Rusty, or Laika’s Dog

I’m pretty much done with whatever my first novel-length story ends up being. This is another excerpt from it. It’s riddled with typos and passive voice. Haven’t really gone through and fixed things yet.


Laika’s father died when she was eleven years old. She was in fifth grade. Everyone at school treated her differently after he died. The teachers would give her extra attention. Every once in a while she would get called to the office to talk with the counselor. But she stayed the exact same as she had always been. When people asked her if she was “Doing OK,” she would always give a genuine, “I’m great! How are you?” He father’s death had no apparent impact on her.

Laika was obsessed with bugs, and gross things in general, and cried when her mother took the dog in to get treated for fleas. She used to sit in the basement combing through Rusty’s hair, crushing the fleas to death between both of her thumb’s nails. It was a bonding experience of sorts. When her mom came back from the vet, Laika was sitting at the bottom of the stairs that led to the basement. Rusty came and sat just in front of the bottom step, looking up at her as he normally would. Nothing had changed.

Rusty was a smaller beagle mix, which had to have been some kind of trend when Laika was younger, buying beagle mixes. It made sense. No renter or homeowner wants to be the one with the beagle that howls at everything in sight. But everyone knows that beagles are as American as Charlie Brown, so they settled on a mixed breed beagle. However, Laika learned at a young age that Rusty was mostly a beagle and a book from her school library taught her that beagles howled at things. So she was quick to show Rusty the ropes. Anytime a mailman came to the door, both she and Rusty would howl at the door before her mother answered it and quickly apologized to the mailman. The mailman at this point knew that Laika had recently lost her father, based on the kinds of letters and packages he was delivering. Mailmen are snoops, she’d heard her mother say. Laika knew that to be a snoop was a bad thing and that snoops deserved to be barked at.

Rusty died a week before Laika graduated from high school and one year before her mother died. The dog was a senior by anyone’s standards. Towards the end he could barely make it outside and Laika would often have to wipe for him, as he’d often soil his fur. She didn’t mind, but she was worried about her mother, mostly. Her mother, Jane, was battling esophageal cancer and was undergoing intense chemo. One morning before getting ready for one of her appointments, Jane took Rusty out to the backyard. The dog couldn’t standup to do any of his business. After a short conversation with Laika about the right thing to do, they loaded Rusty into the back of their shared station wagon and took Rusty to his last visit to the vet.

After examining Rusty, the vet told Jane, “There’s really nothing we can do. He’s an old dog. It’s likely he wouldn’t even be able to handle the anesthesia.”

“What should we do, Mom?” Laika asked.

“I don’t know, honey,” her mother replied in a soft, concerned voice. The clock ticked on the wall. The only other sound was other dogs barking and cats meowing behind closed doors. Finally, Jane asked the question she’d been trying to find an eloquent way of phrasing, but ultimately gave up, blurting out, “Doctor White, what would you do?”

Doctor White leaned over Rusty and thought as hard as a person can who believes in the density of thought. If there was a way to think harder or softer, Doctor White was thinking hard.

“You know, it’s never easy answering that question,” he said, “but I always say the same thing, even after thinking about it in a new way each time. I swear. You’d think it’d be easier by now. Trust me when I say this, and I’m not just saying this because it’s what I’m, or people like me, are supposed to say, I know how both of you feel right now, even if I don’t appear to. I remember when your father brought him in for the first time to get his shots. You know, I must have treated a dozen of those dogs that summer, but I never did find out who was breeding all of these beagles because I only ever saw the puppies. But there was definitely a fad going on here for a while. Your father was so happy to just be in the same room as that dog. Laika, you must have been only four or five at the time. Your father talked to me about how much you loved him, well, the dog. Said how you two would just roll around on the floor for hours and before he knew it the dog wasn’t really his anymore. He was yours. I remember he said something about how he was trying to show you some statue of a dog he named you after. You called it ‘Rusty’ and that’s how Rusty got his name. I know this dog has been with you for almost as long as you can remember. If there was anything I could do to help Rusty, trust me, I would. But there isn’t. He’s in pain, Laika. My only advice would be to prevent him from suffering.”


Rusty was dead, in a cheap, black, zip up bag, in the back seat of her mother’s station wagon after Laika dropped her off and parked the car. It was a long appointment. Laika stayed in the car. The doctor said pretty much the same thing to her mother as the vet did to Rusty. The conversations were almost interchangeable.


While Laika remained in the front seat of her mother’s car, she could not help but occasionally stare at the cheap bag in the backseat, reflected in the rearview mirror. She turned on the radio and found that every song was about someone missing someone else so she turned it off. She fell asleep thinking about Rusty at the bottom of the stairs, waiting to be scratched. When she woke up, she was considerably cold, as winters in Colorado are, and quickly started the car, blasting the heat. Only an hour had passed since her mother went in to the hospital.

“You know, Rusty,” Laika said, “this is probably the last time we’re going to have to wait in the car like this. I wonder if they ever would have said anything if we’d brought you inside. Mom never really wanted to try. I did. Would it really have been that big of a deal at this point? I mean, for both of you. She doesn’t want me to go inside because she doesn’t think it’d be good for her or the doctors to have us around in there. It’s more for her than for me.”

She turned on the radio one more time and switched over to a live broadcast of some bluegrass concert happening downtown.

“And you know what? I was kind of sad when the fleas went away. I don’t think we’d have ever really gotten to know each other if you didn’t have them. The way dad was about certain things. He could be really weird, but I still l—”

It was as if something were physically blocking her vocal cords. As if she had swallowed an apple. She could make out the phoneme “/l/,” but could not produce a vowel or the final consonant. The last thing she remembered was waking up on the floor of the main entrance to the hospital, holding something cold, familiar, and comforting. She was surrounded by nurses as one slowly lifted her arm and unzipped the cheap, black bag.

Old Shep, he has gone where the good doggies go,

and no more with Old Shep will I roam.

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Staying Warm

I’d always like to think that if it really came down to it, if it really came down to the world ending and everything going insane to the point where the majority of people (or my perceived reality of the majority of people around me) were robbing their neighbors and eating each other in a sheer and clearly recognized desperation or panic, that I would probably flee to the nearest, safest, Spanish-speaking country. That’s probably how most of us think, at least, in the United States. And if that, really, is how most of us think, I’d more than likely change my plan of action for “if it really came down to it” from moving to the nearest and safest Spanish-speaking country to something even more passive and cowardice, based on the assumption that most people would be doing the same thing I was planning to do. All dramatizations aside, if it really came down to it, as in, if it truly and really came down to it, I’d probably just starve to death while writing some longwinded manifesto that, at the time, I believed to encompass the vastness of the cult of the human experience. I would write until my hands, wrists, and tendons couldn’t input another letter. I would trust that this selfless effort, this genuine time-investment in the strongest sense of the expression, would culminate in my magnum opus: the book that defines me and others while subsequently changing some aspect of human history, or, at the least, subsequently changing some aspect of how future humans will/may know and come to understand the human history that proceeded them. That’s probably what I’d do. I’d write on whatever I could until someone smart finds my decomposed body weeks later, removes from it, and my belongings, anything of practical use, and eventually finds my masterpiece, written in mostly loose-leaf or scrap paper, and is smart enough to burn it to get a real fire started.

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Before truly leaving town and setting off to the lakes, Connor took Laika to the stream running through the college campus. There was one bridge Connor particularly loved. But he’d never tell Laika the reason he loved that bridge. When Connor was first starting at the university, he was involved with Lauren. Lauren would visit Connor at least two weekends a month and each time they would stop and talk on the bridge.

“Fishies?” Lauren would joke and look over the edge of the bridge, expecting Connor to stop and look over the edge with her. Most of the time, there weren’t any fish in the stream. But a few times a year, a person could expect to see them if they looked. Lauren loved to stop and look at the fish. And, somehow, she always knew when and where to look.

Connor would pretend to be interested in the fish, while he was really only interested in Lauren’s fascination with the fish. It was enough to keep him leaning over the edge with her.

“You know,” Lauren would say, “when I was here, they used to tell us that we shouldn’t try to swim in this creek. They said it was runoff from the farms. But, you know, I don’t think any of that is true. I think they just didn’t want an entire campus jumping in and out of the stream all the time. And you know what? I don’t think I do either. Where would the ducks go? Where would the fish have to go? I kind of like that no one swims or floats it.”

And he’d sit and listen to her talk about the fish as if they were refugees, an oppressed population simply looking for a safe, if temporary, place to live. It was like meditating listening to her talk. Connor would stand and lean into her, and she would talk into his ear about how the fish know when to move and no one has to tell them to. How the ducks stop off here, and how if they didn’t stop off here it would affect so many other things that it makes a person wonder how much humans are messing with the earth when the ecosystems are so fragile, elegant, and delicate. It never occurred to Connor that Lauren saw all things this way. She saw her relationships and the rest of life this way. One thing could come in and screw up the delicate balance. People adjust to one way of doing or going about something and then something or someone comes in and rearranges things and the person has to adjust again. It made Connor proud that Lauren would take such a giant risk, make such a drastic adjustment, and allow him into her life. Everything was connected to everything else, but the connections a person made with other people were especially delicate. Love was a risk. Connor fell in love with how Lauren lived and loved in the world.

No matter how complicated Connor’s relationship with Lauren would later get, he always thought fondly of the times they shared on that bridge.

“You take me here to show me a bunch of dead fish or what?” Laika laughed.

Startled, Connor smiled and looked to his right to see Laika spitting over the edge.

“Dead fish?” Connor asked, concerned.

“Yeah,” Laika laughed. “About ten, probably.”

Connor leaned over the small concrete barrier and saw the fish, dead and floating, spinning in a whirlpool.

“I don’t think I’ve ever seen any dead fish in here before,” he said. “I used to see them swimming in here all the time, but maybe I’ve never looked this time of year before. Or maybe I just never noticed and there have always been dead fish in here.”

“You know, I bet this creek is just full of runoff from the farms,” Laika said. “If you think about it, it’s the only thing that runs all the way through town, one end to the other. It probably collects a little bit of everything it touches. Those dead fish, for all we know, may be the only dead fish in the entire creek and they just got stuck here after dying who knows how far up. Now we get to see them all.”

“You have to figure, they spray for weeds around this creek all the time. They always have landscapers working around it. Some of that shit has to make its way into the water. Probably killed the fish somewhere on campus, just a ways up,” Connor hypothesized.

“Or it’s just as simple as a bunch of dead fish in a creek, Connor. If you spend too much time focusing on dead things, you’re likely to only see dead things. But if you stop and look for life, you’ll be overwhelmed. Like, look at all those bugs flying around those rotting things.”

Laika pointed to the dead fish as they spun in a slow circle.

“There’re flies and mosquitos and the birds and frogs, toads, whatever that eat those. And I’ll bet something will come here tonight and eat those rotting fish. Like, a raccoon or an opossum or something. There’s more life around a dead body than death, if you think about it. Isn’t that the point of funerals? To be surrounded by life, even in death?”

“Now who’s focusing too much on dead things?” Connor laughed.

Connor was still thinking about Lauren and wondering if she had ever seen the dead fish in the water, but chose not to say anything. He wondered if Lauren would see life or death surrounding the bodies of the dead fish, and if she would ever spit on all of it.

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Community Season 6 Finale Recap: #AndAMovie?

David Allen:

I don’t think I’ve ever reblogged something. But I truly loved this show. I think it taught me a lot about writing, about what a story can be, and what to do when a story starts to fail. I had such an amazing time watching and looking forward to new episodes of this show that it’s an odd feeling to know that it’s over. I hope they do a movie though. It would be nice to see the original cast wrap-up all the variables the last episode left us with.

Originally posted on TVLine:

That has to be it, right?

Community aired its sixth — and presumably final — season finale Tuesday featuring multiple character exits and visions of a not-too-practical Season 7.

[pmc-related-link href=”” type=”RELATED” target=”_blank”]Summer TV Calendar: Hannibal, Liars, Mistresses, 105+ Other Dates to Save[/pmc-related-link]

“Emotional Consequences of Broadcast Television” found Elroy exiting for a West Coast gig at LinkedIn, Annie leaving for a D.C. internship with the FBI and Abed departing to Los Angeles to work as a production assistant on a new Fox sitcom.

Though the last shot of the Nipple Dippers faded to black and the hashtag “#andamovie,” even Abed acknowledged that the notion of “#SixSeasonsAndAMovie” was more of a pipe dream than a practical business or creative decision. And so this current iteration of Community came to an end with Jeff realizing the best thing he could do for his friends was to put his own insecurities aside and accept the fact that…

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Excerpt – No Title

I’ve been messing around with this story all year. I’m about to hit 20k words. I think that means it’s a novella in length, maybe not in structure. I think there is probably still 15k of story to tie up though. I’m having fun with it. Hope some of you like it. It’s pretty YA quality though. But at least I’ll finish something.  The grammar is spotty because I’ve slowly been forgetting everything. This scene is about 1/4 of the way through what I have at the moment.


“I want to meet someone who when I ask her ‘What’s the last poem you read?’ she says ‘HOWL’. Not because she read it when she was in college, but because she read it last week,” Connor answered. “I want a girl who when I ask her ‘Who’s your favorite author?’ she answers with someone I can’t read while waiting in line at the grocery store.”

Laika let out a loud, cackling laugh.

“So picky,” Laika added. “Is your self-confidence so high that you think you couldn’t possibly settle for less?”

“Are you kidding?” Connor sipped from his mug of black coffee. “I have the worst self-confidence of anyone I know.”

“I don’t think you know enough people,” Laika said.

Connor set the mug back down on the cherry oak table. No coaster. The shop was like any coffee shop in a college town, complete with an attractive younger barista in a tight black tank top underneath a thick, black apron behind the counter. And, of course, there was the coffee smell, so thick and so fresh, that a person could ‘cut it with a knife,’ as Connor would mumble.

“It’s supposed to be the tension is so thick you can cut it with a knife,” Laika laughed.

“I didn’t realize I said that out loud. I don’t think it’s limited to tension though. It can be used for other things.”

“Back to your ideal woman fantasy. Do you honestly think you’re going to find a girl who has read HOWL in the last week when, and if, you hypothetically meet her? What if you’re a day late? Either way, that’s a tall order.”

Connor grabbed his mug with both hands so he wouldn’t bend and twist them and pick at his nails. He did those things when he was nervous. But if he kept both his hands occupied, he wouldn’t have to worry about looking like a mental patient.

“No, I don’t expect I would meet a girl who has actually read it in the last week. But do you get what I mean? That’s the kind of girl I’m looking for. That’s the girl I want to meet.”

“Who have you met?” Laika asked.

“No one,” Connor said, removing his left hand from the mug and scratching the back of his neck. “I don’t meet people.”

“You met me, but I get it. It’s probably because you’re too judgmental. You may think you have low self-confidence, but you must have a pretty big ego to be so judgmental and critical of people you’ve never even met before. That’s probably why you don’t meet people. I know you think you have confidence issues, like, low self-confidence issues, but you can come across as cocky and full of yourself.”

Connor felt his face turn red. It’d happened before but there was no hiding it this time.

“I can’t help it if most of the people I meet are idiots or wear ridiculous clothing to get attention or drive their cars like they aren’t vehicles of death. I guess you’re right though. I go straight to judgment when I meet a person.”

Laika smiled. “What’d you think of me when you met me?”

“I don’t think I judged you,” Connor laughed.

“Bullshit,” she said. “Everyone judges everyone. And you judged me. What’d you notice?”

“You really want to know?”


“Your hands.”

“My hands?” she asked.

“Yes. Your hands. They had calluses on them. I assumed from drawing or something.”

“That’s interesting. I don’t think I have them anymore,” she said, looking along her fingers and flipping her hands over so she could see her palms.

“Why not?” Connor asked.

“I just don’t feel like drawing anymore. It makes me feel sad and empty.”

“Do I need to ask why or is the wound still too fresh?” Connor asked with a hint of sarcasm.

Laika grabbed her mug with both hands and stared deep, down into her coffee. Connor assumed it was black, because of the smell. He didn’t actually know what she ordered. So Laika sat and stared into the mug, looking for an answer in the dark well of coffee.

“I don’t know. I’m still in recovery-mode, so to speak. Like, there are days where I feel just fine. Like, I seriously don’t think about it at all. I’ll walk around and look at new people and think, ‘I could be with that person.’ Or I’ll look at someone and think, ‘I could love that person, but I’d never reproduce with him.’ Isn’t that weird? How is it possible to believe you could fall in love with someone but can’t stomach the idea of harboring one of their offspring? But then other days I’ll think, ‘I’m never going to love or be loved like that again.’ And that’s the part that really hurts me, the fact that I don’t know whether or not I’ll ever feel that way again. It’s scary. It’s a risk. Love is a fucking risk.”

Connor, for the first time, realized just how hurt Laika was. He kept his eyes on the top of Laika’s head as she continued to stare at her coffee. He noticed her hair was parted on the right side of her head.

“That’s the second time I’ve heard you say that word.”

“What do you mean?” Laika looked up, discretely wiping tears from her eyes.

“The F-word. You’ve said it twice. You said it when you were talking about moving away from him. And you said it just now. You said, ‘I need to get the fuck out of here’ on the phone. You also said something about it being too risky where you were. And here you are again, talking about love being a risk, and the only way you can express it is by using that word again.”

“Ok then, Connor, what’s your fucking point?”

“I’m convinced that when people really and truly mean something, they find themselves wanting to swear or actually swearing. People do it when they are happy, for almost no reason at all, ‘Look at this fuckin’ guy!’ You hear it all the time. Or, ‘He’s a fucking moron.’ People use it all the time and it usually means they are really trying to fool someone, or they are being perfectly honest. So, when you say that love is a fucking risk, I don’t think you are trying to fool me. You really mean it. And I agree with you.”

“That took entirely too long for you to just say you agree,” Laika said.

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Puppy Love

It’s an interesting thing raising a dog from a puppy for the first time. I went into it with the mindset that, most of the time, the little guy doesn’t know what he’s done wrong after doing something wrong. Kind of like most humans. That was rule number one: you can’t punish someone who loves you for doing something he didn’t know was wrong. How unreasonable it is for us to expect dogs to live up to, sometimes surpass, and adjust to the ever changing standards of humans. I also made what I now know was a silly goal to try as hard as I could to not treat Oliver like a dog. I’ve never punished him for making a small mess on the floor, yet I’ve somehow potty trained him (for the most part). I don’t bop his nose. I do my best to never raise my voice. I’ve also substituted “drop it” with “share” while playing fetch. He sleeps in my bed next to me every night and has never made a mess. But as these daily interactions continued, I started to notice that Oliver doesn’t always like being treated like an equal. He actually does like being treated like a dog. I may have messed up the whole “alpha” thing as he doesn’t like to come when I call him while we’re at a friend’s house but he will obey when my friend calls him. This has led me to the conclusion that Oliver sees me not as a master, but as an equal in the pack. This was pretty much the goal I had set out from the beginning. I wanted to live with a friend—not a pet, surrogate spouse, or surrogate child. And I can say now, without hyperbole, that he really is my best friend. I talk to him (I swear sometimes he knows what I’m saying). I sing in the car with him. We go to restaurants and bars together. We watch television together. He loves listening to music (he really does). He motivates me to get out of bed in the mornings. He gets me outside of the house. But yet, he is still a dog. If I were to suddenly die in my house, he would eventually and certainly eat parts of my face. Though I consider him my friend, he’s still very much a dog no matter how domesticated. But there is something more to Oliver that I’ll probably never understand. I know people always say these kinds of things about their animals, but there really is something more to this dog. I don’t know if I can explain it, but I can try.

Oliver loves to play. And by play, I mean attack his stuffed animals a little bit and bounce his paws all over the floor as if the floor were a giant bongo drum. But I’ve noticed that if I don’t watch him play, he’ll stop. If I don’t start grabbing some of his toys and tossing them around a little bit, he’ll stop. He won’t go find something else more destructive to do, but he’ll find some place to go lay down or sit, as if he were sad or depressed. Or sometimes he’ll come sit next to me. So I’ve realized that usually he’s not wanting to play with his stuffed animals; he’s wanting to play with me. So I play with him as if we are two friends playing a game of darts without really knowing or caring about any of the rules. Oliver just loves taking part in any activity, so long as I’m with him. Oliver loves me unconditionally. And I stand by that statement.

I told a friend a few weeks ago how nice it was to have a friend who loves me despite my countless failures, embarrassments, imperfections, and terrible tendency for days and nights and weeks and months of crippling and catatonic self-loathing. To this my friend responded, and I’ve heard this and variations of this statement before from several others, “See what happens if you stop feeding him.” Which I understand the joke and I get that it’s a reality of being an animal that they will love whoever, sometimes whatever, gives it food. But I honestly think that the result of my friend’s joke, when practically applied, would be Oliver going hungry while somehow loving me the entire time.


Filed under Non-Fiction

I Don’t Remember Laughing

It’s difficult for me to write about my mother because I grew up calling my aunt my mother, and I continue to do so to this day. But I always know that it’s not exactly accurate or true in a technical sense. It always feels like I’m trying to fool people when I say it and that, eventually, someone is going to catch me in this lie and I’ll have to take nearly twenty minutes to explain this to them. When most people say “mom,” they typically mean their biological mother. It can get confusing really fast. And while I love and appreciate everything my mom (aunt) did and continues to do, there is always a part of me that thinks, “You know, she raised me, but she didn’t give birth to me.” It’s weird growing up knowing that you are not a biological product of your parents. It’s weird growing up and calling your uncle “Dad,” especially since I’ve been seeing more of my biological father as he gets older and have recently started calling him “Dad” over the phone. For some reason, I can’t bring myself to call him “Dad” in person. So now there are two people in my life whom I call “Dad,” and I don’t mind.

I look at the paragraph above this one and think, “There is no way for me to write about my biological mother, or my biological father, or my aunt and uncle, or my six brothers and sisters (who are actually cousins), or the four half-siblings I didn’t grow up with, or the details of my adoption, without the page looking like someone fell in love with parentheses and other forms of digression. It’s hard. Everything about it is hard. Writing about it is hard emotionally. Writing about it is hard grammatically and mechanically. Reading it is hard. Understanding what I’m writing and editing is hard. I’m sure to a reader, understanding and empathizing with it is also hard. And the older I get, the more I realize that if a person hasn’t lived this kind of life, or if a person doesn’t have experience dealing with people who come from this kind of background, they’ll never understand it in the way I want them to. It’s a huge barrier to my writing. The events are also a huge barrier to a number of other things in my life. I’ve had quite a few close friends and family members ask me if I ever write about my adoption and what it was like growing up, as if it’s a story that has ended or something, or as if I’m not still living with it.

[For the sake of clarity, from here on, I’m going to call everyone by how they actually relate to me biologically.]

My mother gave me up a few weeks after I was born. Actually, I can’t remember if I was given up or taken away. But I know I went into foster care almost immediately. Shortly after, a four year custody battle and adoption process began. For some reason that I don’t fully understand or remember, I was given back to my mother for a brief time. My earliest memory is of a time when I was allowed to stay with my mother in her small studio apartment. She couldn’t drive, so she took the city bus everywhere. She was really poor and didn’t eat healthy and we visited McDonald’s every day.

One day while we were waiting for a bus outside of McDonald’s, a man sitting next to us threw up all over the ground. I can’t remember if any of it hit my shoes or not, but I vaguely remember my mother cleaning my OshKosh B’gosh shoes at some point while I stayed with her. I can remember the way the vomit looked on the ground and the terrible smell of hamburgers cooking and venting into the open air and the way the two smells mixed together outside. Tacoma was a different place in the early 90s. Thinking back on it, the guy was most likely either nodding-off from shooting heroin or he just drank too much. Either way, I don’t remember my mother getting up or moving farther away from him. It’s weird to think that my earliest memory is of a man throwing up next to me while waiting at a bus stop with my mother outside a McDonald’s in what was, at the time, a city with a higher crime rate and gang violence than Compton, California.  But the most interesting thing about it is that I don’t have any recollection of ever riding the bus. I must have thought about the puking man the entire time and erased the bus from my memory. I don’t know.

I also remember that if my mother wasn’t taking me to McDonald’s to eat, she was cooking me oatmeal. After the oatmeal was boiled into a fine paste, she’d pour this strawberry Hershey’s syrup all over it in a zig-zag pattern. When I wasn’t eating McDonald’s or oatmeal, she would give me a carrot to chew on while she obsessed over the news. The news was always on. At one point in my life, I remember my aunt telling me how my mother watched the news and became obsessed with the Green River Killer and was convinced that she knew who it was and that the only way she could find him without getting caught by him was to sneak-up on him while wearing diapers on her feet to silence her steps. I have no clue how diapers on her feet would have silenced anything, but she wasn’t right in the head and still isn’t. So I don’t try to analyze it all that much. I also remember laying on the floor using a small plate full of chopped up carrots as a pillow to prop my head up while watching the news or whatever was on the TV. I remember wondering why my head was growing carrots when I started picking them out of my hair.

After my short stay with my mother, I went to stay at my dad’s house. I remember getting him beers out of the fridge and occasionally lighting his cigarettes. He was always smoking and he was sometimes reading. But mostly just sat and smoked and drank. He had stubble on his face and when he’d let me sit on his lap he’d put his chin on the top of my head and it would feel like he was combing my hair.

I remember my father yelling at me before violently throwing me across the room. And I remember not knowing what I did wrong.

I remember not finishing something made out of squash and being forced to either finish it right then or sit at the table until I was hungry enough to finish it. I tried as hard as I could to finish it all before vomiting all over the kitchen floor. It was the first time I remember vomiting. He made me clean it up. Just a few weeks ago, I watched a movie called Boyhood for the first time and there’s what is supposed to be an intensely disturbing scene where the dad is drunk and on a rampage and eventually screams at the family, “I hate squash!” I knew I was supposed to be disturbed by that scene, but instead I laughed because I really and truly do hate squash.

One day my father attempted to pick me up from daycare, but for some reason I couldn’t leave with him and I had to stay there overnight after all of the other kids left. Years later I learned he was drunk when he was supposed to be sober and completing some AA program which was one of the conditions of me staying with him in the first place. I didn’t know what was going on but I can remember thinking, “If it’s called daycare, why is it night time?”

At some point about a year later, I was in a courthouse in Olympia standing in front of a judge with my aunt and uncle. The judge made a joke that went something like, “So, who’s getting adopted?” I don’t remember laughing.

After the judge made his joke, my aunt, uncle, and I went into a small room that was still somehow big enough for a playhouse. I was playing in it with my cousin when I heard the door open and I saw my mother’s long, straight, black hair. She probably said something like, “Hi” in her soft voice which she still has. I can’t remember how many times growing up, after being tossed around to family member to stranger to family member, that I was asked, “Don’t you want to stay here, David? Wouldn’t you want to stay here forever?” At one point, a strange family I was staying with bought me a basketball hoop from Costco. When I left to go stay with another family member, I asked if I could take the hoop with me. They told me it could be mine if I stayed. I didn’t stay. Anyway, it got to the point where I couldn’t take people asking me those questions because I didn’t know whose feelings I was going to hurt if I stayed with someone else. I not only could never answer the questions, but I began anticipating them and literally running away from anyone who might ask them. So when I saw my mother come through the door, I hid between the room’s actual wall and the playhouse’s wall. It’s kind of symbolic, if you think about it. I was stuck between a real structure and a scale model. I didn’t come out when my mother called for me. I didn’t see her again for fifteen years.

I finally contacted my mother over the phone when I was about nineteen years old and found out that she lived less than fifteen minutes away from me with one of my half-brothers. She never visited or called during those fifteen years. Fifteen years and she lived fifteen minutes away.

I drove to her apartment with my car’s gaslight on. When I got there, her windows were covered in cardboard. I’m not even joking or trying to be funny or clever when I say it, but I got there fifteen minutes early. Fifteen years, fifteen minutes away, and I arrived fifteen minutes early. She wouldn’t let me into her apartment until it was the exact time I told her I would be there. We talked for a little bit and she offered me a can of soda and some food. I knew that if I ate or drank anything she offered me, I’d throw up. So I told her that I wasn’t hungry because I ate some McDonald’s on the way over. It just happened to be the same McDonald’s on 72nd Street and Pacific that we’d sat outside of while waiting for the bus fifteen years earlier.

I don’t harbor any resentment for my mother, but I haven’t seen or spoken to her in ten years. As far as I know, she still lives fifteen minutes away.


Filed under creative nonfiction