Shrapnel in the San Fernando Valley

Shrapnel in the San Fernando Valley

by Carol Es

Paperback(2nd ed.)

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Six houses, five apartments, three motels, a Hollywood mansion, and a small vegetable farm in Pennsylvania. Experiencing the early life of self-taught artist, writer, and drummer, Carol Es was enough to confuse any kid. Carol grew up believing she was inherently bad; she'd suffered psychological abuse of her mentally ill mother, an unstable family that moved around a dozen times before her ninth birthday, and endured horrific sexual molestation. By the age of 15, she felt compelled to ditch a rootless, dysfunctional family circus and head out on her own. From there, she wound up trapped in a cult for the next 20 years.

Seduced by the celebrity that lured her into Scientology and their magic promises to fix her broken life, Carol buried herself in the concepts and philosophies of L. Ron Hubbard. Meanwhile, she hopelessly denied and hid her own underlying mental illness which went on untreated because of her belief in a doctrine that made psychiatry out to be an evil hoax. Throughout suppressing the pain she was living through, and that of her past, she somehow remained truly bonded to art and music as a means of survival.

After a tumultuous childhood and years of mind control, Carol has taken a huge stride out of the blackness of fear and silence by completing her book, Shrapnel in the San Fernando Valley—where she shares an unexpected perspective through moments of true vulnerability, gallows humor, and genuine honesty. Illustrated with original sketches throughout, she invites the reader into her confidence, laying bare her most raw and intimate revelations as an artist and a woman finding self-worth, something she had to build upon with only a fragile foundation. It is a courageous, relatable story that will keep you turning the pages.

Carol Es has earned many honors during her career in the arts, including a Pollock-Krasner and the Wynn Newhouse award. Her work can be found in the Getty Museum, the National Museum of Women in the Arts, and MOMA. As a musician, she has worked with renowned producers, recorded with artists such as Rickie Lee Jones, and has toured North America. She lives in Los Angeles, where she enjoys studying cultural anthropology and spending time with her partner and their little gray dog. For more info, visit Carol's blog at

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781733520881
Publisher: Desert Dog Books
Publication date: 08/29/2019
Edition description: 2nd ed.
Pages: 370
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.77(d)

About the Author

Los Angeles writer, musician, and artist Carol Es has written for the Huffington Post, Whitehot Magazine, and Coagula Art Journal. She's been published with Bottle of Smoke Press, Islands Fold, Chance Press, Lunch Ticket, and Santa Ana River Review. Her Artist's books are featured in the Getty Research Library, Brooklyn Museum, and the National Museum of Women in the Arts. Awarded grants in writing from the National Arts and Disability Center, Asylum Arts in Brooklyn, NY, Carol won the Bruce Geller Memorial Award WORD Grant for 2019. Some of her books include Monsters on Jasmine St. (poetry collection), 2011 by Bottle of Smoke Press; Today's Quandary (chapbook), 2013 by Careless Press. In art, she is a Pollock-Krasner fellow and won the Wynn Newhouse Award in 2015.

Read an Excerpt


Chewing on Bullets

The year I turned forty, I got a birthday card from my parents. On the inside my mom wrote, "This is going to be your year!" She couldn't have known a cold blast of death and shit storms were headed straight for us, or how I'd become an abominable wreck and make my way back to the shackles of the R.J. Reynolds's killing campaign, a.k.a. smoking. I hadn't smoked a cigarette in over ten years. It felt longer, but who's counting? I was!

A few years before I reached for the smokes again, I'd been estranged from my older brother, Mike. My life was more or less calm. I'd been fed up with his soapbox lectures about how I'd be going to Hell for being a Jew unless I recognized who my savior was. At this particular moment, we were stuck at a hospice facility in Las Vegas with our dying father. My only savior was a pack of Camels, because Mike and I were fighting about every aspect of our dad's care.

Three weeks we stayed there. My dad hung on while Mike nearly drove me into a nut house. Two weeks into our stay, I frayed. I took off in my car one afternoon, screeching down Las Vegas Boulevard in rush-hour traffic like a lunatic jonesing for a special kind of crack.

The combination of losing my dad while being trapped in a room with my feral family members pushed me to a breaking point. Only my brother could drive me into levels of such nicotine rage. All those years of breathing clean and clear were for nada. Wasted and meaningless.

I turned my steering wheel to the right, pulling three lanes over from the left, and into the lot of a 7-Eleven. I parked and sat there for a moment to make certain I knew what I was doing. I didn't.

Mike, who'd been ringing the crap out of my cell phone, was about to get an earful of angry little sister. He wanted to know where the hell I'd run off to.

"Fuck this shit!" I exploded through giant tears. "I am so ready to go back to L.A.!"

Though my windows were closed, I'd managed to frighten a lady just outside my car. I watched her quickly skedaddle into the store.

Mike had experienced my outbursts before, but this one seemed to come from the underworld, blasting up out of the ground, like somebody stepped on an IED or something — the blast taking place in my Honda CRV.

I'd been holding it together and keeping my cool, but now I was certifiably losing my mind. He was the older one, yet for most of our lives I'd been the responsible one. Not that it could've, or would've, ever matter. He was the goddamned Golden Boy. My mother always kissed his shits before they went bye-bye.

Several blocks away from the 7-Eleven stood Alliance Hospice Care, where we'd both been staying with my dad while he lay dying. Once the doctors gave Dad seventy-two hours to live, Mike went completely into denial. To him, the place was the Play-doh Murder factory. His plan was to nurse Dad back to health by shoveling gobs of tapioca pudding down his throat.

"Eat, Dad, eat. We gotta get you out of this prison!"

But the place wasn't bad. It was bright and clean with a big tropical fish tank in the lobby, where you could stare at the fish and think about death. The patients' rooms circled around a pretty courtyard with nice-ish patio furniture, though some of the upholstery was ripped and faded, beaten by the Vegas sun. The staff, too, were super friendly and qualified. All of this was paid for by Medicare, by the way. No way could you find anything like it in Los Angeles.

He had a private room, palatial and homey. As if we were staying in a little cottage in a Thomas Kinkade painting. There were two extra beds, sort of: a daybed too short for Mike's boney six-foot frame, and a trundle bed underneath. I slept in the trundle bed like a sweater in a drawer, but I spent most of my time in a chair next to Dad's bed, working on a hand-sewn doll of myself (or a version of me anyway) — an autobiographical character I often use in my paintings and drawings, a thing I call Moppet. She's a straggly little ragdoll. She looks disheveled and as if she's about ready to collapse like a push puppet. Moppet usually wears a simple dress, something I'd never do. The dress has a kind of clown collar. "She" is genderless and shaped like a gingerbread cookie with rounded arms and legs, an oval-shaped head and eyes with pupils nearly filled black, like those sad, velvet puppy-dog paintings. She neither smiles nor frowns; her mouth, a straight black line, a lot like me: indifferent. Also like me, she is an awkward child. I suppose she represents my vulnerabilities, my fragility, and what I think of myself, which isn't much. In fact, she used to wear a dunce cap, but after ten years of therapy it's been removed.

This particular Moppet had a raised felt heart that took up her entire chest. Like all my Moppets, something about her looked like she'd been run over by a bus.

Though I was making this Moppet for my dad, he wouldn't have wanted it, and he obviously couldn't keep it. He was never interested in my art anyway. Not even a little. The Moppet was more like a memorial to him. He never once asked what I was doing as I sat at the side of his bed. I'm sure he knew I was sewing something. But that's how it was with both of my parents. Don't ask, don't tell.

Mike called the shots most of the time. He'd "consult" with me on his decisions, but my opinions never meant much. Even though I was used to being dismissed by him and the rest of my family, it never stopped me from vocalizing my views. This makes me a few decibels louder than others at times. I don't even know I'm doing it unless someone points it out. It comes from never being heard, never being seen. Being told I was stupid.

My dad had a type of tachycardia called Wolff-Parkinson-White. It occurs when there's an extra electrical current in the heart that makes your heartbeat speed up. It causes congenital heart failure when severe. The doctors disconnected his heart pacemaker/defibrillator as part of his DNR (Do Not Resuscitate) wishes. When that happened, I watched Mike's face get red and tight. Blueberry lines built up around his throat, but Dad signed the papers and said he felt ready to die. Mike wouldn't accept that. He prayed for him and told him he could get better, not to give up.

We were told by the staff not to force-feed him, yet there was Mike with the pudding and whatnot. They strongly recommended painkillers, but Mike had recently quit using drugs. He was sober now and vigorously anti-drug. And you know what that meant? He expected everyone else to be sober too. The nurses urged us to start a catheter. Mike didn't want to do that either. "Too painful," he said. Dad's room was also far from the nurse's station. So, every time he had to pee, and he needed some sort of assistance with the pee bottle, the task was left most appropriately for Mike. I certainly wasn't up for seeing my father's schmekel. This is what pushed me to my boiling point. Since Mike was always out in the courtyard smoking a stupid cigar whenever Dad had to pee, I'd be left alone with him having a panic attack. I'd run out into the courtyard and yell, "Dad's gotta pee! Dad's gotta pee!" A number of times, it would be too late. Mike wouldn't come in time and Dad would piss himself.

It was so awful.

Then came the last straw. The last time I tried to summon Mike from the courtyard for help, he was too busy to be bothered. He was on the phone with his feet up on a table. He raised his index finger at me when I began to speak. How dare I interrupt his important conversation with Barack Obama. He didn't even try to get up when I frantically waved for him to come quickly. Dad could've been dying right then for all he knew.

When I got back to the room, Dad had peed all over himself. That time, I saw him crying. It broke my fucking heart.

The nurse soon arrived and helped to clean him up. I was so outraged, I grabbed my keys and stormed through the courtyard toward the parking lot, giving Mike a finger of my own.

As I passed him, I kicked a patio chair for good measure and it made a loud racket. This had absolutely no effect on him, which only escalated my frustration. Now my anger, my pain about everything got to be too much. I wasn't just snapping; the twig, she broke! It caused all the proverbial plates I was spinning to crash to the floor.

He called me several times while I was en route to 7-Eleven, but I did not answer. I knew I had to light an entire pack of cigarettes into my mouth and suck down a few drags before I could answer it.

I yelled into the phone, or maybe I screamed, "Either we put a catheter in or I'm going home!"

He paused calmly. "So go home while Dad dies and I'll fly him home in a body bag."

I hung up on him. Asshole.

I let out a scream. It looked like I'd have to endure the death of my father and the psychotic annoyance of my brother no matter what, because, of course, I wasn't going home.

I sat in my car crying, trying to calm myself, smoking, thinking. The car billowed with smoke like my hair was on fire. I thought how exhausting it was to fight with my brother. It literally made me sleepy. I wondered when, and if, my dad's life was going to end. We'd been there a lot longer than seventy-two hours.

It all started when Dad fell out of bed and pooped himself. Too weak to get up, EMTs had to take him to the hospital, away from their Las Vegas apartment, which he loved. It would be his fourth time back to the hospital that year. The fact that my parents lived in Las Vegas at all was so weird, since my mother used to have a bad gambling problem. When we were kids, they would go to Vegas all the time. Once we even took a family "vacation" there, the four of us, our little family.

The only thing for kids to do in Vegas in the 1970s was hang out at Circus Circus. Otherwise, parents had no business bringing children to Vegas. For shame.

We stayed at the Aladdin, the first big hotel on the Strip. On the first day, they dropped us off at Circus Circus. We played every game there, which took all of two hours. Then we were bored. For the next two days we wandered around, tripping out on all the old people hypnotized in front of slot machines. Their eyes glazed over; two lemons and a Joker reflected in their chained spectacles.

During the trip, Mom disappeared one night. No one knew where she went. We found her playing cards at the Sands Hotel on the other end of the Strip. She'd been there for two days straight. Apparently, she'd lost a large sum of money, and Dad couldn't stop her. All the tables were roped off with fuzzy red snakes between gold poles, as if it were an electric fence or something. Dad had to wait until an empty seat became available to buy his way into the game. Then it took him five hours to convince her to leave. It wasn't like that anymore, though. By the time they were in their seventies, they were living in Sin City — peacefully, I might add, except for the heart condition and the wayward pooping.

Once at the hospital, his shitty health insurance wouldn't cover a long stay and they sent him to a rehab center. That's when the doctors mentioned hospice.

Hospice. Not a word you want to hear when it comes to someone you care about. His time was up, though, for real. Yet for the most part — not to sound like an asshole — we weren't particularly alarmed. Dad was an utter hypochondriac. He always went into the hospital. He'd also warmed us up to the idea of him dying as far back as his early fifties; he often told us, "I'm a very sick man. I don't have much time left." That sort of talk went on for the next three decades. He also made us believe he was a lot older than he was by rounding up his age like you round up to the next dollar on your taxes. By the time he was fifty-five, he was saying he was sixty. And all through his seventies, he'd say, "I'm going to be eighty years old," like on his next birthday. I swear, we thought he was eighty for at least seven years! What's sad is it wouldn't be farfetched to say he just didn't know how to count the numbers that fell between the decades. He didn't even have a seventh-grade education.

Now eighty-four (or probably eighty-three) and a week into his rehab stay, he became really loopy. Us kids may have been assholes, but we still kept tabs on him by phone. Early one evening I was on the phone with him and he said he'd just come out of heart surgery. "I'm a brand-new man. Those doctors are angels from Heaven. They fixed me. Isn't that something?"

He said he had a heart transplant and he couldn't wait to get back to playing his xylophone in the church band. But no such operation had occurred. He didn't even play the xylophone. When I tried to tell him it was most likely a dream, he started to whimper and cry. He hung up on me. What the hell? He had never hung up on me before, and he certainly never whimpered. He was a WWII vet. His behavior was so out of character that my brother and I took the first of many trips from Los Angeles to Las Vegas. I'd be trapped in Mike's car for the five-hour drive — all the hard-earned healthy boundaries I'd put in play flying out of the windows of his fancy Porsche.

I hadn't been talking to Mike for a while. Even though he'd been sober for seven years prior, he sadly fell into an eighteen-month relapse six months before our first trip to Vegas. Once this seemingly never-ending binge was over, he came back as a steroidal evangelical Christian with laser focus, and I avoided him at all costs. In fact, I preferred dealing with him when he was still doing drugs.

I suppose in the eyes of an evangelical Christian, I might come across like some sort of Jewish heathen. I have tattoos and dreadlocks. I dress like a boy, and since I'm an artist and a washed-up musician, I'm probably not right in the head either. My mom was Jewish (therefore so are her children), but Dad was a Christian, and even though he knew what he was getting into marrying my mom, it didn't stop him from trying to get her to go to church with him. To my amazement, she finally started going with him when she got really old, after they moved to Vegas. As far as I knew, she'd always been adamant about never going. When I asked her how she was able to do it, she said she'd just "ignore the Jesus parts."

You might be wondering where my mom was throughout all of the hospice drama and why she wasn't sitting by my dad's bedside. Well, she was very busy at home — eating Doritos and watching TV.

My parents had been together for forty-five years, but they didn't exactly like each other. They just kind of existed together like disconnected companions. Mom came to visit Dad in the hospice maybe four times in the three weeks he was there, and even nagged us about why we didn't stay with her — jealous that Dad got all the attention. That was Mom.

The truth was, she didn't want to visit Dad because — and I'm serious — God forbid she leave her little white dog by himself.

Oh my God, that fucking dog! My parents had a white Bichon Frise named CJ (my dad's initials). They treated that dog about a thousand times better than they did us kids. That's saying something, because Mike was treated pretty damned good. They fed that dog like he was King George III. Dad cooked him hamburger meat and bacon every day in a frying pan and gave him whole pieces of American cheese — as treats. I'm not kidding. That poor dog was so fat with cheese-clogged arteries, it was a miracle he could walk. And they took him out nearly twenty times a day. He peed all over their house all the same. They'd just deny it was happening. They were always interested in what that dog had on his mind, too. My parents never even asked if we had homework, much less whether we showed up to school, yet Dad obsessed on CJ's thoughts.

Despite their special kind of neglect, I loved my parents. I love my brother, too. I just can't stand him. I could see the residual effects of his recent drug use, even six months after he'd quit. He was still agitated and fragile. Because of his switched view on drugs, he fought me viciously over letting Dad have any morphine and was scared the staff might give it to him anyway. He was so paranoid, he suspected the hospice pastor was sneaking into the room and administering painkillers when we weren't there.


Excerpted from "Shrapnel in the San Fernando Valley"
by .
Copyright © 2019 Carol Es.
Excerpted by permission of Desert Dog Books, LLC.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Title Page





1. Chewing on Bullets

2. Once We Were Supernovae

3. Hit ’em Harder

4. Buried Alive

5. Throwing Shadows on Our Eyes

6. The Book of Ezra

7. San Fernando Valley Exodus

8. All the Boys and Scientology

9. The Wreckoning

10. Winner of the Dumbass Awards

11. Give Me That Hand

12. Love Is a Dog from Hell

13. The Next Contestant

14. Nature of the Beast

15. Where Am I In All Of This?

16. Guru, Son of a Guru

17. Eyeballs

18. Zingaro

19. New York, New York

20. Bigger Fish to Fry

21. You Want Heat?

22. Clear as Mud

23. Drafted


24. Surprise!

25. Sport Clothes

26. Crush

27. Sleep Fighter

28. Pauly’s Lazy Eye

29. While They’re Hot

30. When Helen Came

31. Here’s Blood on Your Hands and Mud in Your Eye

32. Don’t Worry, It’s Only the Tectonic Plates

33. Trading 4s

34. Peaches

35. Flimflam

36. Bulletproof

37. Monarch’s Passage

38. At the End of the Earth

39. Lost and Found

40. Two Steps Forward

41. One Step Back

42. Losing Face

43. In Death We Become Ourselves

44. Chicken Dinner




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