Dancing, making new dental connections, and leaving anonymous, non-flirtatious, hand-written letters for cafe girls on kitchen counters..

Three years, two months, and an unknown number of days ago, I was on the phone with my dad, both of us driving home from work.

 

“So that new place wants to hire you, huh?” he asked.

“Yeah!” I answered him. “It’s a call center position with another credit union.”

“Nice!” I could hear the smile in his voice. “I overheard your mom talking to Gram about it on the phone this morning. I’m really proud of you, Rose.”

“Thanks, dad — hey, let me run something past you.” Then, I proceeded to explain my situation to him.

 

I’d been working as a teller for three years and I loved it, but I’d outgrown the small, local credit union I was working for. It was like trying to keep your feet tucked into your most favorite pair of shoes ever when you’ve clearly outgrown them; your toes have no wiggle room, your heels feel glued to the soles, and you know that if you don’t act quickly, the only way to get the damn things off will to be cut the shoes (and possibly your flesh) open.

 

So I did some research and applied to work at two companies I felt morally attracted to. After interviewing with the first one, I received an offer from them and immediately accepted. Awesome, right? Such an empowered woman! But when I turned my two-week notice in to my current employer, I received a reaction from my manager that I wasn’t expecting.

 

Holding my carefully drafted paper in her hand that Thursday morning, she looked up at me, a worried expression covering her face. “Can you.. wait another day?”

Uhhhh.. huh? I was confused. “I’m sorry — what do you mean by wait? I’m not going anywhere for two weeks,” I reassured her, thinking it was a simple misunderstanding and that she’d read the date incorrectly.

“I mean — just, wait another day. To give the notice.”

Well sure, I thought to myself. Waiting seems weird, but submitting it tomorrow will still give them a solid two weeks to find my replacement. “Okay.. sure. Yes ma’am.”

 

The following morning, I and another teller watched like novice undercover detectives as the human resources manager’s car turned into our credit union parking lot. We’ll refer to her, in the paragraphs that follow, as Ally.

“Oh wow,” my friend remarked. “I bet she’s here for you!”

 

I was nervous, but I didn’t know why. Had I done anything wrong? I took a quick inventory of my mental catalogue: nope.. you’re good.

 

Ally swung the door open and entered the branch. She greeted everyone sweetly and then motioned for me to join her as she began stepping over towards my manager’s office. I locked my drawer, signed out of my computer, and took a deep breath as I followed her. She gently closed the sliding glass door behind us; I turned around as she did so and saw her lips curve into a gentle, reassuring smile. I’d always liked Ally. Her smile took the edge off of my nervousness, but still; my palms were sweating profusely and everything felt strangely surreal.

 

Once we’d all situated ourselves, Ally began to speak.

“Rose, your manager mentioned that you were about to turn in your notice yesterday. I’m so sorry to hear that! Oddly enough, I had planned – before hearing this – on coming out to the branch today to offer you a raise. We were hoping that you’d take this offer into consideration before officially submitting your notice. We’ve somehow overlooked awarding you with merit raises over the course of the past three years, and we’re sorry for that.”

 

My nervousness recoiled; I was so relieved.

See? I knew I hadn’t done anything wrong!

Shut up and pay attention, DUFUS.. she’s still talking.

 

“Oh, wow.. thank you,” I stammered. “I really don’t know what to say. I was honestly terrified when you showed up this morning, Ally, and now, I.. I just literally don’t know what to say.”

 

She laughed supportively. Then we got to the good stuff; if I stayed with the credit union, I would be awarded a $3 raise, more than I could have possibly imagined being offered. I was floored.

 

“Please take some time to think about it,” both managers implored.

 

 

And now, stuck at a redlight that Thursday night, I shared the exciting offer with my dad.

 

“So technically,” I summarized, “I DO have this other job — I’ve accepted the offer and.. I’ve kind of turned in my notice.. but, I have to officially make up my mind tomorrow. With this raise in the mix, I’m not really sure, anymore, WHAT the ‘right’ decision would be.” I waited for him to say something.. anything. I was, at this point, desperate for some kind of guidance.

 

He fell silent for a minute. “Well.. what are the pros and cons?”

 

I thought about it. “Pros of staying would be that I get a raise, duh, and that I’m already great at what I do — I know about everything and how we do everything — so, there’s a sense of security there. Pros of leaving,” I continued, the dreamer in me stirring in her sleep, “would be that I get to learn something familiar but entirely new; that I can build on my current knowledge and round it out by refocusing my perspective a little. I’d still be working in the credit union world, of course, but operating in a new role, and under new policies and procedures. The pay will be about equal to what I’d be receiving with this raise considered.. but the con of leaving is that people at this new company won’t know me yet; how seriously I take my work and how committed I am. Who knows what they’ll think.” I stopped, intimidating myself by own words. I sighed, audibly, into the phone.

 

“You want my advice?” Padre asked. “Here it is,” he continued without waiting for a response. “Go for this other job. You’ve gotta take chances sometimes. I’ve got a good feeling about it. It’ll be an adventure. And as far as proving yourself is concerned.. we’ve all gotta do that sometimes. The nice thing is, you won’t have any difficulty proving how awesome you are.. just keep doing what you have been.”

 

I smiled. “Thanks, dad. I’ll let you know what I decide to do.”

 

The following morning, with my hands shaking and my heart drumming with doubt, I handed my manager the same carefully crafted paper I’d presented to her two days before.

“I’m sorry,” I explained, seeing the dismay on her face. “I really, really appreciate the offer.. but I have to explore this opportunity.”

 

***

 

And I’m happy to report that it — going out on a limb, taking a leap of faith, exploring that new opportunity, whatever — was one of the best decisions of my life. I love the company that I work for, and the employees that I work with. I’ve been able to operate in an even cooler capacity than I imagined possible when I first accepted the job offer — now serving as a training specialist — and I’ve been able to maintain good relationships with co-workers from the credit union I worked at previously.

 

Deciding to switch jobs was a gutsy move — inherently full of possibilities for devastation and disaster — but it was very much worth the risk.

 

And as far as being afraid of trying new things is concerned, that wasn’t the first time I’ve been afraid.

 

As a kid, I feared onions, casseroles, and roma tomatoes; I refused to have anything to do with any of them, and it always made me so mad when Grammy would ruin an entire, gigantic pot of spaghetti by tossing sauteed onions into the pasta sauce. But as I aged, I grew more open-minded to the world of food, and the library of books, and the plethora of people, and I’ve learned that – sometimes – it’s worth trying something new at a restaraunt for the sheer thrill of it. Unless that restaraunt is Chipotle, in which case I will get the tried-and-true same thing every single time forever: a sofritas bowl with brown rice, black beans, mild salsa, guac and lettuce, please.

Last week, I had another “well this is new!” experience that I’d like to share with you all.

 

Let me start off by saying that I don’t dance.

 

I don’t mean that I can’t dance.. I mean that I don’t. I won’t. I haven’t and I never will. Well; I could honestly say all of that stuff a week ago.

 

Charlie, my roommate and best friend, sent me an invite to Saturn’s Solid Gold Dance Party over Facebook a few weeks ago, and I laughed. “Sure, I’ll go,” I texted him after accepting the invite, “but it will be to watch YOU dance.”

 

“Oh come on. You’ll dance,” he responded confidently.

 

“DREAM ON.”

 

The night of the dance party rolled around, and when I walked in the door from work at 5:47, I was ready to GO.

 

“ARE YOU FREAKING READY?!” I called out, running up the stairs and changing into street clothes (knee-length shorts, a cosmic T and Vans). I grabbed my new and favorite consignment store jacket (blue and collared with zippered front pockets and cool elbow patches) from off of the counter, along with my wallet, and then we both hopped into the car.

 

We arrived at 7:15, about 45 minutes early. The dance party starts at 8, I thought to myself. I’m usually IN BED by 8:30.. so even if we leave just an hour after it starts, that’ll still put me in bed at 9:30 at the very earliest. I sighed at my lack-of-sleep calculations and steeled myself for the evening. This is going to be fun, I coached myself. It’s good to get out of the house. You are going to have fun.

 

Charlie and I grabbed a couch and a game called “What’s Up?” (where you wear a headband and stick a card on it, showing your partner “what” or “who” you are; you’re then tasked with asking closed-ended questions that enable you to guess at what or who you are).

 

Half-way through our game (I ended up being an astronaut and two other unremarkable things), I decided to grab a drink.

“Getting a coffee?” Charlie asked cheerfully, taking another sip of his iced mocha.

“Nope. I’m getting DRUNK.”

 

I went up to the bar and waited for my turn to speak with the bartender. Finally, a skinny guy wearing a band T turned to me and, above the loud, united hum of voices, television, and video game music, asked: “WHAT ARE YOU HAVING?

 

“Hey,” I answered, looking pensive, “I wanted to see if you can recommend something that involves coconut?”

 

He nodded right away. “YES; A SPECIAL TONIGHT IS THE STRAWBERRY DAQUIRI.”

 

I nodded ‘yes’ and then watched as he concoted the drink. I took a sip of it, thought ew gross, and then paid him, remarking that it was really great and thanking him.

 

8:00 struck and, when it did, Charlie and I gathered up ourselves and our drinks and sasheyed into the music venue portion of the building together via bright orange double doors. We were the first party goers to arrive.

Coooooooool, internal me sang out.

 

It was dark. There was a lazy sheet of fog hovering around the room, strobe lights pulsing weakly, and two DJs were setting up on the stage.

 

Here we gooooooooo, I sang to myself, trying to work up some excitement. The alcohol made my heart feel tingly.

 

I walked over to a table and sat down, and then got up immediately, confusing Charlie.

 

“I’m actually going to stand ON the dance floor,” I explained to him, quickly following up with: “NOT to dance, but so that I can see you and other people dancing better.”

 

“Uh huh. Sureeeeeee,” he replied, smiling mischeviously.

 

“You are so cute.. thinking that you’re going to get this 24 year old who has NEVER danced before to dance tonight.”

 

It was a great night.

 

Within an hour, fifty other people had poured in through the same doors we had and had streamed onto the dance floor, collecting like puddles in small groups. I liked watching; someone would motion for someone else to hold their cup for a half-second so they could bust a single, impressive move, and then they’d reclaim their beverage, beaming with unconcealed pride while everyone else laughed heartily in supportive amusement.

 

There was a group of guys in the middle of the dance floor who I easily recognized as being superior dancers. Let me put it this way: they owned the dance floor.

 

Charlie stood next to me in the dim lighting, dancing his own little weird dance and turning to dance “at” me sometimes. I would laugh and sip on my drink, shaking my head no — stop — you’re EMBARRASSING ME. At one point, his dance included a complex-looking hand movement. A member of the cool guy dance club must have noticed, because he waltzed over and tapped Charlie’s shoulder. “DUDE.. that was SWEET,” he exclaimed (totally genuinely). He lingered, talking with Charlie and raving over and over again about the “sweet hand move.” It was all lost on me; I thought Charlie looked goofy, but apparently, his dance skills were impressive. I began to feel proud and stopped reproving him for dancing “at” me.

 

Then a real jam came on; the four cool guys began calling out “OHHHHHHH!” and started “grooving.” I turned to Charlie: “GO DANCE WITH THEM!” I demanded.

“What? Noooooo,” he shook his head, looking embarrassed.

 

“Charlie, one of them REALLY liked you. He thought that stupid move you did was cool. PLEASE go dance with them.. you’ll enjoy it so much!”

 

He hesitated, looking skeptical.

 

“LOOK,” I continued, feeling aggravated, “if you just go dance with them for a minute, I’ll dance with you later. ONE SONG. One SINGLE song.”

 

He lit up. “Yeah? Really?”

“Yessssss,” I rolled my eyes. “GO!”

 

He did. They immediately welcomed him into their cool guy crew, and I stood there for a moment to watch them all dancing together. Then, looking at the bottom of my daquiri (pronounced duh-keer-ee) glass and realizing that I still felt very sane, I said to myself: “YOU’RE going to need another drink.”

 

I returned to the bar. A different bartender tipped his head up at me in a way that asked “And for you?”

 

“I have a question for you,” I began. “WHICH has MORE alcohol content in it: whiskey, or wine?” Thus, my pop quiz ended.

 

He thought about it for a second. “Hmmmm.. probably whiskey.” A+.

 

“Okay,” I nodded at this invisible, new information. I turned my head over to the high shelf on the left. “Then I’ll take some of that Jack Daniels over there.”

 

This is so cool, I complimented myself. You’re drinking whiskey at a bar.

 

“Kay. You want it straight or mixed?”

 

Ooh. Curveball.

“That sounds intriguing — what would you mix it with?”

 

He looked at me kind of dumbly. “You know.. Coke, Sprite..”

 

I paused. “Yeah, sure! Let’s do Sprite!” I never have soft drinks, but this is a special occasion, I justified.

 

He handed over the mixed drink and I began sipping on it. Come on, liquid courage; work your magic. I’ve got a stupid promise to keep.

 

I returned to the dance floor and encountered Charlie breathing heavily.

 

“I just.. dominated.. the dance floor.. but I have no way of proving that to you..”

 

I was speechless. At that precise moment, a big, burly man walked over to Charlie and patted him on the back. “I don’t know how you did that, man, but it was awesome,” he raved.

 

Charlie laughed and smiled at him as he walked away.

 

“ARE YOU KIDDING ME? I hate that I missed this!”

 

Charlie continued dancing alongside me and, within about ten minutes, I’d finished my drink. I was now at the point of feeling just a little, tiny bit light-headed.. which was exactly where I needed to be.

 

I felt a tug on my pinky finger and turned my head to look at Charlie. He had wrapped his hand around my pinky and was working his way up to my hand. Once he had my hand securely in his, he began pulling on it, tugging my hand toward him and causing me to stretch my arm out. As I did so, he continued pulling me forward, out onto the dance floor.

 

Nooooooooooooooooooo, I squeaked, but it was too late. He was guiding me into an elementary, side-stepping dance motion.

 

“Oh my god. It’s happening. You’re dancing.”

“HUSH!”

 

And I did what I’d promised; I danced with him for the space of one single song.

After a few minutes of laughing nervously and feeling goofy, Charlie looked at me and cocked his head. “So I get another song?” he asked, seeming surprised.

 

“No..” I answered, looking around but continuing to move because I was terrified to stop. “Isn’t this the same song?”

 

I hadn’t noticed a change in flow or sound.

 

“YEP. You’re right. It’s the same one,” he answered, smiling and winking at me.

 

We danced through six, ten.. maybe even eleven songs. And it was one of the FUNNEST nights I’ve EVER had.

 

Charlie held both of my hands and guided my movements part of the time and then broke away later on as I became more comfortable, showing me new, cheesy moves and waiting patiently as I attempted to emulate them.

 

Eventually, the DJ paused the music and called out “RAFFLE TICKET TIMEEEEEEE!”

 

They called someone’s number — they’d won something — but the person was no longer there.

“Going in 5, 4, 3, 2, oneeeeeeeeee.. okay, next number; 11562?”

 

“THAT’S ME!” Before I knew it, I was screaming and running towards the stage, claiming my concert tickets. The icing on the cake.

 

“Ready to go?” Charlie laughed as I returned to him, swaying and stumbling a little.

“Yeah — but let’s dance for like, thirty more seconds first. Just to make sure I can do it again after stopping.” Having sure knowledge that this was possible seemed very important, at the time.

 

He smiled. We danced and twirled for another minute and then grooved all the way over to AND THROUGH the exit doors. The same doors we’d passed through two hours before when I was just a non-dancer who had never danced ever and never would. Things change.

 

 

 

So.. recap: I’m working a job that I love, eating spaghetti with onions in it, AND I’m a professional dancer now. These things didn’t happen because I was, one day, magically unafraid to attempt or try them; I was very afraid to try something new, whatever that new thing was, but I did so anyways. My motivations?

  • I had the support of loved ones.
  • I wanted to challenge myself.
  • I wanted to have fun and be happy.

 

I have three other new things to report from this week, and I know you’ll find one of them particularly intriguing, so I’m saving it for last (of course).

#1. Maqui, the rescue pup; remember her? I returned her to the humane society this afternoon. It was a tearful parting, but because of her food aggression, attention jealousy, and indomitable will to escape, she and Bruster just weren’t going to be a good match. We gave the trial run a full two weeks, and the answer was very clear: she’s a one-dog-only-home type pup.

“Don’t worry,” the volunteer said, taking the leash from me as tears welled in my eyes. “We’re having a big adoption event next week — she’s sure to get a good home!” She smiled over at Charlie and I. “We’ll take good care of her; don’t worry.”

#2. I have a new dental assistant. My previous one (and favorite dental assistant EVER) had twins earlier this year, and while I’m incredibly happy for her and her happy, growing family, I missed her terribly this past Wednesday as I received my second annual cleaning. Why? My new person, while adorably chatty, did not ask what flavor toothpaste I wanted OR what color TOOTHBRUSH I preferred. Luckily, she happened to stick a blue one in my goody bag, but I mean.. it could have been red.

#3. The one you’ll like. But don’t get it twisted.

 

Late Wednesday afternoon, Charlie and I stepped into a health food store downtown called Golden Temple. As we walked up and down the aisles, taking in the sight of essential oils, leather-bound journals, patchouli incense and organic, free trade everything, we ended up stumbling into the adjoining cafe.

 

Charlie walked over to the cooler to investigate their beverage offerings, and I tagged along behind him. He took just a couple of seconds to look before he settled on a canned coconut water, but while he deliberated, my eyes wandered around the room, taking in the colorful menu displaying itself on a whiteboard, the tree tapestry hanging effortlessly in the background, the pots hanging loosely off of metal racks stationed in the back of the visible kitchen annnnnnd the beautiful girl with the beautiful smile and who was smiling at me, carefully preparing someone’s pita wrap, burrito, or salad.

I paused and smiled back at her.

She looked away, and I looked away.

 

Nothing about this was flirtatious; it was one of those situations where, from across the street, sidewalk or room, you connect with someone, and it makes an odd impression on you. I couldn’t shake it off. I thought about ordering a sandwich or a smoothie (just so I could have a chance to maybe talk with her), but I decided that I’d likely clam up and embarass myself in front of both  myself and Charlie, so I decided to leave the cafe quickly.

 

Tonight, I’m meeting a friend at Books, Beans, and Candles; an incense slash candle slash witchcraft books slash tea and coffee shop downtown. We’re meeting at 7; I arrived back at Golden Temple around 5.

 

I walked in, headed over to the cafe, annnnnd realized that it closed at 3. Bummer.

 

What were my intentions?

 

To introduce myself.. to someone new.

“Hey!” I’d begin. “Look — I AM going to order a smoothie or whatever, but first, I just wanted to mention that I was in here on Wednesday, and I caught you smiling at me for a second, and I just wanted to say that you have a very nice smile and that, if you happen to be looking for a new friend, I’d love to grab coffee with you sometime.” Pause. “Yeah, I feel like I’m in elementary school right now; asking for you to come sit at my table, or seeing if I can get permission to sit at yours.. but I hope you won’t take this as me flirting or whatever because A. I’m not looking for any kind of romantic relationship right now.. I’m already in love with someone and trying to not be in a relationship with them because I really want to be single right now.. and B. the chances of you being beautiful, single, AND gay are like negative one thousand four hundred and sixty.” Longer pause.. has she called the police yet? “So, yes, in summary, I think you seem very nice and I don’t have many friends mostly by choice because I like being alone but if you EVER want to get coffee.. we should go to Saturn.”

 

But again, she wasn’t here by the time I’d arrived, so none of that was able to happen.

 

Instead, I took a seat at a booth, a sip of my watermelon-flavored aloe water, and then tore a clean, yellow, linen sheet out of my favorite journal. The last two songs I’ve recorded (soundcloud.com/aunaqui) have been one-vocal-take-only shots, and I told myself an hour ago, that’s what this note is going to be: a one-shot-only draft from the heart; accept whatever grammatical travesties ensue, and try your best to NOT sound creepy. Explain that she seemed cool and you’d like to hang out with a cool girl and maybe become best friends with her because you don’t really have many of those anymore and..

 

Should I leave the note with an employee? Ask them if they know of a short-haired, sweet-smiled cafe girl and then request that they please relay my note to her?

 

No. Don’t do that. They’ll probably think you’re a weird creeper-stalker hybrid and they’ll know that she’s engaged and honeymooning in Bermuda next month and they’ll just toss it.

 

So I’ll leave it on the counter then?

 

Yes, leave it on the counter.

 

Okay. And I’ll tuck the note neatly inside of the green menu I would have used to place my order this afternoon!

 

NO, don’t do that! They’ll just recycle all of it or, worse, throw it away.

 

Okay. So I’ll just stick the note on the counter.

 

YES, JACE. Stick the note on the counter.

 

…I wonder if she’ll text or email first?

 

Ohhhhh Jace. DON’T count on hearing from her at all. If you left me a note on a counter and I didn’t know who the hell you were, you better believe I wouldn’t reach out.

 

Oh yeah. Right. This is weird, isn’t it?

 

Yeah.

 

Doing it anyways.

 

 

One day later (according to my imagination):

Police: “Quit stalking Erin.”

Me: “…who’s Erin?”

Police: “Uh, beautiful girl, beautiful smile.. don’t play dumb..”

 

Trying something new every day; like dancing, expanding my dental connection horizons, and writing strange, anonymous letters to cafe girls..

Aun Aqui

Should I stay or should I go?

I’m currently sitting in my spot at Saturn, and I am surrounded by 18 cat people. 18.. I know, because I’ve counted.

 

I ordered my cold-brew-and-almond-milk beverage a couple of minutes ago, settled down onto my couch, and then my couch as well as the adjoining couch were quickly joined by human being after human being. I’ve watched as two tables have been pulled over into this same vicinity to accommodate the massive number of human beings all wanting to huddle together in this one area, where I happen to be.

“We’re the Magic City Kitties Club!” someone gushed in explanation.

“Oh! That’s cool,” I nodded at them, smiling and sticking in my earbuds.

“We’re sorry to kinda barge in on your space,” another one of the club members offered apologetically.

“Oh no, you’re totally fine! This makes the day more interesting,” I reassured them. Then, feeling like that wasn’t enough and that they might think I was calling them weird, I added: “I LOVE people who LOVE animals.”

 

I watched as new group members (easy to identify, as they were wearing cat shirts, leggings, and even headbands) poured into the building and then meandered over to our swelling area. As people began introducing themselves (apparently, this was their first in-person meeting), they passed around a roll of stickers that contained cat silhouettes and famous, cat-ified Birmingham landmarks, each of them with captions like “Magic City Kitties”, “Purrrrmingham” and “Pussy Patrol.”

 

One woman whipped out her phone, and that’s when I knew how the rest of the meeting was going to go. At the present moment, everyone has their phone out, and they’re sharing cat pictures and stories over steamy mugs of coffee and tiny plates carrying donuts and biscuits. Many of the members are laughing; the woman to my left has tears in her eyes. Maybe her kitty has died, I think to myself, or maybe she’s just sensitive and this group makes her really happy.

 

“Now here’s a picture of my Marley,” one member begins in a loud, commanding voice, flipping her phone around and then rotating it slowly so that anyone interested can gaze at the image of her black, brown and white beauty featured on its screen. “Now, let me tell you why I love kitties,” she continued, clearing her throat a little. “One morning last year, I discovered this stray kitty causing a ruckus outside, BEATING UP the neighbor’s POODLE!”

 

Everyone laughs.

 

“And it gets BETTER!” She holds up her hand, smiling at everyone as she struggles to mute her own laughing. She sucks in a dramatic breath. “I took Marley in as my own, but she insisted on being an indoor-outdoor cat. During the times when I’d let her outside, whenever that poodle even SAW her coming, he would FAINT.”

 

Everyone bursts out in laughter once again, but more heartily this time.

 

I turn my music up louder as the group waves phones around and takes turns petting the black kitty that one enthusiastic member brought into the cafe with him.

 

What did I want to write about today? The title of this post is: Should I stay or should I go? Who am I talking about? Where are they now, and where might they be going? Are there multiple applications for the phrase? You bet there are.

 

It started nearly six years ago.

I’m not going to reinvent the wheel by re-telling the story, but in December of 2010, I drove to Tennessee and adopted Bruster — a dorky little German Shepherd puppy. He was the runt of the litter. I remember walking into the owner’s cozy cottage and being led into a living room by a guy who looked like a farmer. The living room was full of bouncy, happy puppies with perky ears and easy smiles, and Bruster was the one hiding behind a couch and whimpering to himself. I ventured over to the couch, knelt down, and tilted my head, taking in the sight of the sad, black and brown blob tucked inside the space between couch and wall.

Oh my.. I want him. I need him.

 

And I got him. I still have him.

 

He’s always had fun; we go hiking on the weekends, someone’s always throwing sticks for him in the backyard, and he sleeps in bed with me every single night. He’s had an unwaveringly excellent disposition, seeming more like a human soul stuck inside of a lush German Shepherd Dog’s body than an actual dog, but the last several months, following the divorce, have been difficult.

 

Chris has visited the house a few times (either to pick up more of his stuff or to practice music with either me or Charlie). Out of the three times he’s most recently visited the house, Bruster has puked twice immediately after he’s left. I don’t think it’s a coincidence. He’s a sensitive dog; losing one of his idols has obviously taken an emotional toll. He’s always cried and whined incessantly (from the age of 12 weeks and onward), but there’s a certain vacantness to him now. I don’t like to think about it for too long, because there’s nothing I can do about it.

 

But things took a very sharp turn three months ago when Bruster destroyed his very first door.

 

I was teaching a class at work that Tuesday. I had just dismissed my new hires for a quick break and strolled over to my desk when I pulled out my phone and saw that I had a new text message from an unknown number.

 

“Hi,” it read. “I’m Rachel, one of your neighbors. Max (next door) gave me your #. I found a German Shepherd today on Indigo Valley Road and I know you have one, so I was wondering if it’s yours.”

 

I froze. Um.. no? My dog is an indoor dog. I’m not one of those assholes who keeps their pet outside, tethered to a tree or hooked onto a stake in the ground, so..

 

“Oh wow!” I responded in real life. “I don’t think it’s mine because I put him in the house this AM, but he could have escaped (he has before) — does he have a single, floppy ear by any chance?”

 

In response, I received this.

 

Resized_20160628_091815
Bruster looking wasted.

 

The photo’s caption read: “Yeah, he does.”

 

I let out a huge sigh. Bruster; what the fuck and how the hell?

 

I assigned electronic training to the new hires, clocked out for a way-early lunch, rushed home, and reclaimed my puppy, profusely thanking this neighbor for her kindness.

 

“No problem!” she answered. “He got into my car right when I opened the door. Super friendly dog.”

 

Brave lady, I mused inwardly, letting a 93 pound beast into her car so willingly.

 

After depositing Bruster back into the house, I did some “how the hell?” investigating before returning to work. I checked the downstairs — no doors or windows were open — and then tip-toed upstairs. There, I verified that my bedroom window was closed, and then I noticed that the master bedroom door was ajar, and that the bottom of the door itself looked frayed and clawed.

Shit.

 

I nudged the door open further and heard outdoor sounds. It was then that I made the fascinating discovery that the door to the outside (leading onto the deck) had been forced open.

 

He had torn the weather stripping, part of the door, and had SOMEHOW forced the door open while it was still in a locked position.

It boggled my mind.

 

So I barricaded the area, reassured my anxious dog that he was okay and would continue to be okay, and returned to work. I resumed teaching class and tried to temporarily forget about the fact that two doors in the house would now need to be replaced.

 

The following week, The Destroyer of Worlds struck again. Fortunately, I discovered the disaster while I was on my scheduled lunch break.

 

I drove home from work to prepare a salad that afternoon. After prepping it, eating it, and feeding and watering Bruster, I stuck my plate into the kitchen sink and started talking to the hound.

“Do you wanna go OUTSIDE, puppy dog?!” I asked him in a “you’re just a babyyyyy” voice. Bruster got all excited and worked up over the word ‘outside,’ and I remember smiling as I led us both over to the side door. My foot knocked into something on the way, causing me to look down and pause, and when I did, I sucked in a quick breath. It was insane. Bruster had obviously spent his morning hours gnawing away on this new door, removing the long wooden pieces (that framed the door) from the wall, and he had nearly busted through the tiny pieces of window-pane-glass.

“Oh my god?” I asked him. I looked at Bruster. He held my gaze, saying nothing. “What the hell is going on with you?”

 

 

But the third time.. that was the time I’ll never forget.

I was at Saturn, typing away on my laptop and unwinding on a leisurely Saturday morning, when my other neighbor, Max, texted me.

 

“Hey!! It’s Max (from next door). Your dog’s out again. Just thought I’d let you know. I gave him some water. I think he’s just hanging out on your front porch.”

 

I stared down at my phone in disbelief. “HOW?! I put FOUR STOOLS AND A CHAIR in front of that damn door.”

 

I shot him a text that said “thanks” and then hurriedly saved my draft, stuffed my laptop into my backpack, and sped all the way home. When I pulled into the driveway, I rushed out of my car and there he was — calmly standing at the top of the driveway — looking stately and poised and staring directly at me.. just waiting on the outside of the home so that he could be a few seconds, a few steps closer to me when I’d returned home. I sighed. I walked up the driveway to meet him, unable to be upset with him because I felt bad for him, and his ears flung backward as he galloped to where I was. He whined happily.

I look at him, and I still see a puppy.

 

I tried to open the front door, to let us both back into the house, but it wouldn’t budge. I inserted my key, unlocking the top and bottom, but it still wouldn’t move.

 

Well THAT’S weird, I announced out loud to both of us, but what isn’t weird these days? I manually opened the garage, strolled into the house, and then halted. I could not believe it. The front door was destroyed. He’d pulled the long, wooden trim off of the wall, gnawed the lock fixture off, and pieces of blue wood (the color of the door) were sprinkled along the tile floor like gnarly-looking confetti.

 

I looked at Bruster, and for a minute, I couldn’t say anything. Then, I shook my head slowly, left to right, my head felt so heavy, and I said: “That’s it. That’s it, bud. It’s over.”

 

I was devastated. I was so mad at him that I didn’t speak to him for two days. I was mad because I was sad; why was he ruining it? Why was he sabotaging the chance of us living his whole life together?

 

I reached out to an old college professor (who, ironically, had been on my mind in recent weeks). She had taught my Freshman year English class, and I recalled that she had a special place in her heart for GSDs and had a reputation for rescuing and re-homing them.

 

“I have too many dogs right now,” she responded via email, “but please contact this person. They can help you find a home.”

 

I did so, and the woman I contacted was incredibly unpleasant; unresponsive to emails, and then short and snappy when she DID type out a lazy response.

 

“It’s going to take a long time to find a suitable home for him,” she shared in one of her last emails. “Go to the vet and get him on meds while you wait.”

.

I had to type, erase, re-type and erase again before I could formulate a polite “goodbye” email.

“I don’t want him on meds,” I replied simply. “Thank you for getting in touch with me, but I’ll take care of this on my own. Thanks! Take care, dipshit!”

 

Minus dipshit, that is – verbatim – what I said.

 

So I posted an ad on Craigslist. It contained something along the lines of:

Looking to re-home a precious, well-mannered German Shepherd. Needs a parent who will be able to spend the majority of their time at home with him, as he has severe separation anxiety, and he must have a fenced yard with plenty of room to roam.

 

I attached three of the cutest Bruster pics available to the ad and then tried not to vomit after I made the post go live.

 

I shared the news with my manager (one of my closest friends) the following day.

 

“Jace,” she clasped her hands together and nodded her head solemnly, “this is NOT a good idea. I can feel it. Please wait on it.”

 

She’d witnessed me go through a lot of changes and abandon a lot of things over the course of the last two years. This was just another one of them. I had mentioned selling my motorcycle to her a month before, and she protested: “You love your motorcycle! You own it outright!” I agreed with her. Then I listed the motorcycle for sale about two days after listing Bruster on Craigslist. I didn’t bother to update her on the matter.

 

And I understand the psychology behind it all; it’s going to seem like we’re veering off course, but stick with me for a minute here. I divorced Chris because I was gay, sure, but I also wanted to be alone. I fell in love with someone else, but refused to enter into a relationship with them because I still wanted to be alone. I re-homed my rabbits, sold all of my furniture, and gave away half of my clothes, all under the guise of wanting to “simplify” my life. And this was true; I wanted my rabbits to have a better living situation (them roaming freely and happily on a farm is such a lovely image; I hope that’s their reality), and I did want to live a more “minimalist” lifestyle. But I was also prepping for my departure.

 

  • Paying off every single debt and making sure the bills were paid on time.
  • Cleaning out the garage and keeping as few items as possible in the house for easy sorting and selling.
  • Placing distance between myself and those I loved most.

All of these were preparations.

 

The only thing really keeping me alive, at this point, is the fatass German Shepherd who loves and needs me so badly. And selling the bike? Well, that would be one less thing my roommate or family would have to worry about when I’m gone; liquid assets are the best ones. There would be money in the bank, and they wouldn’t have to worry about where the title is and how they’re going to sell it.

 

I was preparing my loved ones for my death.

I was preparing myself for my own death.

 

I love planning — almost to a fault. I’ll be eating dinner at the table with Charlie, talking about projects I’ll be handling at work the following day, when he’ll pipe up: “But where are you now? What day is it today, and what are you doing right now?” I’ll smile and humor him, deliberately focusing on the present moment instead of looking ahead, but it’s so hard to keep my mind from straying hours, weeks, and even years into the future. It’s where I prefer to exist.

 

And death is just another fun thing to plan for.

 

I don’t want to leave my loved ones with a messy, cluttered house or complicated and oppressive financial matters, and I certainly couldn’t justify leaving behind a broken-hearted German Shepherd. So, rather than working with him on his behavior, it seemed easier for me to just re-home him. That way, he’d be happy, in love with and being cared for by someone else, and I’d be free to – if it gets to that point – do what needs to be done. Dip out, guilt-free.

 

I saw it — my reasoning. My underlying motive. I acknowledged it, and I pulled the bike and the dog ads.

 

“I’m going to take care of you until the day you die,” I whispered to Bruster one lazy weekday morning as he laid in bed and I dressed myself for work. “Don’t worry; I’ve got you.” I kissed his velvety, floppy ear and he started crying. Happy, sad, confused, frustrated; there’s always a cry. I love it.

 

So — to answer my question: Should I stay or should I go? I’m not going yet.

And to answer Bruster’s question: Will I stay or will I go? You’re stuck with me, buddy.

 

But now there’s a third entity in the mix.

Last weekend, Charlie and I went ice skating together. We had a blast. Neither of us fell, and after both of us had admitted to each other that, thirty minutes into our two-hour session, we’d honestly had our fill, we loaded into his car and began navigating toward our next destination: The Greater Birmingham Humane Society.

 

He’d mentioned the idea of doing so earlier on in the week.
“Want to stop by the Humane Society this weekend and look at all of the pups?” It was a casual offer.

 

I looked at him very seriously. “Yes, because I’ve never been, but be warned.. there’s a very good chance we’ll end up LEAVING with one of those pups, because A. they’ll be irresistible and B. I’ve been considering getting a playmate for Bruster anyways. So..” I trailed off, playfully.

 

We pulled up, walked in, and the place smelled like an orange bucket mixture of urine and Clorox. It was very strong-smelling. Pungent. A little nauseating.

 

We approached the front counter, nearing the sometimes happy-, sometimes hostile-sounding barking, and a brunette smiled at us in greeting.

 

“Are you wanting to tour the facility today?” She asked.

 

“Yes!”

 

“Is this your first time?”

 

“Yes!”

 

“Okay! Please sign in here. If you find an animal you’d like to sit down with, let one of our staff know and we’ll set you up with a room.”

 

I signed Charlie and I both in and then we took eager, gentle steps in the direction of Kennel A. As we moved past each window, we’d laugh and “awwww” at the pups on the other side — I noticed that there were so many labs and pit bulls — and at one of the windows, I came to a stop. The first thing I saw was the back of her head — it was an orange, coppery brown — and her soft-looking ears. She was laying down, facing the other direction. I couldn’t see her face, but I knew that she was the one.

 

“Charlie, I have to see her.”

 

“Okay! Let’s keep looking first.”

 

I obligingly toured the rest of the facility in an unconcealed hurry.
“So! Any other pups you want to interview?” I prodded him gently.

 

He smiled. No.

 

We arranged to meet with Magpie (the name of the 4-year-old dog). While waiting for a room to become available, Charlie stepped over to a window near the front of the room and then knelt down, looking inside of it. I saw his gaze fixated on one pup in particular: a sickly-looking shepherd mix. It was coughing. Snot was dangling from its nostrils and it had stitches on its tummy. The papers on the outside of the window indicated that she – Buttercup – was 6 months old.

 

“Awwwww.. look at that sweet baby..” I murmured. “Do you want to interview her, too?”

 

Charlie nodded.

 

We ended up wanting to interview 3 pups total: Magpie, the 4-year-old shep mix; Buttercup, the sickly-looking, 6-month-old shep mix; Suzanne, a 12-week-old shep mix puppy. See a trend here? Shep mixes; all of them. In the financial world, cash might be king, but in the animal kingdom, shepherds are.

 

Finally, our names were called and Charlie and I were assigned to a “meeting room.”

 

“Ah, you guys get the one with the couch!” our guide celebrated, motioning us into the room. We laughed.

 

The first pup we interviewed was Buttercup. She ran over to us as soon as the volunteer released her from the leash, and right as the woman closed the door, I started crying uncontrollably, gently petting Buttercup.

 

“What’s wrong?” Charlie asked softly.

 

“I don’t know,” I squeaked between tears. “It’s just so stressful, being here and seeing all of them. I want her. I want all of them.” Tears streamed down my face and I didn’t bother brushing them away. I stroked the sweet pup’s fur and kissed her cheeks and, within 10 minutes, the volunteer had returned and escorted Buttercup back to her two other friends.

 

“Which one do you want to see next?” the woman inquired.

 

“Puppies..” I began. “Do they typically find homes pretty easily?”

 

“Oh, YES!” she exclaimed. “They’re snatched right up very quickly.”

 

“Okay.. then we don’t need to interview Suzanne,” I looked at Charlie as I spoke the words, and he nodded his approval. “It’s not that I wouldn’t love to have a puppy, but I’m sure she’ll find a home.. so let’s meet the 4-year-old named Magpie.”

 

Magpie was a doll.

 

The fat little thing waddled into the room with her ears back, looking sleepy and docile, and she plopped down onto my lap. Instantly.

 

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I began petting her, laughing in response to her immediate familiarity with me, and when I stopped petting her, she leaned her head back against my neck, motioning that I needed to continue.

 

“Oh my goodness!” I looked at Charlie and giggled.

 

He called her over to him and then he began petting her. When he stopped, she raised her paw, tapped him lightly on the shoulder, and then waited expectantly for him to continue. She was irresistible.. just as I knew one of them would be.

 

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Puppy (L) and Charlie (R).

 

When the volunteer returned to the room, I didn’t know what to do yet, so I requested another 10 minutes with her.

 

Cuddling and cooing continued, and then the volunteer returned too quickly.

 

“Well,” I started, “I want to take her home right now, of course, but he wants to take some time to think about it,” I gestured toward Charlie, “so we’re going to go grab lunch and think about it. We’ll call you guys within an hour.”

 

We drove downtown and stepped into a new hot dog shop that Charlie’s friend had opened recently. We ordered tofu dogs, vegetarian chili, tater tots and french fries and then stood at the counter, munching on heavy, fried foods while we deliberated on a very important life decision.

 

After finishing our meal, we left the shop to take a walk at the park across the street. We verbalized the pros, cons, knowns and unknowns, and after tallying it all up, we unanimously agreed to bring her home. We also jointly decided on a name: Machiatto Marshmallow Yattinos.. affectionately known as Maqui (mock-ee).

 

We picked her up, formally adopted her, and then drove her home together.

 

“Are you feeling nervous?” I called out to Charlie from the backseat, where I was cuddling with Maqui.

 

“No — are you?”

 

“A little,” I admitted, smiling and stroking her neck.

 

We were both wondering if Bruster was going to love or hate this decision.

 

We pulled up at the house and I stepped out of the car with Maqui (who was sporting a brand-spankin’-new orange collar).

 

“You go get Chug from the house,” I instructed Charlie, “and then meet Maqui and me down the road. We’ll take them both on a walk around the block together — let them meet on neutral ground — and then we can kind of gauge how they feel about each other.”

 

We met as planned. Maqui shied away from Bruster while Bruster was overly interested in her. I observed that he seemed to dislike the fact that I was walking her and leaning down to pet her now and then, so Charlie and I swapped dogs; I walked Bruster and he walked Maqui. This arrangement pleased Bruster.

 

Back at the house, Bruster – a natural herding dog – stayed on Maqui’s heels, following her everywhere. He made her nervous and drove her crazy — I could tell. She staged a bit of a confrontation later on in the evening where she bit the skin underneath his left eye, creating a bloody wound. I reproved her and consoled him. It was stressful. We all went to bed quickly afterwards, hoping for smoother sailing the next day.

 

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And the next day showed a little improvement; when Maqui passed Bruster in the hallway, she would just bare her teeth at him without actually lashing out in attack.

 

“Progress,” I mused. “She’s still acclimating,” I reasoned with myself.

 

A few days later, things seemed relatively peaceful. The dogs could now walk past or alongside each other with no friction or bristling on Maqui’s end, and Charlie even caught them lying side by side, feet touching, one afternoon. Bruster’s anxiety had become visibly reduced and he was able to spend his mornings and afternoons un-crated while Charlie and I were at work. Now that he had a companion, his motivation to escape had just seemed to vanish. Things were really great. Until Thursday.

 

Thursday night, Charlie and I were eating dinner. Bruster was lying on the floor, a few feet away from us, and so was Maqui. Randomly, Maqui pounced on Bruster, biting him and sending him into a nervous frenzy. He got up, whined, and started pacing, blood trickling from his right eye.

 

“MY POOR BABY!” I set my bowl of pasta onto the counter and ran over to comfort the gigantic Shepherd who was now breathing heavily and continuing to cry.

 

I used a damp paper towel to clean Bruster’s eye and ignored Maqui for a solid twenty minutes as I fumed over the incident.

 

When I walked out into the garage to fill up their water bowls, Bruster followed me, and I noticed that Bruster’s eye was beginning to swell. I started crying.

 

“Charlie,” I announced as I stormed into the kitchen, “if she does ONE MORE MEAN THING TO HIM, that’s IT. She’s going BACK to the shelter. I don’t want her to be there, but I’m NOT going to let her hurt my boy. He did NOTHING to deserve that.” I’d already had an ad listed on Craigslist that week, thinking what’s the harm? If someone is interested in her and can offer her a one-dog-only home where food aggression and attention jealousy aren’t going to be issues, they can have her. If not, we’ll see if this living-with-us thing works.

 

Charlie agreed with me; one more screw-up, and she was out like white after Labor Day.

 

Things have improved since Thursday. There have been no fights (aka, Maqui hasn’t viciously attacked Bruster again), but I’m still viewing this arrangement as a “trial run” type deal. Right now, I’m fostering Maqui, and she’s certainly better off sleeping in a warm bed with me and Bruster than on a cold, concrete floor. As it stands right now, Bruster adores Maqui while she, at best, tolerates him, but I’m hoping that changes. We’ll see.

 

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Bruster (L) slowly inching his way closer to a sleeping Maqui (R).

 

This morning, I let both dogs out so they could “do their business” while I got dressed for the day. When I opened the door to let them back in, only Bruster was standing there.

 

“Mock mock!” I called out. Waited. Nothing.

 

I stepped outside and walked into the backyard. Bruster was on my heels now, excited.. thinking it was time to throw the stick again.

 

“Maqui Girl!” I called out cheerfully, ignoring him. Still no response. I didn’t see her anywhere.

 

Oh, I haven’t mentioned this bit yet; Maqui – while overweight (per the vet) – is a tiny girl. She’s like a mini-shepherd, and as such, she’s been able to find certain areas within the yard where she can squeeze her fat body underneath or through the fencing. She’s gotten out twice, sending Charlie and I on search and rescue missions, so this would make the third time she’d broken out.

 

Here we go again, I muttered.

 

I got Bruster back into the house and then I headed out through the fucked-up front door. I worked my way through the neighborhood on foot, turning my head this way and that while I called out “MAQUIIIII! MOCK MOCK! ..mock chicken nugget, come here, girl!” at random intervals. No luck.

 

I began trudging home and pulled out my phone to text Charlie.

 

“She got out again. I’m walking around, trying to find her. When I do, I want to take her back to the shelter.”

 

Just as I was nearing my house, sighing at the sad thought and image of returning Maqui to the gloomy, smelly shelter, I heard the sounds of quick breathing and light feet pattering across the concrete coming from behind me. I turned around and there she was: Maqui Girl.

 

She zoomed right past me, looking goofy with her tongue hanging out of her mouth, and she barreled all the way up the driveway, coming to a stop when she reached my front door. Within seconds, I had joined her. When I did, I looked down at her stupid, happy face, and I shook my head.

 

“Come on, girl. Let’s go inside.”

 

I sent a follow-up text to Charlie: Ugh. Found her. I’m not going to take her back. *eye roll*

 

Will she stay or will she go? Depends on her. Stay tuned.

 

Should you stay or should you go?

Sometimes, in some situations, you choose to stay and it’s good. It’s the best decision, and it’s a well-thought-out one. Other times, in other situations, you choose to stay because it’s easier to make that choice. Really, it’s not even a choice you’re making; it’s more like the result of not acting.

 

And then sometimes, you leave, and it’s the cowardly choice, while other times, you leave, and it’s the best decision to make but the hardest fucking route to take.

 

Me choosing to die this afternoon, for instance, would be easy. Very easy. But not necessarily best.

Me choosing to stay is brave. I’m constantly challenging myself to be brave.

Me choosing to keep Maqui could be wise or foolish, depending on how her behavior continues moving forward..

 

And me choosing to end a relationship last year was the right decision, but it was the hardest I’ve ever had to make.

 

I stopped by Whole Foods this morning, on my way to Saturn, for a piece of ‘fancy fruit.’ Charlie was working on the floor and, immediately upon spotting me, produced a bright red pear out of his apron. It was hand-picked and had been requested earlier, via text message.

 

“Your fancy fruit, ma’am.”

 

I smiled, accepting the pear. We talked for a few minutes, and then I said that I needed to go.

 

“Aren’t you going to stop by and say hey to Chris?” he reminded me, gesturing in what I assumed was Chris’s direction. I didn’t look.

 

“Nah,” I responded quickly, shrugging it off and smiling as I walked away. My heart was racing and I felt like puking; I needed to leave as quickly as possible.

 

I was in the checkout line when Charlie came running after me.

 

“HEY! Chris said that he was waiting to talk with you; come back!” he smiled encouragingly.

 

I stared at him blankly. “Okay. I’ll be there in a minute.” I made my purchase and then began walking back over to the produce section. I took each forward step slowly, considering running out to my car instead and then texting Charlie from the safety of being far away.. asking him to apologize to Chris for me and to explain that I was busy. But I decided that that would be shitty. And cowardly.

 

I approached the cooler where Chris was working on the other side, cutting up and packaging watermelon.

 

“Hey!”

 

“Heyyyyy!” he called out, smiling. “What are you up to today, J? The usual?”

 

I smiled. Anyone who’s even remotely close to me knows what ‘the usual’ is: me, whittling away my hours at Saturn, sipping on a coffee drink and writing pointless nothings.

 

“Yep. The usual. What’s new with you?”

 

He slid a sample of freshly cut cantaloupe across the counter and I nibbled on it, listening quietly as he gushed about his new band; he named the upcoming cities they’d be playing in — Cincinnati, Nashville, Mobile, and New Orleans — and described the band’s overall sound.

He asked me about Maqui and about my acoustic performance at the wine tasting event last week; I answered his questions, feeling so happy that we were speaking again that it made me want to cry, and then I realized that I was on the brink of crying, so I quickly made up some excuse of “not wanting to take up too much of his time” and fled the area with a wave. I remember him looking a little confused that I was ending our conversation so abruptly, but I just didn’t have time to explain.

 

Charlie caught me on my way out; he was stocking oranges now. He smiled at me.

 

“Are you glad you came back?” he asked.

 

“Kind of,” I murmured softly. Then I smiled bravely. “I’ve gotta go. I’ll see you later today.”

 

I made it to my car before I broke down. It feels like we just separated yesterday.

 

And that’s a situation where leaving — choosing to divorce my very best friend — was the most painful decision possible. It was a choice I didn’t want to make. I could have stayed — that would have been easier, for sure. But it wouldn’t have been fair. I miss him every day, so it’s easier to just not look at him, talk to him, laugh with him, or hear about his life and to mourn his absence than it is to face the reality that he lives twenty minutes down the road and I’ll never see him or be as close to him as I used to be.

 

 

So that’s life right now. I’m accepting that

  1. I’ll be fending off subversive, suicidal thoughts for the rest of my life.
  2. I’ll be taking care of my crybaby Shepherd until he takes his last breath (walking through the shelter last week, there’s no way in hell I could ever take a bow and make my exit and then leave him in that kind of situation).
  3. I’ll be saying hello and goodbye to so many people and animals in my lifetime. Hellos are exciting and goodbyes suck.. and they’ll come in waves. Rising and receding with the tide. Overlapping each other. Overpowering me, at times. It’s an endless cycle that’s stuck on repeat until I’m gone. Loving as strongly as I have and then losing those that I’ve loved feels like a warning to never love anyone “so fully” again.. but then I think about what – or who – I could miss out on. And I remind myself: Wasn’t each person worth it? Wouldn’t you trade those memories for NOTHING? And weren’t you strong enough to continue existing after life with them? You can do it again. You should do it again.

 

 

But for now, it’s a quiet day. The majority of the cat people have exited my corner of the coffee shop. A small number of them remain in the cafe, and they’re seated at a table about ten feet away. The “kitty cat donation box” has been collected and whisked off; the member with the real-life cat left about a half hour ago after congratulating me for “surviving” being in the midst of their first public meeting. I’m about 1/3rd of the way through a coffee drink I doubt I’ll be able to finish.

 

Other than Bruster, there are honestly only two other reasons why I choose to stay alive.. because it is a choice; when you work, sleep, eat, drink, and buckle your seat belt, you are proactively choosing to live.

 

The first reason is my mother and father (and family in general). They’ve already lost their son. I’m the only child left, and I can only hope that they go before I do so that I’ll feel the pain that they won’t have to.

The second reason is.. I like having fun.

 

In the past month, three people have inquired as to why I’m such a happy person.

The first person was one of my new hires. I work for a credit union, and last Friday, I took a group of new hires to a local branch to practice processing transactions. My new hire was examining a check — deciding whether or not to place a hold, verifying the check’s security features, and ensuring that the back of the check had been endorsed properly — when she suddenly turned around and looked at me.

“I know what it is, Jace! I KNOW why you’re so happy all of the time.”

 

I laughed at her. “WHY?!” I was curious to know, too.

 

“It’s because you sleep so much.”

 

Earlier that day, the new hires had inquired on my personal life: “How do you spend your evenings, Jace?” I’d told them that my evenings usually go like this: eat dinner, watch Doctor Who, and then go to sleep at 8:30. They’d all said that that sounded boring and that I needed to ‘live’ more.

 

“Huh!” I responded to her now. “Maybe that’s it! I do average ten hours a night.”

 

A couple of nights later, Charlie (person #2) turned to me and said (jokingly): “I KNOW why you’re always so happy! Because you drink SO MUCH ORANGE JUICE.”

It’s true that I drink orange juice daily, so that is a viable potential reason.

 

And then that weekend, my barber commented on the same thing.

“Man Jace.. when you come in here, you’ve always got that good attitude. You’re all cool and shit.” He paused and I laughed.

“Why?” he asked suddenly, shaping the hairline on the back of my neck with a straight-edge razor. The closeness of the cut left a cloud of heat on my skin. “Why ARE you always soooooooo nice?”

 

I paused to think about it. “Honestly.. I think it’s because I’m always looking forward to the next thing.

 

When I was a kid, my OCD manifested in the form of repeating a certain phrase to my mother before bed every night. Really, it was more like posing the same question over and over, and that question was:

“Goodnight mom, I love you — we’re going to have fun tomorrow, right?”

She would reassure me, over and over again, that yes, we WERE going to have fun tomorrow, but I still had to ask the question 8, 12, 30 times before my frantic mind would become satisfied and I could fall asleep.

 

I think I’ll have the phrase tattooed on someday.

 

I’m sticking around for my dog, my parents, and for the sheer experience of life. Tomorrow’s going to be fun.. right? I’ll learn something new, meet somebody new, write a song, kiss my dog, grab a burrito..

I want to see what interesting thing happens next — and eventually, when I DO die, I’ll get to see what happens “next” then, too. But I’m not going to rush it. The writer in me is curious to experience everything and then to reflect on what I’ve experienced and to consider what it means; happiness, sadness, joy and tragedy, with all of their shapes and depths.. what do they all mean? Why do they come up, why do we feel them so strongly, and why do they feel the way that they do? You’re born, right? You live, you love, you hate, you believe, you discover, you share, and ultimately, you die; what was it all worth? And was it worth it? Stay tuned, I guess.

 

In the short-term, later on this evening, I’ll be attempting to distract Bruster with a tortilla chip so that I can get some of these dang medicinal drops into his poor, puppy dog eye.

Aun Aqui

Get The Hell Out Of My Spot: A Short Work of “Fiction”

It was a typical weekday morning; I woke up at 6:35, put clothes on, tended to the dog, poured some orange juice into a stainless steel mug, snatched my backpack up from off of the floor and then off I went, into the world. I followed the ten minute, mildly scenic route to work; passing blurry rows of suburban homes that ended abruptly at a red light, an alterations shop falling apart further ahead on the left, and then a medium-sized shopping plaza further down on the right (it houses a sad collection of uninteresting stores and unremarkable restaurants that I never frequent). I proceeded to drive underneath the interstate, flipped my left turn signal on immediately afterwards, and then hauled my good ole’ blue car up the steep, winding road to the corporate office.

Navigating on auto-pilot, I made a right once I’d reached the top of the hill and then spun the steering wheel sharply to the left as I prepared to park in my usual spot. Have I spoken of my spot before? It’s a lovely spot. I’d call it enviable, but other than existing underneath the shade of a stately tree, it really isn’t. It’s actually located at the far-end of the parking lot and sits along a row of mostly uninhabited spots. It’s the second to last spot in the row.

So, just as I was absentmindedly steering my vehicle into my spot, I had to slam on the brakes. Why? Because some beat-up, maroon-colored sedan* (*truly fictitious description) was already parked there. In my spot.

Huh. 

That’s weird.

For a split second, I didn’t really know what to do; for two years, this had been my spot, and no one else had ever dared to park there. Ever. I mean.. like, ever. Okay, ONE time, someone did, but they very quickly made amends with me by parking their car elsewhere the next day. Anyways.

But it’s okay,  I told myself, bravely. Today, I’ll just park.. behind or beside it. No big deal. I shook off a feeling that resembled words like robbed, violated, and cheated.

I’m sure this person is just visiting corporate today, I continued reasoning with myself, or is new, or has been around here for a while but was having an off morning. Happens to the best of us. So I brushed it off, walked into work, and it was just another cheerful day at the office.

 

I clocked out of work 9 hours later, shuffled over to my spot somewhat blindly (I had my head lowered, texting somebody) and, just as I started reaching for the car handle, that nauseating color reappeared in my field of vision: maroon.

What..? 

I paused to look up. Oh.. right. That happened. Quickly (and hoping no one had witnessed the awkward almost-happening), I trudged an extra twelve steps forward to where my pouty blue car was waiting. I know, buddy; I’m feeling it, too.

 

But by the time the next morning rolled around, the incident had been entirely forgotten. I moved through my morning routine efficiently and expertly, just like I’d done the day before, except today, as my parking spot came into view, I saw that the maroon car had parked itself there. Again.

 

I felt different about it this time.

 

MY SPOT

 

The hell, bro? I murmured aloud. What in the HELL are you doing in my spot?

So I parked in the same stupid spot I’d settled for the previous morning and couldn’t help but cast a furtive glance over towards the maroon car as I passed by it.

 

I walked inside, sat down at my desk, and then slowly drew in a very deep breath.

Okay.. look. You need to get a grip. You have projects to work on and preparations to make. Helloooooooo; this is just a parking spot. It’s not like some MEAN person just walked up and stole a burrito right out of your hand.. right? Now THAT would be lamentable. But this? You can’t let a parking spot ruin your whole day. 

But what if maroon isn’t JUST a visitor? I argued. What if they’re new and now, because they’ve parked there TWO DAYS IN A ROW, THEY think it’s THEIR spot?

 

We both stopped talking. It was a dark possibility — a viable one that couldn’t be denied. My heart clenched. It hurt.

We need to act quickly, I resolved.

 

I casually strolled into my manager’s office a few moments later, after composing myself. I paused in her doorway, leaned against it, and put on an expression that I thought would look pensive. Thoughtful.

“You know how I have a spot, right?” I began the conversation.

She looked up from her computer; her expression: confused. “I’m sorry?”

“You know, a parking spot,” I explained. “You know how I have a parking spot that only I park in?”

She rolled her eyes. “Yesssssss.”

“Okay,” I moved all the way into her office now, settling down onto one of her chairs that I hate. And she knows that I don’t like her chairs; I announce it every time I see the awful chair pair. They’re heavy, rigid, and cumbersome to get into and out of. I’ve even offered to spend some of my down time shopping around thrift stores in search of a superior substitute — some sleek and space-efficient stools, perhaps — but she’s yet to take me up on the offer.

“Well,” I continued, trying to position myself comfortably, “I’m having this issue where someone else is parking there.” I paused, giving her a second to take in the full weight of this news.

She looked across her desk at me, blankly. “And?”

“And,” I continued soberly, “I am wondering how to best handle the situation.”

 

She cracked an involuntary smile. “Handle the situation?”

 

“Oh, yes!” I leaned forward, looking intent. “I have to, Felicia.. and I’ve already considered a few possibilities. Like, you know; I’ve imagined walking out into the parking lot this evening — promptly, at 5:00 — and kind of lingering around outside of my car until maroon’s owner appears so I can be like ‘Oh my god! So YOU’RE the person who’s been taking my spot!’, but you know, I’ll say it really funny-like, so that it sounds like ‘oh wow, how funny is this!'” I paused to check for a reaction.

“Maroon?” she questioned.

“Yes; that’s what I’m calling the person because their car is maroon. Anyways, ANOTHER idea,” I continued, “is this: we have two new employees who began working at corporate a few weeks ago, right? I’m thinking it could be one of them. SO, I’ve imagined this scenario where I’m in the break room, and one of them is also in the break room, and I’m filling up my canteen with water when, suddenly, I turn around, see them there, look visibly surprised and ask — raising my eye brow and looking serious in a playful way — ‘Now.. DO YOU by any chance drive a MAROON-COLORED CAR?’ and then we can see where the conversation goes from there.” I shrugged, waiting for her to say something. “Sooooooo,” I prodded gently, “what do you think?”

 

“I think you’re crazy,” she responded. “Like a dalek with a parking spot.”

 

dalek parking only

 

While I appreciated being likened to a dalek, this wasn’t the answer I was hoping for. I left her office, deciding to temporarily place my “friendly-and-spontaneous-in-person-confrontation” plans on hold.

 

I left work feeling sour over the predicament and, hours later, lying in bed, I couldn’t believe that I was still thinking about it.

 

“Charlie?” I whispered into the dark.

“Yes?”

“I can’t sleep.”

“Why?”

“Because I’m worried about it.”

“About what?”

 

“MY SPOT!” I exclaimed, irritated. Duh.

 

He turned on the light. I told him the whole story, and about how my manager didn’t think staging a confrontation was a good idea, and that I didn’t know what else to do to fix it.

 

Just as he was about to speak, I spoke up again.

WAIT! ..oh my goodness, Charlie; I know what I’ll do. I’ll just get there early.. EARLIER THAN maroon car!” This new plan was brilliant in its simplicity. “We’re ALL supposed to be there by 8, right? Well, I’ll get there at 7:40.” I paused, anxiety seizing my heart again. “But what if they’re there at 7:40?” I gazed at the wall, feeling Charlie’s worried eyes on me. “What if they KNOW that I’m trying to reclaim my spot, or they absurdly think that someone else will want their spot, and they plan on getting there at 7:30? or 7:15?” He patted me on the shoulder and turned the light out. It was a rough night.

 

When my alarm went off in the morning, I knew what I had to do: get down to business pronto. “NO LINGERING IN BED TODAY!” I told the dog. “It’s GO TIME!”

 

I sped away from the house, waving goodbye to Charlie and Bruster as they stood beside each other, calmly, and looked on from the doorway. I arrived to work at approximately 7:38 and was incredibly thrilled to find my spot unoccupied. I pulled into it, and I was overjoyed by our reunion, but the joy was short-lived.

 

“Sooooo..” I struck up a casual conversation with myself as I sat there, rocking from side-to-side in my seat and waiting for 8:00 to roll around. “When maroon gets here, they’re PROBABLY going to VERY IGNORANTLY think, ‘Oh wow, who’s that in MY SPOT today?'”

I shook my head. “Yep. Bet they will. Ugh.. the audacity.

“I KNOW. And they need to KNOW that THIS is MY SPOT. That it’s been my spot for two years, and that they need to just choose another spot. Because arriving early today and reclaiming the spot one time isn’t going to fix this; if I don’t get here at 7:40 tomorrow, you know they’re going to try to take this spot back.” I gazed out the window, feeling stressed. “How long does it take to change your taste buds?” I asked myself. “Two weeks, maybe? What about habits — how long does it take to form a new habit or change an old one.. is it three?” I sighed.I guess I’ll just arrive to work early for three weeks. Just to be safe. Get them in the habit of parking elsewhere.”

 

I talked the matter over with Charlie that evening.

 

“Could you maybe get a pole and a sign?” Charlie asked quietly. “Stake it into the ground right there in front of your spot so that everyone knows?”

don't even think

“Nooooo,” I brushed the idea off immediately. “That would be too weird. Technically, there aren’t any assigned or designated spots. We all just know which spot is ours and RESPECT other peoples’ spots,” I grumbled.

I plunged my spoon into my bowl of soup and then held it in the air and tilted it slightly, watching as tiny red droplets dripped back down into the bowl.

“I thought about buying some chalk and hand-writing ‘Jace’s Spot‘ on the concrete,” I admitted, “but I think I’d get in trouble for that.” I paused, considering whether or not I should admit to my next idea. “Honestly,” I whispered, “as I was leaving work today.. pulling out of my spot.. I paused, looked down at the blue Belk umbrella on the car floor, and imagined stepping out of the car, placing it in the middle of my spot, and then leaving it there — as some kind of deterrent — until I drove back tomorrow.” I looked up and across the table at Charlie, who said nothing. “I also considered,” I spouted off quickly, “going back into the corporate building, removing my black, swivel chair, pulling it outside, and placing it right there in the middle of the spot..” I was looking back down at my bowl of soup now.

“ANYWAYS, all of those ideas were stupid and weird and I’m not going to execute any of them.”

 

“Jace?”

 

“Yes?”

 

“I know what you need.”

 

“What?”

 

He paused dramatically. Then: “A big.. orange.. traffic.. cone.”

 

Smiling Traffic Cone Character With Halo And Wings Emoji

 

I gasped. Oh my god. It was the best idea I’d ever heard in my life.

 

“The universal sign,” Charlie continued gravely, “that says: ‘You can’t park here.‘” Charlie raised his eyebrows at me impressively and waited for my verdict.

 

I shook my head in utter disbelief of his genius. “Charlie; where can I get one?”

 

I arrived to work the next day, twenty minutes early yet again, and removed a book from my backpack (to pass the time). I felt confident; I’m going to try out this arrive-early-for-three-weeks-thing, but if it doesn’t prove effective, I’m DEFINITELY going to buy a traffic cone and stick that sucker in my trunk. Smiling at the idea of my fantastic backup plan, I was about five minutes into reading when a moving object in my side-view mirror suddenly caught my attention; maroon. That stupid freaking color was the absolute bane of my existence; an emblem of fury — the token of the disruption, disorder, and chaos in my life.

 

My heart started racing a little. Oh wow; this is going to be awkward. It felt like I was the faceless figure who’d stolen somebody’s boyfriend or girlfriend, and now that person was about to put two-and-two together, stumble over to my car in a mad rage, and punch me in the gut. I mentally and emotionally prepared myself for the worst.

On second thought, let’s just get inside the building as quickly as possible, I decided.

So I slid my book into my backpack, zipped it up, grabbed my water bottle, and exited the vehicle quietly, beginning the short walk to the corporate office. I heard a car door close behind me as soon as I started walking and heard the sound of feet shuffling across the concrete.

 

Shit; maroon is RIGHT behind me. Should I turn around — acknowledge them with a smile and a wave — or continue moving forward and feign being oblivious? 

 

I continued walking forward, trying to look and act and breathe normal. Once I’d reached the entrance to the office, I touched my right finger to the electronic entry pad and waited for the green light. Ding. I opened the door, entered half-way, and then paused, deciding to hold the door open for this mysterious maroon person. It was a brave move; I was terrified. And when I turned around to greet them, I was shocked; it was the sweet receptionist who worked the front desk.

 

“Good morning, Hayley!” I greeted her, probably failing to conceal the surprise from my voice.

 

“Morning, Jace!” she smiled sweetly, ducking into the building and then heading toward the front lobby.

 

I shook my head; every trace of anger.. gone.

 

As I walked to my desk, I thought to myself: If maroon – aka Hayley – wants to park in my spot, that is totally okay. Any other spot will work for me just as well.

 

Fun fact: The very next morning, this sweet little sentiment was put to the test. I was pulling up to the light where I turn left to get up the hill to work when I saw maroon parked at the light. Oh dear. I broke the news to myself softly as the hood of my car neared the trunk of hers. You’re going to have to watch it happen; you’re going to have to watch her take your spot. I paused for a minute; imagined it happening. And remember; like you decided yesterday, it’s really NOT a big deal. She’s a very nice person and she should be able to park wherever she wants to park. I smiled, grateful that I’d honestly been able to get over the matter.

 

I followed maroon up the steep, steep driveway; we both turned right at the end of it; I let out a gentle sigh that sounded like goodbye as I prepared to watch her vehicle turn left — coming to a soft, gentle halt in my old spot — but instead, her car veered right. I took in a quick breath; oh my god. She’s given me my spot back. 

***

That’s it. That’s my story for the week. And remember.. before you think I’m nuts.. it’s a work of “fiction.” Yeah.

 

The lesson?
I’ll condense it into the smallest ‘Jace paragraph’ ever.

 

It was easy to feel angry at a faceless person; someone without a name, voice, or personality. But once I was brought face-to-face with the person, that heavy and emotionally draining pall of anger slipped from my shoulders easily, like raindrops springing lightly from a raincoat.

 

Similarly, it’s easy to get your feathers ruffled over competing sports teams, opposing political views, or disharmonious religious beliefs; it’s very easy to feel anger, to imagine separateness, and to build walls over these matters. But anger distances you from people, separateness stifles empathy, and walls obviously create division. Strip all of those differences away and you just see people. 

It’s also remarkable that, when you’re feeling angry at a person, it usually isn’t really that PERSON you’re angry with; more often, it was the words they spoke, the actions they took, or the words or actions they failed to speak or take. For me, I wasn’t mad at maroon; I was mad at an innocent action that maroon took and the consequences trailing behind in the exhaust of that action. The simple fact that her car was in my spot meant that I couldn’t be in my spot, and I was mad that something familiar was being taken away from me; that something that made me feel ‘safe’ and like I ‘belonged’ and that I ridiculously thought of as ‘mine’ was being challenged. Maroon wasn’t trying to be mean; she was likely clueless as to my lunacy and my deep-seated feelings for the spot, which is understandable, because the spot itself has no inherent value. My anger and anxiety were wrapped up in the rolling ball of what the spot meant to me and how her actions were threatening to take that meaningful value and that sense of security away. See? Break it down to basic components and I was never mad at maroon at all. I was mad about becoming displaced because I was scared of the changes involved; the implications of those changes, the stress of those changes, and the uncertainty of those changes.

 

So here’s my unsolicited advice:

When you notice that you’re feeling angry, start a conversation with yourself. Talk it out and work through the anger. Cite your ‘obvious’ reason for being angry and then move backwards; follow the logical mind trail and discover the true cause of your anger. To illustrate, I’ll devise a totally fictitious (mean it this time) scenario that you might be familiar with.

Totally Fictitious Scenario: “The Big Pineapple Cupcakes Letdown”

I’m mad at Charlie.

Why?

Because he forgot to bring home a pineapple.

Why does that make you angry?

Because he said he was going to bring home a pineapple.

Okay; why are you so upset that he didn’t bring home a pineapple?

Because we were going to make organic, free-trade, raw, unfiltered, non-GMO, vegan, premiere-status pineapple cupcakes today and now we CAN’T.

Why are you upset that you can’t make these specialty pineapple cupcakes?

Because they’re delicious.

Oh. So you aren’t mad at Charlie; you’re mad that you are without cupcakes?

Yes. Exactly.

Bam. See how easy that was? Pinpointing the true cause, source, origin, or underlying reason of my anger? But let’s face it; generally speaking, it’s a lot less embarrassing to say you’re mad at a person than you are at an absence of cupcakes. Quick “real talk” sidebar: It’s not like it’s freaking Christmas and every grocery store in town is closed — go buy some exquisite $30 pineapple yourself and then make the damn cupcakes. Problem solved.

 

Obligatory Numbered Conclusion (because the length of this post is driving me mad):

  1. Familiar things and favorite things (like cupcakes and parking spots) are comforting and lovable, and that’s fine, but people will always be more lovable. If you’re a math person, it’s like this: people > things and objects, and to be even more specific, people > parking spots. At the end of the day, if given the choice (and the power of choice is always given), all I’ll ever do is love people.
  2. Why foster anger when it leaves you feeling ill and emotionally drained, and why be angry over silly, trivial things? Now; if someone ever walks up to you and threatens to steal your burrito, sucker punch that homewrecker. Don’t hold back. In this situation, your anger would be totally justified. But throw your figurative punches selectively; you’ve gotta really make them count.

 

Still here (and still parking in the same beautiful and flawless spot but if you park in it that’s okay too just please don’t),

Aun Aqui