Archive for November, 2015

She Drank

Posted in Prose, Uncategorized with tags , , on November 28, 2015 by sethdellinger

It’s now been many years since I was an active member of the “recovery community”, ie attending meetings of 12-Step programs, etc.  But my time in them as well as my outspoken status as a recovering alcoholic (which is just another way of saying addict) made me many friendships and relationships with people of just about every walk of life, and people of extremely varying success with staying clean and sober.

There’s a woman I’ve known for about 6 years now.  She’s about ten years younger than I am.  She is an alcoholic of the absolute most acute variety–she can get sober for a few months at the most but never, ever stay sober.  In the few years I’ve known her she must have relapsed fifty times and been to as many rehabs.  It got really heartbreaking.  We never stayed out of contact for long; according to her I was one of the only people who never, ever judged her, who really did stick to the story that her troubles didn’t make her a bad person, that no matter how hopeless it got, she could still write a good ending to her story.

She struggled so mightily with drink.  I’ve never met anyone who struggled so.

We’d been texting somewhat frequently in the last few months–her travels had taken her to a Recovery House very near where I lived.  We never got together, but our proximity did increase our communication.  In the five months that she lived near me she relapsed three times and went to rehab twice.  In the past few weeks she had moved back with her parents about twenty minutes away and was, for a time, sober.

I logged onto Facebook today to see posts about her death.  I felt sick and lightheaded.  We’d texted last less than a week ago.  She was massively troubled but was just a sweet little girl encased in all that mammoth pain.  I texted someone to ask how she died and I got this simple text back: She drank windshield washer fluid.  I have no great words of wisdom here, and no tidy sentence to end this thought.  This is what the human mind and body can drive some people to.  I breathe deeply for her tonight and mourn.

Protected: The Will, It Is Good

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , on November 21, 2015 by sethdellinger

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The Theme Was Hotels, the Theme Was the Absence of Worry

Posted in Memoir, Prose with tags , , , on November 13, 2015 by sethdellinger

Some memories that seem somehow important:

Waking on a hotel bed as a young young boy–no older than 5–on a family vacation to Ocean City, Maryland.  I had apparently been allowed to sleep in.  I could see out of a high window (it was a high window to me then) and the sun was at it’s zenith.  I was suffering from my first sunburn, which if you remember is quite confusing.  What had awoken me was the sound of seagulls squaking.  I caught a glimpse of a clump of them flying by the window in my first few moments of consciousness.  The bed was the most comfortable and comforting thing I could imagine. The air conditioning was pumped up, and the cold air mixed with the warm sun created an elegant sensation. I was alone in the room. This is the definition of childhood happiness, and the absence of worry.

Waking on a hotel bed, trembling.  Where am I? Which hotel is this?  It is dark, and much too hot.  It smells of mushrooms and bile in here. Who is next to me?  Is it someone?  Perhaps it is her.  I didn’t think she’d return. I try to rise, but my peripheral swims with still motion, my stomach lurches, I knock the lamp over, lay back down.  The trembling rises, it crescendos, it is hot and shaky and moist in here.  This is depravity.  This is the sadness. Strangely, it is also the absence of worry.

Waking on a hotel bed, a man of nearly thirty.  I’m in town for my job interview.  The light through the drawn curtains is low and grey; it’s just past dawn.  I only slept an hour but am instantly awake.  My eyes focus and are aware. Standing before the mirror to tie my tie, I am fatter and older. I accept this and smile. I like my fat cheeks, the bulbous nose.  I earned them. I gather my things: the suitcase I bought, the journal I keep, the socks I wash myself.  Tomorrow I’ll drive home. Tomorrow I’ll be OK, I know.

Just ‘Cause You Feel It

Posted in Memoir with tags , , , on November 9, 2015 by sethdellinger

I was driving my 1983 Ford Escort through the New Jersey countryside.  I remember the sun–the sun flying into the front seat so hard and fast I could almost see the light particles moving, could feel them beating my chest, my shaved bare scalp.  I had the front windows rolled down all the way and the air whipped around the little room–because really that’s what a car is, a tiny moveable room–like a wild wind whirlpool.

I had just moved to New Jersey a few weeks earlier, to live with my mother and her husband after my life had fallen apart back in Pennsylvania.  It was a time of rebirth for me unlike anything I had experienced before or would ever experience again.  I was melancholy, and joyful, and full of deep heaving sorrows and belly-laughs.  I was on “the pink cloud”, as some folks refer to this sort of time period.

My old ’83 Escort, who I called Earl Grey, did not come equipped with a CD player or even a tape deck, so I had a boombox sitting of the passenger seat floor on which I would play CDs.  It wasn’t as convenient as cars nowadays but sometimes working harder for your simple pleasures makes them more enjoyable.  The CDs would skip a lot and I have memories of being very annoyed by this but of course the passage of time now makes the skipping CDs seem endearing.

I remember specifically on this day (as on many days during this time period) I was listening to Radiohead’s album Hail to the Theif.  Over the next fifteen years I would come to see this album as a winter album but it was the soundtrack to my summer that year, its drowsy, hypnotic plea serving as a counterpoint to the frenetic buzzing of insects, far-off lightning storms, and revving motorcycles at the biker bar next door to my mom’s house.

On this particular day, I was exploring the back country roads in the area around my mom’s house, an area loosely known as Neshanic Station, New Jersey.  The country roads are pleasingly bendy and hilly out there, with lots of big ol’ green and yellow fields on all sides of you.  As I may have mentioned, the sun was beating into my chest like cannonball particles sent across the cosmos, the wind was a whirling dervish, and Radiohead, although skipping, assured me in bizarre time signatures that just ’cause you feel it, doesn’t mean it’s there.

I rounded a bend in a road I’d never been down before, and when a stand of trees suddenly dropped from view, I saw quite astonishingly there were two hot air balloons, fully inflated, just a few hundred feet off the ground over a field in front of me.  It was, you might imagine, an incredibly surprising sight.  I immediately looked for a place to pull over.  There was a pulloff just a few yards further, which also happened to nestle a tiny winding creek.  I hopped out of my car, turning my boombox up even more so I could hear my Radiohead as I got out of the car.

This was not only before smart phones, it was even before everyone had a cell phone, or even a digital camera.  It was before MySpace existed.  So my experience was still limited to just myself.  I had never sent a text message or posted a status, and having not done so yet, I did not feel the absence of such.

I walked out into the field, mesmerized by these red mammoths above me.  I could hear the pilots talking, could hear the occasional hiss of the burners igniting.  They cast twin bulbouse shadows across the expanse of the untilled field.  I took my shoes off and waded into the small creek.  The balloons were coming even lower, I could feel the air density change around me as they passed directly overhead and the cold, cold water swirled around my feel like a whirling dervish, and Radiohead continued to insist Just ’cause you feel it doesn’t mean it’s there.

I was still new to real life, but I knew it wouldn’t be like this forever, but I couldn’t imagine what else it could possibly be like.

My Father, the Green Boy

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , on November 6, 2015 by sethdellinger

That old house on Big Spring Avenue was the damndest house. It was structured almost labyrinthinely, with halls winding back on themselves, unexpected back staircases, two patios, two balconies; like those places you hear about where voices told an old woman to keep building, and she did, and nobody stopped her.

To a kid, it was a marvel. It seemed all houses must be built like this: with surprises. And of course, it was ugly, too. Poop-brown hardwood floors in some rooms, and elegantly finished wood in another. Gray wood paneling on some walls, and on others, wallpaper that seemed to have been designed solely to confuse, a mix of paisley and leopard print. It was at this particular woozy wallpaper that I was staring the day my father came home as a stranger.

It is the kitchen wallpaper to which I refer.  It was mostly green, with some yellows. It was a flower print, mainly, with other little slapdash touches thrown in, in case anyone thought for a moment it made any sense. As I grew older, I started seeing pictures in the patterns, the way starry-eyed teenagers see turtles or boobs in clouds. Men riding bicycles were in that wallpaper, as were wedding cakes, rocket ships, shovels, and Falcor, from The Neverending Story. I was staring at this wallpaper when my father walked into the den—which is facing the kitchen, with a big wide open door between the two rooms—and I had no idea who he was.

I thought at first that one of the Green boys had broken into my house and was about to kill me. The Green boys (on the off-chance you’ve never heard of them) were the most rotten, vile, badass kids Newville had ever seen. One of them was  mentally disabled, which in those more unenlightened days seemed like some kind of moral failing. Every time something horrible happened, it was blamed on the Green boys, and there seemed to be more Green boys than Baldwins (a reference that would have made sense even in 1984). There were so many Green boys, in fact, that I had no idea what any of them looked like. All badass boys were simply Green boys.

He entered the den and it is the first time I remember feeling that stomach-dropping sink of fear, the kind where you almost instantly puke. This feeling shares a home with the ‘I slept past my alarm’ feeling, as well as the ‘cop lights in the rearview’ feeling, but it is more intense and coercive. It’s the same kind of fear you get when your car starts to go off the road, or a relative tells you to ‘sit down’ before they start a conversation.  Such in-depth fear is quite foreign to such a young person.

I leaped from the dining room chair (at this point, still quite a feat for me) and padded my little feet around the gray tiled kitchen floor, to position myself behind the kitchen table (a table, incidentally, which I can no longer picture in my mind, at all). He was closer, perhaps by ten feet, and still advancing. Finally I summoned enough child-courage to address this advancing (grinning) man: “Who are you?”

The man only grinned and kept advancing. I questioned him again, “Who are you?” Still no reply.

The fear was incredible now. I thought I would die. Have a ‘hard attack’ as I thought they were called. My body trembled, my saliva flowed uncontrollably (this happens), my voice shook, and finally, tears. I turned and ran from the room.

I ran through the laundry room, which was really a concrete hallway painted some sort of color, with a makeshift bathroom on the left hand side (with walls made from, I believe, plywood) and the washer and dryer on the right. Quickly through the laundry room, out the back door, down the six concrete steps of the slab back porch, into the bright preening sunlight of an unassuming day. There, I found my mother where I knew she would be (hanging laundry? Digging in the garden?) and I explain our frantic situation. It was no longer my frantic situation; obviously now my mother was in danger, too. The Green boy couldn’t be far behind me.

Before my mother could fully grasp what I was saying to her, the man stepped out of the back door, onto the slab porch, still grinning. My mother gave a small but serious laugh.

“Oh honey, that’s your dad! He just shaved his beard, is all.”

Dad, don’t feel bad. There’s no way you could have known.

Everything That Was Broken

Posted in My Poetry with tags , , , on November 4, 2015 by sethdellinger

Everything that was broken has
forgotten its brokenness.  I live now
in a sky-house, through every window
we see the sun.  Also your presence.
Our touching, our stories.  Both Earthly
and invisible.  How can this be?, but it is.
Every day has something in it whose name is Forever.

Jamboree

Posted in Rant/ Rave with tags , , , , on November 3, 2015 by sethdellinger

1.  Here are some questions I would like answers to:  obviously there is a bone in your nose, because it is able to break.  But skulls never have a nose bone, just a hole where the nose was.  What’s going on with that?  What is an electric acoustic guitar?  I mean I get the basic concept, but still.  When you cast a shadow, it is because your body is blocking light rays, but your shadow isn’t pitch dark; some light is still landing there; what mechanism is at play there?  Why can’t beggars be choosers?  Why do I love Furbys so much?  What the heck is fire?

2.  Ever since I became a vegetarian, I’ve noticed (at least on social media) a fair amount of mildly confusing hostility toward us.  Now I know that, like any subculture of people, there is a vocal minority that will actually make unprompted attempts to make meat-eaters feel bad, recruit people to the cause, etc (which honestly I say more power to them, it’s an important issue), but most of us just quietly eat our vegetables and say very little about it; what we do say is because this is an important part of our lives that we are passionate about; how odd to think we should be passionate about how we eat but remain silent about it.

So why do some people get so upset at vegetarians when most of us are largely leaving you alone?  And when most of us bite our tongues at the myriad, countless, terribly unimaginative pro-bacon posts that float around?  It is inconceivable that someone would be made to feel bad for voicing a pro-meat agenda, but those of us who are passionate about the lives of animals are made to feel like voicing our opinion would be indelicate?  The answer seems obvious.

Most people know, at their core, that eating meat is wrong.  Even if their conscious mind firmly believes there is nothing wrong with eating the carcasses of butchered creatures, deep down, at core, they know.  In our modern world, with all the options available to us, the wholesale slaughter and consumption of literally countless beings is radically unnecessary and a moral evil, and this fact resides in most of you.  So while I initially recoil every time one of my friends posts a completely unprompted anti-vegetarian meme, I recover quickly, secure in the knowledge they’ve done so because they wish, deep within themselves, they had the courage to act on what they know to be true.

3.  Let’s talk about sports for a minute; but more to the point, let’s talk about language and sports.  Even more specifically, let’s talk about “clinch”.

Now, in English at large there are quite a few ways to define exactly when one has “clinched” something.  It can mean to settle or finalize, but also to assure oneself of future reward.  In American sports, for many many years, it has meant strictly the latter; that an individual or a team had passed a mathematical hurdle in order to be assured of a reward–typically a playoff berth, but more rarely something like a batting title or a similar individual achievement.

In decades past, the word would be used something like this by a sports announcer:

“And with one more strike, the Padres will win their third game of the best-of-five series, thereby clinching their appearance in next week’s League Championship Series!”.  As in, with this win, they now are assured of moving forward.  They have WON this series, and have CLINCHED an appearance in the next round of the playoffs.

Then, a few years ago, I was watching one of the championships of the major American sports–I don’t remember which–when moments after the winning team won and had just begun their celebration, the announcer said something like this: “And with that, the winning team has clinched the championship!”

I knew it sounded wrong but it took me a few seconds to suss out why.  Really, they clinched it?  To my understanding, they won it.  Clinching implies it has secured further games.  There is nothing after the championship.  The season is over.  There is no longer anything to clinch.  They won the championship.  Nobody ever clinches a championship.  When did they clinch it, in the half a second from when the buzzer started to sound until it was done sounding?  Let’s end this madness, please!

4.

I know, intellectually, that humankind did not have anywhere close to the technology to put a person on the moon until right up until the moment we did so.  In fact, it was almost a miracle we were able to pull it off when we did it.  But it has always struck me as odd–and this is a really challenging thought to put into words so bear with me–that over the long and storied history of humanity, that somebody didn’t get there almost by accident at some point.

OK, let me pull it back a little bit.  Thinking about early Mount Everest climbing, the accepted knowledge is that Sir Edmund Hilary and his Sherpa, Tenzing Norgay, were the first human beings to summit the mountain.  And for all we know, they were.  It’s certainly not easy to get up there, and there’s no discernible survivalist reason to do so.  But human history is long, and there have been billions and billions of people walking over the surface of this planet well before we started keeping track of what we all were doing.  It seems to me the likelihood that some human being, at some point in deep history, for reasons completely unknowable to us, once trod upon that summit before Sir Edmund Hilary’s DNA was a glint in an amoeba’s eye.

Now it is harder to make a case for people having gone to the moon in ancient history.  I’m not some conspiracy theorist or quack, I’m just playing the numbers game (but without actual numbers).  While I will go out on a limb and say it is LIKELY a human summited Everest somewhere in the deep past, I will only say that it seems totally feasible that someone got to the moon at some point.

How?  I have no idea.  Some rudimentary capsule on top of a vast amount of explosives?  I really don’t have a working theory.  It does seem to me that if some human in history worked out a way to get to the moon, they probably didn’t arrive alive or live very long once they got there.

Just imagine, though.  Imagine we go back to the moon someday with more time and means to explore it.  Imagine an astronaut is walking down an embankment in a crater.  She sees a small cave tucked into an alcove.  As she approaches to explore, she sees footprints!  Closer still, sitting in dirt on the windless surface, a tattered copy of Thomas Paine’s “Common Sense”.  She hesitates before entering the cave.  What a story this would make!

And for you smarty-pants out there, I know lunar soil is called regolith, but that would have really ruined the pacing there.

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