I released Teardrop Road on June 23, 2021. I think it was a Thursday. It was pretty devastating to put it out in the world on the big stage. Having your secrets on a blog is one thing. The worldwide stage opens up doubts and fears that I expected but could never prepare myself for. However, this release is a win. It’s a win for me. It’s a win for my family. For mental health in general. And I hope if you’re in pain and you’re going through anything, any kind of abuse, any kind of loss, I hope this book can help you and that you can see it as a win. I’m celebrating the release of Teardrop with another blog blast. These are chapters of the second volume of Reality of the Unreal Mind, called Normal Street. I’m releasing a chapter from that book every two hours and fifteen minutes. This is the story of Hollow Man. This is the story of how I figured out love through a series of heartaches and confusing episodes. Because love is not easy to navigate for anyone, and it’s almost impossible for a shattered mind to prepare for their soulmate. Here is Hollow Man 5: Hardly.
I once held the hand of a legend. It was sweaty.
About three months into eighth grade I was suddenly popular. Well to be more accurate, I hung out with popular kids. I was still a gremlin, still only half-human in the eyes of the popular girls at school, but I was best friends with D and that came with perks. One of those perks was, I got to hang out with D, Stretch, Aimes and soon Hardly.
Aimes decided me and Hardly would be a cute couple, and she fixed us up, probably by telling Hardly I thought she was cute and by telling me the same thing. Hardly was hardly a middle schooler at all. She was all but graduated. She was on her way out.
She was gorgeous, hiding behind cute. Was smart enough to redefine the word and she had opinions. I was not used to girls with opinions. We were in middle school. We didn’t know anything, or at the very least weren’t supposed to know anything. Hardly knew what she wanted, and she was confident that she would get it.
Her mother was a teaching goddess at the high school. A strong, powerful woman with a way of ripping open a student’s mind and showing them what was in it. She was the most sought-after history teacher in the school, and I would never see the inside of her class. She never ripped open my mind. Never showed me what was in me. But she gave me Hardly. That was enough.
I don’t remember how Hardly and I got together. I know that Aimes told me Hardly liked me and the next thing I know we were a couple. As I said Hardly had opinions. Here are a few of them.
She hated Shadow. One time while talking on the phone with him, she yelled, “Quit cussing! There is no need to use language like that!”
Shadow shifted away and out came Guardian. He apologized and tried to pick up where Shadow left off.
We could do that. Be in the middle of a conversation and after a shift still know what was happening before we got there. I can’t explain it. Everyone who is an expert on DID says that is impossible. I can’t speak to that. All I can say is that I have lived with this disorder for forty years and I can sometimes shift in the middle of a conversation and keep it going. I can shift on command most times, too. Can hand a situation over to one, then step in and take it over again a minute later.
The experts have told me many times that these things are impossible. People with degrees who have studied people like me have lots of facts they want to use to define me and my shifts, my alters, and my life. I don’t know what to tell them. All I can say is that I am living it. They are studying it. So here is a first-hand account. Study this.
Anyway, sorry about that. Back to Shadow getting yelled at.
She did that often. Hardly yelled at Shadow for cursing. She yelled at him for not taking his studies more seriously. She yelled at him for playing dangerous games with his friends.
Okay, I can’t just throw that out and not explain it. Here is a small taste of the idiocy that Hardly had to deal with.
When I was in eighth grade, I hung out with Jay and Robert and other high schoolers. They taught me many things, one of them was how to “put a guy out.” It was a stupid game where a guy would bend over at the waist while sitting down and start to hyperventilate. He would take big, huge breaths as fast as he could, and when he was lightheaded, would lay back in the bed or the chair he was sitting in and hold his breath. I would press my palms against the sides of his neck resting them on the two main arteries. Within a few seconds the guy in the chair would pass out.
His body would go slack, his head lob to the side. His eyes would flutter and then, very suddenly, they would go into a spasming fit. He would kick and twitch before regaining consciousness. When he came to, he had a bit of a high and could remember having vivid dreams he could not describe. I had seen the high schoolers do it, so I brought it to D. Soon, I was putting out every boy in school and Hardly hated it.
She would steam when the guys would talk about it. She would yell at me when I did it. When we were at Stretch’s house for the day, I started putting guys out and she left the room in a huff with all the other girls. When her ride came and Servant tried to give her a hug, she yelled at him saying, “No, I am not going to hug you this time. I am so mad at you. That game is stupid, and you are not. You should know better. Be better.”
That time when Servant had come out, he had not known what was going on. He had gone to hug his girlfriend goodbye and she had snapped at him. He went away and Shadow came out again. He flipped her off, when her back was turned, and went back to his friends. They wanted to play DnD and he had an idea for a game.
One of Hardly’s opinions was that she didn’t want to be protected or saved. She was a rising power. A woman coming of age. She did not need Guardian to save her, she could save herself. She did not need his chivalry. She did not want his knightly behavior. She did not like the way Guardian made her feel when he spoke about guarding over her. She would not have it.
Artist tried really hard with Hardly. He wrote her things, beautiful things, and she never said anything about them. He tried to talk to her on the phone and whisper beautiful things to her, but she wanted him to speak up and talk straight.
But she loved Servant, not for his devotion or his serving nature but because he was a nice guy. He treated her well and he liked being around her. He could talk to her. And when he told her his fears, she never laughed at him or made fun of him. She wanted to know what he thought, and she valued his mind.
Rose had little idea what was going on with Hardly. She heard Servant say that Hardly had told him once that she felt like a girl out of time. Like a girl who should have been born in the sixties. She said she wanted to be a hippie, activist, revolutionary. She was supposed to be changing the world and making it better. She said she was going to; she just didn’t know how.
She only told these things to Servant. She opened up to him.
When they were together on the phone, it was easy. But when Servant and Hardly were in public, things got complicated and awkward. Her hand would clasp his and they would be sweating in a blink. She would rub them against her pants, and he would, too. She would apologize and try to hold his hand again. A few minutes later we were rubbing our pants again. Soon we would just end up sitting next to each other, wishing we could do what other boyfriends and girlfriends did.
When we went over to Stretch’s house that day, the couples broke off. D with his girl, Aimes and Stretch, and me and Hardly. We talked quietly and laughed a little until the others came back into the room, and D and Stretch had a lot to say. They told us we were doing it wrong. That we were supposed to be making out. That I was supposed to kiss her. They told us they were going to leave us the entire basement and they were going to go outside and play basketball for a while. While they were gone Hardly and I were going to make out.
D’s girl nodded. Aimes giggled and shrugged, and everyone left us to the entire basement.
Now, a moment before, Hardly and I had been talking and laughing but as soon as they stepped out of the basement she spun on me and snapped, “I am not making out with you!”
“I know. I didn’t want to.”
“I mean not like this. They don’t get to tell us when we— It’s our bodies. They are not in charge of our bodies and,” she sighed, looked at her hands and shook her head, “it’s not that I don’t want to kiss you. That is not what I am saying. I am not trying to tell you that you are ugly or anything. I don’t think you’re ugly. And I would kiss you. Not now, but maybe someday. But not now, because they told us to and that—”
“Ruins it,” I said.
She huffed. “Yes, they ruined it. I thought we might have our first kiss today. I was having fun.”
“But they ruined everything. And now they are going to think that we kissed no matter what we say. Or they won’t, I don’t know.”
Servant put his arm around her shoulders. “Is this okay?”
Neither of us knew what to do. I had my arm hiked up high around her shoulders. It was terribly uncomfortable and awkward. She didn’t seem to want to pull away, but she didn’t know how to sit to make it work right. We knew the pieces of our bodies were supposed to fit together like this, but we just couldn’t make it work.
Hardly didn’t know if she was supposed to lean over, hunch down, maybe let my arm slip behind her.
I was sure I was doing it wrong, maybe I needed to sit higher. Or maybe I could just get my arm a little higher. I didn’t know what to do.
We didn’t know what to do. So, I took my arm back. We sat awkward and embarrassed and I sighed. “Suppose to be easier,” I said.
“Yeah, maybe.” She laid her head on my shoulder. She placed her hand on mine. We didn’t talk. We didn’t know what to say. We just sat and waited. We were waiting for things to get easier. Or just waiting not to care anymore. We were waiting to be past this stage in our lives where nothing was going well. We were waiting to get out of our heads.
So, she laid her head on my shoulder like Jazz had the night we got back together while watching Young Guns. Hardly laid her head down and we sighed.
That spring her family put a pool in. She spent all her extra time in the pool begging me to come over and get in the water. But Char had thrown me into a raging river when I was a boy to try to either kill me or make me swim, and I hated water and feared it terribly. I would not go to her house and so she soaked and swam, and she burned.
She came to school red in most places, pink everywhere else, and complained horribly about her sunburn. She talked about it in the morning, she moaned about it at lunch, she wailed about it all day until I came to say goodbye to her on my way to the bus.
She used to meet me at the top of the stairs. There were two flights to the bottom floor that led to the parking lot. I walked to her and handed her a note I had written her. I didn’t have any idea what it said, but that was part of it by that time. I grabbed her and pulled her in for a hug and she screamed at me.
She punched me two times in the back with the side of her fist and screamed, “MY SUNBURN!”
I pulled back in horror, feeing terrible for hurting her and embarrassed at being hit. I yelled sorry and ran.
By the time I made it to the landing of the second flight, she was yelling down to me.
“I’m sorry for hitting you.” She looked miserable, looked as if she would do anything to have taken that moment away.
“It’s okay,” was all I could say. I wanted to say more but there were dozens of people around. It was hard to express to my girlfriend that it was fine to hit me if I hugged her too hard in public with so many witnesses. How does one even go about having that conversation anyway? All I could do was awkwardly look up at her and shrug. Say sorry again and run for my life.
When summer came, I went to Milwaukee to visit family and I took all the money I had, which was almost nothing. I bought her a pair of sunglasses. They had round lenses like Lennon used to wear and they had peace signs on them. When I gave them to her, she squealed. She slipped them on and flashed me a peace sign. I loved her intensely in that moment.
She thanked me a thousand times and grasped my hands and squeezed.
Our last moment as a couple that I can remember was a small get-together she threw at her house near the middle of summer. She’d invited Stretch and Aimes, me and her. We ate snacks, we talked, we listened to music and after a while Stretch left. Aimes was my ride and she wanted to stay. So did I.
We went into Hardly’s bedroom and all of us sat on her bed. She said she wanted us to hear her favorite song and she pulled out her vinyl of In A Gadda De Vita and blared it.
“It’s long but it is so intense. Just listen.”
So, we did. We sat on her bed listening to the song. It made no sense to me. I remember Shadow praying the ceiling would fall in on him, so he didn’t have to listen to it. I remember Guardian not knowing where to look or what to do with his hands, and Artist wanting to talk all the way through the song and tell them both all the images passing through his mind. He opened his mouth to do that and she shushed him.
In the end only Servant could see her. Cross-legged on the bed, her eyes closed, her head swaying back and forth on her neck, her mouth playing at the words. She was lovely defined in that moment. And he just stared at her and knew he was not ready for her. She was not his. She couldn’t be. She was too different, was being made into something powerful and true.
He watched her lip syncing to a song he didn’t like, and he had never wanted anything so badly before.
After the song, we talked. Hardly told us she was not going to be right until college. That she didn’t feel comfortable anywhere yet, but she was going to shine in college. I knew I wouldn’t be there to see it.
Aimes told us all about a heartbreak in her life. She wept and I took her hand and Hardly hugged her. Guardian talked to Aimes about it but there was nothing Hardly could say.
When Aimes was soothed it was Guardian’s turn to talk and he spoke about Less.
He had failed her. Had let Char hurt her and Guardian would never be okay about it. He needed to find a way to make it up to Less and get her to not hate him anymore. He broke down and Hardly wrapped him in a hug. Aimes held his hand and she soothed him. Told him it was all unfair and not his fault. Words that he would not be able to accept for almost a decade.
Hardly said she had nothing to add. Her parents were great. Her life was great. She had a good home and tragedy had not struck her yet. “But I will always be there for you,” she said. “If you need me for anything. To talk, to laugh, to scream. Call me or pull me away. I will be there for you.”
I believed her.
We never broke up. We just kinda faded away. The next year was our freshman year of high school and the mafia started up. I got into a lot of fights and Hardly yelled at me a lot. As the years of high school drifted by, I kept looking at her and squinting, trying to see what she would be like in college.
She smiled more in high school. That gorgeous that had been so deftly hidden in middle school became hard to look away from. I harbored a love for her that I could not act on. She was not for this place. She was for the next, and I could not follow her there. I was not going to college. I had to watch her grow strong and powerful and stay away.
When we graduated, I wanted to walk with her. I wanted to walk her out of this life in the last moments I would have with her. I didn’t ask her though. I didn’t want to feel her hand in mine again. Didn’t want to have to let go of it.
When the diplomas had been handed out and all the speeches had been made, when the caps had been thrown and the applause died down, I heard my name being yelled and I turned. Hardly was standing in the middle of a crowd of people. There were chairs between us, and Mary had a hold of my hand. Hardly looked at me as if she had so much she wanted to say to me. So many things she wanted to put into words. This would be the last time I ever saw her.
She yelled. “I love you!” She looked happy. She looked out of time.
“I love you, too!” I yelled.
Mary snarled while I stared at Hardly. We looked at each other for a long time. I wish I had fought my way to her and hugged her.
She did rise in college. She went off to do amazing things and marry an amazing man. I see pictures of her every now and then on social media.
I will never forget the song on her bed. The peace sign she flashed me, or the way she said goodbye.
Hardly, wherever you are, please know I love you.
Reality of the Unreal Mind, Vol. 1: Teardrop Road available on Amazon now.