Excerpt from (one of) my current writing projects

Jacob in New Mexico, September 2015

The Yellow Rose of Texas was written in a manic episode over a two week period in the beginning of 2019. It has been professionally reviewed by two editors and if you are interested/curios you can read more updates about the current process of this book as well as my second volume of poetry: Learning How to Live, Learning How to Die (expected release date July 2021) and my memoir, How not (not) to be a widow in the “New Projects” tab of my website.

The Yellow Rose of Texas is a fiction book told in the perspective of two separate narrators. Naturally, all fiction has elements of autobiographical content, but this was my first endeavor into fiction – not planned at all, I just woke up and it vomited out of me, much like the first volume of poetry. The total page count is about 300 currently.

I have A LOT of guilt that I am still alive, able to write this book in a manic haze over two weeks -barely able to remember- while Jacob did not have the chance to do what he was born to do – become a famous writer. I think this is why I never told anyone about this book and kept it a secret. Also, Jacob’s brother J**n said I should feel awful for writing when Jacob can’t. Which, of course is absolutely ridiculous because Jacob used to smile with a tear in his eye and say “Oh coo, I love it when you embrace your creativity.” Jacob would be disgusted in that comment – but, I know that he knows the truth. So do I. So, fuck that guy. LOlz. But perhaps Jacob was working through me while I was writing. Almost like he took over my mind and body. Who’s to say? Hope is what I try to hold onto.

P.S. – Jacob adored Cormac McCarthy, who writes largely in the Texas/Mexico wilderness – Jacob had a feeling of dreariness when he saw the open landscapes, and he thought this added to the brilliance of McCarthy’s dark and hauntingly beautiful writing style. He was reading “The Crossing” before he died – he was unable to finish it, but I finished it for him…You are likely familiar with McCarthy’s most famous book, No Country for Old Men, later adapted into another one of Jacob’s favorite writers/directors (The Cohen Brothers), the film bearing the same name as the book. HIS FAVORITE scene in that movie is the gas station exchange flipping a coin. He would show me this on repeat. Which is the only reason why I must have had the “idea” (inspiration from Jacob) to create the story within the setting of Texas. An open landscape city in particular.

NOVEMBER 2018

Four months ago

C  H  A  P  T  E  R       1

CLAIRE HOLLAND, L.C.S.W.  Heidi’s former psychotherapist

“Just about everyone is… fucked up. You know that?” I emphasized the fuck in fucked up. I took a long drag of my cigarette- it felt so good even though it came about twenty minutes too late. I looked over at the small awkward reporter and gave him a half smile. I told myself I wouldn’t smoke tonight but just as he sat down I felt like I was going to melt out of my skin. My flesh was like butter and it was almost to a boil. I had a long day. I didn’t want to be here. I was nervous, but I knew I was desperate to talk to someone about my relationship with Heidi and Charlie. Charlie was dead before I took Heidi on as a patient, well obviously, but I felt like I knew Charlie intimately. Heidi did such a good job describing his character, his mannerisms, his personhood and his general outlook on life that I felt like I could hear his voice. I still feel like I can hear his voice. It was one of the closest relationships I have ever had with the dead.  I went to the back of the bar and got myself a pack of cigarettes. What were you thinking only bringing one with you? I guess I was trying to come off more put together than I was. 

He was writing everything I said, which wasn’t really much of anything. “You want a smoke? Or a drink?” He was very nervous, sweat everywhere. When the new bartender came over I ordered us both maker’s mark and ginger ale, the drink I always shared with my dad. “This one’s on me” I told him. He smiled, looked down, and quietly said “thank you.” He said it in a boyish way that was very endearing. If I was here by myself I would have ordered whiskey on the rocks, but I didn’t want to come off like a complete drunk. He took a small sip and coughed, the aroma must have tickled his nose hairs. It was endearing how he held in his cough so intently that every few seconds a mini one came out. The bartender got him a glass of water and said “easy buddy” as he tapped him on the shoulder. Just in that moment the young reporter, Nick, sat up a little straighter. This was a nicer gesture than I expected at such a place. I had one of those fleeting thoughts, you know, when you think humanity is actually good. Then I heard the asshole behind me talk about big tits and hunting quail, and just like that my illusion was shattered. “Typical conversations at Rumors”, I laughed in mild disgust. 

We were at a place called Rumors Cocktails in Amarillo, Texas. The oversized yellow sign was a beacon for all to see once you turned left from St. Adam’s street onto 10th avenue. The big outdated logo made it look like some cheap motel. No one came here by choice – it was a last resort kind of place. From the parking lot it didn’t seem like much, but that’s because it wasn’t. It was completely barren everywhere you looked. The roads were just as hollow as the faces that adorned the bar stools. Across the street, there was laundromat with a hand painted sign that just read LAUNDRY on the door. A few pubs emerged from the other side of 10th avenue in between some of the most grim strip malls imaginable. The two bail bond stores within half a mile of each other gave the right impression of this side of town. It was a dreary kind of place, even on the sunniest of days. 

Further east you could find some trendy coffee shops and gourmet biscuit places, but I prefer to stay down in the darkness. I did well in the gloom and I liked the stories of these people here a hell of a lot better than anywhere else. Plus, I doubt I’ll ever see a patient here, and if I ever did, I already have the dialogue picked out– “Oh hi! I am just meeting a friend here, I am so glad to see you, I thought I wouldn’t recognize anyone here… quite an interesting place isn’t it?” I would make a face that meant, “this is a total shithole right?” If that ever happened I would feel like a total phony and drink myself into a stumbling mess. Claire, you are not a therapist anymore, you do not need to think about patients.

Rumors was the kind of joint where everyone knew your name, but if you were new it would take a while to sink in, a long while. Even if they knew your name, they would resist the urge to recognize you. It was too much for them to bear- accepting someone new to grace their presence in this hellhole of a place. I put out my cigarette. It took a while for me to become a regular here. Shit, I had the nickname “sweet lips” for at least two months. I’m not even sure what that means. I just hoped they were talking about the ones on my face. 

I hated these kinds of places as much as I loved them – you know, the places where you have to be one of the ones who take themselves so seriously. You are around people that have such sensitive egos they need recognition from a bartender just to get drunk. The same thing happens at coffee shops and local diners. People need to feel special I guess. I would much rather be avoided – a fact most of the bartenders are aware of so they just let me sit and drink in peace. Did I mention you could smoke cigarettes in here? A goddamn relic if I ever seen one.  In fact, the sign outside of the front door doesn’t even have their name on it, it just says, “smoking here.”

I always sit to the far right corner. There are old license plates and outdated receipts with sketches hanging on the wall. Just about every game you could think of is here – from board games missing vital pieces, traditional pool tables without any chalk, and an off brand version of some hand made shuffleboard with broken legs. So essentially, you have to be at least half-drunk to enjoy any of these fucking things. There is an old-school jukebox with real L.P.’s that drop down and make a nice crisp sound that reminds me of a smoking fall day, the smell of wood burning and all.Justfor a second anyway. There is a cigarette machine, my favorite feature, with “no smoking” signs displayed all over the bar – I guess the owner’s little joke.

I have never met the owner but I have three potentials lined up. They all seem to have managerial roles that appear at different times. All complete garbage people. All men. One time a guy dropped off the schedule for the week, “…been working on this all weekend because Larry is going out of town. I had no one for Saturday night.” Another guy came in and waited for the repairman to come fix the sanitizer under the bar. “You know, we really can’t afford to get a new one right now, do you think you could get the leak to stop and we will just hand wash everything else?” The last potential owner came in and started telling some of the bartenders and bar backs what to do, “I am not paying you to be on your phones – lets go.” But five minutes after he said that, sure enough, he was on his phone. Scrolling and scrolling like everyone else does now. That must be how tourists find this place.

It amazes me how tourists will come in and see the ashtrays, look at the people actively smoking, stare at the “no smoking” signs and then ultimately ask, “Is this a non-smoking establishment?” I always laugh when someone uses that word to describe Rumors. Establishment? That’s the highest compliment this place has been paid since the original leather seats were brought in. Most of the bartenders give these tourists shit, which I truly appreciate because it gets old after a while. I really shouldn’t even call them tourists, more like “out of town people” because there is no tourism industry here in Amarillo. I couldn’t think of anything worse than if your family planned a vacation here. Shit.

There are still St. Patrick’s Day decorations even though we are in November. I think they have always been here, it’s one of those “always St. Patrick’s Day” kind of … establishments. There is a bike strung up on the ceiling and a sign right across from my seat that says, “The consumption of alcohol may actually cause pregnancy.” 

I am usually here about every night. It started out only once a week but eventually it somehow turned into this. You can really be anonymous at a place like Rumors. The booze here is a lot cheaper now that I know the bartenders and I can just get drunk, smoke cigarettes and try to block out the pains in my brain without sitting in my depressing studio. 

Tonight is a little different because I am meeting a guy, Nick or something. He was Charlie’s best friend and a close friend of Heidi. I think he is just trying to come to terms with his own grief. He sounded like he was writing some article on the grieving process – maybe it would be about young lovers who had all their dreams shattered. Ugh. I let out a deep sigh. Not funny. I started to get teary eyed when I saw a young, handsome guy walk in. I wiped my eyes. “Some fucking reporter we got here” I whispered to myself. Don’t be such a cynic, not tonight. 

I took another drag of my cigarette and looked down at the ashtray, swirling around the ashes with my cigarette butt. This is Heidi now. Just ash. Total and complete nothingness. He looked awkward and definitely not like a local, at least not a Rumors local.  This had to be the guy. I avoided making eye contact with him, just to make him struggle. Finally after he looked around for a minute or two he came over to me, “Claire, is it?” He had his hand out so I gave it a shake and threw him a fake smile, “Why don’t you take a seat? You look like you could use a drink.”

My favorite bartender Patty-Mac had just gotten off her shift and she was counting her tips from behind the bar when she saw me for the first time, “Hey baby how are you?” I loved the way she said that. It made me feel really loved and taken care of. She always took the time to say hello to me. People don’t do that kind of stuff anymore. “I am hanging in there alright, this is a friend of mine, Nick.” I felt weird introducing him, I didn’t want to say he was reporter because that would be a longer story to tell and I would need a lot more booze to get into all that. She looked at him kind of oddly, “you could use a shot, Claire and so could I.” The bar back, Yana, looked excitedly at us, she was practically jumping. “Ya’ll gonna’ pour some W.P.’S?” For someone with such a sunny disposition, and with the shittiest job in this whole place, when it came time to do shots she really perked up. I couldn’t blame her. Hell, I’d be the same way. 

W.P. is slang for wet pussy. It’s the most popular shot in the whole goddamn town, but especially here at Rumors. It tastes like sweet syrup and goes down smooth – vodka, gin, coconut rum, pineapple juice and cranberry juice. The truth is, I think these men just like saying wet pussy, and it really gets old around midnight, when the only wet pussy around is mine because I’ve pissed so many times I stopped using toilet paper. 

I drank the shot with Patty-Mac and Yana. I wish I had six of them in front of me, I would still feel the same though. My tolerance for drugs and alcohol is incredibly high, which is a total curse. I have to suck down twice, sometimes three times as much as the next person to feel the same as them. It had been that way since I was old enough to drink and well, it has become a real inconvenience since I started drinking heavier this last year. That is the reason I sometimes have to shoot up whiskey. And by sometimes I mean very often. The high just doesn’t come quick enough when I drink. I am in too much guilt and I have to get out of my own head. Quickly. 

By this point I have smoked three cigarettes and barely even looked at Nick. I thought about how I hadn’t been fucked in almost three years. I would sit here night after night with these god-awful men, but a part of me just wanted one of them to fuck me. When I get that feeling, it’s usually time for me to go home.  

“You know, Heidi was- is- really special, and so is Charlie. I am, I am… glad I can talk to someone about them.” It was a real struggle to get that out.  “Well we haven’t really talked about them all that much.” I kept going. “She was in so, so so much pain, you know? Don’t slur your fucking words. She had the mosttt horrible grief losing Charlie like that. Her soul mate. Her person. Her childhood sweethearr – sweetheart.” I stopped drinking for a little bit, I needed to sober up.

The way Nick kept covering his over sized shirt on his small thighs as he sat at the bar made me think he once had a heavier body. The signs, I recognized them all – I have been overweight since I was in sixth grade. People never realize how cruel they can be. Shit. That’s the one truth I have learned in all my years of practice. I had to stop acting like I was still seeing patients. I hadn’t seen one in almost a year.

Just last week the cashier at Market Street looked at me and said, “well oh my gyood-ness, you would be so much prettier if your face wasn’t as round.” I was stunned. I could not believe she said it so matter-of-fact. “No I am serious, baby, you could be one of those… uh, uh plus sized models if you wanted teow!” Her accent was hard to place – not Texas south, but maybe Georgia or near the Florida border. She had a stupid face on. This girl was actually proud that she was giving me some good advice I hadn’t considered before. She was expecting me to thank her or something, “That’s it! A plus sized model, why didn’t anyone tell me? Thank you ma’am!” Of course I didn’t say that. Charlie probably would have. I just smiled, because she’s one of the ones.  

I closed my eyes. I was back in my office, talking to Heidi about a comment someone made to her about how miserable she looked. Some clown told her, “Smile! You’re alive!” Not when you are knee deep in shit river, otherwise known as grief. Asshole.The ones are the people who have not endured suffering yet. True suffering. A belief that I strongly uphold in my practice is this: life will bring everyone to their knees, and people who make shit comments like that-no shit wrapped in glitter, those kind of people will get their suffering one day –if not tomorrow, if not next week, someday. And I look at those people with envy. I wish I had that luxury of ignorance.” Claire you are not practicing anymore. Shut up. Every few minutes my brain takes me back to being in the office with someone, spouting off something I once believed in. Mostly I just go back to being in appointments with Heidi. Thinking of things I could have done better. Different. Thinking of that awful night. I stay drunk all day to stop the constant memory intrusion. I was really starting to hate my mind. Hated my mind.

This reporter could tell I was in my head. Even well before Heidi died, I would often stare off for minutes, either thinking of my day, my patient’s lives or just people I passed earlier, and I have done this for a long time. As a kid my grandmother would scold me for staring off, I can still hear her soft voice that used to pierce into my blood as a child, “my dear, surely you wouldn’t be daydreaming while your mother is talking to you?” The truth is, every day for the last nine months I have only thought about my patients, especially Heidi.  I could have done more. And only I know that. 

Peaceful Easy Feeling came on the jukebox and I looked at Nick and said, “Jesus maaaan, I had a rough night and I hate the fuckin’ eagles maaaan.” He smiled in a way that was obvious he didn’t know what I was referencing. Why do people do that? They smile or laugh when it is so painfully obvious they don’t know what you are talking about. Is it that hard to say, “What do you mean by that?” I really don’t get people. But I’ve spend my entire adult life trying to. “Come on, who doesn’t like The Big Lebowski?” I grabbed his arm playfully. Who was this fucking guy? Total clown shoes.  “Yeah, Charlie loved the Cohen brothers, I just could never get into them.” “Yeah Heidi liked them too.” Our conversation was really forced and uncomfortable, he didn’t really come with any questions to ask. I kept spinning around my bar stool once every minute or so. I was starting to annoy myself now. 

Nick was doing a bad job at this whole reporting thing but he had a good heart, and I wanted to nurture that. Since there were so many silences I decided to fill one of them. “I had a patient come in today” he didn’t know I wasn’t practicing, and the story was true, just from a while ago.  I put out my cigarette about as quickly as I lit a new one, “head to toe polished, new highlights, dressed well, nails done, you know- the whole ordeal. Anyway, she is completely broken just like the rest of us, she just does a better job of putting on that mask when she leaves my door.” In a lot of ways this truth comforts me, it makes me feel less alone when most of the time humans repulse me as much as they fascinate me. “But no one is getting out alive – no one is immune to the pain of life. Life will bring everyone to their knees. Even the most polished and groomed.”  I realized I had said that about six times. I was saying it to former patients in my head but yelling it to Nick. “I told this to Heidi all the time, you know, she had such a hard time with the trivialities and the fake bullshit people do – you know, when you are grieving you just can’t will yourself to care about stuff you used to- the discount sales or the morning coffee. Everything just goes dark, and some never leave that place. She never did.” 

Nick just sat writing. “Do you think Heidi ever had a chance to go on, you know, without Charlie?” I took a long time to answer this but I knew the answer right away, “Of course she couldhave, but it would be the hardest thing she would ever do in her life, and she would never be the same again- so maybe that means no, because she really wouldn’t be Heidi anymore. But I can say this, she carried around Charlie with her in every breath, and she would have continued to do that her entire life. She… she…I started to tear up. I wiped quickly. They just kept coming. Grief comes in waves, and sometimes it just washes over you. “She should be here.” I excused myself to go to the bathroom. I just sat down for a few minutes and stared at the wall. 

I wasn’t a junkie –not totally anyway, I don’t shoot up heroin. I shoot up alcohol. I just liked the high of alcohol much better. I used to snort heroin. Used to? Okay, I still do. It feels great, after you puke of course. But it just wasn’t the high I fell in love with – the high from alcohol is the greatest of all. And what I needed to do was shoot up before I continued this “interview” with Nick.  

I look at veins differently now. I study them. Nick had beautiful ones. I had nothing. I had to shoot up on my hands and use my small pathetic veins over and over again until every one on my hands looked like a giant purple mess. I would tell people if they ever asked “Oh this? This is nothing! I have been doing lawn work every weekend and the thorns have just been tearing up my hands.” It is amazing how stupid people can be. Even my own family full of doctors would buy that line. I should say gullible. It is amazing how gullible people can be. Or maybe no one really cares all that much. Most of the people that ask are cashiers or bank tellers. 

After I got back from the bathroom I felt drunk immediately. I finally felt like I could breathe which meant I could talk to this reporter, but I also felt overwhelmed and just wanted to get out of here.  “I know why you are here. I understand you are trying to do good- but there is nothing you can really do. It is bigger than you. It is bigger than me. This grief thing is just a monster in itself” He sighed, “there has to be something we can do, even if we just sit and talk about them, or how about we talk about how this last year has been for … for you?” I sighed, I actually wanted that more than anything – just to sit with someone and talk about Heidi and Charlie and maybe myself. I didn’t think I was strong enough. “I don’t think so. I’m sorry. I wish I could change all thisss.” I realized I started slurring my words again and felt embarrassed, but the lack of pain was so intoxicating that I didn’t care.  

I took another long drag from my cigarette, and as I blew out the smoke I looked him in the eyes, “You know who I blame for pushing her over the edge?  “Who?” he looked really engaged with his little note pad all ready with a fresh dated sheet of paper and two sharpened pencils next to the whiskey he barely touched.” The truth is I had a huge secret, and mentioning Jack was a great way to distract him. “Jack, really? How so?” I smiled, “We’ll have to get there some other time, for now – just take my word for it.”

We stayed for another hour, mostly silent. When a song came on on that reminded Nick of Charlie he would mention it and it made me smile. I thought about Heidi and Charlie together here at this bar, the dialogue and the commentary they both might have. Nick said, “You know Heidi would be pissed that this place is using Styrofoam cups and she would be demanding to speak to the owner” I laughed, “Good luck figuring out who that is.” Nick chuckled but of course he didn’t get the joke. How could he? “Charlie would love this kind of place, though, he really would. He loved being around the down and out – he was a storyteller and he always felt the best stories came from places like this.” I took my last sip of the night, “Ain’t that the truth.”

Nick told me that he was sorry he hadn’t come with any real questions or direction for the story. He was just trying to get to know me first. “It is kind of a … unique relationship we have, both knowing Charlie and Heidi so well…well, I know you knew Heidi and kind of Charlie but”- I interrupted, “Yeah that was the most remarkable thing about Heidi is that she loved Charlie so much, I felt like I had known him my whole life. She did a really good job introducing me to him.” Nick seemed surprised, he just didn’t understand what it’s like to know the dead – we deal with that all the time as therapists. Former therapist.

I stumbled outside the bar. Nick tried to walk me to his car and give me a ride, but I refused. I wanted him to drive me home. I wanted him to try to kiss me. The whole night all I could do was picture him naked and gentle with me. I could tell he was such a gentle lover. You can just tell sometimes. Besides, I don’t need anyone to drive me home. I drive drunk just about everywhere in Amarillo. I am starting to think I drive better drunk anyway. 

He looked up at the night sky and covered his chest like he was really cold, “Those stars, aren’t they something?” No. The night sky is miserable when you are deep in grief. “Yeah, I wish I knew more about astrologogg astrology.” We both laughed. I felt like a complete phony. “I would really like to talk more about Charlie and Heidi, and your patients and you know, your work with this kind of stuff. We really didn’t get too far tonight”, he said it in a way that made it seem like he knew I would say no. I suddenly saw a sparkling glow in his eyes. He was a really nice person. Sure you can go along with this.  “Fine – I would like that, I think.” With just one smile, I could tell he got so excited, his little boy ways were really turning me on, and I just couldn’t control myself. I wanted more of it. Claire it is just the warm glow of whiskey – you always get horny when you drink. He smiled and walked off, humming to himself. He seemed happy. I wish I could be happy. I went home that night, got sober within a couple hours, drank some more whiskey and went to sleep. I tried to masturbate but I couldn’t get into it, I hate when that happens. 

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