Friday, April 20, 2012

Liz Worth : Eleven Eleven

Recently, I finished reading the book Eleven Eleven by author Liz Worth... I loved it! It’s been a long time since I’ve read something that good, and I’m not just saying that. If I don’t like reading someone’s work, most likely I’m not going to finish their book or pick up anything by them again. But whatever Liz writes, I’m going to read.

I love the imagery in her writing. Her honesty is refreshing and almost unheard of these days… To be an honest writer is the hardest thing in the world to do, at least it has been for me… To truly let the flow of words drip from your pen like a punctured blood vein, or spill out from your self-conscious with no clean up and no worry of what others will think is something quite difficult indeed. Or just to simply say, this is my art, accept it or leave it, it’s the way I’m going to write. This is the mark of a true artist.

I guess, for me, it’s difficult to find a writer that I really enjoy reading nowadays… My literary upbringing was from the works of William S. Burroughs, Charles Bukowski, Harry Crews, Anais Nin, Janet Frame, and Anne Sexton. Although there have been a few writers I’ve enjoyed in recent years like Chuck Palahniuk, it still has been hard to read modern text and truly like it.

One day, while suffering a bad case of the rewrite blues, I decided to take a break and surf the net. I typed the words “Jason E. Hodges Poet,” into Google Images to see if any of my artwork would pop up. As I scrolled down, I saw a few of my bone carvings along with other pages that where tag-marked with the word “Poet.” I notice a photo of Liz linked to a write-up about her work. After reading it, I Googled her name to learn more about her. Making my way to her Blog, “The Radio Forest,” I was instantly hooked. Over the last year, I’ve read quite a bit of Liz’s Blog and some of her poems online, along with some spoken word readings I’ve watched on Youtube.

I finally contacted her and got a copy of Liz’s first book Eleven Eleven… I was filled with excitement after reading the first few paragraphs. I couldn’t put it down. I love the way she painted the scene with words, and had the ability to see the world that surrounded her down to the smallest detail, good or bad. Much like some of my favorite writers, Janet Frame and Anne Sexton…

Janet Frame
Electricity, the peril the wind sings to in the wires on a gray day.

Anne Sexton
Being kissed on the back of the knee is a moth at the window screen.

As I read, I found myself flashing back to my own youth. When life was as much moment to moment living, as it is paragraph to paragraph for a writer. When song lyrics are as much of your reality as anything presented as truth from the adults that seem to dictate everything in your world. A world where guitar rhythms like Led Zeppelin's No Quarter or Black Sabbath’s Snowblind seem to allow you to transcend into an alternate existence. At least momentarily giving relief from the daily grind.

Liz captures this in her writing well. She brings the reader into her world so successfully they feel as if the sidewalk is firmly planted under their feet, and the cold dark wind is nipping at their very existence. Her descriptions are wonderfully creative, submerged beautifully in a finer shade of darkness.

Eleven Eleven made me instantly wish I would have been disciplined enough to keep a journal as a youth. As I read, I remembered the first time I saw a spoon bent backwards; standing upright on my friends kitchen table; blackened underneath from flamed matches now lying in a coffee cup. I think, I was about 13 years old. My friend’s mother was a nurse that couldn’t resist playing doctor after hours… A fix after a twelve hour shift was the only real way to relax for her.

Eleven Eleven
brought me back to speeding cars and lucky brushes with death… Riding down dirt roads lined with trees on each side, with a driver who was anything but sane. Watching him click his headlights off, then looking into midnight blackness praying he would click them back on and I would somehow make it out alive… Eleven Eleven made me think of my own sister’s suicide, and the countless friends that have drifted away from this world and me… But Eleven Eleven also reminded me that life is now. It is a song lyric or guitar rhythm that moves you. It is that encounter with a friend that can never be taken away. It is seeing the beauty in all that’s around us. This is the mark of a good writer…

Liz Worth  Eleven : Eleven

Monday, April 16, 2012

The Holiday

David bent down to grab another ice cold beer out of his cooler. Popping the top and watching the frosted fog like mist flow from the bottle, he was happy to finally have a day off from the fire department. His son Chris played in the driveway as David enjoyed the peace and quiet of the afternoon.

Hearing his front door open, David glanced over to see his wife Loretta step out of their trailer home. In a raspy voice from years of smoking, she called out, “Chris, you be good for your daddy while I’m gone to the store.”

“Yes, Momma.”

“Honey, you need anything else other than hotdogs and beer at the store?”

“Yea, see if they have any sparklers. So me and the boy can have some fun on the fourth of July.”

“You boys always wanna play with fire. Boys,” she said shaking her head with a slight smile. “Be back in a little while.” Loretta blew a kiss goodbye to the both of them.

“I got it momma,” Chris said as his little hand grabbed the kiss from the air, then pulled it down to his mouth. Loretta grinned as she started the car.

David watched her pull away slowly down the drive. He then sat down on the back of his pickup. As the tailgate slowly dropped down with David’s weight a shiny slender object caught his eye as it rolled out onto the ground, which was no surprise to David. His truck was always stacked with odds and ends from different projects he had going on during his days off.

Looking closely at the shiny silver on the asphalt beneath his feet, David realized it was a bullet from his thirty-eight revolver.

“Chris, come here a minute.”

The little boy ran over with his soft blond hair blowing in the wind. “Yes, Daddy.”

David rolled the bullet between his fingers. “You want to see something neat?”

“Yes, Daddy. What is it?” Chris glanced up at his father with his bright blue eyes.

David reached in his tool box and grabbed a Minnie sledgehammer, twenty pounds of driving steel dressed with a short stubby handle. It was a tool when swung by a skilled workman would deliver a driving force. Looking down at the bullet lying on its side, David said, “Chris, you’re going to love this. This is just what we needed on the Fourth of July.”

“I thought Mamma was getting sparklers?”

“She is, little buddy. But this is going to be a special sparkler. One that makes noise. You’ll love it, I promise.”

“Okay, Daddy.”

Chris smiled with glee as he stepped in a little closer to see what his father was going to do. David took another swig of his beer and then set the bottle down. He had to be steady and precise to hit the bullet just right. David swung hard, his sledge slightly missing its mark driving a half round indention in the pavement.

“Daddy, you missed.” His little boy giggled, putting his hands over his mouth to hide his smile.

“Must be this hot Florida sun beatin’ down on me. I’ll get it next time,” David said as he reached for another swallow of beer. He wiped the sweat from his eyes and took aim again. This time he swung even harder, driving the hammer to the ground, and again he missed.

Little Chris really started to giggle. His eyes danced with amusement. His high pitched voice echoed through his cupped hands.

David was puzzled. Man, that bullet looks tiny lying there. It must be the brewskies that are making it so hard to hit.

“Alright, funny boy, this time I’m going to hit it for sure.”

“Okay, Daddy.” Little Chris inched up on his tip-toes and pulled his hands together for a slight clap of encouragement.

David drew back, this time looking steady at the bullet’s slender casing, only thinking of it, imagining the steelhead of the hammer hitting its mark with all of its force. He drove downwards into the shell. Pinching the end into a flatted piece of metal, David had finally hit his mark. Boom--the shell went off with all of its glory, all of its might. A spectacular explosion for his little boy. “Chris what do you think of your paw now?”

David turned to see little Chris lying on the ground. A steady trickle of blood flowed from his temple soaking his soft blond hair red, his blue eyes lifeless as a child’s doll.

“Chris,” David cried out, wishing he could turn back time, wishing he could reverse his actions. David knelt down and felt Chris’s pulse, something he frequently did as a firefighter. Chris’s blood flow was steady but slow. Looking at his only child’s face growing paler by the second he knew what an injury like this meant.

David pulled off his shirt and tied it around Chris’s little head, trying to stop the blood and brain fluid from leaking out. David could feel the displacement of bone in his little boy’s skull. It felt out of round and a little soft to the touch. Pressing the shirt to his son’s ear and turning him slightly to the side David could see the round bull’s-eye pattern of cerebral spinal fluid.

My God, what have I done.

David had seen this bull’s-eye pattern before in the twisted metal wrecks he had cut people out of on the highways. He knew firsthand this never ended well for the people he had struggled to save in the past. He knew firsthand the lucky ones died en route to the hospital. The unlucky ones live on in some nursing home drooling and moaning in pain. Some were trapped in a coma, waiting for the day to end. Now, he had to call the very people he worked with everyday, the firefighters he saved peoples’ lives with, ran into burning buildings with, gave safety lectures at elementary schools with. After making the call with his shaking hand and quivering voice, David held young Chris in his arms.

God forgive me, for what I’ve done and what I have to do.

David went to the cab of his truck. Reaching inside, he grabbed his paramedic bag and opened it. Moments later, he pushed a syringe needle into the femoral artery of young Chris’s leg.

Filling the boy’s small blue vein with epinephrine, David sobbed, “I’m sorry Chris. I’m not going to let you suffer a lifetime of misery.”

David knew the drug would stop his son’s heart, but he also knew this would be the first drug the paramedics would put in his system thinking it would bring his little heartbeat back. David knew this would stop it beating for good and would be untraceable in the autopsies. After hiding the syringe, he held Chris in his arms while the sirens drew nearer.

Then came the sound that made David cringe. It was Loretta pulling in the drive with her rust stained Buick Regal.

Stepping out of the car she began to scream. “David, what is going on? Chris. Chris. Chrisssss! What’s wrong with my baby?”

“I’m sorry Loretta. It was an accident. I was trying to show Chris something cool for the Fourth Of July. I hit an old bullet with my hammer thinking it would be like a fire cracker. Oh, God, what have I done?”

“You’ve killed our child, that’s what you’ve done. What the hell were you thinking? I should have never went to the store and left him alone with you.”

“I’m sorry baby,” David said in a pleading voice.

“Don’t baby me. You’re nothing but a worthless drunk. Now hand me my child.”

Loretta took Chris’s lifeless body into her arms. By the time the paramedics arrived, and she handed Chris over to them, her shirt was soaked in blood and tears. Her voice was nothing more than a whisper after all the screaming and crying she did begging the paramedics to bring her little boy back.

As the ambulance drove away with his son’s lifeless body, David could see all of the disappointed looks from his fellow firefighters faces. Their expressionless stares needed no explanation.

After everyone had cleared out David made his way to Loretta. He slowly put his arm around his still shaking wife. She quickly shook off his touch.

“Don’t touch me David. DON’T TOUCH ME!”

“It was an accident, Loretta.”


Loretta turned and walked over to her car.

“Where you going Loretta?”

“Away from here, away from you.”

David watched for a long moment Loretta’s car disappear into the distance.

It all seemed like a bad dream, one that would never go away but would replay day after day in David’s mind. As he gazed upon the bloodstained driveway, now empty, he thought about all the reminders of this nightmare he would have to encounter. The half round indentions pressed into the asphalt from his hammer missing its mark; Chris’ toys that were all over the yard, that would have to be boxed up never to be played with by his son again. Then his thought drifted to Chris having to be boxed up and put in the ground.

Oh God what have I done?

David made his way to the cab of his pickup and climbed in, reaching up on the dash he grabbed a cigarette from his pack of smokes. After flaming its end and taking a long drag, he realized his life was through as he knew it. His marriage was through and he would never be able to face his coworkers again without the constant reminder of his tragic mistake. But worst of all, his son was gone by his hands, and that was just too much to bare.

As the afternoon drifted into darkness, David, still sitting in his truck, looked into the night’s sky now filled with fireworks and celebration. David smoked one last cigarette and then popped open his glove box to retrieve his 38 revolver. He stepped out of the cab and slowly made his way to the waterfront that bordered his home.

My God, I’ve got to go where I don’t think I can.

As he gripped his revolver tightly David drew back then slung his gun far into the lake. After a few moments of watching the ripples of water brush the shore softly David turned and started to walk back to his home. He knew somehow he had to pick up the pieces and start again. His nightmare of loss was over but his long rough road of recovery had just begun.

Published at The Fringe Magazine May 6, 2011

Monday, April 9, 2012

I Know First Hand

Jenna reached up and touched the scar on her neck. Scars were like a photo album of memories to her. Some pages were flipped by Jenna, some were flipped by others. Either way, she would have to live with them. But living with this particular scar would sometimes prove difficult. It ran deep in more ways than one, bringing with it a way of life that was almost too much to bear.

Jenna tried not to look into the depths of her memory too often. Wrestling with her past, Jenna knew it wasn’t every day that a seven-year-old little girl tries to hang herself. The tight rope in her memory was responsible for her scar, not Jenna, at least this is how she saw it. She told herself constantly “it was the rope, not me.”

She was right, in a way. A failed marriage, nor a bankrupt business pushed Jenna to this action. She was only seven, just a child when it happened. It was simply an accident with consequences.

The day of Jenna’s accident began relatively normal. She had watched a western on television earlier that morning and then went out to play in the yard. Suddenly, the thought crossed her mind to reenact the hangman’s party she had just seen. She never meant for the rope to actually tighten, but it did. Rounding the corner of the barn, her father screamed in terror at the sight of his little girl standing on a chair with a rope around her neck. A startled Jenna slipped off her stool and into the grip of the tight hemp noose. Her father rushed to her side and lifted her body upwards. Jenna’s little hands still clawed at the noose’s tight grip constricting the life right out of her.

After several days in the hospital, Jenna was free to move about. She had recovered from her ordeal as much as she physically could; mentally, was a completely different matter. Something had changed in her. More than the scar on her neck or the soft voice that surrounded the words coming from her damaged larynx. She had a gift now of unimaginable abilities. Her near death experience gave Jenna foresight into a world most could not see. She had become a Seer, someone who sees into the next world, the world of the dead. A place that no one likes to talk about, but all will eventually visit in the end.

The signs started to show themselves shortly after Jenna’s stay in the hospital. Little by little they began to emerge with each passing year, elusive at first, then coming full force like a familiar bad dream she could no longer wake from. The first time Jenna realized she could see the dead, was one day at school. While waiting for class to begin, Jenna opened her math book to look over the previous day’s work. All seemed normal enough. The substitute teacher had arrived and was getting ready to start class. He was muttering to himself as he unpacked his lesson plan. The kids were not paying him any attention, running about, and continuing their conversations. Then Jenna’s regular teacher walked through the door, and the kids started to sit down in their chairs.

Jenna wasn’t completely sure what was going on. The first teacher now appeared different, almost translucent. His skin was milky and thin, unlike anyone she had ever seen. The feeling Jenna now had chilled her down the marrow of her bones. She could not believe what she was seeing. The substitute had to be an apparition that no one seemed to see but Jenna. She tried desperately to not look him in the eyes, but it was too late. He was coming toward her at a quick pace. Slamming his hand down in front of her on the desk, he shouted, “Were you late to my class? Is that why you’re looking at me so strangely?”

Jenna felt faint. Her words could not come out, and her throat seemed to be closing off. Beads of sweat ran down the back of her neck and her hearing ebbed in and out. For Jenna it felt like she was listening to the ghost under water. Suddenly she hit her breaking point and, with the classroom swirling around her, she slumped to the floor.

The next thing she remembered was the school nurse talking just outside the clinic’s door to her parents. Jenna lay ever so still knowing that the cheap paper cot cover would alert them that she was awake.

The nurse spoke “Look, I’ve seen this type of thing before when I did clinical rotations at Better Ways Psych Ward. Jenna may be suffering from some type of mental illness.”

“This can’t be,” Jenna’s father said with a sigh.

“I’m not an expert in this, but with her age and the suicide attempt as a child, she might be in the beginning stages of schizophrenia.”

“What are you saying? She never tried to kill herself.” Jenna’s father was coming unglued. He was very defensive of his little girl.

“Look Mr. Johnson, Jenna will have an even harder time in life if you don’t get help for her. Society is not very welcoming to schizophrenics, especially with no help or no meds. It’s like this, a thousand years ago Jenna would be the most valuable person in her tribe. She would be the one that could see the dead or hear voices, but it is not a thousand years ago. For God’s sake, she was rambling about ghosts and other nonsense when we first brought her in.”

Jenna lay quiet. Tears ran down her face onto the paper sheet of the bed. Just a crack of light slipped through the doorway illuminating the space that allowed Jenna to hear what she did not want to hear. Jenna’s father opened the door.

“It’s time to go home Jenna.” The disappointment and frustration hovered around his words, which were accompanied by a broken-heart expression.

Jenna pressed her head against the car window as she rode home with her parents. Nobody understood her. Would her mom and dad actually send her to a psychiatric hospital? It was all too much to deal with. She was relieved when they finally turned into the driveway of their home. She lagged behind her parents, head down, wishing she could restart her day.

“Are you coming, Jenna?” Her dad turned around when he reached the front door.

“I think I’ll stay outside for a while.”

“Okay, don’t be long.”

“Sure, Dad.”

She sat down on the stoop outside the front door and drew in a deep breath. Outdoors she was truly free. She looked down the sidewalk and saw her friend Jessie Bryant on his skateboard. He’d been her friend for as long as she could remember, ever since her family had moved to Johnson’s Bluff, Oregon, over a decade before. He slid to a stop on the sidewalk in front of her and popped his skateboard up next to him.

Smiling, he said, “Why so gloomy, Jenna?”

With her brow pulled tight she replied, “There’s just not that much to smile at today.”

“Jenna, we all wake up with a smile; it’s the others that bring us our frown. So what happened today at school? I noticed you weren’t there for long.”

“My parents came and got me.” Tears started to swell in Jenna’s eyes.

Jessie looked taken back for a moment, then stepped forward and hugged her.

“Look, whatever it is, I’m sure it can’t be that bad.”

“Jessie, we’ve know each other since we were little.”


Jenna hesitated, then just let it out. “Look, this going to sound crazy, but I saw a man today in school that was dead.”

Jessie stepped back for a moment with a surprised look on his face.

Jenna with a sigh said, “Great, not you, too. Now the whole world thinks I’m insane.”

“Wait, I don’t think you’re insane.”

“No, but your body language said it.”

Jessie stepped forward and hugged her again. Jenna was so tense and scared she just wanted to hide in a corner and cry. But Jessie wasn’t letting her go. He just kept holding her and saying everything is going to be alright.

Jenna finally spoke “That’s the problem though, everything is not alright. The school nurse wants my parents to take me away to some special hospital.”


“Yea, a mental hospital called Better Ways. But I’m not crazy. I think they’re confusing my new gift of seeing the dead with some mental problem. I just want to get out of here before they send me away.”

Jessie looked around then back to Jenna. “I know where you can hide.”


“We’ll go to the old cabin where we used to play as kids,” he explained. “Remember?”

Jenna smiled. “Yeah, I remember. Let’s go.” She grabbed his hand and they ran down the sidewalk. When they rounded the corner, they ran through a vacant lot and slipped into the woods behind Jenna’s house.

Pushing their way through the thick grove of sugar pines, then they came to the base of a steep incline.

Looking back at Jenna, Jessie said “We can hide out at the cabin for a little while until we can figure out what to do next.

Jenna smiled and nodded.

It seemed like hours of climbing went by before the two of them reached the top. Looking out upon the western backdrop was the best sight Jenna had seen all day. Tree lines stretched into the faraway distance accompanied by snowcapped mountains standing in an endless skyline. The scenery was the only thing Jenna liked about living in Oregon. She was not a fan of the rain and cold.

Jenna and Jessie made their way to the cabin. It was old and dingy, but in Jenna’s mind it was better than a mental ward. Sitting down on a rickety wooden bench the two of them made plans on what to do next.

“First-things first Jenna, we need to gather up some firewood before dark. It gets cold up here at night. Sometime tomorrow we can start down the mountain to the other side and see if we can’t get a ride to the next town.”

Jenna smiled “Thanks for everything.”

“Don’t mention it. We’ve been friends for a long time.”

“I’ve always liked you Jessie.”

“Jenna, we’ll get through this.”

The two of them made their way into the forest of Jeffrey Pines searching for wood to bring back for a fire. These giant trees of old stretched into the crystal blue sky above. Green moss covered much of the forest floor, along with thick patches of ferns. Vines dangled from the limbs above blocking out much of the day’s sunlight.

Jenna watched Jessie for a moment picking up sticks; then something caught her eye. Something moved in the rocks beside her. She walked a little closer and was completely mesmerized at what she was seeing. An elderly woman slid through the large cracks in the rock face and pulled herself into a sitting position on a slab of granite. Her skin was wrinkled and pale, her teeth cracked and dirty. Her eyes were as cloudy as the morning fog. To Jenna, death would look like too warm of a description for the woman from the stones.

Jenna’s heart started to race, she could not speak, and she was frozen with fear. The old woman looked into her eyes, then back at Jessie. Reaching up, the old woman grabbed the loose skin of her neck. Pulling it tight, she showed Jenna that she had the same type of scar around her neck. She too had worn a hangman’s necktie. Then she spoke in a low and guttural voice.

“Hello child. I’ve been waiting a long time for you.”

“For me?”

“Yes you, we’ve all been waiting.”

“All, what do you mean all?”

Then their conversation was interrupted by Jessie’s voice.

“Jenna, you ok?”

Jenna looked around and the woman was gone. She had slipped away into the shadows. Jenna began to shake with fright. Tears fell out of the corners of her eyes. She turned to Jessie. “I’m scared. I don’t understand what’s going on.”

“It’s ok, Jenna. It’s going to be alright.”

“No, I don’t think it will be. I’m seeing the dead, and it is terrifying me. I just saw myself years from now calling to me. I was old and withered. My eyes were lifeless and black as midnight.”

“Look we’ll get through this. You’re just seeing things. I’m not going to let them take you away.”

“Just hold me Jessie. I just feel cold now.”

Jessie held her until her tears were done falling. Jenna finally pulled it together enough to go back to the cabin. Once inside, they made a fire. Jenna started to warm up and began to feel a little better.

“I’m glad you’re with me Jessie. I’ve been through so much today. I was so glad you agreed to run away with me.”

“I won’t let anything happen to you. We’ve been friends for way too long. But I think we may be making a mistake.”

Jenna looked puzzled “What do you mean?”

Jessie was quiet for a moment and then replied “I think we’ll have to go back.”

“Go back, they’ll lock me up. They’ll fill me full of drugs and put me in a padded room to drool on myself.”

“Jenna, calm down. First of all, I won’t let that happen. I’ll be with you every step of the way.”

“I don’t know, Jessie.”

“Look, I know you’re scared but where are we going to run to? We can’t just keep living up here in this cabin. Plus, you probably just need to be on some medicine.”

“I don’t know Jessie. I’m really scared.”

“I know you are but you have to trust me. We need to get you the right help.”

Jenna finally agreed to go back. She knew that Jessie was right, there was nowhere to run when the enemy is your mind. They both lay down for the night next to the fire place. Jenna drifted to sleep in Jessie’s arms. She finally felt safe. But the nightmare was not over.

She woke to flames engulfing the small cabin. Jessie was nowhere to be found. She looked desperately, feeling her way through the smoke filled room, but no Jessie. Jenna could hear her father’s voice outside screaming for her to come out. Then the door burst open from her father kicking it in. He grabbed Jenna and dragged her out to safety.

“Where’s Jessie? Where is he?”

“He’s not here,” her father shouted back at her.

“He was lying right beside me.”

Jenna was hysterical. She started to run back to the burning cabin. Her father grabbed her as a man came toward her she had never seen before wearing light blue scrubs. He grabbed Jenna’s arm and then slid a needle into her vein. Her surroundings started to spin and the last thing she remembered was saying, “Jessie, where did you go?”

Jenna woke in a hospital. It wasn’t long before she was sitting in the director’s office. Jenna realized what a mess her life had become. The director of Better-ways Mental Hospital sat across the desk from her reading Jenna’s flow sheet. He was an older man with a careless expression.

Jenna fidgeted in her chair. How did I end up here?

The Director looked up from his sheet. “Well Jenna, welcome to Better-ways. We are here to help you get back to the right side of life. With the proper medication and enough treatment everything will be just fine.”
Jenna said in her soft voice, “There’s nothing wrong with me. I would have been just fine with Jessie, if you hadn’t taken me away after the fire. I need to get back to him. He’s still out there somewhere waiting for me.”

The director sat quiet for a moment sipping his coffee and then spoke, “Jenna, you are delusional. You need help.”

“I’m fine, I just want to get back to Jessie.”

“There is no Jessie.”

An angered Jenna snapped back, “What have you done with him?”

“Like I said, you’re delusional. Jessie died ten years ago in an auto accident. You were there. He’d stepped off the school bus right before you. A truck with no brakes swung around the bus to avoid running into the back of it. Jessie was hit and killed right in front of you.”

“No, you’re lying. He was just with me.”

“No, Jenna he wasn’t. Shortly after his death you tried to commit suicide by hanging.”

Shaking her head, Jenna said, “It was an accident.”

Frowning, the director replied, “Yea, I know.” He paused. “After returning to school you had the incident where you saw the dead teacher. You even said that he had spoken to you.”

“He did.”

“Ok. Then you ran away with someone that has been dead for years, fall in love, then light your hideout on fire.”

“That was an accident. I must have kicked over a lantern while I was sleeping.”

“Accidents seem to occur frequently with you. If your parents hadn’t found you when they did and pulled you from that burring building, you might not be here today.”

Jenna started to cry. “This can’t be happening.”

“Jenna, you have a mental illness. But with the right meds and the right amount of treatment, you can manage your illness.”

“How long?”

“That’s hard to say.” He leaned forward and smiled. “Maybe a few months, maybe a few years. It’s really up to you and how cooperative you are with treatment.”

Jenna was stunned. She sat quietly looking out the window. She wondered why this doctor would make up all of these lies. Jessie could not be dead, they had grown up together. They were falling in love. How could all of this be?

Suddenly Jessie was there, just outside the window. She couldn’t believe what she was seeing. This was a hospital and she was on the tenth floor. How was Jessie outside the window standing in the air? Then he spoke to her through the windowpane. She could hear him but the director could not.

“Come to me, you don’t belong in that cage. You don’t deserve being drugged.”

“I can’t do that, they tell me your dead. That you’re not real.”

The director quickly spoke up. “Who are you talking to Jenna?”

“No one.”

“I think it is time to start you on meds.” The director stood up and started toward her.

Jessie called out again. “Come to me. We can be together forever.”

Jenna screamed and ran toward the window at full speed. Jumping she crashed through the glass and into a freefall. See could see the little bits of glass falling with her and sparkling like crystals in the sun. The ground was rapidly coming toward her and Jessie was nowhere to be found.

Suddenly Jenna woke up in her room at home. Her mind was racing at top speed and her sheets were soaked with sweat. She stared at the ceiling for a few minutes trying to figure out why she was back in her room. She hated the darkness and the never-ending fear it brought with it. Getting out of bed, she walked to the door. Her mother and father were sitting at the dining room table.

Looking up, her father said, “Jenna, you’re up.”

A groggy Jenna replied, “Yea, what’s happened?”

“You’ve been asleep for most of the afternoon.”

“Ok, what happened?”

“You had a fall at school. The nurse called us in to come get you.”

“I remember that, then we came home and I--” Jenna paused.

Her father spoke up. “You went to bed and slept most of the afternoon.”

“So, I must have been dreaming about Jessie, and the fire, and the hospital.”

“I guess honey.”

“So you weren’t going to lock me away at Better-ways.”

With a surprised look Jenna’s father replied, “I guess you heard the nurse.”

“Yes, I did.”

"We’ve always known you were a little different and we’ve accepted that. If you’re having problems, whatever the difficulty, we’ll get through them with you.”

A skeptical Jenna asked, “Will I be in Better-ways for years?”

“No honey, you just need to see a doctor and get on the right medicine. We have an appointment this afternoon to meet with the director. I’m sure all is going to work out.”

“What about Jessie?”

“What about Jessie?”

“In my dream they tried to tell me he was dead.”

“Dead,” a voice from the kitchen said, followed by laughter.

“Jessie,” Jenna called out.

Jessie walked around the corner with a smile. Jenna ran to his arms. Hugging him she said, “I’m so glad you’re alive.”

“Well, I’m happy I’m alive too. As for you, I’m right by your side. We’ll get you well, girl.”

The afternoon came quickly for Jenna. She went to her appointment with her parents and Jessie. Walking in the office was difficult for Jenna. It seemed like she was repeating the same day over, the same thoughts over. It was tiresome. She sat down and waited for the director. Finally he walked through the door. He seemed like he was all business. He shuffled a few papers and then looked right into Jenna’s eyes.

“The next time you jump out the window make sure you’re not dreaming.” He motioned to two nurses standing behind Jenna. “Grab her. Hold her down. She’ll take her medicine today. I’m going to put it right in to the biggest vein she’s got.”

Jenna screamed. “Let me go. What are you doing?”

It was no use, the nurses, her parents and Jessie had a tight grip on her. The director moved closer, then raised his syringe in the air. With a sinister smile, he jammed his needle into her neck. As it punched through skin and into her carotid artery, Jenna cried out. Then everything went black.

She woke up instantly out of the darkness and was lying on the cabin floor. The fire was small and crackling in the hearth. Jessie lay beside her. She touched his shoulder, nudging him to wake up.

Jessie rolled over and said, “Are you ok?”

“I just had the worst dream. I dreamed horrible things about you, Jessie.”

“Jenna, it’s your mind playing tricks on you. Tomorrow will be a better day for you.”

“It’s just hard to know what’s real and not real anymore.”

Jessie put his arms around her. “I’m real, we’re real, and we’ll get through this.”

Morning finally came for Jenna. She’d never been so happy to see the sun come up in the sky. The two of them made their way down the mountain and over to Jenna‘s parents’ home. After a lot of explaining and many tears, Jenna finally agreed to get help.

Published at The Fringe Magazine April 21, 2011

Monday, April 2, 2012

Harry Crews

A few days ago I learned Harry Crews had passed away. I wanted to pay tribute to the last of the great writers who had inspired me along the way of my long and difficult journey to becoming a writer. So, I’ve decided to post the rough notes, or rough draft from my September 10, 2010 interview with Harry… I’ve left it as raw and undisturbed as I could. I did cut the more personal stuff he and I discussed like his child drowning and other things that didn’t pertain to writing as much as it did to drinking and late nights with friends… The completed article based on the interview I did with Harry appeared in Our Town Gainesville Edition, Spring 2011. It can still be found online. Harry was a good man and welcomed me into his home when he certainly didn’t have to. He will be dearly missed…
Harry Crews Rough Draft and Side Notes.

A few years ago my friend Shane turned me on to the writings of Harry Crews. Shane had done some flooring work the summer before in Crews’ Home. My friend knew I was a struggling writer looking for inspiration. He suggested I open a Crews novel and see what it was all about. From the first word to the ending line, I was hooked. His raw honesty, unpredictability, and good sense of humor were things I thought had all but died in Literature.

So after reading everything I could get my hands on pertaining to Crews and or his work, I called him up to see if an interview would be possible. It was a surreal moment for me when his gruff Georgian voice answered the phone. After a few moments of explaining who I was and what I wanted, he said he’d fallen on hard times with an illness and had stopped doing interviews. We talked for a little while longer about his childhood years and I explained my father was a year younger than him and grew up in the same part of Jacksonville. I told him how my father had helped my grandfather log timber near the town of Alma, Bacon County, Georgia, the birth place of Crews. We talked a few more minutes about two rut dirt roads and chicken thieves. Then he said to come to his home the next day at three o’clock for an interview.

Walking up to the door of Crews’ place was intense. His heavily wooded Gainesville home could have easily been a setting right out of one of his novels. After pushing the doorbell I heard, “Come in.” Harry’s unmistakable voice rang out.

All the preparation, all the books, all the articles, all the You Tube Clips, all the interviews, and all the asking of everyone I knew who might have had contact with the man or had him as a teacher--all the months of work had boiled down to this moment.

As I opened the heavy wooden door I thought to myself, Sink-or-swim Jason, Sink or swim.

Sitting across from Crews was a little nerve racking. My eyes were going over his features, older now, more defined then the You Tube clips I’d watched and definitely more defined then any back cover shot he had taken years earlier. His eyes looked deep into the object or subject he was watching. His inner-elbow still wore the dark green ink of a tattooed cabinet hinge. A mark he awoke to find on his arm after a night of drinking while covering the pipeline being constructed in Alaska. A story I watched him tell on the Dennis Miller television show 18 years earlier. He seemed restless for it all to begin. But he made it crystal clear it would begin on his terms.

He started out by reminding me that my appointment was at three o’clock and that I was seventeen minutes early. He suggested, with a few expletives I’ll leave out, the next time I was granted an interview with someone that I should wait in my truck until one minute till, then ring the doorbell. I had done my homework and knew the first few minutes would be the hardest with Crews.

I could see Crews had, what I wouldn’t call a smile, but a satisfied look with the answers to the line of questioning he had just laid on me. He said “You got a smoke?” I replied I had stopped smoking years earlier. After looking for a loose pack in his desk and sending me searching through kitchen drawers, he said, “Come on let’s do it.”

My tape was rolling and the interview had finally started.

Harry Crews was born in Bacon County Georgia June 7, 1935. His parents, Ray and Myrtice Crews struggled just to survive. “Our main concern was finding enough food to keep our bellies from growing to our backbones.” Crews said, in the trailer of the documentary, Survival Is Triumph Enough. Being born in the nineteen thirties to sharecroppers in south Georgia, Crews learned early on the harsh realities of the deep south during the Great Depression. Harry’s father died in the middle of the night from a heart attack when Crews was only two years old. His mother did the best she could to raise Harry and his older brother.

Along with the loss of his father, Crews endured incredible hardships as a child. At age five, he became ill with infantile paralyses and spent almost two months bedridden. A high fever and leg cramps caused his body to pull his legs up into a kneeling position. The doctors and adults around him weren’t sure if Crews would ever walk again.

Determination has proved more than once to be a strong asset for Crews. He would eventually learn to walk again, pulling himself along a fence line, using it for balance, Crews was not willing to give up.

“I needed something to hold onto, hold me up, because my legs wouldn’t do it. So, I held on to the fence and learned how to walk again by holding onto the fence, staying on it, my hands got bloody and cutup and shit, but I didn’t care. It didn’t hurt bad. I just did what I had to do, holding onto the fence line…” said Crews.

He went on to tell me that he believed he now had post polio syndrome. That it came on much like polio did when he was a child. I could visibly see the pain he was in when he tried to cross his legs during his explanation. He finally ended his polio story by saying, “My legs are gone. I couldn’t walk from me to you if you had a forty five to my head.”

A few years after his fight with polio, Crews was burned severely. While playing a game with childhood friends he fell into a kettle full of boiling water being used to scald hogs. Crews was burned over most of his body.

A few years after this incident, Crews wrote his first story. Around this time is when he believed he started his journey in writing. For me, as a writer I’ve always wondered what made other writers go down the same path I chose. A path that a lot of the time is not rewording at all and is full of constant struggles and disappointments. But for me there was a turning point when I said there’s no turning back. This is what I’m going to do even if it breaks me. So, if I only had one question to ask him it would be that. So I asked, “When was your turning point Mr. Crews? Was it a book or a writer that started you on your journey of writing?”

“I understand what you’re saying. Writers often have a book that is a turning point or a book that leads them into what they are doing. I could pick out things that turned me toward writing and the rest of it. But the thing is, long before I could do anything, long before I could write, I was a writer. I said that’s the way I’m going to do, that’s what I’m going to do with my life, my whole life. The first novel I ever wrote I was about ten, ten or eleven liven on a dirt road in Bacon County Georgia. And I wrote a damn sort of detective story, what else would I write. And, this little boy was a detective. He had firecrackers in his pocket, he couldn’t have a gun so he had firecrackers. He was after some crooks. He would pull out his firecrackers and light them, Bang, Bang Bang. Ok, come here.”

“That’s the kind of shit I was writing. But that’s what young writers do. They write dreadful things so they can write better things. They write another dreadful thing then they do it again, then they write another dreadful thing. And all the badness and terrible shit that young writers then go ahead and write always have joints that need to be tightened. Always has, just like a carpenters points need to be honed off or scraped off whatever. All that shit. That’s what the young writer does. Eventually if he’s lucky he meets writers that will help him. Writers are probably the most generous people in the world with their time. Nobody else would do this kind of shit. Finally they get to where they can trust their own ear.”

Crews paused for a moment deep in thought, then continued.

“I supposes, Graham Greene in England, was my main most man. I read him through and through, forever. Can’t read all of Graham Greene, there’s too much of it. But I read [him] forever. And ultimately, I met him in England and he read a manuscript of mine, said this won’t do, but it’s almost there. What you need to do, and I tried to do it, but I wasn’t successful. I kept writing, and kept writing, and kept writing and kept writing. First novel I ever published, I was thirty one years old. That was the first novel. But after that I publish one at thirty two, thirty three, thirty four, thirty five, and a whole river full of magazine articles…

From there I asked Crews about his time writing for Playboy. Crews seemed genuinely happy with his time spent with the magazine and was happy to have done the work he did with them.

“Yea, I wrote a lot of shit for Playboy. Hugh Hefner was really good to me as he’s been to a lot of writers. There’s a bunch of writers and I’m one of them that if they needed some money, they picked up the phone and said, Heff, I need to do some shit and I need some money, quick. You know you can make six thousand dollars by doing one story, that’s generally what he pays for it, one of those things. The hard part is going out and doing the research, hell you can write one of those things in an afternoon and you can write another one another afternoon, six thousand dollars, six thousand dollars a crack. And let him know you’re a good writer, you don’t try to publish shit in two magazines. Or other shit like that. Crooked stuff. You don’t want to do that. The guy’s got to know he can trust you.”

Not being able to find much about Crews’ high school years I ask what he was doing at that time period. Was he writing?

“I wasn’t associating with any people but I was writing. I was writing through the whole thing. No, I knew how bad I was and it’s a great gift to know how bad you are. But if you know that you won’t go out and show a bunch of bad, bad, terrible shit to people and have them think, my God what is this guy thinking? You do your homework first…”

The interview then drifted into his belief he now had Post Polio Syndrome. I asked if the motorcycle accidents Crews had been in over the years could have contributed to his legs being so messed up. The answer gravitated more toward his advancers on his year and a half journey across America on a bike. Which I couldn’t blame him. Why talk about leg injuries when there were adventurers to be told.

“I left here on a motorcycle Six Fifty CC Triumph Twin Champion was the bike I was riding.” He went on to say he went to Wyoming, then to Montana, then into Canada, then to Salt lake City, then to San Francisco to Texas, then Mexico, and finally back to Gainesville. “I finally got back here, purified and holy.” Crews said with a smile. “I wrote out of that for years.”

In the intro to his book Classic Crews he wrote about his time on the road, “During that year and a half I was jailed in Glenrock, Wyoming; was beaten in a fair fight by a one-legged Blackfoot Indian on a reservation in Montana; washed dishes in Reno, Nevada; picked tomatoes outside San Francisco; had the hell scared out of me in a YMCA in Colorado Springs, Colorado, by a man who thought he was Christ…”

When asked about the films that Crews had appeared in over the years, he summed up his thoughts on the matter by saying “I like to be in them, I like to write them.”

I then told Crews that I liked the way he kept the rich flavor of the south alive in his writings. From crosscut saws to mules pulling a plow line there wasn’t many writers left that grew up this way then went on to hang out with Hollywood types like Madonna, Charles Bronson, and Sean Penn.

“There probably ain’t a guy within a radius of fifty miles of here that could gear up a mule. To know they had a collar with a pair of hames with chase chains hooked to the hames, go back to the back then and hook to a single tree. One mule one single tree; And he might have a scrape and scooter if it were one guy, one mule, be siding and shit. Nobody knows anything like that. it’s a lost art.”

I then asked him about Charles Bukowski.

“He’s gone now but I knew him. He hadn’t been dead all that long. Seems like everything behind me is dead. He could tell you some shit; he could tell you some shit that you need to told, so you get it where ever you can. That’s what you do, Charles Bukowski.”

I then asked Crews about the late author Larry Brown who in many ways was considered to be in the same group of writers as Crews, and Bukowski.

“Larry Brown was a great, great, friend of mine. He sat right where you’re sitting.” Crews said pointing to me.

“When he first started he came to see me. Well, I went to see him first. I looked him up and read some of his shit. I thought this is good. So I called everywhere and I finally found him. He came and visited me and I got him a gig out at the school. Paid him about fifteen hundred dollars and expenses so they flew him down here and he spoke at the University. It was a great thing for him cause he could make some money.”

Crews paused for a moment as he recalled his friend.

“Larry Brown was a hard-knuckled-roust-about. He was something else… He was a very honest writer. Of course you know he died rather suddenly nobody was expecting him to die. He looked great but he drank considerably.”

I told Crews I had gotten what I came for. I didn’t want to overstay my welcome. The interview had gone well, and I was appreciative that he had taken the time with me.

“Ok buddy, well from one writer to another, I hope you find something that helps you get over the hump. I tell you man, it’s a hard, hard, task. But once you get a grip on it, you start seeing what it is, you might publish one or two stories, you’ll be alive, you’ll be alright but it’s hard to get the first things published.”

I agreed saying, my wife thought I was crazy for getting up at four in the morning to write before walking out the door to work construction. I would simply say, “A shovel is the greatest motivational teacher I know.”

With a smile Crews said, “I know, I dig it man, it’s true.”

Harry Crews and Jason E. Hodges  9-10-2010