When I was a child and had nightmares, I would sometimes summon up the courage necessary to wake up my parents in the dead of night and whine at them.

More frequently, I would lay in my bed and wheeze “Mom?” so quietly that I could scarcely hear it, and then steadily increase its volume until it had sufficiently annoyed my father – not my mother – to come and investigate. It was rarely my mother because she is a strange sleeper. It’s wrong to call her a “heavy” sleeper, even though she’s slept right through house-shaking thunderstorms and the nocturnal mewlings of her children.

Because, you see, if you so much as breathe in the proximity of my sleeping mother, the shifting air-waves will trigger a reptilian fear response and the woman will begin become at once enraged and terrified. This stage lasts about 10 seconds, after which time she descends back into the night-coma we generously call sleep.

I was a kid. My parents were adults. A fundamental law of the universe is that adults beat nightmares, and so I wanted to sleep in their bed whenever I was afraid that vampires or witches or The White Thing would try to eat me, walk past a door, or simply stare unpleasantly at me. But my parents were no fools. I was their third child, and a sharing a bed with a child is a damn good way to get woken up twelve times before dawn.

So instead, I would sleep on the floor beside their bed. And stare into the Abyss.

The Abyss was the black font of horrors that was formed by my parents’ elevated bed and the carpet. My parents’ bed is no more than a few feet wide, but the Abyss stretched on forever. During the day, the space beneath their bed was full of boxes that contained Not-Toys and so I didn’t care about them. At night, though, the inky well of eternity swallowed them and put horrors in their place.

I did not have a monster under my bed. I actually could sleep quite comfortably there. But there were monsters under my parents bed. That’s where all the monsters were. And my parents, in their sense of self-preservation, bade all their children to face their nightmares by literally planting them on the ground and forcing them to stare the horrors in the face.

It’s a lot harder to appreciate this when you’re seven.

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August 21, 2015 · 2:44 pm

Horror

I remember very few of my nightmares, though I know I had them. From among that number, one stands out as the most terrifying scene I have ever concocted for myself.

There is a hill, cartoonishly steep and solitary among a grassy plain, with a single tree at its peak. The tree is bare, but its branches are many and cruelly bent. It is night. Things are awash in moonlight but the sky is clogged with clouds. Embedded in the base of the hill, there is a harsh metal door with a small window showing a yellow-lit room.

A white thing moves across the window.

And then I basically shit myself.

I have no idea why it is so scary. The white thing doesn’t do anything hostile to me. The environs are less cheery than I’d like, to be sure, but the entire experience was just pervaded with this sense of total dread that I knew where I was to be a Bad Place, and that white thing to be a Bad Thing. Worse, the Bad Thing.

I never had a repeat of that dream. I’ll have repeats of several dreams, but never that one. The Green Ranger toy I had getting gored upon a spinning drill (a surprisingly bloodless affair) was a show that played on repeat in my dreams. In it, I was another Ranger Toy (dreams are terrible at letting the dreamer look at himself; I have no idea which Ranger toy I was), and we were trying to jump as high as we could upon my bed. One one particularly grand lead, Rita Repulsa fired a drill and it caught the Green Ranger in his descent.

He landed, stared at me with the black, featureless visor worn by all Rangers, and slowly fell apart into a mute heap of green and dirt. I don’t know where the dirt came from. But then the drill kept going and came for me.

And then I woke up. That this dream caused no fear and white-thing-moves-across-window terrified me speaks to how utterly Bad the white thing must have been.

I had waking fears as well, though these were uniformly supernatural where they did not concern earning the ire of my parents. My parents, though good and caring examples of the role, were like many parents in their ability to somehow be cloaked in an aura of fear that make children hesitant to annoy them. My fears at my young age involved vampires and witches.

Vampires, to the best of my youthful knowledge, could not fly. Therefore, they would have to come into my room by some other method, the most readily available of which was its door. My door creaked. It became my defense. I was a deep sleeper as a child until I adopted this fear of vampires. Where I got it, I don’t know. Over the course of a small eternity (which translates from child’s time into about a month in the real world), I became a light one. I awoke at the shifting of my dog, my father’s plodded steps to get dressed for work at 4am, a particularly forceful gust of wind. Because if the vampires were coming in, the door would creak, I would wake up, and then…

Well, I never really got to what came after “and then.” But I would wake up at least, and that I suppose would persuade the vampires that this particular child was not to be fucked with.

Against witches, however, my defenses were few. But the danger they posed was of a different sort. Vampires employed a particular strategy with consistent results: dead folk. I understood witches in a more ambiguous sense. They did bad things. What those bad things were, I had no idea. But they were bad and they were to be feared.

There was a tree in my front yard which, viewed in winter through my window from my pillow, looked scary. All I could see from that angle were a black sky and twisted branches slashed with the yellow of a streetlight. So as I waited for vampires to burst through my door, I would lay on my back and stare unblinkingly out the window. Because I knew that if I did not, witches would rise on their brooms and stare at me through the glass.

Nothing else. No spells. No toads. No cackling. Stripped of a comprehensive list of possibilities as I had with vampires, my greatest fear involving witches is that they would stare at me.

The vampires had consequences I understood, but they did not frighten me so much as the witches or the White Thing. It is easy to say that I was simply frightened by “the unknown.” The unidentified potentials of the witch, or the mysterious nature of the White Thing, may lend credence to this. But this, I feel, strips the emotion of its power. Fear is not a rational thing, not always. I did not fear these things because I knew little about them. I simply feared them. I feared them because all that I felt, all that I saw in the trees, the streetlights, the hill, filled me with it and my only response was to shudder, stare, and wait.

That, I think in my uninitiated literary-virgin mind, is how good horror is written.

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Like a Dog?

I’m colorblind. It has permitted me to learn some wonderful lessons about other people, chiefly that no one will ever remember that I’m colorblind.

Some years back, I went to the opthamologist to get my first pair of glasses. Though this was the summer before my first year of college, the doctor was a family friend known – and visited in his professional capacity – for years. I sat there as he flipped through a little book for what is certainly the eighth time we’ve done this dance and he asked me to name colors. Red. Blue. Orange. Whatever. This is an obsolete rite, but formalities must be observed.

The test finished. He looks to me and sighs. Gently, he rested the book on the counter and sat in his dool. His hands hung between his knees, separating only to take his glasses off so that he can look at me unimpeded. I’ve known this man for years, but for as many times as I’ve seen that book, this has never been a stage in the process.

“Sean,” he says with all the sobriety of the grave.

“Yeah?”

“You know you’re colorblind, right?”

“Yeah.”

He perked up pretty quick. “Oh, really?”

“Yeah, since I was born.”

You’d think I’d just relieved him of his worldly burdens .”Oh, God, i thought I’d have to be the one to tell you!”


There are a few questions that I receive once the secret comes (back) out:

1. Have you always been colorblind?

A decent question, I guess. Maybe it opens up a lot of philosophical investigations of experience and knowledge; would I know if I became colorblind, or would I simply think things look different? That’s not usually their goal, though, and most people asking this question are more concerned with:

2. How do you live?

As though I had at some point been a normal person and now, in a cruel turn of fate, I have lost all joy and color from my life. I am doomed to walk through rows of gray and black (or maybe it’s navy blue) clothes on racks, to blast through monochromatic stoplights, to be unimpressed by the shades of autumn, and to – in the forlorn and pitying words of a friend – never see Christmas. Just grays. Because those must be what I see; I’m colorblind. And this is where they make an understandable leap to:

3. Does that mean you see like a dog?

I don’t know how dogs see, though I’m pretty sure they see in color. Just differently than humans. So I suppose the answer to that question is yes? This usually elicits either giggles or coos of sympathy. I’ll take my attention where I can get it. We all get our kicks somewhere.

I can see colors perfectly fine, as far as I’m concerned. My friend Kelly is convinced I’m not actually colorblind; I just never properly learned my colors in grade school. Some get muddled together and I’ll have a hell of a time distinguishing some from others depending upon their shades and contexts, but on the whole I get by just fine. I wear a lot of jeans, a lot of grays, a lot of blues, and a lot of blacks. I even have some brown and green clothes, just to shake things up a bit. Sometimes, on very rare occasions following some arcane rite, I’ll wear red.

However, the concept of colorblindness is sufficiently foreign to most that many are prepared to view it as some more deserving handicap. People are very willing to take design projects from me, fearing I might turn my cone-deficient eye upon them. I can freely ask for helps on projects that I would otherwise be expected to handle myself (“I just want to check that the colors used match up with those on the chart key here.”), swiftly turn any clothing critique into a laugh, and make compelling arguments that I should never, ever, be made to participate in the painting of anything and certainly not any part of a house.

When I was in college, I lived with a good friend named Mike, from Rhode Island. Mike was an enormous jackass, but he was hilarious about it and that was good enough. His family came for a visit some slow weekend and took us out to dinner. I, a college student glamorizing poverty, sucked down every plate of free food these people put in front of me. They were kind. Fools, but kind. And I, a hungry pit.

Mike’s grandmother was a kindly looking woman with plenty of interest in the affairs of others. Through the course of conversation, it came to light that I was colorblind. She asked all three questions in her most caring tone with the same smile I’m damn sure she offered the dying and the lame. Bless her heart. I milked that compassion cow for all it was worth, and it was worth at least some tiramisu for dessert.

We piled back into Mike’s fathers car and make the climb back up the hill towards our dormitory. Here, we would be released to laze in greasy respite as our bodies unhappily processed what we’d shoved into them. It was sunset. Autumn. New England. Trees were ablaze with color: golds, oranges, reds, all illuminated by shafts piercing the clouds.

I was seated beside Mike’s grandmother. Here, she took my hand. She pat it and tutted.

“I know you can’t see this, but it’s beautiful.”

With that, she looked out the window and I rode in silence as Mike threatened to vomit up his dinner in a fit of body-shaking giggles.

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Stationary Run-Away

My parents are lovely people. But they were forgetful and I was small. They had a habit of losing me not because I’d run away, but because I had remained entirely where I already was and they’d simply gotten distracted by other things. Three kids can do that to you sometimes.

The first time, I never even left my bedroom. My bedroom was a cozy place with a very small radiator running the length of one wall. My bed sat parallel to and against this wall, leaving a small gap. A perfect size for a small child. I hated naps then as a matter of principle, but i cared a lot less about them once I actually conked out. But I was an energetic sleeper and a deep one. I often rolled about without waking up.

So this time I rolled with into the gap and stayed peacefully asleep.

My mother, I am told, came to wake me up and found nothing but an open window. Cue horror.

I live in a small town, and mostly everyone knew my dad. Including lots of police officers. As I slept in blissful rest, the neighborhood came alive in search of me. Police combed the streets. People shouted my name. Mothers fretted. Husbands did the same. I snored.

Two hours into the makings of a decent Lifetime movie, my sister decided to look in my room. She looked in the closet and found nothing. The toybox – I did have a habit for sleeping in there too – , nothing. Then she decided to look on the other side of the bed, in the gap.

Ta da.

The second time was in a firehouse. My father was a volunteer fireman and every parade, the firehouse would send some men and trucks to trundle along at a snail’s pace behind whatever marching band or karate school went before them. I hate parades. I’ve hated them ever since they stopped stoning the onlookers with candy because, really, what other point is there to parades if not to choke to death on free Tootsie Rolls?

In the firehouse, there was the truck bay, the meeting hall, and the lounge. The lounge had a TV. At whatever single-digit age I was, that meant that the lounge was my Mecca to which I made pilgrimage. Yea, I did prostrate myself before the altar of Bugs Bunny and worship His name. They had a comfy couch. I sank into it if I sat in the right spot.

My Dad prepped the trucks for their parade duties and told me – in no uncertain terms – that I was to wait in the lounge until they were ready. Then they would come for me and I’d get to ride in the firetruck. If I was good, I’d get to make the siren go WAOOO-WAOOO-HAHHH-HAHHH. There is no higher honor.

So there I sat. And there I waited.

I knew time had passed because I started watching Power Rangers and the episode ended. Then the next episode. And the one after that. But there was no noise from the truck bay. Obviously, they hadn’t left yet. Dad had told me that he’d come for me before they did, and it hadn’t yet occurred to me that parents did not maintain an Akashic record in their heads. So I watched another Power Rangers show and, just as the rangers celebrated their victory at Angel Grove high school, I decided I was thirsty.

I was small and the bar with the sink in it was high. My Dad was big. So I went looking. There were no trucks in the truck bay. Odd. But there was the meeting hall in the back with bathrooms. Maybe he was there. He was not. I did my big boy piddles and returned to the truck bay. Still no trucks. If food could magically appear in the refrigerator when I had gone away, it followed that trucks would abide by the same principle. But, no trucks. I was not afraid at this point. I knew the firehouse pretty well; I liked the smell. It had Power Rangers.

Maybe they were outside. I stepped into summer, but the door was heavy and my arms thin. I let it shut. This was my introduction to automatic locks.

Now, I was afraid. The world was big and the Power Rangers were far away. I have been told I handle stress well, though. I hid behind a car and sat on the concrete. Dad always came back when he other places. He’d come back to this one too.

I had no Power Ranger shows with which to measure time. All I know is that some passed and I was thirsty by the time a strange car pulled up to the firehouse. A woman stepped out of it – I remember she had black hair, maybe to her shoulders, and a pleasant face I wanted nothing to do with – and called my name. This was a stranger. Strangers, as kids are taught, are a Bad Thing.

I hid behind the car and glared at her. Never has a child looked at something with such hateful distrust. She introduced herself. Her name sounded like one my Dad had said before. She looked nice enough. I was thirsty. In retrospect, it is unhealthy for a child to get into a car with someone they barely know. But I have lived a blessed life. The woman buckled me into the backseat and drove me into the Over There, which now understand is called Milford and is ten minutes from my house.

There was a parade! We parked and got out of the car and I heard WAOOO-WAOOO-HAHHH-HAHHH. I knew that sound. She was big and I was small, so getting away from her was an easy matter of just running between people’s legs. I stood at the side of the road, watched the parade, and waited.

A strong hand fell on my shoulder and I looked up at the black pillar of a police officer blotting out the sun.

He asked me my name. I said it. He sighed and said “You got a lot of people worried about you.” This meant nothing to me. I asked for water.

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My New Haircut

I was an ugly child.

I accept this. Not in the sense that I’ve made Zen-like peace with the matter, but much like how one looks back upon the ruin of a booze-filled night, sighs, and cleans it up. I was not ugly by virtue of genetics, but because I was a teenager and naturally believed myself to be above such pedestrian concerns as hygiene. I turned these terrible habits into good ones by the time I went to college. But some remained.

This was apparent in many places – pasty skin dotted with red pimples, lonely strands of a ‘beard’ that stood vigil on my chin – , but few more obvious than my hair. I showered begrudgingly and was convinced that growing my hair long enough would allow me, given the appropriate shadows, lighting, and alignment of Saturn’s moons, look like the frontman of a band. I had an enormous crush on him. For years, I kept a piece of a towel he throw into the audience of the only concert I’ve ever been to. It fit into a slot in my wallet.

I did not look like the frontman. My hair did not perform the appropriate waves and bouncy routines that were advertised by my imagination. I was conscious of this, despised it, despaired over it, but lived on. We all have our crosses to bear.

In my freshman year, I lived on a floor of quads: each room housed four guys. The roster of my room changed several times, keeping only myself and George – one of the most muscular and caring people I’ve yet known – as constant. Across from me lived other people, one of whom we shall call David. David played lacrosse and was gorgeous. Other people would disagree. I also assume they routinely engage in the slaughter of puppies. David had roommates whose names I don’t remember; they were important because they were of relation to David. There was another lacrosse player who was more handsome that David, but whose charm suffered tremendously whenever he opened his mouth. David – to my besotted little brain – was as kind as he was handsome, clever as he was strong. David fed stray kittens out of the goodness of his heart and probably had plenty of gay friends in high school he helped gain confidence and friendship, always extending an open hand and heart. All of this I gleaned from the single “hi” we would exchange once a month when fate saw us pass in the hall.

For the better part of a year I swooned over David from across the hall.

In this year I also met my friend who we’ll call Kim. Kim was a no-bullshit girl from Maryland. Kim was the girl in middle school who loved horses, grown up to still love horses and walk with unshaken confidence. She had a marvelous grip on her life of which I remain envious. Kelly and I met at the campus LGBTQ organization and became fast friends. She had horse-teeth and smiled brightly. I liked her. She lived on the floor below me and dispensed advice.

In February of my freshman year, the gay organization on campus was due to host a slam poet. We were expecting a decent crowd and I, after much cajoling from my mother and other members of my social circle who had an interest in ridding themselves of the nightmare-inducing cruelties of my hair, decided I would get a haircut. I couldn’t very well keep the hair with new gays prowling around.

Kelly went with me and talked the hairdresser through what I thought would be a good look. I am traditionally terrible at telling hairdressers what I want my hair to look like. It’s not a language I’m fluent in. Each time I go, I do the pointy-talky dance and hope they understand. It turns out good and they tell me what commands to give unto my next hairdresser. I leave, forget, go back in some time later and so the wheel turns. Kelly got me a very short new hairstyle.

I left the salon and stepped into the sunlight, loving that my new hair looked good and loathing that it had ever looked so bad. I am on top of the world. A new man! A conqueror! The future laid before me, fruitful and fun. We returned to Kelly’s room. She had known of my endless and eternal love for David since we first met. She caught my making the face of a hungry wolf at his retreating backside. Mea culpa. My boyfriend caught me making the same face recently at a young father in my state’s science museum. Some things never get old/.

So we returned to Kelly’s room and I began to gush about David. Kelly had long since tired of hearing me talk about that damn guy, so when I said – as I had said many times before in idle fantasy – that I would inform him of my undying love, she returned “Do it.”

Well, I had a new haircut. I felt good. The signs were all there.

I marched out of Kelly’s room – had I turned to say goodbye, I would have seen the pallor descending over her face – and marched upstairs. I went to my room and put on a new shirt. George and our new roommate Billy were there. We said nothing, but they knew. In each door of a quad was a peephole. I had my audience.

I stepped across the hall and knocked. David answered. “Hi.” Meant to be.

I asked if we could speak for a moment. He agreed and let me in. I’ve seen movies like this. My mother would approve of none of them.

The door closed at my back. They were heavy things and thudded when they shut. David – the poor creature – stood and waited. He must have known. I am not a subtle man.

I said, and will forever remember, these words. “So, I like you. I think you’re attractive and nice. I’ve been wanting to say that for a while and figured, well, I’ll do it now. So, yeah.” I clapped my hands together and rubbed their palms. “Well, I’m going to go now.”

And so I did. Back across the hall and into my room where George stood solemn. I had no hair to hide the redness in my face. George sighed, patted my shoulder, and said I was dumb as shit with the biggest balls. I have received no higher praise.

David and I never spoke again outside of passing “hi”s in the hall. In my sophomore year, he lived in the suite next door to mine. Fate conspired, I thought. He transferred to another school later that year, while I was in Ireland chasing another  crush. Sometimes, when my body has decided it isn’t read to sleep yet, it is among the list of embarrassing moments that parade before my mind. Peeing my pants in kindergarten, telling Tom “Sorry” after kissing his cheek, and marching up to David’s room to share my feelings as if I were dropping off a rental.

I have no idea what’s become of David. Part of me hopes he’s found a lovely wife and settled down and finally – mercifully – forgotten of my confession. I feel guilty not infrequently about it. I expect I made the rest of his time near me pretty awkward. But from August to February I had a crush and, damn, was it good.

I got a good haircut out of the deal that I’ve kept since. So, it wasn’t all bad.

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My Dog Joe

I had a dog named Joe and he was a son of a bitch.

Joe was a black lab: completely dark for his entire body except for a white spot on his chest and his teeth. Labradors are the quintessential family dog: friendly, exuberant, tail-whipping masses of marshmallow and love.

Joe was a pile of muscle, protectiveness, and hatred. He loved very few things in this world:

  1. Me
  2. My family
  3. Food
  4. The blood of transgressors

Before we got him – before he was Joe – he was Sarge, a junkyard dog. This life imparted unto Joe two things, neither of which I understood until much later in life. The first was that Joe despised anything and everything that would ever approach that which he decided was his. The second was that Joe was racist.

I loved Joe. Joe loved me. Only a few other kids on the street were my age and the government is not friendly to giving 7-year olds driver’s licenses, so Joe was my constant companion for as long as we had him. If I was outside, Joe was outside. If I was inside, Joe was inside. If I was at school, Joe was under my sister’s bed eating the heads off of her Barbie dolls.

My parents had our porch rebuilt at some point. Men would come and work on our house while I was at school and Joe would lay outside on the front yard, staring, still, and silent. He was as friendly as we would expect; they gave him ham, after all, and we permitted their presence in Joe’s territory. Joe had established detente.

I came home from school. I had a bike then and was weak, which meant that when said bike was stuck on another bike, my spaghetti-noodle arms couldn’t free it. The mistake of a man helping build out our porch was that he had kindness in his heart. Joe bore no such weakness.

The builder descended from his ladder, came to help me, and extended his hand. Joe’s growling shook the blood. And I, in a tone I have heard creepy children in movies use ever since, calmly informed him “You can’t come near me. Joe’s my friend.”

My parents have a pool, in which my sisters and I loved swimming. Joe hated that pool with sickly, dripping, humid, reeking loathing. From when it was opened in the spring to when it closed in the fall, any movement of the Kelleher clan within twenty feet of it would send Joe into a frenzy of snarls and barks. While we swam, he would try to grab us by our hair and lift us out. We soon learned to lock him in the cellar. Joe learned to chew through the door, and for years we had a hole in the back side of the cellar door. In memoriam.

There was once a skunk who lived in a hole in our backyard. Joe knew this skunk. He hated this skunk. One fine fall evening, as Joe stood like a sentry at our back screen door, the skunk had the incomprehensible audacity to exist within a country mile of Joe. Joe tore through the screen tore and pounded after that skunk. The skunk sprayed. Joe chased.

The skunk sprayed again. Joe snapped at its hindquarters.

The skunk sprayed again and retreated into its hole. Joe dug and growled like thunder.

The skunk sprayed again and Joe lunged in and bit. My father had torn across the yard (at the behest of my mother, the eternal armchair general) and grabbed Joe by the waist and collar and fireman carried him – snarling and squirming – back into the house. Joe’s mouth was red with skunk blood and he suffered his bath with the dignity of a soldier. For a week, our teachers hung our backpacks and jackets outside, so that the autumn cold might get rid of the damn skunk smell Joe had brought into our house.

I had a friend named Simone who – to the best of my memory – was a wonderfully intelligent, no-nonsense girl. She was also a black girl. I invited her over my house one day after school; she lived near me, though I’d never known it until then, and it seemed appropriate to demonstrate to newly-identified neighbors that I too lived in a place. And that I had a dog named Joe who was my friend.

From when we first entered Joe’s vision to when my dad – pale and red with embarrassment all at once – suggested I take Simone home and go play at her house, Joe did not stop barking. Frothing, even. I assumed Joe was just being Joe – being a child, I hadn’t identified the patterns of things that made Joe angry; everything seemed to. Years later, I learned that Joe just didn’t like black people. Imagine 13 years of unrecognized shame condensed into a single afternoon. Simone, should you ever read this, I apologize profusely on behalf of my dog.

He refused to let his own dog-sitters (who he had met, known, and ostensibly tolerated) to move anywhere beyond the front step of our house while we were on vacation. Joe barked at them for three hours until my aunt arrived (she was of the sacred few he liked) and gave him ham and petted him.

Joe was that kind of dog.

The cruelest irony is that the reason we got rid of Joe is an accusation of violence he didn’t actually commit. Of all the blood and fur that whipped around in the hurricane of Joe’s wrath, that’s what got him. I was taking Joe for a walk around our block when a neighbor (who, for this, i eternally reviled by anyone sharing my blood) said hello and moved to pat my shoulder. Joe growled and placed his mouth around the man’s arm. No blood. No teeth marks. Just a soft hold.

The neighbor shrieked, accused Joe of monstrous violence (one would think he wouldn’t have had to fabricate a story with the dead animals littering Joe’s territory), and the insurance company told us he had to go.

We gave Joe to a family in New York with a summer home in Massachussetts. Every summer for the rest of his life, Joe got to run and play on the beach in Cape Cod with his new family and generally live a much more affluent life than we did. I assume Joe found peace there. He’s dead now at any rate. Even assholes die eventually. Part of me hopes he remained as big a son of a bitch as he was when he lived with us. It seems inglorious for so strong a blaze to peter out like that.

For all his anger and two-ton balls, Joe was my dog. He slept in my bed and kept me safe. He was racist, mean, overprotective, and violent. But his tail thumped when he was happy, he liked ham, and he ate my sister’s Barbie dolls.

Joe might have been a bad pet. But he was a good boy.

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The Crush that Never Was

I am not a graceful man, nor a particularly confident one. In no sphere of my life is this more apparent than when I am attempting to display my feathers and wiggle the mating dance of the gay male.

I am gifted with a supreme capacity for denial and imagination. There are few better at identifying nonexistent tells than I am.

So I will share with you the crush that never was.

Before I studied in Ireland the first time in my sophomore year, I intimately understood that I knew nobody who lived in Ireland and, due to that, certainly nobody who lived in Ireland and was gay. I had seen P.S. I Love Yo and wanted a Gerard Butler (who, yes, I know, is not Irish but Scottish and bearing a terrible Irish accent). So I retreated to gay.com – the frankly honest name of which I have always appreciated – and found a chatroom designated for Ireland.

In this chatroom, I encountered a man we shall call Tom. Tom had a picture of himself shirtless playing frisbee in a summer field. This meant, of course, that we were meant to be. We talked from time to time, Skyped (I was delighted to see that the face in the picture matched the talking one on screen), and I generally gushed about Ireland in the fashion of a true idealistic American 19-year old. Contained within this were thinly veiled (but to my eyes, masterful) attempts at flirting. I do not know whether Tom reciprocated. I know that I believed he did and, really, what else does a guy need?

So I went to Ireland and spent a weekend in Dublin, where Tom and I met up. I traveled with my friends to the city and, naturally, dragged them with me to The George ( a gay bar in Dublin), where I saw Tom in the crowd. Before I saw Tom, though, I saw a wiry man writhing on a stage. This was at 10pm. At 2:30am, Wiry Man was still there, still writhing. What cocktail coursed through his veins remains a mystery to this day. Wiry Man, I salute you. But I was thrilled to be there with Tom and to have the security blanket of my friends. We talked in the unheard shouts and smiles that people share in bars. We connected little. Which, of course, meant to my crushing mind that we had connected wordlessly and perfectly.

Tom and I went to a wax museum. It was closed, so we went to an art museum instead. This, I decided, was the opportune moment to show how worldly I was compared to the average uncultured American swine. I accomplished this feat with a lot of “hmm”ing and “Oh”ing and “what do you think about this?” I threw in some scattered knowledge gleaned from pattern-less readings of textbooks. Tom seemed impressed. Or I believed him to be. Close enough.

I next met up with Tom some weeks later in Pantibar: a gay bar in Dublin operated by the drag queen Panti. As I waited, I asked a mostly-full crescent couch of men whether there was room for me. They obliged, and I met an Irish immigration officer who to this day I regret not flirting with heavily. If anyone’s well-placed to get a bitch a green card (or the appropriate equivalent)…

Tom arrived and I followed him around like a puppy. He had friends with him; I didn’t know who they are. They introduced themselves; I still don’t know who they are. What did I care? They were Not-Toms and reality. I was perfectly happy treating him as an object of affection. At Pantibar, I had drinks.

At the Dragon, I had drinks.

At the George, I had drinks.

And so we arrived at The Sycamore – which despite the events of the evening I still think is a lovely place – at which I had drinks. I stumbled and swayed, but I was drunk and happy. Tom laughed. Life was good. The Sycamore was separated into at least two floors, one of which had a bar and lounging spots, the other a dance floor. In the lounge, I sat on the arm of tom’s chair and tried inelegantly to slide into his lap. If you have ever seen a walrus slide off an ice floe, it is not a dissimilar sight.

Tom ordered a Sex on the Beach, and got one for me too. This, I assumed, was code.

Then the group moves upstairs to that most dangerous territory: the dance floor. I am coordinated in martial arts and typing; any movement of my body that is not to either jab a pressure point or a key is foreign to me. But I have had drinks and was filled with shimmering confidence. I wiggled, waggled, and channeled the Wiry Man in the manner that most horribly tarnished his spirit.

It occured to me that I ought to be embarrassed about that. It occurred to me that I was drunk, that this was a Bad Thing, and that I had committed the most grievous sin imaginable before a crush: humanity.

So I left.

Down the stairs I went and in the lounge I stood. I had my Sex in the Beach in my hand. Code. Hope. I marched back upstairs, found Tom, tapped him on the shoulder (I am nothing if not polite), said ‘bye’ and kissed him on the cheek.

Then I apologized for it (see? polite) and left.

It was 3 am. The bus left at 6:00. Sleeping at the hostel seemed risky. So, I just went back and picked up my things.

I slept in the bus station. ‘Slept’ might be an inaccurate word. I should say that I sat on a bench for a few  hours and stared at my backpack until i wasn’t staring at anything. Then the bus arrived. I climbed on, sat in a chair, and repeated the staring process.

I never spoke with Tom again. Embarrassment kept me from it. Well, it did sometimes. Then sometimes anger, then sometimes depression, then (and now) acceptance. Tom was a crush – one I enjoyed having, loathed ending, and love having ended.

And you know he didn’t really look as much like Colin Farrell as I thought he did.

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Polyglot

I studied in Ireland for two non-consecutive semesters. When I tell people this, I like to say that I “lived in Ireland for a year” because it makes me sound fancier and wealthier. I was not wealthy when I lived in Ireland (due in some small part to having my debit card information stolen twice. “I” once bought a crossbow in New York while I was in Cork. I regret never actually receiving a crossbow), nor was I fancy. My first semester, I had a muffin tray that I baked everything in and this is how I developed baking as a hobby.

Necessity is a wonderful instructor.

Curiosity is pretty good too. At University College Cork, they offered an introductory class in Modern Spoken Irish. My instructor was unhappy to hear it referred to as Gaelic. I caution you against it; the quiet and wrathful wit of an Irish professor is a dangerous thing.

I was delighted to take the course. I am Irish in the sense that I am homo habilis: once upon a time, someone related to me was and some traits have carried down the line to myself. This, I decided, was a wonderful way to introduce myself to somebody else’s Irish roots and declare them my own.

As a note, everyone in Ireland speaks English. Irish is the state language, but all documents are printed in English as well and the vast majority of its population bear little working knowledge of Irish despite it’s position as a curricula staple in early education. But there exist areas of Ireland called the Gaeltacht, which are predominantly (or at least notably) Irish-speaking.

Among these are the Aran Islands.

For three months I studied Irish with such fervor and intensity that I could manage a solid 35-seconds of Irish conversation before I had to rely on “conas a dearfa [X]” where the Irish means “how do you say” and is spelled with the appropriate accent marks and the X is whatever it is I need to say. Remarkably useful phrase, especially considering I could never remember how to say “I don’t know.”

In April, the Irish university system is so kind as to afford its students an entire month off. Some refer to it as a “study period.” Americans laugh at such nonsense and then spend their exams sitting in their seats and shivering with existential dread. I enjoyed the first and happily evaded the latter (though there are other fun Irish finals tales to tell; and by fun, I mean horrifically embarrassing for all parties).

So in March, my friends and I went to the Aran Islands. To Inishmor, specifically. Here, I declared, in the Gaeltacht, I would put my Irish to the test and have a genuine conversation with someone in a language that wasn’t my own.

In Inishmor, there was a two- or three-story yellow building. This was a restaurant and the Statue of Liberty was painted on the side. As Americans, this was our favorite building to have ever been made by the hands of man. I stood and stared at this building for a while until I heard the steady whirr of wheels on pavement. To my left, there is a figure of hope on a bicycle: an Irish person. Man. Attractive (a secondary thought that came after the first ‘OPPORTUNITY’ that clanged in my skull). And probably Irish-speaking.

This was my shot. I steeled myself. “Dia duit” (spelled inappropriately without its accents here, as all my Irish is) is the equivalent to “hello” and means “God be with you.” The response is “Dia agus Muire duit,” or “God and Mary be with you.”

I have it on Irish authority (which is to say half bullshit and half sugar, and I can never decide which side I like more) that particularly devout Catholics or sufficiently large assholes can respond with “Dia, Muire, agus Seosamh duit,” which means “God, Mary, and Joseph be with you.” Their Catholic or asshole rivals can then exchange an increasingly long list of saints until such time as one concedes to the holiness or superior skills at infuriation of the other.

“Dia duit” I reminded myself. I even had a back-up plan in case he was particularly friendly and spoke first: “Dia agus Muire duit.” My bases were covered. I had one in the chamber and another one at the ready. We locked eyes. He smiled. I knew it was meant to be.

“Dia duit” he said unto me.

And verily I did respond “Hi.”

He kept pedaling.

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We’ll Get There in Two Power Ranger Shows

I couldn’t read analog clocks until I was 9. I know this because I remember when I started. I was at my friend Billy’s house. And in Billy’s house there was a tall thing which I was informed was a clock. A grandfather clock, to be precise. I didn’t know where the grandmother clock was, nor the grandchildren clocks. But it was there. It had hands which pointed to letters (I V, and X; two of these three were arcane symbols to me, seen only in the worst and most frustrating words).

These, I was told, were numbers. Nay, I argued. 1, 5, and 9 are numbers. They’re Roman, they countered. I said I wasn’t a Roman; I was a boy.

But they said that the Roman Grandfather told time if I could read it. I liked to read. Goddamn it, I’d read the Roman Grandfather. So I did. I still don’t like Roman numerals very much.

Before this time, when I lived in the glorious realm of digital clocks, I didn’t understand the difference between 6:30 and 6:31. I knew that they had put a 1 where there hadn’t been before, but time was a strange thing mostly measured in I’m-bored’s and Can-I-bounce-this-oh-no-it-broke’s. This, I understand, is how most kids are.

And, like most kids, I’d ask my parents whether we were “there” yet. I only sometimes know where “there” was, but more generally understood that it was most often not “here” and that I would be an old man who couldn’t play Nintendo before we got to “there.”

“30 minutes” meant nothing to me. Nor did “half-an-hour.” I hated math. In school, they would have worksheets with (not-Roman) clock faces on them. I knew if you went around the circle once, that was called an hour. The hands would point to 3:00, then the next hand would point to 3:30, and I knew that meant a half-hour had gone by. A “half-hour” was a measurement of space and distance, like inches. This didn’t sync up with reading real clocks, and certainly not the Roman ones.

I drove my parents mad with my incomprehension.

Now, I should take a moment to explain the unbridled, fervent passion with which I beheld all things Power Ranger. I lived Power Rangers. I breathed Power Rangers. I had Power Ranger toys, Power Ranger underwear, Power Ranger fake weapons with which I exacted divine vengeance upon my sisters (and they, in turn, on me). The Green (later White) ranger was my favorite. Everybody had their own Zord, but the Green Ranger’s was Godzilla! It had a drill tail! It shot rockets from its fingertips! He could call it by playing a flute-dagger! I had a flute dagger as well, and I would play it frequently. The Zoid never arrived, but I knew that the Power Rangers lived in California. California was a “there” and it made sense that the Zoid would take a very long time to get from “there” to “here.” I was a patient kid.

I knew precisely when Power Ranger shows were going to be on, and I knew precisely when they would end. I knew the cadence of the each story, when Rita Repulsa would make her monsters grow, when the Power Rangers would suffer strife and when they would inevitably overcome it for the safety of Angel Grove. This was the most intimate understanding of time I possessed.

And it was measured in Power Ranger shows.

My parents eventually caught on to this, and so wielded the easiest method of shutting me up they have yet discovered.

“Are we there yet?”

“We’ll be there in two Power Ranger shows.”

And into dreamy silence I went, imagining Emmy-worthy episodes taking place outside the window of the car.

And you can be damn sure that by the time the Power Rangers were back in high school (to a child, indeed the realm of the Gods), we were pulling into whatever ‘there’ had now become a ‘here.’

A decade later, I went to California the first time. No Zoid met me in San Diego. I assume it got lost somewhere in the Rockies.

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My Dad and the Dinosaur

At the edge of my backyard, there is a fence, a stretch of trees and a landfill. The stretch is no more than a dozen trees deep which, in winter months, means that one can see the brown hill of the dump. When I was young, that stretch of trees was a no-man’s land: forbidden to me by royal decree of Mom and Dad. There had once been a coyote there, which meant that there had always been, and would always be, coyotes slinking behind the fence with blood dripping from their fangs and hunger in their eyes.

When I grew older, I assume the coyotes moved away because I was routinely sent to that stretch to dump out grass clippings.

But that was after my father killed the dinosaur.

My sister and I (I have two sisters, both older. The younger one and I shared this delusion; the elder had better things to do) discovered that, when we pressed our noses to the glass, heaved steam onto it, and squinted, it was apparent in the tall trees and slope of the hill that a dinosaur also lived in the stretch. I declared it to be a brontosaurus. I, being in the possession of a very tall and very thin book on dinosaurs, was the authority on these matters.

All of which meant that there had always been, and would always be, a brontosaurus living behind our backyard. We knew that this brontosaurus was hungry (the book said it ate leaves; that wasn’t exciting enough for us) and scared off the coyotes. The coyotes had scared our parents. The brontosaurus ran off the coyotes. Ergo: the brontosaurus was a Bad Thing.

So, we screamed.

How long we tortured my parents with fears of the brontosaurus, I don’t know. Kids don’t measure things in days. I measured things in terms of Power Ranger shows. I suspect they eventually stopped listening to my pleas for help and safety, like how I ignore flight attendants.

My Dad, like a lot of dads (though none so deserving of the capital D), is incredible. Patient, understanding, caring. I understood all of these in a vague sense as a kid, but most relevantly regarding the dinosaur was my understanding that my Dad was Big. I hadn’t applied the distinction being things being small or them being far away, and so from the security of our back door the dinosaur looked to be the size of the refrigerator.

My Dad was bigger than the refrigerator.

Dad took the weed-whacker and trimmed along some bricks in our backyard. The weed-whacker defied explanation; I had spun a piece of yarn around as fast as I could and I didn’t cut any grass. The weed-whacker had to be magic, and as my Dad collected clippings, tossed them into a bag, and dragged the bag into Beyond the Fence, he took the weed-whacker with him.

This, I thought, was a battle of giants. My sister and I breathed wonder onto the glass door. The gate swung shut behind my Dad and blocked him from sight, but there was the dinosaur and it was angry as angry got. The head of the weed-whacker rose up over the top of the fence. We heard Dad grunt, saw the weed-whacker dip back below, and a branch shook.

Wind hitting a branch was all it took. Try and squint and fog up the glass as we might, neither my sister nor I could catch sight of the dinosaur again. Just trees and hill. The gate opened. My Dad walked out and said the Bad Words (to be used only in times of dire need).

My sister and I rocketed into the backyard (now safe territory) and screamed our delight and wonder at him. He was a humble man: all “what?”s and “oh”s. But he was Big and the dinosaur was dead. This elevated Dad from Dad to Hero. Dad, the Slayer. Dad, the Courageous. Dad, the Dino-Killer.

I opened my book of dinosaurs, tapped the brontosaurus on its placid little face and reminded it that it, the Bad Thing, was dead and had no place being in Beyond the Fence. It didn’t answer. My Dad must have scared it into silence.

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