Off The Cuff – Jacqueline Cioffa
That’s courage, baby
That’s the high cost and the low maintenance
And this is my honest-to-God get out of my face, in your face, brace yourself best shot
Be brave, be bold, be loud
Make some quiet noise
Maybe tomorrow I’ll post some cheery, colorful, feel good quote
Perhaps, maybe not
One never knows how hot she blows
How high the highs and low the lows
These unfashionable, sufferable modern ties burn crimson
Still, it’s nice to see pretty colors and happy faces sometimes
Smile at a stranger, turn up the tunes and dance man
Travelin’ down the good red road
Snow falls on the grass on this almost March day, trees already in prepubescent bloom.
What the fuck is happening? Global warming has her own plans, shaking things up on this insignificant, tiniest piece of the puzzle, planet earth. She is happy for the ugly, backward mess.
She won’t walk today, but will curl up in silence and self-protection closing her eyes instead; drifting off and dreaming about the walkabout will suffice.
In her dreams she sees an altogether different version of herself; a younger, happier, slender, soft edged person with a more vibrant future mapped out. She still dreams in Kodachrome where puppies, beach homes and neat, parasol living abounds. Where dazzling, white bright stars full of possibility coat the yellow sunbeams from her eyes. She has yet to be poisoned, injected and force-fed the grays and ugly realities.
This girl has a shot. A real, do-over shot at happy. As long as the imagination has not been stolen, she has the dream to endure.
She’s survived the brutal, harsh days when something bigger than fear, self-loathing and death took hold. She lived the limitations with a certain air of grace, donning the best, quiet mask she could. As long as there is hope, that God will not abandon her in these worst times she continues, liquid solid. She takes the uneven, shallow breath, however difficult embracing the day to get it right, finding an air that is easier and smoothed out.
The birds forgive her simple, humane existence. They know she is following the orders of the house, a guest in their home. This four and a half billion year old earth which carries her shaded past and unique, ghost filled history.
She is simply at the mercy of time, enduring with whatever shred of dignity she can muster.
To never forget the page. The page carries her when she cannot stand, crouched in fetal position on the bathroom floor. The page dreams the big dreams when she sees nothing through misty eyes. The page promises hope when she has exhausted all roads, and left dreaming behind. The page holds her hand guiding her gently towards the light, where the words are the wee bit brighter. Dripping icicles, the snow has lost interest in this corner of the land and gone off to find glaciers and ice hills, more appropriate temperatures to visit.
She wraps the afghan throw tight around her shoulders, rocking back and forth while humming her favorite tune hopeful to revisit the dawn of a new tomorrow.
-excerpt from The Red Bench
“You and I are only human, overwrought with emotion. We will be forever duking it out with the sassy sun and silly moon to stop running with scissors, for just one breath. There is beautiful stillness under a gray, cover-clouded downpour where the rain washes away the old footprints leaving room for a blank slate and tomorrow’s sunshine.” – Jacqueline Cioffa
I am told the brain feels no pain, no pressure. That is only half-truth. I have experienced a different reality; never exposed to screaming silence quite like this. I’m scared out of my mind imploding from the inside.
I make ballsy, hasty decisions to beat down the bullshit, chemical imbalance. Humiliated, I lie alone on a gurney, port in my arm, the tacky acrid green plastic band too tight around my forehead. I wait for the inevitable, the blackout cruises my veins, leaving me in the dark and the thirty-second aftershock. I am in a room filled with know-it-all professionals scurrying to and fro; as if this was the simplest routine, like the morning dump after a cup of coffee.
A dude in white and a turban scolds the nurse crudely, “hurry up, he’s late and has to be somewhere,” the words so cold and nonchalant as if administering a simple shot.
How can that be?
When this was the singular, most critical, crucial brain saving moment for me?
It took years of back and forth indecision, yes, no, to and fro…
A barrage of loud, invasive machines and needle preparation, a whole lot of courage, desperation and moxy to get here. On some cold, anonymous, colorless, could be anywhere hospital floor, waiting for the ‘pros’ to press reset, a fresh start, brain back to zero.
The mood swings forever too high, and hauntingly low.
“Are we going to an operating room?” I ask the nurse, trembling one tear. I let only one fall down my cheek, white knuckling it. My aged, wrinkled and broken-hearted mother waits somewhere out there on the other side of the wall.
”No, we just pull the curtain,” she responds curtly to my embarrassment and dismay.
I know my mother; my resolve and courage are waiting. Anxiously waiting, somewhere out there, and away from this bone chilling gurney.
Thank God, I have not forgotten this vital piece of information. My elderly, fragile, disillusioned mother has lived this hell before. My father endured electric shock a long, long, bad dream, time ago.
Yeah, but that was twenty years past. They have come so far. They have come so far. They have come not so very far at all, motherfuckers.
“You won’t feel a thing, it’s a breeze.” Liars and thieves they are.
Crying, confused, mind-raped, beat down, my fucking skull bursting as if bashed against a wall. I can’t speak. I cannot escape the excruciating pain, pulsating through my jaw, my throat, neck, over, under and all through my head. No, this cannot be anything. This is something unlike I’ve ever felt before. My fucking head is imploding, unrelenting, unforgiving suffering and it’s day six after shock.
I’m in shock. Violated, dehumanized, traumatized and violated some more. Confused, betrayed and abandoned.
Countless pomp and circumstance, arrogant specialists have said this is the norm the first time round.
I resist, fuck you, fuck you one and all.
Give me back the manic depression. At lease I can handle the accommodations down there, deep inside the black hole vortex. I’m not sure what to do with dazed, hazed and nightmare uncertainty. Quick somebody hand me a pad and pencil, to dabble and scribble notes, the jumbled thinking. Buzz, the incessant ringing. No, I do not want to kill myself; I’d gauge your beady eyes first with the led pointed weapon and my fury on the page.
The fuzzy, dream haze state where everything certain, even the tallest Evergreen sways to and fro in a strong, gust of wind. I am shaken to the core, awake less me. Less the intricate, puzzle pieces of my person. I cry real big salty tears for my mother, her bruised, defeated heart. Her exhaustion and reassuring ways rock and lullaby my bleeding ink broken heart.
She loves me time and again, and helps put back the broken parts.
Hers, and only her love anchors her daughter’s gypsy Mustang, wild free spirit.
I am told it went well. Oh, so very well. I am an excellent candidate. I must not rule it out, stay open-minded. Fucking douchebag oxymoronic, my mind is wide-open mood swings.
I just want to hang in the dark and quiet awhile ’til the pain subsides, and I regain a small piece of my pride.
If I had cancer would you still look at me with your pity? Don’t. I don’t want it. I need your strength and resolve. Keep your pious pity for yourself; it won’t serve me at all.
Would we stay friends or would you write me off the embarrassment, the nuisance, too busy with your own chaotic life to bother with the nutter?
I am strong; I am a goddamn warrior child of God. I have endured all the various shit storms thrown at me. I have let them do inhumane, controversial things all in the name of insanity. I have the will, fortitude, and the want to beat this. But, try as I may, the various tricks and treats, I can’t quite find the right medical potion.
I am lucky, I believe in the shamans and Angel spirits who whisper my name on the wind.
Child, walk barefoot on the earth, dig up the dirt, let your fingers feel the grooves in the heavy rocks, and crystal healing trinkets you carry deep in your pocket. The spirit is sound, and safe. They cannot rape your soul, sweet girl. Remember, they cannot mind fuck your brain. Only God and the stars that came before you are real. The invisible illness is an exotic blessing, and proper curse.
Fuck the professionals, I live on the land of Indian nations where shaman healers left buried treasures, right beneath the surface.
I am eggshells’ uncertain in autumn, but the smell of promise and spring will be here.
It is my favorite season, an exceptionally warm and beautiful time.
Did I get me right, or did they do me all wrong?
Me, I’m alive and whole. I’m going to buy a badass, trucker treasure hat, some timberlands with steel toes, and go deep into the woods, where my Onondaga Indian Nation ancestors, healers and women left treasures, spirit gifts, trinkets, wisdom, artifacts, and pieces of their spirit guide souls.
I am nothing if not my word and the stories are my powers of observation.
Fuck off, quacks. I’m traveling down the “Good Red Road.”
I hate you, I despise you with the bitter guts and boiling blood that festers inside
It’s all a waking dream and I’m suffocating
Where, so where do I place the fear I carry so heavy too heavy to mind
I’m quite sure my heart will give out long before the scattered, tattered jumble paper mess memories dry brittle
I scribble fast the fury not to forget
The memories are disappearing fading fast wadded paper cedar trees, football field lengths between me and me
I’ve forgotten how it feels to hold you in high esteem and tempting melted milk chocolate covered tongues
Once upon a time I cried, screamed, howled
I believed wholly and eyes closed, the whipping wind white puffy fluffy sky free ride
Liars and petty thieves, humans
The sun doesn’t shine bright on my sullen skin anymore and I’m knee deep in muddled pride
I loved you once I surmise
I believed the silly unicorn light up the night notions
Feeding frenzied Coyotes circle dense fog forest grey days
Threaten tempting black empty nothing bliss
Ripping tearing shredding gutting smiling puppy dog faces
The lines blur
Are you awake, dead dreaming
Misconstrued misaligned misperception hazed out of focus
Are you real or are you dead
Well for fuck’s sake, what are you really?
Tell me, I’m screaming inside with knee jerk clenched fist death wish jumping jack out of my skin beanstalk
Shh, I can’t hear my own running in circle cries
Quiet now, hush now pretty pretty pretty
Three times not twice rules are made to be shattered glass smashed
So what am I
Tell me now before I sink deep and deeper
Losing quietly ever so gently lovingly my beautiful chaotic mind
Write it all down love, quickly and with a certain kind of steadfastness
Star stuff flurries go poof and disappear before your eyes
Questioning the knighted crown jeweled worthy existence
I’m not ready, fading, falling
It’s all a waking, mystical magical nightmare
Dreaming awake, I scream silent
I love you, I hate you
I hate you, I love you
I love to hate you, I hate to love you
Makes no difference under the veil
When buried behind a double blurred vision am eye
I love it when the clouds swirl and swish about in different directions, knocking angrily against each other in the sky. The clean open sky that I can now lay on the ground and watch free and clear, no city buildings in sight.
I have no clue what tomorrow will bring. I am paralyzed and in awe, the possibilities endless. There are few things I know, and few I’ve taken for granted. I don’t need the stuff. The excess baggage weighs me down. In the woods, I’m free from fancy dressing. I am light years away, a carefree traveler. I don’t miss the fashion, the superficial, the high heels and the in crowd. The oxygen and the trees leave me be, to think and to grow.
The Unwilling Participant
Some idiot had the bright idea to hang a birdcage outside a locked window on a mental ward. It hung from metal steps dangling like a goddamn Snickers bar, only filled with birdseed and shit. The rustic, red paint had chipped away seasons past. Maybe it was part of an arts and crafts afternoon, who the hell knows? I used to stare at it for hours, tapping the glass waiting on the birds that didn’t come. Perhaps they thought if they came too close, it could be dangerous. They would get caught somehow inside the cage, the unwilling participant with no way out. I hated that fucking birdcage, how it swung freely on the wire taunting without a care.
How inviting the pretty blue sky looked with fluffy, white clouds through the dirty, rain stained windowpane. I detested the stairs that climbed towards the celeste sky and the ginormous silver contraption at the highest point on the roof. It was probably a ventilation system that circulated stale air back inside the ward. If I could just find a tiny crack in the glass, maybe the crazy inside the halls wouldn’t stink. Maybe I don’t know what the fuck I’m talking about. I’m not on the outside swinging in the breeze, the wind giving me goose bumps, the sun bathing and warming my chilled bones with Vitamin D. It’s amazing how time halts while you’re pacing up and down the halls arms flailing, flying and flapping your wings.
Time keeps you stuck, staring at an old, ugly birdcage for hours wasting away the minutes. At home, I curse the birds; they shat all over the walkway leaving violet trails of mess. I’d clean it the best I could with water and a broom even though the vile crap made me wanna hurl. There must have been 50 trails of eggplant muck on the ground. From my unfortunate vantage point it was impossible to reach through the locked window. The lonesome and sad, all but forgotten cage. I’d probably wind up getting sucked into the silver vent and spit out if I managed an escape route, road kill splattered onto the sidewalk.
You won’t see a birdcage hanging at my house, ever. No, no thank you. No siree. I’ll leave the sad decor to the professionals. Funny, I wonder who had the thoughtfulness and good intention to hang it. Funny is an odd choice of a word, because the scene was not very funny at all.
What difference do the mad genes make when everyone is running? The speed of my thoughts makes up for the snail pace of the body. I pray one will balance out the other. The monotony of the same old, boring tedious routine gives structure to the wandering head. The walkabout has come to a screeching halt; words escape me, unsure of the new pace. Diamonds dance and stars sparkle the sky at night, wet grass tickles my feet, and I gaze up dreaming an entirely different life. The moon lights my way, as I spin around and around in circles humming alone in the dark, the five-year-old undamaged by defeat, calling on bliss and blind purpose. I reach down to touch the cool, green blades of grass, blowing a wet kiss towards the infinite, the stars and dead angels far from this place. I carry on. I must walk, wandering about and pray for smart, clean thinking lines.
– excerpt from THE RED BENCH
“Pet Friendly” on Bleeding Ink with Feminine Collective
I am not a patient person and yet, somehow I find the patience, for her.
Maybe it’s because she needs no words to show me what she wants, just a tilt of the head to the left or the right. Her gold and grey swirls of fur glisten when she sees me, a smile lights her face accompanied by the back and forth velocity of her wagging tail. I understand she gets all the colors of me, the sliding scale blacks, blinding whites, kaleidoscope greens, envious purples, indigo blues, muddy yellow, envious green, sherbet pop orange and the griege in between.
Some days I don’t want to make the trek in the heat, the rain, the bitter freeze, walk the same block after block, be pulled and yanked in this direction or that chasing some unfortunate cat across the way. Some days I’d rather not walk at all, too tired of the monotone. I do it anyway, in spite of myself. In sub-freezing temperatures, sweltering unbearable heat, in all climates because she is my responsibility.
I’m grateful I didn’t have kids. I fear I would’ve been an inadequate parent and grave disappointment, too quick to lose my temper, too consumed with worry, too selfish probably.
Truth be told I don’t particularly get most humans, but she does.
They expect too much, disappoint too much, ask too much, or maybe it’s me. Maybe I do. We are the rare breed of misfits and misunderstood.
My girl, my spirit animal loves everyone. She does not discriminate, so I let her stop and say hello. Sometimes, I surprise myself with a smile and hello; the corners of my lips curling upwards like an emoji before I realize it. Sometimes the smile turns upside down when she sees a cat pulling my arm out of the socket. Sometimes I’d like to strangle her, she can be stubborn and doesn’t always listen, come to think of it neither do I.
She knows I’m not always 100 percent, and she couldn’t care less. She loves me anyway. Maybe that’s the beauty of mutual pet-friendly understanding.
If only people were so kind.
When she snuggles in between the crook of my legs for an afternoon nap, and I feel my breathing slow I understand what selfless love means. Her heartbeat calms the storms, the anxiety, and my forever-impatient soul. I’m a better person in that singular moment when she’s sound asleep without a care in the world.
The house is too quiet when she is not around. I missed the pitter-patter of paws the umpteenth days I did not see her. She could not visit. All the days I was committed, locked in a hospital ward with no air. I’d press my forehead to the glass trying to teleport myself the two blocks between her, me and my family. Two impossible tiny blocks from home, and later sixty miles farther away, but it would not matter. No matter how hard I tried, I could not escape the locked windows and doors. Walking out wasn’t an option.
At the least, the night sky still sang for me, and the stars shined brilliant the same for her and I. Lighting the way back to my humans, the ones who love me unconditionally, waiting on the other side of pane. The precious ones, who made sure she was fed, cuddled and loved while I was absent. I drew a map with a sharpie on the window in my room, so I wouldn’t forget my way or lose my mind deep inside the blacks and greys come morning. I wasn’t supposed to; I couldn’t give two shits. Eventually, they took all my pens away, my weapon of choice. Talk about writer’s block and cold, cruel punishment. Someone handed me colored pencils as if I was a five-year-old playing outside on the sidewalk. Give me a break, life is complicated and chaos lives outside the lines in a coloring book.
So what if I’d gone a little insane? I missed her warmth inside the cold, cruel sterile environment. The scratchy sheets inside the empty room where she was not allowed to visit. Too bad, she would’ve brightened everyone’s day. It was not a warm place, dog-friendly or inviting. It was indifferent. Twenty plus days is a really, really long time to miss being outdoors, oxygen, and the daily routine of a quiet life.
The simple task of walking the dog.
I’m home now, passing the grotesque, uninviting, terrifying inhospitable building, pausing short of breath questioning was it real or was it all a bad dream? I steady my footing, let out an amen and a great big “FUCK YOU, fuck the whole lot of you” under my breath while speeding up my gait.
My girl, pet-friendly crooks her neck way back, and her eyes tell me all that I need to know. I am less selfish, less mad, and more me than yesterday.