The Right Number: A Short Story

Originally posted June 10, 2012

John McLean tapped the cracked screen of his yellow iPhone and brought it to his ear.

“Hello, Ming’s Café. What you want?”

“An order of egg rolls, Hot & Sour Soup…”

“…and Pork Lo Mein, right? I know your voice. 3337 Guadalupe Street #2? Same credit card?”



“20 minutes.”


John tossed the phone on his grey, tweed couch and glanced around the apartment. The oily, plastic tubs, used chopsticks and red & white, cardboard trapezoids served as evidence of his dietary apathy. A living museum. Empty cartons petrified in time. A hunger that was once wrenching and desperate—now reduced to a low grumble. Eating was more like an annoying habit these days.

Six months. Six months since she left. Only two things remained: her white sapphire and 18K yellow gold engagement ring and a 43-second message on Google Voice. He had it memorized. Verbatim.

Katherine didn’t really say much. After almost two years, she just—poof—vanished. Said her heart wasn’t in it. Said she didn’t want to hurt him. When he returned home to Austin from his mother’s funeral in Mobile, she had packed her things and placed the custom-made ring on the top of his dresser. Where it still sat. Untouched. An orphaned relic of a past life.

Their courtship was short-lived. She was an intern in the hospital where his mother was staying. They had known each other for about five months before he popped the question. She had comforted him through the toughest parts of his mother’s MS. Perhaps their bond had formed out of security rather than love, but still, he had never opened himself with anyone as much as he had with her. If it weren’t for the ring’s insistent existence, he might have believed their relationship was just a passing dream. That would have made things easier.

But it was real. And he now had the Chinese take-out boxes and extra 40 pounds to prove it.

He looked into the mirror and slid up his greasy, white tank.

“Something’s gotta change,” he thought to himself. “Jesus…man. I feel so numb inside. Like I’m spending my life waiting to die or something. I don’t want to live like this. The fucking Chinese delivery lady knows me better than anyone else, for Chrissakes! How fucking pathetic is that?”

He sat back down on the sofa and absent-mindedly reached for the remote.



Comedy Central


He paused. TBS was playing Die Hard. Again.

“Typical,” he muttered. He loathed this movie. Or rather, he loathed his inadvertent affiliation with it:

“John McLane!? Like that Bruce Willis character in ‘Die Hard’? I love those movies! Are you gonna save the Nakatomi Tower or something?”

No, you fucking moron. I’m gonna bash your fucking brains in with a two-by-four.

“Uhhh…yeah, funny. No, not saving anything. He spells is differently anyway. L-A-N-E. I spell mine L-E-A-N.”

“Well, we know who to call when the Germans come to town, eh?”


But on some level, he knew it wasn’t their fault. His name did have a level of notoriety. If he had met a woman named ‘Elizabeth Taylor’, he’d probably say something just as douchey like, “Really? How are the ex-husbands?”

And yet, like a scab he couldn’t stop picking, he didn’t change the channel.

“Ironic.” he reflected. “The hero and the loser. The champion and the deadbeat. John McLane, the savior of humanity and John McLean, the king of Chinese delivery.”

The tinny sound of Bon Jovi’s ‘Livin’ on a Prayer’ jolted him from his self-loathing.

“That’s strange,” he thought, “no one ever calls me. Maybe the Chinese place ran out of eggrolls or something.”

He looked at the phone, but didn’t recognize the number.

“Oh what the hell,” he said, answering. “Hello?”

“Well hello yourself! I have been waiting for over an hour-and-a-half at Spider House! Where the hell are you?!” shrieked a woman’s voice on the other end of the line.


“What? WHAT?! Jenna said you were a little flaky, but this is RIDICULOUS!!!”

“Jenna? Who…who the hell is Jenna?”

“Jenna…your cousin? Wait. Is this Randy Morgan?”

“No. My name is John. John McLean. You must have the wrong number.”

“Oh my God…I am so sorry. It’s just…my co-worker—well, former co-worker—tried to set me up on a date with her cousin and she texted me his number and…well, clearly she made a mistake and sent me the wrong number and…oh, Christ, it’s just been a long day—a long week really. Oh who are we kidding, this whole year has been pretty shitty, what with the divorce settlement and losing my job and my father’s accident…,” she trailed off, stifling her tears.

“I’m sorry,” John said, genuinely moved by this strange woman’s pain.

“No, no, I’m sorry…for dumping all that on you and for screaming at you and…geez, you must think I’m some sort of crazy woman, huh?”

“Well, actually, I think you’re pretty spot on. I mean, if I had to deal with a divorce and losing a job and the father thing—and on top of all of it, being stood up—I’d be upset too.”

“Thanks,” she said, softening. “What did you say your name was?”

“John McLean.”

“Why is that so familiar?”


“Um, Die Hard?” he muttered, grudgingly.


“The Die Hard movies? The main character is John McLean?”

“Never seen them. Not a Bruce Willis fan.”


“Wait a minute!” she cried. “Westlake High? Class of ’92? Well, I guess you were ’90 or something…?”


“Yes! This is Marsha! Marsha Graves. Well, Marsha Reynolds now, but soon to be back to Graves. We were in band together. I played sax and you were trumpet, yeah? You were pretty good in those days.”

John remembered her. Pretty. Blonde. Soft features. A little flighty. Spent more time smoking weed under the bleachers than in band practice, but she was always kind.

“Sure, I remember you. What you been up to since high school?”

“Oh, local community college. Left after a year. Got it together long enough to get my aesthetician license and been doing nails ever since, though the place I worked for closed down last month. Tough times, ya know. Plus my father just got in a car accident. He’s alive, but his legs are crushed. Not sure if he’ll ever walk again. And he has no pension and no insurance—what with being the local handyman all these years.”


“Too young. He was 17 when I was born. So mom and I just have to do what we can to scrape up the money to pay for it.”

John glanced quickly at the ring on the dresser.

“Hmm. I’m sorry to hear that. Seems mighty unfair, if you ask me—for God to rain down a bunch hard stuff on just one person.”

“I stopped believing in God a long time ago,” she answered coldly.

“Me too. It was just a way to get my point across. Haven’t been to church since I stepped foot out of my momma’s house. Though I do miss the music. Always liked Amazing Grace and…”

In The Garden,” they both said simultaneously.

“Ditto!” she cried. “That one was always my favorite!”

“Heh, yeah, mine too,” he laughed.

His laughter took the edge off his uneasiness. He hadn’t had a conversation that lasted more than three minutes in some months. He feared he wouldn’t be able to remember how to be politely sociable. But the clumsy frankness of Marsha felt open and fresh. It gave him permission to reveal a bit more of himself.

“Well. Nice to hear we have something as lovely as In The Garden in common,” he said.

“Indeed. So what about you? I’ve been talking this whole time. What happened to you after you left school?”

“Well, I went to A&M, got a degree in computer science, found a job where I could work from anywhere, so I moved back home to be with my momma. She was sick with MS for a long time.”

Was sick?” she asked.

“Yeah, she died about six months ago.”

“I’m so sorry.”

“I’m not. The years of hell that woman went through. I’m glad she’s found her peace,” John retorted, a bit too callously.


“Anyway,” he said, trying to soften the moment, “we scattered her ashes in her hometown of Mobile, like she wanted. And that was about the same time that my fiancée decided to skip town. Left me just a phone message and a ring. Haven’t heard from her since.”

“Wow, that’s a little selfish, if you ask me.”

“Yeah, it felt that way at the time.” John was surprised at how quickly he’d opened up to Marsha. He hadn’t revealed this part of his life to anyone since Katherine left. He did most of his work from home, had no siblings or close cousins and his father had been out of the picture since he ran off with one of the neighbors’ wives when John was 12. They both died in a boating accident one year later. John never forgave his father for leaving him alone with his sick mother. He allowed himself a maximum of 30 seconds of grief when he heard of his father’s death. The rest he packed away in a hermetically-sealed time-capsule lodged in the back of his heart.

“But, you know, time heals all wounds, I guess,” he said, brushing off the memory.

“Yeah, except yours don’t seem so healed.”

“You’re poking a little too deep for someone I just re-met over the phone,” he said jokingly, but not without a real intention to end the conversation.

“Haha…ok…another time, perhaps.”



The hard, electric buzz of John’s doorbell jangled the pregnant stillness.

“That’s my dinner, Marsha,” he said, somewhat relieved at having an excuse to get off the phone.

“Oh, OK,” she replied. “Well, maybe I’ll give this Randy guy another 20 minutes or so before I give up on him.”

“Yeah, maybe he lost his phone or something and is caught in traffic...”

“Yeah, maybe…”



“OK, well. 20 minutes. Spider House. Then I’m heading home,” she firmly declared.

“Good luck, Marsha.”

“Yeah, you too John. Maybe I’ll see you in band practice sometime,” she joked, a little too nonchalantly.

“Heh. Yeah, I wouldn’t count on it. I haven’t touched a trumpet in ages.”

“Hm. Pity.”


“Better answer that, John.”

“On it,” he said, without moving a muscle.

“Goodbye,” she said.








The phone started ringing again. John eagerly prepared to answer it, only to find it was Ming’s Café, no doubt wondering where he was.

He sat motionless until the ringing stopped, the driver stepped off his stoop and the car drove away, undelivered Chinese food in tow.

“What the hell just happened?” he thought to himself. “It was just a simple wrong number. She didn’t actually want to talk to me again, right?”

And yet, he remembered the hint of an invitation in her voice when she joked about band practice. And there was something in the way she said ‘Pity’—it was almost like she was seeing deeply into him and pulling out…what? He didn’t know how to explain it, but, for the first time in a long time, he could feel. His heart hurt. His forehead was hot and slick. His skin felt tingly and tight all at once.

And then he knew was it was—that simple piece he would not allow himself to acknowledge.

Joy. Pure, innocent joy. The joy he felt when he played his trumpet. They joy he felt when his mother sang in church. The joy he felt when his father bought him his first Miles Davis album. And the joy he felt when he and Katherine used to slow dance in the hospital stock room, sharing one pair of earphones.

But unfortunately, with joy, comes hope. And dreaming. And love. And history had proven to him, over and over again, that every time he allowed himself the luxury of love, life was going to abandon him in a swamp of unfulfilled desire.

And yet something’s gotta change, he reminded himself. He knew it. He didn’t just know it—he felt it. The truth was pouring out of his body. In his shaking, his sweating, his crying.

He didn’t have much time. He slipped on his tennis shoes, threw on his leather jacket and grabbed the ring from the dresser. He didn’t know if it was worth enough to cover her father’s medical expenses, but he knew it could help.

“Something good needs to come out of all of this,” he thought, as he stuffed the ring in his pocket.

As for what would happen next, he wasn’t sure. Would he and Marsha strike up a friendship? A love affair? Marriage? Or would she even still be there when he got to Spider House?

Honestly, none of that mattered. He wasn’t doing this to try to win a relationship. He was doing it in gratitude to the gift of joy that God (or whatever) had given him that day.

Before rushing out onto Guadalupe Street, he pulled his iPod from his jacket pocket, stuck an earpiece in each ear and pressed the bottom of the white circle. And as he closed the door behind him, he raised the left corner of his mouth in a slight smile as Bye Bye Blackbird began to play.

Legend of the South Seas (written 5/3/2009)

Venice Beach, CA

Venice Beach, CA

Originally posted May 1, 2012

Legend of the South Seas

(written 5/3/2009)


My heart hums in a secret volcano

Hidden patiently dormant

Midway between Helena and Espiritu Santo

Teetering on the tip of tectonic bliss


A loner by nature

(She never fit in with Pangea)

She calls the ring of fire



Enigmatic magma rumbles

Beneath her crest

Luring worthy sailors

To slip onto her shores


Map-less, they must brave her currents

(No easy sextant for celestial navigation)

Caressing her whispering zephyrs

Riding her blistering squalls


‘Til they wash up famished

On her full, wet sands

Igniting her belly ablaze

Swollen earth morphs to enveloping lava


And in unrivaled eruptions

(Pele is so jealous!)

Impassioned ashes descend

Searing skin-to-skin, soul-to-soul


Immortalizing their bodies

In cinder-splendor

A pacific monument

To her tempestuous love 

Addicted to Daddy: Hunger and the Search for the Integrated Masculine

Sistine Chapel, Michaelangelo

Sistine Chapel, Michaelangelo

Originally posted March 7, 2012

I hit a pretty hard low yesterday. I played it off as “I’ve just been working too hard” and “I’ve got PMS” and “It’s almost a full moon,” but something in me knew I was lying. I woke up around 3am the night before. I had had a dream, but couldn’t quite remember it. I was shivering. I had three comforters on me, a pair of pants, thick socks and a sweatshirt—and I could not warm up to save my life. I wasn’t really sweating. It didn’t feel like a fever. But something in me was stagnated. Cold. And my blood just didn’t have the strength to flow. My legs were shaky and I could barely stand. I got up, put on a thermal shirt and went back to sleep.

Later, I woke up around 7:30am exhausted, but focused. I got some work done, but by 12:30pm, I had to lie down. After two hours, I woke up, heavy and extremely depressed. “Oh God,” I thought to myself, “What is going on? I do not have the will to even get out of this bed.”

I finally did drag myself out of my pit of depression and decided a salt bath would be a good idea. I figured immersing in the warm feminine would be a healthier way to draw out this painful energy, rather than stuffing it down with Girl Scout cookies or glasses of scotch. So there I was, heavy and silent in the bathtub, with my most depressing song mix playing on my iPod, when it all flooded back to me—the dream that woke me up at 3am.

I was with my ex-husband. We were at my mother’s house in Georgia. I don’t remember what we were talking about exactly, but the feeling was like meeting a dear friend again. Laughing, sweet. A glowing warmth surrounded us. He turned his back to me and the next words I heard were not his voice, but my father’s. I was then interacting with my father in that same warm glow. We spoke for some time. Then I saw that it was nearly 6:30. The wife would be home from work soon and it was time for me to go. There was no room for the both of us. At that point, I think my father has blended into my ex-husband again, so I am unsure if the woman coming home was my stepmother or my ex’s current partner. It really doesn’t matter who the woman was. What matters is the feeling of loneliness, the hollowness in my chest and the tight ball in my throat. Again, I had the sense of “bucking up” and “being a big girl” in order to make room for those around me.

Back in the bathtub, hot tears prickled my eyes and dripped down my cheeks. My heart cracked and a thick warmth dripped down my chest. The pressure in my throat grew to a painful, sharp ache. I tried to relax my body and breath, but there was a nausea coming over me and I had a feeling like I could not hold anything else inside of me. I heard my roommate just outside the door and quickly choked up to muffle my sobs. I was vibrating with a mix of sadness, anger and embarrassment. I was shaky and could barely breathe.

I realized that while I have been working to reconnect to my tamped down feminine, I have neglected to acknowledge my hunger for an integrated masculine. I am consciously choosing the word ‘integrated’ and steering clear of the words ‘divine’ and ‘spiritual’ because those tend to refer a way of masculinity that tries to ‘rise above’ and ‘transcend’ the body, the mud, the blood, the anger and all other ‘unpure’ and ‘unsavory’ expressions of energy. But the feminine thrives in that fleshy, earthy world and if we try living only from the waist up, we disconnect ourselves from our raw power.

An ‘integrated’ masculine, however, knows how to go down deep, stand firm in the fire and can come back up to the surface with vision and clarity while still staying connected to the feminine. The integrated masculine does not live in shame of its feminine counterpart, but is strong enough to be the container for it, so that whatever wildness arises, it can hold it all and weather the storm. And when the storm has passed, the integrated masculine knows just the right moment to dissolve and move on to wherever desire leads it next.

OK, so what does all this mean in the ‘real world.’ My personal brand of masculine hunger (and one to which I believe many people can relate) is an Addiction to Daddy. This means seeking out men who will take care of me and provide stability in some way, either financially (the men with the nice cars and the money who will whisk you away to fancy dinners and trips to exotic locales) or emotionally (the men who are connected to their feelings and will love you and bend to your will every time). This addiction comes coupled with a level of insecurity and shame that has me dying to feel loved and approved of. So a shadow arises in which I need these men to believe that I am the most gorgeous, smart, amazing, perfect, fill-in-the-positive-adjective woman they have ever met. Yet, when my desire meets the reality of the situation (I really don’t want to be in a relationship with these men), I end up leaving. After a while though, the hunger starts to gnaw at me again and the cycle begins once more.

The thing is addicts tend to attract addicts. So while I am seeking this hit of masculine approval, the men are looking to connect to their wounded feminine through me. They get to play out being the stable provider and the one who fixes all the problems—everything a ‘real’ man should be. Unfortunately then, we are all walking around relating to each other as drugs, rather than as humans, and we use the hooks of romance, relationship and porn for our hit.

It is also my belief that society feeds this addiction through selling the ever-pressing need to ‘find a mate.’ Millions of hungry women are all over dating web sites. Hungry women go to the movies and feed on the idea that ‘if only I find my soulmate, then I will live happily ever after.’ Women’s magazines (purchased by hungry women) are plastered with headlines like “How to Hook Him and Keep Him Forever” and “3 Easy Steps from Single to Saying ‘I Do’”.

And make no mistake—I am not speaking only about heterosexual relationships. This isn’t about men and women, but masculine and feminine. What we are dealing with is an overall dearth of an integrated masculine energy. So whether you are homosexual, trans, bi, whatever—we are all looking to fill in those energetic places in ourselves where we feel we are lacking. So a feminine-energy man may go seeking a masculine-energy man. Or a feminine-energy woman may go seeking a masculine-energy woman. Whatever. The point is that this is a universal way of managing our hunger.

I have seen Daddy Addiction manifest in many ways. With people who had the ‘ideal’ father, they may be serial monogamists, constantly seeking out that one man good enough (and he never is) to fill daddy’s shoes. In people with absent fathers, they may glut on masculine energy through constant dating and one-night stands. Still others may surround themselves with vibrators and romance novels and fantasies (to get the feel of interacting with the masculine) but are too afraid to connect with another person.

I also believe in the past years, there has been a stigma attached to anything that is too ‘masculine’, particularly in the spiritual/transformational world. I know many people who say things like ‘Oh, that’s the masculine way. You are not going with the flow. You are not feeling into me. What’s with all the boundaries?” Blah blah blah. Listen. There is nothing ‘wrong’ with structure or the masculine, just like there is nothing ‘wrong’ with chaos and the feminine. One is not ‘better than’ the other. In fact, with integration, they both support each other in ways infinitely greater than if each tries to work on their own.

Yes, as women, we have had to work hard in order to rise above the centuries of cultural shame that has come with carrying feminine energy. And there is still work to do. In the US, women continue to make only $0.77 to every man’s dollar (1). The crackdown on homosexuality, especially in males, is another example it. And of course there is the pervasive oppression, circumcision and torture of women in other part of the world.

However, blindly reacting in rejection and anger to the masculine is not the way towards healing. This will only lead to shadowy attempts at sneaking a fix of masculine energy (Daddy Addiction, in my case). What I am finding to be true for myself is that the more I peel the layers of shame on the feminine within me, the more I can trust my masculine to support her and stay connected to her desires as we all move on the journey. So my dream had less to do with my ex-husband or my father, and more to do with the relationship with my own internal masculine, first by acknowledging and feeling my anger/grief and then learning to love and forgive that energy within me. With that forgiveness, comes relaxation and space for my authentic feminine to arise, integration to happen and internal healing to begin.

Once we have learned to cultivate an integrated masculine and authentic feminine, we no longer grip onto others as crutches or fillers for our own insecurity. We are ok with being alone with ourselves. And our deepest hungers get nourished. From here, relationship becomes a choice, rather than a compulsion, and true unconditional love can arise—because we don’t need the person to be anything other than who they are. And however the relationship expresses itself, we can flow with that and see the conflicts that arise (because they inevitably will) not as places to project all our latent anger, but as opportunities for knowing ourselves better.

Yeah, yeah, yeah, I know. It all sounds nice on paper, but in practice, it is tough as hell. I see all the places where I grip to a hollow masculine. I force myself to ‘be productive’ even when my body knows it needs a rest. I cling to people for their attention and approval in order to feel ok about myself. I hold myself back emotionally because I have shame around admitting my hunger. All these add weight to my bouts of depression and leak energy, contributing to my frigidity and exhaustion.

But I also have clarity and insight that would not have come had I not fully walked into the knot of my pain. And through developing this skill and sensitivity, I know who I am a little better, can express it more easily and feel more compassionate towards myself. These are the gifts of the shadow, harvested in the depths of my feminine and can now be shared with the world through language, structure and a more integrated masculine.