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God Bless Us All

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by Taylor Gould

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The Montreal Review, December 2010

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I have fingers that dance with hers, and I hate her for forcing this on me. Not the sex, no, not the sex, the. the fingers. Why are her fingers touching mine like this? She couldn't be more different, but, Jesus. she's doing all the same things.

Blonde hair, blue eyes, legs that can take you from Mexico to Canada and back and, well, that thing that one has come to expect from a woman.

"Ah, uh," she sighs before escaping something in some broken French-English. God, she's drunk, I think.

God, I'm drunk. I know.

And she couldn't be more different. Blonde hair, blue eyes, legs that can take you from the first floor to the top. fingers that dance, hips that flush with red, and that thing.

I pull up on one knee, escaping that thing one comes to expect from a woman.

"What is it?" She asks, "is it not good?"

Damn these girls and their Electra complexes; they see some guy smoking a cigarette and blowing a line of Ritalin and they might just as well call me Daddy. It was fine. it was what I've come to expect from a woman.

"No, no, it's fine. I'm," Shit, fuck, what the hell, what the fuck, what the fuck is going on, I can fuck who I want, Jesus.

"Do you want me to blow you?"

"Jesus, no, just. Just, I'm going out for a cigarette."

"Are you coming back?"

And no sooner does the question mark float into the murky, sex-filled air than I've got my sweats and hoodie on, and the door closes behind me.

I trudge down college dorm hall corridors, the bright fluorescents punching me straight in the face. I shield my eyes-waking up for the first time in my life. That means nothing to me.

Ten floors of sleeping students disappear above me as I hit ground level, clop down the hallway with tired feet, and exit through the side door. I pull out my American Spirits and light one up, taking a thankful first drag.

What am I doing to myself? What am I doing to these poor girls? This poor girl. I mean, she's nice, right? And it's natural, sure, but I see myself slowly carving a penis-sized hole in her heart. We've got two completely different assets vested in this.

Slowly, the nicotine penetrates, and I burp up thick, wet bile. I steady myself on a trashcan, putting the palm of my hand into someone else's vomit. Friday night in Boston.

My vision stirs and echoes and I toss the last three quarters of a cigarette I'd calculated to cost me 49 cents. Each step collapses into itself and spits out the next, like the last breath of a motor before it putters out on the highway.

Here's the time where decisions are made.

She's in my room, and if I go back, I will hurt her.

Man, I need to go back. a three-day pill binge and nine shots of a rum called "The Kraken" are riding on my shoulders like I'm playing chicken with life.

The door's still ajar when I return. She's put on her bra, but that's it. The panties are elsewhere and have been consumed in late darkness. I assume she looked, but couldn't find them.

"Are you alright?" She asks, knowing full well that I'm the prototype troubled poet. Oh boy, does saving my soul get her wet.

"I'm fine, I just wanted a cigarette." Fuck the foreplay, I won't feed her that 'woe is me' stuff right now. She's a good girl. "Scoot over."

I slide in next to her in bed, turn my back to her, and sigh something ugly and defeated. There's less than a ten-count before I feel a soft, warm hand on my back.

"Are you. are you thinking about. Jeff ?"

Oh no.

I roll over with vicious sobriety.

"Listen," I begin, "now, you don't have a fucking clue who I am, okay? I had to stop screwing you because every time I look at your face I see my ex's. How's that feel? How's that for my friend Jeff , huh? Fucking Jeff. Jeff, are you fucking kidding me? His name was John , and anytime I need to go out for a smoke it's not because my best friend's bowels voided when he was hanging from the rafters of his bedroom. Get it? Oui? Got it? You fucking French whore. Jeff," I laugh. No, it's not funny. it's uncomfortable. Every millimeter that tear sprinting down her cheek takes, another nervous chortle escapes me. Monsters are real.

---

"So how are things with you girlfriend," he said, "Abigail, I think her name was."

I remember this delicately, my first session of therapy with Doctor Abramson. "Things are. amazing," I said in reply, "there are a lot of things I need. A lot of help I need. She helps me."

"Good. With John," he asks, "does she help you with John?"

And I sat, thinking of so many nights curled up in the backseat of my van, covered in blankets and hair and protecting her from the ice cold of a Maine winter, while she protected me from the ice cold of my mind. Those so many nights when I would bury myself in her chest, sobbing and yelling at gods I didn't think were real. She would stroke my hair in silence, and the greatest thing anyone can ever say to someone who's hurting is nothing. The greatest things are said with fingers and hands and legs that wrap up, not in a sex act, but in the act of fusion, where my legs are her legs and her legs are my legs, and our legs are ours. She would stroke my hair and shush me, like a mother-lover, and it was Oedipal, but I didn't care. I loved her, and she cared for me and told me I was beautiful, and told me she looked up to me-most convincingly in the times which I felt I was looking up at the entire world. When I was small and meek, she would hold me and marvel, whether truly or façadically, and tell me how strong I was.

"Yeah, she helps me with John." I said.

"Well, how? Fill me in a little on the things you might say to her."

"I would tell her." and a callous formed in the back of my throat, where sorrow had shaved my insides down so far that they'd put up this shield. Where tears and words and hurt couldn't come from that mouth any longer. And I sat in silence.

"What would you tell her? It's okay," he assured, "it's what I'm here for."

---

It's early when she leaves, an early that lives namelessly; where eyelids cling to each other like lovers after a break. She puts on her clothes to the music of traffic and yawns and leans down-centimeters at a time-and, first, kisses my forehead, then my lips. She throws her coat on and exits. I spit on the floor as she walks out.

A groggy roommate whom, until now, I'd forgotten even shared my room, rolls on his side and says, "Dick wet?" I respond with a grunt and ask him where he disappeared to last night. "Drinking in Lindsay's room."

"Dick wet?"

"Nahh."

It lingers for a moment as I wish all my morally corruptible pussy on him-he's a good guy, nothing tying him down, no memories or stale feelings to make sex difficult. "Good things come to those who wait, my friend."

"Or to those who buy roofies online."

"Well played."

And we turn our backs to one another and try for sleep again. He hints at snores as my mind races. I gotta get better, I gotta get happier, I gotta treat people more nicely. That's how this life thing works, right? You come in-born into sin as the bible-thumpers will have you believe-and you strip it all away until, one day, all you've got left is that damn fig leaf. And then that goes, too. Stumbling forward until all the talking snakes of Eden look and laugh at our tiny peckers.

My bones bicker with me as I roll out of bed-eight years of basketball, nine of baseball, and two of soccer to become what? Some alcoholic pill-popper whose joints and ligaments hurt when he wakes up or walks up stairs.

I sit down at my laptop and squeeze nonsense from the keys like juice. I think about John-therapy-death-booze. I grab a "wounded soldier" (what we call an unfinished drink) from the nightstand and sip on the 50/50 concoction I cooked up last night. As the buzz sets in, I'm reminded of something I used to do in therapy. Namely "Cognitive Behavioral Therapy," some crock of shit the sad yuppies grasped at and latched onto and, before long, I'd become a part of as well.

His name was Dr. Abramson, and he was a smart guy. He had just fallen into the same grooves as everyone else. He called it "desensitization through repetition." He'd have me sit there and tell him- ad nauseum -all the things that still hurt me about John's suicide a year ago.

"He did it on my 18th birthday. I think I could've helped. I didn't know he was hurting. His little sister found him. He could die and I couldn't. I feel like it's my fault."

And when he sensed a slow in my reasons for self-loathing, he would say "again" and I would spew it all out once more, the main goal being that I'd come to peace with it if I thought about it enough.

I erase the nonsense I'd typed out before and start on a poem, "Desensitization Exercise."

 

" Desensitization Exercise

Life Isn't Fair.Life Isn't Fair.Life Isn't Fair.Life Isn't Fair.Life Isn't Fair.Life Isn't Fair. Life Isn't Fair.Life Isn't Fair.Life Isn't Fair.Life Isn't Fair.Life Isn't Fair.Life Isn't Fair.Life Isn't Fair.Life Isn't Fair.Life Isn't Fair.Life Isn't Fair.Life Isn't Fair.Life Isn't Fair.Life Isn't Fair.Life Isn't Fair.Life Isn't Fair.Life Isn't Fair.Life Isn't Fair.Life Isn't Fair.Life Isn't Fair.Life Isn't Fair.Life Isn't Fair.Life Isn't Fair.Life Isn't Fair.Life Isn't Fair.Life Isn't Fair.Life Isn't Fair.Life Isn't Fair.Life Isn't Fair.Life Isn't Fair.Life Isn't Fair.Life Isn't Fair.Life Isn't Fair.Life Isn't Fair.Life Isn't Fair.Life Isn't Fair.Life Isn't Fair.Life Isn't Fair.Life Isn't Fair.Life Isn't Fair.Life Isn't Fair.Life Isn't Fair.Life Isn't Fair.Life Isn't Fair.Life Isn't Fair.Life Isn't Fair.Life Isn't Fair.Life Isn't Fair.Life Isn't Fair.Life Isn't Fair.Life Isn't Fair.Life Isn't Fair.Life Isn't Fair.Life Isn't Fair.Life Isn't Fair.Life Isn't Fair.Life Isn't Fair.Life Isn't Fair.Life Isn't Fair.Life Isn't Fair.Life Isn't Fair.Life Isn't Fair.Life Isn't Fair.Life Isn't Fair.Life Isn't Fair.Life Isn't Fair.Life Isn't Fair.Life Isn't Fair.Life Isn't Fair.Life Isn't Fair.Life Isn't Fair.Life Isn't Fair.Life Isn't Fair.Life Isn't Fair.Life Isn't Fair.Life Isn't Fair.Life Isn't Fair.Life Isn't Fair.Life Isn't Fair.Life Isn't Fair.Life Isn't Fair.Life Isn't Fair.Life Isn't Fair.Life Isn't Fair.Life Isn't Fair.Life Isn't Fair.Life Isn't Fair.Life Isn't Fair.Life Isn't Fair.Life Isn't Fair.Life Isn't Fair.Life Isn't Fair.Life Isn't Fair.Life Isn't Fair.Life Isn't Fair.Life Isn't Fair.Life Isn't Fair.Life Isn't Fair.Life Isn't Fair.Life Isn't Fair.Life Isn't Fair.Life Isn't Fair.Life Isn't Fair.Life Isn't Fair.Life Isn't Fair.Life Isn't Fair.Life Isn't Fair.Life Isn't Fair.Life Isn't Fair.Life Isn't Fair.Life Isn't Fair.Life Isn't Fair.Life Isn't Fair.Life Isn't Fair.Life Isn't Fair.Life Isn't Fair.Life Isn't Fair.Life Isn't Fair.Life Isn't Fair.Life Isn't Fair.Life Isn't Fair.Life Isn't Fair.Life Isn't Fair.Life Isn't Fair.Life Isn't Fair.Life Isn't Fair.Life Isn't Fair.Life Isn't Fair.Life Isn't Fair.Life Isn't Fair.Life Isn't Fair.Life Isn't Fair.Life Isn't Fair.Life Isn't Fair.Life Isn't Fair.Life Isn't Fair.Life Isn't Fair.Life Isn't Fair.Life Isn't Fair.Life Isn't Fair.Life Isn't Fair.Life Isn't Fair.Life Isn't Fair.Life Isn't Fair.Life Isn't Fair.Life Isn't Fair.Life Isn't Fair.Life Isn't Fair.Life Isn't Fair.Life Isn't Fair.Life Isn't Fair.Life Isn't Fair.Life Isn't Fair.Life Isn't Fair.Life Isn't Fair.Life Isn't Fair.Life Isn't Fair.Life Isn't Fair.Life Isn't Fair.Life Isn't Fair.Life Don't Things Seem A Little Better Now?"

I turn off the monitor and hop back into bed, ignoring a clock that taunts me with knowledge of only a few more hours to sleep. I bury myself face first into my pillow and let out a half-yawn-half-moan. This life thing. it's not fair. It's not fair. It's not fair. It's not.-

---

"Well," I said, fighting that callous, "it's your job. Your job is why you're here. You wouldn't have ten seconds to spare for me if I weren't paying a hundred-twenty an hour."

"Now, we both know that's not true."

"No, we both don't," I said, that harshness coursing my veins, now my face reddens, what the hell does he know about any of this that he hasn't read in a book, "what the hell do you know about any of this that you haven't read in a book, huh?"

"Well, we can't forget that everyone has something happen in their lives-"

"What? What did you deal with? Your dad got you an Audi instead of a BMW for your first car? Your wife wouldn't get a facelift when her shit started to sag?"

"If you must know, no, neither of those things. My father hit my mother. Believe it or not, I went through my fair share of therapy before I ended up with this job, okay?" his face flushed to match mine. We sat there, both on the verge of something angry and sorrow-filled, "now if you don't mind, you don't pay me that hundred-some-odd dollars to talk about my life, okay? If you're going to be paying it, let's try and make the best of it, okay? Alright?"

"Oka-I'm. I apologize."

"It's fine, really," he said, straightening the collar on his Oxford button-up shirt, shifting the weight on his Dockers-covered ass, jingling the keys to his Beemer in his pocket, "let's just continue with the session."

---

I like drugs. All kinds of drugs. Nicotine, alcohol, marijuana, Ritalin, Adderall, LSD, mushrooms, Hydrocodone, and oxycontin. Zoloft, Lexapro, Lamictal, Seroquel, Trazodone, Ambien, Lunesta. I know what works together and what doesn't. Trazodone and a few shots makes you sleep like a baby. Ritalin and acid is a bad trip. Weed and 'shrooms is spectacular and mellow.

I think about it all in the shower this morning. My poor liver.

And still I stand up every morning-6'3", 200 pounds, a body that alludes to athleticism. Still I function regularly on a daily basis, daring the eyes of passers-by to look deeper and see in me the kind of cocktail you can only get with a doctor's signature.

I think about it all in the shower this morning. I wash my hair, my face, my chest, my balls, my legs, and work down the backside as I had the front, systematically. It's amazing the things we do on pure muscle memory. It's all like riding a bike. I can crush 45 milligrams of Ritalin with my eyes closed, sure, but there's something that's gone missing.

I think about it in the shower this morning.

It must be her again. The way her haunting memory rears its ugly head. She still talks to me about my dead friends sometimes, while I'm dreaming, tells me it's not my fault.

Who is she now, and where? Who's she screwing? Who's she love?

Her name is Abigail. And she is beautiful. It's only applying the thinnest veil to my love that I still talk about her: brown hair, brown eyes, hands that fit in mine like the last piece of a puzzle that makes a picture of hot air balloons. She was ruthless and kind, caring and off-putting. She told me she wanted our wedding to be huge, and she told me she didn't think it would work out.

She called me sneaky, and she talked to boys behind my back. She could put Neruda and Bukowski both on their knees in front of her, and she'd done so, too, to this sad little poet. And I loved her.

I think about this all in the shower-where those feet I used to rub have taken her, whose lips those lips now kiss.

And nicotine, alcohol, marijuana, Ritalin, Adderall, LSD, mushrooms, Hydrocodone, and oxycontin. Zoloft, Lexapro, Lamictal, Seroquel, Trazodone, Ambien, Lunesta. I feel something lofty here, in the shower, some metaphor, some simile that I can't grab onto. Something more than to say she was my drug, but something less than to say she was my world.

I turn the water off before it comes to me-perhaps in apathy, perhaps to assure she leaves my mind. I towel off and walk down the hallway, nodding this way and that to women who want to fuck me and women who don't. None of it matters, really, when every girl I see has brown hair, brown eyes, and the last piece of some puzzle I left in the attic long ago.

We were children then, she and I, but somehow I know the adult I am needs the adult she is. There are nights I pick up my phone-in a stupor of nicotine, alcohol, marijuana, etc.-and dial her number, only to hear it go to voicemail.

"Hi, Abigail, it's me. I was calling because. Well, I don't know why I was calling. I was. I thought-hey! I saw someone today who reminded me of you, yeah. And, I mean, she was gorgeous, hah, but, not saying, like, I mean, I'm not saying I was attracted to her, because, I mean. I don't know, I. Abigail, I don't know why I called, Abigail. I miss you. That's it. That's why I called. I, I don't know, I'm sorry. I just thought-"

And the robot bitch gets on the phone, "Your message has exceeded the allotted time. If you would like to re-record, press seven. If you would like to keep the message, press pound, or hang up the phone. If you would like to delete your message, press three."

And I press three and pass out into dreams of hot air balloons and apparitional strangers who look like a girl I still love, the words of distant poetry echoing in my head:

Oh god, to love the things you cannot touch. God, to touch the things you hate so much.

---

"Okay," I comply, "what do you want to know?"

"About John. Tell me about John."

John was so many things, I had realized, when he was living, and his death, well, slowly it funneled into some singular meaning, some specific thing that I had never been able to name. He was so many things when he was alive, and he became, at end, this one feeling deep in my gut, just below the diaphragm, where all my dead idols have been buried and burned and their ashes swim around in my stomach, being eaten like pellets by some fish of despair.

"John was a good friend of mine."

"Alright, how did you meet him?"

"I met him at a funeral-irony, eh?" I say, injecting some forced humor into something forced, and unhumorous, "he was there and he cried the same confused tears I cried. He was wearing the baseball tee for the school's team, and, having played in eighth grade, I was looking forward to trying out my freshman year."

"Did you talk to him that day?"

"Yeah, I asked him about baseball in high school a little. And all the words we said, I guess, were in silent reference to our mutual. fallen friend."

"How do you mean?"

"Well, we were too close to it, we were too held by it. When we talked, it was about baseball and high school and girls, and we wept while we were talking. I think we were really talking about him."

"I'm unsure if I know what you mean."

"Then, never mind. We talked about baseball, high school, and girls. that's it."

"And you became friends?"

"Not instantly. I didn't see him again until the end of summer, when I walked the halls of high school for the first time."

"And then what?"

"Well, we met, we talked a little more, and eventually, we would both bring our gloves to school and play long toss outside during lunch periods, or study halls, or when school got out. It was cathartic."

"How so?"

"Well, that friend, Donnie, whose funeral we met at, we never talked about him, but he was always there. A good mutual friend, and something we both held onto very tightly. It tore me up inside, and, though he never really showed me, I knew it was hurting him, too. I guess it's part of the reason he... did... what he... did."

"Why he killed himself?" And it was disgusting and true and hurtful and true and it all seemed so fake, and it was all so god damn real.

"Yeah, why he killed himself."

"So, and I'm going out on a limb here," he said, "you feel like. since you had that hurt in common, you could've, I don't know, sympathized with him? Helped him?"

"Not... helped, per se, just... let him know he wasn't alone."

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Illustration: 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 )

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