Beautiful Family

“Your beauty is in the way your hair moves, and the smile you give to everyone. Even when you really don’t care for them and I know it’s not a real smile, you still do it. And I love the fact that your eyes sparkle when you’re being a shit. I see beauty in your brown coat that you’ve had for so long and you love and you’re comfortable with and it’s beautiful.” —Beth, Oct. 7, 2017

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Last Christmas, my friend Beth came over to do our first family photos — indoors, which you see here.

The session was quick and painless, taken around our house around the holidays, kind of on the fly. I know Beth from a church we both attended back when our children were babies, and I trust her.

Except for our son James, 15, we’re not very photogenic. We’re aren’t family photo session people, either. Both James and Ed would rather get a root canal than have their pictures taken. But after the hell we’ve gone through the past three years, I feel we deserved this; we needed to celebrate our casual, oddball family unit in a way that we can concretely look back on, with fondness, and maybe share with a handful of others who care about us.

I’m about 20 pounds overweight from where I’d like to be. I could lose 50 more pounds, to tell you the truth. But I figured if I don’t do the pictures now, I never will  — to hell with waiting until I’ve got my act together, the story of my life.

Around the tail-end of summer, I decided to engage another photographer friend for an outdoor session. She’s a fellow soccer mom with a thriving business, M.E. Life Photography.

I tried to drop the 10-20 pounds I gained from our Labor Day Weekend trip to Montana, in time for the outdoor family photo session with Meghan. In vain, of course.

Because I’d broken my eyeglasses the night before, I wasn’t in the right frame of mind to remember to thoroughly prepare for our photo session later the next day.

The session in front of our house two weeks ago was fun, actually. Meghan allowed us to goof around, at one point asking us to yell our favorite curse word (“Fuck!”). My best friend Gen even came out of her house in the same cul de sac to join me for an impromptu shot or two.

Meghan texted me one of the shots — the proofs will be ready in two weeks after she settles in her new house — and said they turned out awesome.

I only saw the flaws: my sagging boobs, the left one lower than the right, why did I wear that tight blue pullover sweater? why didn’t I wear a support bra? I forgot to take off my Depend adult diaper! I look like a fat freak with a flaccid penis…

She insisted I looked great, as did the rest of my family. We looked natural, real. My son’s red Calvin Klein underwear was showing, but his smile lit up the neighborhood. My husband’s entire face crinkled in one huge grin, completely for the first time in his life taken by surprise. I leaned into my son, caught mid-laugh, like the three of us were sharing an inside joke.

We weren’t even looking into the camera.

Meghan did a damned good job of capturing us, as is. She photographed the Weber clan with love, as a friend would, just as Beth did last December.

For the first time in my life, I began to believe someone else’s narrative. I began to believe her when she said that we looked happy, and that’s what matters.

I began to see myself through her eyes, Beth’s too. And let me tell you, it wasn’t an ugly sight.

I’ll show you when we get the proofs.

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Stephen King’s “Joyland”

sieve memory sieve, back on a blank page with my futile good girl intentions

they rape only the beautiful ones with teeny tiny waists, big, silicone breasts, and an eye for Donna Karan, I know because I am not

starry eyed models line up single file, Malibu Barbie and Ken dolls in whatever fashion whores the Maker

I am gone, acceptance speech, erased

I hate the make-up, the foul stench of Nair and Net, your bleeding vaginal yeast a patent on clones, bondage foreign snuff films from my mother or our babysitter, one and the same

on the last page, I cry for a boy who doesn’t exist

I watch them watch his kite sail in the air above “a sunny day in April of 1974,” when my fiction first began. It was beautiful and poignant and so very Hollywood, movie-ready after the money men and their hired guns put the finishing touches on the happy ending with a liberal slant. Their media masks back in place.

Everything is a lie.

 

10 Percent Different

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Photo by Takahiro Sakamoto on Unsplash

I had to laugh. My son posted a SnapChat of his hospital bracelet with, “Fuck my breathing.”

He’s about 10 percent improved from his last checkup three months ago.

We sat in an examining room at a Seattle Children’s clinic when he said, “I really hate these breathing tests [PFT].” He always looks like a little boy, trying very hard to be brave when we go.

I smiled at him, feeling tears welling up. He saw my emotion and forgot his own anxiety. We both remembered the many back-to-back ER trips, staring at each other, an unanswered question between us.

I kissed the top of his head. He let me. We joked around. Normal shit.

His Pulmonary doctor showed up after the breathing test. “Improved breathing from last time. Not ideal but I like that it’s 10 percent better. That means your two puffs twice a day is working. Keep it up,” he said.

He asked us routine questions, based on my son’s initial uncontrollable asthma attacks three years ago.

James said that he didn’t need his rescue inhaler, he hasn’t been coughing in the middle of the night or any other time, he recently survived a cold without needing to go to the ER, no Prednisone. Out of the ordinary for a case like his.

His doctor couldn’t believe it. He seemed quite baffled. He stared at us a couple of times, as if we were lying.

“You don’t need an inhaler before exercise?”

“No.”

“What sports do you play?”

“Basketball and Premier soccer.”

“And no shortness of breath?”

“Nope.”

“Huh.”

I don’t understand it either. I’m just grateful. Very grateful.

My son’s never behaved typically. He was always a step or two behind other kids in growth development, whether it was riding a bike, kicking a ball, and speaking in complete sentences, or writing his name in cursive, reading a book, and eating foods beyond the toddler toast phase.

(A nurse once questioned me after noticing a few autistic red flags in my infant son: the hand waving, hating to be hugged, always crying.)

Why would asthma be any different?

When the checkup ended, I felt the urge to turn left instead of right to buy a green tea latte and a slice of pumpkin bread from Starbucks — knee-jerk from the many previous hospital trips when we were in fear for our lives. But I went right toward the exit, instead, laughing at the thought of my son as the hype guy for his school, which is what his counselor recently suggested.

Normal life. For now.

Bad Attitude

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Photo by Nick Hillier on Unsplash

this one bites, that one barks at the moon, is that a leopard?

eenie meenie miney mo, the one-hit wonder sounds the same as the legend

he still looks stupid bouncing behind his guitar

I hate everyone now you will see I am a better actress than the one you fell in love with rubbing her out with every affirmation in 140 words or less

no you can’t read the plot of my demise your discomfiture by spotlight, it is Marc Anthony, not the celebrity death du jour tomato soup for lemonade you will never see me coming they almost took my life my family my my my must be careful with mental fiction

as the sun peaks over the horizon somewhere far away Brisbane Aiea Tampa why not I wear your hand-me-downs, use the gifts you hand-picked for yourselves with my name scratched over the recycled tag, as thoughtless and ignorant as the day I checked my bags

leaving security for a panting, sweaty five inches of pulp fiction

some for simply breathing, eating with a fork not a spoon, the common way he said a word, how she always brought the conversation — we haven’t seen each other in months — back to herself, their Silpada excuses for fellowship

oh, that bright November morning when Mr. High Horse showed (off) his godless porn, hijacking Matthew for Catechism when none of us really wanted to suck dick, it’s a numbers game, and our number was up

close doors, close chapters, close my accounts, I will soon be left with nothing but the shit on my back, and the memories I managed to keep during my garbage dumps

I’m sick of Marc Anthony now, but you didn’t know that, did you?

checking out with five books, no date

Sun Over Marymoor

 

Photo by Hanny Naibaho on Unsplash

The sun always comes with consequences. The burn of blistering skin cancer that always kills you between courses, just as you work up an appetite for the first time in 20 years.

I enjoyed the sun playing tricks with summer and fall, in the digital photos I click in a thumbnail box on an LG screen one by one. Hours later, skipping sleep. My entire life experienced in status updates, tweets, and video uploads.

Soon, I promise to sit with the other parents and remember when you lay in the hospital bed afraid to move, as the best nurses and doctors gathered with their notepads and their Prednisone shots, with a wrinkled, metallic soccer balloon floating above the wires and the tubes in this sterile sunlit room by the little park wealthy patrons bought and paid for.

Today, I ate the last meal of the condemned, not knowing if my hunger would ever end. I ate for tomorrow and the next day, and the holidays in between this eternal waiting.

Somewhere in the distance of this four-lane collision, people died. A helpless passenger stuck between Bellevue and Totem Lake pissed into a half-empty Kleenex box. Because of the cancer. Febreeze and baby wipes should remove most of the stink.

American Girl

Photo by Steve Halama on Unsplash

The girl who raced horses in Big Sky Montana sits absolutely still, save for her shaking doll hands. Stuck behind the smoking wreck of her well-intentioned life, thoughts and memories merge into the grey dusk of this popular town. A lone bee doesn’t know summer’s over.

The Northwest rain is unforgiving. Fat, cold drops keep her from thinking straight. Her 360 finished the job. She wishes she could go home again.

Leave it.

Tom Petty’s hard-fought radio hit leaves a strange yearning sensation as shoppers slip and slide to their parking spaces from a nearby mall.

She wishes she could fly fly away before these strangers see her cry.

There is no one left to trust.

There is no one left to save her.

 

Mad, Fake World

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Photo by Kayla Velasquez on Unsplash

In this world of fake news, nothing is real.

For someone who grew up in a Master Class of Fake, that is devastating, a game-changer.

After the Vegas shooting, conspiracy theorists everywhere took to social media to spread the message that this wasn’t real, that this was, in fact (LOL), another elaborate government-orchestrated fabrication designed to push a political agenda. And nobody blinked.

(Granted, they were probably too busy making their own YouTube monetizers to notice.)

Buzz surrounding the Vegas shooting resurrected Sandy Hook. Truthers had the audacity to accuse survivors — parents, First-Responders, other authorities — of faking the shooting or worse to score a win for gun control in D.C. Like humanity was nothing more than an end game.

What? How are these people going on the record about such slanderous accusations, and not getting sued?

I’m constantly amazed at the new playbook of the 21st century, where it’s okay to post anything you want without legal repercussion. I mean, Madonna and a host of celebrities of her kind went on public record against Trump, going so far as to admit they’ve thought of doing away with him, in so many words.

In the 1970s, if any of them were caught stating this publicly, they’d be hauled off to court and/or prison, no questions asked.

Seems every major news event is a Hollywood production in disguise, the byproduct of a record-breaking proliferation of attention whores and Narcissists unleashed into an unsuspecting universe.

Everything you do in life requires a rating and a survey. WTF is this bullshit?

It’s to the point where I don’t trust anything anybody says, and I’m already fairly cynical about the authenticity of the human race in general (see my shitty upbringing).

You don’t believe me?

My brother calls. Not to see how I’m doing. Not to tell me he loves me. But because he needs me to facilitate a new cell phone transfer to my husband’s family plan.

FYI, I re-joined Facebook a few years ago, so I could keep in contact with him and his then-newly married wife on their latest after they moved in with my mom in Hawaii. I left Facebook a second and final time (I only use my husband’s now) after seeing that I will never get a real moment with them.

When my son landed in the ER three-five times in the span of two months three years ago and my husband was scared sick from his bladder cancer diagnosis two short years ago… radio fucking silence from my crew. I had to pick up the phone and tell them, practically beg them to give a damn. My mother reacted as if I were reciting my grocery list.

I can’t even take what you tell me for granted, even if I see the event with my own eyes. Because images can be doctored, minds can be reformulated with chem-trails, or so they say.

Nowadays, every historical event seems up for scrutiny as ever having happened, including the Moon landing, the Holocaust, wars, deaths. The Flat Earth theory is even getting around.

Ever hear of the Mandela Effect? Even the ever-changing past is up for grabs. Absolutely ridiculous.

Used to be that we’d watch news anchors report on events as facts, and call it a day. Not anymore. We question everything, because we’ve become self-aggrandizing, lying, manipulative, deceptive Facebook-using attention whores.

Nobody believes anybody anymore. We’re too busy with politics, protecting our side, to be polite, to listen, to compromise, to look outside ourselves, to be human for fuck’s sake.

No wonder the entire world’s become a branding machine, everyone in it for themselves and their 15 minutes of reality fame, pitching love like the next big thing, instead of living meaningful lives, instead of connecting with one another the way we’re supposed to… the way I thought we used to.

Personally, I feel like dumping 99.9 percent of the people I know based on their bullshit social media updates. On a particularly bad day, like today, I feel like dumping a whole shitload of truth on them in front of everyone until they’re completely and utterly ripped to shreds, standing naked like the pathetic fuck-ups they really are before a merciless grand jury of their peers.

I can’t find one mention via Google search of misanthropy where you feel physically sick to your stomach just looking at smiling, happy total bullshit pictures of these fake motherfuckers. This one looks like she’s been ridden hard by every aging cowboy in town. That one probably smells like semen-encrusted tilapia and gum disease.

I don’t like this world very much. I often question why I ever came here (if you believe that we chose our paths before we were born), if it’s gonna turn into this colossal shit show, where the winners are douchebags and the losers are placing bets on which one of them can spread their jewels widest for a piece of that tainted prick.

What really scares the hell out of me is wondering if my entire life has been a lie — an elaborate, fantastic fabrication designed solely to advance the agenda of a soulless regime of Narcissists bent on power.

Isn’t that a kick in the head?

Why I Stopped Baking for Teacher Appreciation Day

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Photo by Paul Bergmeir on Unsplash

My son used to love school. Now, he says it’s a prison.

It’s #WorldTeacherDay on social media, where we’re supposed to celebrate teachers who changed our lives.

Excuse me while I laugh my ass off.

James was a model student, a sponge. He worshiped his teachers, tried very hard to please them, follow the rules, sit quietly, only speak when spoken to, stay in a straight line, blah blah blah.

Somewhere in the middle of middle school, things began to change. He kept most of the drama to himself, being a typical teenaged boy. He also didn’t want to burden me, believing he could handle it on his own. For the most part, he did very well.

He should’ve been given a Medal of Valor for the bullshit he’s been put through.

He is his father’s son. The kid doesn’t suffer fools gladly. He’ll take so much before he pushes back. He’s had to do this so many times, in order to survive and make it to the next grade, not to mention shield his friends from humorless drones on the hallway monitoring warpath, etc. — with the administration, teachers, and classmates.

Unfortunately, he’s no match for government bureaucracy. Nobody (sane) is.

In hindsight, he’s admitted that his second grade teacher hated him, his fourth grade teacher didn’t have much use for him either. I was in those classes a lot, volunteering with paperwork and at holiday parties and field trips. I found the second grade teacher to be a bit of a cold fucking bitch. The fourth grade teacher wasn’t that much better.

His fifth grade teacher really enjoyed having my son in her class, however. Then, something must’ve happened to her, because I heard from other kids in middle school that she turned into another raving bitch. She even allegedly got into a nasty verbal fight with one of the middle schoolers when she transferred over as the librarian.

My son just looked sad. Like he knew it would happen, inevitably. Everybody gets swallowed up by the system.

His middle school years were a nightmare, a testing ground, a veritable Lord of the Flies. These were the years that revealed who had the stamina to withstand the bullshit, and who would crack (understandably). Fortunately, my son is a survivor; that came from me.

He clashed with every other staff member or teacher. Most of them treated the students like a case number, or they so obviously favored certain ones over others. My son never figured out what the criteria was. He gave up trying. He wasn’t particularly favored, let’s just say. Maybe he spoke up for himself too much, maybe his parents weren’t rich, privileged, and powerful enough in this rich, privileged town.

His band teachers were blowhards, half the time the students ran the overcrowded, much neglected classes. His 6th grade Math teacher (and beloved counselor, no lie) hated him on sight, I saw that for myself. Same with the Science teacher in 7th grade, who acted like a total dick.

I didn’t have great teachers growing up, but none of them were as bad as this fucked-up group, and from a supposedly high-rated school. So, WTF?

My son’s grades reflected the disparity in the teachers’ ability to deal with every student fairly. He’s not a dumb kid, either. Yet, he still earned every A and B.

But you have to be better than just book smart. You have to be street smart, able to channel a Narcissist’s skill in exploiting people’s weaknesses and appealing to their strengths. I hate to say this, but a lot depends on a kid’s ability to navigate a world of dysfunctional to his/her own advantage.

My son learned real quick to sublimate his strong personality to get along, as distasteful as it was to him, when to pick his battles. Or else.

He learned the hard way what happens to kids who refuse to tow the line. I personally know of a handful of very good, smart kids who turned. They became drug dealers, they dropped out, they transferred to another school in hopes the teachers there were better (in one instance, they were).

The high school my son goes to now suffers from a terrible reputation for drug abuse, bullying, cyber-bullying, elitism, and suicide. It’s well-deserved, too.

If my son thought middle school was hell, high school was 10 times worse.

His first year was a trial by fire. One of his teachers wrote him up for being tardy in the first quarter when he was just using the restroom first thing. She let her students grab the pass near her desk. At the time, he said her back was to him and she didn’t see. So, naturally, she assumed he was late to class. When I explained what he said to me, she didn’t give a shit, James was late, but a good kid, don’t worry about it.

Then, she wrote him up for a referral for cheating, a warning, claiming that she had to because of the rules. He was so shook up that he didn’t think to defend himself. He just sat there while she sternly explained what he did and what she was about to do. If I hadn’t intervened and insisted on a meeting with her and the administration the following week, I don’t think he’d ever have been able to give his side of the story.

Keep in mind that my son never had any cheating accusation lodged against him in the entire history of his attending school. He also maintained a straight-A average as a freshman, zero problems with his other teachers.

The incident in question involved two other students copying off his homework assignment, due that day. He surmised that he’d gone to use the restroom while one of them swiped his homework to copy off. The other student simply asked, and he handed his paper over, thinking the kid was only looking it over to make sure he understood how the assignment was done. This was a practice they were encouraged to follow throughout elementary and middle school, btw.

At the meeting, we were told that if it was just the one student swiping his paper, James would’ve been fine. But he willingly handed over his work to another student. That meant he was enabling the cheating. It didn’t matter if he swore up and down that he was sharing his homework just to show his friend how to do it.

Think about that for a minute.

It didn’t matter what my son said in his defense. He was guilty, period. Zero tolerance.

My husband and I asked what would happen if classmates took our son’s work without his permission. How the hell is he supposed to protect himself then? He can’t control the behavior of others.

We were advised to have him insist that they do their own work and see the teacher with any questions. Furthermore, he is to keep his work on his person, even when going to the restroom. Sounds like a prison, doesn’t it?

All of this was in the teacher’s syllabus, which we didn’t have time to memorize…you know, what with our own jobs, appointments, and other obligations. (We get a syllabus from every class, averaging three to four pages in length, going over every detail from the amount of hiccups allowed to bathroom breaks — only half kidding.)

My son told me later that he went around and asked a few other foreign language teachers what their process was, if they had a problem with sharing assignments. They did not. Just this one, apparently.

That’s just a sample from his freshman year.

This year, it’s even more unimaginable, if that’s possible.

He isn’t sure if it’s just the one teacher or a new school policy, but there are only four days of absences allowed per trimester, before he has to go to the teacher for make-up work. If a teacher announces that there will be a Fri. test on Wed., and he’s sick on Thurs., he still has to take the test the next day. There is no one-day grace period.

There is no grace.

Cue the epidemic.

I’ve seen kids vomiting on the lawn moments before entering the hallowed gates of learning. Kids sounding like they needed an iron lung.

But by all means, let’s not miss one minute of school, lest we force the unionized teachers into working past their allotted minimum wage.

A kid like mine with asthma could land in the ER.

Forget staying home with a cold or flu, or anything. Forget making doctor’s or dentist’s appointments until after 2:30 p.m. during the week. Make sure nobody in your immediate and extended family drops dead; we can’t afford the mourning. Pray to G-d your kid doesn’t break any bones or suffers a serious concussion, or heaven forbid, much worse. Forget a life Monday through Friday, because school is a modern-day internment camp — except the lives they destroy and the spirits they kill are from the inside out.

My son barely has time to eat his lunch. I used to get 40 minutes, not including the second recess (yes, high school) in the late 1970s. My son gets 30, after getting through a long line that takes 10.

He can’t keep snacks in his locker because the school scheduled his classes in such a way that he literally has to race from one to another across campus.

He’s in a pilot honors Math class where the teacher doesn’t seem to know what the fuck she’s doing and the kids are so miserable and lost that more than a few have broken down with tears of frustration. This Math class is effectively killing his enjoyment of the only subject in school he ever gave a damn about, the only subject he feels he’s really good at.

His sophomore Spanish teacher won’t call on him when he raises his hand, so now he’s got a “C” for the participation part of the class. The first week, this teacher rapid-fire rattled off whatever the fuck it was in Spanish without stopping to explain shit, so the kids were totally in over their heads.

These are the bright spots. The other classes are boring af. At least they offered the students a chance to sleep.

Recently, they had to watch a suicide prevention video, which my son said was a total joke. I can only imagine the sanitized, after school special that shit show turned out to be.

When my son gets home after school, he heads straight into his bedroom to sleep. His only outlet is weekend soccer, video games, and the Friday Night Lights of Varsity football, where he gets to socialize with his friends.

So, you’ll forgive me if I don’t celebrate #WorldTeacherDay or #NationalTeacherAppreciation.

I’ll bake my scratch pumpkin bread and chocolate chunk cookies for the more deserving, like my son’s soccer teammates after their matches, and friends who’ve stepped up whenever I’ve needed them.

Flyer

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Before the world rushed in.

I’ve learned to study your face in seconds before a storm. The time you kept falling on the grass while dad buried his own father in paperwork, the stoic look that threatened to turn before you’d ever let me hold you.

My little nature boy, on the teetering edge of a spectrum disorder.

That first night you stood guard in the house of the damned, all you could say in your shaky two-year-old voice, “Sound!” It’s just us, buddy, your blanket, and my ghosts.

You’re almost 16 now, this full-grown badass in Hollister and Nike, blending in with the rest of the crowd trying not to stand out too much. We stand side by side in the middle of the road, smiling for the camera.

After all these years, I can still see what breaks you: the cool rejection of the coolest kid on the block — the one everyone says is an asshole, the one who taught you soccer, gave you the condensed diss tape of every teacher a grade ahead, and once almost made you cry when you thought he hated you. Maybe he did.

People tend to do that.

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I watch you watching these boyhood friends you thought would never leave, go without a backward glance — it’s the same indifference you work so hard to perfect when I ask how school was, or when I cry because you almost convince me that you don’t care.

One day last week, you confided in me, as an afterthought before the punchline, “Mom, you know I never got over that reading specialist who labeled me developmentally disabled for the rest of my life. I was in kindergarten! Ever since then, I get mad when anyone calls me stupid. Dumbass is okay, but stupid… I’m not stupid.”

Should I have gone back in time and called that woman worse? Maybe overturned her desk? Lodged a formal complaint?

Then the next, and the next, and the next… That’s how this world works.

A highly regarded, award-winning reading specialist in her field could only give us five or 10 minutes of her time to scare our only child, and make him feel stupid in front of another parent waiting with her daughter and his classmate in this office full of open cubicles in the house of the Lord. A fucking church I will never forgive.

This fucking bitch, your tin god, doles out a lifetime sentence to an innocent, fun-loving, earnest little boy who once charmed an entire floor of nurses. He could make strangers at a Costco smile. The moment he talked, giggled, said, “I love you, mommy,” I thought I could fly.

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I wish I could tuck him in, under my wings, fly fly all the way back to the park by the baseball fields where he split a gut laughing at the magician, the first time he saw a beach in Maui, Santa Claus, oh he believed, believed with everything in him — until some overly-caffeinated kid who thought cat was spelled with a K came and corrupted him … on YouTube and video games. For Christ’s sakes.

Funny, I never really hear him laugh out loud anymore. I think kids beat it out of each other with their soulless definition of popular. He used to laugh so easily. He used to love to laugh.

What was I like before the world broke me? Was I fun, fearless? happy? When did I hide inside myself? At seven? In 8th grade when I ate lunch sitting on the broken toilet in the last stall, reading a book about the scared pitcher from the 1950s in the 1970s?

One day, I believe after I’ve died, my spirit will rest in my grown son’s pocket as he races down the Autobahn in his shiny new Lamborghini with his ride or die. Oh, and he’ll laugh and laugh and laugh, like he used to, and no one will dare make fun of him, or call him stupid.

99.5% won’t be able to do it

They showed me the distance from my stand to my soul. I asked, Would I miss very much? The equivalent of the pain index.

It’s your soul, child. You’ve been distant for too long. Would it be so wrong to come back?

I grow attached. It’s been too long here, here where I am no longer fixing breakfast for your families but waiting for them to turn out the light. Each star dims, I count the ones that lead the way toward a familiar bridge, a bridge I’d almost forgotten.

My soul, I’m coming home soon.

dream, Oct. 1, 2017