sending the enormous wheel careening on it’s axis, in a blur of intermingling, bold colors. 

The crowd grows silent as the contraption begins to slow, ticking loudly with each section of the wheel it passes by.  And as it slows, words begin to solidify as the blurriness recedes.  Each one sectioned off by a different color.

‘Crazy’

‘Fun’

‘Uncontrollable’

‘Passionate’

‘Emotional Trainwreck’

‘Unemployable’

‘Promiscuous’

‘Creative Genius’

They each pass by more slowly than the last.  The crowd holds its breath. 

And finally… it crawls to a stop.

Feelgood eyes the landing point, rips the colored plate off the wheel and holds it aloft for the crowd to see.

‘Ooo… rough luck there Julie! You’re label issssss... Not Dependable!!!’ 

And as the crowd groans aloud, he reveals a tiny string fixed to the back of the placard, transforming it into a large necklace.  He fastens it around his contestant’s neck, where it hangs heavy.  She looks down in resignation and sighs.

‘It’s not all bad, Julie.  You may need to work a little extra to prove that you can function as a productive member in society, and it won’t be easy,‘  He wraps his arm around her shoulder in a fatherly way.  ‘But wait til you see what you’ve won!’

I’ve actually won something?’ She asks, disbelievingly.  

‘Of course.  It’s not all bad!’ Feelgood replies.  ‘Let’s show her what she’ll be going home with!’

And as the crowd cheers animatedly, the final curtain is lifted revealing a massive pile of items stacked to the ceiling in a disorganized, messy heap.  

The girl in the sparkly dress holds her lanky arms out, gesturing grandly towards the towering pile of clutter, grinning ear-to-ear.

‘As a contestant on our show today, you will be leaving with the following gifts:


A one-way plane ticket to Somalia!’

The crowd gasps in envy. 

‘A miniature trampoline!  2 puppies! A saxophone!  Ski poles!  An underwater basket-weaving instruction manual!  Skydiving gear!  A lifelong membership to a culinary institute of your choice!  A 1978 Volkswagon Beetle Classic! A set of 52 Collector’s Edition ‘Sound of Music’ dinner plates…’…And SO MUCH MORE!!! 

Well?  What do you think?’

Hesitantly, she looks out at the crowd, choosing her words carefully. 

‘I appreciate it and all, but… well… I doubt I’ll ever use any of that stuff.  I’m not really interested in any of those things…’

Feelgood nods, understandingly,  ‘Well, they’re not really meant for use TODAY.  These are MANIC prizes… 

These are the things you’ll waste your life savings on and become convinced that you’re passionate about.  Then you’ll eventually lose interest and energy, and they’ll sit around your house collecting dust and remind you of all the USEFUL things you could have bought if you hadn’t wasted the money on frivolity!!’

She sighs in resignation and stares blankly at the floor as the music begins to chirp overhead, signaling the end of the show.  

Well, Julie, thank you for playing today… and we look forward to seeing you all next time onnnnnnn..

Bipolar, Meds, or MYSELF!!!’

As the crowd claps together one last time, and the ending credits cascade down the TV screen, Feelgood leans towards his contestant and whispers low enough, for only her to hear.  

A little something extra for you, for being brave enough to play…’

He pulls a tiny box the size of his palm from his suit pocket, and covertly hands it off to her.  She stares, inquisitively.  

One day, you’ll open it… and you’ll find the purpose of your struggle inside.  But you’ll have to be patient, because it’s not meant to be unwrapped just yet. 

There will be times when you’ll convince yourself that the box is empty, and that there is no prize, and that this was all a great sham. You’ll want to tear it open in frustration, to confirm your suspicions.  But if you do that, you’ve missed the point, and you’ll find it to be empty.

And so you’ll have to wait. 

Wait until you know, without a doubt, that there’s something spectacular inside this box. 

Until you no longer have any misgivings about what it contains. 

Until it becomes so clear that you don’t even HAVE to peer inside to know what it is.  Does that make sense?’

She nods, slowly.

‘I guess.  But why even have a box at all?  If I’ll just wind up stumbling upon the prize on my own anyways… what’s the point?’

Because one day in the future… you’ll give it to someone else. But you can’t hand it off to someone, if there’s nothing there to grab.’ He concludes, with a wink.

And for the first time, the contestant smiles at her host, and they walk off together…

…and exit

stage left.

Where is My Mind?

Present Day

I awake with a violent jerk, tangled inside a nest of disorganized cotton sheets and blankets.

The room is dark, with a hint of fluorescent light trickling in through the cracks in the blinds. A lone streetlight casting its ghostly rays on the quiet, chilly corner outside.

I blindly reach my hand out from beneath the down comforter, probing expectantly with grasping fingers, and wincing as the cold air strikes my exposed skin.

The tiny muscles at the base of my fluffy arm-hairs tighten. I shiver as the goosebumps erupt. 

I continue my sightless search, combing the perimeter for that tiny familiar device, containing all the abstract data that comprises my existence here in the 21st Century.

Finally, my palm slaps something smooth and hard. My thumb instinctively swipes across its polished surface. 

I squint my eyes as the screen springs to life.

An angry grunt bubbles up in my throat as I note the time. 

4 AM

GOD. DAMMIT.

I toss the phone away and scoop up an armful of blankets instead, bundling them over my face. Letting out a muffled wail of frustration into the soft, cushy fabric.  

Suddenly, a sharp pang ripples through my belly, and my irritation at the ungodly hour evaporates. An impending sense of urgency replaces it.

I frantically kick my feet, attempting to free my legs from their tangled bonds before it’s too late.

My stomach bubbles ominously. I Groan as the walls of my intestines dance and writhe and twist, swishing their contents back and forth like a small child making waves in a bathtub.

Not a moment too soon, my legs have tunneled their way to freedom and I plant my feet on the cold hardwood floor. 

As I rise from the mattress, I reach down with one hand and grab a handful of the elastic waistband, hanging loosely around my sharply protruding hip bones.

It’s a habit I’ve only recently grown accustomed to.

Five weeks ago, these pants had fit perfectly.

Funny how quickly the body turns on itself, cannibalizing it’s own precious tissues in a desperate plea for sustenance. Liquidating it’s own assets in a frantic attempt to survive the nutritional recession.

Cinching the fabric tightly about my waist, I stumble  into the hallway and onward to the bathroom. 

How many times has this happened tonight?

What number am I on? 

7?

8?

How is there anything left in my stomach to expel?

Surely it must be empty by now?

Several minutes later, I collapse back into bed. The sheets have grown cold in my absence.

Oddly, I’m no longer wallowing in self-pity.  Instead, I feel… reassured. Relieved. Vindicated. 

I’m reacting to this much better than I had two weeks ago. I’m not panicking, like I did last time.

Because now, after 1 month of slowly titrating up the dosage of this new medication, I’m finally recognizing the patterns.

Patterns lead to predictions.

And predictions lead to preparation.

And preparation, leads to a sense of control. 

I may not have control over my body just yet, but if the cycle continues… I will feel physically well again in about a week. My body will adjust to the higher dose, and the cramping and nausea will subside.

I just have to keep the faith and ride out the storm. 

Easier said than done.

Because as much as I’ve come to accept the physical demands of this adjustment period, they absolutely pale in comparison to the hell they’ve imposed on me MENTALLY.

Three weeks ago I was out running when I passed by a garage sale.

As I coasted along the sidewalk, I noticed a spunky little clock that stood out among the rest of the mundane and perfectly ordinary baubles. It’s borders were undulated, as though someone had suspended it over a blowtorch. It was artistically melted.

I thought to myself, “That’s cool. Looks like one of those paintings by… by… by….”

That artist. 

You know the one…

C’mon you know this.

You wrote a research paper on him in college. 

It’s a household name, for Chrissake.

You KNOW this. 

You have to know this. 

Why don’t you know this?

Why don’t you fucking know this? 

What’s WRONG WITH YOU?

Why can’t you REMEMBER?

This went on for my entire run.

I don’t remember what route I took, what music I listened to, or what my time was.

But I vividly recall spiraling into a full-blown panic attack that didn’t let up until I arrived back at my front porch and FINALLY, screamed aloud, practically sobbing in relief…

SALVADOR DALI!!

Salvador fucking Dali.

I get it. I know it’s stupid.

Normal humans, all over the world, are probably forgetting the names of Early-20th century Spanish painters on a DAILY basis.

No one, that I’m aware of, has ever found themselves in mortal peril from their lack of useless art facts.

And more importantly, I’m not an artist.

Nor am I a curator, or a museum-owner, or someone who can dissect a famous painting for hidden meaning, or really comment on art at all, except maybe to say things like “I think this one might be a watercolor?”

So why did I let Salvador Dali and his bizarre acid-trip style interpretation of the world ruin my day? 

Let me explain.

I am by nature, an extremely scholarly person.

I love to learn new things, expand my vocabulary, and binge-watch Netflix documentaries until I can recite all the exact dates of the major World War II battles for no particular reason other than to annoy you. 

I tend to consume information gluttonously, eating it up like a package of freshly-opened Girl Scout cookies.

And I pride myself on retaining that information. Its a huge part of who I am and how I define myself.

And throughout the past few weeks, as my psychiatrist has slowly begun to alter the dosages of some of my meds, I’ve felt that part of myself slipping, ever so slightly. 

And that scares the shit out of me.

For the last two weeks, I’ve had my own brain under interrogation almost constantly. 

Insignificant bits of forgotten information have become evidence…

… that my medicine has dissolved my memory into soup.  

Every perceived deviance from my normal way of thinking has been carefully monitored, cataloged, and placed in the repository of “Things That Prove I’m Now an Idiot and will be This way Forever.” 

To top it off, I’ve been terrified to write anything for fear that the entire world would pick up on the fact that I’ve somehow transformed into Charlie Gordon from Flowers for Algernon.

And even if I’d wanted to write, I was having trouble finding the right words to convey even relatively simple ideas.

That burning flame of creativity that had always been raging in my mind, had been extinguished.

Needless to say, it’s been a trying 2 weeks.

But near the tail end of it, the fog began to lift, ever so slowly, as my body became accustomed to these strange new chemicals.

And I realized, much to my relief, that the change… was hardly permanent. 

Best of all, I’m beginning to feel, a hint of “something else” that I can’t quite put my finger on.

I feel, slightly better? A tiny bit… balanced?

Not an overwhelming change, but enough to give me a tiny glimpse of hope to get through these next two weeks, as my dosage was increased again yesterday. It’s a perpetuating cycle of adaptation and agony.

As I lay atop my sheets now, preparing for the next round of cramping and nausea to begin, I desperately cling to the idea that this is temporary.

My body, will recover.

The atrophied muscles, I can rebuild.

I won’t live on soup and crackers forever. 

My mind, is healing. That takes time.

And although this all seems so wildly unfair… in the broad scheme of things, it’s actually not so bad.

So I close my eyes… grit my teeth, and probe my struggling mind for activity.

Salvador Dali

It becomes my mantra.

I clench the phrase in my hands and squeeze it until my knuckles turn white.  

As long as I can remember it… I know I’ll be okay. 

My mind, is in there somewhere. Lying dormant.

Waiting. Healing.

It will return when it’s ready. 

Ride The Lightning

Part 12 – The Disappearance of Julie Peters

Sometime Between September 9 and September 13, 2019

Baldwin, WI

My labored breaths fill the otherwise silent hallway of the drab motel as I sprint down the cheaply-carpeted floor in my socks.  The large key-ring in my hands jingles like a Christmas bell as the tiny jagged metal pieces bounce and sing against one another, ensuring that my thumb and forefinger are clamped around a very specific one. 

It’s tinier than the others, and could easily get lost amongst the myriad of multi-colored keys and plastic fobs surrounding it.  

I rip the electronic keycard out from between my teeth, muscling the door open and leaping over the mattress in a whirlwind of urgency.  The floor is littered with cardboard boxes, some large and some small.  Frantically-torn packaging tape and ripped bubble wrap tell the chaotic story of a very recent and ongoing descent into an invisible madness.  

All the boxes are addressed to me.  All the contents of which are now on the mattress.  The only mattress in the room.  A mattress, that hasn’t been slept in once since I checked in… 3 days ago.

3 days?  Has it been 3, or 4? 

I can’t remember. 

Because I haven’t slept. 

Nor have I eaten. Haven’t needed to. 

Something else is sustaining me.  Something much more powerful than nutrition. 

A strange new fuel that has been bubbling inside me for days.  Negating the need for sleep.  The need for food or water.  And with it, a stroke of genius that has elevated me beyond anything I’ve ever thought possible.  

I have discovered the meaning of… everything. 

Of life.  Specifically, MY LIFE.  And now I’m absolutely overcome with the compelling need to spread the message.   

I am GODLIKE.  I am superhuman.  I’ve been granted special powers.  I feel, amazing.  I feel ALIVE.  

And I need to make use of these powers before they disappear again.  Like they did the last time. I CANNOT waste this.  It’s my duty to mankind.

But I must be careful.  Must tread lightly.  Mustn’t let on to just anyone that I’ve been granted these powers. 

They wouldn’t believe anyways.  They’d take me away somewhere.  Put me in a padded room.  Lock me up.  And throw away the key.

And who will spread the message then?  It has to be me.  I am THE ONE.  The one the world is waiting for. 

This will be the first time I’ve left the motel room since I arrived. 

But is it the first time, really? 

I’m having trouble with the timeline. 

The events are jumbled in my mind, because they have too much to compete with.  My thoughts are riding on the coattails of a thunderbolt. They zip through my mind so quickly I can barely keep up. 

I’ve tried to write them all down, but it  happens so very fast and I have SO MUCH to think about.  So many plans. 

Okay – enough about that, though.  Keys!  We need keys!  NOW.  What’s that?  No, not the keys in my hand, silly!  These are different keys.  Car keys!  

Where are they?  Under this?  I toss a box to the corner of the room.  Nope.  Not under there!  Not to worry!  We’ll find them.  I just know it!!  Although the post office closes soon and I’m worried tha—  THERE!

RIGHT THERE DO YOU SEE THEM?

I snatch them up and allow myself a quick victory fist-pump.  Run to the door, nearly walk out with no shoes on my feet.  Whoops!  Silly me!

I chuckle to myself as I smash my feet forcefully into each pre-tied shoe,  pausing for a moment to rip a piece of stray packaging tape from my sock, and toss it into the air like a ribbon-toting  rhythmic gymnast.

Sprint out to the rental car with one heel still clamoring to fit inside it’s collapsed shoe-space. 

I should probably give that back, soon. 

The car, I mean.

They’ll be wanting that.  They’ll be searching for it.  And if they find IT then they find ME, and that’s no good at all now is it? RIGHT?! 

As I glance into the rear-view mirror and throw the car into reverse, I catch a glimpse of my eyes. 

My pupils, are enormous.  Like, the size of dinner plates enormous. 

That’s concerning.  Like I’m on drugs or something.  I mean… technically I am…

…on several as a matter of fact.  But they’re prescribed for my depression.  And they must be working because I feel AMAZING.  

DEPRESSION? WHAT DEPRESSION???

The tires squeal as I just miss the curb, parking diagonally in the tiny lot. I Run to the desk,  and greet the service agent emphatically with a charming quip.  She knows me by name now.  ISN’T THAT GREAT?  

I speed-walk between the corridors lined with tiny metal boxes, pivoting my head round my neck ferociously like a bird.   

Until my glassy, bloodshot eyes land on the triple-digit number I’m looking for.  I reach into the box, pull out a heavy stack of mail. 

Corporate mail. 

Mail that’s been addressed to the hotel I’m staying at. 

I thumb through it quickly.  And right there, in the middle of the stack… exactly what I need.  A tiny box with my name on it.  FUCK YES.

 As I drive back to the hotel, the glint of metal on the unfamiliar key-ring catches my eye for a brief moment, discarded hastily onto the passenger seat.  

And with it, a quick pang of something… unpleasant. 

What is that? 

Ah… yes… I’m feeling slightly guilty now. 

I did yell at that poor hotel manager, after all. 

The pleasant middle-Eastern man with the heavy accent and the concerned eyes. 

But I’d NEEDED to, you see.  He wasn’t getting it.  The significance.

He hadn’t understood. 

I’m leaving tomorrow.  Going… where exactly am I going? 

Fuck it, it’s not important.  What IS  important is that NOW I have everything I need to get moving. All of the gear.  ALL OF IT.  I’m going to need that gear very soon.  My plans require it. 

And that nice man, he wasn’t being very cooperative and so I’d had to raise my voice to help him understand just how important this box, and this gear, is to me.  

But then he’d gotten a bit scared, and he’d basically THROWN me the keys to EVERY DOOR in the hotel so that I could go and check the mailbox myself. 

And so I had. 

But still, I wish I hadn’t had to yell.  I’m really not that type of person.  Honest.  I’m a nice, polite, kind, brunette lady.  Usually.

When I get back to my hotel room, I rip open the very last of my packages. 

And pull out the compass.

I smile widely, and cram all the objects I can inside my brand-new extra-large hiking backpack. 

 Tomorrow I leave. 

Tomorrow… I fulfill my destiny.  ONCE AND FOR ALL.  



Lightning rips across the sky that night.  I know, because I don’t sleep. 

Again.


To Be Continued… 

Game of Survival



To my middle sister. Who’s always fought for me:

Dear Suzanne,


It was sometime in the late 1990’s that it happened. I was in the 7th Grade. I wonder to myself if you remember.  

I was sitting in my bedroom, crying quietly to myself, lamenting the fact that this was undoubtedly, my last day on Earth. 

Tomorrow, I would die a painful and violent death, and there was nothing I could do to prevent it.

As the tears rolled down my cheeks and the snot hung from my nose like a Mastiff, I heard a light tap tap on my door.  

“C- C– Co-Come in…” I sobbed, and in you walked, with the ghost of a sentence on your lips that evaporated the minute you saw my tears. 

I’m not sure why you’d knocked or what your original intent was.  Perhaps you’d come to retrieve one of the many items I was forever stealing from your closet.  If that was the case, I was as good as dead anyways.  You’d warned me before that if I didn’t stop borrowing your things without asking, that the punishment would be severe.  And I knew for a fact that if you were to dump my hamper over at that very moment, you’d find a pair of your favorite soccer shorts in the bottom of the pile.

Teenage you. I’m sorry, I couldn’t resist…

But what did any of that matter, really?  I mean, if I had to choose between being raked to death by your familiar fingernails in the privacy of my own home, or being bludgeoned by the fists of 6 angry 8th-grade girls in front of the entire middle school… well, I’d much prefer the first option.

And so I sat there, chin raised in defiance and heart steeled in noble acceptance of my own impending mortality. 

But instead of performing a detailed excavation of my laundry to unearth your belongings, you surprised me.  

“What is it?”  You’d asked sympathetically, “Why are you crying?”

“I d-d-d-don’t wanna saaayyyy…” I wallowed, wiping snot onto my sleeve before it dripped onto my down comforter.

“Tell me right now.  Julie.  Come on.”

And so I reluctantly recanted the events from a few hours prior.  They went something like this:


I’d been sitting at the lunch table with 5 of my friends, enjoying the taste and complete lack of nutritional value of my $2 square of undercooked pizza. 

We were minding our own business, chatting among ourselves, when all of the sudden, the most feared person in the entire cafeteria and maybe the entire school, took great interest in our table. 

We all seemed to shrink in size as her shadow slowly crept up the wooden surface, blotting out the lights with her looming presence, like a total eclipse.  

We all fell silent and froze mid-bite, praying that by some miracle she would confuse us with statues and walk away scratching her head in confusion. 

But alas, this did not happen. 

Instead, she looked directly at my friend, Katie, and demanded to know, “WHY are you staring at my friend?”

A million hypothetical answers cropped up in my mind, the most prevalent of which included maybe because your friend bares a startling resemblance to Doby the House-Elf from Harry Potter? 

Or

Because she chews with her mouth open?

But I wasn’t Katie and so I didn’t presume to know the answer to this question.

Poor Katie looked up at the towering excuse for a Middle-School preteen and simply stuttered, “I… I don’t know?”

The bully, was not satisfied with this answer and continued to cajole her.

Over and over again, like Chinese water torture she repeated, “WHY ARE YOU STARING AT MY FRIEND? ARE YOU SOME KIND OF LESBIAN?  WHAT DO YOU WANT ME TO GO BACK AND TELL HER, HUH??!!!”

By this time, the cafeteria had fallen silent and I could feel the sympathetic eyes of all my classmates boring into the back of my head.  Katie was positively quivering in terror.  

Answer me!!  What should I tell my friend?”

Finally, I couldn’t take it anymore.  In a moment of complete and utter insanity I stood up, staring directly at the belly button of this massive specimen of a girl and defiantly said:

“How about, you tell her to FUCK OFF?”

Gasps immediately cut through the lunch room, and as I sat back down, I knew, without a doubt, that I had just signed my own death warrant.

Not only had I just insulted an entire TABLE full of girls a grade above my own, but I had just publicly challenged the biggest, scariest creature that ever walked the halls of Anchor Bay Middle School. 

I’d given her no choice but to pulverize me into a pile of dust, lest her reign of terror be tainted by my momentary lapse in judgement.

My hands began to shake as I reached for my tiny carton of 2% milk and pretended to sip.  It’s best to act calm in these types of situations.  It throws the bullies off for a moment and gives you a chance to run. 

But I had nowhere to go, and this became rather obvious as, throughout the rest of the day, each of the 6 older girls took rotating shifts to torture me in the hallway as I scurried from class to class in a frenzied panic.

Weighing about 90 pounds soaking wet, I was no match for this angry hoard of bloated hyenas, and so I bravely endured it as best I could. 

I was shoved into walls, body-slammed into lockers, and had my books snatched from my hands so many times that my lower back began to ache from bending down to scoop them up off the floor. 

And at the end of every terrifying encounter, was the constant reminder from all of them…. a whispered threat that no one but me could hear:


You’re dead.  Tomorrow.  After lunch.  


I’m dead… tomorrow…. after l-lu-lunch…” 

I sobbed, as you stood over me with your arms crossed, hanging carefully on every word.

Rather than comment on this enthralling monologue, you simply turned on your heels, and disappeared.  I was quite puzzled at first, until you returned minutes later, carrying an item in each hand. 

A yearbook. 

And a permanent marker.

You sat on the edge of my bed, and laid out the instructions.  I was to go through the yearbook with a fine-tooth comb, and find the pictures of every girl that had bullied me earlier that day.  I was to circle their faces, with the sharpie, and not LEAVE ANYONE OUT.  When I was finished with this assignment, I was to return the yearbook to you.

And so I did as I was instructed.  And I returned the yearbook, no questions asked.

The next day, instead of perishing in the middle school parking lot as expected, I was approached by EVERY SINGLE ONE of those girls, independently. 

And apologized to. 

Profusely.  

Almost poetically, the final girl, was the bully herself.  She was downright TREMBLING as she explained, “I had no idea you were Suzanne Peters’s little sister.  If I had known… I never would have touched you.  Please, please tell your sister that I’m sorry.  Please.”

I never found out, just what exactly you did or said to inspire such fear in the hearts of those wretched girls. 

But I was never bullied again, by anyone, right up until the day I graduated.


Suzanne Peters’s little sister. 

That’s the thing – I was never just ‘Julie Peters’ in school.  I was Suzy’s little sister.  A title which I wore proudly, as though I’d done something honorable in procuring myself a nearly-identical strand of DNA to yours. 

It gave me street cred, even when we were kids.

My relationship with you was slightly different than that of mine or yours with Christel. 

You were only two years older than me, for one.  Just close enough to receive all the same toys on Christmas, albeit in different colors (mom was very careful about that), but just far away enough for it to be supremely uncool if you had hung out with me as often as I’d liked.  And I totally get that. You had a reputation to uphold, after all.

Of course, you occasionally took pity on me and let me tag along with you and your friends as you went about on all your older cool-kid adventures, but I was never really on the same level as you, popularity-wise.  

While I spent most of my childhood and even adult years trying to BE Christel… I spent an equal amount of time trying to get YOU to be my best friend.  

But there was one tiny problem:  You already had a million of them. 

That awkward girl in the 80’s windbreaker suit off to the right? That’s me trying to blend in, unsuccessfully.

You’ve always had this strange gravity about you that just draws people in. 

It’s magnetic. 

You were ALWAYS surrounded by copious amounts of friends, and people trying to garner your attention. Growing up, I just assumed it was because of your gorgeous looks and infectious charisma, but now that I’m older, I see that this was just one part of a much bigger equation.

People, hell even ANIMALS, gravitate around you, not because of your beauty (which still holds strong to this day)…

…but because you are the most FIERCELY loyal person I have ever met. 

You’d throw yourself under a bus if it meant protecting someone you love. 

I’ve never seen you waver, or back down from a battle, if it meant that someone you cared about would be damaged if you did.  And it’s just as true today, as it was back then.  Maybe even more so.

And I don’t mean to paint you as this hot-headed maniac, either. Everyone knows you, the REAL you, knows that you have a fucking heart of gold. You are truly one of the most caring, kind people I’ve ever met.

I think that as we’ve gotten older, as you’ve gotten married and had kids and raised a family, you might feel a little bit like you’ve lost that gravity I spoke of earlier. 

I think you might feel like you’re taken for granted and like nobody can see how hard you work, or what an amazing job you’ve done raising the most well-behaved children I’ve ever met. 

After you and Saede won the ‘Wife-carrying contest’ in St. Cloud

But I want you to know that I see you. 

That you’re no less magnificent to me now than you were when we were children.  And that your magnetism, your larger-than-life gravity, has never wavered.

You’ve always fought all my battles for me.  I’ve never really suffered any damage, whether it be mental or physical, because you’re so fiercely protective of me.

When our parents got divorced, and Christel was off at college, you took me under your wing. You shielded me from so much of the ugliness of the world. And we white-knuckled that horrible situation TOGETHER.

I’d have never made it through that if you hadn’t been there to teach me how. And to take the brunt of the damage in my stead.

You’ve taken every blow ever thrown my way.

I can never thank you enough for what you did… what you STILL do, to this very day.

But this battle – the one I’m engaged in now, well… I can’t hide behind you anymore.

I can’t circle the bullies with a giant magic marker.

Because the bullies, are in my head.  

And so rather than hide behind you, I  instead draw inspiration from you. 

I feed off of your own bravery and follow your daring example. 

I’ve channeled you when I’m at my weakest and drawn from the deep pool of your lionhearted energy…

… and I always, always think to myself

What would Suzanne do right now?’

The answer, is always the same – The bravest thing imaginable.

You are my armor.  Even when you’re not here.

Always.

Love you my big sis, My protector, 

Your little sister, 


Julie

Sister

To my Oldest Sister, Who wrote to me when I was Missing:

Being back in Detroit, I’ve been looking for a way to pass the time while my medicine kicks in.  And so the other day, I went through some old photographs in mom’s Hope Chest.  

As I was chuckling to myself at the old familiar glossies, I came across one that made me stop dead in my tracks.  I placed the rest of the towering pile down, off to the side so that I could study it – give it my full attention.

At first, I didn’t recognize the tiny, round face framed so softly with the dirty-blonde locks of shiny curls.  But then I looked closer, and recognized the expression, and the piercing blue eyes that seemed to jump off the picture with their intensity.  It was you – as a baby.

And suddenly, I realized.  I’ve never taken the time to actually look at any of your baby pictures before.  I’d had no idea what you looked like before I was born.  Had never even given it a second thought.

Why is that?  Why had I never cared enough to even thumb through your baby book, not even once?

And as is the case with most introspective questions, I already knew the answer before I asked.  It’s simple, really.  I can’t picture you as a baby, because in my eyes, you never were one.  You aren’t allowed to be.  You’re my older sister.

I’ve never known you as anything else.  Since the day I was born, you’ve always been this constant, calming presence in my life.  Something that was just, always there.  No different than the sky or the sun or the stars.


When we were little, I wanted to be you so desperately.  Because you always knew all the answers.  Because you were a perpetual fountain of knowledge and earthly wisdom.  Because you were never afraid, or sad, or all the things I seemed to be growing up.  You were perfect.  

I’m the one with the pizza. ALWAYS.


You’d think that this reverence would have faded with age, but it never really did. 

When you went off to college, you left me all your Human Anatomy notes from Ms. Erfert’s class in the 9th grade.  I pored over them, breathing in every word like they were the original stone tablets chiseled with the 10 commandments. 

The following year, I signed up Ms. Erfert’s class, and breezed through it like it was third grade math.  

When I was in my junior year of high school, you came home to visit for a few days.  You were living in Boston at the time, working at a large hospital as a respiratory therapist. 

I still remember the night that you were saying your goodbyes, like it was yesterday.  Because you came into my bedroom last, and as we hugged I said, “I wish I could come with you.”  To which you responded with, “What’s stopping you from doing that?”  

I had stared incredulously at you  and sputtered out something to the tune of, “Be… Be-cause… I don’t know.  I can’t just go off to Boston for a week.”

“Why not?  Give me one good reason.  You’re on break at school.  You’ll be back in time to go to class.  You have no reason not to go,” you’d insisted.

 Eventually, I ran out of excuses and found myself in the passenger seat of your trailblazer at 9 PM on a weeknight, crossing the border into Canada with a few pairs of clothes and some toiletries. 

It was the most exhilarating feeling in the world.  And not only did it shatter all my false beliefs about spontaneous travel, it also inspired a strange new desire to get out of Michigan and SEE THE WORLD in all it’s glory.  It set the tone for the rest of my life.

You became a traveling respiratory therapist a few years later, and flew me out to San Francisco while you were on assignment there. 

Then you took me to Costa Rica. 

And finally, right after I graduated X-Ray school, you brought me to Alaska to live with you while I tried to lock down my first job out of college.  

Do you remember when we were on the plane to South Dakota, moving there together from Anchorage?  That girl behind us, she started having an asthma attack.  She was panicking, and  the flight attendants had NO IDEA what to do. 

At one point, it got so bad that she was hyperventilating behind us, and you’d looked over at me, sighed, and handed me your infant son.  

“Hold this,” you’d said.  

Then you’d turned and explained to the petrified girl who you were and just how you were going to help her. 

You’d held both her hands and forced her to breathe along with you, all while simultaneously ordering the flight attendants to radio overhead for an Albuterol inhaler from one of the other passengers. 

I’d watched in awe while you magically calmed that girl down, got her breathing nice and slow again. 

By the time the ER doctor from a few rows up came back for a look, he’d simply said, “well, it looks like you have this under control…”  and gone back to his seat.

It was one of the many moments in my life, where I’d wanted to stand up and point to you emphatically and scream to the crowd of onlookers, “That’s MY sister!!”

 Every major step and decision in my life, you’ve been there… holding my hand through it, like you did with that girl on the plane.  Coaxing me to ignore the little nagging voice in my head, and to do the things I am terrified to do. 

A lot of those things, I only had the courage to try, because I knew that if I fucked them up, you’d be there to fix it.  Because you always have been. 

And up until now I’ve taken all that for granted.

You see, I realize now that I’ve never allowed you the opportunity to NOT be perfect.  I’ve never expected anything less than that from you.  So when I was missing a few weeks back, and I saw that you’d posted my suicide note and all the details of my mental health struggles online, I’d been very very angry. 

I’d resented you for that for a little while afterwards, because in my eyes, it was handled imperfectly.  


But what IS the perfect way to handle that situation?  I mean, what precedence out there exists for, “My sister has gone fucking crazy and I desperately need to find her?”  

And so I’m sitting here several weeks later, looking at your baby pictures, and for the first time…

…I mean really, truly, the first time…

…I’m allowing you the right – TO BE HUMAN. 

And I’m realizing that throughout our entire lives, I’ve never ever given you that.  Never allowed you that.

Never allowed you to be vulnerable. 

Never allowed you to be anything other than perfect. 

And I’m so fucking sorry, Christel.

I really am.

I’m sorry that I held you to an impossible standard.  I’m sorry that I’ve expected you to fix everything that’s gone wrong in my life.  I’m sorry that I’ve let you down. 

And I promise to do better.  To try to my hardest to BE better.

All I’ve ever wanted, is to be you.  But I’m not.  And never will be.  And that’s okay. 

You are still, to this day, my absolute idol and the constant source of solidity in my drastically wavering life. 

And all I want, right now? 

Is for you to know that.

Love Always

Your Baby Sister,


Julie

Lead Sails (and a Paper Anchor)

Part 11 – The Disappearance of Julie Peters

The day that you’re born, you arrive on a great, sandy beach – naked and screaming in the hot, tropical sun. 

Immediately, you are taken in by the people who brought you there, offered clothing and shelter and sustenance – everything you need to survive on it’s glistening shores.  You’re comfortable and warm there, but spend nearly all your time looking out at the water, dreaming of the day that you can venture beyond it’s familiar banks.

As you grow bigger and stronger, you begin to envy those who’ve traveled out into the ocean. 

You watch in awe as they board their tiny ships and let the wind whisk them away to uncharted territory.  And as their vessels shrink in size and become tiny dots on the horizon, you swear right then and there that you will dedicate your life to following them out into the open sea. 

Into the great unknown.   

Away from comfort, and into adventure.

You begin to assemble the materials you’ll need – the wood and the cloth and the rivets.  You place them in a large pile on the beach, and then you set off to find the people that have built the greatest vessels and had the grandest adventures. 

Blueprints begin to take shape in your mind, and you commit them to paper as you digest the sage advice from the older builders around you.  

As you toil away on the beach in the hot sun, you are not alone.  Other people are building boats, in all types and varying sizes.  

Some people inherit great big ships that don’t require much work at all, and you silently curse them as you sweat and bleed and toil away in the hot sun.

  Still other people are working with almost nothing, and their struggles far exceed your own as they work to get their flimsy vehicles into the water.

Often times, others wash up on the shore, sun-burnt and dehydrated, warning how dangerous it is out there in the deep sea.  You heed their warnings, but continue on anyways, patiently building your boat, one plank at a time. Board by board, sanding each one down to perfection.

Great big parties and celebrations occur on the beach, and although there’s a time in which you partake in them, you soon realize that your plan will never come to fruition if you spend all your time socializing. And so you turn down the invitations and focus all your energy on building the best damn boat that ever sailed into the water.  

Sometimes, people laugh at your strange design, asking you just where the hell you got your diagram.  You ignore them. 

One day, they will eat their words.  As you sail off into the sunset, they will stand longingly on the shore, waving goodbye… stuck there forever. 

Other people wonder why you’d want to want to venture out beyond the comforts of the tiny island.  After all, you’ve got everything you need to survive right here.  Why risk the danger?  But you can’t explain to them your compelling need to join those tiny dots on the horizon.  They’ll never understand. It’s your destiny. It calls out to you every day.

Finally, after years of meticulous building, your ship is ready to set sail.  You wave goodbye to those still left on the island, and take off into the deep blue expanse ahead.  It’s invigorating.  The smell of the sea and the wind in your hair.  It’s everything you’d ever dreamt it could be.  

Familiar faces line the boats around you and you emphatically wave hello as you pass them on their own journeys.  Family and friends smile from the decks of their own ships and you smile back from the deck of yours.  For a time, everything is perfect.  Just like you’d imagined.

One night, a wretched storm blows through, and as the rain pours into your boat and the lightning rips the sky apart, you begin to realize that there are certain things about this boat that you’ve overlooked.  Tiny cracks in the floorboards, and loose screws allow the water to pool ominously in areas the ought to be kept dry. 

A feeling of foreboding emerges, but just as you begin to grow nervous, the storm passes and the sun comes out again.  You patch up the holes and tighten the screws and set about sailing even further than you’ve ever been before.

Years after you initially set sail, you turn back and you notice that the island is no longer visible, even with a spyglass.  But instead of feeling scared, you feel inspired.  Even more so because you built this entire ship with your bare hands

Plank by plank.  Board by board. 

And sealed, with an unwavering sense of pride.

Soon, all the other ships disappear and you are alone in the great watery wasteland. 

You’ve gone beyond the reaches of even the map, and are charting new territory all on your own. 

But there’s a problem:  your ship, has begun to leak again, in all the vulnerable areas that had been exposed during the storm.  

You gather buckets and attempt to slow the pooling of the seawater, but you begin to realize that this liquid that you’re immersed in… isn’t seawater at all. 

You’ve somehow managed to find a patch of special water, cursed water that dissolves the exact type of wood you used to carefully build your boat.  It eats away at the holes in the deck, magnifying their circumference by several feet.  Soon, giant gaps have cropped up all over the ship and it begins sinking, much to your own horror.

You run around the surface of the boat, fruitlessly attempting to salvage it, but pretty soon, only it’s mast sits atop the water.  You plaster yourself to it, desperate and alone.  But eventually it falls beneath the ocean, and you are forced to cling to the meager bits of wreckage strewn about, praying that another ship will come along and rescue you.

As you bob along with the driftwood, you curse and cry and shake your fists at the heavens, lamenting the loss of not just this magnificent ship, but everything that you gave up to go about building it.  You wonder what the point of it all was, now that you’re out here alone, starving and thirsty.  

One day, just as your grip on the floating debris begins to weaken, you look up to see a dot on the horizon.  You excitedly begin to wave your arms, and your scratchy throat croaks out a desperate plea for help.  Overcome with relief, you watch in anticipation as the boat begins to grow in size, making it’s way towards you.

But there’s something very familiar about this ship.  And as it comes closer and closer, you realize that it’s not just any boat.  It’s your father’s boat.  And not far behind it, are the boats of both your sisters and your mother, and several of your friends.  And suddenly you remember.  The water.  The water is poison!  

You begin to shout at them, warning them of the dangers ahead.  But they can’t make out your words over the crashing of the waves and the seagulls floating overhead and all the other ambient noises of the ocean. 

Not only are they plowing towards you at a dizzying speed, but some of them are preparing to JUMP IN, following you into the dark unknown.  

There’s no way of knowing if their boats can withstand the power of the strange water.  But you can’t risk it.  You’d rather disappear into the ocean, sinking to it’s silty bottom, than watch your family and friends drown trying to get you out.  

But they won’t listen.  They’re determined to save you. 

So you do the only thing you can think of – and you start paddling further into the stretch of dark sea.  You know that you’re swimming to your own death, but you don’t care.  As long as you don’t bring everyone else around you down in the process. 

You close your eyes as you kick with all your might, and you pray to God that they will give  you up for the lost cause that you know you are. 

That they will return to their own boats. 

And sail far, far away from the darkness.

And back to safety.


September 9, 2019

Baldwin, Wisconsin

A horn barks angrily through the air as I slow the car to a crawl and pull over on the side of the highway.  

Tears are pouring down my face and onto the steering wheel.  I’m paralyzed by indecision.  Stuck motionless as the surrounding cars barrel past me, going Eastward on I-94.  

I want to go home.  In fact, my car is already pointed towards Detroit, and all I have to do is throw it back in Drive and hit the gas.  But I can’t.  I just can’t.

I think of my mother.  I think of everything I’ve put her through during my lifetime.  And I just can’t do it anymore.  Can’t force anyone else to clean up my mess. 

To rescue my ship.  To follow me down, down, down, into the darkness.  

I love my family far too much to drown them. 

It’s time to swim.  Far, far away.  

I merge my car into the right lane, and pull off on the next exit.  

I still don’t remember how I choose the hotel I do or why.  

All I remember, is thinking… swim away.  Swim away.  Swim.  Away.

And I will spend the next 4 days, trying to figure out where exactly I’m going to paddle.  

But there’s a slight problem.  Right around day 2, I start feeling euphoric again.  And this time, I build a new boat, but the blueprints are backwards and upside down. 

And even though everything about it’s construction is wrong… to me, it’s magnificent to behold. 

So I plop it into the sea.  

And I set off into the water… 

…with lead sails

and a paper anchor.

To be continued…