An essayist's journey through perspective.
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The hypnotist is a British-borne American and dauntingly beautiful;
incredibly compact and tall. The patient notices they have similar features.
She recalls a television show that presented the idea that
if you take a portrait of yourself, cut it in half down the front,
copy and flip each side, and match it back up to the division line,
it reveals two people.
Two yous.
One is a little more graceful and dramatic.
Thinner, sleeker - like a reserved gazelle.
Then there’s the other half.
That half, in her mind, was her.

The patient had trouble going under, worried
a flailing ghost hand will try and feel her hypnotist’s boobs
in the middle of the session, completely beyond her control.
They occupied her mind a lot. Very small and, she bet, and rather perfect.

In between crying jags about her father and her
second ex-husband she couldn’t help but feel awkward,
distracted. The worst of it was getting vulnerable. She hates being ugly
and vulnerable in front of pretty women. Her thoughts rotated through a
series of stresses those first fifteen minutes;
dad, house, crying, snot, tissues, boobs, more tissues,
needing to pee, mom, crying, more tissues, boobs, and so on.

When she was all cried out, the hypnotist was still there,
patiently listening and smiling.
All accepting.
Not embarrassed for her or by her at all.
So, maybe there was some trust,
which always meant some kind of hope was nearby.
She sniffled one last time,
put down her tissues,
laid back in the chair,
and let it begin.



            Really? The first guy I see at the door is this guy?

            “Why you shakin’ like that?”
            I look down. My hands. I pocket them.
            “You’re not lookin’ so well for man as sober as you.” Russett laughs.
            I smile a polite fuck you and move off to find us seats.
            My daughter doesn’t understand the ravages of this disease, the ravages of these men, the lack of boundaries, the big bellied boasting. All she see is me, sitting uncomfortably, arms twisting and shaking and can’t do a thing about it.
            “Dad. Do you want some water?” She asks as we sit.
            “No baby. I’ll get some coffee.”
            I give her the rundown of rules before I get up. No talking to anyone beyond Hi. If they ask your name say I’m Ben and Ruby’s daughter. That’ll usually do it. Two gingers in room full of drunks is a loaded gun. They won’t bother her after that.
            And she’s nine.
            I have to start walking away. Just a little.
            The coffee is about fifteen feet a way and I’m having a hell of a time getting there. People saying “hi”, “where’ve you been”, “we missed you, “…keep coming back means you, too, Ben”…all of it kind and favorable. all of it lovingly nauseating. It has been a while, but not that long. I left. I got a job in the city. Ruby died. Then Paul. Then Doggie. All that’s left is me and Pearl . It’s that simple.
            I come back with coffee and hot chocolate. She’s fine. She’s reading a Grapevine, which tickles me and scares me a bit. I never want her to need this program. But I do want her to have it if she needs it. It’s corny, it’s frustrating, and it’s old and it works. I was raised by old-timers and Big Book Thumpers. My few years have the heft and weight of fifty some days. Others, I’m as scared as the person with only an hour or less.
            “Yes, baby?”
            “Daaaa-AAAD…” She looks at me with wide eyes hinting heavy I am Not To Call Her Baby In Public. I fish in my pocket and get her a quarter. It’s her least favorite way of earning money. Losing teeth, mowing the front lawn, vacuuming, all honorable reasons to have a few dollars in her pocket…but my slips of calling her Baby and Baby Girl and now a days, Little Lady, have sparked her fiery blue eyes to heat to a piercing steel grey color. The money is a penance I have to pay. Which, she also knows she loses immediately when she cusses in public. I believe we have traded the same quarter back and forth for the last three years, now. I marked one once, and it lasted about nine weeks. I was impressed. We both stick to the rules rather well.
            “Dad.” Serious voice.
            “Yes, Pearl.”
            “Why do you shake sometimes?”
            “Do you want the long answer or the short one?”
            Please don’t pick the long one.
            “The short one.”
            “Well, I started drinking when I was young. Still developing from a boy to a man. And it harmed a part of my brain and how it talks to my nerves….”
            I stop.
            “No, you’re getting the long answer. When I was younger than you, I had a nervous disorder. I was always fidgeting, chewing my nails, restless, running around. Not like in the way all kids do and stage kids go through. My habits were just a little different. I had almost no self-esteem.”
            “What’s that?”
            “It’s when I like myself. A person has to build it. It comes natural to some, but not most. So, I didn’t have any. I was nervous all the time and had no self-esteem. By the time I was nine, I wanted to kill myself.”
            She looks at me.
            God dammit.
            “Okay - yes. I said that. I felt like I didn’t belong here, I didn’t fit in. I was picked on a lot. I didn’t like or play sports. I was called fag a lot growing up. I was scrawny and skinny. I was poor. Mom ran around. Dad died when I was nine. So, yeah - I wanted off this planet.”
            Still wide-eyed but now her mouth is less wide open.
            “Sooooo…when I was about 11 or 12 I snuck into my mom’s cabinet where she had some booze for her parties and friends and all the guys who came over. The first thing I saw was Brandy Alexander. It looked chocolatey and I felt this weird comfort come over me, and excitement, as soon as my hand touched the bottle. I felt at home.”
            People are all starting to sit down. I don’t want to cut off the story here. I whisper it a bit, but poorly.
            “I don’t think it even had liquor in it, honestly, but I would nip off that thing every day after school for about three weeks. It did nothing and something at the same time. Then, I left it alone until I was about 19. I had beer, but hated the taste, had boozy drinks here and there in college, but hated the twisty, dizzy effect I had from it. But, at 21, I took my first legal drink all alone at a bar. Then met up with a few folks a while later at another bar and took five more. I fell off my stool. I blacked out and woke up at the same time. It pushed me through this uncomfortable feeling I had all the time….it changed me. I loved it. So, I drank like that until just about four plus years ago. I stopped drinking and the jitters, the shaking, is from a few things. The damage I did to my brain, to my nerves, with all that poison in my system coursing away….it was what kept me calm, but angry. Now, I’m sometimes, oftentimes nervous, but happy. It seems an evil twist of fate, but I assure you, it’s a lot better than it was.”
            She closes her mouth and licks her lips, which dried out in the process of telling my story. She swallows. Blinks. Looks away for a second. The seats are full - about 200 in all. She looks back at me.
            “And these guys? what about them?”
            I think about that.
            “Well, I don’t know, hon. Everyone has a reason they are here tonight. So, I suggest you simply listen. Don’t believe every word or person you hear, but you’ll feel that out. I can’t tell you their story. They have to offer it up.
            “It qualifies them…I mean it lets them feel out if they are an alcoholic or not.”
            “Am I…”
            “No.” I hear myself nearly yell. ”No, baby, you’re not.” I hand her a quarter. It’s the one with the mark on it. “I hope not, anyway.”
            She pushes my hand with the quarter back to me.
            “No dad.”
            She gets up on my lap, swinging her skinny little arms ‘round my neck. Her nose buried into my hair and under my ear I feel her breath moisten the little strands that have gotten too long. I feel her tears wells up under spiking lashes against my neck.
            “You keep that one. I want to be a baby girl … just for an extra minute.”
            I hold onto her, close. She hasn’t been much of a hugger since school started and new friends and a new school have kicked in, replacing me a little more each day. I am already missing her while she holds on, squeezes tight, then lets go.
            She modestly slides back down to her seat, pulls her right sleeve past her hand and dabs her eyes with it. The ruffle turns blackish…she snuck on some mascara at school. I hadn’t noticed until now. She doesn’t hide it, let alone notices it. She then pushes back her hair from her face, sniffs twice good and clear, nods her head, and sits back in her seat. As the gentleman at the front of the room begins reading the preamble, she takes my hand and rests it on my leg. I get up when they call Year Five and get my anniversary coin. It’s bronze and heavy. I still down and hand it to her. She takes it, reads the front, then the back. She puts it in her pocket and without looking at me. She’s rapt with watching the other people getting up and getting coins.
            “That’s for calling me Baby Girl. We’re even.” and holds my hand until she slumps asleep against my arm a half-hour later.

                                                      a memoirish


                                                      a memoirish

sum total

            “But what would happen, daddy?”

            I stood back up from kneeling. Feeling the pull on my knees burning in the position too long, I really had to think about it. What would happen if we let them all out? Would the asphalt streets affect their feet? Would they know where to go to the bathroom? What would they eat? As I roll Lucy’s stroller out the gates and down towards the lot I am distracted by this fantasy. We brought them back, so in a way, we’ve given them a new life. Would they know that? I click her into her car seat, and hand her back her toy. As I shut the door I notice a glint in the stuffed animal’s eye. I wonder, would they bite the hand that feeds them?

            Lucy happened one night when we were tired of dating other people, hoping to “spruce up” our sex life, we ended up in bed together. That part was always good, or sex life. We never stopped fucking. We stopped talking. When my best friend and I ran out of stuff to talk about, well, the sex lost its charm. We were two nerdy, frightened, angry kids who found each other at a protest. Both hating the crowd, the mixture of body-odor and entitlement forced us to find refuge in a 7-11. After several cups of coffee and the first taste of junk food in years, we bonded. We stripped off our anarchist blacks and donned degrees and white collars. We became internal radicalists. We loved it — standing at parties, at colleges, at buffets while corporate behemoths prattled over cocktails, nodding and smiling all the while saving every penny we could to help support the homeless anonymously, or free the wolves in Utah, or bagging all the leftovers and taking them to shelters. To do something causal right under The Man’s nose gave us life.

            Then, we became a part of the system. We forgot about the forest for the trees. Eventually, we stopped talking. I retired a few years ago out of being broken. Over time, I retreated out of being frightened. My wife decided to leave because I was becoming a reclusive asshole to her and the cat. Once Lucy was born, we thought holding off the pending divorce would help the marriage. It didn’t. It’s not anyone’s fault really.

            When the dinosaurs came to town it shocked everything into place. We had talked about the zoo coming in and being built, and while we were both strong animal activists, the idea of a dinosaur zoo seemed so other-worldly we couldn’t really say no. It was so absurd of an idea, we both agreed to vote yes. A town of 9,047 people needs every vote and each counts so heavily that I guess we got caught up. The moats were dug, the concrete poured, and much building was had. They paid our town so much to place the zoo here we were finally able to get in stores that sold more than unlabeled meat and cow’s milk. We couldn’t resist being plied with organic food and an updated arthouse theatre. Again and again we’d drive by the acreage where the zoo was being built, shake our heads sipping our coconut water, enjoying a ride with zero emissions thinking there’s no way this will happen. We thought we had beaten the system.

            Then the zoo opened.

            And no one came.

            There was no fanfare, no media, really. It was like it never happened. More like it had always been here. I expected it to be crazy and the town would go touristy and there’d some complaints and protests and some action, man. Something.

            But nothing happened.

            It was as if they were just elephants wearing costumes of bigger, uglier elephants. They looked nothing like what we had been raised to believe they would. The first thing you noticed was their skin. Not their size, not their uniqueness. It was their skin. It was smooth like a snake’s skin after shedding. Shiny and smooth and eerily ropey and muscular. The colours were daunting. In the National Geographic article where the artist renditions showed this new idea of these garishly-coloured, poorly feathered, almost mangled-looking creature that we once worshiped in a sense, it made the idea of their existence cartoonish and laughable. I now wonder if the writer was some wackadoo Christian theologian on the side and made the idea of dinosaurs so unattractive and uncool with the goal in mind to dissuade any “real Christian” for wanting to ever believe in them.

            But when it’s right in front of you, it all makes sense. Like the feathers of a peacock’s tail or grackle’s nape they wore iridescent, warbling colours. On these monsters, as they were now being called, it seems the effect is a form of camouflage and mating decoration combined. When they move it is like watching the rippling rainbows of oils slicks as they walk to and from the visitors’ perch. Lucy loved it. We went nearly every day we could. We were often alone. Just me and Lucy and acres of dinosaurs.

            When my ex’s new boyfriend began to gripe about my time versus her time with Lucy, I wasn’t prepared. I had been warned this would eventually happen, but felt I knew my former wife well enough to know she wouldn’t let someone push her around like that. When she showed up to get Lucy on a Saturday morning, unannounced, I knew something was wrong. I asked what was wrong and she just shrugged and started packing Lucy’s things. I stood convinced little by the story I had “agreed but forgot” about her going away with them for a week.

            I moped about the near empty zoo for much of that week. I felt empty and afraid. I felt like a failure. This is the best she could do after me? This is potential step-father material? What did I do that made her like someone so shitty? I’d ask the slumped bodies over and over throughout the week. They made great therapists. one my last day of loneliness I bought a stuffed dinosaur. I cried all the way home with it sitting in Lucy’s carseat. I just needed her to be there, to be the consistent thing in my life. I slept next to it until it was time to go get her in the afternoon. It became a routine, the stuffed toy and I. I couldn’t go anywhere without it. I was becoming impinged on it. I left it home one afternoon to run to the store. I wept like a fool feeling like it was going to kill me if I didn’t let go a little.

            As I pulled into parking lot of Ridgeway’s Market I found him. He was screaming. He was screaming at my ex-wife and my kid. I wanted to beat his face in, but as I ran up, I realized I have nothing if I touch the guy. I’d loose my kid and ex-wife. No contact. I felt baited and trapped. None of them saw me. In a quiet burning anger I watched the entire thing play out from a few feet away, behind an SUV. Cops came, separating the two adults. He was calm and blamed her loudly for being “off her meds” and acting crazy. She just cried and kept shrugging, practically rocking Lucy to sleep on her shoulder from it. I listened as best I could from where I was and found out this has happened before. And then, the one cop took Lucy out of my wife’s arms and handed her to the boyfriend. He acted over-gracious, put her in the car, wailing for mom. He got into his car, and there we watched, separately, him drive our screaming daughter away.

            Each grey iris floated in a wash of red. Both my eyes had two broken blood vessels. I washed my face over and over. When Lucy’s mom called to tell me she’d have to bring Lucy over in the morning instead of tonight I said it was fine. I put on my shoes, then put my new boots on over them.

            Tyrannosaurus Rexes were too big. Raptors were too unpredictable, but portable. It was the weird semi-nocturnal one I wanted. But I couldn’t get to it without going through the other two exhibits. Because there was so little interest and the dinosaurs were dying in droves, security was a complete waste of time. Their bodies couldn’t adjust to their diets or the germs or the Sun, apparently. But there was this new discovery the zoo was giving a shot; Pythanthosaurus. They felt it held the key to finding out what was killing them. After several attempts, they couldn’t get it to eat anymore. It was beginning to starve itself. I would take Lucy to the petting zoo portion, where this vegetarian was held with the others. The others were doing fine unless they caught a cold from a kid after too much handling or choked on a sock that was left behind, adrift on the concrete (in the moat) while a stroller takes a sleep-laden child away.

            She and I would spend a lot of time with this little guy, who grew to be about seven feet long. When he was too tall, they put him in a different pen where you could only touch his sides. You could tell he hated being confined like that. You could also tell he had an affinity for Lucy. It was like he’d perk up when we’d show up.

            The day I came by without her in a mopey mood, Pythanthosaurus was pissed. I watched as he paced and scratched at the ground. He’d come over, then jerk his head back like a horse. Then, after a bit of this, he’d sulk. I went to the car and returned with one of her shoes - a many-time left behind object. He came over and I let him sniff it. When he took it in his mouth I was afraid to let it go. I didn’t want him to eat it and that meaning he could eat her if he ever god forbid got out. But, I had little to lose. I let him take the shoe. He went over to the far left corner of his cage, sat down, curled into a half moon and licked it, grooming it for the rest of the day. He was a she. And she was in love with Lucy.

            When the weekend arrived I explained to the boyfriend to get Lucy to stop crying, instead of yelling, maybe he should take her to the zoo. My ex-wife agreed to go along. I said no - let them bond. Lucy’s face was so full of fear when they left. When they returned he practically tossed her at me and locked himself in the bathroom. About an hour later he came out. He kicked me and Lucy out of the house. He threw around my ex-wife before she was able to leave for her mother’s. Lucy said nothing the entire ride home. When I lifted her out of the car seat I saw she was holding something. It was a sleeve. His sleeve. She ripped it off of him by accident when the Pythanthosaurus had grabbed his other sleeve and tried to pull him through the gating. She was silent the whole night. Finally, as we laid in bed nodding off to Curious George she looked up at me and asked, “Daddy. Can you make him go away?” I thought she meant the dinosaur. She shook her head no.

            Like myna birds, certain dinosaurs are very intelligent, enough so to use tools. Like keys and switches for a reward. When the boyfriend showed up in the night to assault the Pythanthosaurus who nearly ripped him arm off because he started yelling at Lucy, he didn’t expect their doors to already be unlocked. Confused by the sleeping bodies next to dead ones and overwhelmed by the smells of rotting vegetation, chicken, and beef they refused to eat, he covered his mouth with his shirt. Lucy’s Pythanthosaurus didn’t offer pleasantries as she chased him down, for the short chase it was. When she snapped off his head it started a chain reaction within her metabolism. This fleshy, loud, easy to catch little ape - not unlike a fat capuchin - was exactly what she not only wanted, but needed. Apparently they hunted Purgatoriuses until the K/T event before ever getting to witness these primate-mouthed rodents evolve into people. They’ve been craving a similar diet.       

            Now that they have, they are thriving.

            As I sit in my lawn chair watching fifteen, maybe sixteen, dinosaurs roam the cul de sac, I don’t feel fear. They know who and what I am. For now I am their king among edibles. When Lucy comes outside to show off the new dress I bought for her fifth birthday she stops before she entering the lawn. She hunches down and starts to walk on her toes, back humped, arms curled by her chest. She growls loud enough to catch the attention of Maddy, her “new mom”. The Pythanthosaurus comes from around the corner of the house. Maddy repeats the call Lucy makes and they sing to each other back and forth. When they get close enough, Maddy lays on the ground. Her skin is now duller and more alligator like. She’s missing more than we can accommodate environment-wise. Her life sysle seems near the end.

            Lucy climbs into the half-moon shape and leans back her head to talk to her. The Pythanthosaurus brings her head down closer and rubs her forehead gently with her chin, like a duck mother to her chick. Lucy brought her what she needed to live as long as she and her siblings could in this era. I never thought a dinosaur’s gratitude could be palpable, let alone understood.

            When Maddy dies a few days later, she is dehydrated like an anole that escaped its cage, found behind a couch. She’s too stiff to move to bury, so I cover her in a few blankets. I pack a half-asleep Lucy into the car, gripping her stuffed dinosaur from our first zoo visit two years ago. As we drive to her grandmother’s to stay until the rest die or move on, half-awake she groggily asks, “Are we going to see my real mommy today?” I tell her yes, but we have to let the dino-mommy go to do that. Yawning she agrees, “Okay. I’m done. Wake me up, please.” I say I will in a bit. Back asleep I call her mom and let her know we’re coming.

            As I drive by the zoo, now empty save for bodies and broken constructions, I wonder what whoever comes after us will think. How many times have we uncovered tusks and shells and people frozen in mid-fright by time due to volcanoes, storms, fear? How many times have we turned over the same rock to see the mollusks imprinted in them and said, “Now, this is a new discovery. Look how far back we can see in just this piece of limestone.” What would happen when whoever comes next finally figures out they’re not next?

            What would happen if they let us all out — again?


These have been with me since 2005. Pregnancy, film festivals, divorce, two colleges, six jobs, three moves, lovers, friends, cities, libraries, museums, and basements of churches drinking coffee and coming into life.

My shoes.
My walk.

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