Granny Panties, Shameless Groping, and Dingy, Dirty Door Knobs

Three quick stories, and then we’ll get down to what really matters.

 

Story #1: The Girl with the Granny Panties

dragon tattoo
She isn’t QUITE as cool as the girl with the DRAGON TATTOO, but she’s close. Sort of close.

 

When I was in the 7th grade, I signed up for a computer education class. My best friend – a girl from Ecuador named Betty – sat at the computer station beside mine each day, and at the start of every class, we’d pull on matching pairs of headphones and then begin working on interactive typing exercises together.

“Do not look down at the keyboard while typing,” the stoic female computer voice would remind us, periodically. I was very studious and did my best to follow her instructions, but Betty disregarded them entirely. By the end of the semester, our varying strategies had produced very different results, as my WPM average had reached a whopping 136 while hers sat at about 52.

During one of these classes, a fellow 7th grader approached me at my computer station, leaned down, and whispered into my ear: “So.. do you wear GRANNY PANTIES with your long dresses?” Then she walked away towards her group of friends, laughing.. all of them, laughing.

I kept my eyes glued to the computer screen and tried my best to look unbothered.

 

‘Granny panties’? I questioned myself as I typed. DO I wear granny panties? My mom buys my undergarments from Walmart. Is that what she’s asking: If I wear WALMART PANTIES? ..is it bad to WEAR Walmart panties?

 

After consulting with Betty, I realized, that day, that there is an entire WORLD of underwear out there for girls to peruse and choose from: there was the underwear that I wore — garments whose tops rested just under the belly button and which reasonably clothed the entire buttocks (these are, FYI, commonly referred to as ‘granny panties’) — and then there were mysterious others. Like bikinis. And thongs. And g-strings and boy shorts. Some of these types of underpants were, I discovered, cotton-based (which I was already familiar with) while others were lacy, or silky, and some of them were even (partially or fully) see-through.

 

…but why would someone want to wear a see-through THONG? I exclaimed. What would be the POINT? It sounds horrible, weird, and GROSS. I was appalled.

 

Still, I was ashamed of my secretly worn granny panties, so the next time my mom mentioned taking a trip to Walmart, I asked to accompany her. We entered the store together and then I slipped off into the girls’ clothing section. There, I quickly and secretly leafed through dozens of plastic packets of Hanes and Fruit of the Loom underwear before settling on two packages: one contained 6 pairs of boy shorts (they looked cool), and the other, special package featured bikinis (just so that, if mean girl asked about my undergarments AGAIN, I could honestly tell her that I owned bikinis). I tucked both of the packages underneath my right arm as I set about locating my mother in the store; after spotting her long, denim skirt floating down the laundry detergent aisle, I tossed them into the bottom of her shopping cart and felt a gigantic surge of relief pass through me as I did so. Problem solved.

 

But she – mean girl – never asked again, and I never liked wearing them. Today, I just wear boxers all of the time.

 

Story #2: Get your MFing hands OFF of me.

basketball hoop

 

In the 11th grade, I transitioned from executing a few somewhat successful years of self-guided homeschooling to attending a public school in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. Gym class, I quickly discovered, was a division of the sexes.

Girls walked the track or sat on the bleachers. Boys played football or basketball. I didn’t have anyone to walk with, and I didn’t want to sit by myself and be bored, so I wedged myself into the boys’ games. They were resistant, at first, and ignored me entirely, but after a few games where I consistently showed up and actively tried to participate, they began passing me the ball, and we were all amazed when I landed my first successful hoop and, quickly afterwards, touchdown.

So one day, during a game of basketball and completely out of the blue, a guy friend walked up to me and put his hands over my t-shirt, cupping both of my (very small) breasts. I was stunned. He smiled at me mischievously, dropped his hands slowly, and then ran towards the other side of the court, where the game was moving.

 

I continued standing there, speechless.

 

I felt violated. I was angry. I was scared. This had never happened to me before. I didn’t know what to say or how to say it, but I knew that I had to say something quickly.

 

Instinct took over; I tagged along, anxiously, as my body marched itself over to where he was standing. Once I was close enough to do so, I nudged his shoulder, making him look me in the eye.

“Don’t you EVER.. do THAT.. AGAIN,” I commanded, looking very serious, and then I walked away.

I felt like I’d just reproved my dog for jumping up and sneaking a slice of pizza off of the kitchen counter while my back was turned, but this was my friend, and the offense was way bigger than a stolen slice of pizza. Why had he done that to me?

He never did it again, but I could never look at him without remembering that he had done it before.

People have had far worse happen to them than an isolated incident of unwanted groping from a classmate.. many of us have fallen victim to unrequested, unsolicited, and unwanted advances. It’s never, ever pleasant, and you never, ever forget it.

 

Story #3: Oh no he didn’t..

door knob

During this same school year, I spent my weeknights skateboarding inside of a concrete warehouse with a bunch of boys. Most of them became familiar with my presence and accepted me into their clique of cool skater dudes.. but one day, a boy I hadn’t spoken with before skated past me and gave me a mean look.

“You’re a doorknob, you know that?” he asked.

Clueless, I responded: “What?”

Everyone gets a turn.” He raised his eyebrows at me pointedly and then zoomed away on his board.

I didn’t understand right away. I couldn’t figure out what he meant. But the way he’d said it – so negatively and demeaningly, like I’d done something wrong – conveyed the message.

But I haven’t even KISSED a boy before, I defended myself inwardly, let alone do OTHER stuff.

 

But who cares? That’s extra, ‘inside scoop’ knowledge for you, reader. The fact that I’d never kissed a boy before doesn’t matter, because even if I’d kissed 17 boys that year, he still should not have said that.

 

Why all of this matters.

I watched a video yesterday morning that caused a miniature emotional meltdown. I sat there in my room, sobbing, while the short video played; my fat and clumsy German Shepherd came barreling up the stairs, wailing loudly in response to my grief.

If you care to see it, this is the video.

Why would a child do those things, say those things? Why is she screaming at a doll, calling it a stupid whore and sneering that it needs to get its life together as she kicks, punches and tramples it?

“Obviously, because she’s hearing those things herself.. they’re either being said to her directly, or she’s picking up on it indirectly, hearing other people being talked to or talked about this way,” a friend answered when I shared the disturbing content with them.

 

And six-year-olds aren’t the only ones who’ve thrown the “whore” word around before. I’ve used similar words myself; I’ll admit to the fact easily, AND I’ll tell you all about it.

 

 

I told three stories at the beginning of this post. There was a “central point” to each of them.

  1. Women are judged by how they dress.
  2. Women are blamed for what happens to them because of how they dress.
  3. Women are judged when they express themselves sexually.

 

Let’s talk about #1 first: Why do we judge women by the way they dress?

woman's dress code

It might be easier to admit, first, that I’ve judged women for how they’ve dressed.

A couple of years ago, Chris and I were hooked on a Netflix show called Weeds. In it, you follow the riveting story of a suburban housewife whose husband has just died and who is now left with the responsibility of making a living to support herself and her children. Her game plan? Sell marijuana. That’s pretty much it — the overarching “plot” of the show.. so you plop down onto the couch and binge-watch as she deals with the best of them and gets into some pretty messy escapades along the way.

“I love this show,” I told Chris once, over a pint of Ben and Jerry’s chocolate fudge brownie ice cream,”but she is so freaking SLEAZY.”

“You mean empowered?” he challenged me, raising his eyebrows.

I rolled my eyes.

Hooookay. Really though; she is so unnecessarily sultry with the way she carries herself.. she’s overly sensual.”

“You mean she’s confident?” he corrected me once again.

It infuriated me.

“YOU JUST LIKE THAT SHE DRESSES SLEAZY AND ACTS SLEAZY,” I accused him.

He raised his eyebrows at me and paused the show. Very calmly, he turned to me and said: “No, I do not; I just don’t think that a woman should be judged for her appearance or reproved for carrying herself with confidence.”

I felt like a jackass, so I just stopped talking and continued watching sleazy Nancy Botwin weasel her way out of yet another miniature crisis, wearing daisy dukes and stupid heels. How impractical, I thought to myself. Good luck running away from the bad guys in those.

 

It’s something I struggle with to this day.

Whether it’s in real life or on a television screen, I just don’t like seeing half-naked people. I honestly don’t. Going to the beach this year was just as stressful for me as it was pleasurable, because while all I wanted to see was waves, sharks, and burritos, shirtless dudes and bikini-clad gals kept getting in my way. Call me asexual, but nudity isn’t attractive to me. Eyes, hands, and smiles.. those are attractive.. but now we’re getting really off-topic. Back to scantily clad people: Seeing so much of someone you don’t know that well seems overly intimate, inappropriate, and awkward, and this is mostly because of the society we live in. We’re clothed the second we’re born, and the porn industry has done such a fantastic job objectifying and sexualizing the human body that, unfortunately, we have to remain covered throughout our lives, even as we’re lowered into our graves. As a result, when someone is wearing an outfit that I would refer to as being revealing, I automatically – without even realizing I’m doing it – dip out of the no-judgment-zone and find myself criticizing them inwardly. Some of it is justified; some of it isn’t.

“How can they walk around in public like that?” I ask myself, awestruck. “It’s so inconsiderate! OTHER women are going to feel self-conscious, comparing THEIR decently concealed bodies with her brazenly EXPOSED body, and if these other women are out and about with a significant other, they are going to be paranoid that THEIR person is checking out THAT girl. It’s all a mess; a great, big, stupid mess. Just put on some damn clothes.. ALL of you. Forever.”

There you have it. That’s some real talk. Now, some of that is true, and some of it has resulted from conditioned thinking. I was, after all (and as you may recall), raised in a very conservative environment where even showing an elbow (or showcasing an ankle) out in public was considered provocative. But how does one tell the difference between someone being comfortable and confident and authentically and creatively expressing themselves and them dressing or acting indecently? The answer: It’s not up to you to determine the difference. Conduct yourself in a manner that’s consistent with your internal, moral compass, and accept that others are going to do the same thing. It’s as simple as that. The key thing is: Don’t malign the intentions or characters of others who have a different perspective on the matter than you do. For me, putting on a button-up shirt and a tie makes me feel good about myself; if that’s different for the next girl and wearing a short dress or a push-up bra makes her feel confident, am I entitled to judge her for that? The answer: I’m totally not. We’re all doing the best we can to make peace with ourselves and the world, so be a supporter,a promoter, and a lover of people.. not an asshole.

And check this: I’m not saying that girls or women should be able to just prance around NAKED and that no one should say a gosh darn thing about it, because NO ONE should be prancing around naked; if you see someone of ANY gender – girl, boy, or otherwise – trotting around the mall or neighborhood in their birthday suit, kindly phone your local clothing authorities, because the United States isn’t USED to that kind of living (topic for another time).. but please realize that anything other than nudity is going to be judgment-based, and that, outside of places of business and certain parks, people are allowed to dress themselves according to their own moral compass and comfort level. There are so many other things to focus on outside of a person’s appearance, so try to redirect your gaze and appreciate those things instead of getting caught up in someone’s outer gear.

 

#2: And whose fault was it? Survey says..

survey says

I grew up in a religion where tasteful women who wore long skirts and long-sleeved shirts would point at scantily-clad women and sneer that they were just asking for it.. that they were tempting men to be inappropriate with and take advantage of them, and that they shouldn’t be surprised when it happens. To be more explicit, I basically grew up believing that a woman could cause rape to happen to her. Isn’t that devastating to read? Archaic? Unbelievable? Now, as a reasonable adult who has undergone a hell of a lot of unbecoming and who has sorted through literal barrels of shit, I believe that a woman could walk around an entire city for MONTHS shirt-less AND pants-less and that she still wouldn’t DESERVE rape. She wouldn’t ever ‘deserve’ it for a single SECOND no matter WHAT.. and for anyone to even imply that she does, or that she is to be blamed for it happening to her, or that she WANTED it to happen because of how she was dressed, is lunacy. It’s despicable. I don’t care if a woman spends her whole life naked; wearing lots of clothes or no clothes at all, she does not deserve to be taken advantage of, and the responsibility for rape happening will ALWAYS lie with the offender. The predator. The depraved asshole – man or woman – who forced someone into something they were NOT asking for.

 

And finally, #3: Why do we judge women when they express their sexuality?

movie meme

I have a friend who has been married to her high school sweetheart for 13 years and who has been – during that time – with him only, and then I have another friend who dated and slept with 5 guys in one summer. Is either girl more respectable than the other? If you answered yes, you need to rethink your answer, because I have had to rethink mine.

Sexual promiscuity – which is what we’re talking about right now – is a subjective term.

Subjective (n): of, relating to, or emanating from a person’s emotions, prejudices, etc.; relating to the inherent nature of a person or thing; belong to, proceeding from, or relating to the mind of the thinking subject and not the nature of the object being considered.

In other words, sex – in and of itself – is entirely meaningless. You assign meaning and value and rules to it based on who you are and what you view it as being.

And some people take sex very seriously: “Wait until you’re married.”

While others are more lax with their approach: “Ehhh.. try to wait until the second date. If you can. Or not. Whatever.”

For some, it’s a very meaningful and emotionally-laced activity (sacred, even), while, for others, it’s valued for being more of an experience than a show of love. For some, sex is casually viewed as a ‘pastime’ (and is grouped with other pastimes, like going to a movie, baking a dessert, or painting a picture).

Pastime (n): a diversion or recreation which serves to pass the time agreeably; an activity done for pleasure rather than work; a hobby; a sport, a game.

Depending on your viewpoint, that last bit may be weird to read, but that’s reality.

And it’s a judgment call either way.. one that’s riddled with feelings and fine details, like how you grew up, what you witnessed in the world of ‘love’ as you grew up, and who or what you believe in. To some people, the nutritional content of a meal or the price tag on a new Harry Potter book is a weightier matter to consider than who their sexual partner is going to be that night. And there’s nothing wrong with that. Did you catch that? Do you disagree vehemently? Are you mortified and appalled? That’s fine; the solution is simple: Don’t sleep around. But remember: That’s YOUR choice. You can’t decide for everyone else.

Now.. is it dangerous to sleep with lots of people? It sure as heck is if you aren’t careful, and I wouldn’t exactly recommend sleeping with every Tom, Dick and Jenny that you meet.. but I also wouldn’t judge someone who wants to live that kind of lifestyle, because they’re living according to their own morals and standards — not mine — and that is respectable. Their actions aren’t hurting, affecting, or at all impacting me, so why should I have any say in how they live their life? You’re correct! I shouldn’t.

“But the more people you have sex with,” you argue, “the less meaning it will have!” I don’t disagree with that statement. As it stands right now, I’m actually one of the least ‘sexually promiscuous’ people I’ve ever known (I didn’t have a legit boyfriend until I turned 18 and, to this day, I’ve kissed two people). But that’s me and my take on the matter.. and mine is no better and no more correct than the next person’s, however liberal their approach or conservative their take is. Period. Newsflash: Morals are subjective; stick to your own, and lay off of judging people whose morals vary from yours. Remember, also, that lifestyles are fluid and malleable.. and that however much you want there to be one, there is no “one-size-fits-all.” All you can do is you, boo.

But alas; even though we’ve all finally agreed that people have the right to live according to their own morals and standards (including managing their own sexuality), still, we call them sluts. Whores. We refer to women who sleep with lots of men or women as being sleazy and loose and we make it very obvious that we don’t respect them because of their poor and morally-corrupt decision making. And guess what?  THIS is PRECISELY what the verbally and physically abusive six-year-old has already witnessed in her short lifetime. Just consider the repercussions of being exposed to that kind of negativity, judgment and name-calling at such a young age; when will she begin to think of HERSELF as a whore, and when will she lose respect for herself? When someone, at some point, decides to call her a doorknob, will she unquestioningly believe them — wearing the blame and feeling the shame — or will she have the confidence and sense of self-worth needed to cast off such an outrageously inappropriate label that she knows will never apply to her? A huge variable of whether or not that confidence and sense of self-worth will exist is her environment. What are her parents, teachers, and friends like? How do they speak to each other, to her, and about other people? And as she grows older, how will people at church, work, and the grocery store treat her and look at her? How are you going to treat her and look at her? Will it depend on how she’s dressed or how many sexual partners you know or THINK she’s had?

 

screwed either way
Yep; this pretty much sums it up. Basically, as a woman, you’re screwed either way.

 

 

We have to pause and consider the power of our words before speaking or writing them, and we would do well to be more hesitant and thoughtful before casting our judgments. Myself very much included.

 

I don’t have time to talk about how horrible cinema and magazines are, but check out the following song lyrics (from various years, genres, and artists) and explanations as to why I hate them so much.

 

I heard your dreams came true. Guess she gave you things I wouldn’t give to you.

You’ve probably seen memes that guess at what Adele could have been referring to here; I don’t need to spell it out for you. These two lines alone create an expectation for girls: ‘If I want this person to be interested in me, I need to be willing to do this.’ No ma’am. You shouldn’t do anything that you aren’t comfortable with, and you certainly shouldn’t agree to do anything that you don’t want to do.

Do I have to keep up the pace to keep you satisfied?

This could imply that a woman should possess a sex drive that matches her partner’s expectations. That’s a very bold assumption, and it’s a wrong one; no one should be made to feel that they need to muster up a more competitive sex drive that just isn’t there in order to keep their current partner loyal and in order to be accepted, liked, and loved by them.

I’ll be your daydream; I’ll wear your favorite things.

Why? Why do you have to play dress-up to make this other person happy? I call bullshit. Dressing up for a special occasion is one thing, but make it habitual and you may end up recreating yourself into a version of you that is difficult to maintain, totally unauthentic, and – worst of all – completely unhappy.

 

Long overdue, here are my ‘super major’ overarching points:

STOP:

  1. Judging girls and women for their appearance, behavior, or sexuality.
  2. Making girls and women feel subservient or accountable to men (or any romantic partner) in any kind of capacity.

START:

  1. Nurturing, affirming, respecting and protecting girls and women.. because by doing this — by acting like a supportive, cheering audience and serving as a dependable backdrop for the grand stage of their lives — they will be able to more easily nurture, affirm, respect and DEFEND themselves, and that’s the real goal. It makes sense, doesn’t it? When you’re able to stop worrying about your external appearance or the way people are interpreting you, you’re able to begin considering more productive and intriguing things.. like what you’re interested in, what you’re passionate about, what kind of career you’re gravitating towards or what new hobby you’d like to pick up.

 

Watch people adorn themselves, express themselves, and direct their own lives without submitting your judgment, because your judgment won’t just negatively impact that person you’re directing it at; others will notice, and some of these others will adopt your prejudice, your words, and your stares, and soon enough, little, baby girls will be calling other girls, and their own selves, whores, because of how narrow-minded and suckish you are. Don’t contribute to the downward spiral; be a positive, life-giving force in the lives of girls and women. I can’t tell you how, exactly, that mission will play out in your life, but you’ll figure it out.

 

Nurture, Affirm, Respect and Protect: Four verbs girls and women need RIGHT NOW.

 

One last story:

I drove downtown yesterday afternoon for my 7th tattoo. Aaron was in the back of the shop, sitting down on a stool and drawing up a sketch, when I opened the front door to Aerochild.

Hi!” he called out cutely. He’s my favorite tattoo artist in Birmingham.

Hey!” I responded, smiling and tossing my backpack onto the couch in the lobby. “I baked cookies last night,” I began immediately, unzipping my backpack, reaching my hand in and then producing a small, lightweight Ziploc-baggy as I withdrew it, “and I brought one for you.”

I walked into the back room and placed the baggy on the same table he was drawing at.

“Oh wowww.. thanks!” he exclaimed.

“No problem!” It’s not like I was wondering all morning if it’s weird to bring homemade cookies to your favorite barista or tattoo artist.  As I wandered back over to the couch, I thought of mentioning there’s no marijuana or anything crazy in there — you know, to be reassuring,in case he was wondering — but instead, I decided to say: “It’s a chocolate chip- and peanut butter-flavored cookie with coconut oil swirled in.”

 

Moments later, I was flipping over to the fifth page of Gone Girl when he called out that the sketch was ready for review. I jumped up eagerly, ran over to look at it, and my first reaction was: laughter.

 

Oh my god.. it’s perfect, Aaron. You captured Bruster exactly as he is; the dumbest-looking Shepherd on the PLANET. And Panda!! Her beauty mark; it’s right there!

 

Happy that I was so pleased with the first creative draft, he motioned for me to go ahead and trek upstairs and step into his “surgery room.” I did so, nervously hopping up onto the medical chair, adjusting my back, crossing my legs, and then setting my wallet and cell phone on my lap. He sat down on another (smaller) stool and asked for me to bring my arm closer to the edge of the chair. I did so, and as he shaved the invisible hairs off of my bicep and sanitized the area with disinfectant, he commented:

“So.. I put a cape on the rabbit, in the sketch. You noticed that, right?”

“OH MY GOSH, I DIDN’T! That’s awesome!”

“Good.. so what color do you want the outside of her cape to be?”

I paused.. this was going to be a big, last-minute decision. Princess Panda: The Bunny Rabbit; what is her most favorite color in the whole entire world?

 

“Pink,” I responded simply, feeling amused. “That’s the color she’d want.”

13661805_10208082885083759_767548691244546881_o

And this coming from someone who hated the color pink for a solid DECADE because they thought it was too girly and stereotypical. Well.. I went and changed my mind again. Funny how often that seems to be happening these days. Pink is, actually, a very lovely color, like many other colors are.. and it doesn’t belong, exclusively, to either gender, although it’s consistently, arbitrarily assigned to one. Out of all of the colors in the spectrum, it’s Panda’s absolute favorite. Why would I choose anything else?

 

A former granny-panties-wearer with pink ink,

Aun Aqui

#girlsrule

Stupid Sheets and Motorcycle Rides: Life Beyond Survival

Tomorrow, it will be exactly ONE YEAR since I purchased my motorcycle. It was one of the most impulsive decisions of my life.

 

Impulsive

Definition: done suddenly without planning or forethought.

Synonyms: passionate; hasty; spontaneous.

 

I was having a rough morning; my husband (at the time) was having a group of friends over for a poker night. It was a designated “guys’ night,” and I was devastated that, as a domesticated woman and wife, I wasn’t invited, so I was lamenting my pitiful fate as I hiked along the winding sidewalk of an old, abandoned golf course with my faithful German Shepherd.

 

I visited a bike lot that afternoon for some routine scooter maintenance. I walked around (inside and outside of the store) while I waited, and as I was meandering about outside, I spotted a black and chrome Suzuki that took my breath away. “Now THAT’S a bike,” I murmured to myself, trailing my hand across the motorcycle’s seat, throttle, and handlebars. It was minimalistic, effortless and badass: in other words, it was exactly what I wanted to be.

 

I drove the scooter home and made a phone call. Minutes later, my best friend Shae pulled into my driveway, picked me up, and took me back to the bike lot. There, I signed papers, spent an hour learning how to ride a manual bike, and the rest is history.

 

And that history includes this fun fact: In the past nine months, I’ve ridden my motorcycle maybe seven times. Maybe.

 

People have been asking me all summer: “Soooooo.. did you take the bike out this weekend, Jace?”

What’s a good excuse? “No.. it was really hot out.”

 

At a meeting on Thursday, a co-worker leaned over towards me, smiled, and whispered: “You bring that moped to work today?”

You always cite the weather as your reason to NOT ride — ‘It’s too hot; it’s too rainy.’ Think of something else! 

“Ahhhhh, I WANTED to ride it to work,” I began wistfully, “but I cleaned out the garage last weekend and now there are tons of boxes, roof tiles, and scrap laminate pieces blocking the entrance to the garage.” I shook my head, trying to look bummed. Yeah.. that sounds good. AND it’s true; there IS a lot of shit in the way right now.

 

He nodded knowingly and reclined back into his seat as the meeting began.

 

I gazed at the front of the room, where the projector would have been lighting up the wall, and then remembered that we were all just sitting at a table, facing each other and a telephone. This was a conference call.

And why exactly DON’T I ride the bike anymore? I asked myself, other voices fading easily into the background.

Because you’re scared.

Scared of what?

Dying, I guess.. crashing, losing your left arm.. you know. Bad stuff.

Yeah.. but the possibility of those things happening never bothered me last year.

True. You seemed to stop riding after the divorce.

 

I paused.

Hmmmm. That’s right.

Why is that?

 

I returned my attention to the conference call.

Jace?

I don’t have time for your questions right now.

***

Chris came by to play music with me last week. We ran through some Pink Floyd songs (with Chris playing lead, Charlie keeping tempo on the drums, and me strumming rhythm) and then I wandered off into the kitchen to prepare supper: vegetarian “ham” sandwiches paired with tomato basil soup.

Feeling another presence in the room, I looked up and noticed Chris standing in the doorway.

“Hey! Will you eat dinner here?”
“Nahhhh, I’m good,” he smiled.

He made some small talk; bringing up Pokemon Go, an Umphrey’s McGhee concert he’d attended recently, and his new haircut. I listened along, responding now and then to encourage him to continue talking. I missed hearing his voice.

“So how are you doing, Jace?” he asked suddenly, the pitch of his voice falling into a lower gear. “Really?

I looked up from stirring cumin and curry powders into the red soup.

“Oh — I’m doing really well!” I responded brightly, trying to sound reassuring. Convincing.

I looked over at him again and cracked a smile to really “sell” my statement. He made a face that seemed to echo his last spoken word: really.

“Yeah,” he murmured, “but I know you. You wouldn’t tell me if you weren’t doing well.”

I laughed at him. I’d been having an “off” week (an off couple of weeks, actually), for sure, but didn’t want anyone to know about it. It’s just hard to keep up a charade with someone who knows you well.

 

On Sunday, I hoped that shopping might help alleviate my depression. I’ve accepted the fact that, for me, it’s a chemical imbalance (which means that, generally speaking, there’s no rhyme or reason for my sudden dips and mood swings), so I’m doing my best to ‘make friends’ with my condition by being gentle with myself and by distracting myself long enough for the worst part of these difficult times to subside somewhat.

 

So I walked into Target for nothing in particular.

 

Did I really come here for nothing? No reason at all? I wondered aloud.

Pause.

Ahhhh, that’s right; I hate my sheets and I’m looking for new ones. Excellent; we’re on a mission!

 

I navigated towards the sheet aisle, passing – on my way – the “pillowfort” aisle: a fun collection of kids’ bedding supplies (things like sheets, comforters, throw pillows, rugs and the like). Amused, I stepped onto the aisle, walking down it leisurely and laughing a little as I imagined bringing different designs and themes home with me. There were astronauts and dinosaurs; vintage stamps and woodland creatures; Super Mario characters and punk animal posses (featuring zebras with mohawks and giraffes wearing combat boots) and so many others.

Damn. These collections are incredible. I wish they sold them in queen sizes. I quickly checked a few labels; in-store, sizes capped out at “full.” Feeling bummed and doubtful as to what kind of fun and exciting designs awaited me in the adults’ section, I shuffled off toward it.

 

And it was just as drab as I anticipated it would be.

 

20160717_134751
The place where stupid boring pointless sheets go to die.

 

I left the store without making a purchase. I was disappointed and frustrated. So — you grow up and, suddenly, fun designs just aren’t a part of the equation anymore, are they? No.. instead, you get to choose from a BLAND selection of mono-colored sheets that boast varying thread counts. Whoop-de-freaking-doo.

“Well I’M not going to be a sell-out,” I resolved, raising my head a little higher as I ducked into my Neon. “Fuck your fancy adult sheets. I’m going to shop online.”

 

I did so, and I was VERY pleased to discover that Target offered a QUEEN-SIZED “Many Moons” sheet set online. I tracked down a promo code, placed my order, and outfitted my queen-sized bed with fun sheets yesterday afternoon. Have a look! Go on — be jealous!

20160723_165801

 

And it gets sooooooo much better.

I didn’t want the bed-rebranding to stop with sheets. I’ve been sleeping underneath a bohemian-looking duvet for the last year; white-based with yellow and blue swirly patterns. It wasn’t as boring as the mono-colored cemetery of sheets I encountered on the adults’ aisle at Target, but I certainly wouldn’t refer to the pattern as being ‘fun,’ either. So I went back online and had a BALL entertaining various options.

 

“Let’s see.. I could go GALACTIC with this and pick some spacey, planetary type deal, or I could decorate with DINOSAURS. They also have MOTORCYCLES.. awwww, rabbits, foxes and dogs would be cute.. or maybe —-”

 

Maybe they’d have it. 

Oh my god, they had it.

I sought out and found a dalek-themed duvet that – like the motorcycle did last year – took my breath away. It is now the crowning glory of my queen-sized bed. Check out Governess Bunny (the lifelike rabbit) and Bruster (the German Shepherd) modeling it below.

 

 

So my bed is wearing fun sheets and is dressed in a cool duvet now; the point is?

 

The point for my ADULT readers is this: Don’t settle for boring. Kids know how to have fun, and they’re programmed to look for fun, while adults forget how to have fun, and how important it is to have fun.

 

My new hires always make fun of me after asking about my personal life.

“So Jace, what do you do in the evenings?”

“Well,” I usually divulge, “I play gigs sometimes — maybe twice a month — but other than that, I go home, make soup and salad for dinner, watch an episode of Doctor Who with my roommate, and then fall asleep around 8:30 with my German Shepherd curled up by my feet.” Isn’t that nice? Your routine is so perfect and dreamy, I compliment myself.

“And you’re HOW OLD?” they ask.

“24.”

“WHAT!! You need to live while you’re young, JACE!” they admonish, looking and sounding genuinely startled by my lack of living.

 

And they’re right. When I stood on the aisle of adult sheets, I looked right at them and saw through them to my quickly approaching elderly future: solid white sheets in the bedroom, a walker with four tennis balls stuck to the bottom of it near the front door, and a thick package of Depends hiding underneath the bathroom sink. “Nope. I’m not ready for this shit,” I decided instantly, and I left the store in a jiffy. But while I’m now highly alert to the boring sheet phenomena, I think that I settle for boring in other parts of my life.

 

A few examples:

My friend invited me to a movie showing that’s happening tomorrow night; it’s a one-time screening of an animated batman movie that revolves around the joker’s story. This person knows that I heart the joker to death.

But it starts at seven, I pointed out to myself. That will put you in bed at nine at the very EARLIEST. You’ll be miserable. Plus, movie theaters are dark and crazy people go there.. you’ll probably get shot.

Good point, I breathed out slowly.

“I’ll consider the idea,” I responded somewhat enthusiastically, “but don’t count me in just yet.”

 

Another friend invited me to her house two weeks ago. “Feel like getting drunk and painting tonight?” her text message read. I paused, imagining the course of the evening.

That would be fun, I admitted, but I already planned on having salad for dinner, and alcohol would zap the nutrients RIGHT OUT of those vegetables. 

“Can’t tonight.. maybe this weekend?” I replied, feeling lame as I doused a heaping bowl of kale and bell peppers with Italian dressing.

 

I had a friend visiting from New York last weekend. I took him to my favorite music venue ever – Saturn – on Saturday night so that he could take part in their dance party.

As I sat at a two-person table by myself, sipping on water and gripping the spine of my novel (the room was too dark for me to read comfortably; it was more of a security blanket than anything else), I looked out onto the dance floor every now and then and observed what was happening: all different kinds of people — young and old, male and female, coordinated and clueless — were dancing and having a BLAST. I tapped my foot a little, turning my head left and right to make sure that no one was watching as I did so, and secretly wished that my friend would invite me to come dance with him.

“Ohhhh COME ON, JACE!” I imagined him exclaiming, running over, grabbing my hand, and pulling me – against my will – out onto the dance floor, where I would, to everyone’s surprise, surrender to the beat and become the most incredible dancer on the planet.

But you don’t dance, I interrupted my fantasy. Remember? You’ve NEVER danced. Ever.

I knowwwww.

And even if he DID encourage you to get out there, you’d make up some lame-ass excuse and say no. You KNOW you would.

Yeah. I know.

 

So, in quick conclusion, I’ve decided to challenge myself to say yes more. To say ‘yes’ to drunken weeknight painting sessions; ‘yes’ to one-night-only movie premieres that center around my favorite characters; and possibly (but unlikely) ‘yes’ to taking on a more active role at cool dance parties. Because life is only as fun and interesting as the experiences and relationships that compose it. 

 

I had a serious conversation with a close friend yesterday.
“I feel like, at this stage of my life, I’ve figured out how to SURVIVE,” he confided, “but I don’t really know where to go from there. I don’t know what comes AFTER surviving.”

 

It was a powerful question. I posed it to myself.

I get up, get dressed, and go to work for forty hours each week. What for?

Well, it pays for my mortgage. Health expenses. Food. Gas and car insurance. $6 mochas at Saturn each Saturday and $9.14 burritos at Chipotle a few times a week. And, as a bonus, I actually, really enjoy my line of work. But work itself isn’t the baseline of what I’m living for.

 

So why do I take care to eat, sleep, and move through each day — what am I working toward? What is my hope? What am I living for? What’s my real, underlying motivation to stay alive?

 

“Honestly,” I shared, “as a loose answer, I continue living so I can see how interesting things get. So I can experience as much as possible, listen to other peoples’ stories, and tell my own. That’s really it.”

 

And sleeping on basic sheets from 8:30-6:30 every single day forever obviously isn’t going to afford much opportunity for new and interesting experiences, so it’s time to break the habit of saying no and staying in. Starting with tomorrow. There’s a one-night-only premiere of a movie about the joker.. did you know that I have THREE joker posters in my bedroom? AND a dalek-themed duvet + moon sheet set?!

******

I was supposed to meet up with a friend at Saturn this afternoon. When I woke up this morning, I picked up my phone to text her the usual disclaimer that precedes every actual hangout.

“If anything has come up and you want/need to cancel, it’s totally np! Just let me know.”

 

“I’ll see you at 2,” she responded moments later. I laughed a little.

 

She then sent a second message that detailed our ‘agenda’ for the afternoon — aka, what our conversation would be consisting of. Like me, she likes plans, bullet points, and clear direction, and as I read over her list of proposed topics, my eyes settled onto one in particular:

  • Your Motorcycle

 

I sighed. I know what this is going to be about.

“Why aren’t you riding your bike anymore?” I quizzed myself (in preparation for our meeting).

It’s too hot, the garage is cluttered.. I recited my go-to explanations, feeling bored.

But you know that isn’t why, I commented. Why don’t you just sell the damn thing? I asked myself, honestly. Sell it and put the money in savings.

Because.. I love riding.

How can you say that? You never ride anymore. Because you’re scared. You know it, AND she knows it.

I bristled at the claim. Since when have I let fear stop me from doing something?

Um, you’ve let fear keep you off of that bike for the last nine months.

 

I couldn’t deny it. So I decided to take action.

 

After making sure that Bruster was all settled into his kennel, I grabbed my motorcycle pants, armored jacket, helmet, and gloves from the laundry room.

Oooooohh.. but did you check on the weather? I inquired, worriedly. It’s probably going to rain — and it seriously ISN’T safe to ride in the rain.

True.. tell you what; I’m going to check, and if the CHANCE of rain is 20% or greater, I’ll just take the car. That sounds fair and reasonable.

I performed a quick google search on my phone and laughed at what I saw; 15%. The chance of rain capped out at 15% for the whole, entire day.

Well okay; close, but no cigar.

I tugged the armored pants on over my shorts.

WAIT, I interrupted again. There was JUST a shooting downtown THREE weeks ago. Crazy shit happens there CONSTANTLY. Do you REALLY think you should be bringing your bike down there? It will DEFINITELY get stolen. Here’s a bright idea: Go to Saturn in your car and then use the WiFi there to list your bike for sale on Craigslist.

I pause to consider the idea.

I don’t want to sell it — I own it outright — and what’s the point of having something that you’re not going to use?

I zipped up the jacket.

 

One last thing, I piped up quickly, and I’m JUST trying to help..

YEAH?

There’s still a bunch of trash blocking the entrance, and exit, to the garage.

I was quiet.

Yeah, there is.. and guess what? It’ll take about FIVE SECONDS to move it over a couple of feet.

 

Moments later, after at least three weeks of no riding, I was descending down the driveway in first gear.

 

My first stop: a gas station.

 

I pulled up beside gas pump #1 and removed my helmet as I stepped off of the bike. An older-looking man held the door open for me as I walked inside; I thanked him and then smiled at the cashier behind the counter.

“This is a little goofy, but can I please get $1 of gas on #1?” I gestured towards the motorcycle in explanation.

“Ahhhh, sorry — there’s a $2 minimum.”

I paused. “Oh — okay.. I think I might have cash..”

“JUST KIDDING!” He laughed and asked me to swipe my card when the blue lights appeared on the machine.

“So,” the old guy by the door called out, “you wearing a shirt that absorbs sweat underneath that leather jacket?”

“Nope,” I responded, returning the card to my wallet and wrapping a rubber band around the wallet to keep it closed. “I’m wearing a black outer space t-shirt underneath this jacket. I’ve been on the road for 5 MINUTES and I’m already soaked in sweat.”

“Well,” he replied, removing the cigarette from his lips, “my buddy got one of those sweat-proof shirts a few months back and he said that it is INCREDIBLE. Got it for his bike rides. Works wonders.”

“Huh!” I mused. “That sounds.. amazing. And what kind of shirt is this? What is it called?”

“It’s likely an under-armor shirt,” the male cashier volunteered. “Just look for a shirt that advertises having ‘cool technology’ and it’ll do the trick.” He smiled. “So is that a Triumph?” he queried, nodding towards the bike.

“Nope — it’s a Suzuki TU250X. Tops out around 65-70. This is going to be my first time taking it out on the interstate,” I mentioned, “sooooo we’ll see how that goes.”

He nodded. “You riding with a cracked visor?”

“…what does that mean?” I answered.

He picked up my helmet and opened the plastic covering a little. “Here,” he handed it back to me. “Ride with it like this and you’ll stay cooler.”

“Thanks!”

“No problem. I’ve ridden a few bikes myself.”

“Really?”

“Yep.. I’ve also WRECKED on a few. I was run over on one once! Was at a 4-way stop,” he began, but then he looked up and noticed my expression. “Butttttt you’re on a bike today, soooooo we’re not going to talk about that. Have a great day!” He flashed a cheesy smile (to cap off the awkwardness of the conversation) and then gave me a real one right afterwards.

“Haha.. kayyyyyy. Thanks; you guys have a great day, too!”

 

I made a second stop at Whole Foods so that I could say hey to my roommate (who was grilling peaches outside, in front of the store).

“YOU’RE ON THE BIKE TODAY?” he exclaimed, eyeing me in my gear and flipping a peach over with a spatula.

“Yep! I’m meeting Felicia for lunch and she’s been badgering me to get back on the bike for MONTHS now. She won’t be expecting it.” I smiled. We talked for a few minutes, and then I trekked back over to where I had parked my bike, preparing to resume my journey.

“Please BE SAFE,” he called out from behind me.

As I climbed back onto the bike, my heartbeat began to accelerate.

Now — you know that, in order to get to Saturn via the usual route, you’ll need to get onto the interstate. Briefly. For about three minutes. Do you really think you’ll be able to handle that?

Hellllllllllllll no.

 

I googled directions (requesting a route that didn’t involve highways) and, it would add an additional ten minutes to my trip, but there were side roads I could take. I wired earbuds up the sides of my helmet and plugged them into my ears, listening carefully as a robot voice instructed me to merge onto highway 280. Once I got the bike going, though, I discovered that the sound of the engine was completely drowning out the sound of the robot voice.

Well SHIT, I thought to myself. I’ll just have to use the interstate then.

 

Ten seconds before boarding the on-ramp, I reassured myself: You could just turn around RIGHT NOW. Make a U-turn, return the bike to its station in the garage, and hop into your car. You’d still be able to make it by 2 pm.. AND, as a MAJOR plus, you would arrive ALIVE.

 

But I can’t stand being AFRAID like this —

 

And then, it was happening. I was boarding the on-ramp with several cars in front of and behind me. I felt like my heart was going to burst out of my chest; I’d never ridden my bike on the interstate before.

 

I merged with traffic and stole a quick glance at the speedometer; I saw the line hovering above the sixty mark and felt like vomiting.

60 is actually too slow for interstate traffic, I commented quietly. 70 would be more appropriate.

Dream ON and shut UP.

 

I rode along rigidly; sitting up very straight, holding each of my breaths for as long as possible, and gripping the throttle so tightly that I eventually felt the bones in my right hand aching. I tried to relax my grip but couldn’t.

I wanted to close my eyes and let someone else steer us to safety, but it was just me.. me, zooming down the interstate on a motorbike.

 

Finally, I was getting off on the US 11 exit.

Soon after, I began passing familiar buildings — buildings belonging to The Damsky Paper Company and an HVAC supplies store on my right and The Birmingham Water Works Board and a competing paper company on my left. My heart rate slowed slightly; I relaxed my grip on the throttle a little.

 

This is INCREDIBLE! I exclaimed. I’M RIDING MY MOTORCYCLE TO SATURN, AND IT LOOKS LIKE I’M STILL GOING TO BE ALIVE WHEN I GET THERE!

 

I paused at the red light before 41st street, turned right onto it, and then took in a quick breath: railroad tracks. Crap. I’d forgotten about those.

 

How do you safely ride over railroad tracks? I wondered as I neared them. Is there any kind of special maneuver you’re supposed to do?

 

Just.. do it. Confidently and quickly.

 

I sped over them in third gear; it was bumpy, but I kept a firm footing and grip on the bike and even giggled a little as I made it safely onto the other side.

 

Saturn. There it was. Just a couple of feet away now.

Another four seconds, and there it was — an empty parking spot RIGHT in front of the place. That NEVER happens.

 

See? And you were all worried about parking in the side alley.

Oh shut up. If it was up to you, we’d have sold the bike this MORNING.

 

I walked inside, slipped out of my gear, and then approached the front counter to order an iced coffee.

“WHAT KIND OF BIKE ARE YOU RIDING?” My favorite barista, Payton, asked immediately, leaning over the counter. Her eyes were bright with excitement.

Wow, I thought to myself. I’ve been coming here for nine months now, and this is my first time riding over on my motorcycle. That’s so goofy. I shook my head, laughed, answered her question, and then waited for Felicia to arrive, sitting smugly near the front of the cafe with my helmet on display beside me.

 

Sheets and motorcycles.. this post seemed a little hodge-podge and aimless, didn’t it? Here’s your takeout:

 

chinese food

 

  1. Don’t settle for a boring, predictable life.. unless that’s what you really want. It’s easy to fall into a routine, and routines are comfortable and can serve as helpful guides, but don’t hesitate to shake up the routine a little every now and then by taking chances, trying new things, and making it a point to have fun.
  2. Consider what it is that you’re really LIVING for.. because it isn’t an endless cycle of work, sleep, and burritos. Is it relationships? Is that the core of your existence — the thing that brings you the most happiness in life? Or is it your creative pursuits? Are those what seem to give your life the most meaning? Are you driven by ambition? Do goals, accomplishments, and titles give you a sense of purpose? Or is this temporal, fleeting life more of an inconvenient interlude between you and an eternal paradise? Feel free to share your thoughts on THE POINT OF LIFE in a comment below.
  3. Fear can be paralyzing. And yes, motorcycle accidents can be paralyzing too, so remember to gear up, focus, and exercise caution as you take chances, face fears, and embark on new adventures. But don’t ever forgo an adventure because you’re afraid; life is short, and it will only be as interesting and fulfilling as you allow it to be. I just went on a picnic yesterday afternoon, and my friend brought a cheese I’d never tried before: manchego. Why didn’t he just get CHEDDAR or PEPPERJACK?  I wondered. Something I’m familiar with and that I KNOW is good? “This particular block of cheese was aged for three months, and it was derived from sheep’s milk,” he explained, carefully slicing through the cheese as he narrated. Skeptical, I accepted the small cube that he offered me.. and you know what? It turns out that manchego cheese is actually fantastic (especially when it’s melted in the oven over a piece of freshly minced garlic and butter toast). To think — I’m 24, and I haven’t already experienced everything wonderful and interesting in the world yet. There’s so much left to discover.

 

2016-07-24 19.40.43

 

Still here (but I could very easily wipe out on the way home.. fingers crossed),

Aun Aqui

 

Inner Strength: Depending On Independence

Roughly an hour ago, I dropped eight quarters into a parking meter and then strolled into a coffee shop that I (intentionally) haven’t been in since sighting the beautiful girl three months ago. As I walked in, I quickly glanced over to where I knew the sofa would be and then rejoiced that it was vacant. I led my friend (who is visiting from New York) over to the couch and we both settled down onto it; plugging our laptops in, walking away briefly to order our iced mochas (he went with soy-based and I opted for almond), and then returning to the couch to officially launch our morning writing party.

“Man,” he commented as we both sat back down, “you would never want to leave your laptop sitting on a couch, unattended, in a New York cafe.”

“Really?” I laughed a little. I couldn’t help but feel just a tiny bit proud of this evolving southern state that I like to consider my home.

I watched as he plugged his earbuds in and then, after connecting to the WiFi, I reached into my backpack to retrieve my own earbuds. A blind search procured nothing, so I furrowed my eyebrows and leaned over, looking down into the backpack as I searched through it with my left hand. I still couldn’t find them.

Huh.. I ALWAYS keep them in the FRONT compartment with my wallet, I assured myself. Yes.. you do, I agreed. Okaaaaaay, I acknowledged my own confirmation, then where the hell ARE they?

I didn’t really think they’d be there, but I went ahead and checked the “main” compartment of my backpack anyways (where I typically keep my laptop, journal, library-novel and bottled vitamins). No luck. So I re-checked the front compartment, beginning to feel desperate and feeling silly for feeling desperate over a pair of earbuds. My search resulted in – big surprise – no results. I had to accept the fact that they just weren’t there.

Well shit. As I sat there, considering the idea of running out to the car and checking the insides of sticky cup holders and the dusty floors underneath the seats, I reminded myself that, on a Friday morning, eight quarters only bought two hours’ worth of parking time. So why waste even two minutes searching for those damn things? You already know that they aren’t in the car.

But can you write without them? I queried, sounding skeptical.

There was a pause.

I don’t know. Honestly, I don’t think I’ve ever really tried to write WITHOUT listening to music. 

I simmered on the response. For a single second.

Now that’s STUPID, I decided. If you can’t write without listening to music, you’re an idiot.

I looked around the cafe. There were three people in line placing orders.

A dude wearing a green Tame Impala t-shirt and a red ponytail had seated himself at a two-person table near the front counter and was peering down at his laptop.

Near the cafe’s exit, a 20-something-year-old girl (who was also wearing a ponytail) had taken her seat at a rectangular table that could sit four. A camel brown Coach bag rested against her chair, and beside the bag, her almond brown heels were sticking to the concrete floor. Raising my gaze so that it was eye-level with the table, I noticed that she was wearing a silky green vest and a black pencil skirt. She appeared to be interviewing the person who was sitting directly across from her; an elderly woman wearing a firetruck red blouse and who had her hair clasped into a careful ponytail by a gigantic silver barrette. The young journalist would look up at the woman every thirty seconds or so, holding her gaze for a moment and looking intensely interested as she did so. The old lady seemed to be vocalizing her thoughts slowly, and I watched as, time and time again, our journalist would return her attention to the notepad lying submissively on the table. She used her right hand to jot down notes.

I blinked and looked away. To my left, a man wearing a blue, short-sleeved shirt and brown, strappy sandals was sitting parallel with the brick wall. He had a glasses case, a card, a magazine, and a book titled “Soap, Sex, and Cigarettes” all laid out on the table in front of him. He was presently writing in the card with his left hand.

Closer to home, a small group of business men were seated at a circular table that was situated just a few feet in front of me. The table supported a single mug of coffee and three disposable cups of coffee. Three of the men were wearing grey suits; one man, who was unsuited, wore a black and white button-up shirt. No tie. Here’s your question: Which man had the coffee mug? Just kidding; schoo000ooooool’s out – for – the summerrrrrrrr!

I looked up; there were world maps hugging the walls, eclectic lighting fixtures dangling from the ceiling, and indie music was whining lightly in the background; some of the instruments and guitar riffs were coming through the speakers clearly enough, but the vocal lines were too pitchy and hushed to decipher. Will I really be able to think clearly without being able to block all of this unpredictable noise out?

The cold and giant room smelled like coffee beans, flour, and chocolate chips.

Just start writing, I instructed myself warily.

***

I had a dream earlier this week.

It began when I stepped outside of a doorway. I looked down and there was a snake on the ground. Charlie, who must have been standing right behind me, quickly picked me up and, carrying me, moved us both past the snake. As he continued walking out onto the street, I was surprised and alarmed to turn my head around and see that the snake was keeping pace with his movements, quickly slithering along after us. Instinctually, I wanted to jump down and run, but Charlie couldn’t put me down because I was barefoot. Only he was wearing shoes. So he continued cradling me in his arms and carrying both of our weights; I could feel small jolts of pressure with every step that he took. Feeling heavy and helpless, I watched over Charlie’s shoulder as the snake bounced in and out of my vision. It never trailed far behind us; it only grew closer.. and it seemed like we weren’t moving nearly as quickly as we needed to be moving.

And then, of course, I woke up and asked myself: What now? What is my subconscious trying to communicate to me this time?

Obviously, at first glance, the dream is about the danger of dependency. We’re all, to a degree, dependent on things (like alcohol and soap operas, or coffee and burritos), but more than things, we’re dependent on people, and we have varying relationships with (and different needs satisfied by) those people. Here are some common examples:

  • You’re dependent on your employer slash manager for money to live somewhere, drive something, eat food, and survive. Many of us are also dependent on our employers for health, dental, disability and life insurance.
  • You’re dependent on your family members for unconditional love and support. They’re the ones who will encourage you to tryout for American Idol.. even if your voice sounds like complete shit. They’re also the ones who will compliment a new haircut that never should have happened.
  • Should you have one, you’re dependent on your significant other for affection, encouragement, inspiration and friendship. This person should strike a balance between challenging and grounding you. You count on this person to be loyal, present, and stable, and while you don’t require all of their time and attention, you consistently and confidently request some of it.
  • You’re dependent on friends for fun times, stress relief, and emotional support.. because who else is going to listen to you bitch about your family, significant other, and work life? As far as fun is concerned, there are some adventures that you’ll want to go on solo, and that’s healthy, but there are certain adventures and activities whose fun become greatly enhanced with company, and some days, you just really need to have a friend around; someone with a listening ear and a smiling face who will serve as a living, breathing reminder that you are important and cared for.
  • You may even be dependent upon a god for moral guidance and hope for the future.

So, with this intricate, external support system in place, how much do you need to depend on yourself? That depends entirely upon one thing: How strong do you want to be?

 

I think that, compared with this time last year, I am far more dependent on myself than I used to be. In the past, I relied very heavily on others for my sense of worth and happiness. To a degree, I still do, but not nearly as heavily. Once upon a time, the ideas that others had about me – the way they approved or disapproved of my decisions, and the presence of either their admiration or criticism of my  work and character – affected both my mental and emotional state in a massive kind of way and determined not only how I felt about myself, but also what kind of day I would have. Now, I don’t look to outside perspectives to construct a clear vision of myself. I’m still affected by opinions, of course; I’m open to constructive criticism and I appreciate compliments like anyone else would.. but I’ve found that I experience a greater sense of stability when I consistently stay in tune with myself, and I’m able to stay in tune with myself by setting aside special time each week where I temporarily disconnect with everyone BUT me. During this time, I mentally and emotionally “unpack,” and by this, I mean: I think about the things that have made me sad and that I’ve just stuffed away all week so that I could continue to function. I pull apart, flip over and rotate the things that have confused or intrigued me. I’m honest with myself about things I’ve done or said that I disapprove of — intuition is the most HELPFUL guide — and I also stop and compliment myself on the things I know I’ve done well. I don’t need someone else to do any these things for me. But I do think that we all have an inherent tendency to run wildly in one direction or the other when it comes to our self-image; we’re either absurdly negative about ourselves (our appearance, character, worth and abilities) or generously (delusionally) complimentary, and sometimes, it DOES take an outsider’s perspective to peg and then point out which side of the road you’re on. Whether you figure all of that out on your own or someone else helps and points it out for you, when you discover which side of the road you’re on, pull up Google maps and navigate to a healthy midpoint. Strike a balance between the two extremes. On one hand, OVERLOOKING your flaws is unwise, and on the other, recognizing and then lamenting your flaws as INSURMOUNTABLE is irrational. Make it your LIFE MISSION to find the creamy center of that Oreo (the creamy center being your true, best, happiest and most wonderful self). You CAN do it.

 

So anyways, in this dream, my subconscious was clearly warning me to not become overly dependent on others (again). That doing so would rob me of my own strength. It’s like this:

 

Imagine that you’re kayaking up a river. You’re using your muscles to paddle upstream; it’s tiring, but repeating the motion is getting easier because you’re becoming stronger through repetition as you push yourself; paddling is becoming a habit (and proving to yourself that you can do it certainly doesn’t hurt your confidence level, either). So it’s a win-win.

 

Then, somewhere along the way, a person hops into the kayak with you. They settle into their seat and offer to take over for a while.. to give you a break. It’s nice to have a break sometimes.

 

But if they start doing all of the paddling for you and you’re no longer using your own muscles, they will atrophy. You will literally lose your ability to expertly operate the kayak — an ability you worked so hard to obtain.

 

For kicks, let’s say that THAT happens: They take over and you become way too comfortable with the new arrangement. Crazy plot twist: A shark (they lurk in rivers, you know) suddenly jumps out of the water and eats your friend. They’re 100% gone. Now, you’re devastated, and you’re immediately left to paddle on your own. Can you still do that? Comfortably? What’s your endurance going to be like? If the river is reigning you in and forcefully tugging you downstream — if it’s just about to precariously position you at the very onset of an INSANE waterfall — then you’ll need to RESIST the pull with every fiber of your being and paddle AGAINST the stream like your life DEPENDS on it. But will you be able to do so? Are you practiced enough? Are you confident enough? And here’s the most probing question: Do you trust yourself?

 

Don’t take chances. Stay practiced and you won’t have to guess. Be disciplined and you won’t have to wonder. An experiential knowledge of your own ability will make you feel confident, and then you will naturally view yourself as being trustworthy. Keep in tune with your mind, body, and soul every step of the way. No one will ever know the depth and width of your capacity as well as you can know them (and the best news is this: nothing is concrete.. so if you discover that the ceiling sits lower than you wanted it to, or that the walls are more confining than you intended them to be, remember that everything is fluid and that, with a quick jab of your will and some creative energy, you can elevate and expand the ceiling and walls to whatever dimensions you’re shooting for). It’s okay to take a break from being a badass, but don’t fall indefinitely into the strong arms of someone or something else; do that, and you’ll begin to view your greatest source of strength as coming from something external and someone other than yourself. 

 

 

What’s the lesson in all of this?

A. Keep your shoes (and boxers) on or nearby AT ALL TIMES. You never know when you’ll be standing outside of some random doorway, staring down at a snake and needing to hit the pavement stat.

BRivers are, surprisingly, swarming with sharks. Just.. be aware of that.

 

The journalist and her old lady friend abandoned the table about a half hour ago. In their place, a dad and his kid are now sitting across from each other. The father just stepped away (presumably, to order something else). The little girl is continuing to sit in her chair happily; dangling her legs (which don’t quite touch the ground) and kicking them backwards and forwards with a rhythm that is completely out of sync with the indie music that’s mercilessly droning on in the background. She’s wearing a gray cotton dress with pineapples and strawberries painted onto it. She took the muffin her dad offered to her a few seconds ago, before he walked away, and tore it in half; she’s holding half of a muffin in each hand and has muffin crumbs sticking to the sides of her mouth.

 

I thought about grabbing a muffin when I first ordered my mocha two hours ago, but I decided to hold out for a lunch-hour ritto.

 

And will I be obtaining said burrito from Chipotle? You can depend on it.

Aun Aqui

Black Lives Matter. Say Something.

I don’t know how to begin this post.

Where would I even start?

 

In the 7th grade, I fancied a boy (I thought he was cute and funny and I liked spending time with him.. his name was Dylan). As a 13-year-old, I naturally assumed that I must have a crush on him. I told him (or I had someone else tell him) and it never went anywhere; he didn’t feel the same about me. That was okay. We stayed friends. He was black.

During the same class year, I had another friend. An effeminate, expressive, and high-pitched white boy. Everyone in school made fun of him; “he’s gay,” the bratty little preteen professionals diagnosed. It turns out that they were right; he was gay.

In 8th grade, I had a sweet best friend; her name was Betty. She was a Jevovah’s Witness and lived a somewhat sheltered lifestyle like I did, but her mother approved of us hanging out together. When we weren’t running around together in public school (meeting up briefly between classes or sitting beside each other at lunch), I was at her house on the weekends, watching Jurassic Park, eating out-of-the-box Chef Boyardee pizzas that her mother made, and riding in the car with her family as they headed to the local community pool. Betty spoke broken English, so I had specifically signed up for a Spanish class at school so that we could communicate in her primary language. Most people simply referred to Betty as being Spanish or Hispanic, but specifically, she was Ecuadorian.

Betty and I had two other friends in our “circle”: Jordin (a sporty white girl) and Kim (an Asian girly-girl type) who always gave me, during first period, the cream-cheese-bagel-pocket-thing that the cafeteria lady put on her breakfast plate each morning.

In 11th grade, I met my first atheist on the school bus. His name was Sam. At first, I couldn’t believe that a real, live atheist existed, and I was fascinated by him. He engaged in a few discussions with me, but after realizing I was only interested in persuading him from his lack of belief, he disengaged and refused to talk with me. He was a nerdy white guy.

Over the course of the past few years, I’ve befriended and encountered all kinds of people: straight people, gay people, and transgender people; UAB students hailing from Malaysia, Kenya, and Zimbabwe; a cool musician with Lebanese and Jordanian roots, an ARC stories speaker who was born and raised in Romania, and an entire host of religious and non-religious persons.

 

And you’re thinking.. what on earth is your point?

 

This is my point: My experience isn’t unique.  At all. Throughout our lifetimes, we all bump into people from all walks of life and from every corner of the world.. people who look different on the outside and who think and believe differently than we do on the inside. Meeting these new people – appreciating their differences and recognizing the similarities we share – is a beautiful experience. It’s eye-opening. I’m sure that, having met lots of different people yourself, you’d quickly agree that all people are equal and that all lives matter, but I’ve been surprised to discover, recently, that many people are troubled by the #blacklivesmatter movement taking place across the country. The dissenters seem to indicate that they feel like picking out one race of people and then “elevating” them above the rest is showing special treatment. I very respectfully disagree. Why? I’d love to explain.

 

We have to remember that slavery in America ended only 151 years ago. That’s just a tad bit more than a century and a half.

And we would also do well to remember that racial segregation became outlawed just 52 years ago. Fifty freaking two; that is only half of a single century. My own grandmother can vividly remember drinking out of a different water fountain and using separate store entrances from colored people. That gives me chills. The fact that, historically, we still reside so closely to such dark and oppressive times is terrifying.

 

So while we can all happily affirm that, in present day America, segregation and slavery are absolutely illegal and that everyone is to be treated equally, reality still has a lot of catching up to do, as people have an unfortunate tendency to hold onto their prejudices. Anyone who disagrees with that statement is just being ignorant.

 

And many people are still racists. That’s a fact, and we all know it. You know a racist or two, I’m sure, and I certainly know some of them. I’ve spoken with them; they’re complete assholes. And guess what? Some racists are vocal about their views while others are closet racists. Some people aren’t exactly racists but they aren’t advocates either, so they’re just sitting right there on the fence, entirely unhelpful and uninterested in the welfare of others. In my mind, they’re just as lousy as the racists are, because if you aren’t being proactive about achieving real, genuine equality, you are partially responsible for the stubborn and deeply-rooted existence of inequality.

 

Since we’re talking about racists.. newsflash: Some cops are racist. Surprisingly, being a cop doesn’t make you immune to the heart disease of racism. But don’t get it twisted; not all cops are racists. In fact, I’ve never met a racist cop (not that I’m aware of; I only personally know two cops, and they’re both very nice). Want another spoiler? Here you go: Some doctors, teachers, ministers, cashiers, bankers, pet owners, librarians, and movie stars are also racist.. and this shouldn’t surprise anybody. Now that we’ve established that racists are still present in 21st-century America, the question is, what do we do with them? Should we just go ahead and kill off anyone we positively KNOW to be racist or anyone who we suspect might be? No. That’s a terrible idea; they’re human beings like the rest of us. Shitty human beings, but still. Okay then.. so don’t kill the racists.. but should we allow racists to kill someone who belongs to the race they’re discriminating against? Heck no; if we did, we’d all be goners, because there are racists in EVERY RACE. So what do we do, then?

 

Our society likes to pretend that what was happening prior to 52 years ago didn’t really happen; that colored people weren’t ever discriminated against, poorly treated, or cruelly murdered. If you can believe it, some people even deny that the holocaust and Japanese-American internment camps ever happened. But ignorance at a time like this is deadly. Those awful things did happen, and they aren’t so long-gone, buried in the past that people living today can’t remember what it was like.

 

So while all lives undeniably matter, right now, we need to be especially sensitive towards what’s going on with our black community. They feel like they’re being discriminated against and targeted, and it’s no surprise, because by all appearances, they are being targeted. Either accidentally – because of fear – or intentionally, due to racism. The cops who killed innocent black men and boys in recent years — what was their motive? The best I could do is guess, and I’m not going to.. but I’ll say this: Regardless of their motive, their actions were unjustified, the results were devastating, and the cops deserved some kind of consequence. So how do we fix this? How do we move forward in such a way that everyone feels equal, safe, and protected? How can we create a world where civilians aren’t scared of cops and cops aren’t targeting civilians?

 

I’ve hesitated to publicly talk about any of this, but I’ve been watching and listening to all of it, and here’s what I’ve observed this week: If someone isn’t talking about Pokemon, they’re talking about the recent shootings. Here are some things I’ve read and heard.

Tragically Ignorant Person: “Ohhhh look. Now they (aka ALL black people) are shooting our cops. Fantastic. Like that’s going to do any good. Why are black people so violent?”

Why are black people so violent? First of all, quit making exaggerated, generalized statements. It was one black person with a gun who (tragically) shot cops in Dallas. One. So the pronoun you’re looking for is “he”.. NOT “they.” Secondly, did you hear about what went down at Columbine years ago? White people are violent, too. Do you need a hundred or so other examples? Because I won’t enjoy doing the research, but I can find them for you. Point of this is: PEOPLE in GENERAL are violent. Everyone has the capacity for violence, and if it goes unchecked, they will demonstrate violence. So you need to remove color from the equation completely before I slap you. <the bit on slapping? That was a joke.

Here’s another one.

Small Minded Human Being: “I just read that there’s going to be a protest -aka, riot – downtown tonight. What kind of good do they think THAT’S going to do?”

What a fantastic question. What good will it do? Maybe you’d enjoy watching this video from 1965. Warning: It’s raw, jarring, and soul-crushing. And while we’re at it.. “protest” does NOT equal “riot.” The march in Birmingham on Friday was very peaceful.

Self-Absorbed Stupid Head: “I hate that my children are having to grow up in a world like this.” The unspoken but understood part of this was that they were implying that unruly and violent black people were the cause of this ‘mayhem.’

This last one was from a white person, of course, and part of me really bristled when I read it. My internal response was:

“Oh.. I’m sorry that your privileged white kids will have to watch colored people being targeted and discriminated against on the television set. I’m sorry that they’ll have to see them unjustly KILLED and then hear newscasters CRITICIZING members of their community when they cry out in pain and anger over their loss. And I’m really sorry that they’ll have their dumbass Pokemon bullshit interrupted by such devastating and dramatic and deplorable life events.”

 

But instead of strangling the person, I said nothing. I just continued mulling over it all and asking myself, how can I actually help with ANY of this? We can’t all just say: “Well I can’t really do anything about it,” because someone HAS to do something..

But violence is not the answer. Me slapping and/or strangling idiots isn’t going to help at all, and randomly targeting cops because you’re mad that (a) cop made a poor decision is insanity. It’s senseless. It is cruel. Just like Alton had friends and family who cared about him and who are now grieving his death, every single one of those poor cops did, too. Stop and consider how much pain has been caused in just the last week. No one deserves to be killed, and matching one senseless death with another is madness. It’s heart-wrenching. Now — while no one in their right mind would agree that targeting cops would equate to obtaining justice for the death of an innocent black man, I’m also not on the side of glorifying cops as ‘faultless protectors’ and just glazing over incidents where one of them gets trigger-happy and makes an INCREDIBLY poor judgment call. Cops who murder innocent people should face serious repercussions (like losing their jobs and standing trial and going to freaking jail).. but just like the person they killed shouldn’t have been killed, the killer cop shouldn’t be killed either.

 

So if we aren’t going to kill each other, what the heck are we going to do?

When I was skating at Railroad Park yesterday afternoon, my dad called my cell phone. I answered and continued moving across pavement.

“Hey, Padre!”

“Hello, beautiful daughter!” His voice began. “Where on earth are you? It’s frickin’ noisy.”

“I’m skating at the park,” I answered into the phone, breathing a little heavily as I transitioned from a patch of bumpy, brick flooring to a path of smooth concrete. After catching up on recent life stuff, I mentioned that a protest had taken place downtown the night before. I wanted to be a part of it, to show my support, but I was too scared to go.

“Man.. I’ve seen the videos.” My dad’s voice changed a little. “They just pinned that guy down and.. shot him.. the kid was right there in the backseat..” his voice trailed off. “It makes me so mad. And now cops are dying, too.” He paused and let out a sigh. “People just don’t get it; returning hate with hate isn’t the answer. Love is. I wish I could make people see that. It’s so simple.”

“It is simple,” I agreed.

We got off the phone shortly thereafter. As I continued skating around the perimeter of the park, I began spotting sheets of paper taped everywhere.. to benches, lamp posts, concrete walls, and telephone polls. There was a different message printed onto each one. I read every paper that I passed, and I can recall these statements:

  • We want equality.
  • We want to be heard.
  • We want peace.
  • We want a voice.

 

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We want a voice really resonated with me. I’ve used words – I’ve used this blog – to sort through so much personal shit over the course of the past 6 years.. the unraveling of my faith, my brother’s sudden death, the throbbing loss of a treasured childhood friend, the beginning and end of my marriage, my gender identity madness, the shrouded mystery of my sexual orientation, my adventures with raising a German Shepherd and baby Holland Lop rabbits, and so many other things. Blogging – picking and crafting words in a public forum – has been incredibly empowering for me. It’s allowed me to – in the comfortable world of cyber space – lay my scattered thoughts out, sort them, group them, evaluate them, and then share my ideas, revelations, and carefully-concocted conclusions with the world.  Doing this has given me such clarity, and that clarity has given me such peace. I love seeing transparency in others, and I love being transparent myself. I have no hesitations with putting my thoughts, my beliefs, and my story out there, because I firmly believe that writing words and speaking words are two very important ways of connecting with others. And I think that writing and speaking — that using your voice however you choose to use it — is a viable solution to what’s going awfully wrong in the world right now.

 

If you punch me and I punch you back, we achieve nothing.

If you shoot me and I shoot you back, no one’s going to fare well.

If you’re angry and lash out at me and then I return your anger with my own anger, both of us are walking away mad.

But if something bad happens or is happening and I choose to collect myself, take a firm stance, and decisively speak out against it.. using written or spoken word.. then positive change can happen. Because when people hear words or see words, they have no choice but to think about what they’re hearing.

 

Words alone aren’t going to change anything, of course, but words are inherently powerful. They convey what both a hug and a bullet cannot. They appeal to the mind and the heart. They implore you to think, and reason, and to consider whatever’s being shared. Words can change your mind, words can activate your mind, and words can work magic on your heart. We need to use our words to fight for true equality, and even when we think we have secured this equality, we need to be prepared to defend and protect it at all times if anything or anyone threatens to take it away.

 

Carefully and thoughtfully chosen words enable you to move past misunderstandings and reach the truth lying underneath them. They can help you communicate fears and feelings that pictures and hand gestures couldn’t convey. Words allow you to express yourself without infringing on the rights of others, and when words are written down or spoken aloud where the public can read or hear them, they make impressions, and those impressions create waves. The effect of words is electric. You’re reading my words, and now you’re thinking of your own words. You’re about to read my message, which I’d also like to pose as a challenge:

 

We have to consistently and confidently speak out against racism, violence, and inequality, wherever and whenever they rear their ugly heads, and right now, you know that black people are being targeted. So rather than throw out some blanket statement that “all lives matter” (when the validity of that statement is not being questioned), here’s what you can do to help: Be an advocate in the fight against racism and discrimination. Use your words; write them, speak them.. be brave enough to take a stand, and then don’t waver when you do.

 

A meme that’s circulating on Facebook stated it way better than I possibly could.

 

broken bone

 

Of course every bone is important. But if I break my leg while I’m skateboarding later this afternoon and then rush to the doctor and ask him to please fix my broken leg and he argues that ALL of my bones are important, I would want to break HIS leg. But instead of resorting to violence, I would use my words to nicely remind him: Doc, I love every single bone in this body. I believe that every single one of them is super important, and I honestly can’t do without any of them, but right now, my femur is split into two jagged pieces and my flesh is on fire, so this bone needs special attention and care right now. My other bones aren’t – at this time – in some kind of critical state like this one is, and in the process of fixing it, I’m going to need you to be especially sensitive and gentle with it, because it hurts. It really, really hurts.

 

I’ll be fighting for equality (for people of all races, religions, and orientations) until the very second that I die, and when I am dead, I hope that the written words in my blog will echo me and help someone, somehow.

Aun Aqui

 

Scary Little Thing Called..

I don’t drink often. Neither do most of my friends.

 

But a few weeks ago, one of my favorite couples dropped by the house with a six-pack and a bottle of lemon liqueur. “Coooooooool!” I sang out, welcoming them inside and then closing the front door. “Should we order a pizza?” I polled the group quickly, just brimming with excitement at the idea of doing so. I may not have shared this with you all before, but a small and dearly held dream of mine has been to order a pizza and have it delivered to my home. In my adult life, that’s never happened. Well, I think it happened once, but I wasn’t there to witness it: the knocking on the door, the subsequent opening of the door, and then the sudden presence of a pizza delivery man.. magically standing there, stretching his arms out towards you, and offering to hand over a surprisingly warm cardboard box containing something delicious that was made just for you. And three other people.

 

“Yeah!” My girl friend voted with a smile. “Let’s do a veggie pizza!”

 

So we ordered the pizza and, while we waited for it to arrive, I pulled Apples to Apples out of an old storage ottoman that was stuffed with various games. We sat down, cross-legged, on the rug in the hangout room, the German Shepherd parading about happily and enjoying the attention my girl friend’s husband was giving him. Charlie, my roommate and best friend, was sitting in what we refer to as “the cup”: a papasan chair. I was happily watching my small group of friends interact with each other and swishing the limoncello-liqueur-and-orange-juice mixture around in my cup.

“Now remember,” I announced as I dealt seven cards out to each player, “when the pizza guy gets here, I get to open the door and receive the pizza. No one else. I will not be cheated out of this experience.” No one bothered to fight me on the matter.

As the night progressed and most of us drank, jokes and laughter ensued. The game was quickly forgotten as we all lost ourselves in conversation. While my girl friend chatted with Charlie about local art, her husband turned to face me and posed a question.

“I think I’ve asked you this before,” he began, his speech a little slurred, “but tell me again — what does that word mean?” He pointed to my right forearm, which has the word Kaizen tattooed onto it in thick, black letters.

 

Kaizen,” I pronounced the word out loud, “is a Japanese word. It was tossed around in the business world at first — it was philosophical in nature and denoted something to the effect of ‘continual growth or advancement.’ To me, when I first saw it, read it, and said it out loud, the word sounded like courage — like it just embodied courage — and I had it tattooed on myself so it could serve as a reminder for me to continue learning, experiencing, and growing as a human being.. and it’s also a reminder to be courageous at times when I don’t feel up to it; equal to the task, ready for the challenge, whatever.”

He nodded his head slowly, up and down a few times, like he was registering and processing each word I’d spoken one-by-one and then weighing the response as a whole.

“Okay.. now! One MORE question,” he breathed. I could smell the alcohol from my seat on the floor, five feet away. “What did you feel like.. when you were sitting there.. getting that tattoo? What thoughts were on your mind?”

 

No one had ever asked me that. Having a low tolerance for alcohol, my own mind felt a little.. swirly.. so I had to really stop and think for a few seconds before I could answer him.

 

“Well,” I started, “I was filing for a divorce that week.. just a few days later. Getting that tattoo honestly felt like putting your armor on, just before heading into war.” I paused. “Yeah. It was like I was mentally bracing myself for the next ‘big thing’.. which was me preparing myself for the next part of life when I was going to be all on my own.”

I looked up. He looked like he was about to cry.

He passed out about 10 minutes later; his wife and Charlie carried him to the car. I carried her purse.

***

A few weeks ago, I was training new hires at a local branch (I work as a trainer in the financial world). One of my favorite members walked in (I’ll mention here that I hadn’t seen him in MONTHS).
“Where have YOU been!” I exclaimed. He smiled at my greeting. I let my eyes shift themselves downward and noticed that he seemed to be gingerly cradling his left arm. “Oh my goodness.. what happened to you?” I whispered softly.

 

“I wrecked on my bike,” he answered, raising his eyebrows impressively. He proceeded to share how it had happened. “I was taking a curve a few months ago, going about 35 miles an hour, when I lost traction on a few pebbles in the road.” He shook his head in disbelief and lowered his gaze, looking down at his own arm. “So now I’ve got a rod in this arm, a metal plate going across my collar bone, and three broken ribs.”

I shook my head. Some pebbles. Unbelievable.

“What kind of bike were you riding?”

“A Yamaha,” he responded.

“Nice. I ride a Suzuki.” At least I used to ride a Suzuki, I thought to myself, shivering.

 

He nodded, knowingly.

 

As my new hire finished up with his transaction, I ventured to ask him what I couldn’t help but wonder.

“Think you’ll ever get back on a bike again?”

“Ohhhh.. yes.” He said it with such conviction. With no hesitation. Like I hadn’t even asked a valid question.

My expression must have looked like “really?”, because he continued to explain.

“I rode for 26 years without an accident, man. TWENTY SIX YEARS. Went on my very first ride when I was 7 and spent years racing dirt bikes.. doing flips in the air.. ALL of that stuff. I love it. I always have.” He paused and smiled, more to himself than me. “I’ll never stop riding,” he concluded.

 

I breathed out heavily; how brave is THIS guy?

******

I’ve been thinking about these two, separate events; describing my state of mind while getting the Kaizen tattoo to a friend, and discovering the dedicated love one of my favorite members has for motorcycle riding. The two conversations present a common theme: enduring pain bravely, and being brave enough to return to what (or who) you love that caused you to experience that pain in the first place. In returning, you may return to the same person or object, or it might be a different version of what you had before. For my member, it’s obviously going to be a different bike (because he totaled the last one).. it’ll probably still be a Yamaha (#brandloyalty), but maybe he’ll choose a newer model. In terms of people and love.. for most of us, it’s a different person altogether. In most cases, we return to loving; not to a specific person (we may have a certain type of person that we’re attracted to, but it’s unlikely that we’ll go back to loving the same person we broke up with). While some of us are better off single, being brave after a breakup can mean having the courage to love again (as well as accepting the vulnerability that comes with loving again), because it’s so easy to shirk away from loving again when you’ve experienced pain because of love. It’s normal to back away from or flat-out avoid things that have hurt you in the past.

One of my friends stated recently that she couldn’t stand dogs. “WHAT ON EARTH IS WRONG WITH YOU?” I demanded. “I got attacked by one when I was a kid, and it kind of traumatized me,” she responded. Understandable. Shit that happens to you when you’re a kid really makes an impression.

My mother wouldn’t pick up a croissant for 15 years after “the incident.” And what was the incident, you’re wondering? Many moons ago, she was pregnant and hanging around on a cruise ship. She ate some croissants, became sea sick, and leaned over the railing to vomit croissants into the ocean. Gross, huh? I’m sure it was very unpleasant. She couldn’t even stand the smell of a croissant until a few years ago.

See? Things that hurt us or cause us some kind of pain (be they big OR small) leave lasting impressions. Sometimes, we’re able to work past our pain, and other times, we’re either not able to or choose not to. For some of us, pain can feel like a protective barrier. It acts like some kind of special deterrent that prevents us from experiencing greater pain. But the truth is, it could just as easily be a senseless roadblock that robs us of experiencing some of the most beautiful things ever.

 

For me, even though it was a mutually agreed upon decision, divorcing Chris was a colossal life change — riddled with pain, anxiety, and a horrible, unwavering sense of misgiving — and I’m pretty sure that marriage and divorce are monumental experiences for anyone to pass through. I told myself, as we signed papers that unforgettable Tuesday afternoon, split the bank account the following week, and surveyed, separated and sold all of our possessions during the months that followed (including the fatass German Shepherd, who’s permanently stuck with me), that I would never subject myself to that kind of vulnerability again; that I wouldn’t allow my life to become so intertwined with someone else’s, and that I wouldn’t allow myself to become so vested in and dependent upon someone else, that it would – once again – rattle me to the core and upturn my world if they chose to leave me or died. It happened to me once, I made it through the whole ordeal, and I won’t let it happen again. I don’t want to be vulnerable like that.

Chris and I were partners for 5 years, and as highly committed and motivated partners, it felt like we could take on the whole world together and win.. like we could achieve anything we really wanted. We accomplished a hell of a lot together, and I’m so proud of us.. of both of us. After 5 years of inseparability, I lost him over the course of just a few months. When the shock wore off and it finally became official that we were separated, it felt like I had just been reduced to an army of one; destined to face and fight everything sad, scary, and oppressive in the world on my own. It was intimidating. I felt lonely. I hated feeling so weak. I hated that I had allowed my dependency on someone else to rob me of my own strength. I had done that to myself; it certainly wasn’t his fault that I had become so co-dependent. I wasn’t emotionally okay on my own — not at first — and admitting that to myself was difficult. And because of the pain and the dip in confidence that came rushing in after our breakup, and because of how long it took me to become a whole person again, I told myself that I would never trust, take comfort in, rely on, or fall in love with anyone else ever again. That it wasn’t worth the risk. That remaining single was the safest route. I still think that it is.

 

But after conversing with my favorite member and hearing his tale of wreck and recovery, I was forced to consider this: he’d been an avid rider for 26 years. On one unfortunate occasion, he experienced a devastating blow when his bike slid off the road and sent him flying through the air; his body crash landed against a tree, he was immediately knocked unconscious, and he woke up what felt like hours later inside of a hospital. Tragic. He hadn’t seen it coming, of course, and a few months out from the incident, he’s still healing, but when I asked him if he was going to abandon the idea of riding again, he vehemently answered no. He loves it too much. It makes him so happy. It’s thrilling; it’s familiar. He’s taking a chance every time he gets back on the bike, sure, but the trade-off is that he’s thoroughly ENJOYING his life without holding back, and that he’s living a life of adventure. So the bike let him down one time; that’s one time in 26 years. And?

 

I really admired his courage and his commitment. Just hearing about his wipe-out and imagining what it must have felt like had me ready to list my bike on Craigslist that evening, and I haven’t even wrecked once. My whole body cringes at the mere idea of wrecking. Of course it’s possible that I’ll wreck on my bike someday.. that’s just reality. But I like his take on the matter: If you stop taking chances and cease doing what you love because you’re afraid of getting hurt, you’re going to live a very boring and unfulfilling life. I can definitely understand the appeal of playing it safe, but some things are worth the risk. Not all things. Some things. You have to examine yourself and determine what those things are for you.

 

Like nibbling on a croissant after 15 years of not nibbling on one. They’re actually really delicious, if you can get past the memory of what happened to you once when you ate one. And for the record, it was the rocking and rolling sea.. not the croissant.

And like petting a dog that’s really, really friendly and would only love you and never bite you like that mean old dog did when you were a kid.

And like continuing to frequent the outer-space themed coffee shop that you love, even though crazy, awful shit happens downtown sometimes and you read all about it in the media and then you can’t sleep at night because you’re feeling sorry for the victims and you’re worrying about your own safety.

 

And maybe one of the things that is worth the risk is love.

 

I’m not ready to love-love someone again. Not yet. Under these present circumstances and with my current mindset, I hesitate to make any kind of new commitment. I’ve already got so many commitments to keep and to see through to the end.

For instance, I’m already looking forward to six months from now when my all-time favorite pair of drab, gray Vans will be thoroughly worn out and unwearable. They’ve already got two holes in the soles; I’m just not ready to part with them yet. I’ve spilled coffee on them, I’ve dripped paint onto them, I’ve worn them while I’ve traveled to some of the most special places and while I’ve hung out with some of the coolest people, and my dog has drooled all over them.. so they’re very special to me. I wouldn’t trade them for a brand new pair, and I’ll still hold onto them when I can’t wear them anymore. Maybe I’ll even put them on display — stick them on a shelf in the house somewhere and install a spotlight over them.

I can also easily imagine 5-7 years from now when my German Shepherd might begin to die, and by imagining what that’s going to be like, it feels like I’m already dealing with that tragedy.

Then I picture 20-30 years from now when my grandparents may be gone forever, and in the present, I worry about something happening to my mother, or my truck driver father, or any one of my closest friends, co-workers or family members every single day. I want everyone to be healthy and happy forever; I don’t want anyone to suffer or go away. But that’s an impossibility, and I’m gravely aware that it is. In response to that impossibility, I’d like to get all of the pain, mourning and sadness over with right now.. way ahead of time.. but it’s destined to be staggered. Sadness and tragedy will hit randomly, here and there, in small patches and thick clusters over the entire, long course of my life. Ultimately, nothing can be rushed, changed, or avoided. So why add onto the weight of all of these already existing potential and inevitable heartbreaks by falling in love with some new person? Why would I voluntarily venture back out onto a dimly lit street when I know I’ve heard and been hit by gunfire there before? It’s risky business, falling in love.

 

Then there’s academic commitment. I’ve got a month left to decide whether or not I want to commit to pursuing my bachelor’s degree this year.. because the second I sign up for my first junior year class, that’s it. I will thereby enter into a long-term relationship with textbooks and professors, and will also resume fostering a maddening preoccupation with my GPA. I’m not going to start something I can’t finish, so the act of starting is what’s daunting right now. Commitment is heavy. You have to keep it, and even when you don’t feel like doing so, you’re expected to bear the burden of honoring your commitment. To do that, you have to muster up energy and excitement for it. It needs to be something you seriously believe in. You’ll have to exercise your will by overriding all kinds of excuses and you will have to discipline yourself. Whatever it is you’re committing yourself to, you have to really want it, more than anything else. It has to be worth it for you to justify spending your time, your money, your creativity and your mental reserves on it.. and only some things are worth it. Like school, family, and significant others.. but for now, I’m good with this slowly dying dog and these raggedy old skate shoes.

 

 

 

All armored up and safely riding solo (sorry Craigslist, my bike ISN’T for sale),

Aun Aqui

“You loved her for six years.. this is how it ends?” Yes. Finally.

“Mel’s bday today.” Right there on my timeline. 

What the hell? I couldn’t stop staring at the words. There were only three of them. “Why did Grammy feel the need to remind me of this?”

I pulled up Messenger and began composing a few quick lines.

“Gram, why on earth did you post about Melissa’s birthday on my timeline? You know that she doesn’t speak to me anymore.”

Grammy responded hours later.

“Not sure why I mentioned it,” her message read. “Guess I was just hoping if you wished her a happy birthday on her page that she might respond. I think you can do that without being friends.”

I couldn’t help but smile. I replied instantly.

“Ohhhh Gram. Thanks. She’s blocked me on Facebook or I would have wished her a happy birthday every year. Hope you have a great Sabbath! I love you lots.”

I thought nothing more of it. I hated having Melissa on my mind more than usual that day, but it was bearable. It has been, after all, six years since I’ve heard a single word from her, so I’ve gotten used to the unbearable, maddening silence (if you haven’t read about her before, you can do so here and here; she was my very best friend for 7 years straight and she’s also the first girl I ever love-loved).

Grammy messaged me again that evening. I was horrified by what I read.

“I messaged her Rose,” she announced happily, “and told her you wished her a happy be-lated birthday and that I wish she’d at least allow you to have some closure over all this, because you WERE best friends, and we need to ask ourselves, What Would Jesus Do. Gave her your new name and told her she could find you on face book.”

“Oh.. my.. god.” I couldn’t believe it. Gram the Meddler; was I really surprised? Yes. The answer was still yes.

So now, Melissa (who probably already speculated as much) would know, without a shadow of a doubt, that she still had me wrapped around her finger. That I was still missing her friendship, thinking about her every day, and remembering her birthday each year. What a loser.

I called my mother, shared the news, and she sympathized with me. “I’m so sorry,” she cooed into the phone. “But maybe you’ll hear something back from Melissa; wouldn’t that be exciting?”

“Yeah RIGHT,” I chuckled. “That girl is not going to respond. I’m certain. I won’t get a single word from her.”

And I was right.. in a sense.

She didn’t get in touch with me. But she did respond to Grammy.

I was happily lounging around the house this morning, sitting in bed with boxers (HUSH, girls wear boxers), blueberries, and a chubby, softly snoring German Shepherd. I was spending time sorting through old pictures and docs on my computer and picking up the guitar every now and then, working out lyrics to a new song. Suddenly, I got a notification on my phone: it was from Sierra Madre.

“Melissa messaged Gram back. If you want to read it, I could give you her account login.”

My heart stopped. Words. There were words to read. Melissa’s words. And they were about me; she was thinking about me, she had to be thinking about me, when she wrote them. I wanted to read them more than anything.

“I would,” I responded casually. “Thanks.”

She sent me the info. I made myself wait three minutes (so that I wouldn’t appear desperate to myself), and then I couldn’t stand it any longer. I pulled up Facebook, logged out of my account, logged into Grammy’s, and then clicked on Melissa’s message.

I read the first line.. it was her acknowledging that she’d considered reaching out to me in the past.. good to know.. but then, I read this, and when I did, I lost it: 

“I have felt bad for never responding to her letters, but..”

Done.

Done.

Insert <fit of tears>.

I – am – done. 

I finished the rest of her 500-character message hastily, just wanting to get it over with. Certain words and phrases stood out: “I’m too busy”; “too much going on”; “finishing school”; “praying for her”; “I can’t help her.” I logged out of Gram’s account quickly, dried my face, saw the dog staring at me, looked down at my hands, realized they were shaking, and tried very ardently to compose myself. I wasn’t just devastated by what I’d read; I was shocked.

“Did you read it?” Sierra had inquired, via Messenger, a few minutes prior to my meltdown.

“Yep. All I needed to know was that she got my letters. And she did.”

“Are you mad at her?” Sierra ventured to ask. “Are you OK?”

“Oh,” I murmured out loud as I typed, “I’m fine. I’m DONE. I just discovered that she received every single one of my letters, so I’ve gotten precisely the closure that I needed.” I paused, then I continued typing. “Knowing her, and knowing how KIND she always was, I’ve felt CERTAIN, for the last SIX YEARS, that her MOTHER was intercepting the birthday cards, Thanksgiving cards, and heartfelt letters that I was sending.. because if Melissa was getting them, of course she would have responded to me (even if it was just to say: “I’m not interested in being your friend anymore; please stop writing”). But nope. I was totally wrong. Melissa read every single letter and decided that it wasn’t at all necessary to respond. Melissa is heartless. I can’t continue to love a person like that in ANY capacity. I would never treat anyone that way, and I won’t subject myself to this cruel rejection and pain anymore. Therefore, I’m done.”

“I’m wishing that I would not have told you to read her response,” Sierra responded (with a sad face). “I think that, when she gets to a point in her life where she is happy, she will reach out to you,” she reassured me.

“No thanks.” I sound like a brat right now, I thought to myself, but I don’t care.I don’t care if she becomes happy someday and is ‘feeling up to’ reaching out, or if, someday, things in her life have ‘settled down’ enough that she suddenly has time to acknowledge my existence.. I don’t want to hear from her anymore, and I don’t want her to contact me. Ever. I just want her to live as though I don’t exist, which she’s already used to doing.”

The conversation ended and I was still shaking.

It hurt.. finally and suddenly getting the closure I’ve been dying to have. Way more than I thought it would. But it was also freeing. I’ve been held captive by her memory for years; feeling helpless, lovesick, and forgotten. And now that this perfectly preserved image and this flawless idea of Melissa have both fallen to the floor and shattered into ugly, jagged pieces, I’m free.

I was so sure that she never got them.. that THAT was why I never heard from her. She was the princess who needed saving from her awful mother, the miserable queen who stole the letters I sent and then threw them down into the alligator-infested moat. But I was so wrong. And I deserved to know that I was wrong about her, and now that I do know, I am going to stop harboring, protecting, and nurturing the special love that I’ve held so close to me for someone who isn’t worth it. Not a single bit worth it.

You aren’t who I imagined, but imagining isn’t fair. I invented the girl of my dreams, with your heart, laugh, and smile. I fell in love with her, and I completely lost sight of you.

Aun Aqui

The “Coming Out” Anniversary Special: I’m just gay, you guys.

“Nothing makes me happier than getting to watch someone break their chains. And I’ve been able to do that, over the course of the past year, by watching YOU break yours, one link at a time. Now technically, one broken link should break the whole thing.. so in this case, you may have multiple chains.”

 

Let’s rewind two months.

I’m lying in bed one night, beginning to doze off. The room is dark, the ceiling fan is – to my dismay – on (#hotroommatesyndrome), and the fat German Shepherd is curled up nicely at the foot of the bed. And by that, I mean.. by my feet. On the bed.

 

Just as I’m entering a paralytic state, Charlie leans over and whispers: “…do you hear that?”

Startled, I turn over from lying on my right side and lie down, flat, my back against the bed.

“…no,” I answer him. “I don’t. What do you hear?”

We both paused. Then I heard it.

“Those.. noises,” his voice continued. “It sounds like something is scurrying around.”

“I’m sure the sound is coming from the roof; I’m not worried about it,” I decided. I rolled back over and thought nothing of it.

Seeming satisfied with my verdict, Charlie fell silent too. We both slept soundly, woke up the next morning and reported directly to work.. the incident entirely forgotten.

 

The following evening, the noises returned. Charlie seemed perplexed.

“They must have a new hangout spot on the roof,” I joked lightheartedly, brushing the matter off.

 

After two weeks of these chirping, scurrying noises carrying on in the background, Charlie stopped beating around the bush.
“Look,” he began, giving me a very serious face, “I think that the noises AREN’T coming from the roof. Because I got up on the roof this afternoon–”

You did?! Charlie. You should never get on the roof when no one else is home. If you fell and broke something, who would call the police?”

He didn’t answer. “And when I was on the roof,” he continued, “I did not see anything. I feel like the noises are coming from inside the house, Jace.”

He stopped and waited for my reaction. I didn’t react.
“…specifically, from within the walls,” he concluded softly.

 

“WHAT? Oh, noooooooooo,” I moaned. “That sounds horrible. And gross. And costly. What the heck are we going to do?”

 

We were both clueless, so I called a pest control service.

“We’ll send someone out to take a look tomorrow morning,” the receptionist reassured me.

 

And they did. Their verdict differed from mine.

 

“We’re going to have to get inside of the walls to know what we’re really dealing with,” the exterminator reported. “It could be birds — in which case, we create a hole in the outer wall, get them out, and then seal it off.. simple. Would only cost you $250.”

 

“Only?” I repeated (to myself only).

 

“BUT,” he paused dramatically, “if we AREN’T dealing with birds.. if there are MICE in there.. then it could take a whole lot longer. We’ll have to set traps, come back several times, and it’ll end up costing you a good bit more than $250.”

 

$250 could buy me like 30 freaking Chipotle burritos, I calculated miserably. Double that amount and you’ve almost got a full mortgage payment. But what else am I going to do? Leave the birds OR MICE stuck in there and they’ll either A. die, B. multiply rapidly and slowly destroy the entire house, or C. MAYBE leave of their own accord. Maybe. Wouldn’t that be nice.

 

“So,” the exterminator prodded me for an answer, “would you like to go ahead and schedule a time for me and my guys to come out and get started?”

 

“Yes,” I resigned. “How about next Monday? My roommate will be home and he can handle the German Shepherd while you’re here.”

 

“My other guy isn’t available next Monday.. but he is available the following Monday.”

Excellent; let’s give the mice a generous two weeks to destroy everything. “Sounds good!”

 

So we set the date and then, as each night passed, we listened along quietly as the squeaking, squirming, chirping noises grew increasingly louder.

 

“There are either more of them now or they’re just really making themselves at home,” I mused.

 

Charlie was miserable. In the evening, he’d pull up an 8-hour long YouTube video of crickets and play it through the night to help drown out the strange sounds the unknown creatures were making as they partied, destroyed, and defecated (vomit) directly behind us. During the day, I’d catch him walking around the perimeter of the room, knocking softly on the walls and calling out: “Please leave! They’re going to come and KILL YOU.” He was pre-devastated at the thought of their cruel and sudden death.

 

Me? I didn’t know what else to do, OTHER than to let the big bad exterminator come out and handle the matter. “I don’t want them to die either,” I iterated to Charlie, “but they also CAN’T stay. If they do, they’ll end up dying anyways through lack of food and fresh air, AND they’ll destroy this place from the inside out. I wish they’d just leave, Charlie, but we can’t make them.” It was a dark time for everyone. Even the German Shepherd was looking a little down.

 

Finally, Sunday night rolled around. The exterminator would be coming out the next morning to begin his evil (but necessary) work.

 

I was lying in bed, dozing off again, when Charlie interrupted my sleep.

“…do you hear that?”

“HEAR WHAT?”

 

“…nothing,” he whispered, sounding amazed.

 

I bolted up in bed, trying to see in the dark (although seeing has nothing to do with hearing).
“…oh my god. I DO hear nothing.”

 

“Do you think they left?” Charlie asked hopefully.

 

“They must have! Come to think of it, I don’t think I’ve heard those scurrying sounds for DAYS. It’s not that I’ve tuned them out.. you can’t help but hear them.. there just hasn’t, to my recollection, been any.”

 

I questioned whether or not I should have the exterminator come out ANYWAYS (to make sure the critters had, indeed, journeyed elsewhere), but I decided against it. Why blow $250 unless I’m absolutely positive that there’s an infestation?

 

I’m happy to report that, two weeks later, the party animals still haven’t returned.

 

“I warned them.. and they listened..” Charlie was (and still is) elated by their last-minute salvation.

 

The possible infestation was a problem I wanted to just ignore, but the consequences of doing so would have been doubly awful: the creatures would have either died or destroyed my home (possibly both). I’m grateful that they left freely without being forced to leave, and that I can now go about my usual business of purchasing an excessive number of Chipotle burritos.

 

This past week, I had another interesting “home experience.” I am getting to the ‘main point’ of all of this.. I promise.

 

Since closing on refinancing the house, I’ve been giving thought to how I can really customize and personalize the place. I began my endeavor by painting the old, unused dining room and transforming it into a neat (non-party animal) hangout spot. The next item on my list was redoing the downstairs floors.

 

I called a guy out. He stopped by the house after work on Thursday afternoon, just two days ago.

 

“Hellllooooooo!” He called out brightly when I opened the front door. He was wearing blue denim jeans, paint-stained boots and a clean-looking t-shirt.

Hey! I’m Jace,” I stretched my hand out.

“Vernon! Good to meet you, Jace. Now.. what exactly are we doing to this house?”

 

I led him inside, past the “hangout room,” through the hallway (which oversees the kitchen on one side and a laundry room on the other), and then into the living room.

 

“Well,” I answered him, “I’m wanting to pull up the tile in the kitchen and all of the laminate hardwood in the other rooms, and then I want to have the concrete underneath ‘refinished,’ polished, and stained.”

 

“Sounds good!” He responded energetically, surveying the area. “What kind of stain are you wanting to put on the concrete?”

 

“Welllllll, my favorite places in the whole entire world are Saturn and Chipotle,” I began, “and I LOVE the concrete floors featured in both places, so I’m going for a coppery, bronzy swirl that’s set in a deep, metallic gray.”

 

He complimented the idea. “It sounds like you’re going for a loft look,” he murmured.

 

“YES!” I exclaimed. “EXACTLY! Honestly, I refinanced this house a few months ago – in my name only – after a divorce. I was secretly hoping that he’d want to take the house, because I wanted to transition myself into a small, studio apartment or loft downtown — you know, where you walk into ONE ROOM and THAT’S IT, everything is RIGHT THERE in front of you. I was dreaming of a place with concrete floors and warm rugs, brick walls and stainless steel appliances, bright windows..” I trailed off, realizing I was giving a lot of unnecessary info, “but anyways, he wanted to start over elsewhere, and I wanted him to be happy, so I agreed to continue living here. It’s close to work, at least, and has a backyard for my German Shepherd. I’m at least trying to fix the place up.. I’ll probably live here for a few years or so and then sell it.”

 

He squinted his eyes and looked at me carefully.

 

“Alright..” he began. “Let’s talk about this, okay? If you’re going for a loft look, you need to imagine the whole picture. Right? Like.. these walls,” he walked over to one of the walls and knocked on it. “And these wooden beams,” he pointed upwards at the vaulted ceilings. “Right now, this home has a 70s vibe to it. When was it built?”

 

“1969,” I smiled.

 

“Right,” he nodded, “so, if you’re wanting to take THAT ‘look’ and transform it into a more modern, industrial feel, then your renovations will need to go beyond just re-flooring the place. You could put metal sheets up on these walls,” he gestured. “You could paint the wooden beams gray,” he continued, walking to the other end of the living room, “and this staircase.. you could turn it into more of a stairwell by pulling out the wooden posts and handrails and installing metal or iron pieces in their place.”

 

“Wow,” I breathed. All of that sounded incredible. And incredibly impossible. He saw the look on my face.

 

“And you probably don’t know how to weld iron,” he acknowledged, “but you may have a friend that welds. You also may not know how to affix metal sheets to the wall, but you can look that stuff up online.. try YouTube. You don’t have to PAY someone to come out and do all of these things for you; if you want to learn how, or if you have friends who already know how, there’s a lot you can do on your own, independent of hiring on a contractor.”

 

I nodded. He was really widening my perspective; I was overwhelmed, imagining all of the possibilities.

 

“My point is,” his voice interrupted my thought process, “when you’re transforming a place — remodeling, redesigning, whatever — the floors are THE VERY LAST THING you do. The very last. You take care of everything else — the architecture, the walls, the fixtures — first.” He paused to let the thought sink in.

 

“But listen, if you just want an estimate, I’ll give you one.”

 

He used a roller device to measure the length and width of each room and then gave me a ballpark estimate. It was pretty steep.

 

“So,” he concluded after he’d quoted the number, “if you wake up in the middle of the night and feel like ‘damn it, I don’t care about renovating everything; I just want him to come out and redo these floors,’ then call me and I will. But I am going to be honest with you, like I’d want a contractor to be honest with any one of my three daughters, were they wanting to do what you’re wanting to do.”

 

He leaned up against a wall and looked at me.

 

“Don’t fix what isn’t broken. Your floors are already fine. And I don’t think you’ll be staying here long enough to enjoy the cost of remodeling them. It sounds, to me, like you’re trying to make yourself like this place. But the problem is, you won’t like it.”

 

That’s bold, I thought to myself. And this guy is incredibly perceptive.

 

“I mean.. that’s true,” I admitted. “I really didn’t want to live here. But I was craving stability. I wanted to live somewhere smaller and easier to maintain. My “real” goal is to move downtown someday.”

 

“Do you spend a lot of time downtown?”

 

“Oh yeah. Every single weekend, I spend my two off days downtown. I go to the coffee shop and write for hours.. I go to Railroad Park and skateboard.. I window shop at antique stores.. honestly, I spend as little time as possible in this home. It has too many memories. I keep thinking it’ll get better, but it doesn’t, and when I AM at home, I’m either in my bedroom, sleeping and eating dinner, or in the bathroom, showering and getting ready for work.” I thought about it, considering his statement again. “Yeah.. I don’t like being here.”

 

“Alright kiddo,” he sighed. “Listen: You do one of two things with a home,” he explained. “You either invest in the place and live there,” he raised one finger in demonstration, “or you dress it up, sell it, and get out of it,” he raised another.
“We tried to sell it before I refinanced the place in my name,” I replied. “We had it on the market for six months. At least a hundred people came out — no joke. I spent every weekend mopping and sweeping and entertaining the German Shepherd.. it was very tiring, and very stressful. No one even put an offer in.”

 

“Well that’s because you’re focusing on redoing the floors – and there’s nothing wrong with them – when you should be looking at the condition of the ceiling, the soundness of the walls, and the incredibly cluttered garage.. those are the things you should be focusing on fixing.” He paused and looked out the front window, surveying the scene. “For example, when people came here to look at the home, I bet the first thing they noticed when they drove up was the front yard.. and by the looks of it, they probably drove up, saw it, and thought to themselves: ‘My god, this place is run down.'”

 

“Yeahhhh — the realtor asked us to mow the lawn, but I responded that it hadn’t been mowed in two and a half years, that we liked it that way, and that a potential buyer could look past it.”

 

“Well..” his voice trailed off and he smiled knowingly (a smile that said “And? How did that work for you?”). I smiled back at him.

 

“You’ve got a lot of good things going on in your life,” he remarked suddenly. “Bad stuff also, I’m sure, but lots of good things. Don’t let the bad things ruin the good things. Leave the bad things behind, or change them so they’re just as good AS the good things.”

 

We chatted for a while longer, and then I walked with him outside.

 

“Take a month,” he suggested. “Create a list of things you want to change. Then, give yourself a year. Sell the house, and move into that downtown studio apartment you want. Don’t settle.”

 

He reminded me that, should I call him, he’d come back out to the house to help me with whatever I needed help with, and then he waved goodbye as he got into the car.

 

Wow, I reflected, closing the front door after he’d driven away. I’ve never had someone convince me to not hire them and give them my money. 

 

Vernon was right. I was focusing on ripping up perfectly good, functional floors when I have stained ceilings, flimsy walls, a packed garage and other issues to worry about. “Why fix something that isn’t broken?” Why waste time and money redoing something that doesn’t need to be redone in the first place?

 

Then I thought about myself, of course.

“You either invest in yourself (if you view yourself as being worthwhile) or.. you don’t.”

 

I was forced to recognize that there are important things that I choose to hide or ignore (like the mice, trapped within the walls) and unimportant things that I fixate on instead (like perfectly good floors). I distract myself with non-essentials (like questioning my natural biology: why did I have to be born a girl?) because the essentials (who am I? am I a good person?) are too weighty to consider. But finally, after a roller coaster of a year, I’m getting down to the brass tacks, and while it’s just as intense as I anticipated it would be, leveling my eyes with the truth is relieving me of a very great burden.

 

I came out last June. Can you believe it’s already been a year? This has been one of the most visibly significant years of my life. There have been lots of revelations, of course — negative and positive ones, and I’ve embraced both — and I think the most useful traits I’ve carried with me this whole time have been honesty and courage. It’s takes complete honesty to reach such revelations, and then it takes real courage to face, accept, and make decisions about those revelations.

 

One recent revelation has been that my depression isn’t situational. It’s chemical.

It’s like I’ve been running through this dark house; moving from room to room with a flashlight and trying to find it.. the reason why I’m depressed.. and knowing that I can’t find it – that it isn’t there, that it never has been, and that it never will be – is so freeing.”

More on that some other time.

 

Another revelation is that my gender identity and sexual preference aren’t as dishearteningly confusing as I’ve been making them. 

 

I came out as bisexual on June 27th, 2015, which was a lie. It was a lie that I told myself and everyone else in an effort to save my marriage. I was married to my best friend, and I didn’t want to lose him, but it also wasn’t fair to keep him. I had to let him go.

 

Then, I sort of amended my statement by stating that I was transgendered: a transgender person is a person who feels like they were born into the wrong body. I was a boy trapped in a woman’s body, and I hated it, and it was, I believed, the sole, great cause of all of my suffering — the sensitive, exposed root of my identity crisis.

 

Now, I’m here to tell you, with a great sense of relief, that I’m just gay.

I’ve spent the last year deliberating whether or not I’d go all the way through with transitioning. I have a small group of transgender friends; they’ve shared their journeys with me – highlighting the best parts, the ones I both envied them for and celebrated with them, and sharing the dark spots – and I’ve concluded that I can’t. Everyone’s experience is different, and that’s what makes life so interesting, but I can’t put my body through any unnecessary surgeries. I won’t accept hormones into my body and become dependent on them for the rest of my life, and I’m not going to commit to some kind of speech therapy regiment to retrain my natural tone, pitch, and inflection. I can’t, and I also don’t want to modify my body to that extent. The idea just doesn’t sit well with me. I admire those who have the courage to do so, but something deep inside of me has been saying, over and over again, that I don’t need to.. that extreme, irreversible modification – legit transitioning – isn’t going to be my answer. It isn’t going to make me any happier than I am now.

 

Why fix something that isn’t broken?

 

But what made me feel broken? Why have I believed that I’m permanently stuck inside of the wrong body since that life-changing moment at Publix in December of 2014?

 

Here’s my theory.

I’ve given the matter lots of thought (that’s an understatement), and this is the short answer: I think that my problem isn’t with my gender so much as it is with my perception of my gender.

 

Want the longer answer? Keep reading.

I grew up around devoutly religious, domesticated women. They fell in love with men, married those men, and then popped out kids. They didn’t go to school, and they didn’t work “real” jobs. They went to church a few times a week and watched Fox news. They seemed, to me, weak, bored, simple-minded, and unproductive. That is so harsh to type out, and I hate reading it back to myself, but you’ve got to be painfully honest about these things if you ever want to move past them.

 

With these thoughts deeply ingrained in my psyche, I began to – subconsciously, and of my own accord – perceive women, in general, as being inferior to men; less interesting, less adventurous, and with way less potential. By proxy, as a woman, I was also inferior to men. This was unacceptable.

 

Then, I was admitted to public school, and my subconscious beliefs grew even stronger. I saw the boys: they were wearing clothes I liked, playing sports I liked, having fun, and carrying themselves with an easy-going confidence that I admired. They laughed easily, they enjoyed things without seeming overly attached to or invested in them, and just by looking at them, you knew two things for certain: they were independent and cool. That’s exactly what I wanted to be.

Then I shifted my calculating gaze over towards the girls. By contrast, they wore pretty, unpractical clothes (who can take off running in a dress?), gossiped about each other, fought with each other over the boys, sat down during PE instead of playing sports, and they wore the stupidest bedazzled shoes.. ones that, once again, you could never safely run in. I thought the girls were pretty, of course.. far more attractive than the boys were.. but I felt nothing like them. We shared no similarities, other than being living and breathing human beings. It didn’t make sense. I didn’t make sense. I wanted to make sense. I didn’t fit their mold, but by golly, I sure did fit the boys’ mold.. minus having a vagina instead of a penis. I felt entirely boyish, inside and out, so I chose boys. I chose, without even realizing it, to be one.

 

And I don’t really need to talk about it any further. I think you get the picture.

 

Because my personality, traits and preferences aligned more closely to those of your stereotypical boy’s, I assumed the role as mine. Basically, I was saying: “I’m too different and cool to be a girl.” That’s.. literally.. discriminatory. It’s sexist. And it’s so, so sad to view other people that way, and to view yourself that way.

 

So how do you work through that kind of prejudice and disdain? How do you stop despising being born into a certain gender? For me, it was by:

A. realizing – admitting – that I did not respect women, and

B. opening myself up to deepening my relationships with people. Particularly, women, who I’d always carefully avoided (out of fear and uncomfortability).

 

By attending college and working (unlike most of my female predecessors), I’ve unintentionally widened my social circle, which has seriously impacted my perspective. I’ve encountered so many women who I’ve grown to respect and admire. The very first woman I ever respected was a manager that I had when I worked in a call center.

 

She was beautiful, gentle, and delicate.. bearing distinctly feminine traits (and there’s nothing wrong with that).. but she also had a fierceness about her. A toughness. She was firm, decisive, knowledgeable, and fearless. She was elegant and classy and carried herself with a poise that I couldn’t help but admire. She is the first woman I ever recall admiring and respecting; I’d even go as far as saying that she was a sort of role model. 

 

And from there, my eyes were opened. Suddenly, there were remarkable women everywhere.

 

Here are just a few:

An elderly college teacher with lovely white hair who rehabilitates German Shepherds.

A co-worker in my department who raises two kids and works full-time.

A copywriter who’s got fashion sense, a sense of humor, a way with words and an aura of Prince-esque coolness about her.

A gal in compliance who fights fraudsters by day and paints brilliant works of art by night.

A manager who cares deeply about her employees, leads by example, and who – in addition to working full-time – serves in ministry for 80 hours each month.

The sometimes blue-, sometimes blonde-haired barista at my favorite coffee shop who is so friendly and who carries herself with such confidence that she always inspires me.

A Birmingham musician (and widow) who travels around the state, playing gigs, and who is raising two kids on her own.

 

So then – with this new insight on the greatness of the female gender – I reimagined each of my immediate family members. The female ones. I challenged myself to re-perceive the women I’d never really respected.

 

I reconsidered the mother who raised me and my special needs brother. She spent years in the hospital with him — sleeping in uncomfortable chairs, munching on lackluster cafeteria food, and watching game shows and Disney shows on repeat with him in the ICU. The same woman made an effort to homeschool me because she wanted to preserve my innocence. For years now, she’s pledged herself to a religion that she truly believes in, and it’s very apparent that she genuinely tries to follow her chosen moral compass.

I haven an aunt who is raising a child, volunteering in her community, learning sign language, organizing fun, free events for children in her apartment complex, and attending school so that she can become a social worker someday.

And then there’s the firecracker of a grandmother who has never been able to not give you her two cents. She’s bossy, and she’s loud about her opinions, and we’re so incredibly similar. She’s one of the most magical, whimsical and life-loving human beings I’ve ever known. She doesn’t write out stories often (not nearly enough), but when she does, they’re captivating. She raised two kids, then three grand kids, and she makes the best spaghetti I’ve ever had.

 

Three very remarkable women.

I don’t know why I wasn’t able to see how remarkable they all were before. It was sort of like I was looking at a car with tinted windows; staring right at them and seeing nothing but reflective blackness, but there’s so much there on the inside. Well, I rolled the windows down. I can see it all now.

 

I’m not going to say that women are better than men, because that wouldn’t be true, but I’m also no longer viewing men as belonging to this superior, cooler, and more competent gender, because that also isn’t true. I believe precious few things, but one thing that I do believe is that, regardless of the body you’re born in, you can be whoever you want to be; maybe you’re smack-dab on the feminine side, or squarely on the masculine side, or perhaps you’re situated somewhere along the scale. Maybe you change a lot and slide up and down the scale.. maybe you never change. Regardless, you’re as cool and competent as the rest of them.

 

I’m going to be blunt for a second: Trading a vagina for a penis (or vice versa) isn’t going to fix anyone’s identity crisis, and being born with one or the other does not limit, determine, or prevent how you can portray yourself or live your life. Maybe you’ve perceived that there IS one, but there is no actual mold for you to pattern yourself after or confine your shape to. You are not born with limits, but watch out, because you can limit yourself. You shouldn’t, but you can, and a lot of us do so without realizing it.

 

So — to spell it out — I’m not actually transgendered. I’m just a really cool girl. And technically, all girls are cool or can be cool (if they wear Vans and adore burritos), so simply put, I’m a cool girl who likes other cool girls. I’m a gay girl. What I am NOT is a butch lesbian (don’t get it twisted). 

 

I am, stereotypically, boyish. Agreed. And when you look at me, wearing my prized board shorts, showcasing my hairy legs and donning a really cool tie, I may look like a boy to you, and that’s totally fine, but I’m actually a girl. And I’m actually, finally, for the first time in my life, okay with that.

 

2016-07-02 12.33.14

 

Thanks to everyone for the unconditional love and support. I wouldn’t still be here without you.

 

Wonder what kind of crazy shit will happen this year?

Aun Aqui