Unique and The Same: “…Jesus? Is that you?”

I never listen to audio books, but today I was, and this trusted and beloved storybook character was relaying to me what had been, for them, a very profound experience. A true revelation.

“And then this mysterious Jesus character revealed himself to me,” his voice concluded in a whisper that sounded like it was carrying a secret, “and I was able to see him because I was expecting to see him.”

“Huh. Wouldn’t that be nice,” I murmured to myself, closing my eyes when the familiar voice drew silent. I knew that the chapter had ended, but it didn’t feel like the whole book had.

I would have remained like this – eyes closed, leaning back, contemplating things – but I was moved to open my eyes. I did so and, intuitively looking up, realized that stars were falling from the sky. It was daytime. Two things about this event were strange:

  1. Stars were plainly visible in the sunlight
  2. Said stars – which usually remain in fixed places – were falling

Startled, I jumped out of my chair and ran inside the house. Chris was at home, and so was his girlfriend. Were they visiting this home, or was I? I couldn’t tell because I couldn’t remember whose home it was.

“Have a muffin and some coffee; relax,” his girlfriend instructed me immediately when she saw me. Does she know what’s happening outside? Or is she just commenting on my constant state of being in “GO” mode?

Chris followed me upstairs. As I climbed the top step, I looked over and noticed that he had removed my writing desk from my bedroom and placed it back into the sunny nook (the desk had been, in recent months, left unused, and the nook was entirely unoccupied).

Watching dust swirl on laminate hardwood, I told him about what had happened when I was outside; in the story, and to the sky. Always the type to not discredit supernatural happenings, his eyes lit up. “Really??? Man.. want me to tell you about mine?” he asked. I understood this to mean that he had also had a “spiritual” encounter.

I wanted to hear all about it, but time elapsed without me feeling it or watching it happen. The next thing I knew, I was walking back down the stairs, glancing out the window as I did so and discovering – in magical horror – that the sky was cracking and rearranging itself. What appeared to be a flock of birds had formed itself into the trembling shape of a man. I honed in on its face; completely nondescript. Its head turned to the left (what an interesting silhouette!) and I followed the general direction of its gaze. Right there in the clouds, a fuzzy, digital image of a young man (with strikingly beautiful eyes and who was visibly fashioned for war) was beaming down from the sky. It was like a projector was stationed here on earth and the white screen was the sky.

“Is that JESUS?” I breathed.

Jesus

Wake up.

That dream happened last night, and I’ve been mulling on it all morning. This isn’t the only interesting dream I’ve had recently; last week, I dreamt about a disruptive, trouble-making deer.

It started out in a familiar setting: my living room. You should know that the room has vaulted ceilings that reach about 20 feet in height. I was sitting on the floor in this living room, tilting my head backwards and gazing up at the windows that spanned across the top of the room, when I noticed that, in front of one particular window, a deer was looking in at me. I knew, in my dream, that the earth sort of grows upwards and circles around my home and that the deer was obviously standing on the ground (it wasn’t magically suspended in the air), so while this wasn’t impossible, it was still very unusual and a little shocking, seeing it there.

The deer began pushing itself – its full body weight – against the window. The window didn’t break, but it bowed out, and suddenly, the deer was inside of the house.

That deer needs to get the fuck OUT of here, I decided instantly, pushing myself off of the floor. I love animals (#vegetarian #armtheanimals #allthatjazz), but deer are A. dirty and B. are notorious for carrying Lyme Disease, and I have a fat and clueless German Shepherd to look after and worry about.

As I began running — past doorways, through corridors — I noticed that the house had transformed itself into an intricately-mazed palace. “Fantastic,” I breathed, entering room after room and keeping my eyes open for the misplaced deer. As I flew about, searching the palace, I warned every single person who I came into contact with:

“There’s a deer in here. Don’t let it touch you. We need to get it back outside.”

For some reason, I decided to call my dad. After I finished dialing his number, I blinked, and I was magically inside of a Publix, staring down at a display of blueberry-, apple bran-, and banana nut-flavored muffins. My father had worked as a Publix bakery manager for 20+ years, so this kind of made sense.

“Dad,” I began as soon as his voice appeared on the other end of the line, “there is a deer in the house.”

“I’m busy right now, Rose,” he replied quickly but kindly, sounding unbelievably unbothered by the fact that a wild animal was randomly causing a ruckus in the home, “but my shift will be over in a few hours.” Click.

So I called my mom. Relayed the same breaking news.

“It sounds like you’re worrying about something that doesn’t concern you,” she remarked quietly.

And that’s where the dream abruptly ended. It sounds like you’re worrying about something that doesn’t concern you; how interesting.

And right after the tragic shooting in Orlando, I had this dream — the last one I’ll be relaying today.

I was walking in a marshy area; it looked like Weeki Wachee Springs, Florida (where I once lived). As I struggled through tall grass and muddy trenches, I looked up (to the right) and saw interesting-looking homes spaced reasonably apart from each other and perched on steep inclines. Each home had a lot of character, and all of them seemed to be sort of falling apart. I recognized one of the houses to be the home I was supposed to be heading towards, so I followed my intuition: up the hill, up the driveway, and then onto the front porch.

A long-haired man opened the door shortly after I knocked on it; he looked 37.

“Well.. come in.”

Not the kind for small talk, I noted.

I followed him into the living room. He sat down onto a couch and lit a cigarette. I sat down in a chair that was a few feet away and watched him.

So this is the guy who’s going to fix me; a quiet, relaxed and completely detached hippie doctor.

Seconds later, he was leading me to a dark hallway, saying that he’d be able to cure me.

He loaded a gun. A startling “locking” sound echoed through the room and thundered in my ears. I obligingly lowered my jaw and opened my mouth without realizing I was doing so.. I don’t think he even asked me to. I was vaguely scared in a dull, watery, and muted kind of way; remember — this has to happen, I reminded myself bravely. He aimed the gun and, with no hesitation, fired straight into my mouth, hitting the back of my throat with a pronounced thud. I closed my mouth and felt something strange fall onto the back of my tongue, so I instinctively spit it out into the palm of my right hand and then peered down to examine it; a seed. A seed had fallen out of the back of my throat. It was the HIV; he’d literally shot it right out of me.

I looked up, but having finished the job of “curing” me, the hippie doctor had already left the hallway.

“I’m getting closer to the truth,” I thought to myself.

Dreams are interesting, aren’t they? Apparently, on a subconscious level, my mind is working through some deep shit right now:

  • Who is god? Why do we all want a god to worship and revere so badly, and why do we feel so incomplete and helpless without one? While we’re on the subject, why do religions have to be so irrationally divisive? How does identifying as an (insert religion of choice/denomination here) make you so different from the next person and make them so automatically inferior and unrelatable? How can anyone honestly believe that they’ve (quite remarkably) stumbled upon that ONE truth when there are so many different spins on truth out there, with all of them vying for a person’s buy-in and with zero tangible proof for even a single ONE of them?
  • Am I overextending myself? My mother said that I was worrying about things that didn’t concern me. In the dream, I was worried about the German Shepherd getting attacked, or attacking the deer, or the deer possibly giving the many residents of the home Lyme Disease. I hadn’t stopped to worry about myself for a single second.. about my safety in pursuing the deer.. and yet, in real life, these blog posts seem to revolve around nothing but my #firstworldproblems, my gender identity crisis, my overwhelming sadness for lost loves and friends (who hasn’t lost somebody?), and my commonplace insecurities. While I absolutely care about and love other people, it seems like I’m too concerned with myself right now to be excessively worrying about others (as dream-mother implied). But maybe it – the dream – isn’t about overextending myself in relation to others; maybe the message is about chasing after something that’s impossible to find. The deer could be the truth that’s slowly sneaking and then sinking in, and in running after that truth, maybe I’m actually (and accidentally) running away from it. It’s like this: Medicine is sometimes staged; time-released. In thirty minutes, this happens; in an hour, it’ll do this to you. When you swallow the pill, the whole thing starts and the process, which happens in blurry, overlapping pieces and segments, is suspenseful. It is, again, time-elapsed. And truth is like that, too. If I had woken up one morning when I was 17 and prophetically realized that, in 7 years, I was going to be a divorced and gay agnostic person, I probably would have had a heart attack. No joke. That truth would have been far too radical — too opposite from my then reality — to handle. Instead of taking in the full picture all at once, I caught glimpses of it. Revelations came slowly, one at a time, and it was perfectly.. I’ll say it: orchestrated. Quick summary: You should be open to the truth, ready to embrace it whenever it reveals itself to you, but you should also know that you can’t and won’t experience or know everything all at once. And it’s better that way.
  • Because of my conservative upbringing, there’s still this deeply rooted idea in my mind that being gay is unnatural. Unhealthy. Immoral. That, because I’m gay, there’s something inherently wrong with me; that there must be some dark reason why I deviated from the norm and am drawn to living this alternative lifestyle. Now — at the forefront of my mind, I absolutely disown this toxic idea along with its troop of false notions, because I believe that love is love and that while, admittedly (for reproductive reasons), male + female combos just biologically make sense, there’s no way in hell that it’s wrong to deeply and romantically love somebody of the same gender, or that it’s wrong to want THAT person to be your life companion. There’s nothing unhealthy or immoral about that. Now, I’m still not ready to commit myself to a life companion (preferring deep friendships and generous bouts of alone time at this stage in my life), but I believe that, someday, I would like to settle down with somebody, and not just for the sake of having somebody; if I settle down, it will be because I know I’ve found the perfect partner. Sidebar: No person is going to be perfect (without faults and flaws and struggles that are uniquely their own), but they can still be the perfect partner. Anyways, I’m speculating that, on a subconscious level, this dream was me processing the idea that society, even when it sympathizes with us, views the LGBTQ community as a collection of sick (mentally or physically) people who need protection and sympathy and fixing (like the weak and crying runt in a litter of otherwise healthy and vivacious German Shepherd puppies). But guess what? We’re just as sane, normal, strong, competent and moral as everybody else in the world, and we don’t need to be fixed; empathize with us as fellow human beings who aren’t at all separate from you, and continue to fight for equality on all levels, but don’t pity us.

 

Three final thoughts (1/dream):

  1. Religion doesn’t make you moral. You decide whether or not you’re going to be a moral human being. And the absence of religion shouldn’t make you lonely and doesn’t mean you’re lazy; it’s honestly, without belittling the sacred and profound nature of religion, a simple matter of preference. If it – adopting a religion or recognizing a god – makes sense, go for it, but don’t let the foundation for your commitment lie on the convictions of a family member, a significant other, or anything other than sincere, personal conviction. Can you explain why you believe what you do? Good. You’re on the right track.
  2. You can’t invent truth. Truth is, by nature, non-negotiable; it can’t be influenced by thoughts or opinions, and it won’t be affected by arguments. It also can’t be bought, edited, or rewritten. The truth is entirely self-sufficient and independent of us. You may be believing it or you may not; who knows! You may give a shit about it or you could, quite possibly, not care less. You may decide, someday, to subscribe to something that feels close to the truth — that resonates with you and registers as truth — and you may choose to promote that version of the truth your whole life.. or you may choose to step away from the blaringly loud crowd of truth proponents with your arms up and say: “I don’t know.” At the end ofnot just the dayyour life, neither decision would make you a better or worse person. Truth is, like a deer, natural and whimsically evasive. It can be sighted and pursued, but it may not allow you to catch it, and even when you think you have caught it and you’re staring it right in the face, it could just be a sharp and reinterpreted reproduction of the truth, a really convincing digital image, or a blatantly wishful and self-serving mirage.
  3. The need for equality, while including the LGBTQ community, extends WAY BEYOND the LGBTQ community. Remember that. Regardless of your gender, sexual preference, citizenship, religious bias, social status, income level or political views.. you’re a carefully crafted tangle of flesh and blood. A weighted mix of fierce and vulnerable; a wise blend of potential and limits. You are, all at once, beautifully unique and exactly the same.

 

And who made you this way? Like I fucking know.

 

Dreaming away,
Aun Aqui

Blog Post #135: How to Paint, Let Go, and Interact With Children

As I was leaving the house this morning, checking, re-checking, triple checking and then quadruple checking that

  • the stove burners were off,
  • the coffee maker and toaster were both unplugged,
  • the refrigerator door was closed,
  • the water faucet was off,
  • and that Bruster’s water and food bowls were both filled to the brim (just in case I died while out and about and it took people time to realize it and then remember that I had a living creature residing in my home),

I noticed Bruster (the living creature/dog/German Shepherd) sitting upright and leaning against a wall in the dining room, looking sad and droopy. I laughed at the sight and walked over to where he was, plopping myself down onto the floor beside him and sitting cross-legged. I wrapped both of my arms around his neck — kissing his puppy dog cheek and his single, floppy ear and complimenting him on what a “good boy” he was — but he still seemed despondent.

“Alright, bud. I know what’ll perk you up,” I whispered, rising up off of the floor and walking away. I passed through the kitchen, paused at the side door, and then turned around to look back at him; he was now extremely alert. I excitedly threw the door open and watched as he went bolting into the yard. Once we’d both made it outside, I collected sticks (throwing them this way and that) and he went chasing after them. His enthusiasm died down just a little as each successive stick was thrown, and when we returned to the house, I was happy to hear and see him panting loudly and smiling happily. He returned to sitting and leaning beside the same lime-green wall, but this time, he looked tired in a pleasant kind of way.

“Kay,” I called out to him from the hallway, shrugging my backpack on and wrapping my hand around the front door knob. “I’ll be home soon; you’re a GOOD SHEPPY!” Then I closed the door behind me, got into my car, and headed out for my scheduled fun day.

 

But before we leave the neighborhood —

 

You heard casual mention of a lime green wall a couple of sentences ago, didn’t you? Well — aren’t you wondering HOW that wall came to be lime green? I thought so. And I’ll tell you.

 

A few weeks ago, my dining room walls looked like this:

 

Borrrrrrrrring.
Borrrrrrrrring.

 

And I hated them.

 

I’ve hated the blandness of the room so much, in fact, that – for the past THREE YEARS – I’ve spent precious few hours in there. The space had lots of potential, with vaulted ceilings, an open floor plan, and a big, beautiful window featured smack-dab in the middle of the room.. but I just walked right past the doorway to the room every single day, twice a day, for three years (as I left for work in the morning and then returned home in the evening). The room, which boasted a tacky chandelier and a simple wooden table that no one ever sat at, remained relatively unused and unloved.

 

But after closing on refinancing the house three weeks ago and realizing, a few hours later, that every single square inch of the home was, not only my responsibility, but also my blank canvas, I developed an immediate hankering to personalize, customize, repair, and remodel everything. I resolved that I would slowly, over time, love the home by developing the home to its full potential.

 

And my first project: livening up the incredibly boring dining room. And who says it has to be a dining room, anyways?

 

I took Charlie with me to Lowes on a Saturday evening: “We’re going to decide on a color tonight,” I had briefed him.

 

It was pouring when we pulled up, so I tucked my phone underneath my shirt while I ran from the car into the building. Walking towards the paint aisle, we shivered inside of our wet shirts as the air conditioning pumped cold gusts of air through the building.

“I’m looking at.. different shades of green..” I murmured to Charlie. We were both standing in front of a wide display of paint colors, and he was looking on as I picked out sample color cards here and there. “Annnnnd I want your opinion..”

 

I relocated myself to another display of paint samples and handpicked two-three more cards.

 

“OKAY!” I announced after I’d completed conducting my preliminary research. “It’s officially time to decide on a color.” I looked up at him with a very serious face and he nodded solemnly.

 

“But BEFORE WE DO, keep in mind that what I’m GOING FOR is a soft, lime-green color. Kind of 70s-ish. I’d describe it as being.. fuzzy. Different. Surprising. Maybe even off-putting. Alright?”

He signaled his agreement.

 

I fanned the cards out in front of us and then we began evaluating each one.

 

“Okay.. we’ve got ‘marsh fern’.. not loving it anymore.. ‘ginger wasabi’? Nah.. too much yellow. ‘Achemist’ is okay, but we need to remember that it’ll look darker once it’s ON the wall..”

 

My voice trailed off as our eyes jointly scanned across other handpicked hues with names like ‘new green,’ ‘buttered peas,’ and ‘faraway mist.’

 

And then I was looking at the last one, the very last sample card, and the color was absolutely stunning.

This shade..” I breathed.

But I paused.

“..does it look like vomit?” I asked suddenly, eyeing the card a little quizzically.

“Vomit?” Charlie echoed me. “What the hell?”

You know — VOMIT,” I said it again, looking around to make sure no one was standing close by. “I really love this color, but I’m afraid it looks like.. vomit. DOES IT?”

Noooooo!” He shook his head emphatically, laughing. “Not at all. It looks beautiful.”

 

“Well then this is the one,” I resolved instantly, absentmindedly dispensing with the other sample cards by tossing them into the bottom of my shopping basket.

 

“And what’s the name of this color?” Charlie queried.

I looked down at the card. “Lime Blast,” I answered with a laugh. “That is SO great.”

 

So I bought two gallons of lime blast! paint as well as all of the other necessary painting supplies (edging tape, a plastic tarp, brushes, and a rolling tray).

“Let me get the tape,” Charlie offered, taking it out of the basket.

“Awww.. thank you!” I smiled over at him.

 

As our cashier slash paint-color-maker pushed the two gallons of paint over the counter towards us, he whistled a little. “This is going to be the most festive room in the house, huh?” He asked, raising his eyebrows.

 

I woke up at 6:30 the following morning. Realizing it was “painting day,” I was way too excited to fall back asleep, so I immediately set to work.

 

I kept Facebook friends abreast of the situation with photo updates.

 

Sheppy and I woke up early this AM so that we could paint this room "LIME BLAST!" green together. He's promised to pull his weight by keeping all whining/crying to a minimum and by dutifully toting Mr. Foxy Fox (his #1 squeaky plush toy) around with him during his endless patrols.
Sheppy and I woke up early this AM so that we could paint this room “LIME BLAST!” green together. He’s promised to pull his weight by keeping all whining/ crying to a minimum and by dutifully toting Mr. Foxy Fox (his #1 squeaky plush toy) around with him during his endless patrols.

 

Update: I've secured the plastic tarps, removed pictures and hardware from the walls, taped door frames and baseboards, inserted putty into a few spots and scrubbed/sanded problematic wall areas, and NOW I'm ready to paint. Bruster has, surprisingly, contributed 0% of his time, effort, and talent to this process.. but he's cute company.
Update: I’ve secured the plastic tarps, removed pictures and hardware from the walls, taped door frames and baseboards, inserted putty into a few spots and scrubbed/sanded problematic wall areas, and NOW I’m ready to paint. Bruster has, surprisingly, contributed 0% of his time, effort, and talent to this process.. but he’s cute company.

 

Charlie, who was at work, texted me around 12:30 PM, after I’d “been at it” for more than 5 hours.

 

“You know you don’t have to finish it all today,” he reminded me.

“Ha.. yeah RIGHT,” I responded.

 

By the time he’d gotten home, I’d already applied THREE COATS OF PAINT to EVERY SINGLE WALL all by myself. The only part I hadn’t applied even a single coat of paint to was the top area of the 4th wall; I’m afraid of heights and Charlie isn’t, so he very kindly offered to handle that portion of the painting process for me.

 

And after all of the sweating, cursing, and burning muscle aches, here’s the final result:

 

20160618_075844
What the room looks like early in the morning (with no artificial lights turned on).

 

20160619_110020
See that? That on the wall there? That’s a German Shepherd throw. It was a gift from my mother two years ago. I’ve taken it with me on road trips, to parks, and I’ve slept with it — and now, it’s on the wall, to honor The Good Sheppy and his incredible artistic ability.

 

What a fun, lively, and vomit-esque 70s room.

 

I noted/learned a few interesting things during the painting process that I’d like to share with you all.

  1. One of the most laborious, tedious, and time-consuming aspects of the painting process ISN’T the painting itself; it’s executing the incredibly anticlimactic and unimpressive work of PREPPING (IE removing furniture, pictures, and outlet covers; sweeping; laying a tarp down and securing the said tarp in its place with tape; taping baseboards, ceilings, and doorways; filling in tiny holes in the wall – holes that resulted from using nails and thumb tacks – with putty and scrubbing away any excessively dirty spots on the wall). Prepping took me two freaking hours. When Charlie got home and set the ladder in place (preparing to paint the top area of the 18-foot high wall), he paused to gaze up at it and then asked me: “Do you think I need to tape the ceilings, or can I just be really careful?” I responded: “Look at the tape I put up on the ceiling over there. See the paint that got all over it and that would have ended up on the ceiling? And I was being careful.” He nodded, grabbed a roll of tape, and set to work.. prepping.
  2. Prep work obviously isn’t the fun part. Painting is. And painting is really only fun for about 10 minutes; then, you’re just like “damn; my arm sure is aching. Am I a wimp? No; I just never DO this.”
  3. Prep work is to painting as practicing is to performing (music-wise). I remember being 14, asking my parents to buy me a guitar and thinking to myself: “I am going to play SHOWS with this thing, and it is going to be SO COOL.” And guess what? I do play (small-scale) shows.. but I’m 24 now, and it has taken me hundreds of hours of study, practice, experimentation and trial-and-error to be able to play the guitar half-way decently. And when you’re performing, it really is a blast; that is the “fun part.” But every audience or paying agent needs to look past the simple 1-3 hour performance to the hours of effort existing in the background, and every wishful performer needs to be devoted enough to that idea of playing cool gigs that they’re willing to commit to the many quiet and unpublicized hours required (where they’re sitting on their bed, or on the floor, and practicing; strumming that same chord over and over until they get the perfect sound). Performing well is the reward of good, solid practice.

 

So.. I took some drab walls in the house and transformed them into living walls of vibrant color. Pretty cool.

Moving on.

 

I started my car this morning, pulled out of the neighborhood and, to kick off my day of fun, dropped into Whole Foods. Charlie was working in the produce department.

 

“Good morning, sir!” I greeted him, feigning being a customer. He looked up from stocking cartons of strawberries and smiled at me. “How are the cherries today?” I inquired.

“They’re perfectly sweet.”

He handpicked (20) pretty, deep-red cherries and plopped them into a plastic green bag for me. Then, we strolled over to the avocados.

“Is that one ripe?” I asked him, pointing. He picked it up. “Oooooh, nevermind — not that one.. how about THAT one?” I indicated.

“This one feels just right,” he confirmed, gauging its ripeness by applying some gentle pressure with his hand. “Want me to cut it open for you?” He offered.

“Yessssss! Thank you, Charlie. You’re so sweet.”

He returned with the sliced avocado and, knowing that he needed to return to his work with the strawberries, I chatted with him for a quick minute. Just as we were saying goodbye, out of the corner of my eye, I could see a familiar form approaching Charlie and I: Chris.

I hadn’t planned on seeing him, and I had actually hoped that he wouldn’t be there in the store while I was.

 

I watched while he made a goofy face at Charlie. He continued walking at the same pace and, as he passed by me, we very briefly made eye contact. He smiled a little as he did so, without saying hello, and the smile looked like a confusing mixture of sad and polite. It made me want to die.

I’ve been trying really hard to let go of him (btw: if you’re still trying to let go of someone or something, this song really hits the spot). It’s natural for an ex-married couple to lose their closeness.. I know that. And I know that I should just be grateful that we’re on neutral-to-good terms, but he was my world — my very closest friend — and now his face, and voice, and sense of humor are all receding from my consciousness like the tide. Because of how much I still love him and how distant he has become, the easiest thing to do – right now – is to pretend that he doesn’t exist (which is hard to do when his face passes mine at the grocery store). And this this willful pretending — seems to be my go-to coping mechanism for most of my losses: for Bobby, the brother who died too soon; Chris, the ex-husband who, understandably, isn’t a close buddy of mine anymore; for Melissa, the best friend who magically forgot all about me, and for the rabbits I chose to re-home earlier this year. I remember them all as if they were story characters. Not my most beloved and treasured friends. I take on a new role from time to time; drinking down the lines like water and falling in love with the new cast.. and then suddenly, it’s showtime, and everyone knows when the show’s over except me.

 

“You should get the Green Mountain Gringo brand of tortilla chips to go with that avocado,” Charlie’s voice suggested quietly, bringing me back to the present moment. “They’re the best.” I realized that he was eyeing me carefully. “Do you want me to show you where those are.. or did you want to say hey to Chris..?”

“No,” I answered him quickly, trying to hold the tears off until I had exited the store. “Please show me to the chip aisle.” I knew where the chips were.

 

I grabbed a tiny bottle of grapefruit juice from the cooler before we left the produce department, and then, seconds later, Charlie was handing me a bag of blue corn tortilla chips. We said goodbye and, with my arms full of goodies, I headed to the checkout line.

 

Charlie had placed the sliced avocado in a plastic container.

 

“Oh wow,” the cashier remarked, eyeballing it as she rang my items up, “I didn’t know they sold the avocados pre-sliced!”

“They don’t — Charlie did it for me; but I’m sure you can ask them to cut it for you!”

 

I cried freely in the car as I drove down Highway 280. It was a blurry ride, and I vaguely hoped that no other drivers were peering in at me.. because I probably looked crazy. After indulging in my grief for a generous fifteen minutes, I decided to cut the pity party short and compose myself, as I had arrived at Railroad Park. I parallel parked in a free space and then sat in my car, munching on sweet, ripe cherries and buttery bits of avocado, and once I’d finished, I removed myself, my skateboard, and my gear from the back seat and settled onto a bench. I applied the gear to my head, knees and elbows and had just tucked my wallet into the back pocket of my board shorts when a boy on a skateboard came to a rolling halt in front of me.

“Hey,” he grinned.

Oh boy, I thought to myself. He’s spotted me again.

I’m a regular at lots of places (namely, Saturn and Railroad Park — so, two places), and just as I’m a regular at these places, so are many other people, and as a regular, I naturally come into contact with other regulars. This particular skater dude regular had been flirty with me before (a few months previously). On encounter #2, I had very politely ended a conversation by mentioning that I needed to “run home and make a grilled cheese sandwich for my partner.” The randomness and pointedness of the statement had seemed to catch him off guard; he’d been pleasant and proper with me since.

“Good to see you, dude!” I greeted him with a smile. “Learned any new tricks on the board?”

“Oh yeah,” he responded confidently. “How about you?”
“Nope,” I answered, shaking my head left to right. “I’ve been in Huntsville for a couple of weeks for work, so I haven’t been on the board a whole lot. Honestly, I do well to just BALANCE on it,” I laughed.

He laughed too. I was just about to ask him if he was still working at the butter factory (tidbit from a previous convo) when another skater ran over to join us.

“A SKATER CHICK?!” He celebrated, pumping his board into the air and fist bumping me. “Now THAT’S something!” He smiled.

I laughed. Yerrrrrp.

 

“Well you guys have an awesome day!” I addressed both of them. “Good to see you, dude,” I addressed my old acquaintance specifically. “Enjoy this weather!”

 

I skated over to the restrooms and then popped my board up into my hand. I walked inside the women’s room and glanced over into the mirror as I passed by it.

“Yep. You still look like one. But you can’t let it bother you.”

 

I exited a moment later and began skating laps around the park, working up a sweat at 9 AM. As I finished pumping up a hill, I noticed that I was approaching a family of three (who were walking along leisurely just a few feet ahead of where I was). I politely slowed my board to a roll and had just begun to pass them when the little girl spotted me coming up beside her. “HEY!” She called out.

“HEY!” I responded just as enthusiastically, smiling down at her as I rolled along. “I love your beads!” I exclaimed. She had colorful beads woven into her braided hair. She looked like she was about 7.

“Thanks!” She answered brightly. Without missing a single beat, she very candidly looked me up and down and asked: “Are you a girl?” She made the question sound as normal as asking “Pretty day, huh?”

 

I was taken back. I hadn’t been directly asked this question.. ever.

 

Before I could gather my bearings, her mother had turned around, expertly concealing her embarrassment.

Of course she is, baby! She’s a BEAUTIFUL girl.”

I was stunned. Well.. now what?

 

“Yep! I’m a girl,” I echoed the mother, addressing the little girl directly and continuing to smile at her. This isn’t weird at alllllll. 

But she wasn’t satisfied.

 

“But are you really a GIRL?” The little girl reiterated her question.

“Sweetheart,” the mother’s tone sounded more like a warning now, “she is a BEAUTIFUL girl. Look at her — she’s a SKATER.”

“Yeah,” I supported the mother’s response weakly, “I am a girl — but I’m more of a tomboy.” I winked at the kid.

 

My board had continued moving during this whole exchange and, as I passed out of earshot and their immediate vicinity, I was so. fucking. relieved. “AWKWARD!” I breathed to myself. I felt strange. Confused. The whole encounter seemed.. unpleasant for everyone involved. I didn’t mind being questioned (or even obligingly assenting to the fact that I was a girl), but the little girl still didn’t seem to believe me or her mother, and her mother was, I’m sure, very embarrassed that her daughter had openly questioned a stranger’s gender in public. I sighed. See? If you just looked, clearly and plainly, like one or the other, shit like this wouldn’t happen. I blamed myself.

 

I continued skating, listening to the electro-pop and chillwave songs on my playlist and trying to shake off my uncomfortability. Maybe ten minutes later, I was steering my board onto another stretch of smooth concrete and preparing to make my third lap around the park when I saw the mother and two children approaching me from about thirty yards ahead.

“Ohhhhh god,” I panicked. “It’s going to be awkward again. Do I wave? Smile? Say ‘hey’? Is the kid going to ask me the same question again? Should I try taking on a more feminine tone so that she feels settled and satisfied with my unfortunate claim to womanhood?”

 

I continued, very quickly, deliberating on how to best handle the situation.

 

“I know,” I resolved, intentionally allowing my board to slow down and casually slipping my left earbud out of its place in my ear so that I could carry on a conversation with them (if need-be). “If the mother makes eye contact with me, I will very discreetly tell her that I was not AT ALL offended by her daughter’s question, so she won’t be mad at her, and I’ll tell her that I’m ACTUALLY transgender and that it made my day that her daughter even QUESTIONED whether or not I was a boy. Because that won’t be weird to relay at all. Right? That will make everyone feel better. And I’m sure she knows what transgender means. Maybe. Or maybe I shouldn’t include that part. Maybe I should just turn around right now. God.”

And then it was happening. They were right there, and I was right there, and the little girl was looking up at me again.

“Sorrrrrrry,” she sang out. Ahhhh.. her mother must have briefed her for this meeting, I understood immediately.

“Oh, PLEASE don’t apologize! You are totally FINE!” I reassured her. I was just about to nervously start my transgender spiel when her mother stopped, right there on the walkway, and began talking: “You know, I could never balance on one of those things! My cousin.. HE could. I could roller skate a little, but I COULD NOT skateboard.”

 

Okay; abandon the whole ‘I’m actually transgender’ conversation bit and talk about what she’s talking about, my mind captain instructed, quickly constructing new exit-route plans and keying CTRL+ALT+TALK into the system.

 

“Oh yeah?” I responded. “See, I can’t roller skate, but I can skateboard! How interesting.”

 

“I WANNA SKATEBOARD!” The little girl announced suddenly. Her brother, I noticed, was very quiet. I took a careful look at the girl; smiling, looking confident and fearless. She was wearing a pair of pink, velcro-strapped shoes and a matching pink shirt that read: “Girl’s Trip, Girl’s Rules.” It had lipstick, a snazzy briefcase, and star-shaped sunglasses painted onto it.

I smiled at her. “Go for it! You could totally skateboard! You’ll just need to practice.”

 

“Can I skateboard right NOW?” She asked me directly.

 

“You’d need to ask your mommmmm,” I shifted my gaze to the mother now, “and I’d be happy to let her try it out,” I added quickly in a whisper that the kid couldn’t hear.

Her mother looked skeptical and weary. “Okayyyyyy.. she can try it out..”

“Awesome!” I exclaimed. “Do you want her to wear my helmet?” I offered, already putting my finger onto the strap and preparing to remove it.

“No — she’ll be alright,” the mom decided. “I’ll hold her hand.”

So we helped the little tike onto the board.
“Now I don’t know how you want to stand on it,” I began, “but I’m left-handed, so I ride goofy style. I’d recommend putting your right foot right here,” I motioned, “and then you’ll want to put your left foot back here,” I continued, holding the board steady with my right hand and letting my left hand rest softly against the back of her ankle.

 

She pumped a few feet and shrieked as the board moved jerkingly across the concrete. Her brother watched on quietly and with apparent amusement. When she hopped off the board, I offered to let him try it out, too, but he wasn’t ready. No shame in that, I thought to myself.

 

“Thank you so much,” the mother smiled at me. She looked relieved. This was the kind of closure that we both needed.

“Of courseeeeee! You guys have a great day,” I smiled back at her.

 

So.. the walls in my dining room were boring and uninteresting. They made the room feel so uninviting that it remained relatively uninhabited for three years straight. A simple three coats of paint made the walls look, not just bearable, but awesome. Their awesomeness compelled me to pull my favorite rug into the room, along with my Doctor Who dinette table, crayola stools, and ultra-comfy papason chair. The space became so cool that it now houses three of my favorite paintings, and it will no longer be referred to as a generic “dining room.” It’s more of a hangout spot than a formal eating room, and it feels right now.. the color, the vibe, the decor; it’s like the room has finally blossomed and realized itself, and it’s a beautiful thing to witness.

 

And that’s how I feel about myself. Charlie and I went to Saturn’s Punk Rock Flea Market together last weekend. We walked past a food truck and headed in through orange, double doors to discover that the room was positively PACKED with people. The space was loud, buzzing with music, pitches, voices and laughs, and everyone looked super cool and retro. I felt like a total dork by comparison.

 

A photographer was surveying the room; every few seconds, he’d tap someone on the shoulder and ask to take their picture. I enjoyed observing him; seeing who he handpicked to photograph and then guessing why: their hair is cool.. their outfit is cool.. they are just, in general, cool.

 

Charlie and I got lost in conversation so, when he walked up to me and asked if he could get Charlie and I’s picture, I was shocked. But we’re so ordinary, I thought to myself.

 

He was already crouching and adjusting the lens of his camera, so I took a quick step closer to Charlie and, right as I looked into the camera (before I could even imagine or begin to worry about how I looked: does my hair look goofy? Is my shirt situated correctly? Is the knot of my necklace resting against the back of my neck like it’s supposed to or is it awkwardly hanging off to either side of my shoulder?), he snapped the photo. He, just as quickly, spun the display of the camera around so that we could see it, and the picture looked awesome.

 

“Dude! GREAT pic!” I complimented him. “We look so cool! Where are you going to be uploading these photos?” I asked him.

 

“I’m planning to go through them in the next few days and then upload them later on this week.. if you’ve liked our page on Facebook, you’ll be able to view the uploaded pictures there.”

 

He moseyed away to photograph someone else.

 

“I doubt he’ll end up posting ours,” I remarked to Charlie, “BUT I HOPE HE DOES!”

 

He did.

 

13443086_10208108737249582_3688614511635712408_o
L-R: Cool Guy Jace and Classically Retro Charlie.

 

To be honest, I am very comfortable in this body. More than I ever have been. I used to wear clothing and style my hair in a prescribed kind of way; a way that didn’t suit me. I looked and felt like four bland walls. Some simple changes have given me a sense of confidence and comfortability that I wouldn’t trade for anything.

 

“But ARE YOU a girl?”

 

How could you say yes to that? I had reproved myself after I’d skated away.

“Because,” I answered, “I had to very quickly ask myself which response would be, not only honest, but the least confusing to the little girl who’d asked me. Biologically, I AM a girl. That’s fact. Her mother saw it and, very nicely, called me out on it. Answering ‘boy’ would have been, sadly, untrue AND confusing. It would have been the selfish choice.”

Oh.. okay.

 

Snapped this pic in a mall parking lot last week. I loved the swirly hues of pink and blue and the way they sort of splattered into each other. Why are these colors so representative? Why are they assigned to the genders they are? And why do we all feel like we have to choose just one?
Snapped this pic in a mall parking lot last week. I loved the swirly hues of pink and blue and the way they sort of splattered and melted into each other. What makes these colors so representative? Why are they assigned to the genders they are? And why do we all feel like we have to identify with and choose just one?

 

Gender pronouns still delight and devastate me (depending on which ones are used), and I’m trying to work my way past it. There’s nothing wrong with being a girl. I remind myself of this constantly. Girls are just as important and amazing and strong and brilliant and competent as guys are — duh. THAT’S never been the issue. It’s a matter of disposition and feeling. It’s intuitive. It’s hard to explain to you. I don’t feel like a girl and I never, ever have.

“But you’ve never been a boy, so how would you even know WHAT that feels like?” People have asked me.

And it’s a valid question. It’s true that I’ve never BEEN a rabbit, a burrito, or a biological boy, so I can’t tell you with a certainty what that would feel like, but I sure as hell can tell you that, from what I’ve observed on the outside and from the internal chemistry I’ve experienced in relationships (platonic and non-platonic), I’m pretty darn sure that I’d be great at being a boy, and that it would make way more sense than this does. But – in this reality, and in this lifetime – the best I can do, since I’m unwilling to transition with surgery and hormones, is to strip away every single stereotype and gender norm, toss them onto the ground, and then gently walk over them. They aren’t for me. Just as a glittery dress, a push-up bra, a steak, a Lexus, and a Pomeranian peeking out of a purse wouldn’t suit me, they don’t suit me. I will set no gender expectations for myself, and I will not examine my appearance or my behavior in light of what society indicates they should be. This body is just my vehicle for living; it allows me to speak, see, hear and move. This body is geared and intended for experiencing, communicating, contributing and loving.. not for contorting or conforming or adhering to some rigid pattern, stifling shape, or senseless set of rules. I’m so sick of fixating on and obsessing over the physicality of my existence; it’s the least important part of it. I accomplish nothing when I repeatedly and incessantly wish that I had been born in a different body, and – simultaneously – I lose out on all of the beautiful and interesting things happening around me. I need to be a part of those things. Rather than wallowing hopelessly in the background, I need to be fully present in the foreground of this world and in every single one of my relationships. I need to let go, move forward, and adjust my focus so that it rests on experience, because who cares about the outside casing of an avocado? The inside is the good part. 

 

 

Still here — lights, camera, action: 

Aun Aqui

The people in my head: “Mr. Yarbrough?”

When I was in elementary school, every day, us kids were given a brief relief from academic pursuits in the form of recess. At the onset of these classroom breaks, most of us joyfully bolted up from our desks and, reveling in our temporary freedom, barreled through the side door while others of us had to be gently shooed out of the room. Depending on the time of year, it could be swelteringly hot outside or a pleasant 68 degrees. This was Florida; afternoon temperatures scarcely ever fell beneath 68. But temperature was never that big of a big deal. 

 

There on the playground, each child was pretty much left to their own devices. The timid and shy ones would stand out of the way and hang out along the sidelines.. absentmindedly knocking the toes of their shoes into the dirt as they watched their peers performing various activities on the jungle gym and achieving impressive acrobatic feats on the monkey bars.

 

Playground

 

I liked to swing. It was easy, relatively safe, and could be done solo. I also liked playing red rover. I preferred being a part of the chain, though.. the chain that the designated “red rover” person would have to go running full-speed at and attempt to break through. Not only was I a not-super-strong child, but I also didn’t have the mental “gumption” required for me to intentionally and forcefully slam my body against a wave of youngsters. It seemed awkward and I just couldn’t do it.

 

So take this image of children romping around on a playground — children with differing dispositions, personalities, and appearances — and apply it to your mind. Do you have a small collection of people roaming about inside of your head? Children, adults.. maybe both? Do they compete for your attention? Are some more vocal, or visibly more confident, than others? Does the group tend to bicker and fight, or do they get along nicely? And are they occupying something along the lines of a playground, or are they elsewhere; performing on stage in a theater, perhaps, or sitting dutifully at uniform desks in a classroom.. or maybe they’re all on a great, big adventure together.. wearing space suits and freely orbiting around the galaxy?

 

Mine are pacing around a seated adult in a simple, quiet, and sterile white room.

 

I haven’t always been aware of them; the people. There were, on occasion, bursts of clarity in my life; moments where the sun would light up the clouds, outlining them with a brilliant hue and laser-beaming right through them.. and in moments like these, I could almost hear their hushed voices whispering to me in reverb-laden echoes. But in general, the first 23 years of my life were relatively quiet and hazy. I read that sentence to myself and think: wow.. how fucking dramatic. But it’s 100% true. Life was hazy.

 

I spent years 0-18 in various ways; initially, by playing with Bobby before he became really sick, and then, by entertaining and amusing myself in the strange shadow of Bobby’s illness. As I aged, I experienced the joy of studying textbooks, memorizing dates and facts, and then testing out to prove my “competency” in elementary school. My mother observed, in the 4th grade, that I was “picking up an attitude from my peers,” so I was quickly removed from public school (half-way through the school year; she does not play) and endured the mental hardship of teaching myself math and science during three miserable years of homeschooling. During this time frame, I “adjusted” my attitude and was eventually allowed to re-enter public school as a 7th grader. I was thrilled to the core about being readmitted, but I was also incredibly anxious, as I was fully convinced that, because I had been learning at what I considered a disadvantage for 3 years — half-assedly working my way through material that stumped my parents and me and struggling to demystify new subjects, difficult concepts, and weird math formulas on my own (without the presence of a qualified teacher) — I would be the dumbest kid in the building. Despite straight A’s and compliments from teachers, I’ve carried that inferiority complex with me all the way to adulthood, and I’m still trying to dispense with it.

 

After acclimating to public school life again, I became bored with even the advanced classes, so I took on the endeavor of attending 11th grade public school classes in-person and registering for 12th grade classes online (so that I could graduate early). I was able to graduate a year early, and immediately upon doing so, I began serving full-time at Cracker Barrel in an effort to save money for college (I knew that my tuition costs weren’t simply going to be handed to me, and I definitely knew that I didn’t want to deal with student loans.) Life quickly changed direction as academic pursuits gave way to double shifts where I’d serve for six hours, run to the back of the restaurant to greedily scarf down a single cornbread muffin, and then walk back out onto the floor to take orders and run food for another 6 hours. That was life: 12 hours of serving, every day, about six days a week, for 7 months straight. After 7 months, I took a break so that I could attend a seminary for religious cult members up in Mountaindale, New York, and then I returned to serving.

 

So childhood, adolescence and teenager-hood (ages 0-18) were all an unremarkable and uninterrupted blur of play, academics, and work ethics.

 

Then, I met Chris.

 

The five years I spent married to Chris were like a fairy tale.. but it’s like I was an actor who was parading about as a princess and who, after reading their lines and assuming their role for so long, forgot that they were just in-character, and began to believe that they really were a princess. And while this belief existed at the forefront of my mind, it never seemed.. right. It was a strange sort of confusion; a confusion that was ever-present but didn’t exactly say “I’m confused” so much as “Something is missing, and I can’t remember what it is.” That’s the misgiving, the feeling, that I carried with me for five years; a general sense of intrinsic and intuitive “off-ness.” Life was white-washed, glazed over and, while pleasant, fictitious. It read like fiction. Here’s the best way I can describe it: I felt like my spirit was constantly hanging half-way outside of my physical body and I couldn’t figure out how to reel it back in and contain it. I couldn’t contain it because I wasn’t familiar enough with its true character to recognize it, and I definitely wasn’t open-minded enough to accept and welcome it for who it was.. and it knew that. It had to wait a very long time to reveal itself to me. And that big reveal — that insanely simple moment of truth (when my being jolted into life after a simple encounter with a stranger as I walked through Publix, wearing my motorcycle gear, 18 months ago) was so strikingly simple and so memorable that it’s astounding. Recalling it and thinking about it, it still astounds me. That 15-second conversation, the devastating feeling that it caused, and the journey that resulted because of it is seared into the grooves of my mind; it’s absolutely unforgettable. The exchange, and the awakening, figuratively took a ball off of the pool table and threw it onto the floor, setting it in motion, and that ball has continued rolling and gaining in momentum and force as each day has passed. Each day, I consciously decide to not resist the peeling away of familiar fronts and old layers, and I simultaneously choose to, without judgment, accept the emergence of my true self as it continues to unfold. It’s, admittedly, an uncomfortable process sometimes, but I’ll always prefer living a difficult and honest life over a pleasant and fictitious one.

 

Some would say that I’m living a second life as Jace, and I’d almost agree with them.. but I prefer to view Jace as the natural outgrowth — the continuation, extension, or truest expression — of Rose.

 

But returning to our topic — the people inside our heads — mine are in a constant state of pacing around a seated adult in a plain white room, and I haven’t always been aware of them or the room.

 

I first became aware of them late last year. I was talking with a friend when an image of them flashed suddenly into my mind. It was startling; how easily I identified them for having never seen them. There are (5) people total present in the room at all times.

 

  • A sweet girl.. she looks 15.
  • A mean girl.. she appears to be the same age, but where sweet girl wears an easy smile, mean girl likes to scowl.
  • A quiet boy. He’s about 14 or 15 also.
  • My favorite.. a brave boy. He is my champion.

 

And the 5th person is, I’ve gathered, me. I’m the adult, seated on a wooden chair in the middle of the room, and I’m a boy, too, but I’m a bit older than the other two boys. I never speak. I never move. I just sit there in the center; watching them as they move, and listening to them as they speak to one another. They talk to each other, mostly, but when they do address me directly, they never seem to expect a response. I don’t exactly interact with them.

 

They critique my appearance. My writing. My music. My actions. My desires. My hopes and dreams. Pretty much everything that I say, think, or do. Some of the critiquing is positive and complimentary; some of it is incredibly harsh.

 

Sweet Girl is kind. She looks like I used to look; simple.. wearing long, brown hair, bluish-green eyes, and a women’s v-neck tee with some blue denim jeans. She’s, in three words, warm, supportive, and forgiving.

Mean Girl is a fucking bitch. She hates my hairy legs and underarms, makes fun of my lack of social skills and overall awkwardness, and loves to point out the strange pigmentation spots on the back and sides of my head when I’ve had my hair shaved at the barber shop.

Quiet Boy is consistently present, and he seems to listen to the conversations in the room, but he rarely has the guts to speak up and say anything. He just keeps his hands tucked into his pockets and his head down. Rather than looking around at the others, he’ll peer up at the wall sometimes. There’s a door in the room, and he stays within a reasonable distance of it, but he never tries to open it.

Brave Boy is my hero. He’s got short hair, a pronounced jawline, and galaxy eyes. He stands up straight, confidently, and always looks very relaxed in a sleek, slim-fit gray suit. He wears Vans with the suit, and for that reason alone, he is amazing. He’s talkative and sociable, but not overly so. When Mean Girl starts berating me, he speaks up — not so much to encourage me as to directly reprove her. He isn’t afraid to do so. He is smart, quick-witted, and courageous. He never shrinks in Mean Girl’s presence, and he’s kind to Sweet Girl and Quiet Boy. I tune into his voice as often as possible because it’s soothing and inspiring.

 

The group held a conversation with me and each other yesterday afternoon as I was doing some research on the computer.. but first, here’s a little back story.

 

I received my Associate’s Degree in Business Science two years ago from Jeff State. It’s a puny achievement, but it’s one that I’m proud of, because it took me (4) years of working full-time and attending class part-time to obtain the degree. I put my everything into obtaining that degree, and I graduated with a 3.96 GPA. Not too shabby.

 

After graduating, I decided to take “some time” off before pursuing the next level of academic achievement (aka, my Bachelor’s). Chris and I used this off time to become more active – picking up hobbies like skateboarding and biking – and to tap back into our creativity. We formed a band together and spent a full year touring bars downtown and playing gigs with a drummer, electric guitarist and bassist — playing, mostly, for free at open mics, but also enjoying a few paid gigs that took us to some interesting places; namely, a motorcycle club’s annual meeting, an outdoor craft festival, and an insurance company’s summer party. For the latter, we set our gear up beside a xerox machine and played at quarter-volume for our paper flamingo and toucan audience (which was taped to the walls) while old people in business clothes floated slowly around the room, sipping on mixed drinks and eating pimento cheese sandwiches. It was fantastic.

 

After the band split up, I continued playing at a few select venues (where either the pay was good or the atmosphere was fun). August of 2015 rolled around and I lazily watched it approach and then pass: “I want a little more time away from school,” I thought to myself. “I just can’t deal with the added stress right now.”

And now, it’s June of 2016. Another year has passed. Registration starts next month and, classes, the following month. For the last three weeks, there’s been a voice in the back of my head, urging me to return to school.. and I’m pretty sure it’s Brave Boy’s.

 

Deciding to toy with the idea, I was conducting some light research online yesterday — acquainting myself with UAB’s undergraduate education program and gauging how feasible it would be for me to re-enter the world of academia — when the white room group suddenly became rowdy.

 

Here’s how it started.

I was perusing the catalog of requirements when, totally unannounced, a moving picture show began playing in my mind: I stumbled into this scene of future me walking into work as a teacher.. striding across the sidewalk in front of a blurry, out-of-focus school. How neat! I mused. I passed by a rack of bicycles and a sea of bouncing backpacks, wearing classy, brown men’s shoes and carrying a briefcase. It was a faceless, masculine image of myself that came very naturally to me; completely spontaneously. I smiled at it. I watched as my future self opened the double doors of the school and then entered the classroom — my classroom. There was such a pleasant and euphoric sense of pride in the idea of that; of having my very own class. I spent time on the lesson, of course; incorporating what I considered to be fun stories that would help illustrate certain points in the lesson, and implementing creative and interactive exercises into class assignments that would help solidify students’ understanding of the material.

Near the end of class, as everyone was wrapping up their work, I posed some kind of interesting life question, and then I waited to hear back from the classroom. The students used to steal glances at each other and laugh; in the beginning, it seemed lame to engage with the teacher by answering their question. But someone had broken the ice — probably some nerdy kid — and then everyone had participated in the discussion. We’d all grown to look forward to these moments. Not just me. As the film reel continued rolling pleasantly in my mind, a student near the front-right of the classroom raised a hand to offer their opinion in response to my question.

“Mr. Yarbrough?” They asked.

 

My heart stopped. It was so perfect; it had sounded so beautiful. But I knew, instantly, that – were I to become a teacher someday – I wouldn’t be Mr. Yarbrough. Only in my dreams.

“DUH!” A familiar voice interjected. “Oh.. come ON. You KNOW that this is ALL just a silly dream. The whole thing; you being ‘Jace.'” Mean Girl sounded exasperated.

“But it hurt,” I thought back at her. “It hurt to be called Rose, and it would hurt to be called ‘Ms. Yarbrough.'”

“It doesn’t matter. ‘Mister’ doesn’t make sense.. not for you. As a teacher, you would HAVE to be MS. Yarbrough.” She folded her arms defiantly and smiled a little, just knowing that she was right. Jerk.

Side note: Despite being referred to as “Ms.” and “Ma’am” in the present (and being somewhat okay with it), I guess I still hold onto this dream, this idea, that – in the future – I’ll be recognized as a boy. Not just on occasion but.. full-time. All the time. It’s a subconscious belief; I don’t MEAN to hope for it or to believe in it because of how unrealistic it is.. and yet I do. I can’t help it.

 

I felt my face contort in disappointment at Mean Girl’s words. My eyes were, in real life, simply facing a computer screen, but I was still in that future classroom, completely frozen in front of a class full of students.

 

“Ms. Yarbrough?” I breathed out loud to myself, testing it out. “Ugh, NO. THAT doesn’t sound right AT ALL.. it sounds horrible, AND it feels horrible!”

I waved the image of Mean Girl away and pushed her dumb voice into the background as I struggled to find some kind of remedy for the situation.

 

Eventually, I posed this question to the group: “Could they call me Mr. Jace?”

 

“NO!” Mean Girl was the first to respond. “YOU’RE STILL NOT GETTING IT,” she rolled her eyes and scanned the room, surveying everyone else. I watched as Quiet Boy lowered his head and moved away from her. Sweet Girl pursed her lips and said nothing.

 

“It’s as simple as this,” Mean Girl began, standing up tall and addressing the adult – me – who was seated in the middle of the room. “You aren’t a mister. And you never will be. It’s impossible.”

 

I noticed the adult’s posture. Hunched over. He looked tired and defeated. Judging by his body language, you’d almost think that he didn’t care, but I knew better. He cared deeply — too deeply — and it was exhausting him.

 

“Just have them call you Jace,” Brave Boy suggested suddenly. “No pronoun necessary.” His tone was casual, but it also carried a firmness to it that challenged anyone in the room to disagree with him.

 

Mean Girl said nothing.

 

I appreciated the idea and Mean Girl’s silence, but I couldn’t help but picture fellow teachers giving stern looks of disapproval upon hearing students call out “Hey, Jace!” to me in the hallway. How unprofessional, they’d murmur to one another. Then I imagined the principal calling me into their office and holding a special meeting to address “some concerns.” During this meeting, they’d frown at me from across a polished, wooden table as they commented on my inappropriate informality with students. I sighed. So much for first-name basis.

 

Reading my mind and seeing what I was envisioning, Brave Boy knelt down beside me. “Don’t worry about any of that yet,” he whispered. “The important thing is that you’re qualified, that you’re kind to your students, and that you teach them well. And you know that you can do all of those things. The first step is becoming officially qualified.” He smiled at me. Beautiful smile. 

 

Feeling a little heavy-hearted but slightly comforted, I turned off my computer, deciding that I’d done enough research for the day. I’ll call and speak with an advisor next week, I resolved. Putting it off again.

 

My mind fell quiet.

 

In conclusion..

We all have different personas.. personas with varying faces and tones and demeanors that we call upon and manifest in the presence of certain people. They’re how we cope. We employ them so that we can better relate to others, and we also use them to comfortably and authentically express ourselves. As people, our outward expression of ourselves shifts and adjusts constantly because we change constantly, and the company we’re in also changes constantly. The ongoing evolvement of our expressions of ourselves as individuals changes due to internal and external stimuli.

 

I believe that we carry different versions of ourselves within us, and that they exist prominently in our minds. Some versions that are present are our best selves.. they support, uphold and defend us (like Brave Boy) and challenge us to do the things we’re too lazy or too scared to attempt. We admire these representations of ourselves; we view them as the lovely outcome of our most-fully developed potential, and we strive to become like them. Other versions of ourselves – fearful, passionless, unconfident, and self-hating versions – are dangerously negative and critical. They will ceaselessly try to drag us down, so it’s important that we’re aware of them and learn how to manage them.

 

“You have to challenge the negative self-talk,” a friend advised me recently. “Don’t ignore it, and don’t fight with it, either. Challenge it. When you get up in the morning, get dressed, look into the mirror and a voice asks: ‘Oh.. so you’re wearing that today?’, you respond with: ‘Yes, I am, and I’m going to make it look good.’ Do this, and keep doing it — consistently challenge the negative thoughts and respond kindly to the negative voice — and eventually, the negative internal chatter will just die away. Maybe not altogether, but it will at least become increasingly difficult to hear.”

 

I’m going to try it out; challenging the negative self-talk (as it pertains to appearance, ideas, beliefs, dreams.. everything). The next time Mean Girl pipes up with her bullshit drama, giving me the same spiel she always does (IE: you’re ugly, you’re weird, you’re stupid and no one actually likes you), I’m going to stand up – right there in the middle of the room and in front of everyone – and look her square in the face.

“I hear you,” I’ll say, “and I’ve heard you all these years.. always saying the same thing, and always trying to put me down and then keep me there. I’ve considered your ideas; I really have. I’ve given them careful thought, and here’s how I feel about them: I’m NOT ugly. I’m average-looking. I may or may not be weird, but that’s both relative and irrelevant. I’m clearly NOT stupid because I can count and read and SORT OF successfully decoupage (please see below for a decoupaged, dalek-themed dinette table), and I don’t believe that “no one truly likes me.” I love the people in my life, openly and fiercely and unconditionally, and I know that they can feel it.. and I believe that many of them love me back. They may not love me as much as I love them, but that’s not the point. They care about me to whatever degree they’re capable of, and I appreciate that. I actually thrive off of it, if I’m being honest with myself. Relationships are far more important and integral to life than I care to admit. I’m scared of how dependent upon the love and companionship of friends and family I am; it makes me feel weak and somewhat dependent on others because.. well, I am. And that’s okay. To an extent. Look; it’s like this: I’m cared for, and I’m lovable, because I care about and love others. That’s how it works.”

The end. So yeah; when she rears her ugly head again, I’m ready to face her. Me and my army of daleks.

 

20160610_205359

 

I was experiencing a low last week.

 

I walked into Saturn, tossed my backpack onto “my couch” and then – keeping my eyes down on the concrete floor – hastily walked over to the restroom. After disappearing behind the door to the women’s room and washing my hands, I exited the restroom and began making my way back over to my couch when I heard:

 

“Jace?”

 

I looked up and Payton – my favorite barista with blue-green eyes and blue-tipped blonde hair – was leaning over the counter, smiling at me and cupping a pretty blue mug between her hands. She extended it towards me, and I looked down at it; at that familiar, swirly white heart weaved daintily into the top of the liquid’s brown surface. The sight of it instantly warmed my soul.
“My mocha!” I exclaimed happily. I hadn’t even ordered it yet. “I didn’t think you’d noticed me walk in,” I admitted to her, smiling. She asked me how my open mic performance had gone the previous week, and then we continued chatting with each other.

 

“See? She likes you,” Brave Boy winked at me.

“Ummmmm yeah RIGHT! A. She’s engaged, and B. I like her as a friend,” I stuttered quickly.

Quiet Boy whistled to himself a little, with his hands in his pockets, and smiled collaboratively with Sweet Girl.

“Whatever,” Mean Girl grumbled at all four of us, staring at a wall.

 

I’m sorry you’re so miserable, I thought towards her, gently. Because I’m not anymore. 

 

 

Still here,

Aun Aqui

Reflections: Why I’m Always Looking.

I’ve been simmering on two subjects for the last three weeks. The first subject is reflections; the second involves the curious realization I came to recently, which is that I’m in a constant state of being “on the lookout.” I thought that I’d need to write about these subjects separately and that I’d have to decide which one I wanted to hone in on first, but it occurred to me, about twenty four seconds ago, that they’re easily – and clearly – related topics. So here we go.

 

two birds one stone

 

I’m going to kick this off with a poll, and then I’m going to tell a story.

 

 

Two weeks ago, Charlie and I drove to Birmingham Southern College for no purpose other than to visit their famous EcoScope. We climbed out of his car and then entered the whimsical-looking garden area. “Just pick whichever direction you want to go in,” he offered kindly. I chose left.

 

We followed the trail and enjoyed looking at all of the greenery, the many plants, the interesting metal sculptures, and two very delightful wild bunny rabbits. Along the way, we also stumbled upon a tree house that had three flights of stairs connected to it. We climbed all three flights to reach the top, and then we stopped to take pictures.

 

We returned home a few hours later and I began preparing supper in the kitchen (it was probably something along the lines of a tossed salad and tomato bisque soup, because that is literally what we eat 99.9% of the time). In-between cutting vegetables and monitoring the pot of red, bubbling soup, I’d check in with Charlie to see how his Instagram editing process was going. He was toying with a picture he’d taken of me earlier in the afternoon.

 

Finally, he finished tweaking it. He announced that he was done and rotated the phone so that I could see it. As I looked down at the picture, I could feel him watching me, waiting for my verdict.

 

“I’m so sorry, Charlie,” I frowned a little, sighing. “I just hate it.”

 

“Why?” He asked blankly.

 

“It’s not you! It has nothing to do with the way you edited this picture. It’s the picture itself. I hate it because I look awful.”

 

“Awful?” He repeated. I removed my eyes from the picture and turned to gaze in his direction. When I did, by the look on his face, I could tell that he was not amused.

“Okay.. fine,” he said. He bent his body slightly, set his elbows down onto the counter, and then turned the phone back around so that he could peer at the image himself. “Let’s do this: YOU take another look at this picture, and then I want you to name EVERY SINGLE THING you hate about it. No reserves. Go.”

 

I laughed a little uncomfortably. “Ohhhhhhkay..”

 

First, here’s the picture:

Jace I Hate

 

And here’s the list of grievances that I named off to Charlie:

  1. My nose is huge. It isn’t proportional to the size of my face. It looks like a pug’s nose. A pug is a breed of dog, by the way.
  2. My right eye (right in the picture) looks weird.
  3. My smile looks fake. Because it is. Because I had to contort my face into a causeless smile, look into a vapid, robot lens, and then anxiously guess at how dumb I was going to look in frozen-form after the shutter sounded.
  4. My face looks fat. My legs look pudgy.
  5. My head is either too big or too small in comparison with the rest of my body. I haven’t decided which, but it definitely doesn’t correspond well.
  6. I look stupid (in general).
  7. I look sickly. Gaunt.
  8. I look boring.. uninteresting.
  9. I look distinctly, infuriatingly feminine, despite all of my strategic, concerted efforts to eradicate every trace of femininity from my external self.

 

Once I grew sick of gazing deeper into the image, I looked back over at Charlie. I was surprised to see tears welling up in his eyes. He almost looked.. angry.

 

“How dare you say those things?” He shook his head at me.

 

After miserably deliberating over the image for another ten minutes, I decided to upload the picture. [I honestly thought that me making myself upload a picture of myself that I hated would help.. fix my perspective on the matter. I’m sorry to report that it didn’t.]

 

“I’ll just put it on Instagram,” I resolved. “That way, fewer people will see it.” But then I thought of my mother and my grandmother who are NOT currently on Instagram and who I do not currently have time to teach Instagram TO and who are really the ONLY people in my life that are interested in seeing picture updates of me.

“Ughhhh.. Jeeeeeeezuhhhsssss,” I sighed, exasperated. I was too tired to give such a trivial matter any more thought, so I defeatedly checked the “Facebook” icon, giving Instagram permission to publicize the photo in friends’ news feeds and to showcase it on my wall. I felt like vomiting. I wish I was kidding.

 

Wanna know what’s really hilarious, and what – simultaneously – caused me to realize that I needed to talk more about this?

 

A close friend messaged me on Facebook the evening following my picture crisis.

 

“I’m soooooo proud of you for posting a pic where you are looking AT the camera!” Her message began. “Wanna know why? I think it shows strong self esteem and indicates that you are facing life head on! #PROUD.”

 

Ha.. wow.

If only you knew how much of a struggle uploading that picture was and how much I still hate it, I thought quietly.

***

I’ve always had an interesting relationship with my body and physical appearance. We’ve already talked about my on again, off again relationship with food, so let’s not reinvent the wheel there, but there are other things I’d like to mention.

 

My mom brought a two-piece swimsuit home from Dollar General once. I was 11. When she reached into the white, plastic bag and laid the scanty garments out on the kitchen counter, I was so appalled that I didn’t even try to conceal my disdain.

 

“There’s no way ON EARTH I’m wearing that stupid thing,” I grumbled audibly and then stalked off to my bedroom. I already knew, intuitively, that my body didn’t look right to me — that I shouldn’t have the parts that I did, or that some unknown something, internal or external, was missing — and the mere idea of exposing my physical self to the world and letting them witness my freak-show of a body felt nothing short of humiliating.

 

We’d do our clothes shopping at the thrift store, Ross, or Walmart (because there were no Targets in town), and I’d always meander off into the boys’ section, explaining to my mother that I liked how the boys’ shorts fell down to my knees, rather than ending abruptly at my thighs. She agreed to purchase them. “But these are only for skateboarding and other physical activities.. otherwise, you know you need to wear a long skirt or a dress.” Kill me.

 

I was goofing off in the bathroom one afternoon (age 13) when I discovered that, if I bent down, let my head and hair dangle towards the floor, and put my hair up in a bun or ponytail that way, that it pulled the sides of my face up a little and made me look.. better. Prettier? No, not prettier, because I wasn’t pretty to begin with; just better.

 

“But that’s dishonest,” I whispered to myself in the mirror, admiring the way the bun rested softly on top of my head. “You aren’t actually this good-looking.” So I took my hair down and then put it into a regular, unflattering, low-hanging ponytail. And that’s how I wore it for years. Until I chopped it all off two years ago. 

 

I noticed, in middle school, that school friends and church friends alike religiously carved out time in their daily schedules to apply make-up and style their hair. I wanted to ignore my face and forget about my hair, so I did nothing with either, other than washing my boring long locks every other day and popping pimples on my chin, cheeks and forehead (and consequently hating myself for creating terrible, bloody scabs in places where everyone could see them).

 

I was homeschooled in the 9th grade, and as a part of my freshman year curriculum, I was to write a research paper on any topic of my choosing. I chose eating disorders; big surprise. As I researched anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge-eating online and at the local library, I accidentally ran across a phrase that absolutely fascinated me: body dysmorphic disorder. And I really don’t think I realized, at that time, just how close to home the disorder was. Now, I can see it clearly; sitting beside me, walking behind me, stepping around and, sometimes, through me.. demanding my attention as it catches my eye and casts its shadows.

 

Present day.

 

I’m doing a good bit better with how I view myself. I’ve lost a lot of weight, and a lot of that weight dropped out of “famously feminine” areas (which I greatly appreciate). I got off of birth control two years ago (never taking that shit agaaaaaaain #praisehands #wonthedoit) and my acne’s actually improved since. I’ve extracted every skirt, dress, and lacy, frilly thing from my closet, because when I came out, I pulled it all out with me. Panties? Why on earth would I willingly CHOOSE to wear panties when boxers exist and they make so much more sense? PANTIES? I hate the way they look, they way they feel.. I even hate the word. Gross.

 

It’s been a slow process, but now that I’m at an acceptable weight and wearing either gender-neutral or masculine clothing at work and at home, I feel comfortable, and that is SUCH a feat. Now, I can actually look back at old pictures of myself – as an awkward and clueless pretending woman – and see something that almost, sort of resembles “cute.”

Me and Padre at Wedding
Padre walking his “princess” down to the altar. This photograph was taken on my wedding day — approximately six years ago.
Rose.
Pictured (L-R): Me and Bruce. This picture was taken just two years ago.

 

But it (this “cute-like” thing) sure as hell doesn’t look like me, and I don’t identify with that person at all. Not even in retrospect. It’s bizarre, and it’s strange to say, but she’s entirely foreign to me.

 

I’m working on developing a greater appreciation for my organic body by debunking stupid myths (one of them being that my nose is too large; I am positively able to smell Chipotle burritos from a reasonable distance, freshly brewed coffee within a thirty-foot radius, and my German Shepherd’s adorable little princess foot at will, so it’s actually a perfectly normal and functional nose) and being gentle with myself. I don’t tolerate people bullying other people, and I would NEVER bully somebody else, so why the heck would I go out of my way to intentionally bully myself? So instead of buying into fallacious myths, bullying myself or fixating on unpleasant things that I truly can’t (reasonably) change, I try to point out positive traits, and I also try to focus on the features that I like.

 

As a positive exercise in establishing a healthy self-image: Here are two pictures of myself that I approve of, and I can tell you exactly why.

 

#1: The Magician

Jace I Like

A. I look like a boy. Totally. Ask anyone if the human pictured is a boy or a girl and I BET they’ll say boy. I love it. I want to dress up like Harry Potter every single day so that I can always look like a boy.

B. Due to the weighted average of two factors combined (1. the largeness of the shirt I’m wearing and 2. my recent weight loss), I look super flat-chested in this picture, and that is awesome.

C. My hair looks pretty cool.

D. Speaking of cool, my stance is what I would refer to as a “cool guy stance.”

E. I’m wearing Vans.

F. I’m masquerading as a magician, and while it’s a very misleading portrayal, it’s still really cool.

 

#2: The Dweeb on the BeachJace I Kinda Like

Charlie took this picture of me when we were at the beach last week. I don’t love it, but I am okay with it for these reasons:

  1. I’m not looking into the camera, and I’m also not wearing a fake smile. I’m in the middle of talking and I’m laughing about something; it’s candid.
  2. I don’t look fat. (..checks again.) No. I don’t.
  3. My piercings and part of a tattoo are visible in this shot. I like that. Getting the piercings was an incredibly terrifying undertaking (as I’d never subjected myself to a needle barreling itself through my earlobe before), so I’m understandably proud of them.
  4. My hair is short.
  5. Looking at my face and posture, I seem happy and somewhat confident. That’s nice to see.

 

I’m not a selfie fiend — not even in the slightest, but like the rest of the world, I try to get candid, real-looking shots of myself and, when I do, I play around with different filters and effects until my blemishes are masked. I add enough shadows to make certain body parts look thinner, and I up or down contrast levels to make the scene seem artsier than it really is. Cause you know.. the driver’s seat of your car and the “lobby” area of your bathroom aren’t, on their own, intriguing or cool. At all.

 

Now.. how does this fucked-up, self-image “reflections” thing have anything to do with me being in a “constant state of searching”? Of always being “on the lookout”? Let me explain.

 

I do it at the coffee shop. Every — single — week. I walk inside, order my mocha, and then I settle down onto the couch and – without even thinking about it – perform a quick scan of the joint. Are they here today?

I do it at the grocery store.. especially at Whole Foods or any type of health food store, because that’s clearly where “my type” would be, shopping or working.

I do it at the park while I’m wearing shades and skating around. If they’re here, that means that THEY like being outdoors, and I LOVE being outdoors, so clearly, we’d be super compatible. Come find me!

I do it in traffic, thinking: Oh my god. What if my soulmate is in THAT CAR, RIGHT THERE? [Insert panic and absolutely insane thoughts: How will I ever know? What is sign language for “Meet me at the Kangaroo Express off of this exit so that we can have a normal conversation and see if you’re the girl of my dreams and I’m the girl/boy human being of yours?”]

I even do it in my dreams. You know how it goes; I’m casually going about living life and then suddenly, there she is. I’m writing on my laptop, pause to look up, and she’s just standing there. Or maybe she comes running down the road, trailing after me as I’m exiting the coffee shop, and she stops once she reaches me at my car, trying to catch her breath, shaking her head, laughing adorably and apologizing. “Look,” she begins, raising her eyebrows, “I know this is really weird, but I just felt like I needed to introduce myself.”

And then – amazed and floored – I respond: “Where have you been all of my life? Do you want an outdoor wedding? I can go get fitted for a tuxedo today..”

 

I’m always, it seems, looking for my soulmate.

 

Flirting

 

And when a friend shared THIS on Facebook the other day, it made me laugh, AND it made me think.

 

Soulmate

 

Why am I always looking? Do I really crave companionship that badly? Sure I do. I’ve spent my whole life with a companion.. my whole life. Ages 0-10, it was Bobby, my brother. Then Melissa came strolling along and my whole family drifted into the background of my mind as she became the center of my world. That was 10-18. When 18 rolled around, I married Chris, and from 18-23, he was my constant companion. We split in November and I immediately jumped into ANOTHER committed relationship (which lasted from age 24 until a couple of weeks ago). So here I am.. finally single like I claimed I wanted and needed to be.. and yet I’m, apparently, looking to jump into yet ANOTHER RELATIONSHIP? Why the fucking fuck would I do that?

 

The Doctor and his companion.  Aka, L-R, me (portrayed by cool guy David Tennant) and my soulmate (who is actually brunette, not blonde).
The Doctor and his companion.
Aka, L-R, me (portrayed by cool guy David Tennant) and my soulmate (who is actually brunette, not blonde).

“You keep saying you want to be single, but you’re constantly preoccupied with looking for her; that simple-looking, brown-eyed brunette with a gentle demeanor and an easygoing confidence.. the girl who suddenly makes eye contact with you from across the room and, when she does, you feel magic.”

 

“…yes. Exactly. All of that.”

 

“?!!! WHICH IS IT, JACE? Do you really want to be single right now or do you want a distraction? Are you equating finding a person with finding purpose? Are you so lacking in passion and personal pursuits that life is uninteresting without having an admirer, or having someone to admire?”

 

“I think that, in a society that normalizes pairing off and looks weirdly away from lonely, overlooked singles, I’m afraid to be alone, and I think that I value and appreciate myself too little to be content with being alone.” That’s the honest truth. These are some pretty recent and not-fully-developed self-revelations, but I’ll try to spell them out for you as clearly as possible.

 

It’s like this:

I think that I feel somewhat worthless. Wrong body, wrong voice; strange-looking, of average intelligence, and governed by strange, OCD habits; surprisingly childish, too aged, emotionally scarred and fucked; untrusting, subsequently noncommittal, and completely unremarkable.

So – to make up for everything I’m missing – I want to find some beautiful, smart, talented, and interesting soul to adore.. to take care of and support and associate myself with. Being with them will make me happier; I’m certain of it. Pairing off with them, and affixing myself to them, will give my life greater meaning. They will inspire and challenge me to be and do better. I need a reason to exist. I need someone to invest in; someone to promote and invest in. I’m not exceptional. I’m simple; like a dingy, off-white paint sample; a paper cup in a cabinet full of fine china; or the cheaper, generic store brand version of tomato soup. I just want to be the quiet, loving, and supportive launching pad – the independent but not emotionally distant, unassuming, and adoring shadow person – for someone exceptional.

 

Can you see how flawed that entire thought process is? Deriving your own personal value through your involvement in the life of another human being?

 

Basically, boil it all down to basic components and raw truths and I’m just not enough. That’s what I keep showing and telling myself, anyways. In a world of pairs, I’m the short end of the stick; in mathematical language, I’m a listless, dangling 30% that’s waiting for their lively, adventuring 70% counterpart to come find them.

 

How sad. How very, very sad. Why do I paint this picture that portrays me as being so pathetic, co-dependent, and unlovable? Am I really those things? I don’t think so. And aren’t I on my OWN adventure? Don’t I possess a drive and motivation that isn’t dependent on anything or anyone? Don’t I believe that I have intrinsic value? And don’t I love being independent — being able to walk, skate, or trip and fumble up and down my own self-directed, self-guided path? Who or what keeps telling me that I’m probably not enough, and that being single proves that I’m not enough?

 

I have a friend who’s like this. When he isn’t in a relationship with someone, he let’s himself go to shit. I’ve seen it happen. He drinks, smokes, stops eating.. passes out at bars, arrives to work late, and stops caring about all of his interests, hobbies, and passions. When it’s just him alone in this world, everything loses its meaning. Everything is utterly pointless.
“But that’s so fucking stupid,” I’ve told him. “SO many people have LEGITIMATE reasons to feel depressed. Like — they’re ugly, or stupid, or talentless.. or at least they think they are.. but you’re so incredibly talented, brilliant, and gorgeous.” But nothing I say matters to him; it doesn’t improve how he perceives himself, and it doesn’t change how he values himself. And it’s the same for me, really.. to a certain extent. Someone could tell me all day long that I’m a worthwhile human being, but I’ll still go home that night feeling inconsequential and totally discardable. On my worst days, I reason with myself like this: “Really, if I were to kill myself, it would benefit the world in so many different ways; people wouldn’t admit it, but it would. A position at work would open up for someone else, I wouldn’t be using up so much of the earth’s resources (food, clothing, this home), and I wouldn’t have to worry about hurting or upsetting or disappointing anyone. Removing myself from everything and everyone, while jarring at first, would be such a peaceful and kind gesture.. it would drop everything down, I believe, into neutral.”

The “death option” can seem appealing, and the internal conversations are pretty convincing sometimes, but then I remind myself that I’m in a dark spell – a bad place – and that I’ll bounce out of it soon. “Just stay here a little longer,” I whisper out loud. “You aren’t supposed to dip out yet.”

 

How to end this nicely?

I am coaching myself to try to like myself. On the outside and the inside. And if, in the process of self-discovering, I come across something about myself that is weak, unkind, or unhealthy, I’m sure as hell going to do something to correct it. If it’s within my power to change for the better, it’s going to happen, because I’m actively going to commit to making it happen.

 

I am also trying to recondition or reprogram the way I think and act on conscious and subconscious levels so that I’m not looking for someone else to give my life meaning or to validate my “self worth.” 

 

I’m worth getting up and getting dressed in the morning.

Cooking a healthy meal for just myself is worth the time, the effort, and the stupidly over-priced organic ingredients.

And I don’t need to have someone holding my hand in order for me to enjoy a blindingly beautiful sunset, an energizing walk through the park, a well-written book, or a really good sci-fi show. It’s certainly nice to share these things with someone, but in the absence of that someone, they’re perfectly enjoyable on their own.

 

“Please,” my close friend implored me months ago, “take some time to get to know and love yourself. Take yourself out on dates, Jace. Go to restaurants and movies, parks and coffee shops.. whatever you want. As you get to know yourself, you’ll notice things you love about yourself, and you’ll also discover things you don’t love. It’ll be an interesting process — you’ll grow stronger because of it and it will really help you heal — but it will also require a lot your time and all of your honesty.”

 

So — taking her advice — here I am, dating myself at Saturn. I bought myself a pricey mocha a little bit ago and I’ve offered to cook myself burritos for dinner. Things are getting seriousssssss. 

 

 

Still looking — who just walked in? Ehhh, that was a dude.

Aun Aqui

 

The Simply Irresistible Dr. Pepper Table

I drove home from the beach late yesterday afternoon, dropped my luggage off at the house, greeted my German Shepherd, and then immediately headed back out to downtown Birmingham to file for “homestead.” As soon as I’d pulled BACK up at home, Charlie exited the house and met me at the top of the driveway right as I was opening my car door.

 

“Hey,” he smiled down at me. “How’d it go?”

“GREAT! I’m glad to have it over with,” I smiled back at him.

“I was just about to head out for orange juice and chocolate milk because I know you won’t last through the night without them.”

 

I laughed.

 

“You are SO sweet. Can I come with you?”

“Hop in my car!” He answered.

 

We drove to the Publix down the road and, just as we were pulling in to the shopping plaza, I spotted an antique shop next door to it: Brass Bear.

 

“OH, CAN WE PLEASE STOP IN THERE?” I exclaimed quickly, excitedly pointing my finger in the direction of the shop.

 

“I noticed that this place opened up a few months ago, but I’m always at work during its business hours,” I explained further.

 

Charlie aligned his head with the direction of my pointing finger and located the joint. “Of course!”

 

So we walked in together and spent a solid hour walking down each aisle; rummaging through old bins, eyeing vintage writing desks with chipped edges and secret surprise drawers, and keeping an eye out for any stools (my recent obsession).

 

After about forty minutes, I stumbled upon an old-fashioned, metal-bottom, smooth-top diner table. It struck my fancy.

The only thing I didn’t love about it was the fact that it was red.

 

“Why?” Charlie asked. “Why do you dislike that it’s red?”

 

“Because red isn’t my favorite color.” Duh.

 

I decided to keep moving along and continued meandering through the rest of the store. I ended up toting a tin “Indian Motorcycle Club” sign around with me because it was impossible to resist and, as Charlie and I finished scoping out the very last aisle, he turned around to look at me.

 

“I know what you want,” he stated confidently.

“What?!”

“That BLUE STOOL and the RED TABLE.”

 

It was true that I’d set my sights on a blue stool because said stool was

A. blue,

B. close to the ground (perfect for guitar playing), and

C. had a yellow rocketship and other cosmic shit painted onto it,

 

but I’d abandoned the idea of purchasing said stool because the artist had ALSO painted “mom’s stool” in bold yellow font across the top of the stool. And I still can’t, for the life of me, figure out why on earth anyone would do that. I could easily paint over it, of course, but the mere knowledge that it was, originally or previously, a “mom stool” made it seem much less attractive to me.

 

But the table.

 

“I do feel this interesting.. pull towards that table.” I paused. “Let’s just go look at it one more time,” I decided.

 

I power-walked over to the aisle I’d first seen it on and it was, to my relief, still there, partially covered with and slightly obscured by a tacky, pink model of a convertible, a candle, and an old DVD set.

 

I gently pushed the items out of the way and wiped my hand across the table’s surface. It felt nice.

 

I bent down to look at the metal foundation and the rusty, securing hardware.

I sighed.
“Look..” I began. “I think that I’m drawn to this table because, first of all, it’s got that 60’s diner feel to it that I like. I’ve been wanting a table like this one.”

 

“Right,” Charlie murmured acknowledgement.
“And for some strange, strange reason, it reminds me of a soda fountain machine. Like.. at a gas station.”

 

We both stood there, staring at it. Then, it clicked.

 

“Specifically,” I corrected myself, smiling, “it reminds me of Dr. Pepper. That color. That color is VERY similar to the color on the wallpaper of that soda.”

 

To refresh your memory..

 

dr pepper

 

“Yeahhhhh!” Charlie agreed. “It really is similar.”

 

“And that was Bobby’s favorite beverage. Therefore, this table is coming home with me.”

 

I purchased the table (and the motorcycle sign) at the front counter and then texted my best friend, Chris, asking him if he’d be able to pick the table up tomorrow.
“I’ll help you! Np.”

 

He picked it up this afternoon AND lugged it into the house for me while I was at work. Wanna see it?

 

2016-06-01 18.25.58

 

Here’s a closer look..

 

2016-06-01 18.26.26

 

Since selling practically all of my furniture last year, I’ve been living a very minimalist lifestyle. And I like it. A lot. Basically, my bedroom has some stuff in it (a bed, two red bookcases, two stools, my writing desk and some music gear), and every other room in the house is empty (with the exception of some potted plants in the kitchen and, in the upstairs nook by the window, the first dinette set Chris and I ever purchased together at JCPenney and which I intend to keep forever).

 

The point of this? I am now the proud owner of a Dr. Pepper-themed diner table, and every time I sit at the table, I’m going to think of my brother, Bobby. When I mosey through the house and pass by the table, or stop to sit down and enjoy a meal at it, I’m going to remember to enjoy the smallest things in this world, because it was those incredibly small things (like playing tennis at the rec center down the street, ordering garlic knots at the local pizza joint, and filling up his Big Gulp cup at the 7-eleven down the road) that made him so very happy. I want to be like him. Life is short, and an epileptic brain cancer survivor with severe mental and physical limitations – who lived a tragically short life – found it so easy, so natural, and so effortless to be happy and grateful. That was Bobby’s default: being happy. I’m proud to say that it’s my default, too.

 

Disclaimer: I wouldn’t recommend pouring Dr. Pepper into a Big Gulp cup because that soda is poison. Maybe opt for some organic, unpasteurized OJ instead?

 

Aun Aqui