I talked to my parents today. I've spent the last few weeks stressing myself out over work projects and trying to sleep, and had completely neglected to talk to them since my birthday. They were up in the Adirondacks, enjoying the summer months as only people who work for school districts can.

Contained in this phone call were two concepts which made me uncomfortable, but my discomfort does not make them any less true. One I had been confronting for a while now, while the other was new to me but carries concerns that have broken my head for the last few hours. Both of them say things about myself that I am not happy about.

I have not been back to the valley since Christmas. That trip was a mess of chain smoking and awkward but well managed moments, and I suppose that should be the spirit of holiday visits home. But it is now more than seven months since I have laid eyes on my nephew and niece, and they are of an age where they can sprout new dimensions to themselves in the blink of an eye. Their current condition was the first question that I put to my mother, and she was full of stories about first words and youthful misadventures. I intellectually understood that these changes were taking place, but hearing about them second hand over hundreds of miles of telephone line filled me with angst and heartbreak.

I feel that I am neglecting them. I feel that I made choices that cause me to live so far away, and these barriers are damaging the relationship that I should be having with them. Every missed moment is one that cannot be recreated, and it is my fault that I am not there to witness them. I am not doing enough to leap over this hurdle. I should be bringing myself into their lives more, whether through phone calls or webcams or weekend road trip blitzes. I should be reaching through the space that I have made and grabbing onto them with whatever grip I can manage.

But then, the question that isn't asked in any of that is what I would be winning by emphasizing my presence. What kind of impact should I be having on these little children, so small and fundamental? Is my desire to merely be in attendance for this time in their life? I believe that I need to clarify what it making me feel this way, so that I figure out what the plan should be.

I didn't tell all of this to her. That would have made for an awkward conversation that didn't need to happen. Instead I told her in exasperated terms that this was quite possibly the longest I had gone without seeing them since prehistoric times, and that I was trying to figure out the best time to make the drive.

I want to be there now. I want to grab those children and squeeze the hell out of them. I feel pathetic for feeling this way. It is a little too close to homesickness for my liking.

 


 

In the middle of some small talk with my mother, she was suddenly interrupted by my father asking to speak with me. My first instinct was to immediately assume that something terrible had happened. My father and I do not talk on the phone except some quick words about work or cars. His explicit request was a declaration of something horrific, and I spent the rest of my chat with my mother running ghoulish scenarios in my brain.

He got on the phone, and asked me how the quitting was going.
"Almost seven months. It's been a pain in the ass."
"Are you still having cravings?"
Bluffing, "Yeah, but they're not so bad."
"I'm on day two."

I dropped the clutch in my brain too quickly, and all of the passengers were thrown out the windshield. Two days? Holy fucking shit.

My father has been smoking since he was about thirteen, I'm assuming. Surprisingly, we've never actually talked about how he started. So he's been at it for more than forty-five years. He smoked his way through four children, through the Sterling plant closing and the layoffs at the port, through both of his parents dying. He uses smoking to concentrate, to meditate, to pry his way through stress, and to embrace simple moments. Perhaps watching him engage in these moments over the years was the reason that I used smoking the same way. These are ethereal concepts, so putting words to them is impractical. Regardless, smoking was as much a part of his identity as his name and his family. Two days of quitting probably feels like two days at the bottom of a well with a broken leg. Two days of watching his house burn down.

"What are you using?" I say, trying not to drown it in concern.
"What? Nothing. I just stopped."
"That's, um... wow. That's really hardcore"
"Well, they raised the taxes, and now a pack is over $10. Even the Seneca mail order. That's crazy."
"That's city prices."
"Right, so I just stopped."

I wanted to say so much then, and it all smashed against a brick wall. The fucking taxes got you? Drug addiction and health concerns are a meh, but throw the taxes in and that's your critical mass? Wait, isn't that the same logic I used to quit? Wait, do I want to have a philosophical argument with my father? Wait, can I have a philosophical argument with my father? Is that a thing? Wait, why I am trying to talk him out of this? For someone having a day-to-day struggle with quitting myself, I was suddenly unsure of every position I had held regarding this issue. I was at a loss of words, but also at a loss of context. The world had melted around me, and I was standing in the middle of it suddenly trying to be encouraging.

I did try to be encouraging. I talked with him about what my experience had been like. I asked him what two days of nicotine withdrawal had felt like for him, and reminded him that it only takes 72 hours for the chemical dependency to be broken. Then, after those first three days, quitting smoking is all in your head and can be manipulated if you run the facts hard enough. In the end, I said something that I thought I would never say to him:

"If you need to talk about it, just give me a ring. Any time."

I've been running those words in my head for a few hours. I'm trying to imagine the world I live in now, where my father and I have both chemical dependency in common, but also similar experiences in breaking that addiction. I'm imagining him thinking about how I did it, and holding me as an example of how it could work and an ideal to strive toward. I'm an example for my father.

I wonder where this starts feeling right.

Life of the unemployed, recently graduated 20-something woman who is no longer a student and has no idea what the hell she is doing. That's the title I want to put for my daylog. It is the state I am in and I don't like it. It is a state of limbo, a state where avoiding people who know me is preferable, if only to avoid the standard question, ''so what are you doing now?'' How do I explain that I'm doing nothing? There is the feeling of pride that I completed a difficult program (difficult for me) and the feeling of shame that I have not found employment yet, nor have I been looking very hard. I'm at the point where I need to decide, do I look for a MLA job, or do I fall back on my BA to help me get a government job? Or do I do something completely different. Do I do something crazy like open up my own business or write a book and become instantly and wildly successful? I think everyone knows the odds of that last option happening. The worst part of the situation is that I feel people expect MORE of me, if only because I have post-secondary education, which by the way is overrated. I lack faith in my own personality and social connections, which are the most important things when it comes to getting hired, or so I am told.

But at least I have an interview tomorrow morning for a volunteer job at a blood donation bank. I want to see how the blood donation process works. I hate giving blood but I know how to take it from other people. I can do capillary punctures and venous punctures, also known as phlebotomy. Maybe if they like me as a volunteer they'll hire me on as a phlebotomist when they get more job openings. Plus I know someone who wants to work there as a nurse, so I'll have the inside information and connections to help her out. My plan is a networking ploy and that's about it. I need the experience on my resume, I need more references and I need more people to help me out with the job search. You need to know the right people; that is how it works in the field, or at least that's how it works in this city I live in.

Those were the thoughts running through my head when I woke up this morning. I felt the weight of a warm body against my head. Kimo, the grey and white cat, sits on my head every single morning and no amount of throwing him off the bed ever does me any good. He is here to stay, which is comforting and annoying at the same time. I get out of bed and walk down the hallway and straight to the kitchen where the coffee maker is. Kimo follows me. I need my coffee or I can't function. I need my caffeine and I need the soothing routine that goes with it. I like cleaning the pool of yesterday's coffee that sits at the bottom of the coffee carafe. I like to throw out the old coffee grinds and insert a new, white filter and then carefully measure out the spoonfuls of fresh grinds. My measuring spoon holds two tablespoons, and I use a coffee:water ratio of 1scoop:1cup for a total of two cups of coffee for myself, three cups if my boyfriend is here too. You'll have to pardon my math skills; it's been a few months since I bothered with ratios and now I forget how to properly use them. But you get the idea. Kimo is staring at me expectantly. Eowyn, the younger cat, is nowhere to be seen. The food bowls are empty so I pour more catfood into them and refresh the water bowls while the coffee brews. I like the gurgling sound it makes. I put away a few of the clean dishes that sit in the drying rack beside the sink, and then I go to the washroom to brush the morning breath out of my mouth. The coffee machine beeps to indicate it is done. I pour hot dark liquid into my sunflower mug followed by too much cream. We're almost out of cream.

This is the beginning of my day of the rest of my life. I hate the beginning of the day because that is when you need to decide what you are doing that day, unless you are one of those organized people who plan everything the night before or even several days in advance. I need a job, my boyfriend and I nearly broke up last night, and my life is a big question mark. I think it's okay to take it one day at a time. Maybe tomorrow I'll know what to do.

I am in some sort of school building. There are a lot of people my age around me. I think it is a party, everyone is socializing, and I end up meeting a couple people and see some friends. The only person I clearly remember is named Lee, an Asian man about my age.

The next thing I remember, I am laying in bed, Lee is sitting on the edge of the bed, affixing some sort of clamp around my left arm. Looking at it from the side, the clamp looks like an oval with tapered edges. From the top, it looks rectangular. The surface has some sort of engraving on it, possibly glyphs; it is definitely not smooth.

On the inside of the clamp are teeth of sorts, it is a puncturing device. As he closes it around my left arm, I feel the teeth make contact with my skin. He then quickly presses down on the clamp, the teeth enter my skin. I feel some pain, but there is another feeling that I cannot quite describe, it may have been pure horror, yet something else felt good and I’m not sure what. I watch as blood pours from the device, it spills onto the sheets. I feel the blood leave my body and flow against my skin. Something digs deep into the inside of my forearm. I lay there for quite a while, feeling the metal teeth in my arms, the blood continuing to flow. I eventually fall asleep in the dream.

I wake up, the clamp now gone from my arm, I raise my arm to look at it. There is no blood, but the damage to my skin is extensive. The top of my arm is riddled with small puncture wounds. The wounds are burgundy from congealed blood. The bottom of my arm is more horrific. In the middle of the inside of my forearm, there is a large square of skin missing about 3 inches long and 2 inches across. The skin around the rectangle wound is cut away from the underlying flesh, it hangs in a sickly fashion. The skin all the way up to the joint between my wrist and hand is separated from the flesh. I gaze into the wound and observe the muscle of my forearm, the flesh is dark red like it is dying. Closer to my hand, there is a circular wound. I put my right hand under the separated flesh of my forearm and poke my finger up through the wound. I feel pain, more blood flows. I get up and begin to walk around. Everything feels ghostly, white and pale, like I am dying. I fall asleep again.

I wake up again, in a very lucid way. I crane my neck around to my alarm clock, it is 7:54. I lay back down and look at my arm, expecting it to be normal. It is not.  Most of the holes in my skin are plugged with small corks. I notice a new wound in my hand in the flesh connecting my thumb to my hand. There is a cork running from one side of the flesh to the other. I move my thumb and feel the cork impeding movement. I try to move the new cork, the side toward the palm of my hand falls beneath the skin, and blood flows. I put it back in place and feel a great deal of pain. I then notice the telltale signs of blood poisoning on my arm. Large red streaks run from my hand, half-way up my forearm. I feel panicked, take out a cellphone (a touch screen which has pictures next to the names in the contacts, I do not have this phone in real life) and call Lee. Before the phone rings, I wake up. I expect to see a mangled, poisoned, dying arm, and see that I am fine. I am relieved.

長崎

9th of August, 1945.

Distance... Language...

I have a few hours before I can board the Shinkansen to Narita. I wander around Tokyo Metro thinking over and over again about distance and language. At the end of one of the best weeks of my life, I am now alone in a strange land thinking about these problems. Is there a way to fix them? Could the rest of my life be as good as this past week? Or is it hopeless?

I think too hard to fix. So I spend time in the designated smoking room. I figure every 5 minutes I spend huddled over the air filter with everybody else, as we contort our faces for each exhale, reduces my life by one year. Less time, less suffering.

Flying...

I get to Narita. I get on my flight. JAL made a mistake and overbooked the flight. The lovely flight attendant bows and says "Sumimasen" repeatedly as she apologizes that my seat had to be given to someone else. To make it up, they have moved me to First Class for free. It is strange how they apologize when it is still good news.

I select a nice red wine, and dine on a gently cooked filet of Kobe Beef. The rich little Japanese girl in the seat next to mine snapped a photo of hers before she ate it. It is not just language and distance. It is also little things like that which are a problem. Why does everybody here keep a scrapbook of all the food they ate?

More Reminders...

After dinner I recline in my seat and select a movie to watch on the flight. A romantic drama catches my attention. It is a Japanese film. A woman named Naoko is divorced and raising her young daughter. They return to her home where she works in a salon. She loves to visit onsen. All the while, she is dating a man who is not really there. The whole relationship is just in her mind, because the man actually died long ago. It is only a tender memory in her mind.

The movie disturbs me. My Naoko is divorced and raising a daughter. She works in a salon. She sends me photos from solitary trips she takes to relax at onsen. And I can not really be there for her, either.

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