Broken Chains

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Each night’s become another
recitation of a rosary strung
with whispered Ave Marias
disrupted by the calls
from a father never seen,
a judge ever recognized.
This circle of fine filigree
inevitably will lie broken,
perhaps tossed under the bed
with rest of the best forgotten,
like the kind of secrets
that arouse you just before
you come to the crossroad
metaphor of a rising son,
that sacrificial cross, the sign
of death-turned-redemption.
This is the ritual I perform
each night, attached to a chain
linked to the miracle
of that blessed kind of death
lasting only a little while.

Five of the last seven nights have been this way, broken into decades of fruitless near-sleep. Nothing new, just nothing so recent. Once this was my obsession, then my obsessive literary theme. I’m hoping to break THIS particular chain with a new poem from my old, sleep-deprived brain.

Reaching Out for the Out of Reach

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I would think of her whenever I heard that song or even the singer. I’d recall the pain of obsessing over that which I could not have, yet still I dreamt of the possibility of it all. There was no way she could be more than she was, or really, what I was to her. But still my heart would leap when I saw her name on my ringing phone, feel the heat rise through my body and the flip-flop of something leap inside me as I held what I could of her in my hand. The distance between us would always exist because we each placed boundaries around one another, defenses against another broken heart. But mine was already shattered by the disappointment I realized whenever I stopped to think what might happen if… If we did breach my fear of our finally being together. How long before the joy waned and she discovered the secret I hide even from myself? I’ve yearned for so many, so much, so often, and the truth burns more than the longing. See, it’s really the yearning I love more than the yearned.

I wanted to dash off a quick something this morning, so I went to the dictionary and opened it to any random word. Up came YEARNING. I know, I know. Rather than wing it and just write, I decided to use an old process of mine I learned from Ray Bradbury. You take the theme of your potential work and then list ten nouns you free associate with it, each preceded by the word the. They’re all up in that block of prose poem above. A free written piece of semi-fiction, semi-confessional by a character who yearned to be expressed, I guess.

Obsessive Compulsive Disturbed

 

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Are these obsessions
that I dive into one
after another? Or are they
compulsions that continually
steal myself from me?
The know-it-all said obsessions
are intrusive, irrational,
recurrent thoughts or images
that won’t go away, like
the sleepless dreams
of all of you I dream
here in the dark.
Compulsions, it seems,
are recurring actions that
I may develop attempting to
relieve myself from my obsessions.
That’s just disturbing,
I told the keys,
especially “I”  “y” “o” and “u,”
to whom I confess daily
my fears of obsessing over
one of you again —
always in one hundred words.

Tuesday, 6:30 PM

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Right now I imagine Dr. Bascomb is checking the computer for information about his next patient. He needn’t because he knows exactly who was coming to see him at this time — he’s been thinking about me all day — but he checks out of habit, nonetheless. He’s obsessive that way. And I know all about obsession.

Bascomb peers out his office door into the waiting room and gently calls, “Hi, Ted, come on in.”

I, Theodore Czemielewski — C. Z. Miller on the book jacket — jerk my head up from reading an US Weekly magazine I found next to the table lamp in Bascomb’s small dark waiting area. Bascomb’s face registers surprise, no doubt because he sees me reading a gossip magazine. He’s always seen me writing in a notebook, from our first appointment almost three years ago until today.

“What’s that all about?” his expression asks.

For a guy who is supposed to be a clinical observer of behavior, he’s never really gotten a handle on observing his own. He should never play poker.

Hi, Doc, how’s it going? Yeah, I know, last appointment of the day. I’ll make it worth your while. Don’t I always?

My visits to Bascomb are monthly now. At one point, when we started, I was seeing him twice a week. I needed to see him that often, he said. Everyone else in my life said so, too. Once he started me on the new meds, I tended to agree with them.

We each sit down in our respective chairs for this appointment. Bascomb parks his cashmere-sweatered frame in the high-backed executive chair behind his shiny mahogany desk; I take the leather side chair to his right. I like to be close when I talk to him, eye-to-eye, like we’re conducting business, which I guess we are. I never have used the leather couch over in front of the opposite wall. There are too many sobs echoing over there. Shadows of crazy block the light.

Bascomb opens his portfolio — he has a thing for leather, I guess — and writes at the top of a pad of lined light green paper. He stops writing, frowns, and turns his yellow pencil over and erases what he’s written. Exhaling his annoyance, he blows the rubberized crumbs of whatever error he made into the wastebasket at his feet. He doesn’t take such things well.

I prefer a mechanical pencil to a wooden one, Doc, but only because mechanicals don’t get worn down to nubs that used to be their points. I like a sharp point on my pencil, don’t you? It makes me feel more nimble of translating thought to written word. Not that the thoughts are all that sharp, but it’s better that I get them out before they become obsessions.

What’s the difference between an obsession and a compulsion, Doc? We’ve never talked about that, just danced around it. Is a compulsion one of those things that you suddenly feel you must do or have? Is an obsession where that compulsion becomes the biggest thing in your mind, your day, your life? I can string those like the links of a chain stretching the length of my life. You have any obsessions, Doc?

This obsession I have to write fiction, even though for the longest time I didn’t submit much of it, strikes me as one of those ‘You’re crazy if you keep doing the same thing over and over and expect a different outcome’ things. But we’ve both determined I’m not crazy, right, Doc?
What? Oh, yeah, obviously I submitted something to get a book published and all. Yep, it was a couple months after I started seeing you. That’s when I figured you can’t win if you don’t play. Gotta play to win, right, Doc?

In order to play, I revise those bits of whimsy that I’ve already crafted. In my case, though, I’ve always felt I’m kind of like a Cub Scout bending nails trying to make a birdhouse compared to the stuff real writers do. They’re the house framers or finish carpenters. But now I realize my stories are the truth, just like theirs. Funny, isn’t it? How can I call something the truth that is, by definition, a lie? I guess they’re my truth, seen through my now-clear eyes. They’re stories that have happened somewhere in the dark insides of my mind, given life and light by a little self-recognition and the glow of a computer screen or the lined white pages of a notebook.

Which brings me around again to the pencils. I think there is something almost noble about writing literature with a pencil. Not the ink-versus-pencil war fought by know-it-all crossword geeks. I hate those guys. It’s more the feel of the words scratching their way out and onto the page, digging themselves out of my mind’s prison like escapees would with a spoon. A noble effort against tremendous odds and all the forces against me.

Until the end, Elmore Leonard wrote – though with a pen – on legal pads. Every day. Well, there’s the difference between Old Dutch and me. Legal pads and forty years of oh-my-gosh fiction. I must admit that I really like reading his old western stories more than his smart-ass detective/crime stories so loved by his ass-kissers like that sports guy with the Daily News.

He reminds me of those nitwits that’d call Howard Stern and start yelling at guests like they’re part of the show. They’re not. They’re just smartass wannabes. Not to say sports guy isn’t a talented writer. He’ll tell you that himself, so he doesn’t need me. He’s just got more balls than I do and got an earlier start at all this than I did. He must have matured earlier than I did or maybe I’m a late bloomer of fully-formed and descended literary testicles. I think I still have one undescended, but I’m afraid to look.

I never asked, you’re not one of those Freudian guys, are you, Doc? Folks like me, who graduated with a useless degree in English, were taught to look for those sex things in literature by our professors. You know, sometimes a cigar is a cigar, a flower is really a flower and a rope swing is really just a rope swing. Sometimes not. Yeah, I’m looking at you D. H. Lawrence, you freak.

Back to the obsession thing. The writing obsession I have is not as strong as all those other ones I’ve had in my life. Maybe it should be more like the ones where I thought of little else but that target of my mind and heart. In some cases, they know who they are. Most don’t, but they eventually will.

The writing is more a guilt thing now. I feel guilty if I don’t do it. Maybe that’s because of wasting all those years doing nothing but working and watching TV, not even opening too many novels or even trashy pulp things. I don’t read a hell of a lot more now, but I crack them open every once in awhile. It’s got to be something special to keep me interested over the span of weeks, including taking the book with me into the bathroom, parking on the toilet and sometimes not even using the throne for what it’s there for. I just need to find an alone spot to stay in the groove of the world the author’s making.

Is that an obsession or a compulsion, Doc?

That groove may be why I keep writing stuff. I get into a world of the author’s making. Even though the author’s me, I still want to know what’s going to happen next. I don’t like to start a story and not finish it until weeks later. It’s something I want to get done in one sitting. The first draft, that is. I‘m not one who does much revision and that must be why I didn’t submit too often. To submit means that I would have to obsess over the quality of the writing and maybe I was too lazy or too afraid or didn’t feel I have the right stuff to obsess over something I’ve already finished. Like taking a dump. I’m going to carve it into the Venus de Milo? Nope. I’m gonna walk away and leave it for others to pick up, more than likely in their shoes. Disposable, you know?

Which is what art might eventually be, when you get down to it. It’s disposable shit that is kept around by hoarders, those other obsessive people that I don’t feel a part of, but keep dropping loads for nonetheless.

Maybe a call to Dr. Freud might be in order after all, Doc. Sex and potty stuff seems to be all I’m talking about today.

Now where was I? The readers’ and writers’ obsessions have fed my family since the book happened and they almost feed my ego. What? Of course I have an ego. I want to be respected by those other writers, even though I don’t feel I belong among them and they always seem such arrogant pricks when I get together with them. Their obsession is so much cleaner, so much greater than mine. Bigger, more necessary.

Maybe I don’t really have an obsession. What do you think? Oh, what do I think? Well, maybe I just found a way to root all these things out of my head and onto a piece of paper, like some Rorschach blots. I don’t know for sure what they mean, but I feel better having made them. Some other folks look at them and see cats or clowns or their moms or bicycle-riding doughnuts doing wheelies in the clouds. #And then these people think I’m special. No, I’m just a guy trying not to feel guilty about wasting his life just by living it all these years, just living it. And I guess I feel good getting all the drama over with.

Do I feel guilty now that I’m writing more? Sure I feel guilty, that’s why I came here. Well, there are a couple other reasons, too. Look, I’m made to feel guilty that I’m not exercising, not reading, and not being the provider I used to be or could be.

Even though I never was doing much when I was a lump in front of the TV all those years, at least I was there, she says. Now I’m somewhere else trying to get all these things out of my head, make a deadline for something that nobody’s really going to give a shit about in five years or five months or tomorrow. Sometimes that ‘somewhere else’ is inside my head.

Now she says she thinks I was better when I was on the old medicine from the first doctor she sent me to, rather than the stuff you’ve had me on the past couple of years. Better for whom, though? On the old medicine, I felt nothing at all, except for the times I blew up with anger. It was like I was in the fuzzy interior of a long dark tube. There was light at the other end, but I could never get to it, so I just hung out, suspended inside, feeling nothing. Occasionally, I would blow up, remember?

When I got off the old stuff, I started to see things as they probably really were, you know? I started feeling things again, real emotions and caring about myself. I started writing stuff down like I used to do when I was in college. The professors said that I might be a writer if I applied myself to it. Instead, I applied myself to that girl, and she applied herself to me, and now we’re married twelve years and dreams got shelved.

Well, they were shelved for awhile. Things are different now. Now, I eavesdrop on all the conversations I hear up here.

I point to my temple.

Secret time, Doc. Better sharpen your pencil. I know my wife’s been calling you about me. I know you’ve been calling her, too. That’s okay. You hear plenty of secrets and I’m sure you’ve got a bushel of your own. Nobody’s perfect. Does she know about your obsessive cleanliness, how you can’t handle making mistakes, how you’ll lie to patients just to keep them coming back? Do you know that you’re not her first walk on the wild side? Sure you do. You’ve had plenty, you’ve seen it all.

Oh, about my secret. I stopped taking the medicine you gave me two weeks after I started. I was feeling so much better after I weaned myself off the old junk, I just wanted to stay with life unaltered. Didn’t know what I had been missing.

I guess I was missing how she’d have all those secret phone calls. How she’d go out with the girls because she was sick of sitting home all day waiting for her doped up, meal-ticket drone to get home and take over the stuff the queen didn’t do all day anyway. Well, her being out allowed me to connect all those notes I’d been making, thoughts I’d been scribbling down, turning them into stories. Into truth.

Hell, no, I never showed them to her. What did she care other than how they might reflect on her? She still hasn’t read the book. But then I’m pretty sure you read to her from your book, the one you’ve been writing there about me since we got together.

Look, our time’s almost up. Here’s your co-pay, Doc. Don’t bother making me another appointment. We won’t be seeing each other again, at least professionally. It’s been great. Couldn’t have done all this without you. No lie. Appreciate all that.

Oh, yeah, I forgot to tell you. Just got another manuscript accepted and the publisher offered me a three-book deal. Couple hundred thou up-front. Approbation, baby. I’m going to be pretty busy for awhile, so I guess this is goodbye.

When I leave today, please be sure to call the little woman again with the good news. How you’ve got everything under control. What do you mean, ‘Don’t be ridiculous?’ You’ve probably got her on your cell’s speed dial. Fifteen years ago, I would have. Anyway, tell her I’m coming home with a surprise, okay? And not to worry because I’m cured. I mean, just look at me; look at all I’ve done, all I’m doing. Very busy, very busy. No more time to talk.

And, with that, I stand up, extend my hand, and when he cautiously offers his, I reach past it to pick up the pencil on his desk. Taking an end in each hand, I hold it in front of my face and break the offensive Number 2 Medium in half, or close enough to it.

Bascomb will probably measure the two pieces, one against the other, when I leave. That’s just the way he is. Always in control. He really needs help. Then he’ll call my wife. She always has to know how things are going. Controlling, that’s just the way she is. She can’t help herself. And she needs some help. I’ll pay for it. But I’ll bet it won’t be with Bascomb. That’s just the way the world is. It needs some help, too.

And me? I’ll always provide for her. That’s what I have to do. I just do. Oh, and I’ll write it all down, because life — no matter how skewed, corrupted, secretive, sad, or happy — is all grist for the mill with a guy in my position. And I won’t be under anyone else’s control anymore — not hers, nor a doctor’s, nor some medication’s. Never, never, never again. I’ll always see to that.

After all, I know all about obsession.

Not sure if I’ve hit the prompt for Day 5 of my Story a Day Challenge — a story about with a character like me. This guy has more than a few of my foibles, hangups and views, but amped up to Crazytown levels. I think. Also, the style and structure are different for me. But maybe it isn’t. Maybe I’m C.Z. Miller after all.

Memories Stolen of Stolen Memories

Whenever I hear any songs
we listened to that night,
I almost think of you.
These years’ve smeared so much
of my memories, it’s as if
I smudged your pastel portrait.
I regret those tunes we heard
(my knee clumsily nodding against yours)
no longer mine the treasure of your face,
sniff the essence of your perfume,
feel your cheek’s softness glowing
warm against mine,
nor hear your chiming laugh.
See, I never switch off those songs
lest my insensate memory lose
the taste of your mouth I stole,
and ran away with in a sack
made of pounding heartbeats.

Here’s the last, for now, of my exercise in using one sense to takes on the role of  another. I don’t think I really succeeded in this piece, where Hearing takes over for Taste. But the poem, a free write fiction, stands on its own decently enough for a first-draft 100-worder. So there ya go.

Did You Ever?

Did you ever use the morning sun’s
reflection off the big window
to watch me laugh from across the room?
A silent film to which a heartstring
quartet would play accompaniment.
Did you ever contort your body
in various yogic bends to see me
in 90- to 270-degree tests
of mental as well as physical dexterity.
Did you ever consider orbiting the room,
offering blithe small talk in passing,
even to other creeps, just to see
my dark side? Did you ever look up
at me and smile, wonder if, give me
a walk-on role in an idle
two-fifteen daydream? No,
I guess not. What, did I ever?
Of course not. Don’t be silly.
I mean, seriously! Heh…
Did you ever…?!

I’ll Be Seeing You

Maude 1905

“I think it’s best we don’t see each other anymore, Joel,” Marina said, looking him the eye and then gazing back into her coffee mug.

“Oh, okay,” Joel replied, grinning the stupid grin that Marina once found endearing, but now recognized as definitively just stupid. Nevertheless, Marina hoped for more than this response to her pronouncement. She wanted to see at least a tiny bit of pain.

“That’s it? Just ‘Okay’?” she said, once more glaring through Joel with what he once called her “hot chocolate eyes,” because he found their gaze too hot to hold for too long.

“Well sure.You made it very plain my obsessive behavior where you’re concerned made you quite uncomfortable and I guess I’ll just have to live with that. Have you already found somebody else?” Joel said. For the third time since they sat at the table, he sorted the little packets of sweetener. This time in sequences of white, blue, yellow and pink.

“Somebody else? There was never an Us to begin with for there to be a Somebody Else. And yes, I have found someone. Someone who’s not a lunatic like all my friends have pointed out to me.”

“I remember you once called us soul mates. Do you remember that? That had to come from somewhere,” Joel said.

“Yes, it came from me being lonely and vulnerable and I guess seeing something I wished to see. But I was wrong, so very wrong. And the only reason I’m here is because you called me here and you once meant something to me…as a cute and funny friend who shared interests with me, but just a friend, nothing more…and I felt I owed you a face to face explanation of why I don’t want to see you anymore. Please stop that.” Marina said, grabbing Joel’s hand as he reached for the sweeteners.

“It really is okay, Marina. I understand. I’ve kinda found someone else, myself.” Joel said, pulling his cell phone from his jacket pocket. Marina stared slack-jawed as Joel pulled up a black and white photograph on his phone of an attractive young woman obviously from another era. And then he flipped through seven more of the same woman.

“This is Maude. Maude Fealy.,” Joel said. “She’s an actress. Or was. Isn’t she beautiful? She may have the most beautiful face I’ve ever seen. And yes, I understand I may have transferred my obsession for you to a turn of the Twentieth Century actress, but I don’t want you to be jealous. You have nothing to be upset about, just as you said I have nothing to be upset about in our not seeing one another anymore. It just is.”

Marina scraped her chair back from the table, tumbling sweetener packets from their holder. Joel ignored the pastel pile of have-to action waiting to happen and continued to flip and stare at Maude Fealy. Maude in a flower garland hairpiece. Maude in virginal white robes. Maude dressed as a newsboy. Maude in a high-necked Edwardian frock.

“What the hell’s wrong with you? You do understand this woman is dead, right? That you can have no relationship with someone who was long dead well before you were born. That, even if she was alive, would probably never know you even existed,” Marina said.

“Oh yes. I guess you could say I have an unhealthy obsession with this woman, or at least her image. But, that said, she will never reject me as you have, never say mean things about me as you have, never judge me solely over my obsessions and compulsions. I know she could never love me and I don’t love her. Not the corporal Her. Just the spirit, you might say, of my ideal woman. And, yes, I guess you could say she looks a little like you and I imagine has a voice like yours, but that’s all,” Joel said, his face splitting into his stupid grin.

“Phil, she’s dead. D-E-A-D.”

“Yeah, and so are we. So are we,” Joel said, placing the phone back in his pocket as he rose to leave the coffee shop. “Bye, Marina. I’ll be seeing you.”

With that, he tapped his fingers against his chest.

I originally wrote this 680-word free write for J. D. Mader’s every-Friday 2 Minutes Go! fun fest. I post it here because I like it and still have an obsession with the face of that woman up there…Miss Maude Fealy.