Candid would be me telling you about the note I wrote in September: “You’re gonna die alone / so this poetry thing had better work.” Or the pack of cigarettes sequestered in my money drawer. Ashtray like a wishing well for parking meter change, cigarettes unopened, same as the envelope of coupons my mother sent all the way from Michigan for a brand of shaving crème that staggers my face. The cigarettes purchased for an unwritten poem about Christmas in a Marlboro factory. Fewer cards, a tinseler smog.
Last summer I spent ten days at Bread Loaf living with four straight men, two fictioneers, two non-, all of us in our thirties or forties. I remember carpenter ants, plump ones scaling the towel rack; the variety of middle-aged man pills filibustering our bathroom sink. Tweezers parrying Lipitor, supplements haunting the talc. The Bread Loaf boys Skyping their wives, monogamy a laptop and three-second delay. I made them laugh with stories of failed ironies and past employment. A recovering agoraphobe, there are times when conversation from a screened-in porch is all the relationship I can bear.
Ohio, 2002. I attend a mental health support group in Akron, an hour’s drive from my Cleveland apartment. The television show Monk premiered a few weeks prior. The protagonist has Obsessive Compulsive Disorder – what I’m struggling with at the time, what keeps me behind doors for days at a time – though his is Hollywood-tailored, 44 minutes and a few hamburger commercials on. Entire fault lines removed from my fear of body fluids and viruses, cuts on cashiers, spills on supermarket floors. The redder the mess, the more I’m convinced it’s blood and I’ll wind up that one-in-a-billion case who contracts a fatal illness in the most non-contractible way possible. Entire plot lines from weighing my options with regards to Social Security Disability, one of the solutions discussed in group, their level of candid like nothing you’d see on TV.
Michigan, 2012. Tending to my mother during one of her stays in the Mood Room wing where individuals with the more severe cases of mental illness reside. I thought this would be me. That my brand of phobia would result in a finish line not quite suicide or indoor permanence, but in a collage of orderlies, observers and socks, the kind whose decaled fabric reads like interstate perforations, shoes a non-likelihood on this ward. What kept me out of here? What variable of dosage (though it’d been five years since my last SSRI), what assembly line of therapists? Was it Sandra who talked me off of a laundry ledge, Francine the human pashmina, Jim with his visualization methods and fifty-year-old mustache? Or was it the decision to keep myself in people withdrawal – avoiding their foibles and fluids – that granted me leverage enough to forego a pair of Mood Room soles? After all, it was by myself when I bought Ander Monson’s poetry collection, by myself when I Googled his name and the school he taught at, by myself when I uploaded the application a week-and-a-half after the non-Mayan Doomsday that December, risking agoraphobia in Arizona, clueless to the extent which I controlled my Midwestern jettison.
Tucson, 2015. Swallowed a second pill to curtail the sinus infection I achieved in Minneapolis. Travelling used to be so life or death. Beverage carts know me better than most people these days. The waiting room at Tanque Verde Family Clinic was a flowchart of monogamy’s greatest hits: couples in matching canes, sandals soldered onto baby boomer feet. At places like this it’s clearest I’m the B-side to a juggernaut mix. Inching out of quarantine, dividing relapse from touch. Loneliness, staring at a ceiling fan’s relation to Venetian blinds. Candid about the degree to which I’ve exalted my options. Exhausted the Marlboros. The foibles, so noted.
Jon Riccio studied viola performance at Oberlin College and the Cleveland Institute of Music. An MFA candidate at the University of Arizona, current and forthcoming work appears in Waxwing, The Writing Disorder, Really System and Redivider, among others. He serves as the poetry editor at Fairy Tale Review.