Of Dicks and Donalds

A few nights ago, I was treated to a lovely discussion about the finer points of semen and masturbation, courtesy of the forklift boys on the dock:

“Hey guys, what do you think is more like semen? Cottage cheese or Jell-O?”

“Tell me what happens to your semen after you jerk off in the shower.”

“What about you, boss? How often do you jerk off?”

“Hey, I got a wife.”

“Oh, yeah right! Like that’s enough for you.”

“I’m not saying I don’t do it. I just have a wife and three kids. I ain’t got no time.”

“Hey, I don’t always have time either, but sometimes I’m flipping channels, and I see some big tits, and I say, ‘Hey, might as well.'”

Now, I can only thank God that I wasn’t part of this conversation. I work in the office on the other side of the wall. Had I been among those guys, I would’ve taken the first opportunity to escape to my car. Then I would’ve looked for something shiny to throw, so as to distract them and turn their teeny minds onto something else.

So men are apes. I think we all know and can accept that.

But now this tape comes out about Donald Trump grabbing women and women liking it because he’s a silverback in Stuart Hughes, and…everyone’s getting upset? Like they’re fucking surprised?

trumpuniverse-large_trans++pJliwavx4coWFCaEkEsb3kvxIt-lGGWCWqwLa_RXJU8.jpg

tothereader I don’t really think Donald Trump would make a good president. This post may be many things (e.g. misanthropic and ill-informed), but it’s certainly not an endorsement. Okay? Good.

I have to be honest: Trump used the perfect terminology when he called his tape “locker room banter.” Have people not heard how the alphas talk when they’re amongst each other? Is this sort of thing really that shocking? Can you blame an alpha for being an atavism? I don’t think so.

On the other hand, I can’t blame the media either. Trump practically is the media, and he’s melded with it to create some unique symbiotic life-form. The media may be sensationalistic, but Trump can’t live a day without saying something sensational. A man of his ego doesn’t like attention, he needs it. We should all be used to it by now.

This is important, because it’s plain to me that this latest liberal anger has nothing to do with arguing presidential qualifications, and more to do with swaying the swing voters. “Hey,” they say. “Hey look! Hear what that guy said? Isn’t that naughty? We don’t say things like that!”

Uh-huh.

Of course, this is demonstrably untrue. Morrison, Edwards, Wu, Spitzer, Weiner, Clinton. Get real, people.

anthony_weiner3.jpg

For all their posturing about moral superiority, all Democrats care about right now is winning. Winning, winning, winning. It’s smelly, ugly, prick-waving dressed in a pretty pantsuit. Whether they want to tax rich people or not, we’ve still got two groups of gorillas screaming and scratching and clawing over the water pit.

How many sex scandals in politics must we hear of before we realize that this is what happens when we give our power and faith to other people? Have we all got amnesia? Did we forget the lesson we learned in high school, from our days among the jocks and the rich boys? It’s a fucking law of nature: social elevation creates horny entitlement. No, it’s not fair. No, it’s not sensible, but it’s what we are, and we need to stop pretending that we’re beyond it. People regress to lower beings when they have power, and that’s why our economy, our politics, and our world are so fucked up. The people with the money detach from humanity, they gain access to too many things, and they forget simple societal demands, like, say, compassion and decency. Capitalism is right in rewarding hard work, but when riches are gained without it, we get shit like this, folks.

But we’ll forget. Once Election Day is over, we’ll all forget about this, and then put up the affronted act when it happens again.

Life goes on, it’s an old story, the fight for love and glory, and we keep hoping. We’re humans, right? Not animals. We can transcend our primal urges and improve our society, can’t we? I’m sure that, as long as we keep chugging along the way things are, we’ll get some good people in charge, and close this shameful chapter of history.

I’m not saying I’ll run for office, of course. That shit’s hard work.

Advertisements

Top Cartoons: Snoopy Come Home

There have been over forty animated Peanuts TV specials, and five feature films. There’s a timeless quality to these tales of precocious youngsters. Their lives, activities, pains, and pleasures — baseball games, flying kites, pulling pranks, fitting in — have rarely deviated from what children deal with even today. Snoopy Come Home maintains the themes of the comic, but it pushes them farther than they ever went before.

This is the second animated Peanuts feature, written by Charles Schulz and directed by Bill Melendez. As the title says, the focus is on Charlie Brown’s independent, imaginative, attention-loving beagle, but instead of playing vulture or chasing the Red Baron, he gets trapped at the peak of what amounts to a symbolic love triangle.

snoopy title.jpg

There are tensions in the Peanuts neighborhood. Snoopy’s been spending too much time away from home, fighting with the Van Pelt kids, and standing up his play dates. NO DOGS ALLOWED signs are cropping up at his favorite haunts, and even that round-headed kid is pounding him with lectures. It seems as though he just doesn’t belong anymore.

charlielecture.jpg

So when a letter from a mysterious girl named Lila arrives, which spurs Snoopy on an impromptu road trip, everyone feels responsible.

snoopy letter.jpg

It turns out that Lila is Snoopy’s original owner, who, for some reason, had to give up her puppy when her family moved. She returned him to the Daisy Hill Puppy Farm, where Charlie Brown’s parents later discovered him.

lilawriting.jpg

Now Lila is sick with an unnamed, but  serious disease, and misses her pup terribly. Snoopy and his bud Woodstock try to use mass transit to reach her, but NO DOGS ALLOWED signs stymie them, so they have to make the trip through unfamiliar towns and wilderness on foot. They travel a mighty long distance together, bonding, joking, and generally dealing with the rustic life. On one occasion, however, their adventure, and their lives, are put in serious jeopardy.

captured.jpg

Having gone without human companionship, Snoopy is pleased to spot Clara, a gal playing in the sand outside her house. He runs up and greets her, but she seizes him, kidnaps him, and attempts to forcibly adopt him.

Clara is more or less a relative of Tiny Toons’s Elmyra, with no awareness or empathy for an animal’s feelings. She gives Snoopy a flea bath, repeatedly dunking him underwater. She ties a hefty rope around his neck and yanks him around. She dresses him in hideous clothes for a tea party. Then, when she spills her tea on him, she blames Snoopy, and gives him a spanking.

It must be noted that Linda Ercoli, the voice actress for Clara, is amazing. At only thirteen years old, she gives Clara an impressive range of emotions, from giddiness to rage, and she’s always  horrifying. She even sings a very complicated patter song with aplomb and perfect rhythm.

After a crazy and intense chase, our wayward heroes make their escape, perhaps having learned something about dealing with strangers.

Meanwhile, Charlie Brown is haggard with worry. His friends reach out and provide advice to help him accept that Snoopy is likely gone for good, but nothing works.

carnival.jpg

When Snoopy finally reaches his old friend, he has to make a tremendous decision. Lila feels so much better with her doggy around that she begs him to come back to her. It is here that Melendez’s direction best demonstrates its wisdom. Melendez understood that Snoopy’s comic strip thought-bubbles wouldn’t work in a film, so he instructed  his animators to pour their efforts into the pup’s physical expression. He may be a simple-looking cartoon character, but the agony Snoopy displays at Lila’s request is truly heartbreaking.

decision.jpg

What follows is a series of shockingly painful scenes, restrained only with a stingy sprinkle of humor. There are tearful, even maudlin, partings, and a haunting portrait of real depression as Charlie Brown is unable to eat or sleep in the absence of his dear friend. The sequence plays to a wistful lament called “It Changes,” which, while written with innocent and childlike language, will likely never be understood by any but the most scarred of children.

Speaking of music, one will notice that Vince Guaraldi’s jazzy piano themes are missing from this film. You won’t even hear the iconic “Linus and Lucy” anywhere in it. The score is by Richard and Robert Sherman, who also worked on Disney’s The Jungle Book and Hanna-Barbera’s Charlotte’s Web. Their work here swerves from pleasant and dark, just like the film itself.

itchanges.jpg

Mercifully, two wonderful payoffs await, and the film closes with enough joy to conquer the preceding misery.

Snoopy Come Home baffled most critics, and even Roger Ebert described it as “schizoid.” I agree that it vacillates from one emotional extreme to the other, but I don’t know if that damages the film in any way. Peanuts has always been tinged with anxiety, and I believe that’s part of its endearing nature. I don’t believe it would continue to be printed in today’s comics if Schulz hadn’t dared to mix his own insecurities and doubts into the minds of his cute little characters. I think this movie is quite an achievement, even if it would never play well with today’s audiences, who expect shiny computer animation instead of the exquisite hand-drawn work shown here.

To Understand Something, Note It in Your Own Words

Ego is identity.

We identify ourselves with what we believe about ourselves, how we carry ourselves, and what we want others to think of us.

This identity is a wrapper that we twist ourselves in.

This wrapper is safe because it tells what we can be, and where we can go. It’s also constraining because it limits us, and tells us where we have to stop.

I can’t do that. What will the others think?

The wrapper is a container, a border, a boundary.

True growth requires the puncture of this wrapper, the expansion of these boundaries, the destruction of identity.

Thus the need for ego death.

Eleventh Hour Desperation

Day Eleven, Depression and Friends: All these things that I’ve been talking about, these things that made this year so lousy, they fucking sucked. They disrupted, ruined, or flat out ended lives. I was very fortunate, however, in that none of them directly affected me. I was insulated, viewing them comfortably through the filter of a computer screen. I’m just a little fellow, in a wide world, after all. Sadly, knowing this doesn’t make my problems feel any smaller.

Just a few months ago, my life was very different from what it is now. I had a full-time job and my own apartment. I was doing pretty well. I had lived that way for four years before the relapse. When the depression struck me, it struck hard. I lost my will to work, and worse, my will to do anything. I lost all interest in life. It didn’t help that it seemed like my peers were doing great, building families and buying houses.

Getting degrees.

Depression and panic attacks first visited upon me when I moved to USC in 1997. They immobilized me and made it impossible for me to leave my dorm, let alone succeed in class. I had to withdraw, and give up a substantial scholarship.

I’ve since developed an indelible fear of college that’s left me scrabbling for dead-end jobs, and I had trouble keeping those. As for a social life, forget it; I had no foundation, no sense of who I was, and I shrank from the friendly faces that approached me. I finally thought I had a sturdy handle on things in 2008, when I got a fine job that I got pretty damned good at. The company was well-run, successful even in the dark days of the recession, and my supervisors treated me like a prince. Before long, I had enough money to finally get out of my parents’ house again, and live on a modest budget. I started going to parties, making pals, dating girls. Life was looking up, and I was grateful.

But I overreached. Lost sight of the sunny spot I was in. I became afraid of looking lazy, or unambitious, and I requested more responsibility. I got it, and it turned out to be a heavier weight than I could bear. I became tense, and then stressed, and then miserable. I stopped socializing. I stopped drawing. I stopped doing anything, really. As soon as I got home, I fell into bed. The days smeared into a dreary, gray blur of work, sleep, work, and sleep. I requested my old job back, only to find that it wasn’t available, at least not in full-time. There was nothing for it. I had to leave.

I found another job, but it paid less than my old job did, and my budget was crunched. I found yet another job, and it paid more than my old job did, but by then the panic attacks were in full swing, and I couldn’t bring myself to go there.

I was in a spot. I had already been living hand-to-mouth before the depression hit. Now I was too crippled to bring anything home. I burned through what little money I had saved. I had to give up the apartment and move back in with my folks. For the third time. Not long before, life looked like a shining skyline of upward mobility and romance. Now it was a bleak flatland of counseling and disability claims.

Turned out I wasn’t the only one in the house having a hard time. My father was fighting a long, tiresome battle against his former employers and insurance companies for workman’s compensation. He needed back surgery for years, and it looked like it was finally going to happen. My mother knew that he’d need help once the operation was through, so she struggled with the idea of retiring. She’d been at her job for over twenty years, and it paid a tidy sum that she was loth to give up. Still, she decided to take the plunge for the sake of my dad and I.

Meanwhile, my grandmother was ailing terribly. She was suffering with congestive heart failure, a condition that made it a challenge for her to simply walk across a room. It was clear she was going to need open-heart surgery. At eighty years old. As this was in the wake of Joan Rivers’s death, my whole family was on edge.

This year has felt like the final act of a very long movie, where everything is at stake, the tension is at its height, and long-running threads converge and, for better or for worse, resolve.

I thought about resolving them for good many, many times.

My saving grace was recognizing that I had support. I’ve known for years that I could count on my parents, for they are good people who help others in need. However, I also know that they are still just people, and can only give so much before they break, and my guilt often overwhelms me. What I only recently discovered, when I was so deep in the jungles of despair that I thought I’d never get out, was that my parents weren’t the only ones looking out for me. Someone, or something I can’t explain, was waiting for me to call out to it, too.

The Facebook Problem

There’s something you should know about me. I, Daniel Rocha, made a pledge not to look at Facebook for an indeterminate amount of time, for my own good.

How did I come to make such a bizarre promise? Well, it’s actually on the orders of my counselor.

My counselor, Mary Anne, told me that she has a number of patients coming in to her because of Facebook. It gets into people’s heads. It makes them question their own lives. It makes them feel inferior. She gave me a warning: “Stay away from Facebook,” she said, “lest it devour your good sense and poison your mind.”

Okay, she didn’t say it quite like that, but the message was intact.

So what, exactly, is it about Facebook that upsets so many people, including myself? I’ve asked myself that question many times, and the answer is pretty simple. Looking over my News Feed, and the self-aggrandizing posts that populate it, makes me feel like shit. People use Facebook, and most other social media, as a means to validate their own lives, to feel as though they’re “making it” in our bizarre American culture. In this culture, success is measured by popularity. How many subscribers do you have? How many people follow you? Are you a beacon that lures people with no lives of their own? Do people envy you and your good fortune?

Are you a celebrity, or do you at least look the part? Everything’s A-OK in your world? No problems, no issues, just a picture-perfect life? Well, it’s no good unless you can show it off.

In the First World, where the lower three tiers of Maslow’s pyramid are more-or-less taken for granted, esteem is the true measure of success.

I don’t value esteem. I value the success of my works, but not of myself. I just want people to enjoy the things I make.

The world of social media, however, seems like the perfect opportunity for the rest of us to play celebrity, and God damn, if those folks who need that validation didn’t take it.

I don’t know why it bothers me, or the others who go to see Mary Anne. Or maybe I do. Maybe I don’t like to see people getting recognized, celebrated, even worshipped, for doing nothing more than living their very simple, very ordinary lives.

Do followers, admirers, worshippers, really make you feel better about who you are? Or is it a cover stick for your perceived failings? Does it ease the pain of knowing you’ll never be Kim Kardashian? Or Nicki Minaj? Or any other inexplicably popular human being in this screwy country? If that sort of thing doesn’t affect you, why bother sharing your own adventures online? Why bother presenting the best possible picture to strangers? Whom are you trying to impress?

Maybe I’m just a crusty old thirty-something who doesn’t fit with the flow of today’s cultural currents. Maybe I’m a crazy man who’s suffering under the weight of my own failures, but I just don’t see the need to celebrate myself. I don’t like to talk about myself; I never have. I like to talk about cartoons. I like to talk about movies. I like to talk about drama, emotions, how to evoke the strongest possible reaction in people through words, images, and ideas.

I’m feeling more and more like an old man. Goddamned kids just like a twist, I guess.

Don’t Mess With Depression

Depression, that orange-eyed beast that creeps on spiders’ legs, has claimed another talented artist. Fucking thing is so sneaky and powerful it can slay even the greatest amongst us.

This cannot be allowed. We can’t lose any more artists to the black sadness. So I’m going to shout it now: don’t mess with depression! When you feel it coming, when that trigger is flipped, don’t revel in it, don’t collapse into it, don’t feed it. Get help! Do something you like! Be around people that cheer you up! Promise a loved one that you’ll call if you feel like slashing yourself. You fight it, and keep fighting it!

There IS a point to it all, but you have to live if you want to learn it.

Support Beam Excerpt 5

Here’s Chapter 5.

5

Icy winds slashed the house by the time I was done cleaning it up. My final task was to clear the rain gutters. Digging out slimy leaf clumps while enduring the cold front was a hell of a job, but I got through it. I still hadn’t seen any sign of Mom. I began to wonder if she’d had a heart attack and collapsed in her clay. I knew better though.

My checklist complete, I had trouble thinking of things to do. I knew that I needed to look for a job, or for classes to enroll in, but such ventures felt irrelevant. I felt like I was exiled from all that, stuck aground while the currents rushed around me. I didn’t even know if that was by choice or not.

One afternoon I sat on the living room sofa and stared at the turned-off TV set. It was a big, black, sixty-inch HDTV that loomed over all else like an Oceanic telescreen. I never cared for television programming, but staring at the blank screen felt strangely relaxing. What a spectacular waste of money. At least Aaron got some use out of it. Mom was rarely home to watch it, but she was proud to own it anyway. It was the same with our internet service: Mom didn’t even know how to double-click, but she liked knowing the internet was there.

This train of thought lifted me from the couch and carried me to the study, where we kept the family PC. The study was once Mark’s bedroom, and there was still something Mark-ish about it, and entering it gave me the sense that I was intruding. I felt like Mark was going to jump out from somewhere and tell me to quit my snooping. I even felt that way during the hours I’d spent cleaning it.

I switched on the computer and opened the browser. Mom’s home page popped up: the website of the Jesse Altadonna gallery in San Francisco. It was where most of her art was exhibited and sold. The center of the page showed a large portrait of the gallery. Plain white walls and parquet floors. Paintings hung and sculptures posed. It reminded me of the tin-shit building where I attended sculpture class. I rested my chin on my left hand and decided to drift about the site. Smirking, I went to the Artists list and clicked the link that read “Myra Levins.”

Her page drew her out in plain text. Her bio, her curriculum vitae, her exhibits. Samples of her work included a photo of her “cage” sculpture, with the smiling man and woman. I stared at it for a long time, until my eyes unfocused and I fell into a daydream. I forced myself to blink and shook my head. Then I returned to the Artists page and scrolled around before freezing up and gaping.

Near the bottom of the page, between “Jennifer Valdez” and “Richard Werner,” I found “Evelyn Acceptance Weiss.”

It took me a minute, but I clicked it. She only had one exhibit, which had taken place the previous week. The samples showed small, cream-colored sculptures, abstract shapes arranged in a ring on a black display stand. I thought they looked like warped eggs, or river-smoothed stones that were somehow softened and squashed. There was also a diorama, a wooden box painted dark blue on the inside. Set within was a plaster hand in a black lace glove, cut off just below the wrist, with its fingers elegantly curved, as though clutching an unseen cigarette.

I took my hand from the mouse and rubbed my eyes. I realized that I’d been frowning, and there was some sort of heavy rock sitting in my stomach. I took a deep breath and went for the bio. There was only one thing I wanted to see.

And there it was, beneath her date and place of birth: “Evelyn is currently an undergraduate at California State University, Sacramento.”

It’s difficult to describe what I felt. The rock in my stomach seemed to gain mass, and then it dropped further inside me, pulling some of my guts with it. I knew that I needed to fill the cold hollow that it left inside me, and I tried to do it with heavy breaths. Then something gave in my head. It was like a strap was cut, and everything it held back spilled. I rolled my chair away from the computer and tilted forward with my face in my hands. I leaned until my elbows hit my thighs.

First it was laughter. I laughed at things so grand, gangly, and absurd that I couldn’t understand them. I saw a sky filled with weird orange tendrils. They surrounded me, enclosed me, chambered me like mosquito netting. I saw the sun beyond, shooting down on me, burning the familiar blue away with a relentless, emotionless white. I was frightened to be there, but I didn’t care enough to escape.

As you’d probably expect, the laughter rose to a high, choking wheeze, and then tipped into sobs. I dropped from the chair, flopping like a boned fish, and cried on the floor. My strength had gone from me, and I was too weak to lift my hands. Tears and snot slid down my face, and I didn’t bother to wipe them. I just let them drip into the carpet. It was pathetic, and I knew it was pathetic even as it happened.

I became angry with myself. I was pissed for breaking, pissed for crying, and more than anything, pissed for even feeling anything in the first place. I had so much. Even in failing, I had so much. I wasn’t stuck in the ghetto giving blow jobs to make rent. I wasn’t on the streets of Damascus, dodging death squads and mortar fire. I wasn’t scrabbling in the dirt for scraps to eat. I was in suburbia, glowing, green, American suburbia, surrounded with every opportunity to find fortune and pursue pleasure, and I was fucking crying.

Was I suffering? Could someone like me ever understand suffering? Could I ever earn the right to hurt, or the right to express it? Did I even deserve the comforts that graced me in childhood, and that surrounded me now? Obviously I didn’t appreciate them.

Meanwhile, I acted like I knew what was best for everyone else. It was easy for me to decide where Mark and Aaron and Acceptance belonged, so long as I didn’t have to assign a position to myself. This wasn’t because I was lost, it was because I was lazy. The valleys I saw as a child rose into mountains the moment I neared them, and I chose to run instead of rough it. It was too hard.

It was true. That floundering, weeping thing on the study floor was I. This was the person my decisions had turned me into, and this was the place where they had led me to be.

Energy surged into me again. I pushed myself from the floor and stood up. I went into the garage and hit the door opener. As the door rumbled open, I got behind the wheel of the Taurus and turned the ignition. My breathing was very deep, and my vision was very distant. My heart danced a jig inside me. I didn’t know where I going; I only knew it was far away from this house, this town, this world. I was scared of the thought, but a little excited, too.

I backed the car down the driveway, still marooned in that far-off space where my heart and lungs governed. The road beckoned me to a land free from all pains and worries.

Just before my rear wheels could touch the pavement, a stumpy gray van barged up behind me, aiming for the center of the drive. Its driver must only have spotted me at the last moment. The van stopped with a jolt, and I got three angry horn honks.

I couldn’t back the car out any further; the van hadn’t left me enough room to squeeze onto the street. I had no other choice but to put the car in drive and roll back up into the garage. The van backed up a bit, adjusted its angle, and took the free side of the driveway.

I felt that heavy, sinking sensation pouring through me again, not the drop of a single rock but a whole avalanche, that yanked on my innards until they tore. There was no ignoring her now. I got out of the car and slowly stepped out to meet her.

I had to wait a few seconds while she stashed some things in her purse. I could see the top of her gray head through the driver’s side window. Then she looked out at me. I saw my droopy eyes in her face.

“Tara? What the hell are you doing here?” she said.

“I was just leaving, Mom,” I answered.

She got out of the van and shut the door. She stood in front of me, her brow wrinkled, her eyes squinted, and her mouth hanging open. She wore a yellow Snoopy T-shirt besmirched with the paint stains of years gone by, an old work shirt. Her jeans, frayed at the knees and ankles, were similarly stained. Her clothes were very loose and baggy, and I was surprised at how skinny and tiny she looked.

She didn’t hug me or make any other effort at greeting me. She had a battery of questions first, and questions were just what I couldn’t deal with. “Are you okay? Are you hurt? What’s wrong?”

“I’m fine, Mom. I’m going to be fine, but I have to get going now.” I inched back toward the garage.

“But, how long have you been here? Were you waiting to see me? Why didn’t you call the studio?”

“It’s okay. It’s not a problem.” I don’t know why, but I started to panic. I had to get away. I continued to walk backward to the car, but she followed me and maintained the distance between us.

When I got the driver’s side door, I pulled the latch with my left hand and saw my escape just inches ahead of me. I just had to get in. Then Mom seized my right hand.

“Tara, you can’t leave me wondering like this,” she said. “Can’t you stay a little longer and talk to me?”

I was too close to back down now. My mind rocketed to a state of extreme terror, and I needed to leave. Without thinking, I drew my right arm inward, and then threw it out in a swift, jerking motion. The sudden, desperate force of it threw Mom off-balance. She stumbled backwards and crashed into a pair of easels in the corner of the garage.

Terrified that I’d injured her, I hesitated to watch her recover. When I was satisfied that she’d regained her balance, I said, “Mom, I have to go. I’m sorry.” I saw my own eyes staring at me from that corner, giant and lit with fright, and they burned an afterimage in my sight that I couldn’t clear, no matter how hard I shook my head. I slumped into the driver’s seat again, started the car, backed down the drive, and shot out of the neighborhood in one long, blurry motion.

I sped out to the edges of town, weaving through traffic and shooting past red lights. I didn’t think that Mom would try to follow me, but if she did, I wanted to be sure that there was no way her van would keep up.

I realized how keen each of my sensations had become, from the dryness of my mouth and throat, to the grip of the vinyl steering wheel in my hands. All of my nerves were active and afire, and I felt alive and lifeless at the same time. I kept driving, and I didn’t stop until I was far out of town.

Stars poked out of the violet sky. I sat in my car, on the side of the north freeway, and watched them. It was a strangely clear evening. The few clouds I could see were long, thin, and faint, and they stretched across the span of the sky, from one horizon to the other. I wanted to focus on them, to rip my attention away from the fiery memories of Mark, Aaron, and Mom, but the back of my head still ran the images in an endless filmstrip. It ticked away, making cold calculations and scary realizations. I tried to stuff each thought down with a heavy sigh, but I couldn’t make it work. As the sun slid past the round black hills of the west, the conclusion announced itself to me as a question.

You know what you have to do, don’t you?

Mom’s horrified face flashed before me to cement my answer. Yeah, I knew.

I turned the car back on.

I took the next exit that came up and then reentered the freeway going south. I watched for the sign marked “Clemens Rd.” There were some odd detours on the way because of the overpass construction, but I got back to familiar territory in time. Traffic was scarce. The sky was black. The landmark I was looking for stood proudly out from a field of flattened land. Cheap sodium lamps bathed the earth orange. I pulled over to the right edge of the street and stayed put for a while. There were no homes or stores on that side, only dirt fields and weeds. I sat and mulled one last time. I thought about the chances I’d lost, the people I’d hurt, and the people I’d continue to hurt in my bent, broken state. Would they forgive me? In the place of those people, would I forgive myself? I wondered whether living like that would be bearable.

The engine thrummed, and my last doubts crumbled. I was already on the plank, a short walk left ahead of me. What was there was ponder?

I put the Taurus in reverse, and rolled it back into the fields. As I pointed the front of the car at the pale orange spire, I found that the storm in my head was easing up. My muscles were relaxing. I began to believe that this was really the only way that my tale could end.

When I was content that my aim was true, I braked and went to drive. I felt my features harden into a grim expression, and I poured my concentration into getting this done right. Keep the safety belt on, press the gas to the floor, and hold her straight. I can do that. I launched ahead.

The engine spun to a high growl. I accelerated over the two lanes of Clemens, and then shot into the dirt. The steering wheel jerked and twitched in my hands, but my grip never faltered, and I kept the beam in front of me. For several seconds it was distant, a bright spike in a black horizon, and then all at once it filled the windshield. Shocks and tremors rumbled through the glass and metal around me, and I squeezed my eyes shut as a sharp biological spark stung me and I swung the steering wheel to the right.

I thought I heard the skid, but I didn’t hear the crash.