I live in a world of spirit.

Each day I am sober is miraculous and terrifying.

Each day I am sober should not be.

I am a ghost who walks and breathes.


I am in the cafeteria of an inpatient rehab that locks its doors at night and lets the residents lie in beds, their bodies flushing dope from their veins while its remnants coil about their hearts, waiting for its freedom to whisper for more.

I smell chlorine and old meatloaf. The walls are pale yellow and covered with miniature murals, paintings upon the painted walls of laughing, smiling people, beautiful frames glued around the murals to make them seem more than they are.

They were painted by former residents.

How many of them are dead now?

How many ghosts walk these halls?

I am speaking to a dozen addicts and alcoholics about what it’s like to be sober. They twitch and stir on their cheap plastic chairs, but some stare at me with eyes as wide as God. I tell them life is better this way—no dope, no alcohol.

I know it is true.

But I feel I am lying.

The man across from me—Chuck—has been sober for years, his body like a whip, every inch of him carved and solid. He tosses black hair out of his face and interrupts me to say his life is wonderful. I nod, knowing that he is lying, that he is miserable.

But he has not always been miserable.

I know from what he suffers.

A dopeless life grinds.

I am out of breath, my heart pounding. I am almost yelling, waving my arms in wild circles, the passion for this thing that is sobriety overwhelming me. I curse dope, curse people who don’t understand, curse the disease, implore these soon-to-be ghosts to speak to me before it is too late.

They clap when I finish speaking. We hold hands together and pray to some rough god I do not believe in. One by one, they shake our hands, tell us how hard the truth has hit them, and walk out the door.

Not a single one asks what to do next.

Chuck and I shake our heads, find the nurse to release us from this prison.

We walk into the dark, rainy parking lot and take off our visitor’s stickers, put up our hoods against the cold of Texas winter, complain about incomes and presidents, taxes and women and our inability to commit suicide, complain about our jobs that pay us well, our bosses who take care of us. We laugh at the pain of those addicts locked away for their own safety.

I weep as I drive home, wondering if I must call a psychiatrist again, slamming my fist against the steering wheel at the thought of more doctor’s offices, more pills that will do unfixable things to my mind and body, that will take from me my creativity, my speech.

I have no choice in this.

My will is not my own.

I will do anything not to go mad again.

The stakes are higher now.

So much to lose.

I will never go back to dope.

I’d rather a bullet to the skull, a plastic bag of helium over the head, rubber bands digging red rings into the flesh of my neck as I pass from this world to the one of ghosts.

What will they do with me, these ghosts who follow me from room to room? What will they do with my spirit when finally it passes to their realm?


My wife is asleep when I get home, the huge two-story house empty and silent, the walls shining white as soft moonlight flows through the great windows in the living room. I must work in the morning, must spend hours and hours completing tasks meaningless to me, work I despise not for what it is, but because it is not this work.

This work I was born for.

I climb the stairs to my office, struggling to keep my eyes open. I have no choice but to write. I cannot live with myself if I do not give to these rough gods their due.

I stare at blank pages and fill them with words and hate what they say.

I read rejection letters and weep and sleep.

I wake to work in my home office at this job I hate. I thank my ghost for keeping me sober each day and giving me this job everyone I know is jealous of, this job that lets me work as I will and sleep in a bit and not commute and wear a robe all day and work at my own pace and choose how I work, this job that is magnificent, that I have not an ounce of gratitude for and feel I never will.

I pray and tell my ghost that it is a bastard, that it has kept me sober only for suffering, a punishment for my sins.

I once had escapes from the world.

Now I have none.

I wonder how many days I can go before I eat a bullet.

Three years ago, I told a girl in a psychiatric facility that my anxiety and depression had been lifted.

“Can I have my mind back?” she asked me, eyes wet and red.

I nodded.

It was true then.

It is not true now.


I get done with work early, another glorious benefit to this job. I open my blinds and look out at the beautiful sunlit world of my neighborhood, at hawks diving through the sapphire sky, at grass green and thriving and children playing in empty streets and the little creek that bubbles behind my house, and I wonder why I cannot be a part of it.

I call a psychiatrist.

I call a therapist.

Things change.

I get serious about exercise. I pray and pray and pray. I use the absurd amount of money I earn from the wonderful job I despise to pay for health care I once couldn’t afford, that 80% of those poor bastards in that rehab couldn’t afford.

My psychiatrist and I sit and speak week after week. I outline in great detail the corruption in my mind. She prescribes me pills. I release my fear that they will steal my mind from me, eat them as I’m told.

My therapist I speak to more often. He speaks to me of Kierkegaard and Sartre and Nietzsche and Frankl. I tell him I know little of them. He speaks to me of the convolutions of thought that lead me to ruin. We speak of my obsessions, my compulsions.

Weeks go by.

I get better.


I have done this before. A dozen times I have done this. I tire of my brain and its idiocy. I tire of doing well, knowing the reason for it, and convincing myself the medication is no longer necessary, that the SNRIs will ruin my creativity. I tire of shutting off every light in my house, checking each lock three times, checking the coffee warmer four, driving away, turning around, unlocking the house, and doing it all again.

I tire of the repetition and my repeated failure to learn.

I venture into the world again, but still I am ill.

My parents take me to dinner at a restaurant that is far too expensive. I do not pay. I tell them their genes are rotten, that they never should have had children. They tell me I am wrong, that I am so smart. I list the diseases they have bequeathed me. They tell me I am too negative, too hard on myself. They change the subject. I let it go, wishing I could be like them, wishing I could see the good.

I wonder at the ghost in my heart, the one who will not let me die, who drives me through this world of spirits, who clings to a life that rarely seems worth the trouble.

I must go on, haunting this broken body, haunting the memories of those I hurt, haunting the ghosts of the dead, haunting those halls of addicts, telling them it will be better one day.

Maybe it will be.

Missy’s Got a Gun

“I don’t want to live in a country that doesn’t allow me to own a gun,” I yell, shoving my chair into the dining table. Rob wears a blank expression like he hasn’t meant to start one more war with me. We’re married liberals who can’t talk about anything political, especially gun control while details of another school shooting are roaring from television speakers in the next room.

“I didn’t mean to…” he starts, dropping his fork, pushing his plate of fish away.

“Yes you did,” I sneer. “You always mean to force me into discussions I don’t want to have. Then, when I disagree with your point of view you’ll say, You’re not thinking clearly, Melissa, or, Melissa, you’re being naive!”

“Okay, so I did mean it.  But surely you can see that guns do more harm than good.  And Jesus, you’re not living in a backward, little, redneck town anymore. It’s West Hollywood!  Get a grip,” he says, reaching up to touch my arm as I jerk it away.

“It disgust me that you can’t hold it in your consciousness that life’s different for women, Rob, that I might actually need the right to own a gun someday. If this country fell under attack, exactly what do you think would happen to women?”

Rob’s head drops. He doesn’t plan to answer.

“Well, I’ll tell you what’ll happen. If we can’t own guns, women will be forced to rely on men for protection. Now, let’s traipse back through history and see how that’s gone for us. You gotta know, even the men you thought were the nicest will expect payment for services rendered!”

“Oh God!  Six shots are going to keep you from being raped?” Rob throws his hands in the air. “It’s always that for you, after all these years,” he says, pulling up an empathetic, daddy face that almost looks genuine with his snow-white hair. It’s bullshit. Rob’s a master role player when his back is up.

“You damn right it’s always that for me! I have a vagina! Any catastrophe that happens in the world has the potential to be so much worse for me. If war broke out, sure you might be killed, but women will be taken and used like toilets! And your sudden benevolent tone after bullying the fuck out of me on the topic makes me sick!”

“Now you’re just being belligerent, Melissa,” he says, rising, leaving the room.

I don’t stop him from leaving because I want to right myself, and I can’t right myself in front of him. Whenever the gun control battle comes up in an amplified, frightening way, Missy, my angry, fifteen-year-old, teenage part of self comes up too, wreaking havoc through my forty something psyche. Missy’s rage sends rooms spinning in my mind. I begin to vibrate from the inside out until I’m covered in hot sweat. Her long-standing feelings of diminishment, and desecration, are much stronger than the feelings of the kind, intellectual person I’ve become after two decades of recovery.   

Gathering my keys, driving to Canters Deli, I’m overwhelmed by my own division. Adult me is having to consider damage control with a spouse, frightened over the reality of another school shooting. While teenage Missy opens a flood gate of memories she holds of our massively large, violent, lunatic mother, and the pearl-handled thirty-eight revolver she owned while we were growing up in the ugliest poverty. 

Missy ached for our mother’s gun to be hers as she watched our mother place the revolver in the glove box of her burgundy Oldsmobile, or at the top of her bedroom closet in a small, tan metal box. 

Missy ached to own the gun because she wanted to point it at our mother, who habitually slapped her face until it lost all feeling, and say, “You’re not such a tough bitch now, are you? Just take one step closer! I’ll show you just who you’ve been fucking with all these years!”  

Missy ached to own the gun because she wanted to wield it at the random men coming in and out of our house who made her feel like she had to step out of her body, to set it aside for awhile, like her body was a pair of pants or a shirt, and say, “I’m going to blow a hole in the center of your chest if you try and take my body! It’s mine! I fucking live in it!”

Missy would sneak the pearl-handled thirty-eight down from its place in the closet when our mother was out, and though she was too delicately framed to raise the weight of the pistol with confidence, she’d practice taking aim with her free hand under the butt of the handle aiming it at different objects in our mother’s bedroom. The bedside lamp. The large metal fan. A clock on the wall that wouldn’t stop ticking. Other times she’d set the gun gently down on our mother’s puke-green bedspread, running her fingers over the cool metal, marveling at the beauty of the pearl. She’d dream of days when she wouldn’t be small, having no way of knowing she’d never get very big…that many things would always feel futile.

Sitting in my Civic in Canter’s parking lot, I see a text from Rob flash on my phone. “Where’d you go?” 

I don’t answer.

I want to get my adult self back to the forefront of my mind and body. I don’t want to live in the shadowy darkness of my past. I feel I need to cry, but I can’t.  My body won’t produce tears when I get like this, and this is another sign for me that the teenager in me, Missy, still has a strong hold. Missy won’t cry if you’re pulling her fingernails out. Her pale-skinned face looks like mine, only it’s hard like the metal of the pistol, and cold to the touch. Her eyes are black disks without my wide range of expressions.

I watch in the short distance a little, old, black lady sitting on a stool on the sidewalk holding her Styrofoam cup up for change. Her lips are moving.  I know she’s singing a gospel hymn because I’ve heard her singing many times before. Watching her, a her I’ve experienced in times when Missy’s been sleeping, by handing her change, or asking how her day’s been, tight bands start to relax around my rib cage. I start to feel more like adult me. I know I’ll soon be able to go into Canters and eat a mountain of rugelach. The cinnamon with nuts are my favorites. The raspberry runs a close second. I’ll get Rob a black and white cookie. I’m not the kind of person who can go home empty handed.  

With my excitement over feeling more like myself, my depression kicks in too.  Missy doesn’t have depression. It’s my old, adult friend, my sobering, my acceptance, my no longer denying in a certain moment something about myself that is true. Spending over half my life in therapy has not defused my teenage self, Missy. I can’t stop her circular, relentless thoughts about the pearl-handled thirty-eight revolver anytime a strident discussion about guns comes up. It doesn’t matter that I’ve made us a professor, a writer, that we’re ambitious, well traveled, successful, living in a different state from our birth, in great comfort, or well liked by a great many people. Protection, protection, protection…it doesn’t mean anything to her.

At home I slip up behind Rob who’s sitting at his computer in his office. I set the bag with the black and white cookie on the desk next to him. I can still hear the school shooting news in an endless loop from television speakers in the other room. The news frightens me, because I’ve  known loss so intimately.  Adult me desperately wishes there were no guns in the world, certainly no automatic weapons.   

“Feeling better?” Rob asks. “You want to talk?  I know you don’t believe me, but I didn’t mean for things to get ugly.”

“I can’t afford to get into it right now,” I say, not wanting to wake Missy after getting her settled down again.

“Fine,” Rob says, flippantly adding, “But you can’t live the rest of your life like someone’s coming for you, Melissa!”

“Why can’t I, and why shouldn’t I?” I ask. My voice is somewhere between firmness and a shout.

“Because you’re living in a more civilized time than the one you were born to!”

“Prove it!” I say through gritted teeth, feeling Missy stir, only slightly.

“I can’t prove it,” he says. “It’s just so! All you can do is count how many years you haven’t been violated against the years you were physically violated, and be reasonable.”

“Reason is for people like you, who can afford it! I’ve never had that luxury!”

“I seriously hope you discuss this with your therapist. I want you to get help!”

The cavalier tone scorches me, “You know what I want you to want for me, Rob?” I seethe, afraid I won’t be able to keep Missy at bay now, but I do.

“What’s that,” he says, turning all the way around to face me with a smirk.

“If there’s ever a time when I’m cornered by a group of men who’re about to rape me, I want you to hope for me that I at least have a thirty-eight revolver in my hand so I may kill the first six men coming at me and watch them die before the seventh man gets to me!”

Rob turns his chair back around, opening the bag with his black and white cookie. I walk away, unable to shove off the last images I hold of Missy running her fingers over the cold metal of the pearl-handled thirty-eight revolver. She’d been fantasizing about what she’d say if she could hold the gun up in the face of  a particular, filthy, middle-aged mechanic, a friend of our mother’s who’d been spending time around our house. Missy was fast running out of ways to avoid him when our mother was out.

Mid fantasy the door to our mother’s bedroom sprang open, slamming into the wall. Missy scrambled to cover the gun with the green bedspread because her first thought was of how our  mother would beat her for having the gun out. But she couldn’t get the spread up from its tight tuck at the foot of the bed. In the same scrambling instant it was coming to her consciousness that it hadn’t been her mother who’d shoved open the door to the room. It was the mechanic.

Missy broke into a cold sweat, looking from the man’s stunned, grizzly face, back to the gun on the bed. With six feet between Missy and the man, seconds of time rolled into one long permanent moment. 

In that interminable moment the man’s face moved from stunned to cautious to jeering, as Missy’s right hand fumbled backwards feeling the cold pearl on her fingers tips.

She could pick up the gun, she thought. She could blow the biggest hole right through the mechanic’s heart, spattering blood all over her mother’s bedroom, just like she’d imagined. 

“Aw, you won’t do it,” the man sneered. “You’re just an itsy, bitsy girl!”

Missy’s teeth chattered wildly as she didn’t know how to make herself take a firm grip on the pearl handle.

Light flashed to darkness, to light, to darkness again. The room shook wildly as though the earth would destroy it from utter distaste. Then there was the scream. The hideous sound that never reached the surface of Missy’s mouth. Where all memory ends, endlessly cycling back to the beginning with our massively large, violent, lunatic mother, and how she once owned a pearl-handled thirty-eight revolver, while we were growing up in the ugliest poverty.