“19th Nervous Breakdown” by Rachel Mallalieu

Rachel Mallalieu


I had this friend whose mother
had her 19th nervous breakdown
the year the Stones released
“19th Nervous Breakdown,” and let
me tell you, that shit was funny when we
were thirteen. We always knew his mom
was headed for a hospital stay
when instead of offering us 
cookies, she accused him of wanting
sex with his grandma.

This guy had a big brother who also 
was not right in the head, and 
he checked himself into the loony
bin and stayed six weeks.
He left when they kicked him out and 
said he owed five thousand bucks.
The brother did not take that well and wept
and screamed; we all
told him to shut up and get a grip.
Instead, he went to the basement and put
a shotgun into his mouth.
No one knew what happened until 
the hound dog dropped 
a piece of his skull under
the kitchen table.

This friend was a good son.
We all got married but he still
lived with his dad.
Each night, they shared a pack of 
cigarettes and ate their frozen 
dinners on card tables, but
those cigarettes came hard.
His pop’s lungs failed and he died quick.
Then he shared his dinner with the dog 
and tried to quit smoking.

I know the kind of guy you’re imagining—
long stringy hair and the 
crooked teeth he would hide
behind his hand if he smiled. 
You wouldn’t be wrong.
But he also kept track of birthdays,
sent money to his deadbeat younger
brother and kept a list of questions 
he wanted to ask me in a file labeled 
with my name.

One day he asked me if a person
went straight to Hell if he killed
himself. I said of course not, but
wondered if he was thinking about it.
He mumbled no, he was too 
chickenshit, and promised to call me 
if that changed.

You see where this is heading.
He lost his job, his health insurance,
and had a fight with his younger brother.
He went to the funeral home, paid for a casket
and asked that no obituary be published.
He cleaned his house, wrote his will and slipped
the rope around his neck.
He did not call.

It was days before anyone found him.
But appreciating a dog’s proclivities,
he had already placed the animal in a shelter.

from Rattle #74, Winter 2021


Rachel Mallalieu: “I’m an emergency physician and mother of five. I write poetry to survive both!”

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