with.draw.alls.

​it won’t hurt, they say,

the first time they slice off

a piece of your skin.

they smile as they do that.

you smile back.

it’s what it’s supposed to be, it’s what you’ve seen.

it’s alright, they whisper,

the moment they cut into muscle.

they’re very gentle.

you really don’t notice

the white porcelain floor flood

blood red.

you’re much more busy nodding your head,

as you look them in the eyes.

it’s what you wanted, isn’t it?

all you’ve ever wanted.

so much so, you don’t even realize 

that a whole part of you is gone 

and they’ve moved on,

to another part of you.

a fresh part.

a part that’s been untouched.

so you let them.

because it’s what you wanted.

and you want it so bad,

have wanted it so badly,

dreamt about it –

for years, 

that you can barely hear them laughing …

it’s a far away sound. 

a not quite clear sound.

it’s hard to hear

because your breathing’s turned ragged.

and it’s hard to see

from all the shaking

and what you thought was

your smiling.

because the slicing never stops,

and you try to be strong, 

to keep yourself together,

and that’s when you 

look down

and realize,

there’s nothing left of you 

but some gristle,

some bone, where you can

just make out

the scrapes of their razors 

and you fall over

collapse

a bloody heap

of ragged cut bone,

and all you can do 

is turn your head

 upward 

and look 

with something 

more socket than 

eyeball,

and heave

 one last ragged

 breath 

heavenward

as the blue above you

and the red below you

grays out.

it’s what you wanted, 

after all.

My Time at The Music House. 

It wasn’t just music that we were going to make, but magic. This was a ritual of reconnection. The resetting of a bond that had lain cracked and fallow in many ways for over twenty years.

5.

I drove in to Austin just to go to sleep.

I arrived exactly twelve hours after Marce’s text. It was 2:00am – just a bit later than scheduled.

I found the house fast, thanks to Google Maps and its location – South Austin, a mile or two towards West Austin, right off 35.

I had to park and do reconnaissance. I wasn’t sure of the house’s exact location, so using the walking directions, I walked until I found the correct address. Marce had texted that he had left the door unlocked.

I opened the door and entered.

The smell of old wood floors and plaster comforted my road weary body as it filled my nose.I love the smell of old homes. It reminds me of grandparents’ home in San Antonio. 

An inflatable air mattress, laid out and prepared with a pillow and blanket, greeted me in the middle of the small living room, to my direct right. On the left, amps and guitars were lined up along the wall that separated the living room from the kitchen.

I began to unload my kit in as few trips as and, as quietly as I could. I wanted to do it quickly, but my preparations for the trip had hindered my plans. I finally had completed buying carrying cases for each piece of my drum set, so I could only take in so many at time.

I didn’t want to risk doing the “Shopping Bag Thing” and carrying all of it at once, then dropping something or putting a dent either in the wall or one of my drums. So it was back and forth and back and forth, but silent and steady was going to be a problem.

Anticipating the probability of rain, I wore my chunky hiking boots. Muted – but audible thuds were the best my weary body could do after three hours on the road and all the events previous to that.

The continuous and uninterrupted sound of snoring in the next room allayed my fears of waking anyone up. Marce snores. Go figure.

I stacked my kit in the corner of the kitchen, beside the fridge where Marce had told me there’d be space. Then I brought in all my percussion gear and set it, as compactly and organized as I could beside Marce and Ryan’s amps along the wall dividing kitchen from living room.

Last, I brought in my duffle bag and my satchel that held all my writing and sketching gear.

I have this thing when I travel where I have to take out all of my gear and lay it out around and beside me just so: plug in my charger and charge my phone, lay out my keys and wallet, take out the novel I’m reading, as well as my writing journal, my sketch pad, along with pen and pencils.

Once that’s set, I feel at ease and a sense of security. Then I can take my meds and get ready for bed.

I couldn’t help but be aware that everything I had done that whole day up to this point had a sense of ritual about it – even me not rushing and going slow about all my travel preparations. But it was exactly that.

For me, even though this was a weekend jam session, it was a spiritual experience. Bob Batey’s death changed all that. I was, again, acutely aware of the Hand of the Divine at work, and I had to pay it the reverence of ritual.

It wasn’t just music that we were going to make, but magic. This was a ritual of reconnection. The resetting of a bond that had lain cracked and fallow in many ways for over twenty years.

There was the fact that I had to make amends with Marce.

I needed to make music to honor the passing of Batey.

And I needed to make music to attain a level of spirituality that I know I needed to set myself right.

But the house – the house was so cool – and not temperature-wise, it had a cool vibe. I had to look around first.

I took pictures immediately to document my journey. I posted many of them on Instagram that first night.

The living room and kitchen were both of equal proportion and both equally small – but cozy. All the furniture was late sixties/early seventies retro: wood grain speakers stacked on a an end table, a long wooden bench-style kitchen table, aluminum and red plastic diner chairs, vintage speakers and amps used as decoration, black and white pictures of Paul McCartney, Chuck Berry, Bruce Springsteen covered the walls, vintage posters of Rio de Janeiro Carnivale posters plastered on the fridge. The place was perfect.

There was magic to be made. And if there was magic to be made, this was the place to make it.


I changed, settled into bed, read a little, wrote a little, and drew a little, then before I knew it, sleep took.

I awoke to a room flush with pure bright sunlight. The sounds of Marce shuffling around in the kitchen and the bedroom as he made coffee.

There was nothing for it. I couldn’t go back to sleep. I had to get up.

It was time to see what the day had in store.
Next: Setting up. Back in the pocket. Old, good friends, old, good brothers. Reunions and Revels.

Dispatches From Teaching on the BorderLands.

She sits at my banana table and she’s talking to me, during my conference period, her tennis looking like puffy pink and white marshmallows at the ends of skinny little legs as she swings them back and forth.

Her eyes are puffy, too.

The dark bags under her wide expressive eyes puff and darken more when she talks about what’s troubling her.

She tells me about needing to lock herself up in her room to get some space, some peace, to escape a while from the responsibility of caring for her younger sister – who’s around five.

I find this out because she mentions going to her room and locking the door a few times during our conference and I notice that every time she does so, her voice breaks up a bit, so I tell her that I noticed and I ask her why.

She says she feels stressed a lot of the time at home because she’s usually put in charge of watching her baby sister.

She tells me there’s only two things that make her feel better: When she locks herself in her room, and when she goes outside and runs. She tells me she runs a lot.

She tells me she doesn’t really eat lately. I gently ask if there’s food at home and if meals are made regularly and she says yes. She does not look neglected nor does she exhibit outward signs of any kind of abuse, so I don’t push the issue.

She got a 54 on a bullshit Reading CBA. She’s not a 54 student, so when I asked her why her grade was so low, she started to explain, but she began tearing up, out of embarrassment, and of fear that I was going to be disappointed in her. It was then I knew, so I asked her, and she told me.

She’s a small, wiry little thing. When she talks about the things that upset her the most, she hunches over the table, bowing her elbows out, her small, birdlike hands palms flat against the surface as she presses down, hard. It’s a physical manifestation of her literally trying to keep herself together, her emotions under control.

She is one of my students.

This is a little girl. 

A 5th grader. 

This is her life.

And compared with some of the other students I’ve taught over the years, her life is not that bad.

This is normal teaching at an At-Risk school along the Texas/Mexico border – along the entire U.S./Mexico border.

The label says it all.

Due to the low economic status and the poor infrastructure, these children have the deck set against them. Our job as teachers and educators at these At-Risk schools is to even the odds. Pick up their English language skills, so their speaking, reading, and writing skills are on par with native language speakers. We’re here to rid them of the shame and embarrassment of not speaking well, and replace that with confidence and pride.

She is incredibly verbal. She is sweet and always very helpful. Once she came up to me, gently placed her hand on my shoulder and told me that if I ever needed help with anything, to let her know, and she’d take care of it. I thanked her. 

She communicates and expresses herself well, and it’s obvious she has a high emotional intelligence IQ as well as a lot of good, common sense. Unfortunately that’s often the result of too much responsibility being placed on one person. They are forced to mature faster. 

In our Mexican culture, it’s still usually the females.

I tell her that I understand. I tell her that’s she’s a great student, a good person, and a wonderful young girl. I tell her that I understand it’s not very fair, the burdens placed on us. I share the G rated version of my story, that I had to take care of my father when he was sick, even though I was the youngest – and I make a point to make her laugh because I emphasize the fact that I don’t look very young.

The curse of being the Responsible One. Adults and older siblings all around, but if you’re the responsible one, your cup gets filled first, and keeps getting filled. This a common occurrence. More common than it should be. I’ve known quite a bit who’re in the same boat.

I tell her the cold, hard truth. You can’t talk about rainbows and sunshine to a child who’s lived mostly in cloudy skies and rainy days. They know how life works. They’re not blind sheep. I tell her that her struggle does make her unique, that it makes her stronger. I tell her that’s why she needs to focus on her studies, get the best grades she can from now till senior year, so she can grow up, graduate, and move away, so she can be free of her obligations and live just for herself. To keep her head down and barrel through.

I ask her if she likes writing or if she’s ever journaled. She says she used to – and write songs as well. I told her that was great because that’s what I used to do, too.

I ask her aside from being in her room, or jogging, what else does she like to do. She says she loves to paint, she loves creating structures and decorating them. I told her that was fantastic, because I’m planning to incorporate those kind of activities in Centers when we start next week.

She brightened up. I told her if she ever needs, she can always come in to class the first 10-15 minutes and write, to just let all that anxiety out. She smiles and thanks me. She looks relieved so I ask her if our talk helped and if she feels better. She beams and says yes.

I tell her to go back to P.E.

I inform my assistant principal. She tells me to call the mom and set up a meeting. I say sure, but I ask if she could be present to give the meeting the sense of importance it needs. She agrees. 

I was fine the rest of the workday. When I got home, it hit me, a pricked balloon, I just sagged, came undone. I barely had the energy to take a shower. I always say, When it comes to teaching, if you come home at the end of the day fresh-faced and full of energy, you’re doing it wrong. These things stay with you. 

Teaching these kids means making sure they’re in a good frame of mind, that they’re not upset because mom and boyfriend fought. I have to make my classroom a safe space, where we can all forget our problems and lose ourselves to the joy and the mental exhaustion of learning, where we can all be better than who we were yesterday. 

It is a challenge. 

That is no lie. But it is worth the fight everyday. And to me, that’s the whole point.

I took this picture that night, to show how worn out it got me.

My Time at The Music House. 


4.

For most of this past summer I had begun meditating, sometimes just sitting, sometimes while jogging, sometimes in the backyard under the swaying shade of the Three Sisters – my name for the three, venerable forty-two year old trees that have survived rain, wind, lightning, and time, sometimes in the company of the Forest Dragon with his perpetual smoke.

I had been healing.

I had been changing.

I was trying to find peace within myself.

The death of my father left me with an aching gape of a void in the very center of me. So every day – every night and day – I would sit outside, and I let myself heal. So it was in this state of being at peace, at feeling healed that I made my decision about Marce’s offer to go up to Austin. That week was a tough week. A local musician, Bob Batey, passed away unexpectedly, rocking the local art scene to it’s very core.

His death affected me. He was a young man – and talented. And it was the cruel suddenness of it, combined with my trying to heal from my own father’s death, my finding my path, and the serendipitous timing of Marce and his offer that helped sway my choice.

And it was music.

So it stayed with me.

And I thought.

Music to fight the death.

Music to heal.

Music to mend that fence.

To be away from death, from the overwhelming grief that some of my dear friends were going through, death and grief that I was trying so hard to heal from, to be somewhere else, three old friends creating music, creating positive energy to counter the eventual decay of everything.

I decided to go.

Next: On the road, on the kit …

My Time at The Music House. 

​3.

Signs.

It’s always Signs and Providence.

I think I really began to notice their existence when my marriage began to disintegrate.

Chicken or egg. 

Which happened first? Did I always possess this gift? This ability to notice windows of opportunity open up, briefly, to be taken advantage of before they disappeared? Or did the constant pain of the years-long dissolution of our marriage scrub any and all illusions of a perfect life out of my eyes, washed away by years of tears and sobs, leaving me to see only what’s real?

Either way, I was left, somehow, being in tune with my gut. Pretty accurately, too.

I don’t believe in prayer as a form of action. I don’t let go and let God. Unless I’m collapsed in a heap on my bed, going through one of my heavy depressive states, I move. I move forward, and I look, and I know that when I do that, then God presents us opportunities. 

That’s how I ended up in downtown Houston, alone, by myself, for a four day weekend. 

So it was, less than a month after dad passed away, that after scrolling through my emails, I saw that Brett Dennen was going to be  playing at Warehouse Live, in Houston.

He’d be playing Austin on Wednesday, but taking off from work during the middle of the week is kind of tough.

Then I saw that he’d be playing Friday in Houston. Now, taking a Friday off is much more feasible. I did the math. I knew that I could get away with taking two days off — it’s May, we were done teaching everything. It’s just pure enrichment. So I bit the bullet. My dad just passed, my problems with my ex weren’t going away, I needed space, distance, and to have my ragged, worn-down spirit cleansed and rejuvenated. 

And that’s why seeing Brett Dennen’s gig appearing serendipitously that May weekend is another sign of a door opening up by the Divine.

I love Brett Dennen.

He’s the only singer-songwriter whose songs have ever made me feel simultaneously astronomically happy, and tear-stained ashen  heartbroken.

To me, Brett represents  purity of musicality – with his bright melodies and his ability to often juxtapose them against heartbreakingly sad, authentic lyrics, he is a real musician and a singer-songwriter of the highest caliber. 

Now it’s Monday morning, close to check out time.

I feel different refreshed. 

I feel lighter – more so than I’ve felt in a long time. Seeing Brett Dennen, singing along, crying out all the anguish, heartbreak, and joy I’d been going through. Then exploring downtown Houston, finding a great coffee shop to hang out during the day, then haunting the local Flying Saucer across the street. Making friends, chatting with strangers. 

Needless to say, I was happy.

So I truly don’t know why I decided to pick up my cell and text Marce.

I truly can’t remember – Did something come to mind. Did I text him totally out of the blue, after weeks of turning over the problem in the back of my head, what I needed to say finally crystallized and had arranged itself into perfect word order, or was I returning a text of his?

I honestly can’t remember. 

All I remember was just getting out of the shower, getting all my gear packed up and ready to roll, then I got my phone.

I texted Marce. 

Everything that I had been wanting to tell him about things that he had done – from high school to his comments on my work, to my thoughts on his work  that had been gnawing at the edges of my consciousness,  irritating me, burst forth in my machine gun texting style. 

And I didn’t care. I did not give one rat’s ass. My father died, and he made it about him. Or so I thought. It was a minute or two of frenzied texting, then nothing. 

There was silence. 

I stood before my duffle bag on the bed. For a moment, I freaked at what I had just done, then I let it go.

“That’s harsh,” was all I could remember him replying.

“The truth is harsh.” I responded.

And that was it. 

That’s how it was for a very long time. No communication. No social media. I believe I unfriended Time passed, as it tends to do.

I would get an occasional message from him, an infrequent text. Then – and to be honest with you, I cannot remember when it began – the messages and texts came with more frequency, the apologies. At some point, I apologized – not for what I said, but how I said it, and that I should have said it long ago. My tone changed. I changed. The death of my father irreparably changed me into someone much harsher. 

My father died, and a part of me died with me.

I now had no problem telling people what I thought. I wasn’t “sweet,” or “kind” – and I sure as shit wasn’t going to be “diplomatic.”

Maybe not harsher – honest.

Finally knowing myself, knowing my worth, knowing what I will and will not put up with.

Everything was changing.

Everything had changed.

And that was a good thing.

Next: an invitation, a decision, more death, a path to healing.