Something Old, Something New

In April of 2010, my first boyfriend and I broke up over the phone. It was a long-distance relationship that neither of us could reasonably sustain. A guy named Christopher, who I’d been friends with for seven months now, called me that same evening and listened quietly while I grieved into the receiver. Once I’d exhausted myself, turned the light out and miserably crawled into bed, he began telling me a story, making it up as he went along. It was the tale of a timid and skittish little rabbit that was wandering around in a great, big forest, and of the suave and sly fox named Caldwell Clyde who stumbled upon the lonely rabbit and took it under its wing. The rabbit and the fox loved each other instantly. They went on adventures together, they looked out for each other, and each one adored the other. Three months later, I married Caldwell Clyde.

*

We did the whole “apartment life” thing for a few years, balancing full-time day jobs with evening college classes and managing, all the while, to care for an infant German Shepherd. It was hard to find time for meals. There was a Mexican restaurant behind the first credit union I worked for, and we ate there weekly. Tuesday night meant $10 pizza night at Whole Foods, and after 8 hours of work followed by 3 hours of class, that totally became a thing. When we weren’t celebrating pizza night and we weren’t at Taqueria Mexico, we were frequenting the best Chinese food restaurant on the planet: Mandarin House.

 

We went there on dates, on school nights, on holidays and on weekends. We ate in and we carried out. After a few months of repeat visits, the server – who we learned was the restaurant owner’s daughter – would approach our table, chuckle a little, and ask: “Need menu or regular?”

“The regular,” we’d smile. The regular was – for me – vegetable lo mein with tofu and – for Chris – princess tofu.

 

We noticed that our server was gone for a few months after she had her first baby. Then, she was back at work again and her baby was in a playpen in the lobby — crawling along the floor near the front counter — and, eventually, walking across the room toward us. We literally watched her grow for 5 years.

 

Whether we chose to sit at a booth or call in our order, we always received, along with our meal, three fortune cookies.

“One for you, one for me, and one for Bruster,” I reasoned. And that’s how it always was. We’d pretend to not take our own fortunes too seriously, and we always got a kick out of Bruster’s.

**

Last September, two months after coming out, I was spending the evening at my friend Shae’s apartment. We were sitting outside on the patio together. She was reclining comfortably in a white lawn chair, holding her vape pen with her right hand and exhaling, every couple of minutes, puffy clouds of smoke that smelled like cotton candy; delicious. She was trying to cut out the cigarettes again. We were talking about how I didn’t want to be with a man anymore — about how all of that made sense now — and how I had recently fallen in love with another transgender person.

What the hell am I going to do?” I asked no one in particular, staring deep into the woods behind her place.

 

“Will you do something for me?” She asked casually, exhaling another cloud.

“Yeah?” I looked over at her and waited.

“Okay,” she leaned forward, suddenly looking serious as she adjusted her seat. “Close your eyes.”

I did as she said.

“Take off your ring.”

I slowly pulled it off of my left hand and held it firmly between two fingers.

“Put it into my hand,” she instructed me further. I used my left hand to locate her hand and then dropped the ring carefully into her open palm.

“Now,” she whispered even more quietly, “imagine that you aren’t married anymore. What does that feel like?”

 

I waited before answering her; considering the question, and imagining that kind of world.

“Free,” I answered her simply. “It feels free. Peaceful.”

 

I opened my eyes and she handed the ring back over to me. I slipped it into my back jean pocket and stayed with her for another hour. When it was time to go, I reached into my back pocket, intending to slide the ring back onto my finger, but it wasn’t there.

 

I checked the other back pocket.. both front pockets.. the floor underneath my chair, the zippered compartments of my backpack, her bedroom, the doorway, the hallway leading to her doorway, the insides of my car, the ground around the outside of my car.. I checked places where I knew it might be as well as places I knew it couldn’t possibly be. I was desperate. I was shocked. It was gone.

 

“Wow,” I murmured to myself, in disbelief. “It’s like a freaking sign from the universe.” I worried that Chris was going to be upset with me. Regardless of whether or not he was, I still felt sad, and whether or not it was a sign from the universe didn’t really matter. The end of us was coming; I felt it. And it was going to tear me – tear both of us – to pieces.

***

The beginning of the end hit like a tsunami on November 24th, 2015: D-Day (aka, Divorce Day). I wept in the attorney’s office while I signed paperwork that I abhorred, thinking: They just don’t understand. This isn’t a NORMAL divorce. I don’t hate or dislike this person at ALL. I’m literally breaking up with my very best friend, and I don’t WANT to be doing it.. but I have to; I have no choice. I can’t be his wife anymore, and I’m not going to deprive him of the joy of having one. I signed every last goddamned paper, gritting my teeth and feeling the world tilt uncomfortably as life fired cannons at the walls and blew the door right off of the hinges of my reality.

****

The real end of us happened today.

I woke up with a heavy heart.

 

I wanted to look my best; I thought that it might make me feel better. I put on my prized robot-themed underpants, black corduroy pants, a soft gray sweater and, over it, my black corduroy suit jacket. Lined up neatly in a row on my writing desk were my (3) special items: a dinosaur ring, a black-strapped wolf watch, and my most favorite necklace. The necklace – which I wear every single day – contains (3) things: a rose gold outline of a tree, a blue and green glass pendant with the Jewish symbol for the word ‘dream’ etched into it, and a metallic, silver fox.

 

There was another ring lying there on my writing desk. I carefully slipped it down into my front pocket and then left the room.

 

I drove to work and I cried on the way. “Oh suck it up, Jace,” I reproved myself sternly, struggling to control my breaths (in; hold; out) and temporarily pushing my sunglasses upward so that I could roughly brush tears away. “Now is NOT the time.”

 

I arrived at work and my friend immediately asked: “Sooooo! Are you excited about the closing today?”

“I can’t talk about it,” I answered her shortly.

“Oh — I’m so sorry.” I knew that she understood.

 

I busied myself with catching up on projects and tasks and, in doing so, I really enjoyed my day. I lost myself in my work, forgetting about tough decisions and heartache and insane, radical shifts in reality. I progressed through the work day productively and it honestly kept me sane. Then 2:55 PM rolled around, and I knew that I needed to get on the road in about 5 minutes so that I could make it to the title office on time, and my stomach convulsed at the thought. This is happening too fast, I frowned sadly.

 

I clocked out, and then I changed out. I got into my car, turned on the GPS, and miserably listened along as a female robot voice guided me to my destination.

 

He called me as soon as I’d pulled into the parking lot.

“Hey!” I answered the phone cheerfully.

“Hey. You sure I need to bring my social? Because traffic SUCKS and I REALLY don’t want to have to go home and search for it.” I could hear traffic sounds crackling like static in the background.

“Ummmmmmm,” I let the word out slowly while I was in the process of thinking. “Just go ahead and start heading this way,” I mumbled finally, unbuckling myself, grabbing my backpack, and closing the car door. “I’m going to run inside and ask if you’ll need it, but I honestly doubt that you will.”

 

I located the title office inside of a building that contained many small offices. A cute, middle-aged blonde smiled as she greeted me.

 

“Hey, I’m Jace,” I smiled back at her, quickly stretching my hand out to shake hers.

“I’ve got Chris on the phone,” I explained to her, nodding my head up and down and assuming that she knew who Chris was, “and he wants to know if you guys will need his social at the closing or if his license will be sufficient?”

“Just the license,” she answered quickly, giving me another smile and a thumbs up.

“Awesome. Got that, Chris?”

“Yep.”

“Then I’ll see you soon; be safe!”

 

He arrived. We sat together and talked for a long time. Finally, the attorney (was he an attorney?) walked into the conference room and greeted us, carrying a manila folder with him that was crammed with about four dozen pieces of paper.

“I’ve got my license,” I offered aloud as he joined Chris and I at the table, “my social security card, the official name change degree showing that I went from being ‘Amber Rose’ to ‘Jace’ last year, our marriage certificate, our divorce decree..” I continued rummaging through my backpack. The attorney looked on, seeming impressed.

“Wow; you’re VERY prepared. I would like to make a copy of the name change decree.”

 

Chris signed a couple of things; I signed lots of things. I was doing what’s called a cash-out refinance on a mortgage; the house would be mine now, as Chris was selling his portion of it to me. It was going to be the best option for each of us; living at the house would put me just ten minutes from work, and being free of the house would give Chris the freedom to pursue a more non-committal apartment life. “I think that, for right now at least, you should keep your options open,” I told him before the attorney had joined us, looking at him very seriously. “I don’t think that you need to commit to anything right now and that you shouldn’t try to settle down just yet.” He agreed.

 

In about twenty minutes, we were all done. The closing, which I had dreadfully anticipated for an entire month, was complete.

 

I had asked Chris, the week before closing, if we could please do something together afterwards.

“The closing is going to be miserable,” I explained.

“Why?” He asked, puzzled. “Why will it be miserable?”

“It just will, OKAY? It’s going to make everything very final. I know myself. It is going to suck.”

“Okay,” he responded quickly, “I get it. So what do you want to do?”

“How about we grab dinner afterwards?” I suggested.

“Sure,” he agreed.

“Cool! Where do you want to go?” I asked.
He thought about it for a second. “Ooooooh — I know! How about we go to our place; Mandarin House?”

 

It was like a dagger in the heart.

“Of course,” I responded. It was so bittersweet.

*****

So we drove to Mandarin House in our separate cars this evening. As soon as we walked in, a server I’d never seen before seated us. Our favorite server came out from the back just as we were settling into a booth, and as she crossed the room, she laughed in our direction. “Not calling in tonight? Staying?”

 

This was our first time being at Mandarin House together in 8 months. I’d called in takeout during this time period for me and my roommate, and one time, when the server on the other end of the line had remarked: “Ahhh! He trying something new,” I almost cried, but I never had the guts to tell them that I was ordering for someone else now. So I excused myself to the bathroom this evening while Chris updated our favorite server on our new status.

 

When I got back, I slipped into the booth, tucked my knees under me and plopped my elbows onto the table. “Wellllll.. what did she say?” I asked. He was uncapping a beer.

“She said that she’s really glad we’re still friends,” he smiled, taking his first sip.

 

We chatted over the meal. I enjoyed every minute. At the end of the meal, I packaged up the leftovers while Chris shared a dream he’d had.

“I had this one a lot when I was younger,” he began, “and it’s resurfaced recently. In it, I’m driving down the road, in the dark, and when I look up, I see the moon hanging above this building. Suddenly, SOMETHING crazy happens and the moon just.. splits in half.” He shook his head here, bothered. “And a dream that I had last week seems related. It builds on the idea. In it, stars started falling from the sky.. falling down and hurting people. The stars looked like they were pieces of the broken moon.” He shook his head soberly, maintaining eye contact with me. “Sometimes, I feel like the world is just going to end abruptly. Tragically.”

 

Our server placed the ticket and two fortunate cookies onto the table. “Only two this time,” I murmured to myself. My fortune was stupid; something about gold and riches. Chris’s was fitting:

 

20160527_180832

 

“I bring joy to people every day,” he stated confidently. I smirked.

 

I picked the ticket up off of the table and took it to the front counter. The cashier – another employee I’d never seen before – rang us up and asked us how our meal was.

The night is young!” She announced excitedly after we’d answered her. “What are you going TO DO!”

I laughed at her. “I’m going to Saturn–” I began to answer.

“OOOOOOH, the coffee shop!” She interjected. “They have GIANT cookie!”

“Do they?” I queried, looking over at Chris uncertainly.

“I’m sure they do,” Chris nodded at me encouragingly.

“Yeah — they probably do,” I agreed with both of them. “So I’m going there,” I continued, “and he’s probably going home to sleep.”

 

We walked outside together and he unexpectedly pulled me into a side hug. I had reached into my front pocket before leaving the booth to make sure it was still there.

 

“Put this on,” I demanded suddenly.

He looked down, surprised, saw what I was holding, and reached his hand out to take it.

“Is that…”

“Yes; it’s a fish,” I finished the sentence for him, smiling with amusement.

“A FISH RING?!” He laughed and slid it over different fingers, testing it out and trying to find the right fit. It happened to be on the wedding ring of his right hand.

“Yep,” I nodded again, “I found it at an antique shop a few weeks ago when I was hanging out with Tara. I wanted you to have it.. you know, to remember Chug by.” Chug is our German Shepherd, Bruster, who goes by hundreds of thousands of names, some of which include: Bruce, Woo!pet, Shep, Sheppy, Sheppy Shepperton, Bear-uh, Tep, Aisles of Woochega, Construction Zone, Barracuda, Pretty Boy, Princey Pie, Fishy and Fish.

 

20160527_103305

 

“AND BY WEARING IT,” I finished, sounding very serious, “you are agreeing to be my best friend FOREVER.”

Chris looked down at the ring on his hand. “It’s a little tight, but it works.”

 

He got into his car. I turned around to leave.

“HEY, WAIT!” He stopped me suddenly. “You’ve got the bag of leftovers!”

 

“Oh — yeah!” I shook my head, dazed. “I’m glad you noticed! I’ll be at the beach all weekend. You’ll be able to get at least two more meals out of this.” I handed the bag over to him and smiled.

 

“It would have been a bummer if we’d forgotten,” he commented, laughing a little.

 

“Well,” I tilted my head, “if we did,could have asked Saturn to hold the bag in their fridge for me while I sat there writing, but that would have been kind of weird. I’m pretty sure they already think I’m special; coming in every week, like clockwork, wearing the same outer space T, ordering the same drink, and writing for hours.” I shrugged it off.

“You are, Jace.” He paused, looking right at me. “You are one of the most special people I’ve ever known.”

His comment caught me off guard. It was impossible to keep my composure at this point, so I left.

“Love you,” I squeaked over my shoulder quickly as I power-walked over to my car.

 

Once inside, I shut the door and sobbed. I was a full-on emotional wreck.

 

Eventually, I was able to regain control. When I did, I turned on the ignition and loaded the GPS on my phone so that I could navigate to Saturn.

 

Right as I pulled out onto the main road, my phone rang; it was Christopher.

 

“Hey,” I answered as cheerfully as I could. I sounded nasal.
“Dude! I forgot to tell you something funny,” he began. I listened to him talk for another two minutes, laughed at what he shared with me, and then there was silence on the line.

 

“Now look,” he interrupted the quiet, “we had a nice time together this evening. Don’t get all emotional.” His voice was gentle.

 

“I know,” I whispered in reply. “I won’t.”

 

“Kay.” He sounded satisfied. “Gnite!”

 

“Goodnight, Chris,” I responded. “I love you.”

******

I drove to Saturn, feeling the weight of the fox pendant resting comfortably against my chest. I arrived safely, walked up to the front counter, and told my barista friend that I wanted the regular. 

“You doing okay today?” He asked softly as he swiped my credit card. I wondered if my face was still red.

“Oh, yeah!” I answered confidently, trying to sound upbeat and way happier than I really was. “Today was very.. interesting. But it was a wonderful day,” I concluded honestly.

He poured my mocha into a pretty blue mug, handed it to me with a gentle smile, and then I settled down into my unchanging spot: the black, faux leather couch on the middle-left side of the room.

 

Something old: The fox pendant.

Something new: The fish ring.

Something black: The bold text on our stupid fortune cookies.

Something blue: The door I painted last month; the front door to my home. I did it as a simple promise to myself that I would slowly, over time, transform the house into what I envisioned it could be. That I would take care of it, treat it with care, and make it into exactly what I wanted it to be. I was the one who fell in love with the home 3 years ago when Chris and I first viewed it with our realtor. He was uncertain about the place; unconvinced and skeptical because of the hole in the ceiling, the musty carpets in every room, and the thirty-year-old water heater; I, on the other hand, was absolutely smitten.. choosing to look right past every problematic flaw and imagining how, together, we could fix it all.. how we could repair and improve everything.

“Oh Chris,” I remember pleading, “this place is SO worth investing in! Look at the windows.. it’s so bright in here. During the day, I bet you don’t even need to flip a single switch. And the layout is so open,” I continued. “This place feels so rustic.. it’s so incredibly homey.”

*******

“Before you leave,” my friend said to me at 3:00 this afternoon, “I KNOW you don’t want to talk about it, but I have to say one thing, and I’ll say it quickly: Owning your own home at the age of 24 is pretty remarkable.” She paused to look me in the eye.

“Yeah,” I nodded at her. I didn’t know what to say.

“And you said a minute ago,” she continued, gazing down at the carpeted office floor as she recalled the words, “that you were going to take your time with the house.. that you were going to change it slowly and that you were going to make sure that the changes you made were done correctly; that they were good quality changes.”

“Yes, I did,” I agreed with her.

“That applies to more than just the house, you know.” She smiled knowingly, her blue eyes sparkling. I smiled back at her.

 

Today, a 24-year-old, wearing a raggedy, old NASA t-shirt and dingy gray Vans, purchased a home. This same 24-year-old looked across the table at their very best friend in the world, rejoicing with them in their new, sweet relationship, their upcoming promotion, and their plans for the weekend, and thought: If I wasn’t gay, I would have spent forever with you.

 

 

The end.

 

But I’m still here,
Aun Aqui

 

Remember me?

I was walking through Big Spring Park last Thursday night. It was nearing dusk. I realized, as I was crossing the street, quickly edging my way past cars that were waiting on the turn of a light, that wearing knee-length shorts with these wild, hairy legs no longer makes me feel self-conscious. I rarely even consciously think about it, but when I do, it makes me feel.. confident. I smiled a little at the small victory; of relinquishing some of the shame I once felt for my body. Then, I touched my left hand to the back of my neck and gently ran it up the back of my head, relishing the scratchy feeling that hangs on for a solid two weeks after AP has buzzed my scalp, and when I did this, it made me feel warm. I recognized that I was comfortable. As I continued walking, acutely aware of the sensation of skin stretched tightly against my rib cage, I thought about the tattoos etched into my wrist, forearms, bicep, back shoulder blade, and ankle soaking up sunlight, and I felt whole. I felt right. Feeling and thinking about all of these things made this body feel a little more like home.

I was wearing earbuds; listening to music, at first, and then talking on the phone with my grandparents. It had been a long time since I’d called them.. at least two months. We needed to catch up.

“So you’re training a bunch of people up there right now, huh Rosebud?” Grammy’s animated and soothing voice smiled into the phone. So familiar. She always sounds like magic, I thought to myself.

“Yes, Gram,” I responded, smiling back at her and watching a girl slip her hand into a boy’s.. seeing, quickly thereafter, a child running towards a flock of geese and terrifying the ever-living shit out of them.

“And what are you eating while you’re up there?” she inquired cheerfully.

“I’ve been dropping into Whole Foods and buying fresh produce on Mondays. I brought a bowl, a cutting board, a knife and a fork with me from home, so I’ve been making salads in the evening,” I answered her.

“My my!” she exclaimed, sounding impressed. “You’ve always made the PRETTIEST salads, Rose. You used to make ME want to eat them.”

I grinned and thanked her.

“I’m glad you’ve started posting on Facebook again, Grammy,” I began. “You disappeared for a while there. YOUR status updates are always SOOOO hilarious, and they’re so attention-grabbing!”

She started laughing, sounding pleased but skeptical. “Ha.. yeah RIGHT!”

“YES!” my voice took on a higher pitch. “I mean it! THEY REALLY ARE! And I’m not the only one who notices them. You’ve seen the likes and hearts and comments they get. I swear; when I’m reading those short and descriptive stories, in my mind, you take on the tone and drawl and speaking voice of a classic, southern writer. It feels like something I would have read in AP English back in high school. Seriously. It’s really cool.”

 

“Now don’t lie to her, Rose,” Grampy’s voice interrupted our conversation suddenly.
“OHHHHH! IS THAT YOU ON THERE, RUSSELL?” Grammy demanded, feigning irritation.

 

“Yes, Diane.”

 

“Grampy, SHE IS a good writer!” I protested playfully, laughing into the mic. I listened as my voice took on a more feminine tone and I cursed myself for it. Why? Why do I always do that?

 

We all continued chatting while I walked laps.. laps around the park, laps around the pond, and laps around the fountain. I paused for a few minutes and sat down on the edge of the concrete, staring into the rippling surface of the smelly pond water and watching fish of all colors and sizes drawing near the surface. I made a comment about the fish out loud.

 

“What kind of fish are those, Rosebud?”

“Oh, I have no clue, Gram. I’m not a big fish person. They..” I peered down a little closer and squinted my eyes at the water, “just look like really fat, over-sized goldfish.”

“Huh! Heard you say earlier that some of ’em were orange.. what kind of fish do you reckon those are, grandpa?”

“Hmmm..” I could hear Grampy mulling possibilities over in his mind. I pictured him slowly rocking back and forth in his green recliner, parked in front of the television set in his bedroom.. partially present in our conversation and partially engrossed in some muted, 60s sci-fi show. “Sounds like a grenil fish to me.”

 

Then he began talking about the History channel — about a show he’d watched recently that exposed how Christopher Columbus hadn’t actually been the first one to discover America — and then he brought up something he’d seen on the Discovery channel; a documentary about creatures that could do amazing things, like bury themselves under the ground for seven years and then return to the surface to breed once and then die.

 

“Wow.. that’s intense,” I remarked quietly.

 

“There’s one living organism,” he continued, and I could hear Grammy chuckling to herself in the background, “that will protectively hide itself under the ground when it’s flooding.”

 

I realized that my mind had wandered.

 

“I’m sorry, Grampy; can you please repeat that? What’s the name of the creature that hides underground when it’s flooding?”

 

He backtracked and then resumed describing the phenomena, but he couldn’t seem to recall the name of the creature. My mind had wandered again, anyways.

*******

I wrote an off-the-cuff song about Melissa this past weekend; you know, the girl that I loved. The girl that I’m still stupidly pining after, six stupid years later.

 

I made the mistake of sifting through old Facebook albums on Saturday morning, scavenging for pictures of me as a young skater that I could use in my previous blog post. I ran across old pictures of us in the process, of course; pictures of best friends, best friends forever, adventuring the world and enjoying life together. It was nauseating.

 

The worst thing I came across was a video. I’ve watched it.. so many times this evening.

 

And I’ve sent her so many letters. I rode my motorcycle to the CVS down the road just last year, on my lunch break, and picked out a birthday card for her. I addressed it to her grandmother’s house, where I presume she’s still staying. I’ve tried emailing her, and I’ve tried, every six months or so, typing her name in on Facebook again to confirm that I’m still blocked. I tried again tonight, honestly. Still am. I sound like a real stalker, don’t I? How pathetic. How creepy. I’m really NOT a stalker though.

 

I’ve made all of these efforts to reconnect and reconcile, andddddddd not a word. Not a single, motherfucking word.

 

But I am, of course, a bad person now. An agnostic, gay, sailor-mouthed heathen. It’s not like we’re AT ALL compatible on ANY kind of level, and I plainly realize that. That is no longer the source of my pain. What hurts far worse than her not reciprocating my undying love is the fact that she won’t even condescend to recognize my humanity, to validate my feelings, or to acknowledge the eight years of friendship that we shared. It’s like it never happened. It’s like I never even existed in her world. God help her, she’s going to keep the freaking Sabbath from sunset Friday night to sunset Saturday night, and she’s going to be a goddamn vegan and wear shirts with sleeves that are long enough to cover her elbows, because Jesus wants her to do those things, but fuck tossing a few kind lines (like “I’m glad you’re still alive; I’m not comfortable being friends with you anymore, but I DO appreciate the special time we spent together as children”) to a worthless and unremarkable, piece of shit, hell-bent stranger. Nah. Jesus ain’t worried ’bout all that, cuh. 

 

If I sound angry, it’s because I am angry. I’m devastated. Truly.. devastated. It’s been six years since she cut me off and the wounds are still as raw as if she’d just cut into me yesterday. I wish I had some semblance of emotional control over the matter. I reason with myself all of the time (ie GET THE FUCK OVER HER; ARE YOU DONE NOW?), but the problem is that I don’t give up on people.

 

She could land herself in prison for the worst charges imaginable and I would still go visit her. I’d buy the plane ticket tonight, bring her whatever books she wanted, and spend every visitation hour allowed there with her. So she’d know, without a single doubt, that she was loved unconditionally and that she wasn’t alone. And guess what? I’d do that for freaking anyone. Any friend, any family member.

 

My family can look down on me for being gay for the rest of my life — I’m sure they will — and I’ll still love them. Despite being viewed as an intolerably immoral and indecent human being (simply for my gender identity and sexual preference), I’ll still try to be a good person for the simple fact that I want to be a good person, because I don’t believe that morals are merely your ticket to paradise. Goodness is intrinsic. Your motivation for being moral can’t be chasing after some reward, or it doesn’t count. Not in my book, anyways. But maybe it’ll count in Jesus’ book. Who knows.

 

My best friend in the whole entire world may never say the words “I love you” out loud to me again, and I won’t fault him for it.

 

And I may never get to pet my sweet, strange, feral little rabbits again, but they’ll always have my heart like no one and nothing else does.

 

I had a real meltdown on the staircase last week.. pertaining to all of this. I was doing something in the kitchen when a song came on my Spotify station, and when it did, I instantly recalled this memory of my ex-husband.. my best friend.. Chris dancing around in the kitchen, like an idiot.. laughing and smiling and calling it his song.

 

I don’t miss being in a relationship with him. But I miss getting to see and talk with him every day. I miss my best friend. He’s the second one I’ve lost.

 

I emailed the woman who rehomed my rabbits three weeks ago. My train of thought was this: I didn’t know what my living arrangements would be 5 months ago, but now, I’m closing on the house on FRIDAY. I’ve got this BIG backyard and the energy and mental stamina needed to build a fabulous, outdoor bunny town.. and maybe she isn’t totally in love with them yet and would love to get them off of her hands!

 

I was feeling excited, incredibly excited, but I didn’t disclose all of these secret plans in my email. I just said: “Hey! How are the buns doing? I’ve been thinking about them!”

 

“Oh, they’re wonderful!” she responded quickly, within minutes. “Girl (that’s what they’re calling Princess Panda now) is shy but sweet, and my daughter’s renamed Hiro Dumbledore! He’s a barn favorite.”

 

Hiro.. Dumbledore? My heart ached. But don’t they know that he’s a villain? An evil, mad scientist? A brilliant, sneaky and conniving rabbit whose only goal is taking over the world? He must hate being called Dumbledore!

 

So I cried. And I dreamt about Hiro a few nights later — in my dream, he was sitting on a ledge that was high up in my bedroom closet and I was laughing at him, reaching my hands up to grab him so that I could pull him close to me, and then I woke up.

 

I’ve lost so many people. I’ve lost so many things that I’ve loved. Melissa, Chris, the buns.. Bobby. I can’t even begin to process Bobby. Maybe in another four years.

*******

Suddenly, I was back in the park, blindly shuffling up a flight of stairs. I didn’t know where I was going; literally. I’m not familiar with this town. I just knew that I wasn’t ready to head back to the hotel yet, so I didn’t mind getting lost. Grammy was talking about us meeting half-way in Tennessee next month.. somewhere in Chattanooga. Suddenly, my ears tuned in to the sound of live music.

 

Live music? I was confused.

 

So I quickly took the remaining stairs to the top, rounded the corner, and there it was: a farmers market.

On a Thursday night? How random! I was delighted.

 

“What on earth is that noise?” Grammy’s bright voice chimed into the phone.

 

I smiled. “Hey guys, I’m going to let you go for right now — there’s some live music happening on the street and there are a whole bunch of interesting booths set up. I’m going to explore for a little while.”

 

I could hear the smile in Gram’s voice. “Oh, that sounds fun! Have a good time, Rosebud. Be safe.”

 

“I will. I love you guys. I’ll see you soon.”

 

I turned Spotify back on and meandered down the street.. noticing the girls, noticing the boys; noticing them noticing each other and wondering who and what I was, exactly. I discovered that I was content with the answers “human; alive.” I looked over at heavy baskets full of produce; at paintings hanging on cloth backdrops; at candles and lotions and soaps made from goats’ milk. One particular booth really caught my eye, and when I stopped in to chat with the artist, I discovered that she shared my love of bunny rabbits and outer space.

 

And now this incredible, original piece of her artwork is hanging on a blue wall in my bedroom.

 

20160521_090746

 

“This is how I see it,” I was explaining to my best friend, Chris, on the phone yesterday morning. “Panda SOMEHOW got IN to the rocket ship and doesn’t know WHAT the hell she’s doing in there. Doesn’t know where she’s going, how to fly the thing.. etc. It’s awful.”

 

“Riiiiiiiight,” he murmured, encouraging me to go on.

 

“And HIRO,” I continued, “is staring at the whole scene and just can’t believe it. Panda’s in the rocket shipand he isn’t. How unfair! How ironic! Life. It’s so funny.”

 

“It’s a strange, beautiful life,” he agreed.

 

me and mel

us

Mel: The sun was shining on our faces Me: I hope it always does.
A Day in December, 2009
Mel: The sun was shining on our faces
Me: I hope it always does.

 

 

I’m still here, but where the fuck are you?

Aun Aqui

Celebrating A Decade On Wheels: “I Was A Sk8er Boi”

 

I picked up skateboarding when I was 14, just before my family made the big move from Tampa, Florida to Birmingham, Alabama. My first board was a cheap purchase at Walmart; a grip-less deck with slow-moving wheels and lousy bearings. But for me – a total beginner – it did the trick.

 

On weekends and week nights, I’d walk the short distance from my suburban, city home to the Catholic School parking lot down the road, and then I’d struggle to move my board across its bumpy and irregular surface, learning the feeling and loving the sound of concrete underfoot. It was wonderful. I wasn’t in the habit of wearing any protective gear at the onset of my skating career, so some of my mishaps turned out looking pretty impressive. I still have the scars, and unlike most people, I love these scars.

 

“Don’t worry; it should go away if you put (x) on it,” a friend suggested when I took a fall that resulted in a gnarly cut.

“Okay.. then I’m not going to put ANYTHING on it,” I resolved.

 

My mother enrolled me in public school right around the same time that I began skateboarding, and I quickly learned that a fellow skater/student from my Spanish class — Christian, who was one year ahead of and one year older than me — lived in the same neighborhood that I did. He had also, very openly, developed a crush on me, and had been vocal about it in front of both me and my friends. There were (2) times in particular when he distinctly and unmistakably evidenced his crush to the world:

 

  1. During a Spanish class project that involved an egg and a hypothetical, future chicken. On the morning the project began, Christian walked over to my desk, got down on one knee, and raised his egg into the air with both hands, asking (incredibly loudly): “Amber Rose, will you be the mother of my chicken?” The rest of the class looked on and laughed. I quietly declined his offer, and then they continued laughing as he, very dramatically, hung his head in disappointment.
  2. My mother and I would, routinely, go walking through the neighborhood together in the evenings, and when Christian spotted us strolling down the street one night, he and a companion began running about wildly and cutting through neighbors’ yards, somersaulting into and out of their sprinkler systems. “Wow, he’s really putting on a show for you, Rose!” Sierra had laughed, watching them carry on while I – turning deeply red in the twilight and feeling incredibly mortified – power walked ahead of her to the end of the street.

 

In spite of me spurning his love time and time again, Christian still spent time skateboarding with me on the weekends, as did another neighborhood friend of mine named Lacey. She was the first girl I’d ever seen on a board, and I thought she was pretty cool because of it.

 

Once our family had crossed the border and pitched a tent in Alabama, skateboarding took on an even greater presence in my life.

 

First of all, I was very upset at my misfortune: 14 years old and living out in the country. So – to protect my reputation – skateboarding became a huge personal identifier. I was a skater. Not a country bumpkin. And a local warehouse that I discovered – The Innerchange – afforded my escape and offered me refuge.

 

Because it was a “christian-themed” indoor skatepark, Sierra approved of me spending weeknight hours zooming across concrete, braving the steep inclines of wooden ramps, and accelerating down – headfirst – into half-pipes. When I first began attending The Innerchange, I was met with a tough crowd.

 

I was 5′ 4″ and 94 pounds — boob- and ass-less — and while I basically LOOKED like a boy, my face and voice gave me away. Always.

 

The first time Sierra dropped me off and drove away, I felt terrified. I entered the warehouse conspicuously and stood off to the side for a few minutes, adjusting to the dim lighting, the loud noises, and my precarious surroundings. The other boys looked at me and seemed to see right through my skinny jeans and Volcom Stone hoodie to the anxiety-ridden girl awkwardly standing there.. trying to not collapse out of fear and grasping onto a deck with her sweaty left hand. They summed me up, rolled their eyes at each other and then continued skating, making an obvious effort to avoid looking at or skating anywhere near me. They likely thought that I was just another female who had stepped in to flirt, vie for their attention, and distract them from what they really wanted to do: skate. Hell to the no. 

 

Slowly — wipeout after wipeout and bloody palm after bruised elbow, they began to realize that I was serious about the sport. Not them. And soon after they realized this, they began making eye contact with me and nodding when I entered the building. A few weeks into me coming around, they’d bring their boards from a slow roll to a halt when they reached where I was standing, just to say “hey.” Many of them even began cheering and egging me on as I tried to manual off of a 1.5 foot-tall block; the ones who watched me land it for the first time congratulated me afterwards. A small group of guys would draw together in a circle around the half-pipe every Tuesday night and scream out encouragements while I mustered the guts to drop (aka fall into) the half-pipe yet again. And one boy – who I’ll call Derek, and who was in love with me – followed me to The Innerchange weekly.. not to skate, because he didn’t really skate, but he always claimed that he was there to “watch out for” and “coach” me.

One afternoon, while we were sitting side by side on a torn leather seat and the school bus was carrying us along the rough country roads that led to home, he laughingly offered: “You know, Ashley asked if you were my girlfriend at lunch today. I laughed at her and said ‘I WISH.'”

 

I laughed too. “Yeah.. that’s funny.”

 

He never formally asked me, and I never gave him any intimation that he should. We were great friends. My mom always found it remarkable that I wasn’t eager to date boys in middle and high school. Makes a hell of a lot of sense now, doesn’t it?

 

I had a close friend (and fellow skater) who lived less than a mile down the road from me when my family resided in McCalla. I’ll refer to him as Josh. His story is interesting.

 

Josh was a troubled boy. When I started the 8th grade in Alabama, we ended up riding the bus to school together; I would sit down next to him simply because every seat was occupied by someone and he was – unlike most of the other children – approachable and quiet. I talked to him intermittently, in-between my religious studies, and slowly, I drew him out of his shell. I could tell that he began to look forward to our bus rides to and from school together, as he would stuff the latest copy of CCS magazine into his backpack before he left home in the mornings so we could leaf through its pages together during the ride, eyeing skateboards and skate shoes, coveting stickers and backpacks and key chains. “If I could have ANYTHING in this magazine,” I’d say after we’d reviewed each page, “I’d want THAT pair of brown Vans.” I was consistently in favor of simplistic-looking Vans, and he always preferred, and chose, thick, bright, and flashy pairs of Etnies.

 

We skateboarded in the neighborhood together often, in the evenings and on weekends. He said things, during our short conversations, that led me to believe that his father was abusive towards him.. either verbally, or physically, and possibly even both. As an uninformed, inexperienced and mostly sheltered kid, I didn’t really know what to do with that information or my suspicion. He never said, outright, that anything was happening, but it was a feeling that I got. Hard to explain.

The last year I knew him, we spent less and less time together until our friendship tapered off, but he walked across the lawn and climbed the steps to my front porch one evening when I was strumming the guitar, and we spoke for a good half hour, catching up. I can’t remember what we talked about, exactly; I can only remember carefully setting the guitar down onto the floor, walking over to the gate that enclosed the porch, leaning my body against it, and then talking with and watching him as he gestured and spoke from the other side. He seemed lonely. But then again, he had always seemed lonely. He walked away from me and headed home, eventually, and about a week later, everyone at school was talking about it.

 

“HE’S DEAD!”

“Who’s dead?”

“JOSH’S FATHER!”

“What happened to him?!”

“JOSH KILLED HIM.”

 

I couldn’t believe it. The story was leaking everywhere; you heard details stemming from all sources, rumors bubbling up in each classroom, and every lunch hour conversation seemed to center around it. The story is that Josh shot his father when he arrived home from work one night, and that his mother, learning of it, attempted to cover the murder up in an effort to protect her son. Josh had been withdrawn from the school. The last I heard, even his girlfriend wasn’t able to keep up communication with him.

 

My family and I moved back to Florida very shortly after it happened. I never spoke with Josh again.

 

Do I think the rumors were true? That Josh killed his father? Absolutely. I do. I think that a child who had been abused for years and who was, quite possibly, about to be abused again that evening made a sudden decision to stick up for himself in the only way that he could imagine doing. I’m not condoning the murder.. at all; I don’t think that anyone should be murdered for any reason. I only wish that I could have intervened before it happened. And I wish I could get in touch with Josh now. I’ve searched for his name over the years — on Google, through social media — but he’s nowhere to be found. It’s like he never even existed. Maybe he changed his name, like I did, but for different reasons. Regardless, I miss him.

 

A few months before he (purportedly) killed his father, and before that final conversation we shared on the steps of my front porch, I gave him my pro board: a Birdhouse deck that my parents had purchased for me at a skate shop downtown. I knew that Josh took skateboarding more seriously than I did and that he’d get way more use out of it than I would. He experimented — pushing himself to the limit, breaking down old boundaries and then testing out new ones while I tended to play things extremely safe. An inferior board would suffice for my simple endeavors.

 

“Here.. you give me YOUR board,” I offered one day, gesturing towards his crappy, beat-up deck, “and you can have mine.” I remember watching his eyes light up with excitement as we made the exchange. It’s a swap I would never wish to take back.

 

 

I married at the age of 18 and immediately began working full time, and when these two things happened, I just naturally stopped skating. It wasn’t something that happened intentionally; it wasn’t even something that I stopped to consider. Skateboarding just faded quietly and slipped peaceably into the background as more pressing matters – like finances and college and who’s cooking what for dinner – strolled confidently onto the stage and entered proudly into the foreground. But last year, after five lazy, skate-less years, I suddenly remembered skateboarding — that it existed, and that I used to be somewhat good at it — and I asked myself: “Why did I ever stop? And WHEN, exactly, did I stop?” I couldn’t find reasonable, conclusive answers to either question. It puzzled me. Does “becoming” an adult necessarily mean that you must cast off fun and “childish” things.. like skateboarding and dinosaurs and dreams of outer space? If so, do you discard these things partially, wholly, or not at all? Why would you need to nix them? Should you ever have to? These were new questions.

 

I briefly mentioned my idea of resuming skateboarding to family members. They cautioned me not to: “You work a full-time job now, Rose! You’re an adult! What if you fall and break something and have to call out of work for an extended period of time because of it? You have a house payment, utility bills, and gas and grocery and insurance expenses to consider. Skateboarding isn’t really something that a grown adult should be doing, anyways.”

 

Those are legitimate concerns, I agreed with them. Yeah.. I was kind of already thinking the same thing.

 

But friends and co-workers urged me to get back into the sport.

 

“Baby,” one co-worker began, removing her headset one afternoon, sighing with exasperation, and looking me square in the face. She wasn’t smiling.

“Now YOU listen to ME. Okay? You are HOW OLD?”

“23,” I answered her promptly.

“Okay. TWENTY-THREE. So you ARE NOT too old to skateboard.” She paused to let the statement sink in and then shrugged at the air dramatically, waiting for me to protest. I didn’t. “Now you go out,” she continued, reaching for her headset, “you buy you a skateboard, and you GO HAVE FUN.”

 

I watched as she reapplied and then adjusted her headset; she continued to make eye contact with me while doing so and tried her best to look severe.

I laughed at her. “Yes ma’am.

 

This same lady — a co-worker and friend — also encouraged me, last year, to do something else that I had been wanting to do but was scared to do.. and that was piercing my right ear. I finally ended up mustering the guts and visiting a piercing parlor last April, and I have her to thank for it.

 

Back to skateboarding..

 

Chris (my ex-husband and, more importantly and accurately, current and eternal best friend) had, at this same time, been sharing with a co-worker that I wanted to re-enter the skating arena, and this co-worker of his – who happens to be an AMAZING skateboarder – offered to give me one of his old decks. Chris brought the deck home unexpectedly one afternoon; I’m pretty sure I cried.

 

We took the board to Faith Skate Supply that same week and decked it out (get it?) with colorful new trucks and bearings. Here’s a picture that was taken on the first day I hopped back onto the board as an adult: May 30th, 2015 (nearly a whole year ago!). I’m also including the Facebook caption that I posted along with the picture that day.

 

They said "scooters are too dangerous" but I got one anyways. They said that "adults" don't skateboard, but iiiiiiii said YES.THEY.*DO*! Got back on the board this afternoon and it was one of the most fun - AKA funnest - days of my LIFE.
They said “scooters are too dangerous” but I got one anyways. They said that “adults” don’t skateboard, but iiiiiiii said YES. THEY. *DO*! Got back on the board this afternoon and it was one of the most fun – AKA funnest – days of my LIFE.

 

And that’s just one of the best decisions I’ve ever made: to reclaim a fun and invigorating part of my childhood and, along with it, a missing piece of myself.

 

To share the good and the bad: I wiped out really badly last year while I was skating in a subdivision located a few miles down the road from my house (I liked skating in this particular subdivision because of how new, smooth, and finely-groomed the concrete was). Here’s what happened: I started rolling down a hill while I was on the board and thought to myself: “Ehhh, this is a pretty mild hill; no big deal. I’ll just pace myself.” I began carving, directing the board, in a soft, gentle, and rhythmic roll, left and then right, and I wasn’t too worried about it. It really was a mild hill, but it was also an unexpectedly long and steady one. My board continued to gain speed and, as it did, it began shaking violently from left to right and wavering dangerously underneath my feet; the bearings couldn’t handle it, and I knew it. Well shit.

 

I started to panic. I can either jump off of the board RIGHT NOW and suffer definite damages, or I can try to make it to the bottom of the hill and possibly suffer WORSE damages IF I fail to make it. My intuition piped up immediately with its two cents, instructing me that I needed to act now. Accordingly, without giving the matter another thought, I sucked in a quick breath and jumped off of the board, entering into a mad, 20 MPH running-motion, and then tripped, falling forward – face and palms firstinto the concrete. Hard. My board kamikazed into a ditch 10-15 yards away from me.

 

An elderly couple passed by me, slowly, in a white SUV as I was groggily pushing myself up off of the road. I raised myself into a standing position carefully, cautiously checking to see if my knees and elbows were still functioning properly. As I trudged over to where my board had parked itself, I looked up and saw the same white SUV returning in the opposite lane of the road and approaching me; further down the street, the old woman, who I had identified, a moment ago, as sitting in the passenger’s seat, was hobbling up the driveway towards her mailbox and craning her neck to look at me.

The old man rolled down his window. “I just dropped my wife off,” he explained, pointing behind him. “We saw you wreck on your skateboard and she wants to help you. I can take you back to the house, if you’re comfortable doing so, and she can bandage those wounds up for you.”

I looked down to see what he was talking about; blood was dripping down my knees and trickling out of my elbow. Looking a little closer, I saw that tiny little pieces of rock seemed to be wedged into my knee. Gross. All I could feel right now was an intense and heated burning sensation.

“Thank you SO MUCH for offering,” I replied to the man, smiling at him through this weird discomfort, “but my husband and I live just down the road; I actually called him a second ago and he’s on his way to get me.” And he’s furious, I kept to myself.

 

“Are you sure?” he asked uncertainly, squinting and taking another candid look at my fucked-up knees. His wife was still motioning, from her spot beside the mailbox, for me to come over.

I smiled again and waved at her. “You are both so kind. But I’m sure.”

 

I turned around and began walking home, but while doing so, I thought to myself: If I don’t get back on the board RIGHT NOW, I’m not going to ever want to again, so I cautiously stepped onto the board and began pumping, goofy (it’s a style of skating), back up the hill. Once I’d arrived at the top, I spotted Chris’s black SUV speeding down the street towards me. It came to a screeching halt beside me, and once I had opened the passenger door and tossed the skateboard inside, I looked over at him and smiled weakly.

He was gripping the steering wheel tightly and frowning. “I should take that skateboard from you, right here and now, and never let you use it again,” he shook his head in disbelief.

 

Back at the house, he cleaned my wounds in silence and then started to bandage them.

“WHY ON EARTH weren’t you wearing your GEAR?” he suddenly demanded.

 

“Because I was just skating in the neighborhood!” I answered him defensively. “It’s not like I was going up or down RAMPS or anything crazy like that.

 

“I don’t care!” he shook his head dramatically, tossing bloody napkins into a trash can. “We didn’t get the elbow pads and the knee pads so you could just HAVE them. You’re supposed to WEAR them.”

 

I didn’t even bother responding.

 

“And you were wearing those stupid, short shorts,” I heard him mumbling to himself as he left the room.

 

Before going to bed, I decided to change out the bandages, because they had already become fully soaked in blood and the blood, which was continuing to ooze, had begun to stain my pajama pants. I also figured that I might as well clean the wounds, too, in the process of re-bandaging them (in order to prevent infection). I didn’t want to bother Chris with all of this again, so I grabbed a handful of paper towels, a bottle of rubbing alcohol (which is what I BELIEVED he had used earlier on in the afternoon to clean my wounds; it had burned a little, yeah, but it wasn’t.. you know.. EXCRUCIATING), and a small roll of gauze. I rolled up the legs on my pajama pants, removed the icky bandages, and uncapped the bottle of alcohol.

“This is going to stiiiiiiiiiiing,” I mumbled/sang to myself, tilting the bottle of ALCOHOL over one of the injured knees and positively dousing the wounded area with it.

FUCKFUCKFUCKFUCKFUCKFUCKFUCKFUCKFUCCKKKKKKKKKKKK!

 

I started screaming. Crying. Weeping. I closed my eyes and I saw the color white. I fell down into the bath tub, writhing in pain.
“WHAT THE HELL IS WRONG WITH YOU?” Chris’s voice yelled in my direction; I heard the sound of running feet.

 

“OH MY GOD I’M DYING!!!!!” I called back, hiccuping between tears. “IT DIDN’T HURT LIKE THIS EARLIER!”

 

He appeared in the bathroom and took in the scene of me, weeping in the bathtub, and the upturned bottle of alcohol on the bathroom floor.

 

“My god,” he whispered. “I used Peroxide.”

 

About a week after "the incident."
About a week after “the incident.”

 

I’ve faithfully worn gear since “the incident.” Because I learned my lesson. But what’s funny is, actually, I DIDN’T learn my lesson, and I HAVEN’T always worn my gear since the incident. That was all a lie. Because after Chris and I divorced, I thought to myself: “HA. Now, I answer to NO ONE. I don’t have to wear gear if I don’t want to.” Such a child.

 

My friend and I had made plans to grab coffee, skateboard (me)/bike (her) and take pictures downtown together one Saturday, and as we embarked on our little journey early on in the morning, I smiled proudly and reveled in the fact that I was skateboarding sans gear. Like a total cool guy. It feels so good to be free, I remember thinking to myself as I flew smoothly and expertly down the pavement.

 

At one point during our trip, we were biking/skateboarding up a bridge. Then, we were biking/skateboarding across the bridge. Long at last, we were going down the bridge together.. me in the front, on my skateboard, and her in the back, on a rented bike. There were little ridges in the pavement, here and there, at regular intervals.. ridges that my skateboard could take easily with enough speed and some light manualing maneuvers. But I forgot to manual when I hit one of these ridges and, in a rude interruption of this otherwise smooth descent, the board went FLYING OUT from underneath me. Boom. In mere seconds, I had both torn my jeans and skinned my bloody knees. You are such a cool guy, Jace.

 

So I learned my lesson again.

 

At the beginning of this post, I was 14. It’s ten years later now, I’m 24, and guess what? I’m still skating.

Last week, I was working up in Huntsville, Alabama. I clocked out a little after 5:30, changed into my cool, 14-year-old-boy street clothes, and drove two miles down the road to Insanity Skatepark. I signed a release form at the front counter and paid $5 to skate for an hour, and then, as I soberly applied each piece of gear to my head and all of my appendages, I visually scouted out the place. It was ENORMOUS.

 

What will I actually be able to do here? I wondered to myself as I scanned the park, left to right.. quickly registering and gauging risk levels and assigning “beginner,” “intermediate” and “advanced” labels to certain areas. “Advanced” areas were totally zoned off; “intermediate” areas were attractive and electrifying, but also slightly dangerous. “Beginner” meant that you could skate AROUND everything, and I knew that I could definitely handle that.

It was a skater’s paradise, for sure, but on a scale of 1-10 (with 1 being novice and 10 being pro), I’m like.. a 3. Maybe a 4 when I’m feeling real daredevil-like.

 

I started out by warming up in the middle of the half-pipe, pumping and rolling my board up one side, carefully back down, across the length of the pipe and and then up and down the other side, gaining speed and height as I increased the amount of pressure I exerted onto the board. As soon as I acclimated to the motion, I became bored with it.

 

Me 1: I wonder if I can still turn the board 180 degrees while in motion?

Me 2: Good question. I don’t have an answer for you.

 

Later, I set my sights onto a ramp that led you directly onto another ramp which led to yet ANOTHER ramp.

It would be cool if I could do that, I thought to myself wistfully.

That would be cool, I agreed.

 

And then there was this over-sized quarter pipe with a roundish mound intercepting the run. The idea was to pump hard enough that you made it OVER the mound (which, I knew, would give you a startling boost in speed) and then up the other side of the pipe.

 

Now that would just be crazy, I shook my head doubtfully, but I #2 was already imagining how impressive it would be to achieve it.

 

These were three things that I knew I could do (#intermediate), but that I was also really scared to do.

 

“You might break your back!” I heard Sierra’s voice warning me from the back of my head. “Or knock a tooth out,” I #2 added, “and then you’d look stupid forever!”

 

“Baby,” the rippling image of my friend shook her head at me, exasperated, “get on that board and SKATE. That’s what you’re here for, ISN’T IT?”

 

Sierra, my friend and I #2 floated about the scene for a few minutes and offered their commentary while I deliberated; board in hand, cautiously surveying the scene. I looked up at one point and saw that the employee on “skate disaster patrol” (a 15-year old blonde boy wearing Converse) was staring at me blankly from his post.. obviously waiting for me to do something.

 

Sigh; no pressure. 

 

I knew that I’d hate myself if I left the skatepark without attempting to do at least one of these things.. so I tried doing all three, and I succeeded at doing all three. I was extremely surprised and proud of myself.. not even so much for succeeding with my attempts as for trying in the first place. There are precious few feelings that are as profound as the feeling you get when you face a fear head on, with a golf club in your hand, and realize that the monster hiding under the bed is really just a misplaced, rolled-up sock. Or maybe it was a monster and you just totally obliterated it. Either way. The fear was real, and you took action. Wow. You’re such a cool guy/girl.

 

The point(s) of all of this:

  1. Do what you enjoy doing, and make time to do it. It’s very easy to find excuses.. especially ones like: “I’m an adult and I’m busy/physically falling apart.” Yes, you might be an adult, but you can’t be THAT busy, and you probably AREN’T falling apart. Don’t put off embarking on new adventures or pursuing happiness until your schedule is perfectly clear, because that will – likely – never happen.
  2. Don’t be subservient to your fears; rise above them. Befriend them when you can, and face them with formidable and unwavering courage when you can’t — again and again and again if you have to. Some fears never really leave us.
  3. When you are doing what you enjoy doing or battling a rolled-up sock monster that’s been hiding under the bed, don’t do it with the intention of trying to please or impress or relieve anyone but yourself. You’re cool, you’re beautiful, you’re lovable, you’re brave, and you’re heroic; do it for you! Enjoy it/defeat it for YOUR benefit, for YOUR delight, and for YOUR peace of mind. Doing it for anyone or anything else just doesn’t make sense. Think about it. 

 

hp skating
Me dressed up as a skateboarding Harry Potter last Halloween. This Halloween, I’m going to be a skateboarding David Tennant/ Tenth Doctor/ The Doctor/ Doctor Who Enthusiast.

 

wheel-y cool/ sk8er boi/ rolling with it,

Aun Aqui

I have Lyme Disease and I’m dying

So you read the title of this post, yes?

K. Let’s back up.

 

About 6 weeks ago, I hopped out of the shower and started drying off with a towel when I noticed this tiny, thin, red circle on my rib cage. It was more spherical than circular, really, and I’d never noticed it there before.

 

Did I burn myself? I wondered, reflecting on recent events. The answer was no.

Has someone or something.. bitten me there? I thought about it carefully: negative.

 

The mark definitely looked strange, but my mind quickly abandoned the idea of worrying about it as I began moving onward with my day, handling duties and having fun and – in the process of doing so – forgetting all about mythical burns and nonexistent bites.

 

Again, that was approximately six weeks ago. Returning to the present..

LAST night, I got in from Huntsville around 7:30 PM. My roommate and best friend, Charlie, picked me up at my company’s corporate office (where I returned a rental car), drove us both home, and then he started preparing a delicious supper in the kitchen: mashed potatoes, sauteed carrots, buttered peas and “mock” chicken strips sauteed in olive oil.

 

As he began filling a pot with water and retrieving items from the refrigerator, I ran upstairs with the luggage, plopped it down onto the floor in my bedroom, and started removing clothes. After showering, I began to slide a band t-shirt on over my head when my eyes spotted the angry, red, eye-shaped rash flashing with rage on my rib cage.

 

The fuck? I murmured out loud. I’d been casually keeping tabs on the phenomena over the course of the past couple of weeks, but I don’t gaze into mirrors often and I don’t look down at my bare skin often either, so looking at it now, I realized that it had grown a good bit in size and that it was still pretty freaking red. These developments troubled me, but when Charlie announced that dinner was ready, the potentially deadly red insignia on my body lost all significance.

 

I fell fast asleep after finishing dinner and watching a stressful and emotional episode of Doctor Who, but the matter of the mysterious mark resurfaced in my mind when I woke up at 6:30 this morning. I rolled over in bed, listening to the heavy breathing and unembarrassed snoring of the chubby German Shepherd lying at the other end of the bed, and snagged my phone from off of my writing desk.

 

I spent about ten minutes googling things like “eye-shaped rash on rib cage” and “red spherical rash on skin,” and the comments and explanations that I came across all directed me, in unison, to investigate the terrifying possibility of Lyme Disease.

 

Lyme Disease! I mourned. My best friend had contracted Lyme Disease when she was a kid, and I vividly remembered her relating how her dad had to pick her up and carry her around for a period of months when her joints were so aching so badly that she couldn’t walk. My cousin had also experienced a rough and extended bout with the disease, so I was pretty well acquainted with how unpleasant it could be.

 

Here’s a quick overview of Lyme Disease. 

Symptoms: 

The presence of a bull’s eye-shaped rash on the body and flu-like symptoms, including:

  • fever,
  • chills,
  • sweats,
  • muscle aches,
  • fatigue,
  • nausea,
  • and joint pain.

 

Shit! I exhaled. I was just dizzy yesterday afternoon, I had TWO uncharacteristic headaches LAST week, and I slept in ’til 12:09 PM on Sunday and I’ve NEVER, EVER done that before. And now, because of all of these unpleasant correlations, I am ALSO experiencing sweats and chills and, vaguely, muscle aches. Yep. I definitely have it.

 

Cause:

If a tick bites an animal carrying the bacteria that cause Lyme disease (Borrelia burgdorferi), the tick can also become infected. The tick can then transfer the bacteria to a human by biting them. Ticks can be found in any areas with deep or overgrown vegetation where they have access to animals to feed on.

 

I peered at Sheppy over the top of my phone. “Damn it, Bruce. I feel like this is your fault somehow. What are you going to do when your human dies, huh?” Shep stirred lightly in his sleep and then exhaled dramatically, sounding very exasperated. Adorable.

 

It was around 6:45 AM now and I decided that, with the chances of my survival probably still relatively high at just six weeks out, I’d get my diseased body to a doctor as soon as possible in an effort to prevent the disease from overtaking my body and prematurely ending my life. So today, I went to (2) places that I absolutely DO NOT like going to:

  1. The doctor’s office
  2. Walmart.

 

First up: What’s up, doc?

My mission began with a necessary shower. I washed the afflicted area gingerly and with great disdain (I’ll note here that the rash DOESN’T EVEN LOOK GROSS AT ALL! It doesn’t itch, it doesn’t hurt, and if it wasn’t red and oddly, magically spherical, I wouldn’t even know that it was there). I got dressed, returned to my bedroom, and gazed longingly at my backpack, which was slumped up against the bed (it contained my laptop, headphones, and journal). “Would it really be appropriate for me to go drink coffee and write in a cafe when something so sober and grave and serious is happening in my life?”

I thought about it for a second.

 

“Yes.. I think it would be,” I answered myself, “because who knows how many more chances I’ll get to write and drink coffee in this lifetime.”

 

I happily swept the backpack up from off of the floor, fed and watered the dog, withdrew a slightly under-ripe banana and a bottle of grapefruit juice from the kitchen and then prepared to head out for the day.

 

But I hesitated in the hallway.

 

“Hang on a minute. Doctors. They examine things.. take your blood pressure, check your pulse.. take your blood..” I shivered. “Hopefully they WON’T do that. But I’m pretty sure that some of them MAKE you take your clothes off.”

 

I stood there in the hallway for another minute, feeling mortified.

 

“Are they going to make me take my clothes off?! Damn it.” The mere thought of it made me entirely miserable.

 

To prepare for the event of possibly having to remove an article of (or all of) my clothing, I ditched the pair of blue boxers that I had put on earlier that morning and, in their place, I put on my robot underpants, deciding that it would be far less embarrassing to be seen in my robot underpants than a boring pair of blue boxers. Want to see what they look like?

 

robot underpants

 

Freaking cool, huh? I love these boxers SO MUCH that I bought ANOTHER PAIR that’s just like them at Target last week. I now own TWO pairs of robot underpants.

 

Returning to more pressing and grave matters..

 

I finally left the house at 8:30 and settled into the driver’s seat of my Plymouth Neon, noticing, as I turned it on, how heavy the steering wheel felt and listening as the engine seemed to cough itself back into life. “I sure hope this thing doesn’t break down on my way back to Huntsville,” I thought worriedly. “But that’s if I’m still even alive at that point.”

 

I arrived at the doctor’s office within 15 minutes and then deliberated in the parking lot. “Will this place even be able to check for Lyme Disease? Can any doctor do that, or would I specifically need to see a dermatologist?”

“You should have thought about that sooner, dummy.”

 

I briefly considered calling the doctor from the safety of the parking lot (so that I wouldn’t unnecessarily expose myself to a room full of germs), but I concluded – very optimistically – that they’d probably be qualified to diagnose and – hopefullytreat Lyme Disease. “What do I have to lose, anyways?” I sighed defeatedly, closing the car door and making quick strides towards the front office.

 

Just before entering the building, I could see, through the glass doors, that there was only one person in the waiting room; a guy who appeared to be in his 40s. He wasn’t coughing and didn’t seem to have a runny nose or any other evident, outward signs of illness. “Good — there won’t be too many germs in this room.. yet,” I breathed, tugging the door open and feeling slightly relieved.

 

I approached the front counter where the only attendant – a young, brunette receptionist – was on the phone. She saw me and then looked away quickly. I shuffled my feet awkwardly and gazed down at my own phone, pretending to not listen in on her conversation while I waited for her to finish.
“Yeah,” she whispered into the phone, “she called out sick, saying she can’t come in tomorrow, and it’s just screwed EVERYTHING up.”

 

I lifted my eyebrows and pulled Facebook up, mindlessly scanning through my news feed.

 

“Mhmmmm,” she continued, “one of her friends had a shindig last night, and I’m gonna find out if she was there, and if she was, I SWEAR. I’m going to be SO mad.”

 

I almost choked, trying to stifle my laughter. She hurriedly wrapped up the conversation and then beckoned me over, acting as if I’d just now appeared in her peripheral vision and the room.
“Hey there! How are you feeling today?” she smiled.

 

“Oh, I’m feeling good! Thanks.. I’m not sick or anything,” I explained quietly. “I feel fine — I just think that I might have Lyme Disease. Before I sign in, though, will the doctor be able to test me for Lyme Disease?”

 

She looked puzzled, briefly, but quickly recovered. “Yes — oh yes, he sure will! Have you been here before?”
Awwwww. I had been missing this awkwardness.

 

“Yes — a long time ago,” I answered her. “I don’t really go to the doctor often. I’m likely listed under ‘Amber Rose,’ but my name is Jace now.”

 

The computer monitor obscured her face.

 

“Ummmmmmm yeah. It does say Amber on here. So you changed your name?”

 

“Yes.”

 

“Okay, cool! Can I see your license so we can update your stuff?”

 

I handed her my license so she could update my stuff and then she requested to see an updated copy of my health insurance card.

 

“Also,” I paused before placing the card into her hand, “does me coming here qualify as an ’emergency visit,’ or is this just.. a regular doctor visit?”

 

Does that question make ANY sense? I asked myself. You should just ask her, in plain english, if your co-pay will be, like, $35 dollars or like $300?

 

“Oh, it’s a regular visit,” her look registered immediate understanding. “Don’t worry,” she smiled at me.

 

“Okay, awesome,” I smiled back. I watched her fingers as she typed, keying my information into the system, and then I remembered the juice and the banana.

 

In the event that they do draw blood today, I reasoned with myself, already feeling my stomach convulsing in dreadful anticipation of the procedure, I need to make sure my body’s prepared to handle the trauma. Aka, I want to NOT pass out.

 

“I’m going out to my car to get some grapefruit juice,” I whispered across the counter, “but I’ll be right back,” I assured her as I hurried away.

 

“Ohhhhkay,” I heard her voice trailing behind me.

 

I retrieved the grapefruit juice, signed a bunch of forms, and then sat down, waiting to be seen. The other guy had already disappeared into the back, so I was alone in the room. Knowing that I would be seen soon should have been a relief to me (because who likes waiting around in creepily sterile rooms that smell like Clorox and hand sanitizer?), but I was absolutely terrified at the idea of ever going back there.. to that unpleasant room containing enormous needles and razor-sharp scalpels, and where doctors poked and prodded you until, as a parting, final blow, they delivered devastating, life-altering news. Less than a minute passed before I heard the back door open and saw a young woman stepping out into the lobby.

 

“Jace Yarbrough?”

 

“That’s me!” I stood up quickly, grabbing my phone, wallet, and grapefruit juice from off of the floor and following her into the back.

 

“How are you?” I asked nervously.

 

“Step onto the scale,” she answered.

 

“Allllllllrighty,” I whispered to myself.

 

I obeyed, resisting the urge to remove my skate shoes first. The number registered and I grimaced at it as I stepped off of the scale and answered her question of how tall I was: “5 foot 4.”

 

We sat down together in a tiny side room where she took my pulse, temperature, and blood pressure (I asked if it was good or not, and she said that it was very good).

 

“So why are you here today,” she queried/recited in a flat voice, the tip of her pen resting, at the ready, on the edge of her clipboard.

 

“Well, I’m afraid that I might have Lyme Disease,” I explained soberly. “I have this interesting rash on my rib cage and, after doing some online research, it’s looking pretty bad.”

 

She shook her head and I saw her smile for the first time. “You can’t believe everything you read on the internet, honey. It usually says you’re half-dead.”

 

I laughed. “True..” I was already considering making living arrangements for my dog, Bruster, I admitted to myself only.

 

She escorted me into a back room and closed the door, mumbling that the doctor would be in shortly.

 

I avoided the patient’s chair and sat down onto what you’d refer to as the “guest’s chair” instead, imagining myself as existing in the room solely as a supportive companion to the poor victim of Lyme Disease. “Don’t worry,” I consoled the patient. “If they do take your blood, it’ll happen really quickly and you won’t pass out, because you have this.” I shook the grapefruit juice in demonstration. My feet tapped on their own. My breaths were coming up short. I felt like I was going to pass out or flee or pass out in the process of fleeing.

 

I heard sounds coming from the hallway, on the other side of the door, and – as I acclimated to the room – I was able to make the words out more clearly.

 

“Yeah, good morning.. I just wanted to check on my balance,” a voice said.

 

I tuned into this particular voice for a while. It sounded like they were on the phone with a merchant or a bill pay company of sorts. The conversation carried on for a few minutes and then the voice — which suddenly seemed to register something — said “Oh! Hang on just a minute.”

 

Instantly, the door opened, and the “doctor” walked in.

 

“Well hello, how are you today?” she greeted me. I recognized the voice; it sounded just like the one I’d heard speaking into a phone seconds prior.

 

“Oh, I’m good!” I replied, smiling with amusement. “I’m just here because I believe that I have Lyme Disease.”

 

It’s becoming easier to talk about, I noticed. The more people I share the news with, the less terrible and awful my fate sounds.

 

She furrowed her eyebrows in response to what I’d said and advanced a little closer towards me. I stood up, understanding that she wanted to see what the hell I was talking about. I raised my Fender t-shirt up half-way (exposing my mid-riff and the affected rib) and she crouched down to look at it.

 

Then she stood up quickly and smiled smugly.

“What is the ONE thing that has to happen in order for you to have Lyme Disease?” she quizzed me.

 

I was taken back for a second. This felt like a surprise, closed-book test in middle school. “Hmm.. you have to be bitten by a tick?” I guessed.
“Yes.” She nodded her head up and down, teacher-like. “And have you been bitten by a tick?”

 

“I.. don’t clearly recall being bitten by one, but it’s certainly poss–”

 

“No ma’am,” she shook her head expressively, raising her voice. “If you’d been bitten by a tick, you’d know it. I can easily diagnose this,” she stated confidently, gesturing towards my still-exposed rib. “It’s a superficial fungus infection: tinea versicolor,” she enunciated proudly.

 

“Oh..” I paused. “Okay — well cool; that’s awesome! I mean, the FUNGUS is not awesome, but you know.. what a relief. Is it dangerous? This.. fungal infection?”

 

“No ma’am,” she closed her eyes and shook her head from left to right, continuing to smile and taking a few steps backwards (towards the door). “Not at all. I’m going to give you a prescription that should make it go away quickly.”

 

“Okay.. sounds great!” We’d been in the room for about 90 seconds. It didn’t feel right for the consultation to be ending so abruptly. “So, no blood work, no tests.. just..”

 

“Yep! No blood work, no tests. You can leave now,” she confirmed happily.

 

I walked out of the patient’s room, heading back towards the lobby and feeling a little confused. I didn’t like feeling so unsettled, and I didn’t want to leave the office without feeling good about her diagnosis, so I turned back around and located her at a computer kiosk that was just outside of where my room had been.

 

“I have a quick question,” I started. “Now — let’s say I HAD been bitten by a tick,” I shrugged my shoulders. “If I had, would this rash flare up in the same area that I’d been bitten in, or –”

 

“No ma’am,” she shook her head, not answering my question so much as indicating that she wasn’t even going to entertain my question, “you did NOT get bitten by a tick because you would remember it. You would remember PEELING the tick FROM your body. And you don’t. Therefore, this is NOT Lyme Disease.”

 

I felt panicky. But what if I HAD been bitten? I felt sure that it would be a pretty memorable event, but.. possibly, it wouldn’t be. My OCD – fostering and feeding an insane fear; irrationally questioning obvious reality – was flaring up, and I had – unfortunately – been paired with a very impatient and intolerant doctor. Bad mix. “Okay.. I understand that.. but just for the heck of it, let’s say that I HAD been..”

 

“No ma’am. This is a fungus infection.”

 

Her colleagues giggled at the exchange.

 

“Okay. Cool. Thank you for your time; have a great weekend!”

I left so peaceably that she probably had no idea that I was offended.

 

And this is why I don’t like going to the doctor’s office. In addition to abhorring medicine, I’d just rather die in my own home than go somewhere where I’m TERRIFIED to be ANYWAYS, and to then be treated with impatience and indifference on TOP of that. Not all doctors are like her, of course (to be fair).. but I’ve personally encountered many who are.

 

I proceeded to visit the in-house pharmacist who greeted me with a gentle smile and requested my name.

“So did the doctor test you for a yeast infection also?” she asked casually, clicking away on the computer.

 

“No,” I responded, still puzzled over it all. “She just looked at it and knew what it was.”

 

“Huh! Okaaaaay,” she drew the word out slowly, sounding surprised. Yeah, I know, I thought to myself. I watched as she retrieved two bottles of medicine from a shelf and I bristled at the sight of it.

 

“Are those antibiotics?” I asked nicely, feigning interest.

 

“Oh, no ma’am.. they’re just anti-fungal treatments,” she answered.

 

“Okay,” I nodded, “honestly, I really don’t like taking medicine — if this isn’t a super critical matter, is there some kind of cream I could use instead?”

 

We talked it over and she agreed with my idea to hold off on the medicine, suggesting that I obtain something called Clotrimazole.

 

“Any grocery store will carry it,” she offered, smiling sweetly.

 

“Thank you — I really appreciate your help!”

“No problem! We’ll hold the prescription here for you, just in case. It’s good for a year.”

 

 

Pt 2: So off I went to Walmart. Ugh. 

Once inside, I located the pharmacy, asked an employee where something called Clot-tri-maze-ole might be found, and they directed me two aisles down and one aisle over with a few quick points of their finger.

 

I followed their directions andddddd I found it.

 

“Athlete’s foot? What the hell?!” Apparently, clotrimazole was advertised, on the shelf, as being a good treatment for — in addition to my special little rash — athlete’s foot. “That’s so gross,” I sighed, feeling disappointed but grabbing a tube of ointment anyways.

 

So I bought the cream, and I’ll be applying it to the skin that’s directly above the right-side of my rib cage twice daily for the next (2) weeks with the express purpose of making the rash go away. If it doesn’t, I really don’t care, because A. it isn’t bothering me at all and B. it actually looks kind of cool. Maybe it will go from being a temporary rash to a permanent scar; that’d be great. I do not care. I’m just relieved to report — from the official weekend headquarters here at Saturn — that I am not dying. I’m, very much, still here, and the fact that I cared enough about staying alive to go to the doctor for what I believed would be a certain diagnosis (and probable treatment) impresses even me. 

 

See, Jace? You must like being here. 

Yeah. I guess I do.

 

Aun Aqui

FYI: While conventional treatment methods aren’t in line with my holistic ways, I’ll plainly acknowledge that there are times when it’s necessary to go the “conventional medicine route.” Sometimes, that’s the only viable solution.

 

Now.. I grew up in a family where you’d pop an excedrin in the morning, with breakfast, if you felt – prophetically – like you might be getting a headache LATER ON in the day, and that’s obviously an incredibly unhealthy way to live. But I’ve also seen the extremist standing at the other end of the spectrum; it was when a parent of one of my home-schooled friends refused to take their son to the ER when his temperature was at 105 and rising. They insisted on treating the child at home with hydrotherapy instead of allowing medical professionals to get involved, and he could have suffered insanely severe brain damage because of their gross neglect. So — to cap this thing off: Use your best judgment. Let your immune system fend for itself when you can stand to do so — it’ll strengthen itself that way — but don’t hesitate to solicit and accept conventional help when necessary.

 

But a rash? Come on, you guys. That’s obviously not a life or death matter.

A Constant State of Suspension: My Changing POV

I didn’t plan on writing anything this evening.

 

I got in from Birmingham this morning, had a busy afternoon, and then walked up to the doors of the hotel this evening bearing a backpack on my shoulders, a black duffle bag in my left hand, and two light paper bags from Whole Foods on my right arm.

 

I checked in at the front counter, located my room, changed out into my pj’s and then settled down on the couch with a big bowl of salad and a generous glass of orange juice. It was then, in this glorious state of rest, that I noticed a post in my news feed that immediately garnered my attention.

 

Screenshot_2016-05-09-19-08-10

 

ARC Stories is something I only stumbled on recently; a community forum that lends a podium to locals who want to walk up to the mic and share their personal, non-fiction stories. Anything ranging from matters of the heart to the inner-workings of a career and, as you can see above, some stories even touch on deeper philosophical matters, such as subtle or very intense shifts in your point of view.

 

Upon seeing the topic, my heart began racing. I had drafted a story and submitted it for the last ARC Stories event; I didn’t hear back, but the wheels in my mind were already turning, churning up another good, real-life story for this event.

 

“I’ll AT LEAST buy a ticket and attend as a listener,” I resolved, loading the website in a separate browser and preparing to whip out my credit card. But when the website loaded and my eyes registered the date of the event – May 28th – I experienced a strange.. hesitation.

“Isn’t there something important about this date?” I questioned, quizzing my brain. “It seems.. familiar. It feels like it’s reserved. OH YEAH. It is. The beach. DUH!”

 

My best friend and I had both requested off of work for a 4-day time span so that we could travel down to Orange Beach together, and I had actually just purchased a pair of boys’ board shorts at Target this past weekend in anticipation OF the trip.

We already have a grocery store raid scheduled for the evening before we depart (so we can load up on things like cookies, chips, and beverages) and we also have a masterfully designed plan in place to visit a bunch of carefully chosen local eateries: Cosmos, Bravos Tacos, and The Southern Grind Coffee House.

 

“Damn ittttttttttttttttttttuhhhhhhhh,” I breathed out loud. “Why are both of these awesome events scheduled for the 28th?” I frowned, feeling thoroughly bummed.. sitting there indecisively with the screen of my phone still brightly lit up in my left hand. “Do I really need to go to the beach?” I queried softly. No one in the room answered. I rolled my eyes. “OF COURSE I DO,” I grumbled.

“So I won’t be able to attend the event and hear people tell stories. Big deal,” I brushed the disappointment off quickly, relocating my bowl of salad to the big hotel bed and stopping by the refrigerator to top off my orange juice.

Remember; there’s chocolate in the fridge.

I know there’s chocolate in the fridge.

 

I broke off 1/4th of a dark chocolate and coconut bar, cut it into tiny pieces, and then bundled them all up in a paper towel. I hopped into bed with it, pulled the covers up over my legs, and here I am right now, wearing some really cool boxers, an outer space t-shirt, and sipping on orange juice, writing these thoughts out as clearly and cohesively as possible for you.

 

I obviously won’t be able to tell this story at the podium (they wouldn’t have chosen me as a speaker anyways), but this is still a story I’d like to write and tell.

 

My Changing POV

From Persecutor to Prisoner to Pal

 

I was raised in the church. The Seventh-day Adventist church.

I’m not going to defame it on the internet today. Like all churches, its members are well-meaning; devout in their studies, fervent in their prayers, and sincere in their efforts to better their own lives and the lives of those around them. And they’re also 100,000% convinced – again, like all other churches – that THEY have actually found THE truth. The single truth. Wow. Crazy. How lucky. What are the chances.

doge

Anyways. They’re all well-meaning.

But the religion of my childhood was torture.

From sunset Friday evening until sunset Saturday evening, the whole world went away. There could be no talk of “secular things” — money, school, sports or television shows (I was only allowed to watch an hour of television per week anyways, so that one wasn’t too difficult). I couldn’t go outside and skateboard. I couldn’t work ahead on my homeschooling. I couldn’t clean the house (which was particularly distressing during the peak of my OCD’s reign), play monopoly online at games.com, or read any of my library books. I could, in short, do nothing that would make my mind stray away from God, as the Sabbath was his special time to command every ounce of my attention.

Here’s what I could do:

  • Think about Jesus
  • Talk about Jesus
  • Write and sing songs about Jesus
  • Watch Bible movies
  • Read Bible stories
  • Discuss the Bible
  • Watch Animal Planet (dutifully muting the secular commercials that played at least 4 times each hour)
  • Walk around the block (for the purpose of observing nature and appreciating God’s handiwork.. not vigorous exercising, because peaceful Sabbath afternoons aren’t intended for heavy physical exertion)
  • Eat food

 

It. Sucked.

 

“Mommmmmm,” I called out one Saturday evening, sitting cross-legged in the living room. I had parked my body in front of the dormant television and was dying to turn it on so that I could bid the whimsical world hello again. “It’s sunset nowwwww,” I announced. I knew that it wasn’t.
“No it isn’t, Rose,” Sierra responded reprovingly from her bedroom. I didn’t even have to poke my head in; I could easily picture the scene very clearly in my mind. She would be wearing a head covering, sitting in dad’s recliner, and reading the Bible with her knees tucked underneath her small frame. “Sunset is at 7:48 tonight. It’s only 7:40.”

 

“UGHHHHHHHHHHHH!” I threw my body backwards so that I was lying on the floor, staring up at the ceiling and cursing my fate.

“Why couldn’t I have been born into a WORLDLY family?” I asked myself miserably. “Then I could go to movie theaters and wear pants and listen to whatever kind of music I wanted.”

 

Ah, yes; at this time, movie theaters were forbidden, I had to wear long skirts and long-sleeved shirts, and I could only listen to *light* contemporary christian and gospel music. Vomit, vomit, and vomit.

 

At age 14, I was contingently allowed to return to public school.

“But remember,” my mother warned me soberly, “if I see your attitude changing because of your classmates — and I mean changing at all — I will pull you out of there immediately and we’ll go back to homeschooling.”

“Oh, DON’T worry,” I responded quickly, my eyebrows shooting up on their own, “that will NOT happen.” Like I’d intentionally ruin the rest of my own life, I thought to myself.

 

I was a good kid. I brought my Bible and “Spirit of Prophecy” writings (aka books written by purported prophets of the 1800 and 1900s) on the school bus with me and traded meaningful social interactions with peers in for studious investigations of old religious works. Highlighter in hand, I marked, circled and underlined my favorite words, phrases, and what I felt were the most profound passages on every page. My mother or grandmother would pick up the book behind me, days, weeks or months later, and smile with approval — proud of this tangible evidence of their fervent daughter and granddaughter’s faith.

 

I’ll never forget an exchange I had with a boy in middle school during this passionate phase of being “on fire for Jesus.” He was one of the only “out” gay kids in our school at the time.

He turned around in his seat during first period, took in the scene of me pouring my head over the Bible, and offered: “You know, my cousin went to college, and he said that there’s nothing wrong with being gay.”

 

I jumped on the opportunity. I had secretly been waiting for it. “See?” I reveled in the virtue of patience. “You’ve waited for the right time to say something, and now this is the Lord, giving you a chance to witness.”

“Well actually, Jerry,” I began quietly, “if you really study the Bible, then you’ll see that — right here in Leviticus 3:17 — well, I’ll just let you read it.”

 

I flipped the book open to the right chapter and verse, rotated the Bible so that it was facing him, and then watched his face change as he read the words I’d indicated. Once he’d finished, I remember him looking up at me, straight into my eyes, and then turning his body so that he resumed facing forward. We never, ever spoke again.

 

He was only one of many people — specifically, gay people — that I wanted to apologize to, years later. I was able to reach out and make amends with many gay friends.. but this boy I could never find. I can remember his first name only; I’m unable to recall his last. I searched for mutual friends on Facebook – again – just this evening, but his picture isn’t there. It isn’t anywhere. I hate that someone that I wronged so deeply is completely out of my reach.

 

When I realized slash admitted to myself that I was gay last year, I posted about it on the internet via a public blog post. My gay friends — the same ones that I had persecuted for years — came running out of cyber space to stand beside me. They shook my hand and hugged me. It made me cry. The fact that they could be so forgiving and supportive in spite of my (well-meaning but still reprehensible) intolerance towards them astounded me. I didn’t expect to have their happy smiles and their well wishes.. not in the slightest. But they gave them, freely, anyways. Oddly enough, I didn’t receive this kind of support from my old pack of christian companions. In place of support, I received written messages from this group that I would be the recipient of their prayers, whether I wanted to be or not. I was bluntly told that I was a failed role model.. a poor example.. and I got to watch the sad, never-ending collection of Bible verses and traditional marriage memes posting themselves onto my cyber wall every single fucking day for months. But guess what? Like Jerry, I made it. Past all of their bigotry and bullshit. And now I’m at the other end of the rainbow, struggling to not make the exact same mistake that I made earlier on in my life; of being intolerant towards those who disagree with me.

 

 

rainbow sketch

Like christians. It’s very easy for me to dislike christians. It’s so easy to draw a line in the ground and then say “You’re over there, and I’m right here; the perspective from where I’m at is perfect, so your perspective — from over there, on the other side — couldn’t possibly be.” But that is not necessarily true. Truth is relative, and truth can and will stand on its own.. always; regardless of who purports or denies it. There’s a certain freedom in that, isn’t there? I couldn’t change the truth. Neither could you. We would claim to find or discover it, but our belief in or perception of what truth is also does nothing to alter what “the truth” actually looks like and consists of. I love it. Who fucking knows.

 

And I can’t reasonably judge a population, a group, or a sect of people based off of the poor behaviors and examples of the christians that I’ve met in my lifetime. Because guess what? Just as there have been poor examples, there have been many wonderful examples also.

 

Off the top of my head, I can think of (3) truly exemplary christians that I’ve known.

 

One of them, I work with on an almost daily basis, and she’s gotten me through one of the hardest time periods of my life with no harsh words, and no judgment. Honestly. She’s never made me feel like less than a person — not even once. Her love for and belief in me – in my worth and potential as a person – has kept me sane and kept me here when I was too short-sighted and depressed to want to stay here. 

Another admired person is my grandfather. I don’t talk about him often because we don’t talk much, and he’s a really quiet guy. He’s gone to church less often than he’s stayed home, and I have more vivid memories of him watching the Sci-Fi channel on the weekends than I do of him reading his Bible. But he’s always been kind, selfless, quiet, compassionate, and giving. His spirit is gentle and supportive. His faith is like a campfire. It’s present,and it’s warm, but it isn’t stifling, overwhelming, or scalding hot to those around him.

And the third person is my brother, Bobby. He was special — a cancer survivor; a persevering epileptic — one of the most simple, straight-forward, transparent and candid human beings I’ve ever known. I don’t even know what his perception of God was, really, but he would fold his hands and murmur prayers out loud; he’d offer to buy me stupid, over-priced Muscle Milk drinks at the gas station when I’d drive him up the road to the 7-Eleven so that he could fill up his Big Gulp cup to overflowing and I could clean up the mess behind him; and whenever anyone talked down to me or began commenting on how I was going to end up “going down the wrong path someday if I didn’t get right with the Lord now,” he would yell at them and say “Don’t you talk about my sister babe like that.”

Maybe those things don’t make him a religious character, but he was more spiritual than he was religious. I think that’s what made him so magical, so flawless, and so very, very beautiful. I could feel his goodness. And if anyone is deserving of an “afterlife in paradise,” it’s that soul. That gorgeous, afflicted, warrior of a soul. I’d gladly give up my own seat in that fabled glory land so that my brother could finally sit down, rest, and enjoy the view.

 

So — in an attempt to attach some cohesiveness to all of this: my point of view has changed pretty drastically over the years and is, even right now, changing. I’m done pouring concrete into the recesses of my mind; awkwardly hammering thoughts into place, and putting glass memories on display atop cold, metal shelves. I’m keeping things fluid; soft and slippery and in a constant state of suspension. I’ll entertain this idea for a bit right now, and then we’ll see what comes of it later.

 

Three things I know for certain:

I love all people. Straight and gay and everything in-between.

I will accept all people. Religious and spiritual and everything in-between.

I will respect all people.. whether they are kind, mature, and democratic or shitty, shameful bigots.

 

I’m obviously working on the last two.

Aun Aqui

 

I do.. NOT

This week, I traveled around the state for work. I headed an hour and a half south of home on Monday, and then about two hours north of home on Wednesday. I returned home for the weekend yesterday evening and, on this beautiful and sunny Saturday afternoon, I’m once again sitting in one of my favorite spots downtown: on a black, faux leather couch in the cheerful orange corner of the room at Saturn.

When I first checked into the hotel in Madison, Alabama on Wednesday evening, I thought to myself: “Now HERE’S a good opportunity to get out and about; to explore the city, meet new people, and possibly find a local skatepark, cafe, or burrito joint..” I spent about a minute contemplating the idea of leaving the hotel room and imagining how the evening COULD go. I removed my work clothes while doing so, turned on the shower, and finally decided: “I’ll just lay down for a couple of minutes first. Then I’ll go have fun.” I laid down for a couple of minutes, fell asleep at about 8:15, and didn’t wake up again until 6:30. It was a solid 10+ hours of sleep, and I really needed it. Why? I’ve been running on empty.. and not because of work — work is pleasure for me. And not because of excessive skateboarding, either.. I haven’t even taken my board for a spin in WEEKS. So why am I – mentally and emotionally – so tired all of the time, running off the ghostly fumes of dwindling reserves and foregoing adventure for a prolong stated of comatose?

The honest answer is that I’ve been exhausting myself and another human being by continuously debating whether or not I wanted to stay in our relationship. There was so much back and forth about it — 7 yes’s followed by 8 no’s — that it was, as you could easily imagine, maddening for both people involved. We both craved stability. And there was obviously only one way of getting it. We’ve unanimously decided to exchange our on-and-off, nerve-wracking, and unstable romantic relationship for a warm and supportive friendship.

I still love the person unconditionally but feel entirely unready and unwilling to commit to them (or anyone). The mere idea of dating is exhausting. In addition to shunning all forms of commitment right now, I just don’t love the idea of feeling like I have to “report” to someone outside of work. I don’t want to be so “tied up” with someone that I’m held accountable for my actions, questioned about my decisions, or seen as failing to meet the expectations of being a constant companion (IE staying gone all day, skating and writing and gallivanting about, when that person wants to spend their time with you, and you should want to spend your time with them, too). I’m in need of decades of “alone time” right now and that 100% disqualifies me from being an eligible candidate for a healthy, romantic relationship. It’s that simple. And we’ve both acknowledged that.

I also realized, recently, that I couldn’t really love someone and feel good about “choosing” them and “settling down” when I still don’t know who I am or who I want to be with in that way. At the same time that this realization dawned on me, I also discovered that I hadn’t yet identified what exactly I was looking for in a significant other.. as strange as it sounds, I never really had. I’ve never experienced issues with commitment until recently, and now that I have, I can see that it’s a widespread phenomena in my life. Where everything and everyone once received a “yes” and a “sure” an easy “I do”.. well. That’s just not happening anymore. It all has to do with commitment, you guys, and I’m not big on the idea of it these days.

 

commitment

 

A few definitions for commitment:

  1. The state or quality of being dedicated to a cause, activity, etc.
  2. An engagement or obligation that restricts freedom of action.

Some synonyms for the word commitment:

responsibility; obligation; duty; allegiance; devotion.

 

 

Commitment starts at the grocery store.

You’re slowly shuffling down the aisles at Whole Foods.. wrapping your fingers around the cart’s metal “pushing” bar and watching as the ceaseless parade of canned, boxed, jarred and frozen goods dance right on past you. Your list – which you entered the store with – looks like something along the lines of

  • water,
  • orange juice,
  • bananas,
  • salad ingredients,
  • granola bars, and
  • 5 boxes of tomato soup,

but then you start noticing things. Like the fact that your favorite brand of malt vinegar-flavored, cooked-in-avocado-oil potato chips are on sale, 2 for $6. “Oh YES, definitely!” you think to yourself, effortlessly plopping two airy bags into the cart. You mosey on to the next aisle and see that they have your bunny-shaped and rainbow-colored organic cheddar cheese crackers priced 50 cents lower than usual, and you obviously can’t pass that up, so into the cart they go. One box, two.. maybe even three, if it seems like a fantastic idea at the time. And then arrives the infamously grand cherry on top: Mr. Butterpants — the organic, fair trade, all-natural, 150% raw + WHATEVER chocolate and peanut butter-flavored craft ice cream calls your name from behind the see-through door of its frosty prison and you quickly and valiantly reach your hand in and save it. While doing so, you reason, to yourself, that “considering how amazing it tastes and how health-and-world-conscious it is, it’s pretty reasonably priced,” so into the cart it goes. Bam, bam, and BAM. Your simple, modest, and quiet list has very quickly become rattled by this random assortment of “impulse buys” — cookies, crackers, desserts, and other ancillary items that you really don’t need but couldn’t resist. Your total easily doubles at checkout and now you’re suddenly wondering– “Wow! Did I really buy that much?”

The point of all of this: Spend your money wisely. If 5 “unplanned for” items beg to make it into your cart and leave the store with you, ask yourself: “Which 2 or 3 do I REALLY want to leave with? Which ones will I be seriously bummed to NOT have when I get home?” Let nutritional content and pricing – not dominate – but help you in your decision-making. Orrrrrr not. That’s entirely up to you.

 

Commitment continues with paint colors

When I first bought my house, I knew exactly why I was doing so. I understood and could explain what made it a good decision.

A. The place was a wreck and priced to sell, making it a great investment opportunity. The upstairs AND downstairs flooring needed replacing, the water heater was nearing 20 years old, there was a gaping hole in the ceiling in the hallway, and only half of the electrical outlets in the entire house were functional. That’s just a quick overview of its most prominent problems. It was a fun challenge for me. Chris and I were both, as a team, committed to the work of fixing the place up and improving its overall look, feel, and functionality.

B. Location: It was within 10 minutes of my work, Chris’s work, AND our community college. You can’t beat that.

C. It had a backyard for the German Shepherd, lots of big windows, and it was so totally full of character.

When Chris and I decided to split late last year, I knew that I’d soon be living elsewhere, so I created a bullet point list of what I expected to have in my next home. Call these specs and features “must haves”, if you’d like, but the list looked just like this:

  • 1200 square feet or less (the bigger a house it is, the more cleaning you have to do, the more maintenance you have to deal with, and the more it costs to cool and heat the place).
  • Within 17 driving minutes of work. Very specific. I know.
  • A decently-sized backyard for my ridiculously hyper dog.
  • Lots of windows.. windows make a home cheerful, and, as I don’t like to use harsh chemicals, the sunlight is an excellent, natural germ-killer.
  • A sliding glass door in the shower area of the bathroom (this is usually only found in older homes, and I love it; it’s cute, and because I hate having a fabric curtain – aka shower curtain – hanging in the bathroom, it’s a perfect substitute and fix).
  • A window (specifically located) above the kitchen sink. You spend a good bit of time cleaning dishes.. might as well have a nice view while you’re doing it.

 

As it turns out, I’m NOT moving (you’ll see a ribbon-cutting-ceremony blog post about the whole thing in a few months here), and I’ve happily begun the process of selecting colors and painting the home (its inside and outside), customizing it perfectly to my liking, but just entertaining the idea of moving helped me realize that it’s important to know what you want in a home. Entering the home-shopping-arena blindfolded, with no ideas or expectations, has a certain allure and excitement to it (everything’s a surprise!), but I think that it’s far wiser and more important to consider and then prioritize what you do and don’t want in a home, as well as how much or how little work you want to invest in the place (aka do you require something move-in ready or would you be okay with a real fixer upper?).

 

20160424_152214
Indisputable proof that me (pictured), my roommate (who took the picture) and the German Shepherd (also pictured) all spent an afternoon painting the front door (AND mailbox) Tardis Blue.

 

So, to quickly recap what we’ve covered thus far: It’s important to know what you want in a home. And in your shopping cart. And in your significant other.

 

It (your comfortability with commitment) really matters when you’re entering into (or backing out of) relationships and social engagements.

Weekends are precious to me. I’m sure they are to you, too, whether they fall on a Saturday and Sunday or 1-2 other days. I stay booked all throughout the week, so – on the weekends – I have a sort of routine that I follow, and it’s as firmly etched into my schedule as my full-time job is. I literally schedule fun on the weekends. On Saturday, that “fun” equates to me ordering a mocha, spending a few hours writing in a cafe, skateboarding at the park, and then window-shopping in antique and thrift shops downtown. It’s what I do. Friends will ask to meet with me for lunch or dinner.. to collaborate on art projects or attend movie showings or grab drinks.. and where I was once afraid to say no (“If I say no, they won’t like me/be my friend anymore!”), now, when it’s necessary, I don’t hesitate to say no. I want to iterate that it’s very important to make time for people and to spend time with people.. especially people you like; to rekindle and reinforce those friendships. But it’s just as important to carve out and take the time that you need to relax and rejuvenate and clear your mind. It’s a fine balancing act. If you aren’t comfortable with the idea of it yet, practice saying no to someone in the upcoming weeks or months. I view it as a learned skill, and in the realm of skills, it’s a crucial one.

 

As far as romantic relationships are concerned, I now have a (short) list of what I’m looking for in my next relationship. I’m not kidding. I know what I want at the grocery store, in a home, and what I want to hear on Spotify, and I also know what I want in a partner. I’ve decided that, unless a person is exceptional and phenomenal and meets all of my criteria, they’re not worth me giving up my absolute freedom and relinquishing my independence. I might sound like a real jackass, but I’m being very serious. To flip the table, unless I meet all of their criteria, I’m also not worth them settling. Because that’s exactly what it would be: settling. And why settle? Why be in a relationship with someone if, intuitively, something about it feels off? Why stay in the relationship if they aren’t challenging you and making you a better person, or if you just don’t like who you are when you’re with them? It could be that you’re staying out of fear — the fear of being alone and unloved forever. If you think that that’s the case, then get a dog and love yourself. There you go; both problems solved. Side note: A dog is going to be a way cheaper date than a boo.

 

And then the weightiness of commitment really begins to make sense when you start dreaming about it.

During my ten hours of sleep last Wednesday night, my subconscious set to work “sifting” through deep mind matters; demystifying strange emotions, following the trail  backwards from effect to cause, and seeing past my actions and behaviors to their underlying motivations. Upon finishing its research, it shared its knowledge with me in the form of a dream. Here’s what I dreamt.

 

It was mid-day. I was standing, alone, in a room at work; one of the training rooms. The air was silent and still; perfectly neutral in temperature and laced with tension. Anticipation fluttered near the bottom of my stomach. It felt like something, or someone, was coming. As if on cue, an enemy appeared in the room with me: a stern-looking woman who I’d peg as being in her late forties. Deeply ominous and foreboding in her bearing, she was the very picture of a grim reaper. 

Frightened, I rushed to the phone in the room and tried to dial her extension; my finger slipped and hit the wrong button. Panicking, I released the receiver and quickly dialed the number again.. 1, 2, 3, 4 numbers. The woman was directly in front of me now; we were both standing in the middle of the room with less than 2 feet of space between us. Cara’s voice came onto the line.. rising out of the receiver, lifting into the air, reaching every single corner of the room and filling my ears with sound. I listened to her, hanging onto the tone and texture of her voice like a lifeline, and I did so while maintaining careful eye contact with this dangerous woman.

“Did you accept it when she said that you were hers?” Cara’s voice posed the question softly and soberly and then paused, waiting for a reply.

She was talking about before today. I knew this. She was asking about something that had happened way earlier on in my life.. dating back to a time that was so long ago that my mind couldn’t even see that far back. But I knew the answer.

I paused before responding. “I think that I did..” I whispered slowly. “On accident.” I already knew that it was over.

Hearing this, the woman surged forward and opened her mouth. Instinctively, I inclined my body towards her and blew a strong guest of wind into her open mouth, believing this would make her leave. But it didn’t. She responded by leaning her body forward, pressing her lips against mine, and then sucking what felt like the breath, blood, bones and life energy from my being and taking all of them – all of it – into hers. The room fell dark like nighttime. I was cold.

 

I woke up, heart racing. The meaning of the dream was instantly clear to me.

“You’re overextending yourself again,” my internal therapist stated in a monotone voice. “You can’t belong to anyone right now. It’s literally killing you. Protect and look after yourself now, Jace. Before it’s too late.”

 

I wrote a song last week about depression and saying “bye” to a relationship. It’s appropriately titled Buy Bye. Watch a live, acoustic performance of the song by yours truly by clicking below.

 

 

 

A few words of unsolicited advice for my friends: Use your time discriminatingly. Allocate your funds wisely. Bond yourself with others cautiously, and paint your world with the most beautiful colors.

And here’s some really solid advice from the interwebs:

13118923_1348894201791018_4045313626666081178_n

 

On a lighter note..

On evening number one in the hotel, I realized, while unpacking my suitcase, that I’d forgotten to pack toothpaste. Of course, I mused to myself. I remembered to bring my pointless dinosaur ring (pictured below) but forgot the stupid toothpaste. I still attempted to brush my teeth that night, using only water and the friction of the brush itself, and it was a very disappointing experience.

 

20160507_114331

 

So I left a note on the bathroom counter the following morning that read: “Hey, forgot my toothpaste at home; is there a charge for a small, travel-sized tube?” If there was, I wanted to make sure that it was charged to me, personally, and not the company I work for.

When I returned home that evening, dropping my backpack onto the floor and beginning to unbutton my suit jacket, I saw a reply pinned down onto the counter top by a bulging tube of Colgate:

“Have a wonderful stay.” -HSKP

 

2016-05-07 11.47.45

 

Should you commit to doing so, readers.. have a wonderful stay. 

-AA
(Aun Aqui)