Naked and Afraid

by Serge Bielanko

This is a chapter from a book I started writing about two years ago. I haven't finished it. I will someday. Or I'll die trying. Either way works for me. 

In the Valley of the Deerfoot Lamp.

That's the title.

It's a memoir, non-fiction thing, a book about this dude trying to figure his life out during the hardest, strangest days he's ever known. The story unfolds across the very first months of my separation from my Monica, who was my wife at the time, and who was pregnant with our third kid. We were headed for divorce, but I couldn't bring myself to believe or understand that at the time. 

I moved in with my mom and my stepdad for like six months right after New Year's. I was lost in all the ways you could possibly imagine. 

They didn't flinch though. They weren't leery of letting me and all my drama come around.. The two of them took me in and showed me so much love that I still don't even know what the fuck happened there.

In their guest bedroom, by the light of this musty lamp from the 60's made out of three real whitetail deer legs, I'd lie there awake at night staring at my two older kids. My older two crashed out across my legs; brand new Charlie, alway ten always minutes from waking up crying in a Pack-n-Play six feet away . 

The confusion and the overriding hopelessness was too much. I thought about killing myself every ten or fifteen minutes until it was internally embarrassing. I mean, killing yourself is one thing. But killing yourself over and over again up in your head is an entirely different kind of sad.

Looking back now, I know it was my mom who saved me. Sometimes she did it with long blasts of hot-winded hard luck wisdom, sometimes with a single word that grabbed my hand as I was going over the falls. I'm so lucky to have her. I always have been. I always will be. 

My kids are really lucky too. Their mom loves them so much. I can smel her hugs/kisses all up in their hair when they first roll into my joint from hers. That's a sign, I figure. All is right with what matters most. Or something like that. 

Anyhow. Happy Mother's Day to my mom. I love you so much, Mama. Thanks for always being there and believing in my sorry ass. And Happy Mother's Day to all you moms out there. And your moms too. 

There are no words, but whatever.

That's never stopped me from trying before. 


Naked and Afraid


In the evening, we sit in front of the TV.

It’s George to my left down the couch, a bowl of Butter Pecan on his lap, my mom to my right in the recliner that used to be George’s spot, but ever since her shoulder surgery she claimed it for her own. He let her have it, I figure; George knows how to treat a lady.

What we watch isn’t always a big deal since my mom can’t stop talking no matter what’s on. You could be watching that whole epic scene towards the end of The Godfather, when all those mob guys are being assassinated to the haunting sounds of that opera singer and my mom would just start saying stuff. 

“Oh my God, they’re killing all them guys?!”

“Ugh! I could never shoot someone with a machine gun, George!”

“Cannolis! Oh my God, I love cannolis! We used to buy them at the Italian Bakery on Saturday afternoons when I was a little girl. My Uncle Hap would take me down there in his big Plymouth and we’d get cannolis and eat them outside the bakery sitting on the front bumper.”

She can’t help it and as the years have rolled by, I’ve come to appreciate her random blabbering as a thing of beauty. It’s almost impressive, her ability to talk all over key moments of culture and art and breaking news and other people trying to talk. She can pummel you into dust with the herd of wild horses that rumble out of her mouth every time she has a thought, which is all the time.

Marlon Brando could be out there stumbling around in his tomato garden and my mom would explode with one-sided conversation, lightning bolts unleashed and flashing across her mind.

“Serge, whatever happened to that Italian guy that used to play the bass with you in the band? What was his name? Johnny? He was a nice guy, always so polite and smiling!”

Marlon Brando is falling down. 

The Godfather is dying.

“Is he dying?! Or is he dehydrated? Oh my God, last summer I was outside on one of them really hot days hanging some sheets on the line and all of the sudden I got so dizzy and everything started spinning around and the sweat was pouring off of me like a waterfall…”

The Godfather is dead. 

He’s fucking dead. 

“…and I hollered, ‘Geoooorge!’, but he was up in the garage and he didn’t hear me and I thought I was going to collapse, but luckily I made it into the house alright and the whole time I was just praying, Dear God, don’t let me have a heart attack today because everybody’s coming up here for the Fourth of July and…

She has no idea that she’s even talking. I think my mom might actually be able to watch stuff real intently and talk at the same time. I know that seems like a stretch but I’m totally serious. It’s multi-tasking, I think. She might be the original multi-tasker. The credits are rolling up the screen on one of the best movies ever made, but it doesn’t matter to her.

“… I don’t want to be stuck in the hospital or be frickin’ dead when they all get up here! Christ, they’ll be having my funeral the day after the bar-b-que!”

She pauses, considering her own demise.

“Hey, maybeyouse can bar-b-que me!? That’d be cool, huh, Serge?!  You like to cook. I’d feed everybody, I bet. There’s enough of my fat ass to go around! Hahahaha!”

She can’t help it and so it’s not even annoying to me at all, really. If she were to try and go, say, ten or fifteen waking seconds without speaking or singing to herself or whatever, I think her mind would pop.

So we sit there, the three of us, never in silence. The sound of their voices pulls me in. This is their house and they’ve opened it up so wide for me to walk right in here, heartbroken and confused. So hearing them talking to each other, and to me, and to Pete, their 12-year-old yellow lab who catches popcorn on the fly and stares at you like a hawk the entire time you are either preparing food or eating food or walking by the fridge where there is food and he knows it and he knows that you know it, it’s comforting in ways that are both ancient and welcome.

Tonight we’re watching this reality show called Naked and Afraid. It’s one of our favorites. The gist is that they take two strangers, always a man and a woman, and they drop them off out in the middle of nowhere, in the jungle or the desert or some God-forsaken place like that, and they have to depend on their own survival skills to live out there for three weeks.

It’s a good show. I get a kick out of watching it with my mom and George because it’s basically three people who are about as comfortable and set-up as anybody in the world could be watching two other people fight for their lives in the worst places on Earth. 

George eats his second bowl of ice cream as my mom and me work on our second glasses of cheapo boxed Cabernet Sauvignon. The two people on the TV pull leeches off of their privates and get all excited when they find a couple of grub worms that they straight-up gobble down raw while they’re huddled under a leaky lean-to and being attacked by twenty million stinging gnats. 

“Jeez, I wouldn’t stay out in that rain like that,” my mom says. “I’d go find a cave to sleep in.”

George lets his spoon drop into his bowl.

“Oh yeah, well where you gonna find a cave if there are no caves, Marian?” he says to her. “They’re in the rain jungle. They’re might not be a cave for thousands of miles down there.”

My mom’s body is half-covered by her favorite blanket, her end of the day -recliner-sitting TV-watching wine-guzzling blanket. It’s a leopard skin pattern, which I think is kind of funny. It s something Keith Richards might sit down on the backstage floor on to smoke a thimble full of crazytown hash. It hangs off both sides of her, the tarp on the firewood, and it covers a lot. You can see her head and whatever shirt she’s wearing and her arms, but from the middle of her chest down, she’s a husky leopard. 

“I’d be afraid to eat them worms like that,” she comments as the people on the screen try and get a miniscule amount of protein in their starving bodies. 

“Why?” asks George, ice cream dribbling down his chin.

“What if they’re poisonous? These people don’t know anything about poison worms. Before I went there I’d have to really Google that.  I’d Google ‘poison worms and worms you can eat whatever forest or jungle they’re going to’ and then I’d memorize what the ones you can eat look like.”

She says this matter-of-factly, as if there was even the slightest chance that someday she might decide to take the plunge and find herself packing her suitcase for three weeks of Naked and Afraid adventure. 

What the hell. I see an opening and I go for it. I chime in. 

“I’m sure they probably do some serious Googling before they leave home, but still, the truth is when you’re out there in the middle of nowhere and you’re actually IN THAT PLACE and you’re super hungry, you probably don’t even remember what the hell the right worms or plants or anything even look like, you know?”

They both show me massive respect by pondering my thoughts in silence for a second or two and I feel a tinge of love for both of them. I’m their 42-year-old son/step-son who is going through a hard time and they want me to feel comfortable here and to understand that they will do whatever they need to do to make sure that I’m as okay as I can be through all of this. That’s the thing that wells up inside me while they consider my ideas about Googling poison worms. 

But the TV is the TV and the show is the show and the conversation is the conversation and that’s all separate from the rest of the world as we sit here in this warm American house downing big calories and judging other people’s survival skills.

“I’d print it out.” That’s what my mom says. “I’d print out the pictures of the good worms so I could tell.”

This isn’t a bad idea at all, but I don’t think it’ll work.

“I don’t think they’re allowed to take anything with them, though. That’s the whole point. They drop them off out there totally naked and they each only get one burlap sack and one tool of their choice to take with them, like these two took a sharp machete and a fire starter tool.”

My mom struggles a little to get her wine glass back onto the lamp table between me and her. There’s hardly any room on the thing because most of its surface is covered with the lamp anda short stack of old issues of Country Living magazine and some random mail and I’ve got my small juice glass of wine wedged in there a little wobbly, half on a piece of the white doily and half off it, so there’s not much room to land her glass up there at all. Plus, she is more horizontal in her chair than verticle so the very act of actually getting her wine glass from out of her hand and landing it in the small clearing she had cleared for it a little earlier requires a bit of sitting up and motivated movement. 

She grunts and twists and tries not to spill any and finally she gets the glass to the table and then flops back fast into position with a slight tug of the leopard skin, making sure that it’s not bunched up anywhere. 

“Well, I’d find a way to take them,” she says. 

“No you wouldn’t, Marian.” George tells her in his tired I’m-Going-Up-Pretty-Soon voice. 

My mom lashes back with fake fury. 

“Yes I would, George! Don’t tell me! I’d make copies of those pictures of the poison worms and the good worms and I’d stick ‘em right up my ass and keep them there when they dropped us off in the forest and no one would know it!”

She’s looking over at him now and as she does that she catches my eye and her face is flushed and alive and she smiles a little at me through her frustrated façade. George knows how to play this game though. He loves winding her up and so he just doesn’t even meet her glare. He lowers his spoon into what thin film of Butter Pecan soup is left in his bowl and he rubs it around down in there and then raises it back up, flipping it over halfway so that the bottom of the dripping spoon is now the top, and he sticks it into his mouth with the sly grin he gets when he’s got her going.

“No you wouldn’t, Marian,” he tells her. He taps my ribs with his elbow when he says that. “You wouldn’t survive ten minutes in one of these places.”

“Whatever, George!,” she hollers at him. “I’d freaking survive longer than you would, I know that! I’d drink the other person’s pee if I had to and I’d find a cave somewhere and kill a fucking bird or a snake with a stick and I’d survive!”

George is giggling and tapping my thigh like, ‘Watch this!”

“I doubt that, hon” he says. “You’d take three steps in your bare feet and you’d get a pricker in your foot and you’d have to come home.”

I am laughing now, caught up in this show which is even better than the real show. If this show were on TV right now, people would dig it, I think. We’d be famous, probably. 

My mom is all worked up and she ruffles her fleece leopard skin to help calm herself down and she sighs like an athlete, resigned to the fact that this guy who she loves so much and who loves her so much back, this man who treats her like a queen has been messing with her mind just because he really enjoys the back-and-forth of this daily pageant of faux bickering they pull off at least two or three times a day. My mom loves it too. I can see it all now, same as I always see it, as I take a chug of wine and spot the curls of the grin she’s trying to hide away as part of the game.

The dog is on the floor, uninterested in their raised voices. He’s totally comfortable with all of it and so am I. To any stranger who might have wandered upon us, the whole last few minutes might have seemed Crazy Town, but I know better.

There is this defused moment of calm in the air now. The three of us don’t say anything as things settle back into place, the show moving along, the wine glasses pretty empty, the melted ice cream all but gone.

I try and pick back up on what’s happening to the people in the rainforest, but I don’t really care. When this is over I’m going up, up to my room in somebody else’s home. I sit there on the couch and look at the clock on the wall and it’s almost nine and I think about my kids back at the house. I think about how they’re probably in their bunk beds now and wearing their pajamas which they only put on after Monica had to tell them to put them on for like five or six times.

I figure that Monica is probably in her room, her TV on, just like us. But she’s probably watching some other show and not the same one we’ve been watching. I try and picture her sitting there on her bed, her back against the barn wood headboard I made her a couple years ago, tapping away at her laptop, at her Facebook or whatever. 

I picture Charlie sleeping silently down in his little nest of pillows by his mom’s side and I imagine that Monica probably leans forward and hisses, “Lay down!” when one of the dogs hops up on the bed, so that they don’t wake up the kid. 

Naked and Afraid ends and there’s a sense of finality now. The show is done and the party is breaking up, that’s the feeling. George stands up and walks over to kiss my mom goodnight. I can’t remember the last time me and Monica kissed like that, or at all really. It makes me sad to have that pop into my mind, but it’s the way things are and so that’s it. I’d kiss her again if I could, but she probably wouldn’t want me to; I’m sure she wouldn’t. And it would be awkward as hell anyway. 

I guess there’s a really good chance we won’t kiss each other ever again, huh? That seems so weird to me, even if kissing each other wasn’t something we’d done much of for a long time. 

George says his good nights and now it’s just me and my mom. 

“Did you write today?” she asks me. 

I did, I tell her. I wrote a lot. 

I wrote tons. 

I feel so alive out there in the garage, just writing and writing and writing.

“That’s awesome, honey!” she says, and I know she’s really happy for me.

Then, after a few last minutes of chit-chat, I start to head up to bed myself, but before I make it up three steps she’s calling me back.

“Hey, come here, Serge,” she says and I stop and wander back over to her in her chair, the remote control in her hand and her legs all up under her leopard skin blanket.

“What?” I say.

She props herself forward as much as she can manage spreads her arms out, still holding the remote in her one hand, and she says,”Gimme a hug, honey. I love you so much and I want to just give you a hug.”

So we hug. She pulls me in hard and I can feel the rolls of her back bubbling out from under her bra strap and she smells a tiny bit like wine and thirteen hour old perfume.

“I love you sweetheart,” she tells me as we finally let go. “You’re a good man. I want you to know that.”

And with that, I smile at her and tell her goodnight and then I head slowly back up into my room and shut the door. Then, without even thinking about it, I take off my shirt and stare at my abs in the antique vanity mirror that cuts off my own fucking head.

This book is writing itself.

The End of the Year is the Eyes of a Deer Playing Dead on the Side of the Road

by Serge Bielanko

He came out of the mist, smoking a cigarette, hacking his lungs out, but smiling. No one paid him much mind. No one cared.

Who cares, right?

Who has that kind of time?


My older two are at the kitchen island flipping the pieces of the Zingo game they got for Christmas all over the place. I'm standing there, third cup of coffee, staring at them. I get tired of trying to tell them how to live right. I can only tell other living people how to act or be so many times across any given half-hour stretch before I lose interest.

What's the goddamn difference? I repeat myself. I say the same shit over and over again until it has no meaning, until it loses any sparkle it might have had when it was born a few seconds ago in the delivery room of my idiotic mind. Blah blah blah. After a while you have to recognize that tried and true love is way bigger than the dumb stuff you go around saying. The dreams I have for them, the hopes/the lingering fears/my inability to comprehend their mere in-my-face existence on a very very regular basis/the way I would scoop out the eye of the man or woman who would ever hurt them bad, God forbid/the way they would describe it all in court/me sitting there in the orange prison get up/some lawyer getting all loud and affected as he describes how I used a teaspoon to separate the eyeball from the socket of the son-of-a-bitch who did what he did and how I stuffed my old Waylon Jennings t-shirt in his worthless mouth to keep him quiet as I made him watch me (with his crybaby good eye) as I swallowed his severed eyeball like a Rappahannock oyster/down the hatch/Silence of the fucking Lambs grin/out in the parking lot of the mall where I'd tracked him down. Or in the parking lot of his job. Or wherever dude.

I get sidetracked.

I shut off my good Dad bitching halfway through the morning not because my own tired words start making my mouth taste like puke, but because I stand there watching them throwing the game pieces around and fighting each other over stupid crap, their elbows slamming into the breakfast dishes, their forearms hitting spots of pancake syrup, and it dawns on me that I'm never ever going to be able to come up with some string of hollered sentences that turn it all around, you know?

I'm drowning in love. There's nothing I can say. The parenting advice and the gentle guidance and the positive reinforcement and the yakety yak don't come back, it's nothing but steam rising up from the ghost of a train. I'm trapped under love. I'm buried beneath the rubble of the collapsed city of everything. I'm imprisoned. I'm a POW up to his neck in kid swamp. But look. I'm still here, bigger/stronger/better now: because of all of this.

Fight it out. This morning they can just fight it out themselves and let the chips fall where they may. They don't need me all up in their shit all the time.

They know who I am.

They know I will eat the raw oyster eye of a man if need be.

I pour cup #4. Bitter morning coffee. I am a king, you know? I am a king of kings blocking out the sound of these two jokers with piss coffee and a banana smeared with peanut butter. This is it. This is the day before New Year's Eve. And we're happy as pigs in shit over here. I'm dead serious.

We are- I'll have you know- doing just fine.


This new car I got, another Honda, it does this weird thing every now and then during track 4 of The Cure's Wish CD. That's From the Edge of the Deep Green Sea if for some strange reason you didn't know that. I hit the brakes at the end of the narrows road, at the stop sign by the fast road cutting up the valley, and the volume on the tune lowers itself a couple notches.

I look in the rear view to see if Violet or Henry clocked the sound fail but they didn't. They're staring out the window at the grey woods and the dead corn stubble without any expressions. It's all so Cure. I sit there at the stop sign for a second watching them. I watch their little eyes looking out at the land. I wish I could slip up their nose holes and see what they see, or see what they see how they see it. We see the same shit, I know, but I always figure they must see it better than me. Wholer. Purer. With van Gogh color. With Renaissance light.

I'd give a rib bone to see these old winter mountains through their eyes. I don't know what it says to them. The Cure at 9 in the morning on a Christmas break day at a stop sign in the middle of nowhere, what do they see?

There's a riff in the song, keeps circling around, comfortable, menacing, I 'm not sure how you'd describe it. Whatever/you can't describe riffs/it's dumb. But this riff, I wonder if they love it. I wonder if they are feeling it in their skin right this second. Is it possible? Is it possible I could have presented at least one of them with a gift riff out of nowhere this morning? Is it possible that I maybe play a song on the ride to their Grammy's that sticks with them forever, or that they somehow stumble into years from now again and suddenly remember me in some beautiful way?

Could this riff boomerang back into one of their heads in 2027 and let them smell their daddy's smoky/pepper jerky/sour coffee smell from long ago while they're out there living their lives, maybe riding on the Tube in London or digging dinosaur bones in some red clay canyon somewhere across the fucking world?

Is that possible?

Why does the sound lower itself at the same point in this song on my factory issue car stereo? And why do I forget all about that at the stop sign? Why do I look in the rear view and see them staring at the world and forget everything I was thinking? Don't answer that. Don't tell me it could be electrical or whatever. That's not what I'm asking.

I'm dead serious.

I don't even care about the volume thing at all.


Every New Year's Eve is basically a shit show. I don't plan anything anymore. I blow myself out with Christmas. I have a note taped to the coffee can starting at Thanksgiving. It says 'E.O.S.' That means Elf On the Shelf. I don't give a damn if you hate that Elf. I love it. I get into it. I never fuck up. I see the note: I move the Elf before they wake up. I feel involved. I get off on Christmas, on the mythological magic and on fake plastic poinsettias.

Then it's all over and that's a bit of a problem for me.

By New Year's I'm smoking a cig in the post-coital glow of a very hard shag. I've got nothing left. I like Anderson Cooper and Kathy Griffin. I'll watch Dick Clarke maybe. He'll be on. He'll find a way.

I want to say goodbye to the year in some romantic way but I just can't be bothered. Survivors we are and we all deserve to live it up, I'm sure, but I'm tired, man. I'm out of breath. I'm feeling good but I'm feeling out of it. I'd share my evening with you but what would even do, you know?

I'd let some cheese cubes fall out of the palm of my hand, plopplopplopplopplop soft bricks landing on a plastic dish. I'd bring them over to you with a cold beer maybe. Or whatever you want.


Wine or beer?

That's all I've got actually. So that's your big choice.


Or beer?

You want some shrimp? I've got shrimp. They were frozen once, I'm sure. I got them at the grocery store. Probably raised in some weird shrimp pond somewhere in Alabama or Mexico or something. Look at them. So dead, so pink. They were probably frozen and then thawed a little and then got frozen again. That happens, you know. Things freeze, unfreeze, freeze up again, we never know the difference. We never can quite tell what parts of our world are partially frozen/dancing with death at any given time, I guess.

Anyways, we could drag dead pink shrimp through cocktail sauce from a jar and watch CNN and drink beer or wine. We could laugh. We could bang pots and pans out in the street. I'd probably insist on that. Or we could go to bed at 11:24pm.

I've done it both ways/I don't even care.

New Years Eve is easy.

You just gotta let it happen. I mean, it's happening anyhow.

All of this life, all of this love and sadness and fear and mad rejection and disappointment. All of this ungodly torment hailing down on our naked bodies like garlic hissing cross a pan. All of this Earthly bullshit clouding up our vision, blocking our view of things beautiful and pure.

You just gotta let it happen, I think. I really think I believe that now. I really do. Hey, you know what? You know what? I'm not scared anymore. I'd only be scared at this point if I didn't admit that I wasn't scared anymore. I'm over it. The year does things to you. It did stuff to me.

The songs turn themselves down now. The kids stare at the dreary sky. The coffee is gross and that's exactly how I like it.

He came out of the mist, smoking a cigarette, hacking his lungs out, but smiling. No one paid him much mind. No one cared. 

Except a couple of people. A couple people cared. And that was enough. That was enough for another year. That was enough for all the years left.

Hell, that was more than enough.




Things to Remind the Firing Squad Before They Shoot You In the Face

by Serge Bielanko

I lay my right Van down onto my tuner and the lights quit flashing. I'm in tune. Or I'm close enough. The guitar will sound good, I'm sure of that. The room is full and the people are loud and this is all there is for now.  The guitar is a gun, the safety is off, here we go. 

We do what we always used to do but haven't done much in a while. I stare at my brother and his eyes meet mine then dart away. He smiles but it's vague. We are where we belong in a sense, just a few feet apart from each other on a stage not all that far from where we were both born.

My nerves are nothing. I'm firing squad cool/lips dry/condemned and down with it/hinged to the fact that it is what it is. All is lost, you know. I tried to fight it. I wandered for years far from the music, from the band and the songs. I used to revel in every afternoon van mile, in every early stupid November post-nasal drip pain-in-the-ass I'd simply choose to ignore.

Staring at myself in St. Louis motel room mirrors/in Barcelona mirrors/in Austin mirrors and London mirrors, in tiny interchangeable rooms where the nicotine paint would flare up as soon as the hot water steam rose up to lick its face and the shock of the transition from some caffeinated day running an interstate to nothing but my own reflection, that all became as comfortable as any sense I had ever experienced. Years went by when I couldn't imagine myself not being in the band. And then new years unfolded all around me, years in which I couldn't imagine ever being in the band again.

And now tonight. I have no idea what anything means anymore. I finger my pick as my brother turns to the drummer and I imagine myself up against the wall, saying 'Fuck you' one last time to a firing squad who will eat meatloaf or whatever at home with their families tonight while I set out across the universe on a idiot mule, bound for some distant alpine mountain ridge wilderness across the stars that I will chase but never catch for eternity.


It's a mindfuck, but so it goes. Life or death.

My brother counts us in with the familiar slide and pull of three or four notes on his guitar and then we are off. Everything comes down out of the sky when you kick it all in with a band, first song of the night. You are shot thirty times at once, the rifle bullets tearing through your face and your chest, ripping across your heart and shattering your ribs/shredding your armpits/slamming through your spine with the force of a trillion wild sheep who have been running you down since the day you were born.

It is the most perfect way to die, kicking into the opener is. It is the most beautiful life-affirming feeling I have ever known because it is such a goddamn beautiful way to get shot in the eyeball/die/get reborn/and start living again, but this time with all the cocksure sway of   immortality firing through your veins.

To be up here again now is my decision of cards flung high in the air. I get a little scared. I feel a little sad. I wonder if I'm alright. I hope I find my groove. I stare in people's eyes. They stare back from the crowd. They break into smiles.

I catch a fistful of screaming bullets and I hold them in my fist for a long long second or two while the firing squad boys try and figure out what the fuck is happening. Then I drop them down on the prison yard stones- clink-clink-clink-clink-clink- slow-clink-clink-pausing before I drop the last one- letting it go- not watching it fall-staring straight into the frightened doo-rag masky eyes of the men who tried to kill me- quiet-quiet-quiet.......


That's what it feels like for me tonight.

Dude. That is me kicking into song one.


In the box are more boxes and I have them scattered all over my summer kitchen floor. The first thing the satellite TV companies do is try and get you to stay. Don't cancel your account, they tell you. You have options. But if you refuse all the options and you don't answer the 8 or 9 times they call your cellphone over the next week or so, then they finally give up on you and send you a box of boxes.

Pack your equipment up and send it back to us, they tell you. Or we'll hit you with charges. Fair enough. I flop the boxes down onto the floor and root around for the directions they send along to show you how to pack their shit so it doesn't get busted rolling around on it's way back to them and you don't end up getting hit with charges. Charges is why I'm doing this. But there are charges for canceling charges.

I lift up the black receiver thing that has sat atop my TV for the last year and a half and I try and figure out where it it goes. I haven't erased anything off the DVR so there's still a lot of me and the kids in there, I guess. So many movies I recorded and never watched. I remember that I had the Today show recorded from when I was on it last year. They invited me on to talk about an article I'd written where I listed reasons I was a shit husband. Whatever. I never watched it. I've never seen me on the Today Show. Who fucking cares.

I was always down to like 9% space available for recording stuff, but I hardly ever watched any of the stuff I was recording. And charges all along.

So much Peppa Pig in there too. I hold the receiver up to my face and I sniff it in but it smells like nothing. The Peppa thing makes me a little sad. It's Charlie's favorite show when he's here at my place. I would always do this whole balancing act maneuver whenever we rolled up from the grocery store or the park or whatever. I'd double-park the car out back in the alley and get Violet and Henry in the house with snack promises as I carried Charlie in my arms. Inside I would hand out juices and milk and swing over to the TV/grab the remote/hit all the right buttons/and have Peppa Pig rolling out into the room in seconds flat.

Charlie is such a beautiful little boy. He always wandered over to the flat screen high above his head and he smiles as he recognizes his show, his pigs. Transfixed then, I'd make my move and go back out to carry in all of our school bags and lunch bags and grocery bags and shit before I'd park the car/run back into the house/open both back doors (making sure I sneak in the one that leads into the kitchen) so I could stand there for a second watching Charlie leaning his bottle back into his face/side-stepping/uneasy swaying/his eyes up on the TV/Violet curled up under the blue blanket/Henry up the other end of the couch, his usual afternoon face down on the usual pillow/his kicks kicked off under the coffee table/his tired eyes emotionless but stapled to the show.

I find where the receiver/DVR thing goes and I lay it down.

The kids aren't here, they're at their mom's. I lay all the Peppa Pigs and Sponge Bobs down. I lay the animal shows down, the Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives that me and Henry would watch every night after we did our guy's workout on the living room rugs and I drug my dinner over to the coffee table so he could steal hunks of cheese or strips of red pepper off of the cutting board I use as a plate.

I start crying. I swear to God I do.

I know, I know, I know.

Fucking pussy.

But I lose it sometimes. I don't care. I admit that shit. They're here, they're not here. I'm up, I'm down. The shows were part of it all, you know? Peppa lived up in the DVR and she was a part of all this sweet mess we've got going on over here and now I'm shipping her out. It's like I'm shipping our pet pig off to the bacon house or something. 


There's only like maybe 4 or 5 tears and then I bounce back: I growl, clear my throat, tough guy shit. I put the remotes in the box. I seal the whole thing up according to their directions. I try to avoid any additional charges. Then I look at the box on the counter and I touch it with my fingertips, like a coffin. Like my dead grandmother's coffin splayed out there in the late afternoon front room Victorian sun shafts.

Oh get it together, rock-n-roller. Just send the goddamn box back and pull yourself together. Goodbye, Peppa. We love you. I'll buy you in an app for Apple TV if there is one.

Yo, is there one?


That show I played, we played...the one from the beginning of this thing?

We killed it.

We fucking killed it.


It's not the guitar or the cartoons. It isn't the words I try and come up with or the fact that I never proof read them enough. It isn't the frozen pizzas in the freezer or the push-ups in the evening or the fantasies in my head or the novels piling up on my nightstand. It's never the awkwardness of forward motion or the hammering resilience of the past. It isn't the slamming of the backdoor and I know it's my brother or the ringing of the phone and I know it's a bill. It's neither here nor there, hardly this or that.

It's not her people showing up in my Facebook feed making me restless.

It's never the last of the milk and I've gotta get more.

It isn't the text message invites or the Christmas lights burning out in the kitchen again or the sour smell in the car upholstery that never ever goes away.

It's not the dog that died.

It's not the things I tell myself. And it's not the things I can't face.

It's everything at once and everything else at the same exact fucking time.

It's nothing really. But then again it's not that either.

It's the shine of the tiles in the gas station bathroom. It's the waking up from a deep sleep three seconds before the alarm goes off. It's the long, strangely elegant toilet paper ribbon 'someone' drug into the bunk bed room. It's the last ditch offers from Direct TV coming so fast and furious for a while there. Now they don't come anymore at all.

It's the little girl eating her Cinnamon Toast Crunch by her plastic cup of lemonade.

It's the pumpkins dying out in the field right up the road.

It's the one dude dressed up like a vampire, eating a banana.

It's the other dude streaming snot down over the smile of God.

It's the silent click of the tuner under my Van, the rush of in tune firing up into my groin.

It's knowing I don't know. It's knowing I will never know. But I know it will snow. So it's the snow, don't you know.

It's these racing days and these long dark nights slipping past me like deer in the morning sliding down past the tractor parked in the colorless mist of yet another dawn not even a half mile from where I sleep the sleep of a man who stared his firing squad in the eye, whispered "Fuck. You.", and lived to tell the tale.