Category: Nonfiction

From Issue 23: Marheinekeplatz

Tamara Catto
     Before they fixed it up, traffic could drive all the way around Marheinkeplatz until it reached the dead-end cement posts at Bergmannstrasse in front of our pub.  We spent all day on barstools along the front window with a view across the square.
     In this corner of Berlin the tall Passionskirche presides over the tree-lined rectangle of the Marheinkeplatz.  On Sunday bells toll across the gravel pathways.  Benches and rose bushes surround a patchy lawn mined with dog poop.  At the far end (a world apart from our pub’s daily soap opera) a sandy playground with swings and slides backs onto a line of clumped bushes and trees.
     One day I arrived early for my afternoon shift at the pub. Seated on a shaded bench under a leafy tree in my cheetah-print skirt, I was unsurprised when Gunter left his barstool and sauntered out to join me.  The warm air on my legs, the background noise of kids playing at the playground on the other end of the square and the heady feeling of his cautious admiration all created a perfect capsule better than any drug.  Marheinkeplatz seemed for a golden moment to be the navel of the universe, the most desirable place I could be.
    That feeling of being in the right place, in the right skin, comes and goes in life.  Pursuing it can become a full-time job.  The promise of such felicity has fueled some of the wishful choices I have made.  And it is the reason why, several years later, I found myself again on Marheinkeplatz, this time at night.    
  A bitter, dry paste glued my tongue to the roof of my mouth.  Cool air brushed the sweat on my forehead as I hurtled down the damp cobblestone street, miraculously not turning an ankle in my stiletto heels.  At the corner of the Bergmannstrasse I paused, unsure of my next move, then headed for the Platz with its cover of bushes and trees.  The swish of traffic and rain blended in my ears above the thud of my pounding heart as I arrived and scoured the area for cover.  Happily, a gap in large clump of bushes appeared to my right near the playground. I crouched down into it, hidden by darkness and leaves, and tried to stifle my gasping breaths.  
   Across the square from the dark mouth of the Bergmannstrasse where it emerged tunnel-like from between tall rows of bomb-pocked apartment houses, I heard him.  
    Where are you, slut?  
    I know you’re here.  
    I’ll find you.”
   I crouched lower, hugging my knees.   I felt fairly sure that he would not find me, here in the bush, in the state he was in.  The more pressing problem was where I could spend the night.  I couldn’t go home to the apartment we now shared until he’d had a chance to sleep it off.  
     The heavier weight I carried in my chest was the knowledge that I would indeed return to that apartment again.  And again.  Because I wanted a taste, a glimpse of that safe right feeling I’d known sitting on a summer bench two years before, here in the Marheinkeplatz next to the bush I now occupied. 
    A thin slant of golden morning light threw long shadows as I strolled past the playground along the gravel pathway.  A bench appeared invitingly to my right.  Exhausted from jetlag and yesterday’s flight, I settled to watch some early traffic across the park.  A flow of women with children filled the paths. The children carried school bags or wore backpacks.  The women hurried them along the path toward the Zossener street subway entrance.
      As birds flitted through the rose bushes I sat, fascinated.  In twelve years spent living in Berlin, I’d never glimpsed this morning activity.  The rattle window shutters being rolled up came from the market hall at the end of the Platz.  Delivery drivers called out to each other in barking Berliner tones. I thought of my two children back in California, ages 7 and 2. Of my long path toward choice and freedom.
    If I had stayed here, would I be shepherding them towards the subway for school like these moms?  Or would I ever have made it out from under the bush?
Tamara Catto lives in Santa Cruz, California, where she cares for two daughters and a menagerie of animals. Alongside this, she teaches ESL at a local Adult School.  She is learning to carve out time to write.  Favorite subjects include her job, parenting, and twelve years spent in Berlin, Germany.

From Issue 2: An Explorer's Life Guide

Adriana Hammond
Where are those corners of the world where we find Meaning to fill our heavy desires? The shrouded corners for those who seek and seek for more than triviality yet understand that our dreams may remain in an undisturbed respite without the temptation of the frivolous. I believe in the frivolous as much as I believe in depth and I find myself searching for the profound as two parts (an unbridled duality–not a contradiction, for they are a powerfully united dialogue).
One part, so reactive and so ablaze, carries a compass that points firmly toward pleasure. She breathes to a meditative rhythm of,
“Never stop moving, never stop moving…”
The other is a reluctant follower of the first and heavy with doubts. Her map is riddles, for no direction should indicate north. Therefore, she is meant to always go and while going harness the meaning in that going. Those two are my ceaselessly searching, often unforgiving, and truly inseparable characters.
How then, to navigate the vast and ever-changing milieu? Is there a poet for me? One who, upon discovery, instigates a new inner struggle?
Or, perhaps, I am simply a slave to the curse of interminable yearning.
Those corners of Meaning, I believe are waiting—waiting while I want and I am convinced that this correlation is the mystery of innermost freedom; in that struggle lies the reward when something is found.
Until recently, I had supposed that travel was a simple method of escape from my pains. Abroad in my new world, I could be charmed away from the stings of loneliness and rejection. Late last spring was yet another suffering and it was time to leave, this occasion to the Czech Republic and onward (the proud habits of a runaway—to begin a new fight, rather than sit with an old defeat).
I remember the heat of the train car in that early July. Pulling out of Prague to Germany I swiftly covered my mouth. I felt through my hands the muted shriek of elation in thinking of the momentary romantic encounter the night before with the bluest- eyed Czech. Oh, he was striking with his statuesque chin, golden shag, and strong shoulders. His disposition was very curious, yet unassuming. And so perfect that it was all unplanned. I had gone out to the Old Town find some jazz, drink some absinthe, and ignore my most recent error in love. To find him was a kind of gift and he was mystified that I was alone. The vermillion-punk walls were made for desire as we sat close in that petite bar drinking Staropramen. “You are a sort of adventurer, an explorer?” He wanted to understand me, and at that moment I was thinking I was more like a conquistador of romance, but an explorer is nice too. Then he asked if I liked Kubrick and I knew we were meant to find each other.
What that encounter was for me, I can only understand now as an act of courage. I had been so afraid to engage again in any form of love. Then on that train, in that heat, unlike before, I felt compelled to absorb every insight from fellow travelers as I was now carrying an exhilaratingly new fondness for life. Through this edification was the revelation that I am never truly alone. Now, I better understand, these journeys are not propelled by fear but from a desire to actively engage in the beauty of life— I find no Meaning in passive observance. The transient and the frivolous are an explorer’s life guides. True depth is coupled with the profound consequences.


Adriana Hammond is a candidate for a Master of Arts in Russian Studies at Boston College with an emphasis in literature. Currently, she is finishing a thesis regarding the influence of Buddhism on contemporary Russian literature. She lives in Boston, Massachusetts.

Issue 9: The Last Session

Dante Marquis
It was a sunny Saturday morning in California. I was driving up the highway in my freshly detailed Honda Civic. I was on my way to see Ryan. Unbeknownst to me, it would be the last day that we would see each other. For three years I looked forward to Saturday mornings with Ryan. Ryan was a counselor with Exodus International, and I had been assigned to him through my church. Exodus International was an international Christian network that sought to help people who wished to limit their homosexual desires. I was a part of a Pastor Internship for the Assemblies of God church denomination. I was not allowed to identify as gay and remain in the internship—“same-sex attraction” was the euphemism used to describe my condition. The mission statement of Exodus International was to “mobilize the body of Christ to minister grace and truth to a world impacted by homosexuality.” I came to a crossroad when the effort to stifle my same-sex attraction became exhausting. I stumbled on Exodus International one day while listening to a sermon online. My heart began to palpitate as I read the testimonials of other Christian men who had overcome their struggle. Most of these men were now counseling or leading ministries like Exodus. There was hope for me, I thought. I could conquer this thing—all I needed was some guidance and prayer.
The Exodus International website sold straightness like it was the miracle cure leading to a perfect life. The images were like a tropical oasis that awaited you on the other side of gayness. It would show a family portrait of the ex-gay man with his wife. The wife was always drop-dead gorgeous. Makes sense, as the husband’s risk of falling back into homosexuality at any time would require him to have an attractive wife. And why did they always have so many children? It seemed like there were always three, sometimes more. It was as if each child was undeniable proof of straightness, multiple living-and-breathing results of hetero sex. The wives were always blonde. It was what I was supposed to want. I wanted to desire this for my life. I would imagine myself inside these family portraits. Pastor Dante Searcy, slayer of gayness. The prize would be my own blonde wife, along with our seven biracial, caramel-colored children.
Sexual purity was a major focus in the Assemblies of God church. Premarital sex, sex on television, even thinking “impure” thoughts about a woman who was not your spouse were considered sinful in the doctrine. The most egregious sexual sin was homosexuality. The men at church would talk about the difficulty of not thinking about women in a sexually impure way.
I did not have the same struggle as the other brothers in Christ. They mistook my ability to resist temptation by women as a testament of my strength. I was still a virgin at twenty-five. I wore my virginity like a golden shield of honor. Some of the men envied me for being able to give my virginity to the wife that God had for me. Everyone was in my corner encouraging me to stay pure and save myself for marriage. I knew it was all horse shit. I had the strength to resist women because my body did not respond sexually to women. The lack of sexual desire for women scared me down to the core of my spirit. I wished it was as difficult for me to stay pure as it was for the other brothers. I had my own temptations, which I could share with no one, except for Ryan. The chasm between me and the other brothers was vast and wide, and they were oblivious to it. I buried this secret deep within my heart and it ate away at me from the inside. The guilt and shame were unbearable at times. I was tormented by nightmares about spending eternity in hell. I longed for the loving touch of another man. I was content with just that. My desires and urges were wrong, and I could tell no one. I was determined to defeat this. If Catholic priests could dedicate themselves to celibacy, then it was possible.
Ryan and I began to meet on Saturday mornings. We worked through a whole host of issues. I had a lot of resentment and anger toward kids calling me “sissy” and “fag” when I was in school, and toward my father for abandoning me when I was a baby. In terms of dealing with my same-sex attraction, Ryan gave me lots of strategies. He helped me block pornographic websites on my computer. He gave me Bible verses to recite when I was having a lustful thought about men. He even encouraged me to try and fantasize or “lust” for women. He said it would help curb some of my homosexual tendencies. Ryan was the epitome of Christian perfection. I stared at his wedding ring, and I assumed his wife was blonde and had perfect teeth. He was a regular straight man, not an ex-gay straight man, but he was a great counselor and felt that he could help me. I felt dirty and sinful during our sessions. My dark skin next to his was like a reflection of my sin. I craved his acceptance and approval. He was strikingly handsome, which I wholeheartedly believed was Satan trying to get me off course. He had greenish hazel eyes and curly brown hair that went perfectly with a bright and friendly smile. I wondered at times if he was a closeted gay and working for Exodus International was a facade. Maybe he had these desires and kept them hidden the same way I did. Maybe one day he would break that barrier between counselor and counselee. But instead, I would share my most sinful gay thoughts with him, and he would just smile and nod. His welcoming and nonjudgmental demeanor made him virtually irresistible.
I did not know that this particular session would be the last one. In fact, I had never considered how the sessions would end. When would I be considered straight? There was no set point to arrive at. Alfred Kinsey would have found it comical. Would I be cured if I could go a whole day without thinking about men? Or was it two weeks? A year? I assumed that I would always need to rely on a straight Christian man’s guidance to keep me on the path of heterosexuality. After walking up to the church building and knocking on the window, Ryan opened the door to let me in. He always had a look of surprise and delight when he greeted me, even though my appointment time had been the same for three years. He was wearing a navy blue sweater and khaki pants. His pants were just tight enough to where I knew I would be distracted for the entire session. We walked down the long dark corridor to his office. It always felt like his office was in a dungeon where the real sinners had to go in order to get fixed.
The last session began as all the others had. Ryan would begin with asking me how my week was. “How was your week?” actually meant how many times did you picture a guy naked, look at gay pornographic websites, inappropriately touch a man, get a blowjob, have sex with a man, etc. In other words, how many times did you “act out” on your homosexual desires? The goal was to stop engaging in homosexual acts, which meant I had to stop having homosexual thoughts. Each slip-up I had we would analyze and he would give me a strategy to help me for the next time I was tempted to sin. I confessed that I had slipped up that week and looked at pornography. I repented soon after and asked for God’s forgiveness. I mentioned a guy who I was attracted to at work, a stumbling block to my progress. I told Ryan that I made a conscious effort to stay away from him so I would not be tempted. Ryan was happy to see how far I had come. He was excited at how I was taking responsibility for making my environment more conducive to having victory over my struggle. Once our regular introduction was over, I hesitated to share what was on my mind. Normally Ryan did not have to ask me to share, as we had built a strong level of trust over the years. However, something was different on the day of the last session. I wanted to talk about an experience with him, but I was not sure how he would respond. He could tell that I was holding something back, and he assured me that it was safe to talk about whatever was on my mind.
I began my story. I mentioned an incident that happened a few days prior when I had gone for a run in the park. While I was there, I saw two men sitting next to each other on a bench. They were sitting close to each other. It looked like they were holding hands, but I was too far away to see for certain. I slowed down so I could watch them. I had never seen two men be so openly affectionate with each other in public. I stopped running and began to stare at them from a distance. I couldn’t take my eyes away from them. They never noticed me standing there. I fought the urge to run toward them. I immediately recognized what I saw. It was love. These men were in love with each other. I wanted to ask them what it was like. What was it like to be in love? How did it feel? I felt their love for each other radiating toward me, beckoning me over to pick it up and take a bite. A voice, which seemed to be carried by the wind, whispered to me, “That could be you.” I imagined myself sitting on a bench in the park on a summer day with a man. The image made my heart flutter. Something within me shifted; my life was changed. I finished running and went to my car. I sat there and waited for the wave of fear and guilt to wash over me, but it never came. I did not pray or ask for forgiveness after seeing them. The feelings of guilt never came, even as I continued to think about them that evening. Nothing I saw at the park looked like it warranted an eternity in hell. The two men looked like they were in heaven. They were happy. I wanted to be in the heaven of love that they were basking in. As I recounted the story to Ryan, I saw the first glimpse of disappointment on his face. I could always count on his look of focused determination as he was naming off helpful same-sex attraction defeating strategies for me. But in this session, his exasperation had finally settled in. The energy of the room became tense. His tone of voice became heavy. I was not used to him speaking to me this way. He sounded like he was scolding a child, or a dog.
“Dante …” Ryan sighed heavily before he continued speaking. “The devil will never tempt us with something we won’t like. His temptation will always come disguised as something we think we desire. Do you desire that for your life more than heaven?”
I did not respond. I did not know what I wanted anymore. Heaven was seeming further and further away the more I fought with this demon. I let him finish. I was curious to see what he had to say.
“God has a special plan for your life. You have studied the Bible. There is a Godly woman who is waiting patiently for you to overcome this struggle. When you are victorious over same-sex attraction, you can be with the woman who God has intended for you, the one he has hand-selected. God is not going to bless you with her until you are no longer living in sin.” He paused. I remained silent. I wanted to hear more. Ryan fidgeted in his seat as my silence became uncomfortably tense. He then continued, “Those two men you saw on the bench are living in sin. They may look happy on the outside, but deep down their spirits are tormented. Do you really want that, Dante? Or do you want what God has in store for you?”
I continued to remain silent. I didn’t know what to say. What was the truth? What did I really want? Church had trained me to give canned responses to everything. I had learned how to play the game, but in playing the game, I had learned to silence the voice of my inner guidance. I knew all the right Bible verses to quote at the right times. I was accepted in church because of my strict adherence to the rules. I realized that those men I saw at the park were happy, and the only one with the tormented spirit was me. I was the one living in sin, the sin of going against my human nature. I was swimming upstream and trying to become something I could never become. Ryan looked at me as if he were trying to peer into my soul waiting for my response to his original question. Do I want what God has in store for me? I didn’t know anymore. It was my first act of disobedience. There was no drum roll or fanfare at that moment, but I had unwittingly taken my first step in the direction toward true freedom. I caught a glimpse of love, and it was worth risking an eternity in hell. When Ryan saw that I was not interested in talking anymore, he turned to his appointment book and asked me if the following Saturday at 10 a.m. was a good time. I told him it was, as our appointment time was the same every week. We shook hands, and he escorted me out.
As I walked out into the morning sun, I mulled the question over in my head. Do I want what God has in store for me? Another question fought itself into my psyche. These words came from my inner guidance, my soul. What if Ryan doesn’t know what God has in store for me? What if there’s nothing wrong with me after all? It was as if time had frozen and I had entered into another dimension. I looked up at the clear blue sky. The sun kissed my face with its bright rays. I wasn’t quite sure at that moment why I felt so free, but I knew that I had unlocked something within my mind. After three years of therapy, I was just as gay as I was when I began. I decided in that moment I would no longer struggle with my attraction to men. If being myself meant going to hell, then maybe I would find someone in this life to accompany me there. James Baldwin, in The Fire Next Time, states, “The very time I thought I was lost, my dungeon shook and my chains fell off.” I never saw Ryan again after that day. I left my chains in that church parking lot. I was liberated by the notion that true love was possible. I got into my car, pulled out of the parking lot, and drove toward the light of the sun.
Dante Marquis is a freelance translator, writer, and editor based in Santa Cruz, CA. He is a graduate of the Defense Language Institute, and an honorably discharged veteran of the U.S. Navy. He is currently working on a collection of poems and short stories. He works at UC Santa Cruz and lives with his partner.

Issue 9: Jimmy

Tom Vollman
I was on a park bench with my wife and son when the news arrived. Jimmy had been murdered in a desert worlds away. My son was lost in his first-ever root beer float, and I felt something inside me shatter–something small but suddenly desperately important–something I didn’t know I needed, but now could barely breathe without.
That morning–hours before I got the news about Jimmy–my three year-old son tucked his toy cell phone into his underpants instead of his pocket and he and I went outside. He hooked a tape measure on the waistband of his shorts and clipped a black Sharpie to his t-shirt collar, the same as me. For about 15 minutes, he helped me drill holes. He wrapped his tiny hand around mine as I squeezed the trigger and sent the bit into board after board.
I can remember being so excited to help my dad with projects. I’d ask him, Are we being workmen, Daddy?
Yep, pal, we are, he’d answer.
Things never really worked out with those projects, though. I’m not exactly sure what I expected. I was only a kid. A little one.
Hey, Sport, Dad would say, you wanna help me build Hoppy’s new cage?
Of course I did. I always did. But I was always on the outside looking in.
One time, I hit Dad in the head with a hammer. My Mom tells that fucking story all the time.
Well, your Dad was putting cement in your digging space, she says.
But that wasn’t it. I hit him because he was mostly never present enough to hold onto.
That morning, before I heard about Jimmy, my son and I drilled holes and screwed boards to the front porch. Suddenly, he decided that he wanted to–needed to–write on the boards.
“You want to mark them?” I asked.
“Uh-huh,” he answered.
He had on these small, orange googles that fogged with his exhales. They made him look like an insect.
“Remember, though,” I said, “that’s a tall-person marker–” He raised his face to mine. “So you can only mark on the boards, not on your arms or Papa’s arms or the driveway or anything else, okay?”
“Okay,” he replied. “I’ll mark them for you, Papa, so you know where to drill.”
I watched him unhitch the Sharpie from his collar, carefully uncap it, then trace short, vertical marks followed by long, horizontal lines along the freshly-painted one-by-twos. At first, I wanted to stop him–to tell him I’d just painted them and that he could mark the other ones, the scrap pieces. But I didn’t. His marks were lovely.
“Papa,” he said excitedly, “my marks are ready for you.”
“Yes, they are,” I laughed. “Thank you, mister. That’s super helpful.”
“Ready for the next one, Papa?” he asked.
“Most definitely,” I replied.
And so it continued.
After about 20 minutes, I’d mounted 12 boards, all with squiggly, broken, black lines across their fronts. We stopped in order to bike to an appointment my wife had a few blocks away.
“But what about the project?” my son asked as we readied ourselves for the short ride. Then he cried. “I’m sad, Papa.”
He wanted to finish–to stay at home and continue our work. I smiled. “It’ll be here when we get back.”
“But Papa,” he countered, “I love working with you.”
Finally, he agreed. “Okay,” he said as I buckled him into the bike trailer’s belt harness. “When we get home. After Mommy’s appointment.” He adjusted his Spider-Man helmet. “You promise, Papa?”
“Yes, mister, I do.”
After the appointment, I got the news.
Jimmy had been missing for a couple years. He’d been abducted in Syria. We all held out hope that he’d get out. Sometimes those hopes shrank. Sometimes they almost disappeared completely. But everyone held fast to the idea that we’d see him again, have beers, talk shit, and make noise.
But that wouldn’t be the case.
When we got home, I kept my promise to my son. We worked on the project, but my head swam with the news of Jimmy, and my son was exhausted. We mounted a few boards, then stopped for dinner. Afterwards, my wife put my son to bed and I went back outside to finish. I plugged in a pair of flood lights and caulked and sanded the seams. My son’s marks made me smile. Then I thought about my friend; I thought about Jimmy. I couldn’t even begin to imagine what he’d been through, where he’d been held, or what he’d thought about for the past two years when he closed his eyes.
When my wife and I found out we were pregnant, I didn’t tell my parents right away. When I finally did, I was in the car. My mom gushed when I delivered the news. When my dad got on the line, he thanked me for believing in the future.
My son turned three six months ago. Neither one of my parents have ever met him.
That night, after the news about Jimmy, I dipped my brush into the half-empty gallon of gibraltar grey and ran a few strokes over my son’s marks. They disappeared. Each of them were gone, as if they never existed. They’d been a testimony, of sorts, to my son’s joy. He’d been lost in that moment, free from any attachment except the notions he’d invented. And I painted over them.
I dropped my brush and began to sob. Our street was quiet and empty, the houses mostly dark at a quarter after ten. I cried and cried and then finally made my way inside. I left everything on the lawn just as it was. Tears and snot gathered on my cheeks and upper lip. I could barely say my wife’s name as I collapsed on the couch. The TV, which had timed out on the channel guide, threw a blue glare across the room. I looked at my arms–at my tattoos–little black lines skating across the winter white of my skin. My eyes clouded. “Jimmy,” I finally spat, “so fucking sad.”
My wife moved toward me. I told her how I’d painted over Ty’s marks. I told her how happy they’d made me, how fragile they’d been. I said it was too much. I sobbed and shook, so confused. I said I didn’t know how both things could be; how my son’s marks and what happened to Jimmy could both exist.
“You’re so brave,” she said, “for feeling this. For holding that space.” She paused. I wiped my nose. It was the first time in about a half hour that I’d been able to pull my hands away from my eyes. “But,” my wife continued, “you can’t wire those things together. Go back to that bench in the park, at the mall. Feel sad for Jimmy, but don’t bring this other stuff to it.”
I nodded. She was right.
I cried more and we talked more. My heart hurt; it just seemed to continue to break, over and over and over again. And the tears came in waves. Somehow, though, I felt lighter. Not better, but cleaner.
“But,” I stammered, “I know it sounds idealistic or trite or whatever, but I really want to live in a world where I don’t have to explain this to Ty. Somewhere where it doesn’t exist. Where the joy and hope and love that traced those marks never, ever goes away. Never gets tempered. I want us to be better.” I was sweating pretty badly. “All of us.”
My wife smiled and hugged me.
“Because I can’t explain it to him,” I continued. “I can’t do it.” I paused to wipe my face again. “There’s just no explanation. None,” I added.
“You’re right,” my wife replied, “there isn’t one.” She moved even closer. “But that’s why it’s so important, the wiring. That’s why it’s so necessary to get this right–to wire it right and eliminate the confusion and the things you carry–that we all, more or less, carry.”
“I know, I know. But I wish. I just fucking wish.”
Tears drowned my words again. I thought about my Dad and his idea of the future.
I’d told my wife what he said about us being pregnant.
“What?” she’d puzzled. “What in the hell does that even mean?”
At the time, I shrugged.
I told my therapist about it, too. He laughed. He’s a pretty slight man, but his laugh is rich. “Oh my,” he said, “that’s amazing. In fact,” he added, “I’m going to use that, if it’s okay–and I hope it is.” He shifted in his wide, leather chair. “Geez. The future. Holy smoke.” He shook his head and brushed the mop of shoulder-length, grayish-blonde hair from his face. His laugh grabbed him again. “Who says that? I mean, come on.”
I reminded my wife of what my Dad said, again, there in the living room. I tried to tell her why it echoed with me now, after Jimmy’s death. “If I had a nickel,” I told her, “for every time my Dad told me that Albert Einstein said the war after the next would be fought with sticks and stones–” I shook my head. “Fuck.”
My wife’s face crumpled. “Jesus.”
“Yeah,” I continued, “that’s where it comes from–how it started. He told us all the time–me and my brothers–that it’d be up to us to figure things out. He said that he’d be dead and we needed to pay attention, to know what was happening.”
“So how does that tie to the future thing–believing the future?” she asked.
“Because” I replied, “here I am at 12 or 14 or whatever and my dad’s telling me how screwed up things are–how dangerous and hopeless the world is and then fast forward almost 30 years when things are even more fucked and I’m telling him we’re having a kid–that we’re bringing another soul into this mess–the one he’s been obsessed and afraid of for so goddamned long. That’s what he meant–thanks for believing so much in the fact that the world’s not gonna go and fuck itself to death in the next decade or so that you–that we–would feel confident enough to have a baby and be complicit in bringing him into this craziness.”
That night, I slept like shit and dreamed that I kept getting punched right in the mouth. I woke up too early, shifty and in a mood. I thought about the fact that hope is a motherfucking juggernaut. And I thought about how my wife is right: it’s important not to get things wired wrong. What wires together does, in fact, fire together. We are our own experience, but we are equally other peoples’ experience.
My friend has tattoos on his fingers. The ink spells out HOPE when he closes his right hand, LOVE when he squeezes his left. I think about that ink a lot these days. It helps me hold a space. It hurts to keep my heart open and be honest and present for my son. Sometimes, the hurt’s bigger than me, more than I can handle or even express.
Tom Vollman is enrolled in the doctoral program in creative writing at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Currently, he teaches English at Milwaukee Area Technical College. He has written a number of things, published a bit, recorded a few records, and toured a lot. He’s working on a novel entitled Tyne Darling. Tom will also be releasing a new record, These Ghosts, in 2016.