A confession in two movements

March 22nd, 2021

Sitting cross-legged on the couch in my friend’s apartment in Harlem. The window is open and I can hear the city’s soundtrack as it collaborates with the music I’m playing from my own laptop. Instrumental, of course. “Ghosts VI: Locust” by Nine Inch Nails. Outside, the whining of a motorcycle through the breeze, a hammer somewhere in the distance. Some drilling. The sun is shining through the window. The middle window: stained glass. It shimmers in its many colors through its depiction of flowers and vines.

I sit here in peace. A breathable moment. Livable. Breathe. Bearable.

This peace has been absent from my life for almost a week and a half.

It’s been a week and three days since the accident. Since my car, like lightning through the sky, came crashing through. Crash, skid…maybe repeat. (Will it repeat?) The airbag explodes like a flash. That quick. Underprocessed. Smoke starts filling the car. Time to go. Time to see…

Yes, I made it. The moment is now a memory. The car is now a memory.

Timing is everything, friends. Mother nature is the real driver. Buckle up and hope for the best.

Trees fall. Branches fall. And bruises hurt.

No, I didn’t need an ambulance, though I was offered one. The car needed it more than me. 

Totalled.

Yes, timing is everything. It could have been much worse, and every post before this my legacy. 

When I got home, I entered what felt like a catatonic state. Nothing but sleep the next two days. Not the doctor’s orders, but my mind tells me what it tells me. Stress, anxiety, pondering. They put me down like an old dog.

But maybe I needed it, because when I came to after what seemed like two days of being in a catatonic state, I felt an energy. No, a courage. 

I’m still trying to figure it out.

When people have asked me if I am alright, I know that I am. But I think that’s more of the physical aspect. Mentally…is it ok to say that I’m not sure yet?

I feel like I have more questions now. More “What-if’s”, for a lot of things.

~~~~~

March 29th, 2021

And now I sit at a cafe, a block away from St. Marks. It’s a pretty big space. Hard, harsh wooden floors surround me. Two friends talking next to me, laptops out. Maybe doing homework (pretty close to NYU). People reading books, drinking coffee, and just sitting. Working. Thinking. Classic rock playing on the radio. 

This may be a bad idea. The coffee, I mean. It’s 3:34 but I have to be up at 5am tomorrow. And I’ve been up since four a.m. And the wake is tomorrow.

A friend of mine unexpectedly passed away a few days ago. Taken too early by the coronavirus. It’s devastated a lot of people around me, including myself. Processing everything going on has been a…well…a process.

I’m anxious and tired, but I wish I could stay up all night and drink coffee. Stay up, listen to music and grieve.

I think about it more and more, and I realize that this year has taken so much away from my life, and it’s only March (flirting with April). I’m tired. I’m lonely.

I hope this cycle of loss is over. I could use a rest.

I know I have fallen off my writing in recent weeks. It has been hard to find the energy to write, I confess.

In all honesty, this is the first day in weeks I’ve gotten the itch inside me to write. I don’t know if it’s out of grief or a self-medication of sorts. Maybe I have nothing to lose at the moment.

Is this sad? Is this depressing? I’m sorry. Sort of.

One thing I must confess: this blog has helped me do is (when active) spark my mind creatively. It pushed me to, even if not good, write. I have always thought of the stories and entries I post in this blog the literary equivalent to B-sides. Exercises in passion and productivity. Better something than nothing, even when sometimes I feel as if I have nothing to offer. 

Anyway, this is where I’ve been. I feel the writer coming back. I wanna keep going…

“Rage” by Stephen King: A Meditation

By David Karp

As the sun was slowly dipping down into the horizon, the sunlight slowly disappearing from the window I was sitting next to in the cafe, I closed a book that I was, at first, hesitant to read. I had finished it; I had gotten through it. But it left me with a lot of thoughts.

I don’t know if it was the subject matter or knowing that this book had something to do with real tragic events of my time, or maybe the fact that it was pulled from the author himself. Still, I had made a deal with myself to read all his books in published order, and that included this one.

The writer is Stephen King (writing as his pseudonym, Richard Bachman) and the novel is “Rage”.

In short, the book is about a troubled high school student, Charlie Decker, who snaps and ends up shooting his algebra teacher and holding his class hostage at gunpoint. It all takes place within a few hours (“real time”, I guess) and, as the hours in captivity progress, we learn about some of the lives and troubles of Decker’s fellow students. You never really know how this situation ends until it all pans out, but you can feel the clock ticking.

I don’t want to give anything away, so that’s all I will say about it but I think you get the idea. This summary may also start to shed some light into why the book was pulled by King in the first place.

The book had been in the possession of a slew of school shooters in the late 80’s-90’s and is said to may have been an influence on these individuals. This, of course, horrified King and he decided to let the novel fall out of print.

He has since commented on his decision and has even written a non-fiction essay on school shootings, propelled by the Sandy Hook shooting in 2012, called “Guns” that discusses the pull of the novel as well as gun violence. I look forward to reading it after I am finished with my own reflection here.

The novel itself predates even his first published work, “Carrie” (which is phenomenal, by the way), having written the bulk of it in high school. The writing itself, in “Rage”, will show this a little. Though not the worst written book, you can tell that it was an early work. His world building and character development are in the early stages. Still, it is interesting to read something from such a gifted writer that had manifested itself closer to his beginnings, which was why I couldn’t exclude it from my journey into the complete works of Stephen King. After all, I did say COMPLETE.

Still, despite its early forging by King’s pen, I must say that there are some great moments of dialogue (almost monologue) from Charlie Decker’s fellow students, as they tell of their own vicious and even relatable upbringings. 

As the class is held hostage, somehow the class starts to become more like group therapy, with different students touching on things such as sex, abuse, and even a rather interesting meditiation on feminism from one particular student, Carol Granger, that comes in the form of a recalling of a shopping trip around Christmas one year. It was the one passage that has really stuck with me. 

It goes like this:

“I was walking along Congress Street in Portland just before Christmas last year. I was with Donna Taylor. We were buying Christmas presents. I’d just bought my sister a scarf at Porteus-Mitchell, and we were talking about it and laughing. Just silly stuff. We were giggling. It was about four o’clock and just starting to get dark. It was snowing. All the colored lights were on, and the shop windows were full of glitter and packages…pretty…and there was one of those Salvation Army Santa Clauses on the corner by Jones’s Book Shop. He was ringing his bell and smiling. I felt good. I felt really good. It was like the Christmas spirit, and all that. I was thinking about getting home and having hot chocolate with whipped cream on top of it. And then this old car drove by, and whoever was driving cranked his window down and yelled ‘Hi, cunt!’.

Anne Lasky jumped. I have to admit that the word did sound awfully funny coming out of Carol Granger’s mouth.

“Just like that,” she said bitterly. “It was all wrecked. Spoiled. Like an apple you thought was good and then bit into a worm hole. ‘Hi, cunt.’ As if that was all there was , no person, just a huh-h-h…” Her mouth pulled down in a trembling, agonized grimace. “And that’s like being bright, too. They want to stuff things into your head until it’s all filled up. It’s a different hole, that’s all. That’s all.”

A few lines down, after another classmate comes to her side and thinks, Carol says:

“Either all brains or all cunt,” Carol said with brittle good humor. “Doesn’t leave room for much else, does it?

This rang out to me as especially tragic when I read it. I could see a meditation of high school society, the issue of equality, and the misogyny that still exist in our society even today…all in this one passage. The words spoken by someone so young that already understands the inequality she is exposed to in the world, repping undeserved consequences. 

And this kind of thing, even in high school, still happens today. 

There are other moments that touch on similar topics in the novel. And, when I finished it, I thought real hard on the thought that was honestly stewing in my mind for at least the second half of the book.

Though out of print and for good reason, “Rage” is a novel that is unfortunately quite relevant.

Being born in 1990, I seemed to have grown up in the dawn of mass school shootings that has seemed to play out on my television more often than I would like throughout my life. They have become a part of our cultural narrative, and it is a troubling issue to say the least. These shootings are senseless and evil, and it is sad that we have to live in a world where our schools are not always a safe haven.

Now look, I am no expert and this piece is more of a reflection than an essay, but I have to say that the subjects brought up in “Rage” are strikingly relevant, moreso today than when the actual novel was written, if I may be so bold to say it.

Gun violence, misogyny, high school politics. Rage. It’s all in our culture today. Our past and our present. 

What a word, rage.

When I read, I like to look deeper into the words than just using them to be a map of plot. I try and find deeper meaning, especially in fiction, as some of the best philosophy can be found in the words you read from a novel. Such as with “Rage”. If taking the words literally, it’s not the best of novels. But if you read it more as a meditation on the world around us, especially today, rather than literal: there lies a real darkness. There lies the horror, the problems that we have to face today as a society. The reasons that the book was rightfully pulled from print.

Still, I believe the story of “Rage”, not so much as a narrative but as a meditation on society, can bring something to the conversation. An awakening to something that NEEDS to be addressed. We have lost too much life to such horrible acts throughout the past thirty or so years. We need to take a minute, as a nation, to meditate and really think about the society we surround ourselves with today and how it will shape generations to come.

In the end, I’m glad I read “Rage”. I hated Decker and the situation he put his class through. I don’t think it’s a book I will pick up again, unless for some type of social research. But I’m glad it brought up subjects and issues that we, as a country, are going through today, and not shed light on why they happen, but on the fact that they are very much happening in our generation. And something has to change within us and around us.

In Memory of/In Reflection

One of my favorite pictures of my mother and I.

By David Karp

“Change. How do you change yourself?….It’s easy to lose yourself or never find yourself. The older you get, the heavier that baggage becomes that you haven’t sorted through. So you run. I’ve done a lotta that kind of running. I’ve spent 35 years trying to learn how to let go of the destructive parts of my character. And I still have days when I struggle with it. We all have our broken pieces. Emotionally. Spiritually. In this life, nobody gets away unhurt. We’re always trying to find somebody whose broken pieces fit with our broken pieces and something whole emerges… Life’s mysteries remain and deepen. It’s answers: unresolved. So you walk on through the dark ‘cause that’s where the next morning is.”- Bruce Springsteen, from a monologue in the trailer of his “Western Stars” film

I often found myself returning to these words in the second half of last month. For comfort and for reflection. Something Bruce Springsteen tends to do for me through his music and his words.

I’m sure you noticed, dear reader, that I have taken said second half of February off from writing. Not for better or for worse, just a matter of fact. It’s funny, because I actually started this post February 13th, but lost words and inspiration to find exactly what it was I wanted to say, as I knew that I had a bit of a dark woods to trek through.

It’s a strange time every year for me. I think and I reflect and I listen to what I have to say to myself. 

And some years, those words I tell myself aren’t always kind. This was one of those years.

Thursday, February 12th, 2021 marked twenty one years since my mother passed away.

Twenty-one years. My God.

I’m not sure if it’s because of that sobering fact, or because something hasn’t processed fully, or because the nine year old boy who waved goodbye to his mother twenty one years ago is still waiting at the front door for a wish that was unfulfilled.

Time has passed. The story goes on. The chapters keep writing and writing themselves. And like any book, there are some hellos…and some goodbyes.

The hand I was dealt has come with more goodbyes than hellos. And if we could take out emotions from that statement, then those are just simply the facts.

I don’t know what it was this year, but I struggled a bit more with myself and my reality.

One night last week, I took a drive…nowhere in particular. Just a drive to clear my mind. To think.

One night two weeks ago, I pulled into an empty parking lot somewhere on Route 3 in Clifton, NJ where the only light shining was the cold white tint of the streetlights above me. I called my father up and I told him that I’m realizing as I get older, the memories are fading with the years.

It’s not a pleasant thing, but honest. I have now lived more life without her than with her. And that realization; the “what-if’s” that we as humans sometimes imagine; that mere revelation: it ran through my veins; unfiltered, unforgiving loneliness. A loneliness that lies somewhere deep in the forest of the heart and of the human condition.

And so we talked for an hour or so about her and the memories we did still have. As he is getting older as well, he shares the sentiment. We both struck a nerve and, as father and son, we talked it out. 

And we learned.

One thing I learned that I didn’t know, is that she had a nickname for me. “Little Loof”. Charming? Maybe. I don’t think anyone knows why that was given to me, but it made me smile because it was another happy memory I could use to fight off the demons of the bad.

The memory from my last post was real. It happened that way, as best as I can remember from 21 years ago. 

And that was the pain I felt this year. That loneliness. The fact that the most vivid memory I now have of her is from the day she died.

I knew I had to step away for a bit and look into myself and, for lack of a better term, accept that fact.

I’ve been learning a lot more about my own trauma these past few years, be it through my own self-reflection, therapy, my writing, other media I consume, and such. And as I understand myself and who I am, I feel like I understand her more.

It’s not that I don’t have happy memories of her. I remember one of the things I looked forward to the most in the winters is that she would make these amazing gingerbread men cookies. I would always watch her and help her with the dough and the cookie cutter. Our two cats would come out of hiding, and try and jump up onto the table where we would have to fend them off so they wouldn’t eat the dough. We’d wait together as they cooked in the oven and watch some of a movie or a cartoon, the smell slowly making its way to us from the kitchen as it cooked. And when they were done and she pulled them out of the oven…perfection. A sign of winter and happiness. Snow always seemed to be falling every year we made them, so when I see snow I think of gingerbread cookies. And I think of her.

The happy memories do exist, you see. Sometimes, though, I wish the most vivid one wasn’t also the most traumatic. I wish it played out differently and I wish I could of had a few more years of memories with her. I don’t think a year goes by where I wonder what my life would of been like if she were still around. What advice she would give me, what she would think of my faults and mistakes, what path she had thought of for me. 

To remember her voice saying “I love you.”

But I know she did, and I know she does. And I know, as I age, I grow closer to her because, despite not knowing her my adult life, I do still feel her around me from wherever she passed on to. In little things and coincidences and events. In the love from the people I choose to surround myself by. From the love I have found for myself over the past thirty years, which was its own journey that I am still taking, though I have come a long way in the past decade. That’s a story for another time.

But I will say this: A lot of people, upon meeting me for the first time or spending more time with me in the beginning, often ask how I smile so much.

And oftentimes, I would want to shake them and tell them that I went through hell trying to find out how. And that smile wasn’t always real, despite whether I was lying to the outside world or myself. But I’m proud to say that the smiles I give are now genuine. Took a better part of thirty years, but I played the cards I was dealt with and I think I may actually have a chance of winning at the end of all this.

And I know some part of the hope in my heart was passed down from my mother. 

I think I will stop here. I could write a whole book on grief and hope and my life thus far, but yes. Let’s stop here. I have only skimmed the emotional journey I have made throughout my life. A snapshot in a photo album of memories happy and sad. A journey that continues now. And so it goes…

To my mother, wherever you are: I love you more than any words I could write, but every word that I write for the rest of my life is in your honor. I may not have had a lot of time with you, and in a way I still hold on to some grief, but I know you are still out there watching and inside my heart, feeling. Guiding me through whatever light and dark that my life takes me. I strive to learn more every day, one day at a time. And I thank you for giving me that. I love you- Little Loof.

“What is grief, if not love persevering?”- Vision, in the 8th episode of Wandavision

This Is Where We Part

A map of memories

By David Karp

~~~~~

Original Memory

It’s easy for me to go back to that page in my life. That scene, when I wander there on my own accord: it plays perfectly well. In my mind, I don’t think it ever stops playing. Probably in some old drive-in at midnight somewhere deep in my subconscious, and I’m the only car there and it’s raining a lonely summer rain. And though it may be a permanent fixture in my subconscious, it isn’t a scene I necessarily see constantly in the forefront of my often unquiet mind, but a feeling. A feeling that, for the rest of my days, will always linger, I think.

But I give it permission, because I never want to forget, even in the happiest times, as it’s the most vivid thing I have of her right now.

I was nine, flirting with ten. A little over three months away from the big 1-0, in fact.

Nightfall was closer and closer to washing over our humble street. The dark blue of the night sky and it’s chandelier of a moon was just an hour away, if that.

After walking into the house with my mother, I turned right as she walked upstairs and I walked into the dark dining room and put my bookbag down on one of the chairs that surrounded our dining room table. The trek from school to home always felt like a longer adventure than it actually was, but that’s what happens when you’re a kid. Everything is more grand and epic, like in the movies. And going one or two blocks means going into worlds you’ve never even dreamed of, especially when you live down the way from a major road.

Suddenly, from the darkness of the top of the stairs, the hall light came on, and I was surprised to see my father standing at the top when I went over to investigate.

From there, I peeked into the living room from my poriffrial and I could see my grandmother getting up from the wooden rocking chair she would always sit in, reading a book or watching the news on CNN, her favorite channel from my memory.

My father walked down the stairs to greet me. I asked him why he wasn’t at work like he always was and he informed me that he was driving my mother to the doctor’s for a check-up. Routine stuff. Nothing wrong. She would be home for dinner, and my grandmother would be here with me while they were at her appointment.

Fair enough.

And then my mother came down the stairs behind him, in her purple Mickey Mouse shirt and black pants. It was a darker purple, with Mickey in the middle. A fanny pack was around her waist as well. It was the 90s.

Her blonde hair was combed back and curly, and her eyes were tired, but never worried. And whenever she looked at me, I could see and feel all the love in her heart she had for me. Brighter than a winter moon and snow in the sunlight. Brighter than heaven itself.

I stepped into the living room a little to give them space to leave.

“I’ll be back soon, David.” she said, with a hug and a kiss. At least, something like that. I can’t remember the exact words.

But what I do remember exactly…

As they left and walked to the car, I walked over and rubbed some of the frost off of the storm door so I could get a better look at them as the light shined down on me from our small front hallway.

I watched as they both got into the beach-sand colored Toyota Camry, a very summer-like color to see in the front yard that was still melting away the last snow storm. 

A few seconds later, the headlights turned on and the car started pulling out of the driveway and onto Sheridan Avenue, which was close to becoming fully encased in another winter night.

As the car started it’s way down the road and towards the main street, I could see my mother, who was mostly a silhouette, waving at me from the passengers’ side window. 

I may have mouthed the word “Bye.”

I watched the car make its way down the street. I watched until the red tail lights had disappeared from my view.

This is a small moment in the time I have been alive, but it is also one of the most vivid. Simple but slow. And, as it turned out, defining. Just me waving to my mom in the shadows of the hallway in a dark house on a winter night.

I’m not going to go into details of the next few days that ensued after this particular moment, or the last two phone calls that I had with her, or how that moment has become more permanent than any tattoo I could ever get. 

But, if you could not guess by now, after they drove away that night, I never saw her again. The night took her. And then, about a week later, the cancer took her for good. I never saw it coming. I never even knew she was sick, not that I would understand the science behind cancer if I did. I found out later in life that she was in remission, until she wasn’t.

A chapter ended that night, along with any kind of innocence I may have had. Things would never be the same, and in a way they still aren’t now. Maybe in some alternate reality where she watches me grow up, helps me through heartbreaks and homework, and reads the stories I have worked on up until now. But that’s not the reality I live in.

And this has been my “new normal” long before the here and now.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Fictional Re-Imagining

Noah looked into his mother’s eyes as the stretcher went past him and out the front door, with two paramedics at her side.

Through the blots of blood, they seemed lifeless and uninterested. Lost. Hopeless.

It was as if she was looking right through him. Right through the house and it’s white walls, hoping there was something like a better life in the distance, but finding nothing but her own harsh reality, dripping with blood and shouting questions that had no answers; only nightmares. 

It made Noah uneasy as he stood there in the shadows of the hallway that illuminated the flashes of the ambulance again and again and again and…

He heard his father thanking the last paramedic for coming to the house so quickly as he tiptoed over the broken glass of the smashed bottle.

He could hear his father’s voice, repeating: “I found her here, sir” and “I think she slipped on the bottle” and “This can’t fucking be happening” and his cries of worry and his other lies.

Lies. Lies she would keep because he was fucking crazy. Living in a town that must also be crazy. To give his father the authority he had here in his town when he abused it just as much as he did to the ones he promised to love: it was pure insanity.

And no one could do anything about it. And he made sure of it, especially from her.

And Noah was smart enough to know it. His father’s darker side, as much as he thought he was hiding it, was hiding there in the glint of his eye or the smile he had when he got angry: wolf-like and menacing. Unapologetic and uncaring.

Evil.

And then, when his mother’s untouched eyes passed his own and the stretcher made its way further out onto the lawn-

-The world became silent.

No talking, no breathing, no footsteps or winter wind: just nothing.

The last paramedic to leave pushed Noah aside ever so gently but it seemed not to register in his head as he stared at his mother being put inside the red and silver box.

Another cage. His mother didn’t need another cage.

He was too young to understand his own question: How did my family get to this?

The answer was just as far away. To him, it just started with screaming and then loud noises in the other room. And then the crashes and the sobbing. Sometimes broken glass, sometimes broken skin. And then, occasionally, there was silence after it all.

No.

This was the worst of the silence. Tonight, when Noah saw his mother lying at the bottom of the stairs. The broken glass, the blood. And his father, pacing in the kitchen like an animal on the verge of madness.

The flashing red and white lights and the siren all turned on at the same time, startling Noah back into the moment. 

A few seconds later, the ambulance started to pull away. It gained speed as it went down the road towards the hospital across town. He recognized some of his neighbors on each side of the house, watching from their front yards or from their windows, holding back curtains. Some watched the ambulance and some watched him.

Even in the distance, he could still make out some of the flashing lights illuminating in the night sky. He watched them, wondering what was to happen next.

Suddenly, he saw the world outside pull back quickly. It took him a few seconds to realize his dad had yanked him back into the hallway by his shirt.

And stepping past him, his father looked out, waved at a few neighbors and gave them the “one second” finger, closed the door in front of Noah and turned to face him.

He swore he could see a flame burning in his father’s eyes.

~~~~~

Writing Exercise: “A Map To Anywhere” by Paul Lisicky

An Epilogue

By David Karp

The road that went over the two big hills was foggy at night: something that it always seemed to be, even when she had driven up the same road hundreds of times just two years ago. The streetlights with the pink tints reflected off the fog, giving a sensation of being lost even to someone who had driven around the area before.

Before, it had looked magical to her, a perfect segway to an evening with the love of her life.

Tonight, it looked like an aftermath. An epilogue.

Every other house seemed to have some sign of life in it, whether it was a few lights on in the window, a tv that could be seen on through the glass, or an open garage door. And then some looked empty; vacant. Passing the time.

She drove through the fog and shadows and ghosts, making her way just over the second hill. At the very top, you could see the big lake at the bottom, reflecting the moonlight. The surrounding trees danced every so slightly in the light, spring wind that whispered through the little country neighborhood. 

As she looked out at the lake, she thought about the little bar on the water that they would always go to. The first time she met him there, she had gotten lost. She missed the turn and continued down the road which, to her panic, turned into pure woods and a small thin dirt road, encased in the darkness of the night. It took her a few tries to do a K turn once she realized that something was wrong. She eventually had turned herself around, and retracing her path, she ended up finding a small road that snaked its way steeply down a hill and onto the water, with the bar right next to it.

It was a small tavern with a red roof that seemed to only be one room. The bar took up most of it, with wooden chairs surrounding it so patrons could have their fill from the wells.

They ended up staying there for about three hours talking, laughing, singing: enjoying the simple fact of being alive.

At the end of the night, after last call, they were the last to leave.

She had kissed him in the parking lot, under the summer moon.

God, it had been their first kiss. It led to so many more.

Many moons ago.

She snapped out of it, back in the car within the fog, and continued down the hill. His street was about halfway down this particular slope. It took her some thinking to remember if it was the first right or the second, after a roundabout.

It was the second. How could she forget?

She turned onto Lorelei Street and watched the houses on her left. One with a tarp over the roof. Probably needed work. The second with all the lights on; two friends talking in the doorway, laughing.The third was dark. No cars in the driveway, no lights on, and the yard empty.

And then came his house.

The white picket fence was still there, the one that made her think of “Somewhere That’s Green” from the movie Little Shop of Horrors, where Audrey, one of the main characters, pictures herself in the perfect suburban life, with a green yard that has been freshly cut, surrounded by a white picket fence. Living with the love of her life; a cliche happiness.

She chuckled at the thought of it. She chuckled because, somewhere buried in her static loneliness that the journey with him left her in, she could almost admit to herself that she had the same aspirations as Audrey did in the movie at one point in their time together.

How cliche, she thought.

She pulled over to the right and put the car in park, across the street from his house. Yes, the fence was still there. And the firepit. And the green grass. But now, there was a different scattered mess of lawn chairs. She could see one with a beer still in the cup holder built into the arm of the blue chair.

Further on, she looked over to the single floor white house itself. The front door was still blue, but was missing a reef. He had one for every season.

There was a tan pickup truck and a blue BMW in the driveway. No Black Subaru Forester, the car he was so in love with.

They spent so much time in the van, driving through mountain roads, getting lost whenever they could because, well…they could. They loved the thrill of the travel, the seductive possibilities of the unknown. They used to drive for hours on end, especially at night as if the nighttime would last forever.

On one such journey, they were about a half hour in on a mountainous road (there was no way she could remember the name of the road itself) when, all of a sudden, the streetlights just disappeared. They could sense their adrenaline going up, and after a short, dark, incline, the light of the moon overtook them, and they found the road making its way through a wide, open field. The mountains, black lumps in the moonlight, towered over the field like titans. It was beautiful and green and it was as if, besides the road, no one had yet to discover it. And the moon just shined down from the sky like a lantern in the night, guiding them in all its beauty.

They looked at the time. Five A.M. That was normal for them. They decided to pull over into a little alcove in the field near a lone tree which stood like a watchtower to this new world around them. The sun was going to be up soon, and they decided to park with the back of the van towards the east, put the back seats down, and crawl in together to cuddle and watch the eventual sunrise.

She felt so comfortable in his arms as they watched the moon and the stars slowly but surely travel through the sky above them. Everything was so clear; so perfect.

Alas, they ended up falling asleep about twenty minutes into it, and woke up five hours later, with the sun already up but the field just as empty. They laughed in their awakening state, and shared a small but passionate kiss before getting back into the front.

Such a beautiful memory, still lingering inside her whether she wanted to admit it or not. 

But she didn’t think that he lived here anymore. It had only been two years, but once he was out of her life, he was out for good. No contact from him, no clue of where his life would take him. Not even the comfort of speculation. 

It was what it was.

She wasn’t necessarily planning on getting out of the car, but some dark urge made her. A possession of memory. A curiosity even she knew could never lead anywhere. Nevertheless, she was just so curious. 

She shut her door gently and looked out at the house. The fog was too encasing the house, making it look dreamlike yet gloomy and uninterested in the world around it. The same pine trees were towering on either side of it, poking their bushy heads out of the fog here and there. 

Now what?, she thought. She wasn’t even sure who lived there anymore. There was nothing to see really. Nothing but memories.

She spent so much time in that house. They had cooked there, slept there, made love there; had hundreds of movie nights there, had so many talks and dreams and revelations.

She slowly crossed the street and approached the door on the fence that was just off center on the left. No security lights came on, and as she looked a little more in the window, she could see that the kitchen light was on, but it looked empty and lonely.

From what she could see, not much had changed in the kitchen but a slew of new shelving. Could have been his for all she knew, but she had that gut feeling that he wasn’t there anymore.

She couldn’t explain it exactly, but she could swear that, whenever he was around, she could feel his energy. Even when she least expected it, she felt something in the air. Maybe that intuition changed since the breakup, but she could remember the feeling very vividly. It was like feeling high or drunk. It was like stepping into a daydream, and a rush would hit her bloodstream every time she saw him. It was more than bliss. It was magic.

Magic that had now vanished without any sort of explanation. They were in that very kitchen the last time they ever saw each other. She could tell that something was up; he was acting different as they ate dinner together. It was almost like fear. He was worried she was going to leave him. It came out of nowhere….

…Talk about a magician…

…and it came hard. And she knew her heart so, so well. She would never do a thing like that to him. Her heart didn’t work that way. And it was funny, because there were times she would feel that way about him too. In those younger times (not greatly, but two years can teach you a lot of things), she listened, with a more personal heart, to the criticisms that came into her life from the outside world. 

Never pretty enough. Never cool enough. Never normal enough. Always less than.

But he reassured her, and she tried to listen. She did as best she could.

Does this whole thing mean she was right to have those thoughts, after all is said and done, standing here at the gates of her past?

The white picket fence of her past…

She came back from her thoughts. She knew she was a stronger person now, despite her occasional dark nights of anxiety, such as tonight.

She forgave herself since then.

She walked past the fence and to the front of the driveway. 

She could see the window at the end of the driveway that was his room. Looking a little harder, she could see white curtains hanging there. His were red, and she remembers how they used to fall down every few weeks. He really could never figure out how to put them up properly. She gave it a go a few times, and they would stay up longer than when he did it, but they always seemed to find a way onto the bed in the middle of the night, sometimes startling them away.

Awake. As if she ever slept. As if she ever let herself drift away peacefully in his arms.

As she focused closely onto the window, she realized that it may have been her one regret about the time they had together. She wished she told him how hard it was to sleep there sometimes. Not because of the temperature of the room or that the bed was uncomfortable. It was the fact that it was a new bed. Not of her own. In a room not of her own.

Pathetic as she thought it was of herself, at the age of twenty five, it was honestly the first time she ever slept next to someone she loved. Before they met, her dating life became a self-fulfilling prophecy. She hated her body, her mind and her life so much; her depression had taken her over for so long, that she never gave anyone a chance in fear that they would leave without a trace. Find something better.

For years, the words she described herself were dark and ugly. The thoughts; the voice telling her she wanted love but wasn’t going to be good enough for it…not deserving. She was too weird.

It was those thoughts that took her over back then sometimes.

She had loved and been loved before, but they always ended unfairly. There was always a catch. There was always sadness. It’s how she learned to hate herself back then. But with him, she felt like the underdog. 

But sometimes, even that kept her awake in his bed at night.

Sometimes, she would watch him sleep, lost in the feeling of how lucky she was to be next to him. How new this kind of love was in her life, like a foreigner who has moved to a new home in another country. He always slept so peacefully, even when the TV blasted or the construction near his house started before the sun rose.

Sometimes, she would lay there staring at the ceiling, thinking of all the things in her head she wanted to tell him; wish she could tell him. He wasn’t very fond of talking about emotions, which was a red flag she knew she should have seen early on and confronted truthfully instead of making up excuses to not.

Sometimes, she was afraid he would leave in the middle of the night. Leave like everyone seemed to do in her story, without warning or reason. She had not, at the time, disconnected the act of everyone leaving from her undeserved guilt. So she would stand guard, like a dog, hoping it wouldn’t happen again, though unfortunately for her always having the feeling of expecting it.

God, those were times. God, how she wishes she was wrong, at least to some extent.

God, that was so long ago.

And as long ago as it was, there is a small part of her that wishes she could turn over in his bed again and watch him sleep so peacefully, holding her hand on the best of nights until the sun broke the sky.

So long ago…

There was no sign of life now. No sign or whispers or scenes from her past. Only the shell. Only the name of the chapter in her story. The setting remained, but it wasn’t hers anymore and it could never be again.

But that was the consequence of playing a losing hand. That’s what happens when you lose the bet. You pay the price, whatever the price may be.

And that was that.

There was nothing more to see, but she was glad she could see it one last time. That was the whole reason she was here. She could feel the epilogue coming to an end. She was ready to start a new book; a new life. New bets, new memories, new ways to cope with the demons inside her. 

Two years may have passed on this earth since she last saw him, but she noticed the demons were a little more quiet as time went on.

And for the first time in a long time, with her memories there right in front of her, she smiled. Hopeful.

There was nothing more to see. She finally found the nerve to see the house again, and only once more. This was the funeral for her past. This was it.

And as she walked back to her car and opened the door, ready to drive down that road one last time, she turned once more to the house and, in the dark window of the living room, she could see the silhouette of a man; a mere shadow. 

She stared at it for a while, being able to tell it was not his. But she gave it a little wave, regardless.

She couldn’t tell if he waved back or not.

And with that, she started her engine, made another awkward K-turn, and drove down the street one last time.

~~~~~

Writing Exercise: “The Upside-Down Bird: Hybridizing Memory, Place and Invention” by Maria Flook

The Exchange

By David Karp

As Will got out of the car, he was hit with the breeze of the Hudson River as it flowed angrily beneath him. He jumped at it’s rigidness. It stung his eyes and his hands. He could hear the wind as it roared through the valley below him. He shivered, wondering if it was the wind or the darkness that scared his mind more.

Across the river, the city lights of the Upper West Side sparkled and shined, making a soft illumination off the water. But where Will was standing, there were only shadows from the dying trees that aligned the edges of the Palisades. Even the streetlights above him had gone to sleep, and all he could hear was the wind, the waves, and the passing of the occasional car behind him. The night felt as dead and as cold as a graveyard on a snowy day.

He leaned against his car for a minute, the metal of his door cold but unfelt because of his jacket. It seemed unusually cold for an October night, he thought to himself. But then his mind turned to deeper things.

The events of the past week have been the catalyst of the darker things he found himself in. Things even he couldn’t comprehend. A Pandora’s box that he never knew he had. Could he blame it on something as small and miniscule to the world as a broken heart? His depression? His fear? It had all turned him, at first quiet; almost unalive. 

Now…

And out from the trees, just as quick and startling as a deer or a fox, headlights from another car appeared out of nowhere; the shadows. His two eyes dilated as he looked into the headlights of this strange beast. It was moving rather slow, as to keep quiet and not startle Will.

A wolf observing his prey. Licking its lips, saliva dripping and eyes wide. A slow approach reaps the greatest rewards.

The road in front of him started showing itself in the light more and more as the car got closer. It was then that Will realized that they were coming from further down the cliff, not the direction of the highway. They were waiting for him to arrive. Will wondered how long they were waiting there, in the darkness of it all.

They drove past Will without even a word, and then slowed down a little bit past him. He could make out now that it was a Black Lincoln Continental. Not too old, not vintage. But menacing, especially in the darkness.

The car pulled on the side and parked. A second later, the lights switched off, encasing them all in utter darkness.

Despite the cold, Will could feel his wet palms as he clenched them tighter and tighter. He rubbed up against his right pants pocket and felt the knife he took with him. Futile, as he assumed they would come heavier, but it was at least some sort of backup.

Every sound around him seemed to stop. The water, the wind, the highway. All gone quieter than the dead.

The latch of the Lincoln startled him as it opened. From the driver’s side, a bigger balding man in a black and grey flannel and dark blue jeans slowly rose from inside the car. As he turned around to look at Will, the passenger’s side door opened slowly and another man, this one tall but a bit lankier with jet black hair that had seen too much gel came out and turned to Will as well. 

In the silence, they studied Will with their eyes, hidden in shadow. Will stared right back, and there they stood in the darkness: as if in position to begin a duel. He hoped the men could not tell that he was sweating.

They loomed there in the darkness and the silence for a few more seconds.

Suddenly:

“Did you come heavy?” said the man on the driver’s side.

“Huh?”

The two men looked at each other and let out a quick cackle, hyena-like.

“Do you have any weapons?”

“Um, no.”

“Not that it would matter anyway, because if you try any kind of clever shit, I swear they’re gonna find you in that river with the boy.”

The mention of Noah made him cringe, his heart jump and his soul scream.

“I’m good.” Will said, a little more confidently, hiding his lie of the knife.

“Alright, alright.” he said with a tinge of a southern accent that he couldn’t tell was real or fake. “Let’s get down to business! I believe you have something that belongs to my associates. And I believe the deal was to give it back.”

“The deal was for Noah to-”

“Oh, we know the deal!” He turned to the other man from the passenger’s seat. “Get him out here.”

The other man turned and slowly walked towards the trunk. He got his keys from his pocket, opened the trunk up, and reached inside.

Slowly, in his arms, out came Noah. Duck tape on his limbs and mouth, flailing around. Like a fish trying to escape the grasp of the fisherman.

“He’s feisty. I forgot how much spunk this kid got in him.”

The man carried him over to the other man and showed him to Will, front and center, and placed him on the ground. Noah tried to get to his feet, but his bounds did not allow him too. All he could do is struggle and let out muffled angry screams.

“What are you complaining about!” the first man said, “When I was your age, I always wanted to find out what it’s like to ride in the trunk!”

Both men cackled like hyenas in heat.

It made Will naturally move a little closer, out of protection.

“Woah, there!” he said, reaching behind him into the back part of his jeans.

Will froze where he was, waiting.

“As you can see here, we have upheld our part of the bargain. And judging by how fucking terrified you look, I assume you have done the same.”

“I have.” Will said, “It’s in my car.”

“All of it?”

“All of it.”

Both men looked at each other, thinking, and then turned back to Will.

“Alright,” the driver said, “Go get it. I trust that you know that if you try any kind of shit, the kid’s done for.”

Will looked angrily, and nodded.

He turned around and went to the back seat of his car. He opened the door and pulled out a decently sized black duffel bag. It was heavy, but soft.

He closed his door and went back in front of the men.

“Here it is.”

“Toss it here” the driver said.

Will tossed it without uttering a breath. It hit the dirt with a thud, and some of it drifted up like dust.

The driver motioned for the other guy to get the back. The man picked it up and opened it. It made him smile. He turned to the driver and nodded.

“Alright, I will tell you two things now. One: If even one dollar of that fifteen thousand THAT IS OURS is not in this here bag: I know where both of you live. And I will get my money back. And there will be a STEEP penalty. That is a promise.”

“It’s all ther-”

“And I keep my promises. Ok?”the driver interrupted.

Will stalled for a moment before nodding his head.

“And number two, which I need both of you to remember for the rest of your living days,” and at that moment, he pulled out a small silver revolver from the back of his pants and swung it in his hands, “We have a past with this kid. He was alright to us, and I guarantee you that was the only thing keeping him alive this time around. But that expires right here. Right now. That pass has been used up. So I will stress you both to stay away from my club and to NEVER do anything like this again. Because if it happens again…”

He stopped swinging the revolver, took it properly in his hands, and pushed the medal of the chamber into Noah’s temple. Noah’s eyes widened a little, still glossy from his tears earlier. He flinched. Screamed without a sound.

“…I will show no mercy. And that too is a promise.”

Will could feel his feet sliding away from him. His hands fists, his rage flaring like the sun in midafternoon. The fire inside him pushed him closer and closer to break. He wanted to run to Noah and save him and put an end to it all right there and then. If it weren’t for the gun, he felt like he could find a way to destroy them.

Still, except for his eyes, he was still.

The driver took the gun off Noah and looked him in the eye.

“How did you get mixed up with this guy, anyway? You know he ain’t one of us, and he don’t deserve to be raising one of our own. You were better off without him, Noah. We had plans for you. A life. A real fucking good life you could of had. You would have made your daddy proud. If I had my way, I’d keep ya with me. But I don’t.”

He ripped the tape off of Noah’s mouth slowly and as he did, Noah’s eyebrows turned hard and angry.

“He’s not my dad.”

“HEY!” Will mustered up. “Come on!”

The driver looked intensely at Noah “Maybe one day, you’ll see all this differently.”

And with that, the driver dropped Noah. He fell with a thud and he winced a bit in pain, before he rolled over to look at Will.

The driver turned and shot the gun in the air once, breaking the silence of the Palisades.

“REMEMBER WHAT I SAID!” and with that, the driver and the other man got back into their car, as Will ran over to Noah. 

Their car turned on and sped away into the night, and as Will was getting the tape off Noah’s arms and legs, he listened as the car’s engine faded into the darkness; into nothing. 

“Will, I’m sorry.” said Noah with glossy eyes.

“We need to get out of here.” Will said, rushing to get the tape off. Most of it finally loosened after a minute. 

“What are we gonna do n-”

“JUST…get in the car, we’ll figure this out.” Will replied, his face lost in shadow.

As they both got into the car, Will took one last look at the city.

Buildings shining, cars driving too and fro. The street lights were almost blinding.

How far away it looked to him.

He got in, started the car, and they both drove back onto the road and into the darkness of the night.

~~~~~

Writing Exercise: “The Prefab Story Exercise” by Rick Hillis

A Panic Attack

By David Karp

The truth is, when I find myself in the heat of panic, I tend to walk down to the Pier. You get lost in the crowd of tourists (and yes, some locals. Maybe such as myself.), watch the ocean in the pitch black if it’s night and try to hear the waves gently crashing over the cackle of the boardwalk games and people screaming as they go on the rides that make them scream. And the music. Oh, there is so much music. Not just the music on the loudspeakers, but guitarists from all over. Singers on their way to becoming the next Sinatra. The occasional saxophone.

Yeah, it’s a great place to get lost if you are feeling as such.

But today, I woke up in a cold sweat and a racing mind.

And after thinking it through for a minute, I said “Fuck the Pier.”

Not that it isn’t still a go-to, but today. Today I woke up feeling REALLY alone.

I woke up and the white noise just started filtering through like a TV in an empty room. No purpose, only noise. No purpose, only thoughts. Thoughts that turned into anxiety that turned into fear that, by then, just picked me up and threw me into the abyss.

Was it a dream I had? I couldn’t recall anything in particular that frightened me.. I didn’t wake up in the middle of the night. I didn’t feel anything lucid in my sleep, or sinister. 

What I felt was nothing. And nothing is a dangerous feeling to feel.

So I got myself into my car and sat there, thinking about what to do.

Thinking and thinking and thinking.

And then, I decided that I would just drive. Drive until I found somewhere that could bring a little comfort and redemption to me.

I thought about stopping somewhere around LAX as I drove past it. Find somewhere to sit and watch the planes fly by.

Like counting sheep.

Maybe even in  the In-And-Out parking lot. The view there…mmhmm.

But I think I wanted something more quieter; softer.

So I left LAX behind me.

I drove and I drove and I drove.

Thoughts in my head like sirens and fireworks. Undeserving on all accounts. Lost in the woods, and the path is disappearing right in front of me. As daytime rages on the outside, the sun sets in the raging ocean of my mind, and becomes darkness. Self hatred, self induced. Stupidly believing myself into the spiral of emotional masochism.

My breath draws short and I can feel the sweat on the steering wheel. Miles and miles of thoughts, the further I go. Did I think I could run from something inside of me? Silly, I know, I know. 

I am silly.

But I’ve been like this for 25 years. Well, at least since…well, I guess there is no pinpoint. Therapy has been a constant for me my entire life (at least since my parents flew the mortal coup.) I guess I was just unlucky. But as I got older, I learned to manage the dark days.

But every so often, I have a moment. A day. A dark day.

It gets this bad about once a year. That’s it. But the day it happens: it’s like that world is ending. Who knows, maybe it is.

I hit a roundabout and, as I looked around, I saw lush greenery on both sides of me. I looked to my right as I passed the sign “Welcome To Palos Verdes”. I then realized that I had actually driven to the tip of Orange County.

Jesus.

It had been awhile since I had been here, but as I drove out closer to the water, I could see cliffs lined up along the shoreline, the ocean below gently kissing the edges with a beautiful blue. An unusually beautiful blue.

It seemed like a place to try and rest my mind. Focus on the ocean. Count the waves like sheep until my thoughts could finally rest.

I parked my car and walked along the cliff. I suddenly got to a break in the water where there was a small inlet. You could hear the seals way down at the bottom, but you couldn’t see them from where I stood.

I looked out and, I swear, you could see the world so clearly from up there. It was like drifting into some form of heaven, the blue of both sky and ocean together perfectly. Whatever were your problems didn’t matter now, because everything around you was bigger than you. Brighter than you.

And even this picturesque little piece of the world all for myself seemed to beam a little light into the darkness that was floating around inside me. 

I felt like I could speak my mind to the world, so I reached into my pocket and pulled out my little notepad. It’s where I write ideas that pop into my head. Poetry, mostly.

I sit down on one of the rocks and open it. And I just write what comes:

It would be nice

To not think of what ifs

Or exits that only exist

In the deepest part of all this

The darkest night

The darkest thoughts

Show me something real

Something that won’t go away

Maybe, if I really believe

If I really let go

Maybe there is a way to let go

And find the sun, not shadows

No long goodbyes

This whole year has felt like a goodbye

I’m ready to take that leap

And fall and fall and fall

Until maybe something

Maybe something

Maybe, before I hit the ground

And the world is finally over.

I don’t know, maybe.

I always get through these days, and I’m sure today will be no different.

But nevertheless, that has been my day so far.

No purpose, just here.

I look out into the water and see how calm life can be.

Maybe.

~~~~~

Writing Exercise: “The Photograph” by Jill McCorkle

That Swagger

Masculine and Feminine in one old photo

By David Karp

I’m going to be honest here. It was probably the only reason I enjoyed going to tennis during summer camp.

Jesus, I can’t believe I remember her name, it was so long ago. I must have been eleven years old at most.

Rebecca always wore that same grey visor. The ones you saw on TV with the Wimbleton logo on it. Her Nikes were blue and black if I remember correctly. And every class I had (twice a week), she would wear a grey t-shirt and blue shorts. To me, it was the same grey t-shirt and blue shorts every time, though I’m not sure about the facts on that one from her end. But to an eleven year old with a schoolboy crush, it didn’t really matter.

She had this flowing brown hair that went just past her shoulder blades that was always in a ponytail. She had a tan, which I am not sure was from the summer sun that beat down on the tennis court every day or was just natural, but whatever it was she had it.

Ok, I’ll admit it now. I was absolutely smitten and probably unsure what to do with my feelings at such a young age. Not to mention, I wasn’t the most social kid, so talking to a crush was a bit hard for me, not to mention a crush that was probably twice my age. 

But when I think back on it now, I find something quite funny: yes, of course I found her beautiful in the physical sense but what I remember the most being smitten with was something much different.

It was her energy. I had the biggest schoolboy crush with her energy.

Rebecca was probably one of the fastest runners on the court. When we partnered up together, I tried so hard to keep up with her. She was probably aware that she was versing an eleven year old boy not much experienced in tennis and therefore had decided to let me off easy, but god damn even what she would probably call easy was like lightning hitting the ground, I swear!

After class, she would always relax and sit next to me outside the court, striking a conversation the way people twice your age did with you back then. I don’t remember much of what we talked about, but she would always give out this chill, cute laugh when I said something cute that made her smile and boy, did it put butterflies in my stomach.

Yes, she’d just chill next to me like, as I guess one would put it now, she was“one of the guys”.

And her walk, I remember her walk. She had this easy-going, masculine swagger to her that I thought was so fucking cool. She walked with purpose, but at the same time, ease. Strength.

Yeah. She was pretty fucking cool.

I remember liking that feminine energy that schoolboy crush brought to me, but I also loved the masculine energy it brought to me as well. It was a strange feeling. It was like she was the perfect juxtaposition that gave in easily to each other. The yin and yang. The balance the world needed.

It was something I looked up to; inspired to be. I wasn’t only smitten by her, but I wanted to be “cool” like her. And that “cool”, I figured out in my reminiscing, was the perfect balance of masculine and feminine energy she had.

I never told anyone about that crush. I kept it to myself, attempting to decipher the kind of feelings that came up along the way. But looking at it again now, years later and years wiser, and trying to answer the questions of the eleven year old me with a schoolboy crush, I may whisper to that young boy that there may be something there after all. Though she may have not identified this way, for myself it may have been the first hint of bicuriousness that found its way into my little undeveloped heart. That desire for and to have a balance of the energies.

And she had it. She was the crush and the role model. The rock star.

It was so long ago. So, so long ago. But remembering it tonight, after quite a while, it makes sense that it is a part of my childhood story. The coming of age. Growing up, growing in, and growing out.

And I can’t say I would remember her now if I saw her on the street, but as God is my witness, I will never forget that swagger.

~~~~~

Writing Exercise: “Truthful Dare” by Diana Abu-Jaber

The Odds

photo by David karp

By David Karp

Let’s say you are at a roulette table. You put a chip on a random number; doesn’t matter which one it is. Black, white. And let’s just say that that chip is the only chip you put down on the table. The other players look at you like you’re absolutely stupid or you’re absolutely crazy. And you just may very well might be, but you just don’t care. The dealer spins the wheel with a mean strength and you watch it spin and spin and spin. Everyone’s eyes are glued to the thing except the dealers, because he knows the odds and it won’t affect him regardless. It will be what it will be and it is what it is. Fate or luck or something else entirely, there are winners and there are losers.

Now, finally the wheel starts to slow down it’s spin. The spin is starting to die out on every hit of that fine little pointer. Click, click, click. Closer and closer, and the eyes get wider and wider and wider. A few hushes and some light cheering. Almost there. Almost there. And…CLICK. The wheel stops. And you know the odds and their consequences. They were never good. Never good.

And you look at the arrow and then down to the number it is pointed at.

And it’s your number.

And you win.

Well, that’s essentially what the odds were for me getting to where I am now.

It wasn’t perfect and it wasn’t pretty.

It was just lucky.

The hotel lobby was large, but dark. Windowless. The lights on the high ceilings were faded. They reminded me of my cousin’s teeth, becoming the very same color after packs and packs of Camels through the years. The walls, once red, are a darker brown every year. The air conditioner was not in it’s best days, so it whispered to us incredibly softly, making it just a bit hotter than it needed to be.
In walks my father…well, the man who I knew as my father. Alberto. The man who was always making deals in his leather suits. The man who has seen it all and then some. The man who always seemed to be as if he was on the run from something. The man who called me his son for as far back as I can remember. 

His dirty white tank top and his faded blue jeans were his signature outfit. On nights when he went out to dance with some new girl he met at the bar after work, he would sport a black suit with purple laces. His slacks would be a little baggy, but nothing outrageous. He’d fix his hair up, slicking it up and back like Elvis, just not as neat.

And those were the two uniforms Alberto lived by, plus a cigar that he would smoke regardless of what he wore that day.

Before we left for the hotel that morning, I walked out of my room and there was Alberto sitting next to the window with a cup of coffee, just staring out at the busy street below our apartment in silence. 

I was about to announce my presence when the phone rang. As he got up to get it across the room, I noticed he was wearing his suit. Must be in for another night, I thought. 

“Hello?…yeah…yeah we are coming….how do you think?…Well, it’s the only way, right? You told me it’s the only way….Then I do what I…alright, alright, just…just let me be, we’ll be there soon…ok, bye.”

He hung up the phone with a slam. As he turned back to the window, I could see that his eyes had gone dark. He was never much of a sleeper. Maybe he was still in his suit from last night. Maybe he just got home.

It was then that he felt my presence and turned to me. He looked at me in the silence for a few seconds. His eyes were brown, just like mine, but his were darker. Whether that was because it was what it was or because he was so tired was beyond me. But after a few seconds of that, he started to smile a little.

“Ricky. My son.”

“Hello, papa.”

He stepped a little closer to me.

“You’re five years old now, a big man. Big man!” he said with a booming, silly voice, like the announcers of a wrestling match. “The world is so big. Bigger than you! And you are my son, so I must make it sure it is a loving, exciting world for you, or I would not be a good father. No?”

“Yes, papa.”

“Am I right?”

“Sure, papa.”

“Of course I’m right, I’m your father!” he said, and he picked me up and held me to him.

“My boy, my boy.”

He put me down and I smiled up at him, as I did for five years. Except tonight, for the first time in my life, I saw something different in his eyes. Something less.

“We must go somewhere, Ricky. Get your backpack and fill it up with your favorite things, ok? We won’t be home for a little bit.”

“Where are we going?”

“I’ll tell you on the way, now hurry!”

“Yes, papa.”

And I obediently and with haste rushed to my room and packed as he told me.

And we ended up here.

And as my dad walked in, I noticed another guy in a black suit behind him. Not like my fathers, more professional looking. Official.

“Ricky. I want you to meet Miguel. He’s a good friend of mine.”

The man reached out his hand. “Hello, Ricky. Good to meet you.”

I shook his hand, cautiously.

“Do you want me to give you five minutes?”

“Yes, my friend, yes. That would be just fine.”

“Alright then.” and Miquel, without looking at me or saying goodbye, stepped out of the lobby and into the back office around a corner.

My father then knelt down next to me.  

“Ricky…my son.”

“Papa.” 

I noticed that his eyes had gotten a little watery.

“Ricky, my boy. Miguel is going to take you this afternoon while I work out some stuff at work. He is a good friend of mine and he will make sure you are safe.”

“Safe?”

“You know, while I’m gone today.”

“I’m always home when you’re at work, why can’t I just…:”

“Because today is different, Ricky. It’s different. But don’t worry, you are going to be fine. Miguel is a good man.”

“When are you gonna pick me up.”

“When I’m done. Right when I’m done, I promise.”

“When is that?”

“I don’t know Ricky. I…”

His eyes started looking like fishbowls. Wide, dark fish bowls that led to nowhere.

“Are you sad?”

He took a second looking into my eyes. “I’ve made a few mistakes, Ricky.”

“Mistakes?”

“Yes, mistakes. And I have to take care of them.”

“Ok, papa.”

“It is ok. It will be ok.”

Miguel rushed in. “Alberto, my friend. We have to go now, there is no time. I’m sorry.”

“Alright, alright.” my father replied, holding back tears as he turned to me. 

“Go with Miquel, Ricky. I will see you soon.”

“You promise?”

“I…”, a hesitation. “…yes. Yes, I promise. Now, go!”

I hugged him close and he hugged me closer, with silent love and fatherly strength.

We let go and he pushed me away, to Miguel. “Go, Ricky.”

“Bye, papa.”

I walked to Miguel who forced a smile to me. “It’s ok Ricky. We have to go.”

I turned to my father one last time and watched him as he stayed kneeling on the ground, looking at me.

Tears had started to escape.

“I love you. I love you so much.” he said, and I watched him fade behind me, staying kneeled as we walked out the front doors. He watched me too.

I still think he’s watching me sometimes.

I never saw my father again.

And that’s all I really know about it all.

I ended up in Vegas right before my sixth birthday and I haven’t left for thirty years now. But as time and space edge me closer to forty, I realize I’ve never stopped wondering where he could be now.

I can’t say I hope the Bellagio is my end all be all. But it could be worse. I’ve been working here a long time and I’m taken care of here. I’ve watched people win the world and lose it all. Gambles, fights, new beginnings, final bets. And it makes me realize, as I watch the people losing and winning, that that’s what it’s really about, really.

You play the hand you have, and you take whatever it gives you, whether you like it or now. That’s the name of the game.

Listen, I have to admit that I haven’t got a clue as to why I’m here. In Vegas. In America. I just ended up here one day with Miguel all those years ago. No idea of the life I could of had if I stayed home. No clue about the past. All I have are questions. But I’m starting to accept that there may not be answers to them.

But one answer I did get, and I do understand, is that I’m lucky.

There are some good odds, some bad. Very bad.

But all and all, it’s been a good night to play.

~~~~~

Writing Exercise: “The Seed” by Alexander Chee

A Eulogy For Delilah D. Doggy: Queen of the Chihuahuas (2004-2021)

Delilah (2004-2021)

By David Karp

(written on Jan 4th, 2020 and Jan 5th, 2020)

It has been a rough day.

There is one less jingle in the house. It was a relatively new collar, as she lost hers somewhere a few weeks ago on one of her chihuahua misadventures around the house.

Last night, I got to hold her for the last time. Held in my arms like a baby. I got home very late last night and I scooped her in my arms and held her close to me for a while. I had to get up early, but there was something inside me; a worry and a reflection. I stood in my hall until she started falling asleep in my arms. The silence of it all was almost deafening. The hall light shined over us and I couldn’t help but think of our time together. I gave her kisses and pet her little head.

I realized that silence was love.

If I ever have a kid, I imagine it is similar to the feeling of holding my baby close to me. Hell, she was as small as a baby. And it was so easy to love her, and for some reason it was so easy for her to love me. She had been there for every heartbreak I have ever had (I realize this now as I write it and wow) and even when I felt like I failed, no matter how much pain I sometimes found myself in, she would never hesitate to sit next to me as I cried. All my failure I felt, she kept me redeemed. 

She had been sick with dementia, loss of senses and such for awhile. She was very near to seventeen which, I am aware, is old for a dog. It turns out the vet also found a heart murmur, which now we know contributed to a joint circulation problem. She lost a lot of weight and she could barely walk. I knew this day would come. As much as I dreaded it.

Still…

I had convinced myself from the day she came into my life fifteen years ago that she was actually, and quite literally, invincible.

The crazy things love makes us think, huh?

Rock stars

The first full day we had her, I was catching the bus I took every morning to my high school towards the end of my sophomore year. I was running late getting ready and all. I caught it just in the nick of time, but it did require some running. I dashed out my front door, not looking back, and jumped through the doors of my bus as they were about to close. I was thankful for catching it, but as I walked up the steps into the seating area, I heard jingles behind me. Confused, I turned around and saw nothing behind me.

Until I looked down. 

Her black marble eyes, her orange tan fur, just staring at me as she attempted to hop her way up the stairs to follow me. I will never forget that smile on her face. And, even more, I will never forget the smile she put on my face, even when I scooped her up, went out of the bus, and met my father who had come to retrieve her.

Those eyes!

Whether it was her silly antics of her adventures in the house and in the dog park or thinking she was a bigger dog than she was with other dogs, or just the general love that she radiated, she always had that power to put a smile on my face. She was around, essentially, for my whole emotional journey.

She helped me through some rough nights. As a young kid who was developing what would be my very own battle with anxiety and depression, it was the stage where I had sometimes felt like I was drowning in my emotions. The waves of sadness, the panic attacks, the all nighters.

I’m telling you, yes I am older now and (thank God) I have a good grasp on my anxiety and depression to a point where I truly love my life. But there were dark times. And she was a light in those times. A star in a sky that seemed to have none. A breath in the bottom of a deep ocean.

She was love, personified (well, dogified, I guess). 

And I think that’s why this one hits home so much.

Action shot!

Our pets become family. They become a partner for this weird journey called life and, oftentimes, they are a beacon of hope and happiness and love, even when we or our lives feel loveless or unworthy. That is a power greater than anything I’ve seen on this earth.

There is a line from a song in the musical version of Rocky (yes, that Rocky. Judge me all you want. I love the series and I wish I could have seen the Broadway show. I quite enjoy some of the music in it) called “Fight From The Heart” that I remember hearing and it has stuck with me as I “grow up”.

“No one fights forever/I know the older I’m gettin’, the more disappears”

Those lines have been ringing in my head since she passed. I know it’s not a great way to look at things, but I’m starting to realize that there is some truth in that. Not so much the fact that she passed, but with her the era. The connection to the kid I used to be and the adult I am now. She watched me grow and learn and cope and find my own happiness. She was there for the whole fucking thing! And a lot has disappeared through this journey with her, but she was always there by my side still. 

But even with this thought in my head, there is also a hope. The same hope that she gave me that I will keep with me for the rest of my life. An optimism of life and the world around me. And every adventure, every growth, every failure or heartbreak, and every relationship, from here on out, there will be a little bit of that hope in it. That joy of life, that curiosity (Her and I were wanderers. I still am. I don’t see that changing ever), I’m so thankful for it.

Oh, how she helped me find that light in myself.

Life is not perfect. There are wins and there are losses. Good days and bad. There is a balance in this world and in our own that is a journey in itself. It’s the journey I have learned the most from. My own story is long and, at times, complicated.

The cards I dealt were the cards I had to play, and the house really likes to win. But THANK GOD one of the cards I was given was Delilah. She was one of the aces. She pushed me to win, and that card is staying with me in my heart. My lucky draw. My aces high. My winning bet.

I could write for hours. I really could.

But the world must still spin, and my journey must continue.

Delilah D. Doggy (the “legal” name I gave her when she came into my life), my little big love, my monkey, my furball, my monk-monk, my best friend, my queen of the chihuahuas, my little light, my beautiful beautiful companion: Thank you for everything and growing up beside me. Thank you for all the joy you brought to my family and friends. Thank you for chasing me for treats, playing hide and seek, watching movies next to me, going on adventures and hikes with me. Thank you for being my friend. Thank you for your loyalty and your love over so many years, even when it didn’t feel deserved. You still make my heart shine a little brighter and my hope a little stronger. I smile and I cry writing this, and though I know you had to move on and that we must part for a little while, I also know you are still next to me with that jingling collar. Rest easy, rest in peace and in love, and know how missed you are in this family and in this world that is a little happier because of you.

I owe you a picnic day in Brookfield Park.

Until we meet again.

Love, 

     Dave

I love you