@

Billy

By Sarah Braunstein

Essay

winona-ryder-heathersI said to my best friend Marie, “I am in love with that boy.”

She screwed her nose. “Why?”

I could not answer—I had no idea. I saw him one day in our high school stairwell and love appeared. It was nonsensical and absolute. It had all the characteristics of a cartoon anvil.

Marie said, “Well, he’s really good at math.”

“And he looks like Billy Baldwin. Have you noticed that?”

Nowadays, Alec is the hot Baldwin. But back then, in 1992, it was Billy.

“The actor,” I cried, “from Backdraft!”

She said, “Yeah, I know who Billy Baldwin is,” and then I wept.

1027 A friend of mine emailed me recently to ask for help with a personal essay. It was a short piece about how all the great stories seem to be about doing heroin or cheating on your spouse.

She’s not imagining that. There are some great stories out there about doing heroin and cheating on your spouse.

The piece reminded me of certain “envy essays” I’ve seen around on writer’s blogs, The New York Times, and in interviews. “I’m so jealous of Lena Dunham/Cat Marnell/Cheryl Strayed.” Very talented and determined people have these feelings.

Role/Model

By Gayle Brandeis

Essay

young compositeMichael and I had lunch at The Castle today, a new Middle Eastern restaurant in Riverside. The lentil soup was fantastic, spiked with lemon. The Lebanese salad was tart and fresh, a dice of cucumber and tomato and mint. The place is new, but not really. I can’t remember if you and I ever went there together back when it was still Pitruzello’s, back when you were still alive–I don’t think so, even though I can picture you in one of the booths, your pale skin glowing against the black vinyl; I can picture you there the way you looked before I was born, when people mistook you for Audrey Hepburn, your hair in a short beehive, a cigarette between your fingers. I can’t remember if I ever told you I answered the restaurant’s call for lunchtime tearoom models in 1987, when I was nineteen. Probably not. As much as you wanted your girls to be open with you, more often than not, your measuring gaze made us pause .

Even now, at 46, I’m not sure what compelled me to respond to the ad they placed in the San Bernardino Sun. I hated modeling as a kid–I was too shy, too self-conscious in front of the camera. I cried at almost every audition, every photo shoot. At nineteen, I didn’t see myself as the modeling type, either. I was a hippie chick with hairy armpits and legs, a sophomore at the University of Redlands. I had gained the freshman fifteen and then some eating three cafeteria meals a day, the only vegetarian options being cheesy, starchy casseroles like lasagna and enchiladas. My belly stuck out nearly as far as my small breasts; my face was almost as round as it had been when I was on long term steroids a few years before. When I looked in the mirror, all I saw was awkwardness. Flaws.

deerI imagined myself coasting calmly into the ten-day silent Buddhist meditation retreat. Instead, on day two, I was teary, overwhelmed and my mind roared. Secluded at a rural retreat center in Massachusetts, I was in heavy withdrawal from Manhattan’s chaos, din and light. Uncomfortable, I craved a fix. So I snuck into the bathroom, locked the door and sat on the floor checking my contraband: a Bic pen and paper.

mount rainier TNBWhen I first read drafts of your book, you were still thinking of a title. Rollercoaster. “Terrible title,” you said. Dyke Aching. You sent it through Google Docs and I chatted with you. After a break, you were writing again and it was feeling good, raw. New.

Sometimes when we talk it’s like neurons synapsing – we’re going through texts, emails, voice messages, Skype, Google Docs.

“Love it. I love when Finn says ‘I’m a small little animal?’”

“Here’s a link to this John Prine song.”

“I’m drinking a beer with my melatonin.”

“I so suck at letting things go.”

p3“It’s cold in here,” he says, sinking into the wingback chair. His hoodie bunches up near his neck as he leans back. He smooths his salt-and-pepper mustache a few times then puts his hand down, only for it to rise up again automatically. He sees me watching and stops fidgeting.

I grab his arm for leverage and pull, rolling my chair closer to his, knocking our armrests. “Here.” I kick one leg up and rest it on his lap. I smile. “Have some body heat.”

LeMay

On Health

By JoAnna Novak

Essay

JNovak

There is no clear path around the Park District. I’m one of sixty-four second graders led across busy Wolf Road in Burr Ridge, a small suburb dense with green and white ash trees. It’s 1993. Cars idle as we dawdle through the crosswalk.

I’m in the middle of the line, my last name centered in the alphabet, but I wish I could fall back. I wish I could hide in the chapter book stacks at the library or chisel out my linoleum block print in the art room. As a new kid at Pleasantdale, I don’t like gym class, where I’m reminded of my lack of friends every time we form teams. I also don’t like this walk, which means we’re running the mile.

I’m not the worst-looking girl. But I’m close: chubby plus homely. I have round cheeks. A pudgy stomach. Legs like tree trunks rather than twigs. My hair is a brown mushroom, and every girl at my new school seems smaller and blonder than the last. Even my front teeth came in too large for my mouth. Sometimes I wish I could just be fat—really fat—so I wouldn’t be stuck in the middle.

Wedding pics 383This is the second installment of my column, CNF 500. The column will deal with topics related to anything and everything creative nonfiction, and will be 500 words. As essays editor of The Nervous Breakdown, I’m always ready to consider essay submissions of any length for publication. Please email essays to ekleinman at thenervousbreakdown dot com.

Facebook is a bitch.

I never figured out how to post status updates and links to specific people. When I publish an essay somewhere, I usually just email friends and family I know would be interested, if they can tolerate the topic. For example, I love my cousins in Arizona, but would they really want to know about how I got my cherry fisted as a young dyke in Seattle? Probably not.

“Neither Here Nor There” | Rebecca Marino

Inside a moving hotel elevator, I’m painting pink strokes on the wall. It feels like I’m painting glue on thick fabric. I’m in a hurry because the first floor is fast approaching. Right before the door slides open, I bring the thin paintbrush down to my right side, trying to hide it from whoever is waiting to step in. I can’t see the person, but I know it’s a man. We stand in silence until he leaves. The doors close again, and again I bring the brush to the wall, this time retracing the strokes, trying to fix it before someone else arrives. This repeats.

Chest Pains

By Zach Ellis

Essay

itsababy

I’m going to tell you a story about breasts. Tits. Boobs. Bosoms. Chesticles. Headlights. Hooters. Jugs. Knockers. Melons.

Mine.

The first time I noticed my father staring at my chest, I was a fourteen-year-old girl. I was doing jumping jacks in our basement for exercise. He asked if he could join me. We faced one another, sweat pouring off my forehead. Journey was on the radio. We jumped at the same time, his middle-aged body facing mine. Steve Perry reminded me to not stop believin’ as I caught my father’s eyes, staring right at my tits. Just enough time for us to get out of sync. Just enough time for him to see me following his gaze. He walked away when the song was over. We never said anything about it.

The second time I noticed my father staring at my chest, I was a grown man.

Screen Shot 2014-06-14 at 10.42.10 AM

One of the things my little brother does at work is take a kidney out of one person and insert that kidney into another person all while keeping both people alive. This is not something I could do if you paid me, as my great aunt used to say, “all the money,” nor could I tell a patient the cancer has spread, or the liver no longer functions, or that the end is, in all likelihood, near. My brother tells people these sorts of things regularly, and then, instead of weeping, he goes on with his workday. He can write prescriptions; he can diagnose exotic diseases. He is handsome and admirable, and people tell me he’s one hell of a surgeon.

mirror-neuron1

Evil Abe was the nickname I gave to the man on the screen who squeezed the cherry-red tip of his black beard until it sharpened into a downward point. In his stovetop hat and long black jacket, he looked like a cross between Satan and Lincoln. The other three contestants clenched their inked-up biceps and stared into the camera. Only one of them would win the $10,000 prize for cutting the face of a dead baby into a stranger’s skin. The theme of today’s show was “in memoriam,” and the challenge was to ink portraits of lost loved ones. Babies as floating heads or sleeping dolls with eyes closed and flowered headbands. This is reality TV in America. This is reality. This is TV. This is America.

This didn’t use to be me.

Collar

PrintThis circle of dirty red canvas and nylon hangs from a hook on a mirror in the bedroom, alongside a couple of baseball caps and Gertrude’s plummy scarf. An inch wide, a quarter-inch thick, buckled on the first of four holes, heavy duty and over-sized. Fred brought it home the day we left her at the vet to be cremated, and retrieved (in a box) a week or so later. And here’s the thing: it smells of her—of Roxy, our first dog—a chocolate Lab with a narrow head, the last of her litter, so tiny when Fred picked her up at the Labrador farm in Sierra Madre that she nearly fell between the seats in the Beast (our old wagon) before he got her home. This is her collar, removed eleven years later and still faintly sour: that odor, greasy and rotten, foul and sweet—it used to stick to my fingers, I remember; poor thing, she suffered in the heat.