God Bless Us All
by Taylor Gould
The Montreal Review, January 2010
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I'm in class when my phone rings. I reach in my pocket and ignore the call, but they call again. I ignore it. They call again.
"May I go to the bathroom?" I ask, and the teacher nods. When I get out into the hallway, I have three missed calls from an unknown number. I dial it and wait to give this asshole a little idea on what it means when a call is ignored.
"Hello?" And the voice is beautiful and terrifying and familiar. The kind of familiar that is lost in time and in hurt and in separation.
"Abigail?" I ask, knowing that it's her, but lost in time and in hurt and in separation.
"Look, I'm sorry I'm calling, but I." and there's a brief silence, "I didn't have anybody else."
"Yeah, no, it's cool. Come on, tell me what's up? Are you alright?"
"No, I'm not alright, I'm not."
"Well, tell me why, what's going on?"
"My parents are getting a divorce. I'm the only one who knows," she says in a thick, terrible tone of voice that I picture flying out of her mouth and sticking clumpily to the phone's mouthpiece.
"Oh, God, Abigail, I'm so sorry. Is there anything I can do?"
"Yeah." she says, and it seems like we're done talking. It seems like she feels it too. This is it, we sit here in the placid distance of a failed relationship and I hurt for her because I love her, and she hurts for me because I love her, and I would like to tell her parents everything will work out, and I'd like to tell Abigail everything will work out, but it's lies to all of us.
"Everything will work itself out," I say through my gapped front teeth.
"No it won't."
"Oh, come on. trust me, okay? Things have a way of finding balance."
" No , they don't , okay? You don't get it. Everything's been awful since you left for school. since we broke up."
"But I try to call, you never answer."
"You don't try to call, you're always drunk or on pills or, god, whatever else it is you pollute yourself with."
"I know, I'm sorry, it's just that-"
"Forget it, it's fine. But I miss you, y'know?"
"No, the old you. I miss how you were before. you made so many people so happy."
"No, I need to say it. I hate what you've become. I see it on your facebook, in your statuses, in the girls you talk to, the way you talk to your family. You're fucking it all up, okay? And one day you're going to lose it-just like me-but you're going to be a lot worse off because you'll know when you had it, you didn't love it like you should've."
And I soak it in, all these truths.
"Okay," I say. And it feels like things have ended and she feels it and I feel it and, "I love you."
"No you don't."
"I do, I love you, Abigail. I love you. I love you."
"No you don't."
"Abigail! I do, really!"
" No , you don't ."
"I love you."
"NO, YOU DON'T!"
"I LOVE YOU!"
"I LOVE YOU TOO!"
And I know that things have ended because now she has hung up, but not so quickly that I don't hear the faintest whisper of a sob escape those lips I kissed so long ago.
"Then," began Doctor Abramson, "how do you keep her in your life?"
"Treat her well.? Change the way I act? Help her with the things she needs help with?" I suggested all the answers in the form of a question, my voice pitched up at the end of each, unsure of myself, unsure of what love was.
"And how do you do all of those things?" he asked.
"Shit, I don't know."
"Then we'll have to figure that out, then, won't we?"
"Yeah, I guess we will." I replied, fiddling with my thumbs in my lap, the heat of exhaustion, physical and emotional and mental, seeping through my pores, "can we turn on the A/C?"
"Of course." he replied, flicking the switch on , "now," he began, adjusting the settings on the air conditioner, "let's think of some strategies you can use if things don't work out. We won't be seeing each other, since you'll be in Boston, so I want you to be able to cope on your own."
"What do you do if you feel alone?"
"Drink? Smoke weed?"
"Well, that's what you do now . What should you do?"
"I don't know. call someone?"
"Sure," he said, "who would you call?"
"I don't know," I replied, "my parents?"
"Could you talk to them about things?" he asked.
"Nahh," I submitted, "they'd lose their shit. They worry enough as it is. I wouldn't want them to have to deal with all of that."
"You really love them, don't you?" he asked.
"Of course I do. they're my best friends."
"Then I want you to think of them next time you find yourself thinking of self-harm, okay?"
"What good will that do?"
"Think of them. you'll see what good it will do."
"I don't know." I said reluctantly, "why?"
He looked at me for a second, judging, contemplating, calculating, formulating, "I'm going to say something right now, okay?"
"And don't take it the wrong way. I think it's something you really need to hear."
"Alright." I agreed.
"I think you're incredibly selfish."
And I nodded in agreement, sick to my stomach with self-loathing. Self-loathing, and anger, and self-pity. how dare he say that to me .
Tonight is for beautiful juxtaposition.
I am a writer, I think. And so is my roommate, yet we sit here, side by side, and I write on a laptop as he pens out something in old fashioned ink and paper. I am drinking a 40oz bottle of King Cobra malt liquor, warm, with its label half ripped off. He's drinking a fifteen-dollar bottle of some cabernet wine called Casarsa . I ask him what he's writing:
"It's a story-set in Venice, Italy, at a horse farm. A coming of age, of sorts, where a young stable boy finds himself in the eyes of his lover, the daughter of the man he's working with."
He reads me the opening passage:
"When I was a little girl, I learned that my grandfather held his secrets close to him-that his secrets were more sacred than ours. He'd tie them into the cavities of his body and keep them there. Even if the secrets concerned the rest of our family line-my grandmother, my mother, my three aunts, my five cousins and myself-he'd tie them up tight and never loosen them. So, when the five-inch woman came we weren't expecting her, but he was."
I think for a second-"you know, that's really beautiful. is someone going to get raped?"
He looks at me perplexed, like I'm joking, which I'm not sure if I am or not. "No." and we return to our spirits and our writings and we leave it at that.
He turns his head to me, "How are things with that girl of yours? The chubby one who keeps coming around?"
"Oh, man, I don't know. And I mean, she's not my girl, hah. She was just. a thing. Just something to, I don't know. I don't know."
"Alright. Well, I thought she was really nice." He says insistently.
"She was really nice, you're right," I understand, I agree. I nod and take another sip of my 40, "Wanna hear what I'm writing?"
"Sure, what's it about?"
"It's about. sexuality, death, apathy, and other shit like that," I say with a grin.
"Cool, what's it called?"
"On Sexuality, Death, Apathy, and Other Shit Like That."
"Fitting," he says, "let's hear it."
I clear my throat:
"I knew a guy who put a condom on his head
and fucking suffocated. People laughed
when he stopped moving because, really.
he had a fucking condom on his head
and he was probably just playing, right?"
"Wow. that's. deep?" He says, with a tone of no it's not , "what exactly. does it mean?"
"Well, I mean, sexuality comes into play with the condom. The idea that sexuality stifles us-suffocates us. Death, obviously, comes into play when he dies, and the idea that, linking sexuality and death, our romanticism will be the end of us. And then, finally, I guess, 'apathy and other shit like that,' comes into play when we just. assume he's alright, and even if he's not, it's funny because of the way he's dying."
"Deep." He says, and he returns to his bottle of wine, "Would you like some tea? It's caffeinated."
"Nah, I'm fine."
And I feel out of place here, for the first time. He's good to me-accepting, and even will take care of me on the nights I try to go into the hallways in my boxers, or the nights I find myself yelling at a group of five guys comparably sized to me. But tonight, I feel out of place. I can never be a wine-drinking, tea-enjoying poet, who sits and writes his poetry or prose beneath the gentle influence of some mind-altering substance.
No, I sit here, disgusting and unshowered, wearing an Abercrombie and Fitch polo which has been unironed, and which I wore yesterday. I sit here-as such-with a bottle of hydrocodone I bought from a kid whose wisdom teeth were pulled last week. I made my money worth his pain, and I made his drugs worth my pain.
I sit here thinking about all things ugly and all things beautiful, and how they will never coexist. How they can never touch one another, for if they do, things will be impure. Things will come undone and society will fold unto itself and show us what life is really for. And no one wants that. no one wants to know why we're really here.
Still I sit here, a little drunk, a little high, and write about people putting condoms on their heads, because what a way to go out.
It was a year and a half ago-summer-that I tried killing myself for the first time. It was a 27-days-worth dosage of Lexapro, and, according to the doctor, would've put anyone else into cardiac arrest, or a coma. Instead, I felt like I had the flu, threw up a little bit, and was dosed every hour on the hour for nine hours with a shot of adrenaline.
My parents wrote a letter thanking the doctors for "saving" me. No, they didn't save me, I'm invincible.
I learned this four months later when I tried with a harder drug-Ambien. See, when I took Ambien recreationally, it would take two to put me into a lucid, yet catatonic, state. I would sit and stare at walls and not understand why the posters were crawling. I would picture burglars in my home and pee in the garage to keep them out-nothing made sense and everything made sense, and that was the way I wanted to die.
I took eleven 15mg tablets that night, and I hallucinated for seven and a half hours, punched a paramedic, and assaulted a police officer, before being taken to the hospital and treated for overdose, again being pumped full of adrenaline and fed glass after glass of liquid charcoal.
Those around me said the night of the second overdose, I had seen John. I had told them I saw an angel. That I said God would save me.
What bullshit, I thought the next morning. That people in my predicament convert and tell the tale of seeing The Light as they drifted slowly away from the land of the living.
What bullshit, I think. So, I saw God, fuck you, I also saw posters crawl and EMTs with snake-arms.
But here I am, alive, alcoholic, drug abusing. It's the scariest thing in the world, I think, not to die, but to want to and not be able.
I'm locked in this room with no doors or windows, and it's the most miserable place in the world. But I smile, and I wave, and I concede to social norms, and I put on this Normal Hat every morning, like Eleanor Rigby putting on a face that she keeps in a jar by the door. Who is it for?
It's for my mother, my father, Abigail-who's far away and doesn't love me and does love me and she's the most confusing thing in the world.
"Cheers." My roommate says, holding his glass of wine in the air.
"What are we celebrating?" I ask.
"Life," he says, "because why the hell not?"
He's drunk, and I oblige, but inside my left pocket-holding my beer up in my right-I have crossed my fingers. This life is nothing to celebrate, y'know? This life is nothing to rejoice over. The only thing I'll "cheers" to is the day that, slowly, I see that same light once again, and know that death is creeping over me-know that the only reason I'll ever see the divine hand of god is because I'm hallucinating.
"To life." I say, and I drink down Eleanor's liquid mask, smiling a smile that only the worst of people ever could: the smile that looks genuine.
"So what," I said, "I'm selfish."
"You'll understand with time, I think." He said, like some bastard monk, imparting some wisdom on me. Fuck that , I thought.
"Well, hopefully one day I'll be as wise as you are." I said.
"It's not about wisdom, not at all, it's about learning to love, getting older. I think when you're your age, with the mind you have and the things you've dealt with, it's easy to get caught up in yourself, in your own hurt."
"Yeah, sure, so?"
"Well, I hate to say it, but that's how you lose people, y'know? That's how you end up alone. That's how you'll lose Abigail."
The way she kisses me is something else, Ariel. The way her fingers trace the edges of my hair, and the way her body presses against mine like our souls are having sex. The way a sneaky moan jumps from her throat to my ear, and the way I know that she loves everything I could be and hates everything I am.
My phone rings in my pocket, and I pull back from her and take it out. It's Abigail.
"Hello," I say.
"Who is it?" asks Ariel.
"Hi, it's. It's Abigail." I hear from the receiver.
"It's no one," I say to Ariel, then to Abigail, "Hey, why are you calling?"
"I don't know why I'm calling, I-" and the words are cut off as Ariel says:
"I'm sorry, what did you say?" I ask, giving a playful-yet stern-"shush" signal to Ariel.
"I don't know, I." Abigail begins, "I didn't say anything."
"Well, no, you did, haha, you said something ." I say.
"Kiss meeee!" Says Ariel.
"Jesus, I don't know, I. I said. I don't know why I'm calling, I just wanted to check in. I'm worried about you."
"Why?" I ask.
"Because I want you toooo!" Says Ariel.
"Because. I know you," says Abigail, "I can hear it in your voice, you're not alright."
"No," I say, "I'm fine, I'm just. busy."
"What if I say you can fuck me?" Asks Ariel.
"Then I'd say you should go back to your room," I reply.
"What?" Asks Abigail, having heard me speak to the other.
"Nothing," I reply, "What were you saying?"
"God, this is fucking hopeless, I don't know why I called."
"You would really make me go back to my room?" asks Ariel. I look at her sternly and angrily.
"Yeah, in fact, I am right now, come on. Go back."
"Fine. Jesus. Fuck you." She says and leaves the room.
"I'm sorry about that," I say, "we can talk for real now."
"Who was that?" Abigail asks.
"A friend of my roommate's."
"Bullshit." She says.
"Whatever, think what you want."
"See, you never try ," Abigail explodes, "you could never just try to make it work."
"Well maybe I think I'm better off alone, huh?"
"Maybe you are," I can hear sorrow in her voice, "maybe you're too fucked up to love."
"Maybe I am."
"Jesus, now I understand why all your friends kill themselves." and this bullet of an insult begins tearing through my chest, my ribcage, my heart, my lungs, "they don't want to put up with your shit anymore."
And I hang up the phone, having sent one away and been sent away by another. This is life, I suppose. You take what you get and you lose what you lose.
And I feel Sorrow here with me. The way it kisses me is something else. The way it presses up against me like my soul is having sex with it.
Oh, god, what an empty thing I am.
"Then let me lose her," I said, "I'll figure shit out on my own."
"I'm sorry to hear you say that."
"I'll be fine by myself." I said, knowing full-well that without her support, I would crumble. Knowing, before I could even know , that if I didn't have her, I would need her. "We're just kids," I said, and I knew that eventually the woman she would turn into would be perfect for the man I'd turn into. I knew that eventually, I would realize this, and she would be gone, and I would be alone and fucked up and lost, and I'd be looking to grab those hands that try and pull us up from sorrow, from the precipice of self-pity, and those hands would all be gone.
"I hate to say it, but our session's already gone over the allotted time, we'll continue talking next session, okay?" he said.
And I walked out that god damn door, cancelled all future appointments, and drove home with a cigarette stuck between gritted teeth.
I'll show him, I thought, I can do this all on my own.
Today I spend alone-my roommate has left to go home for the weekend, The Women in my life have all departed to the mist of disconnect, and I have bought myself a bottle of Jim Beam and a six of Miller Light. Today, I write, sitting at the keys sipping on something that wrinkles my scrotal sack as it hits my tongue.
Memories, for some, are elusive creatures. It's been proven, by some scientist somewhere, that each time you remember something, a piece of it is lost, as though it's being corroded by the river of consciousness. Memories, for some, are for chasing. For me, they are for hiding from.
Tonight, I close my eyes and see John, I see Abigail, I see Ariel, and I try and understand how they all fit together. I see Jess and Joe, and their marriage, and I'm not a part of it. I see my parents and Batman outfits on Halloween, and I see couches made for sleeping on when you're sad-blue couches, plush, and large, and-even though you outgrew them years ago-they still catch you when you're falling, falling, falling. I see a swing set we took down when I was too big to use it. See, I got too big too fast-my mom called me Baby Huey, like that big baby duck in the cartoons-and they'd taken it down even at the time in my life where swinging is something important.
I see John, I see Abigail, I see Ariel. and somewhere in there, there I am. And the perception of self is a disgusting thing.
Memories are for hiding from.
I take another sip of the whiskey and pound out something about how it's natural, how this one could be different, and I do my best to make it sound nothing like my life, but god damn it. I'm everywhere.
Nothing's right in the world I create here-and maybe that's even how it is in the real world-someone's real world.
Hell, it feels real to me.
I'm fifteen pages in when it hits me-this is all I've got. This is all anyone's got. This. perceptive reality.
I shut the laptop screen and take out my phone, calling Abigail.
"Hi, uh, Abigail? Abigail. I'm calling to tell you that. that you won't ever see me again, okay? Or hear from me. Goodnight."
"Hi, Ariel. I need to let you know. I won't be seeing you again."
"Hi, Renee? I'm sorry. For everything. you won't see me again after this. Goodnight."
"Jess? I'm really happy for you. I just wanted to tell you."
And I call John, whose number has been in my phone, idle, for over a year. It goes straight to the operator, and I tell her-though she speaks rudely over me-that everything is going to be okay.
I leave the room without my jacket, a mess of pills and booze and bad writing left behind as well, opening my phone to a text from Abigail that says, "don't u dare kill urself, please."
I turn before exiting completely and toss my phone on the bed.
Boston glows and moves and it's amoebic and beautiful. It's snowing, I find, as I walk out the front door of my building. A man walks by me smoking a cigarette and talking to someone on the phone about being behind on payments. A woman walks by pushing a stroller filled with beer cans. A young couple walks by laughing at a joke I've never been told, it seems.
And it happens like this for a few minutes, they just walk on by.
I'm no one here, I know it. And when you're no one-when no one knows you-you can be anybody.
A man on the corner shakes a Dunkin Donuts cup to the rhythm of a happy song.
I take a ten out of my wallet and give it to him.
He looks at me with frozen, glassy eyes, "God bless you, man." he says.
I turn my back on him, still smiling. "God bless us all," says the atheist, "God bless us all."
I think of Abigail. What she had said in that text.
I'll get back to her in the morning.
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Walking away for somewhere (32 x 40 in. Oil on canvas) by Daniel Ross.
"My art has, and continues, to search for ways to express how I feel at particular moments in my life. And, if I'm successful in this attempt, I understand those moments better. Furthermore my work is an expression of personal vision dealing heavily with various emotions, personalities and interpretations of self, whether good or bad."
Dan Ross's works can be purchased at Gallerie D'Avignon (102, avenue Laurier Ouest, Montreal, Qc, Canada, H2T 2N7, Tel. 514.278.4777