Treehouse

online magazine for short, good writing

Five Things I Learned in the Nuthouse

by Treehouse Editors

from Timothy Stewart Johnson, author of I’ll Tremble If You Like

In 1987, my baby-mama convinced me to check myself into a nuthouse because I was contemplating suicide. My four weeks inside ended my suicidal ideation and set me on a path of recovery. It also opened my eyes about certain things I should have known and other things no one should ever have to learn.

  1. My childhood traumas were not funny. I was regaling my therapist with funny stories about things that happened to me as a child. My mother grabbing my ponytail and chopping it off with a butcher knife in front of company, drunk out of her mind. Having psychotic episodes while on PCP, LSD and mushrooms. My best friend holding me at gunpoint and threatening to kill me, and then trying to kill a girl at school for rejecting his affections. The therapist looked at me in horror and said, “Why are you laughing? Those stories are not funny! You were a child!”
  2. Everything I knew was wrong. I knew I grew up in an awesome home. My parents were cool, and everyone loved them. The things that happened when no one was around were simply swept under the rug or dismissed as humorous foibles by a well-meaning mom who simply had a little too much to drink. No one noticed when I went off the rails, and no one ever stopped pretending everything was alright. The truth was a bomb that blew my reality to pieces.
  3. I can dance without alcohol. They don’t serve cocktails in the nuthouse, but they do have parties. The psych techs dimmed the lights and all of us lunatics put our arms around each other and floated around the common area like a clot of fire ants clinging together in a flood. It was awkward at first, but after a while all of our diseases were drawn to the surface by the poultice of music, and the fumes of our pain brought tears of healing, and after, when I looked at the beautiful bulimic girls, and the suicidal young men, and the woman with multiple personalities, and the one who stood at the window at night watching invisible monsters, I saw myself.
  4. Insanity is Real. My friend Melanie told me about her father raping her, and I wanted to hold her, to heal her. When she went missing, I believed she would find her way home and resume being a mom. When they found her behind a dumpster two blocks away and dragged her back to the funny farm to finish facing her demons, her wrists in ragged tatters from a chunk of broken glass, she was not Melanie. She had become Monique. Then Monique faded away and Melanie returned, with no memory of what had happened and no idea who had slashed her wrists.
  5. It’s mostly about the money. My psychiatrist drove a Rolls Royce with her name on the license plate, and she parked it in front of the hospital where we could see it from our unit. Five minutes into my first session, she began a campaign to convince me I was bipolar and put me on lithium. I refused. I didn’t know what was wrong with me, but I knew what wasn’t. The good doctor was later indicted for “…knowingly and intentionally devis[ing] and intend[ing] to devise a scheme and artifice to defraud and to obtain money by means of false and fraudulent pretenses and representations…” She ultimately prevailed and is still practicing medicine, but the Rolls was as real as our mental problems were.

 

Blurbs for My Forthcoming Novel Madam Anna

by Treehouse Editors

Barth Landor

“This is a fine work, an excellent contribution to the genre. Bravo!”

“An instant classic!”

“Evanescent, empathetic, prophetic, emetic: this tale wrenched everything out of me.”

“When I reached the last words of this stunning novel, I immediately started over, that heart-stopping finale (spoiler alert), ‘Bob, Ada? Madam Anna’s…Mom!’ a palindromic hint to begin reading this bewitching book backwards.”

“My first puzzled reaction to this book was “Huh?”, and when I realized the brilliant device it employed, I exclaimed, ‘Wow!’”

“I read this book in one sitting. There was no other choice, as I was orbiting Earth, having decided to launch myself into space to achieve what this stupendous novel demands: total silence (except when Houston was calling).”

“Do not ask me if Mr. Landor’s writing is deserving of the Nobel Prize. Any award that begins with No is not worthy of this writer. Show me a Yes prize, and I will say, ‘Yes! That is the prize for Mr. Landor.’”

“This is a phenomenal book, one likely to be added to the Western canon, and probably the Northern canon, too. Profound yet witty, with ravishing prose, every sentence of this masterpiece was labored over by me until I achieved perfection–until I reached the very last sentence and could exclaim, ‘Yay! I’ve just written a palindromic novel!’”

“Don’t just walk to go buy this novel; break your stride. Sprint! Race as fast as you can in your new Nike Bookmaster shoes, in which you can book faster to your nearest Barnes and Noble.” (Paid advertisement)

“It is nearing midnight. I compose this note on a bridge high above the River D–. I have just finished Madam Anna, and there is a contentment in me that I know I cannot surpass. I am happier than I will ever be again, and so why go on? Far below me on the street, I hear voices shouting, ‘You can turn back!’, and more confusingly, ‘It works in reverse!’–but no, this is art to make a life complete. I am ready to go to my maker knowing that after all (spoiler alert), Madam Anna really was Mom.”


Barth Landor is the author of a novel, A Week in Winter, and an essay, “Forty Passages for Shakespeare.”

The Cactus Moment

by Treehouse Editors

       Mary Haidri

Today Nina is a tender herbaceous annual plant    She permits cuts to callus over    woody &
green    Out of doors she is nearly translucent    Layers of tissue keeping her inside herself

anything can cut into it    anything can drop out    The fully mature seeds of Nina are black or
dark brown    There are nights when Nina is all mouth    crawl in    the open jar of her throat

working the trap    I don’t mind that you didn’t send a card    you can’t even look me straight in
the flower stalks    Nina develops best under long days in sunny conditions    She sits in a chair

by the window & drinks the light    fingers unfurling   Twenty-two weeks into propagation Nina
discovered she was rootbound & rotting    small briny daughter    overwatered into drowning

This is the cactus moment    the pulse & ache    a fist closed around nothing    Her parents drove
her to the hospital    they packed cotton between my legs to keep the roots from falling out

Standing in the red dirt of the garden    Nina droops her head    overripe & seedbound    She
has thickened fleshy parts adapted to store milk    not all mothers are soft    I am spines & thorns

for you little one    Blood turns rusty    Milk dries up    The evidence washes away in the shower
this husk is skin-thin & cursed    here    you can push your fingers right through the membrane


Mary Haidri is a writer living in Portland, Oregon. She is the author of the play Every Path (La Jolla Playhouse & Moxie Theatre). Her work has appeared in Winter Tangerine, Portland Review, Nightingale, Bird’s Thumb, and Fairy Tale Review. She was the recipient of the 2017 Fairy Tale Review Poetry Award and is now a poetry reader for the journal. Visit her at nettleworks.com.

Celestial Divorce

by Treehouse Editors

Mary Haidri

give me a bed to die in    your honor    hear my appeal
my hands will become pale starfish    fingers signing slowly

against sheets    I know I know I    stutter    the human tongue flickers
we are guttering candles    your honor   I request protection of the court

his rage will drown me in a rock quarry    the loss of a god wounds
only soft places    like the skin of a wrist   the gap of a pulled tooth

the place between my mother’s arms    where she rocked me    singing
injure us and bind up our wounds   Holy One    thou art the blue bee

thou art the sting and the honeyed mouth too    your honor
he took every child we made    I was brought to the mountains

where everything drowns   they were all born face down in lake water
pond weeds wrapped around their throats    o holy court

what is a mouth for?    they say my ancestress was too lovely
to escape north to Pakistan    not without brutal attention

with each extracted tooth    the family shaped her face into a safety
for them all    mouth is a hole is a wound is a mouth   o holy court

little by little I will scrape myself away   until god no longer sees me
I curse these whispers    this is what a mouth is for


Mary Haidri is a writer living in Portland, Oregon. She is the author of the play Every Path (La Jolla Playhouse & Moxie Theatre). Her work has appeared in Winter Tangerine, Portland Review, Nightingale, Bird’s Thumb, and Fairy Tale Review. She was the recipient of the 2017 Fairy Tale Review Poetry Award and is now a poetry reader for the journal. Visit her at nettleworks.com.

Brief Encounter: I’ll Tremble If You Like

by Treehouse Editors

Timothy Stewart Johnson

Mitchell stands before the fireplace spinning the cylinder in his father’s revolver. Mark and I sit before him on the sofa trying to telepathically communicate a plan to save ourselves, but fear blocks our brainwaves and we sit quietly, waiting to die.

“I’ve decided not to become a composer. I’ve decided to be a murderer, and I have someone picked out.” He keeps us pinned with the gun.

“Tim, you’re not trembling. I bet you’d tremble if I shot Mark.” I will tremble if you like, I say, lying. He cocks the hammer and points the gun at Mark’s face. We see the little gray bullets in their cylinders.

Click.

He blows imaginary smoke off the barrel. “The old empty chamber routine,” he says, smiling broadly. Still I don’t tremble.

We hear the crunch of tires in the driveway. Mitchell puts the gun in his pocket and he and Mark walk out the front door. They smile and say, “Hi, Mom and Dad.” Everyone calls my folks Mom and Dad, and they have no idea they are being patronized. I help unload the station wagon. Later, Mark comes back alone. “He was just fucking with us,” he says.

As the bus passes the school the next morning, I see Mitchell standing by a side door, hand inside his coat, waiting anxiously to kill Terry Payne, for she has decided not to be his girlfriend. I run from the bus to the parking lot to tell someone, but no one cares. Joints are being passed around, and I end up getting stoned.

An hour later, I come out of gym class and see a parade of police cars rolling down the street in slow motion. From the back of the last one, Mitchell flashes me the peace sign.

I am called to the office and asked what I knew and when I knew it. No one ever asks me why I didn’t tell anyone. I think they know. It’s because they are grownups and they are not to be trusted. We handle our business, they handle theirs.

The hives and the diarrhea keep me out of school for two weeks. Mark discovers heroin, and Mitchell is placed in an institution to be cured. Still I do not tremble, for it is not my way.


Timothy Stewart Johnson survived the 1960s with little more than some minor cuts and bruises and now works as a writer and designer in corporate marketing.

Brief Encounter: The Treachery of Text Messages

by Treehouse Editors

Brian Erickson

there is (or was)
a fine line between being
“available” and “too available”

made finer by the filter
of text
labored over, smirked at, refined
and made finer;

outcomes thought out,
predictions resigned,
no response needed;

but if one comes, in time?

unheeded you write back
to where
you
began


Bored and raised in New Jersey, Brian Erickson began making films in high school and continued his studies at NYU, where he focused on writing and directing, thus sparing the world from his “acting.” Recently, ideas that aren’t quite stories or screenplays have sprung to mind, so he has begun writing them, rekindling his fondness for poetry. You can view some of his work on Vimeo (https://vimeo.com/brianerickson).

The Unsung 5: Rolling Stones Haiku

by Treehouse Editors

from Doug Hoekstra, author of Silently

1. Haiku for Brian Jones

blonde hair. devil’s grin
vox dobro fades on display
founder of the Stones

2. Haiku for Ian Stewart

upright confidant.
battered keys. behind the van
driving Mick and Keith

3. Haiku for Andrew Loog Oldham

king’s road, paisley dreams
christening the songwriters
mettle into gold

4. Haiku for Bill Wyman

hired for your amp
in the back, the bottom line
bagging the most chicks

5. Haiku for Mick Taylor

long forgotten sway
smiling. misplaced expertise
burnt out on main street