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Wednesday, April 17, 2019

HAZMAT


It's 6:00 a.m. and I'm 43 and I'm standing
in my kitchen when the news reaches me.
They found my Aunt Sherry in a motel room
just outside of Manhattan, Kansas. My mind
goes to Chicago, my apartment
in 1997, when I took her in. To thank me,
she entertained my guests with her ghosts,
reenactments of beatings she endured
as a child, complete with a prop: the belt
her malevolent father tried to destroy her with.

It's 10:20 p.m. and I'm 27 and I'm standing
in the center of a lonely room. My new
shoes are covering one of the many blood stains
in the threadbare carpet of my empty apartment,
just blocks from Paramount Pictures, Melrose,
stars. Already I know the cause of the body count
in Hollywood: the curb stomped, roadside
corpses who get crushed by the homicidal
price of fame. Here, they'd rather be killed
than live unrecognized.

It's 2:35 p.m. and I'm 19 and I'm standing
in the middle of a Sacramento cemetery
attending my fifth funeral that year.
My friends keep dying, keep killing
themselves with needles, pills, leaps,
the early discovery that this
shit don't get better. Grief soon reaches
a new limit for me when my boyfriend
is shot in a drive-by but survives to break
up with me in his hospital room.

It's 11:12 p.m. and I'm 15 and I'm standing
on the corner of 35th and MacArthur,
waiting for the light to change. Waiting
for my skin to become invisible. Shield
me from the shots fired, the constant
element of street danger on another walk
home. I'm hoping the batteries don't die
in my Walkman. Music is my savior. Having
finished another closing shift in Berkeley,
spending cash is a nightly risk worth taking.

It's 3 a.m. and I'm 13 and I'm standing
on the broken steps of a Catholic church
wearing a HAZMAT suit and a smile, posing
for a punk rock, new wave photo
shoot, complete with a bride
who has mermaid green hair, black
lipstick, fishnet tights, the frequent need
for her bridegroom boyfriend to gently
cut her arms with his tip of his switchblade
in between these killer shots.

David-Matthew Barnes

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