The only ways I know how to feel anymore are as follows: Angry or Nothing At All.

Angry is easier to deal with than anything else. Much like everyone has told my stepmom, they’ve all repeated the tome to me as well: It’ll get easier. You’ll get on with your life. It’ll be okay. It’ll just take time. Worst of all, however, and most perturbing is when I’m told I understand. I hear those words, see them on my computer screen and I close my eyes, let them roll upwards in my head as I breath deep and steady. Count… One, two, three, four, five. Don’t yell, Amber. Don’t say what you want to say. Never say what you want to say again. The truth of it is that my words can’t be trusted. The truth of it is that the ever present “they”, with their insistence words and sad eyes, don’t understand. “They” can’t relate. And to hear that they feel they can is infuriating. You relate to my grief? Well, I can’t help but notice you live a fairly well adjusted life in which you have living parents and siblings and the only reason you “relate” to my words is because of your sick sense of self entitled sadness and depression. What have you to be sad over? I wonder and then I hate myself for belittling the ache of others, as if my pain is better than theirs in some non-existent contest of self importance.

It’s interesting, though, for all these people who claim to understand, the one person who actually understands, who did lose her dad, has not used those words. In fact, she’s gone out of her way to tell me she probably doesn’t understand but at least she’s been through it herself.

Nothing At All is harder. The biggest accomplishments I manage on the average day is to get out of bed and put on leggings, only to lay back down again, as if pulling black fabric over my thighs took too much out of me. My face is puffy and red and I stare. I stare at my computer screen, I stare at my phone, I stare at my wall, and I wonder if this chasm inside of me will ever fill.

It’s funny – I used to think I was empty inside, that I was to dysfunctional to feel properly. Now I realize that that girl had more love and light to give the world than anyone I’ve ever met. The fact that she was convinced she didn’t is the saddest truth I encounter.

I figured, when all this started, that I’d be overcome with guilt and regret but I really only have one regret in all of this and it’s that I never dated. Part of that is because I wish I had someone constant here that I could fuck because at least then I’d be feeling something but for the most of it, I just wish that I had fallen in love before my dad died. I wish that I had been able to bring someone over to his house for dinner to receive unspoken approval that for once in my increasingly longer life I wasn’t fucking something up. I wish I’d been able to talk to my dad after a fight with my significant other just to hear him tell me that I’d better fix it because he didn’t want to hear me complain about this. I wish I’d fallen in love and gotten engaged and I wish I’d gotten to see how this guy had interacted with my dad, how he’d reacted to my dad’s perverse and brash sense of humor. I wish I’d had to argue with my dad over the fact that I was going to get married in a barn in Iowa and I wish he’d made the trip out anyhow, to see me start a new life, barefoot in a thrift store prom dress. I wish he’d seen that and I wish that I still believed that all of those daydreams would come to fruition.  Now, however, I get to be alone and that crushing realization is the worst thing I could feel.

All I want out of life is for someone to hold me and let me cry and assure me that they can help.

But no one can.

And it’s not that no one wants to help. It’s just that no one knows how.

The nights are just as bad as they’ve been but the days get worse as the weeks, weary, wear on – The only person I can talk to with any sense of realism and honesty lives across the country and all I want is to go to her because with her, I don’t need the pills and drugs that I do when I’m around other people. She promises me that things will get better but it will take time, which, coincidentally, is the one thing I no longer have. I need things to be better and I need them to be better now because every moment that they’re not, I only feel more and more overwhelmed.

I used to feel awake and alive and passionate and I fake it most days and I fake it well. Sometimes, I think that people can’t even tell what happened and I wonder if they think it’s a sign that I’m myself again.  What a charade I’ve pulled, wool over wide eyes to blind them all from the truth: The girl they used to know doesn’t exist anymore.

I meet new people, new friends and new boys and they’re beautiful and they’re happy and they’re alive and I wonder if they could be important to me before I remember that they can’t be. Because I won’t let them.

I’m ashamed of who I am and every person I know is just another to add to the list of growing people that I have to keep it together around. And if I can’t keep it together? Well, that means I’ve failed and I can’t fail at anything else, not right now.

I pick up the phone and I call him and tell him I can’t see him again, that we can’t be friends. It’s harder than I let on to say the words because he was the last testament of normalcy to me, the last person introduced into my social circle in the “before” of my “before and after” life. And it’s strange because I think if things had been different, he could have been a big deal for me, an even bigger deal than he was. I talk about my uncertainty the night before and my friend tells me not to do anything dumb, advice I quickly cast aside when the onslaught of emotions becomes too much for me to process as I realize I’ve been cast once more in the sexless, loveless, careless role of “female friend number three”, an nameless extra in my own life, once more in the “friend zone” that destroyed my heart so savagely for twelve months last year. He says he’s glad we’re friends and I remember Jake’s words, imploring me to not be rash, and I bite my tongue, I leave and walk home and the streets are empty, all remnants of St. Patrick’s Day drunken revelry swept away and I realize I should have been honest, I should have just said it then. He might be glad we’re friends but I’m not. Not under these circumstances.

And I realize the old patterns I could so easily fall back into right now – The girl I was last summer, drinking too much in minidresses and perfectly applied makeup, a black widow bringing boys home just to rob them from the life they emanate to make herself feel better for a few minutes. It never worked. Not once. So instead, I cut myself off and I hide inside my room and I write about how things should be, so different from how they are, and in my fictional account of the past month, I have friends and I’m still crushed but I feel love.

But now I can’t feel anything at all.

I never used to remember my dreams. Up until this summer, in fact, the only dream I ever remembered having was a recurring nightmare I had as a kid about being eaten alive by a koala.  Every day lately, however, I wake up with a vision so vivid that I keep my eyes closed for hours until I drift off again to a better time and place.

Every night, I’m at my dad’s apartment in the suburbs of Detroit. He’s alive, sitting on his couch watching The Simpsons. I’m in the kitchen and I’m cooking and we don’t say much of anything – Just as it was when I returned to Michigan one year ago this time to spend my days as his post-college layabout daughter-slash-roommate. He’s frustrated with me about something dumb I’ve done, some way I’ve let him down and I’m rolling my eyes in exasperation. It’s nothing profound or special but every night, things were just the way they used to be and he’s alive.

I wake up and I shake for hours and I can’t get out of bed until I have to leave – To take Devon to gymnastics at 5 p.m., to have a meeting with one of the bands I manage at 10, to go to the movie set in the mornings to brush shoulders with George Clooney in the most surreal days I’ve ever lived during which I get to be someone else, a nameless journalist covering a fictional presidential race with a fervor and passion that I used to possess in real life, a fervor and passion that has been robbed from me this winter.  I sit at home in a rocking chair and I listen to the same cd on repeat and I cry until I’ve leaked all fluids from my body and I remember how good things were until that day that I got that phone call and I write when I’m composed enough and I feel better but it’s all a reminder of how things have changed, how there is no “normal” anymore, not for me, not for Laura, not for Sara or Delores or Al. We’re all living in an emotional nuclear fallout and it’s more evident every day how little compassion strangers have, with their loveless stares and snide comments. I fear opening my mouth anymore, terrified that I’ll alienate the few people I do have because I’m convinced that if I can’t keep it together, my friends won’t want me around anymore. And I can’t blame them.

I’m driving on State Street, coming home to take Adrian to the library at 6:45 and the radio is playing Arcade Fire and I remember how my dad used to send me text messages almost every day, quoting one of his favorite indie rock songs. The day he died, he sent me a lyric from “The Suburbs” and it plays and I pull the car into a parking lot and I listen and I sob into my hands and I think of how ominous it all seems now:

So can you understand why I want a daughter while I’m still young?
I wanna hold her hand and show her some beauty before this damage is done.

I haven’t seen you for years but I know you better now than I ever did growing up. Older than my dad by two years, a bitterness grew inside of you, a resentment that spread like ivy around the recesses of your mind until you were left a shell of anything you might have ever been and what have you now? Nothing. Not even a slight comprehension of what my family is going through.

You were grown when your father succumbed to a death we all knew was coming from the cancer that ate away at his spine and brain so you can’t understand what it’s like to be left behind so young and ill prepared, like I have been. You never had children so you can’t fathom the protective nature instilled inside my dad at my birth to never let me encounter the bad stuff. But you – His brother – are the enemy here and I don’t understand how someone could be so abhorrent. It wasn’t enough that you had to run to hide behind a lawyer to disavow your mother’s wishes like an insolent child desperately grasping for some sick sense of  control, nor was it enough to scream and cry until your face turned red and purple like a beet, a ripe red pear let loose from it’s branch when it’s own juices were too much to bear so once again, you threatened my dad with a lawsuit over bullshit that could have been solved by simple, civilized conversation. But civility… You’ve none of that, have you? It’s all been made evident by the fact that you barely waited until my dad’s body was cold to grasp at all that was vanishing from our tangible fists as the rocks we once held so tight turned to sand and slipped away from our seemingly careless grips. So you take and you take and you take. Just as you took from my dead father, you now take from his widow, married to him all of six weeks.

How do you sleep at night?

Where is your moral fiber?

Where is your sense of right and wrong?

For all the praying you do to your beloved god, you sure must leave him ashamed, just as I am ashamed to know we share blood, share a last name. But that name? It doesn’t mean shit. You aren’t my family. That blood, that name, it means nothing to me. My stepmom, stepsister, and stepgrandmother have been in my life all of two years and they are more of a family to me than you ever have been or ever will be again.

I am beside myself when I hear what you’ve done and now, there’s hate inside of me and it has taken root in my heart like a cancer that eats away at everything good I have left. I can’t talk to anyone for fear of screaming. I can’t look at anyone for fear of sobbing. I vomit from rage, as if the bile that coats my throat and teeth will expel some of the hate you’ve settled, sewn like a sick seed, a demented poisonous plant that grows and grows and grows with no signs of arrest.

I hope you’re happy, you son of a bitch. It wasn’t enough to bury your youngest brother. Now you have to embroider your fibers of misery into all we have left? The only comfort I have is the knowledge that you will die alone, miserable, hated, and pathetic. Or have you died already?

Home Sweet Home.


I’m in the suburbs, in the basement I used to spend so much of my time when I lived there, when my phone tells me that my text messages are full. I accept the option to clean them up and as they’re being deleted, I realize the last conversation I had with my dad – The last few texts we’d exchanged the day he died – are amongst those being erased. I wait, with the precision of patience, for the fleeting feeling of being submerged underwater – The usual precursor to my panic attacks – but it doesn’t come. And I realize that no matter how long I hung on to those text messages, or the bracelet my dad bought me that had broken earlier in the day, that it doesn’t matter. He’s gone. And holding on to those mementos will not bring him back.

Later that same night, I am standing in the kitchen, bare legs, cigarette in hand, wrapped in the same coat that I’ve come to identify with this week of death so, and I remember the constant disappointment I was to my dad, the conversations that we had about how I could never support myself as a music journalist, that I should throw in the towel because I’d never be a self sufficient adult the way I was living. Sure, that big magazine job had come through once but it had gone under three months after I packed up my life and moved for “the sake of the job” and economically, reasonably, a person can’t live as a writer these days, they just can’t. Some people are lucky enough to have their march into adulthood punctuated with a wedding, a birth – My transition from “post college layabout” to “fully functioning adult” was instead marked by my move to Ann Arbor, only three months ago. And that move, to my dad, signified that I was okay. I remember this and I go outside and light a cigarette from the last pack I’ll ever own, and I realize: My dad died and he was proud of me when he did.

It’s this realization that calms my taciturn nervous system, always so close to the edge of sanity these days, and lets me know: Everything will be alright.

I come home and everything’s in disarray – My living room is still strewn with bottles and lighters from Bri’s twentieth birthday. It seems so long ago but it was the day before my dad died… And I’d never bothered to clean up before I left that night for Gray and Melissa’s to be delivered the fateful news that everything was about to change. I put down my bags and I walk into the bathroom to find my toilet’s broken and my bedroom is still a pit of laundry, just as I left it. It’s cold and it’s lonesome but it’s mine, this place, it’s mine, and coming back, even though I’ve only been here moments, restores all the order to my life that I needed. Everything’s okay. And right now, that’s all I need.

The worst is over.

Wake and Be Fine.


It makes sense that this song is here for me, right now. Tracing the trajectory of my life, during the important events that have marred the lackluster backdrop of my day to day existence, all of which pale in comparison to what I’m dealing with now, there has always been one person who’s towering presence has been an unwavering constant and that person? It’s Will Sheff, lead singer of Okkervil River. Of course.

As I languish in eating-disorder-recovery hell, finally being dismissed by doctors after I gain enough weight to warrant their dismissal, I hear “Savannah Smiles” and the titular character is living my life – She sleeps and lies around and then she goes out. The next year, I make a disastrous attempt at being an adult, moving away to Illinois, and it’s “A Girl In Port”, “Starry Stairs”, “Red” – And I realize that the reason that Okkervil River has been endeared to me in such an intense manner is because of Sheff’s predilection for writing extremely honest, realistic, severely troubled female characters that I relate to intensely.  So of course it only makes sense that the band releases “Wake and Be Fine” four days after I burn my dad’s corpse in a pyre that divides my life evenly into “before” and “after”, only two days after I scream and sob and take the little bit of order my life had and shatter it in shards all around me, only one day after I cry into the inept arms of a boy that doesn’t know what to do to make me feel better. I tell him I need to fix things and I do – I need to fix things, I need to fix everything, I need everything to be okay. He looks at me and he tells me: “You can’t fix things.” These are the truest words I’ve heard since my dad died.

Suddenly, my life is a movie, a montage of days the order of which is shown through the devolution of my hair’s state of being. I’m a girl on couches and beds, laying under blankets with tragically wide eyes, the kind a deer has, framed in the cylindrical glow of headlights right before impact – It’s an impact I keep waiting for that never comes. Wouldn’t it all be so much easier if I died too? These half-thoughts enter her brain and linger for a moment before dissipating. She’s stopped wearing the makeup she never used to leave her room without days ago and constantly, she shakes. Boys lend her books but all she can do is stare at the pages. It takes her an hour to get out of bed and when she does, she wanders around looking lost and all anyone can do is ask her “Are you okay?” There are cut scenes – A dozen cut scenes – of everyone asking her “Are you okay?” and a flashback – She’s in Gray and Melissa’s kitchen and she’s sobbing and she’s shaking and she’s screaming and Archie Powell, a boy that’s known her longer than anyone in her current state, comes over to her, puts his hand on her shoulder, and tells her “Amber, I don’t want you to think no one wants to do anything to help you. We just don’t know what to do.” She calms down for a second and realizes that she’s everything she never wanted to be right now.

This entire moment – This entire strange transitional time in my life, condensed down from one week into three minutes – is orchestrated by the cutting waltz of “Wake and Be Fine”, anchored on the lines Someone said to me it’s just a dream, why don’t you wake up and you’ll see it’s fine?

Wake and be fine, you’ve still got time to wake and be fine.

I take these words and I commit them to memory, listen after listen, hoping that if I hear them enough times, this part of my life – This week, this scene – will be over and I will be, just as Sheff says, “fine”. A sense of structure and normalcy will return to my life, an order, and everything will be like it was. I understand that it can’t be like it was but all I want out of life is for everything to return to the exact moment everything changed and to never receive that phone call, the one that turned me into the daft, hollow cynic I’ve turned into. I want to have made mojitos and laughed at shitty pop punk bands. I want the biggest thought in my brain to have remained the quandary of whether or not the boy I liked liked me too. I want to have been taken home that night and I want to have kissed him because I was planning that, that’s what was going to happen. I want everything to be like it was. And I feel cheated that it’s not. And I feel naive for believing that if I try at normalcy hard enough, I can go back to that moment and fix everything.

Can I wake and be fine?

My phone rings and I know it’s bad news. My sister’s calling and it’s right after midnight. She’s usually in bed by ten.


“I need you to get somewhere quiet.”

I start to walk out into the hallway as she repeats “I need you to get somewhere quiet”, adding an urgent “right now” to the end of her statement and I sink inside, my stomach succumbing to the quicksand that has appeared in my gut. I’m walking, I’m moving, and I’m mostly sober, but I’m still not fast enough. I leave the apartment, close the door behind me, and I stand in the hallway. I tell her “Okay”, giving her the go-ahead to change my life forever.

“Your dad stopped breathing.”

I lose myself immediately. I shake and I cry and I say something exclamatory, what, or why, or something like that but suddenly, I forget that I’m saying anything. The paramedics are there and they’re trying to resuscitate him. I hang up and I’m on the carpet, footing lost, face on the floor, phone still in my hand. I sob and every time my rib cage contracts, I feel as if I’m being physically crushed, an egg in a fist, yolk leaking through the space between fingers and shell shattering. Inside, I hear Melissa. “Is Amber crying or laughing out there?” I stand on shaky legs and I walk. Inside. Left foot. Right foot. This should be easy. But it’s not.

I walk inside, door closes behind me and I open my mouth but I don’t feel the words in my throat as I start to talk.

“My dad stopped breathing.”

Gray’s there and he hugs me and someone says something. I respond. They say “sit down” and I do as I’m told, everyone directing me. We’re going. Where? No one knows. I call my sister back and I ask and she tells me. “They’re taking him to Macomb County Hospital.”

The drive seems to simultaneously take all the time in the world and no time at all, music intermittently interrupted by phone calls and we’re 18 miles away when Sara tells me “Amber… It doesn’t look good.” Inside, I’m dying, shellshocked and sad and the sickeningly hopeful idea that everything will be alright doesn’t even occur to me. All I can think of is the night, seven years prior, when my dad’s older brother died. Fifty-five. Massive heart attack. I was asleep on the couch at my dad’s house, a directionless college kid clad in a Radiohead tee shirt when the phone rings. Eyes open and I look at the clock. It’s past four. “Hello?” My dad answers, sleep audible in his voice before he screams. “No. No, no, no!” Tom Valentine was with his wife. They were eating popcorn. He stood up then fell down, a valve in his heart explodes and he’s dead instantly. I do the math in my brain and it takes so long – Fifty… One. Two? No, one. My dad was fifty-one. Four years younger than his brother. And that… It was hereditary. I remember that much.

Gray and Melissa drop me off at the entrance to the emergency room. Justin’s with me. My phone rings again. “Where are you?” “I’m here. I’m at the emergency room. I’m walking in.” I’m in the hospital, white tiles glowing in florescence and I round the corner, seeing my sister as she says on the phone “Your dad’s dead.” Read the rest of this entry »

So, in a pathetic fit of desperation, I recently realized I am the patron saint of dating within my social circle but cannot date anyone I already know. My aforementioned “social circle” consists entirely of people I work with: Bands I manage, kids that write for me, the staff of my PR firm. Sure, I’ve been fine in the past with dipping my proverbial pen in the company ink but in those days, I was only writing about people, not managing them. As alright as I am with, say, boning a dude who’s band I love in a cornfield, I am not okay with getting a little less appropriate with my hands when those hands book the shows of whomever they got a little less appropriate with. And so it was that I entered the world of on-line dating. This has spawned much hilarity and made me come to the realization that I can be alarmingly bitchy to people. This has also spawned a forthcoming meet up. It’s been a while since I had to put my best foot forward for anything – And the last time I did have to put my best foot forward, at my dad’s wedding, that foot ended up without a shoe, covered in spilled Jack, and attached to a crying bridesmaid. So, in an attempt to help me help myself, I’ve made the following list of things NOT to discuss on this “date” thing.

Ex-Boyfriends. “Hey, guess what? I have exes that are not only more famous than you but  also might better musicians!” does not break the ice in actuality the way it should in theory. Additionally, “Have you seen that one commercial? You know the song in it? I totally slept with that dude!” doesn’t work wonders.

Okkervil River. While this would be a great topic of conversation were I anyone other than me, I am me and my word-associative brain will connect such far reaching things as the phrase “for real” or any mention of “Will” to Okkervil River, forcing the evening to devolve from pleasant conversation to hours of gushing about how no man will ever understand me like Will Sheff, which is funny enough until you realize I’m only half joking.

Timber Timbre. See above. In fact…

Let’s Just Try To NOT Talk Too Much About Murder Ballads. Ends up not everyone thinks killing is as interesting of a discussion topic as I do. In fact, most people find it unsettling.

Also, Don’t Mention Your Extensive Collection of Crime Scene Photos. Once more, see above.

It Might Be A Good Idea To Neglect Mentioning Your Pet, “Bathroom Spider”. Apparently, living alone and being single is lonelier than I originally anticipated. The spider that lives in my bathroom? That’s my pet. His name is Bathroom Spider. I talk to him sometimes. That’s normal, right?

Aforementioned “Corn Field Boning”. Save that tale for the second date, at least.

The Fact That You Know Every Word To Justin Timberlake’s Solo Debut, Justified. Show me a girl that wouldn’t let J. Tims “rock her body” and I’ll show you a militant lesbian.

Shaving. Menstruating. Other “Gross” Topics. Fact: When I accepted the offer of “going out for a drink or something” my first thought was “Godammit… Does this mean I have to shave?”

Social Circle Comprised Mainly Of Ex-Boyfriends and People I’ve Slept With. Hey, I did say I date mostly within my social circle, didn’t I?

Knowing me, I’ll discuss most – If not all – of the topics above. But at least I’m trying!

Title Track.


So, take this thin broken down circus clown reject and give her the name of a queen. Don’t I know her from the mezzanine? She didn’t look like no princess to me but with the proper words bestowed; And with her morning shoot and her evening clothes. Don’t call her a prostitute –  She ain’t one of those just call her a proper little statue come unfroze.

I don’t think about you that often anymore. It’s funny because of how enamored I was with you for so long, how much I felt I owed you, and how I genuinely believed severing ties with you was the hardest thing I would ever have to do. It ends up that cutting you out of my life was just the training wheels preparing me for the hardships of being an “adult” and the heartaches that came along with growing up. Now, there’s nothing left of you except some songs I don’t listen to, your shirts in my suitcase, and a few strained memories that wander into my brain so infrequently that I’m shocked to remember I once thought I might love you.

When I think about you, I don’t remember how excited I audibly was when I called my best friend and told her that you’d just kissed me, so unexpected and tender, in the lobby of some venue in Chicago. I don’t remember the first time we met and the way I spilled out my secrets to you, your presence being enough to sever my skin and let all my vices and the loss of my past come pouring out of my stomach like viscera from a freshly slaughtered game animal. I don’t think about the way I undressed in front of you for the first time, taking off my beer stained shirt and putting on your white American Apparel v-neck for only a few moments before you took it off me, your calloused fingers moving with the eager precision of a professional playing the part of an innocent intellectual. I don’t remember the tangles of brown hair that you teased as I lay on your bare chest, taking a drag off your cigarette, listening to you whisper me stories about life on the east coast as I thought this was how it would be from here on out, you and me. Us.

I don’t remember the overwhelming sense of certainty I had about you or the way that the end of our torrid affair was written all over our past conversations, it was sung in your songs, your three minute monuments to all the girls you’d wronged before I came along, all too eager to let you have your way with me.

What I do remember is the last time we spoke, when you told me that you’d had a girlfriend all along, one that you didn’t plan on leaving. I remember the nonplussed look on my face as my cheeks burned because surely this wasn’t really happening, not to me, not with you. I remember reading your apology in my inbox, signed with “I’m sure we’ll speak soon,” and I remember making the conscious decision to not respond, not again, not ever. I remember the way I slowly phased your music out of my life, the way I stopped wearing that v-neck that I used to keep wrapped around me like a security blanket, a sad reminder of everything you’d done for me, a laughable reminder that you cared. I remember how it all felt easier if it was gradual.

I remember listening to the first record you released after we stopped talking and the way I seethed, indignant, when I heard the song you’d doubtlessly written about me, the song lampooning whatever it was that we had, proving the exact amount of nothing I meant to you. It was a song that painted me out to be a needy, pathetic, little girl looking for a savior. You weren’t wrong about me at all but that didn’t make it hurt any less. In fact, having my own naivety pointed out to me in such a public and adored forum only made it hurt all the more.

What I remember about you is the death of a dream and the last gasping breath of my youthful optimism.

I kept my mouth shut about my fuming exasperation at that scathing song and I maintained a professional yet terse relationship with you and your ilk. Never burn a bridge, no matter how much you want to. I kept tabs, of course, listening to your albums as they became available to me but for the most part, I forgot you existed although sometimes, when I’m out, a gentleman will bare a vague resemblance to you and my heart will thump more loudly in my chest. You’re just my type after all and every guy that’s caught my eye since then is a testament to that. You, however, have the distinction of being the first.