Standard Transmission

It starts as a purr

then a hum
then a growl
then something deeper than a whine, but just as frantic

And you can feel it coming up
through the bottoms of your feet
the engine vibrating against the soles
the rattle and growl of the pistons meeting explosions
of such great force

three thousand rpm
thirty five hundred
four thousand
faster faster faster
get where you are going

until you’re aware of the vibration
of your pillowy lungs against the
casing that protects them from your
steel ribs and
the whole of your skeleton humming along
with the yowl of the machine
from the top of the steering wheel
to the gearshift cradled in the palm of your hand

Seeing your chance
you change lanes, swing to the right
then slam your left foot into the clutch
all the way to the floor

the machine

 

pauses

 

expectantly waiting

until

you

shift

 

the engine sighs

you sigh.

 

you start the car, idling the engine warm and texting a note
“I’m done work, I’m heading home.”

(Apologies to Irving Berlin)

Blisters, blisters,
Never were there such devoted blisters
Covering the surfaces of hands and feet
I only shoveled out the sleet

Popping, peeling
Proving that my nerve endings have feeling

When a certain storm drain clogged up from the plow
I cleared it off and then said ow

My skin is like tissue
It’s got some issues
Blisters from every run
I get dog hair splinters
And in the winter
It wrinkles in wind or sun

Blisters, Blisters
Trying to toughen up
so no more blisters
Many socks have promised to protect
But nothing can

Lord help the blisters
From walks with my brother or sister
And Lord help the blisters
Covering both of my hands

Race anxiety

We are less than one week until the Rock and Roll Virginia Beach Half Marathon, which means we are in the sweet spot for total anxiety. What if I don’t finish? What if I fuck it up? What if I do it with all those people watching? What if I annoy my family or embarrass them or something stupid? Maybe I just shouldn’t go.

Really at this point it’s the money spent that keeps me going. Too late to cancel the race. Too late to cancel the hotel room. Time to just do the job and finish the race.

I know exactly what this is. I go through it for pretty much every social event. It’s the fear that everyone will stare at me and think I’m a freak and that nobody actually wants me around. A few of my friends have figured me out, and they call me an hour or two before a party or a talk or a session with a “But I’m going to be there so you have to come!”

I’ve been known to return the favor.

It doesn’t take much to set it off when I’m this close to a big event, and I’m well-aware that my usual anxiety meds probably can’t do the job against a fear the size of Texas.

My psychiatrist has me on strict orders that if I’m about to totally lose my shit, I go for a walk. All the running magazines say that before a really big race, I should rest my legs. These, as you may guess, conflict.

I’ve been resting my legs since a 5-mile walk on Sunday, which means I was primed and ready to blow by this afternoon. Instead of freaking out at someone, I went for a walk.

I went for a walk, and I got lost, and I walked 3.5 miles on my lunch “hour” that was a lot more than an hour because I couldn’t figure out which of the three trails to take and why are there no signs on the trails? And when I got back, I was as good as new. Well, as good as new for someone who was supposed to be resting her legs so her hips don’t fall off on mile eight anyway.

But I did what was good for me, which was the right thing to do, and which is still something I’m learning to do.

So now there’s a pain in my hip and four days to the race, and you know what? I’m going to get good and mad at it and I’m going to take that sucker down.

Rest in peace, sir, and thank you.

Many days, I think that depression can’t be beaten, can’t be controlled, can barely be contained.
This is one of those days.
Robin Williams is reported to have committed suicide.

He was a crazy alien who always found something to love about humanity when I was a child.
He was the teacher who pushed his students though – and beyond – the breaking point of experiencing life.
He was the father that forgot, then remembered, he was the boy who wouldn’t grow up.
He was the man who said, “it’s not your fault,” and made me believe that maybe it wasn’t.
He was the stand-up comic who made me laugh at pain and drugs and alcoholism and sexuality and all those things that a young woman is trying to figure out in the world.
Whether it was good parenting on my folks’ part or good timing on mine, I couldn’t say, but I never saw a character that Robin Williams played that didn’t keep that spark of hope that we are good people who do the right thing alive.
His irreverence made me feel alive.
It is almost unthinkable that such a man would ever consider extinguishing his light.

And yet.

And yet there are the dark days.
The demons are sitting on my chest, whispering in my ears that nothing is worth the effort, painting my eyes with blackened brushes.
The monsters in my heart are calling for me to bury my feelings in anything, food, drugs, sleep, anything that will stop my muscles from aching and my heart from shattering.
The bastard voices in my head are detailing everything that will go wrong, magnifying every fear and every pain.

On those days it’s a miracle that any one of us survives.

I accept my depression because I know it isn’t my fault. The chemicals in my brain aren’t balanced the way I would prefer.

I accept that my broken brain leads me to feel things differently, to approach them differently, to value them not the way that others do.
I prefer to take medication that helps my brain feel and do things more normally.
I understand that some may not.
I understand sometimes the medication doesn’t work.
I’ve learned both of those lessons during a dark spiral that tore my world apart.
Every day I have to accept my depression again, have to choose irreverence over darkness and life over silence.
By the time I’m 63, maybe I too will no longer want to fight.
I hope I will.
I hope I’ll continue to seize the day.
I hope.

But O heart! heart! heart!
O the bleeding drops of red,
Where on the deck my Captain lies,
Fallen cold and dead.

If you ever feel like suicide might be an option, please talk to someone. The National Suicide Prevention Hotline will talk to you online or over the phone. No matter what problems you are dealing with, they want to help you find a reason to keep living. By calling 1-800-273-TALK (8255) you’ll be connected to a skilled, trained counselor at a crisis center in your area, anytime 24/7.

Vote for a boat (anchor)

My dad was a Lightship Sailor with the Coast Guard. Not only is Dad no longer a Lightship Sailor, but all of the Lightships have been decommissioned. They’ve been replaced by unmanned buoys.

The Lightship Sailors Association works with the Portsmouth, VA Naval Shipyard to preserve and protect lightships and historical memorabilia at the Lightship Museum.

The Virginia Association of Museums is accepting votes for the Top 10 Endangered Artifacts to help raise awareness (and funds) toward saving some of the state’s historical artifacts. The Lightship Museum has a mushroom anchor on the list.

Please visit, check out the artifacts, vote for the mushroom anchor, and consider making a gift to the museum. (Or for that matter, any museum. Museums are important.)

Sherlock Holmes and the Swamp Thing Bigfoot

Sherlock Holmes and I worked to solve a mystery of a dead camper in the Adirondacks. We found some unusual tracks and marks… Eventually we traced them back to a society of indigenous Neanderthals and/or Bigfoot that live near Lake Placid.

They’re much bigger and taller than us, with fur-like body hair, but they wear animal skins for clothing and have a democratic society. They’re rarely seen because they can also breathe water, so if pursued they just walk out into the lake and stand on the bottom until the pursuers go away. They can make their skin fluoresce on command, so they don’t need fire to see or move through the water or the heavy forests.

One of their children accidentally killed the camper. I sobbed. I don’t remember how Sherlock decided that we were going to resolve the case, only that we couldn’t take this tiny confused person out of their society into ours for punishment.

That covers about a third of my dreams last night but the act of writing it down erased the rest.

I wish dreaming burned calories. I’d weigh 90 lbs soaking wet and eat half a moose daily.

Spring

Been a while since I’ve posted. Have a piece of fiction!


I stepped into the waiting room from the back of the office and tried not to rub the injection site. The fluorescent ceiling lamps tried to cheer the windowless space, but instead just reflected off the sanitized vinyl-covered chairs and dated glossy magazine covers.

An old man dressed in shabby jeans and a worn-out flannel shirt slouched in the corner seat. His hands hung over the arms of the chair. He was slumped so far down as to almost rest his head on the seat back, but his left sneaker tapped impatiently.

I sat down in the chair nearest the examining area door, set down my timer on the side table, and picked up a magazine to leaf through. Before I could open past the front cover, my eyes watered up and I sneezed one of those thick watery sneezes that you know has covered you with slime.

I reached for the packet of tissues in my pocket, but it was empty. I sighed.

“Need some of these, then?” The old man stood next to me, holding out a box of tissues. I nodded gratefully and took a few. “Nasty cold?” he asked.

“Something like that,” I replied, glancing at the timer.

“Ah. Allergy shots. Me too,” he said. He lifted a small digital timer matching mine out of the breast pocket of the flannel shirt.

“We picked a lousy day to be stuck in a waiting room for thirty minutes. It’s beautiful out,” I commented with a nod toward the medical center’s lobby. The weather was the general topic of choice among the allergy shot patients in the waiting room most days.

“Well, it’s warming up finally. I’ll give it that,” he said. Today was the first day since the January thaw that we’d been able to go outside without a heavy coat.

I smiled. “Thank the gods for spring, huh?”

At this the old man’s brow furrowed, “You mean summer, surely,” he said. His crisp blue eyes cut into me.

“Nah, winter’s too cold for me, and summer too hot. I’m all about the spring,” I smiled. Quickly I grabbed another handful of tissues, and sneezed again. “Fall’s too depressing. Spring is just right.”

The man’s frown deepened and he sat down in the chair next to me, glancing at the clock as he did. Lowering his voice he said, “I don’t know how you could say that if you’d met him.”

“Met him?” I asked.

He leaned in, lowering his voice again. “I’ve met Spring, and he’s a real rat bastard, that one is. You can tell me all you want about how you can’t wait for him to arrive, but honestly I’d rather he skipped us altogether and let Summer come right in just as early as possible.”

“You mean the season?” I asked, wondering for a moment whether the gentleman belonged in the psychiatry office down the hall. He rolled the sleeves of his flannel shirt up so that he could scratch at the welts that were forming at the injection sites on his biceps. I recognized a faded tattoo of the Sign of the Solstice on his sinewed arm. Not wanting to offend his religion, but curious, I replied, “Isn’t Spring…um… female?”

The old man laughed, the deep but steady sound belying his age. “So you’ve never met him but you know I’ve got it wrong, eh? Mother Nature and all that?”

I nodded. “I mean no offense-”

“Yeah, that’s the story they’ve sold you,” he continued as if I had not spoken, “but that’s not how it actually goes down.” He caught himself scratching the welt on his left arm and pulled his hand away in guilt.

“Think about it,” he said, pointing a bony finger at me. “Women like to get their shit organized before they settle down and build a nest. They’re in it for the long haul. Population dynamics and all that. Doesn’t pay to burn all those calories making a creature you’re just going to starve to death in a matter of weeks. And March? Not really a good time to feed the kiddies. That’s why you fill the bird feeders in spring. None of the plants have produced fruit, the new growth is too young to really fill the stomach, and the prey animals are all skin and bones themselves. Nope, women have their shit together way too well to be running spring. Mother Nature’s first name is Autumn.” The man nodded to himself, then continued.

“But Spring, his first name is Randy. He is all about sowing his wild oats. Sex and booze are all he cares about.”

I raised an eyebrow, and wondered if it was safe for me to sit next to this man. He put up his hands and smiled. “No, I mean literally. Don’t give me that look. Spring was the first one to use the wind to fertilize living organisms.”

“You mean pollination?” I asked.

“Well, spore fertilization first, but eventually pollination. These things take time to develop.”

If this was a creation myth, it was the most intriguing one I had heard in my five years as an anthropologist. I considered pulling my phone out to record the conversation, but the stern “NO CELL PHONE USE IN THE WAITING ROOM” signs that hung on every wall stared down at me. “Okay,” I replied, “Why?”

“Why? Well to make yeast and apples and corn, of course. Randy — I mean Spring — he’s a huge fan of brewing his own beer and wine and cider. Home brewing, though obviously it was the only kind available when he was growing up. He was the first one that figured out when the earth starts to warm, the wind gets to blowing, and a few well-placed stamen and pistil results in a quite literal orgy of tree and grass sex across the land. The rampant sexual conquests of all plant-kind in spring directly results in bumper crops of home brew by November, and Spring spends the cold months on a bender that would make a frat boy blush. It’s no wonder we can’t get consistent weather this time of year with him nursing a home brew hangover and horny as hell when he’s sobered up.”

Despite my misgivings, I smiled.

“Problem is he’s got a chip on his shoulder against anything that moves on its own. If it eats his plants, or it steps on them, or if it contaminates the brewing process….” He ticked the offenses off on his fingers. “Spring bitched and complained for years about the animals eating up all the new growth on the grasses and flowers and bushes just when his personal pornographic show time was just getting good, but the other seasons, who put a lot of time and effort into planning those births and those hatches and those colony awakenings months before, told him to kiss off. It was bad news to tangle with an angry Autumn. And Randy has other ways to deal with too many herd animals. If some flock of sheep got out of hand, he infected the grasses with fungus and they all died off anyway.”

“You’re telling me that Spring kills off baby lambs if he thinks there’s too many of them? Spring?”

The old man waved his hands to signal for silence. “Yes, he kills cute little lambs for ruining his whiskey. I did say he was an asshole,” he hissed. “But for Moon’s sake lower your voice so you don’t draw his attention. Spring hates humans. Hates us. We’ve spent centuries now domesticating his wild oats and apples and grapes, and feeding them to the animals.”

He tapped me on the arm that rested on the chair. “Get this. He claims we’ve taken the ‘bite’ out of his home brew. He used to have to store it in ceramic because it would eat through glass bottles in under a season, and now it won’t even etch the glass. When he figured that out, he tried to adjust the weather patterns so that the whole human race would be confined to caves until it was too late to plant spring crops.”

“Did it work?”

The old man shrugged. He glanced into his shirt pocket to check the time left. No patient was allowed to leave the office until the allergy shots had been in their system 30 minutes. “He’s really only pulled it off up in Minnesota and Toronto. I hear he’s still working on Boston.”

The man rubbed at the tattoo on his forearm thoughtfully. “You know, he could’ve tried talking to us about it. There were plenty of tribes back in the day who would’ve kept hunting and gathering for a cut of the brew. But Spring’s too self-obsessed to consider us lowly humans as worthy of parlay.”

“After a long time of thinking much harder than he should have needed to — I think the climatologists called it the Wisconsinan glaciation, because Spring just never showed up in these parts — he decided that he’d play the long game. He came up with a plan that lets him gets his rocks off watching the plants pole dance while simultaneously making the rest of us miserable, until eventually it’ll kill us.”

“Yeah?” I asked, now fully immersed in the tale, despite my desire to stay objective. “What’s the plan, and why haven’t I noticed it?”

The old man broke into a broad grin. He pointed at my timer. “Allergies, of course. Have you noticed every generation has them worse than the last?”

This time I was the one surprised. “I thought we were causing them by keeping our environment too clean.”

“All lies. Spring found a way to make us allergic to plants just by exposing us every year to small doses of pollen. It’s the ultimate in microscopic warfare against our own immune systems. Spring thinks it’s his best work. Now, instead of spending our time outside growing plants, we’re inside our caves. We intentionally inject ourselves tiny doses of pollen to keep from dying because Spring is infecting us with small doses of pollen to slowly kill us. You say what you want about how much you love spring. I’d rather he stay drunk on cider so Winter can pass the torch straight to Summer and we can enjoy ourselves for once. In fact, the Committee–”

The old man’s timer began its shrill alarm. As he pulled it out of his pocket, the door opened, and the nurse called out, “Mr. Greenstone? The allergist will see you now.” The old man nodded and rose from the chair.

“Thank you — for the tissues, and the story.” I called after him. He turned and faced me, nodded, raised a finger to his lips, then stepped away.

As the door closed behind him, I sneezed again. I blew my nose, then reached up and ran my fingers over the injection spots on each of my arms. They were both the size of golf balls. I began to wonder whether perhaps there was something to be said for skipping straight to summer after all.

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