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Monica Bielanko
That's What She Said
Just A Junk Drawer Dream
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Search The Girl Who

I Was Here

How could I win?

The field was kicking with wind and the sun was metal glinting in space and you could see through the water to the bottom of the stream so clearly that even if you spotted a fish in there, a chub or whatever, he had already seen you coming when you were still back at the house having a cup of coffee and looking at that People magazine article about Angelina Jolie's mastectomy while you were just sitting there on the john.

Henry had the Zebco outfit I had bought last year before trout season. That was back before I had taken Violet out fishing with me; a blustery afternoon where all of my dumbass visions of father/daughter outdoors camraderie went up in a puff of crazy toddler smoke. We'd been lakeside maybe all of ten minutes when I realized that the kid didn't give a shit about catching any fish.

She wanted to throw things in the water. Or maybe hurl herself into the cold deep. But after two casts and a bird's nest of tangled line that emerged from the small hole in the reel in the form of a thin tight knot that appeared so deadly serious that upon seeing it for the first time I knew that things had been shot to hell before they'd even gotten three feet off the ground.

Fools die hard though, huh? An so here I was back for more; a glutton for the kind of punishment that guys like me deserve, I guess. We let time, even just a weak year, lap up over the cool stones of reality and gloss over the cold hard truth with water we pretend is paint.

And the cold hard truth is that Henry was whacking the fucking rod down into the shallow meadow stream as if the water was a dragon and the rod was the only sword in all the land that could stop the beast from eating the shit out of us.

"Henry!," I tell him for the 65th time in two minutes."Lift the rod up, dude! Aim it at the sky and get it out of the water!"

My commands cloak him in the fine mist that covers a lad when he must choose his path at that old school Old Testament proverbial fork in the dusty dirt road.

His decision dangles from a beam of sunlight.

It drops slowly down onto the back of his young ruby neck.

I hear the faint cannonade of drums as the pan flute whistles fill the air with the theme from 'The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly.

Every moment I have ever lived has come down to this: a man and his son, fishing for the first time together underneath the wild blue canopy of promise and forever.

The wind whips our hair like snakes on fire.

Choose, boy. Choose.

He chooses.

Henry chooses.

He smashes the rod down into the stream again. And again, real quickly...a big giant pro basketball player's long middle finger to me and my patronizing bullshit.

"Henry!" I shout as I watch the nub of earthworm that he had on his hook go sailing through the air.

What a world, I think to myself as I hit pause on life and just watch things go down.

What a fucking life, huh?

One second you're a baby worm born in some guy's worm garden, some long trough of cheap lumber and horseshit and apple peels and brown gunky lettuce or whatever, and you're there pigging out on the slime and the minerals seeping out of the decay, living La Vida Loca/a resort worm born into the good life/a fatso/el gordo, God knows where you are born...Ohio maybe....maybe suburban Cleveland or maybe Erie, Pa or maybe in the south somewhere/where do they grow worms? who knows?/everywhere maybe, and it doesn't even matter because one day they scoop you up and some big human/God finger handles you and counts you (you're one of 18 if you're a nightcrawler, one of 30 if you're a redworm) and thumps you down into a squat plastic arena with the rest of the worms whose fate it is now is to lay beside you in this damp lump of dirt and wonder what the hell could possibly happen next.

Oh man. They have no idea. Poor bastards. The Walmart fridge back by the camping crap. The sudden lid lift and the epic burst of sunlight. Swift random thoughts of freedom. Then... the hook point in your guts. The confusion. What is happening to me?


Fucking why is this happening to me?

Then my son whips the rod I asked him not to whip and part of your torso goes flipping through the late spring air into a patch of grass where probably some ants or a spider or something will eat it by tomorrow morning.


I zoom back in and I'm over all that now. I'm way more concerned with the state of this 40 dollar upper-echelon Zebco rig that I bought and that is being systematically destroyed before my very eyes than I am worried about the state of affairs down in Wormville. It's pretty much the same way that, if there was a God, he'd be way too busy trying to constantly salvage some of his shit, some of his forests and rivers and all, to be able to watch you and your sorry ass being whipped around ragdoll-style, pathetic frothy snot swishing out of your lame weak allergic nose and eyes as you scream and cry like a little bitch while dialing up his mobile number non-stop/over and over and over again/'praying' to him for some saving, some salvation, to have some more 'blessings' bestowed upon your fat ass that you can mention on Facebook and just genuinely being a real annoyance while he is trying to make sure that the whole fucking thing doesn't fall apart at the seams underneath the weight of you and your team of a billion careless bullshit artists.

My wife shows up as Henry embeds his size 12 empty bait hook into the tough old man skin of a wild willow.

I must appear flustered, I guess.

She looks at me through her pretty girl sunglasses and I know she wishes she could just Gyllenhaal me with the blink of her sensational baby blues but she cannot and this is her fate, at least for this afternoon down here on the crick at the neighbor's Memorial Day trout stocking/bbq/bonfire/beer drinking bonanza, and so she sighs a winter wind at me and says with that certain pretty girl disineterested tone that comes from a place on the undercarriage of the freaking soul:

"Why don't you just cut off his hook and let him throw the bobber around?"



That lands on me hard, like a jet.

I hate her so much right now, her soft pretty Utah lips over there spouting out simple little country wisdoms while I am over here overthinking this fleck of worm hurling through the sky and unsure how to reign my own son in.

I want to grab her and savage her here in front of everyone, in front of my own child, for Chrissakes. I want to make mad love to her in the middle of the creek, on top of three rainbow trout and a cold river rock until all of the people over by the campers come obver to watch us bumping and grinding down in the water.

"Look at Serge and Monica," they'd say in flat rural Pennsylvania farm tones. "Who knew?"

But no. No, I just grind my teeth and hide behind my thousand sheets of afternoon blahness and I dig in my creel for my clippers and I find them and take them out and clip off the hook from Henry's line and he doesn't even notice or even stop slapping the shimmering stream for barely a hot second.

I look at the rod and I notice a very fine thread of black dancing in the breeze; one of the guides is coming unwrapped and I just have to smile to myself. The thing is probably ten minutes away from a ride on the trash truck, but suddenly it doesn't matter to me at all, man.

The freaking kid is having a blast. Sweet boy/ halfway down the lane between two and three/ the greatest moments in my life, here/now.

Henry keeps hollereing out, "I got another one! I got a fish, Dad!"

I'ts actually kind of beautiful, really. He isn't catching shit, of course. You know that. He doesn't even have a hook on his line. Hell, people out golfing near a pond this holiday weekend probably have a better chance at landing a fish than Henry does at this point. He has no idea about any of that, though. Isn't that wonderful?

To him: this is fishing.

To him, to my boy: this is the greatest thing that could have ever possibly happened. His daddy handed him a fishing pole by a stream under a shining sun and it was Go-Time.

Plus, he's quite high on potato chips and apple juice.

Look at him stabbing the water with his rod.

My boy, slaying a dragon out here in the middle of this country meadow while down the road, left or right it don't matter, some young soldier's bones are lying still down in his grave, too far underneath his own kid slamming his own fishing rod onto a cool creek to be of much help, the worms coming and going at all hours of the day and night.


Champagne Supernova/ Requiem For The Living

In the evening, I would sit there and pop the cap off a cold bottle of beer and thump my ass down onto the couch while the kids dumped their generic Legos all over the floor in front of the TV.

The dogs would wander in, take a good long drag, and exhale just enough air to let me know that they were experiencing yet another major letdown. Nothing cooking/nothing new/nothing. It's an ancient kind of sigh, the same one even 10th century wolves used to whimper into the setting sun when they would just park their exhausted ass out in front of their caves; thirty thousand wild sexual hungry sonsofbitches bored to death by the whole bullshit 'wilderness experience'.

I'd flip the channels until I came across Anthony Bourdain somewhere. He was always on after a while, like Dora or Judge Judy, a man in posession of a hundred channels at once it seemed to me. Either that or I always just tuned in at the right time, I guess.

Vietnam. Cambodia. Northern India.


Take me, bitch.

That first sip of evening beer is something most people don't spend much time waxing about, but I don't care much about that or why that is. If you think you have better things to sing your private songs about, well good for you. Me, I found so many bolts of lightning in the first cool stream of cheap pilsner running down my hatch that to try and describe it all to you would've taken me ten lifetimes. I didn't have that kind of time; I always knew that much.

Love, freedom, death, sadness, lonliness, horniness, wanderlust, glory, nostalgia, sunsets , shooting stars, catching an arrow with your bare hand, perfect Moonwalking across midnight linoleum, the refreshing trickle of sweat down your forehead just after you've puked up the Devil from your guts, hangnail pain subsiding, letting go of heartbreak, toothpicking the half skin of a popcorn seed from between two of your backest teeth, letting go in the bedroom, fresh cilantro and lime, going a decade without getting punched, hearing the kid's voices in their bedrooms in the morning, wide open fucking road, letting go in the bathroom, the unspoken brotherhood of Christmas crowds, ducks mating forever, city pizza: I found all of that and more in the first sip.

But after that, you were on you own.

You cannot live inside a single solitary taste forever, man.

These things come and go quick, you know. You just have to learn to appreciate it. And then, more importantly, you have to learn that you cannot chase it down. Not tonight, not tomorrow night. You are way too fat and too slow and too tired to catch up to something so wild and free. It makes the Gods laugh to even watch you think about it.

Realize this, Mac.

A fast train blows by you in a gush of power. So does just about everything else.

I would sit there with Henry climbing up in my lap so he could look at whatever I might be looking at on my laptop screen while I was in/out of the TV show and he would ask me over and over again, "What's dat?" as he would point at the pictures of some damn stranger's trout I was wasting time looking at or whatever and I would kiss his ear hole and run my fingers through his hair with pieces of spring grass in there and tiny flecks of twig while Violet spun around the room and talked to herself in excitable after-dinner tones and I would let the first sip drizzle down over my tired heart and my rancid guts like good soft rain.

Other men before me had lassoed this feeling, or at least tried; too many men, I guess you could say. But that's the nature of the beast, you see. If you offer most men the chance to feel like a waterfall for just a moment in time, they will spend the rest of their days hunting down that feeling even though, by dawn, it is fifty mountains away and rolling west at a clip.

I was never unaware of anything, I don't think. I was on top of it all even when it was laying on me on a summer afternoon, whispering in my ear, "Tell me what you like about me..."

Henry would hit the floor with his gummi feet and head out in search of chocolate milk. Violet would spin and spin and tire and her eyes would ultimately turn into the 8 o'clock clams of exhaustion. My wife would be by the washing machine and I would hear the faint metallic rumble of the lid falling, thudding, the water shooting from the hose into the dark hall of dirty jeans.

The adult dinner cooling on the stove; us trying to wait to eat it until the kids had gone to bed, so we could get our 20 minutes of sitcom/head upstairs to our respective novels in the lamplight/our individual email accounts in our seperate lightless rooms, the evening's first sip riding a hot wave of piss down the lonesome pipes towards an ocean so far away that you'd have to be a goddamn fool to even begin to think about all of that.


The Pilot On His Frozen Cloud 

Most of the time we tend to go about our business all hurky-jerky, with hardly a glimmer of thought going towards stuff that might be seen as. I don't know, 'poetic' or 'evocative'.

Our lives are busy, no matter who we are (unless by 'busy' you mean X-box, in which case you need to cut your mom a break and move out already) and we spend whole stretches of days stomping right by beautiful things without looking at them at all.

How many blue skies have we ignored as we blabbered away on our cellphones in traffic?

How many deer standing in a field staring at our car have we missed because we were all up in our heads thinking about dumb crap, whether or not we remembered to record Swamp People on the DVR or not?

We walk right by the same incredible graffiti twice a day on the way to the subway, for three years running now, and we have neever ever bothered to actually look at it.

Weird, huh? And kind of sad, too.

So the other day when my wife handed me an armful of tiny blue jeans and summer shirts that any elf could fit in and said, "Take these up to the attic with the rest of the stuff" I knew what she meant, but I had no idea what I was in for.

I wrestled and struggled with the door that seldom gets opened trying to not dump all of those clothes, and then I bumbled up the attic steps past last summer's spider webs, not even once considering that all of the super-skilled craftsmen.women who had spun those gothic masterpieces above my bedroom while I was downstairs dreaming the dreams of a under-sexed overweight man, they were probably mostly dead by now, entombed inside the walls of our house, or wherever spiders go to die.

No, I was all concerned with just getting up there in the wicked cold attic/untying the knots I knew I had tied on the trash bag full of outgrown toddler clothes/ and getting these new ones in there and then re-tying the bag before I froze my ass off. So, I wasn't really expecting to smash open a dam I didn't even know I'd ever built.

But, you know how it is: and that's how things went down.

I undid the trash bag and used my knee to spread out the hole in the top so I could just plop this new bundle in there when my eye caught  a pair of plaid shorts.

Eveything whooshed and I could hear the blood in my veins blowing through my ears like a thunderstorm river.

Oh snap, I though. Oh hellfire.

They had been Violet's, my daughter's shorts. They had been one of our go-to pairs, too, a pair of cheap Garanimals whose pink and yellow and orange little squares had decorated my kid's diapered summer butt so many times last year that just seeing them lying there on the top of the blob of stuff whose future was all thrift shop mystery, it unhinged something in my guts.

Dropping the stuff I'd come to deliver, I stared at these shorts and slowly picked them as if they might be alive, like a fallen bat in the attic corner, and right away, as cheesy and bogus as it sounds, I'm telling you the damn truth: as soon as I picked them up I could smell the way Violet's bedroom would smell on bright July mornings last year, a whiff of chilled-out 7 am humidity all mixed in with the ghost of some carpet milk stain somewhere, the faint sourness of some forgotten spill.

The shorts had been up here for months now, and probably no one in this solar sytemn or the next ones had even thought about them one time. It's a ridiculous notion, of course, I mean who the hell would ever think of something so fleeting and dumb? Yet, here I was clutching them in my hand and hearing the sound of my own voice calling out Violet's name loud and slow and clear just like the two or three days a week last summer when I would sit there on her purple shag rug, all by myself, calling her name and trying to convince her to pry her eyes away from Diego and come let me get her dressed for the day.

Hmph, I grumbled under my breath. You must be getting soft, dude.

But as I looked at the shorts and then down in to the trash bag at a pair of small suddenly familiar pants, their knees worn away to dime-sized holes, and then as I spotted the black Beatles t-shirt from Target my little girl had once worn at least a few times a week, to the point where it had become so familiar that I think I unconsciously looked forward to seeing it on her tiny frame, the guys all crossing Abbey Road/moving across that freaking crosswalk for the zillionth time in the dragging afternoon of pop culture history, but crossing it the best they ever could in my eyes, the fast fast train I had been riding on slammed its heavy brakes and took a good country mile or so of smoking and squealing to finally come to a full stop in this weird cold cob-webby place.

Jesus, I thought.

Time is gushing by me.

Every moment is already in the past.

There is something epic happening right this second, right here/ and right over there.

And these kids of mine, of ours, they are our life's work and in a lot of ways they are traveling due east or due west from us even as we stand there running our fingers through their freshly shampoo'd hair.

Moving ever so slightly toward the front door even as we stand there clenching a pair of outgrown Garanimal shorts on a frozen cloud hanging above our world.


Live From The Morning Battlefield

Henry will be two in a few days and I sure am proud of the kid.

He can talk a pretty wild blue streak for a young gun his age.I have whole conversations with him where I understand everything he's saying, and him me. I don't even have that with most adults I engage with.

Plus, without trying to sound too immodest, my boy is damn good, I say, damn good, at Rewind Walking, which is that reckless but graceful system of sliding down the steps backward on your belly as if you were a country ham being slid down an icy hill in like 1913 Appalachia.

In the living room, after I have a beer or two, sometimes I bust out the soccer ball and the kid sure can kick. Yeah, sometimes he misses the ball outright and does a Charlie Brown/Lucy deal where he lands on his tiny soft ass on the floorboards, but when he does connect, buddy, I get the hell out of the way; I'm still pretty fluid for a guy my age, but I'm no Liverpool goalie or anything.


Oh Henry.

Oh my boy. You sure do make your pappy beam.

But you are a mystery to me, too.

 Sometimes I swear, I'll be standing there looking at you just quietly gnawing on the side of a cracker or a Matchbox muscle car and my heart does a little flutter that sort announces to the rest of me that I sort of run out of bravado and machismo and tough guy sauce when you're around.

Down in me, I feel twittery when I watch you quietly staring up at Patrick Star, your short brown eyes glittering at the screen.

I sigh, a little love sigh, I guess. I'm man enough to admit that.

You hear me sigh.

Then, to be perfectly honest: I don't know what the hell happens.

Your eyes swing around and you spot me spotting you and you fling your weird snack towards the wall and, I don't know if it's the fact that I surprised you or that you wanted to have a little Henry Time without Dad doggin' you that un-glues the cute kid wrapping paper from the package in the playroom to reveal a two-and-a-half-foot Kodiak grizzly with an attitude.

Maybe it's the possibility that with all that new circuitry lighting up a collision of sparks behind the thin walls of Outer Henry these days, the expanding horizon of feelings and universal truths and realizations and internal ponderings going off up in your Air Traffic Control Tower and down in your Boiler Room sometimes end up driving you stark-raving Raccoon -With-Rabies crazy?

Either way, when you snap, little man, you sure do snap.

It's actually kind of beautiful.



Here you come barreling across the room at me and I think to myself,"Here we go."

"Noooooooooooooooooooooo!," you scream as a twist of winter snot shoots out of you nose like locomotive steam.

I honestly pity your tender heart as you charge me; I know it sounds weird and all but I sort of picture a baby clam doing push-ups in a one-bulb gym and that's what I imagine your wee heart to look like down beheind your ribs when you are this freaking upset.

I watch you move with the quickness and for whatever reason, I am looking forward to you getting over here.

And then...dammit to hell: you fall over the pink beanbag on your way across the long battlefield of the playroom floor and I just want to run out there and rescue you from yourself, but I don't dare. A regular mortal man cannot just dip down out of the sky like a freaking angel or something and pluck a true warrior from the smoky chaos, right?

Hell no, he can't. So I don't and that's that.

As soon as you flop down on the ground you are picking yourself up off the beanbag and without even missing a single kick of your camouflage slipper-sock, you pick up your journey right where it fell off, hollering your war cry.


For an instant, just before our meeting there in the doorjamb, I watch as Sponge Bob flips another Crabby Patty onto a roll.

"I wonder what they really taste like?," I am thinking to myself at the exact moment of impact; a bit of odd clarity in the middle of battle.

Your tiny hard noggin slams into my crotch with all of the hellbent fury of a young north wind seeing how much shit he can blow up. Limits, rules, lines, boundries, laws, and pecking order will all come in due time, I know; me and your mom, we work hard on those things with your sister and you, but it takes a lot of patience, my friend.

Wait til you have your own kids'll see what I mean!

My pain is real, but I saw it coming so there's that. I wince and I pretend to cry because at times like this, one mindfuck deserves another and besides, looking down at you looking up at me, I see the waiting scrawled across your eyeballs: you know what you've done and you want me to react; you need it.

You grabbed the lightning in your guts with two tiny fist and you rode it, Kimosabe, and now what, Dad?

Well alright, fine then.

I gurgle and sputter and fake some tears and your face quivers in wonder? I love that about you, you cannot hide from your heart no matter what. Your face is a hoodlum rat and he gives you away fifty times a day. From a human cannonball you turn on a damn dime and that transition alone is enough to keep me hooked on this stuff for the next 500 years or so.

It's pretty thrilling for me as I watch you process things as best you can in a split second or two, your trapezey soul wavering out there on the line somewhere between a weak smile and genuine concern.

Then, right on queue: BAM!: you hit your endgame.

You wrap your stubby arms around my Walmart pajama knees and bury your face into me one more time.

"Don't cry Daddy!" you shout, all muffled up against my fake flannel.

I fake weep, like the script calls for.

You pull your head out. "Don't cry! Don't cry, Daddy! I kiss it!"

We don't waver from that script too much these days, but that's just fine with me and with you, two dudes standing out there on the edge of the smoldering Tuesday morning battlefield.

Then you lean in deliberatlely and kiss my knee, as if a kiss from you any old place would make me all better instantly.

Which, funny enough, it does every time.


Soul Tar Feather

I hear Henry crying in the other room.

That's basically like me saying, 'I smell bacon when I'm frying bacon," because, like, no shit. Of course Henry's crying in the other room.

It's not that he's a cry-baby or anything, but he's almost two now, that age when there is a fire born down inside of a child which can only best be explained as the actual birth of their very soul, you know? See, by two years old the little body has been around a bit/seen some things/ got a few nicks in the enamel to show for all that living the kid's been doing.

But it's the soul, THE SOUL!, ya'll, that pecks its way out of the great speckled egg down in that nest of nitty-grittiness known as your heart and cheep-cheeps its way out onto the big bad boulevard of broken dreams called your fucking life. There, it takes one look at that squooshy lump of baby fat you had become and immediately starts rearranging house with game-changer moves.

Babies get born.

They slobber and stare at you clueless, as if you were a fifty foot high pile of neon sheep shit.

Toddlers get Soul Born.

They hurl themselves down staircases and use streaming tears of manipulation to break your heart so they can get you to get the fuck out of their way while they are trying to get a running start across the room so they can take a flying leap and land with their miniature wangs into a low socket. (Bic pens for girls).

Babies shoot out a moist tunnel and into your hearts.

Toddlers shoot out of a Soul Cannon into your face.

So, at this point, hearing Henry crying in the other room is normal. It's when you aren't hearing him in there making a racket that you have to worry about what's up.

"Hen-REE!" I call out his name that way. I do that for a change sometimes.

No response.

I can hear him fussing around with his stool in the bathroom, so I figure he's probably in there trying to get up on the counter to eat some toothpaste, something I am a bit hesitant to call his 'first hobby,' but I'm not really one to mince the truth. Anyway, the last I saw him, a few minutes ago, maybe five, he had a lollipop in his hand and he was tearing through my room with blue lollipop glue all over his cheeks and lips looking like a small candy-coated squirrel on the make.

I hadn't expected tears. His sister is downstairs, she has an alibi. Something isn't adding up.

I wait but he keeps crying, a little harder now and I want to ignore it, let him tough it out,  but whenever the crying pitch increases, say from a 'there's-a-thumbtack-in-the-soft-sole-of-my-foot' to something like 'help-there's-a-piece-of-my-own-poo-lodged-in-my-left-nosehole', I get a little worried, a little jittery. I think back to the time when I went to investigate his increasingly fevered cries to find him stuck sitting inside the sink with the hot water running full blast and maybe ten seconds away from getting seriously hot.

There are times when you know something is really the matter. It's a gut instinct; or a chip floated into you head by insurance companies. Either way, as a parent: you know.

This might be one of those times, I start thinking.

He's crying harder now and he's not running to my calls, which is unusual given that the very nature of his damn sobs are generally meant to curry influence and favoritism. I get up from my work and head into the bathroom.

I turn the corner through the door.


Holy shit!

Henry has long gorgeously sliced ribbons of toilet paper trailing from each of his fingers and his thumbs. It seems ethereal; at first I think he is playing some kind of a boy wonder trick on me, crying to get me to run to see his fairly astonishing toilet paper art.

But then, no, I notice that some of the paper is still attached to the roll and the poor guy isn't trying to create anything cool on purpose here. He's literally tarred and feathered himself with toilet paper and lollipop gunk.

My heart aches a tiny bit for the kid as I laugh out loud, which makes him start bawling even harder with frustration.

What a guy, I think to myself. What a spectacular friggin' kid moving in spectacular circles of magical soul.

In his 'big boy' effort to pull off some tissue and wipe his own snotty nose, like I've been teaching him lately, his lollipop fingers were basically candy corn nubs dipped in SuperGlue. The more he touched the toilet paper, the more it stuck to him! Now, here he is and he's sad to the point of fury.

He bites his own arm as I stare down at him. That's how he handles his anger, a chip off the old block.

I try to hold my laughs in, but it's hard and I want him to know what a genius I think he is.

I lean over and whisper into his ear that it's okay, we'll fix him up. I help him over to the sink and I can also start to make out, just by osmosis, that a good part of his upset is also because he was really enjoying the hell out of that lollipop and all of this dumbass paper came out of nowhere to screw it all up.

We turn on the water and I show him how easy all this stuff comes off with just a few splashes and some gentle rubs.

After a minute or so, his tears dissolve into misty whimpers, the kind where he's kind of caught out there on a hiccup between old sadness and happy again.

And just as I catch a fleeting glimpe of us in the mirror, his brown eyes twinkling above his blue shellacked nose, half his noodle barely peering up over the vanity top, I am aware that I am watching him being born for the second time.