Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Stephen Wack Smells of The Leaking Battery Shoebox, Alligator Skin Retainers, Wet Puzzle Pieces, Lana Del Ray, Valentine's Day, and Redemption Through Flawed Design

Home. This is the place that Mom and Greg call home.

Squeezed between the identical one hundred and seventy something stucco clones inhabiting this suburb, each family identifies their home by the same intrinsic knack possessed by new mothers who can enter a hospital’s nursery and pick out their offspring from a cribbed line-up of slippery, standardized, paper white, blank-eyed babies solely by the sound of their cry or the smell of their shit. I identify ours by starting at the third STOP sign and counting down twenty-six houses on the right, and when we pull into the driveway suddenly I remember why I’m here:

Home is where I go when my brain goes bad. Sour. Acidic.

I dared Mom. I dared her to open up my head, to take a tentative whiff and see if I don’t smell exactly like that shoebox of old, leaking batteries left forgotten on top of the fridge in our garage.

And she did. So here I am.
I want to say I’m used to it. I want to carry on this flawed analogy and say that my bad brain reeks of black pepper and vinegar the same way my balls do after a therapeutic, eight-mile run. A smell I’ve grown okay with, more or less habituated to over time, because it’s mine:

“It’s my bitter odor. It’s my sour milkfarts.”

And so the true bitterness of it all doesn’t really become apparent until someone else comes in contact with your headspace, cups their mouth and grows teary-eyed, tells you in the politest way possible:

“You need fucking help.”

Mom has been breathing in my foul attitude for the whole car-ride home. When we get to the house, she advises me to take a hot shower to clear my head. I use their guest bathroom because to use any other bathroom doesn’t feel right. Beneath the bathroom sink I find enough complimentary hotel soaps, lotions, shampoos and conditioners stashed away to trade out in exchange for another one-night’s stay at a Holiday Inn., one with an indoor pool and an exercise room and a continental breakfast buffet of powdered eggs and sausage disks reminiscent of what I was once served in a Cobb County holding cell amongst thirty other men, young and drunk and still of a brain fresh enough to consider myself someone above jail food because I am a levelheaded, college-educated, white kid from the suburbs, judging this older black dude who’s just shamelessly pissed all over the toilet seat in the same cramped room that everyone else is eating, this dude who points to the plastic cafeteria tray at my feet and asks if I’m through with that, my smartass wanting nothing more than to ask if he’s going to wash his hands first, but instead I just smile a toothy, white-guilt smile and can’t resist the subconscious, self-righteous pat on the back as I slide my tray of mandarin oranges and synthetic eggs across the concrete floor over to him, questioning whether this here might constitute as some yearly tax write-off under an act of charity. . .

Likewise beneath the sink, stuffed in the back corner, I find my old retainer. Black, plastic, jagged as alligator skin. And, for whatever reason, I decide to press it back up into my mouth, force it in just to see how fucked up over these last few years my once-perfect teeth have become.

And it’s bad. Really, really bad.
When I unhinge its grip, the roof of my mouth is so bruised I can taste its bloody skin caving in like a waterlogged tent, wondering if the roof might then spring a leak big enough to drip pink, bitter drops of brain down onto my tongue, wondering what sort of person I might be now if, back when I was still young, I’d been given a retainer fitted for my brain, something to preserve that innocent, pre-adolescent headspace I possessed back when I still thought the world was big and the mall was cool and the sound of ice-cream trucks didn’t give me the fucking creeps, back before I learned that every food is a poison and every store is a sweatshop and every person is simultaneously hurting and suburban grownups don’t really watch reality TV and drink bottled beer because they like the taste, they do this to self-medicate, to systemically detach themselves from the dreads of day-to-day living, or else Mom and Greg would still eat and talk at the dinner table, and the fridge in the garage would instead be stocked with malted milkshakes and pouches of Capri Sun. . .

The showerhead starts to scream after I’ve been in here for too long, which I have no excuse for. Ever since my last psychotic break when I awoke at two A.M. and shaved my body down, head-to-toe, there’s really no more hair left to lather, rinse, repeat. But I’ve been in here for about twenty minutes now, and while an alternative me—one insightful enough to have worn his brain retainer since before hitting puberty knocked loose all former sanity—might still be lingering in the shower amongst the most vile and vivid of all childish imaginations, seated on the shower floor, crisscross applesauce, yanking out sticky globules of forsaken progeny that refuse to float nor circle the drain, there is now the paranoid-parent prospect that this bad brain of mine has gone worse, has macgyvered that curled metal wire of my retainer into some janky weapon of self-destruction as Mom and Greg stand outside the bathroom door, deliberating whether or not to pick the lock and risk barging in to find their son naked and depraved, or otherwise dead. . .

But I haven’t jerked off in months. When I turn the shower off, water droplets bead along my hairless body like I’m made entirely of wax. I skirt a towel around my waist and move to the guestroom, where the evidence of my last intimate one-on-one affair, way back in December, still exists as an inscrutable stain atop the wood finish of the guest dresser, its origins dating back to Christmas morning when my brain aroused me awake in the dead of holy night and refused to fall back asleep, prompting me to eventually get out of bed and stand barefoot among cardboard boxes and Scotch tape and rolls of gift wrap illuminated in moonlight to jerk off before this dresser onto a Kohl’s receipt for a crockpot that Mom would later have to return for store credit, only to wake up hours later to find the receipt paper and my jizz then fused to the dresser’s wood, picking off with my nails as much as I could, my fingers stinking of sour, rotting progeny all throughout unwrapping presents. And even now, however many months later, this receipt is still visible. Preserved like a fossil beneath a yellow, hardened tar pit of cum, it exhibits a barcode that you might scan to learn the price to pay for having a bad brain you’ll most likely pass onto your future children, and the price scanner reads:



Find me in real life
at a coffee shop
bald and still kind of drunk from day drinking and
on the utter verge of
crying in public
crying like a
babyboy fucktard
but not because I’ve just dumped a
Styrofoam bucket of
scalding hot coffee right onto my balls
down on my knees
shrouding the floor in paper napkins
volunteering myself to mop it all up because
it’s my life that’s a mess
not yours, pretty barista,
who I’ve just tipped
over thirty percent for
handing me a coffee cup that’s rim
must’ve been designed to
fit one and
only one plastic lid in
this whole God forsaken place
which is just riddled with awkward talks
divided by
even more awkward pauses between two
obviously mismatched souls whose
only common denominator is
feeling lonely and hormonal enough to
still meet up for their
Tinder date to
see whether this incompatibility of
theirs might just be
overcome with enough drinks to
push and force and fuse their bodies together like
two wet puzzle pieces
in hopes that they might lock onto one another and
never let go—
but they do let go
because it’s how we’ve been designed:
loose tops on hot fluid-filled bottoms and
these days I’m losing my mind like I’m
losing my house keys and
losing my hair on
purpose on
pure impulse on
Valentine’s day
when I shaved my body down
in one symmetrical line
in order to
prove to
myself that I still held some means of
only to
recognize in the mirror immediately after that
I’d actually just lost it all.

Find me in real life
still at a coffee shop
less drunk but still totally bald and seriously on
the absolute verge of
crying but
not because I’m secretly listening to
Lana Del Rey
who likewise
definitely has some major daddy issues and
not because Mom is
getting remarried in June to a
quiet, compliant, well-designed store mannequin named Greg and
I’m so sorry, Mom, but I’m gonna have to
skip out on us
meeting up for lunch this afternoon because I
can no longer stand to
discuss the wedding with you over and
over and
over again
potato chips and Diet Coke and Publix subs
even though I know you’ll still go
alone and
you’ll still stand in line so
overcome by
what to order by
what to get
you’ll start touching at
your stomach every few seconds
wondering how another inch of
just one additional pickle
might just fill you up to
see yourself become something hideous in
your wedding dress
wondering what it’s even worth to be
in love
with a man who must be
so mentally defective, diluted, idiotic, insane
as to
find even the slightest hint of
beauty in
this decrepit fleshy temple you’ve inhabited for
so long that
your skin now sits on
you like thirty-five billion cells of a
wondering if you might just call the
whole thing off or
otherwise tear
your  w h o l e   f  u  c  k  i  n  g    b  o  d  y     a   p   a   r   t         .

Find me in real life
at a coffee shop
still bald and still ugly but now profusely sweating in
the men’s bathroom and
just milliseconds away from hysterically crying at
this urinal where I am
hiding from this nineteen-year-old girl who
has just walked through the front door who
I don’t actually know at all but
have still somehow
madly in love with or
something but at
least still have enough residual
self-control to
                                                                            stay the fuck away from her
unlike one of the other regulars here
the guy with the Red Stripe who
is reciting god-awful poetry out loud at
the stall next to me and who
is a registered sex offender
but still somehow gets away with
behaving like a
total dickhole despite
everybody here already seeming to know about his
having sex with
given that he has a tattoo of
the “Child Love Online Media Activism” logo of
big hearts scissoring
little hearts branded like a nape of
pride right onto his
so fucking chokeable neck and
yet nobody says a thing
because it’s how we’ve been designed:
tight-lipped until
the most inopportune moment to
spill out our guts all over
the floor and
oh God I am crying I am
crying I am crying
right here in
the bathroom at a coffee shop I am
crying I am
crying I am
crying like how I’m going to
cry when Mom tells me she’s too fat before the wedding
crying like how I’m going to
cry when Hillary Clinton wins the democratic nomination
crying like how I’m going to
cry when I
shave my head again
crying like how that four-year-old child must’ve
cried when she was sexually offended over and
over and
over again and
maybe never stopped
crying since
crying like the exact opposite of
all I held in
when I first heard that Dad was dead and
now the pedophile’s hand is on my shoulder and
he’s asking me if I’m okay and
I bet I get
really drunk before reading this poem and
I bet I sweat
really bad while reading this poem just as
much as
I am sweating now while writing this poem and
I am crying in public, you guys, God damnit,
I feel so stupidly human sometimes
I can’t stand it—
how inherently flawed I’ve been designed.

Stephen Wack is a recent college graduate from the University of Georgia. He recently self-published his first chapbook "scalpy," an auto-biographical collection of prose and poetry detailing his six-month trial and error(s) of withdrawal from cold-turkey quitting one's anti-depressant medication.  The majority of his free time is happily absorbed in reading, writing, and slumming it around town with his dog, Ernie.

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