Winner of the 2021 Disquiet International Literary Program Prize in Nonfiction


Ninth Letter is proud to feature “Speaking of Chaos” by Seth Fischer. His award-winning essay achieves a fine balancing act—through well-earned empathy—between pathos and humor, hurt and affection, fraught memory and forgiveness. And all accomplished on a single car ride to and from a waterfall on the big island in Hawaii, near the city of Hilo: a son and father together, and a last good chance, perhaps, to communicate.

—Philip Graham



My dad swatted at the tiny roaches jumping at his legs from the floor of the passenger seat of my rental Nissan. They didn’t bite, but they jumped at his knees and ankles like sand fleas.

“I’m sorry about those bugs,” I said. I hadn’t noticed the infestation when I picked the car up on the other side of the Big Island at Hilo, and now there was little I could do. The drive back to the airport was too far. He wore shorts—the kind of shiny khakis that toe the line between cargo shorts and formal wear. The roaches hopped from the floor to his knees to the floor to his calf and back down again.

“So annoying,” I said.

Dad grunted in response. He rarely talked anymore, though he could form sentences, an impossibility closer to his death six years later. The doctors explained that his form of Alzheimer’s was hard on the verbal and decision-making parts of his brain.

“Aren’t these trees incredible?” I asked. The leaves on the monster trees lining the freeway were the size of adult humans, often bigger. They were an impossible shade of green.

When his mind fully worked, he never would’ve allowed a vacation like this. Though he adored the beauty of New England’s trees, he hated the beach, loathed the tropics, and had little use for being outdoors, because it tended to make him sneeze.

My dad had stopped swatting at his legs and was now resting his eyes against his hand. He shrugged and sighed, and I realized I’d fucked up. I’d asked him about the present. Questions about the present overwhelm Alzheimer’s patients.

“Sorry,” I said. “Look at the size of the leaves. And the green. It’s like Dr. Seuss. I mean, the greenness. And the size.”

He relaxed some. The trick to managing him, I’d learned, was to talk the whole time. The problem was that Alzheimer’s patients are famous for mirroring your emotions, and I tend to be a bit of a bummer. On that day in particular, I was fixated on not telling him about some terrible news I’d received: Connor, an estranged ex-friend but also the person I’d known the longest aside from my family, had died by suicide, sitting in the garage with his car running, leaving his wife and infant behind.

Sure, I hadn’t spoken to Connor in years, and though we spent hours and hours together as kids, we never got along much growing up. But having no one to talk to about this was torturing me. I wanted to tell my dad this more than anything. We were, after all, still allowed to ask questions about the distant pass, to reminisce about memories that might still be accessible to him. And he’d known Connor, who, alongside me, was one of only two goyim in my preschool summer camp at the Jewish Community Center in Denver in 1983.

I wanted to tell my dad that I still remembered the heat of that JCC locker room after our swim lessons, the way the humidity from outside piled on to the steam from the showers. I wanted to tell him how one day, in the way of four- or five-year olds annoyed with the heat, I tore all the clothes off my body. I wanted to tell him how all the other boys also took their clothes off with no shame and maybe even a little joy, not yet aware enough to live up to masculine locker room expectations: eyes up, no eyes wandering south of the belly button.

I wanted to tell him about the day a boy pointed at my crotch and yelled, “What happened to your penis?”

To his credit, my dad had prepared me for this. He’d thought about what it might mean to send an uncircumcised boy to the JCC for swim lessons. He had not, unfortunately, thought about how to coach me to be sensitive to the religious and ethical complexities of the situation.

“Everyone is born this way,” I told that boy. “You all had this once, too.”

“Ew,” another boy said.

“It’s not gross,” I said. “You had it too.”

“Are you saying,” still another boy said, for they were all now circled around me, staring at my crotch, “that our parents cut part of our penis off?”

I nodded confidently back at him. “Yes,” I said, “but it’s okay because it’s for your religion.”

“How do you know?” Connor asked. He is the only person I remember from preschool, because he was one of those boys filled with enough puckish energy to make every adult squirm on sight. He was always grinning, even when he was angry.

Maybe he would help me out?

“It’s what my dad said,” I explained.

Connor shook his head. “Your dad is a liar,” he said. I don’t know or remember whether he was circumcised, but I do know that those were fighting words. You did not call another kid’s parent a liar.

The other boys were now circling me. I had no interest in fighting, especially not over my penis. Even then, I knew there was no better way to get the whole school talking about it. So instead, I said, “I dunno, but I have to go,” and I threw my little kid tighty whiteys and shorts on and ran off to the car where my dad was waiting.

In the car, my dad was beaming, shuffling around in his seat a lot, and dancing to the Michael Jackson Thriller single cassette. It was one of the first times I had seen him this happy. He was in the middle of divorcing my mom—a divorce that was making him miserable, led to him moving to Boston, and would mean I’d live with him for only three years for my whole life. But neither of us knew that at the time. He was happy because he’d just found out that he’d been given tenure by the University of Denver. And Michael Jackson—not yet notorious for sexually abusing children—was something innocent that we loved together.

“Sethers, how are you doing?” he asked, peering over his huge gold-framed glasses. “You look sad.”

I thought about telling him the truth, but I didn’t want to ruin his mood. “Okay,” I said.

I’d never been a very good liar. He frowned. “You sure?”

I sighed. “I don’t like swim lessons.”

He grinned at me. “I don’t like swimming either, but it’s important.”

“I guess,” I said.

He tickled me until I joined him in dancing.

When the song ended. “I have a question for you,” he said. “What do you want to be when you grow up?”

I looked up at him from the front seat. I’d just gotten tall enough to be allowed to sit up front, and I was proud to be there.

I knew he was a psychologist. I knew that psychologists tried to explain people. I also knew he was a developmental psychologist, a kind of psychologist that explained children. He was good at explaining children and people, but I didn’t like explaining anyone. For one, I didn’t like it when my dad explained me. Why would I want to do that to other people?

But somehow, I understood that kids had to do what their parents did, so I said, “I guess I have to be a psychologist.”

My dad laughed like I’ve rarely seen, where his eyes teared up and he had trouble stopping allergy boogers from escaping his nose.

When he caught his breath, he said, “You know you don’t have to be a psychologist.”

“I don’t?”

“Of course not,” he said, “You can be anything in the world you want.”

My dad tells me then that I lit up, that I started laughing along with him, that I said, “I want to be a policeman. No, a fireman. No, a doctor. No, a writer. No, Inspector Gadget.” This meant so many things. I could be circumcised. I could have as many friends as I wanted. I could shape myself into whatever I wanted to be.

We both laughed and laughed all the way to wherever we were going.


Back in the roach-infested rental, my dad asked, “Where?” This was the fifth time he’d asked so far. We’d been in the car twenty minutes.

“We’re hiking to the top of a waterfall,” I said. “I love waterfalls. They’re beautiful. I bet it’ll be just like the one in Cocktail.” I stopped myself. It was still okay to ask him questions from his long-term memory—his doctor even said it might be helpful—but still, he had never seen Cocktail. He wasn’t a Tom Cruise kind of guy. “Anyway, it should be pretty.”

I kept going. “I think these trees are incredible. Just like the ones in Jurassic Park. Man, I loved that movie as a kid.” My dad put his head in his hands. They were covered in so many age spots and freckles, way more than I’d remembered. “I keep thinking a dinosaur’s going to leap out from these trees, like that one that hisses with the big cheeks and ate that character played by that actor who was Seinfeld’s nemesis. What’s it called? Sorry, not asking you. Asking myself—” I stopped myself. It hit me then that I had seen Jurassic Park with Connor. The memory is fuzzy, but it involved all of us screaming when the velociraptor came out of nowhere, proving they hunted in a pack.

Around the time we saw that movie, I’d just moved back to Denver to live with my mom after living with my dad for three years in Boston, where he’d moved after their divorce. One day, I was alone in my new middle school’s cafeteria, hoping to find Connor. He was one of the only people in this new school who’d been nice to me, maybe because we knew each other from before, though we hadn’t seen each other since the JCC. I clutched my tray with a Dr. Pepper and Frito pie, looking out across the cafeteria for his dark hair and snaggletooth. I listened for his laugh. It was his laugh, more than anything, that led me to him. His laugh was the kind that you see in troubled middle school boys and twenty-first-century Republican presidents: He inhaled after he laughed rather than the other way around, so you would think he was having an asthma attack if he wasn’t smiling.

He was holding court with a group of boys who hung on to every word he said. I pulled a chair up from an empty table and asked if I could sit. They all picked at soggy Fritos rather than answer me. Something was wrong, I knew, but I didn’t know what else to do but sit down.

At the next table over, there was a blond boy sitting with a bunch of the popular kids. This boy was a problem. I couldn’t stop thinking about him, especially before I went to bed at night. He had rosy cheeks and perfect skin and every time I saw him, I wanted to hold him down and suck on his teeth and tousle that always barely messed up hair.

This boy was more of a problem than that, though. He, I knew, was a symbol of something wrong with me. If I couldn’t control these feelings for him, I would die, because AIDS, or because of bullying, or just because the shame of a boy liking a boy seemed to lead to death, when anyone ever spoke of it at all.

If I could be anything I wanted, I didn’t want to be dead.

And anyway, it was all very confusing, because there was another person, a popular girl who I also thought about, who I wanted to tie to the train tracks like in a Bugs Bunny movie and lick in unspeakable places. She once even called me, though I later learned the popular girls’ parents had them pick an unpopular boy and call him to make him feel better about himself. At the time, though, I thought maybe she liked me.

But she wasn’t around, so rather than be humiliated in front of the blond boy, I sat down like they hadn’t ignored me.

“What’s up, guys?” I said.

Connor took a sip of Mountain Dew and stared through me.

“Is something wrong?” I asked.

Connor looked at the other boys. “I wish that Seth kid would leave us alone,” he said, loud enough for the whole cafeteria to hear.

I knew crying would’ve been the end of me, so instead, I asked, “What’d I do?” I thought about picking up my tray and moving to the popular boy’s table, but I couldn’t imagine that going better.

“Do you guys hear someone talking?” Connor said.

One of the other boys giggled and slurped some soup.

I asked about an Algebra test. Then I asked about the plans for laser tag that weekend.

“It’s like I keep feeling this faggoty wind, but I don’t know where it’s coming from,” said Connor.

He couldn’t know. How could he know? I hadn’t told anyone. Not anyone.

“What did I do?” I asked again. I’d figure out soon he just loved to call people faggot, that he knew nothing, but at the time, I kept glancing over at the boy, who was now watching the proceedings.

Finally, Connor asked, “Why are you here?”

A rage came over me then. The tables around us had all gone to murmurs. I wouldn’t move. They couldn’t make me. I was going to sit there, sip my Dr. Pepper and eat these beef-drenched Fritos, because it was my favorite meal they served in this damned cafeteria, and if they didn’t like it, they could leave.

Every one of those boys left that table instead of eating with me.


When I moved in with my mom, I wanted to bring my wardrobe from my dad’s house, but it was too big to move all the way from Boston. It was about six feet tall, made of a light brown wood, and had a trap door in the middle that folded into a desk.

Around the time of the Frito pie incident, when I was twelve, I visited my dad. In my room, I’d pulled the trap door down and was sitting on the scratchy rug under it. I whispered to myself, I am gay I am gay I am gay, and I thought about the blond boy, and I cried, and I whispered I am going to die I am going to die I am going to die, because I thought that death was what it meant to be gay. I sat there for twenty minutes, which stretched into a half hour.

I was aware I’d spent much of the last week feverishly masturbating to the rather terrible straight porn magazine I’d found in my neighbor’s hedges, full of drug-addled women sprawled in impossible positions. It did occur to me that I felt a strong urge to crawl inside every redheaded girl in my class, especially when they chased me. But this also didn’t make sense. From what I understood—and this was before the Internet, so I had no places to develop this understanding aside from some sort of cultural osmosis that came from films and name calling in the school yard—if you liked boys, you were gay. So I was gay, I guess, even if I also liked girls? Which meant, I guess, that I didn’t actually like girls, even if I did?

Finally, I went into the bathroom and did my best to get the tears out of my eyes. I hadn’t eaten since breakfast, and the hunger overwhelmed my desire not to let my dad see me with a red, snotty face.

When I got to the kitchen, my dad watched me from the TV room. He was rocking gently, watching baseball.

He said, “Is everything okay?”

He farted. He was always farting. “I’m fine,” I said.

“Are you sure?” he asked.

“I’m just fine,” I said, and I grabbed some Life cereal, poured some milk on it, and ran back up the stairs.

“You know you can talk to me if you need to,” he yelled up after me. “You can talk to me about anything.”

I ignored him, went upstairs, and looked at the porn I’d found. It was in my hanging file folders — filed alphabetically, p for pornography.


Not long after, when I was still in Boston, my dad asked me in passing for my passport. I told him it was in my hanging file drawer, not remembering, for some reason, what was filed right next to it.

That night, as I snuggled into bed, he walked in with a full black plastic bag. He sat on the edge of my waterbed, biting his cuticles.

“I found something,” he said, “when I was looking for your passport.”

I knew what had happened right away. “I found it in the hedges!” I said.

He looked confused for a moment, and then, somehow making himself not laugh, brought the bag to his lap.

“You’ve reached the age,” he said, “where you’re going to start thinking about some things. It’s typical for someone your age.”

Typical for someone your age. He also said that when I said I didn’t want to take the trash out.

I stared at him, hiding all but my head under the covers.

“What you found,” he said, “is disgusting.”

I blanched. This couldn’t be good. My dad didn’t use words like “disgusting” lightly.

He put his hand up. “It’s alright. I know you just found it. But I want you to know that there is better stuff, you know, out there.”

He pulled some magazines out of the bag. I saw the word Playboy, on the top, and Pamela Anderson bending over below.

Then he handed it to me, and after he had handed me that one, he handed me another.

I had heard of Playboy, but I’d never even considered that I might get my hands on one.

“These are more respectful,” he said. “But…” And then he stopped himself. “I know you’ll have some questions,” he added. He took a blue book out of the bag as well. “This book should answer most of them.”

I looked at the book. When I studied it later, I’d learn that it did not have any sexy pictures in it at all.

“Thank you,” I said.

As he left, he said, “And find a better place to hide that. Your stepmom wouldn’t like it.”

I barely slept, studying those magazines for the entire night. When I finally came out of the reverie that was a twelve-year-old making love to Pamela Anderson’s image in a magazine, I opened the book to see what it said about being gay.

I looked for the chapter on homosexuality. I knew it would be in there. The chapter went on about how being gay was something you were born with, that you couldn’t control it, and that it was no one’s fault. This did not make me feel better. Then I found a single paragraph: Some people were attracted to both men and women. That was also normal. Those people were bisexual.

I had so many questions. Was that me? That seems like it was me! And the best news was that I had a way out of my death problem. If I was attracted to girls, I could grow that part of me, and kill the part of me that liked boys.


“You remember when Jeff Goldblum went on about chaos theory in Jurassic Park?” I asked my dad. “I always wanted to ask you what you thought that might have to do with psychology.”

He nodded, though the nod was somewhat diagonal, so I couldn’t tell if it was a yes or a no.

Man, there were so many things I wanted to ask him. So many things I wanted to tell him. Here he was, in this car, stuck with me for as long as I felt like driving around. But how much of him was left in there? I looked over at him. He was picking at his fingernails to where they were bleeding. He was always picking at his fingernails, just like me, but the bleeding was new.

I’d start small. I didn’t have to tell him everything about Connor. I could ask him one question.

“Speaking of chaos,” I said. “do you remember Connor at the JCC?” I asked. “He had black hair and was always running around terrorizing people.”

He shrugged and looked off into the distance. “Yes,” he said, “Potentially.”

“Oh,” I said, grateful he couldn’t remember how to ask me why I’d asked.


A couple years after the Frito pie incident, in ninth grade, Connor and I both joined the football team. I’d calculated, through some flawless logic only a teen boy could muster, that the best way to stop being attracted to men was to play the most violent sports I could find.

Connor and I were neighbors, too, so we carpooled home together most days with two other boys. At first, I wasn’t thrilled about this. I still remembered what he’d done a couple years back in the cafeteria. But he seemed to have forgotten, and soon, he invited me over to his house, where we played Cal Ripken Baseball on Super Nintendo. His mom bought pizza. Or rather, I watched him play Cal Ripken Baseball on his Nintendo, and it was a pleasure to watch him, because he was so good at it.

I wasn’t attracted to him, but I liked him. Maybe, I thought, my calculations were working.

One day, in the carpool, he was being Connor, bouncing all over the car while he spoke. To pass the time, I lined up the bug splats on the window with whatever we drove by, pretended it was a gun site.

“Seth,” he said to me, a manic smile on his face, “can I tell you a secret?”

I said that he could, lined up a stop sign next to some pedestrians who were walking their mastiffs. “Pew,” I said.

His laugh bubbled out of him. It made everyone in the car nervous. Then he whispered one of those whispers that’s louder than talking.

“I got raped with a broomstick in the locker room,” he laughed and laughed, like it was funnier than the Jerky Boys or Denis Leary.

Everyone else in the car whipped their head around.

“Huh?” I said.

The mom pulled up to a stop sign and didn’t keep going. “What did you say?” she asked. I could only see the back of her head and its dark black perm.

“Nothing,” he said.

“Can I talk to you later tonight?” she said.

“Fine,” he said.

“Are you okay?” she asked.

“Fine,” he said, and no one said a word the rest of the way home.


A few days later, the football team had a special meeting in the auditorium above the library. This auditorium was only used for touchy subjects. Sex Ed. DARE. Years later, it was where the senior class would meet after we unleashed grasshoppers in the library, where they ate old books and new computers.

It was also where we talked about Connor.

He was in front of the auditorium, shaking behind the coach. The seating was stadium, with blue chairs and blue rugs, so all thirty or so of us had a good view in the first few rows, and even though it seemed like he wanted to disappear into the wall, it was hard not to see the red in Connor’s jersey.

The coach was a big man, six feet, corn-fed, blond and white, exactly how most people would draw a Colorado high school football coach. “There has been a rumor going around,” he said, “that awful things happened.”

All whispering stopped. In high school, once you say something to another person, there are no secrets. Connor had told a carful.

“I don’t know,” the coach said, “why on earth anyone would make up something like this. It hurts us. It hurts our team. We’re here to win.” Then, almost under his breath, he said, “Connor has something he wants to say to you all.”

Connor stood in front of the coach, a couple feet from the seniors in the front row. He’d been crying. He spoke to the ground, but loud enough for everyone to hear.

“I’m sorry I made up that lie,” he said. “This isn’t helping us win.”

“Exactly,” the coach said, clapping as loud as he can, then clapping Connor on the back. “This is not how we win games.”

“This is not how we win games,” Connor repeated, screaming now, smiling, sensing that maybe, after all, he was going to be allowed to remain part of the team. “Sun Devils Rule!”

“Come on in,” the coach said, and somehow, all thirty of us hustled down the steps to the stage, put our hands in a huddle, and screamed, “One-two-three, Go Devils.”

I’ll never know if the assembly changed Connor, but I know it changed me. It disappeared my attraction to boys, at least temporarily. I don’t know where it went, but it wasn’t in my conscious mind, and it wasn’t even in my dreams.

My same-gender desires did come back, but not until college. Even then, I had to coax out the part of me that liked men, to convince it that I was safe. I did this not in one grand coming-out story like we’ve been trained to expect, but, as with many bi men, it occurred so many times I don’t know if I could even identify the first. It happened drunkenly in bars that were once brothels, and in bars where people wore suits and requested Billy Joel’s “Piano Man.” Later, it happened at a taco dinner with a musician friend, and at a pub with the staff assistant at my government job. It happened countless times with countless people, and it still happens today.

It wasn’t until ten years later that I managed to tell my dad.

I wasn’t afraid of being disowned. He’d had a roommate in college who was gay; he’d said the oppression he witnessed with that roommate stuck with him forever. But I was also nervous. It hadn’t escaped my notice that he went silent anytime gay marriage came up, which in 2005 was as common a topic as the weather. He also had a namesake in Provincetown who owned a gay bar, and any time he’d get a phone call or mail for him, he said “All that partying” in the same tone he used to announce he discovered a six-month-old Vienna sausage in the back of his refrigerator.

The day I told him, I asked him to go for a walk to the park down the street. I’d started dating a guy I liked, and I wanted to introduce him. Of course, I had to tell my dad I was bi first. He had a bad heart, and if I surprised him with a boyfriend, I was not confident he’d survive it.

It was a perfect sort of day, maybe in the low seventies, but my hands were sweating, my back was sweating, my chest was sweating.

I said to him, “I need you to know that I’m bi.”

He flinched like I’d raised a fist to him. Then, he straightened, took a deep breath, opened his mouth, and closed it again. I waited, looked around the park. There were toddlers playing on the swing set. Next to it, they’d renovated the jungle gym that gave me concussions as a kid.

“Okay,” he said. Then he added, almost as an afterthought, “Lots of men sleep with other men sometimes. Why do you have to tell people?”

I knew this wasn’t the right thing for him to say, but it also made perfect sense, given the logic we’d shared since I was little. If I was bi, did I have to tell people? If I just didn’t talk about it, I could be anything.

But bi was what I wanted to be, because bi was what I was.

“Well, it’s important to me for several reasons,” I said, keeping my voice even, mimicking the intellectual, calm voice he favored. “I’m dating a guy I like, and I—”

He interrupted me. “I was…assaulted…by some older boys…once when I was younger.”

His eyes were wet. My dad was a crier when it came to watching movies and TV. On more than one occasion, I saw him cry during Blue Bloods. But when it came to matters of life, he almost never cried, at least not in front of me.

There wasn’t much I could say. “I’m sorry,” I think is what I managed, which is an odd thing to say after coming out to someone.

Then he hugged me.

It wasn’t fair, what he’d said, what he’d just done. It was maybe even cruel. Probably self-involved. Most definitely tragic. I could have explained to him that this was about me, not him. That he was a psychologist and should know better. That this was exactly that kind of thinking that kept the majority of bi people in the closet. That merging sexuality with sexual violence is something that hateful people have been doing for millennia.

But I didn’t say those things because I didn’t think those things, not then. Instead, he hugged me, my head on his shoulder, and his soapy smell made me feel safe, even if the words he’d said should have done nothing of the sort.


Knowing that my dad remembered Connor was like eating just one Oreo. I wanted more. I knew I shouldn’t. There was not much about his story that would make him comfortable. I didn’t want to bring up his past with sexual violence, even if it was tangentially related. But he was fidgeting again, slapping at his ankles again even though I was pretty sure he’d obliterated the roaches.

“I always wondered if Connor was bi,” I said. “Or gay. He said the f word so much. You know, not fuck, the one that means gay, rhymes with Saget.” My dad’s shoulders tensed, but I kept going. “I had to block him on Facebook because he said that word so much.”


When we arrived at the waterfall, the path to the top was closed due to flooding. There was still a viewing deck, fortunately, so we walked the few feet from the parking lot to the deck and looked out into the clear water. This was not going to be the hike I’d hoped would get his fidgets out. But the waterfall’s beauty made me stop questioning why I’d taken this car ride. In the pool of still water, away from the river’s plunge, it was so clear you could see fish swimming that had Dr. Seussian colors. The spray cooled the air a good ten degrees. As a bonus, the noise was too loud for conversation, which took a bit of the pressure off.

I could have stayed there all day, but after a few moments, my dad pointed at the car. Then he pointed at his ears. It was hurting his ears, he was telling me.

We reentered the car, and I headed down the freeway toward the AirBnB. An hour in the car each way, I thought, for five minutes of waterfall. He was slapping away at his legs again. Maybe there were still roaches. Why couldn’t he just enjoy the waterfall? Why did it seem like he’d rather be in the car with me than outside—

Oh, I thought.

He wanted to be with me.

It wasn’t so much I told him Connor’s story than that it steamed out of me. I set my eyes on the road in front of me. I didn’t dare look at his body language. I told him about the circumcision thing, that I was glad for his decision but that it sucked to be uncircumcised as a kid, and then I told him about the Frito pies, and the car ride, and the football coach. As the story went on, his side of the car grew quieter.

Until finally, I said, “And I just learned not too long ago, he died, in his car, he left the engine running in his garage, leaving an infant kid and his wife. His wife. Fuck. I think a lot about his wife.”

From my right, I heard a grunt. I finally looked. He was hunched over against the door, as far from me as he could get. Just like in the park, his hands were raised like I was going to hit him.

I panicked. What had I done? “I’m sorry, Dad,” I flustered. “I shouldn’t have…” I remembered what I had read in the books about his disease. The only good thing about Alzheimer’s is that when you mess up, they forget it quickly as long as you don’t harp on it. I also remembered that when language fails, touch succeeds. My left hand on the steering wheel, I moved my right hand on his shoulder. I felt its warmth through his short-sleeved blue Oxford. He stopped fidgeting and relaxed his shoulder into my hand.

“Man,” I said, “isn’t this beautiful? Maybe we should go on a helicopter ride. I’ve always wanted to see a volcano. I’ve never seen a volcano.”

“The location?” he asked, everything forgiven, forgotten, or both.

“Right,” I said. “We’re headed back to our AirBnB.”

“No,” he said. “The location?”

“Almost there. Just another half hour.”

He sighed again, shook his head no. “You are not perceiving.”

“Oh?” I said.

“Location? What is the location?”

“Oh,” I said. He’d forgotten again. “We’re in Hawaii. On the Big Island.”

“Yes!” he said.

“What beautiful trees,” I said.


author photo of Seth FischerSeth Fischer is a Dornsife PhD Fellow in Creative Writing and Literature at the University of Southern California. His essays and stories have been published in Zocalo Public Square, Guernica, The Rumpus, Joyland, and elsewhere, and his nonfiction has twice been listed notable in The Best American Essays. He’s also received fellowships and residencies from Lambda Literary, Jentel, Ucross, Ragdale, and elsewhere. Find out more about his work at