Springtime at the Speedway

speedway

Photo via MorgueFile.

by Erin Abernethy

 

Welcome to “Race Week,” y’all!

Bring us your hicks, your drunks,

your gas-guzzling RVs,

your big-ass campers and overgrown pup-tents,

jockeying to park in a nearby churchyard.

That’ll be $20, son.

Bless y’all. Jesus loves ya.

 

Bring us all your bad habits –

we don’t have enough of our own –

all your trash and your spit,

your sweaty sun-stink,

your potbellied, yellow-toothed,

smoke-sucking men;

your brassy blonde women

overflowing their shorts,

your children more monstrous

than all of your trucks.

 

Come and jam up the traffic

bring it all to a standstill

while cousins with roadside stands

make a few bucks

from selling you tickets and

overpriced firewood,

t-shirts and caps sporting

Earnhardt and Petty;

pocket the cash and

don’t tell the tax-man.

That’s the American Way

around here.

 

Never mind all the locals,

so lucky to live here with all this

Excitement. Oh yes,

it’s a great big adventure,

trying to get out to work

when the cops fix the stop-lights

to let trailers through.

Watch the race car parade:

look, it’s Bobby!

Is that Greg’s Ford?

We may die of amazement,

so impressed by these strangers

you call by first names.

 

Like a biblical plague,

this infestation, this

visitation of fools;

smell the diesel, the smoke,

as the cars run in circles,

the dinosaur roar

scaring dogs miles away.

How much gas do you think

will be wasted this weekend?

This is what our troops fought for:

more American horsepower!

 

So welcome to Race Week, y’all!

Get to the grandstand,

grab a beer and sit back.

If you pay close attention,

some driver might wreck;

you could be there, ringside,

see some cars crash and burn!

Holy crap!

Oh, sweet Jesus!

It’s the American Way!

Waving flags,

making noise,

blood and brains on the track.

Welcome to Race Week.

 

© Copyright 2015 by Erin Abernethy.

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Winter Holiday Affective Disorder (WHAD)

xmasmeds

by Patrick Redding & Rob Colfax

Memo to staff psychologists: please insert the following sheet into your copies of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM). At this time of year, it is likely that you may see an increase in complaints of depression. Be aware of the diagnostic criteria for the specifier Seasonal Affective Disorder (or SAD) as well as this new category, Winter Holiday Affective Disorder (or WHAD).

Criteria for Winter Holiday Affective Disorder (WHAD):

At least five of the following symptoms have been present over the majority of a two-week period, and represent a change from previous functioning. At least one of the symptoms is either (1) Winter holiday-related complaints or (2) general lack of jolliness.

NOTE: Do not include symptoms that are clearly due to a general medical condition (for example, pregnancy) or delusions or hallucinations (for example, seeing dancing sugarplums during alcohol withdrawal).

1. Winter holiday-related complaints

2. Marked lack of jolliness and good will

3. Loss of interest in nearly all activities (do not include sitting in a stupor in front of the TV during football playoffs)

4. Significant weight gain or increase in appetite (especially cravings for “special” foods such as turkey, fudge, rum balls, etc.)

5. Insomnia (including sleeplessness due to carolers outside who just won’t shut up) or hypersomnia (including overdoses of tryptophan from excessive turkey consumption as well as repeated viewings of “Frosty the Snowman” reruns)

6. Psychomotor agitation (including twitching and “bite reflex” exhibited at the sight or sound of Salvation Army bell-ringers, but not including seizures due to those little chasing lights)

7. Repetitive vocalizations (such as “fa-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la” or “Ho ho ho!”)

8. Fatigue or loss of energy at the mention of weekend shopping at the mall

9. Feelings of worthlessness or excessive or inappropriate guilt when unable to come up with “the perfect gift”

10. Discoloration of extremities (such as red nose – do not include redness due to excessive alcohol consumption from self-medication)

11. Paranoia, as evidenced by random vocalizations such as “He knows when you’re sleeping! He knows when you’re awake!”

12. Diminished ability to think or concentrate, or indecisiveness, particularly when changing lanes in downtown traffic

13. Recurrent homicidal ideation without a specific plan, or a homicide attempt (including attacking the mall Santa with a picket from the fence around the “Santaland” display) or a specific plan for committing homicide (do not include shooting at the neighbor’s plastic rooftop reindeer)

14. Bizarre ideations (including, but not limited to, belief in elves, talking reindeer, and peace on earth)
Keep Calm and Hibernate

Statistics indicate that WHAD symptoms may be more apparent in individuals employed in retail occupations, but WHAD has been diagnosed over a widespread range of demographics.

In most cases, WHAD symptoms decrease significantly after 6-8 weeks, though flare-ups may continue until St. Patrick’s Day.

There is currently no treatment for WHAD, although symptoms may be alleviated by mild sedatives, antipsychotics, or a weekend in the Bahamas.

© Copyright 2003 by Patrick Redding & Rob Colfax. Republished 2007, 2011, 2014, 2015.

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The Narcissistic Parent’s 10-Point Guide for a Happy Thanksgiving

YLF_053

by Patrick Redding

[Author’s note: I trust our readers to be intelligent enough to know that this is satire and intended to be humorous. Although it’s not my intention to offend, it could happen. Sorry about that.]

1. Invite all the relatives you can possibly think of, no matter how long it’s been since you saw them. If you haven’t seen them since a funeral, be sure to mention that. Forget love and money; guilt’s what really makes the world go ’round!

2. Invite some other people too – church acquaintances, people you see occasionally at work, your mail carrier – whoever you can drag to the table. Thanksgiving is about sharing. If certain family members don’t seem keen on traditional clan gatherings anyway, having strangers there is sure to put everyone at ease!

3. When people offer to help cook, twist it around and ask them why they don’t like your cooking. If they offer to bring some fancy-pants special dish like cranberry-nut-almond-brussel-sprout stuffing, graciously accept their offer but again, make sure they know that you know they don’t like your cooking. Don’t worry if you sound offended. They’re family; they should understand!

4. If you know that certain individuals in your family have special dietary needs, such as diabetics or vegans, be sure to go out of your way to let them know how special you think they are. Take pains to assure them that you’re making dishes just for them; ask them for recipes if you have no idea what they can and can’t eat. If they feel self-conscious or think you’re being a condescending bitch, that’s really not your problem, is it?

5. Alcohol or no alcohol? It really doesn’t matter; the alcoholics are going to drink in their cars on the way over anyway. If you don’t drink, you can self-righteously criticize everyone who can’t get through a nice family meal without self-medicating. If you load up yourself, though, you have license to say and do pretty much whatever you want and not worry about apologizing later – not that you’d do that anyway, because you’re always right.

6. Before you eat, make everyone hold hands and say grace. You certainly don’t need to kowtow to the sensitivities of a couple of atheists or pagans in your family. After all, they embarrass you every year by not showing up for your church’s Easter programs or Christmas cantata. What would Jesus do? Jesus was a hippie! Don’t listen to that long-haired peace-and-love crackpot.

7. If you skip grace, you can still make people wish they were somewhere else by making everyone around the table take turns telling what they’re thankful for. You may want to skip this part if you have any children who have recently married someone you don’t like, as they’re likely to gush about how thankful they are for their loving spouse, and no one wants to hear that crap at the dinner table.

8. Even though other people’s lives aren’t nearly as interesting and fulfilling as your own, make certain you include everyone in dinner conversation, even if you don’t know much about what’s been going on with them. Surefire topics to start a spirited conversation might include the recent elections, your son’s “friend” and how much he reminds you of that Boy George fellow, your youngest daughter’s weight gain, your oldest daughter’s failure to produce grandchildren. After all, just because you’ve opened a can of cranberry sauce doesn’t mean you can’t open up a can of worms too!

9. After dinner, insist upon making up take-home plates of leftovers for each and every guest, especially the ones who didn’t seem to eat much. There are starving children in Ethiopia who’d be grateful for a good plate of food, and you shouldn’t be shy about pointing this out to the uncooperative little brats who are trying to slip out the door before you’re done with them!

10. Once everything’s done and your guests have managed to escape, take a moment for yourself to reflect on what a good person you are to provide such a loving family home for such undeserving little buggers. Take out pen and paper and dash off letters to let them know how disappointed you are that they seemed upset with you for no good reason. Don’t forget to mention how they embarrassed you in front of everyone by not helping out with dinner or laughing at your jokes. Make sure they know that attendance at Christmas is mandatory and you expect them to be on their best behavior!

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This Week at Gatewood: July 12–18, 2015

clockwork heart

by Johanna Rigby

Hello, and thanks for stopping in for the weekend wrap-up! We’ve been continuing to add a few tweaks to the site as well as updating our publishing schedule. This week we culled outdated links from our blogroll; it’s now been renamed to “Writers We Like” because we’ve added some new sites that aren’t blogs. There are some really good writers in that list (which randomizes itself every time you visit so that no one’s on the bottom all the time), so when you’ve finished reading here, be sure to check out some of their work too.

Our publishing schedule has now moved to a 6-day format to give you visual arts Monday and Wednesday, poetry and other writing on Tuesday and Thursday. The meditation card photo stays on Friday, and Weekend Wrap-Up stays on Saturday.

Here are the features for the week of July 12–18:

Monday:McCovey 44,” painting by Zengael

Tuesday:To a Lover on the Other Side of Time,” poetry by F.X. MacKenzie

Wednesday:Fractal with Purple Lensing,” art by Devin Moore

Thursday:Iraqnophobia,” satirical humor by Erin Abernethy

Friday:Art and Healing,” photography by P.L. Miller with quote by psychologist Rollo May

The Friday photo can be downloaded for free as a meditation card or wallpaper for your phone or tablet, or you can print it as a standard 4×6 from your computer. Share, print, ponder… enjoy!

Our Special Assistant Dr Nicholas brought us some good humor this week:

special assistant

Be sure to follow his Twitter feed. It’s the official Gatewood Twitter account, and he posts an interesting mix of Gatewood announcements, poetry links, mental health articles, and general silliness.

Just a reminder, you can now subscribe to Gatewood Journal and have it delivered monthly to your e-mail. It’s quick and easy, and you’ll never miss a feature. We won’t spam you with a bunch of other stuff, and your information stays completely private. Hit the subscription box and make an e-pigeon happy!

That’s it for this week at Gatewood. Have a great weekend, and visit us again soon!

 


Header artwork via MorgueFile.

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Iraqnophobia

nightmare

[Editor’s note: This was written and first published in 2007, when George W. Bush was President of the United States. Seeing that Jeb Bush is currently seeking that same office – and feeling that we shouldn’t expect him to be a great improvement over his brother – I thought a refresher of the “W Days” might be in order. – RC]

by Erin Abernethy

Spiders invaded our workplace here a few months ago, and we did what any red-blooded Americans would do. We declared war on them. After all, a spider-bite can kill you. OK, I admit I wasn’t 100% positive about that, but better safe than sorry, right? It seemed prudent to kill all of them, just in case.

“If you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem, you spider-loving liberal!”

The invasion of the eight-legged terrorists began with a very sneaky variation of the old Trojan horse attack. A nearby office was closing; they said they’d give us the desk from their back room if we’d just come and pick it up. Anyone knows that writers need desk space, even ones who use laptops. In fact, we need more desk space than the average person because we tend to be messy; we make lots of notes and do lots of doodling on scrap paper, and print out pages of research off the internet, which we then stick into folders (maybe) and stack all over our desks so we can pretend we’ve accomplished something when all we’ve actually done all day is change a semicolon to a period and play Free Cell while listening to NPR and drinking too much coffee. But I digress; the point is, we need lots of desk space and we’ll do anything to get it. Some people go so far as to say we’re addicted to desk space, but I think that’s overstating the matter – and anyway, it’s not like these sideline critics are providing any viable alternatives. So when someone offers you a free desk, you jump at it. You wouldn’t turn down a free tank of gas, would you? I thought not.

We brought the desk in, and I made myself at home with it. I set up my computer. I stuffed the drawers with pens and sticky-notes and Kleenex and chocolate bars. I stashed a couple of reams of paper in the bottom drawer. I sat back, thinking about taking a nap on my new desk, and then I saw it: an ugly black spider scuttled along the edge and disappeared into one of the drawers. Naturally, I screamed bloody murder.

When everyone came running, I told them (from my perch on top of someone else’s desk) about the spider. “It’s horrible!” I said. “It’s as big as my hand! It had bloody fangs! It could eat your cat in one bite! Why, it could probably eat your neighbor’s dog!”

I knew I was exaggerating, but I also knew I had to convince them of how horribly dangerous it was if I expected to enlist their help.

They looked a little alarmed at my assessment of the situation. I knew I was ever-so-slightly exaggerating, but I also knew I had to convince them of how horribly dangerous it was if I expected to enlist their help to get rid of it. I was terrorized and traumatized, so I figured it was OK to misrepresent the facts just a little.

It worked. “It’s OK,” they quickly assured me, gathering an assortment of sharp sticks and rolling up some old magazines to use as weapons. “We’ll find it and kill it.”

They searched all around but didn’t see it. I pointed out the drawer where it had last been seen. They tore open the drawer, then some more drawers, but it was nowhere to be found. All the excitement, however, did flush out a half-dozen more of the little buggers. They’d apparently been hiding inside the desk, and as the search rousted more and more of them, we found ourselves dealing with not one spider but dozens.

“See there?” I said. “I told you we were under attack! We’ve got to wipe out these critters before they eat us alive!”

“This is ridiculous,” said our senior editor, as all work came to a halt while everyone ran around in a panic, swatting at spiders. “I will not stand for this workplace being terrorized by a bunch of spiders. I’m calling an exterminator.”

The exterminator couldn’t come right away, so in the meantime the spiders continued to run rampant. I was terrified to open a drawer or pick up a folder for fear that a spider would jump out and bite me. A couple of my co-workers got bored with watching for spiders that never seemed to appear when they were watching, so I kept them fired up with tales of the ones I’d seen. “Hideous things,” I insisted. “Legs the size of your arm! You don’t want to think about one of those waiting for you under the basement stairs.”

One of our more rational artists (now, there’s an oxymoron for you: “rational artist” – almost as good as “military intelligence”) tried to explain to me that not all spiders were bad. “Some of them are very good for gardens,” she said. “They eat insects that would ruin your plants.”

“That’s all fine and good, but these aren’t in the garden!” I pointed out. “They’re in here with us! When they’re indoors and there are no garden pests to eat, what do you think they eat then? Us, that’s what!”

She tried again. “Even if a spider did bite you, only two kinds are really poisonous,” she said. She brought out one of those pretty colored nature field guides and attempted to show me pictures so I could identify which ones were poisonous. She pointed out maps claiming that the poisonous ones don’t live around here. I told her she’d clearly received faulty intelligence on the matter, and I wasn’t buying into her pacifist propaganda.

“As far as I’m concerned, if they’re inside the house and they have eight legs, they’re a threat and they’ve got to go!” I yelled. I did a quick search online and printed out a couple of pictures for her. “See that?” I pointed triumphantly. “That’s the pinky finger of a woman who was bitten by a spider. A pinky finger isn’t supposed to look like an eggplant! Spiders are evil! It’s us or them! We’re in a war, here! If you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem, you spider-loving liberal!”

Some of these traitors seemed to think that if I’d followed advice, we wouldn’t be in this mess now. “Woulda, coulda, shoulda,” I sneered. “Playing the blame game won’t help win the war on spiders, people!”

Despite my attempts to keep everyone focused on the crisis, I noticed that some of my co-workers were beginning to lose interest and get back to work. To remind them of the facts, I used a dustpan to scoop up a couple of the dead spiders we’d managed to squash early in the battle, and I carried this around from desk to desk. “See? See? There really are spiders here, and you’d better believe they’ll crawl up your leg and bite you as soon as you let down your guard,” I warned.

“No one’s denying there are spiders all over the place,” they agreed, “but what do you expect us to do? We’ve got to get back to work and get on with our lives. We can’t stand around all day waiting for spiders to show up.”

As I made my rounds, displaying the mangled spider carcasses to anyone who would look, I became aware that others were just as terrified of the things as I was, but they didn’t think we could ever really be sure we’d found and killed them all. So I changed my tune a little. “We’re winning!” I declared. “These are just a couple of the ones we’ve killed! With a little more effort, if everyone pitches in and pulls together, we’ll get them all! We’re winning!”

This might have worked too, if it hadn’t been for that ugly diversionary rumor that started going around. Some voices of dissent seemed to recall that before the desk was brought inside, our senior editor had told me to make sure I cleaned it up because it had a few cobwebs and spider eggs on the bottom. Some of these traitors seemed to think that if I’d listened to him and followed his advice, we wouldn’t be in this mess now. “Woulda, coulda, shoulda,” I sneered. “Playing the blame game won’t help win the war on spiders, people! You ought to be ashamed of yourselves.”

Since things weren’t going so well and that exterminator didn’t seem to be showing up any time soon, I decided to get some outside help. I announced that I was appointing Blackie, the neighbor’s hound, to the newly-created post of Top Dog of Interior Security. A few people thought this was a little silly, so I figured I’d better justify my choice. “He’s imminently qualified for the position,” I explained. “After all, the job title is ‘Top Dog,’ and he’s a dog. Also, he’s black and furry like the spiders, so he probably understands the spider mentality better than we do. I expect everyone to cooperate fully so he can do his job here.”

What’s a little invasion of personal space compared to the peace of mind of knowing there aren’t any spiders lurking in your boots?

This didn’t work out quite as well as I’d hoped. Blackie was zealous about prowling around our workplace, diligently searching out spiders. Maybe he was more interested in the sandwich crumbs under our desks – I can’t really be sure – but I thought he did a bang-up job. Other people thought he was a little invasive. I heard a few complaints about him drooling in the coffee, slurping in the toilet bowl, and tipping over the wastebaskets to rummage through the garbage. “He’s just being thorough,” I assured everyone. Our editor’s wife complained that he rushed her at the front door and tried to hump her leg. “He’s only doing his job,” I insisted. “What’s a little invasion of personal space compared to the peace of mind of knowing there aren’t any spiders lurking in your boots?”

“He has fleas,” she informed me.

“I’m shocked,” I gasped. “I screened him so carefully for this job!”

She went to make another call to the exterminator. I went to tell the Top Dog that his services were no longer needed. “Heckuva job, Blackie,” I said. “I appoint you to get rid of spiders and you bring in fleas. I can’t tell you how embarrassing this is for me. Don’t let the door hit your tail on your way out.” On the up side, the Top Dog scandal did temporarily get everyone’s attention off how badly we were doing in the war on spiders.

An exterminator finally arrived. We had to empty all the cabinets and closets and vacate the building while he went around spraying the baseboards and setting off bug bombs. After twenty-four hours we were allowed to return, and we set about the task of restoring order. We’d been warned that we might run across some dead bugs while we were putting things away. What the exterminator hadn’t prepared us for were the still-very-much-alive spiders that kept charging out at us from hiding places deep within the files of papers we’d removed from the cabinets. Our reorganization efforts were punctuated by bloodcurdling screams and shrieks as one person after another was ambushed by ferocious insurgent spiders lying in wait among the office supplies.

I admit it: mistakes were made. We underestimated the spiders.

Our senior editor called the exterminator and put him on speakerphone so we could all hear. “We still have spiders,” he said. “They’re not gone. And we haven’t found any dead ones. In fact, I think you just made them mad.”

“Oh,” said the exterminator, “I didn’t know you wanted me to get rid of spiders. Your wife said to spray for fleas. Maybe you ought to get together on what you want before I come out again. Sounds like the left hand doesn’t know what the right hand’s doing.”

Our senior editor snapped off the speaker and took the phone upstairs to continue the conversation where his wife could hear it. I picked up an extension from another desk to listen in. “Do you think you ought to be doing that?” someone asked me. “I think he took it upstairs so he could have a private conversation.”

“If his wife is going to divert resources to some pet project of hers and sabotage our war on spiders, I think we need to know about it,” I said. “During wartime, you have to expect the curtailing of a few civil liberties here and there.”

One of the writers checked his watch and started to pull on his coat. “Where do you think you’re going?” I demanded.

“Home,” he said. “I get off at six.”

“Not anymore,” I said. “We’ve got spiders to kill, man! Your comrades need you!”

“But I’m not trained to kill spiders. And I’ve been here since seven o’clock this morning,” he whined.

“Nobody leaves until the job’s done!” I said. “Believe me, I want us all to go home and sleep soundly tonight as much as any of you do. But we can’t do that until we know that every single spider here has been neutralized and we can once again nap on our desks without fear of being attacked!”

While everyone else went about the business of putting our workplace back together and waging war on spiders, I went upstairs to talk to our senior editor. He informed me that the exterminator could come back in two weeks and would spray for spiders then. In the meantime, he said, we’d just have to fend for ourselves.

“That’s OK,” I assured him. “I know now what we need to do. I admit it: mistakes were made. We underestimated the spiders. But I have a new plan.”

“What is it?” he asked warily.

“The problem,” I explained, “is that there are just too many spiders and too few of us. What we have to do is double our staff, and the new hires can hunt down the spiders and kill them while we get back to work.” He gave me a look that suggested he wasn’t entirely on-board with this plan. “Also,” I added, “I’m going to appoint Mr. Fuzzy as the new Top Dog of Interior Security.”

“You’re appointing our cat as Top Dog?” he asked. “That’s an… interesting choice.”

“Mr. Fuzzy will be even more zealous about hunting and killing spiders than Blackie was,” I pointed out, “but he understands the need for personal space, so we won’t have those privacy-invasion issues that kept coming up before.”

“Good, good,” he agreed. He patted me on the back. “You know, I think it’d be good for you to take some time off and get away from all this for a little while. I was thinking… my wife is an avid quail hunter, and she’s looking for someone to go out shooting with her next weekend. Maybe you could go with her.”

© Copyright 2007 by Erin Abernethy. Republished 2011, 2015.

Many thanks to Patrick Redding. Without his help, this probably would have turned out to be just another one of my rants instead of the heavy-handed satire he helped it become.


Artwork via Pixabay.

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This Week at Gatewood: June 7-13

paperpile

Photo via Pixabay.

by Frasier MacKenzie

Hello, and thanks for stopping in! Here are our features for the week of June 7-13:

Monday:Hair,” photography by Greg Westfall

Tuesday:Degaussed Again,” poetry by F.X. MacKenzie

Wednesday:After Delilah,” short fiction by Sam Justice

Friday:Choosing to Become,” photography by P.L. Miller and quote from Carl Jung

Remember, the Friday photo can be downloaded for free as a meditation card for your phone, tablet or computer. Share, print, ponder… enjoy!

Special Assistant Doc Nicholas brought us a bit of fun this week:

If you liked these, be sure to follow @docnicholas on Twitter for daily updates on Journal posts as well as other cat shenanigans and tidbits of interest.

That’s it for the Gatewood Weekend Wrap-Up for the week of June 7-13. Enjoy your weekend, and check in to visit us again soon!

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After Delilah

temple

Artwork via Pixabay.

by Sam Justice

Before Delilah, I slept nights. I dreamed regularly, sometimes lucidly, of things like kings’ thrones or starry nights or valleys of sweet-smelling flowers. Sometimes I dreamed of women: raven-haired temptresses, flaxen-haired maidens, ginger wenches. You know what I mean. But that was before.

After Delilah, I slept fitfully – couldn’t put two winks together, much less forty. My body still woke every hour or two, conditioned to her smoke breaks that went on all night, every night. At work the next day, I started nodding off during meetings. I became irritable, couldn’t think, spilled my coffee, occasionally hallucinated – all your classic signs of sleep deprivation.

Love isn’t blind.
It’s just astigmatic.

If I slept long enough to dream, I dreamt of murders or variations on my own death: driving off a cliff, being hit by a train, shot, speared, gored by a rhinoceros, trampled by horses. They were the sort of nightmares you get when you’re a cop or a soldier. I was a computer technician.

Before Delilah, I ate regular meals, mostly simple fare such as salads and bread, or soups and sandwiches. Sometimes, when I had the time and energy, I even cooked – nothing fancy, just basic things like lasagna or marinated chicken. I sometimes had a friend or two over to enjoy dinner with me. If there were leftovers, I frugally sealed them up in freezer bags and saved them for another week.

After Delilah, I never knew when to eat. My body – jittery and hypervigilant – still seemed to think that she might enter the room at any time, shouting about perceived injustices, or demanding to be driven across town to pick up her medicine or more cigarettes or the sugary drinks which were the most benign of her addictions.

The irregularity meant that I might go all day without eating, only to find myself shaky and nauseated and craving doughnuts at three o’clock in the morning, and if I very sensibly gave my body a bowl of Raisin Bran instead, the soggy cereal would come back up with a vengeance. My system could no longer tolerate vegetables or fruits. Embarrassment about my digestive difficulties kept me from sharing dinner with friends. I learned to live on packaged peanut butter crackers and plain bread, with an occasional single-serving macaroni-and-cheese dinner microwaved in a plastic container. There were never leftovers.

Before Delilah, I was fit and reasonably healthy. I won’t bore you with a recitation of my exercise regimen. It wasn’t anything as strict as that anyway, but suffice to say that I walked a few miles each day, lifted weights, and hiked in the mountains on weekends. I could run up and down the steps to my apartment without breathing hard.

Once, I was standing in the doorway at work, and I pushed hard enough that the plaster cracked around the doorjamb. I didn’t mean to. It just happened. It was probably caused by substandard building materials, or shoddy contractors. Still, everyone had a good laugh about it.

After Delilah, of course, I had to move out of my apartment and into one across town where it wasn’t really safe to walk in the evenings. I was so depressed that I stayed in my office with the door closed most of the time at work, and didn’t roam around the building to visit with my coworkers like I used to. The lack of exercise made me paunchy around the middle, despite having practically nothing I was able to eat. Between this and the constant snapping at people from lack of sleep, I didn’t have much to laugh about. If my coworkers were laughing, it was behind my back. Probably at the coffee stains on my pants.

There was a woman, Evie, who worked down the hall from me, before Delilah, and we used to talk pretty often, even flirt sometimes. Evie and I got along great, and I thought she was hot, but I wouldn’t ask her out because it’s awkward, you know, when you go out with someone you work with. Delilah came to work there too, after we were already seeing each other. After Delilah, I had solid proof that dating someone you work with is a bad, bad, bad idea. It doesn’t matter whether you were working together first or going out first. It doesn’t matter if the person you’re going out with never comes to work because she calls in sick all the time. It’s a bad idea. After Delilah, I had to replace all four of the slashed tires on my car. More than once.

Which brings up another thing. Before Delilah, I had money. Not a fortune, but enough. I was paying off debts, a little at a time, and my needs were few. Delilah’s needs, however, were many – and expensive. After Delilah, I learned to lock up my cash, credit cards, and anything to do with my banking information. I could have gone through six years of college or had heart surgery for the amount of debt she racked up on my credit cards.

Once, she suggested she could get a second job to help out (which was funny, since she wasn’t showing up for the job she already had), and she took it into her head that she could go to work with her friend who owned a hair salon. She’d never cut anyone’s hair before, but I foolishly agreed to let her have a go at mine, for practice. How hard could it be?

After Delilah, I never went anyplace to get my hair cut again. I was too afraid. She’d been doing all right, when she cut my hair that time, despite being hopped up on whatever she’d taken earlier that evening, but she’d missed a longish lock of it and when I pointed it out, she began screaming and stabbed me in the ear with the scissors. I’d never imagined there could be so much blood in an ear. Whenever I passed a hair salon, after Delilah, I couldn’t help wondering whether the plastic drapes were there to keep off hair or blood. Now I just shave my head every week.

I don’t want you to think that I’m the sort of person who blames every bit of trouble in their life on an ex. I’m really not, or at least I wasn’t (before Delilah), and I take full responsibility for the rather large baggie of pills found in the pocket of my car door. That is entirely my fault. I didn’t buy them or put them there, but I refused to let Delilah drive my car the day we broke up. She was quite insistent about borrowing my car to get her things from the apartment, but as I mentioned, lack of sleep makes me very cranky, and I was already late for work. It seemed better, at the time, to simply say no and assure her I’d drop her things off at her mom’s house.

So even though I didn’t know they were there, the drugs in the car were my own fault. I knew her well enough by then that I should have thought to search the car thoroughly. The police didn’t know her as well as I did, and they certainly knew to search the car. It’s a catch-22, I suppose, when your tires get slashed and you need a report to turn in to your insurance, so you have to call the police to report the vandalism and they somehow just know to peek into that little pocket on the driver’s door, which is right there in plain sight.

Love isn’t blind, just astigmatic. And when things are fuzzy or unclear, I’ve always tried to be nonjudgmental – give the benefit of the doubt when I can.

Until after Delilah.

© Copyright 2015 by Sam Justice

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