On Melville’s “Pierre”, “The Search For Spock”, and John Woo

You wouldn’t know by what eventually happened, but Pierre; or The Ambiguities (1852), Herman Melville’s follow-up to Moby-Dick, was conceived as a popular entertainment.  It was heavily influenced by the semi-Gothic, romantic novels that were fashionable at that time.  Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights had been around only five years when Pierre was published, and it was popular both in England and in the United States.  Melville seemed to be trying to write a story that would appeal to the same audience.  He also drew inspiration from other well known works, both classical and contemporary, including Shakespeare’s Hamlet and Romeo & Juliet; Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein; the novels of Edward Bulwer-Lytton; even his friend Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter and The House of Seven Gables.

Melville had hopes that Pierre would be appreciated by those who read “women’s fiction.”  At the same time, he was experiencing steadily increasing pressure to write a book that would move a large amount of copies and bring financial stability to his family.  The problem was that he was too inherently rebellious to play by the rules.  His hunger for knowledge and his pre-occupation with larger concerns made the limitations of one particular genre seem suffocating.  Professor William C. Spengemann, in his illuminating introduction to the Penguin Classics edition of Pierre, wrote that “the prose style … also mocks the sort of novel that Melville at once felt financially obligated and temperamentally unable to replicate.”

The result of this indecision and misdirected effort was a novel that critic F.O. Matthiessen once called, for these and other reasons, “the most desperate in our literature.”  The novel was, by any measure, an unmitigated flop.

Pierre concerns a young man “just emerging from his teens” whose father died when he was small and who enjoys an uncomfortably close relationship with his manipulative and shallow mother, whom he refers to rather bizarrely as “sister.”  The hints towards an incestuous connection with his own mother at the beginning of the novel are merely one of my many unappetizing aspects of Pierre that set readers immediately on edge.

Although engaged to a sympathetic but paranoid young woman named Lucy Tartan, Pierre Glendenning is a morose fellow, bound by that nearly impenetrable web of apron strings, an untamed passion to make strides in the world, and a chronic restlessness.  When he by happenstance meets a young woman named Isabel who claims to be his half-sister, from a previously unknown (to him) indiscretion by his late father, he becomes utterly obsessed with her, and she with him, to the point where his impending marriage and his very sanity, perhaps, are threatened.

Pierre and Isabel, subsequently, grow far too close for comfort; and since no one around him can tolerate – much less endorse – this sudden infatuation, Pierre abruptly flees with Isabel and a pregnant servant girl from his palatial country upbringing in New England to the bustling streets of New York City.  There he hopes to establish the three of them in a modest situation in Manhattan through a cousin named Glen, who was once Pierre’s childhood companion.  When they arrive, however, Glen denies Pierre, turning him and the two women away, and the odd trio is left in the cold without resources.

Around this point the “plot” of Pierre shifts quite abruptly, suddenly turning from what was a variation on a romantic love triangle into a narrative about writing, creativity, philosophy, and the struggles of the artist.  Pierre suddenly decides he is going to write a novel, a “comprehensive compacted work,” and sets out to fulfill that ambition, even though doing so bears directly on the trio’s solvency, which was more or less nonexistent to start with.

This change of direction comes across as a kind of misstep on the part of the writer.  Those who would have read the novel because it was in a similar vein to Wuthering Heights – even if they had endured all of the uncomfortable hints towards unnatural relations between members of the same family and the ornate, sometimes cumbersome chunks of prose on weighty themes – probably would have put the novel down once it started to be a treatise about a struggling writer.  The sudden turn makes it seem as though either the writer didn’t know what he was doing, or he just didn’t care whether or not he jerked his audience around.  Neither option seems likely to have impressed 19th century readers.

Still, it’s nearly impossible to believe the first of these possibilities.   Melville was too gifted a writer and had, in spite of his relatively young age, accomplished too much by then to suddenly forget how to do his job.  He was bucking convention; or, to take it one step further, he was improvising new standards on the fly.  As Professor Spengemann argues:

At that moment, when the adventures of Pierre give way to the writing of Pierre as the primary subject of the novel, Melville’s career arrives at a turning point. ….  His tendency…to discover in the course of composition unsuspected problems and possibilities that nullify his original intentions and set the narrative on an altogether different, unanticipated path allows us to trace the evolution of his mind and art with unusual ease.

According to this logic, Pierre – instead of being the result of a kind of mounting madness in its author – reveals a method behind that perceived madness.  Yet most critics did not agree.  One of the most famous assessments, published by the New York Day Book in July 1852, ran under the notorious headline “Herman Melville Crazy.”  But Melville had by then matured enough as an artist to ignore base literary principles – otherwise, he never would have written any of Mardi (1848); or introduced a narrator that fades in and out of Moby-Dick without ever revealing anything about himself other than his first name; or inserted a chapter in that novel that zoologically catalogues an entire order of animals.  To me the bucking of established methods in Pierre seems quite the opposite of “crazy.”

Much more than just an insane rant with the hide of a popular novel draped over its shoulders, I see Pierre as a conscious choice not just to go in a radically different direction, but also to deliberately trigger the “evolution” Spengemann refers to.  But having said that, the transformation that plays out on Pierre’s pages is still striking and comprehensive.

Since I am a child of the 1970s and 1980s, and to some extent have been influenced by the goofy pop “culture” that emerged from those memorable decades, I am reminded of a long-buried celluloid gutterball from the 80s that only has lasting appeal to a certain aging, but still kicking, subset of our society.  The film is Star Trek III: The Search for Spock, with the original Star Trek cast, including Leonard Nimoy in the titular role (he also directed).  Thanks to some exhaustive research, I have learned that this would have been that Orwellian year of 1984.  I can remember seeing this film on the big screen with my buddies for $2.00 at a Mom-n-Pop movie theater in my hometown that, of course, no longer exists.

At any rate, due to one of those barely coherent plot twists for which the entire science-fiction genre enjoys widespread notoriety, I remember a key sequence in the film involving the re-birth, I suppose, of Mr. Spock.  I don’t recall a damn thing about the rest of the story, and does it really matter?  Mr. Spock, who apparently perished in a sealed chamber awash with radiation during the harrowing conclusion of Star Trek II: The Wrath of Kahn, was placed in some kind of coffin-pod and launched deep into space.  This turn of events, as everyone knew instinctively, couldn’t have been the true end of Mr. Spock, for that would have made impossible the other eight or ten sequels that were obviously forthcoming.

Hence, the “search” of Star Trek III.  That quest, led by Captain Kirk of course, eventually locates the person it’s seeking, but thanks to some warp in the plot-friendly time-space continuum, he’s on a newly created planet, and he’s a toddler.  As we all understand, a pre-pubescent Spock does no one any good.  Fortunately, though – and I have no recollection of how they attempted to explain this – this weird planet appears to be disintigrating rapidly, and the “youthful” Spock suddenly ages many years in a very short window of time.

Great news for the film’s scriptwriters, for this provided a way to bring the adult Spock back toute de suite, but not so great news for Spock himself.  This is because, in the one conceit of this whole yarn that makes at least a little sense, aging a few decades in the space of several hours is apparently very painful.  So what stayed with me were a lot of moments of first a young boy with pointy ears and dark hair howling and doubling over, then a teenager doing the same thing; and, eventually, Leonard Nimoy squalling and carrying on, until the storms passed and he had “grown” into that legendary Vulcan we all know and love.

How far off the track are we going to wander here? the reader asks with mounting concern.  And with good reason:  having introduced the Star Trek universe into the mix, the length of this digression could literally have no end.

Never fear.  I merely bring this up because, believe it or not, Pierre in some ways reminded me of that sequence from the otherwise forgettable Star Trek III.  Melville changed, and he did so in a hurry.  He was transforming into a different writer altogether right in front of the reader’s eyes, or at least the ones who bothered to read his novel, and that transformation seemed awfully painful.  You can practically hear him howl and watch him convulse on the page.

After Pierre, Melville was no longer the same man who had produced Moby-Dick, and nothing he wrote for the rest of his days even approaches his monumental “fish story.”  That’s not to say he did not produce any more quality work – he did, and most of it has been under-appreciated.  But he had outgrown of his old skin and taken on a new form.


This may account for why Pierre was so off-putting, because the change in the writer was so undeniable and uncomfortable.  The book is suffused with confusion, struggle, and melancholy.  The reader suspects that Melville was on thin ice the entire time, and that everything he knew seemed at least to have come into question, if not already confirmed as an outright lie.  This state of mind led to mercilessly bleak passages:

That hour of the life of a man when first the help of humanity fails him, and he learns that in his obscurity and indigence humanity holds him a dog and no man: that hour is a hard one, but not the hardest.  There is still another hour which follows, when he learns that in his infinite comparative minuteness and abjectness, the gods do likewise despise him, and own him not of their clan.  Divinity and humanity then are equally that he should starve in the street for all that either will do for him.

If you think this passage betrays a man with “issues,” it is nothing compared to much of the rest of Pierre.  But note the raw humanity – the guts to admit that one feels this destitute!  Do we not all have similar moments, at one time or another?  Haven’t you felt abandoned by both man and God at the same time?  This is what makes me feel a certain forbearance towards the catastrophic pile-up that is Pierre.  It’s not that crazy.  It’s truthful.

After Pierre, his half-sister, and the servant girl (named Delly) are turned away by his cousin, they end up finally securing lodgings through a sympathetic law clerk that happens to hail from the same New England community that they do.  Those quarters are in a strange, abandoned house of worship known, not insignificantly, as the Church of the Apostles – now converted into a kind of artist’s hovel of sorts, with the ghosts of the departed religious and maybe even of religion itself lingering in the stone halls.  Here Pierre sets to work trying to produce an epic novel that will restore his name and perhaps his mind as well.

The results are disastrous.  Pierre agonizes profoundly over his work, and is irreversibly distracted by his convoluted feelings about his half-sister and Lucy Tartan, the woman he abandoned.  Then things get even more complicated when Lucy herself, recovering from her own nervous breakdown, shows up at their door with an easel, intending to move in with Pierre and the other two women, and unwilling to accept any other arrangement.  From here things spiral out of control, and the reader understands that nothing good can come out of it.  Nor can the world at large tolerate the bizarre situation of Pierre living with three women, one of whom he left without marrying, and another with whom he may be having incestuous relations.

Finally, inevitably, Pierre’s cousin, who has teamed up with Lucy’s enraged brother, makes an attempt to forcibly intervene.  Pierre deflects it at first, but it nudges him over the edge.  At this point Pierre basically goes nuts.  He finds two pistols stowed away in a drawer, seeks out his cousin and Lucy’s brother on the New York streets in broad daylight, and attacks them with guns blazing.  He kills Glen outright and wounds the other man.  Onlookers quickly apprehend him, and he ends up locked away in the notorious prison referenced earlier in this book, called “the Tombs.”

At the end of the novel the two women, Isabel and Lucy, visit Pierre in the gloomy underground cell he will not escape from.  There he admits to Lucy the nature of his relationship to Isabel.  Lucy’s reaction to this news is to promptly expire, presumably of a broken heart.  Then Isabel herself, who has smuggled in to the prison a vial of lethal poison, kills herself.  Pierre follows suit.

The final image of the three of them united in death in a prison cell is, of course, reminiscent of a Shakespearean tragedy.  Melville then closes this taxing and ill-fated misadventure by abandoning his reader, Glen-like, in a very dark place.

By vast pains we mine into the pyramid; by horrible gropings we come to the central room; with joy we espy the sarcophagus; but we lift the lid – and nobody is there! – appallingly vacant as vast is the soul of man!

Such an oppressive, burdensome journey the reader who makes it all the way to that prison cell has endured!  What can you say about a story as anguished as this?  When the critics got a hold of it, as Melville biographer Laurie Robertson-Lorant explains, “all hell broke loose.”  In terms of his reputation among that group, and any standing he may still have enjoyed in the New York literary scene in general, Pierre blasted all of that to hell.  It took a beating that far surpassed anything his previous efforts had sustained; one that may exceed, perhaps, any critical assassination an American novelist had been subjected to before or since.  It was almost universally reviled, and derided in any number of ways: “the dream of a distempered stomach;” “a dead failure;” a “crazy rigmarole;” a “literary mare’s nest.”  One critic suggested that those close to Melville lock him away and keep him apart from any writing instruments.

Many writers have speculated at length on Melville’s psychological state of mind around the time he wrote Pierre, and more specifically about the vicissitudes of his marriage to Elizabeth “Lizzie” Shaw.  They have probed the novel and all the surviving evidence around its conception and construction for clues to his sexual life, his latent homo- or bisexuality, and the turmoil he was experiencing relative to these thorny matters.  I’m not put off by these considerations.  Neither am I much qualified to speculate on them, however; let alone float any heretofore unexpressed theory.  Clearly the author was deeply troubled, but these troubles seemed to extend in several different directions at once.  It is hard to pin the entire failure that is Pierre on to any individual problem or circumstance.  Melville was engaged in a kind of epic conflict with nothing less than his soul at stake, and it seemed to have been escalating on a number of fronts: the personal, the financial, the literary, the metaphysical, the theological.

A writer can heroically fight on all of these battlefields at once, slashing and lunging and absorbing countless blows, bloodying and getting bloodied.  He can do so alone, in his own chamber, believing that the fight is his and that no one else need suffer.  But no writer exists in a vacuum, and no matter how personal he thinks his struggle is, those who are closest to him will get drawn into it.

I have learned even in writing this book that when I attempt to comprehend on a blank page what my own struggles have cost and what their ultimate meaning might be, I am also dragging the pain and the pride of those whom I love, those who depend on me, into the open.  My intentions may be noble – I am trying to understand my own story; to draw lessons from it through which I can ultimately improve; and, also, to draw nearer to the full realization of who God has called me to be.  But my actions may still hurt innocent bystanders who have only tried to support me along the way.

So too with Melville.  When he let it all fly in Pierre, and opened the doors to his own personal anguish and psychological chaos for all the world to see, he exposed his wife, his immediate family, and all those related to him.  Watching Melville get hammered from all sides must have been agonizing and humiliating for Lizzie Melville, as it must have been for Melville’s mother and his numerous siblings.  They saw it all unfold and reacted, according to Robertson-Lorant, “with stunned silence.”  Arguing that Pierre was subversive, that it anticipated a new literary era, and that it was a unique amalgamation of styles and genres would have done nothing to assuage those feelings.  If nothing else, Pierre was a lesson for me down these lines, a reminder of what exactly you are putting at risk when you plumb so far into yourself for the sake of making art.

While it is difficult to call Pierre a satisfying novel, I found it much more engaging and thought-provoking than expected.  I do consider it a courageous book, but there is also an undeniable car-crash quality to it.  Part of what kept me turning pages was just to see how spectacular a wreck Melville could stage in the confines of one novel.  Everything gets laid out in all its bloody and confused disarray.  One can feel the pain and the profound sadness that must have been coursing through the writer as he worked.

There are also moments of high comedy, both intentional and probably not so much.  When Pierre finally produces some writing, and summons the considerable guts to gather up a sampling of his work and send it off to a publisher who tendered him a slight advance, he receives this response in the mail:

Sir:—You are a swindler.  Upon the pretense of writing a popular novel for us, you have been receiving cash advances from us, while passing through our press the sheets of a blasphemous rhapsody … Send not another sheet to us.  Our bill for printing thus far, and also for our cash advances, swindled out of us by you, is now in the hands of a lawyer, who is instructed to proceed with instant vigor.  (signed)

Steel, Flint, and Asbestos

The working writer reading this missive at once winces in pain and explodes in laughter.  This the same kind of hilarious and dignity-robbing moment that Sting described a hundred and thirty years later in the song “Synchronicity II” as “a humiliating kick in the crotch.”  Owww, the writer exclaims, physically flinching.  On the other hand, one might think that no matter how troubled Pierre was, he might have had the sense to steer clear of a publisher with an appellation as, well, incendiary as the one with whom he was attempting to transact his business.

Then there is the climax of the novel, which I do not believe was intended to be funny, but still is.  Melville’s indecision and frustration took the story in so many convoluted directions that it gets downright amusing after a while.  It’s like watching someone try to juggle four or five objects that are nowhere near the same size and shape – the harder it gets, and the more feverish their efforts to keep them aloft, the funnier it becomes.

If you were a producer bringing Pierre to the screen in a literal adaptation, you’d almost be forced to hire three different directors.  You’d need a seasoned pro from Masterpiece Theater or perhaps the BBC to stage the domestic, quasi-aristocratic drama and rather baroque dialogue from the first half of the book.  You’d need someone who has tackled Shakespeare before – maybe Kenneth Branagh, for example – to set the correct tone for the melancholy finale in the darkened Tombs.  But to handle that sequence where Pierre goes apeshit and takes the fight straight to his enemies in the New York City streets?  For that you need John Woo, the Chinese action director.  No one stages the classic double-fisted pistol attack like Woo.

Just trying to imagine a film that cobbles together sequences such as these, while a hilarious exercise, reveals the sort of uneven imbroglio that is Pierre.  Readers and publishers expected Melville to deliver an entertaining story that in some way reflected their values and allowed them to temporarily escape from the complexities of their own lives.  But Melville, his biographer writes, “saw the self as essentially unknowable and the universe as a conundrum, full of teasing ambiguities.”  At least he was kind enough to provide a clue in the book’s subtitle.

Melville was a man immersed in struggles that would be challenging for anyone to negotiate, who had already devoted so much of his heart and his strength to his work.  He wrote a novel that reflected this conflict and was punished mercilessly for it.  That he moved on from there at all is downright extraordinary.  Yet he did: he fought through all obstacles; he found an inner fire that gave him the courage to continue.

Even if no one else ever appreciates it, I think all of the struggling writers and artists of the world, from Melville’s time through our own and beyond, can and should be grateful for Pierre – a book saturated with, in its own words, “the burning desire to deliver what he thought to be new, or at least miserably neglected Truth to the world.”

* * * * *

Jude J. Lovell received an MFA in Creative Writing from The New School in 2001 and his writing has appeared in Touchstone, Rock & Sling, America, St. Austin Review, Paste, The Other Journal andAmerican Chronicle.  He is also currently writing a book about Herman Melville.

His other contributions to Snake-Oil Cure can be found here.

Dr. Hurley’s Digest Volume I: Smithsoniana and Non-Fiction

Today we bring you the results of the first year of Smithsonian-inspired posts as well as our non-fiction selections.



Humpty Dumpty: Sunday

text. I have made a mistake.
I text. Talk to me. I text some more. I text until I realize you are not responding.

I tell Murdock I have to go. I tell him I should have left two hours ago. I tell Murdock that I fucked up again. I am slurring everything I am saying. I see Murdock’s mouth moving in response to what I am saying, but I cannot hear him. Finally, he hugs me and screams into my ear that he’ll see me later. He says that he’s happy things are over. I ask him how he knows.

I see a man Murdock introduced me to last week. Murdock is behind me as I am walking toward the door. The music is loud, even though I am now walking through the dining room and there is no music playing. I think the room has been painted since I got there. I ask Murdock if his friend is single. Murdock says that the man’s partner is sitting beside him. I say, OK. I stop by the man, and I can’t even tell if he is cute or old or even looking at me, and I grab his face and I kiss him. I kiss him with tongue and I look up and open my eyes and Murdock’s mouth is open and I realize what I’m doing and I stop kissing this man with tongue and the man looks at me and says wow and I say thank you and I tell Murdock I have to go and I leave.

I walk to my car and I try calling and you don’t pick up and I realize I can’t remember leaving the bar. I get to my car in what feels like record time, and I open the car door, and I sit inside and I think I don’t feel well, but I want to go home and get on the couch and fall asleep and in the morning, I think, everything will fix itself. I turn on the car and I drive.

I realize about 10 minutes into the drive, when I’m in a tunnel, that I don’t remember entering the tunnel. I feel that I’m too close on the right and I overcorrect and end up in the lane beside me. I realize I could have hit someone. I realize I shouldn’t be driving.

I text some more. You finally respond.

I can’t deal with mind games. I am done. Thank you for letting me see Ave one last time. Goodbye Rabbit. I mean it fully this time. Please leave me alone. You will not make me cry again.

I text and I know I am texting but I do not know what I am saying and I do not know how to stop texting. I feel like the phone is the only thing keeping me together.

Goodbye. Do not call me again. Do not text. You need to stay away for your health and for mine. I seriously have a restraining order on you, and if you continue to contact me, I will be forced to use it.

You send me the picture of the extended restraining order.

Leave me alone. Really.

I feel my head throb each time I read the words, and I stop understanding the words, and I stop understanding English.

I get home and I go upstairs and I am loud coming in the door and I wake up Holly and she asks me what’s wrong and if I’m safe. And I am crying and I hand her my phone and I say this is what I keep losing. Read. And she reads some of our texts and she gets to the picture of the extended restraining order and she says, what the fuck, Will. Why would you want to be with him? I thought you said you hadn’t seen him this week.

And I am crying and I say I lied and that I had seen you and that we were back together and now we aren’t and why do I keep fucking this up and she says that you are an addict and you act like an addict and there is no rationalizing how an addict thinks and acts and I am crying and she asks how much I’ve had to drink and I tell her I don’t think I had finished one martini. She says I’m acting like I’ve had much more than that.

I am still crying, and I think she should focus on me. I think she should listen to me and help me. I think she is my wife and I am in pain and where is her commitment to for better or worse now. I tell her I am upset and she doesn’t seem to care.

She says, this is not my problem. This is not my relationship. You keep doing this to yourself. What do you want me to do about it?

I can make life hard, I say. I will take Avery away. If you want a bitter custody battle, I will give you a bitter custody battle.

Holly laughs and tells me to go ahead and try, and she disengages. She doesn’t talk to me again. I leave the loft and I go to Walgreens and I buy a Gatorade. I come home and I pass out.

I wake around 4 a.m. and I am more myself, though my head and stomach hurt. I don’t remember getting home. I don’t remember how I got home. I look at my phone and I see your last texts. I re-read our conversation from the first text to the end of the messages, and I start to cry again and I think, I keep fucking up. I keep fucking up. I keep fucking up. I feel like throwing up.

I send you my final text. I tell you I will cancel your meetings with the people at my job. I tell you I’m glad you have your best friend in your life. I tell you to ignore the invitation to Avery’s third birthday; I put it in the mail that morning, so I am sorry.

I press send.

I turn off my phone.

I hope you believe me.

* * * * *

William Henderson has written for local and national newspapers and magazines, including the Advocate; the Boston Globe; and the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. He earned a Bachelor of Science in Journalism & Communications from the University of Florida, and a Master’s in Fine Arts from Emerson College, where he studied creative non-fiction. He earned a Hearst Award in profile writing in 1998, and various awards from the Washington Press Association, Florida Press Association, and the New England Press Association. Currently, he is a freelance writer, editor, and copyeditor, and a full-time father to his children, Avery and Aurora. He can be reached at wil329@yahoo.com and through his blog, Henderson House of Cards.

His other Snake-Oil contributions are here.

Humpty Dumpty: Saturday

 walk with Avery around the Charles River. After, while we are eating breakfast, you text.

Morning. I still love you. We’re still us. I am off to grab brunch with a friend. How’s little rabbit?

We’re good. We finished our walk. He’s watching Avatar. And I’m watching something else. I still love you and you should know, I don’t want to wait for physical/emotional intimacy with you.

I am sure we can arrange that. I will text you later after lunch.

I love you, too. My life would suck without you.


My mother calls, and I tell her you and I have gotten back together, or are on our way to getting back together, or are something undefined. She asks me if I’m happy. I tell her I am. She asks me how Holly feels about it, and I tell her that I haven’t told Holly yet. She cautions me against getting too involved with you without letting Holly know. Don’t make the same mistakes, she says. Protect your heart. You don’t want to end up where you were three weeks ago. I tell her I know what I’m doing. I tell her I’m done making those mistakes. He knows everything, I say, and he still loves me. I love him, mom, I say. You’ll have to meet him when you’re here. She’s coming for Avery’s birthday in a couple of weeks. She says she would like to meet you. I say I think he will like meeting you, too.

I address invitations for Avery’s third birthday party. I find a card I think you will like, and I write in it. The card is more than an invitation to Avery’s birthday; the card is my response to your 3 a.m. comments. The card is hope.

I think you will think that Avery’s third birthday is the first of his birthdays you will celebrate. I think you will spoil him, and that you’ve already started thinking about what to buy him. I think Avery’s third birthday will be when you spend any amount of time with Holly.

I think she will not be happy.

I think I don’t care that she will not be happy.

Holly comes home from work, and she asks me if I’ve thought about our divorce. She asks me if I’ve started packing. She asks me if I understand that all of this is happening.

I tell her I understand. I’ll be fine, I say.

Have you thought about custody arrangements?, she asks.

I tell her I need to think about the best days and nights for me.

You know, I say, I used to think that you would end up OK about my relationship with him and since you love being pregnant, you would have offered to carry his child. You would have thought having children who were at least half siblings made more sense than him having a child with someone else. I thought that he and I would have the same tie to you, and the children would be related, and we could keep them all on the same custody arrangement.

And she looks at me and she tilts her head and she says, maybe I would have done that, but there’s no point in talking about it since it will never happen.

Holly and I watch another movie. Avery cooperates. I am meeting Murdock and Sandro at a bar, and then we’ve talked about going dancing. Before I leave the loft, I dig out the key you had given me, and the key to the outside doors of your apartment, from the box in which I had packed them, and I string each around a chain and I put the chain around my neck. The keys feel heavy around my neck, but the heaviness feels somehow right.

I don’t tell Holly what time I will be home. I do not know what time I will be home.

You have not texted me since this morning. I do not text you. You are mine. I am yours. You said so. My thoughts race ahead to where we will be in 10 days when I am living in my own apartment. I cannot keep up with my thoughts. I feel like I need to stop, but I do not know how to stop.

I drive to where you work. I consider texting you and saying I’m outside. I consider asking you to come out and say hi. I consider asking if you can take a break. Instead, I take some pens and markers out of my car and I go to a bench and I write what I think will be the message that we’ll remember as the proposal that stuck.

I think that we’ve done the difficult. We’ve moved past what happened. The impossible, the forging of a life, will take some time. But if you ask me to move mountains, or if you ask me to walk through fire, or even if you ask me to hold up the sky, I would, gladly.

At the bar, Murdock hugs me, as does Sandro. They say I look better than I did last week. I say the gym and yoga are starting to pay off.

Have you met a new man?, Murdock asks.

No, I say, but I’ve reconnected with RODA.

He took out a restraining order against you, Murdock says. What are you doing? I don’t even know what to say to you.

I love him, I say. I don’t know what else to do but forgive him and trust that we will end up where we are meant to end up.

I order a drink, even though I had decided not to drink. I send you a picture of the drink.

Don’t drink too much.

But I want to enjoy being a single gay man as long as possible.

Murdock and Sandro say they’re going out to smoke a cigarette. I tell them I am going to the bathroom. Inside a stall, I take a picture of the keys around my neck, and I send the picture to you.

I get back to the table first. I drink more of my drink. The music seems louder, and I am starting to sweat. I unbutton the top two buttons on my shirt.

You’re taken, but flirt and have fun.

Maybe I’m taken. You have not asked me to date it out or to be in a monotonous relationship.

I am having trouble feeling my fingers. I cannot type the word monogamous. I think my not being able to type the word monogamous should be funny, but I cannot laugh. I try twice to retype the word and each time I type something different.

Over dinner tomorrow.

I do not respond.


Murdock orders another drink. I have only had half of mine. I say I’m fine. I say I’m not feeling well. Sandro goes outside to smoke a cigarette. I ask Murdock if we can go into the back because I want to walk around. I know I’m being passive aggressive. You do not communicate with me when you’re out with your friends. Why should I communicate with you? I am not normally like this. I have craved your words and your touch and you’re giving me your words and promising me your touch and why am I acting like this, and why can I not stop acting like this?

Are we having dinner?

Murdock and I have wandered into a different room. The room is dark, so I assume I am sexy because everyone looks good in the dark. I still wish I had stayed home, and I’m starting to think the drink was a bad idea because I have a headache and I think that I’ve become a lightweight and I wonder how that happened.

I was hoping to make out with a Welshman tonight, but they seem to be in short supply, so a Brazilian may have to do.

Loving someone shouldn’t be so hard, I think. We shouldn’t be so hard. Why are we so hard? Why do I feel like my life led me to you, and the you my life led me to doesn’t really exist?

I feel like the room is spinning. I tell Murdock I need to sit down. I hate that you work Saturday nights. I want a date night. I want Saturday nights and Saturday days and Sundays. I want it all. I want the ring, too, I want to tell you. I want the marriage. I want the moving in and the engagement and the commitment. I hold my hand carefully, so I can get these next words just right:

You know, I feel everything in my life has led me to you. And that’s not just martini talking. My friends aren’t so sure about you, but I’ve never wavered in my idea of what our life could be. I love you. It’s not something I can turn off. I’ve tried. You’re inside me and I see such a brilliant future with you. The ring is being sized but I can’t imagine anything better than being taken by you. You are my heart. You are my future. I think you should plan to kiss me tonight, but that’s just me.

I put my phone back in my pocket. Murdock is talking to me, but it sounds like he is talking through a tunnel. I shake my head a little to clear my ears. I tell him that I know you want to kiss me, but that you’re at work. After, I say. He’ll meet me after. I know he’ll meet me after.

Sorry, at work. I am taking my last 15 now.

You get off soon, though.

I am not using full words. I am typing in letters. I do not want to be typing. I want to be home. I do not feel like I can drive. I never can not drive. I’m the best drunk driver ever. I’m just drinking with my friend.

So I don’t know these friends, right? I have plans tonight with my best friend. He’s got my TV from our other friend and is going to help me set up the living room and my Wii.

He’s getting high tonight, I say to Murdock and Sandro. His best friend is coming over to set up his Wii. He’s not picking me.

How did this happen again? How did I get here? I tell them that you need to set up your Wii. I can’t keep doing this, I say. And I put the phone on the table, and by the light of a fake candle, I type the only thing I can think to type.

That’s fine. Have fun. Bye.

Something isn’t right. I need you tonight. I can’t feel my hands. I can’t feel my heart. The room continues to spin and I am sweating.

I thought you had asked me to go out to dinner with you when we were out and about with Ave? OK. I guess we’re done talking. I still have 10 minutes of my 15 and I took it so I could answer you. I just can’t text when I’m sitting at the front desk because there’s a camera on me recording at all times.

I show the text to Murdock and Sandro. He’s not picking you, Murdock says. He will never pick you, Sandro says. I feel like they’re a fucking Greek chorus. You have your own Greek chorus. Your best friend. Your roommate. I know both will stop at nothing to make sure our relationship ends. They will say whatever they need to say. They’re jealous of me. They’re jealous of us. You know that. You told me so. Why would you listen to them? How could you let them talk about me the way they did the night you snorted pills? How could you have talked about me the way you did the night you snorted pills? How could you have lied to me about snorting pills? How could you tell me last night that you want to marry me and tonight tell me that setting up your Wii is more important?

I know I’m the guy who has to decide if he’s going to look back or not. If I look back, I know I will turn into a pillar of salt. Or is that some other story. It’s not a myth. It’s from the Bible. Lot and his wife. What myth am I thinking about? Persephone. Hades. She has to live six months out of the year in Hell. Icarus. His melted wings. He falls and his father is helpless. Falling. I couldn’t even fall right. I should have fallen. I am falling. I have fallen in love with a man who will never love me the way I want him to love me. I have fallen in love with a man who will never love me the way I deserve to be loved. Or maybe I have fallen in love with a man who will never love himself the way he should. But who am I to decide how anyone should be loved? I am no one. I am dizzy. I do not want to be sitting, but I don’t feel I can stand. What the fuck is happening to me? I ask Murdock how much I’ve had to drink. He points to my one drink and says I haven’t even finished it. I say I’m not feeling well. I say I can’t do this. I say I love you but I can’t keep doing this. It’s insanity, I say, and they don’t know what I mean, but I know they can understand.

It’s fine. Have a good night, D. I’m done. I think my children and I are going to pass on a relationship with you. But I wish you nothing but the best. It’s a Wii. I’m a person. As much as I love you and as much as I think it, I deserve more. And I will find it.

You respond 15 minutes later.

I wish you wonder. Goodbye.

I read your text message. The letters of your first name are buried inside of the word wonder. Why didn’t we see this before?

* * * * *

William Henderson has written for local and national newspapers and magazines, including the Advocate; the Boston Globe; and the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. He earned a Bachelor of Science in Journalism & Communications from the University of Florida, and a Master’s in Fine Arts from Emerson College, where he studied creative non-fiction. He earned a Hearst Award in profile writing in 1998, and various awards from the Washington Press Association, Florida Press Association, and the New England Press Association. Currently, he is a freelance writer, editor, and copyeditor, and a full-time father to his children, Avery and Aurora. He can be reached at wil329@yahoo.com and through his blog, Henderson House of Cards.

His other Snake-Oil contributions are here.

Humpty Dumpty: Friday

wake early on Friday.
I feel alive. You love me. You said so without my saying it first. You called me to tell you loved me. If I recognize that my thoughts have begun racing, I do not make note of it. I make you a CD. I haven’t made you on in a while. I still think that these CDs we make are as close to our hearts as we can give each other.

I call the therapist that Erin referred me to. Judi answers on the fourth ring. She sounds rushed. She says that she can’t see me for an initial session until two Fridays from now. Will you be OK until then?, she asks. I tell her I’ll be fine.

I bring the CD to the park near where you work, and I tape it to the new bench I wrote the Amanda Palmer lyric on two days earlier.

I’ve left you a pick-me-up.

A pick-me-up?

Something to remind you to have chaste, non-flirty fun at your birthday event and to encourage you to find rabbit time this weekend.


I tell Eryn, my best friend at work, that you and I are talking, and that you have told me you love me.

What does Holly think?

I haven’t told her.

You’re not thinking, Will, she says.

I tell Eryn that I want to try. No more lies, I say. He knows everything, and he still loves me. I think we can get past everything.

He’s still a drug addict, she says.

I know, I say. I think he will change, I say.

You can’t change someone in order to make a relationship work. You’re only fooling yourself if you think you can do that. He’s an addict. He will always be an addict. Do you want an addict raising Avery and Aurora?

I love him, I say.

Listen to yourself. There are other men in the world you can love, she says. You can do better than a drug addict. You deserve better than a drug addict. The fact that you even have to say he’s going to have to stop using drugs in order for your relationship to work is ridiculous. He’s a drug addict. And she says it loudly, and I know she’s right. I know you’re a drug addict, and I doubt you will ever change, but I love you and I think you’re meant for me and I think you’re worth the risk. I think we’re worth the risk.

I go online to Amazon and I find a sailboat charm. The charm is not expensive, and there is enough room on it to engrave our initials. I am starting to feel manic. I know I am starting to feel manic.

I finish the day at work, and I go home. I decide I can’t text you again. I do not want you thinking I’m checking up on your or that I’m not OK with you having a life outside of me. I’m OK with it because I’m no longer a habit. You have picked me, even if we’re not officially back together. You said it yourself. No title, no Facebook status, nothing changes who we are when we’re together. Put us together; see how you feel. You said it.

Holly and I watch Valentine’s Day. At the end of the movie, several couples realize the inherent truth in the idea of for better and for worse. Things break, but love can put everything together again, or so I tell myself. I text you video clips from the film.

I wake up at 3 a.m. My body remembers 3 a.m. You have not responded to the video clips.

Are you OK?

I love you, and I’m OK.

I sit up and pull the blanket tighter around me.

I know you’re it. My it. Us. You, me, Holly, Avery, and Aurora. We can and will get there.



Because I don’t want to be crying for no reason.

I’m yours. You’re mine, rabbit. Cry. I love you.

I love you too. That’s the first time you’ve typed Aurora’s name.

I suppose that’s very true.

It is.

There’s a lot to work out. But, I feel OK about a lot more now. Night all of my rabbits.

I know there’s still work to do. I’ve just worried that when one of us dated/slept with someone, we’d have to change, and I wasn’t convinced we’d get it back. I love you, too.

It never went away. You already know that.

Feelings aren’t logical.

And what is logic?

Logic is what you said: Repeating past mistakes expecting different results. Insanity.

I don’t know how this plays out. You finish what you have to.

And I think, what if our finish line is actually 57 years from now. And I’m still crying, and I want to ask you if I can come over and hold you and inhale and see if you smell like yourself again.

I want you to know it’s there. But, did you not know that the other night?

I know that when we’re together, we interact as a couple in love, and when we’re with Avery, we interact like a family.

We limit our reactions to each other. Aside from that – I need sleep.

We don’t need words to communicate. Avery wants you to push and you’re holding a bag and without saying anything I let go of the stroller and you hand me the bag and you start to push and it all happens seamlessly.


Love. I will see you when I see you.

I noticed it too at the same time. Sleep. Night.




I haven’t in?

Maybe now.

Let’s hope I do.

Let’s hope.

You owe me a ring. I want/need to be tied to you in that sense. Not sure about the timing. Just a side thought.

I may have bought you a boat of sorts, I text. But I’m wearing it first.

I want to write the word MARRY on the palm of one hand and the word ME on the palm of my other hand, drive to your apartment, call you when I am downstairs, and ask you to come down for a minute. I would be on one knee, and you would be standing there, and I would draw the W ring on your left ring finger and I would hold up my hands. I think you would say yes because I would be using both hands to propose.

Sail away, sail away, sail away. You’re my guitar hero. Also, Holly and I get coffee together without you. Decaf.

To bond and begin plotting to overthrow me. I’m sure that will be fine.

No, we clearly both love you.

It will be a torch passing. Here’s what I’ve learned in 12 years; good luck figuring out the rest.

You probably can’t even comprehend.

Maybe not. If you want it, then we’ll figure it out.

I meant that we both still love you.

You’re my number one best decision for me and my kids.

Night, my rabbit.

Night and really just a PS: You haven’t smelled like you when we’ve hugged. Or maybe I wasn’t close enough to inhale. I will next time.

* * * * *

William Henderson has written for local and national newspapers and magazines, including the Advocate; the Boston Globe; and the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. He earned a Bachelor of Science in Journalism & Communications from the University of Florida, and a Master’s in Fine Arts from Emerson College, where he studied creative non-fiction. He earned a Hearst Award in profile writing in 1998, and various awards from the Washington Press Association, Florida Press Association, and the New England Press Association. Currently, he is a freelance writer, editor, and copyeditor, and a full-time father to his children, Avery and Aurora. He can be reached at wil329@yahoo.com and through his blog, Henderson House of Cards.

His other Snake-Oil contributions are here.

Humpty Dumpty: Thursday

For the previous entries in Will Henderson’s Humpty Dumpty series, click here.

I ask someone in the human resources departmentwhere I work to help you. I don’t want you to work with me, but I think they may be able to offer you pointers on finding a different human resources job.

You are pleased with, maybe even excited by, my idea. You ask me to set up the appointment for a Thursday if possible. I ask you if doing all of this for you is OK. You say you appreciate it and that you don’t know what you’d do if I wasn’t in your life.

It is your day off. On other Thursdays, I would come to you at lunch and we would make love. I miss Thursdays.

Have a healthy and productive day.



You send me a picture of some tools. I recognize nothing in the picture. You tell me that the Allen wrenches are not there. You send a second picture of new coffee mugs.

Did the clover mug make it home safely?


 We reiterate our plan to continue stealing them.

After yoga on Wednesdays.

You text a picture of a bag of coffee.

Do you remember where or when I may have bought Yukon Blend?

I think at the Starbucks at Cambridgeside a few weeks ago when you bought a lot of mugs and I bought the computer mouse.

We stop talking for a while. I want to ask you to go see a movie. I want to ask you to do something normal and fun and date-like, but I don’t want you to think I want a date. I don’t want to push you faster than you’re willing to go. Still, I decide to ask.

You probably have plans, but do you want to see a movie tomorrow night? No biggie if you can’t, but I feel like seeing a movie.

Friday I have a birthday event to go to, otherwise I would.

No biggie.

Sorry rabbit. You were about one hour late as I just got the Facebook invite.

It’s OK. I didn’t want you to think it was a date so I wasn’t going to ask, but then thought the worst thing you would say is no.

 You reply with a smile. I get the confirmation about Thursday and the times and I tell you.

Thanks rabbit.

I meet with my realtor. She takes me to two apartments; one is perfect. The apartment is the first floor of a house. The landlord and his family live upstairs. I fall in love with the apartment before I even see inside. I like the idea of living in a house. I like the idea of living in a house with a huge backyard for Avery. The landlord has two children, both older than Avery, which means any noise Avery makes will be understood.

I give my realtor a check for the deposit. I haven’t rented a home on my own in 11 years.

I just rented an apartment. Or mostly. They need to approve me but that shouldn’t be a problem. I’m a little sad. I may have cried driving back to work.

Are you OK?

I will be. Thanks for asking. I’ll have a library and the kids will have a big yard and there’s tons of storage. The shower is small so I’ll have to be careful who I invite into it. And it’s cute and has character so it won’t take much to make it home.

I send you the photos of the apartment I took.

Very cute.

You send me a picture you took on Newbury Street of an Eiffel Tower that stands in front of a store.

I’ve seen that.

I figured you had. Just sharing. By the way, the last video I sent you was not a fuck you video. I had no idea about anything at that point. It was just a random D video.

I didn’t take it as a fuck-you video until afterward.

Well, it wasn’t meant like that at any point. I was just showering, so it occurred to me that I meant to tell you that all along.

I deleted it. I don’t have any of it anymore. But thank you for telling me. It’s OK. You had a list of how you could be mean and hateful and it was like you ticked them all off. I know it came from hurt and betrayal. It’s not who you are.

Nothing I did ever was with the intent to hurt you. It was to protect myself.

You still are. Protecting yourself. You should. I want to protect you too.

I operate as logically as I can. It’s my nature. Love doesn’t understand logic. They are not friends. I am still protecting myself. You promised to protect me and you unintentionally hurt me. I am doing the best I can to accommodate both logic and love.

I know. I would be OK if we were just friends. Or acquaintances. Random texts. Just knowing you’re OK is enough. I know you love me. You’re doing fine. We just have shorthand, and it’s easy, and I don’t have anything to compare it to.

Right now, I have friendship to offer you. I know that we have the essence of us still, and that may never go away, even as friends.

I know.

I know we can succeed at a friendship. I don’t want to lose you.

 There’s a chance this is it. There’s a chance we can be more again. There will be work, and who can say.

You and I are both making a lot of changes right now. Our friendship and support for each other is the part of our relationship that we need now. We don’t need fights or anything else right now; this is logical.

I know. I’m not sure I have fight in me. Not anymore.

You’re not losing me and I’m not losing you. We win.

We’re losing us for now and we in a union were pretty great. I guess I’m afraid if we make such great friends you’ll see no reason to take that step forward again.

We’re still us, Will. No words or titles or Facebook status changes that. Proof: Stand next to me and see how you feel. There’s no loss of connection there. But, that doesn’t mean that rushing back in is the right thing. If we can be friends and eventually best friends, then I think that’s where the payoff is. It will be a slow process. But when we get there, it will be seamless just as it has always been.

I know. Does it make sense to say I’ve felt halved since – there’s this myth that once we were all two souls connected and a god got angry and ripped everyone apart and we’ve spent eternity looking for our soul twin. I didn’t know how to handle everything I felt.

It doesn’t. I’ve felt the same way. My immediate instinct is to be with you again. But, past actions are indicators of future behavior. I need to look at the past and see a positive future. A solid friendship with you over time is the answer to that.

I do not tell you that I don’t believe in small breaks. A break is a break; small ones widen over time. So I agree with you, even though I know what was broken will not be fixed by time or friendship. Two halves do not make a whole when it comes to a healthy relationship; it takes two wholes. The ground beneath us is gone. We are falling. I know we are falling. I don’t want to know we are falling. I want to land. You were my home once, I think. You were wonderland.

I know. Was it this way when your other relationships ended? I think they were always just done, right? Your feelings ebbed and you moved on. And I’m not sure your logic in past indicating future holds. I think the reasons for my past actions don’t exist anymore. Like you said, the future that past was leading to is gone.

I just try not to repeat things that don’t work expecting a different result: Insanity.

That’s like saying you’re on your way to crystal again because you upped your drug intake that one time.

Well, Will, anything is possible. That was a risk I took.

The guy you dated with the other life is gone. He fell apart. There is no other life anymore. There is no self-hate. I don’t know how to explain it without seeming like I’m begging, which is not what I’m doing. You’re worth my patience, D. You always have been.

And you’re a new Will. Hello. Would you like to be friends? I think I’d like to get to know you.

Yes. Friend it out.


But don’t be surprised if one day we’re in matching suits and you have the W ring and I have whatever ring the key melts down to and I tell you I told you so.

I love to be proved wrong.

You don’t, but that’s OK. I will still try.

I am going to the RMV to get a license. I’ll talk to you later.

Go with the wind, Icarus. I love you and believe in you.

I love you, too. Or just love. Love.

I know. Love. I hear you sometimes just sleep and cuddle with friends. I’m going to hold you to it.

You send back a smile. Who knew that I would be able to use the fact that you and your best friend slept together as friends in my favor. Too bad you’re not ready for Avery. We’re going to the Charles River and maybe we’ll steal a Starbucks mug after. You told me you couldn’t handle a Will speech because I could sell you a boat. Well, I’ll be your boat. I’ll wear your boat. In my head, wearing a boat on a chain around my neck makes perfect sense. I will tell you I am your boat and that I will not sink again.

I call Holly. I ask her to bring me clothes so I can walk at the Charles. Holly brings me shorts and sneakers when she brings me Avery and the stroller. She says she needs the night out with her friends. I do not tell her that you and I have talked all day and that it feels normal and right. I do not tell her that I never thought you and I would spend all day talking again, and now that we have, I can’t imagine my life without talking to you all day. I tell her I will be home later.

I go to a mall to find a boat charm. Avery is talking in the backseat. I take some video of Avery talking, and I send the video to you.

I miss him.

Yeah, he’s missable. You were his stepparent. That wasn’t a lie.

I know that. I don’t feel any differently. I will treat him the same way.

Maybe, but you need to negotiate with his father first.

Maybe. But I don’t think there’s a better way to treat him than how I do. I’m open to suggestions.

You do just fine. You just can’t disappear from his life again. You broke up with him too.

I won’t just disappear without provocation.

I need to buy the boat charm today because the next time I see you, I want to have a boat on a chain around my neck. I want to be your boat that you can’t help but buy. I know you want to date it out again. And I want that, too. I do not listen when the voices in my head tell me I’m heading into uncharted territory. I do not listen when the voices in my head tell me I’m starting to go to bed later and wake up earlier. I do not listen when the voices in my head tell me I need to tell Holly. Instead, I am convincing myself to buy a boat that I obviously don’t know how to sail.

I do not find a boat charm, but I find tank tops. You say you have several you could give me. You say you have a pile of clothes in your closet that would fit me now, and that I am welcome to go through the pile and pick out what I like. I take pictures of Avery and send them to you. I’m delaying going home because I want you to ask me to do something. I see a Handy Manny toy. I take a picture and send it to you. Maybe I should get this for you and your best friend, I write. What I’m saying is I understand why you watched the cartoon when you were high, and I understand that I overreacted, and I hope you forgive me.

Can I interest you in ice cream? I don’t have any; just seeing if you would be interested.

Where? I am in the Common now.

I’d meet you there. Can you entertain yourself for a bit?

I get to the Common and find parking within a half hour. I put Avery in his stroller. We’re going to see D, baby, I say. D, D, D, Avery says. He has missed you too.

Sunbathers are on blankets. A group of men kick a soccer ball back and forth. There are no nets. They have figured out their own goal boundaries. I see two men sitting on a bench. They are clearly together. I take a picture of them. I am far enough away and behind them. They do not see me take the picture. I send you the picture.

I want this please.

Where are you?

I’m close.

I know where you are without even having to ask. Near Park Street Station. I see you there, and you’re sitting and drinking an iced coffee. There are a flock of birds nearby, walking and searching for crumbs. You see me and Avery and you stand up. You smile. I push Avery toward you and he is excited and you are excited, and I want to hug you and wrap my hands around the back of your neck and kiss you. Kissing strangers has gotten easier since Holly and I decided to separate; kissing someone I love should be simple, but it’s even more complicated.

You say hi and Avery says hi and I say hi and Avery wants out of his stroller and you know without my having to tell you that taking Avery out is a mistake. You tell Avery that you’ll take him out later. Avery pouts. You say, Buddy, I missed you, and you give him a hug. Avery holds onto you a little longer than necessary. You look at me over the top of his head and your eyes are wet and your eyes are smiling at me and I think that you would accept a kiss.

So ice cream, you ask, and I say yes, ice cream. And you ask if I had a place in mind, and I say no, and you say what about J.P. Licks, and I say that’s fine, and we walk. You look up and the sun is beautiful and you take a picture of it and I take a picture of you taking a picture of it and in the photo your back is to me and I can see Avery. I don’t know that this picture will be the last picture I take of you.

We walk. We walk across the Common and down Newbury Street. I think that this is the same way I walked when I bought the Amanda Palmer magazine on the night before your birthday. I feel that walking again on this street with you is somehow appropriate.

You say to Avery that he needs to tell his mother that the yellow stroller he is in sucks. And I say that the yellow stroller is small enough that I can carry it on my own, as opposed to the stroller I used when you and I walked together. I do not say, but I am saying all the same, that without your help, I have been reduced to a stroller one person can handle.

We walk and we talk about the car you want to buy. I suggest you get a used car, since it will be cheaper. You say you will think about it, but your mind is pretty set on a new car. I don’t say that I think you want a new car because your best friend has a new car. I don’t say it because I don’t want to cause a fight.

We walk and we talk about what went wrong and what happened and we talk about what we did in the time since we last saw each other and I point out different storefronts I had photographed on the night before your birthday, including a jewelry store that has as its window display a mock-up of the Mad Hatter’s tea party. There is Alice. There are the cups and saucers. A world of wonder awaits you upstairs; the headline above the picture. If I had only known the world of wonder that awaited me upstairs on the night I met you.

You tell me how one of the keys on the chain around your neck is a broken key. It is missing the part that fits inside a lock. You say you found it on this street, but couldn’t find the other half. You say that that was very much how you felt at that time. I tell you that I felt that way, too, then, and still feel that way. You point out the intersection where you found the broken key, and we look for the other half. I ask the universe to put the other half in view. I think we need to find the other half if we are going to get back together. Finding the other half will be a sign. I want to find the other half and give it to you. I think if I find the other half and give it to you, you will kiss me and everything will be OK.

We don’t find the other half of the key, but you say not finding the other half is OK. You hadn’t really expected to find it since so much time has passed.

We keep walking. Avery only wants you to push. You say nothing changes.

At times, everything changes, but we can take comfort in the parts that don’t change.

You say nothing.

Ahead, in front of a store, a Union Jack flag hangs. You stop and look at it. You ask me if we should take it.

I think you’re serious, and I say I think we should take it and leave.

Get the car and come back; you’ll grab the flag and jump in.

I say forget ice cream. Let’s do it.

You laugh.

You say rabbit, you would, wouldn’t you?

And I say yes, and that Avery would be our co-pilot, and you touch Avery’s head and he grabs your hand and pulls your fingers into his mouth. And I think that this right now, right here, in the middle of Newbury Street walking to get ice cream, is the way our life should be. This, right now, right here, is how our life should have been all along. But I don’t say that. I get the feeling that you’re not yet convinced. I feel like this, right now, right here, is an audition. I feel like you want to hire me for the part of your next boyfriend, but you’re still auditioning other guys. Maybe this is my callback. I should have rehearsed a song and dance number.

We get to the ice cream shop. You pay. We take turns feeding Avery and eating what we ordered. No Doubt is playing on the radio. You ask me if I like them. I say I do. You say you like some of their songs. You tell me about an MGMT show you went to with your best friend. You tell me that you bought tickets to see Ani DiFranco for you, your best friend, and another friend from work. Ani is playing Boston two nights before the Pittsfield show I bought us tickets for months ago. I think, really? You bought tickets for you, your best friend, and someone else, and you never bought tickets for us to see a concert? And I ask you if you would be OK if I bought my own ticket. I say I won’t stand with you and your friends. I say you won’t even know I’m there. You say that that would be fine. You can’t promise that I’ll be welcome to stand with you and your friends, but I should buy a ticket if I want to go. You go to the bathroom and I watch you walk away. I wipe Avery’s face with a napkin. You come out and we pack up our leftover ice cream.

We stop by a record store, and while you’re looking for a specific record, I find something you weren’t even looking for but that I know you want. You do. You buy it. We walk back in the direction of the Common. Avery is thirsty. He asks for juice. I give him his cup, but he doesn’t want it from me. He wants it from you.

Avery wants you to push him. He asks for you. You’re holding the Newbury Comics bag with the record in it. We don’t look at each other. I reach for the bag with one hand while still pushing with the other. You hand me the bag and simultaneously take control of the stroller. We don’t have to stop. We walk side by side. We may have gone into our relationship wanting to learn each other’s language, but we soon no longer needed each other’s language. Lovers develop a diction all their own.

You say you will help me move into my apartment. You offer your help without my having to ask. You say that if you help me, even if we end up hating each other eventually, when you move, I will have to agree to help you. I say I will do that. I say that if at that time you still don’t trust me in your home, then I will understand.

I’m not sure I don’t trust me in your home, you say, but my roommate has forbidden you from coming back into the apartment.

I don’t say that the apartment is yours and he’s just a subletter; that if we’re together, shouldn’t you get to decide whom you let into your apartment? I say instead that I will not want to go into your apartment. I say I’m not interested in seeing what your room looks like without pieces of me in it. I don’t say that I will never bring my son or daughter into your apartment again. I don’t say that I should never have brought Avery into a home where there are drugs and drug paraphernalia and men getting high. I don’t ask how many times you think Avery was there while your roommates were getting stoned. I don’t ask you if you even thought about that or cared.

I say that you’ll be welcome in my apartment. I say that I’ve spent six months in your home, and that it will be time for us to spend an equal amount of time in my home. You say you don’t believe that I don’t want to be in your home. I say it’s true. You say you’ll see.

You ask about the audio from the night before your party. I say I could send it to you. I say I haven’t listened to any more of it. You say again that you’d like to hear it, if only to hear things you’re not ready to admit about yourself.

We pass some of the more expensive apartments on Newbury Street, several of which have fire escapes, and you say that if you found out you had only one month to live, you would use every credit card you have and rent a flat for one month. Just to see what living like that feels like, you say.

You won’t do that at all, I say. You’d travel around the world. There are places you want to see before you die.

I know there are. And you laugh and you say that I know you too well, and of course you’d want to see the world.

I say that I would go with you and show you what I could, and learn with you the parts I didn’t know.

I’ll hold you to it, rabbit, you say.

You ask about Holly and how she’s holding up, and I tell you that she’s holding up better than I am. I tell you that she is the strongest woman I know. You say you’re looking forward to getting to know her.

I tell you I will walk with you to the train you will take to get home. We get near the train and we stop at a corner. There is a police officer at that corner. You bend at the waist to hug Avery, then you look at me. You reach for me, and I reach for you, and we hug a few seconds longer than friends hug and I inhale and you still don’t smell like you. And I let you go and you let me go and you smile at me and you say thank you and I say you’re welcome and you turn to walk away and I watch for a few seconds before I turn Avery’s stroller around and return the way we just came to walk toward my car.

I look into the storage area under Avery’s stroller, and I see what I think is your ice cream. I call you. I think I can catch you before you get on the train. You answer. I say I have your ice cream. You say you have your ice cream. I look in the bag and realize I am looking at my ice cream. I say you’re right and I hang up.

You call back. I wasn’t done, you say. I say sorry. You say thank you for coming out and for bringing Avery. You say you had missed him. I say he had missed you. You say I love you, Will. I say I love you, too, D. And we say nothing else, and I am wrapped in our story, and I think you are wrapped in our story, and I think we are each waiting for the other to say something else, but there is silence and we are each on our phones paused in our separate journeys home and I say I will talk to you tomorrow and you say you will talk to me tomorrow and we hang up.

What I should have said is come back. Don’t get on the train. I’m turning around.

And you would have, because you would have wanted to, and we would have met back where we parted and I would have put the brake on Avery’s stroller and I would have stepped into you and you would have hugged me and I would have wrapped my hands around the back of your neck and we would have kissed for the first time in more than three weeks and the police officer who had been standing on the corner where we went our separate ways would have looked away, because that’s what people do when they see two people so madly in love.

I walk with Avery through the Common toward my car. I look at the night sky. There are the stars, the same stars I thought you would imagine me living on if I had succeeded in killing myself. I turn in a circle and spread my arms wide. Avery laughs. I take a picture of a carousel. The photo doesn’t turn out well, but it is proof that I am here and you and I had been there together moments earlier. I get to the car and I strap Avery in and I get in and I say, we had a good night with D, right, and Avery laughs and says, yes. And I say I love you, baby, and he says I love you too, daddy. And he adds, I love D, and I say I love D, too.

I think this is the first time he has said I love D. He says it unprompted. There are few lies with children. They say what they mean. They have no filter. When he says I love D, he means he loves D.

We get home and Holly asks if we had fun. Holly hugs Avery. Did you have fun, baby, she asks. D, he says, D, D, D. Holly looks at me. Did you see him?, she asks me.

No, I say. I would tell you if we saw him.

I am lying, even though I have no reason to lie. She won’t approve, I think. She will say that you broke me and she put me together again and we were separating and I am moving out next week and it isn’t fair that I get you in the end. She would say that it’s not that she wants me to be alone and unhappy, but that she thinks I can do better than a drug addict.

Some nights, however shapeless, are meant to be seen. This night, tonight, you and I were meant to see what we have left. If there is anything left. I want there to be. I want you to think there is.

* * * * *

William Henderson has written for local and national newspapers and magazines, including the Advocate; the Boston Globe; and the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. He earned a Bachelor of Science in Journalism & Communications from the University of Florida, and a Master’s in Fine Arts from Emerson College, where he studied creative non-fiction. He earned a Hearst Award in profile writing in 1998, and various awards from the Washington Press Association, Florida Press Association, and the New England Press Association. Currently, he is a freelance writer, editor, and copyeditor, and a full-time father to his children, Avery and Aurora. He can be reached at wil329@yahoo.com and through his blog, Henderson House of Cards.

His other Snake-Oil contributions are here.

Humpty Dumpty: Wednesday

For the previous entries in Will Henderson’s “Humpty Dumpty” series, click here.

Good morning. Take time today and do something for you. Go to Costco. Buy strawberries. Wash them. Take them outside. Sit in the sun. Close your eyes. Taste red. Failing that, compliment a stranger.

I will do that, sir. Thanks.

I take Avery to daycare. He asks for chocolate and I give him a piece. He eats the chocolate quickly, and when he finishes, he asks for more. His lips are brown. I take a video of him asking for chocolate. I send the video to you and Holly.

No more D?

Avery has not asked for you in a few days. Maybe he’s forgetting you. I sidestep your question.

During my lunch break, I come over to the park near where you work with some Sharpies to mark a new bench for us. You have been at work more than six hours, so I don’t expect to see you outside.

I hadn’t thought about what to write. I don’t look at our old bench. I don’t want to re-write I wish you wonder. I’m not sure if the phrase still fits. So I write lyrics from an Amanda Palmer song on the bench: And it is getting harder to pretend that life goes on without you in the wake.

I write the words and I know they are true. I’m tired of telling people that I’m OK. I’m tired of hearing people tell me that I will be OK. I want to not be OK until I can be OK. I want to grieve for our relationship until I no longer have to grieve. I may no longer be proficient at the ending of relationships, but I don’t want to just forget about you. I don’t want to just jump into the arms of the first man who says hello to me. I don’t want to be fixed up with a colleague’s friend of a friend. I want to go through the end and come out the other side and be better for it. You and I are talking, I think. That’s a start.

I reach for my phone so I can take a picture of the bench and send it to you. I look up. You’re walking toward me. You saw me first, I think, and you’re still walking toward me. I stand still.

Hi, you say. Hi, I say. I haven’t seen you in more than three weeks, and you look the same, and I think I look thinner, and I want to touch you and make sure that you’re real.

I’m sorry, I say. I didn’t think I would run into you.

You told me to sit outside and eat strawberries, you say.

I know, I say. But I figured you had had your lunch hours ago.

It’s been a busy day, you say.

We’re standing close enough to touch. You look down. I look down. We’re wearing the same pair of shoes. You chuckle. I smile. I say I have to go. You say OK. You move toward me and you hug me. The hug is brief, but your arms feel right, and I inhale, and I don’t smell your lotion, and then you’re not hugging me and I’m not sure what to say and I tell you I’ll talk to you later. I walk to my car. I don’t look back.

Too much? I know you didn’t want to see me.

True, I didn’t want to see you yet, but it wasn’t that bad. The park kind of feels like a neutral territory. It is a nice Amanda-esque sentiment. How are you?

I’m good. A little stunned. A little like, really, universe? Cosmic jokes all around. Are you OK?

Crying a bit, but OK.

I’m sorry. My therapist says you don’t fall in love in a day and you don’t fall out of love in a day. But that’s not even my problem.

I could have turned around and walked back; it’s fine.

You could have.

What’s not your problem? It figured we were meant to talk. Just like sometimes I should just get in the car and shut up.

Yes, I think. Sometimes you should just get in the car and shut up.

My feelings for you aren’t my problem. I can’t get the voice in my heart to stop screaming that we needed this to happen to stop pretending, to become real. I wasn’t going to change on my own. And I just want to kiss you to see if you still taste like home.

I told you I want to be friends and it will take time.

I know. But that just seems like a waste, kind of. But it’s fine.

I still love you, and I always will.

I know. That’s what sucks. It’s like we have the pieces to put it back together but.

It’s a lot. It is and it was.

I know.

It’s difficult. It’s difficult.

I guess I just feel it’s all out there now and we just need to find each other again.

I worry that I won’t trust you like I need to be able to do.

I’m willing to earn your trust. We have time. My life was and is a lot, but before I met you, I wasn’t living. And despite your inner voice, I think the same held true for you. Until you text again, I love you.

I meet a former editor of mine for coffee. I come out to him. He welcomes me to the family, tells me I look better than he’s ever seen me, and listens with an appropriate amount of interest and concern to the parts of my story I tell him. I ask him if he thinks there is a story in all of this, and he says there is. Work on it, Will, he tells me. I think there is definitely something there.

When I get back to my office, I call you. I need to tell you that I am thinking about writing our story. It might be a book, I tell you, or maybe a magazine article. But I can’t not write it.

That sounds good, you tell me, and then you say you have to go.

I’m glad about your article/book. Sorry if I seemed short, but people were around me. I thought something bad had happened since you called.

You didn’t say anything about skinner, glowier rabbit.

You look much healthier and happier; it’s true. I commented as much as I felt appropriate at the time. So will I get an advance copy of our story?

You lived it. That’s about as advanced as you get. You’re living it. You know. I write to figure stuff out. I’ve written hundreds of pages now. I just handed over about 25 and shared the story and I wait.

I’d like to see it in words. I am sure it will be more than a story, and I understand that it will be written from your point of view.

I don’t think I’m innocent. I never thought that. I don’t play the victim.

I wasn’t talking about that. Only simply that it would be written by your eyes. I will hold information I as the other party never knew was going on.

There’s really not much you don’t know.

I didn’t know you were married to Holly. There’s a lot I don’t know. You told me once when I said that I felt like you were hiding something that you were an open book. This can be your open-book chance. I don’t mean now. I mean the story you give to them if and when it comes to that.

When Holly told me you could only find one glove, I was on a treadmill going nowhere at 4.5 miles per hour, and we were going to end up with half of a matching set, which is what I think we are as people, and I thought that was the right end.

I like that.

But you found the glove, so it doesn’t work. And it doesn’t change that I think we’re a matched set.

It took a lot of searching in my closet. I started to clean it immediately after that.

You should have kept it up after I did it. My feelings were hurt. I had spent hours doing that. But it’s your closet and your mess so I kept my mouth shut. I just can’t imagine living like that.

It’s how my closet has been for a while now. Old habits …

Your system works for you. Old habits. That’s my line for not telling you everything. And really, it’s just the legal nature I omitted. Everything else I told you about the relationship is true.

I guess I learned that marriage is really important to me. The idea of it being forever, and if it doesn’t work, you need to fix it or the situation. I don’t think marriage works with three people. Are you honestly content with a friendship with me?

No. But I think that that’s what you’ll need now if we are ever to move forward together. I don’t think it’s impossible. I would be content sitting and talking to you for a while. Answering your questions, listening to how you feel, and seeing what’s there or not there. I don’t want to be married to two people.

I am not ready for a Will speech. I know you could sell me a boat because I love you.

This is the first time you have said you love me since we broke up, and not in terms of always loving me and Avery. My heart soars. You love me. I knew you loved me. I knew we had a chance. I knew.

I want to be married to you, co-parenting two children with Holly.

Right now I have a lot going on: potential job or second job hunting, buying a car (because that was the intent and already in the works because of Ave).

You tell me you’re considering looking for work at Panera. I stop texting. I call you.

Really, I ask. You’re thinking about a second job, and at Panera? What I want to say is why? Why don’t you aim higher?

I’m going to need extra money, if I’m going to buy a car.

You’re in human resources, I say. You don’t need to go backward and start making coffee again.

I’m just thinking about it.

We don’t say anything for a minute, and then you tell me that you bought a Wii.

Holly’s keeping our Wii, I say.

You’re done with work. You’re on your way home. I tell you I have yoga. I tell you that I will be done with yoga at 6:30 and ask if you will meet me at a Starbucks. Don’t give me an answer, and don’t text me your answer. I will not have my phone, I say. I will walk past Starbucks and I will see you if you are there and I won’t see you if you aren’t there.

You say OK.

I say have a good night. I hang up.

Before I leave for yoga, I write you a letter. I know you said you weren’t ready for a Will speech, but I think we are one Will speech away from getting it right. You’ll read the letter. Maybe reading a speech will be better than hearing one.

I enjoy my yoga class, though I am not fully present. I think that you won’t be at Starbucks. I think you will text me later and say you’re not ready, but you will thank me for inviting you, and we will talk about my yoga class. I get closer and my heart is racing and I want you to be there and I pass by and there is no one sitting outside and I sigh. Next time, I think.

Have fun with your Wii tonight.

Did you look inside? Did you look at our spot?

I turn around. I see your back in the window. You came.

You are sitting in a chair you had claimed as yours a few months ago. The chair I had claimed as mine is empty. I put my bag down and you are reading a book and drinking coffee and I ask you if you need anything and you say no. You are wearing clothes I recognize. I don’t want to stare, but I do and you have on a new necklace, and you have shaved your head since I saw you earlier, and I still think you’re beautiful and I wonder what you would do if kissed you.

I order tea and I bring my cup over to you and I sit in the chair next to you and I say hi and you say hi and I think for the first time since we started talking again that we’re going to be OK.

We talk for an hour. We look at each other. We look for changes, differences, moments we missed, or at least this is what I think we’re doing. You’re wearing different keys around your neck. You look mostly the same. I am in gym clothes. I never wore gym clothes when we were together. I’m in sneakers. I never wore sneakers when we were together. You show me your bag. You had ironed on a Union Jack patch I had given you. You ask about the gym and yoga. You ask about Avery. You tell me about a book you’re reading. We talk more about your job hunt. We talk about your Wii.

I ask if you’re planning to use the small television in the living room, and you say that a friend is moving back home to be with his family and he is selling you his television. I say you may need to get connectors so you can have color. I know this may be true because Holly and I needed to get special connectors in order to play games in color. You say you didn’t know that and that you will look for the right connectors.

You tell me that you want to figure out how to have me in your life. You say you need to have me and Avery in your life, but you don’t know what that will entail. You don’t want to lose us.

You tell me that you’re not even supposed to be there.

What do you mean?, I say.

The restraining order.

I thought it had expired, I say. I haven’t received notice of it being extended.

It’s in place for a year, you say. I showed up; you didn’t. I’ll have to tell you later what that day was like.

OK, I say.

I wait for you to tell me how we reverse or overturn the restraining order. I wait for you to say you don’t feel you need a restraining order. But you don’t. You’re sitting with me and you’re close enough to touch and yet you are unwilling to address the unnecessary restraining order you took out against me. I know Erin would say the restraining order gives you power. And I think you need to feel you have power in order to even talk to me. I do not like thinking that you feel you need to have power in order to even talk to me. I want to tell you that all I have is yours, I want to say. Take it. Take me. Try.

Holly and I are having a daughter, I say. Aurora. I don’t tell you that I know you already know. I wait for you to tell me that you know, but you don’t.

You had mentioned that name as a possibility.

We have decided to give her a middle name that begins with the letter S, so that Avery and Aurora will have the same initials. Holly likes Simone, but Aurora Simone sounds too much like Au Revoir Simone, and I can’t do that to myself.

Really?, you ask.


So I’ve been approved for a car loan. Mum needs to fax some paperwork to the store. I have to stop there on my way home. I guess I’ll look for those cables while I’m there.

We have finished our tea. You get a phone call. A friend needs some technical support. You tell her you will call her back later. I think you’ve asked someone to call you to give you a reason to leave.

I have to go, you say. You look at the coffee mug you had used. The mug is a Clover mug and cute. You say you are going to take it. You look around and I laugh and you put the mug in your bag and put a shirt on top of the mug.

We could make a habit of going to different Starbucks in the area after yoga on Wednesdays and stealing mugs, I say. We can create a map of all of the Starbucks and tick them off each week.

That sounds like a good idea.

I think these mugs will be the mugs we use to tell our story.

We walk outside and you look at me and I look at you and you hug me and I hug you and you do not smell like yourself. I give you the letter. It’s not a speech, I say. Just words on a piece of paper.

I’ll read it later and text you, you say.

I just read the letter. I need space, and I want to be able to talk about things and see how us as friends works. I need you to be prepared for the fact that I may only want friendship with you in the end. I can’t say right now and I’m not comfortable pushing myself to make a black and white decision about the future and what it holds or doesn’t hold. I think friends is a goal we need to attain first. I need to feel like I can let you back into my house. I don’t feel like that right now.

OK. We’ve taken on water. But we haven’t sunk. Goodnight, D. Thank you for your honesty. I love you, and I look forward to discovering who you are as my friend.

I know we haven’t sunk. If we’d sunk then we wouldn’t be talking. But a few days of texting and coffee is only the start. You will have to earn my trust again, and that’s not going to be easy, and I’m not going to lie and say it would be. Night rabbit.

I think that I will have to learn how to trust you again too. You lied about snorting pills. You felt protecting your friend was more important than being honest with the man you said you wanted to marry. You were already growing interested in someone else. How do I forgive that? Can I forgive that? Do you even realize that I know? I think that if you’re going to be in my life and around my children, then you’re going to need to get sober. I think about telling you this, since you feel telling me how little you trust me is appropriate, but I do not.

If it/we were easy, I wouldn’t fight for it/us. I’d rather build a foundation that may support forever then just say the words. You’re just going to have to take the lead on this. I won’t know what’s too much/not enough until you tell/show me.

I think the focus should be on your life and finding out what and who you are when you’re alone. You need the space and time to be ready for the next step in life. I may be the next step eventually, but I’m not the next step for you right now. I think that the words are: Maybe he came too late or maybe too soon. It’s all in due time, rabbit. There is no fast-lane on this one.

I kind of don’t want a fast lane.

You realize that even if we eventually get back together that you still have my friends’ trust to gain back as well.

As you would have Holly’s.

Why would Holly not trust me?

I do not tell you that she will not let a drug addict raise her children. I think I should tell you this, if only to see what you will say.

I didn’t take you away from her because I didn’t even know that was a possibility.

She wants me to be happy. She wants the kids happy. She knows I’m going to find that with a man. I was already away from her when you and I met.

This timeline was not in our plan. Life is life. It’s messy and it doesn’t always go our way.

Holly and I were selfish. Neither one of us wanted to give up Avery time, so we struggled. But I think it’s possible, even just as friends, that we may look back and say from that point everything was different.

Which doesn’t always mean [the universe] doesn’t go and decide what’s actually best for us without asking …

I think to be your partner and best friend, I needed to break down. I wish I could have done it without hurting you. But I needed the crisis.

I’m tired, rabbit. My mind hurts. Night.

* * * * *

William Henderson has written for local and national newspapers and magazines, including the Advocate; the Boston Globe; and the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. He earned a Bachelor of Science in Journalism & Communications from the University of Florida, and a Master’s in Fine Arts from Emerson College, where he studied creative non-fiction. He earned a Hearst Award in profile writing in 1998, and various awards from the Washington Press Association, Florida Press Association, and the New England Press Association. Currently, he is a freelance writer, editor, and copyeditor, and a full-time father to his children, Avery and Aurora. He can be reached at wil329@yahoo.com and through his blog, Henderson House of Cards.

His other Snake-Oil contributions are here.


Humpty Dumpty: Tuesday

wake up thinking about your saying
you were contemplating therapy. I flip through the handouts I read in the program. I pick out some of my favorites, and a blank goals sheet. I take these handouts to work and photocopy them.

During my lunch break, I go to where you work. I tape an envelope containing the handouts behind a bench. I include a postcard. The front of the postcard shows chaos. On the back of the postcard, there is a rabbit. I write: Even in chaos, there is rabbit.

I believe what I write is true. I want you to believe what I write is true.

I photocopied some handouts from group you’ll like. I put them in an envelope and left them taped behind the bench closest to Costco in that side park.

Did you scribble out the bench/I wish you wonder note?

I’ve been avoiding everything with ties to us.

What does that mean? Yes? No? It doesn’t matter, but someone did.

I’ve been to Costco and Supercuts, but nowhere near your store until today. It’s too much, you know.

I understand.

If I had seen the bench, I would have assumed you had done it. That’s why I picked a bench far away. I didn’t want to see it.

Well, I am not like that. You should know that. I took care of all of your/Avery’s stuff.

True. But I hurt you and you lashed out. It’s a natural protection mechanism. I don’t blame you. I’m not angry about it. I forgive you.

Lashed out on what? I didn’t deface my own graffiti. Someone else did and then added stuff in color. I did think you had done it at some point, before you went into the hospital.

I wonder if one of your friends had defaced the graffiti to help you get over me.

I didn’t have time for that. I was busy trying to die.

Yeah, let’s not do that again. You have so much to live for with or without me.

I didn’t want to die; I just didn’t know how to ask for help. I’ve never been good at asking for help. I’ve given myself a second chance and I’ve learned from my mistakes and I’m sure I’ll make new ones, but not so spectacularly. The two attempts are invisible scars on my forearms.

I wanted to call you when Holly sent me the e-mail. I was scared. I also worried that if when I called and it wasn’t to take you back, that you might try harder to end it.

I tried hard enough. It wasn’t my time. Seriously, it’s not your fault. You gave me a push, but I was already in freefall. Don’t blame yourself; I don’t. It wasn’t really about you.

I don’t blame myself, but I still wanted to help you.

You couldn’t. I needed to do it alone. And I had Holly and Avery. And I wrote a lot. It’s like I opened my head and dumped it out. I was lucid and sane by Friday night. I needed to sleep and I needed to talk. I was compartmentalizing everything and I needed to unify my head. Talk about tearing down walls. I needed to do this on my own. But thank you for being concerned.

You’re welcome. I need to go back. Lunch is over.

Thanks for talking.

Later, you and I talk briefly about yoga. You do not recognize the names of poses I am practicing. I think we’re practicing two different things.

Holly makes dinner. We eat together, and then give Avery a bath. He falls asleep early. Holly makes us tea. We sit on the couch and talk about our day. I do not tell her that you and I have been talking.

* * * * *

William Henderson has written for local and national newspapers and magazines, including the Advocate; the Boston Globe; and the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. He earned a Bachelor of Science in Journalism & Communications from the University of Florida, and a Master’s in Fine Arts from Emerson College, where he studied creative non-fiction. He earned a Hearst Award in profile writing in 1998, and various awards from the Washington Press Association, Florida Press Association, and the New England Press Association. Currently, he is a freelance writer, editor, and copyeditor, and a full-time father to his children, Avery and Aurora. He can be reached at wil329@yahoo.com and through his blog, Henderson House of Cards.

His other Snake-Oil contributions are here.

Living in Paradise


y home is a yacht
and living in tropical Townsville is just about the best it can get. We sailed into paradise and put our anchor down.

Things they didn’t tell me about paradise.

Everything is big. The Big Mango, the Big Banana, the big mosquito bites on my legs every time I go out at night in summer. I wondered if my kids were called itch and scratch. Newcomers to Townsville can be spotted easily as pink calamine lotion doesn’t match anything in your wardrobe.

The weather is wonderful, most of the time. It’s only the other times that you feel like you will melt. With the humidity sapping your strength and sweat pouring off your face and other body parts that you didn’t think capable of sweating – come on, who knew their eyelids had sweat pores? – you long for a spell in the supermarket freezer. But in winter it’s perfect and a cold snap of 18 degrees Celsius (or 64º F) hits the front page of the Townsville Bulletin, known to all and sundry as The Bully. I gave my son a cardigan and at five years old he didn’t have a clue how to put it on. He thought the arms were for his legs.

The sea and reef are a treasure. We have ultra-clean beaches and win awards. Not because the locals are civic minded but because only a fool would swim with crocodiles and irikangi jellyfish. You look but don’t touch. The reef is great fun except when a whale thinks your boat is a good place for a back scratch. I don’t think they read the environmental fine print about the 200 metre exclusion zone.

Wildlife is up close and personal. This is especially true as the house geckos click-clack on the walls leaving their cute, but hard to get off droppings, and lazy snakes invade your washing basket. Rain birds are a treat especially their plaintive mating calls at three am that sound like a knife attack on the local nightclub strip. The magpies are friendly too, swooping on you to peck a hole in your head to greet you. But let’s not forget those sea birds that land on our rigging. At first they are fascinating, but after they leave great dollops on the deck that smell like year old sardines it’s hard to apply any adjective other than @#$# birds.

The air is so clean up here at latitude nineteen. They burn half the countryside once every year, though, in an effort to stop fires, and ash lands on everything for about a month. Go figure? The mango winds, or trade winds, are a boon for sailing even though the locals say they make you crazy. Perhaps everyone is a little crazy up here. And that lovely country aroma that wafts over when they are loading cattle at the port is just pure nature.

Tropical fruit is delicious. Mango trees are in just about every back yard and the fruit is a real treat. The sap can burn your skin when you pick them, though. That is if there are any to pick, as the bats have first choice. They fly silently over in squadrons from the mangroves and then spend the evening taking a bite out of every fruit on the tree. The possums will get your lychees and a cyclone, such as this February’s Yasi, will devastate the bananas for a whole
season so we have to buy them from down south at three times the price.

Living in paradise is great and I’m sure I’ll really enjoy it once I get over my skin cancer, my heat rash, and my mozzie bites. Oh, and when I retrieve my knickers from the neighbour’s rigging that the trade winds blew off my washing line.

* * * * *

As a writer Hettie Ashwin does her best. She writes for magazines, radio and fun. Hettie has a healthy ego, and a fertile imagination which combines with a robust work ethic to make her a well rounded individual. As the proud possessor of an enlarged funny bone, it has a marked influence on her writing style and her life in general. Hettie blogs here.

Her publications at Dr. Hurley’s Snake-Oil Cure can be found here.

A Postcard from Townsville, Australia

’day! Welcome, cobbers, to Townsville week! Townsville, for those not knowing, is a small, Australian coastal city of some 150,000 people, in the tropics, just on 1,300 miles north of Sydney as the galah flies, adjacent to the Great Barrier Reef. We do more here, though, than lounge about watching the coral. Townsville is far from the Woop Woop; we have a vibrant, thriving arts community, including some masterly writers of multifarious ilks.

For the next six days, Dr. Hurley’s brew for tedium will be concocted in, yes, paradise Down Under. Hettie Ashwin tells it like it is living on a boat in Townsville harbour; South African-born Martha Landman brings a cosmopolitan sensibility; Stephen Ryan spins a dinkum Aussie bush yarn; Shaun Allen takes us to a strange, dark, violent place; yours truly, ever immodest, proffers another poem; and, lastly, Lori Hurst, the President of Writers in Townsville Society, (or WITS), presents the first part of a two part tale that is richly redolent of bygone north Queensland.

Forget your cares; forget those stupefacients. While I’m brewing the billy, ready yourself to go a-Waltzing Matilda—or, if you’re a sheila, to go a-Pashing a sheepshagger who’s got kangaroos loose in the top paddock—with a ridgy-didge, six ingredient Aussie elixir for your every malady…