part 1

I’m terrified of showing this story to Grant. But I must. I will.


Last night’s dream:     This time, I’m aware of the red light; stopped in front of the cobalt                                        blue Matrix, bright yellow SUV. I see all the colors and slam on the                                        brakes, but they don’t work. I relive the accident, this time stone-cold                                        sober, eyes wide open as I crash into the brightness, foot still pumping                                        madly on the unresponsive brake.

part 1


Overtures toward my arresting officers were desperate attempts to divert their attention from unmentionables I knew would be found in my bloodstream, if they felt so inclined to check. I asked about their families. I talked about my family, cats and students.

I told them a story about my dad that goes like this: Alfred McAvoy was a factory worker at a company in Brunswick, Maine for seventeen years, until he was fired from his job because of a certain condition his former boss called “chronic tardiness.” And that I was now his sole support.

It’s true; I lied that my father did arrive late to work, then he didn’t. After several red-faced verbal warnings and explicitly worded write-ups in his personnel file, the final straw for Bob, the plant manager, occurred on October 18, 19—. Dad arrived 25 minutes late to work at the factory. Although many other commuters might have blamed this tardiness on the unusually bad traffic encountered on I-295 that morning, which was verifiably caused by a mattress that had fallen off the back of someone’s truck and blocked several lanes, my dad’s excuse was, well, different. Dad adamantly believed that the singular cause of his lateness was because he was under complete mind control by a race of aliens from the large planet orbiting the star we call Vega. Maybe the story about my father was oversharing. The cops looked bored by it.

But the story I told on the way to the hospital does not belong to me. This account was instead an excerpt of a funny blog I recently read, written by Edward Forsyth-Ludd, a comic in Los Angeles. The only verifiable truth about my dad I told my fine police escorts is that his name is Alfred McAvoy. (As my dad has also been cruel and I’m sure he wished I were a boy, he gave me the full name of Alvina Fredwina McAvoy, a perfectly valid reason to harbor resentment against him for the rest of my life. Only a factory worker with psychiatric issues and a Midwestern sense of humor would have thought about something as corny as this, I think. Go Hoosiers, right?!)

My father Alfred, or Al as his friends call him, or Dad as I call him, has never even been to Maine. He retired from his local plumbing business some five or six years ago, and now spends his days drinking and criticizing the government for sending planes to spray poison into the air we breathe, for spying on us through phones, through computers, through home security systems, by infiltrating the neighborhood, our family with spies, spies whose job it is to make him go crazy. He’s known to say things like, “They’re trying to take my property away from me, Allie. You know that’s what it’s all about. They’re trying to drive me crazy, so I’ll do something stupid and they can just take my property away from me for dirt cheap and without any trouble. And you know,” he’d say, leaning in closer and lowering his voice, “that’s a valuable piece of land. Did I tell you I got an offer from a developer last week for $2.3 million in cash?! In cash, Allie!”

Last I saw him was a few months ago. It was after midnight on a Monday, and as I needed to work later that day, I was relaxing in bed, trying to fall asleep to TV, when he unexpectedly dropped by. He was visibly agitated, sweating and shaking. In rushed, hushed tones, he instructed me to immediately turn off my television. He said he had to “escape the property” because “they” kept flying helicopters over his home, spying on him, so he drove to stay the night in a Motel 6 in town. He said he was in his room watching the ten o’clock news when he heard voices “on the other side of the picture,” voices from a government call center, spying on him from a sterile office in D.C. “Just trying to check and see what’s going on out there in the people’s minds.” Excitedly pacing the extent of my small living room, he continued, “They heard my thoughts, Allie.” He stopped, turned abruptly, and said “Allie, do realize how serious this is? This is so fuckin’ serious! They’re probably reading your thoughts, too—

“Allie, do you know what deep shit we’re in? We’re in deep shit, Allie. Real deep shit.

“But do you know what? This is something I don’t think, uh, I’m pretty certain, that they’ve yet caught onto. That some—that some of us can read them right back.” He tapped his forehead with an index finger. “Allie, I can read them right back! I hear their thoughts! I heard the conversations they had on the other side of the TV!

“I think, uh, the impression I got, was that this was a, was supposed to be, a private conversation between two government agencies, and somehow I tapped into it! One was certainly Coast Guard: there was a news story going on, something about a rescue, and I heard—Allie, I heard the actual communications, and not the ones they showed on TV. And I heard, and somehow I just knew: you know your Grandpa talks to me sometimes. Actually, a lot. He can see a lot more, not trapped in a physical body anymore, and he tells me stuff all the time. And then next thing I knew I was hearing what was going on INSIDE the television, somehow through the news channel, I heard this. And I think they were probably working with Homeland Security. Wasn’t just me they’re spying on, but anyone they feel is of interest, and all the new electronic communications. It’s a plan, Allie, don’t you see? It’s part of the plan that they put the electronics out there, like the television and the phone and the internet. These are just spy tools, Allie. Have you ever thought of that? Have you? And when anyone has the television on? That’s how they do it! Reverse cameras!”

A good daughter, I remained calm, said little, and eventually quieted him by sitting him on the couch and refilling his wine glass time and again.

Eventually, he began to relax. In a tired, almost defeated tone, he said his head had been throbbing nonstop for days and he hadn’t a decent night’s sleep for weeks. “You got any Tylenol PMs?” I dutifully trudged to the bathroom to retrieve the plastic container. His hands shook as he pinched open the bottle. After refusing a glass of water, and without counting, he dumped a pile of blue tablets onto the palm of one hand and downed the pills with a large gulp of wine. “Tolerance,” he explained, his eyes focused on the glass. “I have a high tolerance to pain meds because I’m always taking them.”

When I awoke in the morning at seven, my dad was already up, sipping coffee at the kitchen table. His eyes were red-rimmed and haggard. He reached across the table and gave me a long, awkward hug. He said gravely, “Allie, you need to watch what you say whenever you’re in public, whenever the TV’s on, and always, always when you use your phone. I didn’t call and instead just drove right over last night because I didn’t want to lead them to you. It’s people like you they’re especially after, because you’re liberal and they’re afraid you’ll brainwash your students.”

“Okay, Dad, sure.” I hugged him tighter.

Upon ascertaining my promise to visit him in person rather than call if I want to discuss sensitive matters so that it would be harder to track our conversations, he lumbered into his dusty pickup and took off out of town.


part 1


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For all installments of “Self-Destruction,” click here.