by David Zimmerle
You’re on your own now more than ever, dad. And somehow March never ended. The worst Friday the 13th ever. Since then you’ve become a mix of wolf blood and something else you’re not quite sure of, and see fangs where there once were incisors. You also may have the eyes of a panther. Hiss into the mirror. You’re barely hanging on in this fever dream. Forget one day at a time. That approach stopped when the fires started, and just about the time everything broke. Your present gift is hour-to-hour, dad. And the hours that were once the impossible swell you can’t paddle in from have become a blackout hold down that won’t let go.
In the corner of your hot garage—your home office—work breaks along the sharp reef of your will. Deadlines still. Commitments. Everything against the wind while the computer loops and glows. While children screech behind the door. Lean into the weight of the world as it shudders, dad. Shoulder it all. You’ve honed this muscle for many moons and tides. This is war. This is fucked. But remember, you’re still surfing.
Though darkness lingers over the front door cloaked in sickness, take stock of your situation, dad. Accept it. Surrender to the Truth. Nothing’s over. It may never be. You’re just a little more weird and uneven now that there’s only one window of time, within the construct of its meaninglessness, that works to surf. The lunch hour is out. Deal. That’s when the food flies for the children, and you temporarily relieve your wife as the replacement semi-catatonic at the sink. You will eat for fuel only and limit sugar. Greens. Protein. Water. Vitamin C—need all we can get. Simplify, dad. Besides, food doesn’t even taste like anything anymore.
Forget dusky vanilla skies and the glass-offs that once were, dad. Forget end of day alone time. Those were in the before times, maybe. You are exhausted, possibly delirious. When night falls you do, too—into a heap and often on the floor. This is the trick though: Do not fight sleep. Do not reach for a nightcap and settle in for more anxiety on the screen. Melt into the rug instead, dad. Give in to the elevator ride going down, down, down. Pre-dawn will come, and this is your time. You must live for first light. Meditate before you leave. Breathe deep despite your new transformation. Visualize the hope you still have for your life, your family, the session and the shred you have left for humanity. Be okay with no control, no wheel and no rails.
Prepare in the night, dad, because at some point you will wake from the floor before or after midnight with the whole house asleep. Go outside. Howl at the moon. Do not fight your wolf’s blood. Take this moment and scream into your beach towel. Then go and gather the rest of your things. Board and suit go by the side door. Water and banana ready in the car. Leave the warm rabbits alone. Later you will wake again in your own bed asleep next to your wife, but this time from a nightmare of a fat orange face ejaculating lies onto a tall oak tree. Remember, it may only be a dream. Remember though that you’re living in a nightmare. Use this as fuel to get out the door with your things. The water will eventually soothe you.
Dad, you are clear to drive like a motherfucker from your homestead to the fresh pulse rolling in. Go straight to your straight shot. This is fall. Soon winter. It’s the other thing you’ve also been holding out for, knowing it may help keep you sane. Coffee will no longer do this for you. Driving or not, do not drink it. Coffee is no longer your friend, dad, despite what the slope-shouldered cis brand boy who once was your incompetent boss used to preach about slow-drip and productivity. He may golf, but he carries dull blades. And when he’s not swinging away or stabbing others in the back, he’s fingering velvet sacks that come with his most recent luxury purchase. Do not trifle with coffee. What good is it anyway when your adrenals are shot.
Frontload your day with water instead, dad. You even may be better served eating a sativa gummy as your stimulant. And this is okay. For you will peak with the peak and become more attuned to the barrel. You will be compelled to more cerebrally slice and dice your way down the line. Hack the lip with more harnessed instinct. This is what you came to do. You may see dad’s like you out there, too. You will know them by their thousand-yard stare, shaved sides down to the scalp and overall grim demeanor. Hiss at them in solidarity.
Out of the water and while you wait for swell, dad, do not grow tired of the prison yard that your neighborhood has become. You may have walked it, jogged it, or ran through it like a madman under the moon a thousand times over by now. Surrender. There is still sky above, even if it’s the color of a paper bag. Amble graciously with the baby as she scampers on the sidewalk, and occasionally, lift her up and hold her like a rucksack. Do squats as she giggles in your face. Embrace this Sisyphean roll of life. Channel what human remains while you push her and your son in a loaded-to-the-gills stroller up the hill in the hellish heat. Use your legs and engage. Lock in your arms. Push against the rock of it all. This is training and will serve you well in the water.
Skip rope in the garage. Sweat, dad. Pant. You might as well be Rocky Balboa during the montage of his deepest, most personal struggle. That, or a mutant. And down the street as you begin your ascent uphill coming back from the desolate park—when that pit bull built like Clubber Lang rushes the chain link fence to break you—hiss at him, too. Lock eyes. Growl and snarl. He will whimper and run back into the house in fear. Fearing your incomprehensible pheromones. Fearing your wolf within. It is what it is after all, dad. It is what it is, and you’re still surfing.
David Zimmerle lives with his wife and two young children inland from the tired, monied and mostly soft enclaves of North County San Diego on a homestead where military choppers and artillery rounds cut through the the air at all odd hours, and the town vibe is inching toward progress yet still rural and subdued. Overall, he finds the experience of its dichotomy enjoyable, which is to say his town is most likely not for you. He publishes frequently in The Surfer's Journal, has published poetry in the 99 Poems for the 99 Percent anthology, is editing a debut novel and enjoys playing electric guitar in a soundproof garage on many pandemic nights.