by Lucinda Kempe
Turn it up! The music plays as I drive and they sing of God and love. I never listen to music when I’m sad. I keep the silence close and let it cut me. Today I sing halleluiah and imagine my husband when he was young and wore the sexy French beret I’d bought him. Then when we were lovers. Now, I give him back rubs with my feet. He buys me clothes and brings them to the psychiatric hospital when one of the other inmates steals my pants. Love morphed, changed, not so sexy anymore. Palatable in a different way, but he’d still prefer a blowjob.
I dreamt I had an orgasm but not with my husband. Just me satisfying me. My girlfriend was there but she wasn’t a lover.
I’m the dandy driving, singing to a song I first heard yesterday, sung by a new young band on a hip New York station. I played it for my daughter and her boyfriend who’s her fiancé; they liked it. I convinced them to listen to WFUV my favorite station.
Heading to the grocery, I’m alone. No earbuds. No Kombucha tea. I’ll buy ready chicken, spicy noodle and cook dinner for my husband when he returns tomorrow. Be the first time I cooked since I arose from the hospital. Meatballs and sauce and orgasmic Italian orecchiette. . . but not just yet.
Right now, there’s just me and the car and the song.
Dive right in! You bet I do. Cleaning like I used to clean at Chestnut Street as a kid. Spring tidying in winter. Comforting. Not exactly what the psychiatrist ordered but, it hits the spot. “What are you doing outside of the house with people?” he asked. “Nothing,” I answered. “Not yet.” When you can’t mend the fence, tend the yard. The yard has gotten too damn cold.
So, I fill the house with flowers – in my daughter’s room a sweet pink bouquet, the den a pot of blooming white tulip bulbs, and the blue and white vase in the kitchen holds red carnations mixed with baby’s breath.
“More flowers?” My husband asks. He repeats the story of the Greek comedian whose wife buys flowers daily. The man is cheap and tells her if she added up how much she spent on the flowers she could buy an apartment.
How many will it take? How many are there?
He didn’t buy them. I did and I paid for them by listening to the anecdote. Flowers are the remedy for love.
A lagoon of suds greets me in the basement. Cat hair galore gallops on the rugs. Tomatillo stains cha-cha on the tablecloth.
“Stop all this mad cleaning,” my daughter cautions. “You should get a canine.”
Instead, I make my almost thirty-year-old son’s bed every day.
I love it. More busywork to do.
Clean the silver. Dust the chandelier. Spit in the spittoon.
Let your hair go gray.
Fuck it all for another day.
A swat team was brought in? How I got from our house to the Stony Brook psychiatric ward I can’t tell. I have no recollection. None at all. How I got my clothes, shampoo, hand crème, and pantiliners in the hospital is a mystery. Electroconvulsive Therapy fries your memory even if helps depression. I had nine treatments.
I didn’t like the ECT doctor or his smarmy, over eager, “How are you today” every time we were rolled into the therapy room. He charged our insurance $2500.00 per treatment. I felt like a guinea pig and I have no idea who decided to sign me up for the tune-up, but there I was flat on my back with the nurse searching for a vein in my sixty-one-year-old arms. Weeks later, I have a yellowed bruise from all that poking.
My psychiatrist warned me I could have a relapse if I discontinued too soon. So be it. I decided to try just the meds, and avoid the triggers that set off the depression before – isolation, too much booze, and catastrophizing my memoir I imagined was a failure.
The doctor suggested psychotherapy. Next time I visit him at headquarters I’ll tote along the sixty-eight-thousand-word tome, tell him – I spent ten years writing about my life with my dysfunction-junction-what’s-your-unction family in a broken-down house in the Garden District. I’ll be guillotined before I go over that with anyone again. Not even Jesus Christ if he begged me. Be worse than the third-degree. I lived it. The thought of publishing it made me cry. The publishing industry are motherfuckers – they want twenty-five-page book proposals of what you’re going to write for them before you write it. Then tell you what to write.
Maybe I wrote it to let it go. Maybe I just needed a break or maybe I wanted the world to love me and tell me I was okay.
“Wash your hands. Wash your hands,” I say to my son when he comes in.
I’m like a needle stuck in a record’s groove always goading. My son stands with wet hands and asks for dinner. I cut up his meat, inquire if wants juice. He’s near thirty and I still mother him as if he’s a child. Maybe to compensate for the bad mothering I did when he was small.
Then I hand him a story I said I’d never publish. It’s nonfiction and concerns his night in Stony Brook psyche when he was in his late teens. In it, I juxtapose my own teenage visit to a psyche hospital in Mandeville, Louisiana a few years after my father’s suicide. My son has various psychiatric ills and has been under the care of a psychiatrist since 1999, the same doc who’s taking care of me now. I picked up my son from the hospital, not my husband. My son delivered me to Stony Brook for my recent four weeks stay.
He leaves the story on the table.
I didn’t jog today. Spent the day reexamining my old work – reams of it. Drank a cappuccino late, picked up my daughter from her job. A dude swaggered ahead of me – slim hipped, tight jeans, cowboy boots and long-black popstar hair. He didn’t notice me, but I wanted him to. Old habits, lusting after something unobtainable, a fix that wouldn’t give me what I need, but oh would it make me high.
The next day my son is leaving for work.
“Pills! Pills!” I call out, prompting him, yet again.
“Did you take yours?” he replies.
It’s the best piece I have ever written. I wrote it years ago. I wrote it to survive. It has a great title – Dowels and Dovetails. The end uplifts.
Lucinda Kempe’s work has been published or is forthcoming in Elm Leaves Journal, Midway Review, Bending Genres, The Southampton Review, New World Writing, and Summerset Review. A 2018 Stony Brook M.F.A. graduate, her narrative nonfiction, Sam Soss Had Sex, was a semi-finalist in the 2016 Under the Gum Tree’s inaugural contest. Wigleaf long-listed her micro fiction in 2018 and 2019.
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What surprising, fascinating stuff can you tell us about the origin, drafting, and/or final version of the “ECT Series”? This series was inspired by Jim Harrison’s Letters to Yesenin. Harrison was in a deep depression and suicidal when he wrote it. Letters is a series of one-page prose poems to the Russian poet Yesenin who hanged himself. My father was a poet and a paranoid schizophrenic. He hanged himself. Unlike Letters, these weren’t written to anyone particular but rather to an imaginary reader, who perhaps suffers from depression. I have had depression since I was a teenager. Depression is a mental illness that can kill if we aren’t vigilant. This is first writing I have done since my hospitalization late last year. These flashes were birthed in a writing group called Hot Pants. I have been writing in a diary since 1973, the year before my father’s death. Words have soothed me since I was a little girl reading A.A. Milne’s When I was Six, one of my first beloved books. Words sooth me still. They save me.
What surprising, fascinating stuff can you tell us about the origin, drafting, and/or final version of the “ECT Series”?
This series was inspired by Jim Harrison’s Letters to Yesenin. Harrison was in a deep depression and suicidal when he wrote it. Letters is a series of one-page prose poems to the Russian poet Yesenin who hanged himself. My father was a poet and a paranoid schizophrenic. He hanged himself. Unlike Letters, these weren’t written to anyone particular but rather to an imaginary reader, who perhaps suffers from depression. I have had depression since I was a teenager. Depression is a mental illness that can kill if we aren’t vigilant.
This is first writing I have done since my hospitalization late last year. These flashes were birthed in a writing group called Hot Pants. I have been writing in a diary since 1973, the year before my father’s death. Words have soothed me since I was a little girl reading A.A. Milne’s When I was Six, one of my first beloved books. Words sooth me still. They save me.
Check out the write-up of the journal in The Writer.
Matter Press is now offering private flash fiction workshops and critiques of flash fiction collections here.
Poetry, creative nonfiction, and fiction/prose poetry submissions are now OPEN. The submission period closes June 15, 2020; submit here.
09/07 • Paige Welsh
09/09 • Avital Gad-Cykman
09/10 • Amy Bobeda (6 of 6)
09/14 • Julianne Di Nenna
09/16 • Joey Kim
09/17 • Erika Kanda
09/21 • Brittany Oppenheimer
09/23 • Pamela Painter