“They close at 8:00,” I replied quickly, proud that I knew the answer.
“Ah. Thought we could drink some tea and talk about Ecuador,” he continued, his voice trailing off…
“Awwwww — but they’re closed!” I repeated, and then it dawned on me what was happening; Audio was asking me out! FINALLY! Or at least asking me to drink tea with him — whatever that meant.
“But Good People is open!” I added quickly. “We could grab a few beers?”
“You wanna go… now?”
“Going to say goodbye to some people first.”
“Okay! I’ll head that way in approximately a minute and a half, then,” I said, and then sighed inwardly. I could have just said “See ya in two” or “I’ll be there in like five, dude” and sounded 800% more normal, but whatever. My bike was securely fastened to the back of my car and I was officially going to have drinks with Audio.
Audio laughed at where I parked — in a dark-ish alley a good ways down the street from the brewery.
“I thought maybe you were planning on us fooling around in your car later or something?” he teased as we walked toward the building (and this was before the beer).
“Oh my god! You’re so STUPID,” I exclaimed, laughing at him. But that’s yet another indicator that he likes you, I complimented myself.
We grabbed drinks and took them outside, talking about our jobs, our art, our shared intrinsic sadness, and my recent trip to Ecuador. He put his hand on my leg three times — I love math — and kept staring into my eyes. Yep; it was definitely a first date.
The more sips I took of that raspberry ale, the easier it was to talk with Audio, my three-month-long crush. I gushed about the cows I saw in Ecuador and showed him, on my phone, a pretty pattern of pink tiles I’d found while walking in Las Salinas.
“Sometimes, simple stuff like this is just so beautiful that it makes me want to cry,” I whispered, staring down at the picture. I felt him looking at me.
I showed him all of the pictures from my trip — from fresh fruits and vegetables and pretty cups of coffee to rushing waterfalls and me in a swimsuit.
“Look at how blue the water is,” I exclaimed, suddenly self-conscious.
“Yeah… the ocean is totally what I’m looking at right now,” he said, enlarging the photo.
“You are RIDICULOUS!” I laughed, shoving him with my elbow.
He talked about his health — his chronic pain; knees, wrists, back, ribs… he broke a rib once, he said, and felt it fall all the way down into his stomach.
“NO WAY!” I cried. “How the heck did that happen?!”
“Man… you’re a dangerous thing,” I mumbled out loud. You’re a dangerous thing TO LOVE, I cautioned myself.
There were lots of people sitting outside of the brewery with us: individuals, couples, groups of friends… a pair of girls, to our left….
“The brunette works at blah blah blah,” he remarked — I can’t remember the name of the place, so I’m putting blah blah blah.
I turned to look at her. “Huh… she is very beautiful,” I whispered. “Just stunning!”
“There are things I’d like to do to her,” he agreed, grinning.
“AUDIO!” I chided, suddenly feeling sad.
By the time he’d finished his beer, I’d almost drank half of mine. We were talking about family and relationships now.
“When was the last time you dated someone?” I asked.
“Am,” he said, and at first, it didn’t click — but then, it did.
“Am?” I repeated, stunned.
He nodded. “It’s an open relationship,” he reassured me, smiling cutely.
My jaw dropped. Nooooooooo… fuck!
“Well dammit, Audio — I wish you’d have told me sooner! I wouldn’t have told you that I liked you so much,” I exhaled, staring over into the dark… eyes following the grass and leaves in their windblown mayhem. I felt tangible heartbreak and a strange sense of guilt engulfing me on either side.
He was confused; it was an open relationship, he explained. I don’t do open relationships, I explained.
“The guy I was with for five years was co-dependent… possessive… we both were; it was my first BIG relationship as an adult, so it was a real learning experience… and our obsession with each other caused us to push all other friendships aside. Bad move,” I shook my head. “So while I think that having deep, meaningful relationships OUTSIDE of your intimate life partner relationship is SUPER great and VERY important, I am NOT okay with having multiple intimate relationships. It’s just… intuitively… not right,” I stammered, feeling light headed and heavy hearted.
We talked more about why. He understood where I was coming from. I respected his thoughts on the matter, too. But he said I’d hurt his feelings, assuming he was okay with (and wanted) an open relationship. I eventually gathered that it was his girlfriend’s (would you call an open-relationship girlfriend a girlfriend?) preference — but still.
“I don’t wanna keep you, Audio… just — stand up when you’re ready to go and I’ll follow suit,” I offered awkwardly.
He hesitated. “Are you saying that you’re ready to go?”
“No,” I answered quickly. “When I turn my head, I don’t see things right away, so I know it’s not time to drive yet.”
“What?!” he laughed.
I shook my head sadly. “I don’t care if I hurt myself, but I don’t want to hurt anyone else.”
A little while later, Audio stood up. I could turn my head and see things right away now… in real time.
He stepped over to the table of cute girls to say hi. I greeted them also and then we walked back to my car in darkness, our faces turning yellow underneath the streetlights. He hummed a silly tune and laughed. I smiled down at the concrete, fiddling with the rings on my hand.
Then we hugged goodbye for a little while. I asked him to let me know if his circumstances, his preferences, ever changed.
“What does your intuition tell you?” he whispered, dropping his hand down, down, down my waist…
“Nope,” I said, grabbing his hand. “You don’t get the butt,” I shook my head solemnly. “It tells me maybe, Audio. But that’s hope…” I looked up at his beautiful grey eyes, wishing he had a freakin clue. I’d love you forever, you dummy. “And hope’s a dangerous thing. You’re a dangerous thing, Audio.”
He kissed me on the cheek.
“That’s fine,” I said, “but you don’t get my lips unless they’re the only ones you’re kissin’,” I smiled sadly, pulling myself back to look at him again. I still wasn’t completely in my right mind and he was holding me way too closely for me to entirely trust myself, so I kissed him on the cheek and then drew completely away.
“Goodbye, Audio. Be safe on that bike.”
He winked at me and rolled away.
I cried in my car for a minute and then blinked my eyes several times, hard. I turned on the ignition and then turned to leave… I could navigate right, towards the interstate, or left, towards highway 280. I don’t like traveling on the interstate — it’s too fast, too dangerous. I wondered if Audio had started biking home or had stopped back by the table of cute girls. Turning left would tell me. I didn’t want to know — I wanted to hope, instead…
But I turned left. There he was.
Still freakin here but now entirely without a boyfriend,
Around two in the morning, we were on our third flight — Mexico City to Quito. After almost a year of joyful anticipation, we were finally en route to Ecuador! I was exhausted from a long day of travel and language translation and had been nodding on and off in my seat as we shot through a storm, but I stirred in my sleep when the flight attendant’s static-y voice began traveling across the intercom.
I peered over at Charlie — my eyes catching lightning in the dark clouds behind him — and saw that his raised eyebrows were asking me to explain.
“We’re making an emergency landing,” I said, now completely awake. “There’s a minor technical error with the plane.”
Although I felt sure we’d all die in the process, we landed safely, and then the flight attendant said that it would take twenty minutes (thirty, tops) for us to be back up and running.
Charlie and I sat there talking quietly. I hadn’t wanted to watch a movie on the plane, but now my nerves were bad, so I scrolled through the airline’s offerings, desperate for distraction. Other than a child’s movie or two, everything looked too violent, sexual, or stupid. Bleh.
I looked back over to my left and saw Charlie dozing off, leaning his head against the window. Lucky. How was he able to relax under these circumstances?! I could tell, an hour and a half before (when we’d first boarded the plane), that he’d wanted the window seat, so I let him have it with the understanding that it would be my turn to #windowseat (as a verb) when we returned to Mexico City a week later.
Anyways, I had resumed facing forward, waiting for an announcement or for something to happen, when I suddenly noticed a sober-looking, uniformed officer stalking down the aisle. Weird; he hadn’t boarded the plane with us.
And in his wake, a man in normal clothes followed, discreetly holding a gun on his right side… as this man brushed past me, looking predatory and severe, time shifted its gears into some kind of bizarre slow-motion and the whoooooole universe felt sickly surreal.
I vividly remember the face of a woman two rows in front of me when the armed man first appeared; her pained and strained expression probably mirrored my own: shiiiiiiiit… nooooooooo…
But right as I thought that some weird hostage situation was about to take place and it dawned on me that I was finally going to meet my end (was there a sense of relief in this? yes, a little, but I absolutely abhorred the means, worried over what kind of violence I’d have to see inflicted on others, AND grew heartsick for my German Shepherds back in Alabama — there are MUCH better ways to go), the police officer and armed guy BOTH returned to view, speeding in the opposite direction – toward the plane’s exit – with a handcuffed man in their arms.
I quickly turned to look at Charlie, to gauge his feelings on all of this — asleep! I grabbed his arm and shook it roughly; opening his eyes, he seemed dazed and disgruntled.
“THERE WAS A POLICE OFFICER AND A MAN WITH A GUN AND THEY JUST TOOK SOME GUY OFF THE PLANE,” I whispered hoarsely, needing him to be afraid like I was.
We all deboarded the plane right there in Tapachula — aka, the real middle of nowhere. Our flight attendant explained that, for everyone’s safety, officials needed to inspect the aircraft for “inappropriate items.” Drugs? Explosives? Harmless bottles of water that somehow made it through Mexico’s intense (and multiple) security checkpoints? Who knows, but we all had fun speculating. We actually passed by the criminal during our brief walk toward the tiny, one-roomed airport… he was being restrained by a guard and grinning at everybody. Insane.
It took us four hours to take off again. I fell asleep on the floor, with my head resting on Governess, after drinking some bottled water and peeing three or four times in a row.
The best parts of this experience? A. We helped catch a criminal in Latin America (yes we did) and B. We got to watch the sun rise over a couplet of nearby volcanoes. They were absolutely lovely.
Our week-long Ecuadorian adventure has been very dreamlike. We’ve ridden taxis (innumerable), buses (4), and planes (5 so far) — stayed by the ocean and trekked through an otherworldly cloud forest… and today, Charlie and I enjoyed our last morning in Quito inside of the Juan Valdez Cafe; he sipped on a grande cappuccino with his left hand and I held a medium-sized, whipped cream-topped caramel latte in mine. After writing (me) and listening to music (him) for a little while, we moseyed onto a cool little breakfast spot that he’d read about online. We’re having a nice, lazy day together.
I told him yesterday that he feels like a brother to me now, and then I cried a little. I’ve thought about Bobby and Bruster during this trip… I grieve for both of them a little bit, every now and then. The well, I know, is inexhaustible.
And I thought about them at the most interesting times; one afternoon in Las Salinas, I was lying in a hammock, looking up at some buildings and over at the sea through the apartment’s open window… there was another hammock next to mine, and the wind was blowing it around a little, making it look like a ghost was sitting there. I asked myself, who would you like to have sitting there? I ran through the names of people — alive and estranged; dead and gone… but the only person I could imagine sitting there with me was a dog. A big, fat German Shepherd: Bruster. He is the one I wanted the most.
And then, when we climbed onto a big old bus for a two-hour ride to Mindo yesterday morning, “I just can’t wait to be king!” (an old Lion King song) started playing in my head. I started humming it out loud and dancing in my seat, smiling over at Charlie, and then I realized that I was actually thinking about Bobby… remembering how my brother LOVED that movie so much; how he wore that stupid Lion King outfit on repeat for months when he was a kid. I knew how much he’d love to be going on an adventure like this right now, and I wished I could have taken him with me.
I wish I could take him all kinds of places when I land in bham tomorrow night — Alaska, San Fran, Vancouver… we could be having the best time together these days. Anyways…
Ecuadorian Highlights slash Points of Interest:
The outdoor markets here are intriguingly maze-like and overwhelmingly large. You walk through (what feels like endless) “aisles” of dirt, brick, and concrete to interact with the locals who are peddling their goods: fresh fruits and vegetables (14 bananas for $1!), handmade hats and clothes, and cheap souvenirs (like “Michael Kors” sunglasses, alpaca sweaters and blankets, and Ecuadorian wallets). I’ve had fun haggling w/artisans and taxi drivers… it’s a part of the experience!
We’ve mostly eaten simple, unprocessed foods while here — lots of bananas, scrambled eggs, panaderia bread and chocolate — but we’ve also gone out for Indian food and vegetarian lasagna. All of the food is local and beyond-reasonably priced. I love it. Bought a gigantic avocado from this magical old lady down in Las Salinas on Sunday and it was one of the best ever. Fun fact: Paid $0.15 for Charlie’s fresh-out-of-the-oven (like, we WATCHED it come out of the oven) croissant this AM.
produce w/sign inside of el restaurante vegano se llama “dulce albahaca”
produce w/sign + lasaña + lasaña con aguacate en el restaurante vegano se llama “dulce albahaca”
There are so many dogs on the streets. At first, it broke our hearts — seeing pup after pup wandering around, listless — but as we acclimated to the environment, we realized that the locals do a pretty good job of caring for these animals (whether they’re pets or not). Now — are all of the pets here healthy-and-happy-looking? No. But that’s everywhere, isn’t it? Charlie and I came up with a little game on the bus ride home from Mindo: If you spotted a pup on the street, you got one point; a pup on a roof (which is surprisingly commonplace) equaled five points; a German Shepherd on the street was worth ten points and a German Shepherd “roofpup” scored a whopping twenty. He won the game because I like riding in buses with my eyes closed… it’s less nausea-inducing.
I found a boyfriend in Las Salinas. His name is Daniel (dahn-ee-ehl) and he offered to ride me around on his motorbike one afternoon, but with Charlie and another non-Spanish-speaking friend in my custody, I declined. We’re keeping in touch (as friends) via email, and I’m mailing a copy of my book to him when I return home to the states this weekend.
I’ve dreamt in Spanish twice this week. Reading, listening to, speaking and translating the language has been INCREDIBLY helpful in solidifying my current knowledge and understanding of Spanish. It really is the language of my heart. I can’t wait to dig into the 47 million other verb tenses I don’t know yet when I’m back at Red Cat this weekend… 🙂 HA.
Depression travels internationally (gratis — for free!). I’ve always lightly held the belief that, if I traveled far and wide enough, the people and things and environment around me would all be so different that they would be different enough for me to not feel as sad as I do; as if an extreme change in external landscape could magically heal my internal self. But it’s not like that, and that’s alright… the more you know about your illnesses and weaknesses, the more capable you are of dealing with and managing them. Traveling won’t fix me, because wherever I go, I go… so I just need to keep on unraveling to maintain, I guess; writing and singing and strumming and biking with my shadow punctuating each line, curving the edge of each note, and sticking to my heels.
Carefully consider your traveling companions. Charlie is very easy to travel with — he’s quiet, self-sufficient, upbeat, thoughtful; but the other friend who tagged along with us was very co-dependent and extremely self-absorbed during the trip. I spent the first five days catering to her whims — whenever she was bored or hungry or tired, we’d stop whatever we were doing (or planned slash wanted to do) to take care of her needs. And when I mentioned, one day, wanting to spend some time alone, she made me feel guilty because she didn’t know the language and didn’t want me far away from her (although she knew about this trip ***nine months*** in advance and could have made some very basic preparations for it; studying the culture, learning some key phrases, etc.). But on the evening of day five, when I finally admitted to her (and that was my fault; I shouldn’t have waited so long to express myself) that I felt like I’d been making a lot of (aka way too many) concessions, she became furious — spat out some of the most hateful things anyone’s ever said to me right there in the taxi and treated me like a total piece of shit. It shook me up so badly that the incident rendered me crying in front of our AirBnB apartment with her glaring down at me and Charlie wrapping his arm around my shoulder and telling her: “Enough — it’s finished.” Ironically, we spent the next day (a nine-hour venture) doing what she wanted (another concession I made, and one which meant I wouldn’t be able to visit Cotopaxi — a volcano I’d been longing to see for nine months), and then – immediately after the outing – she abruptly announced that she was leaving that evening — two days early. Whew. D-R-A-M-A. With all of that being said, I absolutely, 100% prefer solo adventures to group vacations, but as far as future travels involving another party (or parties) are concerned, I will be very cautious as to who I agree to travel with (and for how long, because a two-day getaway is very different from a seven-day, close quartered, international adventure).
My overall three favorite memories: Splashing my feet in salt water and fresh water — feeling the chill, energy, and pull of ocean and river; holding smooth stones and turning cool rocks over in my hands; and speaking with everyone in Spanish.
Did I cross paths with the next love of my life in Ecuador? Nah. Daniel is VERY nice, but he isn’t the one, and while another beautiful man (seemingly, a native of Mindo) with long, brown hair and the very best eyes shook my hand quite lovingly yesterday afternoon, I’m still holding out for this Audio character. Stupid, huh? But on the real real, I’m pretty sure he likes me (either that or he’s the freakin WORST). Have he and I spoken while I’ve been away? Sort of; on Tuesday, I sent Audio a picture of a motorcycle I spotted in Las Salinas (I plan on framing and hanging the pic en mi casa) and he replied: “Sweet little bike.” Then, a day or so later, I sent him a few pictures of the cloud forest, and he replied: “Amazing.” I followed up by saying that, while there were lots of lovely cows (oh, I looooooove them!) and so many shades of green up there in Mindo, I was very much looking forward to coming home, and then he replied “night” — with a smiley face. So basically, we’re going steady now.
When I arrived home earlier this week, the house felt very still. I placed a paper bag of groceries on the table and then sat down. Sitting made me uncomfortable, so I stood back up and walked to the side door. The weather was fair, warm, and I thought airing the house out might help. I went to unlock the door, to crack it open, and discovered that I was too weak to unlock it. Frustrated, I turned around, facing the stairs. I tried to climb them and was amazed to realize that I could not. I was so exhausted, so numb, so beyond joy and despair and imagination that I couldn’t move. I collapsed onto the stairs and cried, nuzzling my face against the soft and dusty brown carpet. It smelled like dirt, dogs, and incense. I could hear Silo scratching at the door upstairs and Tycho pacing around. I worried about them worrying about me. I opened my eyes and centered my gaze between two spindles — looking out at the living room, where my best friend lives downstairs. He sleeps on that couch, and plays video games in that chair. He was at work now, and feeling happy today, I hoped. I thought about my family up in Tennessee, with their highlighted bibles and church clothes… my three best friends in Birmingham and Trussville, as well as the one who’s far away in Florida… and the two exes who live locally, one of whom I never did care for very deeply. Gave myself away, I did. It was loneliness. I cringed at the memory.
And back in this moment, I felt like I couldn’t possibly feel more alone, more depleted, more hopeless, or more indifferent to whether I was still in this world or finally out of it.
“stairs and doors”
a non-poet’s poem
my bones cannot climb these stairs
so they’ll rest on them a while
we’re weak in the wrist or we’d open the door
take a few steps
breathe in the world
i whisper to you — sometimes, some days:
“think about me; remember my face”
you never do
it’s always those stairs,
there’s always a door,
and you’re too far away
too alive in that world
I’ve experienced this before — a sudden slope in my depression that’s so drastic I can barely move. It’s a strange physical phenomenon, and for a Virgo who craves absolute control over her mind, body, and heart, it’s difficult to comprehend how I can become so truly weak in the knees that I can’t keep my body from hitting the floor.
When I reflect on childhood, I can remember dark spells, gloomy years, and a sustained sense of being 1. out of control and 2. an outsider. To cope, I stopped eating, cut myself, and danced the downward spiral with OCD. But I was always bravely happy — firmly insistent that the sun was there despite steady clouds overhead.
My depression back then was never as bad as it often is now. I trace this current “dark age” back to my big breakup three years ago. I think that losing a long-term companion after losing my brother and my religion affected me much more than I anticipated it would, and now, I’m wondering what I can do to help myself cope with the ceaseless uncertainty and heartbreak of life.
Things I’ve either realized or been thinking about a lot recently:
Over the years, I’ve been overly invested in my work and relationships to distract myself from scary nihilist thoughts and deep-seated feelings of loneliness.
Until recently, I’ve misunderstood unconditional love.
I’m highly critical of myself and others.
I’m a true agnostic who is dying to know the meaning of life.
Before work and relationships taking up my time and attention, it was church stuff — teaching classes, working events, and sharing music (back when I was a “believer”). I’ve always had something “big” to devote myself to and identify myself with (a god, a person, a company), and as I take a step back now to assess that, I realize that – as good as my intentions were, and are – over-investing in anything external is just a subliminal attempt to escape from myself and not address my innate unhappiness and dissatisfaction with the world.
Why am I so dissatisfied with the world? As beautiful as it can be, it equally sucks. People are so violent — so cruel to each other and to animals and indifferent to the suffering of others. It’s like when I pass by a farm of cows — I eagerly roll down my window to greet them, my whole face a smile, and then I begin wailing two miles further down the road, realizing that those cows probably aren’t pets. I mull over how murderously selfish meat eaters are, re-realize that they’re fucking everywhere and that people who genuinely give a shit about animals are in the minority, and it just rips my soul apart. So I turn on Spotify and think about something else instead — like how much I can’t stand being here, and how awful it is to be driving on the interstate alone; without a warm hand holding mine, a trusted voice drawing me out of my troubled mind, or a good soul navigating through all of this shit with me.
And as far as unconditional love is concerned, I’ve always claimed to love people unconditionally, but I realized, after Christopher spat on the small bit of friendship we had left roughly a month ago, that I was basing my love for him on the premise that he loved and respected me back. When I finally learned that he didn’t (at ALL), I told myself that he didn’t deserve love, and that I should firmly dislike him for the rest of our lives.
Something similar happened with Charlie, my best friend; when it hit me, a few months ago, that I was no longer his VERY best friend slash favorite person, I told myself that he shouldn’t be MY best friend or favorite person, either.
But the truth is, if you actually love someone, it shouldn’t be because of how they feel about OR what they do for you. If the existence or degree of your love depends on their own, it isn’t love. And the truth is that I do love Christopher unconditionally, as a person, despite his grand jackassery. Not romantically, as I used to — he’ll never again be that same old companion I knew and loved, and I no longer wish to speak with or hear from him again — but as a person, I still care about his well-being. It’s a fundamental kind of love; like, you want that other person to be healthy and happy and would give them one of your kidneys, if needed (regardless of whether or not the freakin Gemini “deserves” it).
And whether or not I’m his best friend, Charlie is still mine — I don’t have to pour our love for each other into two separate test tubes and then measure them to ensure that they’re equivalent. It doesn’t matter. I’ll simply love him as much as I do.
As for Audio (the boy I like who maybe but probably doesn’t like me back)… well, I still like him. Pride aside (because I don’t have much of it), it’s okay to like someone who doesn’t like you. It’s honest. Why should we be dishonest with ourselves, others, the world? What a waste of time and energy that would be. I’m sure I’ll like other people before I die — I’ll instantly fall in love with their spirits and then hope that they love mine, too — but some of them, maybe even most of them, won’t feel the same. And that’s alright.
Also, this soul-recognizing-soul event doesn’t always have to be romantic — sometimes, a connection is just a connection. And more often than we care for, the connection just randomly dead-ends — even though we hoped to a god that it never would.
For the last couple of weeks, Charlie has been obsessed with astrology. He already knew my birth date, but recently decided that he wanted to drill deeper down into my psyche to give me a “fuller picture” of my true, inner self, so after I gave him my birth time and city, he completed a “star chart” of sorts that rendered a startling accurate analysis of who I am and how I operate.
I don’t remember very much of it — there was a bunch of stuff about houses and moons and moods. I place about much stock in it as I would any other theory. Other than a rough middle-eastern translation that stated that I am “a business” (love it!), the other thing that stood out to me the most was that I am highly critical of myself and others. Star charts aside, it’s a very true statement.
I’ve never given myself a passing score in anything — abilities, looks, interpersonal relationships, inherent worthiness. None of it. And as an adult, I’m constantly working through all of that. But I’ve also always been highly critical of others; judging someone’s entire character by one unforgettable incident, or one (what I’d call) major flaw. For instance, I know a person who lies incessantly, and when I first discovered this, I immediately thought: Well, I can’t be friends with so-and-so… they lie. But their habit of lying doesn’t define their whole character. As I got to know them, I discovered that they have many good traits also, and that these aren’t rendered void because they feel a compulsion to lie (for whatever reason — it could be due to a lack of self-worth, like me, and they’re just trying to remedy theirs differently).
The same goes for people with other bad traits and qualities (which we all have — they just vary). We’re all still valuable — still just as important as anyone else in the world, whether we’re out in it or hidden away in our homes.
Lastly, the agnostic bit. When I visited my family up in Tennessee last week, they wanted to know when I’d have my “epiphany” and rejoin their religion (as if such a thing could be scheduled). They seem to believe that this disbelief of mine is a phase — something that’ll pass. That it’s a temporary rebellion so I can “do what I want” (which is drink coffee, work hard, study Spanish and go to bed at 8:30). A close friend of mine is, like them, hopeful that things will “click” for me someday and that having a god will give me a sense of solid footing in this world. To be completely honest, I genuinely envy those with faith (in any religion/denomination), but I know myself; it isn’t in me.
To me, the idea of there being this heaven place is a beautiful fairy tale — one I can easily understand people wanting to people in. When I hear “heaven”, I imagine people, many years ago, thinking to themselves: “I hate it when we have a famine and run out of food; when we get sick; when friends and family die…” and then dreaming up, mapping out, and writing about this perfect world you can eventually end up in (offering eternal life, perfect health, and endless fun with the people and animals you love) if you play your cards right. Dreamy, right? Right. It is the stuff of dreams. And for me, it just doesn’t resonate.
However, this is why I call myself an agnostic — not an atheist. I can’t imagine that tangible and intangible things like music, love, trees, rabbits, burritos and German Shepherds just apparated. Just happened. I think there’s some intelligent design in play, and I do feel what I can comfortably refer to as a kind presence following me around most days, but – unlike many – I don’t pretend to know what it is (or they are), because I remain unconvinced. Some frown at this lack of faith, this laziness, whatever… but for me, it’s all there is.
And since my life purpose slash meaning doesn’t come from saving souls, I have to figure out where it does come from. Thus far, I’ve been attaching meaning to over-investing in my professional work and relationships. Recently, I added academic studies, death row plants, and travel adventures to the list. And at this exact moment, I feel like the most meaningful things I can do while I’m here on this earth are to create art (in the forms of stories and songs), take good care of the people and animals who are in my neck of the woods, and lessen the suffering of every person I meet to the best of my ability (whether that’s handing out a meal, offering some sound financial advice, giving somebody a hug or just listening to them complain). Suffering is universal — and so is love. The two are very closely related, and because I know the magicalness of love and the corresponding terribleness of sadness, I want to be there for people who are suffering as I have (and am).
How about you? What seems to give your life purpose? And do you ever feel so weighed down by everything (or nothing at all) that you literally can’t move?
“If he’s at that bike ride thing tonight, you should ignore him,” Sierra (aka mother) advised via Messenger.
“Yep,” I agreed. “Going to do just that.”
This was on Thursday morning, and when Thursday night rolled around, yes — he was there.
Feeling exuberantly bummed that A. he was present and B. he cared enough about me to greet me, I tipped my head down in mute response and then hurried on to the restroom, peeing for the 17th time that day (I drink lots of beverages).
After walking back outside, I hopped up onto the concrete ledge and leaned my back against a whitewashed brick wall. This is my usual “waiting for the ride to start” spot, and like other “fixed” parts of my life routine, it gives me a sense of comfort and ease — a feeling of safeness. Withdrawing a book from my helmet, I stretched my legs out, crossed one foot over the other, and began to read.
Less than 30 seconds later, I felt another human being hop up onto the ledge and plop down beside me. I glanced to my left, and it was him… that (not)stupid boy that I like.
Against my will, I chatted with Audio about this book (Cat’s Eye by Margaret Atwood) and other books, and when I learned that he’d also read Ender’s Game (one of my all-time favorites), I accidentally gushed about the piggies (an “alien” species Ender encounters in the book’s sequel — my favorite piggie of whom was named Human).
While we chatted, he held out an open bag of walnuts, and I hesitantly withdrew one of them, mentioning that I had macadamia nuts in my backpack, which was in the car. We talked about motorcycles for a bit and I began to miss mine. I wondered if Audio wears a helmet when he rides, or if he would like to borrow my armored leather jacket for a while, and then chided myself for caring about his safety so much.
We both fell silent for a minute, watching an older couple taking a selfie (or trying to) in front of us. The guy wasn’t into it, but his gal was. “Get into my picture, dammit,” she said, and Audio and I both laughed. Hearing us, the guy turned around and pointed over at Audio and me.
“Take a picture of them instead… they’re cuter,” he said. And the woman did — I laughed nervously, glancing over at Audio, and saw that he was making a cute face at me. I couldn’t stand it. But I also had to refrain, later, from asking the lady to please send me those pictures.
Just before the ride began, I hopped off of the ledge and walked over to my bike, noticing another bike positioned closely alongside it. Drawing nearer, I realized that the other bike was actually leaning right up against my bike — very odd. I lowered my head to assess the situation further and perceived that the other bike didn’t seem to have a kickstand of its own, and when I went to move my own bike, this other bike moved with it. Not wanting this mystery bike to fall over, I paused.
Well shucks, I thought to myself, looking up and around. I won’t be able to go anywhere until this bike’s owner returns.
Audio strolled over to where I was then, and just as I began to ask do you know whose bike this is?, he reached for it, gently grasping the handlebars.
How FORWARD of him! I thought, love-hating the gesture and feeling slightly indignant. Placing his bike in MY bike’s vicinity…
But my heart quit missing so many beats when I was able to steer myself and my bike away from Audio. As our bikes cut through the humid air and rolled over the hot asphalt, my mind cleared all of that emotional debris away and I felt calmer, content to enjoy the scenery and the sound.
“Remember: You made it clear – WEEKS ago – that you like him like him and he didn’t seem to reciprocate… so keep your guard up, rabbit,” I advised myself coolly.
“I KNOWWWWW,” I replied, exasperated.
Our secret destination turned out to be a lovely little park over near Crestwood. After parking my bike, I moseyed off from the crowd for a few minutes (to inspect an old brick building across the street) and then spent the last bit of our break swinging. As I was happily kicking my legs into the air, I felt someone seat themselves and start swinging next to me (him, of course). We didn’t speak. I just don’t get you at all, I thought to myself.
When it was time to go, I returned to my bike, tugged my stickered helmet off of a handlebar, and started fiddling with it — my helmet had been giving me grief that evening, resting on my head a bit too loosely.
Suddenly, Audio appeared in front of me, took the helmet from my hands, and began adjusting it. After tightening the straps, he placed it on my head, adjusted it a bit more, and then buckled it, his fingers brushing lightly against my chin. What the hell.
“You’re supposed to wear it like this,” he explained, pulling it forward.
I felt myself blushing and hoped he didn’t notice.
Forty-ish minutes later, we were back where we started — hanging out in the alley behind Redemptive Cycles. I gave my number to an old guy who enjoys talking psychology and then tried to sneak off, quietly wheeling my bike around a bulky SUV en route to my Fiesta. Somehow, Audio still managed to spot me and intercepted my path, holding his arms out.
I hugged him back (happily and sadly), and when I sensed him not letting go, I seriously felt like vomiting. Does this dude actually LIKE me, or is he just crazy un-perceptive and unaware of how torturous this is?
So I pulled away to look at him: He was smiling. Radiantly.
“Look — can you just… walk with me to my car?” I asked awkwardly.
I rolled my bike forward and he walked alongside me. I still felt queasy. What was I going to say next? This wasn’t planned…
“Listen… do you NOT like communicating outside of these Thursday night rides?”
He seemed surprised, but recovered quickly. “Oh — yeah… I don’t like writing much,” he said, which explained his habit of not responding to my text messages. “Also, there was sort of a disconnect for me growing up, technology-wise. I prefer in-person interactions.”
“Ahhhh…” I murmured. Reasonable. “Okay — because I felt like I was probably driving you crazy with my texts a few weeks ago, and decided I should just stop messaging you altogether–”
“NO,” he exclaimed quickly. “Don’t do that — it’s something I need to work on.”
I realized we’d already reached my car and noticed that he’d placed his beer on top of it. I wasn’t sure when we’d stopped walking or when he’d set it up there. I felt queasy and nervous and dazed.
“Well okay then,” I nodded slowly. “Then I will likely text you a song or a picture of my German Shepherd from time to time,” I warned, and he laughed. His face was tinged with red — just a little. I was happy to realize that he might be nervous, too (or possibly just flush from the alcohol).
“And uhmmm — since you prefer in-person interactions,” I continued boldly, “I’m dropping my best friend off at the airport this Saturday and then I’ll be pretty free, so if you’d LIKE to get lunch or dinner or coffee or drinks or whatever this weekend, just let me know — you don’t need to decide right now,” I added hurriedly. Although I like you so so much and I bet we’d have a really great time together and I TOTALLY think that you should stop being so freaking mixed signal-y.
Then I bid him farewell and drove home, trying to NOT replay and over-analyze every single second spent with him. HA!
I texted him a song recommendation later that night (#whywastetime?) and a picture of my German Shepherd the next day, proposing that – on Sunday – we could maybe ride our bikes over to a local brewery and then check out this jazz show on 5th?
Still waiting to hear back. 🙂 Shocking, huh? WAIT, hang on — I just got a notification on my phone!…ahhhhh, it’s just DuoLingo; time for my daily Spanish lesson.
Randomly sharing a few pics from my recent trip to Knoxville — had a great time visiting w/fam!
She was sprinting through the house, wearing grey sweatpants and a towel on her head. It was our last day together.
“I always think that the bus is waiting for me,” she said, grabbing her makeup bag and cell phone in one swift movement, “but it’s actually me who’s waiting for the bus.”
“That’s really insightful,” I called out from the couch, my right foot propped up on a three-tiered cake of pillow. “On so many levels…”
She laughed, and then I heard the bathroom door slam shut.
I spent last weekend in Portland, Oregon. It was a solo trip taken for the sheer hell of it; I wanted to try the coffee, and the vegan food, and take in all of the views — from tall trees, soul-soothing waterfalls, and soft old clothes to some of the most notoriously peculiar human beings on the planet.
But I had to tweak my plans early on in the trip.
On day two, I was riding the #20 in the direction of Mt. Tabor Park. As we neared the next stop, I readjusted my backpack, tugged on the yellow rope running along the interior of the bus, and went to stand up. Nothing weird — just, you know; rising up onto my feet, like usual.
But when I did so, I felt something like a ball explode inside of my foot — it was insanely jarring, took me completely by surprise, and every single step I took afterwards was more excruciating than I can properly describe.
Sidebar History Lesson: The previous week, I was training new hires up in northern Alabama and spent my evenings walking several miles in unsupportive sandals, which I could tell – afterwards – stressed my feet out… and I suspect that THIS is what primed me for the explosion.
And regardless of what was supposed to happen next, what I did was grit my teeth, hobble through the park, and then limp up and down the city’s bustling streets for the next two and a half days, chasing food and coffee and books and scarves.
this guy was one of my faves… gave him a copy of Jinx
scarf purchased @ Rerun
lavender latte + a rad(ish) salad @ Bipartisan Cafe (where I legit saw Carrie Brownstein)
las flores (near Mt. Tabor Park)
*VEGAN* FIESTA MAC N CHEESE @ Off the Griddle
caramel latte @ Albina Press (lovely atmosphere — big windows, open doors, and pretty plants)
burrito bowl @ Por Que No?
me figuring out how to look like Portland (sweater purchased @ House of Vintage)
BEST vegetarian BLT ever @ Vita Cafe
caramel bourbon latte @ Case Study Coffee Roasters
super fantz coffee dubbed “The Oregon” (dulce de leche, hops, and sea salt) @ Never Coffee
biggest ritto I’ve ever rittoed @ Common Grounds Coffee House
me trying to selfie (misunderstanding between myself and self-timer)
Hover over pics above for deets.
My favorite memories of Portland:
One afternoon, a young man (20s) and his dad boarded the bus together and seated themselves near the front. I’d been engrossed in scenes beyond the window, so I heard the young man before I actually saw him.
Why? He was making the most interesting noises: deep grunts, sharp exhalations, gleeful laughs and high-pitched siren sounds. His dad, I noticed, communicated with him by clicking his thumb and pointer finger together, slapping him on the knee, and making intricate movements with his wrists. It didn’t look like formal sign language, but I definitely understood that this was their language.
The young man made one noise, in particular, that I found so beautiful it almost moved me to tears… it was a lovely trill, sort of like a bird’s. He did it once, twice, maybe four times; every now and then, it would magically reappear, and I wanted to hear it nonstop forever.
After about ten minutes, I noticed the father gathering their things together. I wish he’d trill one more time before leaving, I thought to myself; I’d appreciated hearing it before, but I wanted to really record the sound in my mind before he disappeared from me forever.
And then as the door opened and he began descending the stairs, there it was — that sweet, rolling trill, tumbling backwards through the air. I closed my eyes then. I can still hear it now.
Early one morning, it was finally on the cusp of being overcast (it didn’t rain AT ALL while I was there — what the heck!) and I was on the bus again. We were passing through the city, bumping over downtown Portland’s uneven roads.
To my right, I suddenly saw a narrow and dark patch between two buildings — and there in that shadowy space was a man, sitting between this wall and that one; he was wearing a blanket and quietly staring down at the flame on a lighter. It was strikingly beautiful.
At the bus stop (YES, I practically lived on or near the bus!) on Monday, I sat waiting beside a man who looked like a rock star — wearing a leather vest, leather pants, a jet-black faux hawk and silver hoops in his ears. A girl approached us, and then there were three of us waiting for the bus — possibly four, but the other lady was standing pretty far off in the distance, staring down at the asphalt and cursing at it, so she might have just been hanging out.
I heard the rock star fidgeting to my left, but didn’t look over at him.
“Need a lighter?” the girl asked suddenly.
He laughed. “Yeah.”
“Hey, I’ve been there before — it’s hard to light a joint from a cigarette.” I heard the click of it, and then a sizzle.
I was staring after a plastic bag blowing down the street, feeling puzzled; if he was able to light the cigarette, why can’t he light the joint? I wondered. Maybe he lost the lighter, or it stopped working, I reasoned afterwards.
Seconds later, I could smell it. Delicious.
“You know… I appreciate you not judging me, you know?” the guy said to the girl.
“Hey — I’d smoke it if I could,” she said.
Me too, I thought. But it isn’t legal back in bama… YET.
“It’s just… a lot of people judge me for it, you know?” he continued, and I heard him make a snorting sound. I couldn’t stop my head from turning a little and saw him batting at his nose.
“And it’s just like… some people need to be sober, and some people need to NOT be sober,” he concluded.
The girl murmured her assent.
The bus came and she and I got on it… I sat in the back, by the window again, and watched Rock Star fade away. Turned out he wasn’t waiting for the bus.
On Sunday, I purchased a scarf from a secondhand shop and then hobbled to the park across the street. Plopping down and leaning my back against a tree, I watched as — on a great, big court — several games of basketball occurred simultaneously.
There were four groups of older men — predominantly black, with one goofy-looking group of white boys — and two batches of young kids. Didn’t spot a single girl on the court, which was disappointing. I suddenly remembered getting hit in the face with a football during 7th grade PE. That dickhead — I couldn’t remember his name, but knew he was Ryan’s twin brother, and though he’d claimed it was an accident, I’d been standing just seven feet in front of him, counting as fast as I could: one mississippi, two mississippi, three mississippi, four…
I noticed that one of the kid groups (composed of four members: a skinny kid, another skinny kid who was dressed really well, a toddler, and a chubby kid) had an all-star on their team: the chubby kid! He kept landing shot after shot, from all sorts of distances, and I loved watching him dribble, because you could tell that he felt good about it (and himself).
This one time, though, the skinny-and-not-dressed-well kid went to steal the ball and fell in the process; chubby kid kept on going with the ball, landed the shot, and then reared back around, approaching the kid who was still on the ground.
My heart to started to ache a little as it anticipated hurt feelings, but then, it soared; I watched as chubby kid walked over to skinny kid, held his hand out, and helped him back up onto his feet. Then, he slapped him on the back encouragingly, like nice try. It was freaking awesome, because the kid was like seven.
A strung-out, emaciated guy walked onto the bus late one afternoon and started chatting with the girl across from him; she was middle-aged, dressed well, and seemed kind. He rattled on about having just lost $3000 in poker (apparently trying to be impressive), and she told him that she’d stopped playing ten years ago… that it had nearly ruined her life. He bristled a little at the unsolicited advice and got off at the next stop, and then the guy beside her chimed in, saying that poker was like a drug.
“It really is,” she agreed. “I was a stripper for a while and used to blow the money on the game.”
“Oh… that makes sense; so that’s why you’re into such alternative stuff,” the guy said, nodding after the already-gone emaciated guy (who – seemingly affecting a feminine accent and wearing a women’s shirt – had appeared to be in the process of possibly transforming).
“Excuse me?” she said, narrowing her eyes as she considered the guy.
Good for you, lady, I thought at her, happy she’d stuck up for herself and the other guy. You fuckin’ jackass, I thought at the jackass.
A few things I learned in Portland:
How to use public transit. We’re sorta, kinda getting there in bham, but spots like Denver and Portland have got it goin’ ON in the public transit department.
It took me a few days (and several missed stops slash incorrect bus boardings) to get the hang of it, but MAN did I feel proud of myself once I figured out how to route myself from this spot to that one via buses, streetcars, and even trains.
I didn’t have to Uber — not even ONCE (although, at times, the public transit system was really freaking confusing and I was TEMPTED to Uber — persistence is key!), and with a 2.5 hour pass costing $2.50 and a full day public transit pass costing just $5, I spent a total of $17.50 on transportation the whole time I was there.
You can bring your own coffee mug to coffee shops! I watched hipster after hipster do it, and realizing that doing this was possible resolved a true dilemma of mine:
Coffee shop mugs are so homey, and I just love sipping coffee from them, but it takes me FOREVER to finish a latte, so I usually opt for paper to-go cups (which come with lids). However…
At the thrift store last month, I found this neato porcelain coffee mug and swore I’d start making coffee at home with it (because I liked it so much). I tried doing so, and my coffee didn’t compare to Red Cat’s, but GUESS WHAT? I can now bring this reusable coffee mug (which comes WITH a lid) to the coffee shop WITH me and vwahla: My latte will preserve its favorable temperature for a bit longer AND I’ll be helping the environment out. Double win.
Happily back home in bham, I brought my coffee mug w/me to Red Cat this AM, and look at how splendidly things went! (And there was a surprising third benefit, too: The barista gave me a $1 discount for bringing my own mug!)
Socializing doesn’t have to be difficult (or weird). My AirBnB host (the girl with the towel on her head) was a super sociable person who invited me out for drinks twice — the first time, I politely declined, but the second time, I agreed… and it was fun! Easy, even!
She and I met up with two of her friends (a guy and his bro, who was visiting from Turkey) and we went to two different bars (I ordered a drink at one of them). At the first place, we watched a local emo band perform on an outdoor stage — the 2015 Oregonian Pinot Noir had me swaying in the audience beside three new friends — and when we made it over to the second joint (a smoky jazz bar), I could feel it — understand it, and I’m talking about jazz — for the first time in my life:
I was the piano solo, and he was the saxophone solo… the notes were our words. The bass was the feelings we felt inside of ourselves — grief, passion, fury; the heart skipping a beat, or beating too fast… the drums were the movements between and against us — embracing and repelling — and the singer’s sometimes smooth, sometimes shouting vocals were the eyes that we gave each other.
Duh! NOW I get it, I thought to myself.
My AirBnB host broke up with a guy three years ago but finds herself still obsessed with him — always catching herself looking for him in the bar, on the bus, and at the grocery store…
“And you can’t really do anything about it,” she said, elbowing me with a sweaty and hoppy IPA in her hand. She’d just commented on how sexy the guy with the saxophone was; his name was Taylor. He was hanging back in a dim corner of the room now, waiting for his next solo. “You just have to focus on something else.”
I nodded. I get that more than you’d possibly believe, I wanted to tell her… thinking about Spanish and caramel lattes and college and gigs and travel and novels and work and bike rides.
She held the IPA out for me to taste it. I took a single sip, wrinkled my nose, and gave it back to her, smiling anyways.
But like AirBnB said: If you’re helplessly obsessed, focus on other things. So I’ll keep on doing that.
PS: Oh yeah — the whole broke myself in Portlanddrama bit: Turns out that the bus mishap was me spraining my ankle! I paid a rare visit to the doctor when I returned to bham and am now wearing a fashionable medical boot for the next 13 days. Woohoooooooooooooo!
I know this is a little extra for a PS, but I had to ask FOUR different medical personnel if I could please view images of my foot x-ray before it finally happened. And FYI, my foot looks REALLY cool in b&w.
“Guess I’ve got bones down there after all!” I laughed to the nurse (who’d begrudgingly escorted me to the viewing room).
“Do people ask to see their x-rays often?” I asked as she led me toward the exit, curious.
Well — I felt very fortunate to have been able to see mine, and I would have asked for a 4×6 print to-go, but… #vibes #sociallyperceptive #igetit #butitsMYfootxray.
Like my blog? Read my book!
I self-published my first novel in August 2017 — a delightful tale called “Jinx the Rabbit.” Whether you’re 5 years old or 500 years young, I feel sure you’ll enjoy it. Purchase the book by clicking below and then I’ll ship your signed copy to you within two business days! (Or, if you’d prefer to order the book on Amazon, you can easily do so by visiting the website and searching “Jinx the Rabbit”!)
I was hanging out at a cafe, writing and wearing headphones, when this guy walked in — a regular who’s hit on me a few times in the last couple of weeks. He’s nice enough but came on a little too strong the last time we spoke, and when he greeted me and then sat down beside me last Sunday morning, I was already feeling beyond exhausted from finals, a forty-hour work week, and a weekend music gig.
He’s going to stay here and talk TO me for the next hour and A HALF if I don’t nip this in the bud RIGHT NOW, I warned myself.
I know, but what can I do?!
Just… SAY something, I offered weakly.
Gee, THANKS, I grumbled inwardly.
So I smiled as I removed one of my earbuds. “Hey dude — look, I’d really love to chat with you, but my emotional and social reserves are right here,” I explained, lowering my left hand towards the cafe’s concrete floor and squinting over at him.
His eyebrows shot up. “Oh — well…”
And then he picked up his things, seated himself at a table nearby, finished his coffee and meal very quickly and left.
I got the pretty distinct impression that he had been offended by my lack of niceness, but you know what? Go me.
Four Days Later
“So what’s the best part of your week been?”
I glanced over to my left. Audio (the boy who knows I like him but refuses to directly address the matter) had just pulled up alongside me (again) during a Thursday night bike ride. We were now rolling through an intersection together.
“The BEST part?” I repeated. “Wellllllllll…” I hesitated. “LOTS of nice things have happened this week!” I exclaimed finally, feeling frazzled.
“You can include the weekend,” he added encouragingly.
“Hmmmmm…” I thought about it some more. “You know, I feel like something really great happened on Tuesday — I just can’t recall what it was… but I DID stick up for myself on Sunday,” I said, telling the tale and expressing how proud of myself I was.
“You know what?” he laughed. “It’s funny you’d say that, because I stuck up for myself this week, too,” and then he related a work incident that he’d handled bravely and professionally. I noticed him really holding my gaze while he spoke, and I wanted to grab him by the shoulders and shake him — like REALLY, dude?! What the heckin’ HECK?
Instead, I smiled over at him and his stupidly gorgeous gray eyeballs.
Soon after, we were rolling into the alley behind Redemptive Cycles and everybody was stepping off of their bikes, grabbing a beer or a water bottle and then finding a group of people to hang out with. I leaned my bike up against the chain link fence and, when I turned around, Audio had reappeared.
“So like I was saying earlier…” he continued, looking and being adorable. I love-hated watching and listening to him.
“Let’s go mingle,” he suggested eventually, nodding towards the others.
“Alrighty,” I sang out, leaving my bike to walk beside him, “but I don’t usually do this — just walk up to people and start chit chatting…” but then I spotted a guy I knew there in the crowd and ran over to him.
“Heya!” I greeted him. “I’ve been tasked to mingle, which is terrifying, so I decided to come over here and hang out with you,” I explained openly, hopping up onto the metal landing behind the back door.
“Ahhhhh — you know me, so I’m safe?” he laughed.
“YEP!” I grinned.
He leaned his back into the railing, crossing his feet and arms in front of him. “Who here isn’t safe, Jace?”
His question surprised me. I looked around us. “I mean — nobody isn’t safe… all of these people seem safe…”
“But if you had to pick, who seems unsafe? In other words, who would you NOT feel comfortable walking up to and starting a conversation with?”
My eyes and ears traveled the crowd again, taking in shapes and colors and faces and voices. I saw Audio’s outline to my right and my heart lurched. He isn’t safe at all, I admitted to myself, because I like him too much, and too openly.
“Again — I really don’t find anyone here to be unsafe…” I hesitated. “I mean, maybe that girl over there.” I nodded toward her, a curly-haired brunette. “She isn’t DANGEROUS or anything, but I try to smile at her whenever I see her and she’s always kinda bristly… I’m afraid that she doesn’t like me.”
“Ahhhh… that’s Valerie,” my friend said, nodding. “She’s an introvert, like you.”
I nodded understandingly.
“Let’s go talk to her,” he clapped, grinning.
“NO WAY, Jose!” I protested, but he had already grabbed my hand and tugged me down from the landing and, suddenly, we were approaching Valerie and her group of friends. I felt queasy.
“Hello, all!” my friend greeted the group. Five pairs of eyes immediately settled on the two of us. “Valerie,” he continued, gesturing toward me, “this is Jace.”
“Hi,” I offered quietly, desperately hoping she didn’t think I was hitting on her, because while I totally wasn’t, I imagined that it might seem like I was (strolling over, uninvited, with a well-meaning wingman).
She nodded at me and then continued speaking to the group; they were discussing internet speeds and competitor pricing (AT&T versus Charter). I bounced on the balls of my feet while I listened along and smiled over at my friend every now and then — sincerely grateful for his interest in making me feel less like an outsider.
After ten minutes of hanging around, I decided I’d had my fill for the evening.
“I’m heading home,” I told my friend. “I have to pee, and the back door’s locked.”
He laughed loudly. “Oh dear — well I’m sure we can find somewhere for you to go and use the restroom,” he protested.
“Nah, that’s okay — I’m also tired.” I smiled, bid him goodnight, and began walking back toward my bike.
“Jace — are you leaving?”
He hopped down from the metal landing (he’d taken my spot when I’d left) and ran over to hug me goodbye. I hugged him back, noticing him holding me a little closer than he had the previous week, and then I let him go, suspecting that a hug from me would never mean as much to him as a hug from him meant to me. How sad!
And then I hoisted my bike up onto the rack on my car and drove home, feeling proud of myself for being somewhat okay with that.
“There is no future that we’re supposed to have; there is the future that we create for ourselves every damn day.” –somebody
Aka, Audio and I aren’t destined to be together. Don’t be silly, reader! I just think that I might like for us to be together… might, because I don’t even know the guy! There’s just this magical something about him — this essence…
Be selective about the fucks you give. For example, caring deeply when the cashier is unfriendly, the guy in traffic’s being a dick, and your German Shepherd has eaten another pair of your fancy and expensive mountaineer socks could beindicative that you are lacking real meaning in your life. In other words, if you’re choosing to expend your energy and burn your emotions on trivial, petty shit (trivial and petty in the grand scheme of things), you must have nothing better to focus your attention on. And if that’s true, you might wanna take a closer look at your lifestyle, dreams, and values…
Stop trying to avoid suffering. We’re wired to do this: pursue pleasure and avoid pain — ignore all of the stuff that hurts and breaks out hearts and chase after pleasure highs instead (food, alcohol, cinema, parties, etc.). But the truth is that suffering is an essential part of this life process — and that while suffering isn’t pleasant, it’s actually good for us, because it’s instrumental in helping us grow! The slightly good news: You can often choose what you’re going to suffer for (and thereby choose to make it something worthwhile; for example: Instead of fretting over the fact that a coworker or could-be friend doesn’t like you and suffering from that sense of rejection, you could choose to nicely not give a fuck about that and – instead – suffer through tedious hours of practicing Spanish verb conjugations so that you can connect with a whole other group of people). I’d like to share this, too: The best moments of my life so far haven’t been those big ole highlights: graduating with a 2-year degree, performing on stage in front of 800 people, or getting married. My best and most defining moments were the ones that happened long before or after these “big” milestone events: spending four years’ worth of evenings and weekends attending classes and studying to get that puny degree; dedicating my free time, as a teenager, to earning callouses on my left hand as I learned the notes and scales and proper chord structure for the guitar; and collecting slash reassembling all of my broken pieces after an earth-shattering divorce and realizing – when I was neck-deep in that excruciatingly painful process – that I was WAY more resilient and brave and powerful than I’d EVER given myself credit for.
Quit trying to be right all of the time. I know people like this; they do or say something that is plainly wrong but absolutely refuse to admit it. Annoying, right? But here’s the thing: WE ALL DO THAT! We ARE those annoying people! At least sometimes… and if your focus is always on being slash appearing to be right, you’re precluding the chance of learning something new about yourself and the world (plus, if you’re an “always righter”, you prob won’t come off as being very real or likable to others).A few tips:1. When you discover that you ARE wrong about something, realize that you go from being wrong about it to LESS wrong about it — not necessarily right. We’re all on an infinite journey of approaching truth and rightness, but I (personally) don’t believe that any of us ever actually make it all the way there.
2. Don’t be afraid to be real with yourself. If you’re avoiding a person, confront yourself about it. Why am I avoiding them? Do they make me nervous? Make me feel bad about myself? Make me feel inferior? If so, why? And if so, why? If you’re avoiding a career or lifestyle change that’s always on your mind, why are you hanging back? Does the idea of taking action make you feel scared? Are you afraid to find out whether or not you can actually do the thing and would prefer to simply sit back and imagine that you could if you really tried?
People may be to blame for your unhappiness, but they are NOT responsible. This one hit hard, because I’ve been through some shit, and I have (at least in part) blamed others for my deep, dark sadness… but you know what? All of us have been through shit AND put others through shit. People break our hearts and murder our pets and go and die on us, and in ways, we do the same mean shit to them. But here’s the thing: Though we like to believe that our suffering is special and that we are poor victimized targets of the world, we are not. And we are not helpless.The truth is, neither our talents nor our suffering are unique or special… our sadness isn’t something to be worn like a crown. So shake it off, and let it go — and if you aren’t sure how to do that, figure out how. One part of that “how” is asking yourself real questions and then being completely honest when you answer yourself.If someone has injured you in some way, shame on them, but don’t expect them to make it better. You are ultimately responsible for your physical, emotional, mental and spiritual health, so figure out how to heal and take care of yourself. Placing the blame and burden on somebody else and waiting for them to come through on making amends is just foolish… and why hand off your control over something so vital — inner peace?
Reconsider your goals and values. In a nutshell, good goals are process-oriented, and good values are non-comparative… BAD goals and BAD values are just the opposite.Like:Instead of “lose twenty pounds”, try “treat my body well” — the latter is more of an ongoing and comprehensive/balanced kinda goal (that includes LOTS of things other than weight, like getting ample sleep + sunshine, eating a varied diet, and exercising).
Instead of “make every person I meet like me” or “make people like me more than they like xyz person” (which is impossible and is NOT something you can directly control), adopt values like “express myself honestly” or “improve my social life” (by relating with others authentically and unswervingly practicing friendliness and compassion, even in the face of evil-troll-bitch-from-hell characters).
The next chapter in the book (which I’ve yet to read) is titled “The Importance of Saying No”. I’m especially looking forward to it, because saying no to cafe dude on Sunday was a monumental but terrifying step for me — a person who loves to make people feel happy and good about themselves at almost any expense to herself.
How about you?
Are you able to nicely say no when necessary to protect your physical, emotional, and spiritual well-being?
Are you fully conscious of how you’re spending your life energy, and are you happy with where it’s being channeled?
Are you deliberate about doling out your fucks or are they just spilling out everywhere?
Are you setting sustainable and good goals for yourself as well as measuring yourself and your personal success with metrics that are solid, honest, and worthy? Suggestion: Craft and adhere to your OWN values, because most of society’s generic ones (IE be the most attractive person; be the most wealthy person; be the most popular person) are fucking stupid.
After careful thought, my three big goals in life are to:
Empower + lessen the suffering of others (animals + humans, in that order)
Create art that is honest and meaningful (stories and songs)
Appreciate and savor beautiful experiences — like sipping on lattes, petting German Shepherds, going on adventures, and walking hand-in-hand with another human being. Could be Audio, but probably not. I wish Aziz Ansari was single and not quite so famous…
PS (a few hours later from a brewery I biked over to): Pic below = my fav page so far. Accurately describes why my 5-year relationship worked so well (he was the fire starter and I always loved putting them out).
This heathen’s spending another Sunday morning at the cafe where coffee is doing its thing: gently nudging me awake with a warm hug and some sweet hand-holding.
I’m sitting in my chair at Red Cat — hearing the French family from last week speaking beautifully to one other, the four of them seated at the round table in front of me; watching the elegant woman in the brown leather chair to my right, with her suede brown boots and yellow-and-gray polka dot scarf, reading a novel on her iPad; and passively listening to the customers around the wall’s corner placing their orders, the baristas behind the bar calling out those orders, and the magical coffee machine whirring in the background for all of us.
I’m remembering sitting on a park bench a few days ago; leaning forward with my elbows resting on my knees and my hands clasped underneath my chin, observing the pond water swishing and swirling around in front of me. I counted three ducks swimming that day — finally, three — and when I did, I cried with relief.
After a few moments, I heard a little girl’s voice calling out from behind me, so I turned around with red eyes and she asked: “What are you looking at?” Two, three times… she kept on asking. I could hear her question clearly, but I was wearing headphones, so I just smiled as her parents – each of them grasping one of her tiny hands – ushered her quickly forward. She cried out in protest.
“I’m watching the universe coming alive and dying over and over again,” I answered myself. “But to her, I would have said: The water! The ducks! It’s all very beautiful, isn’t it?”
A few weeks prior, I had spent my Saturday afternoon chatting with a remarkable guy at the same park (yes — the guy was Audio; sigh), and on the way back to my car, I had passed by two ducks waddling through the grass.
“Hey, guys — where’s your friend?” I wondered after them, as for years now, there’s always been the trio — three inseparable duck friends who I always spot wandering around the park together. I began to feel worry creeping in, so I ducked into my car and headed home, deliberately (and literally) leaving the matter behind me.
But last week, another weekend rolled around and I was studying Spanish at the park (at a table near the pond) when those two ducks came into view. Again, just two of them.
A police officer (one of the guards who routinely strolls the park) walked past me, and when he did, I almost flagged him down to ask about the third one: Do you know where s/he went? Any idea what happened? I’m really starting to worry…
But I decided that he probably didn’t know or care, and that I probably didn’t want to know, anyways, so I reeled my grief in and then held it there as I continued to practice verb conjugations. Incidentally, I’m now reading, writing, and speaking in three tenses.
But like I said — the third duck finally returned to view a few days ago. It was a happy ending (for now).
I watched a bluegrass band (another trio) from Montgomery perform at an art festival yesterday; they sang about wearing purple flip flops, visiting different states, and worshiping the dirt. It’s funny — bluegrass isn’t one of my preferred genres (not even in the slightest slightest), but there’s just something about live music and the sense of community latent in it that makes any flavor of sound appealing.
I also spoke with different artists yesterday: a bearded guy had his painter girlfriend take a picture of his German Shepherd tattoo and mine; a skinny girl from Portland sold me a clay necklace she’d made — a creek side leaf from Oregon etched into its surface — and wished me safe travels there next month; and a tall and lanky guy named Jim handed me a delicate pair of mixed molten earrings. “These are the tiniest ones I’ve ever made,” he said, laughing. I put them on this morning.
A girl wearing lots of jewelry complimented my tattoos in the grocery store yesterday afternoon and I felt like running away from her. Instead, I complimented her jewelry and then said goodbye immediately afterwards.
I drank a white russian to loosen up at a bar before performing last week — sang three songs while feeling like a ghost; perfectly invisible, and wonderfully untethered. I didn’t even know that I was breathing. The crowd, composed of many other musicians, cheered enthusiastically. I played inside of the saloon, but noticed Audio walk outside right as I began to play; he complimented my sound later on and then played a mostly silent game of pool with me. One of our only exchanges:
“Hitting that triangle of balls is called breaking the cue, right?” I asked. The phrase, while unfamiliar, just intuitively sounded right — like I’d somehow picked up some cool pool lingo in passing.
“No,” he shook his head, smiling. But he never did say what it was called.
I just can’t figure him out.
And then I passed by a special man this morning. He was sitting on a bench at the park; somewhat near the trio, and fidgeting with his shoes. When I saw him, I felt my blood turning pulpy and flowing thicker, ambling through my veins like the train clattering across the tracks, to my right.
“HI!” he greeted me loudly, offering a brilliant smile.
“Hi!” I replied, smiling back at him.
“How are you?” he asked quickly.
“I’m good — you?”
“You look nice!” he answered happily.
I laughed. “And so do you! Enjoy your day!”
And then I walked away quickly, trapping grief in my throat.
I thought of my brother Bobby again moments later when I passed by a bright red Doctor Pepper truck. I asked the maintenance man to take a picture of me in front of the truck, and then I deleted it. He’s been gone for nearly five years now. I often wish that I could talk with him… his presence was always so stabilizing. It’s like you knew exactly who you were when you sat down with him; you could clearly see and feel your darkest parts and your best parts. Everything just became so weirdly apparent and tangible. And you knew exactly who he was, too, because it never occurred to him that he could or should hide…
Meanwhile, I believe that we all waste inane amounts of time building walls and fashioning masks and then burn up even more of our energy and hours choosing when to hide behind either (or both). Bobby lived so much more authentically. He was always 1000% transparent. He’d only smile if he was happy or humored — that classic, toothy grin was never affected. Alternatively, he’d yell – really loudly – if you hurt his feelings or angered him. And then, my favorite, he’d simply pass the phone off to somebody else (anybody else) in the room mid-sentence if he was done with a conversation, cutting your question or story short with a monotoned and slowly drawn: “Alright — bye, sister babe…”
And when he’d give you one of those awkward and shaky arm-crushing side hugs, you knew that he loved you so, so much. He was so open. So goddamn trustworthy.
And when you remember a soul so radiant and flawless and true, you miss having somebody so real around, because you re-realize (it dawned on you before; we just easily forget the things we hate knowing) how fucking fake the rest of us are with each other — pretending to like who and what we don’t, and then absurdly concealing how strongly we actually feel about someone or something with light shrugs and small smiles and powerful words that we keep to ourselves.
A Month Ago
“Is it weird that I’ve made friends with this hole in my hand?” I asked Charlie.
“Good. Because I just feel such an affinity for it — like, I feel so whole with a hole in my hand,” I sighed. “I hope it never, ever heals.”
But is has. The blood dried up within a day and then the soft flesh knitted itself back together in a few more. And as per usual, I keep on wishin’ that somebody would wanna HOLD my hand, dang it! 🙂
I used to get so secretly excited when I’d return home from visiting my old best friend in Connecticut, because I knew that – having been gone for two weeks – my mom was going to hug me when she saw me in the airport. It was one of maybe two or three hugs I’d get from her all year, and I looked forward to it with that nervous dread you feel when something is awkwardly unfamiliar but happily-anticipated. And for the record, I’m not upset about it — the lack of hugs in my young life; we just weren’t a touchy-feely family, growing up.
But when friends in middle school started hugging me and grabbing my hands with theirs, they seemed to slice right through the first layer of me — creating weak trickles of blood and revealing soft skin. And those same hugs that cut zig zags into me became the very hugs that healed me, and then,I began to crave them. Like burritos.
And in the world of hugging and hand-holding, I’ve discovered that there are simply no arms and no hands quite like those of a companion. What I miss most about being in a relationship is 1. the physical warmth and 2. the emotional intimacy. But you can just disregard the 1 and 2, because it’s a genuine 50-50.
I used to watch my Holland Lop rabbits snuggle up beside each other, their overlapping fluffiness turning them into this one gigantic puff of rabbit (with two heads); while they had all the space in the world to occupy, Panda absolutely insisted on existing right at Hiro’s side, sleeping or awake. And nowadays, I watch my German Shepherds interact similarly; Tycho will walk across the room to go sit on my other German Shepherd Silo’s back — and it’s a total nonevent; she does it so she can just sit there, in very close proximity to him, and look around the room — and then in the evenings, I often catch her falling asleep with her paw resting on his. And I get it. I totally get it. Sidebar: Why was it always Panda and Tycho – the gals – reaching out for affection? Why were Hiro and Silo such emotionally-clueless IDIOTS? 🙂
And now that the hole in my hand has healed, I’m just waiting for somebody to want to hold it.
Somebody other than the three guys who’ve flirted with me in the past week — it’s nice to know that I’m not actually invisible, I guess, but jeez; A. too old, B. too young, and C. too BOLD. Why can’t Audio just get it together?!
A friend and I grabbed lunch downtown today; she ordered a grilled cheese sandwich with a side of pasta salad and I asked for a house salad with some fried tofu.
We were meeting up with an old coworker of ours — a spirited and adventurous gal who made a bold career move after spending nearly two decades in the same office — and after catching up on each other’s adventures, we all said goodbye.
My friend and I walked to her car quickly, needing to report back to corporate by 2 PM for a shared meeting. I remember the sun warming my skin and the wind shaking the trees.
“How was the grilled cheese?” I asked her.
“Nice… I’ll have to try one next time.”
“You’re navigating, right?” she asked, closing the door.
“Yep! I know my downtown,” I boasted, warming both of my hands with a to-go latte. I could feel her grinning.
We turned left here and then I directed her to go right there. She inched forward, trying to see around a truck, while I thanked the universe for the flavor caramel.
“Can’t really seeeeeeeeeeeeeeee… don’t know if we’re gonna make ittttttttt,” she sang out, continuing to edge forward.
“Eh, it’s alright… I’m ready to go,” I replied, taking another (final?) sip.
She completed the turn (without incident) and then laughed sadly. “Wow, Jace…”
“Yeah. I really am, though!” I laughed, much more lightheartedly. Because being ready to die basically exempts you from the fear of dying, you know? So go ME!
Ohhhhhhhhhh depression; we’ve been riding a tandem bike for years now, haven’t we? Always dissecting you — peeling back layer after layer via meditation and writing and music and free therapy sessions with my friend from the car ride, but you just NEVER go away — not all of the way, anyways. You’re adhesive, like a sticker, and thick as a shadow.
You’re like this endless ride — with exhilarating highs and soul-crushing lows and then some deceptively even patches here and there that make me feel like the world and this existence are finally going to level out on me… and the very worst part is that I never know when the great descent is going to start back up again, OR when it’s going to let up, because there’s not an exact pattern or science to this thing (high –> low –> normal); it’s all scattered and stupidly unpredictable, as well as viscerally corrosive.
But this I know: One of the biggest (and most loyal) contributors to my depression — dating back to a few years ago now — is mydeep and sustained sense of loneliness. So here goes psychoanalyzing that:
Why are you lonely? Because I don’t have a companion.
But you have friends, right? Yeah, but not a companion. It’s way different.
What is a companion? A life partner — that ultimate, sole somebody who’s 100% got your back. They’re your greatest confidant — basically, an extension of yourself; somebody you can invest in, count on, fall backwards into, and adventure through life with. They are a nearly-perfect complement; a sweet comfort; a warm home.
Why can’t you be your own best confidant — your own warm home? Ohhhhhh shut up. You’re obviously CLUELESS.
So that’s how that goes. But what do you do when you’re companion-less? Really? I’m actually asking you, reader. I think that many of us end up settling (at least short-term) for lesser companions… and by lesser companions, I don’t mean less valuable or talented or lovely humans than ourselves, because those don’t exist; I mean, not-really-the-right-fit-for-us humans…
I believe that we become so lonely that the first hint of a spark renders us branded to an individual who just doesn’t really mesh with who we are. You know what I mean?
The guy I dated back in February was like that — really sweet, really smart, and well-mannered (now I’m thinking about German Shepherds)… but there was no real spark there. No soul kindling. No profound shift in my alignment when I saw him or spoke with him or held his hand.
And then, when I met a guy who did ignite a spark/nudge at my soul/rattle my alignment a little (more than a month later), I told him – via text (DUMB) – that I liked-him-liked-him after performing a Backstreet Boys song and drinking one-too-many hard ciders at a gig (aka ONE hard cider) and was then left wondering whether or not he felt the same way (as it stands, I still don’t know, so I’m assuming no). Bummer, right? Really puts a dent in one’s self-worth; like: Why am I not interesting or pretty or cool enough for you? What am I fundamentally MISSING that makes me so “other” from everyone else… so bleh and ehhhhh and take-it-or-leave-it-but-better-just-leave-it?
So back to my (revised) original question: If you refuse to settle, what should you do when you’re companion-less and don’t wanna be?
My car friend recommends god, and while I’m warming up to the idea of some kinda entity (or entities) being out there because of amazing shit like love and music and rabbits and the wind, I’m not ready to subscribe to a god.
Several friends suggest antidepressants. I (personally) refuse to alter my biological makeup, fucked up as it is. I want to be authentically me, even if that means super authentically depressed.
And then OTHER friends of mine cope w/their loneliness with drugs, alcohol, and meaningless hookups… but I just can’t. The recent tour a friend gave me of Tinder (how it works, and how to market yourself) brooooooke my heart — I can’t possibly be a part of that. So I’ll just continue cuddling my stuffed rabbit, Governess, and popping melatonin-infused chocolate candies on restless nights.
So what, then? What the frickin’ WHAT? What other options are there? Because as of right now, I imagine the rest of my life playing out like this:
Fighting for the humane treatment of animals (and mending a broken heart every time I pass a dead rabbit in the road)
Campaigning for social justice (while staving off contempt slash hatred for racist and sexist assholes)
Learning Spanish (so I can get even more worked up over how much I can’t stand racists)
Drinking lattes in cafes (alone… people-watching old and new couples and the young people with such promise)
Writing inspiringly sad but redemptive books and entirely sad songs (about old loves, lost loves, and never-gonna-be loves)
Going on solo adventures to other states and countries (and wishing I had someone to share that wonderful meal or magical view with)
Lessening the suffering of and empowering the people around me (while doing my very cherry best to maintain my own sense of sanity and to hold together this hopeful, breaking heart)
And it just sounds exhausting. Doesn’t it? This earth world is so harsh and heartless… and so bleak! Without a solid shoulder to lean on, or a bonded soul to rely on, it’s just a real fucking lot to bear.
We’ll be back in sync w/each other soon, but in the meantime, I’m sharing my final short story of the semester below…
and in case you’re wondering, it’s 71% truth and 29% fiction.
Me and Audio
By Jace Yarbrough
I met Audio at a Thursday night bike meet.
It was cool outside of the bike repair shop. I was sitting up on a raised concrete slab that jutted out of and ran parallel with the back of the building, resting my bony back against a whitewashed brick wall.
Holding a pen in my left hand, I had a book about loneliness spread open in front of me, the front and back cover of it resting against my thighs. As I read through the book, I marked the lines that I really liked — the ones that resonated with me so deeply that I felt like crying and rereading them over and over again until we both fell asleep together. Me and the lines.
And I was looking up every few minutes, realizing that other bikers had joined the growing crowd whenever things would become noticeably rowdier, and one of the times I looked up was when I first saw him: A skinny guy rolling into the alley from the left, wearing a bandanna on his head and a scarf around his neck and sticking his arms out at his sides so that they ran parallel with the ground. He was cute. Very silly, and very cute. Seeing him and watching him made me smile.
As the wheels of his bike slowed, I noticed him allowing his eyes to roam the crowd – taking in all of the other bikers smoking and drinking and staring at or showcasing their phones. His eyes found me, eventually, as I’d hoped they would, and when they did, I felt an inky wave of nausea pass through me. It was terrifying and electrifying – being seen by someone you want to have see you.
“Ahhhh… a fellow reader. What’s the book about?”
Startled, I tracked the unfamiliar voice with my eyes. I quickly discovered an older guy standing just to the right of where I was sitting. He was leaning his hip against the outer rim of the concrete wall, staring down at the book in my lap and then looking up at me.
“Oh – it’s about loneliness… basically, how to be happy with one’s solitude.” I smiled over at him apologetically, like I wish I could tell you it was a nicer kind of book.
The old guy nodded his head slowly. “And are you lonely?”
Wow. Bold. And way too fucking old. “I am… depressed. From being lonely. But I’ve learned to manage it well.”
He nodded. “I also struggle with that.”
It was hard to gauge his intent, but I chose to believe it was harmless. I closed the book and gripped it with both hands, reassured by the weight of it. “And how do you manage yours?”
He looked at me with surprise, as if I was the one who had first crossed the line.
But then suddenly, the route leader was screaming into a megaphone, reciting the usual: no texting while riding; keep in the right lane; scream “pothole” if you see one and make sure all of the newbies feel welcome.
“I’ll catch up with you on the break,” I said to the guy, scooting across and off of the concrete and then hopping onto my bike. I strapped my heavily-stickered helmet on and then spun and tugged at the rings on my right hand while I searched the crowd for Cute Guy.
I couldn’t find him, but soon, we were all cruising the streets of downtown Birmingham together — our discordant music blaring, our bikes’ sporadic lights touching hands and cars and concrete, and the lead singer of Glass Animals crooning into my ears only as the sun rolled backwards with us.
Mid-ride, Cute Guy rolled up beside me and looked directly over at me. The stuff of dreams.
Did he just say “hi” to ME?!
“Hi!” I echoed him, grinning. And then I felt panicky… like I was balancing on the brink of something. “How has your week been so far?” I ventured.
He squinted. “Challenging.” He nodded to himself, seeming satisfied with his answer. “And you?”
We chatted on and off, here and there, but he tended to disappear – leaving me to weave through the crowd… he seemed to be catching up with friends and introducing himself to strangers.
So confident, so open — so compelling. I wanted him to ride with me all night.
After five or six miles, we stopped at a park – tonight’s secret destination. It always changes. Sometimes, it’s an abandoned warehouse, a ball park, or an old parking deck. But it’s always cool. And this half-way break is when people lay their bikes down and wander around for a bit… drinking and talking and flirting and playing. Kids come on the rides, and ninety-year-olds do, too. People cuss and throw frisbees and munch on protein bars as they holler at each other, laughing loudly because they’re having a great time. I usually find a quiet spot to people-watch from, because when you’re as lonely as I am, the reality of striking up a conversation is more terrifying than the idea of watching a train barrel towards you.
But this park had a swing set — unresistable. So instead of cozying up next to a tree trunk, I plopped down onto one of two swings and began kicking my legs into the air, giggling to myself as I rose higher and higher. I was wearing purple corduroy pants and a reddish sweater that read carpe diem. My outfit looked so bright and happy… I hoped it looked right on me.
Nadia, the only girl who works in the repair shop, plopped down onto the other swing. Most girls make me nervous, but she doesn’t. She has wild, brunette hair, wears cool skirts with a fanny pack, and has one of the best laughs I’ve ever heard. We started talking about kombucha and she explained how she brews it at home. I enjoyed listening to her.
I really didn’t need another heart attack, but Cute Guy ran over to where we were and then leaned against the pole closest to me. “I was hoping I’d get to swing with a beautiful girl tonight, and here are TWO!”
Nadia and I both laughed; it was obviously a lame line, but he was so incredibly genuine. And I couldn’t believe my luck! Not only had he noticed me, but he had also thought that I was beautiful…
Seeming unaware of his profound affect on me, he strolled off toward a little girl named Emme. I watched him as he helped her go up and down the playground’s slide. Absolutely precious.
Let it go, J — he’s too perfect, I warned myself. He’s either gay, already dating somebody a thousand times cooler than you, or a monk who would never, ever date anyone, including – especially – you. I sighed, letting up on my swinging and hovering a little closer to the ground.
After about twenty minutes, someone shouted that we were rolling again. On our way back to our bikes, Cute Guy passed by me and smiled. I couldn’t fathom what was happening; was he really noticing me as much as it seemed? Or was my overly-active imagination just being cruel with me? I wanted to grab his hand, or give him a hug, or ask him if he liked getting coffee on the weekends – OR do all three of those things… but in reality, outside of the pretentiously brave confines of my mind, I didn’t do any of them. I just lowered my head and gently took my bike back from a tree.
You’re going to get hurt again if you keep on like in this, I chided myself. Nobody normal falls in love this quickly… and never with you.
Another six miles and we were back where we started. Some people go home right away (usually, this includes me) while others – the cool kids – stick around in the alley outside of the shop to smoke and drink and hang out.
And tonight, I was awkwardly but bravely standing in the back doorway of the shop, passively waiting for something to happen… like a fall, followed by a catch or a crash. Something.
Out there in the dark, I noticed yellow streetlight touching the brick and the concrete and some of my pale skin, and it made me feel like I was in some sort of cigarette dream.
And then, something did happen: The nosy old guy from earlier spotted me. Sigh. He walked over to where I was and then stood beside me, placing himself right underneath the yellow light. He looked older in it, but also, wiser.
“So – back to what we were talking about earlier… how do you manage yours?” I asked quickly, gently assuming control of the conversation.
He adjusted his glasses and inhaled deeply through his nostrils.
“I think of it like this; when you know it’s going to be cold out, you wear a coat, right?” He paused, so I nodded. “Well my depression is cyclical; I can feel it coming from a ways off, and when it starts, I know it’s going to last a while. A real downward spiral. And while I could just ride the whole thing out — the onset of it, the downward spiral, and then the slow uptick – when I feel it coming, I go ahead and put a coat on so that I’m better prepared for it. Because you dress for the weather, physically, and you should do the same thing – spiritually, emotionally – for your depression.”
“That makes total sense. And what’s your coat?” I probed. “Like, for me, I know what to do to sort of insulate myself against it; get out of the house, be around people, drink lattes, write stories, make music… what do you do?”
He never really answered me. Not directly, anyways, which is the way I wanted him to. But he did mention something interesting: guided imagery.
“Imagine you’re in a tank,” he said. “A sort of fish tank. It’s like a mile wide and several miles deep, and you’re on this endless spiral staircase inside of it, always walking down, down, down. And occasionally, a door appears, and when it does, you have the option of getting out — of leaving.”
He stopped speaking, and I understood why.
“Wow. That’s so wonderful,” I whispered. “I was imagining you saying that, the further down you go, the more upward climbing you’ll have to do later on to ever get out, because I imagined a single door at the very top. How depressing!” I laughed. “But I love that, with the way you explained it, you can pretty much leave anytime you choose… I mean, you know — at intervals; whenever that opportunity presents itself again. If you take it.”
“Right. Exactly.” He smiled, and I was glad, then, that he was nosy.
Cute Guy had wandered outside while we were chatting; he’d looked over at me and then sat down onto the metal landing outside the door, a canned beer in his hand. My heart had started racing then, in quick pursuit of that wave of nausea, and I begged myself to muster the guts to sit down next to him. It doesn’t have to be a big deal! I said. You could ask him what he’s drinking, what his plans are for the weekend, or whether or not he likes to read…
But my nosy friend continued talking – moving onto the less-interesting subject of personality tests – and by the time I’d been able to politely excuse myself from his company, a group of people were already huddled around my guy – one of them, a lovely girl with pink and purple hair. I heard her refer to him as Audio. His name was so great. And she was so pretty.
I turned around to leave, feeling sad and frustrated with myself for being so small, so quiet, and so plainly dirty-blonde…
But then I turned around again, marched out the back door, and tapped Cute Guy on the shoulder. He turned around slightly to face me, looking surprised – possibly in the same way that I’d looked surprised earlier when Nosy and I had first met. I stuttered slightly, but eventually managed to say: “I just wanted to say goodnight.”
He smiled at me warmly. “Goodnight, Jane.”
And then I left… smiling and wondering how he’d known my name. The soft thud of my skate shoes reverberated off of brick and concrete, and when I rounded the corner and stepped up onto the ghostly yellow sidewalk, a gust of wind swirled my honey-blonde hair into wild tangles. Beautiful, I remembered, grinning.
The scent of his beer faded as the sound of their laughs grew distant, and the small but distinct sound of me muffled in volume also as I drew the yellow city into me like a lover…
And then I realized that if I just rearranged his words a little bit, stripped of their tone and context, I could make the nauseatingly magical evening even better: