Burning Under Water: Chapter 1

This is an on-going series of a book I’m writing. Click here for more details.

Word Count: 3,635

Chapter 1

I’m a stutterer. They say (whoever) the best way to rid of mumble jumbles is to take a book, look in the mirror, and read aloud for 15 minutes per day. I did this, but I’m lazy, and since it was a semester before I graduated I was trying all over again: prepping for those job interviews.

“Pa – Pa – Pa – Ritic – U – Li – La La – Larry”

“Slower. Par. Tick. U. Lair. Ly. Particularly.”

“Par-tick-u-la-la-lair-a-ly. Particulairaly.”


“Partick-u-lair-ly. This is parTICKyou lairAhlee hard.”

“That’s good enough, keep reading.” Emily’s tolerance to help me in this case was not necessarily out of love. Personally, I think it should b your first instinct to help your older brother unconditionally when you’re having issues.

But in this case, Emily held a fancy recorder and was comparing the differences to my speech patterns before and after I took my pill: these pretentious Stanford psychology majors, always benefiting from their prodding and poking on the mentally disabled.

“My brain is scraw, screaming at you right nowwww, I need my pill god damnit!”

“Let me write this down.”



“Fine. Go ahead…” Her sighing always makes me feel guilty. (It elicits a tone as if I’m forcing her to go to an event she doesn’t want to attend. I always tell her that if doesn’t want to go – she doesn’t have to go! I’m just inviting her because of the possibility she’ll have a great time. In this case, the party is ‘Brotherly Love,’ what more can you want?)

Yes, I’m complaining a little too much about her, but in the end I love her. I mean how many siblings do what we’re doing now, or even hang out for that matter? According to my friends, not many.

But even though we’re close, we don’t broadcast or take pictures of our sibling relationship and then make it our Facebook profile pictures. Now that’s just too weird.

“Fine, fa-fine. 15 minutes Emily. MAXIMUM! I wan-want to talk – flu – ently today.”

“What about dying?”

“I guess I don’t want that either.” I said facetiously.

“You won’t hehehehe”

“I swear you better get honors… if not, imma kill you.”

“Well, I’ll hide your pills if you try. So, you’ll die first. Literally.” She said with a tiny smirk.”

This is our relationship. People can find it disturbing, rude, and down right morbid. Whatever. It’s our sibling thing.

Emily is not the first one to every study my behavior in relation to the medications I take to help me live with my diagnosis. I have what you call cerebrily morse disease. 1 out of 453,000 children are born with the gene and out of those about 5% actually have it malignant. Once alive, it stays alive. It lasts until you die. One way to speed the process is to run out of your pills, which stops the fight and then it starts by cutting your brain into pieces (won’t get in too many details)… a slow, torturous killing. More like a murder.

The disease starts as soon as you pop out of your mother’s womb. Luckily, my mother’s doctors were able to spot the disease early while I was in her belly. This is a reason why I’ve noted that when or if I get someone pregnant, she must get regular checkups. Responsibility.

I popped out. Was given a shot of Tersiadine (not in pill form I take daily) and then thrown into a glass baby carriage with all types of tubes for 8 months: from one womb to another.

Death is a one time thing, but for me. I’ve been in glass cages for exactly 32 times in my 22 year old life (be it for a week, three days, or a month). My disease is not what creates my deaths, it’s abandonment and isolation.

Once you experience death this many time you’ll realize that life is… whatever. Things will happen. Things will break down, fall apart, and ultimately leave in you in a bind. And when these situations arise, all you can do is let it go. I’m not saying you should be apathetic about your life and the people in it. I’m saying calm down because there is always a logical way to solve a problem and that is to attack it first hand. Holding grudges and avoiding people who are close to you, or avoiding problems all together is what ultimately makes life a dark place.

See, I greatly disagree with many people in my life, but I don’t avoid them all together. (Or so I think, whatever). I think you should go out and reach them, try to get a perspective that says you care: resolution.

Lastly, life is again, very short to not act or own who you are – you have to be polarizing. To be polarizing is the ability to always be you without restraints. It’s a philosophical idea of trying to explain to just be ‘you’ but essentially, for the sake of everything, only ‘you ‘ can determine who you are. Once you figure that out, own it and be consistent with it. Like I always say, ‘if you’re an asshole, you better be a damn good asshole.’

Anyways enough with this motivational speech talk. If you wanted one you’d get a self-help book and not listen to the story ahead.

“Brandon, take your meds and let’s go.” My mother. She’s always watching over me. We’re not emotionally close, but at least she wants to keep me alive, which is pretty cool. I grabbed my weekly pill holder, popped in my pill, and skipped to the garage.

Immediately my brain tingled, my eyes rolled back, and my spine shook a little. I love it. It feels like someone is massaging my brain. My meds keep me alive because I just can’t stop taking them. I am an addict.

“By Em!”

“Come back once your meds wear off so I can gauge your stuttering.”

“Yeah. Yeah. Prob-prob-ba. Probably in 7 hours before I take my next batch.” I said as my tongue began to clear up. I could feel the effects of my pills working already.”

“Please don’t take them, I like you better when you stutter.”

“Shut up. Bye.”

I know it’s weird to have your mother drive you at 22 years old. But, who can blame her when her son has avoided every therapy appointment he’s had when driving alone. I still don’t know what the fuss is about because even though it can range from $145 – $189 a session, it’s not like she pays for them. I do (student work-study job).

I would rather hang out in coffee shops talking to random folks than interact with a therapist for an hour. It’s my life, my money, period.

“Doctor Richardson says you’re opening up more often and making progress.” My mom said breaking the ice in our conversation.

“I thought these things were confidential.” I responded.

“I know your progress, not what you say.”

“Mom, she’s a dummy.” My vehement statement silenced the car for a second. “Mom, she’s just like Doctor Brixton. Fake, pretentious, easily exploitable, but instead of a guy, it’s a girl.”

“You can’t mean it this time – you’ve only had one session. Besides, I don’t want you to be searching for another therapist while you’re in school!” She said remember the time I almost got into academic probation at UC Berkeley during my sophomore year. (I spent more time looking for a new therapist than studying).

“Mom, I’ll be searching for them. Besides, maybe I’ll find someone closer to UC Berkeley than driving two hours out to Vallejo every week.”


“Mom. “

“Fine. Just finish this month off. Also, no matter what you decide to do…”

“Yes mom. I’m going to pay for it don’t worrryyy. You should really check out her snaggle-toothed overbite by the way. How can you trust someone with a smile that makes you want to puke? You can’t. I swear you can’t.” Sometimes I’m just really mean when it comes to therapists.

“As long as you pay for it.”

“Yes, I got it.”

Paying a therapist and then not wanting to go to therapy may not make sense to you. See, I got to therapy for that off chance that they’ll somehow change my life. One day there will be a therapist who will be exactly like Robing Williams in the movie Good Will Hunting (I’m not narcissistically comparing myself to Matt Damon). You know, someone who actually cares for you when they look you in the eye. A therapist who is also crazy and has an strange and messed up childhood. This the therapist I want. Not some privileged soul who decided to go into psychology in college and get some Phd because it seemed like the right thing to do… for their money-making career: nothing wrong with making lots of money, but there is more to it when you’re dealing with someone’s life.

How I offset this is, once I get dropped off, I just won’t go into the session. Yes, I believe that 99.9% of therapists get in the business so they can hear other people’s problems and use their degrees to shove bullshit advice hubristically down clients’ throats. They think they can fix you when in reality most of them can’t get their own families and lives together. I know this because I’ve consoled and brought verbal therapy to more therapist than they have me. So, missing a session is way more productive if you’re spending that hour on a good book or finishing up any homework like tasks you have.

Anyways, going to therapy makes my single mother very happy. I’m her last remaining son, so it only makes sense to appease her and make sure I’m doing at least one thing she approves of. Putting things in perspective, she’s family, and life is too short. I do love her.

Mom pulled up to the unloading zone and made sure I walked into the office. Once she could see, from the windowpane, the receptionist handing me paperwork to sign, se was gone.

1. Have you had a mental breakdown since your last appointment?


2. How are you coping with depression?

Doctor Richardson’s preliminary pre-meeting, waiting room questionnaire was, you know, hopeful. I grabbed the pen from the top of the clipboard and began writing away.

3. Have you had thoughts of suicide since your last appointment?

Suddenly a girl walked into the waiting room. She was wearing a sweater big enough to be called a blanket stamped with the words UC Berkeley. I was positive I’d never seen her before roaming around my campus. She had a sense of elegance as she smile a greeting to the receptionist, glided to a seat across from mine, and then started reading some book: Berkeley students like to read.

She exposed her legs, but they were crossed enough to cover anything in between as I could only take a faint look at the brand of the gym shorts she was wearing. But based on her pink running shoes and the sweat headband hiding her ponytail, I could guess Nike. I think the most beautiful and sexiest girls are the ones who look good in gym gear or sweats. It’s the only time they don’t really “try-try” to look good and yet, they look gorgeous. She was one of those. I like scars, I like imperfections, I just like natural.

You could say I was staring, hell I was staring. But my philosophy is if you’re staring at a girl you better make a move in the first five seconds or she’ll think you’re a creepy. There were a few possibilities running in my head to how I should approach her:

1. I could get out of my seat, walk over, and tell her to put her book down. I could say something like, ‘I had to stop you from reading because I think you’re cut. Hi, I’m Brandon.’ Using my smile, she would have no choice but to shake my extended hand.

If I felt playful, I could use her hand to pull her up, twist her around, and then sit in her chair: she’ll be a little peeved but she’ll know I’m confident and hopefully find me funny. 

Or, I could politely sit next to her, ask about the book she’s reading, and seem relatable by telling her that I too go to CAL (UC Berkeley).

Or, I could take her hand and right when I’m about to kiss the back of her hand, kiss my own hang. Again, making her laugh and then I’d sit down and repeat with fluff talk.

2. I could laugh a little, pretty loud but in small bites, just enough to get her attention. Then as she’s looking at me, I’d smile, pretending to mind my own business before eventually looking up and looking geekishly cute.

I would pretend to look confused, yet slightly embarrassed that she was staring at me that the only thing she could say was ‘Hi.’ I would then respond and we could go at it for a few seconds, again relation to the fact that we both go to CAL. I’d find a way to seem genuinely engaged with her hobbies and then direct her to walk across the room to sit next to me.

From there, get her number and big bang bada booom. We move on a probably plan some sort of future date.

This has all worked before. Just because I have a stutter, may not be the best looking guy in the room, and always dress casual with bright colors that just don’t match… I am by far a little more confident than your average male. Which in hindsight makes all my insufficiencies quiet cute. People like cute.


“What. What are you doing?” she said just like she knew I was going to approach her.

“Hello, hi, and in many cases hola. You know, they’re my greetings.” It’s my pickup line.”

“No I didn’t know that was your greeting… is this your way of hitting on me? I don’t beat around the bush.”

When a girl puts you on the spot to get a rise out of you, don’t apologize or back away from your initial efforts of flirting with her. Challenge her and do exactly what most guys won’t do. Be aggressive like she’s aggressive.

“Yes I am. I won’t beat around the bush, so what’s your number? Don’t forget to smile proudly. 

“Umm. Umm. I don’t give out my number to just anybody.”

When a girl says this she’s basically saying she can’t relate to me (the stranger), and she can’t trust if I’m either a murderer or a nice guy. It makes sense, she’s essentially risking her life when she gives out her number. Basically, another obstacle you have to overcome.

“I’m not a stranger because I go to Berkeley too, so we’ll have opportunities to hang out.” I was selling myself a little too desperately here.

“2nd year?” she asked.

“No, 4th year. I’m graduating at the end of the semester.” I replied.

“Me too… hmm why haven’t I seen you before?”

“Who’s beating around the bus now? What’s your number? I’ll send you a text afterwards and if you like it great, if not, great.”

Silence. We were staring at each other quiet a bit. Due to this lack of response I..

“So it’s 951 23—“

“No, it’s 415 327 3234. You can text me now. Good job.”

Boom. Number. Got it. Now in most cases guys celebrate after they get their numbers, they stay silent, and the situation becomes awkward. You should never celebrate getting a number, a kiss, or even sex. The point is to get to know her emotionally. Stay with her and build rapport until you or she has to leave. Besides, if you don’t get to know the girl then what are the chances that she’ll actually text or call you back?

“By the way, I didn’t get your name.”

“Sarah.” She said beamingly.

“Give me a minute so we can do the whole formal handshake thingy.” I adjusted my phone into my pocket.

“And, your name?”

I could see an unexpected smile on her face. Even though she wanted it to stay hidden, she was impressed.

“It’s Brandon. Brandon.”

I walked up to her and we shook hands. She was even prettier up close, no make up, just natural. Her presence and white teeth my body feel like malleable yellow paste: putty. Stop it Brandon. Focus.

“Take a look, did I spell your name correctly.” Taking out the phone again. As I was handing her the phone— Brain spasm The phone slipped out of my hand and onto the floor.

“Woah.” I cringed for a second and like any normal reaction, I gripped my index and thumb fingers to hold my closed eyes in place. My Brain. A short seizure, ouch. 

“Hahaha are you nervous?” she asked.

“No. Just disabled.” There was a silence that surrounded us because I she had yet adapted to my sense of humor. “Or… it’s because you just made my heart bounce up and down pretty hard. Who knows? I don’t know. A hint. It could be the latter.”

“WOW…” she said rolling her eyes. Be cheesy, Girls like cheesy.

“You did well Brandon. S-A-R-A-H. Sarah. That’s how you spell it.” She grinned.

In most cases, this interaction would push both parties to say a few more flirtatious lines before hugging and telling each other that they’ll meet up soon. I, on the other hand, wanted to get to know her a little more, and if she wasn’t doing anything take her out to lunch after my appointment. But…

“Hey Sarah.” Of course, Doctor Richardson would interrupt this magical moment.

“I gotta go, it was nice meeting you Brandon. See you in a week or so.”

“In a week?” I responded enthusiastically.

“If you can convince me to give me your number, I think you should be good enough to convince me to hang out with you before school starts. But you have to make it really convincing, I have a busy schedule.” Who the hell is this girl…

“I hope you like shellfish.”

“I’m allergic. Or I’m not. No hints here.” She yelled back. Then she was taken inside from Doctor Richardson and she was gone.

The only confusing part was that my appointment was at 10:00am, why was Sarah called in? A couple minutes later,

“Brandon, it’s good to see you again.” I don’t know if Doctor Richardson was glad to see the check I had in my pocket or me. “Come on in.”

“I walked in expecting to see Sarah in the room, but to no avail: an empty room and all the general couches, chairs, desks, and Harvard degrees plastered on the wall.

“Where did the girl go?” I asked.

“Why? Do you think she’s pretty?” Dr. Richardson’s first two questions of the day.

“She is.”

“And?” Therapists do this a lot, expecting that after the say ‘and?’ I’m going to give me some beefy overdrawn cathartic spiel of a section on my life. The next minute wasn’t the most active with sound.

“How are you, Doctor Richardson?” doing my best to spark a conversation.

“You got me once before. I’m not here to talk about myself. Tell me something, anything, I’m here to help you Brandon.”

“I really don’t know what to talk about right now.”

“Why do you even come here to pay for these sessions if you’re not going to participate in real dialogue!” Richardson said a little peeved.

“My mother. I dod it for her. I just don’t want to talk anything right now. You tell me something.” Listen, I understand that I seem like a pretentious little prick, and I am. But you have to understand – after going through therapist to therapist – I’ve learned they can’t relate. I’m not going to talk about this again.

“I’ll start. Looking at your file, it looks like I’m the 27th therapist you’ve seen in your life?” It was more of a statement than a question.

“Yes. It hasn’t really been a pleasant experience.” I replied.

“Let’s talk about your brother.”


“How are you.”

“Let’s talk about your brother.”


“Brandon, it says here he…”

“Doctor Richardson STOP!” She just shook her head as a response as if empathy wasn’t a word. All I could do was look away in case tears were to form in my eyes. “Please, leave me alone. I can’t believe you wanted to go there.”

“Brandon. We -“

“Dr. Richardson. I’m going to take a break from this session. Thank you for tolerating me.” I ended politely because though I’m a prick, I like to end something knowing that I come with a somewhat good intention.

I walked across past her chair and out the exit door. They have these doors so you don’t accidentally expose your emotional baggage to the patients in the waiting room. It’s not a good site. The sun melted the lotion on my face, but I needed the sun to burn any tears that escaped from my eyelids. You can’t pity yourself Brandon. Weakness is not attractive. 

Taking my cell phone out of my pocket I was trying to figure out the perfect story to tell my mom why I was leaving my appointment early. The only thing I could think of was just saying, “She sucks. I’m ready to go if you are.” I played with my phone for a few minutes to see if dialing my mother was the right thing to do, when suddenly I received a text message.

It was Sarah. It read in its pixelated blue text as it does: “give me a call when you’re done, let’s do something.” 

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  • Maxim Munoz

    Holy shit, I am so going to refer back to this through the upcoming months. I freaking love your blog man, the way you write is casual and very easy to follow. The stuff you write is useful, write more about pickup and your own experiences. That was a boss move towards that girl.

    • http://www.gaurano.com/ Jonathan Gaurano

      Thanks man. Writing is my first love. Your comment means a lot.