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:
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.
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:
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.
- 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.
- 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.”
- 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.
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!”
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.”
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: