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The AirPods Played On

He wants AirPods for his birthday but I buy him a plane ticket to Chicago instead to come see me, trying not to condone or enable his obsessive compulsion around cellphones or anything having to do with cellphones. “Buy me AirPods please sister,” he said. “I’m bringing you to Chicago for a week, isn’t that better?” I text back. I guess not. Because what ensues is a weeks’ long military blitz about the AirPods, with every form of communication a weapon he wields deftly. For days, for weeks, I am accosted by these AirPods. No tactic works against his relentlessness; I try them all: ignoring, begging, reason, threats, bribes. He never lets up—his mind a steel trap for a singular cause.

I imagine him dreaming about the AirPods, but what do those dreams even look like? He’ll never use them if he gets them, and he’ll be on to the next item as soon as the AirPods are his, thrown into a pile with his 15 cell phones, 8 wireless chargers, and 5 juice packs. “Just get him the AirPods and it’ll be over,” some say. But what they don’t know, and what I only admit to myself in the darkest part of the night, is that it is just the beginning for me. A lifetime of AirPods that bring me to tears at the oddest hours, an endless barrage of demands I feel too overwhelmed with guilt to ignore.

The AirPods will alleviate his pain momentarily, he’ll snap out of his dogged trance—for a time.

The AirPods will be a thing of the past for him soon enough. But their very name will play over and over in my head until I can’t distinguish between the thing they are, the thing they mean, the thing he is.

 

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A Few Words on the Eve of War with Iran

IMG_0205I’m sitting here in my apartment in Chicago, thousands of miles away from Iran, scrolling Twitter for the latest news. An hour ago, the irrational and reckless leaders of a nation retaliated with a missile airstrike for the assassination of General Soleimani, the work of another irrational and reckless leader of another nation. “We are not done,” they say. “This is just the beginning,” they say. I never realized I belonged to two nations, both seeking destruction of the other. I never realized a beginning could feel like the end.

I won’t pretend to know the intricacies of foreign policy between the US and Iran. I know what I’ve been told my whole life (a coup, a revolution, an embargo, a nuclear treaty, a reversal) and what I come across in the news these days and what the commentators say on TV and what all these newly-minted experts spout so freely on social media. One thing feels for certain: War is coming, war is inevitable, war is here. And I feel very alone.

I have many aunts and uncles still living in Tehran and in northern Iran. I am scared for them and for what they may have to endure in the coming months, or even years. But I’m overcome with a feeling that I can’t even fully understand—something akin to patriotism, but the true sense of the word. Not in the way it’s used in the United States now—racism and jingoism and hatred.

But rather, the patriotism of feeling part of a beautiful heritage that welcomes others, that values poetry and art, that demonstrates a generosity that is in the very genetic makeup of its people. I recall the Tehran of my youth, the summers I spent visiting thousand-year-old palaces and picking mulberries off the trees and popping them into my mouth and sipping tea brewed from fresh leaves and buying barbari bread fresh from the stone oven and the sound of the busy Shemran streets and the streams of Karaj. Did the president of the United States ever watch from his grandparents’ balcony as the neighborhood erupted into a bright festival for the birth of a child? Did he ever run his hands along the sun-worn stones of Persepolis where kings led a great empire? Did he ever listen to the music of the Persian language as his grandfather recited Hafez and Saadi? Did he ever let the taste of rose water faloodeh tickle his tongue?

People are always dying. My three grandparents are dead. My parents will follow, and then so will I. More will die. And then even more. We each take with us a part of our culture, a piece of our homeland. We carry with us the memory of Iran, and she carries with her the memory of us. When she is gone, we will all be gone.

I know this feeling after all; it has a name. Or rather, a not-name. It is erasure.

 

 

Family, Mental Health, Uncategorized

Day 10 with Takkin

IMG_2910Today has been one of the most harrowing days of my life. And I am too zapped of any life force to begin this essay with some flowery metaphor or theme that will be interwoven throughout the text, to crescendo with a lessons learned and come to a close with a nod to something positive. Instead, I will lay out, in facts, the day I have had.

I have had a relatively peaceful week with Takkin but today my mother showed up and everything fell apart within 5 minutes, no exaggeration.

He harassed her for 8 days about getting a phone. So she brought one. I don’t condone it but I understand why she did it. It’s a situation of: she’s damned if she does and she’s damned if she doesn’t. Well, she did, and she was damned. He immediately flew off the handle because he couldn’t find a sim card or some other nonsense as usual and he went back to carrying five phones. She left because he screamed at her. I stayed and made sure he went off with his tutor.

I ran errands while he was gone and when I came back two hours later, his tutor called my mother and I to say that my Takkin had accidentally spilled tea on his phones and on the table and blamed the tutor and started yelling at him, so the tutor left. Tak eventually texted the tutor to apologize. I went to pick him up to see if I could mollify him by driving around a bit. He calmed down and said he wanted our mom to come and spend time with us. We went to pick her up. She came to the car two minutes later than she said she would and he screamed at her, cursed us both, and slammed the door, then walked back to the apartment.

I broke down into tears and felt like I was about to vomit. He texted me that he hated me and wanted me to go away and that his family was awful. I didn’t know where to go so I drove back to the apartment and sat in the car and cried and hyperventilated for a bit. I took a klonopin and a breath. Then I called REACH mental health crisis services. I told them the situation and they pulled up his file, offered to call him to talk him down, and said they’d call me back. Takkin called me five minutes later and while he was talking to me he received a call from REACH on the other line. He started yelling at me “what should I do? Should I answer?” and I said “if you want to answer, you should, but if you don’t, you shouldn’t.” He screamed at me some more then hung up. REACH then called me and said they had a productive and good call with my brother but the phone cut off in the middle of the conversation. I informed them that it most certainly did not cut off, that he had, in fact, hung up. The REACH volunteer interrupted me to tell me that no, it got cut off, which was laughable because he hangs up every phone call he makes and apparently a woman who has spoken to him for 2.5 minutes knows him better than I do. They sent me his crisis plan which was scant and pointless because when he is in this state no amount of crisis intervention works.

When I returned to the house, he seemed ok. We went on a drive and tried to play basketball but it began to rain. We tried to get gas but there were too many people there. We tried to get gas at a different gas station and it was empty thank god. Even though my mother made dinner, he wanted kabob so we ordered it over the phone.

He has developed a rash on his neck and I am worried it is a result of increasing his medication. When my mother saw it, she commented on how bad it looked and that spiraled into another obsessive fixation on the rash. He said we should go to Urgent Care to check it out, so in the pouring rain I took him to Urgent Care. The front desk attendant couldn’t find his information within 30 seconds so he said fuck this place I want to go, so we left. Then we went to go pick up the kabob and during a timespan of 30 minutes, he called 20 people, ranging from my grandmother’s friends to old tutors to random previous doctors to ask about his rash. He demanded I make calls too, so I called his psychiatrist for the 4th time today to no avail. I called the emergency number on the doctor’s answering machine and they told me no one was available to talk to me and to call back in an hour.

We came back to the house and he ate dinner. I choked down a piece of bread because if I ate more I would throw up. Then my mom showed up and Takkin oscillated between hugging her and pinching and kicking her. He has been pacing around the apartment now for two hours cursing at everyone, or alternately giving me high fives. He has demanded that my mother spend the night and then he has demanded that she get the hell out. He has demanded that we all go to bed but is angry that we are in our beds. Now he wants my mom to take him to get coffee at 10PM. She agrees. Then he doesn’t want to go with her and wants me to go so I do. He promises decaf but gets caffeinated.

He promise 30 times a day to behave and be nice to mom but the words are empty, meaningless. He is incapable of behaving himself because he has the behavioral control of a 2-year old toddler. I know this is not his fault but here we are. I know the worst thing to do is give in to every whim but he is a terrorist and we are his hostages. I know had things been different during his childhood, much of this nightmare could have been avoided, but that is 30 years in the past and nothing can take us back to that time. He is currently joking and laughing with my mother as I write these words. Tomorrow he will call her a fucking bitch and throw a glass in her direction.

This situation is untenable. No amount of cognitive behavioral therapy will mitigate these problems. No amount of Therapeutic Alliance in-home support will alleviate the behavioral issues. He is unmanageable–completely and entirely. He is on four medications, and I, the strongest proponent of medication, am beginning to think he may as well be on none. It has been a decade and not one drug has worked or helped beyond a modicum of stabilization.

We have lost all power, and I know my parents have lost all hope. Mine is dwindling fast.

On September 14, I will be attending a court hearing to become his guardian. For the first time ever, I am grappling with every fiber of my being with this decision. He is my brother, he is a person. But I am a person too.

Tell me, please, please: what you would do if this were your brother, your son, your nephew?

 

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Day 8 with Takkin

Back CameraI’m only human. But I’ve been trying my absolute hardest to be better than only human. I think my exhaustion has caught up with me and patience is wearing thin.

Exhibit A – Text to my dad: I don’t know what the fuck to do with this kid. I’ve taken him out all day everyday and it’s never enough. He doesn’t want to be at home but any suggestion I made he says no.

Exhibit B – Death wish: We drove around for hours, including a trip to one bowling alley, which was deemed to crowded, and another bowling alley, which was allegedly even more crowded. This sucks, he said. There’s people everywhere. There were less than three cars in each bowling alley’s parking lots. I got back on the highway and it took all the strength I had not to drive us straight into the guard rail. Maybe that will take up some time, I thought, what with the ambulance coming, a trip to the hospital, etc. Or, maybe better yet, we’d both die and not have to deal with this situation anymore.

Exhibit C – Cry #3: We finally ended up at my friends’ house to visit their family for a little bit before his appointment with his caseworker. He was grumpy and I was trying to be bright and cheerful to get him out of his funk. We parked at their house and he got out of the car as I grabbed my phone and bag. “Well,” he snapped at me. “Are you coming?” I stood and looked at him–he on the sidewalk, me next to the car. I was frozen in place because I knew if I made even a micro-movement, I would lunge at him. Because he was rude. Because I had given up every second of every day for a week to him. Because he got everything he wanted all the time or else he’d throw a tantrum. But Takkin sensed something explosive in me, and softened a bit. “Are you ready to go inside sister?” I broke from my trance and we rang the doorbell together. As soon as I saw my friends, they hugged me, and I started crying because I never wanted to let go. It all of a sudden dawned on me how much I needed even a modicum of support, of which I’d had none this whole week. I wanted to collapse. Those hugs brought me back to life.

I chatted with my friends and played a little with their kids while Takkin talked and laughed and seemed to enjoy being there. Pretty soon it was time for us to leave for his appointment with his caseworker. “They’re so nice,” he said as we got into the car. His mood was completely different; a true Jekyll and Hyde situation if ever there was one.

“I haven’t seen him like this in a long time,” said his caseworker a few minutes into his session. It’s true: he was laughing and joking and in great spirits. It was a complete turnaround from the week before where he’d been sullen and agitated, waiting for my father to depart on his trip. “What is different?” his caseworker asked. I told her about the increase in medication, the consistent schedule we had been on, the help from the tutors, the mini trips we’d taken, and the activities I’d been doing with him.

“You’re not moving back from Chicago…right?” the caseworker asked.

The million dollar question.

If I moved back from Chicago, my life would no longer be my own. I would be sucked into the vortex that is Takkin’s life–organizing appointments and meetings, keeping a schedule for him, caring for him, coaxing him out into public. I’d be working two full-time jobs: managing editor and keeper of my brother.

I smiled weakly and shook my head no. The caseworker nodded; I’m sure she’d seen that sad smile many times before. But we both know what will happen come Friday when I get on a plane back to O’Hare and my mom comes to take over his care. All the good I’ve done, all the schedules and consistency I’ve provided, all the intake assessments and forms I’ve followed through on will swiftly disappear. As I was making dinner, Takkin called my mom and was rude and aggressive with her on the phone. He hung up and I recommended he text her and apologize for acting that way. He did. She asked him what we were planning on doing tonight, and he said maybe watch a movie. You should watch a funny movie, she texted back. You should watch “La Chevre.”

La Chevre.
A sophisticated French movie.
With subtitles.
And complex themes.
Is what she recommended.
For her developmentally delayed, ADHD son.

Has she ever even met her son????????

For all the times I complain and get annoyed with Takkin, say things like he always gets what he wants and we all have to serve him and he’s just spoiled, it’s little comments like “La Chevre” that make me realize, this poor kid has got so few competent people working on his behalf. Don’t get me wrong, he is loved, but unfortunately most of those people are completely inept and out of touch with reality and can’t seem to make the right choices that will serve his best interests in the long-run.

He doesn’t always get what he wants; he never gets what he wants when it means something real.
We aren’t all serving him; we’re just barely tending to his most basic human needs, if that.
He isn’t spoiled; he was never given the tools to grow into a reasonable person.

When we were visiting my friends and their two children this afternoon, I saw how the parents interacted with the kids. They were kind and loving, but firm with boundaries and rules. Their house was filled with warmth and color and sounds of laughter. I remember none of that from our childhoods.

Takkin was always going to be born with developmental delay; he was always going to have mental illness set in during his early 20s–these things are genetic, an inevitability, there was no changing that. But things didn’t have to turn out this way for him, he had a chance to live a happy, healthy, normal-ish life.

That window is closing, and I feel like I might be the only one keeping a sliver of it open. And when the weight of that window gets to be too much… will I find some deep well of strength I didn’t know I had, or will I let it slam shut and walk away?

I think I know the answer. But I’m too scared to say it aloud.

 

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Day 6 with Takkin

B875E79B-D1A9-4D18-A740-8E7D9C8DAF4FI awoke this morning to the pouring rain and a pit in my stomach.

No.
Tutors.
Today.

Which meant I had about 14 hours of one-on-one time with Takkin, nonstop. I decided, despite the rain, to head 2.5 hours down south to Charlottesville to visit my alma mater, UVA, and my friend Michael. That was the pretense anyway, the reality was that 5-6 hours in the car would kill about half the day and the rest… well, I’d figure it out.

We grabbed a cup of coffee and started off on the trip, stopping every 20 minutes or so to get a drink or go to the bathroom. Takkin was in good spirits and kept pointing out which cars he liked, his encyclopedic knowledge of makes and models astounding me as it always did. We had hooked up my iPhone to the bluetooth in the car and were listening to a playlist I’d made. Every time an Avett Brothers song came on, he turned up the volume and started swaying to the music. I smiled to myself when I heard the twangy folk guitar and saw my brother singing along off key and with his own made-up words.

As we neared Charlottesville, the rain let up and the sun came out. By the time we reached Michael’s house in the mountains, it was 85 degrees and beautiful outside. Michael gave us a tour of his property, we picked some tiny peaches off his peach tree, sat on the porch and talked, and left after 45 minutes because Takkin was getting antsy.

We went up to a scenic overlook and took a selfie together, the valley below. There were people around and that made him anxious but he held my hand and powered through the anxiety because he knew I wanted a picture of the two of us to commemorate our day together.

On our way out of Charlottesville, we took a quick drive through the Grounds at UVA. I pointed out my old dorm and other houses where friends had lived. I showed him one of the buildings that all my English classes were held at. We stopped in front of the amphitheater and I ran toward The Lawn to take a picture of the Rotunda and a statue of Thomas Jefferson. All of it brought back so many fond memories.

We passed some old cars on the side of Route 29 and Takkin got so excited. “Look at those,” he said and pointed . “Can we go look at them?” I said sure, and made a u-turn. We pulled into the lot with the garage and the classic cars and we both got out to take pictures. Takkin walked into the office before I could stop him but by the time I got in there to shoo him out, he’d made fast friends with the proprietor who was shaking his hand and laughing along with him and telling him where each of the cars came from. We eventually hopped back in our car and headed home. “Thank you for stopping, sister,” he said.

It was a lovely day.

Then the rain started. The farther north we got, the heavier and harder it poured. And the deeper I went into my own thoughts. Takkin had never gotten his license; he’d never drive a car. He hadn’t gone to college, or had true friends who lived in dorms nearby. He would never see the Avett Brothers in concert, or go to any concert at all.

He would never kiss a girl. He would never stand across the aisle from the woman he was about to marry. He would never hold his newborn baby. There were too many nevers, and my mind was flooded with them as the clouds coalesced and the rain beat down. It was dark. Everything was dark.

He would never have a life like you and I have.

Cry #2.

 

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Day 5 with Takkin

IMG_2857IMG_2858

Welp, the dinner party is off. And Cry #1 of 5 has commenced.

I had to cancel an hour beforehand because Takkin is a monster. I am sitting at my grandmother’s house shaking as I write these words because I just got two remote controls thrown at my head and was yelled at for 10 minutes: “Fuck you, you stupid sister,” “Bitch, get the hell out of here,” “You’re just a fucking asshole.” “Get the hell out, leave.” He told me to cancel the dinner party so I did, and I left, as soon as I pulled the baked brownies out of the oven, which I am certain he will eat the entirety of by the time I get back. I offered him an Ativan and he threw it in my face. I was told by the people who experience this daily that leaving is the thing to do.

So, here I am at my grandmother’s house as she rattles off ridiculous ideas about taking him out or her coming over, thinking these attempts to give him what he wants will soothe him in some way.

News flash: the kid doesn’t know what the fuck he wants.

And therein lies the problem. He doesn’t want to be home because he’s bored. He doesn’t want to be out because he’s scared. He goes out anyways sometimes for hours with his tutors just driving around and going to get sodas and then comes home and is immediately bored again. He doesn’t want to play cards, or help me bake brownies, or watch tv, or play Xbox. He just wants to bitch and grumble and moan about his MOTHERFUCKING PHONES. I can’t, I just can’t, I can’t do this. I am cracking.

And the worst part is that he’s not a monster. If I could hate him, everything would be easier. But I opposite of hate him–the farthest end of the spectrum from hate. Which is why I cry, which is why I always go back, which is why 20 minutes from now I will be sitting on the couch playing blackjack with him as though nothing happened. Because he has already forgotten, even though I will never forget because each incident chips away at you until you are a cracked shell of yourself with nothing left to give. He has drained the life out of me and I am a prisoner these 10 days.

I knew we wouldn’t get along incident-free my entire stay, I anticipated this exact situation, but it is jarring still. He has no way of tempering himself or his moods. And he is too low IQ to learn. I might be fucked for 10 days, but I am not the tragedy. I’d rather have a million remotes thrown at my head than to be living inside his.

Pray for us both, friends. But keep your hands folded and your head bent over a lot longer for him.

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Day 4 with Takkin

IMG_2850I managed to get away for a few hours today to see some coworkers and then visit my 90 year old grandmother. She was sitting up in bed, her legs sticking out of her torso like toothpicks. I kissed her once on each cheek and sat down next to her so we could chat for an hour before I had to take her to the the doctor. In Farsi: “How’s everything going with Takkin? Has he done anything bad? It’s not his fault you know. He can’t control himself.” I tried to respond to her as best I could in my broken Farsi, but I didn’t have the vocabulary to explain all the nuances and intricacies of his situation. Instead of telling her that yes, he can’t control himself to some extent but he’s also got behavioral problems that stem all the way from his early childhood and two completely inept parents who made the exact wrong choices at the exact wrong times every step of the way, I said “Yes, it’s hard for him to control himself but… he can a little.” The language barrier was deeply frustrating.

When I got home, Takkin was with his tutor Connor, and was flipping out because two of his five phones weren’t working–or something like that. I honestly couldn’t even tell you what the problem was, something having to do with sim cards or extra phone numbers, or not enough phone numbers, or god knows what. It’s always something with phones. We finally managed to get it sorted, and he calmed down a little. I’ve always believed that Tak’s obsession with phones is a result of his inability to clearly communicate what is going on in his heart and mind. He can’t express himself because his cognitive impairment doesn’t allow him to and he wants so badly to get his ideas and thoughts across. When he freaks out over his phones, he’s actually freaking out because of some internal turmoil that no one can understand because his words come out garbled and nonsensical. It breaks my heart.

We headed out to see his psychiatrist, and in the parking lot Takkin started yelling at some young guy getting out of his car. “What the fuck are you looking at?” he screamed. The guy wasn’t even looking at him. I quickly grabbed his hands while he continued cursing and yelling and flipping the guy off and I dragged him to the car. Why Takkin, why? He attempted to explain to me who the guy was; what I gathered was that there had been an altercation between the two of them before. I couldn’t tell much more beyond that. He was agitated the entire rest of the way there and throughout his doctor’s appointment. He was finally mollified when we went through the McDonald’s drive-thru and he was able to eat. Sometimes I can’t help but liken him to an infant–he throws a tantrum when he’s hungry; he throws a tantrum when he has to pee but can’t get to the bathroom; he throws a tantrum when he doesn’t get every single little thing he wants or when things don’t go as he wants them to go.

He was bored when we got home, so I interviewed him to kill some time:

An Interview with Takkin

Q: How was your day?
A: So-so because of not doing fun with Reem [another tutor], all we did was go to look at boats at GW and then come to her house and read

Q: Besides Reem what did you do today?
A: In the morning time me and my sister went and had coffee and came back here with a sandwich, ate the breakfast, Reem calls and I go down and see some boats at GW Parkway. Next Connor came, Reem brought me back and delivered me to Connor. Connor and I just moped around the house while sister was doing her thing. It was fun, then we went to the doctor and came back home and ate a delicious sandwich that Tara bought from McDonald’s for her brother. But I’m a little sad about dad he’s not here but I’m still having fun times with my sister. It’s good. I guess the same thing is gonna happen tomorrow.

Q: Why are you sad dad isn’t here?
A: Mostly because he’s a father to me and I look up to him, I look up to my father and my dad, he’s a doll to me and I like spending time with him. I can talk to him on the phone, that’s easy. I’m happy he’s in a good place with his family and get quality time with my sister. My sister tolerates me for being a good son, I mean brother.

Q: If you could do anything in the world right now, what would it be?
A: Work with mobile phones or cars. If I had an occupation, I’d do either cell phones or cars, either/or because I like both of them easily, like take apart of fix a phone.

Q: What do you think about all the medication you have to take?
A: So-so, it’s helping. It’s doing some work but not a lot of work. Because sometimes I feel like I have the urge of doing something to someone because they’re just random people on the street. Your brother doesn’t want to be a homeless person on the outside. That I’m thankful that I have a home and a sister and my family next to me instead of being homeless. Little bit worried about being homeless.

***

At my grandmother’s house this afternoon, I tried to talk about Chicago and about my boyfriend and about politics and about her. We’d spend a minute or two on those topics, but the conversation always found its way back to Takkin. The language led us there, like it always does. I wish that language would help us find a way out.

Takkin doesn’t have to worry about being homeless. When everyone else is dead and gone, I’ll still be here, still keeping track of his meds, still setting up appointments, still trying to decipher “I’m more happy to be with sister than side effects.”

 

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Day 2 with Takkin

He doesn’t IMG_0015ever stop talking. An incessant stream of words come out of his mouth with hardly a breath in between. He talks to me, he calls random people (like my grandmother’s 90 year old friends), he says hello how are you have a good night to people on the street–even it it’s the middle of the day. It’s this word vomit that makes me realize he has zero control over this, it’s a compulsion; one of the many manifestations of his OCD.

We walked into the elevator in the apartment building this evening and before we got to the second floor to go to our apartment, the elevator stopped at 1. “Oh no,” he whispered, because he knew he wasn’t going to be able to stop himself from touching and talking to whoever set foot in there. And of course, he wasn’t able to stop himself, no matter how tightly I held his hand and how many reminders of “personal space, Tak, personal space” I gave him. “Hello,” he said. “How are you sir. How is it going? Have a good night. Take care. See you soon. Thank you, sir. Goodnight. See you later.” It’s nonstop. Just… just nonstop. Luckily this trio of people were kind; not everyone is. And I don’t blame those people. Most people don’t want a random stranger embracing them, or even giving them a high five, or saying a million words to them as they walk by. But this is what gets us in trouble. When people don’t engage with Takkin, he feels completely slighted and then lashes out. He’s scared to go in public because he knows he can’t control his compulsive behavior and is worried about how he’ll react. That’s the strange and interesting thing–he’s fairly aware of his behavior, but this awareness does not yield self-control at all.

We had a pretty good day overall: we got coffee in the morning, did some reading and writing, his “tutor” came, we made lunch and did some cleaning, I was able to coax him to go to my grandmother’s for dinner, and then we finished the night by playing some basketball on a nearby court and driving around a little. At my grandmother’s house he was getting louder and louder, talking faster and faster, fidgeting more than usual. I asked him if he wanted an Ativan to calm his nerves; he did. “Am I getting antsy?” he asked. I nodded. He gladly took the pill. This, combined with the three other medications he takes every day, seem to at least keep some of the demons at bay.

Together, we wrote an essay which he emailed to numerous members of my family, including my mom: Takkin should respect his mother for all the things she does for him. Glad his sister is in town. We are having a party together. Tak and sissy are having a play day to drive to UVA and bowling in Leesburg. We have a few appointments together to go to which I will attend to with sister. Also have fun walks with sister and brother Takkin.

I wonder how his brain works. I wonder what goes through it, how he makes the decisions he does, if he’s even making decisions as opposed to just following his urges. I think it’s almost always the latter. He does the strangest things sometimes: no matter how many times I tell him, he sits at a diagonal across from his breakfast plate and spills food everywhere; he pours water in Diet Coke and drinks that; he’ll forget to put on one sock and his shirts are often backwards; he waits in front of the elevator and as it’s closing, he’ll push the doors together (which makes me cringe because I am certain one of these days his fingers will get caught); he mixes up languages and will throw in French, Spanish, and Farsi words when speaking to complete strangers who understand nothing he’s saying; he wakes up at 4 AM to eat something, then goes back to bed for a few more hours; he talks so loudly on the phone that neighbors knock on the door and ask him to quiet down. There are so many things, and each thing is a reminder to me that something in his brain is slightly askew. It’s like the wires weren’t connected correctly, and so everything is just…off.

And then, out of nowhere, he’ll do something completely normal. Tonight he wanted to show me something but wouldn’t tell me what it was. We got in the car and he navigated us to an adjacent town. He directed me perfectly, telling me when to turn right and left and which streets to take. Eventually we ended up in a neighborhood and he pointed to the road and said, “Look!” And there was an entire street and driveway filled with dozens of the same make and model car: an old Saab convertible. It was the funniest, most random thing. “Isn’t that hilarious?” he asked.

And it actually really was.

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A Waterfall Will Get You Nowhere

Back CameraBen and Rachael and I decided we needed a break from the city so we got into my car and drove east to a destination that promised a relatively mild hike and a waterfall that was enough to quench our thirst for the outdoors. It was the first quarter of grad school and we three were in the MFA program at University of Washington working toward our degrees in creative writing. It’d been a couple of months and mistakes were being made—mistakes had been made as far as I was concerned, the primary one being my enrollment in the program and my move to a city that I’d never even visited before. But there I was, I was in it, and though I’d given up on so many things in my life, I knew I was going to stick this one out. Two years to go. I couldn’t know it at the time but they would be the worst two years of my life.

We arrived at the trail kind of late in the day, but it was a beautiful afternoon. Hikers walked briskly up and down the path, which was exactly what it had promised to be: essentially a gravelly, dusty road with very little incline. Good, because I was terribly out of shape after having spent months eating my feelings—in bed, under the covers, surrounded by empty bags of Munchos and the discarded red wax of the devoured Babybell cheeses that comprised my dinners. The sun was out, some water source was pleasantly burbling, and I was with the only two friends I had made thus far. I wouldn’t say I was unhappy, but the seed of happiness was nestled comfortably in my chest.

We walked, took our time, talked about books and writing and the program and got to know each other a little better. They were smart and knew about literature and I was easily distracted by interesting looking weeds or beaten paths that led through the thick brush and forest. Everything was so green—the Pacific Northwest—and the color brightened my mood. We came across a trickling water source hugging a cliff side and stood against the railing; not so much to admire the meager stream, but more to take a break and stretch our legs. We had been walking for some time and dusk was making its way across the sky. But we had a goal—the waterfall—and to me it felt integral to my day to successfully reach it, marvel at it.

Now the sun was setting fast and clouds began to spread overhead. There were fewer and fewer hikers, and the ones we did see were hightailing it back toward the parking lot. Still, we continued to walk. And walk. And we were no longer talking, so focused on our end point, like once we got there everything would be good and alright.

And then there it was. At the end of the trail. It stood large and ominous in front of us and we had nothing to say.

An electrical plant.

It was a massive, gray, concrete electrical plant. Surrounded by barbed wire with No Trespassing and Warning signs hanging from the fencing. And that was it. I’d be lying if I said we didn’t laugh for a bit, we did. But something hung heavy in my heart too. And there was such a long walk back, back the same way we’d come, with nothing new to see, with a car and a far drive back to the city awaiting us. I turned my back to the plant and took my first steps back, each limb dragging along like dead weight.

The night sounds came out and it was officially dark. We could barely see ahead of us and though we tried to talk and laugh, there was a nervousness that enshrouded us. It started to rain and we grew cold. No flashlights, the light from our dead cell phones useless, no flood lights to guide the way. I’m going to die here, I thought. In the woods, with three people I barely know, because I wanted to see a waterfall. Because I thought a waterfall would heal whatever wound was festering inside me. I’m not going to make it through.

We found the parking lot, felt our way through the darkness to the car.

I didn’t die after all.

 

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What Work from Home Is

*Inspired by What Work Is by Philip Levine

I lay in bed fIMG_1703or a long time
waiting for the day to be over. Before
it has even begun.
You know what work from home is—if you’re
in your pajamas reading this,
eating buttered noodles out of a pot
then you know. This is about doing nothing,
or next to nothing.
Feeling the soft comforter against your skin
while you nap in the middle of the day
and follow it up with a snack, then
another. You stop for a moment and wonder:
What is happening in the office, and just as quickly
as the thought entered your brain,
it is gone.
You’ve never
worked so hard to do so little
not because you’re too lazy or dumb,
not because you’re not sure what your job actually is
or are confused by the simplest email, no
just because you do know what work from home is.