[Trigger Warning: Depictions of abuse, substance use, and suicide]
She doesn’t take sugar or cream. The spoon is wholly ritual. Languid lulling of percolated pitch. She’s angry.
I had taken mushrooms with some friends the night previous. I filled a brand new sketchbook with her name, written over and over, in every color and width of Sharpie within reach. And I still missed her. I called her up and left a message saying that I loved her and that I felt everything would be okay.
I knowingly broke the first rule of Being A Financially Dependent Girlfriend Recovering From A Suicide Attempt & Opiate Dependence: Never call your partner on her “day off” from you, tripping on shrooms, and give her the idea that you’re happy and fun around other people.
“You never save any Sugar for me.” The capitalization is intentional. On the nights when roles reversed and she got to be the Domme, this was my name. Sort of like calling a three hundred pound guy Tiny, if you had tied him up and told him how great it was dating a short person until he figured out this wasn’t roleplay but couples therapy with a hostage.
She asks if I need to use the bathroom before she kicks me out.
It’s two months later. From the registration office of the county psychiatric hospital I see her Honda Civic creep along the visitor pick up & drop off.
Most people whose bread is buttered my way believe that falling from a bridge is painless and instant. And you’ll never fully appreciate how wrong you are because I’m not inclined to spend the remainder of my days chasing the verbal mastery it would require to coolly convey to you what having your — you know, maybe another time.
“Thank God you didn’t puncture anything, ” said the nurse with nimble hands, encircling my black and blue torso with bandages. “Do you believe in God?”
In the hospital they let me put up a map of the Indian Ocean in my room, a reminder that the world is an open wound in motion with 11 million cubic miles of salt rubbed into it.
I meet her at the curb.
“I’m bored of this. And you.” She asks if I need a quarter for the payphone before she drives away.
I’m at the Denny’s by my old house. My friend and I are clubbing our woes to death with still-hot chicken tenders.
“What you lose, you become,” he says. We arm wrestle to a draw and ask for the check.
It’s May. 2014. I’m at a pinball show in Dixon, California, a staggered sashay in the boots she bought me, the messenger bag and cardigan she bought me the only thing keeping me anchored to this dreadful carpet.
Jesus What The Fuck Is Wrong With You: smoke 1/3rd of a joint, take a dose of LSD, ride in a stranger’s car for an hour, walk right up to your boss once you get your ticket and tell her that you’re on LSD and everyone else looks like they’re having the worst time.
Like a grand, elegant lady Galactus, I tiptoe around tiny galaxies of dreams. Coiled up behind the glass are countless hours of waxing, fussing with burned out bulbs. On my first day of cleaning duty at the museum, it took me two hours to wax and clean out four machines. There are more than a hundred here, their combined time in electromechanical infirmaries dwarfing my incremental sick leave.
I’ve lost a lot of time, but no one person can lose this much time.
The man in front of me is playing Monopoly, and he’s just hit the high score. He still has a ball left on his game. I’m assuming his tattoo of a koi, which has at some point come alive, coughing fire at me, is just moral support and not next in line.
He drains his last ball and enters his initials. He throws his arms up in the air — for the record, he cares a lot, perhaps too much — and flares his nostrils at me as I inch, nay, millimeter my way to the pin. I motioned to what was once a sign that said, “Please share, if someone’s waiting behind you please let them play instead of starting another game,” but in the chaos of this swirling nexus of lights and nostalgia had now become reduced to semi-squiggled runes. I know it says a thing. I know it. I just don’t. Can’t.
I’m in my childhood home in the German countryside. A little pewter pooch poking indents in my Kids’ Monopoly board. I’m in my neighbor Eddie’s garage, listlessly practicing the bass line for “In Bloom” to prove to him that I can too sing and play and sing at the same time, despite only being this many old: IIIII IIIII IIIII. I’m holding my newborn brother in a Dutch hospital. Broertje, Broertje!
I am anywhere and everywhere instead of in front of this machine embarrassing myself. He shakes his head at me and leaves. Watching me flounder at his new conquest has ruined the game for him.
He knowingly broke the first rule of Playing Your Favorite Machine At A Pinball Show: never monopolize Monopoly.
In a way the Monopoly pinball machine better expresses the original intent of the Monopoly game before it was redesigned and commercialized: eventually, everyone loses at capitalism.
This would be a more poignant point if this wasn’t a feature of all pinball machines, everywhere.
I see his initials flash on the screen.
He is least-loser-like of everyone who’s played this machine. Since they reset the scores, which they probably did before the show to encourage people to play and take pictures of it.
We all lose at pinball, but it can’t defeat you unless you lose sight of having fun.
His name is now in the machine. What we lose, we become.
I’m in a bus terminal, plunking Satie at a public piano. Baby’s first greyhound will take me to Canada, into the arms of a woman who throws herself on top of me, as if to shield me from my own shrapnel, when I tell her that I’ve considered taking my ball and going home. My first instinct is to shrug her off, not out of discomfort or a need for space but because I don’t feel I deserve it.
We’re sitting on her bed, overlooking the cooing Canadian winterscape. This is a barre chord. And if you move it like this, it’s always a chord, and if you move it down, you now have a minor chord. Okay, I’ll do the verse, and you can do the chorus. My eyes find themselves chasing a glimmer of sunlight as it escapes down a lock of her pink hair. There is a tea tin on her altar stuffed with my old silk stockings. We are taking back our doubly-denied girlhoods. Through magick. Through hand-holding. Through averted eye contact when singing.
“Can I interrupt band practice so I can kiss you?”
I’m in a German psychiatrist’s office. She hands me a Spider-Man comic book.
“Read this and think about how you can turn your pain into a positive.”
In one story, Spider-Man saves a child from being sexually assaulted by his babysitter. In another, he intervenes when a man abuses his wife and children and the other adults in the neighborhood look the other way.
I didn’t know Spider-Man had actual arch villains until I played Maximum Carnage on the SNES all the way through without punching out one babysitter. I’d always believed J. Jonah Jameson was his arch-nemesis, something this Amazing Spider-Man table gets right.
And it’s on sale. It’s more than I had saved up even before I quit my job and started pumpkin pie filling right out of the can. But they take credit cards! And if I can’t pay it back it’s fine because I’ll be de—
Many babysitters and abusers gave up their freedom of movement and got put on a government list so that I wouldn’t be burned with the belief that I deserved what happened to me.
I’m carrying her around the kitchen. Show me where you keep the flour, the vanilla. She’s so light. I’d carry her all the way to the grocery store if I could be sure my dress wouldn’t ride up. She doesn’t deserve what happened to me, either. She deserves my best, not the worst of someone she’ll never meet. She is not a life boat. A footstool or welcome mat maybe, given the measure of her masochism in the moment–but not a lifeboat. There’s no Island of the Gotten Betters. There’s no larger, safer ship to stow away on after we’ve “sorted our shit out.” If we’re gonna need a bigger boat, we have to build it ourselves.
The silver ball cascades down Mary Jane’s pale and placid cheek. Is she-yeah, I thinks he’s trying to nod. She’s motioning up towards Spider-Man.
The double flippers kick the ball up at the man himself — usually double flippers are better used to toss the ball over to the single flipper on the other side due to the asymmetrical design and stuff but fuck man right now I really do feel like a room without a roof do you grasp the severity of this this is DefCon Pharrell Lyrics here — and Mr. Parker gingerly pokes the ball. Blessed by his web-slinging appendage. He sees me. What I was, what I am, and what I want to be. He’s not really real, you know, but he sees me and is proud of me and I’ll take it.
I leave the machine in the company of that comic book, which is selling for $30 on eBay.
What we lose, we become.
Back to Canada. It’s a day later and we’re in a tiny Ontarian bakery with Daft Punk lyrics on the streetside sandwich board, she takes my hand. Exposed fingertips, now interweaving, with matching metallic gold manicures.
“Can I say something?”
“I love you.”
There are three women in front of this WWF Royal Rumble machine. I guess at a show where an “Adults Only” pinball table was eventually carted away because kids wouldn’t stop playing on it, where visitors are greeted by the line of giggling old gents waiting to play Whoa Nellie! Big Juicy Melons, that maybe it’s nice for a change to some girls to leer at painted muscles. Or maybe they miss the days when Vince McMahon could actually make something out of evil clowns and the undead that people would enjoy.
This is based on the 1993 Royal Rumble, the first one since we moved to Germany. At least once a year my brother and I watch old WWF pay-per-view events and drink every time one of the wrestlers on the TV is dead in real life. It sounds callous but you just don’t understand. Before the internet, before YouTube, before any of that shit — for some of us, wrestling was the only media that reached out to us. It made sense. It told stories we could relate to.
It was a terrible match, definitely one of the worst in the history of the sport, but everyone identifies with Hulk Hogan staring up at Andre The Giant.
As a child, I watched Randy Savage take a bite from a fucking cobra and came out of retirement to wrestle the cobra’s owner. He was like a God, complete with plastic idols that articulated. Now he’s about one third of a cup of Midori and 7-Up. Pretending that learning a generation of our role models were living in agony and eventually subsumed by their lethal vices did not leave in some of us a dull ache of disillusionment is perhaps the polite thing, but it’s not right.
I had as loud a laugh as anyone at all the fanboys who hid in their rooms and cried their hearts on LiveJournal at the “loss” of Chris Benoit, but fuck it and you if you think your childhood attachments are something to be ashamed of.
I am adrift in a sea of sentimentalist tinkerers, scavengers defying the crushing of their souls by time and obsolescence. Everyone here has lost. Our youth, our sense of wonder.
Beautiful animals. Creator destroyer gods. Bleeding life into the machines to keep them alive. Becoming, in a sense, the wonder and bright lights. Being the hands and eyes and heart of the machines they service. Becoming the—
I’m standing on a freeway overpass, overlooking the Oakland highway. The phone rings. It’s my best friend.
“Hey, are you safe? Where are you?”
“I’m on a bridge. I’m going back home. This is stupid.”
If you have to lose me, I don’t want you to lose a wounded, scared little girl convincing herself that the fall really won’t hurt that much and everyone will be better off this way. I don’t want you to lose by forfeit.
If we become what we lose, I want you to be a foxy old lady eating French toast outside, kicking up trouble in a plastic kiddie pool.
I want you to bathe the world around you in bright lights and curious melody.
I lean forward and set free a quiet sob on her shoulder.
“I love you too, little one. I feel so privileged to be alive and share space with you.”
I really do and I really am.
This story doesn’t have one of this slapstick climaxes where everyone realizes I’m on drugs and I do something wacky and lose my position as a volunteer or have to pay some property damage and reinforce some small town person’s prejudice against weird city folk. I went back home, had onion rings at IHOP, watched Hell Comes To Frogtown with friends and tried numerous times to pleasure myself to the idea of Sandahl Bergman dragging me through the desert on a chain but I simply lacked the coordination to complete any of that.
I made copies of my new zine, I wrestled in a pool of lube in front of an audience and had a job interview at a place that pays less than half of what I made working in tech. None of it is very exciting — until you consider that for some of us who suffer from mental illness, any day you have too much free time alone could be your last.
I can’t recommend doing drugs and playing pinball in some small town in Northern California where your waiter’s never seen a poached egg and having an epiphany about loss and one’s immeasurable innate value as a life-saving measure, but it’s sure worked for me!