don’t sleep with him… YET

“Before I go,” Jon said, picking up a small dish with half a peach muffin left on it, “how did that talk go?” He gave me a big smile that showed most of his teeth. We’d been sharing a cafe table for a while this morning, chatting about bike rides and backpacks and crazy characters on the bus.

I exhaled deeply. “Well… before he left for his trip, he said he was down to date exclusively. Right? Great. So we kissed and got really close.” I raised my eyebrows at him and pressed my lips together, hard. “THEN, when he got back, he said that he wasn’t actually ready for the exclusive thing. He still needed to see who else was out there. And this was after he got what he wanted, of course — the thing you can’t go back on.” I paused. “The dude’s got a date lined up for today, actually.” And you should absolutely know better by now, I thought, feeling deeply disappointed with myself.

“Wait — wait…” Jon held up both hands, looking away from me. Neither of us said anything for a minute.

“I’m really sad, Jon, but–”

“No. Don’t be sad.” Jon looked right at me now, brown eyes glistening. He’s one of my very best friends. “Chock it up to experience. At least you know, now, who he is and what he wanted. And now, you’re closer to finding the right one. Don’t let this drag you down.”

***

I attended an author reading last week — the lady’s name was Irene Latham, and something she said during her presentation struck me as being very important; here, I’m going to boil it down and sum it up: “As a writer, you know what you want to say, and you also know why YOU are qualified to say it. So say it.”

While there are relationships of all beautiful kinds out there, I’m specifically writing this post for the girls who are dating boys. And this is honestly one of the most embarrassing things I’ve ever chosen to write, because it’s painful to admit you weren’t good enough for someone to whom you gave all. It’s hard and it’s scary to be so open and vulnerable.

But I’m really only very scared of cockroaches, so here it goes.

***

Girls: Falling in love fast isn’t a bad thing. It is what it is — exciting, euphoric, unforgettable, untamable; but do know that it’s dangerous.
Girls: Sleeping with a guy because you love him isn’t a bad thing either. But it’s also dangerous.
Girls: You’ve gotta understand that a guy who sleeps with you doesn’t necessarily love you (and it’s unlikely that he has intentions to JUST sleep with you).
Girls: Sleeping with a guy you barely know because SAYS he’s going to stick with you, just you, for a while doesn’t mean he actually will.
Girls: You deserve stability, loyalty, and honesty, and unfortunately, crushes and intuition and soul recognition aside, it takes TIME for you to really get to know a person — their personality, tendencies, character and soul caliber — and it also generally takes time for a boy to fall in love with you.
Girls: Here’s what I’ve learned the really hard and soul-crushing way: Spare yourself the despair of feeling like a wasted thing instead of a wonderful person by simply waiting a while before doing the damn thing.

Now — it isn’t fun to wait and it can be difficult; for a gal who grew up without hugs and kisses and who now wants to hold hands and cuddle with someone more than anything, it’s ESPECIALLY difficult to establish and enforce boundaries. But in the end, waiting is worth it — the best relationships I’ve had so far (two) were both ones where we waited.

Know that I’m not coming at you from a religious angle because I don’t subscribe to any religions… this is what I’d gently-but-strongly recommend from pure, unadulterated (ha; not funny but also kinda funny) experience: Unless you’re good with slash into hook-ups (if so, go you!), DON’T sleep with someone during the infatuation stage, where you’re only seeing the perfect illusion of an imperfect person… instead, sleep with someone you know and deeply trust — someone who possesses the ability to annoy you (bc once you’ve perceived a person’s flaws and still like ’em, you’re really getting somewhere). While you’ll never know for sure that a person is 100% invested, well-meaning, and “in it” FOR REAL, the more time you spend interacting with and observing them, the clearer who they are and what they intend will become.

Am I holding grudges? Do I hate that ding dang Captain Kangaroo character? No. To be perfectly honest with you, I still don’t think he consciously MEANT to use me, and I’d be lying if I said that I don’t hope even a little bit that the ding dong dumbhead’ll change his mind about me someday.

But the truth is that, deliberately or not, he DID use me, and the REALLY sad thing is that I thought I was doing it all right this time: We discussed expectations of the relationship BEFORE going too far (unlike this stupid time and that awful one), and I was proud of myself for initiating that conversation. The sucky part came in when he changed his mind less than a week later. #shit #didntseeTHATcoming

His indirect rejection of me made me feel like, having given everything to him, I STILL wasn’t enough — not worth investing more time, attention, or affection into. And while this definitely put another big dent in my sense of self-worth, I’m very well aware of the damage and consciously working to remedy it.

I’m glad to be traveling out west this week. Good timing. Interacting with the unknown and navigating new spaces sharpens your senses in a special kind of way — it gets you outside of yourself like nothing else can. And I really need some time away from myself. I also need to take better care of myself. I know this, and I’m always working on getting better at it.

I hope this helps someone, somehow. I embarrassingly bare all with the honest hope that it’ll lessen someone’s suffering and empower them to be and do better. So to boil my own runoff of words down into a nice summary “puddle” — girls: Please take it slow, and take it easy… you’re worth it all, so don’t give in or give up or ever give yourself away (AGAIN) uncertainly.

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earlier, I read something relatable in Heat-Moon’s novel, Blue Highways: “The wanderer’s danger is to find comfort.”

Still here,
Aun Aqui

You’re too colorful, so I’m making you black and white

“Blue Jets” on white brick walls, in different shades of blue.

I drop my head and watch grey sneakers wade through red-blue patterns on the floor. My heart starts rising up a little, knocking into chest bone as it anticipates the bell. I know it’s hoping I’m already sitting when it strikes.

There are voices coming from everywhere, fading in and out, and normally, they’re just there… but they’re changing now, going strange.

I jolt my eyes up in time to catch the blurry, slow-motion play of two tall bodies slamming into lockers. Someone else who’s seeing what I’m seeing laughs, sounding like a tropical bird, while several others let out gasps and shrieks. I smell iron, like a vitamin, and sweat, like my dog when it rains, and there’s now blood on the red and blood on the blue and a bright wet red on my black leather jacket.

***

My creative writing class was asked to write about Banks High School. The school’s been closed and vacant for I don’t know how long (five, ten, twelve years) and Urban Studios is currently researching ways of revitalizing the space. I believe their proposal (which is going up for a vote next week) is to turn it into a vocational school with a shared work space onsite (a collective of sorts that offers classes and tools for rent). Pretty cool! I’m excited for folks in that area.

“But old students of the school are sad that it’s changing… going away, in a sense,” my professor explained. “So I’d like for you write about the school as if you had been a Blue Jet. Reflect on what it was like to be there in general, or pull us right into a moment that took place within those walls…”

So I googled the school’s colors and then wrote about something I’d witnessed at my own high school: two boys beating each other up in front of a locker. And while I had gotten blood on me in real life, it had splashed onto my shoe — not my jacket. It was extremely unsettling, regardless.

Also unsettling: Dating a boy who couldn’t date just me. Growing closer to and fonder of someone who I knew would be seeing other people both before and after me (and, inevitably, comparing me to them) was just too anxiety-inducing (and demoralizing). So I called it off with Captain Kangaroo last night and then wandered around a thrift store, holding old sweaters close and trying to keep a straight face until I made it out to my car, where I cried and cried and cried. I don’t want to date anymore, you guys. It stinks. It MAJORLY stinks. I just want to hold someone’s hand and know they’re not wishing they were with someone else, someone different… someone exciting and cool and – in some way – better. 

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***

I’ve had two dreams recently that I’d like to share.

The first dream was from two nights ago. I was looking out a window when a truck pulled up, one with a trailer hitched to the back. A dad and two kids spilled out of the car — all smiles, all happy. When my eyes drifted to the trailer, I saw a deer lying sideways, a red wound on its back. I understood that it had been shot, and I also knew – from the rising and falling of its chest – that it was still alive. I cried. Heartbroken. 

I left the room and entered another where someone asked me what I was doing. “I don’t want to be a distraction,” I said, thinking of my emotions and knowing they were different from other people’s somehow. I tried to drink cold water and felt like it was freezing in my throat.

The second dream was of my brother. I was in a house that was full of people — I think they were having a party of some kind. I’m not sure what I was doing there.

But when someone brushed past me, moving from this room to another, they put their arms on my shoulders as a way of greeting me. I looked up and saw those old green eyes: Bobby.

“I have something for you, sister,” he said, smiling — the sound of his voice was like magic, “and I can’t wait forever to give it to you.” I felt warmth, love, goodness, and an ancient sense of home that’s hard to describe. I also knew – intuitively – that he had been waiting to give whatever this was (information? insight? peace?) to me for a while. And then I woke up.

During my waking life (earlier this week), a close friend asked how the novel was coming.

What novel? I asked her, thinking she probably meant Jinx while also knowing that she knew I’d already published it.

The one about your brother, she said.

I was shocked; I haven’t spoken of that novel in years because it’s been years since I worked on it. Right now, it’s just a dauntingly huge draft — this long stream of scenes and memories. But two weeks ago, the idea entered my mind that I needed to revisit it; then, I dreamt about Bob having something for me; and THEN, this friend randomly asked about the book. TWO DAYS ago.

Holy shit, I thought. Is that what it is? 

I’m heading up to Denver for Thanksgiving; while I love my family very much and would love to see their faces again, I also know myself: Solitude is what I need most right now.

My best friend Charlie is flying up there with me and then we’re both going to do our own thing; he’s got plans to hang out with his long-time pal (a cool writer dude) while I’ll be packing a picnic, renting a car, and driving up into the mountains. I dreamt about this river a while back and I just can’t wait to be with it.

I’m also going to work on this book about Bob and me and try to be okay with still being alone, because I’m discovering – the longer I am alone – that I am so incredibly strong, you guys… and I know that someone will eventually see me – just me – as being enough. Because I am enough, and I know that I am. I am more than enough, actually, and it feels really good to say that.

***

Before I go (I know — this post has been all OVER the place), there’s something else I wanted to mention about Urban Studios (that place my creative writing class visited last Thursday).

While we sat in a circle and critiqued stories, I sipped hibiscus tea and let my eyes roam a little, noticing things about the room. What intrigued me most was the idea behind the pictures and sketches that were taped to the wall.

“They’re all black and white,” the architecture program guy explained, “because I don’t want the students getting distracted by how beautiful these buildings are. Colors make them too interesting. I don’t want anybody fawning over a doorway, or a staircase, and then getting too attached to it — trying to recreate the same old design. I need them to dissect each building from top to bottom, in an objective manner, so they’re able to clearly discern what worked well and what didn’t and then create something good, unique, solid…”

I already felt like crying, because I knew what was coming. I had to take the boy with a purple-indigo spirit, grey-green eyes, and brown hair and take him apart in my mind. He was too beautiful, too colorful for clarity, and I needed to deconstruct him piece by piece so that I could see him clearly — like: you are flesh, and blood, and bone. You are smart, and familiar, and interesting, and magical, but you are also scared, and you are also hiding, and you are also looking for someone who isn’t me. Because if it was me, you’d know; you’d just KNOW. You would see it, weird and sudden and scary as it is, as clearly as I see it.

But he doesn’t see or feel what I do. And that’s okay. I took his colors away and made him black and white… taped him to a wall and then left the building, because I obviously need to create or find or imagine something else with someone else. If I were to bottle my feelings up in a song (which I did), it would be this one; but if I were to convey them using another artist’s song, it would be this one.

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Still here (with this tortuously sensitive soul that I wouldn’t ever actually want to change),

Aun Aqui

I like you so much I’m dating other people

Last night. 

We were sitting in his car with the heater turned to medium and the radio on low.

“At the very LEAST, I still want to be friends with you,” he said, awkwardly holding his beautiful hands (yes, I notice slash have a thing for hands) mid-air.

Hear that? I elbowed myself.

Yep. Got it.

The boy I’m kinda crazy about is, at once, terrified by how intensely I like him while still interested in seeing me. He has, however, requested one (in my mind) NOT-minor adjustment to our (I guess you could call it) relationship: that we not date exclusively.

“So does that mean you’ll be dating other people?” I asked.

“…yes.”

“Like, actively pursuing other relationships or just keeping the option open?” (Because come on, guys; there’s a difference.)

“Basically,” I interrupted myself, “if we continue dating, will you just like… TELL ME if you find someone else you’re interested in dating? So that I can immediately stop dating you?”

“So you mean just date you?”

“YES!” I agreed. Duh!

And we went around in circles like this for a while; me, low-key frustrated that he couldn’t commit to dating one person at a time (me, hello!) and him — well, he looked pretty darn cute; explaining it first this way and then that. It never really made sense to me. At ALL. But one time, he let it slip that he’s the jealous type.

“PERFECT! I’ve got it now, CK. Here’s what we’ll do. While you’re dating other people, I will also – even though I don’t WANT to – date other people until you’re SO jealous that you finally agree to just date me.”

I think he found this absurd, and guess what? SO DO I! It’s entirely ridiculous. Oh, the fiery hoops we jump through… (is that the right phrase? sounds a little odd).

Anyways, we hugged goodbye and then I told him, before bedtime, that I already had breakfast AND lunch dates lined up for the next day (aka today — although I didn’t; this was understood to be a joke). And so it begins (or, rather, continues).

As you’ve likely deduced, I’m – unfortunately – back on Bumble. And while I’m keeping my mind and heart open (because there ARE lots of interesting folks out there), I’m mostly (aka 99.999%) “dating” these other random dudes because there’s this ONE stinkin especially dorky ‘fraidy-cat GUY who I really, actually WANT to date.

i will always be this awkward

Still here (thinking dating’s real weird),

Aun Aqui

sail away, sail away, sail away…

Frank and I sat talking inside a cafe together while rain pelted the street. Comfortable moments of silence passed between us as I crossed my legs, and then sat on them, and then placed the bottoms of my feet on the chair I was sitting in, pulling my knees close with my arms. I tend to fidget.

 

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While I adjusted and readjusted, Frank told me about the cute old hippie couple he and his wife had watched perform during 2 AM cruise ship karaoke a few years back. He said that the two of them would perform, wait for a few others to go on stage, and then put their names right back on the list.

I laughed. “Have I told you about my carrier ship plans?”

“No…”

“Okay.” So I explained. And come to think of it, I don’t think I’ve told you guys about this yet either, so here’s my plan.

***

Jace’s Carrier Ship Plan

I don’t know when this is going to happen (I’m hoping for next summer while betting it’ll be closer to my summer graduation in ’20), but I have every intention of boarding a carrier ship and traveling from this country to another one. In my mind, I’ve been picturing leaving (aka disembarking — sea lingo) out of NY or some other state on the east coast, but when Frank mentioned earlier that lots of ships leave from places as close as Mobile and New Orleans, it created a staggering number of options in my mind. Tabling this “point of departure” aspect for now (as well as how, exactly, I’m going to get ON a carrier ship… at this very moment, my best ideas would be to offer to A. mop the deck, mate, B. cook vegetarian food for the crew, or C. play guitar for the fishes).

But the real thing of the matter is this: I need to be with the sea for a while. I realized this about eight weeks ago after an odd fixation on the Drake Passage. I can vividly remember driving down Some Number Avenue South one morning, on my way to the cafe (like usual), when it hit me right outta the sea-green blue: GO SAIL ACROSS THE FRICKIN OCEAN; DUH! It made complete sense then, and I still (mostly) believe in it.

And I know the easy slash normal thing to do would be to simply book a cruise, but I don’t want to go on a cruise because I don’t want to be caught up in endless rounds of cruise festivities with a bunch of noisy and intoxicated humans. I’m craving, not a party or an escape, but a quiet bout of solitude with storms and sunshine and just a little bit of danger — where I’ve got time to reflect and wonder and let the salt dry on my skin without having to shower it off for school or work. I feel like it’ll be really magical and really cleansing.

And assuming I leave out of NY (again, this is still up in the air), depending upon the weather, it can take 10-14 days to make it to Europe via ship. Once there, I’d like to ride my bike and take trains and stay in hostels as I adventure my way through the continent — and mostly, I’d like to visit these places: England (bc Spice Girls), Spain and Portugal (bc Espanol), and Germany (bc German Shepherds). I also think that, around this same time, writing a book about being at sea would be quite interesting… the theme sounds sorta classic, doesn’t it?

 

hemingway on turtles

 

One of the nicest things Frank shared with me was in response to something I told him.

I pulled up a running draft within Gmail and read off a few quotes, explaining: “My professor specifically told us to eavesdrop on folks, so I started doing that last year — jotting down interesting, isolated tidbits from people’s conversations so I could build characters based on them later and craft dialogue that rang true…” I paused.

“Anyways, I wanna throw these into an illustrated book someday, but here — here’s my favorite one. I was watching this little girl run around with her friends at the park one afternoon when she stopped suddenly and exclaimed: ‘A PICNIC BASKET! I’m off to my picnic now, and I’m never coming home.'”

I loved it, but it also made me a little sad, because you read it the first time and laugh, right? It’s cute. But then, you start reading into it… and I don’t know.

 

But here’s the thing Frank shared: He pulled a collection of small cards out from his wallet — on them, he’s written down lines he’s liked — and one of them was so beautiful I plan on getting it tattooed someday, right above, underneath, or beside a bunny ghost (which is what I wanted to be for Halloween this year): “It was crazy. I turned into a ghost, and I was like whatever.”

 

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Two random things:

  1. Can’t end this post without thanking Enya.
  2. I’ve got a sad little EP hitting (or rather: cruising its way over to) Spotify in a few days here… woohooooooo! If YOU like listening to gloomy tunes, my artist name is (as you might’ve already guessed) Aun Aqui.

 

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Still here,

Aun Aqui

coffee and tea and bourbon

My breath still smelled like bourbon when I considered stepping into Target.

I imagined walking the aisles for a while… trying on over-sized sweaters, eyeing the healthy snacks, and scouting end-caps for little discounted treasures (you know: the good kind of candle; a suitably general stack of floral greeting cards; or a soft-hued tumbler of some kind). But I mostly imagined looking at notebooks and journals and coming home with one. Thinking back on that, it makes sense; my aunt handed me a journal when I was 12 and told me that it could be my closest friend. I was feeling kinda lonely and invisible last night, so I would reach out to a friend — my oldest and most trusted one.

***

Two hours before my imaginary Target run, I was sitting outside of Rojo with two girlfriends. I couldn’t eat, so I ordered a drink.

I listened eagerly as they caught me up on their lives (which mostly revolve around their guys) and then I caught them up on mine (which, right now, mostly revolves around this new guy). Love. Damn it. 

“Soooooooo,” I began, telling them everything from my experience on Bumble to my defining meeting with CK, “he’s out of town right now and hasn’t texted me all day and I’m kinda really bummed about it.”

“Why don’t you just text him?” they asked. But this would have been too reasonable, you see.

“Because.” I paused, took another sip from the tiny bourbon straw the bartender’ed given me, and looked from one girl to the other. “I realized, when I woke up this morning, that despite him wanting to see me every day while he was in town, he’s mostly been responding to my texts… so I thought, let’s just give the guy some space and see when he WANTS to talk with me. Right? Well when is looking like NEVER!” I exclaimed.

They stated and restated their case many times — guys aren’t as communicative as girls are; our dudes were like that; you have to “train” them; you should just text him — but I consistently declined.

“If I WERE to text him at this point, it would NOT be a cute and endearing text… it would be more like WHAT THE HECK in all caps – no punctuation – or something else bratty and schoolgirl-like.”

I’d even polled coworkers on the matter hours before; the majority (I’d say 80%) felt the same as my friends @ Rojo: just text him! But a few agreed with me — that playing it cool was the best way to go. I felt like a crazy daughter of a gun regardless for thinking about the lack of texting so much. There are way more interesting things to think about, like: What is the planet “Venus” like? Which coffee shop will I visit first when I fly out to Denver in two weeks? Are there any videos of rabbits riding skateboards on YouTube? And how do you fix the broken heating element on a dryer?

***

Even so, I woke up this morning wondering if he’d remembered that I exist overnight; apparently NOT.

So I cuddled with my pups, worked on a few in-progress tracks in Logic, and then met up with a friend at Moss Rock Preserve. We hiked over to a gentle waterfall and talked abooooooout — you guessed it: our guys! And this friend was, btw, another one of those “just text him!” voters, as my cashier friend @ Whole Foods turned out to be later on in the afternoon when I asked for her opinion. I’m feeling so outnumbered! 

 

 

Anyways, two of my friend’s friends joined us shortly after we arrived — this neato punk-rock couple with black clothes and gauged ears. The girl mentioned buying a trashcan for their friend’s housewarming party that evening and the guy talked about working for a paper destruction company; interestingly enough, on Wednesdays, he visits a morgue to collect medical waste material. He’s seen everything from organs in clear bags to old breast implants. Pretty freakin crazy. 

I listened quietly while everyone talked and shook my leather jacket off. I folded it neatly and then tucked it underneath my head so I could lay out on the rocks for a while. When I first laid down, I could feel my skin stretching tightly across my ribs. It was a little uncomfortable. For the last week, it’s been really hard to eat, and I know I’ve lost some weight. Literally, the hunger just isn’t there. Anxiety (even good, exciting new relationship anxiety) usually refers me back to old coping mechanisms, so I’ve mostly been subsisting on coffee and tea (and, as you know now, just a little bit of bourbon).

Eventually, I stood up, ran my hands through the water, and said goodbye to my amigos so I could continue my journey downtown. I’m now sipping on a latte that one of my fav baristas made and about to work on some Spanish (procrastinating pretty heavily because I so enjoy writing).

 

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But before I go, I realized something kinda interesting with my Rojo friends last night that I’d like to share.

I’ve always gravitated toward those savior-and-saved-one relationships. Know what I mean? Like: One person’s basically got their shit together (me) and is trying to help the other person patch their life up (on an emotional, physical, or financial level… or, if you’re REAL lucky, all three; the bigger the scope of the project, the better!). I think I like these kinds of relationships because A. they’re a challenge and B. they make me feel needed, important, and special… NOT invisible or temporary or inessential.

But here’s the thing with this new guy: He’s GOT his shit together. Like — seriously; he’s got a strong sense of self, seemingly little emotional baggage, and a healthy independence about him. I don’t really have a precedent for any of this.

“Soooooooo it’s VERY scary to be so fond of someone that doesn’t… need me. That only needs to… like me.” I paused, looking down at my hands. “I guess I’m afraid that he’s going to realize, while he’s up there in whatever state or country he’s in, that I’m just a boring and prematurely elderly credit union representative… and that I’m not cool or wild or interesting enough for him.”

My girlfriends got it completely (and, very kindly, disagreed with me when I referred to myself as boring). They’re actually in similar situations: Their “project” dudes are shaping their lives up pretty nicely now which is leaving my friends wondering: Now what? How do I fit into your better, more stable world? Am I still essential, or are you going to forget about me soon? Sucks.

 

Soooooooo basically: I’m a strong, busy, and independent not-clingy woman who doesn’t give a flying flamingo whether or not the guy she likes texts her every single day. I mean DUH… that would be silly (and borderline crazy). Give me a BREAK. I’m not even worried about it bc I’m too busy wondering about rabbits and heating elements and thinking about bar chords and autumnal fruit picking options and making five fucking thousand cups of tea…

 

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stressin? nahhhhh… i’m a TOTAL cool girl (picks up two more boxes of chocolate melatonin)

 

Still here,

Aun Aqui

red red red

I wanted to know two things: how the glass behind her had shattered and what they’d done with the old carpet.

So I raised my hand, twice.

They weren’t sure how the glass behind the sculpture had become broken, but they did know about the carpet. “It’s being preserved,” they assured me and the rest of the group. The new carpet (patterned in pink, red, and blue; it supposedly looked exactly the same as the old stuff) had just been installed two months before our visit — before that, the old carpet had stretched all the way back to the 1920s.

My creative writing class continued touring Alabama Theatre, settling finally into the exhibition area. I’d never been. I don’t watch movies often, and when I do, I don’t “go see them.”

Our professor thanked the tour guides for showing us the place, taking us up on stage, and letting us peek in at the pipe chambers, and then he asked us to read our journal entries (from the week before) aloud.

When my turn came, I swallowed.

“I mostly read, so I just imagined being at a theatre,” I explained, pulling on the edges of a crumpled sheet of paper.

 

A small piece of popcorn. 

It really wasn’t worth moving to readjust, because I might lose his arm — the light grip on my shoulder. I needed the warmth more than I needed to be comfortable.

I followed the movie sometimes, with my eyes… catching characters in different states and gauging situations by sounds from an attentive audience. 

But mostly, my eyes were off while open. I was trying to understand him, and his arm; wondering if he’d really rather be talking with me than facing a screen right now. 

 

My friend Jackie squealed beside me. She likes when I write about boys. And I always do.

Our professor then asked us to write another journal entry based on our time at Alabama Theatre. I didn’t share this one.

 

Red curtains, red floors, red lights point toward the stage. 

We sit on red seats, the velvet kind that fold down and out, and then watch as the red organ rises out of the floor. When the music comes at me, it’s in lines – diagonal, straight, curvy; purple, crimson, indigo. I cup my tea with my hands and feel that it’s grown cold. 

I wonder about the stage… about the pairs of feet that’ve scratched and tapped at it; danced until they’ve bled on it. How many broken legs? Who were the broken hearts? How often is it cleaned? 

And wouldn’t it be nice to jump up there and pretend tonight, get lost in the red?

 

 

Non-boyfriend (he’s sort of like a boyfriend; we’re dating exclusively but without titles) is out of town this weekend. He left on Wednesday.

I miss him, but I’m also tired and busy. I met up with a new friend last night; we sat outside in a misty rain, eating Indian food and talking finance. He’s got a really good heart, and we’re looking forward to hiking and playing music together. I’m grabbing drinks with a few girlfriends tonight, hiking with another girlfriend tomorrow, and then having dinner with one of my favoritest couples on Sunday. I’m reserving Monday for some kind of solo adventure.

And then he’s back in town on Tuesday. It’s really just a matter of waiting around until Tuesday, isn’t it? Damn. I wonder if he’ll still like me? 

 

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Still here,

Aun Aqui

 

It only took THREE dates.

My first date was with Sam. He was a sweetheart who drank morning coffee and walked with me at the park. When he mentioned being so fair-skinned that he was prone to getting burns, I noticed how sunny it was outside.

“I forgot to put on sun screen this morning,” he sighed.

“No worries,” I said. “We’ll just find a place in the shade.”

So we sat and talked about our jobs and school and hobbies. He’s getting his doctorate’s degree now (biochemistry) and his hobbies include building computers and tweaking with other kinds of technology. He shared that he’s got his something-or-other programmed to where, when he wakes up and says “good morning”, lights flicker on, the TV comes alive, and his coffee pot starts brewing. The most interesting thing he told me was about his childhood.

“We lived in Wisconsin, out in the country, and we had a really long driveway. We’d use chalk to draw roads on the driveway and then ride our scooters up and down these roads…” Pretty adorable.

 

We politely side-hugged goodbye and I knew that was the last time we’d see each other. He was sweet and interesting and beyond-smart, but despite the nature of his degree, there just wasn’t any chemistry between us.

***

The second date was lunch with Kevin. I sorta liked Kevin.

He liked to travel frequently (once a month), and his travel adventures included everything from kayaking + snorkeling in the ocean to camping out in the desert. He was a hockey player and jewelry store manager with big brown eyes and a toothy smile.

When we left the diner together, he hugged me and said he’d like to see me again. I agreed. He texted me ten minutes later: “So when are you free?”

We made plans to meet up at Birmingham’s Dia de Los Muertos festival this past Friday night, but I soon canceled with him and a few others (who I’d, as of this point, only made plans to meet up with). The next date explains why.

***

Captain Kangaroo (not his actual name) was just different. We’ll refer to him as CK.

When we introduced ourselves, he stuck out his hand. I shook it and said: “Wow — nice handshake! Very… powerful.” It was an awkward thing to say, and we both laughed. We laughed A LOT that evening.

He let me order and pay for my own food, which I liked; the two others had insisted on paying for mine, and it felt a little too old-school-chivalry for my liking. (I’ll add here that he did pay for my spinach pie during our second date and that this didn’t bother me at all, as he hadn’t appeared ultra-macho during our first date.)

Anyways, we took our food to-go and walked it over to Railroad Park, munching on falafel burritos while trains running parallel rolled along behind us.

We talked about the standard stuff (jobs, family, hobbies), walked in the dark for what felt like miles (he took his cardigan off and then put it back on like five times, ha), and then he led me to a cool spot where we were able to stand on one set of tracks while a train passed by on the other. Talk about powerful! The wind and sound were strong. He stood next to me – tall, dorky, handsome; tattooed, quiet, awkward – and I felt it.

 

Towards the end of the night, he asked if I’d watch a movie.

“Like… with you?” I asked, unsure of the question. He laughed.

We discussed the prospect of watching a movie together (what movie? where? what movies had he already seen, and what kind of movies did I like?) for about five minutes before I nodded my head at him. “Yes… I will watch a movie with you,” I said.

He laughed, seeming incredulous. “Wow. Good. I’m so glad.”

On my third date with CK (three dates in three days — I’m cautiously hoping that he’s just as crazy about me as I am about him!), we discussed our expectations of the relationship. Happily, it turns out that we we’re both down to date exclusively. He even casually mentioned taking me to his mom’s 10-foot-tall Christmas tree later on this year if I’m “still putting up with him.” I tried very hard to hide how happy his passing comment had made me.

He’s snarky and cynical and intelligent and funny and he works as a librarian and record store tradesman and he plays the freakin guitar. He’s pretty much perfect, and I’m trying to NOT fall head-over-heels in love with the guy. Key word: trying. 

And I’m scared, of course. So in my mind, we’re already broken, like the old cup. We’ve already said goodbye, and he’s already left… so there’s nothing to do, really, but enjoy every single magical second with him.

***

Without a millisecond of hesitation, I deleted the dating app yesterday evening. A few fun facts + one piece of advice:

  • It took less than a week for me to find my guy (using a dating app). And while his bio was spot on (cute, relatable, and intriguing), it was actually a picture that inspired me to reach out to him — one of him holding a furry animal in his arms. “Cute deer!” I messaged, beginning the conversation. “That’s no deer… that’s a baby kangaroo,” he replied. Awwwww… FUCK, I thought, thinking he’d probably un-match us right away. But he didn’t. And then two nights ago, when he couldn’t remember the word “charisma” during a conversation, I was able to supply it for him, so it seems we’ve evened it all out now. (Sidebar: Is “Captain Kangaroo” making more sense now?)
  • After canceling date numero dos w/the other guy (Kevin), I still ended up going to Dia de Los Muertos. I meandered around by myself for a while (perusing the market and observing people) and then met up with a close friend of mine. I’d already known what I was ready to do before the event had started, so when we reached the public altars, I paused to pull out an old wedding ring and set it down. My girl friend hugged me and held my hand while I cried, and finally, I said to her: “The last three years have been so hard. But I’m actually okay now. And I’m so happy.”
  • If you’re like I was until one literal week ago (lonely but vehemently against the idea of “resorting” to online dating), PLEASE give Bumble (or another one of those apps) a shot. It’s not a “loser” kinda thing to do… it’s just how people meet these days. And I’m so grateful to have found such a kindred spirit — I love his voice, and his gray-blue eyes, and his guitar hands, and his good heart…

Like, I mean. I LIKE his voice, and his eyes, and his hands, and his heart… 

 

Still here (NOT already planning an outdoor fall wedding w/falafel burritos and black cats and German Shepherds and friends with guitars… I promise),

Aun Aqui

Put on a fucking shirt, Marvin

What’s Marvin got to do with any of this? Let me explain.

 

It all started on Thursday afternoon. Mid-conversation, a friend grabbed my phone and stated: “You NEED to get on Bumble.”

“And this is a dating app?” I asked, assuming – because of the nature of the conversation we’d been having – that it was. Suddenly, as I gazed down, something struck me.

“Hang on a second, Sally — I’m actually wearing BUMBLEBEE corduroy pants today… and you said this app’s called Bumble? Like, BUMBLE-bee?” I repeated, incredulous.

“Yep. See? It’s destiny,” she murmured absentmindedly, doing things with my phone. And then, she was giving my phone back to me, and it was asking me to select a profile picture for my new Bumble account.

Holy shite.

***

When my mom offered to pay for a dating website subscription months ago, I immediately declined. Friends have encouraged me to use dating technologies (both before and after Sierra’s offer), and I’ve always responded with a solid and strong no.

But the fact that I was wearing orange bumblebee pants at the time that Bumble was suggested to me did seem rather uncanny… after all: BUMBLEBEE PANTS?! How obscure and unlikely! Charlie’d gotten them for me at a consignment market Whole Foods had put on in their break room once, years ago. Super random.

I was busy for the rest of the day (w/work + school + a group bike ride in the rain) after Sally’d downloaded the app, so I waited until the next morning to upload a picture. And I uploaded six pictures, actually, as there were six grey circles requesting pictures during the enrollment process. I also answered lots of questions, like “what’s your sign?” and “what’s your height?” and “mountains or ocean”? (Btw, I chose mountains — DUH! Rivers usually come with them and rivers are just as cool as ocean waters. Anyways.)

 

So I completed my profile and then went about my business, which meant going to work. On my lunch break, a thought struck me: I hadn’t specified that I was NOT a hookup kinda gal!

So I pulled up my profile and added, at the end of my bio: “Full disclosure: I am NOT a hookup kinda gal.” Whew.

 

Then, pleasantly consumed w/projects and meetings, I mostly forgot about the dating app for the rest of the day, remembering its existence again that evening. I told Charlie I’d finally downloaded one of the damn things while he was cooking dinner (yummy tacos that he calls “turtle tacos”: salsa verde, sour cream, corn tortillas, veggies and black beans!).

“Want to do the thumbs-up, thumbs-down thing with me?” I asked hopefully, because I was apprehensive to do it on my own; I didn’t know how this kind of thing went, and the idea of being superficial and judging a book LITERALLY by its cover made me feel extremely uncomfortable. And shitty. I’ll just look at the eyes, I told myself. Eyes are windows to the soul, right?

 

Charlie participated on the sidelines (walking over with a spatula now and then) for about 15 minutes and then said it was also stressing him out, and too much — that he was beginning to feel worried over my safety.

I can say, after thumbs-upping and downing (aka swiping left and right) on and off for the last 24 hours, that these kinds of things would cause me to make the decision to swipe left (which means “no thanks”):

  • The guy has an unhappy fish or dead deer in his hands/arms OR is wearing camo OR appears to be in a football stadium.
  • The guy isn’t wearing a shirt or is sticking his tongue out or is otherwise posing suggestively. #classless
  • The guy has pictures of themselves @ the beach w/lots of pretty girls. I know — I’m assuming the dude’s a player, but what else could I possibly assume?! That they’re his sisters and cousins? Oh wait…
  • The guy looks like he stole this pic from his LinkedIn profile. A suit and tie? Financial adviser @ blah blah blah? Yuck. “But you work in finance,” Charlie objected from the kitchen, overhearing my mumbling at the table. “Yeah, I know — but BOTH of us can’t be boring,” I explained.
  • The guy lists that his career is “artist” or “self-employed.” Been there, done that, WAY too many times. I’m also an artist, amigo, but you’ve gotta be able to bring home the frickin veggie bacon.
  • The guy says something stupid or chauvinistic in his profile, like “go dodgers! lookin’ for a southern gal who can cook real good” or “why you ladies be ghostin? is it cuz it’s halloween?!”.
  • The guy mentions Jesus and wanting children in his bio.
  • The guy’s name is Christopher or Chris OR he has a reddish-orange beard OR he’s a Gemini.

 

So — with all of these firm dis-qualifiers in place, plus my innate sense of attraction, I find that I’m swiping left the majority of the time (we’ll say 29/30 times).

 

On my way downtown this AM, I ran into a friend (one who’s been wanting to me to download one of these apps for a while now) and shared the (good?) news with her. I also mentioned that I was feeling a little overwhelmed.

“Bumble says 50-plus guys have already thumbs-upped or swipe-righted me — I don’t know who they are, and I’m already trying to carry on so many conversations, remembering who’s who and what we’ve talked about…”

“Don’t feel like you have to respond to each person right away or ever,” she said. Another helpful thing she said: “This is your opportunity to figure out where your lines are.”

Lines. I recently learned how important it is to draw (and enforce) those.

 

So, being only 24 hours into this business, I haven’t much to report, other than:

  1. What I like about Bumble: After you and the other person have mutually thumbs-upped or swipe-righted each other, the woman gets to make the first “move” when it comes to messaging. I appreciate this because I’ve heard friends mention getting icky, unsolicited pics from dudes and, so far, I haven’t had to deal w/that nonsense.
  2. I’m enjoying talking with people. Currently, I’m conversing with a guy who does coding, a guy who loves hiking (he was just in the desert for 10 days!), a guy who’s doing liver cancer research, a guy who manages a jewelry store, and a couple of musicians. Interesting folks! Something funny: One guy said I had a “severely cute mug”, and because 1/6 pics I’d uploaded was of my infamous pumpkin spice mug, I naturally assumed that’s what he was talking about. I told him all about how I’d found it @ a thrift store and how I carry it with me every single weekend, and then he was like “I meant your face” — looking back @ his pic, he appears British, so it makes sense now.
  3. The liver cancer researcher invited me to coffee tomorrow morning and I said yes. So if you never, ever hear from me again, it could be sweet-looking, smarty pants Sam…

 

 

Still here (for tonight, anyways),

Aun Aqui

 

PS: To clarify this blog’s title, Marvin was one of many shirtless men who I swiped left on. Smh.

danger

Saturday

We hadn’t seen each other in months. I was studying Spanish at the park, sitting solo on a bench, when I heard a bike brake in front of me. I looked up.

“Audio?”

He invited me to lunch, and then bought us tickets for the Tall Bike Joust that evening, and then invited himself to hike with me the next day. I was surprised but glad. “Sure! Of course…”

 

He’d said something about noon. I’d originally (when it was just me going) wanted to get an earlier start on Sunday but agreed to noon. I waited until one to reach out to him and texted that I’d wait another hour. Two rolled around and he still hadn’t said anything.

“I’m heading to the hiking spot now… enjoy your day!”

Then, fifteen minutes later, he called me; he’d been out drinking all night, listening to live music and hanging with his friend, and just woke up… was it too late to go? 

“No — it’s fine. I’m only ten minutes away from where you are.” I turned around.

 

So we went hiking at Turkey Creek, up and over in Pinson. I’d never been. It was beautiful.

I took my sandals off and waded through the water. When we made it to the waterfall, I knew I had to get in it. It was somewhere around 75-80 degrees that day and it was windy. Since the water was more cold than cool, Audio decided to sit on a rock, but I slipped and fell and spun and grasped my way over to the cascades, the slippery moss on the rocks making my journey hazardous. But I made it! I touched the waterfall, and it was cool.

“Am I the most awkward girl you’ve ever known?” I called out, halfway submerged in water and grinning. Perched up on the rock, he looked like he was thinking about it.

“Yeah… you are, actually,” he said eventually.

 

The problem with Audio is he kept trying to do too much: hugging me close to him and then slipping his hands down my waist; going to kiss me when I specifically told him no, not right now, not like this. We want two different things, you see; one person wants relations while the other wants a relationship. Guess which person I am?

So I steadily blocked the kisses and continually relocated the hands. It almost felt like we were playing some sort of game, or sport… like he was offense and I was, out of necessity, defense. [I’d like to play ice hockey sometime, btw (since we’re talking about sports now).] But in all seriousness, the truth is that I didn’t want to play any games or field any advances. I just wanted to figure him, and his intentions, out… determine whether or not there was anything real there.

“I don’t know you well enough yet to commit to being your boyfriend,” he said, when I voiced my concerns.

How the hell do you know me well enough to want to SLEEP with me and yet NOT be my boyfriend? I thought to myself. It didn’t make sense then, and it still doesn’t now.

 

Still, we continued hanging out together that day and drove to another spot for night hiking. Watching the sun set from Ruffner Mountain was incredible — it was a sweet pink-blue and then a glowing red-pink and then a fiery red-orange — and side-stepping a tiny, coiling snake during the trek back gave me quite a thrill.

I tripped and fell, hard, on our way back to the car, just two minutes from the park’s entrance (go figure!). It fucked my foot up pretty badly.

Only took him three days to text me and ask how I was doing. Sweetest non-boyfriend ever. ❤

 

IMG_4675

 

Still (because hope never dies!), I texted him something interesting yesterday. Online, I’d read that your experiences as an 8-to-10-year-old shape your mental landscape and beliefs as an adult — things like how you viewed your parents and your relationship with them; how you interpreted the world and your place in it; etc.

When I look back on being 8-10ish, I remember cooking chili for myself with a full can of pinto beans and half a seasoning packet; staying home alone while my parents went out for groceries or gadgets; teaching myself about plants and algebra (home schooled) and figuring songs out “by ear” on my keyboard; learning to boot people off of games.com and toying with HTML lettering on nickelodeon.com and feeling really cool because of it; looking at my brother sometimes, often, and wondering what he (and we) would have been like if he was different; hopping onto my bike and riding to the library up the street where I’d check out thick books and bring them home, devouring them (as well as snacks) on my carpeted bedroom floor…

I remember feeling as if I was mostly alone — taking care of myself, improving myself, amusing myself, and observing the world. And I think it’s very interesting that this is still how I operate today.

“I’d love to know how 8-to-10-year-old Audio thought, acted, and looked…” I texted, trying to get in his head a little, deepen that non-relationship of ours.

That was roughly 24-hours ago. And guess what he said? Nothing. Guess what else? I’m done passively waiting for that dude to change, because A. he doesn’t and shouldn’t have to, and B. I don’t need to wait for him. He’s simply not the one for me. I want a guy who likes talking with me as much as they like kissing me, and I’m proud of myself for withholding kisses from this guy, this time (bc I royally messed up this time and that time).

 

Yesterday

I opened the front door to the building when it was still dark out, passing through a second set of double doors on the right and then entering a room packed with tables and chairs and dudes.

“…and as long as you have a BOWEL movement, you’re FINE,” one guy was saying to another, very emphatically. “If you do NOT have a bowel movement, it is an emergency SITUATION.”

Yikes, I thought to myself, hobbling past the uncouth conversation as quickly as I could. I spotted someone I knew and smiled. We washed our hands, slipped on gloves, and then waited for the others. Soon, I was standing behind the kitchen bar, spooning yellow gravy over white rice and telling each man who walked through the line hello, and bon appétit, and enjoy your day.

***

Remember the dude talking about bowel “danger”? Danger’s been on my mind, too. Because of Audio, yes, but also because I’ve dreamt about it twice in the last week.

When I finished reading a journal entry aloud on Thursday night (a short passage about one of these danger dreams), my professor shook his head in an approving kind of way. “You need to write a series of these,” he said. “Vignettes.”

 

So here are the first two: Elements and Making Friends. 

 

Elements

There was a fire in the city, so I went to the coast. I could smell salt, and as I made my way to where the earth sloped and the water rose, I found myself standing suddenly on a giant, blubbery beast — a whale? I hadn’t even realized the terrain had changed until I looked down.

I went inside of an old brick building then and woke up with the most interesting pictures in my hands: candids of a friend sitting on a stool, off center; everything in focus but their head, a fantastic flash of light. “Be careful,” my best friend warned when I said that I couldn’t remember anything.

Making Friends

We’d moved to the country to get away from the darkness.

We looked out our windows early one morning and saw it: the darkness, coming to find us. The darkness was a lion, several rhinos, a tiger, some goats… all kinds of animals. They left the woods to fill the field and then take the porch.

And then, they were people. It was literally as if the animals had just become people.

Do we have to shoot? I thought (when they were still animals). I couldn’t bear the thought.

So we pushed couches toward walls to hide behind them, but I knew the animals – still in them – could see over the couches, could smell right through them.

So here’s what we did: We opened the doors, the main one and the one on the side, and said: Hello friends! We’re live-streaming our happy reunion from different spots in the house… please come in.

And they came inside as friends.

DD02726D-2768-4241-BFB8-CAB45425F512
my purple sweater

Still here,

Aun Aqui

Bars

“You’re doing great!” said Random Old Guy. He was standing in line behind me, wearing curly gray hair, boxy orange glasses, and the cutest smile. He even offered me a double thumbs-up.

“Thanks!” I mouthed (and sort of whispered) back at him, returning the smile. I think HE thinks I’m a teenager, snagging her first license… I thought, amused.

And then the office lady said it was time to take my picture. I stood up straight in front of the camera and tucked a strand of hair behind my ear. One, two, click. 

“Oh, that’s a GOOD picture,” she said approvingly, nodding at her computer screen.

“Aw, really? It may be the first one I ever like… ha!”

 

IMG_4644

 

Words have always mattered to me. So spending yesterday hopping around town, engaged in the endeavor of dropping the last name that no longer held anything real, gave me a 24-hour migraine in the best kind of way. More on that here.

***

The story I’m sharing below is the second one I’ve written this semester. It is, like the last one, 95% nonfiction.

 

Bars

by Jace Rose

 

“I mean, it’s been what — three years now?”

“Yeah. I know.”

This was kind of awkward, so we took a minute to sip on our drinks. I watched the bartender, a middle-aged blonde wearing tight everything and a shit-ton of rings, shake ice into a glass. Further down the counter, rogue beer rushed out of a spout. Voices yelled back and forth in the kitchen and an indie song played near the walls; something in my brain twitched a little.

“And you still think about him? Like, a lot?”

I turned to face my friend. “Yes. And I hate it.” I took another brave sip of bourbon, a real mood drink. “I don’t WANT to think about him anymore. I hope you know that. I don’t want to love him or care about how he’s feeling or wonder how he’s doing…” feeling disgusted with myself, I took another pause, shaking my drink slightly so that it sloshed against glass walls. I watched it raging freely and envied it. “I’m honestly open to any advice you have,” I said finally.

She pressed her lips together: pink, pretty. She was wearing a peach blouse underneath a light denim dress, a girl from another era. She’s sensitive; I’m telling you this, but you wouldn’t know it. She’s a Pisces, so good luck getting a clear idea what’s going on underneath her waters.

“You clearly know your feelings, but you don’t really take reality into account,” she said. “So, three years later, you need to put the feelings that won’t change and aren’t reciprocated SOMEWHERE… wherever you want, really. Just — find a way to contain them.”

Contain them. Despite being extremely punk rock, I work in a corporate office, so I immediately imagined a filing cabinet; I could cram files for the last two ex-lovers into one drawer, easy, but the first would need a drawer all his own. Ridiculous. It’s basically like the ass-hat murdered a whole damn tree, I criticized silently.

Or, instead of a filing cabinet, I could throw him in a cage — this seemed more fitting. More punk rock, for sure. Steel bars could reliably contain the king of the show… the silly house cat parading about as a lion. Fucking Gemini.

“Or maybe try to picture him as an itch you aren’t supposed to scratch,” she suggested, interrupting these scenes, “because when you do, it–”

“It just gets worse,” I finished. Basic and cliché as the tactic sounded, it could prove effective, as I’d just noticed a red bite on my left ankle that morning and it had been ruining various moments of the day.

“Right,” she said.

I smiled over at her. Sighed, shook my head. We were at a bar. It was Friday night.

***

We, he and I, used to play in bars on Friday nights and Wednesday nights and Monday nights and Tuesday nights…

Pale Eddie’s was our first main place. It was perpetually dark on the inside — you know; a typical bar. You walk in, bump into some sticky, beat-up tables here and there, and then further ahead, there’s a bar on the left and a stage on the right. Or whatever. Something like that.

It was so cool. My first real bar. And because my grandma had always warned that angels don’t follow you into bars, the place naturally possessed even more mystique.

Anyways, the five of us (me and him, the electric guitarist and bassist, and our sometimes-drummer) would walk in with gear weighing down our hands and arms. After taking about fifteen steps forward, across acid-washed concrete, we’d deposit everything beside the wall that extended beyond the stage: mics, guitars, amps, cables, saxophones, keyboards, capos, tuners — all of it.

And here’s the thing we hadn’t yet realized: You play first, hardly anyone’s there to hear it, other than other performers who are really just waiting for their own time to shine.

So you learn to play third, fourth, eighth, last — because the longer you wait, the bigger the crowd gets, and the longer you wait, the drunker the crowd gets, making you sound (whether this is real or imagined) the best.

When it’s go time and you’re finally up on the stage, the whole place becomes elevated… like, okay; instead of your angel not following you in there, he tagged along AND brought a whole host of friends. Like that. It’s insanely bright – white, blurry, and blinding.

And whether or not they’re supposed to, people smoke inside, blowing cancer and magic into the air. The magic makes you believe that things are going to change soon. That they’re destined to change. And that when they do, things are going to get so much better for you. He’ll stop doing things; you’ll start doing things. You forget about the cancer mixed in with it.

You’re strumming and singing into the mic, closing your eyes so you can see straight, and then bam – before you know it, you’ve played two, three songs. And when the people get loud, hollering out words and cheers, you want to play another song, but your ten minutes are up.

So you ride home feeling cool and feeling excited to eat because stage fright made food a non-option all day, but when you get home, you realize that you’re actually really tired, so you don’t eat. Instead, you and that guy you’re obsessed with collapse into the bed that you share but he won’t cuddle with you anymore; it’s summer, he says, and the AC’s only just kicked on. 

***

Cut that last part; that’s the kind of thing you don’t like to remember. You prefer remembering his green eyes when they were on you; the prickliness of his fiery beard – red on orange – when he’d tip his head down to kiss you; the spicy meals he’d cook in that tiny little apartment when he was feeling good enough, better than usual; and the goofy things he’d say in that silly tone of voice when it was just the two of you around and he could forget about looking cool and being right all the time.

You forget about the secret email account. He never did anything with it, true, but there was one, and he thought about using it.

And you never seem to remember the mean things he’d say when you’d push past his patience — the drastic change in tone, the shittiest choice of words.

The electric guitarist’s girlfriend had said something about that once, leaning in close during the guys’ smoke break at band practice: “I don’t know how you take it. I’d have slapped him across the face by now.”

“Yeah,” I said, unsure about what she’d said and what he’d said and everything. I watched him from where I was sitting, on the living room floor; he was bending over a bong in the kitchen, and then blowing out smoke – smuch smoke… I observed him through the haze.

But sometimes, you do remember how he found interesting ways of letting you know that you were a real disappointment to him – as a woman and a wife:

Guess all that make-up’s probably expired by now, huh? 

Please do SOMETHING with your hair… I bought that curler for YOU, you know. 

Would you wear something sexier than that dumb NASA t-shirt to the show? AGAIN? 

Why can’t we try this? 

Why do you have to be so paranoid all the time? 

Why are you such a prude? 

Quit being such a BITCH. 

Maybe that’s why you chopped all of your hair off in the summer; so he’d quit bugging you about it.

Maybe that’s why — partially why — you changed genders, in your mind, for a while there… because it just didn’t seem like you were doing an even halfway-decent job of being a girl.

And maybe that’s why, in the fall — with a shaved head, skeleton body, and ghost eyes — you began turning away when he’d go to kiss you…

Why you stopped wanting him to look at you and your plain, disappointing face at all.

***

The mic smells tonight.

Your shoes make slapping sounds as they cross the concrete, and when you get up there, you notice, before anything else, that the mic smells.

The air smells, too. Like Amber — and that guy, Jack Daniels. Like a green margarita; apple, lime, a pinch of salt.

The people here now look different, but they’re basically the same as the old ones; sitting at the bar with such ease it’s like they’re in their living room chairs. As you lift your guitar from its case, you hear these people talking to the girl behind the bar like she’s Heather Locklear; so gorgeous, and witty, and so beautifully alive on their television screens.

You put some reverb on, adjust the mic’s volume. The stage feels roomier than before. You discover you can’t change the stage lighting – a queasy yellow that makes you think of flies. You gingerly step over an XLR cable and notice someone’s stuck a fake plant in the corner, and while you snicker a little, you can’t really throw shade, because it’s basically as alive as you are.

In your mind, you hear someone counting down from five and then see one of those floor cameras creeping toward you… we’re rolling, they say. You place your fingers on your fretboard, in the familiar shape of a bar chord, barely feeling the nickel underneath your callouses, and then you look over to your right, because you can’t help it; the saxophone’s still gone. Of course it is. You, personally, kicked it off of the stage three years ago… I mean, Jesus; do you ever really know what you want, who you are, what you’re doing… anything at all?

Finally, with a buzzed amplifier behind you and a wasted mic in front, an old, washed out version of you turns on their radio. You sing a song, and another, and another, and another.

***

“I know he wasn’t the best,” I say. “I mean, duh… and neither was I; we were young!”

My best friend and I were drinking red wine at home, a few nights after the bar gig.

“Then what is it you’re missing so much? What’s the real hang-up?” he asked, and then disappeared from the kitchen, lugging a trash bag out into the garage. I tucked a strand of honey-blonde hair behind one ear and set my glass down, covering it with a paper towel and a rubber band. Flies like to hang out with us in the kitchen; the alcohol, the lights…

“I think I mostly miss taking care of him,” I said, walking over to the stove. Stirring the sauce, smelling the sauce, having cut and diced every vegetable simmering in that sauce, I could already taste it – red tomato, bitter vodka; sweet bell pepper, bold garlic…

“He was so unhappy,” I continued. “His baseline was being discontent. And I loved being the person who could make him feel better, make him smile.” I paused to watch noodles wage war in saltwater… whether it was on each other or on the water, I couldn’t tell.

“And I don’t know how to stop doing that, I guess – how to stop being that person.” I removed the steel pot from the stove and strained the noodles over the sink, instantly feeling their steam on my face and fingertips. Then I turned back around to combine them with the sauce.

“But you HAVEN’T taken care of him in three years now,” my best friend said, reappearing in the kitchen’s doorway without the trash. “You already aren’t that person, because you haven’t been…”

I turned my head to look over at him, to confirm that he was smiling.

Noodles hit sauce like that and I felt a warm splash on my face. “Huh…”

 

 

 

Still here,

Aun Aqui