Jam, Pt I

Billie did her best writing in the car. To be clear – and safe – the writing was in her head. Which is no writing at all. But she felt like a writer with limitless potential at those times. Perhaps it was the small space that contained her, centered her. Perhaps it was the music. She played the most atmospheric music in the car. The Free Design’s cover of “Light My Fire,” anything by The Blue Nile, Steve Reich’s Electric Counterpoints, the soundtrack to Wait Until Dark, “You Don’t Know My Name” and “You Love Me” by Kym Amps. But inevitably she would run out of errands, or arrive at a destination, or worse, home, and that wide windshield of vision would be replaced with a blank white wall of Microsoft Word.

Recently it was Billie’s birthday, to which a numeric value will not be assigned, but apparently it was significant enough that her best friend, Lisa, wanted to take her out for a drink, because Billie was a delightful drinker. But, rather unexpectedly, not halfway through the second amaretto sour, the tone of the whole evening became regretful – the other side of nostalgia, not the good side, not the one that should be photographed. Lisa’s regrets beget regrets, and Billie found herself asking Lisa a lot of questions, feeling around for a precise decision or decisions to which the regret was attached. The passion with which Billie pursued it alarmed her; just who was being interrogating here? Was this some sort of Socratic projection? Did the sheer pretension of that phrase obscure its meaning? Simply too much irony here, even for 2017.

Admittedly, Billie wasn’t sure about much of her life, and that was the source for her writing; ergo, she wasn’t so sure about it, either. Did she even want to write anymore. Well, of course she didn’t want to write, no writer wants to write, but she wondered what the purpose of her writing was. Was it some sort of restorative justice. The need to assemble a circle of imagined readers and recount all the wrongs she’d done, the wrongs done to her that made her do the wrongs she’d done. And yet, what if she stopped doing it. What would she do with her evenings. Was this simply a case of misplaced identity. These weren’t questions, they were the companions of an artist. The friends of Job. What an unmerited and melodramatic comparison. It’s exactly why Billie needed a baby, or a pet, or a baby pet, something requiring focus and affection, and of course that is a terrible reason for bringing either into your world. Why was it so difficult for her to find a current – electrical or hydrogenic? Preferably not both as that would be fatal. Billie wanted to find what Richard Rohr called “the flow.” Or maybe it was just that she wanted to be really good at something and really go for it, without getting all guilty and confused.

Then Lisa mentioned the dance party.

It was going to be a Jam, a no-parking-on-the-dance-floor, no-need-to-keep-score, gimme-gimme-more, open-for-business-but-you-don’t-know-what’s-in-store, Jam. It was going to be at Lisa’s 2nd floor condo, but not until her 1st floor neighbor moved out, which was still in process, and all of her friends were just waiting for the date to be texted, the date they would disturb the peace in a protest against status quo, but without a neighbor to call the police.

Billie immediately began living for this event. She pictured her and Lisa like Tina Fey and Amy Poehler in Sisters, determined to fuck it up so they could get down to business. She started a Gmail draft of songs for the playlist; she was adding, subtracting, dividing and conquering and multiplying the tracks. Let there be Amy Grant, Anushka, Disclosure, Eurythmics, The Gap Band, Goldfrapp, Hot Chocolate, Jamie xx, Klymaxx, The Knife, Ladytron, Little Boots, The Pointer Sisters, Robert Randolph & The Family Band, Sam Sparro, Sheila E, Sylvan Esso, Vince Guaraldi, Yaz.

Some nights Billie would sit at the kitchen table trying to write and discovered drinking a little Tequila and playing some Midnight Star suddenly made writing an absolute pleasure. Occasionally this resulted in her dancing in front of the kitchen windows, perfecting some pose, or move, or just ripping off an item of clothing on the beat. Would the dance party be this good? Could it be this good? She knew it could. And it would. She just had to get there.

The Christians

“A church is a place where people go to see something that is very difficult to see,” writes Lucas Hnath. “A place where the invisible is – at least for a moment – made visible. The theatre can be that too.” At the Steppenwolf production of Hnath’s play The Christians, we were in a theatre, but it felt like a Christian church. The two have been, if not separated, then in separate bedrooms, for quite some time; yes, there is Christian theatre, and there are plays with Christian characters, but even that distinction signals the estrangement, creating in both a negative space, populated with caricatures projected by assumptions.

Hnath’s play counters all of that from the moment it begins. At Steppenwolf it began five minutes before curtain, in a stage design masterfully indistinguishable from any American megachurch, with a full worship team. Some of the audience seemed a bit shifty. “Now this is subversive,” I said into my friend’s ear. The louder the worship became, the louder the people behind us talked. Admittedly, I was struggling to read a mixture of social cues from my understandings of theatrical and religious environments and the audience’s varying reactions. I can’t sing along, I thought, but I can clap. So I did. I can’t pray with the actor playing the Pastor, I thought, but I can smile when one of the worship team makes eye contact. So I did.

When the Humana Festival originally commissioned a play from Hnath, he studied the venue and its audience. Of his potential scripts he chose The Christians “because I’d come to learn that the festival has two very different audiences: the local Louisville audience and the theatre industry that comes in from out of town. And I had learned…getting to know subscribers, that a relatively high percentage of local attendees identified as Christian, while a comparatively high number of out-of-town attendees identified as ‘not’…[it was remarkable] how similar the reactions were. More or less, it seemed both ends of the audience in Louisville were on the same page. However…in NYC, the audience was very eager to hear the play as a satire. Most nights there were big laughs from the very start of the play.” It is difficult not to see this as a parable of how when we don’t love “the other” as our neighbor, they become our enemy. Even more difficult not to see is the “powerful urge to communicate” described by the Pastor as Hnath’s desire for the theatre to be a place where Christian ideas can live.

“‘There is only you and your fellow man,'” the pastor preaches in a sermon that follows the opening worship set, recounting words spoken to him by God. “‘You wanna see Satan – ? There’s your Satan. You wanna see Hell, you look around.’ And [God] said, ‘There is no Hell. And there is no reason to tell people that they’re going to Hell. Because they are in Hell. They are already there. You gotta take them out of the Hell they’re already in.'” If this reminds you of Rob Bell’s Love Wins, you are not alone, although after mentioning that book, we might be alone: it is a belief that divides groups of people like redlining, as they contend just what the blood of Jesus is saving us from.

Yet one of the triumphs of Steppenwolf’s production, and K. Todd Freeman’s sensitive direction, is the unity in diversity – hinted in the script, perhaps, through some shared language of church cultures – but embodied in the non-traditional casting.* And consequently, intractably, the church’s fracturing reaches the very bones of the play  – Greek tragedy** – because it is disconnecting people who urgently need to be sharpened and purified, together, in the presence of God.

“I think what you did was actually incredibly selfish…” the Pastor’s wife remarks, toward the end of the play. “You haven’t thought about how what you’re doing affects other people.” Hnath has confessed he was supposed to be a preacher, but didn’t want to “worry about other peoples’ souls.” Then he was supposed to be a doctor, but didn’t want to “worry about other peoples’ bodies.” If he doesn’t still worry about both, the conversations of The Christians indicate he thinks deeply about them, and invite us to think deeply too – as an us.

– – –

*Formerly “colorblind casting”, this replacement term inspires the question of what tradition, exactly, is worth honoring here.

**In an interview conducted by Young Jean Lee and featured in the Steppenwolf program, Hnath states “the bones of the play are Greek.” All of the quotes in this post are from that interview, except for the first, which is from Hnath’s preface of the Overlook Press publication of The Christians.

Shadowboxer

“It’s your old roommate,” I said after the beep, “calling you because I just saw La La Land. It technicolored my world. And now I’m walking around Milwaukee in winter without a coat because I just saw La La Land. I’m sure you’ve already seen it, you’ve already lived it, so call me back already.” I ended the call. A text message appeared. My support group was cancelled. I was relieved, but not a good relief; it was the kind of relief you feel when approaching an intersection where someone is standing with a sign asking for money and the light turns green just in time so you don’t have to sit with them and your conscience.

In the back of my mind, The B Team – who might simply resent never getting a TV show but that is no excuse – had begun plotting something bad. Details undecided yet, but definitely sexy and bad. So I counterplotted by accepting a weeks-old party invitation from friends. We sang traditional carols and then selections from Fiona Apple’s first album along with a keyboard played by an organist and accompanied by incredible amounts of alcohol. “You made me a shadowboxer, baby / I wanna be ready for what you do / I’ve been swinging around me / ‘Cause I don’t know when you’re gonna make your move.”

The next day, my head feeling kind of heated and full, like a crock pot on warm, I sat with my sponsor in a coffee shop, surrounded by people alone together. “It’s all about geography,” he said. “It’s true you did stumble, but the place you stumbled from, and the place you stumbled to, are different now.”

“Yeah, but that was weeks ago and I still haven’t deleted his number. I’m going to, I am, but I just can’t yet. You know, it’s not like I met him on craigslist. I met him at a conference in Chicago once a few years ago. And it’s not like we’ve done anything besides text – ”

“But it sounds like you will,”He smiled.

“Listen you fucker,” I smiled back.

“I’m concerned for you.”

“You should be.” I stared across the street at store windows crowded with lights and merchandise. “There’s a montage in La La Land…have you seen it?”

“No.”

The montage is towards the end, a whirlpool of references and originality, color and shadow, pulling all of the movie’s past, and possible futures, right into the present. Watching it, I felt like a car being dragged out of a body of water. And there was a lot of water, as the patrons who sat next to me can attest. Even describing it to my sponsor, I could feel tears being forecasted, an angry red blotch moving behind my eyes.

“Anyway,” I transitioned, “after the movie I collected myself and walked around without a coat and called my old roommate who lives in L.A. and left a message,” I nodded once, as if it were a period. “I don’t know why I came back here, nine years ago. Why did I come back? Why did I join this church? Why did I move into the neighborhood? Why am I trying to recover? Everything is falling apart. The things I was always eventually certain of, the good, right and pure things, are falling apart. At least if I had stayed there, maybe I would have a movie.” I stared across the street again as a woman walked into a salon called Samson & Delilah. “The truth does not negate or alleviate our feelings,” he said. “But the truth is, you’re a pioneer,” he said. “And maybe you’ll still get your movie.”

A day later, my head colder but no clearer, I asked the Internet – that medium ever ready to call up enticing visions – for help in finding friends from my previous life nine years ago. Regrettably one of the friends has the same last name of a certain love interest in Twilight, and suddenly pink fruit was ripening all over Google: pictures of sexy wolfmen, teenagers played by twentysomethings in Young Adult films, half-naked, advancing towards me.

This fight has never been fair.

Closing the browser window, I texted an addict friend, fingers ramming the buttons: “I’m considering posting in casual encounters that I’m looking for a jock to climb.” He texted back: “lol noooo climbing leads to cramps and indigestion.” He forwarded a letter he sent to his local paper: “I had a hard time accepting who I was, and for years…these icons [Prince, David Bowie, George Michael] let me be myself for the duration of an album. Those moments got me through. Carrie Fischer was comedic gold who showed no shame in being crazy…she was just like me…I sometimes fought with many substances because…I had demons I didn’t want to face. I took my hidden life to the very edge, and I almost died…[but I] got help and sobered up…I became me.”

Back Here

Anytime someone asked me what I did for Thanksgiving, my answer was “you mean the ‘Gilmore Girls’ revival?” Actually, anytime anyone has asked me anything for the last two weeks, I have answered in the form of Gilmore Girls. I do not mean talking fast and making references – that is the manner to which I am accustomed – I mean my world has assumed a new shape. And old. Sort of like a pair of jeans you find at a thrift store which are exactly like ones you had years ago that were shrunk in the dryer – shrunk in the dryer that started on fire – shrunk in the dryer that started on fire which became a pyre – shrunk in the dryer that started on fire which became a pyre for jeans you admired* – and so when you get another pair, it’s like going back, but you’re here, and it’s good to be back here.**

Here is Stars Hollow, the town of “Gilmore Girls,” which many viewers have suggested*** would be an ideal setting for “The Twilight Zone,” while seeming to forget that it practically was – in the episode “Walking Distance.” A 1959 Mad Man “living at a dead run” is fleeing Manhattan in his car through the countryside, when he stops at a gas station and recognizes the area is within walking distance of his place of birth, Homewood. At some turn in the route he is transported 25 years ago to his childhood, a place in the summer, with a merry-go-round and cotton candy and band concerts. That atmosphere is very breathable to me. When someone asks where I’m from, I always end up listing several towns, saying “I’m from East Troy. It’s Stars Hollow. It’s Mayberry,” then explaining the reference and/or justifying the comparison with: “We have a square. And a trolley. And a vintage ice cream parlor.” So I understand why the man in “Walking Distance” stays home long enough to realize how much he’s longed for it, only to learn, in his father’s words, that he doesn’t belong. “You’ve been looking behind you,” the father says. “Try looking ahead.”

As a writer, what is behind has always possessed more potential than what is ahead. When I watched the first season of “Gilmore Girls,” I was staying with my sister, a teacher, who had the entire series to that point on DVD. While she was at school, I was getting schooled by the show’s creator, Amy Sherman-Palladino, particularly in the reference, a hyperspecific metaphor. It was a technique I had observed elsewhere, most notably and obsessively in Myra Breckinridge. The reference uses literature, film, music, history – as coordinates for a specific moment, an X marks the spot, the X a cross, of course, one line being the time you are in, another line being the time of the reference, so you are here and there, the one who knows, who can be asked for directions.

“Gilmore Girls,” now more than ever, acknowledges that it is “never or now.” A vital member in the original cast has died, everyone has aged, and the world of 2016 is not as we remember it in 2000, or 2007, the years when the show premiered and ended. Its creator and sustainers, Amy Sherman-Palladino and Daniel Palladino, left the original run a season early, due to lack of support from the network. The actors were never certain what the final episode would be. So this is one revival where everybody took Arlen and Koehler’s advice to get happy – and get ready – for the judgment day: this might be the end, more than the might before, and a manic energy, an emotional undertow, shoots through the series like an arrow, to a bull’s eye ending, those famous last four words to which Amy alluded for years. But I didn’t watch for those four words. I watched because, in a small way, it was a resurrection, and I always want to believe in that.

“You hardly ever get a chance, at any point in life, to appreciate the moment you’re in, while you’re in it,” said Lauren Graham, who plays Lorelai Gilmore. “I was just walking around [set] like…’you’re here, and thank you so much for being here’…I was just a freak, I had so much appreciation it was actually very overwhelming and…I’m not a person who cries very easily. I would cry every day.” Graham rightly insists that crying in character is different than crying as yourself, but still, it is not difficult to believe she cried every day; there are so many gradations of grief in her performance. I’ve never seen such a range, in any of Graham’s performances, or anyone else’s. Indeed, for a character and actor renowned as fast-talkers, some of their finest moments in the revival are silent, grounded in truth and floating on emotion.

“Without silence there is no solitude. Though silence sometimes involves the absence of speech, it always involves the act of listening,” writes Richard Foster in Celebration of Discipline. Foster’s book does not mention “Gilmore Girls,” but surely that is because his most recent revision was 1998? Watching the revival, it was like someone was listening to me and speaking for me, simultaneously, in a rapture of understanding. I was in my sister’s living room, 10 years ago; I was in my parents’ living room next to my sister, now. And when Sam Philips’ song played over the final scene, just as it played over a similar scene in the original series, we wept together. I felt like one of my hands was holding the past, just as the other was holding the present – and even though both were empty, my eyes were reflecting light.

 ~ ~ ~

*Apologies to Rose Bonne, and you. I just couldn’t stop.

**And hear ye, year ye, those who aren’t familiar with the show: become familiar with the show. Start at season 1 and watch through season 6 and skip season 7 – the only season without Amy Sherman-Palladino and Daniel Palladino, which was basically Madame Tussaud’s wax figure of Rowan Atkinson, frightening, lifeless and without purpose – and proceed directly to the revival, “Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life.” It’s all streaming across that beautiful banquet hall called Netflix, booked solid with reboots and reunions.

*** James Poniewozik in The New York Times and Todd VanDerWerff at Vox, to name a few who can write.

The Lion of Lucerne

At a distance, the monument, a rock relief, reminded me of Petra; emerging from the stone, both composed of – and separate from – its source; real and fantastical. There was also a sense that I was discovering it, although surrounded by people taking selfies.

The subject is a fallen lion, spear thrust into his side, with only a shield for a pillow. The lion’s expression is almost unendurably anguished, a tangled but clear knot of emotion: sadness so ancient and deep it must be woe, an agony of confusion, a total resignation. There is such nobility to him, such beauty, the death seems an injustice that cannot be understood, only witnessed.

“He’s so sad,” I said through a throb in my throat, not really to anyone; I said it, trying to send the sadness back to the Lion, but it was a cord tying us, taut. I looked at the spear in His side as my father read aloud from his phone:

“The Lion of Lucerne [was] designed by Bertel Thorvaldsen and hewn in 1820–21 by Lukas Ahorn. It commemorates the Swiss Guards who were massacred in 1792 during the French Revolution, when revolutionaries stormed the Tuileries Palace in Paris…”

Even after hearing this, I couldn’t receive the monument as anything other than a tribute to Aslan, however chronologically incorrect and thoroughly disrespectful that may be. For those who haven’t met Aslan, he is a character in C.S. Lewis’ Narnia series, “the lion, the great Lion [who] isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King.” Aslan allows Himself to be slaughtered in exchange for the life of a traitor.

I wanted to walk away, I wanted to be alone with the Lion, but neither were possible. I could not contain the tears, so I collected them, one at a time, with my finger. “Nothing is black and white,” my father concluded next to me, putting away his phone. My eyes felt red. They were looking into the eyes of the Lion.

tunnel

What would be best is if, when I parked on the street, a tunnel would appear, connecting the driver’s door of my car to the balcony door of my house. A two-way waste chute, really, through which I could rise and fall, unseen by neighbors. Neighbor. The one who, as I was walking up my front steps, pulled me into her tractor beam by shouting “you called CPS” and “I will punch you in the face” and “mind your own business,” though when your business is interrupted by the sounds of a child being beaten and screaming, it’s difficult to mind.

Nevertheless, when my roommate heard it, she shouldn’t have told me, who shouldn’t have called CPS, who shouldn’t have come to their door; the neighborhood commandment of “you should mind your own business” must not be broken. Oblivious to such an argument, or accustomed to it, a child tapped me. “You haven’t been outside,” he said. “Yes, I have,” I replied, almost adding “but I won’t be anymore.”

The morning after the confrontation, I left for a wedding in upstate New York, at an hour similar to the one before God created the universe. It was so early that, in the airport terminal, there was no light through the windows; they were like the fake kind on a big box store, opaque, dark, void.

“The system is just broken,” my fellow traveler, a friend who was abused as a child, said. “When a CPS employee showed up at my house, I just wanted them to leave, I was so scared of being punished. When a teacher asked me if everything was alright at home, I said yes, but I kept thinking, can’t you make it stop? Whether you report it, or you don’t, it’s terrible.”

“My father forced me to fight competitively,” a young man told me at the reception, arranging and rearranging the food on his plate, “and you have to maintain a certain weight, so I’m mindful of calories. I still eat like a fighter.” He was thin and smiling through a wiry beard and lipstick that matched the color scheme of his sister’s bridal party. I wanted to feed him.

“You did the right thing,” a friend with children said over the phone.

Blocks before the neighborhood, my heart pounds like a headache. At the end of the street, I try to see who’s on the porch next door. I park the car in front of my house. I keep my sunglasses on. I don’t look around. I look down. I look at my keys. I open the door.

Hell is Other People

and I wonder what else you believe,

that I don’t believe,

that I don’t know about yet,

that would scare me to know you believe.

And when will I find out about that.

And then I wonder if someday you’ll convince me of what you believe.

And then I sit here and I think about me,

a version of me, say, two years from now.

And she believes what you believe,

and she believes what I don’t believe, not right now.

I think about that future “me,”

and I think about that future “me” thinking about the “me” I am right now.

That version of me thinks I’m stupid for thinking what I think now,

but also,

I’m here thinking that she’s so wrong,

and I don’t want to think something so different from what I think now…

…because there’s a slipping that happens.

The Christians, Lucas Hnath

As a young adult I developed a slipping phobia. One of my friends called me a “moral hypochondriac.” I clutched one version of truth, afraid of catching anything else. Something had to be right or wrong, it could never just be something. Of course, there was no love for God in this, only tide after tide of fear, and eventually I was like, “screw it, I can surf on this.” And so I did. Not surf. Slip.

Yes, I spent years slipping into the glove of addiction until I thought the glove was my hand. I was trying to heal a wound by covering it, which works to a certain point, when it begins to fester, to infect. You have to expose it to air, so it can breathe. But then it gets too much air, too much wind, its gets windburn and it wants everyone to burn, burn in the light of its truth.

What is it again?

The wound, yes, the wound that wants everyone to hurt, but for a good cause.

Even when I was in the cycle of sin-sorry-not-sorry-sin, the thought was if I reserved the serious infractions for once or twice a year, I was still superior to others who were racking it up; I was still winning the numbers game. But there was no attempt to stop, to turn around, to start again; just making a paper chain of the days until the next deviation, and then rip, rip, rip.

Repenting has meant setting both sides of my freeway going the same direction, away from the natural disaster. I expect Christian friends to understand, but most seem to think the disaster isn’t nature, it’s nature gone awry. If it was contained within a certain area…

“A quiet resentment can creep in that comes from believing that they’re sacrificing so much for God, while others get off easy,” writes Rob Bell. “Hell can easily become a way to explain all of this: ‘those people out there may be going to parties and appearing to have fun while the rest of us do ‘God’s work,’ but someday we’ll go to heaven, where we won’t have to do anything, and they’ll go to hell, where they’ll get theirs.”

Like Bell, I am actually not a universalist, or a relativist, or any kind of ist. I am an ict. An addict. Someone who doesn’t know when the party ends. So they don’t want anyone to have parties. “Is it weird,” a friend asks, “that every time I see you, I want a beer and I want to go to church?”

I’ve been listening to Lucius’ latest album, Good Grief. The booklet unfolds to form a poster of the lead singer against a black background, embracing a black figure that blends in completely. “I am lost,” she sings, “in my own home.”

Prayer

Lord,

out of the depths we cry to you

our souls melt for heaviness;

they are weary with sorrow

they are downcast

bowed down to the dust.

Our tears have been our food

day and night.

 

We mourn for the loss of Your children

who came to what they hoped

was a space where they could be safe

and the space was violated.

 

They were teachers and parents

great friends and brand managers

overprotective brothers and army captains,

contagious personalities and pharmacy technicians

good kids and assistant producers

blood brothers and ride operators

the best godmothers and Target employees

beautiful souls and high school graduates

cancer survivors and baristas

dancers and the kindest people you could meet.

 

But first and last and always

they were, and are,

Your children.

We mourn for them.

We are in mourning.

And we will not move on

we will not move on

no matter how undignified it may seem

or how uncomfortable anyone becomes

we will not move on

we will not move forward

we will not move away

we will not move from this spot

until we have flooded our beds with weeping

until we have soaked the dirt with tears

until the roots of injustice are permeated with grief

and while we grieve we wait.

 

We wait for you, oh Lord,

more than watchmen

wait for the morning.

 

And we ask, “who can show us any good?”

 

Let the light of your face shine upon us, oh Lord.

for only You can turn our darkness into light.

Surround us with songs of deliverance.

Cover us with Your feathers,

give us refuge under Your wings,

prepare a table in the presence of our enemies:

for those we have mistaken for our enemies

but are brothers, sisters

whom we are called to love

because we are the Church

even if we don’t understand

even if we don’t agree

if we can live in complete unity

then the world will know

You are Love

and they will know us

by Your Love

the Love only You can do

for You are Love

and Love

is a promise that preserves our lives,

everlasting to everlasting,

unfailing,

full of redemption,

always protecting,

always trusting,

always hoping,

always persevering

always displaying your power

among the people

the people whom

You Love

You Love

You Love

with a

jealous

dangerous

amorous

scandalous

Love

Love

Love

 

One thing we ask

this is what we seek:

for Your children lost,

Your children here,

Your children here who are lost,

let us dwell in Your hiding place

the shelter of Your tabernacle

high upon the rock of our salvation

let us dwell in Your house

Forever and ever

Amen.

Pulse

“I was looking at their ages…[they] might’ve been out for their first night at a gay bar…” someone says on the radio. “Seeing, you know, what I consider to be children have to face this…”

I consider them to be children, yes. Older than the children at Sandy Hook, at Columbine, but still children. I consider myself to be a child at that age. In my early ‘20s. In 2005. In Orlando. In Pulse.

“We went there,” a friend says on the phone, “we went there all the time.”

I remember going there and pacing around the block for an hour before deciding to go in. Or was that another club? That was another club. It could have been any club. It could have been me, it was not me, it is with me, it is over me, a large black umbrella that was handed to me a long time ago and it was not heavy at first but I’ve been holding it so long that my hand is shaking.

“You seem focused,” a roommate says as I unload groceries.

“I lived in Orlando.” I say. “I was at that club every weekend.” The roommate is holding the refrigerator door handle but I don’t realize and reach for it; I accidentally grab his hand, he instinctively pulls away, I open the refrigerator. I place bags of celery and carrots on cold shelves.

I reread the names, the ages. I look at their pictures again. I feel as though I am attending the ceremony of the dead in Sartre’s The Flies, where the departed souls return, enraged. They are rattling me like a chandelier in an earthquake. I want to sit in a gay bar and drink. I want to go to a gay club and dance. I want to have sex with as many men as possible. But I am in recovery. I am celibate. I am not going to do any of these things. So I get a Judy Garland film from the library. I Could Go On Singing.

Judy plays Jenny, a part written for her, a part that is her. Dirk Bogarde plays her ex, David. “I can’t be spread so thin. I’m just one person,” Jenny says to him, slightly drunk but getting sober. “I don’t want to be rolled out like pastry, so everybody get a nice big bite of me. I’m just me. I belong to myself. I can do whatever I damn well please with myself and nobody can ask any questions.”

On the radio they are interviewing someone who is placing white carnations and notes on the car windshields of family and friends of victims as they meet with the FBI. The note says, “You are loved.”

David starts to say he loves her, but Jenny places a finger on his lips. “Don’t – don’t say it. Because if you said it now, and if you didn’t mean it – I think I’d die – I think I’d die.”

Expected Result

I was at my parents’ house, otherwise known as the supply depot, looking for a legal pad. “Why do you need a legal pad?” Dad asked. “Because it fits in my padfolio,” I responded, though in truth the padfolio was his and as we’re being truthful I didn’t know it was called a padfolio until consulting the Internet during this writing. “But that’s 8 ½ by 11,” he said, “legal pads are bigger.” “When you say legal pad, people think of yellow and lined and bound at the top,” I replied, sounding like a riddle. The answer was dad giving me a different kind of pad: a “Project Planner,” published by Priority Management International. There were fields such as Project, Objective and Expected Result.

That last one pissed me off. I sat on the porch in April, shivering, wearing jeans, two shirts, a bathrobe, a winter coat with hood and sunglasses. This is an Expected Result of living in Wisconsin. After Valentine’s Day, any time the temperature reaches 40 degrees, we autorreact by proclaiming the arrival of spring. Basically we are Corky in Waiting for Guffman, absolutely sure the honored guest for which we have waited has arrived.

It was in this seasonal denial I returned to Wisconsin, almost ten years ago, in defeat. The Result was not Expected, then, either. Where I had been and what I had done is irrelevant, I suppose, and could be swapped with anyone’s Roaring ‘20s. But it was the first time a dream died in front of me. The grief prevented me from functioning and then functioning prevented me from the grief.

In Truly Madly Deeply, Juliet Stevenson’s husband comes back from the dead and she doesn’t know what to do with him. I can relate to that. Every day now I wake up and the dream is beside me, warm and breathing, for the first time in years. But then mirages often form out of a desire for relief. An oasis for the thirsty. Stability for the insecure. Which brings us to the Result of now, also not Expected. The key investors since returning here, those who spent their time collecting interest in my life, are withdrawing. Roommates are moving out, collaborators are moving away, friends are moving into houses for their children, and I am moved to emotions I cannot express.

My parents’ dogs were panting and pawing at the door, molesting my permission to be released. They wanted to greet the neighbor’s dog wandering through the yard, a Labrador Retriever whom I call Black Beauty because she is the size of a miniature horse. When I opened the door, they tore across the lawn, leaping at her, growling and yapping. “What’s the matter with you?” I snapped at them. “You know her.”

The next day I shared this incident with my grandma; an attempt at in-flight entertainment as we were destined for yet another doctor’s appointment. Occasionally she spasmed, then squirmed, trying to wrench from the grip of an unspeakable pain. My father informed me they had an hour-long conversation about assisted suicide. “If there was a number to call,” she said, “I would call it.”

The dogs and I came inside, to lose the chill, or regain it. As the songs were already playing in my head, I decided to actually play the final album from School of Seven Bells, a duo comprised of Alejandra Deheza and Benjamin Curtis, who died from a sudden attack of rare cancer during recording. The music is a lake at sunset, reflecting light from the surface of formless dark. “We are free to dream,” sings Alejandra. “This is our time of our becoming.” I have to believe her.