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.
“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.
“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 ship — and he isn’t. How unfair! How ironic! Life. It’s so funny.”
“It’s a strange, beautiful life,” he agreed.
I’m still here, but where the fuck are you?