I still have this horrible fear of parking lots and parking garages
at night. Those sprawling empty spaces where you scream and no
one’s around to hear it.

My friend Charlie and I were once held up in a parking lot.
I had run the possibility of a mugging through my mind a
million times before. But it went nothing like I had planned.
In my imagination, things turned out in my favor. I over-
powered the gunman, kicked him between the legs, did
something drastic, and survived. Local news cameras
swarmed me as I recounted the event a million times over. A
small victory for me, but a mostly forgettable story for every-
body sitting at home watching. But here’s what actually hap-
pened: I handed the guy my purse and pleaded for my car
keys. I don’t remember what he looked like. And just like
that, he was gone. Needless to say, I didn’t make the news.

I knew a woman who was brutally beaten by her lover in
a storage unit. He stabbed her multiple times and left her
for dead. She clawed through the wall of the unit and
dragged herself all the way across the lot. A night-shift
worker followed her trail of blood and found her. She’s
alive now, thank God, but badly deformed.

Ten years ago, in Florida, a man would hide under
women’s cars and slash their heels as they tried to
unlock their driver-side doors. I can’t shake that im-
age out of my head. In fact, now every time I ap-
proach my locked car the thought of leaping to avoid
a heel-slashing crosses my mind.

A stranger’s face, mere inches from yours, pitch-
black dark, breathing hot, steely breaths, the
knife point pressed to your neck, images of fiery
skeletons dancing feverishly around your freshly
dug grave—you flick on the lights and the
stranger, the skeletons, all of it skitters away, a
mere trick of the brain.


When I was young I thought elephants lived under my bed. Ele-
phants that would trample me if I placed so much as a toe on the
floor. I’d have to take a flying leap into bed every night. Seems
so silly now, but at the time nothing felt more real than this fear.

I, too, used to take flying leaps into bed every night. I was
terrified of the dark, of what lurked under the bed. I had hor-
rible nightmares and chronic night terrors, too.

I used to lie in bed and curse God and Jesus and all the
rest. I’d address him directly, whispering, “Go fuck
yourself, God!” and all that. What I was trying to do was
provoke God to show Himself. I wanted proof He was
there. But nothing ever did happen.

You were one scary little girl.

I was one of the spooky little girls who smeared
lightning bugs all over her shirt like war paint.


Women fear more not because we’re irrational but because we’re
more often the targets.

Of females killed by a firearm, nearly two-thirds are killed
by their intimate partners.

The #1 killer of African American women ages 15—34 is
homicide at the hands of a current or former partner.

A black man is 18 times more likely to be the victim
of murder than a white woman.


We’re forced to acknowledge we are powerless. Our lives become unmanageable.
It’s much easier to split the difference, play the odds, and just stay home.

We believe that a power—a Power—greater than ourselves
can restore our sanity. But we have to acknowledge that that
Power either doesn’t bother or is a little distracted.


The finite search. Only so much time to compile a moral inventory
of yourself. It isn’t pretty. Look away.


We have to admit the exact nature of our wrongs, to ourselves,
to everybody else, without fear.


I started a list of all the people I’d hurt along the way. In doing so,
I learned to become willing to make amends to each and every
one. I was drunk so many times and cannot remember all of the
bad things I did. And the biggest mistake of all is to assume this
list is finished.


When it came to death, in my mind, it was always, like, fuhget
about it


From out of the dampened darkness, the crickets are driven
toward the light. Toward any light, really. Moving fast, searching
for higher ground. Only to die in the dirt, in the weeds, right
beside all the cat shit.


Oh, the mountain and its metaphors, the things it does to you, the
reasons you feel compelled to climb it.

The summit is no such thing.


There is always the danger of death, my dove, chicken heart of my
life. Face it. Embrace it. It will never go away.

The best you can do is make peace with death and toss the
gnawed-up Frisbee around.


Sometimes around my 30th birthday, I went through a strange
metamorphosis. I started to question everything I had held to be
true. Suddenly, everything I believed in turned to shambles.

I hadn’t fully hatched yet when I was 22. In fact, I’m still

A corrosion of loss clots in my still unformed wings.
Somewhere a woman’s kiss lingers in my ghostly remains
of memory.


Lately, I’ve been taking these long walks the way I used to take
long bike rides. I’ll walk for an hour every day. I walk and walk
and walk, and maybe jog a little, but mostly just contemplate the
whole stupid fucking universe. Because that’s what it’s there for.
It’s there for us to ponder and wonder about.


My first true awakening came about this past summer. I was at a
dollar store, shopping for picture frames, and one in particular
caught my eye. The insert behind the glass was a photo of a couple
of models embracing each other, which the consumer was sup-
posed to interpret as romantic love; the man, standing behind the
woman, his arms wrapped around her waist, smiling smugly, look-
ing down at—her plastic boobs? It’s an abortion of a photo, with
lousy models modeling real life lousily, completely unconvincing
of anything genuinely human. Yet, there it sits on the shelf, unno-
ticed by everybody. I stood there, staring at this picture-frame
insert, and I experienced a breakthrough. I realized how desensi-
tized we really are, how dull our collective intuition has become.


I suddenly became hyperaware, and I decided I wanted to be part
of some greater movement, one that counters the many images
society has become so desensitized to.


I’ve given up on time and space and subscribe to here and now.

How sweet it is here in my American bubble with all I need.



Now available wherever books are sold online:




Barnes & Noble






Excerpted from BOARD, by Brad Listi and Justin Benton. Copyright © 2012.

JUSTIN BENTON is a writer who lives in Lexington, Kentucky.

BRAD LISTI is a writer and the founder of The Nervous Breakdown.  He lives in Los Angeles.

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TNB Nonfiction features some of the web's best essays, excerpts of up-and-coming books, self-interviews, profiles, and humor from a wide range of authors. Past and future writers include Emily Rapp, Mira Bartók, Nick Flynn and Melissa Febos, among many others.  Our editorial team includes:  SETH FISCHER is the Nonfiction Editor. His work has appeared in Guernica, Joyland, Best Sex Writing, and elsewhere, and he was the first Sunday editor at The Rumpus. His nonfiction was selected as notable in The Best American Essays, and he has been awarded fellowships by Jentel, the Ucross Foundation, Lambda Literary, and elsewhere. He is also a developmental editor of nonfiction and fiction, and he teaches at Antioch University Los Angeles, UCLA-Extension, and Writing Workshops Los Angeles.

2 responses to “Excerpt from Board, by Brad Listi and Justin Benton”

  1. […] while you’re at it, check out his newest book, Board, co-authored with Justin Benton.  Board is an experimental work of nonfiction literary collage, […]

  2. […] while you’re at it, check out Brad Listi’s newest book, Board, co-authored with Justin Benton.  Board is an experimental work of nonfiction literary collage, […]

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