SELF CARE

by Julian K. Jarboe

ISSUE THIRTEEN | FALL 2019

Fuckos in this stupid town think nobody notices how when the tide just keeps coming in without going out again that "some" neighborhoods get sunk forever as an "unfortunate side effect of coastal flooding" while others become the sexy hip cool new "seafloor village." I'd cackle every time some bullshit golden-brick seawall crumbles and takes another mansion with it, but now there's straight-up UNDERWATER house tours for a zillion dollars a ticket, the same way they used to show off their giant Christmas trees and shit but even more pretentious cause now I guess they host in designer scuba gear. "Oh, this old thing? Blub blub, there's sand in my butt, no wait it's diamonds, ha ha!" (That's how they talk probably.) MEANWHILE where MY shitty old apartment used to be is now an undersea God-damned HOTEL AND CASINO. In a cute little dome bubble park and everything!!! Like imagine if when the Titanic sunk they were just like "fuck it, we'll make it work if we can disappear the poor people corpses, we've GOT to make back our investment SOMEHOW" and everyone was like "oh my God of course that's SO important!" So I got to know some of my favorite sidewalks for a bit, and wouldn't you know it, "extreme weather" means something else entirely when you LIVE OUTSIDE!

Like yeah it gets cold and hot at the "wrong" times if you're some kind of child prince whose gonna cry to daddy if you don't get snow when you go skiing and sunshine when you step foot on your yacht (HA HA HA bite me). You want wind in your sails, fucko? I can tell you ALL about the wind! I had sex with this guy in a parking lot one night and something broke the sound barrier right as he climaxed and it was just as likely some freak Climate Event off the fucked up ocean as it might have been a super-sonic cum-fart (it was so cute though, he was like "what" and "are you okay?" which was sweet of him and we didn't exchange names or anything too personal but honestly it's good to know there are still some GENTLEMEN around here). It's summer and it's freezing and sometimes the clouds pick up debris or something falls from a drone or a plane or whatEVER is happening up there and there are heavy metal balls of sleet or oily raindrops that catch fire as they fall. Bon voyage!

I had a PREMIUM spot near that parking lot, too, and everything was FINE until clearly someone snitched and an autoplow swept on by and took ALL MY STUFF AWAY atop a rolling conglomerate of rubble like a garbage fairy's trash sleigh off to deliver bad luck to all the world's ugly children. My cover was blown and I could only sleep in the stock room at Fatima's Psychic Emporium And Tee Shirts between clopening shifts, so yes, I did EVENTUALLY have to stay in a church for a while but I AM STILL A WITCH.

Our Lady of Good Voyage had a stupid mandatory intake process with this whiny-ass support group. The facilitator's name was either Apollo or Olive Garden. We went around and did our little introductions but it escalated into feel-good therapy shit faster than any street hustle and I wanted nothing more than to get kicked in the teeth listening to it. Everyone talked like they'd invented feelings. This one person was so hung up on not suffering enough to feel like they could REALLY call themselves marginalized and Apollo or Olive Garden was all "blah blah I affirm that your identity is valid" and I said, "EXCUSE ME but if anyone would like to make ME feel valid I will be passing around this fully-compostable coffee cup I found for direct donations!" Apollo or Olive Garden told me to "step back" (i.e. SHUT UP) so I called them all tourists and kicked over my folding chair and TRIED to escape.

I was making to leave like, "fuck it, fuck this, fuck you, I'm flinging myself into the sea, she can fucking have me," and they took it SO SERIOUSLY that this priest got involved blockading the exit and asking if he could "help" me in that way store security always ask if they can "help" you when they think you're gonna steal something. The facilitator was all, "where do you think you're going?" and I shouted, "TO GET KICKED IN THE TEETH. WHY NOT? IT'S FREE AND IT BEATS JOINING THIS COMA COLLECTIVE!" So the priest made me go to his office with him and I was like, "WHAT, ARE YOU GOING TO GIVE ME DETENTION? DOES THIS GO ON MY PERMANENT RECORD, FATHER?"

He just smiled like a little lap dog and said he'd been "called by God to serve where the need was greatest," and I said, "That's what I've been TRYING TO SAY: I HAVE A LOT OF NEEDS."

He LAUGHED. "Yes, I can see that!" He was short and swarthy and sort of hot? Dude had very hip, canary yellow glasses and these eyebrows for days and WAY too tidy a beard for an ostensibly celibate heterosexual. His office door said FR. GASPREN in an extremely serious font and inside there was a human skull on his desk (which really took me back) and a television with a wrestling match on mute and a framed print of the praying hands emoji on the wall, and that's when I was like, ohhhh, he's a Cool, Accessible Priest. Okay, SURE.

We had a little chit chat about my situations and he had the sheer audacity to say, "That sounds awful." It was that practiced, calm, do-gooder, care-worker voice I hate. Fake as hell. If you want to witness my anger then GET ANGRY ALONGSIDE ME!!!

Father Gaspren kept asking me things like "What does community mean to you, Anthony?" and I said, "Isn't that YOUR job?" I knew about group solipsism and infighting and cults and love quadrangles and underground scenes and mutually assured annihilation but I did not know this "community" queen. Never heard of her!

"Now, more than ever, is the time to join our community of mercy and compassion through Christ," he said. "You don't have to lie to Him or to me. There's no gatekeeping here, no shareholders, and no research study. No academic thesis. You get help no matter what."

I called BULLSHIT. It was not exactly my first time dealing with priests. I look like the exact type of person who gets excommunicated, and I enumerated my MANY good reasons to be suspicious and how I ran away from Sunday School and became a gay transsexual WITCH.

"Well, we don't refuse any type of person," he said. Then he slipped right into the scam: I could stay in the on-site dormitory for "free" in exchange for a bunch of chores and also I had to come to Mass on Sundays but there were donuts and coffee. I asked him if the donuts and coffee were also free and he gave me this satisfied nod and I realized that by asking a follow-up question, I'd admitted defeat. God had me in xer clammy hands once again like some huge cosmic joke but I was also impressed by the power move of the whole thing, which only goes to prove I am the pervert they always said I was.

But there is ALWAYS a catch.

"However," he added, and I gave him every non-verbal way I have of saying: called it! "If you expect relaxed attitudes about sexual ethics, I'm afraid you'll be disappointed. There will be no 'cruising' or 'turning tricks' or 'back alley' activities tolerated." He gave me that swollen look like he wanted to do some random acts of kindness at me which is a thousand times worse than any rival witch's evil eye. The REAL creeps in this world are optimists.

He took me to the dormitories and I guess it made sense to have us do chores because nobody there was about to fill the coffers. The group bathrooms and makeshift kitchenette with all the knives and matches in a locked pantry and the sweaty asbestos musk of old linoleum floors meant I just KNEW without asking that I was going to be told when to eat and sleep.

The bedrooms were gender segregated but FOR SOME REASON I ended up sharing with the only other transsexual even though we were going different directions (the reason was transphobia). She was this tall beautiful butch with stone gray eyes named "Bert, short for Roberta," which she said in one breath with no inflection. She told me that she was a trucker even though there are only ex-truckers. I said I was a witch and she snorted and asked, "what, like with the pointy hats?" and I said "yes" even though I do not physically own any kind of hat because it was still emotionally true.

The Church always gets its cassocks in a twist about witches but witchcraft has all the props I do like about religion that I first acquired in church anyway:

1. singing and chanting in dead languages,

2. lighting things on fire,

3. impractical headgear.

"Ain't spiritual, ain't agnostic, ain't open minded," Bert said. "Don't wanna hear about no gods or masters or mystical woo-woo. Ask me my sign and I'll never talk to you again."

"Oh, I would never ask," I said. "I know how Scorpios need their privacy."

For an ETERNITY that passed in the next minute I thought that she might kill me, but then she spat out this big laugh and said, "Oh, it's on, witch," and she said "witch" exactly like she meant "bitch" so I decided that I liked her. I traded her a Percocet for cigarettes and that sealed the deal. Trans solidarity is fucking BEAUTIFUL.

We went outside to smoke. Everything on the grounds was crammed together on a slip of a sandbar with the dormitory and a shed back toward mainland and this menacing black lighthouse called The Sin Seer at the far rocky precipice over the sea. One more big hurricane and the whole place was obviously going down like frown. The church itself even looked like an overturned ship with this massive wooden arch and stained glass porthole windows. Once upon a time people made boats AND buildings this close to the water out of wood which seems insane because I'm pretty sure wood melts???

Bert and I sucked through half a pack and watched the waves flop on the thin, clumpy, petrified "beach" until that flaccid support group got out and dispersed like an infection. Apollo or Olive Garden looked at me and started to come over. They waved and smiled, in the way of sick confused little children who run back towards conflict because it gives them meaning, and I thought, what the hell: life is short, treasure moments of radical vulnerability and speaking my truth, so I tossed down my cigarette and flipped them off with BOTH of my hands.

Bert and I got to talking some more. We had very different kinds of terrible lives and not really too much in common but she NEVER once called me valid, THANK GOD, and that's why we were best friends.

* * *

I didn't like to spend a lot of my days off work at Fatima's hanging around Our Lady of Good Voyage because it bummed me the fuck out. There was a huge dark painting of Mary in the chapel. Everything about the picture was severe. The clouds looked like packing foam and the folds of her blue cloak were rigid as a bendy straw. It made me miss my mom and feel bad about my abortions.

Father Gaspren said all that stuff about a totally accepting and welcoming community but he still had all these posters outside his office about "forgiveness" for all the shit people do to their own selves. One HUGE purple one with a crying lady on it gave a number and a website for a "Christ-Is Pregnancy Center" and you know what it even advertised "grief counseling for men" but SOMEHOW I KNEW that they didn't mean me, a man who terminated a fetus or two in my day and maybe HYPOTHETICALLY could be interested in counseling from all the GRIEF everybody gave me about it! Like if people NEED TO BE FORGIVEN for their own private business then they aren't really being taken exactly as they are SO WHICH ONE WAS IT?

I was at Sunday Mass feeling sorry for myself and not allowed to nibble the bread or sip the wine and NERVOUS because that week Father Gaspren found and confiscated my drugs and I was staring at the Sad Mom Painting and the horde of sweaty parishioners praised and prayed along when Father Gaspren announced the end of a partnership between the local diocese and a tenant's rights group because of their "lack of support for the unborn."

"There is a tragic sense of lost opportunity," he said. There sure was! Even the free donuts and coffee would not fill up the bottomless pit of lost opportunities going down in Our Lady of Good Voyage.

Bert looked plain bored. I whispered to her, "Let's go literally anywhere else that isn't here," and she nodded, arms crossed like the opposite of crucifixion, and we strode out from the room not even pretending we had to pee or anything. I told her, "I have a new activity plan. Let's hex the gentry."

Bert shook her head. "Won't dignify that mumbo jumbo."

I explained that a good hex requires objects that have had a lot of direct contact with the intended victim, which meant helping me gather supplies also meant I'd show her some especially good residential trash picking spots. THAT at least was secular enough for her, plus she got an unopened pair of socks out of it. Meanwhile I got all the sneaky little personal items I could find, and we took the spoiled spoils back to the eroded beach outside Our Lady and I drew a ring in the crappy sand and placed the junk within it.

"Circle of rubble; refuse of gentries," I chanted. "Now I set my intention."

Bert frowned harder than normal.

"A curse on every opulent flip, eviction renovation, up-and-coming investors-take-notice neighborhood renewal, be it by land, sea, or sky. May the benefactors, be they knowing or unknowing, have bathroom doors that open the wrong way and get banged up on the sink."

"Heh."

"May their desalinators break in the middle of a feast day. May they forget their passcodes and microwave their dermal chips and replacement is a lengthy and costly process. May their virtual assistants transcribe them wrong in all sensitive matters and sext their bosses. May they discover as each light breaks-- no wait, I have a better one than that: may all their sentient vacuums and talking dishwashers and robot nannies malfunction and need parts that are no longer in production."

"Leave the robots alone," Bert muttered.

"What should it matter who I curse? I thought you didn't believe in any of it anyway."

"Leave them alone even in your delusions."

"Bert, you used to be a trucker!"

"Still a trucker."

"Well you'd still be driving A TRUCK if you hadn't been replaced with a machine."

Bert sat down on the rocks.

"Machine didn't take my rig. They don't take nothing from nobody. They do what they're set in motion to do."

"See, that's what I'm saying. The just-following-orders thing is why everything is so terrible. Everyone cries automaton."

"Thought about getting a few augments myself, just little cyborg stuff like new driving ankles, but I never had the money."

"Yeah, but that's different."

"How's it?"

"Cause THAT'S extremely cool."

"I worked sixteen-hour days every day, and robots can do twenty-four straight. Nothing wrong with that. No self-driving semi ever called me a he-she or pulled a knife out to 'show me' at a rest stop. My navigator was good at getting us where we needed to go and had a no-bullshit attitude built right into her. Nah, I like computers."

She kicked at the garbage circle.

"It was a person who had me finance the thing myself just to get the gig," she added. "And it was a person that seized it right along with all I'd paid when I couldn't afford a repair. It don't matter if they replaced me with a living spaceship or a fleet of oxen. A person set it up that way and a person followed through so it was people that did that to me."

"Bert, you should be, like, an organizer."

"Oh, there's a mass movement, all right. Industry is banding together to make it illegal for anyone more'n half machine to do their crap jobs so they can have their crap jobs back exactly the way they were."

"Hm." It all made sense now. "You have hatched us a much better scheme then curses. The intention of this spell needs to be more potent."

"I did not say that."

I snuck over to the church offices and stole the entire Christ-Is Pregnancy Hotline poster and brochure box and ran them back to the circle before anyone had time to notice. I rolled some up like proper witchy herb bundles and Bert was pissed but then once she read what they were she held out her lighter. We lit them all for ceremony and then we added little sticks and drift junk until we had a proper bonfire going. It started to drizzle grease but every drop that fell near us poofed right up. While an INDIVIDUAL witch such as myself does not have the power to halt or reverse the world's ills, we did do that one TOGETHER, so it was a VERY powerful spell.

When Father Gaspren found out he gave us indefinite bathroom duty and took away my phone for messing with "the occult" and "destruction of church property" so while we had to scrub poop smears and piss puddles, it was worth it.

On our first Doody Duty I asked Bert if I could have the bleach and she said, "I don't know, bitch, can you?" but her eyes were in a way like when she looked at pizza that she got to eat by herself.

"I think I can, bitch, so hand it to me," I said.

"In a minute, bitch, I'm finishing this seat."

"Okay then, bitch, I'll wait!"

It went on that way for a while and that night I had a prophetic dream (one of my strongest powers) that everyone's true name was what they were known for plus "bitch." Bert was Hard Driving Bitch and Father Gaspren was Priest Bitch or Daddy Bitch and so on. The only person without a true name was me. I didn't know what kind of bitch I was. I woke up in a cold sweat and lay awake the rest of the night still smelling like bleach.

* * *

The underwater resort fuckos had the nerve to recruit us. Three of them came to Our Lady of Good Voyage in the middle of an afternoon while we were having movie night in the chapel (even though it was daytime we called it movie night; by actual night we had curfew; it was an old dystopian movie about a plucky band of sexy and oppressed teenagers using computer hacking and crossbows to overthrow an evil vice president who murdered the milquetoast devil-you-know president and started a global resource war over fresh water aquifers buried beneath the south pole; the sexy teens temporarily ally with cybernetically-enhanced penguins to defeat their common enemy; we all cheered for the heroes on the screen no matter how little any of us could muster the will to be the clean dishes we wanted to see in the world).

The fuckos brought brochures about how their sub-marine pleasure palace or whatEVER needed more Service And Hospitality Associates and no contribution would go unpunished or some shit. They must have known we would be a variety pack of undesirables because they were the most diverse model minority trio of fuckos. One had an expensive salon version of a do-it-yourself haircut and tattoos on her face. She looked like she'd really turned her shit around with rehab or Jesus or lifestyle blogging. Another wore a truly outstanding impractical religious head thing with some elegant corporate couture. She gave me that icy vibe like she was ready to throw someone under the bus to get promoted, but like a literal bus. The main fucko burst into his pitch right over the best scene in the movie, in this sing-song lisp that is exactly like MY sing-song lisp except I also have a trashy shore town accent on top of it because I happen to be ACTUALLY FROM HERE unlike that TOURIST.

Father Gaspren told them, "Please, no soliciting" and they took it for a joke (I'll give them that one because "Don't come here to forcefully sell things" is kind of a hard line to defend when you're the colonial proselytizer, oopsie doopsie). They tore on about how the ocean was totally habitable now. They'd take anyone who showed up at the marina in time for the morning ferry to the sea elevator. Everything you could need was there and there was plenty of work to do and also whales had once been land animals and had gone back to the water, so why not us?

The thing is, that shit was seductive. All of us listened. Gay Voice McFuckoman made conspicuous eye contact with Bert and she took one of the brochures so I stared him down and hoped he could hear me telepathing that he looked like a red puffy baked potato in a button-down. He glanced at me and I heard him thinking, "I might be gay but at least I'm not a fag like you," and I thought right back, "You're right, we are NOT the same, because you are EMPTY inside while I CARE about these people so at least I'm a CAREFAG while you're just an ELITIST FAGGORATI PRICK!!!"

"You folks really should take your materials and get going," Father Gaspren insisted. The fuckos laughed again. SO RUDE.

"Pardon us, Father," they said. "I thought all were welcome in God's house?"

So I grabbed a thurible and swung it around my head like a slingshot and got in all their faces and chased them out the front steps screaming, "YOU LEAVE GOD'S HOUSE ALONE!" but by the time I came back the movie was completely over. I HATE professionalism and professionals!!!

There was a storm moving in and the rain broke right before we got to our chores so I mostly stabbed at the dirt while water that smelled like shoe polish dribbled through the ceiling and onto the floors I'd just done. I could hear wind whistle through the seams of the building and the spooky little throats of the organ pipes. Nobody talked to each other and Father Gaspren sort of crept from room to room. Shit was over the top drama well before the hurricane sirens or klaxons or whatever started wailing all through town, but for once I was just not worried? Like this one time ever in my life I think I was something approaching comfortable. At bedtime I had this idea to tell Bert about how we might fix the drainage and better hold off the worst of the storm, but right before lights out she told me all flat and factual, "Be taking those people up on the gig."

"It's got to suck. It's probably piecework by the half pennies."

"Probably."

"They don't actually want to give you a job, you know. They want to get rid of you with a one-way ticket out of the way. I bet the chapel is gonna be a luxury condo. They took our homes and now they're trying to buy us out of our right to stay here."

Bert exhaled long and slow through her nose.

"Well, I ain't from here, and where I'm from don't exist anymore. Bottom of the sea'll be about as nowhere as any place else."

I wanted to say something about how this place wasn't NOWHERE with all of us in it but she'd have told me to quit being corny and she'd have been right. Her attention bore into me like a piston and I didn't want to lose it saying something dumb which for me would be saying anything at all and I still thought she might kill me at any moment for any reason and I think that's why I was a LITTLE bit in love with her.

The next morning I woke up to all hell bursting against my one tiny window in my EMPTY room. I started walking around the place and it wasn't just my room, either. They were ALL empty. When I started kind of yelling a bit maybe, Faster Gaspren came out from his twee little suite and confirmed that EVERYONE ELSE was gone to the bottom of the ocean with the fuckos, just like that! We were completely alone in the whole world, like, OH. OKAY.

Fucking SELLOUTS.

Guess those bitches will never have to worry about hurricanes or floods or ME ever again on the COMPLETE OPPOSITE SIDE OF THE WAVES. I flipped off the empty beds then opened the window and leaned out into storm and flipped off the whole town and the clouds, too.

"We should get going to some higher ground," Father Gaspren said. "I don't think Our Lady of Good Voyage is going to make it through without her people." And he said it with this truly sad little voice like he was momentarily a regular person. "It reminds me of walking through the house I grew up in after my parents had died. Of course, that house is gone now, too. The whole Dead Horse Beach village is gone."

I SCREAMED. Like, literally, "Ahhhhh!!!" and "Oh my God!!!" and "I'm from Dead Horse Beach too!!!" I was all, "Hey there, boy next door!!!" and we dished some REAL ancient gossip, I'm talking DEEP neighborhood lore, and made fun of how the developers called the area The Benthic Quarter now like it wasn't tenements for a zillion years.

"This area has always had problems," he said. "Some of the buildings on that block were abandoned for a long time."

"Yeah! Those were the ones with the best parties."

"Well, they gave a hard face to those problems, and who would not want to make that go away? But to let it all sink, just like that... A world of terror has at its core the god of money and not the people." Back in Priest Mode.

"You would have made a cool punk," I told him.

"Thank you, Anthony."

"But you know what, all the punks I know right now are trying to keep their tenant's rights project from falling to shit. It's too bad there are no entrenched cultural institutions for them to partner with."

"Now, be fair."

"It's just a pity, that's all! The people who should be at the heart of the world or whatever, I guess, are going to lose."

He put a hand on my shoulder. I wondered if he'd ever kissed another man. I thought maybe I should find out.

"Christ and I are here for you, Anthony. We can fight the evil in this world together, through Him."

That was a cheap shot because it would be true if I repressed EVERYTHING ELSE THAT I AM for people (not Jesus though because Jesus would LOVE me and we'd BALL).

From the dorm with the open window we could see and hear the tide crash over the rocks and cliffs and the water pulling closer to The Sin Seer and Our Lady.

"When we get back from waiting this out," I said. "I will clean everything perfectly and fix it all up nice in time for Mass if you'll please, please, please let me take Communion?"

He pulled his hand back to his side.

"That won't be possible, unfortunately."

I obviously was saying "why the fuck not" with my entire face and body cause then he started to back-peddle the whole being-a-person-in-front-of-me thing.

"Perhaps I should not be so candid with you. A change in tone is not a change in doctrine." He stepped away. "We should get going sooner rather than later. I'll meet you in my office in fifteen minutes?"

I said "SURE, FINE" to get him to leave me alone and then instead of packing I gathered my necessary supplies (herbs, balms, chalk, cookies and a juice box), raided the shed for an antique harpoon gun and spears, and barricaded myself inside The Sin Seer's lantern room.

I was the Witch King of Trash Town. The Carefag Bitch That Gave a Fuck. I surveyed my surroundings for enemies. I gathered strength from the elements to better manifest my powers.

"Great uncaring mother of life," I chanted to the ocean. "Drown us all in your watery tiddies. Flood this whole bitch-ass peninsula. Reduce this nightmare to crumbs. Return all our matter to the hungry universe."

The waves covered most of the grounds and pressed against the hatch doors of Our Lady of Good Voyage. After half an hour or so, Father Gaspren hurled one open and trudged out into the storm searching for me. I loaded the harpoon and heaved it onto my shoulders, then leaned over the railings of the lighthouse tower.

"Anthony!" He cried. "We have to leave! Come down!"

"Why don't YOU come up HERE and TRY AND MAKE ME!"

I aimed for his middle. The scrunch in his face shifted from concern to something else. He might not have heard me right, he might have got acid rain in his eyes, or maybe he was considering my challenge at face value and wracked with indecision. The water rose past his knees and kept rising, but he stayed planted where he was and just ogled and yawped like a complete chucklefuck.

"I know how you're feeling!" He shouted, which FIRST of all, how DARE he? "Let's redirect that rage!"

FUCK. NO. EVERYTHING had been taken from me and even the people who tried to help me took away my painkillers and my phone and sometimes my shoelaces. So SECOND of all, I was DONE being "redirected."

I am completely, one-hundred-percent AWARE that when I destroy myself out of spite it's neither confronting nor fixing my problems BUT! You know what? My problems are what I have left to work with! I've even tried heavy-duty therapy and hypnosis and exorcism and all they ever wanted to talk about was my childhood (ZZZZZ BORING) and "relationship patterns" (SNORE). There is ALWAYS A CATCH. Professionals yammer on about the "mental health crisis" in These Turbulent Times, like, GEE I WONDER if it has anything to do with most people being constantly in a state of desperation to sell their joy to oligarchs forever and ever? None of that goes away EVEN IF I could travel back in time and get un-fucked-up.

So I shouted back, "I GET TO KEEP MY RAGE!" I felt it everywhere in everything around me so I knew that I OWNED it and I knew that it was MINE. No more deals, no more feels! No more city, no more pity! My anger is me taking full custody over my body and my space FOR ONCE.

But of COURSE he didn't have a DAMN thing to say to THAT so I added, "SUCK MY FUCK!!!"

Dude had NO idea who he was dealing with. At least I know what kind of BITCH I am.

* * *

Julian K. Jarboe lives in Salem, Massachusetts. Their debut collection, Everyone on the Moon is Essential Personnel, is forthcoming March 2020 from Lethe Press. More of their work can be found at juliankjarboe.com, and on Twitter @JulianKJarboe.

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