A father crosses the street
his daughter walks beside him
she can look straight into the eyes
of his bending knee.
they drink frappucinos together.

A man points at them
across the street
He points at us.
He points at me.
He says nothing
to any of us.

Beside the Hooters, the chess
master issues silent
challenges on cardboard.
He plays guitar to pass time.
No one challenges a master
when it costs three dollars.

Lately, I have been having rational fears of the irrational. An overwhelming sense of thinking about things that do not exist or do exist without me experiencing them.

There is a great terror in the unknown, in the darkness that coats an empty, unlit room. When the light leaves, that same darkness lashes out and devours you, me, everything in its path. You are there, alone and not alone at the same time. A sound lights a fire in your senses, but you are deprived. Your perception is stilted and halved or just lessened tremendously.

There is nothing to touch or see. You can only hear it. When the moment arrives when you can touch it, it is too late. Maybe it was just a bug. Maybe it was just a pipe with remnants of a shower or flushed toilet sliding through the walls, but then you think about those walls that you thought were nearby. You don’t know where they are anymore. That space between you and the walls is finite and infinite in the darkness.

Everything is alien in the darkness, defying the laws of the universe as we know them while also maintaining those same laws. Everything holds a duality of existence and non-existence. The geometry of the space between you and the darkness is non-Euclidian. It is otherworldly. It is amorphous. It is magnanimous.

I reach for where I think the light switch is. It pops up with a flick. The darkness retreats in an instant, finding corners and crannies that light cannot find. The light itself is not infinite. It stops at the line where my eyes hit the horizon. If I can no longer see where the light is, what lurks beyond that point?

Even if it is nothing or more of the same, those are both oppressive.


We are in my bedroom, watching me sleep, as if through a lens from another universe, a window undisturbing the passage of time here, where I sleep. The TV flashes and glows, disrupting the shadows on top of me. My eyes twitch and clench but stay closed to continue my journey to a deeper, calmer state of sleep.

The TV’s sleep timer counts down to zero, and it darkens the room immediately. I am still asleep. I am still presumed safe in the room I left lit by the television show playing on repeat. When the TV blinked off, it was the loudest muted snap. In whatever state of sleep I was in, maybe REM or something, I knew the darkness had come.

What we know can’t exist before our eyes becomes fully fleshed out in our dreams. The hulking, gelatinous figures that rip through the fabric of my dream’s reality emerge in their confounding presence. Faces nondescriptive, not blank but not comprehendible. If they had smells, they would be acrid, pungent, constricting, putrid, like rotting alien flesh, a smell completely unfamiliar that I cannot process, that I cannot understand, that I cannot prescribe to any other experience. I am overwhelmed just by the smell that pours into the limitless space of my dreams.

Suddenly, there is a woman with no skin on her face, but her face is not a skull. She has skin. It is just thin and almost translucent. It is not fully solid. It is held in place. Her mouth gapes open, and the film of her lips covers gums with remnants of teeth jutting forwards, backwards, diagonally, in all conceivable directions. There are five teeth extending in these directions. Just five. Her hair is white. It is long, and it is short. Some strands look like hard wires. Other strands wave in the hot wind that hits me, her and the shapes behind her.

She stares at me with the holes that would her eyes, but the holes are empty. That horrific maw stays open, and she shrieks in an impossible production of lows and highs. Her thin neck trembles as she screeches. Her vocal cords rattle her shifting, flowing, gelatinous skin. They explode in a mess of gore and violence, but her sounds amplify, coming from her mouth and the new orifice.

If she had legs, she would be walking towards me. But she does have legs. She isn’t walking. She is walking. She is floating in the air, drifting closer, as if propelled by her flailing legs that snap and crack. Her bones pierce the gooey skin and reset as they rescind back into the skin, and they break again. They reset again. And break again. And reset again.

Her nearing proximity does not change the volume of her uncomfortable sounds.

I wake up. I turn the TV back on. I lie back down. I go to sleep. Again.

The smoke stacks lead double lives.
Not far from my house they spew not
smoke but steam. On overcast mornings
I cannot tell what is steam and
what are clouds — chameleon’s camouflage.
Hot air surges upward, through tall
concrete cannons. Clouds burst out,
rushed and desperate to escape,
like a hungry baby alien freed
from your chest but affixed now to your face.

Maybe the steam squeals like it does
trapped in a hot kettle on the stove.
It could be silent and rapid, the tiny speck
nicking the shuttle’s hull thousands of times
until the surface is broken. All inside sucked
outside by the infinite vacuum guided by
no hand and every hand.

But it stinks when the steam starts its morning rise.
Today I will just stay inside.

The beginning of Lent proved to be a huge challenge and strain on my mind and especially my taste buds. They missed the sweet delight of a cold glass of tea. They didn’t just miss it. They craved it. I never helped their cause for a day without sweet tea either.

Before Lent started, I made a full picture of “lightly” sweetened tea, an abomination I intentionally created for the sake of better health.

What was I thinking?

Better health and sweet tea are not synonymous and should never be equated. They are appropriate opposites. Good and evil, perhaps. But health advocates laud the benefits of tea, whether green, black, oolong, Darjeeling, whatever. All tea is good. All tea is good with sugar. Not all tea is good with A LOT of sugar. Just black tea, or more specifically (which I only learned because I squinted really hard and read the -fine- print on my favorite blue box of team) black and orange Pekoe tea. Pekoe? Pe-ko-eh? Pee-kooh? Peck-o? Sure! They all sound great to me.

I have tried many types of tea and like them all, but that doesn’t make me a tea snob or afficianado. I just like drinking it. If it has an amber tint, I’ll drink it, maybe just once, but I’ll drink it.

Back to my fridge. In a gallon pitcher that knows me just as well as I know it, the tea sits, aging more and more each tea. The only thing that happens to aged tea is that it grows mold. Remember that later.

Daily, I’d open the already somewhat barren fridge. The full pitcher always gives the impression of a more robust fridge. It makes it more efficient or something. Maybe that’s the freezer. Tea doesn’t belong there either. I tried and forgot about it. Defrosted tea sounds as bad as it really is. Plus it makes a mess on the counter. Water everywhere.

I stared at the pitcher longingly for two weeks. It was hardly an intentional tease, but there it was, sitting there, taunting me. I even knew it was bland, -almost- tasteles. But of poor quality as sweet tea goes.

The gallon did something else each day I looked at it multiple times. It reminded me of my task, my undertaking, my devotion to abstaining something that, as I have mentioned repeatedly, defines me. It still continue to stand for me as it stood, proud and aware in my fridge. My hand ventured into the fridge. My fingers repeatedly writhed and stretched, wanting to graze the poorly removed label. The label never quite came off the side of the pitcher, sticky residue in tact after repeated washing.

She is an essential part of the newsroom and calls frequently enough that many of us know her name. She may talk your ear off, but it’s always with good intentions. She knows no harm, no foul. We call her Miss Martha.

She calls on the weekdays. She calls on the weekend. She’s part of our family as much as we are a part of her family.

Often, she will divulge information about her life. It is always touching to hear about her children, her deceased husband. Mostly, she and I talk about movies, celebrities, recent deaths, golf. She runs the gamut of idle conversation. Today was a little different.

I never considered Easter to be a time of emotional catharsis, but it makes sense in the grand scheme of the day.

She told me about a Paul Walker movie she was watching. She thought it was Paul Walker anyway. She really enjoys watching movies that come on the few scattered local channels. Mostly, they’re older movies, usually not very good, but she finds entertainment in them, despite their ‘lack of artistic value.’

The conversation continued about movies onto other programs on the air before the Sunday afternoon movie spread: church sermons.

She rattled off names with intimate familiarity, as if I knew them too, but I gave her an unseen nod to continue. Even on the phone, it feels polite to nod, an effort to move the conversation, nonverbally, but it fails miserably during a phone call. The only thing I could muster was an unintentionally apathetic “Yeah,” or “Mmhmmm.”

She continued praising the pastors she sees every Sunday morning. She admired them and followed them weekly. Later, she alluded to her difficulties of leaving the house, due to her health. It made sense why she loved these men of the gospel so much. They were her spiritual guides. I asked her how she felt about the only televised church sermon I knew. She had no opinion.

The conversation stuck with television church shows for a few more minutes, as we discussed the intentions of a megachurch pastor from Atlanta. She knew he had done no wrong and still enjoyed him. I was surprised to say the least. Her daughter, I learned, serves as a pastor at a church, and she gives her tithe to her daughter, which sounded appropriate, I thought.

What struck me odd as she dove deeper into her daughter’s position in the church. She said, “I still prefer a man as a preacher.” To give your offering to your daughter but simultaneously say you prefer the opposite sex in the pulpit felt rather hurtful. Like the parents who push their child to follow their dreams but wish he or she had been a doctor or lawyer instead.

She lept quickly from that topic to another incredibly guarded subject, her wrongful termination at a job and the lawyers involved. Her voice got stronger as she talked about bring a nurse’s assistant, butting heads at her last job and seeking a lawyer’s help only to get one last paycheck and recompense.

She wrapped the job talk up with something poignant, “I feel like even my own people are against me.” I dwelled on that statement for a long time.

“Everyone knows one another, are kin somehow. You never know who’s out to get ya.”

There she was, completely exposed and vulnerable. The safety of the phone let me frown and share her pain. She was lonely.

Her loneliness stayed on the table as the lawyer-talk guided us to her late husband, whom she had divorced long before he died. His house, that he kept after the divorce, sat in near ruin after a bank foreclosure.

And I heard her voice waver and crack. Her eyes — I couldn’t see them but I knew — reddened with regret, with pain, with loneliness. She said to me, “I wish we could have made it work out. I know we could have.”

Today I had a distinct memory. A short story I read many years ago. I can close my eyes and see the text on the page. I can see the title in big, block bold letters.

In the memory, the title is “The Radio.” In the memory, the author is clear. It’s H.P. Lovecraft.

He never wrote this story.

But I can see it. I can hear the conversations of the story. I can see the introduced character in court, talking about a radio that drove him mad. It drove him to commit a crime so horrible. So horrible he was forced to court.

It wasn’t H.P. Lovecraft. It had nothing to do with him. But I was convinced. I knew it was him. I knew he wrote this story. It all made sense. It all fit together. The theme of madness, uncontrollable and debilitating, driving a man to do something severe, drastic, violent.

I have yet to look in the book at the story.

I don’t want to lose faith in my memory.

There isn’t one thing, in my mind, that helps define the Southern experience more than tea. Not just any type of tea. Sweet tea. This drink is refreshing as it is crucial to the Southerner’s existence. It’s about quenching thirst during punishing humidity that makes up every summer morning, afternoon and evening.

There’s history. There’s heritage. There’s identity. It all sits and swirls in a glass of sweating amber.

You share some solidarity with a glass of fresh sweet tea. The condensation sliding down the glass is the same as a hard day’s sweat stinging your eyes.

The iconic drink is what I would call my own lifeblood. You cut me; I bleed sweet tea. I cherish all that the cleanly brewed black tea can offer.

All throughout the Southeast, tea makes its mark on restaurants pretty clear. You can’t escape its grasp. If a server asks for your drink your and denies a request for sweet tea because there is none? Then that business is lost. You don’t just settle for a Coke or a glass of water.

That’s just like coming in second place because you were tired of running. I can’t say I’ve visited a restaurant of any type, minus a cafe that only serves coffee drinks and types of hot tea, but those are abominations that can be discussed another time, while living in Georgia for more than two decades. You make a personal statement by abstaining from the sale of sweet, a dangerous statement.

During a week-long stay in Seattle, I had not thought much of the lack of sweet tea until I casually glanced inside a restaurant in the
Convention center. The sight mortified me. Two staples of the soda fountain had been removed, even forgotten I initially thought. Could this be true? The vibrant brushed aluminum canisters were nowhere to be found. To these burrito makers, they never existed. At this moment, I realized while in the majesty of the Pacific Northwest that I was missing something. Something important to me.

This hadn’t been the first time I was without sweet tea. I remember when I first moved to Japan on a year-long stay. The 17-hour, fragmented plane ride had left me parched and famished. As a Southerner, the first thing that comes to mind when quenching your thirst is obvious. It wasn’t water. It wasn’t Coke. It was sweet tea. What did ‘sweet tea’ even look like in Japanese? I didn’t know then. I still don’t now. The vending machine at the train station had bottles of brown liquid. “This looks like tea,” I thought. And in a hurry, I bought one, desperate for a drink. I had never made a more desperate mistake in my life. I was excited to drink something after such extended dehydration. I knew I would be satisfied. I tasted the tea and felt only confusion, misery, sadness, pain. This wasn’t tea. It was an abomination, and in whatever embarrassment would follow, I spat the drink out. A huge puff of brown vapor, a actual spit-take.

I had been betrayed by a bottle I didn’t know how to read. It was a tea, no sweetener added, that was good for your body. Something to make you healthier or more beautiful. Whatever it’s title was, I just knew it then as the tea to never ever drink again.

For my year-long stay, I adapted to tolerate, no , actually enjoy many different types of tea. All cold. The temperature distinction stayed important. Kyoto shared a climate much like Georgia’s. Cold when it needed to be and so uncomfortably humid, you didn’t want to be outside unless you had to. It just wasn’t as hot.

I found myself preferring oolong and green tea primarily. These two teas became my supplemental lifeblood without the crucial Tetley tea bags I had known since I was a child. On a whim, I bought a small carton of lemon tea. My life changed. It had sugar. It was cold. It had a hint of lemon. It WAS sweet tea, not as I knew it, but it worked. Lemon tea defined me, as sweet tea had my entire life.

Classmates knew I craved it. They saw the cartons lining my wall in my dorm room before recycling days came. I even received ‘gifts’ of lemon tea liters. I had found my replacement and regained some of my identity.


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