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. 

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…

Domino

Part 2 – The Disappearance of Julie Peters

I’ve never met a person  that actually knows how to play Dominos. 

I’m talking about the REAL “match-the-dots-up” style Dominos – the original purpose for which the inventors intended.  

I know there’s some type of scoring system, which means there’s got to be a legitimate strategy involved, and I’m pretty sure the rules are printed directly on the box. 

So why is it, then, that I’ll probably be struck by lightning before I’ll ever meet someone who knows how to actually play?  

The answer, is simple.  

No matter what the rules say, we all know that the true fun lies in arranging those little rectangles up just right and then watching them fall over in perfect synchronous harmony. 

Take any five-year-old off the street (but maybe only do this metaphorically, cause that’s sort of weird)  and ask them how to play Dominos and that’s exactly what they’ll show you.  

It’s a hypnosis of sorts, watching those little pieces topple. One after the other. An elegant cycle of Cause and Effect and Cause.

But the true beauty lies in knowing that if just one of those blocks has been slightly misplaced, the chain is broken. The entire entertaining process comes to a screeching halt and the fun… is over.  

There’s a special name for this phenomenon in the airline industry, referring to all the tiny ill-foreseen events preceding a plane crash. 

Cascading Failures, it’s called.  

If I had an Indian Name, Cascading Failures would probably be it. 

I can hear it now:

Cascading Failures… get over here and finish your supper!”

Did you clean your room yet, Cascading Failures?”

All jokes aside, I’ve had the displeasure of experiencing the Domino effect firsthand in my own life as of late. 

It was a series of unfortunate events that lead, ultimately, to my disappearance. 

My very own set of cascading failures.  

And this, my friends,  is the story of that very first Domino.



September 6, 2019

Minneapolis, MN

An Undisclosed Hospital

Tiny beads of sweat draw a slow and agonizing line down my back.  They pause briefly as they reach the little peaks of my vertebrae, crawling up the miniature bony slopes determinedly, only to hurdle down towards the valleys in between before repeating the entire process over again. 

I fight the urge to awkwardly reach backwards and smother them as I dart around the CT room like a deranged bumblebee, preparing hurriedly for the next scan.

A glimmer of stainless steel in my peripheral vision announces the entrance of another patient, and I barely have time to bark out a quick ‘hello’ before the worker pushing the wheelchair disappears like an apparition. 

I don’t blame him, of course.  He’s already informed me that it’s his first day on the job, and he couldn’t have picked a worse shift to act as his introduction to the medical field.  Poor kid has been running back and forth all night.  

Not that I have much time to grace him with my sympathies.  I’ve also been inundated with back-to-back patients all night.

Despite the annoying back-sweat and complete lack of time for eating, drinking, or peeing, I’m actually quite enjoying myself.  I’ve trained at a Trauma 1 center in downtown Detroit as a student, and had always thrived in fast-paced environments as a server before that.  Busy days make for quick days and for that I am eternally grateful.  

The end of the shift tonight will mark the near-end of my second week at this site.  I’ve already told my dad and mom that I’m quite enjoying this travel assignment.  I’ve already voiced my interest at extending here, should the offer be made.  I’ve never had a travel site NOT ask if I’d like to extend my contract beyond 13 weeks.  Not once in 5 years.

Of course there had been that incident earlier this week, in which a nurse had been choked by a patient in one of our CT rooms –  with her own stethoscope.

And then oddly, that very same day, I had been moving a patient onto our CT table when he suddenly cocked his arm back and struck me sharply in the pelvis with his fist.  The sudden and brash violence had stunned me into silence. 

It hadn’t been until several hours later that I had thought to mention it, and when I finally did, it was more or less regarded as a ‘necessary evil’ that went hand-in-hand with working in our industry.  I mean, I get it. It happens, you know?

Yet while all that had given me pause, the good had continued to outweigh the bad here. Honestly.

For now, I stand on the other side of the CT table and extend my arms out coaxingly to the young girl on the other side of it.  She easily transfers from the wheelchair, as I launch into autopilot and explain the CT process. 

I ramble on as she stares at me with dazed eyes, giving no sign whatsoever of having comprehended a word of my monologue. 

As a precaution, I fold the large seatbelt-like velcro straps over her tiny body and secure them round her waist.  She flinches, slightly, at the contact.  I think nothing of it.

I speed-walk to the control room and shut the door, plop into the flimsy computer chair and roll myself towards the monitor.  with practiced ease, I perform my quick set of preliminary pictures that I’ll be using to set the parameters for the scan. 

But just as I prepare to hit the button and initiate the exam, something on the CT table stirs.  Having caught the motion in my peripheral vision, I quickly hit the “abort” button and squint through the lead-impregnated glass at my patient.  

I leap out of my chair so quickly it goes rolling across the carpet and with a loud thud, and crashes into the counter on the opposing side.

As I tear the door open and run into the room, I am immediately relieved to find that my patient is not having a seizure, as I had originally thought. 

But the relief doesn’t last. 

While she may not be showing seizure-like symptoms, the violent,  involuntary shaking I’d just witnessed from the control room had not been imagined.  My patient’s chest is heaving wildly and she is trembling so wretchedly that I fear she may vibrate right off the table and fall directly to the floor.  

I rush over to her.  Pull her to a sitting position and place my hands on hers.  

Are you alright, ________?‘  I ask.

No response.

‘_______, talk to me.  What’s going on?  Tell me how I can help.  I want to help you, okay?  But I can’t do that if you won’t tell me what’s wrong.

 Her eyes are wide with panic. 

Lips trembling.  Breathing shallow. 

The blood is draining from her face and the hyperventilation seems to be worsening.

And then, I realize it.  Curse myself.

How could I not know? 

I get these weekly.  

It’s a panic attack. 

A full-blown, terrifying, and yet all-too-familiar panic attack.

As the realization dawns on me, a look of recognition crosses my face.

She notices.

Okay,’  I say.  ‘You don’t have to tell me.  I get these too.  I know.  I know.  You just have to breathe through it.  It’s scary.  So scary.  But it goes away after a while. Lets breathe together, okay?  You and I, right now.

We inhale.  We exhale. 

 We inhale.  We exhale. 

Together.  

And slowly, ever-so-slowly, I watch as the blood returns to her face. 

Her breathing slows.  The trembling peters out.

I smile. 

 ‘See?‘  I say, ‘You did that on your own.  Look at how good you’re doing. I’m so proud of you.’

A hint of a smile.  Of trust.  

And then…

From two rooms over, where my coworkers are performing a scan on another patient:

DON’T YOU MOTHERFUCKING TOUCH ME!!  FUCK YOU!!  FUCK YOU I’LL KILL YOU RIGHT NOW YOU MOTHERFUCKERS I’LL SHOOT YOU IN THE GODDAMN FACE!!!!!

My patient and I jump in unison and I watch in horror as she reverts back to the state I’d just spent several minutes coaxing her out of. 

Worse, actually.  The hyperventilation returns and this time, it’s showing no signs of stopping… of slowing. 

God DAMMIT.

Just then, both my coworkers voices ring out in unison. 

Julie!  Julie, we need you! Get. In. Here. NOW!!

I flinch and start off in the direction of the voices. Stop briefly to touch my patient’s hand.

I gotta go for a second.  I’ll be right back, you hear me?  Breathe.  Just Breathe.

As I run backwards out of the room, she stares after me, trying desperately to catch her breath. 

It’s easily one of the worst moments of my professional career.  Watching that trust crumble away. Watching helplessly.

Yet as I tear through the CT control room and catch a glimpse into the second exam room, an even more horrifying event is taking place.  

My male coworker is struggling with a large and overwhelmingly strong, combative patient, to keep him from tumbling to the floor, and he’s dodging blows from every which way to do it. 

The crazed patient’s angry screams are reverberating off the walls of the tiny room, and the sheer violence of it all is almost paralyzing. 

This patient, is hell-bent on killing my coworker. 

Of that, I am sure.

shit shit shit shit shit shit.  

I run into the room. 

And directly into hell.


To be continued….

Renegade

Part 1 – The Disappearance of Julie Peters

September 16, 2019

Potosi, Missouri

The steering wheel is hot and sticky in my hands as I wrench the tiny rental car to and fro around the unfamiliar winding roads of some random town in Missouri.

My body whips violently from right to left, a slave to the centrifugal force of this spontaneously curvy highway. The seamless vibrant green splash of endless thriving farmland paints a blurry streak of bright green across this dazzling earthly canvas. The engine hums loudly near my toes, joining the loud homogenous buzz inside my brain.

The one picture I managed to snap while on the lam…

My eyes struggle to adjust to the foreign landscape as my mind reels tumultuously from one hurried thought to the next. The cadence of these rapid, urgent thoughts is perfectly synchronous with the turbulent forces exerted upon my body.

Both physically and mentally, I am helpless against the violent forces pulling me in all directions. They are indestructible, these forces. Strong enough to bend the very fabric of one’s reality. I watch in amusement as it bubbles around me like boiling water, stretching and shrinking and threatening to tear its delicate fibers apart, as it borders on the limits of its own fragile elasticity.

I’m exhausted. Hours, days, weeks of running. Go go go. Never stopping. Never slowing. Always going.

What am I running from?

I don’t remember anymore.

Where am I going?

Couldn’t tell you.

Have I ever known?

When does this end? Where does it stop? I need it to stop. Want it to stop. I’m so very tired.

That membrane that was bubbling outwards… roiling and stirring ominously? It’s so close to bursting and I’m not sure I want to know what’s underneath.

What lies beyond the boundaries of reality? What happens when the very tendrils of space-time are penetrated? Can the tear be stitched? Or does it spew out its contents irreversibly like Pandora’s box?

So many questions. Too many answers. Too much. Too fast. Too far. Too wide. Too. Much. Too. Much. Too Much.

I can’t take much more. Can’t handle this. The car is barreling down the road, the thoughts are ripping through my mind.

Faster fasterfasterfasterfaster.

And then… those flashing lights.

Blue and red in my rearview. So many lights. From so many directions. Police cars on top of more police cars.

They are coming for me. Finally. It’s over.

I slow the car to a crawl and wait for the lights to draw near. Relief washes over me. I close my eyes. Breathe. Sweet, pure oxygen fills my lungs. It’s over. Finally over.

The buzzing in my mind fizzles. A ringing calm takes it place. Help, is here. Finally. It’s over.

There’s no beginning to this story. Nor is there a middle, or an ending. I have always been this way. It was always going to turn out like this.

There are triggers. Things that make it more noticeable. But the pot is always simmering, threatening to bubble over the rim. Certain things, they heighten the flame. Stir the pot. Bring it to a boil. But the water was always simmering. Always.

I’ll tell you all about my little stove. How it was fanned and fed. And how it tipped me past the boiling point. To the point of no return.

For now, the cops have arrived and they’re slowly, cautiously approaching my vehicle. Their hands are on their guns, which makes me chuckle. For Christ’s sake it’s not like I’ve killed someone. I haven’t even broken the law.

As I roll down the window I flash them a giant grin. “The jig is up, and news is out. You finally found me…”

Badfish

Early 1990

Albion, Michigan

As the car crawls to a stop and we turn off of J Drive North road, I smile to myself.  Not just at the comforting presence of our tiny 3-bedroom home, but at the secret that only I know.  

When we’d first moved into this quaint little country-house, my dad had pulled me aside to entrust me with the secret.  

J Drive… you know what that stands for, right?” he had asked. 

I had shaken my head in confusion and stared at him with wide eyes.

“It’s short for Julie, and Jim,” he had explained, “Your name and mine.  This is OUR street.  Julie – Jim Drive.  Now you’ll never forget what street you live on, right?”

I had nodded, speechless and awestruck.  

Of course it will be years before I realize what a brilliant ploy this is to help me remember my own address.  And the fantastic luck that we’d had in purchasing a home on this road, as opposed to the neighboring I-Drive North or K-Drive North.

But right now, my four-year-old mind is deeply immersed in the deception, and I can barely contain my excitement at having a street of my very own.  

The engine cuts out, as do all thoughts of my secret, allowing more pressing concerns to come to mind – like the audience of stuffed animals patiently awaiting my return.  I unlatch my seatbelt  and prepare to leap out of the van, but before I get a chance, my mother’s voice grinds me to a halt.

“Hold on Julie-bug.  I want to talk to you about something.”

I freeze, wondering what kind of trouble I’ve landed myself in. 

“You’re not in trouble.”  

I release the breathe I’ve been holding.

“But I spoke with Mrs. Kulakowski when I picked you up today.”

That’s my friend’s mom.  Okay, what’s this about?

“She mentioned… that you…”  the corners of her mouth are quivering, like she’s desperately fighting the urge to laugh.  “…she said that you had changed into your bathing suit.  Is that true?”

I stare. “Yeah…”

What’s your point?

“Okay.  So listen, honey, it’s winter time.  It’s a little cold for swimsuits, don’t you think?  And our swimsuits are meant to be worn in the pool, or at the beach.  We don’t wear them under our clothes and change into them at our friend’s houses.  That’s not what they’re for, okay?”

I nod, understandingly. 

Well, that did not go according to plan.  

What my mother didn’t know was that I’d been wearing the swimsuit for weeks now, underneath my regular clothes. Everywhere.  Day and Night.

It had begun with the summer Olympics.  I’d been entranced by what I’d seen on the TV screen, in those giant, sparkling pools.  Those majestic creatures donning their Latex caps and thick, plastic goggles.  Their spandex leotards with giant Red, White, and Blue letters.  Their magical ability to move through water as quickly and easily as an astronaut through space.  

I wanted to be like them.  Needed to be like them.  So much that I began to dream about it every waking second of every day.  All of my energy poured into it.  I couldn’t think about anything else.  It consumed me. 

We had a big, ratty, blue blanket that we had spread on the grass last fourth of July, to watch the fireworks.  I sought it out and secretly stashed it in my room. 

Transformed it into water.

I’d lay it on the floor, change into my swimsuit, and use my bed as a springboard.  I’d leap through the air with my arms overhead and with a loud sploosh, I’d land in my imaginary pool. 

I’d run across the floor, circling my arms wildly in the air, and proceed to win eternal glory for my country.  I’d step up to the lego-box podium with tears in my eyes and thank my stuffed animals for their endless support and encouragement.

My obsession was all-encompassing and I could no longer stand to walk around NOT wearing the uniform that would one day lead me to international distinction. 

Not feeling the familiar tug of it’s spaghetti-straps around my shoulders began to spark nervous butterflies in my belly.  And so I slept in it, ate in it, and played in it.  And in a moment of pure artistic insanity, attempted to share my newfound enthusiasm with my friend down the street.  

Like Clark Kent changing in the phone booth, I entered my friend’s room in normal 4-year old clothing… and emerged as a miniature Olympian. 

Unfortunately, the world was not ready for my heroic feats of imaginary athleticism just yet.

“I won’t do it anymore mom, I promise,”  I say as we make our way up the circle driveway and into the house.  And I keep my promise.  This time.  But it’s not long before I find another harmless obsession to fixate on.  

Years later, these obsessions will take on a life of their own, and have  much less amusing effects on my life.

Ironically, to this day, I’ve still never learned how to swim.