every day at three pm
the chime rings and
most of us ignore it.
we are sitting in front
of it; he in his wheelchair
and me standing, nervous,
moving  from side to side
with clench palm, straw inside,
unable to commit to the chair
I placed at the entrance of
the cage.

the birds in the aviary
smell their own shit all day and
think the bell is a taunting God
clanging from a distance to keep time
of their blinkered sentence.
they have flown less than one mile,
tired out on plastic branches
picking each other’s imagined nits;
stick legs and beady eyes that,
if bigger,
would reflect a melancholy
I always thought that myself,
or the willows wore best
                  but they have a rival.

I consider lighting the whole thing on fire
so they can rise to the clouds with the smoke;
use their wings for something other than
beating back water
during forced bath time when
that satanic effigy
in a hazmat suit approaches and
I’d give them tiny tools:
tiny lighters, tiny bullets, gatling guns
and the wherewithal to fire them.
ice picks for the stabs and
the insults to go deeper.
I’d help haunt him.
but they are small, untrained,
and they’d just eat the things.
smell the irony
when the cage fills up with
bloody stool and the devil
in white comes back to wash
them out.

my apologies are inaudible.
outside looking in,
gawking, checking my phone
for the time, an old love letter,
avoiding my clients’ increasing mucus
in his cough,
his impending question.
(no missed calls)
             do you think Sarah?
          in his Polish accent,
            sleeve half covering his mouth to hide the yellow
                            discharge.
.               I have a tissue in my pocket, wilting.
            unprepared to think of anyone but myself
               at this time in my process.
             (check the time)

             but they don’t get words,
fertilized; little beaks poking through
spotted eggs and
above all else,
birds with clipped wings
avoid the despondency
that liberty brings.
that bell rings
and I want them to know
               that the birds think that bell is a God?
                  muted sniffle.
                 I move past the withering Kleenex,
                      his equally decaying stare,
                         to check the time again
                      (no new voicemails)

that bell rings and
I want them to know
just how badly freedom hurts.

“the aviary”

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If you asked my friends what I was doing during that time, they wouldn’t know. They would say something like fine or ok, I think, I haven’t heard from her but no one would have known. They surely wouldn’t have set foot in my apartment for more than a second.

“You added more pictures?”

That was generous. My apartment was slathered in photographs like wallpaper, everywhere. Feral, I stood at the doorway with my coat already on waiting to go.

“Yeah, it brightens things.”

She kind of nodded, looked around, nothing too revealing. She had to use the bathroom.

“How’s school?”

I began to list them in my head:
1. a three year programfor my MSW
2.40 hours a week as a case manager for those with severe mental health disorders, a case load of 32
3. WINTER IN PHILADELPHIA
4. A part time escort
5. Writing a book that mixes elements of fiction and truth and poetry into a labyrinthian composition reflecting my shadow.
6. volunteering with an organization that works with street based sex workers in Kensington
7. I have begun smoking weed.

“Everything is truly good, Selene.”

8. Complete and utter isolation.

“Great! Let’s go to dinner.”

“You want revenge or long sleep?”
“Revenge.”
“Lol, Catarina.”
“What?”
“I mean, you always pick revenge.”

If you asked my friends what I was doing during that time, they wouldn’t know. They would say something like fine or ok, I think, I haven’t heard from her but no one would have known.

“But you aren’t choking?”
I was suddenly very careful and aware of where I was. I am in the psych hospital a place where the state will 302 you if you present as a danger to yourself or others, or are unable to care for yourself.
“No, I am not.”
I begin listing things in my head to calm me:

  1.  sometimes resilience is the only consolation
2. I need to check in on Evelyn, Patricia, Carlos, Peter and Janelle first thing monday   morning.
3. I forgot to enter that note about Rinita.
4. Strength accumulates in the body in a series of traumas that turn into seizures if you’re not careful with how much media you consume.


“I feel confused.”
My legs were crossed and so were my arms. I take up as little space as possible, even in panic, I shrink to the size of a bean.
“Tell me more.”


Put me in your pocket. I began suddenly in the middle. He said mmm hmm when appropriate. I gestured to the air a lot. I let tears sting my face for the first time since my last partner told me I weaponized my own emotion to grab power.. He appeared amused by the way I mentioned synchronicity enough times and then on the other hand, but I would say it


“On the other hand.”


And I would dive into all the ways I understood textbook psychology, and stress and the ways it builds in you. What it is like to be surrounded by people with delusions.
“You understand, doing this,”I wave my hand his way. “The ways in which we infuse with others’ beliefs unnoticed.”

Tell him about the apparitions, Cat.
“You can’t take my spiritual practice away from me. It informs a big part of me.”
Tell him about the mirrors.
Intentional, distraught but I intentionally marched my way into the anxiety. It’s the anxiety of the ritual, of the ways in which I recount things.
“And then I began to list them.”

1. Write the note for Rinita
2. Check on Carlos first, but call Janelle and Peter, then go see Evelyn.
3. Buy wet food.
4.Throw away the stone on your dresser altar, it is cursed.
5. Jump off the bridge, Cat.
The bondage of safety, I craved safety.
Tell him how many times you rearranged your house this year.

“I can’t untangle these things and yet, I realize I am fully here and present in this body being eaten alive by the stress of my job and no finances and just trying to calm myself.”

I could have told that man I was thinking of tying myself to the bedpost and setting my apartment on fire but that I had no plan to do it and just imagined it because I compartmentalized emotion and understood that my ire at a system that failed had to be represented visually and turned internally.

Tell him about all the times you wore the red bracelet.

“It’s not suicidal ideation, it’s frustration.”

I was in no danger. He wasn’t listening and he won’t listen in the future. And I know, and I unburdened you of the mystery, because he referred me to a psychiatrist that doesn’t even take my health insurance, didn’t check my throat in which he would have discovered a goiter caused by hyperthyroidism which was causing several spikes in mania throughout the day leading to trembling panic attacks, spikes in mood, drops in mood and encouraging my sugar addiction.  This would, in the future, grow so large that it would lead me to almost choke to death several times before medical intervention became necessary. He let me walk home, exhausted from sobbing for two straight hours about how my job was so stressful I did not know if I could last another day, that I sometimes think I make things happen with my mind but could also see myself falling into my clients delusions, that I was surrounded by nothing but people with bipolar, borderline and delusions, the only friends I had were either in crisis or community organizers so hanging out required untold amounts of labor poured into a person or  project, that I daydream to escape this and that my spiritual practice guides some of my manifestation belief so it was hard to convince me that manifestation wasn’t real.

“That sounds confusing.”

He let me walk home that night in my tiny shorts. It had rained a little, so I was dotted with drops and full of terror.  When I see you again, look me dead in the fucking eye and tell me men listen to women because your number is written in red and I distinctly remember asking you. I distinctly remember asking you. I distinctly remember walking across the bridge and asking you for help. You said (I do this out of spite),  I distinctly remember because I catalog error

“I can’t get into any of this right now.”

“datura moon”

“Not everyone returns to baseline.”
I always share this first. Regardless of audience, it is important that people understand, you don’t always return.
“Sometimes, you have a new baseline. A new stasis you try to maintain.”
I stuck my thumb to my chest like I was explaining to a child. My therapist nodded.

 

This was a year later, after I spent two hours sobbing to an on-site psychiatrist at Penn Presbyterian. I remember waiting in the lobby, high and unsure on whether or not to tell them that or to ride that out, not knowing they would make me pee in a cup to test for pregnancy. Drugs. I am paranoid. The lights were bright and the EMT was like a giant angel, tall, blue eyed, kind. My shorts were too short to feel comfortable doing anything but eat cherries which is what I was doing when this started.


“911. What’s your emergency?”
“I swallowed a cherry pit and now I am choking.”

I always speak like that, flatly. Terse. Abrupt. I imagine announcing the death of every friend I have loved the same way: no affect, matter of fact, let’s solve this little grief puzzle.
“She was my best friend and now she is dead,” I will say.

I am now getting ready to see the psychiatrist.
“Usually, if you’re choking you can’t breathe or talk. Can you breathe? Are you breathing?”
I am breathing. Breathe. I am breath. My hair is on end. Goosebumps line my arm. I am now getting ready to see the psychiatrist.
“The ambulance is on it’s way already. Would you like to go to the hospital just in case? For your anxiety?”
I am sobbing into a telephone and I can feel something in my throat.
“Bolus,” they say. “Things get stuck right here,” and he mimes to his own throat, “but we can take you.”
I was scared of cyanide and a $2,000 ambulance bill plus everything.
“Name.”
“(Redacted).”
“Date of birth?”
“(Redacted).”
“Can I see the psychiatrist? I am having some trouble,” I gestured to the air,
“understanding reality.”
A woman sat with me first and let me cry. I regret what I said but more her inaction.
“Do you still want your throat checked?”
“No, I am not choking.”

No, I wasn’t. She smiled. Told me the psychiatrist would be with me and then a security guard sat down to watch me. The red bracelet. I was a walking red bracelet that had to be watched. Word problem #2 (pop quiz!)


A woman walks into the psych unit of a hospital off an ambulance ride in which she has dispatched 911 because she believed she was choking on a cherry pit which she claims is still stuck in her throat. Immediately upon entering the ambulance, she asks to see the psychiatrist because she can’t tell the difference between fantasy and reality. Do you check her throat?

Spoiler alert: they didn’t.
“Come in,” a young asian man says to me.
He is younger than me and I feel my resentment rising the way my clients did when they first met smiling, sunny, pleated-skirt, white and bubbly me.

 

“Have a seat,” he gestures to a stiff tan chair.
The room was shaped like a cell with no windows. There was a chair and a desk for him, and a chair for me. Two security guards sat out front. So this is it.
“It says you called 911 because you thought you were choking.”
I nodded. I was being careful. This is it. This is a cell.

I was suddenly very careful and aware of where I was. I am in the psych hospital a place where the state will 302 you if you present as a danger to yourself or others, or are unable to care for yourself.
“No, I am not.”

“Where is your family?” I asked him.
This point forward I was going to act in absolute meekness and with a growing self pity. I would maintain my composure by repeating in my head that I was both mourning for my dead and my wasted potential and that I was prepared to freeze to death in a town I loathe, alone, friendless. If this was it, I would play the part,
“They have gone. West.”
“Without you?”
“This was years ago.”
“Hmm.”
Divorced. Two kids, both boys.
“I am divorced.”
“Kids?”
“Two boys.”
I didn’t grin. I sipped my mug waited.
“You ever been married?”
Dotefully, I began the display of my eyelashes.
“No.”
We sat there in his candlelit dining room lined with mirrors and no pictures and drank boiled water out of mugs. It was hard to keep the conversation light or going. Moments passed before I moved again. Fearful, I was careful. It was seven pm and I was trapped here.
“I miss my family,” I said.
He took a final sip of his water and then got up suddenly.
“You’re hungry?” he pointed at me.
Famished.
A bit.”
He walked into the kitchen. I scooted my elbow across the table so my neck could crane more easily without it being too apparent that I wanted to see what he was doing.  From the distance, I saw two candles on an end table and the usual assortment of things: silver fridge, counters, trashcan, some papers, some cans stacked underneath the cabinet. He turned suddenly and I became preoccupied with my mug.
“A protein bar.”
He handed me a lemon thing with oats in a yellow wrapper.
“I was going to heat up soup until this happened.”
“We can eat it cold.”
Famished.
He shrugged a bit, “You’re right. This is an unusual week.”
This man was delusional, I decided quickly. This is how war starts. He brought out beefaroni. Meat.
“It’s been so cold, I doubt it’s bad.”
I stifled my urge to tell him but then he asked
“You’re not vegetarian are you?” he smiled.
You are handsome.
“Not anymore,” I smiled back.
We sat there like that, dipping our spoons in a can of cold Beefaroni and not talking and not thinking too much about the devastation of each of our lives in the whackiest week of winter.

these are first drafts.

 

three stories creating novella #1

there are seven novellas.

there are several stories intertwined into each novella

 

it has taken me forever to land on this and it’s a labyrinth

I’ll repeat this, I have very little recollection of the mechanism. All I knew is I was suddenly in mid air about eight feet off the ground and that there was a wolf below me already. What I didn’t see, suspect or plan for was the woman’s voice suddenly close to me.
“Hey.”
She was behind me. I was cradled like a caterpillar or a fetus, however you want to look at it when she said “hey” casually like I was in her seat or path and I kind of started to twist her way. I was dangling, upside down and squished. This trap was designed for smaller prey. Or maybe it was just cozy.
“How are you doing?” I heard her say.
Spinning. I was spinning, dangling from a tree. There was a wolf beneath me and a woman in black, I could see,a big black parka acting so casually, I began to tear up without notice.
“You’re out here alone.”
“My friend is dead.”
I did snap once. I wish I hadn’t. That temper. That slow building temper of mine, and no sentiment.
“So you’re alone.”
I could see her now but I was definitely still twirling. I could only see her bangs and pale face. I could also see two more people walking up behind her.
“These are my dogs,” she said.
I continued twirling. The propulsion of the net had me  in motion. It was hard not to throw up but there was nothing to throw up. It was hard to keep footing in the air. I couldn’t stop spinning. I hoped she couldn’t see my face; the tears wouldn’t break. They’d just sting. I blinked.
“These are my friends.”
As I spun back, I saw the dog that had trotted over return to my friend’s body. Almost prancing, she sort of hopped like it was a performance. It was fuzzy, everything, but the vision of her on the ground and one of them distinctly pulling her arm out of the socket was clear. There was no sound in the woods except a light creak from the tension of the rope and my body weighing down the branch as it moved, the woman’s voice as she pleased and a cracking sound as my friend’s arm was ripped from her body.
“What do you know? That could be you.” she said.
Terror.
“What do you seek?”
To be in a hot hot bath away from here.
“Can you speak?”
Tears welled in my eyes and it stung and my arm would fall asleep if I stayed like this. I was scared to move, afraid any reaction to her would infuriate her. Psychopaths made sense to me. They are triggered by both defiance and submission so it’s best to walk lightly, carry a prayer. I tried to shift without her seeing but it was impossible. I felt two hands grab the net near my coccyx to stop it.  She was a giant or
“There are wolves all over these woods.”
The two women behind her began to let out howls, loud, in my ear and then roaring laughter Startled, I finally moved my arm so I was no longer sitting on it.
“You heard them earlier didn’t you? These are my dogs, but my dogs kill and attract wolves, foxes, sometimes a coyote.”
I felt movement, then I was being spun around again to face them. Three women, all in black parkas and boots, mean and not my friends.
“We can cut you down and you can come with us, or you can hang out here and wait for some hunter to save you.” She looked up at the sky and sneered. “It’s black as death out here. What hunter is near?
Even in confusion, I took notice. My senses were heightened actually. Striking and strict and I couldn’t see her shoes but I bet they were thick soled and properly fitted and she was made for whatever this was.  She had green eyes, black bangs, and burgundy lips like she had just applied matte lipstick to them which didn’t even bother me. Whatever she was we were not the same but I was enthralled and worried at the enamoration. My arm hurt and I was freezing and her eyes were blazing pines in my way.
“Or you could freeze to death. Hopefully, faster then each animal will pick at you. “
I barely noticed her friends. She looked down at the ground and then up at me.
“It’s only about six feet off the ground.  Long dogs can get that. Foxes can wait.”
Without any warning, she turned to walk away. Her friends followed suit. I heard the cracking of bones in the distance. If I could smell blood like them, I would have. It was everywhere.

“Does forgiveness necessarily restore a ruptured relationship or simply allow a resumption of it?”

–Repair by Elizabeth V. Spelman

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