COVID-19 and the effects on diet, exercise and alcohol consumption

What you do not see going on behind closed doors

Haskell, N.J. – While scrolling through your social media news feed you have most likely seen a post or two about someone eating a meal that tastes delicious. You may have seen one about someone skipping a workout to binge a Netflix show. You have probably seen a few about drinking wine or cocktails at noon because of the quarantine.  You probably liked the post or laughed to yourself, but the truth behind the scenes is not at all funny. 

A recent survey conducted by Rutgers University found that people are drinking more alcohol, eating less healthy and exercising less. The combination of these changes to people’s behavior is a cause for concern. 

The reality is that COVID-19 has radically affected how people are eating. A total of 75% eat less fresh food now than before. A staggering 84% of those involved in the poll are ingesting  too many calories daily. 

In a study by Frontiers in Psychology, there is a direct link found between change in diet and with a change in work. With many people losing their jobs as a result of the pandemic, diets are being affected. 

What people are putting in their bodies dictates how they are able to feel on a daily basis. Tim Blewit, a personal trainer and dietitian, said, “Diet is the most important thing a person does for their physical and mental health. Having a balanced, sustainable diet coincides with exercise and is imperative.”

In addition to diet, exercise plays a role in mental and physical health. CrossFit coach and certified personal trainer at Spa 23 in Pequannock, N.J., Amanda Bonney, says, “Fitness plays a vital role in many of our clients mental health. Without daily workouts people can fall into a depression. We have seen people struggle with negative self image as well.” 

The Rutgers study shows that 76.2% of people are no longer exercising the same amount as before the pandemic. Gyms were shut down into March, at the beginning of the pandemic. Bonney said, “people were adapting their routines to home style workouts, using creative methods of getting a workout in one way or another.”

Despite those efforts, a total of only 16% of those polled have been able to adapt their routine to stay active. 

Only 23.8% maintained a fitness routine during the pandemic. When the gyms finally reopened months after the shutdown many people did not return. Bonney said, “People didn’t have the motivation to come back. Those who did were not in the same condition physically as when the state shut us down.” 

Without exercise and proper nutrition people are not utilizing proper coping techniques for their stress and anxiety. 

In an article from KFF.org, people have reported feelings of anxiety and depression more than prior to the pandemic. Furthermore, people are more likely to form dependency on substances such as alcohol. 

Marla Sprock, a counselor at Open Door Behavioral Health, said, “As an outpatient facility we had never seen anything like the shutdown. It was detrimental to many client’s mental health.” 

Without these resources available people have turned to alcohol to cope with everyday stress.

Looking at the survey, 42% have increased their intake of alcohol. The survey did not poll a specific group, however based on the numbers it is apparent that many are increasing their alcohol intake. 

Isolation is one of the main causes of relapse for addicts. Sprock said, “As a counselor I have about fifty clients on my caseload. Within three weeks into the shutdown, I saw at least a quarter of them relapse in one form or another. It was really sad not to be able to provide the treatment they are in need of.” 

There are resources available for those who are in need of help for mental and behavioral health issues. The website https://www.mentalhealth.gov is a source for those struggling with mental health during the epidemic. The website https://www.helpguide.org/articles/addictions/overcoming-drug-addiction.htm is another website designed to help those struggling with addiction.

Part 2

The bus was rocking over the bumpy Newark streets.  Accelerating radically and then slamming to a halt to avoid hitting pedestrians or cars illegally parked in the bus lanes. I was dazed with my newfound freedom.  The anxiety was palpable as I sat quietly gazing into the abyss of my future. I could have , in theory, gotten off the bus wherever I wanted. I could have taken it to the train station, boarded an Amtrak and been in Boston or in Maryland in a few hours. This thought was almost too overwhelming at the time. 

The bus pulled up to my stop on Broad Street and I hoisted the garbage bags over my shoulder.  I tried not to hit anyone while making my way clumsy down the aisle, I was not successful. I apologized to an older woman, she didn’t acknowledge my effort.  I kept moving towards the front and took my first step off into freedom. 

—————————————————————————————————————-

The first night in the general population at the county jail is when the reality of my situation set in. A mechanical sound of screeching metal startles me. I jump a little and realize the sound triggers the door to my cell to slide shut. The steel bars slam into the far side of the opening and then the sound of the electromagnetic lock engages.  Securing me into a cement cage. This sound eventually becomes familiar and I’ll have trouble adjusting when they transfer me to another prison where there are no cells, only bunks nestled into pods. But tonight, the first night, I have ever spent in jail, the sound sends a chill down my spine. Reality sinks in as I sit down on my bunk and begin to think of what my life has become. Or worse, what it is going to become from here.

Other inmates are posted at the cell bars all night screaming back and forth, having a meaningless conversation with each other so loud that everyone on the cell block can hear. I do not think I can express the utter uselessness of the conversations. They yell at each other about what Kardashian sister makes more money, what Real Housewives of Atlanta is better, what drama unfolded on Black Ink.  The types of conversations that I would sit and think to myself I couldn’t believe were actually being carried on by these supposed tough guy gangsters. But they were all night long. The acoustics of the cell block is amazing.  The sound reverberates off the high concrete walls and there is nothing to absorb it. Essentially, we are in a massive concrete box, and the noise is deafening. 

The first night in that cell is the worst night I have had since I was riddled with nightmares one time as a small child after watching Tales From The Crypt with my older sister. The real difference is now the nightmare is real. I wake up every hour or so and look around realizing over and over that I am in a cell. I see the locked cage in front of me and know I can not leave when I want.  From what people have told me about my situation along with the charges I am facing, I am not going anywhere anytime soon. The depression begins setting in and that recklessness that I was living with seems so fucking dumb and childish now. 

I was arrested for armed robbery.  My mother had bailed me out for a $50,000.00 bond.  I made it about a month on the street, still using heroin, until I caught multiple new charges within a few days of each other.  Once the paperwork was processed and I was in violation of my bail terms, I was incarcerated, without the possibility of being bailed out again. So for the foreseeable future I would be a resident of the county in jail until I had my day in court. 

All in all I was looking at a total of 89 years in prison, if they were to run all the charges consecutive at the maximum penalty, which is unreasonable. Realistically I thought I was facing around three years, which I could handle.  I was wrong. 

I am finally taken to court about a month into my stay. Standing in front of the judge in a courtroom which is massive and packed with approximately 200 people, the judge tells me the first offer the state is willing to offer is 10 years with a minimum of 10 years served. This means I would not get any time off for good behavior or be eligible for parole.  I get dizzy and almost collapse in front of the audience.  I turn down the deal and discuss options with my attorney.  There are not many, other than going to trial, which will take about two years. I shrug and say, “Let’s go to trial.”

In my cell at night I can not stop my mind from racing. I struggle to keep suicidal thoughts out of my head but every time they creep in they seem more and more logical.  The act becomes an inevitability. I start obsessing about razor blades. I use one to open my wrist just right. I would have to time it so the guard does not find me bleeding in my cell during his rounds. I figure there are too many variables and decide against it. I begin contemplating about the sheets and how they could be manipulated into making a noose. I think about tying myself to the vent on the ceiling but knowing my luck the thing breaks and I get an escape charge for opening the vent in my cell. Then I think of tying it to the bunk bed and leaning forward, but I don’t think I would have it in me to wait until the blackness settles in when I know I can just stand up. So I opt against killing myself for now. 

The first few months of my incarceration is spent riddled with anger and fear. I wake up filled with hate, hate spewed towards anyone I come in contact with.  The fear is masked by the anger.  I am terrified of being beaten, robbed, exploited or worse. 

My first brush with violence comes three months into my stay in county jail. I am sitting at a table in the common area playing cards with a group of people. The card game is becoming more and more aggressive. I could feel the animosity swelling all around me.  I had no one sitting at the table who could mitigate the damage I did while taking commissary from these men while simultaneously speaking my mind about their inability to play cards. One thing led to another and I ended up being told I had to fight a guy unless I wanted to be labeled a coward, which is not an ideal thing in jail.  Essentially, I would have to fight or have my personal items taken for the rest of my stay.  I accepted the challenge and proceeded to walk to my cell, with the guy following close behind me.  

I am not a fighter, nor have a I ever really been. Sure I had been in some school yards dust ups back in the day, but this was a totally different situation. I knew that people get beaten up so bad they are bed ridden for weeks here. People lose teeth, get stabbed, break arms and hands and these are just the things that are not reported in order to avoid getting put into isolation for fighting. These situations play through my mind as I walk to my assumed doom. I just think to myself, I hope I make it a decent fight. 

I get to my cell door and walk through the opening. I think we are going to face each other and maybe give a countdown, yo know make it gentlemanly and fair. This is not what the other guy had in mind. There is a reason for the saying “prison rules” and I have first hand knowledge on where it was derived.  My cell mate is sleeping and I wake him up and tell him to step outside for a minute, he looks confused but when he sees the fear in my eyes he understands and leaves without a word. I turn around to get ready, but before I know what is happening I am being punched in the face. 

The first and second blow actually wake me up and I react well enough to make it respectable. Eventually we are both panting and exhausted, so it is a stalemate. The fight is over and I survey my wounds.  I have a pretty decent red fist print over my right eyebrow, which will be a bruise in a day or so.  My ribs hurt like hell but aren’t broken.  My hands took the worst of it. I figure this means I inflicted the worse of the damage on the other guy. I walk out of the cell, sit back down at the table and try to get on with the day.  My heart is beating so fast with adrenaline I can not concentrate.  I leave the table after a few more hands and gather myself in my cell. 

I look at myself in the mirror and tell myself this is it.  This is what life has become.  Violence over twenty-five cent packs of ramen noodles. I accept it and tell myself this is what life will be from here on out.  I am going to be labeled a scumbag, a ex con, a criminal, and I might as well be the part. I concede to terrorize the public when I eventually am released. 

About a week later, mother sent me a letter with a newspaper clipping tucked between the paper. The article is about how there are Pell grants available for inmates in New Jersey in order to pursue their education. I initially dismissed the article and put it on my desk, not thinking about it for months. I wasn’t in the right state of mind to process thoughts rationally. I was filled with self loathing and resentment.  My grandfather, who I was extremely close with, was fighting his own battle. He was in his 90s and his heart no longer was strong enough to pump his blood through his body properly.  This results in fluid building up around the heart and lungs. 

My grandfather died while I was locked in a 9 by 12 cell.  He lied wondering where I was in an upstate New York hospital bed, because no one had the heart to tell him what I had done. I spoke to him on the phone briefly the day he died and he cried.  He could barely string together sentences as fluid collected in his lung. I told him I loved him and I lied telling him I was okay.  I definitely was not okay. He died about three hours after I spoke to him. My mother told me later that night when I called her to check in. It was one of the low points of my life. I struggled with his loss and allowed it to fuel the anger inside me. Without substances being available to mute the pain, I was forced to allow myself to feel for the first time since I could remember. 

As a result of my newfound emotions I choose to isolated in my cell most of the time.  I read furiously trying to occupy myself.  One day, almost two years into my stay in the county, I finished a book about groundbreaking experiments in the scientific community.  CERN’s particle collider fascinates me and I begin thinking of physics and everything that is happening in research.  I pick up the article which has been sitting on my desk for months and for the first time in years feel a tiny glimmer of hope deep inside myself. I tell myself there has to be options and I don’t feel so helpless and angry any longer. 

I make the decision to pursue physics and change my life.  It is a high goal which I find necessary to keep myself occupied for a long time, which is what I had.  A lot of time to kill.  And just like that, I decided not to live like Iwas planning to after I was released.  I begin forgiving myself for the damage I have inflicted and try to treat people with respect and consideration. It works and I feel immensely better every day. The scars on my arms from intravenous drug use begin to heal, however the internal scars take much longer and never fade as drastically as the literal scars. 

I have been in county jail for over two years. It is a nightmare of boredom and faux tough guys. I make it to the first day of my jury selection for trial and am allowed to wear a suit to court rather than an orange jumpsuit with “County Inmate” stenciled on the back. I am nervous as I am walking through the hallways of the court building and led into the courtroom where two years prior to the day I had almost passed out. My attorney is sitting at a table and leans over to me and says he has some news. He says, “The prosecutor has offered a five with an eight five running concurrent with a five with a five.” 

This is good news. It means I will have both sentences running at the same time and will only serve a total of  5 years.  I have already served 2 so three more doesn’t seem impossible any longer.  Plus I had some studying to do so I figure I could use the time. 

I almost jumped up and grabbed the offer from him to sign. I accept the deal and am officially under the supervision of the state.  I am ushered back to the county where I pack my cell, giving away anything with a semblance of value to other inmates and wait for my ride to state prison eagerly. 

I am eventually shipped off to state prison. The officers in charge of transportation show up on the morning of January 29, 2017 and tell me to strip off my county issued clothing and provide me with a grey jumpsuit, no underwear and the cheapest pair of flip flop sandals I have ever seen. 

It is freezing out and the thin cheaply made jump suit seems to somehow extract heat from my body. They put me into the back of a van which has a specially designed metal box built into it. They refer to these as a dog kennel because they are literally a tiny metal box which is big enough for maybe two people but they shove four into these partitions. The ride from Warren County to the next stop takes four hours and it is unbearable. I have to pee the entire time, I am shackled at the feet with a chain running to my hands which are latched to a leather belt wrapped around my waist. I am so cold I shoved the entire way uncontrollably.  The nerves probably do not help my shivering either. 

We are eventually transferred onto a large bus which is completely dark with individual changes in the front and seats in the rear. They allow me to use a bathroom inside a building at the prison we stop at for the transfer. I feel a huge relief. The bus is completely full with men just like me heading to Central Reception and Assignment Facility (CRAF).  

When we arrive we are taken off the bus and marched into the receiving area where we are stripped, given an optional shower, checked for contraband and given an oversized jumpsuit to wear until our state tans are ready. Tans are the general population uniform which consist of a tan shirt and tan pants. We sit in a holding cell and are fed lunch in a styrofoam container.  We sit in the same cell for hours waiting for our housing instructions, finally they arrive. I am led to the intake block and am lucky to see my cell is the second in a long line.  This means I am able to see the television.  There are no books, other than religious materials, allowed in CRAF. This makes for 23 hours a day sitting in a cell with literally nothing to do. Having the ability to watch television makes it a little more bearable. 

I am transferred to the 3rd floor a few days later and again am positioned in a cell with television viewing capability.  One of my friends from the county is a runner (a person who is out of his cell serving meals and doing odd jobs) on this block so I am able to get a hold of coffee and more food. My cell mate however is a paranoid schizophrenic who screams at the voices in his head. Sleeping is difficult and I am a little worried he will try and kill me one night. Nothing comes from it and I am finally transferred to Southern State Correctional Facility two weeks after arriving at CRAF. 

They tell us to pack up and usher us down the stairs to the bus which is waiting to take all the transfers to their respective prisons. I am seated next to a young man who weighs no less than 380 pounds and is literally so obese he is taking up both seats when I am told to sit the fuck down by the officer. I squeeze into the seat next to this fat guy and he gives me a look that says, “Sorry dude, I like honey buns, a lot.” 

I stare off into space for the next three hours as we travel from prison from prison dropping off groups of men. The last stop of the day is mine. We arrive and I am actually relieved and excited to get the fuck off the bus. 

Southern State is an open prison, meaning there are 6 trailers dispersed throughout a single compound.  Each trailer has 8 wings with 6 pods in each.  There are no cells and there are 2 bunks, a total of 4 beds, in each pod. It is much less restrictive than the county and there is more movement.  For instance, everyone is assigned a job. My first job consisted of walking around the compound with a shovel and a bag and literally picking up goose shit for three hours in the morning everyday. I was actually happy to do it because I hadn’t been outside in two years. 

I make my way to a building where I know some people and one of the head cooks has to keep pulling strings with the officers not to have me moved. For some reason when I arrived at Southern the officers immediately hated me. I literally said nothing to anyone for the first two weeks, but they saw something in me and assumed I was going to be a problem. 

I began having books mailed in from a company who distributes books to prisons. I began teaching myself calculus and reviewing physics, which I had not done since high school. It takes me months to get a calculator approved to be sent in.  Several times the administration approves a certain device and when it arrives they confiscate it because of one reason or another. Finally, I have my mother send me a algebraic calculator from the early 90’s she found on Ebay still in the packaging.  This is the one which gets through and I am ecstatic the day it arrives. Occasionally the officers destroy my text books, saying they were searching for contraband.  They typically make remarks about what a waste of time and money it is to me as I pick up books labeled Quantum Mechanics and Non Euclidean Geometry.  I look at the officer who is the most vocal one day and say, “I am probably the only person in this entire prison, including staff, who understand what is written in this book.” 

This does not go over well and more often than not my orders do not reach me. I feel satisfied with my statement and chalk up the loss of books to the cost of winning one interaction with an officer. 

I spend my days working out in the weight room or in the big yard and studying. I only spoke to a few people because I did not want to be involved with a lot of the things that were going on in the prison. New Jersey prisons are second to only California for gang activity. With this comes violence and drug trafficking and violence. 

The majority of people were getting high.  Drugs are smuggled into the prison by one of the correctional officers who ran our building. He would later be arrested and the building would be torn apart by the specialized officers who travel from prison to prison searching for contraband. It ended up he was accepting hundreds maybe thousands of dollars from certain inmates and bringing in drugs into the building. He was arrested and charged. His time in prison will be spent in a specialized unit designed for police and judges who end up a resident of the state. 

A ton of people were transferred to different prisons and put into isolation over the scandal.  I just sat on my bunk and did differential equations while people’s worlds collapsed around me. I was just happy I wasn’t one of the people tied up in the mess. 

I got a better job eventually. I was made an electrician which was actually a lot of fun.  We had a workshop and were able to walk around the compound to different buildings fixing light fixtures and outlets and kitchen equipment. Working made the day go faster. The worst part of prison is the boredom. The way the days all bleed together and your mind becomes accustomed to no stimuli. Even with a job and studying, the lack of social interaction and being in public, was doing far more damage to me than I could have imagined. 

After two years spent at Southern State I am transferred to minimum security and eventually a halfway house. The halfway house is terrible. If I had known how it was going to be I would have never put in for transfer. I was put into Tully House in Newark which is situated in a post apocalyptic looking area of the city. The purpose for the halfway house is to help those transitioning back to normal life get a job and secure housing, However Tully house seems to do whatever possible to prevent this from happening. 

Bi-weekly drug tests are given with faulty instant tests, which sends many people back unjustifiably.  I am not saying that no one in the halfway house was using narcotics, but at least ten people were sent back for known faulty tests and when they were sent back to CRAF and the lab tests came back without any positive results, they were either sent back to Tully or another halfway house somewhere else in the state. 

Furthermore, Tully House seems to delay residents from obtaining jobs or going to school at any cost. I applied and was accepted to Rutgers for the Fall of 2019, at which time I would no longer be incarcerated, however Tully House told me that I was not eligible to attend school or obtain grants.  When a group who advocates for inmates and acts as a liaison between them, the universities met what I was able to push through my application and I was accepted. Tully House had nothing to do with my success in being accepted to school, other than trying to oppose.  I would be asked to attend meetings and orientations at Rutgers which was repeatedly denied by Tully House. I was not allowed to get a job or leave the building for 9 months after arriving. Even after I obtained a job, I was met by contestant opposition by staff to make it to work. 

The halfway house was by far the worst experience of my total time incarcerated. Those residing as residents at Tully house were not the issue by any means.  Mostly people were focused on doing what was necessary to be given work release or to go to school, but the staff were some of the most disrespectful people I have ever come across. 

On May 19, 2019 I walked out of Tully house with all my belongings in two clear plastic bags.  I walked the maze through the vacant houses and dilapidated commercial buildings to the bus stop where I boarded a bus to take me away from my life incarcerated. 

The lasting effects of being incarcerated for 5 years have stayed with me, even today 2 years later, I have nightmares and panic attacks often. I am in counseling to manage PTSD from some of the things I have been exposed to while incarcerated which I feel no person should ever have to face. I am one of the moderately lucky ones however. The system is designed to encourage recidivism. Prisons are essentially warehousing men and women throughout the state. It is a business and makes a lot of money. In order to change and to make good on a promise I made to myself when I said I’d change my life in the county, I have been involved with advocating for formerly incarcerated and incarcerated individuals rights. Everyday is a struggle to put aside the stigma of being a formerly incarcerated individual and to try and move on in a positive direction. I have learned you can’t unsee or undo things from the pass, just learn to move on in the best way possible.

To Hell and Back

The bus smells like piss and desperation. I have stepped on this pile of scrap metal to be given temporary relief from the halfway house everyday for the past six months.  This is welcomed  after four and a half years of being locked in a nine by twelve cell. But today is different.  I will not be taking this ride back later tonight. Today I am finally free after a relatively long prison bid. I do not seem to mind anything that usually repulses me or maybe I just do not give a fuck anymore. God knows I have been through a lot and now I am crawling out of the other side.

I do not care that my mother would not drive in Newark because she cannot be inconvenienced to make the trip or be faced with the overpowering poverty. She excuses her avoidance by saying she is too old to drive into a city now.  I do not care that everything I own, my entire life for the past five years, is crammed into large clear plastic garbage bags which I have under my feet on the city bus. The locals know what this means, they must see it a couple of times a month. Some smile and wish me luck, others pull their children closer to get them away from me. I think of the bags as my designer luggage, a present from the New Jersey Department of Correction. I feel nothing but excitement and relief to finally be going anywhere other than the hell I have lived in for five long terrifying years.

A man on the bus is staring at me.  I notice this and my prison mentality tells me to aggressively ask him, “What the fuck are you looking at?”

I do not break eye contact. I am ready for his reaction and am trying to see if he is going to turn this confrontation into something more. He nods his head at me and gets out of his seat to move closer. He sits down across the aisle and asks me if I need any “boy or girl” which is the new code for coke or heroin. I tell him I am good, which I am. Today I was released from prison, well technically a DOC run halfway house. I am thirty-five years old and must meet with my parole officer in three hours. This is the first time in my life that when someone has offered me a substance that would dull the anxiety, I am feeling that I did not jump at the opportunity. It was not always this way. I have been through hell and back. I am still crawling out of the wreckage of my life’s turbulence.

Six years ago, my hands tremble and I am on the verge of shitting my pants as I frantically tear open small, folded wax bags and dump the brownish powder into a Snapple cap I have placed on the center console of my SUV. I do this efficiently and quickly with care not to spill the contents, for that would be a disaster on par with September 11th. My legs and stomach are cramping, and I keep telling myself to hold on, just one more minute. Like the world’s saddest cheerleader giving hope to the team’s most pathetic athlete.

I dump the last bag into the cap and take the disposable syringe which by now is bent and worn, more like something you would find in a medical waste container at a biohazard dump than in a doctor’s office. I put the needle into the water bottle using my teeth to pull the plunger up. Watching the water fill the plaster tube with intensity. I push the plunger and spray the water over the powder in the cap, use the top of the plunger to stir the solution, drop a piece of cotton into the brownish liquid. I drew the solution into the syringe using my mouth to pull the plunger back, my eyes fixated on the iced tea colored solution filling the syringe. I find a vein which still seems to be working in my left forearm and stab into my skin several times until I hear that familiar pop of the needle piercing vein. I draw back and watch the show. Blood rushes into the syringe in a thin stream twirling through and mixing with the poison I am about to inject into my body. I push the plunger down and pull it back, drawing more blood into the solution. I continuously do this as the plunger goes deeper and deeper injecting more and more heroin into my bloodstream. The cramping and anxiousness fade almost immediately as a warm rush of intoxication shrouds me in this moment. I untie the rubber tourniquet from my arm and start my car. Everything is right where it should be for the moment, delicately balance and ready to tip.

For this one moment I forget that I am losing everything in my life that is worth living for.  Giving everything away for these fleeting moments of chemically induced pleasure.  The anarchy of my existence is beginning to kill me, and the craziest part is I do not care, in fact I encourage it. I know if I keep this up, I am going to die, therefore I never stop when the ones I once loved so much beg me to. I want to die because life has become so miserably grey through the cloudy haze I have been living. I never imagined it would get back to the vivid colorful days of my past. No one said suicide had to be quick, I am just prolonging the event, savoring my misery. Like a true 90’s child I am being truly melodramatic about it. 

I drive to my mother’s house to pick up some money before she goes on vacation. Since I was fired from my last job, I have been getting an allowance from a trust fund left to me after my father’s death which is now controlled by my mother. It was never really like this before I had started using. I graduated college, got a great job in forensics with a major insurance carrier and thought I was doing the right thing. On the outside I looked like I had everything together, but something inside me was empty.  There was a void that I tried to fill with anything I thought would do the trick. Nothing seemed to fix me.

After losing my job I had access to a portion of an inheritance which was meant to pay for graduate school or renovations on my house. The things responsible normal people use large sums of money for. When I blew through fifty-grand in two months, I was told that I am no longer trusted with my inheritance. I cannot say I blame them, but I really wish I still had it at this moment. It would make things so much less embarrassing for me. I could just kill myself without having any interaction with my family. I hate having them see me like this.

I pull into my mother’s driveway and see my stepfather outside on a ladder hanging Christmas lights on the edge of the roof line. I throw my half-smoked cigarette onto the street as a I get out of my car.  They hate the fact I smoke. They have been yelling at me to quit since my sister gave me my first one when I was 12, at this point I am twenty-eight. It is not going to happen anytime soon, if ever.

I walk up the long driveway, about halfway my stepfather waves at meet and then turns back to his project.  We have never really spoken much, so this is a typical welcome home from him.  I walk past him and say, “Hey Bruce, lights look good man.” 

Bruce has been married to mother since I was nine. He is a retired police officer and still looks the part. He dons a mustache and has a shaved head. He carries himself with a silence that comes across to some as intimidating but to me he just seems like an asshole. He does not say anything in response to my greeting, other than a slight grunt in acknowledgment. I walk into the house through the garage. I wipe my feet on the mat, knowing I should take my shoes of, but fuck it.  I walk into the kitchen and yell, “Mom? I’m here.” 

My mother comes bustling around the corner out of the hallway and smiles at me. My mother is a tiny woman, standing maybe five feet two inches tall. She looks younger than she really is and has the energy to match. She is wearing a pair of slacks and a blouse, full makeup and hair perfectly styled.  It is a Sunday, so ask her where she is going? She looks at me confused and says, “Nowhere, why do you ask?” 

I just shrug and then she hugs me. She tells me I look good and that she likes my shirt. I know she is lying. I look like shit or at least I should. I have not gotten more than two hours of chemically induced rest in a row for as long as I can remember. I look down at the shirt I am wearing and realize she bought it for me a week ago, I tell her this and she smiles.  She says, “I guess I have good taste.” 

I do not laugh or smile, I do not feel like playing this game right now. I just want to get my allowance and leave. I am embarrassed to be getting an allowance from my mother as old as I am, but not embarrassed enough to prevent me from doing so. Let us face the fact, I need the money and she knows that. I tell her I need to pay rent and pay my bills, which I have not done in three months. My landlord is beginning to send me letters and become a big dick about things. Ever since he heard I was in rehab he and his bible-thumping slut of a wife have become real dick heads. What would Jesus do? I am not sure, but I do know just because your tenant is a junky does not mean he is going to murder you and your plastic smile wearing wife. And if he was in fact going to sneak into your overpriced place of residence while you were sleeping and bludgeon you to death in your bed, being a confrontational asshole is not a surefire way of deterring this scenario. It might, in fact, precipitate the act to occur. 

My mother rummages through her purse and takes out a bank envelope.  She hands it to me and asks if it will be enough to hold me over the two weeks she is going to be away.  I stuff it into my pocket and say “Yeah, it’ll be fine Mom don’t worry.” 

I do not count it, but I know no matter how much is in there I will be broke again within a day or so. I do not care about tomorrow. I just need immediate gratification today.

My mother keeps looking at me with eyes that tell me she knows what I am doing and that it kills her. She is terrified that I am going to die any day.  The truth is I assume the same thing, almost encourage it at this point.  I know the loss of her favorite child would quite literally destroy her. I know I am her favorite because before I was a disaster, she slipped up during a Christmas dinner with my sisters and I present and admitted I was her favorite child in front of everyone. My sisters had always known, I never really cared. I have always been a little bit of a problem when compared to my sisters, but my mother always liked me more than them.  I think it was the fact I am the only boy and that I was a “project” for her.  She did not do a great job completing the project, but I am still living.  So, it can be said that she did a decent job.

Most times I feel like a zombie. I feel nothing but anger and hate. Anger at everyone and hate towards myself, it is a terrible existence, but I keep living it because I am too much of a coward to do what needs to be done to get out. I will be driving to pick up drugs and looking at other people on the highway thinking to myself how are they functioning without dope? This infuriates me and makes me hate everyone that is not living the hell I am. I really have not felt much else since my father died, so I use that as my excuse to constantly get loaded. 

When I leave my mother’s, I drive back to my place and count the money in my driveway before I go inside.  She gave me $2,000.00. I know I should give this to my landlord who is looking at me through his window as I sit in my parking spot.  As I walk past, I turn and put on a fake smile and wave to him, what it really means is “Go fuck yourself, Jeff.” 

I unlock my front door, kick off my shoes and climb the stairs to my sprawling apartment.  I live in a converted barn, which does not sound cool, but it really is.  The place is aside with a gigantic loft with these fabricated metal spiral stairs leading to it.  The roofline is pitched on different angles and reflected inside my place.  The ceiling is at least fifteen feet high pitched on radical slants running this way and that.  There are small stairs cases all over leading to different areas of the house and there is an old, outdated bathroom which somehow has come back in style.  My daughter has her own bedroom and I have a massive master bedroom.  Neither are occupied anymore. I have been sleeping on my couch most nights and my daughter has not come to visit in months. Her mother knows what I am so she will not allow me visitation with my little girl.  It is probably for the best anyway. 

I go to my refrigerator and open a beer; I sit down on the couch and light a cigarette.  I sit there watching television and eventually nod out burning a hole in the arm of my couch with the cigarette in my hand. When I become lucid again, I decide to do another shot so I set it up, inject it, and eventually pass out again.

When I wake up it is 6 in the morning and I am out of heroin, so I call my guy, but he doesn’t answer. I scrape whatever residue is left behind on all the empty bags lying around my place, which is a surprisingly large amount, and shoot it.  I try to fall back asleep but cannot seem t stop my mind from racing.  Eventually, my phone lights up with a message and I see my dealer is ready. I make an order and go to meet him.

I park in a municipal building parking lot near the falls in Paterson as I wait the ever-popular five minutes for the guy to meet me with my order.  Five minutes is drug dealer language for an hour maybe longer. This morning he only made me wait fifteen minutes.  He jumps in my car on the passenger side and we drive around the block as he counts the money and gives me the correlated amount of heroin. I drop him off up the block and drive off. I stop in a Burger King parking lot about three blocks away to get right. I push and it hits me hard this time. I decided to wait a minute or so before driving. I end up nodding out and wake up an hour later with my car running and my head on the steering wheel. I shook it off and told myself that it was not an overdose. I drive back home and sit down on the couch and watch television and eat junk food until something gives me an excuse not to. 

The money runs out in three days. 

When I wake up the birds are chirping, and the sun is breaking through the windows illuminating small specs of dust floating in the stillness of the house. I feel terrible.  My skin feels too tight, my stomach turns and cramps. My legs are restless, and I cannot stop stretching them and kicking around the sheets of my bed. I feel like death and know only one way to fix this.  I need to get right.  I look around for my pins and dope I saved from last night.  I go through the process as fast as possible and hit.  I feel better almost instantaneously. I need to go cop today but am broke so I start thinking of ways to make money quick. I have stolen and sold most of my mother’s jewelry all ready, so that is not an option. I think of other resources at my disposal and decide I have none. 

I drive to a shopping center at the base of my parents’ gated community for coffee and breakfast. It is raining so hard the windshield wipers do not clear the rain fast enough. I walk out of the deli and see a car I know pull in and up to the ATM at the bank. I cannot believe my eyes. Several days prior to this a drug dealer I knew took two hundred dollars from me to get me heroin and never delivered. I had been calling him ever since with no answer or returned text. Now here the mother fucker is getting money from the ATM!

I ran to my car in the rain, threw my sandwich on the front seat and grabbed a small bat I had in my car from my daughter’s softball games. I ran up to the car while the driver was pushing numbers into the keypad at the machine and yelled, “Yo bro, you owe me something.” 

He froze in his seat, arm extended out the window, and began to stammer.  I interrupt him and say, “Give me the fucking money now.” 

He handed over two hundred dollars and I ran to my car and peeled out. Feeling vindicated for the moment, I drove directly to Paterson and met my dealer in a parking lot by the falls.  I got high in the parking lot and then drove home.  When I drive past the shopping center, I do a double take at the police cars parked by the bank and the person standing there pointing around the lot giving a statement.  It was the same guy who I had just taken the money from.  I never thought this piece of shit would call the cops; he was a junky drug dealer. 

All I know is that I am fucked…

Breaking the Ice: A story of my childhood

It was early December and I walked out of the false warmth of my home into a beautiful crisp northern New Jersey afternoon.  The sky was crystal blue and the air was clear, so translucent it felt surreal.  Wind scattered bursts of snow from the high plowed banks lining the sides of the street.  I was in my youth, about 13 years old, and I was trying to enjoy the day as best as I could given the circumstances.  So far I was making a decent effort but soon this would not be the case. I would be freezing, frantic and convinced I was going to die. Being how I felt at that time in my life I was going to be alright with that.

Before I was thrown into a fight for my life against nature, things were not ideal for me at the time. I had flown to my mother’s home in Northwestern New Jersey for my winter break from school in Chicago. I had become accustomed to the process of boarding airplanes, flying to different homes around the lower 48 throughout the year.  I had been alternating holidays with my parents since their hostile divorce which occured when I was just 4 years old. 

The only issue with the arrangement was that I absolutely detested my mother’s home and my new family who occupied it. It was unbearable since I had left to live with my father when I was 9. My step sisters made sure I was uncomfortable. They were relentless with snarky comments and their cruelty aimed towards me. My step father rarely spoke to me, other than the occasionally grunt in confirmation or head tilt in recognition of my presence. My mother was at the helm of my misery.  With her constant jabs and comments about me leaving her custody years ago to live with my father. I hated New Jersey and immediately upon arriving wanted to escape. 

My full sister, Amy, once acted as my one and only outlet to the torment. However, she was now 15 and too busy with teenage emergencies to spend a holiday with her lonely brother. She left earlier in the morning with her friends to go do something which was critical for young women. I was alone in a house full of my “family”. 

I told my mother I was going out for a bit and received a cold, “Okay.” in response. 

I put my coat and ventured into the winter. Finally, I felt the freedom of isolation. The cold had a way of driving the locals inside.  The streets were empty and I liked it.  In Chicago, people carried on as usual, just with more layers of clothing, during the winter.  You had to.  If everyone hibernates during the winter we would only get to be outside for a few months or so. 

There was snow covering the landscape surrounding me.  It was much different than the city, cleaner and with old victorian homes lining the streets it made me feel like I was in the movie “A Wonderful Life”. I understood the irony back then just as well as I do today.

 It had been warmer than usually the days before my arrival.  The warmth had melted some of the top layers of snow and the recent cold front had frozen the remaining snow into a thick sheet of ice which laid across everything exposed.  It reminded me of a fluffy hotel towel left wet outside to freezy on the laundry line. 

I lit a cigarette, my attempt to rebel in my adolescence, and walked down the street of my mother’s neighborhood. The golf course in the neighborhood was nestled into the trees remaining of a once massive forest.  The fairways were long white placid voids in the landscape. They ran throughout the wooded landscape where house periodicals appeared. The houses were natural to the scene and appeared to have grown with the forest at one time or another.  

I came upon a retention pond about a mile from our house and went to sit on a cement structure protruding from the snowy ground.  It was dry and I thought it would be a good place to sit and smoke cigarette after cigarette.  A good enough excuse to keep me away from the people I was trying to avoid. I made my way through the icy snow, my Converse sneakers breaking through the crusty ice on top of the powder with each step.  My feet were getting cold and wet, but I continued to trudge through to my destination. 

I sat on the cast cement for a while looking into the sky through the crisp winter air.  It was getting colder.  There was eerie silence of winter all around.  No animals rustling or cars or voices, just the sound of me exhaling clouds of smoke and the brushing of my jacket when I moved.

Eventually I decided to walk to the front gate of our neighborhood which was about a mile or so further down the road of my home. This was merely to have something to do other than be at home. I put out my cigarette and threw it into the drain below where I sat. It disappeared into the darkness beneath the surface of the earth.  Looking back, the simple act might have triggered a premonition. 

I stood up and stepped off the cement.  My sneakers touched the icy surface and I put my weight onto my foot fully. That instant my foot slid out from beneath me. fell onto the ice, sliding down the embankment into the retention pond.  Luckily the pond has frozen over and I didn’t fall into the water beneath. My heart is beating so hard from the adrenaline I can only focus on the throbbing rhythm in my chest, pumping into my ears. I lay on my back for a few moments to collect myself. I gathered myself taking a final sigh of relief.  I sat up, placed my hands on the  ground, pushed myself to my feet and headed towards the embankment to climb the small incline to get back to street level. 

I take a step onto the ice of the embankment, climb my way out of the retention pond, walk to the main gate and head home. I spend the rest of the day in my room away from my family. 

The following day I return to the pond in order to smoke more cigarettes and remove myself from the same unpleasant situation as the day prior.  I felt good for once. I walked along the edge of the pond rather than sitting on the cold cement.  I was daydreaming about returning home to my friends, to hockey games in Lincoln Park, Navy Pier and of course my father. 

I was almost halfway around the pond when I took a step and fell on my side.  Somehow I ended up sliding head first towards the ice at the bottom of the incline.  I slid over the edge of the pond and right then upon hitting the frozen surface I heard a cracking sound. The ice gave way and I fell into the water.  I was completely submerged for a few seconds. I thrashed trying to reach the surface but I was beneath a sheet of ice.  After what seemed like minutes I found the small hole through which I had entered the water. I found the bottom and planted my feet standing up out of the icy cold drainage water.  The water was up to the top of my chest and I was surrounded by ice, my feet stuck into six inches of muck which lined the bottom of the pond acting as a home to fish, turtles, frogs and other unknown creatures all long since gone to their specific mud huts for their icey winter slumber. 

I tried to get a handle on something but could not.  I tried to plant my feet to spring myself out of the water up onto the ice but was essentially stuck in place from the quick sand like substance holding my feet.  I was planted into the ground like the Cat Tail which lined the edges of the pond. 

I was completely overwhelmed by the cold water.  My body was tense to the point where I couldn’t move.  I began to shiver uncontrollably and fight with my body denying its wish to curl into the fetal position. I felt the urge to tighten up, closing my body into a ball to save warmth rapidly escaping into the water. I did not allow it to happen, I just clung to the edge of the ice.

 I was terrified and had no idea what to do.  I tried to yell for help but it came out stifled, like a stuttering screamed whisper,H-h-h-h-he hehehelp…”.

 I felt frozen in place. I was trying to think of a way to get out of the water.  Everytime I tried getting a grip to pull myself out I would just slip on the ice. The pain in my feet became excruciating along with my fingers and hands. Pain of thousands of needles piercing my skin began in my extremities.  I was getting scared and frantically started grasping and clawing my way out of the water. My efforts did nothing but keep my blood flowing into my extremities.  I tried to move but it became harder and harder.  My hands and feet no longer hurt.  My legs and arms were soothing as well.  I realized they were all numb.

After a few minutes in the water I became tired. The numbnest came on accompanied by a dull ache which was turning to warmth.  I propped my elbows onto the ice and fought the urge to just stay still. I tried to move my body around but it was difficult. 

Finally, after what seemed like a day, a car appeared down the road. I felt a sense of excitement along with relief. I told myself I needed to get it’s attention somehow.  I took the deepest breath I could and submerged myself beneath the water and grabbed a handful of mud and grass.  I could not close my hand around the muddy solution, it sat in my mangled fist. When the car got close enough I tried to hurl it to get the driver’s attention. My muscles were so tense the make-shift ball barely made it five feet in front of me. 

It was disheartening and I began thinking I was going to freeze to death as the car drove down the road. The thought of dying there in the water so close to civilization was somehow acceptable to me at the time. 

No thoughts of “I wish I could tell so and so I love them” or “I am so young I don’t want to die” or “God, please get me out of this and I will never do such and such again…” came to mind. I just thought, well to be honest, I didn’t really think anything at the time. Other than I was so freaking cold in that water I just wanted it to be over with.

Suddenly I hear a man’s voice yell, “Hey! Hey! Get out of the pond!” 

Looking around, I felt a surge of energy through me. I saw a police officer standing on the edge of the pond on the opposite side, his arms crossed over his chest. I wanted to yell something witty and sarcastic but what came out was a pleading, “I tried but I can’t!” 

I was taken back by the fact the officer thought I was willingly in the frigid water. Even at thirteen I understand the idiocy of the demand being made to me. I still to this day wonder if he actually thought I was in that freezing water because actually I wanted to be. Or if it was just a habit for police officers to make obvious demands on children they see in danger. Telling the child to remove themselves from the perilous situation. 

“Try again!”

The police officer began to make his way towards me, slowly, much slower than I would have liked at the time. 

I made a half hearted attempt knowing it was futile. Frustrated and scared I yelled,  “See I c-c-can’t! Y-y-y-you d-d-don’t think I t-t-tried?” 

The police officer took his radio off his shoulder and said something into the microphone.  He clipped it back onto his shoulder and began walking more briskly now towards me at the edge of the pond. After what seemed like an hour he made it to me and looked around for something to hold onto. A neighbor who had been passing by called to him, “Do you need help?” 

“Yes, get over here!”  

The two men grabbed hands and made a rather short and underwhelming human chain. The neighbor was at the bottom and the officer was holding a tree branch with one hand and lowered the passerby down to me in the water with the other. They two men strained and stretched far as they could and I did the same, I reached my hand up but it was only a gesture of wanting to live nothing else. 

There was still about three feet separating our hands. The police officer broke a branch off the tree and handed it to the other man.  I grabbed it and they were able to pull me out of the water. When I was almost out the man slipped falling onto the ice, but was able to hold the police officer’s hand and the branch at the same time. I inched out of the remaining water dragging myself along the ice.

I was out of the water shivering uncontrollably in wet clothing. The police officer asked me what I was doing and what I was thinking. I wanted them to be rhetorical but he was staring at me waiting for my response. I did not tell him I was smoking cigarettes because I was afraid I would be in trouble. I just shrugged and shivered, eventually he shook his head in frustration. 

The ambulance showed up shortly after and they examined me onsite. I had first degrees frostbite on my toes and fingers. The skin was glossy and turning white in areas. I was in early stages of hypothermia. My body temperature was lower than what was within the safe zone they told me.  I believed them, the water was really cold. 

The paramedics said if I had been in the water much longer I would have died. They told me to remove my clothing in the rear of the ambulance and I was wrapped in large heated blankets along with a silver emergency blanket as I lay on a gurney on the way to the emergency room. 

I was nervous for them to call my mother and was terrified of her reaction.  I knew my step sisters would make a mockery out of me about how stupid I must be to have falling iinto the pond. 

I was admitted into the hospital with mild hypothermia and frostbite.  My mother eventually came to the hospital to check on my status.  She was angry at me and asked me if I was trying to ruin the holiday for the family. “Of course not Mom. It was an accident.” 

I felt hopeless and just wanted to go home to Chicago. My mother went to make a phone call and I was left alone, which brought a sense of relief. Relief which was short lived once she returned. 

The doctor eventually came in and explained my status to my mother.  The electric blanket and hot water bottles had regulated my body temperature.  The frostbite was mild and there would be no lasting damage to be phalanges. I was kept in the hospital for evaluation for a while. I spent the majority of the time playing video games, which was difficult with the frostbite and watching television. 

After two days, the doctor said I could be released with her permission.  She immediately signed the paperwork and rushed out of the hospital doors with me in tow. I didn’t even get a wheelchair ride to the front door, which I was bummed about.

When we got home I took a hot shower and called my father. When he answered the phone I could tell he was concerned. It made me feel better. He asked, “Ryan, are you alright?” 

For the first time on the visit to my mother’s house I actually did feel alright.  “Yeah Dad, I’m fine, but I want to come home.” 

“Soon enough kiddo, soon enough.  Your step mother and I miss you. Please try and have a good time at your mother’s house.” 

I lied and said I would try. I lay in bed that night in mild pain from the incident. I stared up at the ceiling unable to sleep. I thought with everything that happened, having to return to this house was the worst part.  I should have stayed in the hospital or in the water for that matter. I could hear my step sisters laughing in the hallway.  I only heard mumbles but could tell they were making fun of me. I pulled the blanket over my head and tried to sleep. I eventually dozed off.

Collection of Poems

#13

We are constantly waiting and violently shaking

It is holding us back, holding me back.

These nights in the basement and my lack of patience.

Is holding us back, holding me back.

Now it is time to wake up this nightmare is over.

Everyone is screaming this nightmare is over.

My nightmare…

It is over.

I find myself reminiscing about a time before all this.

When we were younger and recklessly confident.

The days when were we giants amongst men.

Or at least we thought.

Then the world changed, and we became bitter.

Now we are so much older

With the weight of the world on our shoulders.

Frantically trying to shrug.

Self-medicating and self-depreciating

These self-loathing habits are keeping me sick.

I am battered and broken.

These things left unspoken.

I obsess over things that I wish I had said.

We spent so much time screaming.

We were desperate for a reaction.

We lost our motivations. We kept throwing it away.

Somehow, I am the only one left here.

Alone in this mess we made.

The air is silent and reeks of desperation.

There are tattered notebooks littering the floor.

They are filled with things I cannot remember writing.

Blood spattered pages inscribed with late-night rantings

They tell me this is madness

But this is my madness.

Floodgates

When what we have turns to ashes,

Burn the bridge and the city along with it.

We will laugh while we dance in the flames.

With our feet on hot embers they call us insane.

Open the floodgates and let the water cleanse us.

I am so sick and so tired, wash this burden away.

It feels like I am drowning, I have severed my lifeline.

I thrash and I struggle. I am fading away.

You sit there calmly, showing no fear, no panic.

It must smolder there under your tranquil surface.

Right next to those skeletons in your closet

And the all the issues in your mind.

I ask of you only one thing, for all those favors I have done.

When I die burn my body and scatter the ashes.

Tie my cons around your neck.

Wear them like the necklace I never bought for you.

That one you thought you deserved.

This might not be the one you wanted,

But it is the burden you deserve.

Last Time…Maybe

Every time I write my mind keeps returning to you.

I am putting myself back together,

But I need to purge these thoughts of you.

This is the last time, I swear it is the last time, the very last time

I write anything about you.

I am cleansing my pallet of you.

You have left a bitter taste.

Although when you are not on these pages, things seem out of place.

I have always had people I would kill for,

But you were the only one I would die for.

Now it feels like I am dying to get over you.

I sit alone and sometimes realize

I am keeping company with a person I hate.

I have started smoking cigarettes,

A slow suicide.

No one said it had to be quick,

Like getting you out of my mind.

Bad Days

I have bad days this is just another one. 

This is becoming my normality it would seem.

I cannot remember the last time I was happy or even content.

When everything was beautiful, and nothing hurt.

I am searching for the answers to unknown questions.

Running in circles around the maze in my own head.

Days like this I recall certain events from my past.

When I was a child I fell through the ice.

A man came by and pulled me out of the water.

Sometimes I resent him.  Hating the fact, he did not mind his own business.

Leaving me alone in the icy water to fade into the ether.

To drift into a hypothermic sleep.

If he had I could have been mourned and remembered rather than loathed.

Modern Day Romeo and Juliet

If our lives were a movie it would have to be a tragedy.

A beautiful beginning ending with scorn.

I would play the villain,

You should know I do it so well.

You would be a casualty in the war I fight against myself.

You could be Juliet.

I would be a depressing Romeo.

I have taken enough poison to kill us both.

We had the attraction; I just lacked the devotion.

I struggle with these things we call emotions.

We wear these masks and costumes.

We wear them so well.

After the inevitable exposing of all that lies beneath,

All that is left are the graphic memories.

Those mixed tapes you made me are always stuck in my mind.

The way “A Clockwork Orange” turned into a New England sunrise.

All your broken pieces, the edges fit into mine.

This puzzle is missing pieces, they have been gone for a long time.

Train Station

Waiting for the train today I thought of you.

The same feeling of hopelessness encroached around me like a damp mold infested blanket.

I was paralyzed with hopelessness and thought I would crumble.

My ruined body spilling across the platform

Pieces of myself collecting around bystanders’ shoes like the tide washing onto the shore.

I then realized the only thing holding me together is knowing that you are falling apart.

Sweet little whispers mask your astonishing lies.

They are still so vivid and present.

They pepper the bedsheets that cloak my mind.

If I could start over from where it all began,

Things would have to be different; I would change who I am.

Stop grasping at those straws you dangle for me.

I keep drawing the short one it seems,

You are just another bad habit I am trying to break.

Lost Love – A Bad Short Story

I was the luckiest man in the world at one time. I was utterly in love with my soulmate.  The love of my life was named Darcy.  The tragedy of our story is that her and I would not get the opportunity to grow old together. I can assure you the realization of this inevitable absence in each other’s life precipitated the worst pain imaginable. I was forced to witness the one person I cared more than anything else be taken from me. 

The night we discovered she was sick Darcy had collapsed in front of me. She had just pulled into our garage after work. I heard the garage door begin to open and had gone out to help her with her bags.  She got out of her car and immediately fell to the floor. She had called me earlier that day and I thought she sounded strange. I asked her if she was alright.  She replied, “I can almost guarantee you I am going to be fine.”

She would not be fine.  Looking back on it I wonder if she knew something was wrong. In that moment I was crippled by my inability to help her. I frantically called 911 and shortly after an ambulance came blaring into our driveway. The paramedics found me cradling her in my arms on the garage floor. They pulled me out of the way and began securing Darcy to a stretcher.  They asked me if there were any preexisting conditions, I replied, “No, nothing.”

Darcy was rushed to the hospital and a series of tests were administered. Most of which came back negative. It was if she were perfectly healthy and no one could figure out why she had collapsed. They brought her down into the basement for a CAT scan, their last attempt to find something which would leave a healthy 23-year-old woman barely conscious, the results of the test were heartbreaking. Darcy had a massive tumor in her brain that was inoperable. There was nothing anyone could do. The doctors were helpless. I was forced to watch because I could not bear to look away. Something told me at any moment she would disappear into the ether and be gone forever. 

She eventually gained consciousness again. She was speaking and eating small amounts of food, but she was struggling. I watched her wither and fade from the woman I love with so much intensity into an empty husk of a person.  Even with her body shriveling she never lost the flame in her soul which she somehow kept stoked until the very end. A tangible spark forever present in her dark brown eyes.

A month passed and I spent most of my time in the hospital with her. I had taken a leave of absence from my job to be there with her. The suffering was unimaginable for her and me both. She was not worried about her own death, rather knowing the love of her life would be left alone tore her apart.  I tried my best to be strong, but occasionally, a tear would escape from my eye, rolling down my cheek.  Or I would choke on my words of assurance to her.

I held her hand, it was small like a child’s, only more emaciated and transparent.  Her skin was like paper.  Blue veins were visible towards the surface.  I knew these veins help carry the disease throughout her body, and I hate them more than most would say they have ever hated anything.

            The day she died was sunny and clear. I had opened the window for her earlier in the afternoon to allow some air into her stuffy room. The machines hooked to her beeped and ticked and hissed. What seemed like thousands of tubes came from all over protruding from beneath her blankets and hospital gown. It had almost become normal for us. The machines noise was now just background noise, all to familiar.

            She reached out for my hand at one point and I looked up at her, those brown eyes still alive in a body that had lost a battle long ago. I managed a smile. She said, “Thomas, I want you to know that I am so lucky to have had you in my life.  I would not change a thing if I had a choice because I would not want a life that did not involve us loving each other. No matter how fleeting the time was.”

“I love you too Darcy.”         

I choked a little on the lump in my throat. “With my entire self.” I cleared my throat, “It is so nice outside maybe we could get the nurses to allow us to go outside for a walk. Let me go get one.”

I got up to find a nurse and Darcy called me back, “Thomas, no I don’t feel up to it right now.  I’d rather just stay here with you.”

“Okay, whatever you want.”

I sat back down and told her a recant of one of our first dates.  It was a disaster by normal standards.  We had gone hiking in a state forest in New York, Mount Harriman.  I had no idea of the level of difficulty which the hike would involve, nor did I realize the length or the fact the trail was not a loop.  We hiked up and over the mountain several times that day and when we got to the end, tired and overwhelmed we were not at the parking lot in which we had entered the trail.  Darcy pulled out her cell phone and tracked her car on an app. The car was 5 miles away, down a single lane road which ran throughout the 50,000-acre forest. We walked the last 5 miles on the gravel road.  When we reached the car, I thought she was going to break it off right then and there, but she did not.  Rather, we broke into laughter and kissed.  “That was the day I knew we would be together forever.” I said.

“Too bad forever wasn’t a little longer in this case.”

“The time we have had was better than 100 years with someone else Darcy, I would not trade it for anything.”

“Me, neither.”

I kissed her as she laid in her hospital bed.  After that she closed her eyes. They would not open again. I like to think she was dreaming of me when she died. That dream would turn into her forever. Darcy had saved me from a life without love and for that I will always be in her debt.

Darcy was buried in the pouring rain the following Tuesday afternoon.  The clouds were thick and dark. It was if someone had painted the sky dark grey to match the tone of the occasion. Thunder clapped in the distance and the withering leaves on the trees surrounding us fell to the ground and were blown violently around by the storm.

A Catholic Priest read from his Bible to a weeping audience.  Flowers were everywhere and the rain’s intensity made their petals come alive upon impact.  I just stared at the ground at the meticulously dug hole over which Darcy’s casket hovered, like a morose magic trick. I did not have an umbrella and stood being assaulted by the rain. My suit was drenched and clung to my body like cellophane. I could not bear to pull myself away with the crowd as people began leaving the plot to venture back to their cars.  I felt as if once I left Darcy would be gone forever.  I just wanted a few more minutes to tell her how she changed my life. I felt a jacket being draped over my shoulders and turned to see Darcy’s father, Frank, putting his raincoat over me.  He smiled sullenly at me and without words turned and walked over to his remaining family.

“Darcy, I don’t know how I am going to make it through this life without you.  You were so special and made me want to be a better man. Better than the person I was and better than the person I am today. I love you so much Darcy, I am lost. All I can do is hope we see each other on the other side, but who knows if there is anything after this? Not me.  But I am willing to gamble there must be because anything after this without you would be hell.  I am already living through hell now, so a double dose does not seem fair. None of this seems fair though.”

I do not know how much time I spent there before the ground’s person approached and asked me to leave. I did without a word in response to the man in overhauls and a raincoat. I got into my car and drove to Darcy’s parents’ house which is on the outskirt of the town. It was filled with family and friends, however I still felt completely alone.

Darcy’s mother saw me immediately when I came in.  She hugged me, kissed me on the cheek, and looked into my eyes. “You were so good to her Thomas. We are very lucky to have you as a part of our family.  We would still like it if you were to come to Christmas this year.”

“That would be nice. I would like that.”

I was broken inside from Darcy’s death.  If I made sudden movements, it was if I could hear the splinters of myself rattling around inside me.  Faint jingling of the pieces making soft somber notes of the saddest song I had ever heard.  But the song was my own in memory of Darcy. The only way I could explain how this time was for me was that if all the fears and doubts you ever had suddenly came to fruition finally claiming their place in the forefront of your life. I could not sleep and could not be awake.

I spent about a month debating whether to keep trying or just give up. I am not a coward and I do not want people to think I am taking the easy way out.  By no means necessary is suicide an easy thing. To knowingly take one’s own life takes a huge amount of courage and commitment in my opinion.

Sitting alone in our house, drinking, which had become a nightly routine for me. I decided I would kill myself the following evening.  I wanted to go around getting some things in order and say goodbye to friends and family.  Organize my paperwork for my family so it is easier on them to settle my estate.  Just like that, I committed to it.  I was going to kill myself tomorrow evening. Like a meeting written into a scheduler. It was just one more thing to do.

My alarm went off at 6:30 am. I rolled over and turned it off.  Got out of bed and took a shower, brushed my teeth, and got dressed.  I wrote my floor safe combination on a post it and place the post it on the door of the metal box in my closet.  This would allow my family access to the paperwork and other items within the safe once I was gone.  I drove to my old company headquarters, I arrived at 8:00 am and walked into my boss’s office.

Francis Maxwell was an asshole.  I had worked for him at the engineering consultant firm for 2 years and disliked him the entire time.  No one in the office liked him as a matter of fact.  He was unlikeable.  He saw me come in and welcomed me. I asked, “Frank, do you have a minute? I need to speak to you about something.”

He nodded, waiving me in. I walked into his office and closed the door. “What’s going on Tom?”

“Well Francis, you are an asshole.  I quit and I hope you go home tonight with the realization everyone in the company hates you.  We think you are a joke and even our clients cannot stand you being involved with their files.  So, all in all, you are the absolute worst.  Just a real piece of human trash. There is no wonder why your wife left you.  The rumors of her cheating on you with your handyman are believable.  I would imagine the guy was so much better, all around, than you. This made it hard for your wife to quench her thirst for the love of a real man, not some dried up shell of a boy that you are.” I pushed my seat back and slapped a cup of pens off his desk as I got up.  They were strewn across the floor. On the way out the door I knocked a framed motivational poster off his wall.  I turned back to him and said, “I just did you a favor, that poster sucks.  Everyone hates it.”

Francis just sat there motionless with his mouth wide open.  The expression on his face showed his obvious amazement of what just happened.  I walked out the doors and got in my car.  I drove across the street to my bank and accessed my safety deposit box.  I emptied the contents into a bag.  The deed for my house, our marriage certificate, my birth certificate, my social security card, $5,000.00 cash and some of the jewelry Darcy inherited from her grandmother. I thanked the bank manager and walked out. 

I went back to my house and cleaned the entire place. I then wrote letters to my friends from college, Chad, Jeff, Ryan, Christopher, Josh and Brianna. I put the letters in envelopes and put them in the mailbox. I called my mother and told her that she was the greatest mother I could have asked for.  She cried, like usual. She asked me if I was alright, I responded, “Mom, I can almost guarantee you that I’ll be alright.”

She accepted this answer and told me she loved me. I told her I loved her and hung up. I then called my sister, who I had not spoken to in 7 years.  She ignored my call the first 3 times until finally, “What do you want Thomas?!?!”

“Just to let you know I forgive you. I do not hate you and I love you Amy. I hope everything goes well for you in the future.”

“Whatever Tom. You’re such a prick.” She hung up.

With everything in order, the best I could make it, I was ready. I went to the local gun store to purchase 9mm bullets for a handgun my grandfather had passed down to me.  He had gotten it while fighting in World War II. He had taken it from the body of a German soldier he had come across during his platoon’s operations in France. I had never shot the gun but thought it would be an effective way to accomplish my goal.

I walked into the store and purchased a box of bullets. I thought it was a waste seeing how I would only need one, but they do not sell single rounds. So, there I was stuck with 49 extra bullets I would never need.

Everything was ready, including myself.  I decided to go out for one last dinner at Darcy and my favorite tavern. It was a small place in the middle of our small town. They served great food and specialized in craft beers.  I ate and remembered how Darcy would sit beside me. How we would share our food. I drank and thought about Darcy and I coming to this place every Friday that first summer we dated.

Knowing it would be the last time I ate or drank anything made it almost surreal.  The food tasted better.  The beer warmed me and was flavorful.  I paid the check, left a generous tip, and left. I drove home and parked in the driveway.  I had not used the garage since Darcy collapsed in it and I was not going to start now. I walked upstairs into my bedroom removed the gun from the shoebox in the closet and loaded a bullet into it. I sat down on the bed put the barrel in my mouth.  My heart was racing and the adrenaline coursing through my veins caused my hands to shake.  I took a deep breath and pulled the trigger, “Click.”

Nothing happened. “What the fuck?” I looked at the gun.  I had no idea what I was looking for. I tried again, “Click.”

“Come on!!!”

“Click, Click, Click, Click.” Nothing. “You’ve got to be kidding me.”  

Broken is Subjective

I am broken.

This is what I hear people say about me as they pass by.

I, on the other hand, do not feel broken.

I feel more alive now than when first laid on the ground

by the men in their Carhart work pants, fluorescent vests, and their work boots.

Whistling at the attractive woman on the street passing by.

I am now free to move, to breathe, to grow and evolve with the earth which lay beneath me.

In the spring vegetation grows through the gaps running along me.

Someone comes along with chemicals to kill it. 

Foreshadowing what is to come.

Most people do not see me, some do.

Those who say I am a danger to the world.

Labeled as the sign of deterioration to “their” neighborhood.

I am covered with cement and smoothed. 

Time and time again.

Adolescents dig their initials into the wet surface and laugh as they run away.

The next deep breath the earth takes I expose myself to the world.

The crooked jagged line running across a grey slab.

Foot soles are my attackers.

Here I sit in all my glory.

A crack in the sidewalk.

Eventually, someone will trip and point their menacing finger in my direction. 

I will be torn from my home and replaced with a younger version.

They will call it maintenance.

I will call it death.

Until that time, I sit here as you pass over me.

There is nothing more to say.

The above is not a science article. I am sorry to disappoint any of the 3 people who might read this. The fact of the matter is I am taking a creative writing course at Rutgers this semester, along a Storytelling with Data writing class. since I am pretty busy as of late, I have decided to start posting my creative writing assignments on my blog for a while. I am enjoying the challenge of the assignments. I wrote the above persona poem as a broken section of sidewalk. I once did a monologue as a can of corn… that might be posted as well if I get really desperate. I hope you enjoy the next few months of writing samples I release.

Young Engines of Broadway: The Film

I published a short blog a week or so ago. This is the follow up film to that article.

The following film is my final project for a creative writing course I am currently enrolled in at Rutgers. Please watch the film and feel something. Read the earlier article, if you have not already, and feel something. At the end of the day, remember we are all out here having a rough time one way or another. With that said, just be cool.

Enjoy.

Please check out our shows at Rutgers. We are open to the public for the annual Faraday shows.

Please check out Dave and Eric’s award winning production when it inevitably makes its return to the stage.

The Young Engines of Broadway

Broadway NYC prior to the COVID-19 Shutdown

I recently saw a heart broken 75-year old man see his dream collapse around him in the midst of our nation’s recent epidemic. Playhouses and theaters around Manhattan are shuttering their windows and closing their doors as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Many shows are uncertain when, if ever, they will be able to open again.  This is the case for Eric Krebb, owner of the Playroom Theater, and one of the shows housed at Playroom, “That Physics Show”.

Playroom Theater Prior to the COVID-19 shutdown

I ventured into New York City from the desolate Rutgers campus in New Brunswick, NJ in order to help with the disassembly of the set for “That Physics Show”. The city was vacant and quit by New York City standards on a beautiful summer day in June.

Co-creator and star of “That Physics Show”, Dave Mauillo, is my boss and mentor here at Rutgers University. He had driven us into the city in our physics department van, covered in witty physics jokes. The vehicle would soon be filled to the gills with remnants of Krebb and his widely successful show.

For a person like myself, who loves physics, pillaging the equipment at the theater was almost like Christmas.  However, there was a palpable feeling of sorrow in the air. The tragedy of the nationwide shutdown is potentially destroying an entire community and a long-loved art form, theater.

That Physics Show is a theatrical production that involves a physics demonstration performed by Mauillo in an intimate theater, open to the general public. The show includes fantastic spectacles such as firing a ping pong ball through soda cans at over 700 miles per hour. This demo is as cool as it sounds.  There is also a rocket cart that is propelled by a fire extinguisher. The cart reminds one of a soapbox derby car erected during the summer when I was a child. There are explosions involving hydrogen and a light spectrum demonstration which leaves the audience mesmerized by the everyday lighting and the spectra of the same. 

David Mauillo performing That Physics Show (Light Spectrum)

The show has been running for five years and performed over 500 shows. That Physics Show has also been featured in the New York Times and won a Drama Desk award for Unique Theatrical Experience. Despite the tremendous success of the show, it has come to a screeching halt due to the recent shutdown.

David Mauillo performing That Physics Show (Fire Extinguisher Car)

The COVID-19 pandemic has decimated the theatrical community in New York, as well as around the globe. The shutdown was sudden and indefinite. Without a light at the end of the tunnel, producers are hemorrhaging money by way of rent and other everyday expenses in order to maintain the theater space. The actors, theater hands, ticket takers and all other people involved with Broadway productions have been forced into financial destitution as well.  Many were forced to vacate their tiny apartments throughout the borrows as a result of the lack of work available. Many lost secondary sources of revenue, like waiting tables, bartending, even working as tour guides and performers at the city zoos.

The ripple effect of this closure has impacted many other businesses.  Most of the impact is flying under the radar of the public eye.  These businesses are those which support the theater industry. Such as custom manufactures in the garment district and cobblers specializing in theatrical footwear.  Sure this is a niche market, however these people rely on the theater community to make a living as well. No shows, no costumes, no boots, no work.

While speaking to Krebbs about the lasting effects on the community as a result of the shutdown, he spoke of the troubles smaller productions would feel as a result. The larger shows which have a long history of success and have grossed millions of dollars will be much more likely to bounce back. So if you are worried about seeing the show “Wicked” oneday, do not worry, it will likely be one of the shows which remains open when the closure is lifted. 

The shows which might not survive are the smaller ones.  Those without unlimited financial backing.  New shows that were scheduled to open might never see the stage. Krebbs spoke of a particular play which had been ready to open the night of the shutdown.  This play was “Six”.  With a multi-million dollar cost to produce, the play never got off to be opened and probably never will. 

The adverse effects of this shutdown on the theatrical community is overwhelming. Krebbs plans on using this hideous production to start a nonprofit organization, which he hopes lives on after he is gone. Sceincetheatercompany.org will be the organization and That Physics Show and That Chemistry Show will be produced in the future by Krebb’s nonprofit. 

I have been lucky enough to have the opportunity to assist with the production of That Physics Show online. The online show is a classroom-based version that is often done here at Rutgers.  In efforts to reach the public during the shutdown, the aforementioned show has been posted online which you can see at the hyperlink provided. Here is a link to the actual performance as it is performed on stage.

David Mauillo (left) and Eric Krebbs (right) sit in theater seats at The Playhouse Theater

Particles Traveling Backwards Through Time? Watch Out DeLorean Motor Company.

On March 14, 2018 Stephen Hawking passed away leaving an enormous intellectual legacy behind. Ten days prior to his death Hawkins was still working on his final paper titled, “A Smooth Exit from Eternal Inflation.” The co-author, Thomas Hertog, made a few small revisions to the paper, but nothing significant after Hawking’s death. The paper was officially published on May 2, 2018 in the Journal of High Energy Physics. The paper addressed an extremely complex topic many physicists struggled with, the theory of the multiverse. 

Multiverse theory states after the big bang inflation occurred causing the rapid expansion of space and time. This expansion continues on forever in most areas, but in some small areas it did not. This formed new universes running parallel to that in which we exist.  

Hawkin’s original theory of “no boundary” stated the multiverse was infinite. This meant there were infinite parallel universes and they kept multiplying as expansion happened. This theory was abandoned during his final paper in order to simplify the theory, making the multiverse tangible and measurable. However, this paper did not prove the multiverse theory, nor did it give any way to test the theory. So until recently, the multiverse theory was still a far reach in theory only. 

Almost exactly two years later physicists working in Antarctica may have stumbled upon evidence which confirms parallel universes, in which everything is moving in the opposite direction relative to our own.  

Peter Gorham and a team of researchers were working in Antarctica with the instrument ANITA.  They were measuring cosmic radiation and neutrinos which are constantly bombarding us on earth. These microscopic particles rain down from space constantly, some interacting with matter here on earth and some, like low energy neutrinos, do not.  Neutrinos have the ability to pass through earth as if it wasn’t even there. 

Photo Credit: https://www.hep.ucl.ac.uk/uhen/anita/
Diagram of the operation of ANITA

The research involved flying a large balloon high above the frozen landscape while attempting to gather readings from the high energy particles entering the atmosphere from space. Initially, the research was fruitless and only flashes of background radiation were being recorded. These were ignored and the experiment was repeated a second time. Again it produced the same results, or what was thought to be lack thereof.  

After the team decided to review the data of the initial flights again, they found the “background noise” they had initially ignored were indicative of high energy particles. These particles were not coming from space, rather they were jettisoned from the earth itself. This shocking discovery was made back in 2016 and propelled research by numerous teams and individual physicists to explain the mysterious particle’s origin. 

Modern physics could not explain what the researchers were finding. Presumably, the particles being recorded were entering through the earth on the opposite side and exiting through the ground in the Antarctic. Based on the standard model this did not make sense. 

As I have explained briefly before, low energy neutrinos would have no problem traveling through the earth unobstructed. The issue was that the readings from the equipment did not show interactions with low energy particles.  The energy recorded was from high energy particles. 

These high energy neutrinos would not be able to pass through the earth, like their low energy counterparts. They have the tendency to collide with matter here on earth. Cosmic rays can not pass through the earth either, due to their high energy and similar inability to avoid interaction with the earth. 

Photo credit: https://www.sciencefriday.com/segments/neutrinos-caught-in-the-act-of-collision/

Photograph of neutrino collision. 

Initially the researchers proposed the neutrinos were transforming from a tau neutrino to a tau lepton and then back again.  This was a shaky explanation of the findings of the team and many were not satisfied with it. The chances of this transformation allowing the particles to survive their entry through earth was possible, but unlikely. 

In 2018 another burst of high energy particles was recorded by the Gorham’s team. The data was then analyzed by a third party, Derek Fox of the Pennsylvania State University. 

These new findings complicate matters. Fox found that the chances of this phenomenon occurring on two separate occasions was dubious. The likelihood of a neutrino making its way through earth and successfully exiting the other side are said to be one in a million. For this to happen twice is an impossibility. The team needed to find a better explanation for their findings. 

Particle physics is governed by the standard model. This is a list of known particles and their specifications which are known to be extremely accurate. The standard model has been confirmed time and time again in laboratory tests. In some cases, such as the ANITA discovery, researchers are often forced to broaden the search of possible particles involved because the standard model can not account for the experimental findings. 

Supersymmetry has been called upon as a possible explanation. Supersymmetry is a theory that states all particles have a twin, which is more massive, and that these twins would be more likely to act as those high energy particles the team found did.  The problem with this theory is that no attempts to create and observe the “twins” have been successful, thus many physicists do not consider supersymmetry viable. 

Neil Turok at the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics in Waterloo, Canada, is a theoretical physicist who bases his work in simplicity. He is not an advocate for the tendency some physicists have to manufacture tons of new particles to explain what we find. His work was able to lead the researchers to their current understanding of what they found in Antarctica.  

Turok was working on how CPT symmetry would have affected the early universe if present during the big bang.  They found what particles would have been created. One of these was the heavy right-handed neutrino. The neutrino gets its name due to the direction it spins. Turok research found the right-handed neutrino’s mass fit our universe’s most elusive substance, dark matter. The mass of this dark matter candidate was directly in line with that which was found by the researchers in Antarctica. This went unnoticed for sometime until eventually the connection was made.

Luis Anchordoqui at the City University of New York made the connection first. He theorized these particles were collected by earth’s gravity and they were stored in the center of the earth until they decay into Higgs boson and tau neutrino pairs and released, which was being observed by the researchers in Antarctica. 

Turok’s prediction of the multiverse states that after the big bang the majority of matter settled in our universe and the majority of antimatter settled in another. Anti matter is opposite of matter, thus would appear to travel backwards through time. Everything in the alternate universe would be opposite of how we see our own.  Stars and planets would consist of antimatter, but what is even more mind bending is the theory the universe itself would be contracting rather than expanding.

Big Bang - Wikipedia
Photo credit: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Big_Bang
Photo depicts the time line after the big bang: How our universe is expanding

Our perception of what is forwards, backwards, up or down is relative to our own experience. So the universe’s behavior is relative to the one experiencing it. There is no way to tell what universe we are in, that which consists of the “right” or “wrong” matter. The only thing we can predict is that the alternate universe would be opposite of what we experience. 

A second research team set out to confirm Gorham’s findings but were reportedly unsuccessful.  IceCube’s team were looking for a flash of light present when a neutrino crashed through the ice in Antarctica, however they found no high energy neutrinos in the area Gorham’s team found them.   It is believed that high-energy tau neutrino can be mistaken for that of a lower-energy muon neutrino. If this was the case, IceCube has spotted at least one low energy neutrino thus supporting the multiverse theory.

Detector
Photo Credit: https://icecube.wisc.edu/science/icecube/detector
Diagram of the experiment/observation being conducted in Antarctica by IceCube

Today in Antarctica, Gorham and his team have continued with their research. They are attempting to track larger particles escaping from the ice and are currently analyzing newly collected data from the fourth balloon launch. We are eagerly awaiting the release of their data once they have completed their review.