Last Ten



Roman Polanski says “Everyone wants to fuck little girls!” and he’s right. I have been a little girl for almost sixteen years, and all I care about is who wants to fuck me. I don’t know anything else. Who cares at this point. Consider me stuck in my tender maggot stage forever. Teenage. I can’t look at myself and unthink disease. Can’t touch myself.

Consider me what else. I have always been my own cadaver, inside myself for who knows what reason. Also my own doctor, carving. Like here I am, ripping at my tits again. There I go with the goddamned knife.

Strip the layers and you can keep the meat. For all I suffer I can call myself what I want.

We are buying groceries in bustling mid-winter Phoenix following Ann’s doctor’s appointment. This was a follow-up appointment, and things are progressing as the doctor expected. We didn’t know what to expect, so his expectations have become our own. Ann will wear the eye patch for another week. The snowbirds are back, the streets and aisles made dangerous by their comic inattention, their not so secret hopes for death, for taking others with them. That’s one of Ann’s big theories, that so many people “act like they’d rather be dead.” She makes a distinction between “acting” like one wants to be dead, and actually wanting to be dead. She means “acting” as in taking action and as in performing. And she also separates all this from wanting “to die.” She says, “No one wants to die but plenty of people act like they want to be dead.” I don’t know what I think about this. I’ve heard it all many times. Movies with Ann are fun, clearly.

My wife is pushing our cart slowly, her left eye behind a black patch. A middle aged blonde woman in a light sweater and black eye patch gets stares. Bent over in front of two types of coconut sugar an old woman is saying, “Nogales, Nogales, Nogales,” and her husband completes the quavering thought standing behind her as he blocks all passage, “Mexico. Where we were is not a place we can any longer be. New Mexico. Grab three sugar bags. New sugar bags.”

Everywhere in this city old people are speaking aloud terrifying half-omens and falsehoods. Often these very people are carrying guns. The term is “open carry,” which my wife cites as proof of her pet theory. She said the quickness of the gun is related to wanting to be dead, but not wanting to die, this desire. This is evidence I believe in, even if the conclusion strikes me as somewhat morbid. I can tell you old people speaking aloud to shelved sugar does not get stares. Just the opposite.

No one in the store has asked about my wife’s patch yet, “What happened?” or “Didn’t have that last time you were in, did you?” But the threat that someone might ask has her anxious, so we walk slowly meting out our steps just so, as if we keep moving no one will be able to successfully speak to us.

Ann’s embarrassed by the procedure she’s had, embarrassed because of what her condition is commonly referred to, “surfer’s eye.” She’s a woman from the Bronx, a private woman, a woman who reluctantly married me, reluctantly lives in the west, but in most other situations acts with certainty and absolute belief. She’s not often sick or hobbled, and for this reason, I feel the patch is particularly fucking with her. That, and the fact that when she called her sister in Connecticut to explain the procedure her sister already knew all about the condition, and interrupted Ann to say, “Yes, the surfer thing. Will you have to cancel the trip?”

In the grocery store my wife says, “I hate that we came in here. Can we–”

I tell her, “Of course,” and we leave the cart where it is behind the sugar man, an act I hate to witness from others, the abandonment of carts, but an act I make to show my wife she is more important than me not being understood as an asshole to the immediate public. She leads the way out of the store and its familiar songs, lighting, attitudes, and stands at the edge of the parking lot as if the ocean is in front of her, waves crashing. She turns to me, and when I see the look on her face, I jog to catch up.


The trip her sister referred to is for our niece’s high school graduation. We are told the party will be muted because college is not on the horizon, or a job, but instead a move-in with a boyfriend in the city, a musician. The couple has expressed long-term plans to land in California. The family is mostly aghast because he has a tattoo on his face. A small arrow, point down, next to his right eye. No one has asked him the significance, which shocked me, because it was the first thing I wanted to know when my wife relayed all this pre-trip information to me. Vital family gossip. Instead of having an answer to my question, she told me what she was told following the tattoo reveal, “He’s a Native American. But Laura doesn’t know whether to call him Native American or indigenous.”

“Why would she call him indigenous?” I ask. We are home, slowly drinking wine. We are across the living room from one another, my wife watching TV with the closed captioning on from the couch and I’m lying on the floor. She mutes the TV when she thinks she can hear the neighbors beginning to yell at each other, but it has been quiet for a while now and she’s left the sound off.

“Columbus Day has her all fucked up. Indigenous Peoples’ Day, you know?”

“Oh, right. If we are just talking about words, I like the sound of American Indian,” I say.

“We aren’t just talking about words,” Ann says, “The whole point is we aren’t talking about words, we are talking about a man, the boyfriend.”

“Well why would she have to say any of these words in front of him?”

“She doesn’t. She just wants to get it right.”

“She wants to get it right in her head. She wants to get right, in her head.”

I tell my wife it sounds like maybe her sister should move in with face tattoo, so she’d have time to figure out what to call him. This does not go over so well. But I do think my stance/ignorance/indifference has helped unite Ann with Laura, at least in Ann’s thinking, and this will benefit me once we actually get out to clean, wooded Connecticut.


From across the room, the tattoo is not noticeable, and seeing this young man in a cable-knit sweater and khakis, the word “indigenous” feels of the wrong language. I think, isn’t that a plant word? Coniferous? His black hair is short and parted, and it’s clear that he had parents who paid for braces. The town we are in is called Hamden. I like being sent out on errands, there have been two such occasions this afternoon since we got back from the ceremony, and I have decided to not start drinking until later in the day so I can continue these runs. Both trips have been to the grocery store, and each time I have had the overwhelming desire to stop a man a generation older than myself, in front of the rye bread, and tell him where I live armed men can walk in and purchase a quart of skim milk without any trouble. That a woman with a gun and two children holster high can buy paper towels and is given free reign. And yet an old woman with a blind Westie shaking in her cart is asked to leave. Someone might be allergic. I have wanted to tell these men, grayer than me, about this place, Arizona, but I can’t imagine they’d believe me in the way I’d want them to, for them to understand this is not just common or notable but the constant reality. It’s not TV news, it’s real life. And they’d maybe ask, well, why do you live there? And I’d have no answer. Maybe Canada would come up if we talked long enough, or Norway or Japan. Other essentially gunless places. Maybe if we found a bar I’d tell them, uncertain if it was true, that maybe I live where I do because I’d rather be dead. But this wouldn’t be true. The worst it gets for me is the incomplete sentence, “Reasons to not kill myself,” getting stuck in my head. But the reasons never come. There is no need to generate any argument to live, because I don’t get beyond having the line “Reasons to not kill myself,” repeating in my thoughts. In this hypothetical bar, I’d be glad Ann wasn’t with me to join in their questioning.

I return to the bright house with the champagne and as I come in the door I am face to face with face tattoo, who I have not formally been introduced to yet. The house is crowded with family, all my wife’s sisters, and the ghostly living grandparents, rabbit-like grandchildren, the house is loud, and so it’s normal we haven’t shaken hands yet. He tells me his name is Chris, and repeats my name back to me after I say it, and I can’t help myself, I say, “Indigenous is what the sisters were speculating might be the right word for you.”

“That sounds like a very Connecticut conclusion,” he says.

“Not necessarily bad–”

“Yeah, not necessarily anything,” Chris says.

I resist asking him where he is from, but I feel now that he is from Connecticut. Later I want to Google what percentage of the Connecticut population is Native American. I ask, “What type of music do you play?”

He says, “Why does everyone keep asking me that?”

I’m confused. I say, “I thought you were a musician?”

He says, “I had a band for while. But, I’m a student. I’m in graduate school for Dream Studies.”

Initially when he said “student” I was going to tell him that the reason everyone is calling him a musician is because then the “musician with a tattoo on his face” formulation could be used. Not that this is a widely accepted cliché, but it does seem to broadcast a certain type of joblessness and doom. But now that he’s said “Dream Studies” in a way that lets me know both those words are to be capitalized, it seems the most damning relevant caricature was not painted.

“What school?” I ask, striving to project innocence, earnestness, eager for the answer.

“Saybrook University. I’m in their online Dream Studies graduate certificate program, year two.”


“Year two of two.”

I remember working with a woman who one day went around to everyone in the office, and when she got someone alone near the fax machine or the coffee, explained calmly that the world was flat. It was incredible to experience. In my case, she said she “had news” for me and then, rarely blinking, told me her story. At first, I thought I was the only one who she was revealing her findings to, but, over time we all found each other and amazedly understood she’d been telling everyone we worked with that the world was flat. This was around 2005 or 2006. She said that NASA had faked all of their photos of our planet, depicted Earth as falsely round, as had other countries, and that we were all being duped. I had nodded throughout her explanation and maybe said, “Interesting,” and others had done some version of the same, but one man I worked with, an older guy, had said, “Why do other planets look round when I look in my telescope?” She couldn’t answer that, but said she’d find out. This was early in my marriage, when we were new to Arizona, and no doubt colored my feelings about the state. Anyway this is what I’m thinking about as Chris is telling me he about his Dream Studies program. I feel like he is about to say something that will separate himself from me entirely, or at least even further than the fact that he is in a Dream Studies program.

I tell him I am skeptical of such a program, not that the area of study is not worthy, it is, but that it seems like the kind of scam program that would proliferate in California.

Chris says, “That’s fair. But maybe I want to be a person that participates in scam culture. Maybe I want to set up shop in one of these beach towns with bored rich folks willing to pay to have their dreams deconstructed and offered back up as motivation.” I don’t tell him this but I believe having a tattoo on his face and not being white will help him in this venture.

I take a small step back from Chris without realizing I am doing so, but when he looks at my feet and then in to my eyes, I recognize my retreat. I underestimated him. He’s much smarter than I am, more cunning, will more easily make money, and will probably be less stressed while doing so. He will not need a corporation to work for. I am impressed, but don’t want to admit it. I continue listening to him describing his potential storefront, and the terminology that will follow his name on the door: Christopher Fallswell, Certified Dream Counselor.

My wife’s dad, over ninety, frail and sharp, with a daily crossword and walking and phone call routine, finds Chris and I in the foyer. He says, “What type of music is it you play!”

Chris says, “Klezmer music. And mid-period Neil Young and standards. We’re open.”

The old man takes his hand off Chris’s shoulder and says, “Okay,” and walks away with the champagne I handed to him to take into the kitchen. Chris and I follow the grandpa at a distance because we both want a drink but also don’t want to upset him or speak with him any more than we have to. Chris sees Ann in her eye patch and watches her walk over and grab my arm. He says, “Do you both surf?”


.31% of the population of Connecticut was identified as “American Indian and Alaska Native alone” as of the 2010 Census. A little over ten thousand people. Or is it that a little over ten thousand people self-identified themselves in this way? No matter. I could not find statistics on dream counselors, or even a useful definition of what a “dream counselor” is. If the career is one of Chris’s invention, I’m glad.


I took a picture that night in Connecticut of Ann and Chris with their arms around each other, smiling wide. Her patch against his tattoo. It’s on my desk now. I’m looking at it. It’s evidence of something. Maybe not evidence that can stand against a holstered gun in a grocery store. I don’t think that is a relationship that exists in the world: photographs of people > violence. If the link exists and is being won by photographs, the victory is glacial in its reveal and we’ll all be shot dead before we can celebrate. But I don’t think that speed proves anything either. Our niece broke up with Chris before moving anywhere with him. She is living at home. Tonight Ann and I will make popcorn and watch cartoons, something bright and moral, the strongest false indicator available that deep down we both know we’ll live forever. And if we’re lucky later on, Ann will straighten, mute the TV, and we’ll listen as the neighbors scream their awful grievances at each other, as our safe chewing slows.


Warren woke to the blue of the tent. He felt with his fingers, or tried to——nylon rustle of a sleeping bag, but his fingers were numb. Warren licked his teeth. Grime. Blinked through the dry haze. Dawn.
    Warren, at the fact of another day, puked.
    Warren spat twice, trying to break the arc of drool that hung from his mouth, open and panting. He looked at the thin puddle of bile on the dark gray tarp while realizing that he already felt nothing again. His throat relaxed. He wished for rope.

He knew someone would visit to make him move. Daniel had made his days predictable, careful. Warren wanted to greet this regularity with explosive mutilation. Though he wouldn’t. He could not break his promise to Daniel. Though he did leave his puke there, thinking it might move a visitor to hate him more and therefore abandon him, skip a watch.
    Daniel didn’t use that term——watch——but Warren knew well the rooms with no possible exits. This time there were trees, though.
    Warren damned himself for wanting trees to be his accomplices.

Hey, she said. Warren flinched. He didn’t know who was with him, and if he’d been sleeping. Someone had cleaned up the bile. He felt food rattle in acid in his stomach. His mouth was dry. Light through the blue was blown out, forcing a migraine. His hands shook through their clench. Warren wanted others to see his cells screaming for death. He wanted to pound his pain into them but knew they wouldn’t change; he was forceless. A dumb skin forbidden to break.
    Hey, she said. How are you feeling?

He was lead to a tree for some reason. After he’d been fed another sandwich. He picked at his lower lip and thought about being flayed.
    She stood beside him, watching. Daniel had said to be there but not restrain him. Daniel had asked her to say aloud that he was able and able to listen. She thought he, Warren, looked like shit. She felt bad for feeling afraid of him.
    What are we doing, Warren said.
    I’m just here to be with you, she said.
    Warren felt coddled, weak, able to choke on his own protest. He said nothing.

Crows battered the trees with their posturing. Warren watched them without seeing anything. He wondered when he could find the time to lie down in a muggy shade and let his liver be pecked and plucked out of him.
    Daniel put his hand on Warren’s shoulder.

What did he say to you? She was in his tent and asking.
    Warren said I don’t know. He shook his head, eyes heating. He saw himself crying at a remove, briefly, receding away from a vision of himself as if he had jumped face-up off a bridge. Warren felt warm while watched, but yearned to have money again so he could securely destroy himself with it.

Weeks of walks, of talks with him near trees, and regular feeding. He could only think that, as Daniel had promised, he had waited it out. Outlasted it, is what Daniel had said. Warren thought his renewed desire to live miraculous, and the feeling of miracle itself proved to Warren that he was better.
    Gradually, Warren rejoined the group. Sat back before the evening fires. He kept alert for differences: softened characters, shallower conversation. Like all the times before during which he freshly declaimed suicide, Warren treated himself like an open wound. He guarded himself against sensitive measures in some strangely guilty dance of compensation. Warren knew to watch, and to feel.
    On the group’s third night in full attendance, Daniel asked this opening question: Why must we kill ourselves from a place of tranquility?

Daniel invited Warren for talks. These talks were always private, though open to guests——those allowed to walk beside the talkers and to listen. No one had yet been a guest. They thought Daniel most valued time either with all or with one. As he had said to them many times: Be open or closed to the world. Half measures are for those who haven’t allowed themselves to think.
    They’d been strolling through the woods around their camp every day for a week. This time——the first yellow leaves new on the ground yet still pliable as flesh——Daniel hadn’t said a word for miles. Warren waited, knowing again——no: remembering——that silence is always profound if we let it be. Warren had felt well for weeks, running water and cooking in between conversations. He’d volunteered for the solo town run, but Daniel recommended against. He had a good argument for Warren staying close, but Warren couldn’t quite remember. Though he knew that it was good.
    What do you want, Warren?
    Daniel stared ahead, walking.
    Warren waited for the next question, but it didn’t come. Warren only realized this after many minutes——too long to keep a response waiting between them.
    I want to stay with everyone until we’re all ready.
    What will you do if that doesn’t happen, Daniel asked.
    Warren sped up. Daniel was taking long strides ahead. I’ll——Warren tripped on a storm-rent branch, caught his pace again. He felt dumb for starting to speak before knowing where he’d end up. He didn’t want to waste this time.
    I’m sorry. I’ll go when I’m ready, then.
    Daniel stopped walking, looked up at the canopy, inhaled.
    Warren stopped beside him and looked out. He had nothing to look at, so he picked a point. Some tree with a gouge in its bark, stunted.
    Daniel slowly turned toward Warren and opened his arms. He laughed.
    May I?
    Warren laughed too, dry and low. He felt Daniel’s quick and strong hug, and returned it. Daniel stepped away and looked down while Warren tried to banish the bristle against touch he always felt light up through his skin.
    I’m so glad you’re back with us, Daniel said. After all that time in the hands of the preservation industry. With no dignified curiosity in your beliefs and aims. Punishing your body with unnatural stasis. I hate to think about all that pain, Warren.
    Daniel looked into Warren’s eyes.
    I do, Daniel said, nodding.

Warren felt through weeks fat with scrutiny. Daniel appeared more often, touched more often, gazed at them until they realized their errors, which were correctible. He felt the lift of potential in his body——Warren knew it was now totally gone, what the unseeing folks called depression. He repeated to himself often the ward that Daniel had passed to him on his first day: The concept is meant to hide its origin.
    Daniel felt strong——nearly strong enough to let himself die.

Warren, Daniel, and the two women stood backlit by sundown. The rest of the group had been asked to leave until the trees became obscured by night; Daniel and the rest standing here wanted space for their talk and their decisions.
    A knife lay on a tree stump. Amber sunlight seemed to seal it.
    Daniel spoke: What it is that’s in front of you is a tool.
    Yes, Warren said.
    Yes, Amay said.
    Yes, said Rose.
    Daniel stepped forward and placed his palm over the blade.
    The reason we choose to use this tool——if this is the tool we think best——is to save ourselves from the danger, from the true and final threat.
    Yes, they said. Their affirmations necessary to proceed.
    The true and final threat being that of a true and final death. An eradication. A self-conscious burning of all possibility.
    They agreed.
    Rose, Daniel said. He held out his hand.
    Rose stepped forward. Warren noticed that, next to him, Amay was sweating. He wanted to laugh. He knew his laughter’s disaster. He kept closed.
    Daniel placed Rose’s hand on the knife.
    Who do you respect, Rose?
    No one, she said. And so everyone yet to come.
    Do you respect yourself, Rose?
    A finger of wind found its way through the trees, birds cackling awake.
    Rose looked back at Amay. Warren watched Rose look, look for something else in what she saw, try to look past what was there. Which was just some body.
    I do, Rose said, returning to Daniel.
    Ready… Ready, Warren whispered. He felt very full of many things.
    Would you like to act now, Rose?
    Warren stepped forward, impelled. I am, Warren said. I’m here and completely present. Aimed. Aware of the weight. I——
    Warren. Daniel still knelt with her, begging someone to fulfill his wishes, to be voluptuous and defined by speed.
    It’s all here——the air——Warren jumped for the knife——
    Daniel pulled it back, Rose shouting, Daniel thrusting it out, out, a talisman.
    Don’t you fucking move, Daniel said, facing Warren.
    But it’s too late, Warren whispered. He looked at the knife, at Daniel’s admiration, at this pointed offering. He giggled.
    Daniel stepped back, arm locked. He looked into the copse.
    Quick footsteps through the woods——Warren had already felt them fly away, leap into the trees, become indefinite.
    I couldn’t be more here, Warren said, offering up his wrists.

                   [                                  ]

I’m surrounded by cacti because this is America’s desert. I think I’m looking at water but I know that’s only one of god’s jokes. Like existence itself. Yesterday I drank my own blood to relieve my thirst. Today I will let my body dry to dust so I can move over the earth like sediment slowly surviving the slide of shift. Praying for air so I can be displaced into too many pieces to ever again reach the totality of spirit. Dust sniff. The dead angel glide. Forgotten ritual. Fuck this body. I’m going to live forever by refusing to let my body exist. Like air or god I will be invisible.