Excerpted from the forthcoming novel, American Mary, to be released March 11, 2016 from Civil Coping Mechanisms.

“Are you ready for me to crash your life.” I blinked at the text message on my screen and spent two minutes gliding through emoticon choices for a reply. I texted him back a ghost.


He used to wash dishes to pay his rent and call me at 4 am after finishing his shift and tell me that I sound cute when I’m sleepy. He didn’t live near me. He never lived near me. And we used to talk, but then we reverted to just being friends on MySpace. I would see him comment a lot on this girl’s profile whose default photo is an overexposed shot of her sitting on a tire swing and wearing a neck brace. So fucking carefree.


How can you crash something that has no substance. You can only pass through. I’m pretty sure.


By Paul Green

By Paul Green

I had seen him a few summers before. We planned it. I bought a bus ticket, sat upright for 16 hours with headphones on and journal out, unsuccessfully tried to make myself pass out to songs about unknown lovers across the sea and other unbalanced manic pixie fantasies, music I loved because I didn’t understand how the other side actually feels.

I arrived cranky and caffeinated and rinsed my face with sink water in a bus station bathroom, only slightly making out my reflection in the sheet of grimy chrome mounted onto cinder block. My eyebrows raised and lowered as I tried to see my face in the reflection of myself. A smudged out version of myself.

He met me outside the bus station. He skated over to the bench where I was waiting and texting my parents to let them know I had arrived safely, texting Joan to tell her I had no idea what I was doing. Am I really doing this. And why.

He smiled at me. His goofy grin with cheeks like the creepy cherubs you see in Cambridge churches, his sleepy morning hair covered with a backwards cap. “You think that guy is cute,” Joan said to me once. “Yikes.”

We walked together in silence to the light rail train to get to the house where he was living. We occasionally looked at each other and he quietly pointed out decrepit landmarks. All I could do was nod. Despite dozens of letters and hundreds of electronic communications, I didn’t know what to say to him. I didn’t know anything about him. It felt better existing together in the ether, I realized, but then immediately forgot again.

It should be enough. I’m already existing.

We walked up the driveway to his house. He showed me his room, showed me the photograph of the tomatoes all splitting and red floating in my parents’ kitchen sink, the tomatoes my dad grew, the photo my dad took. “Look,” he said, and pointed at it. I sent it with a mixtape I had made for him. A real cassette mixtape I had spent a weekend working on. Dubbing and redubbing to make my playlist fit perfectly on each side.

He made me one in exchange. He told me he burned a CD from a playlist he made on his computer and used that to make the cassette. I wish he hadn’t told me that.

I jumped on his bed butt first and heard a cracking sound. “Did you just break the box-spring,” he said.


I was just like, I refuse to put in work. So I didn’t. And it didn’t even matter. Because if it’s going to happen, it doesn’t matter ever. It’ll just happen. Because they wanted it to happen. And I just let it happen. And if it was bad, it wasn’t my fault ever. Even if I didn’t want to put in work. If I didn’t care, I didn’t. And sometimes it worked anyway. And sometimes it didn’t, but it wasn’t my fault. Because I was there to let it happen. I was like, you can put in the work if you want to. I’m here. What else do I need to do.

It should be enough. I’m already existing. I mean, right. I am existing. Isn’t this proving that.


He stood in my kitchen and told me he used to work in a factory that assembled vacuum cleaners. I wrapped the cords around the cord holder on the back of the vacuum. He pointed at the vacuum cleaner. He said, I think I used to make a part in this one. I asked him which part. He said he didn’t remember.


Some people are like, I want to be normal. Like, they want all the normal things. And that’s perfectly normal. Some people are like, I want to be good. And that’s totally fine. Everybody wants to be fine. Everyone wants to feel good. Like, that’s normal. What is normal. Is functioning normal. Is it a state of mind. I guess I associate it with people who have families of their own and bought their own homes and have successful careers in finance or whatever. Like they seem like the kind of people we’re supposed to look up to in television commercials. Like they represent the standard. Like it’s what we’re told to look up to. Like it’s this unachievable goal. It kinda just seems pointless to care. I guess I have no idea.


He leaned against my counter. He was eating a bowl of cereal. I was laying in bed and my eyes were closed. I wasn’t sleeping. I opened my eyes. I looked at him and I could see him staring directly at me, but in a kind of laconic way. And he looked at me squarely and the spaced out look on his face broke and his eyebrows raised when he saw my eyes open. I stared at his face and he straightened up, closed his milk mouth. Such a dopey face. Doughy cheeks like those plump octogenarian cherubs. Born in a fully grown form, youth and death combined cheating time. And he said, I thought you were asleep.


I was laying in bed watching early Eminem rap battles from back when he still used to start his freestyles with laughing “hahahahahahahaha” and he came inside from putting his bags in his trunk. He sat down next to me on the bed and took off his shoes to get under the covers. I said, “Your feet smell” and made a face. “How bad,” he said. “Pretty bad,” I said. He laughed and I stood to lead him to the bathroom.

“Sit down here.” I pointed at the toilet.

“This is weird,” he said, sitting down.

I rinsed out the bucket I use when I’m washing the tile floor and filled it with warm water.

I knelt down beside him. I put my hands in the bucket and rubbed a bar of moisturizing soap between them.

“Dip a foot in,” I said.

He put a foot in the bucket and I rubbed his feet with my hands using fingers, getting suds between his toes, scrubbing the worn bottoms, smoothing down the rough hairs above his ankles. I watched the water turn grey.

“This is actually pretty relaxing,” he said.

My hair kept falling forward, so I used my elbows to brush it aside and out of the bucket water. I looked up at him and he was staring out the window at something beyond the neighbor’s fence.

He switched feet and I wiped the clean one dry with paper towels.

“I can’t believe I’m doing this,” I said and I don’t think he heard me.


He said he wanted to take me out one night. He was like, I wanna wine and dine my lady.

I had a bad day at work. My hair was greasy and I rushed getting ready in the morning and didn’t like my outfit. I got home and took a shower. I said, “Are you taking me out to make me feel better” and he said, “I was asking if the shower was making you feel better.”

I watched him in the mirror and he said, “Gotta get the lint off grandma’s sweater before we go to church.”

I got dressed up. I put on a dress. He watched me. Then he put on a sweater over his collared shirt. He almost wore khakis, but put his jeans back on because his outfit looked too “churchy.” I said the khakis were more preppy than churchy. I put on Mary Jane heels. I looked at him, then looked at myself in the mirror. We looked like we were going to church. “Are you ready to go to church,” I said.

Then he helped me remove lint from my sweater in places I couldn’t reach. I was doing it myself, but he walked over and said, “Let me help you.” I watched him in the mirror and he said, “Gotta get the lint off grandma’s sweater before we go to church.” I pulled away and said, “Why am I grandma.”

But we got in his car and went to a joint and ate spaghetti and meatballs and drank sugary cocktails and smiled across the table. The waiter asked if we wanted our leftover spaghettis boxed together or separately. We got them boxed separately.

Then we went home and took off our church clothes and we rolled around listening to a Blink-182 live concert and when the song that goes, “I guess this is growing up” came on, he got really excited and grabbed onto me with more force and it made me remember that time he decided he wanted to drive across the country to see me again, the time we filled cobblestone streets of a city neither of us lived in with loud and poorly performed pop punk lyrics. I thought, “I guess this is our song.”


I’m trying to be rational. I’m trying to talk about my feelings without talking about my feelings. I can articulate it. I just don’t want to. I can articulate it to myself, but if I said it, it would be more soft spots to stick fingers in. I said that it felt like we were having secret conversations because he would show me things or do weird little things and we never talked while they were happening or even really acknowledged they were happening, except for smiling and touching hands. I said that it felt like we were having secret conversations and he was like, yeah, I could tell that you thought we were having secret conversations and I think they happened for you more than they did for me.

I told my dad and my dad was like, what a cowardly shit. If he was feeling that way, then he should have gotten himself a room at the YMCA.

Playing accidentally right into the sad girl trope all my life, but more numb than sad. I expect it. Make a poem so I can take it out of me. I want this day to be over so that I can go home and cry and not talk to anyone about my problems.


My requirements are basic. Like, basically, I just want to function. I just want to function and feel like I can exist. I want to feel like I exist. I don’t want to have to question it. Sometimes, I don’t feel like I can function. Like, I don’t know how some people do it. Like, I am moving my limbs and looking at things and having thoughts and taking care of responsibilities like showering and going to work and being polite to people on public transit, but it is not even about that, and it is so much different from what I’m supposed to be doing. And it makes me feel like I don’t exist.

My friends are like, you’re fine, you’re okay, you’re doing good, like you’re doing more than you think you are. And maybe some of them see that and believe that, but I don’t really see how they see that and I feel like a sham and it’s trying. It is trying and tiring enough to prove to myself that I am a person.

Alexandra Naughton is writer, publisher, and variety show host based in Oakland, California. Her first novel, American Mary, available for purchase March 2016 from Civil Coping Mechanisms. Links to previously published work, online and in print, can be found on her tumblr. She edits and runs the literary zine Be About It. @theTsaritsa @baipress