NONFICTION


Wire

By Danielle Service

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In the winter of 1995, shortly after I’d graduated college but was living on in the dorms as a Resident Director, I spent one long night on my couch talking to a handsome man who looked and acted just like George Peppard in Breakfast at Tiffany’s – same demeanor and half-smile, same calculated, lilting amusement. He held dramatic pauses in our conversation, carried with ironic and writerly phrasing. He was exactly my type, a friend of a friend, and as the night drew on interspersed with bong hits (ah, 1995) and deep revelations the intimacy grew. You’d think this story ends with a steamy hookup on a winter night in Atlanta but it doesn’t. He asked just one question, very late:

     “Can I hold you?”

     I nodded, and he did as we continued talking. I don’t remember if we kissed. We probably did, but all I remember is the talking.

     I drove to Washington D.C. the next day to visit a friend, then went home for Christmas. When I came back I expected a continuation of sorts but he held a hand up to the endeavor, pled friendship mea culpa – he still had the hots for an ex. I was disappointed, not crushed. We hung in groups together, partied, did Whip-Its by the train tracks, watched The Doors over and over and over. That was then. We drifted. I moved.


"He sent me pictures of his gun collection and told me he wanted to kill himself. He had started writing suicide notes. Wanted to know if I would read one."

Facebook is the best and worst of all social interaction, like Vegas is the best and worst of all of America’s entertainment. The social network drives you back into arms that would otherwise wave in the wind, the way Vegas showcases talent and vice for the taking that, perhaps, should be left untouched by the commoner. Facebook, the opener of doors that are meant to stay closed. Or not. As society hurtles toward the next tier of technological existence who’s to say how our relationships will navigate? There used to be closed endings to almost all of them. Now they are mostly open. It could be the universe’s way to ensure we will all remain connected. But this is hardly the point.

     So Facebook reconnected us twenty years later. I watched him get married, have a baby boy. Get divorced, unravel. We started talking again on a thread about Stephen King’s It, of all the damn things. Then we started writing. Then he told me he was under indictment for felony charges of embezzlement and wire fraud and was looking at serious prison time. He sent me pictures of his gun collection and told me he wanted to kill himself. He had started writing suicide notes. Wanted to know if I would read one.

     I know a lot of people who talk about suicide like the day’s flavor, just by virtue of the circles I run in. Recovered addicts, alcoholics. Sometimes writers, neurotic types prone to depression and empathy and insight. The thing about suicide intention and idealization is that you can’t freak out when someone suggests it and to be honest there’s not a lot you can do if someone’s bent on it. I read once that suicide becomes an option when pain is greater than the available coping mechanisms for it. So one either breaks or looks for an outlet. I’ve learned to listen and hear people out, not act like they’re crazy or that I have to do something to stop them.

     So I read his suicide note and suggested that in prison he would have so much time to write, and that maybe he could be like Denzel Washington in Flight and take responsibility for his actions instead of killing himself, and he could help other people when he got out. That life would be ten thousand times better once he navigated the swamp of this shitshow. That I’d had myriad students who just wanted their parents around regardless of what the parents had done: kids love their parents no matter what, and his son would too. That maybe a cool book idea would be that he write a collection of suicide notes that chronicled the progression of his recovery and journey through prison.

     I have a dear friend who called a suicide hotline in her sophomore year at a prestigious college. She’d been admitted young and was at the end of her rope. The voice on the other end of that hotline answered, then put her on hold, as in “Suicide hotline. Will you please hold?” When she told me that story I howled laughter, slid my back down the wall while I held the phone. “Oh Christ,” I said, when I could speak. “That’s just too damn good.”

     “But it was that that did it for me, girl,” my friend said. “That’s when I realized that deep on some level that no one gave a shit. Well, not that they didn’t give a shit, no – that it was up to me to pull it together and that the world would go on if I didn’t. Her putting me on hold was a slap in the face.”

     That’s the thing. You never know what’s going to do it. I know I’m good at listening, so that’s what I do.

     My other friend and I continued talking, on and off. I left him alone some, reached out at other times. A couple months ago he told me the charges had been pled down to just wire fraud, a year max in white-collar prison. “I decided not to kill myself out of sheer pride,” he said. “What kind of pussy kills himself over a wire fraud charge?”

     “Fair enough,” I wrote. “I’ll come see you on my road trip this summer if I go that way, before the indictment.”

     “Promise me,” he said. “Promise you’ll come visit.”

     I did. I make it a habit to keep promises as part of my recovery, so I went (slightly) out of my way to hit the mid-sized, southern city where he resided. He was not the same as I remembered. Still smart, sharp-tongued, but sweaty, fraught, desperate. Frenetic energy. He told me I looked great, better than my pizza-delivering ‘powder phase’ days. I don’t have many people in my life still who remember me from that time.

     He asked if he could hold me. I nodded. I let him rub my back. We did not kiss. He had another girl coming over at seven.


Danielle Service is a graduate of The Mountainview Low-Residency MFA in Fiction and Nonfiction. She currently teaches seventh grade Language Arts and yoga in New Hampshire. 

Create Destroy

by Danielle Service 

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We boarded the USS Massachusetts at Battleship Cove in Fall River, Massachusetts, near the windy edge of the Atlantic Ocean on a late March morning. A hint of sun and one hundred and fifty-six seventh graders with a smattering of adults hit the deck. Twelve or thirteen year olds with ebullient and nervous and hyper bodies bounced on grid metal with overnight bags. I their teacher scanned, frantic to search for where could they get into trouble and the answer here, on this World War II destroyer that had traveled over the Atlantic through that war, was everywhere. It was a battleship, for Christ’s sake. 

When a teacher sees that everything in or out of sight has the potential to hurt the children the tendency is to relax. If you can’t control the situation, you realize you don’t have to. I stopped screaming for them to stay within bounds and let them explore, surrendering to the situation, letting go of the reigns.

It was loud and chaotic and I could not figure out where I was at any given time, crawling up and down the stairs and calling after kids, our voices echoing on the metal hull as we passed Nazi flags and makeshift mess halls decorated for tourists with the names of fallen soldiers. Later that night, the energy of the ship got to me. We’d finished with the storyteller and some enterprising schmuck had opened the snack bar at 8 p.m. to give the children coffee and candy before we could put a stop to it. By the time the movie went on in the downstairs hall, all was chaos, overexcited adrenal glands, wanton chip wrappers, and Nazi ghosts. We teachers gave up at around 9:30 and while the movie played we sat in the back choking back hysterical laughter at the absurdity of the situation until we had to tell a kid to pick up his stuff and he got attitude.  

Our voices echoed off the metal and my teacher friend turned and said “This is Hell. This is literally the definition of Hell.” I fell on the floor laughing and almost wet my pants so I went to the bathroom and the Nazi flag in the hallway stopped my giggles. 

We all spent the night on swinging platforms stacked by chains and I pretended I was a soldier at war. I got up sleepless, crept about the ship, prayed for peace, did some light yoga on the deck, honored the fallen. 

The next morning, we toured Battleship Cove. In the Torpedo Room of the USS Lionfish, a Navy submarine, I thought about humanity’s dual instincts: to create, to destroy. Creation makes sense; it’s natural and steeped in love, the most powerful force in the universe. Destruction doesn’t make sense due to its violence, and I’ve struggled to understand how the two coexist. But in the Torpedo Room it came to me: we are born and then we die. Life and death are the only two absolutes, so of course creation and destruction are equal forces. I sagged with relief, felt better than I had in a long time, and went to tell everyone who would listen. 

That epiphany fueled my faith in the universe for weeks. One Saturday night I told my friend Laura about it at a Mexican restaurant. “It reminds me of something Mr. Rogers once said,” she quipped. “He said that deep and simple was far more essential than shallow and complex.”  

“YES,” I hollered, waving a chip with cheese. “It’s like Occam’s Razor! The simplest explanation is the best one!” Our laughter echoed off the mosaic tiles. We’ve been friends for thirty years. It was April vacation and a beautiful night. Summer was six short weeks away. Anything could happen. 

The next day I drove my teacher friend – the one who’d said “this is literally the definition of hell” – to Massachusetts General Hospital to see our thirty-seven-year-old friend and colleague who had suddenly, inexplicably, been diagnosed with ovarian cancer. At the Mexican restaurant I had had no idea of the seriousness of ovarian cancer. Even on the drive to and from Mass General I had had no idea of the seriousness of ovarian cancer. It had been a month since Battleship Cove and I’d been riding the crest of my faith in the universe’s wisdom that whole time. Much like letting hundreds of teenagers loose on a battleship, I’d lost the idea that I could control anything – and I was fine with it.

It wasn’t until I saw our friend’s scar from low abdomen to chest and went home to google, that the potential truth of the situation hit me, a torpedo to my stomach. The cancer had, in a few short months, made its way from her ovaries to her ribs. Our friend and colleague has a four-year-old and a one-year-old and a husband who is a cop and was an officer in the Marines.  

The problem with having faith in the universe is that if you believe with all your heart in the absolute truth of love and creation you also have to accept when destruction rears its ugly head. We’re born and then we die – duh. But chemo is an atom bomb. The Allies defeated the Axis powers, their plan to take over the world. Surrender often trumps a fight, and honoring the duality of opposites is a skill: creation, destruction. I pray, still, for one over the other.  


Danielle Service is a graduate of The Mountainview Low-Residency MFA in Fiction and Nonfiction. She currently teaches seventh grade Language Arts and yoga in New Hampshire. 

Needles

by Danielle Service

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This past week the President of the United States of America, Donald Trump, flew into Manchester, NH, less than three miles from my apartment. He blamed Lawrence, Massachusetts for my state’s opioid epidemic and called for the death penalty for traffickers and he did not speak of recovery but I could have told him about hope had he driven to my 650-square foot apartment. Maybe he would have cared. Probably not. Last night on my way home I drove down Pettingill Avenue where the planes come in near the airport, and one flew in literally dozens of feet over the top of my car, scaring the crap out of me. For a moment I imagined it was Donald Trump in the plane and that my car really was a Batmobile (I call it that) and that I ejected the driver’s seat from the roof and clung to the plane and defeated his evil empire but obviously nothing happened.

Hope is essential for recovery: I know this, because I’ve been in recovery from addiction myself for almost ten years. I try new things in this realm – in my spiritual program of action – all the time. Case in point: a recent visit to an acupuncture clinic with my friend Liz.

 “What the fuck, Liz,” I mouthed, glaring at my seated friend who’d brought me to the community establishment. A man ushered me past her and through a dark room. Filled with pastel, blanket-covered chairs, a weird hum enveloped the area. Open-mouthed, closed-eyed people lolled their heads toward the ceiling. Needles stuck out of their arms, collarbones, and heads.

It is worth noting I watch too many horror movies. This place looked exactly like one.

It is worth noting I watch too many horror movies because I find it an excellent way to escape fear in real life. I figure if I can channel my fear – cultivate it like a well-nourished vegetable in a garden, contained in fertile soil for two solid hours – then I will never have to experience it in actuality. Life managed via art.

But here in the clinic where Liz had brought me it was too real. I was paralyzed by fear. I hate needles. It’s so common it’s a cliché – I hate needles – but I’ve never understood them.

Four of the people I love and trust with my life are recovered heroin addicts. They tout their love of the needle as one of the hardest things to shake.

Andy, the man who’d been leading me through the acupuncture treatment room, sat me in a chair next to Liz (who already had needles poking in her body and seemed more than content) and talked to me as I trembled. Andy looked at my intake sheet: “You say your anxiety is nine on a scale of ten? We can fix that.” He touched my arm. I closed my eyes. Prick. Prick. Prick. Prick. I flinched each time in terror. Finally he put a soft hand on my shoulder and told me to rest for at least twenty minutes.

Fifteen minutes in: a soft balloon of love floats from my chest and drifts toward the seahorse mobile at the center of the room. I turned my head to Liz, slumbering peacefully. Prick. The anxiety in my chest deflated from nine to three and the voices in my head, the ones that like to jabber-jabber-jabber, muted to a soft murmur. I could see and feel the universe again.

My former heroin addict friends have told me how they used to shoot water when they couldn’t get smack solely for the needle’s relief. I have always appreciated the seeming honesty of heroin addiction: addiction is so dark and awful that an outward needle jammed into skin appears more honest than my own former, sneaky addictive behavior. For the first time in the acupuncture chair I understood what my junkie friends were talking about. When I left I was on Cloud Nine for the rest of the day, anxiety abated, fear dead.

That was March 1. I have been back to acupuncture eleven more times since then, and March is not yet over. Every time I feel a needle prick my skin, knowing the relief I’ll feel later, I want to scream more more more at my acupuncturist. I know it is just a balancing of energy within and not a destructive habit but it does make me feel closer to my four friends, who have all recovered and have been sober for many years at this point. People who go far down often come back up high.

Trump is back in D.C. today. There are plenty of people still addicted to heroin; in recovery circles, we meet lots of them. A lot of them die. But a lot of them recover. Me, today, I might see The Strangers sequel. Go to acupuncture, feel the needle enter; balance my energy. Close my eyes. Imagine hands joining, unscarred, without fear.


Danielle Service is a graduate of The Mountainview Low-Residency MFA in Fiction and Nonfiction. She currently teaches seventh grade Language Arts and yoga in New Hampshire. 

Student Picks: Currie, Gray, Padian

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Danielle Service-- I dated a guy back in 2011 that told me to read Everything Matters! by Ron Currie. I bought it instantly but didn’t read it until this year, when that cat texted, asking for sex. 

Junior – the protagonist in Everything Matters! – grows up in Maine with one caveat: he knows from the moment of his conception when and how the world will end (36 years and 168 days following his conception, Earth is hit by a comet). Initially, an omniscient second-person narrator tells the story; then, Currie strikes an irreverent tone by splicing in alternating limited-third-person narration in the perspectives of Junior’s brother, a teenage cocaine addict who later becomes a professional baseball player; their father, a Vietnam veteran with a meaningful secret and a New England work ethic; and their mother, a secretive alcoholic. 

There’s a plot to destroy a social security building, a deportation to a Bulgarian gulag, suicide bombers and life-saving irrigation systems involved prior to the world’s end in Currie’s thoughtful work – but most important is Junior’s alteration of his own destiny. I followed the protagonist’s lead: I texted the guy back saying I’d read the book and wished him well, but was deleting his number.

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Heather Lynn Horvat-- Isadora by Amelia Gray is an enthralling, relentless portrayal of the stunning but eccentric dancer Isadora Duncan in her darkest time. The novel is a dance of its own with short segments that begin like stage directions before entering the scene, and is told from alternating viewpoints between Isadora, her lover Paris Singer (of Singer sewing machines), her sister Elizabeth, and Max, who dwells too much on the fame he doesn't have.

The story opens moments after Isadora's children drown in a car that suffered mechanical issues and drove off a cliff. Grief is ever-present, but it is how the characters deal with the grief that makes this story memorable. Isadora, over time, consumes the ashes of both of her children. Elizabeth gorges on extra butter and eggs while no one watches. Paris stares for days at a painting, studying individual faces only to find that each resembles his lover or his child. Once, Isadora writes to her former lover with a request to take the child's clothing to water's edge and dunk it, then report back the weight of the soaked clothes. 

Isadora examines grief and the mind's ability to overcome tragedy with lyrical prose.

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Katie Fenton-- Recently, I took the opportunity to read Wrecked by Maria Padian. This Young Adult novel follows the lives of two college students, Haley and Richard, who find themselves having a difficult year after Haley’s roommate accuses Richard’s friend of raping her at a party. The plot continually twists and turns as the reader learns about the traumatic event alongside the characters as they piece together the puzzle of that horrible night. In true Young Adult fashion, Haley and Richard try to grow together in their own relationship. 

I was rather blown away by Wrecked. The storyline seemed like it might be simple and overdone, but in reality, it offered a unique take. Through well-placed foreshadowing, the reader is given a reliable narrator whose god-like view of the night slowly offers the answers they’re looking for. This novel’s unique style and storyline was not only something I thoroughly enjoyed reading, but as a writer, it encouraged me to look at my own work in a different way.