Thursday, July 12, 2018

July 12: John Bennion • Lee Reilly • Gabriel Dozal • Danielle Geller • Rachel Haywood • Karen R. M. Koch • Jill Kolongowski • Jessi Peterson • Silas Hansen • Lucy Nash

Today we present ten more dispatches from June 21, 2018 to you. More details on the project here, but, in brief, we asked you to write about what happened on one day in June, and are publishing the results, largely unedited, for the next month and change, roughly ten a day. Today's the last day to turn in your work via this submission form.

—The Editors

July 12: John Bennion • Lee Reilly • Gabriel Dozal • Danielle Geller • Rachel Haywood • Karen R. M. Koch • Jill Kolongowski • Jessi Peterson • Silas Hansen • Lucy Nash


The Longest Day: Observations on 21 June 2018

This morning a former student sent me a poem on Soundcloud, John O'Donohue reading "A Blessing for a Friend on the Arrival of Illness." She heard that I recently had knee replacement surgery and wanted to send me one of her favorite poems. She also said, “I hope you enjoy the beautiful summer coupled with healing and a chance to slow down.”
I know the world is not really full of thoughtful people, but at that moment it seemed to be.
     Before surgery, I anticipated the pain, and it has been both less severe and more pervasive than I thought. So O’Donohue’s words resonated: “Now is the time of dark invitation beyond a frontier that you did not expect.” My “old life seems distant” and my “future shrinks.”
     I’m strapped into a Continuous Passive Motion machine, which I have renamed the Rack. We made up the couch in my office for a bed, so that the Rack doesn’t keep Karla awake at night. I lie on my back with one sheepskin band above my knee, one below my knee, and one around my foot, which fits into a stirrup. The chrome machine bends and stretches my knee for 10 hours a day. The first few cycles it hurts at each extremity and then my muscles relax, and the constant motion distracts from the pain. Narcotics make me feel like vomiting and fill my head with steel cotton, so I use them as rarely as possible.
     I’ve come to hate my office.
     I slept last night, second in a row, after two weeks of insomnia, due to slight pain that keeps me awake. In the middle of the night, the pain seems to penetrate my being. I am convinced, after lying sleepless, that it will never go away. It is a “a dark companion,” a “stranger [who] has married [my] heart.”
     I feel foolish complaining about pain I chose through elective surgery, when other people have ongoing pain that actually will never stop. My low level of pain makes me feel always on the edge of sanity, and I don’t know how victims of chronic pain bear up—my brother-in-law with permanent back pain after 4 surgeries, my neighbor with MS, the man two streets over who suffered for a year with prostate cancer in his bones. So many kinds of suffering, and I have just a taste.
     Still my experience is mine. When I need to pee, I use the plastic bottle if I don’t want to unstrap from the machine, or I walk to the toilet with crutches. Sitting in a kitchen chair or lying on the floor, I do the exercises and push my knee to bend and extend. I have thought of myself as a stoic person, able to endure pain. I’ve been calm through a nail cut on my eye, a circular saw cut to my thigh, a chainsaw cut to my knee, a burn on my wrist, a kick by a calf to my nose. If someone is injury prone, as I am, they should get used to pain. But this surgery is different because it feels endless. O’Donohue again: “Nothing before has made you feel so isolated and lost.”
     I complained to my sister in Vermont about narcotics making me thick-headed and nauseated. She has just had foot surgery involving nerves, so while my pain ranges from three to five, hers moves between three and nine. She also can’t abide narcotics but has other options. She wrote, “Shall I have someone drop some edibles by you? Let me look into it.” A few minutes later my son texted, saying that my sister had contacted him. “I have something you put in your tea. It’s like honey drops basically.” I told him no. THC is not yet legal in Utah. Then that night my daughter came to me, furious that I wouldn’t take the “honey drops.” She was very stern with me; I was being too scrupulous.
     It’s complicated. I signed the petition for a referendum that would allow medical marijuana in Utah, necessary because our legislature refused to pass any bill for people who live with pain. Marijuana is safer than narcotics. But right now it’s against the law. I have broken laws before: speeding, driving unregistered and unsafe vehicles when I was a boy, poaching when I was a boy, fudging on my income tax, others I don’t care to mention. So it isn’t exactly breaking the law that stops me. I have committed through my church not to take non-prescription drugs. So I’ll disobey my children, but recommend to my friend that she take MJ for pain. Not a simple matter. After I explain all this, my daughter sighs and leaves me alone.
     Pain is tedious. Even when it changes—less a dull but steady ache and more a sharp tearing along the scar along the right side of my left knee and where they cut a muscle above my kneecap—the pain bores me. I tell myself that I’m above it, can exercise my will and conquer it. But it’s still there in five minutes, an hour, twenty-four hours. It’s instructive, forcing me to believe what isn’t true—that it will never leave me. Even though I tell myself it’s temporary, the pain doesn’t flag. It outlasts me. The insight that there will be an end is a thin abstraction, while the pain is ever there. Now. And again now. Selfish, steady, insistent.
     Outside the slatted window of my office, I see slices of the sky and trees. O’Donohue writes, “When the reverberations of shock subside in you, may grace come to restore you to balance.”
     But I don’t believe it, not now. What I do believe is the kindness of my children, my sister, and my student friend. That’s with me also, tangible as pain.

—John Bennion

John Bennion writes fiction and essays about the arid lands of Utah, and the people who live in that forbidding landscape. He has published a collection of short fiction and a novel (Signature Books), and two more novels are forthcoming next year. He has published short stories and essays in Southwestern Review, Hotel Amerika, Hobart, AWP Chronicle, English Journal, and others. He teaches creative writing and the British novel at Brigham Young University. 


I’m packing for Swans Island, Maine, where I’ll live in a lighthouse and write. 
     22 emails, 12 from the client, 10 from the designer still to be addressed. What time will you be available Thursday, July 5 to meet for an hour over the phone? Who are you interviewing before you leave tomorrow?
     Flying to a city to drive to an island to take a ferry to an island in order to write.
     What’s the potential for photography for the report? Didn’t you cc B. on that email? Who are you interviewing from the island? 
     Packing hard copies of the short stories that I wrote to win the residency to live in the lighthouse on the tip of the island, where I will write. 
     Another client: can you attach this PDF to my website and where should it go? 
     Packing clothes, chocolate, books, computer, sunscreen—is it sunny in Maine? Packing the hard drive that holds the rough drafts that I’m going to finish at the residency on the island, where connectivity is a question. 
     My husband: have you called L. back? When are you planning to do it? 
     Packing gifts for the childhood friend who will take me in for the night before I do a full day’s drive to an island to take a ferry to an island, where I write.
     United Airlines: are you sure you don’t want to pay $79 for legroom? 
     A care worker and colleague: do you have any job leads for me? 
     The credit union: secure message expires June 21, 2019, 3:02 p.m. 
     Walgreens: press 3 to discontinue these reminders.

—Lee Reilly

Lee Reilly has written volumes about tofu (Vegetarian Times), women (two nonfiction books), and her grandmother's life (a series of flash pieces, several of them written on Swans Island).


What questions did you have on June 21, 2018? 

Why are you driving to El Paso today? 
Who are you supporting in the Mexican election? 
Should you bring sunscreen to the protest in Tornillo?
How does it feel to hear songs about oceans while you’re driving through the desert?
Did she just sing “I want to die in your Ocean?” Or “dive”?  
Was this desert once ocean? 
Well, is it raining with you? 
Is the answer to this last question probably no? 
Was this desert once littoral but now literal?  
The internet desert or the regular one? Or both?
Even when you didn’t live on the border, were you still living there?
Can you see into Juarez? 
Through the mesh fence?

Gabriel Dozal

Gabriel Dozal is from El Paso, TX. He is an MFA candidate in poetry at The University of Arizona. 


I wake up waiting. This isn’t a new way to enter my days. Six months ago, I moved to a new country. Now every day is filled with waiting. Waiting for Owen, my husband, to come home from work. Waiting for friends to answer emails. Waiting for warmer weather, then for sunny days, then, just, for something in my brain to revert itself to a state of unwaiting.
     I understand brains don’t work that way. That I should be proactive. Do the dishes, go for walks, find a new friend. Something. But the next-door neighbor has been trying to build a treehouse out of shipping pallets for weeks. And the dog upstairs barks every time I sneeze. And my student loan provider sends me an email with the conversational subject line: All set for your student loan payment? Or need some help? But the help I need isn’t the help they’re offering. And, these infinitesimal incidences adding the way they do, the something I should be doing starts to feel too threatening.
     So, I play video games. I resubbed to WoW a week ago. But fact-checking that sentence, it’s a lie. It’s been two weeks. It’s easy to lose time in this game, which makes it good for waiting.
     In-game, today is the first day of the Midsummer Fire Festival, a fact more relevant to me than the real world’s summer solstice. In-game, honoring the bonfires of your allies and extinguishing the flames of your enemies awards [Burning Blossom]s, a kind of currency you can trade to special vendors for costumes, toys, and pets that are only available this time of year. I’ve been playing the game on and off for a decade and have most of the items, though I realize I’m missing the [Set of Matches], added in patch, after I stopped playing again. I look up the toy in the collections interface: “Set yourself on fire! For reasons! (30 Min Cooldown)” and decide to pass. In-game, I have better things to do.
     Like dailies, quests that expire and renew each day when the servers reset. Or completing the next stage of my legendary weapon questline. Or listing items on the Auction House to make some gold. Or leveling one of the many alts (alt-ernate characters, alternate from my main, a troll priest named Peyla) I would like to reach level cap (currently, level 110) before the next expansion launches on August 14th. I realize none of this sounds very important—that it might not sound like anything at all.
     Earlier this week, the World Health Organization announced “gaming disorder” as a new mental health disorder to be included in the 11th edition of the International Classification of Diseases. The ICD-11 defines gaming disorder as “as a pattern of gaming behavior (“digital-gaming” or “video-gaming”) characterized by impaired control over gaming, increasing priority given to gaming over other activities to the extent that gaming takes precedence over other interests and daily activities, and continuation or escalation of gaming despite the occurrence of negative consequences.” But for diagnosis, this behavior pattern would “normally have been evident” (must have? may have been evident?) for at least 12 months.
     Today has me thinking about how much time I’ve wasted playing this game: 267 days, 13 hours, 42 minutes, and 12 seconds /played. On one character. 48 days, 8 hours, 24 minutes, and 8 seconds on another. 43 days, 17 hours, 6 minutes, and 41 seconds on another. On all of my characters combined, more than a year of my life.
     When Owen wakes up and walks into the computer room, I ask him to guess how much time I’ve played. He guesses a thousand hours and cringes when I tell him the actual number. (He would call it a wince.) He sits at his desk and turns on his computer and checks his Steam library for hours played: at highest, 200 hours in a single game. Nothing close to mine.
     I still feel guilty I lured him into WoW. I don’t know what to do with that guilt. But I was lonely, playing without him.
     In Discord, a text and audio app designed for gaming communities, our friends Hot and Kittenpower mention resub(scrib)ing.  People start posting screenshots of old and abandoned characters. Talking about factions and discounted server transfers.
     When Owen logs on, we level our demon hunters for a bit. KP and I already have three characters at max level, and Hot boosts a warlock and a druid to cap. I’m trying to help Owen catch up, but he doesn’t have the same stamina for this game. His eyes tire and his interest wanes, and we log into Heroes of the Storm to end the night. Heroes was the game we were playing when we first started talking, about a year ago. He and his family still call me Peyla, the name I’ve carried from game to game. It can’t all be wasted, this time.

—Danielle Geller

Danielle Geller received her MFA in creative writing from the University of Arizona. She is a proud recipient of the 2016 Rona Jaffe Writers’ Awards. Her work has appeared in The New Yorker, Brevity, and Silk Road Review and has been anthologized in This Is the Place (Seal Press, 2017). She is an enrolled member of the Navajo Nation: born to the Tsi’naajinii, born for the white man.


My summer solstice starts like many of the days before it, just a hair earlier. At 6:12am, the sun begins to weave through the treetops into my seventh-story window. I started sleeping with the blinds open so that this precise moment would happen every morning giving me a few more hours to be a productive human, but today, I don’t want to get out of bed. (I should mention that when I slept with the blinds closed I wasn’t rolling out of bed until noon or so if I was lucky.)
     Curled up under too-thin overs, my sockless feet hit a spot of the cold mattress and I want to die a little inside. Ice cold. I cranked my “thermostat” (if it’s even worthy of the name) back up to 72 degrees the night before but the humming air conditioner above my bed suggests otherwise. Anyway, I turn off the 6:15am alarm with a snooze and curl up a little tighter for four more 15-minutes of sleep. When I wake up I am as close to fetal position as possible and my phone reads 7:23am.
     I check my work schedule to make sure I haven’t overslept or otherwise forgotten that I am a new employee of my school’s housing and residence life department. My first shift of the day is in Park Hall. I am tasked with the fight of my life against the wooden accordion “curtain” that hides the front desk, and I will “babysit” the building until I close it at 2:00pm. After pulling on the black uniform t-shirt that I’ve worn for the last three days, I schlep my backpack onto aching shoulders. The trek to the student center for breakfast is a warm one, but by 8:00am when I am out the door, 78 degrees feels pleasant.
     Continuing my new morning routine, I drop my backpack onto the ideal seat right outside of Starbucks and order two eggs over easy and hash browns from the Tally. The eggs are cooked near perfectly (thanks to one student employee who knows how to make eggs over easy) and the hash browns are a perfect portion (which sometimes, are not). The student center also restocked their no-pulp orange juice so I grab a bottle before paying for my food and heading back to my comfy armchair. I set three alarms before work at 15-minute intervals so that I can leave for my shift across campus with plenty of time to get settled. At 8:25, I break the first yolk. Campus is quiet now. It feels as if nothing could go wrong.
     I would be remiss if I did not mention that I am nervous for this first shift of the day. Park Hall is a new building to me and contrary to the two days that I spent in employee training, I can do--and know how to do-- very little at work. I’ve worked for almost a month and today is the first day I’m working in this dorm. I send up a prayer on Twitter so that my friends can think of me as they go about their own activities during the solstice: “Today is no bueno. Requesting and accepting nearly all forms of cheering up.” I know now that that is my first mistake. Before work even starts I am convinced that something will go wrong.
     The wooden curtain does not “come quietly”. I knew it. My coworkers warned me about this building. In hindsight, they did not offer any advice, just grievances against Park. The bones in my hand scream as I struggle with the lock and key. I cradle it to my chest, keeping expletives to a low whisper. Checking the staff binder, I find a suspicious lack of occupants in the building.
     My first shift ends in a blur, four hours later. Maybe I black out from my anxiety and don’t remember most of what happens. I never managed to close that wooden curtain on my own. I called a coworker to help.
     In any case, I have thirty minutes to regroup myself and prepare to welcome another bunch of eager incoming freshman to campus for orientation. This shift is much more enjoyable. I get to interact with coworkers, other people. Students don’t start showing up until 4:15pm or so, but I’m on the clock by 3:30pm. For forty minutes we scramble to check students in and toss keys across the open lobby. Over and over I direct people towards the corner with the double doors to the residence hall. We’ve never made it to 5:30pm. On this day, I send five students to other orientation leaders for various problems that I do not have the power to fix and apologize to one hall director and a student for checking them, a female, into a male room. The girl hands me back the key and someone else puts her in a new room.
     5:15pm arrives and the refreshing outdoor air hits my face. I clock out and shuffle 100 feet to the nearest dining hall for a pasta dinner. It’s undercooked and the sauce is a bit cold. Heating it up requires patience and skill so it doesn’t explode into a puddle of butter. I decide to pack the rest of it in my bag for tomorrow’s lunch. I schlep my backpack again onto my aching shoulders and return to my on-campus housing for some much-needed rest. For a minute, the thought of crawling into bed at 6:00pm crosses my mind. I push it far away. The sun hasn’t set. It won’t for a few more hours.
     My parents are living it up on a cruise in the Bahamas. They won’t have cell service for days. By default, my twin sister is on the receiving end of daily Facetime calls. She’s never watched the house by herself before. She called me first a few days ago, asking if she should set more ant traps in the kitchen. She went to work today, but I’m sure she’ll answer the phone in her pajamas, petting our dog. She does. For far too long we exchange “so, how’s it going?” conversation with far too little engagement. She occasionally flips the phone around so I can see our dog wiggle her beard or run in her sleep. Until Saturday, we’re all each other has. I settle for staring at her through Facetime. It’s almost like sitting in the same room. This works for all of five minutes before we’re bored, wasting phone battery. We part ways before I go to bed (just after dark, I should say) and I prepare to do it all again tomorrow. Will the next day be as tiring? It should be shorter by a hair.

—Rachel Haywood

Rachel Haywood is a senior undergrad studying Creative Writing at Ball State University in Muncie, IN. She did not write this essay to be life-changing, but maybe it will be someday. When she's not writing, she's trying to rock climb or cooking for her family. She lives in Fort Wayne, Indiana, with her parents, twin sister, and beloved dog. 


I tiptoe out of bed, careful not to wake our two geriatric dogs, who, despite their advanced ages, manage to make so much noise with their pacing, their scratching, their slurping of water, that peaceful mornings are few and far between. One is zonked out on the floor on my husband’s side of the bed; the other is sprawled in the middle of the hallway and I must step over him on my way to the bathroom.
     I swallow my medicines and pad on bare feet into the living room. The blue recliner welcomes me as it does every morning, and I pull my Bible and my journal out of the bottom drawer of the side table. The cat jumps onto my lap, making herself comfortable, and I gaze out the eastern window where I like to watch the sunrise. But today is overcast, foggy, and humid. It reflects my state of mind.
     Sighing, I read a chapter from my Bible and settle in with my Father. I ask him to help me let go of the things I can’t control, as well as the things I don’t need to control. It’s a continual, perpetual prayer. I feel constant pressure from myself to succeed at everything.
     It’s a dreary day, but in a soothing sort of way. As if the mist is saying, “Slow down. Be still.” My heart is tight with too much emotion, and my mind is filled to overflowing with words and tasks. The summer solstice is the day I always imagine I will fill with activity—getting up at sunrise and enjoying the long, long day. I picture myself spending all the daylight hours outside, biking or hiking or canoeing, not coming back inside the walls until the sun sinks behind the horizon and the fireflies begin to blink in the grasses. But today, the soft rain tells me to relax. Stop hurrying. I vow to try.
     Still, there is much on my to-do list. Once my quiet time is finished, I change into my running clothes and head out in the drizzle for a three-miler. I think about all the things I need to accomplish. My house is filthy (a fact directly attributable to the aforementioned canines), but cleaning will have to wait until tomorrow. There are too many other things on my plate today.
     As I run, I pay attention to the nature around me—the corn stalks whispering in the fields, the cows lowing in the meadow, the rain dripping down my cheeks. I do love living in rural Indiana. Even the small town where my husband and I used to live felt claustrophobic to me after thirteen years. Our home in the country has been a blessing to me, and rest for my troubled soul.
     I return home, and after a shower, I throw a load of laundry in the washer and eat a simple breakfast of an over-easy egg (laid by one of our own hens) on a toasted corn tortilla. Then I sit at the kitchen table to work. I spend an hour on readings and discussion posts for my graduate class, then throw the laundry in the dryer and take a break. My husband has gotten up by now. He sits at the table with his coffee and breakfast, watching YouTube videos on his phone. Since he typically wears headphones so as not to disturb me (he knows I prefer the quiet), I’ve no idea what he’s looking at. Sometimes he’s watching comedy sketches or political commentaries, but based on the concentrated look on his face, I suspect that today he’s viewing a tutorial about lumber milling or timber frame building to give him insight into his work of building our house to replace this double-wide trailer we’re living in.
     A quick conversation in which I remind him that I’m leaving in a few hours, a kiss, and he’s out the door to his workshop.
     Little tasks must be accomplished now. I tidy the kitchen, fold the laundry, make the bed. By now, it’s time for lunch, so I heat up some leftovers and eat while hunched over a book. Today, it’s Kelly Gallagher’s Readicide, which I study with sticky notes and a pen always at hand to mark important passages. It’s giving me many things to think about as I consider changes to make in my middle school English classroom in the fall.
     This is one of those areas in which I feel an intense drive to succeed. I want to be not just a great teacher, but the best teacher. The pressure of the high-stakes testing gets to me sometimes. While I know that I am good at what I do, I feel that the all-important data doesn’t always show it. I seek perfection, knowing that it’s impossible. But I want it anyway.
     Another hour on my coursework, and then I grab my car keys and head out the door. I’ve agreed to drive my best friend, Pattie, and her mom to the airport. They are heading to Boise, where Pattie and her husband will be moving in September.
     When I arrive at the house, Carol and I pack all their things in the trunk. I had forgotten how much stuff they’d have—they’ll be gone for about three weeks—and I failed to remove the box of books from the back of the car. Still, we shift some things around and manage to get it all in. Windshield wipers on, and we’re off.
     Carol sits in the back, watching out the window, and Pattie dozes in the passenger seat next to me. I don’t have the radio on, so it’s nearly silent in the car. I think about how this is another step in the long goodbye to Pattie. We’ve been running buddies for about six years now; we met not long after her first husband died. She’s quiet and I’m cautious, so it took a long time for us to become close, but now I tear up at the knowledge that she is moving so far away. I’m happy for Pattie—her new husband is so good for her, and she loves Boise and they’re excited to move there. But do you know how far Boise, Idaho is from Daleville, Indiana? Really, really far.
     Finally we pull into the departures section of the Indianapolis International Airport. I help them with their bags and wish them a great trip. My sister lives not far from the airport, and I have invited myself for dinner, so I plug her address into Google Maps and go on my way. The app takes me places I didn’t expect—country roads when I expected interstate—and while I don’t mind that so much, I’m puzzled why it’s telling me that it’s going to take me an hour and a half to get there when I know full well Michelle lives only about 40 minutes from the airport. I roll my eyes at myself when I realize that I somehow had set the app to show me the bike route instead of the car route. I make the fix, but I’m still on tiny, winding, numbered roads until I reach my final destination.
     Michelle’s house is a construction zone. At last after eighteen years, they are painting every room (and adding some color to the walls like I’ve been suggesting to her forever) and replacing the worn-out carpet with laminate flooring. Mostly, three of her boys are doing the work—and strapping young men they are, too. She takes me on a tour of what’s been finished and she shows me what’s next.
     I try for the hundredth time not to compare my life to hers. She is the eldest of the three of us girls, and she seems to have a charmed life. Healthy marriage, financial stability, six beautiful children—five biological and one adopted—and a cute-as-a-button grandson. I think that Amy and I have always compared ourselves to Michelle and felt that we can’t quite measure up. Amy, the middle child, who has dealt with ill children and financial difficulties, now finds herself a widow at age 46. While my life looks fairly successful—happy home, great job—the pain of our infertility is always a small knot in my spirit. I smile, hug my nieces and nephews, and enjoy dinner with the family. They welcome me always, and continually affirm that Auntie Karen is their favorite aunt, but it’s not the same as having my own children. Parenthood is something I’ll never have the chance to be great at.
     We finish dinner, put the leftovers in the fridge, and load the dishwasher. Dark storm clouds pile up in the west, and I decide it might be good to get on the road now; I have a ninety-minute drive to get back home. I hug my sister and head out.
     The radio remains off all the way home, and I spend the hour and a half hanging out with God, asking him again to help me let go of the things I can’t control, as well as the things I don’t need to control. I tell myself that perfection is an illusion, and I don’t have to strive for it. I let God remind me that my value is not determined by my bank account, the number of dependents I can claim on my taxes, or my student’s test scores. As darkness falls, I try to remember the lesson of the morning’s mist: “Slow down. Be still. Relax. Stop hurrying.”
     And I vow to try.
—Karen R. M. Koch

Karen Koch lives in rural Indiana with her husband, two dogs, a cat, 28 chickens, and 11 rabbits.  She spends August through May teaching 7th and 8th grade English language arts, and every month striving for the unattainable. 


Thursdays are a day off, so a day of beautiful nothing stretches ahead. I have to run errands, but I like running errands in my town. I’ve lived here long enough to know it’s best to walk past the noodle place and the old Baskin Robbins that stays put no matter how gentrified this place gets, and walking by them at this time of day meant you got to walk in the shade.
     After, I went for a manicure and a pedicure. As a younger me I used to think this was something only stuck-up rich princesses did, but now I find it a small joy I can bestow upon myself—no matter how terrible I feel, it’s a kind of comfort to look down and see your nails, still beautiful. Jenny the manicurist draws a pink and yellow flower on my ring finger freehand. She wipes away the first, imperfect attempt before I can see it, and tries again. Something about this persistence breaks my heart.
     On a whim, on the way home, I decide to stop at Urgent Care. I’ve been having vague abdominal pain for a month and I’m supposed to go to Disneyland in four days, so I figure I might as well get the all-clear.
     Two hours later I’m stripped down to a hospital gown in the emergency room, getting ready for an appendectomy. The day has gotten unstable, moving like thick drips from a faucet, both very quickly and very slowly. First, the urgent care ultrasound tech, who is not supposed to say anything, but is worried enough to break the rules, tells me my appendix is extremely inflamed, so kind that I wonder if we could be friends in real life and I’m sad when she leaves to get the doctor and I never see her again and can’t remember her name; fast-forward and my husband and I are driving to the ER and I’m trying to pull up the GPS but my hands are slow and clumsy and none of the icons make sense; fast-forward and the nurse is saying they will take me upstairs to my room and I realize I’m going to have to stay here overnight and no one explains to me that they are going to pump me full of antibiotics first, surgery later. My husband Googles it. I’m maddest that I didn’t get to eat dinner and now I won’t be able to eat anything for 24 hours.
     My new nurse’s name is Princess. Her father’s name is Ray (or perhaps Rey), which means king in Spanish. “Get it?” she says, with the practice of someone who’s told a joke over and over.
     Time has gotten slow again. I’ve never stayed in a hospital room overnight. No one tells you how much of it is waiting. My husband goes home to get me my toothbrush. I spend a lot of time looking at the clock and turning it into geometry, squares for 15 minutes, then wedges for five-minute increments. The view out the hospital room is gorgeous, lighted windows stacking up the Santa Cruz mountains. It makes me mad to look, so instead I watch Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives. For some reason I am finding Guy Fieri very comforting. Every episode is the same, no matter what restaurants he visits. Each episode starts and ends with the same words and I love its sameness, the way I can always count on him to say “Hey, it’s Guy Fieri and we’re rollin’ out” every 30 minutes, every half-circle of the clock.
     My husband returns with the toothbrush. He wasn’t able to find a travel-size toothpaste, so he brings me a brand-new full-size one, and this feels like love to me. I make him go home—one of us should sleep. As soon as he leaves I wish I’d asked him to stay. The view is great, I could have said.
     Princess comes in to do the IV, which has made my arm all puffy. She’s wearing a cardigan over her scrubs and this makes me feel a little better, this small bit of visible comfort, of someone trying to keep warm. She tries two new IV sites, stabbing around in my hand first and then my arm, stabbing so much it will leave a bruise for two weeks. She says, “Damn, I thought I had it!” I nearly apologize.
     The two-hour block of Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives I just watched starts over again. I turn the TV off and listen instead to the patient in the next room, who sounds far worse, with a horrible wheezing sandpaper cough that never gets better. My surgery is in the morning. I straighten out the IV cord to try and sleep. My nails do look beautiful.

—Jill Kolongowski

Jill Kolongowski is a nonfiction writer and professor living in Northern California. She is the author of the essay collection Life Lessons Harry Potter Taught Me (Ulysses Press, 2017). Other essays are published in Sweet: A Literary Confection, Sundog Lit, Profane, and elsewhere. She is also the managing editor at YesYes Books. She is a Hufflepuff who grew up in Michigan.


On the Road to Cirenaica (near Fall Creek, WI)

I’m running late, which is my way. I try to cram too many things into the day and I always think I can do one more thing before I leave for work or the dentist appointment or the DMV. You would think that today, the longest day of the year, I would have a chance to catch up, but so far it has not happened.
     I’m almost ready to be away for 3 days—I’ve settled the new hogs we got two days ago, taken down the laundry, rounded up what I need for time away and left a note for my husband. But then I can’t find my hat or my keys and I remember something else that Dan needs to know, so by the time I leave I have ten minutes to make a 25 minute trip. Still, I won’t be too late—it’s a straight shot east and then 5 miles south, easy peasy. That is, unless a bridge has been washed out by last Sunday’s rains. The detour takes me down a series of narrow, nonsensical country roads that don’t seem as though they will ever connect with someplace I need to be and I am fuming now, irritated by every twist and turn. Coming round a sharp turn out of overarching oaks, I am met with a chicory blue flash in the gravel at the roadside, an indigo bunting bathing in a puddle, then retiring to the boxelder scrub as I pass. Which turns the day on a dime for me, a blue sky moment I’d have missed had I been timely, had the road not detoured. Sometimes it pays to be late.

—Jessi Peterson

Jessi Peterson is a children's librarian, an erstwhile farmer and a poet. Her work has appeared in Wisconsin People and Ideas, Barstow and Grand and Sky Island Journal.


It’s 12AM on June 21st, the day I’m supposed to keep track of what happens, and I’m starting the day off right: with my third (okay, maybe my fifth) shot of bourbon—Bulleit, on the rocks—and a night of karaoke in Indiana’s oldest (and Muncie’s only) gay bar with a group of my friends. I can’t be sure (see aforementioned bourbon), but there’s a decent chance I’m singing either “Achy Breaky Heart” by Billy Ray Cyrus or “Man! I Feel Like a Woman” by Shania Twain when the day begins.
     Around 1:30, we decide we’ve had our fill of karaoke, so my friends Andy and Meredith and I head a block over to the bar where we all met. Our friends Chuck and Robby are there, too, so I end up playing a game of euchre with the guys while Meredith drinks a Two Hearted and our friend Casey, the bartender, starts cleaning up. Andy and I do surprisingly well (again, see aforementioned bourbon) and I realize I really need to head home around 2:30. I run into a couple of friends—also bartenders at my other regular hangout, taking a smoke break before they finish cleaning up—on my bike ride home, so I stop and talk to them for a minute, finally getting in my house a little after 3.
     I realize I should probably eat something before I go to bed, so I take the pizza box that I’d stuck in the fridge earlier and eat a couple slices of (cold) Little Caesars stuffed crust pepperoni pizza. I may be 31, a homeowner, a college professor, etc., but I still eat like I’m 19 and in college. I think, for probably the fourth time in the past 24 hours, that I really need to get back on the keto diet, and also that I’m not sure when I last ate a vegetable that wasn’t either (1) tomato sauce on aforementioned pizza or (2) barely recognizable as a base for the chicken makhani takeout I got from the Indian place in the plaza by the grocery store.
     Once I’ve polished off the pizza, I take my meds (antidepressant, blood pressure medicine, allergy medicine), grab a glass of water, and fall asleep on the couch (where I’ve been sleeping lately, since my central air seems to keep the living room about six degrees cooler than my bedroom), watching Bob’s Burgers with my cat curled up on my chest, somewhere between 3:30 and 4AM. I wake up around 7 with wicked heart burn, but fall back asleep after taking a couple of antacids and, once again, telling myself to eat healthier and drink less because Jesus Christ, Silas, you’re 31 fucking years old.

My alarm goes off around noon. I’d forgotten I even set it. The first thing I think when I wake up is: water. Water, now. The second thing I think is that I should have stopped with the bourbon around drink 3 and switched to beer—or better yet, water. Water. I need water. I drain the rest of the glass I’d gotten before bed and then head to the kitchen to refill it.
     It’s officially Thursday now, for real, and I need to take my friend Emily to the airport in Indianapolis by 5 (it’s about a 90 minute drive from Muncie). I text her to see if she wants to work in a coffee shop before that (secretly hoping she’ll say no, since I think I need to eat some fast food, drink some water, and lay on the couch for a bit before I’m really ready to do much of anything), but she says she needs to finish packing and to pick her up a little after 2. We’ll grab lunch in Broad Ripple—a neighborhood on the north side of the city—and then I’ll take her straight to the airport. Thank God.
     I throw on some gym shorts, a clean T-shirt, and my flip-flops, brush my teeth and put on deodorant, and head to the car. I’ve been traveling a lot the last couple of weeks and don’t have anything except oatmeal for breakfast and that’s just not going to cut it. I need something warm and greasy, preferably with a side of fried potatoes, so I head to McDonald’s, listen to my favorite true crime podcast on my way there and while I sit in the drive-thru, and then head back home with a sausage McMuffin, a hash brown, and a large unsweetened iced tea (my usual order). I always eat while I drive, so by the time I get home—just over a mile, about a seven-minute drive—I’m left with just half of my iced tea.

I’m finally feeling like a human again, so I make sure my cat has food and clean water, unload and then re-load the dishwasher, start a load of laundry, and lie back on the couch for a half-hour playing euchre on my phone and listening to the rest of my podcast while the clothes are in the washer. is the first time in my adult life that I’ve had laundry in my house, so maybe this is normal, but my shower loses water pressure and the temperature changes pretty abruptly if I shower while the washer’s running, so I try to avoid it.
     My cat, meanwhile, sits on my stomach and occasionally licks my beard. It’s cute, but kind of weird. I push him away and he settles for curling up around my right foot and rubbing his face all over it. A slight improvement, I guess.
     I switch my clothes to the dryer, take a quick shower, put on clothes—a pair of cut-off jeans, my favorite T-shirt (featuring a pig with the cuts of pork labeled; the tenderloin is—falsely—in the shape of Indiana and underneath it reads “Indiana Born and Breaded.”), and my flip flops, again, and otherwise finish getting presentable. I also pop 600mg of Advil—half because of the slight hangover I’m nursing and half because of the crick in my neck from sleeping on the couch.
     It’s just after 2, so I quickly clean the empty iced tea cups out of my car (I drink a lot of it, okay? Don’t judge. It’s unsweetened. It’s practically water!), throw the trash bag in the can in my backyard, and head to Emily’s to pick her up.

Emily’s going to be gone for two weeks and is traveling to four different cities, including two in Canada, where she’s from, so she’s (understandably) stressed. We stop at Starbucks for iced teas and then talk on our way down about her trip, about our jobs (we’re both in academia), about plans for the rest of the summer: I’m going to Columbus, where I lived in grad school, and then home to western New York; she’s taking a research trip.
     We decide to go to one of our mutual favorite places in Broad Ripple for lunch—a cool bar called The Sinking Ship that serves a half-vegan and half-carnivore menu alongside craft beer and only two things on TV: either hockey, or Japanese wrestling. I get the “country mac”: pulled pork and macaroni and cheese and a side of star tots: just tater tots shaped like stars. They’re nothing special, but there’s something about the shape that makes them taste even better—extra surface area to get crispy, maybe?
     Emily gets a beer to go with her veggie burger, but I decide it’s smart for me to stick with water.

We get a brief thunderstorm on our way to the airport—about a half-hour drive through city traffic from the restaurant—but it’s otherwise uneventful. Emily navigates from the passenger’s seat. I’ve used too much data this month—and her phone is set to have a dude’s British voice, which I find refreshing compared to mine, which is still set the default. I know how to get to the airport, but I always go straight from Muncie, so I’m not sure of the fastest way to get there from this neighborhood. We get turned around for a second, but we figure it out and I get here there a couple minutes late, but still with plenty of time.
     I drop Emily off at Departures and then immediately start heading back to Muncie. I get a couple miles from the airport when another thunderstorm hits. This one seems stronger, and it’s now rush hour (and the only thing I hate more than traffic is getting stuck between two semi-trucks, which always happens on I-70), so I get off at the next exit, go through a McDonald’s drive-thru for another (my third of the day) unsweetened iced tea and then sit in the parking lot, listening to another episode of the true crime podcast, while I wait for the weather to clear up.
     Dad calls while I’m sitting there. He, my mom, and my grandma are driving to my aunt’s boyfriend’s old house to pick up his lawn mower (they have just moved in together, into my aunt’s house). They’ve stopped so Mom and Grandma can get something at Walmart and he’s sitting in the car, bored. Knowing Mom and Grandma, they’ll be a while. We talk for a bit about the weather, about a couple of projects I want to do around my house, and my summer class, which just started. Mom and Grandma get back in the car in New York and it’s finally stopped raining in Indiana, so I say a quick hello and goodbye to them and then hang up.

Traffic has finally let up a bit, so I make pretty good time and am back in Muncie by about 7:30.
     The whole day feels like a wash. I had a good time hanging out with Emily, as I always do, but other than a few chores earlier in the day, I haven’t accomplished much.
     I end up getting pizza for dinner (and, while waiting for it, stop in the grocery store to pick up a few things so I can cook at home—something I actually really like to do, despite what you may think based on what I’ve written here: a couple of manager’s-special steaks and some asparagus and zucchini for dinner, a fresh loaf of sourdough and a dozen eggs for breakfast, a package of rotini, some cherry tomatoes, and a jar of pesto for lunches. Keto next week, I guess.)
     I go home and eat pizza on the couch while watching another episode of Bob’s Burgers with my cat. It’s almost 9, but I still have a long to-do list. I take out my bullet journal and see what I can push to tomorrow (working on a new essay, grading some reading responses and recording a lecture video for my online class, etc.) and then spend an hour or so crossing off the things I need to do right away: I answer a couple of emails from students/colleagues, post a couple of essays for early next week so my students can work ahead if they need the weekend off, and then clean up the kitchen a bit and take out the garbage.
     It’s almost 10. My friends Andy and Austin both text and say they’re at the Peach—the second bar from the night before. I’m supposed to go down and play cards—we’d made the plan at karaoke. I’m beat. I don’t want to get up. “I’ll be down soon,” I tell them both. I believe it at the moment, even though I should know better.
     I’m on the couch, no pants, and I’m watching an episode of Bob’s Burgers. Bob’s chaperoning Louise’s class field trip to the museum. My AC is blasting and so I grab a blanket and my cat immediately jumps up on top of me.

My phone buzzes against the coffee table twice, waking me up. I grab it as it buzzes again. “Cards, shitbird?” Andy asks. Austin more politely asks where the fuck I am. Emily’s waiting for her connection and wants to know if I watched Drag Race. It’s 10:48.
     “Shit, I fell asleep and now I think I’m too sleepy to put real pants back on,” I tell Austin. Honesty is the best policy. “Tomorrow?” I copy and paste it and send the same to Andy.

It’s not even 11, but I’m done. I get up (the cat tries to keep me there for a second, but eventually gives up and jumps down) and brush my teeth and take my meds, promising myself I’ll do better on Friday. I’ll get up before 10. I’ll make breakfast at home. I’ll go to my office and work all day. I’ll pack a lunch. I’ll go out with friends in the evening and drink two beers—and a glass of water in between—like a responsible adult. Fuck it: I might even go to the gym.
     I get back under the blanket on the couch, turn off the light, and restart the episode of Bob’s Burgers. Tina’s trying to earn a merit badge, so Bob and Linda take the whole family on a camping trip. The cat seems to have forgiven me for waking him and immediately jumps back up on me, curling up in his spot. We’re both sound asleep before the episode’s even over.

—Silas Hansen

Silas Hansen's essays have appeared in The Normal School, Colorado Review, Slate, Redivider, Puerto del Sol, Hayden's Ferry Review, and elsewhere. He lives in Muncie, Indiana where he sings karaoke, plays euchre, and teaches creative writing and literary publishing at Ball State University.


The alarm goes off at 5.30am, my son is already in my bed, and I have a case of the raging butterflies. That’s right, not the kind of ticklish, fluttering butterflies causing you to tingle with nervous excitement, I mean the big angry kind that had been up all night plotting their escape. In other words, I’m pretty damn anxious. I look across at my outfit for the day, each item scrupulously selected, hanging up ready to go. No reassuring sweatshirt and leggings combo pulled haphazardly from my wardrobe today.
     After two years, I am going back to work, well sort of. I have just been offered a job and although it isn’t set to start until September, I have been asked to attend an annual meeting being held up in Birmingham with all the other employees. I know my boss, and her boss, we have all worked together before and all I have to do is sit there and listen to presentations all day, but I am a wreck. I have been for days. I saw the 21st looming on the horizon weeks out and I could not see past it. And now, here it is.
     My husband and son drop me to the train station and I wave through the back window and watch my son reach out and mouth “mummy” before my husband pulls away. Deep breath. Today I am going to have to be a grown up again. What if I have forgotten how to do it? Forgotten how to be out in the world, just walking through space on my own, only myself to think about, able to grab a coffee or wander into a shop or even just tune out. I turn my train tickets over in my hands and double check them for at least the tenth time. Two trains to Birmingham and was I on the right platform? Have I got the timings right? I panic about how busy it might be and whether I’ll get a seat. The thought of a crowded train, of a suffocating lack of oxygen and personal space, makes my stomach lurch.
     Eventually, clutching my coffee, I step onto the train with wobbly legs as if it were my first time, feeling somehow like an imposter, two kids stacked one on top of the other under a trench coat trying to get away with being an adult. Since the arrival of my son, my world has gotten progressively smaller as he has become bigger and more difficult to manage in public spaces. I live most of my life within four walls and I rarely travel beyond an eight-mile radius from them. Now, here I am rolling through big open country. I hit upon a brief moment of lucidity outside of the swirling snowstorm of anxiety and panic and notice how beautiful it is and click a picture of lush green fields full of wild flowers to remind myself to be a bit more present. Then I promptly return to the greyish confines of my mind to consider my nerves.
     The second train is far busier. I watch more and more people drip onto the platform before it arrives and inexplicably I begin to resent them each individually. The seats are packed in tight, there are hundreds of people on this train and I frantically elbow my way through the crowds looking for coach D. I anticipate a confrontation, there aren’t enough seats, someone will have found mine empty and I will be forced to ask them to move. Fortuitously, I find my assigned seat unoccupied and I squeeze myself in next to a dark-haired woman staring into space who politely contracts her body and averts her gaze so as to avoid any unwanted contact. It’s very British.
     I’m an hour away and still clutching my now tepid coffee. I affect an air of relaxed nonchalance, as if I’m just a normal person doing normal grown-up things and take a few sips of the coffee which comes to mix with the nervous agitation and form a lump in my stomach. I throw it away and try to read but I realise that I’m just staring at words and give up. The romantic notion of hours on a train on my own reading and enjoying my own company as a break from my daily life now seems farcical. I decide to just wait it out.
     I’m relieved to arrive but immediately begin to feel a creeping uneasiness about the return journey. I realise that it’s not the job, the colleagues, the work that has been occupying me. It’s been the journey all along. I was being released back into the world after my ritual post-natal cloistering and isolation and now it felt somehow bigger, more intimidating. It was almost like being a child again, seeing and experiencing things anew with all the fear of the unknown or unknowable but without a hand to hold, to keep me company, to reassure me.
     I don’t start to breathe until I am on the final train on the final leg of my journey home. But I’m irritable, the trains are far busier this time around, I can’t relax, and I can feel the cortisol coursing through my body keeping me upright, tense, alert. It’s noisy and everyone seems too close to me. I hear snippets of loud phone conversations, of music rudely intruding into my private head space from another passenger’s headphones, I watch the conductor attempt to escort two guys off the train who have no ticket and who are clearly high on something. It’s a petri dish of humanity. I’m returning home with a new sense of gratitude for my small and quiet domestic life.

—Lucy Nash

Lucy is a temperamentally neurotic human first and foremost and then a busy mum; teacher; freelancer; and anxious procrastinator, in that order (sorry this is late!).

Check back for more dispatches from June 21, 2018 tomorrow. —Editors

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