Excerpt: Mark’s Short Story

Posted on 4 min read 67 views

As the novel nears a finished state, most of the time that I spend with it now is in editing and small nit-picking changes. This is fine for something to do at the end of the day, and yet doesn’t really meet the needs that had me writing the novel in the first place. As a result, I’ve been working on several short stories involving characters from the novel. The one that is furthest along involves Mark, and takes place over a long weekend in Ohio, where he’s arrived to spend time with his daughter. The goal was not to create something semi-autobiographical, and yet I would be lying if I said it didn’t borrow a set of near constant emotions from the last two years of my life.

I wake before my alarm. There’s no sense trying to go back to sleep, my heart’s racing as if I’m being chased by a tiger. I thought I had pulled the window shades closed, but a light emanates through a break crack they come together.

I shuffle to the bathroom. Take a leak. And turn and look at myself in the mirror.

What a fucking demon. I’m not hung-over, I’m not strung out, but I might as well be. There are dark circles under my eyes, and my skin looks colorless and loose. I’m worse than coming down, I’m myself.

“Fuck you!” I scream into the mirror.

I swipe my dopp kit from the counter and the contents go flying across the bathroom. Shouting, I grab the edges of the counter, trying to tear it out of its foundation. It doesn’t even budge. The static drives me into an even deeper rage. I throw all of the well-placed hotel amenities onto the ground. But everything is cloth and plastic, and makes a dull thud when it hits ground. Even the glasses are sterile wrapped plastic cups.

I go back out into the room and tear at the sheets on the bed, throwing them into a corner and then straddling the naked mattress, punching it over and over again. I only realize I’m still yelling and cursing when I slow down, and the sound of blood rushing in my ears dies away. I’m sweating, drooling, but I don’t feel any better.

I look around the room. Despite my outburst, it’s condescendingly maintained it’s intent: clean and inoffensively temporary. The amount of people who have lost their minds in places like this must be staggering, and they know it. They consider it in the construction, and bake it into the bill: plastic curtains and tubs, fake wood furniture, mounted television, built in bulbs, with the only real glass being the bathroom mirror. ‘Your Personal Safety’, it could be another line item on my hotel bill, and they’d be right to collect it.

I roll off the bed and onto my feet. My legs maintain me better than I expect, and as I stand up, my mind moving over and past the pain in my lower back from the flight and unfamiliar bed, everything goes blank.

Where am I? I see the stripped bed. Housekeeping must be here. I came back early. No, I’m in my boxers. That’s not right. And slowly, with focused effort the dream returns: the last five minutes, why I’m here, my living nightmare.

I walk to the window and open the drapes. The window itself barely opens, it rolls out perpendicular through a crank at the base, and diagonal wind passes through an additional screen before entering the room. Safety first.

It’s not sunny outside. The sky is almost completely covered by a layer of clouds. The clouds are a glowing, radiating mass, and despite not being able to see the sun, the world seems illuminated. Below me is the hotel cement parking lot, around that a long thin circumference of short green grass, and behind the grass a ravine with overgrowth and adolescent trees. What’s down there? A creek? Why would they have left a strip of wilderness in this cost-effective first ring suburb?

As a child, that ravine would have fascinated me. What exists down there, just beyond sight, waiting to be explored? Even in the absence of extraordinary, I would have filled in the gaps. I’ve made Camelot with less: some ferns, rocks and mostly dead grass (when drought induced water restrictions would take effect). How easy it was to get wrapped up in those things as a kid. Worlds formed in front of me, neither bending towards me nor asking me to amend myself.

My imagination came to me so much more clearly then. How obvious now that the sacrifice of time spent living in this world is other-worldliness. Like my waking life, I have to force myself to manifest any fantasy, and when they do come they feel forced, blurred and laced with suspicion.

Not the First to Think This

Posted on 2 min read 67 views

Memory is a strange thing. It was such an insignificant part of my life for a long time, ten years at least. When I was in my early twenties, I intentionally kept them amorphous, refusing to take pictures because I had little desire to remember things the exact way that they were, and instead hoped they would live on as something more private and meaningful. I only started writing a blog (which I insisted wasn’t a blog) because a friend of mine, during my second stay in Prague, asked me to contribute to his site. Now, I have no idea what happened to that site, or even what the name of it was.

As I got older, memories did return to me, but they were clear and understandable. Catalyzed from moments of familiarity and laced with sentimentality, which is it’s own perverse pleasure.

That’s no longer the case. Memories return to me, but they return disassociated from the rest of my life. They’re memories in the ether. With seemingly no catalyst, they come back to me without reason, and leave me stupefied to piece together their meaning. The context of before or after is nearly impossible to remember, and I’m lucky if I can give any specifics about when or who.

One of these memories has come back to me today and hasn’t left. It’s of sitting in a business like cafeteria at lunch reading Gogol, and someone who worked in the cafeteria coming up to me and making a comment about the book. We then had a brief exchange on his thoughts about the book, and Russian literature in general, and it was over.

However, my inability to conjure up specifics frustrates me- did he really work in the cafeteria, or was he there repairing something? When did I read Gogol? If it was in Chicago, I was probably working at the bank, but I don’t remember reading Gogol back then. Could it have been later, when I was in town for some reason? And if so, what was I doing in a business cafeteria?

In this memory, and all memories, the lack of specifics frustrates me. I consciously avoided permanence when I was younger, because I wanted memories to settle the way that they would, I thought there was something beautiful in that, but I hadn’t considered that they wouldn’t settle at all. If you didn’t care about the details when they were happening, then even false details won’t come to you later. And so I keep mapping out these island memories, hoping that each leads me towards something more complete, a meaning made clear.

Detroit (Briefly)

Posted on 1 min read 63 views

Landing in Detroit is oddly beautiful. The farms are small and divided in weird angles, and it looks more like Germany, than the perfectly efficient and boring farms I grew up around. The land itself is green and blue and lush, and bears no resemblance to the city itself. From up here it’s all hauntingly idyllic.

Even the power plant in the background, with two Simpson’s style giant smoke stacks, come off as symbol of progress, instead of the reality of what it actually is. I wonder if that’s what people used to see when they flew here: a city as a manifestation of progress. And then I think, maybe I like Detroit? I’ve never taken a step outside the airport, but the stories vs. the landscape battle it out for my opinion.

Not Enough

Posted on 1 min read 61 views

I cry on most of the flight home and I don’t know why. Not weeping, just eyes watering, falling on the pages of the book I’m trying to read, or caught subtly in my sleeve.

I can’t say for certain why it’s so hard for me.

This isn’t a new trip for me. But this time it feels different. There are realizations that come to me now. Facts and realities that I didn’t know existed, and that I don’t know how to confront.

I’ve felt frustrated for a long time. But now in seeing her, it goes beyond my own frustration, and verges into pain… and with pain naturally comes empathy. She’s older now, and in her I see so many things that reminded me of myself when I was young. Or am I projecting?

Yes, it could all be a mental creation, a manifestation of fear. But what if I’m right? I want more than anything to help that little girl, but we can’t even communicate. I quietly meltdown as I listen to her have conversations with strangers that have more depth than anything she can say to me. Her English will one day improve, and my German slowly accumulates, but it’s not enough when she needs me now.

Where We Come From

Posted on 1 min read 59 views

My hotel, the Schloss Wilkenhedge, is a “water castle”, which is a small castle surrounded by a moat in the countryside. After dinner, usually around 9 or 10, while the sunset is still intense, I go for a walk through the forest near the hotel. The trees in the forest are tall and thin, stretching a hundred feet in the air, and remind me of the trees in the parks that surround Portland. There’s a road through the forest that’s heavily trafficked, and as I walk the road I imagine if a car were to jump the curve (which isn’t a curve, but a painted line) and were to punch my ticket, how in many ways it would be a more natural way to go then if the same thing happened back home.

Until a hundred years ago, everyone in my family lived and died in a place like this. Not in this exact place, but not far from this place. Probably a little colder, more continental, but something close to this. In a very literal sense I was built for here, and this place will be what my daughter thinks of as home. And so how strange would it be for this to be home for me? As culturally far away as I feel, I can also recognize the many innate things that draw me in.

German Child Services

Posted on 1 min read 64 views
I’m sweating through my jeans in a hallway in Germany. I’m alone in the hallway, there’s an empty wooden chair to my right. I came here unannounced, and they’ve stuck me out here because they don’t know what to do with me. The corridor is thin and lined with rooms. I can hear voices come out rooms, I’m assuming talking on the telephone, but I can’t see anyone. It’s all sound and white walls and stale air.
A little girl’s voice comes from a room on my left. “Hallo mama.” It sounds like my daughter when she was three. For a moment I forget where I am and think it is my daughter. The sounds of her playing and talking continues. She sounds happy.
I burst into tears.
It feels like a dream, but it’s reality. I just don’t know how it’s mine.

Scrambled

Posted on 1 min read 65 views

It’s been a long weekend. I spent it with my sister in the Hamptons for her 30th birthday. I haven’t had a running three day hangover in years, and the feeling is familiar, but with added effect. I used to feel that I could be mentally productive when I was hungover. There was belief that not being able to move physically forced me into a sharper state. But now, in the time that follows, my brains feel scrambled, and the best I can do is innocuous emails. Instead of creativity, on the flight back to Denver, I can only watch movies and jot down notes for writings that I hope I can expand into something meaningful later.

Low Decibel Foreboding

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I’m obsessed and terrified with dying. When I was young, like most young people, I never thought I would live long enough to become old. The difference is that the feeling has not left as I’ve slowly moved towards middle age. It’s not that growing older has been harder than I expected, because in many ways it’s been softer, it’s just that this low decibel hum of foreboding that has always lived with me hasn’t disappeared. When I was twenty-seven my daughter was born. That same year, I remember thinking that I would die when I was thirty-seven. I told a few people that, and it was greeted with an understandable level of patronization and smiles. And so I don’t think about it often. But when I do, it seems as real and present as the first time it barreled towards me.

I thought about it today. The terrifying part wasn’t that I could still feel it there. The terrifying part is that I’m much closer to that point, but still far from where I want to be.

My Muscle Memory

Posted on 3 min read 422 views

I’ve made the trip to Germany so many times, that the whole process has become akin to muscle memory. I board in the late afternoon in Denver, and fly to either Frankfurt or Munich (depending on the day). I work for the first couple hours and watch a movie when the meal is served. If I can sleep for a couple of hours in the short fly-through night, that’s a victory. I spend the last hour staring listlessly at the seat in front of me or the other confused passengers, as breakfast is served, and morning bursts through the raised windows. There are no thoughts, and I focus on not becoming impatient and claustrophobic.

I land in the late morning, German time. The layover’s short, and the time is consumed with passport control, putting credit on my German SIM card, and using a second wind to write a little. For the final leg, I take a puddle jumper to Munster. I pass out end-to-end on the 45-minute flight. Waking when the plane hits the tarmac. I rent a car, and drive to my hotel, where I take a post-international travel shower, which is one of the most satisfying feelings in the world.

By this time it’s nearly 4 pm, roughly 8 am Denver time, and if I’m lucky I’ve had a few hours of sleep. I’m puffy eyed, and running on coffee fumes. I get back into my car and drive into the North Rhine-Westphalia countryside, and to my daughter’s secluded home. But it’s easy, as soon as she’s with me. She runs to me and wraps her arms around my legs. It feels like nothing is lost.

It’s only after I drop her off that my body starts to collapse. By the time I drive back to the hotel, it’s nearly 8 pm. I eat a heavy German dinner, take a Xanax, and if I’m lucky, sleep the longest sleep in two months. It’s startling to sleep for more than eight hours, when you normally get five. And in the morning I feel what I almost never feel in my day-to-day life, groggy. It translates to opaque thoughts and stunted motor skills: I wander around my room looking for nothing, bump into door frames, and trip on invisible steps. How much of this is the Xanax, and how much of this is the displacement, I have no idea. It’s surreal, and would be frustrating if I lived in it for too long. But it’s welcome, because it’s a novelty and a distraction.

Even writing this is a creation of that half-lucid state. And as I drink coffee, it slowly brings me back. That’s the best use of coffee that I’ve ever found: an easy return to reality. Maybe that’s why most people drink coffee in the morning, to clear away the cobwebs. Considering I wake most days in a panic, it’s a pleasure to have the opportunity to feel the fog slowly lift.

South Boulder

Posted on 2 min read 58 views

I woke up staring at the ceiling. There were stains in the panels. Not terribly noticeable, but small light pools where water had gathered at one point. Another part of the ceiling sagged noticeably. They were all things that I should have noticed before, and yet they had attracted my attention for the first time. And in that I felt sadness, because I was only noticing these things now, after so many years here, and when I was so close to leaving.

I’ve never struggled to say goodbye to a home before. I’m usually ready to move on by then. But thats not the case this time. I know it’s time, but it’s a struggle, and as I dressed after getting out of bed, I felt tears well up in my eyes. Outside, it was sunny, with light clouds, and a view of the Rocky Mountains. When I was younger I was repelled by Boulder. Coming here in college left me feeling like being on the outside looking in, as if there was something everyone was a part of, that I couldn’t understand.

Now being here in Boulder brings me some degree of peace. I spent more of my adult life in this house than in any other place. It saw more versions of me than any other home. And if they weren’t the formative years, they were the most important years. I raised my daughter here, and lived alone here after she was gone.

I’ll miss my friend and roommate, who moved in, after my family moved to Germany. He cooks dinner, watches weird shows with me, and keeps me up to date about the Denver Nuggets. He made it feel like a home again after it had become a museum.

I’ll miss the small work room in the basement. Where it was quiet, simple, and always had enough light. I’ll miss the bedroom that was always cooler than the rest of the house and that helped me sleep. I’ll miss my coffee shop, the cafes, and the late breakfasts on weekend mornings. I’ll miss how close it is to the Flatirons and NCAR. I’ll miss the bike path that traces the creek, and leads through the simple and beautiful Boulder neighborhoods.

But more than anything, I’ll miss it because I’m saying goodbye to the little girl that would play in the backyard, and run into my bedroom in the morning. I’ll miss our Saturday morning ritual where we would walk to the small branch library to play and read books, and then the grocery store for bagels and chocolate milk, and then finish at Martin’s Park to play on the playground and throw rocks in the creek. This home is inextricably linked with her childhood for me. And her childhood will leave. I don’t have a choice in that. But it doesn’t make it hurt any less. And so I don’t want to leave, but I have to.