1. Don’t Die

2014. My dad calls to tell me about a sheep hunt he’d been on with an old fisherman friend in the interior. He tells me to call this friend because I’ll be working on this friend’s fishing boat this summer. “You’ll either be with Andy or his identical twin brother Pete.” Two people I’ve never met or heard of before. Fishing after high school is a mundane fact in coastal Alaska, but when I tell my friends I’ll be fishing they don’t believe me. The cognitive dissonance of imagining my 18 year-old-self working on a seine boat is too much and everyone worries for me. The most common two words I hear before I leave the first time are “don’t die.” 

 

2. Cordova

So I fly into Cordova to fish for a man I’ve never met, with a backpack full of books I think a recently graduated 18 year-old should read. I won’t read any of them, and later in the season I’ll wish I used the backpack space for more socks. 

Andy and his wife, Mel, pick me up from the airport. Andy has a lazy eye and a limp and he says it’s because his twin beat him up in the womb. Andy seems a little shy at first so Mel does most of the talking. She wears wire transition lenses, and chain smokes Marlboro reds. She is a born and raised Cordova girl.

Cordova had a railroad in and out of town, but now there’s a 30 mile stretch of dirt road where it used to be, ending at a bridge which was swallowed by the unforgiving Copper River during the Good Friday earthquake of 1964. Now, Cordova is cut off from the Alaskan highway which would connect it to other parts of Alaska like the city of Anchorage. Cordova doesn’t want this road to the city. They fear a road will take away what is special about Cordova which is that it’s really only fishing and things related to fishing. There are bumper stickers on lots of cars and businesses around town “NO ROAD.”

1989, thirty years after the Good Friday earthquake of 1964, and seven years before I am born, the Super Tanker “Exxon Valdez” runs aground on Bligh Reef and spills over 10 million gallons of crude oil into the Prince William Sound. After the spill kills the fishing industry, financial anxieties, spikes in substance abuse, domestic abuse, and suicides plunge Cordova, a town of 3,000 (mostly fishermen), into chaos. Twin fishermen and lifelong Cordovans, Andy and Pete move south along the coast to Sitka to continue fishing in waters untouched by the oil.

 

Andy’s boat, The Ace is brand new, fresh from the boat yard in Washington. Unlike other boats in the fleet, the living quarters are comically small. It’s the first thing people comment on when they step inside for the first time. “Oh it’s like… really small.” Andy designed it this way so as to not invite any other sort of leisure or unnecessary passengers (like his wife). “It’s a work boat, not a piano.” Andy also takes this as an excuse to keep the boat as messy as possible. The deck of The Ace is spacious and incredibly efficient in its operation. Andy likes to make sets fast. The more sets you are able to make in the fourteen hour fishing periods, the more fish you catch, the more money you make. The price of the salmon varies year to year. That’s one tactic Andy uses to keep me coming back. He keeps predicting how high the price is gonna be. “It’s gonna be the biggest year, pricewise, you’ve ever seen.” And usually it’s not and it’s a lot lower than he predicts. He makes up for this by always being one of the top three boats in the Sound. Some years his twin beats him.

 

3. Thom, Ethan, and Paul

Thom has minor gauges in each ear and wears a red knit cap with devil horns. He’s one of the boat builders and is on the crew to help fix and finish the boat since it was rushed out of the boat yard. One day he runs out of chewing tobacco. I hand him a slice of pizza at the end of the fishing day and he throws it in the water. He teaches me mechanical things, but it is confusing because he compares everything to jerking off. Changing oil? Just like jerking off. Tying lines? Exactly like jerking off. Unbolting a piece of equipment? Just think of it like jerking off. I don’t remember any of the practical knowledge.

 

Ethan was recently asked to leave his Christian college in Homer, Alaska because the administration found out he had sex with his girlfriend. He says he was called into the dean’s office and they asked him if it was true he had had sex with his girlfriend and he said yes because he was worried being caught in a lie would be worse for him. 

 

Paul is basically the co-captain and Andy’s oldest friend. Paul is patient and teaches me a lot. Each piece of the boat is designed for a specific part of the fishing operation and I have no idea what any of it is. I’m told to do things like “shorten the purse line” and “change the oil,” “pull up the bunt,” “pop the release,” and I have no idea. Eventually you learn things until one day you understand. It took me two summers to understand what each part of the net is for. There’s the corkline, the lead, the lead line, bunt, web, breast line, purse line, rings, king ring and so on. One day it all clicks. 

 

On January 4, 2021, Juliet Escoria, Joseph Grantham, and Megan Boyle liveblogged in solidarity. This took place 29 days after the last time they liveblogged in solidarity. Read their days below.

 

JULIET ESCORIA

JANUARY 4, 2021

 

~6:30am: woke up feeling very afraid of (dream) but couldn’t remember what dream was.

 

~7am: woke up again to pee and eat one spoonful of dulce de leche* **

 

*I feel like it’s just good public policy for people to understand how easy it is to make dulce de leche. You take a can of sweetened condensed milk, remove the label, put the can in a giant pot of water, and simmer for ~3.5 hrs. Then you take the pot off the burner and let the water return to room temperature. You have to make sure the water covers the can at all times or else it can explode. If you follow these simple steps, you will have perfect dulce de leche.

 

**I take Seroquel for my brain. Seroquel makes eating sugar during the sleep hours taste so so good.

 

11am: woke up to alarm, felt very tired, slept on and off til 11:50. I’ve been going to bed a little too late and waking up much too late and I would be concerned about it if it wasn’t winter break. But it’s winter break so who cares, let’s party and get 9 hrs of sleep.

 

11:50am: stared at phone. Joey texted about liveblog and also a Nicolas Winding Refn movie about Reagan. Seems funny, an odd choice for the ole Nicolas. Joey mentions Reagan kind of a lot and I’m pretty sure it’s just a temporary coincidence due to him watching the Reagan doc on the Showtime but I love to imagine him as a closeted Reaganite lol. Megan also texted about liveblog and attending a cyber anonymous 12 step group tonight with another anonymous pal of ours. I agreed to cyber.

 

12:10pm: stopped staring at phone. got up, coffee, fed dog, etc.

 

12:28pm: sat down to type this. It is now 12:39. 

 

Here is a list of my tentative goals for the day, to be accomplished roughly in this order:

 

  • Putter some gas on starting a new story
  • Do this silly thing for school that won’t take too long
  • Ask Scott for advice about my “educational goals”/maybe make some phone calls
  • Work on Possible New Writing Project
  • Yoga
  • Cyber 12 step
  • Maybe call mom, partially for “educational goals” advice, partially just to chat

 

I shall write more about each step as I do them so I will not elaborate on any of them for now!!!!!!! 12:43 now

 

1:34pm: I finished a long-ass story two days ago and now I feel like I’m out of story juice. Scott keeps on acting like it’s insane to think you can just write story after story, but I did that for Black Cloud and thought it would be easier than writing another novel. It is easier than a novel, much fewer crises, but I forgot that Black Cloud was only 20k words and I’m trying to write a full-length collection now, and a lot of the stories in Black Cloud I’d written in grad school anyway, and yeah, writing story after story is kind of hard. But I’m almost done, I have to write like 1-3 more, except I feel completely out of juice. I feel like a boat where you turn on the motor and it goes put-put-put and then it just turns off. I have a list of stories I want to write and none of them are screaming “me! work on me now!” the way they used to. I started working on one yesterday and felt completely not into it and I started working on it again today and I felt completely not into it and so I started writing one of the other stories and I felt like I could do it. I made a plan for tomorrow. I knew today wouldn’t go too well so my plan for today was to come up with a plan for tomorrow and I did that. It always works better if you have a plan. 

 

I now have to do some schoolwork. For accreditation you have to collect a lot of data and so I have to turn the work my students did into data and it’s very stupid. I have a problem with how the data is being collected, like I think it’s ineffective and confusing, and I also have a problem with the fact that we have to collect data at all. I think accreditation is good because you should have some sort of standards of what a college is, and I agree that a student should get basically the same thing from an English class regardless of what school they go to, but overall accreditation is a big racket and one of the major problems we have with higher ed, and if we had less insane accreditation processes and less insane administrative bloat then tuition could be cheaper and we wouldn’t be in such a crisis for student loans. Even though I think that this data nonsense is unethical and silly I will be a good employee and turn this stuff into data anyway. 

 

2:29pm: I completed the data. I did my best to be a good employee and do a good job. I had to ask Scott for help. I don’t know what the other faculty does, the ones who don’t live with another faculty member and can’t compare notes. Scott said he was in a horrible mood and we shouldn’t have stayed up so late last night but he helped me and I helped him. The data entering hurt my brain.

 

My course evaluations were also ready so I looked at those. Looking at course evaluations feels like looking at Goodreads reviews—it’s best to just not know what other people think sometimes—but I tried really hard this semester (probably too hard) to be a good teacher during stupid covid zoom school and I looked anyway. I only had one student mad at me (saying Disagree for some of the questions), probably this one student I got into a fight with because they cheated, and the angry student didn’t seem to leave any comments so all the comments were nice & I guess my extreme efforts at being a good professor paid off. So it was like looking at Goodreads and only seeing a nice review.

 

Realized I only have one week of break left, two weeks before school begins (next week I have the Week of Meetings). BUMMERINO MAN

 

Dear Syd, 

I didn’t know your friend, and I’d fail if asked to list five simple  biographical facts about you, but I know you–maybe you know  me too, maybe not. And I understand this “you” is not you, but  rather, my perception of the version of yourself curated for the  amphitheater of social media, as it’s cropped up in my feeds from  Tumblr to Instagram to Twitter, among fields of people I know  IRL, which is likely the root of this intimacy I feel. Although I  believe you and I are similar insofar as our membranes between  public/private are thinner than most, I know there are things I  don’t or can’t know, but I’ve always found you interesting, likely  had a large crush on you at some point, and your tweets about  your friend’s death hurt my heart like it wouldn’t have if I didn’t  know you. Your commentary while watching the highly esteemed  Saw franchise for the first time earned its place in my Internet  Hall of Fame, and it was a little disorienting, yet in retrospect  made perfect sense, for me to laugh to the point of pain at what  you had to say on the spectacle of gore orchestrated by dying-of cancer John Kramer, because I know you, or this image of you,  built from the way autumn sunlight kisses the angles of your face,  the Edwardian dresses you pose in, the melted glacial blue of your  gaze, how you inhabit the mundane in eternal photoshoot; it was  natural incorporating your funniness into all this, not as revision,  but as something there from the start. Part of me feels I shouldn’t  be writing this letter to you—who am I to intrude upon such a  highly intimate moment when I’m not even remotely an integral  part of your life? Perhaps the urgency I felt to write to you isn’t  sufficient enough an answer, but it was intense enough for me to see this through. Freshman year of UMass, around the time you  and I first connected, I think, I was friends with this girl, Nina,  who lived in my dorm, who’d see me pulling all sorts of stupid shit  (i.e. piggyback riding some guy through the halls, knocking on  each door to offer a spoon-fed glop of Nutella to whoever opened)  and tell me, bursting with giddiness, “You really need to meet my  boyfriend, you’d love each other.” One weekend he visited and  proved Nina right—Jake and I were so same-wavelengthed  hanging out was like sitting next to a mirror–but more than that,  here was this whole other human who saw and understood me,  who I saw and understood, better even, than we saw and  understood ourselves. Another weekend, I hadn’t known he was  coming until I heard TONIGHT WE RIDE! right outside my window, in his best imitation of the La Dispute vocalist; I threw on shoes and rushed outside to tackle-hug him.

 

On December 6, 2020, Megan Boyle, Juliet Escoria, and Joseph Grantham liveblogged in solidarity. This took place exactly 212 days after the last time they liveblogged in solidarity. Here are their days:

 

JULIET ESCORIA

DEC. 6, 2020

 

~9:30 am: had a thought/dream about a terrarium/geode that was the size of a large marble but when you opened it up, it was much bigger. In the thought/dream, that was how things worked: things are bigger on the inside. I guess that’s not a lie since my intestines are like 600 miles long but I am only 5’4.75”. (when I googled, the answer to how long intestines are was inconsistent but it was about 15’, less than I thought, disappointing)

 

Phone was “popping off” with joey and megan texting about the liveblarg. Went to pee, put my sleep mask on so I could go back to zzzzzzzzland.

 

~11:30am: woke up for real. Responded to texts, stared at phone. Felt excited to get up and do liveblarg, which is good because yesterday I felt very very bad and not excited about much of anything. Went upstairs, made coffee, took dog out to pee, got work area ready downstairs, etc. It is pretty today, sunny and a little cold. Also ate a large brownie from brownie batch I had made yesterday. It is currently 12:10pm. I have my SAD lamp on. Both Scott and I are now SAD lamp users. SAD lamps rule. Going to work on this story that I absolutely and completely hated yesterday. Hopefully I do not have hate for it today. 

Steel and Glass

By Chris Oxley

Essay

 

In 1777, George Washington found a site in Springfield, Mass. to store weapons inaccessible from the British Royal Navy. Aside from housing cannon and muskets, what became the Springfield Armory also manufactured cartridges and gun carriages for the American Revolution.

 

Nearly a couple of decades later, the armory produced the Model 1795 Musket, the first such firearm to be made in the United States. It was designed by Eli Whitney. At the turn of the century, the musket was also produced at the armory in Harpers Ferry, Va, (now West Va.), the second federal armory commissioned by the U.S. government, as well as the site of John Brown’s famous raid in 1859.

 

In 1835, Samuel Colt was awarded a British patent, and two U.S patents in 1836, for his revolver design. He promptly started a company in Paterson, N.J., but after production problems, closed in 1842. Undeterred, he soon collaborated with the family of Eli Whitney at their armory in Whitneyville, Conn. His newly revised revolver design was available just in time for the Mexican-American War and, in 1855, he started Colt’s Patent Fire Arms Manufacturing Company in Hartford, Conn. A year later, the Smith & Wesson Revolver Company was founded in Springfield, Mass., a few miles from the Springfield Armory.

 

The region saw several other gun manufacturers emerge over the years: Remington (Ilion, N.Y.), Winchester (1866, Springfield, Mass.), Savage Arms (1894, Utica, N.Y.), High Standard (1926, Hamden, Conn.), Sturm Ruger (1949, Southport, Conn.), Sig Sauer (1985, Newington, N.H.). Meanwhile, for nearly two hundred years, the Springfield Armory continued to serve as the U.S. Army’s prominent design and production workshop for small arms.

 

With the British invasion thwarted, a New England industrial economy boomed and “Gun Valley” was born.

 

“Happiness is a warm gun.”

 

I’ve never, and will never, fit the skin of my father’s name. People call him Steve, and when people call me Steve, I tell them I prefer Steven. Steves are the all-American in their varsity jackets and high school sweethearts and salaries, while Stevens are just Stevens. The day I was born, A Bronx Tale, a film so important to my father he watches it weekly, was commercially released, so he saw it the first time while I was a pudgy pink infant spitting up breast milk, with no clue as to how it’d define his relationship with me. The day I was born was also my parents’ third anniversary and a weird one in terms of when I’d start kindergarten— my parents were conflicted but decided I would be a year younger than my classmates, which hardly mattered because things consistently came easy: I aced quizzes and tests without studying, finished cross-country meets as a high school freshman short seconds after our captain, read every book I could. But while I exhibited ability and potential, clinical depression and anxiety bubbled under the surface. I ran cross-country for the endorphins and friends, so it hardly mattered when other runners outpaced me; I discovered authors like Palahniuk, Robbins, Hesse, Kundera, so it hardly mattered what was on the curriculum; I didn’t live up to my previous report cards, which hardly mattered because I was filling journals. My parents swore I was on drugs because they couldn’t think of anything else– but I’d known early on bad things happened in my brain and I refused to take or drink or smoke anything that might make things worse. They were so ashamed their first was a black sheep, they’d tell white lies to protect me.

 

The opening sentence I first wanted to run with was: “I may have inadvertently endorsed an actual cult.” Then, I thought: “I would like to take this opportunity to close the curtain,” would be more fitting. Although both true, I don’t wish to bring further attention to my potential cult endorsement, and I forfeited my right to privacy when I decided to write this book. But more importantly, neither sentence does the work of kicking off a month in which—for the second time in my life—I thought, “God is happening.” Disclaimer: I don’t believe in God, neither do I disbelieve in God—it’s not a question I’ve ever found vital enough to answer. The thought popped up only because there aren’t words to describe what occurred to me at night, October 7th. Things got set in motion, a smidge more than a week before, when I woke to a text from Pola: Hi Steven, happy birthday! Hope it’s a really nice day for ya. It was the first time, I think, she’d initiated contact since February, aside from the time I sobbed so hard I puked blueberries and unfollowed and removed her as a follower on Instagram because a photo she posted of herself and Bella forced me into the moment I felt closest to her—we’re on our stomachs, trying to lure the skittish and wide-eyed cat from beneath a bed, when Pola says, “It’s okay Bella, we’re your parents now.” Days after the birthday text, I pinned down why it disquieted me. Blind to everything but the short story I was working on, Sarah J. texted she was close by and wanted to do schoolwork on my couch while I wrote at my desk, something we’ve been doing weekly, and I said sure, just gotta shower first. A drop of lavender Dr. Bronner’s cupped in my palm, collecting water to dilute it, and no longer thinking of the divorced dad narrator and his weekend with Audrey, his daughter—something gave: the whole of the relationship, the breakup, the bereavement, caved in on itself and buried me in its rubble. I didn’t cry until I dried and sat naked in my desk chair, but it wouldn’t stop once it started, regardless of the Klonopins and the mindfulness exercises—I texted Sarah J. over-apologetically asking to postpone.

 

The dreams I’ve been having have trickled into reality in the hides of false memories. At work, all the electricity went kaput and I bushwhacked the dark to find the urinal. I’m unsure where the mice are getting in from but a strong guess is the extinct fireplace. When Under The Skin was released in 2014, a mouse in the theater darted past my socks. I remember that so vividly but not simple things like I have to eat meals. The people from apartment 1 and apartment 3 and apartment 4 have all vanished. Unsober, I floated through the rooms of 4 and discovered a replica of my extinct fireplace. Their kitchen lent more counter space and their bathtub had claws and a window beside it. Now, I refuse to be dead before eating raspberries in my very own claw-footed bathtub. In January, the roses addressed to Leslie Walton died on 4’s welcome mat. A subscription service meal kit got delivered to 3 and it’s been rotting in the vestibule. Someone moved it to the stoop then someone moved it back inside then I threw it out. Sarah J. said she didn’t have the attention span for movies, so I eased her in with short ones. We watched Jonathan Glazer’s The Fall and the first segment of Todd Solondz’s Storytelling. We came very close to swapping out a tire, we went out to her car and everything, but didn’t. Storytelling is a fitting preface for the remainder of my year because I’m taking 2 workshops. I enjoy Chelsea Hodson’s course because it’s pushing me deeper into what I’m already doing. But I won’t write about the most emotionally intense moment I’ve experienced, it isn’t mine. Just as I won’t describe the plan I’ve devised to get to the life I want to live, in case I can’t. 

 

How could I have anticipated becoming friends with two Sarahs in less than a year? In July, I wrote 31 sentences about 11 hours because the timespan unfolded into a tidy narrative. But I didn’t write about meeting the second Sarah and I didn’t write about drinking humongous Bud Light Oranges on her roof, the overlap of our Venn-diagram so fat we both kept saying, “Wait, wait! I got a story about that,” and then never telling any of them. I began writing this novel January 1st with two parameters: 1. I’d compress the primary occurrence, thought, or theme of each day into a single sentence 2. If anyone is mentioned by name, I must get their green (or, in some cases, yellow) light prior to publication. I ditched the first rule in lieu of the linear essays I wrote in June and July and I’ve abused punctuation to turn full paragraphs into sentences and there are a slew of other ways I’ve circumnavigated to allow myself greater narrative freedom and, if I’m being completely honest, to save my ass from habitual procrastination. But I’m committed to literary consent because no sentence is worth bridge-burning or hurting someone and I’m committed to real names because if someone says they’re comfortable only if I pseudonym, they’re not comfortable. First Sarah has been mentioned twice so her name will remain “Sarah” while second Sarah will appear as “Sarah J.” I think often of the sentence couplet in Scott McClanahan’s The Sarah Book where he writes: “She had a brother named Jack who I never liked but who I always said I liked. I never liked him though and I’m not putting him in my book.” I didn’t write about the divorce my coworker is going through, how his wife blindsided him one day with “I don’t think I ever loved you.” And I didn’t write about how he discusses it in such a water-cooler way even though it’s gotta be weighing on him. Or how I could never be like that, my interior life on full display even when I’d rather it not be.

The Walk Home

(after Julian Schnabel’s “The Walk Home”)

I may be wrong, Dad, but I think that you think I don’t think about you. I can sense it when you leave that rare message on my phone, as if I choose not to pick it up, and your voice goes tinny and far away: “Well, I’d like to hear how you’re doing. I love you, son,” with a lilt in your voice right at the end, an ellipsis, as if you think I would hesitate to say those words back to you.

What are you afraid of?

 

Returning from Dunkin’ with my daily order of large iced coffee with cream and sugar, large iced matcha with whole milk, everything bagel with strawberry cream cheese, hash browns, and the little bag they fill with small strips of seasoned bacon, I’d envisioned a Saturday spent watching the last half of the last episode of Evil Genius: The True Story of America’s Most Diabolical Bank Heist then working on writing until it came time to sleep, but the sparrow that appeared on the ledge had other plans. I can’t pinpoint why I was in the kitchen but I was, the window wide open without insect screen. The sparrow and I sized each other up in a sick twisted game of What Happens Next? I itched for it to do something other than sit and swivel its head because I wanted to milk it for a more interesting image—it didn’t budge. This is an autofiction novel so I can invent sparrow fiascos whenever the hell I want but everything on the page so far, save an inconsequential detail or three, has been true, so it didn’t cross my mind to ascribe actions to a bird that hadn’t performed them; I started to craft a sentence about disappointment—then, in an awkward flapping fit, it pulled itself to the dish rack, did a shit, and flung itself inside the drop ceiling. It got in through the missing section under the fluorescents and I watched it skitter across the other plastic panels, splattering them with well over a dollar’s worth of dime-sized defecations.

 

This isn’t a history textbook but history is happening. It was convenient weaving COVID-19 into the narrative of my day-to-day as a universally relatable backdrop but this isn’t like that. The pandemic was and remains tragic but it’s the result of microscopic pathogens that cannot make logical decisions for themselves; what’s happening now in America is the result of millennia of horrors by way of the brains and hearts and hands of humans who have had millennia to witness the harm wrought and vow not to pass the hateful torch on to their offspring. But no such thing happened, the horrors so ingrained they remained fabric, breaking point after breaking point. I was raised in an overwhelmingly white part of a suburb, where parents accused Black kids of infiltrating from an abutting neighborhood to parasitically suckle from the teat of our top notch public school system paid for with our hard-earned tax dollars. I can only recall a single African-American student from elementary school; his house burned down from some appliance gone awry in the garage and everyone knew, even the librarian, who in front of our whole class, treated him with disproportionate cruelty over unreturned Goosebumps. All four elementary schools streamlined into a single middle school and I became friends with Marlon, the funniest kid I’d ever met, so capable of making my gut bust our Geography teacher had to alter the seating arrangement so we’d be as far away from each other as possible, but that was useless, all it took was a single backwards glance, him pulling down his eyelids with his fingers and puffing his cheeks, and I’d once again disrupt the lesson; toward the end of sixth grade, we signed ourselves up to perform improv in the talent show; per audience suggestion, we got on our hands and knees and became cows, we pantomimed chewing some cud, then I made the low-hanging joke that he produced chocolate milk; our peers laughed, shouted more suggestions, and we went on with our act–I’m not sure whether I felt off about it then, or if its offness only comes now, over a decade later, superimposing itself over the memory, but the joke had no basis other than me viewing my friend as my “Black friend.”

 

Nat is pregnant. Nothing remarkable is happening to my body besides the fact I’ve gotten fatter. We’re all used to that now. This started well before the virus. It’s her body where things are happening: my pregnant wife. There is a 6-inch boy-to-be somersaulting inside of her right now. That’s my kid in there. Life. 

 

We’ve been quarantining with my parents for over two months. Two months is how long it takes to be in a room watching a movie together, hear your father fart and have no one feel the need to remark on it. I could cry, or at least mist up, probably, if I kept really thinking about it. The closeness. All of us on pause from the inertia of before, with nowhere to be, in a room watching something dumb. Remember, we’re all going to (you know what)

 

We garden too, me and my dad. Dig out dirt from under a pile of dead leaves. Worms are a black gold bellwether. That’s what he mutters when I pitch some good looking soil into the barrel as he sifts through for rocks. Black gold. Black gold. We take turns wheelbarrowing the stuff to the little, planting square. Pick up speed with the barrel on the approach to the little hill. Watch out for the lilies, son. We plant rows of breakfast radishes that the deer won’t eat.

 

Dad grew a pandemic goatee. 

Don’t Go Crazy Without Me is partly about being raised by a father who taught you and your brothers to be hypochondriacs. What’s it like living during a pandemic?

At first, I felt like an expert at handling the anxiety because I’d been worried about diseases taking me out all my life. But this is  a hypochondriac’s nightmare: a disease that behaves capriciously, that causes no symptoms in some and total organ breakdown in others, a virus that is so tiny it can float in the air for hours or linger on an innocuous looking surface. Just the words CYTOKINE STORM — when your own immune system goes into overdrive and kills you — puts my nervous system into overdrive. 

Prologue

Present, UCLA Neuropsychiatric Institute, Tuesday, 1:00 p.m.

The three psychiatrists and I sit at the conference room table writing trauma case studies. As the professional writer in the room, my job is to smooth out the prose, prune the jargon. We’re writing about children to whom awful —sometimes unspeakable things—happened. The psychiatrists would say these case histories are factual, but I know they are stories and, like all stories, have inciting events, climaxes, and resolutions. Readers long for epiphanies and revelations, redemption, and happy endings. But shift a few words or reorder paragraphs and epiphanies  evaporate, redemption erodes to reveal darker currents.