Delmarva Review Announces 10th Anniversary Edition Featuring 40 Writers

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The Delmarva Review announced publication of its tenth annual literary journal presenting original prose and poetry from 40 authors in 18 states. The nonprofit review welcomes all writers.

“The tenth anniversary issue touches on the themes of change and hope,” said Emily Rich, editor of the review’s tenth edition. “Amidst the uncertainties of life, people grasp for what is eternal in the human condition.”

The cover photograph, “Recycle,” by Cal Jackson, of Easton, Maryland, displays oyster shells ready to be re-used in the oyster’s life-cycle as beds for newly hatched larvae.

The 2017 Chesapeake Voices Prose Contest first place fiction is featured in this edition. The winning short story, “The Future is Not For Sale,” by Jeremy Griffin, of South Carolina, was hailed by contest judge Laura Oliver, of Maryland, as “sophisticated with especially strong characterization.”

Editors selected 41 new poems, 11 short stories, five nonfiction essays, and five book reviews for the tenth edition.

Since the first issue, the journal has printed original literary work of over 280 authors. Some are newly discovered. In all, they have come from 35 states, the District of Columbia, and 10 other countries. Half are from the Delmarva and Chesapeake region. Forty-seven pieces have been nominated for a Pushcart Prize, and some have received notable mentions in anthologies and critical journals.

Delmarva Review is published by the Delmarva Review Literary Fund, supported by individual contributions and a grant from the Talbot County Arts Council, with funds from the Maryland State Arts Council.

For writers, the submission period is now open for the 2018 issue. It closes on March 31, 2018. Guidelines are posted on the website www.delmarvareview.com.

The journal produces print and electronic editions. Both are available worldwide via Amazon.com and other online booksellers. It is downloadable in a digital format at Kindle for tablets, computers, smart phones, and other reading devices. Two-year subscriptions are available at a discount through the website.

Delmarva Review is sold regionally at the News Center, in Easton, Mystery Loves Company, in Oxford, The Writer’s Center, in Bethesda, and other bookstores for $10. The eBook edition is $3.99. It is also available at many public libraries in the region.

Delmarva Review: Grief by Daniel Ford

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Grief goes unrewarded. We make death masks

of chalk dust, stuff our living selves into

hollow trees. A circling owl rips the seams

made of our lips and eyelids and returns

the thread to the spool with a simple cry.

It is not enough that we grieve among

heat sinks and cooling pools thickly carpeted

and layered with muted woods and tarnished brass

handles on drawers forever closed, no piles

of papers or skittering batteries,

push-pins, no heirloom spoons or silver-hafted

carving knives. No detritus of human lives.

Daniel M. Ford is a poet, novelist and teacher from Maryland. As a poet, his work has appeared in Soundings Review, Phoebe, Floorboard Review, The Cossack, Vending Machine Press, and the Delmarva Review. His first novel, Ordination: Book I of the Paladin Trilogy was published in 2016 (Santa Fe Writer’s Project). He can be found at www.danielmford.com or on twitter @soundingline.

The Delmarva Review, a nonprofit literary journal, publishes compelling new poetry, fiction and nonfiction from writers within the region and beyond. The Review celebrates its Tenth Anniversary edition in November. It is supported by individual contributions, the Eastern Shore Writers Association, and a grant from the Talbot County Arts Council with funds from the Maryland State Arts Council. For more information, please visit: www.delmarvareview.com.

 

Delmarva Review: Women Of A Certain Age by Sue Ellen Thompson

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We all have worries, sleepless nights.
Fears of ending up alone and frail.
Have children, grown, who’ve failed
to thrive, sleeping in their old beds.
Have husbands who drink, who work
too much, who flirt
with waitresses. Who are already dead.
Have bodies missing pieces,
swathed in scarves. Wish we could see
our mothers one last time.

So we get on the phone and talk.
We take long walks
in spirit-killing weather.
Spend our evenings clumped together
over salads. Toast
our losses. Agree on almost
everything. Are known to scream
with laughter at what once made us weep.

 

Sue Ellen Thompson, of Oxford, MD, is the first “featured writer” in the Delmarva Review. These poems are from a collection in the journal’s first edition, in 2008 edition. Among her published works, a fifth book of poems, THEY, was published in 2014. She has been an instructor at The Writer’s Center, in Bethesda, since 2007, and has previously taught at Middlebury College, Binghamton University, the University of Delaware, and Central Connecticut State University. She received the 2010 Maryland Author Award from the Maryland Library Association.

The Delmarva Review is a nonprofit literary journal publishing compelling new poetry, fiction and nonfiction from writers within the region and beyond. It will celebrate its Tenth Anniversary edition in November. The Review is supported by the Eastern Shore Writers Association, private contributions, and a grant from the Talbot County Arts Council with funds from the Maryland State Arts Council. For more information, please visit here.

Delmarva Review: Clues to John Barth’s Genius: Jimmies, Jazz, and Scheherazade by John Lewis

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John Barth wanted to be a jazz musician. He played drums in a combo—with his twin sister, Jill, on piano—that gigged around Cambridge on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, and after high school graduation in 1947, he high-tailed it to New York City to study at Juilliard. “It was an absolutely clear and unambiguous experience to learn that what I had hoped was a pre-professional talent was, instead, a pretty good amateur flair,” he told me, over crab cakes at Easton’s Tidewater Inn. “This was the big band era, and I was studying orchestration. I was a drummer, but I didn’t want to spend my life on the road. Being an arranger sounded more respectable.”

Barth had hoped to emulate Billy Strayhorn and Pete Rugolo, his heroes. “But I knew from the first week at Juilliard that the young woman on my left and the young man on my right were going to be the professional musicians of their generation,” he recalled, “and I was going to have to look for something else to do.”

Barth actually has the angular and craggy appearance of a jazz musician, a look that’s accentuated by a closely clipped, white beard and the occasional beret atop his bald pate. But his personality is infused with professorial confidence and sharp wit, a testament to his rapport with the fiction muse he tapped after transferring to Johns Hopkins and finding “something else to do.”

“It was the opposite of what happened at Juilliard,” he said. “When I stumbled into fiction, I had the unequivocal feeling that this was my true calling: all I had to do was learn it from scratch.”

Barth felt the Cambridge education system left him largely unschooled. In fact, he has said “nothing since kindergarten prepared me for [college]” and noted that, despite being on the academic track in high school, his career counseling amounted to a 10-minute talk with the phys ed teacher.

I’ve heard folks question how a “backwater” like Dorchester County produced such a keen intellect, and—if you ignore the inherent snobbery of such a comment and consider Barth’s claim that his formal education was lacking—it is a mystery. Lord knows what it was like between the Depression and World War II, when Barth called Cambridge home. But he obviously got something vital from the Shore that informed his writing and worldview. And, it turns out it was

the perfect incubator for an autodidact with a pen- chant for brilliant meandering. In fact, meandering is something of a refined art in that part of the world, and it’s key to getting at the essence of Barth’s particular type of genius.

Meandering permeates just about everything in Dorchester County—from the unhurried and digressive conversations taking place on the street and in country stores to the flatness of the landscape itself, which is characterized by its tangle of curving roads and bending shoreline intersected by cuts and creeks and other bodies of water that rise and fall with the moon.

Coupled with the flatness, such undulating and fluid geography is endlessly fascinating, though it can be downright disorienting, and it’s no wonder Barth had to look beyond the horizon to his “navigation stars” for direction. Barth told me he considers Scheherazade—the female storyteller of One Thousand and One Nights—one of his “principal navigation stars.”

“With her life ever on the line, only as good as her next piece, Scheherazade remains for me the most piquant emblem of the storyteller’s lot,” says Barth.

These days, Barth, whose noted books include The Sot-Weed Factor, The Tidewater Tales, Giles Goat Boy, The Last Voyage of Somebody the Sailor, and the Scheherazade- inspired The Book of Ten Nights and a Night: Eleven Stories, is now a navigation star in his own right. He gets mentioned in the same breath as Thomas Pynchon, Vladimir Nabokov, and James Joyce and is considered one of the greatest figures in world literature. He’s swooped in and out of the mainstream, won the National Book Award (for Chimera in 1973), and influenced the likes of David Foster Wallace and Jonathan Lethem. He’s actually achieved adjective status— Barth-ian, or Barth-like is synonymous with intelligent, metafictive, postmodern literature.

Thinking a map might be useful in navigating around Barth’s hometown, I was in luck: the Cambridge library has put together a Barth walking tour. With commentary from the author himself, a map directs pilgrims to sites of interest, which include his boyhood home on Aurora Street, his grandparents’ house on the corner of Maryland Avenue, and, according to Barth’s comments, “East Cambridge Elementary school, where I once got paddled for writing a naughty poem about our teacher, my introduction to the pleasures and pains of authorship.”

The tour leads down to the river—again, in Barth’s words—“The Choptank rivershore at Aurora Street’s foot, where we kids [including my twin sister, Jill] played year-round, and the Route 50 bridge nearby, where we swam and dived among summer sea nettles.”

More than a baptism, Barth equates his immersion in these waters with life itself. “I never tire of remembering that the salinity of these waters is about the same as that of the amniotic sea that we all first swam in,” he told the Dorchester County Friends of the Library during a 2005 talk. A copy of Barth’s text is on file there.

At the riverfront—which is still accessible, although you’ll have to maneuver around a hospital that’s been built in the intervening years—it’s easy to see what captivated Barth and fired his imagination. From this spot, small waves approach from the horizon to lap against a shoreline that stretches out on both sides. Looking up, you’ll see the Choptank River Bridge leading north to Baltimore and Washington. Looking down, you’ll find teeming life at your feet, an entire ecosystem just below the surface: minnows, patches of sea grasses, jellyfish, and the occasional blue crab.

The Maryland blue crab remains a potent symbol of the region, and it flourished in the bay’s brackish waters when Barth was a boy. In the summertime, the Choptank’s waters were teeming with hard crabs, soft crabs, and peelers— jimmies (males) and sooks (females) alike—scurrying sideways across the river bottom. They not only caught Barth’s eye, they subtly influenced his approach to writing. In fact, Barth tells me he comes at subjects sideways, “as blue crabs incline to do.”

Here, the crab becomes symbolic of postmodern literature, with regards to crafting Barth-ian metafiction in which the storyteller moves sideways through streams of information to systematically and subtly change perspective along a narrative bend. That’s the way Barth thinks, writes, and speaks.

In conversation, he can sound downright annotated, as I learned during lunch. When discussing novellas, for instance, Barth noted, “The market for them is gone.” He added commentary, “an interesting form that was popular from the time it was invented,” along with when (the 18th-century), where (Germany), and who popularized it (Goethe). He opined that it is “a lovely narrative space.”

He then playfully defined a novella as “a work of fiction too long to sell to a magazine and too short to sell to a book publisher.”

And finally, he offered advice: “When you perpetrate one, you usually need to add on a few short stories [in order to sell it].”

An Eastern Shore native would recognize, if not the subject matter, the measured pacing and wry tone of such comments. It’s the same sort of discursive storytelling that’s been going on for generations around potbellied stoves, across shop counters, and on docks and wharves throughout Dorchester. Barth relishes being that sort of meandering storyteller, (not so) plain and (not so) simple.

The locals say he got the storytelling gene from his father, Whitey. At the house where he wrote his first novel, The Floating Opera—it’s part of the walking tour— the current owner was out sweeping the sidewalk when I visited. At the mention of the Barth name, he lit up. “He was a natural storyteller, the best you ever heard,” he said, leaning on his broom. “He was extremely erudite.”

But this guy wasn’t talking about John Barth, who’s known as “Jack” around town; he was talking about Whitey. “If Jack could write as well as his father talked, he’d really be doing something,” he added. “It seems like Jack takes ten pages to tell something that could be told in one.” He set the broom aside and lauded Whitey’s storytelling prowess, noting that he had owned a popular soda fountain, called Whitey’s Candyland, on Race Street. Although the building has been torn down, the location is noted on the walking tour, and Barth recalls that it’s “where we all occasionally helped out but mostly hung out.”

Hanging out, he was exposed to storytelling as a lively and witty art courtesy of Whitey, who also served as judge of the Orphans Court for 44 years, worked with the volunteer fire company, was a devoted American Legion member, and was an in-demand after-dinner speaker at functions throughout the county. “By comparison to his life,” Barth has written, “my own (literary and academic) seems almost reclusively detached, its radius much wider but its roots far less deep.”

Where Whitey burrowed, his son scuttled.

Besides passing along the storytelling gene, Whitey helped expose his son to popular and modernist fiction. Barth devoured the paperbacks his father stocked at the shop, and it was there that he first encountered books by Raymond Chandler, James M. Cain, and H.P. Lovecraft, along with William Faulkner’s Sanctuary and John Dos Passos’ Manhattan Transfer.

He’d go on to devour books in the Hopkins library, where he shelved classics as a part time job and spent countless hours browsing the stacks and discovering the vastness and diversity of world literature. Like his Cambridge days, it left an indelible mark on his body of work. “If you happen to be a refugee from the Dorchester County tide marshes, as I was and remain,” Barth once told a Washington College audience, “and particularly if you aspire to keep one foot at least ankle deep back in your native bog while the other foot traipses through the wider world, it is well to have such an off-the-cart smorgasbord under your belt, for ballast.”

Barth returned to Cambridge for the unveiling of a historic marker honoring him, and, perhaps most tellingly, he’s set his last few books on the Shore.

His 2008 book, The Development, was comprised of nine related stories set in an Eastern Shore retirement community where “a failed old fart fictionist” (Barth’s words) named George Irving Newett lives. G.I. Newett. You can practically hear Whitey chuckling at that one.

Barth tells me, via email, that his forthcoming book features Newett as its narrator: “The novel’s full title is Every Third Thought: A Novel in Five Seasons. Title borrowed from Prospero’s remark in Shakespeare’s Tempest, of course (`Every third thought shall be my grave’); subtitle from the five seasons of the story’s present action (First Fall, Winter, Spring, Summer, Last Fall) and the corresponding `seasons’ of the narrator’s life.

“After an accidental trip-and-fall head-bang while [Newett and his wife] are touring Shakespeare’s house in Stratford-Upon-Avon, he experiences a series of five seasonal dreams/visions/hallucinations/whatever that trigger recollections of his boyhood, young manhood, maturity, and later age in `Bridgetown’ and adjacent `Stratford,’ in `Avon County’ on MD’s Eastern Shore.”

Barth, now 81 years old (in 2011), seems intent on coming home, again and again. When asked if this will be his last novel, he writes that “time will tell. Since its completion, I’ve written no further fiction.”

But Barth says he has started writing a piece about his years as a jazz musician— presumably doing so while keeping one foot at least ankle deep in his native bog.

John Lewis is editor at large at Baltimore magazine and teaches writing in the Curatorial Practice MFA program at Maryland Institute College of Art. This story was published in Volume 4 of the Delmarva Review, in 2011. His work has appeared in The Oxford American, Rolling Stone, The Washington Post Magazine, and many other publications. He lives in Cambridge, MD with his wife and two children.

The Delmarva Review is a nonprofit literary journal publishing compelling new poetry, fiction and nonfiction from writers within the region and beyond. It will celebrate its Tenth Anniversary edition in November. The Review is supported by the Eastern Shore Writers Association, private contributions, and a grant from the Talbot County Arts Council with funds from the Maryland State Arts Council. For more information, please visit: www.delmarvareview.com.

Delmarva Review: Poems on Gilbert Byron and Maple Leaves by Kelley K. Malone

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PICTURES: REMEMBERING GILBERT, CHESAPEAKE’S THOREAU

Toward the end, you wanted to take my picture.

Your eyes, blue under a milky veil, turned in my direction.
I took your hand, light and dry, and we made our way
out the groaning door you had built generations before,
out into the woods shrouding your cabin, out with Old House Cove

cupping the creek of San Domingo, shimmering in the sun behind.

Was it I who clung to the sleeve of your sweater, stumbling over roots elbowing up from the earth?

I gave you the camera and backed away.

Dear, where are you?

Light streaked down the tall oaks and stout pine, Light filtered through the crouching dogwoods offering delicate plates of white petals.

Gilbert, over here!

Standing firm amidst the splashing light,
you aimed at the center of the sound of your name and shot.

Later I told you the pictures were lovely—
one, a partial sky eclipsed by thumb,
one, a floor of dry leaves restless as bones,
one, I wore an explosion of light in the midst of something black.

On all, I signed my name on the back. I did not know what else to do.

MAPLE LEAVES

I admire the dignity of the maple leaves,
lifting their green palms to the sky in summer sun
and turning silver backs to the north wind
and bowing down to the earth in rain without moaning or pouting or expecting reward for being
what they were born to be.

And in the fall when the coolness comes and the life blood of the leaves retreats down the trunk
through roots burrowed
deep into the bosom
of the earth
and the leaves
blush and curl
and crumble

they do not
as I might
break down
into despair rather,
in breaking down
they feed the hungry ground

breaking down
they feed the hungry ground.

Kelley K. Malone has devoted her career to working for people with disabilities on Maryland’s mid-shore in the not-for-profit sector and has served as an elected official on the Easton Town Council. She has one son, Michael, a bachelor’s degree from Salisbury University in Secondary Education and an executive MBA from Loyola University. She writes in rare moments of free time.

The Delmarva Review is a nonprofit literary journal publishing compelling new poetry, fiction and nonfiction from writers within the region and beyond. About sixty percent are from the Delmarva and Chesapeake Bay area. The journal is supported by the Eastern Shore Writers Association, private contributions, and a grant from the Talbot County Arts Council with funds from the Maryland State Arts Council. For more information, please visit: www.delmarvareview.com.

Delmarva Review: The Bone Bag by Michael Keenan Gutierrez

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They don’t tell you there will be bone. That it will be white. That it will have texture. You thought it would just be ash, like that of fire pits, the dead ends of cigarettes.

Why did you think this? Films, perhaps? You don’t know, but as with so much of the territory you’ve traveled, you’ve brought the wrong map.

According to the website for the National Funeral Directors Association, cremation is a “two-step” process, where first the body is “heated” for two hours at between 1400-1800 degrees, and afterwards the remains are put through a “processor” and what’s left is supposed to come out uniform, industrial, a sort of pre-fab mourning.

That’s not what you see though.

You see your father’s bones. You see them in your hand. You see them slip through your fingers and drop into the water to be taken out by the breakers.

Even though he died four months earlier, you can’t get home right away because of work, because your adult life won’t let you, because you’ve already drained your savings on a last minute flight during the summer, just a few weeks before he died, when he’d been too high on morphine to remember you’d ever visited. He didn’t remember you dressing him, turning on his oxygen. He didn’t remember you pulling away his cigarettes when he was on that oxygen. You’re glad about this.

When you finally do come home for Christmas, your mother shows you the box she’s kept in a guest closet. You’d been expecting an urn—like the movies, again—but no, it’s just a simple brown box, a carton really, something for shoes. Inside his ash and bone are sealed in a plastic bag, the kind you’d get at a carnival, but instead of water and goldfish, there’s this sort of dust.

You think of Star Wars, when at the end of Return of the Jedi, Luke burns Darth Vader’s remains on a pyre. Some part of you wishes you’d done the same. That primal part of you wants that ritual, to have the rite of passage consecrated formally, but you know it takes you two hours to build a shitty campfire and then there’d be the stench and the sight of his body burning and you know you haven’t the stomach for it.

So you settle for a bag inside a box.

The day after Christmas, you and your family all put on something nice and you walk out to the nearby beach and look out at the dark Pacific. It’s a beautiful beach. It should be, for him. It should be because you got married here the previous Christmas. He was there, sallow and struggling to stay standing. But he’d endured, long enough to see you marry.

You don’t talk.

You lead your sister to the line where high tide meets dry sand and she is holding your arm as if you’re walking her down the aisle, except she can hardly stand. Your mother opens the box and pulls out the bag and your future brother-in-law slips you a pocketknife because you hadn’t thought of that.

Now you’ve also got your mother’s arm and while your wife and future brother-in-law and aunts and uncles hang back on dry land, you and your mother and sister make for the water. You shed your shoes and wade in. In December, the Pacific here averages 59 degrees and you feel the shock run over your feet and up your calves.

You go knee deep then think about the knife, but your mother has already dug her thumb into the bag and each of you takes a handful. That’s when you see the bone. It’s not uniform. It’s not pre-fab. It’s definitely a man. It was him.

You scatter him into the water, careful not to get him on your pants, but he does anyways. A small wave surprises you, and all three of you jump and you’re soaked but laughing. Why are you laughing? Because it is ridiculous to be out here? Because it is ridiculous that you all put on something nice to wade into cold water to dump him in here? Because what else are you going to do except return to dry land, him beneath your fingernails, and you return to the empty house where died….

The Spy is pleased to republish Mr. Gutierrez’s Pushcart Prize-nominated essay from The Delmarva Review. The ninth edition of the nonprofit literary journal was published by the Eastern Shore Writers Association with support from private contributions and a grant from the Talbot County Arts Council with funds from the Maryland State Arts Council. For more information, visit the website: www.delmarvareview.com.

Michael Keenan Gutierrez is the author of The Trench Angel (Leapfrog Press), a finalist for the James Jones First Novel prize. In addition to The Delmarva Review, his work has been published in The Collagist, Scarab, Public Books, We’re History, The Pisgah Review, Untoward, The Boiler, and Crossborder. He lives with his wife in Chapel Hill where he teaches writing at the University of North Carolina.

Delmarva Review: Dry-Dock Music: Baltimore By David Salner

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Dry-Dock Music: Baltimore By David Salner

“It was therefore an act of supreme trust on the part
of a freeman of color thus to put in jeopardy
his liberty that another might be free.”
—from The Life and Times of Frederick Douglass

Surprising, most of all,
Stanley himself…. On the way to work that day,
he walked through clouds of cinnamon, an amber fog
enveloping the port, all the way to Fells Point
and the dry docks, where he works—

building a ship with four-pound mallet,
driving cotton-white strands between oak planks,
sealing a sharp-built hull with oakum
from keel to turn of bilge. Dry-dock music
freights the air, saw-scrape and mallet-knock,

chatter of carpenter and caulker,
craftsman and slave, of black and Irish
joined in an uneasy hug of labor. He knew the trades,
sailing and caulking, and others that a free man needs
in this slave port, like how to keep his freedom papers

always in his pocket, for the eagle stamp
protects him from slave catchers, the lowest form
of life, who love the music of another’s chains.
His papers say that he was born right here,
born free, but it was in the port of Charleston,

when he was just 15, that two white sailors
who hated slavery, grabbed him by the arms
and told a port patrolman, “This here’s
the cabin boy of our good ship, the Mother Mary.
His name is Stanley Johnson—he’s had a bit

and captain needs him sober, so let us pass.”
He had the wherewithal to play the drunk,
although he’d never had a sip, not then,
and with their help, he slipped
the chains of bondage, set sail on Mother Mary,

kidnapped into freedom. From that day on,
he’s worked on ships, on shipboard only,
where he feels free. Now that he’s old,
the ships he works on are in dry dock,
his papers always in his pocket.

They describe the bearer by his age,
color, height. . . . But they could just as easily
describe a man named Frederick, on his way
to freedom, with papers in his pocket
in the name of Stanley Johnson.

The Spy is pleased to reprint Mr. Salner’s poetry from The Delmarva Review, Volume 9. The literary journal is published by the Eastern Shore Writers Association with support from private contributions and a grant from the Talbot County Arts Council with funds from the Maryland State Arts Council. For information, visit: www.delmarvareview.com.

Maryland poet David Salner worked for 25 years as an iron ore miner, steelworker, and general laborer. In addition to the Delmarva Review, his writing has appeared in the Iowa Review, Prairie Schooner, Threepenny Review, Salmagundi, River Styx, and many other magazines. His third book, Blue Morning Light (2016, Pond Road Press), features poems on the paintings of American artist George Bellows.

Delmarva Review: My Diseased Hope by Michele Whitney

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Nearly twenty years ago, after my sister was murdered, I sat across from a counselor and told her that I wanted to kill myself.

The counselor inquired if this was the first time I had those thoughts, and even though I had just experienced the most tragic loss in my life to date, those thoughts were not new, just intensified in that moment. She wanted me to seek psychiatric treatment, but wanting to take my own life was not enough for me to believe that something was medically off. I refused to go. I didn’t want to face the possibility of having to take medicine for an illness that could not come up on an X-ray or lab test.

My belief was that any so-called illness of the mind was not an actual illness; it was a weakness. I was a strong black woman, just like my mom before me and her mom before her. In the African-American community, mental illness in general, and depression specifically, is still taboo. We are expected to be strong and get over things because we have dealt with so much.

My ethnicity, upbringing, and many other theories could be the reason why I didn’t accept depression as an illness, but there was more. Ultimately, I didn’t view “hope” as an actual part of my body, such as brain cells, red blood cells, or my immune system. Hope was not a necessary characteristic of my life to keep me alive. I thought the severe lows that led to sleeping all day, daily thoughts of suicide, self-loathing, and self-hatred were normal.

It’s been more readily accepted as an illness over time, but for some reason, depression remains one of those stigmatized issues. People think you’re just crazy.

Although there may be some truth in the “crazy” label, most of us who are diagnosed with depression are diagnosed based on the symptoms. Feelings of worthlessness, overwhelming guilt, loss of interest, lack of energy and concentration, thoughts of suicide, all of this for more than a few weeks…and I can go on and on. These are obvious symptoms, but what makes it real?

The most eye-opening image I’ve ever seen in my quest to understand depression was a picture I saw on social media. The image was of two brain scans; the one on the left side represented a person with clinical depression, and the one on the right represented a person without it. The left side was dimmed, lacking the presence of light, and engulfed in a shadow of darkness and hopelessness. The right side was bright, enlightened, and glowing, and I imagined that this brain was full of hope.

Given the nature of this visual, I came to my own conclusion that depression, yes, is a real illness. This, of course, is not news. But what happened within me at this moment was that I realized, at a fundamental level, that depression occurs when people are clinically unable to have hope. I’ve come to recognize that, similar to how Alzheimer’s disease attacks brain cells, sickle cell anemia attacks red blood cells, or HIV attacks the entire immune system, major depressive disorder is a disease that attacks hope.

Years passed after that first preview with my depression destiny. I found myself in a counselor’s office yet again with the counselor making the same suggestion. Psychiatry. Medication. Chemical imbalance. But this time, something began to shift. I had just ended a two-year relationship with a married man and had spent that time surrounded by shame and secrecy. I no longer wanted to hide. I now craved a feeling of normality, if such a feeling existed. So I took my counselor’s suggestion and sought psychiatric help. I was diagnosed in my early twenties with what was then known as clinical depression, and I began a course of drug therapy that took me well into my thirties. But my story of major depression did not end there.

At the end of 2009, I left an abusive work situation, subsequently losing my income and everything I thought defined me. This included my health insurance. With no job, little income, and, more importantly, no health insurance, I made the decision to go off my antidepressants. I had dated a guy who told me I was crazy for taking meds, and my mom kept asking me when I was getting over this thing. I figured if I was ever going to try and “beat this thing,” now would be the time to do it. I “treated” my depression naturally with aromatherapy and vitamins. I was only halfway in denial. Psychotherapy remained a part of my self-made treatment plan. Luckily, by that time, I had retained the services of a therapist who took my case pro bono.

Things were okay for a little while. But leaving a job in the midst of the economic crisis made securing additional work close to impossible. In March of 2010, I ultimately lost my home, my car, and many other possessions. I made the transition from living on my own to living with my mom. I suffered severe culture shock as I went from my spacious one-bedroom apartment, where I lived independently, to a room as big as a box, where my mother treated me like I was twelve. I also took a part-time job that at the time I felt was beneath my value and qualifications. I was extremely unhappy and lonely. I sought out many solutions to cure my condition. I spent a lot of time sleeping, in isolation, irritable, and crying. This went on every single day for an entire year.

And then Christmastime came…

The holidays have always been difficult, but Christmas 2010, I felt like a stranger within my own life. I spent time with a dear friend and her family for Christmas Eve festivities. Her family had always made me feel so welcome and loved, which was something I desperately needed. But after the festivities were done and I left their home, I felt this overwhelming sense of sadness and emptiness. I cried all the way home. I couldn’t understand why, in the midst of all of that love, I felt so unloved. Life wasn’t perfect, but I still had so much to be hopeful for, I told myself. And yet I was unable to feel any hope at all. I hated myself for being surrounded by so much happiness and love and being unable to feel any of it. A person like me did not deserve to live….

I’m no genius, but I consider myself a relatively intelligent person. But life, at this point, had me completely puzzled. I could not figure out what my issues were. I only knew I needed to fix myself in some way because I was broken. I felt this tremendous pain in my heart, and I wanted it to stop. My body radiated with agony. I wanted to feel hopeful, but my brain would not allow me to get there.

It’s one thing to be depressed when everything is going wrong. But it’s another thing to be depressed when you are surrounded by love, encouragement, and positivity. There is so much shame in saying, I’m so blessed, but I’m still depressed, sad, and hopeless. I still can’t get out of the bed. I still can’t stop crying. I still don’t think my life means anything. This is a tricky disease.

When I got home from my friend’s house, I went to my room and closed the door. I kept the lights off and turned on the TV. I cried and cried and cried as I watched It’s a Wonderful Life and thought, I really don’t want to die…. Yes, like George Bailey, I wish I had never been born. But I found myself looking on the Internet for ways that I could end my life. I wanted to go to sleep and not wake up. There would be no dramatic letters or good-byes; here in the privacy of my little room, I would just disappear.

I had been prescribed Tylenol with codeine awhile back for back pain, and I hadn’t taken the entire bottle. There were about ten pills left in the bottle. I took about six of them. For some reason, nothing was happening. I wasn’t even able to sleep.

I couldn’t even do this right. This was my rock bottom.

Something was holding on to me. I literally just stopped taking pills to kill myself and began to look up suicide hotlines. I called one. The man on the line told me that he was grateful that I had called him because he got to spend this time with me on Christmas Eve. The guy obviously knew his job well, but if he was bullshitting, I didn’t care. It was something I needed to hear. I hung up the phone and eventually drifted off to sleep.

At the end of January 2011, my condition grew worse.

I began walking around like a zombie. Uninterested. Indifferent. I went to work and couldn’t remember how I got there. I’d come home and cry myself to sleep. The transforming pain that was with me on Christmas Eve was now here, sitting with me, and I could no longer deny it.

My counselor suggested I see a doctor. I still had no health insurance, but I found a doctor who was willing to prescribe an antidepressant. It wasn’t working. Here was that desperation. I felt like asking my doctor if she knew where I could buy some serotonin. Through hopeless tears, I just asked if she could up the dose of my meds. She said that was as high as she could go and suggested I see a psychiatrist.
I couldn’t afford to see a psychiatrist.

After beginning drug therapy again, and the symptoms not changing, my counselor suggested that I may have something called “treatment-resistant depression.” But I was tired of the labels. I just didn’t want to feel like this anymore. Whatever this was. I wanted to feel something other than nothing again.

An idea popped into my head. Maybe there was a depression research study somewhere that could look at my case? That way I wouldn’t have to pay for treatment; they would pay me for treatment. I put the idea in the back of my mind.

Then it all caught up with me. One morning, I woke up and literally felt nothing. I felt numb. I felt as if nothing in the world would make me happy. I thought about the things I usually enjoyed—reading a book, laughter, snuggling with the cat, watching the fish in the fish tank—and none of it sounded appealing. I couldn’t even feel God with me. I literally felt like I was null and void.
I didn’t have time to feel this. I got up, threw on some clothes, and went to the pharmacy to pick up a prescription for my mom. When I returned home, there was a commercial playing on television about a depression research study. Specifically, the study was geared toward people with treatment-resistant depression.

God was taking care of me.

The research study had an easy number to remember. I immediately called and made an appointment.

Several days later, I went to the research center. I had to answer a bunch of intake questions, and then I met with the doctor who was leading the study. He was very nice. But it turned out that for various reasons, I didn’t meet the criteria for the study. I was devastated. Done. I was never going to feel better. They gave me $20 for my time, and I cried as I slowly walked out of the research office, leaving my hope behind.

I had barely made it to the parking garage when my cell phone rang. It was the intake lady from the research center. She said, “Michele, are you still here? If so, the doctor would like to see you.”

I was thinking I may have forgotten something. I turned around, went back to the office, and sat down with the doctor. He kept looking at me, and looking at his notes. He told me there was just something about me…something about me that he just wanted to help. He told me, “You are too smart of a person to think there is no hope for depression.”

Fresh tears began to flow. He told me that he would treat me for free for three months and then continue to treat me based on whatever I could pay. And then he said something that I will never forget.
“After the three months, we can talk about payment. But your level of treatment will not change based on what you can or cannot pay.”

I squinted my eyes and looked at this doctor in disbelief. Based on everything I had told him about my story and my history with antidepressants, he believed another course of drug therapy in a new class of antidepressants would work for me. But it was more than the drugs. This doctor believed in me. He believed that my hope could be restored.

I began taking the new meds, and I eventually began to notice a difference. I was functional again. Not cured, but functional.

There are still struggles, and feeling better wasn’t just about the medication. There was work on myself I needed to do but had been unable to because my brain was sick.
Over time, I felt the darkness in my brain being replaced with light. My diseased hope is now being healed.

The Spy is pleased to republish Michele Whitney’s personal essay from The Delmarva Review, Volume 9. The literary journal is published by the Eastern Shore Writers Association with support from private contributions and a grant from the Talbot County Arts Council with funds from the Maryland State Arts Council. For information, visit: www.delmarvareview.com.

Michele L. Whitney is a writer, musician, and teacher from the South Side of Chicago. She holds an MBA as well as a MS in Human Services. Her work has appeared in the Chicago Sun Times, and her creative nonfiction is published in The Griffin, Foliate Oak Literary Magazine, r.kv.r.y, Diverse Arts Project, and Diverse Voices Quarterly. Her website is michelewhitney.net.

Delmarva Review: Stickman by Tom Larsen

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The guy at the door doesn’t look like Danny, though a case could be made for the nose. A mashed-in version, dramatically scabbed and weather beaten, and the hair, filthy but spiked in defiance. A strange, Dan-like head on a body that would make an anorexic flinch. Withered limbs swimming in cutoffs and stained polo shirt. Dead-end Danny after the rock fight. It couldn’t be, yet the voice assures us it is, the South Philly accent unmistakable.

“What have you done to the real Danny?” my wife demands.

“C’mon, Andree, let me in.”

It was little more than a year ago, during the last dismal round in his squabble with the hospital administration, that we saw him last. Bloodied but unbowed, he vowed to fight them to the end. Master of the-cat-and-mouse game of drug counseling, Danny was as close to a legend as anyone in that line is likely to get. Confrontational, abrasive, streetwise to a fault, he did what you have to do to reach the reachable. The bureaucrats were another story. The end was never really in doubt.

Now he’s sitting in my kitchen eating Froot Loops and making phone calls. The calls are brief. No one wants to hear from Danny these days. We’d heard rumors, but nothing could have prepared us for the wreckage. I console myself with a single thought. Originally, he was Andree’s friend.

“I won’t give you money,” she sets the limit.

“Two bucks? Two bucks and I’m outta here.”

 “I’m a nurse. I can’t give you money to cop.”

 Strange, after all these years, to hear her talk the talk again. He turns to me.

“Tom?”

 “Jesus, what can you get for two bucks?”

 He smiles. By God, it IS Danny.

 “Where’s Libby and the kids?” Andree asks. Again he smiles.

Somewhere in the depths of her secretary desk is an in-house magazine with a faintly sneering Danny on the cover. Pre-crash and burn addict-savant in a black leather jacket. In the archives of the very hospital that fired him is a Dan-directed recovery video that leaves the unaddicted feeling strangely unversed. What have we to overcome?

“Where’s little Danny?” Andree grills him. He mumbles something unintelligible

It is her job to disapprove. Dazzled as I am by the plunge, the physical devastation, the ridiculous polo shirt, I try not to stare. It occurs to me that the bulk of the homeless once had a home and a bathroom and a closet full of clothes. This will not always be the case. The next generation is fast upon us.  

He pours a small mountain of sugar on his Froot Loops and we watch as it dissolves. The tattoos have not fared well, the dagger on his bicep reduced to a hatpin, the naked lady shriveled to a smudge. But it is the shirt that gets me. In real life, Danny would not own such a thing.

Andree plays the nurse/interrogator to Danny’s strung-out supplicant. They speak in code, a mix of medicalese and doper slang. All the while, Danny smokes my cigarettes and shovels in the cereal. It’s a toe-to-toe performance by masters of the genre, Andree projecting tough love with a no-bullshit bottom line, Danny a perfect blend of psychic pain and sardonic wit. I sit fiddling with my fingers, in the loop but out of my league.

“You want something else to eat?” I ask him. “A sandwich maybe?”

“No way, Jose. This guy gave me a sausage sandwich yesterday.” He clutches at what’s left of his stomach. “Tried to kill me, I tell ya. I said later for you, Mr. Sausage.”

Danny has a jargon all his own, Port Richmond patois laced with goofy names and words you have to look up

“I got some green chili salsa,” I make a joke. They roll their eyes and tune me out. Different treatment centers are suggested and rejected. Andree persists, Danny resists. References to HIV are impossibly oblique, pauses mostly, a hardening of the eye. It’s a pointless exchange when you stop and think. Danny invented the game. If anyone knows where the treatment centers are, it’s him.

I slip him three bucks under the table.

“You need a ride somewhere?”

He reaches past me and steals another cigarette.

 “Florida,” he gives a wink. “Winter’s coming, don’t you know.”

For the next hour Andree works the phone, calling in a decade’s worth of markers. The old-girl network of admission nurses finds a place for him in the Benton Institute, though he has no medical card or even a valid ID. During the negotiations, Danny tells me about the car he shares with a friend on the west side.

“Well, at least you can get around.” I put my clueless spin on things. His look says later for you, Mr. Andree.

He was clean for seven years. Worked a job, got married, bought a house, and had kids. Amazing what you can do in seven years. At the reception for his son’s christening, he commandeered the stage to serenade his bride. There wasn’t a dry eye in the house. Neighborhoods. Where you can still be a hero, or even worse.

A week later, we go to see him. Benton Institute, with its pillared porches and fairway grounds looks more Main Line then medicinal, its present function as unlikely as its location. Walled off from surrounding badlands, a fair share of the city’s pipers could walk there in minutes. We meet him at the med station, still wasted but showered and shaved. The only patient we’ll see who looks like a patient.

“They’re cutting me down to 40 milligrams a day,” he complains as he leads us down lavish hallways to his room. “I mean, whatever happened to coddling?”

“You’re here to get well, not to get high,” Andree tows the line. As usual, my presence is not required. I trail behind them, scanning the paintings and Queen Anne furniture.

“Nice place,” I tell him.

“Oh, yeah, it’s like drying out in Graceland. I heard some of the rooms even have fireplaces.”

His is a corner suite with a view of the rose garden. Two single beds and a chest of drawers. Fireplace. Despite our protests, he insists on showing us his feet, which have suffered some withdrawal-related malady too gruesome to get into. My own toes curl in sympathy. Andree turns away.

“Will they get better?” I ask him.

Danny shrugs and wiggles the big ones at me.

 “Will we?” the right one wonders in falsetto.

“Beats me,” the left one bows from the waist.

He didn’t last long at the Institute. A late-night phone call confirmed, Danny checked out against medical advice. The news came as no surprise, and whatever comes next will not include us. And I’m thinking, clawing your way back should be enough. Do the right thing, and the right things should happen. But the way of addiction rigs it differently. When the game is never over, how can you win?

 You don’t hear much about crackheads these days, but that’s just because we got tired of listening, too much to worry about, troubles of our own. In the meantime, they’re out there hitting rock bottom, the scufflers, the sidewalk sleepers, the stickman who used to be Danny.

The Spy is pleased to republish Tom Larsen’s nonfiction essay from The Delmarva Review, Volume 9. The literary journal is published by the Eastern Shore Writers Association with support from private contributions and a grant from the Talbot County Arts Council with funds from the Maryland State Arts Council. For information, visit: www.delmarvareview.com.

Tom Larson has been writing fiction for 25 years. His work has appeared in Best American Mystery Stories, Newsday, Puerto del Sol, and the LA Review. His novels FLAWED and INTO THE FIRE are available through Amazon. Originally writing from Milton, Delaware, he now lives in Philadelphia.