Friday, June 27, 2014

The Clubhouse: Chapter 1

Chapter 1

After I graduated from College I settled comfortably into my 'unemployed phase'. Not wearing pants became a regular event. I moved in with my older sister in Jamaica Plain temporarily until I could move in with my other sister in Brookline. Our apartment was in a shady area. Not tree lined shady more like-- don't leave the house after 8PM or you'll get stabbed shady. I heard gunshots my first or second night there. I imagined myself cowering and crying in a corner like Tom Hanks when he moves into that hotel/apartment in NYC. Another night we were awoken to two guys shouting and looked out our window to see one of the guys beating the absolute shit out of the other. Welcome to the real world.

I was unemployed for about 3 months. I applied to just about any job that I could without any actual 'real job' experience. Evidently scooping ice cream for 7 years doesn't allow for a lot of skill building. Or does it? I'm pretty sure my ability to prevent myself from barfing when an adult orders a large cone of bubblegum ice cream is admirable.

Anyways. A normal day was.
1. Get up
2. Don't put on pants
3. Apply to 5 jobs (using the same cover letter)
4. eat a sandwich.
5. watch TV.

After 2 months of this routine I had heard nothing back and decided I better apply to one of those temp agencies. Doing this was essentially going to a job interview…..for no specific job. Was the interview to determine if I could do any job? Or was it to find out if I was a loose cannon? Who knows. I don't remember too much except for the fact that I found out I'm not as good at Microsoft Word as I thought (I mean honestly does anyone actually use the mailing features? Didn't think so) and also that if I had a choice, yes, I would maybe go on a date with my temp agent. I soon discovered that temp agencies were a bust. I almost got a job but then some weird last minute decision kept me out of the running. I blame my low Microsoft Word score.

Then one pantless day sometime in August I got a call from a woman about a job I had applied for. Her voice was semi-muffled so I missed the actual company. All I knew was---I applied somewhere and someone called me back. Progress. I listened '"intently" to the job description (AKA not intently at all because I was still too excited that someone had actually called) agreed when I was suppose to. Enthusiastic, polite all that jazz. One last thing she mentioned---the position would require me to work with adults suffering from a variety of different mental illnesses would I be comfortable with that?

I was still only half paying attention but decided it was best to say yes now, and think over the details later. She set me up with an in person interview at 'The Clubhouse". Thank God. I thought. The company's name that I can Google and figure out what the hell I applied for.

It wasn't until later when I was doing the actual Googling that I got an odd feeling that I had missed something critical. What was the last thing she had mentioned? It felt like I was signing off on a weird verbal contract. Something about…….adults? Who knows. Googling turned up nothing. Google Earth showed me a brick building without signage down a sparse side street in Brookline Village. Was this a scam? Who cares, I got a call back!

The day of my interview I came in still knowing nothing. I walked into the front door and was greeted by a nice woman at the front desk who had her purse on her lap and her legs stretched out. She was talking to an older gentleman in the chair next to her desk. I told her I was here for my interview and she got excited and said she'd let them know. I took a seat and took in my surroundings. It resembled a kind of empty school constructed in the 1980s. Old carpets on the floor. Long empty hallways. There was also a lingering smell of stale cigarette smoke and urine.

Suddenly a large black man came through the front door and sized me up.
  "You gonna be a member here?"
   "Oh… no…. I'm here for an interview"
   "An interview! Oh great. That's great I hope ya get it!"
   "Thank you!"
He walked away and was followed by an elderly black woman with no teeth who scowled at me and started mumbling about her lipstick and white women.

Finally the program manager came over and brought me to the interview. It went well. I was calm and collected on the inside. On the inside I was thinking holy shit what is this place?

 Kristi the program manager was friendly and inviting. She told me a little more about the actual Clubhouse and what it was. It was a day re-hab facility for adults with mental illnesses. They came here  as part of the work ordered day as part of their recovery. It got them out of the house, they got to participate in different programs and they got lunch for $2.00. Sounded neat.

I enthusiastically told Kristi about my research about Deinstitutionalization in College and that paper I wrote one time that I probably got a B on but who needs to know? I had an interest in learning about mental illness didn't I?

Finally Kristi asked me how I felt about driving a 15 passenger van to Cambridge once a week. I immediately flashed back to Christmas at my aunts the year before where I started crying when my sister tried to make me drive her back to Boston. Driving in stressful/new situations was not one of my best talents. But then again----I was close to getting a job…..death by 15 passenger van or job?

"I would feel totally fine with that" I said.

After the interview Kristi took me around on a tour and to meet some of the members. The lounge area was filled with members sleeping on couches and waiting for lunch to be served. Some members were busy at work helping in the kitchen. The Communications and Art unit was abuzz with activity. Members were working on the computer or working on art projects in the back. A woman sat at one of the tables reading food menus and taking down orders.

A tall guy with long curly hair walked up to us wearing giant headphones and holding a discman. He started talking to Kristi then asked what my name was.
"This is Andre" Kristi said
"WHAT?!" The man with the headphones shouted.
"Andre" I told him.
"Oh hullo Andres good to meet you. I want to show you something over here if you'd like to come and see.."
Kristi interrupted him and said I was just here for a tour and that maybe he could show me later.

At the end of our tour Kristi let me know that I'd be coming back for an interview with some of the staff and a few of the members. A round table interview if you will. My relief at almost getting a job trumped my worries and I happily agreed.

I called my sister on the walk home and told her that it seemed a little scary. I didn't know if I was brave enough or confident enough to do this. These people were in various states of mental illness--I wouldn't have a real office and would have to do my work in the Communications and Art unit where that tall guy with the big headphones would be 'showing me stuff". I don't know I told her….I just don't know.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Dark Confession Vol. 1

(A black screen with voices
one seems to come out of the front
one out the back)
'What's the worst thing you've ever done?'
'The worst?'
'Anal beads?"
"No… I guess the worst thing was...I was little--five maybe"
(A cough)
"We had gotten this puppy recently and I loved it. But when we first got it. It ...scared me for some reason. It's weird right? I fucking love dogs. But for some reason this dog at first..made me feel…like I hated it. Like something inside me woke up all of a sudden and it felt this paralyzing fear of suffocation. And this thing inside of me was telling me to do something about it."
(a pause)
"I took a pair of my mother's sewing scissors and I quietly snipped off the very bottom part of my dog's ear. I don't remember much else other than hearing its awful yelp of pain, and maybe some blood. I did it right in the living room while my Dad was watching TV. Just fucking snipped it off like it was paper. I remember the part I cut off being big but I guess it wasn't really. I don't even know if it came off all the way or if it was just a…"
'Piece hanging off?"
"Then what happened?"
"Then the dog and I became the best friends. I loved that dog more than anything. But sometimes I feel like on that day….something bad awoke inside me and tested the waters you know? Like…whatever gives sociopaths their hunger found its way inside me. I think maybe I came very close that day to disappearing.
"But you didn't"
"No. I guess the other thing inside me. The thing that makes me cry when I see a cute dog look at me. That sorry asshole saved me. "
"Are you glad?"
(a pause)
"So what about you? What's the worst thing you've ever done?"
"Killed a guy once."

Tuesday, June 24, 2014


Sometimes people ask me if my tattoo hurt. I tell them no---it kind of felt good in a weird way. Usually after I say this I get those weird scared and awkward faces back in return. They probably think I'm some kind of cutter who feels a great sense of release after hurting themselves. I'm not---I just know what pain is.

In third grade I was home alone and enjoying a steaming hot Cup o' Noodles. I placed the cup between my legs and then reached down to grab the napkin that had fallen onto the floor. The boiling water spilled across my right thigh. It was summer so I was wearing shorts. Boiling water on bare skin. I screamed and fell on the floor crying in pain. So much pain. No one was home. I jumped into the shower with all my clothes on and turned the water on as cold as it would get. I called my sister who was babysitting down the street and she ran up the street holding the baby in her arms. She brought me back to the house and we put aloe on it. It throbbed all night.

The next morning I took off my pajama pants and my skin came off with it. The burn was now a yellow puss filled wound. My oldest sister took me to the doctor where they cleaned it and wrapped it in gauze. A second and a half degree burn.

In seventh grade I was told that my Scoliosis was not getting any better and that I had to wear a brace 24 hours a day. For those of you keeping track that's all the hours of the day. I slept in it. Went to school in it. Sometimes during class I could feel this awful aching right underneath my ribs where the velcro straps were pulled the tightest. It felt like someone pushed their first against my side and never let go.

Once early in the morning I heard my Dad crying to my Mother. I started listening at the exact moment he said, "And Andre doesn't even want to hug me….." I've never told anyone that I heard him say this. He thought I didn't like hugging him because I didn't like him--didn't love him. The truth was, I didn't really like hugging anyone.

When he died, I held his hand until the life left him. I kissed his head--surprised at how quickly it had become so cold and whispered----I love you--- so much.

Sometimes people ask me if my tattoo hurt. I smile and tell just tell them, 'no... not really'.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Ghost Stories

The Voices

Once in the middle of the night, I heard my older sister come home after a night out. I heard the front door open and then close. And then suddenly I heard a great rush of noise. It sounded like 20 friends had suddenly joined her and were now conversing outside. The sounds were loud but no sentences or voices were truly identifiable-- just the low rumble of party chatter. Then a very loud and angry howling began like a baby crying and a girl's voice blared over it all, "YOU HAVE JAMIE'S SHOE. YOU HAVE JAMIE'S SHOE…." And as suddenly as the chaos began----it all stopped.

The next morning I was making breakfast and asked my sister who all those people last night were. She stopped what she had been doing and stared at me.

"You heard it too?"

The Presence

At a sleepover with my friends in third grade we stayed up late talking. Suddenly one of my friends stopped abruptly and asked who in the room was standing up. None of us were.

The Window

When I was in high school and got my license, I would drive my friend Kelley around everywhere. Once we stopped at her house so she could get some things. Her room was on the second floor. After she had been gone awhile I looked up and saw her in the window starring at me. I looked away for a second and then was startled to see that she was already back at my car. I asked her how she got down here so fast. She asked what I meant. I told her that I had just seen her looking out the window. She told me she didn't stop to look out the window.


In my sophomore year of college I was having a very vivid dream. I was in some kind of castle and walking up a spiral staircase when suddenly someone grabbed me and spoke loudly into my ear: "Her name was Kimmy". I woke up back in my dorm room and couldn't breathe. It felt like someone was sitting on top of me. I gasped for air and tried to call out to my friend Jill who lived a few doors down. Then suddenly the weight lifted and I could breathe again.

In Japan they have a word for this-- it's called "Kanashibari" it means Sleep Paralysis. But if you Google it you get this.

Monday, June 2, 2014


I can feel the fear that you carry around and I wish there was... something I could do to help you let go of it because if you could, I don't think you'd feel so alone anymore.

I've always been afraid. Or at least I think I have. I may have been fearless and talkative at one point in my life but mostly I can only remember being afraid. Afraid of going places alone. Afraid of talking to people. Afraid of the doctor. Afraid of men. Afraid of talking in class. Afraid of movies. Afraid of spiders. Afraid of life. 

I suppose it's no surprise that at some point in life I developed an anxiety disorder. It's kind of like when you hear that an infamously out of control celebrity has died. You shrug and say 'it was only a matter of time'. Maybe all my fears and worries pooled together over the years and finally after I turned 20 my body said ENOUGH. And then it all went dark. 

One minute I was enjoying my life--even feeling brave maybe, going out with friends, drinking beer, confidently talking to strangers at college parties... and the next I was reduced to a trembling, nauseous mess. And just like that I lost it all. 

The truth is--- being afraid is very lonely. I try hard not to let anyone know this, but lately it's been harder.

Once when I was in Preschool we played the Farmer in the Dell. One kid would start as the farmer. We'd all sing. Then he'd pick a wife....the wife would pick a child on and on and on....the very last person to be picked is the cheese. When that last person is picked they have to stand alone in the middle of the circle while everybody sings about how the cheese stands alone. I was the cheese. And then I cried.

Sometimes I think I am still the cheese.