Homepage Summer 2015

 

Cover Image_mt-diablo-poppies
“Mt. Diable Poppies” by Allen Forrest, oil on canvas

Dear Readers,

Welcome to our Summer 2015 “ON THE LINE” issue. We’re incredibly proud to present to you the wonderful and diverse array of voices in this issue, all complemented by the beautiful artwork of Allen Forrest which he has graciously donated for this issue.

I’m thrilled with the way everything came together for this issue.  A big thank you to my devoted editors and readers and especially to our contributors who trusted us to bring their work out into the world. Also, thanks for the gorgeous artwork, Allen Forrest. You made each piece pop just a little bit more.

Our October themed issue will be GOODWILL and our January issue will have the theme of FLAME. As always, thanks for reading.

Yours in Recovery,

Mary Akers
Editor-in-chief

Wish Me Well by Andrew Hahn

Wish Me Well_seattle-asiatown-the-shoppers-7th-ave-s-near-s-weller-stt
“Seattle Asia Town Shoppers,” by Allen Forrest, oil on canvas

I had my first panic attack late September 2012 my senior year of college. I forgot about Spanish homework until I got to class and my friend Kidder asked if I understood a question on the assignment.

“Um, what?” I said.

“We had homework,” she said with a little head nod and a little grace.

I frantically pulled out my course syllabus and flipped today’s date. We did have homework. I hated when the professor called on me and I stumbled through an answer, so I pulled out my textbook and flipped to the back where all the answers were. I started to write the answer to question one, but my hand couldn’t make it past the first word without messing it up—ella.

My body tightened up. My heart raced like I was running.

Ella.

I couldn’t breathe properly. My vision went in and out of focus like apertures. My heart palpitated. I thought it was going to explode. My hands. armpits, and back started sweating. I wiped my hands rhythmically on my thighs. 1-and-2-and-3-and-4-and on top of my skinny jeans. My sweat stains showed through my oxford shirt. The room was spinning, like I spun my head around on a bat, and I realized that I wasn’t okay to be sitting in a classroom for the next hour thinking I’m walking the balance beam of my body exploding.

My belongings thudded in my bag as I sloppily tossed them in.

“I’m skipping class,” I said.

My few friends in the class all scrunched their brows. “Are you okay?”

“I’m not sure,” I said picking up my bag and racing out of the classroom.

~

I made a counseling appointment one day while I was on break at work, walking around the parking lot outside. I kicked all the small sticks and stones I came across to see how far I could send them.

“Thank you for calling Wishing You Well Counseling. How can I help you today?” She was happy and helpful like you’d expect someone at a counseling office to be.

“Hi,” I said. “I’d like to make an appointment.”

“Okay, and have you visited our site to know who you’d like to meet with?”

“Uh, no,” I replied. “Yes, I visited your site and read one of the bios, but no, I don’t know who I would want to be with.”

“Well that’s totally fine,” she said. “Why would you like to make an appointment?”

“I’ve just been very anxious. I’ve felt at the edge of myself for the month of July.”

“Well, I’m very sorry to hear that you’re going through that,” she said. I could hear the threads of compassion in her voice. “I know exactly who to set you up with. How’s Wednesday at noon?”

“Sounds perfect.” I smiled, feeling the pulses of hope beneath my ribs.

~

The counseling office was in a quaint, brick house off one of Lynchburg’s busiest streets. The house itself released an aura of kindness and rest, like I was being hugged by practiced arms. A soft voice inside me whispered, “Everything is going to be okay. Please, come in.”

So I did just that and stepped into the foyer of an old house with a charming staircase in the entryway. To the left was the waiting room with two chairs and a door in view of the foyer and as I stepped in, I saw a sofa and a table with a checkerboard. There was a woman sitting in one of the chairs, so I sank in the chair cushion next to her on the opposite side of a box of magazines that looked like it was from Pier 1.

I browsed Twitter on my phone as I waited. Nothing but rap critiques and quippy rap puns, desperate passive aggressive pleas for love, and a t-rex who can’t do things like wave down a cab and shuffle playing cards. I flipped through pictures of the poor trying t-rex and chuckled to myself. The lady next to me kept glancing over until her counselor called her to her appointment. I signed off Twitter.

The door next to my chair creaks open and a kind-faced, blond haired woman says, “George?”

“Must be me, right?” I say.

“Come on in.” She smiles. Her blue dress brings out the blue calm in her eyes.

There are two brown suede sofas—one along the near wall and one facing the entryway. Each has colorful pillows tucked into the corners like rainbow sprinkles on a chocolate cone.

“Sit anywhere you like,” she says.

I sit in the far corner of the nearest sofa and face the chair in the middle of the room that I assume is where she’ll sit.

“First,” she says, “before we move on, do you go by George?” She shuts the door behind her and takes a few steps toward her chair.

“No,” I say. “I go by Andrew most of the time.”

“Okay. I want to make sure that this is as comfortable a place for you by calling you something familiar.” She takes a seat in the chair and writes notes on a sheet—my “file.” She lovingly brings her hands together like reuniting best friends. “So, what brings you in today?”

“I am anxious,” I say. “For the past month, I haven’t been able to take a full breath. I feel like I’m teetering at the edge of a breakdown all the time. I panic at the most random times, and then I’m on the phone for hours with my grandmother and aunt.”

“Hmm. You find a sense of security in them?”

“My grandmother helped raise me, so I would definitely say I do.”

She scribbles notes. “What else?”

I gaze out the window into the field behind her and thought of how to turn my feelings into words like connecting the dots without the numbers.

“Last week, my friend asked me if I loved myself.”

“And what did you say?” She never looks away from me. And she nods her head and listens with affirming yeahs.

“I said that I do, but she said she didn’t believe me. I spend so much time taking care of other people and making sure their needs are met that I don’t know how to spend time with myself.”

“Do you believe your answer?” She tilts her head like a puppy who’s heard a strange noise.

I shut my eyes. “No.”

“No what, Andrew?”

“No,” I take a deep breath. “No, I don’t love myself.”

“And why is that?”

“I don’t like what’s happening to me and how it makes me. I hate being alone all the time and I hate that I have to spend all of my time with me. And I hate feeling like what I want for my life isn’t good enough for my family, and I hate that I spend all my time talking about how anxious I’m feeling or if I feel safe and not doing things or eating things that have suddenly become triggers for all of it. And I hate feeling like people are annoyed with me because I give so much to meet my friends’ needs and it feels like no one is willing to care for me the way I need to be cared for.” I wipe my eyes. There’s a difference between knowing something about me and speaking it out, but when I say something, it’s true. It’s looking at your feelings saying, “I know you exist.”

“Wow,” she says.

“One more question before we move on if that’s okay.” She leans forward. “Do you feel like there’s something wrong with you?”

I look out at the window again and watch a little girl with a balloon tied to her wrist run around and around in circles.

“Yes, I do.”

“Andrew, let me tell you something. This anxiety you’re experiencing doesn’t mean that there’s something wrong with you. It’s just your body’s way of telling you something’s wrong. Your brain’s function is to keep you alive and do it well. Your brain doesn’t understand that anything would be going wrong inside of your body, so it equips you to handle conflict externally. Does that make sense?”

“So far, yes,” I say.

“The blood rushes to your fingertips in tingles. Your heart beats hard and your breath tightens to get the blood to your feet quicker so you can run away from the danger. The important thing to remember is this—It is not that type of fear.”

“It’s not that type of fear,” I repeat. “I love that.”

“Yeah,” she says nodding and smiling. “And anxiety is fear of something unknown. And right now you don’t know yourself.”

“That’s beautiful.” I feel the cushions beneath me. Feel the air from the vents. Look out across the expanse of the field. I’m grinning, knowing that my anxiety comes from a lack of love and misinformation about my body, my feelings, and what my brain has learned to believe, and all this can be cured with a little love for myself.

She notices me smiling and she bares her teeth and cocks her head. “You love that, don’t you?”

“Yeah,” I say. “I really do.”

I have problems, but it’s nice to know they’re not the kind of problems I thought. I am a house that’s a little messy in all the hidden places. Anne Lamott, in Bird By Bird, says, “[C]lutter and mess show us that life is being lived. Clutter is wonderfully fertile ground—you can still discover treasures under all those piles, clean things up, edit things out, fix things, get a grip.” I am a house that’s been dusted and vacuumed, but it’s been cleaned like a man’s cleaned it. What it feels like my counselor and I are doing is lifting up the sofa cushions, pulling the sofa away from the wall and collecting the trash and vacuuming up the dust bunnies. With each particle we pull from between and underneath the cushions, we examine it and remember how it got there and also try our best to not let it happen again. And we do this in every room, in every cabinet, in every drawer, until I love myself for who I am.

 

 

Andrew Hahn is a graduate of Liberty University and currently lives in Woodstock, GA. You can find him on Twitter @andyhahn1.

Grip by Kathy Fish

auburn-ca-poppies-Grip
“Auburn CA Poppies” by Allen Forrest, Oil on canvas

My brother, Mike, is getting solar panels installed in his house. All the materials are laid out on his front lawn. Workers on his roof pulling off shingles. I go inside and confront a small boy in overalls, holding a toy hammer, his cheeks tender and rosy like a picture-book child.

One of the workers couldn’t get a sitter, Mike says, coming up behind me with a cup of dry Cheerios for the kid. Mike works from home. He has three computers in his office, a stand-up desk with a treadmill. I’m afraid he’s going to ask me to stay and watch the kid, but I have things I need to do, funeral errands, like going to Walgreens to have prints made from the old pictures we’ll display, and getting Easter lilies for the chapel. Our brother Tom died a couple of days ago and his daughter requested these things, gave all of her dad’s siblings some tasks. We wanted to help any way we could. He is being cremated as we speak.

The boy sits on the kitchen floor with his Cheerios and his hammer and stares at me. I am suddenly, monstrously angry with this child just for being here.

And why must this be done today, I ask my brother. He sips his coffee. If I cancel it will be weeks before they can come back, he says.

I wonder how it’s possible that a living breathing person can be gripping your hand one day and be reduced to a pile of ashes the next. We all stood around his bed at the hospice, my other brothers and I, and Tom grabbed hold of my hand and gripped it hard enough to hurt. He was smiling, had a gleam in his eye.

Mike said, you’ve still got it, bro. Tom had been a quarterback, a state wrestling champion. My dad used to have the boys squeeze tennis balls while they watched tv. Grip was important. The difference between winning and losing.

Tom had stopped talking the day before. Was given no more fluids per the protocol. Massive amounts of morphine and anti-seizure meds were being pumped into his body, but he gripped my hand like he did those tennis balls of his youth.

Take it easy, you’ll break her hand, my brother Steve said. We all laughed. This was one of those good moments from the last few days. There’d been others. When Tom’s ex-wife leaned in close to him, smiling, and he wrapped his arms around her. When the college buddy showed up, had driven all the way from Texas and sat next to Tom telling all the old, wild stories. The fight they got into in a small town bar and the night they spent in jail there, being fed pork barbecue and corn on the cob and not wanting to leave. The stories made Tom laugh, albeit soundlessly. It was so good to see.

He finally let go of my hand and lay back and Steve dipped the tiny sponge on a stick into the bottle of Crown Royal and dabbed it on Tom’s lips and tongue. There, brother, he said, have some of the good stuff.

 

 

Kathy Fish

Contributors, Summer 2015

D
D Ferrara (Special Forces) has been an active writer and ghost writer for more years than she cares to admit. Articles, essays and short stories are her continuing obsession – several publications, including The Main Street Anthology – Crossing Lines, East Meets West American Writers Review, The Broadkill Review, MacGuffin Press, Crack the Spine, Green Prints, Amarillo Bay, The Penmen Review, The Law Studies Forum, and RIMS Magazine have fed this mania by including them. She recently received her M.A. in Creative Writing, where it joined her J.D., L.l.M. and B.A, amid the clutter of her office.

Kathy Fish
Kathy Fish‘s (Grip) stories have appeared in The Lineup: 20 Provocative Women Writers(Black Lawrence Press, 2015), Guernica, Indiana Review, Denver Quarterly, Quick Fiction, and elsewhere. She is the author of three collections of short fiction: a chapbook of flash fiction in the chapbook collective, A Peculiar Feeling of Restlessness (Rose Metal Press, 2008), Wild Life (Matter Press, 2011) and Together We Can Bury It, a second printing of which is available now from The Lit Pub. She has recently joined the faculty of the forthcoming Mile-High MFA at Regis University in Denver.

Allen Forrest
Allen Forrest (Illustrator) was born in Canada and bred in the U.S. He has created cover art and illustrations for literary publications and books. He is the winner of the Leslie Jacoby Honor for Art at San Jose State University’s Reed Magazine and his Bel Red painting series is part of the Bellevue College Foundation’s permanent art collection. Forrest’s expressive drawing and painting style is a mix of avant-garde expressionism and post-Impressionist elements reminiscent of van Gogh, creating emotion on canvas.

John Gifford
John Gifford (Lost) is the author of the story collections, Wish You Were Here (Big Table Publishing, 2016) and Freeze Warning, which was named a finalist for the 2015 Press 53 Short Fiction Award. His writing has appeared in Harpur PalatedecemberSouthwest ReviewCold Mountain Review, and elsewhere. He lives in Oklahoma. (@johnagifford)

Andrew Hahn
Andrew Hahn (Wish Me Well) is a graduate of Liberty University and currently lives in Woodstock, GA. You can find him on Twitter @andyhahn1.

Dan Jacoby
Dan Jacoby (cross) was born in 1947 in Chicago. He is a graduate of St. Louis University and has published poetry in Badlands Literary Journal, Belle Rev Review, Black Heart Press, Bombay Gin, Canary, Chicago Literati, Cowboy Poetry Press, Floyd County Moonshine, Indiana Voice Journal, Haunted Waters Press, Deep South Magazine, Lines and Stars, Red Booth Review, The Tishman Review, Wilderness House Literary Review, Steel Toe Review, Red Fez, and the Vehicle. He is a member of the American Academy of Poets.

Herb Kauderer
Herb Kauderer (Equal Time) is a retired Teamster who is currently an associate professor of English at Hilbert College. He holds an MFA from Goddard College among his diverse degrees, and author Will McDermott has called him “the master of life change.” Herb has had about a thousand poems published including eight chapbooks, most recently The Book of Answers which has met with great critical success.

Rayya Liebich
Rayya Liebich (Plea) is a graduate of English Lit. from Mc Gill University and her poetry has been published in “Seasonings” edited by Anne DeGrace. Her play “3 Minutes” was awarded first prize in the Kootenay Literary Competition in 2005.

James McAdams
James McAdams (My Back Pages) has published fiction in decomP, Literary Orphans, One Throne Magazine, TINGE Magazine, Carbon Culture Review, and Copperfield Review, and has additional pieces forthcoming in per contra and Modern Language Studies. Currently, he is a Ph.D. candidate in English at Lehigh University, where he also teaches and edits the university’s literary journal, Amaranth.

Scott Starbuck
Scott T. Starbuck (Unhatched Caddis) was a 2013 Artsmith Fellow on Orcas Island, a 2014 Friends of William Stafford Scholar at the “Speak Truth to Power” FOR Seabeck Conference, and writer-in-residence at The Sitka Center for Art and Ecology. Thomas Rain Crowe wrote about Scott T. Starbuck’s latest book forthcoming from Fomite Press, “Industrial Oz may just be the most cogent and sustained collection of quality eco-activist poetry ever written in this culture, this country.”  Activist Bill McKibben wrote, “Industrial Oz is . . . rousing, needling, haunting.”  He blogs at riverseek.blogspot.com

typewriter
Gina Tremaglio (The Human Typewriter) Graduated from Emmanuel College with a B.A. in Writing and Literature. She enjoys writing non-fiction memoir as well as children’s literature. Gina will be pursuing a Master’s degree in TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages) and hopes to publish a book for English language learners. Her work has also been featured in Reverb Magazine.

Kristin Walters
Kristin Walters (Gong Bath) is a yoga and writing instructor in Champaign-Urbana. She will finish her MFA from the University of Illinois in May 2016. Her guilty pleasures are watching movie trailers, eating all the strawberries and wearing flip-flops in the rain. She is learning and teaching how to live a mindful, memorable and expressive life.

Joan Wilking
Joan Wilking (At Risk) has had short fiction published in The Atlantic, Bellevue Literary Review, The Barcelona Review, Other Voices, The Mississippi Review, Brevity, Ascent, The MacGuffin, Hobart, The Huffington Post, The Santa Fe Writer’s Project Journal and many other literary magazines and anthologies. Her story, Deer Season, was a finalist for the 2010 Nelson Algren Short Story Competition of the Chicago Tribune. Her essay Sunday Times is online at The Manifest Station and her short story, Clutter, in the Elm Leaves Journal is a Pushcart Prize nominee.

Tessa Young
Tessa Yang (Moonlight Sonata) is a recent graduate of St. Lawrence University, where she majored in English. “Moonlight Sonata” was inspired by several sleepless nights in a dorm room with a very noisy radiator; the story eventually became part of her senior year honors project. Starting in August, Tessa will be attending the MFA program in fiction writing at Indiana University.

My Back Pages by James McAdams

My Back Pages_seattle-asiatown
Seattle, Asia Town Temple,” by Allen Forrest, oil on canvas

“My life led by confusion boats, mutiny from stern to bow/
I was so much older then, I’m younger than that now.”
—Bob Dylan, “My Back Pages”

When I began working at Pinnacle Community Recovery Center,[1] I was unemployed and squatting at a friend’s apartment located two blocks from Lancaster Regional Hospital, in Pennsylvania, where I’d been born 24 years before. I often remarked then how this symbolized what a waste my life was, resulting in my friends’ designating me with the appellation “Killjoy.” During this period, I slept on a couch in unfurnished rooms all day and drank and snorted Percocets every night, looking for coins under couch cushions to buy cigarettes from friends. I had neither girlfriends nor job prospects, because I had never graduated high school, and had my license suspended for a DUI whose specifics are still too embarrassing to reveal. As a part of the DUI punishment, I was assigned a probation officer who encouraged me to take advantage of her career networking connections, because, as she argued, if I remained unemployed I would keep drinking, get another DUI, and wind up in prison, a prediction I smirked at then.

She found me a position working for an agency in the mental health industry. The job title was Human Health Aide and the job description to model appropriate behaviors and assist clients with Activities of Daily Living, including cleaning, cooking, nutrition, and social engagement, for mentally ill clients. The irony was that I myself didn’t model appropriate behaviors—I dressed in ragged Goodwill clothes, I smoked and chewed tobacco, I lived on gas station hot dogs and, when I met a girl at a bar drunk enough to fuck me, never practiced safe sex. The job paid $8.25/hr. When I told everyone at the bar that night they laughed and asked if I were sure I’d been hired by the agency or committed to its facility.

At that point I was against everything that reeked of success, happiness, or ambition. Since I had been hospitalized for depression at 14, I had developed a romantic vision of suffering, creating a narrative identity around such cultural icons as Kurt Cobain, Sylvia Plath, and Friedrich Nietzsche. In my few cardboard boxes of possessions I humped from couch to couch, from week to week, I stacked depression memoirs by Wurtzel, Slater, Jameson, and Styron, comparing their experience of depression or substance abuse against mine, feeling superior because my dysfunction and negative attitude about the world appeared, at the time, greater, more resolute, and thus more meaningful, than the symptoms and experiences they described. In other words, I was depressed and hopeless and without plans for the future, and never thought for a second that there was something problematic about this, or that there was another way of experiencing the world.

I was in no position then to be a Human Health Aide. Almost daily, I made stupid mistakes or showed errors in judgment so egregious that the Program Director called me into her office and asked if I was “on” something. Often, in the earlier days at least, her suspicions were accurate, and had I been tested for drugs or alcohol I would have been sent to prison, as my probation officer had warned. But luckily this never occurred, and the Program Director slowly acclimated me to the program, giving me permission to drive the facility’s unparkable Aero van, teaching me the “Recovery Movement” philosophy, and encouraging me to read up on each patient’s case history in the massive blue folders locked in the main office desk. Looking back, I suspect she was protecting the clients from me, based on her suspicion my presence around them would be detrimental, that I would behave inappropriately. I had to exhibit appropriate communal behaviors to her before I could be trusted to model them for clients.

Pinnacle Community Recovery Center’s mission was to assist adults with mental illness to transition back into the community and, ultimately, re-learn how to live independently. Usually these clients had been committed for protracted periods in state mental hospitals, and arrived at the facility with diagnoses such Borderline Personality Disorder, Schizho-Affective Disorder, Major Depression, and histories of suicidal acts and ideation. Almost all had co-morbid substance abuse issues, as well. I shouldn’t call it a facility, which implies inpatient treatment or locked doors—rather, Pinnacle was set within a community of small apartments and vinyl townhouses, with our clients living semi-independently next to college students and young married couples in distinct, private units, in most cases 1-bedroom or studio apartments that had stains on the floor and smoky brown rings on the ceiling. Our office was a townhouse located in the middle of this diverse neighborhood, and from the roof, if you went up there to smoke a bowl during an over-night shift, you could watch as all the lights went out early in the clients’ apartments and stayed on all night when the college students partied.

When the Program Director finally let me loose from the office, I felt like I had undergone a seminar in advanced psychology, pathopsychology, and, in particular, the ethos of the Recovery Movement. Although prevalent and well-respected now, the recovery movement was then in its infancy, and most of the support staff at Pinnacle—especially the clinicians, the psychologists and psychiatrists, those with Master’s in Social Work—were wary of its “lax” approach, suspicious that without maximal supervision the clients would decompensate and return to the hospital.

I’d be lying if I said this didn’t happen in some cases. In fact, my first time driving the facility’s massive Aero van occurred when Del M., a paranoid schizophrenic, was accused of attacking[2] a neighbor’s daughter and was committed to Lancaster Regional Hospital’s psych ward. While I was filling out the 302 involuntary commitment report, I realized this was the first time I had been in the hospital since I was born, when it was still called St. Joseph’s Hospital, and my mother and father, proud Catholics, held me in their arms, radiant and flushed, thinking of all the potential that I had, wondering what amazing things I would accomplish as an adult.

In the meantime, I settled into a routine at Pinnacle. In the mornings, I’d heft the canvas bag of medications in EZ-Dose packets and patient folders towards their apartments, walking past kids at the bus stop and men my age kissing their wives good bye in the driveway. I’d ask the clients to identify their medications and initial in the Medications section of their binder that they had ingested their meds; if they did not wish to, they were to sign with an X, which happened about 5-10% of the time. When this happened with a controlled substance like Percocet or Xanax, I’d consider forging the X into an initial and pocketing the pill, which my friends all requested, but by this time my own recovery had, gradually, begun to bloom, like those flowers on the side of my mom’s bed in the picture of her holding me as a baby at St. Joseph’s.

Each client taught me something different, and to this day when I ably go about my activities of daily living (on certain days, that is), I think of what specific client taught me about how to live. Along with another client, Ron R., I had enrolled in community college classes, which we would attend together in the section of town where most signs were in Spanish; we were in fact the only two Caucasian males in the class. When I drove clients to the daytime clinic, or waited outside when they met with their counselors, I would study in the van, and doodle questions in the margins for Ron R., who had an IQ of over 140, to explain to me later.

There was Susan H., an older women with Borderline Personality Disorder and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, whom I would take grocery shopping. Because of her infirmities, it was my job to split shopping duties with her, her scrawling half her recipe list for me to run around and scavenge while she swerved around in her motorized cart. She taught me for the first time what a serving size was, the differences between kinds of potatoes, and how to use coupons. Before then, my shopping trips were usually split between the frozen food section and the liquor store. She taught me the virtues of vegetarianism, which I follow to this day.

From Sienna M., who suffered from HIV and unipolar depression, I learned how to cook Spanish food, how to clean a kitchen without just throwing water on the floor and wiping it up with paper towels attached to a baseball bat. She had a teenage daughter who would come visit on the weekends, and I would talk to this daughter, herself depressed, about what I went through when I was her age, and how she should be proud of her mom. Sometimes her daughter tried to sneak a boyfriend over with a six-pack and I would have to roll off the air-mattress at the office and confiscate the materials, not telling anyone so Sienna wouldn’t be sent back to the hospital or lose her already slim custodial rights.

After a year I’d saved up enough money to rent a studio apartment. I filled it with community college textbooks, an old Dell desktop from the office, furniture from Rent-A-Center, and started cooking meals on my own and washing the dishes in the sink, appreciating the relaxing, Zen-like motions of manual washing. Every night, while filling out the daily progress notes for each client, I would seek for the right word, the apt turn of phrase, to not just communicate to my colleagues any important happenings, but also finding joy in the rhythms of writing, and began registering for community classes in creative writing and English to improve my writing abilities.

We all still messed up, a lot. This is one of the things we had been instructed to tell the clients, that recovery was a process, not an outcome. I remember so many nights sitting on Neil W.’s couch listening to him cry about his divorce while he injected his insulin, or sitting in the dark humming with Chi T. when it rained, because she had grown up as a little girl in Vietnam and had traumatic flashbacks to her childhood in these cases. I learned that caring is a muscle, compassion is an exercise, and the more you care for other people, the more you can begin to care for yourself, to work for health, to strain for goals—but at the same time, while everything seemed to be going so well, I felt like a sell-out, as if I were betraying my friends, my depression memoirs, my habit of laying in bed all day, my youthful nihilism.

Every Saturday we had a communal meal at the office. Each client would be assigned something based on his or her functioning level. Sienna, of course, would bring some delicious zesty Spanish dish whose names I simply can’t recall, while others might bring a six-pack of diet soda or frozen rolls they had heated up in their ovens, usually with my assistance, although it’s probably clear by now that they knew far more about ovens than I did (I didn’t use an oven cleaner until I was 26). These Saturdays would follow the frenetic Fridays, when they received their minimal SSDI checks and we would hustle to get to the bank and the pharmacy and the store and back in time for 8 PM meds. Most of them spent half their money on cigarettes, which I had quit smoking by then.

Of all my guardians, of all these angels whom life had cursed, whose childhoods were abusive, whose brain-chemistry was dysfunctional, who just never got any help before it was too late, Jason S. strikes me now as my possible double. He was my age, more handsome and intelligent than me, and alienated from most of the group, who tended to be at least 40 years of age. He had an ex-girlfriend far prettier than any girl I’d ever known who would come visit him every week and take him out to a movie or dinner. Sometimes, I found myself being jealous of him, but we quickly became friends. In the space reserved for a dining room table, he’d erected a tiny workout station, nothing much, some dumbbells, a stationary bike, a device he attached to the door to do pull-ups. I began working out with him, the two of us pretty much equal except for our brains, and it was then that I realized that there were two kinds of mental illness, one a cultural performance (as I had wasted my life on) and one a mystery of synapses and tragic incidents, which had been the case for Jason.

My “recovery,” therefore, was a result of working with the clients in the program, who were my models; my recovery was pure luck, my survival pure luck, such that I look back now on that night of the DUI (which I blacked out) as a pivot in my life, a low moment requiring correction, a redemption offered to me by the clients at Pinnacle. And while I still appreciate the music of Cobain, the poetry of Plath, the dark musings of Nietzsche, I see them now not as functions of depression, but something to be respected precisely because these people fought against depression to create something beyond the banality of suffering. In the end, those who were most victorious were the clients at Pinnacle, straining minute-by-minute and day-by-day to stay out of the hospital, to make a new life, to find a niche in the world that makes sense, that works.

Convention dictates, I realize, that I’m supposed to include here an anecdote about meeting an old client over tea, where we discussed how improved we were, but that never happened. The closest to that happening was a client seeing me at a 7-11 and, without recognizing me, holding out a handful of coins and asking for cigarette money.  What I realize now is this: it’s not a lie that people can’t “recover”; rather, it’s that the supposed meaning of the concept is misunderstood.  The nature of recovery is bilateral, trilateral, communal—my clients, in the end, modeled appropriate behaviors for me through their toughness and sobriety and honesty, their dedication to revise their life stories to account for trauma and disappointment, which I never had done to account for my mental hospital stay when I was 14. Even though I’m far from recovered now, when I work on my Ph.D. dissertation about narrative therapy, the concept that telling stories is by its very nature beneficial, I often pause and stare off, out the window into that perched past, remembering studying English with Ron R., and then return to revising my chapters, seeking for the right word, the best rhythm, the most accurate description, the same way as when I started writing in Pinnacle’s office, recording clients’ progress notes in their blue, oversized folders, attempting to find a narrative in those back pages.

 

 

James McAdams has published fiction in decomP, Literary Orphans, One Throne Magazine, TINGE Magazine, Carbon Culture Review, and Copperfield Review, and has additional pieces forthcoming in per contra and Modern Language Studies. Currently, he is a Ph.D. candidate in English at Lehigh University, where he also teaches and edits the university’s literary journal, Amaranth.

[1] In order to avoid possible HIPAA violations, names of facilities, clients, and staff members have been changed, while their characteristics, personalities, and narratives have been strictly retained.

[2] He claims he was trying to help her with her shopping bags, which I still believe, but as a result of his tardive dyskinesia he trembled and often lost balance, seeming then to grab or lunge against people in aggressive or sexual ways.

Plea by Rayya Liebich

Plea_capilano-canyon-river-lagoon-low-water
“Capilano Canyon River Lagoon” by Allen Forrest, watercolor

Give me

poetry.

Soak me in

piano sonatas.

Pour my milk in tall

wine glasses.

Spill an ocean

for me to

grieve in.

 

 

Rayya Liebich is a graduate of English Lit. from Mc Gill University and her poetry has been published in “Seasonings” edited by Anne DeGrace. Her play “3 Minutes” was awarded first prize in the Kootenay Literary Competition in 2005.

 

Lost by John Gifford

Lost_south-african-hills
“South African Hills” by Allen Forrest, oil on canvas

Fifteen years, his unruly, upstairs neighbor likes to remind him in those empty, uncertain hours of night, is twenty percent of the average American male’s lifespan! That’ll throw a wheel out of balance!

Of course, he knows this, can in fact still hear his lawyer arguing on his behalf, that time served is time he cannot replace. Taken from him. Gone.

Fifteen years! his neighbor points out, as if he’s forgotten, as if he hasn’t thought about it nearly every minute of every one of the ninety-nine days he’s been on the outside. Which is why he keeps the radio on, morning, noon, and night. Silence is a rabble-rouser.

Although he was exonerated, his name cleared, he didn’t get everything back. How could he? When he thinks about it like this, late at night, lying there in that fragmented apartment, trying to remember faces, names, numbers, and what the world looked like before, before, even the quarter-million-dollar settlement his lawyer negotiated for him seems inadequate, inconsequential. Unless…he can’t be sure.

He heard disbelief’s voice for so long that eventually it moved in with him and became his cellmate. Then one night his memory slipped through the bars and escaped, and suddenly he couldn’t recall a time when he hadn’t doubted, when he hadn’t seen himself through the eyes of others. After all, if he’d needed any evidence, there he was, wearing orange shame, eating for sustenance rather than pleasure, with no use for a calendar. And yet he was innocent. That’s what he always maintained. Innocent. That’s what his lawyer had argued. Innocent.

Technicality: that’s what everyone else said. Even after DNA evidence helped overturn his conviction. Even after the newspaper dedicated three column inches to setting the record straight. Everyone said it was just a technicality. Just a glitch in the system. A minor detail had set him free.

His lawyer said to ignore them, said to look forward, not back, said to get on with his life, that he’s only thirty-five, that—if one could believe statistics, research—he’d probably live another thirty-five.

It’s going on four months now and though disbelief packed up and went away he can still hear self-doubt stumbling around upstairs in the cruel, wicked hours of night, rattling him with its shackled footfalls, hurling antagonistic slurs—fifteen years!—as if it has nothing better to do than stay behind and torment him.

Other than groceries—just the basics; a learned behavior which has become habit; but then again his idea of eating well has always been getting enough to eat, hasn’t it?—and batteries for the radio, which he buys in bulk, the only thing he’s sprung for so far is a pair of reading glasses, faux tortoiseshell cheaters that multiply like rumors and which make him feel like an historian as he scans the residential listings at his local library, reveling in the room’s wide-open space and the vague camaraderie of the other visitors as he scrolls through screens, scanning, the hairs on back of his neck bristling occasionally, his head jerking and twisting whenever someone approaches from behind, then the breathing techniques, deep breaths, and the counting and holding and waiting as he centers himself in the winter of his fuzzy, if familiar, discontent. And all the while he never stops searching for names that might help him fill that fifteen-year void.

He tells himself that perhaps he can connect with someone he used to know, a friend or former co-worker from the car lot, which is now just a tire shop. Or maybe he has some family left, someone out there somewhere who can remind him who or what he used to be, who can substantiate that what he believes—what he wants to believe—is true, that his freedom is the product of something innate, something more than the minor technicality his upstairs neighbor insists. He has money now and he tells himself that he’d spend all of it to prove he is who he always said he was. And if he can’t do this, he thinks, what’s the point of going on? What use is money, even a quarter million, to a man who can’t look at himself in the mirror, tell himself he’s innocent, and really believe it?

 

 

John Gifford (@johnagifford) is the author of the story collections, Wish You Were Here (Big Table Publishing, 2016) and Freeze Warning, which was named a finalist for the 2015 Press 53 Short Fiction Award. His writing has appeared in Harpur PalatedecemberSouthwest ReviewCold Mountain Review, and elsewhere. He lives in Oklahoma.

 

cross by Dan Jacoby

cross_manhattan-beach-ii-
“Manhattan Beach II” by Allen Forrest, oil on canvas

third day of a seven day binge
party line is
take him to confession
kind of….sometimes…..maybe
faith’s last stand
up for the down stroke
need for adrenalin rush
to elevate the moment
mistake not to engage others
should run towards that shit
breath in new long vowels
into some old words
come up with new nickname
stop surfing underground
old boots in new dirt
heading for newtown beach
to pull the sea air over him
and soak off
all the old mattress labels

 

 

Dan Jacoby was born in 1947 in Chicago. He is a graduate of St. Louis University and has published poetry in Badlands Literary Journal, Belle Rev Review, Black Heart Press, Bombay Gin, Canary, Chicago Literati, Cowboy Poetry Press, Floyd County Moonshine, Indiana Voice Journal, Haunted Waters Press, Deep South Magazine, Lines and Stars, Red Booth Review, The Tishman Review, Wilderness House Literary Review, Steel Toe Review, Red Fez, and the Vehicle. He is a member of the American Academy of Poets.

Unhatched Caddis by Scott T. Starbuck

Unhatched Caddis_ca-hwy-1-stinson-beach-
“CA Hwy 1″ by Allen Forrest, oil on canvas

Unhatched Caddis

struggling in the raft bag
in the back of my car
required an 8 hour drive
back to her native river.

I was accused of doing it
on purpose
so I could go fishing
but it was because

I too had been taken
from my home
of ancient evergreens
and swift pure waters.

For years I have watched them
hatch and rise
like tiny wish-granting fairies
landing on my arm.

On our long drive
she sat by me in a blueberry
Nancy’s yogurt cup
and I kept the music low

so as not to hurt
her caddis ears
which were likely
injured

when my landlord said,
“Does Scott know
the carbon footprint
to save that bug?”

At the river
caddis crawled away
in her stone tower
and lived happily ever after,

maybe the only one
of her kind
in 10,000 years
to be that crazy-lucky.

 

 

Scott T. Starbuck was a 2013 Artsmith Fellow on Orcas Island, a 2014 Friends of William Stafford Scholar at the “Speak Truth to Power” FOR Seabeck Conference, and writer-in-residence at The Sitka Center for Art and Ecology. Thomas Rain Crowe wrote about Scott T. Starbuck’s latest book forthcoming from Fomite Press, “Industrial Oz may just be the most cogent and sustained collection of quality eco-activist poetry ever written in this culture, this country.”  Activist Bill McKibben wrote, “Industrial Oz is . . . rousing, needling, haunting.” His blog Trees, Fish, and Dreams is at riverseek.blogspot.com

Equal Time by Herb Kauderer

Equal Time_capilano-canyon
“Capilano Canyon” by Allen Forrest, oil on canvas

This week
I know three more dead people.
That is the reality of becoming old.

Age
is washed in the knowledge
of all that’s lost as life goes along;
belief, friendships, goods, security,
eras, youthful energy, innocence.

It’s easy to wallow in loss,
but today
I will think of good things.

After all,
joy deserves equal time,
but is rarely loud enough to demand it.

So I will think of the tree near Cayuga Creek
draped in captured fishing lures,
webs of fishing lines,
and so many red & yellow bobbers & floats & sinkers
they appear to be fruits & blossoms
on those unleafed, early spring branches.

I will think of my children,
running from the mother goose that hissed
as it protected its eggs. And remember
giggling with them afterward on the bench
of the Reinstein nature trail.

I will look at my collection of John MacDonald books
and pick one to read
while I wrap myself
in the warm fuzzy blanket I inherited from my aunt.
But first I will indulge in my favorite mint black tea.
And butter cookies.

After all, joy deserves equal time.

 

 

Herb Kauderer is a retired Teamster who is currently an associate professor of English at Hilbert College. He holds an MFA from Goddard College among his diverse degrees, and author Will McDermott has called him “the master of life change.” Herb has had about a thousand poems published including eight chapbooks, most recently The Book of Answers which has met with great critical success.