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…

Sober

Part 9 – The Disappearance of Julie Peters

Close your eyes for a moment.

Shit… hold on… WAIT!  WAIT!  Did I catch you in time?  Good. 

I just realized you need to read this first.  THEN you can close your eyes.  My bad.  Sorry about that.

Okay, so in a minute I want you to close your eyes.  

I want you to imagine that you’re inside a tent.  A very small, very narrow tent.

And in this tent, is a sleeping bag and a camp pillow, and you’re in there too, lying on all of it.

It’s a warm, summer night and the fireflies are out, lighting up the sky occasionally with their iridescent bellies.  You catch their glow every so often through the thin, yet surprisingly durable material standing between you and the elements.  

You’ve just zipped up the entrance and you’ve settled down to sleep under the light of the stars.  Everything, is perfect.  The blankets, the pillow, the thermal underwear that provides the perfect balance between stuffy and shivering.

You close your eyes and prepare to drift off to sleep.

And then you hear it.  

Neeeeeeeeeeeeengggg.   NeeeeennnnNNNGGGGGGG!

The high-pitched squeal of a gnat, trapped inside the tent with you, trying desperately to move his sparse belongings into the cavernous tunnel of your left ear, and squat there, uninvited.

You swat it away, but it quickly returns.  Over and over again.  

It’s maddening. 

You unzip the exit, hopeful that your new invisible friend will flutter his way to freedom, but he stubbornly refuses to leave.  He’s comfortable here.  It’s his new home.  

And you, are his new housemate.  FOR LIFE. 

 You make your peace with this involuntary arrangement.  Close your eyes again, and drift off to sleep.  Yet, even in your dreams you hear him, humming joyfully to himself.  Oblivious to the irritating nature of his incessant murmuring.

NeeeNNNNNGGGG nEEEEEEnnnggg  NEEEEENNNGEEEEEEEEE!


Okay, you can open your eyes now. 

What, you may be asking yourself, was the point of this little exercise?

Not too long ago, a coworker of mine asked me what anxiety is.  They genuinely had no idea.  They wanted to know what it felt like.

I sat there and stared for a minute, mouth agape.  

There are people out there… lots of people apparently…  that don’t know what anxiety feels like?

I was shocked to the point of speechlessness, feeling much like I had when I was in the second grade and the teacher explained that there are people who are color-blind.  

And all I could think to myself was, My God, what I wouldn’t give to be one of those people. 

Due to the rather shocking nature of the question, I sputtered out some type incomprehensible answer that did not do anxiety any justice.  I mean, how do you explain the color RED to someone who can’t see it?  

Days later, as nervous people tend to do, I re-lived the conversation in my own head and came up with a much better analogy, storing it in my brain in preparation for the next anxiety-blind person who requests my assistance. 

 And that… is how the gnat metaphor was born.


I don’t know what the typical life cycle of a gnat looks like. 

You’d have to ask a gnat specialist.  

But if I had to ponder a guess, I certainly wouldn’t say that gnats survive for over 33 years.  

That’s how I know that the gnat in my metaphorical tent is special.  He’s downright geriatric.  He’s been buzzing around, wreaking havoc on my psyche since I was born.  And age hasn’t dampened his efforts in the slightest.  

There have only been a few times in my life that I’ve managed to quiet him.  To dull his constant droning so that I can FINALLY get some quality sleep. 

And almost none of the methods I’ve discovered, are healthy.


At age 14, I began having the most painful cramps imaginable, once a month, for obvious reasons.  I was aware that menstrual cramps were unpleasant, but confused as to why mine were absolutely debilitating. 

I mean, none of my high school friends were rendered completely incapacitated for 3 days each month, so why did my experience seem to be so categorically different?  

It eventually got to the point where my mother had to talk to the middle school front office, and leave a bottle of ibuprofen there for me, to be dispensed by the school nurse during my most intolerable moments. 

Occasionally, even ibuprofen wouldn’t touch the pain, and my mother would be forced to take a half-day off of work and come pick me up.  I’d be in a ball on the school office floor, rocking back and forth, crying and holding my lower back in agony.

After a time, my parents became so concerned that they brought me to a specialist, who recommended exploratory surgery to discover the source of this extraordinary pain. 

Thirty minutes inside my pelvis confirmed it: I had endometriosis.  Bad.

The gynecologist held up his little plastic pictures proudly during the follow-up appointment, displaying what appeared to be a barren, bloody minefield around my internal organs. Diseased tissue had overtaken my pelvis.  It had spread and multiplied and invaded every crack and crevice near my uterus.  The outside of my bladder was coated in it.  Even my colon had not escaped it’s destruction.  

The doctor  explained that it was an awful case, and that the only way to go about fixing it, was to remove my uterus and ovaries. 

I was 17 years old.

My mother, transformed instantly into a grizzly bear at this news.  She shook her paws at the doctor, threatening him with her razor-sharp claws and pointed teeth.  He did what any self-respecting Physician does upon finding himself in this situation, and played dead. 

My mom scooped me up in her teeth, and dragged me out of his office by the scruff of my neck.  She made some calls, and found a new doctor.  One that would operate around my organs, instead of scooping them out sloppily,  like a construction excavator.  

It would take 4 surgeries over the course of several years, before all of the diseased tissue was properly excised.  By the time my pelvis was salvaged, I had a giant scar that cut a gnarled line across my lower abdomen, spanning it’s entire horizontal surface.  I also have lots of little 1 cm disfigurements dotted all over my belly, as an added bonus.

Typically, they use a microscopic laser to burn the diseased cells off the healthy tissue.  In my case, some of the lesions were so large that they had to be removed with a scalpel. 

“I had to saw it off, with a knife… like a tree-branch!”  The surgeon exclaimed excitedly, “And it was the size of a grapefruit!  Incredible.  Just incredible.”

Obviously, the post-surgical experience brought with it all sorts of pain, in every variety imaginable.  And for the very first time in my life, I was given all kinds of special pills to nullify that pain.  

I had no idea that those pills, would eventually come to define who I am as a person.  That so much of my experience on this Earth would be altered, by a tiny white tablet, mass-produced in a factory somewhere, and marketed to physicians as safe alternatives to “addictive medications” like morphine.


It started with Vicodin. 

Sweet, Sweet Vicodin.  

She was so lovely at first. 

Our sordid affair began with that first pill after surgery.  I popped it into my mouth unknowingly… and 30 minutes later…. Bliss.

Here’s where the debate starts.  I’m not going to sit here and try to impress upon you my opinions (of which I have many) about addiction and cite the numerous peer-reviewed medical journals and qualified institutions that have all conducted double-blind research studies that prove, unequivocally, that addiction is a disease. That’s something I plan to delve into at another point in this blog.  

All I can offer you right now, is my own experience.  And that experience, began with the completely unintentional and absolutely innocent administration of an addictive substance, for a purpose in which it was medically necessary and legitimately prescribed for a perfectly valid and well-documented reason.

I swallowed that pill with a full glass of water, steeped in youthful naivety.  

And after 30 minutes had gone by, it was hard not to notice it’s effectiveness in reducing my pain.  The throbbing tissues, angry from the trauma of fresh surgery, were coaxed and soothed into submission.  I felt better.  A LOT BETTER. 

And here’s where it gets tricky:  I didn’t just feel better physically.  I felt better MENTALLY, too.  

Remember that gnat… buzzing it’s low and annoying hum in our tent?

 IT WAS FINALLY SILENCED.

For the first time in my, albeit rather short, life… my anxiety was gone.  It’s ever-looming, crushing presence was finally lifted.  

The tent, was quiet, and I could begin to hear the sounds of nature and finally appreciate the beauty that surrounded me.

I quietly fell in love with the little white pill that made all of this possible. 

Not, because it got me high.  Not because it made me feel good.  
Because it made me feel normal.

Little did I know, that Vicodin was a vindictive little bitch, who lures you into the light with her siren song, and then STOMPS THE LIGHT OUT once she has you trapped there.  


It wasn’t always Vicodin.  Sometimes, it was alcohol.  Alcohol is easier to obtain.  It’s cheaper.  The most detrimental legal drug available on this planet. 

I plan to write an entire series about the years I lost to addiction and alcoholism.  That’s another story for another time.

But just know, that over a third of my life was dedicated to it’s destruction.  And finally, 5 years ago this November, I broke free from the shackles of addiction.  And it absolutely changed my life.

Yet I so very nearly gave all that up, just a few weeks ago.


September 9, 2019 – 12 PM

Minneapolis, MN

Hotel Room

The heavy door slams shut, trapping me inside the hotel room that has become my prison cell.  I set the brown paper bag on the counter, and the liquid inside swishes back and forth like a tidal wave.

I retrieve a plastic cup from the shelf in the miniature kitchen, hands trembling.

Am I really doing this?  I’m really doing this.  5 years, down the drain.  

I break the seal of the large plastic cap, twisting it off unceremoniously.  The old, familiar smell of Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Whiskey wafts into my nostrils.  I gag, unexpectedly.  

I’d never noticed, before, how much this bottle of legal poison smells like hairspray. 

I used to love it’s refined scent.  Now, I’m choking back vomit as I pour the brown liquid into the plastic cup, filling it to the brim with pure, undiluted alcohol.

My plan, is to chug it in one fell swoop.  To wait a few minutes for it to take it’s effects, and then finish the grisly task I had started the night before. Knowing that the contents of this bottle, are precisely what I need to erase any second thoughts that may have prevented me from following through the night before.

To eradicate the mental image of my family and all the guilt that goes along with it.  

Although I’d been euphoric a mere hours prior to this, that euphoria has petered out, giving way to another wave of soul-crushing depression.

I wrinkle my nose as I bring the lip of the cup to my mouth.  Catch an even stronger whiff of it’s nefarious odor, and begin to dry-heave.  This is not going to work. Not at all.

Angrily, I toss the cup towards the kitchen sink.  Watch as it’s contents explode onto the counter and drip from the bottom of the wall-cabinets.

Fuck it.  If I’m going to die, I might as well just do it sober.  

An odd sense of pride fills me.  Knowing that I will have stayed sober, to the very end.  

But no matter how hard I try, I can’t naturally erase the guilt of what I’m about to do.  It’s a catch-22.  I can’t do it sober, but I can’t do it drunk either.

Time… I need more time, I think.

I tear around the room in an urgent frenzy, grabbing items sporadically and shoving them into a backpack, stuffing it full of random toiletries and pieces of clothing, not even stopping to consider if they’re essential or not. 

I hoist the backpack over my shoulders and take one last look at the room, filled with all my earthly possessions. Then I close the door, sealing everything inside, including the key to get back in.


I will never return to this hotel room again.


To be continued…